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?

 

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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?

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

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