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!

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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

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Pumpkin Crumb Cake

pumpkin crumb cake

Fall is finally in the air this week in Virginia.  Waking up in the mornings is around 40 degrees, enough to be really chilly at the bus stop.  Pumpkin desserts are one of the first things I think of making, as I just love the taste and smell of anything pumpkin.

Pumpkin crumb cake tops the list as one of my favorite desserts.  It is so incredibly delicious that you will not want to miss a crumb on your plate.  You have the soft and tender pumpkin cake, loaded up with all the fall spices.  The smell of nutmeg, cinammon, and  ginger will fill your house as you bake.  Atop the cake is a delicious and buttery crumble, yes the kind you go in the kitchen to secretly pull a crumb off the top and eat before your kids see you!  I like to finish it with a dusting of powedered sugar and if I’m feeling fancy some whipped cream.

pumpkin crumb cake

The ingredients are mostly pantry staples.  And feel free to ramp up the spice amounts, use Allspice, or whatever tastes great to you.  I also tend to cut down on sugar amounts when I bake.  This one has already been reduced from the original recipe, but feel free to cut more if you would like.  Sour cream and Greek yogurt can also be used interchangably.

pumpkin crumb cake

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Pumpkin Crumb Cake

A soft and tender pumpkin cake, topped with a delicious, buttery cinnamon crumble.  Finish with a dusting of powedered sugar and whip cream.

Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes
Servings 12
Author Nicole

Ingredients

Crumb Topping

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 3 tbsp packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Cake

  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinammon
  • 3/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp all spice
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 large eggs
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 3 tbsp Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions

For the crumbs:


  1. In a bowl whisk together flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt, and use fingers to break up clumps of brown sugar.  Pour in melted butter and fold with a spatula until evenly moistened.  Set mixture aside.



For the cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x9 inch baking pan with non-stick cooking spray, or use parchment paper.

    In a mixing bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and all spice. Set aside.

    In the bowl of an electric stand mixer blend together granulated sugar and brown sugar to break up clumps. Add butter and vegetable oil to sugar mixture and blend to combine. Mix in eggs one at a time. Then mix in pumpkin puree, Greek yogurt and vanilla. With mixer on low speed slowly add in dry ingredients and mix until just nearly combined. Remove the bowl and fold batter until combined.

    Pour batter into prepared baking dish and spread into an even layer. Sprinkle crumbs evenly over batter. Bake in preheated oven until center is set, about 40 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack.

    Dust with powdered sugar and serve with whipped cream if desired.

    Enjoy!

pumpkin crumb cake

For more fall inspired posts, check out my Virginia Apple Picking Guide.

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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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Homework Help for the ADHD child- Part 1

Homework Battles

So the first week of school has come to a close.  For most kids the routine of homework and studying is not in full swing yet.  That makes this the perfect time to get a head start and set your student up for success.  A common story heard from almost all ADHD households is how much homework is disliked.

Most families can easily remember the endless nagging, arguing, searching for missing assignments, and endless hours of wasted time that lead to utter frustration.  Your student is smart and capable.  You see that they aren’t reaching their potential.  And the daily homework battle is a constant reminder of your child’s challenges and struggles.

Homework Police

It is absolutely no fun taking on the job of nagging and prodding your child on a daily basis.  You don’t want to hear it, your child doesn’t want to hear it, and it really isn’t helping them in the long run.  This will probably lead to larger battles and more trouble in the long run, as homework resentment builds up.

Setting up for Success

What your child will really benefit from is having their parent set up routine and structure so that they can improve their executive function ability.  The goal is for them to complete their homework, independently, without the nagging.  The parents’ role is to ask questions, provide guidance, and support.  So you may be asking “How do I do this?”

Organize

What you do not want to do each year is wait and see how it goes.  This is not taking a very proactive approach, and you want to be able to set your student up for success.  Make a plan before the school year starts, and then adjust as the year goes on.

Talk with your child about what worked last year and what did not.  Discuss what needs to change this year. Remember that no parent or child loves the constant nagging or arguing during homework.

Here are some practical organizing tips:

  1.  Sunday night should be a time to get set up for the week.  Plan out the week activities, discuss upcoming assignments, know which days are gym or instrument days.
  2. Homework folders for all ages are really helpful.  In middle school teachers will not often set them up, but you can do so at home.  Incoming assignments go on one side, completed assignments go on the other.
  3. Have a staging area in the house where your child can lay things out at night for the morning.  This includes a packed backpack, lunch, shoes, gym bag, instrument, sports equipment.  In the morning it will be a big relief to not run around looking for shoes!

Set up a homework routine

Homework routines are important but it is not a one size fits all.  I recommend having several areas throughout the house that can accommodate a child doing homework.  This can be in the kitchen, in a study or other quiet room, maybe a spot on the porch.  Sometimes a change of scenery for a child will help them complete the assignment. I often find that having your child have a snack first helps to boost their mood and blood sugar.  Burning off some energy with a short playdate can also help them to focus later on for homework.  Have your child reflect on what has worked in the past, and what hasn’t.  They should be part of creating a routine.

Squirmy, restless kids

For the child who just cannot sit still to do their homework, do not embarrass and point out the negative behavior.  Instead try and redirect that energy.  The spinner fidgets have been all the rage this year, but there are many other types of fidgets.  Take some time to research and try different types to see what type of sensory input would be helpful.

 

Next up, Part 2– Getting started, estimating time, and procrastination

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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.

 

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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.

 

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