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Archive for the ‘Family Fun’ Category

Well, December was a busy month indeed, and our planned hike at Shenandoah National Park didn’t pan out when Skyline Drive closed due to snow, but I managed to get out on the trails anyway – in a slightly different way this month.  When, rather at the last minute, we decided to visit my parents between Christmas and New Year’s, my dad offered to take us all skiing at our local mountain, Jiminy Peak (in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts).  Steve ended up needing to work, but the rest of us bundled up to hit the slopes.

The kids had never been skiing before.  I would love to get them out on the slopes – we do have a few mountains around us, and there is some decent skiing in West Virginia in particular – but since Steve doesn’t ski, it’s been too much of a challenge and I have (I am ashamed to say) just not gone for it.  But the prospect was much less daunting with my parents’ help.  My dad is a ski instructor for a program called STRIDE, which teaches skiing to disabled children and adults, and he also taught me and my brother to ski when we were kids, so I jumped at his offer to give a lesson to my little ones.  He also was able to get them free rental equipment from the mountain, which was very nice indeed.

Our first (and, as it turned out, only) stop was the bunny slope, Jiminy Cricket.  We let the kids watch for a few minutes so they could see other littles their ages on skis and get over some of the fear, and then they took short runs between my dad’s legs and clinging to a ski pole.  This is exactly how I learned, so it was pretty cool to watch.  Full circle.

NUGGET HATED EVERY MINUTE.  I was shocked, because I really thought he would be the one who would have fun – he had been talking for days about going skiing – and his considerably more timid sister would be the one to flip out and go off the deep end.  They both surprised me.  Nugget went completely insane and screamed in the lodge for two hours (keepin’ it real, you guys, keepin’ it real) and Peanut ended up tearing up the slopes like a miniature Lindsey Vonn.

After a couple of runs with my dad up and down the “magic carpet,” she even ASKED TO GO ON THE CHAIR LIFT.  This is big stuff, you guys.  She was really quite nervous before getting out on the slopes, but she faced her fears and ended up having a fabulous time – hooray!  It helped that she had her trusted Grandad by her side.

As for my dad, he was beaming the whole time.  It meant so much to him to share skiing – which is one of his favorite things in the entire world – with his granddaughter.  We are definitely going to have to get her back on the slopes soon.

…So, was this really a hike?  Well, I’m choosing to call it one and say it counts.  I didn’t end up getting to ski – my dad and I were hoping to take a few runs together on the expert slopes while the kids warmed up in the lodge, but Nugget had gone so far off the rails that we all had to go home.  But I did a great deal of tramping around the bunny slope and the trails surrounding it.  Walking – check.  In the woods – check.  Wearing boots – check.  It’s a hike!  (Feel free to leave comments agreeing with me.)

And that concludes it!  Final hike of the year.  I know I’m not alone in getting intense cabin fever if I have to sit indoors, and I am so grateful that I’ve been able to get outside with friends and family year-round.

Did you get any outdoor time in last month?

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2017: A Year in Review

Well!  What a year it’s been.  Laying aside the state of the world – which is completely horrifying – for us personally, it wasn’t too bad.  Our first full year back at home in northern Virginia, and we packed it full of friends, family, and lots and lots of fun.  Highlights of the year included trips to California (for a dear friend’s wedding and a family reunion on my mom’s side) and Florida (for another dear friend’s wedding, in which Peanut and I both participated as Maid of Honor and flower girl, respectively), and our fabulous friends Zan and Paul’s return home to the D.C. area.  But beyond those top three things, there was so much joy and fun in every month.

In January… we spent a quiet month recovering from the holidays and chipping away at lots of chores and tasks around the house.  I shared my two-part reading retrospective for 2016 and spent a lot of time thinking about how to deal with the new national reality we found ourselves in after the Inauguration.  We did make it out to the zoo once, meeting up with my friend Carly and her family, and we hit the trails at Riverbend Park – Steve’s favorite Great Falls trail.

In February… there was some unseasonably warm weather – like, in the 70*s!  We felt a bit guilty about enjoying it (because: climate change) but we made the most of it, hopping from playground to playground and spending a beautiful sunny morning on the trail at Lake Accotink Park in Fairfax County.  Later in the month, we had to drive up north for a wedding.  It was a looooooooong and pretty painful drive, but we were able to squeeze in a visit to my parents, which brightened us up!

In March… we celebrated TWO YEARS of Nugget!  Seriously, how is he two?  (Actually, how is he almost three?  I’m about to start planning his third birthday party.  What is that about?)  Having a March baby is so much fun – before Nugget came along, March was my least favorite month of the year, because it always seemed so long and blah.  But now March is all about my sweet little boy and all the joy and fun he brings to our world.  In addition to celebrating our favorite small guy, we started our patio garden for the season, watched the restoration of the Apollo 11 command module out at Dulles, and explored the trails at the National Arboretum.

In April… we did All The Spring Things.  Our hike for the month was the Bluebell Trail at Bull Run Regional Park, and it was a magical fairyland of blue blooms to which my camera did no justice at all.  We also visited the baby animals at Mount Vernon, where the gardens were a riot of color, and we spent a morning out in Haymarket, gathering up armloads of the brightest tulips ever at Burnside Farms.  Spring has always been my fourth favorite season, because it’s bleak and cold in New York, and my allergies run wild in Virginia.  But in 2017, for some reason, my allergies really weren’t bad (even though the pollen was as prevalent as ever) and I was able to enjoy the season for the first time ever.  I can see why people love it.

In May… we kept up the spring fun.  Almost every Saturday morning found us walking to the farmers’ market and coming home with a big bouquet of fresh flowers from my favorite vendor, who always presents Peanut with a rose and often tells me to grab another bouquet for free (love him).  We could feel summer’s approach in gradually hotter temperatures, and we cooled off on the trails.  On Mother’s Day I requested a hike at Mason Neck State Park, which was gorgeous and wonderful, and I mused about raising kids on the hiking trail.  We spent our weekends bouncing between the waterfront and the garden center.  Peanut and I marveled at the green sprouts shooting up in our little patio garden, and I had a painful incident with some cayenne pepper in an attempt to repulse squirrels right before I left for an overnight business trip to Philadelphia.  Whoops.  We finished the month with a Memorial Day weekend packed end-to-end with fun – including a visit to a lavender farm and exploring Jones Point Park for the first time.

In June… summer began in earnest.  The big event of the month was a weekend visit to my best friend, Rebecca, in Virginia Beach; we also squeezed in our June hike that same weekend – just under the wire – at First Landing State Park.  Those visits to the beach are moments of true peace.  Peanut enjoyed playing mermaids with Aunt Rebecca (who loves merfolk as much as her niecelette does), and Nugget had a blast driving the golf cart, cheering Uncle Eric in the tuna fishing competition, and wandering around with his hand buried in his belly button all weekend (what a weirdo).  My other travel for the month was a business trip to Chicago (for an all-hands meeting of my practice group at our firm’s headquarters), but I squeezed in a little fun while I was there, in the form of a sightseeing run around Chicago’s biggest tourist attractions.  We spent Father’s Day enjoying a recent discovery – the splash pad – and put in some quality time at the neighborhood pool, which opened mid-month.  And I celebrated the beginning of summer in the best way I know – by talking about BOOKS.

In July… we basically lived outside.  We started off strong with a Fourth of July visit to my parents in Albany, which was everything a weekend should be.  We enjoyed a cookout with some of our dearest friends, a hike at Grafton Lakes State Park with Christine, two days of fun at the lake (kayaking, sailing, blowing bubbles, pretending to fish, and splashing in the baby pool) and – to top it all off, quite literally – a climb up our third Adirondack high peak, Giant Mountain.  Back home in D.C., we still didn’t go inside, like, at all.  We continued to tend our garden and splash at the pool and splash pad; spent a morning picking blueberries with Peanut’s friend C and her mom; and cruised the mighty Potomac in kayaks.  July was everything I love about summer – long, hot days, starry nights, and a life lived out-of-doors.

In August… our adventures took us clear across the country!  We packed up the little ones and jetted off to California for the wedding of a dear friend in Huntington Beach, followed by a family reunion two hours up the coast in Santa Barbara.  It was an epic trip – one for the ages.  We hiked in Joshua Tree National Park, Channel Islands National Park, and Carpinteria Nature Preserve; kayaked the sea caves at Channel Islands National Park; and enjoyed an incredible day out whale-watching with my parents.  We also celebrated twelve years of marriage, five years of Peanut, and one year back home in northern Virginia.  We bid goodbye to August, and hello to September, from the sunflower fields at Burnside Farms.  A busy month, indeed.

In September… we turned our attention to fall and fall things.  Peanut headed back to school, and Nugget to another year with his nanny (we adore her, and are already breaking out in cold sweats about his leaving her and starting preschool next year).  We dove right into fall fun at the apple orchard, hiked at Piscataway Park, and continued to tend our garden all through September.  The best part of the month was the last weekend, when we headed down to Florida for a wedding on the beach!  My best friend, Rebecca, married her longtime love in a beautiful sunset ceremony, and Peanut and I were proud to be by her side as flower girl and Maid (not Matron!) of Honor, respectively.

In October… we were in The Room Where It Happens!  My mom flew down to D.C. for a weekend so that Steve and I could slip away for one night to see Hamilton on Broadway!  The show was every bit as spectacular as you’d think – more, even – and we also squeezed in visits to the NYPL and Morgan Library, and a night at the Library Hotel.  Lucky us!  It was a Hamilton-heavy month for us, because Peanut and Nugget dressed as Eliza and Alexander Hamilton for Halloween – and most of the rest of our weekends were devoted to carting our miniature Treasury Secretary and his Mrs. around to various children’s Halloween parties.  We also trick-or-treated – and Peanut visited her first haunted house, hosted by our Senator, Mark Warner – and picked pumpkins out in Loudoun County.  I celebrated my birthday on the trails at Sky Meadows, and we hosted my parents and friends for a flying weekend visit that included a swing by the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum (of course!) and wine touring.  October, you were good to us.

In November… we ended up on top of a mountain!  My parents came down for Thanksgiving, and after spending a cozy day at home on the day itself, and decorating our Christmas tree on the Friday after, we all headed out for a weekend in Little Washington.  The main purpose of the weekend was for Steve and me to use a gift certificate to the Inn at Little Washington that his sweet and generous mom had given us the previous Christmas – we did, and it was one of the most fabulous meals we’d ever tasted.  The next day, we worked it off with a climb up Stony Man Mountain in Shenandoah National Park, and drank in the views from on top of the world.  We also celebrated Steve’s 40th birthday with a trip to the Kennedy Center to see The Book of Mormon, and I participated in Naomi and Sarah‘s readalong of The Blue Castle, musing on the power of names in LMM’s work.

In December… we have been feeling festive!  We started the season with the Scottish Walk – Old Town’s answer to the Christmas parade – a trip out to Little Washington for the annual Christmas parade there, and a snowy walk around Old Town after we got a surprise dusting.  We did lots of Advent reading, Peanut made her first visit to the Kennedy Center to see Mr. Popper’s Penguins, and we celebrated Christmas by watching the big guy in red fly down the Potomac on waterskis, then opening presents the following morning – Santa was good to those little rugrats.  And now we are warm and cozy, getting ready to ring in the new year with our family around us, and feeling grateful for the blessings of friendship and love that we enjoy every day.

Happy New Year, friends!  I hope you’re ringing it in somewhere fabulous, and I wish you a happy, healthy and joyful 2018!

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Christmas 2017

Merry everything, my friends!  If you were celebrating this weekend, I hope that you enjoyed a lovely, warm and cozy Christmas with your family – and maybe a white Christmas, if that sort of thing blows your hair back.  (We didn’t have one – the picture above is from a couple of weeks ago – but my parents did.  The kids were jealous when they showed us their snow via FaceTime!)

A Pre-Christmas Kennedy Center Treat

To give you the full picture of our Christmas, I have to rewind to Saturday.  Old friends may recall that last year, I took Peanut to see The Secret Garden at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in D.C.  We had such a fun time on our little mother-daughter outing that I decided to make it a tradition.  (Steve is jealous and has said he wants to get the whole family in on the theatre action when Nugget is old enough.  We’ll see.)  This fall I scouted around the performances at all of our major local theatres and there was a clear winner – Mr. Popper’s Penguins at the Kennedy Center!

Miss Peanut was all dolled up for her first trip to the Kennedy Center.  I made the mistake of playing Hamilton, disc one, in the car on the way to the show, and as we walked through the garage she announced: “Ohhhhhh, I am SO excited to see Hamilton!”  Oops.  A bag full of wooden ballerina figurines made for a welcome distraction.  (Hamilton is coming to the Kennedy Center in 2018, and now we are thinking that instead of making it a date night, we might need to bring our budding theatre geek along.)

Mr. Popper’s Penguins was in the Family Theatre, which I’d never seen before.  We wandered around looking for about ten minutes, then finally found our way to our seats.

Ready for an adventure in Stillwater!

There was a cute little playbill insert with facts about the show, penguins, and Antarctic exploration.

Peanut loved the show.  She was cracking up at the penguin puppets, laughing and applauding throughout the performance.  A definite hit!  After last year’s show was a bit beyond her, I was glad to see her have so much fun this year.  Now I’m more determined than ever to make a Christmas theatre production part of our family’s holiday traditions.

Christmas Eve with Friends

The fun continued on Sunday, with back-to-back social engagements.  A few weeks ago, Zan texted to ask if we’d like to get together for another football Sunday, either on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve.  Since New Year’s Eve doesn’t work for us, schedule-wise, I responded that we’d love to see them on Christmas Eve.  Plans were laid for Zan to bring lunch (a generous gesture that I really appreciate!) and we would provide the TV, drinks and appetizers.  As we were finalizing our football plans, our day suddenly got noisier, cuter and more complicated when I realized that it would be my last opportunity to hang out with my law school BFF, Carly, before she and her family moved to Asia for two years for her husband’s job.  Carly and I quickly planned a morning playdate, and I was thinking that we’d be bidding them goodbye as we were welcoming Zan and Paul over.  But Zan mentioned wanting to see the waterskiing Santa down by the Old Town waterfront.  Since the waterskiing Santa was one of our favorite activities last Christmas, I immediately said we’d love to do that, and Carly liked the idea too.  A friend date mashup!

Carly and I took the kids to the playground first – she has a three-year-old girl and a one-year-old boy – and then met up with Zan, ate a quick lunch and headed down to the waterfront to catch Santa and friends cavorting on the river.

Just as we walked up to the river, the festivities began!  The Grinch on a jetski, elves in a skiff and Cindy Lou Who on a tube, and the main event – Santa and the reindeer on waterskis!

Our little pod was wildly impressed.

(Even Peanut enjoyed herself, although she was just as belligerent as ever when the camera came out.)  Eventually we rounded up our gaggle of children, negotiated meet and greet sessions with a polar bear, a panda, and Rudolph on our way off the dock, and went our separate ways.  I hugged Carly as hard as I could, to squeeze two years of hugs into this one goodbye.  And then Zan and I brought my own kids back for a cozy afternoon at home.

Eventually Zan and Paul headed off to church, and Steve and I tucked the kids in for an early bedtime.  When we were sure they were safely asleep (Peanut) or contained (Nugget) we got to work.  Errrrrr… I mean… Santa came!

I made sure to stay hydrated, which is very important.  After rewarding ourselves for a job well done, we turned in early, expecting a very early wakeup in the morning.

Christmas Morning

The early wakeup came at 6:00 when Peanut crawled into bed with us.  I was really worried that she would go downstairs and start ripping into the presents, but I needn’t have feared.  She was a good, patient girl, cuddling between us until 6:45 when her brother woke up.  He’s still little enough that he didn’t really understand what was going to be waiting downstairs on Christmas morning – but 6:45 is sleeping in for him.  He’s usually up between 5:30 and 6:00, but often earlier.  Sleeping until 6:45, even with his sister’s feet buried in my kidneys, was a nice Christmas gift.

Eventually we found our way downstairs and the kids tore into their stockings.  Santa was very good to them!  They got some necessities – sleeping bags for camping; some school uniform shirts and headbands, and rain boots, for Peanut; snowpants and snow boots for Nugget – but they also got a lot of fun stuff.  Peanut received a doll bed that is an exact miniature replica of her big girl bed; a mermaid tail blanket; a Melinda the Mermaid doll that was very hard to find; and a sweet fairy cottage with its inhabitants from her Grandma – among other things.  Nugget’s loot included a space shuttle adventure cape; a volcano play set with six little fabric dinosaurs and two palm trees; a ferry boat and submarine for the bath; and a beautiful wooden fire station play set from Grandma.

Mom and Dad did pretty well, too!  Steve got camping gear, books and his favorite socks, and I received three new attachments for my GoPro and a huge stack of books.  Santa made sure that everyone enjoyed all of their favorite things for Christmas!

If you celebrated this past weekend, I hope Santa was as good to you as he was to us!  Of course, the best gift is being home as a family, and surrounded by our friends.  Here’s to more happy memories in 2018!

Merry Christmas to all of my friends in the blogosphere!  How did you celebrate?

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Advent Activities 2017

Silver bells, silver bells, it’s Christmas time in the city…

It’s one of my favorite times of the year, and there is no better place to celebrate the season than my beloved hometown.  Alexandria – and specifically, Old Town – has made it onto “best holiday towns” and “best Christmas towns” lists of such august publications as USA Today and Country Living, because we KNOW how to do this season.  Multiple parades, gorgeous traditional decorations, and Santa waterskiing down the Potomac on Christmas Eve to cap it all off – right?!  There are so many events in Old Town, D.C. and the surrounding countryside that it’s legitimately impossible to do everything, not that we don’t try every year.

The Scottish Walk

This year’s season kicked off with a tree-trimming party with my parents on the Friday after Thanksgiving, but we really got things underway the following weekend at the Scottish Walk.  For the past few years, there have been two parades in the same day in Old Town – the Scottish Walk during the day, and the Holiday Boat Parade of Lights at dusk.  Maybe one of these years we’ll make it to both, but that’s a lot, even for us.  Last year we hit the boat parade; this year, to mix it up, we checked out the Scottish Walk.  We had planned to go with our friends Jimmy and Rachel and their daughter, who is Peanut’s BFF, but Steve wasn’t feeling well.  Not wanting to disappoint the crew, I bundled the kids into their stroller myself, and we set off for the parade minus one adult.

Jimmy, apparently, is a parade connoisseur.   Also he and Nugget liked the same cars.

The parade was a ton of fun.  We saw our Congressman, Miss Virginia, some marching bands, antique cars, and–

Darth Vader!  Nugget shouted, “HEY, IT’S MY BUDDY!” when he saw the Dark Lord walking down the street all decked out in his holiday finery.  Don’t you love the candy cane-striped lightsaber?

It wasn’t just Vader.  The whole gang was there – looking appropriately Scottish in their kilts.  Chewbacca…

Stormtroopers…

Even R2-D2 got in on the kilt action!  I’m guessing he’s carrying spare robot parts in his sporran?

A Snowy Walk in the OT

The following weekend – it snowed!  Before-Christmas snow is a pretty rare occurrence in northern Virginia, so clearly we made the most of it with a walk and some playtime in the park by the river.

The kids were over the moon.  And Mom much appreciated the opportunity to make a list of outgrown winter gear to be replaced – before Christmas.  I think both kids will get another season out of their coats, but Peanut’s hat now perches on top of her head like a pillbox, and Nugget’s mittens are a travesty.  I can tell you that Santa made good use of the early warning.

Being a little taken by surprise – and lacking in the mitten, snowpant and boot department – didn’t stop us from running around and having fun in the snow!

We tacked the walk onto the back end of a Christmas tradition that Steve and I have had since we first moved to Alexandria in 2010 (after five years in the comparatively less holiday-obsessed Arlington).  We used to spend a day wandering the streets of Old Town hand-in-hand and checking out the beautiful Christmas decorations on all of the houses, then have something boozy to drink before heading home.  We skipped the boozy drink part this year, but it was fun to rekindle one of our favorite traditions from the pre-baby days, this time with our little sidekicks.

Snow made it all the more festive.

We started at our favorite place – the fire station!  They had a nod to the season with a little lit sled and reindeer on top of the garage.  So cute.  Smile, boys!

The thing that makes an Old Town Christmas so magical is the history.  People definitely go all out with their decorations, but the whole neighborhood is so historic – it predated the United States of America, after all – that people who live here are committed to maintaining its character.  At the holidays, they do so with lots and lots of decorations, but everything is very understated and traditional.  There’s plenty of fresh greenery and candles in the windows, lots of lovely wreaths, and the occasional strand of twinkling fairy lights.  Taken altogether, the effect is spectacular.

We walked and played in the snow until the sun started to go down, and then headed home by way of King Street, which was lit up like a fairyland.

And stopped to say hi to the big tree on Market Square.

Spectacular!

Christmas in Little Washington

The next day found us bundled into the car, driving out to the mountains for our second parade of the season.  Last year, we attended Christmas in Little Washington, and it was so much fun we knew it had to be a holiday must-do.  We had hoped to squeeze in a hike at Shenandoah National Park before the festivities got underway, but thanks to the snow, Skyline Drive – the main park road and necessary to reach the trail we were planning to explore – was closed.  So no Shenandoah for us.  Instead we slept in (sort of) and had a leisurely breakfast at home before driving out to our favorite mountain town.

Our first order of business was lunch!  We had packed food for the kids, and Steve and I picked up sandwiches from a vendor for ourselves, and enjoyed an al fresco meal in the snow.  Of course, it was a complete circus.  What meal isn’t, these days?

Then we wandered around town looking at the greenery.  The Inn was looking gorgeous, as usual.  Can’t believe that just a few weeks ago, we were actually eating dinner there, thanks to the world’s most generous mother-in-law!

We (and our wet boots and loud children) didn’t go inside this time.

But we did find a magical frozen fountain.

It wasn’t long before the parade began!  We staked out the same spot we’d claimed last year and watched Rappahannock’s finest march by.  Redcoats opened the parade, as usual.  (Steve leaned over to me and whispered, “We’re supposed to boo, right?”)

Checking out the parade route on the map.

There was a tinsel-bedecked tractor…

And another tractor festooned with wreaths and bows…

The sherriff…

Lots of animals (in addition to the Lil Sebastians – which is what I must call all miniature horses, everywhere – there was a posse of riders on regular-sized horseback escorting a tumble-down pile of puppies)…

Nugget’s buddy, Rappahannock 1…

And Santa and the Missus!  I have to admit, I liked their last year’s ride (a vintage green pickup truck) better.  But it’s always a treat to see them.

A Visit to Aladdin the Christmas Camel

Another holiday must-do is a drive down to Mount Vernon to visit with Aladdin, the Christmas Camel.  The short backstory is that George Washington used to procure a camel to entertain his stepchildren, and later his grandchildren, ever year at Christmas.  The estate keeps up that fun tradition and for as long as we have been visiting at the holidays – and this is another tradition that predates children – the camel has been Aladdin.  We saw Aladdin when he was just a baby, for his very first Mount Vernon season, and have come back every year since then (with the exception of our three years in New York, of course).

He’s gotten pretty gigantic!  This year, the estate took the precaution of an extra fence, which I can only imagine is intended to serve as a buffer between Aladdin – who is a very chill guy – and overly inquisitive children.  Not that we know any of those.

After saying hello to our friend Aladdin, we checked out the other fun around the estate.  They had some big cauldrons set up for a cooking demonstration later.

The kids raced around and played tag with a new friend, then we bid Aladdin adieu and wandered off to check out the other creatures on the estate.

Sheep are always a hit.

Walked down to the little beach.  Peanut asked to go swimming.  Ummmmm… NO.

Wandered around the “George Washington: Pioneer Farmer” site for a little bit and then headed back up the dirt road, hoping for a bit more time to spend with Aladdin before we had to go home for lunch.

Unfortunately, someone didn’t want to ride in the double stroller, and he also didn’t want to walk fast (or at all).  He alternated between squatting down by the side of the road and digging in the dirt, and asking for “uppy.”

I finally convinced him to keep up by giving him a “hiking stick.”  Should’ve known from the beginning – if there’s anything the kid loves, it’s hiking.  My nature boy!  He declared that he was “in Shenandoah.”  Oh, yeah – all outdoor spaces are “Shenandoah.”  (And I do mean all outdoor spaces – earlier this week, his nanny took him on the metro to check out a new play space, and he pointed out the trees speeding by in the very suburban neighborhood and informed his [very tolerant] nanny that they were in Shenandoah.  Ha!)

Such a fun morning in one of our favorite places!  We come to Mount Vernon all year round, because we love it so much, but it’s especially magical at Christmastime.  Like all of northern Virginia, really.

We have many more fun activities planned before this Christmas season comes to a close – I’ll have the rest to share with you after Christmas!  Happy holidays to all of my friends, no matter what you celebrate.  And if you’re a Christmas family, like us–

What are your favorite Advent traditions?

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The Winter List 2018

(I think that’s the first time I have typed “2018” at the top of a blog post – yikes, are we really doing that?)

Anyway – it’s time!  Time to think ahead to the holidays, which are just around the corner, and then to the winter months stretching ahead of them, to set intentions and make plans.  This month, I’d like to…

  • Learn to bake bread.  (I think I say this every winter.  Maybe this time, it’ll happen.)
  • Read some Trollope.
  • Hike my favorite trail (Difficult Run) at Great Falls, and help the kids earn their Junior Ranger badges.
  • Clean all remaining books out of the basement, and make a big donation run to the library.
  • Bake with Peanut almost every weekend.
  • Decide on a summer vacation destination, and start planning.
  • Read my way through all of P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves books, in order.
  • Take the kids to play at Badlands.
  • Start training for the GW Parkway Classic.
  • Do a major toy purge!

There – ten things, and I think a very doable list.  I am not feeling particularly ambitious.  I just want to enjoy my weekends and make some headway on a few projects.  Not too much to ask, right?

What’s on your winter agenda?

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Well, we are full-swing into the holiday season now, so I suppose it’s time to say goodbye to my favorite season.  (Although there are still some orange and yellow leaves on the trees around here, and apple cider will be in the grocery stores all winter, so I can have a little bit more fall – right?)  We always try to make the most of the season, and I think we did a pretty good job of that this year.  There are some activities that have become fall “musts” for us – apple-picking, for one, and visits to the pumpkin patch – but we also leave ourselves plenty of room for new experiences.

  • The big one: give a heartfelt Maid of Honor toast at Rebecca’s wedding (while wrangling my little flower girl) in Florida and then dance the night away.  Done!  Well, not the part about the toast – it was a really relaxed wedding and I didn’t end up needing to do that, which was kind of a relief.  It was such a joy to be Rebecca’s MOH, and words can’t convey how much I appreciated her including Peanut in the wedding, too.  Rebecca really loves her “niecelette” and it shows.  Peanut was over the moon at getting not only to see her auntie as a bride, but getting to be a part of her special day!  All the feelings.

  • The other big one: spend a weekend in New York City and see Hamilton on Broadway!  Done – yay!  This was such an awesome trip.  Steve and I snuck off for just twenty-four hours, stayed in the Library Hotel (I’ve been wanting to stay there for years) and had a fabulous night out at Hamilton, which was an incredible show.

  • Take the kids apple and pumpkin-picking.  Done!  We went apple-picking back in September and managed to hit the orchard during prime apple season – imagine that!  No baked goods resulting, but we ate our apples out of hand for weeks afterwards and they were delicious.  And we had fun checking out a new-to-us farm for pumpkin picking on Halloween weekend, and came home with a trunk full of gorgeous gourds.

  • Read lots of books from diverse voices.  Done!  I can always improve on this, but I made a point of focusing on diverse books this season, and read over 50% books by writers of color in November.

  • Walk to the farmers’ market and do some seasonal baking with Peanut.  Done!  We took plenty of strolls to the farmers’ market, and I’m going to count our fun in the kitchen on Thanksgiving as seasonal baking.  (Hey, stuffing is baked.)

  • Run the Dulles Day on the Runway 5K and the Marine Corps Marathon 10K.  Done!  It felt so good to get back in my running shoes.  I pushed the stroller for 3.1 miles at the Dulles Day on the Runway 5K – my first stroller race, although I’ve done lots of stroller running – and had a wonderful time running through the streets of D.C. at the MCM10K.  I even squeezed in one more race – a five mile turkey trot through the neighborhood next door to mine on Thanksgiving morning.
  • Spend some time in Fairacre.
  • Help my bestie  MOVE TO D.C.  I’m going to say this is in progress and done-ish.  Rebecca’s job start date was postponed, but she’ll be moving here shortly after New Year’s and starting in early January.  I’m already helping, though.  I’ve provided input on neighborhoods, apartment buildings, and commuting routes, and can’t wait to dig in and help her actually unpack and set up house!  She won’t be living walking distance from me as we’d hoped, but she found a nice apartment in one of my old neighborhoods, and we’ll be a heck of a lot closer than when she lived in Virginia Beach and Africa!

  • Take the kids to a children’s Halloween party.  Done!  I probably won’t have this on the list next year.  Peanut and her BFF, S, who has attended the party with us for the past two years, seem to be growing out of it.  (Nugget is still the right age but he was in a MOOD this year, which made it tough on everyone.)  It’s a great event for the little ones, and we’re glad that we got to go two years in a row!
  • Finally start cleaning out and organizing the basement.

  • Take a weekend trip to Shenandoah National Park and help the kids earn Junior Ranger badges.  Hmmmmm – half done.  We did go to Shenandoah National Park over Thanksgiving weekend, and climbed Stony Man Mountain, which was gorgeous.  But Shenandoah’s Junior Ranger program starts at age 7, so clearly that wasn’t going to happen.  (It’s hard enough to convince Peanut to go along with age-appropriate activities.  You should have heard the caterwauling before she finally caved at Joshua Tree.)  This winter, we’ll do the program at Great Falls instead.
  • Get an early start on my 2017 family yearbook (instead of waiting until January this year!).  Done – only because I said a start.  I have most of the pictures I’ve taken in 2017 uploaded onto Shutterfly, but the yearbook itself is in a rough shape.  Plenty of time to work on it over cold winter evenings to come.  Uploading the pictures is the biggest pain.
  • Play at Badlands on a bad-weather day.

Yay, fall!  I think I did a surprising amount this season – well, maybe not surprising, because I always pack a lot of activity into fall; it is my favorite season, after all.  The highlight, of course, came right at the beginning – Rebecca’s wedding!  We all had so much fun traveling together to Florida and it meant so much to us to share in her special day – especially for Peanut.  Peanut loves weddings and brides, and it was clear that she felt so special and so loved by her Aunt Rebecca, who so obviously cherishes her.  Rebecca already had a special place in my heart, but “make my girl happy” is a surefire way to ensure that I’ll love you forever.  Anyway, enough gushing over my fabulous and kind BFF.  The other highlight of the season was finally seeing Hamilton on Broadway after listening to the soundtrack on almost a daily basis for the past two years.  Seeing the show performed live was everything I hoped for – and more.  The rest of the season was great, too!  We squeezed in our must-dos – apple- and pumpkin-picking, the children’s Halloween party at Lee-Fendall House, trick-or-treating in Old Town.  And we enjoyed some new experiences, too – trick-or-treating at Mount Vernon, the Alexandria Turkey Trot, and sharing Shenandoah with my parents.  I’m never ready to say goodbye to fall, but I can feel peaceful about it if I’ve done the season justice, and I think that this year, I definitely did.

What was on your fall agenda?  Did you get it all done?

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I can’t believe that Friday will be December, and this hiking year is almost at an end!  We’ve had some amazing experiences on the trail this year, and November’s hike was no different.  What with Steve being a little under the weather, we haven’t been able to get on the trails as much this month as we’d have liked to, so by Thanksgiving weekend, I was really craving a good hike.  With my parents being in town for Thanksgiving, I also wanted to do something a little special with them.  Once it became clear that our plans to escape to the mountains for a couple of days after Thanksgiving were going to work out, I started researching the best family-friendly (read: kid-friendly) hikes at Shenandoah National Park, and Stony Man Mountain immediately jumped out as the hike to do.

There are two ways to hike Stony Man.  The main trail, which hits only Stony Man Mountain, is a 1.6 mile out and back with 340 feet of elevation gain – basically, the easiest possible way you could ever expect to climb a mountain.  There’s also a longer, and a little more challenging, trail called the Passamaquoddy Loop, which covers Little Stony Man as well.  That would normally be our choice, but with Steve still recovering and the babies not getting any easier to carry, we opted for the shorter trail this time.

Someone would have liked to hike on his own two feet, I think.  Soon, little man!  (Really – soon.  Mommy isn’t going to be able to schlep you forever.)  He was also desperate for a hiking pole of his own – that’s Nana’s, collapsed all the way down.  Too funny!

The trail was beautifully maintained all the way up.  My parents are used to hiking on Adirondack boulders, so I think they enjoyed the groomed trails in Shenandoah.  There were still plenty of opportunities for bouldering.  My dad is part mountain goat!  (I’d have been up there with him, but I was carrying 36 pounds of my heart’s most precious treasure on my back.)

Even with the relatively gentle incline, I was still feeling it.  This is one densely-packed little boy!

But even so, it seemed like no time at all before we reached the summit.  The final “push” to the peak was anything but – just a flat, gentle trail through the woods to the overlook (we’d already done all of our climbing).

Looking forward to that view!

Breathtaking!  The valley floor with the long mountain ridge in the background was absolutely stunning to behold – and there were two peregrine falcons swooping through the skies.  I think my parents were definitely not disappointed with this one.

Nana is a bird!

Just off to the left, the mountains reach back and back and back in shaded layers of azure, cerulean and sky – our Blue Ridge.

Summit snaps!

It was a lovely day on the summit.  The sun was warm and there was no breeze to speak of, so we were comfortable lingering, taking pictures, and goggling at the view.  (My dad was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t take the kids out of the backpacks to pose for pictures with the grandparents, but that was one thing I wasn’t comfortable with – the dropoff after the boulders was pretty steep.  Next time they come, I promised, we would take them to Great Falls – the kids can run around there.)  We spent about twenty minutes at the summit, just soaking in the payoff of a wonderful hike.

Another wonderful national park experience!  We love having Shenandoah in our backyard, and we hope to get there a lot more in 2018 – and it was fun to take my parents there for the first time.  We all share a love for the national parks and for hiking, so a family visit to Shenandoah was long overdue.  Can’t wait to see where our family adventures take us in 2018!

What’s your favorite national park?

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