Archive for the ‘The Great Outdoors’ Category

It’s that time again!  My next-door neighbor has been puttering around her garden (flowers, not herbs/veggies) for weeks now, but I’ve been so overwhelmed at work that I haven’t had time, and we had a weirdly extended winter anyway.  But it was time, and Mother’s Day was dreary and grey – just the right weather for a trip to the garden center and some planting between bands of rain.

We went back to an old favorite – Holly, Woods and Vines on Richmond Highway; we used to live less than two minutes from its distinctive palm-festooned entrance and it was fun, if a little bittersweet, to be back in our old neighborhood.  The kids immediately started stomping in the puddles, and I congratulated myself on making sure they had their wellies on.

They also found koi for sale and were completely delighted with their discovery.  Unfortunately, we don’t exactly have room for a koi pond on our little urban patio.  Sorry, kids!


Then they took off running, so Steve chased after them while I filled up the little wagon.  I was a little bit sad that we didn’t get to pick out plants together, but they were both being so rambunctious that it was impossible.  Maybe next year.

I paid for the plants and restocked our birdseed, then it was home to dig in the dirt!  The kids were filthy and needed baths, but since we had a break in the rain I suggested we get our gardening done before cleaning them up.  They helped me clean out and prep the pots and we were ready to plant.  (And yes, our neighbors took their fence down.  They’re planning to put a new fence up at some point.  In the meantime, the kids are enjoying having their outdoor play space doubled.)

With two digging experts to assist, I had everything potted in no time.  We’re doing tomatoes and herbs again, and I have two pots of Rapunzel cherry tomatoes (Peanut loves the name, and I had success with that varietal last year), one pot of Sweet 100, and a few pots of herbs including rosemary, chives, strawberry mint and basil.  Next weekend I’ll probably fill up the rest of the herb pots via the farmers’ market; I’m thinking of thyme and another peppermint, at least.

Time to water!

Nothing feels as good as garden soil on your hands.

I’ll bet you’re wondering about the title of this post, huh?  Yes, we have named this year’s garden “Squirrelbait,” and thank you for asking.  The squirrels have been particularly brazen and destructive lately.  Peanut came home with a bean plant in a cup and we planted it a couple of weeks ago, and it took the squirrels less than 24 hours to dig it up and carry it off.  The nerve!  They’ve also destroyed several of our neighbors’ flowerpots.  I don’t know if it’s the lack of fence or something in the water or what, but they’re insane this year.  So we’ll just be grateful if they leave us some tomatoes to enjoy over the course of the summer.  Unless anyone has a tried-and-true squirrel repellant trick (and preferably not one involving cayenne pepper) to share?

Are you planting a garden this year?  Are your squirrels also pure evil?


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In my family, anytime we have an occasion to celebrate – a birthday, milestone, just a nice-weather day – we hike.  That’s just what we do!  So naturally, when Steve asked me how I wanted to celebrate Mother’s Day, I said that I wanted to hike – somewhere with water views, not too far away, but far enough to feel like I’d gotten away from it all.  My favorite Virginia state park checks all of those boxes and then some, so that’s where we headed – Mason Neck State Park.

The kids were hoping to spot some turtles, and so was I!  Our first stop was our usual haunt – the Bay View Trail.  But it was overrun with bees (oops!) so we beat a hasty retreat and headed for the Beach Trail instead.  Much better.


I love the boardwalk opening up from under an archway of green.  It’s so nice to see leaves again!  What was the deal with that winter?  And hard to believe that just about a month ago, we were hiking here with Rebecca and Brandy and we were all bundled up in winter coats and hats.

Winter?  What is winter?  It was sunny, gorgeous, and hot overlooking the little beach.  I loved it.

There you are, turtles!

As I mentioned on Monday, I had a mom milestone – the first time I told off a kid that wasn’t my own.  Some boys were shooting a nerf gun at the turtles and when one of them gleefully shouted “If that turtle comes back I’m going to shoot it!” I turned to him and snapped “You’d just better not.”  And – wow.  Apparently I scare some kids.  Just not my own kids.

Back up to the picnic area and play fields, we stopped by the birdhouses to check out the feathered friends.  There were two absolutely stunning goldfinches eating out of one of the feeders, but sadly – no pictures.  They were shy.  But this luminescent blue-feathered bird was happy to show off.

(Anyone know what kind of bird this is?  Amal?)

The park was hopping, because there was some kind of festival going on – lots of tents featuring different area wildlife refuges and outdoor suppliers – including REI!  And there was a demonstration tent where a volunteer was leading a lecture on birds of prey, featuring some very special guests.  Peanut loves raptors and owls and she was transfixed.  Nugget made it through about ten minutes before I had to bustle him off to the playground, but Peanut (and Steve) stayed to the bitter end of the educational program, and Peanut declared that she wants to be a falconer when she grows up.  (Who doesn’t?)

Happy Mother’s Day to all of my friends!  I hope that you had a lovely day celebrating the women in your life, and that someone celebrated you, too – we all nurture someone, after all.  

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One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to complete the 52 Hike Challenge – a year-long project (well, less if you’re a power hiker) that challenges you to hit the trails at a pace of one hike per week.  It struck me as a challenging but doable project for 2018 – we hike a lot, but once a week might be pushing it; like most families with young children we rack up hikes when the weather is nice but are a bit skittish about getting out in the cold or the muck.  But we’re planning to do a fair amount of hiking on vacation this year, and I figured with a little commitment, and the willingness to sneak out myself during naptimes if necessary, 52 hikes in 2018 is an achievable goal that’s still tough enough to be worth the effort.  Anyway, ten hikes in – as expected, I’m behind on pace but not too worried about it (yet) since there’s plenty of time to make up the deficit and the weather’s just starting to get nice.  For now, a recap of the first bunch from winter and early spring:

Hike 1: Theodore Roosevelt Island (McLean, VA), January 21, 2018.  Thought it fitting to begin with an homage to Teddy.

Hike 2: Scott’s Run Nature Preserve (McLean, VA), January 21, 2018.  It was the first weekend that it wasn’t freeze-your-face-off cold, so we took advantage of the (slight) thaw by knocking off two hikes in one day.

Hike 3: Huntley Meadows Park (Alexandria, VA), February 17, 2018.  Almost a month off between hikes – ouch; not a great start to this challenge.  Felt good to get back on the trail, even if the boardwalk was lousy with goose droppings.

Hike 4: George Washington’s Mount Vernon (Alexandria, VA), March 4, 2018.  There’s a nature trail through the woods on the estate, so we count it as a hike if we include that segment.

Hike 5: Piscataway Park (Accokeek, MD), March 10, 2018.  My sweet outdoor buddy chose hiking as one of his birthday weekend activities, and we found perfect spiral shells on the bank of the Potomac.

Hike 6: Burke Lake Park (Burke, VA), March 24, 2018.  Peanut brought a hand-drawn map so we wouldn’t get lost.

Hike 7: Mason Neck State Park (Lorton, VA), April 8, 2018.  Aunt Rebecca and Brandy the dog joined us for this one.  Much running and barking ensued.  Yes, Nugget is wearing pajamas, no shame.

Hike 8: Bluebell Loop Trail, Bull Run-Occoquan Regional Park (Clifton, VA), April 13, 2018.  Nothing unlucky about our Friday the 13th this time.  A gorgeous day and a favorite spring tradition (and a morning off work!).

Hike 9: George Washington’s Mount Vernon (Alexandria, VA), April 15, 2018.  Expect to see this one repeated a lot.  It’s a go-to and a family favorite, especially as the weather warms up and the animals start venturing outside.

Hike 10: Great Falls Park (Great Falls, VA), April 28, 2018.  Poor planning on my part, because we did this hike while constantly jumping out of the path of ultramarathoners running the trails for the North Face Challenge.  But it was a beautiful day.

I started slow with this challenge, thanks to the weirdly long winter and some frigid weather in January, but am picking up steam now.  The Bluebell Loop Trail was, of course, the highlight of spring hiking, and I also love every moment spent at Mason Neck.  Here’s to many more hiking weekends as the weather continues to warm up!

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Spring in Virginia is truly glorious – and I say that as someone who considers it my fourth favorite season (allergies, mud, rain) – even for me, there are delights to be savored.  Not least of the delights: the Bluebell Loop Trail at Bull Run-Occoquan Regional Park.  I’m sure it’s a pretty walk year-round, but during the one or two weeks per year when the bluebells are in season, it’s something very special indeed.

Shall we embark?  To get to the bluebells, you’ve first got to cross over a long boardwalk that takes you back, away from the road and into the woods.

Juuuuuuuust when you’re beginning to wonder where they are, they appear!  Thousands of bluebells, stretching as far as the eye can see in every direction.

As Peanut said: “It’s like being inside a Monet painting, Mommy!”

Just off the trail is a sweetly bubbling brook, straight out of the Hundred Acre Wood or Avonlea, with thousands more bluebells growing riotously all over the bank and back into the woods.

I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves.  They can communicate the beauty of the trail far better than my poor words can.

Such sweetness.

And such gorgeousness!  We walked along slowly, savoring every glimpse of blue, because it’ll have to last us a year.  The bluebell season may be short-lived, but it’s a favorite spring tradition for us, and we’ll be visiting this trail every spring for as long as we live here.

Do you have a favorite annual hiking tradition?

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Happy birthday (again, belated) to my sweet little hiker!  Turning the dials on the way-back machine to two weeks ago, would you like to see some pictures of Nugget’s birthday hike?  Yes – that’s right – when asked what he wanted to do, out of all the options, for his birthday weekend, Nugget’s first choice of activities was a hike.  Clearly, I’m doing something right!

We chose Piscataway Park for the possibility of seeing animals, and for the mixture of lovely views, a serene trail, and fun farm activities.  The mid-March crocuses were a-blooming.

Don’t be pokey!  We’ve got hiking to do!

Nugget wanted to explore down by the river, so he and I walked down together.  He had about ten minutes of pure glee, throwing rocks into the water (what is it with little boys and throwing rocks into water?) and I was delighted to find a huge stash of perfect spiral shells.  On the banks of the Potomac.  Who knew?

Back up on the trail – it seems we were a bit too early for this hike.  No baby animals, as of yet, the trail story wasn’t posted, and the visitor’s center was closed (fine, because we forgot our NPS passports anyway).  We’re going to have to come back in a few more weeks when the park is hopping.

We made our own excitement.  Don’t worry, Peanut isn’t crying.  She’s dramatically… something.  But it’s not crying, I promise, as you can probably tell from Nugget’s amused expression.

Hello yellow daffodils!  These pictures have made me unreasonably happy.  I’ve looked at them more times than I can count during the long days at the office.

That’s it – just a few!  I was more focused on enjoying the amble along the trails with my newly-minted three-year-old than I was on documenting the whole experience.  But I am still absolutely tickled that my outdoor boy chose a hike as a birthday weekend activity.  Parenting achievement: unlocked!

Do you like to celebrate your birthday in nature?

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Oof!  It had been awhile since the last hike, and since I am doing the 52 Hike Challenge, trying to keep up a pace of one hike per week all year, I really needed to get back out on the trail – I’m way behind.  I also needed to get on the trail for my own sanity.  It’s been a particularly busy and stressful time at work and I needed to move my feet and breathe fresh air.  Check, and check.

Looking for something relatively close to our house, and short/easy enough to let the kiddos walk if they wanted to, we hit on Huntley Meadows Park.  Apparently we’ve been there before?  Steve remembers hiking there with Peanut in the Baby Bjorn shortly before she turned one.  I have no memory of this.  Guess I was sleep deprived?

The hike started with a nice, flat trail through the woods, and everyone’s favorite – explanatory placards about the wildlife in the park.  It’s mostly wetlands, which makes sense, because D.C. and northern Virginia is a swamp.  Peanut started the hike in the backpack, but Nugget wanted to walk.

Before long, the boardwalk began!  This must be a riot of green and life come spring.

We were a little anxious about letting Nugget walk the boardwalks, but he was wonderful – held tight to our hands and never tried to run off.  I carried him through certain sections that the geese seemed to like for their toilets – gross.  We were literally picking our path through mounds of goose droppings, and it was actually really smelly.  Yuck.  But only in sections.  I don’t know…

Spotted a few ducks out on the water.  This picture does them no justice – the males had the most gorgeous jewel-toned heads.

Eventually we made it across the wetlands to the other side of the park.  Although I love boardwalk hikes, I was kind of relieved to get off of the boardwalk this time – and away from the goose poop.

First thing’s first – we found an observation deck and climbed up to take in the scene from up high!  Nugget was particularly excited to have such a good view.  I guess when you’re knee-high to a grasshopper, it’s pretty exciting to get to look down at something.  Or he takes after his mom, who loves a good observation deck view.

Back on dry land!

And guess who decided to join the rest of the family with boots on the trail?  (She wanted to wear her school Mary Janes, and I vetoed them.  I was right, too – there were some muddy sections, and the rain boots were absolutely the correct choice.)

They both walked the rest of the hike – so Peanut walked the second half, and Nugget walked pretty much the entire thing (minus the goose poop sections).  I think they needed it, too.  The weather has been gross lately, and neither one of them has had enough playground or outdoor time.  A walk in the woods did us all good.

Oh, and the kids made friends.  We met a nice older couple who were in the park for some birdwatching but didn’t seem to mind our loud little critters.  They were grandparents and their grandkids are a little older than these two rugrats, so I guess they were used to it.  We walked with them for at least half a mile, maybe more, and the kids chattered their faces off.  They were patient and sweet, and promised that the kids were entertaining and not disturbing them.  Ha!

Such a lovely park!  I can’t believe I didn’t remember it!  We’ll have to come back when the birds return, and bring the zoom lens.

Have you been hitting the trails recently?

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2017 was a great year on the trails!  Our hikes took us all around our local area, up to the Adirondacks and clear across the country to California.  As we look ahead to 2018 hiking – and I have some big plans for this year, as you know – I don’t want to forget all the fabulous trails of 2017.

JanuaryRiverbend Park, Great Falls, Virginia.

FebruaryLake Accotink Park, Fairfax, Virginia.

MarchU.S. National Arboretum, Washington, D.C.

AprilBluebell Loop Trail at Bull Run Occoquan Regional Park, Manassas, Virginia.

MayMason Neck State Park, Lorton, Virginia.

JuneFirst Landing State Park, Virginia Beach, Virginia.

JulyGiant Mountain, Keene Valley, New York.

SeptemberJoshua Tree National Park, Twentynine Palms, California.

OctoberSky Meadows State Park, Delaplane, Virginia.

November Stony Man Mountain, Shenandoah National Park, Luray, Virginia.

December Jiminy Peak Ski Resort, Hancock, Massachusetts.

So, there we have it!  Twelve months of fresh air and trails across five different states (Virginia, Washington D.C., New York, California and Massachusetts).  Countless miles tramped, birds spotted, high fives exchanged and views enjoyed.

Here’s to another year of hiking in 2018!

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