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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

As much as I am admittedly a homebody, I don’t mind a bit of business travel – especially business travel of the low pressure, conference-attending-and-networking variety, which I had last week.  I spent Thursday and Friday in Chicago, where my firm has their home office, attending a multi-office practice group meeting.  The meeting was great – there were interesting and informative workshops, and I also got to meet colleagues from other offices, some of them for the first time (and I’m hoping that leads to some good projects).  The one drawback to business travel?  Being stuck in a conference room.  Especially when you know what you’re missing, because the view from reception is…

Oof.  It was tough to sit still, knowing that was outside.  Even amidst the fun of hearing everyone’s favorite labor relations war stories (#nerdalert) I found myself fidgeting and glancing toward the window a few times.  Knowing that Friday would be a busy day of meetings right up until I had to head to the airport, I decided I was going to get up early and take a sightseeing run around all that good stuff right outside my hotel.

Started at the hotel front entrance, and a mere two blocks later, I was at the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower).  No need to stop and gawk, since I was there on Thursday and would be heading back up those high speed elevators on Friday – that’s where our office is.

Next sight: the Chicago River.  Someday, I want to take one of the architecture boat tours that wend their way down this waterway.  Maybe next year.

For this year, I contented myself with a quick breather on the bridge, and a selfie.  (Alert: more selfies ahead.)

Headed down Monroe Street, and totally unexpectedly, spotted…

HAMILTON!  (I may have come to a screeching halt and shouted “THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENS!” right there on the sidewalk.  Fortunately, it was very early, and not many people were out.)

My plan was to run to Millennium Park, since I’ve never been there, and then see how I was feeling – and continue on if I still felt good.  I had a specific destination within the park in mind…

Do you see what I see?  A BIG SHINY LEGUME.

Got a little closer…

I call this Red Face With Bean.

Since I was still feeling good (that red face notwithstanding) I continued through the park and headed down to that beautiful lake I’d been staring at all the previous afternoon from the conference room window.

Gorgeous.

The sun was still coming up and there were some really cool cloud formations overhead.  It actually sprinkled a bit while I was on the lakeside trail, but nothing too bad – mostly just refreshing.

Happy runner!  (That’s Shedd Aquarium and the planetarium in the far, far background.  I thought about running all the way to the planetarium, since I was feeling so great, but decided I really needed to get back to the hotel and get ready for work.)

Fortunately, the views on the way back were fabulous, too.

I had time for a few more sights on my route back to the hotel!  Buckingham Fountain…

So, so beautiful.

And finally, the Art Institute of Chicago.  I’d love to get a closer look at all of these sights – not just fly past them on a run.  But it was better than nothing!

I thought I’d probably run about two miles.  Imagine my surprise later, when I mapped it out and it was closer to four!  I felt fantastic the whole time, and could have gone much further if I didn’t have to get showered and fancy for another day of meetings (and then travel).  I’m sure it helped that I took a lot of breaks – as you can tell from all of the pictures.  But I still felt darn proud that I got up early (after a long night of cocktails and bocce with colleagues) and got some miles in.  Plus, on foot is the best way to sightsee, right?

Thanks for a great run, Chicago!  Hope to see you again for more miles one of these days…

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Spring is widely regarded as the most spectacular season of the year in D.C.  I haven’t been able to really enjoy it in the past, because I always got hideous allergies – it’s no fun to spend a month with runny eyes, itchy throat, and a completely blocked nose.  For whatever reason – knock wood, and I’m almost afraid to write this for fear I might jinx it – allergies seem to have passed me by this year.  I think it may be because I spent three years out of the area, and it takes awhile for pollen to become familiar enough to my immune system to make it freak out.  I’ve also had another baby, and pregnancy does all kinds of weird things; I’ve got to say, if one of the side effects of Nugget was that he cured me of my allergies, even for a little while, well, I already love the little guy but – that’s awesome.

All that’s to say, since I haven’t been spending my days sneezing and popping Claritin – yet – I’ve finally gotten to go out and do All The Spring Things, and D.C. has totally earned its reputation for being a spring wonderland.  The weekend before last, we took advantage of a crisp but cloudless morning to drive down to Mount Vernon and check out all the glories of spring on the estate.

Rows and rows of tulips, daffodils, and more flowers in the upper garden – flowering trees all over the grounds – and baby animals in almost every enclosure!  Does it get better than that?

We started out with a walk around the upper garden and then down past the Mansion to go check out the animals – always the kids’ favorite part.  We actually went into the Mansion this time, because we found a slot between tour groups and it wasn’t too crowded.  Peanut loved it, as expected, and Nugget was a menace, also as expected.  I think in the future we’ll just send Peanut inside with one parent, and keep Nugget out with the other.  Fortunately, no property damage was done, and he didn’t even get yelled at for banging on doors like he did at the Lee-Fendall House.  So… a win?

Headed down to the animals and right away spotted lambs!  WAY too cute.  I apologize in advance for my terrible photos.  The sun was just too blinding.  I assure you, they were much cuter in person.

My lambkins were enthralled by the sweet little woolly babies

Next we continued down the hill toward the Heritage Farm, and on our way, we discovered – piglets!

Again, pictures do no justice to the cuteness of the real thing.  These little ones were only five days old!  And already scampering and playing in their little lean-to.  Poor Mom looked exhausted.

Made it down to the river!

It was such a gorgeous day.  I could have stayed outside all day long.  Sunshine, birdsong, flowers, and baby animals – what’s not to love?

A little too sunny for some people.  Look at these spoiled kids, being towed backwards so the sun doesn’t get in their faces.  It’s the life, right?

Eventually we had our fill of the (grown-up) sheep down at the Heritage Farm and headed back up the hill, stopping about halfway up to let the kids out of the stroller – they’d had enough riding.

Yes, they’re almost the same height.  And Nugget weighs as much as Peanut does now.  It’s frightening.

Found a little grove of Virginia dogwoods!  (It’s a tree and a flower. #andrewshepardismypresident.)  I pointed them out to Steve, who had been wondering about how to identify them just the week before.

Mount Vernon is really the perfect family outing for us.  There are flowers for Peanut (and me!), animals and plenty of lawn for both kids, and a delightful walk for all.  I’m so glad we’re living close to the estate again (although I miss being just a ten-minute bike ride away!).

Where do you like to go to soak up spring?

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And now it’s 2017!  I think we were pretty much all ready to see the back of 2016.  Has there ever been a year in which more things went wrong, from a state-of-the-world perspective?  Globally speaking, I found 2016 as ridiculously absurd as most people, so good riddance.  But from a personal and family perspective, we actually had a pretty good year – filled with lots of laughter and fun, with big and small adventures all folded around a major, and very welcomed, life change.  Here’s a look.

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The biggest event in January was concluding the sale of our house in Elma, and moving into temporary housing in Williamsville, New York.  The move was phase one of our plan to leave the Buffalo area – a goal we were already working on at the end of 2015, although we just murmured vague things like “we’re looking for a better fit” when asked about our home sale.  We weren’t ready to share our ultimate plan at that point.  Most of the month was consumed with packing and moving, so we didn’t do much adventuring.  But I did finish recapping 2015 fun and posted Part I of my 2015 reading year in review.

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In February, we settled into our new temporary living situation. and I made two stealthy trips to D.C. to interview for a job.  That job didn’t work out, but getting interviews so quickly did boost my confidence and convince me that we had a chance of making our dream of moving home come true.  Those trips – planning and preparing for them, making them, and keeping them quiet – consumed my entire month and between that and work drama back in Buffalo, I had very little energy for anything else.  So we didn’t get out much in February, although I did post Part II of my 2015 reading year in review, and my 2015 Book Superlatives.

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March was all about celebrating Nugget as he turned one year old!  We threw him a storytelling birthday party with a nature theme at a local children’s bookstore, and it was so much fun.  I think he felt very celebrated and very loved.  Around the main event of the month, we squeezed in a few hikes – since the weather was unseasonably warm – making it to Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve and to Tillman Road Wildlife Management Area.  We also visited a working sugar shack as part of New York’s Maple Days.

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In April, I made another stealthy trip to D.C. to do my first interview for the job I would end up taking.  Around that, I fit in fun both bookish and outdoorsy.  We took a family hike to Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge and spotted dozens of red-winged blackbirds.  We also went back to Times Beach Nature Preserve and Canalside for family playtime.  And I – as always – celebrated National Poetry Month, this time with a fun twist!  I posted two big roundups of my favorite poetry books for kids, one post for the classics, and one for newer favorites.

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In May, I continued to be all over the place.  I made another secretive interview trip to D.C. – the most stressful one yet, involving bumping into a colleague on the way there, and a nearly-missed connection in Detroit (sprinting in heels to catch the last plane of the night) on the way back.  I liked my end of month travel better – a trip across New York State to visit my parents and spend some time at the lake for Memorial Day!  We also hit up the summit of Mount Greylock and had lunch in Williamstown, Massachusetts – such a fun trip.  Closer to home, we had some fun adventures – a Mother’s Day weekend that included hikes at Tifft Nature Preserve and a 5K race in Ellicottville, New York; a family walk through Reinstein Woods; and a hike at Akron Falls, a park we’d not yet explored.

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In early June, I got the exciting news that I had a job offer in D.C., and our move was officially underway!  We still kept it under wraps, in case things fell through.  Two days after getting the exciting call from my new firm, I packed up and drove across the state to Lake George for an education law conference.  In between conference sessions and workshops, I managed to spend almost a full day with my college friend Seth – hiking, kayaking, eating delicious crab legs and drinking wine.  Back in Buffalo, we celebrated Father’s Day with another 5K (for me!) and a family hike.

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July was a blast, as we squeezed as much Buffalo fun in as we could before moving at the end of the month.  Starting with a fun Fourth of July weekend that included playground time, Canalside, berry picking and a family retirement party.  The next weekend, we were out and about again with a special treat for Nugget – Touch A Truck!  I mused on my favorite books of the first half of the year and on my personal tendency to cram as much fun into summer as possible.  Meanwhile, I dedicated the rest of the month to wrapping up work projects and lining up childcare (a school for Peanut; a nanny for Nugget) in northern Virginia.  We closed out the month by throwing an early fourth birthday party for Peanut, so that she could celebrate with her friends, after which I promptly threw my back out putting Nugget in the crib, and then our moving truck rolled out two days later and we officially said goodbye to New York State.

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August was about resting and reflecting on this big life change that we had brought about.  It was a long journey – eighteen months from the time we first started talking about moving, before Nugget was even born, to turning the key at our new place in Virginia.  And even though we had a house crammed full of boxes and a lot of unpacking and organizing to do, we decided to spend our final week of freedom before I started my new job visiting my friend Rebecca in Virginia Beach.  We spent pretty much the entire week barefoot and covered in sand and it was exactly what we needed.  When we got home, D.C. life started in earnest.  I started work at my new firm.  My cousin Jocelyn came down to watch the kids for two weeks as part of our cobbled-together bridge childcare plan (before the school year started and the nanny was available) and we did our best to induce her to move south – with hikes at Great Falls, visits to the D.C. monuments, and a morning at the Udvar-Hazy Center, not to mention two cute kids.  We also celebrated Peanut’s fourth birthday – can’t believe what a big kid she is!

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In September, we continued to enjoy being back in northern Virginia and able to visit all of our favorite spots again – including Lake Burke (pictured above), which was one of our regular haunts when we lived here before.  Most of the rest of the month was quiet – filled with settling in.  Nugget got his first haircut and I was a soggy mess.  I reflected on the summer that just ended.  And – the best part of September – my dear Buffalo friend Zan came for a visit.  All in all, September was busy – filled with back to school events and birthday parties – but also quiet, if that makes sense.  It was a lot of the business of living, which was exactly what I wanted after three years of homesickness.

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If September seemed quiet, October was packed with local fun.  We celebrated Columbus Day weekend with a trip to Little Washington for a few days, where we tasted wine, explored the adorable town, and hiked in Shenandoah National Park.  Back in the D.C. suburbs, we drove out to Loudoun County two weekends in a row for apple picking and then pumpkin picking; had a playdate with a new school friend at a children’s Halloween party hosted by a local historic mansion; and finally went Trick-or-Treating (with our mermaid and fire truck) in Old Town – a month-long funfest that I recapped in one big monster of a post.

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November was… it happened.  The month started well, with a visit to the Will & Jane exhibit at the Folger Shakespeare Library.  Then the election happened, and I – like pretty much everyone else I know – was absolutely stunned.  I said everything I needed to say in this post, so no more.  We finished the month with a trip up to my parents’ house for a family funeral and Thanksgiving.  (For the first time since switching from food blogging, I didn’t recap a holiday.  I just didn’t feel like it.  It was good to see family, and the kids had a great time.  That was enough.)

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After the dumpster fire that was November, we made December all about family fun.  Another visit to Little Washington (for their Christmas parade!), walks to the waterfront to see the holiday boat parade of lights and the waterskiing Santa, and last but not least, Christmas itself.  It was wonderful to celebrate as Virginians again, and looking back on the year I was so grateful that the move home happened as I’d hoped it would.

And now, onward!  Next week, I’ll be reviewing how I did on my 2016 goals and plans (spoiler alert: pretty bad) and setting some new intentions and a word for 2017 – which I can’t tease, because I still don’t know what it will be.  It feels particularly good, this year, to have a fresh start.  Can’t wait to see what 2017 brings to our family (even if I’m a little scared for the world).

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Somehow, we managed to live as avid hikers in the DC area for ten years without ever making it to Shenandoah National Park.  My college alumni club went to the park to hike Old Rag, its most popular peak, twice a year, but I never was able to join the group (it seemed I was always out of town, or running a race, or pregnant, when they would go).  Nor did we ever get there on our own.  Since we love the outdoors and love national parks, this was a huge omission that I was determined to correct as soon as possible when we moved back.  And a few weeks ago, that’s what we did!

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The most important agenda item for our weekend in Little Washington was a hike in Shenandoah.  Steve and I both researched trails and decided on the trail to Mary’s Rock.  Boots on the ground, and let’s go!

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We hiked through beautiful wooded trails and I checked out the ferns on the forest floor, thinking of the words from the Shenandoah National Park foliage report the weekend prior to our visit:

Ferns are turning gold –their kelly green fronds brushed lightly now with gold dust, but transforming frond tip by frond tip into the cinnamon and milk chocolate tones they’ll wear in winter.

(Whoever the park has writing the fall foliage reports needs an immediate raise.  I felt like I was reading Henry Beston.)

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We passed by the foundation of an old cabin, chimney still intact.  I love stumbling upon visual treats like these, and speculating on who lived here and what their lives were like.

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Finally, we made it to the first overlook.  We spent a few minutes just drinking in the views of the gently rolling slopes and valleys laid out below.

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From there we hiked on up to the ridge leading to Mary’s Rock, but after about half a mile, Steve and I looked at each other and conceded that we had to turn back without summitting.  A cold wind was whipping all around us, and while we were fine, the kids were both crying in the backpacks.  (Being smaller, and not working up a sweat the way we were, they were feeling the wind.)  It just wasn’t our day.  As soon as we got down off the ridge and back into the more sheltered forest, both kiddos perked up.  And before too long, one of them sacked out.  Too cute.

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On our way back down the mountain, we stopped to drink in more gorgeous views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

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Marveling at this view ^ Steve remarked, “Now I see why they call it the Blue Ridge.”  Indeed!

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Longtime readers may recall that Steve and I both grew up in or near the Adirondack region in New York State.  I lived in Albany, slightly south of the mountains, and spent countless days at my family’s cabin on the Great Sacandaga Lake.  Meanwhile, Steve was in Glens Falls, in the Adirondack region itself.  We both consider the Adirondacks an important part of our personal stories.  On this trip, we talked about how much we want our kids to grow up with the Blue Ridge Mountains meaning to them what the Adirondacks meant to us.

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I guess that means we’re just going to have to go back soon and often.  That shouldn’t be a problem!

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When we moved away from the DC area in 2013, one of the hardest things (I mean, after quitting a job I loved, selling a house I loved, and leaving friends I loved) was knowing that there were so many places that we hadn’t discovered yet, and things that we had left on our to-do list.  So it’s an added joy to be back with a second chance to do those things now – one of which was visit Little Washington, which we finally did over Columbus Day weekend.

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Washington, VA, or “Little Washington” as it’s known around the Beltway, is a tiny town (and I mean tiny – you can walk from one end to the other in less than ten minutes) nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, near the entrance to Shenandoah National Park.  The town is named after – who else? – George Washington, because he surveyed it as a young man.

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We stayed at a B&B that was about two minutes outside of town, surrounded by farmland.  The grounds were beautiful and the kids loved spotting the animals and running around on the wide lawns.

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They even had activities for Steve!

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HA HA.  The hosts prepared a baggie of carrots for the kids to feed to the farm’s gaggle of miniature donkeys.  Of course, my kids wanted nothing to do with the donkeys.  Nugget clung to me while Peanut cowered on the other side of the road, sobbing “Monster, Daddy!  Monster!”  Oh, golly.

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Can you even handle how suspicious he is?

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Little Washington is home to the Inn at Little Washington, which boasts one of the most sought-after (Michelin starred!) dining rooms in the world.  I’ve heard it’s over $1,000/night to stay there, and about $250/head for dinner alone.  Needless to say, we and our wild children didn’t get any closer than this – across the street.

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Instead, we ate several meals at a quiet, friendly place called Tula’s Off Main – the lunches were good, but brunch was a particular hit.  The staff couldn’t have been sweeter, and Nugget made several new friends.  I left with a job offer, because the manager was impressed at how I never stopped moving as I chased after Nugget.  (As I think I’ve mentioned before, he’s an absolute menace in restaurants.)

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Saturday was a bit gloomy, so we spent the afternoon wine-tasting.  While Little Washington and the Blue Ridge are beautiful, there’s not much to do inside when the weather is wet.  After it became clear that searching for family-friendly indoor activities was going to be an exercise in frustration, we just decided to hit the wine trail.

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We checked out Little Washington Winery, Gadino Cellars, and Rappahannock Cellars.

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All three were lovely, but I think Rappahannock was my favorite.  And not just for the kids’ corner, which was stocked with toys and the Little Blue Truck books…

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The wines were wonderful!  I’m still partial to Loudoun County for what I consider to be the best Virginia wines.  But the Rappahannock wine trail certainly didn’t disappoint.

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We left with a bottle from each winery.  What a delight to build up our wine cellar with Virginia wines again!  Now I can’t wait to get back out to Loudoun County and compare.

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We spent Sunday morning at Shenandoah National Park – a post about that is coming next Friday, because a national park visit definitely deserves its own day.  Luckily, we had much better weather on Sunday than on Saturday, so after naps we headed back into Little Washington to check out the town in actual sunlight.

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Now that’s what I’m talking about!

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We found a place called “Wine Loves Chocolate,” so more tasting happened, of course.

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Wine Loves Chocolate was a shop affiliated with Little Washington Winery, and we tried a basic flight of four wines paired with four chocolates.  I can’t remember the pairings now, but I remember the tasting being a blast, and we left with a box of truffles, so basically, a win.

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We ended Saturday watching Peanut eat three scoops of strawberry gelato and then run in circles around our room at the B&B until she collapsed in a heap.  Good times.

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Until next time, Little Washington!  We’ve heard there’s a big Christmas celebration and parade in early December, so I think we’re going to try to hit that in a day trip.  One thing’s for sure – I can see us returning again and again, because we absolutely loved it.

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What’s your favorite weekend getaway?

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VAB 2016: The Last Night

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All good things must come to an end, and tragically, our Virginia Beach vacation was no exception.  We were so grateful to have had a week to decompress in a beautiful place, with some of the dearest people in our world.  I spent the last night of our vacation really living the excellent advice: “Don’t be sad because it’s over.  Smile because it happened.”

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We were determined that our last night in Virginia Beach (for now – we will be back!) would be our best night.  First item on the agenda: another spin on Uncle Eric’s Water Truck.

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Peanut was prepared with this beachin’ coozie.  Nugget was rocking a new life vest that Rebecca and I bought for him on one of our naptime Target runs.  (The puddle jumper works great, but we thought he’d be a bit more comfortable in something with a slimmer profile – and he was.)

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The kids loved being out on the water!  I have to get them out on the Potomac soon.

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There’s my handsome husband!  Vacations with him are always fun.

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Nugget got the extreme joy of another turn behind the wheel.  We have a little sea captain on our hands!

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Meanwhile, Peanut kept a sharp lookout for mermaids.  She said she saw a few.

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Our destination was… well, I have no idea where this beach was, but it was beautiful.  Beautiful, and home to several jellyfish (the stinging kind!).  Which is why I look so excessively nervous, which you hopefully can’t tell from this picture because Steve kindly kept the camera zoomed out.

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Away from the jellyfish, and speeding off toward our next destination (looks like someone didn’t want to stop swimming!).  We checked out the houses along the route home and had fun opening it up and really getting a good wake going for awhile – had to, because we didn’t want to miss out on Part II of the evening…

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Expecting a particularly perfect sunset, we all trooped over to First Landing State Park to watch the show.  We made it just in time…

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The sun was already going down when we got to the beach, and soon we saw…

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THIS.  It was. an absolute. stunner.

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The whole family trooped into the calm, peaceful water to enjoy a sunset swim.

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Part of youuuuuuuuuur woooooooooorrrrrrrrrrrrrllllllllllllld…

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It was a gorgeous night, and felt like a very fitting goodbye to a vacation that was exactly what we needed, exactly when we needed it.

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We stayed on the beach past the kids’ bedtimes, and all headed home in the dark for a campfire with vegan s’mores.  As we sat roasting our marshmallows, watching the neighbors drift by on the canal – on their way home, no doubt, from their own sunset viewing parties – we felt very blessed.

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Goodbye for now, but not forever, Virginia Beach.  Thanks for the sand between our toes, the salty splashes on our faces, and the gift of a perfect sunset.

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I’ll tell you, there’s nothing like a beach vacation when you have little ones.  It’s the easiest thing in the world to just let them run around messy, and there’s nothing my kids love more than sand and salt water.

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Each day (with the exception of the one gloomy day) found our family down at Rebecca’s quiet cove, enjoying the soft sand and the perfectly kid-sized waves.  Rebecca said that the water was actually a bit rough compared to the usual, but we thought that it was great.  (When measured against the waves in the Outer Banks, Rebecca’s cove was very peaceful indeed.)

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Most days, Rebecca joined us as well.  It was a treat for the whole family – friend time for me (and Steve – he’s known Rebecca for fifteen years, almost as long as I have, and they’re good friends as well) and auntie playtime for Peanut.  Peanut is recently obsessed with mermaids, so Aunt Rebecca gave her a tail of her very own.

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Is that a lucky little mermaid, or what?  Rebecca’s dog, Brandy, had to be involved too – of course!

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Oh, no!  This mermaid has LEGS!  NOBODY TELL KING TRITON!

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Eventually our little mermaid found her way into the water, and so did her baby brother.  I joked all week that Nugget is a born fish – after all, he’s a Pisces!

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Okay, I don’t really believe in that Zodiac stuff (much).  But there’s no denying that this baby LOVES the water.

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(Hi, Brandy Dog!)

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Seriously, I could not keep the boy on the sand.  Here he is on another of our beach mornings, sea turtling his way down to the surf.

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I tried to set him up on the towel for some sand play with Peanut’s new sand toys (a perfect birthday gift from Aunt Rebecca, and sure to be enjoyed in our local sandboxes now that we’re home from the beach).  Side note: how grown up does he look in this picture?  I can’t get over it – he looks like he’s fifteen years old!  Well, maybe not quite that old.

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Okay, definitely not fifteen years old.

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As expected, the sand toys were only fun for about thirty seconds, before someone needed to be in the water again!

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As exhausting as it was, it was also really fun for Mom and Aunt Rebecca.  The kids kept us on our toes all week, but they also made the whole experience feel fresh and new and so much fun.

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Ahhhhhhhhh.

Next week: one last evening, and a spectacular sunset.

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