Monday, July 30, 2018

Roanoke Gargoyles

When visiting other cities, I always like to track down gargoyles on older buildings.  But Roanoke has a couple of gargoyles, too, standing on either side of the street.  Some people would call these grotesques, because they aren't on a building a do not have spouts.  But most of the folks around Roanoke speak of them as the gargoyles.
 They are kind of off the beaten track.  You really have to want to see these gargoyles to find them. 
I suppose they were meant to keep evil out of the neighborhoods.  A lady that lives nearby tends to them if they get any damage.  I'm glad they are still standing - they have so much character. 

Monday, July 23, 2018

Udvar Hazy National Air and Space Museum

Reid in Pierce are smitten by all things aviation, so we took them to a branch of the National Air and Space museum that is located outside DC, near the Dulles airport.  It has a huge observation tower to watch planes taking off and landing.  The boys were going crazy running back and forth from side to side, trying to see every plane.

They did a number of flight simulators.  There were several different types to choose from.

Of course, one of the highlights was the Discovery space shuttle.  We enjoyed watching a video of its last flight.

With two hangers and the tower, this is a huge museum.  We spent about 4 1/2 hours going through it. 
It was much less crowded than the Air and Space museum in DC, which was also nice (plus, the boys had been to the one in DC before).  Being Smithsonian, admission is free. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

A Day in Baltimore, Part 2

You may remember a couple of summers ago I took the boys to the Edgar Allan Poe house in Richmond.  There is also a Poe house in Baltimore.  It's located in a seriously scary neighborhood (like so bad I didn't want to stand outside to take a picture), but we decided to brave it briefly.  This is the attic bedroom of the tiny old house.

After we headed back towards downtown so that we could visit the Poe graves (there are two markers).  This was the boys' favorite part of the day.  The cemetery is mostly 18th century and is so interesting.

There are graves and catacombs all throughout the churchyard.  It was fun exploring.

Here is the newer Edgar Allan Poe marker.  It's on the corner by the street and has easier access for visitors.

Isn't it an unusual cemetery?  And the graves were willy nilly all over the place. 

Here's the original burial place for Poe.  You can see that visitors have left tokens at the stone recently. 

There are a number of prominent people who were buried in the cemetery.  Historical markers are dotted throughout.

And then look at this section - it actually tunnels under the church.  There are even graves located beneath in the crawlspace. 
It was a memorable ending to a full day.  And all three of the boys loved this cemetery the most. 

Monday, July 9, 2018

A Day in Baltimore

We headed north for a couple of days last week.  We spent a day in Baltimore.  I wanted to take the boys to the National Aquarium.  Here they are petting horse shoe crabs and stingray.

There was also a tank full of jellyfish to pet.  Even though we got there right when they opened at 9 am, it was still busy.

I've always like these fish.  They seem friendly and kind of have a smiley look to them.

In the Amazon section.  This aquarium is huge and wraps around and around.  There is so much to see.

Maryland is well known for its crab cakes, so we had to take a break from the aquarium for lunch at Phillips.

Only Reid will eat crab cakes (despite Cort's drawing).  But he was suitably impressed.

After finishing up the aquarium, we found a fun playground.  Tunnels and merry go rounds.

And stretches of music making instruments.  We spent some time hanging out here. 
As fun as it was, none of this was the boys' favorite thing we did in Baltimore.  Any guesses as to what was?  It'll surprise you.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Beating the Heat with a Waterfall and a Mine

I've blogged about hiking to the Cascades before, but it was about 7 years ago.  We were overdue for a visit.  It's always much cooler there.  We left at around 6:30 in the morning to get an early start. 
 It can get crowded at the Cascades, but we timed it right and there weren't many people around.  It's a two mile hike to get to the falls.

 I have never been there when the water was warm.  Even though temps all week had been in the mid 90s, you can see from Cort's face that the water was shockingly cold.

 The falls are higher than they look in the pictures.  This one of Cort at the base gives you a better idea of their height. 

I fell on some wet rock steps on the hike back and busted my elbow.  While I tried to clean it up with a first aid kit, the boys discovered butterflies all over.  Here, Reid had two that landed on his hands. 

Aside from the crash down the steps, it was a fun hike.  Afterwards, we took a massive detour to go to the Beckley Coal Mine Expedition.  I had fond memories of a visit there with my cousins when I was a kid.  Here are the boys getting ready to ride down into the mine.
I think the boys were impressed by the history on our tour.  They asked a lot of questions.  It was a full day, but one we all enjoyed. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

My Kids Didn't Know About Tubing

We decided to take the boys tubing for father's day.  Paul and I hadn't been since the mid 90s, so we were pretty excited for a relaxing day on the Pigg River.  We were alarmed to discover that morning that our kids didn't even know what tubing was!  We had to explain to them about the intertubes they would float on and the river.

The water was a little chilly initially, but it was a warm day so it felt refreshing.  We had a short hike to the spot where we put in.

All smiles and ready to go!  The water was flowing gently.  There were one or two spots you had to walk a few steps, but overall it was perfect.  We saw frogs, a turtle, and three snakes.

It took about 90 minutes total to float the whole stretch.  Here we are at the end. 
It was a really fun experience, and the boys are all begging to return.  Turns out they are big fans of tubing!

Thursday, May 24, 2018

A Rising 6th Grader

Yesterday was Pierce's 5th grade graduation.  It's hard to believe we have a middle schooler now.

For Pierce, the highlight of the day was getting to go up in the ceiling crawl space of the school.  He's been asking the P.E. teacher, Mr. Banks, to go up there since he was in Pre-K.  Mr. Banks always told him he would show him what was up there on the last day of 5th grade.

Pierce got to take a few of his friends up the ladder to walk to cat walk.  It sounded like a herd of elephants in the ceiling.  He was so thrilled to get up there.

We are excited to see what adventures middle school holds next year.  Most people don't seem to have the best memories of the awkward middle school years.  But Pierce has always been such a happy, curious kid, who adores learning and school, so we are hoping he will thrive there. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Sima's Home

I posted back in January about finding Sima for the boys to have a kid-friendly horse.  We did a three month free lease to make sure that he was the right horse for us (and that his owner, who loves him dearly, felt he was going to be the right semi-retirement home for him).  I think everyone involved has been thrilled with the situation, and this week we are making it official.

Sima is enjoying a slower, rural lifestyle.  He no longer is part of a show barn life, or spending his weekends doing eventing.  He has fully embraced this muddier, lazier way of living.

The boys adore him.  He's a gentleman for their rides.  They are practicing the basics right now, like trying to learn how to post to the trot.

And I enjoy him, too!  I've been taking him on trail rides, and sometimes do a little jumping.  Last week I showed Pierce how to use the good camera, and he worked on getting action shots.  I took three fences, and Pierce caught two of them just right. 

It's been a long time since I've jumped much, or worked with a trainer.  It's good for me to see the pictures to pick out my flaws.  I got a tad left behind on this one.

Compared to Francie, he's an easy going, straightforward ride.  He's very sensitive to cues - like changing diagonals or asking for leads.

Riding him makes me feel like a teenager again.  It's such a treat to ride a more finished horse. 

But this is the best part of it - he's gentle with the boys, trustworthy.  And here's my photographer.  Didn't he do a wonderful job?

We all look forward to more rides with Sima.  Once the boys are more balanced, I'm hoping we can even do some trail rides on our land.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Singin' in the Rain

Last December, Cort auditioned for a part in Singin' in the Rain.  It had been a while since he'd done any tap dancing, but he was thrilled to get the part of "Young Cosmo" despite that. 

The production ran for three nights last week.  It was put on by a local performing arts high school.  I cannot begin to tell you how impressed I was by the teenagers in the show.  They could sing and dance and act with the best!  The grand finale was spectacular!  Even after all the practices and performances, I never got tired of it.

And all the teens were extra nice to Cort and helped showed him the ropes.  He sure had a good time.  His new friend, "Young Don", who danced with him in the show, told him about another audition for a different musical coming up.  Cort is interested in doing another.  Me?  I may just need a couple of months to recover...but I certainly did enjoy seeing Singin' in the Rain!  

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Odyssey of the Mind 2018

 I've blogged before about Pierce participating in Odyssey in the Mind, something I did myself as a kid.  If you haven't heard of it, Odyssey of the Mind (or OM) is a creative problem solving challenge in which teams of seven kids choose from one of five problems and create a skit or structure or vehicle.  There is also a portion called "spontaneous" where they have to do a short term problem the day of competition that they don't know about beforehand.  Pierce was on a primary team in first grade (they present their project/skit, but don't compete), but has been on a competitive team the other years.

Last year Cort and Reid saw how much fun he was having, and asked to be in OM as well.  I talked to the teacher coaching Pierce's team last year, and she was nice enough to coach a primary team with the twins if I would coach that primary team with her. She has a lot of experience, and the kids all love her. This year Pierce migrated to a different team of mostly 5th graders (everyone else on his team from last year left for middle school), but Mrs. Harden and I stuck with the primary team from last year - only they progressed to being competitive this year.

The kids chose the problem of Stellar Hangout.  They had to create a space relay station with aliens.  There had to be a human worker, space food, entertainment, and a quest for treasure.  The kids have been working on this since October.  The last couple of weeks we were meeting for a couple of hours after school every single day to try to tie it all together.  The coaches are only allowed to give guidance and provide supplies - the kids have to create everything and write all the lines.  The more creative and outside the box, the higher the score. (Pierce's team chose a problem where they made a Mockumentary of a children's classic - they chose Peter Pan).

Saturday was the regional competition.  Here are Cort and Reid in their alien pop star costumes:

The teams worked really hard and had so much fun.  What energy!  What creativity! 

At the awards ceremony, we found out that Pierce's team placed second in their category.  They were thrilled - they really did have an adorable skit.

And then came time for the Stellar Hangout awards.  They were up against 13 teams total.  I think Mrs. Harden and I were both a little shocked when they won first place.  They have a wonderful skit with very creative elements, crazy costumes and unusual props, and a catchy and hilarious song, but they're a young team (all 2nd and 3rd graders).  I just never expected it to happen, especially their first year.  So they get to go to the state competition in Newport News next month. 

So it looks like I have a few more weeks of OM practices in my future.  I'm happy for the kids - they really worked hard for this.  It's going to be a fun adventure, and I'll let you know how it goes! 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Running Recap 2017

I don't know how it got to February and I still haven't done a running recap for last year.  It was a good year, in spite of an injury in October that almost shut down my running.  I ran more than ever before, for a total of 1850 miles.

I also did a running streak.  This is where you don't take any days off.  So you must run every single day, for at least one mile.  I had two days that I found this exceptionally challenging.  The first was in January, when I was sick with a fever and sore throat, and had to run on the treadmill at 5:30 am.  That was rough.  The second was in November, on the day following the CR24 (in which I covered 33 miles) when my IT band was really hurting from injury and the rest of my body was very sore.  That was a rough mile too.  But I stuck with it.  This was the first time I ever attempted a running streak.

So it was a good year.  My favorite run was the 9 miler I did in the desert in Arizona, around 4:30 am last summer.  It was amazing!

I don't have any recent pictures of me running.  So here's a picture of Pierce hanging from the ceiling.  Because that totally makes sense, right?

Wishing you all a Happy Valentines Day! 

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Francie's DNA Results

I have often mused over Francie's background over the past four and a half years.  Recently I discovered that I could send off her DNA to Texas A+M, where they have a horse breed registry.  So I shipped off some hair samples and waited with great curiosity.  Here's a recent picture if you want a reminder.

When the results came back I was surprised!  The primary breed that came back was Holsteiner, which is a type of warmblood (a draft breed mixed with a more athletic breed, often thoroughbred). Holsteiners are known to be good jumpers.  I could really see the Holsteiner in her head, and they are often bay in color with minimal white markings, so this isn't what surprised me.

The secondary breed that came back was Caspian.  This is a breed native to Iran, and I wasn't familiar with them, so this was very surprising.  Indeed, they are rare in the United States.  They are small horses, but known to be good jumpers.

The third breed that came back was Arabian.  Francie doesn't look Arabian to me at all.  But sometimes she gets a wild hair and does stick her tail straight in the air like an Arab while running in the pasture.

It was exciting to find out a little more about Francie's background.  I'm still as baffled as ever about where her origin may be, but I'm happy to know a little more about her breeding.  DNA is so interesting, don't you think? 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Snow Hike

We got a few inches of snow, and the boys talked Paul and I into hiking up the mountain.  The snow was blowing all over.  At the top, we found three black dogs.  Not ours, and wearing collars without names.  They were friendly and well-fed though.
I bought snow shoes with my Christmas money this year.  They strap onto my snow boots.  The are long and grip the ground.  Excellent for going up steep mountains in snow.  I didn't slide once.

As I write this, I'm getting a little tired of winter.  I'm looking forward to garden season!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Welcome, Sima

I've been looking for a beginner horse for the boys since last summer.  Pierce really wants to learn to ride.  I got preapproved with a rescue for adoption, but they never got in the type of horse we needed.  Finally I placed an ad on an equestrian site for Virginia.  I got great response, but immediately fell for Sima, and formed a friendship with his owner.  We were chatting back and forth online for weeks.  I could tell how much she loved him.

He's been doing eventing (a combination of jumpers, cross country, and dressage) up in Northern Virginia, and became sour with all the jumping.  He is 18 and ready for a quieter lifestyle.  I reached out to my old riding friends from high school that are still in that area, and was able to make a connection through one that vouched for Sima, and reassured us that he would make a good horse for a beginner.  We were so happy the day he arrived.

He's affectionate.  He loves head rubs.  And he's so calm.  I gave him a couple of days to settle in and then took him for a test ride.  He was a perfect gentleman, with a big bouncy trot.  He's very responsive to the rider - the slightest shift in weight or turn of my head would change his direction.  He has one of the softest mouths of any horse I've ever ridden, and on a long rein at the walk was practically dragging his nose on the ground. 

The next day I looked at him and told him to take care of Pierce for me.  Then I stuck him up there.  He took a few turns on the lunge line, and then I let him loose.  Sima was happy to just walk calmly around the arena.  Pierce kept saying, "Mom, this is so fun!".  And the kid hasn't even trotted yet!

I'm enjoying riding Sima once in a while myself.  Although Francie gets jealous and throws temper tantrums in the pasture.  So I have to make sure I ride her too! 
He looks so much like my show horse in high school, Chico, in the above picture that I have to do a double take every time I see it.  It was so cold on this day that I had on three layers to stay warm.

We look forward to many more rides with Sima.  I'm excited for when Pierce learns to ride enough that maybe he can ride Sima and I can ride Francie and the two of us can head off on the trails around our place. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Christmas Break Recap

Christmas break was super cold this year!  We didn't venture far from home.  It was nice to have some down time.

Pierce has suddenly become relentless about learning how to ride.  Francie is not a beginner horse.  But I did let him walk her around on the lunge line one day.

Cort spent a great deal of time in frigid temps riding this spinning big wheel on my parents' driveway (ours is gravel). 

Reid asked for a biohazard suit for Christmas.  Santa delivered.  He needs to grow into it.  They just don't make biohazard suits in kid sizes.

Twice we met up with cousins for some rollerskating.  Rollerskating is a great activity during the cold winter months.  I enjoy getting out there, too. 
Overall, we had a nice break.  It was over in a blink, and now back to school through May.