Colvin Run Mill Park + Great Falls

Where: 10017 Colvin Run Rd., Great Falls, VA
When: Open daily except for Tuesday, 11 am- 4pm. Admission to the park is FREE; however, if you’d like a tour (which are offered hourly), adult rates are $7 and kids are $5.

The other morning on his way out the door my husband asked me what we were going to get up to today. I told him I thought we’d hang around the house, take it easy, maybe I’d get some housework done. And I meant it!

But then…it just looked so nice outside. And I remembered that staying at home to get stuff done means you’re in the house getting stuff done. I do enough of that the 9 months of the year our lives, like everybody’s lives, are dominated by the almighty Schedule. Exactly one month from today, school is back in, and The Schedule rules us once more. We have to seize our freedom while we still can. (Another plus of getting out each day for a nice long excursion: my toddler takes a 3 hour nap afterward, which is how I’m able to sit down and write these blog posts.)

As you can guess, the dishes aren’t done, the laundry isn’t folded, and our weekend trip bags aren’t packed, but we did have ourselves a nice time outdoors. And this bird you cannot change!

I saw a sign for Colvin Run Mill Park the other day while driving home along Rt. 7 and made a mental note to check it out once I was home. It’s a lovely little park run by Fairfax County Park Authority, featuring a restored water-powered mill and a General Store that sells flour and meal ground by the mill!

We stopped in at the General Store near the entrance, which is not strictly necessary, especially if you aren’t buying tour tickets, but I highly recommend popping in before you do anything else. We went in and a sweet old lady named Marge who was running the store gave us a scavenger hunt to complete. What is it about kids and scavenger hunts? They LIVE for scavenger hunts. I’m not sure my 5 year old would have enjoyed our visit nearly as much had she not had Marge’s scavenger hunt to motivate her to fully explore everything there was to see.

There’s also penny candy!

Actual price of purchase: Twenty pennies. PLUS TAX.

The General Store was quite the popping place back when it was in business. It served those who came to Colvin Run Mill as a store, provisions outpost, post office, and meeting place. One woman said of the store that twice a week her husband would “have to go up to the store and stay for awhile.” Isn’t that a nice idea? Hanging out with your fellow store patrons and shooting the breeze rather than elbowing past them to get a spot in line or reach the bell peppers? Sorry, I foolishly attempted the brand new Whole Foods in Ashburn on its opening day, and now I’m a bit jaded. That place was Thunderdome. A beautiful, shiny, perfectly organized Thunderdome.

Walking from the General Store down through the park you come across a large shed filled with blacksmith tools, and then the miller’s house, built in 1809, where Addison and Emma Millard and their 20 children lived. Let that sink in a minute. TWENTY CHILDREN. Hat’s off to you, Emma Millard. You’re a better woman than I am.

The Mill itself is just a short distance away from the Miller’s house (nice commute) down a shady gravel path:

This decorative bordering is made up of millstones, which are used to grind the grain into flour:

And finally around the back of the mill you see the waterwheel in all its splendor:

My girls once again enjoyed standing on the bridge and throwing leaves into the stream of water blow.

There are many picnic tables available at the entrance of the park if you choose to pack a lunch and eat it there like we did, but the park was nearly empty and we had the place to ourselves so we decided instead to sit in the nice red rocking chairs on the porch of the General Store and eat our lunch.

We ended our visit by stopping back inside the General Store to return the scavenger hunt to Marge and buy some penny candy for the road- old fashioned stick lollipops, and flavored honey tubes. .

Be sure to do this:

-Outside the General Store is a wooden container with several brochures for local places of interest tucked inside. We grabbed a very well done brochure on Historical Places of Interest in Fairfax County. There was also a pamphlet called the Discovery Trail Map which listed the Fairfax County Park Foundation’s parks. Colvin Run Mill is included in this list as well as Frying Pan Farm Park, Sully Historic Site, and Green Spring Gardens. If you visit 8 of these parks and get your Discovery pamphlet stamped at each location (the ones at Colvin Run Mill come already stamped!) you can send it into Fairfax County Park Authority and be registered to win a prize package. Like I said, kids love scavenger hunts, so most would love the opportunity to go around “collecting” stamps from local parks they visit.

Make a day of it:

Colvin Run Mill was not far from where we live and was a perfect 90- minute outing  to get us active and out of the house before heading home for my toddler’s nap.If you complete the mill tour, which takes about 45 minutes, your visit will take a little longer. If you’re looking for more to do in the area, Great Falls is a great little place to explore. Just three miles away from Colvin Run Mill at 9818 Georgetown Pike is a fantastic playground that my kids just love- Grange Park.

There are numerous different play structures which are well-connected to make for a playground that’s easy for kids to play on. There’s even one of those old metal merry-go-rounds that used to be on playgrounds everywhere when we were kids, before people realized their kids were breaking arms and legs on them left and right. Here in the village of Great Falls children can still play on potentially dangerous metal playground equipment just like we did in the 80s and 90s!

One last stop for your day in Great Falls- ice cream just across the street from Grange Park at Great Falls Creamery. I don’t know why, but I’m a sucker for fresh ice cream in the summer. The other 9 months of the year I have very little interest in it and almost never eat it, but something about summer just makes me want ice cream. We’ve eaten far too much of it this summer. Again- we will get back on track in a month when school resumes. For now, it’s all ice cream, all the time. (DOWN WITH FROZEN YOGURT, IT’S AN IMPOSTOR.)

Great Falls Creamery is located at 766 Walker Rd. in Great Falls, tucked into Village Center right across Georgetown Pike from the Grange Park playground. They serve an ever-changing variety of homemade flavors as well as treats from famous local Northern Virginia bakery, Heidelberg Bakery. The day we went my girls split a cup of strawberry ice cream and I got a fresh ice cream sandwich made with white chocolate raspberry ice cream smashed between two soft Heidelberg Bakery chocolate chip cookies. There’s tables outside as well as the rolling green lawn that sprawls across the width of Village Center, where free outdoor concerts are held each Sunday evening in summer.

We hope you’ll find lots on this site to give you ideas for how to fill the last few weeks of summer. Don’t forget, the Loudoun County Fair is still in town through tomorrow evening (August 1) and is one of the highlights of the year. Petting zoo, 4H animals, FRIED OREOS, midway rides- you don’t want to miss it. We’ve gone every year since we moved here and it’s family tradition now.

The Peach Fuzztival kicks off this morning at Great Country Farms and before the NOVAd family hits the road for a weekend trip, we’ll be stopping by with friends to enjoy peach pancakes. (Certifikid is currently still offering the reduced $5 admission to GCF and that voucher IS GOOD for the weekend of the Peach Fuzztival- a very generous offer on behalf of GCF considering all the extra activities available during the Peach Fuzztival weekend and the fact peach pancakes are included in your price of admission even with the Certifikid voucher. You have no reason not to go!)


Wings of Fancy at Brookside Gardens + F. Scott Fitzgerald

Where: 1800 Glenallan Ave., Wheaton, MD
When: Daily, “sunrise to sunset.” Admission to Brookside Gardens is FREE- however, for this specific exhibit, tickets are $8 for those who are 13+, $5 for those who are 3-12, and free for those who are under 2.

Can I call this post Marylandventuring? Is that one step too far? I’m gonna do it.

So, here’s the thing. I get out and do a lot of stuff with my kids, especially in the summer, because it’s fun and we love being out and about and doing new things, and I’m not one who can spend much time sitting around doing nothing before I start getting antsy. For the most part, these outings go well- I do have to make certain accommodations for the fact that one of my kids is only 20.. 21? months old (she’s the second kid, I can’t keep up with months- I just know she will be 2 in November), but generally, we get out and have ourselves a grand old time.

Sometimes, we have ourselves a bit of a fiasco. Today was just one of them days (sings like Monica). I planned a fun outing, loaded everyone up nice and early to hit the road, and we hit one snag after another. I live 33 miles from Brookside Gardens, yet it took us nearly 2 hours to get there thanks to traffic on 495, the gift that keeps on giving. Then we roamed a residential neighborhood confused about why the park was nowhere to be found only to realize I had accidentally put in the address for Montgomery County Parks main office, not Brookside Gardens. When we finally got to Brookside Gardens, all the parking spaces were taken, so we had to park down the road at the Brookside Nature Center lot and walk up to the garden. There’s a boardwalk path through the back of the nature center lot into Brookside Gardens, but I didn’t know that because I don’t pay attention to things sometimes. So imagine the three of us, tromping up Glenallan Avenue, trying to stay out of traffic and on the thin margin of dirt that exists beside the road before turning to wild vegetation. Then we got to the main gate, which doesn’t allow for pedestrian traffic. Yahtzee!! I had to help my oldest over a large grate made up of thin cement cylinders spaced just far enough apart to easily break an ankle if your foot rolled into one while you were unlawfully crossing it.

Look, this is why I’m here. Partly to offer helpful advice and partly to act as a cautionary tale.

After we had proven ourselves worthy of advancing to the next round of Survivor: Brookside Gardens, we purchased tickets and made our way to the Wings of Fancy exhibit. This is a special exhibit on display this summer that will be open through October 25th and features different species of butterflies flying freely around a greenhouse as well a second small exhibit within the greenhouse of caterpillars and their chrysalises.

This is a Red Admiral caterpillar and I was geeking out because he looks EXACTLY like The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

I’ll stop inundating you with pictures of butterflies now.

Your paid entry to the Wings of Fancy exhibit is good for the entire day, so you’re welcome to stay in the greenhouse observing butterflies as long as you like, then go explore the rest of the gardens for a bit and stop back in before you leave.

My kids’ favorite section of Brookside was the Children’s Garden and Visitor’s Center. Typically, the Visitor’s Center is where you would park at the gardens and the Children’s Garden is the first thing you see upon entry, but this area is undergoing renovations of some sort so the lot is closed, although the center remains open. That means this is now at the BACK of the park. A very nice man inside gave us a scavenger hunt/Bingo game and stickers to stick on things we found while in the Children’s Garden. This was very appreciated by my 5 year old who went around the garden seeking each thing on the list.

The rest of the gardens are beautiful (you know, like gardens tend to be) though our exploration was cut short due to looming rainclouds that broke open JUST as we got into our car (via the convenient walking path that leads to the Nature Center lot, saving us another death-defying walk along Glenallan Avenue).

Some helpful tips:

-Strollers are allowed in Brookside Gardens, though not in the Wings of Fancy exhibit itself. However, the garden does feature stairs and terracing that may make strollering difficult, so consider leaving yours in the car if you don’t absolutely need it. The garden is easily walkable for young children.

-There’s very, very limited parking at Brookside Gardens itself. The lot was completely full when I arrived at 10:30. If there’s no parking available in the lot, continue on down Glenallan Avenue to the Brookside Nature Center lot and park there. BE SURE to go to the back of the lot to access the boardwalk path into the backside of Brookside- it will deposit you directly outside the gift shop and butterfly greenhouse. Don’t be like me and attempt to walk in the front gate on foot.

-If you’ve got time, energy, and it isn’t pouring rain, Brookside Nature Center has some very neat looking boardwalk paths that extend up from the parking lot into the woods that would be a great walk. There’s also a visitor’s center with several exhibits for kids, as well as a cabin dating from the 1870s that is left to show visitors what life in 1870 was like. (Literature suggests: hard.)

Our next stop after we were done at Brookside Gardens (and had narrowly avoided a head-on collision with a man who was inexplicably coming up the wrong side of a divided road I was coming down) was something I have wanted to go see and was only 6 miles away from: the grave of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda. Hat tip to Washingtonian Magazine which revealed to me that they were buried in a small plot at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Rockville. As a lifelong bookworm, dedicated reader, lover of literature, it felt like a necessary pilgrimage to go visit the gravesite while I was so nearby. I missed the turn-in and had to circle around no less than 3 times to make it back, but I was committed to getting there after making the trip so we persevered.

F. Scott (the F stands for Francis, as in Francis Scott Key, author of the Star-Spangled Banner, whom our F. Scott was related to and named after) and Zelda are buried together in this cemetery in the same grave, with Zelda’s coffin placed atop F. Scott’s. (Their daughter, Frances Scott “Scottie” is also buried there, though in her own grave.)

Although the token gifts of Tanqueray and Blue Sapphire Gin were thoughtful (?) (F. Scott was a notorious alcoholic and died of a heart attack at age 44) I can’t claim them, as they were waiting there when we arrived.

My kids, obviously, did not have a clue whose grave this was or its significance, but I have found that children are naturally curious about cemeteries and their questions about what they’re seeing can often lead to thought-provoking conversation, so I would encourage you to not shy away from taking yours if you’re concerned. My daughter had lots of questions about the grave markers, what they said, where exactly the bodies were, what would happen when Grandmother died (to which I told her in full honesty GRANDMOTHER IS NEVER GOING TO DIE, mostly because I hope that’s true). I held onto my youngest so she couldn’t run amok among the gravestones and my oldest told me she thought it was a nice peaceful place. Older kids who are interested in reading or have read Gatsby for school would be particularly interested in visiting, I would think.

Written on the gravestone is part of the last line from Fitzgerald’s famous novel (and masterpiece), the full text of which is as follows:

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning—
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Make a day of it:

Just around the corner from St. Mary’s is Rockville Town Square, an outdoor shopping center with stores and restaurants. Stop in for lunch before heading home! As we were heading down Maryland Avenue toward 270 we passed a great looking little park I would have loved to stop and play at- Monument Park. Alas, it had begun to rain again so we had to pass on by, but maybe next time!

Great Country Farms + Bluemont

Where: 18780 Foggy Bottom Rd., Bluemont, VA
When: Open daily from 9 am- 6 pm. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for kids, and children under 2 are free. However, discounted admission is frequently offered.

I was recently chatting with a man who was talking to me about his girlfriend. “Her family owns a farm out in Bluemont,” he said. “Wait- is it Great Country Farms?” I asked and he said it was. No no no, I told him. Your girlfriend’s family doesn’t own a farm in Bluemont- they own the farm of all farms. It was if someone casually mentioned to you that their uncle plays piano and then you found out their uncle is Stevie Wonder. Great Country Farms is the Stevie Wonder of farms.

I can measure my children’s lives in trips to Great Country Farms. I have a picture of my oldest as a toddler sitting in the grass in front of the Roosteraunt and picking dandelions. Her next visit is documented in a picture of her sticking her head through those animal-cutout boards the wrong way. There’s a shot of her clutching her Easter basket at her first Easter Egg hunt there (the basket is empty because the adults who go to that hunt are insane, but I digress). My youngest made her first trip before she was even mobile, and each time we go she’s seemingly aged into a new activity there. Here she is standing unsteadily by a slide; here she is petting a goat and confidently going down the slide. Great Country Farms is a place you take your children only to realize how much they’ve grown since you first started taking them. It’s a measuring stick for their childhood.

Fact: You will never run out of stuff to do at Great Country Farms. Not on one visit, and perhaps not ever. I have been going there for four years and we still have not completed every single activity there is to do there. There’s a petting zoo pen, there’s playground areas tucked into wooded pockets, there’s mazes, there’s tube slides, there’s tire swings, there’s a sluice for mining gems from packets of dirt you buy in the store, there’s mini golf, there’s laser tag, there’s ride on scooters, there’s a jumping pillow, there’s wagon rides and U-Pick fruit. There’s seasonal festivals and special events.

I’ve suggested it before, but if you haven’t yet subscribed to Certifikid, make sure to sign up. GCF frequently offers reduced ticket prices through Certifikid. Their recent offer is one we purchased- $5 admission with a $2 voucher per ticket to go towards your U-Pick produce or merchandise in the store. Currently available for U-Pick: PEACHES. My family are fools for peaches, so we headed to GCF intending to play and pick peaches.

To pick fruit, you wait outside the store for the wagon to arrive, pick you up, and transport you across the street to the orchard where you pick to your heart’s content and then pay for your fruit back at the store. (Peaches are just $1.99/lb at GCF.) However, my kids didn’t feel like waiting for the wagon, so our original plan to pick peaches was scrapped and we instead just roamed the farm playing and visiting animals.

There is a restaurant on-site called the Roosteraunt, but it is only open on the weekends, so if you’re at GCF on a weekday, pack a lunch to bring along. My kids and I sat and ate our lunch at a picnic table on the porch of the Roosteraunt. Country music was being piped though a loudspeaker and we heard “The Bluest Eyes in Texas,” which is the third best country song ever (behind “Straight Tequila Night” by John Anderson and Reba’s “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia”).We also heard “Still the One” by Shania Twain, which is the worst country song ever. (These are highly formal findings from a poll conducted on myself by myself.)

Because my children weren’t as interested in the peach picking as I had hoped, we used our $4 voucher from our admission tickets to instead buy a fresh peach slushy from the store which we enjoyed outside before getting back in the car. In the late summer/early fall GCF starts making and selling the most divine apple cider donuts dusted in cinnamon sugar and I was hoping we could get some of those but they weren’t for sale yet. Soon. Soon.

Make a day of it: 

Not only is GCF amazing on its own, it is located directly across the street from Bluemont Vineyard, which has possibly the most incredible view of any winery in Northern Virginia. It is located on top of a large hill (small mountain?) and the deck of the tasting room looks out over the land below:

We all know I love my wineries, but truly, visit Bluemont Vineyard if only to take in the view. Bluemont Vineyard is open every day except Tuesday.

Not even half a mile down the road from Great Country Farms and Bluemont Vineyard is Dirt Farm Brewing, a farm and taproom offering beers brewed with hops and grain grown here in Loudoun County. The tasting room is open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

As you head through the village of Bluemont heading back toward Rt. 7, consider pulling over at E.E. Lake General Store, which has free books for the taking on the front porch. There’s also Bluemont General Store which is filled to the brim with local treats.

If you’ve been to Bluemont  and Great Country Farms before, you know it’s worth visiting again (and again). If you haven’t been, go! It’ll be the start of a long childhood tradition for you and your kids. Head over this weekend (July 31, August 1-2) for the Peach Fuzztival, featuring a peach pancake breakfast and peach pit spitting contests. Bluemont Vineyard joins the celebration by serving their The Peach wine and Dirt Farm Brewing will be serving their specially crafted Peach Beer. If you want to wait until the next big event, the Fall Harvest Festival kicks off September 26th and it is SOMETHING. There’s pig races, a pumpkin-chomping dinosaur, a corn maze, a pumpkin patch, and THE APPLE CIDER DONUTS. Donuts. Dinosaurs. Do it.

National Firearms Museum

Where: 11250 Waples Mill Rd., Fairfax, VA.
When: Daily from 9:30- 5 pm

In the words of Nick Jonas, am I crazy, have I lost ya? Hear me out. I am well aware of the fact that gun culture is rather unpopular in this area, and that this might not be considered a “must-see” destination for many people, particularly because of its location within the NRA Headquarters. However. As my dad taught me growing up, sometimes things are worth seeing and experiencing even if you think you might not enjoy them. I approach life this way as an adult: every interesting thing I can see, I should, even if it is not interesting in particularly positive ways- it’s still a learning experience either way. It’s worth seeing if only to learn something new. Just think- somewhere, there is someone who is positively dying to one day visit the National Firearms Museum– and we can turn off I-66 whenever we feel like it and pop right in.

Also, it’s free. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

That being said, I couldn’t help but notice as we pulled into the parking lot that all of the flags flying in front of the building were proudly flying at full staff- even as nearly all other flags in the area (even the ones at my neighborhood entrance) are lowered to half staff due to the rash of shooting deaths that have plagued our country lately. I know this is the NRA and they aren’t ones to back down from their beliefs, but even so- 9 dead in Charleston, 5 dead in Chattanooga, and 2 dead in Lafayette in the last five weeks, all at the hands of murderers wielding guns? It does strike me as a bit, hmm- tone deaf to not lower the flags in deference to those lives lost.

Nevertheless. I still want you to proceed with optimism. THERE IS COOL STUFF TO BE SEEN WITHIN.

Onto the guns. A good way to approach these guns is to view them simply as tangible pieces of history, and works of art. Some of these guns were clearly designed by skilled and talented craftsmen. Some are just curiously entertaining, like this Vampire Hunter, which is a silver-plated revolver carried in a coffin-shaped case that holds holy water, a mirror, a wooden stake, and silver bullets shaped like vampire heads.

Let’s ask ourselves some questions: who commissioned this? Did they believe vampires were a real threat they needed to mitigate, or is this a case of “too much money and crazy”? Who knows! Use your mind grapes and see what you come up with.

There’s also this rifle, known as the Mayflower Gun, because it was brought over on the Mayflower by pilgrim settler John Alden, making it one of the first guns to enter the New World here in America.

Additionally, there are firearms that were used in nearly every American war, from the War of 1812 to Desert Storm and everything in between. There was also the shotgun that was designed for and belonged to Hermann Goring, Nazi leader who was tried at Nuremberg and sentenced to death for his crimes during WWII.

Kids will be especially interested in the Steampunk Guns section, which features fantastical weapons dreamed up and designed to encompass the characteristics of the Victorian Era mixed with a little inspiration from science fiction and Old Westerns. There’s also a leopard wearing goggles posed in front of a telescope which I admit is confusing but just go with it.

For movie buffs there’s an entire room dedicated to displaying weapons used in well known movies, from Reservoir Dogs to No County for Old Men to Beverly Hills Cop.

The highlight of the museum for me wasn’t any gun at all, but an imposing set of ivory tusks that framed a fireplace in the Robert E. Petersen Gallery.

Come a little closer:

These tusks, from top to bottom and all around, are carved with bas relief engravings featuring depictions of animals, hunters and gatherers, and woodland scenes. They are tremendous.

Curiously, there was absolutely no information or literature presented about these tusks anywhere in the gallery, nor could I find mention of them in the Gallery Map brochure I later found crumpled on our kitchen island. I needed to know more about them so I called the NRA Museum to see if I could find someone who could answer a few questions. I was directed to speak with a curator who informed me they were elephant tusks that had been carved in Africa and were part of the personal collection of Robert Petersen. (Insert the The More You Know star.)

The museum took us perhaps 45 minutes to get through, but a dedicated person could (literally) spend hours there. Computer databases list the information of every single gun on display and there are A LOT of guns on display. Because we are living in a material world and I am a material girl, I wondered aloud to my husband what the sum total of the value of every piece in that museum was and we could not begin to hazard a realistic guess so we just said “probably a billion dollars.” The museum is incredibly well put together- detailed displays and vignettes, mahogany cases, thoughtfully arranged and designed exhibits. I urge you to consider giving this museum a chance, even if you think you might not enjoy it- I believe everyone can find something of interest here.

Franklin Park Pool

Where: 17501 Franklin Park Dr., Purcellville, VA
When: Open daily from 11 am- 8 pm. Tickets for children 2-16 are $4.50 and adults are $5 on weekdays. On Saturdays and Sundays this price goes up to $6 for adults and $5.50 for youth. The two and under crowd are just $1.50 on weekdays and $2.50 on the weekend.

The original title of this post was going to be “A.V. Symington Aquatic Center” but there’s a strange phenomenon that occurs at popular swimming places on a weekend afternoon in summer. It’s called “at capacity.” Symington Aquatic Center was experiencing this phenomenon when we arrived at 2:30 pm on a Saturday afternoon and rather than wait in a long line hoping people would suddenly decide to leave the pool en masse so there would be room for us to enter, we instead hopped back in the car and drove an extra 11 miles out to Purcellville to check out the pool at Franklin Park. (We are fully aware we could have driven just one mile from our house to the neighborhood pool, but that’s not the NOVAdventuring spirit.)

Unlike the long line that greeted us at Symington Aquatic Center, the check-in area at Franklin Park Pool was empty at 3 pm when we arrived. We paid our money (they do take credit cards as well as cash) and walked right in and were able to find four lounge chairs for our belongings right next to the pool. (Proof of Loudoun County residency is required upon admission (your drivers license will suffice); if you do not live in Loudoun County, you are still able to access the pool, you will just be charged rates that are 50% higher than the rates for Loudoun County residents.)

The pool itself is separated into two main areas: a large, shallow pool with zero entry and various small slides and water dumpers, and another pool, on a higher-up deck, that is made for older kids, with a lily pad and log crossing and a larger, enclosed water slide. I appreciated that the two areas were separate because it relieved the stress that can come with large children plowing through a shallow area littered with unsteady babies and toddlers and young children getting in the way of bigger kids who might not notice them.

Located throughout the pool are floating ride-on animals anchored to the pool floor. These were extremely popular and were constant hubs of activity I can only describe as the rigorous training young Spartans undergo to become soldiers.

If there’s one thing Americans love, it’s pool slides shaped like animals. My kids are no exception. My 5 year old spent most of her time flitting around this frog shaped slide while my toddler commandeered the duck slide. She went down the duck slide, conservatively guessing, about 2,000 times. Each time she went down she popped back up and said DO MORE. So we did more. And more. I was beside the duck slide all day. I might still be there when you go to Franklin Park Pool. And if the theory of parallel universes is true, there is an alternate universe out there in the deepest stretches of space where I am, and always will be, standing beside the duck slide at Franklin Park Pool saying “Ok 1-2-3 GO, YAY, you did it! Okay we’ll do more.”

There is a concession stand at Franklin Park Pool that sells drinks, chips, candy, and slices of Papa John’s pizza for $2 a slice, which is incredibly convenient when you realize your toddler is grumpy because you jumped in the car as soon as she woke up from nap and you forgot to feed her lunch. Whoops. Think of me fondly when you’re voting for Mother of the Year, 2015.

In terms of water safety and pool rules: only Coast Guard approved flotation devices are allowed in the pool. This means Puddle Jumpers and lifejackets provided by the park are allowed, and arm floaties are not. Lifeguards roam around the pool and keep a sharp eye on all activity. My family was personally scolded or sharply whistled at three times! (“Ma’am, can you please make sure your baby goes down the slide on her back and not her stomach?”) Mandatory pool breaks are enforced every hour. No food or drink is allowed on the pool deck, but there is a large grassy area filled with picnic tables where you can eat. Swimsuits are required, which I feel goes without saying, but there was a sign posted in the locker room that stated this so maybe it’s not as obvious as one might think.

Make a day of it:

My previous post about everything to do in Purcellville pretty well covered what all is in the nearby area, so if you head out to the pool and want a few more activities to get you through the afternoon when you’re done, pack a change of clothes to change into and go forth and explore! Gruto’s Soft Serve would be a particularly nice end to a day at the pool.

Old Aldie Mill + Quattro Goomba’s Winery… and John Mosby

It’s been a busy week over here as we try to cram as much as we can into the last 5-ish weeks of summer before school starts. My friends back home in Georgia are all preparing to send their kids back to school in the next 7-10 days and I must say, this is where that Kings Dominion Law comes in real handy- instead of back to school shopping right now, we’re still planning new things to do and hanging out at the pool. Virginia is for lovers slackers.

The other day my kids and I set out to see Old Aldie Mill in Aldie, Virginia. Aldie is a straight shot up US 50/ John Mosby Highway and I want to share something with you about John Mosby and why this highway is named after him. Four or five years ago, before we moved here to Northern Virginia, I bought the book April 1865: The Month That Saved America by Jay Winik. The book discusses April 1865 and the cascade of events that happened during that month that eventually led to the end of the Civil War. I really can’t tell you how entertaining this book is, and once we moved to Virginia it became even moreso because suddenly, so many events and people within the book became real for me, because I’m constantly seeing them or hearing about them living in an area that was so integral to the Civil War. One of those people is John Mosby, a guerrilla leader whose followers were known as “Mosby’s Confederacy.” I’m just going to share a direct quote from the book about John Mosby because I want you to see what kind of character we’re dealing with here:

“His fame rapidly spread with such exploits as the capture of a Northern general, Edwin H. Stoughton, in bed with a hangover- a mere ten miles from Washington, D.C. in March 1863. “Do you know who I am” bellowed the general, upon being so indiscreetly interrupted.” Mosby shot back: “Do you know Mosby, general?” Stoughton harrumphed: “Yes! Have you got the rascal?” Mosby: “No, but he has got you!”

So whenever you drive on John Mosby Highway, or pass a neighborhood like Mosby Woods, now you know who they’re named for. NOVAdventuring: come for the winery trips, stay for the Civil War History.

Anyway, as you go up Hwy 50, you come upon several roundabouts, which my 5 year old thinks are called merry-go-rounds and which I do not correct because that’s adorable. The first of these roundabouts has a sign that indicates if you take the lefthand exit off the roundabout, you’ll end up at Mount Zion Old School Baptist Church. I had some time to spare so I figured why not, and turned into the lot.

Mt. Zion was built in 1851 and during the Civil War, served as a hospital for Union soldiers as well as a barracks and a prison. And here is where we meet our friend John Mosby again: on July 6, 1864, there was the Battle of Mt. Zion, right here at Mt. Zion church, which brought Union forces up against John Mosby and his guerrilla fighters. This was an hour-long fight and I don’t want to give too much away, but Mosby’s men won. Game: blouses.

Getting back on the highway, you go through two more merry-go-rounds until you enter the town of Aldie. “Jessica, how damn cute is the town of Aldie?” you might be asking. So damn cute. If you’re just not going to make it out in the summer, try to come back in the fall for the Aldie Harvest Festival which is an arts and crafts festival that also features a duck race where you buy as many numbered rubber duckies as you wish and toss them in Little River. From there I suppose they float on downstream and at some point, someone picks up the first one to reach the designated “finish line” and the person whose name matches that duck’s number wins a million dollars or something. I’m not entirely clear on all the details, it’s just fun to toss a duck in the river. (You can tell I’ve never won the money.)

Old Aldie Mill was a big commercial operation back in the day, grinding wheat into flour for commercial sale. The Mill was powered by waterwheels which still exist today around the back side of the mill:

I have been inside Aldie Mill (during the arts and crafts festival) but right now it is closed for tours on the weekdays and only open for tours and demonstrations on the weekends. My kids were happy just to walk around outside and see the waterwheel, but come back on the weekend if you think you’d like to see all the machinery inside.

Just off to the right of the picture above is a small walking trail that connects the Aldie Mill complex to the Aldie Volunteer Fire Department. The best thing about this trail is it contains two small bridges which cross the Little River, and which in the fall you can toss rubber duckies from, or in the summer, leaves and small twigs. My kids and I spent 15-20 minutes on the bridges tossing leaves into the water and watching them coast downstream. Little kids can be easy to please sometimes, what can I say.

A few miles away from the Aldie Mill is Quattro Goomba’s winery, which is where we met friends for a pizza and wine lunch playdate. We had a discussion while there that to people who don’t live here, it may seem weird that parents here are taking their kids to hang out at wineries. Or that said kids greet their fathers in the evening with a jubilant “We went to a new winery today!” (Just mine?) That’s just one of the great things about living in Virginia wine country though- it is totally acceptable and commonplace to bring your kids to wineries to hang out for the afternoon and play. In fact, Quattro Goomba’s has a small basket of balls they keep on hand specifically for the younger visitors to play with.

The other great thing about Quattro Goomba’s: pizza. No precious little cheese plates here (well, you actually can buy local cheese and freshly made baguette, but you know what I mean). Goomba’s makes their own Sicilian style pizza fresh every day in the Pizza Shop. Don’t know what Sicilian style pizza means? I didn’t either. The best way I can describe it is it looks like Pizza Hut pan pizza but rather than tasting like grease and the unsettling feeling that you’re letting your family down, it tastes light and crispy and perfect. Look, I’m not a food critic, that’s the best I’ve got.

We had three adults + five kids and ordered a full pan of pizza, but you can also order it by the half pan or by the slice (which are squares, not triangles). FRIENDS WITH PEANUT ALLERGIES: THIS PIZZA IS SAFE FOR YOU! My friend’s two daughters are both severely allergic to peanuts, so she did her due diligence and asked about the dough and all ingredients and the cashier and kitchen manager assured her that everything is made on site and there are no peanuts or peanut products anywhere around. Pizza for everyone.

The Piney River rose had just sold out the day before (insert whining/crying face emoji) so I had a glass of the Piney River white which was a solid white wine that is a little on the sweet side. The Sorelle Riesling they offer is actually drier with less residual sugar but because I’m a know it all, I ordered the Piney River white assuming the Riesling would be sweeter. It’s not, because it’s evidently made in the French style vs. the German style. Learn from my mistakes, don’t pretend like you know everything there is to know about residual sugars and just ask.

We’ve got beautiful weather forecasted this weekend so this three-stop trip would be a perfect weekend outing, and although I usually include a “make a day of it” feature at the bottom of each post, these three stops are a day of it and we were thoroughly worn out when we got home. Enjoy the weekend!

Rust Nature Sanctuary + The Winery at Lost Creek

Where: 802 Children’s Center Rd. SW, Leesburg, VA
When: Open year-round “during daylight hours”

I think I’ve mentioned this, but my almost-6 year old is currently obsessed with birds. What began with a fondness for flamingos as a toddler a few years ago has expanded into a deep love that encompasses all birds. We have many conversations about birds all day long, that usually go something like this:

Her: What’s your favorite bird?
Me: Uh, a peacock.
Her: No, it’s a goldfinch.
Me: Okay.

Her: What do geese eat?
Me: Berries and bugs and stuff.
Her: What about toucans?
Me: Froot Loops.

Me: (pointing to a tire cover on a Jeep we’re sitting next to in traffic that has a bald eagle on it) Hey, what kind of bird is that?
Her: That bird is an American.

I wholeheartedly support this interest and have spent a good chunk of the summer finding whatever activity I can that involves birds in some way. Awhile back, my friend told me about Rust Nature Sanctuary, a nature preserve in Leesburg that works in conjunction with the Audubon Society to offer nature programs for young children. I kept it in my back pocket until our differing vacation schedules had us both home at the same time and we were able to go together.

I do think I should admit that we were a bit turned around on the concept of what Rust Nature Sanctuary offers. We were under the impression that there would be an exhibit or display of animals that we would be able to visit. In actuality, Rust is really just a designated spot in nature where you could see animals. In nature. Duly noted.

There is a small area near the parking lot with trail maps, a display of Native Virginian Birds of Prey, and a cool little board with the wingspan of various outstretched birds painted on it so that you can go up next to it and hold your arms out and see what bird you most closely match up to in size. Kind of like at Hersheypark when you have be as tall as Twizzlers to ride a roller coaster. There’s also a small butterfly garden, and a play area tucked into the woods that the kids claimed was an “Eagle’s nest.”

Whether something near this structure identified it as an Eagle’s nest or the kids just made that up, I don’t know. Imagination can be a powerful thing when your mothers have promised you’ll see lots of animals and you realize you’re going to have to just play on some sticks and pretend instead.

The highlight of Rust Nature Sanctuary for me was Rust Manor House. You can’t go inside (unless you’re there for a wedding or have booked it for an event) but you can admire it from the backyard. Which, as you’ve read, I tend to do anyway out of respect for these great homes which do not need to be infiltrated by rambunctious children. That’s what Chibis is for.

The manor house (called Yeocomico) was owned by various members of the Rust family from 1928-1995 at which point it was donated to the Audubon Naturalist Society. NVRPA stepped in in 2013 to help preserve the house and maintain the grounds when upkeep grew to be burdensome for the Audubon Society. And there it sits today as part of this park. Teamwork!

I loved these two trees flanking the entrance to the backyard of the manor. They just looked like a pair of mismatched friends to me.

Along the paths of the manor grounds you’ll see a plot of milkweed that houses monarch butterflies, a small fountain, and a fleur de lis statue upon which we spotted the carcass of a cicada. I was just about to pick it up and show the kids how we used to hang them off our shirts growing up (did you do that?) when, as I turned around to call them over to me, I spotted NATURE:

That would be a (approximately) three foot long black rat snake casually coiling itself up and around the trunk of a large tree. I know I, as a happy dweller of suburbia, tend to forget that snakes are just out and about in the wild and don’t exist solely in small tanks with fake logs inside them, so although I am not afraid of snakes (particularly these, which are harmless), it was definitely a surprise to just see it sharing the space with us. And fascinating to watch!

There are hiking/walking trails in the park that I would love to come back and explore but it was a blistering 98 degrees in the sun the day we went and the gnats were in a frenzy (BRING BUG SPRAY) so after we came down from the excitement of the snake sighting we did what any sane people would do and we put our kids in the car with the AC blasting and headed to a winery.

Though I tend to try and group our outings close together so that we’re not spending more time in the car than necessary, we branched a little further out for this trip due to the fact that many wineries aren’t open on weekdays early in the week. One that is is The Winery at Lost Creek, which is about 10 miles away from Rust Sanctuary, so that’s where we headed.

Lost Creek is located right before you get to Lucketts off of Spinks Ferry Rd. along Rt. 15. It is aptly named because after following the sign that directed us to continue nearly a mile off Spinks Ferry Rd. to reach the tasting room, my GPS did that thing where it shows your car trekking through a completely blank screen with no markers or terrain, like, “You’re on your own now, let me know if you get there safely.” It looks a lot like the wagon progress screen on Oregon Trail actually, except (hopefully) nobody in your party dies of dysentery along the way.

The winery and tasting room itself is beautiful. It did feel a bit monastic in how silent and still it was, but this was a 98 degree Monday afternoon so that’s probably why. We had the grounds entirely to ourselves and the kids played hide and seek while we sat and drank a glass of wine (The 2014 Vidal Blanc was delicious!) and snacked on a cheese plate.

Make a day of it: 

These two excursions themselves took up several hours and would have taken longer if we had attempted the hiking trails at Rust. However, if you’re still looking for more things to do, The Winery at Lost Creek is located right next door to another winery, Hidden Brook Winery, and you could always stop in for a 2 for 1 tasting while you’re there. Just down the road on Rt. 15 is Brossman’s Farm Stand, which is a family-owned farm stand we visit often in the summer. Farmer Rick is warm and friendly and will often take time to chat with kids about the crops- he once brought out a flat of tomatoes to restock the tomato table and let my toddler help by handing her tomatoes to stack.