Recent Goings On

Hello, local friends, we meet again. It’s been awhile since I’ve posted and now we are on the cusp of a new school year, beginning tomorrow. I have a KINDERGARTENER! Life was crazy around here for a week or so because I accidentally went Internet-viral, but given the blessedly short attention span of the Internet, that seems to have passed and things are settling back down again. In the meantime, here’s a few things we’ve been up to, to get us back into the swing of posting again:

Bears Den, Revisited:

A few weeks ago, I took my girls to Bears Den to hike out to the Overlook. You might remember I mentioned we found ourselves on the 1/2 mile long “moderately” challenging Historic Trail that I felt doable, but perhaps a touch difficult, for my youngest daughter. We went back today with my husband so he could get a glimpse of that view and this time we took the much more languorous Blue Blaze trail, which is only 1/3 mile long and meanders gently through the woods with minimal climbing or sloping. It was a less entertaining walk, but much easier for my toddler, and in the end, it got us to the Overlook very quickly, so if you’ve got very young kids, I would recommend the Blue Blaze trail a few times to warm up before attempting the Historic Trail. (As a bonus, the trail splits in one place and you have the option of continuing to the Overlook on the Blue Blaze trail OR detouring onto the actual Appalachian Trail, which we of course did, for bragging points, and so we could get a family photo beneath the trademark white blazes of the AT.)

Bluemont, Revisited:

After our hike at Bears Den we drove a mile down the road to Bluemont to have lunch at Bluemont General Store.

Three sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, a cup of strawberry ice cream, a slab of strawberry rhubarb pie, and a Coke cost us $15 and we had a table on the front porch of the store from which we could watch the comings and goings of the small village of Bluemont. After lunch my girls found the Little Free Library and selected a book, which made for one very happy toddler.

Ellanor Lawrence Park: 

I recently had an interview with Northern Virginia Magazine (for a position which I was offered but will regretfully have to turn down, boo) and on my way to the office to meet the editor I was interviewing with, I spotted Ellanor Lawrence Park and mentally bookmarked it to come back to later. Last Saturday we brought our girls out to the park for a leisurely nature walk on a warm and humidity-free day. The park was incredibly peaceful and well-kept and we had a nice mile-long hike through easy to navigate nature trails:

Weather:

A spate of thunderstorms one evening resulted in a staggeringly vibrant rainbow that covered the entire region. Capital Weather Gang received so many photo submissions they created a compilation. I was tickled pink at how committed the residents of Virginia/DC/Maryland are to commemorating their rainbows.

A recent trip to Stone Tower Winery for a Monday afternoon glass of wine (the occurrence of which will regretfully be coming to an end with school starting back up, THANKS, SCHOOL) gave us the opportunity to watch a sick storm cell roll in from the west. Luckily, Stone Tower has well-covered porches with comfortable seating and we were able to stay dry and ride out the storm with a few glasses of Sanglier Noble:

Other recent winery visits: Fabbioli Cellars last Sunday (ample room to run, great seating arrangements,but a tarot card reader who ran long on her readings and was unable to get to me before time was up) which I can recommend for those who love sweet wines, and Dry Mill Winery in Leesburg last Thursday for a school meeting, which I can recommend if you, like me, love a good, dry Merlot rose.

Unfortunately, summer has come to a close here in Northern Virginia. What a glorious one it was! I’m already ready for next summer. In the meantime, we’ll distract ourselves with fall festivals, Oktoberfests, and college football.

Advertisements

Hidden DC: Kenilworth, Brookland + Palisades

Let us take a moment to reflect upon two incontrovertible truths:

  1. The monuments and museums in Washington, D.C. are unsurpassed and are a must-visit for all locals and visitors.

2. There is SO MUCH MORE to Washington, D.C. than the museums and monuments.

My family loves the museums in D.C. but we tend to let the tourists have them in the summer and save them for the winter days when we have exhausted the options for fun in our house and need to get out before we go stir crazy. The same goes for the monuments- they are absolute treasures, but they only necessitate a visit every so often. Those too are better saved for when guests are in town, because visiting them with someone who is experiencing them for the first time is really the best way to see them. Don’t get the wrong idea- I’m not above the tourist stuff; I’ve spent hours sweating my butt off on the Mall on the 4th of July, and I still feel a swell of pride when the Capitol Dome comes into view. I have read the Gettysburg Address in the Lincoln Memorial with my heart in my throat and think there’s nothing prettier than cherry blossoms in bloom around the Tidal Basin. The landmarks are landmarks for a reason- they stir something emotional within you and make you feel connected to your fellow Americans. You look around and feel a sense of camaraderie with everyone around you who owns this shared history. Even the people you just elbowed and cut your eyes at on the Metro.

But looking past the landmarks, DC is a city full of diverse and fascinating neighborhoods. It is The Nation’s Capital, but it also has an identity as a complex and intricate city in its own right. So much goodness lies off Constitution and Pennsylvania Avenues. Looking past the monuments you can see the small things that make Washington DC uniquely Washington DC.

Inspired by Thrillist’s list of 13 DC Secrets You Had No Idea Existed, my girls and I spent a few hours in the city the other day, burrowing into the small corners that house some of DC’s best kept secrets. We hit three DC neighborhoods: Kenilworth, Brookland, and Palisades. I want to stop right here and say something real quick: don’t be intimidated by going into the city alone with your kids. (DC residents please don’t roll your eyes too hard.) I know the idea of loading your kids onto the Metro and navigating the city while keeping an eye on them and toting all your paraphernalia can be daunting. So too can the idea of driving around, trying to find an unfamiliar location, unsure exactly of where you’re going, with your kids screeching in the backseat. I’m here to tell you, you can do it. 

I remember moving here four years ago and being incredibly intimidated by the idea of driving anywhere in DC. Could not do it. Could not imagine doing it. I feared what would happen if I got mixed up about where I was supposed to be going and worried people would get mad at me and honk. I worried they’d see my Virginia plates and think “There’s another idiot Virginian who can’t drive in DC.” Little by little, I grew more sure of myself (and developed more aggressive driving tactics) and realized, hey. I can do this. It’s just a city. What’s so impossible about driving in a city? Even one with lots of traffic and one-way streets. Even with my kids in tow. Even if people honk. Does this reveal me as a rube? That’s okay. We all have to start somewhere. If you think you might be a rube, I’ll be a rube with you.

If you don’t live in DC, you can’t just walk out your door and set off on foot exploring new areas. And riding the Metro might not be second-nature to you and so you avoid it. And driving in the city is initially confusing and makes you anxious so you avoid that as well. Have faith in yourself. Load up your kids and give it a shot. Watch out for the tourists standing in the middle of M Street taking pictures in front of Georgetown Cupcake, but other than that, you’re good to go. You don’t need a friend to go with you, you don’t need your spouse. Just you and your kids. I promise you, you’ve got this. 

The great thing about the three places I’m going to share with you today: they are all easy to drive to and all have onsite parking. Since we’re going full confession mode here, I’ll share another one with you: I can’t parallel park to save my life. There was never a need to do it where I grew up or went to college or when I moved to Texas for my first job so I just… never bothered to get good at it. So anywhere I need to go that doesn’t necessitate parallel parking is a plus for me.

Okay, enough with the pep talk. Let’s get on with ourselves.

Our first stop of the day was in the Kenilworth neighborhood in NE DC at Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens.  These are, as the name might suggest, water gardens which house flowering plants that grow in water. Have you ever stood in a veritable forest of lotus blossoms? Let alone in a residential neighborhood in Northeast DC?

At Kenilworth Gardens, you can do that!

The gardens are located in the natural wetlands along the Anacostia River and go back to the late 1800s when Civil War veteran Walter B. Shaw purchased the land and planted water lilies he had transported from his home in Maine. He maintained the ponds on his land, cultivating a wide variety of water lilies, with the help of his daughter, Helen Shaw, who eventually convinced Congress to purchase the land in the 1930s in order to preserve it. The result is the garden you can visit today, teeming with ponds that are overflowing with all manner of water lilies, lily pads, lotus blossoms, and various birds.

Inside the gardens the steady humming of insects surrounds you and you would never guess, if you didn’t know, the you’re just minutes from the interstate and the nonstop movement within the city. It is as calm and bucolic an environment you are likely to find in the middle of an urban sprawl.

In addition to the lily ponds, a boardwalk extends into the marshland all the way out to the Anacostia River. All through the marshland are various birds- while walking on the boardwalk we saw egrets, Canadian geese, and blue heron.

The NPS website maintains a detailed history of the gardens and an inventory of the lilies that were originally grown and cultivated by Walter Shaw- his notes on the flowers are contained within this document and several varieties are named by him for people important to his life (one species of lily is named N. Odorata Luciana for his wife, Luciana; another variety is N. Helen Fowler for his daughter).

The gardens are absolutely stunning and a must-see. They are located at 1550 Anacostia Ave NE, Washington, DC and are open daily from 8 am – 4 pm. Because Kenilworth Gardens are a National Park (the only National Park dedicated to the cultivation of water plants!), parking and admission is completely free.

Moving eastward through the city, our next stop was the Mount Saint Sepulchre Franciscan Monastery located in Brookland at 1400 Quincy St NE. Brookland is somewhat of an enclave for Catholic institutions in the city; in addition to the monastery, The Catholic University of America, Trinity University, and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception are all located in Brookland.

The Monastery was built in 1898 and is still a fully functioning church and self-sustaining community. The grounds and gardens are open to the public daily from 9 am- 4:45 pm; guided tours are available on the hour from 10 am- 3 pm.

Surrounding the church and monastery is the Rosary Portico, decorated with Christian symbols and 15 chapels depicting scenes from the lives of Jesus and Mary.

Behind the walls of the portico is a staircase that leads down to the gardens, which hold their own against the beauty of the monastery.

Walking around the garden you see markers depicting the Stations of the Cross, a shrine to St. Anne, the mother of Mary and patron saint of grandmothers, and a tomb that is modeled after the Tomb of the Virgin Mary in Jerusalem, inside which candles are lit in eternal prayer for Mary.

If you aren’t Catholic, don’t let that deter you from visiting the Franciscan Monastery. I am not Catholic either but that didn’t prevent me from taking in and enjoying the hushed reverence of the grounds and gardens and appreciating the imagery and detail embedded in every aspect of the design. My 6 year old loved viewing the tableaux in the Rosary Portico and naming stories from the Bible that she recognized (by which I mean, she saw the scene of the Nativity and got pumped remembering Christmas is coming in JUST FOUR MONTHS!). I did help her out by explaining some of the ones that weren’t obvious to her.

Parking at the Franciscan Monastery is located in a small lot across the street, and is free. Feel free to sign up for a guided tour in the visitors center office, or simply wander the grounds at your own leisure.

Driving east through the city on our way back to Virginia, we made our final stop at Palisades Recreation Center in NW DC (5200 Sherier Pl. NW). I once again made the error of going to the DPR site to check the address of the rec center and accidentally put the DPR main office address into my GPS instead of the rec center address, which means we got a pleasant though slightly unnecessary detour down the entirety of Rhode Island Avenue. Don’t be like me. Double check your addresses properly before inputting them into your GPS.

Our main reason for visiting Palisades Rec Center was an art installation in the woods known as the Glass Forest. Before I could entice my kids to tramp through some backyards and into the trees with me, I let them have some runaround time on the fantastic Palisades Playground. This place was like the Platonic ideal of a playground. Soft squishy running surface, a small splashpad, a percussion instrument station, climbing equipment shaped like a fort. In my humble opinion, it’s worth making the drive out to Palisades just to let your kids take in this well-designed playground.

After my kids had gotten their fill of play, we headed back toward the parking lot but made a detour into the woods to see the Glass Forest. It took some cajoling for my 6 year old to be convinced to go see what I described to her as “very cool art” in the woods, which is weird because she definitely hasn’t seen The Blair Witch Project. I promised her to just trust me and she would enjoy it and she went along suspiciously, until we found the Glass Forest at which point she thought we had discovered some sort of fairy garden. You must must must come find the Glass Forest- a small section of the woods set back off the trail filled with sculptures made from scrap and found objects. The Prince of Petworth first wrote about the Glass Forest back in 2012, so it’s been around for at least a few years, but it seems to frequently change and might not be the same any two times you visit. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before- all at once ethereal, ever so slightly spooky, and somewhat otherworldly.

Our favorite installation in the Glass Forest (and presumably the reason why it is called the Glass Forest) was the “mobile” hanging from a tree in the back made up of broken glass shards, mirrors, and glittery objects strung up from branches. It spun in the wind and caught the light, constantly throwing out prisms and light flares, while also reflecting the trees behind us, making it seem as if we were caught in one all-encompassing light consumed forest all around us. Does this make any sense? No? Just go.It’s very Alice in Wonderland; I can’t properly describe or show the entire experience.

At the end of our planned stops, we had logged over five hours in the city, and had spent a grand total of just $10 on lunch while we were out and about. None of these places cost any money to visit, and were open for us to take in and enjoy at our own pace. There still remain 10 more “secret” places on the list and we have every intention of tracking them all down.

______

On the Kenilworth Gardens website is a phrase that has settled within me for several days after first reading it – it described the gardens as “places within places.” This can be extrapolated to the city of DC itself- it’s a city of places within places. Look beyond the big and flashy and find the small and contained. The monuments and museums have their place, but to truly feel like you’ve “seen” DC, and taken in some vital part of the spirit of the city, take a trek into one (or three) of its 90 neighborhoods and submerge yourself in the culture of that neighborhood. The most wonderful things await you there.

Wild and Wonderful: Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

I know West Virginia is the red-headed stepchild of, well, the country, but it gets such an unfair shake. West Virginia is flat-out gorgeous and I get a kick out of the state slogan, “Wild and Wonderful.” West Virginia is just gonna let you know right up front they’re here for a good time. Compare that to Indiana’s slogan- “Honest to Goodness Indiana.” Or Nevada- “Wide Open.” That sounds… fun. Give me the West Virginia rabble-rousers any day.

Harpers Ferry is just over the state line from Virginia, an easy drive from NoVa along beautiful route 9. We went to Harpers Ferry recently to pick flowers at Ridgefield Farm, but this trip was to visit the historic town of Harpers Ferry located in Harpers Ferry National Park.

Harpers Ferry sits at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers and is the sight of John Brown’s raid, an event that essentially precipitated and kicked off the Civil War. We’re going to get into that some more in a bit.

To get to the town of Harpers Ferry, you enter the national park itself (physical address is 171 Shoreline Dr., Harpers Ferry, WV) and ride a shuttle bus from the parking lot down to the Lower Town (with a stop in Bolivar Heights for a Civil War walk if you so choose but it was 95 degrees on Sunday so nobody on my shuttle bus chose). Parking is $10 a day per car and the shuttle is included in this price. The shuttles do not run precisely on a schedule but I’ve never waited more than 10 minutes for one; they run constantly starting at 9 am going until the last shuttle that leaves Lower Town at 6:45 pm.

The shuttle bus deposits you directly on the bank of the Shenandoah River, and it’s essential that you dip beneath the railroad trestle and walk down to the edge of the river. Is there a finer river than the Shenandoah? It’s so peaceful, so languorous. It’s technically a tributary to the Potomac, but if you’re asking me, the Shenandoah is the superior river.

We spent some time on the bank of the Shenandoah, selecting shells to add to our seashell collection and teaching the girls to skip rocks. The river is so placid and shallow at this point that it’s possible to walk out to larger rocks in the middle of the river and wade around. Several people had their small children and dogs playing in the water. 

When you’re done fiddle faddling around in the Shenandoah, head up into the Lower Town and take a look around. The main attraction is the bridge that crosses the rivers at the confluence and ends in Maryland Heights with a 300 foot cliff overlooking the water and city. It is, in a word, scenic. Don’t even take my word for it; Thomas Jefferson famously stood on a rock in what is now Lower Town and, upon viewing the scene below, declared it NOT ONLY “perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in nature” but “worth a voyage across the Atlantic.” So yes, you should definitely make the trip from DC/Maryland/Virginia to take in this sight. You may have to grapple with 495/66/267 but it’s at least not a voyage across the Atlantic.

Looking out at the Potomac from the bridge you can see people engaging in various water activities, which is one of the most popular things to do in Harpers Ferry. Harpers Ferry Adventure Center offers kayaking and tubing and my husband has gone river rafting with the River Riders and had a great time.

I sort of mused aloud that wouldn’t it be fun to be doing the tubing and maybe we should go down there and do it right now! My 6 year old kind of wigged out at the idea. I say “my” 6 year old but honestly, if she doesn’t think sitting in a tube and floating down a river with a tube cooler filled with tasty cold beverages floating alongside sounds like the best thing ever, the amount of genetic material we have in common is in question.

Harpers Ferry also happens to be the headquarters of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (which you can visit daily from 9 am- 5 pm) and Harpers Ferry is one of the few places on the trail where the trail actually runs through a town.

You can technically say, if you walk through Harpers Ferry, that you have hiked the Appalachian Trail. Hey, I’m not going to argue with you. At this point, you are very nearly at the halfway point of the trail (actual halfway point is at Pine Grove Furnace in Cumberland County, PA). This marks our second time in a week being on the Appalachian Trail- just call me Bill Bryson.

Located in Lower Town are several options for lunch (or dinner). Although I’m normally a champion for packing a picnic lunch and bringing it along, and you could absolutely do that, I advise against it only because with so much walking, and being a shuttle ride away from your car, it’s unlikely you’re going to want to tote around a picnic blanket and/or picnic bag while you explore the town. We ate lunch at The Coffee Mill and got soft serve ice cream next door at Swiss Miss (which used to serve incredible frozen custard but evidently switched at some point to ice cream).

Just around the corner from these spots is a plain building with a sign on it that says JOHN BROWN. This is a small museum that tells the story of John Brown, a man you really just need to get to know. Here’s what you’re greeted with when you walk into the museum:

So there’s John Brown. This is who we’re working with here.

John Brown was a radical abolitionist who had the idea he could incite a great slave rebellion, starting by commandeering the Federal Arsenal in Harpers Ferry, taking control of all the weapons and ammunition within, then moving south attracting slaves to his army as he went. Here’s how that went down:

John Brown: Okay men. We’re going to break into this armory and seize all the weapons. Once we do, you go out to neighboring farms and plantations and tell the slaves we’re gonna take care of things from now on and they can come join us so we can free all of them! We’ll raid the WHOLE SOUTH!
John Brown’s men: Sounds good.
[Takeover of armory is successful]
John Brown: Well that was easy. Now, go tell the slaves we’ve engineered their escape and to come join us!! I’ll wait here.
John Brown’s men: Slaves, gather round. John Brown has secured the path to your escape. Join us as we march through the south freeing slaves far and wide. Trust us, this can’t go wrong.
Slaves: How’s he going to get out of the town? Does he have a plan? How’s he going to make it all the way down south with people after him for this?
John Brown’s men: Yeah, that’s what you guys are for. He’s gonna give you guns and spears and have you fight people off! The rest he’ll figure out later.
Slaves: We’re just gonna stay here then, thanks.

Although he had a vision, John Brown lacked planning and foresight (and possibly sanity) and the whole endeavor fell apart rather quickly. He was put on trial and hanged after being found guilty of treason. However, this did serve to deepen the divide between North and South as the North cheered the actions of John Brown and the South decried them as the workings of a madman. The rift between North and South eventually culminated in the Civil War beginning in 1861. I am from Georgia and my senior year of high school we took a seminar class called History of the South (because if there’s one thing Southerners never tire of talking about, it’s the South and being from it) and John Brown and his raid were perhaps the highlight of the course for my classmates and me, who found him highly entertaining.

While we were in the John Brown museum, a woman who was there asked us about our visit to Harpers Ferry and the museum. It turns out her great-grandfather was Alexander Murphy, owner of Murphy Farm, which abuts Harpers Ferry and housed the engine-house (pictured above) that served as John Brown’s fort during his failed raid. W.E.B DuBois and the group he formed that later became the NAACP made a barefoot pilgrimage to the Murphy Farm in 1906 to visit the engine-house that held the sparks of the abolitionist movement.The Murphy family had sought for years to get Congress to purchase the farm land so that it could be preserved as part of Harpers Ferry National Park but not until the early 2000s did Congress approve $2 million to purchase the land from the Murphy family for preservation. Before that it was very nearly turned into a housing subdivision! Two gates are on display within the museum, and these gates were located at the armory that John Brown raided in 1859; the woman I spoke with said her great-grandfather, Alexander Murphy, hid and preserved those gates on his farm in order to donate them to the United States. She was very, very proud of her family’s history and their role in Harpers Ferry. More than once she told me her great-grandfather was a visionary. She took great umbrage with the placement of a placard detailing her forebear’s contribution to Harpers Ferry history and she seemed quite a spitfire (she claimed “I’m not done with them yet”) so if I one day return to the John Brown Museum and see the Alexander Murphy placard has been moved from beside a window to beside the gate he donated, I will know she finally got her way.

There is also a John Brown Wax Museum in Lower Town which tells the story of John Brown in wax figures but John Brown is a little intense even in the form of a painting so a freaky-deaky wax figurine of a maniacal abolitionist may not be the most fun thing for small kids to see. I’ve never made it that to museum but if you do, let me know how it is!

Lower Town is built into hills and there are steep walkways and stairways leading up to the “higher” level of Lower Town.

On this next level of Lower Town is the historic St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, the only church in Harpers Ferry to make it intact through the Civil War. Mass is still held there today! Sitting high atop a hill, the church offers sweeping views of the town and rivers below. Visitors are welcome to go inside and take a look around.

Handy tips:

-Wear good walking shoes. You will do LOT of walking at Harpers Ferry, and many of the stairways in the town are simply carved out of the existing rock. The stairs can consequently be uneven and require careful navigation. When you’re not on stairs, you’re still on hills- so come prepared.

-Think twice about bringing strollers. While you can navigate parts of Harpers Ferry with a stroller, many parts will be very difficult- the stairs and paths leading between the two levels of Lower Town would be tough to go up or down with a stroller, and the town sidewalks can be very narrow. Shops and restaurants tend to be quite small. If at all possible, consider leaving the stroller behind to make getting around a bit easier.

-Make time to stop at a winery on the way home! There’s so many gorgeous vineyards located along route 9 and any of them would be a good choice. I’ve written a post about Maggie Malick Wine Caves, but along that road are also local favorites Hillsborough Vineyards, 8 Chains North, and Sunset Hills Vineyards.

Harpers Ferry is the perfect spot for nature lovers and history lovers, a beautiful little gateway town tucked into the foothills of West Virginia. It is absolutely a must-see for anyone in this area and a great destination for kids and adults. Dip your hands in the Shenandoah, take in the view that Thomas Jefferson declared one of the most stupendous in nature, and absorb the history all around you in this wild and wonderful little town.

Bears Den Overlook

Where: 18393 Blueridge Mountain Rd., Bluemont, VA
When: Gates open daily 8 am – 9 pm

I had a moment yesterday. I was hiking with my girls, reassuring them we were about to see something REALLY REALLY COOL, and I thought to myself, “Wow. I am my father’s daughter.” My dad is your consummate outdoorsman. He ran a week-long 150 mile race through the Sahara Desert once for fun. Among his life goals is the desire to reach the highest point in each state in the US. Years ago, he took my sister and me on a “walk” that ended up being about 12 miles up and back the highest point in the state of Alabama. We nearly died (in our minds) and he was like, “What, you thought that was hard?”

Mostly, I’m not like that. I have moments of delusion where I fancy myself to be rather outdoorsy but by and large, I like air conditioning way too much to ever really claim the title. But, as is typical of delusional and fanciful people, I can easily be persuaded to forget my own nature and assume another when something compels me. Like pretty Instagram pictures of a rock outcropping along the Appalachian Trail that creates an overlook you can hike to. “Yeah,” I think to myself. “Yeah, I can DO THAT!”

So that’s how I came to abandon my plans to go to the pool and instead ended up on the Appalachian Trail. Viva delusion!

The spot I’m discussing here is Bears Den, located in Bluemont. Virginia houses 550 miles of the Appalachian Trail and Bears Den is located on the so-called “Roller Coaster” section of the trail, named for its hills. What was once the home of Dr. Huron Lawson has morphed over time into its current incarnation as a hostel for thru- hikers offering lodging, showers and bathrooms, and a campground. From Bears Den one can hike to an Overlook that perches above the Shenandoah Valley, offering incomparable views.

Luckily, Bears Den also has a day-lot for people who, rather than devoting massive amounts of time, energy and money to hiking the entire Appalachian Trail and sleeping wherever they can along the way, prefer instead to drive up, walk on it for a bit, and then get back in the car and go home. I read on the Bears Den website that the Overlook was a “short stroll” from the day parking lot and I thought, oh, that sounds great for us! We can totally do a short stroll!

Let me tell you something about the word “stroll.” It’s incredibly misleading. I spent three weeks in India in 2007 trekking the Himalaya because a trip there was presented in a way that specifically mentioned the phrase “strolling through alpine meadows.” (And also, again, delusion that I am the type of person who does things like trek the Himalaya.) I had incredible visions of Sound-of-Music style twirling and gallivanting through lush green meadows with glorious mountain views. What I did not take into account was that alpine simply means “relating to high mountains” and the phrase “strolling through alpine meadows” doesn’t promise that your “stroll” will be a simple, pleasurable walk. It means it’s gonna be a walk on a HIGH MOUNTAIN. And you’re going to be “strolling” for 12 hours at a time and be carrying a trekking pack that carries everything you’ll need for 2 weeks which your guides insist only includes two pairs of underwear.

India is another story for another time. But I just want to give you some background on how the word stroll continually misleads me. I again wrongly assumed we’d pull up in the parking lot, Maria von Trapp our way through some meadow, and end up at a rocky outcropping overlooking the Shenandoah Valley while also being able to claim we “hiked the Appalachian Trail.”

Well, that’s sorta what happened. To begin, we did park. Parking in the day lot at Bears Den costs $3 for the day. A small box is located at the top of the parking lot and inside are envelopes into which you will place your $3 parking fee, then detach an included flap to stick on your dash to let everyone know you paid.

This magnificent creation was also located in the parking lot:

Bears carved into a tree. Just the parking lot of Bears Den alone is one of my favorite new finds this summer.

There’s several available options for getting to the Overlook from here. I know them now that I’m looking at a brochure I picked up at the Lodge which includes a trail map, but at the time I didn’t know which way to go so I followed a group of hipster teenagers who could see I was trying to get my bearings and said “The rocks are this way.” Oh, helpful hipster teenagers. So kind and friendly!

So I went that way, to begin the “short stroll.”

The trail we took, I now see, was the Historic Trail, which is 1/2 mile long (each way) and labeled “moderate” in terms of difficulty. Hmm. Okay, I do believe it’s moderate for most adult hikers. My kids are not adults though and this was decidedly not-moderate for them, perhaps more on the side of “challenging” but I will say they handled it with great aplomb and were champs about the whole thing. Yes we all had to clamber up rocks. Yes they each fell and got a scrape on their knee. Yes I nearly took a thorned branch to the face while carrying my toddler. But we all made it through our “short stroll” just fine.

I did enjoy the hike but because I had been conditioned to think this would be a “short stroll” I started to get a little concerned when no outlook was appearing and the trail was getting more and more “moderate.” Why had we been walking so long? They said “the rocks” were this way. I started questioning my helpful hipster teenagers. Hipsters. Why did I think I could trust them? They weren’t even wearing clothing appropriate for hiking!! They tricked me and I hate them.

Oh wait, I hear voices. It’s the hipsters!! At the outlook! I can see it through the trees now. Nobody tricked me after all. Hello kind, sweet, friends, we meet again, here at this great spot nature has created for us all to enjoy together.

And this is what the Shenandoah Valley looks like from 1350 feet up. You can sit on these rocks and contemplate the land below and mentally congratulate yourself, “I hiked this.” Someone who is ACTUALLY hiking the trail will clomp past you, loaded down with their worldly possessions on their back and a cheerful dog walking alongside. Pay them no mind. You are a hiker too.

The map I later picked up suggests that the Blue Blaze Loop might be an easier path if you wish to attempt this trip with your kids (and I think you should! It was incredible!). The Blue Blaze Loop is only 1/3 mile and is labeled “easy” as opposed to the 1/2 mile “moderate” Historic Trail that I took. If your kids are bit older, the Historic Loop would probably be fine, but my toddler obviously had some difficulty and needed carrying through certain portions. If you’re toting a baby/small toddler in a backpack carrier, you could still do the Historic Trail, but would just need to be careful on the portions that require a bit of rock climbing. Next time we go I’ll try the Blue Blaze Loop and report back.

Regardless of which trail you choose to take to reach the outlook, I think your kids are going to love the hike. My oldest felt incredibly accomplished when she saw the destination she had worked hard to reach. “I AM A HIKER” she said. “I hiked the Apple Trail.”

“It’s actually the Appalachian Trail” I corrected her.

“I HIKED THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL.”

And you know, when you’re just about 6, that’s no small shakes. I never know how my kids will respond to the outings I plan for us; sometimes they don’t enjoy things I just swore they would love, and sometimes, like our trip to Bears Den, they surprise me and enjoy the hell out of something I thought they would merely tolerate. Both of them did so well I am convinced that they got more of my dad’s genes in them than I did. They just might be my father’s granddaughters.

My husband was incredibly jealous he was not able to do this with us (God bless the man, he works hard so I’m able to do things like hike a mountain in the middle of a weekday afternoon with my kids) so we are definitely planning a return trip soon. The overlook is westward facing so the sunset views have to be incredible. I would be tempted to bring a bottle of wine with me to enjoy the sunset with but then again, rocky paths + unsteady footing might just be asking for trouble. Not saying I wouldn’t still do it, just that I would temper expectations for how well the return hike would go. And bring Band-Aids.

Handy tips:

-Bring exact cash or coins to pay your parking fee. There’s no guard shack or attendant, so nobody’s going to swipe your card through a Square Reader or break your twenty.

-Wear appropriate shoes. I want to think this is self-explanatory, but if you wear sandals to hike the Appalachian Trail, you’re gonna have a bad time. 

-If you’re unsure which trail you’d like to take, walk up to the Lodge and grab a handy dandy map. It lays out every trail option along with length and difficulty of trail. Or, you can be like me and blindly trust a cadre of hipster teenagers. That’s your call.

-There’s no trash cans at Bears Den, so if you bring any drinks or snacks to enjoy up on the overlook, be a pal, pack the trash back out with you, and dispose of it later once you’ve left the park.

Most of all, I want to say that if you don’t think you’re an outdoorsy person who would enjoy this, try embracing a little delusion. You can do powerful things with delusion! I trekked the Himalaya on the fuel of delusion. Just tell yourself you’re a hiker. You’re tough. Tell yourself that girl from Novadventuring did it with two little kids, so if she can, you definitely can!

Because this is the view that awaits:

Haymarket: Burnside Farms + Pickle Bob’s

Where: 2570 Logmill Rd., Haymarket, VA
When: Monday-Friday, 10 am- 6 pm, Saturday 9 am- 6 pm, Sunday 10 am- 6 pm.

My husband tried to get me to agree to move to Haymarket awhile back. I balked, because I’m no country mouse. I like to visit the country, but I don’t want to live there. Nor do I wish to live in a city. Suburbia is the place for me, as uncool as that is to admit these days. I like order, and convenience, and Wegmans.

“But you love that flower place out in Haymarket,” my husband said, which is absolutely true but also not a standalone argument for picking up and moving to a whole new city. “Whydja move to Haymarket?” they’d ask. “Sure do like that flower farm over there” we’d have to say.

Although it (probably) won’t convince you to move to Haymarket, I think Burnside Farms can at least convince you to visit Haymarket. Each year Burnside Farms holds their Festival of Spring, when different spring flowers bloom and are available for picking. In March come the daffodils, followed by tulips and Dutch iris in April and May. I took my girls one warm day in late April during the 10-day period when Burnside Farms said the tulips would be at their peak and the sight of those tulips was something to behold. A whole field of tulips in the middle of Virginia farmland! Burnside Farms calls this part of the season Holland in Haymarket, and they even have a giant set of wooden clogs that kids can pose in for the full effect.

I spent a full $25 on tulips the day we went because I just couldn’t stop cutting them and adding them to my basket. If you went after April 28 it’s possible there were none left after I scavenged the fields. Sorry about that.

A wet winter decimated the Dutch iris harvest in May, but I made sure to keep an eye on Burnside Farms’ Facebook page all summer for updates on when their Summer of Sunflowers would begin. A rainy start to summer led to a later bloom date than usual, but the sunflowers were finally ready to be cut starting in early August and I immediately planned a trip out. “Didn’t you JUST go pick flowers like, last week?” you might be asking. Yes I did. But there’s a few things in life you can never have too much of:

Friends
Flowers
Mascara

And you can take that to the bank.

Admission to Summer of Sunflowers is $4/person for one day passes but after that, how much you spend is up to you. Flowers are priced on a per-stem basis so it’s your discretion how many flowers you pick and how much you’ll spend accordingly.

Along with the sunflowers, Burnside Farms has planted gladiolus because they are tall like sunflowers and the two flowers look particularly nice arranged in a vase together.

They’re great. But let’s be honest…

The sunflowers are the stars of the show. How can you even resist them!?

Though rain was promised by good old Capital Weather Gang, the day ended up being blisteringly hot, especially out there in the shade-less flower fields. I kept my flower cutting to a minimum to appease my hot children who were ready to get up under the shady trees and eat some lunch. Nonetheless, the six stems I did grab look mighty tall and beautiful on my dining room table:

In addition to the flowers, the kind folks at Burnside Farms set up a fun bubble stand for kids to play with, consisting of a bird bath filled with bubble solution and handmade bubble wands in different shapes:

My kids spent a good chunk of time swarming around this bird bath, blowing bubbles with the bubble wands and then chasing the bubbles into the flowers.

A cute chalkboard table was set up with a note to get creative and make a fun chalkboard sign for your pictures:

I stood here for quite awhile trying to come up with something good. I… completely failed myself. I couldn’t think of one good thing to write on these chalkboards. Well, I take that back; I did try to write NOVADVENTURING on one but I suffered from a lack of foresight when choosing my blog name and it turns out Novadventuring is a pretty long word to try to cram onto a tiny chalkboard. So it looked like this: NOVADVENTU. And then I was out of room. I eventually just gave up.

I again brought a vase along to stick my flowers into for the trip home, but if you forget a vase or just want to buy a new one for your pretty flowers (valid), Burnside Farms sells a variety of colored glass bud vases and glass and painted Mason jars:

Helpful tips:

-Burnside operates two different fields- their regular field where the spring flowers are planted is across the highway from the summer flower field. If you’ve been to Burnside Farms in the spring this might initially be confusing. The address at the top of this post is the address for the summer fields where the sunflower operation is.

-Burnside Farms does accept cash AND cards for all purchases and admission.

-Outside food is allowed and picnic tables are thoughtfully placed under a small copse of trees to provide shade while you sit and eat lunch.

Because this is the way I like to do things, after we were done at Burnside Farms we headed five miles down the highway into Haymarket to try the local ice cream shop, Pickle Bob’s.

Everyone, this is Pickle Bob. Can we all give a nice warm Novadventuring welcome to Pickle Bob?

Hi Pickle Bob.

Why is a pickle in a cup of ice cream? I have no answers. I’m asking in case you know.

Pickle Bob’s is a small ice cream stand located on a teeny side street in Haymarket. There’s no indoor seating but there are picnic tables set up outside for you to sit and enjoy your soft serve.

If you have a dog, bring the dog with you- Pickle Bob’s serves “pup cups” of ice cream for dogs!

Pickle Bob’s serves vanilla, chocolate, and swirled soft serve but they offer all manner of toppings as well as concoctions called “tornadoes” and “flavor bursts” and other vaguely meteorological sounding ice cream treats. There’s recently been chatter on their Facebook page about adding cereal as a menu topping but I didn’t see any evidence of that so … what do we need to do to get Fruity Pebbles on tap at Pickle Bob’s? I will also settle for Cocoa Pebbles.

If you can’t make it out to Haymarket for the Summer of Sunflowers, be sure to set aside a weekend in the fall to visit Burnside Farms’ fall market, which features barnyard animals, pumpkins and gourds, mums, and freshly picked apples. And definitely mark your calendars to attend Holland in Haymarket next spring- ideally before I am able to get there so there will still be tulips left standing in the fields.

Broadlands Nature Center

Where: 21907 Claiborne Pkwy., Ashburn, VA
When: Monday-Friday, 9 am- 5 pm, three Saturdays a month 10 am- 2 pm

Like any other witch, I lose my mojo when it rains. I become unmoored; what are we supposed to do NOW? I find going to the mall and playing on the mall playground categorically unacceptable, which means on rainy days I’m left scrambling for a good indoor activity. That’s how I ended up one drizzly afternoon earlier this summer at an HOA office in Ashburn and discovered one of my best rainy day spots. I keep this one in my back pocket for days when the weather just isn’t on our side, and I’m going to share it with you even though you’re undoubtedly thinking “There is no way this girl is fixing to send me to some HOA office in Ashburn with my kids.” Oh but I AM.

I fully agree with you that when I’m thinking of fun places to take my kids, the HOA office does not top the list. But that’s because my HOA office is boring and yours probably is as well. The Broadlands HOA office is a different animal completely. Inside the Broadlands HOA office is a small town gem- the Broadlands Nature Center.

I have known about Broadlands Nature Center for years yet never went until this summer because I didn’t think it would be particularly entertaining for my kids, and also because I assumed it was only open and accessible to Broadlands residents. Both of these beliefs were untrue; this nature center is so much more than it appears to be and the kind residents of Broadlands not only pay their HOA fees and volunteer to maintain it but graciously allow the rest of us to visit as well.

I took my girls here for the first time this summer and figured we would kill 15-20 minutes. We stayed for nearly two hours. I can’t explain what we find so special about this cozy little nature center- it’s small and inviting, the burbling bathtub turtle tanks act as soothing white noise, and there’s stuff to do in every single corner of the room. It welcomes you in and makes you want to stay awhile.

Broadlands Nature Center is run by volunteers and the first time we went, the elementary-aged son of the head volunteer was there to fulfill his afternoon duties. If I knew this kid’s name I would be compelled to write someone a letter to tell them what a great job they’ve done with him. He was just a neat kid- so patient and kind with my daughters and the other kids who were there that afternoon, so informative about the animals he was caring for. When it was time to feed Zoe, the resident rabbit, he very sweetly asked my girls if they wanted to stock her hay basket. He took me to the dove cage and showed me where one dove had been sitting on two eggs! He told me we were just in time to see Ziggy the corn snake be fed his weekly frozen mouse, and then informed me in a conspiratorial tone that one boy who was there came every week to see this.

In addition to Zoe the rabbit and Ziggy the corn snake, there’s two different species of turtle, a fish tank, and a wall of reptile cages with various small lizards and salamanders. Our most recent visit revealed a new citizen of the nature center- Kelso, the bearded dragon:

Cut into one wall is a hidden playroom for children, made to look like it’s carved out of the inside of a tree, filled to the brim with books and stuffed animals to play with. It’s like a tiny clubhouse hideaway where kids can just be small in a small space. They sit in there and from outside the room you hear the sounds of their voices making up storylines for the animals, or reading books. It is the sweetest little place, and I guess now that I think about it, this is why children seem to love the nature center: it doesn’t overwhelm. It doesn’t overstimulate. There is just enough there for them to be constantly engaged, but it’s a comfortable engagement, where they don’t feel a panic that they won’t squeeze it all in, or they’ll miss something crucial and exciting. They enter the nature center and run back and forth between animals and play room and back to the animals, absorbing it, taking it all in, and thoroughly enjoying the immersion in a small environment that just… allows them to be small.

The love and dedication of the nature center volunteers is evident in every inch of this space. Local children are just as involved in the upkeep and care of the nature center as adults- I have seen young children, the kind who most likely would leave their clothes all over their room in their own home, lovingly sweep up rabbit pellets and refill the box with clean litter, chatting happily while doing so. I have seen them toss handfuls of lettuce into the turtle tubs, then ask “What’s next on the list?” This little nature center is a labor of love, and it shows. I think that’s probably another reason why it is so inviting and pleasant. It is abundantly cared for.

Right inside the small bridge that you cross to enter the nature center is a Little Free Library; if you’ve got a few books lying around that no one reads anymore, consider bringing them to stock the library and possibly trade for other books left inside.

I tend to bring my kids to Broadlands Nature Center on rainy days, but it would be just as pleasant on a sunny day. There’s a covered porch out back with Adirondack chairs and right across the parking area is a small tot lot for children to play on.

In addition to the everyday operations of the nature center, the volunteers also lead special nature programs. I signed myself and my oldest up for a Snape’s Potions Class recently (we unfortunately had to miss because she woke up with a stomach bug- I mean, I tried not to let her know I was bummed but I was bummed) but they’ve also recently held programs about edible flowers and wild animal rehabilitation. If you’re interested in nature programs run through the center, bookmark their community events page. The classes are inexpensive and, if anything like the center itself, surely well done. And just look at this sense of humor:

I don’t care who you are, that’s funny.

If you aren’t from Ashburn but I’ve successfully enticed you into taking your kids to Ashburn to visit what I really hope you’ll tell them is an HOA office and nothing more, just to mess with them, here’s some more ideas for how you can fill your day:

The W&OD Trail runs right through Old Ashburn. A parking lot is located right next to the phenomenal Carolina Brothers BBQ. You can park in the lot, hop on the W&OD and walk as long as you like, then pop into Carolina Bros on your way out for either a BBQ plate lunch or, if you just need a snack, old fashioned treats like peach Nehi and Moon Pies.

Right down the road from the W&OD jump on point is a local favorite playground known as Dinosaur Park (43465 Partlow Rd.) with four different play structures and a walking path down by a stream and into the woods. Kids LOVE this playground and it will keep them busy as long as you let them stay.

There’s so many big, historical, beautiful, exciting things to see where we live, but Broadlands Nature Center proves that sometimes, slowing down and just being small can be the best way to spend the day. I truly hope you’ll consider visiting this sweet little nature center and taking the time to… enjoy smallness.

Ridgefield Farm + Maggie Malick Wine Caves

Where: 414 Kidwiler Rd., Harpers Ferry, WV
When: Thursday- Sunday, 10 am- 5 pm

I remember once in high school chatting with a classmate who said he had never left the state of Georgia. “Not even to go to Florida?” I asked, because every Georgia kid I ever grew up with had taken at least one trip to Florida at some point in their life. He confirmed: not even to Florida. This kid was 18 years old and had been confined to one state his entire life. It was an utterly foreign concept to me.

I thought of this today as my car breezed over the dividing line between Virginia and West Virginia and I crowed “We’re in a new state, kids!” and my friend yelled “Woohoo!” and the kids didn’t even stop watching their movie to acknowledge it. Well, and why should they I suppose. Maryland is under 30 miles away, as is West Virginia and Washington, D.C. I can drive to a new state faster than I can get through Tyson’s Corner in rush hour traffic.

Still, taking a weekday trip to another state retains a sense of special-ness to me. We are ON THE ROAD, exploring our world. We’re gonna see new things! We are officially tourists!

Our reason for traveling to West Virginia was a trip to Ridgefield Farm and Orchard in Harpers Ferry, WV and here’s where I’m going to remind you yet again to sign up for Certifikid, which is how I discovered this place. Certifikid is an amazing resource because not only does it enable you to go places you love at a discounted price, it introduces you to places you’ve never heard of before. I was checking my email one day last week and saw that the deal of the day was $10 for a voucher good toward two bouquets of flowers that you pick and cut at Ridgefield Farm and Orchard. Sold. Then I texted my friend and told her to go buy one as well. Two sold. Peer pressure is awesome.

As we were driving out to Harpers Ferry along route 9 I kept saying “This is so pretty! Look at this, it’s so beautiful!” I know I say this in pretty much every single one of my posts, but it’s true: yes it’s a bit of a drive. BUT THE DRIVE IS SUCH A TREAT. Rolling green Virginia hills, stone houses in Hillsboro, the Shenandoah River, vineyards everywhere. How can you possibly dislike driving in Virginia?

We arrived at Ridgefield Farm around 11:30 and were greeted in the yard by the owner, who welcomed us and explained the process of cutting flowers. It goes like this:

Step 1: Pick up scissors.
Step 2: Cut flowers.

I’m here to answer the hard questions, folks.

Ridgefield Farm provides scissors and baskets for you to take into the flower fields and cut to your heart’s content, but you’re also welcome to bring your own if you’re the sort of person who owns things like special flower baskets. Our voucher was good for “two bouquets of flowers” and we asked to have that specifically defined because I mean, I can make “a bouquet” that’s the size of my Nissan Armada if there’s no restrictions placed on me. We were told a bouquet is roughly 20 stems and assorted greenery, so our voucher could be redeemed for approximately 40 stems and and any green stuff we wanted to cut to fluff it out.

And then we were free to go!

The garden is filled with zinnias and sunflowers- not just regular yellow sunflowers, but a deep reddish black sunflower that I googled and have determined is most likely a Moulin Rouge sunflower.

Aren’t zinnias just the best? If I were gutsier my daughters would have been given flower names and would be walking around the world right now as Magnolia and Zinnia.

As a natural result of there being a garden full of flowers, Ridgefield is swarmed with butterflies! The farm very considerately provides butterfly nets for kids to use to “catch” butterflies. I put “catch” in quotations because although I happily let my kids tote the nets around, when I saw my oldest plop her net down and snare a large Monarch, I immediately told her to take it off and let the Monarch go. Something about seeing that butterfly in a net made me feel an immediate sadness about the human desire, upon witnessing something beautiful in nature, to take possession of it. Kind of like cutting flowers from the ground in which they grow to stuff into a vase in which they will inevitably die. I didn’t claim to be a creature of consistency.

So, rather than “catching” butterflies, the kids settled for “ineffectually chasing” butterflies, which was just as entertaining.

My friend and I meandered around the garden for a good 30 minutes, selecting the perfect stems for our bouquets and clipping peacefully. We rarely even spoke, but just enjoyed the simple pleasure of partaking in relaxing work side by side. If I were a certain type of person, I suppose I could claim it was calming and meditative.

When we assessed our harvest and agreed we each had something close to 40ish stems apiece, we returned to the farmstand and rang the bell, which alerts the farm that you’re ready to pay for your flowers. I had thought ahead and brought a vase from home, so I spent a few minutes at the work table pulling leaves off stems and arranging my flowers in the vase for the ride home. A water cooler is provided to fill your vase with water, so I highly recommend bringing a vase along to keep your flowers as fresh as possible for the ride home.

I am not a particularly talented individual, yet I have an innate hopefulness that reassures me each time I try something new that THIS will be my heretofore untapped hidden talent. I have yet to uncover that hidden talent that my brain is just so sure lies dormant inside me somewhere, but the optimism keeps my life entertaining. That being said, the natural beauty of these flowers makes it impossible to arrange them in way that doesn’t look lush and gorgeous, but you can still tell yourself the end result is a product of some natural ability that you possess for arranging flowers.

This wild and wonderful bunch of West Virginian flowers is currently sitting on my kitchen island, making me smile each time I see them. (The big heavy straggling green on the far right has been moved to the center of the bouquet and now stands tall and erect, pointing straight toward the ceiling, fulfilling its destiny of being a Tall Green Thing.)

Aside from flower picking, Ridgefield Farm has a play area for children with picnic tables (we were told picnic lunches are welcome), a pirate ship, and a choo- choo train.

Before you leave, pop into the small store and get a look at all the jams, jellies, condiments and soy candles made from produce picked on the farm and its orchards. My friend bought a jar of cranberry relish and a jar of bread and butter pickles.

We had a wonderful time at Ridgefield and are already planning on making a return trip in October for the farm’s fall activities, which include pumpkin picking (the pumpkins are already growing!), hayrides, and corn mazes. On weekend nights there’s also a haunted hayride that culminates in a trip through the corn maze in the dark (though this is not recommended for children under 10).

Make a day of it: 

The road to Ridgefield is paved with wineries and vineyards. You could spend an entire day simply driving from one winery to another along route 9. I saw at least 7 that have been on my list to try, and a few I had never even heard of. We made spontaneous plans to stop at one on the way home for a glass of wine and lunch, settling on Maggie Malick Wine Caves, located in Purcellville, for two reasons: burning curiosity about WHAT IS A WINE CAVE? and a giant yellow flag by the entrance that said FOOD.

A wine cave is a structure built into a hill that looks like those bunkers Doomsday Preppers build to survive the impending apocalypse, only instead of being filled with guns and canned goods, this bunker-type structure is filled with WINE (and snacks). I’ll meet you at the Maggie Malick Wine Cave in the event of an apocalypse; we likely won’t make it very long, but we’ll have a good time while we can.

Maggie Malick’s has a wonderful covered patio out back with tables, chairs, cornhole, and a beautiful view of the property. We purchased some crackers and cheese (try the Buffalo Feta dip), three glasses of wine, and made our way out back to enjoy a couple hours all to ourselves on the property.

We selected a glass each of Cabernet Sauvignon, Rose, and an Albarino to split because we wanted to cover all our bases while there. It was for research!

All were delicious but I gotta say: the Rose was the best I’ve had all summer. It’s made from the winery’s Cabernet Sauvignon and is dry and fruity. Rose can be very hit or miss and this one was the best I’ve tried in a long, long time. I’m kind of kicking myself for not buying a bottle while I was there.

Our kids had a great time at Maggie Malick’s. Two labs reside at Maggie’s and roam the property at their leisure; they realized we were there after an hour or so and came over to play with the kids for awhile. Abby and Moxie are the sweetest dogs you can imagine, and gentle with children, so don’t be afraid of them. (The folks at Maggie’s do ask that you not feed them, so make sure your kids don’t sneak them any snacks.)

Maggie Malick’s also offers wine tastings- an astounding $8 for 10 pours, which is one of the most reasonable tastings I’ve seen. A tasting gets you pours of four whites, five reds, and their rose. Eight of these ten wines have earned medals at competition, and three of them have earned gold medals, so you will probably not find a tasting with a better combination of quality + price than this.

These two destinations combine the best of what this area has to offer- a chance to explore nature and take in the natural beauty of the region, to enjoy delicious wine made from Virginia grapes, and best of all, to support local businesses. I think you’ll find the whole day is enjoyable for everyone in the family.