High Rock

Where: Pen Mar High Rock Rd., Cascade, MD (For GPS purposes, try plugging in 14600 Pen Mar High Rock Rd. This is Pen Mar Park and High Rock is NOT in Pen Mar Park, but this gets you on the right road and you simply continue up past Pen Mar Park until you come to High Rock)
When: Well, it’s rocks so it’s there whenever.

I need to begin this post by telling you that High Rock is incredible but I demand to know who was in charge of naming it. Could you really do no better? It is a rock outcropping, and it’s quite high, but surely there was some other quality, some spirit of imagination that could have been looped in to the name instead of just… High Rock?

Look at this high rock.
Yeah, wow. What should we call it? Devil’s Peak? Widow’s Nest? God’s Pillow? Stairway to Heaven?
Let’s call it High Rock.
Ok!

I have, strangely enough, the Vans Warped Tour to thank for introducing me to High Rock. In the strange way that Instagram algorithms work, a picture of some members of some band on the Vans Warped Tour doing community service on High Rock got propagated into my feed. What I noticed first was the great graffiti covering the rock they were standing on. Then I read the caption which said something like, “Vans Warped Tour doing community service cleaning graffiti off High Rock today” and I thought WHAT NO, YOU CAN’T CLEAN OFF THE GRAFFITI, THE GRAFFITI IS GREAT! It’s not often that graffiti enhances a natural landscape but from time to time, something just clicks and I have to say, in the case of High Rock, the graffiti somehow just makes the whole thing better. Don’t hate me, nature purists, I’m kind of a magpie and colorful things appeal to me.

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High Rock lies on South Mountain in Northern Maryland (hee!) right along the Mason Dixon Line. It’s situated on the Appalachian Trail and is a popular lookout spot and hang gliding platform. People also somewhat frequently fall off and tumble to their death. Not trying to scare you or anything, just think you ought to be warned! This really is a rock you want to be respectful of. There’s no fencing or railing surrounding the rock, and the dropoff isn’t one of those fake-out ones where it looks like a sharp drop with dirt 2 feet below. It’s, you know, A DROP. So if you take kids, just keep a close eye on them. Especially with the wet weather we had, the combined effect of rain on spray paint is a quite slippery walking surface. Be safe, my dudes.

Despite the hard work of the Vans Warped Tour, High Rock, I’m pleased to say, is still covered in all manner of graffiti. We got up early on a Saturday morning and headed out since it was a good 60 mile drive from our house, and when we got there I was happy to see that the Vans Warped Tour had not eradicated all the graffiti I had been hoping to see. Rainshowers were moving in and out of the area quickly, and shortly after we arrived, a cloud moved over us and obstructed the view of everything beyond High Rock, lending it a surreal quality wherein you could not quite tell where the end of the rock was and the dropoff began or just how high up you were (1800 feet up, FYI). We were all alone up there and it felt like we really just perched up in the clouds.

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The rain did begin driving a bit more steadily so we retreated to the car and waited a bit and eventually when the rain dissipated we made our way back up to the rock and were rewarded with a brief but stunning view of what lies beyond High Rock when it isn’t obscured by clouds:

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As the sun broke weakly through the clouds, a few more cars pulled up and several of us stood and watched the valley below us open up for just long enough to get a view before the clouds started rolling back in.

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Even this little friend enjoyed the rock (and is a good reminder to please leash any pets you bring along):

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High Rock is accessible via hiking on the Appalachian Trail, but it’s also ridiculously easy to access by car. As in, you just drive up Pen Mar High Rock Rd until you see the small pull-out lot on your right with the rocks right next to it. Definitely wear workout gear and good shoes so that everyone who sees pictures thinks you hiked up a really tall mountain to get there, but your secret is safe with me. I found a hiking log of the trek up to High Rock and it mentions lots of switchbacks and a steep climb so just say that and nobody will ever know.

The best part of the trip to High Rock for me was when I posted pictures of it to Facebook and my dad posted a picture of himself there… in 1982. The rock was pure and free of graffiti and my dad was in stonewashed jeans, a crop top, and had bangs and a mullet. Time moves on, my dad definitely does not wear crop tops now, and the youth have covered the rock in paint, but through a fun wormhole in time known as the Internet, my dad at 19 and I at 31 were in the same place.

 

High Rock made me happy. My kids loved it, my husband loved it, the view were stunning, and even in the rain it was well worth the trip. I can only imagine it’s even better in the fall with all the foliage down below, so we’ll be making a return trek back then. Add this one to your hiking list for sure, definitely at least before the next Vans Warped Tour comes through and tries to de-graffiti it.

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Fresh Water Play in Northern VA

Somehow it’s July 12th and I haven’t written a post about anything we’ve done this summer yet. Whoopsie doops! My apologies.

My family recently spent a week at Carolina Beach, North Carolina for family vacation and the proximity to water only awakened in us some latent desire to be near water as much as possible. Given our landlocked position here in Northern Virginia, the beach isn’t a daily possibility but luckily, we’ve got plenty of opportunities for fresh water play nearby and for whatever reason, that is mostly what my kids and I have been most interesting in doing lately. I decided to compile a post about some of our favorite local stops to get back to the water.

Goose Creek/Kephart Bridge Landing
42942 Riverpoint Dr., Leesburg, VA

Goose Creek snakes lazily through many parts of Loudoun County and for all the times I’ve driven by it or over it, it only just this summer occurred to me that we could actually find a place to get down in it. Our favorite access point is Kepheart Bridge Landing in the Lansdowne neighborhood which has a nice parking lot and a walking path that leads right down to a small creek-beach. Kayakers and canoers frequently launch from that spot and on any given trip out to the creek you can watch them out in the water, sometimes navigating the (very small) rapids that lie just upstream from the landing.

Revealing how easy it is sometimes to entertain kids when you just let them entertain themselves, my kids’ favorite thing to do at the creek is throw rocks in the water. That’s it. For as long as I’ll let them, they just select rocks and throw them, then maybe remark to one another how big the splash was. It’s the essence of simple summertime fun.

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The water in this section of Goose Creek is shallow and placid and perfect for wading and swimming if you’re interested in getting in the water. Just for reference, I am 5’1 and would say the water in the middle of the creek at its deepest is about hip height on me. Just wear water shoes!

As a fun bonus, there’s a bunny tree near Kephart Bridge Landing:

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Watermelon Park, Berryville
3322 Lockes Mill Rd., Berryville, VA

A bit further west in Clarke County lies Watermelon Park, a former watermelon farm turned campground and tubing spot. It sits just along the bank of the Shenandoah River and is a perfect spot for packing a picnic lunch and spending a few hours playing and exploring. Admission to the grounds is $10 per adult but kids 6 and under are free. We picnicked, threw rocks in the water, played on the on-site playground, and enjoyed a summer afternoon in the Shenandoah.

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River Farm, Alexandria
7931 E. Boulevard Dr., Alexandria, VA

We spent a lovely morning at River Farm, the headquarters of the American Horticultural Society and formerly George Washington’s northernmost of his five farms. It lies along the banks of the Potomac and the manor house on the grounds provide stunning views of the river:

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Just up the road from River Farm is Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve which has trails that wind three-quarters of a mile through marsh and tidal wetland. We spent so much time at River Farm that we did not have time to do Dyke Marsh the same day so have saved it for another trip out to Alexandria.

Lake Anne, Reston, VA

We love Lake Anne, a planned community surrounding a lake in Reston. Walking paths around the lake provide different views and there’s several waterside restaurants and fountains and a used book shop. We love to come look around and find tadpoles in the canals:

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A stop on the Van Gogh Bridge is always a must:

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And finally, although it isn’t in Northern Virginia, it’s only a short distance away- Cunningham Falls State Park in Thurmont, Maryand. We went here one Sunday morning and hiked out to the waterfall and got IN the waterfall! This was very fun and confidence-building for my kids who had to trust their own sure-footedness on the slippery rocks. The novelty of standing in the pool of  waterfall was very fun for them and it was a trip we really enjoyed as a family. My oldest even crossed a fallen log across the water with my husband!

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Venture forth! Commune with the water! Also if you’re playing PokemonGo I have a feeling these areas are probably full of really great Pokemon (LOL).

 

The Ultimate Guide to Virginia Summer, 2016

How amazing was that Memorial Day weekend!? If that didn’t get you pumped for summer, nothing will. In fact, getting through the school routine for the next 15 days is going to be a battle royale because as far as my mind is concerned, it’s summer right now. It’s hot, the pools are open, fresh corn is back in the grocery store- this is happening. We have achieved summer.

I first started this blog last summer and really, summer is when this blog thrives, because it’s the time of year when we have the most time to devote to doing fun things. Like most of you, the school year has its way with us, and school, activities, and general life responsibilities get in the way of doing what we want all day long. Summer is when we take back our time! I refuse to sign my kids up for any scheduled activities and aside from a stray week of half-day camp or a planned vacation, we wake up in the mornings, check with friends or take a look at our summer to-do list, and make our plan for the day that way. I just think this is the way summer should be. There’s something so invigorating about this freedom- maybe it’s because I was born right after the summer solstice and am the most Cancerian of Cancers to ever live, but I come alive in summer. It can’t be true but sometimes I think every good and wonderful thing that’s ever happened to me happened in summer.

To get ready for Summer 2016, I’ve started a running list in my Notes app (it’s called SUMMER, because I’m such a writer) to keep track of things that I have seen or heard of and want to do. I did this last summer as well; some of the things on the Summer 2015 list didn’t get crossed off so I’ve just punted them to the Summer 2016 list. We’ve lived here five years this summer and there are still things right around us that we have yet to get to- how great is that? You can’t find a better place to do summer than Northern Virginia/DC/Maryland.

If you, too, are looking for some summer ideas, I am here to help. The following list is Your Ultimate Guide to Summer in Northern Virginia (and surrounding environs), and included are things we’ve done and enjoyed and planned to do again, and a bunch of new things we’ve yet to try but hope to get to this summer. Join us in ushering in the greatest 3 months of any calendar year: bright, happy, ephemeral SUMMER. We’re all beautiful here.


History

Visit Mount Vernon– we did this years ago when we first moved here, but now that my oldest is moving on to first grade and has learned about presidents, I think this bears a repeat visit. The home of George Washington is situated right on the banks of the Potomac and one of the finest examples of presidential homes here in Virginia.

Boundary Stones tour (FREE)– When Congress gave Washington permission to select a 100 square mile area to serve as the national capital, the spot he chose, what is now Washington, D.C., was marked off with stones at one-mile intervals. Many of these original boundary stones, placed in the 1700s, still exist around DC, and we plan to get out and scout a few of them.

Frederick Douglass house (FREE)– I’m taking a course in African-American literature this summer, the conclusion of which is going to dovetail nicely with the September opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. In the spirit of this course of study, I’ll be seeking out local points of African-American history this summer- including the home of Frederick Douglass in Anacostia.

Harpers Ferry, WV– visit this historical town for stunning views of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers (Jefferson declared the view worth a voyage across the Atlantic to see) and to visit the site of John Brown’s Raid, one of the precipitating events leading to the Civil War.

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Morven Park, Leesburg (FREE unless you do a home tour)- The magnificent home of former Virginia governer Westmoreland Davis. The home is now open for tours- in addition to the home itself, there’s a Carriage Museum and two presidentially-pardoned Thanksgiving turkeys, named Mac and Cheese and Caramel.

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Oatlands Plantation, Leesburg- This plantation home once housed 133 slaves, the largest slave population in Loudoun County. Today the home still stands and is available for tours; the gardens are a visual treat worth exploring even if you aren’t interested in a house tour. Afternoon tea is offered on a monthly basis as well as various special events such as yoga and summer camps.

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Gunston Hall, home of George Mason. June 11th is George Mason day and admission will be free!

Woodlawn-Pope- Leighey– a double-hitter! Woodlawn is the home that Washington gave to his wife, Martha’s, grand-daughter Nelly and Pope-Leighey, located right next door, is a home designed by architectural legend Frank Lloyd-Wright.

Manassas National Battlefield (FREE)– the site where Stonewall Jackson got his enduring nickname. Bring your National Parks Passport and get four stamps in the gift shop.

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Colvin Run Mill Park, Fairfax (FREE)– A gristmill with working waterwheel is open to visitors- visit the Miller’s house and the General Store which served those who came to the mill as grocery store, post office, and general watercooler gossip trading post.

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Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum, Sterling- This fun little hands-on museum tells the story of Loudoun County and showcases its rural beginnings. Hard to believe now that there’s eight thousand restaurants and a Top Golf, but Loudoun County once (and in some parts, still) was a land of farms and agriculture. Stop in on a rainy day to let the kids play in the general store and the pretend farm.

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U-Pick

Currently in season: STRAWBERRIES. Wegmeyer Farms operates two locations in Northern Virginia- their main farm in Hamilton and a patch at Oatlands Plantation. We went the Friday of Memorial Day weekend and picked a couple pounds of the most juicy, red, gloriously sweet strawberries you’ve ever tasted. No white-centered mutantly huge Driscoll’s berries here. We enjoyed ours with a whipped ricotta drizzled with honey and sprinkled with some sea salt- heaven on a plate.

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Blueberry picking at Eagletree Farm– The very brief blueberry season begins sometime in June and can end as early as the first week of July, so keep your eyes peeled for when blueberries are ripe for picking at the farm.

Peaches and more at Great Country Farms– my deep and abiding love for Great Country Farms is well-documented, and high up on the list of reasons why GCF is the best place ever is their U-pick setup. A wagon picks you up at the store and drives you across the street to the fields where you pick to your heart’s content. The peaches are especially wonderful in mid-late summer (you should plan to attend their Peach Fuzztival and enjoy peach pancakes at the Roosteraunt) and in June we’ll get a brief window of time to harvest black raspberries. Come to play and pick.

Flowers at Fields of Flowers, Purcellville, Burnside Farms, Haymarket, and Ridgefield Farms in Harpers Ferry, WV– is anything more satisfying than wandering a field of flowers and carefully selecting only the most beautiful specimens that catch your eye to bring home with you? There’s something so incredibly pleasing about roaming a field full of flowers and walking away with a beautiful bouquet.

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Lavender at Seven Oaks Lavender Farm, Catlett, VA- Starting June 3rd, Seven Oaks will be open to visitor who are welcome to come pick fresh lavender at this Virginia farm.

Paw-Paws at Mackintosh Farm, Berryville– technically this will not be a “summer” activity since paw-paws aren’t in season until late September or so, but you don’t want to miss this special fruit, which was beloved by George Washington for its sweet, custardy flavor. Reminiscent of banana, mango, and coconut, it’s a rare and delicious treat.

You won’t be doing the picking yourself since Rachel Roberts takes care of that, but if you stop by her house on Edwards Ferry Road in Leesburg this summer, you can purchase freshly picked and trimmed flowers from her garden. All money collected goes to the Loudoun Interfaith Relief food pantry, where Rachel has volunteered for years, and last summer she was able to donate a whopping $11,648 to LIR thanks all to the flowers in her garden. My children and I stop by “the flower lady’s house” several times each summer to purchase some of her beautiful arrangements.

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Water Fun

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Many neighborhoods have their own HOA pool(s), but if you’re looking for something new to try, there’s tons of places nearby.

NVRPA is one of the best things about where we live- so many parks and attractions and they just do everything so well. Their water parks are awesome- our favorite is Volcano Island inside Algonkian Park but this summer, now that my youngest is 2.5, we’ll be visiting others as well, like Atlantis inside of Bull Run park.

Franklin Park Pool in Purcellville- this mini-waterpark and pool combo was a big hit with our kids last summer and we’ll back again this year. Small waterslides, dump buckets, and ride-on toys make this pool perfect for breaking up the neighborhood pool trip and making swimming a little more special.

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A.V. Symington Aquatic Center, Leesburg- located in Ida Lee Park,the outdoor water park at Symington Aquatic Center is HUGELY popular on hot summer days. Get there early; we never made it there before it reached capacity last summer and will have to try again this year!

Splash Fountains at Village at Leesburg and One Loudoun and Our Special Harbor in Franconia

Explore Nature

Brookside Gardens, Wheaton, MD and Meadowlark Gardens, Vienna– two botanical gardens that are full of lush summer flora. Pick whichever is closest to you (or both!)- they’re both great. Brookside Gardens is currently hosting its Wings of Fancy butterfly exhibit which is well worth the visit. Meadlowark Gardens holds a Summer Solstice Picnic event on June 21- on this one day each year, families are allowed to bring picnics into the park and enjoy the longest day of the year by watching sunset in the Korean Bell garden.

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Cunningham Falls, Thurmont, MD-  We’ve seen the signs for Cunningham Falls countless times, and this summer, I’m making a point to go.

Bears Den Overlook, Bluemont, VA (FREE)– One of my favorite hikes to take with my kids and visiting friends. The views are stunning and there’s nothing quite so pleasant as sitting on the rocks, eating a snack, and looking down at the beautiful Shenandoah Valley below. Just down the road in the town of Bluemont you can grab snacks and sandwiches at Bluemont General Store, a glass of wine at Bluemont Vineyards, or a beer and soft pretzels at Dirt Farm Brewing.

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Theodore Roosevelt Island, DC (FREE)– Walk the trails of Roosevelt Island, the “living memorial” to president Teddy Roosevelt.

Potomac Overlook Regional Park, Arlington (FREE)– This little park is crammed full of fun stuff to do- a Planet Walk, playgrounds, a growing garden, a birds of prey exhibit, and an absorbing little nature center. This one was one of my kids’ favorite places to visit last year and we’ll back again this summer when we can walk the nature trails. Grab lunch at the famous Italian Store and make it a picnic.

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Rust Nature Sanctuary, Leesburg (FREE) – Visit Rust Manor House and walk over 68 miles of nature trails at this preserve in Leesburg.

Huntley Meadows Park, Alexandria (FREE)– Nearly 200 species of animals can be viewed from the wetlands boardwalk and observation deck.

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, DC (FREE)– Tucked into the Kenilworth neighborhood in NE DC is Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, a living garden of blooming lotus, lily pads, water plates, and other water-dwelling plants. A boardwalk extends into the Anacostia river so that visitors can take a walk through wetlands and see the various animals that live in this environment.

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Great Falls Park, McLean, VA- Great Falls is a favorite destination for many families in the area. You can also see the falls on the Maryland side of the river (and walk the Billy Goat Trail) but as Virginians, we are partial to the Virginia side of things. Show up early to avoid long lines from Leesburg Pike up to the entrance!

Lake Anne, Reston, VA (FREE)– Lake Anne is a community surrounding a lake, and it so fun to visit and walk around. You can rent paddle boats and kayaks to piddle around the lake, stop into the Used Book Store, grab a drink at Lake Anne Brew House, and walk around the Lake Anne trail to see the Van Gogh Bridge, a bridge inspired by Van Gogh’s painting of the Langlois Bridge at Arles, France:

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On June 11th and 12th Lake Anne will be hosting their 3rd Annual Chalk on the Water festival where artists purchase plots of sidewalk space to decorate with chalk and paint.

Rock Creek Planetarium, Rock Creek Park, DC (FREE)– On Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, Rock Creek Planetarium puts on the night sky.

Walk the WOD! (FREE) The Washington & Old Dominion Trail is a 45 mile long walking and biking trail that follows the old W&OD railroad line. The trail stops in many towns in Northern Virginia, including Ashburn, where the trail runs right beside Carolina Brothers BBQ. We like to stop sometimes and grab an ice cream and a cold drink on our walk.

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Hillwood Estate Museum and Gardens, Washington DC- Check to see what’s in bloom and plan a visit to this mansion to tours its manicured gardens.

My friend, Kate, let me know about River Farm in Alexandria (FREE), which is the headquarters of the American Horticultural Society and is open to visitors M-F, 9-5. The farm includes gardens, gates formerly used at the White House, an orchard, a children’s garden, and a small wildlife pond. This one is going right to the top of our Must Do list for the first week school is out!

Find public art in your area! Alexis at Capitol Momma has written a great guide to 7 murals scattered around DC, and Leesburg Public Arts commission is working hard to bring public art to Leesburg- the Thomas Balch library displays a mural that tells the story of Loudoun County, and off Rt. 15 in Purcellville is the Western Loudoun palm.

Visit the Barbie Pond on Avenue Q. In Logan Circle, Barbie and her pals are always up to something. Stop in and see what wacky adventures they get into all summer long.

At Workhouse Art Center in Lorton (FREE), exhibitions from local artists are on display in this former prison. One that I am particularly interested in is the Prison (Re)Form display, beginning June 11th, which will use sculpture to reflect on the history of the prison. Workhouse Prison was opened in the early 1900s as a prison that sought to reform suffragists and petty criminals through labor.

Complete a Junior Ranger booklet at Sky Meadows State Park in Delaplane, VA. June is Get Outdoors month (!!) and this park that’s about an hour’s drive from DC and NoVa is a great place to hit the trails and explore.

Play!

Clemyjontri Park, McLean (FREE)– an all-inclusive playground that caters to children of all abilities, Clemyjontri is a wonderland of a playground. Come early because there’s no shade in the afternoon! Bring a lunch and money for a ride on the carousel.

Wizard of Oz Playground (Watkins Regional Park), Upper Marlboro, MD (FREE)– this whimsical Wizard of Oz themed playground was one of the things we never got to last summer and we won’t be making that mistake this year. Follow the yellow brick road and make your way to the Emerald City at this imaginative play area.

Grange Playground, Great Falls, VA (FREE)– my kids love this sweet little playground tucked into the woods at Great Falls. We love to stop and play for awhile and then grab ice cream across the street at Great Falls Creamery in the Village.

Tubing the Shenandoah at Watermelon Park, Berryville, VA- Rent a tube and a cooler for $10.50 and float down the Shenandoah for 2-3 hours. (Please note, this is an ADULT version of “play” as all tube riders must be 18 or older.)

Glen Echo Park, Glen Echo, MD (FREE)– A hands-on aquarium complete with outdoor sand pit and pirate ship, playground area, and a summer calendar chock-full of special events and activities make this the perfect place to visit this summer. We went in the winter and it was still charming and perfectly nostalgic. The Dentzel carousel will be open for rides as well- this is a must for old-fashioned summer fun. Don’t miss the Clara Barton House, right across the parking lot!

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Cabin John Park, Rockville, MD- Cabin John is well-known and loved for it miniature train that kids can take a ride around the park on.

Palisades Playground, Washington, DC (FREE)– We love Palisdes Playground, which is located in NW DC at Palisades Rec Center. An imaginative and interesting playground, it also has a small splash pad and right around the corner hidden in the woods is the Glass Forest– an ethereal, slightly-spooky but very cool art installation you must check out.

Leesburg Animal Park is a favorite of ours, a small, well-kept zoo with a wide variety of animals, play areas for the kids, and indoor activity spaces. I mean, there is an island full of lemurs. It’s called Lemur Island. And it’s awesome. Leesburg Animal Park frequently offers deals through Certifikid so keep your eyes peeled. As a bonus, there are two wineries within 3 or so miles of the park- Willowcroft Farm Vineyards and Stone Tower Winery. Just saying.

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Ride the Capital Wheel down at National Harbor, MD. My oldest daughter loves Ferris Wheels, so two summers ago we took her for a spin on the 180 foot Capital Wheel overlooking the harbor- she loved it! As a bonus, this summer marks the arrival of Savannah’s Candy Kitchen at National Harbor and as a native Georgia girl who feasts on their pralines whenever return home for a visit, I feel it’s my duty to inform you you need to go there and get a praline. I’m not saying it will for sure change your life, but if it’s warm and fresh, it might.

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Roam if You Want To:

My family loves a good day/weekend trip. We’ve got quite a few on our list this year:

Solomons, Maryland– We’re planning to make the 100 mile or so trip to Solomons one day this summer and visit Calvert Cliffs to hunt for shark teeth, AnnMarie Sculpture Gardens to play in the Fairy Lolly, and Calvert Marine Museum.

Richmond, Virginia– The wonderful Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens is hosting Nature Connects: Art with Lego Bricks this summer, with life-sized Lego sculptures set up throughout the gardens. Richmond is FULL of family-friendly sites and activities, such as Science Museum of Virginia, Children’s Museum of Richmond, Maymont, Virginia Holocaust Museum, the Canal Walk, Flying Squirrels Baseball at the Diamond, and Belle Isle at James River.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania– One of our most favorite places we’ve visited, Pittsburgh was a highlight of our summer last year. We didn’t come close to seeing all that Pittsburgh has to offer so we’re planning a return trip this summer. The Paris of Appalachia makes the perfect weekend getaway from NoVa.

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Charlottesville, Virginia– just about two hours away from Northern Virginia, Charlottesville is a gorgeous little town you’ll love visiting. We’ve gone several times and always have it in our back pocket as a quick getaway option.

Lexington, Virginia– our most recent weekend trip was to Lexington, my current favorite Virginia small town. Visit the Natural Bridge, Foamhenge, Washington and Lee University, Lee Chapel, Stonewall Jackson’s house, and indulge in southern small town splendor.

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Good old small town USA: Virginia is full of small towns I want to pop into and explore this summer- Culpeper, Front Royal, Winchester, Clifton, Occoquan– sometimes wandering around a new little town is the perfect way to spend a day.

Annapolis makes for a great day trip- we’re planning to head over on a weekend day and visit the Annapolis Maritime Museum, the Banneker-Douglass Museum, the Pennsylvania Dutch Farmers Market, and Thomas Point Lighthouse. You can’t go to Annapolis without getting seafood and Cantler’s is an Annapolis landmark. Walking around the harbor in historic downtown Annapolis and up to the Maryland State House is a fun, cheap way to visit Annapolis. You can grab fudge at Kilwin’s and visit the Alex Haley Memorial Statue and tour the US Naval Academy all in that area.

Summer treats:

In summer, and only in summer, I love to eat ice cream. We’ve got quite the collection of places around here to grab a sweet treat when you’re out and about:

Clayboys Shave Ice in Bethesda, MD- famous Hawaiian shave-ice is sold at this Bethesda cart. Tigerblood has my name written all over it.

Gruto’s Soft Serve, Purcellville, VA- bring cash for this sweet little soft serve shop on Main Street in Purcellville. Try the Bellywrecker IF YOU DARE.

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Woody’s Ice Cream, Fairfax- Hand-dipped cones and old-fashioned sundaes are just some of Woody’s Goodies.

Rocky Point Creamery, Point of Rocks, MD- on Sundays, we love to take a drive up Highway 15 to Point of Rocks and grab ice cream at Rocky Point Creamery. Delicious flavors and a play area for kids makes this a favorite of ours. Pop into the C&O Canal Trail just down the road and hit Farmer Rick’s farm stand near Lucketts for fresh produce on your way home.

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Great Falls Creamery, Great Falls, VA- Take a hike at Great Falls Park and stop for ice cream afterward! This sweet little creamery in Great Falls Village has great flavors and can make you a cookie ice cream sandwich using cookies from famous Heidelberg Bakery.

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South Mountain Creamery, Middletown, MD- The main allure of South Mountain Creamery, aside from the fresh ice cream, is that if you’re there at 4 pm, you can feed the baby calves their milk bottle!

Korean Bingsoo (“Wicked Snow”) at Siroo Juk Story, Annandale, VA- This Korean version of shaved-ice is refreshing, delicious, and fun! Flaky shaved ice is topped with mochi and a variety of toppings from red bean paste to strawberries and mango and cornflakes. Kind of like a massive snow cone sundae.

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Pickle Bob’s Ice Cream, Haymarket, VA- We like to stop here after we’re done picking sunflowers at Burnside Farms. Walk-up window service and a small seating area and a pickle in an ice cream cone make up Pickle Bob’s.

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Everybody, say hi to Pickle Bob.

Hi Pickle Bob.

Try a new cuisine using the Washingtonian Cheap Eats list as your guide. With 100 restaurants in the metro area with entrees under $25, the cheap eats list is your map of the culinary world. I’ve marked off several of these restaurants as “must try”s and we’ll be making our way to the Bosnian Cosmopolitan Grill this Friday night to try cevpcici. Take the chance on introducing your kids to something new- Ethiopian, Vietnamese, Indian, Korean and  Pakistani cuisine are all represented on this list.

Wineries

Now y’all know I love to go to wineries, so this section should come as no surprise. But really, is there anything better than meeting up with friends at a winery and spending the afternoon? Don’t even answer, we know there isn’t. Here’s just a few of my favorites:

Quattro Goombas, Aldie, VA- Sicilian style pizza and RED WINE SLUSHIES. I’m confident I need say no more.

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Stone Tower Winery, Leesburg, VA- One of my all-time favorite wineries. The view is great, the grounds are beautiful, and this is the tasting room:

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Tarara Winery, Leesburg, VA- Tarara is known for their Summer Concert Series, a summer-long schedule of outdoor concerts on the winery grounds. Here’s the lineup for this year.

There are over 40 wineries and vineyards in the Loudoun County area, so pick one and go- it’s bound to be good.

Special Events

Two of our favorite summer events each year are the Loudoun County Fair and the Lucketts Fair. The Loudoun County Fair is your traditional summer fair with carnival rides, barnyard animals and 4H competitions, a rodeo, and fried Oreos. The Lucketts Fair is a bit more low-key with a focus on arts and crafts and local talent competitions, but it is just as fun in its own way. We make sure to do both every summer- my kids are already asking about the LoCo Fair. In May.

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DC Jazzfest at The Yards Park, June 18th- a three-day blowout featuring a ton of jazz musicians at DC’s wonderful Yards Park.

ICEBERGS at National Building Museum– Last summer’s hot National Building Museum display was BEACH and this year the main atrium of the museum will be taken over by icebergs. Tickets go on sale to the general public starting June 22 and the display will be open from July 2- September 5.

NGA Stories in Art is a (FREE) program designed for kids aged 4-7 to teach them to interact with art. This year the kids will be “traveling to the Netherlands” by studying pieces of Dutch art, reading a book, and making a souvenir. The program runs through the month of July; check calendar for dates and times. The rest of NGA is worth visiting while you’re there- don’t miss Leo Villareal’s Multiverse and the NGA sculpture garden. (My personal favorite display in NGA is The Veiled Nun.)

Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea at National Zoo (FREE)– An art installation of 17 life-sized sea creatures made from plastic found in the oceans is on display through September 5 to help raise awareness of ocean pollution and the danger it creates for sea creatures. These whimsical and intricate statues are a beautiful way to illustrate the devastation plastic pollution can cause to our oceans.

Also, there’s now a grilled cheese truck at the zoo. Um, yum.

Obviously I’ll be updating the blog plenty with things we get into and see and do this summer, but this should give us a nice start, yeah? This is it, people. Summer is happening!

ICE! At Gaylord National Harbor

Where: 201 Waterfront St, Oxon Hill, MD
When: Open daily until January 3, 2016; hours vary depending on day/week. Tickets during peak times (weekends and the two weeks closest to Christmas) are $35 for adults, $28 for kids 3-12, and kids under 3 are free.

ICE! is cold. Should this seem obvious? I mean, I don’t know how to explain it (perhaps because the language on the website says the temperature is kept at, and I quote, “a chilly 9 degrees”), but we did not quite realize *just how cold* ICE! was going to be. I believe we were conjuring visions of a brisk coolness, a pleasant sort of “I can see my breath in this building!” chill. Oh no. You feel 9 degrees down in your bones. Down in the deepest part of your heart that can only be touched by things like when Thomas Jay dies looking for Veda’s ring in My Girl. In that place- you will feel those 9 degrees.

Luckily, ICE! is so darn impressive you won’t much mind.

This was our first year attending ICE!- in 2013 we had a newborn, and last year she was only just one, so far too young to go, but this year, with a 6 year old a 2 year old, we thought it was time to give ICE! a go. The great thing about ICE! is that you could do it every year because the theme changes- last year was Frosty the Snowman if I recall correctly, and this year’s theme was Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, featuring characters and scenes from the 1970 Rankin-Bass Christmas special Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. (If they ever do a Home Alone themed ICE! I am going to die on the spot- praying over a Stouffer’s Mac and Cheese for that happen right now.)

If you’ve seen the movie, all the characters and scenes will be familiar to you. In fact, you should watch it before you go, just to freshen up. It will probably be on ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas about 32 times this month, along with my eternal personal favorite, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Upon entering, you are instructed in stern tones not to lick, touch, or sit on the ice. I had to forcibly desist from indulging the urge to touch it because they told me not to touch it.

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Baby Claus being delivered to Mr. and Mrs. Kringle

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Sombertown, ruled by Burgermeister Meisterburger, toyless, with Kris Kringle giving Miss Jessica a china doll

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Kris Kringle and the Winter Warlock

Once you’ve made your way through the seven Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town themed rooms, you end up in a massive room with ICE SLIDES. I repeat, ice slides. You walk up and then zip on down like a vodka shooter in an ice luge. Wheeeee!

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There’s a lot going on in ICE! If you can stand the cold for very long, like maybe if you’re not from Georgia and find anything under about 40 degrees unbearable, you could easily go through 2-3 times to fully see everything.

At the end of the display, just before you emerge from the frozen indoor tundra, there is the most beautiful and serene Nativity scene, carved from crystal clear ice, with an illumination and narration show taking place. It was such an unexpected surprise after all the color and whimsy of the main ICE! display. Somehow, I don’t know how, maybe because everyone else is back in Santa’s Toy Factory ping -ponging down ice slides, this room is much less crowded than every other room in the exhibit, which gives it a quiet, reverential air. Well, it was something!

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Just because you’ve finished ICE! doesn’t mean you’re nearly done with the Christmas on the Potomac experience. Just inside the doors of the Village of the North Pole is a carousel and a gingerbread decorating workshop. Inside the hotel itself is a small train (the Potomac Express) that children can take a ride on, a Santa to visit, and an Elf on the Shelf scavenger hunt. We had to go during the day in order to accommodate our two year old, but if you’re lucky enough to be at the Gaylord in the evening, there’s a nightly light show at 6, 7, 8, and 9 pm every night that features indoor snow and a 65 foot hanging illuminated Christmas tree

Handy tips: 

-Dress warmly! ICE! provides mandatory blue coats that are meant to both keep you warm and keep you dry, but any appendages that will be exposed would do well to be covered, so bring hats and mittens as well.

-No strollers are allowed inside the ICE! exhibit.

-Visitors to ICE! are eligible for reduced parking at the Gaylord for the event; parking in the self-park lot at the Gaylord is just $13 for four hours and can be purchased in advanced via this link. 

Make a day of it:

There’s tons to do and see down at National Harbor! The weather is really weird this month and it was a balmy 60 degrees or so the day we were there, so we were able to walk around the Harbor and enjoy the day after our visit to ICE!

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If coming to National Harbor is a bit of a trek for you, consider taking a ride on the Capital Wheel while you’re visiting! My family did this last summer and it was a big hit with my 5 year old, who had never been in “such a huge Ferris Wheel.”

The Harbor Christmas tree is up right now as well:

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Now, if you will, please join me in fervent hope that next year’s ICE! features Kevin McAllister, the Wet Bandits, and Little Nero’s Pizza.

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!