A 19th Century Autumn Harvest Festival

October 20, 2008

On Saturday, my family and I went to an Autumn Harvest Festival at Meadow Farm Park. Meadow Farm is a historical park centered around an 1860 living historical farm and museum in Richmond, Virginia.

The corn going into the sheller.

The corn going into the sheller.

Because of the historical nature of the park, a lot the activities during the festival are actual chores that would have been done on the farm during the 19th century and all new things to a 21st century family.

First my kids got to try out a corn shelling machine.  They each got to put in an ear of corn, then turn the wheel to shell the corn.  I’m not quite sure they understood what they were doing or why, but they sure had fun turning that wheel.  The man working the machine offered to let them keep their shelled ear of corn, but they just looked at it like what am I suppose to do with this.  I told them it was okay to throw it away.

The sorham press

The sorham press

Next door was the Sorghum Press.  With a little help the costumed interpreter, the twins pressed sorghum actually grown on the property. Normally their part is done by a horse, but today the kids turned the press.  They even got to try some molasses made from sorghum.  My son declined with a polite “no, thanks.”  However, my daughter was finally coaxed into sampling some.  But one taste and she was spitting out the cracker.  Daddy had to eat the rest of their sample.

We also got to see the Tobacco barn, sheep out to pasture, a blacksmithing demonstration and some woodworking before we found another hands out demonstration.

The Blacksmith

The Blacksmith

My daughter got to turn a piece of flax into a bracelet.  For some reason my son didn’t feel the need for a bracelet, so he watched.  First she had to break the flax.  It’s rough and looks a bit like straw.  Then she had to soften it on scutching board with a wooden knife.  Then she put the flax through the hackle to take off the rough parts before it was put on the flax wheel and spun into linen.  Then the lady there helped her tie into a bracelet.  Afterwards we saw where the ladies would take then linen and dye it.

We also got to see a bee keeper demonstration.  He didn’t have any real bees with him, but there were plenty out there visiting the festival.

The Flax Wheel.

The Flax Wheel.

Next the kids got to see samples of a cobbler’s shoe making skills.  Then they got to test out their own leathering skills by adding an imprint to a piece of leather and then stringing it into a necklace.  My daughter added a butterfly to her piece of leather.  My son enjoyed adding a worm to his leather piece, but didn’t care for a necklace.  So Mommy wore it.

After that, the kids moved on to rope making.  They each picked out a color of yarn – my daughter purple and my son yellow.  Then Daddy and the costumed interpreter helped them make it into a piece of rope.  My daughter used her piece of rope as a bracelet.  My son gave his to Mommy to use tie on my purse as a souvenir.

The apple press

The apple press

Then it was time for Apple Stringing.  What’s that, you ask? Exactly what it sounds like, you string pieces of apples. My daughter was stringing her applies faster than I could get them out of the bowl and my son and husband teamed up to make nice long apples string.  But what do you do with it now, I asked?  You hang them in the kitchen until they dry out and then it acts as potpourri.

The kids were starting to get a little hungry so we just watched the cornhusk doll and scarecrow making before heading over to the apple cider press for a sample.  Mmmmm, nothing better than fresh apple cider.  My only complaint, given the nip in the air that day, is that the cider wasn’t hot.

We stopped for Daddy’s favorite snack – kettle corn.  The whole family munched down on it while we waited in line for pony rides.  My daughter couldn’t wait to get on a horse again.  She’s been trying to coax us into riding lessons all summer – she’s three. She rode Oreo around like a champ while my husband and son cheered her on from the sidelines.

For anyone of you that think I’m brave running around with three-year-old twins, I had nothing on the lady in front of us in line.  She had one older daughter (12-14ish), triplet girls about three and infant boy/girl twins!

The Natural Dye Demonstration

The Natural Dye Demonstration

Anyway, next up for us was a little decorating.  First the kids decorated faces on mini pumpkins.  Then my daughter got her own face painted like a cat.  She had been asking since we got to the festival – before any of us even knew there was face painting – if she could get her face painted like a cat.

Later, we got to try something I’d never done – candle dipping.  Each of the kids got a stick with a piece of string on it.  Then we made a line.  We went up one side dipping our string in the big kettle full of wax over an open flame and then came back on the other side for another dip.  After about four dips, the twins had had enough.  So Daddy took them to see the sheep while Mommy finished the candles.

Finally, with our hands full of hand-made goodies, our bellies full of kettle corn and apple cider and two tired kids in tow, we headed back to the car.

I love festivals where we get to do lots of hands off crafts and I would say the twins did too.  And it doesn’t hurt that the festival and most of the activities were free.

They still aren’t quite old enough to understand why they were doing some of these activities, but that’s okay, we’ll be back next year.


A Letterboxing Adventure

October 17, 2008

Yesterday, the kids and I tried something new, an activities that I had never heard of before – letterboxing.

We had signed up for a Discovery Hunt, a free event offered for preschoolers by the local parks and recreation department at the historical Walkerton Tavern

First the kids got a little history about the tavern and a tour. 

“Built by John Walker between 1824 and 1825, Walkerton Tavern is located at 2892 Mountain Road in Glen Allen. In the course of its history, the structure has served as a tavern, store, post office, voting precinct, and possibly a field hospital for wounded Union Cavalrymen in 1864.”

Then they went on a scavenger hunt to find animals (like lion-head handles on a chest, horses painted on a plate and chicken on a piece of embroidery) and other objects in the tavern.

Each child was given their own clipboard and pencil with a piece of paper with pictures of objects (or parts of objects) hidden in plain sight around the tavern.  The tavern had two floors of room and each room had three or four objects.

My children had a ball.  They didn’t get what they were supposes to do at first and they had a little trouble finding the pictures that were portions of an object (like a spindle from the back of a chair).  So I would find the object, show it to them and they would have to find the picture that matched it on their sheet.  By the end, they had the hang of it.

Next our tour guide, Bob, talked to the kids about the different animals that live on or around the tavern grounds.  He showed them different evidence of the animals – a feather from a bird, a cocoon, a piece of wood a beaver had gnawed on, and a skull from a possum – and let the kids guess which animal it belong to.

Next we went outside for another type of scavenger hunt known as letterboxing.  I’d never done this type of hunt before but the kids really got into it the most.  And I had a good time too.

This is how it works:  The parents got a clue sheet.  We’d read the clue to our child and then the child would follow the clue to find a hidden stamp.

Since our theme was about the animals that lived at Walkertown Tavern, our clues led us to where they lived or were spotted.  At each location, the kids would search for a container that had a stamp for the animal for that clue and an ink pad.  The kids would add the stamp on the appropriate page in the little book that Tour Guide Bob gave them.

The twins absolutely loved it.  They were searching for the box before I even finished reading the clue.  They were finding the boxes with little or no help from me.  And they couldn’t wait to get their stamp!  They were even good about putting the box back in its hiding place for the next person.

This event was the first time I’d ever heard about letterboxing, but Bob explained that it was a hobby that a lot of adults participate in. 

I know the kids had a blast and so did I.  I’m going to have to look for more of these letterboxing activities.  I might even have to create a hunt of my own for the kids.

Have any of you every tried letterboxing?  What new activities have you tried lately?


Want a Free Car? Throw a Party.

October 16, 2008

Today I’m heading over to the Saturn dealership to pick up a brand new car – for free.  And just how did I get this car?  I threw a party – a House Party to be exact.

House Party is a grass roots campaign that partners common people like me with companies trying to promote their products.  The companies send samples of their products to hosts (like me).  In turn hosts throw a party where they share the product – and sometimes other goodies – with friends.

The Saturn is a party favor for my latest House Party – the Saturn House Party.  The party is sponsored by Saturn to promote TLC’s new show Real Simple. Real Life.  As a host of the party I get a brand new Saturn for my use for the weekend.  I also got a gas card and a cookbook for entertaining.

All I had to do was throw a party for at least 10 of my friends on a given day (or sometimes they give you a range of dates to choose from).  In this case my friends will be gathering Friday night to view the premiere episode of Real Simple. Real Life.

But I’m not the only one who benefits, so do my friends.  In my care package from the sponsor are goodies for my guests.  For this party, they are getting canvas bags, water bottles, recipes, a coupon for an oil change and a discount offer for a subscription to Real Simple magazine.

This party is actually my third House Party.  The first was also for a television show.  In September 2007, I got to preview the Season 2 premiere of Friday Night Lights two weeks before it aired.  Party favors include megaphones, rally towels, kuzies and stadium seats.

Then last spring I hosted a party for Hershey’s Bliss – what’s better than a party for chocolate or for that matter any excuse to eat chocolate.  I combined two of my favorite things and we made our party into a wine and chocolate tasting.  My guests each brought a bottle of their favorite wine to share and Hershey provided the chocolate.  Each guest also got their share of chocolate to take home among other goodies.

That party was such a hit that it inspired my friends to host similar “tastings” – even without the free party favors.  In fact we just went to a beer tasting/cook out last month.

My friends love these parties too.  They are always asking me when I’ll be hosting another one.  As for me I love any excuse to throw a party.  And the swag is a bonus.

They have House Parties for everything.  You can view a list of upcoming parties at houseparty.com/events.


National Grouch Day

October 15, 2008

Feeling kind of grumpy today?  Not your usual happy self?  Or maybe you’re always like this?  Either way, you are in the holiday spirit because today – October 15 – is National Grouch Day.

Sure it’s a fictitious holiday, but who doesn’t need a day where it’s okay to grumble – especially with the slew of stressful holidays heading our way.  So put on your best grumpy face and celebrate.

While you busy being irritable and cantankerous, tell us who is your favorite grouch?  It can be a character from TV, the movies, your favorite book or even a real life person (be careful here this one could come back and bite you in the butt).

And what is your best remedy to get your self out of a grumpy day funk?


TLC Would Like to Make Your Real Life, Real Simple

October 15, 2008

Think about your day so far – you had to get the kids up and off to school, you’ve got more deadlines than time at work, there are dishes and laundry piling up at home and let’s not even talk about what you are going to fix for dinner tonight.  You’re lucky you found a spare moment to read this article. 

Wouldn’t you like more time for your favorite hobby?  How about some time to do something fun with family and friends?  What would you be willing to do to get make your life simpler?

Well TLC has some answers for you and all you have to do is spend an hour relaxing in front on the television on Friday night. 

So pour yourself a glass of wine, put the kids to bed (or better yet send them to a friends or Grandma’s for a sleep over), curl up on the couch and turn the channel to TLC at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

Because this Friday TLC partners with Real Simple to premiere its brand new hour-long show – Real Simple. Real Life.  – that promises to find solutions to make life easier.

And who doesn’t want an easier life?  Count me in!

Think of the show as a realistic makeover for the average busy woman – or man.  Instead of promises of perfection, Real Simple.  Real Life. is offering simple solutions and tips for everyday folks.

People today have lives full of demands and expectations. I know my list of to dos start when I get up and is often still clogging up my list at the end of the day.

Real Simple. Real Life will help people like you and me identify the frustrations that zap our time and keep our plates full.  The show then offers personalized tips to end the chaos and give us back more fun time.

“Each week we’ll feature a comprehensive, 360-degree lifestyle makeover, using best-in-class experts in a variety of areas to help our real women identify with their day-to-day challenges, and offer realistic solutions and ‘aha’ tips to help them live an even better life.  Viewers at home will identify with these women and be impacted by the makeovers” Executive Producer Jude Weng said.  “We embrace the reality that it’s not about making the perfect meal or having the most organized closet; we’re working with them to make time-saving changes that will let them ad more of the fun ‘me’ time they’re craving back into their lives.”

Obviously the show’s target audience is women.  But these are issues that everyone deals with – men and women – anyone who runs a home, has a job, raises kids or keeps a busy schedule.  I know that my husband spends just as much time on the house and with the kids as I do (and sometimes more).  So these solutions are for everyone.

Expect solutions to cover everything from smart organization tips to ideas for quick and simple dinners to decoration ideas to fun ways to make entertaining easier.

The show will also include a website – realsimplereallife.com – to go into more detail on the solutions offered in the weekly show.  The show and its tips will also be featured in the monthly magazine Real Simple.

I know that I am always in a state of disorganization so I’m really looking forward to seeing what tips the show can offer to get me organized and give me more time to spend with my kids.

So I have reserved my seat on the couch for Friday night at 8 p.m. My bottle of wine is already chilling.  Let the help start.

What area do you need the most help?  What tip/solution did some give you that made your life easier?


Sea Gull Century Gets Unexpected Participant

October 10, 2008

On Saturday, my husband competed in the Sea Gull Century, a hundred mile bike race on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  But what we saw was an unexpected surprise.

This wild pony just joined right into the race.

This wild pony just joined right into the race.

Being the dutiful family, my three-year-old twins and I donned our team shirts and went to support him.  We saw him off at the start line in Salisbury.  Then we took a small detour to the Salisbury Zoo, before heading to Assateague Island to cheer him on at the 62 mile marker.

We arrived about 45 minutes before my husband, so we found some a good spot on the side of the road and cheered on all the other weary cyclists as they headed into their third rest stop.

But what we saw next was a delight to my children and just a surprise to the other riders.  We saw a new entry into the event – the kind with four legs.

How many races do you get to ride right beside a wild pony?

How many races do you get to ride right beside a wild pony?

Assateague – and the neighboring Chincoteague – Island is known for its wild ponies.  Well, while we were sitting there cheering on the cyclists we saw one pony insert himself into the race.

He started out grazing on the side of the road, but then worked himself onto the road where surprised cyclists traveling 15-20 mph had to navigate around him.

But just as quickly as he appeared our mysterious pony participant disappeared.  But when you hear my kids talk about the century, it’s all about the pony – and oh yeah, Daddy did good too.


Get Lost for Some Fall Fun

October 9, 2008

It seems like just yesterday we were playing around in the pool in the hot sun.  But alas, the dog days of summer are behind us, school has started and fall is here.

But just because the days are getting shorter and temperatures are starting to drop doesn’t mean that the outdoor fun has to stop.

One great way to enjoy the autumn weather and expend some energy is to get lost.

What? 

I’m not suggesting you wander aimlessly.  Instead take in a maze.  You can find them everywhere if you know where to look.  They come in all shapes and sizes.

My twins taking on a hay maze.

My twins taking on a hay maze.

Hay Mazes

 

My kids started as toddlers playing in a hay maze the vegetable stand near our house puts up every fall.  You can also find hay mazes at festivals and neighborhood events.

I went through the maze with the twins the first couple of times.  But it wasn’t long before they were taking on the maze solo.

Hay mazes are great for younger kids for several reasons.  They are usually small enough that the children don’t get discouraged trying to find the exit.

The hay is also often stacked short enough that as a parent you can look over the top of it and feel comfortable letting your child go through alone, but still tall enough for it to be a challenge for the kids.

But what I like most about hay mazes is when the kids come to a crossroads in the path, watching them make a decision about which path to take.  Can’t you just hear Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” being recited in the background?

What’s even more interesting is watching their reaction when they come to a dead end.  How do they react?  Do they retrace their steps?  Can they find the right path?  I’m always amazed to watch their reasoning skills in action.

Corn Mazes

An aerial view of Cherry Crest Farm the year I went through it.

An aerial view of Cherry Crest Farm the year I went through it.

But if you and your family are looking for more of a challenger, I recommend trying a corn maze.

My first experience with a corn maze was at Cherry Crest Farm in Pennsylvania.  To truly appreciate this maze you have to see an aerial view.  But the real fun is when you try to manipulate your way through the stalks.

We also frequent the maze at the Chesterfield Berry Farm in Virginia.  Among the corn your challenge doubles.  You must not only find your way out, but you must also find certain checkpoints along the way (and they aren’t necessarily on the direct exit route) and get your ticket punched.  If you get your card punched at every station you get a prize at the end.

And for those of you more adventuresome, hit the maze after dark (where allowed) and try your luck among the stalks by flashlight.  My twins very first maze experience when they were still in carriers was at the West Nursery at night with only a flashlight to guide us.  At this maze, to help us along the way, at critical intersections were trivia questions about the area’s history.  It’s very help if you know your history.

Other Mazes

But the maze fun doesn’t have to end with Halloween.  A maze of lights is the perfect addition to your Christmas light tour.  Lewis Botanical Gardens in Virginia adds two light mazes (of varying levels) to their Garden of Lights.  And let me tell you that the lights add a degree of difficulty I didn’t expect.

But like the hay mazes, light mazes are usually low enough for parents to allow children to test out their skills solo.

You can find local corn mazes by going to www.cornmazedir.com, www.americanmaze.com or www.pumpkinpatchesandmore.org.  Be on the lookout for hay and other mazes at local festivals and fairs.

So what are you waiting for?  Get out there and get lost.