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.


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, or  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.


Christmas in March

March 12, 2008

On Saturday, my children woke up and scurried downstairs to the living room like it was Christmas morning to find a pile of “new toys” much to their delight. What, you say.  It’s only March.

T-Rex MountainNo, the Easter bunny didn’t make an early stop at our house.  And no, I haven’t joined some weird religion that has moved Christmas to March.  But I am a member of a club (club, not cult) that made my children’s Saturday morning joy possible.

I am a member of a Moms of Multiples club, a club for parents who have had twins, triplets or more.  That fact alone did not bring Christmas to my house in March.  But the club’s bi-annual fundraiser did.

In an effort to raise funds for the club and put a little money back in the pockets of the members, the club started holding a Kid’s Stuff Only Yard Sale twice a year.

Members clean out their closets and attics, bringing out gently used kid’s clothes, toys, nursery items, books and videos to sell.  We each price our own items, but we put them out in like categories (i.e. all the girls clothes that are size 6 go together,  all the toys go together, all the books, etc.).

VanityThe club makes 15% of whatever we sell.  We take home the rest.  Sure it’s not a lot of money, but it’s enough to cover a few extras like a membership at the children’s museum or to cover the cost of the twins’ birthday party.  And when you have twins, every little bit helps.

But selling is only half the fun.  Members also get to pre-buy.  We set up everything on Friday night and the sale is Saturday morning from 8-11.  But after we setup, members get first crack at cruising through the isles to find deals.

I am able to find a lot of good deals on clothes this way – and trust me it’s important to get deals when you are buying for two at a time.  Most of the clothes are gently used, but some are brand new (kids outgrew them before they got a chance to wear them).

But for my kids, it’s what else I bring home that tickles their fancy.  By the time I get home Friday night, they are asleep.  But they know Saturday morning some new-to-them toys will be waiting for them.

Last fall I spent $3 and the twins thanked me for an hour.  I kid you not.  I know you are thinking what did she buy?  I bought a box a legos. 

But they were just so thrilled at having something new (at least to them) to play with that they would play with them for a few minutes then one of them would come by and thank me.  Then they’d go play again and then the other would come by to thank me again.  This routine went on for an hour – over a box of legos.

The yard sale lets us rotate toys so the kids don’t get bored with them.  They get to try out a lot more toys that if I had to buy them new.

This year when I was tagging things to sale the twins noticed for the first time I was taking some of their toys away.  I kept hearing “That’s mine Mommy.”  But I explained that they were too big for those toys any more. 

But any grumblings disappeared when they saw there bounty Saturday morning.  My son got T-Rex Mountain, the ImagiNext dinosaur set.  He has been roaring all week.  And my daughter is still primping in front of the Princess vanity she got.  I paid a fourth of what these items retail for and they are both in great condition.

And when the twins aren’t playing with these toys, they are toting around the Look and Find books I got them.  They love to “read” and the only way I can keep them in books (without going broke) is to buy them at the yard sale.  We even had to take the new books to dinner with us Saturday night.

VehicleAnd don’t tell the twins (luckily they are two young to read mommy’s articles), but I even picked them up a surprise for their third birthday – something their grandfather wanted to buy them but they were still too young for when he past away last year – a two-passenger motorized jeep.  We’ll be giving this gift to them in Grandpa’s memory.

So now you see Christmas doesn’t really come three times a year at our house.  We just celebrate one Christmas and two yard sales.

Photos courtesy of Toys R Us.

A Garden Fest of Lights to Delight Children of All Ages

December 23, 2007

This year we started a new tradition with the twins – a visit to Lewis Ginter’s Garden Fest of Light.  It was so beautiful; I wanted to share some of the sights with you.

A Christmas Peacock

The peacock was my favorite.  If you would like to see more pictures of the lights at Lewis Ginter, click here.

Once a hunting ground for the Powhatan Indians, the property now known as Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens was bought in 1884 by Lewis Ginter, an entrepreneur and philanthropist.  He built the Lakeside Wheel Club as a haven for Richmond Cyclists.  When he died, his niece Grace Arents inherited the property and turned the Wheel Club into a convalescent home for children.  Upon her death, she willed the property to a friend with the stipulation that it be turned into a botanical gardens honoring an uncle.

A hundred years after Ginter’s original purchase, Arents dream was realized when

Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens was chartered in 1984.  Since then the gardens has grown leaps and bounds.

And each December it hosts, the Garden Fest of Lights – truly a delightful sight.  There are more than a half a million lights to delight.  But they are not just strings of lights; they are works of arts.  In beautiful sculptures, the lights build peacocks, flowers, fish, leaves, unicorns, frogs and more. 

The twins loved the Children’s Garden best.  Not only could they run through the maze of lights over and over again, but they also got to go into the treehouse where they could look at lights for as far as the eye could see. 

If you are ever in the Richmond, Virginia area in December, I encourage you to take the walking tour through the Garden Fest of Lights.

A Toddler’s View of Christmas

December 22, 2007

 At 2 1/2 year old, my twins are really getting into Christmas for the first time this year.  They are taking it all in and they’ve already got certain ideas about this merry holiday.  Here’s a look at how toddlers (at least these two) view Christmas.

It’s all about the lights

The twins got their first glimpse of Christmas lights on the way home from their aunt on Thanksgiving.  They were instantly smitten.

So the following Tuesday, my husband and I took them to the GardenFest of Lights at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens.   With more than half a million lights sculpted into flowers, butterflies, fish (my son really liked the fish), candy canes and a giant peacock, the twins were enamored.  My son couldn’t get enough of the maze of lights and my daughter loved climbing up the tree house in the Children’s Garden where she could see lights in every direction.  But their favorite thing was the train that went through the little fairy village in the conservatory.  The photos on the Christmas card were taken in front of the gingerbread house in the conservatory.

I spent the entire next day while out running errands trying to explain to the twin why they couldn’t see the lights in the daytime.  By nightfall, I was exhausted.  I gave up and took the twins back to Lewis Ginter for a second round of GardenFest.

In the two weeks following Thanksgiving, my husband had to travel for work, finish a project for school and study for an exam and a final, leaving little time to hang Christmas lights.  But because the twins were so fascinated with the lights and I couldn’t drive around the neighborhood every night looking for lights in response to cries of “Mommy, I want to see lights,” I made a trip to the store and came home with three lighted Christmas yard signs – Mickey Mouse, Tigger and Snoopy on his doghouse – that I could set up easily.

Every day on the way out, the twins stop to check on these displays.  If one has fallen over, they demand that “Mommy fix it.”  And every evening when they come home, they must stop and look at each display regardless of how cold it is outside. 

Now that my husband has finally got the rest of the decorations up, we can hardly get the twins to go into the house.

Snowmen are cooler than Santa

The twins still aren’t to sure of the man in the red suit.  Therefore, I still doesn’t have a picture of them with the jolly ol’ elf. 

They know who Santa is.  They’ll both tell you he says “ho, ho, ho.”  But they won’t go anywhere near him. The closest they’ll get is to hold out their hands for candy.

I did get my daughter to sit on the little stool in front of the Santa at the mall.  Clinging to me for dear life, she cried out her wish list – “I want a Dora [the Explorer] book.”

Their Christmas icon of choice – Frosty, or rather any snowman.  They scream in delight every time they spot a snowman decoration.  They had no problem walking up to the snowman character at the arrival of Santa at Short Pump Mall and they love the Frosty cartoons.

They even made their own snowman.  It didn’t matter that we didn’t have snow.

Somehow though, I think it might be hard for Frosty to start shimmying down fireplaces.

Giving can be hard

When the Toys R Us catalog arrived, my daughter buried her nose in it first and then my son.  Next the toy commercials on TV doubled and then the cries from my daughter of “Mommy I want mine” and “Mommy, brother wants” (my daughter can always be counted on to take care of her brother) started ringing throughout the house.  My son limited his pleas to “p-l-e-e-e-a-s-e.”

When I could no longer hear myself think, I knew the twins needed to be taught that it’s better to give than to receive.  So I decided the twins should do a stocking in the Salvation Army Stocking Program.

Together we shopped for items to fill these stockings.  Then I packed the stockings and off we went to deliver them.

The twins both proudly carried their stocking into the drop off location.  But when it came time to put the stockings in the box, they had a little trouble.  After a bit of coaxing the stockings were firmly placed in the box and my little man cried all the way back to the car.  Life lessons are so hard.

It’ll be interesting to see how it goes when it’s time to distribute gifts on Christmas.

Mickey Mouse Still Rules

The twins have really enjoyed watching Christmas specials from the Rankin and Bass classics like Frosty and Rudolph to holiday episodes of their favorite shows. 

But they are their mother’s children; thus huge fans of Mickey Mouse.  Given a choice, their holiday favorites are Snowed in at the House of Mouse and Mickey’s Twice upon a Christmas.

However, the new Shrek the Halls came in a close second as my daughter is a big fan of the green ogre. 

The Grinch is the only one they really didn’t care for.  My daughter kept burying her head in her my shoulder and my son watched with his hand over his eyes, peeking through his fingers.

Christmas Carols are to be Sung Loudly

The twins think that Christmas carols are to be sung loudly wherever they are and can be accompanied by dancing.

The twins were shopping in Target one day with me when my son decides to belt out a chorus of Jingle Bells in the middle of the store.

The twins went to a Christmas Concert by the Community Choir with me and a friend of ours. 

The twins enjoyed themselves immensely.  However, I’m not sure that the lady in the row ahead of us appreciated my son’s rendition of the songs.  Or the amount of dancing both children were doing.

We were out on an adventure with a little friend of the twins and his mother.  Suddenly from the back seat a chorus of three different songs being sung at the top of each little ones lungs made its way to the front seat where the two adults could do nothing but laugh at the toddlers’ enthusiasm.

Christmas Cookie Dough is the Best

The twins are becoming quite the bakers.  They’ve already made seven batches of Christmas cookies, much to their daddy’s delight. 

However, their favorite part of the baking experience is still licking the spoon.

Bells are the Instrument of Choice

The twins went to a Christmas Puppet Show.  As part of the show, they got to be in the Christmas Band.  My son played the tambourine and my daughter the bells.

Still, the twins instrument of choice for the holiday is bells.  They have wrist bells that they took to Williamsburg to play during the caroling.  They have bell necklaces and there are even bells hanging from all the door handles in the house.

Christmas Train

The twins love their Thomas train set, but nothing compares to the motorized train around the Christmas Tree.  It must be turned on when they wake and can’t be turned off before bedtime.

My son will lay on his belly in front of the tree and watch the train for long periods at a time.

Christmas is about Making New Friends

During Christmas caroling in Williamsburg, my son tired to use his skills to impress a new friend.  He walked up to this boy of 10 or 12 and just started performing.  He sang, danced, played his bells and even did some rolls on the cold ground.  And a new friend was made.

Mistletoe Etiquette: How to Graceful Manage those Awkward Moments Under the Sprigs

December 17, 2007

Every year I put mistletoe up in my house.  For me, it’s a fun reminder to appreciate the loved ones in my life.  I never dreamed that mistletoe came with it’s own etiquette.

MistletoeI’m sure that everyone has a story about an awkward moment under the mistletoe.  Mine involves a party I went to with a friend and a sailor I’d just met.  But I was single, he wasn’t a bad kisser and we were all having a good time. 

Overall, not a terrifying story and something to laugh about now with friends.  But I can think of a few situations where being caught under the mistletoe can cause some serious discomfort.

What do you do when you are married, but are under the mistletoe with someone other than your spouse?  What if you find yourself under the sprigs with a co-worker at an office party?   What if you are caught under the mistletoe with a new neighbor, or worse yet, a complete stranger?

Well etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore has all the answers for you in The Clarisonic Mistletoe Manifesto: Make Merry but be Wary When Exchanging Kisses Under the Mistletoe.  She offers lots of options including the air kiss, the hand kiss, the cheek kiss and the corner kiss.

Hope these tips help you avoid any awkward moments this holiday.  Happy kissing! 

Photo by darwin Bell. (License: Creative Commons Attribution)

Christmas Cookies: Baking up Holiday Memories

December 17, 2007

Baking cookies at Christmas has been a holiday tradition in my house since I was tall enough to stand on a chair to reach the counter.  I have many memories of a delicious-smelling kitchen filled with laughter as I baked with different members of my family – my mother, my sister, my grandmother, my cousins – over the years.

BakingWe always baked the favorites – chocolate chip, snickerdoodles (a type of sugar cookie rolled in cinnamon sugar), oatmeal raisin, sugar cookies and peanut butter.  But because I cherish making Christmas cookies, I’m always on the look out for new recipes to try and have been know to make up to 10 varieties a season.

Maybe baking Christmas cookies holds another special meaning for me.  It’s no secret that I’m domestically challenged.  I’ve never been very good at those things associated with maintaining a household – I’ve set fire in the kitchen when attempting to cook on more than one occasion, I’ve turn the laundry pink and shrunk sweaters, I’ve jammed the vacuum and bleached the carpet when trying to clean a stain.  But baking is different.  Baking I can do.  So Christmas is my time to shine.

For these two reasons, it’s been very important for me to pass on the tradition of baking Christmas cookies to my twins.  Their first Christmas, they weren’t even old enough to eat cookies (and honestly I was still struggling with the new duties of motherhood), but by the time their second Christmas rolled around I had a planned.

Last year, I bought them their own apron and hat and set them up on bar stools at the breakfast bar.  I bought the already cut, pre-made cookies – the kind that are little round circles of dough.  I put a cookie sheet in front of them and let them take the pieces of dough from the wrapper and put on the cookie sheet.

I personally would never think of making cookies that weren’t for scratch, but knew that we had to start somewhere small so the twins could participate.  I figured we’d grow a little each year until one day they are making cookies from scratch.

Well now the twins are 2 ½ and we are closer.  For Halloween, I bought the premade sheets of cookie dough and let them go to town with cookie cutters.  My daughter kept using the same piece of dough.  She’d cut it out, roll it back up, pat it out and cut it again.  My son actually had more fun flying his cookie cutters around than using them on the dough, but hey it’s a start.

And for Christmas this year, we’ve moved up to mixes.  They’ve made four batches of cookies already and we are going to try to knock three more out today.  But in all honesty, I think their favorite part of the experience is licking the spoons when we are done.

Sure, I’m not making as many cookies as I normally do, but at least I’ve got someone new to share the cooking-making fun with.  I’m looking forward to years of Christmas cookies baking with the twins and can’t wait until they are ready to try their own recipes.

This week I bake chocolate chip cookies for my husband and snickerdoodles for me.  Soon the twins will be baking these as well as their own favorites.

Speaking of favorite Christmas cookies, what are your favorites?