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?

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 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.

How to Build a Better Mouse Trap – I Mean Pirate Ship

September 22, 2008

Saturday my three-year-old twins were in a community parade with their preschool.  But to be in the parade you needed a float.  Here’s where mom duty becomes real challenging.

The red wagon before we started.

Before: The red wagon before we started.

My kids are very, very into pirates.  Last year they took a pirate class (think art class with pirate theme).  My son even likes to talk like a pirate.  I’ll ask him to do something and he’ll respond with “aye, aye captain.”  When he flushes the toilet he hollers “fire in the hole.”

The twins even pretend to be pirates when they play.  One day they lined up all their chairs in the living room to make a pirate ship.  My son used his sister’s princess keys to “start” the ship and when she asked to get in, he said sure, but make sure you put your seat belt on!  What can I say, at least they are safe pirates.

Needless to say when it came time to come up with ideas for a float, one idea stood out – Pirates!  But then the real dilemma started – how to turn a red wagon into a pirate ship?

Well this mommy’s no dummy.  The first thing I did was recruit help from my mother and her two foster daughters.

The wagon transformed.

After: The wagon transformed.

So the Saturday before the parade we set out to work.  My twins were on hand to supervise.  Three trips to the craft store and 10 hours later, we finally had a pirate ship.

We used cardboard boxes for the aft and bow.  We spray painted Styrofoam brown and then wrapped it in burlap to create wooded sides. 

We topped the boxes with Styrofoam wrapped in brown duct tape to create front and rear decks.

We added cannons with cannon balls, an anchor and a mast and voila!

And now I can add pirate ship builder to my resume.

What’s Your Favorite March activity?

March 14, 2008

March is one of those strange months that are more about transitions than about a particular event or season.  But that doesn’t mean the month should fly by without a little adventure.  What is your favorite activity to do in March?

When the twins were born, we started a new March tradition – the Henrico County Kite Festival.  We’ve done it every year, but this year – it was extremely cold and rain last weekend when the festival took place. 

It seemed like the festival came early this year, probably because Easter is early this year.  But I digress.

The festival is a great family affair.  You go to this park in the county and everyone is out there with their kites.  You can see all the kites in the sky as you approach the park.  Kites of every shape and size soaring through the air.  It’s beautiful.

We always pack a lunch, meet some other friends and make a day out of it.  We might fly our kites for a bit, sit and watch the other kites for a while, have a snack or play some ball.  We always bring a few other activities for the kids.  And the Parks and Rec Department always has a few activities for the kids too.

Last year, for the first time, the kids really got into the kites.  They helped daddy put them together.  Sure the process would have quicker without their help, but it was cool that they took such an interest.

Then they wanted to hold the reel that releases the string.  They didn’t quite understand what they were doing and often crashed the kite with their efforts.  Still it was fun to enjoy a “family” event in the fresh air.

I felt a little like the family at the end of Mary Poppins (I promise not to strut around with a sash chanting about women’s right to vote).  They had finally found time for each other and were truly enjoying each other’s company. “Let’s go fly a kite . . .”

Since we missed the festival this year, I think we will have to take the kids out another day later this month or early in April.  April would be good since it’s National Kite Flying Month

I’ve never really been good at flying a kite.  But I’ve never had so much fun trying as with my kids helping.  When was the last time you flew a kite?

Richmond Carniball Offers A Safari Adventure

February 6, 2008

On Saturday night, we took the twins out for an adventure — a safari adventure.

The Children’s Museum of Richmond was holding its annual fundraiser — the Carniball. This year’s theme was African Safari.

I might never be able to take my children on an African Safari, but I think they had a great experience at the Carniball. In fact, we had such a good time I wanted to share the fun with you. And what better way to share than with pictures.

Carniball goers were greeted with this living statue of the witch doctor.


Local vendors donated a large spread of food, including a buffet of Ethiopian fare. This cake by Cakes by Graham was a hit with my kids.

Safari Cake

The children were amazed by the stilt walking safari adventurer.


Looks like the witch doctor caught up with this very tall safari hunter

The museum was filled with wild animals like this lion, tiger and zebra . . . oh my


The tiki hut was an oasis of beverages for weary parents.

Tiki hut

The arts room offered several safari crafts including beads, binoculars and masks.


There was also plenty of authentic entertainment.


These drummers kept a steady beat throughout the night.


A local African dance troupe provided entertainment.

Dancers 1

The children were so enthralled with the dancers that many were up on their feet imitating them.

Dancer 2

My children sat still for two minutes before they were up dancing themselves.

Dancer 3

To help raise money there was also a silent auction and a raffle. I didn’t win anything. 😦

All of the museum’s regular exhibits were open for the children to play at. At the end of the night, the kids each got a box with fliers from the sponsors, a souvenir cup and a animal hat.

It was definitely money well spent.

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.