01 August, 2016

Presidents and Vinyards and Caverns, OH MY!!!

This past 4th of July weekend we finally made it over to an area of Virginia I have anxiously been awaiting for, Charlottesville, home of one of our favorite presidents, Thomas Jefferson.  With it only being about a 2 1/2-3 hour drive from Norfolk (depending on traffic) I don't know why we hadn't gone yet.  Rest assure, we will be visiting more often... read on to get a day-by-day review of our amazing weekend (rain and all).

Day 1 (Friday): We left Norfolk closer to 5 since we had to wait for Leia to get home from Breakthrough.  Traffic wasn't that bad getting out surprisingly, just your typical back ups (rain didn't help either).  Once we made it over the water we stopped for dinner at Panera and then went on our way to the resort we would be staying at, Shenandoah Crossings, just outside of Charlottesville.  The drive over was uneventful, most of us slept since we had just finished a week at Day Camp.  As we got closer to the resort we all took in the beauty of the country side, we sure don't see anything like that in Norfolk.  All the farmland and the rolling hills and the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background... absolutely beautiful!!  We arrived shortly after 8 and checked in and went on to our cabin in the woods.  I wish I would have gotten pictures of the cabin, I will just use stock photos to illustrate where we stayed.  That evening we unpacked and rode up to the General Store to pick up some things for breakfast and some waters. We then settled in for the night since we would be having early wake ups the next 3 days!

Day 2 (Saturday): First up on our historical adventure was visiting the home of our 4th president, James Madison.  Montpelier, a 20ish minute drive from the resort, is just outside of Charlottesville in Orange, VA. The estate is situated on rolling hills and farm land with beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Our tour was for 9:30 but we got there a bit early, so we looked around the gift shop and we found a trivia book on US History, Leia had fun quizzing Chris and me.  When the tour began it started as most tours like this do, with a short film on the history of the estate.  I actually learned quite a bit as I am not as familiar with James Madison outside of being the Father of the Constitution. We then proceeded to the mansion and enjoyed a guided tour through the main level and the second story. After the tour on of the mansion we were able to wander the grounds as desired.  We went to the archeology lab since I knew the kids, especially our aspiring archeologist (Leia), would enjoy that. Leia learned about an archeology camp they do there and is now eager to go! After that we made our way through the gardens and down to the grave site. After visiting the grave site we headed back to the visitors center and headed to lunch.

Before our trip, being the excellent planner I am, I did my research and learned of a fantastic BBQ place, BBQ Exchange, that was a must-do, so we did.  When we arrived the line was almost out the door, I couldn't believe how busy it was.  You stand in line and give your order to the ladies behind the counter and they serve it up for you, you then proceed down the line to pay.  Not all the food is ready by then so you find a seat and they bring out the rest to you.  It was all very efficient and oh so good!!  I decided to order a bit more than I normally eat because I wanted to try so much. I enjoyed BBQ beef brisket, coleslaw, hush puppies, and a pumpkin muffin. I was so full that I didn't even eat dinner that night!

After our yummy BBQ we headed out to our first cidery, Castle Hill Cider.  Chris and I are big cider drinkers, so when I learned there were cideries close to where we were visiting I knew we had to stop.  Boy am I glad we did.  We drove up to the cidery and were excited to see a big field with corn hole so the kids would be entertained while we enjoyed our samplings.  We went inside first because we weren't 100% sure what to expect, it was very inviting and had a checker set on the coffee table (another piece of entertainment for the kids, and my dad). They told us we could either do the tastings inside or outside.  It was such a beautiful day we chose outside.  My mom, Chris and I each enjoyed the premium tasting.  Everything was great but a few really stood out to us.  After we went through the tasting we decided to join their cider club and we brought a few bottles home with us, plus they comped Chris and my tastings:) Elise, our "bartender" if that is what she is called, was amazing!

After cider tasting we drove down the rode to the Keswick vineyards, this time we would be tasting wine.  Again, the atmosphere here was so inviting and they had things to keep kids entertained and a bunch of outdoor seating.  Again, my mom, Chris and I did the wine tasting and enjoyed about 7 different wines in all... we also left here with a few bottles of wine that we really loved.
At this point in the day it is almost 3:30 and we wanted to get back to the resort so the kids could go swimming and enjoy the amenities at the resort. So we headed back, got in our swim suites and headed to the main pool.  It was pretty crowded but we found some chairs and put our stuff down and the kids played in the pool for awhile while I just hung out on the side. Then we visited the hot tub and again, I hung out on the side... it was actually quite HOT! After the pool we went back and got cleaned up and hung out.  I had a raging headache so I laid down while everyone else went to get some dinner and watch the fireworks that the resort put on.  I was bummed I missed it but things happen.

Day 3 (Sunday): We woke early again so we could begin our hour and a half trip up to the Luray Caverns. The trip up was uneventful though it did bring back many memories of my summers when I was in Jr. High when I would come and stay with my brother back when he lived in this area.  It was very picturesque even if it was dreary. We arrived at the Caverns around 9:30 if I am not mistaken and the line wasn't too long but it still took us about 15-20 mins to get through. They snap a photo of your group with the green screen for you to purchase at the end of the tour, which we normally don't, but this time we did because it turned out pretty good (except Elijah's expression).  Once we got in to the caverns the guide gave us the run down on how it was discovered and what we will see during our hour tour.  It was fantastic and the kids LOVED it. Highly recommend this for any family.  When we were done with our tour, and our shopping at the gift shop, because if you know us, we love to shop, we headed to eat at the cafe quickly.  It was a good thing we got there when we did because there was no line really, but just after us the line came.  My mom and I enjoyed a fish sandwich, the boys got chicken tenders, Chris and Leia got cheeseburgers and my dad got a tuna sandwich... all of which were very good. There were a few other museums included on our ticket so we went to the carriage and car museum and the Luray History museum area. As we were going through to these other museums we noticed the line and I said to the kids... "this is why we always come early to things".  The line was crazy long!! 

After visiting the caverns and museums we hopped back in the van to head back to the resort, but we went Skyline Drive so we could enjoy some scenic views, unfortunately the weather wasn't the best for views, but we got some. Once we got back to the resort we chilled for awhile and then headed for dinner, we found a good Asian place not too far away that we all enjoyed... can never go wrong with Asian.

Day 4 (Monday, 4th of July): Early wake up was in order for today is the 4th of July, and at Monticello for over 70 people that means they will be come American Citizens.  When we finalized our plans for the 4th of July and picked Charlottesville I started planning our visit to Monticello.  What I didn't know was every year for over 50 years Monticello host a Naturalization Ceremony.  I was so excited to find this out and knew immediately what day we would visit.  We had to arrive early so we could get to the Community College next to Monticello where we would park and take a shuttle to the estate.  The rain was steady all morning but finally let up during the the ceremony and stayed away for most of it, only towards the very end did it start up again and then never really let up too much.  After the ceremony they served Coke floats, not sure why but I wasn't complaining:)   We then had a little while to our scheduled tour time for the house.  You see, for the 4th of July they do a Jeffersonian Open House, it is a free self guided walking tour of the first floor.  When walking into the mansion you knew immediately this was not your typical Founding Father's home... it was Thomas Jefferson's, he decorated his home in such a way to reflect his many interests and accomplishments.  One of the coolest features in the home was his bed that was on display, it was the exact bed that he passed away in on July 4th 1826.   The tour was great and we look forward to returning back one day to do the complete tour, hopefully minus the rain.   Before we headed to the shuttle to return to our car we visited Thomas Jefferson's grave site, which was kind of fitting considering it was the anniversary of his death.

We returned to our van to begin the journey back home, but first, a stop to eat at Michies Tavern, some shopping in the shops and Carters Mountain for some Bold Rock Cider!  We arrived home and were pretty exhausted so decided to forgo fireworks.

 I am sure I missed some things but this def outlines the highlights of our great weekend.  Charlottesville is an amazing area which offers so much to do, we can not wait to go back.  Another great adventure was had and wonderful memories made as we live our lives to the fullest!! 

23 June, 2016

School's out, scream and shout!!

Today the kids wrap up yet another successful year in school, I couldn't be more proud of their accomplishments this year.  Leia tacking her first year in middle school, Jacob changing schools and meeting new friends, and Elijah excelling in all he does (well, except handwriting).

We are so proud of Elijah this year, he made ALL A's except the first quarter he made 1 B (writing).  He has been challenged by doing higher level math, and spelling in school and he has challenged himself by starting the Harry Potter series this year (he is almost done with book 3).  Next year will be very exciting for him as he moves over to the Academy for Discovery at Lakewood, I know he is ready to tackle all they give him!

Jacob has had an amazing year as well.  Changing schools is never easy but he flourished, making new friends and being challenged with higher expectations. We are so proud of him being inducted into the National Elementary Honor Society last week.  All his hard work has paid off.  He finishes 4th grade with A honor roll and an A/B average for the year. He also received numerous awards at the 4th grade awards ceremony including the Citizenship award, Student of the Year in Science, attendance, and for receiving honor roll all year long.  I can not wait to see what 5th grade has in store for him.

Now to Leia, everyone told me "wait til middle school" whenever I would talk about how I love how Leia is so modest and conservative (with her looks and clothing) and has a great relationship with is.  I am proud to say that middle school has not changed her a bit.  She is her own person and does not follow the crowd.  She has transitioned into a middle-schooler beautifully. Her academics were stellar this year, receiving only 2 B+'s the entire year!  Leia was also inducted into the National Junior Honor Society last week. At the 6th grade awards ceremony Leia also received numerous awards including Student of the Year in Band, achieving pass advance on her English SOL, fitness award, attendance, and receiving honor roll all year long.  I hear 7th grade is quite different but I know Leia will achieve much success!!

In other news, some how I got roped in to becoming the new PTA president for the school next year.  I am very excited for it though and I have recruited two great friends who I also work with in scouts to be on the board.  We have big plans for the school next year, I can not wait to get to planning!
Also other news, since buying our house we have started tackling some projects.  We are rearranging where everyone stays and painting rooms, which is exciting... but more exciting is we are doing an entire kitchen remodel!!  It is so much more involved than I thought but I know the end result will be worth it.  Stay tuned for updates on that.  Goal is to have it finished before the end of the summer!!

We are very excited for summer break to be here, though we really never break, we are always going... but hey, that is how we live our lives to the fullest!!!