Claytor Lake

My mind has a very distinct memory that surfaces when I think of camping. I don’t remember where we lived, maybe Texas? But maybe not, there were a lot of trees, but I was definitely in elementary school and it was before we moved to England.

Exact location isn’t important. I remember the camping though. The giant two room tent with wide, hallow aluminum poles that had to be fitted together just right to hold the tent up. I was certain that tent would last forever, my guess is we lost a pole. I remember that burning feeling in my nose from breathing fresh air all night, the hazy sun light dripping through the tree canopy.

That’s all I remember though. Setting up the tent, I know we went a few times, and with friends. But the tree canopy and fresh air – that’s what stuck.

Brandan and I have been camping for as long as we’ve been together. We started going to Claytor Lake state park near VT, and what’s not to love? Of course, our most recent visit was a little rough in the beginning. We arrived fairly late in the evening – after the Virginia Tech football game – and of course it was raining! You don’t know “fun!” until you set up a tent in the rain! Thankfully I’ve set up our REI Kindgom 6 many times, and so it took Brandan and I just a few minutes to get the tent up while the girls slept in the car. A few more minutes for the air mattresses, and we were set!
The next morning I woke up with a peace that only waking up with the birds can bring. I set-up our borrowed pop-up canopy so that we’d have a dry place to eat, and then set to cooking bacon and pancakes from breakfast. Yum!

Normally I’d be jealous of our neighbors – hammock camping feels so live-and-let-live, but to be honest… I wouldn’t want to be doing *that* set up in the rain!

While the girls ate breakfast Brandan and I re-arranged and tightened the tent a bit so that it was more water-tight. We knew this day would be rainy, so we’d brought some coloring books, cards, and other little games to play while we hung out.

One of my favorite things about camping is actually the preparations that go in to the trip. Planning the menu, packing the bags, fitting it all in our Prius. It’s like a game of tetris, and I’m pretty good at it. This time I tried out a new system, I liked the premise but will need to rework it a bit. We usually all pack in one bag, but this time we took three smaller backpacks.

It made packing easy, but then I forgot to bring something to keep the dirty clothes organized. That’s easily fixed though.

Another new thing for this trip was the sleeping bag I purchased for Ginny. Several months early I’d purchased sleeping bags for Brandan and I. I chose the Marmot Trestle 30 series (womens/mens) and purchased the men’s and women’s version for Brandan and I. They’re really nice, a pretty green color, but very functional. They zip together very nicely, and are roomy enough to not feel like you’re suffocating. There is a full zipper on one side an easement zipper on the other side, as well as a small pocket inside the bag for storing personal items – like a phone or wallet. Since I was so happy with my bag I purchased the child’s version for Ginny. It’s a little big, but I stuffed the end of the bag into the storage bag and tightened it so that it was the right length for her. Unfortunately she was still a little too cold for comfort, and ended up in our joined bags. No biggie – still plenty of room!

Just as we were starting to feel a little stir-crazy from spending all day in the tent the skies cleared and we decided to go for a walk. We explored the camp groups a bit, then hit Poplar Leaf Trail. It was short, easy, and paved – so not muddy!

To escape the rain we visited a nearby restaurant. It was small and family owned – just outside the park – and the food was good! The entire place was mismatched dining room tables and and random chairs ranging from wooden chair with floral patterns to fabric covered high backs. Eclectic, and kind of cute.

The next day made us glad we’d come all that way! A good night sleep, sun in the sky, and most of the park to ourselves!!! We headed down to the lake and rented two kayaks. It started out with Ginny and B-man in one, then I paddled with our exchange student. It ended up with a girls’ kayak and a boy… kayak.

We couldn’t have asked for nicer weather. Low wind speed, 60’s and still plenty of leaves on the trees!

Brandan took himself on a private tour of the edges, while the girls and I stayed toward the center. We were out for about an hour, plenty of lovely autumn sun!

SUN! Just looking at these pictures is making me miss it!

And finally, one of my favorite pictures from the whole trip:

I love that I get to share these adventures with my little one. She enjoys camping, and has gotten better at it with every trip. I hope she grows up with fond memories of getting out and just enjoying each other and the beauty of nature. Seriously, there’s nothing more beautiful than dappled sunlight dripping through the autumn leaves.

We spent our last evening just relaxing at the campsite and enjoying each other’s company. I set up the hammock, but was quickly over run by the wee-nut and her pseudo-sister. The two laughed and giggled as Ginny crawled all over. And seriously – it’s not comfortable to have those little knees and elbows poking into you!

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Thankfully our trip home was a lot faster than our trip down – though we still faced a little traffic as we got closer to NoVa. I snapped this picture at one of our rest stops. She makes my heart so happy.

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Visiting Virginia: Westmoreland State Park

Visiting Virginia

There’s something beautiful about Virginia that doesn’t really exist in many places. I currently live in what can easily be described as a “bustling metropolis”. No, I don’t live in D.C. – but the District has slowly bled out into the surrounding area, and as far south as Fredericksburg (about 55 miles from DC) you will find people who drive into the city every day! It’s kind of ridiculous, but such is life in NoVa. But back to that special thing: You can drive for 10 minutes, no matter where you start, and end up in “the middle of nowhere. Hop off the highway, and just keep driving. Soon enough you’ll be on small tree lined roads. It’s a breath of peace in a busy, congested area.

 

Westmoreland State Park – August 2014

 

B-man and I decided to celebrate our five year wedding anniversary with a family camping trip. Westmoreland State Park is a Virginia State Park in Westmoreland county, east of Fredericksburg. This was not our first trip to the park. From our home in the Woodbridge area it took less than two hours to drive there. I would highly suggest making reservations. In the time it took us to drive there all of the spots for the next night were filled, so we ended up having to change our schedule around to make sure we got in all of the activities we wanted to do, just in case we only got one night. Some one ended up cancelling, so we were able to stay three nights, but it was a lot of unnecessary annoyance.

One of my anniversary gifts from B-man.

 

First thing we did upon arrival was take advantage of the remaining sunlight with a quick hike on Turkey Neck Trail. The trails are some what circular and can lead you down to the beach. Of course, hiking with a three year old is some what limiting. Trail guide available here [pdf].

 

Trail head for Turkey Neck Trail

After a short hike (which usually results in a grumpy toddler asking to be carried by the end of it), we headed back to set up our tent before it got dark. This is the third time we’ve used it, so it was very quick. It takes two of us about ten minutes to set this castle up!

Our tent & tub set up. In this picture half of the rainfly is pinned back.

 

When we camp we take the tent bag, the tub o’ gear, the food, camping chairs, bedding, and clothing. As we do it more often I hope to cut back on how much “stuff” we bring, because it really is about being organized. This system worked fairly well for us. This tent is the REI Kingdom 6. So far we have enjoyed it, and I’m glad I purchased this one instead of a 1-room 6 person tent. I realize we don’t need such a large tent, but having the space and flexibility is very nice.

the full site

Arriving Friday meant we pretty much had the pick of the place, so we were able to get a large, semi-secluded site with a large empty space behind it. Some of the sites in the park were very small, and would’ve made it irresponsible for us to light a fire as our tent would’ve been too close. Definitely something to consider if you set up a larger tent.

Friday night we attended a star-gazing activity at the main building. Though the building was not in use they kept lights on in the main room – which was basically a wall of windows. This mean that while we were outside looking for stars it was kind of difficult due to the light pollution. The class included a star-map and printed resources that participants could take home. I enjoyed it, but my three year old did not. Might be better for older kids. I kind of expected a little bit of a history lesson (like learning the stories behind the constellations) but the guide did not seem to know that type of thing. Instead he used an app on his phone to pin-point the constellations. It was nice out though, and we took a blanket to lay out and star at the stars until the clouds rolled in.

That night it poured. So much rain. We hadn’t done any tie-outs, but our tent kept us completely dry!

Family of bikes!

Saturday we spent the better part of the morning on a nice bike ride. We biked the Rock Spring Pond Trail, which is all down hill one way, and all up hill the other. Then we also did the Conservation Corps Trail – it has excessive stations every couple hundred yards.

Ginny getting her row-on!

In the afternoon we took advantage of the swim pass that is included in the cost of camping, and took Ginny to the pool. It was pretty busy, but still enjoyable. They had a full size pool with two diving boards and a pool. Then a separate, gated, shallow pool for babies and toddlers. My only complaint about the pool was that we couldn’t ride our bikes there. It is at the bottom of a very large hill that specifically says no bike riding (on the road) and no bike-accessible paths go to the pool area.

Blue circle indicates the pool’s location. Purple was our bike ride, the star between the purple and screen lines is where our campsite was. Green and orange are the hikes we took.

Saturday night we went to a meet-and-greet at the discovery center that included s’mores, and a little history lesson about the park. The guide had found a lizard and let Ginny’s hold it while we waited for others to show up. Naturally, she named it Jeff.

Ginny & Jeff

Afterwards we rode our bikes around checking out a few of the things the guide had talked about in the lesson.

The colored dish sets were also a part of B-man’s anniversary gift to me.

Sunday every one cleared out. We made pancakes on the camp stove, then invited kids from a nearby site to hang out while their parents’ packed up their stuff. Ginny enjoyed building a “tree house” with the other little kids. When we camp we take a bucket and shovel, and this time it was very productive as they collected rocks that had escaped the designated (slightly slanted) campsite and moved them to “higher ground”.

Building their “tree house”.

Once the threats of rain has passed, we decided to hike down to Fossil Beach. You can borrow a sifter from the main office. The beach gets its name from the ever-present fossils & shark teeth that can be found there, with enough time, effort and luck.

Big Meadow Trail leads to Fossil Beach.

The walk there is downhill, and easy enough. Ginny walked the whole way there. What we didn’t notice walking down were the ground bees. I highly suggested wearing closed toed shoes and pants.

Using the backpack that my parents used to hall my baby sister around England!

We had very little luck at the beach. We found one tiny shark tooth, about the size of a thumb print.

Dipping our feet in the water.

Swimming is not permitted at the beaches, though people do it any way. Every time I’ve gone we see jellyfish hanging out in the water. Additionally the Potomac has lots of undertows and some flesh eating bacteria. Good times, right?!

The weather shut down the pool, so we spent the rest of Sunday at our campsite.

Bubbles, a ball, a bucket, and a shovel. That’s all we took to entertain her while we were there!

Most every one was gone by Sunday afternoon, so it was very quiet! We Enjoyed listening to the birds, and spotting lizards near our site!

Jeff’s older brother?

And our final camping meal (aside from the muffins we ate the next morning) was frito-pie. We didn’t have a table cloth, and something dropped on the table, bringing bees… and though we finally cleaned it up well enough to stop the bugs, we decided to sit further away from the table to give it a chance to clear out. Now I know – don’t spill anything… ever!

Ginny’s make-shift table!

We packed up quickly Monday morning and headed home. It was a beautiful weekend, despite the rain. I’m glad we participated in all of the organized activities, and got to hike a good amount of the trails. This is a great local park with lots of amenities, clean bathrooms, and a good selection of activities.

The end.

 

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Westmoreland’s Report Card:

Family friendly: 5/5

Bike friendly: 2.5/5 – Only a few miles of path, the rest is road, not all roads allow riding.

Bathrooms: 3/5 – Not terrible, but definitely not the greatest. The stalls still had info papers from last summer.

Activities: 4/5 – Lots of options available during peak season on the weekend for a variety of age groups.

Amenities: 4/5 – The pool was large and clean, staff was friendly, changing area was dark and buggy. Main office was nice, staff was helpful and friendly. The camp store was well stocked and easy to locate. Wood was $5/bundle, but not tied – you have to measure it out yourself.

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This is the first in a series of posts I will do about the places we visit in Virginia. More information about Westmoreland State Park is available here.

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Sweet Summer

While the winter and spring months disappeared quickly, the last few months of summer have left a bigger impression on me. I didn’t realize how catatonic I’d become, sleeping in until the early afternoon, then going to bed early in the evening. It’s a wonder I have any memories – most of which involve driving in the snow and sweet things others did for my family.

We did a lot of travelling, which I will document eventually, but my favorite moments have been the little things. Little things like seeing Ginny love the same trampoline I grew up with.

 

Or when we find the best in our flooded carport: built in puddle jumping! Ginny got to pick those polka dot boots out at the L.L. Bean outlet when we were in Maine.

 

We managed to squeeze in three camping trips in just two months. One trip was a three-day adventure in celebration of our five year wedding anniversary. Ginny loves it, outdoors is definitely her element.

 

 

My favorite moments over the summer though are when I get to play witness to Ginny and her Daddy. The way they interact, it makes me jealous! She’s full of giggles, he’s incredibly patient. Any person who dares to say that men can’t be as nurturing as women need to spend a few days in this household.

 

Ginny has grown a strange fondness for lizards and the name “Jeff”. A neighbor gave her a small rubber lizard, which was named Jeff. Since that point every stuffed animal, doll, and living thing without a name has been named Jeff. Jeff is also the name of the guy that makes my salad at Panera every Tuesday. Go figure.

While I was sick people helped us out in so many different ways. One of those not-expected ways was the people who brought over hand-me-downs for Ginny. Every penny counts, and I’m thankful to have such thoughtful friends. Below is a picture of Ginny in her “running shoes”. She’s convinced that wearing them requires running. It’s endearing.

 

Ginny got her first umbrella this summer, as a birthday gift from a neighbor. It has Mickey Mouse on it, and her name. Of course she is enamored.

I think one of my favorite things to do with my little love (and my big love) is to get out of the house. I’m a bit of a wimp still, and “getting out of the house” might be code for “I’m too tired to cook so lets go somewhere”. It’s a nice treat, and a good experience for Ginny. She’s been learning how to order for herself, and she always asks so nicely!

 

 

I move slowly these days, but I try to move a lot. I’ve found that if I spend all day on my feet, I have joint pain the next few days. It’s hard. I want to do things. I want to feel better. I want to be motivated. So when that moment of energy comes I grab on to it, and I push and do and go and get things done. Then I pay for it.

I’ve been going through our things, I have a large collection of donate stuff by the front door just waiting to be taken. My house is coming together, and the spot I’m most fond of right now is this little table with the house plants I’ve managed to keep alive. Our the window you can see our extra-large umbrella that makes the patio slightly more appealing. Thankfully the weather should be cooling off soon, and then we will be spending our morning out there. Just need the mosquitoes to die.

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