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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Football

My favorite part of fall is the smell of the leaves decomposing on the ground. It’s like the whiff of a strong drink, invigorating and promising. When I was in college fall meant breaking out the socks (because I much prefer sandals!), and football on Saturday. Now that I’m a grown up it means breaking out the rain boots and football whenever my husband can find it on the TV. While I will always feel that special connection between a girl and the football team she grew up with, I have moved on from the desire to actually follow the sport.

Of course, if there is anything as American as apple pie… that thing would have to be football. I’ll take the apple pie any day, but it didn’t seem fair to deny our exchange student the experience.

Her first football experience would come when my sister – a cheerleader at a high school in a neighboring county – was cheering at a game near our home.

Friday Night Lights

We hit a Checkers for dinner then headed to the game. I don’t recall who won, but the cheerleaders were great… naturally!

Ginny, my sister, and our exchange student.

I honestly don’t remember who won, but it’s always fun to see family and get a night out of the house!

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At the beginning of October we took advantage of a long weekend to get out of town and go to a game at Brandan’s Alma Mater, Virginia Tech. The four hour drive took us nearly twice as long thanks to traffic. We had planned to arrive several hours before the game but, unfortunately, we barely made it in for kick-off!

Traffic and a storm.

Thankfully the storm finished up as we arrived and we were able to attend the game in relative dryness! I had snagged some decent tickets online a few weeks before. There’s something very fun about a football game. Noisy, but focused. Loud, but exciting.

Lane Stadium

After a long day of work, school, and packing for our trip, these two were definitely Troopers! We watched the whole game, then it was time to get in the car and drive further south to our campsite at Claytor Lake State Park for the rest of the weekend!

Ginny and P

Do you follow any sports teams? Always have, always will? It’s definitely fun in the moment, so I appreciate the draw to attend the games – but fall is my favorite time of year to get out and about! I’d much rather be out hiking than watching a football game on TV!

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Rainy Day Activities

Just wanted to throw together a little list of some inexpensive local options for entertaining those little ones when it’s raining. I know that it only takes Ginny and I a day or two to go stir crazy. Most of these activities are geared towards children younger than 5 years old, those a few may be good for children up to 10 years old. So keep an open mind and remember: it’s only water.

  1. Visit your local library!
    Cost: Free
    Entertainment value: 1+ hours, depending on child’s attention spanIf you time it right you can probably hit a story time or other activity, but remember these will be more crowded on rainy days, so be sure to show up a little early. If there aren’t any organized activities, there is still plenty to do the library. Compile a list of interesting subjects with your child, then just spend some time finding those books, a comfy chair, and you’ve created your own story time. The atmosphere makes it easier to encourage relaxed, still behavior. You don’t even have to check the books out!
  2. The Marine Corp Museum
    Cost: Free
    Entertainment value: 2-3 hoursThis is a multi-purpose option. It’s perfect for a date with the little ones during the week, or the whole family on the weekend. There’s usually something for every one, and special events on the weekends. Adults and teenagers can appreciate the movie theater, interactive activities like the target practice and gear pull, and the traditional museum portion of the building. Younger children will appreciate the dress up, coloring station, and story time area. There are full size planes and tanks as well, that most little kids find fascinating. Be sure to throw a towel in the trunk, and if the sun peaks out you can go to the playground (and wipe off the slide!) on site for a quick chance to get some wiggles out! When you’re done
  3. Leesylvania State Park
    Cost: $4 weekdays, $5 weekends per vehicle
    Entertainment value: 2+ hoursOn those days with “scattered” showers, this is a perfect option! The visitors center at Lessylvania has two areas. In one area you can explore the animal world – with live examples of invasive species of fish and a little albino snake. The table in the center has pelts from various local animals that children can touch and try to guess which fur belongs to which animal. There are also many taxidermy examples of local birds. It’s truly fascinating, and the perfect place to play a little game of “eye spy”. A small display of local types of rocks is also surprisingly entertaining.On the other side of this building are colonial era artifacts and interactive displays. Dress-up like people used to, try your hand at spinning yarn and weaving fabric, then you can take a little while trying to play the colonial era children’s games. If the sun decides to peak out, just a short walk will take you to a play ground (bring a towel!), nature pond (you can almost always see turtles there), and a nice walk along the Potomac River.
  4. Go to a Matinee
    Cost: ~$7/person, some theaters have free admission for under 2
    Entertainment value: about 2 hoursGoing to the movies is such a special experience, and going during the day is the perfect time to take kids! The nice thing is that most of the other patrons at that time will be parents – and a little more understanding of a child who needs help adjusting to the theater experience. Additionally, if you are polite, most theaters will give you a replacement ticket voucher or refund if your little one just can’t handle it, and you have to leave in the middle of the film.5. Go to the Mall
    Cost: your will power will decide…
    Entertainment value: maybe an hour, maybe moreAll off out local malls have small playgrounds inside of them! Perfect for the third day of rain! Pick up a little cup of pretzel bits at Aunty Anne’s (or bring your own snack!), sit back, and let those little ones expend some energy.

    6. Ikea… yes… Ikea!
    Cost: your will power will decide…
    Entertainment value: ~2+ hours

    This one is a little out there, but I’m serious: it’s our go-to rainy day activity. I go with the intention of just buying lunch (on Tuesdays you can get two free kids meals with the purchase of an adult meal – kids must be present at check out). So for about $6 both of us can eat lunch, walk around indoors, hang out in the toy area for a bit, and then if Ginny is feeling adventurous she can spend 30 minutes in the ball pit while I sip my coffee and surf my phone… or walk around some more. Either way, it’s a cheap, dry, opportunity to get out of the house!

    7.  Go for a Walk or Hike
    Cost: Free/park entrance fee
    Entertainment value: varies

    As a child in England we had rain clothes, and we went out in the rain, and we played in the rain and biked in the rain and existed in the rain. When it rains constantly it’s really the only option.

    When all else fails, just remember that it’s only water. Being wet does not make you more likely to get sick, and with the right gear (poncho, rain pants, and a good pair of wellies!) you can even spend hours in the rain enjoying the wonderful smell of freshly wet earth.

What to you do when you’re going stir crazy and the weather report threatens to hold you prisoner?

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