Sep 212014
One of our many challenges upon arriving home: tackling the mountain of laundry!

One of our many challenges upon arriving home: tackling the mountain of laundry!

Hi Anne: We’ve missed your updates now for a couple of months…. “Sup?

I was actually thrilled to receive several recent inquiries about what is going on with my blog. It is nice to know that people miss you when you don’t post!

Fortunately, there is nothing catastrophic behind my lack of posts. It was a full summer with entertaining and cross-country travel. By the time we returned to Virginia, we were all a little wiped out but had to dive right in to the new homeschool year. Blogging was unfortunately moved to the bottom of the priority list.

I have felt completely behind this entire September. All of the activities that most families accomplish before the school year, like shopping for fall clothes and school supplies, visiting doctors for school physicals and eye exams, we had to push to September. In addition, we had a backlog of things to reset to normal from our trip, like doing laundry, writing a pile of thank you notes and washing and repairing the car. We are also in the middle of planning a large home improvement project and researching investments for our personal finances. So, gradually, we are catching up but it is taking us some time. We are going through the motions of our new homeschool and extracurricular routines but it all still feels a bit foreign and unnatural.

While I hope that all of you are having an awesome September and that your school or work routines are running just like clockwork, I am finding numerous examples of people who are closer to my experience where September is kind of a whirlwind of change and we are just trying to survive the storm. A few people in my life experienced major medical concerns during September and there is nothing that throws your life off balance like a medical crisis. Another friend wrote recently that she just feels a bit overwhelmed by her new fall scheduling and is waiting for things to settle into a routine.

In the blogging world, I was shocked to discover that very successful bloggers John and Sheri Petersik are taking a break from posting to reassess their life priorities in light of the birth of their second child this year. (Good for them! A second child is a huge adjustment for most people.)

Also in the blogging world, the local Fredericksburg couple who cashed out their 401k, sold their home and traveled the world for over 2 years, wrote a fascinating post about their struggle to transition back to regular life in the United States.

If you are in the whirlwind with me, I found it helpful to take some advice from Bob Harper, the famous fitness trainer from The Biggest Loser. This season’s show is all about former athletes. The stories are so human and humbling. These are people who have demonstrated great dedication and commitment and hard work during their careers yet still have fallen victim to their own personal demons. It takes a brave person to admit that on national television and it is inspiring to see these contestants have that courage and have the audacity to make a very difficult change.

On the first episode of the show, Bob is counseling a woman who is suffering from injuries. He tells her:

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As I get older, I really appreciate how strength of mind is really the best strength to have. Coping with stress and life’s disappointments while still being able to set goals and dreams to look forward to is what keeps us all going. It’s a good reminder that we need to make hard decisions sometimes, focus in on what we need or want and let all the rest go.

So, rest assured that whether you are in the whirlwind or pressing steadily on as usual, it’s all in the range of “normal.” As for me, I am hoping to resume more regular blog updates. I assure you my absence is not for lack of things to say but rather lack of discipline and time to write them all out. I sincerely appreciate your reading! It’s good to be back!

*I have no affiliation with The Biggest Loser or any other company mentioned in this post.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , , ,
Jul 292014
We drove past this "laser eyes" mural every day on our way to camp.  I am not sure what it represents.

We drove past this “laser eyes” mural every day on our way to camp. I am not sure what it represents.

It was the last day of camp and we were all glad to have made it the full week and to be celebrating artistic accomplishments!

We dropped off the girls and my son and I spent the morning looking at Richmond architecture. I was specifically looking for ideas that would help us with the pending exterior renovation of our home. We are due for a paint job and a new roof and I wanted to see if there were some real life examples of what we were considering.

Richmond is a goldmine of architectural inspiration for Colonial style. We looked at many different types of paint schemes. One of the newer trends that gives a European look to a traditional Colonial home is to paint the trim and the house in shades of the same color. Shades of taupe and beige were particularly striking in this combination.

It was also helpful to see how certain colors and architectural features weather over time. If something still looks good with a little age on it, then it is likely a great choice.

Richmond has lovely rowhouses with classic style.

Richmond has lovely rowhouses with classic style.

As I looked at house and roof colors, I found that I liked it best when the house color and roof color had a bit of contrast, such as a dark house color with a lighter roof and a lighter house color with a darker roof.

As I looked at house and roof colors, I found that I liked it best when the house color and roof color had a bit of contrast, such as a dark house color with a lighter roof and a lighter house color with a darker roof.

The double porches on many homes looked so inviting and seemed like the perfect people watching spot.

The double porches on many homes looked so inviting and seemed like the perfect people watching spot.

We grabbed the girls from camp and had a few shopping errands to run first. We were surprised to find that back-to-school shopping is in full force with store aisles transformed into school supply meccas.

School supplies so neatly organized in bins.  Heaven!

School supplies so neatly organized in bins. Heaven!

There is something so satisfying to me about school supply shopping. I love to browse all the new products and deals. It is also a wake-up call that the cash hemorrage is about to begin. Between summer vacation expenses, school clothing and school supply expenses, August can be as expensive as Christmas!

After our shopping trip, we grabbed lunch to go and made our way to our last Richmond attraction. I saved the best for last. We managed to parallel park the minivan into the last available parking spot and made our way across the bridge.

Crossing the Belle Isle suspension bridge

Crossing the Belle Isle suspension bridge

The Bridge to Belle Isle is a relatively recent Richmond tourism and recreation investment. A suspension bridge was created below the existing highway bridge allowing people to walk or bike across the bridge to Belle Isle. Belle Isle was a former prisoner of war camp for Union Soldiers during the Civil War and was then the site of a hydroelectric power plant. Now it is used solely for recreation with hiking trails and the main attraction, a rocky, urban “beach.”

View from the bridge.

View from the bridge.

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On Belle Isle.

On Belle Isle.

Lots of green, open space.

Lots of green, open space.

Picnic lunch on the beach.

Picnic lunch on the beach.

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There is only one hazard to be aware of on this beach and that is that the rocks near the water are very slippery! There is some sort of slippery moss or algae that grows on them that you can’t see. Three of us were caught in this trap. My daughter first discovered this as she gently stepped into the water, then suddenly lost her footing and slid right in to a shallow pool. I ran to fish her out and many kind people nearby also started to help. Fortunately, she was able to climb out herself and other than being wetter than she would like, was fine. The next person to discover this trap was me! I was walking quickly over what I thought were dry rocks. One had just a bit of water on it and sure enough it was mossy and slippery and down I went! The last victim was my son. He was sitting on the rocks dangling his feet in the water, slid just an inch toward that slippery moss and slid right into the water! I was right there to fish him out but it taught us all to be VERY careful.

Celebrating the end of our week of adventures!

Celebrating the end of our week of adventures!

The children could have stayed on the beach all afternoon and were sad when it was time to leave. We could not miss the children’s art exhibit that afternoon, however, and hustled toward the car.

The camp does a wonderful art exhibition of all of the children's work at the end of camp. It looks just like an art gallery and it is all put up very quickly with little more than masking tape.

An exuberant self-portrait

An exuberant self-portrait.

Another terrific self portrait.

Another terrific self portrait.

A diamondback rattlesnake made from clay, used in a claymation project.

A diamondback rattlesnake made from clay, used in a claymation project.

Another claymation detail of a flying squirrel and a tree.

Another claymation detail of a flying squirrel and a tree.

We admired the projects done by children of all ages. In the older classes, the children were asked to work in teams to create installation art. This project done by three girls was fantastic.

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The best part for me was the artists’ statement.

A wonderful artist statement.

A wonderful artist statement.

The statement said a lot to me. Some efforts are hard for others to appreciate. Simple things can be deceptively complicated. Artistic mess is as difficult as artistic order. It takes time to learn to create good art.

The art show was a great lift to the end of a energy-filled week. While we weren’t expecting to have Richmond in our summer plans, we are glad there was space in our lives to allow for this last-minute change. Rather than being exhausted with all the early-morning wake-up calls and the driving and touring, I left energized with new ideas and perspective. My children took a lot out of the experience too. I will remember most the times spent outside, watching them run joyfully in the sunshine. It’s what summer is all about.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , , ,
Jul 262014
Resting up for the day's adventures.

Resting up for the day’s adventures.

Day 4 arrived and we did our morning commute to art camp yet again. After the drop off, my son took a snooze in the car while I tried to find something for us to do.

I learned from my past hanging out sessions in Richmond that the Richmond public library often holds many interesting and free events for children. I checked their website from my phone and found out that two different branches were having a preschool story time that morning. I wasn’t sure how long the story time would last so I went for the one that started soonest.

We drove for about 20 minutes until we reached the first library branch. We arrived just about a minute before the story time started at 11:00. I walked into the library and asked where the story time was. The librarian pointed the way and as I reached the door, I was greeted with a pre-printed sign that said that I was not to enter, that story time had already started and that the maximum number of guests were already in the room! The sign continued that if I wanted I could request a ticket at the front desk, wait half an hour and. . . if there was enough interest, they would hold another session! This was a bit more bureaucracy than I was expecting and I wouldn’t be able to wait for the next story time as it would make me late for pickup.

So, we got back in the car and rushed to the second branch of the library with story time at 11:15 a.m. We arrived there also a minute before story time began.

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This time, the librarian at the desk showed me to the room and found the children’s librarian who, with a cheery smile, greeted my son and then rounded up all the children in the library for stories and games.

This was my son’s first story time. While he listens very well to stories at home, in a public setting he was a little distracted.

Someone is not paying attention!

Someone is not paying attention!

The librarian had wonderful inflection as she read the story. At the end, she asked the children some reading comprehension promoting questions, which I thought was impressive.

The librarian then asked each child to request a song to sing. While some stuck with old favorites like the ABCs and Wheels on the Bus, one child requested to sing “Let it Go” from the movie Frozen. We are probably the only family in America who has not seen this movie. The children who requested the song began to sing the somewhat complex lyrics. When it came time for the chorus, everyone was singing out enthusiastically, “Let it go! Let it go!” All I could do was sit there and smile. The children sang the entire song which seemed to be about 4 minutes long! We clapped for them when it was done.

We finished off with the librarian blowing bubbles for the children to pop. My son thought this was great, until he realized he had to compete with the other children for the bubbles and that being the youngest and smallest he was at a disadvantage.

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Overall, it was quite a successful first story hour.

We rushed back to camp for pick up.

For our afternoon adventure, we were blessed with a “polar vortex” which brought cooler weather. Mind you, it was still plenty warm, just not as sweltering as it had been.

One of the things I have never successfully done in Richmond is visit Brown’s Island. I know roughly where it is and as far as I know it is not that hard to get to. However, every time I attempt to get there something happens to disrupt our trip.

We parked near the Tradegar Iron Works, grabbing the last available public parking spot. We began walking toward Brown’s Island when the children spotted a sort of beach and decided that would be the best spot to eat our picnic lunch.

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My daughter found this a perfect spot for sketching.

My daughter found this a perfect spot for sketching.

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My son was unimpressed with our picnic lunch.

My son was unimpressed with our picnic lunch.

. . . but very impressed with the train!

. . . but very impressed with the train!

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We wandered a bit down the beach and found the Three Days Bridge.  This is a wonderful cross between history and art.  The bridge commemorates the three days in Richmond after the Confederate surrender.

We wandered a bit down the beach and found the Three Days Bridge. This is a wonderful cross between history and art. The bridge commemorates the three days in Richmond after the Confederate surrender.

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The bridge offers amazing views of the James River as well.

The bridge offers amazing views of the James River as well.

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At this point, the children said they were tired and ready to go home. I am not entirely sure if we ever made it to Brown’s Island! We were certainly in close proximity. Ah well, we’ll have to try yet again.

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It is always amazing how children find the energy to run when they have the right motivation! We walked back to the car and drove home. We had just one day left to spend in Richmond but we were appreciating all that we were able to experience.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , ,
Jul 252014
Enjoying the architecture exhibit at the Virginia Center for Architecture.

Enjoying the architecture exhibit at the Virginia Center for Architecture.

Day three of our Richmond travels began thankfully smoothly. We dropped off the girls and drove to our morning destination, the Virginia Center for Architecture. We had an hour before the museum opened so my son took a nap and I read.

The exhibit on current display was an overview of the 99 best architectural structures in Virginia. My son enjoyed the huge map of Virginia at the entrance, especially pointing out numbers to me.

Look mom!  Number three!

Look mom! Number three!

I wasn’t really paying attention to what these numbers meant but since my son kept drawing my attention to them I took better notice. When he got to the number zero, I was shocked by the information.

We do love Colonial architecture here in Virginia.  Perhaps we need to encourage modern twists on colonial architecture that incorporate other perspectives.

We do love Colonial architecture here in Virginia. Perhaps we need to encourage modern twists on colonial architecture that incorporate other perspectives.

I always enjoy the exhibits at the Virginia Center for Architecture. It is a bit different from a traditional museum in that there usually are not original works of art guarded in glass, climate-controlled cases. Generally there are no original works at all. It is more like a unique display of information. But it really works!

The exhibit techniques are usually novel uses of graphic design. The display methods are as much a part of the exhibit as the artifacts themselves! In this case, the architecture works were numbered from 1-99. There was a photograph of each building with some brief information about the building and then a plastic sliding sign with the number of the building in the ranking system.

We had the exhibit to ourselves and took our time looking at each work. There were also some great quotes from architects in the exhibit as well.

Gorgeous architecture was used in the renovation of an elementary school.  What a great learning environment!

Gorgeous architecture was used in the renovation of an elementary school. What a great learning environment!

The unique wall display with sliding plastic partitions.

The unique wall display with sliding plastic partitions.

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I had no idea Virginia had a D-Day memorial.

I had no idea Virginia had a D-Day memorial.

Another Richmond landmark to look forward too!  VCU is in the process of constructing a contemporary art museum.

Another Richmond landmark to look forward too! VCU is in the process of constructing a contemporary art museum.

What a staircase!!

What a staircase!!

After the exhibit we ran around the grounds outside for a bit.  Such a lovely home!

After the exhibit we ran around the grounds outside for a bit. Such a lovely home!

The Virginia Center for Architecture is going through a few changes at the moment. Some information at the museum indicated that the mission of the center is going to expand beyond architecture into interior design, fashion and other related disciplines. Sounds amazing! Their gift shop was also empty and undergoing some sort of remodeling effort. So there are some more things to look forward to on our next visit.

Inspired by the architecture we saw, we took a leisurely stroll around the block and made note of Richmond’s wonderful historic architecture. Then we went to pick up the girls from camp.

We had a packed schedule today and I had been so preoccupied getting the girls ready for their ballet class that afternoon that I forgot to pack lunches! So, we drove toward our afternoon destination looking for something the children would find appetizing. There were lots of cute bistros but nothing we could get a consensus on. Finally, we stopped at the last eatery before our destination.

We ended up at a small, neighborhood convenience store.

We ended up at a small, neighborhood convenience store.

We walked in and saw typical convenience store far, like candies and drinks. Since the sign outside promised sandwiches I looked around expecting a display of prepackaged sandwiches. To my surprise, instead there was a very tiny grill in the corner and a woman ready to cook up fresh sandwiches, fries and chicken. We tried the chicken fingers special and a turkey sandwich.

We had to wait for our food in front of this delicious display of homemade desserts.

We had to wait for our food in front of this delicious display of homemade desserts.

As we waited, we overheard conversations between the regular customers and the staff.

“Hey….haven’t seen you around for a while. Are you still working?”

“No. I haven’t had any work in three weeks.”

Everyone was very friendly. When our food was ready, we purchased it along with some bottles of milk and a treat each child picked out from the immense display. Our total came to $10! It was quite the bargain.

We drove to the nearby park and found a picnic bench in the shade.

Devouring the chicken fingers and fries.

Devouring the chicken fingers and fries.

Thumbs up for the grilled turkey sandwich too!

Thumbs up for the grilled turkey sandwich too!

For the afternoon, our destination was Maymont, the giant park that was formerly a very wealthy estate. The grounds are gardens are incredible. It was the first time my eldest daughter had been.

All that open space inspires running.

All that open space inspires running.

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You get a little bit of a free zoo experience at Maymont.  They have a collection of injured raptors and some black bears.

You get a little bit of a free zoo experience at Maymont. They have a collection of injured raptors and some black bears.

The black bear statue is well polished where all the children climb all over it.

The black bear statue is well polished where all the children climb all over it.

We made our way to the Japanese garden.  My daughter was duly impressed.

We made our way to the Japanese garden. My daughter was duly impressed.

My daughters compared knee ouchies.  You can tell how much fun a little girl is having at Maymont by how many knee scrapes she has.

My daughters compared knee ouchies. You can tell how much fun a little girl is having at Maymont by how many knee scrapes she has.

Everyone's favorite . . . leaping on the stepping stones.  My son was upset that I wouldn't let him attempt the 1 foot gaps by himself.  I wasn't up for a swim at that moment.

Everyone’s favorite . . . leaping on the stepping stones. My son was upset that I wouldn’t let him attempt the 1 foot gaps by himself. I wasn’t up for a swim at that moment.

More koi.  My children were thrilled and started naming them.

More koi. My children were thrilled and started naming them.

We made our way back to the car via the lovely Italian gardens.

We made our way back to the car via the lovely Italian gardens.

The row of red hibiscus plants was very striking, especially paired with the pink accent flowers.

The row of red hibiscus plants was very striking, especially paired with the pink accent flowers.

Back at the car, we pulled out the first aid kit to dress the knee wounds, used a large wad of baby wipes to give an improvised shower, changed into ballet clothes and headed back to Fredericksburg for ballet class. Whew! Another successful day!

Posted by anne Tagged with: , ,
Jul 242014
Uh-oh!  Trouble on the morning commute.

Uh-oh! Trouble on the morning commute.

We were late for the second day of camp. We were running just about on time until we hit a traffic situation on I-95. About 15 minutes away from our exit, traffic ground to a halt. We crawled along at 2 miles an hour or less. Traffic condensed from 3 lanes to two lanes and then down to one.

Finally, we hit the source of the problem:

An overturned tractor trailer carrying a load of butter slowed I-95 South to a crawl.

An overturned tractor trailer carrying a load of butter slowed I-95 South to a crawl.

We call this incident the "butter jam" of 2014, referencing my son's name for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

We call this incident the “butter jam” of 2014, referencing my son’s name for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

45 painful minutes later, we finally got to our exit and made it to art camp.

My son and I then drove around looking for something to do. I thought we might take a look at the Virginia Historical Society. This is a wonderful place to spend some time. It has great exhibits, plenty of free parking and even a good spot to eat your lunch.

But it was closed!

The Virginia Historical Society is being renovated and is closed until fall 2015.

The Virginia Historical Society is being renovated and is closed until fall 2015.

So, we drove around, sat in the car and waited until it was time to get the girls. It was kind of a bust of a morning.

That afternoon, it was another scorcher and we needed to do something inside. I settled on touring the most recent exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Posing Beauty: a celebraton of African American portraits from the 1890's to the present.

Posing Beauty: a celebraton of African American portraits from the 1890′s to the present.

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My children love the swivel chairs in the lobby and remembered them from our last visit.

My children love the swivel chairs in the lobby and remembered them from our last visit.

At the entrance to the exhibit.

At the entrance to the exhibit.

The exhibit contained rougly 200 photographs of African Americans from the 1890′s to the present day. There were historical prints, fashion magazines and art photographs. I asked my children to try to pay attention to how the hairstyles and clothes changed throughout each era. I’m not sure they grasped what the exhibit was about but they had two favorite pieces. One was an artistic work of a large close-up photograph of a Barbie doll face photoshopped in a mosaic with African American features. “Barbie!” they called out. They also liked watching an art film where footage from a Texas beauty pageant with the first African American winner was set to the Psycho soundtrack and sped up and slowed-down in certain places. My favorite pieces were the family portraits from the 1890′s with elegantly dressed families in outdoor settings.

My children were most excited to have a snack on the deck.

My children were most excited to have a snack on the deck.

This was one of my fast days but the VMFA desserts did me in. I couldn’t bear to throw my son’s barely touched cinnamon scone away. Then I had to finish off my daughter’s vanilla cupcake (which had the strongest and creamiest vanilla flavor I have ever tasted).

They were equally intrigued to look for koi in the pond.

They were equally intrigued to look for koi in the pond.

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Next, we spent a little while exploring the outdoor gardens.

Next, we spent a little while exploring the outdoor gardens.

Someone just couldn't stay away from the water.

Someone just couldn’t stay away from the water.

In a little boy mystery, I turned around to take a photo of my girls and turned back 10 seconds later to find my son completely drenched!  I am not sure if he fell in the very shallow fountain and climbed out or just managed to splash himself enthusiastically.

In a little boy mystery, I turned around to take a photo of my girls and turned back 10 seconds later to find my son completely drenched! I am not sure if he fell in the very shallow fountain and climbed out or just managed to splash himself enthusiastically.

It was hot and bright and time to get home to rest up for the next day.

Even the parking lot of VMFA is artful.

Even the parking lot of VMFA is artful.

As we drove home, we noticed that I-95 southbound was still butter-jammed! The traffic did not seem any better than it was over 6 hours earlier!

It had been a day with rough patches but we managed to salvage it. I was proud of my kids for rolling with the punches rather than getting upset about all that didn’t go according to plan. It’s one of life’s best organizing lessons.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , ,
Jul 232014

Welcome to Richmond!

Since I spent a good part of my last two summers in Richmond while my children were in camps, I was a bit sad to think we would not be there at all this summer. I waited too long to register for summer camps and they were all full.

. . . . or at least so I thought.

Hey Anne!

Amazing news! Morning spots just freed up . . . in Session 1 (July 14- 18) Please let us know if this is something you are still interested in!

Yes! Yes!! It was amazing news and we were thrilled. This was the art camp my children adored and the staff seem to enjoy my children just as much. It was a serendipitous match.

We packed our lunches, found the art smocks and backpacks and set the alarm for an early start.

After dropping off the girls, I didn’t really have a plan in place for what my son and I would do for the next few hours. I drove around a bit aimlessly and went past The Library of Virginia. We decided to start there.

The Library of Virginia

The Library of Virginia

The current lobby exhibition is about The Flora of Virginia. I had heard about this from the Virginia Native Plant Society. I wasn’t quite sure exactly what this was but I understood that many people were VERY excited about the publication of this flora.

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The first question, of course, is what is a flora? The exhibit explained:

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I loved the idea that this was an intersection of science and art and that hand-drawn illustrations were used rather than photographs.

The most recent Flora of Virginia was published in 1715 by John Clayton. It has never been formally updated since. Most botanists were using a combination of flora for West Virginia and North Carolina when working with Virginia plants. Now they have a flora to call their own!

I learned many interesting things from the exhibit. Of organizational note, Carolus Linnaeus was an important pioneer of plant organization. His work in 1753 to set up a naming system for plants consisting of two names, genus and species, revolutionized botany. Prior to this innovation, there were all sorts of naming systems for plants and many plants had extremely long descriptive names.

I also learned what the term “herbarium” means. While it sounds like it has something to do with herbs, it really means “a collection of dried, preserved plant specimens on paper.” It’s kind of like a library of pressed flowers. The specimens are artfully arranged on paper with the name of the plant and any important notes. Usually a decorative stamp identifying the herbarium is in the top corner. They were described as another intersection between science and art.

Another great exhibit told of the artist’s conk fungus. This is sort of like a large mushroom that grows on trees. It has the unique property that if you mark on it with a sharp object, it will leave dark brown mark that resembles carvings in ivory or bone. Artists have used the fungus as a canvas. There was a great example on exhibit of a fungus from a botany club where all the members had signed the fungus.

The exhibit had a combination of rare books, artwork, photographs, history and botanical information. It was a clever meshing of many different disciplines.

Another organizational note from the exhibit.  This is a "vasculum," a special box botanists use to hold plant specimens collected in the field.

Another organizational note from the exhibit. This is a “vasculum,” a special box botanists use to hold plant specimens collected in the field.

After the exhibit, we toured The Virginia Shop, their gift shop. This was a wonderfully designed gift shop! It had a huge hipster influence with all kinds of artful and quirky items. I made note of several items for future Christmas and birthday gifts.

There were some wonderful education resources, including this unique book on teaching the underground railroad to children.

There were some wonderful education resources, including this unique book on teaching the underground railroad to children.

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There was also a wonderful selection of authentic antiquarian books.  Most were volumes with Congressional hearings,  trade records or diplomatic correspondence from around the time of the Civil War.  They would be a great addition to a formal law or business office and they were reasonably priced around $15 or so!

There was also a wonderful selection of authentic antiquarian books. Most were volumes with Congressional hearings, trade records or diplomatic correspondence from around the time of the Civil War. They would be a great addition to a formal law or business office and they were reasonably priced around $15 or so!

If you are a Virginia local, you can sign up to join the Library of Virginia’s mailing list. They have a great book club and other events.

After the library, we took a quick walk across the street to the Virginia School Board building where you can take the elevator to the top floor observation deck for an amazing view of the city.

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There was a construction project going on right below us that was fascinating to watch.

There was a construction project going on right below us that was fascinating to watch.

Walking back to the car, we saw this billboard at a local sandwich shop:

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Although I don’t think anyone would say that the economy is in “recession,” there are aspects of the Virginia economy that feel that way sometimes. I hope this small business struggles through.

I picked up my daughters from camp. This year, they both only wanted to do half day camp. When I asked them why they said it was because last year I did such fun adventures in the afternoons that they didn’t want to miss out! Wow! This may be the highest compliment my children have ever paid me. They actually wanted to hang out with boring old mom!

For some reason, every time I am in Richmond, I notice cryptic signs.  This one asked, "Who is Salomonsky?"  Apparently he is a prominent and controversial real estate developer in downtown Richmond who once served time in federal prison.

For some reason, every time I am in Richmond, I notice cryptic signs. This one asked, “Who is Salomonsky?” Apparently he is a prominent and controversial real estate developer in downtown Richmond who once served time in federal prison.

Another Richmond signature: road tolls!  You need to have a roll of quarters and dimes with you in the car just in case! (or an EZ Pass)

Another Richmond signature: road tolls! You need to have a roll of quarters and dimes with you in the car just in case! (or an EZ Pass)

The children had one primary destination in mind for our Richmond adventures so I decided to get that out of the way first.

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The Richmond Zoo is small but on a previous visit we had a lot of fun there. They allow you to get up close to feed the giraffes which is fun and they have other activities as well like a train ride, carousel and petting zoo.

Unfortunately, however, there was one factor working against us on this trip:

93 degrees with Virginia humidity is HOT!!

93 degrees with Virginia humidity is HOT!!

There are no indoor exhibits at the zoo so we braced ourselves for walking around in the heat. I purchased some sunscreen at the zoo store which came on a nice caribiner clip so that I could attach it to my keys. (A good organization tip to remember.)

We wandered around looking at animals, most of whom were trying to lie down in whatever shade they could find. My children complained the whole time that it was too hot and they were ready to leave after only about an hour.

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We did enjoy watching a giraffe run across their savannah exhibit. I don’t know if I have ever seen a giraffe run in person before. It is an amusing sight. The giraffe has such gangly long legs that it runs in a sort of graceful tangle. We also saw some zookeepers transporting a large Galapagos tortoise into a mud pool to help it cope better with the heat.

So, our circumstances weren’t the best for a zoo visit but I was glad to get the zoo out of the way so that the children would be ready to see other things.

We drove home through the back roads and encountered heavy rain along the way.

We drove home through the back roads and encountered heavy rain along the way.

Overall, day one was a success! Richmond is such a comfortable city to visit with the amenities of a big city but less parking hassles and traffic. We all looked forward to what the rest of the week would bring.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , , ,
Jul 162014

Hookity-Tookity-Tah (English version) at amazon.com.

Hookity-Tookity-Tah (English version) at amazon.com.

Húkiti-Túkiti-Tá (Spanish version) at amazon.com.

We are in the middle of celebrating numerous birthdays this month and it seems the perfect time to review a book about sweets!

Hookity-Tookity-Tah, written by Antonio Mugica and illustrated by Hermann Mejía was sent to me to review by Hunter Hackett of the La Jolla Writer’s Conference.

This is a story about a town with a dragon problem. To prevent the dragon from eating the villagers, the King negotiates a deal to provide the dragon with “One thousand pies! One hundred cakes! And then a bonbon wagon!” to fill him up instead.

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Without giving it all away, there are a few culinary disasters along the way and a nutritional message.

The story is imaginative and fun and the illustrations are wonderful, bright and detailed with a sense of whimsy to them. The King, for example has the body of a cupcake and the desserts made for the dragon look deliciously surreal. You will never find desserts quite like these 50 foot cakes with towering piles of frosting. The characters use pulleys and ropes to cope with the massive scale of the sweets.

The author, Antonio Mugica, is a man of many talents. His day job is serving as CEO of Smartmatic, an international voting software company that appears to produce many of the electronic voting machines we use here in the United States. He is also a musician and bilingual(!) writer.

The illustrator, Hermann Mejía, has won international awards for his caricature drawing. This is a 35-minute video of him presenting to the International Society of Caricature Artists with several examples of his incredible work. At the 31 minute mark he shows some illustrations from Hookity-Tookity-Tah and then shows a short video of him painting.

Hookity-Tookity-Tah is a treat much like the sugary sweets it depicts.  It is fun and engaging and perfect for summer reading.  

*Disclosure: I was provided a free review copy of the book.

Posted by anne
Jul 062014
Thai-inspired lettuce wraps with peanut dipping sauce.

Thai-inspired lettuce wraps with peanut dipping sauce.

I was tasked with brining a “side or salad” for a recent party and needed an idea. Virginia summers are hot and humid and food does not tend to keep well. I needed something that would not spoil in the heat. I also wanted to see if there was something I could make that was both delicious and healthy.

A few days before, we went shopping at IKEA and had lunch in their bistro. One of their menu items was a Thai lettuce wrap. It came out deconstructed but it was delicious nonetheless.

IKEA's lettuce wrap platter

IKEA’s lettuce wrap platter

I thought I would try to make summer rolls, which are kind of like lettuce wraps but with rice paper exteriors. I couldn’t find any rice paper at the grocery store so my only option was to use the lettuce for the rolls.

Ingredients for the lettuce wraps.

Ingredients for the lettuce wraps.

SHOPPING LIST

  • 1 package Asian salad mix
  • 1 head iceberg lettuce
  • 1 English cucumber
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 1 jar dry roasted peanuts
  • 1 package Mai Fun rice noodles
  • 1 jar Thai Kitchen peanut dipping sauce

DIRECTIONS

  1. Wash the iceberg lettuce and separate the leaves.
  2. Wash, peel and dice the cucumber into quarter-size pieces.
  3. Soak the rice noodles in hot water for 10 minutes and drain.
  4. Take a lettuce leaf and fill with the ingredients. Carefully roll and secure with a toothpick. You may also need a piece of cucumber at the top to prevent the toothpick from slipping out.
  5. Serve with peanut dipping sauce. The sauce was a bit thick so I thinned it with a little water to be more user-friendly.
Ready to roll!

Ready to roll!

Rolling the lettuce wraps is kind of an art. The longer lettuce leaves seem to work the best. Sometimes the leaves will crack and break while you are rolling. Sometimes the toothpick won’t hold them together. You just have to adjust as you go along.

Assembling the lettuce rolls.  This part can be a little tricky.

Assembling the lettuce rolls. This part can be a little tricky.

If you try this and it just doesn’t work out for you, you can always go with Plan B, tear the iceberg lettuce into small pieces and toss it in a large salad bowl. I did this with all the leftover pieces. It still looks beautiful.

Plan B: Thai lettuce wrap salad!

Plan B: Thai lettuce wrap salad!

Since I was attending an outdoor party, I also filled up two gallon-size zippered bags with ice and set the tray on top of them to keep the rolls from wilting in the heat. It worked well! The leftovers were still crisp by the end of the party.

Lettuce rolls on an ice pillow to keep them fresh.

Lettuce rolls on an ice pillow to keep them fresh.

It was then time to go shopping in our closets for red, white and blue outfits. Here is what we came up with:

Showing some national pride in our red, white and blue!

Showing some national pride in our red, white and blue!

Then it was time to eat and party!

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As to the ultimate test: did people eat the lettuce wraps? Yes and no. I took home about half of my tray. The salad section in general, however, was not as well eaten as the desserts (which were completely gone by the end of the night!). It’s hard to crave vegetables and fruits. Those that did eat my wraps said they were delicious and my husband and I thought they were perfect for a warm summer night–cool and crisp with a little bit of spice from the peanut sauce. It was a fun twist on salad and we will keep trying to make more cravable vegetable dishes.

Hope you had a wonderful 4th! Eat anything marvelous? Please share in the comments.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , , ,
Jul 032014
Starting point: rabbit sans clothes.

Starting point: rabbit sans clothes.

One of my favorite accomplishments in June was finishing up the knitted ballerina rabbit I started around Easter. After finishing the bunny, its sweater and ballet slippers, there was just one important piece missing . . . the tutu!

Ballet sweater, check. Ballet slippers, check.  Just missing one important element.

Ballet sweater, check. Ballet slippers, check. Just missing one important element.

And to my great luck, our local public library came to my assistance!

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The library read my mind!

The workshop was led by one of the librarians who declares herself “obsessed” with making tutus. She makes them primarily for her collection of antique dolls and toys. The directions are so simple and require no sewing. I finished my tutu in about an hour.

The leader gave us a great design tip.  On smaller projects (like the dolls), using one color is often preferable.   When you get too many colors going in a small space, the visual impact can be overwhelming.  On the larger tutus designed for humans, multiple colors of tulle provided an interesting twist.  I started off trying to add in light and dark pink in my tutu but found that her initial recommendation was right on.  I switched to a basic pink.

The best part of the workshop, however, was the great company. The women were of varying backgrounds, including a fellow homeschooling mom and her daughter and moms of all stripes. We were all there to treat ourselves to a few rare hours of adult conversation and learning. None of us had met before but we were all soon chatting like old friends. There is something about group crafting that spurs conversation.

The leader told us about her son who just graduated from the University of Virginia “. . . and he has a job!” she proudly announced. We all congratulated her on her success and she told us that seeing her son graduate college was one of her proudest moments as a parent. It was fun and inspiring to hear about someone else’s successful parenting adventures.

When my rabbit was finished, the leader insisted that all good toys need names. She asked what my rabbit’s name was. I said I didn’t have one just yet. The inspiration for that was to come.

My ballerina left the workshop with an ultra-long dramatic tutu.

My ballerina left the workshop with an ultra-long dramatic tutu.

I left the workshop with my finished tutu as well as some extra scraps of tulle to teach my daughters some tutu skills. They were excited to make tutu hair elastics to wear around their buns for ballet class (or to use as tutus for their dolls as they saw fit).

My girls insisted the dramatic tutu needed to be cut down.  So, I started trimming.  Here was the first cut.

My girls insisted the dramatic tutu needed to be cut down. So, I started trimming. Here was the first cut.

There are two categories of television programs that seem to define my summers: mystery on PBS and ballet programs. In the latter category, PBS American Masters aired a profile recently of dancer Tanaquil Le Clercq. She is famous for many things, including, 1) inspiring two of the greatest choreographers of the twentieth century: George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins 2) single-handedly changing the aesthetic ideal of a ballet dancer to someone who is more model-like, thin with long arms and legs; and 3) being cut down at the pinnacle of her success by polio.

Her story is both tragic and inspiring. I was moved by it and felt that my ballet rabbit would be a great tribute to this great dancer. Hence, my rabbit’s name: Tanaquil.

Introducing: Tanaquil!

Introducing: Tanaquil!

When you have a lot going on in your life, it is nice to have at least one small thing you can celebrate as “complete.” It helps to remind you that there is an end to every project and makes life seem just a little more manageable. I now have a ballerina bunny to remind me.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , ,
Jul 022014
These guys were hanging out in our front yard one evening.  It is unusual to see so many bucks together.

These guys were hanging out in our front yard one evening. It is unusual to see so many bucks together.

In my last post, I mentioned my summer “unscheduling,” but did not realize exactly how unscheduled I was about to become in terms of my blog.

Part of my blogging absence has been having too much to do in my “real” life.

We are making good use of the library.

We are making good use of the library.

The girls had a dance recital.

The girls had a dance recital.

There is no shortage of tasks to be done in the garden.

There is no shortage of tasks to be done in the garden.

Inside as well, everything is getting a thorough scrub.  Here: I am setting off an explosion of OxyClean on my stairs.

Inside as well, everything is getting a thorough scrub. Here: I am setting off an explosion of OxyClean on my stairs.

In the middle of all this activity, life happens too, including a sudden blackout for about 7 hours one evening.  We were grateful for the crank-flashlights that never run out of batteries.

In the middle of all this activity, life happens too, including a sudden blackout for about 7 hours one evening. We were grateful for the crank-flashlights that never run out of batteries.

June was also a time of many celebrations.  We celebrated Father's Day. . . .

June was also a time of many celebrations. We celebrated Father’s Day. . .

We celebrated birthdays with our friends.

We celebrated birthdays with our friends.

 . . . and we celebrated our wedding anniversary (complete with fireworks provided by an exceptionally timed early 4th of July celebration in our county).

. . . and we celebrated our wedding anniversary (complete with fireworks provided by an exceptionally timed early 4th of July celebration in our county).

In addition, we finished up the required subjects for our homeschool curriculum and administered standardized tests and are beginning some home improvement planning as well.

What a month! I can’t believe it is July already! This summer “vacation” business is hard work!

Hope you are enjoying your summer so far! Thanks for indulging me in a much-needed break.

Posted by anne Tagged with:
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