Tag Archives: Virginia

Taking to the Sky


While in Virginia the boys and I sought out things to do near Fairfax. We heard tale of an “out of this world” museum only 20 minutes from George Mason University (where Rusty was spending the week attending a 3D programing camp.) After a little bit of research I knew this had to be one of our day trips for the week. The reviews were incredible and the pictures were amazing, and when we learned that the cost was FREE we knew where we were headed next…

To the Steven F. Udvar- Hazy Center!


Opened in 2003, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center serves as a partner facility to the National Air and Space Museum. The two locations together attract 8 million visitors per year, making the National Air and Space complex the most popular museum in the United States.


For aviation enthusiasts young and old, the Udvar-Hazy Center is just plain cool. The expansive museum consists of two hangars—the Boeing Aviation Hangar and the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar—which have dozens of aircraft and spacecraft suspended from their ceilings. Some of the most notable include the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, a Concorde and the space shuttle Discovery. A more recently added hangar, the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar, is where scientists and engineers work to restore artifacts from the Air and Space museum’s massive collection.


We arrived soon just as the doors opened. As we stepped into the museum we stopped first at the information desk with hopes of getting a map to guide us through the massive museum. Upon seeing the two boys, the volunteers told us about a fun aeronautic scavenger hunt they offer children, making their time at the museum even more interactive and engaging.


The boys jumped to the challenge, especially when they heard they would earn a special souvenir if they could track down all the airplanes on the sheet and record their unique animal themed names.


With the scavenger hunt paper in hand we began our search…


Working our way through the various sections of the museum that highlight different time periods and themes in aviation.

Cold War Aviation:

After World War II ended, the United States and the Soviet Union began competing for primacy in a global struggle pitting democracy against communism. Tensions between the two superpowers led to such confrontations as the Berlin blockade, the downing of an American U-2 spy plane, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. “Hot” wars erupted in Korea and Vietnam.

Aerial reconnaissance played an important role in this struggle. To supersede its U-2 spy plane, Lockheed developed the top-secret, stealthy SR-71 Blackbird, the world’s fastest jet-propelled aircraft, one of which is displayed here. The Cold War ended with the peaceful collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and relations between the former adversaries began to warm.

SR-71 and Space Shuttle Enterprise

Commercial Aviation:

Flying was new and daring in the early years of the 20th century. Traveling by airplane was rare. Airlines, airliners, airports, air routes—none of these existed. But by century’s end, you could travel to almost anywhere in America by air in a matter of hours. Commercial aviation is now both a commonplace and an essential aspect of modern life. It has revolutionized the world.

Some of the aircraft that marked important points in the evolution of air transportation are on display here: a Junkers Ju 52/3m, a popular German airliner of the 1930s; a Boeing 307 Stratoliner, the first pressurized airliner; the Boeing 367-80 Dash 80, the prototype for the Boeing 707, America’s first commercial jet airliner; and an Air France Concorde, the first supersonic airliner.


Destination Moon:

The National Air and Space Museum holds approximately 17,000 space artifacts in its collection. More than 3,500 of those stem from the historic Apollo Moon landing effort, with 400 objects related specifically to the first successful lunar landing mission, Apollo 11. On July 20, 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed in the Lunar Module Eagle and became the first humans to step foot on the lunar surface while astronaut Michael Collins orbited above inside the Command Module, Columbia.

The tour and the display of Armstrong’s spacesuit help to set the stage for the unveiling of a completely reimagined permanent gallery at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. Destination Moon, scheduled to open in 2021,  will present the exhilarating story of one of the greatest adventures in human history, the exploration of the Moon. It begins with ancient dreams of lunar flight, takes the visitor through the Moon race of the 1960s and 1970s, and ends with what is happening now.


Space Shuttle Discovery:


Discovery was the third Space Shuttle orbiter vehicle to fly in space. It entered service in 1984 and retired from spaceflight as the oldest and most accomplished orbiter, the champion of the shuttle fleet. Discovery flew on 39 Earth-orbital missions, spent a total of 365 days in space, and traveled almost 240 million kilometers (150 million miles)–more than the other orbiters. It shuttled 184 men and women into space and back, many of whom flew more than once, for a record-setting total crew count of 251.


Because Discovery flew every kind of mission the Space Shuttle was meant to fly, it embodies well the 30-year history of U.S. human spaceflight from 1981 to 2011. Named for renowned sailing ships of exploration, Discovery is preserved as intact as possible as it last flew in 2011 on the 133rd Space Shuttle mission.


NASA transferred Discovery to the Smithsonian in April 2012 after a delivery flight over the nation’s capital.


Early Flight:

Early Flight celebrates the first decade of flight by evoking the atmosphere of an aviation exhibition from that period: the fictitious Smithsonian Aeronautical Exposition of 1913. The gaily decorated gallery is crammed with fabric-covered aerial vehicles, some fanciful, most real, along with trade show–style exhibits featuring cutting-edge technology of the day.

Gracing the gallery is a rare 1894 Lilienthal glider, along with Samuel P. Langley’s Aerodrome #5 and Quarter-Scale Aerodrome, powered, unmanned vehicles that successfully flew in 1896 and 1903. Early Flight also features the most original and complete of the Museum’s three Wright airplanes, the 1909 Wright Military Flyer, the world’s first military airplane. Other treasures include a Curtiss Model D “Headless Pusher,” an Ecker Flying Boat, and a Blériot XI monoplane.


Interwar Military Aviation:

The airplane emerged from World War I recognized widely for its potential as a military weapon. In the United States, Army pilots and Navy and Marine aviators worked to realize their different visions of the airplane’s ultimate role in American defense.

These advocates faced institutional resistance and meager budgets. They also faced the danger of pushing the capabilities of a rapidly developing technology during regular operations, combat in foreign lands, and public flights that presented their visions to everyday Americans. Innovations in doctrine, organization, and technology resulted in the air forces that would fight World War II on a global scale.

The Museum’s collection of 1920s and 1930s military aircraft contains many one-of-a-kind and sole-surviving aircraft.


Aerobatic Flight

In 1908, Wilbur Wright flew the first public exhibitions of a Wright Flyer in France. It wasn’t long before aviation meets began thrilling crowds of spectators with races; altitude records; climbing and diving; and dramatic turns. Developing aerobatic maneuvers helped the military improve fighter tactics and aircraft technology. Today, aerobatic flight remains an exhilarating type of flying in which a pilot performs precision maneuvers. Civilian pilots fly aerobatics for fun, competition, or air show performance. Military pilots use aerobatic flight for combat tactics. Millions of spectators watch aerobatic demonstrations each year at air shows. Aircraft used for aerobatics range from barnstormer-style biplanes to the latest military fighter jets.



While tracking down the planes on their scavenger hunt sheet we made sure to take advantage of the interactive booths scattered throughout the museum that allowed the boys to get “hands on” with the science of flight.

How Things Fly:

How does an airplane stay aloft? How can something as insubstantial as air support all that weight? Why do you become “weightless” in space? How can you propel yourself there, with no air to push against? These and many other questions are answered in How Things Fly, a gallery devoted to explaining the basic principles that allow aircraft and spacecraft to fly.

The emphasis here is “hands-on.” Dozens of exhibits invite you to push, pull, press, lift, slide, handle, touch, twist, turn, spin, bend, and balance. Here you can discover for yourself answers to things you’ve always wondered about flight. You can explore the nature of gravity and air; how wings work; supersonic flight; aircraft and rocket propulsion; flying in space; and more.


From there we headed up to the Donald D. Engen Observation Tower, where we enjoyed a bird’s eye, 360-degree view of the planes landing and taking off at Washington Dulles International Airport.


It was pretty spectacular!

Our day concluded with the boys turning in their completed scavenger hunt sheets and being awarded a prize for their efforts.


What an amazing place!

Pictures don’t do justice to the sheer size and scope of this incredible museum.

We give this Washington D.C. site two thumbs up!

If you are in the area: check it out!

Mason Neck Park




Our week in Virginia was spent camping near my old stomping grounds of Fort Belvoir, Virginia. This area of the country was the place we called home during my pre-middle school years. I have so many sweet memories of this area.

Living so close to Washington DC meant that when relatives and friends would visit from out of town we would take advantage of the many historic and cultural sites to be seen in DC. Because of the abundance of things to see and do in the heart of Washington DC many visitors don’t realize all there is to see and do outside of the city limits.

Fairfax County was where we spent most of our week exploring and playing. Within a few miles of our campground we had a dozen different state and county parks just waiting to be explored…parks that offered boat rentals, bird watching, biking and hiking trails.

One evening, following Rusty’s day at technology camp, we decided to explore Mason Neck Park. We picked one of the trails that offered a view of both the river and the marshland and headed off.


It was a gorgeous evening and this particular trail offered a spectacular variety of scenery to enjoy.


The boys enjoyed collecting shells along the beach,


And searching for local fauna among the abundance of lush flora.


Snakes, frogs, fish and birds were abundant.


It was fun seeing this experience through my boys’ eyes… So different from how my girls would have navigated this same landscape.


While I took photos, trying to capture even a smidgen of the beauty before me through the flattened lens of a camera, the boys immersed themselves fully in the sensory wash of sights, smells, sounds and textures.



It was such a fun shared experience with my guys and I was glad that we postponed our visit to Mason Neck Park until Rusty could join us in the evening. It made it more fun that he was there. The setting sun brought cooler temperatures and a golden glow to an already magical vista as we finished our hike and headed back to camp for the evening.





“Envision” your Future



Last week the boys and I spent 6 days in Northern Virginia, just outside of Washington D.C.

Six months prior Rusty approached us about a summer computer programing camp being offered at George Mason University. He expressed an interest in attending and presented his plan for earning the money to finance it. The camp was a 3D game design course for high school students. We were shocked and pleased to see Rusty choosing to step outside his comfort zone in the pursuit of learning more about a potential future path despite his anxiety of signing up to attend a camp where he knew no one and would be asked to do things like present projects before a large group of peers. This was HUGE for Rusty who is much more comfortable remaining quietly behind the scenes, so we wanted to encourage this courageous pursuit and made plans to sign him up. I was so thrilled to see him doing something that 10 years ago I thought would have been an impossibility when he was struggling with Selective Mutism, that I would have gladly given the go ahead regardless of what the theme of the week-long camp was. It could have been underwater basket weaving and I would have been just as thrilled. For this momma, this was a character/courage building endeavor that just happened to be labeled a technology camp.

Tyler and Ozzie tagged along for the week.

It has been a busy summer, filled with many life changing, character building, growing  experiences for all my kids. Most of those experiences revolved around the oldest three so I thought this trip would be a nice opportunity for some special one-on-one connection with my two youngest.

My plan was to use the hours during the day when Rusty was at camp to focus on connection between the littles and myself and connection between Ozzie and Tyler.

We decided to camp for the week. Initially the plan was to “tent it” but when I discovered that I could rent a rustic cabin at Pohick Bay campground for not much more than a tent site I thought it would be worth the additional expense…

Boy, what a good call that was!

Our week in Virginia was a wet one! A low pressure system settle over the area for days, and the rains came down and the floods came up, and I was grateful for a cabin to entertain my boys in rather than trying to keep everyone dry and happy in a six man tent!


It made a perfect home base for the week. It was small and simple but offered a bed for everyone, a table to sit at out of the rain, a small front porch with a swing, and a microwave/mini fridge…

And air conditioning!!


When the clouds would part we managed to fit in fun at the campground, including but not limited to:

Taking advantage of the playground to run off some pent up energy,


Playing a round of mini golf at the campground,


Hiking around the lake,


And spending time outside, around the campfire.


We  even had a evening when the rain cleared for a few hours and we were able to take advantage of Pirate’s Cove Water Park at the campground. This mini waterpark include a large pool and play area, two water slides, and a “beach” area.


For $4.00/person it was a great deal!


When the rains made it impossible to go outside we enjoyed hours of board games and puzzles in the cabin.


Every evening when Rusty returned home after a fun day of game development he would fill us in on all that he did and all that he learned that day. We would also receive daily emails from Envision with an update of what happened at camp that day and photos of Rusty’s adventures:


“The Envision Game & Technology Academy, powered by George Mason University, is about to kick off, and we couldn’t be more excited to have Rusty with us. It’s going to be an amazing five days of experience, leadership development, and self-discovery for Rusty and his peers!


Over the course of the week, Rusty will work with George Mason University faculty and students to produce a project, work with his peers to design and test their work, and share their creations with others for feedback. They will learn in-depth skills to help them plan their path in the game design field, and make connections with others with similar interests.


To kick off the program, Rusty and his fellow students will meet with their primary instructors from George Mason University, who will guide them through the intensive curriculum. Patrick will meet his team of peers and gain insight into the week’s projects.”


“Rusty will waste no time getting immersed in the exciting Envision Game & Technology Academy curriculum! In his Multi-Platform 3D Game Design course, Rusty will learn about the principles that go into the development of 3D tabletop games. Today’s work will focus on game engines, as well as what is involved in developing characters and environments for 3D games.”


Today’s Multi-Platform 3D Game Design course activities will focus on game production, and Rusty will spend the day getting hands-on with the Unity 2 and Unreal game engines. He and the other students will also get an insider’s look at the computer game design industry, including how to build an effective, connected team—skills that will serve Rusty well in the future!”


“Rusty will continue his exploration into the exciting world of Multi-Platform 3D Game Design by working on his game, including designing levels, building terrains and character skins, and creating lighting and shadow effects. By the end of the day, his project should really be coming together—be sure to ask him about the work he is doing!”


Rusty had a wonderful week. He returned home to the cabin each evening eager to share all that he learned that day. His days were filled with team building projects, presentations by guest speakers who are employed by various gaming companies, and hands on work as the students  learned how to navigate various programs and learned how to develop and create their own 3D computer game from the ground up.


Meanwhile, Tyler, Ozzie and I created our own memories as we explored the area around Washington D.C. with local daytrips while Rusty was at camp.

Stay tuned for those adventures…

Shenandoah National Park


IMG_7722 (2)On Saturday morning we slept in a bit. (I love the effect of hotels’ light canceling curtains on my boys’ sleep schedules!) Then we drove over to Shenandoah National Park. The north entrance to this National Park was located in the very town we were staying in, so we couldn’t pass up this opportunity to visit another one of our nation’s beautiful national parks and mark it off our bucket list.

So different that its sister parks out west, this National Park offers unique vistas and a beauty all its own.

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In the heart of Virginia, high in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah National Park protects a historic mountain landscape characterized by endless mountain ranges, dense forests, large tracts of wilderness, lots of wildlife.

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Because of its location near Washington, D.C.—it’s about two hours by car from the American capital—, the park receives plenty of visitors, many of them day trippers. Almost 1.5 million people visit Shenandoah National Park each year to enjoy the natural delights this pleasant park has to offer. And there are plenty of those.

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A long and narrow park stretched along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah National Park boasts some of the greatest mountain views anywhere on the American East Coast. From the 75 overlooks on Skyline Drive to the panoramic vistas from the park’s many mountain summits, the views are amazing everywhere.

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As an East Coast park, Shenandoah lies surrounded by high-use land. Farmlands, towns, busy highways and industrial areas encircle the park, making it a premier refuge for wildlife.

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This includes some really high-profile animals—mostly mammals, such as white-tailed deer and striped and spotted skunks, bobcats and coyotes, and American Black Bears. Those black bears are a big attraction in the park! Often spotted foraging in trees or alongside Skyline Drive, their exact numbers are unknown but said to range between a couple of hundred and a thousand, depending on food availability and the time of year.

We were blessed to get to spot one first hand when a baby black bear crossed our path as we neared the Visitor’s Center.

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(A google image of a baby black bear in Shenandoah. I wasn’t quick enough with my camera to capture my own photo.)

What a thrill!

Before we began our journey along Skyline Drive we made a stop at the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center.


Here we were able to get an overview of what the park had to offer, as well as learn a little bit about what animals make their home at Shenandoah National Park…

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Including its most famous resident, the Black Bear.

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After educating ourselves a bit on what we might see, we headed out to explore Skyline Drive and check out its many gorgeous overlooks!

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A ribbon of a road snaking its way along the Blue Ridge Mountains’ crest, Skyline Drive ties everything together. It’s the only road through Shenandoah National Park, running for 105 miles from north to south through the park. This is easily one of the most scenic mountain drives anywhere in the United States.

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It was even prettier than I expected.


We were so glad we had the opportunity to explore this special corner of Virginia.

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We left the park by 12:30 pm, knowing we wanted to arrive at the Marriott Ranch before 2:00 pm so we could watch the return of the kids pulling their handcarts. This gave us an hour to kill so we drove into the downtown area of Front Royal in search of an ice cream shop.

What a charming town it was. I would have loved to have an afternoon (without little boys) to explore it more thoroughly.

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The ice cream shop was adorable and all the unique flavors offered there were homemade right there in the shop.

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It was a perfect way to cap off a few special days of making memories with my two youngest children.

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Luray Caverns


On Friday we checked out of our beautiful campground at 2:00 pm, after enjoy a morning of fun. Staying until Saturday (when we needed to pick up the big kids from Trek) wasn’t an option at this particular Jellystone because during their busy summer months they require campers to either check out before the weekend or pay for the entire weekend, rather than check out on Saturday. We chose to enjoy the campground in the morning and check out after lunch.

I had already booked an inexpensive motel for the night. We had a few hours to kill before we could check in so we decided to drive over to Luray Caverns (5 minutes away) to spend the afternoon. Our family loves cave tours and we have visited dozens of caves across the country, but Luray is one of my very favorites.

I hadn’t been there in over 10 years. Last time we visited Luray my big kids were small tykes, and Tyler and Ozzie weren’t even on our radar much less part of our family, so it seemed fitting to recreate this experience with my two youngest.

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We drove over, purchased tickets, and got in line to walk down into the cave.


As soon as we began the descent I knew we had made a good choice. The temperature quickly cooled from a stifling 92 degrees to a blissful 54 degrees. Oh, it felt so good!

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And the views couldn’t be beat!!

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In 1880, the Smithsonian Institute reported…

“…it is safe to say that there is probably no other cave in the world more completely and profusely decorated with stalactite and stalagmite ornamentation than that of Luray.”

We could see why.

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The tour of the caverns was a 1.25-mile walking tour.

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The highlights included amazing stalactite and stalagmite formations.

As we walked the boys were on the look out for some of our favorite “food themed” cave formations like:

Cave Bacon

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Cave Popcorn


and even Cave Eggs…sunny side up!


I particularly enjoyed how wet the cave was. It makes for a prettier cave. The pools of water and small lakes were beautiful!

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There was a spring of water called Dream Lake that had an almost mirror-like appearance. Stalactites were reflected in the water making them appear to be stalagmites. This illusion is often so convincing that people are unable to see the real bottom. It looks quite deep, as the stalactites are higher above the water, but at its deepest point the water is only around 20 inches deep.

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The Wishing Well was a green pond with coins three feet deep at the bottom. Like Dream Lake, the well also gave an illusion, however it was reversed. This pond looked three to four feet deep but at its deepest point it is actually six to seven feet deep. Here visitors were allowed to toss in coins and make a wish, and then once a year all the coins are collected and the proceeds are donated to the year’s chosen charity.


One of the most amazing parts of the tour was the Stalacpipe Organ, the world’s largest musical instrument, as featured on Ripley’s Believe it or Not. In the area known as the Cathedral, there are some 3 ½ acres covered by stalactites that produce a series of melodic tones when tapped with rubber-tipped mallets. The discovery and resulting electronic organ was conceived and built by a visitor to the caverns, Mr. Leland W. Sprinkle. Mr. Sprinkle also happened to be a mathematician and electronics scientist from the Pentagon. It took 36 years of design and experimentation to bring the organ to life.

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The effect was amazing!

Both boys loved the experience and had a blast on our tour of Luray Caverns.

Following our tour we walked next door to see the Car and Carriage Museum (which was included in our admission ticket to the caverns.)

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This museum walked us through the history of vehicles from horse drawn carriages and wagons, to early automobiles and beyond. There were some really amazing vintage vehicles in the museum.

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Ozzie was in heaven!

When we had our fill of fun at Luray Caverns we drove to our hotel for the night…The Twi-lite motel in Front Royal, Virginia.

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Oh my goodness, was it a blast from the past! We pulled in and I felt like I had been transported back to my childhood. It looked just like the many roadside hotels we would stay at when we traveled cross country.

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The boys were enamored with the set up. They loved the fact you parked right in front of your front door and walked in. The room was charming and very clean.

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When we walked in Tyler saw the towels on the bed that had been folded like swans and he exclaimed, “It is just like Disney World!”

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The rest of our evening was spent swimming and enjoying the pool before everyone fell into a deep sleep. It had been a busy, fun-packed day!

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Fun at Jellystone Campground


While the three older kids were pulling handcarts across the rolling hills of Virginia in the 97 degree heat, we were enjoying some more relaxing and cooler activities 30 minutes away in Luray, Virginia.

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Rather than make two 9 hour drives in 52 hours, we opted to stay close and enjoy a mini camping excursion at the world’s best campground! We had stayed here once before but it had been four years since our last visit. Tyler didn’t remember it and Ozzie had never been there before.

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In the days leading up to our trip I went back and forth as to whether I felt brave enough to take these two kiddos camping without a husband or older kids to help. I took a leap of faith, banking on the fact that at Jellystone they would be too busy having fun to fight.

We arrived and set up camp. The boys were motivated to work quickly so that they could start enjoying all the amenities that come free with our campground stay. We love Jellystone campgrounds for that very reason. They are always so clean, so well run, and filled with kid friendly fun which is free to their campers.

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This particular Jellystone however, takes the cake! It is the nicest campground we have EVER stayed at!

The location is breathtaking!

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Check out these views!

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It also offered a huge amount of fun for kids of all ages. We kept very busy boating, bouncing, golfing, swimming and sliding while the big kids were trekking.

Here is some of the fun we enjoyed at Luray’s Jellystone Campground:

The water area was awesome. There were two pools and a fun splash playground to keep us cool…which was a blessing because it was HOT!

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There was also a fun water slide that the boys each slid down about 100 times.

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Located next to the pool was a lake that offered fishing and paddle boats. They were thrilled to find out they were old enough to take the paddle boats out alone, without a grown up.

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Behind the pool was a play area for kids. There were basketball hoops, Gaga ball courts, playground equipment and two huge bouncing pads.


We spent A LOT of time at the bouncing pads.

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There was also a mini golf course where we enjoyed a competitive game of golf… which this Momma won.

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In addition to all this built in fun, the campground also offered fun/free hourly activities like games, crafts, scavenger hunts, hayrides, Yogi Bear meet and greets, and outdoor movies.

While we were there we walked over to meet the animals at the petting zoo that was brought in for the day,

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As well as attend a reptile class one evening.

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Then there was the simple fun that comes with camping…things like playing with fire, roasting s’mores, cooking outside and sleeping in a tent. Both boys were in heaven!

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Really the only activity we paid extra for was a one hour session of laser tag for $5.00. It was a hit! Well worth the $5.00.

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It was a fun mini vacation with my two youngest kiddos.

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You really can’t beat Jellystone Campgrounds when it comes to an all-inclusive, family focused, budget friendly vacation.

A few days ago I worried that I was crazy for trying to camp alone with the little boys… 5 hours away from reinforcements…especially given their current struggles.


The experience wasn’t without incident.

We had a few meltdowns and explosions along the way,

But I did it!

And everyone is alive.

And we even managed to have some fun.


 I must say I’m feeling a bit like Wonder Woman.  🙂

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Trekking across Virginia 2017



From 1856 to 1860, about 3,000 Latter-day Saints pulled handcarts across the American plains to gather in the Salt Lake Valley. These pioneers trekked more than a thousand miles through heat and cold; through mud, sand, and sometimes snow; and through rivers and over mountains.  They faced trials that required great faith and perseverance.  Their legacy of faith, courage, determination, and consecration is virtually unsurpassed.


And this week my three oldest children got the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of these pioneers.

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This week was Trek week!


For the last few months my older kiddos, and other youth from the Pittsburgh North Stake, all began preparations for this unique and special opportunity to experience what life was like for those early pioneers who loaded their meager possessions into a handcart and pulled and pushed it across the untamed wilderness, driven by faith.

The last few months have been spent in preparation for this week. They prepared physically with endurance training, working their way toward the goal of walking four miles in an hour. They prepared spiritually with a fast from electronics for three days, memorizing scriptures, learning some hymns, reading a few talks and researching an ancestor the could walk for. They also prepared practically with specific packing lists and special sewing projects, as they created pioneer clothing to wear on Trek.

It was an experience that was months and months in the making, especially for the leaders who were the brains and brawn behind the operation. This was an undertaking of epic proportions and I am so grateful for those who made such sacrifices to bring this unique opportunity to fruition for our youth.

From the Trek website:

“This summer, you, the youth of the Pittsburgh North Stake, will embark on a Trek to gain a glimpse of what it was like to be a pioneer.  We hope that by setting aside the things of this world for a few days,  this experience will not only help you Come and Follow the pioneers, but that by so doing, you will have an increased desire to Come and Follow our Savior, Jesus Christ.

On Trek you will have the opportunity to:
1.  Feel and recognize the enabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
2.  Learn and live the laws of obedience and sacrifice.
3.  Increase your understanding and appreciation of your family, past, present and future.”

Trek was being held 4 1/2 hours away in the rolling hills of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

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The kids were asked to arrive on Thursday morning by 10:00 am. We decided to leave early and make a mini vacation out of the experience by camping in nearby Luray, Virginia while the big kids trekked their way across the rolling hills of Hume, Virginia.


This was our second experience with Trek and we did the same thing last time we had to drive Grace down to Virginia for Trek.

(Photos from 2013)


Rather than drive 18 hours over the course of three days, we opted to camp at Jellystone Campground in Luray, Virginia and just make a vacation out of it.

(Photos from 2013)


It worked so well last time, we decided to do it again.

This time, however, it was just Tyler, Ozzie and I camping, as Grace, Molly, and Rusty were all now old enough to experience Trek together.

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Thursday morning we dropped them off, all dressed to the nines in their pioneer duds with their packed buckets.

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They were very excited.

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The handcarts were lined up by the fence and the excitement was palpable.

They were in for an amazing three days and they couldn’t wait to begin their adventure.

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The youth were all put into families.


Each family consisted of 8-10 teens and a Ma and Pa (adult chaperones.) It was in these assigned families that they spent most of their time. After meeting their family they loaded their handcart. Each family had a handcart that was filled with 12- 5 gallon buckets that held their clothes and gear, 12 sleeping bags, a large water cooler, food for the next 3 days, and tents. This was what they pulled across the rolling hills of Virginia for three days. 🙂 After everyone had their gear packed and strapped down with tarps they were ready to head out.


After saying our goodbyes we left, excited for the big kids and the experience they were about to embark on, but also excited to begin our camping adventure at Jellystone (more on that in the next blog.)

A friend of mine served as one of the Ma’s on trek. Here is her recording of all that they experienced over their three day adventure. (Thanks, Angie!):

“There are times in our lives that are so challenging & rewarding that we’ll never forget. It was an absolute honor to spend the past few days w/ these amazing, faithful youth that will carry the torch of our pioneer legacy. To those pioneers, including our very own ancestors, who sacrificed everything for their beliefs, even some of them their own lives, we publicly say “Thank you! Thank you for never giving up even when it was hard.”

Day 1 –
We left out air conditioned cars to Trek in 105-degree temps w/ heat indexWe divided into groups and met our “family”, which consisted of 3-young men & 5-young women. We loaded up carts w/ our buckets, which held our personal supplies, tents, water, & food…. and we trekked a few hours.
We set up camp near a stream, cooked beef stew & bread by fire & built a replica of the Nauvoo Temple – amazing!!  We were inspired by a spiritual devotional about the significance of temples & families by the Henries.

Each family made a flag. Our motto.. “WOW, IT’S HOT OUTSIDE!!!” -hc

Sweltering hot & humid night. NO sleep in our tiny tent. Never knew you could sweat so much laying still.


Day 2-
5:30 am – packed up camp & pulled out. A mob of angry livestock literally almost stampeded us while we were trekking. One of our boys lost his boot in one of many swamps & hopped on 1 foot while pushing the cart to the other side.

We had breakfast (cracked wheat w gobs of honey) & gave our message on sacrifice.We trekked up countless rocky ravines, scorching hot fields all while trying not to step in countless smelly fresh cow pies. The youth pushed & pulled that loaded 500-lb handcart by themselves each step of the way.

At one point, our young women were challenged to pull the cart by themselves up a steep hill. We stood in awe, humbled by their strength of heart, mind, & spirit. Such an empowering experience. They are amazing. They dug deep in themselves & never gave up.

We had a light lunch (bread, jam, melted mozzarella, & an apple) under some trees, planted an apple tree & headed out.
The mid-day sun was strong, many were weary & a tender mercy came in the form of a thunderstorm. And boy, did it pour!!! We were drenched from head-to-toe & it felt so good.

Many were exhausted & adversely affected by the heat. Some had to leave & take a break for a time & were taken care of by our top-notch medical & support staff. Others didn’t want to take a break & ran down hills to help other carts go up hills. Broken shoes were patched w duct tape, bug bites were soothed, blisters were forming but still everyone worked together. The focus & determination was amazing.

We shoveled cow pies so we could set up camp, ate pork-n-bean soup w rolls & then were spiritually fed by the Garcias on the enabling power of Jesus Christ’s Atonement.
We changed out of sopping wet clothes into dry ones & slept comfortably.



Multi-tasking…Cooking dinner while drying shoes.


Day 3-

6:00am – the youth made apple-cinnamon oatmeal & we heard from our great Stake President Ray Carter on pioneers & strengthening testimonies. We had personal time for scripture study, prayer, & journaling. Then we had our last family meeting. We’ve grown so close together in such a short time. We love each one of them!! Before packing up camp, we ended on a high note w/ a group testimony meeting where the youth shared their faith, beliefs, gratitude for the church, & how they’ve grown.



Grace and Molly signing to one of the trek hymns.


Then we headed out into the picturesque valley. Few more hills, knee-high grassy meadows, deep streams, & rocks. Heat was ignored – we were enjoying every last moment as the wonderful & challenging experience was coming to a close.
One last steep hill concluded the trek, the youth used every muscle & inner strength they had to make it up that hill. The parents stood at the cattle gate, cameras in hand, welcoming their more experienced & strengthened children back. Tears were shed & embraces exchanged as the journey concluded.”

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Saturday afternoon we arrived in time to see them pull into camp. What a moving sight it was to see these youth move toward us, pulling their handcarts.


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They were all looking a bit dingy with sun burnt noses, dirty clothes, and muddy boots…but their smiles were brighter than when they left.

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Over the last three days these youth were moved…touched…and affected in profound, life altering, testimony-strengthening ways.

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What an experience!

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The ride home was a delight. The little boys were eager to share all of their adventures and the big kids told us all about theirs..making bread over the fire, the beautiful countryside they slept in, their amazing families, the singing and spiritual devotionals, the physical challenges of pulling their handcarts up steep hills, the comaraderie that they felt as they worked with their families, and the satisfaction felt of making it to the end. They said that it was one of the hardest things they had ever done but also one of the most amazing experiences of their lives.


“Salvage Dawgs” Hometown


The day after our exciting meet-and-greet experience with Kiera Cass we found ourselves with an entire day free and open to explore western Virginia.


This was our first time visiting this part of Virginia and we fell in love with the area. Roanoke was the closest city to where we were staying so we decided to spend the day exploring Roanoke before heading home.

We began our day with a stop at the Roanoke Visitor Center, housed in the town’s old train depot. Here we met a delightful volunteer that quickly acquainted us with the city, shared with us her recommended stops, and even told us we could stay parked in the Visitor’s Center parking lot so we didn’t have to worry about parking downtown.

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From there we just had a short walk across the overhead walkway to get to downtown Roanoke.

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We began our day by strolling through the charming downtown shopping area that was filled with unique boutiques.

Some of our favorite stores included:

“La De Da,” an adorable women’s boutique that was so artsy and individual. We loved everything in there including the background décor and the unique ways they displayed their wares. It truly was a feast for the eyes and we all kept commenting how much it reminded us of Krista and her artsy style.

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“Chocolate Paper,” a paper store filled with handmade wrapping papers, journals, fun gifts, and cards. They also just happened to sell homemade chocolates which explains the store’s name. I personally can’t think of a better combination of inventory, being a great lover of paper wares and chocolate.

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“Gypsy Palooza” which was as representative of my girls’ styles as “La De Da” was Krista’s. They both fell in love with this fun, funky boutique filled with homemade upcycled clothes and vintage pieces.

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Molly even found a cute pair of pants with leather suspenders that she couldn’t resist.

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Shopping here was delightful, not only because of the fun pieces and charming décor, but also because of the fun girls that ran the store.

On the corner we discovered a fun candy store. Here we picked up a treat for Daddy and the boys at home. We also each got a bag of candy for the movies later.

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It was while we were in the candy store we discovered that we were inside “Center in the Square,” a building circled on our map by our helpful friend at the Visitor’s Center. She said we needed to stop in this building if for nothing else than the free aquarium, rooftop gardens, and butterfly house.

This building houses multiple museums including the Harrison Museum of African American Culture, the Science Museum of Western Virginia, and the Pinball Museum…none of which we visited this trip, but we did spent time in the lobby enjoying the free aquarium. Molly was especially thrilled to see they had jellyfish, one of her favorite animals.

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We then headed up to the seventh floor to check out the rooftop gardens. Being mid-March there wasn’t much growing, but the views of the city were incredible.

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Then at Gracie’s request we headed downstairs to check out the butterfly house.

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It was fun to search out the many variations of butterflies found in the garden.

It was so peaceful and relaxing to sit and be still among such beauty…

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At least until we started getting dive-bombed. 🙂

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As we spoke with one of the butterfly house employees he shared with us some of the current types of butterflies on display, explaining that the types change daily. He explained that new chrysalises are purchase weekly at a cost of $1000.00 a week with those butterflies living only days to up to two weeks at a time.

It made me appreciate the experience all the more to see the investment of time and money that goes into a place like that.

By the time we were done flitting around with butterflies we were all hungry so we took a lunch break to get off our feet and enjoy some delicious French Dip sandwiches.

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From there we walked back to the car because our next stop wasn’t within walking distance. It was however a must see stop, being one of the most famous establishments in Roanoke, Virginia. Yes, I am talking about Black Dog Salvage, best known for their DIY Network show, “Salvage Dawgs.”

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“Salvage Dawgs is a trip into a world of shrewd negotiations as Robert Kulp and Mike Whiteside co-owners of one of the premier architectural salvage operations in the United States, Black Dog Salvage bid on homes and buildings condemned to be demolished. Their goal is to secure the remarkable pieces of America’s past hidden inside these old structures before they are lost forever. These salvaged vintage pieces include everything from doors, windows, mantels and more. Once they are recovered, the guys sell these valuable pieces to a wide range of clients, from construction workers to high-end interior designers, who use them to restore other historical buildings and add character to newer structures.”

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What a place! This was way more up my alley than any of the boutiques we had visited that morning. The shop is split into two parts with the front being filled with house décor and one of a kind, upcycled pieces made from other people’s rubbish…MY FAVORITE sort of decorating! I was just sad Toby wasn’t with us because he would have loved it!

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The back half of the store was filled with the raw, unfinished products that could be used to create one’s own unique one-of-a-kind pieces. Here they had rooms filled with old doors, lighting fixtures, sinks and architectural pieces.


I found treasures among the “junk” when I stumbled across these red, plastic, sign letters. I had a decorating vision as soon as I saw them!

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In the store they even had a nook set up where you could put up your feet and enjoy an episode or two of their show.

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It was an incredible place. I hope to return someday with Toby. This is the sort of shopping we enjoy doing together!


Visitors come from all over the world.


We ended our tour of Roanoke with a drive up to the overlook. We were told throughout the day that we couldn’t return home to Pittsburgh without a trip up to see the Roanoke Star, the world’s largest lit-up star in the world. It sits on hillside above the city, shining down upon Roanoke.

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I have to say that over the course of the day we fell in love with Roanoke. Everyone was so friendly and the city was absolutely charming.

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We ended our special day with a visit to the movies to see the much-anticipated remake of “Beauty and the Beast.” I was a bit nervous that my favorite Disney movie of all time would be decimated. Gracie, who also considers “Beauty and the Beast” her favorite Disney movie, felt more confident and was eagerly looking forward to this live action version.

Well, I had nothing to worry about. It was incredible. I loved everything about it and would go as far as to say that I think it is even better than the original. I will not say anymore as I don’t want to risk giving anything away in my gushing, but…EEK! IT WAS SO GOOD!


What a magical way to end a special day with my girls.