Wednesday, December 30, 2015

There is Still Time to Visit Busch Gardens' Christmas Town in Williamsburg, Virginia

**UPDATE December 2, 2016: This year Busch Gardens is offering a Veterans Discount for Veterans and Military Families. Busch Gardens Williamsburg Christmas Town Save $14 Single-Day Ticket (Veterans)  The Waves of Honor tickets that are provided free of charge throughout the year to military families does not include Christmastown, but now military families are still able to receive a ticket discount. Our family thanks Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Christmastown, and the Waves of Honor program for the thanks that you provide to all US military families! 

Our family spent a Saturday in December at Busch Gardens' Christmas Town and had a blast! Since I first posted our pictures on my facebook page, I have had numerous questions from friends about the trip, so I decided to give a little more information, share some photos and share an affiliate link so that you can buy your own Christmas Town tickets. I also put a few photos together in a sweet  video toward the end of this post.   
Mark and I wanted to do something special with the children for the Christmas holiday, but wanted to be able to make our whole trip in one day and wanted to keep within a reasonable budget. This was perfect for us, because it is about 3 hours from South Boston, Virginia, so we could do it in one day, and the tickets and dinner together cost about $200 or so, since we had coupons that I found online through a Google search. 
Christmas Town boasts 8 million lights strewn throughout the park, with each region having its own theme and decor. I especially loved the Dickens Christmas theme in England. This tree, O Tannenbaum, is located in Germany. If you time it right, you can watch a light show to the sound of Christmas music.
We made reservations to eat at Santa's Fireside Feast. It was none too fancy, buffet style meal with disposable plates and utensils, but then again, we were at a theme park. Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, and two Elves by the names of Holly and Jolly attended, and the children were called up table by table to talk with them and have their photos taken. Santa was as grand and beautiful as I had ever seen him.  Mrs. Claus made the rounds at the tables, and added her home baked cookies to the buffet.   
I was asked if I recommend going, and the answer is yes. Christmas Town is a very sweet was to spend the day during the Christmas season. Not many rides are open, and the days are shorter, but the tickets are priced accordingly, the lights are beautiful, the shows are great, and it was just a nice way to spend the day as a family. The children loved it. Watch this video for more photos of our trip:
Busch Gardens' Christmas Town is open Thursday, December 31, 2015 and Sunday, January 3, 2016 from 2-9 pm, and Friday, January 1, and Saturday, January 2, 2016 from 2-10 p.m. Tickets can be purchased here online (highly recommended).   I searched the internet for coupon codes, and the best ones were for $10 off per ticket, good through January 3. When it asks for the promo code, enter BGWWendysDC 
It may be December 30, but it is still Christmas, and I am wishing you the very best, most special, and magical one yet! Enjoy your trip to Christmas Town, and be sure to fill up on hot cocoa and Mrs. Claus' world famous cookies while you're there! Merry Christmas!
xoxo, Erin
Southern Virginia Mom
SoVA Mom Home

Friday, October 2, 2015

Bridal Luncheon for Claire at The Library Bistro and Wine Bar, Wallingford, Connecticut

My heart is in Virginia, but every once in a while, it travels to the classic beauty that is New England. The trips north have become more frequent as my fondness of the region grows. I eagerly look forward to each trip for the stunning vistas and rolling mountains, the autumn hues and springtime breezes, but most of all, for the time spent with friends.  This past weekend I traveled to Wallingford Connecticut to help host a  bridal luncheon and shower for one of my dearest friends, Claire, who will be married this November. When the planning was just beginning, we thought we would hold the party at Gouveia Vineyards, but found that the Gouveia family who own and operate the vineyard also own a bistro and wine bar called The Library.  
 I was told that this former municipal library had been converted into an office building before being sold to its current owner, who remembered from his youth what was hidden by the drop down ceilings and paneling. After purchasing this historical property, he was able to recover its original architecture, including the original stained glass skylights, beveled glass windows, columns and intricate moldings, and restore it to its former glory.  Some of the original features of the building have been very cleverly repurposed for current use. For example, the dumbwaiter which once hauled books from floor to floor now lifts food from the kitchen to the upper dining rooms, and the wooden library ladders which were once climbed to retrieve books are now climbed to retrieve bottles from the bookshelves-turned-bar.
Hosts were myself, Stefanie, and Ryan. Ryan had favors made-wine glasses with Claire and Ben's initials and wedding date engraved, wrapped in organza bags and tied with dainty purple ribbons. Alyssa made floral arrangements for each of the tables, glass vases in burlap ribbon with floral detail, filled with vibrant jewel toned flowers, set upon each table.

We reserved a private dining space on the upper level. We selected fruit and cheese trays, along with carafes of mimosas and sangria, to be served before the seated meal. Guests were served chicken and beef, vegetables, salads, and their choice of dessert. I  happily chose the flan. Delish.
The luncheon and shower were a success-so much fun! A few of us stayed after and headed down to the wine bar. I hate to say how long we stayed, but it involved drinks, dinner, and very loud laughter. I think someone lost a shoe (it wasn't me), someone pulled out a selfie stick (that was me), and I got picked on lovingly, yet mercilessly, for my southern slang. I indulge them of course.  By the end of the evening, we looked like this:
And this:
Good times. Oh, and the dinner I mentioned? It was all good, but the highlight of my night was the fig, caramelized onion, and arugula pizza. For real. I will be working on recreating this pizza at home in the upcoming days.
Thank you, thank you to Ryan, Alyssa, Stefanie, and all who helped with the party. It was so much fun! Thanks to The Library in Wallingford, Connecticut for the gorgeous venue, the mackintosh apple martinis, the delicious food, and the superb service. Thank you to Connecticut for the golden autumn sky illuminating the turning leaves, and for the sunny, dry weather. You are so good for my soul.  Thanks to my friend Claire for your friendship and for including me in the festivities, and thanks to Claire's parents for hosting me last week. Carol is a gracious host! Best wishes to my dear friend Claire and her fiancĂ© Ben, who will be married November 14.  May you have long, loving partnership full of all the goodness one marriage can hold!  I love you all, and can't wait to see you again in six weeks.
xoxo, Erin
Southern Virginia Mom
thanksgiving party favors

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The New Project Mc2 Dolls and Science Experiments, as seen on Netflix

Courtland has a birthday coming up, and she just informed me what she wants for her birthday. Even though she thinks she's getting a little too big for Barbies, she loves these Barbie-like dolls, because she loves science!  She in the process of creating a science project for the upcoming school science fair, so the scientific method, science experiments, and alternative energy (the science fair theme this year), have been the buzz words at our house lately. I have to admit that I was more pleased than usual when she expressed an interest in these dolls. Who says science can't be fun?
Project Mc2 is a team of four super-smart and seriously cool girls who use their love of science and their spy skills as they go on missions for secret organization, NOV8 (that's "innovate"). They're real girls with real skills ready to take on anything. Now an original series, only on Netflix! Some of the dolls are "core dolls," while others come with their own science experiment or project. In addition, you can purchase accessory items like the observation notebook kits, large science kit, and individual science projects separately, and mix and match them with the different dolls.  Click each doll's pictures for details, or click here to see more Project MC2 dolls and science projects. 

Meet Adrienne Attoms! People say girls are made from a pinch of sugar and spice, but she has a more complex recipe. Following in her abuela's footsteps, she is a culinary chemist - science is so delicious!

Meet Bryden Bandweth, tech genius! She looooves tweeting and instagramming about rad tech stuff, music and digital photography - if it's cool, she's on it. Chill with her and you'll believe she's part com

Meet Camryn Coyle, construction queen! She's known for her high IQ, but her real genius comes out in the garage. She's a firm believer in that if you can't figure it out, take it apart. 

Meet McKeyla McAlister, Project Mc2 leader! She's a writer, hipster, undercover spy. When she's not journaling, she's probably reading a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novel or performing magic tricks!

Now you can perform an experiment at home with construction queen, Camryn Coyle. Build her skateboard using the top secret blueprints. She is picking up S.T.E.A.M. with Science-Technology-Engineering-Art-Math!

Here's your chance to interact directly with NOV8! Become a secret agent just like McKeyla McAlister, using your personal Advanced Digital Intelligence Spy Notebook - A.D.I.S.N. for short. Picking up S.T.E.A.M!
My favorite is out of stock right now - McKeyla's Lava Light. I have my fingers crossed that it will be in stock at our local store! This is one of the dolls, like Camryn Coyle above, that comes with her own science kit. There are lots more science experiments, dolls, and related items, which you can check out here. Do you think your girls would like these dolls? I'm looking forward to capitalizing on Courtland's current excitement about science, and I'm feeling certain these dolls will help.  Courtland is currently doing her science fair project on biofuel. Who know, maybe she can write the company and suggest their next doll be interested in alternative energy. You never know... 

Click here to see more Project MC2 dolls and science projects. Which one is your favorite? If you or your daughter were going to suggest a science experiment, what would it be? I'd love to hear your ideas!
xoxo, Erin
Southern Virginia Mom

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Family Day Trip: Hiking with Friends at Crabtree Falls, Montebello, Virginia

Yesterday morning our family woke up early, packed a picnic lunch, and headed to Nelson County, Virginia, to hike Crabtree Falls. Our friends Matt and Shannon Barrett and their two children Crosby and Amelia, met us there with their picnic lunches. We hiked, admired the enjoy the view of the waterfalls and the view from the top of Crabtree Falls, took pictures, enjoyed our picnic lunch, and simply enjoyed the day and the company. Is is a beautiful hike, and the view at the top is worth the effort. The hike is 1.7 miles each way, for a total of 3.4 miles.  Parking is available at the trail head for $3 per vehicle. More information can be found here
Do you have any favorite hiking spots? If so, please feel free to share in the comments. We are always on the lookout for new places to visit and new sites to see. If you have been to Crabtree Falls and have any advice or tips, please feel free to share those, as well. Happy hiking! 
xoxo, Erin
Southern Virginia Mom

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Quiet Places, Sacred Spaces: The Prayer Garden of Main Street United Methodist Church

My daughter nestled into me on the small wooden bench, her head pressed into my shoulder, my left arm wrapped around her small frame. “When I grow up,” she said, “I am going to come here every day.” This quiet time alone in the prayer garden was just what she and I needed at this moment.  We had way too much on our calendars and been rushing more than usual. The children were tired, I was feeling stressed, and my impatient tone had led to tears. We needed a moment of stillness, a moment of peace, and time to reconnect with ourselves and each other. We needed to recharge our spiritual batteries, so to speak. The Prayer GardenMain Street United Methodist Church in downtown South Boston seemed like the perfect place for that.
When retired art teacher Sally Lambrecht returned to South Boston from an art seminar she attended in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1998, she brought with her the inspiration from a long time established prayer garden she had visited there. Lambrecht suggested a prayer garden as a use for an unoccupied plot of land located between Main Street United Methodist Church and First Baptist Church, and just across the street from First Presbyterian Church. The idea was well received, a committee was formed, and work began in 1999 on the project, with the goal of developing a garden which would be open to the public to serve as an ecumenical quiet place for prayer or meditation.  Initially, the land had to be cleared, which meant that trash, debris, and poison ivy were removed by the truckload. Materials and labor were then donated by church and community members.  The first plantings were seven crepe myrtle trees all donated by committee members as memorials to their families. Members of the Main Street UMC congregation shared bulbs from their yards and home places and over six hundred bulbs were planted that fall. Instead of Easter lilies, the congregation brought more than seventy azaleas to church the following Easter. These were then planted in the Shade Garden area next to the fence by the Methodist Education Building. An armillary, donated by the Memorial Committee of the church, and memorial St. Francis statuary were placed there. Azaleas were also planted in the Children's Garden, in which stone benches, a walkway, the beautiful Burton Memorial Fountain, and St. Anthony statuary can be found. Stones were hand selected at a local quarry to build the stone retaining wall, while old curbstones from South Boston city streets were used for the steps which lead to a beautiful aggregate sidewalk leading into the Garden from Main Street.
The first item to be placed in the Meditation Garden, the area closest to Main Street, was a nine-foot copper cross, designed and donated by the late artist and sculptor Robert Cage. This was set in a huge stone for the second Easter of the Garden. Because the cross is visible to the three churches in the immediate area, he created a three-dimensional rather than a flat cross. Cage previously said that he wanted to create something in which a cross could be seen when viewed from any direction.  The meditation area is planted in only green and white blooming flowers, shrubs and trees, including a Star Magnolia. The surrounding garden space is filled with azaleas, peonies, tulips, dogwood trees, and a myriad other flowers and growing things. Because of the creative choice of garden plants and flowers, and because of the efficient and water-saving irrigation system, the garden blooms beautifully year round. 
The Prayer Garden’s organizers, planners, and volunteers describe the garden as truly a community effort, in which volunteers came from around the community and from different churches and neighborhoods to contribute. Twelve years after the April 2003 dedication, my daughter and I sat together in The Prayer Garden, realizing its mission as "a quiet place, to be still and know that He is God.”   This tucked away garden spot is a place of beauty, a place of reflection, and a place of peace.
Gardens are beautiful, peaceful, and can be a pleasant change of pace for young children, encouraging wonder and reflection even for little ones. Years ago my husband and I visited the Elizabethan Gardens in Manteo, North Carolina. Unsure of how our children would react to visiting manicured floral gardens while at the beach, we were reluctant to take them along.  On the contrary, our children were enamoured with the gardens, which have become a favorite attraction in the Outer Banks. They particularly enjoyed the garden scavenger hunt. Each child was given a checklist of items for which to search upon entering the gardens. Items included butterflies, various flowers, rose bushes, bumblebees, statuaries, frogs, ladybugs, fountains, and the like. Finding each item increased their excitement about spending time in the garden.
When visiting a garden with children, consider introducing your child to the garden with very simple, minimally structured activities. Take books to read, snacks for a picnic, or a sketchpad with colored pencils. Take a stroll, enjoy the flowers, and talk about what your child sees. Plan your own scavenger hunt, but allow your child to make the checklist himself. For young children, see how many colors you can find in the garden. You may have a favorite hidden garden spot close to home, or you may choose to visit one of the large and well known gardens throughout Virginia teeming with both beauty and history.   Consider visiting one of these gardens this summer, and when you do, be sure to heed the advice written in stone at the Prayer Garden, which reads, “Let the peace of this place surround you as you sit or kneel quietly. Let the hurry and the worry of your life fall away.”
·        Ash Lawn-Highland, home of James Monroe, features boxwood gardens overlooking a working farm.
·        Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson, is an architectural masterpiece with winding paths bordered by flowers and beautiful oval-shaped flowerbeds.
Chase City
·        MacCallum More Museum and Gardens features an arboretum, herb, wildflower, rose and themed gardens as well as nine fountains and eclectic imported works of art.
·        The Anne Spencer House and Garden was home to the internationally acclaimed poet of the Harlem Renaissance. The garden served as an inspiration for much of her poetry and may be toured by appointment only.
·        Old City Cemetery features a butterfly garden, lotus pond and a garden of 19th-century shrubs and roses.
Montpelier Station
·        Montpelier, home of James and Dolley Madison features a 200-year-old-growth forest as well as a landscape arboretum, beautiful restored formal gardens all overlooking the breathtaking vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
·        Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden features more than 25 acres of gardens, including a children's garden with colorful plants and shrubs to attract butterflies, birds and other nectar.
·        Maymont is a 100-acre Victorian country estate. Visitors can wander the geometrically shaped beds in the Italian Garden and enjoy the relaxing noise from the cascade fountain, designed from a similar feature in the Villa Torlonia near Rome.
·        Agecroft Hall is a Tudor estate that originally stood in Lancashire, England, and was re-constructed on the rolling banks of the James River. Agecroft's grounds include the fragrance garden, a sunken garden that's modeled after the pond garden at Hampton Court Palace in England.
·        Virginia House, is a reconstructed 12th-century priory also dismantled and brought to Richmond from England in 1925 with terraced gardens overlooking the James River.
·        Tuckahoe Plantation, Thomas Jefferson’s boyhood home, includes rambling gardens beautiful from March through October.

I originally wrote this as a feature article in the July 2015 issue of Showcase Magazine. Thanks to Showcase for letting me share my love of this special place with their readers. 
xoxo, Erin
Southern Virginia Mom