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

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Early Intervention Works ~ Carrington's Story

My son Carrington, also known as Cary, is 8 years old. He is bright. He is curious. He notices things that others don’t, like when I move a plant or trim my hair.  Cary asks questions. Lots of them. Mind baffling questions that others don’t ask. Hypothetical questions. Worst case scenarios. His grandmother says he’s a different kind of thinker. 
Cary is sensitive. He sometimes has bad dreams and sheds tears if I raise my voice. He buried his head in my chest just this week and told me that I don’t know how tough it is to be a boy. I told him that he is right. I don’t know. I’ve never been a boy, but I can imagine that it can be tough. Very tough.
It can be tough being a mama, too. Very tough.
Carrington never learned to crawl. He scooted. He took his very first steps at the age of 19 months. At age 2, we were still waiting for him to speak his first word. It came eventually. Ah-uh for apple, followed by Ki-Ka for Kitty Cat. Carrington obviously had a developmental delay of some type. I was familiar with the realm of possibilities, the diagnoses and current trends in testing and education. I thought he may be autistic.
The decision to have him tested came fairly easily, despite others’ opinions that we should just “wait it out” and “see what happens.” “Everyone develops at their own pace,” they told us.  That is so true. Each of us develops at our own pace, do we not? But I did not want to wait to see what happens with my child’s development. I wanted to know what was wrong and how I could help him. I remember being heartbroken. Not because of the delay, but because I knew he was capable of so much more. Carrington had words in his head and words in his heart that he wanted to communicate, but did not have the ability to do so. I wanted to know what my son was trying to tell me. He was frustrated. Mark and I were frustrated.
Relief finally came in the form of the Infant and Toddler Connection of Virginia.  We reached out to the agency and expressed our concerns. We felt encouraged and reassured. We hired a therapist who came to our home and provided speech therapy to Carrington one day a week. The therapy included lessons for me, as well. I learned how to work with him at home. Each day we blew feathers off of what used to be my cutting board. We blew bubbles and more bubbles.  And more bubbles. Oh the bubbles. We went through the local school system for this testing. He was diagnosed with a primary developmental delay and a secondary speech delay. Though he was given a diagnosis, it was slight. The testers and teachers felt that with therapy he would be able to communicate fully and well and would catch up to his peers developmentally. After being given a diagnosis, Carrington was able to receive therapy from the public school system free of charge, and we no longer had to pay out of pocket for the services. Carrington began preschool, and a teacher went into his class once a week for the next two years, then followed up periodically to keep an eye on his progress. When Carrington finished preschool and registered for kindergarten, he was retested, and no longer qualified for special education. His IEP was shredded and was not made a part of his permanent school records.  This spring, Carrington was tested by the IGP (Gifted Education) Program. I received a letter in the mail yesterday saying that after a review, which included grades, standardized testing results (Stanford Tests), and aptitude testing results, he has been recommended for enrollment in the program. I knew he could do it.
I want to make the following two points with this post:      
First, never ever underestimate a child’s potential. Not every child will be recommended for the gifted program. Not every child will make the honor roll. Not every child will shred his IEP. Not every child will walk. Not every child will talk. But each and every child had untapped potential to reach their personal best, whatever that may be. What are insignificant steps to you and me can be huge milestones to a child, especially a child with special needs. Realize that each of us does develop in our own time and at our own pace, and each of us is unique. Some of us need an extra push, a little more encouragement. Please do not give up. Continue to push with the goal of reaching that full potential, whatever it may be.
Second, early intervention works. I feel certain Carrington would have talked. Eventually. What purpose would it have served to have made him wait? To have made him suffer in silence with frustration at his lack of communication? I am so glad we chose to take advantage of services that were offered here in our community, through the private provider, and through the local public school system. Our teachers, testers, and therapists were so professional and effective. They served my son well, and for that I am grateful. We all are. Carrington has a brighter future because people care about him, his education, and his abilities. We care about the person he is and who he has the potential to become.
If you suspect your child has a developmental delay, a speech delay, vision or hearing problems, or a learning disability, please do not hesitate to reach out to your pediatrician, your local school system, or another provider in your area. It doesn’t hurt to ask, and it could make a world of difference for your child.

Our first contact was our pediatrician, followed by the Infant and Toddler Connection of Virginia. To contact the organization, go to or call 1-800-234-1448. The website is a wealth of information and a great resource.  Best of luck to you and your child.
xoxo, Erin
Southern Virginia Mom