Tuesday, September 13, 2016



Apple picking at Peaks of Otter is a wonderful way to spend family time this fall, y'all! If you're heading to Peaks of Otter near the Blue Ridge Parkway, take advantage of this great Family Fun Pack Groupon deal. Apple picking, animal feed, and gift shop jams and jellies...need I say more? Click here to access the Groupon deal.  

I mentioned Peaks of Otter Winery and Johnson Orchard earlier this week when sharing info and pics of our family's hike at Apple Orchard Falls on the Blue Ridge Parkway. On our way home from hiking and spending a lovely afternoon at Peaks of Otter, we passed by Peaks of Otter Winery and Johnson Orchards. We didn't have time to stop, but hope to head back this fall for our own apple picking and quality family time. This Groupon deal is $32 for a family fun pack with eight 1/4 peck bags of apples, two feed bags to feed farm animals, and $10 worth of merchandise towards jams, jellies, ciders, and wine shop gifts ($54 value).
I hope you can take advantage of both this great deal, as well as some old fashioned quality time with friends or family picking apples at Peaks of Otter. Start digging through those apple recipes, and if you find a good one, please send it my way. I have a feeling I'll be needing it.
xoxo, Erin
Southern Virginia Mom

Monday, September 12, 2016

Autumn Leaf and Santa Train Rides Announced

**Update: This very popular train ride is completely sold out for October 2016. There are still tickets available for December's Santa train ride, though some dates are limited.

I have been talking a lot lately about simplifying, getting back to nature, spending more time with family away from the hustle and bustle and busy-ness of life. I think that is why this appeals to me so much. I just discovered this jewel called the Autumn Leaf Rambler.  The Autumn Leaf Rambler is a train that offers a unique experience here in Southern and Central Virginia, which includes a three and a half hour pastoral train ride through the rolling hills of Virginia to admire the autumn leaves.  In addition, at Christmastime, the train is host to Santa Claus himself, who walks the aisles visiting with and delivering cookies to the child passengers and guests. (Santa trips are only 45 minutes - perfect for young children's attention spans!) I would love to sit back with my own children to admire Central Virginia's natural beauty this autumn or to be a part of the excitement with Santa this Christmas.  Here are more details, if you would like to do the same: 

•The Autumn Leaf Rambler train will offer three and a half hour round trip, nostalgic journeys through the rolling hills and deep forest of rural Buckingham County in October. 

•According to a press release, all trips depart from the Buckingham Branch Railroad Station, 1043 Main St., Dillwyn. The trips are scheduled for Saturdays, Oct. 8, 15 and 22. The morning “A” trips leave at 9:30 a.m. and return at 1 p.m. Afternoon “B” trips leave at 1:30 p.m. and return at 5 p.m. Fares are $30 for adults and $18 for children 2-12. Children under 2 not occupying a seat ride free. 

•Picnic lunches are welcome; sandwiches, snacks and beverages will also be available on the train. There are both open-air sightseeing cars as well as reclining seat coaches. Each trip also features a unique view of the James River. 

•Each trip will also feature a special appearance by the Tom Mix Ranger, reliving the Old West. 

•Train rides will also be offered at Christmas time. The 45-minute trips — during which Santa will pass through the seasonally decorated train with complimentary treats for children — will be available Dec. 3 and 10. Trips leave Dillwyn at 9:30, 10:30 and 11:30 a.m., and 1, 2 and 3 p.m.

This trip is sponsored by the Old Dominion Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. Tickets can be purchased on their website at www.odcnrhs.org.

What do you think? Does this look like something you would be interested in trying? Perhaps a new family tradition with your little ones? How about a ladies' day out? If you are interested or know of someone who might be, please feel free to share. If you make it there before I do, please keep me posted, and share your thoughts.  

xoxo, Erin

Southern Virginia Mom

Sunday, September 11, 2016

I never know what to say, but I will always remember what I saw. My 9/11 Story

I never know what to say.
Mark has been at National Guard for four days. One day with Ft. Pickett headquarters, two days with the 29th, and 1 day with the 129th at Virginia Beach. He is ready to be home. We are ready for him to be home.  55 minutes to go.
Today is the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11.  I didn’t post anything on facebook about it. I haven’t mentioned it at all. I don’t know what to say. It’s strange how all this time I’ve never known what to say.  Whenever I think about that day, all I can think about is how isolated I was, and how I received so much misinformation. I was on an island in a developing nation with no television, no cell phone, no phone service at all, no computer, no internet, no radio, no newspaper. For four days I SCUBA dived, boated, swam, snorkeled, hiked, kayaked, ate, slept, drank, and got nearly eaten alive by mosquitoes. We were partially unaware, partially misinformed. 
When we got confirmation of what happened four days later, it was not as bad, yet worse than we could have imagined. It seems surreal now. But it’s not surreal. It was real then. It is real now. That’s why I have a hard time knowing what to say.  I will never forget the surprise, the pain, the panic, the shock, the fear, and the loss I observed from afar.  What I choose to remember is the unity, the heroism, the solidarity, the strength, and the patriotism that prevailed. The very real patriotism. Patriotism was stronger than political parties.  Patriotism unified divided people. Patriotism consoled our nation in its grief. Patriotism changed the perspective of an entire nation. Of the world.  I loved this country then.  I love her now. She is not defined by bickering. She is not defined by political parties. She is not defined by social media. She is not defined by those who mock her. She is defined from the inside out. The many different people who love her. The places that are unique to her. Her canyons and shining seas. The experiences of those who dwell in her. By those who stand for her. By those who have given their very being for her. She is a canvas, a mixed media. She is painted with diversity and ideas of cultures and peoples, and I love her for the breathtaking, awe inspiring, beautiful, intricate work of art that she is. God bless her.
Mark just walked through the door. We’re happy he’s home. May we always be so fortunate.  May we never forget. On September 11. On ordinary days. In the mundane. In the busy. In times of celebration. In times of hope. In times of conflict. In times of peace. May we never forget. Most importantly, may we always remember.
xoxo, Erin
Southern Virginia Mom
SoVAMom Home

**Most people who are old enough to remember, know exactly where they were and what they were doing on 9/11. The top picture is of me and school students in the West Indies. The bottom picture is of me and my friend Tina, SCUBA diving on September 11, 2001.  I will always remember the delicate juxtaposition of devastation and beauty in that moment. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Hiking Apple Orchard Falls Trail at the Blue Ridge Parkway, and a Coupon for Apple Picking at Peaks of Otter Winery Orchard

I'm not one to complain about the sweet summertime (sunny skies and warm weather are two of my favorite things). But good grief, is it hot as blue blazes outside for a mid-September day! After getting a taste last weekend of sunny skies minus the triple digit temps, I can honestly say I am ready for cooler days.
We had a taste of fall this past Labor Day weekend, when we found out that despite hurricane weather closing in to the east and south of us, it was going to be mid-70s and sunny along the Blue Ridge Parkway. We decided to take advantage of Southern (and Western) Virginia's good fortune and went for a scenic drive, a nature hike at Apple Orchard Falls, and some slow paced quality time with friends and each other.
We chose Apple Orchard Falls as our hiking destination, called our friends and asked them to join us, packed our snacks and lunch, loaded up the Outback, and were on our way. (Partly true story. After searching Pinterest for the perfect picnic ideas, I realized I actually had no food worth packing, so we stopped at the WalMart deli in Bedford to grab sandwiches and a can of bug spray that we forgot to pack. And mini cupcakes, of course.) 
We carried our blanket and food with us, so when we got to the bottom of the falls, we spread out and had lunch right there. The falls were a lovely backdrop. 
Don't you love these wooden stairs in the woods? Yeah, we did, too, on the way down. On the way back, not so much. As someone we met on the trail said, this hike should be inverted! You start out fresh and energetic for the entire trek DOWN the mountain toward the waterfalls. Once there, starting to get tired, hot, and having a full belly from picnicking, you have to climb the entire way back UP the mountain, and it is no joke.  But we made it. We did stop for a brief rest on the way back to the top, but  we made it. I would say depending on how experienced of a hiker you are, it is moderate to slightly strenuous. Did I mention that we made it?  **For info on a slightly less strenuous route, read our article here about Crabtree Falls in Nelson County, VA. It has a spacious overlook at the top. 
We topped off our hike with melted WalMart mini-cupcakes and a stunning view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The children played. It was awesome. And... it kept getting better.
When we left, we made an impromptu stop at the Peaks of Otter lodge. A National Park Ranger gave each of the children a bamboo fishing pole. Mark and I sat in Adirondack chairs by the edge of the pond and drank coffee from the lodge's coffee shop while the children played catch and release. It was so enjoyable. Aren't these pictures gorgeous? These were taken at Peaks of Otter just two hours from home. 
On the way home, we passed Peaks of Otter Winery and Johnson Orchard. We hope to go back this fall.  Apple picking at Peaks of Otter is a great way to spend family time this fall, y'all! If you're heading to Peaks of Otter, take advantage of this great Family Fun Pack Groupon deal. Apple picking, animal feed, and gift shop jams and jellies...need I say more? Click here to access the Groupon deal.  
Getting to Apple Orchard Falls Trail:  From South Boston, we took 501 North toward Lynchburg, then 460 West toward Bedford. In Bedford, we took 43 toward the Parkway. 43 intersects the Parkway at Peaks of Otter. There are two different places that you can begin to see the falls. One is at SF59, in which you can hike the 7 mile Cascades Trail loop. The other option is to park at Sunset Field, Mile marker 78.4 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  There is ample parking at this spot, proper signage, and a gorgeous overlook and flat grassy area for picnicking and watching the sunset. We opted for Sunset Field. It is a down and back hike, about 3 miles total according to the signs, though Mark's activity tracker said we walked closer to 4 miles.
So what do you think? Would you hike Apple Orchard Falls Trail? What about a trip to Peaks of Otter? How about a day trip to the Winery and Orchards?  We have had more people tell us that they honeymooned or were married there. I had no idea it was such the wedding destination, but it is so beautiful, I can certainly see why. If you're looking for a hike, a scenic drive, a family outing, or just something to different to do, I hope this suggestion has been helpful. Enjoy your day, however you choose to spend it! 
xoxo, Erin
Southern Virginia Mom

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Sorry I'm not around, but we're busy being not busy.

I have had some really sweet people in the community ask me about this blog lately. They want to know if and when I'm going to write again and want to know what we've been up to. They like the articles and photos and info that I share of our beautiful Southern Virginia community. I can't tell you enough how much those kind words mean to me.  As much as I would like to have written more, shared more, grown bigger, and reached more, other things have consumed my time. I'm sorry, but I've been been busy being not busy. And it has been a huge blessing. 

 Last school year, Mark was working full time and was in the National Guard. I was working, blogging, and volunteering on four community boards and the PTO. The children were in school. Between the two of them, they were involved in piano, cello, church children's choir, junior youth group, karate, soccer, basketball, dance, junior cotillion, junior youth group, tennis, and little theatre. I was literally driving down the road one day from one practice to another, most likely running late with a fast food stash and fighting back tears and thought to myself, "This is not how I want to live my life, and it is not how I want to rear my children."   
About a year ago, we made a deliberate decision to be less hurried and to spend more quality time doing things that matter most with the people we love the most.  That quickly translated into switching our focus from outside stimulus to each other. Less time spent on social media, less screen time in general, fewer extracurricular activities, and less rushing has not been so good for this blog. It has been a lot of fun, however, for our family. The tagline of our blog is "Making the Most of Life in Southern Virginia." We have come to realize that making the most of life doesn't mean having to fit every event and activity into our schedules and lives. Instead, making the most of life has meant learning to carefully select activities that are meaningful, which add to our quality of life. It means, one at a time, cutting out the things that are not meaningful, and trying new things that broaden and/or challenge us.  
I changed jobs. I now work 3-4 peaceful hours per day, five very consistent days per week. I finished out my terms on three boards, and had to bow out early on the fourth due to my new work schedule. I handed over my PTO responsibilities. Bye bye, box tops, and thank you Roxanne, the new coordinator! Even the children have cut back. Courtland kept piano, one dance class, junior cotillion, and junior youth group.  Carrington kept cello, soccer, and basketball.  I know, I know...It's still quite a load, but it's a huge improvement over where we were at this time last year. This really helped them to examine what is most important to them and why.
So, can I tell a difference? Absolutely I can, and I am more at peace because of it. 
Thank you so much to the people who have approached me to ask about this blog. I really have loved writing it. Whenever we are at a function or event or doing something fun, I often think, "This would make a great blog article!" But because of my attempts to spend less screen time and more face-to-face time, it hasn't happened the way I'd hoped. I decided that when the opportunities to write were authentic and not forced or rushed, then I would write again. I really appreciate your kind words more than you can know. Thank you so much for keeping up with me, checking in on me, and being such an encouragement. I am really, really thankful for you readers and for this outlet. I also really love our corner of the map and hope to be able to write more about it soon.   
Until then, we will be too busy being not busy. You might find us resting, kayaking, fishing, fishing some more, hiking, or driving around the Blue Ridge Parkway this fall.  Every once in a while you might find me carting kids, hauling instruments, kicking soccer balls, or perfecting the ballet bun, but rest assured we will not be in a hurry. Rest well, friends, and take good care.    
xoxo, Erin
Southern Virginia Mom