Columbus Day, sightseeing and making memories at Westmoreland State Park


Living in another country for a defined period of time comes with a unique stressor- the desire or sometimes, obligation, to do and see as much as you can while you are here.   Lately I’ve been feeling that we haven’t been doing a very good job of getting out and seeing the US.  Partly this is because we’ve been here before and partly because having a child in school limits opportunities somewhat.

Our initial Columbus Day plan was to visit Philadelphia but the ridiculous government shutdown deterred me because I would really like to see the Liberty Bell.  Next the vague plan was to visit Williamsburg and stay at an indoor water park resort.  I say vague because I’m terrible at making commitments and actually booking something.  As it turns out the Northeast turned on some wet weather this weekend and on Friday we decided against plan B.

Which brought me to plan C- a weekend in a cabin in Virginia’s Westmoreland State Park. Thankfully Virginia didn’t shut down when the federal government did and all the state parks were open. We figured with a climate-controlled cabin we could take whatever weather nature threw at us as long as we had enough changes of clothes for the boys! The weekend was a roaring success. We all loved the cabin, the weather wasn’t too bad (in fact Columbus Day turned out to be beautiful) and the park offered so much for our family to do.  We love to hike but with the youngest now three and too heavy for the kid-carrier and too young to walk far the short (mile or less) trails were perfect with my husband carrying him on his shoulders when he tired.  And the trails weren’t too long that our seven year old lost interest.  The best part about the park (besides the fantastic cabins) was the fact that it is located where the woods meet the banks of the Potomac River so not only do you get to enjoy some lovely walks under the changing leaves on the trails but you can enjoy a walk on the sand, listening to the waves, and searching for fossilized shark teeth on the shores of Fossil Beach. My boys loved playing in the open area around our cabin enclosed in the woods, roasting marshmallows on the fire while it rained outside and playing card games instead of watching TV and playing games on the iPad. It was a wonderful opportunity for our family to slow down, reconnect and enjoy our temporary home. Whilst ticking big ticket items like cities and monuments is part of the adventure these are the things that you rarely get or take the opportunity to do as a tourist in another country.  Weekends like this are what family memories are made of.


And for the older boy…

The outdoor play area is working well and has been tested and approved by my boys and my niece.   This weekend we hung a swing from the top of the deck and attached a chalkboard to the brick fence.  We were however a bit concerned that the area didn’t contain enough stimulation for my older boy who is 7 1/2.  He does love the swing and he uses the gravel area to play toy soldiers but to add a bit more for him to do we ordered some sand bags so he could build a soldier’s trench (or anything else which caught his imagination).  Well, what a success!  He spent the entire weekend lugging them around the back yard and forming them into all sorts of things.  He also spent most of the weekend dressed as a soldier and noticed that the conifers in the backyard were good for climbing!  If you are interested the link to the sandbags (we bought the camouflage ones) is here.


Outdoor free play area

My boys love the outdoors so we have decided to turn the under-deck area of the house we are renting (with the landlord’s permission!) into an outdoor free play area for them.  The deck comes off the second story of the house so it is plenty high enough to play underneath.  And it is pretty much the only place in the back yard that gets any shade.

Before we began work on this weekend project it was just a space filled with builder’s rubble.


The plan is to turn it into an inviting place the kids can dig, build and play using their imagination.

Although I was tempted just to buy the pea gravel and put it on top of the existing fill my very talented and very thorough husband pointed out that the area already had drainage issues which we need to address (my landlord is lucky my husband is so keen and capable). So we (really just my husband) dug up the ground and installed some drainage pipe leading down to the existing drain.

new drainage

new drainage

Then we topped it off with about 20 bags of pea gravel (about $3.50 per bag).  This seems to be small enough for the kids to dig in and smooth enough to walk on. I got lots of ideas off Pinterest (you can check out my board here) and although we’ve made a good start it is still a work in progress and will no doubt change with the seasons.  The next additions will be an outdoor chalkboard, a mud kitchen and a swing. Stay tuned for updates


Adventures in Australia’s North (part 1)

This week I’m taking a trip down memory lane (triggered by trying to get my digital photos organized).  We recently left Australia’s Northern Territory after three glorious years.  I’ve always been a fan of the outdoors but those three years were magic; firstly because of the amazing location but more importantly because we got to enjoy it as a family.

Here’s just a snapshot of the amazing places we saw and things we did.

Choose your own adventure

As Aussies living in America and the summer break just underway our family is looking forward to getting out and exploring this magnificent country.  We are off to a good start today with my seven year old poring over Nat Geo Kids’ National Parks Guide.  The morning was spent reading about all the parks and picking out the bits that interested him- fossils, bears, caves, you name it! Whilst used to making all the plans for my family’s vacations this has made me realize our son is old enough to have a big say in where we go and what we do.  I’m going to organize our time off and finances but I think our next big trip will be one planned by our son.

Thanks Nat Geo for inspiring my child to travel and explore and to get excited about what America has to offer (and not just Disneyland!).