Clarissa’s last adventure as an only child

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The Wednesday before Tiffany’s due date, Clarissa and I went on one last adventure. We were up early to drive Daddy to work so I decided that we should go somewhere before my ob appointment. We decided on Hidden Pond Nature Center in Springfield. It was Clarissa’s favorite so far as she has asked to go back at least 5 times in the past month.

We arrived about the time the visitor center opened at 10. Clarissa was not interested in the animals just yet when she saw the huge playground near the parking lot. She was the oldest kid there since it was a school day but she didn’t mind. She played there for an hour before we headed to the visitor center.

The visitor center was small but nice. There was a restroom, small play area for babies and toddlers, as well as several small reptiles to look at. Clarissa really enjoyed looking at the turtles, snakes, and frogs. Her favorite part was probably touching the snakeskin.

We then headed outside for a nature walk. There were plenty of insects and birds among the plants. The pond was great too with several turtles. Clarissa enjoyed looking out on the pond from the dock. She made up some rather loud songs and even made a new friend.

After the pond, we spent some time on a nature trail with our new friends before heading back to the playground. We finished our adventure at McDonald’s for a happy meal before my last ob appointment.

Huntley Meadows Park

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One of the problems of moving to a new area in the summer, is that sometimes it’s too hot to explore. We had planned to visit Huntley Meadows Park a few times, but never got around to it until the weather started to cool down in September.

The park was really nice. There is a visitor’s center with displays of plants and animals that are in the park. There is a gift shop as well as some classrooms as well. We are going to have to go back another time to check out some of the homeschool classes this fall. The visitor’s center is closed on Tuesdays but there is a portapotty in the parking lot.

We had a great time on the trails. We walked on the boardwalk (dogs and bikes are not allowed on the boardwalk) and then through the woods as well. The whole thing took less than an hour to walk through and it is mostly flat other than the overlook that has steps. It is perfect for families with small children. There is another side to the park with a different entrance that has a trail as well, but we didn’t get over there on this trip.

Clarissa’s birthday museum adventure

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Every time we take Tim to work, we see the Washington Monument in the distance. Clarissa gets really excited and points and shouts, “Look! It’s the tall tower!” When we asked her what she wanted to do for her birthday adventure she said she wanted to see the Dinosaur Museum and the Tall Tower.

Her adventure day was rainy. And we told her that we could go and see the outside of the Tall Tower but the inside would not be open until next month. So she decided that we could skip the Washington Monument this time and go back in the fall so we could see the whole thing.

We started the day by taking the same bus that Tim takes to work every morning. Then we took the metro into Washington DC. Our first stop was the National Air and Space Museum. Clarissa loved it. She thought the space shuttles were amazing and she enjoyed the kid exhibits that taught about friction and flight. She was even able to climb into a cockpit and pretend to fly an airplane. Some of the exhibits in the kid section were out of order and they are renovating the museum right now, so we will probably need to go back again to see everything.

We crossed the National Mall and saw the Capital Building on one side and the Washington Monument on the other, so she did get to see the Tall Tower from a distance.

Next, we headed to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Clarissa was able to see her dinosaurs. But she also really liked both the mammal and bird exhibits to see real animals instead of just bones. She was really excited about the dioramas in the fossil section as well. We didn’t head upstairs to see the bugs because we were getting hungry, so I’m sure we’ll be back.

We went to Hard Rock Cafe for lunch. All three of us enjoy the food there so we knew it would be a good choice.

After lunch, Clarissa asked for one more museum. We decided to the try the International Spy Museum. I’m not going to lie. This museum is pricey. Clarissa was free because she was 6 but the adult prices are over $20, even with a discount. Clarissa loved it, so I guess it was worth it. But Tim and I would have preferred to go by ourselves to really enjoy the experience.

When you go into the museum, the staff hands you a lanyard that you scan into the computer. The computer gives you a secret identity. Then, they usher you into a room to watch a movie about being a spy before releasing you into the general museum. There were a few computers to get clues and work on your mission. However, it was a really crowded, rainy, Friday in the summer, so we couldn’t get near the computers. The exhibits were very informative, but Clarissa blew through them because it required a lot of reading and she just isn’t there yet. So we looked at some pictures and spy stuff, but didn’t really get the full experience.

The next floor wasn’t quite as crowded, so we did a little bit with the computers and reviewed some clues. Clarissa was excited to find her clue and scan her lanyard. The exhibits were very informative and had video as well as text on the walls. I think this museum is geared toward tweens/teens and adults. Clarissa wasn’t afraid of anything at the museum, but I think she would have gotten way more out of it if she was older.

After the third museum, the pregnant lady was pretty tired, so we headed back. We took the metro back to the Pentagon and then the bus back home. On the walk home she said, “This was the best day ever!”

We wanted to watch a spy movie but couldn’t think of one that was really appropriate for Clarissa (other than Bolt which she’s seen a hundred times) so we ended up watching some White Collar. She was really into it after the museum so we’ll have to find a spy movie for her.

A Pennsylvania Adventure

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We decided that it would be easier to visit Pennsylvania before Tiffany was born than to try to come to the big family Thanksgiving meal with a two month old. We knew we wanted to stop somewhere along the way to break up the trip. Tim had not had a meal at Shady Maple since before he went into the Air Force, so we decided to stop there for lunch as our halfway point.

I saw a billboard on the way that said that Shady Maple Smorgasbord was the largest buffet in America. I believe it. The building itself was huge. There was plenty of food. You stand in line and they seat you. The waitress asks if you have eaten there before and explains the four different grill stations as well as the salad, dessert, and drinks. Then you get to go through the line and serve yourself. You leave dirty dishes on the table and get new ones each time you go through the line.

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We all really enjoyed our lunch. Clarissa said we should go back to eat there again. There is a set price for breakfast and lunch. Dinner is a different price each night of the week because there is a different special. Clarissa was half price because she is 5.

There were several other attractions nearby. The Shady Maple also has a Farmer’s Market, a Gift Shop, and a General Store. We went to the gift shop which is located under the Smorgasbord. It was huge! There were so many different items for sale. There was a huge toy section, pop culture pictures (think Beatles and Star Trek), Christmas items, and a large selection of personalized items. As usual, there was nothing that said either Clarissa or Suzanne. But there were several items available for Tim and Tiffany. I couldn’t talk Tim into buying this mug though.

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After lunch we headed to Tim’s parents house. We hung out with them for a bit before we all headed to his aunt’s house for dinner and some pool time. There was also a birthday dessert for Tim and Clarissa.

On Saturday, we went to Knoebels. Most of Tim’s extended family (including himself) have spent many summers working at Knoebels as lifeguards and in food service. So it is kind of like a part of family history to be able to go there. Parking and admission to the park are free. Then, you pay for food, rides, and games. Veterans and active duty service members can get a free book of $20 ride tickets by showing your military ID or DD214.

At first, Clarissa wasn’t super excited about any of the rides. She did some of the games that require quarters like using an excavator or driving a car. She got excited about the trains so we rode the train twice. She was also really excited about the bounce house and the hand cars. The food was good and the prices weren’t awful for an amusement park.

After Knoebels, we took Clarissa to play at Fort Discovery in Sunbury. It was a wonderful playground and she would have stayed all day if we let her. It is located right next to a community center and baseball field, so there are bathrooms and parking available.

Next, we headed to Shikellamy State Park. Tim and I actually got engaged at this park ten years ago. He had originally planned to take me to the overlook to propose, but the road was still closed for the winter so he had to settle for the marina. We went to the overlook for the first time Saturday. The views were beautiful. And you can see the marina from the overlook so that was fun to be able to point out the spot to Clarissa.

On Sunday, we headed home a different way so that we could stop by Clarksburg Premium Outlets near Gaithersburg, MD. I read that there was a STEAM Fair that day so we thought Clarissa would enjoy the festivities. There were a few fun events and the shopping was decent too. We got some decent deals at Motherhood Maternity and Columbia.

Another nature center adventure

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In Korea, if they were going to cut the water off at the apartment for some reason, they might tell you the day before. Or an hour before. Or they may just shut the water off…At our new place, they have shut the water off twice for repairs. But they always give about a week’s notice and say the water will be off from 9-5, when it’s really only off from 9-12.

We needed an adventure day for the planned water outage on Thursday. I planned trips to two different libraries to return and pick up requested books. We had a few errands to run and I had an ob appointment in the afternoon. But we had this glorious three hour window to work with.

Clarissa and I decided to check out Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Annandale. The parking lot is rather small, though there does appear to be some street parking about a half mile down the road. It was also really easy to find in Waze. There is a large brown sign right as you get off the highway as well that points you in the correct direction.

The Nature Center looks like it is in the middle of the woods. There is a butterfly garden sign as you walk to the building. We didn’t see any butterflies though.

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The outside of the building was really cool. It had several different birds and animals and their wingspan. The largest was a  Quatzalcoatalus (a type of dinosaur) and the smallest was a humming bird. Clarissa really enjoyed measuring her arms to see which animals she was bigger than or smaller than.

Inside the Nature Center itself were several small live animals (snakes, frogs, and turtles). There were also several stuffed birds and mammals around the room as well as interactive displays. Clarissa’s favorite was either feeling the mammal fur or the microscope slides of the insect parts. She really did enjoy the entire thing.

I thought this whale vertebrae was pretty cool. Clarissa was amazed that one back bone could be so big.

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After we looked around the Nature Center, Clarissa was able to choose a prize. We had a coupon from completing the summer reading coupon that said you could pick a prize at the nature center. She chose a plastic bug (they also had spider rings and magnifying glasses).

We brought a picnic lunch and went exploring for a place to eat. There was a playground on the property, but it honestly looked pretty old and dirty. There was also a place with benches for a campfire area. We also found picnic benches really close to the Nature Center. But we ended up eating near the pond and play area behind the Nature Center. Clarissa enjoyed climbing on things and looking at the water.

After lunch, Clarissa had a choice between walking on one of the nature trails and playing with the toys inside the Nature Center. She chose the toys. She spent about a half hour playing with costumes and puppets. We also noticed some educational toys at the end with puzzles and stories.

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Clarissa said this Nature Center was better than the other one we went to and says we should come back a lot. I informed her that there are about ten of these within a half hour of our house so we need to check out the other ones before she can really choose a favorite. Hidden Oaks is only about twenty minutes from our house, so I’m sure we’ll be back at some point anyway.

The Nature Center is open from 10-5 during the week (except they are closed on Tuesdays) and from 12-5 on the weekend.

We couldn’t wait until Christmas

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We came to Virginia Beach for a visit Memorial Day weekend. It was nice to travel as a family, especially since Tim had not been to Virginia Beach in four years. We said goodbye and planned to return for Christmas. But after our weekend trip, Clarissa and I still felt like there were other things that we wanted to do before Christmas.

Last week, Clarissa and I took the train from Alexandria to Norfolk to visit my family again. We had a great trip.

On Monday, Grammy, Clarissa, and I went to the Virginia Beach oceanfront. There was a parking lot next to the 31st street garage that charged $10 to park all day and was practically empty when we arrived about 11.

We almost didn’t go because it was so hot outside and I didn’t think that Clarissa would last long. But Clarissa had the time of her life in the water. We taught her how to jump over the waves, though it required some assistance from Mommy or Grammy when we went deeper. But she loved it and never wanted to leave.

On Monday evening, my best friend and my mom threw a baby shower at my parents’ house. It was fun to see some out of town relatives and a few close friends. Clarissa had a great time with one of her best friends as well (a perk to your friends having daughters of similar ages).

Tuesday we got to play some with my niece and then met my friend and her daughter at the Norfolk Botanical Garden. It was super hot and humid outside but we had a wonderful time. We took the tram to the children’s garden and the girls played in the splash pad there. There were bathrooms nearby as well as a yurt that had a changing room.

Once they were sufficiently wet, we explored the different sections of the children’s garden. There were several sections, each with a different continent. Each continent had indigenous plants as well as a scavenger hunt where you could search for 1-3 of the animals listed. There was a paper near the bathroom that explains the scavenger hunt. When you find the animal cut out, you stamp your paper with the stamp provided at each continent. When you finish, there is a tent with a worker who will give you a prize. You get to plant a seed in a biodegradable cup and bring it home to plant at your house. The girls really enjoyed that activity.

There was also an alphabet garden that showed plants that started with different letters. Several had signs that said “please touch” which was a pleasant surprise. Most of them were herbs and plants that smelled good.

We then walked to the butterfly garden and butterfly house. There was also a butterfly maze but it was almost 100 degrees outside so we skipped it.

The butterfly house was not at all what I expected, but it was great. It was not air conditioned as it was pretty open with mesh around it, almost like a green house. There were plants inside as well as caterpillars, butterflies, and a mother/son volunteer team who were wonderful! They helped the girls hold a butterfly and explained things about butterfly life cycles. We learned a lot and really enjoyed it. If you live in Hampton Roads, she recommended a Monarch Butterfly Tag and Release event in September. She said come to the early morning session though because it is very crowded by afternoon.

Tuesday evening two of my aunts came to dinner. We had a great visit with them. Clarissa had a blast learning to play “telephone.”

On Wednesday, Clarissa got to play with the sprinkler and the hose at my parents’ house. She had a great time getting all wet.

Wednesday night, I got to have a dinner date with Shannon at our favorite Mexican restaurant.

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Thursday was more low key. We spent the day with my parents and my niece watching movies and playing games. Thursday night, Pappy got out his guitar and Clarissa got to dance around. So many memories of my childhood were spent dancing around that living room so I am glad Clarissa was able to experience that too.

We took the train home on Friday and had a rather uneventful ride. We made sure not to sit in the quiet car this time so it was more enjoyable.

Taking an Amtrak train

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Since moving to Northern Virginia, we have maintained our one car lifestyle. The big difference is that in South Korea, Tim had the car most of the time to get to work and Clarissa and I took public transportation. Here, Tim takes the bus to work and Clarissa and I keep the car during the day.

Clarissa and I went to Virginia Beach this week to visit my family. We didn’t want Tim to be stranded without a car all week so we took the train. It was pretty easy to go online and book tickets. The train is pretty cheap too. It only cost $138 total round trip for the two of us.

If you are taking the train from Alexandria, there is hardly any parking. There are a few spots you can pay for and two spots for 30 minute parking. The station does have a bathroom but there isn’t a screen to tell you where to go. You can sit inside or outside. A few minutes before the train arrives there will be an announcement on the loudspeaker that tells you the train number and where the train is going.

There are not assigned seats. You simply pay for a reserved seat in either business class or coach. Then when the train comes, you find an open seat and sit there. You are responsible for your luggage. But the conductor did carry mine up the steps for me. There are racks at the front of each car or above your seats to place your luggage or carry on. Once the train starts moving, the conductor will come by and scan your electronic ticket and put a piece of paper above your seat so that they know when you are supposed to get off the train.

Apparently there is something called a quiet car on an Amtrak train. Often it is the train right behind business class but it can be located anywhere on the train. If you choose to sit in the quiet car, you have to be quiet the whole time. No talking on your cell phone and no using electronic devices without headphones. I didn’t see any signs about this when we sat down but we were informed by another passenger that we were sitting in the quiet car and so we had a quieter trip than I anticipated. There are small blue signs on the ceiling as you enter and exit the car but I didn’t see them until later when I was actually looking for them.

There is a cafe car on the train that sells food. You can buy things like personal pan cheese pizza ($7), hotdogs ($3.50), chips ($2.50), candy ($3), and drinks. The prices are not awful but definitely more than you would pay at the grocery store. You are allowed to bring your own food and drink on the train but they cannot refrigerate or heat up food for you that is not bought in the cafe car.

There is also a restroom in each train car. They are a decent size and fairly clean as well. Our train starts in Boston and goes all the way to Norfolk. We got on in Alexandria so someone must clean the train as they go because I thought it was clean for our entire trip.

Not all of the train doors open at each stop. You have to listen to the announcement to figure out which car to go to. There is also an announcement at each stop that will tell you the current stop, the next stop, and how many minutes until you arrive at the next stop.

Will we ride Amtrak again? Absolutely. You can eat, chat, and go to the bathroom whenever you want and it doesn’t add time to your trip. We will just make sure we do not sit in the quiet car. Though I will say that Clarissa did very well. The same passenger that was upset with us in the beginning walked by as he exited the train and said, “Your daughter is very well behaved.”