Friday, October 31, 2014


It's getting to be one of my favorite things... dressing my two little boys up in semi-homemade costumes around the end of October.  I think it comes from the fact that there's not a lot of accessorizing you can normally do with boys.  Sure, they look super cute in overalls, or with their seasonal hats (pumpkin and blueberry are my favorite), but it's nothing compared to the cuteness and selection available of girls clothing.  But on Halloween, I think boys costumes can finally compete for the cuteness award.  See their costumes from 2010-2012 here, and 2013 here

Early trick-or-treating at the mall.
Thankfully, my boys are still into cute (not horrific) costumes, and I still get to influence their choices.  While last Halloween Theodore loved all the Thomas and Percy costumes he saw, and he declared he would be Thomas this year, that eventually faded.  The next idea he had was a race car, and thinking about the difficulty of getting a race car in and out of a car seat, I hoped that desire would fade as well.  Thankfully, when it was finally time to decide Theodore came up with a farmer (his future occupation, he has added a farmer to his builder dreamers).  How much easier of a costume can you get?  We already had boots, overalls, and plaid shirts.  All we needed was a John Deere hat (grandma found one and sent it) and a handkerchief.

And knowing that little brother still has more animal sounds in his vocabulary than real words, we knew we'd have to make him a farm animal to go with big brother.  I gave Elijah a few choices, and even though I think he is the best, most authentic "oinker" in the world, he went with "moo".  I found this tutorial online and couldn't have been happier with the results.  I ordered the black sweat suit from Carters, and sewed everything together in an afternoon (though it is hard to machine sew in the small areas of the legs and arms).  I used up some felt and googly eyes I already had, found a huge pink button in my button jar, and pinned on a tail we picked up at Joanns. I added some tie-on hooves out of black felt as well, and tagged him with a yellow ear-tag (#2), but that didn't make the pictures.

We grabbed some pails I originally bought for my classroom years ago, and were ready to go.  So far this year, while Theodore properly says "trick-or-treat", Elijah just "moos" at everyone.  If only I could bottle the cuteness.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Spooky Stories (for the Pre-K crowd)

In getting ready for the big night tomorrow, I searched the house and found all our favorite pumpkin/jack-o-lattern/Halloween stories.  Mind you, these are separate from the general fall and apple stories.  I get a little overdone with the beginning of year book orders and can't help myself.  

I really think reading these kind of books gets the kids a little more excited for the experiences of late October:  pumpkin picking, jack-o-lattern carving, deciding on costumes, and trick-or-treating.  They can introduce a lot of the vocabulary needed, give kids ideas, and just prepare them for experiences that they may otherwise be timid for.  And, they're just fun to read.  Here are some of our favorites, in order by age appropriateness (is that a word?), youngest to oldest:

(These are scary faces!)

It's Pumpkin Day, Mouse!:  For mouse lovers, this quick book by Laura Numeroff introduces the reader to seven little pumpkins that become jack-o-lanterns.  Not only can you practice counting but also discuss emotions and what the different faces show, as well as start to plan your own jack-o-lanterns.

Click, Clack, Boo!:  Since my boys like to read Click, Clack, Moo, and with Elijah being a cow for Halloween, I knew I had to pick this book up.  Doreen Cronin again makes Farmer Brown face a problem in this book, and helps the reader participate in the story as she includes lots of different sounds to act out throughout the book.  Creaking, tapping, crunching...

The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything:  As a building-repetitive book, this tale by Linda Williams follows a little old lady home along with a pair of shoes, hat, and pumpkin (among other items).  With lots of onomatopoeia words, this book is especially fun with my late-talker two-year old who may only say BOO, but can also wiggle, clap, nod, and otherwise move along with the directions in this book.  (This was actually my book as a child, I begged for books from book orders back then too.)

Just Say Boo!  This book by Susan Hood has some sweet moments, and reinforces politeness as the story follows a family around on a night of trick-or-treating with lots of opportunities to yell "Boo!" 

Ten Timid Ghosts:  We met this author, Jennifer O'Connell, last Halloween and were able to get this book signed.  Meeting her made me fall even more in love with this book, she was great with Theodore.  This is another nice countdown-type, rhyming book, that has a really great cadence and I always seem to read it with a sing-song voice.  It does introduce a few "scary" things (ghoul, vampire, and mummy) but wasn't exactly enough to cause any nightmares or anything.  I figure a tiny bit of scare is okay.

Pumpkin Countdown:  This nice rhyming book follows a class of 19 on a field trip, counting down from twenty different items the kids notice on the farm.  I especially like it since it includes a lot of the experiences Theodore's field trip covers (though this year, it was unfortunately rained out and not able to be rescheduled).    By Joan Holub.

Corduroy's Best Halloween Ever!:  This book is the one with the deepest plot out of this list.  Corduroy struggles with finding a Halloween costume, hosting a party, and helping out his friends.  It all turns out great though, hence the title.

Happy Halloween, Little Critter!:  Of course a Mercer Mayer book has to make our list.  He has lots of great seasonal books, and this one is no different. Our version is actually a lift-the-flap kind that follows Critter through a scary Halloween party where you can reveal all his friends with the turn of the flap.

*The House that Drac Built:  When I was grabbing Ten Timid Ghosts from my shelf of signed books, I noticed one there I had forgotten about.  I met Judy Sierra about 8 years ago, and had her sign this book for me.  I was a little hesitant to try it with Theo (he was pretty scared of the Lego movie, and parts of Frozen) but we read it through and he asked for a second reading.  Like the Little Old Lady book above, it adds a verse every page to the growing list of frightening things that are found in the house (the illustrations are pretty repulsive, especially the fiend, zombie, werewolf and manticore).  Spoiler Alert:  There is a happy ending though. Theo keeps asking who Drac is. *More suitable for Elementary Aged*

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Corn Mazes, Now and Then

Since it's starting to rain, and Theo's last soccer practice of the season will probably be canceled, I'll try to get a post done.  This fall has had a lot of wet Wednedays, but at least the weekends have been beautiful.  We've gotten in a lot of fall outdoor fun.

One of our favorite places in Delaware (well, Maryland, but from when we lived in Delaware) was Kilby Cream.  This place had some awesome ice cream and a fun petting zoo.  And, in fall, has a corn maze!  I think this was the first corn maze I ever visited, and we went in both 2011 the first year our oldest could walk and again in 2012 with our newborn and our 2 year old.  I think Eli slept through the whole thing in his sling.  And maybe other than being a little crowded our second visit, it was a great place to go to get lost in a field of corn.  See old post, here.

                                           2011                                                                         2012

I remember Theo just loved bossing us around through the maze, and "reading" the maps.  Their current prices are $7 for 10 and older, $5 for 3-9 year olds, and free for under three year olds.  And this year that includes an additional kiddy maze.  I was half tempted to make the drive all the way back there this October to visit again, but decided we should try something a little closer to home.

Enter The Corn Maze in the Plains.  This seemed to be one of the closest places to us that featured a large corn maze.  For the steeper price of $10 for adults, $9 for kids, and 3 and under free, we entered a farm yard filled with obstacle courses, slides, farm animals, and other objects to climb, roll in, or otherwise move.  There was a hay ride, and you could sling shot pumpkins into an open field (apparently Eli's favorite, as this was the only thing all day he signed "more" for).  And then, there was the corn maze.  At 5 acres, it was challenging enough for our family, but not too long to exhaust the boys. 

And now, for an overload of photos from this year:

 We had a little extra fun with the theme of the maze, being "wolves".  I totally did not plan Theo's shirt to match (though, we all know I would have, had I known).

Surprisingly... no one was injured in any of these activities.

Who doesn't love a corn maze?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How long does it take a bell pepper to turn red?

In keeping with my theme this summer of, "things I don't know about gardening," I had to look into this question recently.

I really wanted a lot of bell peppers this year, since they are kind of expensive and I tend to use them a lot. Unfortunately, only two of our plants survived this year.  And only prospered once the corn stalks were down.  One grew a single large pepper early in the season.   It was green and Brian promised me that if I waited long enough it would turn red. So I waited… And waited…

In the meantime our second plant actually grew about five or six peppers before it got knocked over in a storm.  They were good, but I never got to get a red one off that plant. So I continued waiting on the loan green pepper.  

It was full grown for at least a month before it finally started turning darker green, and then within a few days changed to a bright red. I let it redden for a few days and finally could not wait any longer and picked it. I think it will be delicious in one of my favorite soups, this bourbon corn chowder.   I was so close to giving up on this pepper, but I'm glad I waited.  A good lesson in patience for me.

And my wait of over a month seemed on par with what I've read, which says anywhere from a couple weeks, to six weeks, to never! 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Agri-tourists Part 3 of 3: PWC Farm Tour

Once I finally got back to blogging, I decided to title this series of posts "agri-tourists", since most of our October adventures have fit this theme.  I think it is so funny that we end up paying money to go place and do things (like hay rides) that were easily free amusements when I grew up in the country.  It's kind of my dream to one day own and run a place that could be considered as an agritourism stop... we'll see what ever comes of that.

 This activity though, the Prince William County Farm Tour, was (almost) completely free.  Every year, several farms/historical agricultural experiences in our county open up their places to visitors during farm tour weekend.  (Saturday 10-4 or Sunday 12-4) I'll go ahead and take you through the tour stop-by-stop.

We went on Sunday after church, so we only had a few hours for our tour.  We started closest to our end of the county.

Stop 1:   Evergreen Acres.  Ok, so we had to actually skip this one because of time and distance.  We've actually been here before though (see this old post) to get our Christmas tree.  Had we gone, we could have taken a wagon ride to view the trees and pumpkin patch.  They also grow tomatoes here.

Stop 2:  Brentsville Courthouse Historic Centre.   Here we visited the restored Haislip-Hall Farmhouse and got to learn about farm life in the 1800s.  Theo and I tried a bit of corn pone that was being cooked, Eli took a walk in the woods, and Theo dipped his own candle and heard all about soap making.

Stop 3:  Yankey Farms.   One thing I really like about the idea of this tour is just seeing some of the farms in a different season.  We've been to Yankey Farms before to pick strawberries (link), but this time they had their pumpkin patch and harvest festival activities going.  We viewed their antique tractor display (Theo liked the red one best) and learned about beekeeping.  The boys even watched two bees drag a now-useless drone from the hive to get rid of him.  Harsh life bees have.  They were fascinated by this.

We paid a couple bucks each to let the boys pick an activity-Theo played in the corn pit and hay bales, while Eli took a very long, far (for a two year old) ride on the cow train.  We didn't realize it would go so far, but he did well.  They had special seats for little guys, so he was strapped in.

Stop 4:  Blue top Farm.  We found where horse country is in our county, as there were many other horse farms around this particular boarding facility.  We stopped quickly to meet all the horses, as well as the chickens and goats.

Stop 5:  Clover Meadow Farms.  This may have been my favorite spot of the day.  We got to wonder around with the alpacas at this farm.  There is just something so enchanting in these large, but gentle animals.

This photo just cracked me up, because it perfectly illustrates our newly two year old.  He's craving independence ferociously right now.

Stop 6:  Winery at La Grange.  We made sure to finish up the tour here, since it is the only established winery in PWC.  We didn't do a tasting this day, but enjoyed touring the property and making plans for a future visit.

Stop 7:  TrueFarms.  We ran out of time for this one, but you could also tour a hydroponics lettuce farm in Haymarket.

Stop 8:  Ben Lomand Historic Site.  Again, out of time, but like our first site it provided a look at farm life in the early 18th and 19th centuries. 

We definitely enjoyed the day driving around and learning more about our little corner of the world we live in, and the boys were happy to get down and dirty with all the animals.  And next week, we get to go back to Cows 'n Corn with Theodore's class.  Click here to read about this adventure from last year.  You know I've already got their pumpkin hats and overalls all laid out.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Agri-tourists Part 2 of 3: Virginia State Fair

So growing up, I never realized just how unique things like our county fair and state fair were.  These were not events where we went to ride amusement rides or play games (though the state fair does have that option), but places we went to exhibit and see livestock and other homemaker, 4-H, or educational projects.  We'd have tasty food too just because we were there.

I feel like around here, people mainly just go for the rides.  Sigh.

But, it was still really fun to take the boys to the Virginia State Fair a couple weeks ago.  To have a state fair in October is so different, since the weather actually makes it enjoyable to be outside all day, and all the fall decorations give the whole place a very different feel.

In my experience, the only other two state fairs I've been to are Indiana and Delaware, as I still regret never making it out to Arizona's.   As I wrote back then, Delaware's was basically just a big county fair to me (which makes sense, since there are only three counties in DE and they don't hold local fairs).  I expected Virginia to be a lot larger since there is a lot more agriculture in this state.  In some ways it was, in others, not so much.

My thoughts and impressions...
$15 for admission!  At least Eli was free, I can't remember exactly what ages had to pay.  I'm used to getting free exhibitor tickets...

It was very strange to see all the VSU and Virginia Tech information everywhere, since I'm used to seeing Purdue blasted all over everything.

Their horticulture display was pretty interesting, and I liked checking out the peanut plants and the sweet potato harvester, since those aren't plants grown in my native land.  There was a petting zoo in the tent, and the kids got to explore five different types of seeds, and walk away with a free jar filled with them.  The largest pumpkin competition was pretty fabulous.  The rabbit/poultry barn was here, as well as a pigeon and dove barn (something you don't see in IN).  Their dozens of rabbits can't really compete with Indiana's huge barn full of rabbits.  But Elijah still loved seeing each of them.

Poultry seem to be his favorite. He even learned to say "cock-a-doodle-doo" recently and it's the cutest thing in the world. 

I did let the boys ride a couple rides, mostly because I wanted to get a view of the area from the Ferris wheel.  Theo still talks about flying through the air on the banana ride, and I loved that I felt physically comfortable and confident enough to get Eli up and down a huge slide.  He loved it.

Their exhibit hall really seemed lacking.  The youth and adult exhibits were kind of squished back in the corner of a commercial exhibit building, and since I'm used to two huge multi-story buildings housing 4-H exhibits at the Indiana State Fair, I guess I just expected a lot more to see in that department.  (Side note:  I really need to find someone around here that can explain the 4-H system to my here, since Theo can sign up to be a clover bud soon.  I think they have like a state congress, maybe that's where their projects go?) But again, lots of interesting things to talk about with the boys.

Once we finally backtracked to the entrance, we found the livestock buildings/tents, as apparently we had passed them on the way in without realizing that's what was there.  The open shows happened first, but we came down when the youth 4-H shows were starting.  The sheep/goat building was about on par with Indiana's size, and probably the horses as well.  But the biggest difference was the swine exhibit:  Indiana exhibits over 2000 pigs, while Virginia had maybe a hundred.  And the department that I know the most about, the beef one, was so different.  First, the only breeds pulled out into their own categories were Angus, Braunvieh (never heard of before), Hereford, Shorthorn, and Simmental.  All other breeds were shown together  Indiana exhibits 15 different breeds and they get to show in the coliseum (a building used for professional sports, and the Beatles even performed there once).  Here, the beef showed in a small arena in the corner of the barn (probably smaller than our county fair's, and with less seating for sure).  The heifer numbers were pretty high, but the main difference is that their steer show only had a dozen or so entries.  Their feeder calf program had more entries than their steer show, which was surprising, but reasonable since the fair is so late in the year.
The pig show arena, similar to the other ones.
 We only got to watch goat showmanship, but it was actually one of the best showmanship contests I have ever seen.  The judge placed the exhibits from top to bottom (instead of just picking the top two) and had very detailed reasons for his placements.  He did not rush things, but took as long as it took for contestants to win or lose the class by their actions with their animals.  I really respected the competition and the kids did a great job.  And loved hearing a lot of southern accents (up here, most people are not native to VA, so we don't hear it much).
He still says he's going to be a builder when he grows up, but lately he says he's going to be a farmer too.
Some other things we found at the fair included:  a farmers market, racing pigs, a rattlesnake show, magic show, masters of the chain saws, and some really good ice cream.

Overall, this fair will never really compare to the Indiana State Fair for me, but it had enough of the agricultural roots still in tact for us to thoroughly enjoy our time there.