What is Currently Saving My Life – Winter Edition

Modern Mrs. Darcy has a great feature, things that are currently saving her life. These are things that keep us going, bring joy to our lives. Things that are important to us, that we look forward to. Even in the gloomy days of winter!

  1. Our church. We have an amazing pastor, and hearing his sermon every Sunday energizes me for the week!
  2. Reading. There’s nothing better than curling up to read a good book, and be transported somewhere else in the process.

3. Our puppy, who’s now 7 months old! And our new kitty, Nola, who we adopted in early January. She was very nervous at first, but is starting to fit in nicely, even with the dogs. I badly miss our senior dog and cat that both passed away this past summer, but having these two join our family has been a source of joy.

4. On the homeschool front, Gather ‘Round Homeschool has been a great addition to our curriculum. Finn started a homeschool class after the holidays. It’s once a week, for 4.5 hours. This co-op is too far from our house to go back and forth, so I needed curriculum that Captain and Dash could use together while we waited for their little brother at the library near by. I stumbled across Gather ‘Round and realized it was perfect! Because we already had a curriculum we were using, we’re not using it as our sole curriculum. But using the Europe study, we’re learning a lot of geography among other things. We’re doing 1-2 countries a week, and including Finn in most of the work. I’m hoping to be able to finish it in time to do the Oceans study at the end of the year, but we shall see. If not, it’s on my list for next year!

James Monroe’s Highland

Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello has been on my to do list for quite some time. A few months ago though, I learned about another presidential home in Virginia that I didn’t know about – James Monroe’s Highland. The drive out there from Northern Virginia was pleasant, and took about 1.5 hours.

Upon arriving at Highland, you park, and then take a short walk up a small hill to the welcome area. We went on homeschool day, and were greeted by employees that checked us in, and gave us a map.

They offer tours of the house. The house itself is not large, and other than a few steps to go up into the house, and a few more steps toward the end of the tour, it’s all on one level.

Photography is allowed on the grounds, but not inside the house. The house was not the one that the Monroe’s lived in. It was their guest house, built during Monroe’s presidency. The house has several rooms, and is furnished with personal items that belonged to the Monroe’s. One thing I loved about this tour was that when you are in a room, you are right there with the items. No peering through roped off doorways, furnishings weren’t behind ropes or glass.

The rest of the grounds offer other opportunities, such as trails and farm animals. There is a gift shop with a few snack items, and bathrooms.

Visiting Luray Caverns

We had two fun field trips in November. One was Luray Caverns. It was about a 1.5 hour drive from our home in Northern Virginia. The drive itself is pretty easy, though if you’re not used to driving in mountain areas (I’m not!), it can take a little getting used to.

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When you arrive at Luray, you will enter a large parking lot. The parking lot is bordered with a strip of small buildings. A cafe, gift shop, car and carriage museum, and an ice cream/candy shop. There is also a ropes course.

Tickets are purchased in the gift shop attached to the museum, and from there you make your way to the main building. After walking through another gift shop, you end up at the line for the cavern. The day we went was homeschool day, and there were also several school groups. Because of this, they didn’t offer guided tours, but my understanding is that they normally do offer them.

Once they let you in for the tour, you walk down a fairly long, paved and under cover, ramp. At the bottom of the ramp is the caverns entrance. Though they didn’t offer guided tours, they still had employees at certain stops through the cavern to give information.

Some “pro tips” for a visit to Luray Caverns.

  • The temperature is low, about 54*, BUT, the humidity is high, and it feels more like the mid 60s. I was hot by the time we left there. I would advise dressing in light layers.
  • Luray’s website says that a small stroller is best, and I agree. However, if you can go stroller free, I would try. Though the path is paved, there are a few sections with very steep hills. While in the cavern, you’re basically walking up a large hill, and then back down it to leave. There are also a few places where the path is quite narrow.
  • The paths can be a little slippery at times, don’t be rushed.
  • The school groups can be very overwhelming. We tried to hang back at some points, and then get ahead of them at others, but we kept getting swept up into a large class. I would try and go on a day when guided tours are being offered, and avoid the larger groups.
  • There is a gas station on the caverns grounds. We didn’t need to use it, but I thought that was a nice touch.
  • You can take all the pictures you want, but don’t touch the formations!

On Adding a Puppy

My sweet boy, Rosco

This past July, we had to say goodbye to Rosco, our nearly 16 year old Australian Cattle Dog. My husband and I adopted him as an eight week old puppy. He was here to welcome our three boys to the family. He went on numerous vacations and road trips with us. As a heeler, he was literally with me every second of the day. And if I dared go into the bathroom and close the door without him, he was waiting to greet me when I came back out. Losing him was HARD. His last several months were also hard, as he had lost the use of his back legs. We did everything that we could for him, but in late July, we knew it was time to let him go.

Our new baby, Dozer

It’s hard to know when you’re ready to accept a new pet into the home after losing one that you love so much. I spent several weeks after Rosco’s passing in tears. I couldn’t sleep. It’s been 3 months, and I still miss him terribly. You never want to feel like you’re replacing a beloved animal. I don’t see it as replacing – a living thing that was loved so much could never be replaced. To me it’s moving to the next chapter. Continuing that love. I truly think that Rosco would want us to. I truly think that he would want us to bring in another protector for our family. Another sweet dog to be here for us, to continue the hard work and love that he gave us.

So about a month after we lost Rosco, we adopted Dozer. Adding him to our family has been challenging at times, but so worth it. The boys are learning how to care for a pet. They’re learning responsibility. They’re learning how important it is to keep toys picked up and hidden away from a puppy 😉

Neabsco Creek Boardwalk

Recently, we decided to visit a new nature trail in our area, the Neabsco Creek Boardwalk. The board walk has two entrances, one by Leesylvania Park, and another by Rippon Lodge. I had been told that the Leesylvania entrance is short on parking, so we headed for the Rippon entrance.

This entrance boasts a large parking lot, a playground, pavilion, and a couple porta-potties.

There is a wide paved trail that begins at the parking lot, and leads you to the Board Walk entrance. The board walk entrance has a couple of benches, and beautiful views.Most of the boardwalk is over water, and has a hand rail bordering it. A few spots are lower, and I believe over land.The board walk is 3/4 of a mile long. There are some benches along the way, but not a lot. The walkway is perfect for little ones and strollers. Be sure to wear sun protection and bring water! There isn’t any shade other than at either end of the walkway.

We unfortunately didn’t see much wildlife. We did spot a crane, and either a snake, large lizard, or alligator (kidding, no gators here, but the kids were hopeful) hanging out just below the surface of the water.

Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium

While on our trip to Emerald Isle, NC in November we took a trip to the local Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium. It wasn’t our first time visiting, we tend to go every 2-3 years while on vacation. However, this was the first time going during the off season, and it was a completely different experience compared to the crowds that we’re used to during our summer visits. It wasn’t empty, but it was a low enough crowd that we were able to really spend time at the exhibits, and even had a chance to talk with some of the aquarium workers about the sea life.

Tickets for the aquarium run at about $13 for adults, $12 for seniors and military, and $11 for kids ages 3-12. 2 and under, along with NC aquarium society members, are free.

I would consider this to be a “smaller” aquarium, but there are still plenty of exhibits, including an outdoor area. Our favorite exhibits were the otters, large tank with sharks, and stingrays.

The stingray tank is open on the top, and the stingrays appear to enjoy being touched. They will often swim up to people standing around the tank. All three of my guys were brave enough to put their hands in the water and pet the rays as they swam by. I even worked up the courage after watching for awhile 😉

The aquarium is stroller friendly, and is all on one floor. The outside exhibit area is a wooden walkway. Beware as you walk in, someone will be ready to take your picture in front of a green screen. As you’re leaving, they will have pictures ready to sell to you of our kids/family posed in front of sharks, otters, etc. I find them to be very pricey, and you can get even better pictures of your kiddos at the different exhibits with your own camera.

Fort Macon North Carolina

This past November we were blessed with a trip to the beach, for most of the month. It was just warm enough to go to the beach most days. We did have a couple rainy days, a couple really cold days, and one really wild day where a tornado touched down a few houses from us. But for the most part, we had beautiful weather and were able to enjoy the local sights.

We brought our school work with us, and did school most days. There were a couple of days where we went on field trips instead of hitting the books.

Our first field trip was to Fort Macon State Park. Fort Macon is a Civil War era fort that has been restored, and is now a source of both education and recreation in the Bogue Banks area. We were there during the off season, but visitors can even swim along the shoreline. We were also there not long after Hurricane Florence came through, and many of the exhibit rooms were closed due to flood damage.

There is no admission fee to the fort or surrounding parks. There aren’t any concession stands or places to eat, but you can bring a packed lunch. There is a gift shop that has a small selection of bottled drinks and snacks.

The fort is stroller friendly. There is an upper level of the fort that can be accessed by stairs, but there is also a way to get to the upper level without using the stairs, as you enter the fort area. Beware though, there are several large drop offs, including staircases, in the main walking area. They were not enclosed.

Stairs of Doom

Outside of the fort, there are trails that can be walked. We stuck with the shorter one, which led down a sandy path to the beach area.

I would highly recommend Fort Macon to anyone visiting the Emerald Isle area of North Carolina. It’s a beautiful, inexpensive, way to spend a day learning local history and ecology.