Tag Archives: virginia state parks

Stumbled Upon Magic

state park hikeToday, Charlie and I scrapped our scheduled plans. I suppose I had a little bit of spring fever or felt a little burnt out. Whatever it was, I looked at the calendar this morning and was uninterested in the day’s activities.

At first, I was tempted to stay home and read. We are taking a second crack at sign language with Charlie. I thought about using the day to learn more signs.

But, Charlie has been obsessed with going outside. She tries to open the exterior doors saying “Ah Sye!” Charlie even attempts to convince her therapists to go outside instead of therapy.

The next state park on our list has been at the top for some time. Its visit was delayed due to lousy weather and my March of Dimes activities. Considering everything, I decided today was a good day to finally check it out.

outdoor babyThe outing turned out to be one of those trips that was flawless. The drive there was relaxed and uncomplicated. We arrived and had to decide what to do first.

Charlie played on the park’s playground before she walked her first trail without a stroller. She loved her new freedom and bent over frequently to examine things. Afterwards, she played in the sand on the shore of the Potomac. We wrapped up the day with another hike.

The weather was gorgeous, the park wasn’t crowded, and we saw plenty of wildlife. I love our state parks and always enjoy our time at each one. However, there are some parks that are far better than I anticipate them to be. On the right day (like today), the experience is almost magical.

baby and duck wild life


Post Surgery Hiatus

Today, my sutures were removed. I’m healing well from the surgery. However, I’m mentally and emotionally spent.

You may have noticed the lack of posts. I’ve been enjoying the down time outdoors.

Unfortunately, it is back to the grind tomorrow. I hope I can keep up.

Lake Anna Lake Anna2

Charlie’s first time walking in the sand at Lake Anna State Park.

The Kindness Of Strangers

I had previously written a post about my entry into the Virginia State Parks photo contest. Like most tasks in life, I got far more out of the contest than its intended purpose.

In the previous post, I described making the realization of the amazing people that I’m lucky to have in my daily life. This weekend, I realized there are many strangers routing for us as well. I am humbled and in awe by the kindness shown by people who don’t know us or don’t have to care.

In addition to people who shared our story and wrangled up votes, I’ve received some very kind and loving messages. People let me know they voted, wished me luck, encouraged me, and…  I received this blog comment:

I saw your post and your story through a friend, so I shared with my friends and asked them to share with theirs. Then I shared it with a little local Mom networking group…. You have an incredible number of people out there (here) routing for you and your family. There will be experiences you may never get back from being a micro preemie Mom, but here’s hoping you’ll get to experience something exceptional for just being an amazing Mom. Good Luck.

Later, WordPress informed me the posts, A Truly Random Act Of Kindness and The Things We Do For Love + Random Act linked back to my blog.  After reading the post, I was blown away. I could hardly believe it.

Who are all these wonderful people that care so much about a total stranger? How are they so empathetic to a stranger’s life?

The contest has been back and forth for days. It has been a tough battle. I have no idea if we’ll win the contest.

While I would like to win the week long cabin stay (it would be a dream), I won’t be crushed if I don’t. My experience in the contest has shown me how many other people care. When you add Charlie to that, I feel like I have already won.

To everyone that reached out to us and those that took a second out of their day to hit vote, thank you. You will never know how much it meant to me.


This is another picture I took of Charlie while hiking that day. The contest ends Wednesday, 1/8 at 11:59 PM. If you’d like to vote, you can do so by clicking vote on the contest page located here. You can vote once every twenty four hours.

Even Mama Needs A Day Off

Today, I turned off my cell phone, left Charlie at home with her dad, and went for a hike. I needed an afternoon to myself.

kaia hikesUnfortunately, the state park was unusually crowded today with many types of people. On crowded days,  I try to guess the story of the groups I come across. I  typically encounter a variety of people. Most frequently, the groups are what I refer to as the family with small kids, the young dating couple, the nature lovers, the photographers, the gear heads, and the workout enthusiasts.

My favorite is the family with small kids. I can’t help but laugh when I hear: “Look mom!”  “Put that down! No! Don’t put that in your mouth!” or some other variety of young kid mischief. The most baffling are the gear heads. I want to ask why they need to carry walking sticks, a camel back, a day pack, safari hats, and wear zip off pants if they are only going for a few mile hike? I am impressed by the work out enthusiasts. They are the ones who run past me UP the mountain while carrying only their car keys.

While I think it is great that so many people are getting out and enjoying the state park, by doing so they were infringing on my alone time. I dug my headset out of the car and listened to music to solve the problem. Once again, I was in my own little world.

I know, I know… I missed out on the sounds of nature. However, I also avoided hearing the sounds of others’ conversations, kids yelling, and so fourth. Besides, now that I live on top of a mountain nature, comes to my back door.

Kaia and I hiked up a difficult rated trail and back down a more scenic moderate rated trail. The afternoon turned out to be pretty relaxing. I feel rejuvenated for whatever the up coming week throws my way. Additionally, I hope that it is the beginning of daily walks for me.

On a side note, I should mention that Prematurity Awareness Day is a week from today.

sky meadows

This was a gorgeous view. However, Kaia was tired of taking pictures and refused to cooperate.

A Day In The Park

Charlie cut her first tooth last night!

After a crazy night, we visited James River State Park. It was our thirteenth Virginia State Park. Charlie was busy playing most of the morning and early afternoon. Because she and I were alone, I did not get to take many pictures.

These are the pictures that I took…


There was a kids’ exploration area. Charlie practiced her standing (as suggested by the PT yesterday) in the stump garden. She also played with the drums, climbed on the logs, and played in the sand pit that was in the kids’ area.


She had her first fudgesicle and impromptu feeding therapy.

We wrapped things up by playing by the river.

park3 park4 park1

One Third Complete

A few months ago, I had written a post explaining why Charlie and I started visiting our state’s parks. I am often asked if we are going to continue now that “lock down” is a thing of the past. Of course!

Due to our recent move and Charlie’s first birthday party, we had taken a few months off of our state park quest. Despite the hiatus in our travel to more distant parks, Charlie and I continued to regularly visit our local state parks. The return to our travel schedule reminded me of how much we missed it during our time off.

First, I miss the travel. My husband may vehemently disagree but I enjoy the travel as much as the destination. We see parts of Virginia that we ordinarily would not visit. We work together as we figure out how to navigate the back roads that often lead up to the parks. Each time I am awestruck by the varied geographic features we discover, the small towns we visit, and the people we meet. Before we started this, I did not think it was possible to have such surprising adventures in our home state. Growing up here led us to believe that we were omniscient of all things concerning this state. We could not have been more wrong.

Next, it is nice to make some positive and happy memories during a year that was so difficult. I will always remember singing Old McDonald in the car with Charlie and her dad. I will not forget the fun we have seeing a park for the first time, exploring it, and trying new activities.

It makes me laugh when I remember cooking out by a lake in late November or the reaction of people when they see us “off road strollering” for the first time. It has been interesting to see all the new activities there are for Charlie as she grows. She started out riding along on hikes in a jogging stroller and liked to look at the trees over head and hear the birds tweet. As she grows, we find fun ways to incorporate sensory play or work on her therapy goals. I have many memorable photos of her state park firsts.

I should conclude by making note that we are officially one third of the way through our quest. There are thirty six state parks and we have visited twelve. So far, the experience has been kind of like my college education. I headed into it expecting to get one thing out of it and have been delighted to discover that there is so much more to it. I think part of me may actually be kind of sad once we finish all thirty six. Even so, I am consoled by my husband’s considerations of a cross country car trip when Charlie gets a little older.


There was a toddler playground at Chippokes Plantation State Park.


Listening to the frogs in her stroller.


Sensory play in the recycled material on the playground at Chippokes Plantation State Park.

Sensory Issues And The Beach

While Charlie’s sensory issues have made a vast improvement in the last year, there remains room for improvement. Yesterday was Charlie’s first time playing in the ocean and sand. We went to Kiptopeke State Park on the eastern shore. This is how her initial interaction went:

100_0807 100_0808 100_0809 100_0811 100_0812

She did enjoy things once she realized she could bang shells together.


Traveling With The Circus

It is the time of year that many families go on vacation. Currently, I am in the midst of planning our next trip. In our situation, traveling with a former micro preemie presents its own complexities. I regularly find myself reworking and figuring out the minutiae. In addition to Charlie, I travel with our pooch (she’s the big sister) and a finicky husband. When everyone is packed in the car, I often feel like I am traveling with a circus. Despite the complications, we have so much fun that I would not have it any other way. The success of the trip (and my sanity) is contingent on preparation and planning.

First, a destination must be chosen. This task is usually left to me. I try to incorporate an aspect that my husband is interested in, something I want to do, make sure the trip is baby appropriate, and is dog friendly. This seems more difficult than it really is. With some ingenuity and thoughtfulness, each family can find a destination that is right for them. I will explain what works for us. There is a set of questions that I ask myself when I try to decide if a destination is baby appropriate. Will having a baby present detract from other peoples’ enjoyment? If Charlie acts up, can I quickly remove her from the presence of others to minimize disruption? Can Charlie actively participate and be enriched by chosen activity or destination? Additionally, the length of the trip is important. We usually schedule a long weekend trip because that length works the best for us. I have found some advantages to be that my husband’s vacation days are used sparingly, we can take many trips through out the year, and we do not become exhausted.

Next, we have a tight budget like many families that have kids with special needs. Things like OT, PT, speech, home health nursing, music therapy, and hypoallergenic formula do not come cheaply.  Five star resorts and room service are memories of my pre-baby life for now. My husband does not enjoy camping and can be picky when it comes to accommodations which forces me to find a balance. We regularly use two national chains (we have a third one as back up) that are pet friendly, clean, smoke free, comfortable, safe, and are reasonably priced. We aim to get rooms that have a mini fridge and microwave. This saves us cash on drinks and snacks (a microwave sterilizer is an easy way to sterilize bottles on the road). We love grilling, cooking out, and picnicking where we further save on food costs. With some creativity, money can be saved on vacation activities as well. We are fans of our state’s diverse park system and invested in a yearly pass. We have ocean beach access, mountain hiking, lake access, river access, and historical places within short drives for next to nothing. Even though our pass is six months old, we have not grown bored or run out of ideas of places to visit. It was definitely a good investment for us.

Third, we have to accommodate Charlie’s special needs. I have found this to be trial and error. The first time I packed too much of some stuff and failed to consider other things. As Charlie grows, her needs change and I must adjust accordingly. However, there are a few rules that have remained constant.  I ALWAYS carry a sealed plastic bag containing medical information in Charlie’s diaper bag. It contains her discharge summaries, her doctors’ names and phone numbers, her medication list and dosages, her allergies, and any other pertinent information at the time. Next, I prioritize packing her specialty items (not readily available in stores such as meds, medical equipment, and special ordered necessities) and plenty of them. I try to have enough for two days longer than our itinerary. Then, I familiarize myself with the medical facilities of where we are traveling. Is there a major medical facility close to where we are traveling? What would I do if Charlie needed urgent medical care? It is reassuring for me to know our options should we (hopefully not) need them. Finally, there are the special considerations that can not be packed. In the past, we needed boiled water (electric kettles are great) and a way to sterilize bottles (microwave bottle sterilizers work well). In that case, we preferred hotel rooms with full kitchens (there are reasonably priced chains that provide full kitchens).

Lastly, remember that traveling with the family is meant to be fun. Once all the preparation and planning is done, relax and enjoy the ride. Use knowledge gained from prior experiences to prepare for future endeavors. If a big trip seems overwhelming, start small. For example, try an overnight trip that is a short distance from home to build confidence and get ideas. Our travel plans are never executed flawlessly but we have learned to deal with issues that arise. Sometimes, we encounter unforeseen hassles or frustrations.  Nevertheless, I love traveling with my circus.


This photo was taken on our first family overnight trip. There will be more pictures to follow. We have several trips scheduled this summer.

Playing peek a boo while walking by the river at Shenandoah River State Park.

Practicing sitting by the river at Shenandoah River State Park.

River Baby

Today Charlie learned about rivers. She played in the Shenandoah River and went on a short hike along the river bank.

Rocking It or How We Survived Lockdown

There are so many losses that occur when one has a preemie. I became aware of my first loss when I had to leave the hospital without my baby. The toll kept mounting from there.

I did not get to wear any of my maternity clothes. Nor, did I get to take pregnancy pictures. I missed out on bonding time with my baby in the womb and as a newborn. There are countless things that preemie moms are robbed of. Some of my losses sadden me to this day.

To think, I was one of the lucky ones… my baby came home.

After I stumbled my way through the shock and grief of my baby’s early delivery, I tumbled head first into mourning. It was difficult for me to get up from the blow.

My sadness became such an issue that: I found a way to bypass all those moms taking their new babies home by taking the long route up to the NICU each morning. I changed grocery stores and hid from my neighbors in order to avoid the explanation of why I was no longer pregnant or relay (and relive) the day’s events in the NICU for each individual.

I secretly hated and was envious of all the complaints posted about newborn parenting life that popped up on my Facebook news feed. It took most of my baby’s NICU stay (88 days) to work through much of the mourning.

After two months, my baby was transferred to a closer hospital. There, the NICU had private rooms and it helped immensely. I got back some of the things such as my privacy, my dignity, and special moments with my baby. By the end of her stay, I had almost come to terms with what I had lost. I was not ready to give up anything else.

But, I had heard stories from preemie veterans. I had heard how the isolation and infection control measures of the first year home can be just as demoralizing or even worse than the NICU experience. The time of quarantine like measures is often referred to as “lock down”. I refused to surrender my first year with Charlie to it.

At one of my baby’s first appointments with her pediatrician, I asked her about the rules for home life (my baby came home at the start of RSV season in September). After the NICU, I was accustomed to the excessive hand washing and the sanitizer. We had to limit our contact with people and public places. I inquired about going outside and was told it was fine. Armed with this information, I was able to come up with a plan.

Our state has thirty six state parks. Each one is beautiful, unique, and basically vacant on week days in the off season. In between appointments, we decided to visit each one.

With a newly acquired jogging stroller and a one year pass, we set off.

We have visited eleven so far (most parks more than a few times). We have hiked over three hundred miles, had many adventures, and saw some amazing sights. It started out as a whim and a way to pass RSV season while avoiding “lock down”.

However, now it is important to me that we finish and visit all thirty six parks. By doing this, I am giving the finger to the whole preemie experience… Prematurity can take away the infant experience as I planned it. Nevertheless, we are rocking it out and having a great time.

sky meadows

Before we got the jogging stroller, here is where it began Sky Meadows State Park.

Mason Neck

Mason Neck State Park

We had reached 100 miles at Shenandoah River State Park.

From our first weekend get away at Occoneechee State Park.

Kiptopeke State Park

First Landing State Park

UPDATE: As she got older, she there was so much more she could do at the parks…

sensory play

Sensory play at Shenandoah River State Park

Chippokes Plantation

Swinging at Chippokes Plantation State Park.

James River State Park

Practicing standing (for the first time) in the stump garden at James River State Park.

As of 10/10/13, we have visited 17 of the 36 state parks. See also: One Third Complete

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