Take a Hike

shutterstock_87216676Now that the holidays are over, we’re all feeling a little rambunctious.  The weather’s been great here in Maryland, so why not take advantage and get outdoors. Bundle up, grab a bottle of water and take a hike.

On Saturday, January 3, head over to Benjamin Banneker’s woods for a short evening hike under a full moon and be rewarded with a campfire and toasted marshmallows. This hike requires registration, but what fun for little (and big) kids to get outside and hike under the stars.

Better yet, jump on the Metro and view the Washington, D.C. monuments under the full moon on a guided 4-mile hike taking place on Sunday, January 4, at 5 pm. This hike is one of my favorites (I wrote an earlier post about it), and typically happens each month. You haven’t seen the monuments until you’ve experienced them under the full moon. Registration is required.

If you prefer a less registered approach, review one of weeAdventure‘s very first posts, which included several nearby hiking recommendations.

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Happy New Year!

Raise Your GlassI don’t know how you feel about the year ending, but I feel a little sentimental. Watching the highlight reels of who died this year pushed me into a reflective mood. This year, my sons will spend New Year’s Eve with their dad, but even if we were together they’re much too old now to celebrate the way they used to: by eating Macaroni & Cheese in the Bathtub, surrounded by tea lights as they toasted with sparkling cider. They still talk about this adventure in reverent tones, though, and I know we’re linked together by the crazy, fun moments. Even when we’re far apart.

When they were younger, play was their work. Now we have to schedule time for play, between rehearsals, homework, appointments, and practices. As college looms closer on our family horizon, I’m reminded of the importance of play in our memories, building intimacy. Writing for weeAdventure is about sharing the places and play we’ve enjoyed. Thanks for coming along for the ride — there’s so much more to experience in the coming year.

Wherever — and however — you celebrate the beginning of 2015, be sure to follow my grandmother’s advice and eat enjoy something with lentils to ensure good luck.

From my family to yours, Happy weeAdventure New Year.



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Capture the Memories

We’re in the midst of it again: Hallo-Thank-Mas. If you’re anything like me, you might be scratching your head, thinking, “How did it get to be the middle of November – already?” I’m scrambling to organize my family photos to create what has become a beloved annual gift to each of my sons: their ‘Year-in-Review’ albums.

Photobooks3The boys are teenagers now, but sometimes when I’ll pop into one of their rooms to catch up or drop off a bit of laundry that has accidentally co-mingled with my own, a quick, embarrassed shuffle will take place. And while they might be setting aside a comic book or an iPhone, more often than not, it is one of these books. I’ve raised sentimental boys. Their future partners can thank me!

The first books were crudely crafted with the now-defunct Kodak Gallery. They always include photos from the preceding Christmas through Thanksgiving of the present year. As I sift through and piece together pictures, I look for individualized themes. One year, my eldest dressed as Mr. Incredible for Halloween so the lens through which I gazed and told his story related to him being undercover and performing incredible feats all year. These days, I’m using Shutterfly to create books unique to each of the boy’s personalities.

Cover photo by John Waire

Cover photo by John Waire

I like to include all sorts of shenanigans, too. For example, one year I captured on film the “great marshing” incident, when my youngest toasted a marshmallow one second too long and it landed not in his mouth, but rather as tribute to the fire gods. That photo showed him bursting into a torrent of tears. Then there’s the family truckster we drove all around Ireland. Just seeing a photo of that blue monstrosity sparks all kinds of tales and sends us into gales of laughter. The books tell of Halloween costumes, performances, artwork, hairstyles, unsuspected snapshots, and the year’s historical happenings. I also include a love letter at the start of each book. Never do I want my sons to doubt how much they are loved or admired.

Photobooks2The books serve as both a poignant reminder of those precious people whom we’ve lost and memories which tickle at the edges of our consciousness. When did we travel to Amsterdam? Was it before or after we moved into our new home? These questions are easily answered by hauling the books off the shelf, and often result in a gallivant down memory lane. Stories get dusted off and retold, laughter abounds.

So when I piece together this year’s books, I’ll be thinking in terms of capturing moments we’ll want to remember, tidbits that might spark togetherness, or a phone call when we’re no longer in the same house. And, perhaps, when I’m gone from this earthly realm, the love I’ve poured onto the pages will remain, a tribute to the moments we built into a life.

If you like the cover photo captured by John Waire, visit his 2012 weeadventure post to see more of his amazing photos. Be sure to head over to John’s A Year in the Light post to see how you can help youngster Joe Henson (and get some great shots for yourself).

How do you like to capture and share family memories?

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Autumn is a Great Time for “Low-Tech” Fun

Susie Breaux McShea weeAdventure blogger Susie Breaux McShea.

So, apparently even Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, Inc., limited his children’s screen time.

This news, quoted first in a New York Times article last month, was affirming for some parents and a source of renewed pressure for others. I will not reveal which category describes me (but “guilt” is my middle name).

When I heard about this, I was especially pleased that our family already had a “screen-free” trek planned for the next day, reinforcing the parenting ideals of Mr. Jobs. We made our annual autumn visit to Gaver Farm in Frederick County, Md. It’s a decidedly “low-tech” attraction that my tech-obsessed children have enjoyed for years. And, in this glorious season, it is just one of many opportunities for the whole family to pull away from our devices and appreciate the great outdoors.

At Gaver Farm, the beautiful rural setting is the perfect backdrop for old fashioned fun. The activity area extends up a gentle grassy slope next to a wall of 10 foot high corn stalks and just up a hill from an orange-dotted pumpkin patch. The smell of apple cider, not to mention the homemade donuts, fills the air. These treats await for the end of a busy afternoon.

968My kids zig-zagged up the hill, crisscrossing with other skipping children on their way to games and activities (generally trailed by parents who were struggling to keep up, but having just as much fun). A perennial favorite for my kids is the hand water pump that fuels rubber ducky races. My boys competed in carnival type games like the whiffle ball toss. A row of bright orange laundry baskets, bottoms removed, served as basketball hoops and enabled our whole family to take our best shots simultaneously.

Kids can grab burlap bags to sit on as they glide down their choice of three slides on the property.  Huge truck tires, partially buried and well anchored in the ground, serve as climbing challenges.

Like many farms, there are goats, pigs, and bunnies to feed, along with peacocks and turkeys to admire.

cow trainMy six-year-old daughter and I enjoyed a ride on the cow train, a makeshift vehicle in which old barrels have been transformed into seats and decorated like cows with names like Daisy Mae and Jelly Bean. A classic tractor pulls the herd across slightly bumpy terrain. My biggest accomplishment of the day may have been getting in and out of that low-riding seat successfully!

And there’s more: kid-sized tractors powered by bicycle pedals, bean bag toss games, mazes of a myriad of materials and sizes, swings made of old tire parts, and a popular air powered jumping “pillow.”

Best of all, my kids—one a first-grader, one a middle-schooler, and one a brand new high-schooler—all remained engaged, smiling, laughing, and moving for hours. As kids get older, family activities in which everyone can participate equally become more and more rare. So, I made sure I took a moment to soak it all in—committing the sights, sounds and feelings to memory.

Together, we navigated the huge corn maze. I must admit, the cellphones came out as we sought GPS assistance. Ultimately, however, trial and error, along with the “map” provided by Gaver (basically a drawing of the impressive maze design) worked better, and remained consistent with our low-tech adventure.

Gaver Farm is just one of dozens of seasonal attractions in Maryland, including Pick-Your-Own orchards, pumpkin patches, Halloween-themed activities and more. Click on the link below for a county-by-county list. Better yet, share your own recommendations in the comment section, and check back to get tips from other weeAdventurers.

What is your family’s favorite “low-tech” Maryland weeAdventure?



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Books, books, books!

shutterstock_116035345I’m a writer. This means I read. A lot.

It also means my kids read. A lot. We have well-used library cards. Barnes and Noble gave me a “frequent flyer*” card rather than a discount card. I cost them too much money. Amazon named me their favorite customer* and both the FedEx and UPS delivery guys stop at my house pretty much every day.

Get the picture?

Imagine my delight to discover, after having lived in Baltimore since 1995, a used bookstore that gives away books for FREE. Up to 150,000 per day, per person. No strings attached. Well, there is one string: you can’t resell the books.

How did I not know about this place?

Then I thought: maybe others didn’t know about it either. Consider this a Public Service Announcement!

This magical place of wonder is called The Book Thing of Baltimore, open on Saturdays and Sundays, 52 weeks a year, from 9 to 6. All books are free for the taking. Plus, if you have books to donate, there are weather-proof bins outside where you can drop off your pre-read materials.

Also, if you’re inclined, The Book Thing of Baltimore loves volunteers on Wednesdays from 3 to 7 pm. Just show up, stay as long as you can to help sort, stack and file books. If you’re under 12 years of age, you must come with a parent. Literacy is a plus.

The Book Thing of Baltimore, Inc.
3001 Vineyard Lane
Baltimore, MD 21218

*Just kidding!

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