Saturday, December 24, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Keeping the Kids Busy While Waiting for the Big Guy

We've made gingerbread houses.  Now what?
Two Days before Christmas and all through the house 
The kids shook with excitement the parents could not douse. 

The stockings have been hung and are ready for stuffing
But the kids won't leave Mommy alone and her anger is puffing.

"Get out of the house and do something creative,"
She exclaimed to all a bit too berate -tive.

But she was tired and needed to be baking
and wrapping and cleaning and making.

When what to her wonderful mind appears?
A game to entertain her three little dears.

"Here's a scavenger hunt guaranteed to enthrall
Now dash away, dash away, dash away all!

From the top of the porch to the top of the hall,
Find the 12 signs of Christmas while having a ball.

Bring back some pictures to show you're on board,
The kid who finds the most will get a reward."

And She heard them exclaim as they tore out of sight,
"Let's find all we can! Santa comes tomorrow night!"

If you are looking for something to entertain the kids and give you some space, here's our 12 Signs of Christmas Scavenger Hunt:

(Kids should search with a camera to capture each object with a picture and not mess up your or your neighbor's decorations.  If you have a large number of kids hanging out at your house, I suggest forming teams for the hunt.)

12 Christmas Wreaths
11 Red Bows
10 Wrapped Presents
 9  Santa Clauses
 8  Tiny Reindeer
 7  Snowmen
 6  Christmas Trees
 5  Golden Ornaments
 4  Glittery Stars
 3  Christmas Stockings
 2  Shiny Angels
 1  Nativity Scene

My kids rode around on their bikes for a couple of hours looking for all the items, but kids could find many things inside the house if the weather isn't cooperating.  I hope this occupies their minds and bodies for a while and gives the mommies and daddies some much needed breathing room!

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Emma's Savannah Birthday

Our Birthday Family Reunion
Is it weird for a nine year old to want to visit a historic city for her birthday?  Is it even weirder if she wants to tour an old home while there?  I do not think this is normal.  I'm beginning to think this sabbatical is having a strange effect on our kids... for better or worse.

Since Sherman gifted the City of Savannah, GA to Lincoln for Christmas in 1864, we decided to give our youngest, Emma Grace, the same thing for her ninth birthday.  Is this considered regifting?  We also threw in The Bobo family who drove down from Canton for an added surprise to help us celebrate.  The weather for the day was pristine and our baby girl got what she wanted: a perfect sight-seeing birthday.

Emma awoke to a new outfit laid out on her bed.  This was a special birthday treat since we haven't purchased new clothes this year. (No need, really, since most school days are spent at home and no new clothes is a great way to save money this year.)  We dined on Emma's requested country ham and biscuits for breakfast and then got dressed for our big day out.  Mandy, Shannon and their new dog, Sophie had arrived late the night before and Emma was thrilled to see them (especially Sophie!)  Leaving the dogs behind to get along or duke it out, we piled into the family bus and headed to meet Hannah and Spencer for lunch.

The door to the upstairs bedchamber where
Captain Flint spent his final hours.
Savannah is about an hour's drive from Fripp Island.  Holiday traffic put us a little behind schedule, but we gathered together in plenty of time for a birthday feast at The Pirates' House.  One of Emma's favorite restaurants, The Pirates' House contains the oldest home in Georgia as it was built atop the original Trustee's Garden established by Georgia's founder, James Oglethorpe, in 1733.  The Garden main purpose was the colony's business venture of growing silk worms which quickly failed; however, Georgia and South Carolina's famous peach trees were first cultivated at the Trustee's Gardens.

Our party was fortunate to dine in this oldest part of the Pirates' House restaurant called the Herb House where the first gardener of the colony lived.  As the Garden failed, but the seaport of Savannah thrived, the Garden area was converted into an Inn for seafaring travelers as it was only one block from the Savannah River.  Soon merchant marines and pirates alike took over the Inn drinking grog and gambling to their hearts' content.  The city of Savannah and the Pirates' House is mentioned several times in the book, Treasure Island.  In fact, the famous Captain Flint died in one of the upstairs bedrooms of the Inn giving Robert Louis Stevenson the opening scene for his book.  On a previous trip, we visited the Pirates' House on a Ghost Tour and searched for the ghost of Captain Flint who haunts the restaurant on moonless nights.  We had tons of fun, but saw no ghost.

For lunch, The Pirates' House has a delicious buffet of southern specialties like fried chicken, BBQ, collard greens, black-eyed peas, squash casserole, fried okra and the quintessential southern vegetable: macaroni and cheese.  Our group of nine all went for the buffet.  I'm embarrassed to say my plate was laden with a little bit of everything!  Being a good southern girl, Emma enjoyed the fried chicken and the biscuits, but ate in lady-like proportions.  Some how she managed to eat a couple of bites of her strawberry shortcake after we sang happy birthday.  She's such a little lady!

What more could a girl want than a pirate
singing "Happy Birthday to You!"

We decided to leave our car at the restaurant to walk off our meal on the lovely tree-lined streets and squares of Savannah.  Oglethorpe planned his city well and laid out Savannah with a grid of streets and city parks every other street.  The result, almost three hundred years later, is a hypnotic and relaxed beauty admired by millions of visitors from all over the world.  We walked past the Colonial Cemetery with its duelers' graves and yellow fever victims.  As creepy as it is, I love a good graveyard!  This one's history thrilled us graveyard connoisseurs with it moss dripping live oaks and a wall of  headstones relocated when the city out grew its original boundaries.  Home owners across the street got a big surprise in the basement while renovating when they realized early civil engineers only moved the headstones!
The parlor of the Sorrel-Weed House in Savannah, GA
Anabel- Future Ghost Hunter

Finally, we reached our tour destination: the Sorrel-Weed House.  Reportedly (by the owners, of course), this is the most haunted house in Savannah with many love affairs and misdeeds including two gruesome murders to brag about.  Featured on both If These Walls Could Talk and Ghost Hunters, the home gives tours day and night.  We opted for the daytime, therefore less frightening, tour, but still got a couple of chills as we traced the footsteps of owner Francis Sorrel, his wife, Matilda and his mistress, Molly.  Anabel had the most fun trying to capture a ghostly image or orb with our camera.  She swears she caught Molly looking down at us from the window of her death chamber...

Can you spot a ghost?
In the basement, the owners have set up many infrared cameras to chronicle the supernatural activity.  Emma loved dancing around with the spectral dust floating by!   Is it really haunted?  Probably not.  But it was easy to let our imaginations run away with us for an afternoon.  We all enjoyed our private tour of this spooky home.
Hannah happily conversing with the other side... of the room.

Our final stop per the birthday girl's wish was River Street Sweets.  Without a doubt, this shop is kid heaven!  The aroma of browned butter and sugar smacks you in the face as you walk in the door.  The store was packed with holiday shoppers and merry tourists vying for the perfect Christmas confection.  After a free taste of their world famous pralines, Emma contented her sweet tooth with a bag full of sour ribbon candy.  Go figure.  We may have awakened her travel buds this year, but her taste buds are still 100% normal nine year old kid.  I guess she's not so weird after all.

Please, Sir, may I have some candy?  It is my birthday.
Happy Birthday, Emma!  We love you!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Going Coastal for Christmas

If I'd packed the Christmas decorations, Greg would have killed me.  Moving from 5000 square feet to 1600 square feet doesn't allow for 50 yards of lighted garland, 15 wreaths for the windows, three fully decorated Christmas trees and two holiday deer. You can forget about the life-size partridge in a pear tree.

So here we are, December, and we have no decorations.

My Bucket Advent Calendar
Well, almost no decorations.  I snuck the handmade Advent calendar of buckets into the back of the car while Greg was recording music and thus, distracted, when we were home in November.  I made the Advent buckets three years ago to help our family keep up with the traditions of Christmas.  Busy with school, dance, chorus, band, work, and volunteering, we missed the little things that make Christmastime special: baking cookies, drinking hot chocolate while watching It's a Wonderful Life, making peppermint milk in a fruit jar like my great-grandfather did, caroling our relatives (the only ones kind enough to take it) or even just riding around eating fast food burgers and looking at tacky Christmas lights.  The buckets solved everything.  Over Thanksgiving break, I wrote down a special holiday treat, tradition or activity for each of the 24 days leading up to Christmas and placed one in each bucket.  I tried to vary each day between a family outing like seeing the latest Christmas movie at the theater or a family tradition like baking sugar cookies to silly treats like holiday pens, pencils, socks or candy.   I also scheduled into the bucket activities the essential holiday preparations of getting the Christmas tree, decorating and special church services.  The kids loved getting up in the morning and checking out the surprise for that day.  Obviously, I had to bring this to Fripp. (I'll post some of these special holiday activities from this year.)

With our calendar proudly hung, we decided to get creative for the rest of our decorations instead of spending more money.  As part of their PE assignments, the kids scoured the beach each day looking for seashells, sand dollars and starfish.  Greg contributed by going clamming, happily eating the clams and donating the shells for the new tree garland.  I golf carted around the island in the rain searching for the beautiful Atlantic White Cedar trees in full berry and snuck a few limbs here and there for our mantel and mirror.  We only purchased burlap for stockings, jute and hemp roping for the shell garland and two strands of blue lights for the tree.

After pulling all the ingredients together, we spent one whole day sitting around the living room, watching football and creating our decorations.

The kids strung popcorn while Greg drilled the holes in the seashells and I created the garland.  We made individual ornaments with the sand dollars and whelk shells.  After layering it all on the tree and adding our travel ornaments, our lone starfish topped the tree.
Greg's drilled shells

Our Coastal Christmas Tree

Not a professional pattern
The mantel, decked out with the cedar and berries, looked complete when we added our personally sewn stockings.  Emma and I cut a rough pattern out of newspaper and I gave the kids their first sewing lesson on my handy Baby Lock sewing machine (I insisted on bringing this on sabbatical and it finally paid off!)  Wyatt and Emma sewed their stockings without hesitation, but Anabel froze when it came her turn.  Trying not to lose my patience, I asked her what on earth was the matter.  Leave it to Anabel and her love of movies to paralyze her at a tiny sewing machine.  Seems in the American Girl movie about Samantha, there was a scene in a sweatshop factory where a boy got his hand caught in a machine and the giant needle went through his hand.  Ouch!  After showing Anabel that it was impossible to sew your hand on this machine she proceeded without any problems.  Kids... you never know what they're thinking.

I added a shell initial for each child's stocking... Thank you, Hot Glue Gun!

With the stockings hung by the chimney with care, I proceeded to make a holiday wreath for our center mirror.  I wired a few cedar branches together and "Voila!" A Christmas wreath!

Our homemade decorations may pale in comparison to their store bought brethren back home, but I love these coastal decorations we made together and will treasure them always (or at least until they start to smell.)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Very Santa Weekend

Not the real Santa, but a very nice alternative.
Much to the delight of kids and grownups alike, Santa arrived via fire engine (not sleigh) on Fripp to kick off the island's holiday season.  This small town, old fashioned and homespun frivolity made Christmas memories for all.  With hot chocolate and cookies in hand, children danced around the alligator statue or waited patiently in line to sit in the Big Man's lap and tell their Christmas wishes.

Our three lined up for more treats instead of Santa choosing to wait till our scheduled breakfast with him the following day.  Wyatt downed three and a half cups of scalding hot chocolate in record time only spilling a few well placed drops on our return home in the golf cart.  By the way, traveling by golf cart to see Santa Claus arrive is the only way to go!  Greg can handle the chill in the air without care while on a golf cart.  No weather related depression this year.

The next morning, Anabel, Wyatt and Emma told Santa their Christmas lists each modestly reduced to match our change in situation this year.  Gone were the elaborate requests from the American Girl store and Toys R Us.  They understood that this sabbatical is a gift in itself, but Wyatt couldn't resist putting a plug in for a dirt bike like he has done for the past 2 years.  (Sorry Wyatt.  Santa acts on parents' permission.  Sabbatical or no sabbatical, the answer is NO dirt bike.)

Breakfast with Santa
Elves' (not Elvis's) Workshop
The Fripp Island Resort's traditional Christmas kick-off weekend included a Local Artists Craft Sale, an Elves' Workshop for kids to purchase inexpensive gifts, Santa's Evening Arrival Party, and Breakfast Buffet with Santa the next day.  Like many things on the island, the organization needed work and the wait staff was stretched a little thin, but it's Christmas so who would complain?

We know we only have a few (if any) of these "Santa's lap" Christmases left.  In the end, I hope our kids enjoyed the weekend as much as we did.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Biltmore Winery

Going from milk to wine... the classic coming of age story:

Biltmore Ice Cream still sold at Antler Hill Village
First Milk...When George Vanderbilt first envisioned his Biltmore estate it had a two fold purpose: a relaxing vacation home for his friends and family and a productive agricultural investment.  After completing the home in 1895, he immediately went to work on the farm and dairy.  He researched with great care the best and most productive dairy cows ultimately importing 100 head of Jersey cows from Britain’s Channel Island of Jersey.  The Jersey breed is a popular dairy cow due to the high butterfat content of its milk and high output to size ratio which means a farm can have more cows in a smaller space.  

When Vanderbilt launched Biltmore Dairy Farms, he intended it to be an internal operation for his estate only with surplus milk being donated to the Asheville area hospitals.  However, with the Vanderbilt knack for making money, he expanded the company into home delivery.  The dairy thrived and Biltmore cattle were awarded blue ribbons at national Jersey Shows numerous times.  As the Farm grew, the Biltmore Dairy Truck was a regular sight around North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and Virginia.  

Due to growth of the SUPERMARKET, Biltmore Farms sold the main bulk of their over 1000 head of Jersey cows to Pet Milk, Inc. in 1985.  The family farm still maintains a herd of Jersey cattle in Mills River, North Carolina with bloodlines tracing back to the original nineteenth-century cows purchased by George Vanderbilt.
Thus, our tour guide retold the history of the most visited winery in America.  The Vanderbilts and prize cows.  Who knew?
The Heart of Antler Hill Village
Then Wine...George Vanderbilt’s grandson, George H. V. Cecil converted the original dairy barn into the Biltmore Winery in 1985.  Planting his first American-French hybrid grapevines in 1971, Cecil experimented with the feasibility of winemaking in North Carolina, but taking a page from his grandfather's book, he was determined to keep the Estate self-supporting.  

Former milking room; now wine vat room

Hiring  Phillippe Jourdain as winemaker in 1977, Cecil brought the sophistication and experience of six generations of winemaking from Provence, France.  Although, before Prohibition, North Carolina had the most vineyards in North America, the first wines from Biltmore paled in comparison to California wines.  Jourdain replanted with all french vines and plugged onward.  

Today, winemakers, Bernard Delille and Sharon Fenchak use 15% Biltmore grown grapes and 85% other American regional grapes to produce over 140,000 cases of wine each year selling approximately 55,000 cases at the winery to its one million visitors each year.  Whoa!  That's a lot of wine!  Again, who knew?

After our complete and thorough history lesson, we arrived at the good part... 

Greg enjoying a taste of the Biltmore Zinfandel
The tasting room!  (For those adults traveling with children, kids are allowed on the tour and are offered grape juice in the tasting room.)  The set up in the tasting room provided ample space to sample wines with just a handful of people around one sommelier.  Our personal pourer was extremely helpful and knowledgeable about the Estate's wines and provided us with a list of all the wines available for trying.  We started with a sip from the lighter and sweeter whites and worked our way to the heavier and drier reds.  It was difficult work, for sure!   

All that history made Emma thirsty!

Greg preferred the zinfandel.  I favored the pinot noir.  Wyatt and Emma deemed the grape juice the best they had ever tasted.  Anabel walked Ginger through the Antler HIll Village having no interest in the winery.  What a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.  

George H. V. Cecil accomplished his goal of a self-sustaining winery.  All the people enjoying the free tastings purchased at least one bottle ($10-$20 each) of wine.  We purchased eight with Christmas gifts in mind.  Greg and I both love giving each other wine for Christmas!
As they say, "It's five o'clock somewhere."

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Biltmore Estate's Farm at Antler Hill Village

One attraction of the Biltmore’s 8,000 acre estate is the Farm at Antler Hill Village.  The farm successfully preserves life circa 1900 to demonstrate the estate’s original agricultural purpose.  Kids and parents explore all aspects of farm life from tending the barnyard animals and playing turn-of-the-century games to demonstrations in blacksmithing and woodworking.  

An excellent (and affordable!) lunch at Biltmore
The Barn, once the social and work center for the families who lived on the estate, is alive again with blacksmiths, woodworkers and other craft demonstrations.  Old storage sheds have been converted to house an old-fashioned Mercantile shop offering local Appalachian crafts, dry goods and heirloom candy, and a Smokehouse counter selling Carolina barbecue and hot dog meals complete with good old-fashioned Southern sweet tea.
The woodworker shop is equipped for all late nineteenth century needs.  The farm woodworker must be a “jack of all trades” in repair and simple construction work to sustain a successful farm.  He would be responsible for all wagon and plow repairs, as well as, constructing all feed boxes, storage crates, ladders, tables, chairs, stools, and racks used around the farm and workers’ homes. During our visit, the woodworker demonstrated creating a lid for a box on a lathe proving that farm woodwork could be decorative in addition to utilitarian.  Historically, a farm carpenter must be accomplished with these tool operations: sawing, leveling, plumbing, erecting, sharpening, measuring, squaring, boring, planing doweling, mitering, chiseling, nailing, screwing, tapering, scraping, sanding, filing.. well, you get the picture.  With that much responsibility, the farm woodworker seriously had job security!
Another essential worker on a nineteenth century farm was the blacksmith.  
As the famous author and poet, Rudyard Kipling, wrote:

Gold is for the mistress- silver for the maid-
Copper for the craftsman cunning at his trade.
“Good!” said the Baron, sitting in his hall, 
“But Iron -- Cold Iron-- is master of them all.”
And the master of iron is the blacksmith.  A blacksmith is a person who creates objects from wrought iron or steel by forging the metal.  Forging metal is the process of heating metal until it becomes soft and then using tools to hammer, shape, bend and cut the metal into the desired shape.  Blacksmiths work by sight and feel heating the black iron until it turns a glowing yellow-orange color which indicates the ideal temperature for hammering the iron into the needed shape.  Since first discovered or developed by the Hittites of Asia Minor (now the Middle East) around 1500 b.c., the smelting of iron ores and the art of blacksmithing has been essential to human development and production. The Biltmore Farm blacksmith would have been responsible for shoeing horses, creating farm and household tools, fences, hinges, and decorative ware, as well as,  repairing equipment on wagons, horse tack, and farm equipment.  Again, great job security!

The current blacksmith at the Farm at Antler Hill comes from a long line of blacksmiths with his family working the art for over 400 years.  He is extremely passionate about his art!  His enthusiasm and attention to detail in his demonstration made the kids and parents alike interested in his work.  Instead of creating a run of the mill nail for his demonstration, he fashioned a delicate ornate leaf out of a block of black cast iron.  His leaves are so beautiful that Southern Living magazine commissioned him to create a entire chandelier with over 100 leaves.

Bee keeping and Honey harvesting Demo
In addition to these wonderful demonstrations, the Farm offers hands-on experiences for children with many 19th century games laid out around the barn for the kids to pick up and play.  Wyatt was quite good at the hoop and stick and Emma enjoyed playing graces.  Anabel headed into the center horse stable where the Farm has many toys and dolls from the turn of the century.  Here, a movie about the Vanderbilt family plays on the hour for an additional educational experience if the kids will put the games and toys down to watch.

Attached to the living history farm is the functioning horse stables where visitors may book trail rides by the hour.  For those looking for a more modern way of touring the estate, there are heavy duty traction Segway tours available.  Whatever your speed, don't miss the Antler Hill Farm for a bit of relaxation and education about turn-of-the-century life in North Carolina.