We spent the last several days visiting my parents in Virginia and are heading home to North Carolina today.
I love my hometown, Blacksburg, Virginia. It is sleepily nestled in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and is home to Virginia Tech.
It is a beautiful and peaceful place to be.
And, it is home to Carol Lee Donuts, an iconic donut shop that has been in Blacksburg for as long as I can remember. They have 4.9 stars on Face Book from 323 reviews. Of the three one-star ratings, only one justified such a fallacy by exclaiming, “FYI……..This is a CASH or CHECK business. Really? It’s 2017, get with the times.”
My retort? Use the ATM in their lobby or any other ATM that our vast and modernly convenient society provides. Or, go across the street to Food Lion, buy a pack of gum and get some cash back. Let’s not put obstacles between ourselves and something good. It is called problem-solving people!
Then again, I suppose someone will be cross when something stands in the way of their acquisition of delicious donuts.
We went yesterday morning at 9:00 and it was still slammed busy. I would have thought it was a Saturday morning. They are open until 4:00 p.m., or until the donuts are gone.
The workers must dig deep for patience as customers like me repeat, “hmmmm” in between each choice and then lose count of how many they’ve selected toward their chosen amount. My decision was further complicated by the accompaniment of children.
“How many is that?
Too many tasty choices!
Blacksburg has a great small-town feel that wraps around and embraces Virginia Tech. Artistically rendered Hokie Birds can be spotted all around town.
But as a friend, who is also native to Blacksburg, recently pointed out: there isn’t anywhere in Blacksburg to buy underwear. An odd, yet valid point that perfectly illustrates a town, which continues to struggle balancing development with retaining the characteristics of a small college town.
Anyway, it is always nice to get away It is interesting how you can find so much more time when you are separated from the simple responsibilities of being in your own space! And, it is always nice to have someone cook for you and make coffee every morning!
The kids also get a break from their norm with the added benefit of hugs from Grandma and ice cream every night after dinner.
I also love that my parents have never believed in subscribing to the latest and greatest in technology, so screens aren’t really an entertainment option. Playing Minecraft isn’t even a distant thought. While we use screens some at home, I don’t much agree with the idea of them and you might catch me dramatically exclaiming they are the bane of my existence.
I just don’t subscribe to getting a screen for each of my little people (and I promise I don’t judge you if you do!).
When we drove up for our visit, the kids were forced to absorb the views from their car windows for the entire 2 1/2 hour drive. And, even though I was met with the question, “How much longer?” countless times, perfectly articulated in a whiny voice drawling out ‘longer’ as far as a tiny person can, it sure beats silence at the hand of screens.
Screens subscribe to the old phrase that “children should be seen and not heard.” Their voices instead replaced with melodic symphonies of video games, or the aggravating voice of Caillou. Imaginations overwritten with the robotic creations of others.
My car inhabitants were forced to be alone with their own thoughts, reflections, innovations and ideas. Oh, and to have conversations with each other and me about their observations.
I would say our visit has been all about getting ‘back to the basics,’ but that terminology serves as an insult to the wholeness of what it is and all that has kept my children busy the last several days. It isn’t really basic. It is fruitful and imaginative and far better than basic.
My parents live on over an acre of land, which through the eyes of a child is a giant fairy garden of sorts with all types of nooks and crannies begging for exploration.
Here is how we occupied our time.
Hot Wheels and Trains
The kids fully immersed themselves in my brother’s Hot Wheels collection and the Christmas train sets my mom keeps just for them.
We spent time outside.
Last night they gathered grass and apples in buckets to make nests for the birds under the grape vines.
We caught lightening bugs and picked blackberries that grow at the bottom of the yard.
The boys weeded the garden that didn’t quite get plowed or planted for the first time in over forty years.
They used what they found, along with a few borrowed sheets from Grandma and built a multi-room fort in the backyard.
We went on a treasure hunt. Equipped with buckets, we explored the yard looking for things in different categories – certain shapes or colors. It was kind of like a collector version of eye-spy. While it broke up some restlessness indoors, nature quickly drove us inside with the gnats who insisted on diving into our eyeballs. We parked our buckets and tabled the game until later.
We played board games.
The kids delved into the game cabinet, which houses countless games new and old, without direction from me. It’s nice to have some friendly family competition and to learn a little math skills while you are at it!
Here are the five games they played over and over again:
I prefer the traditional version of Monopoly, because I am just old-fashioned that way, but decades of marathon Monopoly games have taken a toll on that set, so we played the Disney version instead. It is actually super-cute and the kids loved it, especially because it reminded them of our trip to Disney World earlier this year.
2. Snakes and Ladders
A simple game, yet infinitely intriguing as you try to navigate from 1 to 100 without falling victim to landing on a snake’s tail and being forced to retreat to the rows below. When you land one square away from a threatening snake you exhale from deep within yourself and while you gaze wantonly at the next ladder, carefully counting to calculate what number you need to roll to land on it. And, if you are a child, you don’t even realize you are learning to count to 100.
I vividly remember playing this as a child and feeling like I really was at the helm of a real radar screen.
A newer game on the scene that is fast-paced as players try to steal matches from their opponents. My children are 8, 5 and 5 and they quickly understood the object of the game. It is fast-fun and quite entertaining.
We worked puzzles
It is a super-inexpensive way to spend a rainy day or a really hot one for that matter. The twins naturally preferred the floor puzzles, while my oldest and I worked a more-complicated 500-piece one. Tears were shed when the table accidentally toppled upending all of our hard work.
Otherwise, there was a small dose of boredom that spawned games like “Teddy toss.” Not a complicated game. All you need is a small teddy bear and a hallway with hardwood floors.
Then, like any reasonable mom, in the middle of the game, I sent them back outside. Because naturally, a good game of Teddy toss gets a little crazy in the confines of a hallway. And, it just might result in a groin injury, which is naturally shocking to Teddy’s owner, and calls for Grandma to repair it.
As the sun set on the last night of our visit, my youngest exclaimed from the bathtub, “Mommy. Why is the day going by so quickly? I just woke up.”
It was the perfect way of knowing everything was right and everyone was having a great time. After all, time flies when you are having fun.
I am hoping our far from ‘back to basics’ week inspires you to pick through the game cabinet or to journey outdoors to see what creative things might invite themselves into your imagination and those of your littles.
Or, if you live within a few hours of Blacksburg, Virginia get an early start and head there so you can have some donuts and coffee at Carol Lee’s and then explore the town, the university or one of the gazillion hiking trails that flank the town.
Journey on amongst the voices and imaginations of your babes. And, be sure to read on so you can tell them the reason behind the magical glow of the fireflies.
Why Do Fireflies Glow?
The Chemistry Behind The Light
Fireflies produce bioluminescence, due to a chemical reaction that occurs inside their bodies. The light is produced when oxygen combines with calcium, luciferin and adenosine triphosphate (ATP). It is a cold light, which is a good thing because if it was hot like a lightbulb the firefly would not survive!
The start and stop of the show of light is controlled by the firefly. It actually adds the oxygen to the other chemicals in its light organ to cause it to light up. When the oxygen isn’t available the light goes out.
The Science Behind It
The light alerts predators that they are not a palatable choice, as the chemicals that produce the bioluminescence are known to be quite distasteful. In addition, the light is used for mating purposes. Adult fireflies have certain flash patterns, which they use to identify other members of their species and those of the opposite sex.
Studies have shown that higher male flash rates with high flash intensity are more attractive to females in some firefly species.
Grab a jar and catch some fireflies for yourself, so you can observe the beauty that results from a little bit of oxygen!