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Super Steve

Uncle Steve. Uncle Steve. What can I say? We love him. He needs his own post. Friday, he took time out of his busy archiving to lead us around the St. Louis Museum of Transportation. We had our own personal tour. The joy that Wynne gets from visiting this guy is just unmatched by anyone (except Grandpa Scott, of course.) Uncle Steve is not only a volunteer here, but also at the Kirkwood Train Station, and is a member of a model train club.
And he used to work on real, actual locomotives! We got to look inside lots of trains no one ever gets to see. We got a special ride on the Trolley. Yes, a real actual working trolley. We got to see where all the books, videos, artifacts and train parts get brought in and catalogued. We learned so much. For example, did you know that the bigger the locomotive engine's wheels are, the faster it goes, AND that it most likely carried passengers.? Those big wheels made for a smoother ride.
And then, he even bought us each a pretzel! The boys were a little wild and crazy, and it was rainy, but Uncle Steve was a champ. Thank you Uncle Steve! Boy, are we are lucky to have this guy!

Back at Grandma's

Now we've been here a week. The shine is beginning to wear off. On the kids, the grandparents, and the parents. We did make it in time for Grandma Nancy's birthday on the 20th, and surprised she was. We walked into Grandma's workplace right as she was walking by to fix the entrance door (that I swear, we didn't break) when she stopped and jumped (almost..if her knees had allowed it) for joy!
That evening, we walked (the boys scootered, naturally) to old downtown Webster to get some pizza, then met up with Aunt Pam and Uncle Steve for some ice cream. Grandma Nancy got plenty of help scooping her own sundae from two sticky little guys, eager to try every flavor.
After several months away, we heard the zoo was missing us. Luckily, Grandma got the day off and we ruled the place. Wynne got splashed in the face by a penguin, he connected with a zoo docent talking about puffins, penguins and okapis, and was at one with the guinea hens and peacocks roaming the place. Not sure what it is, but birds (especially domesticated ones) like the kid. Henry spent about half an hour in a one-on-one Q & A with the Entomologist in the butterfly house. And who says homeschooling can't be fun?

Friday the boys and the neighborhood kids took over the street with bikes, trikes, scooters and skateboards. I love that my parents live on a street full of kids! It was fun...and a bit dangerous. Bryce and I got out of there when Nancy got home from work because guess what...we went on this thing called "A DATE."
WooHoo! Dining without children - what an experience! So quiet, so intriguing, so tasty. Really, I mean I actually got to taste my food. And good food it was. Smoked duck confit, braised mustard greens, smoky beans and so much more. OOooola la! The Smoked Duck Restaurant was not a disappointment. We wandered the city, enjoyed some drinks and dessert and made it back home to find...the kids still awake?!!! Aye aye aye! This was all wrong. Yes, it was 10:30, but they should be sleeping. What exactly happens between that parent/grandparent stage? I don't think I saw 10:30 on any day of the year but New Years Eve in my youth.

Saturday the whole crew was out of the house early for a new experience for most of the crew. The IMAX Theater show about Sea Life at the Science Center. This exceeded all expectations and once we convinced Wynne that he would not be falling out of the seat down to the bottom of the theater, all was well. We even stayed for the new Darwin Exhibit, which is pretty darn good for the science center. We all found something to enjoy. On to Sweetie Pie's restaurant for another new experience. Wow. Soul food anyone? I think there was a stick of butter in everything I tried. At least 5 cheeses in the Mac n Cheese. It was tasty but Wynne said it best when he finished his whole plate of catfish, sweet potatoes, cornbread, mac n cheese and cobbler, " My feet and legs feel heavy dad." He climbed onto Bryce's lap and fell asleep. No joke. We all required a caffeine boost after that lard coma.

Sunday we snuck away for a soggy, squishy, muddy birthday bash for Lushen Claridge out at Terra Bella. We surprised him and the whole gang. It was lots of fun and lots of rain!

That leads us to this week. Back to the books for the boys and me, visits with Great Grandpa, picnics at the Sculpture Park, slides and swings at the playground and the St. Louis Storytelling Festival for the rest of the week. We'll share some tall tales with you next time we're around.


The Toothfairy

Funny moment. Henry lost his second tooth yesterday. That makes 2 teeth lost in 6 days! This kid will be rich in no time. Good thing he only has a limited number of teeth. On the occasion of his first lost tooth, a few funny conversations evolved.

1. At bedtime.
Shortly after Henry lost his first tooth, it was time for bed. Oh the excitement! He found his nifty tooth pillow he had made only months before, stuffed the tooth in the pocket, wrote a note to the fairy and laid down to rest. Only a moment later did Wynne ruffle his feathers, complaining that he too wanted his tooth pillow to sleep with for the night. Wynne fell asleep, while Henry continued to toss and turn. He got up, turned on the light and said,"Mom, I can't sleep. I think that if the toothfairy visits me and not Wynne, then Wynne is going to be very sad."
To which I responded that when he loses a tooth the fairy will visit him too. This was just not good enough for Henry. He got out a pencil and paper and left this note," Dear Toothfairy, This is my brother Wynne's tooth pillow. He would like something too, if you have anything extra. Thanks, Henry" He folded the note, placed it in the W pillow and fell right to sleep.

2. In the Morning.
We were busy trying to get the car packed to get on the road to St.Louis. It was 5 a.m. The boys woke up excited about the toothfairy visit. Bryce and I heard this exchange.

Wynne: Did the toothfairy find your pillow, Henry?

Henry: Oh yes! Look, its paper money with a 5 on it! Oh yeah! Wynne! Check your pillow pocket!

Wynne: Oh, I got a paper money too! With a one on it. But...where's the rest?

Henry: The rest of what?

Wynne: The rest of the toothfairy stuff, the...CANDY?!!

Henry: [laughing] She brings money, not candy, Wynne.

Wynne: Yeah, but candy is good. Not money. And candy is what makes your teeth fall out! I want candy from my toothfairy!

Henry: [laughing his head off]


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Wonderful Waterfalls


There was no way we were going to leave Virginia without one last tour of some of the state's finest waterfalls. It was off to the Peaks of Otter we went after packing the car. So full, in fact, that everytime we opened a door or rolled down a window a shoe, colored pencil, map or one of us would pop out from the pressure of all of it being squished in there together. Why is this? I blame the Easter Bunny. I digress. The Peaks of Otter. What a hike! Trillium, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, wild violets, Dogwoods, Redbuds and a host of others, all along the cool, bubbling stream, dotted with boulders and small waterfalls. It was too much to bear. We had to take off our shoes and wade around a bit. Tiny frogs and more little eggs were discovered all around. After all this exploring, it was back to the Peaks of Otter Lodge. The Lodge was just what we needed. Virtually indestructible, this lodge was built shortly after the WPA era which meant cinderblock walls, and sturdy construction leaving this mom with no worries about the boys wrecking the place. Also, it was right on Abbott Lake, with a lovely view of the Peaks of Otter. The rooms had no telephones, televisions, internet or cell phone reception. It was perfect. Even better was the amazing seafood buffet that included whole steamed lobster, crab legs, oysters, on the half shell and fried, catfish, salmon, halibut, clams, scallops, seafood salad, crab cakes, frog legs and shrimp cocktail. This is only the seafood represented. There was a whole host of other fixins besides, along with the virtually untouched salad bar, and of course, desserts. Lucky for us the boys were free - I think Wynne ate the legs off of a whole community of crabs along with enough fried oysters and hush puppies to fill a boat. Henry would've eaten the whole lobster himself if it weren't for me sneaking in a bite or two. I think the boys ate 3 plates themselves. Full and happy, we took the trail back to our sleepy cabin.

After a quick morning hike to the Johnson Farmstead, we were on our way to Shenandoah National Park. The Blue Ridge Parkway on a 65 degree day in spring was definitely the way to travel. Beautiful vistas and flowers all around, we enjoyed it all. One picnic later, it was time for another walk. This time to another waterfall (what else!?) When we reached the small falls after walking down, down, down for about a mile, Wynne peeled his clothes off in record time and splashed right in the water. Henry quickly followed, hopping from stone to stone and sliding down slippery rocks naked as jaybirds and happy. The trip back up, up, up the mountain was memorable, but not so enjoyable as the boys had exhausted themselves in the stream. Dragging them up the trail, Bryce and I exchanged looks that said,"Will we ever learn?" These are character building exercises, right? One can only hope.

That evening, as we drove through the park in search of lodging, I came across a coupon in a travel guide. Massanutten Lodge Spring Special! It sounded like fun, had a great rate, a perfect location - we pulled up to the check in. My! Oh my Oh my! For you skiers out there, this is like a ski resort meets Tan-Tar-A meets Hilton Head (without the beach.) The boys were dazzled. Once they caught site of the indoor waterpark, there was no going back. The place was a zoo with 6 hotels, too many condos, its own police department, grocery and liquor store, and...well, you get the idea.

Yes, the next morning after a breakfast that rivals that of Cafe Berlin (in Columbia, MO) at the Little Grille in Harrisonburg, VA , where there are boxes of trivial pursuit cards on all the tables, fun bookshelves full of ninja turtles, hello kitty toys, postcards and kids books from years gone by we were on our way to (Oh God help us) the indoor waterpark. The boys chanted "We're so excited! We can't wait! We're going to an inside waterslide! Yessss!" while wearing their goggles the whole way there. Truthfully, it was a blast. Just like Oceans of Fun or White Water or whatever waterpark you've been to, only in a climate controlled, massively huge bubble. What a day!

That night we stayed in Wytheville, VA exhausted and happy to sleep. Henry, Wynne and I headed to Big Walker Lookout and Mountain for more mountain goat activities to wear out the boys (and myself) as Bryce worked his hiney off so we could leave the state of Virginia and be back in St. Louis, MO just in time for my mom's birthday on the 20th. And we did it! Here we are, back in St.Louis with my family and the boys are back to playing with all their toys and begging to sleep in the camper in my parents backyard. Is it strange that when they get here Henry says ,"Hey Wynne, I know. We can sleep in the camper and pretend we are traveling all over the world." Really?! What an idea.
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goodbye claytor lake tour

Here is a quick video of the house we've called home in Virginia for the last 2 months. It is a partial tour, ending at the dock before our bon voyage paddle boat excursion.

Farewell Virginia

Here we are in our last hours at Claytor Lake. Tomorrow is the last day here on Old Ferry Road, so tonight for our "finilly" as Henry regards it, we took out the Paddle boat for a little trip around the lake. Lots of fun was had by all, even when we let the boys steer the boat around and around and around in circles. We finished up by cleaning out the fridge, making breakfast for supper. The boys ate 5 pancakes each in an all new record. Now to pack the car.

We do regret saying good bye to our new friends, gymnastics classes, the Blacksburg Library folks (especially Ruth) and this fine state full of wonders. We're sure to be back again soon. The boys and I even made a special trip to the Museum of Transportation in Roanoke this week, so we'll include a few pictures here too.
Missourians - we're headed to see all of you and we can't wait!


Cascade Falls & Frontier Culture Museum slideshow

Cascade Falls & Frontier Culture Museum

Once again, the Oates family is on the move. Now don't get too excited...we're still in Virginia. Now that the weather is warm and the trees are flowering and leafing out, so are we.
While Bryce was busy this week working, the boys and I explored more of the Blacksburg, VA area. I will once again give you a daily breakdown as this is easier for me.

Enjoyed some storytime with Miss Ruth at the library followed by a picnic lunch with our new friends Jack and Margaret, then some exploring on the Huckleberry trail that runs from Blacksburg to Christiansburg. A perfect warm day to spend running around the trail fending off oncoming bike traffic and pretend witches with sticks. Oh how folks on bikes love to see children running with sticks on "their" bike trail. Sorry folks.

What a busy day. Henry was the obstacle course king at his homeschool gymnastics class, which put him in a fine mood for the remainder of the day. We hit the Subway (thank you Aunt Pam!) and took a picnic out to the Pandapas Pond and trails for an evening meal. It might have been peaceful, had it not been for the dozen or so Canadian geese surrounding us hissing demands for veggie subs and popcorn. Wynne stood up to talk sense into them, finding only that they didn't speak english, were the same size as he was, and that it made it easier for them to nab his sammy. We finished up quickly, and walked the trail around the pond, enjoying the nature guideposts along the path. We finished up here, headed back to the car (where some crazy redneck was waving a pistol around in the parking lot. wow! the nice weather really brings the best out in folks!) It was onto poetry night at the Library, where we wrote Acrostic Poems, while Wynne entertained all the kids by telling them he was "made of fire and was going to invent a racecar that could drive through fire and blast off into space." That Wynne, he just has no imagination. Henry illustrated a poem with a painting and a drawing and had a great time chatting it up with the librarians,'telling them to visit Monticello sometime because "yeah, its a really cool place and a president lived there once too." He also added, mater-of-factly that the drive is "not too bad either." I think perhaps we've been doing a bit too much lately.

Check out the tiny video posted of Henry & Wynne's gymnastics and that will give you a vision on thursday. It was practice for future stunt man auditions...all day. We did manage to sneak in a visit to the lovely Virginia Tech Gardens where we found bluebells, redbuds, magnolias, tulips, daffodils, hyacinth, dogwood and a few cherry blossoms all bursting with color.

Bryce joined us this afternoon - Hooray!! Hiking up to Cascade Falls (just outside of Blacksburg, VA). A perfect day for it. Lots of granite stones and boulders to climb on, amazing rushing clear water, lots of interesting waterfalls and the grand prize - Cascade Falls. A 65 foot cascading waterfall to behold at the end of your 2 mile, uphill hike. We did stop to explore the stream quite a bit on the way up. At one point Henry decided to forge a new trail across the stream on a fallen log (um...I might mention here that the log was nearly 8 ft. above the very fast moving water) to what he called "a really interesting rock, mom." He luckily made it back to us alive, with one foot wetter, as I continued to breathe deeply into a paper bag. It should be noted that I am NOT a nervous nellie type, but seeing your son just balance beam walk across a HUGE fallen log over moving water as if he is Indiana Jones is a bit terrifying for the onlooking mother. The trail back down from the falls was not as enjoyable as the boys used their energies to get to the falls, making the trip back nothing new and interesting. Right around the 3.25 mile mark a whining party commenced, scattering wildlife far and wide. While we all did complete the 4 mile loop, there were few smiles from mile 3.5 to 4.
Found some good grub on the way back home and were all the better for it.

A day of history and culture. Out of the house early, we headed for Staunton, and the Frontier Culture Museum. This is a mostly outdoor museum consisting of several "homesteads" from a West African village in the 1700s (the slaves origins), an English homestead from 1600s with a milk cow, geese, sheep, chickens and the house and barns, an Irish Homestead with house, pens, stone fences, pigs, etc, a German Homestead with house, barn, garden, animals, well, etc and two homesteads "Appalachian style" one circa 1840 and one 1880. This place was very interesting and fun to walk around. This was a great way for all of us to learn about the various cultures based on their types of homes, gardens, animals and architectural patterns. Also, the German, Irish and English buildings were all authentic and brought from their respective countries and reconstructed on site. A blacksmith was working along with other guides in homes making cheese, buckets, and playing old time fiddle music. It was an educational and fun day in the sun. Again, the loop around the villages was a bit over 3 miles and yes, you guessed it, the walk back to the visitors center was slow and staggering. A popsicle at the finish improved moods greatly.
We drove into the town of Staunton (a town of nearly 350 years) and enjoyed the downtown scene, checking out the Cranberry Grocery & Cafe for some wraps and salads, then found some great gelato and sorbet at the Split Banana. All of these fun activities left us hoping for a slow and quiet Sunday. We wish you all the same.

Henry & Wynne and the Gymnastics show




Easter weekend brought us warm weather and lots of fun. Saturday we attempted to kayak at Claytor Lake State Park. Our plan was to kayak around the lake, enjoying the sunshine and scenery. Unfortunately, after an hour of kayaking INTO 45 mph winds with the boys shouting, "C'mon mom, C'mon dad! Turn on your engines!" we finally gave up and headed back to the docks. The return trip took about 30 seconds with the wind at our backs! Ha! Oh well, we had fun anyway. Building volcanoes and castles at the swimming beach proved fun until those wind gusts brought the sand into our faces. Yuck. Back home for some relaxation and togetherness.

Sunday we were lucky enough to be invited back to Harry and Gail's farm for a delicous lunch and Easter egg hunt. Their daughter Sarah and her son William (a charming little cutie) were also there for the fun. The boys had a great time hunting eggs all over the farm, finding the eggs filled with animals and playdough so they could be enjoyed for years to come. What a lovely day! We enjoyed visiting and felt lucky to have spent the day with these kind and generous folks. Hope you all had an equally fun spring day!
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D.C. trip (continued)

Okay, folks, my apologies on the newest photo collage. For those of you with Facebook accounts, you can check out more photos there, otherwise, you will have to put up with my photo collage-mania. For whatever reason, this blog does not care to digest photos in groups larger than three, so to decrease my own frustration with my technological ignorance, I just prefer to create a collage and share that way. Someday (probably never) I will attempt to fix this problem. If you know how to solve this dilemma, please send a tutorial my way. Again, my apologies.


Up bright and early with the rest of the D.C. area burbs, we were on the meto and headed back into the city for the Cherry Blossom Festival and the Kite Festival, all taking place in, around or near the National Mall. We arrived, squished ourselves out of the train with everyone else and decided that first, we'd finish up with any museum business that didn't get taken care of yesterday. Henry, Bryce and I went back to the Museum of Natural History. Henry just HAD to introduce Bryce to his new friend Darwin at the evolution exhibit, and take one last look at the dinosaurs and ancient cultures rooms before moving on to dead presidents and memorials.
Jake and Chelsea generously volunteered to take Wynne to the Air and Space museum to see the fast rockets and airplanes. This was a big step of independence for the little guy, being the first time he has been separated from family and done something with friends all by himself. Proud as punch and lifting off the ground like a little rocket himself, he held Jake's hand and Chelsea's hand and headed to the museum with his best buds.
Sometime later we all met up, enjoyed hotdogs and half-smokes (these are sausages, not cigarettes) and walked and walked and walked and walked some more, seeing kites of all colors surrounding the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial (where Wynne declared,"what! we're going to that stadium!"), the FDR memorial (where Henry hijacked the camera and took 200 pictures of the various waterfalls and statues), through the Cherry Blossoms along the Potomac, to the Jefferson Memorial (where we lost Wynne's glasses.) Whew! If you are saying, "Wow, that is the longest run-on sentence ever." It is because that is exactly how it felt going from one place to the next with 3000 other people (or more) packed all around us. It was a good time, but a crowded one at that. Lovely and crowded.
The boys had walked all this way, all day by themselves and were beginning to lose it so we decided to head back to the Metro station (which felt like a bazillion blocks away) at the Smithsonian stop. Nearing this station, with Henry on Bryce's shoulders, and Wynne on mine, we noticed that the queue just to get down the escalator to the platform was stretching across the mall. Yikes! We walked on in search of Dim Sum. This is what the boys had decided they needed at the time. Specifically, every kind of chinese dumpling available, ever made. Finally, we found the Federal Triangle stop (not as far as we feared) and made it to China town for a Dim Sum experience that was delicious, but perhaps a bit too much for all of us. The combination of our slap-happy boys and the loud "house music" we'll say made for some videos I will refrain from posting, but will keep in my files for future bribery. The boys were done! We escaped the restaurant quickly, even if not so quietly, grabbed a chocolate crepe from a vendor for dessert and headed back to our hotel via Metro train.
We stepped out of the station in Alexandria and noticed things were all too quiet, and where was our hotel shuttle bus anyway? Only to find out that the shuttle stopped running about the same time our children did. Thank goodness for Chelsea, we called her and she kindly came to our rescue. Thank you Chelsea! We returned and counted zzzzs.


Rainy weather kept us from wanting to go back to the city, so instead we were off to Monticello. We made a quick stop at the Prince William Forest for a short hike, but the boys were a bit hostile about going for a hike after walking around the city for 3 days non-stop, so we cut it short and went on over to the Jeffersons'. Monticello was lovely, even in the rain. I cannot begin to describe what an interesting and amazing place this is. The tour, however, proved to be a bit more than a 3 year old was willing to handle, so we didn't stay too long after to explore. And that is pretty much the end of this adventure. I'll post another soon.

D.C. snapshots

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