Trip to the Quarry

by Jessica on July 22, 2015

in Annabelle,Levi,Parenting,Photography


We made it to the quarry!   A few weeks ago when Levi and I started his rock collection, we noticed that on the way to pick up Annabelle from camp that we passed a large stone quarry that had a pretty driveway and entrance.  It looked friendly from the road, so I thought I’d call them and see whether they offered tours for the public.  It was our good fortune that they did!  When they asked me how many of us would be coming, I immediately thought of my friend Sara and her three kids so I told them we’d be a group of seven.

When we arrived, we met with Mr. Lewis who is the quarry manager and who gave us a personal tour around.  We drove to the quarry in Sara’s car and Mr. Lewis drove us around when we got there.



Mr. Lewis told the kids all about the different kinds of rock that the quarry provides, mostly to local construction companies who are building roads, houses, and sky scrapers.

The kids were impressed with the size of the wheels on the quarry machines.  Most were over 6 feet in height.


As you can see, the quarry gets rock by moving rock layer, by layer out of the earth.  Eventually some of the quarries will be utilized by our local water company as an additional reservoir.


We were able to see the site of a controlled are that will be blasted for rock. _DSC3609





We then circled up to a part of the quarry that sells recycled rock.  This pile is full of recycled concrete.  _DSC3624

Then we visited the pulley and conveyer belt system responsible for moving most of the rock around in the quarry.  We also could see a building that encloses a machine which crushes the rock that the quarry sells.

In the photo below, a truck is loading up the crushed rock.


Here the conveyer belt system is hauling more rock to a rock pile.


It’s apparently expensive to install a conveyer belt system for a quarry but it ultimately saves labor, time and money.


In this photo, you can see the small building which encloses the rock crusher machine._DSC3636


We also got to see where the machines are repaired.  The quarry employs its own mechanics to repair the trucks which are quite expensive to purchase and need to be maintained regularly.


Next door to the quarry is an asphalt company that uses rock mined at the quarry.


Before we left, Mr. Lewis and his team generously gave our kids small rock kits and back to school packets with a pencil case and ruler.   When we loaded up in Sara’s car, all of the kids talked about what a great time they’d had at the quarry.

At home, Annabelle and Levi got out paper and markers to write thank you notes to Mr. Lewis and the quarry.  I’m also sending over an Edible Arrangement to thank them for their time.


Oh, and on our last trip to the library, Levi checked out a few dvds about quarries and mining.   Our morning at the quarry turned out to be one of the kids’ favorite day trips this summer.

Are there any out of the ordinary places you’ve visited with your children to learn about industry?  We are now scheduling a tour to our water company and the local landfill.  Would love to hear your ideas and experiences.

Thanks for reading,



Berry Picking

by Jessica on July 16, 2015

in Annabelle,Family,Levi,Parenting,Photography

Over the weekend we drove out to Purcellville to Crooked Run Orchard.   We wanted to do something outside and since it looked like it might rain we thought berry picking would be perfect.  Strawberries were just out of season but gooseberries were ripe and ready for picking.   I brought along my camera because I have to go most everywhere with it and because I need to remember these things that we’re doing together–this last summer before Levi heads off to kindergarten.

The kids know the routine for Crooked Run Orchard.  We park in the main (and only) lot, grab a bucket for our fruit, and head out on the trail and follow the signs to the berries.



Once we reached the berries, Levi and Annabelle were eager to be the one to gather the most berries.   Matt and I helped them though, especially since the gooseberries can be a bit prickly on little fingers.


Both kids thought the berries were sweet so they pushed on and kept picking.










And finally when their buckets were full, I begged them to gather together for a final photo.



On the way back to the car, I stopped to photograph the wild flowers.  Including my own wild child, Annabelle.




Next week I plan to share the photos from our visit to the rock quarry.  Until then, enjoy your outside time this summer.




Last week we had an open afternoon with nothing to do.  So we turned to our cork pin board and pulled down the stack of activities we’d written on index cards.  When Annabelle pulled “Herb gardening,” there was a little bit of groaning from both kids, but I pressed on and reminded them, “You both always complain about trying something new, but once we do it, you always talk about how much fun we had.”  So we loaded up in my truck and drove over to the garden center.

oSince we were putting together an indoor container garden for our herbs, I steered the kids to look at the herbs, instead of all the pretty flowers, vegetable plants, and fruit bushes that we saw.  I suggested we pick up herbs that we use all of the time, especially rosemary, oregano, and parsley.  Of course, the kids couldn’t resist chocolate mint and they eventually brought me around to purchase a tomato plant (I am such a sucker for tomatoes–fresh ones really are the best).  So we loaded up our cart, bought some potting soil and a bag of gardening soil and then headed over to pay for it all.

At home, Annabelle literally dug right in.  She put on gloves, picked up the plants and started putting in the potting soil before transferring the plant.  I have to say I had a moment of pride since I have been gardening with her since she was just a toddler following me around in our little vegetable garden at our townhouse.



I photographed her in front of a large bed full of wild flowers that we planted from seed.  When we first moved into our house, there were large pine trees growing close up and touching our house.  Worried that the roots of the trees might upset the foundation of our home, we had them removed last year and have been slowly adding plants to the beds left empty after the removal.  This bed of wildflowers is probably my favorite part of our home garden.  I love that these plants just sprouted up after we spent less than a few minutes sprinkling seeds and little bit of earth over the bed.




Our dog Phinn was at the window crying so we brought him outside to join us.  He mostly just did a bit of sunbathing.  He was curious at first about the gardening but then decided it didn’t interest him much.



Meanwhile, Levi became interested in gardening when it came time to dig a large hole for our tomato plant.  Digging the hole for the plant required the most work out of our afternoon project.  Not only did I get out a spade and a shovel, but I had to get out a special rock removal tool.  There were so many rocks.  Which Levi “dug.”  He gathered up his rocks and set them aside for his now growing rock collection.



Annabelle grabbed one of our old plant support poles from our backyard and after we planted the tomato plant, we used garden tape to hold the tomato plant steady and upright in its new spot in the garden.






I then walked around and noted where I needed to go back and weed.  I also photographed a few of the flowers we added to a side garden bed last year at Mother’s Day.   So far, the cone flowers look like they’re doing pretty good.




The kids helped me carry the herb containers inside and we set them up near a window that gets lots of light throughout the day.  I grabbed old props out of my photograph studio and put the plants on them.    For some reason, I just find that having plants around the house makes everything feel more homey.



Oh, and I did have to split our rosemary plant into two parts.   We’re hoping this second plant, shown below on the chair, will survive the split and transplant.  We’ve been giving it lots of light, water and love.



What’s your favorite way to spend time gardening with your kids?    Annabelle says her favorite part was planting and eating the chocolate mint.  Levi says he liked finding rocks in the garden.  Me?  I just like being in the dirt and making the garden pretty.



Sun tea.  Super easy to make.  Lemonade ice cubes.  Also super easy.  And then, add your iced cubes plus a little sugar to your tea and you’ve got a cool summer treat.

Here’s what we did:

1. Add black tea bags to a glass pitcher of water (ideally with a lid or cover on it).   We used 8 tea bags or 1 tea bag per cup of water.  Make sure to leave enough room at the top for your pitcher’s lid or cover.


2.  Place your pitcher in a safe place in the sun.  Leave it in the sun for the day.  We left ours in the sun for about 8 hours.

_DSC3123 _DSC3126

3.  Add lemonade mix to another pitcher of water..  Pour lemonade into ice cube trays.  Place trays in the freezer.  Wait over night.






4. Bring sun tea inside and refrigerate for 2 hours.  We simply brought the tea inside and waited over night for our ice cubes to freeze.

5. Pour sun tea into glasses.  Add lemonade ice cubes and sugar to taste.  And enjoy!







Do you have a super easy and fun summer recipe to share with us?  If so, we’d love to try it.  E-mail us at jessicamonte (at)

Happy summer!


Collecting Rocks

by Jessica on July 2, 2015

in Family,Levi,Parenting,Sons

I’m not sure whether I mentioned it previously, but the way the kids and I are selecting fun activities for our summer is from a list we put together from the book The Kids Outdoor Adventure Book.   After we put together our list from the ideas in the Kids Outdoor Adventure Book, I wrote down the activities on index cards and had the kids draw pictures on the cards.  We posted them up to our cork pin board along with ideas we brainstormed for games and day trips we could do together this summer.   At the beginning of each day, depending on which kid is going to spend the morning with me (they are in camp on alternate weeks), the kid who is going to be with me picks a card from the board.   Last week, Annabelle picked “Make Sun Tea and Lemonade Icecubes” which I’ll be sharing later this week.  She and I also met up with friends for a coffee date and we went to the library.  Levi prefers doing different things than his sister, so this week we ended up going on several rock collecting hikes, picking up books at the library about rocks, and setting up a tour of a local rock quarry.   In fact, I’m feeling so excited for his recent passion for rock collecting that I may take him and Annabelle on a day trip to Luray Caverns which is about an hour and a half away.

On our first day of rock collecting, we went to Beaverdam Creek Reservoir, which is owned by Virginia Water and is currently open to the public.  We didn’t find too many variations of rock at the reservoir.  In fact, I’m not quite sure what the rock was that we found on our hike.  It could have been sedimentary rock or simply concrete debris from nearby construction because the reservoir is surrounded by building development on all sides.  At one point, we saw a floating rock which turned out to be a piece of insulation.  It made both me and Levi feel sad to see our local reservoir appear so unhealthy.  We’re hoping to put together a clean up effort to do something about the reservoir’s debris both in the water and around it.


Since we weren’t able to find too many rocks at the Beaverdam Creek Reservoir, Levi felt a bit discouraged.  Luckily, I’d remembered that my friend Anna, who is a CPA at the National Parks and Recreation Association just up the street from the Beaverdam Creek, recommended the walking trails available at the rear of the NPRA office building.  From the first few steps where we saw a gorgeous wetland with healthy plants and several paths, Levi’s spirits lifted.  He was more than a little bit happy when he realized that there were not just rocks at the NPRA trails but that he would be able to climb boulders.  Below are a few photos of the National Parks and Recreation Association trails in Ashburn that I took with my cell phone:



We thought this boulder looked a bit like the top part of a whale.


So many boulders to climb on.  It’s a little boy’s playground back there.



And of course, the branches and sticks were plentiful.  Levi quickly fashioned some sticks into handy swords for an impromptu battle between Peter Pan and Captain Hook.  Lucky me, I always get to be the glorious Captain Hook.  It’s a good thing I don’t mind using a piratey and garbled British accent now and again.

Searching for rocks comes with other things to find too.  We noticed all different bugs and spiders as well as fungi growing on the ground and trees.  I did talk with Levi about not touching or eating mushrooms and fungi when we don’t know whether it is poisonous. 

Back at the car, he gave the Levi seal of approval.


In between our rock collecting outings, we also made time for Levi to have a few playdates.  He got to see a friend from school and play with a neighbor.   He’s also been working on a few other fun projects with Annabelle and me.

But today, it was back to rock collecting.  We started out at the library where I found easy reading books on rocks, rock formation, and identifying different rocks.  I can’t wait to sit down and read through those with him.   But afterwards, I remembered that the library was just down the street from another beautiful park in Loudoun County and so I drove over there.  We noticed this stream and decided it was rich with rocks.



We were both psyched to find a stream that looked healthy and held lots of different rocks.  We picked a few of our favorites to add to his collection and then headed out to pick up Annabelle from cheer camp.  But before we got Annabelle, we made a pit stop at the Donut shop which made this little rock collector very happy.


Hopefully we can learn more about putting together a rock collection display, how to identify the rocks we find and how to polish our rocks.   I think we’ll start with the website Kids Love Rocks and go from there.  I’d love to hear any feedback other rock collectors, young and old, might have for us.   It has actually been an unexpected fun thing to do.  I’m glad Levi picked it.



Baseball Game June 2015

by Jessica 30 June 2015 Annabelle

We are so lucky.  My friend Shelley recently came into Nationals tickets.  Lots of Nationals tickets.  And she invited us.  So we said yes.  Of course we said yes!  It was such a treat and for this baseball loving mama, it was a night full of fun!  We ate hotdogs and Matt and I drank […]

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Summer Journals

by Jessica 30 June 2015 Annabelle

As many days as I remember to do it, I ask the kids to pull out their notebooks and journal for 5-10 minutes.  I have found journal prompts via googling “easy journal prompts kindergarten through third grade.”  So far the most responsive Levi has been was when I asked him to make a list of […]

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Annabelle Makes Smoothies

by Jessica 25 June 2015 Annabelle

Annabelle loves to cook.  Which is a wonderful thing.  I hate to cook so it’s a win-win for me.  Annabelle knows her way around the kitchen. Last week, Annabelle decided to make us smoothies.  I was all like, “Let’s look up a recipe on the internet.”  And she was all like, “Step aside Mom, I […]

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Summer 2015

by Jessica 22 June 2015 Annabelle

We made it!  Summer vacation has arrived!  Woo hoo! Now what? On our first day of vacation, I didn’t have too much planned.  So we met our friends at the pool. At the pool, I did my usual cannonball and splashed Annabelle and her friend.  Which they loved.  I then received a splash in my […]

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Levi’s Fly Up from Junior Kindergarten

by Jessica 12 June 2015 Humor

My baby graduated preschool yesterday.  Let me rephrase.  Levi, my youngest, graduated from junior kindergarten yesterday.  Which means that I am sending my youngest off to kindergarten next year.   Cue tears, tissues, and feeling proud and sad all at the same time. But for Levi, it was just another day.  He sat quietly and […]

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