A Swift Trip to a Merry Land

Phew.  Just thinking about writing this post has me tired already after last week’s activities.  You see, we were not in town for a few days so, my blog fell silent until my return to normal existence.  Having fun is tiresome!

What did we do?  We took a girls road trip to Washington D.C. and Maryland.  For Christmas my husband and I decided to surprise our oldest with tickets to see her favorite singer, Taylor Swift.  She is an eight year old swiftie; my husband a 32-year-old one.  She was stoked but we had to wait six long months before our trip could even begin.

After a weekend of painting our entire kitchen we packed up our bags and headed out on our two-day vacation.

We drove up to Washington D.C. that morning in the chaos that can be 95 North (at least we stopped for ice cream). We were accompanied by my mother, Elsie, so she could have a mini vacation too!  After navigating through the city we made our first stop on our list, the zoo.  I would have preferred the air conditioning of the Natural History Museum, but it wasn’t my trip it was Caitlyn’s.

We got to see about half of the zoo before she was worn out from walking and shopping.  I think we may have spent more time in the gift shops looking for trinkets for her siblings than actually looking at the animals.  My favorite animal that we did get to see was the Maned Wolf.  It looked like a large fox, with extra big ears and thin deer like legs.  The two brothers we saw were at the D.C. zoo until they could find a mate and move to a different location.  Until then, they would enjoy hanging out in their sanctuary and eating fruits and veggies.  Next on the list, was the elephant who loved to swim and the panda who loved to roll down the hill.  All in all, it was worth the cost of parking to see a smile on Catie’s face.

We made our way to our hotel for dinner and to freshen up before the concert.  Catie was excited she was going to be able to ride in a cab for the first time.  She was disappointed to learn that Uber isn’t a yellow taxi, just someones everyday car.  Sorry kid.

Finally, the main event was upon us and after a 45 minute cab ride that should have taken eight minutes…we were ready.  We walked into Fedex Field excited for a great show.    It was loud, it was bright, it was full of fireworks and pyrotechnics!   She loved every minute of it while plugging her ears at the explosions and bass.  Taylor puts on a great show.  She sang so many songs we love and a few Catilyn had never heard because they are from Taylor’s earlier years.  She was impressed by the music and the dancing and the snakes!  We ate $12 pretzels and drank our $6  and snuck out two songs early to grab some merch and get the heck outta that parking lot before the masses.

When we got back to the hotel, we got to fill Grandma in on all the cool things she got to see and were still too excited to fall asleep.  Eventually she crashed and we listened to the rattling of the ac unit in the hotel room until early the next morning.

Next on our agenda was a drive to Annapolis, Maryland.  Caitlyn was actually born in this city as her dad worked at the Naval Academy.  She had requested, since we would be so close, to see where she was born.  This impressed me.  I feel like my daughter finally had taken an interest in what I love to do.  I love to learn about my history, my family’s history and more…


So, we drove her passed the house she lived in for her first month of life and passed the Naval Academy where her dad had worked and then we went down town to enjoy the views of the water and the beautiful houses that line the streets in the historic area.  I love Annapolis.  From the brick lined streets to the college campus that was established long ago.  It is a very pretty place to visit and has a ton of great restaurants and shopping down town.  Good ol’ Naptown didn’t disappoint.  We spent the morning strolling by the harbor and stopping in souvenir shops before enjoying lunch.

With my husband being in the military, we drove down highway 2 from Annapolis into southern Maryland.  We may be getting orders here soon and I wanted my mom to be able to see where her grand-babies would be if we go.  The drive was nice through rural cities with great big farm houses and rolling hills filled with rows of corn.  Finally, we made it Solomons and the bridge that carries us over the water towards Pax River.  It was a nice drive back into Virginia and the country as we made our way home.

Between the constant “Are we home yet?”, “I don’t want to be on the road any longer.” and “What accident in the tunnel?”, we safely returned and got to share our adventure with everyone who was waiting for us at home.

Girls vacations are the best vacations and making memories for my daughter to share with hers one day is what this life is all about.  Thanks for taking the time to read about our adventure.  There will be more to come!




Mom’s Summer Camp: Week 4

This week, we celebrated our countries independence with a camp week full of historic, explosive and military things!   Here is what I had planned to celebrate the week of the Fourth of July at Mom’s Summer Camp.

First stop was a trip up highway 64 to historic Colonial Williamsburg.  Now, I could write several blog postings on one of my favorite places to visit, but this is just a short blurb on the things we do at camp to keep my kids from the dreaded “I’m bored.” situation that summer break naturally becomes.

Colonial Parkway
Colonial Parkway (by Visit Virginia)

Colonial Williamsburg is located in Williamsburg, Virginia just a short 45 minute drive from Chesapeake. You can take the Colonial Parkway route for a beautiful scenic and slow drive.  In the world’s largest living history museum, you can truly step back in time and visit what the city was like in the 18th century and witness the dawn of America.  I always enjoy myself in the historic city.  The best part about it is that it can be a free thing to do.  You can stroll up and down DOG Street, window shop and relax on the palace green at no cost and still have an awesome time.

Tours, carriage rides, restaurants and shopping are always an option.   You can purchase tickets to enter historic sites and trade shops and art museums for around $40.  We love to just walk around and look at the buildings, take lots of photos of the gardens and eat at a local tavern.  There are always historic interpreters willing to share the history of Colonial Williamsburg with you.  Maybe you can even catch a show!

Colonial Williamsburg is located at 101 S Henry St, Williamsburg, VA 23185 and the visitors center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. but you can enter the colonial city any time of the day.


Next, on the list was a good old-fashioned fourth of July cookout.  We enjoyed just staying at home with family.  The previous day we had our babysitting visitors so I was nice to feel like we were just relaxing at home.  Grandma came over and enjoyed some quality time with the kids.   We grilled hot dogs and hamburgers and had all the usual fixings that comes with a summer cookout.  The kids even got to play in the pool and eat ice cream cones in their bathing suits (and drop ice cream in the water).  Later that night we played board games, made s’mores and watched the neighborhood fireworks light up the sky.  Catie really enjoyed being on the hunt for a starburst of color over the tree tops in the back yard while trying to catch lightning bugs.  The babies…not so much.  So, we ended up inside watching the Macy’s fireworks display on television.  Still a pretty sight with less mosquito bites.

Last on the things to do list was a visit to Fort Monroe.  Fort Monroe is a wonderful place to visit for history buffs and nature lovers.  They have a Casemate Museum you can explore that dates back to Captain Christopher Newport’s exploration of the Chesapeake Bay in 1607. If you would rather be outdoors, you can enjoy a walk along the scenic nature trails or the beaches on the Bay. Fort Monroe is host to a marina for fishing year round and you can grab some grub at the Historic Chamberlin’s waterfront.  Also, on the fort is a small playground, picnic area and beach access.

Fort Monroe is located in Hampton, Virginia at Old Point Comfort and is open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. daily.

All in all I would say our week to celebrate our countries independence was a great one!  I hope to be able to share more about Fort Monroe and Colonial Williamsburg in future posts.  They sure are a wonderful reminder that our cities are full of history and life.


Thanks for reading!



Asheville and the Biltmore


I can’t believe it has been almost a year since my trip to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.  But, it has and I haven’t been able to share my experience yet so here goes nothing!

Desiree and I had planned our yearly birthday trip to the estate in Asheville because we wanted something in between where we both live and of course something new.  There are two things Desiree and I love to do on our vacations:  check out cemeteries and tour big, beautiful houses.  I have to say, I think this is the biggest and best house we have ever toured (I will share other houses in upcoming blog posts and maybe some cemeteries too).  So, I traveled the almost seven hours to get to this beautiful home in the North Carolina mountains.

We stayed in the Grand Bohemian hotel in Biltmore Village.  It was like an exotic hunting lodge but very chic and upscale.  The hotel staff was friendly and we even got to sneak onto a floor that usually hosts weddings and dance in an empty ballroom and drink champagne on an outside veranda.  Very magical stuff.  The first night we were there, we dined in Biltmore Village, went to downtown Asheville and hung out at a local bar to play darts…then a hop skip and a jump later ended up in an upstairs lounge listening to live music and enjoying some cocktails.


Bright and early the next day after breakfast, we drove up to the estate.  The grounds are expansive and the ride up to the house itself was enjoyable.  It wasn’t just a house on a hill, it was an entire inclusive resort.  There was a lodge to stay in, restaurants to eat at, the house to tour, a winery…it was amazing.


We parked and walked a few minutes up to the estate and had a breath-taking view of the lawn that sprawled out in front of the building like a pruned, green welcome mat.  We chose to do a self guided tour because we wanted to take in what we could and be able to take lots of photos and just relax.  Sometimes, being shuffled from room to room can be a bit stifling.


Everything was exactly how I thought it was going to be from the research I had done online before the trip.  But pictures do not do it justice.  The details you get to see when taking a tour of the home are not to be missed.  Everything is elegant and charming and exactly how it stood over a century ago.

There were three floors to tour and I have to say that my favorite room was the basement or what they called the Halloween Room.   It has been hand painted with decorations by the family itself for a New Year’s Eve party.  It was bizarre and beautiful all at once and I got an interesting lesson on pineapples.  There was so much to take in, we could have spent hours in the house and still felt like we didn’t get to read every plaque or peek in every nook and cranny.

Next, we looked at the gift shops on the grounds which feature a candy store, old timey toy store and souvenir shop with wine, paintings, ornaments and novelty tee shirts, etc.

After that, we drove around the estate to capture all the views of the rolling mountains and stopped to run through the sunflower fields like kids!  You could say that we don’t take ourselves very seriously on vacations.  The sunflowers were awesome!  They seemed to go on for miles and behind them horses grazed in the afternoon sun.  It was as pretty as a picture.

We ate at Cedric’s Tavern in the village on the estate and enjoyed some delicious pub fare.  I ate a pork burger and fries and it was one of the best burgers I have ever had.  The pork was raised on site and they make their own pickles that have a unique taste I enjoyed (I even bought a jar to take home in the gift shop).

Our tickets to the estate also came with a free wine tasting.  The walk down to the wine cellars was pretty neat.  We walked through a stone tunnel that led all the way to the tasting rooms and a large gift shop full of wine.  We got to sample from a variety of wines they make on the estate.  It was a great experience I would recommend to anyone visiting.

We had an hour to kill in between our free tasting and our twilight sparkling wine tour that we decided to stroll through the gardens.  I loved the large green house, rose garden, and all the stone work that surrounded the plants.  They even had a koi pond near the house and the fish would swim up and nibble on your fingers.  There were so many spots for beautiful photographs, we filled our hour with snapping pictures in hopes that we would never forget how marvelous it must have been to be able to walk through the gardens every day.

It was then time for our private champagne tasting experience.  The best part about this…we were the only two people on the tour.  Our tour guide took us on an even more behind the scenes look to show us how they make method champagne and gave us so much information about one of my personal favorite things to drink.   My brain was bursting with knowledge…all though after sampling a few full glasses of champagne I don’t remember as much as I had hoped.   We sampled our pairings and learned how to make little bistro chairs from the metal tops of the bottles.  More magic!

Feeling high on life and laughter we went back to the hotel in the village off the estate and got ready for another dinner out in town before retiring to our hotel from the evening and resting from the days activities.  We had a full day on the estate and I can imagine how people can spend an entire weekend there exploring and taking in the breath-taking scenery.  Even though it is a far drive from Hampton Roads, I would recommend a visit to anyone who has a love for stunning architecture, savory cuisine, distinctive wine, glimpses into the past or panoramic views of the Carolina countryside.

Thanks for reading!



Mom’s Summer Camp: Week 3

So, this week at “summer camp” we did have some additional visitors.  I am helping my sister while she completes her internship for her masters in education.  By helping I mean I am watching my niece and nephew.   Mister Carter, as we call him, is sweet as pie!  He just wonders around with his 30 minute cookies (cookies that take him 30 minutes to eat) and smiles and plays.  Madison does Madison.  Her free spirit attitude and care free tendencies allow for imaginative play and curiosity…but also make her very hungry!  That girl loves to snack!

Those days, we stayed home.  Too many kids, not enough adults to take them out into public without pulling our hair out.  Also, not sure if my car fits that many car seats.  Who had all these babies?  Oh yea…I did.

So, first on the agenda I deemed this week “safety week”.  You know, community helpers and the sort.

fire and police

Our first trip will be to the Norfolk Police and Fire Rescue Museum.  My son currently is obsessed with firetrucks and police cars.  He watches videos of them online and has added three new “bire trucks” to his collection this week thanks to Grammy and Pop Pop.

The Norfolk Police Department was established in 1797.  It is one of the oldest forces in the United States and has had a long history of service. The Norfolk Police Museum, established in 1919, is the oldest museum in Norfolk.


Norfolk Fire-Rescue was established in 1871. The Norfolk Fire-Rescue Museum, was established in 2004.

The purpose of this building is to document and preserve the history of NPD and NFR and those who have served the departments.  Plus side, the museum is open to the public and FREE of charge.  That’s right, you get in for free.

The museum is located at 401 East Freemason St, Norfolk, VA 23510

Next, we will visit Town Point Park in downtown Norfolk on Waterside Drive.   Recently Waterside has had a makeover.  They refurbished the building and added new restaurants and attractions down town.  I remember working there at the comedy club when I was a teenager.  Times have changed.  Also, just opened: the Ferris wheel!

This is a beautiful waterfront park located downtown and plays host to many local events throughout the year.  My favorite is the Bayou Boogaloo over the summer. The Waterside Landing fountain is designed as an interactive fountain for kids of all ages. It’s a splash pad! The fountain creates a fun atmosphere for water play and it is one of the few free water play attractions open to the public in this area.  The North Gate fountain is located next to the Half Moone Cruise Terminal and features a Norfolk mermaid sculpture set within fountains of water, and surrounded by a seating wall for public enjoyment. A variety of public art elements are placed throughout the park, including the Armed Forces Memorial, the Homecoming statue, a restored 19th century cannon retrieved from the river, a large Navy anchor, and a new installation of tiled images capturing Norfolk’s military and maritime past.

Our next outing was scheduled for a trip to Fun Forest Park in Chesapeake or Chesapeake City Park.  This park has been around since I was a kid and it still is enjoyed by many today.


The park sits on three acres and is deemed the ultimate children’s playground, imagination center and family adventure area! It was originally built in 1995 by over 1,800 volunteers from private, public, and community sectors. The playground has an are that features a dragon, three-way underground telephone, shaky bridge, dolphin tunnel slide, and many more challenges for the older child. A new section was built by volunteers in 2011 after fire damaged a section of the playground.  That didn’t stop the play though!

Many of the attraction’s feature paved paths, slides, swings, picnic tables and benches. There’s a wall decorated with tiles of hand prints, messages, and signatures of early contributors.

Fun Forest is located at 900 City Park Drive, Chesapeake, VA 23320

A trip to the Chesapeake City Library was in order for a Coding Class.  Unfortunately, I did not get to sign Caitlyn up in time for this class.  I still wanted to share it because I thought it  was going to be such a neat class for her to be introduced into the world of coding.  She is a big lover of video games and technology.   It would have been a cool experience for her and might have opened up her eyes into how things worked behind the scenes.  Next time!

Last, but not least I am working on getting a tour of a fire department on the schedule.  I know our local fire fighters will take kids on tours around the department and let them see the vehicles for field trips and large groups, so I am trying to nail down a day where I can take Grant to see a “bire truck” up close and personal.  Hopefully just a phone call will allow that to happen.  He will be so excited…or completely terrified.  Either way, it will make for a great photo!

Thanks for reading this week!  Join me next week as I share what we are going to be doing in our local area for “Independence Week” and check out my instagram for more photos from our outings in this post @mypastlifeblog


In a Field of Wildflowers, She was the Rose

It has been a week since the passing of my dearest Aunt Rose.   She was the rock for my cousin.  A second parent to her children.  The glue that kept that side of the family together.  She was one of ten children, right in the middle.   She was a caring, funny, smart and a wonderfully sweet woman, whom I have many fond memories of that I can cherish always.

I will not dwell on her passing but would like to share some of my memories of her with you.  My mother and her sister Rose, were always very close.  I know from an early age we were always paling around together as a family.

I remember attending church together at a very young age.  Or visiting my mom’s Aunt Betsy in her apartment.  I can still remember the way that apartment smelled.  Or how she had all of those glass figurines lined up on her big television stand.

I remember her teaching me the cutest way to ask for a coke.  I would take my index finger and twist it into the side of my cheek and say “coke”.

When I was seven, my father went into the hospital in Richmond, about two hours away from our home.  His liver was failing and he needed a transplant.  My Aunt Rose stepped in to help take care of my sister and I.  We spent half of that summer at her house as my mom stayed with my dad to look after his care in Richmond.  I can still picture every inch of that home in my head.  We would sit on the front porch and eat popcorn and watch the neighbors.   We would play in the back common area between the townhouses or ride our bikes with the big banana seats down to the town center for ice cream.    At night when we slept, my sister and I shared a bed.  I remember being surrounded by her collection of dolls but was oddly comforted with the feeling of being looked after.  Even if we would go to our neighbors house for a week, or to our grandmothers for a week…we would always ask to go back to Rosie’s house.  We felt the most comfortable there.

Even as we continued to grow, we would spend holidays together and have cookouts in the back yard of my aunt and cousin’s home.  Every summer the family would have its annual cookout.  There would be tons of food and we would sit outback and watch the kids play, every so often adding another cousin into the mix as our family grew.    My aunt would love to play games and hand out silly prizes.  Candy and small trinkets for answering questions or playing along.  There were so many laughs and stories being told.

Summer turned into winter and we always spent Christmas eve at my Aunt’s house.  My Aunt Rose would always make sure to get my dad something new for a collection he had that was started by her!  From Eeyore to A Christmas Story…she always would get a funny token for him.

Soon, my cousin had triplets and Christmas and cookouts also turned into birthday parties.

But, my aunt was more than just the time we spent with her.  She was a backbone to this side of our family.  My mom and cousin both agree if it hadn’t of been for her, the family may have drifted apart.  She did her best to keep everyone together as best she could.  Her sense of humor always made spending time with her enjoyable.  The love that she showed was never questioned.  She genuinely cared about her family, especially her grandchildren.   She was a second parent to them.  She helped to raise those kids among many others.

At her service this past Friday, a few people stood to share their memories of her.  All had said how she had helped to raise them, or look after them, or had treated them as one of her own.  How she was a helpful member of the community and a busy woman in her church.   All shared that if you had asked for it, Rose was there with a helping hand.

I was glad that I got to be there in her final moments to say goodbye.  I was glad to be there in support of my cousin and my mother as they said goodbye to their best friend.  My sister and I said goodbye that day too to someone who we respected and admired.

So, we will not remember the death of my Aunt Rose, but rather celebrate her life.  And we can do that by sharing our memories of her with our children so they will never forget a truly memorable lady.


Thanks for reading.






Mom’s Summer Camp: Week 2

This week for summer camp, I have my niece and nephew attending events with us.  It will be more of a low-key camp since I will be outnumbered 5 to 1.  Usually, Grandma helps rangle my lot, but she is currently preoccupied with more important matters that we may discuss at a later time.  To get my mind off of those events, I have decided to dive into writing this weeks blog posts.  Everything is easier to handle if we just don’t think and we do!

This week I have deemed zoo week.  So, a trip to the Norfolk Zoo was planned.  We have been to the Norfolk Zoo several times and always have fun.


Recently the zoo updated its reptile exhibit and it is now open! “This state-of-the-art overhaul of the Virginia Zoo’s reptile building is full of “Defining Moment” opportunities for children and adults alike.” the zoo claims.  Also you can follow along with Dara and her journey to becoming a mother.  One of the orangutans is expecting!

There is also zoo nights for adults only and member nights if you hold a member’s pass to the zoo. The zoo offers a great gift shop and splash pad as soon as you enter its gates!  My kids always have fun playing in the water and it is a great way to beat the summer heat after walking around seeing all of the exhibits.

There are several dining options from The Beastro to the African Village Cafe and the Snack Shack.  Plus, there are dippin’ dots that the kids always beg for!

You can take a ride on the Norfolk Southern Express as another way to tour the zoo!  Tokens can be purchased and it is $2.00 per rider.  Kids under two can ride for free so that is a bonus for us.


The zoo also offers specialized tours.  You can learn about animal care, behavior and conservation up close and personal.  Chat with a Zoo Keeper who can share information about the animals they care for as only they know.  Meet the rhinos, stand tall with giraffes, hang out with a century old tortoise, or encounter wallabies, emus and kangaroos! See a tapir up close, watch a Sun bear train, feed a Red River hog, learn about bison or be lazy with a sloth!  All admission prices are included with the tours.  You can visit virginiazoo.org for more information.

The Virginia Zoo is located at 3500 Granby Street, Norfolk, VA 23504


Next we will take a trip to Oak Grove Lake Park in Chesapeake. This park is such a hidden gem with its half lake and half scenic open space. There are 65 acres of forest and wetlands. Picnic tables and benches are scattered along the trail, which provide a mixture of panoramic views of the lake and wildlife.  There is a small park for the kids to play and even water access.  My kids love splashing around on the shores of the lake.  We even sat on the dock and dipped our feet in the refreshing, clear water.

Oak Grove Lake Park is located at 409 Bryon Street, Chesapeake, VA 23320

We will round out that day with a visit to our local public library.  The public libraries offer so many programs for the kids to participate in at no cost.  There are programs available to every grade level and even the little, little guys!  This week we are going to be attending an art class “Paint like Seurat.”  Registration for these free classes usually happens the week before.  You can visit the website infopeake.org to check the calendar of events for libraries in the Chesapeake area.


Friday was a day to check out the wildlife at the bay.   No summer camp is complete without a trip to the beach.  We usually go to Chicks Beach off Shore Drive in Virginia Beach.  It isn’t always crowded with tourists and the waves from the bay are gentle for the kiddos.  Generally we pack a cooler and spend a few hours playing in the surf and sun!  Parking can be hit or miss since it is street parking and spaces are limited.

On our days at home, we will hang out by the pool and try our hand at several art projects that have been littering my pinterest board for months.  Happy summer!


Thanks for reading.





Side Hustle

If you know me, you know that my job is a serious one.  I don’t take my work lightly and I feel that I work very hard at what I do.  I am a stay at home mom.

What?  Isn’t that just staying in your pajamas all day and watching Netflix?  No, it’s leggings and Hulu episodes of The Mindy Project exsqueeze me.

All kidding aside, I know that a lot of us stay at home moms have one of the hardest jobs around.  Raising children is no easy task.  It is a juggling act.  And, there is no manual to tell you that you are doing something right.  I am constantly questioning myself!  Did I wash this already?  Who stinks?  Is it okay for them to eat floor food?

But something I don’t want to have to question is a little extra income for me and the kiddos to be able to go out and enjoy ourselves from time to time.  That is why I recently started a side hustle that I am really excited about.  I am now a Charlee Jack consultant and run my own brand of that I named Homespun Designs.  Of course my sister, Adrienne, is also a part of the Homespun family and my side hustle partner in crime.  She is actually the person that found Charlee Jack.

What is Charlee Jack you ask?  It is a do it yourself rustic wooden sign design party experience.  That is a mouthful!

Have you ever gone to one of those paint night parties?  You sit at a restaurant and paint a picture of whatever the company had selected for that evening…and you have fun and a few drinks while painting a picture of a sailboat or a giraffe?  Sure, we have all done these parties.  They are a good time and I have done it twice and probably will do it again.  It’s a great idea and a fun way to get out of the house and do something different.

My sailboat

The only problem is…I have no idea where in my house I am actually going to hang that awful amateur painting of my sailboat and giraffe.  And apparently no one at my yard sales wants it either.  They were recently in our playroom with other art work like my caricature of Caitlyn and I, the awesome picture hand drawn for me of the Golden Girls as babies (by artist Angus Oblong), and my skeletal best friends picture from Unkie Des.  They worked great there, until Caroline needed to move out of her bassinet and into her own room.  That playroom then became non-existent as Catie moved into that space (hence why we were looking for a new home).  Now, they are sitting in my attic.



That isn’t the case with Charlee Jack and Homespun Designs.  You get a professional hand-made craft.  The company cuts and stains the wood for you.  Each sign is either 18″ or 24″ around or squared.   They send the paint color or your choice, a vinyl application and hardware for you to hang your masterpiece anywhere in your home.  And you will actually want to hang this!

There are so many designs to choose from. Everything from family oriented signs, inspirational quotes, funny, kid friendly, and religious.   I have so many that I want to make.  My husband is convinced we may have a sign in every room in our house…and he’s probably right.  I already have about five that I am going to order!

You can choose to make a sign on your own or throw a sign experience in your home or at a public location.  We have done a few at some local restaurants for private and public events.    Everyone pre-orders their own custom design and arrives at the party to put everything together.  And by custom we mean that you choose the size, stain, paint color, image, wording, and vinyl color for your sign.  That way everyone has a unique creation at the end of the night that they would be proud to hang.

How does this relate to My Past Life you ask?  Well, I figured that family is important.  And these signs can showcase your family!  My mom made a sign for her surname Ferguson.  She got to display her last name proudly with the established date for my parent’s anniversary.




It turned out great!  And as someone who is interested in genealogy, I think this is an awesome way to show your family pride.

If you are interested in making your own family sign, please visit my website at mycharleejack.com/88 and browse through the designs.  If you are thinking of throwing your own sign experience and you are in the Hampton Roads area, you can visit my Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/homespunsigns .  You can also search for a consultant in your hometown at mycharleejack.com.

For me, this is just one step in the direction I would like to take My Past Life.  I am hoping to add to the inventory later this summer!

Thanks for reading!


Mom’s Summer Camp

So, as many of you can see I have not been writing on this blog very much as of late.  I have had a whirlwind of things happen since my last posting.

Besides the holidays, my husband and I tried to put our house on the market to sell.  What a disaster!  I think we kind of flung ourselves into the house buying process after seeing some bright and shiny new builds.  With our latest addition to the family (Caroline) we seem to be running out of room in our current home.  Our oldest is now upstairs in the old playroom but the problem with that is there is no door for privacy.  And I never thought that an eight year old would need so much privacy already!

Well, turns out we were ready to sell our house, but our house was not ready to be sold.  We had multiple offers but our roof started to leak and after an inspection found out that we had previous termite damage.  I won’t go into that…it will take this whole blog posting and we aren’t here for that today.   So, needless to say we replaced our roof and we fixed all damage (which was a support wall behind our front porch) and reinvested almost $8,000 back into our home.  Savings?  What savings?

So, with selling put on hold, we focused on getting our oldest done with second grade.  School is out for summer!  I am so relieved that we made it through another year.  But, now I was going to be faced with having a small, almost tween tell me everyday how bored she was.  I am all for her watching some entertaining shows and having a trusty ipad to help with boredom, but not when kids become zombies in front of youtube all day.  I then devised a plan to keep the kiddos entertained all summer long.  It took me about four days off and on of working to find inexpensive and free things to do around the Hampton Roads area.

I would like to share that list of items with you in hopes that it will inspire your own summer adventure and also to share some of the fun things our metropolitan area has to offer.  Over the next few weeks, I will share weekly plans of things to do in our hometown.  I am also hoping this will kick-start my writing and make me more accountable to get things done!

The start of the summer is Farm Week.  I know, I know… a third grader doesn’t need different units to teach her like a preschooler.  To be fair I do also have a one and two-year old tagging along on all our excursions.

Bluebird Gap Farm in Hampton was our first stop.  This little gem is a country setting in an otherwise urban environment.  It is a 60-acre farm and has around 150 domestic and wild animals.  Birds, deer, turtles and the traditional farm animals are just a handful of what there is to see.   An antique display barn offers a history of tools traditionally used on farms and there is also a pathway through a small botanical garden.  My kids enjoyed reading books in the garden and feeding the goats.  A pavilion with plenty of picnic tables and a grill is available for reservations if you have a large party with other tables scattered around the property.  So, you may enjoy your picnic lunch in between seeing all the animals and playing on the playground.  There are snack and drink vending machines location in the barns and a concession stand.  Other features include a nature trail and a new stage and seating for special events.  You could spend the whole afternoon at the farm.  The best part about Bluebird Gap Farm…is it is free!

We have been a few times but on this last outing we realized that Grant was terrified of all the animals and had to make a hasty retreat back to the car.

Bluebird Gap Farm is located at 60 Pine Chapel Road, Hampton, VA 23666 and is open 6 days a week. Their hours of operation are Wednesday thru Monday, with the same hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The farm is closed on all Tuesdays and major holidays.

Our next stop at “summer camp” will be Greenbrier Farms.  This historic farm was established in 1916 and is renowned for its introductions of newly cultivated plants that were developed there.  In 1973 the nursery operation relocated to the Hickory area of Chesapeake. The farm’s main office is located in the beautiful farmhouse on the property.  Today, the new ‘Greenbrier Farms Nursery’ has 500+ acres with quality trees and shrubs and 12 acres of greenhouses.  The nursery offers several pick-your-own seasons throughout the year including strawberries, peaches and pumpkins.  It also has a Christmas tree lot annually.  Additionally, Greenbrier Farms has opened the property to the public for sight seeing and education tours, school field trips, weddings and photo sessions.    We are going to take a tour of the property, take many photo opportunities and pick as many strawberries as our buckets can handle.

Greenbrier Farms is located at 225 Sign Pine Road, Chesapeake, VA 23322

After we have picked our hearts out we will travel a few minutes down the road to Northwest River park.    This park is situated off the beaten path down a winding country road.  Located on the banks of the Northwest River in Southeastern Chesapeake, the 763-acre park is an amazing blend of scenic beauty and recreational past times.  The park offers year-round boating, fishing, and hiking. If that isn’t your thing the park also has an 18-hole Disc golf course, miniature golf course, horseshoes, and volleyball nets. The park has 66 campsites and two rental cabins as well.  We will be playing on the playground that is by the outside pavilion and hiking trails.  The kids love it because it feels secluded and not usually crowded.  The park is open 9 a.m. to sunset year round and is located at 1733 Indian Creek Rd, Chesapeake, VA 23322.

To round out our farm week, we will visit the Farmers Market.  The Virginia Beach Farmers Market is open all year-long and has a variety of agriculturally inspired shops that offer seasonal fresh vegetables and fruit. ​​​​​ There is an organic grocer, butcher shop, seafood market, dairy and ice cream shop,  a florist, old timey candy store, bakery, full-menu restaurant, wild bird store, and home and garden gift stores.  This offers a unique shopping experience. The market’s farm-to-table produce allows you to experience some of the best our community has to offer.  Visit the Farmers Market at 3640 Dam Neck Road, Suite 510, Virginia Beach, VA.

Last but not least, we will picnic and play at Mount Trashmore Park in Virginia Beach.  Mount Trashmore Park has 165 acres and is composed of two man-made mountains, two lakes, two playgrounds, a skate park and vert ramp and trails. ​​​​​The main mountain, ​Mount Trashmore, is 60 feet high and 800 feet long.  The mountain was created by compacting solid waste and clean soil. Yea, it is a former landfill turned awesome park.  The smaller mountain, Encore Hill is located just steps away.   Lake Windsor and Lake Trashmore offer natural beauty in a very urban environment.  My oldest loves playing here.  The larger of the two parks offers a pretty big play area and swings.  I will tell you, it’s a great park, but often can be over crowded as it is centrally located in the city and easily accessible by highway.  I recommend this park for parents of older kids who can be trusted to play and stay!  Chasing a two-year old through a crowd of other parents and kids is certainly a work out.

Mount Trashmore is located at 310 Edwin Drive, Virginia Beach, VA

Those are my recommendations for a great family farm themed adventure.  Join me next week for my take on a “zoo theme” for Mom’s Summer Camp.   Also, keep an eye out for my regular blog postings on genealogy and local fun historic things to do in our area!





The Plaid of Alamance County


I have had the chance to have an amazing few weekends in a row lately.  First, we will start with the most recent trip and work our way back! Since this blog is mainly about my family history I thought it a good idea to stop in a see some for myself.

I was invited on a combined birthday trip that my best friend and I take every chance we can.  It all started with going to the Harry Potter theme park in Orlando seven years ago and most recently ended with a trip to Asheville, NC to see one of the United States’ most beautiful and largest estates, the Biltmore.  I guess our taste has improved over the years.  That adventure will be featured in the next post!

Since I live in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, a trip to Asheville took about seven hours.  To break up the monotony of interstate 40, I decided to make a small detour to Burlington about half the drive home.  The home was just a few miles off the highway, tucked into a grassy countryside and through the small little town of Alamance with its pink houses and rusty water tower.  There, nestled behind some walnut trees was the Alamance County Historical Museum or as I like to call it, the Holt family home.


Previously, I had done a small piece on the Holt family that had migrated from Germany and become the second colony to establish Germana.  This is part of the story about the descendants from Michael Holt.

The home is located on a part of a 1600-acre grain plantation, known during the 19th century as Oak Grove.  Three generations of Holt men owned the home.  It was built in three different stages, the first being in 1790 when it was just a two-room dwelling called a “dog trot”.  It was enlarged in 1800 and again in 1875.  The house is surrounded by outbuildings, including a granary, barn, corn crib and a carriage house.  There is a reconstructed summer kitchen behind the home between the property and the Holt family cemetery.


During the time that the family lived in the home, at the outbreak of the civil war, the family had enslaved African-Americans living at the home in cabins behind the house and across highway 62.   I know that this can be a very tricky subject to talk about.  I do not condone the actions of ancestors in my past, but it was a different time and out of my control.  But, it is a part of the history of the property and has an amazing story of one enslaved man who I think we should mention.

So, I pulled off highway 62 into a dirt parking lot and was greeted by a sign that told me a little more about the significance of the place.  I felt overwhelmed.  I was standing in a place that I had only read about during my research into the Holt side of the family.  It was neat to put a name with the face so to speak.  I made my way up the small dirt driveway and onto a brick path that wrapped around to the front of the home.  I was greeted by a sign that asked me to ring the doorbell.  The bell was inside the door itself and I gave it a few tiny turns and heard a faint ring behind the wood and glass.  I was soon greeted by a gentleman and was asked if I would like a tour of the home.  I said yes and we proceeded into the parlor as soon as I had signed my name in the guest book.  To say the least I think I left my mind on the wooded floor in the living area.  I felt like Catie, my daughter, when she was excited about something and it seemed as if her brain has just exploded from her skull.   Boom.


Inside the home are numerous original artifacts that are the Holt’s family treasures.  The music room was adorned with furniture and portraits and dress forms neatly draped in the clothing that once belonged to the family itself.  They were in such good condition I imagined they had just been taken out and dressed that very morning.  I was shown a grand piano that was purchased for the family and a large music box brought back from Switzerland that the gentleman gently cranked a few times around and began to play an eerily beautiful tune.

The entrance hall contained a large mirror and an English-made clock.  It was also the site of a marriage.


The parlor had velvety red chairs and a mirror that had been purchased in New York.  A large round table stood in the center of the room.  The piece had been made especially for the family by the free black artisan Thomas Day.

dininThis led into the dining room which held many treasures.  Hand painted china littered the table in neatly placed sets.  The silver, which had been passed down through the female line, was engraved with the initials MEH.  The wallpaper covered with pineapples, was a sign of hospitality.  And the family had much still there to entertain from tea sets and ice cream makers to a cold beverage pitcher.  I was enthralled with all the artifacts that were in the home.


I ascended the stairs to the second floor and was greeted by even more artifacts.  In the room to the right were glass cases that held even more treasures pertaining to the family.  A portrait of Thomas Holt hung proudly, as he would become the 47th governor of North Carolina.  Samuel Holt had information about the ship he owned, the Mary glassHasbrouck, and would sail as far as Australia.  Dr. William Rainey Holt’s medicine chest from the civil war was tucked into a glass display next to Lynn Banks Holt’s rifle he used during the war.  Everything from an umbrella and purse to toys the Holt children played with were on exhibition.


In the next room was a family cradle and mourning attire, a reproduction wedding dress of the daughter who married a Count in Milan and a portrait of a young woman who married in New York and lived on Central Park Avenue.  These women I had never heard of before in my family history but cannot wait to find out more about.


The last room in the home that I had the privilege of seeing gave more of the history about the textile industry and the cotton mill.  I learned that E.M. Holt developed the Alamance Plaid and founded what has now become Burlington Industries.   I saw a portrait of E.M. Holt showing him at the mill and women crowding around him looking at the fabrics of plaid as Caswell and his brother Sam, slave workers, helped stoke the fire and stir the indigo dye that would make the Alamance plaid what it was.

This was all so much to take in.  I had a plethora of knowledge just from a thirty-minute tour of a home that once belonged to members of my family.  E.M. Holt was my first cousin five times removed.   His father’s brother, William, was my 4th great grandfather.

Later, I got a small tour of the reconstructed summer kitchen outside and then was taken to the small family plot at the back of the home.  I had so much information that I could not wait to share with my sister and my mother.  This is after all, from my mother’s side of the family.


In 1837, E.M. Holt established the Alamance Cotton Factory.  The Alamance Plaid that was produced at the mills was the first colored cotton material commercially manufactured in the southern United States.  By the early 1900s the Holt family owned 24 cotton mills in Alamance County.  At his death in 1884, E.M. Holt was considered the wealthiest man in North Carolina.

caswellNow, let’s go back to the story of one of the men who had been enslaved and was a part of the Holt family history.  His name was Caswell.  I had mentioned him as being a part of the portrait that hung in the museum portraying Mr. Holt and Mrs. Holt inside the mill.   Caswell was born at Oak Grove in 1834 and worked for E.M. Holt for about 30 years before becoming emancipated and setting up housekeeping with Jeremiah Holt on his farm.  He took the Holt last name as his own and married Amy, a woman who had also worked for the Holt family.  The story I was told was that he had become the first African-American deputy in the area and was sought after by the Klan.  Eventually it ended with a run in with Klan members and they had shot him.  He survived.  This is an attribution to the strength that Caswell must have possessed to be a successful man in that time period.  You can read more about Caswell and his life in “Historic Alamance County: An Illustrated History”.

Over the next few weeks, I hope I can explore more of the workings on the Holt family and its ties to Alamance County and the textile industry.  I also, hope again that one day soon, I can go back to explore the small town of Alamance and all the rich history it has to offer.

One year later


One year has passed since I said my final goodbyes to my father.  It has been a tough road to get here.  I think of him every day.   I am reminded of him every day.  From the truck that sits in my drive way to the Beatles songs that come on at the perfect moment.  My daughter, who got to know my father the best out of all his grandchildren tells me of my father’s little quirks.   She told me one day that she remembered that grandpa would always lick his finger before turning a page in a book they would read together. 

I love that she remembers this.  She is holding onto memories of who her grandfather was.  How he acted and his mannerisms and not just what he did for a living or what he looked like.  Those memories are the most special to me.  It tells of the person’s characteristics and just not facts on paper anyone would be able to see if doing research.

This leads me to today’s post.  Sometimes while doing family research we only get to see facts on paper.  Birth and death dates, draft cards, social security applications and marriage licenses.  But, in those rare moments we find something truly special; a newspaper article explaining their time during the war, a medal given to them for their bravery in service or a story in an obituary telling of all the wonderful things one had accomplished during their life. 

Social media is a constant reminder of my father too.  Since July 23rd, the day he passed away, until today (the day we had his service) I have had numerous reminders of my time with him.  Photographs accompanied by song lyrics, condolences from family and friends and his own obituary telling of his life here with us. 

I clicked on the link that took me to the funeral home’s website.  There people could leave their own remarks and thoughts about him for us.  I had never read them until the other day.  A year had gone by and I had never had the courage to read through the comments under his obituary posting.  I finally did, with tears in my eyes, and was surprised at who left a comment and what some of them had said.  These people posted memories of who my father was as a person…not just what he was on paper.   I would like to share some of those now. 

“Dee Dee, I am so sorry to hear about the passing of your husband Norman. I know you feel lost without him. I miss you dear friend and hope and pray you are doing well.”

Mary K. Butler-Parise – 6 months ago


“Sorry to hear about Norm. He was a good cop, a good guy. No politics, no B.S. I met him in early 1979 and he was always willing to help a rookie.My toughts are with you. Burt Spry”

Burt Spry  – 12 months ago


“James R Elliott VBPD Retired Rest in peace Norm. May God bring peace to your family in this time of sorrow.”

James R Elliott VBPD Retired – about a year ago


“I meet Norman the beginning of August 78. l had just moved here from NY to begin the job of a Police Officer in the VBPD ACADEMY. I was not in a good place financial wise at that time, couldn’t afford a hotel or rental. I was living out of my car, sleeping in a parking lot, and using the facilities in a camp ground. Another police officer who I was working with at the time prior to the academy introduced me to Norman and told him my story. Norman had never meet me, knew nothing about me, yet because we wore the same uniform he opened his home to me. I stayed at his home from that moment on, during and until the end of the academy. For that I will be forever thankful to him. We became friends worked for years for the police department and even retired on the same day. To the family I am so sorry that you’ve lost Norman he was a great guy and I was so thankful that I met him. Thanks again Fergie. W D Woodard Woody”

William D Woodard – about a year ago


“Norview Class of 1968 would like to give prayers and sympathy to the entire Ferguson family . Our deepest sympathy goes your way. Sincerely, Norview Class of 1968.”

Susan P. West – about a year ago


“Very sorry to hear of Norm’s passing. We worked together for many years and he was always fun to be around. He will be missed.”

Kenneth M. Lowe Jr. – about a year ago


 “I have fond memories of retired Det. Norman Ferguson. I am so sorry to hear he has left us too soon. My deepest sympathies are with family. Catie Wilson, VBPD.”

Catie Wilson – about a year ago


“Lost another close brother in blue. Sad to hear of Normans passing. He was a wonderful officer and friend. He will be missed by many. May his survivors find peace and comfort knowing he has gone to a better place! Ret Jerry A Fenske, VBPD.”

Jerry A Fenske – about a year ago


“Mr. Ferguson, Dad, you’re already missed by everyone that loves you. Growing up Ashley and Adrienne became sisters and you and Mrs. Ferguson became a second set of parents. I will cherish all the time I spent with your family and all the waffles.  Thank you for all the great memories and chats over the years. I love you.”

Michelle Aubrey – about a year ago

Thanks for reading.