Thursday, June 25, 2009

Daisies in the Animal Park

In Loudoun, we have a few petting zoos including two that are rather popular. Since I live in Leesburg, my family frequents the one here just outside of town, Leesburg Animal Park. It’s about 10 minutes from my home.

There, the you can see monkeys, huge tortoises, goats, emus, a camel, donkeys, bison and a other exotic creatures. Last year, they were temporarily
housing white tigers for the national zoo, drawing a lot of press.

My family frequently visits at Easter, and nearly all locals attend “Fort Pumpkin” (a Halloween themed event) in the fall; we’ve even had my daughter’s birthday party there. Our most recent visit was with our Daisy troop; a group of 5-7 year old girls;
who were spending through their “cookie money” (funds earned by selling Girl Scout cookies this year), and throwing themselves an end of year bash.

The girls got to see, feed, hold and pet an assortment of strange and exotic animals, picnic, play on the playground, and go on a wagon ride. For the girls, the highlights of our visits were the lorikeet encounter and the pony rides. Every little girl loves a pony ride.

We visited during low attendance days on purpose and kept our party brief, but weekends often feature special events like the fishing derby; and camel rides are offered Fridays-Sundays. Leesburg Animal Park does offer birthday party packages on site, and group rates, as well as "Zoo to You" and "Learning Safari" programs, where they will bring the animals to your event or school. For more information, visit:


This animal park used to be much larger and was located in Reston, but due to disputes with the landowner, they were forced to downsize and move. A couple decades ago, I worked at that parkfor a summer. I have wonderfully entertaining stories about the jealous elephant who cried REAL tears, and tried to attack me for dating her trainer; the time I was attacked by the white handed gibbon (a small ape), who was ironically named Fannie Mae (ironic to me now since I am a real estate agent, and in some ways I feel like Fannie Mae has attacked me recently, too!); the time I helped to amputate a fallow deer’s leg to free her from rocks; the times we had to bottle feed a lion cub, who greatly enjoyed snuggling just like any domestic cat; and the list goes on….Tough, dirty, exhausting job. Great stories. If we end up getting to know each other well, ask me about them. I love having unique experiences to share; and I am so glad I worked there that summer.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

New Water Park at Ida Lee

Have you heard? There's a new outdoor water park open on Ida Lee grounds in Leesburg. It's name, the A.V. Symington Aquatic Park, is in honor of the late philanthropist who donated $5million for the project. While admirable, I doubt that will ever be the common name, because it is so long. Most people are referring it to the Ida Lee water park.

This opening is particularly significant because of the ugly history with the last public outdoor pool in Leesburg. Decades ago, there was an outdoor pool, and when the Town was ordered to racially integrate; the town opted instead to fill in, and close the pool. It's a sad and shameful part of our history. But, it is all the more reason to celebrate the progress made in this town and in the world, since that time.

And, celebrate, we are! I am happy to report I observed people from many nationalities and races, all equally enjoying the pool, and with nary a thought to the past. I wondered if anyone there recognized the historical significance. When I looked around, all I saw was a community, playing and laughing and enjoying each other and the surroundings, together.

The park really does have a little something for everyone. No matter what type of water activities you like, I am certain you'll find something to catch your fancy.

There's a great "beach area" for the little ones. Although not a wave pool, the gradual slope allows for use by people of all sizes, and there are fountains along the edge enticing littles ones to play with the water.

There's a roped section of 10 to 12 inch depth, perfect for toddlers and preschoolers. They'll enjoy climbing on the whale, and sliding down the size appropriate water slides.

There are 7 slides throughout the park, and they vary in range from "baby slides" to significant body flumes and slides, including a couple reserved for people 6 years or older, and at least 48 inches tall.
There are lap lanes, and plenty of open swim area. There's a floating snake that the older kids flock to. They'll also find floating lilly pads to assist them with walking on the water. It looked like great fun, and I think next time I will try it.

There is plenty of seating, including places for the sun worshippers; and there are plenty of shaded places to sit (in the water or out) for those of us with fairer skin.
If you're chasing little ones like I was, you better put on double the sunscreen! As a red head, who hasn't been in the sun much this year, I definately look different today than before my visit. I used to be white with alburn hair. Now I am hot pink with strawberry blonde hair.

My personal favorite feature at the park is the 600 foot lazy river. Given the chance, I could lay there all day if they'd take those silly "dumping" features away - those are the features that poor water on you just as you are about to drift off to sleep. Perhaps keeping you awake is the point.

Compared to similar regional water parks, this one is a true value. Town residents get a little discount on passes, and more importantly, they get in an hour early to reserve their seats, a luxury I enjoyed greatly. On the day of our visit there were seats available throughout the day; and I was pleasantly surprised that it was not busier.

There's a concession stand offerring affordable lunch and snack options, although our family brought a picnic lunch for our trip. You can bring in your own food, just nothing from a restaurant.

Not only does the water park make for great family time, but the lifeguards call an adult only swim time for 15 minutes of every hour! And, based on the people watching I did, it seems it is even a pretty good place for a date!
Have a happy summer!
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For more information on AV Symington Aquatic Park, please visit:

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Living with a Hero

My dad seems sometimes like a hard, no nonsense kinda guy. He hunts, fishes, builds. He's rugged, for sure. But hard - nah, not my dad. He's a sap, but it's not obvious unless you look closely.

When I was kid, on snow days my dad would start by clearing our "drive way" which was just shy of a mile long and served 2 other homes. Then, he'd take the tractor down the road to where a few elderly people lived, and clear their driveways, too. He usually had this done before I rolled out of bed. Then, after breakfast, we'd jump in our 4 wheel drive and go looking for people who were stuck in ditches and such, and we'd pull or push them free, and sometimes offer a ride home, or even tow their car, if that is what was needed. We did it because that's who my dad is, and we did it all day long. Rarely did we build a snow man or sled, we had work to do. People needed us.

When self serve gas started to become popular, he always pumped gas for any elderly person he saw, and sometimes even paid for the gas.

Whenever we had a relative in a hospital, my dad always ended up getting to know the people in the beds and rooms next door, especially if they didn't have family that came to see them. He'd bring them snacks or gifts, chat with them and visit them regularly.

Dear Old Dad was always on call for whatever crisis his friends may have had. He moved them, let them sleep on our couch, gave them jobs when they needed it. One of the major fights my mom and dad had when I was a kid was because instead of repairing our own cars, my dad was always fixing his friends' cars. Typical.

This is the example my dad has always set for me, to put the needs of others before yourself. It translates into my business and my everyday life. I am so grateful to have such a great role model in this area. I am so grateful to have my dad in my life.

In probably the deepest discussion we ever had, my dad and I talked about him and Vietnam. You see, he lost an eye when he was about 5, opening some sort of bag with a knife. As a result, he could not be drafted for the war. I told him I thought he lost that eye so I could be. If he'd gone to war, he wouldn't have married my mom, and I would not have been born. He agreed, but added that he is certain he would have died at war, probably saving someone not smart enough or capable enough to save themselves. I wish you could have been there; he didn't say it with even a hint of arrogance; he was just saying what he knew to be true. And, when he said it, I knew it, too. I've never been so grateful that my dad lost his eye when he was just a kid.

As today is Father's Day, you might think that is the sole inspiration for this post. However, dear old dad is standing me up today - we'll have to go to dinner another night. Why? Because he's being him. You see, he's got a friend stuck with a sunken boat down near the bay somewhere. So, my dad, my cousin and one of my sons (he's 20) are on their way to rescue him. They promised me they'd be safe, but their friend needs them. I'd go, except that I can not take my little ones who are 3 and 5; they would create unsafe conditions for us all. So, I'll take my husband out and buy a new grill, we'll go to dinner at a place my dad wouldn't like... and I'll take my dad out another night for dinner.

The inspiration for this post is my dad being who he is, today, on Father's Day. It creates a sort of irony, for on a day that dad is suppose to relax and revel in the appreciation from his children, my dad simply doesn't have time. He's too busy being who he is. A real live hero.

I love you dad.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Rust Manor House and Nature Sanctuary

Rust Manor House and Nature Sanctuary are tucked away in a small nook inside the town of Leesburg. Even long time locals sometimes forget about this wonderful hidden treasure right in our back yard.
With the help of my Daisy Girl Scout troop, I had a wonderful visit yesterday afternoon. We hiked through the trails, visited the pond, snacked on fresh watermelon, climbed on a fallen tree, enjoyed chatting at the empty amphitheatre, and made bird feeders with peanut butter and bird seed at the picnic area. Despite the heat and humidity, the trees provide lots of shade and the area remained cool and comfortable.
The park is 68 acres, and with only an hour and a half, we had very little time to explore, but there are so many more things still to do on future visits. Fishing is allowed at the stocked pond. The historic Manor house is available for tours. Audobon Natrualist Society has many special events there. Certain areas are available for weddings or other private events. And, there are much longer hiking trails throughout the park.
Although the sanctuary boasts tons of wildlife, if you bring a gaggle of 5 to 7 year old squealing girls with you, you’re not too likely to see many animals. You will, however, hear giggles, see infectious smiles and still have a wonderful time. Some elements of nature cannot or will not hide, even from these girls. So, we had lots of chances to talk about gnats, worms, ticks, lyme disease, and poison ivy. And my co leader managed to have a personal visit by a local dragonfly, who sat contently on her hand for quite some time. The lesson here: bring the insect repellent.
Our visit to the sanctuary was in support of our efforts to earn our last petal of the Daisy flower, Rose, which stands for “Make The World A Better Place”. Rust Manor House and Sanctuary were donated to the town, along with the land where Ida Lee Park is, by the Rust Family. We talked about what a great way that was for the Rust family to make the world a better place, by donating land for the use of the community; whichis one of the reasons we selected this location for our last meeting of the year.
We certainly had fun there, and hopefully the girls will return again many times to enjoy the gorgeous scenery, and will share their discovery of this great gift with many others.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Talkin' Trash in Loudoun

The Loudoun County Landfill offers tours each week for scout troops and other groups; and recently my Daisy Girl Scout troop took advantage of this opportunity.

The landfill opened in 1971 and should be able to continue to serve the community for another 60 years. We learned that the Loudoun County Landfill takes in only about a third of the trash from within the county, and the rest of the county's trash is taken to other landfills in Fairfax and throughout Northern Virginia.

Our guide, Tony Hayes, taught us a lot about recycling. Loudoun County is only recycling about 30% of our solid waste. Nationally, the goal is 25%, and Europe is recycling less than 20% of their trash; Sweden, on the other hand, recycles close to 40% of their trash. We can do better.

We learned how plastic bottles are turned into a cotton like material that can be made into clothing. Tony told us that the cost of recycling aluminum cans is cheaper for manufacturers than using raw materials; so the cans we leave there today will be back on the shelves in just a few months. We saw a ruler made from recycled yellow pages, with a bit of recycled plastic thrown in for good measure. We also saw that mulch (made from yard waste) is available free year round.

If you take your own trash to the dump, you probably knew that you pay according to the weight; but the good news is that you can bring in recyclables free of charge, and you can remove them from your truck before you're vehicle is weighed. Not all materials are recyclable at this location. They do take newspapers and magazines, cardboard, bottles and cans, among other things. Special items can be recycled, but you may need to search a little harder for the right collection spot.

On the day of our visit, the landfill had received over 500,000 pounds of trash; which is apparently a lot. My Daisies would tell you that the landfill stinks, although I will admit that the smell is not nearly as bad as I expected, nor as bad as I remember from when I was kid.

We learned about the storm water management efforts at the Landfill, which are taken very seriously here since our storm water eventually makes it to the Chesapeake, an area we're working hard to preserve. At the landfill, they place a plastic liner and an absorbent liner at the bottom of a big hole, and these liners act kind of like a diaper, soaking in the "garbage juice" so it does not leak into the ground. Trash is added, throughout the day, large machines drive over the trash and crush it. At the end of the day, it is covered with 6 inches of dirt. This is repeated several times over, until the area reaches capacity. Then a "raincoat" is placed over the mountain of dirt covered trash. All these efforts result in less contamination of the soil, and therefore support the efforts to protect the Chesapeake Bay.

Sadly, as we sat in the county van, my girls could each look into the non-recycled trash pile and see many items that could have been easily recycled. Again, we can do better.

We learned that the sagging economy does have a benefit. Tony "guesstimated" that collections were down about 20% compared to years where we had a more robust economy; and that demand for recycled materials is down, too. But, recycling remains more lucrative than "dumping" the trash in a regular landfill; and it is much better for our environment.

Our tour concluded with each girl promising to do her part, and to convince one more person to start recycling. This is my effort to convince you. Will you join me in my efforts to protect our earth? Start by abiding by my daughter's new motto: "Recycle a little every day!" Every little bit helps.

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Tell us if you see us in the news!
Update: Just a few weeks after our visit, I know my family has an increased awareness and a renewed focus on recylcing. This week our overall trash output was reduced by about 25-30%; AND half of what we did produce was destined for a recycling center. Now, I am actively working with my office to see if we can get our office building recycling. Come on, you can do it, too.

Monday, June 8, 2009

What's In Virginia?

When I was 16, my dad sent me with a friend on summer vacation to California. We did just about everything there. We went to the theme parks and stayed in Anahiem; we went to Long Beach and stayed just blocks from the beach; we visited Hearst Castle with it's tiles made of 14k gold; we took the Yaht to Catalina - despite the storms; we saw and experienced fast paced LA; we even stayed on a houseboat overnight with my friend's uncle - he lives on the boat and had a girl in every port. I really think we did it all. It was an amazing trip and I was in awe. But, it had to be the camping trip to Yosemite that made the biggest impact on me.

Four members of our party simply didn't fit in the RV we had, so we were ousted to find refuge in a rented TeePee. I was one of the four. At night, the park had a huge bonfire among the teepees, and downed Redwoods were positioned around the fire for seating. We'd bring hot dogs and marshmallows to roast, gather round and sip our hot chocolate; chatting with people from all over the world.

One night, there were about 20 strangers gathered round the fire, and we were going around the circle, each saying where we were from. It seemed everyone was from some wonderful place that I could only dream of seeing. When it came my turn, I said I was from Virginia. "What's In Virginia?" came a voice from the crowd. At 16, I wasn't sure how to answer. It had been a long trip at this point, and I admit to being a bit homesick. "My dad" was all I could really think of; but I knew that's not what he was looking for.

Luckily, another voice from the crowd came. This one announced that she once had to drive through the state of Virginia. She said the whole time she drove through, she kept thinking she must be in a National Park, because it was so beautiful.

Beauty is what is in Virginia. I thought that was a good answer.

On that trip, I met people who'd never seen a live Panda Bear; never swam in the ocean; never watched fireworks with the backdrop of the Washington Monument. I met people who had lived many places, and mostly, that was because they had to move - to find work. I learned about wild fires, mud slides and tornadoes regularly threatening to take people's homes. I learned I was very blessed, and very privileged, just because of where I live.

That night, when I laid down to sleep I had a new thing to be thankful for. I was thankful for my home sweet home. I live here in Northern Virginia; in the shadows of perhaps the most powerful city in the world. I get to experience all 4 seasons to their fullest; visit the Smithsonians, the National Zoo anytime I wish, see the National Monuments, and experience history everywhere I turn. I can see the mountains from my home, and I can get to the beach in just a couple hours. And never, not once, have I ever had to leave to find work, or worry that a natural disaster would take my home. Life here is good.

But, I have to say, even to this day when I hear "What's in Virginia?" My first thought is "My dad."

Lyme Disease is on the Rise in Loudoun County

It's True, Lyme Disease Is On The Rise In Loudoun County..... I know because my 5 year old daughter was diagnosed with it this weekend.

Being a country girl from Loudoun, I am pretty used to ticks being part of summer time life. I've always had pets, always been in the fields and in the woods, and always been aware of the disease that ticks can carry. When I was young the big fear was Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Today's fears revolve around Lyme Disease. Ticks carry these and many other diseases.

Lyme disease is really not a big deal IF it is caught in time, AND TREATED APPROPRIATELY so I am writing this post in hopes that many will see it, and anyone who gets it will be cured. My daughter, a Kindergartener, was diagnosed this weekend. Saturday morning, she got a fever and was complaining of an upset stomach. By Saturday evening when I still couldn't figure out the origin of her symptoms, I admit to growing concerned. She was sitting on my lap, I was singing a silly song to her, and ran my fingers through her hair. She jumped! I pulled her hair back and this is what I saw!

She quickly reminded me this is where the deer tick (about the size of a flea) had been pulled from her head. Ahh... I knew a trip to the ER was in order. Here's the scary part - the ER doc simply didn't look under her hair. She saw redness behind her ear and thought is was a skin rash from a skin infection or allergic reaction.

I had seen lyme disease before... and so I was a little pushy. Had I not asked the doc to look again, and reminded her of the other symptoms (itchy, hot to the touch, swollen, sensitive, and red around a white "bulls eye" surrounding the bite site), it would have misdiagnosed, and possibly not treated appropriately. So, I am sharing the photo and this information. Moms, trust your instincts. Blind trust can result in dangerous outcomes.

Without proper treatment, lyme disease can cause all kinds of life long, and debilatating conditions. Many people don't realize that symptoms and the visual evidence can take 1-6 weeks to surface; and blood tests done in the first 30 days are often a false negative. If you find a tick on yourself or your child, write it down somewhere - perhaps on a calender. Check the bite site weekly for 6 weeks or more for visual evidence of a problem. Report the tick bite to the doctor if you have any symptoms of ANY illness you get within about 90 days (or more if you think it could be related) - there are many diseases carried by these little things, and the symptoms vary widely.

Prevention is easy. The use of insect repellent and making sure your pets are treated will go far to deter this from happening to you. But the risk remains, so be diligent and check yourself and your kids after you've been outside for a while.

For more information, including tips on preventing this; visit:

Monday, June 1, 2009

Giving Where We Live

Giving Where We Live

In recognition of the first KW RED Day, several shifts of real estate agents and their associates from Keller Williams Realty in Leesburg invaded the ReStore in Purcellville on Thursday, May 28th to help with cleaning, stocking, displaying merchandise in the store and preparing online ads to increase sales.KW RED Day was organized on an international level to recognize the 72nd birthday of Mo Anderson, Vice Chairman of the Board of Keller Williams International, and her amazing commitment to community service.

The leadership of Keller Williams International firmly believes in giving back to the communities each office serves and has many programs in place to encourage this.RED is an acronym for Renew Energize and Donate; and the motto for the day was “Giving Where We Live”. You can read more about Keller Williams Realty, and about RED Day at

The ReStore in Purcellville recently opened and is located on Main Street. It is owned and operated by the Loudoun Chapter of Habitat for Humanity and proceeds from all sales benefit local Habitat for Humanity projects.The store carries new and used doors, windows, shutters, hardware, lighting, plumbing and electrical supplies, flooring, building materials, office furniture, and more. Volunteers are needed on a regular basis, especially during the week; and donations are accepted during regular operating hours. Learn more about the ReStore at

The photo above includes the morning shift of volunteers. See more photos from the day at:
Keller Williams Realty boasts a consistent record of holding the highest market share in real estate sales in Leesburg; and provides all types of real estate services. For more information please contact Vicky at 703-669-3142 or email her at