field day: white oak lavender farm.

burgIMG_9254Driving along highway 276 south of Harrisonburg, you might not even notice it’s there. I didn’t, and I’ve driven that road innumerable times. But with a speed limit of 55 and a hypnotic and familiar landscape of corn fields, cow pastures, and rustic barns, that road has a way of inducing zoned-out daydreams. And so I don’t know, exactly, how many times I’ve driven by it. This is not to say I’d never heard of it – The White Oak Lavender Farm has been on my list of things to do for seemingly ever… I just never realized how close it is to my house.

Brandy, her sister Marcy, I, and an excited gaggle of six children spent a leisurely afternoon there not long ago. As our friendly and patient guide told us, White Oak Lavender Farm is “all about R&R.” We first listened to her compelling explanation of the benefits of lavender and how it’s grown and harvested. The farm is home to some 9000 lavender plants (some of which are available to purchase) from which ALL the products sold at the farm are made. She allowed all the kids to touch the fragrant plants, pointing out their “bud heads,” which of course the kids heard as “butt heads” and subsequently tried to suppress their giggles.

burgIMG_9260 burgIMG_9269 burgIMG_9328After the plants are harvested, They’re sent to the steam distillery to extract the essential lavender oil from the fresh lavender buds or sent to dry out in the Drying and Disbudding Barn. A machine removes the buds to be used for all the soft good or cooking items. White Oak’s gift shop sells all the products made from the buds and the oil. This gift shop is a place you need to remember when you’re ready to do some birthday or holiday shopping. I had visited their booth at the Harrisonburg Farmers Market before, but I was floored by the number and variety of items in the shop, all made (with the exception of, say, dishware) with lavender. Lavender tea, sugar, coffee, mulling spices. Lavender candles, oils, soaps, body products. Lavender vinegar, jellies and jams, and even cooking oil. They make and sell lavender brownies and ice cream: blueberry, vanilla, and strawberry. Brandy barely got a photo of it before the kids inhaled it.

burgIMG_9289burgIMG_9394 burgIMG_9398If you still haven’t heard what a wonder-herb lavender is, it’s all about relaxation. It soothes bug bites and burns. It helps you sleep. It calms the digestive system. It clarifies your skin and repels bugs. It relieves pain and increases circulation. There’s absolutely no reason you should not live a more lavender life, people.

But the farm has far more to offer than just lavender fields and a gift shop. You can stroll the grounds of the farm and pet some animals, like Flemish Giants (bunnies), ponies, goats, and sheep. You can play giant checkers and contemplate in the labyrinth. You can sit by the Bottle Tree (helps ward off bad spirits) or enjoy the Peace Circle for Enhanced Communication. You can rest in a rocking chair on the covered porch. You can listen to the waterfall at the duck pond, and watch the alpacas on the hill.

burgIMG_9294 burgIMG_9304 burgIMG_9306 burgIMG_9332 burgIMG_9362 burgIMG_9367You can pick your own lavender, and they even offer workshops and classes from time to time. And you can end your visit there as we did, sitting under their picnic shelter and just being happy to be together on a rare respite from life’s race.

burgIMG_9409White Oak Lavender Farm is open Monday – Saturday 10am – 6pm and Sunday 1pm – 6pm and is located at 2644 Cross Keys Road. That’s just a bit south of the intersection of 276 and Port Republic Road. They’d love to see you, whether you’re chaperoning a school field trip, exploring as a family, or just ready to slow down a bit by yourself.

burgIMG_9339 Copyright © 2012-15 · All Rights Reserved · Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

leaves in good hands: sparrow’s floral design.

sparrowsflowers signThe simple, lovely flower has long been a source of joy and comfort to us humans. We look forward to spring when we can dig in the raw dirt and plant beauty. In the fall, we sentimentally press those coveted blossoms between the pages of heavy, thick books in the spirit of preservation. In winter, we might delight ourselves in the purchase of a bouquet, just to brighten the dull grayness of the room.

You’ve likely given or received flowers at least once in your life… for flowers deliver a message much larger than you can fit on that itty bitty card. They are nature’s poetry. Flowers transmit feelings – love, admiration, grief. At weddings, the hope tied to catching the bride’s bouquet. An anniversary gift that says, “I love you more than life itself.” During illness or bereavement, the encouraging reminder that life does, in fact, triumph.

sparrowsflowers sauceBrandy and I were invited to a Flower Party and Potluck Dinner hosted by Amanda Tutwiler, owner of Sparrow’s Flowers. It was at Hillandale Park on a lovely evening. We all (14 of us) brought a few stems of whatever bloom we could pilfer and something to eat, and Amanda supplied the vases, greens (for the flower arrangements, not for eating), and of course, her expertise.

sparrowsflowers taco bowlssparrowsflowers food2 sparrowsflowers food1While folks arrived, we chatted about the usual: work and children. We talked about how irritating it is when your kids tattle on each other. I’ve basically told my kids, unless there is blood pouring from your body or something’s on fire, work it out yourselves! (Mother of the Year?) But they still tattle. Maybe I should implement a point system. Each kid starts with, say, five points. Whenever a kid tattles, he loses a point. If the accused is actually guilty of the crime, that kid loses two points. If anyone has any points leftover at the end of the day, he or she doesn’t get rolled up in a carpet and dangled off a bridge (Mother of the Year!). You know, it’s the whole “choose your battles” thing. Anyhoo. Food continued to arrive and we continued to drool… but the guest who was bringing plates and cups didn’t make it, so I hopped in my car and scooted down the street to Food Lion. Once back at the picnic shelter, I was hailed a hero and we chowed down.

sparrowsflowers eatDuring dinner we chatted about the upcoming Art Lotto (can’t wait!!), summer plans, and the show Fargo on FX that I’m completely obsessed with. And then the real fun started. We each grabbed a vase and just started piling in the flowers.

sparrowsflowers vasessparrowsflowers collage1There were irises and lamb’s ear, daisies and azalea blossoms, baby’s breath and peonies and lots, lots more. It was fun, and festive, and pretty, and relaxing, and I thought, this would be a great activity to do at a wedding while waiting for the bride and groom to get to the reception. You know, while they and the wedding party are having photos taken, the rest of the guests could create centerpieces for the tables. Huh, huh? You are free to use that idea, and may I suggest hiring Amanda to facilitate it.

sparrowsflowers arrange1 sparrowsflowers arrange2sparrowsflowers collage2 sparrowsflowers collage3 sparrowsflowers collage4The bouquets were all different and spectacular, and we realized they sorta represented each of us. My arrangement was tall, extending way past the rim of the vase and sorta leaning over to one side. Like me. I heard, “Mine’s all over the place” and “Mine doesn’t make any sense.” And of course, Ella’s was just plain cute.

sparrowsflowers ellaEveryone meandered back to the food table for a last nibble or two, and we all got to bring our beautiful arrangements home, plus a couple of floral sachets, too! My bouquet is still intact, still tall and lopsided, and still just as pretty as ever. It reminds me how nice it is to have fresh flowers in my home. I could get used to it.

sparrowsflowers sachetssparrowsflowers groupYou can contact Amanda at Sparrow’s Floral Design through her Facebook page, or if you don’t have Facebook, you can email her at

Copyright © 2012-14 · All Rights Reserved · Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

water… the universal solvent: westover park.

Water is the ultimate miracle drug. Since our very conception, we’ve been comforted by it. We spend nine peaceful months cradled in water, then emerge with a lifelong desire to return to it. We soak in hot water after a stressful day, letting it relax our weary bodies and minds. We seek cool water on a hot day; it invigorates and cleanses us.

We take trips to the beach to get in the water and feel the weightlessness it provides with each passing wave. In water, pain seems to dissolve; it envelops us in softness and freedom. Our hearts beat more easily with less weight. Our joints feel better, our muscles relax, tension floats away. And when the kids are bickering and whining and have gotten on the last millimeter of my last nerve, it’s TIME TO GO TO THE POOL. Westover, as a matter of fact.

Once there, we sprayed everyone down with sunscreen, put floaties on Cal, and dug all the torpedoes and diving toys out of last summer’s still-sandy beach bag, and shooed the kids off to the pool. I settled down into a chair in the sunshine, letting my entire being sink into the solid frame and feeling my thigh flesh seep into the seat cracks, and letting a barely audible “thank God” escape my mouth. Ahhhhh.

welcome to the pharmacy.

classic beauty!

Our friend Danielle accompanied us, pretty in pink and a straw hat. For a few minutes no one said anything–it just felt good to be in the sun and near water. But then “Sexy and I Know It” came on the radio and that got us to talking. Cal had started singing it in the car earlier (by the way, he pronounces it “suxy”) and Bree had answered (in sing-song fashion), “Cal’s inappropriate and he doesn’t know it.” We also heard “Party In the Whatever Rockin’ House Tonight” and some Katy Gaga. We continued talking about the usual–boys, do-I-look-okay-in-this-swimsuit, kitchen counter tops, and Brandy’s awesome ultimate rainbow fantasy towel, courtesy of Nanny.

The kids were having fun swimming and splashing around and getting out of the pool now and then to warm up, chat, and play. From where we sat, we could keep an eye on everyone, plus the place is well staffed with rotating lifeguards (“pool police” I call ’em), Another nice feature of Westover Pool is its shady areas. You can get out of the sun when you feel you’ve had enough. There’s a grassy area, too.

Then Bree and Blake decided to go down the water slides. There are three, and the tallest one is a long, huge spiral. I knew that Cal, whose head is the only part of him that seems to grow, was much too little to ride, plus he could get his giant head stuck in there. Blake was tall enough last year. But I was nervous about Bree. Two years ago she was just a hair too short to ride, and though disappointed, she felt confident she’d be tall enough for the next summer.

So last summer when she was still too short, she was TICKED. HOT. IRATE. In a small, cute kinda way. Maybe they raised the height requirement–who knows, regulations change, but to her it felt like she’d never catch up to that blasted red line.

It reminded me of my brother and the whole drinking age debacle. It was 1983, back when the drinking age was 18. My brother was 17, and he was counting down the days to his first legit beer with Dad. But just two months before the big day, the threshold was raised to 19. Then the next year, 20. He was TICKED. HOT. IRATE. Anyway, if Bree was somehow, after a year of outgrowing every pair of pants she owned–twice, still too short… well, I just covered my eyes.

YAY!! Vindication!

Just a few minutes later I found Cal in line at the diving board among towering teenagers. I had to break it to him that he’s too small for that too. Meh. He took it in stride.

We stayed for a good three hours before a new case of the crankies set in. Next time this happens in your household, try Westover Park. You can easily make a day of it, what with the playground, picnic areas, frisbee golf, a skate park, activities center, and pool. The pool is open Monday through Saturday noon til 7pm, and Sunday 1pm to 7pm.

Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved · Photos by Brandy Somers. Written content by Katie Mitchell. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.