Upon first look, local website mywinterhill.com appears to be a detailed guide of the Falls Church area. Get to know the websites’ creators, Peter Van Buren and his daughter Sarah, however, and it seems it has also been a kind of diary for them, chronicling the family’s adaptation to life in Falls Church.
Real-estate advice, gardening tips, reviews of local businesses and services and links to other local sites are just some of the things the Van Burens update constantly on the web page. The origins of those features stem directly from the family’s own experiences as they’ve settled into the Falls Church community after relocating to the area a little over a year ago. For example, take a recent mulching project.
“Mulch was an interesting concept to us,” says Peter, a government worker who, with his family, spent most of his recent years living in Asia. “Before we moved back to the states it was a foreign concept to us, and yet we came to see our neighbors putting that stuff every where. So we decided to venture to Home Depot, this being our first trip to a mega store, and find out more about it.” This then led to the creation of the gardening section of the website. Peter explains the genesis of the tourist guide under the “Services” tab this way: “When my parents were coming to visit from Ohio, I knew they would be like many of the other tourists that frequent the Metro. You know, the ones that stare at the brightly lit signs and maps just waiting for something to jump out at them, when in reality have no idea what to do.” Voila. That led to a complete tutorial for nervous sightseers on the website.
Renovating a bathroom seemed like an overwhelming task to the Van Burens, but with the help of Home Depot again, and some Do It Yourself books, the task was completed and so was a new chapter on the website — the “DIY” section. In the end, their experience saved them time and money, helping them avoid costly contractors, something they thought others might like to know about.
“We let our lives take us places and we try to include certain tasks that we think other people would like to know about on the website,” Peter says.
While the site currently focuses on issues for home owners and those interested in the area’s history (the idea for the website was sparked when Sarah and her father enjoyed their fact-finding mission on the etymological origins of Gundry Drive), Sarah hopes to add some content for younger surfers.
“I’m planning on adding something to the website about my school [George Mason High School]. I’m not sure how much I’ll talk about yet, but it’ll be there for people who want to know about the school system in Falls Church,” Sarah adds.
The Winter Hill website is not the first website Peter has built. Working for the federal government, Peter and his family, which also includes wife, Mari, and daughter, Abbey, spent a lot of time moving throughout Asia. The family lived in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. As his two girls began to grow, travel was becoming a little more difficult. With that concept in mind, Peter started travelwithyourkids.com — which has now been sold — with the idea of helping people with small children still enjoy traveling. When they moved back to the states, there were some unexpected challenges, like the renovations and the mulch, that most Americans take for granted.
“We didn’t fall off Mars,” Peter laughs, “but moving back to the United States with my family was tough.”
“We wish there had been a website like this when we were searching for a home,” Sarah says.
And so they’ve committed to filling that need with their website, which now contains a bulletin board offering free advertising for locals, and a “Links” section that serves as an index for the Falls Church City area, with web links to all city services, Mary Riley Stiles Library, any many more useful sites. It even sports ads from Google and Amazon.com.
“We hope that the people of Falls Church will start to visit our website more frequently and email us with suggestions and comments. We only want it to continue to grow,” Peter says.
The Van Burens are looking for contributors and will credit all authors that do so. Currently the real estate section has articles on landscaping your front lawn to preparing your home to show. There is also a restaurant review, written by Sarah, about Hoang’s Grill and Sushi Bar on Broad Street is only the beginning of more local restaurants to be sampled.
“The cool thing about the internet is that it allows you to tell a story. And our current story is about a little place known as Winter Hill,” Peter concluded.