Saturday, July 31, 2010

Durham Main Library & Storytime

This past week C and I wanted something indoors to do on a Monday. It didn't seem like there were a lot of options, but enter storytime for toddlers at the Durham Main Library. This was so fun!

Due to C's age, we tried out the Little Minnows Lapsit storytime for infants to 23 months on Monday morning at 10:30. I personally feel as though, with the multiple branches they have, the Durham County Library system does a great job of offering a lot of storytimes. This means that the ages are divided into smaller subsections and the sessions are more enjoyable since it is so catered.

For example, the storytime for C's age was well-tailored to this age. Instead of one person sitting and reading books, the people leading the storytime just told stories ad lib most of the time using visual aids. The one book they did read was a great fit for the age group. And they mixed in a lot of songs with clapping and instruments. Each storytime has a theme. The theme the Monday we went was about the sun, the heat, and hoping for rain. Very apropos.

I have to admit I had my doubts at the beginning since it seemed awkward at first, but boy if the kids didn't love the gentleman leading the storytime! C really responded to him, and there were a bunch of kids up and dancing. The leader did really great with the kids, even though I could tell, as an adult, that he didn't know the songs. Turns out that doesn't matter to kids this age. What does matter is enthusiasm, which he had in spades.

This was really well attended, too, which made for great energy and social time.

The website for Durham County Libraries lists all events offered, see link below. The website can be a little overwhelming, I think, since they offer so much stuff. I have found it best to narrow it down by days and locations that work. It may say that pre-registration is required. We didn't register in advance (I have commitment issues) and had no problems whatsoever. They didn't even ask.

C really responded to this storytime, and I loved how perfect it was for his age. I can't wait to try out other Durham County Library storytimes when he gets older. If you have been to any of the other storytimes at the Main Library, for the different ages, let me know. I would love to hear your review!

Beyond the storytime, the Durham Main Library is a great place for kids to hang out. After storytime was completed, the majority of kids migrated out of the special story room (which was equipped with cushions and bells and mats) to the kids library. The part of the library for toddlers had toddler-appropriate toys set up. C continued to play with his new friends from storytime here. There were puzzles, kid tables and, of course, books!

Although I have to be honest and say that C seemed to get the most pleasure out of crawling through some library shelves that were empty-- from one aisle to another. Wherever the pleasure was, we had a great time at the Durham Library and the storytime for C's age.

Durham's Main Library

Full calendar of all events,
click here
300 North Roxboro Street


Friday, July 30, 2010

Red Robin

Carolina Parent recently rated Red Robin as the one of their top picks for dining with kids.
So when DH and I were running out for a quick lunch with C, who can't seem to sit still through a meal for anything, we decided to give it a try. We went to the Red Robin that is located off of 15/501 near New Hope Commons (feel free to stop by the Starbucks there, too).

Sarah C. and I don't generally blog about restaurants. Just having high chairs and a kids menu isn't enough, there has to be something really special. Well, believe it or not, Red Robin is really a great place for kids and I thought it worth sharing!

The kids menu has standard fare with grilled cheese and chicken nuggets. Yet they also have fresh melon, mandarin oranges, and steamed broccoli which, as a parent trying to teach my child healthy eating habits, I really appreciate. And I also think this is what other parents enjoy so much about this place, and why it ranks so high on the parents pick list.

But Red Robin had a lot of entertainment for kids, and I am sure it rates high on their pick list, too. There are balloons and crayons and coloring sheets for at-table enjoyment. The restaurant itself is full of things to look at and enjoy. There is also a "game room" for kids. (They call it a game room, but it is a part of the waiting area that has a couple of arcade games. I am not diminishing it, though, since it is a fabulous thing for kids. Bring quarters.)

Another thing to know: on Tuesdays and Thursdays during lunch the Red Robin himself stops by. He comes into the restaurant to say hello to the kids and encourage them to eat their vegetables.

Even the Red Robin website has a whole kids section on it. Check it out (see below).

From an adult perspective, I was surprised at how decent the food was. Our wait staff was so friendly and helpful, even with C. If you needed any more incentive to eat here they offer a bottomless basket of fries for all sandwiches. That's right, the fries never stop. They keep coming and coming. It's as if they are bringing to life one of my dreams.

Red Robin Restaurant

5324 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd



Also locations in Raleigh, Apex, and Cary. See website for full listings.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Carrboro Century Center Toddler Playtime

I was so ready when Carrboro Parks & Recreation announced the return of their Toddler & Preschool Indoor Playtime. C and I jumped on the opportunity to go this past week.

Carrboro Parks & Rec opens up the doors of the Century Center on Tuesday mornings from 10 -11:30 specifically and only for kids 5 and under. But they stop this program during June and July, with the thought that kids will be playing outside. So when it started up again this past Tuesday, I was pretty excited to get out of the heat (and, it turns out, rain).

This was a lot of fun for us. The Century Center hall is big, and gives kids a lot of room to run and play. And the town does a great job of bringing in equipment to make it enjoyable.

There is a large mat in the center of the room with baby toys for the younger ones (or for the bigger ones to flop around on). There are big blocks, balls, small blocks, musical instruments, a rug with the alphabet on it, and tunnels and tents to crawl in. There are also two tables that are kid-sized. One table has books, the other table has toddler puzzles. In the meantime, Raffi plays in the background.

No rules here about socks, shoes, barefeet, etc.

It is $3 per child to get in. You can show up at any time and leave at any time.

The Town of Carrboro's website seems to indicate that there are some group activities, too. We didn't see any being offered while we were there, but that was okay with us as C simply had fun playing with the other kids.

Also, if you see any literature that says "Ages 3 -5," ignore it. This is clearly 5 & under. There were some new babies doing tummy time on the big mats. So as long as they are under 5 they are welcome.

I believe that this is being offered now for the duration of the year, but stay tuned to Carrboro's website, see below, to make sure there aren't any holidays before you go.

Carrboro Century Center
Toddler Preschool Playtime
-- listed in "Program : Special Events"
100 North Greensboro Street
(919) 918-7385

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Purple Crow Books

After another reader tip (see, we do listen!), I took C to Purple Crow Books in downtown Hillsborough. This is a small store that is big on fun for kids. C absolutely loved this place. He was giggling and laughing so loud that the other shoppers commented on his obvious joy.

What did C like about it? The shop owner, who is a retired school teacher, took a nook in the store and made it into a kids' book heaven. The nook actually has a huge window that looks out over the street. You can't get into the window seat-- that is reserved for very cute window displays. But there are loads of books all over the place, of all different levels, for kids to grab and read. If they want, there is an old antique bathtub that has been converted into a seating area. It has pillows and stuffed animals in it. This was what C went so nuts about. Give him a bathtub and let him discover the Pat the Beastie book (which, since we own the Pat the Bunny book, cracks me up, too), and he is happy. But what kid wouldn't be?

There are also wooden blocks and kinetix in here. It is a place where a kid can feel how enjoyable reading is.

For adults, there is a decent selection on the other side. It isn't a huge shop, but the owner is so helpful and friendly. I ended up putting some stuff on order and look forward to when it comes in. I am sure C looks forward to it, too!

Purple Crow Books does carry Polly and the Forbidden House, by the way, if you haven't gotten your copy yet.

No storytimes at Purple Crow Books, but with a space as great as this you can hold your own. Which your child might even appreciate more.

Purple Crow does host author events and signings. There is also a great link about local authors on their website.

Purple Crow Books
109 West King Street

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Starbucks at New Hope Commons

Updated 3/2011-  Despite our lauding them for their family-friendliness, the Starbucks at New Hope Valley has removed all their kid equipment!  Please bring it back!!
I love when businesses that aren't kid-based surprisingly add a little something to keep children occupied. The Starbucks at New Hope Valley has done this, and it is a great addition!

New Hope Commons is located off of 15/501. You know the area: it is where Buy Buy Baby, WalMart and Old Navy are. The Starbucks is located in the newer shopping center, near the Red Robin and Play it Again Sports.

It is a standard Starbucks, with areas to lounge and coffee beverages and snacks to buy. But they have a table and chairs for kids with coloring books, blocks, and picture books.

They even thought to add a second kids table and chair outside on the patio. This
way you can, when the weather allows, drink your Frappuccino while your child has a pint-sized (or is it Tall? or Grande?) relaxation outside with you.

Starbucks Coffee- Mount Moriah Location
5319 New Hope Commons Drive
Suite 105

Monday, July 26, 2010

American Tobacco Trail

The American Tobacco Trail is a classic Triangle to-do. It is one of the things people love about living in Durham. I had been on the Tobacco Trail before, but never with a child. Here are my thoughts on enjoying this as a family...

DH and I were getting summer cabin fever and decided to beat the heat by doing an early morning bike ride with C on the Tobacco Trail. The Tobacco Trail is actually the main trail that heads south from downtown Durham. Yet the term is used to apply to the system of greenways and trails throughout Durham, Wake, and now Chatham Counties. A rails-to-trails project, there are over 22 miles of trail total.

Even though there are parts of the trail closer to where we live (see maps below for full system), we really liked the idea of being in an urban area, specifically near the American Tobacco Campus. We made a full morning out of this. We parked at Durham Bulls Athletic Park (more on that in a moment), and first thing in the morning we went south on the trail. We biked out a few miles, turned and came back. By that point the day was starting to heat up, so we went into Tyler's to have a beer and some lunch, then went home as the 100 degrees started to come at us. We enjoyed that this biking trail in the downtown area gave us a place to eat, and get inside to some A/C for a little while!

There are places to park for the trail around town. The links below provide information about parking. Note that if there is an event at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, parking is much more limited. There is always the pay garage next to the park, though. And even though the trail does come down to Southpoint mall area, you can not access it from the mall. The trail doesn't cross 40.

The trail is in various states of completion. This means that some portions are going to be paved, some gravel, some not yet completed at all, or in various mixed states. The other reason why DH and I chose this particular part of the trail was because we had confirmation that it was completed. This meant it was predominantly paved. There were some sections covered with a loose pebble gravel, but no problems navigating this with a bike or a stroller.

This path is very stroller friendly and bike friendly. It is relatively flat so an easy trail to enjoy. There are mile markers.

With any urban trail, there are some significant road crossings. Some of these have stoplights for traffic, some do not. There were 1 or 2 major roads that made me a little nervous with a child. However, the traffic was incredibly good about stopping and waving us through.

The trail is open from 5 am - 10 pm. Yet there are some parts of this Trail I would not feel comfortable being on during early morning or late night hours. This trail is in Durham. Even though Durham has undergone a lot of restoration over the years, like any city there are still areas of low income housing with dark alleys.

But the trail is also well-used. So there were a lot of people out there while we were there, too, so I doubt you will ever really be alone. There is safety in numbers!

I will also point out that the trail isn't terribly scenic here. This is a great rails-to-trails conversion, and it is a wonderful thing for a city to have and offer. But you don't get fantastic views. In fact, when we did finally get a nice view of downtown I was so interested in it I ended up losing focus and wiping out on the bike. Oops! As I look at my skinned palms, I am reminded that the trail can also give you a beating! Wear your helmet if biking folks.

In summary, the trail is a great path for families since the difficulty level is a resounding Easy, and there are places of interest around the Trail to stop. And given the trail's length, the odds are that there is a trailhead close to you.
From Durham's website:
From Wake County's website:
From Chatham County's website:

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Eno River Farmers Market & River Park

I love Farmers Markets. They are one of the best things about living in the Triangle area - we have a bunch of them. And even though this summer heat is oppressive, the good news is that tomatoes are in! So C and I headed out to the Eno River Farmers Market, which is downtown Hillsborough's market, on Saturday.
This market is cute. It is much smaller than some of the other ones around the area, but I was specifically comparing it to Carrboro's Farmers Market. Despite it being smaller, however, there are still plenty of great goods to buy. There are fresh organically grown vegetables and fruits, handpicked flowers, soaps, jams, breads, handmade kids clothing, and local organic meats. So there is a variety of things here. Just not the same diversity or amount.

One nice thing that the Eno River Farmers Market had was live music. There was a woman with a lovely voice, accompanied by an acoustic guitar, singing melodies that were gorgeous under the pavilion.

The Farmers Market also has a kids tent. This weekend the adult-led craft was fairy baskets.

Parking is easy. The Farmers Market does hold events throughout the year. Stayed tuned to their website (see below) for announcements. Next up is the Pepper Festival!

The Farmers Market is held in the Orange County Public Market House. This is right next to the Courthouse in historic Hillsborough. And it also sits in River Park (just keep walking past the pavilion to the grassy fields). So we took a look around the park while we were there.

River Park is where Hillsborough Hog Days was held this year. But now there isn't much there. There are some nice paved trails that walk by the Eno, but the trails are short. They are built to eventually be part of the River Walk trail, which we have mentioned before, that Hillsborough is in the process of constructing.

What River Park does have is a huge meadow and field. This is great for picnicking (tasting your Farmers Market goods!), throwing a ball around or doing other recreational sports while right next door to the Farmers Market.

One interesting thing that River Park did have was a very small reconstruction of the Ocaneechi Village. The Ocaneechi Indians (spelled many ways but also mentioned in the HOST post) originally lived here on the banks of the Eno. At one point Hillsborough had a larger village rebuild up in River Park. But due to vandalism and shady goings-ons of teens, in 2007 the town & the Ocaneechi tribe (which is still active today) reduced its scope significantly. Right now there exists in downtown Hillsborough two huts and a short fence demonstrating what the village was like. There is also some educational information on the tribe posted near here that is interesting reading.

If you are even more interested, the Ocaneechi have a Homeland Project in the works in Mebane. The old village replica that was in Hillsborough has been mostly moved out to the Homeland. As far as I can tell, they are still looking for donations to complete the Project:

In general, the Eno River Farmers Market and River Park aren't huge, and they won't consume a day's worth of activities. But it is local, it is enjoyable, and it might be something different for you and your family. C and I had a good time, got some great tomatoes and fresh bread, and didn't even mind the early morning heat.

Amenities at River Park:

  • Event Space,
  • Field,
  • Natural Trails,
  • Picnic Shelter,
  • Meadow.
Eno River Farmers Market

Public Market House

Margaret Lane

downtown Hillsborough
Saturday 8 am - noon
Wednesday 4 - 7 pm

River Park
104 Margaret Lane

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Southwest Regional Library - Durham

From Sarah C. today. Wish I had been able to take C to this, it sounds like fun!

On a recent week, our playgroup was small - just S'Rich, myself and our boys. Looking for an indoor activity, we decided to visit the Southwest Regional Library in Durham. The library's calendar noted an event that afternoon that looked like fun - Sandi Sylver, Storyteller and Ventriloquist. Since D had enjoyed the puppets we saw at Kazoom in Raleigh a couple months ago, I thought he might enjoy this as well.

Unfortunately, both boys were more interested in exploring the new place. They did sit for a few minutes to watch the storytelling portion and people watch those around us. Ms. Sylver did an excellent job involving the kids. They were joining her hand motions and repeating lines. The older kids around us (preschool and school age) were definitely into the show.

As our boys became more and more wiggly in our laps, we decided to head out (sadly before the puppets - I definitely would like to try again to see that portion of the show). We wandered into the library to the children's section. And oh what fun it is! Lots of natural lighting, cute decor (D kept pointing at a blow up whale hanging from the ceiling), and plenty of low tables and chairs.

There were coloring stations and puzzles to enjoy. And, of course, lots of books. The shelves holding the picture books were fabulous. They have a great low design that made it easy for our boys to explore. The base features a more traditional shelf with books lined up.
Above it is an open bin with books set so the front covers are facing you. Topping it all off is a slanted shelf to display select titles. And while we all know that you aren't supposed to judge a book by it's cover, of course our little ones are going to make their choices by that alone which makes this great - they can easily see and grab what they want to look at.

I'd suggest grabbing several and heading to the seating area featured above with the multicolored carpet tiles. Those foam chairs were super comfy.

If you find you have a little extra time before or after your adventure and are hungry, this pairs well with a visit to Pop's Backdoor South located a bit further down Shannon Road in Hope Valley Square.

Southwest Regional Library
3605 Shannon Road
Durham, NC
919- 560-8590

Want to see the storyteller or catch another event? Check the library calendar for the full listing of times and locations:
Durham County Library Calendar - All Branches


Friday, July 23, 2010

Lake Johnson Pool and Sprayground

Another reader tip that was great! On a hot day, our mommies group was looking for something to do. Our Forest Hills Sprayground trip was successful, so when we were told that Lake Johnson Sprayground was even bigger and better, we headed out there. And that reader was right. This was a great trip for us! There are many places to play, and this pool caters to kids of all ages.

Lake Johnson has a large main pool with lanes for laps and a free swim area (with lifeguards). Even though there were a good number of people in there, it didn't seem crowded.

There is also a baby pool with a spray shower. This baby pool is mostly 10 inches deep, but does get to 18 inches in some areas. This was a very large baby pool. And the shower was a fun addition for play and interest. It is fenced in, and there is a separate lifeguard on duty for the baby pool. Also, don't forget to bring toys with you for the pool. The water toys that some smart parent had brought with them were insanely popular.

The real reason to drive out to Lake Johnson park? The sprayground. This thing was huge and so much fun for kids of all ages! It was fenced in as well, which is great for toddlers who, well, toddle. There are sprays of all sizes, hoses to move around, and a shower. Warning: there is also a feature in the middle with huge buckets way up in the air. When these buckets fill up they dump significant water on the kiddos below. Some kids love this, some kids hate it. But the good news is that as an adult, you can anticipate it. The sprayground is also guarded by a lifeguard. He also helps you keep the water running as it is turned on by a movement sensor.

As a nice addition the entire pool has easy-up tents all around. There are a few in the baby pool area as well, which it is great if you can commandeer one of these. You can picnic here at the pool and are allowed to bring in coolers, provided that you don't bring in any glass. No snack bar but they do have limited vending.

The locker rooms are great here with changing tables, pay lockers, showers, and clean stalls.

Life preservers are available on premises.

There is an admission fee to get in. Click here for a full list of rates. It depends on whether you are a Raleigh resident or not, but for us Chapel Hill-ians who went, it was $6 per adult and kids were $2 (ages 1 - 12).

Just a warning that this was difficult for us to find. The signage wasn't that great. Just go to the back. Keep driving down the road that turns off of Athens, and you will eventually get there.

Lake Johnson Pool
All Raleigh Pools, click here.
1416 Athens Drive




Public Open Swim

M-F 12p-8p

Sat 10a-7p

Sun 1p-6p

Adult Lap Swim
M-F 8a-8p
Sat 9a-7p

Wading Pools
M-F 9a-8p
Sat 10a-7p
Sun 1p-6p

M-F 9a-8p
Sat 10a-7p
Sun 1p-6p

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Balloons Above Orange

After another reader tip (keep them coming, we really use them and love them), I decided to head in to Balloons Above Orange. Now, I might be spoiling things a little here, but D recently had a birthday and we needed some things that only Balloons Above Orange could provide. So it was perfect timing, and a great little shop! C and I had so much fun shopping in here.

Balloons Above Orange is in The Shops at Daniel Boone in Hillsborough, right near A Wee Bit Used. So, again, a little hard to find but certainly worth the search.

Balloons Above Orange has been around since 1985, run by the sweetest "balloon lady." Inside there are plush toys galore and some other gift items. They are the only Webkinz dealer in Hillsborough and there are, of course, Zany Bandz available to buy. There is also a beautiful cat who lives in this store, and C had the best time talking to her. But the main draw is the balloons: rows and rows and rows of them. There must easily be a hundred different balloons to choose from.

I asked the "balloon lady" what she recommended for my particular needs, and she immediately pointed out the perfect, large, colorful helium balloon.

As she blew it up, she also informed me that her balloons are refillable. As long as you don't leave them in a hot car (which makes the material expand, destroying the balloon) you can bring the balloon in as many times as you want for free refills of helium.

The "balloon lady" also does parties and events. I saw some pictures of balloon work she did for some wedding receptions and it was art. Amazing. Balloons Above Orange also delivers balloon bouquets. And with the selection of balloons she has and her good taste, you can trust the "balloon lady" to pick out some great items for you.

C also loved the "balloon lady," who was so friendly and nice! The big helium balloons are just over $3. Since they were so fun, the balloon lady was so welcoming, and the price wasn't too bad, we ended up leaving with an extra balloon, too.

I couldn't find a website, so if you know it send it to me. Otherwise, you have to head in or call. But don't worry, you will get great help.

Balloons Above Orange
363 Ja-Max Drive
The Shops at Daniel Boone

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Glee Kids

We are so pleased that a new owner took over Glee Kids back in 2012 and has been able to keep the business thriving and alive!
Located in University Square, Glee Kids is an upscale kids clothing boutique store. This place is so cute, and has a lot of fantastic items to dress your child.

This store is mostly clothing. You can find some great shirts, shorts, pants, pajamas, and onesies here ages 0 up to 4. I loved the clothing options they had: some quirky, some cute, some beautiful, but all great quality. You can find clothes here to fit your child's (or your) personality. Into AC/DC? They have a kids tshirt for that.

The rub? These clothes are not cheap. These are "designer" brands, and it is reflected in the prices. Glee does run some pretty good sales. You can get on their email list to be informed of them. And they do have bins that offer clearance items. But this is more, in my opinion, a place to buy a special outfit or a gift for a friend.

Glee also sells some kids toys, but they are carefully and artfully selected. Automoblox, rock crayons, a few books and coloring books, and some other little blocks are scattered throughout for purchase.

And, like all good kid's store, Glee offers a place for kids to play. There is a huge train table that provides a lot of entertainment for junior while you shop.

The staff here was very friendly and helpful....and, well, gleeful!
Glee is closed Sundays and Mondays during the summer.

Glee Kids

133-C West Franklin Street
University Square

Chapel Hill

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Little Gym of Durham

C needs to burn off some energy indoors with this heat, so I decided to take The Little Gym up on their offer for 1 free class. I wanted to see how it compared with Gymboree, and to see if it was something C might be interested in while our Kindermusik was on break.

We had a really great experience. The Little Gym was very professional and friendly. They were good at establishing contact with me, making sure all my questions were answered, and welcoming us to our class. C even got free Little Gym gear just for showing up, and you all know I love free and cheap kids clothes!

Our class was well-run and a lot of fun. There were a lot of other kids in there but the place is large enough that it can handle the chaos of 15 or so little toddlers doing their own thing. We had songs, teacher-led activities, and free time to roam.

What I particularly appreciated was the curriculum basis of The Little Gym classes. Each week, the curriculum and class goals are posted on a board outside the room, so parents know what to focus on and what class objectives are. In addition, the teacher was very good and obviously a career teacher. She was interactive with the kids in a natural way, and clearly enjoyed being around them. yet she was also very good at telling us adults the purpose and goal of each section of class.

I liked how the class was structured. We had teacher-led activities to welcome us in, then stations around the room for children to explore and roll and bounce and hang. The teacher would give suggestions at the various stations for things to try, but it was nonintrusive and a good amount of time to let the kids try things out on their own. You also were free to let your child explore as they wanted the entire class. No pressure to have them sit and pay attention to the activities.

So overall, I thought the teacher and class itself better than my own personal Gymboree experience. What Gymboree has going for it that The Little Gym does not is that Gymboree has open play sessions for all members twice a week. The Little Gym requires an annual membership as well, but there is open play only once a session (a "Member Party") that is for all members of all ages. Gymboree's open play sessions are a huge benefit and great for us parents.

Of course, both Gymboree and The Little Gym are fantastic resources for our area. I say pick the one that has the location and time of class you like best.

The Little Gym offers summer camps that look like a lot of fun. They also offer movement classes for kids up to 12, including karate, dance, and gymnastics classes. Note that while younger kids are placed according to age, older kids start to be placed according to skills.

The fall schedule is published and ready for registration. A 20-week session is $355 if you pay all at once (or about $18 per class). Remember that you do have to pay a one-time annual membership fee as well. You get discounts for siblings and multiple classes. You can pay in installments but you end up paying a little more.

The Little Gym has been highly rated by parents in the area as a good place to have a birthday party. The Little Gym also occasionally offers a Parents Night Out.

The other thing I like a lot? It is right next to Local Yogurt.

The Little Gym of Durham or
2501 University Drive

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Dinner A'Fare

Updated 11/12/2010- We just received news that Dinner A'Fare will be closing at the end of 2010. So sad!

As I cooked our lovely summer meal tonight, I started thinking of how cooking in the winters isn't quite as much fun. I was glad to have found out about and tried Dinner A'Fare with my mommy friends this past winter. As a busy parent with too much to do but mostly a child to raise, sometimes dinner ends up being frozen pizza for mom and dad here (ok, a lot of times). Sarah C. and I thought you blog readers might appreciate hearing about our experience with Dinner A'Fare.

If you are unfamiliar, Dinner A'Fare is a nationwide chain with a location in Apex. You sign up in advance and pick what meals you are going to make. They have everything prepped and the recipes out. You put everything together, bring it home, and freeze it. Then one winter night when cooking sounds really unappealing you open up one of your Dinner A'Fare meals and voila! food. Their slogan is "12 Meals. 2 Hours."

This isn't your average tv dinner though. The menu options we had ranged from Orange Sesame Chicken to Chicken Enchilada with Salsa Verde. The menus and options change monthly, which means you can go back time and again and the family isn't bored. Right now, their website lists some mouth watering delights such as White Lasagna with Chicken & Artichokes and Steak Soft Tacos with Horseradish Bleu Cheese Sauce. Yum.

Even though their slogan says "12 meals," there are various options and corresponding prices to choose from. I chose a 6 meal / 2 person option when I went. That means I made 6 different meals with 2 portion sizes each. But you can go up to 12 meals, and you can have portion sizes for up to 6 people. Prices are $85 - $235 depending on which package you choose and how much food you bring home.

We were very surprised that Ziploc is not a major investor in Dinner A'Fare. It was our expectation that we would end up with a bunch of casserole-y items that we would just unwrap and stick in the oven when we wanted to eat it. But with Dinner A'Fare you actually put everything into Ziploc bags. Marinated meat in one bag, sauces in other bags. You wrap it all together with directions (provided) on how to cook and prepare each meal. The directions are not complicated, but it does take a little more effort than popping it in the oven. Although most entrees we prepared were still 1-dish preparation (less dishes to clean!). And it also means you end up with a LOT of Ziploc baggies going into your trash. We found that each entree had about 3 Ziploc bags.

Also, while we found that while the directions for preparing the meals to take home to freeze were simple enough, we kept having to ask for more of certain ingredients and measuring cups. This meant that our ingredients were fresh (or we made sure they were fresh if they weren't, such as when we found spoiled cream out), but it also meant having to spend a little more time waiting for items to be diced and cut. And the employees were really fantastic about getting replacement cream, apologizing, getting fresh things out, and making sure we were enjoying ourselves. Because, yes, you don't do any slicing or dicing. Just measuring and Ziploc-ing.

The quality of food was delicious. Once DH and I prepared them here at home over the course of the following weeks, they were great. Way better than Stouffer's Pizza. We didn't have one meal we didn't enjoy. We felt the portion sizes were a little small, but my husband is an active man over 6 feet tall with a major metabolism. So we might not be the typical market.

You can bring in your own wine and snacks to enjoy while making your food (nothing is provided). So this made for a nice mommies night out. Although we did joke about how even mommies night out was still about providing good eats for the family... So dads, you could make this a fun date night or surprise your mate with 6 prepared meals for the month. Also, if you have older children who enjoy mixing and measuring and being in the kitchen, this would be fun for them. Although older children is the key: there are raw meats in here.

You want to show up with a cooler to take your food home.

You can split a package with a friend, but you can not split portion sizes. That means that you each make half of the entrees (for ex., you get the 6 meal option, you each make 3 meals) and you can double-order entrees.

We happened to be the only group when we went, but they can get over a dozen people in there for one evening. Just depends on your luck, but you can book it for private engagements.

Reservations required.

We had a lot of fun doing this, and it was a mommies night out that kept paying off. So enjoy and bon apetite!

Dinner A'Fare

2001 Creekside Landing Drive
Beaver Creek Crossing
Apex, NC 27502


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Sal's Ristorante: Kids eat free!

After a reader-tip, Sarah C. and I decided to take the boys to Sal's Ristorante in Chapel Hill for lunch. Thanks for the recommendation!

Located at The Station off of Homestead Road (where Homestead intersects with Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.) Sal's is a local, family-owned shop that offers pizzas, Italian pastas, sandwiches, and salads.

We enjoyed this reader's suggestion. The place is very cute inside, with high chairs. The indoor seating isn't too big, but it was easy enough for us to find a place to sit with our boys. There is outdoor courtyard seating, as well, that is a fantastic option for non-100-degree days. Out here there is a fountain to play around and look at, as well as some great landscaping.

The best part about Sal's? Their deals for kids. Sal's has an all-you-can-eat buffet bar at select times. And, even though it's not on their website, kids under 5 can eat free off the buffet bar! (C gets very little food placed in front of him, then throws as much food as he eats. So it is great not to have to pay for the small helpings he takes.) Kids under 10 can eat off the buffet bar for $5.95; adults are $7.95 for lunch and $8.95 for dinner. What you need to be aware of, though, is that the buffet bar is offered every day during lunch (11:30 am - 2 pm) but only Monday and Thursday nights (5:30 - 8:30 pm).

Also know that the buffet bar is pastas and pizzas only. It will cost you extra for salads and vegetables and other sides.

The food isn't going to make a food critic go nuts, to be honest. It is simple, solid Italian. But what kid doesn't love pizza? And it is a great bargain for a family meal.

I also have to add that the waitstaff was incredibly nice to us and patient with the kids.

No changing tables in the restrooms. There is a parking lot outside The Station that is free.

Also, a quick note to point out that Homestead Park is very close. A summer evening of playing at the park then heading to Sal's buffet bar? Sounds mighty nice to me.

Sal's Ristorante

2811 Homestead Road

Station at Homestead

Chapel Hill


Friday, July 16, 2010

Once Upon a Child

From Sarah C. today.

Once Upon A Child buys gently used children’s items (toys, clothing, gear, DVDs) and resells them. There is also a small selection of new items. You can sell, buy or do both. D and I recently dropped by to sell some outgrown clothing and purchase a toy. The process for selling was very simple – I filled out a form with my information, placed it in my bag and then waited for a staff member to review my items and total the offer. While we waited, D and I looked around the store.

I stopped first at the bins of shoes. I didn’t find what I wanted in his size, but the prices seemed very reasonable. About a third of what similar new shoes were costing in larger retail stores. We passed on any gear shopping as we have plenty, but the quality of the items looked nice - a bit loved but in good condition. There were racks and racks of clothing. Since we currently have a closet full thanks to the generosity of a neighbor with a son just a bit older than D, we didn’t do any serious looking. I’m betting you could find just about anything in there from the volume we saw.

Our true destination – the toy section – is where we spent most of our time. The selection was reasonable though not large. I was pleased to find exactly what I was looking for and at a good price so D did get a “new to him” toy which made us both happy.

As we wrapped up our browsing, I saw our name listed on the wipe-off board behind the counter indicating our items had been reviewed. The staff gave me a choice of cash or store credit with the latter being greater so, naturally, I accepted that option. I used a portion for the new toy and the rest will be on my account for a future visit. (Note: be sure to save your receipt if you have a credit in order to claim it later.)

Looking for a spot close by to eat? Just a couple doors down is The GrEAT Mongolian Grill.

Once Upon A Child – Cary
253 Grande Heights Drive
Cary, NC 27513
(919) 380-8768


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Southern Village Playground: Edgewater Street

We did a drive-by playgrounding. It was early enough in the day that it wasn't too hot out yet, I was driving to work with C in the car, and decided we needed to burn off some energy. Since I know that Southern Village has so much to offer, and we were right there, I decided to just drive until we found a little spot to play.

Sure enough, we found a great little playground on the corner of Edgewater and Graylyn. There were swings (including bucket swings), some slides, some tunnels, and a really interesting climbing contraption (I couldn't even figure it out) rounded out this park.

Not a lot of shade here. So stay away from mid-day summer heat. But it is a cute little place. It is walking distance from the Southern Village market center so you can pair it with some other outings if you want. And the walk is certainly stroller friendly with the paved trails.

Ground cover is mulch.

Southern Village Edgewater Street Playground
Corner of Edgewater and Graylyn
Chapel Hill

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Goodberry's Creamery

Carolina Parent just listed Goodberry's as one of their top picks of the Triangle. So I was happy to see a post from Sarah C. about this today. And, of course, I'll always take another yummy excuse to go out for a sweet treat:

Looking for a way to cool down on these hot summer days? How about a little frozen custard from our local Goodberry's Creamery? Goodberry's makes their frozen custard fresh
daily from 5 basic ingredients (milk, cream, eggs, pure cane sugar, and honey) along with natural flavorings. Meaning not only does it taste delicious, it's all natural goodness. A true treat you can feel good about sharing with your little ones.

There are 9 locations in the Triangle with walk-up ordering and patio eating. The newest location in Raleigh's Cameron Village features indoor seating as well and was constructed using sustainable materials - now that's evidence of a company that takes "all natural" seriously.

Personally, I'm still a Goodberry's purist and love enjoying my custard under a red umbrella on a hot summer's night.

Goodberry's Creamery

Locations are too many to list here.
Check the company website for location information and the flavor of the day!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Duke's Campus

I had a great response to the post and idea of simply enjoying UNC's campus with a tot in tow. So when DH and I had an aborted trip to Festival for the Eno (the shuttle was such a turnoff for us given our nap-related and driving time constraints), we decided to walk around Duke's campus with C instead. This was fun, even if your blood does run Carolina Blue.

Of course, the Gardens are a lovely place to walk and to enjoy. But Duke's campus also has more to offer. And this is a really great place to explore in the summer months or at other times when the students are gone and things are quieter.

With the hospitals and the research buildings, Duke's campus is huge. But we stuck to the main campus, near the Chapel.

From Duke Gardens (you can find pay parking here and at the Bryan University Center, but for other options visit Duke's website here), you can easily push a stroller up Chapel Drive. Outside of the Chapel, which is gorgeous in and of itself and worth a trip to see in its gothic glory, there are plenty of spots to sit, play, relax, picnic, and run around.

You can also visit the Chapel inside, which is breathtaking. It is free and open to the public. During the summer hours are weekdays 8 am - 8 pm. They, of course, have worship services on Sundays and Saturdays are popular for weddings so don't plan to stop in then. You can't climb to the top, unfortunately, but you can otherwise look around. You can schedule a guided tour in advance if you like, but that seems more for us adults. For toddlers, it might be fun to look around, and people are generally good-natured about noise in the Chapel provided it isn't all-out screaming.

The Bryan University Center houses a large parking deck for visitors, an information center, an ATM, some dining options, and a gift store for your little blue devil (sorry DH and various Tarheels). Next to it is a 40,000 square foot plaza, and that runs you towards the Chapel as well. This area can also be a nice place to run around and play. The Bryan University Center also hosts events but, as to be expected, these are not geared towards kids for the most part.

Uncle Harry's General Store is also a good resource while campus trekking. I haven't personally been, but it is located at 1925 Yearby Avenue between Alexander and Anderson Streets. This is an upscale convenience store that sells ice cream, natural snacks, and cold beverages. This is open 10 am -6 pm in the summers.

Okay, so I will also mention, since Stacey "S'Rich" told us this and my mommies group tried it out, the all new Devil's Bistro. Located near Uncle Harry's General Store also between Alexander and Anderson Streets, this is campus dining so no high chairs, but they do a have a full service bar (although after 4 pm only), an espresso bar, and a good menu with brick oven pizzas. They also have a grab and go section. It is a good option, but the rub is that they pretty much close down for the summers. They boarded up July 6 and are reopening August 22. So if you want to brave it while students are in, or know of another holiday or slow time on Duke's campus to head there, that would work best.

If you are looking for something on Duke's campus that is a "for mommy" outing, my friends and I highly recommend the Washington Duke Inn's High Tea. Some of my mommies group took the babies when they were very little and in their Snugrides, and that went fine, but I would not take toddlers here. It is a very elegant and beautiful affair, though, if you want lovely girl time. Click here for information on high tea but it is generally held from 2:30 to 4:30 and there are various options for fare and menu. It might also be a fun idea for a little girl's birthday party. (Note that you can also golf at the Washington Duke Inn, if that is your activity of choice. I don't have any details on that since my temperament is not compatible with that sport!)

If you like to really walk and get going, Duke Forest is also a good option to explore Duke's campus in a different way, and the Cross Country Trail goes right by the Washington Duke Inn (for reference, I wouldn't recommend a hike and High Tea combo, personally).

By the way, nice little tip, but you can get all of eateries on and around Duke's campus summer hours for 2010 here:

So there's a lot of information for you! All that aside, let me just say that honestly, the best part of this exploration for us were all those little hidden areas on Duke's campus that we would just stumble on, and really appreciate the beauty and magic of. So get out there and find your own places!

For a full map of campus:

Duke Chapel
1 Chapel Drive

Bryan University Center
125 Science Drive

Uncle Harry's General Store

1925 Yearby Avenue


Devil's Bistro
1917 Yearby- Central Campus


Washington Duke Inn
3001 Cameron Boulevard


Stacey "S'Rich" is our resident Durham expert. She took us all to Pop's, which was great family dining. So when she mentioned Nosh as a great place for kids, DH and I went to check it out. And it is great!

It's a walk up counter, but the quality of food is not diminished. The sandwiches we had were very good. And I personally recommend the Nosh Kettle Chips. The prices are great, too, at $5-$8 for an entree. There is a kids menu for little ones, as well as an espresso bar, desserts, a breakfast menu, and milkshakes.

The thing that makes this so fun is that they have a slew of games, books, and toys for kids and families. Nosh invites you to linger. C had a great time playing in the bin of dinosaurs while we were there. It is a great atmosphere.

The other cute thing about this place, although it also pulls at the heartstrings, is that you are given a picture of an animal up for adoption as your identification marker. We had Patch on our table-- a cute little dog that needed a home. When our food came up, they called out Patch's name, and we knew it was us. So cute, yet also made me want to head to the local shelter immediately and take Patch home.

Nosh is located next to Six Plates, if you want to grab a drink during their Babies in Bars. You could also pair this with some time at Duke Gardens.

2812 Erwin Road, Suite 101
Durham, NC 27705

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Monkey Joe's

If you are anything like my mommies group, we wanted something inside for our kids this past week. We combed the Internet, trying to come up with something creative and fun that fit the bill. Then Carolina Parent came out with their best picks for the Triangle and Monkey Joe's was on the top of the list. We decided to give it a try. It is indoor walk-in fun for all ages, but what got us was the advertised separate toddler area.

I can see why Monkey Joe's is so popular for parents, and kids. This is very similar to JumpZone. There are many large inflatable bounces and slides for kids to run around. There is wireless Internet for parents, as well as a few computers available if you didn't bring or don't own a laptop. There are also, for the parents, HD televisions and massage chairs. It was great to watch the parents relaxing while kids were bouncing around. Parents work hard, they deserve some time to rest!

This place is a little more flashy and put-together than JumpZone. I, personally, thought JumpZone had more physical space for kids. Monkey Joe's was really crowded. But then it was a very hot summer day where a lot of parents obviously had the same idea we did.

The snack bar was very impressive, and also full of toys and games to buy.

As for the toddler area, it was a great idea but I think we had higher expectations based on the website. If you have multiple children and one is toddler aged, this might be a great fit for you. But for us, we found the toddler area itself a little lacking. It was walled off, which was nice, but did not have a door so we had a serious case of the runaway babies. And the runaway babies ended up amidst the chaos of the older kids running hard. There were a few toys on the wall (3) in the toddler area but not too much beyond that.

There was a "toddler" bounce. It was a special bounce dedicated to children 3 & under. But the entrance to this bounce is big enough only for the kids. Average Adults can not fit through there (and trust me, I was contemplating it since C would have loved it). So that means you send your child unattended into a bounce and you can't get to him at all in any way. And he has to figure out how to get out on his own. I personally felt a little uncomfortable with that, so C didn't get to go in. It was really great, though, for kids 3 and 4 years old and they seemed to be ruling the roost in there.

I did take C into a bounce for older kids. But there are strict rules about adults getting in and participating. You can go in if you have to, but no bouncing. What's up with that?!

I know that there were employees supervising the children's activities, but the ratio was pretty low simply because this place was so packed on this hot day.

This place is really clean. Everything is wiped down well and very well tended.

Prices were very reasonable for the 2 and under crowd ($5/child). Check the website (see links below) for full pricing details and frequent user discounts.

Again, hours vary at the locations so you may want to call. For the most part, though, walk-ins are their business (although they do parties) so it seems that they are generally open.

We paired our outing with lunch at the local Noodles & Co.

Overall, Monkey Joe's is a great indoor play place. But the word has definitely gotten out and you will have to fight other weary parents for those massage chairs!

Monkey Joe's

Cary: - Prices
1747 Walnut Street


Raleigh: - Prices
6220 Glenwood Avenue

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Noodles & Company

From Sarah C. today:

Our mommies group recently had lunch out at Noodles & Company in Cary. Having 4 mommies and 4 little ones at one table can be quite a feat (although mild compared to the 6 of each we managed at Cheesecake Factory in Durham a few months ago). Arriving a bit ahead of the lunch crowd, we managed to find a table for six that would fit us all. Having enough highchairs was our greater concern, but no worries here - they had plenty for us plus other families that arrived after. I saw at least 7 plus booster seats.

If you haven't experienced Noodles & Company before, it's a quick service restaurant that, as the name implies, serves various pasta dishes as well as
soups and salads. You place your order and pay at the counter. The cashier gives you a number. Find a table, place your number in the holder and wait for a server to bring out your food.

With multiple little ones, we found it easier to first locate a table. Then one of the mommies went up to place the order for all of us while the other mommies kept the little ones entertained. The food came very fast which we were all grateful for. The little ones, who had begun their meals as soon as we sat down, were ready to bolt from their highchairs and crawl around.

Before leaving, D and I made a quick trip to the restroom for a diaper change. Note that there is a single toilet room for men and women, but the restroom was very clean and had a nice changing table. All pluses and worth the wait.

If you're looking for something else to do in the area before or after your meal, there are plenty of activities from shopping to movies in Crossroads Plaza. Further down Walnut Street just on the other side of US 1/64, you will find Monkey Joe's, Borders and Walnut Street Park.

Noodles & Company

Crossroads Plaza - Cary
200 Crossroads Blvd
(919) 851-5080

Check website for additional locations and menus.


Friday, July 9, 2010

The Morehead Planetarium

Sarah C. and I decided to give this a go on one of these hot summer days. Afterall, it is inside, it is free admission, and it is close. Plus, students are gone so we thought it would be easier to do now instead of in the fall.

We knew that with our boys this was a risk and probably beyond their age. But we still wanted to see what it was about and just get out of the house. Well, this kind of turned into a mess. We laughed a whole lot because it was so ridiculous, but it was still a mess.

First, parking was not easy. The pay lot in front of the Planetarium was full. Summer camps. The Planetarium is on UNC's campus, right on Franklin Street, so we had to find on-street metered parking which is limited to 2 hours. But we found some spots, fed the meters, put the boys in their strollers, and rolled in.

Which brings me to point two. This place is most definitely not stroller friendly. We had read that it is, but I can promise you it isn't. We entered in the gift shop, the entrance on the front of the Planetarium. But we were told that was not the place to go with strollers; we had to walk around to the Visitor's Center. We entered that door, and were told that the one theatre was straight ahead but everything else you had to take steps. When we pointed out that steps weren't the best, we then witnessed a conversation between the Visitor's Center workers asking where the elevators were and "if they worked." Hm.

We were fearless, though, so we took the elevator down one level. We spent some time in the Zoom In exhibit, which was a lot of fun! But after that, to get to anything else, you had to take....steps! No ramps, no elevators this time. So Sarah C. and I dragged our strollers around, determined to take in the place. One museum worker took pity on us and actually came to help at one point. This is an old building, dedicated in 1949, so I suppose this is to be expected in some ways.

Third, this place is very much about the movies and the presentations. The Zoom In exhibit was fun, but not large. The other "exhibit" didn't have much at all, just paraphernalia in a glass-cased window to look at.

So I have explained the complications we found. Now let's talk about how you can enjoy the Planetarium. It certainly is a wonderful resource for our community, just must be done right. I would recommend leaving your stroller behind, of course, but beyond that plan a trip where you are taking a school aged child to a movie or a Science 360 presentation. Go for the shows.

The good news is that you can get everything online, and can plan accordingly. The website (see below) lists the shows with descriptions and showtimes (and prices as some theaters require an admittance fee) and is up to date and accurate. We did catch some of the Science 360 presentation and that was great! It was an expert who was very personable walking the audience through weather slides and explaining what they see when they forecast. He was also asking the audience to vote on certain questions using keypads a la Who Wants to be a Millionaire. It was very interactive.

The next best thing about the Planetarium is the summer camps. I have heard that they are great, and they looked like a lot of fun.

Also, the large compass outside is surprisingly entertaining. You can really spend some time there with kids running around.

We would have tried another show but the stroller thing got to be a huge pain. So we decided to take our chances with the heat, and enjoy UNC's campus and get some ice cream.

We decided that when the boys hit 3rd or 4th grade, we'll take them back.

Morehead Planetarium
250 East Franklin Street

Chapel Hill