Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Close Out

Last year we did a little 2010 year-end recap and I loved putting it together.  It was so fun browsing through our website past, finding out what you enjoyed and what you read.  So here we are, year end again.  And 2011 has been a year of phenomenal growth for our little blog of love.

Our big news was that in October we joined forces with Discovering the Southern Part of Heaven and blogger Katie.  It continues to be a great match.  Katie has a 2 year old and loves to explore, but DSPoH is primarily for grown-ups; DH and I love to eat out without the munchkins, so it is nice to share our thoughts on those spots with you all there.

So let's look at the numbers first: 
We gave you close to 250 new posts.
Facebook Fans: 527
Twitter Fans: 406
Google Fans: Well, that's tricky.  We switched to an RSS feed to spruce up & declutter our home page, so we can't tell.  But we know that a lot of you out there are following us, and we appreciate it!

Followers make all the difference in the world.  Knowing that we have sustained support, fabulous reader comments, and your ideas keeps us on our A-game.


We have hundreds of unique visitors every day and have even hit up to 400 unique visitors on some of our posting days (people really logged in to read about Fullsteam Brewery).

As for pages, outside of using our indexes such as By Resource and By City a lot (which is good because those things take some time to maintain), you all really enjoyed looking for ideas about animals and reading about us (we can't believe we're that interesting!).

Here are your top 5 posts for 2011:
Go Bananaz
Strasburg Children's Clothing
Bull City Gymnastics
For Mom: Pure Barre
Parkers Creek Beach & Playground


I love how these are all over the Triangle.  Our mission in starting this was to try to spread our wings to all corners of the Triangle as much as possible.  Of course, I am in Chapel Hill so that's technically home base, but our team tries to get out.  And I also am a big fan of the fact that this list includes one "for mom" item in there.  Yes, we should do something for mom, too!

And, just to throw it out there, my favorite posts from 2011, both to experience and write up, would have to be: Wine and Design, the Mamarazzi class, Bynum General Store & Music (with dinner from Allen & Sons for our picnic), Tweetsie Railroad, Vollmer Farm, and the Carolina Panthers Game.  But really, this entire project has been one great adventure.

We welcomed some fabulous guest bloggers this year, including more posts by Laura M. and Marney, and new posts by Dave and Rachel.

Our giveaways have included The Big Fun Guide to Tar Heel Country book, Madagascar Live! tickets at DPAC, tickets to the NC Symphony's Pirates Show, a WonderDad activity guide for the Triangle, tickets to the ArtsCenter SuperFun Show, Triangle Kids Club memberships, a photography session, and tickets to see the Boston Pops (although that one didn't turn out as planned, right, Leigh?!).

We've kept up our Triangle Mom2Mom weekend column, except for my little on-maternity break right now; and I started a new column over at Chapelboro.com, which involved a radio interview, that was offered to me because of all the support you guys have given me.

We've continued to enjoy working with WRAL's GoAskMom and Social Butterflies NC and were incredibly honored to have been nominated for a Triangle Moms on Main award.  Can a blog make you cry from happiness?  Is that too cheesy to even pretend?

To finish these thoughts, I'd like to get personal for a moment.  I had the joy of welcoming a new baby boy to our explorers, B.  I stay at home with my sons and this blog has been a source of great joy and accomplishment for me.  Not only has it encouraged me to get out and see more of this fantastic area we live in, it also forces me to tackle the world with kids in tow.  It becomes too easy to stay at home every day, living in my pjs until 11 am.  Additionally, this project has opened the avenues to some fantastic friendships and relationships with you readers.  Sarah C. has been a saving grace to my sanity over the past 2 1/2 years and I don't know what I'd do without her; Katie is a fantastic mother and a person I am so happy to call a friend, and we met through blogger-land; I even got to spend some time with the friendly and thoroughly enjoyable Marney, who I also met through blogger-land.  It's been fun to run into you parents out and about, at places we go (thinking of Laura R. in particular), and this blog has made me realize how much of a community of support there is, despite how large these cities are.

Our team is really looking forward to 2012 - to continuing to grow (if you like what we do, please pass us along!), to our 2012 Fitness Challenge coming up soon, and an exciting new Pinterest project to be unveiled shortly.  And, really, who knows what else 2012 will bring.

Thanks, as always, for your support and kind words.  You guys are rockstars.

Friday, December 30, 2011

SparkPeople and BabyFit

From Sarah C.:

With the new year fast approaching, perhaps resolutions are starting to enter your head. If staying healthy is one of them (and, really, shouldn't that be for all of us?), I have two websites for you to check out - SparkPeople and BabyFit. Both are entirely free.

I first discovered these sites in January 2008. I went to visit my OB/GYN for an annual checkup and to discuss possibly trying to get pregnant later in the year. When the nurse took my weight, my jaw dropped. I knew I'd gained a few pounds, but not THAT many. I saw the largest number I've ever seen on the scale. That, along with other fertility concerns, pushed me that I needed to make changes. I didn't want my weight to add to our issues.

Knowing that a drastic change rarely sticks. I wanted to start small. I knew I was too cheap to pay for a program and too lazy to attend any meetings. Thank goodness for the internet! I did some searching and found SparkPeople which offers diet plans for free. It's all online so I didn't have to worry about meetings. And, you can do it entirely anonymously if you want.

After signing up with SparkPeople, I inputed my basic information into the site - age, weight, height, goal weight and goal date of 10 months later. I took the advice of the program and started by just recording my food and workout without attempting any changes. This helped me to really see the calories I was taking in (way too many!!) and how many I was burning (clearly not enough). Slowly, I began modifying my diet and exercise following the recommendations on the site. After 4 months, I had already dropped half the weight I wanted to loose. I ended up plateauing here until I got pregnant but was totally okay with that. I knew I was much, much healthier than when I started.

During pregnancy, I switched to BabyFit to monitor my nutrition and exercise. The site is also run by SparkPeople (although the two websites are independent so you have to sign up separately), and information is adjusted to suit your needs before, during and after pregnancy.

Both sites offer great resources from articles to message boards. There are groups you can join, if you choose. When I used BabyFit, I found being part of a group of moms with the same due date to be helpful. Quite often someone was having the same issue as me and had helpful advice.

With the help of both sites, I'm proud to say I finally reached my goal weight in late 2009 - just a few months postpartum. Although I've haven't always been as good at sticking with my exercise routine over the last 2 years, my eating habits have definitely approved. I still check in to SparkPeople periodically to help maintain the weight loss and regularly visit SparkRecipes when meal planning.

If you are planning on joining the MiCH team on our 2012 Fitness Challenge, one of these sites might be a great way to track your progress. Of course, always check with your doctor (especially our pregnant mamas!) before starting any new workout program. Here's to a healthy new you in the new year!

SparkPeople
http://www.sparkpeople.com/ | Mobile Apps
BabyFit - pregnancy nutrition & exercise
http://babyfit.sparkpeople.com/

Spark Recipes - wonderful source of healthy (tasty!) recipes
http://www.sparkrecipes.com/

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Jumpin' Beans - Wake Forest

Kids need to burn some of that post-Christmas energy? Here's a great suggestion from Katie:

H really loves a bounce house and, after a few days of being sick and stuck inside recently, we all needed a field trip so DH and I decided to take H to try out Jumpin’ Beans at The Factory in Wake Forest.

Jumpin’ Beans isn’t huge, but H had lots of fun on the two large inflatables and the play area with slides. Don’t be thrown off when you first walk in - it looks like there is only one large inflatable play area, but tucked away to the right is a small wooden structure with a toddler sized slide, foam blocks, and H’s favorite: a steering wheel! There is also a second room with another large inflatable play area. I admit that I was a little nervous about the lack of dedicated toddler space, but the staff encourage parents to join their younger children in the inflatables. H had a fabulous time! Even with other children (up to age 10) in the same play area, he was never too crowded.

Jumpin' Beans offers a number of other amenities. Both rooms with inflatables have plenty of tables and chairs within easy view of the play areas, making it a perfect spot for Moms and Dads with older children to enjoy coffee or a snack from the snack bar (you can view the menu on their website linked below), or connect to the internet using the free wifi.  It would be a great space for a birthday party.

I know I mentioned that they don’t have a dedicated toddler area. While we had a good experience with the mix of ages, we will also check out their dedicated toddler time on Wednesday mornings. They open up early (9.30am) with exclusive toddler bounce time until 11:00am. And if your child loves crafts, they have craft time on Monday and Tuesdays from 10am-2pm!

Jumpin’ Beans might not be the largest bounce house in the area, but it is a clean, bright, fun space for a morning, afternoon, or whole day of bouncing fun. That’s right, your $8 admission fee is good for the whole day - you can leave and come back as many times as you want/need to.

Jumpin’ Beans
http://www.jumpinbeanswakeforest.com
The Factory
1839 South Main St
Wake Forest, NC 27587
(919) 521-4445

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Happyland Christmas Lights

From Sarah C.:

My son is very excited about Christmas this year and one of his favorite things to do is see the lights. Earlier in the month, on one of the warm nights, we took him in his stroller for a long walk around our neighborhood. He loved it. When we heard about a big display in west Raleigh, we knew we had to take him to check it out.

In memory of a family member, Bobby Moore has created an amazing display of lights and decorations at his home. This year marks the 15th year with changes each year. The biggest one this year - the addition of figurines that once graced the lawn of a home on New Bern Ave every holiday season.

There is a LOT to see. The few photos I'm sharing here barely touch upon the fun ...




Look carefully when you visit and you'll see Santa & his reindeer flying into the night sky, a countdown to Christmas, gorgeous nativity scene, the Tasmanian Devil, giant M&M's candy characters, the gang from South Park, Kermit riding a motorcycle, a dinosaur made of green lights, Mr Wuf roasting the Ram, a group of carolers, a UFO, Sponge Bob, Snoopy, a shark's fin, and much, much more.

There is still time to see this display. It runs through December 31st. Be aware that Saturdays are often the busiest and, of course, tomorrow being Christmas Eve as well, it will probably be extra popular.

The house sits on the corner of Penny Road and Huntingwood Drive. We approached from Penny Rd, turning left onto Huntingwood then followed signs past the display further into the neighborhood and returning back to pass the house on our right. This allowed us to queue up in the line and slowly view the lights from our car. Be aware a number of visitors park on the sides of the roads and walk so be extra alert for pedestrians especially smaller ones.

Happyland Christmas Lights
Facebook Page
Mon-Thurs 6-10pm; Fri-Sun dark until ?? (seasonal late Nov - Dec 31st)
5504 Huntingwood Dr
Raleigh

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Upper Crust Bakery


A post today from Katie about some good bakery eats.  An extra bonus is that it is full of holiday cheer right now, too!:
 
You must know that we here at Mom in Chapel Hill love a good cupcake.  So whenever I find one, I am going to tell you about it.   That’s where Upper Crust Pie and Bakery in Lafayette Village in Raleigh comes in.  I know they are best known for their pies, but we stopped in for a quick sweet treat after our recent trip to Honeycutt Park (that review coming soon to a blog near you!), and we were not disappointed. 

Before we even get to the cupcakes in this counter service bakery/café, I have to tell you about the Holiday décor.  Right now, it is all decked out for Christmas with a tree and Santa figures around the shop.  H loved it!  It kept him very happy while we waited in line.  (this place is popular, so depending on the day/time, the line may be several people deep—all the more time to check out those baked goods). And as if the décor wasn’t enough, the kind staff chatted up my H quite a bit.  He loved it! (we certainly weren’t having a bashful day that day.)

The cupcakes were delicious!  I know everyone has their own favorites when it comes to cupcakes, or any food for that matter,—but these were really quite good.  The cake was light compared to some other cupcakes, and the icing was perfect in my book.  Let’s just say that we  left very happy!
They have a lunch menu which we can’t wait to try, and, I have to say, their children’s menu, while limited, sounds yummy.   Okay, really—it’s the nutella sandwich.  DH and I really want to taste that one—H may stick with the mini grilled cheese. 

My reasons for recommending this to other moms don’t stop there, though.  We love the Lafayette Village location because H loves to run around and around the courtyard.  It’s a great place while you’re waiting for food, or just to stretch a little one’s legs after a meal.  (he’s seriously in love with the fountains.)

So, what’s the drawback?   The bathrooms are nice, but no changing tables.  There are, however, high chairs.   We generally get our cupcakes to go, though. 

Upper Crust Pie and Bakery
http://www.uppercrustpieandbakery.com
Lafayette Village
8450 Honeycutt Road, Suite 106
Raleigh, NC 27615
919.900.8360

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Morgan Imports

Have a bit of last minute holiday shopping to do? Katie has a suggestion:

Morgan Imports is one of my favorite stores! It’s long been known for it’s year round Christmas Shop, home goods, and one of my absolute favorite parts - the children’s section. I have to admit, I happened on the children’s section when I was there checking out tableware and stationery last Christmas (yep, they have those as well). When I went into the children’s section, it wasn’t the amazing games and the cute clothes that reeled me in, it was the fish and bug shaped shakers (with bells inside) that my then 16 month old son had fallen in love with at Kidzu, but I could find nowhere! Jackpot for this Mommy! The store offers registries which could be great to suggest fun finds like this for birthdays & Christmas as well as new baby gifts.

The children’s section is located just in front of the main entry, and while it seems like nook, it is actually a fairly deep nook, packed with a great selection of toys and super cute baby clothes. While they have fabulous finds for toddlers (I am currently in love with the art smocks and the array of Melissa and Doug toys), they also have a good selection for the older children. But don’t stop at that nook. Often, there are more toys and goodies just to the right of the main entrance - tucked away in a front window alcove.

If you aren’t on a toy or baby gift mission, they have many other great gift ideas and it's also a place where my 2 year old is always perfectly entertained, which makes shopping so much easier for this Mommy. There is so much for the little ones to look at! There are a few stairs, making it not the easiest to navigate with a stroller, but the toys are on the lowest level closest to the main entrance. I’ve not let the stairs stop me yet.

If you find you have a little more time to spend in the area, drop by Parker + Otis for a sweet treat!

Morgan Imports
www.morganimports.com
113 S Gregson St
Durham
(919) 688-1150

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Visit Your Police Station

No, not to lock up your children (tempted?).....But I had a friend arrange a little field trip for our preschoolers to the local police station.  Even though we took advantage of our Pittsboro police station, you can do this anywhere in the Triangle; therefore, I just have to share this idea.  The police absolutely love to do these events, it is a great learning experience for the kids, they have fun, and it is free!

It is fairly simple to set up: just call your local police station.  We called the department in the area we wanted to meet with, told them we had a gaggle of kids who wanted to meet policemen up close and see the cars, and they arranged a special time for us to come by.

Once we arrived, we were taken into the conference room where 2 very friendly offices in uniform walked the kids through a safety guide/coloring book.  It was perfect in length and tone: short and sweet and kid-centric.  They covered topics such as "how to identify a police officer," "what is 9-1-1," "wearing your seatbelt," and "not talking to strangers."  Parents: you are also free to ask questions during this time. 

After the little presentation, the officers took all the kids outside where they could sit in the police car, with the lights running.  At one point they even got to hear the sirens on.

Again, even though we visited the police station in one district, the process and the event vary very little wherever you are.  In fact, the police officer I was asking questions of said that there isn't even a minimum requirement for age or the number of children to set one of these up.  If they have the time and you set up an appointment, they love to do this.  The literature at each police station is the same, too, for the kids.

Our group loved this event.  I would say that ages 3 and up are probably going to get the most out of this, but my son is just under 3 and keeps talking about this excursion.  So it obviously had an effect.

By the way, you can also talk to the police about fingerprinting your child while there.  Our playgroup has had a lot of discussions about doing this for identification and safety reasons.  We did not do any fingerprinting while on this visit but do feel free to ask the police if they could accommodate such activity when you go.  Alternatively, there are many at-home kits out there for you to take advantage of that are very cheap (see something such as http://www.protectyourchild.com/).

To start your planning, find where you want to go here: http://www.usacops.com/nc/. Then pick up the phone, call them, and start the process.

Visit to your local police station
Find your spot at http://www.usacops.com/nc/ and call!


Monday, December 12, 2011

Chapel Hill/Carrboro Christmas Parade

In case you're new to us, first of all, welcome, and secondly, let me explain something.  We like to post articles about annual events so that you can have the information for next year.  Afterall, the events are annual, generally fun, and it is good to be able to keep them in mind for the following year.  However, we don't trust our mom-brains enough to actually remember enough details to wait a full year until posting.  So you, dear friend, end up getting articles post event.  Such as this one about the Chapel Hill/Carrboro Christmas Parade.

Really I couldn't believe that I hadn't posted about this before.  DH and I go every year - we love it!  This has such a hometown feel to it.  And now, as parents, we feel like it is a great way to show our son his great town as well as support the spot we choose to make home.

The Chapel Hill/Carrboro Christmas Parade starts at Morehead Planetarium and ends at Town Hall in Carrboro.  It's not the shiniest parade you'll ever see: the floats are all locally handmade and many times during the parade there will be 10 minutes or more of a break where nothing came by at all.

But we can't get enough of it.  There are Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts groups, dogs performing, karate groups doing kicks, folks in costumes, Trader Joe's handing out cookies, marching bands from the local high schools and middle schools, and so much more.  To end it all, Santa comes in.  On a National Pawn float. 

You can see more of our photos of this event at our Photobucket Site here.
As parents, we might hold standards to parades such as Macy's grand parade.  But we need to stop.  Because honestly, my child found this absolutely delightful.  He was very pleased when a blue fire truck went by, and all he wanted was a Dum Dum and to watch the bikes ride by from BikeCarrboro.com. 

There is always plenty of curb space around town to view the parade each year.  We generally plop ourselves down on a patch of grass near the Carrboro Farmers' Market, still open this time of year, after visiting one of the booths there to get fresh baked items (doughnuts!) and hot coffee.

So keep this little community gem in mind for next year.  Pull up a piece of curb next to our family and enjoy!

The Chapel Hill/Carrboro Annual Christmas Parade
Every year in December
http://www.chapelhilljaycees.org./

Sunday, December 11, 2011

American Tobacco Campus Jingle Bull Bash

A holiday post from Katie today.  I have heard a lot about ATC's Jingle Bull Bash, which is multi-part, as well and so pleased she was able to check it out.  Honestly, the trees sound like what I thought the Carolina Inn Twelve Days of Christmas would be last year.  Each beautiful in their own way, of course, but different!  Here's the information you need.:
 
I had heard about the Jingle Bull Bash and the Christmas Tree Challenge taking place on the American Tobacco Campus this month, so, this week, H and I decided to head over to downtown Durham to check them out. 

As part of the Bash, there are fifty beautifully, and creatively, decorated Christmas trees lining the walkway through Diamond View Park (see map here) in front of DPAC.  For me, the trees were a gorgeous sight, and the decorations were meaningful, clearly representing the non-profit responsible for decorating the tree.   For H, it was Christmas tree wonderland.  He loved looking at what seemed, to him, larger than life trees and decorations.  He loved running from tree to tree!   He loved counting the trees…and the ornaments…and the people (we’re in a counting phase).  He loved dancing to the piped in music!  Since it is in Diamond View Park, he could run around (relatively) freely, so you have to know that we played a little Christmas Tree Hide and Seek.  Okay, we played a lot of it!  Seriously, had there been a Santa and Elves, we would probably still be there.  

Another part of the Jingle Bull Bash is donations.  The ATC is a drop-off point for WRAL's Coats for Children, too.  While visiting the trees you can donate a gently used or new coat to the Salvation Army (see details on exactly where on the website, below).


If all that wasn't enough, there is also a Gingerbread display in Strickland Lobby.  But, really, the trees are so gorgeous and will probably be enough for your brood!

It’s definitely worth the trip to the American Tobacco Campus to see the trees.  It’s even more worth it to get out of the car and check out the detail of the ornaments.  Don’t forget to vote for your favorites (they have directions on voting there, or you can check them out here) by December 18th!  The nonprofits who decorated the winning trees will receive cash prizes.  

The Challenge, and the Jingle Bull Bash, culminate with the Kringle Mingle on December 18th, when winners will be announced.  In the meantime, go and enjoy some spectacular outside décor!

Christmas Tree Challenge 
http://www.triangletreechallenge.com/
Jingle Bull Bash
http://www.americantobaccohistoricdistrict.com/news/jingle_bull_bash.asp
at the American Tobacco Campus
http://www.americantobaccohistoricdistrict.com/
Diamond View Park- Blackwell Street
Durham, NC

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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Wake Co Libraries: Stories to Go Kits

From Sarah C.:

I recently discovered a wonderful program for toddlers and preschoolers offered by Wake County Libraries - Stories to Go kits. The kits are designed to help parents instruct their young children. The exact contents vary based on theme, but include a number of wonderful items such as books, music CDs, puppets, and an educator guide all in a large canvas bag. There are 12 different kits to choose from - All About Me, Clothes, Color Me Round, Community Workers, Down on the Farm, Food, Going to the Zoo, Let's Go!, Mother Goose, Pets, Senses, and Weather.


Parents can request kits by visiting the website (link below). You will be asked to select first and second choice for kits and will be notified by the library when it is ready for pick-up. Pick-up occurs at the library of your choice in the kids' section. As it is already checked out for you, you just need to ask a staff member to retrieve it. You then have 4 weeks to enjoy.

We borrowed the toddler Senses kit last month. D and my niece both loved it. There were 10 books (including a couple touch and feel which are always favorites), 4 puppets, flannelboard pieces and an educator guide with fingerplays & songs.

Stories to Go Kits for Toddlers and Preschoolers
Wake County Libraries
http://www.wakegov.com/libraries/kids/storiestogo/default.htm

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Greystone Indoor Park

Katie found this fabulous, free, indoor hidden gem in Raleigh for us.  I can't believe I hadn't heard of it before!  Enjoy the information and thanks, Katie (& Melissa), for exploring this post.:
 
A few weeks ago, our friend Melissa over at Adventuroo gave us a Twitter tip on Greystone Indoor Playground.  I have been wanting to try it with H ever since.  On Saturday morning, I decided it was a little too cool to spend all morning outside but my little guy really needed to burn off some toddler steam.  So, we packed the diaper bag, programmed the trusty GPS, and headed over to Greystone.

Greystone Recreation  is tucked away in Greystone Village Shopping Center.  In fact, it is relatively easy to miss from the street the first time you go.  But I am thrilled we found it! H and I ventured in, a little unsure of what to expect, and it was great!  When you enter, you go by an information desk where they have a list of the rules (pretty basic: no food or drink on the playground floor, adult supervision required, etc.), and they are happy to answer any questions you have.  Also, the playground is designed for children 5-12 years old so if yours are younger (as mine is) they will tell you this, but will also tell you that the younger ones can play as long as you are with them and they don’t try to climb anything beyond their strength/coordination limitations. 

I listened to the warnings (don’t get me wrong, they took, in total, two minutes).  In the meantime, H’s eyes were huge—he couldn’t wait to get to the playground!  While it isn’t tremendous, it has plenty of climbing opportunities (even for the little ones) and is situated on a well-cushioned rubberized floor.  At the back of the playground area, there is even a rock climbing wall for the older kids!  (H thought the climbing wall was meant for him to see how many colors he could pick out, so we had a pretty good time with that, too.)  I would say that more than half the children there were toddlers, and we had quite the Mommy/toddler race going for awhile (next time I will wear appropriate jogging attire).   Oh, and when you need to calm your little one down a bit, there are great murals of nature scenes.  H spent quite a bit of time picking out squirrels and frogs.   

Overall, we easily spent two hours there, and I had to tear H away when they were closing down! 

Now for the details the toddlers don’t care so much about, but we Mommies do:  the bathrooms were clean, close by and had a changing table (with a hook right next to it, so you can easily hang your purse or diaper bag there).   There are vending machines, but if you are looking for healthy snacks, you might want to bring your own.  There are plenty of benches around the perimeter of the play area and, outside, parking is abundant.   And, quite possibly the best part:  It is free! 

We had a fabulous time, and we will definitely be going back! 

Greystone Indoor Playground & Greystone Recreation Center
http://www.raleighnc.gov/arts/content/PRecRecreation/Articles/GreystoneRecreationCenter.html

7713-55 Lead Mine Road
Raleigh, NC  27615
919.996.4848

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Monday, December 5, 2011

Santa Train at Life+Science

Yes, it seems to be the kid-event of the holiday season, and we've got the scoop for you.  This special fundraiser held annually (for 34 years now, if you can believe it) in December at the always-popular Museum of Life + Science is a hot ticket to get each year.

Last year, though, our tots were all too young to really enjoy the experience, so my mommy's group and our blogging team decided to wait until we could really report on things for you.  So here I am.  And here's the long-anticipated Santa Train post.

First things first, tickets are hard to get.  In fact, as of right now I believe they are completely sold out (try calling, though, because you never know).  Even though the entire train ride is only 30 minutes and multiple trains run throughout the night (10 trains, completely full, per night!!), this event is so popular that tickets go fast.  Insider's tip: if you are a NCMLS member, not only do you reap rewards year-round but you also get advanced sales of tickets to this event each year.  Might be worth it.

This is an afterhours event only.  The earliest train leaves at 5:20 and the latest leaves at 8:20.  You can spend time at the Museum beforehand but your train ticket does not cover admission into the Museum.  Train tickets are (at time of this posting) $16 for folks 3 and up.  Three and unders are free but they must sit on a adult's lap.  They are strict about this policy, so plan accordingly and remember that this is the kiddie train at the Museum so it's not huge (read as: my huge 9 month pregnant self was not fitting my toddler on my lap so it was good my husband had a free lap).

While this isn't the cheapest train ride you'll ever take, you do get a few extras for your money.  Outside the train depot is a huge tent, lit, with space heaters, and tables of activities for kids.  There is face painting, a station to make reindeer food, coloring pages, hot chocolate, candy canes handed out by elves, and a craft of some sort (the craft the night we went didn't work out so well for anyone, so hopefully they are fine tuning the candy cane reindeer ornaments a little as the season wears on).

The train ride itself isn't long, but it is cute.  The train is decorated with lights and some of the trees in the woods are dripping with lights, too.  Halfway through the ride the train stops and lo, there is Santa!  Santa comes up to each child on the train to talk to them directly (you can not get off the train - which is probably a good idea given the chaos that could ensue).  To keep the kids occupied while Santa makes his rounds his friendly elf hands out a coloring book.

On the ride back, we saw Rudolph's red nose flying through the woods.

This event isn't going to be an all-night affair for you.  We were there for about an hour and felt like that was adequate time to really enjoy it.  We went on the first train of the night, too, and by the time we were leaving the lines for the tables under the tents were starting to build.  My advice is to pick your train time and what age you think your kids have to be to enjoy this carefully.

There are funnel cakes and corndogs/hot dogs for sale here, as well as other tzotchkes to remind you of your visit.  Restrooms, with changing tables, are open.  Feel free to bring your stroller in (lots of parents do) and just park it at the train depot when you take the train.  But, again, remember that the main Museum is closed during the event.


North Carolina's Museum of Life + Science Santa Train ride
http://www.ncmls.org/visit/events/santatrain
 433 West Murray Avenue Durham, NC 27704
Phone: 919-220-5429

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Dinner Savvy

I was pretty bummed when Dinner A'Fare closed its doors, especially since Baby 2 is fast on his way and I want to load up the freezer with healthy, good food to get us through those first months (it has been pointed out to me that I seem incredibly paranoid that DH and I are never going to eat again once baby 2 comes).  Anyhow, when I saw an ad for Dinner Savvy in Apex I roped Sarah C. along to try it out with me.

We really liked Dinner Savvy.  And my freezer can prove it.  This place was much less about "a night out" than Dinner A'Fare was for us.  We went in solely to prep food, but, of course, we managed to gab and enjoy while there!  The facilities are smaller than Dinner A'Fare was, many more people come in to this place so you will be sharing cook stations, but we still had a really great time.  They are definitely doing something, right, too, since Dinner Savvy has been in business for over 5 years and are going strong.

Dinner Savvy operates the same way: you pre-pick which meals you want upon your advanced registration (required).  When you show up for your cooking time you are shown the stations where your meals are available for preparation.  You go to the various stations where detailed, easy-to-follow recipes and measurements are out, as well as all ingredients which are pre-diced and sliced.  You put everything into plastic storage bags or other freezer appropriate storage containers and leave at the end of the night with delicious meals to cook when you are ready and want them.

This spot is actual cheaper than you think.  When I went to register I balked at first at the pricetag.  Three meals are $78.  BUT, here's the catch: these meals are HUGE.  They serve 6 folks.  Plus here's a serious insider's tip: you can split every single meal.  At each station, for every single entree, there are directions on splitting it in half.  Dinner Savvy allows you and a friend to share a registration.  For example, if Sarah C. and I had realized it we could have paid $78 total (instead of $156 total), and each of us gone home with 3 freezer meals, just at half-sized portions.  Make sense?  You can do that with the 6-meal package as well, of course.  They also have a 12-meal package option.

Another great little tip we discovered is that if you are a new mom they waive the assembly fee for pick up orders.  At Dinner Savvy you can get online and ask them to do all the packaging and preparation for you, you just pick up your freezer meals.  They usually charge a $10, $20 or $30 assembly fee for this.  But just call, make your order, tell them you are a new mom, and they will waive that fee.  You still have to get there to pick it up, though.

The dinner choices were so diverse and I am really looking forward to trying them out.  We had plenty of options (fish, beef, pork, poultry) and Sarah C. and I ended up making: chicken lasagna florentine, garlic lime chicken, shrimp & grits, slow cooker fajitas, and peppercorn pork tenderloin with sherry cream sauce.  The menu changes every month, too.

Dinner Savvy has cookies, coffee, and water for you to partake while you are there.  All safety elements (plastic gloves, aprons, etc) are provided on premises.  There is always a staffer there to help you out, and they are very nice - we asked a lot of questions.

Our entire time there to prepare our meals was under an hour.  It's a quick stop that pays off huge rewards for your family dining table.

There are some holiday specials going on right now.  In fact, you can head to Dinner Savvy this time of year to do your holiday baking.  Seriously, let them help!

Planning ahead with meal preparation always makes our lives as parents a little bit easier.  Getting professional help with that is even easier.  So check out Dinner Savvy!


Dinner Savvy
http://www.dinnersavvy.com/
841 Perry Road
Apex
919-303-3119