Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Photography Session Giveaway

It's been awhile since we've done a giveaway, and we're very excited about this one! If you are anything like Sarah C. and me, we are realizing more and more how fleeting our kids' childhood is and we're anxious to snap and document it all. So when a local photographer, Amy, got in touch with us offering her services we were thinking that one of you out there in blogland might feel the same way as us and love a photography session with a professional.

Amy owns and operates Amy Stern photography and you can check out her entire portfolio online at www.amystern.com. Her work is really beautiful. (And since I've tried my hand at getting down and dirty with my camera through the Mamarazzi class, I appreciate photography talent even more these days.)

So here's what you could get from this blog and from Amy Stern Photography: a free weekday photo shoot session of 1 hour and 1 free 8x10 of your choice to own and frame. You can buy prints to your heart's desire, of course. Cool, huh!? This is a huge value not only to your checkbook but also towards your family memories.

Entry is easy. Just leave us a comment telling us a sweet favorite family moment you have (it can be simple: I love starting my day by getting up in the morning, having coffee, and snuggling and reading books with C, for example), and you're entered. By the way, we're upping the ante by giving you extra entries for liking us on Facebook, Twitter, or Google Follow (1 extra entry per follow). Another extra entry if you like Amy Stern Photography Facebook page. Please indicate in your entry if you follow us or Amy on any of those platforms. Honor system.

We'll close the giveaway on Wednesday, September 7th at noon. As always, we pick our winners at random.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Newhope Church Playground - Durham

Thanks to Stacey "S'Rich" who learned about this spot from Tiffany of Healthy Moms fame, we have a new playground to add to our Southpoint trips.

If you are over at Southpoint, we've already talked about Piney Woods and Herndon Park as great stops to get some outdoor time for the kids amongst the errands. But there is another great playground in this area down Fayetteville at the all-new Newhope Church.This playground is great and open to the public (much like the perennial favorite Hope Valley Baptist Church playground). It is right off the parking lot, where there are also basketball hoops, and completely fenced in. The ground cover is synthetic material and the entire structure looks new, as in brand new. There are some nice slides, some climbing structures, a very cute 'telephone,' and swings (bucket swings, standard swings, and 1 swing for special needs children). Even though the entire playground is designed with older children in mind this was pretty safe (I just got a little nervous around the opening for the pole to slide down) for my toddler, C.

This playground is not big on shade, but it is big on fun. And since it is relatively undiscovered, you and your crew might just have the whole thing to yourselves!

Newhope Church Playground

http://www.newhopenc.org/

7619 Fayetteville Road
Durham

Monday, August 29, 2011

Paperhand Puppet Intervention Annual Show

The Paperhand Puppet Intervention is one of the things about this area that is so unique and outstanding. We mentioned them in our Shakori Hills post and you can sometimes catch them at the NCMA. But they end each summer with a magical performance at UNC's Forest Theatre. This is a treat for the senses, and worth attending.

The Paperhand Puppet Intervention is based out of Saxapahaw and the puppets aren't what you imagine -- these are huge, larger-than-life puppets that are based on someone's genius artistic vision. They don't speak and you can see the puppeters working them. However, they are beautiful creations.

The Forest Theatre show starts as the sun sets, but each show also has a pre-show of some kind that is family-friendly entertainment, like music and magic. Families show up to picnic (yes, adult beverages allowed) and mingle beforehand. So pack a spread and enjoy the waning summer hours. When the Paperhand band comes out (yes, the entire show is accompanied by a live band who actually composed an original score for the event) things begin in earnest.

The entire performance is done without dialogue and is in acts. There isn't any intermission and the show time runs close to an hour and a half. The plot is pretty esoteric but that doesn't stop kids from enjoying it. In fact, this show is accessible to adults and children and I encourage even folks without kids in tow to attend. It really is gorgeous and poetic.

But for kids (which is what this blog is about) this is particularly magical. As the show is outside and as the M.C. encourages participation and noise, no need for kids to sit still or be quiet. Perfect. And throughout the show various puppets and performers will come out into the audience for kids to touch and get close to. There is humor, dancing, things that light up, people on stilts....and more!

Admissions is not necessarily cheap. Well, depending on your personality I guess. It is a suggested donation system. Suggested donations this year were as follows: $12 for adults, $8 for kids, kids 2 & under free. But no one will be turned away. They do sell some merchandise, no concessions for sale at all, and the bathrooms are port-a-johns.

The show is very weather-dependent. Afterall, this is outside and the puppets can not get wet or be in strong winds. You can follow Paperhand's Facebook page to get the up to the minute cancellation information.

If you haven't been to Forest Theatre before, please note that you will want to bring a blanket or chairs to sit on. The floor is dirt and gravel (its an outdoor, natural amphitheater). But you do need to get there because Forest Theatre is beautiful.

And I love having this performance troupe in our own community. Thanks to all the artistic, wonderful volunteers who work so hard to make these shows happen. It's a gift.

Paperhand Puppet Intervention
Annual Show every August (stay tuned to their website for other opportunities to see them perform throughout the year)

http://www.paperhand.org/

Facebook page

Friday, August 26, 2011

Sweet Frog Frozen Yogurt

We have had this in our blogger queue for awhile now but, honestly, it feels like a lot of you know about this little spot over in the Renaissance Center by Southpoint Mall already. So feel free to weigh in with your opinions, too! We love your thoughts. (By the way, this chain also has a location in Raleigh off of Plantation Center Drive for our Raleigh-side parents!)

This is the latest frozen yogurt place to go in in our area (and good news: another FroYo spot is going in on the other side of Southpoint, over by the Target!). You can see all the FroYo and sweet treat shops we've reviewed here (including favorites such as YoPop, Local Yogurt, Tutti Frutti plus more). And this place works just like the others: you get a cup, pick your yogurts and dispense them yourself, head to the toppings bar and load up, then pay by weight. So the creation is all yours and there is no limit as to what you can shove in that cup. Well, maybe there is some limit but the cups are huge so it's not like you would need all that yogurt anyhow. Of course, kids tend to adore the process even more than what they end up with.

But by the way here's a marketing tip: but if you want toddlers to become obsessed with your business, definitely market yourself with some sort of cute animal, say a frog. That really was half the allure of this stop for C - finding all the frogs. Even the little frog sticker we get when we go in has left an indelible mark.

But there is other stuff here, too. And since we're now experts on the Frozen Yogurt Shop, let us enlighten you:

- The diversity and quality of toppings is great! The toppings bar was big, very clean, and well-labeled. The fruit looked fresh and if you wanted you could ask for fresh bananas to peel and slice right on top. Of course, we opted for the things like mini-M&Ms, brownie bites, and Reese's Peanut Butter cups.

- The selection of the yogurt was delightful. I do miss the Cold Stone that was here. I love my fattening, salty ice cream. But I was pleased to learn that Sweet Frog had cake batter frozen yogurt as well as peanut butter and chocolate (hooray for unhealthy options!). And, of course, they also carry the standard FroYo shop stuff like strawberry, original tart, peach, and the like.

- The price was good at only 39 cents an ounce.

No changing table but there is one high chair. It is also nice that there are a bunch of big, green chairs outside to enjoy, even if it is a strip mall (if you want a big chair, ice cream, and a view, you gotta get to Maple View).

And, of course, this is close to a lot of other favorites in the Southpoint Mall area such as Chick-fil-A and Mom Valet service, Moe's, Green Kids, Peek-a-Do, the play area in the mall, and playgrounds such as Piney Woods, Herndon Park, and another park we'll post about later!

Sweet Frog Frozen Yogurt
http://sweetfrogyogurt.com/

6917 Fayetteville Road

Suite 103

Durham
919-695-3764 (located next to the Chili's)

6260 Plantation Center Dr

Suite M105
Raleigh, NC
(no phone number provided)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Briar Chapel Playground - Chapel Hill

Just one more thing to hit in Briar Chapel before we move on from this little community in Chapel Hill. And that's the little playground that's here.

This playground is great because it is right next to the pool and easily accessible from the walking trails as well. A stop here can make a nice addition to a day outside enjoying this new community.

This park has some really interesting equipment on it. There is a really different piece of climbing apparatus, clearly for older kids, that I would love to see some children spend some time on figuring out. Heck, maybe once this baby is out I will give it a go myself! Looks like fun.

There are also slides here and things for littler kids to climb as well as a neat little water feature.
This playground isn't huge but, as I said, it is so convenient to the other attractions in Briar Chapel. The only things to watch out for: there isn't any shade at this park, natural or otherwise, and it is not fully fenced from the road. Not that your child could make it to the road quickly as the playground is set back and the road is not heavily trafficked being part of a neighborhood.

There is a nice little picnic shelter here to enjoy. And the playground certainly keeps C entertained!

Briar Chapel Playground
www.briarchapelnc.com
Briar Chapel Parkway
Chapel Hill

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Cary Greenway System

The fall is coming and, hurricanes and earthquakes aside, it is a great opportunity to get outside again. Walking is such good exercise for parents (especially if pushing a tot in a stroller) but also a great way to get your children out and enjoying nature.

We've talked about Woodcroft trails and the American Tobacco Trail. Let's talk for a moment about the Cary Greenway System. I see little posts marking the Greenway all over the Triangle. But where does it go, what's it like?

The Cary Greenway System is a massive project that runs throughout all of Cary, parts of Apex, RTP and Raleigh, and also infiltrates a small piece of Chatham County. This map here (also see links below) shows the system in its entirety. You can see that there is much still to come with parts of the greenway that have not yet been built. For the walking greenways, the longest and largest finished trails are as follows:

- White Oak Greenway (3.86 miles) that runs from Davis Drive to Green Level Church Road. This starts in Bond Park and passes Davis Drive Park and Town of Cary neighborhood park. Note that there is a small section not yet complete if you want to do the entire path. Once you hit MacArthur Drive, you have about .6 miles of no path so you will have to navigate street crossings to pick up the greenway again. However, click on the link above to get full details of how to do this. It's not difficult.

- Davis Drive Multi Use Trail (3.29 miles) that runs from Davis Drive Park to Morrisville Carpenter Road. This is not too far from the White Oak Greenway, actually.

- Black Creek Greenway (3.8 miles) that runs from Chapel Hill Road to Old Reedy Creek Road. From this Greenway you can get to an observation deck over Lake Crabtree, North Cary Park, Umstead State Park (although you do have to leave Greenway to get there), Lake Crabtree County Park mountain bike trails (although, again, you have to leave Greenway to get there). The Greenway take a little "break" and resumes again in Godbold Park, which that has SK-8 Cary and the town's only Dog Park, yet is only 0.3 miles here. The town is still working on Black Creek Greenway and it is projected to eventually run all the way to Bond Park.

However, these are just the details for the longest trails. All throughout the area you can see and catch 0.5 -1 mile trails. You can get significant details from the Town of Cary on the following greenway trails:

Annie Jones Greenway (1.5 miles), Annie Jones Park to Lake Pine Drive
Higgins Greenway (0.5 miles unpaved), SW Maynard to Danforth Drive
Hinshaw Greenway (1.6 miles), Marla Dorrel Park to MacDonald Woods Park to Greenwood Circle
Oxford Hunt Greenway (1.21 miles), West Chatham Street to Bond Park
Pirates Cove Greenway (0.74 miles), Greenwood Circle to Glengarry Drive
Swift Greek Greenway (1.03 miles), Kildaire Farm Road to Regency Parkway (which we walked part of from Ritter Park)
Symphony Lake Greenway (1.33 miles) which is at Regency Park and makes a loop

And yes, there are even more paths out there. And part of the Cary Greenway System actually intersects and uses some of the American Tobacco Trail. Check out the maps for full details. Also on that map you can see the bike route system, which is more expansive than the Greenway.

Note that as the Greenway is in various states of construction so, too, the paths will have various states of ground cover. Most of the Greenway is paved. The links we have provided above state in detail if paths are not. And the parts of the Greenway I have personally walked have been ambling and easy.

Wherever you are in Cary, though, this expansive Greenway system is bound to be close to you or at least coming soon. Use the links below to plan your walk, and enjoy!

Town of Cary Greenway System
Town of Cary's website for information:
http://www.townofcary.org/Departments/Parks__Recreation___Cultural_Resources/Parks_and_Greenways/Greenways.htm

Town of Cary map of the Greenway system:
http://www.townofcary.org/Assets/Planning+Department/Planning+Department+PDFs/bicycleplan/bicyclemap.pdf

Monday, August 22, 2011

Tweetsie Railroad

We're back from the mountains of this gorgeous state with one incredibly happy toddler and one incredibly happy 6 year old niece. And it's all thanks to the wild west theme park Tweetsie out in Blowing Rock.

My son loves "choo-choo" trains. He plays with them all the time (hence the Train Table Roll Call post), reads about them, sings about them, and talks about them. Yet he had never been on one. So when we were headed for a family mini-vacation we decided to give Tweetsie a drop in.

I admit that when we first arrived at Tweetsie my first thought was "royal mistake." You see, you can't see much of it from the road and entry gate. And then you get a map and it still looks tiny. I was concerned as to how we were going to fill a full day there with 2 kids.

Never fear. It was no problem at all.

First, the train ride was fantastic and we did that 3 times (and could have done more). Some things to know about the train: it is a show as well as a ride. We caught the first train of the day and were entertained with a full act at the depot. This did not happen on later rides. Then, as you go along on the train, there are a few stops for shoot outs between cowboys and shoot outs between cowboys and Indians. These kept my 2 year old entertained, but the 5-8 year olds really loved the drama. Although note that since these involve "shoot outs" with guns shooting blanks, it is really, really loud. Best to sit in the last car if your child is noise-sensitive.

Also an insider's tip: most of the show takes place on the right side of the train. So grab seats on that side if you can.

By the way, this is a real, live steam engine. Accordingly, it runs on coal and cinders do fly out of the stack. Wear sunglasses and hats or, again, sit further back. In the front cars you are more prone to the ashes and particles getting in your face.

Okay, so that's the totally awesome and kid-entrancing train. But there is a lot more to Tweetsie. Tweetsie also has a couple of different areas of entertainment. At the bottom is the town. This is the area with shops and restaurants, all with a wild west theme. Further up the hill is the County Fair area. And, as the name suggests, is full of County Fair rides: a ferris wheel, merry-go-round, tilt-a-whirl, a vertical drop, one of those rides that turns really fast and sucks you up against the wall, Go-Karts, and then a little kiddie airplane ride.

If you hit the miner's chairs and go up the mountain to the top, there are more things to do here. There are 2 kiddie rides (C was a huge fan of the boat one), a kiddie train to ride, as well as a twister/scrambler ride. And also in this area is a spot for kids and adults to mine for gems. Caution: this costs extra. The water and sifters are there, but in order to get the goods to sift through, you have to go to the pavilion and pay a minimum $8. Albeit it is a lot of stuff and all the gems you get out you get to take home. Of course, my niece was quickly overwhelmed by the amount of sifting to be done and my brother-in-law had to finish it up. He did a great job, though, taking home quite a few little rocks. (Authenticity and quality not confirmed.)

Also at the top here was a great little petting zoo. We were shocked as this is so inappropriately named as the "Deer Park." There were emus, miniature horses, pygymy goats, big goats, pot bellied pigs, llamas, bunnies and, eventually, fallow deer here to feed. You can buy an ice cream cone of food for the animals for fifty cents, and it is well worth it. This was such a hidden highlight of the park for us, and both kids just adored it.

All throughout the park are shows of varying quality. Additionally, there is food throughout the park for purchase (no adult beverages, though, parents), and the barbecue actually wasn't bad!

The price point wasn't terrible either at $34 ages 13 & up, $22 for kids 3 - 13, kids 2 & under free (AAA members get discounts). Also, you can leave the park and come back if you get a hand stamp. We ended up taking C a few miles back to the cabin for afternoon nap then coming back. Worked out grandly. Also, if you come to the park at 3pm or later, your entry is good for the entire next day, too.

There were children all over the park, too, dressed in cowboy gear and my niece has now decided she wants to be a can-can dancer. Honestly, this was a really fun experience in the NC mountains for us. And C still talks about the choo-choo Tweetsie....

Like I said, I had my doubts going in but both kids we were with were enthralled and pleased beyond belief all day. For us parents, this was way better than a Disney trip. The park is small, negotiable, family friendly (bring your strollers, they have parking and transportation for them wherever you go), and really just not stressful. As parents we weren't as into the entertainment and rides, but we really did appreciate how fantastically easy this was for us.

Tweetsie Railroad
http://www.tweetsie.com/
300 Tweetsie Lane
Blowing Rock, NC
1-800-526-5740

Friday, August 19, 2011

Crowder District Park

This park came highly recommended from a bunch of you blog readers out there. Thanks for the tip (as always), and here is Sarah C. sharing her experience:

Can you tell the weather has been a "bit" cooler and we've been spending more time outdoors with all these recent park posts? I confess, I love how fortunate we are to have so many beautiful parks in this area to enjoy nature and burn some of that toddler energy!

I finally had the chance to explore Crowder District Park located on 33 acres in southern Wake County recently. With D and my infant niece L in tow, we met up with another friend and her 2 year old. There are 3 playgrounds at this park. We met at the largest one near the main entrance. It has two sections (2-5 year old and 5-12 year old) in a big mulched area. There are trees surrounding the entire playground and provide a reasonable amount of shade.


As the boys began to tire a bit, we strapped them into strollers and walked the shorter of the two paved trails around the pond. Our pleasant discovery during our walk were the 2 other playgrounds which neither of us knew existed. They were both smaller with only 1 play structure each, but still fun. Especially since we had one to ourselves for a good 15 minutes and it was fully in the shade.

The park is home to a number of wild animals. We spotted a small box turtle hiding under a bit of ground cover. We also spied a number of turtles, fish and 1 duck in the water from the boardwalk over the pond. And had a couple of daring squirrels come very close to us searching for food. The toddlers loved watching them.

Before leaving we enjoyed a picnic lunch in the Cardinal Shelter back by the large playground. With the cover overhead plus plenty of trees, it was shady and relatively comfortable even given the higher humidity during our visit. The toddlers didn't sit too well to eat their lunches (there were a lot of great rocks & sticks around to play with!) but it was still fun and worthwhile.

I recommend putting on your sneakers, packing a lunch (and some bug spray - there were a few pesky ones around) and heading out to this beautiful park to explore. Depending on how far of a drive it is for you, this could be a great weekend day trip.

Full list of amenities:
  • 3 Playgrounds

  • 3 Picnic Shelters

  • 3 Trails - the Outer Loop (~8/10 of a mile) and Inner Loop(~3/10 of a mile) trails are both paved.

  • Open Play Field including volleyball court, basketball backstop and general play area

  • 4 Gardens

  • Pavilion with nature observation deck - benches & rocking chairs to sit and enjoy. No food, drink or smoking allowed in this area.

  • 2 Restroom locations - 1 next to the larger playground and 1 on the opposite side of the pond between the 2 smaller playgrounds (The latter was very clean but did not have changing tables. I didn't visit the first.)


Crowder District Park
http://www.wakegov.com/parks/crowder/default.htm
4709 Ten Ten Road
Apex
919-662-2850
Open daily 8am to sunset
Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day & New Years Day

Labels:

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ritter Park - Cary

You know how I mentioned in the Hemlock Bluffs post about Ritter Park being right up against the nature preserve? Well, here's the lowdown...

Now I have to tell you Sarah C. and I discovered this quite by accident. We loaded our kiddos into their strollers, and started down the hiking paths at Hemlock Bluffs. As we were struggling to push our inappropriate strollers through the terrain (if only there had been a blog telling us what gear to bring), a very kindly elderly man suggested that we not go the 3 miles and, instead, head over to Ritter Park. After getting directions, Sarah C. and I got back in our cars and drove the 3 minutes to the kid-friendly park. We know when to wave the white flag.

Ritter Park was great. There was a very nice playground with an area for older kids, younger kids, and a fantastic sandbox with permanent sand features to play with. There were only 2 bucket swings, though, so that caused some issues. And not a lot of shade, but we were there early enough that the weather was quite pleasant and the slides cool to the touch. This park looks like it is brand new.


The other great thing about Ritter Park is that it is right on the Cary Greenway System. So we got to pack our kids in their strollers again and take a nice, leisurely stroll along the paved, undulating path in the shade. Quite lovely and not nearly as much as a sweat-fest, buns-burner as pushing tiny umbrella strollers through mulch at a nature preserve.

There are restrooms at this park that were open while we were there (no changing table). And the Nature Preserve literature was quite right, this is a lovely place to picnic!

Full list of amenities:
  • Baseball/Softball fields
  • Basketall Slab
  • Playground
  • Picnic Shelter
  • Picnic Tables
  • Restrooms
Harold D. Ritter Park
http://www.townofcary.org/

301 Lochmere Drive West

Cary

Open daily sunrise to sunset


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve

I love to hike. So when the weather turned cooler(ish), Sarah C. and I met in Cary to try out the Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve. Imagine it: a nature preserve in the middle of Cary!

The Preserve is 150 acres that runs along Swift Creek. And, in case you didn't guess by the name, supports a population of Eastern Hemlock trees. Apparently that is rare for this area as this is about 200 miles farther than their typical habitat (the Appalachian Mountains). Conjecture, by scientists who tend to know their stuff, is that this happened during the glacial period about 10,000 years ago. Which means that Hemlock Bluffs is believed to be a "unique relic of the ancient past."

There are about 3 miles of trail throughout the Preserve. Here is a snap, in my topsy-turvy unlevel world, of what that trail system looks like:
A few of the trails have observation decks off of them. And I like that map because it tells you where the steps are (if you can blow up that photo large enough).

So yeah, some of the trails have steps. And also note that the trails are mulched or rougher. Which means you either need a hefty jogging stroller and to avoid the steps (so stick to Beech Tree Cove Trail), or you need a carrier. Or, of course, your kids can walk. Three miles isn't that long and, on top of that, you don't have to hoof all 3 of them if you don't want to. Pick the shorter, albeit step-heavy, Swift Creek Trail (which also happens to have the largest known breeding populations of several salamander species) if you are worried about distance. None of the terrain appeared too intense but we didn't get too far around the Preserve.

Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve also houses the Stevens Nature Center. This center is going to have your bathrooms (with changing table, and very clean!), a gift shop, and a public exhibition space. But there is also a classroom here and this is where the magic is. Stevens Nature Center offers fabulous programming for all ages throughout the year. Sarah and I can't wait to get our tots there someday soon to check out a class. We knew we were in when we saw outside the Center a children's learning garden that looks hands on and successful (you must be part of the class to head to the garden and play in the dirt).

But these classes are all about teaching kids how beautiful nature is. There are parent/child programs for kids ages 1 & up, Nature Nuts for kids 3-5, Curiosity Clubs for ages 5-8, and so on all the way up to age 18. And parents: don't fret! They have adult programs, too! There are photography classes, yoga classes, landscaping classes, organized hikes, and more. Beyond that, even, there are senior classes and family fun outings. They also offer Track-Out programs.

Some of these classes do require a fee and depending on what you do and if you are a member can run you anywhere between $8-$25. Honestly, the schedule is so diverse that you need to glance at it for yourself and pick your fun. Click on the link we provide below to get to the course offerings.

Picnicking is discouraged in the park. Ritter Park abuts Hemlock Bluffs and has a playground and picnic area. We'll be putting a post up about that very soon since we tried that spot out as well. We don't know of any way to walk to Ritter Park from the Nature Preserve (we need to figure out the Cary Greenway system a little better), but even if you get in the car and drive it is incredibly close.

This place looks beautiful and I can't wait to go back again sometime in the future with DH and a more-inclined-to-walk-further C. Or at least strap him in his Kelty and head out into the trees.

Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve
http://www.townofcary.org/
or http://www.hemlockbluffs.org/
Open daily 9 am - sunset

Stevens Nature Center at Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve
http://www.townofcary.org/Departments/Parks__Recreation___Cultural_Resources/Facilities/Nature_Center.htm
919-387-5980


2616 Kildaire Farm Road
Cary


Monday, August 15, 2011

Merritt's Store & Grill

It's time for a post about eating again! And this is a tasty one. Merritt's Store & Grill in Chapel Hill has been around since 1929. It took me and my family until August 2011 to get there. I have no idea why we waited - it is delicious. In fact, this little spot has evoked the attention of some big publications, including Rachael Ray's Everyday Food.

This shop is small, without a formal dining area. There are 3 tables inside (and the chairs aren't the most kid friendly, to be honest) with some tables outside as well. There is a walk up counter for ordering food, and there aren't any high chairs or changing tables.

So why mention it? Because they have famous BLTs in the sumer that really are that good. You can get a single layer, a double layer, or even a triple layer BLT. They are made fresh while you wait and right now the tomatoes are in season and delicious. There are other items on the menu including grilled cheese and hamburgers, and they also make a mean breakfast. Coffee is certified organic Joe Van Gogh and you can get beer and wine here.

The other thing to know about Merritt's Grill that makes it great for kids is that they offer live music. This happens pretty much every Saturday in the summer from noon til whenever and also during the summers they occasionally have "BLTs and Banjos" on Friday afternoons. Rumor has it that this is where James Taylor and his brother played gigs together as teenagers, so you never know what talent you might spy here. For last minute updates you can stay tuned to their Facebook page, but it is quicker and more reliable to just call and ask.

Something that occurs to me as a great little outing with kids? Heading to Merritt's, getting your BLT and lunch to go, and then hitting the short and sweet Morgan Creek Trail for a picnic in the meadow at the end.

Merritt's Store & Grill
http://www.merrittsstoreandgrill.com/
Facebook Page
1009 S. Columbia Street
Chapel Hill
919-942-4897


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Kidcycle Consignment Sale

The biannual Kidcycle is ON at University Mall this weekend. And it is all about the clothes. Which is nice since, as the seasons are about to change, C is in need of some fall clothes that fit.

Of course, Kidcycle has a slew of other things to offer, too. There are strollers, swings, beds, toys, baby gear, and more. This is offered in a huge space so they pack a lot in there!

So for Kidcycle, there really isn't a terrible time to go unless you are looking for something specific. The first day of the sale is open to people who preregister online (for new parents, primarily) or folks who bring in diapers to donate. How easy is that!? Bring in some diapers to donate, get in to shop early.

After that, there are 2 days of regular shopping then a day of 1/2 price shopping. And while we were there there were quite a few parents hitting the racks, so get there while you can. Although I already snagged the super-cute Gap hoodie and Hanna Andersson sweater for C. However, if you REALLY love a bargain, the last day of the sale is Dollar Day (check the website below to see which day is Dollar Day, for this particular sale it is August 20th). That means that everything that doesn't sell is on sale for $1. And all the money goes to charity, the charity selected changing each sale.

To consign at Kidcycle, you have options as well. Stay tuned to the website for dates for drop off. When you drop off, they will go through your stuff for quality control but really take most everything. Then you can select whether you want your goods returned to you if they don't sell, if you want them to go to Dollar Day then be returned to you, or if you want them to go through to Dollar Day then on to donation if not sold. But get this: you get 70% of the sale, that's huge for consignment!

Kidcycle
http://www.kidcyclenc.com/
Twice a year
University Mall

Friday, August 12, 2011

Which Wich?

From Sarah C.:

Curious about the new sandwich joint in town, DH & I stopped into Which Wich? at Brier Creek one evening with D. Walking in we could immediately notice a difference from other sandwich shops. The entire left wall is a large menu with a slanted metal shelf below, lots of brown paper bags and red Sharpie markers. The menu is arranged with like sandwiches grouped together. Find your preference and then select a paper bag matching that group (ie, if you want a sandwich with turkey on it, look for the "Turkey" bags). Use the red Sharpie to mark your sandwich choice, ingredients and any extras. Add your name. Then take to the cashier and pay for your order.

While you are fixing your drink and getting seated, your paper bag is taking a ride clipped to a metal cable. It works its way down the assembly line as your sandwich is made. Once complete, your sandwich is slid into the bag and your name & order called.

Kids meals have their own separate bag in the ordering section. Honestly, I almost missed them on our first visit. They are located all the way to the far left (by the storefront) next to a low menu mounted on the wall featuring the "Kidswich" options. Each meal comes with a sandwich, drink and Rice Krispie treat. If your child detests crusts, no worries - there is even a spot on the bag to mark "no crust.".

We have only visited the Brier Creek location. I did appreciate there were 3 high chairs, but be aware there are only 2 tables (one 2 person table & one 4 person table) that are actually table height. The other tables are bar height and as such will not work with the high chairs. There are also several tables on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant.

Restrooms are located in the back but there are no changing tables.


Which Wich?
Brier Creek
8521 Brier Creek Pkwy., Suite 117
Raleigh
919-544-6776

4025 Lake Boone Trail, Ste. 130
Raleigh
919-781-1101

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Wet 'n Wild Emerald Pointe

My Dad swears I have been to a water park before; I swear I haven't. Who do you believe? I will say that if I have been before it was a looong time ago, and water park etiquette is something completely new to me. Do you take food in? Clothes? Shoes? Cameras? How does it all work?! Very confusing!

Well I was happy to navigate these uncharted waters for a day of fun with C and my parents. This was an exhausting day of entertainment and laughter and good memories.

Wet 'n Wild is in Greensboro, and took me just over an hour from Chapel Hill to get there - a very easy and manageable drive as it is right off the interstate. The park is huge (see the link below for a large map)! There were all sorts of daredevil rides and slides for older kids; there were 3 separate areas for toddlers and tots that included swings and slides and sprays; I saw beach volleyball; one area was a sandy playground for kids; there was a lazy river, tubes and tunnels, and even a wave pool. This park has a lot to offer.

Albeit, this is an amusement park and, therefore, is not cheap to get into. Parking is $7. Tickets are $33.99 for folks over 49 inches and $22.99 for folks under 48 inches. Kids 2 & under are free. There are discounts for seniors as well as other discounts such as AAA. I highly recommend purchasing online before you go. You can be up for discounts, but you also avoid waiting in line when you arrive.

So let's talk etiquette. First, people get there early to set themselves up with lounge chairs. Like any pool place there are chairs all over this park. People want to get the best ones. If you get there early enough, you can get chairs near the wave pool or toddler pools (prime real estate). Under an umbrella or other shade is even more coveted. If you don't get there early enough, you can probably still find some chairs together somewhere- there are chairs all over the park. There are also cabanas available for rent. These cabanas have service, shade, and you can also have alcohol at some (and cost around $100; whether it's worth it would just depend on how many people you have splitting that tab!).

You can not bring coolers in but you can bring some food into the park. If you want to pack a lunch you check your cooler outside, leave the park for the picnic area, eat, and return to the park with a wallet not quite as bruised. Even outside the park, though, no alcohol or glass in the picnic area. (Hey parents, this isn't Disney so you can get a beer at some select vendors inside the park.)

There are standard amusement park vendors all around, of course, if you want to purchase food there. (For reference, 1 large pizza and 4 sodas will be about $28.)

Lockers are inside for rent, of course. Locker access is available all day (it isn't like lockers at ski resorts where you have to stick in $1 in quarters every time you want to open it.) You can get away with leaving some stuff on your chair, but I wouldn't go crazy with that. At the beginning of each ride are stands for you to leave your shoes, camera, whatever other small items you want. And do take your flip flops around the park with you, despite what your dad says: that concrete gets HOT. Stroller are allowed in the park and can be pushed around easily.

You will want to bring in towels, but there are life jackets of all sizes throughout the park available for grabs. And some rides do require life jackets for kids.

We really did enjoy this park. There was so much here for every age. My toddler had fun in the large, shallow toddler pool. With an octopus dangling swings from his tentacles, slides, a submarine, and fountains spurting up, there was so much to see and experience. (FYI there is even a changing station for kids near the toddler pool, a nice little touch.) My dad had fun heading down some of those vertical drops.

This was a great way to spend a special summer day. It's a splurge, but at the end of a very hot summer, it's a great way to create memories and have fun.

Wet 'n Wild Emerald Pointe Water Park
http://www.emeraldpointe.com/
3910 South Holden Road
Greensboro
336-852-9721


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Glazed Expectations

C and I really enjoyed our trip to Paint Your Pot a long time ago. During that trip, if you recall, I was working with my other mommy friends to stamp our kids' hands on pottery to make Father's Day gifts. The kids were too young to paint themselves but we wanted to preserve their cute little prints. However, now, C is all about crafts and painting. In fact, we try to have craft time a few times a week at home.

So when I took him to Glazed Expectations in downtown Carrboro he got to be his own independent artist. Glazed Expectations is so great. It was smaller than Paint Your Pot so the selection of ceramics wasn't as large, but it is clean, the staff is friendly, the price is really good, and we still found plenty of interesting things to paint. We did a little dino for $6, a duck magnet for $3, and a butterfly magnet for $3. There were also plates, platters, bowls, mugs, cups, and more.

Studio time costs $6 for children and $8 for adults, but even though I definitely had a brush and did that dino you see there, I was not charged for studio time. So the entire process was quite reasonably priced.

Turn around time on getting the final pieces is good: 2 days this particular week. (In case you aren't familiar, with these paint your own ceramic shops you go in, pick a plain piece, choose all your paints and materials, create your masterpiece, and leave it with the shop to be fired so the glaze sets.)

The paint colors were so diverse and they had a lot of good options, too, for other ways to get creative with pencils, puff paint, and the like. No paint specifically marked for hand-stamping as we saw at Paint Your Pot but the glazes were all safe (and food safe if you are making plates or cups) and come out of clothes. If you are still nervous about the clothes, though, smocks are on site to wear.

While we were there a summer camp was going on. Kids of all ages, from K-8th grade were there, talking, and creating masterpieces that went beyond painting and into shaping and molding. C and I learned a lot from the 8th graders in particular: the adaptation of Twilight from book to movie made them sooooo tired of vampires and scientists are currently developing a "smarter" pill, you know, to make you smarter so algebra is easier.

I can't promise that your trip will be as educational since summer camps end soon, but I can bet that you will have fun being creative in such a great environment. (Although note that as of publication of this post, Glazed Expectations will be closing for 1 week starting Aug 15th for a summer break.)

This shop does host birthday parties, showers, after-school classes, and other special events. See their website below for details and information.

Glazed Expectations
http://www.glazedexpectations.com/
205 W. Main Street
Suite 104
Carrboro
919-933-9700

Friday, August 5, 2011

Strasburg Children clothing

Updated 6/2012 - It's true, Strasburg is completely closed.  Turns out that whole " doing great " and "going strong for a long time to come" was not so true.

Updated 12/2011- So it turns out that, since writing up this post, Strasburg Children has changed their model (thanks to a reader tip about this).  They do still have some of their special events clothing in the back of the store, but up front now they have moved towards casual clothes and outfits.

An easy little post for you this Friday. Although first, I am in heaven: Southpoint has The Limited now!? Between that and Crate & Barrel, I may never shop anywhere else again. (Janie + Jack might be the biggest pull back to Crabtree for me.) Albeit I am shopping exclusively at Destination Maternity these days. But I digress....

This is to talk for a second about a kids clothing store at Southpoint Mall called Strasburg Children. (I also know that Triangle Town Center has a Strasburg, but I haven't visited that location.)

Here's what you need to know about Strasburg Children in two words: special events. This clothing is high quality, high price, and intended to be for special events such as christenings and weddings. When I say high price I mean between $70-$170 for an outfit. However, you can find cute flower girl dresses in here; my heart melts. And these are the outfits you will package and save through the years so that their children can wear them, too.

The boys clothing in this shop is vastly underrepresented, but what they do have for boys are cute suits, jackets, and overall options.

For girls, sizes run newborn to Age 14. For boys, sizes run newborn to Age 8.

And despite Strasburg's parent company filing for bankruptcy in 2009, the company has been doing great at Southpoint and everyone there tells me it will be going strong for a long time to come. It is right across from the play area at Southpoint Mall as well.

Strasburg Children clothing store
http://www.strasburgchildren.com/
The Streets at Southpoint
6910 Fayetteville Road
Durham
919-361-3503

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Jammin'Baby/Music Together

This heat makes me wanna go join some conga lines somewhere or something-- you know, anything to feel like I am on a tropical cruise and not baking away, pregnant, in early August. This might be why I loved Music Together, lead by Erica Berry's company Jammin' Baby, over at Briar Chapel Clubhouse the other day.

Jammin' Baby leads a bunch of Music Together classes throughout the area (which is nice since the one originally held at University Mall is no longer there). You can take classes at Briar Chapel, NC Botanical Gardens, Apex Performing Arts Center, Dance Theater South in Durham, and NC Dance Institute in Raleigh. Really, all over.

Erica's classes are mostly "Mixed Age "classes, which means for kids 0-5. However, starting in the fall she is going to be offering a "Big Kids" class for those ages 5-7 (as well as adding the locations SmartMomma and Kidzu to her repertoire). So we tried out the Mixed Age class. Most the kids in there were 2-3 years old, but there were some younger ones too. Honestly, non-crawlers might not get the most out of this (try out Kindermusik for the really little ones) but the crawlers and walkers were having an absolute blast.

This is also great for parents with more than one. The older ones can run around in a safe environment while the younger ones can take it all in. And both are learning.

Since I mentioned Kindermusik, let me talk for a second about how I feel these are different. Kindermusik is strongly curriculum-based. Both programs offer a different theme each session. Yet Kindermusik sticks very closely to that theme. There you learn a lot of traditional and folk songs within the concepts. Music Together seemed to be based more on the composition of the class members. Lots of active dancers? Then we put on Jackson Five songs, bust out some instruments, and just dance. I am a big fan of both programs - I encourage you to try out each to see which your kid enjoys (Jammin' Baby and Kindermusik both offer 1 free trial class). Or, of course, if you are like me you can pick solely based on location and time. I am fickle.

I haven't personally done the Music with Mar classes (although you can find Sarah C.'s great review here), but I will say that neither Kindermusik nor Music Together have storytime. You do, of course, get the other benefits of learning how to behave, cleaning up, sharing, getting out energy, and other wonderful things that pair with group activities for kids. And both programs really focus on rhythm, diversity of music, movement, and song to tell stories. Again, I make my decisions based on 3 things: schedule, location, and , let me say it again, schedule.

To register for Music Together, you do have to sign up for a session. It is 10-weeks and each class is 45- minutes long. And, get this, if you do the Big Kids class, classes are 60-minutes parent attendance is only required on the first and last days of the session. Did I hear coffee break for mama in there?

Erica Berry is one smart cookie. She is educated, knows how to run a business, has 2 kids of her own so loves to be around children, and is so talented. Her voice is great!

So yeah, while I certainly adored this class, the biggest fan was C, which is a good sign. He couldn't get enough.

Registration for the sessions at time of publication is $175 for the first child (or about $18/class), $70 per child after that for Mixed Age class; $185 for the first child, $85 per child after that for the Big Kids class. You do get take home materials such as CDs, books, and parent activity suggestions. If you register for the fall session before August 15th you can get a $10 discount (see the website below for details and the code).

By the way, Music Together is only part of what Erica's company, Jammin' Baby, does. Jammin' Baby will also do birthday party musical entertainment for kids as well as curriculum and classes for preschools, churches, and the like. You can email her your questions via the online form. She responds quickly!

Jammin' Baby/Music Together
www.jamminbaby.com

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Toys 'R Us / Babies 'R Us - Cary

A post from Sarah C. about the new/not new really though Toys 'R Us. She explains all below:

In recent weeks the Toys 'R Us in Cary has been undergoing much needed renovations. It had been the same for as long as I can remember and seemed dark & dated. The store layout has been completely rearranged and now boasts a space dedicated to baby items. It was even renamed to share both store names - Toys 'R Us and Babies 'R Us.

My last two visits have occurred during the renovation progress. The store remained open the entire time and sections were blocked off for work. The most noticeable changes are the cash register layout and not having to enter through the "customer service / seasonal items" funnel. Now the entry is open and you will find the store mostly split with Toys 'R Us on the left and Babies 'R Us on the right.

The electronics section used to be contained in the front left corner and is now a more open space in the back left (reminds me a bit of Target). What was seasonal in the front right is now the start of the baby items (diapers, wipes, safety, bottles, etc.) - similar to the layout in standalone Babies 'R Us stores like the one in Durham. Along the right hand side are now nursery room layouts and the registry desk. Bigger baby items (strollers, exersaucers, etc) and ride-ons (trikes, bikes, cozy coupes, wagons) fill the rear store space.

Although it was an adjustment finding items in their new spots, I do think the flow is much better. Signage was clear and the store felt brighter & cheerier. I also liked finding fun things like two Thomas the Train tables for kids to play with - something I don't recall seeing in the old store layout.

The bathrooms also appeared to have been renovated and looked quite nice & clean. I did not see a nursing lounge like the Durham Babies 'R Us has. (I will check again on my next visit because it may simply have been lack of signage since I was there during the renovations.)

I received a flier in the mail late last week advertising the "brand new" store and grand opening celebrations for this upcoming weekend, August 5-7. Personally, I find the "brand new" in the ad a bit misleading - this is the same store space/location that Toys 'R Us has occupied in Crossroads Shopping Center. There will be various events & character appearances this weekend. Check our Facebook page for full listings.

Toys 'R Us / Babies 'R Us
http://www.toysrus.com
Crossroads Shopping Center
201 Crossroads Boulevard
Cary
(919) 859-1971

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Monday, August 1, 2011

Schools & School Resources

So we get a lot of emails off this blog asking about schools and school selection. And not that we don't love getting your emails every day (I do so love checking the blog inbox), we just thought it might be beneficial to address some of the reoccurring questions in a blog post!

I always tell people that I love living here, and it's no lie. With 3 major cities at our disposal, there is so much to take advantage of here. Now listen, I did my best to answer these FAQs. But bear in mind these are my personal opinions, with the input of some other mommies around that I adore and trust. I definitely recommend continuing to ask around and doing some online research. And, of course, nothing beats a visit in person to a school or asking a recommendation from someone you really know and trust. Not that you can't trust us....but we don't know everything (I know, hard to believe!).

FAQ #1. Can you make a recommendation on good preschools in Chapel Hill?

We get this question the most since, let's face it, while we cover a lot of the Triangle between Sarah C. and myself, the name is "Mom in Chapel Hill." Also, we clearly have toddlers ourselves.

And I say that it really all depends on what you are looking for: pricetag, interests, type of learning, student/teacher ratio you want. Start with these links:
FAQ #2. Can you make a recommendation on any of the particular schools (elementary, middle, high) in Chapel Hill/Carrboro?

Chapel Hill has great schools all around, honestly. Carrboro Elementary is popular because of it's artistic nature and its Spanish-immersion program for elementary school kids! Carrboro High is fairly new, which means smaller extracurricular programs right now, but still does great. Overall this area is ranked very high on a nation-wide list and people move here because of the schools. Chapel Hill High has a great program with lots of AP and other accelerated programs.

Don't discount Chatham County though. Things are moving and shaking in this particular County. Perry Harrison Elementary gets a lot of praise, and Woods Charter School (which is lottery based) is a place people love. Plus, a new high school is slated to go in as a lot of the wealth from the Chapel Hill township slips from Orange to Chatham county.

The most popular and talked-about private schools in Chapel Hill are St. Thomas More and the Emerson Waldorf School. Again, it all depends on what you are looking for.

FAQ #3. Would you ever consider living in Durham? I don't hear great things about the schools...

(Honestly, this is a cut & paste direct from a bunch of emails, we didn't make these questions up.)

Durham is really up and coming. It has a lot to offer and we find ourselves going there more and more as it continues to renovate and improve itself. If your kids are older, I am not sure this is helpful but the word on the street is that the schools will be getting better as more income moves into the area and as Durham continues its renaissance. Check out those links above (especially www.greatschools.org), though, to see ratings, reviews, and details. If your kids are younger, I personally think that Durham is going to undergo some major improvements over the years. A lot of the elementary schools (such as Pearsontown and Hillandale) are already ranking higher in the past few years. And middle schools and high schools are trying to keep up by investing.

By the way, when it comes to preschools, Durham Mothers Club also offers a preschool fair in the fall. Again, look at early to mid-October.

If you want to consider private schools Durham Academy is the creme de la crop. But Durham has some other great private school alternatives, too.

FAQ #4. So what about Cary, Raleigh, and Apex?

Well I am not going to lie: that's a super-broad question. But, again, one we get asked a lot, so here it goes...

The thing to really keep in mind about these areas is that they offer a variety of programs and schooling options, including year-round options. Now I personally am a big fan of year-round programs, but not everyone is. But the other major thing to know about these areas is that, in general, they redistrict a lot. So one year your child could be in x program at x school but the next they can go to y. Cary and Apex in particular are seeing some of the biggest population booms in our area, in part because they are great places to live with a lot of brand new affordable development, but this means that they have to reconsider and reassess their school programs a lot more than many other counties and districts.

But check out the same websites listed above to get more details. The Wake County website also tries to make everything transparent and clear, plus there are individual school reviews here: www.wcpss.net. Sarah and I have also been told by a blog-reader friend that this website here- www.corestandards.org - explains the new national standards that Wake County schools are going to be adopting.

I would really like to direct you all to Carolina Parent's fantastic Education Guide. Right now there 2010-2011 version can be found online here. This link provides more real stats and useful information than we can here at MiCHill. We love and appreciate being your first-stop resource, but also know that we can't tell you everything! So check out this online guide.

And also give us your comments - you can weigh in on this blog right here for everyone to read! Any thoughts you have for parents who are searching for schools, relocating, or otherwise need-to-know as the school season starts would be great to have!