Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Close Out

2012 was a huge year for me.  Huge.  I welcomed our new baby, The Bug, and got him integrated in to our family (still to be determined as to whether or not I can say "successfully").  Having number 2 increased the joy in our lives by 5x the amount but it also meant a lot of changes for me on a personal level.  My relationships with my friends changed as my time became really hard to manage; DH and I have had less time than ever to talk; I had to stop teaching so many fitness classes; and I swear I have developed serious crows' feet around my eyes that were NOT there this time last year. 

But it has also been a phenomenal year.  This blog has kept me busy and incredibly happy.  Being able to share my adventures with a group of parents that are so supportive and genuinely nice has delivered me from total insanity.  I can't even begin to describe how your support, your follows, sharing the site with your friends, and the words of encouragement you all have provided have formed a sense of purpose for me over the past 3 years.  Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. 

If you are new around here you can read the 2010 Close Out here and the 2011 Close Out here.  But right now I am going to talk about what we've been up to around here in 2012.  We've been so busy!

Let's not forget that we ran a 5k.  Say what!?  I know, I still can't believe it!  By being accountable to you and sharing our trials and tribluations throughout training, Sarah C. and I ran an actual for-real 5k.  Not sure we'll be doing it again but never say never.

Here's how we look by the numbers:
Facebook Fans: 747
Twitter Followers: 605
Pinterest Followers (new for us in 2012): 131
Instagram Followers (also new for us in September 2012): 37

Let's not forget that we started a newsletter in November!  I am so excited about this possibility and am thrilled beyond belief that over 200 of you have already signed up to get the news as MiCHill sees fit.

We started a new series that you all have been enjoying, according to the numbers, called Arts & Crafts Thursday ("A.C.T.").  We have been loving it, too!  It is good for us to be inspired to create with our children, even if some of those experiments fail.  We just don't tell you about those.

We welcomed Teresa to our team and she has been delivering really great articles all about Mommy Time (you can get your groove back).

We had 189 new posts for you this year.  Not too shabby given Sarah C. went back to work, I had an infant, and Katie delivered a new baby girl.

Top 5 Posts for 2012 (not including any A.C.T. tutorials):
Erin Condren Planner
Orange Co. Gymnastics (which, alas, has moved from UMall but is still around)
My SweetArts
DefyGravity
Ebenezer Church Playground & Beach

I was personally touched that a close 6th place was the article I wrote about Service Opportunities for your kids.  I knew I liked you all.

Then, of course, all of this good stuff and your support led me to new writing pastures as I joined Kristen Bagwell at Triangle Moms on Main in November as a Managing Partner.  Over there she lets me talk about whatever I want to talk about (could get dangerous).  Make sure you visit me there, keep tabs on me here, and keep all the great suggestions coming.

Hope that 2013 is healthy and prosperous for you and your family.  I am looking forward to our adventures together in the new year.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Mommy Time: Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction

We're back after a little holiday break and this post from Teresa couldn't come at a better time.  Hope you all had a happy and successful season:

Did you feel the the holiday stress, too? Before kids, I never understood the concept of holiday stress. I mean, what is there to stress about? Gifts, decorations, get togethers… it all just sounded like fun to me, why would I stress? Now I know. Kids make your life exponentially busier. In my regular life, it is hard to fit everything in. Throw in all the extra to-dos of the holidays, no matter how joyful, things can start to pile up and get stressful in trying to get it all done.
 
How do you handle your stress? Now, I don’t consider myself to be a “stressed” person in general, but when I learned about the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course offered by Duke Integrative Medicine, I thought it would be great to gain more tools on taking things in stride and being in the moment. 

The Duke Integrative Medicine website describes the course as “a method of using meditation and yoga to cultivate awareness and reduce stress. It is based on the ancient practice of mindfulness, which is about waking up, being fully alive, and being present for the richness of each moment of our lives. Within this awakening, we gain access to our deepest inner resources for living, healing, and coping with stress.”

I can honestly say I have never taken a course that has been more meaningful to my daily life than this one. You learn how to step back, observe your being and accept things as they are.  When the kids are getting crazy, I now find that I can more often take a breath, and accept the moment for what it is and respond appropriately -- instead of feeling crazed. I also felt that the course, and the practice, has cultivated an enhanced sense of gratitude and peace in me.

Investing in this mommy time not only benefits the parent, but it also will benefit your family and those you interact with.  What a win-win situation! By taking the time for the class and mindfulness practice, you and your family reap the harvest of a calmer and more peaceful mom! 

The MBSR course meets once a week for 8 weeks, and is 2.5 hours long per class. A day of mindfulness is also part of the course, which is an all-day intensive session of mindfulness.  The class is offered at various times at Duke Integrative Medicine and other triangle locations.

Duke Integrative Medicine
http://www.dukeintegrativemedicine.com/
3475 Erwin Road
Durham
919-660-6826


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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

NASCAR Race Experience

Have you noticed all the Living Social and Groupon deals to buy the NASCAR experience?  Yeah, us, too.  And we did it!  Please note THIS IS NOT FOR KIDS.  This is for mom or dad or grandpa or grandma (go granny) or whoever else in your life is interested in driving fast.  But since Santa may still have some shopping to do we thought we'd let him know about this.
I bought DH a ticket for this as his gift at Christmas last year - the Living Social deal to the NASCAR driving experience through the Mario Andretti Race Experience outfit.  There are a couple of different options you can purchase - Indy car or NASCAR experience, a ride along where you sit next to a professional driver in the car, a 5 minute drive, or an 8 minute drive.  Obviously everything is priced according to what you pick.

This is not for the feint of heart.  You go super fast, which I guess is kind of the point.  If you do the ride along you can get up to 180 mph.  When you drive yourself there is a governor on it that limits you to 150 mph or so but DH was officially clocked going 155 mph.  For real.

We are not a NASCAR family (nothing wrong with it, just too many other things to focus on to add another sport in the mix) and we loved this.  We drove on the Charlotte Motor Speedway's infield to check in and my heart was racing.  The sheer enomority of the place hits you when you crest up on to the infield and the sounds are phenomenally powerful.

Things that surprised us-
- You are NOT the only driver on the track.  You will be out there with other drivers.  Clearly this can be dangerous.  All drivers are required to (of course have a valid driver's license as well as) do a 1 hour safety course.  It is a stick shift in the car so they work you through that and accelerating to go is pretty important so they spend some time on that technique.
- You are hooked to a radio in your helmet transmitting from a driving coach.  You must do what the driving coach says.  If you don't they pull you off the track immediately and you are banned from all NASCAR events and stores forever.  Ok, not that drastic, but pretty bad.  It's for safety.  Everyone needs to behave.

- Although you may only be driving for 5 minutes you could be waiting for up to 3 hours at the track for your turn.  Plan accordingly.  Kids are more than welcome to run around but we bought sound muffling earmuffs (EARMUFFS) for C when he went because it is super loud down there.

- It can get hot.  These events take place in a few racetracks around the US but only on select weekends.  Which means that you are primarily looking at hot months and drivers have to wear flame resistant suits while driving.

- If it rains and the track gets wet you can not drive at high speeds.  They do their best, given how many people they run through this program every day, to make sure you can drive but they will not compromise safety.  We got rained out our first try and came back for a second go at it on a beautiful day.

This was crazy fun for DH.  It was a wild ride and he loved it.  Not sure we would pay full price (the Living Social/Groupon sites are always offering discounts on these) but it was a great gift for him.  You can take all the photos and video at the race experience your heart desires so document it all for the world to know.  It's the gift that keeps on giving....bragging rights.

NASCAR Race Experience
http://www.andrettiracing.com/
a variety of tracks throughout the US- see website for details

Friday, December 14, 2012

The ULTIMATE Baby Stuff Giveaway

Somehow I was fortunate enough to land a bunch of baby equipment here at Mom in Chapel Hill.  Like, really awesome baby equipment such as....
  • 2 Stork Stacks
This is the newest in online subscription services and I love it.  You can go online and either sign yourself or one lucky recipient up for a variety of options: 3 months, 6 months, or a full year.  Each month Stork Stack will deliver a package full of five high quality items appropriate for the baby's age. 

I have 2 Stork Stacks for expecting parents to giveaway.  This Shower Stack (which can be purchased separately from a monthly subscription or as part of) includes:

one pair of BabyLegs Legwarmers, aden + anais Muselin Swaddle, Earth Mama Angel Baby Body Butter, Sticky Bellies Monthly Milestone Stickers, and a Wubbanub Limited Edition Monkey. 

This is over a $75 value of fabulous products I personally love.

Check out Stork Stack online at www.storkstack.com.  Not only is the product itself gorgeous and highly recommended, the company gives back to the community with the help of Operation Showers of Appreciation and Baby Buggy.

But that's not all, we're also giving away....
  • 1 BabyGanics Home Cleaning Bundle
This bundle includes a product to clean every surface in your house (bathtub, highchair, toys, windows, floors & more) and the best news to parents it is all made from naturally safe and effective cleaning products.  That means these are not harmful to your baby.  Plus, folks, they WORK.  It's a win-win.  I have black granite in my kitchen and these do a great job of cleaning and shining them and I have the added benefit of knowing that they are safe.  There are 5 products in the bundle and it costs over $25.

See BabyGanics online to buy a bundle but you can always purchase individual items at Babies R Us and Buy Buy Baby.

  • 2 Babies R Us Purely Simple Starter Kits
I know that a lot of women intend to breastfeed but it is always a good idea to have good bottles on hand regardless of what your plan is.  You never know.  So Babies R Us is offering a great starter kit with bottles that are easy to clean, anti-colic, with venting systems.

Each starter kit includes: 2 5-oz bottles, 2 9-oz bottles, 4 slow-flow nipples, 4 Vent-Tec anti-colic valves, 2 Air-Flow pacifier, 1 on-the-go formula storage container, and 1 bottle brush with attachable nipple brush.  Everything is BPA free.  Each Simple Starter Kit retails for $24.99 and you can find them at any Babies R Us (www.babiesrus.com).

  • 1 Mama and Papas Baby Snug seat
This is the newest in infant seats and I am a fan.  Some friends had babies with the dimplest cutest baby-fat legs that had problems with infant seats.  Yet the Baby Snug has interchangeable padding inserts.  The ergonomic form contours to your baby's form and as your baby grows you remove the foam for more space.  There is a removable tray, it is seriously ligthweight, and it is very easy to clean.  The Baby Snug currently sells at all Babies R Us locations for $59.99 (www.babiesrus.com).



You can see there is a LOT of great, new stuff here I am thrilled to share with you.  We're going to be selecting a few winners, too.

ONE lucky person will WIN A FULL PACKAGEThat means 1 Stork Stack, the BabyGanics Home Cleaning Bundle, the Babies R Us Purely Simple Starter Kit, and the Mama and Papas Baby Snug seat.  I am not great at math, but that is close to $200 in baby gear, all of it great and useful.

ONE lucky person will WIN A STORK STACK FOR EXPECTING PARENTS
and
ONE lucky person will WIN A BABIES R US PURELY SIMPLE STARTER KIT

What can I say, we have a lot of love to give (ho ho ho).

Enter using the Rafflecopter link below and you have 2 weeks, until December 28th, to enter.  Best of luck!

All products were provided to me complimentary; however, all reviews and commentary are fully my own.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Arts & Crafts Thursday: Handprint Reindeer

I am a sucker for handprint art as you know.  I saw an image out there on the Pinternet that, albeit it had no tutorial, I knew we could replicate.  So here it is: a handprint reindeer to melt your heart.

Supplies:

  • brown construction paper
  • pencil
  • scissor
  • glue
  • googly eye
  • pipe cleaners
  • red pompom or sequin
Other things you might want to have:
  • hot glue
  • ribbon
  • sequins
  • marker
How-to:

Start by tracing your child's hand on to the paper.  Cut out.  Turn upside down and start creating your reindeer.

We added one googly eye using a glue stick and one red sequin for the nose. (Cheater's tip: I cut the thumb on my hand a little as it was looking a lot more like a anteater.  So I cheated a little on mine.)
We cut pipe cleaners down and attached some to the top of the reindeer's head for antlers.  We then drew hooves on the reindeer's feet using a black marker.

From there the sky is the limit.  I used ribbon and sequins to accessorize mine.  C managed to find a little bell and a bow that he decided to use.  Let your imagine go.


I ended up going back when C was done and refastening items like the bell and bow with hot glue.  Obviously, don't let the kids get their hands on that and keep that glue gun far from little fingers.

I think this is so cute and C loves that we each have one.  So enjoy!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ye Olde Waffle Shoppe

I love old school diners - and I was appropriately thrilled when C announced our "lunch" at Ye Olde Waffle Shoppe on Franklin Street "delicious."  What's not for a young kid to love?  He got to eat bacon and a batch of M&M pancakes as big as his face.

Ye Olde Waffle Shoppe is right across from UNC's main campus and has been an institution since 1972 (yes, that is older than me....but not by much).  Inside the front looks very much like a diner with the cooking area exposed with countertops to pull up a barstool.  Head towards the back and you'll find an area more like a "restaurant" with booths and tables and traditionsal seating.

Ye Olde Waffle Shoppe hasn't changed much in the 40 years it's been around.  The interior is not modern and sparkly.  However, if you want afriendly welcome and good old-fashioned breakfast (any time of day) this is where you go.  The service was fast and very friendly (and they kept my coffee mug full at all times), and the food was reasonably priced.
 
C really appreciated the fact that pancakes here could be had with M&M's in them OR Reese's Pieces.  The pancakes are huge and you might be watching your child bounce out, but it was totally worth it.

In short, we're pleased that Ye Olde Waffle Shoppe has been a wonderful part of UNC tradition for 40 years now.

Ye Olde Waffle Shoppe
http://yeoldewaffleshoppe.com/
173 E. Franklin Street
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Ph: (919) 929-9192

M – F | 7:00am – 2:00pm
Sa – Su | 8:00am – 2:30pm

Monday, December 10, 2012

West Point on the Eno - Durham

Are you all amazed with this weather?  December in North Carolina giveth.  And we taketh.  To take advantage of the opportunity to get some wild and high energy kids outside my friend and I spent the morning at West Point on the Eno the other week.
This is one of the few historic parks in Durham (like Leigh Farm, Bennett Place, and Duke Homestead).  There is an old mill here, a bunch of buildings dating back to as early as 1778 (some housing museums), 388 acres of land, 2 miles of track on the Eno River, an ampitheatre, a garden, beautiful walking trails, and picnic facilities.  There are various educational programs held at West Point park that you can see at this link here.  Canoe and kayak rentals are also available at West Point park and you can get more information on that here or even put in your own kayak.

West Point has many opportunities to get in the Eno River, too.  At this park there are plenty of spots to wade in and get your feet wet - not that we did that this trip but certainly something to remember for the warmer days of summer.

We ended up taking the kids on a great little hike.  West Point on the Eno has a lot of really accessible trails that weave in and out of the woods and down to the water.  Our kids really enjoyed this and I loved seeing the views of the river through the trees.  The trails are not long and our group especially enjoyed going over the pedestrian bridge and looking down at the Eno.

We packed a picnic lunch and spent some time eating at one of the numerous picnic tables available here.  There are also expanses of lawn where you can find some shade under a tree and enjoy your food.

The buildings are open for visitors 1 - 5 pm on the weekends only mid-March through December.  Admission to the park is free and gates are open year-round from sun up to sun down.

There are public restroom facilities open when the park is.

West Point on the Eno hosts the hugely popular Festival for the Eno 4th of July weekend every year.

West Point on the Eno Park
http://www.enoriver.org/eno/parks/WestPoint/westpoint.html
5101 N Roxboro Street
Durham
919-471-1623

Friday, December 7, 2012

Great Wolf Lodge - Concord

From Sarah C.:

On the spur of the moment, DH suggested to me a stay at Great Wolf Lodge in Concord. We had a few good reasons to celebrate and our weekend lodging plans had fallen through so why not toss in a little adventure?

Before we left, we simply showed D a few photos online. Keep in mind, this 3 year old had never even been to a water park or a hotel. The horror, right? The photos alone had him excited during the road trip and begging to get out of his car seat the moment the Lodge was in view.

Great Wolf Lodge has a number of room options from more traditional style hotel room to various suite options. We selected the KidKamp Suite which featured a separate "room" designed to look a tent. Inside was a bunk, small table and wall mounted tv. Admittedly we set the bar high in the room alone for our son's first hotel stay. He'll expect all hotels to have a "tent" now. As parents, we loved it because it did give him his own kid-sized space and, minus one venture to our side of the room at 11pm, spent the entire night in his own bed.

The main feature of GWL is the indoor waterpark. There is an outdoor section, but, of course, that is closed this time of year. We spent most of our time in a fenced area with secure gate designed specifically for the little ones. We also took turns trying out water slides, took a dip in the wave pool (D learned the warning sound quick and scrambled to "shore" before the waves came), and I even dared to try a floating obstacle course. Proud to say I didn't fall into the water, but it was definitely not my most graceful moment!


Beyond the waterpark there are a lot of other activities spread out throughout the resort. We didn't try any due to time constrictions, but did wander a bit to take a peek. These include arcade, MagiQuest & Compass Quest, kids spa, Creation Station (make your own stuffed animal), bowling and mini golf. Note there are fees for these added options. You can purchase individually or buy a multipass (Paw Pass) for each child.

Daily activities included in the stay will be listed on a schedule given to you at check-in. The story time each evening in front of the fire in the lobby is supposed to be quite popular. I confess we missed it while playing in the water park! Next time.

Things to remember ...
  • Check-in is at 4pm. You can access any "dry" area of the resort beforehand and enter the water park as early as 1pm the day you arrive. Check-out is at 11am with a fee for late check out. You will have access to the water park until 9pm on the day you check out. There are locker rooms (men, women & family) plus rental lockers in the water park area.
  • Water park passes are included with your room stay. Each member of your family will have a colored wristband that is your pass to the park and, for the adult ones, it also acts as your room key + resort charge option (no need to carry a wallet here).
  • Life jackets are provided for use. Personally we packed our son's Puddle Jumper and found it to be handy. Even the Cub Paw Pool which starts at zero entry got deep enough that it was reassuring to have the extra protection and, since he's used to it, we had no issues getting him to wear it.
  • The rooms have small fridges and microwaves so consider bringing some bottled water and a few snacks with you to help save on extra charges. Note there restrictions on outside foods in the water park so check the rules first.
  • The water park does have towels for use. They are small and must stay in the water park. Consider bringing your own or a cover up to wrap each family member in to stay a little warmer for your walk back to your room.
  • The water park is open 9am - 9pm. If you arrive around 9am, expect a line. My advice, hang out in your room or roam the other areas until about 9:10 to let the line disperse. As you enter the park, each child is measured and given a 2nd wristband that notes which areas he/she is tall enough for. If you didn't get one the night before or it came off (it's paper vs the plastic water pass/room key wristband), you will have to take the time to let the lifeguards measure your child and give them a new wristband.
  • Finally, personal preference here but it agrees with reviews DH & I read. We did find the mattresses to be very firm and the pillows hard. We packed D's pillow but definitely next time will be bringing our own as well. Again, personal preference but as all parents appreciate a good night's sleep, I thought I would suggest to help make your stay a tad more comfortable!


Enjoy your stay!

Great Wolf Lodge
http://www.greatwolf.com/concord/waterpark
10175 Weddington Road
Concord, NC 28027

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Arts & Crafts Thursday: Freezer Paper Stencilling

Easiest way to make custom tshirts, ever.  While you are gearing up for the holidays, think about taking an hour or so to make some custom tees.  It will be cheap and, honestly, quick.

This craft is certainly for the adult crowd to do, but it can also be done by older kids with some assistance.  In fact, I saw a link over at I Am Momma, Hear Me Roar where she hosted a freezer paper stencilling party for some older kids.  Great idea!  Here is how this easy craft work.

Supplies
  • tshirt (I got mine for 99 cents at JoAnn's)
  • Freezer Paper (it's in your grocery store near the aluminum foil)
  • fabric paint (you can get this at any craft store in a variety of colors)
  • iron
  • clip art or other design
  • scissors/craft knife
  • paint brush of any size
  • scrap paper
  • lightweight scrap cloth
Instructions

Take your Freezer Paper and trace or otherwise draw your design on to your freezer paper.  Note that you are going to put the shiny side of the Freezer Paper DOWN, so plan accordingly.  If you have a printer that can hack it you can print your design right on to your paper.  I downloaded a clipart dolphin (since this is a for a very special little niece who kind of has a thing for dolphins) and traced it on to my Freezer Paper.

Cut out your shape.  You are making a stencil so you want to remove the part you want to show up on your thsirt.  In otherwords, I cut the dolphin out and ended up with a piece of Freezer Paper with a dolphin cut out of it.  Just wanted to make sure that was clear...

Place the stencil on to your thsirt where desired with the shiny side down.  Using an iron with a medium setting - not too hot but not just warm - iron the Freezer Paper firmly but quickly to the tshirt.  It will stick pretty easily.


I recommend placing your scrap paper inside your tshirt behind where you are about to paint since it can bleed through.  Then use your fabric paint and paint your tshirt inside the stencil.  Go ahead and be liberal.

Allow the paint to dry and then gently pull the Freezer Paper away.  It will come off with no residue left behind.

Place a light cloth over the painted area and gently put firmly press the design for about 30 seconds to ensure that it sets.

That's it!  So easy!

I was amazed that I hadn't tried this craft earlier.  It look so great and took very little time...once I figured out what design I wanted.

Depending on your child there are many ways to engage them in the process.  They can design, they can paint, but I would just be careful with the iron and the craft knife.

So have fun with this, get going on some custom gifts, and let me know what you make!

Monday, December 3, 2012

New Hope Valley Railway Santa Train

C is obsessed with trains.  Last year we had a really lovely time at the Life + Science Museum's Santa train experience but this year, after a successful birthday party at New Hope Valley Railway, C had been asking to go back to NHVR.  We decided we'd go to see Santa.

If you aren't familiar with NHVR you'll want to read Marney's article about it here.  For select weekends in December Santa rides the train (check out their schedule online, see below).  Ticket prices are the same for the Santa ride as all other rides, and nearly everything about the actual experience is the same - except that everything is decorated for the holidays, Santa rides the train with the kids (and a helper elf) and gives out candy canes, and throughout the ride kids can spot decorations in the woods for the holiday season.

We decided to do this train over Life + Science this particular year because it's a real train (big seats! lots of space!), tickets are easier to get (although still purchase in advance, especially if you want a steam engine as opposed to a diesel engine), and the times worked out better for our schedule with The Bug (Life + Science runs only at night, after the Museum closes; NHVR runs only during the day as it is not lit at night).

Santa really spent a lot of time with the kids on the NHVR train.  Since the whole experience is an hour train ride he had plenty of time to sit with us, answer questions, and really spend time with the children.  And, again, it's a real train, which just makes C so ecstatic.

This doesn't have any of the activity stations you'll find at Life + Science but they do have all of the trains in museum to go through as well as the models.  Also, you can buy hot chocolate and other concessions before you go on the train (and take them on with you) at NHVR.  Life + Science is certainly a different experience being at night, with all the twinkly sparkle lights, but it really all depends on what type of thing you are looking for.

If you want a long train ride, a conversation with Santa, and a little bit less stress making it all happen, keep the NHVR Santa train in mind.



New Hope Valley Railway Santa Train
http://www.nhvry.org/
5121 Daisey Street
New Hill