2016 Summer Bucket List

IMG_5057Our neighborhood pool opened, another year of preschool finished up (including Claire’s first year and Ashley’s final year) and we had kindergarten orientation this week! Phew…it’s been a busy week, but that also means it’s time to switch gears and think summer activities!  While we were able to cross a lot off our bucket list goals from last summer, we have some of the same goals and some lofty new goals this summer.  With help from little ones, here’s my mostly kiddo-friendly summer bucket list for 2016.

  1. Visit the library
  2. Build a backyard water wall (Bill will looooove this)
  3. Visit a recreational lake
  4. Visit a farm
  5. Enjoy a bushel of crabs
  6. Visit the rivah
  7. Go to the beach
  8. Use my smoker
  9. Make pizza with ingredients from our pizza garden
  10. Explore a new brewery
  11. Visit the Durham farmer’s market
  12. Take a boat ride
  13. Visit CA
  14. Go to Frankie’s Fun Park
  15. Make ice cream sandwich brownies
  16. Wash the car
  17. Have a water balloon fight
  18. Watch an outdoor movie
  19. Go backyard camping
  20. Stay in our pjs at least until noon
  21. Go to Blacksburg
  22. Read books in the backyard
  23. Play with the sprinkler in the backyard
  24. Have a backyard breakfast picnic
  25. Paint on the easel outside
  26. Make garden tiles
  27. Catch lightning bugs

Next fall brings a new chapter in our lives with all-day kindergarten, so I’m looking forward to making great summer memories and having photos to cherish, so #bringonsummer!

Dorothea Dix Park

View of downtown from Dorothea Dix ParkWhile reading this past weekend’s N&O article about the guided tours at Dorothea Dix Park, I was reminded that I never wrote about our visit to this soon-to-be developed park from earlier this year.  Dorothea Dix Park is over 300 acres of land sandwiched between the State Farmers Market and Western Blvd.  The City of Raleigh bought the land from the state last year after several year’s effort with plans to eventually make it a destination park.

The land housed Dorothea Dix Hospital for the mentally ill from 1856 until 2012.  The hospital was named for Dorothea Lynde Dix, a Maine native who tirelessly advocated for greater care and reform for mentally ill patients.  She also served as superintendent of Army nurses for the Union in the Civil War.  Today, much of the property is under lease, and many buildings are occupied by the NC Department of Health and Human Services.

IMG_3794We originally visited Dorothea Dix Park in late January after reading about the thousands of pink flags Matt Tomasulo (of Walk [Your City]) and other volunteers planted (read more about that here), creating small trails throughout the park to encourage folks to get out and explore the city’s newly acquired land.  Even though the flags have since been taken down, it gave us a means to get out and explore the area by foot.

We parked in a small parking lot near the intersection of Smithwick Dr and Umstead Dr and walked across the street using the little pink flags as our guide.  We mostly explored the area bordered by S Boylan Ave, Umstead Dr and Rocky Branch Trail which features century-old oak trees, rolling hills, and flatter land by Rocky Branch Trail.  The rolling hills provide amazing views of downtown Raleigh and interesting tests of little ones’ gross motor skills.  The girls had a great time flying down the hills and slowly coming back up.  We also flew our kites and drew with sidewalk chalk in the sparsely wooded area in front of Picot Dr.  We watched as another park patron was racing his drone around a self-made course through the trees.

IMG_3806According to the N&O’s article, the City of Raleigh is in the very early stages of park planning where they are now accepting applications for a committee of members to help design and engage the public in the park’s planning. The City of Raleigh is also offering free guided tours of the park (looks like they’re sold out) and is partnering with the Dix Park Conservancy to offer programs throughout the summer.

Even if you can’t make it to a guided tour or program, get out and explore the park on your own – bring a picnic, fly a kite, or kick a ball around. The park is open daily from dawn to dusk and there aren’t any public restrooms. The park’s potential is the perfect crossroads of nature, city and history – it’ll be interesting to see how things develop over the years!

Additional Resources

Thumbs up: beautiful rolling hills, views into downtown Raleigh, history of land, great picnic spots, destination park potential

Thumbs down: too early to tell 😉

Pilot Mountain State Park: Ivy Bluffs Trail

Ivy Bluffs trail in Pilot Mountain State ParkOn day 2 of our Pilot Mountain State Park adventures, we headed to the Ivy Bluffs section of the park to check out the sites along the Yadkin River.  The Ivy Bluffs access point is located along the southern part of the Yadkin River in Yadkin County (northern side of river is in Surry County) off Shoals Rd at coordinates 36.25315, -80.50842.  This section is about 20 miles from the main mountain but offers some gorgeous views of the Yadkin River.

We arrived early on a cold Saturday morning and had the trail to ourselves.  There is a looped parking lot with a helpful map of the river/trail near the trailhead.  We started on the 1.3 mile moderate Ivy Bluffs trail, which began on a steady 1/4 mile decline down to the river level.  Along the way we saw gorgeous views of the wide, but fast-flowing Yadkin River through the barren trees from the bluffs.  The cliffs were high but nowhere as dramatic as the ones around Jomeokee Trail. When the trail flattened out near the river we passed a canoe put-in and large camping area complete with picnic tables and designated camping spots.  We continued on the trail, which parallels the river for 1/2 mile and circles back around near the large camping area.  Before looping around we stopped near a sandy spot by the water for a short picnic break.  After we got going again, we spotted several animal footprints and checked out the rocks and moss along the backside of the looped trail.

IMG_4189This trail is about 1.3 miles in total length and is marked as being moderate.  The only moderate part of the hike was heading up the bluffs on the way back.  The parts along the river were flat and quiet, the only sounds coming from the river and wee ones.  In the future when the kids are much bigger I’d love to explore this area further by canoe and camping!

Thumbs up: gorgeous views of river, great trail for hiking with kids, future canoeing/camping opportunities

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Pilot Mountain State Park: Jomeokee Trail

pilot mountain state parkTwo months ago our family headed west to Dobson, NC to visit old neighbors and friends whose son was having a first birthday.  Wanting to extend the trip so we could explore more of the Yadkin Valley area, we made it a three-day trip so we could visit Pilot Mountain State Park, the nearby towns, and vineyards.  Having passed Pilot Mountain dozens of times via US-52 on our way to Blacksburg, VA we had always wanted to explore this area.

We tried our luck with Airbnb and rented Stony Knoll Vineyards Wine Lodge from the Coe family, a really interesting pre-Civil War log cabin that was renovated in 2007 with all the modern necessities.  The cabin sits across the street from Stony Knoll Vineyards, also owned by the Coe family.  The cabin, which has been in the Coe family ever since 1896, was the perfect blend of rustic and coziness for our family. It’s a two-story cabin with a king-size bedroom and loft with twin bed upstairs; full bath, double bed, TV/sitting area and fully-equipped kitchen on the first floor.

Big PinnacleAfter a restful sleep on Thursday night we got up early and headed for Pilot Mountain State Park.  We made a beginner’s mistake by going to the Bean Shoals Access of Pilot Mountain and after a 20 minute detour we found the main entrance to the park (1792 Pilot Knob Park Road) and winded our way up the 2 mile curvy, paved road past the visitor center to the parking lot at the summit.  Pilot Mountain has a uniquely shaped mountaintop, Big Pinnacle, with bare rocks on the steep sides and vegetation covering the top.  This mountain is part of the ancient Sauratown Mountains. Big Pinnacle served as a landmark for Indians and pioneer settlers back in the days.

The parking lot area has several overlooks for catching beautiful views of the valleys below and Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.  It was a super chilly yet sunny morning so we quickly made our way to the trailhead by following the path behind the bathrooms.

Rocks on Big PinnacleJomeokee Trail is a short 0.8 mile looped hike around the base of big pinnacle sitting at 2400 ft elevation.  To the Saura Indians, the earliest known inhabitants of the area, the mountain was known as Jomeokee, the “Great Guide” or “Pilot.” We headed around the trail counterclockwise, climbing up and down rock steps.  There was little up and down terrain on the trail, but the cliff views were impressive to say the least.  The trail can get rather narrow and offers some really up close views of the 200 ft Big Pinnacle.  After making it about halfway around the base, our crew decided to call it a success and head back, given the cliff views were getting a little too hairy and too close for comfort (there are no railings).

So, we walked back down the main path passing the trailhead to Ledge Spring (1.8 miles, strenuous trail) and Little Pinnacle Overlook (0.1 miles, easy trail).  We took the easy, short 0.1 mile walk to the Little Pinnacle Overlook so we could get another great view of Big Pinnacle across the way.  Amazed at the massiveness of Big Pinnacle and the valley below, we took in the sights a few minutes more and then sat on a bench near the kid-friendly TRACK trail for lunch.

The kid-friendly TRACK trail follows the moderate 0.3 mile Sassafras Trail along a fire-based ecosystem with great views of Big Pinnacle.  It leads to an overlook inhabited at the time by hungry-looking vultures that we avoided!  We saw deer and lots of different vegetation along the way.  TRACK trail is part of the Kids in Parks initiative that was started in 2008 as a way to encourage families to get outdoors and explore.  This regional network of trails has proved so successful it’s expanded to 7 states and DC and includes more than just hiking trails.

After a day of hiking we visited the nearby town of Elkin, NC where we walked around the busy main street area and had a delicious dinner and craft beers at 222 Public House.

Stay tuned for my next post highlighting a different section of Pilot Mountain State Park!

More Resources

  • Pilot Mountain State Park map
  • History of Pilot Mountain State Park
  • Kids in Parks network of family-friendly adventures

Thumbs up: beautiful views, family-friendly trails, access to overlooks, having public bathrooms at top of mountain, well marked trails and maps

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Mother’s Day 2016

Image-1Celebrate the Mom in your life with an adventure!  Here’s a list of upcoming organized events in the local parks and my personal mix of outdoor outings combined with food and beer (give Mom what she really wants)!  Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there and cheers to making fun memories.

 

Organized Programs

  • Mother’s Day Tea Party at Greystone Recreation Center (Tuesday, May 3 from 10-11am) – Enjoy time with your mom/caregiver at our Mother’s Day Tea Party where children will create a special gift for their mother and enjoy juice and cookies; ages 18-months to 4 years; $7; adult participation required for ages under 4; program barcode #189063
  • Tour Dorothea Dix Park (Wednesday, May 4 at 11:30am) – Enjoy a 1.5 hour walking tour covering the history of the land and the legacy of Dorothea Dix, the current use of the area as the headquarters of the Department of Health and Human Services and the steps the City will take in planning a future park; FREE; pre-registration is required
  • Strawberry Picking with Fit4Mom Midtown Raleigh Stroller Strides (Thursday, May 5 at 3:30pm) – Join a great group of moms and kiddos for strawberry picking, homemade ice cream and more at Porter Farms & Nursery in Willow Springs; sign-up via Meetup
  • Mother’s Day Surprise program at Optimist Park (Friday, May 6 at 12:30pm or Saturday, May 7 at 12:30pm): creative arts-and-craft project or edible creation; ages 3-5; $7; program barcode #188078 or #188079pre-registration is required
  • Birding with Vernon at Lake Crabtree County Park (Saturday, May 7 from 8:30-10am) – Discover different types of birds and their habitats during an easy walk with bird enthusiast, Vernon; meeting at Waterwise Gardens; Free, no preregistration required
  • Family Friendly Tour: Animal Farm at NC Art Museum (Saturday, May 7 at 10:30am or Sunday, May 8 at 10:30am) – take a guided tour looking for farm animals in the galleries; ages 5-11 with adult companion; FREE; plan ahead and bring a picnic lunch or stay for lunch at Iris
  • Mill Heritage and Local History Tour at Historic Yates Mill County Park (Sunday, May 8 from 2-3pm) – Watch a brief slideshow, then explore the inner workings of the mill itself and witness the power of water as it turns the milling machinery; $5/Adult, $4/Senior (ages 60+), $3/Child (ages 7-16), Children ages 6 & younger are free; preregistration is encouraged
  • May Flower Folly at Historic Yates Mill County Park (Sunday, May 8 from 3:30-4:30pm) – Celebrate Mother’s Day in nature with a hike around Yates Mill Pond while searching for wildflowers, listening to a few flowery poems, learning about locally flowering plants and hear the latest buzz on local pollinators; for all ages; FREE; online registration
mother's day
My mom and I, summer 1981

Get Out & Explore with Mom

Joslin Garden: 2016 Open Garden Day

Joslin Garden
pic from Joslin Garden in 2012

It’s always fun and interesting to re-visit a place you haven’t been to in awhile and I look forward to exploring Joslin Garden for Open Garden Day this upcoming Saturday.  Joslin Garden is a private residence inside the beltline that features over four wooded acres of rare and native plants.  William and Mary Coker Joslin have gifted their home and garden to the City of Oaks Foundation and City of Raleigh Parks & Rec Dept.  Currently, the garden is open one day a year, but in the future, the garden will be opened year-round.

When I first visited the garden four years ago I was blown away by all the flowers, vegetables and plants, little pathways, streams of flowing water, and cute garden decor.  The gardens felt enchanting, romantic and whimsical.  It’s hard to believe a private garden of this size exists inside the beltline. I was happy to share it with Ashley back then, even if she was only 13 months old at the time and I look forward to re-discovering this secret garden this weekend, hopefully with a little one at my side.

Joslin Garden Open Garden Day Infoimg_1073

  • Saturday, April 23, 2016 from 12pm-5pm
  • 2431 West Lake Drive, park only on one side of West Lake Drive
  • features self-guided tours of private gardens
  • there are no public restrooms
  • event flyer

Honeycutt Creek Trail: Strickland Rd to Honeycutt Park (MP 2.25 to 3.5)

honeycutt creek trailAfter exploring the northernmost section of East Mine Fork Trail, we crossed Strickland Road via the pedestrian access near West Millbrook Middle School to catch up with Honeycutt Creek Trail.  Heading east on Strickland Rd, we shortly passed mile marker 3.5 for Honeycutt Creek Trail.  Honeycutt Creek Trail was part of the 2003 & 2007 bond referendum that opened about a year ago and features 5.6 miles of greenway, some of which is unpaved.
Continuing on Strickland Rd, we followed greenway signs and turned left onto Carriage Tour Ln, which offered some great views of the gorgeous homes in the neighborhood.  Following the signs, we turned right on Chatterson Dr and found the official entrance to Honeycutt Creek Trail at 305 Chatterson Dr.  The beginning of the trail starts in dramatic fashion along a tall concrete walkway built between the homes of the Bent Tree neighborhood and forest that backs up to I-540.  The concrete walkway then leads into a slightly inclined wooden walkway that sits high off the ground offering great views of the nearby creek, residential homes and neighborhood pond.

pedestrian tunnelAfter running along the walkways we crossed under the I-540 pedestrian tunnel near the 2.75 mile marker.  I was pretty out of breath pushing the double stroller up the small hills we’d run so far, but I was definitely not prepared for the long, steep hills on the other side of the pedestrian tunnel.  Holy hills, Batman! Thankfully, Honeycutt Park (our destination) was only 1/2 mile away.  Honeycutt Park seems to be one of the lesser visited parks, yet it has great playgrounds with fun features for kids of all ages.  It also holds a special place in my heart as it was the last park our then family of 3 visited before little Claire was born (I have vivid memories of sweating it out in the full July sun).  The playground is in full sun, but there is a large nearby pavilion along with other park features including sand volleyball courts, basketball courts, and baseball fields.

After some playground time and a picnic lunch at the pavilion we headed back the way we came.  I was thankful the route was downhill, but had to work hard to control the heavy stroller down the steep hills.

If you wanted to continue north along Honeycutt Creek Greenway, follow the trail through the park and along Honeycutt Road to the Durant Rd intersection where it transitions to an unpaved trail.  According to the map, it continues north to Raven Ridge Rd where it connects with the South Shore Trail (part of Mountains-to-Sea Trail).  A note of caution: a portion of the unpaved trail between Durant Rd and Raven Ridge Rd is managed by the NC Wildlife Refuge Commission, which allows seasonal bow hunting.  According to the website, brightly colored vests are available for temporary use and signs display making it obvious of the game lands you’re entering.

Additional Resources:

Thumbs up: connectivity to Honeycutt Park and beyond

Thumbs down: steep hills

Mini Post: Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet

IMG_3704After our visit to Huntington Beach State Park in Murrells Inlet, we headed across the street (literally) to Brookgreen Gardens to spend time at the zoo, storybook playhouses and nature playground.  Brookgreen Gardens is located at 1931 Brookgreen Drive off US-17 and features thousands of acres of gardens and sculptures, a low country zoo, beautiful light displays in the evenings at Christmastime, educational programs and much more.

We didn’t have time to visit the gardens, but spent about an hour walking the 1-mile+ loop and visiting the animals through the zoo.  We saw domesticated animals such as cows, horses, turkeys and several native animals such as alligators, bald eagles, foxes, otters.  The aviary features a boardwalk elevated over a swamp where you walk through the birds’ habitat to see several different types of birds including herons and egrets.

After seeing the animals we walked over to the Storybook Playhouse area where the kids explored every inch of the storybook-themed houses for Cinderella’s Castle, Hansel & Gretel’s gingerbread house, Snow White’s cottage, Dr. Seuss, and Rapunzel’s tower.  Then the kiddos climbed, jumped and banged around the nearby nature playground.  They seemed to mostly enjoy making music with the pots and pans secured to the wall.

Brookgreen Gardens is an enormous place; we hardly dusted the surface of this Lowcountry garden and zoo.  In looking at their website, they have lots of cool exhibits and events scheduled for their 85th anniversary this year, including LEGO sculptures on display at the zoo.

Thumbs up: variety of activities, native animals, aviary exhibit

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Celebrating a 5-year Old & the Top 5 Bike Riding Parks for Preschoolers

IMG_4304And, just like that, I have a 5-year old daughter!  Lately, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the past 5 years and this birthday is hard to accept.  This birthday means the kindergarten milestone is just around the corner in August and it’ll be her first birthday I can’t share with my mom.  My baby is really growing up and it’s hard to put into words what this birthday means other than I’m just so proud of the smart, independent, fun, and crazy lego-building-tutu-wearing-acrobatic girl she has become.

Speaking of acrobatics, Ashley has fallen in love with bike riding.  We went the balance bike to two-wheel bike route and it really worked for her.  She was highly motivated to keep up with the bigger girls on our street and loves to ride in the nearby culdesac.  With intentions of taking her on the greenway soon, we’ve been exploring different parks in the area to get her more comfortable with riding (and most importantly, braking)!  Here are our top 5 favorite local parks for bike riding:

  1. IMG_3813Isabella Cannon Park (central Raleigh, ITB) – has a great 1/4 mile loop with nearby playground for younger ones to enjoy; I feel safe letting her ride by herself on the loop because I’m close enough to run to her on foot if she falls while also keeping an eye on Claire at the playground
  2. Anderson Point Park (east Raleigh) – has a mix of flat and gentle hills in a 2/3 mile paved loop; great biking spot to teach them about being alert and staying on the right side of the trail because there is steady bike/foot traffic; provides a great family bike ride option where you can pull younger children in the bike trailer and/or connect to the nearby Neuse River and Crabtree Creek greenways
  3. E. Carroll Joyner Park (Wake Forest) – fun advanced spot for little bike riders!  This park has lots of gentle rolling hills and open trails offering clear views of the traffic ahead.  With nearly three miles of paved trails, there are different loops of varying distances and scenery to practice riding and enjoy.  The trail that follows the perimeter of the park crosses the main entrance road into the park, allowing for good practice at stop signs.  Pack a picnic lunch and kite and enjoy the park all day.
  4. Brier Creek Park (northwest Raleigh) – has two connected flat paved loops (1/3 mile total) surrounding open fields and toddler playground area; kids have easy views of the traffic in front of them, but paths are narrow; bathrooms are nearby for pit stops
  5. Walnut Street Park (Cary) – has a twisty 0.4 mile paved trail that loops through wetlands, sparse forest, open fields, and two playground areas; with the high popularity of this park, this could be a good place to practice bike safety skills

Huntington Beach State Park in Murrells Inlet, SC

IMG_3652Over New Years we spent time with dear friends at their parent’s new home in Murrells Inlet, SC. I’ve known Jennie since 6th grade and Bill and Jennie’s husband, Gary, became fast friends over a decade ago when we first met Gary. With growing families and distance (they’ve been in Columbus, OH) our time spent together has been few and far between. Lucky for us they are moving to the Greater Raleigh area this Spring so our families will get more time together, which is great news for us and our kids, as they’ve all become fast friends too!

IMG_3662The weather was unusually warm around New Years so shortly after arriving we took advantage of the remaining sun and made the short drive to Huntington Beach State Park, located at 16418 Ocean Hwy in Murrells Inlet. This park is named after Anna Hyatt & Archer Huntington who lived on the land and the adjacent Brookhaven Gardens (more on this in an upcoming mini-post).  After paying a small daily per person fee at the gate, we followed the road over the saltwater marshes to the main parking lot area near the Education Center (more on this below). This state park offers amazing beach access, an Education Center with live animals, fishing, hiking, camping and much more. With it being close to sunset we headed straight for the beach with kites. We parked in the large lot in the back of the park and within a short 50-yd walk we were on the beach. The beaches at this park are pristine and expansive, about 3 miles long and offer lots of space to plop down beach chairs, fly kites, or go for walks. The kids loved chasing each other around, running into the calm surf, and taking turns with the kites.  Before leaving we washed our feet off on in the convenient outside showers.  The 1930s Moorish-style winter home the Huntingtons lived in, Atalaya, is still standing near the back parking lot and offers regular tours.  Maybe we’ll catch a tour next time we’re in town!

IMG_3688The next day we returned to the park to explore the Education Center, which is only open during daytime hours and offers daily feeding times where you can watch and learn how they feed several of the animals.  With about two dozen animals to look at and learn about, we spent well over an hour in the center.  They have a touch-tank with a horseshoe crab and stingray, a star fish, baby alligator, terrapins, snakes, turtles, and some hands-on exhibits about the nearby environment.  The tanks are at perfect heights for little ones to get in on the action. After we exhausted the Education Center, the kids enjoyed a snack on the outdoor benches and we ran along the boardwalk overlooking the saltwater marshes.  We learned about the numerous inhabitants – spider crabs, stone crabs, snapping shrimp, oysters, alligators, and lots of birds.  Even though we didn’t see any of the 50-100 alligators living in the park we saw several oysters and lots of birds up close!

Speaking of oysters, this town is the place to enjoy oysters.  Both nights we visited we went to fabulous restaurants and had some of the freshest seafood.  Murrells Inlet is a jewel of a small town with a happening Marsh Walk area of live music, bars and restaurants.  Located about 15 minutes south of Myrtle Beach, it seems worlds away from the busy beaches to the north.

More resources

Thumbs up: beautiful beaches, super kid-friendly Education Center and variety of animals to see, easy access to beach area

Thumbs down: nothing to report