And now it’s August

We have moved.

I knew blogging would get short-changed during the move, but I didn’t quite anticipate how long it would take to feel settled enough to pick it up again. One post that I still must write is my official good-bye to Durham. There is so much that I love about that city, from living there 8 years (not long in the grand scheme, but a quarter of my life so far, and more than half of my adult life), plus having all of our kids born there, and I want to sum up some of that. But in the meantime, I want to share some of the good things we’ve found in our new home: Forest Hill, Maryland.

So, without further ado, and in no particular order, 10 great things about Forest Hill, MD:

1. Centre United Methodist Church.

Ok, I kind of have to put that (it’s why we are here, after all), but it’s also true. We’ve been very warmly welcomed into the congregation here and are starting to find our way in our new church home.

2. About the best blend of rural and urban that suburbia could hope for.

We can see horses from the back of the church, there is a big farm field on the way to church, and a beautiful state park is just a few miles up the road. It only takes a few minutes of driving to feel very much out in the country. But drive a few minutes the other way, and we’re in downtown Bel Air, with both a charming main street and big box suburban strip right around the corner. We haven’t actually gone into Baltimore yet, but we could get to most parts of the city in under an hour. It’s a pretty nice combination of worlds.

3. The post office.

Seriously, the Forest Hill post office is one of the friendliest and easily THE most efficient post office I’ve ever been in.

4. Multiple ice cream options.

We’ve got Wilson’s Corner down the street (the kids’ favorite for the small merry-go-round that is also there…and at 50 cents, it’s the best value ride I’ve come across recently), Broom’s Bloom over in Bel Air (local creamery that also has some lunch options we want to try out sometime), and the Ice Cream Hut next to our grocery store…and those are just the ones we’ve gotten around to trying.

5. The parks

We have a great park with a playground right down the street, and Rocks State Park just a little bit further. We’ve also played at several larger playgrounds nearby, despite some misadventures (a wasp sting at one, and the sheer size of the other one). We are still finding our footing here, but there is no doubt that there are great parks around.

Rocks State Park. There is a better view if you go further out, but it's a pretty steep drop, and I had all three kids along. Nope.

Rocks State Park. There is a better view if you go further out, but it’s a pretty steep drop, and I had all three kids along. Nope.

Another view at Rocks.

Another view at Rocks.

6. Produce options.

As with ice cream, and because of the near-rural location, we have lots of farm options for produce. We haven’t signed up for any CSA’s yet (and I think at this point, we will probably hold off until next spring), but there are several produce stands and farms that sell their produce a short drive from our neighborhood. Additionally, the Bel Air Farmer’s Market is great–we just have to stop forgetting that it closes at 11 AM, not noon!

7. Fun day trips.

We’ve just barely scratched the surface on this so far, but we are in a good location for some nice day trips. We spent one Friday going up to Lancaster County and riding on the Strasburg Railroad. There are lots of places in Baltimore I’d like to check out, and even DC isn’t too far if we plan correctly. We’ve also had friends tells us that we can do day trips to the beach, which we’ll have to try out at some point.

8. Seeing old friends.

Speaking of friends, we’ve gotten to see several friends from college, and I got to have dinner with a childhood family friend and her husband (hosted graciously by my sister!) before they head out to Utah for a postdoc opportunity. We’ve also had several NC friends visit, which reminds me that it’s good to have friends all over!

9. Proximity to the water.

We don’t have a boat and I’m not a big seafood eater. But it’s still fun to be back in a part of the country where you are never very far from the water. The kids and I have gone down to the Anita C. Leight Estuary Center, and Mark and I spent our anniversary going out to Havre de Grace. We’ve all goggled at the Conowingo Dam when driving up to Cecil County. I’m sure the longer we are here, the more we’ll find to enjoy about living so close to the Chesapeake Bay again.

At the estuary center.

At the estuary center.

The lighthouse at Havre de Grace.

The lighthouse at Havre de Grace.

10. Proximity to family.

We knew when we moved that this was going to be one of the high points of coming back to Maryland, and it is. We’ve already benefitted from several day trips down to visit family and several instances of family visiting us. All of our parents came to church for our first Sunday, we’ve gone to a Nationals’ game with my sister, the guys took both grandpas to an Ironbirds’ game, and our three-year-old’s birthday party was as packed as any we’ve had–all family members. Having our families nearby definitely helps make it feel like we’ve come “home.”

Now that we are starting to put down new roots, I hope to get back to blogging more regularly, so stay tuned…

P.S. I’ve reached 100 posts!

Out of the void…

Here are some things I did not do in the month of April:

  • Keep track of the library books we read.
  • Actually, go to the library that much.
  • Blog. (Well, except for my monthly post for the Hub.)
  • Pack anything in our house.
  • Catch up on laundry (yes, you can insert a laugh track here).
  • Re-organize the file cabinet (ditto).

Some things I did do, instead:

  • Attend the 2014 NC Literary Festival.
    Our Lego creation of Cinderella's carriage.

    Our Lego creation of Cinderella’s carriage.

    Hunt Library (my first time visiting!)

    Hunt Library (my first time visiting!)

    Three kids enthralled by the "book robots" at Hunt.

    Three kids enthralled by the “book robots” at Hunt.

  • Enjoy the redbuds during our last spring living in NC.

    Redbuds (yes, they look purple)

    Redbuds (yes, they look purple)

  • Share meals and catching up time with some friends and family members.
  • Celebrate Easter. (I have really cute pictures, but they are basically all of the kids. Instead, enjoy this version of the Widor Toccata that my husband arranged for organ and saxophone quartet: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dldzAgsQor0 )
  • Have a dog visit for a week.Angel
  • Visit the Life and Science Museum several times, and Marbles once.
  • Go hiking at Eno River State Park.
    Pretty view of the Eno River.

    Pretty view of the Eno River.

    Can you find the bridge in the picture?

    Can you find the bridge in the picture?

    Favorite activity of the day: stone throwing into the river.

    Favorite activity of the day: stone throwing into the river.

  • Finally see the movie Frozen.
  • Celebrate a 6th birthday.

    Another perk of living in NC: strawberries in season for an April birthday.

    Another perk of living in NC: strawberries in season for an April birthday.

  • Go to a Durham Bulls Game.

DBAPNot such a bad month.

 

Field Trip: Duke Gardens

Duke Gardens is one of our favorite places that we don’t visit often enough. Over the spring, summer, and early fall, we stop by every single week to pick up our produce box, but we don’t take time to go and enjoy the gardens every time. This summer, we got there about 3-4 times total. Duke Gardens is a beautiful gardens on Duke’s campus that’s open to the public. You have to pay for parking, and you can buy duck food in the garden gift shop, but it’s overall an inexpensive outing. My kids love feeding the ducks, and since we almost always go in the afternoons, it’s a good place to get wiggles and crazies out in the before-dinner hour.

I’ve enjoyed going to Duke Gardens since before I had kids…one of my best library school friends and I made an outing there in between our two years of school just to enjoy reading in the sunshine. There’s a beautiful variety of plants and types of gardens. I don’t think I’ve explored anywhere near everything there is, but some of my favorites are the terraced garden (weddings are often held here, but they don’t close off the whole gardens, so you can glimpse wedding parties in their finery on many weekend days!), the duck pond (of course), and the rose garden near the entrance. I’ve only been to the native plants garden once, and I’d like to explore there more, and we also have not visited the Discovery Garden, which is supposed to be perfect for kids…so hopefully we’ll make a few more visits before we leave the area.

Back in August, I managed to grab a few pictures (all on my phone, and I’m not a great photographer even with a real camera, so temper your expectations accordingly) during one of our exploration/duck feeding expeditions:

The rose garden and fountain.

The rose garden and fountain.

 

Terraced Garden

Terraced Garden.

 

Lily pads in the pond at the bottom of the terraces.

Lily pads in the pond at the bottom of the terraces.

Huge goldfish in the lily pond.

Huge goldfish in the lily pond.

 

Duck pond (ducks not really in view).

Duck pond (ducks not really in view).

Sorry, but I didn’t get any pictures of feeding the ducks–managing three children who aren’t sure whether or not to be afraid of hungry ducks is all I can manage during duck feedings.

I definitely recommend Duke Gardens as a place to enjoy the outdoors, with kids or without. Here’s their website for more information: https://gardens.duke.edu

Making the most of our last year (?) in Durham

We are looking at what may be our last year in Durham, and I’ve been wanting to put down in black and white things to do before we move away. I would say I’m 60% sure at this point that next year we’ll be moving back to the Baltimore/Washington area, where we both grew up and where both our immediate families still live. I will be about 80% sure one way or another by October, and I think we’ll know for certain by the end of February 2014. This is what we’ve always planned to do, and there are some aspects that we are definitely looking forward to (grandparents within a couple hours!), but Durham has become home in the 7 years we’ve lived here, and we will miss it a great deal.

Despite having lived here for a decent stretch now, there are many activities in the area that we either haven’t taken advantage of at all, or haven’t done as much as I would like. Here’s my list of things to do before we go, in no particular order:

  • Go to Maple View Ice Cream.
  • Walk or ride bikes on the American Tobacco Trail.
  • Visit at least 2 of these parks: Falls Lake, Umstead, Eno River, West Point on the Eno, Occoneechee Mountain. (I’ve been to the last 2, but not for awhile, and I’ve never visited the other three.)
  • Take a walk in Duke Forest.
  • Hear Will Willimon preach while he’s at Duke Memorial UMC.
  • Go to the State Fair. (We’ve been twice, but I really like it and want to try to go again this year!)
  • See an American Dance Festival performance. (I don’t know if this will be possible, since we’d have to move by July 1, but I’d like to try.)
  • Go to at least 2 Durham Bulls games. (I’m cheating on this one: we’re going to one tonight!)
  • Spend a day in Chapel Hill/Carrboro (reminiscing about my library school days, I guess…).
  • Eat at Vin Rouge and try out either Nana’s or one of the other fancy Durham restaurants we haven’t been to (obviously a kid-free selection).
  • Go to 2-3 of the choral groups performing via Duke Performances this season. (This is more on my husband’s list than mine, but I like going to hear music with him at least occasionally–and we could combine it with the one above!)
  • Take the older two kids to see the Nutcracker when it’s performed at UNC’s Memorial Hall.
  • Go to the NC Aquarium once more.

I think that about covers it. I’m sure there are things I’d like to do that I’ve missed, but I can add them later (and I don’t want the list to get too long, if I’m to have any hope of completing it!!). There are a few things I am fairly confident we will do and so didn’t list them: visiting the Life & Science Museum regularly, visiting Duke Gardens, visiting the NC Zoo 1-2 more times. It would also be great to get to either the Outer Banks or Asheville since I’ve never been to the first and only to the second once upon a time in middle school, but those will be more difficult to fit in, especially now that we have someone in school.

Anything I absolutely must add to the list?

SAH Sanity Tip #2: Leave the House

This is pretty much a no-brainer for anyone who already stays home, but it really does make life easier if you can get out of the house. My challenge is always to make sure I don’t stay so busy with playdates or field trips that I either lose track of chores that really do have to get done sometimes or tire us all out too much.

Some of our favorite places to escape:

There are lots of other places we visit less frequently–especially when we have playdates–but those are our standbys. I am grateful to have so many places around for when we just need to get out of the house! I also just recently discovered The Stir Crazy Moms’ Guide to Durham, which is a treasure trove of places in the RDU triangle area to check out. We’ve been busy enough this summer that I haven’t had a chance to check out someplace new recommended here, but I have it in mind for later in the summer or early fall!

Where I’ve Been

You go away for the weekend, and the whole house falls apart. Ok, it wasn’t very together to begin with, but any chance of blogging was on hold from last Thursday on, and I’m just now coming back to it.

Here’s where we went:

My favorite place in the world.

My favorite place in the world.

It's hard to see, but that's the waterfall back there.

It’s hard to see, but that’s the waterfall back there.

I am lucky enough to have an aunt and uncle who own a beautiful piece of land in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Sparta, NC, only 3 hours from Durham. I grew up going here in the summer, usually around the 4th of July, and now my kids are lucky enough to get to visit 2-4 times a year. It is a kid and dog paradise (and partly a paradise for my kids because there are dogs, which we don’t have at home). There is a creek in which to play (not this time, it was only in the 60’s and my kids are not at the “stand back and watch” stage for playing in water yet), lots of room to run around, several pretty paths for taking walks, and (also not this time) berries and vegetables to pick. On this trip, my daughters spent a good deal of time excavating gravel from the driveway (and then getting in trouble for dumping it in the garden), and we got to visit with some cousins who have an adorable 11 month old girl. We ate hamburgers and hot dogs, played with the dogs, and took several long walks. A good time was had by all.

Back at home, the kids have been busy:

House built by my son.

House built by my son.

Cinderella's castle, by my daughter. Apparently, Cinderella is standing on the front porch, but I couldn't see her, either.

Cinderella’s castle, by my older daughter. Apparently, Cinderella is standing on the front porch, but I couldn’t see her, either. She’s not either of the two cylinders in front, or the higher rectangular block just behind–we asked.

And one last note. We have a visitor, who likes to hang out near our rosebush:

Much too brave baby rabbit.

Much too brave baby rabbit.

He’s been in our yard for the past two weeks or so. He’s very cute, and very bold–I got pretty close when taking pictures, and we’ve had him sit only feet from us while we were standing (with children) on the back porch. I am somewhat worried that he’s going to get eaten, since he doesn’t run from much, but we’ll enjoy him in the meantime (especially since we haven’t planted a vegetable garden this year!).

So, I’m back for now.

Field Trip: North Carolina Zoo

As other stay-at-home parents know, sometimes you just have to get out of the house. This most recently happened a few weeks ago, when our visit with an aunt, cousin, and great-grandmother came to an end. My lovely children were bouncing off the wall. My husband had to go in to work, so while I usually reserve the zoo for a both-parent, pre-planned outing, I decided to go for it. It was a beautiful day and I was reminded once again how great the North Carolina Zoo is.

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Zebra.

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Lions lazing around.

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Elephant.

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Good giraffe photo.

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Baby giraffe! (Already looking pretty big.)

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Baby gorilla!!

Not all of these photos are from our most recent visit, and I realize that I don’t have any good photos of the North American animals that are kid-free, but they give you a good taste of what the NC Zoo offers. Also, the baby animals photos are from this April, so if you want to see baby animals, now is a good time to go!

The zoo is located in Asheboro, NC, and it’s a large zoo, especially in terms of area. There is a LOT of walking, and while trams are available, the waits can be long, so don’t count on using them to get around most of the time. The zoo is divided into two sections, Africa and North America. Our usual method has been to park in Africa, eat lunch before we go in (we do not generally get out of the house early enough to make the hour and a half drive before lunchtime), see African animals, see North American animals, then take the tram back to our starting point. This plan has changed somewhat as our oldest’s favorite animal has become the seal (in North America): the last time we went as a family, we parked in North America, and my (somewhat fluid) plan this past time was to see a few African animals, get to the seals in N. America as quickly as possible, then work our way back to the car and see what we had time for on the way.

Aside from the baby animals, some of the highlights from this trip included getting to play on the “Garden Friends” playground in North America (we usually make the kids skip it) and seeing the lions just before closing time, when they weren’t just lying there. We got to see the male and female lion give each other nuzzles just like in The Lion King!

Even with the workout (and with small children, sometimes because of it!), it’s a fabulous zoo and well worth the trip. While it’s not ideal to go in the middle of summer, there is a good amount of shade to help counterbalance the walking. You can bring your own stroller or rent one there. The entrance fee is quite reasonable (although the food’s pretty pricey, hence our tendency to pack a picnic), and you can also become a member, which covers your admission all year to both the zoo and the NC Aquarium. The zoo is one of our favorite  family outings here in NC.