Thursday, June 25, 2015

A New Chapter at Stir Crazy


As Katy mentioned a couple weeks ago, we've had a big change here at Stir Crazy. She moved to St. Louis and we miss her terribly. I've stepped in to helm this ship and will try and fill her awesome shoes (to mix metaphors). My name is Kat Benson, and I'm the founder of SoDu Parents Posse and have been blogging for Stir Crazy for years. I appreciate your support as I continue to curate an exhaustive collection of helpful reviews about places for families in the Triangle, and welcome anyone to submit a review of their own to scmoms.group [at] gmail.com. Here's to a new chapter in a great community resource!
We'll miss you Katy!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Kayaking on Jordan Lake

Check out this fabulous post from guest-blogger and Durham mom Jocelyn about a great active outing for you and the kiddos!  I can't wait to give this one a try.  

What it is:

For Memorial Day, I took my three children (ages 7, 5, and 3) and headed to Jordan Lake to try out a kayak trip.  It turned out to be a fantastic way to spend a morning on the water with the kids!

Jordan Lake is a favorite recreation destination for Durham, and there are quite a few posts on Stir Crazy Moms that cover the various beaches, a few hiking trails, and even camping at Jordan Lake.  But for this trip, I wanted specifically to do some paddling.

Crosswinds Boating Center, just off Highway 64 and only about 25 minutes from our home in Southwest Durham, rents kayaks by the hour, and had both tandem and single kayaks available.  They don’t take reservations, so all rentals are first-come, first-served.  We arrived around 10 a.m., parked, found the rental shop, and filled out a lot of paperwork.  I decided to rent for two hours.  We also discovered that they only allow a maximum of three people in a tandem kayak, regardless of weight or age.  On our previous kayak outings (while we were on vacation on the west coast), I had put my youngest between my knees and all four of us in one boat, but for this trip, the staff insisted that I get a separate solo kayak for my 7-year-old.  This did not seem like an optimistic start to the trip, but in the end (and with a little rope creativity), it worked out just fine.

They supply life jackets and paddles to go with the boats.  As with all “sit-on-top” or open-design kayaks, there is no place to keep gear dry, and all participants are guaranteed to get wet.  For trips like these, I pack a backpack with water bottles, snacks, sunscreen, and a few treats, and just wear it while paddling.  We also brought a bucket and a few water-squirter toys, which we secured under the bungee cords on the back of the boats (there is a small storage area where such things can be stowed).  Hats and lots of sun screen are obviously a must-have, and I always bring a lightweight rope for tying up kayaks to a tree when beached or other such uses.

I brought life jackets for the kids from home, which worked out well because they were happy to have “their” comfortable and familiar jackets.  I used one from the rental shop; it was in fine condition, and their supply of kids’ jackets looked more than adequate.

We hiked across the boat-ramp parking lot and down a short trail to the kayak beach, where we picked out two boats from the ones sitting there.  My five-year old sat in the front of the tandem kayak, and the three-year old sat in the middle.  The two of them took turns paddling during most of the trip, which kept them entertained and involved.  As it was Memorial Day weekend, the lake was pretty crowded, and wakes from the power boats were a definite presence.  

We paddled under the Farrington Road bridge and around a point in the lake to the Crosswinds Campground beach areas.  It took almost an hour to paddle there, and a short time into the trip my oldest got pretty tired from having to paddle on his own.  I rigged a tow rope from my kayak to his kayak, and that worked great for the rest of the trip.  

We beached the kayaks one of the beautiful sandy areas near the Crosswinds Campground, and swam and played for a while, which the kids absolutely loved.  It was definitely worth the effort to bring a few toys and buckets.  We had snacks and a drink, then headed back.

The full range of water craft sharing the lake was impressive:  speed boats towing various types of water skiers, pontoon boats, sail boats, jet skis, quite a few kayaks, a few folks floating on inflatables, and a surprisingly high number of stand-up paddle boards, which can also be rented at the Crosswinds Boating Center.  

The water was still cool and peaceful, the scenery gorgeous, and most of the other boaters quick to wave and shout friendly greetings.  We didn’t see any wildlife, nor did I really expect to that late in the morning on a holiday weekend.  I didn’t get many pictures as I don’t have a water-proof camera, and the paddling arrangement meant that photography mid-trip was impossible. 

We returned the kayaks to the rental beach, checked back in at the office to conclude our trip, and headed home.  By the time we got off the lake, all the kayaks and paddleboards had been rented, and their boat launch ramp was closed because the parking area was completely full, so on a high-use day such as this, obviously getting there early is important.  

I had been a tad apprehensive about how the trip would work with one adult and three relatively young kids, but they had a great time and it proved entirely doable!  It undoubtedly helped that my kids had been on kayaks before – the youngest two know that they have to sit pretty still and aren’t phased when they get a few drips on them from the paddles, and they all know the basic rules such as that they have to keep their life jackets buckled at all times.  Nonetheless, we’re all relative novices, which shows that it’s a pretty easy trip to execute.  We’re definitely heading back again soon.

What We Liked:

The staff at the boat rental office were friendly, helpful, and quick to offer suggestions about where to paddle on our trip.  They also provided a good map of the lake.  The kayaks were in good condition and are easy to paddle.  And while the no-reservations policy means that one takes a bit of a risk heading down there that the kayaks would all be taken, it actually works out great for moms like me who tend to plan trips at the last minute. 

What We Would Change:

I’ll go back on a quieter day that’s not a holiday weekend and try to get there earlier to enjoy more of the morning on the lake.  Also, I only rented the kayaks for two hours, but next time will do a four-hour block (four hours cost the same as three hours) so we will more time to swim and play mid-trip, and for the kids to experiment and practice paddling.  

The trip would also have been even more fun with another family along, so next time I’ll find some friends to join us.  And since the Crosswinds Campground area is within easy striking distance with the kayaks, for a more elaborate day trip with two or more adults present, one could set up a nice beach area there or elsewhere by car so the paddlers could find a picnic and more fun at their destination.

Website and other important information:

Crosswinds Boating Center:  http://www.crosswindsboating.com/  Rental options include single and tandem kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, fishing boats, and pontoon boats.  The rental office opens at 8 a.m. in the summer.  


Photos

1.  Kayaks and paddleboards lined up at the rental beach


2.  Taking a swim-break mid-trip



3.  Our two rental kayaks beached near Crosswinds Campground for a snack break


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Mezza Luna Lavender Farm

What it is: Who knew there was a lavender farm right here in the Triangle?  I certainly didn't until my friend told me about this little place just about 15 minutes away from my house in South Durham.  My son and I went last weekend to pick some lavender with some friend and had a great experience.  We drove right into a little parking lot in front of a house, and walked up to the garage next to the house where a little stand was set up.  The stand was filled with all kinds of good-smelling lavender goods like soap, cookies, sachets, culinary lavender, etc.  I personally love the smell of lavender, so I could have purchased any of the goodies.  However, we were there to pick.  The man said we could pick a bundle of lavender tied with a rubber band for $10.  We each decided to pick one, so he gave us some shears and a basket and off we went.

The lavender field was hot, but beautiful.  My son and I each had shears.  They weren't terribly sharp, so I was ok with my 5 year old son handling them, but I still kept a close eye him.  We were told to pick from the bottom of the stem leaving about one inch, but you could pick several stems at once.  This meant the picking went pretty quickly.  There were little bugs and bees flying around, but they were entranced in the lavender and not bothered at all by us.  They had several varieties of lavender to pick so we loved walking around to the different kinds and smelling how they were different.

Once we got our bundles we headed back over to give back our shears and basket.  Then, I also had to pick up a couple sachets for my car and house and of course, we had to get some homemade ice cream with lavender syrup.  The ice cream was fantastic so we sat in the shade of some tents they had set up and enjoyed the treat.  Once we were finished they had a couple of activities set up for the kiddos including cornhole and a kids' tent with bubbles and other sports, clothes pin painting, face painting, drawing, and purple nail polish.  The kids loved it and the two great young girls that were helping the kids and were so wonderful with them.

I don't know whether it was the lavender smell wafting over everything, but it was just a peaceful place.  I would love to go back before their short lavender season is over!

What we liked:  We love to get out to local farms in the area, and this was definitely one we hadn't experienced before.  It was easy to get to and park and the actual picking did not take too long.  The ice cream was delicious and the kids' activities made it into much more of an experience for the kiddos!

What we would change:  The lavender picking season is so short.  They are only open each year from May 29-June 14, so that doesn't give us very long to enjoy the wonderful experience. Plus, at $10 a bundle, it can be a little bit of an expensive activity.

Website and other important information:

Website: https://www.facebook.com/MezzaLunaLavenderFarm/info?tab=overview 

Address: 1850 New Hope Church Rd., Apex, NC

Hours: 9am-6pm, May 29-June 14

Photos: 


(one of the beautiful varieties of lavender)


(lavender hanging to dry)


(yum, ice cream!)


(cornhole)


(the kids' area)


(the whole farm)

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The New Kidzu

I know, I know, it's been a long time since I've posted.  I don't know about you, but I feel like May is one of the craziest months that there is.  Anyway, during this crazy month of May we did have time to check out Kidzu's latest version that opened in another location in University Mall, and we had a great time.

What it is:  Kidzu is a great kids' museum for preschoolers and young kids located in Chapel Hill.  It has relocated several times, and this is actually the 4th version of the museum that we have been to. Each one has been fun in its own way, but I feel like this one might be the best yet.  It definitely holds the interested of my 5 year old better than that last version.

When we walked in we immediately saw a wide open space ready for some active play.  They had a new treehouse ready for climbing which my son loved.  They also had some of the old standby's that I recognized from previous versions of Kidzu including a great play kitchen and the ball contraption, The Gravitron, where kids can move balls up to the ceiling and back down through pipes they can arrange on the walls-always one of their favorites.  One of my son's new favorites was the rock wall.  This wall leading up to the ceiling definitely appealed to some of the older kids there.  That wide open area also contained a block area with a variety of blocks for kids to play with.

Another great area at the new Kidzu is The Makery.  The Makery is open for several hours in the morning, closed for a break around lunchtime, and then open again in the afternoon.  This spot is a great place for little ones who love arts and crafts.  There are tons of creative materials there available for arts and crafts projects.  The great thing about The Makery is that it is always staffed by Kidzu employees who help children complete the art projects which is nice.

The back of Kidzu contains a spot where you can eat your packed lunch of or other snacks, and then a quiet book nook.  The book nook was one of my kids' favorite spots.  It's usually pretty empty and quiet which is nice.  There are tons of books, puzzles, a puppet show, and these great hanging chairs which are meant for relaxing, and I spent a long time convincing my boys it was not for swinging.

Kidzu also has a variety of fun programming including kids' yoga, messy mornings, storytime, and much more.  Check the website for scheduling details

What we liked:  This version of Kidzu still has all the great components of Kidzu that we love, but they have a lot more space and room for kids to spread out and play actively.  I felt like my boys had outgrown the old Kidzu but I would happily take my five year old back. While it is great for older preschoolers, it is also appropriate for their barely walking little brothers and sisters and other little ones with plenty to occupy all preschool ages including a separate area for the littlest nonwalkers.

What we would change: There's not much I would change about the newest version of this spot.  It's a bit hard to find when driving around University Mall, so I guess I would recommend outdoor signage of some sort.  Look in the pictures below to find the right mall entrance to enter to find it.  (Near Alfredo's Pizza and the old Dillards that is under construction.)  Also, it is probably not the best for older kids, I feel like preschool age is really the best age for this museum.

Website and other important information:

Website: http://www.kidzuchildrensmuseum.org/

Address: 201 S. Estes inside University Mall

Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 1pm-5pm

Photos: 


 (the book nook)


(the open space)


(the treehouse)


(the kitchen) 


(an outside view of Kidzu from the mall)


(the closest mall entrance to Kidzu)

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Our Durham Bucket List

As I've mentioned earlier, we are sadly leaving the Bull City in June.  Fortunately, we've had some time before we leave to explore and head out one more time to some of our favorite family adventures in Durham and the Triangle.  I thought I'd share our list of can't miss spots.  What would be on your list?

1. The Duke Gardens-This has always been one of our favorite places to explore even before we had kids.  Yes, we even took our dog for pictures in the tulips before we had children!  We've seen the graceful heron on the pond, wandered the winding paths of the North Carolina section, wandered past the bamboo forests, stopped our children from running across the large, grassy field and into the water at the far end, posed for many a picture in the flower fields, and eaten quite a few picnic lunches.  We headed over there last week and even combined it with a trip over to Duke's campus to buy some championship tee shirts, pose in front of the chapel, and sit in the seats of Cameron Indoor one more time.

2. The Museum of Life and Science-Few places in Durham have as many memories of my kids as the museum.  We've explored every inch of that place many times.  When we went this weekend, I was reminiscing about how we used to be in the tiny toddler play area trying to keep our babies from getting run over by toddlers, and now those babies are about to turn 7 and won't even be allowed in the kids' area at all.  How time flies!  We've gotten filthy and found dozens of sharks teeth in the dino fossil dig, had several butterflies land on us in the butterfly pavillion, sat in a rocket, watched lemurs, bears, and wolves, sailed sailboats, launched seeds, gotten filthy in the mist (yes, we get dirty a lot), watched the snakes get fed, tried to make a tornado, dipped our hands in clouds, ridden on trains to see Santa, and all the other great things you can do at the museum.  I was even at the museum on the day I went into labor with my second son!

3. A Durham Bulls Game-Again, this has been one of our favorite past times from before we had kids.  However, our kids love these outings too.  It's just a great relaxing place to spend an evening with your family whether we're grabbing a bite to eat, sitting and watching the game, meeting some Star Wars characters, or just playing around in the seats, we always have a good time.  Since my youngest son has recently developed an obsession with all sports, this is one item on our bucket list we can't miss!

4. Eno River State Park-Our family has walked those trails countless times.  However, I'll admit, before we had kids we used to walk much further.  We might not have quite the same distance now, but we certainly have just as much fun.  We like to walk the trails, let the dog sniff, have picnic lunches, wear our swimsuits when it's warm and wade in the water, cross the suspension bridge, hike to Bobbitt's hole, and just have some great adventures in the woods.  The Eno really has helped our whole family develop a love of hiking and being in the outdoors that I hope we can take with us to our new home.

5. Locopops-Sitting outside Locopops on a nice day with your family and a popsicle is just awesome.  We used to head there on our way home from the Eno and even pick up a Pup popsicle for our worn out dog.  I'm always torn between trying one of their new and always delicious flavors or going with my traditional favorite, Mexican Chocolate.  This weekend when we stopped by everyone else tried something new, but I bet you can all guess what I got!

6. Bull City Burger and Brewery-When we want to take visitors to some place that just feels like Durham to us, we always take them here.  The burgers are delicious, you can get a nice beverage to go with your meal (even a fancy soda), the pickle chips are awesome, and best of all, they have a little kids' area where your kids can go after they finish their meal so we can actually talk and enjoy the rest of our meal.  Mmmm, I will miss those pickle chips!

7. The American Tobacco Trail-Of all the items on my Durham Bucket list, this is the spot where I've probably spent the most time.  On all parts of this trail from Wake County to Downtown I've ran, walked, and biked.  I've trained for half marathons, marathons, and triathlons.  We've hauled munchkins to playgrounds, desserts, and restaurants in the bike trailer.  We've gone at a little slower pace to teach those same munchkins how to ride their bikes.  I've pushed both a single and double jogging stroller more miles on that trail than I would have preferred. (Those things are heavy!)  We've even paused to wave at the passing cars and trucks on the newly completed bridge over I-40.  I hope there are some trails in our new home where we can spend just as many miles.

8. Rise-Ok, I'll probably have to head to this spot several times before we leave.  After all, I have to get my fill of both their biscuits and their donuts!  I like to head over here for a little indulgence if I have a break from the kiddos, and apparently I do this pretty often because they're beginning to recognize me!  My particular favorites are the biscuit with pimento cheese and the mimosa donut.  Oh, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they will bring back their kolaches so I can try just one before I leave.  (They sold out before I got one each of the other times they made them!)

9. The playgrounds-Well, I know I won't get to all of these before we leave, but so many of the wonderful playground of Durham hold so many fond memories that I hope we get to stop by some of them at least one more time.  The kids have raced bikes around both Oval Drive and Rockwood. We've played in the woods building teepees and bridges many days at Pineywoods.  I watched my kids grow from boys that wouldn't dare to climb the black jungle gym at Old Chapel Hill Road Park, to boys that tried but then cried to be rescued, to boys that spend hours monkeying around the top easily.  The kids have flown down the tall twisty slides at Duke Park.  They've played in the sandbox and ran from play structure to play structure at Hope Valley Baptist Playground.  I've had to continually remind them to stop throwing the super cool rubber mulch at New Hope Church, and we've spent many days exploring the countless other awesome parks that Durham has to offer.

10. Dames Chicken and Waffles-Do I really need to write an explanation on this one??  Downtown Durham+Chicken+Waffles+Schmears-what could be better??

Honorable Mentions-While I'm only putting 10 because we do actually have to move at some point, my list could go on and on.  We'll also miss outdoor lunches at Fosters, divine ice cream at The Parlour, NC BBQ at The Q-Shack, waterfalls-fields-music and more at The American Tobacco Campus, both farmers markets, Durham's great special events (Food Truck Rodeos, Centerfest, the Art Walk, etc), great local bookstores like The Regulator and Letters, Brunch at Watts Grocery or Elmo's, and so, so, so much more!  Oh, and one more mention for True Flavors Diner which I have already been to three times since it opened recently and will have to head back to a few more times before we leave-so yummy!

So, for all of you left in Durham, please keep heading out and exploring all of these wonderful parts of Durham and enjoy them for me until I get back to visit!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Trolly Stop Hot Dogs

What it is:  We're always looking for great kid-friendly restaurants, and another one recently opened up on Franklin St. so we had to go check it out.  Trolly Stop is a small chain of hot dog restaurants with other locations in Wrightsville Beach, Boone, and a few other NC locations.  They mentioned having a variety of toppings, so I thought it would be perfect since the adults could get interesting, yummy hot dogs, while the kiddos could still have the plain version that made them happy.

So, we headed on over on a weekday after school.  I was a little worried about parking on Franklin St.  However, one of the huge benefits of this restaurant is that there is a small parking lot on Franklin St. for this shopping center, so we were actually able to find a spot without walking a long way!

We headed in and checked out their menu.  They actually had five different kinds of actual hot dogs to choose from ranging from the vegetarian dog and turkey dog to Carolina smoked sausage and more traditional beef and beef and pork varieties.  My son got the standard Trolly Stop original hot dog plain with nothing but ketchup.  They had a wide variety of chips so he got chips and a drink to go with it.

I wanted to sample some of their topped dogs, so I tried the NC dog with chili and slaw, the Surfer  dog with cheese and bacon bits, and their homemade baked beans.  All was delicious and I was stuffed at the end of my meal.  I will definitely be back to try another fancy hot dog and this place that was equally kid and adult friendly.  My son also topped off the meal with some of their Hersheys Ice Cream as a dessert treat.

It was a fun stop that can be combined with any of the other kid-friendly places in Chapel Hill like the new Kidzu, UNC Arboretum, Chapel Hill Community Park, and more!

What we liked:  We loved that it had plain kid-friendly options and more dressed up dogs for the adults.  In fact, if your kiddo doesn't like hot dogs they'll even put cheese on a bun for a yummy grilled cheese.  It was also nice to have so many hot dog types including vegetarian and turkey dogs.

What we would change:  If you don't like hot dogs, there really isn't much for you at this particular stop, but with all the different types, there are lots of varied flavors to try.

Website and other important information:

Website: http://www.trollystophotdogs.com/

Address: 306 W. Franklin St, Ste. B

Hours: Sunday-Wednesday: 11am-9pm, Thursday-Saturday: 11am-3am

Photos:  


(a view from outside)


(the menu)


(a view of the interior)


(chips)


(our three hot dogs)

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Change is in the air at Stir Crazy Moms

So, one day about six years ago, I went to a Durham playground with my son's baby playground.  I think it was Cook Rd. playground.  We started talking about how useful it would be if there was a website or blog that gave information about the area playgrounds and discussed whether they had baby swings or bathrooms or whether they were safe to go to alone.  The more I thought about it, the more I thought about what a great idea it would be.  So, six years ago I started Stir Crazy Moms.

Through the years the blog has kept going.  Here we are 886 posts later and I'm still writing.  I have taken my boys out and about to countless new and exciting places, dragged numerous friends acquaintances into writing a post or two for the blog, received e-mails and comments both with criticism and those comments that keep me going, that say I helped someone get used to a new place or find a new adventure.  The blog has been a labor of love and it has far surpassed my expectations. I am continually tickled that people actually read the blog and it actually helps people.

Now, after those six years, our little family is going on a new adventure.  We are moving to St. Louis in June.  While we're incredibly sad to leave Durham which has been my home for over 12 years now, we are excited to see what we can find in our new home.  So, while I won't be able to check out new places and keep writing the blog from St. Louis, never fear, the blog will continue even after I move.

It's hard to hand off Stir Crazy Moms, but don't worry it will be in good hands.  First, I am going to work hard to update the index, the map, and update the posts to make it as current as possible.  That way, people can easily continue to search and use it as a resource to find all of the great things to do in Durham.  If anyone has anything they would like me to add before I leave, please let me know.

Once I leave, I would like to open the blog up to you guys.  If you are interested in writing posts for the blog or know of anything that would be a great resource to fellow Durham parents.  Please write it up!  I will even be posting a list of needed posts in the sidebar of the blog so you can check out the list and write a post on one of those places if you know about it.  Then, you can just send the blog to the e-mail address on the site.

That e-mail address will be manned by long-time blog poster and awesome founder of SoDu Parents Posse, Kat!  She will be watching over the blog and making sure it continues to be an honest blog about all the fun activities for families in Durham written by parents and for parents.  I have seen all that Kat has already done for Durham families and I know that it is in good hands.  Between the blog as a resource, the SoDu Parents Posse, as well as Hulafrog-Durham/Chapel Hill and Durham Mothers Club, I know everyone will have plenty of great Durham resources available.

So, until June folks, let me know all of your ideas for what I should update on the blog.  I'll keep posting until then, and then, promise me that this great Durham community will be waiting for me when I come visit!