26 January 2016

Christmas Fun

One of the really awesome things about where we live is that there are so many holiday events for families and kids that are affordable. There are parades, visits with Santa, electronic light shows on houses, light displays on farms, Polar Express rides, and holiday shows.

I wanted to do so many things, but since we were out of town the first couple weeks of December, we missed several of the events. The only things that were on schedules were the parades and the Polar Express rides. We missed all the parades since they were held early in the month, and almost didn't get to do the Polar Express ride at Pullen Park. Tickets went on sale in July and I happened to notice that day. I'm so glad I bought tickets right away because they sold out in a day (yes, in July!).  There are only 6 days (two consecutive weekends) when the park opens up in the evening for Christmas celebrations. Only ticket holders can get into the park after 4pm and a ticket gets you a ride on the train. The train, which Rose loves when it's not the holidays, rides the same route around the park and has Christmas lights on it. You can only ride once, but there are other events and things to do in the park. You can ride the indoor carousel as often as you'd like and it plays Christmas music. There's also a scavenger hunt, visits with Santa, carnival games and art stations for the kids, and the normal park items (slides, swings, etc).

Back in July, I bought tickets for the second Saturday. When we made plans to travel north in early December, I realized we were going to miss it, getting back to Raleigh on Sunday and not Saturday. The other nice thing about our area is that there are a bunch of local Facebook sales pages and mom's groups. I posted on several of these sites to see if anyone wanted to switch their tickets with me and someone did! We just had to make sure we were back in Raleigh to catch our ride around 5pm.  In a previous post, I mentioned that we drove back home from Albany at 2am. With just a few stops, we were home around lunch time, giving us plenty of time to get to the park in Raleigh.

Even though we were tired, it was still fun to enjoy the Christmas fun as a family. Rose loves the train and carousel, so even if she didn't engage in anything else, it would still be worth the $8/ticket ($24 for all of us). Surprisingly, she did some of the carnival games and enjoyed getting treats on the scavenger hunt. Zoe got to enjoy her first ride on the carousel. She was awake for most of the time we were there. The weather was warm, so we didn't have to bundle up much and the food was pretty good.

Waiting our turn for the carousel
Rose and mommy on the carousel
Family picture at Pullen Park's Polar Express
A tired family on the Polar Express train ride at Pullen Park
We have an artificial Christmas tree, but decided that we were going to get a real tree this year. With just a little over a week before Christmas, many of the cut-your-own tree farms were sold out of trees, or only had weekend hours. Instead, we picked out our tree at the North Carolina State Farmers' Market. There was one vendor trying to get rid of the rest of his trees and gave us a pretty good deal on one that was about 8 feet. The weather continued to be crazy warm leading up to Christmas and we were out shopping for a tree in light sweatshirts. I was not complaining!

Picking out our Christmas Tree
While we were up north the first few weeks of December, we did go to a few holiday light displays, one being the famous (and free!) LaSallette Shrine and another at the first or second Winterfest at Diamond Hill State Park in Cumberland, RI. Even though the weather was mild for northeastern standards, it was still very cold and we were all bundled up in heavy winter coats, hats, gloves and scarves. Winterfest was our first time seeing the new laser lights, which were really cool in some of the forest areas of the park. I thought their $10 admission was a little pricey for having to walk around the event ourselves. There was also lots of open spaces without much to see and do, and no place to get warm.

In North Carolina, we had a little cold spell right before Christmas, but it meant that we needed hats and gloves once the sun set. There were several options for checking out large holiday light displays in the area and we opted to go to the farm where we spent a very long day in the fall. Hill Ridge Farms was where Rose enjoyed a hay ride, train ride, tunnels, farm animals, and more a few months ago. At Christmas, the tractor ride takes you through a very large light show, with Christmas music blaring in the wagon. They also run their train around a big open field (with a few lights) and keep many of the farm features available into the evening. Rose is too small for their large bouncing ball and huge tunnel slide, but she enjoyed swinging on the large log, seeing the farm animals, and drinking hot chocolate. They have a few fire pits and sell kits to make smores, but we didn't do that this year. Entrance for their "festival of lights" is reasonable, at $10 per person for the tractor ride, and only an additional $3 for the train. The only downside was that we sat at the front of the wagon and inhaled lots of exhaust during our ride.

Visiting Hill Ridge Farm's Festival of Lights
Heading to the wagon ride inside the farm
Selfie in the caboose of the train
Rose and daddy riding the swing at Hill Ridge Farms
Rose and daddy swinging on the log at Hill Ridge Farms
In addition to our ticketed events, we also did our annual driving around to see holiday light shows, this year adding a trip to try Duck Donuts and pick up hot chocolate for our drive. I probably love the light shows more than anyone else, but hope that both girls enjoy it with me as they get older. There are some very impressive synchronized light shows in the area, with a map to the addresses available online. I posted a video with one of the light shows two years ago and this house continues to be the best in the area.

For Christmas this year, my parents joined us in North Carolina. With rain and mild temperatures predicted for the whole week in the Raleigh area, we opted to spend the holiday in Hilton Head, SC, a place none of us had ever been. I found a reasonable rental through VRBO.com and we set out, packing everyone (including Darwin) into the 7 passenger 4-Runner on Christmas Eve for 3 nights and 4 days. 

The 5 hour trip was uneventful, the rental property was bigger than we expected and the weather remained warm for the 3 days. On the flipside, the weather was damp down there too, and while we didn't have rain, the beach was foggy pretty much every day.  We were able to check in to the property early, but by the time we got settled, went grocery shopping and ate, there wasn't much time to enjoy the beach on that first day. With it being Christmas Eve, we had to get our shopping in for the next day before everything closed. It was late in evening before we realized we forgot to pick up a few essentials (like coffee!!). We had a few adventures with finding an open store, but eventually got our coffee, milk, and bottled water before returning back to the rental. 

The unit was very accomodating to our needs. There was one master bedroom with a patio and full bath, and a second spacious bedroom with a double and twin bed that was attached to the second full bathroom. The sleeping quarters were separated from the main living area with a door and each bedroom also had it's own door. Rose slept in the twin bed in the second room with my parents while Zoe slept in her "beach bed" in the master bedroom with me and Colin. The kitchen, which also had a washer and dryer, opened to the dining area and living area. Cathedral ceilings added to the spacious feel of the apartment. We were super comfortable and about a 10 minute walk to the beach. We didn't notice many amenities offered through the resort complex and all of the outdoor resort pools were closed for the season.

I found the water to be a little too cold for my liking, but had the sun been out, I may have done some swimming. Rose had a great time enjoying the pools of water that formed at low tide. We managed to have Zoe dip her bottom in the ocean, but as you can see in the video, the water was too cold for her as well. The day we left for the beach and the whole time we were away, the skin on her face cleared up and looked amazing. I think it's a sign that we need to live at the beach! :) 

Enjoying the foggy beach in Hilton Head, SC on Christmas Day

The day after Christmas, we managed to explore a little bit of the island by car and we did get out again for some dessert after dinner. It was the only time we did much outside of the rental property/resort complex. We just assumed most of the attractions were closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Rose holding Zoe at the ice cream parlor in Hilton Head, SC
On our final day of the trip we had to be out of the apartment by 11am. The morning was spent packing the car, cleaning the apartment, and making sure we didn't leave anything behind. Rather than spend the day in traffic (which we assumed we would get on I-95), we decided to spend the day in Savannah, GA. Colin and I had been on a trip before having the girls, but my parents had never been.  

Savannah was less than an hour from Hilton Head on back roads, so we arrived just before lunch. Knowing the city has many good restaurants, we used Yelp to find one and managed to find a good parking spot near Chippewa Square, between Forsyth Park and the waterfront.  We ate at Fire Street Food, a restaurant that could appease a variety of palates, and then walked around the city, taking in the historic sites, hanging moss trees, and the overall hustle and bustle of a city.  By the time we got to the waterfront, we were ready for some dessert and picked up beignets at Huey's. Since Zoe's skin has been better when I don't eat dairy (more on that in another post), I did not indulge in any, but took everyone's word that they were delicious. With our bellies full again, we continued back towards Forsyth Park (and our car), stopping at a playground to let Rose enjoy some kid time. We found a cute little playground near a huge cemetery that was not crowded at all. At that point we were debating when to leave, seeing that traffic continued to be bad on I-95, and knowing good food options would be slim once we left the city. Rose was getting tired, but fighting a nap as we continued on to Forsyth Park. At the park, we took a few photos at the fountain, saw a man propose to his bride-to-be, and found the very busy toddler and preschool playgrounds (but didn't stop to play here). With it approaching dinner time, we decided to find a restaurant close to the car. Unfortunately, Yelp didn't provide us with many ideal options, so we settled for a little coffee shop near the car. They had a very tasty hummus and pita platter and some salad/sandwich options. At the time, we were slightly disappointed that we didn't get a better meal, but in hindsight we all had a more pleasant ride home with the lighter fare.

Walking down to the waterfront in Savannah, GA
Rose playing with other kids on a waterfront boat
Enjoying the hanging moss trees 
Some toddler fun at a playground in Savannah, GA
After getting the girls fed and dressed in their pajamas (I hate that cities rarely have changing tables in bathrooms!), we got on the road around 7pm. Rose didn't take long to fall asleep and even Zoe slept most of the way. She only needed a bottle once during the 4hour and 45 minute trip. Yes, we managed to skip all the northbound traffic, and were home around midnight. 

It was a nice and relaxing Christmas holiday, filled with love, laughter, and peace. These are the best gifts we can give and receive. 

Dressed up on the eve of Christmas Eve
At some point we will all look at the camera
Impossible to get them to look at the camera
And my poor rashy Zoe!
Opening Christmas presents on the eve of Christmas Eve 
Yay! Another doll
I hope your holidays were enjoyable and that your 2016 is off to a great start. We celebrated the New Year by the backyard fire pit with friends, family, and smores.

24 January 2016

Snow Days

Sledding in the back yard

We had our first (and hopefully only) snow storm of 2016 this past weekend. Our northern friends always joke that the south shuts down when it snows. It's true, but we do get a lot of ice. This storm was no different. All day Friday, we had sleet and freezing rain with some snow mixed in. All together we only received a few inches, but it was very icy.

To prevent cabin fever, Colin, Rose and I ventured out on Friday and Saturday for a bit. Neither Rose or I were thrilled to be out on Friday in the soaking rain, but Saturday we managed to enjoy about 20 minutes of sledding around the yard/house. The backyard has a slight slope towards the house and since the snow was icy, it served as a nice sledding slope for Rose. We also sledded down the driveway, but it was not as smooth as the backyard. Rose seemed to enjoy it a little bit, but she definitely didn't want to be out for very long. She takes after her parents who prefer the beach and warm weather to snow and cold.

We kept Zoe indoors for both days, keeping her nice and warm with her avó

Zoe is also ready for spring