Thursday, April 26, 2018

Antsy Kids? Peanut Butter Jelly Time!

For us, the car ride to a hike, camping or exploring is part of the adventure. Unless we're heading to the beach, we don't break out the DVD player. Do the kids get whiny? Sure. That's when we distract and re-direct.

Sometimes we play games ("I spy. . .", I'm thinking of. . .", "Would you rather. . ."). Sometimes we ask conversational questions. Sometimes we stop for a wiggle break.

Last fall I wrote about a kid-friendly podcast we enjoy.

Another go-to? Random YouTube finds via Bluetooth audio. Here are a few that usually do the trick for when the littes' car-riding patience is running low.

Peanut Butter Jelly Time: This will turn a mood around. Recorded by DJ Chapman of the Buckwheat Boyz, this song and it's accompanying animated dancing banana are simple. And talk about random. But you can can't  help but dance to it. Right up the kids' ally.

The Duck Song: There are several versions and iterations of this, but they all follow the same narrative. Warning: It's an earworm. Spoiler alert: It's also clever. And maybe a little annoying. But I dare you not to grin by the punchline.

Old theme songs and show tunes: Start thinking of shows from your childhood -- or even before -- and you're pretty sure to be able to find their theme songs on YouTube. You might be surprised how entertaining kids find the opener to Gilligan's Island, Beverly Hillbillies, Mr. Ed, and Green Acres.

Other suggestions: Ghostbusters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batman, Zip-a-Dee-Do-Dah, and my favorite: "Thank You Very Much" from Scrooge (because its catchy, super sing-able, and I love the sentiment).

One more somewhat surprising option. Type "coloring" into the YouTube search bar. Who knew that watching a simple line drawing come to life could be so mesmerizing. It's a little screen time I'm comfortable with, without committing to a show or movie.

If none of these do the trick with the cranky kids, maybe you'll get lucky and they'll fall asleep!

However you choose to travel, make sure you enjoy the journey; it is part of the adventure.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Strawberry Pickin’ Time!

At long last, spring has sprung! And through the haze of pollen, strawberries are calling your name. Let me tell you about our favorite pick-your-own strawberry farm.

Wise Acres is an organic strawberry farm about 40 minutes southeast of uptown Charlotte. The family that owns and runs it lives on the farm. And they’re friendly! You’ll likely see him running the barrel train or walking the fields, and her running the shop in the barn or greeting groups of guests. Wise Acres is committed to producing good, local fruit free of pesticides, herbicides and fumigants. 

The farm is large, but manageable. The strawberry fields greet you upon arrival. To pick, simply grab a carton (they have multiple sizes) from the large red barn and head on over to the sprawling rows of juicy plants. Wagons are available if you need help hefting young pickers. Fill your container, then pay at the barn. Strawberries are $3.29 per pound – and worth every penny!

A word of advice: Play first, then pick.

There are a number of fun activities beyond strawberry-picking that make the outing even more enjoyable. By leaving picking to the end, you don’t have to schlepp your fruit around (especially on a hot sunny day) while you enjoy everything the farm has to offer.

We like the natural play area, which includes a fun, rag-tag assortment of equipment – from a zipline, to stacks of tires, to wooden tree swings, to a refurbished preschool playground set. Best part: This wooded play area is nice and shady!

You can also pay $2 for a barrel train ride and there is a small animal farm with goats, pigs, chickens and rabbits.

If you get hungry, there are picnic tables for a lunch or snacks you pack from home, or goodies for purchase in the barn (slushies!!) and, on select days, wood-fired, locally sourced, natural pizza from Wise Pie Pizza Kitchen. Check the Wise Pie schedule.

Portable toilets are available for bathroom breaks.

The sun is shining and the temps are lovely! Go ahead and make a day of strawberry picking (but check the schedule first; Wise Acres is closed Mondays and Thursdays and open different hours during weekdays versus the weekend.) On a pretty spring day, it’s an enjoyable outing for the whole family. 

How to get there:
Wise Acres Organic Farm is located at 4701 Hartis Road, Indian Trail, NC 28079. The gravel parking area will be obvious. Head toward the big red barn to start.

Don’t forget to pack:

  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen: The wooded play area is blissfully shady, but the strawberry fields are not.
  • Water: On a warm day, stay hydrated.
  • Snacks: Picnic tables are available for a quick break.
  • Comfortable shoes: Something you don’t mind getting a little dusty.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Take the Train to UNCC Botanical Gardens

In March, the Lynx Blue Line extension opened after years of construction, connecting Uptown to the campus of UNC Charlotte via light rail. I'm sure this is a gift to workday commuters who can now ditch the car closer to home, but it also makes for a fun family outing. The other day we checked it out. Here's an adventure I'd recommend:

Take the Lynx Gold Line, which is a free ride on a vintage trolley, to get Uptown without having to pay for parking. Hop on the Gold Line anywhere along it's route up Elizabeth Ave/E. Trade St. The trolley line ends at the main Charlotte bus hub uptown, also a Blue Line light-rail stop.

Walk up the stairs adjacent to the Spectrum Center to access the light-rail stop. Purchase a ticket from the automated kiosks. (Check here for the cost of fares.) Hop on the train and enjoy the ride! It's fun to take in the sights of this fast-developing corridor along the way. Plus, the track engineering is a bit of a remarkable feat -- there are quite a few bridge overpasses and one tunnel that give it something of a roller-coaster vibe.

Disembark at the UNCC Charlotte Main Station (the last stop), which is on Cameron Blvd. Follow Cameron Blvd. towards campus less than a half mile and turn right onto Mary Alexander Rd. The Botanical Gardens will be about a half-mile ahead on the left. It's an easy walk as the campus is very pedestrian-friendly. Here's a handy map tool to help you navigate.

The gardens are beautiful and whimsical. It's an area of quiet reprieve in the heart of campus and a lovely place for a stroll. The kids will enjoy the various bridges and ponds and artwork scattered throughout.

After exploring a bit, we managed to scout out the campus Chick-fil-a for lunch. It's located in the Barnhardt Student Activity Center -- a short walk from the gardens -- which also offers other palatable dining options.

We didn't visit it during our trip, but there's also a greenhouse (with a dinosaur garden!) that is open to the public just across the street from the Botanical Gardens. Next time we go, we'll be sure to stop there and explore other areas of campus.

All-in-all, this is a fun sort of hybrid adventure, combining the thrill of public transit with some fresh air and exploration. I recommend it for a fun morning out.
Don't forget to take:
  • Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses: The UNCC campus is only partially shaded.
  • Comfortable walking shoes: You'll want to be able to explore.
  • Water and snacks: It's not a bad idea to have refreshments on hand for playtime or the wait for the train.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Nanny's Mountain

Today's word of the day: Monadnock. According to Wikipedia, it's "an isolated rock hill, knob, ridge, or small mountain that rises abruptly from a gently sloping or virtually level surrounding plain." Want to see one nearby and take in a nice hike? Head down I-49 South, about 45 minutes from Uptown, to Nanny's Mountain in York, SC.

Nanny's Mountain, technically a monadnock, reaches an elevation of 981 feet above sea level, plenty high enough for impressive views of Lake Wylie and the surrounding area. You might even catch a glimpse of Uptown Charlotte on a clear day.
The 2-mile, out-and-back, gravel trail that winds its way to the peak and then around the mountainside is perfect for an easy stroll. What's more, it's a location of historical significance. During the American Revolutionary War, iron was mined from the mountain to produce cannon balls, swords and other goods. You can still see one of two open-air iron ore pits that are visible along the trail. This pit, which is well marked, is approximately 100 yards from the trailhead on your left.

Less than a quarter-mile farther up the trail is a fork. Going straight will take you about 200 yards to the summit and a pavilion. Taking a right will lead you on a mountainside trail about three-quarters of a mile to the end. I recommend packing snacks or lunch for a stop at the picnic table at the turnaround point.

Nanny's Mountain makes for a fun little outing. It's an easy hike to tackle for young kids or grown-ups interested in a peaceful stroll with a bit of a view.

Nanny's Mountain is maintained by York County Parks. Note, there are no restrooms at Nanny's Mountain, so plan accordingly.
How to get there
Nanny's Mountain doesn't have a postal address (the GPS coordinates are 35.074737, -81.104679). From Uptown Charlotte, take NC 49 South past the South Carolina state line. In a little over 9 miles, turn left onto SC-274/SC-49 S. In two miles, turn right onto Charlotte Highway. In one mile, turn left onto W. Liberty Hill Rd. The trail entrance is straight ahead, marked with a Nanny's Mountain sign. A gravel parking lot is just past the entrance on the left.

Don't forget to pack
  • Water: Stay hydrated! There are no restroom facilities to refill, so plan accordingly.
  • Comfortable shoes: The terrain is mostly gravel with a gradual climb.
  • Snacks or a picnic lunch: There's a great picnic table for a refueling stop at the mid-way point of the out-and-back trail.
  • Hats, sunscreen and sunglasses: The trail is only partially shaded.