Get Here Quick! North Carolina Botanical Garden

School’s out for the summer! Translation: I’m making a long list of fun activities, projects and field trips to keep Gemma and I busy when we’re not traveling or running to local camps over the next few months. With Kindergarten starting in late August, I’m hoping to make the most of these last few months of freedom.

We kicked off the first day of summer break last Friday with a trip to the NC Botanical Garden. We’re so lucky it’s just a few miles down the road and offers up an afternoon of fun and exploration for kids and adults.

NC botanical garden sign

We’ve been to the Garden before but this time I challenged Gemma to a scavenger hunt!  After finding our shady parking spot, we set off through the mountain terrain, on the lookout for the “not so obvious”. She had to find two butterflies (each of a different color/family), one dragonfly, one bee, a tadpole and a turtle. Within the first 5 minutes she’d spotted all but the tadpole and turtle; these two beings proved a bit harder to spot.

g leading the way  g and a pond

g kissing the man in stone  selfie at gardens


The Garden is alive with blooming flowers, including pitcher plants and other carnivorous plants. This particular collection is one of the best in the Southeast, so we spent quite a while checking out the Venus flytrap, orchids and other rare species. These flowers are STUNNING and well worth the trip!

pitcher plants red  g at gardens

pitcher plants in bloom  pitcher plant bloom sihouette

pitcher plant blooms

There are several different gardens and habitats to explore including a garden, mountain and Piedmont terrains, display gardens, fern collection and water plant exhibits. You can easily spend a few hours wandering through and sighting various plants, insects and water features. And aside from the main Garden property, there are kid-friendly trails, part of the Piedmont Natural Trails system, you can access through back gates located behind the Education Center. The Botanical Garden also manages Battle Park Pedestrian Trails, Coker Arboretum and Forest Theater, all on or near the UNC Chapel Hill campus.

Here are a few more findings from our afternoon adventures:

pink flowers  red flower

red and yellow bloom  lily pad with drops  white speckled flowers  purple flower

creamy roses  herb gardenlotus and water lily pads  irisespretty pink blooms

g and big leaves

Special Notes:

  • Visit the NC Botanical Garden website to learn more about what’s in bloom seasonally, and plan your visit. The center also offers a variety of adult and youth classes, demonstrations and storytime, as well as summer camps (which unfortunately are on a wait list at this point).
  • There is no admission fee, however the foundation gladly accepts donations to further their mission and maintain the grounds.
  • The main building also houses a very nice Garden Shop. Be sure to stop in if you’re on the hunt for a unique gift item, including live plants, botanical prints, gardner’s books and outdoor embellishments.




Pickin’ Berries

As promised, I took Gemma to pick strawberries Friday morning. It was shaping up to be a lovely day…72 degrees with blue skies, perfectly fluffy clouds and almost no humidity.

We set off mid-morning to Phillips Farms in Cary, NC (about 12 miles from our house). We had hoped to hit up Jean’s Berry Patch, where we grabbed our flat of berries earlier this week for our strawberry pies; however, we learned their fields were hit by a gang of rogue deer, and they suspended self-picking for the season! Bummer!

phillips farms strawberry sign cary, nc

When we arrived and began searching for the best row for pickin’, we noticed the fields were full of plump, red strawberries! To our disappointment, we learned Thursday night’s storms and heavy rains left at least half of their ripe berries in a state of mush. Luckily, we were able to weed out a full basket of their best fruits and look forward to bingeing on strawberries all weekend!!

picking berries

sneaking a bite of strawberry

basket of strawberries

For the love of Jared Leto

On the heels of his recent Oscar win, I’m sharing a few snippets from my personal archives for my “fans of Jared Leto” friends…

30 seconds to mars marquee

Ben and I were lucky enough to spend New Year’s Eve (2010) with 30 Seconds to Mars at their show at The Palms, Las Vegas. At the time, I was only familiar with a few of their songs, however I quickly became a fan of Leto’s intense musical skills. He is immensely talented – both on the screen and on the stage. And he’s just, ahem, pretty.

The concert was the crazy! Aside from the musical enchantment, the fans were incredibly…how do I put it?…dedicated to the band. Fans sported temporary tattoos to mimic Leto’s own ink and crazy get-ups including vinyl catsuits and lots of mesh (not us, of course). So. Much. Fun!

I’ll apologize up front…the videos are dark, light is bad but the sound is okay. Hope you enjoy these quick clips of the live show!

30 Seconds to Mars, “Kings and Queens” (excerpt; right after midnight so the stage is packed with revelers the band invited to join them for the countdown)

30 Seconds to Mars, “Hurricane” (excerpt). Admittedly one of my all-time favorite anthemic songs…he hits a super-smooth, haunting note at the end of this clip. Crush!

30 Seconds to Mars, covers “Bad Romance” (excerpt)

Escape to Topsail

We love, love, love the beach! It’s such a treat to have a special place to enjoy the sand and surf, and absorb the therapeutic benefits of nature.

Last weekend we escaped to Topsail Island to help our friend, Lisa, celebrate her birthday. All us kids (wee ones and big kids-at-heart) enjoyed fresh shrimp and soft shell crabs from the Surf City Seafood Market, afternoons full of building sand castles and walking in the surf, and fun nights relaxing and playing games.

The beach is just the perfect place to let your stresses melt away, sport awesomely wind-blown hair and give your feet a natural buffing!

sea oats  sparkle water

surfer surf  fishermen on pier

fishermen  football or ballet?

active jack 2  gemma sand turtle love

kelly calyn and ben castle building  emily and david love

active jack 1  gemma sand turtle love topsail wear  under the piercalyn sand play  calyn and kelly

gemma seashell  lisa and jack beach

Happy Birthday, Lisa! So happy we could all celebrate your youth, our health (aside from your broken foot!) and the glory of life at the beach!!!

Special Note:

Rainy Day Photojournal

The rain this week has me completely uninspired. At least that’s my excuse for taking the lazy way out with today’s post. Here are some pics from our Sunday fun-day at the museum and a sweet birthday party for our neighbor, Ella.

What’s more fun than a double-date? A family double-date! Loved our afternoon with the Bishop fam at the Pumpkin Patch at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham. The girls had a great time riding the train, decorating pumpkins and playing around the museum’s dinosaur trail. As predicted, the dads enjoyed the pumpkin sling shot!













Later in the afternoon, we helped celebrate Ella’s 2nd birthday. Her parents, our dear friends and next door neighbors, hosted the sweetest party complete with a ladybug release (3,000 of them!) and the best face painter (who was so good, we’ve booked her to adorn our kids’ faces for Halloween night). The kids had a blast releasing (and catching) the ladybugs…and letting them crawl all over their arms and legs. The parents got quite a kick out of the whole spectacle!










Saturday at the Farmer’s Market

Is it Tuesday already? What a fun weekend we had…so much so I’m still recovering! I love those days when we sleep in (well, as much as a 4-year old will let us) and don’t really have a plan. It can lead to the most memorable events…and this past Saturday was just that sort of day.

Perusing the local event calendar over breakfast Saturday morning, I noticed our favorite local chef, Katie Coleman, was competing in the Durham Farmer’s Market Chef Challenge. So we packed up and headed downtown to cheer her on! The chefs were given a mystery ingredient, in this case eggplant, and the opportunity to shop the farmer’s market for the remaining ingredients they would use to make their dishes.


Katie made an eggplant burger topped with goat cheese and veggie caponata on a homemade biscuit accompanied with fried eggplant chips and an eggplant pickle.


Her dishes were the best, in our opinion, however the chef from The Salted Pig, with his eggplant soup dish, was crowned victor by the panel of judges, and the chef from Pie Pushers won People’s Choice (for the life of me I can’t recall his dish…oh well).

We first met Katie, proprietor of Durham Spirits Co., last Valentine’s Day when a group of husband’s surprised their wives by cooking us dinner at Katie’s historic home/business. We had so much fun, we booked Katie again last month, and she came to one of our homes for a cooking class and dinner. Katie offers cooking and mixology classes and also teaches classes at A Southern Season. Come to think of it, Ben also hosted a team-building cooking event for his leadership team at Katie’s place earlier this year, as well. Yes, we love her dearly, can you tell??! Here are some shots from our couples cooking nights…

February 2013






August 2013




Anyhow, I digress…back to the farmer’s market. Once the cooking competition came to an end, we ventured over to the line of food trucks adjacent to the farmer’s market and grabbed a slice of pizza from the Pie Pushers truck.



We needed fuel for a challenge of our own which was brewing for later in the day. Tune in tomorrow to find out how Gemma and I fared in our own Chef Challenge!

Into the Wild: Part 2

We survived! Our first camping trip was a major success! We heard Gemma say, “This is so much fun,” and “I love camping” over and over and over again throughout the weekend.

Setting up the tent was a family affair. Gemma is quite the little manager and has great instincts so we took her lead and she was so proud of our teamwork…



tent3(photo credit Gemma)


Once set up, we had a nice lunch and enjoyed the views (including UP). The weather was beautiful…low 70’s during the day and low 50’s overnight.




Our friends, Matt and Jen, stopped by for an afternoon visit, and David joined us for dinner (hot dogs and s’mores cooked over the open fire) and a walk over our super-awesome fallen-tree bridge.

bridge1(photo credit Gemma)


wienie roast


We also shared our campsite with this little spider-guy, and I came an inch (a mere inch!!!) from walking face-first into he and his web after our bridge walk. Eeeeek!


After dark, the party really got going! How much fun are glow sticks??!! Gemma loved singing and dancing and just being silly. So much so, we experienced our first “I’m tired, can I go to bed now?” from Miss G. Phew…she really can wear out (who knew?).


On Sunday, we headed to the trail for a 1.5 mile hike through the park. If this doesn’t prove you need nothing more than nature and love to keep a family busy, engaged, healthy and happy, then I don’t know what does! I’ve never seen more smiles than those we wore during this adventure! Can’t wait to do it again!!!










Into the Wild: Part 1

How much stuff does a family of three need for one night in the woods? This much…


We made it to our beautiful campsite at Falls Lake!! All set up in less than an hour. The tent was super easy (so no stress on that front), however Ben’s hoagie met an unfortunate demise (after Gemma accidentally dropped it open-faced in the dirt under the picnic table). I really wish I had that picture…alas all I have are these…








If you haven’t been to CenterFest Arts Festival in downtown Durham, then I suggest you get out of the house and go today!


This weekend, the Durham Arts Council is hosting the 39th annual event which features over 130 artisans (from across the US), live music and performances by local bands and dance troupes, and kids activities (including the popular Scrap Exchange booth). Main and Chapel Hill streets (and parts of Corcoran and Parrish streets) play host to the vendors and local non-profit booths so be prepared to circle downtown to access a parking garage…or keep your eyes peeled for one of a few on-street parking spots.  Sunday hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.


This was our second year at CenterFest, and I was super excited to run into one of our favorite artists from last year, Jayne Morgan, of Birmingham, AL. As lovers of honey, we fell in love with her “honey bear” art last year but didn’t buy anything (drrr!), so imagine how excited I was to see her back in Durham this year! After we admired all her pieces, I encouraged Gemma to pick one…she chose a small, square original painting on wood. Can’t wait to find the perfect spot in her bedroom or playroom!


After perusing the artisan booths, we watched some dancing and took a ride on the toddler train. We had worked up a sufficient appetite and while we could have eaten from a food vendor at the festival, we chose to walk a few blocks to Bull City Burger and Brewery, a locally owned, “farm-to-fork” restaurant and craft brewery. Their NC-pasture-raised beef is tender and ground fresh daily….but what we really, really crave are the duck frites (“skinny, French-cut finished in duck fat with fresh rosemary and Fleur de Sel“), which I have taken to stacking on top of my blue cheese burger…YUMMM!  We are lucky to live near so many incredible, inventive and fresh restaurants (and food trucks!)…and Bull City does not disappoint.