Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Hillcrest Apple Orchards

For the last 4yrs, we have been making the day trip up to North Georgia to go apple picking. Our preferred orchard is Hillcrest Orchards near Ellijay. We were recommended to Hilcrest by some friends and return year after year. There are plenty of options for apple picking in this area, many which also have additional activities like Hillcrest but we love giving this family owned and operated orchard our continued patronage. Admission is a flat fee per person and you can choose to purchase a bag to pick your own apples as well. Honestly, this may not be the cheapest (especially if you have a large family) but continue reading and you'll understand why it's become one of our favorite fall traditions.
   
Throughout the farm, there are a bunch of tractors for you to climb aboard, pretend to drive and use at photo opportunities. The tractors are all different ages and in a variety of conditions, and we have fun exploring the tractors.
Abigail has always loved to jump, and she always has to take at least one turn on the big jumping pillow. Depending on the crowd there can be a wait but it never is too long. Depending on the staff  "policing" the jumping pillow, there can be older kids (almost my height) allowed to jump, which makes it difficult for the younger ones. During our trip this month, the crowds were very light in comparison to previous years (I think we got lucky this year because we went opening weekend). Abigail decided she was going to use the jumping pillow for a little gymnastic practice, she would run and do a cartwheel or round-off. It was so fun watching her, especially Matt since he doesn't get to see her in action during gymnastic class. Although Abigail paid attention to the other few children also jumping, and never flipped too close, we ended up getting a bit of a scolding from the staff that Abigail shouldn't be flipping. We decided it'd be hard for Abigail to completely understand so we took that opportunity to move to another activity.
   
There are two separate tracks for kids, both young and old, to pedal tricycles. It's slightly chaotic on the younger track because all the kids seem to go different speeds, but it doesn't matter. The youngest kids usually need some help as the trikes are a bit larger than what you might have at home. Parents usually hop on the track to help steer/push the younger kids, and keep them out of way of the older and faster riders. I personally recommend the parent with the most protective shoes to help out, as you might be run into or run over on this preschool track. For the older kids, there are super-sized trikes which we have never road. These larger trikes have a higher weight limit and even adults will take turns riding around the larger track. This larger track is located further away from the entrance, but is next to a corn maze and small playground so all age groups can be entertained in this vicinity simultaneously. Very close to this area is also a bungee jumpee station for children and pony rides, both for an additional fee. If I remember correctly, we have only done the bungee once and the pony ride once.
For the first couple years, we did not visit the petting zoo. I do not remember if this was intentional or not. Even though it's an extra $3 per person to visit the animals in the petting zoo, we do it now because Abigail loves all the little animals. Last year I distinctly remember how excited she was to hold a baby chick. This year, she raved about holding a kitty. You can buy feed from a gumball dispenser for a quarter and the baby goats love to eat directly from your hand. They will even follow you a bit if they think you still might have food. Abigail got to see bunnies and more chicks but my favorite this year was the three day old cow. The cow did not look at all like a "baby", but was wobbly on new legs and seemed a little unsettled until laying down, absolutely precious!

Abigail really enjoys the "big slides" down the hill. Before the 2013 season, a second slide was added to the hill allowing the children a shorter wait before getting to slide down again. This new second slide actually is a partial tunnel and Abigail would scream really loud on the way down, I think her voice must have echoed a bit on the way down. She always runs up the hill numerous times before we can persuade her to the next activity.
When you arrive, some activities will have specific times listed for the day so be sure to make a mental note or jot those down. The pig races are usually held at least twice on Saturday, and it's a must for us to watch. The orchard is fairly large and you do a lot of walking (avoid bringing strollers unless you have something all-terrain), so it's nice to get off your feet and rest in the shade before the races and if you plan properly you can enjoy an apple fritter and/or an apple slushie while you wait for the races to begin! The pig races also incorporate audience participation with the first race always having adults race in some fashion. The kids then get to participate during each of the 3 pig races. Five children are selected each race, each child gets to tell the crowd their name and where they are from, and each child is assigned a pig to cheer for during the race. The child whose pig won gets a little trophy to take home as a souvenir. Part of the fun each year is being introduced to the pigs, they all have the best names! Each year the names have celebrity resemblance to a few in current mainstream media. Two fun names from this year were Pig-cess Kate and Justin Timber-link. In 2012 a water feature was added so in the third and final race, the race course is detoured into a couple above ground "lakes" and the pigs jump and swim and made their way to the finish line. To entice these little piggies to race, the winner gets an Oreo cookie!


Throughout the day there is also live entertainment on the Hillcrest Barn Stage, which is now completely covered unlike our photo from a previous year's visit. You can take a break in the shade from all the activities to enjoy some clogging or country bands while eating some yummy food. This year the menu included hamburgers, chicken on a stick, fried cheese, french fries, fresh squeezed lemonade, deep fried Oreo cookies and much more. There is even an on site bakery cooking up fresh apple cider doughnuts, mini apple pies and apple fritters!

Hillcrest has become a favorite fall activity for us and as long as we're living in the Atlanta area, we will continue visiting and making memories! I am so excited we were able to visit before Fall officially started. There is always so much fun to partake during Fall and I look forward to the 2013 season ahead!

QUESTIONS:
-Have you ever been apple picking?
-Do you have any fall traditions you do with your family annually?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Disney Junior Doc McStuffins Tour

I was super excited when social media was all a buzz about Disney Junior's Doc McStuffins tour last month. I made a mental note of the event date still unsure of our plans for the day. Sometime this week I decided I would definitely take Abigail. She absolutely loves Doc McStuffins, and it is a free event. Free events have their PROs and CONs. I knew we had to get their early to make sure our wait wasn't going to be too long. Due to some GPS complications, we arrived a bit after 9am but did find excellent metered parking next to Centennial Olympic Park. It was a bit awkward finding the end of the line but once we did, it moved fairly smoothly and we got our bracelets assigning us with an 11am appointment with The Doc Mobile. Our friends found us shortly after and visiting and chatting made the time pass quicker than we had expected.

While we waited in a Disney attraction style line, keeping everyone in their correct lines, we were greeted by numerous women doctors. These doctors are all members of The Artemis Medical Society which is "a group of women physicians of color joining together in common purpose to create and promote an environment in medicine where [they] can come together to support and learn from each other across all medical specialties." The Artemis Medical Society was actually chartered in June 2012, inspired by Disney Junior's release of Doc McStuffins in March of the same year. The twelve women who founded the organization "saw a reflection of themselves in the "Doc McStuffins" character". We were able to chat with a few doctors as we waited in line, meeting a couple OBGYNs, a few Pediatricians and a Family Practice Physician. The organization itself now has more than 3000 members, at least throughout the United States (but could probably be worldwide, I just did not find that information on their website). It was great these women took the time, out of their already busy schedules, to be available at this Doc Mobile tour. The children really enjoyed chatting with and asking questions as we waited, and it really helped pass the time. In addition to chatting, The Artemis Society also passed out paper stethoscopes to all the children.
Once it was finally our turn, strollers were parked "valet style" because there wouldn't be room to maneuver them through the different stations. First, the kids were introduced to the new Doc McStuffins App, which the kids were able to test out. It was a bit of a free for all, and some kids hogged the iPads while others were slightly shoved through the area. The next area was a fun sing and dance along with the Radio Disney group. They sang fun songs from Doc McStuffins and quizzed the kids about Doc McStuffins trivia. The third portion was large foam blocks where kids could build train track style, then roll a ball down but there wasn't actually enough room to really play with these. The kids were then fitted with lab coats and allowed to enter the Doc Mobile, which had lots of stations for the children to perform check-ups with the toys they brought. Abigail was hoping her bear, McArthur, could get his sweater repaired (the side seam of the sweater is ripped) but all the play in the Doc Mobile was pretend and not actual repairs, so he'll have to visit with one of Abigail's grandmothers for mending sometime in the future.

Once we were through the Doc Mobile, there was a water play station (that was lacking in water). Kids could get a bucket of water and dump it into a funnel, then the water would pour through different attached tubes. Honestly, I was a bit confused as no one explained what this was all about then Abigail was given a cute Doc water bottle, making me feel like our time at that station was over. Abigail and her friends found their way to kid size picnic tables where they each got a placemat and stickers to encourage healthy eating. At this point I was looking to see how we would get in line to meet Doc next, and I was told there was a completely separate line to meet Doc McStuffins "IF" we wanted.

Well of course my Disney loving, character obsessed child wanted to meet Doc! We proceeded to another line where we waited for about 20 minutes until being told we were in the 2pm section of the line, it was only 12:30. At this point I got a bit frustrated, we had waited (corralled) for two hours only to feel rushed through the Doc Mobile stations in 10-15 minutes and then we were expected to wait for another 2hrs. I guess, ideally, once you had your scheduled appointment time (color coded bracelet) visitors could have waited to meet Doc before their appointment, but that information was not at all shared with us. Abigail was invited to a 3pm birthday party, and celebrating a friend's birthday is/was more important than this chance to meet Doc. Hopefully, we'll get to meet her during our November trip to Walt Disney World.
Overall, Abigail and her friends enjoyed their morning but it left me a bit disappointed. If the Doc Mobile is coming to a city near you, I highly recommend arriving early, expect crowds and some waiting, and ask lots of questions so you know when and where the excitement is happening so you can wait as little as possible. For the complete DocMobile Tour details CLICK HERE. The DocMobile will be heading to Washington D.C, Los Angeles and Pheonix to finish out the tour.

QUESTIONS:
-Do you attend large free events like this?
-Did you visit the Doc Mobile or plan to when it comes to your city?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Three weeks ago David Bowe's song popped into my head and I have been singing it to myself ever since. Ever since what? Well, I finally got hired on at a Starbucks and all the pieces magically fell into place for Abigail to start PreK. I have been semi-writing this blog post in my head while driving around town but haven't found time to actually get it typed out. 
Time may change me, but I can't trace time.
In October 2008, we moved from Nashville to Atlanta as Matt had a new job offer. Abigail was due to arrive that December so I didn't find a new job after our move. Instead I've had the pure joy of solely being Abigail's mom for the last, err, almost 5 years. 
Don't let me mislead you, I had to keep busy. I had to feel "needed" beyond the needs of a baby/toddler/preschooler; like I was part of something bigger so volunteered for leadership positions when different opportunities came available. Volunteering allowed me to still have some adult conversations that did not revolve around altering nap times, potty training, teething or whatever stage I was currently focused on as mom. I think these volunteer opportunities helped me keep my toes in the water, even just a little bit.

Now I'm back in the water so to speak, working again. It has seemed really silly when people ask "what's it like going back to work" because it doesn't really feel like I'm "back in the workforce". (Sorry to use quotes, but these are real phrases I keep hearing.) Yes, I have a paying job again but to be quite honest, it's not a high pressured, stressful job that is bringing home the big bucks where I feel like I've truly rejoined "the workforce". My hours are very flexible and I'm still able to spend the majority of afternoons with Abigail. The extra bonus, which is why I wanted Starbucks and only Starbucks for a part-time job is that I will be able to pick up insurance for our family after 90 days. Corporate insurance will be a huge plus for our family since Matt started his own business last December. Maybe it's because I have always loved the hospitality industry, or maybe it's something I haven't been able to put my finger on just yet, but now in my third working week, I feel like Starbucks is a very strange hybrid form of work for me that's is way more enjoyable than the visual images that come to mind when I think about being "back in the workforce".

The high praise I've heard from people excited I'm working "again" has disappointed me, making me a bit bummed they never fully supported our decision for me to be a full-time mom with Abigail. The word choices and tone translate to me as if I've been on a 5yr vacation, doing and contributing absolutely nothing to/for our family. While I have enjoyed my mom years, they have not been anything remotely similar to a vacation. These people and their words have really affected me over the last few weeks. 
By no means am I trying to suggest having one full-time parent is the only way, because I know this isn't the best fit for everyone. I also know it's not financially feasible for all families. I wanted to be a mom for a few years, and am so blessed my husband and our finances allowed me to to have that time with our daughter. I really need to not focus on the disappointment of these negative people. I need to remind myself the only opinions that matter are by those making the decisions for our family, Matt and me.

Beyond the Debbie Downers, I have been so grateful to the friends I've made over the last few years in my mom's groups, through church and folks now in my running community who have been so positive and encouraging during my long job search. I am over joyed when I receive a text asking how Starbucks is going, it really has meant so much because I have been slightly fearful of leaving the realm of my safe Christian women friends. I'm currently enjoying learning about my new co-workers. I have not met everyone yet but I'm positive I'm the only one married with a child. There are three engaged employees, two who are still newly married (not to each other), another with three kids (unmarried) and a handful of college students. The dynamic is very different than the other friends and families I/we have made since moving to Atlanta and am anxious to see what type of friendships might develop from this job and only time will tell.

As I mentioned, I've been writing this blog in my head for the last three weeks. We have been trying to adjust life to the changes of me working and with Abigail in school. This third week has been much smoother than the last two. On Tuesday I ran for the first time since August 17th. I had taken Brewer on walks, and I attended a group fitness class at the gym once or twice but not actually ran and the absence of training was causing my stress to increase. I have races planned, I need to be training. Running has become an outlet for me to clear my head and release some stress, and I haven't been. I am trying to give myself grace in this transition period of change. I'm expecting each week to get smoother and better as these new life changes become our normal life. I hope to return to weekly training posts at some point too.

QUESTIONS:
-Do you handle life changes well?
-How do you deal with the Debbie Downers in your life?