NC and DC, late Feb-early March, 2015, Part 1

What were we thinking?

I had planned this trip a little haphazardly and allotted for snow, but we were going South for pete’s sake, and I certainly didn’t plan on a blizzard!  The day before we left, there was a 75-car pileup on route 95, the road we take most of the way, due to snow and ice.  Chapel Hill schools had been closed for most of the previous two weeks due to snow. On top of all that, our friends were moving house so even more chaos than usual was guaranteed.  But, as I kept texting Dr. Mama, hell or high water- we were going!

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Carolina sunset as we rolled into town, Fiercely & sisters selfie in the car

Chapel Hill and the Fabulous Family

North Carolina was melting. Prior to our arrival, there had been an unusual amount of snow and the accompanying panic this entails in the South. It was warmer the day we landed, and there were rivers of melted snow everywhere. Dr. Mama was feeling the effects of over two weeks of homebound children, enforced homeschooling if you will, and happy as we came into town.  She had been packing for six weeks, having some painting/minor repairs done in both houses, managing five kids, two cats and the dog, and working at her job as an ER pediatrician.  Dr. Papa and his father Mr. F were on hand when we arrived to the ‘old’ house.


My kids immediately settled into the snowbound vibe in the big, nearly empty house.  There was a snowy yard, 3 pets, lots of echoing rooms, exciting snacks, a functioning screen for movies, a giant bathtub, and, of course, nine kids, aged 4-14.


Cozy does not begin to describe the scene.  Cozy with a big bunch of crazy!  Anyway, that was the old house.  The second day, we moved many boxes to the new house.  We were a fearsome crew, what with the motivated under-tens who were paid for their work loading the van, the formidable septuagenarian Mr. F, Drs. Mama and Papa, and yours truly who has gypsy wanderlust in the blood and a related love of moving.  No joke, I love moving, even if its not me moving.  I love the change in spaces, the physical work and the camraderie, the getting rid of stuff, the new perspective – its hard for me to believe I haven’t personally moved for almost 8 years!  So I get vicarious pleasure from helping other people move.  But I digress.  This was a long day of moving boxes, many to the third floor of the new house where the play room and one bedroom are located.

Many props to Mr. F, an Irish-born font of unstoppable energy.  He is of a rapidly disappearing class of person who has probably worked from sunup to sundown since he could walk and, despite some slowing down and minor problems in his 71-year-old knees, worked harder and longer than any of us.  Fortified by his daily breakfast of a customized oatmeal-root-herb concoction, the man moved boxes, hung framed art, assembled furniture, attached light fixtures, installed a cat door, and did I don’t know what else all day.  Dr. Mama had to make frequent runs to the store for various projects to keep him busy “or else he would start doing things that don’t need to be done” like altering the cabinetry.  I wish I had a good picture of him, but I was too shy to get one, plus he doesn’t slow down much!


Dinner for 13 in the new house!  There is Mr. F in the big white Irish wool sweater sitting with his back to us at the counter. Lacking a dining room table, we ate on the floor “like most of the people in the world” as Dr Mama correctly pointed out!

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moving van!  Unpacking and playing! 

The new neighborhood was very walkable with the kids’ grade school and a small shopping center a few blocks away as well as a paved trail that connects to other trails in the Chapel Hill area.  When the rain stopped and we were at the new house, we took a walk around the area.

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Above – neighborhood and nearby creek. Below – I took these when I went for a run on the path called (I think) Fan Branch Trail. Amazing, well-maintained trail with bridges, tunnels, and signage similar to a highway but for bikes/joggers/etc.

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Museum of Life and Science, Durham

The Fabulous kids did go to school one day, so I took the Fantastics to this museum.  I have written about it before here and here.  The weather was not too great and we really only went to the main building this time, but with the changing exhibits there was still a lot to see at this cool place.

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Interacting with media – “catching” projected images and making music by running around

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Learning about salt at the lab, witchy sisters at a cauldron at a weather exhibit

So we spent a lot of time in both houses, doing various moving-related things and also just hanging out.  We hated to say goodbye, but they were getting back to their routine after many snow days and a move, and we were headed to the nation’s capitol and, more importantly, LW and Lincoln of DC fame.  We learned of Winter Storm Thor as we were headed into it.  What happened next? Stay tuned, tripsters!


Chapel Hill, NC, May 2014

It starts happening somewhere in Maryland when you hear “y’all” in a non-sarcastic, non-politically correct kind of way.  And there is at first a mistakable accent, maybe it was on TV or you didn’t hear it right.  It soon becomes unmistakably a southern twang.  You’re still on the east coast, but it is no longer The East Coast.  Gas prices start getting lower.  Also, it starts feeling south, then southern, then you feel you are undoubtedly are in The South.  There are signs for pecans, Bojangles chicken and biscuits, and Virginia.  Once you turn off I-95 and head west on Rt. 85, there is no doubt at all, y’all.

We were off to see the Fabulous Family of Malawi fame.  Fiercely and I had visited them there, then all the kids and I went to see them when they moved to NC about a year ago. They were settled in Chapel Hill and ready to host us for a glorious long weekend.  All together there would be 9 kids, both Drs. Fabulous, a German au pair, and myself.  We lucked out with sunny and warm weather, good-natured kids, and thankfully no car trouble despite this being over 2,000 miles the kids + I put on the car in under 3 weeks with this trip and April’s trip to Ohio so close together.

Durham Museum of Life and Science


This place is over 85 acres, and in addition to the main science building includes wolves, bears, a butterfly house, and multiple outdoor play areas.  It is kind of like a small zoo and an interactive science museum in a large park.  We had been here a few years ago and we’ll likely go again.


Interactive video display – you could “catch” falling colored balls with your shadow on the screen!


Fiercely with a Fabulous twin heading into the insectarium

The weather was great, the kids were enthusiastic, from preschoolers to the teenagers everyone liked something.   There were a lot of things to climb on.

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Then there was a misty playground that was a lot of fun.

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And the butterfly house!

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Chapel Hill Arboretum

This is a part of the college campus in downtown Chapel Hill.  It is like a magical oasis of fields and trees, many of which were flowering.  The official name is the Coker Arboretum, and it is over 100 years old, started by the first Botany professor at the university, Dr Coker.  Mr. and Mrs. Fabulous got engaged here back in the day, grads were taking pictures, there was a little creek and climbing trees…

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There’s a little face in the foliage!!

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Morgan Creek trail

Evidently, this place has a connection to 70’s singer James Taylor.  I know his song about ‘going to Carolina in my mind’ was in my mind during much of the trip, apparently he wrote it after living near Morgan Creek himself.  Lucky for us, this Carolina natural area is accessible by a trail behind the Fabulous’s house.  It was an easy outing, without the usual two minivans we employed to get around.  The kids loved playing with this rope they brought and tied to a tree.  Its the simple things!

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There were also s’mores and tug-of-war in the backyard, a few minor meltdowns, a sleepover party every night, and a great Mama night out for me + Mrs. F. (thanks Mr F.!!) Thank you Fabulouses, thanks Carolina!  We headed back North to our neglected house and poor lonely Mr. Fantastic after being away 11 days in under 3 weeks.  Now we are trying to catch up with laundry, grocery shopping, homeschool projects, and… planning the next trip!

North Carolina, May 2013 + July 2012

The kids and I visited friends in the Chapel Hill, NC area in May as well as the previous July, to see wonderful friends there – a family of 7.  This is to say, beware of inviting us to visit because we will eventually show up – maybe more than once!

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The vibe is different down South- slower, friendlier, newer buildings and roads, LOTS of ex-northerners.  Actually, one day we met a friend of mine in a town called Cary, NC, and she told me the town name is jokingly said to be an acronym for “Containment Area for Relocated Yanks”!

The first time we visited, we went during the extremely hot middle of summer, just after the 4th of July.  Our car had no a/c and I remember pouring water over my head while driving to keep my cool.  This trip was much cooler, so unseasonably cool that every day the kids asked to go swimming, since we had done that the previous trip, and every day we said no because it was too darn cold!  The kids, all NINE of them,  made an epic hopscotch and did lots of playing at our friends’ giant yard+ driveway instead.

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Cleverly loves making hopscotches that go to 50 or more! Really on a scooter, kids running in the yard towards the woods.

Chapel Hill Greenway

Chapel Hill seems to have a young, educated population since it is a colllege town for UNC and also a part of a ‘research triangle’ with Raleigh and Durham.  I wish that the public transportation system was as progressive as I would hope for such a population, but that does not seem to be the case.  There were far too many traffic jams with one-person-per-car, which seemed totally unnecessary to me, especially with all the shiny new roads, why not put some of those development resources into mass transit?  But The Chapel Hill Greenways is a step in the right direction.  It is a system of bike/hike trails around the area, and our friends had access to one of them, the Morgan Creek trail, behind their house.   This bike trail map shows many of the greenways, and clearly some group is thinking progressively.  I hope that they can keep it going and expanding.  Meanwhile, we enjoyed the creek and the path.

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Kids on the Greenways path, a fat snake (center of photo) next to the creek, crossing the creek on a fallen tree

Museum of Life and Science

This place is in Durham, about an hour from Chapel Hill.  It was a wonderful place to spend the day with all 9 kids.  Our friends are members, and we were able to use reciprocity from another museum membership to enter for free!  There is really a lot to do here, indoors and outdoors.  They have play areas indoors for babies, a large outdoor playground, a butterfly building, an outdoor ‘dinosaur trail ‘ with fossil dig area, an Apollo space capsule, a lush greenhouse, and rescued local wildlife including fox and bear.  The Museum is like a zoo, an interactive science museum, and a giant park/playground.  We went last year and I didn’t have a camera at the time, but here are some borrowed photos to give you an idea of what is there.

Museum of Life & Science in Durham

Front of Museum, elevated trail to animal areas, greenhouse, butterfly building

Kids Play Together Playground, Cary, NC

I have a childhood friend who moved to the area, so we looked her up one day.  She, her parents, and her brother are a few of the numerous ex-Northerners living in the area and loving it.  She has three boys (although one recently got his driver’s license and was therefore too cool for us!) and suggested we meet at this playground.  It is 2 acres of the 16-acre Maria Dorrel Park. You just don’t see this kind of thing on the East Coast – 16 acres?!?  It was a gorgeous park on a beautiful day.  My friend’s youngest has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy so the playground equipment was suited to him, and all of the other kids loved it as well.


My childhood friend and I with some of the 11 children we had there that day, and a cool dragon structure to climb

I’d love to go back to the area and try the bike paths, also there are the beaches to the east which I hear so much about, and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park to the west.