Monday, April 14, 2014

Playground Reviews: Apex Nature Park; Bond Park

Apex Nature Park - Evans Road, Apex, NC
Visited: Sunday, April 13, 2014
- Google Satellite

Summary: The Triangle's newest park, Apex Nature Park, opened three weeks ago and features shiny new athletic fields, trails, a dog park, a (not quite complete) disc golf course, amazingly fancy bathrooms, and of course, a playground. But is the playground as fancy as the bathrooms are?

(Note: The scoring system is designed so that 50% is an average score. "Perfect" scores are rarely given.)

Things for Marla to do: 6/14. The playground is actually smaller than I was expecting from a brand new park. The playground isn't as expansive as Knightdale Station Park (another relatively new Triangle park) or the nearby Kelly Road Park, both of which are in my top five. This is more of an average playground with the usual 2-5 and 5-12 playsets. Also: no swings.

Normally someone of Marla's age can still play in the older kid area, which is good, because what 2 year old wouldn't rather play on the bigger equipment? However, this particular older kid playset is toddler-proofed, which was unfortunate for us:

Uniqueness: 6/10. I award uniqueness points mainly for two reasons: for play sets / contraptions that you don't see at most playgrounds (e.g. merry-go-rounds, anything beyond the traditional slides and swings), or for unique or interesting design elements. In this case, it's for the tree-themed design.

Upkeep: 8/10. Based on precedent, brand new parks can only get as high as an 8/10 for upkeep.

Crowd: 5/10. Sometimes these crowd scores are tricky. We got there on the earlier side (around 9:00), and the playground was empty at first, although pretty much every playground is empty at that hour. But by the time we left (11:00), it was crazy busy, although the exceptionally nice weather certainly helped that. Factoring in time of day and the weather, what's the proper crowd score? ... Meh, let's just give 5/10 and move on. But I will say this: on a sunny warm weekend afternoon, this playground will be busy.

Marla enjoyment: 3/5. 20 minutes of Marla playground play + meandering elsewhere in the park away from the playground for a while (her choice) + 10 more minutes of Marla playground play (again her choice) = 3/5.

TOTAL: 28/49, ranking 8th out of 28. I think the new car smell might have inflated the playground's ranking a little bit, given that there isn't a whole lot on the playground Marla can do on her own without assistance. While Apex Nature Park is a better overall park, nearby Kelly Road Park has a better playground, especially for a 2-year-old.

(Disclaimer: We know someone who works for Apex's parks department and was involved in the construction of the new park. But, you can trust my rankings.)


Bond Park - High House Road, Cary, NC
Visited: Saturday, March 22, 2014
- Google Street View

Summary: Like Apex Nature Park, Bond Park isn't the type of place you go if you're only interested in hanging out on a playground for an hour. Bond Park has plenty to offer - trails, boat rentals, and some kind of event seemingly every other weekend. You could spend an entire morning, or even the whole day, at Bond Park. So, surely, Bond Park's playground won't stack up against other standalone playgrounds, right?

Things for Marla to do: 8/14; Uniqueness: 5/10. The Bond Park playground has the basics (2-5 and 5-12 sets), plus swings and a sand pit. And the color scheme is nice, too, so that this doesn't feel like just another brown, green, and/or blue playground.

Upkeep: 6/10. This playground is showing its age - maybe I'd call it "middle-aged", but the Town of Cary does a good job keeping its parks up.

Crowd: 3/10. Bond Park is a prime destination for many Cary families pretty much every weekend, especially in Spring and Summer. So, it's busy, all the time. Parking is at a premium, especially when there's an event going on. The day we went, there was a 5K in the morning, AND a kite festival in the afternoon. Busy place! Still, the playground wasn't so busy that Marla couldn't enjoy herself. The playground is not as busy as that at Pullen Park, which once upon a time I assigned a crowd score of 2/10.

Marla enjoyment: 4/5. Swings make a big difference here. Marla loves the swings!

TOTAL: 26/49, ranking 16th out of 28. The playground is plenty adequate if you happen to be taking the family to Bond Park anyway.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Parc National du Mont-Tremblant: Preview

We're spending Easter weekend in Toledo, and the following weekend in New York (state) for a wedding. No sense in driving all the way home mid-week only to immediately turn around and head back north again, right? Let's go to Canada instead!

(The new Google Maps doesn't let you customize embedded maps, as far where the map is centered and the zoom level are concerned. So, it's back to screenshot maps!)

Among the places that are a) in Canada, and b) within a day's drive of both Toledo and Newburgh, NY*, we settled on Parc national du Mont-Tremblant, north of Montréal. (* - Newburgh isn't exactly where the wedding is, but it's close enough.) Mont-Tremblant is a ski destination in winter, and it's a popular vacation spot in summer. In April, on the other it anything?

That's the thing with Canada tourism: tourist season is VERY short. June, July, August. That's it. Even early June is pushing it in some parts of the country. (In fact, according to page 8 of the Mont-Tremblant park journal, the park's "spring" season doesn't start until June 1st. June 1st!) In the winter - the long, long winter - you at least have skiing. But in the in between months, and we've done plenty of Canada travelling in those in between months, there isn't much going on. Why do we keep visiting Canada in these in between months, anyway? That's just what our schedules have dictated over the years, I suppose.

So, given that Mont-Tremblant is a bit north of the 45th parallel, it must be asked: will it snow? It could. There is snow in the forecast for next week, in fact. Next week is expected to be abnormally cold across the east, including at home. I don't know about the week after that, though. The week after next is when we'll be in Québec.

Well, the truth is, it will probably not snow when we're visiting Mont-Tremblant. But actually, we're staying in a cabin on the park grounds, so sitting in the cabin all day watching it snow would be kind of nice, regardless of what month the calendar says it's supposed to be. Really, it's the travel days before and after our two-night stay in the park, in which I would rather it not snow.

It would be nice to get more than two nights in Canada out of this, but considering that we haven't overnighted in Canada at all since July 2010, we'll take it! (This will also be Marla's first overnight stay in Canada, but not her first visit.) Besides, my goal for the year was just to spend two hours in Canada, let alone two nights. We'll actually get between 50 and 54 hours in Canada on this trip.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Stone Mountain (NC)

Road trips and recreational activities don't come as easily as they used to, but we're still willing to put in the effort every once in a while. Saturday was a beautiful Spring day in North Carolina, so we went to a nearby* state park - Stone Mountain State Park in northwestern North Carolina.

(* - For us, "nearby" means "less than a 3 hour drive". With Marla, that's about the longest day trip we can manage, if we don't want to feel like we've been in the car all day. Unless that's the idea, of course.)

If you're like me, when you think "Stone Mountain", you think of the famous attraction outside Atlanta. So, I'm going to refer to the North Carolina version of Stone Mountain as "Stone Mountain (NC)", kind of like how Miami University in Ohio is "Miami (OH)".

Marla is willing to do some hiking on her own. But she needs to be in the mood, and it's better to "hike" on strollerable trails so that we can more easily get Marla back to the car when she gets tired. (Marla hasn't grasped the concept of turning around and going back before you get tired.) Marla wasn't quite in the mood when we first got there, and the trail was not strollerable at all (even with a jogger stoller, although ours is currently out on loan anyway). Eventually, we were able to talk her into walking down the trail that we actually wanted to take, as opposed to all of the other trails that didn't go anywhere.

The best hike to do at Stone Mountain State Park is the Stone Mountain Loop: a strenuous 4.5-mile loop that goes all the way to the summit. But that would be a bit much for Marla to handle, of course. (We'll be back in 10 years when the kids are older.) Instead, we settled on a portion of the loop which led to an old homestead, and also a nice view of Stone Mountain (NC) itself:

Marla thought we were taking her to a playground. Poor girl. But the homestead was sort of like a playground, except there were no slides, or swings, but there were things to climb and explore, at least. She seemed to have a good time.

We actually had to carry Marla two-thirds of the way in order to get there and back, but it was worth it, because we had the mountain recreation bug pretty bad. I don't take it for granted that we only live two hours from the mountains. That's one reason I like living here.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Co-ed Kickball: Season 8 Preview

Last Spring's kickball season ended with a bunch of forfeits and blowout losses and fights (between other teams), all of which was a bit discouraging. So after a 62-game, 7-season kickball career, I thought the time might be right for me to hang it up.

But...that was 11 months ago, and time heals all wounds, right? So, we're back! Let's play ball! After all, it is fun, social (on an intra-team level), and good exercise.

Most Knightdale kickball leagues of late have had four teams, five if we're lucky. I've gone on the record as saying, there's no way they could make a three-team league work. If only three teams signed up, then surely they would cancel the league and refund our money, right? ... Nope! There are exactly three teams signed up for the Spring co-ed kickball league, and yet, the show will go on. So, we'll be seeing plenty of the other two teams: "the team that's better than us" and "the new team that we're better than, at least for now". In all, we have six games scheduled against each team, plus playoffs. (Thankfully, neither of the teams was one of those involved in that fight last season.)

A three-team league also means occasional doubleheaders, because that's the only way the league can have more than one game in the same day. But that's alright with me - it's a 35-minute drive from the house to the field, and a doubleheader gives me two games for the price of one (round trip). After Wednesday night's doubleheader, I'll have already played four games in eight days. In terms of the number of games I expect to play in this season - between 8 and 10, including preseason and playoffs - I'll already be about halfway done with my season, one week in. Efficiency! And that's good, because given the lack of depth in the league, I expect the enthusiasm to wane pretty quickly. Hopefully this won't result in a bunch of forfeits towards the end of the season. (I'm looking at you, new team. You're not going to quit on us halfway through the season like some other new teams have, are you? Because then we'd be down to a two-team league. At that point I would advocate cancelling the rest of the regular season and just playing the championship game right then.)

Looking ahead to the playoffs, which I assume will be single elimination: we'll almost certainly be in the 2/3 game, which we'll hopefully win, giving us a chance at the championship against the team that usually beats us. But, they don't always beat us. On a good day, it could happen. Maybe if we are fortunate enough to win those last two games, then that would definitely be a good time to hang it up, no?

The playoffs won't happen until late April / early May, so we'll see how kickball season 8 pans out in another month or so.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Marla Loves Muddy Puddles

Saturday morning was the Triangle Curling Club's groundbreaking ceremony. My recap of that is over at the club blog (click here for that).

Meanwhile, behind the scenes...

Perhaps encouraged by her favorite cartoon, Marla loves jumping and down in muddy puddles. The grounds at the future curling club site were quite wet and muddy Saturday. Win for Marla! Even after she fell into one of the larger puddles* and got her clothes all wet, she just kept right on going. (Well, after regrouping for a minute or two.)

(* - Some of these "puddles" were perhaps more like small ponds. Seriously, it was like muddy puddle heaven out there.)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

New Dishwasher

Honestly, we haven't done much of anything interesting this month. But we did get a new dishwasher!

We've had our house for five years now, which is apparently when things start breaking, kind of like with a car. For instance, whenever we would run the old dishwasher, it would leak like crazy and create a huge puddle in our kitchen. We had a plumber come and check it out, and his recommendation was that instead of repairing, we buy a new dishwasher.

We went with Sears because they supposedly have the best installation crew. They're not contractors, they work directly for Sears! So we were told. But the folks who came to our house were contractors, and they couldn't even remove the old dishwasher, let alone install the new one. So, we had to call the plumber back and have him do it, which he did, for about $100 extra. And that's even after Sears refunds me the $150 installation fee, which they have yet to do. For our next major appliance purchase, we're going elsewhere.

The old leaky dishwasher was apparently only six years old, which is less time than dishwashers are supposed to last...but here's my theory. The previous owners redid the kitchen prior to selling the house. As part of that, they likely bought the cheapest functional dishwasher they could. And, five years is about how long the cheapest dishwashers on the market will last. Here's hoping we got one that will last a bit longer than that.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Baby #2: Boy or Girl?

UPDATE: It's a boy!

Amber has a lot of doctor's appointments, but today's is an exciting one. It was the one in which doctors may or may not be able to tell whether the small human growing in Amber's belly is a boy or girl. If they are, the plan is to have them write it in a sealed envelope so we can open it together tonight. (Or, you know, tomorrow. I think it might be fun to sit on it for a night. I mean, we've still got five months to go before the baby is born.) With Marla, we did the "gender surprise at birth" thing, and that was fun, but this time we kind of just want to know. we have a preference? Boy or girl? I can only speak for myself here, but here's how I see it, keeping in mind that I have to be very careful what I write in case baby #2 reads this when he or she is older.

I have gone on the record as saying that one of each - one boy, one girl - was optimal. That way, we get to experience what it's like to have a daughter, and what it's like to have a son. Going along those lines, that would mean we're hoping for a boy.

However...I think having two daughters might be fun. Two sisters generally bond a little better than a brother and sister do. Might be kind of fun to watch their friendship (or perhaps rivalry) grow over the years. And, having another girl would be easier: we already know what to do, we already have a whole bunch of little girl clothes, and the general consensus is that girls are easier to raise than boys are, especially if you've already had a girl.

But on the other I want that much estrogen in the house? (Actually, I think it could be fun.) Is there a chance we'll give all that money we saved on clothing back when daughter #2 gets married? (Yes.) Does having two daughters limit our ability to go on family curling road trips when the kids are older? (To some extent, because if we have a boy and a girl, we'll be able to enter "mixed" bonspiels as a family, instead of only entering "open" bonspiels. That's assuming both kids are interested in curling, of course. Big if.) Also, there's this: we already have a boy's name picked out from the last one, but we haven't agreed on a second girl's name quite yet. When it comes to baby names, we're kind of picky, so those discussions could be a tad contentious. But if it's a boy, we won't have to have that discussion!

Basically, what I'm trying to say is that there will be nice things about having a boy, and there will be nice things about having a girl, and it'll be great either way.

Many parents make a whole big shindig out of the baby gender announcement by hosting a party or making a cute video or something along those lines, particularly for their first kid. That's fine if that's how you roll, but we'll announce in a little more low key manner. (Probably.)