Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden: Chinese Lantern Festival

Always one to explore local festivals and exhibits, when I heard that Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden would be hosting a Chinese Lantern Festival I, of course, had to check it out. 

Located just outside of Charlotte, NC in nearby Belmont Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden is a quick trip down 85. I had actually never visited the gardens before but it is definitely a place I will return with gusto! (A Christmas visit it at the top of my list now also- I hear they do an amazing lights exhibit!) 

I purchased my tickets online (a tad pricey at 21.95 per adult but well worth the money) and made sure to arrive with time to spare as the exhibit ran from 5:30-9:30 and I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to check out everything. (Plus, I loathe waiting in lines so anytime I can purchase tickets online and breeze past lines- I seize the opportunity.) There was a ton to explore, winding pathways of lanterns (obviously), food trucks, kids crafting areas, a stage with scheduled entertainers, and lots of unique stalls erected selling all sorts of trinkets and souvenirs made by local craters and artists. 

Upon entering the gardens, the first thing we did, obviously, was head to the food trucks. There was tons to choose from, plenty of variety for any palate, and we decided on the kabob truck. Shrimps and bottles of water for all! After a quick stop at the wine booth we were ready to see the lights!

The lanterns were handmade in China and featured tons of unique elements including some moving exhibits with sound effects. We meandered through the walking trails, snapping pictures and admiring the handcrafted art. In total there were over 800 lanterns spanning the sprawling 12 acres of the gardens. Here are a few of my favorites: 

We made it to the stage in time to watch the Kung Fu Show, where a group of Kung Fu aficionados showed off knowledge of this ancient art. This was followed up with an opportunity for people to come up on stage and partake in a demonstration themselves, learning some of the basic moves of Kung Fu! My hand eye coordination is paltry at best so I opted to hang back and take in the show from the audience.

At the end of the exhibit, the walking trail puts you at the tent filled with stalls of handcrafted wares. Local artists booths were arranged within the tent selling anything from hand-painted pieces of art, exquisite jewelry, delicate sugared candies, and so much more. We took our time perusing the stalls and purchased two bookmarks, handmade (of course) cut shapes of each of my children's Chinese zodiac signs (a tiger and a pig!) Take a look at this beautiful artwork:

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The entire exhibit was a beautiful foray into Chinese culture and history, imaginative and ethereal. When the sun fell and night rose, the gardens truly came alive in a unique and wondrous way. If you ever get the opportunity to visit, take it! You won't be disappointed. 

Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens is located at 6500 South New Hope Road, Belmont, NC 28012, P: (704) 825-4490 and you can visit there website for a calendar of other events being hosted throughout the year.

XOXO, 

Coco

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Wise Acres Organic Farm

This Mothers Day my mom requested we visit a local, organic farm to pick some strawberries, have a lazy lunch, and explore the grounds. She had heard about this place from a friend, and at only 15 minutes from her house, we had to check it out. 

Owned and operated by Chicago implants, this organic farm has been in business since 2013 with the mission to provide the highest quality produce, free of pesticides and chemicals found in many other conventional farms. Not only do they turn out some pretty stellar strawberries, but they support other local, like minded farmers by selling honey, eggs, meats and cheeses from neighboring farms. 

 Absolutly in love with this sign! 

Absolutly in love with this sign! 

Located in rural Indian Trail, NC, this farm is easily accessible to the Charlotte and surrounding areas. Boasting strawberry fields, an outdoor wood fired oven, wooded play area, livestock, and homegrown items for sale, there is plenty to keep you busy for a couple hours on a beautiful May day. 

We started off with the strawberry picking. For $3.29 a pound, you can pick to your hearts desire (or until your wallet runs out of money!). They accepted cash, check, and cards which is convenient, I know a lot of us don't carry much cash these days. We filled up a conservative two buckets (big plans for some strawberry jam in our future, more to come on that later!), paid, and wandered around to see what there was to see. 

The kids had a blast playing in the wooded play area and taking rides on the barrel train. There were a variety of swings, zip lines, and re-purposed tires to play on. When we needed a cool drink, we popped over to the barn where they boast an assortment of drinks and snacks. We bought a few slushies (100% fruit juice). They also offer organic popcorn,  organic cotton candy, and other organic snacks and drinks. The slushies were sweet and cold, perfect for a warm May day! 

After a nice little stroll to look at the grounds and check out the animals (chickens, goats, and bunnies!), we put in our order for a Wise Pie pizza. Cooked in an outdoor, wood fired oven, these pies are made with all locally sourced, organic ingredients and let me tell you.... they were divine. I don't think they could have tasted any better if Jesus himself had had a hand in crafting them. We tried the pepperoni and margherita pizzas but they do offer gluten free and vegan options. Open on the weekends during strawberry season, you'd be insane not to try one while you are out. 

After we had eaten our fill of pizza, and slurped up our share of slushie, we lazily made our way back out into the world. Wise Acres Organic Farm is one that I will definitely return to not only for the strawberry season, but also for the fall pumpkin season. As if the grounds, food, and strawberries weren't enough to win me over, everyone we encountered was just so nice. From the sweet woman grinding out the delicious pizzas, to the Farmer himself pulling the hayride and barrel rides for the kids. Everyone was sincerely friendly, and just looked like they were enjoying life. You can't ask for much more than that! 

Check out the Wise Acres Organic Farm website here and make an afternoon of it! Whether you come with family, book a field trip for your class, or host your child's birthday party here, I guarantee you will enjoy every minute of it! 

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The Southern Christmas Show

It's no secret that Christmas is my favorite holiday. Twinkling lights, Christmas trees, cookies, wrapping gifts, SANTA. There is nothing about Christmas that I don't like. 

One of my favorite annual traditions that always gets the holiday season kicked off for me is The Southern Christmas Show.  Located at The Park Expo and Conference Center in Charlotte, NC, the show runs from November 10-20 and features a wide array of craft and artisan booths as well as more mainstream realtors. Tickets are $12 at the door or $10 if you buy in advance online (so, ummm duh, buy them online).

Make sure you block off the day to fully enjoy all that The Christmas Show has to offer. I can literally spend all day browsing and perusing the various stalls and booths. Good thing they are open from 10-6 on Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays and until 9 all other days! 

 They never fail to deliver beautiful displays while making your way into the building!

They never fail to deliver beautiful displays while making your way into the building!

In order to keep up your shopping stamina, make sure to grab some food at one of the many vendors set up at the show. Take your pick from a cafeteria style set up, or stalls with hamburgers, sandwiches, hot dogs, or pretzels! A stage toward the end of the first building is set up with ample seating to stop and rest your tootsies while taking in some local musical talent. The Christmas Show hosts a number of local choirs and bands throughout the day and evening to keep the Christmas spirit going all throughout the show.    

Now. Onto the shopping!

Check out some of my favorite vendors.

The Christmas Mouse is a must! A Christmas tradition in my family is to gift each child (or in my case adult) with a new ornament each year in his/her stocking. The ornament is usually symbolic of something accomplished during the year or an especially memorable experience. One year my husband received a beautiful American flag ornament when he became a citizen, I was given a stunning crystal chandelier in remembrance of watching The Phantom of the Opera on a family trip to London, etc. It's really amazing to look at our Christmas Tree each year and remember significant life events, and fun vacations from over the years. All of these unique items, we purchase the The Christmas Mouse.

 

You can't go the the Christmas Show and not stop by to try Helmut's Strudel. Featuring several different types of their award winning strudel, I always opt for the cheese. Located in the last building at the end of the shopping day, I'm always excited to scoop up a box (or two) and indulge in the flaky, cheesy goodness this pastry has to offer. 

Shea's Wildflower Company. This exhibitor is located right smack dab in the beginning of the first building. Filled with charming, rustic Christmas decorations, you are sure to find something in here to bring home and adorn your walls, shelves, or gardens. Boasting both natural and artificial decor, I have to seriously control myself because I want it ALL! I mean c'mon, look at all these goodies! Everything from wreaths and topiaries, to lighted figurines and decorative houses, it's all beautiful and well crafted.   

This last vendor was a new one (new to me anyways) that featured beautiful little succulent container. These adorable miniature gardens were fashioned out of small plastic ornaments which can be hung to adorn your tree, or, thanks to the flat bottom, can liven up a shelf or table. I chose to display mine on a shelf in my library. Doesn't it look fantastic?! 

If you are in the Charlotte, NC or surrounding area, do yourself a favor and grab your BFF, mom, sister, grandma, cousin, whoever, and make a day of The Southern Christmas Show. Arm yourself with comfy walking shoes, a tacky Christmas sweater, and loads of Christmas cheer for a day of laughs and fun!

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Huzzah! Travel to the Renaissance Time!

 The queen and her court

The queen and her court

I've always dreamed about being a princess.  Since I heard the happily-ever-after stories of Snow White, and my favorite, Beauty and the Beast, I often fantasized (and still do) about Prince Charming on a white stallion.  Then, I learned about King Arthur, and the amazing stories of Camelot.  Oh it was love at first....word...cause I learned about it when I read my books.  

Nothing, and I mean, NOTHING gets closer to being part of those times, than a Renaissance Festival.  Just imagine yourself, walking down a village from the middle ages, with small cottages, and artisan stores.  Where peasants (in full attire) roam the village, singing, and showcasing their arts.  Where you can feast on huge turkey legs, while watching knights jousting to entertain the crowd and the King. Where you can see fairies, and magic walking trees; where you can test your archery skills and other medieval arts.  

Yes, there is a place where you can do all this and much more!  The Carolina's Renaissance Fair is one of the largest in the nation, with over 500 full costumed villagers, knights, and royals walking around and interacting with the visitors.  For 22 years, it is the best way to spend a whole day daydreaming about medieval times while participating in the many activities, shows, games, and magic around you.  Come in early (they have ample free parking), and enjoy yourself!

The stores are incredibly crafty and you can find amazing hand made art and artifacts. One of my favorite stores is Broomhilde . Here, you can find all kinds of magic wands and walking sticks, as well as flying brooms! -get ready Hogwarts!

This is a place for the whole family.  My daughter had a blast riding in the (fully man-powered) pirate ship, giant rocking horse, Davinci ride, and interacting with the very beautiful fairy. Her make up is perfect and my daughter truly believes she is a real fairy...or maybe she is.   

Acrobats from Barely Balanced -who are amazing!- walk around in stilts greeting and meeting people. You can also, if you are lucky, can catch a glimpse of the queen and her court walking through the village, saying hi to the people. And don't forget to look out for the knights! You can meet them too, while they are not jousting, throughout Fairhaven.  

If you get hungry, don't fear! Just feast on one of the very many food stands and accompany your giant turkey leg with a cold beer or sparkling mimosa.  

Our day was full of daydreaming and adventure. We tried our hand at archery, threw tomatoes at a obnoxious jester, found pirate coins throughout a maze, visited a dungeon, witnessed a pirate eat fire, shook hands with a walking tree, rode a camel, got a present from the fairy, saw a vulture perform tricks, found the perfect magic wand, and were amazed by the acrobats performance.  

Our day in the village of Fairhaven, at the Carolinas Renaissance Festival was epic. Huzzah!! 

for more information visit: www.carolina.renfestinfo.com