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Written by:  Stephen Raburn, Sean Drummond, Chris Vitiello
Date: June 1, 2011

One of the great things about being a dad in the Triangle is that there are many ways to share special time with your kids. A trio of Triangle dads share their favorite places, spaces and activities with Carolina Parent's readers


FREE, FABULOUS DOWNTOWN FUN

By Stephen Raburn

The cool thing about living in downtown Durham is that there is a ton of fun stuff to do with kids and most of it is free.

Bull City Connector

My daughters and I like to hop on the Bull City Connector and hop off when anything interesting catches our eye. The buses are new, clean and free and run every 15 minutes or so. They make stops every couple blocks from Golden Belt to Duke's campus near the hospital, mostly running along Main Street. The last stop before it loops back around toward downtown drops you off just a short walk to Duke Gardens, which is definitely one of our favorite destinations.

Never mind the acres of roses, we come for the awesome hills perfect for rolling down, the appearing-out-of-nowhere catfish that steal the crumbs you thought you were tossing to the ducks in the lake, and the groves of bamboo on the edge of the gardens where my girls make secret forts.

On the other end of the route, Golden Belt is always a fun stop, too. There are usually a handful of artists hard at work in their studios willing to take a break and chat with inquisitive protégées.

Bull City Connector
From Duke to Golden Belt, including Ninth Street and Downtown Durham
www.bullcityconnector.org

Golden Belt Artists Studio
807 East Main St., Durham
919-967-7700
www.goldenbeltarts.com

Dolly's, Major and an ice cream cone
Along the way, there's the obligatory stop at Dolly's, the place in Durham for all things mod, which just recently relocated from Brightleaf Square to its current Main Street location. Dolly's is always a fun spot to try on fab wigs and groovy sunglasses.

Across the street from Dolly's is CCB Plaza, which I don't think we've ever passed without visiting Major, Durham's very large and very anatomically correct iconic bronze bull statue, if for no other reason than to just say, "Hi." We'll pop into Blue Coffee Café for a hot dog or ice cream cone if tummies start to growl.

Dolly's Vintage
905 W. Main St., Durham
919-682-1471
www.dollysvintage.com

CCB Plaza
Corcoran & W. Main streets, Durham

Blue Coffee Café
202 N. Corcoran St., Durham
919-688-2233
www.bluecoffeecafe.net

"Look Dad, there's our house"

If we're stumped for something to do, we head to the top of the big blue building on Morgan Street for sweeping views of Durham and well beyond through the Chamber of Commerce's 14th floor office windows, a bird's-eye perch to find landmarks on a clear day.

Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce
Durham Centre Building
300 W. Morgan St., Ste. 1400
919-328-8700
www.durhamchamber.org

Friday Nights Rock
Friday nights in downtown Durham rock. The city is abuzz with free live outdoor music. It's not uncommon for Parker and Otis, the restaurant and specialty food store; CCB Plaza; Brightleaf Square; and American Tobacco to all have bands playing during the early evening. We've been known to hit all four, but we always end up at Amelia's for gelato as a nightcap. We usually make it home by bedtime. A good night's rest and we're ready to hit the Durham Farmers' Market first thing Saturday morning.

Parker and Otis
112 S. Duke St., Durham
919-683-3200
www.parkerandotis.com

American Tobacco Historic District
318 Blackwell St., Durham
919-433-1566
www.americantobaccohistoricdistrict.com

Amelia's Café
Brightleaf Square, 905 W. Main St., Durham
919-683-5600
www.ameliacafe.us

Durham Farmers' Market
Durham Central Park
501 Foster St., Durham
919-667-3099
www.durhamfarmersmarket.com

Stephen Raburn is the author of "WonderDads: The Best Dad and Child Activities in the Triangle." His daughters, Xia and Anika, are 8 and 5.



PLAYFUL ART, FRIENDLY GOATS, WATERFALL MAGIC

By Sean Drummond

North Carolina Museum of Art

We frequently visit the NCMA because there are so many things the kids enjoy seeing. There's the African gallery with its Kente cloth apparel and tribal masks, and the Egyptian area with sarcophagi and animal effigies that my preschooler loves. In the Dutch and Italian Renaissance Galleries, we make a game out of identifying animals in the paintings. But the hands-down favorite part of the museum has to be the tree. Projected on the wall of the lobby, the tree twists and turns in the wind and changes its leaves with the season, a fantastic combination of art and technology.

In the old museum building, there are still plenty of exhibits that fascinate my children, including the taxidermy specimens that accompany Audubon's bird prints in one gallery.

My kids had the most fun in the outdoor Museum Park talking into the "Whisper Bench."

North Carolina Museum of Art
2110 Blue Ridge Rd., Raleigh
919-839-NCMA (6262)
www.ncartmuseum.org

Historic Oak View Park
When the weather is nice but time is short, Oak View is a favorite for us. The park opens early, 8:30 a.m., and is super kid-friendly. The entire park is stroller-accessible, and the kids' play kitchen in the visitor center can keep my kids occupied for hours.

A recent renovation spruced up the historic farmhouse that houses several exhibits. Very friendly goats inside a paddock stick their heads through the fence for petting. Visitors can see cotton growing and learn about cotton production through hands-on exhibits in the adjacent barn. If the goats don't give you enough of an animal fix, there's a friendly kitty wandering around the barn.

For a parent, the best part of Oak View Park is watching your kids play while you enjoy the day, strolling or resting in the gentle landscape of the pecan grove.

Historic Oak View Park
4028 Carya Dr., Raleigh
919-250-1013
www.wavegov.com/parks/oakview

Little River Park
Little River Park is small at 47 acres, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in scenery. Located just off Route 97 near Zebulon in eastern Wake County, this is one of the most picturesque parks I've been to in the Triangle. There is a large waterfall where the river has breached an old dam and several smaller waterfalls as the water makes its way down a 10-foot embankment. Concrete ruins bear witness to the site's past as a mill and ice house.

My kids, especially my preschooler, enjoy the swings, sandbox, and the tallest playground slide I've ever seen. Even though it's a bit of a drive for families on the western end of the Triangle, Little River is worth checking out. The sound of falling water is soothing, the view down the river is appealing, and the slide and swings will keep your kids busy as you enjoy the peace of your surroundings.

Little River Park
Off Route 97, Town of Zebulon
919-269-7455
www.townofzebulon.org

As a freelance writer and stay-at-home dad of a toddler and preschooler, Sean Drummond is always looking for places in the Triangle to take his kids and ways to keep them busy. He blogs about his adventures with his kids at http://besteducateddad.blogspot.com.



TADPOLES, HUNDREDS OF CATS, POETIC SURPRISES

By Chris Vitiello

Pond Adventures, Duke Gardens and the Eno River
Is there anything better in the summer than a pond? My daughters and I say no. We love to catch tadpoles, so we keep a pond kit in the car at all times: A couple of nets, some well-washed spaghetti sauce jars and a pond field guide. Sometimes we also take a cheap microscope and slide-making supplies so we can scrutinize algae or look for tiny organisms in the water.

Our favorite spot is the shade pond at Duke Gardens because the gazebo offers a clean edge for my preschooler to perch upon. But a better spot is any sunny, slow-moving section of the Eno River in the West Point section of the park. You can't tramp around the perimeter of the Duke Gardens pond like you can along the Eno. But you can easily catch tadpoles with nets at both places.

Catch and release, after photographing or drawing, is always the best practice. But if you must take tadpoles home, choose a couple of small, lively ones for your aquarium — along with enough water from their pond — to watch them metamorphose through a few life cycle stages toward frogdom. Then release them back into the wild at the exact spot from which you caught them.

Tadpoles are easy to care for. To feed them, boil a lettuce leaf for 10 minutes and chop into tiny pieces. Feed the tadpoles just a little and keep the leftovers in the freezer. Keep their water fresh and clean. The day you bring tadpoles home, set out an uncovered container of tap water on a sunny windowsill. After five days, the chlorine will be evaporated enough to be safe for tadpoles.

Duke Gardens
420 Anderson St., Durham
919-684-3698
www.hr.duke.edu/dukegardens/

West Point on the Eno
City of Durham Park
5101 North Roxboro Rd., Durham
919-471-1623
www.enoriver.org/eno/parks/WestPoint/westpoint.html

Goathouse Cat Refuge
I'd say there's a 50 percent chance that one or both of my daughters will grow up to have a houseful of cats. Every cat they see, they beg to bring home. If this sounds familiar, then take your children to the Goathouse Cat Refuge just north of Pittsboro off Route 87.

Sculptor Siglinda Scarpa has devoted a chunk of her studio property to housing unwanted cats.  Volunteers care for more than a hundred cats that run free in a few acres of woods. You can visit and play with the cats, or even adopt one if you want.

The refuge has a very informal feel, despite the fact that it's the only no-kill animal shelter/humane society in Chatham County licensed by the Veterinary Division of the State Department of Agriculture. Combined with a zip into downtown Pittsboro to grab a bite at The General Store Café or Virlie's Grill, a Goathouse cat visit makes for a terrific Saturday every time.

Goathouse Cat Refuge
680 Alton Alston Rd., Pittsboro
919-542-6815
http://www.goathouserefuge.org

Windshield Poems
You might not realize it, but tweets and Facebook posts fall into a thousands-of-years-old tradition of aphorisms and proverbs — small nuggets of written wisdom. My daughters and I like to continue this tradition by writing tiny poems and leaving them under the windshield wipers of cars.

We get a bunch of small pieces of colorful paper and write evocative single sentences. The task is to give someone a pleasant or surprising moment. Describe a tree or a cloud. Write a pleasant sentence beginning with "You" so the reader feels like the sentence is about him or her. Whatever makes us smile, we write a line about it.

We like to imagine people see the paper on their windshield and get a little start, thinking it's a parking ticket. But, when they open it, they find a short uplifting poem or expression.

Most commercial and business lots and decks forbid solicitation via windshield billet, and though these poems are different, it's best to avoid trouble. Stick to street parking, or even your own neighborhood. We always put our first names beneath the poem, so we're not totally anonymous.

Car Windshields
Public street parking, The Triangle

Chris Vitiello is a Durham-based freelance writer who likes to share a life of poetry, museums and hockey with his two daughters.



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