A Visit to Oak Hollow Farm

Oak Hollow Farm horsesHorseback riding, a campfire, and an all around beautiful setting are what I’ll remember of my visit to Oak Hollow Farm in Fairhope, Alabama, last month. That, and what had to have been the coldest night of the year at that point in 2016! Despite freezing temperatures, I had a great time chaperoning my daughters’ Brownie troop and two other Girl Scout troops on a fun overnight adventure.

We arrived in the early afternoon hours on a Saturday, dropped our bags in the bunk rooms we’d reserved, and readied ourselves for horseback riding. While we waited for the hay ride that takes visitors to the horse barn, the girls discovered the largest oak I’ve ever seen. One low hanging branch was particularly accessible to the girls and they wasted no time climbing up on the giant tree. Wooden swings hung from other branches and these were popular with the girls throughout our stay.

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The short hayride across the property to the horse barn was enjoyable and fun for the kids. The staff then helped our group by supplying helmets for the kids and matching each person up with a horse. Oak Hollow is a family owned and operated business and the staff at the horse barn definitely reflected that in the pride they took in the horses and the grounds. Our large group of about 40 people was divided into two, one going on the first outing and the other going out on the horses after the first group returned. Most of us had no experience with horses. The staff were very helpful in ensuring we knew what to do, and they led us on the ride and remained with us the entire time. I didn’t pay attention to the time, but it seemed like each ride was about 30 minutes.

Horseback Riding Oak Hollow Farm

The horses were extremely gentle. I was never fearful of my horse running off from the group or going too fast.  Occasionally some of the horses stopped to eat grass or leaves on the trees, but it was easy to redirect them to get back on task with a simple tug on the reins. These horses are so are well trained. One staffer even mentioned that their horses are ridden in the area’s Mardi Gras parades.

horseback riding

When we returned to the barn, some of the girls who’d brought carrots for the horses were able to feed them. Then the hayride returned us back to our cabin area.

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After a quick snack, the younger girls began gathering up twigs and small pieces of wood for the campfire. A fire pit is available just a short distance from the cabins and bath house. As the sun set, the older girls and a couple of the leaders helped to start the fire, where we roasted hot dogs and s’mores for dinner.

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After dinner and clean up, we all returned to our cabins to retreat from the cold. The cabins were comfortable, with one queen size bed, and one bunk bed with a full size bed on the bottom and a twin bed on top. There is a bathroom (toilet only) and a small kitchen area equipped with a sink, mini refrigerator and microwave. There is one space heater in each cabin, which I was thankful to sleep near, but we all relied on our many layers of clothes and blankets to stay warm that night. The kids played cards and some board games before lights out. We actually slept pretty well. The next morning we made a simple breakfast in our cabins and walked around the grounds before packing up to return home.

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Although we didn’t participate, Oak Hollow Farm also offers fishing and skeet shooting. They also have facilities for private events like weddings or corporate gatherings. According to their website, a CMT show, Sweet Home Alabama, filmed there, and notable guests have included members of the Duck Dynasty family and country music star Blake Shelton.

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For guests who stay on the property like we did, it is definitely more glamping than camping, but that was perfect for our group. I’d go back, especially for the horseback riding, which you can do even if you don’t choose to stay overnight. The horseback riding costs $35 per person.

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It was a treat to spend a night on this gorgeous property with my daughters and friends. It’s amazing what even a short time away from electronics and the busyness of our daily lives can do for your spirits! Plus, did I mention s’mores?!

Magic Christmas in Lights at Bellingrath Gardens

Bellingrath tree lights and fountain

This weekend, on a whim, we decided to visit Bellingrath Gardens, located just outside Mobile, Alabama, for Magic Christmas in Lights. The grand holiday light display features three million lights throughout a 65-acre property. Visitors walk along a path that winds through the estate, transformed by lights of every color in a variety of scenes.

It’s truly impressive. My only regret is not having brought a real camera along, so photos included in this post are from my phone.

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Bellingrath Gardens and Home is an amazing place to visit during daylight hours any time of year. The picturesque estate along the Fowl River is famous for its beautiful, azalea-rich grounds. Countless other varieties of flowers and plants bloom in abundance, too. I visited about 10 years ago and have recommended it ever since to anyone traveling to the Mobile area.

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This weekend was my first time to visit during Magic Christmas in Lights. I did a little bit of research and learned the holiday lights display started 20 years ago, inspired by a similar event at Georgia’s Callaway Gardens. It’s grown through the years, and last year USA Today named Magic Christmas in Lights at Bellingrath Gardens as one of the top 10 light displays in America.

Bellingrath swans

What I didn’t know when we decided to put the kids in the car to be tourists for the night is that this (the weekend before Christmas) typically represents the busiest nights of the season for Magic Christmas in Lights. We had a very long wait to get into the parking lot as cars lined the two-lane road leading into the property, and then another wait in line for tickets. The traffic added about 45 minutes to our trip.

Lesson learned: Buy your tickets in advance online, plan to get their early, and if possible visit on a weeknight – or any night other than the busiest of the year!  One bonus – the Coca-Cola Christmas Truck and a costumed polar bear were on hand for photo opps just outside the Gardens on the night we visited.

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Walking through the lights with my husband and daughters, taking pictures, and enjoying one of the few cool nights we’ve had during this unseasonably hot fall made up for the long wait. Christmas music and hot chocolate for sale added to the experience. This place is sure to put even the biggest Grinch around in the Christmas spirit!

Magic Christmas in Lights is open nightly from 5-9 p.m. CST through January 2, 2016, with the exception of Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Tickets are $15 for adults, $7 for children ages 5-12, and free for children 4 and under.

Shopping Tax-Free on the Gulf Coast

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If you are vacationing on the Gulf Coast this weekend (or you live here like me), you have the rare opportunity to shop tax-free in Alabama, Florida and Louisiana.

On Friday, August 1, each of these states begins what many refer to as tax-free weekend or a sales tax holiday, a designated time when consumers can purchase certain items for personal use without being charged state sales tax. The most common of course is school supplies, as students prepare to go back to school over the next several weeks in most areas (like it or not, kids).

Vacationers, if you going to be out shopping for sunscreen, don’t forget to toss a box of crayons in your cart, too. You can take them back home with you. Just don’t let them melt in the car! (Many schools post students’ supply lists on their website, so be sure to check yours before you shop.)

For more significant savings, you may want to shop for personal electronics (rules vary by state as to what items qualify, as well as the maximum dollar amount to which the savings can be applied.) This may be a good time to buy the Mac Book you’ve been eyeing or software for your college student. Before you shop, just check the tax-free weekend details for the state where you plan to buy:

Alabama

Florida

Louisiana

Texas will hold its sales tax holiday August 8-10. Mississippi’s was last weekend (sorry we missed it!).

Most clothing and shoes qualify for the sales tax savings, as well. I expect shoppers will flood the malls and outlets (and we have some good outlets on the Coast) for summer sales and (gasp!) fall clothes. I’m not sure why those are even sold in this part of the country until at least October, but they are there if you feel the need to stock your closet.

My children won’t stop growing, despite my pleas, so I’ll be shopping for bigger sizes for them this year. Although it won’t be tax-free, I plan to shop one of my favorite consignment sales in September. It’s called Mom2Mom. Twice a year, this massive resale event comes to the Pensacola Fairgrounds. Managed by two moms and many, many volunteers, you can purchase gently used and new children’s clothing, baby items, toys at greatly reduced prices. According to the Mom2Mom Facebook page, the September sale will also feature women’s clothing, so that’s another bonus! The sale is open to the public September 18-20. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I should acknowledge that I could benefit financially as a consignor at this event. Even if I wasn’t a consignor at Mom2Mom, I would highly recommend this sale to parents.)

Happy shopping and saving!