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.

cabin wall art

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?!

9 Ways to Give Experiences (Not Things) This Christmas

For a young child, there’s nothing like waking up on Christmas morning to discover your most coveted toy under the Christmas tree. I have fond memories of the Christmases when I received a bike, a Cabbage Patch Kid and so many other treasured items from Santa through the years.

So with that as a seemingly contradictory preface, I have to say I’m coming around to the idea of gifting experiences rather than things. Make no mistake, I’ll still put gifts under the tree for my children. Always. But as a mom who has observed enough Christmases and the fate of so many “I’ve-gotta-have-it-Mom” toys, I have to question the lasting value of some of these gifts.

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An abandoned My Little Pony toy. You do not want to step on this!

Media and our consumeristic society often make it seem that our kids need every branded product that is offered in their particular area/character/movie/cartoon/whatever of interest. These toys du jour hold their attention for a short time, sure, but within a few weeks the kids move on and may never pick up these items again. It seems like a shame and a waste, not to mention the additional clutter it adds to our home. If it were just my husband and I buying for our children at the holidays, this may not be an issue, but there are grandparents and aunts and uncles and extended family members, too. All are appreciated and well-meaning in their gifting, of course, and there are many quality toys out there, but the sum total can be overwhelming.

Last Christmas, my husband and I decided our big gift to our daughters would be a trip to Disney World. We weren’t putting them in the car that day to go see the mouse (like I’ve known some families to do), so I knew this gift wouldn’t provide immediate gratification like a big toy might, but I still wanted to create some excitement as this represented such a big part of their Christmas. I wrapped up a handmade Countdown to Disney chalkboard sign that I purchased on Etsy and a character autograph book that the girls could take with them to the parks. Written in chalk on the sign was the number of days until our trip – about 21 or so as we visited on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend. The girls had fun updating the sign each day and looked forward to the trip. It was a great vacation! For my youngest daughter, it was her first time at Disney World. We have many good memories and photos from the trip that we’ll cherish for years to come.

(If you’re planning a visit to Disney World during the holidays, check out these festive WDW events and attractions to celebrate the season, as shared by the blog Kids on a Plane.)

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The nightly Electric Light Parade is one of our family’s favorite things to see at Walt Disney World.

1. Family travel – whether it’s for a vacation, theme park visit, or even a mission trip – is a wonderful way to share an experience with your children, but there are other less expensive options, too. You can make an educational day trip out of visiting a museum or aquarium. Many, like the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Fla., offer free admission.

2. During a visit to Orlando this summer, my mom and I treated my daughters to lunch at the American Girl store at The Florida Mall. Like American Girl stores in other cities, the Orlando store includes a restaurant.

AG cafe

My oldest two girls have American Girl dolls that they brought along with us, and my youngest daughter was offered one to play with when we arrived for our lunch reservation. Each doll had her own seat at the table, along with a doll sized cup and saucer.

Dining with AG doll

I expected to be underwhelmed by the menu and food because it is American Girl and a t-shirt for a doll costs $10, for heaven’s sake. The selection and food were not bad though, and we received excellent service. The American Girl dining experience was fun. You could certainly host your own tea party at home for less, but we all enjoyed this special treat. American Girl has stores in Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville and other major U.S. cities, too.

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3. The Orlando mall we visited is also home to the newest Crayola Experience. Opened in July, this family attraction boasts over 70,000 square feet of colorful and creative activity space. There are 25 attractions inside including making your own coloring page, personalizing your own crayon wrapper and much more. The Crayola Experience was still a few weeks away from opening when we visited The Florida Mall, so we were not able to check it out. I hope we can do this on a future visit. According to the website, admission is $17.99 per person if purchased online, or an Annual Pass for unlimited visits within a year is $34.99. Purchased at the door, admission rates are slightly higher.

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We were able to pay a visit to the adjacent Crayola Store, which was open. You can find every possible Crayola crayon and Crayola products you never knew existed here. Many of the prices were pretty steep, we thought. Some of the same items are sold at WalMart or Target for less, but it’s certainly the most complete offering of Crayola items I’ve ever seen.

crayons in every color

4. Camping is another good option for making memories. Who doesn’t love campfires and s’mores? You may need to purchase a few camping supplies of course if you don’t already own them, but these can be a good investment. Plus, this gives you something to wrap up and put under the Christmas tree. I’m definitely more comfortable with the glamping style of camping than any rugged wilderness excursion. A bathroom and electrical outlets nearby are non-negotiable for me. After one sleepless night on the cold, hard ground at my daughters’ Girl Scout camp out last fall, I learned that an air mattress inside the tent will be essential the next time I camp, too. (Go ahead and roll your eyes, hardcore campers. I can’t see you.)

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Other experiential gifts you might consider giving this holiday season:

5. Movie tickets – The Peanuts Movie is adorable, by the way. My kids loved it and it has a nice message.

6. Restaurant gift cards – Take your pick of local favorites or chains, most eateries offer gift cards these days. I don’t know a busy family who wouldn’t love to receive a night off from cooking dinner!

7. Classes – My kids would like to take art, cooking and sewing lessons. We have experience with one local art instructor and my daughter loved her classes for kids. Research providers in your area to find the right class for you or your child!

8. Personal stylist – So this is not for kids, but moms and other special ladies need a treat, too. You may already know I am a fan of StitchFix, the personal styling service that hand picks clothing and accessories and ships them to your door. Did you know that Stitch Fix offers gift cards? These are a great gift idea and can provide a fun treat for the lady who is looking for something different this Christmas. Of course, a spa day is a nice pampering gift, too!

9. Personal shopping – I don’t think this is offered in Northwest Florida yet, but in many larger cities grocery delivery services are becoming more common. What new mom wouldn’t love having someone do the shopping for you and bring the bread, milk and whatever else you need to your door?! Where was this when I had twin babies at home?! This could definitely be a special treat for some folks on Santa’s list.

However you decide to give to the special people in your life this year, remember that it is the thought that counts. Shared experiences and time together can be the most meaningful expressions of love you can give, and these don’t have to cost a fortune. In 20 years, your kids will remember and appreciate your outings to see Christmas lights together as a family more than the 14th toy they circled in the Black Friday circular.

Happy gifting!

 

The fine print: Some of my ideas are admittedly retail in nature, but I do not receive any compensation or consideration from American Girl or Crayola, or Walt Disney World or Peanuts for that matter. I just think they offer unique experiences that many families may not have considered as holiday gift options. I do include a link to Stitch Fix that could allow me to earn a small referral credit toward future purchases if someone uses it to order a Fix, but the company does not pay me for my reviews.