Before our first Christmas together, my husband promptly removed my fake Christmas tree and declared that we would have a real Christmas tree in our home. Forever. And that’s when our annual Christmas-tree-hunting trip to Asheville, NC began.
With new babies and some life circumstances, we’ve had to change the trip a few times. The one year we didn’t make the trip and settled for a local tree I declared we would make that trip to Asheville no matter what.
We have a house full of people who like to declare things.
Packing Up for a Short (48-Hour) Trip with a Large Family
We’ve made weekend trips so many times that we should know exactly what to bring every time without forgetting everything. The only thing new about this trip was bringing along our sweet Baby Mac. It was his first Christmas-tree-hunting trip. I was a bit apprehensive since I’m still nursing him and the drive is about 3 hours from our house. I’ve found over the years that pumping in the car and then having one of the big kids give a bottle helps tremendously. If you are a nursing mama, you definitely want to invest in a good portable breast pump. I have the Medela Pump In Style Backpack but there are other models as well as other brands. I will say though, I don’t use the bottles unless I absolutely have to. My babies have always done best with the Playtex Ventaire bottles.
We also discovered that it is important when packing to have everything in a central location. We showed up at the house we rented for the weekend and it wasn’t until everything was unpacked that we realized my older son’s bag wasn’t in the van! Good thing he is so easy-going. He just rolled with it. We don’t need to go into specifics about his dental hygiene and underwear situation for the weekend.
In the future, we are going to designate one location (that everyone knows about) for the luggage to go. Mr. B always packs the van since he is the Master Packer of the house.
So the question becomes, what do you pack? As a new mom again, it’s easy to get sucked into the we-need-everything-baby mode and pack way too much stuff. We definitely pack for comfort but try to keep it as bare bones as possible.
Packing the Essentials for Littles
- Double Stroller (for Punkin and Baby Mac) This stroller has been awesome! I typically use it with Baby Mac in his car seat and then Punkin rides on the little seat. The Munchkin needs as much time to get her wiggles out as possible. When it’s a trip where she will get tired though, I put Punkin in the front, Munchkin gets the seat and Baby Mac gets put in the Infant Carrier. It reduces whining from everyone (including mama). In a crunch, we have been able to fit all three of them in the stroller with Baby Mac up front in his car seat, Punkin sitting on the seat and Munchkin standing.
- Infant Carrier (for our tour through the Biltmore since some areas of the house don’t allow for strollers. It’s also great to use when you go Christmas tree hunting.) Well, I meant to pack this. This was another one of the things that got left at home. I typically keep this in the van at all times but of course, I was using it around the house and forgot to put it back. DOH! We bought the Ergo Baby Carrier with the infant insert when Munchkin was born and it’s been fantastic! I’ve used it for all three of the littles. Punkin loves riding in it even now. I just throw her on my back with it or put Baby Mac on the front when I’m trying to get house stuff done and he’s wanting (screaming really) to be held.
Where to Stay in Asheville When You Have a Large Family and Only 48 Hours
With a family as large as ours and a budget that isn’t so much, we have found the best thing to do when it comes to accommodations is to rent a place through sites like Airbnb. We scored a cute little double-wide trailer on a farm for this trip, just 10 minutes outside of Asheville. Munchkin went nuts when she saw two horses practically in the backyard! And since Punkin is her little parrot, she was excited too.
Mr. B and Bubba went out to explore with them and meet the horses. They found a credit card and set off to turn it into someone. The owner was on the property and told them someone had lost it at the wedding held the night before. That’s when we learned more about the horses: Dr. Love and Tequila.
Friday Night Dinner – Wicked Weed Brewing Pub
We tried Wicked Weed Brewing Pub in downtown Asheville for dinner not long after our explorations. Mr. B has known about them for awhile since he is an avid beer-lover and had the privilege of eating there when passing through Asheville before.
If you make it there, you’ll want to get there early. We were there around 5 pm and the hostess told us it was a 2-hour wait (but maybe sooner)! With two hungry teenagers and two impatient littles, we didn’t want to take a chance. We decided to sit at a long high-top on their dog-friendly patio. It was pretty cold out there but we decided eating sooner was worth being cold for. (I won’t mention that we got paged only 45 minutes later.) We had the opportunity to go inside and get warm but we had already started a tab with our server and didn’t think it was right for us to just ditch her. I don’t want to know if we could have moved inside and still got her some credit for being our server. I’ll just maintain blissful ignorance and call that our good deed for the weekend.
We started off with the Sea Salt & Vinegar Popcorn as well as the chips with black bean hummus. The popcorn didn’t have the overwhelming flavor that potato chips normally have (although I love those) and the black bean hummus had more flavor than I anticipated. The chips were sturdy enough to dip, too. Don’t you hate when you get chips that are too flimsy for the dip?
For our dinner, Mr. B and Bubba ordered the P.E.I. mussels (Prince Edward Island for those of us not well versed in mussel lingo) with green curry. They were a bit spicier than I prefer but the broth was still delicious. And go ahead and ask for an additional baguette because you’ll want to sop up that whole bowl of broth with it. The fried chicken sandwich with kimchi was delicious and I loved their fries as well. The Munchkin and Punkin shared some chicken nuggets.
Friday Night Dessert – French Broad Chocolate Lounge
The desserts didn’t really suit our mood at Wicked Weed but our server did tell us about a great chocolate place a short walk away, called French Broad Chocolate Lounge.
Despite the long line, the wait wasn’t too bad. Mr. B took Munchkin across the street to see some Christmas decorations and watch people dancing to the music from the street performers. (Always great people watching I tell ya.) And the desserts. Oh, man! Take a look at the chocolate crème brûleé and the chocolate cake. Holy chocolate overload, Batman!
Saturday Morning Breakfast – Tupelo Honey Café
After a quiet evening back at the farm, we rose early to hit Tupelo Honey Café in Downtown Asheville for breakfast. It is the only place we go for breakfast now when we are in Asheville. The biscuits and jam just melt in your mouth!
I am really picky when it comes to breakfast and find myself often in the mood for something other than your typical breakfast foods. The Salt-Roasted Beet Salad with spiced pecans and goat cheese had just the right amount of vinaigrette. Mr. B doesn’t like goat cheese but I just love it!
Bubba had Mr. B order for him. The Shoo Mercy Sweet Potato Pancakes that came with half of a grilled apple and pickled blueberries looked delicious but was a little too much for him to handle. I think he actually ate everything but the pancakes.
We didn’t get a great photo of everyone else’s food because well, food doesn’t last long around us. But I did get a sweet picture of (almost) all the kiddos. Baby Mac was in his car seat next to me but all the other kids shared the other side of the table. Once we took care of the check, we were off to the Biltmore Estate.
Saturday Afternoon – Antler Village and The Farm at Biltmore Estate
I just love the Biltmore Estate. It carries such rich US History. Whether you are homeschooling or have children in a brick-and-mortar school who are learning about US History, the Biltmore is a great place to actually bring your lessons to life. We just love seeing the Blacksmith work and playing the games they have in Antler Village.
The Farm at Biltmore Estate
We ventured over to The Farm in Antler Village to see the animals next. Munchkin and Punkin loved it. But the older kids weren’t as impressed. Mostly because of the animal smell. Teenagers! Sheesh. The employees who work the farm have always been so great with kids. They helped the girls hold baby chicks (and teach them the right way so the chicks wouldn’t fly off). We may or may not have had one flyaway chick.
Punkin was enthralled with the goats and chickens. I was surprised how well she did. She’s actually been pretty skittish around animals since she was a baby (except our sweet Goldendoodle, Autumn).
Bubba and Bug just can’t be serious (even when they are trying to look serious). Please tell me that my teenagers aren’t the only ones who are always acting goofy. They also latch on to new slang like a fresh-from-the-womb baby to his mama. It appears as though Bubba is pointing out the goat that is chewing on a bungee cord. But, no. He is actually pointing out that it’s him. One of his new vocabulary words is G.O.A.T. The G.O.A.T. Or better known as the Greatest Of All Time, which explains Bug’s incredulous look behind him.
Tours at the Biltmore
Having all the Littles made it a bit difficult to take advantage of the other tours available. They can be a bit on the pricey side (especially the Segway tour) so we decided to check out bike rentals. For large families, those are definitely the way to go. We had to skip it this time because the trailers for tiny ones just weren’t going to fit Baby Mac this year. I hope we can do it next year though. Punkin and Baby Mac should be big enough to ride in the trailer while the rest of us ride bikes around the Estate.
We’ve gone so many times and done the same tour that the Big Kids finally broke down and told us that they were starting to get bored. The house tour is always great for me (the audio tour is well worth the addition in my opinion) because Mr. B and I wind up switching to take care of the littles and always miss part of the narration. Every year, I feel like I catch some new information!
This year we paid for the children’s audio tour for Munchkin. She loved it! The narrator is Cedric, the Vanderbilts’ St. Bernard.
But, we want the Big Kids to enjoy our trip every year so we are going to mix things up a bit with the tour we choose next year. They have rooftop tours, upstairs-downstairs tours, winery tours and more. We aren’t sure what we are going to try next year. I’ll have to let you know in the next post.
Saturday Afternoon/Evening: Tour of the Biltmore Estate
After Antler Village and The Farm, we had some time before our evening tour. We headed back to the farmhouse and hung out for a bit (and so the littles could take a nap).
One thing I’ve done over the last few years to save some money is to sign up for the latest possible day tour of the estate. During the last couple of years, their daytime tours sold out so they opened a couple more time slots before the Christmas Evening tours. The daytime and Christmas evening tours are different, but going to the latest available daytime tour still allows you to be inside the house when the sun sets.
Seeing all of the Christmas trees lit up is so wonderful! Mr. B counted over a dozen trees inside. The outside tree is spectacular as well.
Sunday Breakfast – Filo Café
Sunday morning we always head back home but not before we grab some yummy breakfast at a local joint and pick up our tree. We always have a quick stop in Highlands, NC as well.
After check-out, we stopped at a cute little café in Asheville called Filo. It has such a cool atmosphere and the pastries were delicious.
North Carolina has so many great places for Choose & Cut Christmas Tree Farms. We brought a saw the first year we went because Mr. B thought it would be so cool to actually cut down our own Christmas tree. Just so you know, it isn’t as easy as it seems. He tried for a little while because he was determined to cut down his own tree but we wound up getting one of the guys who worked the farm to bring his chainsaw. I didn’t want to ruin Mr. B’s fun but I actually wanted to get the Christmas tree cut down before Christmas!
Since then, we just have someone cut down the tree every year. One thing I love about it is you can really get a good idea what the tree looks like instead of just picking one out at a local store that is already tied up.
Over the last couple of years, Bug and Bubba have started an Elf tradition. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’ve got to check out that movie.
Bug and Bubba find the largest tree on the farm, run up to it and try to jump as high as they can into the tree. It makes me giggle so much. And can’t help but view the videos over and over again. They’re so funny!
Disclaimer: No trees were harmed in the making of the videos.
Wild Thyme Gourmet is a restaurant on Main Street in Highlands, NC. We found it several years ago when we stopped for lunch. It’s a little on the pricey side but it’s yummy so we stick with it. Two places I always look forward to going to in that same spot on Main Street is Colonel Mustards and Kilwin’s.
Colonel Mustards has local jams and mustards. All sorts of flavors. Fruity jalapeño jams that taste so amazing when put on top of a block of cream cheese and eaten with some crackers. Don’t eat it with wimpy crackers though. They’ll break into pieces and leave you with a frustrating eating experience. It’s the worst!
Kilwin’s has candy, ice cream, and most importantly, fudge. Oh, it’s so good. Imagine my heartbreak when we discovered in the year since we have been gone, Kilwin’s decided to close on Sundays! Sad Panda.
Someone was kind enough to tell us about SweeTreats Deli though. Their ice cream was AH.MA.ZING! It’s got the consistency of a Wendy’s Frosty and you can add in your toppings like Cold Stone Creamery. Mmm… I can’t wait to go back again.
The Trip Home
After Highlands, we make the trek home with sugared up and tired children and a Frasier fir tied to the top, ready to ring in the Christmas season. I never thought it would make a difference but I remember the one year we decided not to make the trip. It wasn’t quite the experience it normally is. It wasn’t an experience I wanted to have again. Yeah, I know I already mentioned this at the beginning. Can you tell I was traumatized?
The Christmas season hasn’t been about presents for me in quite some time. But it is about spending time with my family, creating fond memories together, and teaching them about the baby who came to set us free. For us, those traditions always start with our annual trip to Asheville. And now it’s time to go Christmas shopping. Fortunately, we’ve made things easy by narrowing our shopping to just 7 gifts to buy at Christmas.
What traditions do you have to start off the Christmas season?