10 Ways to Celebrate Christmas in Rhode Island (with the kids)

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Geoff and I both grew up with the tradition of Christmas and have continued it with our girls despite the fact that we are not religious. Although our daughters know that Santa Claus isn’t real, we all love pretending during the holiday season. Here are some ways we’ve celebrated Christmas in Rhode Island…

1. Pick Your Own Christmas Tree

It’s the ultimate ‘paper versus plastic’ debate — we’ve chosen a real tree because ultimately it’s more sustainable (another tree can be grown) and so much more festive to have the smell of pine in the air. This year, we once again got our tree from Lockwood Tree Farm. Trees get collected after the holidays in Providence — don’t make the mistake of one over-eager dad who tried to burn his tree in the fireplace and nearly set his house on fire.

2. ‘Christmas’ Waterfire

Tonight (December 13), there will be a special (and as always, free) WaterFire lighting to enjoy. It really is much warmer by the glowing fires, although you’ll still need a coat, and a hat, and gloves, and a scarf.

3. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

The Providence Ballet also will put on a performance tonight (December 13) at Rhode Island College of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.

4. Christmas at a Mansion

Somehow seeing someone else’s house decked out in holiday spirit can be as satisfying (and a lot easier) than your own. Christmas at The Newport Mansions continues through January 5. I personally love to visit Blithewold, a 45-room English style manor house adorned with holiday decorations. Don’t forget to stop in the Carriage House where the “Gingerbread Wonderland” features mini-gingerbread houses of all styles made by area children. And right in Providence, you can visit the John Brown House Museum‘s Home for the Holidays.

5. A Christmas Carol

The Trinity Repertory Theater has certainly perfected its performance of the classic Dickens tale. The show has moments that can be scarier for children, although of course we were brave (or stupid) enough to bring our two-year-old one year. Let’s just say, it was a good thing we packed plenty of lollipops. Anyway, the show kept all of us mesmerized. I also recently discovered there’s another production of A Christmas Carol featuring Big Nazo puppets, which is definitely on my list to check out.

6. The Nutcracker

Festival Ballet's Nutcracker

Festival Ballet’s Nutcracker

Festival Ballet puts on a stellar performance of The Nutcracker at the Providence Performing Arts Center. For next year, you might also consider the Island Moving Co.‘s performance at one of the Newport Mansions, Rosecliff.

7. Gingerbread Houses and Holiday Cookies

Of course, a great way to celebrate is to make your own or build a gingerbread house (or village as the girls did this year) at home. There are also several decorating events and contests (everything’s a contest apparently) throughout the state. Check out the Decorate Your Own Gingerbread Man event on December 21, 2013 at the Smith-Abbleby House Museum in Smithfield, RI. The Ocean House in Westerly also hosts a Gingerbread Village Competition and Reception on December 16, 2013.

8. Ski, Skate and Sled

There are plenty of indoor and outdoor skating options throughout the state, including the Kennedy Plaza rink in Providence. If we actually get enough snow, you’ll probably find us sledding on the East Side. We still haven’t been, but there’s kid-friendly skiing in Yawgoo Valley Ski and Sports Area in Exeter, RI.

9. Shop Local

Two years ago, I came up with a list of great places to shop locally for children’s gifts. There are also guides to Shop Downcity and the Shops at Hope Street, which includes stores like Kreatelier which has wonderful hand-made items for adults and children.

While you’re shopping, get into the spirit by donating gifts at any one of the local toy drives: Children’s Friend or Toys for Tots (Whisky Republic in Providence is accepting gift donations today December 13), for instance.

10. Holiday Pops

Last but not least, tonight the Boston Pops comes down to Providence Performing Arts Center for a special local performance. We went years ago without children when we were living in Boston. I think older children (especially aspiring musicians) certainly would appreciate the performance.

Rhode Island Rye

Rhode Island Rye supports a local farm, a local mill and a local bakery. And it tastes good, too.

I’ll admit that I’m not as much of a bread connoisseur as an ice cream one. Still, there are quite a few reasons to be impressed by Seven Stars Bakery’s addition of the Rhode Island Rye loaf. Modeled after a dense, moist German Vollkornbrot, the loaf weighs more than it looks. Sliced thin and toasted with some salted butter or Farmstead cheese, it offers a rich, complex flavor.  According to the bakery, it can last for several weeks when kept sealed in plastic.

But my favorite feature of this bread is that it’s home grown. The rye is grown on Schartner’s Farm in Exeter, RI then ground using traditional stone milling at Kenyon’s Grist Mill in Usquepaug, RI. The resulting flour becomes the star ingredient (along with RI rye berries, water, salt and yeast) in the official Rhode Island Rye bread.  Buy the loaves at Seven Stars Bakery locations and their farmer’s market stands.

Schartner’s Farm
Route 2 and 1 Arnold Place
Exeter, RI

Kenyon’s Grist Mill
Usquepaug, RI

Seven Stars Bakery
Providence & East Providence, RI

Schartner Farms: Hay Ride, Pumpkin Patch and Corn Maze

Pumpkins of all shapes and sizes.

Pumpkins of all shapes and sizes.

Over the weekend, we spent a day with our family at Schartner Farms in Exeter, RI.  The farm stand alone is an impressive sight– in autumn, they sell over a dozen crops grown on their 85 acres — beets, apples, peppers, carrots, broccoli, squash, tomatoes, string beans, potatoes and of course, pumpkins.  They also offer fruits, vegetables and flowers from other farms so you can pick up staples like lemons when you need them. From their on-site bakery wafts the smell of their pumpkin, apple, and berry pies which are obviously quite popular judging by the volume they churned out last Sunday.

Heading into the corn maze on Schartner Farms.

Heading into the corn maze on Schartner Farms.

The family fun begins with a hay ride which winds you deeper into the farm along dirt roads.  It drops you off at the ‘pumpkin patch’ where you find an assortment of activities for the kids.  Madeline enjoyed the waist-high mini-maze, but gave up quickly on the the larger corn maze which I continued on alone.  Their maze is based on a quiz  — this year’s theme was insects so the questions centered on the peculiarities of mosquitos, dragonflies, cockroaches and more.  For example, how long can a cockroach survive without it’s head?  The right answer leads you to the correct path.  Let’s just say it took me a little while to get out of there — I apparently don’t know much about insects.

They also have a number of photo ops in addition to their pumpkin patch like their enormous funky scarecrows, Halloween-themed pictures to poke your head through and some larger-than-life cartoonish bugs.  You’ll also find a handful of carnival-like games (guess the number, ball toss).

After you’re done, you take the slightly bumpier hay ride back to the farm entrance and by then you’re certainly ready for a snack (or at least we were).  No need to leave, you can get hot dogs, their custom soft drinks and tasty french fries made on the spot with their own fresh farm potatoes.  For dessert, pick up a slice of one of their pies (we preferred the crispy apple pie to the pumpkin).

French fries freshly made from farm potatoes.

French fries freshly made from farm potatoes.

On your way out, you can pick up a pumpkin (if you hadn’t already at the pumpkin patch).  At their stand, they have all shapes and sizes — tiny ironsides to ones large enough to need two hands and your full attention to carry.  They even have a collection of decorated and painted pumpkins which come with names like “Grumpy Dave” and “Scary Mary.”

Shartner Farms
Route 2 and 1 Arnold Place
Exeter, RI

The Middle of Nowhere Diner

Middle of Nowhere Diner

The Middle of Nowhere Diner in Exeter, Rhode Island

This is the kind of place that usually causes Geoff to declare, “That looks fantastic,” as we drive past. I’ve come to realize his criteria: the dingier and dirtier, the better he imagines it is. Sometimes, he’s right and we discover the best pancakes ever, but just as often our meal turns out to be a disappointment.

So last night as we stopped into The Middle of Nowhere Diner in Exeter, Rhode Island, I knew it could go either way. At 5:30 pm on a Sunday, the place was bustling with a mostly over-60-something crowd, but still plenty of tables to choose from (it’s larger than it looks from the outside).

We started with the wedding soup which nicely done with delicious homemade meatballs, fresh greens, and teeny balls of pasta. I’m not going to lie to you — it’s not even half as good as Geoff’s grandmother makes. But, it was pretty good for a diner, and since I ate two bowls, I must have liked it. For our main course, Geoff had meatloaf (also freshly made with robust flavor), and I had a perfectly wonderful roast chicken which they called All-You-Can-Eat Chicken alongside a more ordinary pasta with sauce. Sadly, we didn’t get to taste the homemade desserts because Madeline had decided it was time to go. And when a two-year-old says it’s time to go, trust me, you listen.

But we’ll be back, hopefully next time to try their pancakes and four-egg omelets.

The Middle of Nowhere Diner
222 Nooseneck Hill Rd
Exeter, RI