Beating “The Blahs” – Cincy Style

Comment 1 Standard

As a family, one of our favorite places to visit is Cincinnati. It’s a quick trip for us and there are so many things to do for both family/kid and adult entertainment. We have been there so many times that I cannot possibly describe in detail all that we have done or recommend there, but I will give some highlights for anyone wanting to check it out!

But, first and foremost, I have to give a HUGE shout-out to my husband, Jeremy, for his stellar driving in the treacherous winter conditions we encountered. He handled our F-150 like a boss, and also managed to put up with my incessant paranoid backseat driving and squealing. Well done, Babe. Well done.  The kids were in the backseat with their iPads and awesome new headphones, therefore making them ideal travel buddies (translation: occupied and quiet!).

Last weekend, our itinerary included the Newport Aquarium and Great Wolf Lodge. It was my first time at Great Wolf Lodge, but I love that aquarium and was so excited to see they have added to it.

During the winter months, the Newport Aquarium runs a great ticket special where you get a free kid ticket with any adult ticket purchase. That was almost a $40 savings for us! (Which I promptly spent on a private penguin encounter for Jeremy and Caroline.) Jeremy and Caroline both love penguins (who doesn’t, though?), and Caroline had just finished a study on these adorable creatures at school the previous week, so it was well-timed. Caroline’s favorite fact:  Penguins poop every 10 minutes! Hence, we will never own a penguin as a pet.

img_0452

They have a coat check for winter time, and adjusted hours. I always recommend buying tickets in advance (coupons at the bottom of them!), but that’s because I’m a worrier and worry it will sell out on our day of arrival. Plus, I hate waiting in lines. At first glance, I think the ticket price can seem steep, but there are so many interactive and hands-on activities that I truly feel we all got an “experience” out of it. Our favorite part was Sting Ray Bay. I think these creatures are fascinating. Years ago (before kids), Jeremy and I went swimming with sting rays in Grand Cayman and it is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. Jeremy even got a hickey from one of them; a fact that he will NEVER live down. LOL! (Sorry, Babe.) We spent the bulk of our time with the sting rays, partially because there is a very tropical vibe in that area – reggae music, sunlight, and a warmer temp than other areas. The only thing I was missing was a margarita.

There is a little cafe’ in the aquarium. Overpriced as hell, of course, but we were able to score a little snack there to keep the kids’ Hangry Instinct from taking over. I just love aquariums, and Newport is impressive. In fact, if I ever hit a MAJOR lottery, mark my words that Huntington, WV, will have its own aquarium. I HEART FISHES (and other aquatic creatures)! Last tip:  Take a dry shirt for the kiddos. Between the touch tank and the sting rays (yes you can touch them!!), my kids were soaked, and since it was 5 degrees outside, we ended up buying crappy clearance sweatshirts.

img_0446

Lodging:  If you are planning to do just the Aquarium/Newport area, there is a brand new Hampton Inn right across the street. It is very walkable, and the hotel has a little pool and clean, spacious rooms. Great property!

After a day at the aquarium and a night in at the Hampton Inn, we ventured up to Mason, OH, to Great Wolf Lodge. (It is literally right next to King’s Island.) All I can say is WOW! I wish we would have had more days there, because I honestly don’t even feel like I can give very good info about it after just one night. I’m sure there are other experts on that place, but I can tell you it is overwhelmingly fun. We sprung for the room upgrade so the kids could stay in a little tent with bunk beds, which I think added to the experience and it also gave a little separation. The water park is clean (thank God), and the lifeguards there mean business. As a perpetual worrier who really goes psycho around water, I appreciated their diligence and commitment to water safety. Oh, and I was able to use my (Super Hip & Cool Mom) Sunny Tag waterproof pouch!

img_0561

Life jackets and (crappy) towels are provided, and there dozens of ways to spend hundreds of your hard-earned dollars at the various games in the arcade, mini golf, shops, etc. They have restaurants on-property too, but we only had pizza during a swim break. Parents:  There is a well-stocked bar! Hallelujah.  And they carried one of my favorite beers, Kona. Due to my recent surgery, I really couldn’t do much, so I spent a lot of time in the “little kid” area with Leo. I loved this area because he could splash and climb the stairs to the mini-slides while I kept an eye on him. It was nice not feeling like I had to hover. I’m excited to go back another time when I can be more active with the kids because I love water parks and water slides, but just could not do that stuff this time. Check Groupon for specials, and also check with your workplace to see if any discounts are offered. Most important:  The kids had a blast! And the smiles on their faces are all I wanted. (Oh, and have I mentioned that penguins poop every 10 minutes?)

There is SO much to do in the Cincinnati area. We go several times a year and do something different every time. I am trying not to be too lengthy, but I want to highlight some fun stuff we have done in the past in the Queen City, therefore I will fail at that attempt. Bear with me.

Duke Energy Children’s Museum:  Wow! Worth the small entry fee and definitely a great way for kids to run off steam. It’s clean, and things work. There are several different play areas, and a special gated area for little kids with stroller parking. It is well-staffed, and a quick little drive from downtown. Last time we were there, the kids’ claimed their favorite part was riding in the golf cart (shuttle) from the back of the parking lot to the entrance, but I know they also enjoyed the water tables, tree-house, and little village. NOTE: Right now their website has notice that they are closed through Spring 2018 due to construction, so check before you go! I’m excited to see what this new construction brings, because it was pretty awesome to begin with.

EnterTRAINment Junction:  Now this place is just a little gem of an experience! Located north of the city, it is the WORLD’S Largest Indoor Train display. Basically, it is a huge model train that is laid out chronologically by period and historically accurate. One nice little touch they offer:  Small step stools as you enter so our little shorties can see the display and carry with them throughout. There is also a little indoor play area and a funhouse. They do have a little concession area and a gift shop. When the weather is nice, they also offer some outdoor train rides/activities, but we have not been there when those were available. Leo absolutely flips out over trains, so we were bummed to miss out on that, but both kids just absolutely loved this place. Tickets are very reasonable, and kids 2 and under are free. If you’re looking for something to fill a few hours in the Cincy area, check this place out!! You’ll be impressed, I promise. Like I said, it’s a little gem!

Cincinnati Reds Game:  Just like Great Wolf Lodge, I’m hardly an expert on this place, but what I love about this experience is Great American Ballpark itself. First of all, I love baseball:  Any sport that allows day drinking in broad daylight without judgement is A-OK in my book. Plus, the whole atmosphere of a baseball game just feels so American and hearkens back to a simpler time. This stadium though: Breastfeeding suite; clean bathrooms; lots of activities for the kids including an awesome roped off playgound…. Yes! Plus, it is very walkable from the downtown hotels and across the street from a brewery (Yay!). You can get tickets for a reasonable price, and if it is your little one’s first time, the customer service desk will make you a little certificate to commemorate the event. It is definitely a very family-friendly environment and a great spring/summer activity in Cincy.

fiona

Cincinnati Zoo: I admit, I was on Fiona-Watch because nothing can be cuter than this baby hippo! While I didn’t get to see her, I did see her parents Bibi and Henry (RIP!), and this zoo was just awesome. Easy to navigate and lots of great exhibits. It was hot when we were there last summer, but the animals were still out and about. We paid the extra few bucks to feed the giraffes and it was absolutely worth the money (and waiting in a little line). The kids just squealed and thought it was the coolest thing ever. Fun fact: Giraffes have black tongues! We rode the train and watched a great bird show (a parrot flew right over our heads!), and we were able to beat the heat in a couple indoor exhibits along the way. We rented a 2-kiddo stroller, which I think was a smart move because it kept me from having to pack ours and drag it around.

OMG this is getting way too long and I’m sorry, but one other thing I want to mention is Rhinegeist Brewery. Again, I’m not an expert on this place, but I know someone who is (my bestie!) and I want to encourage you to check our her blog, Wild and Wonderful Me, to learn more about this cool beer-drinkers destination. While you’re at her blog, check out the other awesome stuff she gets into. She’s one cool cat! (Love you, Michele!)

99 pounds of kid

Comment 1 Standard

“99” rolls off the tongue. I graduated in 1999…. 99 bottles of beer on the wall….. Caroline weighed 9lb 9oz….. when she was little, her classmates called her “Nine-Nine” when they couldn’t pronounce her real name. And last week, my kids were playing with the scale and they realized, through some seriously choppy math, that their combined weight is 99lbs. 99. If I held both of them, that’s what I’d carry, and I’d do so happily when necessary. We snuggle and love and carry them for as long as we possibly can, right?

There’s a [super depressing] saying that goes something like “one day you will put him down, and never pick him up again.” It’s a haunting reminder of how quickly they grow. Many folks don’t realize when that day is; it’s not exactly something you put on the baby calendar, but for me, I probably know.

Last week, I made the decision to have a procedure that, while elective in nature, will certainly positively impact my quality of life. I had things made, ummmmmm, smaller that were too big, and had some tissue removed that was just plain-old “in the way” and not conducive to what I wanted to do. Vanity? Maybe a tad, but I did it for me, and so that I could get a reset back to levels of activity from days of “yore” (before two large babies stretched, yanked, and tugged their way into this world). So really for me, it was about quality of life. *I will not get graphic, but if you have questions about these procedures, feel free to contact me. I’m a pretty open book who wants everyone to live their best life, and this procedure is part of my journey.

Knowing this is major surgery, with lots of abdominal/chest work, I knew it would be limiting on my lifting of the babes. So last Wednesday night, on the eve of the surgery, I lifted both my “babies” (all 99lbs of them) into bed and tucked them in, knowing very well it could probably be the last time I could physically do so, at least for a while. Healing takes time, and during that time, they will continue to grow, so I set that expectation with myself and the quiet room unceremoniously that there will be other ways I can “lift”or hold them up, if not physically. Prayer…. encouragement…. guidance…. accountability…. positivity…. setting a good example…. independence.

So while I’m not physically lifting them these days, they aren’t missing out on much, except for maybe a couple grunts and groans from mommy that “ohhhhh you’re growing up too fast” ❤️

Get the Funk Outta Here: Carolina BalloonFest

Leave a comment Standard

Even after all the trips and flights I’ve taken in my life, I still want the window seat, and I still look out the window in pure awe. At the risk of looking like a newbie flier (heaven forbid), I just cannot help taking the occasional picture. But it never fails that the picture doesn’t do it justice anyways. Maybe it’s the cold meds I’m on right now, but how can we img_8032not look at this beautiful, amazing, world and not gasp sometimes?  It can affirm or maybe even make you question everything you know and believe all at the same time. Regardless of beliefs on how this universe and all of us came to be, can we all agree what a beautiful world this truly is!?  (But Lord help the jerk who tries to take my window seat; I’m here for the scenery, not the opportunity to give you a lap dance should I need to use the lav. Namaste and Amen. 🙏🏼) This was a pic from this morning. Again, the pictures never do it justice but the sun had lit up the clouds in a stunning array of colors over our beautiful state of WV as we departed.

I know travel doesn’t entice everyone, and there are many influencing factors such as cost, anxiety, fear of unknown, in a funk, etc. But some of our own most memorable trips have been mini-adventures that haven’t required much money, setting foot on an airplane, or going anywhere remotely glamorous or getting crazy. And there are some folks who fear flying or are just afraid or paranoid to travel in general. I get it. Sometimes the news does not paint the most beautiful picture that would entice one to travel, but we have to do it anyways. We have to get out of that bubble. We just have to expose ourselves and our kids to all the awesomeness that is out there.

So I shall say it as nicely as possible: Get the funk outta here. See what this amazing world, or your state or region have to offer. Go off the beaten path and try new things. Even if it turns out to be a flop of an experience, at least you gave it a shot. Eat a weird food (i.e. Canadian Poutine), hike some lakeside paths, kayak a local lake as smooth as glass before the fog even lifts and embrace the total silence, snorkel somewhere with water that is clear for miles, or scoop your first born out of a dolphin tank in the Bahamas (ok that last one I don’t recommend, but you get my drift). Watch for local or regional events that spark your interest, and just go for it. As the cliche says, life is too short.

The very same happened to me recently. Facebook “suggested” (in the creepy way it knows everything) that I would be interested in an event coming up in North Carolina. Creeper Facebook was RIGHT! So we loaded up the family truckster and embarked on a quick little turnaround trip to the Carolina BalloonFest in Statesville, NC. It was everything we hoped for and more, not to mention budget-friendly and easy. (A few years back, some of my best buds and I took a hot air balloon ride in Napa, CA, and it was one of the coolest things I’ve done, and I wanted my family to experience that as well, but perhaps closer to the ground and without having to fly cross-country.) After a quick MapQuest to see how far away it was – about 4 hours from Huntington, WV, and a little hotel research, we decided this could be a fun and unique little weekend trip for all of us to experience.

Knowing that the balloons would not fly in any kind of inclement weather, we waited until a handful of days out to purchase our tickets while watching the forecast for that area. Adults were $20 each; kids under 12 free admission. We also sprung for VIP parking (another $20), and I would have paid double for it, maybe even triple. If you take only one nugget away from this post, let it be that VIP parking is the way to go. Otherwise, there after shuttles and lines and waits involved. The weather ending up looking pretty good in the days leading up to the event, so tickets were booked! They warn you ahead to take cash, and that was wise advice as only a couple vendors took cards, and ATM’s were hit or miss. Cell service is also splotchy (the event takes place in a massive field near the Statesville airport).

The festival was basically a fair/bazaar on steroids, but the balloons made it just magical. As I’ve said, pictures just don’t do it justice, so do yourself and favor and check it out personally next year! The balloons fly in the mornings and evenings, so we were sure to get there early to see the morning ascension. It’s a 3-day long festival, and we made it to Saturday/Sunday. We originally booked a Hampton Inn, but got “walked” (hotel-speak for “bumped”), but it worked out hugely in our favor. We were moved around the corner to a newer Hilton Garden Inn, and our whole stay was paid for. Breakfasts too. Woo hooooooo!

They had Kid Zone with several inflatables for kids, mostly free. Some things charged extra (i.e. Bungee jumping trampoline thing and balloon animals). There were tons of food selections (not free, but very yummy), and GREAT live music! We loved the bagpiping, didgerigdoo-playing group from Scotland called Albannach. We stayed to watch them twice! Adults: fear not…. there is a wine and beer garden. $20 got you unlimited sampling from some of my favorite NC area wineries and breweries.

And then there are actual hot-air balloon rides. Jeremy and the kids did the tethered ride. If I was gonna put all my eggs in one basket, literally, they were only going up about 40 feet. It cost $10 for adults and $5 friends for kids. And for shorter kiddos, like Leo, they had a peep hole to look out of toward the bottom of the basket, so no need to lift over the edge of the balloon so he can see (whew!). The kids were enthralled, and now we are 4/4 as a family for having ridden in a hot-air balloon, and it was close and affordable and FUN! You can also do an actual balloon ride (untethered and floating around in the sky), but those were about $250 and you had to make separate arrangements with the pilots.

Major takeaways/advice:

  • Take cash
  • Take sunblock
  • VIP Parking = MUST!!!
  • Take chairs and a blanket (maybe even a wagon for kiddos) so you can get comfortable.
  • Check the weather before you commit! Without the balloons it would have still been fun, but the balloons were the main attraction and kinda the main reason we made the trip.
  • Get there EARLY! You do NOT want to miss the balloon races and games. Awesome!
  • And if you want to take a tethered balloon ride, get in line for it FIRST thing.

They do offer a VIP Experience, but it ran $300 for our family, and even after scoping it out this year, I’m not 100% sure that juice is worth the squeeze. Hmmmmm…. we’ll see. They had a tent and food and beverages, and they also provided “upgraded” port-a-potties. I need to know more about this; seems steep. And to me, a port-a-potty is a port-a-potty. Not too many ways to upgrade that experience in my book.

The Carolina BalloonFest is always the 3rd weekend in October, so mark your calendars and watch the weather! Maybe next year, we will see some familiar faces! It was certainly a highlight of the fall for our family, and overall just the perfect “festival” for a family. We definitely want to go back.  At the end of Saturday evening, they did what is called an “All-Burn” and a “Twinkle-Burn” with the balloons where they all light up together or twinkle, respectively, in the middle of the vast field. This spectacle alone was definitely worth sticking around through the evening hours. To see dozens of massive and colorful hot-air balloons lighting up right in front of you was an amazing sight to see, but again, the pictures just don’t do it justice, so I guess you’ll have to go check it out for yourself!

 

 

 

 

Rice Krispie “Monsters”

Leave a comment Standard

Before anyone hates on me too badly for this, please know that there are probably 5 loads of laundry that need put away downstairs and dinner for the kids has not even crossed my mind at this point. (But, I’m not sure I need to feed them because they looked like they were channeling their inner Augustus Gloop in The Chocolate Factory during this entire Halloween Treat endeavor.) Featured here is actual footage of Leo in the sprinkles and chocolate:

Agloop

I saw this little project on, you guessed it, Pinterest! And since I have worked with melting chocolate before, I thought this would be fun and easy for the kids’ Halloween treats for school and dance class.

And yes, I set it all up like a cooking show and took a picture of it like a total jerk. But I did it for you! ❤

I call this portrait, “The Calm Before the Storm.”

img_7848

Ingredients:

  • melting chocolate (I used bright blue, green, and orange; any colors will do)
  • sprinkles (any colors)
  • candy eyeballs (various sizes look cooler!)
  • candy corn
  • Rice Krispie treats Pro-tip: do yourself a favor and buy the pre-made ones. (Making them from scratch = Ain’t no one got time for that! Plus, they’re the perfect size and not floppy.)

Recommended additional ingredients:

  • kids who love to inhale sugar & make a mess
  • vacuum (Did I mention the sprinkles?! Sooooo many sprinkles.)

Instructions:

Unwrap the RC treats, and place them on pans that are lined with either foil or wax paper of some sort for easy cleanup. Melt one color of the melting chocolate and do it slowly in intervals in the microwave, making sure to stir it occasionally. Think of melting chocolate like a gremlin:  Do NOT get it wet. But you can put it in the microwave, so maybe that reference doesn’t work after all. Hmmmmm… Seriously though. Do not let any water or, in some cases (not ours), saliva come in contact with the melting chocolate. It will harden and become useless. [Enter dirty adult joke here.]

Once the treats are unwrapped and the chocolate is melted, the fun/disaster starts! Dunk one end of the treat into the chocolate so that it covers the upper 1/3 or so of the treat. Then, add some candy eyeballs, maybe some candy corn for fangs or a nose, and then some sprinkles in a fun color for hair/fur.

Get creative with the eyeball placement and colors. Do one treat at a time, then lay it on the lined sheet to dry. BOOM! Done.

This is a comparison of mine compared to the Pinterest OG (mine are on the bottom). Mine aren’t as neat, but I was basically fighting off a sugared-up octopus doing these, so I win.

img_7862

Happy Halloween!

The Dolphin Tank

Comment 1 Standard

I’m having one of “those days” as a mom. Ya know… the kind where nothing stupendously wrong happens but where you still get to the end of the day shell shocked wondering what the hell just happened as your tights continue to dig into your waist because they should have been off hours ago.

I was snippy with my kids and impatient. I couldn’t wait for bedtime. So here I sat with zero intention of doing anything but scroll through social media and drool on myself now that they are asleep. I kinda zoned out as I started to look through pics, and I stumbled upon this little jewel, and it inspired me. Not many know the backstory behind what appears to be a perfect little vacation picture . . .

I love dolphins, and so when we went on our Disney Cruise this past winter, I knew for SURE that Caroline and I would share a wonderful experience that she would remember for years and years and tell alllllllll her friends and teachers for years to come about how she and mommy swam with the dolphins. But in addition to loving dolphins (and lakes and swimming), I’m also a self-admitted Psycho Mom when it comes to water safety, so being on a little island in the middle of Blue Lagoon, my Mom Safety Sensors were set to “Stun” level. Caroline is not the strongest swimmer at this point, though she thinks she is, and I was having zero of her strong-willed shenanigans during this Once In A Lifetime Perfect Mommy Daughter Moment.

We sat along the plastic buoyant platform waiting our turn to enter the water onto a walkway to interact with the dolphins as it was a shallow-water experience appropriate for minimum age 4. (Sweet! We made the cutoff!) We got in the water; the dolphin played with us; we got out and sat back down on the floating platform with slippery butts* to wait our turn again. *An important detail, I promise.

Well, Princess C couldn’t be bothered with a mere wait time for a dolphin and proceeded to wiggle her (slippery) butt to the edge and stick her little foot down into the dolphin tank below us.

“Caroline, stop.”

“Mommy is serious. STOP.”

“Caroline I am not kidding you’re going to fall in.”

“No I’m not!”

Then, I, Super Water Safety Mom, dare to look away for a split second and PLOP. The sound of a 50 pound-ish little blonde blob hitting the water.

I look and she’s sinking.

In the @&?!$ Dolphin Tank.

They aren’t kidding when they say something kicks in as a mother and you just do what you need to do. I slipped in after her (I have many imperfections but I’m a damn good swimmer) grabbed her, and with the help of a kind stranger, hoisted her back up on the slippery floating platform. Side note: it’s the Bahamas, but in February that water is far from warm. Yikes!

Oh, but wait…. now I am in said dolphin tank and there is no way in hell I can pull up onto this platform. It’s buoyant and flips when I pull it down. (Some kid offered to help pull me up, but I spared us both that humiliation. Did you know they film these encounters nowadays?! No one was getting that spectacle on home video.)

As Caroline dramatically cried about the salty water tasting like fish and being “dis-gross-ting” (gross + disgusting; it’s just too cute to correct), I had no other course of action but to swim across the dolphin tank DURING THE SHOW and use the ladder.

Caroline continues to scream and sputter, and I begin my trek across the tank, only to be stopped by a friendly bottle-nosed creature named Salvador. I had to kiss him before he moved out of my way. And oh yes, Caroline is still making a scene. And the camera is still rolling. And the kind stranger who helped pull her out of the tank is trying to console her unsuccessfully.

After the hoopla, and after I bought an overpriced/dry Dolphin Encounter shirt, one of the other excursionists came up to Caroline and said “sweetie are you ok?” And her response? “My mommy saved me!”

So in spite of my planning and watch-dog/water safety parenting, the proverbial poo totally hit the fan. We are always going to have days like that, and days like the one I had today, where try and try and try as you might to be the perfect parent or create that perfect memory to make your kids happy, reality goes a different route. Now I look at that picture and realize, it was a pretty perfect day, and I know for sure we will both remember it. I just hope she also remembers that I was there for her when she needed me, and that Mommy is always right 😬

And today, after all the sweating and frustration and bribing and rushing from here to there and a fast food dinner (ugh!) and being out too late on a school night and panty hose that were on for way too long . . . . I put two happy kids to bed with their bellies full. Pretty good “picture” to end the day.

So trust me, you’ll get that perfect picture, it just might have a more interesting story behind it than you intended.

De-stress tip: Un”wine”d from time to time

Comments 2 Standard

First of all, if you don’t like/care about/want to hear about wine, this one isn’t for you.

I, however, love wine and love to take trips with my girls where we relax, catch up, sample some good wine, and eat some good food. After all, it’s nice now and then to not have to sneak-eat the last cupcake to avoid sharing it with a kid or shove an entire Uncrustable in your mouth as someone clings to your leg. Amiright?!

One of my absolute favorite “Mommy Juice” trips is a quick haul down I-77 through Virginia and right into North Carolina’s Yadkin River Valley. This area is chock full of wineries and vineyards, and in my opinion is one of the best kept little secrets in our area. In this area, you’ll find a lot of sweet wine options, but there are plenty for us dry-wine lovers too. There is also the occasional craft beer selection, which often balances out the wine in between tastings.

img_7166

Accommodations: You simply must stay in the Hampton Inn in Dobson. Not only is it wine-themed with its own little wine bar, it is newer, clean, and has a shuttle to the Shelton Vineyards about a mile down the road. (ALWAYS have a designated driver once the sampling begins!) This hotel is also in a great location for access to many wineries in the area. Location, location, location!

More on transportation because, I cannot say it enough: designate a driver! We have img_7169actually enlisted the services of a shuttle/van to take us around touring the area. The Hampton Inn shuttle only goes back and forth to Shelton, so that’s a good place to start/end your daily tour for that convenience, as well as their amazing on-site restaurant. The shuttle service we used was Grape Escape Tours, and it was perfect. You can tell them your wine preferences (dry, sweet, etc) and they will recommend a tour. They had a basket of snacks in the van, too, which was a nice touch. Our driver was a very nice and patient lady who took pictures of our group at the various stops. As you can imagine, as the day of “tasting” went on, dealing with us gals on the loose probably got interesting. I know from the pics that our smiles kept getting bigger and bigger. (Gosh, I wish I could remember her name…. she was just so patient. So very, very patient. Bless her.)

Here is a list of the places I’ve been in the area that I would highly recommend:

Shelton Vineyards: This is a Napa-style winery and vineyard. Take the tour and do the VIP tasting! It is worth the extra money for this awesome experience. While you’re there, eat at Harvest Grill. The food is amazing and the entire property is just breathtaking. Wine recommendation: Family Reserve Claret (or really anything from the Reserve collection).

img_7167

Grassy Creek Vineyard: This is an old stable converted into a winery! The cool factor is definitely “up there” and it just has a very chill vibe. The two men who run the joint are great to chat with and they also have events from time to time on the property. They also have a fun little gift shop selection. Wine recommendation: Red Barn Blend. It’s a crowd pleaser!

Elkin Creek Vineyard: This place is quaint and cozy and just plain old special! The girls and I had a blast sampling here, and next time I am definitely going to try one of their brick oven pizzas. Wine recommendation: Adequate Red (trust me when I tell you it is MUCH better than “adequate”)

img_0397

Round Peak Vineyard: This is a great “first stop” as it is north of the hotel exit (but again, remember to designate a driver!). They have wine and craft beer, but no matter what, do not miss the view from the back patio! Take your beverage out back and sit and enjoy the immediate relaxation that comes with knowing you are on holiday. This place is definitely a “must see.” (featured picture at top of post is a glimpse of the view from the patio)

222 Public House (now Angry Troll Brewing @ 222): This wasn’t quite a brewery last time I was there, but they had an awesome vibe and great food and cold beer. What more could you ask for? Definitely try the nachos!!

img_0401

Whew! This one is making me nostalgic for some girl time!! Hopefully my girls will read this and agree… it is time to getaway!

img_7171

Into “The Wilds”

Leave a comment Standard

I’m starting with our most recent adventure first since it is fresh in my mind and is really what served as the tipping point for me wanting to start this blog. My niche tends to be these quick 1-3 night trips that aren’t too far away. After all, whoever said “getting there is half the fun” clearly never drove 12 hours with two kids under the age of five. That being said, my kiddos really are troopers at traveling. Start ’em young, I say!

I also find a lot of joy in planning travel, and not just for us. I love it when people come to me for travel advice. Being a former “frequent flier” and “road warrior,” I am quite familiar with the in’s and out’s of the travel industry, and I get a lot of satisfaction out of putting together an itinerary. The one drawback of my planning obsession is that I tend to fixate too much on what I think the adventure should look like, and sometimes build up an unrealistic picture of how the whole thing will play out. But then again, don’t we all want that picture-perfect experience? I assure you, our adventures are anything but perfect, but the memories are made in the imperfections that make up the adventure.

Case in point: This past weekend, our Magic Mini Van took us to “The Wilds” in Cumberland, OH. “The Wilds” is a private, not for profit safari (yes, a safari in Ohio) that focuses on conservation. It has a pretty cool backstory as well. We left Saturday afternoon and made our way about 3 hours north of Huntington to Cambridge, OH, where we stayed at a Hampton Inn. I’ll go ahead and issue this disclaimer now: When I travel, I stick with 3 vendors… Hilton, Delta, and Hertz. It’s a matter of personal preference, and those are mine. This particular Hampton Inn was clean, safe, quiet, and it had an indoor pool (that no one else seemed interested in). Score! So, we flipped on the Marshall game and went for a family swim. Has anyone else ever noticed just how freaking exhausted swimming makes kids? That was an added bonus for us parental units. We got a queen suite for a little extra space. Pro Tip:  We have found that instead of traveling with fancy toddler bed solutions, we opt to pull the mattress off of a pull-out sofa and put it on the floor for the floppy little dude to sleep on. Who needs a pack-and-play anyways? Not Leo.

After a fun night of getting assaulted in our sleep by small kicking feet, we awoke refreshed and ready for breakfast. We hit up Denny’s right down the road for easy in and out and fun kid options. There are plenty of restaurants around this hotel. Nothing fancy, but all reliable.

Next… onto The Wilds! The day prior, I had made the mistake of mentioning we were going to see animals to Leo and the poor little guy must have said “Animals?!” at least 20 times. Lesson learned. Keep it a surprise next time. I started to feel bad lying to him by saying “just a little bit longer” knowing full well we were a solid 24 hours out.  But, alas, the time had come for ANIMALS!

It’s a bit off the beaten path, but then again, it is a safari. In Ohio. I keep having to wrap my brain around that. My expectations were not high, if I’m being honest. But I can honestly say it was amazing with hints of Jurassic Park (picture double gate systems locking around you before you can move onto the next section). You park at the bottom of the park and a cool khaki-colored bus shuttles you to the top. It is $6 to park, and right across from the parking lot is a free butterfly sanctuary you can walk through. We did not get to partake in that as by that time, my dear sweet Woodland Creatures were ticking time bombs. (Mandatory family fun is hard people!)

Once you get to the top, there is a little concession stand-like area, a small gift shop, and a kid center and building where you can see what I would consider the stuff of nightmares, The Hellbender. We played in the kids area for a little while (a cool little classroom setting area for kids to explore) and admired the view. Then, our open-safari bus picked us up! We had made reservations ahead of time (highly recommended!) and the tickets were $30/person. Again, I was skeptical about this being worth the drive and the money, but I’ll try most things once.

We boarded the bus and went to the back. There are NO bad seats on this bus, so sit anywhere. Warning: If you sit in the back, it is very bumpy. Do not sit in the back if you have any issues with being jostled (neck/back problems or pregnant are two that come to my mind based on our experience). Leo went airborne at one point. Jeremy caught him. Such good parents, we are. We even dressed our kids in adorable identical sweatshirts! Just kidding. I forgot jackets and it was cold so I had to buy the sweatshirts at the gift shop.

We wove through the park with a fun tour guide/driver named Jeff. He was the King of Dad Jokes, and Jeremy bowed down in his presence. We had a fun little checklist of animals we would see, and we did indeed see all but two of them. One of those was a beetle that laid its eggs in dead carcasses, so I didn’t feel like I missed out. The animals are roaming free (with the exception of the carnivores like the cheetahs and dholes), so they can come right up to the open air bus. We were within spitting range of camels, almost touched a wild horse, and had a family of rhinos come right up to us. We learned a lot and had a lot of fun checking the animals off our list!

wilds map

The ride has two stops: one to feed fish and parakeets and the other stop to see things that would like to feed on you (carnivores). First stop: Highly recommend springing the $1 to get a seed stick for the parakeet house!  You basically get attacked by these adorable little Australian parakeets. Birds aren’t really my thing, but Leo loves them and they were pretty cute. The second stop was at the carnivore area where they have a little grill/concession area. I very much recommend bringing your own drinks and snacks! You can’t eat/drink on the shuttle because you might choke, but you can eat your own stuff at the stops.

The adventure terminates at the gift shop (of course, right? It is owned by a zoo, after all) and another grill/concession area. The view here is AMAZING! For adults/older kids: they have a lot of other activities such as horseback riding and zip lines. Oh…. and they have yurts! It is on my bucket list to stay in a yurt, so this Glamping experience opportunity is definitely on my radar.

We left the park refreshed from the beautiful weather and exhausted from a whirlwind trip full of fun. I always bask in the happiness of my kids when I know I’ve shown them something pretty darn cool. Have you ever heard of a Sichuan Takin? Interesting creatures. Don’t forget to tip your guide! They really are a wealth of knowledge and entertainment on this tour.

On the way out, I asked the kids which animal was their favorite. Caroline said “giraffes!” I agree. Cool creatures.

Leo’s response? “Cows!” (Ya know, the ones we saw on the way TO the park because it is in the middle of Ohio.) Asked him again what his favorite was, and he responded slightly more adventurously with “hippopotamus,” which would have been great if we had seen those.

All in all, well worth the quick 26-hour turnaround trip and another fun weekend adventure in the books!