Lake County, Ohio, April 2014

Easter came and again we were drawn to Northeast Ohio like… like seagulls to the shores of Lake Erie?  Like bargain shoppers to the Great Lakes Mall?  I don’t know a great metaphor here but I did in fact travel I-80 with my offspring to cross the substantial width of The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in both directions yet again.  The trip exceeded my expectations since the kids opted to stay six days instead of four, we had a great Easter egg hunt and an amazing Easter dinner, we celebrated my parents’ 53rd (!!!) wedding anniversary, we had some sunny weather, and we explored a castle ruin on a misty day.   We took advantage of three parks not too far from the grandparents’ place, two of which were new to me!  First, the castle.

Squire’s Castle/ North Chagrin Reservation 


I cannot believe I had never been to this place in my years growing up not too far away. Besides being in a beautiful 1,700 acre park with wetlands and a plethora of trails and picnic areas, it might be haunted by Mrs. Squire!  It seems that Feargus B Squire, wealthy V.P. of Standard Oil in the late 1800’s, had planned to build an estate here but abandoned plans and sold the property.  Feargus was indeed planning big -what we explored is the shell of the gatehouse, which was used as his residence while planning the rest of the property prior to his ditching and selling the place.  The ghost story goes that Mrs. Squire didn’t like the rural life, died there and haunts the castle., a website I clearly need to spend some time with, has some great photos and a few more details on the legend.  As for us, it was a great place for hide-and-seek and there just may have been unicorns in the distant fog that day!

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 Headlands Beach

Lake Erie beckoned and we heeded the call.  I try to go there every visit, but the January weather this year kept us away.  April was much nicer and we went to the East end of the beach this time.  There are lovely sand dunes there, a unique protected habitat for certain grass species and the birds and butterflies that use them.  It was very peaceful there as it was too cold for swimming so the crowds were elsewhere.  The wind in the grasses was beautiful, as were the driftwood and rocks we found.  This beach doesn’t have the playground on the beach like the Fairport Harbor Beach, but sand, driftwood and stones are just as entertaining, maybe more so.

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We had the place to ourselves, the sun was right, and I took too many pictures.  Really built this amazing driftwood structure and we went back later and it was still there!  And there were ladybugs and headstands at Headlands that day.

Gully Brook

We are always happy to explore muddy areas and creeks, and we did just that at Gully Brook Park.  This natural area has a long history of appreciation from Ohio nature lovers and was made into the park and protected land only in 2011.  It was another new Metroparks park for me, and not too far from Squire’s Castle.  About a hundred years ago, this land was known for wildflowers, hawk and owl habitat, and large elm trees.  As it happened, I-90 was routed through the area in the 1950’s and changed it drastically.  The preservation of a mile of creek and over 170 acres of natural lands is a triumph for people and wildlife here, since it came after years of organizing and since it is bordered by the large highway and could be further ruined and paved over to the detriment of the non-human inhabitants.  As it is, the wildflower-covered hills are no longer.  But we can enjoy the wetlands, ravine, and paths that are now there.

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NE Ohio, Jan 2014

Over the river and through the wood we went, in a glorious blizzard, to see my parents and celebrate the holidays as well as my dad’s 73rd birthday.  I love snow, I don’t even mind driving in it in Ohio since the drivers and road crews are used to it and no one freaks out.  The 8-hour road trip with my offspring is another story.  I won’t dwell on the gory details but you can imagine the quarrels that can erupt in a car of four sisters and limited entertainment options – tragically, the car has no DVD player and only Fiercely has any type of device-an ipod touch.  Sometimes I mediate, sometimes I yell, and sometimes I check out and listen to Ira Glass on my headphones.  Occasionally they are quiet and content.

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Mama!! She bit me!!! I did NOT!!  Are we there yet??

For reasons beyond the scope of this blog, mostly regarding marital harmony, Mr. Fantastic does not join us on most trips to see my parents.   Poor Mr. Fantastic, all alone with none of our offspring… and me stuck in a car with them for a day each way. sigh.  But we did have a great time once we got there.

The Snow Belt of Lake County and Lake-effect Snow are well known in this area.  Apparently, we have it in common with parts of Japan and Russia.  It has to do with air movement and the taking up of moisture over large bodies of water.  Whatever the reason, the snowfall in this part of Ohio is vastly greater than surrounding areas, and we were there during a fierce winter storm- yay!

Neighborhood snow

The grandparents’ back yard was untouched snowy bliss.  I could sit around and eat Xmas leftovers after the long drive while the kids ran around out back unsupervised-  all hail the suburbs!!

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Truly, Really, Fiercely, Cleverly in the backyard

And then there is the sledding hill at the subdivision’s park.  Now, I wouldn’t trade our big-city park with its vibrancy – farmer’s market, dogs, festivals, litter, chess players, unending basketball, homeless people, Shakespeare-in-the-park, strollers, food trucks, etc – for the sterile Ohio suburbs, but the suburban sled hill is pretty excellent, and, let’s face it, much snowier.  My Dad even joined us!

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that’s my Dad, 73, in purple at bottom left!

I insisted that the kids come cross country skiing one day.  They invited two kids who are neighbors of my parents and off we went.  Again, the Lake Metroparks system did me right.  Rentals are $5 per hour, $3 for kids, and the 2nd hour is even less.  You can even have the skis, poles, and boots for the whole day and go to another location if you like for only $15, or $9 for kids – all day!!  Using the trails is free.  It’s like they want you to get out there and enjoy, so different from the East Coast where I don’t even know where we could do this.

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Clockwise from upper L: the kids skiing, all 6 kids in front of the lodge, all of us in front of the lodge’s woodstove, taxidermied squirrel on ceiling of lodge!

There are miles of trails and I actually went back alone the next day to explore further – you know, with 6 less bladders and 36 fewer skis/shoes/poles to deal with – and had a great time.  The trails are lit at night.  The lodge was way more crowded since it was a weekend day and I had taken the kids on a weekday, but there are enough trails that I found it easy to break away from the crowd.  Cross country skiing in my opinion compares favorably with downhill skiing in that is it safer, easier to learn, the equipment is more comfortable, and it costs less.  It is also less invasive on a natural place – there are no noisy ski lifts, just the soft hush of the forest.

Penitentary Glen

We were here in the summer, and now there were different activities.  The kids played the Wild Days of Winter Game, an indoor life-sized board game that featured vintage toys from previous decades as well as facts on winter ecology.  I couldn’t persuade them to try snowshoeing with me, so I went myself.  It was ok that day and the trails were beautiful in the snow and ice.  I’m glad I tried it, but I ended up bagging it for more xc-skiing at Chapin instead.

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selfie w/snowshoes, more snowshoes, snowy forest, icy river – so beautiful!!

Apples and the Trip Home

My Dad took me to Sage’s Apple Orchard, a darling, family-owned fruit farm with amazing apples.  We got large bags of Cameos, not as sweet as Gala the kids love and which are too sweet for me.  We packed them and all our gear to head East into another blizzard.  This one on a day where school was cancelled in NE Ohio, mainly due to the bitter cold.  I heard a radio announcer explain that frost bite was likely in under 10 minutes on exposed skin that day.  I scraped the car, blasted the heat, counted 4 kids, said goodbye to the grandparents, and drove back into the snowstorm.  After a few hours, the skies cleared and snow stopped.  We had left the Snow Belt of Lake County, until next time.