Ohio, Jan. 2015

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snowy roads, Truly selfie

Over the river and through the woods, and across the looooong state of Pennsylvania, we went for our usual post-holiday grandparent extravaganza.  The temp was a balmy 56°F at home when we left, so I didn’t pack the usual amount of snow gear, but that turned out to be a bit of a mistake.  As we got closer the Lake Erie and the snow belt, temperatures dropped and snow fell.  We soldiered on and ended up driving through the, well, driving snow in a typical Northeast Ohio blizzard for over an hour before reaching my parents’ door.  Their thermometer showed a chilly 7ºF and a windchill below 0.  Happy New Year indeed!


Aleksander Gamme and Really rejoicing in found cheese doodles

I won’t lie- I survive some of the gorier portions of car trips by listening to various songs and podcasts. On this particular road trip as the sisterly bickering got past my tolerance level, I plugged in to a Radiolab show on, of all things, Bliss. In the first few minutes, I was captivated by the story of a Finnish explorer who is giddily surprised as he opens a cache he had buried in the Antarctic drifts for himself to find towards the end of a 90-day trek there.  His expression of surprised elation- a joyous, very Northern European YAAAAAAAAAHHH!!!! -seems so genuine yet so misplaced because he is rejoicing in the unlikely glory of… cheese doodles.

Seriously. You can listen here: https://www.wnyc.org/radio/#/ondemand/257194.

So of course I had to play this for the unblissed sisters in the car and we all had a moment of entertainment during the long drive.  Later, of course, we reenacted the scene on a cold, snowy trail.


The temperatures were low, winds were high, snow flew, and I was readying us for another foray to Pine Lodge and cross-country skiing like we did last year.  I knew we wouldn’t be skiing outside for very long, but I thought it would be worth it since we so seldom get the opportunity.  I loaded into the beleaguered car some gear, snacks, four sisters in various levels of agreement with the plan, and turned on the reluctant heater.

We were parked partly on the grass since the driveway had been so full when we arrived, and the wheels began to spin without gaining traction.  Cleverly, accustomed to such minor car crises, got out and started pushing while I was at the steering wheel.  A kind neighbor joined in and soon we were backing out of the driveway.  I began driving up the mild incline out of the housing development when the wheels again slid.  The snow was heavy and the winds strong at this point and I began to picture the rural roads between us and Pine Lodge.  My parents were away on an errand all day so would not be available if we got stuck.  My chops for this type of driving, if I indeed ever had any, were seriously degraded from the 20+ years ago I had lived in the area.  I had just driven most of the previous day getting here, and my parents house was so warm and dry… I turned the car around.  Cable TV and hot chocolate beckoned, and we heeded the call.

Penitentary Glen

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We did venture out to go hiking one frigid day, back to this lovely park with the animal sanctuary and nature center. We took a short hike and a few takes on the cheese doodle scene, and also spent time inside the nature center. They had a recuperating possum and a kestral as well, and we enjoyed bird-watching at the glassed-in area near the bird feeders. There was even a microphone outside so you could hear the bird calls!

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Mentor, Ohio 

Armed with my mom’s library card, and my brother’s gift card to a candy store for the kids, we went into the wilds of Mentor for part of a day.  The library system in Ohio is enough to make this homeschool mama in an underfunded urban system weep.  IMG_3576In addition to a well-funded park system, the library systems all over the state are repeatedly nationally recognized for excellence.  They had a children’s section larger than our entire local library!  Of course, East Coast cities have other charms like diversity, progressive politics,  and historic architecture, but sometimes I wish I could trade a little of something for better libraries.  Anyway, this is the library that started it all for me back in the early 1980’s.  It has been enlarged quite a bit, and modernized over the years.

Next stop, Malley’s!  This is a Cleveland-based chocolate and ice cream company with a new (to me, anyway) store not too far from the library. No need for words here, we loved the place!

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I went to Chardon and Sage’s Apple Orchard again with my Dad, this time the cute streets were blanketed in snow.  We went sledding at the sled hill.  There was more snow and cold. We drove off back East on a cold sunny morning, back to the other side of Pennsylvania and home.

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Chardon and Lake Erie, Ohio, End’o’September, 2014

It was time to visit the grandparents again, so we headed West across the Allegheny Mountains and north to our favorite Great Lake.  The trees were beginning to change color, yet the weather was warm enough to take a dip in Lake Erie.  First, though, we had dinner in the lovely little city of Chardon.

While there are many small cities and towns in Ohio that have succumbed to economic woes and the accompanying population loss, Chardon was looking quite well.  There was a town square with a lovely gazebo flanked by historic brick buildings, and there were flower baskets hanging along the shops, and a neat bricked sidewalk.  Also, there was live bluegrass music in the gazebo on that Friday night.  We  saw a farmer’s market in the square, an historic town clock that was working, and people enjoying the music.  I was marveling at the surroundings and the perfect evening, while my less-optimistic brother, who grudgingly survived last year’s harsh winter there, commented “yeah, enjoy it now because there will be three feet of snow on it next week!”

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The weather was sunny and warm every day, and every day I attempted to get the kids to the beach, but they wanted to be spoiled by my parents, jump on the neighbor’s trampoline, and play with the neighborhood kids instead.  One day I finally succeeded.

We went to Fairport Harbor, home of an historic lighthouse and its little corner of the Lake Erie beach.  It was summer-like weather without the crowds and parking fees, what not to like?

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We saw sailboats – too bad we didn’t have the Dragonfly along.  The kids were happy cartwheeling and enjoying a little bonus summertime.

After a few days there, we headed back East, but not quite home, we had another adventure up our sleeves, stay tuned for part 2 of this little trip!

Chicago, May 2014, part 3

So we said goodbye to, as the Blues Brothers called it, Sweet Home Chicago.  We were headed South and East to the capital city of The Buckeye State – Columbus, Ohio.

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pit stop and beautiful sunset between Chicago and Columbus

Mr. Fantastic and I met in Columbus at Ohio State back in the day, and we still have some friends here.  We surfed our fourth couch in as many nights and stayed in the crafty, kitschy paradise of Seth, Olivia and their son Joban.

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clockwise from bottom left: our hosts in caricature, purple wall with artwork, salt-n-pepper shaker collection, our kids playing with Joban’s collection of vintage toys

The next day, we went to Olivia’s store, Wholly Craft, wow!  It is a colorful, dreamy shop of handmade items, with a basement workshop space.  We all loved it and got to shopping and crafting immediately.

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Next, we spent some time at the Center of Science and Industry, or COSI.  This is a large science center in downtown Columbus that not only accepted our reciprocal membership but gave us two tickets to their special exhibit on Sherlock Holmes.  Fiercely and Cleverly used the tickets and said the exhibit was good, they solved a crime and also saw some props from the BBC series, to which Fiercely and I are addicted.  The rest of us looked at the other exhibits.

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clockwise from top left: Fiercely out front, a giant wire skeleton, Really trying out a space toilet, the twins getting mesmerized by a rotating disk  

There is a cool restaurant in Columbus worth mentioning – The Spaghetti Warehouse.  It appears to be a chain but a small one – 15 total locations with 4 in Ohio and 5 in Texas, go figure.  Anyway, we used to frequent the one in Philadelphia until it sadly and suddenly closed.  The place is full of antique paraphernalia in a large former industrial space.  Not too expensive or formal, big enough for the kids to run around when they were smaller, and cool old stuff like a trolley car, giant posters and chandeliers, bed frames, and statues to look at.

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We stopped there to eat before heading back north to the grandparents’.  Above is the outside of the building, trolley car inside, and (left) the kids by a red mill wheel inside.  Back in Northeast Ohio, we spent our final night for this trip in a hotel near my parents’ house.  My Dad was still recuperating so we visited but slept elsewhere.  Our first hotel of the trip!  Lucky for us, prices are friendlier than in Chicago and Columbus.  We stayed here in one room with 2 double beds and a pull-out couch, it was great, and it had an indoor pool as we had hoped.  We took advantage of the pool and gym, had breakfast the next day with the grandparents, and headed back home.  We discussed this crazy long trip and the ups and downs as we again crossed the long state of Pennsylvania.  The kite flying, Detroit, Columbus, we pondered all of it as we returned with the sun behind us and our lives, guinea pigs and all, waiting back at home as Harry Potter played in the background.


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.


Northeast Ohio July 2013, and several times a year going back to, oh, at least 2000

So, we Fantastics go to Ohio more than your typical East Coasters and the reason is this: grandparents.  Once in awhile the Fantastic grandchildren get to hang in the Cleveland suburbs- they experience houses built in the 20th century, sample the life of lawns, driveways, and strip malls, and witness the teenage stomping grounds of their vagabond mother.  We have found excellent things to do in the area that we will now share with our loyal readers.  A-hem, loyal readers, I give you… northeast Ohio.

Lake Erie.

Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!  Its  GREAT lake, after all, right?  So, this lake is the shallowest of the Great Lakes, and while it may be is famous for catching on fire due to pollution in 1969, it is much cleaner these days, it has sand and its own tide/surf report, and this guy walked across it to Canada one winter when it was frozen. 



Fairport Harbor’s historic lighthouse, the kids heading into the lake

This trip, we enjoyed swimming at Fairport Harbor.  We actually tried to go to an excellent YMCA outdoor pool nearby but balked at the entrance fee – close to $50 for me+offspring.  It’s worth mentioning here that if you are a Y member, as we used to be, you could go there for free, and you could enjoy the water slide, toddler pool, and climbing wall rather than leading your crying, disappointed children back to the parking lot, but alas we let our membership lapse so we headed to the beach.  They charge by the car at Fairport Harbor Lakefront Park Beach and that charge, my friends, was $3.00.  It is only $2.00 if you are a resident!  What can you get for $2-$3 these days I ask!


Really and Truly by some dunes, Truly flying a kite

The park has lifeguards, playgrounds, a roped-off swimming area, and nice landscaping with sand dunes and small trees.  There’s even an institution that calls itself a Yacht Club nearby.  Its not the ocean, but it is surprisingly ocean-like in atmosphere in a small-town Ohio kind of way.

Lake Metroparks System

Lake County, and Ohio in general, has a park system that is truly splendiferous.  We went to Beaty Landing which had a nice path, many birds, and some riverfront land where there are nesting eagles at times!


looking out from the viewing platform at Beaty(L), Cleverly and Truly on the path

There is also a bike trail nearby called the Greenway Corridor.  It is no Greater Allegheny Passage like we enjoyed last year on a bike-camp trip, but it is nicely re-purposed from the old Baltimore-Ohio Railway line and it is a great start.

Penitentary Glen is another nice park in the area.  It has a great name, referencing the gorge terrain which they say, like jail, is easy to get into and hard to get out of! There is a wildlife rehab and education center here, along with beautiful grounds, paths, and the lovely gorge.


Cleverly on a butterfly bench, Really as an eagle egg, Fiercely in beekeeper garb, and a resident hawk

Random events

So we were just beginning our ill-fated trip to the YMCA pool when we went past the Concord Fire Dept and Historical Society, which also happens to be the site of my first-place performance at the frog jumping contest circa 1982 (feel free to name drop me to impress your friends).  We saw a few antique cars parked in a field and strangely, we heard pipe organ music, like what you would hear on an old-fashioned carousel.  What could it be?


Well, it was the Happiest Music on Earth, of which Dr. Ron Bop is happy to explain its pleasing effects on the human nervous system.  We had stumbled on to the Mid-America Band Organ Rally at the Lake County History Center.  What luck!  So we checked out what we could from the road because again with the budget and all, but I just love that this really happens.