Passport to Oregon

DSC_8825-1

Andrew and his parents helped me check three major bucket list destinations off my list last week–Astoria, Oregon, Haystack Rock, and Crater Lake! I’ve wanted to see these places for as long as I can remember, so when Andrew’s parents said they were planning a family reunion on the Oregon Coast and asked us to come come, my mind went wild with all of the possibilities. Oregon is a BEAUTIFUL state-even more so than I expected-with smooth beaches, dense forests and raging rivers at every turn. Andrew prefers the mountains and I prefer the beach, but in Oregon you can have both!

We left home on Saturday morning and had four days to spend touring the state before we met up with Andrew’s extended family in Lincoln City on Wednesday. We definitely made the most of our time, squeezing in as much as we could. Ellie was a travel pro. Long flights and drives didn’t diminish her spirit–she was WAY too excited to be in so many new places. She slept about 80% of our flights and spent the rest of the time looking out at the world. She prefers the window seat. 🙂

img_7112

The first destination on our itinerary after landing in Portland was Astoria, Oregon. I’ve always loved the movie, The Goonies. Ever since I was a kid I’ve wanted to visit the city where the movie was filmed, and am fortunate enough to have a husband who wants to make all of my dreams come true. We got to see several locations from the movie, like the jail the Fratellis escaped from, the bowling alley where Chunk sees the police chase, and the museum where Mikey’s dad worked. We even drove to Ecola State Park, where the kids match the rocks to the metal skull piece they found before going into the restaurant. If there is any question about whether I’m aware of how nerdy all of this sounds–trust me, I’m fully conscious. But honestly, I was in Heaven. We even got Ellie a t-shirt that says “Goonies Never Say Die.”

It turns out Astoria is NOT just a movie set. It’s actually a really nice, quaint town. All three of us really enjoyed walking along the paths on the waterfront and pushing Ellie down the sidewalks in the stroller, although, she was not a fan of Seal Pier. About 200 stinky seals barking at her was not her cup of tea.

We made our way to Ecola State Park, which offers beautiful views of the coastline. There were a couple of short trails we walked on before we headed to our next hotel in Cannon Beach. In CB, we stayed at The Ocean Lodge, right on the beach and with a beautiful view of Haystack Rock. I loved seeing Ellie run around on the beach and pick up seashells.

Our next destination was Crater Lake, a six-hour-long drive from Cannon Beach. Needless to say, I was not happy by the time we got there, but seeing the view of the crater the next day definitely improved my mood! These pictures don’t do it’s beauty justice. Andrew’s mom and dad were driving in from Nevada and met us there to spend the day touring the East Rim since the West Rim was closed for the season. The morning started out really cloudy and cold at about 30 degrees, but by afternoon we had warmer temps and sunny skies–it was perfect. We let Ellie do some hiking and took the opportunity with Andrew’s parents to take some family photos.

On our way to meet up with the rest of Andrew’s family, we made a quick stop at Oregon’s tallest lighthouse, Yaquina Head. Ellie got to run around after being in the car for four hours, and we even saw some gray whales in the bay. Win-win!

Our last destination was the gorgeous beach house Andrew’s parents rented in Lincoln City with his grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousin. We got to reconnect with them and with each other, while they entertained Ellie for us. They even had an early birthday party for her with new toys, clothes and even a Cookie Monster cake. She was definitely one spoiled little girl. My only regret on this trip is not taking more pictures of them!

Andrew and I even got to go on a date! We spent a wonderful day going on a whale watching tour where we saw about eight gray whales, wine tasting and did a little light shopping. We had sparkling champagne at lunch and watched the waves crash on the bluffs from a bench above the bay. It was my favorite part of the trip.

Overall, this was a trip that will be on my mind for a long time to come with so many great memories to choose from. Ellie won’t remember it, but I’m so happy and thankful I’ll be able to show her (through photos and videos) so many special experiences on her first trip to Oregon.

DSC_9236-1

Southern Holiday

Ellie and I just came back from the best holiday weekend visiting my family in Mississippi. Andrew decided to stay behind for this one and enjoyed some much needed R&R at home. I don’t blame him–the trip was a whirlwind of visiting family and friends we haven’t seen in several months. It. Was. Crazy.

…Crazy fun, I mean. 🙂 Ellie and I caught a direct flight from CLE to BNA after work Friday and she was so great on the trip. It helped that the flight was only an hour and a half. I kept The Boss Baby playing on the iPad and she was good to go!

Once we were in Iuka, we hit the ground running visiting family and friends, even if just for a few minutes. We even snuck in quick visits to the park and to our favorite Mexican restaurant. Ellie had a lot of firsts on this trip–she stepped in her first fire ant bed thinking it was a pile of dirt (and didn’t even cry), she rode a four-wheeler (a regular one and the toy version), she sat on a tractor seat, and she tried ribs for the first time. My city baby got a southern education last weekend.

She had so much fun playing with her cousins, now we can’t wait to go back for Christmas!

img_6548

Visiting Stan Hywet Hall

DSC_8653-1

Last Saturday we did something I’ve wanted to do since last fall–we visited Stan Hywet Hall in Akron, Ohio. Around that time I wrote this blog post about seeing America’s castles and linked a list of the largest houses in the U.S.  Stan Hywet Hall ranks 43rd on the list with 51,134 square feet. The estate was built by the founder of Goodyear Tire in 1915 and has 65 rooms. The grounds are filled with gardens, a conservatory, a butterfly house and a carriage house with a cafe and a gift shop inside. The grounds originally covered 1,500 square miles. It’s Tudor architecture reminded me a lot of Meadow Brook Hall in Rochester Hills, Michigan that I wrote about in this post.

With an almost-two-year old in tow, we didn’t think a guided tour was a good idea, so we did a self-guided tour that was actually perfect. We were given a pamphlet with details about the architecture, decor and purpose of each room. It only took us about an hour to get through it and we were back outside letting Ellie roam around the English garden. It made a great day trip and Ellie took the best nap of her life on the way home!

Cedar Point Sunday Funday

DSC_8449-25

On Sunday, we continued our current trend of pretending we’re on vacation while we have family in town by taking them to Cedar Point for the day. We got lucky again and had perfect weather, with not a lot of people visiting the park that day. A couple of rides were closed due to high wind, but we hardly noticed. Full disclosure–Andrew and his dad are the roller coaster riders in the family. The rest of us were just tagging along, but I had never been to the park and really want to see it. I can’t really call my self an Ohioan until I’ve been to Cedar Point, right?! Andrew and his dad had fast passes and took off on their coaster quest as soon as we got there. Andrew’s mom (Karen), two aunts (Kauleen and Kathryn), Ellie and I strolled around the park trying different foods and taking Ellie on any appropriate rides. The park has a great area for toddlers and kids with a Peanuts theme that we spent a lot of our time in. Ellie loved it!

DSC_8278-3She even got to meet Snoopy, Lucy, Linus and Sally. This was her first encounter with theme park characters and she seemed to gravitate toward them even though she was a little intimidated at first. She would get really close to them, run away, get really close, run away. It was pretty funny to watch! She eventually warmed up to them, even fist bumping and high-fiving them to say hello.

We made our way to my favorite area of the park–Frontier Town. I loved seeing the leather, sign, jewelry, candle and gem shops made to look like cabins from the frontier days, and the water rides were so fun to watch. We stood a little too close to the Snake River Falls ride and got pretty soaked! Ellie even got to pet goats, cows, bunnies and llamas at The Barnyard.

Andrew and dad made it through all the roller coasters that were open (some of them twice) and met us for a snack. Andrew got to ride one of the Peanuts rides with Ellie and she had the time of her life flying through the air with her dad. She’s our little daredevil baby. We briefly checked out the Dinosaurs Alive area and got to see model T-Rex’s and other prehistoric creatures on our way out of the park.

We had a FANTASTIC time, but I didn’t realize how many family rides we missed until after we left. The sky ride was closed for the day, and we bypassed the antique cars, the riverboat ride and the Lake Erie railroad. The next time we go, I’ll better plan for what we want to do so we don’t miss anything rather than winging it like I did on this visit. Overall, it was a great day trip and now I can proudly say I’ve been to Cedar Point. 🙂

DSC_8443-24

Day Trip to Put-in-Bay

dsc_8173-15.jpg

*Thank you to Miller Ferry for providing my group with round trip ferry tickets and a golf cart during our visit. As always, the opinions of this blog are my own based on my experience.

Andrew, Ellie and I had an amazing day at Put-in-Bay with Andrew’s mom and two aunts Saturday.  This was our first visit of the year and we couldn’t have picked a better day–the weather was BEAUTIFUL! Our last visit to South Bass Island was in October during Oktoberfest and I blogged about it here. We had such a good time then, I knew it would be the perfect place to bring our guests. We started our trip where we always do–on the Miller Ferry from Catawba. The ferry provided our visitors with their first real view of Lake Erie and they couldn’t believe how vast it was. Honestly, sometimes it still surprises me too!

After about 18 minutes on the ferry, we stepped into our vacation for a day. There were a lot of people arriving onto the island, but it never seemed too crowded. We quickly grabbed two carts from E’s Golf Carts and were on our way. I’m glad I had reservations because by the time we got there around 11:30 a.m. there weren’t any carts available without one! Our first stop was our favorite restaurant on the island, The Upper Deck of the Boardwalk. We end up going to the Upper Deck every time we visit because the lobster bisque is TO DIE! Ellie ate her weight in french fries and the girls got to have a little afternoon cocktail. We tried several dishes that included bleu cheese chips, lobster mac and cheese, and the lobster BLT. Needless to say, we were all happy by the end of the meal.

Andrew’s aunt Kathryn especially likes botanical gardens, so after lunch we took the group to the Butterfly House at the Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center. The Butterfly House is a 4,000 square foot aviary filled with 50 types of butterflies from all over the world and just as many beautiful flowers. It was so cute watching Ellie walk along the brick paths and seeing Andrew point out butterflies to her. The space was well contained, so we were able to let her run around a little and not worry about her getting too far.

I had been to the Butterfly House before and was already a fan, but I had never been to Crystal Cave and really wanted to see it, so that was our next stop. Crystal Cave lies 42 steps below Heineman’s Winery and is the world’s largest known geode. The cave is covered in blueish crystals called celestite that range from 8 to 18 inches long, and it was accidentally discovered in 1897 by workers digging a well for the winery. This cave is truly amazing–it is small but packs a large punch. It may be the coolest cave I’ve ever been to, and I’m not talking about temperature. 🙂

Our cave tour also included a tour of the winery and a glass of wine, so we enjoyed our wine while Ellie got a nap in.DSC_8165-14

After our break at the winery, we toured around the island in the golf carts and made our way back to the ferry. Put-in-Bay is one of my favorite places to take visitors. The next time Andrew’s mom and aunts are in town, we’ll be able to take them to a whole different set of sites on the island.

Panama City Beach Vacation

img_4054There is no better feeling than the anticipation of an upcoming trip, and no worse feeling than when it’s over. Andrew, Ellie and I just returned from an amazing stay in Panama City Beach with my family last week and I’ve struggled hard this week to be happy and motivated back at work. Who wants to sit in front of a computer all day when you’ve just been laying on a beach?

Needless to say, it was a great week, with lots of catching up with family, watching the waves roll in and sightseeing. The weather was mostly perfect, and on the days we had rain we checked out the local attractions until the storms passed.

We stayed at the beachfront Princess Condos on the east side of PCB at Laguna Beach for 8 days. The first two days and the last two days the water was perfect for swimming so we stayed pretty close to the condo. Ellie was apprehensive about walking on sand at first. She lifted up her little feet, looking at the sand like, “what is this stuff?” It was so cute! By mid-week, she had it figured out and spent the rest of the time running up and down the beach like she owned the place.

This was also Ellie’s first time in a swimming pool, and Andrew was a good teacher, making her comfortable in the water. We got her a puddle jumper to help her float. I didn’t know this before, but puddle jumpers are coast guard approved and can be used as life jackets on boats. It came in handy later in the week. Ellie spent as much time outside the pool playing peek-a-boo and exploring as she did inside it.

We spent our evenings hanging out in the condo together and out on the balcony watching the sunsets. The balcony was my favorite part of the condo. It spanned the entire length of the unit and had plenty of space for all of us to mingle and for the kids to play.

Tuesday morning was rainy and the beachfront was closed for swimming, so a few of us went to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. Andrew didn’t want to go, so he and Ellie stayed home. I had never been to a Ripley’s museum before and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I think the adults in the group enjoyed it more than the kids actually.

The beachfront was still closed Wednesday morning, but it wasn’t too rainy so we decided to check out Gulf World. The dolphin show was the highlight of the visit. The kids loved seeing them dance, blow bubbles and jump high out of the water. DSC_7631

Thursday morning we rented a pontoon boat to nearby Shell Island. The kids loved finding hermit crabs and sand dollars, and we liked the untouched beauty of the island. It’s protected so there are no resorts, condos or retail businesses on the island.

Friday night Andrew and I went with Morgan and Ethan to Pirate’s Island Adventure Golf, and it was probably the best mini golf I’ve ever been to. We had so much fun! Ethan gave Andrew a run for his money, but Andrew came through in the end.

Mom and dad watched the kids for us while we went out and this was what we came back to:img_4211

We spent our last full day on the condo’s beach. The sky was beautiful and the water was super clear so it was the perfect way to end our trip. Ellie had the time of her life with her cousins and grandparents and we can’t wait to take a family trip like this again. I didn’t get through all of the clothes I brought for Ellie, so we have to go back just so she can wear them all!

img_4536

Hiking to Buttermilk Falls

DSC_7465If you read this blog about seeing waterfalls in the Cleveland area, then you know Buttermilk Falls has been on my list for some time. I had put it off because I knew it would require more time to get to than other waterfalls in the area. When we realized the weather would be perfect for hiking Saturday, we decided to take Ellie in the Ergobaby carrier and go check them out. We actually got to see two waterfalls–the first was Blue Hen Falls, about a tenth of a mile from the start of the trail, then we followed the creek to Buttermilk Falls, another half-mile from Blue Hen Falls.

Blue Hen Falls Trailhead

Both sets of waterfalls are part of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, about 30 minutes from our house. Cuyahoga Valley National Park is so big it has train tours that take you through it. Brandywine Falls, the most popular waterfall in the area, is also in this park.

The hike to Blue Hen Falls was an easy descent and it looked like the path had been paved at some point. There were a lot of people hiking the trail and I was surprised to see so many young kids.

This waterfall was beautiful, but it felt like a bonus compared to what we had really come to see. We saw a sign marked ‘End of Trail’ that I had read was the beginning of the trail to Buttermilk Falls. The trail wasn’t on any map that I saw, it just looked like it had been worn in by hikers over the years.

This was the first time we had taken a real hike with Ellie in the Ergobaby carrier. We were worried she might be uncomfortable or get restless in it, but she was snoozin’ halfway into the hike.

img_3165

About midway, the trail got a lot more treacherous for a guy with a baby on his back. There were several creek crossings on shaky rocks and Andrew decided he wasn’t comfortable going any further. We were about 10 minutes away from Buttermilk Falls, so I continued on and picked them up on my way back out. The hike back out was a lot more challenging than going in. We were basically hiking at an incline for the almost-mile back to our car–it was a workout–but the falls were BEAUTIFUL and so peaceful.

DSC_7477

Ellie had a good 30 minute nap in the carrier and didn’t complain the entire time! We rewarded her with her favorite McDonald’s french fries afterward and she was the happiest baby in all of Northeast Ohio.