Saturday Slobber

Posted in Kids, Travel on August 17th, 2008 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Well, school starts on Tuesday, so for one last summery hurrah, we ventured over to the coastal cities in Ohio on Lake Erie for some fun.  First stop was the African Safari Park in Port Clinton, which is really more of a drive-thru zoo than anything having to do with Africa.  They do have zebras, giraffes, and camels, but most of their animals hail from North America.  It’s always an extremely fun experience, and we try to go every year.  Since this summer was very busy with the new baby and all, it didn’t occur to me that we hadn’t gone yet until I struck up a conversation with a really nice elderly couple at a restaurant the other day.  When I asked where they were from, they replied, “west of Cleveland”, so that got me thinking about the Safari Park in Port Clinton.  On the way home from the restaurant that night, I said to my husband, you know, we haven’t been to the safari park this year…  An idea was hatched, and there we were on Saturday with 6 of our closest friends.

Saturday morning was almost like a one-act play with all of us standing there on our front porch, trying to figure out who was going to ride with whom; we were trying to find the best way to do things to be as economically (and environmentally) friendly as possible…  We ended up taking just 2 cars for the 12 of us, and then once we got to Port Clinton, it was like musical chairs (cars) once again while we tried to figure out how to position everyone to get the most bang for our buck, so to speak, since the safari place charges by carload and by individual…

So anyway, after a stop at Cheese Haven In Port Clinton – and now I have to go off on yet another tangent because Cheese Haven is SOOO good and totally worth a stop if you’re in the area.  And what I mean by “in the area” is anywhere up to 100 or even 1000 miles, depending on how much you like cheese.  They have so many varieties, along with fresh jerkies and beef sticks and other yummy treats.  We stopped there to get our lunch of corned beef sandwiches – and they have the best corned beef sandwiches, yum.  Unfortunatlely, I was not wlling to take 4 kids into the cheese store to run around, so I was stuck in the car with the kids, but my oh-so-thoughtful hubby talked the worker into making me a sample bag (which they’re not supposed to do, you only get the free samples if you go into the store, but hey, I was stuck in the car), AND he made my sandwich for me – how sweet 🙂

Ok, tangent aside…  now we’ve arrived at the Safari Park, and it is SO crowded…  Makes me think twice about going there again next summer unless it’s near their last weekend of operation like it was when we went last year…  I mean, I just can’t stand waiting in line to go to the bathroom, of all things…  Waiting in line is not much fun at all, but when you’re waiting in line to do something as necessary and as unrewarding as going to the bathroom, it’s really annoying.  So, because it was so crowded, it took us forever to get through the drive-through zoo part; although not as long as it took the other vehicle in our caravan because they were stuck behind an obscenely slow white van the whole time…  So while we got out of the drive-through section, they had barely just begun…  But the whole park is a really cool place; even more so if you don’t care about the vanity nor cleanliness of your car since there are some rather huge creatures (including deer, elk, elands, buffalo, zebras, giraffe and longhorns) who drool, head-butt, lick, slobber, and basically invade your car as your drive through their habitat.  I think you must truly be an animal lover to appreciate the place since you come out filthy…  This was the first time we had been there in our new car, but I’m happy to report no major damage, that I know about, at least; but what’s this about driving our car through a pond, jamiahsh?!?

We’ll get to the bottom of that later…  when you come out of the drive-through part, it’s time for the walk-through zoo section, and there they have monkeys, macaws (military, not green-winged as the sign said), ocelots, warthogs, alpacas, and tortoises; not to mention rides for the kiddees: ponies and camels.  I noticed that they had 2 camels for riding; one was resting while the other gave the rides.  But interestingly, one was a Dromedary and the other a Bactrian camel, the difference between the two species being mainly in how many humps they had…  My daughters rode the Dromedary (1 hump), and they really seemed to enjoy themselves – I wonder if riding the Bactrian (2 humps) would have been any different?  I was envious because I’m no where near the 125 lb. weight limit, so I’ll probably never get to ride a camel…  After that, we got to check out an animal show, ironically titled “Laugh With the Animals”.  It was ironic because our host for the show was so dry – she had the audience doing everything but laughing…  It was a fun show, though, and something that we hadn’t yet done at the park in our previous visits.  Overall, an interesting day…  as it is anytime you have 12 people on an outing together!

If you liked reading my synopsis of the day, check out my fellow tangents.org blogger and get Jamiahsh’s take on the whole thing.  I’m going to take a lesson from him and blog this in 2 installments…  got to leave the readers craving more, so they say!  Check out my next post for a full summary of our visit to a year-round haunted house – Ghostly Manor in Sandusky, Ohio!  Until then…

Fun in South Bend Indiana

Posted in Kids on June 16th, 2008 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Of all the places to find fun, who would have thought that middle of nowhere, IN would be such a sight?  Every summer, we meet my mom there about 4 times to swap the kids.  She’ll take them for a week, twice a summer, so because South Bend just happens to be about as close to halfway for each of us to drive, that is where we meet.  We used to meet at a Wendy’s just off the expressway, but our horizons have broadened, and my husband and I have been venturing off the beaten path to discover new things to see and do in the area.  We found a good restaurant called Eleni’s with amazing gyros and saganaki, two of our favorite dishes.  We also found an authentic Greek restaurant called Elia’s right down the street, but oddly enough, they are almost never open.  They have more exotic Greek food like stuffed grape leaves, moussaka, and baklava, YUM!  Their food is excellent, though we’ve only been able to eat there once because of their strange hours and seemingly constant family vacations.  After eating and getting the kids back from my mom, we headed to the Potawatomi Zoo.  The zoo is a really cool size, perfect for our family of 3 small children and a now VERY pregnant woman.  Not much walking to do at all, yet it has a good amount of animals, native and exotic, all types and sizes from lions, tigers, and bears, to monkeys, bison, alligators, parrots, and red pandas.  I wil have to mention that the Potawatomi Zoo did not seem very well-kept.  A gardener in that place could have done wonders as there were many overgrown weeds, trees, and shrubbery, some even blocking what could have been better views of the animals!  One tree was so untrimmed it was blocking a drinking fountain!  But as I said, it’s a very cute little zoo, and they reciprocate with our home zoo, the Toledo Zoo, so our admission price was free and they don’t charge for parking.  I was surprised to see that the zoo wasn’t very crowded seeing as how it was a Saturday in June under 90°…  That zoo could really use a Jack Hanna to fix it up and get the publicity rolling – I see a lot of potential for it, but it does need some work.

After the zoo, we had kids begging for ‘one more fun thing’ (remember, they had been used to the fun of Grandma’s for just short of a week!), my husband whips out Mr. GPS, and apparently he has a phone book feature on him, so from your car, you can find gas stations, restaurants, and most importantly, fun places and attractions to visit!

So KUDOS belong to Mr. GPS this time!  Instead of getting us lost and chuckling at us electronically, he led us right to this strip mall that was like a step back in time, it was really strange.  It looked like it was right out of 1983.  I don’t know how to explain it – we should have taken pictures.  It would have been a great place to film a movie set in the early ’80’s, took me right back to my childhood.  Anyway, in this strip mall was a place called Mega Play.  From the outside, it looked closed down – they really need to get themselves a big bright ‘open’ sign.  But once inside, it was a huge space where they had tons of video games, pinball machines, indoor minigolf, bouncy castles and tunnels for the kids, lots of ride-ons for toddlers, and right out of 1983 – a ball pit!  The ball pit had a pyramid in the middle of it that the kids climb up with ropes and once they got the hang of it, they had a ball – cheesy pun intended.  That pyramid gave me a flashback of playing on the same thing when I was little.  I think they used to have them in KMarts, and my husband agreed.  It was neat to see vintage video games and pinball machines also.  The arcade ATARI games they had in one bouncy castle area were free to play – they had Kangaroo, Pole Position, Asteroids, and some shooting game I hadn’t heard of.  I walked over to the pinball machine area because days earlier, we visited this cool pinball shop in a suburb of Toledo.  The guy started it as a hobby, but it grew into a store, and he had all kinds of pinball machines, new and mostly vintage.  He had titles on display like Demolition Man, Star Wars, The Shadow, and Hercules (an older game – it was HUGE!).  He even had this Looney Tunes racing game (not pinball) that was really vintage and one-of-a-kind…  it was cool to see.  I wonder if the pinball guy outside of Toledo is familiar with Mega Play?  But anyway, back to Mega Play…  it was a huge, wide-open strip mall space that had tons of games, ride-ons, and bouncy castles packed into it – lots of fun there, but still spacey so you didn’t feel closed it.  It was the exact concept my husband and I had in mind for our own business of the same type we started a few years ago.  We ended up having to sell the business because it was too labor intensive for the time and staff we had however.  Too bad Mega Play is all the way in South Bend, or we could challenge our putt-putt-ing friends to the mini-golf course 🙂

After Mega Play, it was time to find something to eat, and before we knew it, we were out of South Bend and into the country.  The kids started getting crazier and crazier, and we vowed to stop at the very next restaurant we found before someone passed out or went insane – and some of us were close to either condition!  So, we stopped at a restaurant called Dakota’s in Elkhart IN, and I highly recommend it if you’re ever out that way.  They had the best cornbread, and their steak and cheese sandwich was simply AWESOME!  They also have barbecue items, and they happened to have karaoke the night we went…  it wasn’t too intrusive though.  They were in another room and we didn’t even know it was karaoke at first until the audience began applauding.  The DJ hosting the karaoke was singing a few songs also, and he was pretty good, so he actually sounded like a recording with a live quality.  I don’t how often they have karaoke there, but their food is great, prices reasonable, nice atmosphere, and the staff is amazingly friendly.  Keep in mind I say this coming from a super-friendly town myself, so we’re used to the usual chit-chat when we go out to eat –  but people in Elkhart were exceptionally friendly.

Overall, not a bad place to spend a day – fun and very inexpensive to boot.  Too bad with gas prices the way they are we can’t consider South Bend for a normal day trip for our family – there is plenty to do!  Maybe we’ll wander around some more the next time we meet Grandma there in July…

Lions and Tigers and Bears Oh My

Posted in Kids, Uncategorized on March 18th, 2008 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I am greatly anticipating our scheduled visit to the Toledo Zoo next week.  My daughter needs a specialty dentist in the big city, so we’ve decided to throw some fun in there as well with a trip to the zoo.  It will probably be my last one until after I have the baby, unless they have a wagon available for rental that’s big enough for very pregnant me AND the 3 kids.  Since it’s only March and I’m not due until July, I think I can still handle the large amount of walking it takes to get around the zoo – we’ll see anyway.  I naively thought that pregnancies would get easier with experience, but it seems that I forgot to factor in my increasing age – I am almost 10 years older than I was the first time I was with child – and I feel it!

Toledo Zoo is very large.  It’s a very nice zoo, but there is lots of walking.  It remains one of my favorite zoos in the country however, and I’ve visited at least 20.  Toledo has lots of animals, but they are pretty spread out.  Also, because the zoo straddles a major road, you have to trek up and down a ramp and across a long pedestrian bridge; all of which is not so much fun if pregnant or in the heat of the summer.  But overall, it is one of my favorite zoos.  Even though the gorilla’s indoor exhibit is pretty small, I really enjoy how close you can see them, and they don’t seem unhappy being in a small exhibit…  unlike a gorilla at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska.  He had a really small indoor enclosure, and we witnessed him charge at a little boy – it was very scary and thank goodness that glass was thick!  This was years ago, and I think Henry Doorly has since re-built their gorilla exhibit.  Another zoo with a lot of walking is the Brookfield Zoo near Chicago, Illinois.  Brookfield has lots of walking, but unlike Toledo, the animals are spaced further apart, so much of the walking is without seeing animals.  It’s been a few years since I’ve been there, so maybe they’ve changed this, but it’s not one of my favorite zoos, unless we’re talking about sentimental reasons – it was the site of my husband’s and my first “unofficial” date.  One zoo that sticks out in my memory as one of my favorites is the Folsom Children’s Zoo in Lincoln, Nebraska.  The name is misleading, they had quite an array of animals there; including red pandas, camels, reindeer, leopards, monkeys, a variety of reptiles, seals, sloths, emus that like to be pet, and there are still many more I haven’t named.  All in only 19 acres, nestled right in the city.  Which sounds large, but once you get in there, it was really the perfect size.  Not much walking at all, lots of animals who all had lots of room in their environments, and it was very nicely landscaped with mature trees and such so that you forgot you were in the middle of the city.  We used to live close enough to walk there, but the only problem with this great little zoo is that it was only open from April – October.  If you are ever in Nebraska, the Folsom Children’s Zoo is a must-see.  Being a native Chicagoan, it’s strange that I’ve never visited the Lincoln Park Zoo, which is also in the middle of a city, albeit a much larger one than Lincoln.  But I’ve heard good things about it, and maybe one of these days, during one of our bi-yearly visits to the area, we will give Lincoln Park a whirl so I can add it to my zoo resume.

Before our trips to the zoo, I like to visit a really cool website to brush up on my animal facts.  It really makes zoo trips more interesting if you know a little more about what you’re looking at.  Check out this online database that is maintained by the University of Michigan:  http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/index.html

And finally, if you are still reading this, you must be an animal lover like me.  If you also like to read, I highly recommend my favorite book written by my favorite celebrity: Jack Hanna, called “Monkeys on the Interstate”.  If you ever watch The Late Show with David Letterman, you know that poor Jack often comes across as a bumbling fool when he’s on the show.  He is an animal expert however, and he is much more entertaining to watch than most animal experts.  He and Letterman tease each other mercilessly, and there is almost always some sort of animal mishap that occurs when Jack is involved, always with hilarious results.  His book is a narrative of the same sort of episodes, all taken from his life as he was growing up and also from when he went on to become the director of the Columbus Zoo.  By the way, being an Ohioan, I’ve had the opportunity to visit the Columbus Zoo, and I will say that it did not disappoint.  If you read Jack’s book, you will read about how he brought the zoo from anonymity (he notes in his book that when he first arrived in Ohio, people would always ask him,”there’s a zoo in Columbus?!?”) to one of the most renowned facilities in the world.  There was a lot of trial and error involved in acheiving this, and again, many hilarious hijinks, all of which are detailed in the book – it is really entertaining reading.  And it’s not just a clever title – there really were Monkeys on the Interstate, thanks to Jack and one of his hare-brained ideas!  Maybe I will take another look at it on the long ride to Toledo next week…