Cedar Point Never Gets Old

There are some places we can visit over and over and still feel like it’s new and exciting every single time. Cedar Point is definitely one of those places. We made the trip to Sandusky last weekend (Cedar Point provided tickets for us) to see what’s new for 2013, and to revisit some of our old favorites.

Cedar Point

Mira was especially hopeful that she had grown enough since last October to meet the 48″ requirement for many of the roller coasters. Last year she measured 46″ which only let her on one big coaster, the Iron Dragon.

The changes at Cedar Point start right when you get to the gate. They’ve completely remodeled the entrance now, partially to work in the newest coaster, the GateKeeper. It’s an impressive winged coaster – meaning the cars are attached to the track in the middle, but riders sit on either side on the “wings” of the coaster. There are two keyholes built into the towers around the new gate, and the GateKeeper coaster glides through each of those narrow keyholes, twisting at the last possible second to fit the arms and legs of it’s passengers safely through, and wowing visitors as they come up to the gate. It holds records for being the longest, fastest and tallest wing coaster. I can already tell you I love this coaster, and I haven’t even had a chance to ride it yet.

GateKeeper at Cedar PointYes, they have to turn sideways quickly to fit through that narrow tower over the main entrance to the park. It’s amazing to watch.

Our first stop was to get both kids measured for rides. You can do this right at the entrance and get a colored wrist band, avoiding any further waits in line to be measured again. Cordy was 54″ this time, allowing her to ride nearly everything in the park (allowing is different than wanting, though, and her anxiety kept her away from all coasters), and Mira let out a cheer when she was told she met the 48″ height requirement. She was the happiest kid ever to get her 48″ rider wristband.

Cedar Point rider wristbandProudly showing off her red 48″ wristband.

The first ride for us has practically become a tradition now. Cedar Downs is always our first stop – it’s essentially a carousel, but it goes faster than most, and the horses “race” each other, with one in each row coming out ahead by the end of the ride. (The winner varies each time.) Cordy loves this ride, and Mira was thrilled to have her first experience with it.

Cedar Downs over three yearsCordy on Cedar Downs: 2011, 2012, 2013 (with Aaron this time)

After that we had a quick lunch (full disclosure: lunch was provided by Cedar Point) and Aaron was so happy that Cedar Point is considerate of those with food allergies. He was able to eat a gluten-free pizza for lunch, with other gluten-free options available as well. If you need a gluten-free meal, try Joe Cool Cafe – they even have separate fryers for those who can’t have gluten but still want some french fries or gluten-free chicken tenders.

Mira then wanted to continue exploiting her new height to ride another 48″ or higher ride. Off to the Cedar Creek Mine Ride we went! Cordy used to love this ride, but her anxiety was too high, so she stayed back. Thankfully, Cedar Point offers a Parent Swap pass for this kind of situation. You can pick up a Parent Swap pass in the Guest Services office, good for one use on most of the larger rides.

Here’s how it works: one parent gets in line for the ride with their child, while the other parent does something else with the kid who doesn’t want to ride. Once the first parent and child get off the ride, they hand the Parent Swap pass to an attendant and go out the exit. The other parent can trade off and go up the exit ramp to get on the ride with no wait. Each parent gets to ride, and the child who wants to ride gets to do it twice. It’s a win-win.

Mira loved the Mine Ride! We tried the Gemini next, which was a little more scary for her. I’m glad she decided not to try Millennium Force quite yet. At this point we decided to dial back the adventure level a little and spend some time in Camp Snoopy, which is filled with rides for the younger set. (Although many allow adults to ride with their kids, too.) Cordy was a big fan of the Tilt-a-Whirl, and we rode that ride at least five times. Yes, I’m still dizzy.

Cedar Point SwingsCordy and Mira took a few rides on the swings, too.

You can also meet Snoopy and his Peanuts friends in Camp Snoopy. Cordy couldn’t miss out on a hug.

Hugging Snoopy at Cedar Point

We like playing the carnival games at Cedar Point, too, always coming home with some new stuffed animals to add to the family of plush creatures. Both kids like that Pokemon can often be found as prizes with some of the games, but Cordy set her sights higher this year:

Cedar Point - It's so fluffy!Say it with me, folks: IT’S SO FLUFFY!

Near the end of the day, Mira got her courage back and asked to go on the Corkscrew. This roller coaster has three loops in it – I thought there was no way she’d want to go on a looping coaster. But she did, and she waited with Aaron patiently (although nervously) in line for the ride. Despite the wristband, they still checked her height again – she just barely clears 48″ and I think they were surprised a five year old wanted on the Corkscrew.

She did it, though – and she loved it! I know Mira is going to be a Cedar Point Ride Warrior as she gets older. She’s already asking how long it will take for her to be 52″ tall so she can ride Top Thrill Dragster, a ride that goes from zero to 120 miles-per-hour in four seconds. Maybe she can ride that one with her dad.

This is our third year in a row to go to Cedar Point, and we really appreciate how much there is to do in this amusement park. We love how many thrill rides are in this park, as well as plenty of family rides and in-between rides that are thrilling but not too scary. Our energy level ran out before we ran out of rides and attractions to visit – you can’t do it all in a day!

We're a Cedar Point FamilyWe’re a Cedar Point family!

Yes, we love Disney World and will always love Disney World, but Disney’s roller coasters can’t compare to the roller coasters at Cedar Point. And unlike Disney, Cedar Point is an Ohio theme park that’s easy to daytrip or take a short Ohio staycation at Lake Erie.

If you have the chance, get to Cedar Point to try the new GateKeeper this year, and then let me know how you liked it! I’m hoping we’ll visit again later this summer, perhaps with more adults in our group, so Aaron and I can take a ride on GateKeeper together!

Full disclosure: I was invited by Cedar Point to bring my family to the park for the day and received complimentary admission into the park and lunch. Mira’s blossoming Ride Warrior personality comes to her naturally – both of her parents love roller coasters!

Columbus: Are You Ready To HOOFit in 2013? (Giveaway!)

Not that you can tell from today’s weather (hello, SNOW!), but Spring is nearly here! While I love the snow, I’m looking forward to warmer temperatures and being able to go outside for walks and runs again.

I’ve been using my treadmill for most of this winter, and I’m ready to get out for some fresh air. I did a LOT of walking at Disney and really appreciated the change of walking for the purpose of seeing things, instead of staring at my wall as I walked in the same place.

I recently found out that OhioHealth is once again partnering with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium for another series of HOOFit walks this year. I joined in on some of them last year, and I can tell you it’s a creative idea to get in some exercise in a fun, family-friendly way.

And meet some wild new friends.

This is how it works: come to the Columbus Zoo on any of the HOOFit walk days at the start time and join in on a guided walk through one area of the zoo with a zoo guide and an OhioHealth physician leading a discussion on a specific health topic. You can ask questions of the physician, or just enjoy the walk and the health facts and tips as you stroll among the animals.

It may sound like a strange mix, discussing animals and our health, but from my experience last year it works well. Going to the zoo with little kids is something many of us already do, right? So we might as well learn a little more about how to keep our families healthy while we’re there. It’s a multi-tasking win.

Here’s the schedule for this year’s HOOFit walks:

  • March 14 – Wellness and Prevention
  • April 25 – Stroke Prevention
  • May 23 – Cancer Prevention
  • June 20 – Sports Medicine
  • July 25 – Spine Health (Neuroscience and Orthopedics)
  • August 29 – Women’s Heart and Vascular Health
  • September 26 – Cold weather wellness

There’s a topic for nearly everyone in that list. All walks except for the March and September walks will begin at 9:30am. The March and September walks will start at 10:30am. There’s no requirement to RSVP for the walk, but it’s still helpful for them to get an attendance estimate by joining the event on their Facebook page.

HOOFit is totally free with your paid Columbus Zoo admission. It’s packed full of information and usually a decent amount of fun, too. Kids are welcome, strollers are welcome…all ages and skill levels can appreciate this event. (If you’re expecting a power walk, however, you might be disappointed.)

Want to join in on a HOOFit event? I’ve got a four pack of Columbus Zoo single-day admission tickets to give away to one reader. Obviously you need to be in the Columbus area or planning to travel here to enter. (I swear I’ll have giveaways for non-Ohio folks soon!)

To enter: just leave a comment below telling me your favorite animal to see at the zoo. Easy-peasy. Be sure to leave a way for me to contact you if you’re the winner. One entry per person.

Giveaway is open until Monday, March 11 at noon. At that point I’ll select a winner at random and email you with details on getting your tickets.

Good luck, and I hope to see some of you out at the zoo this year!

Full disclosure: I received no compensation for this giveaway, as my family has a Columbus Zoo membership. I just think it’s a fun way to get in some exercise and promote healthy living.

From Farm To Fridge: A Day With The Dairy Cows

As a mom, I always worry about making sure what my kids eat is as fresh and healthy as possible. I want as few additives as possible in their foods, and I don’t want to worry that something they eat or drink may not be safe for them. Of course we don’t allow artificial dyes due to Cordy’s sensitivity to them, but even foods that are natural still get my scrutiny.

Milk and cheese are a large part of my family’s diet. Aside from water (which is the preferred drink for just thirst), milk is one of the best options when my kids want something to drink: it’s filling thanks to natural protein and fats, it has no additives other than Vitamin D, and it provides calcium and vitamins to help them grow. Compared to juice, soda (which our kids don’t drink), or milk-like and juice-like drinks (which are really mostly sugar), milk really is the nutritional winner.

(Unless you’re allergic to milk. Then by all means ignore my praise of milk for your own diet.)

But even something as simple as milk isn’t without controversy. Antibiotics, hormones, animal treatment, organic vs. regular, alternative milks such as soy or almond…there’s a lot to know about milk. I’ll admit I’m not as well informed as I could be about how milk gets from the cow to the table.

When I think of dairy cows, I generally think of the stories from my mom and my grandmother and the farm my mom grew up on.

photos of my grandfather (who died just before I was born) and his cows
They had a small herd of Jersey dairy cows and my mother remembers having to help milk the cows every day. Back then, it was milking by hand – very time and labor intensive. They had their milk directly from the source, without any time or handling between cow and table. They didn’t have indoor plumbing, either, but that’s a story for another day.

Milking cows has come a long way since the early 1950’s, and I dare say it’s much safer for all involved, too. (The farmer, the cow, and the consumer.) Last month I was part of a small group of bloggers who visited two north-eastern Ohio dairy farms – one smaller, one larger – to see just what’s involved in getting the milk we pour on our cereal each morning, and I was honestly surprised how much I did not know about dairy farming in Ohio.

The first stop was Richman Farms, a family-owned dairy farm that milks 80 cows twice a day. They have three different types of dairy cows: Holsteins (the most popular nowadays), Brown Swiss, and Jerseys. Jerseys produce milk with a higher fat content, but they’re smaller cows, producing less milk overall, and so aren’t as popular.

Who can resist that sweet face?

Even for the smaller farmers, milking by hand isn’t done anymore. It’s too time consuming and there’s too great a risk of contamination. Instead, the cows go into a milking room, where their udders are cleaned (for your safety and to help prevent mastitis in the cow), and then the milking equipment is applied to their udders. All milk is sent through a closed system to a storage unit, never once touched by human hands. This farm sends all of its milk to Smith’s, a local milk producer.

The milking room – cows up high, people down below.

The milking machine monitors the amount of milk coming through the tube, and when the amount slows to a certain point, the machine disengages. (No sore udders here!)

I tried milking by hand, too – not as easy as you’d think!

After milking, the cows wander back out to the barn to eat. Each cow eats between 80-90 pounds of grass, alfalfa and grain each day, and drinks about a bathtub’s worth of water. That’s a lot of food, but any nursing mother would tell you that you need plenty of food and water to produce milk.

Richman Farms was a great introduction, and the cows looked pretty spoiled there. When the weather is warmer they open the sides of the barn to let in plenty of fresh air, and if it gets too warm they turn on fans to keep them cool. In the winter they close the sides of the barn to keep the cows warm and comfortable.

I wondered if a larger farm would have different standards for their animals. After all, 80 cows are pretty easy to spoil – but what about 1500 cows?

To answer that question, we traveled to Andreas Dairy Farm and met with Dan and his son, Matt. They’re co-owners of this long-held family farm, with 1500 Holstein cows and a staff of 35 people. I had no doubt that things would be done on a larger scale here, and I was right. Richman Farms had a milking room that could milk about four to six cows at a time. Andreas Farm can handle 40 at a time, and milked their cows three times a day, around the clock. Wow!

The cows moved in & out from the milking stalls in unison. It was like a choreographed bovine ballet.

But even with the difference in scale, the cows at this farm had much the same experience as the smaller farm cows. They had unlimited access to their food and water, and a huge barn with clean bedding and individual beds to lay down and rest. And when I say beds, I mean beds – there’s a padded bed under the straw to keep them comfortable.

Dan explained that no one wants a stressed out cow – she won’t produce as much milk if she’s under stress. (Moms who have breastfed can understand that concept.) Happy cows really do mean better milk, and the farmer do their best to make sure these cows are living the good life. “We take care of them so they’ll take care of us,” Dan told us.

This is the maternity ward – all of these cows were due to give birth very soon and so were watched closely in case they needed any help.

The Andreas Dairy Farm also grows a large portion of the feed for their cows. Both farms work with vets and nutritionists to provide their cows with the best nutrition possible.

Since the Andreas farm is so large, they also have a LOT of calves around to keep the milk flowing. The part that’s easy to forget is you have to have a calf in order to have a cow making milk. So what happens to those calves?

When a calf is born, it’s shortly taken from its mother (I know, sad!). The colostrum from those first few milkings is saved for the calf and other calves, and is not used in milk production for people.The calves are then moved to their own pens for a short while. This keeps them safe, and they’re hand-fed during that time.

She’s simply adorable.

Dairy cows are amazingly calm around people because they’ve been hand raised by humans since day one. After they spend some time growing in the pens, the female calves are moved to their own herd to begin socializing and continue growing until they’re ready to have their first calves at around two years old.

What happens to the boys? Well, they’re usually sold. Some go on into breeding programs, but many will become meat cows when they’re older.

So then came the heavy questions. First: what happens to a sick cow? Any cow who is sick is kept separate from the herd, treated by a vet and given antibiotics if needed. Any cow who receives antibiotics still has to be milked (any breastfeeding mother understands this principle also), but her milk is kept separate and not used. Her milk cannot be used for milk production again until it tests negative for any trace of antibiotics.

I didn’t realize that all milk, organic or not, is not allowed to have any trace of antibiotics in it – it’s the law. Farms routinely test their milk to make sure it’s safe. When a tanker comes to collect milk (and often collects milk from several farms), a sample is taken from the milk it collects. The milk is again tested at the receiving facility. If any trace of antibiotics is found, the entire tanker must be dumped, and the farm that was responsible for the contamination ends up paying for the entire tanker of milk. Good reason to not cut corners, right?

One of the holding tanks where milk is cooled, tested and waits for transport.

Another big question we raised was the use of rBST (a bovine hormone supplement) in milk production. Contrary to belief, this isn’t an additive to the milk itself, but a hormone given to cows to increase milk production. Many of us (myself included) had concerns about the use of it and asked each farmer their opinion.

Both stated they firmly believe there is no danger in using it, as studies have shown no increase in the hormone levels in milk. (For the record, all milk naturally has hormones in it. Also for the record, I don’t believe in the use of supplemental hormones.) But both also said they didn’t use it with their cows. Dan said he tried it at one time, but found it didn’t increase the milk production enough to be worth the use and cost, and he discontinued it.

The one aspect of visiting these farms that surprised me the most was the dedication of those who do it. You really have to love these cows to be a dairy farmer. It’s hard work, in all types of weather and all hours of the day. These families don’t drive fancy cars or have grand homes – they’re not getting rich at this. The wives have additional jobs to help support the family.

It’s a beautiful part of Ohio, but I couldn’t live out here and give up my 3G cell phone coverage.

Both farms explained that the wholesale price of milk hasn’t changed much in over 30 years, despite the need for upgrades in equipment, increased costs for feed and new standards of care. When they send a tanker of milk out, they won’t know the price they’ll receive until the end of the month – milk is a commodity. They have no control over the price, and because milk has a set shelf life they can’t hold it and wait for a better price to come along.

But they love what they do, they love their cows and they help provide the milk and cheese that many of us eat each day. I was genuinely touched by the level of care for these animals, and feel a new appreciation for the glass of milk I pour for my kids each meal.

Sure, feeding a calf is fun once or twice. But bottle feeding 50+ of them multiple times a day & caring for animals 24/7, even on holidays? That would be exhausting.

There’s so much more I learned from the farms, but there’s no way it would fit in a single post. If you have any questions about the dairy farms that I didn’t cover, let me know and I’ll happily share what I saw and learned. If it was something we didn’t cover, I can put you in touch with the Ohio Dairy Farmers group so they can provide more information.

Also, watch for part two of this experience – we visited a cheese maker and learned how cheese was made. I can even give you some amazing wine and cheese pairings!

Disclosure: The American Dairy Association Mideast provided all meals, accommodations, transportation and access to farms during my Ohio Dairy Adventure. They also willingly handed me a bottle of warm milk to bottle feed a calf, and then reminded me that zoning restrictions would likely not allow a calf in my backyard. That part was kind of a downer.

HalloWeekends at Cedar Point: A Screaming Good Time

This may have been the coldest weekend so far this fall. So what did we do? Go spend all of Sunday out in the cold, of course!

When we went to Cedar Point back in August, we saw the signs for their HalloWeekends events and thought it would be fun to come back out and see the park all set up for Halloween. Halloween is one of my family’s favorite holidays: costumes, candy, spooky stuff – what’s not to love?

Don’t we all wish for one of these now and then?

The weather, though, did not cooperate with our plans. It was cold and cloudy, and we decided quickly to ditch plans for letting the kids wear their Halloween costumes to Cedar Point. Layers of warm clothing were the costume of the day.

 This guy needed a jacket.

Despite the cold, HalloWeekends at Cedar Point was a lot of fun. The entire park was decorated in skeletons, pumpkins and monsters. There were Halloween-themed events all day long, as well as scary haunted houses for the older kids and grown ups later in the day. And of course most of the usual rides were open, too.

This time we took our sister-in-law and a friend of hers with us so that we could trade off kid-duty from time to time, giving Aaron and I the first chance to ride a roller coaster together in YEARS. (Seriously, super big thanks to you both!)

There are plenty of kid-friendly HalloWeekends events that are fun and not too scary. They have the Magical House on Boo Hill, which is a young kid version of a haunted house. It was mostly spooky decor with some slightly scary special effects, like a floating table, a kid-size organ that played by itself, and a skeleton who appeared and disappeared in a closet.

At the end of the house, the kids were all given a small bag of treats as a reward. I also liked that they had someone at the front door, keeping out older kids and teens who weren’t accompanying a smaller child.

Cordy and Mira also loved the hay maze and ran through it several times.

The HalloWeekends monsters came out a few times during the day to interact with kids and dance.

Cordy even followed along to learn the Thriller dance.

There was a costume contest for the kids, but we didn’t bring costumes due to the cold so we didn’t enter. At 4pm, the HalloWeekends parade came through the midway, filled with bands, dance teams, monsters, floats and of course the Peanuts gang. Even though there were monsters and zombies, the kids weren’t scared seeing them marching in a parade.

But of course the main attraction is still the rides, and Cedar Point has some of the best. Aaron and I were thrilled to ride the Raptor, a suspended coaster that has several loops in it. And thanks to shorter lines we were able to experience the 195 foot drop of the Magnum XL twice. (Back car, naturally. It’s a must for that roller coaster.)

The kids had plenty of fun in Camp Snoopy, too:

Cordy opted out of any roller coasters, even the Cedar Creek Mine Ride. Mira, still not quite tall enough for most of the roller coasters, was limited to the Iron Dragon (a suspended coaster with no loops) for her thrill experience. And she went on it three times. It would have been four, but a late day rain shower stopped her fourth attempt. Hopefully she’ll grow another inch by next year to gain access to several other roller coasters.

Aaron and I also went through one of the more scary haunted houses. It was appropriately spooky and we jumped several times as we wound our way through all of the tight spaces.

Despite the cold, we had a fantastic time. HalloWeekends still has all of the fun of any day at Cedar Point, with the addition of some great Halloween themed events and attractions. The decorations are amazing, the shows and haunted houses are fun, and I paused for a moment to pay tribute to the recently closed Disaster Transport in the Rides Graveyard.

You will be missed…

HalloWeekends at Cedar Point is open Friday-Sunday through October 28.

Full disclosure: We received complimentary passes to attend Cedar Point. Parking, travel, food, and an amount of money I’d rather not discuss to win our kids two Pokemon toys in the games area were covered entirely by us.

LEGO Castle Adventure at COSI (Giveaway!)

I’m not sure why, but the last weekend of September is probably the busiest weekend of the entire year. No one in Columbus coordinated their calendars and as a result there were a billion things to do. (That may not be an accurate count of events, but isn’t too far off.)

We had so many activities going on this weekend that we were forced to pick only a few and turn down all other offers. I’m still exhausted as I look around my messy house and wonder when will I have an empty weekend to get any cleaning done?

But one exciting event of the weekend was visiting COSI for the opening of their new LEGO Castle Adventure exhibit. LEGOs? Castles? Science? It was like some of our favorite things came together in one big package for us.

The exhibit features the science of castle building, allowing older kids to practice building virtual castle walls to withstand a catapult, while also having lots of real LEGOs to build and play with. Professionally built LEGO castles and medieval scenes were on display, as well as a giant LEGO dragon and her baby.

There was also a throne room perfect for photos, and a smaller castle to climb with a slide on the other side.

Did I mention Mira was being a ham that day?

They even had a jousting arena, where kids could face off against targets or each other.

Bins of dress up clothing ensured that most of the kids in the exhibit were looking the part as a knight, king or queen. Mira especially liked dressing up and pretending to be a knight, using her pink unicorn shield to protect me from the dragon.

Cordy preferred to stay in the LEGO building area, creating a fortress to hide a small box she built. She said the box was filled with treasures. Very small treasures.

The LEGO Castle Adventure exhibit was a lot of fun, but after half an hour they were ready to see more at COSI. It’s a huge building, filled with different areas to explore, so we spent the next few hours wandering the exhibits.

We shot water at King Neptune in Ocean.

Mira tried to make a phone call in a 1962 phone booth in Progress.

We looked at tasty works of art, all created from Jelly Belly jelly beans.

And they hammed it up in front of a green screen in the WOSU studio.

It’s easy to spend most of a day at COSI, and we didn’t even have time to check out a movie in their Extreme Screen theater.


Want to check out the LEGO Castle Adventure and COSI for yourself? I have a four pack of general admission passes, along with four Extreme Screen passes, to give to one lucky reader!

Obviously this is more convenient for readers local to the area, but if you’re planning a family trip to Columbus at any point this year (hey, why not?), these passes are good through the end of the year.

To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment below telling me what part of COSI you would most like to explore with your kids. That’s it, easy-peasy. One entry per person. I’ll accept entries until end of the day on Monday, October 8, then select one winner at random. Please make sure I have a way to contact you if you’re the winner.

Good luck!

Full disclosure: the kids and I received a free one-day admission to COSI and COSI provided the giveaway passes. All opinions are my own.

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