End of Summer Trip, Day 2: Put-in-Bay

After a busy day at Cedar Point (you can read about Day 1 here), we wanted our second day to trend towards some low-key fun. So we drove to the edge of Lake Erie to take the Miller Ferry over to Put-in-Bay.

 on the shores of Lake Erie

For those who aren’t local, Put-in-Bay is a popular little town on South Bass Island just a few miles from Ohio’s mainland. The island’s main business is tourism. Families, seniors, history buffs, nautical aficionados, college students, wine lovers, or even people who just like driving golf carts: there’s something for everyone.

You can only get there by boat or air, and it seems a little silly to fly only a few miles. The Miller Ferry is the well-known, reliable way to get to the island, and with two kids who have never been on a boat, I couldn’t wait to introduce them to my favorite way to travel.

Cordy was a little nervous about getting on a boat at first. As she saw it coming to the dock, rocking from the morning waves, she worried that the waves might go over it and pull it under the water. While waiting for the ferry to unload, we discussed flotation and buoyancy (science!) until she felt certain that it was safe. Luckily, there weren’t a lot of people traveling at 9:30am on a Friday, so we snagged front row seats on the second level.

Both kids were unsure how they felt about the rocking of the boat at first. But then…

…they LOVED it! Cordy held tight to the rail as the wind blew her hair back, and for a moment I was fully expecting a Titanic “I’m king of the world!” declaration from her. The best I got was, “I LOVE boats now!” Close enough, I guess.

That’s the island off in the distance.

Once we reached South Bass Island, we picked up our rental golf cart from Island Bike & Cart Rental. The island is only a few miles wide, with very limited parking. You can bring your car, but it’s really not that convenient, and you’d be stuck behind slower moving golf carts the entire time anyway. Besides…golf carts! Aaron and I had to agree to take turns driving our golf cart to avoid a fight. Zipping around the island by golf cart is waaaaay too much fun. (And there’s plenty of golf-cart only parking all over the island.)

We decided to leave the day up to the kids. We gave them a list of several attractions and let them decide where we were going. The first stop was Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center. This little complex is several activities in one. The main attraction is Perry’s Cave, a natural cave and underground lake you can tour to see where Perry (aka the Hero of the Battle of Lake Erie) and his troops found water and shelter in the War of 1812.

The cave formations are cool, but not for the claustrophobic. Cordy and Mira were fond of “headache rock,” especially after seeing adults hit their heads on it, despite the name being explained beforehand. They didn’t have to duck at all – one advantage of being smaller. I’d show photos here but apparently I’m a lousy cave photographer – nothing but flash.

In the store, you can buy a bag of dirt and then take it outside to pan for gemstones. Sounds kinda simple, but you’d be amazed how much value you can get out of this activity for kids. They took their time emptying some of the bag into the screens and dipping it into the water, then shrieking in delight as they watched the water wash away the sand and reveal sparkling stones of every color. There’s a provided gemstone card to determine what each gem is, too.

Then Aaron and the kids got lost in Fort aMaze’N, while I stayed on the observation deck and laughed at them. (I later went back and did the maze with them.)

There’s also a Butterfly House at Perry’s Cave, filled with exotic butterflies from all over the world. It was almost overwhelming walking through the indoor gardens with so many butterflies all around you. But at least some held still for photos.

So I guess we didn’t let the kids completely pick the day’s agenda. I insisted on the Upper Deck of The Boardwalk for lunch, only because I had heard they have fantastic lobster bisque. It’s true – the lobster bisque is amazing. The view from your table is pretty good, too – nothing but lake views as far as you can see. Not that the kids complained, either – they had activity packs to keep them busy and their meals were served on keepsake frisbees.

I’m no food blogger, clearly. But this was DELICIOUS lobster bisque. I may have licked the plate.

After lunch, we browsed the shops of downtown Put-in-Bay, had some ice cream, and took a ride on Kimberly’s Carousel. It’s an all-wood carousel, built in 1917, and has more than just horses to ride. I was on a dog. You can see a rooster behind me and Mira.

Then it was off to see Perry’s Victory & International Peace Memorial. Cordy was willing to brave over 800 steps to climb to the top of the monument, but by mid-afternoon there was a line and we were less willing to have Cordy wait in a line in an enclosed space. We’ll plan to climb it next time.

It’s tall. I had to lay on the ground to get this shot.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent visiting the Crystal Cave (the winery sitting on top of it is more interesting, FYI) and the Aquatic Resource Center, where you can see local fish and kids can learn to fish for free.

or just sit and admire the view

Then as we neared dinnertime, we went to the far side of the island (East Point) to look out over Lake Erie before the end of our day. The kids were asking Aaron to show them how to skip stones, and with all of the smooth, flat rocks surrounding us, he was happy to teach them.

Everyone was tired by this point, so we decided to call it a day and begin the long golf cart ride to the Miller Ferry dock on the other side of the island. Aaron got to do the final drive, so I sat on the back of the cart with Mira, watching all of the sights go by us. Mira nearly fell asleep on the ride back to the ferry dock. She sighed and rested her little head against me with a smile on her face, saying it was one of the best days ever.

It was a bittersweet ride back across Lake Erie on the Miller Ferry. The kids were thrilled to be on the boat again, but sad that the day was over. We spent time on the lower level this trip, watching the waves go by.

The day was far more low-key than our previous day at Cedar Point, but even low-key fun eventually wears you out. Two minutes after turning out of the parking lot to start for home:

I’ve only been to Put-in-Bay once before, when I was a child, and I’m surprised at how much I forgot. Both Aaron and I agreed that we’d like to come back to the island again soon, though, so I have a feeling our kids will get to know Put-in-Bay better than I did. There’s still so much we didn’t do: the nature center, kayaking, mini-golf, nature trail walking…and we didn’t even try to visit Middle Bass Island or Kelly’s Island.

It was a lovely way to end the summer, and a much needed family vacation for us. With solo trips to other cities, work, more work, summer camp, and so many other demands pulling our family in different directions, taking even just two days to reconnect and have fun together helped us create new family memories that I hope will last.

Full disclosure: we were invited to Put-in-Bay by Miller Ferry and generously provided with ferry tickets, a golf cart rental and passes to Perry’s Cave for our visit. All other attractions, souvenirs, meals and lodgings while at Lake Erie were covered by our not-so-robust paychecks and the ever-popular credit card. All statements made here are my own. 

Oh, and when on the ferry, be sure to check in on Foursquare at the “Middle of Lake Erie” location, just because you can.

Beating the Heat With A Spash Park Adventure

In case you don’t follow anyone on Twitter or Facebook from Ohio (and if you don’t, why not? I’ve got plenty of social media buttons over there —> so get clickin’!) it’s been HOT around here this week.

Late June and early July can be expected to have plenty of sunny days and even times when the temperature spikes into the 90’s, but this year seems to be the year of all-excessive-heat-warnings, all-the-time. Today’s expected high? 101 degrees. Tomorrow’s? 104 degrees. In Columbus, temperatures over 100 degrees are a setting on an Easy-Bake Oven, not an actual expected air temperature.

The Fourth of July is often a quiet time for us. Most of the big holiday action happens the night before with the city’s Red, White, and Boom celebration. On Wednesday we found ourselves staring at each other in the living room, wondering what to do before we started to go all The Shining on each other from being cooped up together to avoid the heat outside. Money has been tight, so anything involving expensive water parks or pool memberships wasn’t happening. Besides, spending the afternoon making sure my kids didn’t try to drown themselves didn’t sound like a lot of fun.

And then I remembered we have a few free splash pads around the city. Lots of water with no chance of drowning – perfect!

We haven’t been down to the newly remodeled Scioto Mile area downtown, so we decided to check out the fountains at Bicentennial Park. Meters were free for the holiday, and surprisingly it wasn’t that crowded for a 96 degree day.

Locals, if you haven’t been there yet, I’ll just give you this advice: get your swimsuits and come on down. This place is awesome.

Bicentennial Park spalsh pad

There are three or four large rings that spray out water in a rain or mist pattern. Rows of water jets in the ground shoot up water in various patterns, too. And then there’s the big geyser, that occasionally erupts into a tower of water, soaking everyone below it.

The kids were a little nervous at first (yay, sensory issues!), but considering it was crazy hot, it didn’t take long before they accepted getting hit with water jets over sweating.

Of course, I was the only one in the family who didn’t wear a swimsuit, so I kept to the edges of the water spray. There is some green space with trees, so we were able to set out towels in the shade. They also have very nice restrooms right by the splash pad with room to change if needed. And there were “lifeguards” on duty to make sure kids followed the rules.

I didn’t expect a lot from the Bicentennial Park fountains, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much fun we had. I think we’ll be making a return trip here in August when summer camp is over and I have two weeks before school begins. Possibly many return trips.

Wet, happy kids

Fun & Learning At COSI (+Giveaway!)

One perk of living in Columbus is having a wealth of options when it comes to entertaining your kids. Want to see some animals? Well, we’ve got the number one rated zoo in America! Want a good children’s science museum? Oh yeah, we’ve got the number one rated one of those, too!

The COSI (Center of Science & Industry) children’s science museum has been a part of Columbus for as long as I can remember. As a kid, our elementary school would take field trips to COSI, and I remembered wandering the dark hallways learning about the refraction of light or the makings of the human body or how rats could be trained to play basketball or what life was like a hundred years ago and how we’ve progressed. I still have my drawing of the space shuttle made by a robot in the early 80’s. (That robot is no longer around, sadly. I’m sure it’s no longer all that special for a robot to draw a picture when we have iPhones, but I thought he was pretty awesome.)

COSI has moved since I was a child, relocating further down Broad Street to perch on the edge of the Scioto River. It’s bigger now, with even more room to offer some pretty fantastic exhibits and classes. Cordy and Mira spent many of their toddler days in the Little Kidspace area, so I was delighted to be invited back with Mira last week to learn more about their early childhood classes.

We started off the morning in Little Kidspace for some free play time. If you’ve never been to COSI, Little Kidspace is an area designed just for the five and under crowd. Older kids aren’t allowed in to play (but they do have a holding area with some video games if an older kid wants to wait while their younger sibling plays) so there’s no chance of a big kid running over a little one or shoving them out of the way.

Someone was happy to be there.

You also have to check in and check out with the attendant at the gate – you can’t leave without the same number of adults and kids, and no kids are allowed to leave the area by themselves. This is handy when the area is enormous and you can’t always be aware of where your child is at all times, especially with more than one. The Little Kidspace area even has its own bathrooms, nursing area and snack area, so there’s no reason to leave while the little ones are playing.

Mira, of course, quickly found her way to the water tables. I always groan at having her go there, knowing she’ll find a way to soak herself. But other parents should know that they do provide raincoats for the kids, and dryers are available for free, too, if you need a shirt or pants dried and have a spare set.

When it was time for our class, we met in the Little Kidspace classroom and joined the circle. There are a ton of classes and camps and programs for families year-round at COSI. After a welcome song, we read a book together and then were set free to explore the different science stations around us. There was a goop station (cornstarch and water goop), a place to create bubble art by blowing bubbles into dyed soapy water, a building area with bricks and rocks, a sensory area with dyed, cooked spaghetti, and a nature area with bugs and worms to examine up close.

Mira loved the rainbow colored spaghetti.

Early and late in the class – the colors mixed quickly!

And the bubble art.

She looked at the worms through the magnifying glass, but wouldn’t hold any of the bugs. I also have no photos of this because I wasn’t about to get close enough to take one.

After playing for awhile, we met back in the circle for a goodbye song. We then had lunch and we were set free to explore the rest of COSI. There are so many cool areas to visit – along with an extreme screen theater showing 3D films on a rotating subject basis – that you can easily spend the entire day there.

One of my favorite areas is Progress. You step through the corridor and into a street made to look like 1898. You can play with an old cash register, see what the telegraph office looked like, step up into a buggy in the livery stables and imagine what it was like to ride behind a horse, and pretend to be an operator for a very basic telephone service before we all had data plans with our phones.

 It was dark in there, too.

Then you walk through another corridor and see the same street, only now it’s 1962!  Mira was amazed at how much had changed, while I marveled at how I remembered my grandmother’s TV looking just like the one in the appliance store and then taught Mira the basics of playing pinball in the diner.

I played with the SAME Barbie case at my grandmother’s as a kid!

Of course, telling you about COSI isn’t nearly as much fun as experiencing it firsthand, so I have four general admission passes to COSI and four passes for the Extreme Screen to give away 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 Thursday, June 28, 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: Mira and I received a free admission. All opinions are my own, including the opinion to bring extra clothing if your kids want to play at the water tables. You’ve been warned.

Locals: Meet the New Nationwide Children’s Hospital

I’ve been lucky that my two children have been fairly healthy kids. They’ve had a few non-routine visits to the doctor, and even a couple of urgent care visits, but our visits to Nationwide Children’s Hospital have been rare. We’ve been to the emergency room twice – both times at the request of their doctor – and we’ve been to the dentistry clinic twice and the speech clinic several times.

Our children’s hospital is an older building (my mother worked there in the mid 70’s and it hasn’t changed that much), and for years it was painfully obvious that the building was too small for everything they needed. So a few years ago construction began on a new building, a hospital that would be state-of-the-art and provide them with everything needed to serve the children in our area, both in medical care and in making the hospital as non-scary as possible.

I was invited to be one of the first to tour the new hospital last weekend, and of course I jumped at the chance. As a nurse, I wanted to get behind the scenes and see what was new at this hospital, and as a parent I wanted to know what my family could expect should we ever need to visit in the future.

We’ve watched this building slowly going up for years. It’s just to the southeast of the downtown skyline, and my original thought was wow, it looks like it’s all windows! Turns out, it is mostly windows, but – as I’ll show you in a bit – it provides some gorgeous views of the city and allows all of the natural light to make the building feel as warm and bright as a hospital can.

Walking into the welcome area from the underground parking garage, I was struck by how pretty it was. Lots of little touches (designed by a group that plans designs for children’s museums) are all over the place to go with the nature theme, including several wooden animal sculptures throughout the hospital.

There are color-coded stripes on the floor to guide you to where you might need to go, along with animal footprints for little ones to look for. Touch screen directories on the walls (like giant iPads) provide additional information on the hospital and can help you find what you’re looking for.

The emergency room waiting area now has a giant fish tank in it. While the light wasn’t on when we were there, it was still fun to watch the fish swimming around. The triage area is larger, and triage rooms all have doors on them for privacy. (And in our case, security – I remember Cordy trying to escape under the curtain the one time we brought her to the hospital.) The rooms in the ER are divided into three areas, handling less serious issues (ear infections, small injuries etc.), more urgent problems (like asthma attacks, concussions, larger injuries), and then the trauma area.

All patient elevators require a keycard to access them. If a child is admitted, parents are given a keycard to activate the elevators, and their keycard is coded to only open for their child’s floor. This provides greater security for the patients, ensuring only the people who are supposed to be there have access to them.

Each floor has a playroom for the patients to use, equipped with games and toys as well as a sink and a dishwasher to sanitize toys.

The playrooms also have large windows with a spectacular view.

The patient rooms were designed to be as child-friendly and welcoming as possible. The curtains are rainbow-striped. The bathroom has child-sized equipment. Behind each patient bed is an LED artwork – the child can control which color to set it on, or have it cycle through all of the colors. We were told that at night if all of the art installations are on and the blinds are open, the building glows in color. 

Each room is also painted with magnetic paint, allowing kids to pin up photos, drawings, or cards from friends and family to make their stay a little more relaxing. For the staff, built-in monitors, a computer and med scanner in each room, and drawers stocked exactly the same way in every room ensure patient safety and reduce the risks for errors and cross-contamination.

Back down in the welcome area, there’s a siblings club where siblings of sick kids can come to play, with staff who are trained to help kids deal with the stress of having a brother or sister in the hospital while still helping them have fun. There’s also the magic forest, a gorgeous area filled with trees that kids can touch and play around. Nature sounds fill the area, making you feel like you’re outside and not in a hospital. It’s very soothing.

The lower level is where the cafeteria is located, along with an outdoor dining area if the weather is nice. I love that each item on the menu lists the nutritional breakdown as well as any allergens in the food. You also won’t find any regular soda here – the entire hospital is a sugar-free beverage zone, meaning you can’t find a drink with added sugar in the cafeteria or the vending machines. It’s a nice reminder to not drink your calories.
Finally, for the tech-minded, there’s even a free app you can download to help prepare for a trip to the hospital.  The myChildren’s app provides a map of the hospital, hours for each part of the hospital, a list of doctors and close-to-home clinics, tips on what to bring, and more.

Overall, the new Nationwide Children’s Hospital is beautiful, with lots of attention to detail to reduce the anxiety level of children who need to be there. While I always hope that my daughters never need to come to the hospital, the design of the new hospital makes me feel safe that, if a visit was needed, they would have as positive an experience as possible.

Nationwide Children’s Hospital will be having a Community Day on Sunday, June 10, from 11am to 4pm where the public can come out for a behind-the-scenes tour of the hospital (much like the tour I received) as well as educational stations for the kids, family activities and more. It’s a great chance to introduce your children to the hospital in a fun, friendly setting.

Full disclosure: I was part of a group of bloggers who were invited to tour the hospital. Lunch was provided for us as we spoke with doctors from the hospital after the tour. No monetary compensation was received and all opinions expressed here are my own.

Walk With The Animals and HOOFit for Health

One perk of blogging is that I occasionally get advance notice of cool, local family programs and activities. Compared to all of the emails I receive for events in New York and California, I’m thrilled when local organizations find me.

Earlier this week I was invited to come out to the zoo for the kickoff of the HOOFit program, sponsored by OhioHealth and the Columbus Zoo. The idea is simple: we’re all looking for ways to keep our families healthy and fit, so why not incorporate fitness into activities we already do? The HOOFit program is a series of guided walks through the zoo this summer, where you’ll be joined by an OhioHealth doctor who will discuss common health issues and answer questions as you stroll and visit the animals.

The kickoff event was a lot of fun. Several local bloggers were invited to attend, along with the media and representatives of the zoo and OhioHealth. (And I was briefly interviewed for TV – yikes!!)

@cbusmom, social-media-maven Mikaela Hunt from NBC4, and me

And we got to see Jungle Jack Hanna up close and personal. While he’s a local celebrity, you may also know him from appearances on late night TV with his animal friends. (Or from his old Saturday morning TV show, long before most animal conservationists were on the media scene.)

Also? He just had double knee replacement! Understandably, he didn’t walk much with us.

There were a few animal guests in attendance, too, happy to pose for photos with their fans.

 Baby kangaroo! All together now: awwww.

I didn’t need anyone to tell me that going to the zoo is a workout. We have an annual pass, so we like to go to the zoo frequently. Anyone who has been to the Columbus Zoo will tell you it’s huge and involves a lot of walking. We rarely see all areas of the zoo in one trip, because it’s just too much to take in, and because Mira will eventually slow down and remind us, “Guys! I’m tired because I have LITTLE legs!”

She’s right – to start the walk we were all given a card showing the minimum number of steps you’d take going through each area of the zoo.

The guide breaks it down for small, medium, and large strides, proving the Mira’s little legs really do mean she meets her daily step requirement long before we do.

HOOFit was a great reminder that some of the everyday activities we do can actually be great for promoting family fitness, too. Ask my kids to go exercise, and they’ll probably groan and refuse to do it or lose interest in a few minutes. At the zoo, however, they’re taking thousands of steps as they laugh and play and learn about the animals. (And it’s a good excuse for me to get some activity in, too.) It’s like a health activity cloaked in fun. Sneaky, eh?

This guy preferred swimming to walking.

All participants in the guided walks are given a bracelet pedometer to track your steps through the zoo. (Children will receive shoelaces instead of a pedometer.) You can sign up on Facebook to attend one of the guided walks, or if you can’t make it on those dates, you can pick up a map/step chart at the zoo for your own solo walk. Strollers and people of all ages are welcome on the walks.

I’m already signed up for the next HOOFit walk on June 21 – it’ll be my birthday, but starting with a great walk with the zoo animals in the morning is pretty good way to celebrate, I think.

Anyone else want to join me?

Full disclosure: I was invited to this event by OhioHealth and the Columbus Zoo. I received a t-shirt and wrist pedometer while there, and a healthy snack bag at the end of the walk. All adult participants who come for the walks can receive a wrist pedometer as well.

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