One of my best friends is moving to Israel this week.  Between us, we have 6 kids and we have had a blast over the last year and a half.  Both of us are adventurous and have been on many outings with the kids.  I have fond memories of Lake Farmpark, the Akron Zoo, Squires Castle, picking lots of fruit, learning about canning, working out, and much more.  She was taking her kids to see Niagara Falls before they moved, so we drove up too.  The goal was to do the Maid of the Mist and Cave of the Winds.  We needed to take two cars, so I invited my mom to join us.  It’s never bad to have an extra adult along.

Nick’s and Sally’s first view of the falls.  He said “WOW!”.  They also loved seeing the boat from the observation deck.


We saw a double rainbow.  Since Nick just finished a camp about rainbows and light, that was timely.  The kids weren’t into posing, but we took a few photos anyway.


My mom is so much fun!  Soon we were off to the boat.  We left my house just after 6AM, stopped to pick up sandwich fixings in Buffalo, enjoyed the observation deck, and were at the boat around 11:30AM.  I love taking clock photos.


The ponchos were hot, but Sally and Nick didn’t mind.


I put my camera away for the boat ride.  I didn’t want to take any chances.  After the ride, we noticed that there was a small boardwalk path up a few stairs near the exit.  It looked similar to how the Cave of the Winds would be, but shorter.  I took my friends baby and found a bench.  The rest of them ventured up the path.  Too bad we had already recycled the ponchos.


They were soaked from head to toe.  Although, I’m not sure the ponchos would have helped as I saw people ringing out their clothes in the restroom.  They had worn ponchos.

Here’s my favorite shot of the falls from this trip.  The weather was perfect and I love the clouds.


Here’s my mom with the kids.


We opted to skip the Cave of the Winds and headed to the car for a picnic.


Soon, we were on the road back home and arrived just before dinner.  It was a great day!


It’s just over a week since we planted our garden. We saw improvements in the water supply with the addition of a second rain barrel and some new stands and locations. Nick enjoyed checking them out and enjoying how they worked.


Nick and Sally have been becoming quite the garden helpers. They are getting really good at watering, which is great because the weather has been dry all week.


We’ve even seen the first of our seeds sprouting, which is great news despite the hot, dry weather. We have been watering regularly to try to keep the seedlings from baking.


I’m hoping the rain continues while I am on vacation, but we have watering coverage just in case.


My mom is the oldest of eight kids.  Growing up with a big family, we are used to large gatherings.  Thanksgiving typically has 40-50 people.  Everything is done well.

Last night, my Uncle Marty and Aunt Melissa hosted a party.  It was extra special because some relatives were in town from Florida visiting and my brother came up from Virginia.  Marty and Melissa always go above and beyond when hosting events.

This was the Smoketember Fest.  The food included pulled pork, baked beans, homemade pumpkin salsa, homemade chips, macaroni salad and a plethora of desserts.  It was quite the spread and was very tasty.


My uncle, brother, and cousin are talented musicians and play in The Blue Ribbon Bluegrass Band.  The band performed on this stage in the back yard. Despite the rain, the show went on.  An awesome concert pianist, Tat, was their opening act. Despite having cold hands, he was great!  This is my brother’s girlfriend and my sister.  It’s a great picture of both of them.


Sally loved hearing the music.  Nick and she danced and jumped around lots.  When Sally wasn’t dancing, she enjoyed Aunt Carol time.


There were 3 fire rings going in the yard.  Many people came equipped with chairs and rain gear.


Here’s a photo of me with my Aunt Melissa with my new ready for Hawaii haircut!


We left around 9PM to head home with the kids.  I’m sure the party went on for a few more hours.  We had a great time and it was nice to leave before we had any meltdowns.


Yesterday, we went to a friend’s birthday party.  The birthday girl was turning 4.  The party was outdoor picnic style with fun and games for the kids.  Food included hot dogs, brats, veggies and fruit.  The kids enjoyed a bounce house, sand box, parachute and more.


The little girl definitely loves her princesses.  She couldn’t wait to put on this dress.


She helped her mom make this castle cake.  It was so cute!


After the party died down.  Sally and I headed home and Nick stayed at the party with Stephen to camp out in the back yard with the other kids.  By then it was dark, so I don’t have any photos, but there were 4 tents set up.  Stephen texted me around 9PM to tell me that they were playing with glow in the dark chalk and having a great time.  Soon after, another text told me that Nick had requested to go to sleep.

Unfortunately, the night was cut short when thunderstorms rolled in.  Around 2AM, I received another text that they were on their way home.  They packed up enough to come home and went back this morning for the tent.  Nick had a great time and already asked when the next night in a tent will be.  I think his first sleep over was a success, even if it was only a few hours long.


Today, the family headed to Howe Meadow in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park to ride the STOMP Bicycle Adventure. STOMP is an organized bike ride with over 1000 riders each year.  There are several distances to choose from.  We had signed up a couple of months ago for the 10 mile family ride.  There was a special for $50 and that enabled all 4 of us to enjoy continental style breakfast, snacks, lunch after the ride and t-shirts for each of us.  It was a great deal and all of the proceeds to to support the Metro Parks Serving Summit County.

As we approached from the parking lot, it looked like quite the festival environment.  Registration was smooth.  We arrived about 9:30AM and our ride was to begin at 10:30AM.


We picked up our t-shirts and walked around the farmer’s market for a bit.  I entertained the kids while Stephen got our bikes put together.  We had to take 2 cars since we had coolers, helmets, wheels, a Weehoo trailer, a Burley trailer and 2 bikes.  It just doesn’t fit in one vehicle.  The Weehoo had a flat when Stephen went to put it in the car today.  He patched it.  At the STOMP grounds, we bought a new tube from Century Cycles in case we needed it.  When Stephen returned to the car to get us ready to ride, it was flat again.  So, the trailer was fixed twice before we started the ride.


Around 11AM, we were on our way.  At our only street crossing, we stopped for the train.


Most of the family ride is on the towpath.  After about 5 miles, we stopped at our Fun Stop.  Our stop was located at Deep Lock Quarry Metro Park.


Everyone enjoyed a cold beverage and snack.  Then, we headed back down the trail.  We made a pit stop at Hunt Farm.


Despite the rough start to the day, we had a great ride.  We got back to the main area at 1PM, which is when the live music began.  Nathan Hedges was the artist this year.


Lunch included grilled hot dogs, brats, sandwiches, grapes, carrots, baked beans, chips, cookies, drinks and left overs from the morning.  No one leaves STOMP hungry.


Cascade Subaru, Century Cycles, Friends of Metro Parks and many, many other sponsors and volunteers make this event possible.  Back in 2003, I chaired this event for 2 or 3 years.  It was amazing to see it in action today.  If you are ever looking for a fun, organized ride, please check out STOMP.


Today was a nice day.  We started out at a baptism.  My cousin’s baby was baptized today.  It was very special since the delivery was premature and had lots of complications for mom and baby.  She spent time in ICU and he spent time in the NICU.  It was so nice to meet the baby in person and see both of them doing well.


After lunch and naps, we headed to Blossom for the last time of the summer.  We met up with friends, enjoyed a picnic dinner and a nice concert.


The weekend went by quickly and it’s hard to believe that tomorrow is Monday already.


A week or so ago, we noticed a sign about the Willoughby Hills “Touch a Truck”.  The sign stated “this Saturday” and since we saw the sign on Sat or Sun, we weren’t sure if it was over or coming up.  A few days ago, I figured out that it was in fact August 27th, so we made plans.  Stephen, Sally, Nick and I rode our bikes from our house in Mayfield Heights up to Willoughby Hills.  We ended up riding through part of the North Chagrin Reservation.  The rode was a little bumpy for our tastes, but the shade was nice.  Upon arrival at the event just after 10AM, we found bike parking.


On our way over the trucks, Nick said, “I Love It Mommy”.  It made me melt.  We were not sure what to expect and had only told him that we were going to ride our bikes to see a fire truck.  There was so many different trucks and vehicles that we didn’t even have time to see them all.


Here’s a view from the community center across the street.  At one point, we took a restroom break there.  One of the highlights of the day was watching a life flight helicopter land.  It was really close!


Let’s hope Nick and Sally don’t make a habit of sitting in the back of police cars.


I was particularly impressed with the Bomb Unit.  They even had the robot out on display.


Here’s the back of the bomb unit.  Check out that container for transporting the bombs.  It’s kind of scary to think about it.  Nick found a fire safety dog and wanted a photo.  He’s standing in front of the airport fire truck.


Nick and Sally both had a great time looking at all of the trucks.  We were so impressed with all of the vehicles.  Although we didn’t partake, there was also some food and drink for sale.


We ended up staying much later than we thought and ended up stopping at Heinen’s for lunch.  Sally fell asleep in the trailer and Nick was very tired.  I had a rough ride back home since he didn’t peddle much.  All in all we had a great day and feel like we are prepared for the 10 mile family ride at STOMP next week since we did 12 miles today.


Tuesday was our last full day with Stephen’s brother and his family.  We started the day early by making some farmer’s cheese and peanut butter.  There was also more reading time.


Then, we headed to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.  Nick and my niece enjoyed the new Balto exhibit.  We paused for some photos at the bear outside.  Sally had it to herself for starters.


Then, we finally got a great shot of the 3 cousins.  Here’s a family photo of Jen, Nate and our niece.


The Cool Globes exhibit and the otters were the favorites of this trip.


Later in the day, we ended our time with a trip to California Pizza Kitchen at Legacy Village.  Here’s Stephen with his brother, Nate.  There was also a few last rounds of “London Bridge is falling down” on the green.


We said out goodbyes at the parking lot.  NIck and Sally loved spending time with their cousin and everyone had a great trip!  It was the closest thing we ever had to a staycation.



On Monday, we decided to go to Lake Farmpark.  We are members there courtesy of a gift membership that we received.  We sometimes forget about it.  Monday had perfect weather and we had a great time.

Once we arrived and checked in, we felt like we had the place to ourselves.  We arrived just after 9AM and there were just a couple of cars in the parking lot.  We quickly realized that there was an ice cream exhibit.  It was basically a play room with stations about the ice cream making process.  There was a mock freezer, a wooden ice cream truck (big enough for kids to sit in and load/unload), flavor station, mixing station etc.  There was even a model of a dairy farm.  It was great and the kids could have stayed there and played all day.  Lucky for us, the exhibit is there through September 5th so we can go back and see it again.


Nick got to take his first pony ride.  It was $4, but we were on “staycation” and thought it was worth the splurge.  Thanks, Uncle Nate!  Sally got on the pony and wasn’t so sure about it. She didn’t take a ride.


We took a trip up to the plant science building on the wagon.  Any time a tractor is involved, everyone has a great time.  Nick was fascinated by a garden train.  It was the first time we noticed it.  It was outside the café and dairy building in the courtyard area.


I think the highlight for our niece and her mom Jen was milking the cow.  Sally and Nick tried it too.  The milk from the cows goes to a local creamery for cheese.


We had also never been to The Grain Place.  Since I am thinking about getting a grinder, I was especially interested in the process.  Since our group of 7 was the whole audience, we had a choice between the grain talk or The Big Red Hen story.  We chose the story since we had three kids with us.


It was lots of fun and everyone got to take turns adding parts to the story board.  Bethany did a great job with the story and the kids.  Here’s our niece trying her hand at grinding wheat.  We also stopped a the cheese making demo.  Here’s Sally pressing the cheese with Nick watching patiently.


Nick enjoyed time with his cousin, aunt and uncle.  We really like the Tomato Works building.  I enjoyed this giant garden tool.


Everyone enjoyed the animals and the weather.  We finished up our morning with a packed lunch at the pavilion near where we parked.  Except for a hole in my shorts from a nail in the picnic table, we enjoyed a great lunch before heading home.


My brother and sister in law and niece came into town Saturday evening.  We met up with them for dinner at Red Robin since it was near their hotel and kid friendly.  Yesterday, we decided to go to the Rock Hall. We took the RTA from Green Road down to the lake and it worked out really well.


We were only allowed photos in the lobby.  The security was definitely watching and telling people to put cameras away.  So, we don’t have any photos from inside.  We were surprised with the size of the museum.  We were also impressed with the number of interactive musical exhibits and costume displays.  I thought the kids might get bored, but they loved the music and spent lots of time with headphones on listening and dancing.  We packed a lunch and ate in the café area.  We stayed from 10AM when they opened until just after 1PM.  If your are a resident of the area, you get a $4 discount per ID.


After our visit to the museum, we headed back to catch the train.  While we waited, a commercial train passed.  It was loaded with Humvees.  An entire train of them.  They kept coming and coming and coming.  It was a once in a lifetime sighting!


By the time we boarded, Nick was really tired.  He fell asleep using Aunt Jen’s purse as a pillow.


Sally fell asleep too.


It was a quiet train ride back to Green Road after a stimulating Rock Hall visit.  I call it a successful outing.