Field Trip: Woodland Mound Park and Caesar Creek State Park

This weekend we visited two other parks in our must-visit list: Woodland Mound and Caesar Creek State Park. 

Woodland Mound

Woodland Mound was AWESOME.  This park has got to be in my top 3 list of my favorite Cincinnati parks.  First of all it has a really cool visitor center that has a lot of information about Ohio’s creatures (small and large).  It even has a sycamore tree replica inside with little doors so you can learn more about animals you might encounter in the area.  I had a great time trying to identify the birds by their calls in one of the exhibits.  The boys and I have visited other visitor’ areas in other parks that had similar goals but there was something about the Woodland Mound visitor area that the boys really liked!  There are three floors of things to look at (you can even peek through some binoculars to look at the Ohio river!).  The areas around the visitor center and the Splash pad were beautifully kept and landscaped.  You know how there are places that are so nice and inviting that you just want to hang around and soak it up?  that was Woodland Mound for me.  

After checking out the Visitor’s center, we went to the Splash pad and the boys had a blast.  It was hellishly hot so perfect day for them to frolic in the water.  After the splash pad, we were going to go nature walking but I wasn’t feeling too well so we went home.  On the way out, we noticed the disc-golf areas.  While I have never done it, it seems like a really cool thing to do!  

Splash Pad at Woodland Mound

Caesar Creek State Park

Caesar Creek was just “meh”.  The lake is HUGE but they had a LOT of motorboats and jet skis just buzzing around, eliminating any possibility of listening to nature.  We got the canoe and paddleboard in the water in one of the calmer sides so we at least had a chance to move along without listening to the motorboats for a good 30 minutes.  Once we got to the main part of the lake, it was a challenge to stay on the paddle board.  By that point, Lucas was sitting at the front of the paddle board while I paddled and we had so many waves that his pants got drenched.  Of course, this is the part he enjoyed most of all (the waves).  Once we turned and headed back, the waves pushed us and it was like surfing! (which was my favorite part).

We looked around at some of the campsites, and they seemed wooded and nice.  Maybe we will come back and camp here!  Caesar Creek is a big drive for us, so we probably wouldn’t come back just to canoe/paddleboard but we might come back for a multiple day camp trip.  

 

Quick Visit to Ozo Cafe

As part of my sabbatical this summer, I set out to do as many Cincinnati things as I could with my 2 kids.  As I was flipping through the “Adventures around Cincinnati” book, I had marked “Ozo Play Cafe” as one of the places to visit.  I particularly liked their philosophy of a place where the kids could safely play and the parents could socialize and have a cup of coffee.  I invited my friend Lilah and her young baby – but due to our scheduling and Ozo having weird hours (they close at 1pm), we only just visited.

The place was smaller than I thought and I was worried that Alan would be bored.  Their information says that it is a 6 year and younger crowd but I do believe it should be a 3 year and younger crowd.  Their toys were mostly wood and of good quality and they had a small mat and play area for the 12 months and younger.

You take your shoes off when you come in, which I always find uncomfortable, but I did appreciate the thought that the floor was probably cleaner because of it.  Since they had only drip coffee, I ended up with a tea and waited, while looking through some free fashions magazines, for Lilah to arrive.  They have 2-3 seating areas (tables, sofas etc) and they are well appointed with up to date magazines that ranged from Parents to InStyle.

We stayed for a little over an hour and that was enough for Alan (he got bored halfway through).

I noticed that the person behind the counter (the owner?) had a baby and at some point started bottle feeding him.  That generated some discussion between Lilah and I on the brilliance of the Ozo concept.  They rented a “smallish” and manageable area, bought some high quality toys and then open only 9-1pm.  Hopefully it’s financially feasible for them because this would be a great find for people with small kids especially during the summer!

As for us, I think one time was enough given that Alan seemed too old for the toys, but I appreciated having a place to sit and talk to my friend while he played.

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Trip to Miami Whitewater Park

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Lucas and the Lily Pad

I continue to be amazed at Cincinnati’s series of parks!  Seriously, they are awesome!.  This time we visited Miami Whitewater, a very large park, which included a medium-size lake, a splash pad and playground.  People can rent paddle boats and even stand-up paddle boards!   There were some small motor water vehicles there but not enough to disrupt the nature-watching.  The park also boasts nature trails but we were too tired from canoeing/paddleboarding in the lake and later attending the splash pad to check them out.  While on the lake we found a huge Lily pad (which I had never seen before), it was beautiful!

While I was on the paddle board, I overhear two women on a paddle boat talking (the sound in the lake carries!) and the conversation went like this:

“I would like to try that paddle thing but I don’t have the balance”

“Yeah, it looks really hard”

“I think I would fall in the water!”

I tried to pretend I couldn’t hear their entire conversation and nonchalantly paddled on by.  Ha!

After being on the water for a while we loaded the canoe/paddleboard in the car, had a snack and then the boys went to the splash pad.  They said it was their favorite yet!

Miami Whitewater is definitely worth a (re)visit!

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Paddleboarding

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Dry Park

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Wet (Splash Pad)

 

 

Field Trip: Big Bone Lick Park

One of the places that Dennis and I had considered camping at was Big Bone Lick Park because they had some interesting hiking, a pool and a herd of bison.  Since we finally ended up camping somewhere else (Stonelick Park), we decided to go check Big Bone Lick just in case.  

The park is pretty large and has a very interesting nature informational center.  It was fascinating to hear about how silt and sedimentary layers collected underground when the area was covered by sea.  After the sea and glaciers retreated, the layers started feeding “salt licks” which in turn attracted Mastodons and Woolly Mammoths (and other large animals).  People soon followed the animals and settled in the area.  The salt licks, although providing salt for the huge animals, also ended up being deadly, since areas congealed into thick bogs that trapped the huge animals.  On the plus side, it conserved their remains in such a way that many years later, anthropologists were able to find them and answer many questions about Mammoths and Mastodons being different creatures that lived in similar time frames.  

IMG_2395Eventually, people started eating more off the land and less off the animals.  One of the exhibits, speculated that the native people could’ve had a hand in eliminating Mammoths and Mastodons by over-hunting.  

Big Bone lick has a large-scale exhibit of different animals caught in a bog (Giant sloth, Woolly Mammoth, Mastodon and Bisons) and the first of many hiking trails starts off right behind the exhibit and main visitor’s center.  

During the trail walk, we encountered many new wildflowers to identify (which we did, of course, after carrying our nature backpacks).  During our break, we found a bench and the boys and I sketched different things.   The hiking trails goes by a “salt lick” so people could see and experience what they were.  There was a time where Big Bone and other local salt licks were populated by hotels with bathhouses, which promised medicinal properties to the salt licks.  

IMG_2394The final part of our trip included seeing the local bison herd.  At one time, it was estimated that the US had huge herds of migrating bisons but they were severely hunted down to the brink of extinction.  The park has a small herd, which had 3 baby bison when we went there.

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After our hiking and visit to the visitor’s center, we drove around the park to see the campsites and I have to admit I was happy we camped at Stonelick and Lake Kincaid.  The Big Bone Lick campsites were very exposed (not a lot of greenery or trees), small and the pool was tiny.  We took down the 2-3 sites that would work, just in case.  If we were to come back, it would be for the great hiking!

Volunteering at the “Giving Fields”

Alan with green beansIMG_2359I’ve been looking for a summer volunteer activity that I can do with a 4 and a 6-year-old and through the Cincinnati United Way website, I found the Giving Fields.  The Giving Fields are the Freestore/Foodbank local food supplier (think farm to table).  They supply the local food banks with fresh fruits and vegetables and operate almost completely through volunteers (there is only one employee there).

Picking vegetables seemed like something the boys and I could do together so we spent 3 hours doing just that. We picked green beans, tomatoes, squash and zucchini. It was such a cool experience! The boys got to help (although Alan wasn’t into it as much as Lucas was) and to see where their food comes from. As vegans, this is even more important for us! I explained that we were helping needy families eat healthy.  The lone employee let the boys take pictures on their huge tractors and they were in heaven.

The Giving Fields accommodates both individuals and company groups (there were a couple of company groups there at the same time as us).

It was a really great experience, easy for little hands to do and (hopefully) makes the connection for the boys of where our food comes from and that it’s important to help others.  I plan on returning with the boys and with Dennis.

My connection to the Giving Fields was through Tawanda Rollins (trollins@freestorefoodbank.org) in case you are interested in volunteering there.

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Field Trip: Behringer-Crawford Museum

Behringer Crawford Museum

On a weekend, Dennis and I decided to take our boys to the Behringer-Crawford museum in Covington, KY. The museum discusses the Greater Cincinnati history and has four floors with different areas of focus (rail, industry, rivers, immigrants and tourism). One of the things that attracted me to the museum was the fact that they had a working model train exhibit that could be somewhat operated externally ( you could make the lights turn on and operate some of the streetcars). The boys could even go underneath it.

Each floor has children’s toys – which makes it easier for the adult to actually read the information in the exhibits (good thinking!).

Overall, it was informative, helpful and interesting – is worth at least one visit!

Camping at Stonelick Park

The beachSince we had such a great time camping at Lake Kincaid a couple of weeks back, we decided to take advantage of the summer time we have left by going camping again. Before Lake Kincaid, we had come from a long camping hiatus because our last camping experience, while fun, was exhausting. We took SO much stuff that I was still cleaning stuff from the trip three weeks after. In addition, every time I went to the basement, the camping stuff was not put away and it cluttered our basement. All in all, it was a lot of work for just a little bit of camping time and didn’t seem worth it.

Well, since I’m on sabbatical, we decided to try it again  and that’s where our nice experience at Lake Kincaid came in. Our criteria for location is simple – has to be no more than 1.5 hrs away from home, so if it’s a disaster or it rains, we can just drive back, no harm no foul. It also has to have a lake so we can use our canoe and paddleboard. Ideally, it should also have a pool or beach or hiking trails or something to keep our kids occupied.

Stonelick park met all those criteria and had the additional bonus of being 30 minutes away from us, so it was an easy pick.

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It wouldn’t be a good story without a complicating factor though, now would it?…

This week I overdid it. Dennis says that my “planning” side signs me up for things that my “execution” side can’t always deliver without going through some pain – and he’s right. This week I wanted to study with the kids, clean the house, take care of the 5 foster kittens (who make a huge mess), cook, do groceries, prepare for camping trip, help my friend who has newborn twins and volunteer with the boys at the Foodstore Vegetable/Fruit fields. Oh and I’m also recuperating from a chest cold.

My Thursday started with working with the boys to redo our basement’s play area (moving multiple tables, organizing toys, putting things away etc) and I finished that task with a sore back. Then it was off to Kentucky to help my friend who has twin newborns and two older boys. My friend needed help organizing her basement and we spent 4-5 hours doing that. By the time I was driving home, my back was in agony. Then on Friday, we were heading back to Kentucky, this time to help in the Giving Fields. The Giving Fields is a United Way supported charity that provides fresh fruit and veggies to the area’s Foodbanks. The fields only have one employee so they basically work through volunteers (I discuss it in more detail here).

After the volunteer activity I had a laundry list of activities that I was supposed to complete to get us ready to go camping but I couldn’t do any of them. After putting the boys down for a nap, I crawled into my own bed with four ice packs for my back.

Since my back was hurt, Dennis and I decided to leave the canoe at home since there was no way for me to help lift it without hurting myself. We brought the paddleboard since it’s light. I am definitely feeling the need for a couple of no-task-days. Where I don’t have to do anything, or go anywhere. Where the boys and I just rest. I need it. My back definitely needs it.

Also, I’m getting old. Apparently.

Back to camping – Stonelick is surprisingly not “woody”. On the plus side, their campsites are huge ( a plus, especially after Lake Kincaid, where we basically were on top of our neighbors) but it doesn’t have much of “nature” as it relates to camping at the edge of some woods. We rented a “premium” site (usually meant for RVs and super close to the water). The site was at a cul de sac which the boys used a lot for scootering. There was also a dock and the boys spent a lot of time asking some poor fishermen questions. The next day we went hiking – the trails were very nice and the opposite of the sites. They were covered in old growth trees that were huge and created a big canopy. Given the low light in the bottom, it prevented large shrubs from coming up and we had only low level plans competing for the foot paths. In addition, some Boy Scout troop maintained patches of it and did a really nice job. During the walk we identified, birds, wildflowers and insects but the highlight of the hiking was the mushrooms. We even saw “chicken of the forest” which apparently tastes like chicken if you cook it.

After the hike, we went to the the lake to swim, play with the sand and paddle board. I was worried about hurting my back further when paddleboarding but the immediate emotional lift from being in the board superseded all else. Paddling in a calm, beautiful lake is amazing. Two other water “vehicles” (a canoe and a kayak) stopped by to ask me questions about the paddleboard (since they had not “seen anything like it before”).

Dennis took the boys out on the paddleboard once I came back and we quickly packed up when it looked like it would rain.

The other highlight of the trip was the “outside movie”. On our way to hike, we found out that they would be playing “Madagascar 3” on an outdoor amphitheater. We took the boys and sat on our towels to watch the movie while munching on popcorn that the park provided! Pretty sweet.

On Sunday, we went on another hike but this time got pretty eaten up by mosquitoes. Still, all in all, I love nature hiking as a family!  Stonelick is a definitely “do again” place.