Posts Tagged ‘Cincinnati’

Reflections at the End of my Sabbatical

The Family

I’m back at work and have been asked numerous time to share my experiences while on sabbatical.  On a top line level:

  1. Having the “Adventures around Cincinnati” book was key – this book led us to places we never had heard of and gave us the ability to plan things that were close to each other to increase our efficiency.
  2. Loved being in the water! Canoeing was awesome but paddleboarding was the best.  The peace of the lake, the sounds of the birds, the quiet.  So relaxing and restoring!
  3. Camping had a resurgence in things we like to do (surprisingly).  It was great being in nature and discovering parks around Cinci and Kentucky.
  4. We really loved visiting parks and doing “nature walks” where we identified trees, wildflowers, bugs and butterflies!  Cincinnati’s parks are amazing!!
  5. Liked volunteering and getting involved with non for profits.  For the first time I was able to consistently volunteer with the SPCA and other non for profits.
  6. One of my goals was to get a definite idea on if I could do homeschooling or not.  I feel I got mixed reviews-  I enjoyed the feeling of pride we felt since it really was obvious we were progressing but on the other hand, homeschooling added a negative piece to a relationship that was in there before (because now I had to also be the teacher).
  7. Overall, I feel like I got some perspective on what were the most important things in life.

Things I liked about the summer

  • I liked studying with the boys and knowing what stage of development they were and what things they needed to learn better
  •  I liked taking steps to reconnect with the Bible which I admittedly had not done after a lot of years at Catholic school scared me away.
  •  I liked having the boys write letters and send art to our families.  Sustaining the connection with our far-away families is important and having the time to do it consistently was great!
  • I liked feeling like I was staying on top of things and not always running behind like I usually do when the both of us are working.
  • I loved having less stress – the days felt calm and I had this overall feeling of serenity!  Instead of having the constant roar in my head about work, that part finally quieted down and I was able to just be!.
  • I liked the simplicity of life when it was all about simple appointments, cooking, cleaning, loving.  I admit towards the end this got old, but in the beginning, it was such a nice change of pace.
  • I liked having more time to read and engage in my pastimes.
  • I liked rediscovering that I love nature and I’m very interested by it — and so are the boys.
  • I loved discovering Cincinnati parks and amenities.

Things I didn’t like so much:

  • I didn’t like having to clean all the time – it really became tedious and I never felt like I checked the box on cleaning.  Since we were in the house all the time, the house was getting dirty all the time.  Ergo – the house was never completely clean.
  • I didn’t like feeling like I wasn’t using my entire skill set – while my work is stressful and complicated,  I really do enjoy what I do.  Feeling like I wasn’t doing that at all felt strange and I missed it.
  • I did not like having to worry about money.  Before we could be much more liberal on eating out or high expenses.  Now, we just had this new worry about what would happen if the AC broke down or if our car stopped working.  Every expense started becoming a big deal and even a place of tension between my husband and I.
  • I fostered 4 kittens and their mother from the SPCA and it was a terribly stressful time.  They basically mangled my furniture (they get on everything!) and plants, were constantly sick and it was a herculean effort to keep the house clean after them.  In addition, it was stressful to keep the cats away from my dogs, since they would forget the dogs were there, cross the gates and then find themselves in the mouth of a Dachshund.  They weren’t hurt but it scared the bejesus out of me.

I am incredibly blessed that I was able to take a Sabbatical! Now only God knows where my path leads to next.

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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)

 

 

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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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.

Field Trips: American Sign Museum, Lake Isabella and Chateau LaRoche (Loveland Castle)

Right before I left for sabbatical, I received a great book about what to do around Cincinnati. I was beyond excited to get it and got right to planning and entire summer worth of field trips!

This is what I will use this summer to plan our field trips!

This is what I will use this summer to plan our field trips!

Our 1st field trip!

Our 1st field trip!

 

Last week we had our first field trip and it was to the American Sign Museum (4 out of 5 stars). It was a LOT better than I expected and I found myself enjoying it too! We booked the tour  and tickets online and learned a lot about signs – from those hand carved to neon/argon signs!

The tour was informative, interesting and kept Lucas’s interested (although Alan was really distracted, but how much attention can one expect from a 4-year-old boy?).

At the end of the tour, they take you to a working neon/argon sign maker store (the only one in Cincinnati).  There we saw a live demonstration of how signs are made, from bending the glass, to extracting the existing air and impurities and the introduction of the noble gas.  It was really cool (but I’m also a nerd, so not surprising).

 

Rowboats & parks

Rowboats & parks

 

Our second field trip was to Lake Isabella (4 out of 5 stars)–a fully stocked fishing lake with rowboats and a great park.  Although we didn’t fish, on account of my desire to avoid inflicting pain on other creatures for fun, we did take out a rowboat (and for $5 too! a bargain).  We went around the lake, most of the time in a circle, since the boys insisted on rowing themselves.  There was a considerable amount of people fishing there, which is baffling since it was a Wednesday in the middle of the day.  After the boys got tired, we returned the row-boat and walked over to the park.  The park, like the entire lake, was very well-kept and beautifully done.  While there, the boys played on the playground and even got some nature study in.  We identified the song of a Robin, thanks to my handy-dandy new BirdSongId App and positively identified a Sycamore tree thanks to my “Trees of Ohio” book.

 

 

IMG_2229Our last stop was Chateau La Roche or the Loveland Castle (2 out of 5 stars).  The castle, which is now maintained by the Knights of the Golden Trail (KOGT), was built over 50 years by Harry D. Andrews.  The castle is actually pretty small and to be honest, smells (which presumably is normal in a castle?).  It is furnished here and there with knight armor and medieval decorations.  The castle doesn’t have a lot for little kids to do and so it was a short trip for us.  In one of the rooms, a TV showed Andrews describing the experiences he had while building the castle – including one time when local riff raft tried to set fire to part of it and left after breaking his leg.  Of course, when Dennis asked the boys what they remembered about the castle, that’s what they recounted.

 

 

When we got back, Lucas insisted that he wanted more nature study and went to our backyard.   He came back after drawing a picture of himself and a tree.  I guess something is sticking!

Lucas sketching