Cedar Point – HalloWeekends and a 48″ kid

Disclosure: I was given media passes to check out HalloWeekends at Cedar Point. I paid for travel, food and souvenirs. I was not asked to post about my trip, but I am so you can read about an easily-frightened/sensitive child’s visit to HalloWeekends. 

As part of her 7th birthday presents I told Matilda we’d be going to Cedar Point for HalloWeekends. In all my life, filled with many dozen Cedar Point trips, I have never gone during HalloWeekends, so I was as excited as she was. But, my sweet girl is also the one so frightened of anyone in costume that she hid in the bathroom when Slider visited the social suite. After much discussion with others we decided that a day at CP would be great, even with a little spookiness.

My sister and her family joined us because I thought that having her older cousins around would help Matilda be a bit more brave in the face of a plastic skeleton. In typical fashion for my family, we arrived about 30 minutes before the gates opened. The kids took the time to map out our day.

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Last year Matilda was only tall enough to ride the Iron Dragon; now that she’s 48″ she had big plans to hit all 8 roller coasters that allow 48″+. We thought a “warm up” ride on the familiar Iron Dragon would be a good start to the day. As we headed to the ride she was nervous – not about the ride but about seeing scary things in the park. 95% of the decor is tame (fake grave yards, plastic skeletons, bats in the trees, etc.) but we had passed two really creepy HalloWeekend billboards on our drive to the park and she was on high alert. What’s up with the terrifying clown fad? It needs to go away – it freaks ME out and she was super-anxious about seeing one inside the park.

She kept her head down and a with tight grip on my hand we got to the Iron Dragon without incident. She was excited to show off her favorite ride to her cousins.

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Then we worked our way back through the Frontier Trail towards the Mine Ride. (Fun fact – my sister worked at the Red Garter Saloon on the Frontier Trail 22 years ago and the menu is still the same.) The trail was littered with pretty cool steampunk-type decor – nothing creepy as the mazes and haunted areas weren’t open yet. We of course stopped to get a photo in the stockade – my brother, sister and I have several of these from when we were growing up.

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We hopped right onto the Mine Ride and Matilda declared it her new favorite. She rode it a few more times throughout the day.

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After that we decided the kids were ready for the Gemini. Again, we hopped right on the ride with little waiting. My sister’s family in the blue train and Matilda and I in the red – we were off to the race! (Fun Fact – the Gemini was my first roller coaster back when I was Matilda’s age. I rode with my sister and about halfway up the first hill I decided I didn’t want to ride so I tried to climb out of the train!) This time Matilda was ready to beat her cousins in the roller coaster race but our train stopped midway up the hill – the blue train kept going. I was in a mild panic about a broken coaster and trying to keep Matilda calm when a park employee walked up the hill to confiscate a phone from the guy in the front seat. He was trying to photograph the ride so they stopped the train to take his phone away! They remind you before each and every ride “For safety reasons, taking pictures, videotaping and filming on rides is strictly prohibited” and they are NOT messing around with that rule.

Anyway – off we finally went on Matilda’s biggest coaster yet! Her face after the first hill was pure white and wide-eyed. She clung to the harness but managed to smile a bit by the end. She said is was scary fun but didn’t want to go on it again. She was more upset about losing the race to her cousins than anything else! She also waited in the short line for the Magnum XL-200 but in the end the sight of that 200-foot first hill had her opt out of riding.

We spent a lot of time on some of the “thrill rides” and this is where having her cousins with us was a plus – I didn’t have to ride any of the “spinny” rides with her (they make me motion sick). So she got to ride to her heart’s content and I stayed nausea-free. We checked out the kid-friendly Howl-O-Palooza area where Matilda literally jumped into my arms as we toured the Magical House on Boo Hill. There was nothing scary in it – it was simply spooky! However Matilda is the kid who will bravely jump off a diving board and ride roller coasters yet freak out at the sight of a  mechanical fake spider dropping down from the ceiling. But while we were in the area we also caught a ride on the Blue Streak, which was just re-opening after a brief rain. I had forgotten how much air time that ride gives you. It’s old but fun!

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These decorations were tame enough for her to enjoy

We had a terrific day and by the end Matilda seemed unfazed by the decorations and knew to simply look away or cover her eyes if she saw something scary. And that was one of the reasons we went…so she could face her fears and learn to deal with them.  A year ago she would have hid under my shirt and refused to do anything, so we’ve come a long way. In the end she rode 4 roller coasters – she really wanted to ride the Corkscrew but it was closed when we were nearby. The Magnum, Millennium Force and Mean Streak will have to wait for next year when maybe those big first hills won’t seem so daunting.

Would I go to HalloWeekends again? Well, Matilda said that while she DOES want to go back to Cedar Point next year, she doesn’t want to go during HalloWeekends. But this was right after telling me that the day wasn’t that spooky! So yes, I would go back simply because it was a great day – no lines, good weather (a few short-lived sprinkles didn’t slow us down), no crowds. There’s no doubt that fall a great time to visit Cedar Point!

Indians Family Social Suite

Earlier in the summer I had applied to attend a Tribe game in the Family Social Suite. I asked to attend this last weekend because Mark is a life-long Mets fan and it was my birthday weekend. I was overjoyed when the Indians told me I was selected to attend and we were looking forward to taking Madman to his first Tribe game.

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the Indians know what families want and need and they cater to it. From the Kids Clubhouse  to adding the Family Social Suite to the popular Social Suite this year, they are a fantastic organization. Having been in the regular Social Suite before, I was excited to take the kids this time.

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Being selected gets you access to the wifi enabled suite (hello private bathroom!) – everything else is on your own dime. We were in the suite with 2 other families. Friday night was dollar dog night and we were visited by all three of the racing Hot Dogs…I’ll tell you now that Ketchup is very sweet and Mustard is a prankster!

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Mark was “attacked” by Onion and Ketchup as he ate his second Dollar Dog. Not awkward at all to be eating
hot dogs when the Hot Dogs visit the suite.

Matilda, who is terrified of people in costume, hid in the bathroom the whole time.

The game was a good one (GRAND SLAM!), the weather was perfect and the suite had enough space and things to do to keep the kids entertained while we watched the game. (The family suite is stocked with games, puzzles and drawing materials!)

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Madman preferred to watch the game inside the suite on the TV from the comfy chairs, of course. 

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Even Slider made a visit to the suite! 

During the 7th inning we took the kids down to the Rookie Suite where they could blow off some steam while we still watched the game. Seriously, if you haven’t been to a game with little kids in the last 2 seasons, get there ASAP. The Kids Clubhouse is situated so the parents can still see the game while the kids climb, play, and craft.

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Seventh Inning Stretch

When we got back up to to the suite the real surprise of the night happened. We were going to watch the post-game fireworks from a dugout! As soon as the game ended we gathered up our stuff and hustled down to the field with strict instructions to stay off the grass.

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After some family photographs on the field we went into the (sunflower seed shell covered) dugout. It was then that the Mets ball boy (it think it was their ball boy), who was getting something from the dugout, handed Madman a game ball! Mark was just over the moon. The kids were excited because “cool! a ball!” – they have no idea how awesome it is that they got a game ball while in the dugout after a MLB game.

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Soon the fireworks started and we had the best seats in the house, hands down.

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The entire night was unforgettable. We had such a fantastic time with the Tribe. There are 11 home games left as they chase the postseason. Tickets start at just $10 and you can always apply to be in the Social Suites.

I applied for and was granted access to the Family Social Suite. I was not asked to post about the game nor was I given any compensation. I just wanted to write about a fantastic night with the Tribe. 

Sky Zone Westlake Review and Giveaway

UPDATE: Congratulations to lucky number 1: Ashley, who won the 4 1-hour passes. Please check your email!

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Disclosure: I was invited to bring my family to Sky Zone Westlake to try it out for free but I was not compensated for this post. As always, my thoughts are 100% my own. I only share events that my family plans to attend or has attended in the past, so I know they are worth the visit. 

Awhile back, one of my favorite bloggers mentioned taking her boys to an indoor trampoline park and I thought “OMG that sounds so cool! Cleveland needs one of those”. Fast forward to this summer and now we do! And let me tell you, it’s a blast!

Sky Zone Westlake opened in July and it has not taken long for the word to get out. In fact, the first time we made the trip, on a rainy Saturday afternoon, the parking lot was overflowing with parked cars lining the street surrounding the brand new facility. We didn’t even try to go in that day. We came back another weekend, bright and early on a Saturday morning. We arrived when they opened at 9:00 AM and basically had the place to ourselves.

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Sky Zone Jump Shoes – they are required to jump and included in the price. 
Don’t forget your socks!

I opted not to jump due to an old knee injury (torn ACL) that makes me scared to jump. But Mark and the kids took no time to check it all out. From the open jump area (a floor of trampolines, with trampoline walls) to the foam pit, they ran back and forth like crazy hopping frogs.

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Sorry for the blur – the kids never stood still!

I was worried that at age 3.5, Madman would have a hard time. I didn’t need to worry. He buzzed around enjoying all the features. Our only problem  with him was keeping him from sitting down on the trampolines (against the rules) and running along the padded edges (blue strips between the trampolines – also against the rules). I think for a regular day, age 3-3.5 may be as young as you want to go. But they just started a toddler time which sounds be perfect for the littles as parents are allowed on the pads to supervise. Madman found his true love in the foam pit. That dude spent most of the hour flinging himself into the pit then climbing back out.

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The pit is so fun, even Mark did a few dives.
Madman loved it even though he did sometimes struggle to get out of the pit, but there was
always a Sky Zone employee there to give him a hand.

One last thing – while a 30 minute ($10) or even 60 minute ($14) session doesn’t sound that long, my kids could only jump for about 10 minutes at a time before having to take a break. They were wiped out after an hour. Even Mr. Marathon Runner Mark was tired and sore the next day. This place is going to be awesome this winter – a perfect place to get the energy out!

The facility  was clean, they had friendly, helpful staff and they offer all kinds of programs – from dodgeball, SkySlam Basketball and SkyRobics (fitness classes on the trampoline floor) to teen nights and birthday parties. There are quarter-operated lockers for your stuff, a snack bar, and lots of areas to sit and watch (or rest!)

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View from upper viewing area and the private party room

Tips for when you visit Sky Zone Westlake:
1) bring your socks!
2) go close to opening time for less crowds
3) fill out your waiver before you go to save time
4) bring quarters to stash your stuff in the lockers.

Ready to give it a try? One reader will win passes for one (1) hour jump time for a family of four (4). All you need to do is visit Sky Zone’s website and tell me in comments what you want to try out or why you want to go OR tweet the following phrase and leave a comment letting me know you tweeted: I want to jump at @SkyZoneWestlake thanks to @kakaty : http://wp.me/p3i9i6-Fw 

 One comment/entry per person, winner will be selected on Friday, September 6.

Weekend Recap: A Date with our Girl Edition

Oh what a weekend…

It started out as usual with our summer Saturday ritual of heading to Shaker Square for breakfast at the Farmer’s Market. We get most of our meat, eggs and cheese at the market in the summers, along with produce. The first local strawberries were the excitement of the day and consumed quickly. The kids were also thrilled that Donut Lab was there and chowed down on freshly made donuts loaded with powdered sugar.

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Then Matilda and I headed to a graduation party on the far west side of town. The honoree is someone I’ve known for at least 16 years…I babysat for her when she was just 2 years old and now she’s heading to my alma mater. To make me feel even older, one of the guests was a girl I coached in soccer while I was a college student. She was 9 when I coached her, she now has her masters degree and is working at a nearby university! Oh, how old I feel!

The party was at Huntington Beach and while the weather wasn’t the best, the beach was sunny and warm enough for some fun. Huntington is one of the best beaches in the area (side note: I’m so thrilled that the Metroparks is taking over the management of six lakefront parks. Such fantastic news for everyone!) so Matilda played with the other kids while I quickly found a handful of pretty beach glass.

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Sunday was the big day of the weekend and something that Matilda had been looking forward to for 2 weeks: her date with Mark and me. While we often take the kids out for one-on-one time it’s rare that one kid gets to spend time with the two of us. Matilda had earned an outing and this was her choice. So we got a sitter for Madman and headed out on our adventure. She, of course, picked Noodlecat for her lunch so we started off with some ramen and steam bun and ended with a delicious push-up.

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From there we explored the town – checking out the film set, driving through the Flats to see all the bridges, ending up in Ohio City. I wanted to walk around to try to find the iconic spot where so many people get photos taken with the skyline as a background. We had no luck (although, thanks to Ashley, next time I know where to go) but had fun walking around and being goofy.

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After posing in front of the mural above we checked out the Ohio City Farm and walked around for a bit. It’s so neat to see the farm there, right in the heart of the city and neighborhood, doing so much good for so many people. Hopefully next time we’re back the farm stand will be open.

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Before we got to the car to head home we popped in the Glass Bubble Project to look around. Greeted by a friendly chicken and the nicest artists you’d ever meet, we watched as they started work on a new piece. Matilda can’t wait to go back, but only when “it’s winter so I don’t get sweaty”. It would be so fun for her and Mark to take a class there together!

We had a really great time, hanging out with our almost-first-grader, even though there were several times I felt anxious, like I was forgetting something. Not having Madman around was odd and it seems as if a piece of us was missing. But, Matilda talked about her date all night – how her dad always opened her door for her and took care of her.

Sunday evening, as Mark started cooking up some burgers, a girl on our street asked if Matilda could come play in their sprinkler. Even thought it was dinner time we let her go – I’ve never seen her get into a bathing suit so fast! She played while Mark cooked and Madman, Mark and I had dinner. Of course, we couldn’t keep him away from the fun so he got fully soaked in his clothes. Exactly how a summer evening should be!

How was your weekend?

How to Cheer at a Marathon

I’m not a runner. I never will be. I tried it for a while but I hated it. But ever since Mark started the C25K program nearly 3 years ago, he’s been addicted. That means the kids and I have cheered at a LOT of races – 5k, 10k, half and full marathons – we’ve done them and I have a few tips for anyone who wants become a professional run spectator like me. I probably should have posted this last week, before the Cleveland Marathon, but now you’ll know what to do the next time a crazy friend or family member says they are running a “mary”.

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Cheering with my cousin & his family at the Oktoberfest Half in Grand Haven, MI

Here’s what I take when I cheer, especially with the kids:

  1. Snacks – race cheering is all about waiting for hours to watch someone run by in 30 seconds. Snacks and drinks are a must.
  2. Noise makers – it doesn’t matter what it is, if it’s noisy take it. We usually take 2 cowbells with us. Side note: why are cowbells a marathon tradition? Just to be obnoxious? This time I also took a tambourine (from the toy box), in the past I’ve taken whistles, maracas and once, a harmonica.
  3. Something visual – pompoms are always in our bag. Small flags work, too.
  4. SIGNS – of course make them for all of your friends running. But make some generic ones for runners to enjoy why you’re waiting. They really do like them. My other tip is to laminate a few with clear contact paper – this will protect them from rain & water stations and makes them sturdy enough to keep for a few races. (You’ll see some sign repeats in the photos).Image
  5. Course Map – this is critical, especially when the races’ website crashes on race day (cough *CLE Marathon* cough)
  6. Distractions – race spectating is a hurry-up-and-wait game. It can also be totally boring. Take a book, a phone, and if you have kids with you, toys. They will save you.
  7. Camera – I don’t lug my big camera with me because I’d rather cheer when I see my runner then have a camera in my face. I do, however, try to snap a shot or two on my phone or a point and shoot.
  8. Pack all of this in a backpack and wear comfortable shoes. You’ll likely be hoofing it for several blocks at each cheering spot. Take a stroller for little kids.

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Cheering at the Shaker Father’s Day 5k

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Cheering with friends is best – at the Blossom Time Run with the ClassyChaos Crew

When it comes to long races (half-marathons and above), I like to move around and catch my runner(s) a few places on the course. Here’s what I do pre-race.

  1. Print course map and look at recommended cheering spots. Almost every long race will have some “official cheer stations” and these can give you a good idea of where you can easily part near the course. I don’t normally cheer at these official spots, but go a mile or so on either side.
  2. Find 3-4 areas I want to cheer that are 5-7 miles apart, which gives me about 35-60 minutes to get from place to place. (Unless your runner is crazy-fast, then you’ll have to scale back to 2-3 areas).
  3. SCOUT YOUR CHEERING SPOTS. This is critical – something that Mark learned this past weekend. Where can you park? What streets will be closed? What’s the best route from A to B; can I walk or should I ride? I can spend more than an hour pouring over Google Maps looking for parking, access to public restrooms, and how everything interconnects. Don’t forget to look for a list of road-closures in the area. Even better – drive the course the day before and find your spots – I do this for out of town races so I can learn the area a little better.
  4. Print driving maps for each section (i.e. map from cheering spot A to cheering spot B) AND have a phone/gps with you on race day in case you run into any obstacles.
  5. Sign up for up for text alerts so you know where your runners are on the course. You’ll start to get anxious without these updates… remember that even if you know their usual pace, they may be slow for the first few miles before the pack thins out.

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Finish line cheering at the Perfect 10-Miler

Race Day!

  1. Have your runner(s) text you a photo of what they are wearing that day. This gives you something to look for in the herd of runners. This was critical for me finding Jenna on Sunday.
  2. If you are cheering with a group, you can all wear matching shirts, hats, headbands – something for your runner to look for.
  3. Let your runner know where you will be. I’m not talking exact locations, but “somewhere between miles 9 and 11” will give them something to look forward to.
  4. Dress in layers – most races start early when it’s chilly but warm up fast. And don’t forget your sunscreen!
  5. If you want to see your runner cross the finish line make sure you arrive at least 35 minutes before you anticipate them crossing. This is the most crowded area, it’s hardest to find parking and people will be jockeying for space on the curb.
  6. CHEER! Cheer for everyone – shake those noisemakers and randomly yell encouragement. Many runners have their names written on their shirts so use it when you cheer.

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Cheering at the Flying Pig Marathon with my parents

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Cleveland Fall Classic Half Marathon cheering squad – this one is ALWAYS cold!

That’s about it. All my knowledge about being a good cheerleader for the runners in your life. Have something to add? Put it in comments!

 Coming soon… our Cleveland Marathon Cheer Experience.

My Kids are NoodleKids – Are Yours? (Giveaway)

It’s no secret that this entire family is a fan of Noodlecat. It’s Matilda’s favorite place and, judging by Mark’s twitter feed, his favorite lunch spot. We eat there often because we love the food, we love the sustainable philosophy and we love Chef Sawyer.


Here’s a fun fact… when we moved to Cleveland 5 years ago, Chef Sawyer was at Bar Cento which is where we took our first date night in the city. It was there we met the chef and learned about his “Cook Chefin’,”  nights where kids got to make their own pizzas (with chef assistance) in the restaurant’s kitchen. The entire Sawyer family’s devotion to making good, healthy food accessible and fun for kids is something they’ve made a priority for years. Kids are warmly welcomed in their restaurants. It’s one of the many things we love about them. So I’m thrilled to tell you about their upcoming NoodleKid event at Noodlecat:

We will be there for sure. We can’t wait.

The Cat wants you there so I have tickets to give away to my readers. The winner will get up to 4 tickets for either a 11 a.m. or 12 p.m. seating. You have 2 chances to enter:

1) Leave me a comment telling me either your kid’s favorite food or your favorite meal to cook with them.

2) Tweet: “I want my #Noodlekids to get their slurp on @Noodle_Cat 2/23 http://www.kakakakaty.com/2013/02/13/noodlekids”  then leave me a comment telling me you tweeted. Please only do this one time so you don’t annoy your followers.

You have until 6:00 PM on Monday, 2/18 to enter. I’ll email the winner that night.

Seats are filling up fast, so if you want a guaranteed spot call the number above ASAP to make your reservation.

Good luck!

Disclosure: Our family has spent many meals at Noodlecat and I’m happy to help them promote their kids events. I received tickets Noodlekids but I was not compensated for this post. As always, my thoughts are 100% my own. I only share events that my family plans to attend or has attended in the past, so I know they are worth the visit. And believe me, Noodlecat is always worth the visit.

Evolution of a Valentine

It started out innocently enough. My oldest child’s first school Valentine’s Day party is next week (her daycare didn’t do them) and I’m a slightly crafty mom. So I did what any parent would do. I turned to the internet. I know that 87% of kids with mom’s online did the photo lollipop last year. I wanted something cute but candy free (Matilda does not tolerate artificial dyes well), so I turned to Pinterest*. I searched “valentine” and from the hundreds of returns I narrowed it down to three:

Valentine, I’ve got my eye on you! from The Brassy Apple. A cute variation on the theme of the lollipop valentine. I found some awesome magnifying glasses on Amazon for 3 cents each. I nearly bought 25… then I saw that shipping was $5 each.

Arrrgh you ready for Valentine’s Day? from Mer MagI love, love, love sewing on paper and these seemed so easy and I had everything on hand to make them. I was kind of hoping Matilda would pick this one. (note – there are other super-cute valentine ideas on this site – look around!)

I’m bubbling with excitement from Simply Modern MomCute, simple, no candy. I searched around and found a pack of 36 bubble wands for $9. Seemed pretty easy and not terribly expensive.

I showed the options to Matilda and she picked the bubbles. The first thing I did was order the bubbles, a tiny hole punch, some glue dots and some more bakers twine (I thought I had enough but I didn’t). When they arrived I quickly made a prototype. Then those supplies have sat idly on the dining room table for a month.

This week I finally had the PDF printed, Matilda chose to have it done on lavender card stock. I had 30 printed so I could have extras if needed. Having them color printed and cut cost $6. Not being able to get the idea of sewing on paper out of my head, I decided that the cards needed some embellishment to make up for the plain white bubble wands. I had found some cute felt-heart ribbon in the Target $1 bins so I decided to sew a strip of hearts along the bottom of the card.

So, the cute “cheap” DIY valentines cost $37. Oops. But I do have a dozen bubble wands left over and of course I’ll use the twine and hole punch again. And Matilda loves her valentines so that’s all that really matters.

She signed them on the back and added some puffy heart stickers I had in the art cupboard

Are you a box-of-cards valentine buyer, or a crafter cutting out hearts and doilies for your cards?

 

*Note: I do not have a Pinterest account, and I never will. I know it would be too much of a time suck. I do, however, stalk some of my friend’s boards for ideas and even for gift suggestions for the board owner. And it’s a good place to search when looking for crafty ideas. 

Eating Out with Kids in Cleveland

Continuing on the theme from the last post… Never underestimate the power of a good meal that you didn’t cook or have to clean up after. We usually eat out on Friday or Saturday night when Mark and I are just too tired to think about preparing a meal. While it might not burn energy, it burns daylight which can be just as important if you’re counting the minutes until bedtime. We are lucky to have lots of fantastic, kid-friendly local restaurants in Cleveland. No need to subject yourself to Olive Garden or Red Robin to get a good meal out with the kids. Yes, I am a straight-up food snob and refuse to eat at Applebee’s and the like…not when there are literally dozens of wonderful local joints to choose from.

Note: I always keep crayons and paper in my purse, I also sometimes have stickers (these are fantastic, too), and those little mini play dough containers are easy to keep stashed for long waits. I’m thinking of getting a Tegu pocket set based on a recommendation from Ashley. We try to keep the kids device-free at dinner but know that waiting can be a pain for them so having a couple of distractions is key to a somewhat peaceful outing.

Here are our Cleveland-area, kid-tested favorites:

NoodleCat
What kid doesn’t love noodles? The kids portions here are just $4 plus they offer some diversity in addition to just plain noodles and broth that even the pickiest kids will enjoy. This is usually Matilda’s first choice for a good reason. Delicious, local food, great music, easy-going staff. Our kids are 100% NoodleKids. Matilda even tried my octopus last time we went!

No kid portions for this kid! A full order of College Ramen is her “usual”

Geraci’s
Our kids are hungry at 5:00 so getting a table isn’t hard. Come later and you will wait. When we are there it’s usually a crowd of AARP members, most of which are pretty tolerant of kids. The staff is very nice to families but this is a place where the distractions in my purse help a lot since the pizza can take a while. Matilda and Mark LOVE their meatballs while Madman and I love their pizza. We do take out from Geraci’s pretty often, too. It’s cash only, so be prepared.

Superior Pho
Again with the noodles. We are all pho fans and there is nothing in town that beats Superior Pho. The staff is good with kids and the no-frills dining room takes away the worry about dining with kids. It’s a great place to warm up on a sub-zero winter evening. One down-side: the bathrooms are communal with the rest of the building and kid of gross. Not a reason to avoid, just know before you go!

Matilda couldn’t wait to introduce her cousin to pho when he visited this summer!

Liquid Planet
A healthy “fast food” place with smoothies and kid-approved PB&J pitas. I love their rice bowls and we all love their quick service. It can get pricy but overall it’s worth it if you just want a good, healthy(ish) meal fast. We do sometimes get looks from the CWRU students studying at the Cleveland Heights location but whatever, you’re in a restaurant, not a library!

B Spot
$5 dollar burgers during happy hour are a beautiful thing. Add a beer for $3 for mom and dad and Friday night is perfect. Both kids love it here, especially the pickle bar. Everyone is loud and messy in here so your kid won’t be any different from the 20-something at the next table. East-side bonus: let the kids run around the inside of Eaton mall or check out the kids section of B&N to burn some energy before heading home.

mmmmmm…..Lola burger

The Tavern Company
I don’t know why, but this place was a surprise find for us. Perhaps because I didn’t think a pub would be family-friendly, but they are. The food here is quite good, much more upscale than we expected for a pub. It is also extremely kid friendly with crayons and coloring books; TVs help, too. Their mac & cheese (Madman’s favorite) is delicious and Matilda is a fan of their burger.

Vero Pizza
We’re big fans of Vero and we usually get a seat upstairs which provides fun views of the pizza oven. Again, due to our early-bird dining status we typically have the place pretty much to ourselves. Matilda is a huge fan of the bruschetta and the beet salad here while Madman will gobble up slices of the delicious pizza. Mark and I are fans of everything and we’ve never been let down by their specials. Of course, bribing the kids with gelato helps with good behavior.

Madman can polish off 1/2 a Vero pie – extra mushrooms, please!

What are your favorite family-friendly non-chains in the the Cleveland area? This list is obviously eastside-heavy but we’re always willing to venture out to try a new place!

What to do with Kids in a Cleveland Winter

As a parent, January in Cleveland is hard…  you’re staring down about 3 more months of being shut inside due to cold, snow, rain or sleet. Of course we sled, we ski, we play in the snow but we can’t always be outside. Even if it gets up into the 50s, it’s likely to be pouring rain (like this week) and you can’t really enjoy it. So, as we are all wistfully dreaming of the days we can chase our kids back outside into the yard again, here are some of our favorite cabin-fever busters:

Rockefeller Greenhouse
I feel like I might be breaking some sort of Cleveland-Parent code by sharing this, but oh well! The greenhouse is owned by the city and is part of the long, narrow park which is on the land donated by John Rockefeller. Best of all, it’s free! And, it’s never crowded, which leads me to believe it’s a closely guarded secret. In fact, in the many times we’ve been there we are usually the only ones there. This means the kids can get a little crazy without bothering anyone. Our last visit was on MLK day because I knew the museums in University Circle would be packed. There was a film crew shooting a commercial there but we stayed out of their way. The kids burned energy, played games and had fun and I didn’t once have to say “stop climbing on the furniture!”

Cleveland Art Museum
As I mentioned, it’s 600,000 square feet of very kid friendly, free space.

Cleveland Botanical Garden
While visiting the magical Hershey Children’s Garden and the 10 acres of lush outdoor gardens is a natural activity in the spring and summer, the CBG is one also one of our favorite winter activities, too. The 2 large glasshouses and as well as the toys & books (now located upstairs) they have out for kids makes this a good place to blow off some steam. And, if it’s dry outside it’s still a fantastic place to run around without getting muddy. Their café serves fresh, seasonal food that the kids love. Kids are just $4 (under 3 is free) but the $73 family membership is well worth it for how often we visit.

Cleveland Museum of Natural History
Some people with toddlers and young kids overlook this museum as a place to burn daylight. We love it because there are dinosaurs, lots of buttons to push, and space to move around. Yes, the entire facility can seem a bit dusty and old so the planned renovation is much needed. However little kids don’t care, they just see polar bears, alligators and moon rocks.  Hidden in the basement is the Smead Discovery Center, a hands-on area with animal pelts, puzzles, books, toys, a few lizards and other cool stuff. Unless it’s pouring rain we always take a walk through the Perkins Wildlife Center outside to say hi to the owls, deer and fox that make it their home. Get there at 10, outside snacks are allowed (but you can only eat them in the café), leave by naptime…perfect morning. Again, the $75 family membership is a great deal and pays for itself in 2-3 trips. Bonus: you can use your membership for free entry at other science centers and museums like the Field Museum in Chicago or COSI in Columbus.

Bowling
We did this for the first time recently and had a fun evening. It was surprisingly expensive for the 4 of us ($50+!) but was a fun night out. Both kids did well – each got a strike! It was an activity we’ll save for when we’re desperate due to the price, but I was pleased with how much a 2.5 year old and 6 year old enjoyed it.

JumpYard
Matilda’s winter break was longer than Madman’s so we had a couple of days where he went to daycare but she was home. One of those days I took her to the JumpYard in North Royalton on a tip from Amelia. It was a blast. Weekdays are only $7 and for that she jumped out all her energy for nearly 3 hours. We sunk another $5 into the arcade games. The free wifi meant I got some work done while she romped. The toddler area was nice and big and looked like the kids there were having fun. The morning was pretty open but when we left (around 1:00) it was packed…plan accordingly. This was worth the drive from the eastside and I’ll take Madman when we go back.

Great Big Home + Garden Show
I know, it sounds silly to take kids to a home and garden expo. But think about it: a giant indoor space in which your kid can run around and be a goofball to his heart’s content. We went last year and the kids spent hours exploring all the landscapes set up, checking out the houses and climbing on play structures. At $14 per adult plus parking it’s not cheap, but sometimes spending $30 to spend the entire afternoon out of the house is so worth it.

Rapid + Tower City = Tired Preschooler
We haven’t done this recently but both kids love to ride the Rapid so this is a nice one to keep in your back pocket for when you really need to get out of the house for the afternoon. Kids 6 and under ride free with a paying adult ($5). Mark has a monthly pass for his commute so for $5 we can ride downtown, burn off some energy running around Tower City, and then ride home. Now, I know Tower City doesn’t offer much in shopping, but it’s a beautiful space in which the kids can get some exercise. If it’s not below zero or sleeting we might walk over to grab a bite at Noodlecat, too.

 

Libraries
While we love living a couple of blocks from our local library sometimes it can be fun to explore other libraries. We like the ones in Cleveland Heights Lee Road branch and South Euclid branch in the Telling Mansion both for architecture and their children’s sections. We don’t usually get books (because we don’t want them to get mixed up with other library books at home) but spending an afternoon in a new-to-us space can be enough to keep the winter blahs away.

There are other standbys, too (swimming, GLSC, Farm Park, Aquarium) but these were some of our new favorites or hidden gems. So – what are your favorite winter blow-off-steam/burn-daylight activities for the kids?

Sunday at the Cleveland Museum of Art

As you know, my main goal every weekend is to get the kids out of the house. On Saturday it was warm enough to shoo them into the backyard for a bit, but Sunday dawned bitter cold so an inside activity was needed. I texted Mark at 9:20 this morning “CMA today? they open @ 10” and he replied with a “sure” (what? you don’t text your spouse who is in the same house as you?). By 9:58 we had parked in front of the Cleveland Museum of Art and were on our way inside. Mark had taken Matilda on a daddy/daughter date a few weeks back so they had seen the new atrium but this was Madman and my first time. Matilda couldn’t wait to show us.

Doing her best Vanna White impression to show me the huge expanse of the atrium

We are so incredibly lucky to have such an amazing art museum less than 10 minutes from our house. And it’s free. The new addition of the atrium and Gallery One is just breathtaking. After romping around the atrium and sneaking a peak the interactive wall of all the CMA works, we headed to the galleries.

Matilda taking in Monet’s Water Lilies (Agapanthus)

Like most women my age, the Impressionist galleries are my favorites. It seems Matilda likes them, too. But she declared this piece her favorite (for this trip, anyway. Every CMA visit leads to a new favorite):

A Rothko in the Contemporary Collection. She wants Mark to paint one like it for our living room

Madman was the wild-card of the day and he was a real trooper as we strolled the galleries. He likes the ancient art galleries and especially the Morton Mandel Armor Court. But today his favorite thing was not inside the CMA… it was the view of the “diggers” across the street at CWRU as seen from the Glass Box.

We had lunch from the new Provenance Café, which was amazing. We had 3 entrees split between the 4 of us and we were all beyond happy.

Post-peanut butter and banana sandwich happiness

It was nearly noon so we decided to go back to Gallery One to get a chance to play with the touch-screen wall of all the museum’s works. It’s pretty amazing (and apparently we were some of the first to use it! It doesn’t officially open until tomorrow). Next visit, we’ll borrow one of their iPads, too. Such fantastic technology coupled with the art!

After that we headed for the doors but stumbled onto the most perfect play area for the kids. I wish we had known about it sooner because we could have spent an hour in just that spot. It had sketching seats and frames to hang your artwork, Tegu blocks for sculptures and mobiles to build. There were books, and tents and art to touch, even some touch-screen displays. We had to drag the kids away. They can’t wait to go back.

While certainly not our first or last trip, this was one of our more memorable trips… perhaps because of all the new things to see and do. Or maybe because it was our first time as a family to be there while not under construction. I know some people shy away from taking younger kids to the CMA but you shouldn’t. They are extremely patient with kids, have tons of amenities (changing tables, stroller rental, high chairs). I do recommend getting there early, it was starting to get crowded by noon.

We frequent University Circle but for some reason the CMA has always been the last on our list from all the places to visit. I think we’ll be re-thinking that strategy over the next few months as we look for ways to keep the kids entertained and out of the house.

non-disclosure: nothing to disclose. I just wanted to share our family fun day at the CMA!