Playing Tourist

My dear friend Pauline has always said you should play tourist in your hometown. And she’s right. Six years of living in Cleveland and we’re still discovering new things. We love to spend weekends exploring new parks, markets, restaurants and places. But a few weeks ago, we were able to have a fun overnight tourist adventure in Uptown thanks to the InterContinental Suites and Cleveland Botanical Gardens. See, they had a little contest on FB and Twitter and I won! So the weekend after Christmas we secretly packed a bag, put the kids in the car and told them we were going on adventure.

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Our first stop on this unseasonably warm Saturday was CBG for the Glow – their awesome annual holiday show. We took advantage of the daylight and explored the outdoor gardens. The kids ran off some energy on the paths before heading in to check out the array of gingerbread houses, indoor camping, dozens of Christmas trees and more. We’re frequent visitors of CBG and we love the Glow exhibit!

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After the sun started to set we got back in the car and said “I don’t feel like going home. Do you? It would be fun to not go home tonight!” The kids were a bit surprised. Well, Matilda was flabbergasted: “What!? We HAVE to go home! We can’t sleep in the car!”. After a discussion about how cold the car would be overnight we ended up at ABC Tavern for some dinner. Since it was only 5:00 we were basically the only ones in there. The kids loved all the open space, the juke box, and the bowling game.

IMG_0540Cheers to adventure in our own town!

After dinner we walked over to one of the newest Mitchell’s for our favorite dessert. Then strolled over to Constantino‘s for a few provisions.

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By this point Matilda was nearly beside herself. We had been out for almost 4 hours and Mark and I kept talking about stating uptown all night but she was adamant about going home. She wanted a bed to sleep in! She couldn’t sleep in the car! So when we pulled up outside of the InterContinental Suites Hotel and Mark said “why don’t we just stay here tonight?” she was aghast: “I don’t have any books to read! I need my pajamas!” I smiled and as I pulled the packed bag out of the trunk and her eyes grew wide. “Are we really staying here?” she asked over and over.

Their Director of Sales & Marketing, who set up our stay, put us in an suite with an adjoining room for the kids since they were not at full capacity that night. I knew InterContinental’s were nice (I’ve stayed in other properties) but this was almost too much! Mark and I were SHOCKED at our set-up. A full suite with living room, bed room and kitchenette PLUS an adjoining standard room (it was huge) with a king bed and other kitchenette. The best part is that we took up a full corner of the hall and had no neighbors we had to worry about disturbing.

The kids took no time to get settled in. They were on the bed, watching cartoons (we don’t have cable at home, so the TV as a luxury to them) and drawing on the notepads within minutes.

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Soon they had discovered the bathrobes. Once they were wrapped up Madman kept saying “I’m a king!” And Matilda just sighed, leaned back on the couch and said “this is the life” as she put her slippered feet up.

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They were thrilled to cozy up in bed and watch a movie. Something they only get to do on vacation!

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We all slept well, given that we were spread out across a huge area. The next morning after a delicious breakfast at C2 (also part of the prize package), we did some more serious lounging in the room before checkout. Matilda even took a bath, if only to wrap up in the robe and try out the phone in the bathroom.

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Nearly a month later and the kids are still talking about our surprise overnight adventure. I’m so grateful to InterContinental Suites and Cleveland Botanical Gardens for providing such a memorable weekend. I can’t wait to do it again!

Have you ever done an overnight adventure in your town? Or just a surprise trip? We may do another one sooner than the kids think… (like tomorrow night! Shhh! It’s a secret!)

I have a blog? Or Christmas Wrap-Up 2013

Yes, I know Christmas was 23 days ago and it FEELS like it was 2 months ago. But whatever… I want to document what the kids got and what we did over our break. So let’s pretend I have my stuff together and this posted about 22 days ago.

We did our family holiday the weekend before Christmas so the kids basically were showered with gifts for several days. Matilda got a k’nex roller coaster from my parents. The box says age 7+ but there is NO WAY this thing would have been assembled without the help of my 16 year old nephew. It took him, a few adults and several hours for it to be assembled. The parts are many and tiny – even worse then LEGO. However it is very, very cool when assembled and running. Madman got a Tinker Toy set. Madman had played with our old wooden tinker toys when we visited my parents this fall so we knew this would be a hit. I’ve got to say this is the knock-out hit of the year. Both Matilda and Madman have been playing with them non-stop since they were opened.

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My sister’s family got Matilda a set of learn to draw books, HeadBandz and gave Matthew the Imaginext SuperMan Set. From my brother Matilda go Mario Kart while Madman got more Imaginext super hero stuff and a cool rocket.

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On Christmas eve they get to open presents from our dear friend “Aunt” Lindsay. She set Matilda up with great Kirsten accessories – mittens (with matching ones for Matilda), a mini doll for Kirsten and stockings for both stuffed with old-fashioned peppermint sticks and maple candy. Matilda was thrilled she got “pioneer” candy. Madman got a claw grabber which he went crazy over – “I am a robot” he would say as he tormented his sister with the claw. He also got a really great robot book.

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Matilda and Madman also get to exchange gifts on Christmas Eve… Matilda picked out a Spider-Man set for Madman, and he got her the My Little Pony Equestria Girls Twilight Sparkle Doll*. Both were thrilled.

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This year Matilda’s big gift from Santa was a new bike. It was time for her to move up to a larger frame. After doing some research Santa decided that Giant was the way to go. But Santa is cheap and there was no way he was buying a $250 kids bike. Luckily Santa and Craigslist are BFFs and he found a Giant MTX 125 for less than half price. The “boys” and “girls” MTX are the exact same bike but in different colors. So Santa, being practical, got a graphite gray bike since it will eventually be passed down to Madman. Santa thinks ahead like that. He also put some fun reflective decals in Matilda’s stocking so she could decorate it herself. Result: happy girl on her new bike…

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Madman’s big gift from Santa was a crazy Hot Wheels track**, which Santa smartly got during a pre-Thanksgiving sale. Some additional cars in the stocking made this a big hit. That is after Mark put it all together. Santa should think more about assembly next year.

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Rounding out the Santa gifts… Matilda got a skirt, a mini pillow pet, and the Rainbow Dash Equestria Girl. In her stocking she found lip balm and a set of Magic Treehouse books, in addition to the decals mentioned above. Madman got the movie Planes, a mini pillow pet, a few books, and those hot wheels in his stocking.

From us Matilda got a Nurf Rebelle Bow (she LOVES it), Super Mario Brothers for the Wii and more books.

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We gave Madman a remote control car, clothes (which he literally threw over this shoulder, A Christmas Story-style), the Sneaky Snacky Squirrel Game (you guys – this game is awesome for preschoolers!), a Tegu set (I found a great deal on Woot!) and more books.

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Together they got an overnight trip to Maui Sands (thanks Living Social deals!) which we’ll do in February.

Whew! My kids are pretty spoiled! Luckily we did a decent cleaning out of toys before Christmas and donated some older things.

Adding this in just for myself so I remember things in the future… Christmas morning I had prepared cinnamon rolls using the Pioneer Woman’s recipe (I sent half of them to my sister’s house with my parents). Verdict: the icing was WAY too sweet. Will try it again with different icing. Also posting this photo here to record the tree and mantle:

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What was the big gift in your house this year? Can you believe Christmas was less than a month ago?

* Equestria Girls are a terrifying new spin-off of My Little Pony in which the ponies become these weird human-pony hybrids who attend high school… or something. Basically it’s an attempt to keep the little girls who loved MLP interested in the brand as they get older. Matilda has bought into it hook, line and sinker.

**Pay no attention to any of these prices because holy crap, Amazon prizing is crazy. I did most of my shopping before Thanksgiving and the prices were WAY LOWER then. Also, links are not affiliate, just there as an FYI.

The Nutcracker Tradition with Ohio Dance Theater (Giveaway!)

Disclosure: I was invited to a social media night, including a preview of the upcoming Ohio Dance Theater production of The Nutcracker but I was not compensated for this post. I was given tickets to a performance I am unable to attend, so I am giving away those tickets to one of you. 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. 

I grew up going to The Nutcracker every year and it’s a tradition I’ve carried on with Matilda (when he’s a little older, Madman will join us). I just love the splendor of going to the theater during the holiday season. Not to mention that The Nutcracker is, in my opinion, a great introduction to ballet for kids – it’s got an easy to follow storyline, fantastic action scenes and a magical set. So when Ohio Dance Theater (ODT) and the Niche Parent Network invited me to attend a preview night, I jumped at the chance to get a behind the scenes peek of my favorite ballet.

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I’m going to be honest: before I was contacted to attend this event I had never heard of ODT, mostly because I had limited my searches for shows to the downtown Cleveland area. Forgetting about the strong commitment to the arts in the college town of Oberlin was dumb move on my part because that’s where the critically-acclaimed ODT has been since 1992. And it’s less than an hour away from my house…duh! Having a chance to see what they were all about was an exciting prospect. They have been putting on The Nutcracker for years and this year’s lavish production includes a cast of 20 professional dancers, two trainees, two apprentices and New York City Ballet Principal Dancer, Daniel Ulbricht will be a guest artist. We had such a great time at the preview – seeing a few dances, examining the costumes up close and meeting the professional dancers.

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Matilda and Life in Cleveland’s daughter were inspired to start dancing as soon as the ballerinas were done

Anyway, now I know better and will broaden my search for performances of The Nutcracker in the future, and I’m looking forward to attending other productions put on by this local professional dance company. The good news for you is this…I was given two complementary tickets to attend any Nutcracker performance between December 20-22nd at the Stocker Arts Center and I want to pass them on to one of you!

To win the tickets all you have to do is tell me in comments what your is your favorite scene in the Nutcracker or, if you’ve never seen a performance, tell me your favorite holiday tradition. Bonus entry: tweet the following phrase and leave a comment letting me know you tweetedI want to see @OhioDance perform the #ClevelandNutcracker thanks to @kakaty.  

One comment and one tweet per person (two total possible entries) winner will be randomly selected from comments on this post at noon eastern, Monday, December 16. Good luck!

If you want to see the Nutcracker with Ohio Dance Theatre performances run from Dec 20-22.  You can purchase tickets here.

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The Nutcracker is one of our favorite Christmas traditions. Thanks, Ohio Dance Theater!

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?