Race Travel Report

This past weekend we picked up the kids from school early, loaded up the station wagon and drove the 4+ hours down to Cincinnati for Mark’s 1st marathon. To say it was a great weekend would be an understatement. You might think that only runners can write race reports, but spouses who spend hours planning and organizing the logistics of an out-of-town race also have a story to tell…

Such a great traveler (thank god for travel DVD players)

My parents also drove down for the weekend which was not only a nice thing to do (coming to cheer for their son-in-law) but also turned out to be an invaluable asset. The extra hands to help wrangle the kids was a godsend for me as I stressed about getting around on race day. I can’t thank them enough for giving up their weekend and helping out.

On Saturday they took MAD while Mark, M and I headed to the expo. It’s a bit overwhelming being a first timer, but M had a great time checking out the booths and getting freebies. As a runner Mark got a nice backpack and a tech shirt. After we left the expo we decided to check out a bit of the course. It ran right past our hotel at about mile 6.5 which was smack dab in the middle of a major uphill climb. In fact I was worried at the steepness and length of the hills. Mark did a good deal of hill training but the terrain in Cleveland can’t compare to that of Cincinnati. In fact, miles 3 to 9 were all uphill. He wasn’t worried, though. On our drive I tried to scope out where I would cheer and we saw some really beautiful neighborhoods.

Bib secured, pigs ready to fly

We grabbed lunch at nearby Mt. Adams Bar and Grill, which was a very cute and accommodating place with good food. (Once we found parking. Mt Adams is a darling area, but parking is really hard to find). Afterwords Mark and MAD took a nap while my mom, M and I checked out the beautiful Eden Park which was across the street from our hotel. We soaked up the sunshine and warmth while we could – the Sunday forecast had a 90% chance of rain. As it was my first time in Cincinnati-proper I was really impressed with the parks, houses and architecture. Cinci has much more to offer then I had thought.

My mom doesn’t usually have a spout of water coming out of her head

For dinner we headed over to Kentucky for dinner at Pompilio’s. I had researched pasta places extensively and had called the restaurant earlier in the week. While they wouldn’t take reservations they insisted it would only be a 30-45 min wait at 6 PM, even with the Reds game and the marathon. We got there and saw crowds waiting outside. I made my way through the (smokey – I forgot not every state has the same wonderful smoking ban that OH does) bar and the hostess told me it would be a 3 hour wait! Thank goodness for smartphones because we were looking for a new place immediately. We ended up at Martino’s On Vine near the UC campus. It was a great place; not crowded, fantastic service and good prices. My cousin, Carrie, who lives in Blue Ash and my Aunt (from Columbus) came down to join us and it was great to catch up with them. Mark got his big plate of spaghetti and meatballs and was a happy camper.

My parents, wonderful people that they are, offered to take M to the hotel pool then have her sleep in their room on the pull-out couch so Mark would get good sleep. We eagerly accepted since the night before no one really got any sleep with all 4 of us in a single hotel room. I was able to keep MAD pretty quiet all night so Mark was able to get a pretty solid 6 1/2 hours of sleep before is alarm went off at 4:30 on Sunday morning.

Race day is a whole other story…

What I did on Vacation

P1060477We started off with a stop in North Carolina to see my college BFF, Lindsay.

P1060482We played in the fountains

P1060490And jumped in the pool

P1060498Then M perfected her bellyflop in the tidal pools on the beach (and for some reason insisted on calling them “dewyflops”).

P1060501We played in the waves (and “fed” them sand and shells)

P1060525And let the beach style our hair.

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We took a boat ride to see dolphins and explore some of the shoals exposed by the low tide

P1060575And found starfish, hermit crabs and tons of shells.

P1060600We played on the beach some more

P1060624And found a really, really big horseshoe crab.

P1060652It was a perfect week of sun, sand, ocean and exploring!

…AND the Kitchen Sink

“Those that say you can’t take it with you never saw my car packed for a vacation trip.” ~ unknown
The bags are pretty much packed (except for my husbands stuff, and well – he can do his own).  All the extra stuff is laid out on the dining room table.  I’m eating a dinner of the few perishables left in the house: 2 apples, left over birthday cake and milk. We are so ready to go – first a stop over to see my college BFF in the booming city of Saxapahaw, NC.  Then it’s off to the beach.
Oh, and here’s my new traveling tip: check out restaurant.com for the zip code you will be visiting before you leave.  If you are as lucky as I was, you will score gift certificates for a couple of places for mere pennies (thank you 90% off sale!) and maybe find a new favorite restaurant at your destination.
Au Revoir!

“Those that say you can’t take it with you never saw my car packed for a vacation trip.” ~ unknown

The bags are pretty much packed (except for my husbands stuff, and well – he can do his own).  All the extra stuff is laid out on the dining room table.  I’m eating a dinner of the few perishables left in the house: 2 apples, left over birthday cake and milk. We are so ready to go – first a stop over to see my college BFF in the booming city of Saxapahaw, NC.  Then it’s off to the beach.

Oh, and here’s my new traveling tip: check out restaurant.com for the zip code you will be visiting before you leave.  If you are as lucky as I was, you will score gift certificates for a couple of places for mere pennies (thank you 90% off sale!) and maybe find a new favorite restaurant at your destination.

Au Revoir!

Weekend Road Trip

Last Friday as I was sitting at work I had the overwhelming feeling that we needed to get out of town.  Mark is working on the never-ending freelance project, the weather has been rainy and cool and we are still several weeks away from our “official” summer vacation. I had enough Marriott Rewards Points burning a hole in my pocket for a couple of nights stay so I started trying to figure out where we could go.  I wanted someplace only 2-3 hours away, a location that would be new(ish) to all of us and a place that was very kid friendly.  So after looking at the map and Marriott locations, I booked 2 nights in Pittsburgh. I have only been there once – for about 2 hours, and Mark hasn’t been there since before we met. I DM’d Kyle Roth on Twitter, a former Pburg resident and huge Steelers fan (brave man, living in Cleveland), for some ideas and within about 15 minutes I had a list of activities and recommended restaurants.  I love Twitter!

As soon as we a got home we threw together suitcases and hit the road. We were staying in the Shadyside neighborhood and arrived around 7:30. Despite all the great restaurants in the area and suggestions from friends on Twitter we ended up at Max & Erma’s.  I normally loathe chains, especially when traveling, but sometimes when it’s late, your kid is hungry and you are in a strange place  they are they easiest choice.  I will say that we briefly checked out a couple of other places which were either too busy (a wait for seating) or too fancy to take the girl before settling on M&E. After dinner we checked into our hotel where I had booked a king + sofa bed since it was the only thing available on-line.  I asked if they had any 2-bed rooms available and the desk clerk typed furiously on two different computers for a bit and finally said “I don’t have any 2-queen rooms, but why don’t I put you in a king suite? That way you can have your own room and your daughter can have the sofa bed in the living room.” SCORE!  The room was huge – kitchen/bar area, king bedroom and a living room.  I am so spoiled – this is really the ONLY way to travel with a kid for more then one night.

Saturday morning we got up, ate breakfast out of the food we brought and headed over to the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum to be there when it opened.  It is such a fun place!  I loved the Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood area …they have an actual sweater and pair of his shoes!  The whole place was great – especially the studio art area and the waterworks play area.  Mark and I were in awe of the fantastic re-use of the old buildings. We spent about 3 hours playing before we headed back to the hotel for a nap.  In the afternoon we headed over to The Strip area and strolled around. It is full of ethnic markets, knick-knacks shops, more ugly Steelers crap then you can imagine and lots of characters.  Unfortunately we got there just before most of the stores were closing.  Next trip we will go down on a Saturday morning to enjoy the markets. We checked out Kaya and while it looked very good, was not what we were in the mood for. So we headed back to Shadyside and went to Harris Grill (which was the one with the wait the night before); it’s been around since 1927 so we figured they were doing something right. They have an awesome patio and a menu filled with pub food – sandwiches and appetizers – exactly what we were after. The menu is very funny to peruse and Mark and I both got sandwiches with sides of mac & cheese.  Very good, hearty food and you gotta love a place that has “bacon night” when baskets of crispy bacon are free at the bar. They also had a great beer and cocktail list.  We were there early, but it had started to fill up when we left.
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PCM_climb

Today we got up and arrived at Pamela’s Restaurant right as it opened and it was already just about full.  I had the flapjacks and they were everything they are said to be. Yum!  I can see why they have devoted fans of those pancakes. By the time we left there was a line about 4 tables deep. We went back to the hotel, packed up and had plans to spend a good chunck of the day at the Duquesne Incline and downtown followed by lunch at either the Original Hot Dog Shop (aka The Dirty O) or Primanti Brothers (which is very much like what we can get at Panini’s in Cleveland) before heading home. But we packed up our car in a downpour and the skies were grey and rainy in all directions.  We decided to still do the incline (which M loved; the industriousness of the people who came up with that thing is amazing) and then since it was still rainy and grey we headed home.  Of course about 10 miles out of town the skies cleared and the sun came out.
Incline_View
Incline_Ride

All in all it was a great trip – lots to see and do, beautiful vistas and great food.  It’s a very easy drive and we will be going back soon, maybe for just a day trip. The only two negatives I can think of is 1) parking sucks everywhere and 2) you can’t go a block without seeing fugly Steelers junk for sale.

Of course on the way home we stopped at the new(ish) Sonic in Streetsboro and managed to spill not one, but TWO Diet Cokes all over the inside of my car. So getting home early allowed me time to scrub, wash and vacuum it all out. Welcome home!

Vegas, Baby

I just returned from my 4th work-paid Vegas trip in about 15 months.  Prior to these visits I had never been to the Sin City. I have learned a great many things on my recent adventures and I thought I would share.  Keep in mind that these observations are that of a Midwestern mom who was there for work, not some crazy party girl there on vacation.

  1. I’ve stayed at several very nice hotels on the Strip – Paris, The Venetian, Treasure Island, and the Bellagio.  And in my opinion Venetian wins for the nicest room.  Bellagio was a close second but the Venetian is all-suite so the room was enormous and it also gets bonus points for having a fantasic sit-down vanity in the bathroom (the TV in the bathroom didn’t hurt, either). Some people don’t care as much about the room since they spend all their time gambling and drinking; but for me the room is a big part of the trip (see #6).
  2. Vegas is hella-expensive.  I have never left one of my 30-hour trips without dropping about $200 on cabs, a drink or two and dinners.  My breakfast on Friday morning was an iced coffee and blueberry muffin which cost me almost $14. Drinks are $10+, dinners are easily $40 without drinks & tip, shows are over $100 a ticket.  Yes, you can get free drinks if you are gambling, but those servers don’t come around the penny and nickel slots too often.  Water from the gift shop is $3, Diet Cokes in the vending machine are $3, too (but the machines accept credit cards – how nice!). And there is no “running to the drugstore down the street” (see #7).
  3. People-watching is free and very entertaining.  Having cruised the Strip several times I can tell you that you see everything along the way.  It’s most fun when you have someone with a similar mind-set so you can play games like “fake or real?” & “hooker or girlfriend?”.
  4. The casinos are all pretty much the same – smoky, loud and easy to get lost in.  The Bellagio gets credit for being the cleanest and least smokey and the Venetian is the stinkiest since they pump in some perfume over the smoke – not a good mix. If you are people watching on the casino floor the Bellagio is fun for all the high-rollers and wanna-bes; you can get a good laugh from some of their antics.  The Luxor seems to have the seediest clientele and is also fun for people watching.  I’ve had the best slot luck at Paris and The Venetian.
  5. I think one of the most overlooked things to do is catch a lounge act.  There are some really good and some really cheesy cover bands playing the strip and both are equally entertaining. This is also a great place to people watch.  I think Paris is one of the best for a good free show and so far shows at the Bellagio & Luxor tend to be cheesy.
  6. There is nothing like ordering room service in Vegas.  Even if you just order a snack or dessert you get 5-star treatment. And kicking back in a king-sized bed while you open your remote controlled curtains to watch the Bellagio fountain show with a key lime bar and a Diet Coke on a white-cloth covered table is heaven.
  7. Wear comfortable shoes.  Leave the platform stripper heals to the 22 year olds and strap on some flip flops because that jaunt to the next casino will take you 20 minutes by foot.  Distances are deceptive in Vegas – you can leave the Venetian, walk for 10 minutes and…still be in front of the Venetian.
  8. You get pretty used to seeing girls in their hoochie-best at all hours of the day.  Add to this the truck-billboards of strippers and call girls and the people stationed every 10 feet along the sidewalk passing out cards with nude girls selling “girls to your room in 10 minutes!” and I am always shocked to see people pushing kids in strollers around.  There is no hiding the sex industry in Vegas, it’s not really a place for children.
  9. A trip to Fremont Street (AKA the old strip or downtown Vegas) is worth it. This is where you will get your $9.99 surf & turf dinner and see the lights of Vegas like you imagined.  It’s seedy, gritty and great.  The slots here play out in real coins, not with a voucher. I hear that the Pasta Pirate serves great food, but it’s always packed.
  10. Despite what you think, things are not all 24-hours a day in Vegas.  On my first trip we went to a show that ened around 10 PM.  We figured we could hit a buffet afterwards when we would be good and hungry. We walked through 3 casinos and every buffet and restaurant was closed!  We were starving and ended up eating at the Pyramid Café in the Luxor which was like eating a Denny’s for 4x the price.

So there you have it – my take on Vegas.  As my sister will tell you I really do think the best thing about the city is it’s great hotel rooms – I tend to call her to rub it in that I have a TV in the bathroom. I head back out there in the fall and meh – there is such a thing as too much time in Las Vegas.

Still Here

It’s been a ridiculous 24 days since my last post and just about every night I’ve felt like I should be writing but I haven’t wanted to bore you with my constant whines of “I wanna be pregnant and I’m not!”.  Because that is pretty much all that’s been on my mind.  And of course all I see are pregnant women EVERYWHERE.  And M has been telling everyone that she’s getting “a baby brudder from the hospital” which raises eyebrows and then I have to assure them – no, I’m not expecting…I swear.  So there’s that.  It’s been nearly 4 months since the miscarriage and I am ready…more then ready.

Moving on – vacation was great, but a bit rushed.  Mark got home from 4 days in San Francisco the evening before we left, then had to work during 2 of our vacation days.  However, M got to spend a ton of time with her cousin who lives in Florida so that was a major bonus.

ben_maggie

And now that the weather has gone from snow to 85 degrees in the space of 4 days our lives are filled with yardwork, outside play and exploring the area.  Today we ventured out to the South Chagrin Reservation Metropark to an area I read about here and discovered a wonderland stream perfect for playing.  Shallow, slow water, 2 little waterfalls, tons of fish and tadpoles and a flat (not rocky) riverbed begging to be waded on. We all had a great time and M got soaked.  We will be back there a lot this summer as it’s the kind of place you could just sit in the stream and play on a hot day.

river

river2

The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far

We are leaving for Hilton Head early Sunday morning to join my parents, brother and newphew for a week at the beach.  I remember as a kid we used to spend a week or two every summer at a little apartment on Clear Lake and our huge Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser station wagon would be packed to the seams, with the three of us kids and the dog fighting it out in the backseat.  I never imagined I would turn into my parents, and yet I just finished writing typing up a list that starts like this:

Camera
Chargers (phone & camera)
Floaties & life jacket
Bike helmet
Air mattress
Noodles
Golf clubs
Sand toys
DVD player & DVDs
Backseat toys & books
Diaper Bag
Snacks
Beach towels
Beach blanket
Beach umbrellas
Beach ball
Sunscreen…

(yes, I type my packing list – shut up)

Hopefully our smaller, modern station wagon will hold it all.

Housekeeping

I know I sound like a broken record, but if you haven’t yet please take a few seconds and vote for my entry over at the BOCA Balanced Living Challenge (my entry is 2nd, scroll all the way down to vote for Kate Davis).  The poll used for voting blocks entire location IPs so my office (and my husband’s office, and my mom’s office, etc) can only vote once. This means I need your help more then ever. Thanks!

*Updated to add: looks like you can log a second vote here.  So click over there for me, too!
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While you’re at it, go leave a comment over on this post for a chance to win a dining gift certificate in your area.
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The countdown is on – 3 weeks from today we will be in Hilton Head for a much needed vacation. 
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This past weekend it was sunny and 65 degrees.  If it snows again I reserve the right to cry like a litte girl.  We spent Sunday at the Maple Syrup Festival at Malabar Farm – a place that Mark & I frequented as kids.  It was the perfect day for it and M had a terrific time.  She was so well behaved and didn’t mind standing in lines to see things.  I think she liked the horses  and climbing around the woods the best.

rock

maple

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Finally – has anyone seen my baby? Because this big kid sure isn’t a baby anymore!

reading

Have to Get Away

Even though I’m a couple of days back at the daily grind I thought I’d tell you a little more about our vacation. Mark and I have been going to Hilton Head just about each of the last 8-9 years thanks to the generosity of my parents who own several weeks in time shares.  We have been very spoiled by vacationing to condos with 2-3 bedrooms and as many bathrooms and I now can’t imagine spending more then a couple of nights in a single hotel room with kids (I’m a brat, I know). Last year we drank the kool-aid and bought a week for ourselves.  We own at the Marriott Surf Watch and it’s fabulous.  This was our first trip with our week (I’ve been to this resort before with my parents) so it was great to confirm that we love our purchase.  

Since we’ve vacationed here so often we know what we love about the island and what we can skip.  This made for a very relaxing trip where the biggest decision was “pool or beach?”.  Our days pretty much consisted of letting M dig herself silly on the mostly deserted beach, going back to the condo for lunch and naps (which we all took, every day), swimming – some days outside, some days inside, dinner, then another jaunt to the beach for some more digging action.  

The great thing about the condos are the full kitchens and we stock ours for several meals in as soon as we arrive.  But, I can’t be near the ocean without indulging in as much fresh seafood as possible.  This trip with my diet restrictions (no drinking, ultra low-fat foods) I was worried about eating out but then remembered grilled or steamed fish and seafood is perfect.  Our first night we were too tired from the drive to think about making dinner in so we headed to a touristy spot that is a usual place for us to go: the Crazy Crab. This is a mecca for vacationers: casual, kid friendly, nothing fancy.  We usually go to the one in Harbour Town but this time we went to the one on the intercostal waterway and it was a beautiful view.  While their menu features everything fried there was a nightly special with grilled fish, shrimp and veggies that I ordered.  The food is okay, nothing special but perfect for a first night out.

Later in the week we took a recommendation from the staff and tried the Sea Shack.  We were told it was good, very fresh seafood at cheap prices and a local favorite.  The place was hard to find and when we did find it there was a line 20 deep.  “No way” we said, then discovered that it was a few minutes before 5:00 and it wasn’t open.  We change our tune; “Must be a good place!” and get in line.  We wait about 25 minutes before we even get inside.  The place is small – maybe 15 tables and very, very unpretentious.  There is a board with all the fresh catch selections along with the standard fare.  Everything can be grilled, fried or blackened and comes with 2 sides and hush puppies.  I order grilled scallops at the counter and snag one of the last empty tables, Mark gets blackened shrimp and we get M the kiddie popcorn shrimp meal.  Add in drinks and and piece of blueberry-keylime pie to go and the total is about $30.  I wasn’t expecting much but I got a dozen good-sized scallops that were cooked perfectly, a huge serving of parmesan mashed potatoes and salad – all for $11!  Everything is served on disposable plates with plastic utensils.  Like I said, not fancy but oh so good and cheap. When we left there was still a line 20 deep out the door.

Our last night there Mark chose the restaurant and we headed to Captain Woody’s at Palmetto Bay Marina.  We had never been to this part of the island before and will most likely go back.  It seems like a very fun place to hang out and have a few beers on a nice night.  The night we were there it was chilly and pouring rain so no beers at the outdoor bar for us.  Instead we ate inside listening to the chatter of all the regulars at the bar.  The menu was decent but didn’t have much to offer with my low-fat needs.  I ended up with grilled grouper and Mark had the shrimp po’boy. M had PB&J and cottage cheese and a few cocktail shrimp. I wouldn’t say this place was exceedingly kid friendly but that might be different on a warmer night sitting on the patio.  Next spring when we go with family this would be a great place to head when we can leave the kid at home with grandparents.

Rounding out our trip was the ubiquitous trip to Harbour Town and South Beach (we had to get M a Salty Dog shirt) and a rainy day visit to the Sandbox – a new find.  

As usual a trip to the low country left us relaxed and recharged.  A stop over in Saxapahaw to see Lindsay on the way home was icing on the cake.

Back to Reality

We are back from vacation and I have to say that this past week was about 10x more relaxing and fun then I ever thought a vacation with a 2 year old could be.  A lot of that has to do with my awesome hubby who did the abundance of chores while we were there (laundry, dishes, etc.) and who let me sleep in every single morning.  A lot also has to do with the BEACH – there is no better place on earth to let a toddler wear herself out then on a nearly empty beach on a warm day.  I’ll post more soon, including pictures; but if you are looking for a great place to take little ones all I can say is head to the shore.