Just a little bit further…

Win the materials to make your own road trip activity kit.  Keep reading for details.

By:  Kelly Driver

In the coming week, We Travelers Three will be hitting the road.  We have planned a Southern Ohio “Staycation” and can’t wait to pack up and take off to explore some great family friendly sites right here in Ohio.  

We don’t go on road trips that often, the farthest we’ve gone was to Grand Haven, Michigan and back, but we do make the 4-hour trip to the Detroit area pretty often.  This trip to Hocking Hills and Cincinnati is only a couple of hours but it got me to thinking about ways to keep the little ones occupied while on a longer road trip. 
The obvious solution is a portable DVD player or hand-held gaming system however I wanted to find some other options, using the electronic variety as a last resort.
One fun activity to get the kids excited about the road trip as well as feel part of the planning is to have them help you create a Playlist of some favorite songs for the initial departure period.  Throw in some songs about driving, road trips or songs about places you’ll be going through as well as your destination (if you can find some).
A few that we have found in our collection:
1.   On The Road Again – Willie Nelson (an obvious choice)
2.   Life Is A Highway – Rascal Flatts (from the CARS Soundtrack)
3.   East Bound and Down – Jerry Reed (from Smokey and the Bandit)
If you would like to get this Road Trip Playlist all the songs can be found on iTunes.

We’ve mixed these songs in with some Disney Princesssongs,  Imagination Movers, Backyardigans and others of Sydney’s choice.
Since our trip is only a couple hours we want to try to make the playlist last as long as our drive.
After figuring out some of the songs I decided to find some ideas that would work for us and other families for longer road trips.  With the cost of airfare on the rise families are opting for road trips which means finding things for the kids to do.
I found a lot of great ideas but some of the best were from Disney’s Family Fun June/July 2012 issue.  
In an article titled “Are We There Yet?” the author Charlotte Meryman compiled the top 10 readers’ ideas for keeping things playful and stress-free on the road.
All the ideas were great but there were three that really stood out to me and I think that we will try out on this short road trip.

Instant Lap Desk
Photo:  Mark Mantegna

“Every summer our family makes the 17-hour drive from Ohio to New Hampshire,” says Cincinnati native Amanda Nobbe, mom of a 3-year-old and a toddler.  “We travel with cookie sheets and a plastic tote filled with playthings. Easily held on a lap, a cookie sheet can be used as a surface for coloring, playing with magnets and Bendaroos, or holding a snack. It’s an inexpensive alternative to a car-seat lap desk, and when it’s not in use, it fits in the back pocket of the seat.”

Hunt For Fun

Photo:  Steven Vote
Amy Malaise of Petaluma, California, helps her kids explore their vacation destinations with a scavenger hunt prepared in advance. She glues pictures of the items they’re looking for onto index cards (one apiece), then laminates the cards, punches a hole in one corner, and hooks them on a ring for portability. Items vary with the destination but might include nature finds, landmarks, public art, or eye-catching buildings. “You can use your own photos if you have visited the spot before,” she says, “or look on the Internet for information about the place.”

and my favorite…

Souvenir Ornament

Photo:  Steven Vote
The Brunicardis of Galloway, Ohio, have found a clever way to savor vacation memories: they preserve small mementos from each trip, such as ticket stubs and nature finds, in an inexpensive, clear plastic ornament ball. Each Christmas, they’re reminded of all the great places they’ve been.

I would love to hear some of the ways that you entertain your kids on road trips, whether travel songs or activities.  Leave a comment and be entered to win the materials to make your own lap desk, scavenger hunt book and souvenir ornament.   I’ll do a random drawing on or around August 20th.

New York City Day 1, part 2

By:  Tom Driver
As with the other post about our trip to New York, the following post is taken from a letter I wrote to Sydney in April. 
Cross this one of your bucket list  
While we were planning the trip, we decided to use one of the activity vouchers from our hotel for a carriage ride through Central Park.  This is something your mother has always wanted to do but during all her visits, and even while she lived here, she never took a carriage ride through the park.  Since we were fairly close to one of the pick-up spots we decided to take advantage of the ride now instead of waiting a few days. 
You cuddled up next to Momma on one side of the carriage and I sat on the other side taking pictures.  We had so much fun and your mom was so happy to be riding in a horse drawn carriage in Central Park with us I think I saw a few tears of joy in those beautiful eyes of hers.  After our ride you were allowed to feed our horse.  Sultan was a big, beautiful, black horse and the ride package includes a picture opportunity of the kids feeding carrots to the horses.  You were a little hesitant to get close at first, but after a little encouragement you reached up and let Sultan take the carrot out of your hand. 
“This is where Buddy’s Daddy works”
From the carriage ride, we took the subway to the Empire State Building.  We were going up to the observation deck on the 86thfloor.  That is a long way up but the view is spectacular.  At first you didn’t seem very enthusiastic about going up to the building where Buddy’s dad (from the movie Elf) works.  Who knows, maybe you were wearing down from a very busy, exciting, action packed day.  We had to wait a few minutes before we could go all the way up to observation deck and you were beginning the “I’m tired, boneless body flop”.  When we made it onto the observation deck it was still a little crowded and you seemed to get a little more energized.  I lifted you onto my shoulders so you could have a better view but the security guards informed us that move was against the rules.  But, instead of being jerks, they very kindly walked us over to the areas along the wall that only come up to about three few so little ones can see too.  Each side of the deck had these low points, and people were considerate enough to let you walk up to the front.  “Considerate”, “kindly” yes, I did use those words to describe people in New York City. 
I think you had fun at the Empire State Building, but it definitely wasn’t the most fun you had that day.  You seemed just as excited to be able to chew gum on the elevator to help your ears pop as you were to look out over New York City.  In fact, from that point on during our trip, every time you got on an elevator you asked if it was an elevator that would make your ears pop and if you could have another piece of gum.  That seems to be one of your lasting memories from your visit to the Empire State Building.  I love going up to the 86thfloor.  I like it enough I paid another $15 to go up to the viewing area on the 102nd floor.  Sadly, that observation area is small, hot and fully enclosed, so it wasn’t the thrill I was hoping for.  I wanted to feel the wind in my face and feel the building sway but I felt neither of those sensations so I know to save my money next time. 
Love the singing, but I’d love it even more if someone could manage to bring me my beer! 
After the Empire State it was time for dinner.  Mom found a diner near our hotel where the service staff is comprised of aspiring Broadway performers that sing and dance for everyone when they’re not serving.  It was a fun place and we caught you moving and grooving to the beat during a few of the songs.  The food was average, at best, and we could tell waiting tables was near the bottom of our waiter’s list of priorities.  However, we ordered a slice of chocolate cake and a slice of red velvet cake to take back to our room for dessert. 
A new WT3 tradition…eating cake in bed at the hotel. 
The memories of the three of us sharing cake from the diner are some of my favorites from the trip.  It was the end of a great day and we were having so much fun sitting on the bed in our room laughing and talking about the day while sharing some yummy cake.  At least, your mom and I were sharing, you were joking that the red velvet cake was all yours, and you very nearly ate the whole thing by yourself, but you also shared a few pieces.  You’re such a kind, well mannered kid – another reason mom and I think you’re the best thing ever. 
At last it was time for bed and you were very excited to have a whole big bed to yourself.  This is the first time all three of us shared a hotel room together.  In the past, we booked rooms where there was at least one bedroom set apart from the rest of the room where you could sleep with some privacy and your mom and I could stay up a little longer, if we chose.  Not this time, all three of us were in bed with lights out by 9 PM that night.  Honestly, I didn’t mind because it had been a long day and we all needed the rest. 
Our trip is off to a great start were all having a wonderful time – having big family fun together in the Big Apple. 

New York City Day 1, part 1

By:  Tom Driver

The following post is taken from a letter I wrote to Sydney in April.  I started writing her letters as a way to keep a journal for our family.  I haven’t been as diligent with the project as I’d like but I plan to use We Travelers Three as a way to make it a habit. 
NYC, March 2012
As I mentioned in yesterday’s letter, our family went to New York City last week to celebrate your mother’s 40thbirthday.  Since this is one of our family’s “big events” in 2012, I thought I’d spend some time recounting the trip for you while it’s fresh in my mind. 
Let me start off by answering the question, “Why did we choose to visit New York City?”  New York City (NYC) is one of your mother’s favorite places in the whole world.  It’s easily her absolute favorite city.  A few months ago, she and I talked about how to celebrate her milestone birthday.  I was planning on throwing her a big party and inviting everyone she knew.  She didn’t like that idea very much, however, and here’s why; 1) she wouldn’t be able to spend any real time with anybody because she would feel obligated to talk with everyone at the party, 2) a party that size would likely cost as much, or more, than a trip, and 3) she couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than spending time with her two favorite people.  “Who would that be?” I asked.  Since I know you are her favorite person I was more curious about whom the second person would be.  For a moment, I thought I’d be paying for you and Aunt Jan to go with Momma on her birthday trip, but luckily she said it was me.  There may be another reason your mom wanted to take you to NYC for her birthday, I need to confirm this with her, but this was actually your second trip to New York.  I don’t want to you to get all “Eww, gross Daddy!” or anything, but you were conceived in a Times Square hotel room after your mother and I saw a Broadway show entitled “Monty Python’s The Holy Grail” about five years and five months before this trip.  For your mother and me, it’s just one more reason the city is so special. 
One fortunate coincidence was that Momma’s birthday was the same week your preschool was on Spring Break.  The best part of the timing of the trip, at least for me, is that I was able to miss some very boring and usually pointless meetings at work that happen twice a year.  I was so happy to see those meetings scheduled for the same week as our trip.  Plus, I didn’t miss any games from the college basketball tournament – first time since I decided to marry a woman whose birthday is March 29th
New York City, Here I Come!
We decided to leave for NYC Tuesday morning, March 27th.  I can’t believe you are not yet five years old but this was your fourth round trip flight; I was in my late twenties before I’d flown four times.  Quote of the trip so far came out of your mouth when we started walking towards the jet way to board the plane, “New York City, here I come!”.  You made everyone in earshot smile with that one; it was pretty damn cute.  After landing at La Guardia airport and taking a marathon shuttle ride into the city, we arrived at our hotel early Tuesday afternoon, The Manhattan at Times Square; located at 52ndStreet and 7th Avenue.  The hotel was pretty nice and you were especially excited by two things; 1) there were two double beds and we let you jump/dive from one to the other (you must have done that 1,000 times), 2) our room was on the 17thfloor so you would look at the window onto 7th Avenue and say a quote from the movie A Bug’s Life, “from way up here you all look like little ants”.  Momma reminded you of that quote, but you quickly made it your own.  It seemed like you would alternate between jumping from bed to bed and “you all look like little ants” again and again and again.  Your mother and I didn’t mind because you were having so much fun; well, I should be honest and say we didn’t mind enough to make you stop.
We got settled in the room and then we headed down to the streets of Manhattan for a quick little lunch and then a subway ride to the Central Park Zoo.  You ate your first NYC hotdog from a street vendor and had your first subway ride in the span of about twenty minutes.  Your mother was excited by both events, and you were too.  Not once during the whole trip do you ever seem to be bothered by the noise or commotion of the city.  In fact, I think it got your adrenaline flowing.  But that’s not too surprising since it does the same thing to your mom and me.  Most importantly, you were a great listener the whole trip.  I don’t remember having to ask you twice to either hold my hand, or hold onto the rail in the subway – you insisted on standing up during nearly every ride – or to stay close by. 
First Visit to the Central Park Zoo 
Visiting the Central Park Zoo was one of the things you definitely wanted to do on this trip.  You learned about this zoo from the Madagascar animated movies that star a lion, hippopotamus, giraffe, and zebra.  These animals were the stars of the Central Park Zoo until, through a series of zany movie mishaps; they found themselves in the actual African island country of Madagascar.  We started to remind you the real Central Park Zoo doesn’t actually have a lion, hippopotamus, giraffe, or zebra.  You responded with something like, “of course they don’t, they’re in Madagascar”.  I should have seen that one coming.  
A pool with five sea lions is in the middle of a seating area at the opening of the zoo.  We spent some time there getting our bearings and enjoying the graceful movement of the sea lions.  I haven’t seen many things in nature that seem more effortless and, well, natural than a sea lion swimming through the water.  From there we moved on to the penguin and sea bird building.  The penguins were being fed while we were there and they were so much fun to watch.  We laughed as they swiftly dove under the water to catch their fish, and we were amazed when one seemed to jump right out of the water onto the shore.  Penguins always seem to be having a great time.  Have you ever seen an angry penguin? 
After saying goodbye to the playful penguins we began our search for the polar bear and the snow leopard.  The big cats are some of your favorite animals so we were really hoping to catch a glimpse of this notoriously elusive animal.  Unfortunately, both the polar bear and snow leopard were not prepared for visitors at the moment.  The polar bear was sleeping behind rock and the leopard was completely out of sight.  Both animals had spacious, multi-level living areas and they were making use of the spaces away from the public’s prying eyes. 
We moved onto the crane and antelope exhibits, but neither animal held your attention long so we walked over to the red panda enclosure.  You were very excited to see these animals since the red pandas at the Columbus Zoo are always hiding.  The red pandas at the Central Park Zoo are very easy to see and Momma was able to get some great pictures.  Next up was the turtle pond and then we observed snow monkeys grooming one another. 
Is this an escaped peacock? 
Upon entering the Tropic Zone, a building that houses reptiles, exotic birds and monkeys, we were greeted by a wandering green and blue peacock.  The beautiful bird allowed you to get very close before another group of visitors walked in and the peacock decided it was time to move on.  The Tropic Zone had many wonderfully odd animals.  I remember a very large toad, a great display of bats where visitors could see them in motion instead of just hanging from the ceiling, and some cotton-headed tamarins.  Apparently, these monkeys were on an episode of Wild Krattsand I was so impressed you remembered their actual name without any help. 
Mission Accomplished! 
After exploring all the displays in the Tropic Zone we headed back to try our luck with the snow leopard and the polar bear.  As we approached the viewing area for the leopard I caught a glimpse of the pacing animal at the very top of its enclosure.  The area was sloped and the leopard was at the very top and back of the enclosure along the fence line.  We were patient, hoping for a better view, and our patience paid off because after several minutes the leopard finally decided to show itself.  The animal made its way down the small hill, moving very slowly and deliberately.  You were so excited to see a real, live snow leopard!  I hoisted you up on my shoulders so that you could see above the other guests that were steadily walking into the viewing area.  I guess word spreads fast when the leopard comes out of hiding.  I’m so happy we were lucky enough to observe the beautiful snow leopard, the animal at the top of your day’s wish list. 
We said goodbye to the snow leopard and decided to see if our luck would carry over to the polar bear.  As we walked around the corner to the first viewing area the giant was sitting right in front of the window.  My goodness, the adult polar bear is a huge animal.  Since the bear was lying down and somewhat curled up, we couldn’t determine just how big it was, but its head and paws were enormous.  Next time we visit our zoo, we’ll have to look at the exhibit with the cardboard cutouts of the different bears standing on their hind legs.  I know the polar bear is the biggest of all the bears, but I can’t remember how tall it actually measures standing on its hind legs. 

We had a great time at the Central Park Zoo and I’m so glad we were lucky enough to see the snow leopard and polar bear.  It would have been fun regardless, but seeing those two animals was awesome.  

Toledo Expenses

By:  Kelly Driver
While reading books and articles for research on traveling as a family, I have noticed one major piece of information is missing from each and every source I have looked at.  It happens to be the one piece of information that I have the most questions about and that I wish someone would tell me about…money.
How much does all of this cost?  A lot of the families, who either give up their “normal” lives for a life on the road, or the families who are just vacationing once or twice a year, never tell us what they do for a living, how much they make and what the individual trips actually cost.
We want to help other families to be able to travel and expose their children to different cultures and experiences and one of the only ways to do that is to honestly share the financial information.
Our most recent experience was a mini-vacation in Toledo, OH.  This was not a pre-planned or pre-budgeted vacation for us so we knew we had to keep costs down.  We did a pretty good job.
Gas for our vehicle.  This obviously will depend on your vehicle and the distance you are driving.  We came from Hilliard, OH which was 144 miles (2 hours, 34 minutes) one-way.
Lunch on the road at Wendy’s
The Park Inn for 1 night.  This includes a 6.75% state tax, 10% city tax and parking in the underground parking garage.  Also, since I am a Travel Agent we were able to get the Travel Agent Rate.  My brother however got an almost identical rate by using Priceline.com.
Imagination Station  Free with our COSI membership.  We have the Individual + Guest membership which costs us $75 a year.
Simulator Ride at Imagination Station
Dinner at Packo’s at the Park with tip (approximate).  Paid in cash and can’t find the receipt.
Tickets to the Toledo Mudhens Game
Souvenirs baseball hat for Sydney
Beer and Snacks at the park (approximate).  Paid in cash and don’t have receipts.
Room service breakfast at hotel
Food at Subway for lunch at the Zoo
Toledo Zoo parking
Toledo Zoo admission. Admission was 50% off since we are Columbus Zoo members.  Our family membership to the Columbus Zoo is $94.00 a year.

Because I am a travel agent and we have memberships to COSI and the Columbus Zoo we were able to cut our costs.  Below are prices and links for the places we visited if you don’t have reciprocal memberships.

  • Park Inn Toledo (1 night stay) with parking ($11.00):  $145.26
  • Imagination Station:  $9.50 for adults, $7.50 for kids 3-12, $8.50 for seniors
  • Toledo Mudhens:  $9.00-$12.00 per seat
  • Toledo Zoo:  Parking $6.00, $14.00 for adults, $11 for children 2-11 and seniors (March-October), $7.00 for adults, $5.50 for children 2-11 and seniors (January – February & November – December)
So there you have it.  With travel agent and reciprocal membership discounts we spent $327.66 for hotel, meals and entertainment for three people in Toledo, OH.  I can’t wait to share the cost of our upcoming Southern Ohio staycation.  It is going to blow your mind!

Toledo, part 3- The Toledo Zoo

By:  Tom Driver

Room Service is AWESOME!
After putting Sydney to bed Kelly and I decided to take advantage of room service for breakfast.  The Park Inn offered very comparable prices to what one would find at Bob Evans.  Plus, we thought Sydney would get a kick out of having breakfast in bed.  Too bad she was totally indifferent when the food arrived the next morning (insert sarcasm here).  Ordering room service had another, previously unforeseen, advantage; the knock on the door kept us all from over sleeping. 

GOOGLE MAPS; I think we should have turned back there.

Our family of three left the Park Inn on our way to the Toledo Zoo – yes, they have a zoo – and decided to use Google Maps on Kelly’s iPhone for directions.  Kelly swears Google Maps works great whenever she needs to find her way around town for an outing with Sydney.  However, there have been a few times when I’ve been with them when we used GM and had questionable results.   I’ve never been instructed to drive into a lake.   But this morning GM thought we should find the Toledo Zoo by driving right past the customer parking entrance off SR 25 South.  Normally, we would have used our common sense and turned into the lot.  But since this has happened before I wanted to see where GM would take us.  Here we go:  1) drive past the entrance for the Toledo Zoo parking lot,  2) turn left into a neighborhood, 3) after a half mile turn left again, 4) make one more left, 5) make a right, and finally 6) make a left into the same parking entrance I’d driven past five minutes earlier.  The lesson?  When common sense and Google Maps disagree, always go with common sense. 

Toledo does have zoo and it’s pretty nice
I joked in my first blog about this trip about not even knowing Toledo had a zoo – I stand corrected.  Toledo has a great zoo and I anticipate a repeat visit for We Travelers Three.  Our membership to the Columbus Zoo afforded us half off the admission of $14 for adults and $11 for children under 11; rates vary according to season.  Unfortunately, we still had to pay $6 to park. 
We started our visit with a stop at the Arctic Encounter to see the Polar Bears and Seals.  The main building has several interactive exhibits the kids really enjoyed.  There was also a little nook to view the polar bears that Sydney loved because it was “just her size”.  Of course, we had to get the obligatory picture in front of the polar bear cut out.  We have a few of those pics from trips to the Columbus Zoo. 

There is a mini safari in the Africa section, which housed giraffes, zebras, wildebeest, and several other animals.  There is a viewing area of the savannah, near the spot where one can feed the giraffes (reservations required), but we found the best way to experience the exhibit is by train.  For non-members, there is a charge of  $2 per rider.  But it’s worth the extra money because it’s the only way to view all the animals in the exhibit plus every child likes to ride the train.  Although one doesn’t see many animals from the train at the Columbus Zoo, Sydney still wants to ride it every single time we visit.  Every Single Time! 

We left the north side of the zoo and walked across the bridge into the Historic Side.  The main attraction is Tembo Trail.  Our zoo guides, Scott and Jaime, informed us Tembo Trail opened just a few months ago; May 18th to be exact.  It looks great.  We strolled by Tigers, Asian Sloth Bears – which walked right up to Sydney and her cousin Sammi – Camels, Hippos, Crocodiles, Rhinos, and Elephants, including the new baby Lucas, among others.  The enclosures for each animal make it very easy for everyone to get a great view.

Sydney loved the Hippo exhibit because she could see the hippos underwater and above the water when they came up for air.  I was grateful I didn’t have to lift Sydney onto my shoulders once during our trip; a welcome change compared to our zoo visits at home.  It was already 90+ degrees at 11 AM and we were all lathered up in sunscreen – not the best conditions for walking around with a five year old on your shoulders. 

It’s So Hot!
After lunch we watched orangutans try their best to stay cool.  One of the zookeepers was standing on a platform near the top of the enclosure with a hose and the two orangutans couldn’t get enough.  They had climbed up the fence in an attempt to get the zookeeper to give them a shower with the hose.  They took turns trying to block the stream of the water with their bodies while occasionally trying to get a drink from the hose.  It was a great scene but the best part was that the zookeeper was actually trying to fill a kiddie pool that was on the ground, about 10 feet below the platform and impromptu shower.  She would move the hose to the left trying to get a clear shot of the pool, but an orangutan would move in front of the stream.  So she’d move the hose to the right and the orangutan would follow.  No matter where this poor woman moved the hose one of the animals would slide in front.  If the zookeeper was getting frustrated she never let it show.  It was fun for the growing crowd of spectators gathered below.  We also toured the Museum of Science where Sydney enjoyed exploring all the attractions; the secret passage behind the bookcase was a big hit. 
It wasn’t long before the heat was getting too much for our group as it was for the orangutans.  We decided to call it a day because everyone was beginning to wear down.  Had it been a cooler day we would’ve taken time to walk through the many gardens along the back of the south side of the zoo.  No worries, though.  We’ll make sure to tour the gardens during a future visit.

A Pleasant Surprise
The Toledo trip was one pleasant surprise after another.  I’d never spent any time in Toledo because I foolishly didn’t think there was any reason too.  I offer my sincerest apologies to all Toledoans.  Admittedly, I didn’t know what to expect from this excursion but now we’re thinking of making it an annual event.  We Travelers Three highly recommend a family visit to our northern border city; it’s close, it’s easy on the budget and everyone will have fun.  We’re sure you’ll come away pleasantly surprised too. 
We Travelers Three are always happy to answer any questions or provide additional details on any of our trips.  You can reach us on Twitter, Facebook, or just post a comment on any of our blogs.  

Toledo, part 2 – The Mudhens Game

By:  Tom Driver
Happy 4th of July
We left the Imagination Station around 4:30 PM and after a quick stop at the hotel we began the short walk over to Packo’s at the Park for our pre-game dinner.  Located on South Superior Street near the corner of Washington St, the restaurant is literally across the street from the first base side of Fifth Third Field.  We arrived at Packo’s at 5:00 PM but the game didn’t start until 7:05 PM.  We didn’t have any trouble getting a table for our party of twelve.  Kelly’s Mom and Dad, along with long time family friends Dan and Elaine drove in from Detroit to join us for the game.  Tony Packo started the restaurant in 1932.  Mr. Packo was born in East Toledo in 1908 to Hungarian immigrants and opened his first restaurant after receiving a $100 loan from relatives.  The restaurant is just one of the several Packo’s located around Toledo and was made famous in 1976 when Corporal Max Klinger, played by native Toledoan Jamie Farr, mentioned Packo’s by name during an episode of M*A*S*H. 
Tony Packo’s at the Park
The restaurant is famous for hot dogs, pickles and peppers, and is a regular part of Scott and Jaime’s visits to Toledo for Mud Hens games.  Based on their recommendation, I ordered the Chili Mac and Tony Packo Hot Dog Combo.  The Chili Mac is actually beef chili spread over dumplings with cheddar cheese sprinkled on top.  It was delicious and my stomach would have been satisfied with just the chili mac and the side of cole slaw.  However, I’d been hearing about Tony Packo’s hot dogs all day so I was compelled to eat the hot dog and it lived up to the hype.  Kelly ordered the chicken chili and hot dog combo, and Sydney had regular mac and cheese.  Both enjoyed their meals very much, although Sydney said the mac and cheese is good, but not as good as Dirty Frank’s, a hot dog joint in downtown Columbus.  According to Sydney, Dirty Frank’s has the best mac and cheese in the world. 
Everyone enjoyed his or her meal and the service was very good.  I recommend arriving at least 90 minutes before first pitch to insure you’ll have enough time to be seated and enjoy your meal without missing a minute of the game. 
Fifth Third Field
Fifth Third Field is a modern ballpark, opened in 2002, and according to Scott, used as a model for Huntington Park in Columbus, home of the Clippers.  Oddly enough, Columbus was the visiting team for tonight’s game.  We paid $30 for three tickets in section 119, which is along the first base line half way between first base and the right field wall.  Like most of the smaller ballparks, there really isn’t a bad seat and we would have been out of the sun by around 8:00PM.  But the best part of Fifth Third Field, from the perspective of a parent with a child not likely to be enthralled with the action on the field, is the Kid’s Play Area located behind the wall in center field. 
Play Area
Fifth Third Field is extremely kid-friendly because they set up picnic tables along the outfield concourse.  Whenever the game is not a sellout, anyone can opt to sit at a picnic table instead of their original seat, and there’s no extra charge.  Our plan was to grab two tables right next to the play area and, because we walked in around 6:15, we were successful.  There are restrooms and a concession stand behind the play area so we had everything we needed, plus a nice view of the game from center field. 
The announcer stated the game time temperature was 97 degrees and, of course, the sun was setting behind home plate.  This meant our chosen picnic table seats were in direct sun light until after 9PM.  Had it not been for the occasional clouds early, and then the threatening storm clouds later, it could have been a miserable night.  But with the few stray clouds and occasional breeze, it wasn’t so bad.  With the giant wall separating the play area from the field, the kids are protected from the sun, as well as the occasional home run ball.  There actually was a home run in the third inning that hit the roof at the base of the wall, had it come another ten feet to the right I might have had a chance to catch it.  No such luck, although I did catch a squishy souvenir ball in the sixth inning.  It sailed over the four guys standing along the railing right into my hands.  I turned around and handed it to Sydney, who then cocked her arm to throw it back onto the field.  It looked almost exactly like this:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IqTIy7Tt4iE.  I stopped her before it left her fingers so she still has her souvenir. 
Silly Grandpa
The game itself wasn’t very interesting.  We tried to keep ourselves entertained by dressing up Kelly’s dad.  Columbus was ahead 3-1 after the first inning, and then put the game away in the third inning by adding another six runs.  At one point early in the game the Toledo fans started booing one of the Columbus players as he walked towards the batter’s box for his first at-bat of the night.  I thought this guy must have started a fight the last time these teams met or mocked the Mud Hens’ mascot or something along those lines.  I learned during every game a player from the visiting team is selected and if he strikes out the fans win free fries from McDonalds or whatever.  I felt bad for the poor schmuck.  I wonder if the players are told before the game of this “honor”.  Do they notice they’re being booed or do they even care?  It made me think of the Simpson’s episode “Homer at the Bat” when Bart and Lisa heckle Darryl Strawberry and the last scene shows Strawberry with a tear in his eye.  I wish I could find a clip of that scene but no such luck.  Baseball promotions can be “interesting”.  Kelly and I attended a Montgomery Biscuits minor league game a few years ago.  They fired fresh, hot, buttermilk biscuits to the crowd out of a tee-shirt cannon. 
Playset at park
I originally put the over/under on Sydney wanting to leave the game and head back to the hotel room at three innings.  I was wrong, she spent the entire evening playing and making new friends in between water breaks and snacking on ice cream and popcorn.  She may have watched a total of half an inning’s worth of baseball over the three hours we spent at Fifth Third Field.  I really wish Huntington Park had installed a kid’s play area.  Kelly and I would opt to attend a few more Clippers games if they had, otherwise, Sydney wouldn’t last more than an inning or two if she had to stay in her seat and actually watch the game.  We took my nephew Sam to a Clippers game several years ago and we only stayed long enough for him to sample every snack the Clippers sold.  We left after 2 and two-thirds innings. 
Since there were plenty of family members to keep an eye on Sydney and her cousin Sammi as they played, Kelly and I took the opportunity to stroll around the ballpark during the game.  I like minor league parks because no matter where you are on the concourse, you’re likely to have a good view of the game; Fifth Third Field is no different.  As with most sports venues, however, concessions are way over priced.  The prices for beer started at $4.50 for a small Bud Light and ended at $9.50 for a large Yuengling.  If you are a Yuengling fan you’ll be in luck, they have their own cart on the main concourse and Kelly was happy to see it after trying a shandy from a local brewer offered in the Coop-A-Cabana bar.  She took two sips and threw it out.  Here’s a $7.50 tip, don’t try the shandy at the Coop-A-Cabana bar at Fifth Third Field. 
Before the start of the 8th inning the ushers starting asking people to leave the picnic table area because it has to be clear before the post game fireworks begin.  The fireworks shoot off from Monroe Street between the ballpark and the Park Inn.  Our group chose to return to our original seats for the fireworks.  However, no longer able to run around and play, Sydney asked to go back to our hotel room.  After a full three hours in the sun and heat, Kelly and I were more than happy to oblige. 
The game was still finishing up when we made it back to our room.  As we looked at the window we could see the fireworks set up along Monroe Street.  While Kelly took Sydney into the shower to clean up before bedtime, I slid a chair over to the window and watched the end of the game and the seven local firework shows going off around the city.  A few minutes later I noticed the lights shut off at the ballpark and ran to the bathroom to let the girls know the show was about to begin. 
“Oh my goodness!”  Sydney yelled as she walked out and saw the fireworks exploding right in front of our window.  I’ve never seen a fireworks display from this vantage point and “awesome” doesn’t begin to describe it.  As the eruptions of color and sound went off during the 10+ minute show we kept thinking sparks were going to hit our window.  Normally, the “loud booms,” as she calls them, scare Sydney but she was thoroughly entranced by the display and didn’t even flinch.  I think being in the room made her feel safe.  I remembered leaving fireworks at the Magic Kingdom just two months ago because the “loud booms” scared her. 
Just after the fireworks ended at the ballpark, the Toledo city fireworks began right behind our hotel over the Maumee River.  We realized if had we stayed in room 905 across the hall we would have had a great view from that room’s window.  I could see the lights on the sides of the buildings as I watched the clean up begin on Monroe Street. 
Our family had such a great time at the Imagination Station, the Mud Hens game and watching the post game fireworks from our hotel we talked about making this a Fourth of July tradition.  However, we’ll change one thing – next year we’ll see if we can secure rooms 904 and 905.  This way, we can watch the Mud Hens fireworks, and then run across the hall and take in the city fireworks.  

Toledo, part 1 – Imagination Station

By:  Tom Driver
For the last few years Kelly and I have been trying to coordinate a quick, fun trip with her brother Scott and his family; they live just north of Detroit.  After trading a few ideas we settled on meeting them in Toledo over the July 4thholiday.  I was a bit skeptical on the location choice. 
“We’re planning a trip to Toledo?”  I asked, somewhat incredulously, a second time. 
“Yes, we’re planning a trip to Toledo and it’s going to be fun.  On the 4th we’re going to the Imagination Station and then the Mud Hens game against the Columbus Clippers.  On Thursday we’re going to the Toledo Zoo.”  As usual, Kelly had worked out the details months ago. 
“Toledo has a zoo?” 
Admittedly, I don’t know much about the fourth largest city in Ohio.  I vaguely remember something from my seventh grade state history class about a war between Michigan and Ohio over the rights to the land.  Naturally, The State of Ohio beat Michigan (whatever the reference, those words never get old) and our prize was Toledo, and something about the Great Lakes and shipping channels. 
For over 20 years I’ve driven round-trip from Columbus to Detroit on average four times a year, and when Kelly and I were first dating I made the drive at least once a month.  I’ve stopped in Toledo on only two occasions.  Once was for a rendezvous with Kelly where time was limited and the second was the result of car trouble.  I didn’t take the time to “see the sights” on either occasion. 
After leaving our dog Cori with my parents Wednesday morning I realized I’d made a terrible mistake.  I broke a rule about traveling with children in that I forgot to put Sydney’s backpack in the car with the rest of the luggage.  Inside were her coloring books, nighttime books and some other toys intended to entertain her during our two-hour drive.  It didn’t take long for my mistake to become a tragedy.  Thankfully, Sydney brought her Tag reader and books.  I highly recommend the Tag reader for a couple reasons.  The first is it’s portable and we take it with us on any trip over 20 minutes, and the second reason is the educational benefits; check out their website and you’ll see what I mean.  Sydney loves her Tag books and as a parent, I’d vote for the Tag reader over video games every time.  Unfortunately, Sydney’s interest in her Tag books waned after an hour and, although we put it off for as long as we could, we let her play games and watch videos on Kelly’s iPhone. 
We arrived at the hotel around 1:00 PM and I experienced the first, of what would be many, pleasant surprises.  The hotel, the Park Inn is right across the street from Fifth Third Field, home of the Toledo Mud Hens, triple A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers.  Scott and his wife, Jaime, make regular trips to Toledo and have stayed at the Park Inn several times.  They are usually able to secure a rate of $40-$50 per night using Priceline.com.  Kelly was able to lock in a similar rate using her travel agent discount. 
View from room 904
The Park Inn was easy to find in downtown Toledo and they offer underground parking with easy access straight into the hotel on every level.  The Park Inn is affiliated with Radisson Hotels and I found it to have all the usual amenities in addition to being clean, quiet and superbly located for all the events on our itinerary.  We were originally given a room on the ninth floor with great views of the river and Promenade Park.  As we were settling in I remembered Scott mentioned being able to see the post game fireworks from their room during a previous visit.  I mentioned this to Kelly and, after a quick visit to the front desk; we were able to move across the hall.  Our view from room 904 was great; we could see the whole ballpark from our vantage point behind center field. 
Imagination Station in Toledo
The Imagination Station was the first event of the day and (pleasant surprise #2) it’s only a five-minute walk north on Summit Street from our hotel.  The Imagination Station is free to members of COSI (pleasant surprise #3) but for non-members the admission is $9.50 for Big Kids (13 and over) and $7.50 for kids between 3 and 12 years old.  After spending a quick 2.5 hours there, I would have happily paid the admission costs because I had as much fun as the four kids. 
Sydney “milking” Bessie
The kids in our group were Brendan, 13, Emma, 12, Sammi, 6, and Sydney, 4.85 years old, and Tom, 42, but we all enjoyed the many interactive exhibits.  Adjacent to the admissions desk is the temporary exhibit Farm Fest, the Science of Moo.  The exhibit included live animals – rabbits, ducklings, fish, roosters, hens, and little chicks.  In addition to being able to simulate milking Bessie the Buckeye and several tractors from the early 1900s, there was information on water conservation and composting.  A similar attraction called Farm Days is at COSI right now. 
Tom riding the High Wire Cycle
The Lower Atrium includes two of the more popular attractions at the Imagination Station, the High Wire Cycle and Boyo.  Emma and I rode the High Wire Cycle; a gravity defying bike ride 20 feet above the ground.  Are you afraid of heights?  If so, you may want to sit this one out because one side of your brain will convince you the nanosecond you pedal backwards from the platform you’re certain to plummet 20 feet to the floor, however the other side of your brain will remind you of what the attendant said, “it would take 1,000 pounds of force to offset the 275 lb counterweight holding the bike in place.”  In other words, it’s impossible to lose your balance.  I didn’t try the Boyo this trip because the line was full the whole time we were there, but it’s first on my To Do list during our next visit. 
Dr. Sydney’s office
Our next stop was the Little KIDSPACE where the exhibits are geared toward the younger kids but everyone seemed to find something to play with.  I visited Dr. Sydney’s office and learned a sore knee requires a ride in the ambulance.  The other Learning Worlds, as they are called, included Energy Factory, Water Works, Engineer It!, Eat it Up! and the Mind Zone.  Highlights included the Hurricane Chamber, the Distorted Gravity Room, building an arch, and the Science Studio.  The Imagination Station also has Simulator Theater, which is a 15 seat virtual roller coaster (kind of like the Star Tours ride at Disney World).  Riders are transported to the seat of a racecar on an electric toy racetrack full of twists, turns, flips, and jumps.  Sydney let out a few squeals reminiscent of the sound she makes every time we plummet down the hill of Splash Mountain at Disney World. 
Engineer It! Build an Arch
Hurricane Chamber
Sydney’s Three Favorite Things at the Imagination Station; 1) Milking the Cow, 2) Simulator Theater, and 3) the “sideways room”, aka the Distorted Gravity Room. 
Tom’s Three Favorite Things, 1) High Wire Cycle, 2) Sideways Room, 3) Eat it Up! 
Kelly’s Three Favorite Things, 1) Simulator Theater, 2) Eat It Up!, 3) Farm Fest

Inniswood Metro Gardens

DISCLAIMER: I am still testing this whole video thing out. The footage was taken with only my point and shoot camera so the video and audio quality is not great. Also, the voiceover was done using the built-in microphone on my computer so the quality is pretty bad. I edited everything in iMovie which I have never used before so the overall quality is not what I would like. Still it was a good exercise and I hope to get the proper equipment so that I can produce better quality videos.