Log Cabin Livin’

We’re back after a couple of spring break days away in heavenly Hocking Hills. Oh man, what a perfect getaway! Not enough time….just not enough time to enjoy it all!

We took the scenic route – three hours – from northeast Ohio to southeast Ohio, which I don’t recommend if you have kids in the backseat prone to car-sickness. Too many rolling hills and turns for that sort of thing! Our navigation roulette took us through the towns of Granville and Lancaster, Ohio, both of which looked charming enough to deserve more than a drive through.

Our little family rented a cabin for our stay. It was tucked away on a gravel road, up on a hillside, completely nestled among the trees. From the outside it didn’t look all that grand, but from the inside it was beautiful. An immediate sense of calm overwhelmed me from the moment we stepped inside.

The kids were blown away by the setting. Three bedrooms, three levels with the upstairs as a skylit loft, 3.5 baths, a nice kitchen, a couple of TVs, indoor and outdoor fireplace, jacuzzi, wrap-around porch, and hammock. Every one had a nook or cranny they could hang out. We used the jacuzzi each night, watching the moon rise and the stars twinkle in the evening sky.

My oldest was struck by the total quiet. I even forget how he put it but it was something like, “Why is it so quiet?” Well, uh….you’re on a hillside surrounded by nothing but trees. There is no street traffic, no neighbors, no TVs blaring, nothing but birds. It’s not like we live in a city, either. We live in a perfectly suburban neighborhood but even our teen realized that we had escaped mainstream living.

The name of the cabin was Gökotta, apparently a relatively untranslatable Swedish word for “arising in the early morning to hear the birds sing.” I loved it. The cabin was punctuated with bird decor, little touches that made you smile instead of feeling overwhelmed.

The cabin was so sun-shiney! And of course, it had this warm glow from the timbers and wood everywhere. The loft was one of my favorite places to chill, bright and cheery from a couple of skylights and altogether inviting with a giant bean bag by a triangle window, perfect for reading and snoozing. At one point, all three kids came to snuggle with me there.

My cabin pictures aren’t the best – I didn’t get an exterior shot – but you get the idea…

 

On our second day, we all donned our boots and drove out to Ash Cave to hike. It’s a very easy walk to the cave from the parking lot. The kids were amazed at the size of the cave itself. We climbed some wooden steps to the upper rim and took pictures which don’t give you a sense of the size at all. Maybe you can see the tiny people in the photo below.

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From the top, the kids announced they were game to hike the 2+ miles to Cedar Falls so off we went. The trail was muddy for most of the trek but we didn’t care since we had our boots on. Frankly, we all had more fun because of it! Every now and then we washed our boots off in the meandering nearby stream and then punched through the mud some more. We never did make it to Cedar Falls but found our way to the 80′ Ash Cave Lookout Tower which the kids climbed for the view.

 

The hike was both exhilarating and a case of family-induced attention deficit disorder. I’m sure other moms can appreciate how every 30 seconds one of the kids was asking me a question about something on the hike or altogether random. They would take turns running off into the distance, holding my hand, falling behind, splashing through the mud puddles, or pairing up with each other.

At some point four of us tried playing Red Rover to see if the fifth could run through our clasped hands.

“Hey, no shoulder butting allowed! Since when is it ok to shoulder butt in Red Rover? Huh? Huh?”

IMG_6973One of the kids found this painted rock, and on the flip side there is a tag that said to post your finding to the Dayton Rocks Facebook page. We took it home with us and promise to release it on our next hike. The kids and I just might paint a few rocks of our own this spring and release them to the wild! Or maybe we’ll try our hand at geocaching.

And oh yes, there will be a next hike. We only attempted Ash Cave on this trip but there are so many others to explore in Hocking Hills. We returned to the car after maybe 2.5 hours of hiking and all of us felt pretty good. I felt completely exhilarated. Maybe it was the fresh, cool, tree-scented air, maybe it was the pure exercise. It felt like every cell in my body had been pumped full of oxygen – I was literally tingling with energy. My muscles felt used, not overworked. I could have kept going for another couple of hours, I suspect. I honestly didn’t want it to end, but the last thing we needed was for anyone to poop out half way through the trek.

All told, we were only in Hocking Hills for 48 hours but I must go back. I mean, I was online the night we returned home, trying to figure out how to finance the building of a log cabin for retirement. Crazy, I know. But it is unmistakable the feeling of peace and calm that washes over me in the woods. This is only my third trip overall and second staying in a log cabin, but this decidedly indoor kind of woman feels quite at home there.

In the meantime, I’m going to make a lot more effort to get the five of us out hiking far more often this year. Besides, taking them to Yosemite one of these days is on my bucket list and I want them to appreciate the beauty of what they will see there.

The thing that gets me the most is how much the kids loved this trip. Maybe it was the cabin. Maybe it was the hiking. I can’t tell. What I do know is how we’ve taken our kids everywhere. By everywhere, I mean our oldest, 14-years-old, has been to 38 states already, and our youngest, almost 8, has been to 22. But all three loved this trip the most. I think we’re onto something here.

Lovin’ that log cabin life….

Road Trip to Hocking Hills

bryan-minear-315814-unsplashI can barely contain my excitement: before long we will be hitting the road for a little mini spring break with the kids. I took today off of work to run errands and take care of a few things around the house but tomorrow we hit the road headed south.

Initially I had planned some time for us at one of the water park hotels near Lake Erie but stories about bedbugs and an accident at the pool a few weeks ago made me change my mind. I don’t know…visions of an overcrowded hotel and young families with spring fever flashed through my head like a nightmare. You know you should always listen to your gut!

Besides, my body is itching to move and get outdoors. It’s finally spring, glorious spring, and the weather will be a perfect 60° to enjoy.

We are driving in-state but in the opposite direction, to an area in southeast Ohio called Hocking Hills. It’s still very early spring here so the trees won’t start blooming for another few weeks but I can’t wait to go. This area reminds me of where I grew up: woodsy, hilly, and a little bit more on the country side versus urban or suburban. There are several parks and nature preserves with a variety of hiking trails within a few miles drive of that area.

We’re renting a cabin for the five of us. It has a nice wrap-around porch, an outdoor hot tub, lots of windows, indoor fireplace, three bedrooms, three baths, and a loft. Hopefully some good, quality family time inside.

And when we aren’t hanging in the cabin, we’ll hike to Old Man’s Cave, Ash Cave, Cedar Falls, and maybe a few others. My husband and oldest will have just returned from an exhausting week-long trip to Disney with the marching band, so they may be a little road weary but the three of us at home are raring to go!

It’s the first time we will take the kids to Hocking Hills. I hope they like it and like living in a cabin. It’s only a 2.5 hour drive for us which makes it a pretty nice getaway….far enough but not too far.

I thought we’d make our way down there all the time now that I live in Ohio again, but it hasn’t worked out that way. Last visit was already seven years ago when my husband and I booked our 10th anniversary trip. We stayed for a long weekend but it was so nice, I cried when we left. Even though it was November and the leaves had fallen off the trees, the setting was so lovely, so calming. Trees were outside every window. We will need to make this trip again in the summer when you are surrounded in cool greenery and can hear the breeze whistle through the leaves.


We didn’t have “spring break” when I was growing up in public school. At the time, it was something exclusively for college kids. You see, in the US, college kids typically get a week off in the spring and many of them carpool to Florida or somewhere beach-bound and party all week long.

However I didn’t get to enjoy the classic spring break experience like many other college students. I didn’t have the money to take a trip and asking my parents for it was out of the question.

For me, spring break was a week where I could work full-time and save up money to pay for my next semester of tuition. Those were the years of barely getting by…and I wasn’t very resourceful or creative in finding ways to travel back then. Talk about a missed opportunity! I have a handful of regrets in life and finding ways to travel and explore in college is one of them. That’s the perfect time to bond with others and discover what brings you joy….and I didn’t know how to make that happen. Given how much I loved travel even then, in retrospect it’s surprising to me that I didn’t search for ways to make it a reality.

And this is one of the ways we try to guide our kids differently so they either have or make those opportunities.

I count my blessings that things have changed altogether for the positive since then and we are fortunate enough to take our entire family on our trips. I want them to see and experience the same places I have over the years, and foster that love of adventure.

It wasn’t until my oldest started public school that I really experienced spring break for the first time. Our school district allocates a week in late March for this purpose. Now every year we take advantage of the week to either escape the generally colder weather here or just to have a change of scenery. We’ve gone to Florida, Washington DC, Sandusky (OH), and Traverse City (MI) in years past. It’s usually the first excursion of a few within the year, but this year I am particularly eager to get out of the house.

Can’t wait to go go go…

 

Photo credit: Bryan Minear on Unsplash

 

 

The Standardized Vacation

On a recent Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, the host and her co-host sister talked about the benefits of a “standardized vacation”. It struck a chord with me.

I’m a travel buff. Have suitcase, let’s go! I’ve been one to explore new places as often as I can for as long as I’ve lived but there is something to be said about hitting the easy button especially now that we have kids. Enter: the standardized vacation.

Here’s the basic premise: same location, same hotel, same time of year, same length of time, same people, same restaurants, same activities.

Beautifully simple.

Nothing to think about, nothing to plan. Just do what you did last time, and build upon what you know, if you want.

anton-sharov-133628-unsplashMyrtle Beach, SC, has become our go-to vacation, like 5 million other Ohioans if I had to guess! We found our favorite hotel about 10 years ago, and we even get booked to the exact same room each time we go. It’s glorious.

We know exactly what to pack. Rule #1 is more bathing suits, fewer clothes. Rule #2 is bring a laundry basket and a small bottle of Tide so I can do a quick load mid-way through the trip and recycle what we wear. Rule #3 is bring whatever gadget you can’t live without and the charger. We’re not hard-core enough to unplug entirely while we holiday.

Last night my husband and I laid in bed and talked about how excited we were for this trip. We drive it. He’s not a fan of the drive, but he talked about how he was actually looking forward to it this year because he knows exactly what to expect. No thinking involved whatsoever.

Seriously, we laugh the whole way to South Carolina because nearly every car on I-77 has Ohio plates and we know where they’re going: Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head. It’s 11-hours non-stop, which means we have found ways to minimize the number of stops along the way and make it a 12 hour trip max, barring traffic.

Our routine involves hitting the road at 5am. We gas up and load the suitcases the night before. The kids sleep walk to the van with their pillows and PJs on, and they’re crashed out for the first four hours of the trip. From our house in Ohio this takes us to Charleston, WV, where the kids change clothes, we all get a potty break, we gas up if need be, and switch drivers. I’m better on the curvy roads though West Virginia regardless of the weather, courtesy of growing up in the tri-state area of Ohio, Pennsylvania, & West Virginia.

Waze is my favorite travel app for this trip. It’s crowd-sourced in terms of traffic jams, road hazards, and speed traps monitored by police or state highway patrolmen. Waze conveys the speed limit and whether you’re over it, and gives you that wonderful metric, the estimated time of arrival, otherwise known as the “time to beat”. LOOOOOOVE Waze.

The car is still pretty quiet as the kids are now awake but on their devices with their headphones or maybe they watch a new movie we buy and laugh. The two of us adults get loads of time to talk and talk, or we take turns napping while the other drives.

I drive four hours till we hit the North Carolina border while all of us nosh on ham sandwiches, snacks, and drinks we’ve packed, and then we stop again for a bio break, gas up and switch drivers for the last time. Then my husband drives the final four hours to our hotel where we check in, unpack, relax for a bit, and then head out to dinner.

We hit up Walmart for some food while we’re in the area. Our hotel has a kitchenette so we alternate meals out and in for lunch and dinner. Breakfast is free at the hotel so we eat up and take our time feasting on all kinds of hot and cold food items.

I remember the first time we made this trip as a married couple with an 18-month old baby in tow. I basically had my husband back the van floor to ceiling with the entire nursery: you know, Pack-n-Play, stroller, tub toys, travel high chair, lovies, baby food, an entire box of diapers….it was endless. You couldn’t even see out the back window. He looked at me like I was nuts. I wanted all the comforts of home. Nothing like having a baby attached to your hip on vacation. It defeats the purpose of getting away for a few days if you don’t have a way for your precious kid to be mobile, clean, and safe.

Now it’s funny how little we need. Beach towels, beach toys, electronic gadgets, headphones, chargers, bathing suits, sunscreen, sandals, laundry basket with detergent, clothes for three days to last us through eight, sandwiches, snacks, drinks, and that’s it. I don’t even sweat it anymore. If we forget something, we just buy it down there.

It helps that we go the same week each time, for the same length of time. We know what restaurants we’ll hit up. We rent beach chairs for the week. There is nothing else to even think about other than which putt-putt place we’ll visit on which day. If we want to sleep, we sleep. If we want to splash in the pool or lazy river, we do. If the kids want to build sandcastles or boogie board, they do. No debating, no thinking about it. We just rotate between 3-4 activities at most. It’s as low key as vacation can get.

And me? Mama Louie? I sit and read under a giant umbrella with my coverup, sunglasses, sunhat, and SPF maxed out, courtesy of a melanoma diagnosis 25+ years ago. It’s a bummer as all the kids just can’t quite understand why I can’t play with them in the sun. Thankfully they have these bronzed bodies courtesy of their Hawaiian and Asian genes and didn’t inherit my pale Eastern European skin.

Man, we love the ocean. Now some people prefer lower-key, very scenic Hilton Head over Myrtle Beach because they think the latter is over commercialized. Parts of it are, but we don’t do that stuff. We don’t walk Ocean Boulevard at all hours, slipping in and out of the souvenir shops. We just skip that. It’s pretty easy to avoid the mass of humanity while you’re there.

Yep, our hang is the beach itself and the amazing putt-putt places. Our kids think putt-putt (mini-golf to some of you) is the most glorious thing ever. It doesn’t take much to entertain our kids and we’re fine keeping it that way, at least for a few more years.

We’re all excited to go back. Hawaii, California, Utah, Colorado, and Florida have been incredible these last few years but it’s time to hit the easy button and return to our home away from home, just the five of us. We have often wished that we were there with a larger group but then we realize that others may not enjoy the next-to-nothing we like to do, so our week away is always just us.

I can already hear the waves in my mind.

Image by Anton Sharon on Unsplash.com