Thursday, October 5, 2017

Recipe: Delicious Dinner - Seared Peppercorn Tuna Steaks

A few weeks ago, I was cruising the fresh fish case at the grocery store.  On a whim, I picked out a couple of tuna steaks to take home.

Since my husband is a great cook, I left the rest up to him.  After finding this recipe, he added a few fresh veggie sides, and dinner was served.



Seared Peppercorn Tuna Steaks

  • 2 tuna steaks
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
  • vegetable and starch sides of your choice (recipie not included here)

Season the tuna steaks with salt and cayenne pepper.
Melt the butter with the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the peppercorns in the mixture until they soften and pop, about 5 minutes. 

Gently place the seasoned tuna in the skillet and cook to desired doneness, 1 1/2 minutes per side for rare.  (I was in the mood for a more well done steak on this day, so my husband added an extra 90 seconds to my cooking time overall).

When plating, be sure to top the steaks with any peppercorns that are in the pan.  You will be surprised by their mild flavor and fun, crunchy texture.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Getting Back Into the Swing ...

Well, it only took me 12+ months post baby, but I'm finally settling back into a fitness routine.  Granted, my routine isn't exactly what it was pre pregnancy, but then again ... neither is my body at this point (nor will it ever likely be again).  And quite honestly, I'm ok with that.

I didn't go into motherhood expecting that everything would be the same post baby.  I knew things would change.  Of course I didn't know exactly how they would change, or to what extent, but I knew that my 15+ races a year and 2-3 times weekly 2-a-day workouts would likely be over.

So what is my current routine now that I'm a mom? 

Well, as much as I hate to admit it ... morning workouts.

Twice a week I wake up at 5 am to hit a strength training class at my gym.  And I know it is working because I've more than tripled my lift capacity in the last 2 months. I mean ... not to brag or anything, but I'm using two 11 lb plates on each side of my bar for the extended squat set ... plus I upped to another 2.5 lbs per side at my last class (11 lb plate x 2 per side + 2.5 lb plate = 24.5 lbs per side x 2 sides + 7.5 lb bar = 56.5 lbs.) 

And I only almost dropped the bar on my head once.


Aside from my two 5 am wake up calls per week, I am officially back into teaching one night a week via a local community education program.  My first class teaching again is actually tonight, and I'm pretty excited for it, especially since I got a great headcount on a first time offering.  So, wish me luck on that!

In addition to lifting and teaching, I am WAY behind in my swim challenge, and of course I cannot admit defeat on that.  That means now I'm holding myself SUPER accountable to a minimum of twice weekly swims of 2500+ meters each.  If I'm lucky, I can squeeze a swim like that in over a work lunch ... but I'm willing to bet money I will be dedicating some serious swim sessions later this fall and winter.

Beyond that, you may notice I didn't mention much about running.  While I do hope to get back into a running schedule of some sort, I've admitted to myself that I'm a mom of a not quite 18 month old, and I only have so much time and energy in one day.  So for now, I'm going to try to get in a run when it works ... and not give myself guilt if it doesn't.

So that's it!  Basically 3 times weekly strength, 3 times weekly cardio, and whatever else might fit in as time allows.

Exciting, huh?!  (*sarcasam*)


Tell me, what's your current workout routine that works for you?  Discuss below!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Lake Run 5K 2017 (Three Sea-migos)

Lake Run 5K (3.15 miles)
Average Pace 12:26/mile

As you know, I have run the Shell Lake "Lake Run" 5K for several years now.  My first run was in 2011 ... followed by another go in 2012.  Then, my first recap was in 2013, followed by more recaps in years 2014, 2015, and 2016.

So you may ask ... after two weeks of procrastinating ... what's with the delay in writing the 2017 recap?

I guess you can already sense my "enthusiasm" for this year's race ... no?

Ok, it's true ... every year that I participate in this race, I have become a little more "meh" about it.  For the last few years I've been trying to figure out what's been bugging me about this race, and this year I think I finally figured it out.  The problem is this: it feels like the race organizers are pushing  towards making this an all day event ... and sorry, a foot race just isn't that.

Here's what I mean (current approximate race day schedule):

5K and 9 miler gun together at 8am.
5K finishers are done at 8:30ish (obviously walkers and slower runners are still coming in, but by 8:30-8:45 you know who the winners are of the majority of your age categories).
So of course ... when do you do your 5K awards ceremony?  Why ... 10:30, of course.

Ok.  Reality time.

Do you really think I'm going to stand around in front of a pole barn type office building, with nothing to do, for 2 hours awaiting an awards ceremony? 

Sorry, no.  I have a toddler with me who barely has the patience to get through the 5K run itself, let alone stand around in a graveled parking area for 2 hours longer.

And, it's not even like there's a playground area for the kids who are waiting for the mini-run (which starts after the 5K and 9 milers are done).  So, I don't know what the point is of trying to force people to hang out at the start line from 7:30ish until well after 11am ...

Yeah ... it's just too much.  And realistically, I wouldn't even wait around that long WITHOUT a kid!

Anyway, here's where I'm at with this race: I highly doubt race day will change.  Realistically, I wish they organized the Lake Run like any other multi distance race, but I get the feeling the organizers WANT you to spend the day out at their offices. 

Pipe dreaming ... if they wanted the race to shake out like most races do, what should happen is this:

Check in time 6:30 - 7:15am (or possibly stay open later for 5K runners)
9 mile gun time 7:15 (estimated finish for faster runners 8:15-8:30)
5K gun time 8:00 (estimated finish for most 5K & 9 mile age placement runners 8:30-9:00)
*** by staging the start times like this, most racers will finish together - and FYI, it's much more fun to cheer for a larger group of finishers rather than a small trickle here or there ***
Tabulate winners for 9 mile & 5K runners around 9am ... WHILE KIDS RUN TAKES PLACE
***again, kids get to finish with adult runners that are still on course, which = more fun***
Awards ceremony by 9:30, at the latest
Everyone leaving by 10am.

Sigh.  Would be nice if they did it this way so I didn't have to miss the awards every year ...

Since this race is not likely to change, I've decided to do is ask myself: why is it that I keep coming back to this race? 

Here's the answer to that question, in three parts.

#1 ... this race is a built in workout on a holiday weekend, where I'm likely to overeat anyway, and could use the extra help.

#2 ... my husband is fairly willing to run this with me, and it's fun to have a family 5K event to do at least once a year anyway.

And new in 2017, reason #3 .... drum roll ... family costume contest!!

So, yeah.  Now you know the REAL REASON why I keep coming back.  Heh.

By the way, I call this costume theme the Three Sea-migos.  You know ... a mermaid, a fish, and a sea captain - AKA, the three amigos of the sea.  (Ok, ok ... I know this is very similar to the theme of my Halloween family costume from 2016, but I haven't used my mermaid running dress much since I got it, and I figured this would be a low budget overall family get-up, so there!)


Ok, let's get on to non complaints.  The above was getting whiny.

Regarding the meat of this race, I don't really have much to say.  Overall, the gun time was fairly prompt, the course was the same as it's been for the last few years, and my performance was what you'd expect from someone who hasn't gone for a run in months. 

To pass the time on course, I helped my son search for race doggies (he doesn't have many words in his vocabulary yet, but dog is one of them, so he enjoys pointing out dogs when we're out and about).  And since I apparently packed a wardrobe malfunction for my husband, as his drawstring on his shorts wasn't working and they kept sliding down, I pushed the stroller the whole run.

Net result: we didn't run terribly fast, but my son stayed entertained and I still managed to burn a little over 400 calories in just over half an hour. 

OK!  I'll take it!

This year, the finish line included banana halves (at least they didn't cut them until you stepped up to the table), and bagels cut into quarters, as well as serve yourself jugs of water and Gatorade.  And the finisher's swag looked like this:

Not the most beautiful of T's, I'll admit.  But like I said above, it is what it is at this race. 

At the end of it all ... we had a fun family morning, I burned some calories, and we were no less for the wear.  In my eyes, that makes for a successful outing ... regardless if we stayed for the awards ceremony or not.  (PS - we also did not win best family costume, which was well earned by a group of two women with 4-5 kids, all dressed as various Scooby Doo characters).


Well!  That's the story of how race bib #81 joined my collection.  Here's to another race soon ... but since I'm hardly in running shape right now, I don't know when another race will be. 

Spoiler alert: don't be surprised if I table things until 2018.  But don't let that be an excuse for you to stop running!  HA!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Flying Vacation 2017 - Stop 5 & Heading Home

Over the last two weeks, I've posted an overview of my recent flying vacation and recapped the first four stops of the trip (stops one & two here, stop three here, and stop four here).  Today, I'm continuing on by recapping the fifth stop of our trip and our final return home.

Thursday, August 10th - Depart Dayton International Airport, Dayton OH
                                        Arrive Dane County Airport, Madison WI
                                        Flight time - about 2 hours 15 minutes
                                        Hotel for 2 nights, Hampton Inn off State Street

I mentioned at the beginning of this recap series that for various reasons, we didn't really have a firm plan on this trip.  That is mostly true.  However, there were two sticking points on this vacation that we definitely wanted to hit - (1) Niagara Falls and (2) a stop back at both my husband's and my alma mater, Madison, WI.

With a quiet final night in Dayton, and one last hot breakfast the next morning, it seemed there was nothing left to do on our overall trip check list except for head to Madison.  So off we went.

Our flight from Dayton to Madison was fairly uneventful, thanks to not needing customs and having a nice clear day weather wise.  While my son was a little antsy, I managed to keep him entertained well enough I guess (it helped that I had picked up a few new things at the Air Force Museum gift shop the day prior, by the way).  Without much ado, we arrived in Madison just in time for ... a birthday lunch for my husband at the infamous Nitty Gritty!

In case you're wondering ... as if this flying vacation didn't have enough of an aviation theme, my son "bought" Dad a celebratory memorial brick at the Oshkosh EAA Airventure's iconic Brown Arch. 

We haven't quite settled on the inscription yet, but it will look something like one of these:

I suppose that means we'll need to head back to Oshkosh again next year for the air show, huh?  Flying vacation 2018 here we come!

Anyway, back on topic with Madison.  After lunch at the Nitty Gritty, and one free glass birthday mug heavier, we headed back to our hotel for the usual toddler nap time.  And then we spent what was left of the day walking around State Street and enjoying  a lovely dinner in the somewhat new rooftop restaurant Fresco, located on top of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

The next morning, and the final full day of our trip, we started off with the usual - hot breakfast included at the hotel (thanks for the stays, Hampton Inn, you've been real ... and if you could extend my husband's status into 2018 due to this blog series I'd appreciate it *wink*).  With the skies looking overcast but the weather claiming no rain ... we left our hotel on foot heading towards Madison's free zoo - Henry Vilas.

Obviously, weather men are paid all too well for being wrong.  Drenched after making it maybe 1/3 of a mile (and roughly a quarter of the way of our walk), I asked my husband to think of a smart hide out to go dry off and wait for the rain to pass.  Reminding me that Union South had been remodeled in the last few years, and we had yet to see it, we stopped by there and had a coffee.

Well, had a coffee after chasing around a toddler for about 20 minutes and needing an energy boost.


Oh, BTW, thanks for all the paper towels, UW.  I suppose I kind of earned them after paying off student debts for the last 10 years.

Finally, it seemed like the majority of the rain/mist had passed so we walked the rest of the way to the zoo.  There, we were rewarded with a fairly decent pick up in weather and even a tid bit of sun.  Not to mention a couple of hours of fun animal viewing ... and a little boy VERY excited for his second ride ever on a carousel.

Knowing I'd have another lunch on the horizon after our zoo trip, the night before I had looked into some possible food options and ended up with my eye on Rockhound Brewery.  Since things went well at the zoo and I knew my son would be patient enough for a meal there, that was our next stop.

Oh, don't worry... while there, we had a little tasting, of course.

And then ... after the last nap time of vacation, we headed over to the Union Terrace to enjoy the lake, some ice cream, and a pontoon ride.  (Since we're alumi association members, in the summer we can partake in a free pontoon ride on Friday afternoons ... might not justify the cost of a membership, but it sure is a fun perk!).

Once we left the lake, we ended the night with dinner at Zandru's on State Street.  Eating there was actually a pretty good deal.  For an early dinner, we split a plate of paella and some happy hour deals - 3 tapas plates for $15 and $5 mules.


The next morning, with the end of vacation hanging on the horizon, we spent a little time roaming campus and shopping for some team apparel.  With the goal of a return flight during nap time, we stretched the morning out by going to see Abe on Bascom and having a slice at Ian's Pizza for lunch.

And then ... sadly, we were on our way home.

Saturday, August 12th - Depart Dane County Airport, Madison WI
                                       Arrive Flying Cloud Airport, Eden Prairie MN
                                       Flight time - about 2 hours

The return flight, or rather return nap, was a success.  Not long after take off, my son was asleep, and a smooth flight helped keep him there for quite some time. 

After about 2 hours of flight time on Saturday, and a total accumulation of 11 or 12 hours total in the plane ... we were home.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Flying Vacation 2017 - Stop 4

Over the last two weeks, I've posted an overview of my recent flying vacation and recapped the first three stops of the trip (stops one & two here and stop three here).  Today, I'm continuing on by recapping the fourth stop of our trip.

Tuesday, August 8th - Depart John C. Murno Airport, Hamilton ON Canada
                                    Waypoint for air navigation purposes Erie PA
                                    Arrive Dayton International Airport, Dayton OH
                                    Flight time - about 2 hours 15 minutes
                                    Hotel for 2 nights, Hampton Inn Vandalia
                                    Rental car secured for ease of local transport

After a rather uneventful afternoon in Brantford, following a busy morning in Toronto Island Park that same day, we awoke to our last morning in Canada.

Wait, I lied.  The afternoon in Branford was actually kind of eventful.  Well, for my husband anyway.

Turns out the process of private flying OUT of the United States into Canada is quite painless.  You do your customs advance notification paperwork, you file your flight plan or whatever else, and you're good.  You can even do this documentation submission the day of your flight.  The only minor sticking point in the Canadian process is that you have to be fairly precise with your landing time - I don't recall exactly what the parameters were, but I think it was +/-15 minutes of the arrival time to your designated airport (that you documented on your customs paperwork).

But for RE-ENTRY into the United States, OYE!  The process is much more challenging. 

Not only do you do your customs advance notification paperwork and so on, just like you do for Canada, in addition you have to do a customs advance notification telephone call AND you have to be even more precise with your arrival time - you CANNOT be early, and can only be within 0-15 minutes past your originally documented time. 

To make matters worse, the rules for each individual US airport varies.  So for example, we were originally going to fly into Saginaw MI, where the rules were: customs advance notification paperwork and phone call one business day in advance of your intended landing.  Ok, technically, not that bad.  Assuming they answer their phone.  Or at least have a message line.

I'm sure you can see where this is going.

During the entire 2-3 hour window when my son took his nap (after we visited Toronto Island Park), my husband closed himself in our hotel bathroom and every 5 minutes tried re-dialing the customs line for the Saginaw airport.  He even got desperate and tried calling other international airports in the MI area ... no one answered and there was no way to leave a voicemail requesting a call back.

Encroaching on end of day, business hours 9am - 5pm, we threw in the towel on Saginaw and started to punt.  Challenge: what small US airport along the Canadian border, near Toronto, would allow us to come without a day prior phone call?

After reviewing a few options, we realized that Dayton OH might potentially let us in without the day prior phone call.  As an added bonus, it is an airplane mecca (more on this later), and also had a couple of stamping locations for my son's National Parks Passport (which you can read more about here).

Fingers crossed, we began the process of preparing to land in Dayton instead of Saginaw.  And as an emergency backup to Dayton, we had our eye on Erie PA - since they have a much more lenient customs filing process, and would allow you to file as late as 2 hours prior to your arrival.

Not really knowing where our next morning would take us, we cooked dinner in our hotel room one last time ... thanks for the kitchen upgrade, eh! ... and called it a night.

Eh.  Eh.  Eh!!!  (Just gotta throw a few more of those in, since this is the last of my Canadian recapping).

The next morning, wonder of all wonders ... the Saginaw Airport customs person called my husband.  WTF?!  Turns out they saw that we filed paperwork and wanted to complete our telephonic reservation.  My husband simply told them that since they didn't answer their phone for over two hours the day prior, we had re-filed for customs clearance in Dayton instead (no, my husband did not tell customs to shove it ... he is much more polite than I am ... heh). 

The kicker?!  The Saginaw customs person didn't even apologize for not answering the phone or the fact that we had to fly almost 300 miles further south due to their underperformance.  They simply said "OK, goodbye."

If you can't tell, I'm a little heated at Saginaw, folks.  Do not recommend.

Whatever, the entire mishap actually worked out to make our trip even more interesting, because Dayton turned out to be pretty fun.  And their customs agent was MUCH more friendly, might I add.  So that was an extra little icing on the cake for us.

With all the customs hoo-ha, and using Erie PA as a waypoint to get our plane into US airspace sooner rather than later, by the time we landed and unloaded at Dayton it was pretty late.  If I recall correctly, after a quick lunch on the way to the hotel, we ended up checking in at around 2pm.  I felt a little bad about keeping my son up that long, but the bonus was we were only about 1 hour early for check in so a room was actually available.  Good news for us, as our son got to take a solid nap in a hotel pack and play that day instead of the car.

For dinner that night, we opted to try out a nearby brewpub -  The Hairless Hair in Vandalia - and weren't disappointed.

While the location is nothing to look at OUTSIDE, what they have inside is worth the trip.  In fact, Hairless Hair had a summer pineapple IPA on tap that we liked so well we actually took a growler of it back to our hotel room.  Plus, their in house made pizzas were fantastic. 

After dinner at the Hair, we tucked in to our hotel for the night ... but the evening was none too peaceful.  Apparently, our hotel neighbors must have had too much to drink or something because they came "home" around 2am and started a screaming match.  It was so bad I debated calling the front desk or the police to file a possible domestic abuse report.  But, as I was about to look for a phone, what I assumed was the woman of the couple screamed "FINE!  I'LL JUST SLEEP IN THE CAR!"  Then ... silence.  There were a few more doors slamming that I just passed off as a drunk man taking out his aggression ... and eventually I dozed back off. 

I guess I was none too surprised by the drunken melee, as about a quarter of a mile away from our hotel there was a literal DRIVE THROUGH LIQUOR STORE.  Earlier in the night, I had found it kind of amusing, and had Googled photos of the place.

Apparently, it was less funny to me thereafter.  Huh.  Imagine that.

Thankfully, none of the midnight shenanigans disrupted my son, so at least he was well rested the next morning.  I on the other hand ... was really looking forward to the coffee included with our hotel's hot breakfast.

Once we filled our bellies at the hotel's breakfast buffet, we looked at our adventure checklist for the day and noted that one of the items on our list - the Huffman Prairie Flying Field Interpretive Center - opened at 9am.  Though we were a little early yet even for that, we had nothing else to do to pass the time, so we went on our way to explore.

Following a short drive from our hotel, we arrived at the center and were pleasantly surprised to find that the grounds actually opened at 8am.  Which meant that although the educational building itself wasn't open yet, we could pass the time exploring outside until they opened their doors.  Score!

So of course, we did just that.



The timing worked out wonderfully, as we had just finished making the loop of the informational kiosks and viewing the flying field when the building was opening for the morning.  Not wasting much time (I mean, a newly walking toddler can only enter a building SO fast), we went inside to read more about the Wright Brothers using Huffman Prairie Flying Field as their training grounds for basically the world's first pilots.

While my son wasn't interested in most of that historical stuff, he did think sitting in an old timey flight steering rig with dad was pretty fun.

Those boys.  They are going to have some flying adventures in the years to come.  I just know it.

After finishing up inside, my husband talked with the ranger in the gift shop while I stamped my son's National Parks Passport.  Based on the ranger's eagerness and encouragement of us to go visit the actual field itself, I got the impression that maybe not many people visit this sight, which is actually too bad - the view was beautiful and the staff was incredibly friendly.  And since the ranger taking to my husband was so enthusiastic, we decided to take his advice and drove down to see the actual field itself.

Which, btw, the drive down there alone was worth the trip.

Excuse my terrible mid-drive photo with dashboard included.  Don't worry, I was the passenger.

Since the field was mostly just an open, grassy prairie, I'm not going to post photos of it here.  Mostly because it didn't really photograph well, and any photos I do post will only make the area look less impressive than it is.  Just trust me that if you head out that way, its worth the extra 10-15 minutes of your day to swing by and make a visit.

After we wrapped up in the Huffman Prairie area, we headed to our next stop - the National Museum of the US Air Force.

Seriously.  This place.  Four hangers - FOUR GIANT HANGERS - filled with almost every kind of flying object imaginable.  And I'm not kidding.  Check out this range.

As you can tell, my son was not impressed by Air Force One.  I, on the other hand, WAS impressed by those missiles.  HUGE!  Here's some additional pictures so you can see just how big they are.


We even walked through an actual scale model, retired training unit of a NASA space shuttle.  To me, to see how SMALL of a space the astronauts actually live in during their missions - that was cool.  Hands down one of the coolest things I saw in the entire museum.  At least to me.

Huh.  After looking through everything I took photos of, I guess I was more impressed by the space portion of the exhibit hall ... which was actually less than a quarter of what they had on display.  Most of what was there was large military planes, various kinds of experimental small planes, and other similar items. 

I guess part of my lack of enthusiasm/photography for those kinds of items may be that I've been saturated in the last 1-2 months at numerous air shows and a trip to Oshkosh Airventure 2017.  Sorry.  Google for yourself if you want to see more.

Speaking of lack of enthusiasm, at about the halfway point of touring the museum my son started to struggle.  As you can see in the missile photo above, all the exhibits in the museum are simply stanchioned off with basic tube railings or poles with ropes.  And of course, they are all perfectly toddler height.  Which means my son, if let to roam free, could have easily ran under any restraint in the museum and touched whatever he wanted.

Not being one wanting to pay for historical aircraft damage repairs, we opted to leave our son in the stroller or carry him through the entire museum.  For a new walker, that was torture.  At least he played along for about an hour and a half or maybe even two hours during the visit.  But by the 4th hangar, he was D-O-N-E done!

But, at least there was a light at the end of the tunnel for my son.  Once we (quickly) cleared the last hanger and the gift shop, we took him outside and let him walk to the on site toddler playground, which he loved.  I'm not sure if he understood this control panel and thought he was flying like dad, but ... either way, he liked it.

With lunch time at hand, and nap time quickly approaching thereafter, after about 20 minutes or so in the playground we started heading back to the general area of the hotel.  And since I've never had an iconic Big Boy burger ...


As you can tell in the photo, my son was slightly less excited to meet Big Boy than I was.  Hey, at least they had milk to make up for the trauma.  Which came with an awesome accessory!

Curly straws.  Heh.  I didn't even use it and it still made me feel like a kid again.

Coming back to our hotel after lunch, I guess I shouldn't have been as surprised as I was to take in this sight.

In the lobby, we found two police officers chatting with the hotel's ... I'll assume she was the manager ... and a hotel trolley cart stacked haphazardly with a few random bags of luggage and a load of broken décor. 

I'm sure you can guess where that came from.

Being a bit worried, and since the cops were blocking the elevators anyway, I told one of the cops our room number and mentioned that the people next door were yelling a lot last night.  The first cop kept pretty mum just saying something like yeah, but the other cop basically said "yep, that's what happens with meth."

OH DAMN!  Not what I was expecting to hear.  Sorry drive through liquor store, you are redeemed!

Also, I can't quite figure out ... we were staying at a Hampton Inn which isn't exactly a bad hotel.  And there were plenty of dive hotel options just across the street and down a block.  So why did our "neighbors" pick Hampton Inn for their smash-up adventure?

I guess I will never know.  Either way, my husband and I were glad to know that those people definitely weren't coming back for a second night.  And while it was unfortunate for the hotel, the meth heads had damaged the room enough that it was not rentable for the next night, which ensured a peaceful night's sleep for us at least.

After chatting with the cops, and a nap for our son, my husband and I took off on one last adventure in Dayton that afternoon - the Wright Brother's Cycle Shop (another historic sight for the National Passport as well).

This building is actually the main building for the historical context of the site, and is set up on the mail floor (in the windows that face the intersection) to look like an old timey grocery.  If you continue walking the sidewalk to the right of the building, back behind is a second free standing structure that is the actual cycle shop.

Inside the main building, however, is where the meat of the exhibit lies.  There are a lot of informational kiosks about the history of the Wright Brothers - from print shop operators and bicycle salesmen, to aviation inventors.  There was also some other information about African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar.  I was unfamiliar with Mr. Dunbar, so that portion was interesting to see as well.

My son, already a poet enthusiast apparently, enjoyed Mr. Dunbar's interactive poetry reading exhibit:

He actually stood there and listened to poetry readings for quite some time.  #wearesocultured (sarcasm)

On the other hand, my son was less impressed by a later interactive exhibit featuring a large wood propeller and antique motor with lots of rubber belts.  When he pushed that button, which my husband and I didn't even realize he was about to do since we were distracted by other informational items ourselves, the VERY LOUD motor fired up the giant prop ... and promptly threw my son into a crying panic.

The poor guy!  His heart was going a million beats a minute after that.  Amid the drama, another couple in the exhibit couldn't help but snicker at the scenario.  After knowing our son was ok, of course.

After finishing up in the main building, we headed over to the cycle shop.  There, another incredibly friendly ranger was available to offer information and answer questions.  He even took one of the few family photos we had from the trip.

The shop also included a couple of informational signs that helped me close the loop as to why Wright Cycle evolved into Wright Flight.

Whew!  After recapping the above, I just now realized how full of a day we had in Dayton!  And I'm not even done talking about the day.  Although, I don't have much more interesting to say, really - we simply had another dinner and had a quiet night's sleep.

Meth head free, might I add.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Flying Vacation 2017 - Stop 3

Last week, I posted an overview of my recent flying vacation and recapped the first two stops of the trip.  Today, I'm continuing on by recapping the third stop of our trip - which also happened to be our first international private flight!

Saturday, August 5th - Depart Mackinac Island Airport, Mackinac Island MI
                                     Arrive John C. Murno Airport, Hamilton ON Canada
                                     Flight time - about 2 hours
                                     Hotel for 2 nights, Hampton Inn Brantford
                                     Rental car secured for ease of local transport

Let's see ... last we talked, my son and I were snoozing in the back seat of the plane, totally missing our chance to sing "Oh Canada" in a round as we crossed the international border.

Yep, sounds right.

Thanks to naps all around (well, not my husband of course), our flight from Mackinac Island into Canada was uneventful and passed relatively quickly.  Before I knew it, we were on the ground in Hamilton, Ontario.  Of course, we weren't OUT of the plane yet ... but that's another story.

By the way, I know customs has to be pretty dry so as to keep an air of professionalism but ... man.  When people are traveling with a kid and it's the kid's first international trip, which the parents are obviously excited about, btw ... show a little bit of personality, eh?

Yes, I said eh.  We're talking Canada now, eh?  We're supposed to use that word.

With customs officially cleared, we were finally able to get out of the plane and stretch our legs, which despite all the walking we did earlier in the day at Mackinac ... stretching and standing again felt amazingly good.

After unloading the plane again, my husband journeyed out to pick up our rental car while my son and I toddled around the airport lounge wasting time.  Oh!  I guess I should mention, about a week before this trip my son finally started walking - hooray!

Not too long after going to get the car, my husband was back, and we loaded up to take the car to our hotel.  Which I should mention, our hotel was located in the beautifully aesthetic town of Brantford.  (That's sarcasm, folks).

At least we were just down the road from the Ferrero plant.  So there's that.

If only they offered public tours.  Or a factory store.  Or a chance to swim in their vat of nutella. 

Yes, I grew up watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Can you tell?

With our hotel room ready, we checked in and dropped off our luggage ... and promptly realized we had little to nothing on the agenda for the rest of the day.  I don't recall exactly what we did to help burn off an evening, but I think part of it included getting some snacks and other refreshments for our hotel room and driving on a really awesome road.

Since our hotel was marvelously located in the middle of nowhere, and was therefore very quiet, it resulted in a fantastic night's sleep for all of us that evening.  That meant after enjoying our hot breakfast included with our room the next morning, we were well rested and ready for our first BIG adventure of our trip: Niagara Falls.

I guess it was a little windy that day, eh?

Since we had a rental car, and our "natural alarm clock" had my husband and I up nice and early, the three of us took off driving to Niagara around 8 in the morning.  This had us arriving at around 9 in the morning - right around the time that most tourists are still waking up at their hotels and having their first coffee of the day.  While there was a small crowd of Asian tourists at the main viewing park of the falls (basically the street level access point on the Canadian side), my husband and I quickly realized most of the crowd present was not interested or possibly not able to exit Canada ... which meant amazingly beautiful viewing of the falls, tourist free, on the walking trail headed towards the Rainbow Bridge - which is the pedestrian bridge servicing the US/Canadian border.

Overall, I'd estimate we walked maybe 1.5 miles or so from where we parked our car (in what I'll call the tourist trap surface lot on the Canadian side) and were already at the US border.  That's how easy it is to go between the US and Canada at Niagara.  Here's a little map to demonstrate where we parked, and our walking route.

FYI - there's actually a pedestrian foot path that takes you past a Canadian duty free liquor shop, and right up to the walkway on the bridge.  Just be sure that you have your passport with you before you exit the doors on the Canadian side ... and bring yourself fifty cents to pay the exit fee (yes, the US wants to collect two quarters from every person who walks onto "their side" of the bridge ... sigh ... Canada didn't ask for that in return ... ).

Loose change aside, I highly recommend taking this walk - for two reasons, really. 

First of all, you get spectacular views of the falls from the bridge.  And with fairly few tourists coming and going, you are pretty much guaranteed a clean portrait in front of the falls if you desire it.

Second, it is actually quite interesting to see the falls from both the Canadian and US sides.  While the Canadian side offers the panoramic viewing of the falls (as per my two photos above), you are actually in a pretty non descript park that is packed with tourists and, sad to say, the area surrounding is somewhat dumpy.  Whereas, on the US side you don't get to see the falls as well, but the area surrounding the falls has a beautiful park area and visitor's center, and it's actually kind of cool to see the rapids building up to the falls and the spray that forms ... with accompanying rainbows, of course.

I'm sure some people will wonder if I took the boat ride to the bottom of the falls, or if I saw the falls backlit a night.


The answer to both of these questions, unfortunately, is no.  Having a young child and not staying nearby the falls themselves, we knew going into this visit that it would be a daytime walking trip only. 

I suppose we could have explored the boating option, but at $30 or something per person, and not knowing how patient my son would be for the duration of the charter ... it didn't seem worth the investment.  Regardless, I don't feel short changed by skipping the boat experience, as I felt I saw plenty of the falls by visiting both sides via foot.

After spending our morning walking the falls and surrounding parks/trails/bridge, we headed back into the tourist area on the Canadian side of the falls and had some lunch.  Since my son has never been to a Rainforest Café, as exotic as that is (ahem, chain store, ahem), we decided to let him try that restaurant out.  Despite the fact that Rainforest isn't exactly known for good food, I didn't really feel bad eating there, since all the options we passed on our way to and from the car were chains with relatively unhealthy or unappealing options anyway.  No to mention, my son loved the experience of eating there, and couldn't stop dancing to all the Caribbean style music. 

We just won't talk about his response to the twice hourly "thunder storms" ... the second of which didn't go so well once a girl at a nearby table started to cry.  Oh well!  At least my son recovered quickly.

After lunch, we took the 45 minute or so car drive back to our hotel and settled our son in for a nap.  And since our hotel had a pool, we took advantage of that as an afternoon play activity before dinner.

Since Brantford didn't have a lot of interesting dinner options, and being that our hotel room was surprisingly upgraded to a kitchenette suite, we opted to spend our evening cooking a meal in our room.  Which basically wrapped up for first full day in Canada, and brings us into day two - Toronto.

When originally started thinking about a potential trip to Niagara, we didn't realize that August 7th was a national holiday in Canada.  And a pretty big one at that, since it's like the Canadian equivalent of July 4th in the US.  So, on the second full day of our visit to Canada, we weren't quite sure what to expect, especially in a bigger city like Toronto.  Would shops be closed?  Would most tourist type activities be unavailable?

Hedging our bets, we decided to plan our visit to Toronto a little differently by avoiding traditional touristy type activities, and also opted for an early start into the city to hopefully beat the holiday rush / increased automobile traffic. 

This plan worked great, as we were one of the only cars parked in the lot when we arrived, and the lot was in a fantastically central location to our chosen activity of the day - Toronto Island Park.

I will warn you, the parking we chose wasn't cheap at around $20 Canadian per car.  But what big city ever has cheap parking downtown?  None that I know, that's for sure!

From the lot where we parked to the ferry, it was about a 1-2 block walk.  Super convenient!  Within minutes of parking, we had already paid our $7 Canadian per adult to board the ferry, and were off on our adventure to Toronto Island Park.

For those of you unfamiliar with Toronto Island Park, a brief overview of the park goes like this:

(1) The park is only accessible by boat, with public ferry being the easiest method of transport.  If you ride the ferry, there are three points of entry to the park - Centre, Hanlan's and Ward's.

(2) The islands are all connected, and if you walk from one end to the other of the entire park it's about a 5K distance. 

(3) Once inside, there are asphalt paved trails throughout the entire park suitable for running / walking / strollers / bikes / etc. 

(4) The park is largely green space with a handful of beaches scattered throughout.  Centre Island does feature some additional amenities, including options for food, a small amusement park, a well manicured garden area, and a large pier looking away from downtown Toronto (the view is out over the lake, which feels like an ocean due to it's vastness).

Since we had no preference as to where to start on the island, and no plan of what we wanted to do, we took the first ferry available which dropped us at Hanlan's Point.  This was actually kind of a fun place to start, since Hanlan's is near the airport, and while we were on the ferry we could watch all the activity on the Toronto Harbor and also see air traffic at the airport as well.

Being it was so early on a holiday, our 9am ferry was fairly empty as was the park itself.  Aside from a handful of teen girls who quickly departed from the ferry, and a few occasional bikers, we didn't see much of anyone on our first mile or so of exploring the island.  Though we did see one particularly entertaining sight:

The majority of our first mile or so of walking (or around 2K, for you Canadian folks), was largely just lake views and green space.

Finally around the 1 or 1.5 mile mark we found a little park area and took a break from our walk.

Since the play equipment at the park wasn't exactly toddler friendly (it was intended for slightly older and more mobile children), after a brief visit we continued on.  It wasn't long until we reached the Centre Pier and nearby gardens.

At this point, after literally taking baby steps on the first half of the island, and after viewing the area around the pier, it was already 11am.  Knowing we were on a limited timeline until our son needed to eat, we opted to skip the remaining walk to the far end of the island and started heading in towards the Centre ferry point.

Along the way we passed the Centre Island amusement park, where I particularly liked the landscaping around the log ride.

I also liked these very interesting tulip sculptures, that were actually chairs.  If you look closely at the far right, you can see someone sitting in one.

Finally, after taking a non direct route to the ferry pier in order to see the entire amusement park and garden areas, we made it to the ferry. 

Since our ticket purchased earlier in the morning included round trip service, we simply boarded and were off.  And of course, it goes without saying, the views on the ride back were spectacular.

As you might guess, based on the slightly overcast look of most of the photos I'm posting from Toronto Island Park, shortly after we departed the ferry it began to rain.  That was pretty unfortunate for us, since we had a bit of a walk to get to our chosen lunch spot of the day - The Works Gourmet Burger Bistro.  At least the rain was manageable, despite our lack of umbrella.  And we saw an interesting sight along the way to lift our dampened spirits.

I don't know.  Don't ask.  But did you notice ... the dogs are all "howling" to a golden bone at the top of the fountain? 

Anyway, our walk in the rain was worth it.  The Works had excellent food and a great assortment of locally brewed taps.  Plus, I got to eat my first authentic Canadian poutine - which I would guess must be fairly authentic given Toronto's proximity to Montreal, and the fact that we had some non English speaking Quebecers at the table behind us.

Yeah, it was good.  I don't care what you think.  (Click on that link, btw, it's worth it)

After lunch, we tried without success to find a Canadian trinket shop to bring home some souvenirs.  I guess due to the holiday they must have mostly been closed.  Oh well, as you can see - we survived.

Being that it was nearing nap time once again, and wanting to avoid holiday traffic leaving Toronto, after lunch we packed up shop and headed back to the hotel again.