road trip, saving money

Lent + One Thing I Said I’d Never Do

Today I did something I’ve told myself for years that I would never do.

But under the circumstances, I think it was the best choice.

I’m a very frugal person. I always have been, and I always will be. I won’t even go into the time I was interviewed to be on TLC’s Extreme Cheapskates. (True story.) If you’ve read a few blog posts here, you know that travel is my indulgence, but even then I take trips as cheaply as possible. And, like most frugalitarians, I refused to pay a premium on cars and never buy new.

Well, that all changed today.

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Please meet my new 2016 Subaru Forester, in a cool jasmine green. I’ve wanted an SUV by Subaru for a couple of years now, and I’ve been without my own car for over a year, so I figured it was time to buy one. I’ve been searching for a used Forester or Outback for a long time, but the only ones I found had incredibly high mileage. So I decided to get a new one. And even though the frugalitarian in me doesn’t like the number that my bank account dropped to today, at the same time it is rejoicing because so far, it’s turned out to be a good deal.

  • I paid for it in cash. (Yay! No debt!)
  • Thanks to my dad helping with negotiations last night, I got it for my asking price. (And all the paperwork and negotiations were done in under two hours. Go Dad!)
  • I had no idea how much a warranty would cost, but the sales guy gave me a discount on it and it’s nice to have an extra buffer of protection.
  • The dealership covered some of the DMV-associated costs, such as license plates.
  • I was expecting the bare basic model, but this one came with roof racks and alloy wheels! (Although I still don’t get the point of alloy wheels.)
  • It came with a coupon book for things like free oil changes, free wiper blades, and free inspections.
  • It’s comforting to know that this will be so much more reliable than the twenty-year-old cars I’ve driven in the past.
  • If I drive it for 15-20 years as I plan to, I’ll earn back the cost of the car in fuel savings. (It’s an SUV, but by far the least gas-guzzling car I’ve ever had!)
  • It’s a cool car!

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The odd thing is, I’ve been reading a book for review called Your New Money Mindset, as well as doing other frugal-focused activities such as watching 7DollarYear. In a weird way, these actually gave me a peace of mind about buying this car, even though I’m sure that was not their point at all. That’s why I believe that God not only wants me to have this car, he wants me to use it as a ministry tool. I was actually thinking about that a couple of weeks ago, if I buy this car, how can I use it as a ministry? Then when I told the people at my small group Bible study that I had plans to buy a car, during the closing prayer, someone thanked God for this opportunity I had and said something to the degree of “And let this car be a ministry tool. I don’t know how, but You do.” I hadn’t even mentioned anything about wanting to use it for ministry! So while I still don’t know the exact purpose of this car (other than the obvious use of getting me around), I am coming up with ways that it can be used for His glory. And already inviting some people to join its maiden voyage out of town!

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Since this car somehow has something to do with God, it’s also appropriate to mention that this is the first day of Lent. Since minimalism is almost a lifestyle for me, it hasn’t always been very meaningful for me to give something up for Lent. This year, I was challenged to add something to Lent. So each day, I’ll pick a theme inspired by my daily Bible reading, and take a picture based on that theme. I had already planned to read in the Pentateuch for most of the Lenten season (I just finished reading through Genesis), so it may be a challenge some days! Of course my first picture had to do with the thankfulness of having a new car. Follow on Instagram for the rest of my Lenten adventures!

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Accommodations, destinations, Foodie, road trip

The Tri-State Journey

Here it is: the last part of my recent road trip! It started by going through Northern California, then to Twentynine Palms, and then small attractions around Southern California. (Click on the links to catch up.) To really capture the road trip style, we chose not to take the I-5 back home and instead explored some cities I had never been to before.

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For our first night, we stayed at Mammoth Lakes. Mammoth Lakes is a ski and summer resort type of town, and we just so happened to hit it between seasons. So while we were too late to be snowed in (and I was very thankful that the only snow seen was just a little bit high in the mountains), the summer activities weren’t in full swing yet. But we still found plenty of things to do- drive through the National Forests, see a few of the lakes, and of course, eating. Our no-frills Travelodge surprised us with cookies in the afternoon and round-the-clock free beverages in addition to the included breakfast. That was great, but we still needed dinner. We chose to share a plate of nachos at Gomez’s in Village Plaza. The Village Plaza looked like it would be a happening place to hang out at in season, but even then, there were lawn games such as ladder golf and cornhole, as well as a fire pit in the center of the square!

Mammoth Lakes offers year-round bus service- for FREE! This even includes a free trolley. Most people take it to get from place to place, but we decided to turn the trolley ride into a round-trip sightseeing tour. For most of the trip, we were the only passengers, so the driver was telling us about all sorts of places to visit. One of those was Obsidian Dome, which we visited the next day.

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It was really cold and windy there, so we didn’t spend as much time as we would have otherwise, but it was neat to see all these rocks made of beautiful shiny obsidian!

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While continuing on our road trip, we stopped by Mono Lake. Unfortunately, we were there on a Tuesday, when the visitor center happened to be closed, but we still enjoyed seeing the unique tufas (salt towers). IMG_20150429_095518_023

Then we took a detour to Bodie. I’m not sure why anyone would want to live in Bodie, but that probably explains why no one lives there anymore! It is a ghost town several miles off the road, and was once a bustling, godless mining city. I’ve only been to a three-building ghost town before, so it was incredible to see all the old buildings, and most of the town had been burned down! We even went to the cemetery and saw the gravestone of the town’s founder W.S. Bodey. (Yes, his name is spelled differently than the town itself- the town was named after a typo!)

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After more driving, it was time to cross the border into Nevada! Have you ever tried to take picture of a state sign from a speeding car? It’s so hard to get it to look good!

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We ended up in a little city… or was it a big city? Oh, that’s right, it was the biggest little city in the world!

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We stayed at Harrah’s. I had never stayed at a casino before, so it was really interesting to see everything there.

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But while many people go to Reno thinking “Ooh, I’m gonna win big at the slots”, my mom and I were thinking “Ooh, I’m gonna eat a lot at the buffet!” And that’s exactly what we did. The best part of the buffet was the crepes that you watched being made right in front of you, and you pick out all the fillings and toppings!167

After dinner we decided to walk off our buffet babies. Our intention was to go through the different casinos and attractions like that, but we found some other interesting things too. For instance, we happened to come across a part of the sidewalk where blue jeans were invented.

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Just a little bit further down the block, we found a Blarney Stone stuck to the wall!

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Circus Circus was a blast. It is connected to several casinos, so it was a change of pace to suddenly walk into a room that was offering toys for prizes instead of big bucks!

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Besides looking at (but not actually playing) the games, we took a train ride in a connecting casino and then went back to Circus Circus to watch a free show called “Best Friends”. We thought it might be a clown show or singing or something like that, so we were thrilled to find that it was actually funny and incredible dog tricks!

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When we got back to our 14th floor hotel room, we decided to sleep with the window shades open so we could enjoy all the lights and sights of Reno.

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The next day we visited some small towns. One such town had the Alpine Drive-In, a locally-owned burger joint where we ate lunch.

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And our final stop of the day was… a landscape supply yard? Okay, it wasn’t planned like that. But after we crossed the border into Oregon (after we crossed from Nevada back into California), my mom dropped me off at Harry and David to get my allotted former employee free food while she picked up a few things for dinner. It took her awhile to come back to pick me up, and I was almost worried that something might have happened. Something did happen, but it wasn’t that severe of an emergency. My dad had called her explaining that he was picking up some gravel (they’re redoing their patio), when the van’s fuel pump stopped working. So we had to come rescue the dog from the heat and make sure that his coworker could pull the gravel home while making sure the van could stay there until the tow truck arrived. It was an unexpected way to end a tri-state road trip (hey, we were even in all three states that very day!), but one lesson from the school of travel is to expect the unexpected!

Bucket List, day trip, destinations, road trip

Street Fairs and Roadside Attractions

If you haven’t read about the previous days of my road trip through Northern California and to the desert, you may want to catch up on those first. After those two legs of the trip, the next several days were spent at my grandmother’s house in Southern California, but we took little day trips from that location.

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On the day we got back from the desert, we took a walk around downtown Upland. This is the town where my mom grew up, but little did we know that the city was having a celebration for her homecoming! Okay, it wasn’t really for her, but Upland was having their annual Lemon Festival the weekend we were there. The next day, I went there for a little longer to enjoy the sights and street food (including, of course, lots and lots of fresh lemonade!).

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Chick-Fil-A exists within an hour of places I’ve previously lived, such as Nebraska and Ohio, but there is not Chick-Fil-A in Oregon. When we found out that there was one right in my grandmother’s town, I just had to take my mom out for her first-ever spicy chicken sandwich!

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On Sunday, we hopped in the car and went to City of Industry. This little side-trip took a lot of convincing, but my mom finally agreed to it. Our first stop was this guard rail:

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What, you don’t know what this guard rail is? What if you pictured part of it turning into a big sign with a digital clock and the writing “Twin Pines Mall”, or perhaps “Lone Pine Mall”?

Okay, if you haven’t seen Back to the Future (or didn’t pay attention while watching it), you won’t know what this is, so I’ll tell you: this is the location where they shot the mall scenes in the first movie of the Back to the Future trilogy. Yes, this is the parking lot where time travel took place!

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In the above photo, you can see some fence-type thing (not sure what that’s called?) in the background. It’s location didn’t make much sense, unless it was put there to prevent movie fans from driving 88 miles per hour!

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Since Back to the Future Part 2 involves a trip to 2015, it was my New Year’s Resolution to see a location from the movie this year. Hey, it was even on my Travel Bucket List!

While researching the Back to the Future mall parking lot on Roadside America, I noticed another interesting location just a mile away. So we drove up to it and found this:

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Wait, McDonald’s isn’t an attraction! Ah, but this one is.

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This particular McDonald’s has never turned on their range. They refuse to serve the public. In fact, it’s surrounded by a security fence! That’s because this is not McDonald’s restaurant at all. Instead it is a McDonald’s set, the place they use to film all the McDonald’s commercials! Below is a sign on wheels, so they can position it to wherever the best lighting and scenery is.

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Next to the fake McDonald’s is a big warehouse with the McDonald’s logo. It’s funny since I’ve never really thought about commercials like this having props or costumes, but I guess they need this large of a warehouse to store that kind of thing!

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Of course, all the gates were closed and I’m sure there was no lack of security cameras and burglar alarms, but I have read that on days when they film, they sometimes have customers pull up to the drive-thru and begin honking their horn due to lack of service! I’m not sure if that’s legitimate though. This McDonald’s is pretty out-of-the-way in and industrial area and even has signs stating it’s not real!

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Our final roadside stop before leaving grandma’s house to continue our road trip was right on one of America’s most famous roads. When visiting my grandmother, you can’t avoid driving on Route 66. (Even though I didn’t realize it was actually Route 66 until I was about eighteen!) So while I haven’t really traveled on Route 66, I am very familiar with a several-mile stretch of it. And with that familiarity, I am going to assume that the best place to eat in all of Route 66 is right here:

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Locally-famous Vince’s has delicious spaghetti, as well as garlic bread, cheese bread, soup, and salad. It was a delicious way to cap off all the things we saw in the street and alongside the road!

While these days were jam-packed with roadside attractions, I’ve been to other interesting places that I love as well. What roadside attractions have you visited? Are there any that are on your bucket list?

Accommodations, destinations, road trip

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: The Desert

Do dinosaurs still roam the Earth? Is there beauty in the desert? And what happened in the desert that would cause me to write my first angry review? You’ll find all that out in today’s post, but first, you may want to read what happened first on this road trip. 

After our night in Sacramento, my mom and I ate breakfast at the hostel and were back on the road by 7:45. There really isn’t much of anything on the I-5 between Sacramento and the Greater LA region. Besides rest stops, our only break was at a Ghiradelli outlet in Lathrop, where I enjoyed a free sample as well as an expensive-but-worth-it chocolate chip cookie. We arrived at my grandmother’s house in the afternoon and spent the night there. The next day, all three generations of us set off on a unique part of our journey.

Twentynine Palms Desert in California

I grew up hearing stories about my mom’s childhood memories of “the desert”. Despite hearing about these experiences, I never went to the desert myself, and never even thought to ask where exactly it was! But my mom thought it would be a great idea to take my grandma out to Twentynine Palms where they used to vacation in order to relive old memories, and introduce me to what they’ve been talking about my entire life!

Desert View from Holiday Inn Express in Twentynine Palms

Before we got to our hotel in Twentynine Palms, we made a couple detours along the way. The first one was at the store for Hadley Fruit Orchards in Cabazon. It’s a pretty similar concept to Harry & David in that it’s a mail order gourmet company selling mostly local foods. But there was one thing that really made Hadley stand out, and I’m not even talking about the wide selection of free samples. They are known for their specialty date shakes. As I was ordering my shake, I realized that I didn’t even know where dates came from. (I then learned they came from palm trees. Who knew?)

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The next stop was also in Cabazon, just down the street. My mom excitedly asked me to take a picture of a giant sign that said “EAT”. So I did. She had told me about dinosaurs and was looking forward to seeing them again.

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I didn’t realize this until after the trip, but the t-rex looked pretty familiar to me. It has become pretty famous on Pinterest as an iconic roadside attraction. In fact, he’s pretty famous since he was in other media, too.

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But the first dinosaur here was the even larger apatosaurus. My mom remembered that for years it did not have its “skin” on and was just a metal skeleton! There was a picnic table in the shade under the apatosaurus’ belly that would have been nice for a picnic, and apparently there was a museum entrance in his tail that probably would have been interesting, but it was a full day of plans with places to go and things to see, so we said good-bye to the Cabazon Dinosaurs and journeyed on.

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There was a long stretch of road that was very windy, so at least they were making full use of it by setting up thousands of windmills. Is it just me that enjoys driving by a bunch of windmills?

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After driving through a few small desert towns and seeing a Joshua tree for the first time, we checked in at the hotel and then set out to find lunch. My mom chose a burger and ice cream shop that she was sometimes treated to as a kid.117

Oh, but the stories of her childhood did not end there! As we drove around town, she pointed out that the military base looked a whole lot bigger than it used to, and showed me the pumpkin carriage that used to be her favorite playground toy, and all kinds of little things like that!

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But the biggest walk down memory lane happened on Goodie Lane. The people in that area always referred to it as Goodie Lane long before it officially got a street name, because two brothers with the last name of Goodie each had houses across the street from each other. (My mom’s family referred to them as Goodie One and Goodie Two!) But this is also the street where my great-grandparents had their desert house, where my mom, grandma, grandpa, and three uncles would stay on their desert trips.I took pictures of that house, as well as both of the Goodie houses, but since we have no idea who owns them now, wouldn’t it be strange to post pictures of their houses online? It was weird enough that we we got out of the car to take pictures on this underpopulated dirt road!

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After plenty of sightseeing, we went back to spend the night at the Holiday Inn Express of Twentynine Palms. Now, I know I’ve said on here before that I hate hotels, but this particular Holiday Inn Express was not a normal hotel. First of all, it had a wonderful, friendly staff. At check in, they told us that they would be popping popcorn in a few hours if we were interested in any! When I turned on my room’s television, none of the channels worked, so they sent up not one, but two staff to get it fixed! While they were working on it (which in this situation turned out to be a not-so-easy task), they kept a smile on their face as they recommended restaurants and places to go. But besides the staff, the hotel had little “extras” to make it especially memorable. In the evening, they had a guest reception where they provided so many snacks, we didn’t even have to go out for dinner! And at the continental breakfast, there was this cool contraption that I have dubbed “the pancake printer”!

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Our experience with the Holiday Inn Express staff and resources was wonderful, but unfortunately, the next place we visited did not have such great values. Yes, I am about to complain. I don’t like to do it, but I believe in this case that it is necessary, and even I am surprised that I have to complain about a National Park.

I haven’t mentioned this, but my grandmother has been handicapped for as long as I can remember, and since I last saw her four years ago, she has switched from crutches to a wheelchair. When my mom was planning the desert leg of this trip, she made sure that everything would be accessible for her. She got grandma a handicap-accessible hotel room, and the Holiday Inn Express not only did a great job in furnishing that room, but making sure all three of us were doing well. When researching Joshua Tree National Park, she found out that the Oasis Visitor Center had a fully-paved, handicap-accessible nature trail. We were excited to go. But when we got there, we found this:

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Now, construction can be annoying, but it’s understandable that everything needs improvement at some point or another. But it is NOT okay to blockade the one and only wheelchair ramp leading from the parking lot to the sidewalk! And that wasn’t even the worst of it. Despite the Joshua Tree National Park’s website touting that the path was accessible (and it didn’t note any changes relevant to that in their construction announcement), the temporary path entrance was made of sand. FYI, wheelchairs cannot be pushed through sand without getting very, very stuck! But the part that really got to me was how rudely we were treated by the park staff regarding this (especially since we were so polite in light of the situation at hand)! Joshua Tree National Park, your staff needs an improvement just as much as your Visitor Center trail does!

I sent the park a message via Facebook several days ago including even more details about our poor experience, and so far I have not received any sort of response. If you are interested in finding out if and when they respond to this, you can check out the message by clicking here. (If it leads to a broken link, then it means they must have deleted my comment instead of using decent PR to respond!)

My grandma insisted that she stay behind while the two of us took the trail, and while we were both still incredibly frustrated at the experience so far, we decided to go ahead and take a look at some of the scenery anyway.

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It had changed a lot since my mom was little, and is now just several yards off a road and contained lots of dead plants. But we did come across a lot of cottontails, which were fun to find.

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And being the desert, of course there was cacti. In the following picture, I asked my mom to pretend that she had just sat on the cactus!

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We then made our way out of the desert and back to grandma’s house, to rest up for more adventures that lay ahead!

I hope you enjoyed hearing my perspective on the good, the bad, and the ugly of the desert! But going to the desert was not the end of our road trip. I have a couple more posts planned for the next few stops. If you’d like to get a preview of what’s to come, I posted some pictures on my Instagram account!

Accommodations, destinations, Foodie, road trip, tour

The Beginning of a Road Trip: Exploring Northern California

Just last Thursday, I returned home from a nine-day road trip with my mom. Some days didn’t have too much going on, so I won’t bore you with details of the mundane. But some days were jam-packed with activity, warranting multiple posts to describe all that happened on the trip. The very first day was probably the most eventful day, so this post only covers Day One.

Oh, and one more thing before we begin: last month I finally got Instagram! Feel free to follow me (I’m @JessicaLippe, of course!), and to see all the pictures specific to this trip, check out the hashtag #roadtrippingwithmom.

We decided to leave early on Tuesday, April 21st in order to pack a full afternoon of fun at that night’s destination. And even though I think 6 am was a little too early, we’d often leave at 3 or 4 am when I was younger. Most of our relatives live in Southern California, so our family would usually make a straight shot of the 11-hour drive to get there. But I had a little treat for my mom this time around, so in exchange she agreed to take me to the Sundial Bridge, an attraction I always saw from the freeway but we never had time to stop at.

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The Sundial Bridge is a piece of art spanning a river in Redding, California. It is literally a giant sundial and has markings for telling time at certain times of day. The bridge itself has a walkway made of green glass. Even though it isn’t exactly see-through, our first few steps out on it gave us that shaky feeling!

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When taking these pictures, we both noticed that the cable was pulsing (possibly from the birds landing on it further up?). But somehow this inspired us to have me hang from one of the cables.

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The Sundial Bridge was not the only thing around. It was actually part of a very large park with several other attractions. We did walk around a little bit, but I would love to go back there someday, perhaps with a bicycle.

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The next stop was a place we used to always use when going on trips to California: the city of Corning. You may not have heard of Corning before, but there’s a good chance you’ve eaten olives from there. And our go-to place is the Olive Pit. It’s been about four years since I last went this way, so some of the things have been changed a bit, but I was comforted to know that they still have a wide variety of oils, vinegars, and jams to sample on. 055

One thing from Olive Pit that I had never tried before was their shakes. They have some typical shakes, but they also have specialty shakes made out of flavored balsamic vinegar. I chose the Dark Raspberry Balsamic Vinegar shake. Yes, it sounds weird, but it is so good. You’ll just have to try it for yourself to see what I mean!

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The next driving break we took was for lunch. It’s not right to go to California without stopping at an In-N-Out. There are two things I really like about In-N-Out: 1. There is a Bible verse printed on every cup and food wrapper, and 2. Instead of ordering frozen french fries like most fast food places, they get shipments of fresh potatoes and make the fries right there. (I also like their milkshakes, but since I just had a balsamic vinegar one, I decided to skip it this time.) I tried to convince my mom to dress up in their paper hats, but she refused, so the only picture I have is of a cup and food wrapper:

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Not too long after lunch, we arrived at the place where we’d stay the night. In order to make the most of this trip, I offered to introduce my mother to hostelling. She agreed to it, but since she can sometimes be particular about things, I wanted to ease her into staying in hostels instead of scaring her away. I found a hostel along our route in Sacramento that was originally a Victorian mansion, and I knew that would be just the sort of thing she’d love.

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Probably the best part of being in Sacramento was just looking around the hostel at all the Victorian-style things they had!

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And because there wasn’t much of a price difference between two dorm beds and a two-person private room, I sprang for the private room. I’ve been upgraded to private rooms at hostels before, but I’ve never actually paid for one, so I guess that was a first for me too!

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The one attraction we didn’t want to miss out on was touring the California State Capitol Building. We went in the travel clothing we had been in all day, but once we got past security, we realized that everyone else was wearing business suits and dresses. We stuck out like sore thumbs! We tried to make excuses, such as it was just because we weren’t from the state, but my mom was actually born in California, so that didn’t really work.

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We learned a lot of things on the tour. For example, for many years the building was not earthquake-safe (not a good thing for the building that represents California!), so everyone that entered the building during that time had to sign a waiver. Eventually they closed down the building for several years and a did a complete remodel. My mom then realized that when she had toured the capitol with her dad as a teenager, it must have been just a matter of months before it was shut down!

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We also learned that the dome seen on the outside isn’t the same dome that is seen on the inside. The outer dome is too tall for artwork to be seen from the inside, so a shorter inner dome stacked inside creates the illusion that they’re the same. However, there’s quite a bit of space between the two!

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And although there was no chance we could get inside, we did have to stop by the outside of the governor’s office. When Arnold Schwarzenegger was in office, he got a bear statue and let it stay at the Capitol. Our tourguide told us they had secretly named it “Bacteria Bear” because so many tourists rub it!

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The Capitol was our only planned attraction, but we decided to walk around and see the other sights too. We went to some of the shops in Old Sacramento and also looked over the Sacramento River.

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Before retreating back to the hostel, mom and I stopped at a Pho restaurant. We’ve enjoyed the soup made at home, and I was interested to see what it was like when authentically made. The spring roll was delicious, too.

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And although we got some sleep at the HI-Sacramento Hostel, we once again had to get up early the next morning (though not as early as the day before) and make it the rest of the way down California. But I’ll save that for tomorrow!

Accommodations, Bucket List, destinations, Foodie, photography, road trip, travel tips

Back on the Blog!

Has it really been a month and a half since my last time sharing with you? Well, I’m back and with some good news:

It’s May!

I will confess, winter is by far my least favorite season. I am always up for travel, but it just doesn’t seem as fun if I can’t play in the sun. So I tend to save my trips until the weather gets warmer, usually in April. But May is my official kick-off for travel season. My birthday is on May 10th, so I typically like to celebrate that by doing some sort of crazy adventure. And then the adventures just continue from there.

The biggest reason I didn’t blog during April was because I was trying to jam-pack a whole lot of travel into just a few weeks. While that was tiresome, it does come with a reward as you will soon get to hear about all of the following:

What’s the view from the other Table Rock?

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What to do on the Oregon Coast when it’s too cold to get into the water. (And it’s almost always too cold!)

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Can you wear shorts in the snow while at Crater Lake National Park?

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Weird wonders of Union Creek.

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How to turn a giant sundial into workout equipment.

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How to under-dress to go to the California State Capitol. (When you typically overdress every other day!)

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How to introduce your mother to the wonderful world of staying in hostels.

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Where to find these prehistoric pals.

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The good, the bad, and the ugly of the desert.

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Why what appears to be an ordinary mall parking lot was probably the best, most outatime attraction!139

Why what appears to be a typical McDonald’s doesn’t allow people to buy burgers… and is surrounded by a security fence!

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Where the best place to stop is in the limited miles I’ve traveled on Route 66.

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What these rocks are and where to find them.

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What to do (besides gamble) in The Biggest Little City in the World!

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Stay tuned as you’ll hear all the details!

What are you most interested in reading about? 

#ThrowbackThursday, Accommodations, destinations, road trip

#ThrowBackThursday: Winter Weekend at the Creation Museum

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, last year I spent a few days in Petersburg, Kentucky. But I did so much more than just spend a night in a BnB!

The weekend started when I had to drive to Columbus, Ohio to take a test. This test would determine whether I would be able to continue my EMT certification, so the weeks leading up to it were filled with lots and lots of studying! Since I wouldn’t know for several days after taking the test whether I passed or failed, I decided to eliminate the exam result anxiety by leaving the testing site afterward and, instead of heading back north where I was living, continue south. Then I would at least have a wonderful memory of a weekend trip, regardless of whether I passed or failed. (Spoiler alert: I passed!)

I had never driven south of Columbus before, and it was mostly farmland until I passed King’s Island park. Then I swung around Cincinnati and into Indiana for a few minutes before crossing the border into Kentucky. From there, it was a short drive to arrive in small town Petersburg.

I stayed there for two nights, one night for each of the two accommodations available in Petersburg. The first night was an incredibly unique location: a bank! Well, at least a former bank remodeled into a guesthouse. Deborah’s Guesthouses provides unique places to stay in Petersburg, but The Bank sounded the most appealing. Although there were three rooms that you can sleep in, the most coveted one is the former vault!

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Because I arrived well after dark, I spent my first night just enjoying The Bank’s amenities before falling asleep. In the morning, I found a guide that provided information to take a historical self-guided walking tour of the town. It was nice to see how this friendly town looked in daylight.

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I then headed to the Creation Museum, which is just a short drive out of the town and a big attraction for Northern Kentucky. It was surprising to go from small town and farmland to immediately hitting a huge parking lot filled with cars! The dinosaur footprints led me to the front door.

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Inside the Creation Museum is a wide variety of displays supporting the creationist theory of how the world was made.

There was an exhibit on what “Lucy” (often considered the missing link) might have looked like…

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There were Biblical wax characters.

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…and lots of Bibles and other ancient Christian work…

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A recreation of the Garden of Eden allowed a glimpse at what the world might have looked like when it was first formed…

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…along with what kind of animals may have existed back then!

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And then there were displays of how the Earth changed once sin entered. (I especially like the display of how Adam and Eve were eating some sort of berry or grape-like fruit, because there is no evidence to show that the forbidden fruit was an apple!)

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Then there was the Ark Room, where 1% of the ark was displayed. (Answers in Genesis, who owns the Creation Museum, is now building a second attraction called the Ark Encounter, which will feature a full-scale version of the ark, complete with all the Biblical requirements of its features!)

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For lunch, I ate the “Eden Wrap” at Noah’s Cafe, which was ah-mazing!

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There were also some outdoor exhibits, that anyone can visit for free. I loved the petting zoo, with adorable, funny-looking animals like alpacas and camels!

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Because it was winter, the pond by the outdoor garden trails was frozen over. Nessie sure looks cold! DSCF5935

Because this trip took me to the Greater Cincinnati Area for the first time, I had to celebrate by going to Gold Star Chili and ordering my first-ever Cincinnati chili. An interesting combination, but it worked! I like it!DSCF5936

For my second night, I stayed at First Farm Inn Bed and Breakfast. I think I’ve only stayed in a BnB once before, when my church youth choir traveled, the very first year I was in it one of my host homes was actually a BnB. This one was a very different setting, being on a farm. One of the house cats followed me everywhere inside, and even insisted sleeping in my bed (until he attacked my feet in the middle of the night, when he was kicked out into the hallway). I stayed in a very nice room.

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But this BnB had more than just nice rooms. And even more than just nice breakfast. One of the hosts was an actor, and I was given a ticket to attend Godspell where he played John the Baptist/Judas. I had never seen the play before, and after hating the musical Jesus Christ: Superstar, I was expecting a disappointment. Boy, was I wrong! That was a great play, made even better by the cast at Footlighters! Another perk of staying at First Farm is that they have horses. I even got to go out on a riding session with the horse Sundance.

Because all Creation Museum tickets are good for two days, I was planning to spend Sunday at the museum as well. The problem was, overnight, a horrible ice storm hit! Everything was covered in ice; it took several tries until I could get any of my car doors to open, and it took even longer to defrost the windows enough that I could at least see a little bit! All that time, I had to be careful not to slip on the road. I considered just heading straight home for safety, but I thought that the road conditions may get better later in the day, so I carefully headed to the museum. (I stopped along the way for a geocache, but when I found it, I couldn’t even open the container because the layer of ice surrounding it was thicker than the actual geocache!)

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I’m not sure if it was because of the storm, or because it was a Sunday, but hardly anyone was at the museum that day, so I was able to spend as much time as I wanted at each exhibit without having to wait to get a good view or worry about someone waiting behind me. This was a much better day at the museum, and I noticed a lot more throughout, like the live creatures near the entrance… DSCF5949

…or Adam and Eve in the garden right before the serpent came down to tempt them…

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…and this creepy door that kind of stood out from its surroundings like a sore thumb…

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…and how there were workers that built the ark just because they were employed, yet they still thought Noah was crazy…DSCF5968

…and having just taken my EMT certification test, the medical diagrams supporting creationism were of note…DSCF5973

…and even though the “Confusion” exhibit featuring the Tower of Babel was small, it had beautiful art.DSCF5974

Of course with the weather, all the outdoor things were closed that day, but here’s one of my favorite animals from their petting zoo: a zonkey! (And the animal behind him is a zorse.)

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There was an almost-hidden exhibit showing different species of dinosaurs…2014-03-01 17.10.37

…and even some geological finds…

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All in all, it was a busy, jam-packed travel weekend, and the snow-covered drive home just made for another adventure. In closing, here’s a picture of me with “Lucy”.

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Don’t forget to sign up for your $25 AirBnB credit, so that you can stay in some crazy cool accommodations like the ones featured above! 

Accommodations, moving, road trip

Across America By Bus: Nebraska

This is part three of the “Across America By Bus” series.

Some of the most valuable lessons about community were taught to me in Nebraska. I spent two years living near Fremont, and there were many times I had to rely on those around me. Everyone I met there proved to be a true blessing. This time also opened up more travel to me, especially since it was my first time living away from home. Work provided many opportunities for paid travel that I never would have expected, and I was encouraged to travel solo for the first time too. I wanted to make sure to visit this area on my cross-country trip. Everyone turned out to be a blessing once again, even though most of them didn’t even know I was coming!

Camp Rivercrest

It took all afternoon to get from Chicago to Omaha. I got picked up by someone I had never even met before, but she was a roommate of a friend. After hearing a little about her life and that she also had experience at the camp I had worked at, I quickly befriended her. I spent the night in Omaha, and woke up super-early the next morning so a friend could drive me to Camp Rivercrest in Fremont.

Camp Rivercrest Cornfields

The ride at sunrise provided a great opportunity to catch up and share experiences with a fellow traveler. We eventually arrived at the house I would be staying in to unload my gear. I then went to the camp director’s house. He and his wife have two kids, so I knew that they would be up around this time to get ready for school. But the thing was, they had no idea that I was coming to Nebraska, let alone their house! I guess I came a little too early, because no one was up quite yet. I decided to walk along the camp-owned cornfields. When I went back to their house, I could tell they were having breakfast in the kitchen. One of the kids was at the sink by the window, so I tapped on the glass. I don’t know what startled her more: the fact that someone was tapping on the window early in the morning, or that I was there! After everyone’s initial shock, they let me inside, and we caught up before the kids had to catch the bus. Us remaining adults chatted a bit more, and then they proceeded to show me all the changes that had happened in the year I had been gone. So much had happened: five acres were added with new-to-them buildings, an old house was remodeled into offices and meeting rooms, the old offices turned into storage and prayer rooms, and my bedroom suite had been adapted for visiting workers. I knew some of this had happened, but I didn’t realize to what magnitude! (Perhaps the reason I didn’t know was because when I left, they lost their fabulous media manager that would have kept the public updated on these kinds of things. Ha.)

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Nebraska was my most restful stop, but I did enjoy visiting Fremont Lakes. I spent the afternoon there with some friends, and we just caught up on life, shared experiences from Ohio (they grew up there), ate food, and splashed around in the lake. It was actually their house that I was spending the night in, so they eventually brought me back home where I rested through the next day.

Platte River at Camp Rivercrest

I walked around camp, reliving the memories. It was refreshing to see all the old lodges, cabins, and outdoor adventure elements. When living here, I enjoyed going to the back of the property overlooking the Platte River. The river was still breathtaking as usual. I eventually found a few former coworkers that I hadn’t seen yet, and one offered me a ride back to the Omaha bus station.

Midwest sky

I did take Nebraska at a much slower pace than anywhere else I went, but I was able to catch up with more people here than anywhere else too. Besides, it was good that I got to take this break midway through the trip, because I would be getting very little sleep the rest of the time!

I’d like to use this post to shout out to Camp Rivercrest, where I lived and worked for two years. If you agree that they should redesign their website (like they’ve been wanting to do for years now), encourage them to call me!

moving, road trip, saving money, travel tips

Across America By Bus (Greyhound Perks and Pitfalls)

This is Part One of the Across America By Bus series.

This past July, I backpacked around Niagara Falls. My primary goal of this trip was to have a ton of awesome new experiences. My secondary goal was to keep it minimalist. Both of these goals came into play when I decided how to get to Niagara Falls. Because I was living in Central Ohio, it seemed almost pointless to fly. Besides, the Niagara Falls airport is nowhere near the actual Niagara Falls. Driving was out of the question. I already find driving to be somewhat stressful, and it would be even worse figuring out directions, navigating traffic, and driving my car that was already on the fritz. And although I did enjoy taking a train trip a few years ago, there are no Amtrak stations in Central Ohio. That only left one option:

The Greyhound bus.

I had never ridden in a Greyhound before, but I had heard and read plenty of horror stories. But it would be a new experience for me, and I would save a lot of money. Besides, it wasn’t that long of a trip, so surely I could handle it.

I took three different buses there and back. One from Mansfield, Ohio to Cleveland, one from Cleveland to Buffalo, and from there I took a New York Trailways bus to Niagara Falls. It turned out to be a great experience! Right away I started telling my friends, family, and fellow travelers the perks of riding the Greyhound:

-You save lots of money!

-It’s the most environmentally-friendly way to travel

-You can take a carry-on plus one checked bag for free

-Footrests

-Reclining Seats

-Large panoramic windows are perfect for drive-by photography

-Centrally-located drop-offs and pick-ups

-Personal adjustable air vents

-Free WiFi (woo-hoo!)

-Power Outlets (double woo-hoo!)

-Enough rest stops so you never have to use the mysterious bathroom in the back of the bus

-A sense of community you can’t typically find on an airplane

(Note that these features are based on the new bus models; some older models are still in commission, but they are getting rare.)

As mentioned in previous posts, I moved from Ohio to Oregon a few weeks ago. It was the biggest move I ever made. I had to travel through ten states and four time zones all the way across the country. And guess how I got there?

Yep, the Greyhound bus!

Because I didn’t want to spend days on end inside a bus, I bought four separate bus tickets so that I could stop at a few different cities, see the sights, and visit some friends. I bought a ticket from Columbus to Chicago, from there to Omaha, from there to Denver, and finally, to my home in Oregon. The bus ride combined with several days of mini vacations ended up taking me nearly eight days to make this trip. During this time, I did see the darker side of Greyhound. While I think overall Greyhound is a worthwhile experience, these are some of the pitfalls:

-Regardless of the time of day, stops are made every 2-3 hours, so it’s really hard to sleep

-The seats don’t have enough legroom

-The overhead compartments are usually too small to hold typical carry-ons, which translates to even less legroom

-Small children can have meltdowns on long rides

-Some (not all) bus drivers can be in very bad moods

-The buses run late more often than they’re on time

-You have to transfer your own luggage every time you change buses

-Fellow passengers can be cranky, annoying, or have body odor

-YOU could be cranky, annoying, or have body odor

No, traveling cross-country by bus is not for the faint of heart. However, I think everyone can benefit from taking a bus ride that’s only a few hours long. I was really glad to have the experience of my Ohio-to-Niagara bus ride before embarking across America. Because of it, I was able to come up with some handy tips that probably saved my sanity. If you’re heading on a Greyhound trip anytime soon, here’s some tried-and-true advice you may want to consider:

-Buy your tickets online and several weeks in advance. You’ll save a ton of money that way.

-If you plan to sleep, come prepared. I brought melatonin tablets, lavender lotion, a Snuggie, and a pillow. You may want to bring a neck pillow instead of a full-size one, and earplugs may also be beneficial. I’ve heard some people suggest bringing an eye mask, but I would advise against it. I think you’re much more likely to get robbed if you’re already blindfolded!

-Unless you enjoy eating nothing but fast food and convenience store snacks, bring a few healthy foods along with you. Yes, food and drink are allowed on the bus!

-Bring hand sanitizer and keep it convenient. The 3.1 ounce liquid rule doesn’t apply to buses, so feel free to bring an industrial-sized bottle!

-Don’t expect to look your best. I always kept my hair tied back and covered with a buff, hat, scarf, or some combination of all three. I changed my clothes once per day and brushed my teeth during layovers. Other than that, just make sure you apply deodorant, and don’t even bother with hair styling, make-up, or fashion.

-Pack as light as possible. Because I was moving, I had a lot to carry. It was a hassle.

-You may find some sketchy people on the bus. Sit near the front of the bus where you can easily call for help from the bus driver. I even wore a rescue whistle under my shirt. I never had to blow it, but it could have saved me if I got into a dangerous situation.

-Try to keep track of where you’re going and how much longer you’ll be on the bus. For some legs of the ride, I pulled out my GPS so I could follow the route and know exactly where we were at. When I didn’t use it, I sometimes wouldn’t even know what state we were in!

-Using the WiFi is a great way to pass time, but don’t expect it to always work. (And even when it does work, you cannot use it to stream videos.) Other things I did to pass the time included watching DVDs, writing in my travel journal, napping, and conversing with my fellow passengers.

-Try to talk at least a little bit with your fellow English-speaking passengers. It will make everyone more comfortable.

-If it’s light outside and you have a several-hour layover in any given city, do yourself a favor and get out of the bus station! Because stations are centrally-located, you’ll probably see quite a bit on a short walk.

Even after spending too-many-hours-to-count on the bus, I can’t wait for my next opportunity to ride the Greyhound. I signed up for Greyhound’s Road Rewards, and between my Niagara Falls trip and my Ohio to Oregon trip, I earned enough points to get a free companion pass on my next trip! I’m excited to introduce someone else to the joys of riding the Greyhound. But first, I need to figure out where to go!

Stay tuned for “Across America By Bus, Part Two”, in which I actually tell you what I did at my stops across the country.

Accommodations, day trip, destinations, road trip, travel tips

Central Ohio: Amish Country and More

I just moved to Oregon a few weeks ago, but before that I spent a year (plus one week) living in Central Ohio. My sister Jen had been working at a orphanage mission in Mexico for part of that year as well. Upon returning to America, she wanted to visit me. Of course I was excited to see her again, and I was excited to be her tour guide for her first-ever visit to Ohio. But then I remembered…

I live in Central Ohio! What will we do?

Outside of Columbus, Central Ohio is a pretty middle-of-nowhere area. I lived in Marengo, which has a population of 342! But despite the lack of people, there are actually plenty of things to do! Some things may involve driving over an hour, but here are a few things Jen and I ended up doing:

President Warren G. Harding’s Home and Tomb, Marion

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Did you know Ohio has given our nation seven presidents? Warren G. Harding is one of two presidents that lived in Central Ohio, and even campaigned on the front porch of his home! We both enjoyed the first half of the guided tour of this historic house. You may be wondering why I only said we enjoyed the first half. You see, Jen passed out in the upstairs hallway! We missed the middle part as I was helping her to recover. After the color returned to her face, she rested in the gift shop and I returned for the last part of the tour.

At the end of the tour, we were both feeling great again, so we drove a few miles through downtown Marion to reach the tomb of President Harding and his wife. This tomb is something you’d expect to find in Washington, D.C.! Except here, there’s a lot less people, and security, so we felt free to walk around the memorial at our leisure.

The Columbus Zoo, Powell

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Despite being told multiple times that this zoo was really awesome and I needed to visit, this was actually my first time here. The last zoo I had been to was the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo over a year ago, and Jen had visited the San Francisco Zoo a few months prior. Even though these are considered the top two zoos in America, we both found the Columbus Zoo to be just as good! A new Africa exhibit had recently opened, and we ate there at a restaurant that overlooked the “savannah” filled with giraffes, lions, and other creatures. Collectively, our favorite animals were apes, red pandas, penguins, polar bears, and flamingos. However, the thing we liked best about the zoo were the statues of animals that we found throughout the park. We had to pose with every single one of them for pictures!

After spending most of the day at the zoo, we went to the nearby city of Powell for something sweet. Rita’s and Jeni’s both have excellent frozen treats!

President Rutherford B. Hayes’ Birthplace, Delaware

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This is more of a joke than an actual trip. While driving near Delaware (the Ohio city, not the state!), I asked Jen if she would be interested in swinging by President Hayes’ birthplace. I then proceeded to drive to a BP gas station. Once at the station, I announced “here we are!” She was confused. She thought I had stopped here to fill up the gas tank, but then I pointed to a memorial plaque. This gas station was indeed the birthplace of Rutherford B. Hayes!

Of course, back in his day, it wasn’t a gas station; it was his family’s home. Long after he grew up and moved out, his house was demolished, paved over, and transformed into the (British-owned!) gas station we see today.

Amish Country, Holmes County

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Now THIS is why people visit Central Ohio! Holmes County has the largest population of Amish, and many of them are welcoming to us “English” as we visit their shops, tours, and eateries. Because we arrived on a Sunday and the Amish take this day of rest very seriously, there wasn’t a whole lot to do. So we visited Guggisberg Cheese Factory (where Baby Swiss was invented), and then checked into Blessings Lodge.

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Blessings Lodge is located within walking distance of downtown Berlin, Ohio, and is a wonderful centralized location for everything going on in the heart of Amish Country. Although it has the conveniences of indoor plumbing, electricity, and cable television, it still reflects the Christian values that are shared with the Amish.
Each room at the Blessings Lodge is unique, and my sister and I enjoyed our stay at the “Faith” Simple Blessings Cabin. It was her first visit to Holmes County and my third, but it was the first time for both of us to stay at this cabin, which we agreed was our favorite part of this getaway! The porch offered amazing countryside views (and there were binoculars to gain a better perspective). The kitchen allowed us to save money by making our own meals, and we were surprised to be greeted with Amish cookies waiting for us on the kitchen table! The bathroom featured a Jacuzzi tub, and there were enough beds to sleep up to seven people. These were just a few of the amenities. The owners did an excellent job providing special touches to make the Blessings Cabin feel like home, such as games, books, and décor that can only be found in Amish Country.

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After a restful night’s sleep, we headed into the tourist area to make the most of our day. Lacking a plan, we decided to do anything that sounded interesting at the time. We began by walking around and visiting shops in Walnut Creek. This town has a street filled with all kinds of gift shops, a woodworking shop, and best of all, Coblentz Chocolate Factory! Just down the street was Der Dutchman, where we enjoyed an authentic Amish lunch.

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We then decided to tour Yoder’s Amish Home. It has a gift shop filled with Amish-made goods, a barn full of farm animals, and two houses that represent Amish living. Our tour guide was formerly Amish, and many of the employees here were practicing Amish themselves! It was very fun and educational.

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Our last stop was the cheese factory of all cheese factories: Heini’s Cheese Chalet! With samples of nearly every cheese they make, plus a variety of fudge samples, we didn’t even need dinner!

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Bridge of Dreams, Brinkhaven

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On the way to Holmes County, we saw a sign for Ohio’s Second Longest Covered Bridge. We decided that we would definitely stop by on the way back. I’m glad we remembered to! It was fun to drive across, even though it ended up not going anywhere and we eventually had to turn around and go back. Later, through researching online, I found out that this is called the Bridge of Dreams. It’s 370 feet long and was originally built in the 1920s. I also learned that Ohio is the state with the second-largest amount of covered bridges, coming in just behind Pennsylvania.

At the end of this week, I realized that Central Ohio actually has quite a bit to do! We didn’t even do it all! Here are a few other things I could not do when Jen was in town, but did on my own:

-Malabar Farm State Park, Lucas

-Mansfield Reformatory, Mansfield

-A slew of things in Columbus, such as COSI, Topiary Garden, German Village, Ohio State Campus, Art Museum, the site of the first Wendy’s, and the World’s Largest Gavel

Note: This post was made possible in part by Blessings Lodge.