destinations, travel tips

Happy Half Birthday to Me!

Today I am exactly 282 months old, or 23.5 years. No, I’m not one of those self-centered people who try to make up as many occasions as possibly to celebrate my existence, but I’ve always used this day as a time of reflection. I’ve only had 6 months of experience being 23 years old, yet in just 6 months I will have a new age to experience! So let’s take a look at what has happened since my birthday, and then plan what to do with the rest of the year!

Going on a bike ride around Columbus, Ohio happened to bring me to the World's Largest Gavel!
Going on a bike ride around Columbus, Ohio happened to bring me to the World’s Largest Gavel!

My 23rd year started on May 10th, 2014. I wanted to celebrate my birthday by taking a trip, because my favorite birthdays have been while I was traveling. I celebrated my 8th, 13th, 18th, and 22nd birthday in Disney World. No, my parents didn’t take me to Disney World just to celebrate my annual milestone; my birthday just happens to be the best time of year to go! But there was no way I would be able to get to Disney World this year, so I looked more locally. At the time, I lived about an hour away from Columbus, but I had never actually spend much time there. So I decided to book a weekend at The Wayfaring Buckeye (reviewing this hostel helped me rediscover my travel writing passion), throw my bicycle in the back of my Explorer, and head toward the city. I may have spent my birthday alone, but it didn’t even matter because I got to go to a topiary garden, a humongous bookshop, a record-breaking gavel, a fun science museum, two street fairs, and Buffalo Wild Wings, accessing all this on just two wheels! I even went to the Capitol Building and art museum the next day, and of course I set aside some time to call my family and just kick back.

At the science museum, I got to ride a self-balancing unicycle that was two stories high!
At the science museum, I got to ride a self-balancing unicycle that was two stories high!

I had been working at a retreat center as an outdoor school instructor. Sadly, the school year was just about ending, which meant the job was transitioning. I had the opportunity to help build a new website, and unfortunately I was also given the task of being a lifeguard. Since my summer work was looking somewhat bleak, I started making plans for my days off to “escape” in the world of travel, which also included filling up the remaining weekends in May with even more travel!

Harding Memorial Tomb
Me at the Harding Memorial.

The next weekend I had to go to Marion, Ohio, which I had never been to before. I looked up things I could do while in that town, and was surprised to discover that President Warren G. Harding had lived there, and now he and his wife were buried there! I decided my first stop in Marion would be to visit the cemetery he was buried in. The Harding Memorial looked like something that should only be found in a place like Washington, D.C. But since it was in Central Ohio, it had the bonus of not being crowded with tourists! After finding a geocache near the cemetery, I eventually made it to the event that brought me to Marion in the first place. Secret Keeper Girl had invited me to cover their event so I could feature it in Girlz 4 Christ Magazine. Since it was a mother-daughter event for tween girls, it was a little awkward for me to go by myself. I’m neither a tween nor a mother! But it actually was a great program with some fun games, a message that everyone could take to heart, and a pre-show concert from Copperlily.

Copperlily performing on the Secret Keeper Girl tour.
Copperlily performing on the Secret Keeper Girl tour.

The next week was Memorial Day weekend, and coincidentally, that was the only weekend where I didn’t have any plans. But my work was having a camp out that staff could attend for free, so I turned the back of my Explorer into a bed (while somehow also fitting my bicycle back there) and enjoyed a few nights away from home.

My typical camp set-up included my car (with all my clothes and bedding in the back), my bicycle, and hopefully a provided table to read and eat at!
My typical camp set-up included my car (with all my clothes and bedding in the back), my bicycle, and hopefully a provided table to read and eat at!

Because I had so much fun camping in my car that weekend, the next weekend involved car camping as well! I was invited to a review stay at Turkey Hollow Campground near Millersburg, Ohio AKA Amish Country. I spent two nights there picnicking, sleeping where I could see the stars, walking some paths, and using the camp paddle boat on the pond. During the day, I experienced as much of the Amish life I could in Holmes County by feeding the exotic animals at The Farm at Walnut Creek, touring the schoolhouse, barn, and cyclorama at the Behalt museum, and of course enjoying the authentic shops and foods!

Zebras were one of the several animals I got to pet and feed at The Farm at Walnut Creek. Another highlight was when a giraffe tried to eat my hair!
Zebras were one of the several animals I got to pet and feed at The Farm at Walnut Creek. Another highlight was when a giraffe tried to eat my hair!

My weekend trip to Holmes County ended on June 1st, and sadly that was the first and last trip of June. I remember spending that month working, going to church, and reading. But that also gave me more time to plan a trip to Niagara Falls, which I had wanted to do for a long time! Since Niagara Falls isn’t too far away from Ohio, it would be cheap trip to get there, and I decided to make it even cheaper by taking the Greyhound bus for the first time. Since I had never taken the bus before, I wasn’t sure if the bus station had a parking lot. I decided to drive up to Mansfield to see for myself in early July. And of course, I decided to make a trip out of it!

Doing time in one of the nearly 1000 cells.
Doing time in one of the nearly 1000 cells.

After discovering that there was no parking at all and I would have to arrange for someone to drop me off, I headed over to the Mansfield Reformatory. The outside looks like a castle, and the inside looks like an abandoned prison, which is what it actually is. It has also been a set for a couple of movies and is supposedly a haunted locale. I also spent this day trip visiting a natural park and a natural food store.

Cave of the Winds Trip on the US side of Niagara Falls
Cave of the Winds Trip on the US side of Niagara Falls

The next weekend I headed off to Niagara Falls! I thought this would be my one big trip of the year (fortunately that was proven wrong!) and I enjoyed a weekend of hiking, eating, sightseeing, and visiting Canada for the first time! This trip also really helped me make a name as a travel writer. Starting the eve of my 23rd birthday, I had been comped a couple nights at accommodations for being a writer and reviewer. But this entire 9-day trip only required me to pay for one night of lodging, plus I got a few other perks! But of course, the best part was finally seeing the Niagara Falls in person.

Enjoying the view from the Canada side of Niagara Falls
Enjoying the view from the Canada side of Niagara Falls

A few weeks after returning to my normal life, I got the opportunity to switch my role from tourist to tour guide! My sister had just come back from living in Mexico, and she wanted to explore Ohio before settling back in Oregon. I showed her a few of my favorite places, like Amish Country, President Harding’s tomb, and President Hayes’ birthplace, and she even encouraged me to try out a few new things, like the Columbus Zoo. The few days she spent in Ohio were memorable, not only because they were jam-packed with fun, but also because I decided that I also needed to move back to Oregon after being gone for three years. After all, the main reason I liked working in Ohio was just because of all the trips I could take on my days off!

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Walking through a cute little park next to one of the several cheese factories in Holmes County.

After spending a couple weeks trying to pack what I could and sell what I couldn’t, I finally left Ohio. It was actually miraculous to see everything that occurred in those few short weeks, such as the way my car was sold, the connection to donate my beautiful bed, and the numerous gift exchanges that occurred. I then embarked on my second-ever Greyhound trip, this time for eight days. Although I tried to line up travel writing jobs along the way, it was a holiday weekend and I had a pretty tight schedule, so I couldn’t get anything comped. Yet still, I only ended up paying for one night of lodging (thanks to relatives, former workplaces, overnight bus trips, and one night in a bus station followed by convincing the hostel to let me check in early for free). Besides driving and sightseeing through ten states, I made overnight stops in Chicago, Omaha/Fremont, and Denver. So much happened on this part-moving-expedition, part-road-trip, that you’ll just have to read all five blogs I wrote about it (here, here, here, here, and here) to see what I did!

I don't play favorites when it comes to travel, but a definite highlight was stepping out on the Willis Tower Skydeck's transparent ledge on the 103rd floor!
I don’t play favorites when it comes to travel, but a definite highlight was stepping out on the Willis Tower Skydeck’s transparent ledge on the 103rd floor!

I have spent all my time since then within Oregon boundaries. I got a few nanny and babysitting jobs right off the bat, but while I continued to search for a more regular job, I took a few Oregonian excursions. This included going to the Bigfoot Trap, spending the night in Ashland, and touring the Oregon Vortex, among a few other day trips.

Due to the height change in the Oregon Vortex, my mom and I could finally see eye to eye!
Due to the height change in the Oregon Vortex, my mom and I could finally see eye to eye!

As I mentioned, in addition to my writing work, I started to in-home childcare since moving to Oregon, which now includes a regular part-time nanny gig. A few weeks ago, I was also hired at Harry and David World headquarters to help with the Christmas rush. Not too long after that, I was also hired as a housemother at the Magdalene Home, which is an organization that provides housing and resources to teen mothers and their children. Over the past week, I have been training for this position, and I’m really looking forward to it! My training ended today, just in time for my new training at Harry and David to start tomorrow! I’m actually surprised that working four different jobs is going this smoothly. In fact, the only downside is this means I have early starts every day for a couple of weeks, which will then probably switch to a crazy combination of late nights and early mornings.

So there you have it: just about everything I’ve done over the past six months! So what do the next six months have in store? Obviously there’s work, with the goal to save up enough money so I can enjoy a backpacking trip to Europe, and possibly other destinations! I will also be going forth as one of the few remaining editors of Christian girl magazines, since most of our competition has gone out of business. In response to this, there are plans to expand and improve Girlz 4 Christ, and I am planning to apply for it to become an official non-profit organization! So far I’m not aware of any trips coming up in the next six months, but I’m sure they will happen in early 2015, and I’m ready to take advantage of any opportunities made available to me! Other than that, I don’t really know what will happen for the rest of my 23rd year, but I’m excited to find out. I’ll give you an update on this six months from now- hopefully while celebrating a 24th birthday excursion!

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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.

day trip, destinations, tour

Mansfield Reformatory of Central Ohio

(Originally published July 6, 2014)

I got pulled over yesterday afternoon. And then I went to prison. No, the consequence for speeding isn’t THAT harsh; in fact, the whole reason I was driving in the first place was so I could go to prison. I guess I should explain…

Whenever I have an uninterrupted weekend off from my “real” job, I try to travel somewhere. Because of the holiday, I had a full 72 hours off, but in the midst of planning for some big upcoming trips and recovering from the adventures of the previous week, planning a Fourth of July trip wasn’t exactly on my mind. So there I was, on the birthday weekend of our nation, with nothing to do. After a bit of research, I decided to celebrate my freedom… by going to prison.

Mansfield, Ohio, isn’t too far away from my current home, but even though I’ve lived in the state for over 10 months now, this was one city I still hadn’t visited. It seems like there is lots to do here. There’s a Bible-themed wax museum, a carrousel park, and several beautiful natural parks and museums. But since this was only a spontaneous afternoon trip, I decided to choose one thing to be my main event in Mansfield. So of course, I had to choose the most unique thing I could find… the Mansfield Reformatory.

Since I was visiting a city that’s over 100 times bigger than the population of my current village, I decided to use this opportunity to run a few errands. (And yes, I got pulled over on my way there, and no, I don’t want to talk about it!) I found out where the bus station is, got gas that’s over twenty cents cheaper than anywhere else nearby, and scoured the clearance section of the Mansfield Kroger, which is what I always do whenever I’m near a new Kroger. Then I went to the Reformatory, which on the outside looks like a castle. The inside, however, looks much more grim.

The first part of the self-guided tour was of some offices and the warden’s living quarters. Because it hasn’t been used for years, It is very run-down. The negative thing about that is that there is chipping lead paint EVERYWHERE, making this tour unsafe for little kids and making me feel gross by the time I finished the tour. On the positive side, it did contribute to the historic charm, and for some, it allowed for ghost stories. Yes, they have lots of ghosts sightings and ghost hunts here, and there is even a “Ghost Hunt Manager” on staff! But of course I was much more interested in other aspects, such as the architecture. There were video kiosks situated around the Reformatory, and one mentioned how the staircases were stainless steel in order to be fireproof, but in order to look nice they were painted to look like wood. The videos also showed some scenes for Shawshank Redemption. That was one of the movies that was filmed largely in this building, along with Air Force One. In Air Force One, some of the extras were actual prisoners! I enjoyed going around the warden’s quarters to find scenes from Shawshank Redemption, which in the film was used as offices and conference rooms. Although I haven’t seen the movie before, this is the second place I’ve visited that was part of the set, so I kind of want to see it just so I can say “yeah, I’ve been there”. Here’s me recreating one scene from the movie:

After going through the offices and living quarters, which in itself took quite awhile, the tour led to rooms that the inmates were more likely to see. One of my favorite rooms was the chapel. It had some of the art preserved from when it was in operation, and although it looked fairly ugly now, you can tell that in its day it must have been one of the most beautiful rooms in the prison!

On the stage of the chapel, there was a window with the sign “photography through this window is strictly forbidden!” While I followed the rules, I was of course curious of what there was that I couldn’t photograph. You see, while the reformatory no longer holds prisoners, the newer correction facility right behind it certainly does. I spent quite some time just seeing what was going on, you could see hundreds of people in their uniforms spending time outside. I’m not sure why it was so intriguing, but it was the first time I really got a glimpse of a prison!

After peeking at the modern-day prison, I was soon led to an in-depth look at the old one. The Mansfield Reformatory has two cell blocks. The east one, also known as the world’s largest free-standing steel cell block, is six stories high with one hundred cells on each story- that held a total of 1200 inmates! The tour starts you out on the very top, and even though there was a fence to keep people from falling off (and perhaps preventing suicides back in the day), I was nervous the entire time! I was still frightened even as I went down the next couple of floors, but my longing to explore the cells helped me overcome it. Although all the cells look pretty much the same (except for the operator cells, where an employee would do things like open the cell doors), many of the cells are open to go inside, so of course I had to take some pictures of myself playing inmate!

Seeing the conditions that the inmates lived in was very sobering. I thought my bedroom was small, but the cells were half the size, with a toilet and sink, and shared with someone else! And there were thousands of people who lived here, and, according to one of the kiosk videos, some died here. They did have a library, which was way too small for the 1900 people staying there at any given time, plus it was used as a hospital when necessary. They could shower twice a week, but the public showers looked more like a sprayer you’d find in a barn. The original kitchen and dining area were oh so tiny, no way to make homemade food and certainly no time to taste it! After this I visited the smaller west cell block (only holding 700) and finally the solitary confinement, but that was certainly too saddening to take any pictures.

At the beginning and end of the tour, there were museum-type rooms that contained not only artifacts from the movies on the location, but from several apsects of the Reformatory. There were theatrical posters, cast scripts, a replica electric chair, and creative inventions made by the inmates using their limited resources. After nearly three hours, I knew that there was still so much to explore, but I was getting tired and the building would soon close. (Being trapped alone at night in this building is NOT on my to-do list!) Besides the standard gift shop, the tour ended with hand sanitizer (thank goodness!) and brochures for nearby attractions. I got some information for places that sounded interesting, and even found a coupon for a bulk food store I had heard of earlier. So I decided I would go to Pumpkin Seed, and I’m glad I did. They had all kinds of healthy food, and although some were pricier than what I’ve seen elsewhere, there were some very good deals. I bought discount peanuts and freshly-ground peanut butter, and then headed over to the Gorman Nature Center, where I enjoyed a bike ride/hike and contemplated whether or not I wanted to go the fireworks display that was in a state park fifteen miles away. When I realized that the reformatory itself made for a full day, I decided to head home, going exactly the speed limit the entire way. Besides, next week I’m going to a place where there will also be fireworks…and I’m sure the display will be much, much better. Stay tuned!