A Birthday of High Flying, Good Eats & The Great Outdoors

First off, whether it was by Facebook, Twitter, email, text, phone call, or in person — thank you for all of the birthday wishes this weekend.

The festivities started early on Friday night with Date Night at the ZOOvies. This was the second year in a row we celebrated my birthday with an evening of food, beer, and an 80s classic under the stars.

Pre-movie dinner at Date Night at the ZOOvies

Pre-movie dinner at Date Night at the ZOOvies

The Cleveland Zoological Society always does a great job with ZOOvies – especially, the pre-movie food. This year, the eggrolls and BBQ sandwiches were the standouts.

However, it’s the movie snacks that are my favorite part. Besides popcorn, beer, wine, and soda, ZOOvies features a pretzel bar with multiple dips and a candy bar stacked with bowls of sweets from BA Sweeties.

The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo showed The Great Outdoors, which I had never seen before but Scott kept quoting for the last month.  It was good to finally put a film to the quotes — a film that lived up to the high expectations Scott had set for me.

Scott rests his feet after setting up our chairs at Date Night at the ZOOvies

Scott rests his feet after setting up our chairs at Date Night at the ZOOvies

I loved The Great Outdoors for capturing everything I enjoy about 80s flicks — the family-vacation-gone-wrong-but-it-doesn’t-matter-because-they-still-have-fun; the bawdy humor; Dan Akroyd and John Candy playing off of each other; the sub-titled animal scenes.

I also realized how much I missed hearing John Candy’s voice. There was always a wink and warmth to it.

After eating a plate full of sour gummy bears, I rode a sugar high all the way home from the Zoo, arriving just in time to crash face first into bed.

If you want to learn how you can enjoy the really great outdoors with the Zoo, the Zoological Society’s next featured event is a preview of their upcoming wildlife trips and takes place September 23.

Some of my favorite airplanes from RC Warbirds Over Port Clinton

Some of my favorite airplanes from RC Warbirds Over Port Clinton

Birthday proper was spent fulfilling a lifelong wish. When I was in middle school, I was obsessed with remote-controlled everything. I played with remote-control cars and boats; however, the one thing I never touched was a remote-control airplane. (Mostly, because I’m 100% sure I would have immediately crashed and broken it.)

And I think that made my obsession with them even stronger.  I remember going to a park with my dad and marveling at the beautiful scaled warbirds doing tricks across the sky. Unfortunately, my local hobby shop didn’t offer a lot of flying classes for kids, so I kept myself content with my RC trucks.

When Scott and I found out the Liberty Aviation Museum was hosting RC Warbirds Over Port Clinton on my birthday, we immediately knew it would be the perfect birthday outing.

Classic biplanes, jets, helicopters, aerobatic – RC Warbirds Over Port Clinton featured all kinds of flying machines this past weekend.  Each beautifully constructed, most of which you wouldn’t have known were a model when looking up at the sky.  Here’s a YouTube video from the event:

Best of all, Warbirds over Port Clinton had local RC shops at the show, selling a HUGE range of planes and equipment, including a starter kit whose price had my name all over it. Now if I crash and burn, I won’t feel so bad. And if I don’t crash and burn? I may have a new hobby to enjoy.

After a short nap (at 32, I can’t rock a full day of excitement anymore without a little sleep), we were off to dinner at Spice in Gordon Square.

Spice Kitchen and Bar's Honey Glazed Sirloin

Spice Kitchen and Bar’s Honey Glazed Sirloin

After this year’s birthday dinner, I can’t say enough nice things about Spice Kitchen and Bar. We’ve always enjoyed the restaurant the few times we visited in the past, but our experience on Saturday night was by far the best.

Due to a last minute change in plans, we found ourselves calling Spice at 7pm Saturday to see if they could fit a group of six for 7:45.

A long shot, for sure, but they were incredibly gracious about it and we even lucked out and got my favorite table in the entire restaurant — a gorgeous long wooden table, decked out with wooden tree trunks.

My Honey Lavender Collins went very well with our table setting at Spice Kitchen and Bar

My Honey Lavender Collins went well with our table

As always, the service and food were fantastic. To start, Scott ordered the dumplings, while I ordered the mushroom beignets. I was talking with a friend on Monday about how we would go to Spice just for those beignets and the honey goat cheese creme fraiche they’re served with. If you kept putting orders of these in front of me, I would just keep eating them:

I could eat five orders of Spice's Mushroom Beignets

Fortunately, I stopped myself and saved room for our entrees. Scott’s sirloin featured a hint of honey glaze, wonderfully balanced by the meat’s peppery kick. I ordered the evening’s special – rabbit pappardelle. The rabbit and noodles were incredibly tender. If they offer you a rabbit special when you go, I highly recommend it.

I topped this magnificent dinner with a Honey Lavender Collins and the fantastic company of Jen, Alicia, their husbands and the Morrises in spirit.

All in all, a lovely way to say hello to 32. I’m looking forward to the year ahead.

Disclosure: I was invited to attend Date Night at the ZOOvies with a guest in exchange for previewing the event. Opinions are 100% my own.

The ALS #IceBucketChallenge: To quote Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s time “to give a sh*t.”

There's $31 million in this bucket

There’s more than $31 million in this bucket

“Building awareness.” The term can mean many things.

When it comes to the ALS #IceBucketChallenge, it can mean reaching people for the first time who don’t know what ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease is. Or educating everyone on just how devastating ALS is to the body. Or revealing that ALS research (and many other nonprofits) has been struggling with funding.

I will admit that at the beginning of the Ice Bucket Challenge, I was on the fence about people dousing themselves with ice water for a cause. Over the last couple of years, I’ve become a little jaded about social media stunts.

However, it was articles like What An ALS Family REALLY Thinks About the Ice Bucket Challenge and Why I Won’t Be Ashamed of My #icebucketchallenge that changed my mind. You also can’t argue with the fact that the challenge has raised over $15 million $31.5 million for the ALS Association and additional millions for other ALS organizations. What could have been a short-lived stunt did much more than build awareness. It drove action.

Whether it’s $5, $10, $25 or $100…
Regardless of whether or not you film yourself dumping ice water on your head…
It’s time to donate to ALS research and treatments.

Although my bucket decided to sit this one out, I put my wallet where my mind and mouth are. I encourage you to do the same if you already haven’t. Donate to ALS; or – if you would prefer – split your next donation between ALS and the charity of your choice.

And if you’re looking for a place to make your ALS donation, here’s one:

Jennifer Jackson is a friend of mine from PlayhouseSquare Partners (and an excellent board vice-chair!). A little over 8 years ago, her father Hank lost his life to ALS.

Her family now participates in the Cleveland Walk to Defeat ALS to give thanks to the ALS Association for supporting them through his battle. The organization provided respite care and home health aids that made a tremendous difference in his quality of life.

The 2014 Walk to Defeat ALS takes place on September 21. You can join me in helping Jen and her family surpass their goal by donating here.

If you still have your doubts about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, go and read those three articles that I linked to earlier and then read this exchange from Guardians of the Galaxy. I watched this movie for the third time last night, and the more often I see it, the more I realize it’s the perfect movie for everything else going on right now. 

Peter Quill: Usually life takes more than it gives, but not today. Today it’s given us something. It has given us a chance.

Drax: To do what?

Peter: To give a shit.

P.S. – Thank you, Poise in Parma, for tagging me in the Ice Bucket Challenge. I had decided to donate but it was your tag that reminded me to take the 30 seconds to follow through. (Yet another reason this campaign is good — it fights forgetfulness!)

Win 2 Tickets to the Sold-Out Date Night at the ZOOvies

Update: After tallying up all of the entries, removing two non-entry comments, and plugging the total into Random.org, congratulations to entry #9 – Mindy R!

Zoovies winner

Please reply to my email by the end of Monday to confirm you can attend ZOOvies.

Date Night at the ZOOvies may be sold out, but I have 2 tickets you can win

Date Night at the ZOOvies may be sold out, but I have 2 tickets you can win

When I told Scott that we’d be seeing The Great Outdoors at this year’s Date Night at the ZOOvies, he freaked out and started spouting off a bunch of quotes.

I’ve never seen the movie, but when Scott’s face lit up at the mere mention of the movie and he told me it starred one of my favorite comic actors John Candy, I realized I had something to look forward to.

Between the John Hughes script about a camping trip gone comically awry and hijinks from Dan Akroyd and Candy, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo has yet again put together the perfect late-summer outing (and birthday-eve for me!).

Zoovies3

The pretzel and candy bars are a great touch to Date Night at the ZOOvies

On Friday, August 22, pack up your picnic blanket and lawn chairs and head to the Zoo’s Savanna Theater for an evening of The Great Outdoors … in the great outdoors!

The movie starts at 8:30pm, with hot pretzels, popcorn, a candy bar, beer, wine, and soda served during the movie, but if you get there early, you can also enjoy light apps and drinks starting at 7pm. The African Savanna and Australian Adventure will be open to tour, as well.

You can read my recap of last year’s ZOOvies for more info, but if you’ve been to Twilight at the Zoo or previous ZOOvies, you know the Cleveland Zoological Society throws a wicked party. 

Just a few of the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo's party animals

Just a few of the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo’s party animals

I’m still recuperating from the fun we had at last Friday’s Twilight. After last year’s rainstorm, this was my first time actually experiencing all of Twilight at the Zoo. 

The food line in the VIP party was definitely worth the wait – delicious oysters, ceviche, filet, and short rib sliders from Mitchell’s Fish Market, Fleming’s, AMP 150, and Carrabbas’s. While Scott tried his first sip of moonshine, we listened to The Madison Crawl and relaxed under the trees.

After meeting up with Jen and Matthew, we made our way down the hill to the Zoo’s main entrance with the goal of seeing as many bands as possible.

Bon Jovi

Even a short rain shower couldn’t stop Scott

Scott showed his proud Jersey boy roots by rocking out to Bon Jovi tribute band Wanted. We filled up on delicious Reuben Bites as Shady Drive laid down some classic rock. And we cooled down with Joe Bell and the Swing Lizards around Monkey Island.

My favorite band, though, was Craic. Every time we stopped by their stage, the crowd was having a blast, and I will never turn down an opportunity to dance to Celtic rock.

I can’t wait for August 22 for more summer fun at the Zoo. Although Date Night at the ZOOvies is sold out, I have 2 tickets to give away for you and a friend.  You won’t see Groot, but Scott told me to prepare for more talking raccoons.  I hope you can join me!

There are 5 Easy Ways to Enter the Giveaway
**You must leave a separate comment on this post for each entry**

1) Leave a comment with your favorite thing to see or do at the Zoo.

2) Follow @CleveZooSociety and @ADHicken on Twitter and leave a comment letting me know you did both.

3) If you’re a fan of the Cleveland Zoological Society and Clue Into Cleveland on Facebook, leave a comment on this blog post letting me know. If you’re not yet a fan, you can become one here and here.

4) Tweet the following and leave one comment letting me know you tweeted:

I want to see The Great Outdoors in the great outdoors. Enter @ADHicken’s giveaway for @CleveZooSociety #ZOOvies tix http://wp.me/p2Ukr0-2wD

You can tweet once per day for additional entries. Just leave a separate comment each time you tweet.

5) Subscribe to Clue Into Cleveland via a feed tracker like Bloglovin’ or Feedly and leave one comment letting me know you did. This can also include signing up to receive email notifications in the top-right “Subscribe” section of this page.

You have until Friday, July 15 at 11:59PM to enter. On Saturday, July 16, Random.org will select a winner and I’ll announce the winner’s name on my blog.  Remember to leave a separate comment for each entry – good luck!

Disclosure: I was invited to attend Twilight at the Zoo and Date Night at the ZOOvies with a guest in exchange for blogging about the events. My choice to blog about it is based on how much Scott and I have enjoyed this event in years past.

My #LakeErieLove Story: A Merry Visit to Sandusky, Ohio

This is part 2 in my #LakeErieLove series. Catch up on part 1 here.

Sandusky, Ohio

Sandusky, Ohio

In my mind, Sandusky, Ohio has always been synonymous with Cedar Point.

That’s not to say I didn’t know there’s more to Sandusky than the “World’s Best Amusement Park” (a title I fully agree with).  When I’m waiting in line for Millennium Force or taking the Cedar Point train through the park, I would catch a glimpse of downtown Sandusky across the water.

However, until a recent trip to downtown Sandusky, my relationship with the city has always been from afar — looks of longing and curiosity.

It may be difficult to tear yourself from the rollercoasters; however, my advice for your next trip to Cedar Point is to make some time for Sandusky. You’ll find there’s much more to love about the city.

Sandusky 3

When I arrived in Sandusky on this last trip, I was a hot mess. Only a few hours earlier, I had rushed out of the house from work. And, even after checking into my hotel, I could feel the stress radiating from my shoulders.

However, as we strolled down the tree and flower-lined streets of downtown Sandusky, that tension evaporated.

Scenic parks and stunning historic architecture like the Sandusky Library and Follett House will do that to you.

Sandusky 1

Although it felt like I had been transported to a sleepy seaport town, I discovered that Sandusky is anything but as we explored its restaurants, bars, and attractions.

Much like Cleveland, Sandusky is undergoing a revitalization. Formerly empty storefronts are now being filled and the downtown is flourishing with many options for a nice night out.

Take ZINC brasserie, for example. Located along the waterfront, the building that houses ZINC was beautifully restored by husband-and-wife team Cesare and Andrea Avallone. Filled with warm touches of brick, wood, and pressed tin ceilings, the French-inspired restaurant would rival many in Cleveland.

Hearth Tavern at ZINC

ZINC’s menu offered so many delicious options that I struggled with what to get. Lobster Bisque En Croute (which got rave reviews from my tablemates), Duck Wellington, Steak Tartar, Escargot, and Lump Crab Stuffed Salmon are only a few of the choices. 

After a long debate between my eyes and my appetite, I settled on an order of ZINC’s House Pickles snack, a nice selection of sweet, spicy, and sour pickled vegetables, and their Farmstead wood-fired pizza.  Loaded with pork belly. a very juicy egg, and balanced with arugula and crisped crust, it was as good as Bar Cento’s breakfast pizza (a favorite of mine).

pIZZA

Adjoined to ZINC is Hearth Tavern, which offers a number of ZINC’s starters, pizza options, and a Pulled Pork Mac and Cheese that has my name all over it.

In addition to ZINC, the Avallone Restaurant Group has also opened CRUSH winebar and Dockside Cafe in Sandusky.

Another restaurateur helping to transform downtown Sandusky is Kha Bui, who followed the opening of Perkins Township’s Mekong a couple years ago with Small City Taphouse this summer.

During our walk around Sandusky, we made an impromptu stop at Small City for a quick drink and small bite to eat. Their menu features 45 beers on tap, hundreds of bottles to choose from, and a selection of sushi and Asian dishes. I loved the spring roll I sampled and the dichotomy between the olde-town exterior and modern interior design. It’s definitely worth a return visit to explore further.

Sandusky 2

Wherever you decide to eat, work it off with a stroll down to the Volstead Bar on E Water Street. As is fitting for a speakeasy, Volstead looks very unsuspecting from outside. However, the Green Door building has a colorful history having formerly hosted the Dorn Winery and a brothel under its roof.

Between its storied past and the curtains that cover the windows, it feels like you’re being let in on a really juicy secret when you enter the Volstead.

Like Small City, the decor strikes a perfect balance – modern with a few nostalgic touches that hearken to the Prohibition era. I got a big kick out of the old file folders – something you’d see in a Prohibition agent’s office – that hold their impressive cocktail menu.

The space is very intimate, perfect for an after-drink libation; however, it doesn’t get cramped because the owners have incorporated an inventive way to signal how much availability they have.

On the window facing the street, a row of lights signals whether Volstead is open and how many seats (be that 5+, 4, 3, 2, or 1) are open. The lights are linked to their website’s Seating tab , which updates automatically as the lights are changed.

Restaurant 5

The food and drinks we experienced in Sandusky were impressive, but the highlight of our visit was Sandusky’s Merry-Go-Round Museum. Opened in 1990, the Merry-Go-Round Museum got its start thanks to a simple stamp.

In 1988, the U.S. Postal Service issued a set of four stamps commemorating carousel figures from around the country. One of those featured was the King Armored horse at Cedar Point’s Kiddieland carousel.

To celebrate the first-day issue of the stamps, a group of residents decided to throw a party. They put together a carousel display, hoping a few hundred people would attend.  Instead, more than 2,000 showed up.

Now, the Merry-Go-Round Museum is filled with a menagerie of carousel animals including the traditional “painted ponies”, ostriches, giraffes, and a “sealobster.”

Their extensive collection includes all three styles of carousel horse – Coney Island, Philadelphia and County Fair, along with guides for visitors like me who didn’t even know there were specific carousel styles.

It’s one thing to marvel at these whimsical creatures; the Museum also gives you the opportunity to see one being made. Each year, the museum’s Master Carver Kate Adam and carving crew bring a carousel horse to life. The horse is then raffled off at their Toast to the Town fundraiser on New Year’s Eve.

This year’s raffle horse is Halloween-themed. When you visit the museum, don’t forget to stop by their workshop and check out its beautiful detailing.

Carousel 9

Admission to the museum is only $6 for adults, $4 for children (4-14), and free for children under 4. Every ticket includes one ride on the museum’s 1939 Allan Herschell carousel, filled with horses from the museum’s own collection and private collectors.

The evening we spent in Sandusky showed off the perfect balance their downtown has achieved – combining olde town charm with the dining, drinking, and other amenities you’d expect in a larger city.

The next chapter in my Lake Erie Love Story: Cedar Point, a destination not just for coaster fanatics, but families and history lovers alike!

Disclosure: I was invited on a 3-night/4 day blogger tour of the Lake Erie Shores and Islands, in exchange for writing about my experience. Opinions in this and other related posts are 100% my own.

Great Lakes Science Center Brews Up After-Dark Fun

I promised Scott another evening of me being the designated driver and he promised me another sonnet after the response to last week’s blog post. Enjoy!

Even without the Great Lakes Science Center's Beer Goggles, their Home Brew event was a lot of fun

Even without the Great Lakes Science Center’s Beer Goggles, their Home Brew event was a lot of fun

I am a big fan of the Great Lakes Science Center. Every time I go I have a great time. It’s an awesome space filled with experiments and exhibits that consistently entertain and educate me.

We’ve always enjoyed Yuri’s Night, so Amanda and I were very excited to learn the Science Center was continuing their events for the 21+ crowd will Science After Dark: Home Brew.

Home Brew, which took place a couple weeks ago, focused on the science behind brewing beer and coffee.

After settling in, our first stop was a presentation from Paul Benner and Reed Jaskula of The Cleveland Brew Shop. (Correction: Amanda’s first stop was the presentation, mine was for glasses of mead.)

I hadn’t expected the science and story of yeast (The Workhorse of Beer!) to be as entertaining as they made it, but hilarious drawings and a great dynamic made it a lot of fun.

Tremble before the terror of Yeast! Kill it! KILL IT WITH FIRE!

Tremble before the terror of Yeast! Kill it! KILL IT WITH FIRE!

After Paul and Reed wrapped up we stayed for Arthur Gugick’s presentation on Calculus and the Coliseum, an amazing presentation on the math used to create from-scratch LEGO art pieces and monuments. Mr. Gugick is the local Cleveland artist/genius whose work is highlighted as part of the Science Center’s LEGO exhibit.

Minds are about to be blown...into little LEGO shaped pieces.

Minds are about to be blown…into little LEGO shaped pieces.

I love LEGO and the temporary (now through September 7th) LEGO displays were something that I was really looking forward to seeing. I had no idea that a significant portion of the Science Center’s lower exhibit hall was going to be dedicated to landmarks, paintings, and other fantastical works all created by Mr. Gugick.

After thoroughly amazing us with the talent and creativity portrayed in his presentation, Amanda and I were energized to begin our exploration of the Science Center’s other entertainment and imbibements.

Regarding drinks, Amanda was the designated driver and quite enjoyed (and appreciated) Phoenix Coffee’s options. I tried a few wines, beers, and meads, but ultimately my favorite was Sunshine Daydream by Fat Head’s Brewery. It was light and crisp and quite a pleasant surprise!

Beverages are easy to pick favorites from, but I would be very hard-pressed to pick out my favorite activity from the evening’s selections. The Science Center really outdid itself.

The first one we encountered was the Make-It-Yourself Miniature Golf, where all the holes were fashioned from reclaimed and recycled material. All you needed was some duct tape, your imagination, and a couple extra hands and you had your own mini golf hole!

By the time Amanda and I arrived there were already quite a few constructed, so we concentrated on trying out other people’s creations.

I call this "Action Shot Amanda"

I call this “Action Shot Amanda”

We also stumbled (figuratively) across Beer Goggle Cornhole, where you wore goggles that simulated the wobbly vision of inebriation. We didn’t actually play much cornhole with them, but it was fun trying to walk straight lines with the great lake view before us.

Next we found the LEGO Daredevil High-wire Challenge…or it could have been named something else very similar, it’s hard remembering certain details after a few cups of beer! But it was a lot of fun creating a LEGO machine that could make it from the third floor to the second without falling from the wire. Mine smashed to pieces when it reached the bottom, but I still made it the whole way!

Another awesome part of the night was the Tabletop Cleveland area and creating our own board game pieces. Amanda and I put together our little monstrosities and then took part in the evolving board game. If you had to hop on one leg in order to gain points equivalent to Pi, you landed on my challenge. Sorry.

My Cleveland Tabletop board game piece - Mustachio Baseball Bat and Pirate Bunny Drinking in a Rocket Ship - sits next to my bare-bones but uber-functional high-wire LEGO device.

My Cleveland Tabletop board game piece – Mustachio Sword and Pirate Bunny Drinking in a Rocket Ship – sits next to my bare-bones but uber-functional high-wire LEGO device.

As the evening began to near its end Amanda and I made our way down to the LEGO exhibit. It really is inspiring. I’m not even going to bother trying to describe the detail, wonder, and skill that is captured throughout both Mr. Gugick’s works and the traveling exhibit.

It is incredible – and fun – and should absolutely be checked out before it leaves on September 7th.

LEGOs. Aw yeah.

LEGOs. Aw yeah.

As with my last entry I had also threatened promised to include a review a la sonnet, so here goes:

Great Lakes Science Center is quite a place,
Three stories of discovery await.
You will use the thinker behind your face,
Fun for the family, and even a date!

Science After Dark is really inspired,
Get out and learn with a drop of some brew.
With all that there is, your brain will not tire,
There’s so many sciences waiting for you!

Cleveland Brew Shop made yeast science funny.
Tabletop Cleveland brought fun you could make.
The Fat Head’s beer was really quite sunny,
Phoenix Coffee kept Amanda awake!

For a memory that is sure to stick,
Check out the LEGOs by Arthur Gugick!

Disclaimers: 

  • I am much happier with the rhymes in this sonnet. I thought that was worth you knowing. 
  • Amanda was offered tickets to attend Science After Dark in exchange for blogging about it. I got her second ticket because if she hadn’t let me go with her I would have whined like a sad puppy dog for well over a week. The decision to attend and post about an event is her own, based on whether she thinks it’s something that may also interest others.
  • My decision to blog about the event was actually my own this time. Because LEGO.

My #LakeErieLove Story: Still Smitten with Lake Erie Islands and Shores After All These Years

#LakeErieLove, Part 1

Disclaimer: Please excuse the sappiness in the next couple of paragraphs. I promise it’s connected to today’s blog post.

Many reflections on love focus on the falling into it. That first attraction. The squishy feeling of butterflies in your stomach. The anticipation of a first kiss or date.

That’s my least favorite part of love.

Sure, I enjoy the occasional rom-com (especially if a British accent is involved). And I still smile when thinking about my first memory of Scott. I saw him tuning a piano and thought ‘Oh, that’s an old-fashioned thing to do. I bet he’s nice.’

However, my favorite part of love is everything that comes after you get to know someone. I love the habits and shared interests that Scott and I developed over ten years. Not just because it’s comforting, but because every week, he or I do something that surprises the other, breaks that routine, and reminds us all over again why we love each other.

For instance, Scott’s mom dug up a binder last week that was filled with stuff Scott drew when he was a kid. As long as I’ve known him, Scott’s always claimed that he can’t draw.  So when I saw these imaginative character sketches and comic strips, I was blown away. They were amazing and showed me a different side of the fantastic, if not slightly odd, sense of humor I first fell in love with.

Binder

What does this have to do with the Lake Erie Shores and Islands, though?

Well, I realized on a recent trip to Sandusky and Put-in-Bay, that loving a place is very much like loving a person.

Our first summer after moving to Cleveland, Scott and I took a trip to Cedar Point and immediately became season passholders. It was the beginning of our love affair with the area and we tried stuffing in as many day and weekend trips to Sandusky, Port Clinton, Kelley’s Island and Put-in-Bay as we could.  In fact, closer proximity to the Lake Erie Shores and Island area is one reason we looked at Avon Lake when we considered moving from the eastside.

Last month, I had an incredible opportunity to spend three days exploring the Shores and Islands area with other Midwest bloggers. Going into the blogger tour, I thought that it would be an opportunity to reconnect with some of my favorite Lake Erie stomping grounds.

What I didn’t realize was how much of the area I had been missing out on. It was all of these surprises that deepened my #LakeErieLove.

lake erie love chairs

There were so many surprises, in fact, that I can’t fit them all in one blog post. So over the next month, I’ll be blogging once a week about what I learned about Sandusky, Cedar Point, and Put-in-Bay during my trip.

I also had a few random realizations that didn’t fit nicely into those posts, which I’m sharing today.  Enjoy!

Surprise #1: Cedar Point’s Family Care stations are wonderful.

Although I’ll have a full post dedicated to Cedar Point, today’s story is about my stupidity and the Cedar Point’s Family Care and First-Aid station.

A piece of advice: Don’t go looking for your car keys by jamming your hand blindly – and forcefully – into your tote bag. There’s a good chance your finger may come into contact with something very sharp.

I learned this the hard way as we were leaving Cedar Point for the day, and the result was not a mere paper cut that could be patched with a band-aid (though I’m very thankful that Dominique at Midwest Guest had some at the ready).

Fortunately, a park employee was nearby and rapidly escorted me to one of the park’s Family Care stations.

Earlier in the day, we had a chance to hear from Bryan Edwards, Cedar Point’s Public Relations Manager. While talking about the park’s renewed focus on family fun, he mentioned the two air-conditioned Family Care facilities, complete with private nursing stations, baby-changing and infant-feeding areas, and a cooldown room where you can watch Peanuts movies with your kids.

Cedar Point First Aid

The Family Care Centers are also First Aid stations offering over-the-counter medication, bandages and emergency care. 

Little did I know that I’d have the opportunity to experience it all firsthand!

Although I didn’t have a chance to catch the names of the park employee and medical staff I met during this incident (I was distracted by my bleeding hand), their kindness and patience impressed me as I rollercoastered between panic, embarrassment and, finally, relief at not needing stitches.

No one wants to visit the Family Care station, but if you do, you’ll be in good hands.

Another Cedar Point safety tip I learned: The concession stands and vendors will give you a free cup of water if you ask for it. It’s better to come prepared, but if you’re overheated and need water, ask for it. You – and the park – want you to have fun. Don’t ruin it with heatstroke.

Surprise #2: SawMill Creek is more than a golf course … much more.

Every time Scott and I drive to Cedar Point, we pass Sawmill Creek Resort. And every time we passed it on previous trips, I saw signs for the golf course and thought that’s all it offered.

Color me surprised when I stayed overnight during our blogger tour. Nestled a little ways off of Cleveland Road is Sawmill’s beautiful 235-acre getaway.

In addition to that 18-hole Tom Fazio Golf Course, Sawmill offers a sprawling lodge, marina, restaurants, indoor and outdoor pools, private beach access, tennis, and nature walks through the Sheldon Marsh Nature Preserve.

Lake Erie Love Sawmill

I was only there for one night so I didn’t have a chance to check out all of the resort’s amenities. However, the outdoor pool+bar area was beautiful; the staff I spoke with at the frontdesk, in the Salmon Run restaurant and the Black Bear Saloon were very friendly; and the resort’s Native American exhibits added an educational touch to my strolls through the property.

Although the room I stayed in could have benefited from a few updates, it was still comfortable. Plus, the other amenities and resort’s peacefulness made up for it.  I will definitely be checking it out the next time I’m looking for an overnight stay in the area.  

Surprise #3: Check out ShoresandIslands.com, even if you know the area.

On trips to Put-in-Bay, I’ve seen the guidebooks and signs advertising the Lake Erie Shores and Islands organization. But it wasn’t until this tour that I recognized the full scope of their region and resources.

Their site is a huge help if:

My favorite part of the site is their interactive map of the full region linked to an Itinerary Planner.  Since returning from the #LakeErieLove tour, it’s come in handy a few times. Most recently, it led us to the Tin Goose Diner when we were looking for a place to eat in Port Clinton. The 1950s-era diner and Liberty Aviation Museum are a must-see.

Come back next week for my post about downtown Sandusky. Until then, here’s a teaser photo of one of the things we got up to:

Sandusky Merry Go Round Museum

Disclosure: I was invited on a 3-night/4 day blogger tour of the Lake Erie Shores and Islands, in exchange for writing about my experience. Opinions in this and future posts are 100% my own.

Sipping Grapes & Ale at Progressive Field (or Scott Writes a Sonnet)

Scott and I decided to switch things up at Grapes & Ale this year. I’d be the designated driver, and he’d have an opportunity to sample all of the wine. The only catch? That he’d write the recap.

Colin Dussault's Acoustic Side Project greeted people near the stadium's entrance.

Colin Dussault’s Acoustic Side Project greeted people near the stadium’s entrance.

Nestled at the corner of 9th and Carnegie, there’s just something about Progressive Field that I really enjoy. I’m a transplant to Cleveland, so my fondness for the stadium doesn’t stem from a home team association. And, as someone who competed in marching band through the Philadelphia and South Jersey region, I’ve been in my fair share of stadiums. But Progressive captures something few others do.

I’ve mulled over what that “something” is, and I currently claim it is “hopeful enthusiasm.” Clevelanders have a solid ability to both recognize “what is” while planning for and looking forward to “what could be.” Something about Progressive Field captures that. Regardless of its corporate origins, the stadium’s current name is very fitting for this city.

What makes everything better is when you have the opportunity to freely drink the official beverages of “hopeful enthusiasm” – wine and beer. The Grapes & Ale at Progressive Field event, which happened a few Fridays ago on June 27th, brings all this together for a great time. And, since it raises funds for Our Lady of the Wayside, we have a perfect storm of good vibes.

Wines, foods, and peoples.

Wines, foods, and peoples.

Arriving at Progressive Field a tad early, Amanda and I could smell the predominantly barbecued food that was waiting to accompany the many spirits that are automatically included with entry.

After getting our etched wineglasses, my first stop was to try the Johnny Appleseed hard apple cider, followed by some flipflop moscato. Then we moved on to grab some of the always-delicious Famous Dave’s wings.

Amanda was Designated Driver that evening, and there was plenty of bottled water and soda (“pop” if you’re not a transplant) for her. There was also salad and veggies, ample seating if you walked in deep enough, and even a putting green.

Famous Dave's not only provided good eats, but a nice take-home surprise.

Famous Dave’s not only provided good eats, but a nice take-home surprise.

If you don’t like wine, the Beer Garden had taken over Progressive’s Budweiser Patio. You don’t need to buy tickets to go in – although you do need an empty glass and then tickets if you want any beer – but the mini hot dogs were delicious and the snow cone machine was a great treat.

There were also some games spread about. If leaving with the little wine glass wasn’t enough, the beer tickets got you a handled mason jar and a Lime-a-Rita sample got you another festive glass. Although I didn’t have any, a trusted source told me the Leinenkugel’s stand had brought a Russian Imperial Stout that was great.

I like my crushed ice plain.

I like my crushed ice plain.

If you didn’t bring extra cash for the beer (like me), no worries. There was still plenty of that free-flowing wine, as well as a few other spirits.

To be honest, my wine preferences are pretty narrow; the wine needs to be white and sweet. I’m not listing a lot of sampled names here not because there wasn’t a large selection, but because there was and my sampling was more copious than my note-taking.

The vendors stretched down an entire side of Progressive Field; there was plenty of wine I didn’t drink, and plenty of wine that I did. But you needed to do something special to stand-out in my memory, and the vendor which delivered that was Cupcake Vineyards:

  • Walk-in wine truck pulled into the stadium? Check.
  • Photo-op? Check.
  • Second photo-op? Check.
  • iPads with all the info and cat videos you could want? Check. (Especially because one of our cats is named Cupcake.)
  • Tiny cupcakes at the ready? Check.
  • Delicious Prosecco? Double check.

When it came to wine, Cupcake Vineyards got my vote for “Win.”

Cupcakes! Cupcakes cupcakes cupcakes! CUPCAKES!

Cupcakes! Cupcakes cupcakes cupcakes! CUPCAKES!

Great venue, great drinks, great food, great company – what more am I to say? Grapes & Ale at Progressive Field was a feel-good event last year, and it was a feel-good event this year, and I eagerly look forward to next’s. Until then, I declared I’d review this as a sonnet, so here it is:

Progressive Field is a really great space,
Open and cool and filled up with big smiles.
If the Indians don’t manage to place,
It’s still a spot where-in I’d walk for miles.

Awesome is Our Lady of the Wayside,
Caring for those who are needing a boost.
Providing shelter, respite, and a ride.
So help by drinking fermented grape juice!

Grapes & Ale at Progressive Field is fun,
Food, spirits, and beer all over – delish!
So buy some tickets, you son of a gun!
“This never should end,” is what you will wish!

So come on down to 9th and Carnegie,
Bring hunger and thirst…but not the baby.

Selfie! Selfie selfie selfie! SELFIE!

Selfie! Selfie selfie selfie! SELFIE!

Disclaimers: 

  • I know Carnegie/baby is a terrible rhyme, but how about YOU come up with a better word that rhymes with Carnegie! 
  • Also, Amanda was offered tickets to attend Grapes & Ale at Progressive Field in exchange for blogging about it. I got her second ticket because I can flap my eyeleshes like a pro. The decision to attend and post about an event is her own, based on whether she thinks it’s something that may also interest others.
  • My decision to blog about the event was not my own, but part of Amanda’s agreeing to be Designated Driver so I could run about downing samples like a thirsty camel at an Oasis Sample Party. It seems batting eyelashes is not as powerful a tool of persuasion as I thought.

Luau on the Lake Winner + Pig Roast Pictures

luaupostcard14

I love four day weekends but it was rough getting going this morning. Now that I’ve had my coffee, let’s jump right in with the Luau on the Lake giveaway winner!

After removing one duplicate entry and placing the rest in Random.org, congratulations to entry #44, Holly, for winning 2 VIP tickets to Luau on the Lake! Please reply to my email by the end of Tuesday to confirm you can still attend.

Luau winner

If you didn’t win and don’t yet have your tickets for this Saturday’s Luau, what are you waiting for? Today’s the last day to get your tickets at the discounted price of $50 for general admission and $60 for Big Kahuna VIP.  On July 8, general admission goes up to $60 and VIP will no longer be available.

You can get your tickets here.

Scott and I enjoyed our own feast and beach-side adventures this weekend when my sister-in-law Laura and her husband Max flew into town so we could celebrate the Fourth of July and Scott’s grandmother’s 90th birthday.

Now, Max – besides being a great husband to Laura and brother-in-law to Scott and I – is a fantastic cook. And one of his many culinary loves and talents is roasting pigs.

So on Thursday afternoon, we all paid a visit to West Side Market (after a wonderful lunch at Town Hall) to pick up the suckling pig that Max had pre-ordered from Sebastian’s Meats.

Clockwise from left: Scott gets his hands dirty; Benepig Arnold is prepped on the grill; taking precautions so the pig doesn't escape

Clockwise from left: Scott gets his hands dirty; Benepig Arnold is prepped on the grill; taking precautions so the pig doesn’t escape

The hard work that Max, Scott, and Scott’s dad put into prepping and roasting the pig over the next day and a half was worth it.

Left to right: Max with a drawn and quartered Benepig Arnold; Murphy is just waiting for Max to slip up and drop a piece of meat

Left to right: Max with a drawn and quartered Benepig Arnold; Murphy is just waiting for Max to slip up and drop a piece of meat

Every part of that little guy was delicious, but I have to admit – the pig tongue was the tastiest part.

Caprese salad (plated in the shape of a pig), potato salad with pickles, gluten-free cornbread, and Laura’s ice-box cake were a refreshing complement to the pig’s richness.

Caprese Pig

Caprese Pig (Scott’s plating magic)

We followed all of that food up with a long bike ride around Avon Lake and then a trip to the beach for one of the most stunning sunsets I’ve seen on Lake Erie.

Red, white and beautiful - Lake Erie

Red, white and beautiful – Lake Erie

It was such an incredible day that when we were sitting around the firepit later that night, the flames even gave it a thumbs up:

Scott getting a thumbs up from the fire

Scott getting a thumbs up from the fire

Hope you had a wonderful Fourth of July, too!

Disclosure: I was invited to host a giveaway for Luau on the Lake. Opinions are always my own.

Twilight at the Zoo: Why It’s a Cleveland Summer Must-Do

The mayflies have come and gone and the July 4th holiday is here. In the Hicken house, this means it’s time to start making plans for the rest of summer.

I don’t care what else I do between now and September – Twilight at the Zoo is my big must-do for this summer.

TWI_general admission party2

After scheduling conflicts kept us from going in previous years, Scott and I made sure last summer’s Twilight at the Zoo stayed open on our calendar.

And it seemed as if the gods would smile upon us for an evening of outdoor music and summer drinking … until the rains came. And, boy, did they come.

But you know what? Despite getting drenched and only seeing a few of the bands perform, Scott and I had a fantastic time with our friends. Plus we had a reason to buy matching safari hats.

(I tell myself that we needed something to keep the rain out of our eyes, but the real reason is that we love safari hats.)

I also got this awesome photo with WhyCLE’s husband:

Twilight at the Zoo rainstorm

The evening was one of the highlights of last summer, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for good weather on August 1, the date of this year’s Twilight at the Zoo.

From 7pm til midnight, stages will be staggered through the Zoo, featuring 18 local bands.

There will be something to satisfy every musical taste – funk to folk, rock to reggae. This year’s bands include:

TWI_general admission party

General admission tickets, which cost $80 per person or $700 for a block of 10, also include free Sam Adams beer, Twisted Tea, wine and soda and a selection of small bites to eat.

Upgrade to VIP tickets ($150 per ticket/$1200 for block of 10) and get access to the VIP party from 6-9pm.  VIP partygoers enjoy priority parking and early entry, an open bar, and catering by AMP150, Carrabba’s, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Mitchell’s Fish Market. 

And don’t drink and drive: Arrange for a designated driver or book one of the Zoo’s hotel/ticket packages with the Cleveland Airport Marriott.

Purchase tickets online or go here for more information.

One other thing … if you’re planning on getting tickets, get them now. This event usually sells out, and if this year’s Date Night at the Zoovies is any indication (sold out yesterday for an August 22 event), Twilight tickets may be gone sooner than later.

Hope to see you there! I’ll be packing safari hat just in case.

Disclosure: I was invited to attend Twilight at the Zoo with a guest, in exchange for promoting the event. Opinions are 100% my own and based on attending last year’s Twilight.

Win 2 VIP Tickets to SC4K’s Luau on the Lake

lake erie

You’re lounging with a view of the water, frosty beer or fruity umbrella drink in hand. You can hear laughter coming from a Conga line and smell the spices of a delicious beachside feast. Maybe you’ll take in a game of beach volleyball later.

Sounds like a fantastic afternoon, doesn’t it?

Fortunately,  you don’t need to hop on a plane to a tropical locale to enjoy it.  On July 12, you only have to go as far as Whiskey Island’s Wendy Park for the 9th annual Luau on the Lake.

What’s even better is that all proceeds from the party will benefit Shoes and Clothes for Kids, the only non-profit in Greater Cleveland that provides new shoes and clothing throughout the year to thousands of children in need, all at no charge.

And best yet? You can win a pair of VIP tickets to the event on Clue into Cleveland.

luau on the lake

From 4 to 9pm on July 12, enjoy SC4K’s celebration fit for a Tiki God. A lakeside dinner is served til 7:30 featuring jerk-seasoned green beans, saffron and Caribbean-spiced brown rice, pan-seared chicken with spicy plum sauce, Polynesian BBQ pulled pork sliders, and island sorbet.

Beer, wine, snacks, music, sand volleyball, and a limbo contest are available throughout the night for all ticketholders, while VIP “Big Kahunas” will also get a souvenir cup and three tickets for island cocktails, early admittance at 3:30pm, and a lei and floral tote to go with their Hawaiian shirts. 

New to this year’s Luau on the Lake is a 24-team, single elimination cornhole tournament. Up for grabs – a cornhole board set complete with bags and 4 tickets to an Indians game. Teams will be able to register for $20 each.

General admission tickets are $50 through July 7. After that and at the door, they’re $60. VIP tickets are $60 through July 7 and available for presale only.

The funds raised by Luau will be instrumental in helping SC4K distribute $2.4-million worth of new clothing and Payless shoe gift cards to children this year.

Want to spend your July 12th at Luau on the Lake? Enter my giveaway for two Big Kahuna VIP tickets right now.

There are 5 Easy Ways to Enter the Giveaway
**You must leave a separate comment on this post for each entry**

1) Leave a comment with what your favorite beachside activity is. (Mine is just relaxing by the water with a good book.)

2) Follow @ADHicken and @SC4K on Twitter and leave a comment letting me know you did both.

3) If you’re a fan of Shoes and Clothes for Kids and Clue Into Cleveland on Facebook, leave a comment on this blog post letting me know. If you’re not yet a fan, you can become one here and here.

4) Tweet the following and leave one comment letting me know you tweeted:

I want to party like a Big Kahuna at Luau on the Lake! Enter @ADHicken’s @SC4K giveaway for VIP tickets http://wp.me/p2Ukr0-2ww #SC4KLuau14

You can tweet once per day for additional entries. Just leave a separate comment each time you tweet.

5) Subscribe to Clue Into Cleveland via a feed tracker like Bloglovin’ or Feedly and leave one comment letting me know you did. This can also include signing up to receive email notifications in the top-right “Subscribe” section of this page.

You have until Sunday, July 6 at 11:59PM to enter. On Monday, July 7, Random.org will select a winner and I’ll announce the winner’s name on my blog.  Remember to leave a separate comment for each entry – good luck!

Disclosure: I was invited to attend Luau on the Lake with a guest in exchange for previewing the event. My choice to blog about it is based on how much Scott and I have enjoyed this event in years past.