Travels: Louisville KY

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When I think of our little 2015 family vacation to Louisville, Kentucky, I think of firsts. This was the first time that my Dad’s extended family had gone on a vacation when my sister, cousins and I were adults (and all of us bringing along significant others). Our last big family vacation was to Disney World and Brittney and I were in elementary school. This was also the first time Kenneth and I had gone on a trip together as a married couple, outside of Ohio, since our honeymoon. This was also the first time we were gathering together, around the holidays, since my grandmother, Ruby, had passed away.

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We actually didn’t celebrate Christmas with my Dad’s side of the family in 2014. We weren’t ready to celebrate without her. My grandma was as vibrant as her name, Ruby. She made a family gathering feel festive. She was always down for a game of cards, dominoes or one of the board games we liked to play (Taboo and Pictionary were my picks, as long as Brittney was on my team so we could win!). She was colorful, a real character, she could be loud and she didn’t mince words (she and my grandpa on my mom’s side of the family liked to “argue” over who was more proud of their grandkids), but she was real. Ruby in full color.

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I think that’s why when I think of our trip to Louisville it’s always gray. It was a gray, overcast and rainy weekend, so that’s definitely part of it… but I think it was gray because it was our first time really getting together without Grandma there. We had a good time on the trip, but it was definitely one that she would have made more fun and festive.

I plan to visit Louisville again, probably in summer so I can see the city at its brightest and most colorful!

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We did a lot of dining on this trip, which is personally one of my favorite things about vacations. You have to eat out. Technically you could plan ahead and pack a lot of your food, especially on trips where you drive to your destination, as we did. But for the most part, trying out new restaurants is a big part of vacationing, even on weekend trips.

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We dined at the Troll Pub Under the Bridge, an underground restaurant full of trolls where we had lunch in the hidden bookcase room! My assistant, Cam (actually, my sister’s boyfriend), demonstrated how the bookcase swings open to reveal two tables with booth seating. The Troll Pub offers pretty standard but delicious pub fare and has a unique atmosphere. The music selection was a nice mix of indie and alternative music. I’d check it out again!

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We spent a few hours exploring the Kentucky Science Center. This science museum got its start as the “cabinet of curiosities” in Kentucky’s Public Library System in 1871. Today it’s one of the region’s leading centers for informal science education! Within the three levels of interactive exhibits, we explored human health and the body, natural science, chemistry, physics, and weather.

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At the entrance to the Kentucky Science Center – is a giant parabolic reflector. It reminded me of a giant mosaic of mirrors. You can see a mini version of this in your car’s headlights (it’s nowhere near as cool, though).

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We split up a few times throughout the center and I lost track of everyone a couple of times taking photos. We had fun watching my cousin’s kids play with the interactive children’s components and Kenneth and I took a few selfies with the two polar bears on display.

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Aiden had an absolute blast in the tornado simulator!

For dinner, we enjoyed authentic Louisville cuisine at Dish On Market. This popular, locally owned restaurant is in downtown Louisville and was a short walk from our hotel. Housed in the building where the old restaurant, Delta, once stood for decades, Dish On Market is the winner of several Leo Awards. In 2014 the restaurant won the Readers Choice, Best Burger, Best Bourbon List (they have 70 different Bourbons!), Best All You Can Eat Brunch, Best Bloody Mary and was a finalist in the Best Breakfast category.

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The restaurant has a clean, rustic atmosphere. Hardwood floors compliment the wood bar and red brick walls. We enjoyed supper on the second floor, overlooking diners sitting in booths in the room opposite the bar. Everything was delicious – everyone ordered something a little different, seafood, Cuban-style black bean soup, fresh salads, and sandwiches. It was at Dish On Market that I discovered that I really enjoy grits, which are usually made gluten-free.

Our food was fantastic and we had really great service! I will definitely keep Dish on Market on my list of go-to restaurants for the next time we’re in Louisville! If you go, I highly recommend the country peach tea – it’s made with Benchmark peach bourbon, sweet tea, and lemon.

Since we were in Louisville at the end of the 2014 winter holidays, we were able to catch the last weekend of the Louisville MEGA Cavern’s Lights Under Louisville. This Christmas light show features 17 miles of underground passages, 850+ Christmas light displays, 2,000,000+ points of light and festive Christmas music. The driving tour lasts about 30 minutes and is the only underground light show of its kind.

Louisville MEGA Cavern, which was mined between the 1930s and 1970s, also offers a rentable underground event space, and an underground zip line course, tram tour, bike park and ropes challenge course. The entire cavern spans approximately 100 acres and stays at a steady 58°F year round.

It was a fun experience! The light displays featured classic Christmas songs and characters like Santa and his reindeer, Christmas carolers and ice skaters, as well as modern winter themes, like Disney’s movie Frozen. I enjoyed trying to take photos of the lights as our vehicle slowly rolled through the cavern. I’ve never taken photos of Christmas lights while moving before, it was definitely a challenge and resulted in some rather trippy photos. 

North End Cafe was the last restaurant we dined at before splitting into two separate groups and returning home. Kenneth and I went with my parents, my sister, Brittney and her boyfriend, Cam, to check out the Kentucky Derby Museum. My aunt, uncle, cousins and their spouses and children visited the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory.

North End Cafe was a great way to end our mini vacation in Louisville. Opening in the spring of 2003, it’s a relatively new restaurant and features locally sourced produce, some of which they grow themselves on their multi-acre farm in Simpsonville, Kentucky. The menu features lots of healthy dishes, including vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options as well as standard American breakfast and lunch items.

The cafe reminded me a lot of one of my favorite restaurants in Columbus, Northstar Café, which also focuses on local, healthy ingredients and has vegetarian/vegan and gluten-free options. Breakfast is my favorite meal and not many restaurants have gluten-free options beyond eggs, needless to say, I was pretty stoked. 🙂

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We had so many delicious breakfast foods – including gluten-free almond pancakes with warm honey and a dollop of whipped cream. Everything was fantastic and we had a great time at North End Cafe! The restaurant has a nice laid back atmosphere with plenty of natural light from the large windows. I loved the exposed brick and gorgeous paintings displayed. The next time we’re in Louisville, I definitely want to dine here again, if only so I can get those pancakes again!Happy Smilies Edible/Food Smilies

After enjoying our breakfast at North End Cafe, we explored a very eclectic and full backyard just up the road from the restaurant. It’s a private residence, owned by Jerry Lotz. He calls his collection Jerry’s Junk and this property is one of five houses in the neighborhood full of junk. It made for some interesting photos!

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Our last big stop of our Kentucky mini-cation was to the Kentucky Derby Museum. The museum was opened in 1985 to preserve the history of the Kentucky Derby. The museum is located on the grounds of Churchill Downs, which is where the Kentucky Derby is held annually on the first Saturday in May. The museum has two floors of exhibit space, including a 360-degree theater playing The Greatest Race. Many of the exhibits are interactive: we were able to place bets, ride in a simulated race and play with horse-inspired games and toys. We also went on a guided tour of  Churchill Downs, learning the history of the Kentucky Derby and hearing stories about the talented horses that won the derby and the jockeys who rode them.

Horses have a special place in my family on my dad’s side. My dad and Aunt Deedy grew up with horses and showed them at the Miami County Fair. My dad even brought his pony, Sugar Babe, with him when he married my mom. My dad and Sugar Babe were the same age and I’m one of the few people I know (who didn’t grow up on a farm) who can say I had a pony when I was growing up!

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My dad was the most excited to visit Churchill Downs and the museum, but we all had a great time!

Ramsi’s Cafe on the World was one of the restaurants I found and requested we visit specifically when I found out we would be going to Louisville. The website for Ramis’s Cafe describes its cuisine as “global comfort food.”

This is the food your Grandmother might have cooked for you if your grandmother was from Egypt or North Africa or Spain or Alabama. 

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Half of the menu is advertised as being vegetarian, which even though I’m no longer a vegetarian, I still enjoy vegetarian fare. My mom is a vegetarian, so I also want to make sure she can eat more than a salad when we go out! Thirty percent of the menu is vegan and many dishes are available gluten-free. Ramsi’s Cafe also serves local produce, eggs, and chicken from their own farm, Raising Hope Organic Farm.

A huge menu with diverse international flavors, gluten-free and vegetarian options with locally grown ingredients? I had to eat at this restaurant! And my family was happy to comply. 🙂

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Having enjoyed a large breakfast earlier that day at North End Cafe we arrived at Ramsi’s at the odd time of afternoon that is well past lunch but not quite time for dinner. We essentially had the restaurant to ourselves, which I only attribute to the odd hour we chose to eat, not a reflection of the popularity of the restaurant. Everything we had was delicious and I loved the restaurant’s laid back and eclectic decor.

My notes for that day describe our food as “Amaaazing.” Going from memory, I can confidently say that I will be eating again at Ramsi’s Cafe on the World the next time I am in Louisville. My only regret is finding yet another delicious restaurant that is not down the street from where I live, looking at these photos and thinking about what we ate has had my stomach growling for the past hour thinking about fried plantains and gluten-free sandwiches. 🙂

While were only in Louisville for the weekend, I definitely feel like we made some lasting memories and have a new city to visit when we need to get away from the business of our everyday lives.

Have you ever been to Louisville? What are your favorite spots to visit? Share in the comments below – I’ll need new places to check out the next time I’m there!

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Kayaking the Crystal River – Glen Arbor

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I love kayaking. The weightless feeling of being on the water is calming to me. I like to take my paddle out of the water and rest it on the sides of the kayak, close my eyes and just absorb that feeling of buoyancy. It’s magical. I only feel this way in a kayak, I don’t particularly care for boating and canoeing is a completely different set-up so it feels different. On a boat, especially on a large lake or the ocean, each wave is strongly felt and I feel unbalanced. Canoeing is a team effort, you’re working with one or two other people to paddle and direct your vessel. That effort is energizing to me, which is why I enjoy canoeing; but kayaking is my favorite water activity.

During our vacation in Michigan last September, we were able to go kayaking. We usually do some sort of water related activity on family vacations, it’s almost a tradition.

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When my sister and I were kids, we would go canoeing with our mom and dad on our summer vacations. We would rent two canoes, usually my sister rode with our dad and I shared a canoe with our mom. We switched partners halfway through one canoe trip – Britt was convinced there was an alligator in the river and Mom had to calm her down (we were in Kentucky so it wasn’t an alligator, but we had watched Lake Placid before our vacation ?).

It’s fair to say that Britt and I didn’t do much paddling back then – we weren’t very helpful canoeing partners. Now that everyone can wield their own paddle, we prefer kayaking.

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Of all the activities my Mom planned for our trip to Michigan, Kenneth and I were most excited for was kayaking. Kenneth and I went kayaking at Winton Woods when we lived in Cincinnati. It had been a few years since I had last kayaked and it was Kenneth’s first time. He loved it and couldn’t wait to get back on the water.

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We went kayaking in Glen Arbor. It’s an adorable little town, well technically it’s a civil township, in Leelananu County. It’s located on the northwest tip of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, if you imagine that Michigan is a hand it’s sitting on the tip of the ring finger.

There were kayaks for us to use at the cabin we rented, but we put in the water at Crystal River Outfitters, just down the street from our cabin.

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Glen Arbor township is about 87 square miles, 28 of which are land and 59 of which are water!

It’s located along the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which was recently named the “Most Beautiful Place in America” by Good Morning America. Kayaking Crystal River is a great way to explore Glen Arbor! Rowboat Smiley

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While paddling down Crystal River, we saw lovely wildflowers (including some gorgeous red Cardinal Flowers!) , and a variety of fish and other wildlife. We saw turtles and even a Green Heron!

We also saw dozens of gorgeous properties – many of them were heavily damaged from the summer storm that had hit the area in August. Even through the debris that remained, we could see lovely backyard patios and landscaping that led down to the water.

It was a gorgeous day and we couldn’t have asked for better weather!

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While we were lucky to have wonderful weather, we were also lucky to even be able to enjoy the river and woods surrounding it.

Crystal River and the surrounding area were nearly destroyed 30 years ago. A golf course was proposed for the site in 1986, but a group called Friends of the Crystal River formed and opposed the golf course. In 2003, after many years of fighting to protect this delicate habitat, the Leelanlanu Conservancy was able to transfer the 7 acre Oxbow part of the river to Glen Arbor Township. Today the river is part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

The river flows from Glen Lake to Lake Michigan, covering a distance of 6.3 meandering miles. We did not paddle the entire length of the river, but we traversed a fair amount of it, paddling up and down stream.

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Some of my highlights during our paddle down the Crystal River:

  • Kayaking! I love it – it’s such a fun way to explore and exercise.
  • Photographing Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) while floating in a kayak (it wasn’t easy, but it was a fun challenge!).
  • Enjoying the stillness of the water and the trees.
  • Seeing how close I could get to a Green Heron (Butorides virescens) on the water (I got a few photos too!)
  • Hanging out with my parents and husband 🙂

I would love to visit Glen Arbor again and kayaking Crystal River is at the top of my list!

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Lake Michigan – Photoblog

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One of the things I’m most enamored and in awe of in Michigan are the Great Lakes. When I was younger I just couldn’t wrap my head around the enormity of Lake Erie. How could it not be part of the ocean? It appeared to stretch on forever, making me feel small, insignificant and anxious.

Today, the lakes still baffle my senses, but I found them calming on our recent trip to Michigan last September. The waves were soothing, the endless expanse of freshwater inspiring.

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We were fortunate to have spectacular weather during our Michigan vacation. We missed the historic storm which slammed Glen Arbor in August, though the effects were still visible in mid-September. Reading about the storm after our trip makes me thankful that we weren’t in town at the time. Despite living in Ohio my entire life, I’ve never witnessed a tornado — and would like to keep it that way.

Glen Arbor was hit with winds of 100 miles per hour, leaving all roads into the town impassable the night after the storm. If you search for “Glen Arbor Storm 2015” or “Glen Arbor Tornado 2015” you’ll find some terrifying, yet gorgeous, photos of the storm clouds, as well as the damage.

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Everyone we spoke to in Glen Arbor and the surrounding area commented on the wonderful weather we had that week. Several locals mentioned that it was the first nice week of the summer, even though it was mid-September.

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Glen Arbor is an awesome town! It sits on the shore of Lake Michigan, just north of Glen Lake. It has the small town charm that I love, and because we visited after the summer rush, we were able to really take it all in. I’d love to go back and stay longer just to take advantage of the restaurants and shops being within walking distance of the cabin we rented. Plus, Glen Arbor is surrounded by Sleeping Bear Dunes, named the “Most Beautiful Place in America” on Good Morning America.

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After enjoying dinner at Cherry Republic (check out my review of the most cherry-licious restaurant you’ll ever eat at here! Edible/Food Smilies), we took a short walk down to the shore of Lake Michigan to watch the sun set. I loved listening to the waves – so grounding and centering.

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From where we stood on the beach, we could see, far in the distance, the Manitou Islands. The North and South Manitou Islands are part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. We did not visit the islands on this trip, but we did hear the story of how the islands came to be; a legend told by the Chippewa Native Americans.

The story goes that a mother bear, Mishe Mokwa, and her two cubs tried to cross Lake Michigan from Wisconsin to escape a forest fire. The mother bear made it across the lake, but her cubs were too exhausted from the swim and didn’t make it. The mother bear waited for her cups on a steep bluff until she too passed away. The Great Spirit Manitou marked the mother bear’s resting place with the Sleeping Bear Dunes and covered her cubs with sand to form the two Manitou Islands. This beautiful, sad story is told in a book we read while exploring another small town, Northport. The book is The Legend of Sleeping Bear written by Kathy-Jo Wargin and illustrated by Gijsbert Van Frankenhuyzen.

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Later that evening we had a bonfire at the cabin, roasting marshmallows and making s’mores. Edible/Food Smilies We talked to my sister, Brittney, on the phone, telling her how awesome Michigan was and how if she lived in Ohio instead of Seattle, she maybe could have come with us. Silly Smilies

In the morning we had a home cooked breakfast (Dennings make egg-cellent breakfasts Winking), which we shared with our black squirrel neighbor. Animal Smilies Black squirrels are actually Eastern Gray Squirrels or Fox Squirrels. They have a mutation in their genes that causes their fur to be black. So while our little friend had black fur, she was probably an Eastern Gray Squirrel, just like the ones that we have here in Ohio.

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My dad and I put some almonds out for the squirrel, which she quickly devoured. I named her Emma, because any animal with black fur makes me think of our Emma.

We don’t see very many black squirrels in our area, but they’re really common in certain parts of the country, including Michigan. Their black fur helps them hold on to heat and hide well in the dense northern forests. Gray squirrels do better in warmer areas with more people. Their gray fur works better for hiding in residential and city areas.

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On our last day in Michigan I returned to the beach we visited on our first night. I wanted to gather some stones, in the hopes of someday making more of my love rocks.

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We had a really great trip to Michigan and I have many more blog posts coming your way. We tasted delicious hard ciders, climbed the sand dunes at Sleeping Bear Dunes, visited an old fish town and ate lots of delicious local Michigan foods (so many cherries!).

I know Ohioans and Michiganders are supposed to be in a constant battle, just because of two certain football teams, but I don’t subscribe to that ideology. I have nothing but love, respect and admiration for our neighbor to the north! I’ll always be an Ohio lady, but I love to hang out in Michigan too.

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Score a Chance to See Dreamworks HOME Early!

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HOME, the adorable looking movie from the creators of the How to Train Your Dragon films and The Croods, hits theaters Friday, March 27th. The movie follows the journey of human girl named Tip and a misfit alien named Oh (and Tip’s adorable cat) as they become friends and go on a series of adventures. The film looks like a perfect family night movie and is rated PG.

This Ohio Life readers in Cincinnati and Columbus have a chance to win passes to see HOME early on Tuesday March 24th. Passes are limited and seating is first-come, first-served and not guaranteed. It’s recommended that you arrive early to increase your chance of entry.

Get the details below!

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Cincinnati

Join the comedic adventures of a girl and her loveable misfit from another planet! Enter HERE for your chance to win passes for HOME on Tuesday, March 24 at AMC Newport on the Levee theatre!

 

Columbus

Join the comedic adventures of a girl and her loveable misfit from another planet! Enter HERE for your chance to win passes for HOME on Tuesday, March 24 at AMC Lennox Town Center theatre!