Finding Hope in Hocking Hills

my family

my family

If you read my blog regularly, you know that my family has had a rough year with a  lot of emotional ups and downs. Our lives changed drastically on April 23, 2012 when Joey was diagnosed with LCH (read previous posts under LCH). He has been dealing with a lot of pain again over the last few months and has been in and out of the hospital. He has a constant pain in his hip and gets shooting pains down his leg every few seconds. Everyday I wish I could take his pain for him. I think over and over how I wish it was me instead. But it’s not possible to just take the pain away. So instead, my days are spent helping him with exercises, taking him to a variety of appointments including pain team, acupuncture, massage therapy and physical therapy, talking to doctors via email and phone, researching herbal remedies and trying to come up with any way possible to relieve the pain. And all of this is done while working full-time and taking care of another child. Luckily I have an amazing boyfriend, a terrific group of friends and a fantastic family to help. And as they all keep reminding me; I can’t take care of anyone if I don’t take care of myself. So that’s exactly what I did this weekend – I took care of myself with a little help from that amazing boyfriend Nick. We stayed in aquaint little cabin in Hocking Hills, Ohio. I had heard about Hocking Hills for years but had never been there. This was the perfect time to try it out since I was in desperate need of mental break and Joey would be spending the weekend with his dad. We arrived Friday late afternoon, made dinner and enjoyed the hot tub. We got up early Saturday and set out for a day of adventure.

Rock Formations at Hocking Hills

Rock Formations at Hocking Hills

Nick on a cool tree

Nick on a cool tree

We did a three-hour zipline tour of Hocking Hills. It was amazing! It included 10 ziplines and ended with rappelling down. The first two ziplines would be like the bunny slope when skiing. Then we started with professional zips. We flew through the sky from tree to tree landing on platforms. I don’t even have words to describe how amazing this was. I have dreams all the time that I can fly. This was the closest I will ever come to making that dream come true. It was worth the cost and is a memory we will always have.

After that we headed to Old Man’s Cave and ate our packed lunch at the picnic tables. We explored the cave and small waterfalls. As I traveled down to the cave, I felt as if I had entered a different world. The rock formations were breathtaking and I have always been fascinated by waterfalls. We spent the evening relaxing in the hot tub again. It was so peaceful since the cabin was secluded in the woods.

Nick holding up Old Man's Cave

Nick holding up Old Man’s Cave

After dinner and a small storm, I stood out on the deck of our cabin with a feeling of peace, looking at the mysterious sky. The sun rays were trying to peek out from behind the grey clouds. As I stared at its glory I prayed for my son to be healed. I hoped that when I returned home I’d be told that his pain would be gone. I thought to myself that I’d be willing to give up all the inner peace and happiness I was feeling right at the moment if my son could just be pain-free.

After having breakfast at the cabin Sunday morning, we headed to Cedar Falls. I didn’t think I could ever see anything more beautiful than Old Man’s Cave but WOW was I wrong. I was immediately drawn to the waterfall. I slipped on flip-flops and headed out. At first I just put my hands under the fall but realized I wouldn’t be satisfied until I stood under. So denim shorts and all, I stood under the water letting it fall on my head and off my shoulders. It was FREEZING but I found it majestic. We managed to find ourselves in some restricted areas where we climbed on top on the waterfall (Children: do not try this).  It was unbelievable to be standing just a foot away from where the water falls and to look over all the people we were just standing with minutes beforehand.

Under the waterfall

Under the waterfall

The view from on top of the waterfall

The view from on top of the waterfall

The Water Fall

Enjoying the moment

Enjoying the moment

We made our way back to the car and after driving by a few areas we wanted to see, we headed home. We had about 48 hours of an incredible escape. An added bonus was that our phones did not work at all in Hocking Hills (we let family know where we were staying incase there was an emergency) so neither one of us spent any time texting, checking Facebook or on the phone. This allowed for a complete break from the outside world. Not only did I have an amazing experience on my first trip with Nick but I was able to get the mental break I needed and feel refreshed.

As I write this, Joey is in the next room screaming out every few seconds. I so wish I could take that pain for him. I can’t do that but at least I can take care of him. Joey loves reading your messages so be sure to post positive thoughts here.

P.S. If you aren’t following us on Facebook, you should be!

P.S. S. I am open to all holistic ways of treating Joey since traditional medicine doesn’t seem to be working. If you have suggests outside of acupuncture and medical massage, I would love to hear them. Please post in the comments.

Exploring Atlanta

We spent spring break in Atlanta, Georgia with good friends of ours. They just moved to Atlanta in December for a job so they had not had a chance to explore the city yet either. We had been talking for months how we wanted to see Coca Cola, the Atlanta Aquarium, CNN, the Atlanta Zoo and Stone Mountain. We were so excited to discover our spring breaks were the same.

Everything goes better with coke... Even good friends.

Everything goes better with coke… Even good friends.

My two kids are very close to their four kids – Holland, 11, Roman, 10, Elliot, 8 and Winston, 7. I think of these kids as my own and am very close to their parents Deacon and Amanda. So the day after Easter, the kids and I loaded up the car early morning and headed to Atlanta. We made it to their home in the small historical town of Newnan by dinner time. With several stops, it only took us 8 hours from Northern Kentucky and they live a little south of the city. We did pack lots of snacks and had a picnic lunch at a rest stop in Tennessee.

Enjoying the Atlanta Zoo

Enjoying the Atlanta Zoo

Day 1: We packed up the six kids ranging from 7 to almost 14 and the cooler with lunch inside and headed to Grant Park. We had lunch at the park and then walked over to the Atlanta Zoo. This zoo is smaller than the Cincinnati Zoo but honestly, I liked it better. The exhibits are all very close to the viewing the area so you get a much better look at the animals. They had adorable otters, kangaroos, several gorillas and panda bears, which is something I had never seen before. I was super excited about the kangaroos and pandas since my children have always been Joey, the baby kangaroo, and Andi Pandi, the panda bear. After spending a few hours watching the animals play and petting the goats in the petting zoo, we spent a half hour or so at the playground.

The baby gorilla at the Atlanta Zoo

The baby gorilla at the Atlanta Zoo

Andi Pandi the Panda Bear

Andi Pandi the Panda Bear

The Atlanta clay gives the animals an orange tent.

The Atlanta clay gives the animals an orange tent.

She might be almost 14 but has the heart of a 4 year old

She might be almost 14 but has the heart of a 4 year old

Panda Bear at the Atlanta Zoo

Panda Bear at the Atlanta Zoo

 Otters at Atlanta Zoo

Otters at Atlanta Zoo

Joey is my baby kangaroo

Joey is my baby kangaroo

Joey the baby kangaroo!

Joey the baby kangaroo!

Day 2:

We drove about a half hour to the MARTA train station and took a train downtown. It cost $2.50 per person versus dealing with traffic and paying $10 to $20 to park each car downtown.The kids were very excited about the train experience. We then walked a few blocks to CNN where we were able to tour the station. I’ll be honest. This was not what I expected at all. I have toured NBC in New York, which was awesome so I assumed this would be similar but it was not. We really only saw people on their computers from a viewing area. Needless to say, the kids were bored. The courtyard at the CNN center offered plenty of food choices so we had lunch there.

Waiting for the MARTA train

Waiting for the MARTA train

The kids pose in front of CNN

The kids pose in front of CNN

We then walked a few blocks to World of Coca Cola. The tour starts off with a short presentation and a really goofy animated short-film (this was weird). Then you are on your own to see the Coke artifacts, how Coke is made, the history of Coke and then to taste more than 60 types of Coke. It is amazing how different it tastes from different parts of the world. My favorite was the one from Georgia, Europe. I was disappointed in the Italy flavor as well as many others. It was definitely a fun experience though.

Posing in the Coke Museum

Posing in the Coke Museum

The Coke Bear and kids

The Coke Bear and kids

We then hopped back on the train and headed back to our cars. This is where one of the funniest things of the whole trip happened – well at least we find it funny now. The train was very crowded since it was rush hour. Amanda and Winston were sitting pretty far from the rest of us. Elliot was on my lap and the other four kids were standing near me holding on to the poles. A man boards the train, looks around and yells “Attention, Attention everyone!” Right then I thought “OMG, this is it. He’s going to shoot us all or he’s going to rob us.” He continues “I see a lot of sad faces on this bus and life is just too short to be sad all the time.” And I see the kids’ faces and realize they are all thinking the same as I am. I think “how can I cover all five of these kids at once and protect them.” Then he continues “so I want to see everyone smile.” Oh my goodness, I think everyone on the train smiled right at that moment out of relief that we weren’t being held up.

Day 3:
We took the train downtown again and started to walk to the Atlanta Aquarium. But it was freezing and raining out so I hailed down a cab. WARNING: ask the cab driver what it’s going to cost immediately. He did not run the meter and then charged me $24 for taking us a mile. According to Taxi Fare Finder, it should have cost about $9. But it was almost worth it because none of the kids had ever been in a taxi. You would have thought it was Christmas by how excited they were.

Andi and Joey at the Atlanta Aquarium.

Andi and Joey at the Atlanta Aquarium.

Beluga Whales at the Atlanta Aquarium

Beluga Whales at the Atlanta Aquarium

Jelly Fish at the Atlanta Aquarium

Jelly Fish at the Atlanta Aquarium

This is one of the largest aquariums in the world. The exhibits were amazing. I loved watching the Beluga whales, the otters and the penguins. We arrived around noon and immediately asked for tickets to the dolphin show. We couldn’t see it until 5:30 because the other shows were sold out. There was no way all these kids were going to make it that long. By the time we would watch the show, take the train and then drive back, it would be 8 p.m. or later. I was extremely disappointed I did not get to see the dolphin show. It was more disappointing that we didn’t even get to see the dolphins because apparently you can only see it at the show. So my advice would be to get there when it opens to get tickets to the dolphin show.

Day 4:
I loaded the car with lunch and the four older kids to head about one hour away to Stone Mountain. It was very easy to get to and we were able to buy a one-day parking pass for $10. We had bought our adventure passes (admission to all the activities at a discounted price) in advance. We headed straight for the Summit Skyride. It took us to the top of Stone Mountain, which was breathtaking. We started exploring the side of the mountain stopping to take in the view of Atlanta several times. The kids had a blast playing on the rocks. We eventually hiked our way down the mountain. They say it takes about 35 minutes at a normal pace but since we stopped and played so much, it probably took closer to 90 minutes.

The amazing view from Stone Mountain

The amazing view from Stone Mountain

I stopped to take in the view

I stopped to take in the view

What do I see

What do I see

Andi

Andi “saves” Roman from falling off the cliff.

Joey, Andi and I stop to enjoy Stone Mountain

Joey, Andi and I stop to enjoy Stone Mountain

Oh No!!! Stone Mountain.

Oh No!!! Stone Mountain.

What they don’t tell you is if you hike down, you will be about one mile from the adventure area and your car. So after a long walk, we decided to rest our legs by riding the train. The 35 minute ride around the park was very relaxing and informative. The next stop was the SkyHike where we did an obstacle course 64 feet off the ground. We walked over narrow, moving planks, tight ropes and other obstacles while harnessed in. I nearly had a panick attack so bad on one obstacle that an employee was coming over to save me. Luckily I made it across before he had the chance since my kids would have never let me live that down. Although it was scary, it was totally worth it and I would do it again. After that, the kids rock climbed and then cooled down with Geyser Tower.

The Rock Wall

The Rock Wall

I did this! Those beams move!

I did this! Those beams move!

This really was an amazing trip. I do have a few tips for you if you plan to visit Atlanta.

1. Buy the Atlanta CityPass. It includes five of the major attractions and allows you to save over 40%. This really made the trip affordable. This pass also helps you avoid some lines.

2. Buy the Adventure Pass at Stone Mountain. You will cover the cost if you choose even two activities.

3. Avoid Atlanta rush hour if possible and note that rush hour is from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 4-7 p.m. Take the train if you can.

4. Get to the Aquarium early and get your tickets to the dolphin show.

5. Every single attraction lets out through the gift shop so be mentally prepared for that with kids.

6. Check to see if you can get a discount on the city or adventure passes – they offer a discount for some companies.

7. Atlanta temps can vary so wear layers.

8. Atlanta is definitely a southern town. Everyone will say hello and calls you mam or sir. Return the southern hospitality.

Have you ever been to Atlanta? What was your favorite part? Is there anything else I should have seen? Tell us about your favorite trip and tips you might have!

P.S. Be sure to check us out on Facebook.

Taking a Break from the Worry

As parents I think we forget to take time for ourselves. My family has been a lot over the last six months (See Catching Up).There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t worry that the LCH is going to reactivate in my son Joey. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t worry how both kids are adjusting to our “new normal,” how Joey’s recovery is going or the endless amount of medical bills that have come along with this disease. In addition to that, I worry about the normal things like the mortgage, my job, laundry, cleaning the kitchen, carpools, my friends’ kids (especially one particular one right now – See Pray For Clay), if the kids are eating healthy enough, etc. It seems to be an endless amount of worry.

My worry was so intense two weeks ago that I literally had a migraine for six days. I would wake up and go to bed with it.  Nothing seemed to help. I tried pain relievers, lots of sleep, prescription medicine, acupuncture, massage and chiropractor. Everything would help or dull it briefly but nothing took it away entirely. I know it was a result of grinding and clinching my teeth, which was a direct result of worry.

I try to do little things for myself like get a pedicure every three to four weeks, hang out with friends or have a glass or three of wine. But I never do much more than that. Honestly, I’m very anal and like to have everything in my life planned. Yes, I’m one of those… a PLANNER. It even drives me crazy. I take months and months to plan vacations. I will review hotels for weeks before making a decision. My planning addiction is what makes me volunteer for everything – Girl Scout Leader, Soccer PA, Fundraisers, etc… I am in control if I’m the one planning it. If I plan it, I know what to expect. Yeah, I have issues.

Last Saturday I woke up with a dull headache but had to do a live interview for my employer. So I dragged myself out of bed, got ready and headed to the studio. I had plans to meet my friends Amy and Christine for a pedicure after. On our way to the salon, Christine mentioned there was going to be a meteor shower that night and how she would love to see it. She also mentioned that she had never been to Red River Gorge. Next thing I know, we are heading home from our pedis to pack our bags, grab our puppies and head to the Gorge. I maybe spent 10 minutes packing. I didn’t even take a flashlight.

We loaded the car and were on our way. Once we got to the area, we started making calls and found a cabin. We went on a hike that evening and the next morning. We spent the evening watching the Meteor Shower and seeing at least two dozen stars shoot across the sky. It was amazing. We also enjoyed a soak in the hot tub and just relaxing on the deck of our cabin while our puppies played. Although my children and everything else was in the back of my head, it was so incredibly relaxing.

I felt completely reenergized after that 30-hour trip. My migraine was finally gone and I even felt like a better mom. This little trip reminded me how important it is for parents to take time for themselves. We need to get away from the stress, take a break from the kids and recharge. I am going to try to make a point to do something for myself every couple months. It might not be an overnight trip every time but it will be more than a pedicure. What have you done lately to recharge?

Travel the World in a Day

Today I loaded up my children and our two house guests – Holland, 10, and Roman, 9, and headed to Jungle Jim’s in Fairlfield, Ohio. This 35-40 minute drive allowed us to travel the world in about 90 minutes. We visited Asia, Italy, Holland, Mexico, England, Germany and much more. We even saw Elvis and the singing Campbell’s soup can! The kids were super excited to see the Prize-winning restrooms that look like port-o-lets on the outside.

Before heading out, the kids teamed up and picked a dessert recipe. We then made a list of ingredients for each team knowing that when we got there they would search for their ingredients. Roman and Andi chose to make Italian lemon tiramisu and Joey and Holland decided to make a raspberry delight.

Holland and Roman had never been to Jungle Jim’s so they were excited when we pulled out front. They loved the waterfalls and characters out front. We were all disappointed though when we couldn’t find a handicap parking spot (Read Catching Up to see why we need a handicap spot) and discovered that most of the cars in those spots did not have handicap tags or stickers.  I ended up dropping the four kids, ranging from 9 to 13, off in front of the store; parking the car and meeting back up with them. I actually counted on my way to the store and saw at least a dozen cars without tags in handicap spots. That was very upsetting to my 10-year-old who needs a walker and it made me think that the author of People I’d Like to Punch In the Throat should give those people a good punch!

Once inside, we started our hunt. It would be easy to spend hours in there with the incredible wine section, olive bar, cheese counter, bakery, pet area, produce department and so much more. In addition to featuring all the different countries, there is a garden area, bank, post office and cell phone store.

I allowed each kid to pick one fruit they had never tried. I believe we ended up with a banana mango, star fruit, some weird thing none of us can remember the name of and the dragon fruit. Each child was also given $2 to buy some type of candy or treat. The girls combined their money and the girls did the same. The girls picked Italian chocolate, I chose an orange German chocolate and the boys… well they picked gum balls.

We couldn’t find certain ingredients so we asked a worker in the isle near the olive bar. She didn’t know and told us to ask at the olive bar. The woman at the bar didn’t know and told us to go to the bakery. Now remember, this is not a small store and my son is using a walker. So we went to the bakery where we were able to find one item and told us what area the other item might be in. After asking the fourth employee we saw, we found the item. I do wish the customer service would have been better. We did have a map but it just labeled the departments.

On our way to the checkout we found bananas dipped in chocolate ice cream. I bought a box of 5 for $2.99 and it was completely worth it! They were so good and it was a nice cold treat to enjoy on the way home.  I also grabbed a nice bone for puppy. She was very happy!

Our bill was about $90. I was a little shocked by this. We are making two desserts and just picked up a couple other items. We did have to get things like sugar, flour and vanilla extract, which definitely cost more there than they would have at Kroger. As soon as we got home, the kids started making their desserts. It was fun to watch them work together and enjoy cooking.

This is definitely an activity I would do again with the kids. However, next time, I will pick basic items up at the local grocery store and just purchase the unique items at Jungle Jim’s. I would also like to do the tour, which cost $5 each.

Overall, it was a fun activity for the kids and a great way to spend the day. Big thanks to Stockpiling Moms and Family Friendly Cincinnati for the idea. What unique activities do you do with the kids in the summer?

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