Coming Soon to June/July Issue of Cincy Magazine’s Great 8 Traveler

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Venture to the Shores of Northern Ohio on Lake Erie

By Heather King

A hometown atmosphere welcomes visitors to the shores of Ohio’s Great Lakes region with rich history blended with outdoor adventures. Whether it’s the charm of Port Clinton, OH’s revitalized historic downtown, or Sandusky, OH’s mixing bowl of things to do; there is no short of memorable excursions for visitors of any age.

Historic Downtown Revitalization and Pristine Beaches

Port Clinton and the Put-In-Bay area of Northern Ohio boasts beautiful sand beaches, lakeside adventures and serene state parks. The historic downtown district of the lakeside town offers quaint shopping from art galleries to urban greenhouse suppliers, and with a short ferry ride, visitors can relax on South Bass Island in Put-In-Bay.

The Historic Port Clinton organization aims at revitalizing the downtown district of Port Clinton in the model of the Ohio Main Street Program. The program is designed to breath life into a central business district of communities all across Ohio.

Port Clinton’s shopping district is both eclectic and wonderfully quirky with a wide array of businesses. The Black Swamp Bird Observatory Visitor Center and Gift Shop, located at the entrance to the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, combines education and research to promote conservation. Touted as the “Warbler Capital of the World,” the observatory hosts the Biggest Week in American Birding each May, and it brings thousands of people to the area to see the bird migration. Cruisin’ Tunes on Madison Street is a truly unique store that houses fashionable footwear and other clever gift items. Packer Creek Pottery is dedicated to the craft of functional and stunning handmade pottery, and was once commissioned by the White House to create an angel for a Christmas tree in the Blue Room, according to its website.

Put-In-Bay is not all fishing charters and beaches, but there is also vibrant entertainment on The Boardwalk. This popular destination has it all, everything from parasailing to exciting nightlife. Delectable seafood such as Alaskan king crab and live Maine lobster are said to be the best eating in the area.

“Many establishments in Port Clinton have some sort of live entertainment,” says Mary Ann Snider, tourism partner coordinator with Lake Erie Shores and Islands in Port Clinton. “Visiting performers are from country, folk, acoustic, Americana and blues genres.”

Snider also says a unique venue in Port Clinton is the Listening Room located inside the OurGuest Inn & Suites. The location features nationally touring and up-and-coming singer/songwriters who showcase original tunes. “This is formatted just like the popular Bluebird Café in Nashville, TN.,” says Snider.

The Boardwalk is even a favorite stomping ground for local entertainers like Mike “Mad Dog” Adams, Bob Gatewood, Pat Dailey and West Side Steve. These performers make Port Clinton and Put-In-Bay an unforgettable spot on Lake Erie. Live music from reggae to Top 40 Hits and country to acoustic jams, there is something at The Boardwalk for every member of the family to enjoy.

“They each have their own unique, laidback style which fits the ‘island style,’” says Snider.

Visitors to Port Clinton can even experience a safari at the African Safari Wildlife Park. Complete with a drive-through safari where guests will see a beautiful assortment of animals including lemurs, giraffes, zebra, buffalo, alpaca, camel and several species of deer. “The walk-through safari includes white handed gibbons, wart hog, ocelot and white alligator,” says Snider. “There are also pig races and educational shows.”

The Island Adventure Family Fun Center is a great place for the kids to burn off some energy, groups to have a party in the pavilion, families can race in fast go-carts and there is even a beautifully landscaped 18-hole miniature golf course. Water squirting bumper boats and an air-conditioned arcade provide relief for those hot summer days. There is a more low-key option for those who want to relax in beautiful surroundings, and at the Mon Ami Winery and Historic Restaurant located in Port Clinton offers a sophisticated ambiance with live jazz on Sundays, wine tasting, live events Fridays and Saturdays, tours and a gift shop.

“Mon Ami Winery and Historic Restaurant is one of the oldest wineries in the Lake Erie Islands region,” says Snider.

Another spectacular winery is Heineman Winery and Crystal Cave located at Put-In-Bay on South Bass Island. The winery and cave is home to the world’s largest celestite geode, says Snider, giving the cave its name. Visitors can take advantage of tours through the winery and into the cave, 40 feet below the earth’s surface. Not to be forgotten is the Stonehenge Estate, also located at Put-In-Bay on South Bass Island, a seven-acre estate representing grape-growing farms and wineries that once prospered on the island, says Snider. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the grounds, Stone Farmhouse and the wine press cottage can be experienced with a self-guided audio tour.

Thrill and adventure in Sandusky

The first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Sandusky, OH is the grand and mighty Cedar Point Amusement Park. It is the self-proclaimed roller coaster capital of the world with 17 different exhilarating coasters such as the Top Thrill Dragster that goes from zero to 120 miles per hour in less than four seconds, and the adrenaline-rushing Millennium Force that takes its riders down an 80 degree drop. For the non-thrill seekers there are many more rides and attractions at the amusement park such as family rides, kids’ rides and water rides.

Cedar Point even features a prehistoric-themed attraction called Dinosaurs Alive! With over 50 life-size animatronic dinosaurs “adults and kids of all ages will enjoy the interactive exhibit as they experience the sights and sounds of prehistoric dinosaurs,” according to the company’s website. Also at Cedar Point is the Soak City Waterpark, perfect for keeping cool on sizzling summer day. There is no shortage of water slides and water park amusement for all ages to enjoy. The little ones have their own safe space to frolic in the water in areas such as Choo Choo Lagoon, Tadpole Town, Toddler River and Adventure Cove Lily Pad Walk. The summer lineup of live entertainment at the park is revving up to bring visitors to the park a summers worth of enthralling concerts. As its website boasts, Cedar Point is the place to strengthen family bonds and stomachs.

Sandusky is home to other fascinating landmarks such as the Ghostly Manor Thrill Center. The family-friendly facility houses a myriad of activities for visitors to enjoy. Arcade games and black light interactive mini golf bring classic fun while the XD 3D Theater is a unique movie experience. The visitors’ very seats become a roller coaster-like ride as the audience goes on a wild cinematic journey, according to Ghostly Manor’s website. Skateworld Family Fun Center at Ghostly Manor gives families an unforgettable time listening to music that gets the crowd moving on roller blades, skates and scooters.

A more relaxed point of interest in Sandusky is its history, and there are several renowned landmarks visitors can see. The Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center is operated by the non-profit Hayes Presidential Center, Inc., and is home to a wealth of history. The facility features the home, library, museum, tomb and 25-acre estate of 19th U.S. President Hayes. The center serves as a preservation of American History while aiding the public in learning about the president. “The Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center exists to enrich lives through the historical preservation of Spiegel Grove and to provide a greater understanding of President Hayes and his contributions to the State of Ohio, the country, and his fellow Americans,” says the center’s mission statement on its website.

Summer break and family getaways

As both a mother and full time college student, summer break is a double gift. It is a time to unwind and relax, but doing that with three young children can be challenging. My husband and I are planning a small weekend getaway with our kids; Baron, Lily and Jareth.

What is something we could do? Camping may just be the winner. There are so many choices of great campgrounds that are not far away such as Red River Gorge, Natural Bridge near Richmond, KY, Morgan’s camping and many more.

Camping in the wilderness, roasting gooey marshmallows over a crackling fire and exploring through the woods brings to mind a rustic and rejuvenating experience. Add small children to that equation and you’ve got whining and complaining coupled with bug bites and sweat. A rocking good time to be sure.

The first thing to consider is what other activities do the campgrounds offer. Do they have easy activities for younger kids? The Natural Bridge campground has an activity center with a splash park, hiking trails, caves and camping areas. Kiddos with shorter legs (like Lily) may have a tough time hiking up to the massive rock bridge, and there are different trails varying by difficulty.

Before we even think about what we are to do once we get to our campsite, we must pack all the essentials to survive a camping trip with children. Do not forget the bug spray! A tired child with bug bites is a whole different monster. If you will be out in the sun, having sunscreen is essential. Excited and squirming little ones can be difficult to rub down with thick sunscreen lotion, so our saving grace is a spray-on version. No mess and no fuss!

Sleeping outside in a tent can be scary for children, even if they are cuddled up with mom and dad. Have your children pick their favorite stuffed animal to bring along in the tent; bringing a few good bedtime stories wouldn’t hurt either.

At this point, parents should be pros on packing proper clothes, but most important is comfy shoes that can hold up with the elements. Sandles are a no-no for hiking, but they are fine for lounging around the campsite.

Above all, remember to bring a lighthearted expectation for the inevitable, and handle each experience as it comes. Treasure every instance of tired, grumpy children, crying about how hot and itchy they are– it will be gone within a blink of an eye.

Cincinnati Zoo Trip

Our family went to the Cincinnati Zoo for the first time this season on Easter Sunday. Sun rays warmed the air, flower blossoms popped up here and there in the gardens, and the walking areas were actually passable. In Baron’s own words, “This is a perfect day!”

He’s a sweet little man, sometimes I forget he’s only six years old. Lily picked the giraffes for our first stop inside the zoo. We maneuvered our cumbersome stroller– there was a bench seat facing the back for Lily– to the long-necked animals’ enclosure. The youngest little one, with its puzzle piece-like pattern, stayed close to its mother; it followed her right up to the platform where we stood. They stared eagerly for the $1 crackers people could buy to feed to them, but we had no cash. Sorry guys, maybe next time.

Next was Baron’s favorite place: the Reptile House. This is one of the oldest buildings in the zoo, second only to the Elephant House. The inside was not much different from when I was their age, but the ceiling had been renovated and vaulted. Right away they both rushed to the middle of the room to see the Chinese alligators lounging lazily in their enclosure, submerged in the water. The group of alligators always seemed like statues as they sat there motionless. Reptiles and amphibians are adorable, or at least to me they are, and the energetic blue tree monitor was by far my favorite. He climbed at the glass as if to break free and run about the room. Baron looked up at me and said, “He’s communicating with me, Mom!” It reminded me of a scene from Harry Potter when Harry spoke to a snake at the zoo.

Lily isn’t creeped out by most things, and she was pretty pumped about the different snakes. Or at least until she found the rattlesnakes, she didn’t like those very much. Jareth is still a bit young and he doesn’t notice the finer details of things, and unless the animal is right in his face he’s just happy to be outside. Inside the Insect House, there was a green gecko stuck to the side of his plexiglass home. Jareth laughed and waved “hello” to the gecko, babbling something sweet with his pacifier still stuck in his mouth.

Before we could successfully leave the zoo, we absolutely had to ride the train. Every kid who visits the zoo desires the 5 minute ride on the train like it is the most exhilarating experience in the world. Looking back on my childhood the train was definitely a lot cooler then, in my late-twenties, not so much. As long as the kids are happy, then I’m happy. The doom dawns on my husband and I when the kids were forced to wait in line for their turn. Kids hate waiting in line as much as they love riding the damn train, the Apocalypse hath come and there is no stopping it or making it better. At least until they finally get their turn.

Jareth being the two-year-old that he is did not want to be held, touched or talked to; he just wanted to run free without being stopped. Totally reasonable, right? After punching my husband in the nose a few times it was my turn to wrestle the beast in submission; at least he’s an adorable beast. I did my best to cradle him, but he kicked and flailed his arms and screamed as loud as he could. His little face turned a deep red. Now that I’m on the third kid, I don’t even care. The other people in line who do not have children can glare at me all they want. Finally, once we sat down– all five of us crammed into one seat– he smiled through his tears and clapped his hands as the train slowly pushed forward. Kids, they’re lucky they are so cute.

It’s always a gamble as to which one of them will end of mad and inconsolable, but at least they always have fun being at the zoo. If you’ve never been there or it’s been years since your last trip– maybe you go every chance you get– going to the zoo is an essential part of the Cincinnati landscape.

Natural Bridge Memories

It has been nearly two decades since I visited the Natural Bridge State Resort Park. My parents would take me there during the summer, and it was one of my favorite adventures.

Located along the Red River in Powell and Wolfe Counties in Kentucky, the picturesque landscape and bridge-like structure amazed me even after the twenty plus times I have been there.

I do not own these images, image copyright owned by Natural Bridge State Resort Park.
I do not own these images, image copyright owned by Natural Bridge State Resort Park.
I do not own these images, image copyright owned by Natural Bridge State Resort Park.
I do not own these images, image copyright owned by Natural Bridge State Resort Park.

Before we made it to the state park, we pulled into a small general store with every trinket and knick knack one could want. The store had one unique feature most tourist gift shops do not: there was a live snake display connected to the building. I loved it, and found it to be fascinating. Looking back, I’m not sure it was completely legal, but it is still a part of the memory. Snakes of all kinds– local to the United States– were displayed in wire-topped enclosures (the rest of it was constructed from wood), and the rattlesnakes made it known they were not pleased with our presence. Just remembering the sound gives me chills, but still I am enamored with snakes.

After the daily provisions were purchased, along with a pop gun and candy, we made our way to the park to set out on our hike to the bridge.

I remember being overly eager and wanting to run the whole way up to the top, much to my parents’ dismay. The Original Trail was built by the Lexington and Eastern Railroad in the 1880s, and it is about 400 ft. of amazing forest. There are little secrets along the way that my Dad and I explored; little caves and rock formations were my favorite. We were sweating profusely from the summer heat, but stepping inside the caves felt like basking in the air conditioning. They gave us sweet relief if only for a few moments.

Along the trail– typically in the most precarious spots– are wooden railings. I made the mistake of grabbing onto it, touching a mass of spiders. I freaked out, needless to say, and my mom thought one of them bit me. We stopped to take another breather after that. My enthusiasm ran out a little over halfway to the bridge, and unfortunately for me I was too big for my Dad to carry me the rest of the way.

Once we reached a natural fracture in the rock formation we made it to our destination; this narrow fracture was the entrance to the natural bridge. The bridge was wide, but I still felt afraid to stray from the dead center as we were at a 420 ft. elevation. Looking around the natural formation I read countless markings of “So-and-so was here 1970,” and “Guy loves Girl Forever.” Even as a child I found that to be an annoying touristy trait. I wanted to yell at anyone I caught doing it, but my parents said no.

Looking out over the landscape from my vantage point I drank in the beauty of the nature that surrounded me. In the summer I saw a lush forest surrounding the low-lying campsites, and a sky lift carried tired hikers all the way down. Of course my Dad didn’t want to “wimp out” as he called it, and I was too scared of descending 420 ft down the side of this giant rock formation in a tiny, not at all enclosed chair lift. Walking back down it was.

Once at the bottom where the campsites were located, I played barefoot in the creek. The cold stream relaxed my aching feet, and it gave me one last chance to get really dirty before getting into the car. I slept the entire ride home.

Now that I’m nearing 30, around the same age my parents were then, I ponder what the state park is like today. What has changed? Is the quirky little gift shop with the snakes still there? Could my kids handle the hike? Most likely not, we would be carrying them a quarter of the way up. That’s okay, though. One day the tradition will be continued.

2015 HorrorHound Weekend Cincinnati

Another amazing weekend is in the history books for the HorrorHound Weekend Cincinnati. Every spring the horror convention brings amazing art, music, movies and celebrities to the Sharonville Convention Center. There is a plethora of things to do at the convention, and fans from all ages can find something to intrigue them.

The vendor room houses rogue taxidermists, several amazing artists such as Ghoulish Gary Pullin, entertainment/media companies, clothing companies and nostalgic celebrities. Dark Sky Entertainment had killer deals on movies, and Dan and I came away with The Innkeepers, Faces of Death and Death Spa. The Forgotten Boneyard is a taxidermy artist who creates amazing pieces with various types of bones from different kinds of animals. Although I wanted to buy the piranha plant figure made with a turtle shell, vertebrae and teeth, I bought a fetal shark wet specimen. It was too adorable to pass up.

Ghoulish Gary Pullin is a talented artist who creates artwork for various projects. Dan and I bought a Black Christmas Poster, and it is definitely getting framed and displayed in our house.

Over the course of this weekend, thousands of people came to the convention center to buy collectables or meet a celebrity. The second day of the con, Saturday, was jam packed of people who were there to see Norman Reedus– or Daryl Dixon as many people know him to be on the Walking Dead– they waited for hours in his line that snaked its way from the lower level and up throughout the hallways of the main areas. It was pure insanity. Once they met the guy they walked right out of the front door, and didn’t spend a dime in the vendor rooms. It is a little disappointing and it clogs the main areas, but it is what it is.

The Saturday night concert was the highlight of the weekend for me. Only VIP pass holders and weekend pass holders were able to get in, and so many amazing bands played. The first band was the Renfields who were straight up horror punk, faces painted and screaming out horror-themed lyrics. The Loveless is Dayton, Ohio Psychobilly. Definitely one of my favorites. The Big Bad played truly kickass music. The headliners, The Nekromantix, are the kings of psychobilly. Nekroman plays an upright bass shaped like a coffin, and he plays that things like it is connected to his mind. Our buddy Ghoulish Gary came to the show and rocked out with us as well.

One weekend in the early spring, Cincinnati hosts one of the biggest and amazing convention. If you plan ahead, you can be a part of the madness and thrills the HorrorHound Weekend has to offer.

Hometown Memories

I was born into my grandparents’ house in Madeira, Ohio; my parents, my uncle and I lived with them. The neighborhood is one of those stereotypical suburban, American dream type of place. I could run and play throughout the neighborhood without a care, and my favorite part about it was that, in the summer, I could run around bare-foot playing with our garden hose in the street with my friends.

My best friends, Michelle and Becca, are sisters and every day we would ride our bikes around the town. Most of the time we pretended to be on some grand adventure through space or riding our bikes like we were a biker gang. The flowered baskets on the front of the bikes were very intimidating, I’m sure.

The main strip in the town had a CVS pharmacy along with a Great Clips, Bruegger’s Bagels and a Starbucks. For some reason, this parking lot was where every teenager would hang out. It was a ritual of my group of friends to ride our bikes down the street to get bagels and tazo berry slushies every Saturday, and go into CVS to see what makeup we could try on. We always came home looking ridiculous, but we didn’t care.

Dawson Park was through Michelle’s and Becca’s backyard, past a neighboring house. The little creek that runs through it, at the bottom of a hill, seemed like a little secret that only we knew about. Secluded by trees, the creek ran into a large tunnel that we bravely explored. Afterward, we would sit amongst the huge mass of dandelions, making necklaces and eating our candy we bought at Adrian’s Pharmacy.

Now that we are grown, we somehow managed to stay best friends. 20-plus years later, Michelle is now known as Chelle and Becca is Becca Finn, and they are aunts to my three children. Our sisterhood was forged way back in our old neighborhood where fate situated us right around the corner from each other. It all started with one of them approaching me in kindergarten asking, “Wanna be my best friend?” to which I replied, simply, “Okay.”

HorrorHound Weekend Preview

Every Spring, in mid-March, a convention of epic and horrifying proportions descends upon Cincinnati at the Sharonville Convention Center.

The HorrorHound Weekend brings thousands of horror fans of all ages, from infants to senior citizens, together. Even for local Cincinnatians this is a destination worth traveling to, and even if you aren’t a horror fan there is sure to be a booth, movie screening or discussion panel to interest you.

Last year’s Cincinnati HorrorHound Dan and I had weekend passes, and we went to the Saturday night concert. Calabrese, Arizona-based horror punk band, headlined the show. They’re underground following is diehard, and even though the band has a cult following they could not be friendlier. Italian punk rockers, remeniscent of The Ramones with their custom leather jackets, the three Calabrese brothers love to meet with their fans.

The vendor room is full of eclectic treasures from grassroots artists who sell their handmade horror-themed items to companies like Troma Entertainment and Fright Rags. I’m a collector of preserved specimens, and last year I bought a bat and a brain wet specimen. Amazing and talented artist, “Ghoulish” Gary Pullin will be at this year’s convention. He writes and does art for Rue Morgue Magazine and HorrorHound Magazine, as well as art for WaxWork Records among many other ventures. We talked with Pullin for a while about meeting new people in the art world, and how great it is to talk to like minded people.

Here are some photos I took of the 2014 Cincinnati HorrorHound Weekend:































Cleveland Agora Ballroom Thrashed

In the cold, snow-laced air of Cleveland my husband and I ventured to the Agora Ballroom on Euclid. Legendary Napalm Death, Voivod, hometown Clevelanders Ringworm, Iron Reagan, Exhumed and Black Crown Initiate was to shake the building to its core.

Before the show started my husband and I sat down at the venue’s Backstage Cafe to eat cheese pizza with just a sprinkling of cheese and piping hot french fries. Rob Skotis, the bass player of Iron Reagan, along with his bandmates sat a table away from us. Rob turned in his seat, smiled and said, “I saw you two on Instagram.” I snapped a few photos in the car a few hours before.

Punks and metal heads with studded leather jackets and a thirst for moshing began to file into the venue, adrenaline set to spike for when the legendary bands would take the stage.

For my husband and I, this is our perfect weekend date.

As each band took the stage to lay waste to the audience’s ear drums, the energy in the ballroom grew to insane amounts. Legendary bands having forged the way for new bands for decades were within my arms reach. Black Crown Initiate, the most contemporary band, opened the night with heavy breakdowns. Ringworm thrashed their hometown with brutality. Exhumed brought the gore to the show with a simulated beheading of the guitarist, a crazed mental patient with a chainsaw and fake blood spewing into the crowd. Iron Reagan merged humor and thrash with more serious subjects. Voivod, legendary metal dudes, brought back their intense sound. Finally, Napalm Death took the stage.

Barney Greenway, the vocalist, gave uplifting, inspiring messages to the crowd about self-love and freedom to be your true self. Bringing the noise for nearly 30 years, these guys still have what it takes to stay hard and heavy onstage.

The band covered a Dead Kennedy’s song, “Nazi Punks, Fuck Off!” The crowd raged liked savages in a beautifully grotesque ritual of pure musical sorcery. Basically, the band kicked so much ass with this song, everybody lost their damn minds.

By the time the show was over, my body ached so badly I felt as though I was shattering into pieces, my ears ringed and I was exhausted. All of that was completely worth it. After Napalm Death was done playing I snatched their set list off the stage and had Barney Greenway sign it with my black lipstick. Nobody had anything to write with, so my $3 black midnight lipstick had to do the job.

Meeting some of my music heroes and experiencing the madness of an amazing concert at the Agora Ballroom in Cleveland was a once in a lifetime experience. To have that many legendary bands on one stage, in one night, may never happen to me again.

And in the swirling snow in the frigid Cleveland night, I experienced a perfect evening full of killer music. Even if my husband had to help me hobble my Fibro-riddened body to the car.


See the Dalai Lama’s Life in Pictures

An extraordinary life


The Dalai Lama was enthroned 75 years ago on Feb. 22, 1940, at the age of 4. Since then, he’s been a strong advocate for tolerance; in 1989, he won a Nobel Peace Prize for his advocacy efforts for an independent Tibet. Here’s a look back at his life in photos, from before his young enthronement to his appearance at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., earlier this month.

Read next: Exclusive: The Dalai Lama Talks Pot, Facebook and the Pope With TIME

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