Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Ritterbusch Family Reunion


Isn't that graphic cute?  My cousin Susie made it right before the family reunion and it has the names of all the Ritterbusch family included.  I love it.  She even said she'd have t-shirts made if we wanted them.  Sign me up!!

Other than everyone getting together for the family reunion Cathy also asked people to bring whatever family photos/memories/memorabilia they had and they set it all out for everyone to look through.  Above is a picture of the family farm that the kids all grew up on.  I think the barn is still standing today though the farm is no longer held within the family.


The Ritterbusch coat of arms.  Note:  At first when I saw it I thought those snakes were pretzels...fitting since I was a Freeport Pretzel in high school.


Cathy did a great job of planning out activities for the group while we were there.  On was this family hike to two waterfalls.  Somehow we got the meet up location wrong though.  We were at the end of the hike while everyone else was at the beginning waiting for us.  Fear not - the solution:  meet in the middle!!


A quick "girls only" photo at the falls.


Aside from the family hike Cathy also helped organize a family kayak trip (no photos of that one, I didn't want a wet camera....and, you guessed, Ryan fell in), a family 5k (my parents were in charge of the finish line...so no running for me *smile), and campfires with smores for the kids every night.


The reunion was so fun and it was great to get together with this fun loving group of people.  We really should do it more often.

Monday, August 18, 2014

1 Family x 12 (August)


We got quite a few family pictures on vacation, but this one was my favorite.  I love how my cute hubby has a REAL smile on his face.  Not one of those dopey fake smiles he so often resorts to.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Wineries and breweries....or "how we spent 3 days of vacation"


Guys - let me let you in a little secret.  If you want to travel to about 100 wineries within a 50 mile radius and you live closer to Chicago than you do Napa Valley, seriously consider going to the Niagara region.  I'm not joking....so many wineries!  Now, if you're an astute beer drinker like Ryan and I are, you might wonder why the first picture in my "winery" post is of hops, well, it's because you can take the beer drinker out of beer country, but you can't stop her from trying to find it!


Our first day in Canada we decided that we'd check out NOTL and some of the local wineries.  We stumbled on a great recommendation from a friend (thanks Dan) called Five Rows and we were all smitten.  It was the cutest winery all run by one family.  The wife and daughter in law were running the tastings while the husband and son were out working the fields.  It's so named because they started out with only 5 rows of grapes.  And though they've grown in the 7 years since they started, it still had this cute family owned feel that we just couldn't resist.  It was the 4th winery of the day and nobody had purchased any bottles yet, but something about that cute little barn and the cute family that owned it, they had us.  We walked out with 3 bottles.  The most expensive bottle I've ever purchased to be exact.


Now back to the hops picture.  So after going to the wineries on day 1 and then hitting up the Falls on day 2, we had two days left to wander and explore so on day 3 we decided we'd try to find the local breweries.  Let's just say, when in wine country, don't fight it.  Just stick with the wine and call it a day.  We eventually found three local breweries and though the beer was always good it wasn't quite the experience we were looking for.  We did however haul back a few local beers that we've been savoring and are hiding in the back of our beer fridge.

Day 4 we spent visiting a few other wineries we had on our list.  We saw some beautiful places and drank wine overlooking some of the prettiest landscaping and grape rows I've ever seen.  If you're a wine-o or have any interest in trying wines you should definitely add Niagara to your list of places to visit.  Even Abby loved it!  Well - to be fair, she liked it when we'd find rock gardens for her to dig through and a bucket to carry her rocks in...otherwise, she thought wineries and breweries were for the birds!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Niagara Falls - Canada


I've got a whole ton of posts coming your way this week and next so get ready!!  We've been crazy busy so that means there's lots to document here on the blog.


Last week we had our second big camping trip of the year.  It all started out about a year ago when my cousin Cathy announced that she was planning a Ritterbusch Family Reunion for August of 2014.  The reunion was scheduled for 4 days and was going to be held in the Mohican State Park about an hour north of Columbus, Ohio.  The location is pretty central for our family that's scattered across the country and I knew from the  moment she sent out the information that Ryan and I would be in.


After doing a Google search I realized that we really weren't THAT far from Niagara Falls.  Well, for some perspective, my dad tells a story that when my Uncle Chuck decided to come out for my wedding (in Northern Illinois) he decided that the family was also going to go see Mount Rushmore because it was "close".  HA!  Well, maybe I should say that Niagara is closer to Columbus that we are in Hampshire, so it seemed like we should take the opportunity to make a trip out of it.


After doing TONS of research I finally settled on a campground about 45 minutes west of the Falls on the Canadian side.  Let me tell you, finding the perfect campground and the perfect site was NOT easy.  I did tons of searching online to find a park that wasn't privately owned (we tend to stick to national/state parks because they are usually the BEST when it comes to actually looking and feeling like a camp ground and being AWAY from major highways.  We HATE places that look like Jellystone or KOA's).  I ended up picking a park managed by the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority called Chippawa Creek.  It was perfect and for anyone else looking for a camping recommendation for the area, this gets my vote a thousand times over.

* I think that might be my most favorite picture of the whole trip!!  It's perfect!

Since our campsite was a bit of a drive from the Falls we decided we'd go there early in the trip (Monday) and then we could decide if we wanted to come back for another day or two of if the one trip was enough.  We stayed in Canada til Thursday and then headed to Ohio for the reunion.  Turns out we decided just one day at the falls was enough for us.  We thought we were being smart to go on a Monday and try to avoid some of the people, but Canada actually ended up having a holiday on the Monday we were there.  It's hard to say if it was more or less crowded than any other day but there were definitely plenty of people there.  We spent the afternoon walking up and down the long walkway near the falls, just taking it all in.


The Falls were amazing and I'm so glad that we had the opportunity to visit. It's one of the wonders of the world for goodness sake!  We must see it at some point in our lives!  I worried that Abby would be afraid of the boat ride into the Falls (Maid of the Mist) and it was about $50 per person so we opted to have lunch on a beautiful (yet expensive) patio that overlooked the falls.  The food wasn't anything to write home about (read: $10 hot dog and $7 beers) but the view....that was worth every penny!!  Lunch was great and the prefect way to spend a few hours (with a small lady that needed a nap, badly).


Note:  Alcohol in Canada is expensive no matter where you go.  In fact, we "imported" 4 cases of beer from Illinois just to avoid having to buy much there.  For some perspective, a case of Miller Lite runs about $45 in Canada....so the $50 we spent on 8 beers overlooking the Falls really wasn't THAT crazy.


The landscaping all around Canada was particularly amazing.  We visited many places in our 4 days there and we were always commenting on how beautiful all the flowers and plants were.


When we got to the Falls we ended up parking about a half mile away to avoid paying a million dollars just to park.  On our walk down to the water we ended up stopping to use the restrooms at the Hershey's Chocolate store.  It just so happened that you need to use the restrooms in the attached hotel lobby and the men's room was out of order so Ryan ended up needing to go the 10th floor.  He admitted to "accidentally" seeing the Falls before anyone else.  HA!


Interestingly enough, Dad didn't find the Falls all that impressive as we walked up to them.  This was our view from the ledge when we first got down to the walk way.  Across the river, that's the US side.  Everyone I talked to said that the Falls are nicer on the Canada side and that was hard to understand until you were actually there.  See to the right of the above picture, there is a tall glass building right near the falls.  That's on the American side.  If you were trying to see the Falls from that angle you'd actually be looking mostly DOWN at them instead of across at it.  And, the horseshoe falls would be nearly impossible to see from the US side.  See to the left of the above picture the land mass there is actually a small island and then to the very far right you can see just a small bit of white spray from the Horseshoe Falls.  The only way to see that from the US would be to take the ferry across to the island and then still you'd really only have a sideways view.



This picture (above) was taken right next to the Horseshoe Falls.  I said earlier that Dad wasn't very impressed with the Falls when we first arrived, but standing here, watching the water crash over the side, that's the part he liked best.


These two pictures were taken from a giant Ferris Wheel we went on near the Falls.  I was worried that Abby would be scared by the loud wet Maid of the Mist and the "Behind the Falls" tour was on the American side so we opted for a nice view from a little farther away.  The view from the top was amazing!! Still closer to the American Falls that was our best view, but in the below picture you can see the spray from the Horseshoe (or Canadian) Falls.  All in all it was really quite impressive and I'm so glad we tacked this part of the country onto our trip.


Abby's favorite part??  The Dino mini put put directly under the Ferris Wheel.  She could have cared less about seeing the Falls from up high, but those dinosaurs, they won her heart.  She's one funny kid I tell ya...one funny kid.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

First Trip to the Zoo (Lincoln Park)


This past weekend I planned a weekend to take Abby to the Lincoln Park Zoo and hang out with one of my best friends Lindsay.  At just under 2 years old we'd not yet taken Abby to a zoo, so this was a first for her. Let me tell you, of all the activities we've tried in the past two years, this was far and away the biggest hit.  I'm not sure if it's an age thing, or the fact that she loves her animal books, or just that the stars aligned and it was a great day, but Abby loved the zoo.


The weather was supposed to be hot so we headed downtown early figuring we'd get there before the crowds got thick and the heat made walking around less fun.  Plus, with a 6 am wake up time (thanks Abby!) It's easy to get out of the house by 8 *smile.


There were many things that worked in our favor but one of the biggest ones is that the zoo is free.  So, we went in with the attitude that we could stay for 5 minutes or 5 hours, when it stopped being fun, there was no pressure, we'd just split.  I payed a whole six bucks to park close to the zoo and from there on out the rest was free.  (SO NICE!).

Once in the zoo there was plenty of room for Abby to run around and since it was so empty I felt comfortable letting her explore a little on her own.  She sort of directed where we went and what we saw (with some suggestions of course).  It was nice to let her out of the stroller and let her run around a bit.


We saw so many animals.  I was really impressed with how many animals were out and active and how few people were there.  I didn't feel crowded or claustrophobic once.  Even when the tiger came out there were maybe 10 people standing around.  The busiest exhibit was the the gorillas and I think that was partly because it was breakfast time and partly because Planet of the Apes came out a few weeks ago.  We saw all kinds of animals I didn't even know the names of (I better read up before our next visit).  It was also funny to hear what Abby thought the animals were.  We saw a seal swimming and she called it a fish.  We saw a red panda (who knows what those are?!?!) and she called it a cat.  HA!


But, by far the two biggest hits of the trip: this small fountain (she was soaked in less than 2 minutes) and the cows and pigs.  See, this is why going to the FREE zoo is so important.  We could have driven 5 miles down the road to see cows and pigs.  Simple pleasures I guess.  Abby added "mingo" to her vocabulary (flamingo) and "eh-fent" (elephant) which we didn't see, but you know....who knows where these kids come up with these things?

All in all, it was a great day.  I had such a blast catching up with my dear friend Lindsay and it was great to have a second set of hands to help push the stroller, hold the camera (these pictures were all taken by Lindsay....thanks girl!), and mostly just nice to have another adult to chat with!!  After the zoo we grabbed some lunch at a yummy pizza place/brewery called Piece.  If you live in the area, you should defiantly go!!  Pizza: Good - Beer: Better.

We'll be back visiting the zoo again before the summer ends.  And, having such a success with this activity makes me even more excited for some of the activities we have planned next week for vacation at Niagara Falls!  More on that later.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Bubbles!


When I started packing and getting ready to go up north I knew there wouldn't be a TON of toys for a toddler so I needed to come up with some activities that were easy to pack and a guaranteed hit.  When you're traveling for a week there is no room for one-use toys.


I came across this cool bubble maker at a friends birthday party (thanks Betsy).  There is little better than bubbles to a two year old, but a bubble maker that Mommy doesn't have to blow?  That takes the cake in my book.  If you're going to buy one, get the gallon bubble refill as well, this thing churns through bubble soap like none other.


I just couldn't resist giving this little bubble session a post of it's own.  There are too many cute, artsy, pictures in here to pick just one.


Those baby curls, they slay me!!!  I just love her pretty little blonde hair.  Now that she'll finally tolerate a rubber band or clip her shaggy baby hairstyle is finally looking like something put together.  It's not quite long enough for a fully pony yet, but I better start brushing up on my braiding skills here pretty soon.



Monday, July 21, 2014

Hayward - the candy store


I already shared our family picture for this month from the candy store, but there were couple cute ones that I wanted to get on the blog as well.  This this one (above) where you can tell the excitement of the candy was finally setting in.


Or this one where she couldn't help be stare at the brightly colored candy jars.


And of course, this one.  This is what a sugar coma looks like.  And yes, she's got about 3 blue sharks all shoved in her tiny mouth (Daddy!).

And, for anyone that's wondering, we LOVE this baby pack.  Of all the "baby carrying" things we bought this is by far our favorite piece.  We even choose it over the stroller most days.  It's lightweight and we're lucky because so is Abby.  It holds kids up to 40 lbs and with our little peanut weighing in at just under 24 lbs we've got plenty of room to grow.  Abby likes it because she's up high and can actually see things at our level.  She doesn't squirm too much in it and has hiked for 2-3 hours this way.  If you're a new or soon to be parent and tend to be on them move as much as we are, seriously consider something like this.  You'll thank me later!

The brand of ours is Sherpani but I checked the site and I don't think they make them anymore.  We got it on super sale at our local REI where they carry many other similar packs.  I sound like a salesman but seriously, I'm not.  Just some good advice from one Mom to another.