Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Playground Reviews: Stranahan Elementary; Delano-Hitch Park

Stranahan Elementary - Holland-Sylvania Road, Sylvania, OH
Visited: Sunday, April 20, 2014
- Google Satellite

Summary: The reason we don't go to many elementary school playgrounds is because the playgrounds are designed for, well, elementary-school-age children. Or at least, that's what we've assumed. Should we rethink that?

(Note: The scoring system is designed so that 50% is an average score. "Perfect" scores are rarely given.)

Things for Marla to do: 8/14. While a lot of the playground equipment does mostly trend towards older children, it is a large playground, with lots of swings (including a set of toddler swings), and there are a couple of sets that Marla could play with on her own.

Sure, a lot of the equipment is for older kids, but there is still plenty for a two year old.

Uniqueness: 4/10. Elementary school playgrounds are going to have a bit of a different feel than your traditional city playground, but most of the equipment is pretty standard stuff.

Upkeep: 8/10. Everything was in great shape, especially considering how much use it probably gets. Well, maybe not so much up in Ohio in the winter. But then again, other playgrounds we've visited in Ohio have succumbed to the winter weather and aren't kept up as well. Generally speaking, trash probably isn't as much of an issue on a school playground, either.

Crowd: 6/10. And, school playgrounds are generally going to be less crowded than a city playground. Warm sunny day, Sunday afternoon (albeit a holiday), perfect day to go to a playground, right? Especially in a city that has had a long, arduous winter? You'd think so, but there weren't really that many kids here. I suspect city playgrounds were much more crowded on this beautiful Easter Sunday afternoon. Of course, the downside to this type of playground is that you can't come here on school days, but that isn't so much of an issue for us.

Marla enjoyment: 4/5. Wee!

TOTAL: 30/49, ranking 7th out of 30. I think this means we'll have to check out some elementary school playgrounds in our area.


Delano-Hitch Park - Washington Street, Newburgh, NY
Visited: Friday, April 25, 2014
- Google Street View

Summary: When looking for playgrounds on our road trips, often we just take what we can get. So, out-of-town playgrounds generally tend to be lower rated than the ones we visit at home, because we only go to the nice ones at home, whereas on the road we'll just go to the most conveniently located one. That's not really fair, perhaps, but...oh well.

(Note: There are two playground sets on the park grounds. There's one near the parking lot at the NW corner of the park - that's where we were, and that's what this review covers. But Google shows another set at the SE corner of the park that is completely obscured from view if you're in the parking lot. Since it's harder to get to, I suspect this other playground set is probably less crowded and in better condition. Long walk or not, should have gone there instead!)

Things for Marla to do: 5/14; Uniqueness: 2/10. Standard, small-ish "big kid" and "small kid" sets, with a couple of slides. No swings.

Upkeep: 2/10. So...I've been saving the 1/10 upkeep score for a sort of "run down, inner city" playground that I figured we would come across on one of our road trips sooner or later. This playground is as close as we've come so far. It's still perfectly functional, but it's not exactly in tip-top shape, and it has far more graffiti/doodling on it than any other playground we've come across so far. Still, things could be a lot worse. A lot worse. I'll save the 1/10 score for another day.

Crowd: 5/10. Usually, your "lower quality" playgrounds are also not crowded at all, and so they still get decent scores in my rankings. Lower quality inner city playgrounds, however? Relatively crowded.

Marla enjoyment: 4/5. But hey, Marla still had fun.

TOTAL: 18/49, ranking 29th out of 30.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

2014 Road Trip Goals: Update

At the start of the year, I set some road trip goals for myself. Considering that we just wrapped up our (likely) only week-long vacation of the year, hopefully I've been able to make a dent in some of those goals, eh? Let's take a look:

Visit Jefferson County, WV (the only West Virginia county I have left). Done! Not this past week, butback in February. That made West Virginia the 9th state in which I have visited every county.

...But that's not all! On our way back from Québec, we made a quick detour from I-87 into Grand Isle County, Vermont, which was the only county in Vermont I had yet to visit. So, Vermont makes 10 states in which I've visited every county.

As for which state might be next, after this week's trip I only have three counties to go in New York. But those three are going to be hard to get. Long Island is a pain to get to, because unless you take a ferry from Connecticut or something, you have to drive through New York City to get there. And, there's never really been a reason for us to head that way. Anyone planning to get married in Suffolk County anytime soon?

Visit at least 3 of my 8 remaining Ohio counties. I got two on our way up to Toledo last week. Still need one more. Maybe when we go there for Christmas?

Visit at least 3 of my 11 remaining Virginia counties. Done, back in February.

Take at least one road trip that will give me 20+ counties on its own. Done! But, let's talk about this for a second.

I didn't specify whether Canadian counties would count towards that goal or not. If it did, then our drive from Detroit to Mont-Tremblant to New York definitely took care of that: 25 new Canadian "counties". (My new Canadian national total: 125/393, 31.8%.)

But if I had to get 20+ counties in the US to meet my goal, then the only way this trip was going to qualify for that was if I took a day out of our Toledo visit and went county hunting in northern Indiana. When staying in Toledo for more than, say, three nights, I usually go off on my own on one of those days and go visit new counties or drive on new interstates or something. Northern Indiana was my best option, in terms of getting the most counties I could in a single day, starting/ending in Toledo.

By the way, this pic pretty much sums up the scenery in northern Indiana. It smells bad, too.

I got 16 counties that day (15 in Indiana + 1 in Michigan). Add that to the drive up to Toledo (1 Kentucky + 2 Ohio), and the drive from Montreal to New York (3 New York + 1 Vermont), and my US total for the trip was 23 new counties. You know, this isn't getting any easier. Before long, the only way I'm going to get any new counties at all is to book a flight to Texas. (And actually, I wouldn't be surprised if I end up doing that one year.)

Drive I-83 inside the Baltimore Beltway (the only I-83 mileage, and also the only Maryland interstate mileage, I have left). Nope! And I don't think this is going to happen this year. We could have gotten it on our way home on Sunday, but I prioritized two other goals instead: 1) finishing I-87 in New York; and 2) visiting the highest point in Delaware. (More on the highest point in Delaware in a future post.) We probably won't be back in Maryland again until at least 2015, so I-83 will have to wait another year.

Finish off at least one other interstate. I got two: I-66 (Virginia/DC) in February, and I-87 (New York) this past Sunday. That makes 18 completed interstates nationally. (Not counting 73 and 74 in North Carolina. I don't really count those.)

Finish off at least two US routes in North Carolina. This is on the agenda for May.

Spend at least 2 hours in Canada (didn't visit Canada at all in 2013). Done! I think we ended up with 54 hours in Canada.

So, with most of that out of the way, now we can settle in and wait for baby #2 to arrive, right? … Well, almost. We're visiting Jacksonville for Memorial Day, and there's a curling tournament in Wilmington (NC) in June. Then, we can settle in.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Parc national du Mont-Tremblant

Sandwiched between a Toledo family visit and a wedding in New York, we spent two nights in Canada. Because, why wouldn't we? We wanted to stay in a national park type place as opposed to a city, so we chose Parc national du Mont-Tremblant*, north of Montréal.

(* - That's how they capitalize it, with a lowercase 'national'. Perhaps that's because it's not really a 'national' park; it's operated by Parcs Québec rather than Parks Canada. Québec likes doing its own thing.)

From reading the park documentation, there are three main reasons to visit the park:
- It's summer, and you like hiking / canoeing / the usual types of outdoor activities that one would do in a national park in the summer.
- It's winter, and you like cross-country skiing / snowshoeing / some other kind of winter sport. (There's also a nearby ski resort, unaffiliated with the park we went to, if you're more into downhill skiing.)
- It's early fall, and you like fall foliage. (Note: early fall. Mid-October? Too late!)

What the documentation does not say is this: "In late April, there will still be a healthy amount of snow cover, so unless you don't mind wading through several inches of snow, you won't be able to hike. At the same time, enough snow will have melted by then so that you can't really ski, either. Fact is, nobody visits this place in April. You'll have the park to ourselves."

So, hooray! We had the park to ourselves! During our one day / two night stay, we saw a total of four other non-employees in the entire park. And we had a nice heated cabin, too:

The views from the porch of our cabin rivaled those from our cabin in Vermont, except that Vermont was in the fall and this was in spring, of course. But spring has plenty to offer, too; it's just that the beauty isn't as obvious. Personally, I'm fascinated by the physics of snow melt, and lakes and rivers freezing over and then melting again. We had a front-row seat for the breakup of ice on the lake. Check out how much ice melted in one day: (As always, the pictures don't do it justice. I thought there was a pretty big difference for just one day.)

By the way, the weather that day was: sunny, low around 30°F, high in the upper 40s. For this part of Canada in this time of year, that's perfect! It snowed the week before, and a cold rain is in the forecast this week.

Rapid snow melt also meant the rivers and streams were roaring. Fun! You don't see that sort of thing in summer or fall. The lakes were also quite full: (Notice the half-underwater picnic table.)

There are some gorges or waterfalls or something deeper in the park, and those would have been incredible to see given the overflowing nature of the rivers and streams. If only they had plowed the road which led to those places...

So, yeah, there were plenty of trails in which we couldn't really hike. Marla really, really wanted to go down this trail. She loved walking on the snow.

There were some mostly clear trails that we could "hike", though. Really, it wasn't a big deal that we didn't have a whole lot of places to go in the park; not like Marla can really do much in the way of "hiking" anyway. And, we were only here for one full day. I don't know if we could have spent a second day in the park. We pretty much saw all we could see in just that one day.

Perhaps we'll come back another year in the middle of summer - you know, when normal people visit these places - and get to see more of the park. April isn't really a good time to visit, unless you either a) really like solitude, or b) are just weird. We're a little of both.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Playground Reviews: Apex Nature Park; Bond Park

Apex Nature Park - Evans Road, Apex, NC
Visited: Sunday, April 13, 2014
- Google Satellite

Summary: The Triangle's newest park, Apex Nature Park, opened three weeks ago and features shiny new athletic fields, trails, a dog park, a (not quite complete) disc golf course, amazingly fancy bathrooms, and of course, a playground. But is the playground as fancy as the bathrooms are?

(Note: The scoring system is designed so that 50% is an average score. "Perfect" scores are rarely given.)

Things for Marla to do: 6/14. The playground is actually smaller than I was expecting from a brand new park. The playground isn't as expansive as Knightdale Station Park (another relatively new Triangle park) or the nearby Kelly Road Park, both of which are in my top five. This is more of an average playground with the usual 2-5 and 5-12 playsets. Also: no swings.

Normally someone of Marla's age can still play in the older kid area, which is good, because what 2 year old wouldn't rather play on the bigger equipment? However, this particular older kid playset is toddler-proofed, which was unfortunate for us:

Uniqueness: 6/10. I award uniqueness points mainly for two reasons: for play sets / contraptions that you don't see at most playgrounds (e.g. merry-go-rounds, anything beyond the traditional slides and swings), or for unique or interesting design elements. In this case, it's for the tree-themed design.

Upkeep: 8/10. Based on precedent, brand new parks can only get as high as an 8/10 for upkeep.

Crowd: 5/10. Sometimes these crowd scores are tricky. We got there on the earlier side (around 9:00), and the playground was empty at first, although pretty much every playground is empty at that hour. But by the time we left (11:00), it was crazy busy, although the exceptionally nice weather certainly helped that. Factoring in time of day and the weather, what's the proper crowd score? ... Meh, let's just give 5/10 and move on. But I will say this: on a sunny warm weekend afternoon, this playground will be busy.

Marla enjoyment: 3/5. 20 minutes of Marla playground play + meandering elsewhere in the park away from the playground for a while (her choice) + 10 more minutes of Marla playground play (again her choice) = 3/5.

TOTAL: 28/49, ranking 8th out of 28. I think the new car smell might have inflated the playground's ranking a little bit, given that there isn't a whole lot on the playground Marla can do on her own without assistance. While Apex Nature Park is a better overall park, nearby Kelly Road Park has a better playground, especially for a 2-year-old.

(Disclaimer: We know someone who works for Apex's parks department and was involved in the construction of the new park. But, you can trust my rankings.)


Bond Park - High House Road, Cary, NC
Visited: Saturday, March 22, 2014
- Google Street View

Summary: Like Apex Nature Park, Bond Park isn't the type of place you go if you're only interested in hanging out on a playground for an hour. Bond Park has plenty to offer - trails, boat rentals, and some kind of event seemingly every other weekend. You could spend an entire morning, or even the whole day, at Bond Park. So, surely, Bond Park's playground won't stack up against other standalone playgrounds, right?

Things for Marla to do: 8/14; Uniqueness: 5/10. The Bond Park playground has the basics (2-5 and 5-12 sets), plus swings and a sand pit. And the color scheme is nice, too, so that this doesn't feel like just another brown, green, and/or blue playground.

Upkeep: 6/10. This playground is showing its age - maybe I'd call it "middle-aged", but the Town of Cary does a good job keeping its parks up.

Crowd: 3/10. Bond Park is a prime destination for many Cary families pretty much every weekend, especially in Spring and Summer. So, it's busy, all the time. Parking is at a premium, especially when there's an event going on. The day we went, there was a 5K in the morning, AND a kite festival in the afternoon. Busy place! Still, the playground wasn't so busy that Marla couldn't enjoy herself. The playground is not as busy as that at Pullen Park, which once upon a time I assigned a crowd score of 2/10.

Marla enjoyment: 4/5. Swings make a big difference here. Marla loves the swings!

TOTAL: 26/49, ranking 16th out of 28. The playground is plenty adequate if you happen to be taking the family to Bond Park anyway.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Parc National du Mont-Tremblant: Preview

We're spending Easter weekend in Toledo, and the following weekend in New York (state) for a wedding. No sense in driving all the way home mid-week only to immediately turn around and head back north again, right? Let's go to Canada instead!

(The new Google Maps doesn't let you customize embedded maps, as far where the map is centered and the zoom level are concerned. So, it's back to screenshot maps!)

Among the places that are a) in Canada, and b) within a day's drive of both Toledo and Newburgh, NY*, we settled on Parc national du Mont-Tremblant, north of Montréal. (* - Newburgh isn't exactly where the wedding is, but it's close enough.) Mont-Tremblant is a ski destination in winter, and it's a popular vacation spot in summer. In April, on the other it anything?

That's the thing with Canada tourism: tourist season is VERY short. June, July, August. That's it. Even early June is pushing it in some parts of the country. (In fact, according to page 8 of the Mont-Tremblant park journal, the park's "spring" season doesn't start until June 1st. June 1st!) In the winter - the long, long winter - you at least have skiing. But in the in between months, and we've done plenty of Canada travelling in those in between months, there isn't much going on. Why do we keep visiting Canada in these in between months, anyway? That's just what our schedules have dictated over the years, I suppose.

So, given that Mont-Tremblant is a bit north of the 45th parallel, it must be asked: will it snow? It could. There is snow in the forecast for next week, in fact. Next week is expected to be abnormally cold across the east, including at home. I don't know about the week after that, though. The week after next is when we'll be in Québec.

Well, the truth is, it will probably not snow when we're visiting Mont-Tremblant. But actually, we're staying in a cabin on the park grounds, so sitting in the cabin all day watching it snow would be kind of nice, regardless of what month the calendar says it's supposed to be. Really, it's the travel days before and after our two-night stay in the park, in which I would rather it not snow.

It would be nice to get more than two nights in Canada out of this, but considering that we haven't overnighted in Canada at all since July 2010, we'll take it! (This will also be Marla's first overnight stay in Canada, but not her first visit.) Besides, my goal for the year was just to spend two hours in Canada, let alone two nights. We'll actually get between 50 and 54 hours in Canada on this trip.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Stone Mountain (NC)

Road trips and recreational activities don't come as easily as they used to, but we're still willing to put in the effort every once in a while. Saturday was a beautiful Spring day in North Carolina, so we went to a nearby* state park - Stone Mountain State Park in northwestern North Carolina.

(* - For us, "nearby" means "less than a 3 hour drive". With Marla, that's about the longest day trip we can manage, if we don't want to feel like we've been in the car all day. Unless that's the idea, of course.)

If you're like me, when you think "Stone Mountain", you think of the famous attraction outside Atlanta. So, I'm going to refer to the North Carolina version of Stone Mountain as "Stone Mountain (NC)", kind of like how Miami University in Ohio is "Miami (OH)".

Marla is willing to do some hiking on her own. But she needs to be in the mood, and it's better to "hike" on strollerable trails so that we can more easily get Marla back to the car when she gets tired. (Marla hasn't grasped the concept of turning around and going back before you get tired.) Marla wasn't quite in the mood when we first got there, and the trail was not strollerable at all (even with a jogger stoller, although ours is currently out on loan anyway). Eventually, we were able to talk her into walking down the trail that we actually wanted to take, as opposed to all of the other trails that didn't go anywhere.

The best hike to do at Stone Mountain State Park is the Stone Mountain Loop: a strenuous 4.5-mile loop that goes all the way to the summit. But that would be a bit much for Marla to handle, of course. (We'll be back in 10 years when the kids are older.) Instead, we settled on a portion of the loop which led to an old homestead, and also a nice view of Stone Mountain (NC) itself:

Marla thought we were taking her to a playground. Poor girl. But the homestead was sort of like a playground, except there were no slides, or swings, but there were things to climb and explore, at least. She seemed to have a good time.

We actually had to carry Marla two-thirds of the way in order to get there and back, but it was worth it, because we had the mountain recreation bug pretty bad. I don't take it for granted that we only live two hours from the mountains. That's one reason I like living here.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Co-ed Kickball: Season 8 Preview

Last Spring's kickball season ended with a bunch of forfeits and blowout losses and fights (between other teams), all of which was a bit discouraging. So after a 62-game, 7-season kickball career, I thought the time might be right for me to hang it up.

But...that was 11 months ago, and time heals all wounds, right? So, we're back! Let's play ball! After all, it is fun, social (on an intra-team level), and good exercise.

Most Knightdale kickball leagues of late have had four teams, five if we're lucky. I've gone on the record as saying, there's no way they could make a three-team league work. If only three teams signed up, then surely they would cancel the league and refund our money, right? ... Nope! There are exactly three teams signed up for the Spring co-ed kickball league, and yet, the show will go on. So, we'll be seeing plenty of the other two teams: "the team that's better than us" and "the new team that we're better than, at least for now". In all, we have six games scheduled against each team, plus playoffs. (Thankfully, neither of the teams was one of those involved in that fight last season.)

A three-team league also means occasional doubleheaders, because that's the only way the league can have more than one game in the same day. But that's alright with me - it's a 35-minute drive from the house to the field, and a doubleheader gives me two games for the price of one (round trip). After Wednesday night's doubleheader, I'll have already played four games in eight days. In terms of the number of games I expect to play in this season - between 8 and 10, including preseason and playoffs - I'll already be about halfway done with my season, one week in. Efficiency! And that's good, because given the lack of depth in the league, I expect the enthusiasm to wane pretty quickly. Hopefully this won't result in a bunch of forfeits towards the end of the season. (I'm looking at you, new team. You're not going to quit on us halfway through the season like some other new teams have, are you? Because then we'd be down to a two-team league. At that point I would advocate cancelling the rest of the regular season and just playing the championship game right then.)

Looking ahead to the playoffs, which I assume will be single elimination: we'll almost certainly be in the 2/3 game, which we'll hopefully win, giving us a chance at the championship against the team that usually beats us. But, they don't always beat us. On a good day, it could happen. Maybe if we are fortunate enough to win those last two games, then that would definitely be a good time to hang it up, no?

The playoffs won't happen until late April / early May, so we'll see how kickball season 8 pans out in another month or so.