Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Horticulturistis Must Hate Me

Still playing catch-up... remember?

Back in the prime of the summer I decided to take on a task -- our "garden" area in the front of the house.

We moved into our place in May and I doubt any yard work other than mowing the lawn took place from when the previous tenants moved out. In fact, I highly doubt the previous tenants did any work out front since it was basically a jungle when I attacked it.

And ATTACK is the correct word.

I must premise by saying I know practically nothing about gardening, pruning, weed pulling, mulching, planting, etc. I can care for house plants. That's about it.

But I decided I wanted to be adventurous because the front of our house was looking awful. Since taking on the challenge I have learned a couple things to hopefully aid in the future.

So, let's take a look, shall we?

This was when we first moved in... it looked much worse by the middle of summer: weeds blossomed, plant shoots took over, stuff started dying... I was embarrassed!

The top of the bush circled in yellow had crazy shoots that covered our house number. I couldn't stand it anymore so I purchased some plant sheers and started hacking away. I'm not sure if there's really a special skill required or if that bush should be cut back at that time of the year, but I didn't care anymore.

My next step? Circled in red. Somebody had planted Creeping Phylox and it had taken over. Within a month or two of moving in the plant was creeping over our sidewalk. The only reason I know its name is because as I ripped out all of that nasty plant (dead and rotting underneath with bugs all over) I discovered its card. I will say that it did have some pretty white flowers in late spring/early summer but not enough for me to want to keep it around.

Now for the purple. I'm not sure what that plant was but the smell bothered me every time I walked out there... so I ripped it all out. It was then I realized that the plant was also in a state of dying so I'm glad it's gone.
Again, this was when we first moved in. There is actually now a TREE that is growing up behind the bright green bushes that reaches to the top of bottom windows.
This is more of the house and you see the orange arrow? I hacked away at that bush too as well as all the other bushes in the front (except the purple arrows). They are all trimmed down and look much cleaner.

And in that caption, there really is a tree growing there. It drives me nuts and I need to get a saw to chop that thing down!

The pruple arrows are pointing to bushes that I'm not sure what to do with. As the summer wore on they didn't look so nice anymore. I have not started cutting them back because I think I have to wait until the winter when they are 'dormant'... I'm not really sure, but I think I'll just wait.

This is what my front currently looks like. A mess I know. And the recent rain and storms don't help show it in the best light.

notice the tree?? and the weeds?!

works still to do!
After pulling all those weeds at least 3 times (those darn things are healthy!) I talked with my mother-in-law when she came to visit and helped me decide on a weed killer to use. Once we dry out in a couple days I plan to get those suckers!

Then, thanks to Pinterest, I learned that laying wet newspaper over the ground prevents weeds from growing. So once I get those weeds under a little more control I will begin phase 2 -- placing the newspaper and placing bulbs.

I know, right?! Me attemtping to grow tulips and daffodils and other such pretty flowers!

I'll have to either cut holes or strategically place the newspaper to allow the plants to come up in the spring.

After that I'm pretty sure I'll have to do more work to adjust the cheap plastic garden barrier.

Then I will cover everything with fresh mulch.

Hopefully I will then be satisfied.

But first I have to get rid of these awful things hiding behind the bushes... for the millionth time!


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Niagara Falls Part 3

** Part 1 **
** Part 2 **

After dinner on Saturday, as evening drew on we headed back to the American side of Niagara Falls State Park. This time we crossed over the bridge onto Goat Island. There is also a pedestrian bridge to the Island as well as a pedestrian bridge to Three Sisters Islands beside it. Goat Island separates the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls from Horseshoe Falls.

We again walked along paved paths along a sloping grassy area surrounded by trees and bordered by the Niagara River rapids to head down to the viewing area of Horseshoe Falls.

This was a VERY misty/water spray area. It felt like it was raining. There were a lot of people pressing up against the railings and, really, the railings were not very child safe -- there were huge gaps between the bars and no other safety precautions to the raging water and enormous drop off to the bottom of the falls. So, Ryan took them off to another area nearby where he and the kids chased each other around.
From there we went back up the hill, passing the Top of the Falls Restaurant, to the overlook of the American Falls and Luna Island (separates American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls).
Luna Island was closed for the season and it looks like they are doing some pretty big renovations to it. This area is also where the entrance to the Cave of the Winds Trip. We did not do that either since it was unsafe for little ones. It brings you closest to the falls and you have to wear special sandals and yellow ponchos to walk along the wooden walkways to Hurricane Deck. The spray is intense and everything is wet!

Anyway, we were all in good spirits and headed into the souvenir shop where both kids picked out a stuff animal. By the time we got out the sun had set and we were just waiting for the Illumination to start up.

Illumination is fantastic and dynamic and I can only imagine how gorgeous it looks from the Canadian side. Every night they light up the falls in a variety of colors. It makes these beautiful falls look even more majestic. Absolutely fabulous! I wish our views were better, but I was content.
it's very hard to see because of the spray, but the other side of Horseshoe Falls is purple, red, and green
After gazing for some time we headed back to the car and returned to lodging for the night.

Sunday morning we packed up everything and began our 6-hour drive back to Ohio. The kids were great in the car and we didn't have to stop very much. There was no traffic to speak of either.
 The two best parts of the drive for me were the beautiful trees along the road and one specific rest stop.

Fall is coming on us like a freight train and the trees beginning to change color were a constant reminder. Coming from the Pacific Northwest where everything stays green and then New Mexico where things turn bright yellow/orange then fall off the trees... this was a lovely sight.
And that rest stop I spoke of was just over the border in Pennsylvania. It is surrounded by vineyards. Once I got out of the car I was immediately blessed with the scented breeze of sweet grapes. It was here we stopped and ate our lunch and Ryan ran the kids ragged, racing up and down a hill. The grape vines were growing along the fence so I showed the kids where grapes come from. We also had a view of Lake Erie from the top of the hill.
We finally returned home happy and tired.
It was a great trip and I'm so very glad we went on it. Turns out this was probably the best time of year to go as the huge crowds were gone, it was not hot and humid, and it had not turned cold yet. We experienced one afternoon of hard rain. Sweatshirts or a light jacket were all that was needed in the evening.

I feel very happy to have experienced one of our Nation's Treasures and would love to go again someday in the future.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Niagara Falls Part 2

**Read Part 1**

Saturday morning we got loaded up and out of lodging by 11 am and headed straight for the border. We weren't completely sure if we would be allowed into Canada since Alanna did not have a passport. I did plenty of checking online before we left and talked with some people and was basically told that a child under 10 can leave and enter the country with a birth certificate and parent approval.

We did not wait long to cross over and our border patrol guy was pretty nice and we joked with him nearly the whole time.
We drove along the main road and found parking near the Visitor's Center -- costing twice as much as the US side did! We ate our lunch in a nice grassy picnic area near our parking and gazed at the Niagara River. Will and Alanna had fun feeding the seagulls their left overs.
Then we began our trek.

And this is why I say the American side was better than the Canadian side: on the Canadian side there is a rock wall with safety barrier above it, a side walk... and then the street! On the other side of the street is the beginning of the hotels and casinos and other commercialized tourism stuff. It seemed very overwhelming to me. BUT -- Canada definitely has the better views!

The edge of Horseshoe Falls and the spray. The spray is actually the first thing you see from either side of the falls when you get close to the parks.
Horseshoe Falls
American Falls
We didn't check out the Visitor's Center at all, we just began walking along the path, taking pictures and having fun just being together. Well, sort of. Will only wanted to ride in the stroller and Lana (who didn't want to be in the stroller) was refusing to walk so Ryan carried her for large portions of our long walk. We stopped frequently.
Once we reached the "end" of the walk we stopped to check out the souvenir shops to pick up a few items... then headed back to the car. There were more things to do over there but we'd already done the boat ride and Traveling Behind the Falls tour was not exactly little-kid friendly. We were satisfied.
We tried to head out from the Falls to travel back to the States over a different bridge (Whirlpool Bridge) but we were unsuccessful. Instead we had a nice little country drive. We saw some beautiful houses overlooking the river and passed Chippawa Battlefield Park. The best part of not finding the bridge was that we had to head back to the falls to cross at Rainbow Bridge and in the process we were able to catch sight of a rainbow -- an everyday occurrence there that we had so far been unable to witness.
With no difficulty at all we crossed back into America.
Once we were back on the American side we went for more tourist stuff... but we were running out of time before they closed. We stopped at the Discovery Center first. There was construction all around it and kind of hectic at the front. Trying to overhear other people I assumed this linked to the Aquarium too. So we paid our $6 and headed for a bathroom break. Then we began to walk through only to see that it was all about fossils and dirt and that sort of stuff... and it was then we learned that the Aquarium was not here, it was over a land bridge behind the building, and would be closing in about 25 minutes. Ugh. We hurried out and over the bridge and paid to get into the Aquarium.

The final Sea Lion Show was about to start so we browsed some of the tanks and watched the Sea Lions perform. In reality the Aquarium was not very big or spectacular, but the kids had fun there.
From there we went back into the town of Niagara Falls to have dinner before exploring our final leg of Niagara Falls -- Goat Island and Illumination!


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Niagara Falls Part 1

We did it! The four of us traveled almost 1000 miles, 4 days, 3 states, and 2 countries all to enjoy the famous Niagara Falls.

We got our start later in the day than expected because of some of Ryan's work but all was alright and we did finally arrive at our destination around 2 am.

This was a great trip for all of us. And actually did not cost us very much considering what we would have HAD to pay if we made different choices.

Our first money saver? Staying at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station. Talking to reception it is one of the best kept secrets of the area. A lot of people have never heard of this teeny, tiny base. They really don't have much, but the lodging is quite nice. For a room with 2 queen beds, tv, dvd player, mini fridge, and 3/4 bathroom we paid less than $40 a night. The fitness room was literally across the hall from us. Free laundry just down the hall. Oh, and did I mention, this sweet little place was a mere 15 minute EASY drive to the park? Definitely a score for us!

Out next big money saver? Packing our own food. We brought stuff for breakfast and lunches as well as snacks so we wouldn't waste money on the little park foods. We made some minor mishaps not packing EVERYTHING but that was easily remedied at a local WalMart. Again, saving us the cost of paying for small treats for 3 times their actual cost. We made the decision to eat out for dinner though, that was our splurge.

Our final big money saver? We drove Ryan's car instead of the van. Better gas mileage. Yes, the van would have been roomier and probably more comfortable but I'm happy we took Ryan's car. It was also less likely to have issues on the drive.

So, about the parks: FUN!

I had several people tell me that the American side was run down and not as nice, but I actually preferred the American side. Outside of the State Park it is very commercialized with huge hotels and casinos and flashy stuff, people walking all over, etc... but once you park your car and get into the park grounds it is large sloping grassy area with trees, gardens, and paved trails. It winds throughout allowing you to choose your own path and walk along the rapids of the Niagara River. The visitor's center is not well laid out and not exactly cutting edge, but I felt it was still alright. How fancy does a souvenir shop have to be?
On our first day, after walking around taking pictures of the views, we enjoyed our lunch then got tickets for Maid of the Mist. First we checked out the Observation Tower then headed down to the boarding pier. We just missed the boat but that was alright because down the walkway was stairs leading up to Crow's Nest. Ryan opted to keep the kids at the bottom which was probably a good idea.
View from the Observation Tower of American Falls with Canadian side of Horseshoe Falls in the distance
The Crow's Nest are stairs leading up to the edge of the American Falls. You can *just* see them near the bottom left corner of the picture above. There was gravel at the bottom and the steps were somewhat slick since you are getting constant spray/mist. It was still a fun experience.
I came back down and we headed back to Maid of the Mist boarding. We received our blue ponchos just in time as it began to rain! Not a big deal on the boat because you get quite wet anyway.
 The boat travels along the American Falls and straight to the middle of Horseshoe Falls. Once there you are getting sprayed hardcore by all the mist from those thunderous falls! The boat is rocking and bouncing from all the choppy waves. Will really liked the boat ride while Lana was having some behavior issues and had to deal with Daddy.

American Side of Horseshoe Falls
American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls
After we returned to the pier the rain had really picked up. We headed back to the Visitor's Center and Gift Shops for some shopping. When the rain continued to pour we decided to call it a day. We drove around the town of Niagara Falls for awhile, picked up a few food items, and settled into our hotel room for the night and washed Alanna's carseat since she got a bit carsick earlier that day. (Oops!)

Overall it was a great start to our weekend!