Weekly Roundup: February 20th, 2015

weekly roundupIn attempts to post more often I am starting a weekly roundup where I talk about what I’ve been up to that week. It may be benign, it might be exciting, but either way it’s going online.

Reading: How to Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis.

how to be a heroine

When I reserved this book from the library I wasn’t sure I planned on reading it from cover to cover. But, I found a light but interesting memoir wrapped into the trappings of literary criticism. It was funny and Ellis’ thoughts on her favorite heroines made for good reading. Even if I didn’t always agree (I feel like her adult elf is way too critical of Cathy Earnshaw… which is funny since it seems to have been the catalyst for the entire book. People act rashly sometimes and make terrible mistakes. Cathy and Heathcliff aren’t really romantic heroes [though possibly Romantic]. I don’t want Heathcliff, but I want him for Cathy). Also, I think it’s entirely possible to love both Cathy and Jane Eyre, which Ellis apparently disagrees with. The author’s growing up in her Iraqi-Jewish community was interesting as well, though not the main focus of the story (is it possible to write about something you love with parts of yourself not bleeding through?). I like hearing about people’s life experiences and I knew nothing of Iraqi-Jews.

Listening to: “Nobody’s Empire” by Belle and Sebastian on repeat constantly from Cleveland Heights to Chagrin Falls. I don’t know, it’s catchy and captures that lolling pseudo-aristocratic lightness that I can never get enough of.


Watching: Black Sails

black sails

Why don’t I know anyone else who watches this damn show? Let’s be real, I’m likely to watch pretty much anything that involves pirates, as my summer of wearing a pirate hat daily and my viewership of the craptastic Crossbones will attest to, but this show is actually very good. It combines character’s from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island with characters from history, like Anne Bonny (my mother didn’t know who she was and I despaired), Charles Vane, and Calico Jack Rackham. The first season I fully enjoyed but it was definitely slow burn. These aren’t goofy fun pirates like we might see in movies based off theme park rides (though not disparaging those, I like those, they are fun. Yes, all of them), they are much closer to what real pirates would have been like. They don’t pull many punches. The second season, which started about a month ago on Starz, grabbed me quicker than season one did and now I find myself anticipating Saturday nights. Not because I am any fun but because I can watch that pirate show.


– I finally got to chicken paprikash ones from Pierogi Palace at the West Side Market. They were fabulous. I have never managed to actually get them before because they always sell out before I can get my butt out of bed and over to Ohio City. I have also gotten pretty good at cooking pierogies. The key is to keep the temperature low and let them brown on both sides without burning.

– Due to my babysitting job, I have watched so much Octonauts in the past week that I am waking up singing a song about a creature report. I have also learned about the existence of the vampire squid. And that it speaks with a Transylvanian accent.

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2014/2015 Winter Bucket List

Making lists of all the things I want to do in every season is working out pretty well. It’s forced me to get off my butt, stop watching TV, and get out and do all the things I’ve always said I would do. There were two things that didn’t get done from the Autumn List, the Cultural Gardens and the Kent State Museum, the former due to the sudden early onset of Winter and the latter to time constraints. The good news is that one gets bumped one season and the other gets new life on my as yet unmade Spring List!

Winter is one of those months were it can be very difficult to force yourself into doing things. It’s cold, so going outside at all is a chore, and snow often makes mobility a concern. Still, there are plenty of things to do in the winter and here’s a list to make them happen.

Tobogganing at the Chalet Metroparks


 Flying down a seven hundred foot ice chute at speeds of up to fifty miles per hour? Yes please! The bestie and I have been saying we want to do this for years. It’s written down now so it’s finally happening. 

Ice Skating at Wade Oval

wade oval ice

Another thing I’ve been saying I should do for ages. Every year Wade Oval sets up an ice rink in the circle surrounded by Cleveland’s museums and for a very reasonable price you can rent some skates and swing around the ice to your heart’s content. 

Go Sledding

Plenty of hills around and they sell sleds (which I long abandoned to my youth) at Five Below. There’s so much fun to be had in acting like a kid. 

Go to the Christmas Story House

christmas story house

So, that Christmas classic, A Christmas Story, was filmed in Cleveland. A fact that anyone who has ever been to Cleveland knows. We just love that that movie was filmed here (though it takes place in Indiana), particularly in Tremont where you can nary walk five steps without seeing the famous leg lamp that graced the front window of the family in that film (you can see one in the window of the house above). The house that was used for the filming has been turned into a museum that people can tour. I have never been and it seems like the sort of ridiculous and festive thing I should get into. This is the year. 

See the exhibit In Grand Style at the Western Reserve Historical Society

in grand style

Ah, the Western Reserve Historical Society. One of my favorite places. The Chisholm Halle Costume Wing always has something impressive, but I was pretty ridiculously excited when I heard that their next exhibit was going to be clothing from the 1870s through the 1930s, which encompasses both my favorite and my second favorite period of time. Also, when Cleveland was in its heyday and Euclid Avenue was otherwise known as Millionaire’s Row. Their exhibits are always great but this one promises to be top notch. 

Lantern Tour at Hale Farm and Village

hale farm lantern

Hale Farm and Village is a historical farm and a village constructed of historical homes placed around a square in Bath, Ohio about an hour away. A trip there is always a good time; earlier this year I went to their Civil War battle reenactment and toured the farm and village on two separate occasions in the summer. For the holidays they do lantern tours. I’m not one hundred percent sure what it will encompass, but I’m pretty excited to find out.

See David Bowie Is at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art

david bowie is

Full disclosure; I have already done this but included it because it was on the list before the list made it online. This exhibit was pretty incredible. The sort of exhibit you travel to other cities for. There were costumes, lyrics, artifacts, and lots and lots of music. With a audio component that changed as you moved around the room it was definitely the full Bowie experience. I would recommend anyone seeing this. There’s not much more time that it will be in Chicago but if you’re there, see it. 

Go to the Dittrick Museum of Medical History

dittrick museum

When I was younger we had this Health Museum. I loved the Health Museum. I went there all the time with my family and at least once with school. I remember one time going into another room that wasn’t usually open, or at least that I had never been in before, and it was filled with the coolest old timey medical stuff. I can’t be sure, but I would be willing to bet that when the Health Museum closed some of that cool old timey medical stuff ended up at the Dittrick Museum of Medical History at Case Western Reserve University. I follow them on Instagram and it definitely looks like it’s worth a visit. The fact that it’s free is a huge plus. 

See the exhibit The Great War: Women and Fashion in a World at War at the Kent State University Museum

great war

I didn’t make it here in the fall, so I am going in the winter. It’s happening. 

Complete the Hot Cocoa Tour


It was ice cream in the summer and coffee in the fall, now it’s hot cocoa. We tried and tried to come up with something to do in the Winter and then Scene published this article. Thanks Scene!

Deck the Hall at Stan Hywet Hall


Stan Hywet Hall is one of my favorite places. The estate of F.A. Seiberling of Goodyear tires, Stan Hywet (Welsh for Stone Quarry) opened in 1915 and is a beautiful example of a preserved Gilded Age mansion. I have been there a lot of times. Over the summer I went on their Nooks and Crannies Tour. Last year I also went to Deck the Hall, their annual Christmas celebration, but it’s always beautiful and always a good time so this year it’s also on the list. 

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Fascinating Tales from History: The Winchester Mystery House

Recently I finished reading this book, The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer: My Life at Rose Red, which is the novel prequel to Stephen King’s Rose Red, a mini-series that aired in 2002. If that’s not complicated enough. I never saw the mini-series but a friend thought I would get a kick out of the book (love me a good ghost story) so I bought it and promptly left it sitting on a shelf for over ten years. But, I have been going through a rash of haunted house stories this Halloween and this title seemed to fit in with the group so I picked it up, dusted it off, and gave it a chance. It was decent. Certainly entertaining. The fictional home, Rose Red, bore a great resemblance to Hill House in Shirley Jackson’s phenomenal The Haunting of Hill House. But it was also clearly based on another house, a real house. The Winchester Mystery House.

The Winchester Mystery House from above, as it looks today.

The Winchester Mystery House from above, as it looks today.

The Winchester Mystery House was built, starting in 1884, by Sarah Winchester, window of William Wirt Winchester of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. After her husband’s death Winchester consulted a medium who told her she should move across the country and build a home for herself and the victims of Winchester rifles. She did just that, moving to San Jose, California and started construction on her home. Of course, with most building projects there comes the time that the building stops. That didn’t happen with Sarah Winchester’s house until her death in 1922. At which point she had spent approximately $5.5 million dollars (roughly $75 million when adjusted for inflation) and built the mammoth building up seven stories. However, the 1906 earthquake, which devastated San Francisco, claimed three of the top floors of the Mystery House.

The Winchester Mystery House before the 1906 San Francisco earthquake

The Winchester Mystery House before the 1906 San Francisco earthquake

Throughout her life Winchester became more and more paranoid about the ghosts and spirits she believed were haunting her and her money. To confuse and deter the phantasms, she built her house to be deliberately confusing. Not only its vast size and sprawling layout, which she designed herself without the use of an architect, but windows in the middle of rooms, doors that lead out a second story wall, and staircases that lead to nowhere.

The famous "Door to Nowhere"

The famous “Door to Nowhere”



In the end the house ended up 24,000 square feet, with 160 rooms; 40 bedrooms, 13 bathrooms, six kitchens, two basements, 47 fireplaces, 52 skylights, 10,000 windows, 2,000 doors, 3 elevators, and one shower. [statistics courtesy of the official website]

Dining room

Dining room



The Winchester Mystery house is now open to the public and available to tour. Needless to say the house is considered haunted by countless ghosts including the ghost of Sarah Winchester herself, who built the house that just wouldn’t quit.

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Book Review: ‘Bitter Greens’ by Kate Forsyth

bitter greens(**** 1/2 of five)

I have nothing but good things to say about this book, except for some shaky parts towards the end. It mixed a bevy of my favorite things together, boiled them in a cauldron and somehow made it work better than I could have imagined. This is a remarkable work.

At the end of the seventeenth century Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force is exiled from the court of King Louis XIV due to some scandalous writings, and sent to the convent at Gercy-en-Brie. Despondent over her circumstances, Charlotte-Rose finds solace only in a story told to her by Soeur Seraphina; the tale of a young girl taken from her parents in exchange for a handful of bitter greens. Locked in a tower Margherita (now called Petrosinella, or ‘Little Parsley’ in Italian) she has the hair of eight other captive girls sewn into her own locks. Her captor, the beautiful courtesan and witch, Selena Leonelli, baths in her blood every full moon. But what do these three woman, their collective stories spanning three centuries, have in common? A lack of choice in what happens to them and their bodies. A courtier, a captive, and a courtesan; all prisoners of some kind.

Three fantastic leading ladies form a story that’s part fairy tale and part historical fiction. Our historical figure, Charlotte-Rose, I confess, I knew nothing about. In fact, she doesn’t seem a lady that is particularly easy to get to know. Her wikipedia page is rudimentary and there doesn’t seem to be a copy of her writings, that isn’t in French, to be found. None the less, it is clear that Ms. Forsyth has done her research. Charlotte-Rose is richly realized, as is the world she lived in; teetering between wealth and ruin. People find courtiers to be glamorous, but here we are shown just how perilous court can be.

Margherita we grow up with. She is a girl from a fairy tale. Rapunzel. Named Persinette in de la Force’s version of the tale and later renamed by the Brothers Grimm. [An aside, it seems that a lot of people don’t know that rapunzel is a type of green. It is, she was named after the greens that were stolen from the witch.] She is innocent, she is victimized, she is childlike as all versions of Rapunzel tend to be. However, is is not boring. Margherita’s suffering is very well done here. The reader feels, at once, very sorry for her and impressed by her ingenuity.

Selena is… awesome. Like all the greatest villains, she’s not all bad. Her actions could suggest otherwise, but Selena has suffered as all do in this tale. She was orphaned young, brought up by a witch and taught the trades, she has been forced into prostitution and fears her waning beauty, as it was part of her mother’s undoing and eventual death. Forsyth makes an admirable choice to include Selena’s story into this book. The fact that no one is pure evil without a reason and that no one is above redemption. It was, perhaps, my favorite segment.

The only negative I have about this book was the end. It was fine, but didn’t seem to follow the exquisite quality of the rest of the book. Margherita’s story is that of Rapunzel and we all know how that ends. However, her sudden use of magic, and her lover’s tumble into the blinding thorns below seemed false in this context. The rest of the story used magic but in the sort of way that can almost be believed. Spells that are cast through diligence and work, not the flick of a wrist. Margherita’s giving birth to twins of a mountain road also seemed a little… easy. Perhaps these are petty complaints but I LOVED everything before the finale and I was a little disappointed. Finally, the revelation at the end of the story seemed so obvious to me that it would have been nice if it hadn’t been spelled out. It didn’t change the story at all if the reader didn’t understand and having it told explicitly lost some of it’s appeal for me.

But my disappointment at the end did not translate into disappointment in the book. I closed the cover feeling satisfied and exhilarated at the finely woven story I’d just read. I would recommend this to anyone, particularly those who enjoy fairy tales, historical fiction, or the supernatural.

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Fascinating Tales from History: The Female Stranger

Something I have long known is that history is filled with the greatest stories. Stories that I collect and keep in filing cabinets in my brain only to be removed every once in awhile, looked at and then re-stored. I decided it was about time to share some of these stories and if my blog isn’t the perfect place to do so then I don’t know what is.

In the spirit of the month I decided to kick it off with the tale of the Female Stranger.

female stranger

Though accounts have differed over the years the best version of this story goes as thus: In 1816 in the town of Alexandria, Virginia a ship was diverted up the Potomac to drop off a sick passenger, a woman cloaked in veils accompanied by a man thought to be her husband. She was brought to Gadsby’s Tavern where a room was procured. A doctor and several females attended her until his death, at which point they were sworn to secrecy as to her identity. The promise was kept.

The Female Stranger was buried in St Paul’s Episcopal Church Cemetery in Alexandria in an elaborate grave. Her funeral was attended by only her male companion. The inscription reads:

“To the memory of a Female Stranger

Whose mortal suffering terminated on the 4th day of October,1816 Aged 23 years, and 8 months

“This stone is erected by her discon- solate husband in whose arms she sighed out her latest breath, and who under God did his utmost to soothe the cold dull hour of death.

“How loved, how honor’d once avails the not, To whom related or by whom begot, A heap of dust remains of thee

‘Tis all thou art, and all the proud shall be.”

female stranger inscription

Her husband left immediately after the funeral and left behind him almost two hundred years of speculation. In some reports it was found the bank notes used to pay for the Tavern and grave were counterfeit.

Of course, this sort of bizarre story has posed a lot of questions over the years.

Some reports describe the woman as being a young foreign woman with tears in her eyes, while others claim her face was never seen. Another account states she was Theodosia Burr Alston, daughter of Aaron Burr (U.S. Vice President under Thomas Jefferson though frequently remembered for his duel with Alexander Hamilton which resulted in Hamilton’s fatal wounding), who was lost at sea. Though most agree that the dates don’t quite match up. Speculation has included everything from Napoleon Bonaparte in drag to a captured European princess and pirates.

Another theory, relying heavily on detail of the counterfeit money, is that the whole thing was simply a ruse for publicity or an elaborate con and that the grave remains empty.

And like any good tale the yarn has been spun so many times that it’s hard to wade through all the knots. Accounts arose all through the 1800s until 1913 when the most detailed account (which is the bulk of what I shared above) emerged in the Ladies’ Home Journal, nearly a hundred years after the events took place.

Whatever the answer to this two century old mystery the grave has not been changed in all that time. Perhaps someday it might be decided  to exhume the remains (if there indeed are any) and test the DNA. But, that hasn’t happened yet. But DNA only goes so far and the chances of every learning the whole truth about this puzzling occasion are very remote.

For me, this story is too good to ruin with even the chance of truth.

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Book Review: ‘Tsarina’ by J. Nelle Patrick


(**** of five)

Good god, I loved this book. I gave it four stars, which I think is the correct number, but if I was going on how much I loved it I would have given it five. I loved this book. That being said, I’ve been in love with the Russian Revolution since I was a kid and that was even before the film Anastasia (cartoon classic!) came out and I loved it even more. That whole part of history was, in a word, fascinating. It doesn’t really need embellishment from magic and fictional characters, but a hearty dose never really hurt anyone. This story was pretty damned unique and was told about as richly as anyone could ask for the book which is technically YA (Ms. Patrick [do we really need to call her that as we all know the author is, in fact, Jackson Pearce of the retold fairytales fame] writes much better than most other YA authors). The elements of magic are extraordinary, of course, but this setting so mythic at this point that I had no problem believing it.

Natalya Kutepova has known nothing but luxury. The daughter of a military general she’s a member of the Russian nobility and as the intended of the tsarevich, Alexei Romanov, there are no doors which she may not enter. But when the people of her country rise up in revolution Alexei is suddenly taken away to Ekaterinburg; and the magical Fabergé egg, spelled by the powerful mystic Rasputin before his death, which protects the imperial family goes missing. Natalya knows she must find the egg and keep it out of the hands of the Red revolutionaries, but that is easier said than done for a noble girl in a sea of Red. Together with her friend Emilia and a young revolutionary named Leo, who might just have his own agenda, Natalya travels from St. Petersburg to Moscow in search of the only other person she knows of that knew of the egg’s existence.

Several things, of course. I wont get into any changes to history. We all know Alexei Romanov was thirteen and did not have anything like a ‘girl’ at the time of his death. Time was compressed. There definitely wasn’t any sort of magic egg that protected the imperial family (though I wouldn’t be surprised if Rasputin tried to sell them one). But of course, this is fiction. Ms. Patrick goes through a nice little list of fictions in her afterward, which I found very responsible of her. Fiction, even historical fiction, needs some license and if this book inspires one kid to be as interested in the Romanovs as Anastasia did me then I think the authors work is done. Still, I am in no way convinced that if the tsarevich did have a girl that their marriage would be a foregone conclusion. He would, surely, have been required to marry a princess, duchess, or countess at the very least. Though it was a turbulent time, things were changing, and who really knows since it never came up.

Another thing, the author is able to capture two things about this time period. The Romance of the imperial court (as all things that are long gone and seem very pretty are Romantic) and the how complicated the Revolution really was. It is very easy to sit on our twenty first century perches and point towards the Bolsheviks as being foolhardy and overly violent, when the matter was far more complicated. Yes, we know that Communism doesn’t really work on a scale as large as the USSR attempted, but that doesn’t make the ideals any less attractive. Patrick brings up some very good points on this matter in the character of Leo, but Natalya’s own imperialist views are on the forefront and the conclusion of this story comes off that way. I would probably have written it the same way as I am hopelessly attached to the Romanovs and a sucker for courts and nobles. Especially when they are coupled with samovars and snow.

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2014 Autumn Bucket List

Because my Summer Bucket List turned out so incredibly well (and I will post about all the amazing things I did, I swear; as well as my promised Cleveland Ice Cream Guide) I decided to continue the practice for at least a year. Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Spring. Having a list of things to do over the summer (all of which I completed by the way) truly made me get out and do things while the weather was nice. Cleveland really shines in the summer, when the lake glimmers and festivals pop up every which way, but there is a lot to love about this little overlooked city in other months too. So here it is; a smaller list of everything I am going to do this fall.

- Eat a delicious apple fritter the size of my head and pick a few apples at Patterson Fruit Farm.


There are plenty of fruit farms scattered around the country but non quite so beloved to me as Patterson’s. A Cleveland area institution this Chesterland farm is just far enough into the country to feel like another world without being an excessive drive. Plus you can’t beat the aforementioned apple fritter (I have never had one better) and their amazing Dutch apple pie. Their nearby orchards are perfect for picking. 

- Complete the as yet untitled Cleveland Coffee Tour. 

After the Cool as Ice (Cream) Tour ended all three of us Shillelagh’s were pretty sad about it and decided we needed to come up with something else to do during the fall. Coffee was the logical choice. So we came up with a list and when we’re done I’ll tell you all about it. 

- See the exhibit The Great War: Women and Fashion in a World at War at the Kent State University Museum. 

great war

I wasn’t aware that there was a Kent State University Museum, but when I saw an advertisement for this particular exhibit I knew that I needed to make a visit. I love old fashioned clothes and I love the early twentieth century so this is sort of a no brainer. 

- Go to one other museum in the surrounding area that I have never been to. 

I know they exist, but I never go to them. There are plenty to choose from.

- Go on my yearly trip to the Berkshires with bonus Hudson Valley. 


Usually around this time I am getting ready to go to the Fall Family Festival, a mini-reunion, at camp. And on the way I stop in western Massachusetts to check out some of the gorgeous views but mostly to visit some of the grand old mansions that were built in the area and are now open to tour. But since this year was the full blown reunion and I’m not going to camp my mom decided to accompany me. Two days in Berkshire County and then down the Hudson Valley to check out some of those houses as well. Some of them I have already seen, but I am always happy to see them again, and some I haven’t. There’s nothing better than small idyllic towns in the fall. 

- Go to Ingenuity Fest and the Voix de Ville Tent’s Boffo Show. 

voix de ville

Ingenuity Fest is one of those things that just keeps getting better. It was always a great idea, a celebration of art and technology in generally unused Cleveland spaces, but it wasn’t until last year that I thought it’s potential was starting to be realized. Now located in two warehouses at the Port of Cleveland, right on the water, there is more art, performance, discussion, and technological advances than you can shake a stick at. And last year the experience was only enhanced by by the introduction of the Voix de Ville Tent. Run by my favorites, Pinch and Squeal, a vaudeville duo known for songs on accordion and banjolele, terrible magic tricks, and more than a few laughs, the Voix de Ville tent showcases music, curiosities, magic, and cabaret. Sounds like my kind of night.

- Take a walk on the Blue Ridge Parkway when the Shillelagh’s take their yearly sojourn to Virgnia.


Every year the other Shillelaghs and I go to K’s family’s property in Virginia. This year all three of us are attempted to get a little more fit and so we thought a walk would be in order. There are some gorgeous trails along the Blue Ridge Parkway, naturally, so that seems like the best place to go, especially since we drive up there to gaze at the views every year anyway. 

- Read Turn of the Screw by Henry James and at least one of Edith Wharton’s ghost stories. 

turn of the screw

I’ve been meaning to read both of these things for ages and since it’s the Halloween season and putting reading goals on my Summer Bucket List worked pretty well I am doing it again. Plans to see Edith Wharton’s mansion, The Mount, in Lenox, Massachusetts probably will help.

- Explore the Cleveland Cultural Gardens

cultural gardens

Located in Rockefeller Park along Martin Luther King Drive Cleveland has a series of gorgeous cultural gardens. I have driven through them many many many times, but I have never gotten out of the car to explore them. Of course, this probably has something to do with the fact that there’s not really any parking around the area and that it will probably be kind of a hike to get to, not to mention the chain of them is a bit of a walk too. But, it’s definitely time for me to give these gardens a look and now’s the right time when it’s still crisp and warm enough to spend some time outside. 

- Go on a hayride. 

When I was little my mom and her friends always organized a big hayride. We would picnic and take a ride and this was one of the funnest things that I remember from my childhood. I’ve wanted to do another one for a long time but I don’t have a group of friends big enough. But this year I found hayrides that you can join at the Chalet Metroparks. Sounds good to me!

- See a play. 

I used to see live theatre all the time but in recent year I have tappered this a bit. Mostly for financial reasons. But that needs to change because there is nothing better than seeing a play. There are quite a few that I want to see coming up and there are always ways of finding cheap tickets so onto the list it goes. 

- Go on walks!



As I said earlier, in attempts to get a little more fit I am trying to go walking a lot more. There are plenty of places in the area that would be perfect for some gorgeous walks and I’m including three of them on my list. 

1) The Shaker Lakes

Probably Lower Lake as it was always the lake I went to in my youth, but Horseshoe is lovely as well (I might even do both). Here in the Heights we’re pretty lucky that those crazy ass Shakers decided to dam Doan brook to power their mills and in the process carved out a few lakes, cause they sure are beautiful. The Nature Center is located in the marsh between the two aforementioned lakes, which also include Marshall and Green Lake. 

2) The Cleveland Metroparks

There are so many to choose from in our emerald necklace! And plenty of trails. I mentioned in my Summer Bucket List that I wanted to take a picnic in one of them but this time I want to get out and explore the surrounding woodlands. 

3) Cuyahoga National Park

How lucky am I to live as close as I do to a National Park? Sadly, I haven’t spent much time exploring it. Oh, I have been to Hale Farm and Village, located in the park, and I have traveled on the railway that cuts through, listened to tales of the petitions that made the park, but I have never walked in it. This needs to be remedied. I would also like to make Brandywine Falls a stop. 

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