Archive for Go with the Grohs

Just Back From Disney World

kids with Mickey Mouse

We recently returned from a family vacation to Disney World. What a trip! I was so immersed in that magical place that it has taken me several days to get my feet back under me here in the real world. Experiencing all four parks and seeing everything  through the eyes of my kids really allowed me to get lost in the moments there…and it was fun!

Now that I’m back, I feel like I could almost be one of the experts whom I researched and consulted as we planned our trip. Having experienced it makes me want to share the ins and outs of it with others so they can get the most out of their trip. So if you plan on going soon and haven’t been there before, be sure to let me know because I’d be happy to pass on any knowledge that I have before I forget it–because unlike the real experts, I won’t be going again anytime soon and what is so fresh in my mind now will quickly fade.

Grohs at Magic Kingdom

My biggest take-away: Plan an extra day, maybe in the middle of your trip, to sleep in a bit and enjoy the pool or other amenities of your resort or hotel, and relax. We didn’t do much relaxing once we were on Disney grounds. We poured as much fun as we could into the 7 days that we were there, and that meant getting up early and going to bed late. It paid off, but some down time would have been nice too. I took a book and a couple of magazines to read, and they never got touched.

Something that pleasantly surprised me was that the parks aren’t actually as big as they appear on the maps. What seemed to be “way on the other side of the park” was really a pretty reasonable walking distance away, and that’s a very good thing.  Everything was surprisingly close together—I noticed this especially in Magic Kingdom. Don’t get me wrong, I believe we walked 7 or more miles each day {my father-in-law wore a pedometer}, and we were worn out every night, but the parks themselves seemed very manageable.

The bus rides to and from the parks were another story. I never followed what route they took, but it seemed like we drove around, here and there and I never had any clue when we were going to arrive at our destination. We always did though, and that’s what’s important, right?

I was glad I took a lightweight sweater with me every day. It was either on me or tied around my waist. It was cool in the morning and evening and COLD inside the restaurants and shows, in my opinion anyway. The buses were generally freezing.

I had read somewhere that we would never see everything so we should not expect to, and that was a helpful piece of advice. We did what we could and what we thought the kids would enjoy the most, and left it at that. No need to push anyone into a meltdown.

Grohs with Donald Duck at Animal Kingdom

Now it’s time to get pictures arranged in albums and scrapbooks so that we have something tangible to help us remember our trip. Our kids were at a great age for this trip and will hopefully remember a lot of it, but I know having a scrapbook full of pictures will help them remember it even more. So that’s one of my next projects!

Grohs at Hollywood Studios

Our Trek Home

We had a safe and {thankfully} uneventful trip home. Had a nice relaxing stay in Elyria, Ohio last night and didn’t have to check out until noon this morning. Went swimming last night and Ken and the kids were able to go for a swim again this morning after breakfast while I packed things up.

How the kids prefer to travel around the hotel:


Here’s my hubby letting his hair down–or in this case, putting it up {in a mohawk}–in his traveling shirt.


Napping at its best:


A few shots of our drive through New York. I just think the mountains and valleys are so beautiful. Photos cannot capture their magnitude. Imagine these same scenes in the peak of fall–breathtaking!




A barn that sits on a farmstead at the base of a mountain just across the road from my niece and nephew’s elementary school:


We had planned on eating at a Cracker Barrel at some point on our trip and it never worked out, so we decided to not stop for lunch today and head straight to the Cracker Barrel in Gurnee instead of going directly home. Well, longish story short, we waited quite a while for our food and eventually the manager told us the meal was on him. What a treat! We weren’t expecting that, but it was certainly worth the wait!

We skyped with my parents tonight in order to wish my Dad a happy birthday. I also reminded Ken that four years ago today we received an e-mail that initiated our decision to adopt from China. Two years later we had Ella. Sure am glad we got that e-mail!!

We’re all still home tomorrow. Ken heads back to work on Tuesday and the kids start school on Wednesday. I have a lot of unpacking and laundry to do. I’m glad that things went so incredibly well, but am always a bit sad when it’s over. We’ll get all of our held mail tomorrow, including the kids’ classroom roster and details. That will be something exciting to look forward to. That, and already planning our next road trip!


Summer Vacation Road Trip–Chenango Valley State Park

It was our final full day in New York. Our final morning to lounge around chatting, drinking coffee and playing on our electronics while the kids happily entertained each other. I love vacations and hate to see them come to an end. Especially when it means saying good-bye to people you love. So I soaked it all in.

In the afternoon, Kathy and family had a wedding to attend–on a Friday–in a state park. So that was cool, because though uninvited, we were able to tag along and enjoy the park, while the wedding party was none the wiser. So off to Chenango Valley State Park we went.

Here are some of my favorite fun shots of the day:







I’ve been hearing and reading a lot lately about being in the “sweet spot,” whether it’s in regard to parenting or your calling in life, or whatever, and I would have to say that I think we have entered that sweet spot with our kiddos. This trip has been a good test of how well they travel and I feel that they have done exceptionally well. I won’t deny that electronics {a travel dvd player, iPod, iPad} have played more than a small part in their contentedness with being in the car for hours at a time, but really, they’re at a great age for getting involved and actively doing things, and it’s fun. I hope this sweet spot lasts for many years to come!

Btw, I think I’ll post some more pics tomorrow of our trip home. I think the New York landscape is too beautiful not to share.


Summer Vacation Road Trip–Salt Springs State Park


On Day 2 of our stay with my sister and her family, we hung out at home in the morning and then Ken took the kids to see a $2 movie {Epic} while Kathy and I headed to Kohl’s for a little shopping with my 30% off coupon. I could have used another hour there, but the time passed quickly and we met up with Ken and the kids, situated all of the kids into Kathy’s van and Ken and I took off for a few hours of alone time. Bless Ken’s heart, we went to Oakdale Mall in Johnson City, where I spent many hours as a teenager wandering around with my friend Kelly on trips out here to visit with my then-single sister. Fortunately for him, Ken found some great deals at the mall and then we set out to find a nice place for dinner. We thought we’d do a steak place, but ended up at Basha’s Lebanese Grill and, other than a little more cinnamon on our shawarma than we cared for, we were glad we stopped. [Btw–if anyone is looking for a business opportunity, the mall does not have a single coffee place and could really use a Caribou Coffee kiosk or something similar. Someone should really take advantage of that! :)]

Day 3 was our day to head to Salt Springs State Park, just across the border into Pennsylvania. The weather had been much cooler than we expected for our trip, but the temps were at least supposed to reach the 70’s. We donned our water shoes and the kids wore their swim suits and off we set. We were told there were 3 waterfalls for climbing and it sounded like a great adventure. I’ll let our pictures tell the rest of the story. We were not disappointed.

We ventured into the woods, prepared to leave our mark at Penny Rock.



After a beautiful walk, we headed back to the entrance of the park to have some lunch. My sister did a great job of packing everything we could ever need to eat for lunch.


With lunch over, we headed out for our water trek. The water was c-o-l-d, but everyone overcame the temperature in pursuit of the adventure ahead.



Taking on waterfall #1.


Climbing waterfall #2.


Approaching waterfall #3–I asked my sister to take some pictures to prove that I was actually there. I thought this was a good one.


Waiting for Ken to cross the third fall, the hard way. The water level was a lot lower than it had been the last time that my sister’s family had been there. I appreciated this! It meant I could walk along the edge and not get wetter than I cared to, especially when I was carrying everyone’s towels.




Heading back.



We finished the evening with s’mores, frisbee and more trampoline time.


When I stated that I would be vacationing in the New York area, this is not what most people immediately thought of. We could have gone to the city and paid lots of money to see fabulous things. But today we went to a state park, for free, were mostly all by ourselves, and we had the priceless experience of a lifetime. We’ll save the city for another time. Feeling so thankful and blessed.


Summer Vacation Road Trip–Binghamton, NY–The Discovery Center

We left Ohio an hour later than originally planned and hit some rain on the drive to New York. We had a slight delay as we drove all over Jamestown, NY looking for somewhere to eat lunch. We finally took a chance on a local place and it ended up being nothing to {literally} write home about, so I won’t 😉 but the adventure is always fun. We arrived at my sister’s place around 6pm and the fun has not stopped since.

This is what Nickolas has been up to almost every waking second since we’ve arrived and haven’t been on an excursion somewhere:


The boy loves trampolines! He did a flip and stuck the landing tonight so he’s pretty happy about that.

We spent our first morning here relaxing a bit and letting the kids play. That afternoon we took a twisting and turning drive through the rural rolling hills into Binghamton and arrived at The Discovery Center. What a place! The kids had a blast exploring all of the interactive exhibits and using their imaginations.

First, they figured out how to make bubbles around themselves:



Next, Nickolas took the time to take care of some of his cousin’s dental work:


Then they taped the local “Action News” and Cody gave the weather forecast for Madison, Wisconsin for Uncle Randy and Grandpa Pratt’s birthdays. The weather looks sunny and happy!  🙂


They got to sit in a jet cockpit and operate a helicopter ride simulator. Here they’re driving a  fire truck {and thinking of Grandpa Groh}. They also got to check out the back of an ambulance.


The kids shopped and worked at a supermarket and finally served a meal at a Chinese restaurant. We then headed outside to walk through the whimsical Story Garden. It was so creative–I just LOVED it!! Here the girls are hanging out in the Three Bears’ cottage.


Ella in a human-sized nest:


Preparing for a tea party:


Me and my girl relaxing with a BIG cup of tea. So fun!


Summer Vacation Road Trip–Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

This summer has been full and has gone so incredibly fast!! So with only 2 weeks before another school year begins, my family headed out on a driving vacation to spend time with family and friends. We left our house at 5:15am last Friday, in order to get through Chicago without a traffic delay–and we were successful! To my surprise, both kids remained awake from that point on, until about half an hour before we reached our first destination in Ohio.

We spent 3 days with the Leist family. The kids played hard and got along great. They were very content playing together in the backyard and inside with all the “new-to-them” toys, but we also went on a couple of excursions, the first being the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. The weather was perfect and the zoo is impressive.

Lion watching.

Lion watching.

Feeding time at the zoo.

Feeding time at the zoo.

The kids navigating our next destination.

The kids navigating our next destination.

Da bears (it's a Chicago thing).

Da bears (it’s a Chicago thing).

Sunday morning we were happy to be able to go to church with the Leists. After a delicious Sunday dinner, we headed out for some mini-golf. That was on our list of things to do since neither of our kids had ever gone.


Ken gave Ella a little putt-putt guidance.

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The instructions from Dad apparently helped, because here she is after her first hole-in-one! The only one of the day!

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The kids and Dads also rode go-carts and then we headed back for one final night before we moved on.


Carolyn showing the kids a funny new app on the iPad. Lots of belly laughs and giggles.

It’s always so hard to say good-bye to our friends, but knowing that their cousins were waiting for them at our next stop made it a bit easier for our kids this time.

Our Escape to Tomah, Wisconsin

This past weekend we were privileged to be invited to Tomah, Wisconsin to attend a book signing by our friend, Roger Blakely, who has served many years in the Army and has more recently become an author. Ken and I had discussed heading up to Tomah for the signing, so when Roger personally invited us and told us he would put us up at the Cranberry Country Lodge, we committed to going. And I’m so glad we did.

It was one of those trips where everything seemed to work out perfectly. We were all healthy, the weather was beautiful, our vehicle ran great and we had no accidents or mechanical breakdowns. The kids got along great—for the most part–and everyone had good attitudes—again, for the most part—and we just enjoyed the trip. Maybe I’m just an optimist, I don’t know, but I think I’m a realist and we really had a nice time, so I had to write about it.

I love that cozy “northern woods” feeling I get when we head north in Wisconsin and enjoyed the beautiful scenery as we drove. Tomah was a cute little town and the museum where the book signing took place was quaint and interesting. The kids even enjoyed looking at the “old-fashioned” items on display. I think it helps that we have been watching Little House on the Prairie so they can relate a little bit to times past. We enjoyed refreshments and visiting with others there.

The kids with Roger at the book signing.

The kids with Roger at the book signing.

We eventually headed back to the hotel and checked out the aquatic center there. It was very fun and age appropriate for our kids. It wasn’t too crowded and kept them entertained for several hours. Soon it was time to get cleaned up and meet Roger and another couple for dinner.

The following morning we ate breakfast, packed up and headed to the Three Bears Lodge in Warren. As a guest at the Cranberry Country Lodge, we had a free day’s admission there. We were very pleased with the size of the waterpark and especially loved that we practically had the place to ourselves. I’m sure it will be a different story this weekend {Memorial Day} and beyond, so the timing was perfect. We have been to The Wilderness Resort in the Wisconsin Dells several times and this was a bit smaller than one of their indoor waterparks, but it was the perfect size for our kids. It was only open from 9am to 1pm that day, but that was just long enough for us. I didn’t take my camera into the water areas either day because I didn’t want to hassle with it, but now wish I would have gotten some good shots. You can check out their websites through the links I have inserted above if you want to look into them further. I would definitely recommend them for families with elementary-aged kids and younger.

We stopped for lunch at a local China Buffet and then started on our way back home. I’ll throw in a funny little Ella story here.  Anyone who has been around Ella much, knows that she love, love, loves chocolate like no other 7-year-old I know. As we were driving, Ken brought up the fact that my birthday wasn’t too far away and he told the kids that they would have to think of something to get or make for me. Ella piped up and said, “I know what we could get her.” Ken asked her what and she leaned forward and “whispered” to him from the backseat, “We could buy her a little piece of chocolate and wrap it up for her.” Ken “whispered” back from the driver’s seat, “but Ella, Mommy doesn’t like chocolate. You do.” And Ella sighed and said, “Oh yah, I forgot.” Such a silly girl. I got quite a kick out of that.

We ran into a little traffic and a rain storm, but neither lasted for long and we made it home before dark so there was still time for the kids to ride bikes before calling it a day. A bit of a whirlwind weekend, but so worth it! The kids and I will be escaping to Wisconsin again this coming weekend to celebrate Memorial Day with my family. Who knows what adventures await!

Ohio Road Trip-Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad

The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad engine.

The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad engine.

This past weekend our family of four traveled to the Cleveland area to visit some dear friends. This was the longest driving trip that the four of us have made together—and it was successful! So that’s encouraging news. We hope to travel the country more as the kids get older, but they have not been the best of travelers up to this point. They were entertained with movies on our portable dvd player on this trip, along with occasional playing on the iPod and our new iPad. I also bought them each a little tablet of construction and drawing paper for Valentine’s Day which kept them occupied from time to time. No naps were taken—to my surprise—although I think Ken was ready to doze off a few times {and yes, he WAS the driver, so I made sure that didn’t happen}. Of course the great thing about the kids not napping  was that they were both out like lights once they were in bed. And that’s nothing to complain about!

This was our fourth visit to our friends’ home, according to our best calculations. Ken and I are always so impressed with the great things they plan for us to do.  Maybe it’s just because it is a new area that we are unfamiliar with, but it seems that there are many free or low-cost activities to partake in. We have been to a kiddie amusement park and walked on beautiful forest paths, spent a day at the beach and the zoo and visited a very kid-friendly nature center, to name a few.

Our kids are so easily entertained just playing with toys inside, or outside in the back yard, so we don’t over-plan our visit. This time, we went cosmic bowling Saturday afternoon, followed by dinner at Chick-Fil-A, where the kids had a blast in the play area while we adults chatted. On Sunday we headed to the Rockside Station where we boarded the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad passenger train for a lovely 45 minute ride into Peninsula. We practically had the train car to ourselves each way. The kids enjoyed hot chocolate and popcorn while watching the snow-covered landscape go by. The snow had just fallen on Saturday, so everything looked fresh and clean against the bright blue sky—it could not have been more beautiful. The Conductor even said that he thought it was the most peaceful day of the season so far. We saw several groups of deer, along with an eagle on her nest while another was perched in a nearby tree. Awesome!

We had a couple of hours in Peninsula to eat lunch and stroll around. My kids had $10 of their own money that was burning a hole in their pockets, so they each bought a stuffed animal—one raccoon and one skunk. They played hide and seek with them and each other on the train ride back and really got to move around and enjoy the trip in a way that would never have been possible if it had been during the busy summertime. The day was nearly perfect.

The crew was so friendly and full of interesting information. They even let the kids punch their own tickets.

The crew was so friendly and full of interesting information. They even let the kids punch their own tickets.




The four of us adults originally met each other in the Marriott Tverskaya hotel in Moscow in December of 2005 and had no idea that our lives would become so intertwined and what a bond would form between us. In short, both of us couples were in Russia for adoption purposes. Our first attempts in the city of Ulyanovsk ended in heartache and we each lost the children that we hoped to adopt. After much striving and paperwork, we were all able to return to Russia twice in 2007. We stayed for an entire month on the second trip and finally completed our adoptions in Astrakhan, Russia. Their daughter and our son are two months apart and have been the best of friends. We introduced our daughter into the mix in 2011 and fortunately, the three of them play and get along with each other great. We all wish we lived closer to each other, but that will probably never happen. Our son announced last night, as we were pulling into our driveway, home from the trip, that if we ever tell him we’re going to be driving to visit them again, he will be very excited. So again, this road trip was a huge success. Now, maybe we can someday make it all the way to New York to visit my sister and her family! That might be our next driving goal!