Catching Up - Part 2

This past week was pretty packed, tiring yet fun. I decided to make two things this week - chewy chocolate caramel bars for my brother's roommate (and one of his best friends) Chris, since he helped us with our cell phone plan earlier this year and that is what he requested as payment, and also a birthday cake for my mom. Thursday after work I went shopping for the supplies I would need, then I headed home to start baking. Managed to get the bars completed and in the freezer, and since I had time I decided to at least bake the cake. I used a fairly new recipe I found that uses white cake mix as a base but also adds butter, milk, vanilla and eggs. I decided to go the fancy route and bake 2-8" round cakes. They turned out great. As it was after 9pm I cleaned up and called it a night.

Friday I got out of work early, did a bit more shopping, came home and started working on finishing the cake. I had found a strawberry filling recipe, which I did...and it turned out like a jello. Not what I was going for. So I decided to go with my own concoction, which consisted of cool whip, vanilla pudding (just the powder/box stuff) and pureed strawberries. Yum! Much better than the stupid recipe. Once I had the filling I started to work on a quick buttercream frosting, which I've used before from the Food Network. Made two batches, grabbed a quick bite of dinner and then began the frosting process. I'm not the best cake decorator as I rarely make cakes and hardly ever decorate anything, but I do enjoy since I find it creative. I think it turned out pretty well. I didn't know what I was going to do, just started at the base and worked up. Finished around 9:30pm, spent another half hour cleaning up, then crashed on the couch. The important lesson I learned that evening was that I can not handle standing on my feet/legs for that long. I really suffered from nerve pain that evening, and I would say I still haven't recovered.

Saturday (Mom's birthday) we took the cake, gift and other birthday accessories to my mom and dad's house, where we met up with the parents and my brother who is back in town for the weekend. We piled in parent's Camry...or should I say crammed in as there is not enough space for five adults to sit comfortably...and off we went for a slightly less than two hour drive to Port Clinton. Port Clinton is about 15 minutes west of Sandusky, and most of the city is surrounded by Lake Erie. We managed to hit the 11am Jet Express and off we went to Put-In-Bay, a fairly large island located on Lake Erie. Since no one except me had been to the island before I thought it would be a fun day, especially since the weather was going to be perfect - high 70's and sunny.

Put-In-Bay (PIB) has something for everyone. About 450 people live on the island year round, but they have a lot of hotels, bed and breakfasts, restaurants, attractions and parks for visitors. Since it was a Saturday during Labor Day weekend there were a lot of people but it was not overwhelming. Most of the people were at the bars watching the OSU game, or sitting on their boats listening to the game on the radio.

We first stopped to pick up a rental golf cart, which is the transportation option of choice in PIB. We drove through the downtown area and finally picked a place to eat. Nothing fancy, just simple bar and sandwich fare. We all ordered burgers and fries, enjoyed the view out the window at the Lake and the friendliness of the restaurant staff. Once we were done we decided to walk around downtown and hit some of the stores in an effort to find my brother some more comfortable shoes. After 30 minutes the shoes were found, we returned to the golf cart and decided to start seeing some of PIB's attractions.

First we hit Perry's Memorial, which is a big tower that provides a great view of not only the island but of Lake Erie, the other islands and Ohio coastline. I did go up in May and the view was wonderful, even on a not so bright day. We went inside, went up the initial steps that led to an elevator, but found the line too long. We decided to go back to the cart and find something else to do.

We drove around the perimeter of PIB and saw beautiful houses, trees, and more great views of the Lake and surrounding islands. Finally we came across a beach where we took a short walk, dipped our feet in the warm water and enjoyed the cliffs, waves and smell of barbecue from the beach.

After drive around almost the entire perimeter of PIB we finally came upon Heineman's Winery and Crystal Cave. They were giving tours of the winery and cave for $6/piece so we decided to do it. This was an interesting decision considering neither of my parents drink (I had never seen my mom have a sip of alcohol and my dad gave up beer decades ago), and my mom is incredibly claustrophobic.

We go through the winery tour, which is pretty lame mostly because B and I have been to a lot of wineries in California where the process is a lot more detailed and interesting. That took about 20 minutes. Then we got in a line for the cave, which all we knew was that it was down 42 steep steps and is the world's largest geode. My mom, to my complete surprise, decided to go down into the cave.

Now this was a monumental moment. My mom has gotten off of planes before takeoff because she felt too enclosed in, and now she wanted to go into a potentially very small cave filled with crystals. About 30 of us went down the stairs single file to the geode site. The guide, who sounded Russian, asked us to all cram in this small "room", where the walls and ceiling was nothing but geodes. We were crammed in shoulder to shoulder, the air was hot and you could not feel a single, even slight, breeze. My brother and I looked at each other in panic, waiting for my mom to eventually crack, start shoving people out of the way and working her way back up the stairs. It was honestly the worst case scenario; the cave was horrifically small and smothering. My mom was the farthest away from the stairway out, next to a wall filled with geodes that were dripping water.

So the guide goes on about how the geode got there, how there were other parts that were deemed unsafe for patrons (they could cave in at any time), and finally at the end of her long speech she actually says "Now, we should all probably leave room before I get claustrophobia attack." Yes, that is what she actually said. People start filing out of the room, we make sure my mom is the first of the family to go up the stairs...and she makes it. No attack. We were so proud, and I know she was too. That was a really big thing for her.

Part of the wine tour was that we each got a chip for a free sample of wine or grape juice, so we went to the bar area and got our drinks. Mom and Dad had grape juice, the rest of us tried different wines. Mind you, I was stilled pretty shocked about the whole cave thing, but then that monumental event was topped when my mom asked for a sip of my brother's wine. I kid you not. She took a sip. Then she asked if she could taste mine. She takes another sip. She goes back for a third sip from my brother's glass. I about keeled over. Though I didn't get a picture of her drinking the wine, I had everyone crowd around the table afterwards so I could get a picture to remember that big event by.

We decided we had some time to spare so we headed across the street to play some competitive mini-golf. It was a nice course, though we only managed to get in nine holes before we had to hoof it to the cart, drive back to town and hit the JetExpress back to Port Clinton.

Once we arrived back on the main shore we crammed back into the car and back to Cleveland. I had made reservations at a highly recommended restaurant called Carrie Cerino's, an Italian establishment. The place was huge and ornate, and we were seated in a private booth where we could easily talk and share moments from the day. The food was amazing and I think everyone enjoyed it.

We went back to the parent's house to open gifts. It was after 9pm and we were starting to drag a bit. Mom loved her basket. Then after gifts/cards were opened I presented her with the cake, which she liked. We sang "Happy Birthday", she blew out the candles. We served up cake and ice cream, both which tasted pretty good if I do say so myself. By the time we were through we were all stuffed and exhausted. B and I called it a night, packed up the car and drove home.

Looking back, it was one of the most enjoyable birthday "days" I've ever been through. Everyone was in good spirits, we saw and did a lot of new things and we really just enjoyed each other. Even B thanked me when we got home for a great day. I think that says it all.

Lately I've been wishing that I was back living in northern Illinois, but days like Saturday make me glad that I'm here. It's a good reminder that Illinois will still be there in 2-3 years, and for now I need to enjoy the time I am here and take advantage of it.

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