Ohio for the Summer

August 21, 2017
If you follow me on Instagram, you know already that I made it to Ohio this summer. When I flew out from Shanghai, it was only 11 days after my myomectomy surgery, so I was on edge about the trip. I also hadn't been on a long-haul international flight in economy class since the summer of 2015 due to my back surgery. I was still in pain from my recent surgery and sitting for too long (more than a few hours) always gives me back pain now, so I was wondering how I was even going to tolerate the flight. I looked into buying Business class flights so that I could lie down, but they were more than $4,000 round trip, so it was just too pricey for me. I decided that even if I was in pain for 10 hours, that would be better than not getting to see my friends and family. I flew Shanghai-Los Angeles, and that flight was about 12 hours long and the one I was the most worried about. I ended up having some unbelievable luck, though! The whole flight was full, except for the seat next to me. I'm sure that's because I booked so late and was all the way in the back of the plane by the bathrooms, but having that vacant seat next to me was such a blessing. If my back hurt too much, I could just lie down on the seat and while it was not comfortable by any means, it was still getting pressure off of my spine. When I arrived in LA, it was awful because I had to collect my bags. They were only about 20 pounds because I had planned on doing a lot of shopping in the States, but I was on a 10-pound lifting restriction after my surgery, so dealing with my bags was a pain (literally). They ran out of baggage carts, so I had to lug my bags, which was annoying, but hey...somehow I was able to manage. Once I went through security and got my bags re-checked, I felt a lot better and was just loving the simple fact that I had made it back to America! It was so weird being able to understand most people's conversations once again. I'm still not used to it and eavesdrop all the time. Once I boarded my flight from LA to Columbus, I knew I was in the home stretch. After landing in Columbus, my dad met me at Baggage Claim. It had been two years since I had seen him. I know he was relieved to see me in one piece after going through some painful procedures in China. My dad drove us back to my parents' house and had me stay in my sister's old bedroom, which was all ready for me.

For the first few days after coming back to the States, I just decided to stay at home, hang out with my parents, and rest mostly. My dad had read one of my previous blog posts in which I said that I missed Bob Evans restaurants, so he invited my mom and me to join him for a meal there. I got the banana bread I'd been so desperately craving in China. Nothing beats Bob Evan's banana bread! When I told some fellow Ohioans that I'd been missing Bob Evans, they laughed at me and said, "That's almost as embarrassing as Rachael missing Applebee's!" Hey, we like what we like! No shame. It turned out that the Ohio obsession with Bob Evan's worked in my favor, as my sister also suggested we go to one, and there is even one in the Columbus airport (which of course I ate at).

Besides getting my Bob Evan's fix, after a few days of rest, I did a lot of shopping. I may have overdone it, but I was just SO sick of my current wardrobe that it was worth it to me. Just going to Target for the first time in two years was an experience! Of course, I spent more than intended, but now I have some staple pieces that I can wear for a long time.  Besides Target, I ended up making purchases at Ulta, Old Navy, Torrid, Zale's, and Maurices. I even ordered my first Stitch Fix. Come to think of it, it was probably the biggest shopping spree I had ever been on in my life! Why is it so fun spending money?

The first person in Ohio that I wanted to see was my friend Scott who worked with me in China my first year there. I figured he would be a great person to see because he knew exactly what it was like over there, and we just had a lot to catch up on. The last time Scott saw me, I had just gotten out of the hospital and could barely walk, so it was awesome showing him my progress. We met for sushi, got iced coffees, and then spent the afternoon in some beautiful gardens laughing and reminiscing.

I also got to visit one of my favorite locally owned restaurants, which serves Greek food. My dad took me to the downtown location, and I have to say that the downtown area of the town my parents live nearest to is looking better and better these days. I remember when it was just a bunch of vacant buildings with a few businesses, but now there is a coffee shop, salons, more restaurants and bars, a (legit looking) tattoo parlor, a children's museum, specialty shops, and some art studios. While there are still some empty buildings, there's no denying that improvements have been made. Walking around downtown now is "a thing" and the overall vibe is much better.

The next people I decided to visit were my friends Amanda and Courtney. We worked at the movie theater together for years, so we had SO many crazy stories to share about our past experiences. Some day I think I should write a tell-all post about some of the insane people I had to deal with in customer service. At least the crazies always give me good stories to tell, even though some of them sound like lies because they are that extreme. The three of us went to Bingo. We all lost the main games but had fun regardless. Then Amanda asked me to go see 47 Meters Down with her. The movie was just okay, but I enjoyed just being in a movie theater again since I had only gone once in two years in China. As for other movies, I was able to see Wonder Woman and Dunkirk. I would have gone to see more movies, but I just didn't have enough time. Three movies in a theater in a month and a half isn't too shabby, though!

I was also able to see a few people that I studied Early Childhood Education with at OSU. Four of us met for dinner at a Mexican restaurant. It was great to hear how their lives are now and fun to compare teaching experiences. I don't envy them having to complete RESA though. I heard it is a nightmarish mentoring program that teachers with initial licensure have to pass in order to receive their professional teaching license. If I ever decide to come back to Ohio to teach, I might have to go through that, too. There have already been talks of this program getting replaced, so you never know. I've learned very quickly that when it comes to education and teaching requirements that nothing is set in stone. So many changes have already happened since I graduated in 2013.

I met my buddy Autumn one day at the Olive Garden for dinner, too. We are both fans of the soup, salad, and breadsticks. Although I didn't have a lot of time to see people, I do have to say that I DID get to see everyone that I wanted to see the most! I was also able to make it down to Columbus to meet with my college friends and got to go to Cleveland to see my friends I met in Seoul.

One of the best days I had all summer was with my friends Dre and Gregg! They requested the day off work to hang out with me, and we went to some fun and beautiful places in Ohio. Our first stop was Brandywine Falls, which is part of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. We also stopped at The Signal Tree, at Gregg's suggestion. Apparently, Native Americans used oddly shaped trees as meeting points, and this was one of them.

Our next stop was to go to the Hard Rock Rocksino where we had a light lunch and decided to try our hand at the slot machines. Dre and I decided that we would spend $20 max and see what happened. First, I tried the Wonka machine but lost. Dre mentioned that she wanted to play the Walking Dead slot machines because last time she won $100. When I played, I ended up winning 25 free spins, which was awesome because I just watched myself keep on earning a few bucks here and there. I also got a chance to pop character's faces to see which prize I would win. At one point, I had popped two mini prizes and two grand prizes. If I popped another grand prize, I would have gotten almost $10,000! Can you believe that? I couldn't imagine leaving a casino $10,000 richer, could you? My heart was pounding, but of course, I popped the mini and got $60. At least I came away with extra money, but I felt I was really close to getting the $10,000, or at least they made it so I would think that! I can see why people become addicted to gambling because it was really hard to make myself cash out while I was still ahead. I haven't been to a casino many times in my life, but this was my third time winning which I think is pretty good.

There is also a race track where you can watch horse racing, but it wasn't going on the day we went. We were able to see a horse outside training, though.

Next, we went to the Fannie May Harry London Chocolate Factory in Canton, Ohio. We got there a little before the tour started, so we browsed the gift shop and were offered some Buckeyes and a selection of various types of chocolates including the Mint Meltaways that I picked. Once the tour started, we watched a video explaining the history of the two companies that are now in business together. Then we went upstairs and saw a huge tank full of chocolate. It gets shipped in from a secret spot and then is used to make all kinds of delicious truffles, chocolate-covered strawberries, butter creams, etc. We got to see the workers producing various kinds of chocolate in the factory. Funnily enough, production had just started on their Christmas chocolates, and we saw them making red and green chocolate-covered pretzels. We learned that there are people who are official taste testers who check for quality control. Any mess ups are bagged up and sold at a cheaper price in the gift shop or else are given to employees. At the end of the tour, we were offered two more chocolates from a tray to try. The salted caramel one was the best! To finish off the tour, we were taken to the gift shop and sampled a small scoop of chocolate ice cream. The tour was free and I got to try so many different kinds of chocolate, which was a great way to spend an afternoon. I would 100% order some chocolates from this company in the future.

After the chocolate factory tour, we drove out to Gervasi Vineyard. I have been to many wineries in Ohio but never heard of this one until a few years ago. I have to say that it is the most beautiful vineyard I've ever been to. The grounds are so beautiful so I can see why so many people opt to get married here. Not that I even have a boyfriend, but add me to that list because it's absolutely gorgeous. For dinner, Gregg made a reservation for us at The Bistro. There was a noticeable Italian theme to the place. We were greeted with a "Ciao" when we entered, and all of the wines were named in Italian. Dre and I wanted to try a flight of them. My favorite one was a Riesling called Piove (rain), and I would have tried more but I had to drive home so I couldn't. One day, I'd love to stay in one of their villas! Not only could I try all the wine I wanted, but they look luxurious even from the outside.

This summer, I also became addicted to Whit's Frozen Custard. Omg...Delicious! I gained 10 pounds, and I think 9 of those pounds are from Whit's. Not even upset about the weight gain because I lost some weight before this trip and already figured I would gain some back. When I go back to China, I know I'll be better about watching what I eat. But back to Whit's. What really gets me are the different flavors that they change out every week or so. The next time I go in, I see that the following week has another flavor that I want to try. The best ones I had were the lemon, Key Lime, and peach. It is so good that a friend of mine who is lactose intolerant goes there anyway and deals with the consequences, ha ha.

Once I wasn't in so much pain, I did start to become more active by walking the bike trail and some other local trails. I was just glad to be outside and moving again. Who doesn't like being outside when the weather is nice?

One day I also made it up to Cleveland to go to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I hadn't been since about 2004, so it was like going to a completely new museum. The person I went with hadn't been before and he said, "That was the most non-boring museum I've ever experienced." We both liked that so many parts of the museum were not just visual and they played music on tv or through speakers. You can go into a theater and watch a collection of snippets of some musicians really rocking out. It was intense and one of the highlights of the whole day! There are exhibits that focus on the history of rock and roll, an Elvis Presley exhibit, and one called Cities and Sounds (think Seattle grunge, London punk, etc.). Admiring all of the costumes and artifacts that they've collected is amazing, too.

After the museum, we drove through downtown Cleveland and stopped to take in this marvelous view before driving home.

To be honest, I think I took a risk flying over here with my health problems. It turned out to be the right call, though. Looking back, I don't think I could have worked a third year in China without going home in between at all. Maybe some people can, but I'm not one of them. I'm just so relieved that everything worked out the way it did and that I could recover at home and also see people who are important to me. When I think about it, even though my summer started out lame with me having to recover from a painful surgery, it went uphill from there and just kept getting better and better. This has been a summer full of laughter, new memories, and just plain relief. I feel like I'm finally starting to get back to normal again, but there's no way that could have happened without this trip home. Sometimes there's just no place like it!
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