Sorry, Ohio State. It’s Nothing Personal.

Never have I ever cheered for Ohio State. Now, before I get the blog-equivalent of carried out on a rail, let me explain…

Head Coach Urban Meyer after the OSU vs. Cal game.

The Ohio State University just ended a perfect football season, going 12-0 this fall. I think that’s fantastic, and I’m happy for any university or college that can claim that sort of streak. It truly says something about the strength of the team and the wisdom of the coaches. Unfortunately, for the 2012 Buckeyes, this past weekend’s game against arch rivals, the University of Michigan Wolverines, brought the end of their undefeated season. During the 2010 and 2011 football seasons, while the team was under Head Coach Jim Tressel (the coach who led my alma mater, YSU, to 4 NCAA Division I-AA titles in the 1990s), several players were found to have traded tattoos for autographs or selling memorabilia, violating NCAA policies. The fallout from these and other scandals led to Coach Tressel retiring from football, wishing to remain a “Buckeye for life.” Urban Meyer was named as the new head coach for the team, but his first season at the helm would not include postseason activities due to the sanctions set in place by the NCAA.

 

This is ridiculously tame and the exact opposite of anything involving those two teams today.

A lot of people are quite angry that despite their perfect record this season, Ohio State will not be headed to any bowl games, including one where it was likely that they’d be matched up against the Notre Dame Fightin’ Irish. Fans of the team, who are flung to all corners of these United States, attempted to petition the White House, seeking a pardon for the team and allowing them to participate in postseason games. This petition, however, was removed. (I would petition to have “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” brought back, but I think the President has bigger things on his plate.)


Welcome to ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’, the show where everything’s made up and the points don’t matter. That’s right, the points are just like Angelina Jolie’s breakfast.

Getting back to why I can’t bring myself to root for the scarlet and gray… I just don’t have a reason to. I don’t have a personal connection to the university, so I guess I don’t understand fervently cheering for a school I’ve never attended. It doesn’t mean anything to me, really. Going by that standard, a lot of universities hold no meaning for me. You know who I will always cheer for? The Youngstown State Penguins. Since I called it home for six years, I always will. Even if they’re not not in the playoffs, they’re still my team. I’ll probably be a big fan of the football program of whatever university or college I get to work for in the future, too. (I will try to get excited about basketball and baseball, but that’s asking a lot.) If you didn’t have a personal connection to Youngstown State, I wouldn’t expect you to root for them. OSU has fans all over the country, if not all over the world, so I understand the “pride is nation-wide” thing. As a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, I’m part of a similar nation, but more about that in a minute. However, my friends who are alumni of Ohio State can take comfort in the fact that I don’t cheer for the Wolverines, either. 

Alright, so I’m not a fan of Ohio State because I didn’t go there. Ok. What about the fact that they’re from Ohio? Eh… that doesn’t hold much for me, either. It’s not like they’re the only good university football program in the state — look at Cincinnati. This goes for my NFL allegiance, too. Just because I’m from Ohio, it doesn’t mean that you’ll ever catch me in orange on game day, for either the Bengals or the Browns. (Actually, never the Browns.) I live closer to Pittsburgh than I do Cleveland, and I guess you could say I’m Pittsburgh Steeler-born-and-bred. I can admit that we’re very likely not going to the Super Bowl this year, but no one can ever call me a bandwagon fan.

These guys know what’s up.

So there it is. It really isn’t personal, Ohio State. I have plenty of friends who have attended and loved their experiences at Ohio State and that’s great for them. I appreciate the strong traditions of the school, including the annual “baptism” in Mirror Lake and Script Ohio. But, I didn’t go there, so I just don’t have that connection. At the same time, I don’t actively root against them, or any team… unless they’re playing against YSU. They’re a good team, and if they have a lot of players returning next season, I don’t see why they can’t make it to the bowls next year. Coming off the postseason ban, I’m sure they’ll have the drive to do so. Besides, I know several other people who cheer for universities they never attended, including Duke, Alabama, WVU, and, yes, even Michigan.

Now I’m curious, and there’s no right or wrong answer. If you’re an Ohio State fan, did you go there? If you didn’t, what about the Buckeyes makes you cheer for them? Or, do you root for another school that you didn’t attend? Why? These are just my reasons, and I’d like to hear yours. Just keep it civil. 🙂

The Easiest, Most Delicious Potato Recipe Ever

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. Smells, sounds, tastes, feelings that just send you back to a previous time and place. It’s really amazing if you think about it. I heard a song on the radio last week that I probably hadn’t heard since it was first popular in 2000 — you know, one of those one hit wonder songs that were so bad they were good?  Even though I cringed at the lyrics that I now get at age 24 and went over my head at age 12, I still smiled and chuckled. It made me remember the people and events I spent those formative years with, and those memories, bad song or not, are always worth remembering.

But random memory triggers aren’t the only things that can bring you warm feelings. Consistency does that too.

Every Christmas Day, I go to my Aunt Susie’s (my Grandma’s sister) house for a huge Christmas open house. Situated on the border of a large park system, her house is a dream for a history person like me. It is filled with hidden nooks and crannies, with a double staircase, and a summer kitchen. And every year, like clockwork, she and my Grandma make what they have dubbed “Christmas Potatoes.” Even when my Grandma makes them at other times in the year (for smaller occasions) she still calls them Christmas Potatoes.

Really, they could be called Hungarian Potatoes. Or Paprika Potatoes. Or as they’re called in my own brain, Amazing Potatoes.

They’re probably so good because they are just so simple.

So, I figured I share the recipe with you.

Amazing and Easy Paprika Potatoes

Serves 4 -6 (All depends on how many potatoes are in each can)

Ingredients:

4 cans of Whole White or Whole New Potatoes*

1 stick of margarine (or butter)

1 heaping teaspoon of good Hungarian Paprika**

*The two names are interchangeable — they’re the same thing.

**The paprika is the most important ingredient. While you can make the potatoes with any kind of paprika, the better the  quality, the better the taste.

Instructions:

1. Open and drain the cans of potatoes. Cut any dark spots off the potatoes.

2. In a small saucepan, melt the margarine.

3. Add the paprika to the margarine, stir.

4. Drop the potatoes in the paprika-margarine mixture and coat them thoroughly.

5. Place the potatoes in an oven safe dish. I use a cookie sheet, but any oven safe dish or pan will work. Cover with aluminum foil.

6. Bake the potatoes at 350 degrees for 25 – 30 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked.

7. Enjoy!

Summer’s (Almost) Over, Time to Plan Your Next Beach Vacation

I love summer. I love the warm weather, the thunderstorms, swimming in the pool, bonfires, picnics, and generally being outside. But most of all, I love going on vacation.

Now, you can go on vacation any time, but summer is vacation season and I look forward to traveling every year, even if it isn’t to a new place. I drive my family crazy because as soon as one vacation is over I start thinking about and planning the next — even if the only planning I’m doing is inside my head. Haha.

The bottom line is that I am a planner, and I feel that in order to have an awesome, relaxing, and fun vacation you have to be organized and plan ahead. An added bonus is that when you plan ahead, you often are able to get some great deals and save money.

I love all kinds of vacations. I love to go to big cities where you can walk around, see the sights, visit museums, and shop. As a history person, I like to go to places that have historical value too. I also have a childish love for Disney World.

But, for me, two of the best kinds of vacations are 1. going to the beach and 2. going on a cruise.

Because there’s so much information on both kinds of vacation, I’m breaking this up into 2 posts — this one about the beach and the second about cruising.

So, here’s my advice on planning and booking the best beach vacations. Hopefully, I’ll help you save a little money too.

Hitting the Beach

The beach is one of my favorite places on Earth to be. I love the sand, the ocean, the sound of the waves. There is something so relaxing about sitting in a beach chair under an umbrella, closing your eyes, and just soaking it all in.

The beach on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. (Picture from hiltonheadvacation.com)

Ohio doesn’t have a beach, unless you count the shores of Lake Erie. And, although a lot of my fellow Ohioans spend time on Lake Erie’s shore during the summer months, to me, there is nothing like the ocean. This makes the East Coast and the Atlantic Ocean the closest beach to visit.

My favorite beach to go to on the East Coast is Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Located at the southern-most part of South Carolina, Hilton Head is a boot shaped island that boasts 12 miles of clean and beautiful beaches and an overall subdued atmosphere that is the opposite of commercial and bustling beach destinations like Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Other great East Coast beaches are Wilmington/Carolina Beach, North Carolina; Virginia Beach, Virginia; and Outer Banks, North Carolina. There are, of course, countless more. Do a simple Google Search and discover other beaches to travel to. And, don’t forget the wonderful West Coast and Gulf Coast beaches too!

Whether you’ve been to the beach a million times or have never gone before, here are a few things to consider before you start to plan:

Some Things To Consider

  • What’s your budget?
  • Who are you traveling with? How many people are going to be in your party?
  • When are you going to go? How many days vacation are you aiming for?
  • How far do you want to travel?
  • Are you going to fly or drive?
  • What kind of accommodations do you want? Hotel? Condo? Rental house? On the beach? Off the beach?
  • Do you want your vacation to be jam-packed with fun non-stop or do you want a primarily relaxing vacation where you make your own fun?
  • Do you need a lot of attractions and shopping close to where you are vacationing?

Budget, Driving vs. Flying, and Picking a Destination

A beach vacation can often be less expensive than many other types of vacations, depending on where you travel, where you stay, and how you spend your time while on vacation. However, beach vacations can quickly become very pricey.

What’s great about the beach is that the most money you will spend is on the journey from your home to the beach, on your accommodations, and on food/drinks.

Driving is one great way to save money, especially with the price of airfare today. Now of course, this only works if you are within driving distance to the beach you want to visit. For example, from where I live it takes at least 7-8 hours to reach the Atlantic. But to get to a “good beach” I need to drive at least 10 hours. It takes 14 hours to get to Hilton Head and I’ll admit that while it is a long drive, it is worth it in the end. So, you need to determine how long you’re willing to sit in a car, and whether such a distance is worth it if you’re only heading to the beach for a couple days.

Also, remember that flying to the beach isn’t always easy. It’s a pain to take beach chairs and umbrellas on a plane. Some destinations allow you to rent them and some condos/beach houses have them available for guests. But not all do, and renting/buying them can be pricey and inconvenient.

One of the most important things to decide is which beach you’re going to go to. Consider whether you want a busier, more crowded and lively beach destination or one that is quiet and relaxed. Also think about what else there is to do at that destination. Do you want someplace with a lot of nightlife, clubs, bars, major shopping, and other attractions? Or are you okay with a place that is more low-key, essentially a beach destination located in a small town with some shopping (both major and locally-owned), restaurants, and very few other attractions.

When to Go, How Long to Stay, Hotel vs. Rental, How Many People Traveling

One great thing about a beach vacation is that in order to travel to one, you often travel south which gives you a longer traveling season. Know that beach vacations will always be the most expensive in the summer because it’s the peak beach season. This doesn’t mean you still can’t get a good deal, but it does mean that if you’re looking to travel on the cheap you should consider going to the beach shortly before or shortly after the peak beach/summer season. (Also, pay attention to the weather as those later summer months run into peak hurricane season.)

Another thing you have to decide is how long you want to stay at the beach. When going to the beach, I have almost always stayed for a full week (Saturday – Saturday). Going for 7 nights might seem like a long time to some, but it can also be great for your wallet. Most beach destinations have plenty of hotels or inns to stay in. But they can be extremely pricey at $150-$300 or more per night. Instead, consider renting a condo or (if you have a lot of people) a house at the beach. Whereas you might spend upwards of $1200 to $1500 for 5 nights in hotel (double occupancy), renting a condo for 7 nights is a great bang for your buck.

Depending on how large a condo you want, 7 nights can cost you as little as $600-$1000. When you factor in that most beach condos have multiple bedrooms, direct beach access, a kitchen, living room, and various other amenities I’m a firm believer that a condo is the way to go.

Plus, the beach is equally as fun in large groups as it is for couples and small groups. Condos and beach houses can sleep a lot of people, so one great way to defray costs on rentals is to divide the expense amongst a bunch of family or friends!

Best Way To Start (and Finish) Your Beach Rental Search

Check out Vacation Rentals By Owner to browse vacation condos and houses all over the world (and not just at the beach). I’ve had great luck in finding vacation accommodations off the VRBO website. Even if you don’t want to use the VRBO site to book your vacation rental or contact an owner, it’s still a great place to see what each destination has to offer.

My VRBO advice (and advice for any vacation rental):

1. The more photos a listing has, the better!

2. No price is set in stone. If an owner is desperate to rent, they will negotiate.

3. If the description is vague, ask for more detail. If you want to walk out the door and have your feet in the sand in less than a minute, make sure the rental is truly on the beach. Ocean Front generally means that the rental has immediate beach access. Ocean View generally means the rental is at least yards away from the beach and may not be “on the beach” at all.

4. Are there any hidden fees? Is cleaning included? What about taxes?

5. Remember that most vacation rentals do not provide the same amenities that hotels do. You may have to bring your own towels and/or sheets. You most certainly will have to bring paper towels, toilet paper, soaps, etc. Pots and pans, silver wear, dishes, etc. are almost certainly provided. Ask what is included to be safe.

6. It’s never too early to start looking at vacation rentals. The good ones always sell out fast and one rental can sell out for the entire summer long before the season begins. Often owners will run specials and/or give discounts for early bookings.

7. Look for last minute specials too, sometimes owners who have one or two weeks remaining or a cancellation will slash prices to rent the unit.

Well, I hope I’ve given you some great advice about planning your next beach vacation. Remember, planning is a great way to ensure a fun and relaxing vacation, where you can then throw the need to plan out the window and just enjoy life.

 

Need A Laugh? Watch “Pittsburgh Dad”

We all need an escape from time to time. And sometimes all we need is a really good laugh. The kind of laugh that leaves you gasping for air, slapping whatever surface is near you, and thinking of one-liners for days.

Now, of course, this “best kind of laugh” is often attached to a joke or funny scenario that you identify with. That’s why some people find certain things funny while others don’t.

For me, my new “go to laugh generator” is the YouTube short film series “Pittsburgh Dad” which is one of those things that I identify so much with that it is simply hysterical.

I grew up less than a mile from the Ohio-Pennsylvania state line, my Mum is from Pennsylvania, most of my family lives there, and PA has really helped define me more than my home state of Ohio has. I root for the Steelers, not the Browns, and I would pick the forested beauty of the Alleghenies over the flat expanses of Ohio any day.

Because I’ve straddled the Ohio-PA border for my entire life and because Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania culture and customs aren’t really that different (remember my cookie table explanation?), so many of the themes, anecdotes, jokes, and countless other nuances that appear in episodes of Pittsburgh Dad are immediately recognizable to me.

Since its debut in October 2011, Pittsburgh Dad has become something of an internet sensation, particularly in the Pittsburgh area. An ever-growing series of of 1-3 minute short films, Pittsburgh Dad is the creation of Pittsburgh-area natives Chris Preksta and Curt Wooten. The character is an exaggeration of Wooten’s own father and talks and complains about typical Dad stuff in a thick Pittsburghese accent. (For more information on Pittsburghese, check out this website.)

The premise of Pittsburgh Dad is simple. Preksta directs while Wooten stars as the title character — the only character to ever appear on camera. There are other characters, but they always remain off-screen.

Every Tuesday Curt Wooten transforms himself into Pittsburgh Dad, complete with Dad glasses, facial hair, and wardrobe.

Pittsburgh Dad appeals to me mostly because of my regional connection to it and my understanding of the Pittsburghese dialect in which the character talks. While I don’t use all the vocabulary or pronunciations that Pittsburgh Dad does, I do use/understand a lot of his words. For example, I call my mother Mum, not Mom. Water comes out of a spicket, not a faucet. You need to wear Tennies (tennis shoes/sneakers) into the woods or weeds so you don’t get pricked by a jagger bush (thorn bush).

But, you don’t have to be a Pittsburgh-area native to understand or enjoy Pittsburgh Dad. The Pittsburgh jokes aside, Pittsburgh Dad is just a funny reflection of real life — of the behavior that we all exhibit, about things we did as kids and things our parents did too.

You just have to watch to see….

Pittsburgh Dad premieres new episodes on YouTube every Tuesday. Currently, there are over 60 videos to watch including dozens of original episodes, outtakes and deleted scenes, and behind the scenes discussions.

Here are some of my many, many favorites:

“Going to Church”

“Family Dinner”

“Going to Gram’s”

“Dad Yelling on the Answering Machine”

“Slumber Party”

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Disclaimer: Pittsburgh Dad is exclusively the property of Chris Preksta and Curt Wooten.

Daycations: The Best of Northeast Ohio and Pittsburgh

If you found your way here from Once Is Enough, welcome! We hope you’ll click around and check out our other posts!
 

Earlier this week, I wrote my first ever guest blog post for Sam over at Once is Enough while she went on vacation. I focused on daycationing, outlining several tips to help you have a great time while being a tourist in your own town. Head over to her blog to read more about finding the best local spots to explore and save money — great for the college girl on a budget! While you’re at it, read posts from Sam and the other guest bloggers for the week. 

If you’re still in school, summer is pretty much half over already… unless you’re in graduate school, and you’re very likely still in class till very late at night or early on Saturday mornings. I feel your pain. I’m currently still looking for a job, and while I’m cutting back on unnecessary purchases, I still plan on taking a daycation or two. I’m lucky that I live in an area filled with hidden cultural jewels, right between two large metro areas with experiences totally unique to each of those cities. It’s unlikely that people from outside of the area plan to vacation in Northeast Ohio, there’s much to do for those who are willing to explore, and do a little research ahead of time. Here are four of my favorite day-trips for a quick weekend excursion. Click through on the links to each of the attractions for more information about hours of operation, admission, and directions. 

Youngstown, Ohio

Home of my alma mater and Ed O’Neill from Modern Family, Youngstown is in the middle of a cultural revival, working to rebuild itself from the fall of the U.S. steel industry and shed it’s image as hub of organized crime. It boasts a rich ethnic heritage, and on any given weekend in the summer, you can sample Greek gyros, Italian sausages, or Polish pyrohies at any of their popular festivals held each year. In the six years I spent living in Youngstown earning my degrees, I learned to love the area and discovered many of the gems of the city and surrounding area. 

First, visit the Butler Museum of American Art, the first museum of strictly American art in all types of media, dedicated in 1919. Featured on the National Register of Historic Places, admission to this museum is free. Take time to reflect on paintings by Edward Hopper, Mary Cassatt, Georgia O’Keefe, and Robert Rauschenberg. For lunch, take a very short drive over to Casesse’s MVR, one of the most popular restaurants in the Mahoning Valley. While you wait for a (massive) plate of cavatelli, or any of the other old school Italian dishes, look around at all of the Youngstown sports memorabilia, from the years the YSU Penguins won four national championships under Coach Jim Tressel (just before he went on to coach for Ohio State) and boxing greats, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini and Kelly Pavlik. Take your to-go box and head to Mill Creek Park, the second largest metro park in the United States. With over 4,400 acres for you to explore, its easy to spend an entire day here out on the hiking trails, paddling around Lake Glacier, or simply relaxing and enjoying nature. You might even happen upon a wedding in any area of the park, especially in the gorgeous Fellows Riverside Gardens and its visitor’s center. As the sun sets, head back into town for dinner and drinks at the Lemon Grove, part bar and restaurant, part performance venue, and part art gallery. Almost every night of the week, you can catch live music, poetry readings, or events like trivia games or karaoke at this lively downtown establishment. Don’t forget to check the schedules for the Dana School of Music and the Department of Theater and Dance at YSU, bringing top notch vocal, symphonic, and theatrical performances to the valley. 

Bonus Youngstown Sites
Charlie Staples’ Original Bar-B-Cue
Mahoning Valley Scrappers Baseball
The World’s Largest Pair of Drum Sticks, in honor of Warren native Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters 
Oakland Center for the Arts

Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio

Geneva on the Lake has become one of my favorite weekend getaways for two simple reasons: there’s a beach and the wine is plentiful and delicious. The beach is on the shores of Lake Erie, and though I don’t think I would take a dive into it, it is quite beautiful to look at. Start your day at Geneva State Park, and don’t forget to pack your towels, sunscreen, and a good book. Bring a picnic lunch, too, and soak up the sun watching the waves coming in from the lake. After relaxing at the beach for a few hours, head over to Lake Road for food, drinks, and entertainment. For family fun, stop at the Adventure Zone for mini-golf, bumper boats, and go-carts. You can also rent bikes, golf carts, and surrey limos. To sample some of the area’s best vino, grab a map and choose your destinations. I recommend Ferrante Winery, Chalet Debonne Vineyard, and The Lakehouse Inn & Winery.  In the evening, park your car along the strand and grab a bite to eat at one of the many food stands that line the road, or pop over to my personal favorite, The Old Firehouse Winery, for a breathtaking view of the lake and live music nightly. Don’t miss their Ferris wheel and the wine slushies! Find your favorite wine and bring a bottle or two home to enjoy for the rest of the summer.

Bonus Geneva-on-the-Lake Sites
Eddie’s Arcade (on Lake Road)

Laurello Vineyards
Old Mill Winery

Cleveland, Ohio

While you could easily visit their amazing visitor’s page, I thought I would highlight some of my favorite things to do while in Cleveland. Since Brian and I love going to zoos, the first place I would go is the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo & Aquarium, featuring The Rainforest and the new African Elephant Crossing. It doesn’t matter how many times or how many different zoos I go to, I’ll always take pictures of the penguins and the bears. They’re just too cute. After a hot morning and afternoon wandering around the zoo, head over to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, a uniquely “Cleveland” experience. Nowhere else in the world can you find such an expansive collection of rock n’ roll memorabilia and learn so much about the music and it’s roots. See tour costumes, handwritten lyrics, and other belongings of your favorite musicians and watch films featuring all of the inductees. In the evening, find dinner and drinks in the East 4th Street entertainment district. I prefer the House of Blues for dinner — their cornbread is nothing short of incredible — but there are plenty of great little restaurants in the area, including Flannery’s Pub and the Corner Alley Bar & Grill.

Bonus Cleveland Sites
The Christmas Story House
CLE Clothing, Co. <– Stop here! The shirts are brilliant!
West Side Market
Great Lakes Brewing Company

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Ok, so this one isn’t necessarily in Ohio, but I live within 45 minutes of Pittsburgh, hence why I’ve always been a Steelers fan over the Browns. Recently, the city appeared as part of Gotham City in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, and I won’t pretend that I didn’t get more than a little excited to see Bill Cowher’s face on the sidelines during the Heinz Field scene. I must insist that you take the Fort Pitt tunnel entrance into the city. There’s no other way to arrive, as Pittsburgh truly is the only city with an entrance, and it blows me away every time. Start at the Phipps Conservatory and immerse yourself in the beautiful botanical wonderland, featuring art glass hand-blown by Dave Chihuly. For lunch, make your way over to Oakland and stop in at Primanti Bros. for one of their famous sandwiches.  Take in the architecture of the University of Pittsburgh and other universities in the area as you head to the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History. Admission gives you access to Dinosaurs in Their Time, the Hall of Ancient Egypt, Monet’s “Water Lilies,” the stunning Hall of Architecture (can you sense a pattern here?). Cross the river to Station Square for dinner at Bar Louie, and at sunset, take the Duquesne Incline to the observation deck for the most beautiful view of Pittsburgh.

Bonus Pittsburgh Sites
Warhol Museum
Carnegie Science Center, IMAX, Laser Shows, and USS Requin
The Mattress Factory Art Museum
Pittsburgh Public Theater <– Always check for Student ID discounts!

While I could go on for days about the cool things to do in Pittsburgh, I really recommend checking out this link for lots of free ways to explore the city. Let me know if you’d like more ideas about where to go!

Locals, did I miss anything? Have you been to any of these places? Add your must-see attractions in the comments, or give me the daycation of your city!