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I like to Christmas shop early in the season. I wait for the Christmas decorations to go up but like to be finished with my shopping list before the post Thanksgiving frenzy begins. It’s not that I don’t shop in December. But I find shopping in December to be a lot more fun if I can browse the holiday sales and scenery at my leisure and without a shopping list dogging my thoughts and determining where I go and what I look at.
The weekend before Thanksgiving seemed like as good a time as any to get the holiday chores wrapped up while having some fun at the same time. And so, I, along with my daughter, Amy, and my sister, Julie, headed off for a girl’s weekend of Christmas shopping and sightseeing in our state capital, Columbus Ohio.
Anytime during the holiday season is a great time for a weekend trip. Stores hotels, city streets are all decked out in their seasonal finery. Everyone you meet is just a little bit nicer. There seem to be more smiles. I love browsing the gift shops that this time of year are filled with Christmas decor. I take some of it home. What I leave behind often has given me a multitude of ideas for making things myself.
It was a three hour drive from our homes in northeast Ohio to Columbus. We arrived at the Morgan House (5300 Glick Road, Dublin Ohio 43017; www.morganhse.com) at around noon on a Friday.
The Morgan House is a charming cabin structure built from the logs of a dismantled civil war home. The original structure has been greatly expanded to 18,000 square feet, and now includes large areas of restaurant tables plus a multi-floor gift shop of exposed beams and bare wood, built to fit the rustic look and feel of the original home. This is no place for a wheelchair and not a place to bring small children. Multiple stairs and steps lead from one shop section to the next. The gift shop is so packed with merchandise that getting around the narrow pathways becomes a challenge, especially on crowded days. We needed to watch our feet so as not to step on items displayed on the floor. We held our handbags tight to our bodies so that they didn’t accidentally knock over table displays.
All that being said, the gift shop was AMAZING. We had an hour wait for a restaurant table but that became no problem as we spent our hour browsing. In mid-November it was loaded with Christmas merchandise– ornaments, home décor, cards, housewares, and so much more. There was a Vera Bradley section, plus beautiful woven apparel, jewelry, candles, bath and body, dishes, stationary and cards, toys, baby gift items… all surrounded by holiday sparkle. It was a fantastic selection put together by someone who obviously knows what they are doing. It is one of those places, so overwhelming that each time you walk through a section you see things you hadn’t seen the first time. An hour wasn’t nearly enough time to take it all in.
But an hour later we were back to the restaurant side of the building where two large rooms were filled with seating. Our name was called right on schedule and we were led to a table in the back room near the windows. I saw a few men while we were here. But a very few. Every table in the restaurant was filled with women.
Baker’s Garden Center and Gift Shop was just a stone’s throw from the Morgan House. In mid-November Baker’s didn’t have much in the way of plants or gardening supplies but the entire building was filled with Christmas. Displays of ornaments and home decor kept us browsing for over an hour. I bought a crocheted hat with a pretty crocheted and beaded flower. Mostly, I came away with lots of decorating ideas and a plan to build outdoor reindeer out of logs.
After checking into the nearby La Quinta, we drove to Easton Town Square, a large outdoor shopping mall, where the annual Christmas lighting ceremony and parade were set to begin at 6 PM. Parking was easy in one of the free garages. At the information booth we were given a map and a book filled with coupons. We browsed shops and fought our way down crowded sidewalks where people watched multi-storied balloons parading down the street. People waited for the lighting of the Christmas tree in one of the many pedestrian squares. The map was a necessity. The mall was huge with multiple streets and sections. We returned to our car and drove to our choice of dinner spots– Ted’s Montana Grill– where we found metered parking along the street.
The next morning we drove though spitting snow to the Franklin Park Conservatory. It was the first day of their “Merry and Bright” Christmas display. I have been to a number of botanical gardens throughout the country. Most of them are fantastic places where I end up spending multiple hours. My daughter and sister however, had never visited a botanical garden and I was hoping this first introduction would be fabulous despite knowing our daytime visit would exclude the viewing of Christmas lights. I had high expectations and while I enjoyed the plantings in the different habitats, I found the Christmas displays to be disappointing and unimaginative. An evening visit, when the lights would have been visible, might have been better.
A quick visit German village, saw us browsing the Golden Hobby Shop and the Book Loft before driving into Dublin to have lunch at the Dublin Tavern. This was one of our best meals of the weekend. The Irish pub menu had lots of selections and we enjoyed corned beef, fish and chips, and shepherd’s pie. Everything we ordered was excellent. For dessert I ordered a slice of carrot cake. It was the first truly well-made homemade dessert that I’ve had in a restaurant in ages.
Our favorite stop of the weekend was our late afternoon and evening at the Columbus Zoo. It was cold and blustery and following the 70° day we had had the day before, the three of us were not prepared for the sudden change in weather. We bought our tickets and made our first stop at the gift shop where we purchased hats, gloves and scarves.
The animals did not seem to mind the cold. In fact, they were all especially active. We saw a polar bear, a pack of wolves, Santa’s reindeer, two large cats, and a tiger cub who was as interested in watching us as we were in watching him. The brown bear enclosure was especially well designed. Standing in front of a large window we looked into the bears cave where a huge brown bear was sleeping soundly right in front of us. Instead of standing on the outside looking in, the viewing window was designed to make it seem as if onlookers are inside the cave with the bear. It was a unique and wonderful point of view.
Throughout the park Christmas lights had been strung and as it got darker more and more lights began to twinkle on. Thousands of Christmas lights. Millions of Christmas lights. After dark, a light show surrounding the lake set the flashing, color changing scene to music. With huge snow flakes swirling down from the sky, it was quite the Christmas Wonderland.
Sunday morning we checked out of our hotel for our final day of “girls weekend.” We began the drive toward home stopping along the way in Mansfield at a place called the Blueberry Patch. This blueberry farm is a winery, bakery, café, and a nice gift shop. Even though blueberry season is long over, the business continues to operate year-round. We had a quick lunch and checked out the gift shop before driving on to Cleveland for the annual “Christmas Connection” show at the IX Center.
At Cleveland’s IX Center there was a $10 charge for parking. Admission tickets were $12.99. The entrance filled with scenes from Christmas movies was promising but short lived. The advertising for this show said that there would be 600 booths of “crafts and unique gifts.” Instead, there were 600 booths of uninspiring, mass–produced Chinese imports trying to pass themselves off as crafts and unique gifts. We walked up and down the aisles trying to find a real craft. We found one woman who made dishtowels with crocheted tops. We found one woman crocheting scarves. But for the most part, table after table and row after row, vendors were selling things like Tupperware, reproduction tin signs, dog magnets, cat mugs, clothing, leather wallets, toys, bath and body products, and the like. Any of which we could have purchased at our local WalMart. What I didn’t see was anything that said Christmas. Oh, there were a few cheesy, plastic ornaments but none that anyone but a six year old would find attractive. No trees. No lights. No paper mache Santas or lighted lawn reindeer. To call the event a “Christmas Connection” was midleading. It wasn’t a Christmas Connection. It NEEDED a Christmas Connection. Chalk that one up to “lesson learned.” We’ll know to save our money next year and find a “real” craft show instead.
Columbus is a fun place to celebrate the season and do some shopping. Take a weekend or just a day and do some shopping in Ohio. And don’t miss the zoo!