Sep 2, 2015

MidLakes day trip on the Erie Canal

I think everyone has at least one thing that is a must-do during the
summer.  For me it is spending time on the Erie Canal away from the hustle and bustle of the everyday world. This year I took the MidLakes Navigation’s Emitta II from Dutchman’s Landing to Cross Lake.  The name Dutchman’s Landing intrigues me. Captain Dan Wiles explained that before MidLakes Navigation bought the land there was a bar there of the same name. It is no longer there.  I can’t help but wonder if the name derived from the time – before the canal system - when New York State was New Netherlands and the Dutch traveled the waterways of New York in search of furs and other tradable commodities. 

Captain Dan provided just enough narration to keep the ride interesting but not so much that I couldn’t just ride and day dream of the time when the canal was the main travel road of New York. At one time it was America’s Super Highway – it was the way West. I was surprised that there wasn’t more activity on the canal. It was a Saturday and the weather was ideal with just a hint of fall colors on some trees. I only saw a few pleasure boats and a couple fishermen. At one time the canal was extremely busy with some boats providing crowded sleeping conditions for those making the multi-day trip.  Cargo boats had living quarters for the captain and his family.  Some children were born and raised on a canal boat.  The ports were booming and I would assume that living along the canal was not the most desirable place to live.  Today there are some camps along the canal but many of them have been replaced with beautiful homes. 

In the canal heydays travelers never saw the beautiful mute swans.
They may add to serene ambiance but they are an invasive species. The mute swans are larger and more offensive than native waterfowl and will drive off and even kill native birds plus they eat up to 10 pounds of aquatic vegetation daily.  Too bad they don’t eat the water chestnut, another invasive species native to Europe that doesn’t have any natural enemies here. Some homeowners have mats of water chestnuts so dense that they have to clear a path through the water so they can get to their docks.  On the happy side I saw a couple of bald eagles and great blue herons which are making a great comeback. 

I never get tired of locking through. On the way to Cross Lake the Emita II locked through Lock 24 in Baldwinsville.  It is the second busiest lock on the canal.  On the way to Cross Lake we traveled along the canalized Seneca River and through Jack’s Reef, a short cut. The waterfront of Baldwinsville is a great example of canal towns being revitalized. According to Captain Dan tourism along the canal generates $350 million and over $3 billion in non-touristic revenue. It was another great day on the canal.

Midlakes Navigation has a variety of day trips lasting from one-hour to five-hours.  A gift of tickets would be great for any occasion and I think it is a must-do when Central New Yorker’s are hosting out of the town guests.  The canal is historically and uniquely Central New York.

Aug 24, 2015

Ganondagan - The Seneca homeland

Before the Europeans arrived in what is now called New York State, the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy ruled the area. They formed a confederacy comprised of the Mohawks, Onondagas, Oneidas, Cayugas, Senecas, and Tuscaroras. By the way, Haudenosaunee is the correct way to refer to the Iroquois.  The word Iroquois is an English corruption of a French corruption of an Algonquian word that was used as an insult.  

John and I exited the NYS Thruway at Victor and visited Ganondagan, the site of a village where the Senecas lived for 300 years ago. At one time an estimated 4,500 Haudenosaunee lived there. It is now a state historic site.  The Senecas were the “Keeper of the Western Door.” There is a small display of artifacts in the Visitor Center but one of the most interesting
displays is the full-size replica of the 17th century Seneca longhouse. Inside there are many items that would have been typically found in a longhouse – corn husk mats, tools, pots, and other necessary items for everyday life. There may have been 20 or so people
living in the longhouse – all related through the female side of the family.  There are long benches the length of the longhouse that were used for sleeping and storage. Food had to be gathered during the growing season and stored for the winter. In the center there were fires that were used for cooking above which were air holes to let out the smoke. 

The name “Ganondagan” means “Town of Peace,” and they believed that the “Mother of Nations” is buried there.  What seems like an idyllic life in harmony with nature was often broken by periods of violence. In 1687, the French destroy the village during a campaign aimed at eliminating the Seneca Nation.  In Montreal the French
assembled an army of 1,000 Canadian militia, 832 French regulars, and a contingent of Mohawk and Algonquin launched their attack from Kingston.  The army of 3000 was double the number of the Seneca warriors. There is a reason the Haudenosaunee villages were surrounded by wooden palisades – for protection. Besides the wars there were times when nature must have seemed like the enemy with freezing temperatures in the winter, not enough rain for their crops, and storms. 

Nature is and was the center of their existence. In front of the
Visitor Center is the Three Sisters Garden – corn, beans and squash. And near the long house is "The Creator's Garden" with a signboard that explains the Creation Story according to the Senecas.  
There are trails complete with interpretive signboards. One trail is the "Earth is out Mother" trail that explains the ethnobotanical plant world from the Seneca perspective. Another trail with red borders deals with the importance of the women in Seneca life. It was a matrilineal society. 

Americans everywhere owe a debt to the Haudenosaunee
Confederacy their democratic ideals served as an inspiration for the U.S. Constitution including the governmental concept of Balance of Power. The Seneca's matrilineal Society helped inspire the woman's rights movement. Their diet of natural foods is popular today as are many of the natural medicines they used to treat illnesses. In October 2015 they will be opening the state-of-the-art Seneca Art and Culture Center that will have a film explaining the Creation Story and galleries filled with unique artifacts, contemporary artwork, and a town model.  It is on my “to-do” list. 

Aug 17, 2015

Cooking Lechon

In 2008 John and I were on a tour in the Philippines.  One of our stops was on the island of Cebu where we stayed overnight at Plantation Bay Resort & Spa. I was impressed with their pools – eight of them, four of which are saltwater lagoons and four are freshwater pools – covering a total of six acres. I never forgot the pools so in March 2015 when we returned to the Philippines we booked a stay at Plantation Bay Resort.

The resort is designed to resemble an historic plantation village with a one-mile circular road that passes by the many plantation-style accommodation buildings, the spa, restaurants and activity areas. Riding the vintage horse and carriage around the property I spotted the chef cooking a whole pig near one of the pools.  The pig, called lechon, is served several times a week at Plantation Bay’s themed dinners. I returned to learn how it is prepared.  Later that day John and I enjoyed the evening’s Filipino-themed dinner with a great cultural show and lechon.

Black Lechon is unique to Cebu. Chef Mon, the sous chef, said that
Plantation Bay’s Black Lechon is the best and offered to challenge Anthony Bourdain to visit Plantation Bay and try it. Bourdain claimed Cebu Lechon was the best roast pig but ate at another Cebu restaurant.  Legend has it that Black Lechon was served to Magellan in 1521 when his voyage stopped in Cebu but most likely it originated with the local natives.
The name “lechon” is derived from the Spanish for “milk” but today in the Philippines it refers to the roasted suckling pig or colloquially to a chubby child. It is one of the national dishes of the Philippines and no celebration, fiesta, or family event is considered complete without lechon. It is especially popular at Christmastime.  You can wow your family and friends at your next big gathering by serving lechon.

1 suckling pig roasting-ready to cook (about 40 lbs – for 40 guests)
Salt and pepper as needed

Soy sauce as needed
2 onions sliced
6 bay leaves crushed
½ (half cup) sliced ginger
10-12 whole garlic gloves
1 tsp crushed peppercorns 
1 tsp salt
1 tsp white pepper
15 stalks of lemon grass
6 whole scallions
Trussing needle kit
1 can coconut milk
Spit (many farmers who sell suckling pigs have rotisseries for rent)
1 bag (25 lb) charcoal briquette (it doesn’t hurt to have a second bag on hand just in case.)

Put the pig on a spit. Tie feet together. Rinse pig inside and out. Use a paper towel to remove any excess water from the inside. Rub inside and out with salt and pepper. Rub soy sauce on skin. In a bowl mix onions, bay leaves, ginger, garlic, peppercorns, salt, and pepper. Stuff the belly with mixture. Using one of the leaves wrap it around the lemon grass and scallions bunched together to create a bundle. Place in the belly
on top of the mixture. Sew up the belly. Roast over live charcoal until crisp. Plan on at least one hour per 10 pounds. Brush frequently with coconut milk to keep skin from cracking and to get the black color. When cooking is complete remove the pig from spit and the stuffing from the belly and it is ready to carve.  The skin is edible. Serve with native sauce. Tip: Before cooking the pig can be prepared a day ahead and stored in a plastic bag.

Aug 10, 2015

Hill Cumorah where the Mormon religion was born

The Hill Cumorah Pageant is an amazing spectacular performed every summer on the hillside near Palmyra. It is an incredible light and sound show with special effects and hundreds of performers from all over the world.  The pageant is based on the Bible and Book of Mormon.

There is seating for 8,000 but some bring blankets and/or folding chairs. There is food for sale and transport for the handicap. One does not have to be a Mormon to enjoy the show even if some of the scenes may seem a bit mystifying. Before the grand procession of the actors at the beginning of the show some of the cast members in costume circulate in the audience offering great photo ops.  If one wants to discuss religions
or ask questions then they can but the cast members are not pushy trying to convert non-Mormons.  It would be wise for the non-Mormons to learn a little about the religion so as to better understand the scenes.  There are several Mormon sites in the area including the small log home in Waterloo that belonged to Peter Whitmer Sr., and where Joseph Smith Jr., Whitmer, and five other men formally organized the Church of Latter-Day Saints.

If you think that the founding of the Mormon religion was an isolated religious event occurring in New York State or in the United States at that time, then you are wrong.  During the early 19th century there were many religious revivals and new religious movements called The Second Great Awakening.  It was basically a time when there was a Protestant revival during which membership rose rapidly among Protestant
congregations. In central and western regions of NYS the religious fervor was so intense and widespread that region was referred to as the “burned-over district.” It was the time of the canal boom and professional and established clergy were scarce leaving room for evangelists to convert people to some of the established religions. Besides the Mormon religion other religious groups were formed including the Millerites and the Oneida Community. 

William Miller who lived in Low Hampton near the Vermont border preached that the Second Coming would occur October 22, 1844.  Millerism was extremely popular in western NYS. Some of the concepts can be found in the religious groups that sprang from the Millerites: The Adventists, Seven Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and International Bible Students.  

One of the most interesting spiritual groups formed around the Fox Sisters of Hydesville, Wayne County, New York. The three sisters conducted popular table-rapping séances whereby people could communicate with the dead. Another group, the Shakers, began in England and spread to American. They established their first communal farm in Western NY. When John and I were in Albany we detoured to Colonie, site of the first Shaker settlement in America.  The Watervliet Shaker Historic District has several buildings and the burial site of Mother Ann Lee, the leader of the group in the United States. Several of the revival groups tried to create utopia including the successful Oneida Society.  John and I toured the Oneida Community Mansion House where we learned more about attempts to create the perfect society under the leadership of John Humphrey Noyes who had interesting views on property ownership, gender roles, child-rearing, and concepts fostering the abandonment of the self for the good of the whole. It seems mankind was and still is searching to create the perfect world. 

Aug 3, 2015

The John Wells Pratt House in Fulton, New York

Even the most dedicated and compulsive travels often miss places
closes to home.  John and I have driven through Fulton for years and many times I often comment “I would like to see the Pratt House.” Finally, after all these years, I visited the John Wells Pratt House and I wasn’t disappointed. There are many interesting features and things to see. It is open Wednesday to Friday from 10 to 3 and on Saturday from 11 to 3. 

John Wells Pratt’s family was one of the earliest settlers in Fulton. Following the entrepreneurial spirit of earlier Pratts, John W. Pratt entered the shipping business at the age of 10 and it was where he made his fortune. He had an extensive boatbuilding business and transported products on his own boats between Albany and Oswego; in addition, he was also a successful farmer. In 1861 he was able to build the large two-story house in the Italianate style. It remained in the family until 1975. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Pratt residence is located on 177 South First Street in Fulton which in its day was a lovely residential street. Architecturally the house has several interesting features including several bay windows, a cupola with round arched windows, and a lovely Queen Anne style porch was added about 1880.  Upon entering take note of the original etched front door panels. They were ordered specifically for the house from Europe. The front staircase is typical of the era with a curve at the top that was referred to as a “coffin’s curve” making it easier to carry large pieces up and down the stairs. Off the entrance foyer there is a ladies’ and a gentlemen’s sitting room.  The circa 1826 dining room suite belonged to the Pratt family. 

The Music Room houses a pump organ that very well could have been played by the Pratt ladies as the most genteel women of the Victorian era played the piano or organ. Today the room houses changing displays.  During my visit I was intrigued by the display of miniatures. 

The kitchen is always a fascinating place especially for the youngsters who have never seen an apple peeler, an antique stove, an egg weigher, and other interesting items from a time gone by.  Looking at the dough bowl on the center work table I tried to imagine having to make all the bread my family needed. Nearby is a small display detailing “The Evolution of Lighting”
from candles to electric lights.  Most interesting and unique was the courting candle.  A young girl’s father could adjust the height of the candle depending on how long he wanted the suitor to stay. I think it could be considered a gage on how much the father approved of the beau. 

The upstairs is devoted to the history of Fulton detailing family life, farming, retail, manufacturing, recreation, and more.  There is a picture of the house that former First Lady Betty Ford lived in when her first husband was employed by Sealright.  Fulton had many businesses that have gone by the wayside including Sealright.  I was surprised to learn the L. C. Smith shotgun was manufactured in Fulton in the mid twentieth
century. While in Fulton check out the Lock 3 on the Oswego Canal for it was the canal that helped create the city of Fulton.

Jul 27, 2015

Traveling New York's Route 20

Everyone has heard of Route 66 but few know of historic U.S. Route 20.  It extends from Boston, Massachusetts to Newport, Oregon. Spanning 3,365 miles Route 20 is the longest road in the United States.  It roughly parallels Interstate 90. The more famous Route 66, called the Main Street of America, is 2,451 miles in length. New York and other states are promoting tourism along Route 20. I have chatted with people along the route in New York State and they admit that they are having a problem making people aware of the great things to see
along the way. Why, they wonder.  The remedy is simple.  Route 20 needs two things - a popular song and TV show.  Those are the reasons Route 66 is so well known.  Route 20 is life in the slow lane that goes through quaint villages, historic sites, with great scenery along the way and traverses Yellowstone National Park.  I would love to drive the entire route someday and visit Yellowstone, one of the places on my Bucket List.

John and I have driven several segments of Route 20 in New York. There are many quaint shops, restaurants and things to see just within a short diversion from Route 20. There are my favorite stops along the route; however, each is worthy of a day trip. New York State Department of Tourism and the Route 20 Association have brochures to help people plan their exploration of this historic byway. The brochure shows side trips from each location. 

Sharon Springs is an historic spa town that seems frozen in time but
the reality show, The Fabulous Beekman Boys, brought fame, and tourists, to the little town. The reality show followed the adventure of the city boys as they learned to become farmers. We visited their trendy store, Beekman 1802, where the product are locally made, some the result of their farming. They do most of their business on-line.  Across the street is the beautiful American Hotel built in 1847 and after being vacant for more than 30 years is now an excellent place to eat and sleep.  It didn’t hurt that Rachel Ray helped to promote it. Side trip: Canajoharie.

Cazenovia is a canal town that still has many buildings original to the Erie Canal era. The town is home to Cazenovia College and the Lorenzo State Historic Site The 1807 house with a great view of the lake was occupied by family members until 1968. There are guided tours and a self-guided walk through the beautiful gardens. Side trip: Chittenango and Canastota. 

Auburn, dubbed “History’s Hometown,” is one of the bigger places
along Route 20 and it is a favorite of ours because we enjoy the wonderful musical productions at Merry-go-Round Playhouse. There are many historic places to visit including the Seward House, Harriet Tubman’s home, and the beautiful Willard Memorial Chapel. Side trip: Skaneateles. 

Seneca Falls is another personal favorite.  It is the place that celebrates the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life” with a special museum and next to the museum is a unique museum called IDEA Center for the Voices of Humanity with a focus on leprosy. Don’t miss the Women’s Rights National Historic Park. John and I took the Midlake Cruise’s trip on the Seneca Canal.  It was a wonderful experience and one of our favorite canal trips. Side trip: Cayuga Lake Wine Trail.

Hit the road, explore, and enjoy.

Jul 21, 2015

Visiting the Akwesasne Cultural Center

Summer is the time to take a road trip for a day or two.  There are so many places in New York State that it is impossible to visit all the great sites.  We have been exploring the state for years and are still amazed at the new places we discover.  A good way to plan an adventure is to travel one of the state’s Scenic Byways. The Seaway Trail is a National Byway that extends from the Pennsylvania border to the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation which is part of the bi-nation Akwesasne Mohawk Reservation. 

It would take days to explore the entire length of the Seaway Trail so it is best to break it up into segments.  Recently John and I drove the Northeastern end of the Seaway Trail starting on Route 37 near Morristown.  That portion of Route 37 follows the St. Lawrence River. We stopped in Ogdensburg to visit the Remington Museum.  His sculptures of the American cowboys are easily recognized but before he began sculpting he painted scenes of the American West and other iconic American scenes such as the Charge on San Juan Hill.  

My main objective of the drive was to visit the Akwesasne
Cultural Center. I think the Iroquois contributions, influence and impact on the development of New York State and the United States is grossly under promoted.  In the 1300s the Iroquois created fortified villages along the St. Lawrence – protecting one’s borders is an age-old concept. Over the years the area grew and waned as the French and English battled over the area. In the mid-18th century people from a Catholic Mohawk village south of Montreal settled the area.  Today Akwesasne has about 12,000 residents.  The name “Akwesasne” means “Land where the Partridge Drums” referring to the wildlife in the area.

The Akwesasne Museum is located in the lower level of the library.  Park in the back of the library for easy access to the museum. One of the interesting exhibit deals with a popular sport that originated with the Iroquois – lacrosse. Lacrosse is still at the heart of Akwesasne life for they believe it is more than a sport. Their traditional belief is that it is a medicine game played in the “Sky World” to lift the mind of the “Master of Life” and can be played to heal an afflicted person.  Lacrosse tests the player’s strength, endurance, speed, and teamwork. At one time one village would play another to settle a dispute without resorting to war. One of the displays shows the different aspects of the game such as “Be tough but fair.”

There are several displays of basketry, for which the Akwesasne
are well known. For them it is more than a craft but a cultural process, a way of learning about the cycles of nature and the way to live in balance with the land. Lesser known is the fact that the Mohawks helped to construct countless skyscrapers and bridges in New York City and across the United States. There is an interesting video about the Mohawk iron workers who witnessed the 9/11 attack from their lofty perspective and then rushed to the site to help. 

We overnighted at the Awkesasne Casino Hotel where the room and food were great. They have a nice pool. We had a lovely drive home along Route 11 through the college towns of Potsdam and Canton.