Aug 14, 2017

Great small museums in Upstate New York

I love small museums especially if they deal with only one topic, that way I can conquer it in an hour or two and remember what it was all about.  Here are eight small museums in close proximity to Central New York.  Great summer day trips.  Call the museum first because many rely on volunteers so are only open a few days a week but will often open upon request. 

1. Canal times: The Syracuse museum is located in the 1850 building and is the only weighlock building left from the Erie Canal days.  It is where canal boats where weighed and a toll levied. It operated 24-hours a day during the canal’s existence.  There is a full-size canal boat, a great introductory video, and many other displays dealing depicting Syracuse during the canal times.
2. The birth of the salt potato: In the 1800s workers at the salt plant in Liverpool on Onondaga Lake cooked their luncheon potatoes in the boiling salt vats creating the famous Central New York salt potatoes. The Salt Museum follows the salt industry from the salt springs to the mid-1840s when it was the nation's leading producer of salt.
3. America’s most famous dessert: "There's Always Room for
Jell-O" was the slogan when well-groomed salesmen went house to house in “spanking rigs, drawn by beautiful horses” to promote Jell-O. Follow the history of the fun dessert that jiggles, wiggles, and makes one giggle at the Jell-O Museum in LeRoy. You will get a complimentary box of Jell-O.
4. The birthplace of Memorial Day: In 1865 when a druggist in Waterloo suggested honoring Civil War heroes by decorating their graves it gave birth to Memorial Day. The National Memorial Day Museum’s Mourning Room sets the tone for the seriousness of the museum. The Civil War Room chronicles how the horrors of the war with its high numbers of casualties led to the creation of Memorial Day. 
5. A floating National Historic Landmark: A veteran of the
WWII Normandy Invasion, the restored Army LT-5 tugboat is believed to be the only remaining fully operational vessel of its kind. Climb aboard the LT-5 then tour Oswego’s H. Lee White Marine Museum with displays of nautical artifacts from the 18th through the 20th centuries.  On display is the large telescope that was once housed in the observatory on the Sheppard estate in New Haven.
6. Built for speed: The Antique Boat Museum in Clayton features The Quest for Speed exhibit in the Gold Cup Building. The exhibition showcases the history of boat racing, from the outstanding Gold Cup and Harmsworth Trophy winner, Dixie II, to record setting hydroplanes and modified Packard and Liberty airplane engines. The museum also offers boat rides along with boat building and restoration courses. 
7. Starr Clark Tin Shop and Underground Railroad
Museum:  The Mexico Museum is housed in what was once a tin shop that was an important stop on the Underground Railroad for it was here that plans were made to transport runaway slaves safely to Canada.  The most famous was Jerry McHenry.  
8. Little Red Schoolhouse:  The museum in Sterling has many displays including a typical one-room schoolhouse display but it is a great place for railroad buffs.  Adjacent to the museum is Sterling Heritage Park where they have added a vintage caboose and riding the pump car is fun for all. 

Aug 7, 2017

Oswego's Harborfest

Harborfest may be over for 2017 but I am already thinking about Harborfest 2018. This year marks the 30th anniversary of what is one of the biggest events in New York State. The yearly event is quite amazing with 50 plus musical acts, a midway, special activities for children, vendors of all kinds, food
galore, and, of course the Grucci fireworks. If I am not mistaken John and I went to the very first fireworks which were sponsored by J. A. Fitzpatrick Nuclear Power Plant. This was the first year in a long time that John and I have gone to Harborfest.  We love the fireworks but hate to deal with the traffic. Also, spending a day walking around can be tiring.  This year we tried something different.  We booked a room at the Captain’s Quarters which is a Best Western Plus property.  We are, of course, Best Western customer loyalty members. We booked it a year ago and requested a room with a balcony facing the water.  

Our room was perfect.  The room was large with a king bed and
sofa along with a large balcony that looked out toward Lake Ontario. After we checked in we walked along the River Front East Side where there were a lot of craft vendors.  The vendors were interesting and varied but I wondered how many people bought dining room tables at Harborfest.  It
seemed like an unlikely vendor for this event.  I have to admit my two favorites were the Rum Cake and fudge vendors.  Fudge is always yummy but the Rum Cake was awesome.  We bought a whole one.  Rum Cake is a great idea any time of the day. I was impressed with the ladies at the Ice Cream for Peace, a local vendor from Parish. I hope they are successful. 


The weather was perfect as we walked along the break wall
admiring the watercrafts and chatting with some of the owners. We sat on the break wall and listened to the bands playing on the other side of the river - perfect. We had planned to watch the water skiers but on Saturday the river was rough; however they did ski on Sunday when the waters were perfectly calm.

We had a late lunch at Alex on the Water with leftovers to take back to the room for later.  It was just a short walk to the trolley stops with easy access to all the venues plus it was just a short walk to Fort Ontario and West Side Park. We could hear the boom of the cannons from the fort.  I hope they offer helicopter rides next year. We couldn’t quite fit it in this year.  Maybe next year.  August 11 is the first day the Best Western Captain’s Quarters will be taking reservations for 2018.   
  
Next time I will remember to pack my bathing suit; the hotel’s pool
and hot tub were enticing.   In the evening we went to the bar at Alex’s by the water, bought two glasses of wine and returned to our room. The weather was beautiful so we warmed our take away food in the room’s microwave and settled on our balcony to watch the fireworks along with our glass of wine and rum cake for dessert.   Our view of the fireworks was perfect. I loved how they reflected on the water.  To my way of thinking it is the only way to do Harborfest.

Jul 31, 2017

Thinking about winter getaways

Image result for all nippon airways imagesIt is never too early to start planning your winter getaway especially if you plan travel during the holidays or school breaks. Travel gurus will say the best time to book air tickets is on Tuesday and the cheapest days to fly are mid-week, and for U.S. tickets they suggest start looking three months in advance and five months ahead of time for international tickets. I don’t think it is ever too soon to start looking. We already have our tickets for December. When I am booking air tickets I have a figure
in mind and when I find something reasonable I buy and never check again. I usually by our tickets to Asia in May, try to fly midweek, and avoid holidays if I can. If you are flying internationally check when the country you are visiting have holidays; for example, in Asia Chinese New Year is a very busy time. Sorry to say this but I have always found the best international air deals to be with foreign carriers and they offer better service. We have found it financially beneficial to take the train to NYC and a taxi to JFK because we often get great deals on ANA (All Nippon Airline) which is one of the top five best airlines. 

Often some of the least expensive flights are to Aruba, Bonaire, and
Santo Domingo.  The ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao) are out the hurricane belt and great destinations.  Think out of the box – try something different. I have seen great deals to places in Nicaragua and Columbia. 

If you are thinking of buying a time share, condo or even a house in some sunny location – do the math first.  Do you want to have to deal with two properties – taxes, utilities, maintenance and being locked into one destination? As strange as it sounds it does not cost us any more to winter in SE Asia than staying in snow country.  We often stay at the same place for a couple weeks – we love Ngapali Beach in Myanmar but we also like to try something new.  Last year we really enjoyed our stay at
the Holiday Inn Resort in Penang, Malaysia. We are planning to go there again this winter.  It always pays to join an airline’s or hotel’s customer loyalty program. We have an Intercontinental Hotels (think Holiday Inns) credit card where we can get and use points.  This coming winter we are considering the Holiday Inn Resort in Batam, Indonesia – room with breakfast is $79. The hotel has three outdoor pools and one indoor swimming pool, but alas it is not on the beach but with three pools we might not care.  There are always condos, apartments, and houses to rent but I don’t want to do the cooking and cleaning.  If I wanted to do that I could stay home.

If you are thinking of places in the U.S. check out St. George Beach south of Tallahassee – there are a lot of places to rent, golf courses and an amazing beach. Instead of pricey Hilton Head consider nearby Fripps Island which is lovely. If it is not a beach you are interested in there are great places in Arizona
like Tucson. Get a feeling for the Old West in Bisbee and we loved the woods around Prescott. Looking for something artsy? Check out unique Arcosanti. There is someplace for everyone this winter. 

Jul 25, 2017

Making Vietnamese Spring Rolls

I am often asked what my favorite ethnic food is.  I’d have to say
Vietnamese. It has a lot of fresh veggies and is never too spicy hot. My all-time favorite breakfast is pho, a Vietnamese soup served for breakfast and all day long.   The light broth is full of flavor. On my last trip to Vietnam I learned about some other traditional foods on Pandaw’s Red River/Halong Bay cruise. 

I really enjoyed visiting villages and learning about the local food.  In a village in Hai Duong province villagers were making Green Bean Cake, a specialty food of the area, and wrapping them up for sale. The sugar-cube size cake is made of green beans, sugar, vegetable oil, essence of coconut, and
grapefruit flower. Years ago Emperor Bao Dai visited the province and was offered the green bean cake to enjoy with his green tea. He liked the flavor so much he allowed the Golden Dragon, a symbol of royal power, to be used on the package. I should have tried the green bean cake with some green tea because I found it too dry and with very little flavor. 

In Ninh Giang I tried Banh Gai, sticky rice cakes, made from glutinous rice flower, gai leaf, sugar, mung beans, and wrapped in a banana leaf. I found this much more palatable.  Rice noodles are common part of many Vietnamese recipes. In one village I saw rows of rice noodles hung out to dry.

An onboard event included how to make Vietnamese spring rolls.
The spring rolls make an excellent summer treat that is easy and healthy.  All the guests got to try making their own spring roll. Assembling the ingredients was easy but I need a little more practice to make my spring roll look as neat and as perfect as Chef Rotha’s.  The spring rolls are healthy and a variety of ingredients can be used. Chef Rotha, the cold chef, suggested using two rice papers to prevent the ingredients from breaking through. The rolls can be dipped in a variety of sauces but Chef Rotha was Cambodian and shared the recipe for his Khmer dipping sauce.

Vietnamese Spring Rolls
14 round rice paper wrappers 
Several sprigs of fresh mint leaves
7 oz chicken, cooked, cut in 4 inch long, one-half inch wide strips (cooked shrimp, peeled, and sliced in half lengthwise can also be used) 
7 lettuce leaves
1 cup cooked rice vermicelli, cold
1 carrot, julienned
1 cup fresh bean sprouts

Fill a large bowl with warm water. Dip two rice papers (or one) in water for about 1 minute, until soft. Lay the rice papers on wax paper. Start layering, making sure to keep the ingredients an inch from the sides.  Place four mint leaves on the rice paper. Add 2 or 3 pieces of chicken. Top with a lettuce leaf, a small portion of vermicelli, several pieces of carrots, and then several bean sprouts Add additional mint leaves (or cilantro). To roll, fold sides inward, the tightly roll the rice paper. 

Khmer dipping sauce
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 medium red chilies, seeded and minced
2 tbsp lime or lemon juice
1 tsp sugar
1cup water
3 tbsps fish sauce
3 tsp ground peanuts

Blend garlic, chilies, juice, sugar and water. Add the fish sauce and stir. Stir in the ground peanuts. Recipe can be adjusted to taste by adding more water and/or fish sauce or chilies.
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Jul 17, 2017

Touring the Oswego Lighthouse

The Oswego Lighthouse, the icon of the city of Oswego, has
basically been off limits to visitors until now.  The break wall that leads to the lighthouse is too dangerous to negotiate and, most likely, if reached by private boat the lighthouse will be closed.  H. Lee White Maritime Museum now runs a tourist boat to the lighthouse twice a week for a mere $20 and includes admission to the H. Lee White Maritime Museum.   

John and I have been to the museum several times but each time is different.  They have reconfigured the entrance. We had never seen the telescope that was at one time on the massive Sheppard Estate in New Haven, NY. It is now on display at the museum.  I like the display of the captain’s quarters and the ship’s chandlery which was basically a ship’s store.  The original
Oswego Chandlery (circa 1829) is still standing. It is where Coleman’s Restaurant used to be. There are also three vessels of interest: The USAT LT-5, a tug that has been designated as a National Historic Landmark; Derrick Boat 8, which was used to maintain the canals; and, the Eleanor D, a commercial fishing vessel. 

We boarded a pontoon boat where Oswego Expeditions has their kayaks. The boat ride gave me another perspective of the harbor. When we arrived at the lighthouse volunteer guides were waiting for us and were very informative. The lighthouse replaced an existing lighthouse that was closer to the shore.  The current lighthouse was built as part of an extensive harbor
enlargement project that involved the construction of storage elevators by the New York State Barge Canal, and new breakwaters with the West Pierhead lighthouse at the new entrance to the harbor. The Lighthouse is at the end of the stone breakwater and one-half mile out into Lake Ontario. It required special engineering to withstand the high winds and destructive ice common to the Lake.  The walls and window shutters are metal as evidenced by the rivets. The lighthouse is still active but is no longer manned.  The father of one of the guides was one of the lighthouse keepers. 

One level has the living quarters with a kitchen, bed room, and radio room. Before there was ship-to-shore communication the lighthouse keeper would blow the fog horn and check the time it took for a responding sound.  Based on the time and the distance sound travels he would know how far away the vessel was. Two men were on duty at the lighthouse, they would stay for two days and then return to shore for one day off. They were given free housing in the city.  I thought it might be a bit boring but the guide assured me that they had a lot of work to do maintaining the lighthouse. 

On another floor, the tower signal room, there is information about the fog horn signals and the light plus a stairway to the very top where the view is spectacular.  I was told that it was about one mile from the lighthouse to the bridge.  The steeple of St. Mary’s church is clearly visible. I was surprised at how the grassy earthworks camouflage Fort Ontario.

The Oswego Lighthouse is not handicap accessible; however, the stairs are easy to negotiate. Put an  Oswego Lighthouse tour on your summer to-do list. The H. Lee White Museum offers tours on Friday and Saturdays.

Jul 10, 2017

There is a lot to do in Fort Robinson, NE

 Crazy Horse’s real name was “His-horse-is-crazy.” He was the leader of the Oglala Lakotas and led a group of like-minded Native Americans in a fight against the United States government protesting the government’s encroachments on their land and the effect it was having on the culture of the Lakota people. He and his followers finally surrendered to U.S. troops and Crazy Horse was imprisoned at Fort Robinson. On September 5, 1877 Crazy Horse was bayoneted to death by a guard who said he was trying to escape. 

Crazy Horse is just one of the unique stories of Fort Robinson which is located near Crawford, Nebraska. When I think of a fort I envision a massive stone or wooden fort encircled by a moat.  Fort Robinson is not like that.  Today it is a destination where people can stay, dine, tour, enjoy sports, and even go to a Broadway-like production. The Visitors Center is in a 1909 red brick building with white pillars looking a bit like a southern estate mansion but was actually the men’s barracks.   

The fort’s museum is fascinating.  There are Native American artifacts but even more interesting to me were the displays dealing with the African American cavalry units. The 9th Cavalry was one of the U.S. Army’s regiments set aside for black enlisted men. They
participated in numerous frontier campaigns plus they fought alongside of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in the attack on San Juan Hill, Cuba. Nicknamed “Buffalo Soldiers,” besides fighting while serving at Fort Robinson they captured horse and cattle thieves, built roads, and protected the U.S. mail, stagecoaches and wagon trains. 

In 1942 Fort Robinson became a War Dog Training Center. Nearly
5,000 dogs, half of all the dogs used by the army in WW II, were trained at the center as guard, scout, messenger, and sled dogs. The training took about 8 to 12 weeks. The center was deactivated n 1946.

The museum also has a display dealing with the time during WW II when the fort became the temporary home of about 3000 POWs.  They helped maintain the fort, cared for the animals, and did agricultural work.  With so many American men off fighting the war there was a
labor shortage. POWs were given postcards to mail home telling their family where they were and that they were in good health. One interesting display shows POW Dietrich Kohl in his uniform before he donated it to the museum in 1996. 
I wish I had time to go tubing on the Niobrara River and then attend the Post Playhouse’s production of “Mama Mia.”  There is never enough time to do everything and there is always so much to see.  

Nearby the fort John and I visited the Fur Trading Museum. There is always a lot written about those who settled the West but not so much is written about the people who paved the way for them – the fur trappers. The trappers explored the area and made contact with the Native American. The museum depicts the time “...when skins were money.” Fur trading is America’s oldest business and made John Jacob Astor America’s first
millionaire. Outdoor displays included a trading post and one display showed how 10 tanned buffalo hides were compressed into 2 by 3-foot bales for easier shipping.

Life on the frontier was not easy.  I wonder how I would have fared when faced with such hardships. 

Jul 3, 2017

Western Nebraska - Carhenge and High Plains Homestead

Heading south on Route 89 toward Alliance in Western Nebraska, what before my wondering eyes should appear? Carhenge rising out of the wheat fields! Carhenge is an assemblage of cars to look like Stonehenge built to scale and painted gray.  Can’t make it to Stonehenge in England for the solar eclipse then consider Carhenge. On August 21 at 11:49 (MT) Carhenge will be in the direct path of the total solar Eclipse. 

I always wonder how people come up with such unique ideas. The attraction is free so it wasn’t for money; actually, it must have been an expensive undertaking. It seems Jim Reinders had once lived in England and studied Stonehenge.  In what must have been an unique family get-together upon the death of Reinders’ father in 1982, relatives decided to build a memorial to him. Five years later 35 friends and relative gather to build the memorial which they dedicated at the June 1987 summer solstice

with champagne, poetry songs and a play written by the family. Thirty-eight vintage cars were place in a 96-foot circle, some upright in pits five feet deep and others welded together to form the circle, the sprayed it gray, the color of Stonehenge. The idea may not have been original as there used to be Autohenge in Oshawa,
Canada. It was an advertising gimmick and has been removed but there are also other “henge” replicas but none as famous as Carhenge. The three foreign cars that were part of the original were replaced with models from Detroit. On a hill above Carhenge is the Ford Seasons, four Ford cars painted to suggest the Nebraska landscape’s seasonal changes as the wheat goes from green in the spring to white in winter. At first local citizens wanted that “junkyard” removed now they proudly advertise “Alliance: Home of Carhenge.” 


Anyone considering visiting Carhenge, especially for the total eclipse should consider staying at High Plains Homestead, another local creation.  Mike Kesselring and his family have rescued homestead-era buildings creating a typical homestead village with a general store, tavern, accommodations, blacksmith shop, a jail, a one-room
homestead house, and more are in the works.  Visitors can tie up their horse for the night and/or just stop by for one of their “cowboy” cooked meals. Mike cooked us an awesome meal. You have to look for it but there is also a swimming pool surrounded by a high wooded fence so it doesn’t intrude on the ambiance of the place. There is even internet. Some
of the quaint but rustic rooms are aptly named (and decorated) “Cowboy” and “Saloon Girl.” They were all occupied so we stayed in the cabin with two bedrooms, kitchen, washer and dryer, and more.  I would have liked to stay longer. John and I enjoyed the evening sunset, saying goodnight to the horses and buffalos, and gazing at a zillion stars.  In the morning we went to Toadstool Park, named for the unique
rock formations, where a group of ranchers prepare a “cowboy” cookout breakfast. They cooked while we walked out to look at the unique rock formations. The local ranchers have formed nebraskahighcountry.com to promote the area, their accommodations, and provide a variety of experiences such as a trail ride, fossil hunting, and hiking.  


People driving through NW Nebraska often say “there’s nothing there.” Looks are deceiving.  There is a lot to see and do but it is necessary to get off the highway.