Jul 25, 2016

Summer fun

It’s summer.  It’s hot.  Test your thrill factor. Get the adrenaline pumping and let the fun begin. Take a child, or a grandchild, or release the child within and head to one of New York States’ many amusement parks for thrills, chills, and spills. 
Seabreeze Amusement Park in Rochester, which opened in 1879, is the 4th oldest amusement park in the country. Those first visitors, even in their wildest imagination, could never envisioned Seabreeze’s The Helix. Take a friend, or go alone – if you dare!
From the top of the 45-foot high slide, alone or tandem, whoosh through the pipe on an inner tube to the giant fiberglass bowl and into the vortex. Then hop over to the Rabbit built in 1920 making it the third oldest operating coaster in the country. The wooden coaster has over 2000 feet of track with a 75-foot drop, plus exciting curves and dips before ending in a dark tunnel. The faint-of-heart will love the Lazy River as they relax on an inner tube and float over water bubblers and drift by cascading falls. 
Darien Lake offers a one-stop destination for the family including the Big Kahuna, a 700-foot long extreme four-person rafting adventure. Keep the scream factor going as you speed 70 mph on the Superman Ride of Steel, one of the tallest coasters in the Northeast. Check out their Performing Arts Center, hotel and campground. 

Visit Six Flags’ The Great Escape & Splashwater Kingdom near Lake George. For big thrills ride the Cannon Blaster, the Boomerang, and Comet roller coasters. New this year is the New Revolution Virtual Reality Coast, the Northeast’s first inverting Virtual Realty Roller Coaster.   Bad weather can’t spoil the fun, the Great Escape Lodge, reflecting the Adirondack Great Camp style, was the first hotel in New York State with an indoor water park. 

Chill out on one of many water rides – there are more than 30 - at New York’s largest water theme park, Water Safari Enchanted Forest, on Route 28 in Old Forge. Tube through the jungle on the Amazon, scream down all 500 feet of the double tube slide, or be a shadow of yourself as you slide through the enclosed Shadow. Spin dry on the Tilt-O-Whirl before taking a train ride through Story Book Lane. 

Hear the thunder! Feel the rush! Try extreme body sliding at Thunder Island, a small family-owned park in Fulton. The newest slides to the park are two enclosed body flumes. Adventure Blackwater Sliding is what Pro-slide Technology calls the most popular body flumes to date. One is 32' of drop in total darkness combined with speed, rapid twists and turns or the longest 380' long starting from high on top of the tallest tower and drops an amazing 60' in a long and enjoyable slide with the safe feeling of being up high and enclosed but seeing as you go thru the translucent gel coated fiberglass. 

Ride the wave at Roseland Waterpark on Canandaigua Lake. The park’s Giant Wavepool has a beach entrance, 5-foot waves, six wave patterns, and lifeguards. It is the largest water park in the Finger Lakes Region with 56 acres of water fun, plus heated water and nine unique attractions for the entire family. Make this summer a thrilling one. Pick a park!  Pick any park! Visit one of New York States’ amusement parks – or, even better, visit all of them! 

Jul 18, 2016

The 10th Mountain Division Fort Drum Museum

The 10th Mountain Division & Fort Drum Museum is well-worth visiting.  To get into Fort Drum people need to have a Department of Defense ID or fill out a request form and submit it to a sponsor a couple days before the planned visit. If you do not have a sponsor - we did not - interested people may contact the curator at the museum for permission to send it to him.  That is what we did. Entering Fort Drum was easy, we just drove up to the gate, showed our driver’s license and the passes were waiting for us. It was like a college campus or a gated community; which, I guess it is.

Above the entry arch to the museum are the words “Climb to Glory.”  Seems appropriate for a mountain division.  I often wondered how the word “mountain” fit it. During WW II they were trained in the snowy mountains for a possible winter attack on the enemy. They had early successes in Finland against the Soviet Union prior to the onset of WW II. During the war they were sent to Italy where their climbing skills were needed to take Mount Belvedere, a key German observation point.

The post’s history dates back to 1907, when the NY National
Guard established Camp Hughes. Later it was expanded and became Pine Camp. With the outbreak of World War II, additional land was purchased displacing 525 Families plus five entire villages were eliminated.  It was named Camp Drum in 1951 in honor of Lieutenant General Hugh A. Drum, commander of the First U.S. Army in the early days of World War II.  In 1974 it became Fort Drum. The curator did not know the exact number of people living on base because it keeps changing but an internet search said there are about 45,000 including those on active duty, family members, and civilians which mean it is about twice the size of the city of Watertown. The population grows significantly during special maneuvers.

The displays are interesting and diverse. One has artifacts from the Native Americans who once lived on the land. Another has a POW jacket.  German and Italian prisoners of war were incarcerated there but for the Italian POWs there was an interesting turn of events. They started out as POWs but when Italy joined the Allies in 1943 there were no longer POWs and were issued military jackets with an Italy patch on it and joined the war effort. 

Some common places and things had their origin during the war.  One display is a snow-going vehicle that later was adapted to become a snowmobile. The 10th Mountain Division trained in the mountains of the Western US and after the WW II several returned to start ski resorts.

Since 1990, the 10th Mountain Division has deployed units to combat and peacekeeping operations in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, the Horn of Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq.  Fort Drum soldiers and reserves have been mobilized and deployed in support of the Global War on Terror.  One interesting display shows a rock that was thrown through the windshield of Specialist Hank Othmar near Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993. A very personal war souvenir. On the homeland they have supplied disaster relief after major hurricanes. The history of the 10th Mountain Division is fascinating. Nearby there are statues and plaques honoring the 10th Mountain Division. 

Jul 11, 2016

Consider a vacation rental property

 Have you ever considered a vacation rental property?  HomeAway, AirBandB, FlipKey, and VRBO are some of the most popular sites for booking holiday rental properties. It makes a perfect option when friends and relatives assemble for a wedding or some other event and when traveling with a group.

Recently, several members of my family visited from the West Coast to attend a family wedding.   Our house could not sleep everyone comfortably and hotel rooms to accommodate everyone would have been expensive so we rented a three-bedroom place on the shore of Lake Ontario.  The rental was significantly less expensive than hotel rooms. It was wonderful.
 The children enjoyed canoeing, fishing and the campfire on the beach. They extended their vacation by renting another property on the water on Wellesley Island. Again, it was a perfect vacation. They went diving on a wreck, rented a party boat to visit Boldt and Singer Castles, and enjoyed fishing and kayaking.  

Our family is spread out across the country so we planned a getaway that would be great for every one of all ages. We rented an entire house for a week at Virginia Beach. It was the perfect family reunion with family members arriving from four states to enjoy the beach and time together. While at Virginia Beach we explored the local area, went kayaking, swimming, hiking and bought a bushel of clams to eat.   Eating meals in restaurants is expensive especially when there are six to ten people dining together.  Not only are meals prepared at the rental property less expensive, home cooked meals are always better. Also, meals can be planned to suit the tastes of everyone. 

When renting a property make sure that the bedding is included and
look for hidden costs such as booking fees, deposits, cleaning, and costs for early/late departures.  Most places include everything needed for cooking and also basic things like salt and pepper. Ask what is available so as not to end up buying things you don’t need. Many properties can be paid via Pay Pal.  Check to see how far the property is from where you want to be: on the beach isn’t the same
and as near the beach.  If people are flying in check on the ease of getting to/from the airport. If there is a security deposit make sure it is refunded or credited at the end of the stay.  Inquire about a damage deposit.  Inspect the property immediately after arrival.  Note anything that isn’t shipshape.
 If you find things missing or broken advise the owner immediately so you won’t be charged for something that was not your fault. Most properties have a handbook that lists what is in the house, rules, emergency numbers, and things to do in the area. 

There are times when it is cost-effective for two or three to stay in a vacation rental property.  This is often true in large cities such as New York. Again read the write up carefully.  In
NYC many of the places are walk-up apartments some on the fifth floor. When checking out places for two people in cities we have found that some involve sharing a bathroom and do not have a private access. Rentals are also a good idea when there is a major event like the Kentucky Derby or Rose Bowl. Vacation rental can make travel more affordable. 

Jul 4, 2016

Family-fun places in Central New York

Children are often taken to beaches and amusement parts but there are many other places where young and old can have fun and learn at the same time. Many destinations touted as places to take the children are just as much fun for adults.  Traveling with children allows adults to see the world through fresh, young eyes. Visiting Old McDonald’s Farm in Sackets Harbor is great fun for young and old. Old McDonald’s Farm is not
owned by Farmer McDonald but by the Robbins Family. What started with 100 acres in 1977 has grown into 4000 acres where they raise a variety of field crops, tend a 700-cow dairy farm, and from May 1 to the end of October open their farm to visitors. The farm is more than cows, there are 1000 animals. At Old McDonald's Farm they have combined reality, fantasy, and music to set the stage for an educational, agricultural, hands-on adventure for “kids” of all ages.  

Another place for animal-lovers of all ages is The Rosamond
Gifford Zoo. The family-friendly zoo is home to over 700 animals of all sizes from various parts of the world. The zoo is located on 43 acres in Burnet Park, just one of Onondaga County’s several parks. There are birds of all sizes and colors; on the Penguin
Coast watch them dive, swim and cavort from the large viewing windows; on the half-mile wildlife trail be on the lookout for wolves, Amur tigers, red pandas, bears; and stop to watch the zoo’s biggest animals at the Asian Elephant Preserve. Make it a day adventure by bringing your lunch or dining at the Jungle Café. There are many demonstrations and activities. 

Looking for a rainy day place to visit then visit The MOST. The
 Milton J. Rubenstein Museum of Science and Technology is another of Syracuse’s great family destinations. Learning is fun. The MOST hands-on exhibits entertain, amuse, and teach visitors about the body, physics, the earth and space. Practice landing an F-16 and guide a plane on the runway of Hancock International Airport. The Science Playhouse makes learning scientific principles fun. The museum is also home to the Bristol IMAX Omnitheater, and the Silverman Planetarium. 
Another great indoor place is the Strong Museum in Rochester.
Margaret Woodbury Strong agreed with Plato who over 2000 years ago said, “Life must be lived as play.” A prolific collector of dolls and toys, Strong founded her namesake museum in 1968. Today it is larger and more dynamic than ever due to a major expansion project that was completed in 2006.  The carousel and diner are still by the entrance but the museum offers new adventures for young and old. The National
Toy Hall of Fame is home to toys that have withstood the test of time. Visitors can visit Sesame Street, the Berenstain Bears, and Reading Adventureland before heading to the Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden. In a lush, humid rainforest setting there are 800 free-flying tropical butterflies. The guide explained, “Butterflies taste with their feet. They may want to taste you. They are beautiful to see but easy to injure. So watch where you step and check your body in the mirror on the way out to make sure you don’t have any hitchhikers.” There are also great outdoor learning adventures especially at Beaver Lake Nature Center with nine miles of trails and many programs.

Jun 27, 2016

Revisiting Woodstock Music Event

On a recent shopping trip I was surprised to see designs that reminded me of the 60s: bold, bright circles and flowers. Some clothing styles are back in style: strapless prom dresses and low-slung pants – once called hip huggers. The senate sit-in brought to mind what a turbulent time it was during the 60s and 70s. What was old is new again – or so it seems.

It is amazing how tumultuous times fade with time. The year before Woodstock is called “1968: A Year That Shook America.” During that year there was the TET Offensive, Vietnam War protests, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, presidential conventions, and man’s first visit to the Moon. Woodstock was a gathering of young people who wanted to escape to a peaceful place and listen to music. And they did. Thirty-two well-known music groups played to a crowd of more than 500,000 – sometimes in the rain. 

The Museum at Bethel Woods tells the story of the Woodstock
Music Festival and puts it in historical perspective. The small village of Woodstock was the promoter’s first choice but local citizens raised such a fuss about a three-day invasion of “hippies” that the venue was changed to Wallkill and again the local citizens raised a fuss.  Finally, a farmer in Bethel offered his 600-acre dairy farmland for the event.  The conservative Max Yasgur convinced the local town board to issue the necessary permits by saying, “Look, the reason you don’t want them here is because you don’t like what they look like and I don’t particularly like what they look like either.  But, that is not the point.  They may be protesting the war, but thousands of American soldiers have died so they can do exactly what they are doing.  That’s what the essence of the country is all about.” 

The museum puts the Woodstock Festival into the framework of what was going on in the world during the 60s. Even today, traveling to the museum along the country roads it is hard to envision thousands converging on the site. Homeowners along the route made sandwiches with the help of concert-goers and gave them to those stuck in traffic.  
Max Yasgur, addressed the cheering crowd. “I'm a farmer. I don't know how to speak to twenty people at one time, let alone a crowd like this. But I think you people have proven something to the world. This is the largest group of people ever assembled in one place. …you've had quite a few inconveniences as far as water,
food, and so forth. Your producers have done a mammoth job to see that you're taken care of... But above that, the important thing that you've proven to the world is that a half a million kids — and I call you kids because I have children that are older than you are — a half million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music, and God Bless You for it!”

The Museum at Bethel Woods, is a captivating multi-media experience that combines film and interactive displays, text panels and artifacts

Jun 20, 2016

Visiting Watertown, New York

Watertown may not seem like a typical tourist destination but there are interesting places to visit. Recently John and I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Watertown had time to visit some of the local attractions.  Obviously there is shopping – a lot of it, but there is shopping everywhere.  Instead of shopping we visited the historic Paddock Mansion built between 1876 and 1878 by Edwin L. Paddock, a successful local banker.  The house is an interesting mix of design styles. Mrs. Paddock favored a Swiss chalet style while her husband liked the Tuscan villa look so the architect combined both styles.  Upon the death of Mrs. Paddock in 1922 the house and furnishings were left to the local historical society.  

Several rooms on the first floor have the original furniture on display.  The widely traveled Paddocks purchased many items during their travels including intricate Asian furniture.  One of the rooms is devoted to the military where they have a tumbler that was used to draw draft board numbers.  In the basement there is an incredible display of water wheels and other machinery.  Water and the power from them is what put Watertown on the map.  I was more interested in the early American kitchen. On the second floor one area is devoted to F. W. Woolworth who started the 5
cent stores. Woolworth worked in a store in Watertown and went out to create the iconic Woolworth stores.  He pioneered the idea of buying directly from the manufacturer thus cutting cost. He also put items out on display so customers could handle them without the assistance of a sales clerk.  His first Five-and-Ten Cent store was in Utica and was not a success but the one he opened in Lancaster, PA was and the rest is history.

There is a lovely English garden behind the house, a log cabin, the Pink School House, and a carriage house with a 1910 Babcock car which was made in Watertown. It was considered one of the finest cars at the time.  The Babcock car came in various models including runabouts, touring cars and limousines. 

Just a short walk down the street is the Paddock Arcade built in
1850. It is the oldest, continuously operating covered shopping mall in the United States. Paddock was inspired by the famed Beauharnais Arcade in Paris. Today there are several unique shops and restaurants. 

For a great view of the countryside take a drive to Thomson Park and Overlook Drive. The all-season park is a Frederick Olmstead park meaning that it was designed to be used by the people so there are trails, picnic tables, a swimming pool, tennis courts, a golf course, cross country ski trails, ice skating, and a zoo.  While small the zoo is home to elks, wolves, wolverines, otters, a children’s farm and other animals. The
park is famed by those looking for a cosmic reenergizing due to the park’s Ley lines. Some people believe that Ley lines are invisible veins of energy when can improve one’s health and wellbeing. 
On my list to visit the next time I am in Watertown is the 10th Mountain Division & Fort Drum Museum. In order to visit one needs to have valid DoD identification or complete and submit a form on their web site ahead of time. When approved passes will be available at the gate. 

Jun 13, 2016

John and I have been to Nicaragua several times since our first visit in the 90s. At that time the country was trying to recover from the devastation caused by the conflicts between the socialistic Sandinista junta and the opposition, the U.S.-backed contras.  It wasn’t the first involvement by a group from the United States.  Every school child in
Central America learns about William Walker, an American who invaded Nicaragua with his private army. Walker became president of Nicaragua from 1856 to 1857.  We visited the local museum where money issued by Walker during his administration is on display. Around the same time Cornelius Vanderbilt considered building a canal connecting the natural waterways between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.  Instead the Panama Canal was built. In 2016 a Chinese tycoon started to build a canal across Nicaragua; but work is at a standstill.  The Rio San Juan connects the Atlantic Ocean with Lake Nicaragua and from there it is only a short distance to San Juan del Sur on the Pacific.  Hopes for a new Nicaraguan canal spurred hopes for increased tourism on the projected route including Ometepe Island. 

Ometepe is home to twin volcanoes connected by a narrow
isthmus. In December  John and I visited the island which is accessed by ferry from Rivas.  The island is popular with nature-lovers.  We stayed at Xalli Beach Hotel located on the isthmus with views of both volcanoes. It was just a few steps down to the long beach on the Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America. 

Xalli, whenever possible, buys organic and locally-grown produce.  It insures freshness and helps the local farming community. I loved the chicken burritos and asked the cook, Lorena Alvarez, to share the recipe with me.  She showed me how to make burritos and gallo pinto Nicaraguense with Pedro Centeno, the manager, translating.

Most likely the burrito originated in Mexico and spread throughout the Americas with each area making their own adaption.  The word “burrito” means “little donkey” and possibly referred to the bedrolls carried by the donkeys. 

Chicken Burroitos

1 large tomato – diced
1 small green pepper – diced
1 small onion – diced
1 tsp cilantro - diced
2 tsp olive oil 
1 tsp lemon juice
12 ounces cooked chicken, shredded or diced
¾ (three-fourths) cup cheese – shredded (cheddar or white Nicaragua cheese)
Salt and pepper
Small 2. burrito ingredients
Mix tomatoes, green peppers, onions, cilantro, oil, and lemon juice in a bowl add salt and pepper to taste. 

On each tortilla add place two tablespoons of chicken, two tablespoons of veggie mix, top with cheese. Fold. Lightly oil a pan. Grill burritos about one minute each side. Ingredients can be prepared ahead of time and assembled when ready to eat. Assembled burritos can be made ahead of time and refrigerated for several hours.  Serve with gallo pinto and /or sour cream. 

Gallo Pinto Nicaraguense

1 lb rice
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup onions, finely diced
1 can small red kidney beans (Goya sells Central America Beans)
1 green pepper, finely diced
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook rice, set aside. In frying pan, add oil, sauté onions over medium heat until onions are translucent. Add beans with liquid.  Mash beans a little to add aroma and color. Add green pepper. Sauté about two minutes. Add rice, sauté about two to three minutes.  Can be refrigerated for later use.