Dec 11, 2017

The Freedom Center in Cincinnati

The Underground Railroad Freedom Center is the place to open up your mind. The Center celebrates the heroes who created the Underground Railroad; a secret network slaves used to escape to freedom, but the center also makes people aware of the 27 million people worldwide who are still trying to get their freedom.

The Freedom Center has been on my bucket list from the day it opened in 2004 and finally, John and I got to visit during our recent visit to Cincinnati.  It was just down the street from the Hyatt where we were staying and nearby there is a Bell Connector bus that stops at major sites in the city – very convenient. 

The Center was much more than I had expected.  I figured it would
be about American slavery; and, it was; but it is more than that. There were displays that explored the history of slavery plus present day heroes working to eliminate slavery.  

The videos and displays were informative.  I am familiar with Harriet Tubman and I am always fascinated by Levi Coffin who managed to get slaves to freedom by pretending they were part of a funeral parade. It is worth noting that the Freedom Center is located just steps from the Ohio River, the dividing line between freedom and slavery. There is more to slavery than that which most of us know about.

Many people think that when slavery was outlawed in America that
was the end of slavery. Not so. The Center has a great section dealing with Nelson Mandela and his struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Apartheid was the practice of segregating non-whites to specific locations and not allowing non-whites, who were the majority of the population, to participate in politics while the economics and educational restrictions of apartheid keep the non-whites poor. There is a replica of the prison cell where Mandela was held for many years. 

Actually, slavery has existed for centuries but only America made it hereditary. Slavery, in several forms, still exists.  Slavery is defined as the total physical and/or mental control of a person for the purpose of exploiting their labor or body for commercial of personal gain. The center defines five types of slavery: forced labor, debt labor to repay a debt, sex slavery, child slavery, and domestic servitude.

I think most of us are familiar with the sex trade because it is one of
the few kinds of slavery that makes the news. In the Unites States child labor was common until the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Children were employed in the textile industry because they were small and could maneuver in the tight conditions of the looms and other equipment. Today it is not uncommon to see children working in foreign counties making carpets. Years ago John and I visited one such shop in Egypt.  The owner said he was teaching them a lifelong trade and cared for them because otherwise they would be living on the street. Interesting rationalization. 

There are things we can do to help eliminate slavery in other countries.  One of the easiest ways is to buy Fair Trade Certified products which ensure that farmers, workers, and fishermen are fairly treated, work in safe conditions, and are paid a sustainable salary. 

The Freedom Center wants visitors to know about slavery today and to understand how modern slavery relates to the “American experience” and to “empower each of us with the knowledge that we can end slavery.”

Dec 4, 2017

Saguenay Fjord

John and I were fortunate to visit Saguenay Fjord National Park as part of our cruise with Blount Small Adventures. A fjord is a long, narrow, deep inlet of the sea between high cliffs and I always thought they were exclusive to Norway. We joined the cruise in Oswego and left at 4 a.m. We were out on the lake to see a glorious sunrise.  I would have liked to have sailed closer to the shore so I could make out more places I know such as Mexico Point Park.  The cruise continued through the St. Lawrence Seaway to Montreal and Quebec then up the Saguenay Fjord. 

Sailing between the high hills was beautiful.  I realized that it was part of the deep sea water when I saw ocean-going cruise ships at the cruise dock in Chicoutimi.   Luckily the cruise ship and its 1000s of passengers was just leaving. We were greeted on the dock by costumed ladies, jugglers, and, inside the terminal, a duo provided music for the shoppers – yes, there were plenty of kiosks offering souvenirs and locally made products.    

John and I enjoyed a hop-on bus tour of Chicoutimi that stopped at La Petite Maison Blanche (The Little White House). The small square house was constructed in 1900. When the nearby dam overflowed due to an employee mistake (there goes his bonus) the house remained but the big flood came in 1996.
The dam overflowed causing widespread destruction to the town of Chicoutimi and wiped away every building surrounding the Little White House.   The flood waters raged all around the base of the house for four days and when it was over, the Little White House remained for all to see. It is a symbol of perseverance. The house is now a museum and a small park has been built around it. 

In 1893 several citizens of Chicoutimi visited the World’s
Colombian Exposition in Chicago. They were mesmerized by the “electricity faery.” They wanted Chicoutimi to be the “Chicago of the North.” One far-thinking citizen was able to convince the local government to modernize the city with electricity and public water. That in turn led to the creation of the Compagnie de pulpe de Chicoutimi, the paper company that brought prosperity to the region. There are sign boards telling about the rise and fall of the industry. 

There were other things to see but I was most enthralled as we
sailed back down the fjord and saw beluga whales. Beluga whales are my favorite whale because their bright white color made them easy to spot. There were other whale watching boats which were very crowded; our ship was not plus we had an on-board authority
who showed a video the night before about the belugas.  The belugas are called the “sea canary” because they make a variety of sounds from whistling to barking. They have a well-developed hearing because they cannot see well in the darkness of the deep water. 

Lighthouse lovers will enjoy seeing the unique Prince Shoal Lighthouse which serves as both a lighthouse and buoy. Also unique is the statue of the Virgin Mary high on a cliff that was erected by a merchant as a thank you for having his prayers answered.  He fell through the ice on the frozen Saguenay River and implored the Virgin Mary to save him only to become very sick as a result, and he again turned to the Virgin Mary for help. Prayers answered. 

Nov 27, 2017

Historic Hotel Syracuse

I was so happy when I read that someone had purchased the Hotel Syracuse (our daughter had her wedding reception there years ago) and planned to restore it.  And restore it they did.  It is a member of Historic Hotels of America. If you haven’t been there you need to stop for a look-see. Like many of the luxury historic hotels the entrance is designed so that from
the street level it is necessary to walk up a short flight of stairs to get to the lobby. That way the grandeur of the lobby’s ceiling becomes the first sight.  The ornate coffered ceiling rivals many of those in European palaces. The ceiling alone is worth the visit but so is the mural behind the registration desk. The 40-foot mural includes vignettes that depict the scenes from the beginnings of Syracuse including the discovery
of salt springs near Onondaga Lake and the Jerry Rescue.  It had been covered for 30 years by mirrors. Several other murals have been discovered and restored including the one in the Persian Terrace that was covered by wallpaper and two coats of paint. I think I have a new travel goal – to stay in as many Historic Hotels as possible. 

As I was walking down the wide corridor lined with interesting photos to our room I noticed all the room doors were bowed.  There is a reason.  In the room there was a coffee-table book about the hotel explaining that doors are servadors. There are locks on both sides so that the occupant can hang clothing that needs attention in the door and the staff can pick it up and return it without bothering the guest.  Cool! The book was full of interesting tidbits of the hotel’s history.  In order to build the Hotel Syracuse the Hotel Truax was rolled across Harrison Street to a new location. Interestingly, it was moved while its guests continued to enjoy all the hotel services including hot and cold
running water, telephone, lights and room service. Not only was the hotel, weighting more than 6000 tons, moved across the street it was also completely turned around. Work began in April and wasn’t completed until July. In 1960 the building was demolished to make a parking lot.  In order to get approval to build the Hotel Syracuse it was decided that they would built it around the 4th Presbyterian Church which refused to move.  It too was later demolished. The Hotel Syracuse is the only four AAA Diamond hotel in Syracuse.  In fact, there are only a couple dozen in Upstate NY.  We had a bite to eat at the bar/lounge area of Eleven Waters.  It was once the barber shop and the faucets have been left in place.  

We were actually in Syracuse to see Cirque Du Soleil which gave us an excuse to stay at the Hotel Syracuse which is only a couple blocks from the Oncenter. It has been years since I had been there and don’t remember the excellent veterans’ display.  There are life-sized soldiers representing each war but the fascinating part is that most of the soldiers on display were from the Syracuse area.  

I am not a fan of circuses but Cirque Du Soliel is an amazing display of costuming and acrobatics.  John and I were duly impressed and awed by the performers’  agility and flexibility. Some of the feats didn’t seem humanly possible. .

Nov 20, 2017

'Tis the season of joy

New York City is often featured as the most iconic place to usher in the Christmas season. The Radio City Christmas Spectacular and Rockefeller Plaza with the huge tree and ice skating is a must-do at least once. The stress-free way to get to NYC is by train or book a bus trip. 

However, there are many places in Central New York to get in the holiday spirit that are less expensive. In fact, many of the activities are free. Start on November 25 at Oswego Christmas, a daylong event featuring a variety of Christmas-themed activities, music, horse and carriage rides, live reindeer, visits with Santa, the lighting of the city tree, and fireworks. There is a Christmas scavenger hunt for the youngsters.

Not to be outdone Mexico will present its popular Christmas in Mexico on December 2. The all-day event will include church bazaars perfect for gift shopping, roasted chestnuts (when was the last time you had street-roasted chestnut?), and caroling. The library will host a Gingerbread House workshop. The tree lighting ceremony complete with music will follow the Main Street
Christmas parade and visits with Santa. There will be free horse-drawn carriage rides running throughout the day between local businesses many of whom have decorated their windows in anticipation of winning the Storefront Decorating Contest. Check out the Oswego Valley Railroad Association Holiday Train Exhibit in Washington Hall, and make sure you stop at the Starr Clark Tin Shop and Underground Railroad Museum. Get your picture taken in the Victorian cutout - the perfect Christmas card.

If you haven’t been to Skaneateles’ Dickens Christmas then put it on your calendar. Wander through an 1842 Victorian-style village starting the Friday after Thanksgiving and continuing noon to 4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 24. Shake hands with Mayor Fezzwig, Scrooge, the Cratchits, Tiny Tim, and the Ghost of Jacob Marley. Wish the costumed villages a “Merry Christmas.”  Join in the Christmas carol sing-along at the gazebo. Hop on a horse-drawn wagon for $2 or take a carriage ride for a $20 donation. Skaneateles’ Dickens Christmas draws more than 20,000 visitors each year.

Central New York’s on-going Christmastime celebrations include the yearly family-favorite Lights on the Lake at Onondaga Lake Park in Liverpool. For many it has become a family tradition to start the holiday season with the two-mile drive.  It is magical.

If you haven’t decorated your tree and are looking for new ideas then the Everson Museum’s Festival of Trees.  They have other holiday-related activities planned such as a Teddy Bear Tea Party and Santa Afternoon.  I have found museums a
great place to buy unique gifts. Syracuse has many events planned including, new this year, a store front window decoration, along with the tree lighting ceremony and a weekend (December 16 and 17) with real reindeer, street carolers, meeting Santa. Check out Santa’s elves who will help young and old to send a text of their Christmas wishes to Santa.  

For something a bit different visit historic Sacketts Harbor’s “Whooville in the Harbor” on December 2 and 9 between 10 am and 6 pm with Whovillers singing “Welcome Christmas” around the tree. There will be a Cindy Lou contest, sleigh/wagon rides, food, games, and more Who fun.  Find Grinch Rocks which can be turned in for prizes. 

There is no excuse not to feel the joy of the season.

Nov 13, 2017

Oswego County New York Nature Centers

The full moon in November is called the Beaver Moon. It was so named by colonists and Algonquin tribes because it was the time of the year when people would set traps for beaver ensuring they had enough furs to last through the winter. Beavers in our area were almost hunted to extinction because the pelt could be made into felt that was then made into top hats that were the must-have hat for the elite because it was waterproof.  The beaver are making a comeback. 

John and I decided it was a great time to check out a beaver dam we had heard about. Beaver dams are an amazing feat of engineering however on May 7, 2017 the beaver dam near the Amboy 4-H Environment Education Center gave way.  Beavers built their dams where the water was too low to their liking thus causing water to be held back making the pond water deeper.  In this case the wind and rain were too much causing the dam to give way creating severe flooding to the surrounding area which undercut some of the roads. The roads were closed for a couple of days.

With the dam gone the beavers had to start all over again. There is a
parking area on Co. Rt. 183 near the 4-H center giving easy access to the trail to the new beaver dam.  It is short easy walk.  Along the way we could see evidence of where the old dam was and a place where it looked like they started a new dam but decided they didn’t like the location so built it at the edge of the pond.  It meant that the dam had to be wide to block
off the water.  There is a viewing tower midway.  It is easy to see
the dam.  We didn’t see any beavers but I think it was because there was a family with young children just leaving the area.  Walk quietly if you go and you may be luckily enough to see the beavers.  They carry the mud to build the dam on their tummy. Along the way we could see stumps where the beavers had chewed down the trees needed to build their new home.  It was easy to be impressed with their work and understand where “busy as a beaver” comes from.  

Down the road a short distance is the Amboy Nature Center. 
Luckily, the naturalist Pat Carney was there preparing for a program so we were able to get in the center where there are several displays.  The Center has trails perfect for hiking, x-country skiing, and snow shoeing along with a variety of programs. 

Just a short distance away we stopped at Camp Zerbe which is owned by Oswego County as part of their Youth Bureau, division of Parks and Recreation. At one time it belonged to the Boy’s Club of Syracuse and is named for Frederick K. Zerbe, a former superintendent of the Syracuse Boys' Club. There is a modest environmental center, several trails, one of which leads down to a dock on the small pond. 

While in the area it is easy to include a visit to the Salmon River Fish Hatchery. The displays are fascinating. Each year they produce millions of fish which are released so there is no excuse for a fisherman to go home without something to show for their effort. 

Nov 6, 2017

Chimney Bluffs State Park is unique

I am constantly amazed at how many interesting things there are to see within an hour or so drive from my home, things I didn’t know about.  Plus, there are things that I have heard about but never visited.  Such is the case with Chimney Bluffs State Park in Wolcott.  Actually, I only heard about it a couple years ago but only visited recently.  

The bluffs are eroded drumlins (teardrop-shaped hills) that were formed by glaciers and then shaped by wind, rain, snow and waves into what appear to be chimneys.  However, I think the bluff also brings to mind castles. They are constantly eroding and I wonder how much the recent strong waves and winds have changed them.  It is said that they can erode one to five feet a year. 

The area, like much of the shoreline of Lake Ontario, was once
frequented by smugglers bringing in liquor from Canada during Prohibition. The state acquired the land from a private owner and in 1999 built heated restrooms, a parking lot, picnic areas, and hiking trails.  There is $5 usage fee but no onsite ranger so there is an “honor” pay box. It is open all year making it great for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter. There are four miles of hiking trails including a one-mile
trail along the bluff.  Actually, the bluff trail meanders through the woods with view points along the way. At the end there is a stairway down to the shore. Some walk the trail one way and the shore on the other. Walkers are cautioned to stay away from the edge as the waves have undercut the rims. Nine Mile Point Nuclear plant cooling towers are visible from most vantage points. Besides the Bluff Trail there is also a Drumlin Trail, an East-West Trail, and a short trail to Garner Point. 

I find walking in the woods a great way to relax and feel mentally
renewed – maybe it is all the oxygen.  Some of the trees along the path are quite impressive. For those who aren’t into hiking there are benches with great views of the lake.  Along the path from the parking lot to the shore there is a fascinating tree.  One part of the tree has been bent to form a “U”. Such trees are called “Thong Trees” or “Culturally Modified Trees.”  John and I have actually seen others but not in New York State. Originally, the trees were bent by Native Americans as trail signs but doubt that that specific tree is old enough.  

John noticed something along the path that I would have missed, I guess because I was so interested in the Thong Tree.  Nearby are two stumps. The top has been smoothed off and each one has a memorial written on it. Even though the writing has faded and some of the edges have worn away but it is possible to read some of it. Both people were killed in the same accident and were only 20 years old. The walkway from the parking lot to the shore is wheelchair accessible but the bluff trail is not. 

Not too far away is Sodus Bay Lighthouse Museum where there are many displays dealing with the area along with more great views of the lake. There are also some great waterside restaurants but they are only open during the summer months. 

Nov 4, 2017

The Big Red Machine

It doesn’t have to be baseball season to enjoy baseball.  During the
1970s the Cincinnati Red dominated baseball and became known as the Big Red Machine. The regular lineup included three future Hall of Famers: catcher Johnny Bench, first baseman Tony Peres, and second baseman Joe Morgan.  Pete Rose, an all-time major league hitter led the team and was recently inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame.  The team won five division titles in seven years.  Frustration with ability to win the World Series ended in 1975 when they won 108 games and beat the Boston Red Sox for their first World Series title in 35 years. 

When John and I were in Cincinnati, we attended a Reds game at the All American Ball Park located on the Ohio River. I was impressed with all the pregame family fun outside the stadium.  A highlight was visiting the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum that has a new exhibit called “Red to Bronze” that chronicles the eight Reds legends and the bronze statues that were created by local artist, Tsuchiya with a special focus on the creation of the Pete Rose statue that was dedicated in June. 

Besides a Hall of Fame there are many displays and hands on
activities. Fascinating was the Palace of Fans that is set up like an old time ball park with a wooden grandstand and the front of the theater is a replica of a Crosley scoreboard from the 1940s. The scoreboard becomes a screen with a 15-minute presentation on the highlights of the Reds history. 

The Strike Zone Exhibit was especially busy with people throwing a ball from a Major League-graded mound to a strike zone 60’6” away.  Balls and strikes are called and pitch speed is measured  We watched from the gallery dugout next to statues of famous Reds mangers, Bill McKechnie and Sparky Anderson. For diehard fans there was the Ultimate Reds Room with memorabilia from bobbleheads (which could be purchased), pennants, advertising signs, baseball cards, and of course, a big screen TV playing Reds bloopers and highlights.

The pièce de résistance was the “Glory Days” a large circular
gallery that highlights the championship teams but foremost the focus is on The Big Red Machine. The bronze statues called The Eight Great includes life-sized statues of Pete Rose, Ken Griffey, Joe Morgan, George Foster, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, Dave
Concepcion and Cesar Geronimo in a celebration scene inspired by the Reds' memorable victory on the final play of the decisive game of the 1972 NLCS. And, while gazing at it there is a radio call of the play-by-play. One does not have to be a baseball aficionado to enjoy a Reds’ game and the Hall of Fame and Museum. 

We enjoyed the game, of course, but the most fun was watching the
children get so excited over the mascot and other parts of the event.  We, of course, had to have a hot dog – it’s not a baseball game without it.  But after the game we went to the Skyline Diner for the other great Cincinnati treat: Cincinnati Chili. It is like no other chili: spaghetti topped with chili and mounds of shredded cheese or try it 4-ways with the addition of beans or onions, or the way we had it, 5-ways with both beans and onions all with a hint of cinnamon.  Don’t be embarrassed! Ask for a bib.