Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Seat Belts Are There for a Reason - USE THEM

In 2002, my daughter's best friend was killed on her way in to school on the Monday morning after their senior prom. The pickup she was driving rolled over on a paved country road just north of Sutherland. She was not wearing her seat belt and she was ejected from the vehicle.

Just yesterday, a fourteen year old Sutherland boy was killed on his way in to school when the pickup he was driving rolled over on icy roads. He was not wearing his seat belt and he was ejected from the vehicle.

Saturday morning, a friend of mine hit a sheet of black ice while he was driving and rolled his pickup. He was wearing his seat belt. When the pickup came to a stop, he calmly used the butt of his shotgun to break the window and climb out of the wrecked vehicle. He was shaken up but unhurt, and what could have been a tragedy is now a humorous story to tell.

Children, and all people. The seat belts are in your vehicles are there for a reason. It is a scientifically proven fact that in the event of an accident, using your seat belt will save your life. It is cool to wear seat belts. PLEASE WEAR THEM!

I can't even begin to imagine what a family goes through in the hours, days and years following the senseless death of a child. In all likelihood, both of the tragedies I described above could have been prevented if the children had buckled up the instant they got in their vehicles on those mornings. Please, don't let the next family to experience this heartache be yours.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Union Pacific's Great Excursion Adventure

You'll see a new banner at the top of my blog today - it's a direct link for you to vote to route the Union Pacific Steam Excursion train. Head on over there and vote for your hometown to receive a visit from the UP Steam train.

I'll like it even more if you choose a route that has to come through North Platte!

Oh, and just in case you don't see it at the top of the blog, here it is again:

Union Pacific's Great Excursion Adventure
Go ahead... click it and vote!

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Our Visit to Niagara Falls

We left for our Niagara Falls adventure early in the morning, heading north out of Portersville on I-79. We made it to Erie, then headed east along the shore of Lake Erie. It was my first view of any of the Great Lakes, and I think I'm hooked! I hope to plan more trips to this part of the country in the years to come.

In fact, I believe that there are so many things to see in America, that it's almost unpatriotic to stay home and not go see it! Utilizing networks like Couch Surfing, it doesn't necessarily have to be incredibly expensive. We got off of the Interstate onto Highway 5, which is the Seaway Trail National Scenic Byway which stretches along the southern shore of both Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. This part of the country is also home to the Chatauqua-Lake Erie Wine Trail.
The wine trail stretches 45 miles through 30,000 acres of verdant vineyards along Lake Erie in western New York and Pennsylvania. Welcome to "America's Grape Country," the largest grape-growing region east of the Rockies. Visit more than 20 wineries known for their award-winning wines, including vinifera, ice wines, fruit wines, and specialty wines such as brandies and ports. Our wineries are open year-round. Plan your trip and experience the rich heritage of one of America's oldest grape growing regions.
We only made the time to stop at one winery, the Willow Creek Winery. Honestly, we have got to come back this way just to hit the entire wine trail and stop at EVERY winery! The tasting was incredible, and we picked up nine bottles to take with us! We had been under orders from the Moms to pick up Willow Creek's chocolate wine, and, if you like sweeter wines, you'll love it. It tastes like a cherry cordial.

Now it was time to head on down the road to Buffalo. Here is a view of the Buffalo skyline.
By this time we were getting hungry, and needed something to soak up the wine tasting. We had asked for a recommendation, and the young lady at Willow Creek recommended the Pearl Street Grill and Brewery in Buffalo. What a great recommendation! Great beer and great food. Unfortunately, they don't bottle, so the only way to take it with us would have been in a growler, and that would have been impractical for us.

The building has four floors, plus a basement, and numerous decks overlooking the Buffalo water front. According to the menu:
Our building was born in the year of Our Lord 1841 in the heart of what the world unaffectionately called "The most evil square mile in America", the Buffalo Erie Canal District. It is no "sretching the blanket", during its heyday it was estimated that 70 to 80% of the major crimes of the entire nation occured along the "Canawl".

Out of the maelstrom of the teeming masses of Foofoos, Lakers, Canawlers Blacklegs, Macaronis, Whitelegsm Scalpers, Scoopers, Roughnecks and Runners our nation was reborn. The Babel-like confusion of Canal Street and the Commercial Slip was the Western terminus of the new America on the march, the brave new world, the H9ope of the unanointed and the downtrodden. The result of this amazing period of Buffalo's history was that we were the "Silicon Valley" of America for over 50 years.

We are proud of our History and the hard-edge character of our building; our restoration has tried to maintain the "feeling".

Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of detail of the history of either the building, the brewery or Buffalo area. Just enough to whet the appetite, I'm afraid. Hmmm... we might have to go back. The kind waiter gave us great directions, which basically entailed getting on I-190 north, which wasn't too difficult from the Grill. The roadway passes over two bridges that span the Niagara River, and a toll of $1 per car is collected at the first bridge (on the return trip, too). It's important to be in the far right land crossing the second bridge, because IMMEDIATELY on the north end, you have to exit on the Robert Moses Parkway that takes you to the American side of the falls.

We parked at the American side and stopped for a view at the overlook at American Falls. You hear a lot about Niagara Falls, and I have to agree - go see the falls if at all possible! It is simply spectacular! This is a view up the Niagara River from the American Falls.
It cost $10 to park on the American side, then we walked across the Rainbow Bridge to the Canadian side. Remember to bring your passports! The view from the Rainbow Bridge is incredible, looking toward the falls.
Early in the day, it was beautiful and sunshiny, but the closer we got to Buffalo and Niagara, the more overcast and chilly it became, so our pictures leave a little to be desired.

Even in mid November, the sunken gardens on the Canadian side are beautiful.

However, this time of year a lot of the activities and amenities are closed, including the people mover that runs from the bridge to the falls overlook, so we hoofed it. Also closed (October 31, so we didn't miss it by too much) was the Maid of the Mist. But, if the only time you can go to Niagara is in November when a few things are closed, STILL GO! The falls are still falling and are incredible!
Some of the best attractions are still open, including the Journey Behind the Falls. There are so many websites that help you plan your trip to Niagara, I'll just try to link a few here. This video is taken from the observation deck near the gift shop. Note, you might want to turn the sound down on your computer before you click on these videos. The roar of the falls is one of the attractions, but on a cell phone video camera, it just gets to be annoying!
As you head down to the "Behind the Falls", they'll stop you to take your photo, which will be available at the end of the trip below. Ours turned out pretty good, but at $20 a pop, we decided to pass.

After an elevator ride down, you put on the disposable plastic rain slicker and head down the tunnels.Note, It is really, REALLY wet down here! If you use your cameras or video equipment, be careful and use it only for a short time, otherwise it's going to get ruined.
A little further on are two more tunnels that open up directly behind the falls. Down the tunnels are interpretive panels that tell you facts and figures about the falls. Before they did some engineering to the river, the falls were receeding at a rate of about three feet a year. One of the tunnels that had been built earlier is now exposed on the rock face.
Now it's time to make our way back up above the falls, walk back to the bridge and cross back over to the pickup. Passing the commercial district of the Canadian side, it's easy to see that not all of the development around the falls enhance the natural beauty!
There you have it, our visit to Niagara Falls. Please make plans to visit yourself... soon!

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee's always on.

Monday, November 8, 2010

First Impressions of Pennsylvania

My first trip back east is turning out wonderfully! We are here for The Mister's Cousin's wedding, so I am getting to meet members of his family for the first time, and not only are they wonderful people, but they are great hosts and tour guides.

Pennsylvania is night and day different from Nebraska. There are very few vistas where one can see for miles, yet it is still beautiful. We are long past the height of the fall colors, but judging from the few leaves remaining on the trees, it was spectacular!

We are in the Portersville, PA area, in the range of 40 miles north of Pittsburgh. All of the attractions and points of interest I've included in this blog post are within about 25 miles of our hostess's home, although without a GPS, I would be hard pressed to tell you exactly where! Not only is it difficult to get your bearings with all of the trees butting up next to the roadways, there are no STRAIGHT roads here at all! We've made our way to a few places on our own, but haven't ventured very far.
The above sentiments would be good advice to follow no matter where you live. I know that millions of dollars are spent in advertising to keep us home and in front of our televisions, but "Getting Out" would be the best things we can do for ourselves!
This scenery is taken from the Slippery Rock Creek canyon area, which is part of the McConnell's Mill State Park. It is an extremely rocky area, but that doesn't mean there aren't trees. As you can see, they have found a way to thrive.
On the road down to the Mill, the rocks and trees growing from them overhang the road.
As you can see, the trees have perservered no matter what the obstruction.

McConnells Mill State Park, in Lawrence County, encompasses 2,546 acres of the spectacular Slippery Rock Creek Gorge. Created by the draining of glacial lakes thousands of years ago, the gorge has steeps sides and the valley floor is littered with huge boulders and is a national natural landmark. A gristmill built in the 1800s is open for tours. The park is open from sunrise to sunset, year-round.
Of course, since we are here in early November, many of the attractions are either closed, or not offering their full range of activities. However, the Mill is open and operational, with interpreters, all summer long.
Another highlight of the Mill and the Canyon is the beautiful covered bridge, which has been rehabilitated recently.
Love for history and old places runs deep, rightly so, in Pennsylvania. It can be seen in The Mister's own family. Here you can see a house, that in 2002, might have seemed like a daunting project to turn into a home.
And another view of the same house - it would take an exceptional fortitude to undertake making this house into a home.
However, below you can see what can come from taking the time and care of putting the work into a project like this.
We had the chance to go into the building below, which was a roadhouse, first built in 1831. Outside of the chapel in Santa Fe, I think this is the oldest building I've ever been in. Inside it is a great gift shop.
And here is the Old Stone House, built in 1822. This was closed for the season, so we didn't have a chance to go inside.
Pennsylvania is just one series of picturesque towns after another, and Volant is no exception.
We stopped here, and didn't get the chance to go into many of the shops (as you can tell, this is a whirlwind tour!), but we did have time to go into the mill.
Many of the homes along the streets have been converted into cute shops.
Right down the road (actually butting up to the property), is the beautiful Moraine State Park.
The gently rolling hills, lush forests and sparkling waters disguise a land that has endured the effects of continental glaciers and massive mineral extraction.

Each year over one million people visit the 16,725-acre park, yet never realize that many people helped restore the park from prior coal mining and oil and gas drilling practices. Today, the park is an outstanding example of environmental engineering achievement.
So this is a blog post on the run, as our hostess is ready for us to walk out the door to our next adventure.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

We waited and waited and waited to find somewhere to eat that wasn't the fast food available at the rest areas, and we were finally rewarded for our efforts. We had all but given up on someplace anywhere remotely local and were going to settle for Cracker Barrel, when we happened upon the Quaker Steak and Lube in Austintown, OH.
While it is a chain, it is a local chain with a unique history, first begun in Sharon, PA as a cook-your-own steak joint. Later they expanded, and judging from the food, ambiance and friendliness of the staff, they have developed a winning concept
This location has three separate dining areas - the racing one, the motorcycle one, and the corvette one. Everywhere you can see creative and interesting displays.
Even the menu holds true to the brand.
And then there's the bathroom. You'll be happy to know that I didn't force The Mister to empty the bathroom so that I could go in and take the photos myself (as I have been known to do before - why do they always have the coolest bathrooms?
Maybe they just have more time to think?
Uh huh...
Don't think women would need this warning...
There's nothing like an upside down revolving Harley Davidson motorcycle above your head to build your appetite.
And a souped up classic car.
Oh yeah, they didn't forget a little embellishment in the ladies room either...
And then there's the Corvette room. I should mention that the whole time I was thinking "How could we do this with trains in North Platte, aka Rail Town USA?"
It wasn't all Corvettes, either. The Thunderbird was stunning.
I wonder if you wouldn't be just a little bit nervous with this above your head while you eat.
Okay, now we need to get on with the food. Mmmm this is the Oring Ontenna, complete with the Louisiana Lickers sauce. Delicious. The Mother In Law even commented that they were the best onion rings that she ever tasted.
This is me, so you know that local microbrews were at the top of my list to try. They featured a great Cleveland brewery, The Great Lakes Brewing Company. The Oktoberfest and the seasonal Christmas Ale were delicious. Oh, the food was great too.
For you local readers, the good news that their menu proclaims a location coming soon to Denver!
So, two blog posts in one day, not bad for a cloudy, overcast, rainy day heading into Pennsylvania.
Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Irish Beer Finder

My best friend when traveling, or before traveling, really is Irish Beer Finder. You just put in where you're going, or where you're going to be passing through on your way to where you're going, and it brings up all of the nearby Irish pubs.

There's nothing like a smooth Irish Stout and some friendly waitstaff to enjoy the craic with after a long day on the road. That's exactly what we found at the Carraig within seven miles of our hotel in Tinley Park, Illinois. Fortunately our Magellan took us right to the front door. The Carraig is located in the Chicago Gaelic Park:
Chicago Gaelic Park was established over 25 years ago with the purpose of promoting and fostering of Irish culture, music and sports within the Irish & Irish-American community. With tremendous grassroots support, it has exceeded all expectations and continues to grow.

It was a little late when we got there, so we didn't have much time to look over the facility, but from what we saw, it is something to be proud of. The Carraig has Murphy's Irish Stout and Smithwick's on tap, and delicious Irish comfort food.
We also found that this weekend is the 2010 Irish Books Arts & Music celebration at the Irish American Heritage Center in Chicago. Sadly, our plans don't call for a weekend in Chicago.

We've seen some beautiful country on this trip so far. All through Iowa, Illinois, and now Indiana we've seen beautiful scenery and beautiful farmsteads. I know they don't do it particularly for the travelers on I-80, but it's great to see these well-kept farmsteads with their picturesque old barns and silos. Now the trees are closing in and we don't see much past the road right-of-way, with the trees nearly bereft of leaves, and occasional signs tempting us to take a detour to an attraction.

Now we're back on the road again, on Interstate 80 on our way to Pittsburgh, through intermittent rain under heavily overcast skies. Heard it's going to get way cold back in Nebraska tonight. Brrr, winter surely is set on coming whether we like it or not.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Through the Seasons Part Seven

May 5, 2010 6:10pmJune 5, 2010 8:30am
July 5, 2010 10:00am
August 7, 2010 8:30am
September 6, 2010 7:00pm
October 3, 2010 9:00am
November 2, 2010 8:30am
It was almost too early this morning. The shadows were long at 8:30 as I was headed to the Methodist Church to cast my vote. The corn in the foreground is just awaiting picking, and there are a few rows picked on the pivot in the background. Along the river, most of the leaves are gone from the trees, but those that remain add a spot of gold. It won't be long until all is drab and gray.

Below is a scene to the east just a couple hundred feet south of where I take the season pictures. It looks like a lake in the distance, but is just ground fog shimmering in the rising sun.
And just to show you that all is not colorless in Nebraska yet, these beautiful trees and shrubs adorn the parking lot of the Maxine White Memorial Library in downtown Sutherland.
Seven months in the books. It's going fast.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.