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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Maggie Marches Through Middle Creek!

Hi Blog! Today is Tuesday, April 28, 2015. We are still trying to recover from our long weekend in Toronto. On the way back to our RV in Lancaster County, we stopped by Joan and Joe's house to pick up Katie's dog, Maggie. Katie is away on a business trip so family members are taking turns puppy sitting. We'll have Maggie for the next couple days before Katie returns home on Wednesday.

Maggie got us up bright and early this morning. We started the day with a quick trip around the campground pond and then a light breakfast. We packed a lunch and headed over to Middle Creek. Here are Grandpa and Maggie at the entrance to the Visitor's Center.

This is Maggie's first visit to Middle Creek, so we wanted to make it a good one. We decided a hike on the Conservation Trail would be a good start.  Here are Grandma and Maggie at the trail head.

We started with a short climb up the hill behind the Visitor's Center. It gave us a great view of the Middle Creek Reservoir.

Maggie was more interested in all the birds flying back and forth.

After enjoying the view, we turned and followed a trail into the woods. Maggie is leading the way.

Parts of the trail traverse wetlands. There are boardwalks over the wet parts. Maggie wasn't certain about walking the planks, so she let Grandpa lead.

Here Maggie caught up to a group of Mom's and kids out for a days adventure. The moms asked if we would take their photo.  Maggie agreed, BUT only if she could be in the photo. Everybody say cheese!

We finished up with lunch in the picnic area. We are going to head back to the RV and try and get cleaned up a little. We promised Maggie a game of chase-the-tennis-ball for Happy Hour!

A Visit to Sir William of Toronto!

April 24 was Grandparents Day at Sir William's school, so of course we couldn't be held back from making the car trip up to Toronto from the Lancaster, PA area.

Fully burned out from the road, we helped Weina pick William up at school, then enjoyed some quiet time with him, playing blocks, cars, trains and whatnot.

Grandparents Day was very uproarious!  Imagine two grandparents per school child, and perhaps 12 students.  As a result 36 big and little people were squeezed into a Little People Schoolroom.

All took it in stride and with grand spirits.  William showed us several work projects he likes.  Here, he's helping Kathy spell his name in cursive letters:

One of his all-time favorite projects is to screw and unscrew machine bolts from a board, using a William-sized screwdriver.  He demonstrated this with perfection - but let Ye Ye (David) finish off each bolt:

We returned to school at the end of the day without Mama, and walked back with William from the streetcar that brought us home.  Kathy spotted a groundhog and William was fascinated with it:

On Saturday, William had a haircut, and then he, Daddy, Mama, Nai Nai (Kathy) and Ye Ye headed for a HUGE playground in nearby High Park to soak up the sun and watch other people big and small.  Here, Nai Nai and William demonstrate the proper way to do a dual truck tire tango:

Sunday, William had his weekly swimming lesson.  Afterward, we all played in the nearby park. Here, Nai Nai is getting some pointers from William on the finer points of mountain building:

William has become really independent on the teeter-totters.  Here, Daddy is capturing the moment:

This is probably one of the reasons William likes the teeter-totters:  they're FUN!

So much fun that Mama and Daddy took over the whole apparatus:

Back at the apartment, we looked out at a HUGE, building crowd of people, with lots of orange turbans.  Matt told us that it was the 30th annual Toronto Sikh Khalsa Day parade.  It commemorates the founding of the Sikh religion in 1699.   More than 85,000 people turned out for the 30th annual Khalsa Day celebration, a commemoration of Vaisakhi, the Sikh New Year, in Toronto on April 26, 2015.  It looked like we could see all 85,000 of them from the apartment's picture windows:

Later on Sunday, Nai Nai and William were inspired to build the biggest Thomas the Train railroad track layout ever!

Meanwhile, Mama and Daddy prepared a spectacular Chinese repast for us.  Here the food is being plated:

These visits are always too short.  Monday morning, we had to say our goodbyes to Little William. We were all furklempt, but none more than William.  Even little Bubu the puppy was sad to see us go.  We can't wait to see them again later in the year!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Twisted in Lititz

Hi Blog! Today is Wednesday, April 22, 2015. All of the maintenance items on the truck and RV have been taken care of. After bibbling around the campground this morning, we decided to head over to Lititz, Pennsylvania. As Lititz was voted "Coolest Small Town in America" by Budget Traveler, we though it was worth a visit. Turns out there is an Appalachian Brewing Company pub in town, so that made it a done deal.

After sampling some brews and eating a scrumptious lunch, we headed over to the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery on Main Street. Founded in 1861, the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery is the first commercial pretzel bakery in America. If you take the tour of the original bakery, you get lessons in pretzel twisting. How can we resist? Time to get twisted in Lititz. Dave plans to make a pretzel this big:

After paying a nominal fee and checking out the merchandise in the gift shop, it was soon time for our tour. This diorama give you the idea of old time pretzel baking.

These are the actual ovens used by Julius Sturgis back in 1861. Soft pretzels were all the rage back in the 1800s, but Julius Sturgis discovered that if you let the soft pretzels sit at a lower temperature for a couple hours they dry out and get hard and crunchy. He loved these left over pretzels. He tried to convince his boss that there was a market in hard crunchy pretzels, but he wouldn't hear of it. It took Julius a few years to save up the money to build his own bakery just for pretzels.

Before making a hard pretzel, you first have to make a soft one. We were all given a lump of dough and proceeded to roll it out.

After a few instructions, we crossed, twisted and folded to make the "classic" pretzel design. According to the History of Science and Technology, by Bryan Bunch and Alexander Hellemans, "[in 610 A.D.,] an Italian monk invents pretzels as a reward to children who learn their prayers. He calls the strips of baked dough, folded to resemble arms crossing the chest, 'pretiola' ("little rewards")".

Here we are with our "little rewards." We are now Official Pretzel Twisters. We have the certificate to prove it. Can you guess who made which pretzel?

After learning all about historic pretzel making, we got a look at an early 1950's-era automated pretzel twister.

Nowadays, pretzels are made by forcing the dough through molds. The twists are gone. However, the flavor still remains. Sturgis still has some employees on staff making pretzels by hand. They don't use the brick ovens anymore, since the extreme heat causes the historic building to expand and contract. They are using electric ovens to bake these soft pretzels. Here is the booty we plan to bring up to Toronto with us on Thursday:

We picked up the Jalapeno Pretzels especially for Weina. We know she likes things hot and spicy. We thought William would like the horse-and-buggy version; and who doesn't like cheese pretzels? Unfortunately, there will be no soft pretzels by the time we get to Toronto. We need something to fuel the 8 hour drive!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

It's About Time!

What exists everywhere in the universe,
but occupies no space?
What can be measured - 
but not seen, heard, smelled, tasted,
nor held in our hands?
What can be saved, spent, frittered away or killed - 
but never destroyed?

We had to pick our truck up from servicing today, so we looked for a short outing to enjoy before lunch and picking up the truck.  We decided that a visit to the National Watch & Clock Museum, in nearby Columbia, Pennsylvania, might be just the right thing.  We got much more than we expected.

Columbia, the town where the museum is located, was originally known as Wright's Ferry because it was the site of one of the original ferries across the Susquehanna River.  In the 1800's, Pennsylvania constructed a canal at this location to bypass rapids in the Susquehanna, making the river navigable its entire length down to the Chesapeake Bay.  Columbia was a lively industrial town through the 1800's, and most of its buildings downtown date from the Civil War era and the Victorian period. While the town could be more prosperous, it seems clean and its numerous 1800's-era homes and buildings have great potential.

As we arrived at the Clock Museum, which is maintained by the National Association of Watch  & Clock Collectors, we were greeted by this large belltower, which was chiming the noon hour:

The museum itself is located in this impressive building:

It's hard to overstate the breadth of the museum's collection.  As you enter the exhibits, you are taken through a "Tunnel of Time" showing, briefly, the development of clocks and timekeeping from prehistoric to modern times. Here is one of the displays depicting the era of construction of large European clock towers:

Once through the Tunnel of Time, we were introduced to Stonehenge, which, like many other neolithic sites, was used at least in part for the purpose of determining and recording time and the passing of the seasons of the year:

A highlight of our visit was this large "Monumental Clock," which was built by Stephen Decatur Engle, a clockmaker from Hazleton, Pennsylvania:

The Engle Monumental Clock was the first known monumental clock made in the United States. It took Engle 20 years to complete the clock which was finished in 1878. The clock toured throughout the Eastern United States for 70 years before disappearing in 1951.  It was subsequently rediscovered in a Connecticut barn, in very poor condition, transported to the Clock Museum and carefully restored before being put on permanent display in the museum.  The Engle Monumental Clock measures 11' high, 8' wide, and 3' deep and contains three towers. Among its mechanical features are two organ movements and 48 moving figures. The clock also indicates the day of the week, current month, the phase of the moon, and even the current tides. On the hour, a skeleton representing Death strikes a bone against a skull attached to the column of the clock. At 15, 30, and 45 minutes past the hour, Father Time strikes a bell with a scythe and turns his sandglass while the central figures of Youth, Middle Age, and Old Age revolve in the arch above the clock dial. At 40 minutes past the hour, a group of revolutionary soldiers appear from the clock while a barrel organ plays "patriotic tunes". At 55 minutes past the hour, Jesus Christ and the three Marys come out of the center tower as a procession of the Apostles takes place accompanied by hymns.

You have to see it to believe it.

The museum has many rooms, each displaying clocks from various parts of the worlds or eras of the development of timepieces.  The study of clocks and timepieces is known as "horology," and you can be assured you will be surrounded by horology in this museum.

Here is a display of machines that were used to manufacture tiny screws for making pocket watches:

This is but one of many displays of tall clocks, colloquially known in the U.S. as "grandfather clocks."

You might be interested in knowing how they came to be called grandfather clocks.  In 1876, Henry C. Work composed a song called, "My Grandfather's Clock".  The lyrics may be familiar:

My grandfather's clock was too large for the shelf,
So it stood ninety years on the floor;
It was taller by half than the old man himself,
Though it weighed not a pennyweight more.
It was bought on the morn of the day that he was born,
And was always his treasure and pride;
But it stopped short — never to go again —
When the old man died.

The song became so popular that these tall clocks began to be called "grandfather clocks" throughout the country...and so they are called today.

And what self-respecting clock museum can be without a cuckoo clock?  Here is a doozy - it was made around 1890 in Germany.  It is build from carved walnut with a hunting motif - common to many cuckoo clocks. A large deer head with glass eyes sits on top of clock. The dial is encircled by hunting horn. Carved rabbit and pheasant are mounted on either side. An ammunition pouch hangs from the horn and from the pouch hang two dead birds. Oak leaves motifs are carved throughout.

Other displays include novelty clocks.  Characters such as Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny, Woody Woodpecker, Orphan Annie, Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Gene Autry, Dick Tracy, Superman, and Captain Marvel all found their way onto watches or clock dials, as did many other figures, both fictional and real. The most famous character timepiece, the Mickey Mouse watch introduced by the Ingersoll-Waterbury Company in 1933, was so popular that it saved its struggling manufacture from bankruptcy. Novelty clocks still flourish today, as manufacturers continue to create timepieces featuring characters from the latest movies and cartoons.

Another special display includes James Bond watches.  With a continuous history dating back to the early 1950s, Agent 007 is an ideal center for a collection that includes several different brands, first-of-a-kind technologies, and an examination of the style trends that often define who we are by what we wear. Gadgets aside, these timekeepers also make for fantastic storytelling. Consistently, they pit hero against the most unrelenting adversary of all: The clock, fate of the world hanging on mere seconds left before mission success. James Bond watches are invariably at the center of Ian Fleming’s original literary thrillers, continuing today in the James Bond movies.

We spent nearly three hours in the museum, and were so interested in the exhibits that we forgot to watch the introductory film.  Had we watched that and spent a little more time looking at exhibits we skipped over, we could easily have spent four hours or more.  You can see that, while it might seem like a "flighty" subject, the Clock Museum is definitely worth your "time."

P.S. - And that's the answer to the riddle above.

Monday, April 20, 2015

National Civil War Museum

Hi Blog! Today is Monday, April 20, 2015. We are staying in a campground new Lancaster, PA in order to get our Truck and RV inspected. This morning we dropped Great White off at the Lancaster Freightliner Service Center. Since we are expecting rain and thunderstorms today, we looked for some local indoor activity. Unfortunately, many museums are closed on Monday. After looking at a dismal list of movies in the area, we decided to visit the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg.

The Museum is located in Reservoir Park, which sits high above the City of Harrisburg. The original portion of the park dates to 1845. In 1872, a reservoir for the City of Harrisburg was built in an undeveloped area outside the city limits, then called Prospect Hill (now Allison Hill). City leaders recognized the spot as a wonderful vantage point to view the State Capitol, the Susquehanna River Valley and the Blue Mountains and, in 1890, officially established the area around the reservoir as a park. The park is the highest point in the city. Here is the spectacular view:

The museum is located in a two-story brick building. The exhibits and self-guided tour begin on the second floor of the museum and continue on the first floor. There is a gift shop, temporary exhibit gallery, and museum support on the first floor.

After paying our admission fee, we headed upstairs to get a better understanding of the entire Civil War. During our travels, we have visited a number of Civil War sites, but this is the first place that attempts to explain the entire conflict and the implications it had on our country as a whole. Each exhibit shows both the North and South perspectives. The museum uses a mix of life-sized dioramas, artifact displays, narrative texts, live actor video and educational lectures. Here is an example of the life-size diorama of the first shots fired at Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina.

As you start your journey, you are introduced to a number of characters that talk about their situation - whether it be farmer, businessman, plantation owner, blacksmith or slave, both North and South. In each exhibit room, there are videos of these characters describing their thoughts and feelings during that time of the conflict. There are also plenty of artifacts on display.

The Museum doesn't pull any punches. It discusses the good, the bad and the ugly. While not visually graphic, it does describe the horrors of war.

The most impressive exhibit in the Museum was Meet Mr. Lincoln. The interactive display lets you choose from a list of hundreds of questions to ask President Lincoln. The actor who portrays Lincoln answers those questions based on historical answers Mr. Lincoln gave during his life.  By clicking on the link above, you too can Meet Mr. Lincoln.

The final exhibit dealt with the reconstruction of the South and the emancipation of the slaves. Here Kathy stands next to Ephraim Slaughter, an escaped slave who joined Company B of the 3rd North Carolina Colored Infantry, which was renumbered as the 37th United States Colored Troops. Ephraim Slaughter died on February 17, 1943 at the age of 95 as one of Harrisburg's last surviving Civil War soldiers, and was buried with honors in Lincoln Cemetery in Penbrook, Pennsylvania.

Just outside the Museum is the "Walk of Valor," consisting of red bricks bearing the names of Civil War veterans who have been honored by their surviving descendants. The tall US flag is surrounded by masses of both blue and gray small flags.

The National Civil War Museum had a rocky start, with the Mayor of Harrisburg accursed of bankrupting the city, while still buying millions of dollars of Civil War memorabilia for his pet project. Today, most of the turmoil has passed and the Museum is now affiliated with the Smithsonian. If you are interested in U.S. history, this is will be worth a stop.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Hiking the Elders Run Trail at Middle Creek WMA

We previously hiked the Millstone Trail and part of the Horseshoe Trail when we last visited Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area a few days ago.  That visit convinced us that Middle Creek not only offers extensive hiking opportunities, but, even more importantly, abundant opportunities to view migratory birds and other wildlife.  We decided today to explore another complex of trails in the refuge.

Middle Creek in 2010 was designated as a Globally Significant Important Bird Area, because it hosts annually a large percentage of the continent's population of snow geese and tundra swans and provides critically important migratory stopover habitat. Middle Creek also is recognized for having exceptional concentrations and diversity of birdlife; about 280 species of wild birds, including 23 species of overwintering waterfowl, have been recorded there.  Middle Creek‘s allure to tundra swans is galvanized not only by its secure roosting area, but also by the winter wheat and harvested cornfields found on private agricultural lands around of the wildlife management area. Protection of those farm fields is considered paramount to the tundra swans that gather at Middle Creek in late winter. Middle Creek also has been designated as an Important Mammal Area, because it is a unique habitat with a predator-prey complex consisting of meadow voles, northern short-tailed shrews, red
foxes and eastern coyotes. Although none of these are uncommon in the state, such large, functional systems occurring without the intrusion of human disturbance in the form of fragmentation, are uncommon. Middle Creek‘s habitat is a mosaic of extensive soggy old fields that are becoming increasingly uncommon in the state, with woodlands, cultivated and fallow fields and old red cedar. This distinction also was awarded because Middle Creek has an established educational program that interprets the natural history of its resident mammals.

In 1998, a pair of bald eagles created a stir at Middle Creek when they built a nest on a southern shoreline of the main impoundment. A year later, the nesting pair hatched and fledged one young. Since then, the nest has contributed to the bald eagle‘s remarkable recovery almost annually. Today, bald eagles are a principal attraction at Middle Creek. On any given day, a birder or visitor has a great chance of seeing a bald eagle over or in the vicinity of the main impoundment. There also are good seasonal opportunities to see northern harriers, short-eared owls, ospreys, and year-round residents such as red-tailed hawks, Cooper‘s hawks, great blue herons and Canada geese.

Our hike today started at the junction of Horseshoe Trail and Middle Creek Trails and would be a nearly 5 miles loop including both.  We set out west on the Horseshoe Trail.  It still looks like winter in this area, even though the weather was sunny and warm.  You can see Kathy examining the wintry landscape below: 

Even so, we saw the early signs of spring.  Some lime-green leaves had popped, as had some early red leaves.  We discovered these two delicate clumps of wildflowers, which gave firm witness that Spring is arriving:

As we neared the top of the climb on Horseshoe Trail, we crossed an electric line easement with a view west.  The view was partially obscured with brush, and by a haze from a nearby controlled burn.

Continuing on the Horseshoe Trail, we were treated to some open view of the rolling hills.  The area permits controlled logging, and the path (really a woods road) had been cleared perhaps 25 feet on either side by loggers.  The logging was selective, and except for the clearing along the road, its was selective rather than clearcut.

We reached the junction of the Horseshoe Trail with Elders Run Trail.  Here, David examines the trail sign:

About a quarter mile down the Elders Run Trail, Kathy spotted the ruins of an old cabin.  It boasted beautiful stone work for its foundation and chimney, had a cellar you could stand up in, and must have been a nice structure in its day.  Research failed to reveal any history of the ruins.

The cabin was significant enough, however, to have an elaborate stone springhouse, which still functioned.  The spring bubbles up inside the stone structure and fills a small pool, which runs perfectly clear, before the water exits as originally designed and flows down to join Elders Run.

A couple miles down Elders Run Trail, we found the junction with Middle Creek Trail, which follows up Middle Creek back to Middle Creek Lake, along the bed of an old trolley line.  Looking at the substantial work done to build the train bed and raise it from the surrounding wetlands, we were pretty sure that the rail line had been for more profit-oriented purposes than a mere trolley line and that, possibly, the line had originally been built to haul lumber from earlier logging operations.  The trackbed was in surprisingly good condition, although sections of it have since been reclaimed by wetlands.

This section of the trail had its little surprises.  Here, David tries to fit through a "one lane" hikers bridge that crosses a stream bed.  The wooden bridge uses the original train trestle foundation, which, again, was in nearly perfect shape.

Several wet sections of the trail had been improved with boardwalks.  Luckily, the day was dry, or else these boards would have been as slippery as ice due to all the algae on them:

Here was another first:  some obliging trail worker had placed two cut stumps conveniently on either side of a fallen tree to give hikers a step up and down as they clamber over the tree trunk.  We wondered why this was easier to build those stump steps than to simply have cut the fallen tree where it crossed the trail.  However, the entertainment value was immense.

We look forward to more miles of hiking in the Middle Creek WMA.  There are many miles we can explore on the Horseshoe Trail as it leafs out, and Middle Creek itself has many more miles of wildlife viewing trails that we have yet to investigate.  You never know what you'll find when you move into a new area!