Monday, March 9, 2020

In Your Backyard March 2020 ~ Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium

Phil the Groundhog said we were in for an early spring, and as the temperatures go in and out of the
40s I have hope his prediction is correct. So that means cabin fever has hit the breaking point and that is the perfect time for a great educational and all around fun road trip for the family. Pack a raincoat and don’t forget the camera and head south with me for a fantastic day at the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium. Hosting 77 acres of fun and 9000 animals including the fish, the zoo is a great place to view and learn about animals you may have only have read about or seen on tv.
The Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium has seasonal rates and times and until April 30th general admission for Adults $16.95, Seniors (60+) $15.95, children (2-13) $14.95 and children under 2 are free. Summer rates kick in May 1st through September 2nd and are $1 more. I was able to make it down for World Wildlife Day on March 3rd and the Zoo offered free admission for the day. Check their webpage to find out about RAD Day in October for another free admission day and also plan a visit on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day when Mom or Dad respectively receive free admission when accompanied by their child of any age. If you happen to be members of the Erie Zoo then you will be delighted to know that there is a 50% discount for their members if you show your membership card. US active duty military, reservist and veterans also receive free entry with proper ID. If you plan to make the zoo a multiple visit destination for the year, then let me suggest a membership. You can check out the different types on their webpage at Going this route will ensure you get to see all the different types of animals including the reptiles or warm weather animals that may be off exhibit in some of the cooler months as well as save money on your visits.
Families are able to bring in sack lunches and snacks as long as there are no glass containers or bottles and strollers can be used as long as they utilize the elevator for entry into the zoo. So it is the perfect trip for all ages and definitely a great time for the family.
I was absolutely thrilled to see the two baby Clouded Leopard cubs on my latest visit. Both are little boys and are named Gale and Lynn and they seem to have a great time with their enclosure and are full of energy and a true joy to see. Owning cats just made me want to cuddle them and take them home, that was until I saw mom and realized they someday they will be just as big.
I am a huge fan of the PPG Aquarium and all of the different animals including the Sea Turtle Second Chance program. Harbor the Sea Turtle is a current resident who arrived after a severe spinal injury and it was great to see him swimming around his tank. There are many different programs like this that are part of their ongoing commitment to conservation and education, so take a few minutes to check that out if you would like to help.
My absolute personal favorite part of the zoo since I have been going with the kids is the Waters Edge Exhibit. It is a chance to go under two different tunnels in the water to see the polar bears swimming in the first tunnel or sea lions in the second tunnel. It is magical to watch how gracefully these animals are while they are in the water. The fur on the polar bear is just moving in waves like the water giving them a truly amazing look. Be sure you visit that area when you go and I am positive you will not be disappointed. Sometimes the bears are not swimming, but usually if you are patient (even if you have to stop back by) they will at some point go in the water. I no longer have little young ones but one look at the Kids Kingdom and I could tell you that it is absolutely the coolest playground and kid area I have seen in a long time. A wonderful place that has many things to play on, animals to pet, and even a themed restaurant for your picky eater.
Maps are available online as well as the ticket areas, be sure to grab one so as you wander, you are not lost.

As seen in the Meadville Tribune on March 9, 2020

In Your Backyard February 2020~ Camera Museum

Many of us travel around with a smart phone in their pocket and use the camera to do everything from remind us where we are parked, keep a photo of a product in a store we want to buy, share your dinner with social media or just take a photo of a precious family moment. With the technology today, those cell phone cameras are arguably as good as some of the more expensive cameras around, but the biggest difference is, it is usually with you and not safely stored in a camera bag. The saying goes “the best camera is the one you have with you” and leaving the house without our phones is almost unheard of. I teach a photography class and you would be surprised the number of the younger generation that can not identify what film is let alone the concept of sending it away and waiting for photos to come back by United States Postal Service.
So my next trip I am sending you on is a great little museum in Pittsburgh called the Photo Antiquities Museum of Photographic History. So pack the munchkins, download the Pittsburgh parking app (Go Mobile PGH- available on the App Store, Google Play and the Windows Store) and bring your copy of the Meadville Tribune with this article for a special $2 discount on admission into the museum. A couple words of warning, the museum does not have a credit card reader so be sure to bring cash with you for your admission fees and the parking is on street with meters that are controlled by a centrally located machine. The absolute easiest way to pay parking is with the app and your phone, but you can also use cash or card. For those who are not as familiar with this type of system make sure you make note of your space number and your license plate number.
The museum is located at 531 East Ohio St Pittsburgh Pa 15212 and is open Monday and Wednesday through Saturday from 10am to 4pm. The cost is $10 for adults and $8 for students and seniors 65+ and under 5 are free. A guided tour of the museum by the owner is included and this makes the fee well worth the price. Everything thing you can image from the world of photography is in this very organized space and the kids will be amazed how photos used to be made back in early 1800’s. A collection of very rare photos and equipment make this a must see for any picture taking enthusiast and the room of cameras will take you back memory lane to some of the cameras your family may have used when you were a child.
A notable feature of this museum is a few slides from the Keystone View Company which has its roots in our very own town. BL Singley founded the Keystone View Company in 1892 and to make a long story short, it all started with the Flood of Meadville when French Creek overflowed into town. There were 30 original photos of this event in double prints pasted onto cardboard with the name Keystone View Company. In 1898 they began to make and sell the stereoscopic viewers and by 1905 it was the largest of its type of business in the world. In 1972 the Keystone View as we knew it in Meadville was closed and later the building (which was located next to the PNC drive through on Park Avenue) was torn down.
After you take your trip to Pittsburgh be sure to visit the Johnson Shaw Stereoscopic Museum located at 423 Chestnut Street in Meadville. The museum opens for the season in April and is open Saturdays from 10am until 4pm and by appointment only 10am-4pm Sunday through Friday. (Call 814-720-4306 to schedule) It is interesting to learn about how important Meadville was in the history of photography. Long before motion pictures and television sets, families would invite friends over to view the new slides of places and things they had only over heard of. The kids will get the chance to learn how about some of the simpler things that were treasured and enjoyed as well as see how far photography has come in just a relatively short period of time. Donations at the Johnson-Shaw are gladly accepted.
As you stroll through photographic history, remember not all who wander are lost.

As Seen in the Meadville Tribune on February 10, 2020

Saturday, January 11, 2020

In Your Back Yard January 2020- ~ Haserot Angel

 Now that the holidays are officially over and the kids are back in school, a sort of blah often finds its way into daily life. Maybe it was a trip to the mailbox for the new credit card statement that contains all the impulse holiday shopping purchases or maybe it is just the realization that Easter Break is over 3 months away. The shorter days and the weird northwestern Pennsylvania winter weather we are having will likely contribute to the dull drum which seems to be contagious. It is definitely a great time for a road trip to get out of the funk and do something unusual and fun. Like always, grab a camera and some snacks, fill the gas tank and prepare for a free adventure.
Cleveland Ohio is just a hop skip and a jump from Meadville and is home to Lakeview Cemetery (12316 Euclid Ave Cleveland, Ohio 44106). The cemetery hosts an amazing amount of interesting headstones including a life size man sitting playing guitar at the side of the lake, a five foot tall juke box and too many others to mention. It is a photographers dream location.
Many notable people also have made Lakeview Cemetery their final resting place such as John D Rockefeller, the Standard Oil Tycoon and Elliot Ness, who was given credit for helping take down the infamous mob boss Al Capone in Chicago.

President James A Garfield, one of Cleveland’s favorite sons, is memorialized in a 180 foot tall monument which is open to the public. Inside this impressive building is a statue of the former President in a room filled with stained glass and golden mosaics.James Garfield served as a major general in the Union Army when he was elected to represent Ohio in the House of Representatives. He holds the distinction of being the only sitting House member to be elected to the Oval Office. As the 20th President of the United States, he was shot by an assassin’s bullet and lay mortally wounded in the White House for 3 months as the doctors struggled to find the bullet lodged in his back.Alexander Graham Bell was even called in with his newly invented metal detector to help but to no avail and he died from infection and internal bleeding. His short 6 1/2 month term made him the second shortest presidential term in US history. His life and his presidency is definitely worth a Google search a bit of reading. Downstairs is the former President’s casket draped in a US flag beside his wife Lucretia also in this room are two urns which contain the remains of his daughter and her husband. It is a solemn room and unique for the fact that it is the only presidential casket on full display to the general public.

 If famous people and a presidential memorial aren’t enough to entice you to visit, let me tell you about possibly one of the most interesting head stones which belongs to canning baron Francis Haserot and his family. The statue of an angel seated on a marble headstone is titled “The Angel of Death Victorious”. The bronze statue is often called the “Haserot Angel" or due to the name the “Angel of Death”. The life sized statue is impressive with wings spread wide holding an extinguished torch upside down to represent life extinguished and the bronze has the green patina of age. One of the most interesting aspects is the black stains under the angel’s eyes which make it appear to be crying, thus giving the piece its other name, the “Weeping Angel”.

The Weeping Angel is located off the roadway a little bit in Section 9 Lot 14. Maps are available at the main office of the cemetery and also at the Garfield Memorial. The closest marked grave on the map is the Hanna Mausoleum, but even that took a bit to find. My biggest tip is this, if you drive around the little lake, then start up the hill to Section 9, it will be on your right and if you make it as far as the dam then you have gone too far. It was a very cool thing to see and well worth the time it took to find it.

As you drive and explore the grounds, remember that not all who wander are lost.

Monday, December 9, 2019

In Your Backyard December 2019 ~ A Christmas Story

With the Holiday Season fast approaching it is the time for all those traditions and for families to gather together. Many will be watching the favorite holiday classics of the Grinch who Stole Christmas and Rudolph the Red nose Reindeer. Possibly even more will be watching two holiday staples It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story. Did you know that both of this holiday favorites have ties very close to Crawford County? So sit down with your family and watch the films then be inspired to get your egg nog ready, pack some cookies and head out for a little behind the scenes movie magic.
First we will head to our west into the city of Cleveland to the original house that was used in the filming of A Christmas Story. We all can sympathize with Ralphie and his plight
of the pink bunny pajamas and the quest for the one perfect Christmas present. Although I never asked for a Red Ryder BB gun, there were other things on my list that I am sure Santa probably thought twice about. The home has been completely restored to original movie splendor by a super fan and offering tours to the public. Located at 3159 West 11th St., Cleveland, Oh. The information on hours and fees can be found at their webpage This time of year the fans of the film come out in full force for a tour of the Parker family home so be sure to come early and then plan a route home that will take you on some scenic Ohio byways that go past some of the covered bridges and homes decorated with holiday lights.
For a little extra addition to your Ohio trip you can google “Christmas themed stores” and you will find gift stores and Christmas tree farms throughout the small towns on the eastern side of the state. Maybe you will find some little thing for that hard to buy for person on your list, or maybe you will just have fun strolling through the small towns which really do some wonderful holiday displays.
Next, we will head to our east into Indiana County, birthplace of Jimmy Stewart who was nominated for an Oscar in his role of George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life. There is a Jimmy Stewart museum, a statue in his honor and many themed movie events throughout the holiday season. The museum does have an entry fee but the gift shop is free of charge to enter. The facility offers extended hours during the season so it is a great time to take a trip over. Indiana Pa is also nicknamed the “Christmas Tree Capital of the World” with many local tree farms that you can go and choose your own tree and also cut it down. It is a wonderful place to get your inner Santa on and do some inspired holiday shopping and sightseeing. More information on the museum and the events of this neighboring county can be found at their webpage While you are racing around this winter make sure that you take a minute to remember the reason for the season and listen for the sounds of bells. As the iconic line from the movie goes “Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings”. As I write my article this month I have to chuckle a bit as Ross the cat sprints by sporting his bell collar and jingling up a storm.
Often times when watching the classic holiday movies you see things like roasted chestnuts, and homemade fudge. I can tell you that my daughter was inspired by this once and decided to make homemade fudge and we actually ended up throwing that pan away. I have since found that there are recipes on the internet for microwave fudge, hard tack candy, and even roasted chestnuts. So don’t let those holiday goodies daunt you- you can still enjoy them with your family even with just a bit effort. Leave the often stressful times behind as you remember one other famous quote from the film, “No man is a failure who has friends”. So fill your car on your journey this year with family and friends and wander (not lost) together over the fields and through the snow.As Seen in Meadville Tribune

Monday, November 4, 2019

In Your Backyard November 2019 ~ World's Largest Rubber Stamp

“World’s Largest Anything” is not what you would expect to find close to Meadville, and yet there is a world record object not all that far away. So before the snow begins to make travel across interstate 90 a nightmare, why not head out for a cool day trip that will be a wonder for even the most grumpy of your travel mates. 
Located in Willard Park in downtown Cleveland is the World’s Largest Rubber Stamp that has the word FREE etched on it. Originally commissioned for Standard Ohio of Ohio in 1985, it was to be placed in front of their building directly across from the Soldiers and Sailers Monument as a tribute to the soldiers of the Civil War and the end to slavery. Before the work on this monumental structure could be completed however British Petroleum took over Standard Oil of Ohio and the new company refused to allow the stamp. Apparently the word “FREE” now took on a different connotation in regards to the lack of corporate freedom for the prior Standard Oil of Ohio. Even though that was not the reason for the stamp, it was banned from the British Petroleum property and left to sit in a warehouse. 
In 1991 the giant stamp was released to the public and found a new home in Willard Park and is still very near the Soldiers and Sailors Monument of Cleveland which is well worth the few blocks walk. 
The parking in Cleveland is on street parallel metered parking and I can tell you from experience that driving around looking for an open spot is nerve wracking. So take my advice and just head straight to the Willard Parking Garage and pay the $2.50 for the hour. You will possibly spend more than that in fuel driving around aimlessly looking for a space especially during the day on a weekday. 
I have to warn you though about the garage, it is situated just a bit different from the other parking structures I have dealt with. You enter at street level, and will be amazed at just how many cars are actually in there. You can follow the signs for more parking and keep looking for a spot until you seriously have no clue where you actually are. Once you leave the vehicle is when it gets really interesting. First TAKE YOUR TICKET WITH YOU or you will be heading back to get it to pay. Some garages are like this and some are not, but most of the time if you need to pay before you go back to your car there are a gazillion signs telling you that. Now in all honesty, there may have been signs but I was too focused on trying to figure out which way to turn at each intersection to find more parking. Here is where my story takes a significant “what the heck” turn. Having left the vehicle I went to the stairwell and like most garages headed down the stairs. Getting to the bottom I find there was no way out. In all of my twists and turns and concentrating on find a spot I did not dawn on me that I was actually going below street level. For at least 10 mins I wandered around (although I was not exactly lost) until I found the elevator that was working on the West side of the structure. It was one of those “head smacking” moments, but the 49 foot tall stamp and the Soldiers and Sailors was worth all the aggravation. 
There is also a large statue of Abraham Lincoln and the words to the Gettysburg Address are inscribed below, so it maybe a good little history lesson for the kiddos. I tell all the parents this ahead of time so they can read up on some Civil War Trivia and astound the kids with their intellect and knowledge, or at least feel like they did. 
There is much to do and see in Downtown Cleveland if you are making the journey over so plan a day of it. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, and the Museum of Natural History are just a few of the attractions. Why not take a little time to see what the city has to offer while you are there. 
Once your trip is done, it is time to find your car so just keep repeating, “Not all who wander are lost, not all who wander are lost”

Monday, October 14, 2019

In Your Backyard October 2019 ~ Kinzua Sky Walk and Leaf Ride

As the air begins to turn crisp in the evenings and the leaves start to take on their fall colors, it is a great time to take a leaf ride and view the patchwork quilt of colors in the Allegheny Mountains. I grew up in Warren County Pennsylvania and every year during the fall I try to make the journey back to visit and see the leaves. I particularly love to go to the Allegheny National Forest area and the Kinzua Dam which has the combination of water, leaves, scenic overlooks and peaceful byways for a wonderful outing that is less than two hours away. 
Two of the best places to view the leaves is the Rimrock and Jake’s Rock areas in the park itself. The higher elevation of the area means the leaves change earlier than they do here, and they often are in full color early October. For maps of some of the best driving trails through the area for the better views and more information you can visit the National Forest webpage at 
One of the coolest places to visit in the National Forest is the former Kinzua Viaduct which is now the Kinzua Sky Walk. There is a great visitor center there with lots of information on the history of the original viaduct. It is an impressive engineering feat and the display is very interesting for the young and young at heart. It is located within the Kinzua Bridge State Park at 296 Viaduct Road, Mt. Jewett, PA 16740 
One of my favorite memories of the area is a camping trip with the three kids one Memorial Day weekend in 2003. The kids were very young at the time and it was a fairly ambitious adventure and anyone from northwest Pennsylvania probably has a clue how this all turned out. We went to sleep in a rain storm (finding out that the new tent leaked) and we awoke to a snow storm. Since we were not to be deterred from the family outing we checked out the KOA in the area and rented a cabin for the remaining time. With a good 2” of snow accumulation we decided that a warm car ride was in order so we went to check out the then viaduct. I have some very cool photos and memories of that day, and was saddened greatly to hear that a tornado took the center section of the viaduct within the next few months. 
The grand old structure has since been repurposed as a walking trail and observation platform. The leaf view is amazing and the plexiglass floor in the observation platform area will give those who like to live on the edge a great view of the former pieces of the viaduct which are far below your feet. In fact the center of the structure was 301 feet above the valley floor, to give you an idea of just how high that is, the Statue of Liberty is 305 feet and 6 inches tall. Needless to say, I am not one who likes heights and it takes a whole lot for me to step out on the Plexiglass surface. 
Which ever road you chose, and however long you make your excursion, you will begin to notice the colors and the wonderful designs on the hillsides as soon as you enter Warren County which begins just on the eastern side of Titusville. Make sure you pack the kids some snacks because there are many cool picnic areas and have a camera with you for some great photos. The Visitor Center located at the Kinzua Dam area has paper maps and is a great viewing area for Bald Eagles. In the past I have seen multiple pairs soaring in the sky, and landing in the treetops not far from the parking lot. 
As you drive be aware there are areas that cell phones GPS is a bit spotty, so a stop for the paper map or printing one out from the website is not a bad idea. I want you to wander, but I do not want you to get lost. 
As Seen in Meadville Tribune

Monday, September 9, 2019

In Your Backyard September 2019 ~ 911 Memorial

Eighteen years ago I was holding my infant son watching in horror as the World Trade Center buildings fell. He was only two weeks old and I wondered what kind of world I was bringing him into. As the day unfolded it was clear to me that his world would be much different then mine was growing up. Although I was born during the Cold War Era, I watched the news as the Berlin Wall fell and the former Soviet Union once again became Russia. My childhood had a sense of impending peace and I was afraid that my children would have a sense of impending doom. 
Well, as the years went on, it seemed the only times we were reminded of that fateful September morning was once a year on the anniversary or if you decided to fly on a plane. Even air travel started to get back to somewhat normal and pretty soon the 11th of September began to pass for much of the country as just another day. 
Many of us do not live in the areas which were affected directly by the tragedy so it is not foremost in our minds. About three years ago however, in completely unrelated and unplanned trips, I was given the opportunity to visit all three memorials within a 12 month period and I wanted to share that experience. 
First was the Pentagon as we were coming back from a family vacation and traffic was very light since it was the middle of the night. I had a GoPro mounted on my dashboard driving through the capital and past the monuments when I got the idea. Well, there are 2 entrances to the Pentagon and I chose the one (not knowing any better) on the opposite side of the memorial. Let’s just say that Pentagon police are swift responding and I was told that photography was not allowed and there sits my dash camera blinking. Luckily I must not have appeared to be much of a threat and was allowed to proceed to the memorial with a police escort. (They also stayed the entire time we were there). I am positive that this event is where my FBI file starts. For those who get the chance, the memorial is designed with lighting and water that is definitely best viewed after dark. The direction of the “light benches” on the ground will let you know who was in the plane and who was in the building and they are arranged by age, with the exception of the youngest victim who was age 3 and she was surrounded by her family. The 184 benches are a striking reminder of the loss of life. Just be sure to do some homework ahead of time to know which entrance to go in (I believe it is the North Entrance- but best verify). 
Shortly after that I had the opportunity to go to New York City for the first time, and I went to the World Trade Center memorial. By this time, construction of the memorial was completed and the footprint of Tower 1 and 2 are now a somber display of recirculating water which seems to fall into an abyss below. Surrounding each is a railing with the names of all the victims from each of the three incidents on 9-11 and also the six which died in the 1993 bombing of the towers. Over 3000 names can be read as you walk around the pools. It is a humbling experience. 
A few months later I was traveling from Virginia and saw the sign for Shanksville that I had passed so many times in the prior years. This time, with the recent visits to the other two sites, I felt compelled to take the detour. This was ultimately the most difficult museum to visit. Inside there was a wall with telephone handsets that you could pick up and listen to the voicemails that were left on loved ones answering machines from the passengers of Flight 93. They were gut wrenching and I admit it, I was bawling as I listened to their goodbyes. It is a 3 hour drive from Meadville to the memorial, and I suggest the road trip for any family with an 18 year old. Let them listen to the voices of those who sacrificed themselves to ensure there would not be more than the 3000 names on the list of victims. 
For many, a trip to the memorials themselves is out of the question. But there is a way to still pay your respects far more locally. A beam from the World Trade Center is part of the Erie 911 
Memorial and is located at the Blasco Library and the Maritime Museum in the Bayfront area. The beam is outside and can be visited at any time, there is a display inside open to the public during library hours. There is much to do in the area so plan a day to take in some sights as well. 
It was the philosopher George Santayana that stated "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. As my son celebrated his 18th birthday last week, I know he could not possibly remember, and it is my job to teach and to remember. “We Shall Never Forget” As you wander through your life, please make sure your history is not lost. 

In Your Backyard March 2020 ~ Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium

Phil the Groundhog said we were in for an early spring, and as the temperatures go in and out of the 40s I have hope his prediction is co...