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Monday, June 23, 2014

All things chocolate in Hershey, PA

Hershey Kisses streetlights
Chocolate lovers, plan your visit to Hershey, the home of - you guessed it - Hershey Chocolate, Kisses, Hershey Candy Bars and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. It takes advantage of its history with its logo, "the sweetest place on earth."

Celebrate chocolate throughout the town - from the streetlights to getting a Masters in Chocolate Tasting - I have a diploma.

Overview from monorail
Hershey Park boasts 12 roller coasters that seem to twist and turn around each other for miles. It's a large park so visit their website to plan your trip. I like the way the park is in town. Take time to ride the monorail and/or the Kissing Tower to get an overview
Wooden Roller coaster
. It's no surprise that rides have chocolate names.

The Hershey Story Museum showcases the history of Milton
Hershey, his company and the town. Hershey's Chocolate World is free but some of the activities carry a charge. Of the many attractions, I experienced two. Visitors can experience chocolate production in Hershey's Great American Chocolate Tour or earn a Masters in Chocolate Tasting (a paid attraction). Did you know that a milk chocolate snap sounds different than dark chocolate?

A huge shopping experience awaits with all things Hershey. Kids of all ages love the free candy throughout.

Wherever you stay, take time to visit the original Hershey Hotel, opened back in the 1930s. Built during the Great Depression, Milton Hershey kept town residents employed with its construction. Modeled after a Mediterranean hotel, it features an indoor fountain, a Spanish patio and furniture from the era. The spa is famous for its chocolate-infused products.

We were hap[y with all the restaurants we visited but our favorite was the Fenicci's Italian menu.

Hershey's is a short drive from Harrisburg, in eastern Pennsylvania.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Scout in Kansas City

The Scout overlooks Kansas City
Have you visited the Scout in Kansas City, Missouri?

Like the rest of the country, the city owes much of its heritage to the Native Americans. This statue, created in 1915 by Cyrus E. Dallin, depicts a Sioux Indian on horseback surveying the landscape. More than 10 feet tall, it stands on a bluff overlooking the city. I first saw it in the 1970s. I wish I'd taken pictures of the city then to compare to today.

Dallin first exhibited the statue (and won a gold medal) at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Expo in San Francisco. A temporary exhibit in Kansas City created enough enthusiasm that local residents raised $15,000 to purchase it through "The Kids of Kansas City" campaign. The campaign raised the money through nickel and dime contributions.

The statue is located in Penn Valley Park between Southwest Trafficway and Broadway, just north of 31st. The Scout overlooks a fantastic view of the city.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Rescued Big Cats Live a Good Life at Cedar Cove Feline Conservatory

Sissy, a white Bengal Tiger
I love it when I find an unexpected jewel in a city I think I know. Cedar Cove Feline Conservatory and Education Center is truly Kansas City’s best-kept secret.

Most people respond to the grace, power and beauty of big cats. I’m a prime example. I marvel at their intelligent faces and observing eyes, their lean and lithe bodies, their stealth control and their innate ability to stretch and totally relax.

Today at Cedar Cover Feline Conservatory in Louisburg, Kansas, (just a short drive south of Kansas City on Hwy 69 and east on Hwy 68 at the Louisburg exit), sunshine and seemingly contented cats set me into a photo-taking frenzy.

Outside fences protect all of the animals’ areas. I’m not sure if that’s to protect visitors from the cats or to protect the cats from the visitors. The tour guides spend a lot of the tour physically interacting with the cats – from outside their cages. The cats each have their own area plus they share a multi-acre playground. The staff opens the area to only one cat at a time because they are solitary and territorial.

“It’s funny that most of the cats prefer to be in their cages rather than out in the playground,” Sierra Emberson, our tour guide, said. “Most people expect it to be the opposite.”
Voodoo is ticklish

Sierra introduced us to the cats, gave us their history and some interesting tidbits about each of their individual habits (for example, Voodoo, the African leopard, has ticklish paws).

Sissy, a 17-year-old white Bengal tiger ignored us as she enjoyed a pleasant afternoon. Her lazy stretches provided opportunity to see her beautiful markings.

Rajah, a Bengal tiger
“We feed her every three days,” Sierra told us. “She eats only meat – about fifteen pounds each meal. She explained that cats get hungry in the wild and then hunt. The staff tries to replicate that natural cycle.

Kimar, a white Bengal male, was on the prowl. Three orange Bengals share the area with the whites. Rajah entertained us as he rolled on the ground.

“Here’s my special pet,” Sierra introduced us to Ariel, a white female kept in a separate area. “She’s had some aggression issues with the other cats but she responds to me.”

“Do the cats have favorite people?” I asked.
Ariel, enjoying Sierra's touch
“Sure. Some, like Ariel, respond to me and some don’t. We all have our favorites.” Ariel appeared to enjoy Sierra’s touch and cozied up to her. The tigers are shedding their winter coats and with the petting, little wisps of white fur floated in the air.

We saw many other cats (cougars, a caracal, bobcats, small Asian leopard cats, an African leopard, an orange African leopard, a black African leopard and lions) as well as two wolves.

They are all rescue animals. It’s apparent that the volunteers love spending time with them. The conservatory is open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays. Groups can arrange private tours during the week.

Give yourself a treat and support this worthy nonprofit organization. Plan a visit soon or visit their website to make a donation. For more information, visit or call 913.837.5515. You can follow them on Facebook at .

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Village at Grand Traverse Commons, a former mental asylum

Traverse City MI is a gem that for me remained undiscovered until I attended an AGLOW (Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers) event there several years ago.
Former Asylum, Traverse City MI

We stayed in the Grand Traverse Resort, visited interesting restaurants (I even kissed the moose in one of them), ate lots of cherry treats, toured the wineries, fished on Lake Michigan and had a wonderful time. However, we did not have the time to visit the old mental asylum. A couple of days ago I received the following information from Mike Norton at  Traverse City Tourism. I want to go back for many reasons - and this is one of them.

For over a decade, one of the star attractions in this popular resort community has been the Village at Grand Traverse Commons --  a former mental asylum whose stately buildings are being transformed into a bustling residential and entertainment district.

More recently, though, the former asylum is attracting visitors who want to get a last look at its eerie halls, tunnels and garrets before they’ve all been turned into ritzy condos, restaurants and boutiques. Guided tours through the site’s unrestored buildings are now a hot ticket at The Commons, says spokeswoman Tricia Phelps.

“The word has gradually been getting out, and now tourists are starting to find out about this chance to go behind the scenes,” she says. “People have always been interested in exploring these old buildings, and this not only gives them a chance to do it -- without breaking the law -- it gives them an idea about the history of the hospital and the nuts and bolts of the restoration process that they wouldn’t get otherwise.”

Set in a 500-acre expanse of forest and meadow, the tall castle-like buildings of the hospital complex date back to the 1880s, when state officials chose Traverse City as the site of a new asylum ,in the belief that fresh air and beautiful surroundings could ease the sufferings of the mentally ill. The hospital became a huge park filled with Victorian-Italianate buildings of golden brick and planted with exotic trees collected from around the world. It was also a small, self-sufficient city in its own right, with a population that reached as high as 3,500 – larger than that of the city itself.

The centerpiece of the Commons is Building 50, a massive structure topped with ornate scarlet-tipped turrets. Three stories tall and a quarter of a mile from end to end, it is undergoing a gradual makeover that is nearly 60 percent complete. Its garrets and lofts are condominiums and apartments; its lower floors hold offices and businesses, while its former cellar is now The Mercato, a subterranean shopping mall of trendy galleries, boutiques and restaurants.

Other buildings in the huge redevelopment area have also been turned to new uses. The asylum’s former fire station is now an organic bakery; another old brick building is a restaurant, while the former laundry houses a winery and tasting room. Meanwhile, the property’s wide tree-shaded lawns have become a prime space for public events and festivals.

And the pace of development shows no sign of slowing down, especially now that a new system of roads and sidewalks now links the once isolated asylum campus to the rest of the town. The Mercato continues to extend itself northward, while  the 13,000-square-foot former chapel at the center of Building 50 has emerged from a $3 million facelift as a multi-purpose event and meeting space. There is talk of a microbrewery/brewpub, and of a boutique hotel and conference center in several “cottage” buildings on the periphery of the campus.

Meanwhile, a set of huge “cathedral barns” that once belonged the the asylum’s self-sufficient farm are being readied for a $1.5 million renewal that will make them into indoor spaces for concerts, farm markets and weddings  -- and the headquarters of the 26-acre the Botanic Garden of Northwest Michigan.

But visitors are still curious about the secret, spooky places in those lovely old buildings, and they’ve been so insistent that a year ago the folks at the Commons began conducting  guided historic tours into those areas. According to Phelps, the staff conducts five tours per week in the off--season, and 10 per week in the summer and fall. Tours last two hours and are limited to groups of 15 or less.

The tour will take guests through an unrenovated cottage to see the state of the buildings left to decay after the hospital closed in 1989, then proceeds to a “work-in-progress” renovation and an exploration of  the asylum’s underground tunnel system. Finally, the group is led to a renovated hallway within Building 50 to see first-hand the details of the renovation work.

Along the way, the tour guide discusses the history of mental illness in the U.S., the history and architecture of the Traverse City State Hospital, and the ongoing renovation project.

“The cool thing is that the tour is always changing as we finish with each part of the restoration,” says Phelps. “We have people calling us regularly who’ve been on five tours already, and they want to see what’s coming up for number six.”

Tickets for the Guided Historic Tour are $25 and can be purchased on line at 231-941-1900.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Joshua Frase Foundation Event

L-R: Lou Lombardi, Pat McGrath Avery, John Faulkner, Joyce Faulkner, Rosemary Spampinato, JoAnne Quinn-Smith, Ramona Roush, Len Spampinato
Several authors participated in the May 29th fundraiser for the Joshua Frase Foundation at Papa Gallo's restaurant in the Pittsburgh area.

Guests enjoyed good food, music and company as well as the chance to meet area authors. The authors donated a portion of book sales to the foundation. In addition to the authors in the above photo, Jim Greenwald and Anna Marie Gire attended.

JoAnne Quinn-Smith, Red Engine Press and Papa Gallo coordinated and sponsored the event. We appreciate all who helped make the evening a success.

Rosemary Spampinato, wife of Papa Gallo (Chef Len Spampinato) spoke about the disease and the challenges in finding and testing a cure.

"I believe we are within two years of having a cure," she told the audience. "I hope it is in time for my son or at least for the many others who suffer from myotubular myopathy."

The Joshua Frase Foundation ( is an organization dedicated to finding a cure for myotubular myopathy. The Spampinatos' twin sons were born with congenital myotubular myopathy. One son, Dante, died last year at the age of seven. The couple prays for a cure in time to save their son, Roman.

Clinical trials have progressed through large animals and now an additional $500,000 to $1,000,000 is needed to begin human trials. The foundation is working hard to raise the money.

Donations will be greatly appreciated.