Friday, November 21, 2008

The Best Family Entertainment Pass!

We have been buying a Zoo Pass for the last two years, which for our family runs about $80. Actually, it has been a Christmas gift for my girls from Grandma and Papa! But this year, we have found an even better deal!

The Boonshoft Museum of Dicovery in Dayton, OH offers a family membership pass for $100. Why would you ever want a membership to a museum in Ohio? Well, their pass is part of the Association of Children's Museum reciprocal program, the Association of Science-Technology Centers, and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. What does all this mean? It means that for only $20 more than just a zoo meembership, your family gets admission into the Buffalo Zoo, the Explore and More Museum in East Aurora, the Buffalo Science Museum, and the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester (the best children's museum EVER)! AND it's also good at hundreds of places all over the country!!! What a deal!

Click here for more information. The $100 package is called the Adventurer and is good for both parents and all children under 17 in the household. The pass is good for one year from the date of purchase. Make sure you check with each individual museum or zoo when using reciprocal benefits. They all have their own rules - some may get you in free, others may give a discounted admission. I'm pretty sure that all of the ones around here are free admission.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Going to Canada, Without the Headaches and Anger

It is highly recommended by this blog that you often head to Canada for fun and excitement, but this blog entry only deals with the most rudimentary mechanics of going into Canada and successfully getting back home.  Three things: Documents, Tolls, and Traffic Check.  First, you have to have the correct documents because otherwise you will spend the rest of your days in a Turkish prison.  See this website for the current requirements.  Second, bring at least $4 for bridge tolls, maybe more.  Lastly, check the current traffic conditions on the bridges at this site.  It is unlikely that you will avoid a line in the middle of summer, but checking ahead and planning your route accordingly will be the difference between a 30 minute wait versus a 2 hour (or longer) wait.  A tip: add the traffic hot line number to your cell phone and call it as soon as you get close enough to the border to get service from the US and find out the wait so you have some idea of the wait (for potty breaks, getting food, and the like).  Also, early morning (until 9:30 am)  and later at night (after 8 pm) are generally good times to get through customs in a hurry, but there are always exceptions.

Some ideas for exploration in Canada (an incomplete list, which may or may not be fleshed out at a later date):
  • The best view of the Falls is in Canada
  • Marineland, Niagara Falls (an extra $5 above regular admission gets you a season pass)
  • Toronto Zoo
  • Ontario Science Centre
  • Toronto Temple - only 30 minutes further away than Palmyra
  • African Lion Safari - bring money for a car wash to get the monkey poop off
  • Butterfly Conservatory, Niagara Falls
  • Niagara-on-the-Lake, a quaint and expensive (but it's quaint!) village
  • The beaches in Fort Erie
  • IKEA in Burlington
  • Toronto sports teams - Blue Jays, Raptors, and Leafs (just don't plan on getting tickets to a Leafs game, but the downtown ambiance is nice during a Leafs game)
  • Myriad other things I have not mentioned yet - Like the Royal Ontario Museum, the shoe museum, and other things

Monday, June 30, 2008

Shakespeare in the Park

One thing that defines summer in Buffalo is free outdoor concerts and festivals.  We take advantage of every last day of good weather to find something to celebrate - Greek heritage, Polish heritage, good food, the local rivers, art, strawberries, our closeness to Canada...  You name it and we celebrate it!  
One of those free summer festivals that I think is especially unique to our area is the Shakespeare in Delaware Park series.  Each summer a local group performs two of Shakespeare's plays on an outdoor stage near the Rose Garden in Delaware Park.  Each season includes one of Shakespeare's tragedies and one of his comedies.  This year, the performances will be "King Lear" and "The Merry Wives of Windsor."  The shows start at 7:30 pm on Tuesday-Sunday evenings during July and August.  (Check out for the exact dates and other details.)  The shows are really well done, but more importantly, they are free, although the cast circulates in the crowd during intermission, asking for donations.  You can bring food, kids, dogs - the whole shebang! - and be as formal or as casual as you like.  The crowd ranges from art lovers with elaborate champagne picnics to families with KFC takeout!  There are port-a-potties set up nearby for the duration of the performances, and if the show gets too long for you, you can wander down to Hoyt Lake, play on the nearby playground, or take a walk on the park's paths (but be careful after dark, okay?).  I know that Shakespeare is not for everyone, but I just wanted you all to know that this option was out there.  Enjoy!

Here are directions from the Buffalo Ward Chapel:

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Louie's Hot Dogs

Janna and I went to Louie's Hot Dogs this past Saturday.  This is the home of the original foot long hot dog - made by Sahlen's, of course, especially for Louie's.  Since the hot dogs are just hot dogs after all, even if they are Sahlen's, you might ask yourself why should you pay for $3.25 for a foot long hot dog.  The answer, my friend, is milkshakes, not the thick kind from out West, but rather the creamy kind native to everywhere else.  I like the straight vanilla; Janna likes the black raspberry.  Take your pick; they have about a dozen flavors to choose from.  Also on the menu, excellent Italian sausage, chicken sandwiches (Not as good as Mississippi Mudd's, reports Janna, but excellent none the less) and burgers.  The Grand Island Blvd. location is next to the Sheridan Park Golf Course and there are picnic tables to eat outside.  Another bonus: for those who like malt vinegar on their fries, Louie puts it into spray bottles for easy and even application.  Look for Louie himself, now close to 80, on the weekends, making shakes in the back.  Also, there is a location near Children's Hospital for those who have rotations there.

Cost: Cheap, $2-5 entrees a la cart (Steve's Recommendations - The Foot Long Hot Dog with "the works" - onions, pickles, mustard, and hot sauce; and the Italian Sausage with grilled onions and peppers and hot sauce), Milkshakes are about $3
Decor:  It's like eating in a garage unless you eat outside, where it is quite pleasant
Crowds: Depends, but not too bad
Parking: Not a problem
Directions: Here are directions from the Buffalo Ward Chapel.  As always, adapt them to your starting location by clicking on "View Larger Map" and editing the starting location.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Eternal Flame Falls

Eternal Flame Falls is in Chestnut Ridge Park, a county park in Orchard Park. It is in an undeveloped section of the park, also called Shale Creek Preserve. After a short hike through typical WNY forest, you head down into a little gorge and head back upstream towards the waterfall. This is a neat, possibly unique in the whole world, site to see. There is a 30 foot waterfall with a gas seam underneath it. Usually, the seam is lit so there is a four to six inch flame coming out of the rocks underneath the waterfall. Although, this is a hike involving steep slopes and possible stream walking for a few feet, I highly recommend this hike for families with kids. My kids are fascinated by the flame under the falls. They also enjoy splashing in the stream and seeing the birds and trees along the way. One of my favorite times of year to visit is in the winter when there is lots of ice framing the flame, just use caution for thin ice and slippery slopes.

Where it is: It is on Seufert Road right after the turn from Chestnut Ridge Road (See directions from Buffalo Ward chapel). There is a wide section of shoulder on the right on which you can park. Head through the gate and follow the blue blazes on the trees. There is also a map posted on a signboard a little ways up the trail.
How long a hike: The signboard says 1.3 miles roundtrip. I think it is a tad longer because of the winding nature of the stream and the elevation changes.
Best time of year: For low stream levels, mid to late summer. Coolest scenery - Winter after several weeks for very cold weather for neat ice formations on the gorge walls and around the waterfall.
Word of advice: Please use caution at all times as there are steep drop offs, wet rocks, and running water throughout the preserve. That said, it is one of the coolest hikes that I have ever done. Also, bring a BBQ-style lighter, in case the gas seam is not lit. You should be able to see a little recess under the waterfall to the right and light the crack at the back of it to see the flame.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Free Date Night Idea

As Steve and I continue to post ideas on this blog, you will soon figure out that I tend to be the tightwad in our family.  So, in that spirit, I decided to share one of my favorite free date night activities.  Every Friday between 3 and 10 pm, the amazing Albright-Knox Art Gallery here in Buffalo opens its doors for a free evening called Gusto at the Gallery.  All of the permanent art collection can be viewed for free, and there are also special movie showings, musical performances, lectures, and other sundry "culture" to experience each week.  For example, tonight (June 20) there is a Belly Dancing performance!  The special traveling exhibits at the museum are not usually included in the free admission, but you can pay a small fee if you absolutely must see one of those exhibits.  Steve and I have been going on Gusto at the Gallery dates since our teens.  They make a wonderful break from the basic "dinner and a movie" routine, especially if you round out the evening with a walk in neighboring Delaware Park (another of Buffalo's treasures).  Alternatively, spend a little money and drive down Elmwood to one of our favorite eateries, Pano's, for fabulous fresh strawberry shortcake!  But that's a post for another day...

To find out more about the Albright-Knox and Gusto at the Gallery, go to  (I will try to have my tech-savvy husband attach some directions and links to this post later)  Enjoy!

UPDATE: Here are the directions from Buffalo Ward building.

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Indoor fun for toddlers

Okay, it's Janna's turn to post a recommendation on the blog!  Most of you with young children have already been introduced to fun area activities such as the Buffalo Zoo, Science Museum, etc.  I'd like to point out a more obscure museum in the area - the Explore & More museum in East Aurora.  It is located in an unassuming office building/town hall in East Aurora, a quiet community in the Southtowns which is also the headquarters of Fisher Price.  The museum itself consists of one large room of hands-on activities best for kids ages 2-5 (in my opinion).  There is a plastic garden, farm stand and kitchen for those kids who like to play with food, a construction center for Bob the Builder fans, a rice box with sand toys for those who like to dig, etc.  It's not an all-day destination, but my kids can usually entertain themselves happily for an hour or two.  The reason I bring it to your attention is twofold:  First of all, it is indoors.  And those of you who have lived in Buffalo for a while know what a blessing that can be in March when your kids are antsy after a long winter, but it is still too muddy and cold to head outside!  Second, the Explore & More museum is free to all WIC members.  The WIC program provides food help to families with pregnant or nursing moms and all young children up to the age of five.  Many student families in our ward take advantage of this program, so I thought I'd point out one of the bonuses!   Here is the website for hours and directions (if I can figure out how to link...hmmm...)  Well, it's  Good luck!

UPDATE: Here are the directions from the Buffalo Ward building (Click on the view larger map link to see the real directions if it shows you something dumb like North America):

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