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Where in the World are the Nolan Shafers?

September 21, 2012

Days 60 – 70; August 16 to 26

Where in the world are the Nolan Shafers?!?!  We’ve been so busy DOING our adventure – it’s been hard to find time to be WRITING our adventure!  That and a fatal bug took over Steven’s computer – so for a couple of weeks he had to co-opt the laptop I write from to keep up with his work.  Sharing the computer so he could keep working – a small price to pay for the ability for him to continue working from the road (his ability to work from the road is what has made this entire trip possible!).  And – his workmates graciously programmed and FedExed a brand new laptop to him in New York City – so he’s now working on a sleek, very fast new machine and once again I’ve got easy access to a laptop (though we are currently in Canada and the connections are abysmally slow) . . . in any case, here we go.  I’m going to do my best to at least begin to catch you up with where we’ve been and what we’ve seen.

Rainbow under the falls – this beautiful photo was captured by Helen.

Niagara (Canadian Side):  We were wowed by the falls.  Over, under, beside and on top – we saw them from every angle – and from every vantage – they were magnificent.  But first – when we arrived at our hotel, we were offered free tickets to see performer Danny ZZZZ.  Performing at the Niagara Crowne Plaza Ballroom, Danny ZZZZ is a magician and a certified (Olivia was very impressed by the fact that he is certified!) hypnotist.  So – we started our Niagara adventure with a walk down to see the falls and then dinner at the Rainforest Cafe (first time there – the food was basically bleck – but the girls loved the ambience!).

Fun family dinner at the Niagara Rainforest Cafe!

Dinner was followed with the magic show – which was family friendly, fun, funny –  and – magical! We all enjoyed it very much, Danny ZZZZ is a great entertainer, and it turned out to be a magic start to what would be a magic two days at Niagara! Following the magic show, we discovered there was a Friday night fireworks display and light show at the falls.  After the magic show was over, we had some time to wait for the fireworks – so we walked down to the stunning Queen Victoria Park. A perfect place to wait and from which to watch the fireworks.  And, it turned out, also a perfect place to play.  We arrived at twilight.  The park features gorgeously colored sculpted gardens and a deep grass amphitheater in the center.  As the final pink glow of sunset swept the sky, Steven and I perched on the cement steps leading down to the amphitheater and watched the girls roll willy nilly down the hill, climb back up, and do it again and again and again.  As more and more Niagara visitors, many of them families with children, began gathering in the park for the fireworks show, some of the kids started a game of tag.  Pretty soon, more than a dozen assorted children, Helen and Olivia among them, were skittering up and down the grass-green bowl, running fast to escape whoever was “IT.”  It was our absolute delight to witness the spontaneous, joy-filled playing of that universal children’s game – “TAG – You’re It!”

Then. . .  B O O M!

Niagara fireworks!

The fireworks started and all those tagsters scattered around the park to re-join their families and watch the show.  We enjoyed the fireworks and, all tuckered out, walked the hill back to our hotel and had a great night’s sleep knowing the next day we would be IN the falls!

Saturday we walked back down to the edge of the falls and hopped on a double-decker bus that took us around to visit many Niagara tourist sites.  We learned a lot about the area and the history of the falls from our tour guide – and then took a long walk through the tunnels UNDER the falls.  The tunnels at Niagara allow for the hydroelectric works there to be maintained and also offer tourists some prime (and very wet) viewing opportunities.  The tunnels were damp and loud and cave-like, and for me, very claustrophobic.  I cut out early – but Steven and the girls stayed down under to explore – my little spelunkers!  While peering out from under the falls, Helen caught a couple of incredible rainbow-under-the-falls photographs (see above).  Spectacular rainbows – and truly spectacular photos!

We caught up with each other back at the top and headed down to get on The Maid of the Mist boat ride that takes you onto the Niagara River and into the falls.  This is what I had been waiting for!  After lining up with hundreds of fellow tourists, the surprisingly fast-moving line brought us down to the docks and we donned our plastic raincoat hoodies and climbed aboard.  Standing on the main deck on the starboard side of the bow, we headed right for the falls.  Tossing and turning and getting soaked by the roiling waters of the falls – we shouted and cheered, laughed and screamed our way through the ride – hanging onto the railing and each other for dear life.  The boat ride was an exhilarating way to gain a tiny glimmer of understanding regarding how mighty those waters are – the power and glory that is Niagara!

The Maid of the Mist! All slickered up and ready for the falls!

Despite our slickers, we got off our rollicking ride soaked through, water draining off of our ponchos and out of our tennies.  Hungry and tired, we were damp diners in the restaurant where we ate our evening meal.  It was a long, soggy trip back to our room and we were weary.  Once in our room, we all took hot showers and dried off.  The girls looked like elegant Sheba Queens with their hair wrapped up in fluffy white-towel turbans, relaxing for a bit before we all climbed into our soft, snuggly-warm beds and fell to sleep dreaming water fall dreams!

Our elegant ‘Sheba Queen’ Olivia wearing her towel – all showered and warm after a fun and very wet ride on the Maid of the Mist.

Helen – warm, dry and ready to relax after our Niagara Falls adventures.

A tremendous, WONDER-FALL day!

The next morning we got up early and crossed the Rainbow Bridge taking us from Canada into New York State and drove on to our next destination, Pittsburgh, PA.

Pittsburgh:  Steven spent 18 years in Pittsburgh.  First as a PhD student at Carnegie Mellon University, followed by his tenure as a faculty member in the Computer Science Department.  He has many contacts and friends still there – and while we weren’t able to catch up with as many of them as hoped, Steven was able to spend some time at the University reconnecting.  We also had planned a trip to the Robotics Institute there.  I’ve been there once before.  The work they do in that lab turns science fiction into fact.  Steven has shared many stories with the girls about the crazy-interesting innovations that are created there and we were all looking forward to seeing what they’d been doing at the institute most recently.   Unfortunately, this is where we discovered the major computer virus that had taken over Steven’s computer and an afternoon, evening, and most of the next morning were devoted to technical problem solving.  This meant we had to try to re-schedule our Robotics Institute visit.  Sadly, we couldn’t find a time that worked and we were sorry not to be able to have our visit at this phenomenal lab.  Oh well – a reason to come back!

Happily, we were able to catch up with three of Steven’s dearest friends in Pittsburgh.  First, Bob Feller.  Dr. Robert Feller, now in his 90’s, is still considered a leader in the work of art conservation, restoration and preservation.  Since the 1950’s he has held a conservation fellowship with the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. and was the Director of Art Conservation at Mellon Institute where he still holds an emeritus position. His vitae is long and he is recognized internationally in the world of art and art conservation. In our world, he is recognized as a dear friend and wonderfully kind and witty human being.  Bob treated us to a beautiful dinner at Cafe Sam in downtown Pittsburgh (side note – driving an RV anywhere in Pittsburgh is a gargantuan challenge – intrepid Steven accomplished the feat valiantly!).

Our dear friend Bob Feller. Such a wonderful visit – though far too short!

We followed dinner with a visit to Bob’s apartment where he entertained us by sharing many African objets d’art along with fun anecdotes about how the pieces had come to be part of his collection.  We were lucky to also view several works of art Bob himself has created over the years.  Bob also looked over the girls’ sketch books and had many generous and encouraging remarks for both Helen and Olivia about the art they are creating.  The visit was much too short, but every minute we had with this dear and brilliant friend was a joy.  Another reason to make plans for a return visit to Pittsburgh!

The next night we spent with Dr. Jerry and Miri Rabinowitz.  To save us a trip into downtown Pittsburgh in our RV (thank you Jerry and Miri!!!) they came to our hotel and picked us up and took us high up into the hills of Pittsburgh to Bella Vista – a very posh and delicious Italian restaurant.  The view from the restaurant was stunning – overlooking the Monongahela, Allegheny and Ohio Rivers that come together in downtown Pittsburgh.  From our viewpoint we could see well over a dozen city bridges – all lit up – that cross over those rivers.  Steven hadn’t seen Jerry and Miri in at least a half-dozen years, it had been even more years for me, and they had never met Helen and Olivia in person.  They were pleased to be finally talking to the girls face to face after so many years of holiday photos!  We caught up a bit on Jerry and Miri’s work – Jerry is a family care doc in private practice – Miri is the administrator of a medical research project at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.  They are also very involved in their temple – a Reconstructionist Congregation that they both find to be an enlivening community to call their spiritual home.  I would have loved to have had many more hours (days!) to discuss politics, religion, their good and interesting work. . . Steven shared some about his current work, we shared our adventures parenting, and we all had lots to say about the adventures we’ve had so far on this journey.  After dinner, we rode the Duquesne Incline (pronounced Dew-Kayne – I stumbled over this word several times) from the top of the hill down to the south side of Pittsburgh.

On the incline car and ready to head down the hill on the Duquesne Incline in Pittsburgh after a lovely dinner with Jerry and Miri.

This old wooden cable car, and it’s sister the Monongahela Incline, was once used to take steelworkers up and down the very steep hills (more like cliffs) of Pittsburgh to their work in steel mills.  Today it moves local pedestrians and tourists up and down those same hills.  It was a unique ride – a first for Helen and Olivia – and especially fun to do with the city and river lights at our feet.  Sadly, as with Bob, we had to leave Jerry and Miri far too soon.  Another trip to Pittsburgh is on the top of our someday soon list!

From Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, we had to make another very important stop.

Hershey, PA!  Our time in Hershey can quickly be summed up in the following quote from Olivia:

“The Grand Canyon – Good.  ~  Niagara Falls – Very Good.   ~   Hershey, PA – Most Excellent!”

Hershey, PA – “Most Excellent!”

All four chocolate lovers in the family were happy with this stop.  We had a grand tour of Hershey’s Chocolate World including a trolley ride around the town of Hershey that included a sing-a-long featuring many old-time songs like Bicycle Built for Two, You are My Sunshine, Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree, and Good Ole Summertime. 

It may sound corny, but this little sing-a-long was the best part of the day for me.  People from all over the world, bound together by a shared love for all things chocolate, singing “Daisy, Daisy. . . ” as we rolled through the town of Hershey – where the street lights are shaped like Hershey’s kisses!  The girls’ favorite part (Steven’s too) was the make your own chocolate bar factory tour where we did exactly that – made our own chocolate bars.  We got to pick our own candy ingredients, design the packaging, and walk the assembly line as the chocolate bar was created, cooled, and packaged up.

On the assembly line making their personal, very scrumptious Hershey Bar at Hershey World in Hershey, PA. Who needs Willy Wonka!?!

Very fun – and it left us with enough chocolate to keep us all happy for a long while (OK less than a week – but at least we didn’t eat it all in one day!)  We finished up the day with a long debate about milk chocolate versus dark chocolate.  Steven and Helen could not be swayed from their erroneous assessment that milk chocolate is best.  Olivia and I hold firm in our stance – dark chocolate is superior in every way.  We simply have to agree to disagree (though Olivia and I know for sure that Steven and Helen are mistaken on this issue!).

Lancaster, PA – Amish Country – The day after Hershey we spent touring some of Pennsylvania’s Amish country.  We drove through lush and rolling farmlands in Lancaster County (no signs of drought at all here).  We stopped for what turned out to be an incredibly bountiful afternoon meal at “Good and Plenty,” a restaurant which features Pennsylvania Dutch farm suppers served up family style.  We were seated alongside other guests at long, blue-gingham covered trestle tables and the platters and bowls started coming.  Creamy glass plates of ripe red, fresh off the vine tomatoes and dairy-farm fresh cottage cheese; warm loaves of sliced, baked in-house bread and bowls of newly churned butter (they could have stopped there – I was already happy – the tomatoes alone were so good they made me groan – bright red and so sweet – yummmm); buttermilk fried chicken; mashed potatoes, so creamy and swimming in butter; braised beef; pitchers of milk right from the dairy – it poured like cream.  This is the kind of food that keeps you going if you’ve been up since dawn working hard on a farm – not quite so necessary if you got up at 8:00 and spent the morning rolling around in an RV.  None-the-less, we managed to dig in and do our fair share!  So incredibly fresh and delicious!  And they weren’t finished.  Dessert.  Coffee, handmade apple pie, cookies and two kinds of pudding (rice and chocolate).  I think we paid $35.00 (TOTAL) for this fresh from the farm, eat all you want meal.  And every morsel was served up by the kindest, warmest, most hospitable woman imaginable – all wrapped up in her blue gingham apron.

We went on to explore more of the Amish Country.  We viewed a film, “Jacob’s Choice,” a docudrama about a young man struggling with the decision to stay with his Amish family or go out into the modern world and make his own way.  Given where we were, I was surprised that the film offered what, from my perspective, seemed to be a very fair and honest portrayal of many of the challenging issues a young Amish person must face in making this decision (in the end – Jacob chose to stay with his community – and we later learned that, in fact, a large majority of young adults do make the choice to stay).

We also met Erin Smuckers.  An Amish gentleman himself, Erin was a corn farmer for many years.  Erin is now semi-retired and drives tourists around in his horse-drawn buggy for a living.  Erin, who prefers not to have his photo taken, is average in height and a bit stocky, dressed in every day working Amish garb – dark, sturdy pants, a blue work shirt and suspenders, a long but thin grey beard and dark, wide-brimmed hat, his crinkly blue eyes rimmed with dark glasses.

Waiting our turn to ride with our new Amish friend, Erin Smucker.

We decided to take a ride with Erin (HORSE drawn buggy after all) and he drove us around and through several Amish farms.  Though his community eschews the use of electricity, they do use gas and propane to operate some of their farm and kitchen tools.  Still, horse-drawn machinery remains the primary equipment used in farming.  Each of the farms we rode through were absolutely immaculate and we saw many men, and even youngsters, hard at work in the fields.  I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Erin’s descriptions of family and farm life.  I even elicited a few thoughts from him regarding religion. After sharing a bit about Amish religious practice and their devotion to Christianity, he made a somewhat offhanded comment about not being sure what the Jewish religion could really be about since they didn’t believe in Jesus.  He was, of course, more than a bit chagrined to find out that Steven is Jewish.  I think he was stumped by the fact that I’m Christian, my husband is Jewish, and we are raising children together.  How could we possibly make all that work? (Good question – we’re still figuring it out ourselves!)  It would have been a very interesting conversation to continue, one that I would have loved the opportunity to pursue!

After we left Erin, we stopped at a few handmade arts and crafts sellers we spotted along the way.  Incredibly beautiful handiwork was on display in many places and we purchased a few small gifts as well as a gorgeous, hand-made,  heirloom quality quilt which we shipped home.  I’m already anticipating many winters of coziness nestled  up in our new and beautiful piece of art!

Some of the intricately handcrafted quilts displayed for visitors to view and possibly purchase. Hundreds of hours of treadle-machine sewing and hand stitching go into the creation of these heirloom quilts.

There has been much in the media of late regarding how harsh and unforgiving some members of Amish communities can be.  Like most traditions, it is often conservative zealots who get most noticed.  I realize that the Amish lifestyle cannot possibly be as idyllic as it appeared on our very short visit there.  Still, in this bucolic countryside, I discovered much that was appealing about the Amish way – to be so connected with each other – and to be so disconnected from much of the frenzied mania that comes with the ‘plugged-in’ world most of us live in.  (I’m very aware of the irony of writing this from my very ‘plugged in’ computer while sitting in our very ‘plugged in’ hotel room in a very bustling and frenzied metropolitan city.) I’m not sure I’m ready to give up electricity and move to Lancaster – but I was very intrigued by the beauty of the land, the honest hard work, the strong family ties and the deep faith that, at least from my perch in Erin’s buggy, seemed to bond this community.

Once again – the presence of wonder!  Natural wonders – Niagara; the wonders of friendship – Bob, Jerry and Miri; creating and indulging in chocolate wonders – Hershey, PA; and a wonderful new experience of community – the Amish in Lancaster County.

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  1. Angela Bennett permalink

    I know I rarely comment, but I LOVE these updates. I’m so impressed by the adventures, the thoughtfulness of your reflections and your ability to see Wonder. Thanks for sharing and we love you from Seattle!!

    • Ang:

      Great to hear from you – so glad you’re enjoying the blog. Getting feedback that folks like it encourages me to write! Sending loads of love back to our Seattle people!! XO

  2. I too follow your blog and love reading about your adventures. I miss all of you.

  3. Really enjoyed reading the blog tonight and looking at the pictures. I especially liked the quilts and the story about Hershey, PA. Brought back memories from when we lived there when I was a kid.
    Love to you guys!

    • Auntie Karen:
      Was so glad we got to chat the other night!! Sounds like you have a big weekend of canning ahead. Looking forward to being home this winter and enjoying the fruits of your labor!!
      Love you friend! XO

  4. Lynn:

    Glad you’re coming along for the adventure with us! Sending good thoughts as I know the opening of the dance year must be right around the corner. Wishing you and all your dancers a great year!

  5. I’ve been eagerly waiting for an update, so glad to get this and be able to ride along!

  6. Katie permalink

    Your update is awesome; I love your alliteration!
    Lancaster is a wonderful place. We drove our kids to school there from Reading, PA (1 hour each way) for years so they could attend a small Jewish day school that used to be there. Did you get to The People’s Place, a wonderful interactive museum there?
    Where are you headed for next?

  7. dischwar permalink

    I understand about it being hard with all this living to catch up on writing – that’s why it’s taken me this long to respond to you (I’m back at camp, at Winter Break Family Camp). I recently taught my 5th graders in Sunday School about the Queen of Sheba (as we explore the stories of the Bible) – I imagine that Helen and Olivia were fairly realistic reincarnations 🙂 I love the description of Niagara as “wonder-fall”!
    I’ve only been to Pittsburgh once; it was with my Boy Scout troop when we lived in Pennsylvania (well before I became an Eagle Scout). I remember seeing the confluence of the three rivers; it’s quite something. The Pittsburgh Steelers actually played near there at Three Rivers Stadium until 2000; the name makes a lot of sense once you see the place. The Monogehela is relatively unique in that it flows south to north, like the Nile. Jerry and Miri sound like interesting people – Reconstructionist synagogues tend to be highly spiritual places. My girlfriend Miriam’s family also belongs to a Reconstructionist synagogue; I visited right before Hurricane Sandy (I think everybody approved of me). I don’t remember which, but I think we rode the Monogehela Incline while in Pittsburgh; this prepared me for my later experience of riding the Lookout Incline in Chattanooga upon moving there.
    I’m also a fan of Hershey. For many years, I had a sweatshirt which I wore constantly from Hershey. I’ve been there twice (that I can recall) – the first was with my family, and the second was on a field trip with my school. I went to a Jewish school in Lancaster that was tiny, and in 4th grade we did a unit on Pennsylvania, including its history, government, and major locations. Every Wednesday, the 4th through 6th grade would pile into our teacher’s mini-van (all 4 of us), and take a field trip. We went to places like Gettysburg, Harrisburg, coal mining state parks, and Hershey. It was fun – sort of like what you guys are doing. Your mention of Willy Wonka brings back memories of my first year teaching in Chicago – the 8th grade play was Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and that’s where I learned to operate the spotlight (something I now teach at camp). I also quite enjoy chocolate in general – in fact, I compiled an entire Passover haggadah where everything has a chocolate spin on it.
    Amish country is quite something. My mom mentioned that I went to school down there for 6 years, and we used to go to People’s Place, which is an interpretative center similar to “The Amish Experience” (which is where I suspect you visited). In fact, my first book was a red Amish reading primer called “First Steps”. We have several Amish-made quilts, and a trivet or two that have hex signs on them. These are barn decorations in Pennsylvania Dutch areas that may be used to ward off the evil eye. Freshly-churned butter is delectable – we made it in class the year we were studying Pennsylvanian cultures. I’m glad that the plethora of food didn’t make your stomachs churn later.
    I personally also find the idea of unplugging to be very desirable. It’s one of the perks of camp, that I have very limited cell phone reception and thus I must be very deliberate in my choice to use my phone (generally reserved only for calling Miriam at night). Also, I only have computer access in the kitchen computer, so when the Kitchen Head needs the computer or I have to be out and about, I have to interact with other people face-to-face. During the rest of the year, though, when I’m not at camp, I still get to have a balance of being plugged in and being unplugged by celebrating Shabbat as a day of unplugging. By taking 25 hours to not use my cell phone and not use my computer, I am forced to interact with other people in person and get away from the glowing screens (alternatively, I could read a physical book, something I rarely have time for during the week). This is definitely a benefit of Shabbat for me.
    All of your adventures in Pennsylvania makes me wonder, why was Pennsyl vain? (It’s because she looked down on Lousy Ann). Word of the Post: Colossal (adj) – Niagara Falls is as colossal a natural wonder as driving an RV through Pittsburgh is a colossal challenge.

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