Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Cozy At Home - And A Challenge

It's that time of year again.  November will be here in a few days and that means special holiday meals. At our local food pantry, clients get to go once a month. That means starting November 6th they are giving away the fixings for a Thanksgiving feast. This is the time to make donations!

Normally people can expect to find: 
  • cans of vegetables, fruits soups and beans
  • cereal
  • peanut butter & jelly
  • pancake mix and sugar free syrup
  • bread (donated by Panera Bread!)
  • margarine and cheese slices
  • meat items (which are most consistently chicken nuggets, bologna & hot dogs)
  • rice, pasta, potato box mixes - lots of mac & cheese 
  • pasta & sauce 
  • a choice of treats which varies greatly - can be anything from candy to crackers to cookies or raisins
  • a little toilet paper, a small jug of laundry detergent
  • a small can of chicken or tuna
  • one personal item  - like a toothbrush, toothpaste, paper towels, tissues, bar of soap - per family
  • cat or dog food
  • once in a while there will be eggs

Sometimes there can be other things, but this is the norm. Things not normally found:
  • spices, even salt & pepper
  • flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder
  • feminine products 
  • real butter
  • real cheese 
  • cooking oil
  • coffee/tea
  • whole wheat pasta (people who need this are very excited if they can find one)
  • cream soups - especially cream of mushroom
  • chocolate  - candy or for baking - even cake/brownie mixes 
  • food for any pet other than cats/dogs

During the month of November everyone will also get instant potatoes, stuffing mix, canned cranberry sauce, a turkey breast, canned yams, and a can of gravy - there may be something else, or something less, but this is typical. 

Think about the things you reach for every day from toilet paper and tissues, toothpaste, soap and shampoo, to sugar, flour, butter, oil and spices and consider buying some extra for people who would really appreciate it.  And believe me, people are appreciative. 

You know those small things which come in the mail, are handed out in goody bags, come from hotels and the dentist, are a gift with purchase,  etc? Those are always great! Any trial size/travel size/sample size is always welcome in addition to the typical canned and boxed foods. 

I am committing to a cozy-at-home November, which means I will be cooking every night in November. We enjoy a nice trip to a restaurant, carry-out and delivery as much as the next guy, but we also enjoy delicious meals prepared at home. While we are saving money we would have spent dining out, I pledge to make more generous donations to our local food pantry. 

I challenge you to give a little extra this November and December, too. How will you do it? 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Steam In The Valley On The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad

Nickel Plate 765 Steam Engine along the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad in Cuyahoga Valley National Park Northeast Ohio NEO

We had talked about riding the train through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park for years. It was one of those things I was always going to do when the fall foliage was the prettiest. I always found a reason to put it off, and then it was too late, or too early. Too hot or too cold. I was looking at the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad website  recently and saw there was going to be a special even with a steam engine. It looked like fun so we bought our tickets.

CVSR Nickelplate 765

We went for a ride on the Nickel Plate 765 Steam Engine a couple Saturdays ago. We boarded the train in Akron, Ohio. If you ever plan to do this exact excursion, be sure to arrive early. We were an hour early and did not spend any time standing around bored. Parking is a beast on this day because they are basically adding an extra passenger train with many cars full of people to the normal schedule and you have to sort of invent a parking space on the back lot, after driving up over a curb. It's worth it.

Both the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad and the Nickel Plate 765 are completely run by volunteers. I can not say how much I appreciate all of the hard work which goes into keeping this beast going. They actually saved the 765 from ending up sitting in a park somewhere when they fully restored it. That is dedication!

Here's one of the wonderful 765 volunteers now:
Nickel Plate 765 volunteer working on the 765

When it was time to board the train, the quintessential trainman, Lonnie was there to help us aboard. Once we were on board and underway he had some of the most interesting information about our area I have ever heard. I'm so glad we ended up in his car. Make sure to look for him when you ride the train! I thought I was getting video of him telling one of his amazing tidbits of information, but I am me. I have a video of two seconds before he started telling it. Oh, and another, even less compelling video of the two seconds after he was done telling it. So there you go!   Sorry about that - you'll have to go ride it yourself.
Quintessential Trainman on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad - Lonnie Cobb
 He even encouraged us to wear his hat! 
riding the rails - CVSR 

 We rode from Akron to Boston Mills, where we were able to disembark and stand nearby so we could take pictures of the steam engine roaring past us. Roaring may be a bit of a stretch, since they are only allowed to go about 35mph inside the national park. But still, it was really cool. I even got a little emotional. Don't ask me why, some things just fill me with awe and my eyes start to leak.

Afterwards we got back on the train and rode back to Akron with the steam engine pulling us, and lots of people lined up along the way to watch it go by. I felt quasi-famous for an hour, as if the paparazzi were all over, capturing us. All of the kids on the train seemed to be enjoying it. There was lots of excitement and no tears at all during the two hour trip!  Definitely take your kids.

Although the steam engine is gone for this year, the fun keeps on happening on the rails. There are breakfasts, luncheons, dinners, beer tastings, wine tastings, ghost story rides, polar express, etc. There's lots of options. I think one of the coolest is the all day pass, where you can get off and on again as much as you want, while exploring some places along the way. Whether it is lunch at The Winking Lizard in Penninsula, or a stop at Hale Farm & Village or the huge farmers' market, you will be able to make a day of it. They also allow you to board with your bike for about $3. You can get off in the park and pedal around, then go back to the station where you parked. Options abound on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railway!