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  • Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore - Mummers Parade


    There are a handful of events that stand out as Pennsylvania originals: The Little League World Series, Groundhog Day, and the New Years Mummers Parade.

    So... it was only natural for me to show up early on January 1st to get a front-and-center seat for what is traditionally known as America’s oldest folk parade. But I’m a rookie when it comes to this experience as the parade lasts over six hours (2008 and before it lasted eleven hours!) which means there was no reason to get there early.

    Before I get too far ahead, I probably should let you know what a mummer is. Well...in ages past, it was a person who went door-to-door after Christmas, dressed in disguises, to perform skits and songs (much like Bushnickle of the PA Dutch). When people from these traditions immigrated to America (mainly to Philadelphia), the after Christmas elements mixed with the New Year celebration of walking down the street, firing guns in the air (later to be replaced with shouting and fireworks). Ultimately, this turned into a mob (mostly men) dressing up in colorful outfits and painted faces - dancing and strutting down streets - then organizing into different associations and brigades to compete in various parade categories on New Years Day in Philly.

    My first impression of the event was: WOW! I feel like I’m at a Mardi Gras or something. My second impression was: have most of these people been partying since last night? Both were correct as the parade has the flashy flare (lots of candy and beads) of a New Orleans hoopla, and yep, many of the participants have been drinking since December 31st.

    If I had to give the parade a MPAA rating, it would be PG-13 as there were open containers everywhere (a police officer I talked with said it causes more trouble taking the drinks away than just letting it be), plenty of public intoxication, a few sexually suggestive skits and costumes, and some questionable practices involving racial stereotypes (I’m trying to give these individuals the benefit of the doubt as I’m not quite positive they knew it was questionable).

    With that said, there was still a lot of good, wholesome, family fun to be had -- not to mention the multitude of hot pretzel carts being wheeled around (mmm...). The string band division, to me, is the most enjoyable part of the parade. These unique groups have some of the most outlandish costumes, plus they march with instruments that aren’t traditionally easy to carry (i.e. 40 pound double basses and baritone saxophones).

    I think my favorite aspect of this event is how open and casual the participants, spectators, and even the police are as everyone interacts with everyone.

    While waiting for their brigade to move forward, three girls from the crowd crossed the barricade to chat with the group’s banjo players - this turned into a small dance party as the girls, banjo players, and a traffic cop all started to dance and jive. Sweet, sweet fun!

    I also talked with one string band founder who had been marching in the parade for over fifty years. He was extremely excited to have his son, grandson, and now great grandson marching side-by-side with him through the streets of South Philly.

    It turns out, having multiple generations participate in the festival is a pretty normal thing. One couple, dressed up as a clock and the moon, had their infant dressed as a cow (fastened to the moon) and paused every few seconds to proudly showcase their newborn to the crowds along the boulevard. This kind of thing could be seen throughout the day.

    Overall, I had a blast and a half! I thoroughly enjoyed myself and would strongly encourage anyone to check out the Mummers Parade. If you can’t be here on New Years Day, be sure to swing by the Mummer Museum on South Second Street. It’ll be worth your while to do so.

    Happy 2013 Here A Year-ers!

  • Longwood Gardens Winter Spectacular


    Located southwest of Philadelphia (almost to Delaware), Longwood Gardens was originally inhabited by the Lenni Lenape tribe. After Europeans started to settle the New World, William Penn sold this area to the Quaker family Peirce, who farmed the land until they sold it to be developed and preserved by the du Pont family. Almost a million people go through the gardens in an average year to soak in the 1000+ acres of floral and fauna.

    My hyper-experience with horticulture came this past week as my Delaware friends included me in their annual tradition of touring the gardens during it's display of winter / holiday landscapes. I must say, this is a must see if you're in the area. No matter the season, plan on spending an afternoon or evening at Longwood Gardens. (It's a little pricey, but think of it as a donation to keeping the area preserved to be enjoyed.)


  • 10...9...8... PA's Craziest New Year's Eve Droppings


    https://sphotos-a.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-prn1/528490_10151330482377145_1544548446_n.jpgOn New Year’s Eve, the vast majority of you will either be in New York City watching the ball drop or you’ll be watching the Times Square celebration on television. But why not make this tradition even more fun by dropping a wooden cow from a silo or a replica of the world’s largest ‘shoe house’?

    Well, in Pennsylvania, you can.

    PA boasts the record for having the most diverse listing of things dropped throughout the state on New Years Eve.

    Here’s my pick for the craziest of the crazy Pennsylvania New Year’s Eve droppings:


    1. Lebanon:

    A 100+ pound stick of Lebanon Bologna is dropped. The owner of Lebanon Bologna is Godshall's Quality Meats who donates the giant meat stick for the festivity, which is encased in a frame and suspended from a fire department ladder truck. When the celebration is over, the bologna is donated to a local rescue mission.


    2. Bethlehem:

    A yellow illuminated Peep made out of fiberglass is dropped. This heavenly display of yumminess weighs in at 85 pounds and measures 4½ feet tall, 5 feet wide, and 6 feet long. The marshmallow treat was born in Bethlehem and is still manufactured there today  - talk about a going into the new year with a sugar hangover!


    3. Dillsburg:

    Two pickles are dropped, one at midnight UTC (known to the locals as ‘Mrs. Pickle) and the other at midnight EST. The two pickles have progressed through life together as their story evolves year after year. In 2011, the Mrs. was pregnant, which means we might be on the lookout for a third pickle drop in 2012.


    4. Lisburn:

    A pair of yellow "britches" is dropped. Yellow Breeches Creek goes through the village which is why they drop this item. (Legend has it that when the British troops crossed the creek, the water stained their uniform pants yellow.)


    5. Falmouth:

    A stuffed goat is dropped. This small community in the shadows of the Three Mile Island power plant, has an annual goat racing day in September. The dropping of a stuffed goat is in honor of their fall tradition.


    Here’s a short list of other things towns drop throughout Pennsylvania:

    (Links are all to YouTube videos of past events. Here A Year is not responsible for the content on those videos.)


    -Allentown: A Liberty Bell replica is dropped to commemorate when the original was stored in Allentown during the Revolutionary War.

    -Akron: A shoe is dropped.

    -Beavertown: A beaver is dropped.

    -Blain: A wooden cow is dropped from a silo.

    -Bradford: A ball is dropped.

    -Carlisle: An Indy car is dropped.

    -Cleona: A pretzel is raised.

    -Cornwall: A Cannonball Drop commemorates the historic Cornwall Iron Furnace.

    -Duncannon: A sled is dropped.

    -Easton: A ten-foot Crayola crayon is dropped at 8pm to accommodate children's bedtimes.

    -Elizabethtown: A giant M&M is dropped at midnight UTC to correspond with its sister city in Ireland.

    -Frogtown: A frog is dropped.

    -Gratz: A wildcat is dropped.

    -Halifax: A Hemlock tree is dropped.

    -Hallam: A replica of the Haines Shoe House is dropped.

    -Harrisburg: A strawberry is dropped.

    -Hershey: A Hershey Kiss replica is raised.

    -Hummelstown: A lollipop is dropped.

    -Ickesburg: A french fry is dropped.

    -Lancaster: A red rose is raised.

    -Lewistown: A bag of Hartley's potato chips is dropped.

    -Lititz: A Moravian star is raised.

    -Liverpool: A canal boat is dropped.

    -Manheim: A ball is raised.

    -McClure: A kettle is dropped in honor of the Bean Soup Festival.

    -Mechanicsburg: A wrench is dropped.

    -Middletown: A metal Rhombicuboctahedron is dropped.

    -New Bloomfield: A box huckleberry is dropped.

    -New Oxford: An antique trunk is dropped.

    -Newville: A big spring is dropped.

    -Palmyra: "The Giant Shoe" is dropped.

    -Pittsburgh: A ball representing Earth, made of recycled materials, is raised.

    -Philadelphia: A ball is dropped.

    -Port Royal: A sprint car is dropped.

    -Pottsville: A bottle of Yuengling beer is raised.

    -Red Lion: A wooden cigar held by a lion is raised.

    -Richland: A cigar is dropped.

    -Shippensburg: An anchor is dropped.

    -Strasburg: Ping pong balls are dropped.

    -Shamokin: Coal dropped, turned into a diamond at the bottom.

    -Wilkes-Barre: Coal dropped,turned into a diamond at the bottom.

    -York: A white rose is dropped.
  • Pennsylvania Castles - Mercer Museum


    I had the privilege of touring the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, PA last week (thanks to the Here A Year-ers voting me there) and -- WOW -- I was blown away. So this week, I'm spending three days highlighting the adventure, and in doing so, make you desperately want to go see this Pennsylvanian masterpiece.

    Let's start with a slideshow (and may I suggest clicking the full page button) >>

  • Travelling on a dime - part one - my best kept secrets for travelling when money is tight


    Bummed out --

    That was my feeling when I checked on plane tickets to go home for Thanksgiving.

    Super bummed out --

    That was my feeling when I checked on plane tickets to go home for Christmas.

    Then -- out of the blue came an email for $79 tickets!

    Woohoo!!  My day was made and so was my flight back to Minnesota.

    Needless to say, travelling can be expensive, but for someone like me, who travels for a living, I am often asked, “how do you afford it?” Here's a few starters to get you back on the road --

    Cook in your car

    Everyone needs to eat, which means you are technically not adding extra expenses to your travel budget, unless you are eating out (i.e. restaurants).

    I routinely make peanut butter sandwiches on top of my center armrest and keep mayo and black pepper packs in the glove compartment to add to a can of tuna for a quick lunch -- and by all means, keep a small cooler in the trunk.

    If you need something heated up, grocery stores, superstores, or gas stations will often have a microwave available for use if you purchase your food there.

    I try to save dining out for special occasions like meeting up with friends or clients. This way, I can either take a deduction on my taxes or roll the dice of having someone else pick up the check (remember this works both ways though). And if you’re in a special area that has interesting local cuisine (like cheese steaks in Philly), plan one meal to splurge on, but only order the entree keep it reasonable. (If you need to leave a tip, don’t be afraid to be frugal, as tipping is a matter of pride and should be for service above and beyond what is expected.)

    Find free

    Over the past few years, I've realized that tourist attractions seem to be about up-selling. It’s about getting you into the “trap” of stopping by, and then selling you something you’ll rarely use (or even regret) -- like a superman shirt with a cape attached (worst $30 I ever spent).

    The key is to change your mindset about what travel and tourism is. Make it about treasuring the experience, not the merchandise.

    Try taking a camera along and take some pictures to display around your house instead of picking up the, made in China, bric-a-brac that will eventually come to rest in the back of your closet.

    Also, remember that many of the places you want to see cost nothing to enjoy. Here in Pennsylvania, almost all of the major historical sights don’t charge a dime for admission, not to mention, every one of the 117 state parks are free to enjoy. If you’re more interested attending concerts or festivals, consider volunteering, as many venues will give gladly give you a in for an hour or two of service.

    If you’re not afraid of needles, try donating blood in the area where you are going as many blood banks give out free tickets to sporting events, rock concerts, and Vegas shows. If needles aren’t your thing, you can alway check out area casinos to see what kind of entertainment they are featuring for free. You might be surprised how good some of the cover bands are.


    Upkeep is key

    First off, if you’re going to travel by car, it only makes sense to own or rent a vehicle with better gas mileage. After my Mazda died (which averaged 32 mpg), I went car shopping with hopes of finding something that would offer the same, or better fuel economy. I was in luck as I purchased a Honda that averages 40 mpg! Those eight miles make a big difference as I save around $650 per year. (I’m still laughing at my friend who thought I was insane to want more than 25 mpg. Hmm... I still can’t figure see his logic.)

    Secondly, there are a couple of basic techniques to help your car run at peak, cost-saving efficiency: properly inflate your tires, use manufacturer's recommended oil grade in engine, don’t floor it coming off of stop lights, and shed the extra weight in your trunk (or backseat). All these items will save you money in which you can spend elsewhere.

    Also, if you’re super interested in saving money with your vehicle, the U.S. government has set up an entire website devoted to fuel economy.

    - - - -

    This is a HUGE topic which requires more than one blog post - so part two will dive into: places to stay, airplane tickets, and on-the-road income.

    What other areas of travel can I help you hack?  Let me know in the comments.

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