Monday, August 26, 2013

2013 travels: Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion

Sonnenberg Mansion from the Italian Garden
Mom and I took a bus trip to Canandaigua, NY (Finger Lakes region) on Thursday, August 22nd to check out, among other things, Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion. Built from 1885 to 1887, the mansion was the home of Frederick Ferris and Mary Clark Thompson – incidentally, my grandmother was also Mary Thompson, but not this one!

Inside the Mansion

There are many different gardens at Sonnenberg, with a Japanese Garden, a Sub-Rosa Garden, a Rose Garden and an Italian Garden among them. There is also a conservatory that reminded me of a smaller version of the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens.

Italian Garden from the Mansion

This reminds me of a Thomas Kinkade print

One problem with my visit – not nearly long enough to check out all the gardens! I guess I’ll just have to go back again next year on my own :)

The Mansion
Find out more about Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion at

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Ransomville Speedway – August 16th, 2013

Dad and I took our (almost) annual trip to Ransomville Speedway in Niagara County on Friday, August 16th for the SummerNationals, a $13,000-to-win 358-Modified race featuring some of the biggest names in dirt modified racing in the northeast: Danny and Alan Johnson, Brett “The Jet” Hearn, Erick Rudolph, Pete Bicknell and many more.

Erick Rudolph

Danny Johnson

Brett Hearn
For some reason, we skipped last year (possibly looked like bad weather? Maybe…), so I was eager to get back to the local dirt track, and the racing did not disappoint. Erick Rudolph came away victorious, and had an almost-perfect weekend as he switched to asphalt Saturday night at Elegant Builders Raceway Park for the Druar-Jankowiak Memorial 110 for pavement mods – he finished second to Matt Hirschman.

Fireworks to kick off the action

Green flag!

All photos: Paula Thompson Freelance

Friday, August 16, 2013

2013 travels: Pocono Raceway – August 2nd and 3rd, 2013

My parents and I have been going to the second Pocono race since 2002, but for the past three years or so have only been going on Friday and Saturday to the track. Reason: for the first nine years we went, I think it rained on Sunday at least eight times. Rain delays, leaving for the track at 4:30 a.m. on Sunday morning to miss the traffic and sitting in the car sleeping got old, and my father and I both agreed we had the most fun on Friday and Saturday – particularly in the pits – so we dumped Sunday from the trip. I honestly don’t regret it one bit.

Chase Elliott
For the first three years of the Truck Series race, the trucks had their “garage” on pit road, while Cup and ARCA were in the actual garages – that led to some great photo and autograph opportunities with Truck Series drivers. This year, it was changed up – the trucks went into the garage and the ARCA teams were on pit road. This actually made sense since the ARCA race was on Friday and then they were done – the trucks didn’t race until Saturday. While I missed seeing the trucks up close, there was one benefit for my father – that meant Chase Elliott, who was competing in the ARCA race, was on pit road. Dad, long-time fan of Chase’s father “Awesome Bill,” was wearing his Bill Elliott t-shirt, so the stars were all aligned correctly – while Dad was never able to get Bill’s autograph in person, he got Chase’s on his Friday ticket, and early in his sure-to-be-long career.

Dave Blaney
Back in the pit/paddock area – what I like to refer to as “the Zoo” – I was waiting for Cup Series practice to start and watching the drivers get in their cars. Dave Blaney, who I’ve been a fan of for about 20 years (back in his World of Outlaws days), was hanging around after most of the cars went out, then walked out to sign a die-cast sprint car – for the man standing next to me! Since another fan stuck out something for Dave to autograph, and he happily obliged, I asked him to sign my Friday ticket – so Dad and I have “matching” autographed tickets!

Corey LaJoie (yellow car) wins at Pocono
The ARCA race didn’t go quite as planned – Chase didn’t win – but it was a great race, with Corey LaJoie getting his second ARCA win in just his third race.

Track-drying operations
Saturday morning was – go ahead, guess! – wet! Cup practice and Truck Series qualifying were cancelled, so efforts went into getting the track ready for the Truck Series race. Finally, the clouds parted, the sun came out, a light breeze fell on the track, and – only 30 minutes late – the Truck Series took to the track. Dad and I, in our matching Dave Blaney shirts (he threatened to change it back at the hotel when he saw I was wearing mine!) cheered rather loudly – as did many other fans – when Ryan Blaney took the checkered flag. I was also thrilled that we found a great spot in the stands last year for burnout pictures!

Ryan Blaney celebrates with his crew
So the big NASCAR trip of the year is over – the rest of the racing season will consist of 358 dirt mods, asphalt mods and the World of Outlaws…I’ll take it!

all photos: Paula Thompson Freelance

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Buffa-love 2013: Larkinville – July 20th, 2013

As part of the Menne Nursery garden tour I went on last month, we got to have lunch from the Filling Station at Larkin Square, most often referred to as “Larkinville.” The area is, according to its website, “a multi-purpose public space in the heart of Buffalo’s Larkin District that features various casual indoor and outdoor dining options, colorful happy furniture, retail market stalls, state-of-the-art lighting and sound, food trucks, public sculpture, free concerts and more.”

The clouds broke for the first time that day when we arrived at Larkinville for lunch, and it didn’t surprise me – Larkinville is all about color, happiness and fun. Lunch was a bag lunch – choices were a veggie wrap, ham and swiss on a pretzel roll (Yes please! Awesome pretzel roll!!) or turkey and gouda on a bun. Unfortunately, due to the weather that rolled through that morning, the event that would’ve made my day was cancelled – a classic car show :( Without that to occupy me, I ventured around and took a look at the awesome gardens, cool furniture and the even-cooler piano.

There’s lots to do at Larkinville, including Food Truck Tuesdays, concerts, the Marketplace at Larkin Square, plenty of food and drink and plenty of places to just sit and relax. Learn more about Larkinville, including its schedule for the rest of 2013, at

all photos: copyright Paula Thompson Freelance

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Buffa-love 2013: Luna and Kali at the Buffalo Zoo – July 24th, 2013

It’s been a few weeks since my first visit to the Buffalo Zoo in ages, but I’m still so glad that I went. The main purpose of my visit did not disappoint: our cute little polar bear cubs Luna and Kali.
Luna - copyright Paula Thompson Freelance

Lovely little Luna was born at the Zoo in November 2012, one of only three polar bears born in US zoos last year. She made her public debut in March 2013 and quickly became the darling of Buffalo. Kali was an orphaned cub from Alaska and brought to Buffalo because the Alaska Zoo didn’t have the room. The pair became quick pals and have personalities all their own.

Kali - copyright Paula Thompson Freelance
The Buffalo Zoo is in the process of raising money for a new Arctic Edge exhibit that would showcase, among other animals, Luna and possibly Kali. If you are interested in helping keep our bears in Buffalo, visit the Buffalo Zoo Polar Pledge page.

Luna (foreground) and Kali - copyright Paula Thompson Freelance