Goose Watch Winery

Sometimes the best time to visit a winery is in the winter.monroe_Goose Watch-2522

While the rest of the world is hidden in their cubicles or huddled over their heaters, the wineries are open and welcoming of visitors – and you can actually converse with their people and learn something about the wine!

It is a cold January day, driving the 30 or so miles up the West side of Cayuga Lake to visit Goose Watch Winery. I’m making the trip expressly because of a new wine they have created; the very first from the Aramello grape. The first Aramello wine became available last year and now the 2015 vintage is available at Goose Watch exclusively.

monroe_Goose Watch-2508I don’t pretend to be a wine expert, but I’m learning. When I go to visit a winery, it is for the experience – and to maybe taste something special that I had not been introduced to before. Learning is the thing, and having fun as well is a plus. My host Janice was delighted to tell me all about the 19 year history of the winery, one of three owned by the Peterson Family. Swedish Hill and Penguin Bay are the other two,  both very special in their own right.

The tasting room is in a tastefully decorated building overlooking Cayuga Lake with a large deck – so that you can enjoy your wine outside with some cheese and good company, but I’ll leave that for a warmer day.monroe_Goose Watch-2514

Janice introduced me to their 2015 Viognier, a crisp dry white that began a bit bitter, then sweetened and flowered in the pallet to release a fruity aftertaste. It is like a Riesling, but somehow more. This wine would work wonderfully well chilled on a hot summer day in the shade, with cheese curds…

The Aramello is a new variety first planted in 1996, and is now available at Goose Watch. It is a bit like Moscato, but not as sweet. Cheeses, fresh fruit and good company work well with this luscious wine. Of course I bought some to share.

No, I’ll not talk about “legs”, “body” and all the other things wine experts talk about. I will say that I truly like the wine and the creativity Goose Watch shows with their new offerings.

monroe_Goose Watch-2517Back to Janice. I sensed the pride she feels in Goose Watch, and the satisfaction she shows in sharing its wine with visitors. Invited to take all the pictures I wanted, she suggested I walk up the hill to take in the view – and I was not disappointed. There is a pond surrounded by green meadows, ideal for weddings and events with a panorama of Cayuga Lake at our feet.

We’ll visit this place again in the summer when the grass is green, the birds are chirping and we can enjoy good times with good friends on the deck. It’s not very far – definitely within reach.

For more information, go to www.goosewatch.com, or better yet, visit the winery at 5480 State Rt 89, Romulus, NY, in Seneca County. (315) 549-2599

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Blue Pointe Grill

monroe_bluepointegrilleThe Harbor Hotel in Watkins Glen is really quite spectacular. It was just voted the #1 best waterfront hotel by 10best.com. I was there looking at the hotel as an option for a convention in 2018, and it seemed to fit the bill. All the normal stuff – ballrooms, lobby, a place for registration and everything necessary for a good conference.

With the business, out of the way, we decided to visit the hotel restaurant, the Bluepointe Grille for a quick lunch before our trip back to Ithaca.

As a rule, I’m not fond of hotel food. In many cases people eat there, not because it’s great, but because it’s convenient. And your overpriced meal can be charged to your room.

With these pleasant thoughts lurking in the corners of my mind, we entered a delightful and richly appointed dining room, fireplace cheerily burning, outside light sparkling off each piece of crystal and display cases full of Finger Lakes wine.monroe_bluepointegrille-2

Good so far. Our server told us the specials of the day – roasted cauliflower soup, and an Alpine Burger platter. They sounded intriguing.

The floor started to rumble as a salt train passed about 50’ from the rear of the restaurant, between us and the magnificent view of Seneca Lake. Why I hadn’t noticed the view was probably because of the pretty lady on the other side of the table, but that’s another story altogether.monroe_bluepointegrille-3

First to arrive was the bread bowl with 3 different kinds of bread and 3 different toppings. One was plain whipped butter, another was garlic and herb whipped butter and the third – defies description. I know olives are involved, but little else. The breads were nice and warm, an exquisite olive loaf, Italian bread and a sesame flatbread.

The Roasted Cauliflower soup pleasantly surprised me with its overtones of fire – much like roasted corn absorbs the flavor of its husks on fire. The texture was similar to that of the lobster bisque I raved about last week.

monroe_bluepointegrille-4Our server brings out the Alpine Burger platters. A moment of stunned silence, and he says “Now comes the hard part – making it through these!” The burger was a veritable mountain of meat topped with bacon – lots of bacon, smothered with mushrooms and swiss cheese. The other half of the sandwich waited patiently on the other side of the plate; the top bun, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickles.

The fries were crunchy but soft in the middle and unlike other fries I’ve had, they truly did have a potato in their past. Just like the iced tea. Strong as a good tea should be without being bitter. Just right.

A pleasant surprise was the bill – $35 for the two of us, and I left a generous tip to a conscientious and friendly server.

I’ll have to try dinner here. If their entrees are as good as their lunch specials, we’re sure to be delighted.

The hotel and restaurant staff have the refreshing feel of “small town” friendliness and warmth. They are totally devoid of stuffiness or pretense; just genuine people doing their very best to serve you.

The web site for the restaurant is http://www.watkinsglenharborhotel.com/dining.php, or you can call them at (607) 535-6116. It is very worth the short trip to Watkins. You’ll be glad you did!

The address is 16 North Franklin St, Watkins Glen NY 14891, truly within reach.

Ale ‘n’ Angus Pub

Syracuse is surprisingly fun to visit. There’s always something going on, and good times can be had both on the job and in free time. Saturday evening I was contracted to photograph the annual Teddy Bear Toss at the Crunch hockey game being held in the War Memorial arena. The Syracuse Crunch’s photographer Scott Thomas invited me to join him and his wife for a meal before the game at a little corner pub across the street from the arena.monroe_alenangus-4

The unassuming establishment welcomed me with aromas of – well, beef. Really good beef. Finding my party, we chatted a bit and Scott mentioned that the “Power Play” burger, their signature dish, was voted the best in New York State two years in a row. How could I resist.

monroe_alenangus-1Instead of having fries with the burger, I requested onion rings, which I’m sure you will agree is the true measure of an establishment’s quality. While waiting for the food to arrive, the ambience began to soak in. It was a fairly full but not crowded pub, much as you would find in England, with a great time being had at the bar with good natured and occasional boisterous conversation. The Christmas decorations brightened the mood and added some color.

Although there was frivolity at the bar, it did not intrude enough to make conversation difficult. Comfortable. That’s what it is – comfortable and easy. The wait staff is attentive without being pesty;  always right there when you need them.

I didn’t get much time to look around before the dinners arrived. The menu says 8 oz burger. I think it’s far bigger, with a slice of prime rib on top for good measure. It looks like a little meat mountain… The Kaiser roll it was served in had been grilled as well, and added to the flavor rather than being merely a conveyance to get the meat to your mouth. Juices seared in perfectly, the burger defines pleasure. I was a little surprised at the rather small amount of seasoning used, but after the first bite the flavor seemed to blossom on my tongue. This is how beef is supposed to taste.monroe_alenangus-3

The onion rings were perfectly done, just crisp on the outside with the onion “meat” being well cooked but not mushy, flavorful without being obnoxious. Across the table, my friends also had the Power Play, but with the pub’s own hand made chips, delightfully crunchy with the perfect amount of seasoning.

The menu shows a selection of standard pub fare extending from fish and chips, a great variety of sandwiches, burgers and wraps up to the finer cuts of beef. The prices are reasonable with the most expensive steak being $20. My meal was less than $15 – but then, I didn’t order the Guiness.

The bar’s owner is obviously a Syracuse Crunch hockey fan and happily caters to the crowds before and after the games. Whether they are celebrating a hard fought victory or licking their wounds from a stinging loss, the Ale n Angus pub seem to make it all better.

On game nights, reservations would be a good idea. The place can fill up very quickly, I’m told.

What makes a perfect evening?

Ale ‘n’ Angus, a Guiness and a Crunch game. Doesn’t get better than this. AND, it’s within reach!

Alenanguspub.com, 238 Harrison St, Syracuse, NY 13202 or phone (315) 426-9672.

All Dressed Up, and Ready for Adoption

Close to 3,000 teddy bears are poised to be adopted in Central New York’s greatest event of generosity, the Salvation Army’s Christmas Bureau, scheduled for this Monday, December 19, 2016 at the OnCenter in downtown Syracuse.

The plush toys were collected from the ice at last Saturday’s Syracuse Crunch hockey game against the Utica Comets (The Crunch won, 4-3), and have been cleaned, repaired and refurbished at Stanley Steemer of Syracuse. Steemer’s expert technicians use their skills to clean every toy, disinfect and dry them, so that they are in as close to “like new” condition as possible.

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Cleaning the Toys

Once the toys are completely done, they are bagged and transported to the OnCenter, where volunteers separate them by age-appropriateness, and bag them for distribution at the Christmas bureau.

This year, Brandon Roth of TV3 did a live remote at Stanley Steemer, showing his viewers what goes into the cleaning process, and what a major task it is. Four technicians work for several full days to prepare the mass of toys for distribution. And, of course, Brandon had fun playing with the teddy bear in army camo…

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Brandon Roth and his new toy

This charitable act is standard practice for both the Syracuse Crunch Hockey Club and for Stanley Steemer. They have been working together since 2003 when the signature Stanley Steemer ice resurfacer made its debut. When the idea of the Teddy Bear Toss presented itself, both organizations enthusiastically determined to bring the event to Syracuse. This year is the 6’th Annual, and there will be many more to come.

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Jeff Trisciani talking with Brandon Roth of CNY Central

Jeff Trisciani, owner of Stanley Steemer of Syracuse, says “This is our way to give back to the Central New York Community for supporting and blessing our business.” Jim Sarosy, COO of the Crunch echoes that sentiment, praising the loyal fans, and his players who seem to thrive on community service – when they aren’t entertaining their fans with first class hockey.

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Drying the Pile of Toys

The Teddy Bear Toss is a big event – thousands of fans bringing and throwing the toys on to the ice – but it is only a tiny corner of the Salvation Army’s Christmas bureau where between three and four thousand of Central New York’s less fortunate are provided with Christmas dinner, books, toys, personal items and, of course, Teddy Bears.

The Salvation Army does its good work through the donations of time by over a thousand volunteers and the donations of money, food, and all the other things given at the Christmas bureau. The OnCenter donates its space for the bureau, Wegmans provides turkeys, food and manpower, Hess provides toy trucks and the list goes on forever.

The donations are gratefully accepted by those who need them – but in many cases, the most memorable moment will be when a child, facing the possibility of a dismal Christmas, finds a new friend waiting under the tree, courtesy of The Syracuse Crunch, Stanley Steemer and the Salvation Army.

 

It Rained Cats and Dogs (and Teddy Bears, and Beany Babies, and lots more…)

The 6’th Annual Tired Teddy Bear Toss, jointly sponsored by Stanley Steemer of Syracuse and the Syracuse Crunch Hockey Club is history, collecting 2,628 furry friends when Henri Ikonen scored with 6:40 left in the first period to get Syracuse on the board.

The crowd lept to its feet, roared and the deluge began with thousands of teddy bears being joyfully hurled onto the ice by the fans in yet another display of the Central New York community’s generosity. Seriously, this is the most fun that can be had at a hockey game, when fans are actually invited to throw things on to the ice.

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The Syracuse Crunch help corral all the donated Teddy Bears at this year’s Teddy Bear Toss

The Crunch and Stanley Steemer have been actively collecting toys all year for the fans to throw. Many of the fans brought in their own collections in bags, happily tossing them over the glass one by one.

The biggest bear this year was a 93” plush teddy bear by HugFun which made it over the

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Hamming it up before the game

tall glass owing to herculean efforts by grinning fans. He enjoyed watching the game until his moment came.

Even as the toys were flying, players from both teams, the Crunch staff and the Ice Girls all worked together efficiently to corral the bears so that the game could continue without undue delay. The toys then got counted, bagged and moved to the Stanley Steemer building where they will be cleaned, refurbished and made ready for the Salvation Army’s Christmas Bureau next Saturday.

Cleaning and preparing the toys is a big job, but one that the crew at Stanley Steemer does with big smiles on their faces. The technicians use their considerable expertise to do a thorough job on items a lot more fun and exciting than carpets and ducts.

This Tuesday December 13, the Channel 3 remote crew will be at Stanley Steemer between 6 and 7AM, looking over the mountain of toys and showing exactly what goes into preparing them for their new homes. Be sure to watch for TV3’s Brandon Roth’s opportunity to play with that huge bear. The Ice Girls sure liked it…

Both Jeff Trisciani owner of Stanley Steemer of Syracuse and Jim Sarosy, COO of the crunch say that this event is one way that they can give back to the community that has supported them for so long.

You can find the video on Twitter, @syracusecrunch.com, and more information on the Salvation Army’s Christmas Bureau at www.use.salvationarmy.org

The Used Car Salesman

Really? A used car salesman?!?

Really.

We found ourselves in need of a new (to us) vehicle. Looking at all the dealerships in the area and outside, it looked like everything was hype and all they wanted was to “sell you”, and I HATE being “sold”.

Maybe you do too.

I watched all the TV commercials from “Mr HUGE-a” to the “Nine – ninetynine” girl and everybody in between. I visited a local dealership suggesting I was in the market, and was bombarded by emails, phone calls and texts until I had to tell them to cease and desist.

It made me absolutely hate the idea of looking for a used car. And forget CraigsList or eBay, you can never be sure what hidden gremlins hide within each of the offerings.

And then I saw something different. A dealership advertising used cars at a WEEKLY price. Warning bells went up immediately. I had heard of some dealers in Florida who require you to come in and pay weekly at exorbitant interest rates – and if you were late, they would repossess the car or send “Carmine” to visit you. (insert the Godfather theme here…)

But on further inspection of the web site, billywhittakercars.com, it said that the weekly figures were for budgeting, and the car loans that they brokered were absolutely normal. And, they had exactly what we wanted in stock.

This is where AC Bowman at Billy Whittaker Cars set himself, and the dealership apart from every other place we had visited. He gave us an education in today’s credit system, and showed us how everything we had been taught growing up had changed.

It used to be that the best way to have great credit was to be out of debt. Today, if you don’t owe anything or have been debt free for the last 3 years, the credit bureaus consider you a “ghost”, and you have NO credit score. Not a bad score, NO score, hence, you can’t get financing. Living your life today on a “cash only” basis seems, counter-intuitively, to hurt instead of help.

Personally, I think it’s a conspiracy to part you from your well-earned money, but I’ll save that for another time.

The young man who joined us for the trip to the dealer was in exactly that position, owing nothing, and having no score.

AC’s advice was for him to open an account at a credit union, and get a secured VISA card. This is different than a debit card in that the credit bureaus are aware of the account, where they are not aware of debit cards. In the credit union’s eyes, a debit card is plastic cash, not credit.

The conversation continued for the better part of an hour, and we learned more about the credit system and how to set your credit rating on a solid footing than we’d ever known before.

Yes, we purchased our new (used) GMC Canyon from him, and its being personally delivered to our home today, all the way from Central Square.

Was it worth the hour and a half drive there to get the truck? I think so. We were treated like family friends – not sales targets from the beginning. A nice touch was when the dealership owner Billy Whittaker stepped in to meet us and thank us – and not a brusque “Thanks and gone”, but a relaxed conversation, including how he started with three cars and a barn… He’s real people, and worth knowing.

No, I didn’t intend this to be an advertisement, but when I find something – whether a place, a wine, a restaurant or in this case a car dealership that is in some way extraordinary, I want y’all to know.

And though it’s not local, it is definitely within reach.

Teddy Bears Strapped In for Launch

It begins with the end of the story…

It’s a cold December day, quiet, before dawn. Little Olivia stirs and awakens with a start. Not quite understanding the mixed messages she was getting from Mom last night; she knows that there is something special about this day. A few colored lights are up; a small tree is decorated in the corner. Under the tree, a red ribbon wrapped around its neck, a fuzzy new friend beckons for a hug.

The little girl and her new stuffed companion find each other, and a long happy friendship begins. A special Christmas day for her for sure, and a second life for the teddy bear, who was once another little girl’s special friend.tbt-all-lined-up

As all little girls do, the bear’s first friend grew up, and her interests moved from fuzzy stuffed animals to soccer, friends, and then boys. Our little bear lived on the bed, then is moved to a shelf, then the toy box, and finally into the attic, forgotten, alone…

One late fall day, the attic door opens and light falls on the shiny eyes of our fuzzy friend. His new life is about to begin – with a joyful flight on to the Syracuse Crunch’s home ice.

How it all happens

Making children happy, especially those of families who are having trouble making ends meet, is the goal of the 6’th annual Tired Teddy Bear Toss, sponsored by Stanley Steemer of Syracuse and the Syracuse Crunch Hockey Club. Early in the year, as soon as the date of the event is scheduled – December 10 this year – donations start coming in.

The Crunch staff speak to their friends and neighbors about the forgotten stuffed toys in their attics, the season ticket holders donate at events, and of course, fans bring new or gently used soft toys in on game day for the one day, the ONLY day each year where they are actually INVITED to throw things on the ice!tbt-awaiting-flight

Hours before the event, the Crunch staff distribute the collected toys on the arena seats. ”We can never be sure exactly what will come in with the fans,” says Jim Sarosy, COO of the Crunch” and we want to be absolutely sure everyone gets to join in the fun.”

Broad smiles decorate the fan’s faces as they enter the OnCenter arena. Some carry a single toy, some are empty handed and others have garbage bags filled with the Teddy Bears and Beany Babies of Christmas past, ready to make the season happier for the over 3,000 families they will be distributed to.

And the game begins. Everyone is on the edge of their seats as the Crunch plays their hearts out to score that first all-important goal against the Utica Comets, their opponent at this year’s Teddy Bear Toss.

The puck flies in the net, there is a millisecond of hesitation. The fans roar, and the delugetbt-9101 begins. For the next several minutes, the toys rain onto the ice in a heart stopping display of the generosity of the Central New York Community. The players grin, the fans laugh and continue throwing the toys. Those fans who brought garbage bags filled with stuffed animals machine gun them on to the ice with glee.

As soon as the toys begin flying, volunteers from the Salvation Army, the Crunch staff, OnCenter staff and even the players pour on to the ice to corral them and load them into containers, where they will begin the next part of their journey, to the Stanley Steemer building where the job of cleaning, disinfecting, refurbishing and repairing the many thousands of toys takes place.

Everyone is still laughing and grinning as the toys finally leave the ice and the game resumes.

Where did this start?

The collaboration of Stanley Steemer and the Crunch began in 2003, when the signature Stanley Steemer Zamboni ice cleaner made its first appearance at a Syracuse Crunch game. These two civic minded organizations and their leaders immediately hit it off, and when the idea of the Teddy Bear Toss came up, the organizations enthusiastically joined forces.

Working together on the Teddy Bear Toss – this is the 6’th year – the Crunch and Stanley Steemer have donated many, MANY thousands of toys to needy families to make their Christmas’s brighter. “I really don’t know how many toys we collected last year,” says Jeff Trisciani of Stanley Steemer “but it is in the thousands. We don’t count them – it’s a big enough job to clean and refurbish them!”tbt-by-the-bagful

Trisciani assigns several of his staff to the daunting but enjoyable week-long job. Two of the trucks usually used for on-site carpet cleaning are running outside the front door with hoses run into the large front room where the men work on the toys. One man brings bagfulls into the room where technicians  wash, spray and disinfect them and move them to the drying area. Damaged toys are repaired, those very few that are beyond help are discarded, and the rest are donated to the Salvation Army for their Annual Christmas Bureau.

The Teddy Bear Toss is not unique to Syracuse. It is a popular event at minor league and college hockey games before the Christmas season, where the toys get collected and distributed to children who otherwise might have a bleak holiday season.

The Calgary Hitmen hold the record of the most toys ever at a Teddy Bear Toss, of over 28,000 toys collected, which all go to several different charities. In our Syracuse event, all the toys, after loving cleaning and refurbishment, are donated to the Salvation Army’s Christmas Bureau.

The Toy’s Destination

The Christmas Bureau is the single most visible event that the Salvation Army hosts, receiving donations from local businesses and organizations. The Teddy Bear Toss (a huge event in this writer’s opinion) is but a small part of the massive Christmas Bureau, which takes over the entire OnCenter.

Last year, over 3,700 families were provided Christmas Dinner, gifts of books, educational toys, personal care items, and of course, teddy bears. The toys are separated by age appropriateness, bagged and handed to the families – one bag per child in addition to all of the other items that our generous Central New York community donates.tbt-bureauvolunteer

Major donors to the Christmas Bureau include Wegman’s, Hess (toy trucks), Planet Fitness, “The Old Newsboys”, FRC and many corporations and organizations who hold food and toy drives. Corporations and school groups donate manpower to make the whole event come together. It takes 1,000 or more volunteers to bring the Christmas Bureau to life.

Planning for the Christmas Bureau begins in late Spring, lining up the donors, planning the dates and doing the necessary drives and fundraising necessary for the Salvation Army to do its good work. As the date of the event approaches, hundreds of volunteers raise their hands to help. School groups work several days before the event filling boxes with Christmas Dinner, corporations, Wegman’s in particular, provide donations of food and manpower.

On the day of the event, still more volunteers, including Jeff Trisciani of Stanley Steemer and his family, assist each of the families in navigating the Bureau, and seeing to it that they get all the goods they need.

One of the stories Jon Rogers, Communications Director of the Salvation Army tells, is about a man who had lost his job and was having trouble making a good holiday for himself and his children. He was so overwhelmed and grateful for the care and kindness shown him at the Christmas Bureau, that he vowed that, once he got back on his feet, he would become involved with the event that had helped him in his need.

The next year, he was employed, and he encouraged his corporation to become involved as well. They have been ever since. “This is one of those stories that comes out exactly how you hope it will.” Says Rogers.tbt-7449

Connecting the many pieces together, from the Teddy Bear Toss, to the Christmas Bureau and all the steps, donations, sponsorships and volunteers involved are based on one undeniable truth:

Giving feels good.

Whether it’s a material gift or time spent serving your fellow man, there is no greater gift you can give yourself than to give OF yourself. Generous Central New York is a place we can be proud of and humbled by – one of the most giving communities imaginable.

Both the Jim Sarosy of the Crunch and Jeff Triciani of Stanley Steemer expressed the same sentiment – “We want to give back to the community that has blessed us.”

Get a ticket and come to the Crunch Game on December 10 – better yet, bring your whole family. This kind of happiness won’t be available on home ice until the 7’th Annual Tired Teddy Bear Toss in 2017.

See you at the game! It’s well within reach, and tickets are available!

 

Ithaca’s Wizarding Weekend

“I solemnly swear I am up to no good.”

Where else but Ithaca could you find Bellatrix LaStrange, Albus Dumbledore, Severus Snape and Rowena Ravenclaw all in one place, and not trying to kill each other? Professors McGonnagle, Trelawny, and even Gilderoy Lockhart were there, along with Harry, Hermione, Katie Bell, Cho Chang and even Alberforth Dumbledore (who used a delightful magical device to take what he called a “selfie” with his no longer estranged brother Albus.

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The Monstrous Book of Monsters was loose and startling people all over the commons – excuse me, Diagon Alley. “He who must not be named” chose to play nicely with others for just this one event; Ithaca’s Wizarding Weekend, celebrating all things magical and “Harry Potter”.

J.K. Rowling’s novels about the young wizard have captured the imaginations of a whole generation – perhaps two or three generations – bringing families together in a delightful, fanciful way. Children of all ages – some who just happened to be parent and child – remembered what a joy it is to play dress-up. The event has drawing power, bringing people from Hamilton, Ontario as well as New Orleans just to enjoy a special weekend of fantasy.

The costumes showcase the creativity of those who attend – a new mother with her baby wrapped in a gold fabric front carrier with two golden feathers on either side made for an adorable “Golden Snitch”. Another toddler was dressed in white feathers as “Hedwig”, Harry Potter’s owl.

Robes with all the house colors and insignias clothed many people, as well as intricate costumes depicting almost every character from the series.

What goes into the making of a costume?

Speaking from personal experience, it can be an extensive process. Several months ago, my wife Janet and I decided to participate as Rowena Ravenclaw – the founder of Ravenclaw House, and Albus Dumbledore, the school’s headmaster. As Janet says, “Go all out, or go home.”

Rowena (Janet) obtained her wand from Broomhilda’s this summer at the Renaissance Faire in Sterling, NY. The same vendor was in Ithaca doing a great business selling wands and brooms to the thousands of people who came. The Ravenclaw Diadem, a key artifact in the 7’th book of the series, was purchased from Amazon.com – but getting it to stay on the head proved to be a challenge…

Dumbledore’s (my) beard took an hour to apply. The challenge I faced, once the beard was fully applied and glued on to my face was getting any food through the mass of new hair without either messing up the beard or swallowing stray strands. Straws. They help.

One of the most imposing and dramatic costumes belonged to a gentleman who was portraying the potions master, Severus Snape. You could almost feel a chill pass over you as he walked by. When asked who created the costume, he said almost in a whisper “…my mom…”.

Jeff and Julie Lower played several roles including Igor Karkarov from Durmstrang, and Madame Maxine from Beaubaton School of Magic. Julie’s costumes are always extraordinary…

In walking around the Commons, the creativity of the local people was prominently on display. The four house common rooms were decorated by Mimi’s Attic, Life’s So Sweet Chocolates became Honeyduke’s, and many of the local businesses decorated their stores in theme to match both Harry Potter and Halloween.

Volunteer artisans created a full-sized Tri Wizard Cup and Voldemort’s grave. A skilled modeler created the “Monstrous Book of Monsters” and sent it skittering around the commons by radio control, surprising everyone it came close to. Think Battlebot with fur and teeth.

The evening’s banquet at Coltivare featured several of the professors from Hogwarts at the head table. Coltivare’s rendition of the “Great Hall” included the magically suspended candles we love from the movies as well as the long house tables clad with the four house colors.

Did the entire event go off without a hitch? No, but the problems were minor compared to all that went right. This is a volunteer driven venture, put together by a dedicated group of individuals who have already begun planning Wizarding Weekend 2017! For a look at who they are and what they contribute to the event, visit http://wizardingweekend.com/executive-committee/

Wizardingweekend.com will give you the feel and information necessary to make your experience next year even more exciting. Volunteers are always appreciated and treated well while being given latitude to both participate and enjoy their assigned roles.

Until next year,

“Mischief Managed.”

Since I was involved with performing, I would like to credit Beth Bannister and Sue Roenke for allowing me to use some of their photos with this column.

 

Valley Green Inn

Down a lonely narrow road into a dreary winter forest on a February day so shivering cold that the skins and furs become brittle to the touch – I imagine the traveler’s feelings as they wonder if they will ever feel warm again – just as hope starts to wane, the Valley Green Inn comes into sight. It’s hard to remember you are in the city of Philadelphia, but there it is – the last remaining roadhouse.monroe_valley-green-2958

The Inn is famous in Philadelphia for its age – dating back to 1685 when the 200 acre tract was purchased from William Penn. The Valley Green Hotel itself was built around 1850, and has been renovated several times since, becoming the Valley Green Inn. The Inn is jointly cared for by the “Friends of the Wissahickon” and the parks commission, yet remains a privately run business.monroe_valley-green-2952

Today is Valentine’s Day 2016 – ok, it WAS Valentine’s day – when we made the drive into the heart of the city and into Fairmount park for Valentine’s Brunch. Our hosts from Virginia Beach had to make reservations several months in advance for reservations. Arriving early, I took the opportunity to take photos of the river, the Inn and the environs.

Joggers and bikers pass by the Inn on the old toll road through the Wissahikon Creek valley. The geese and ducks are huddled against the cold. The usually swift running creek skinned over with ice allowed a few openings where the ducks swam and complained about the cold.monroe_valley-green-2950

At our appointed time, we were ushered into a warm bustling foyer; the smells of pastries, omelettes, shrimp, and all manner of breads and fruits joyfully greets the noses of all who enter. The sincerely warm welcome of the Maître Dame is the next hint that this will be a special experience.

Our waiter is friendly and very knowledgeable of all the brunch choices and the history of the inn as well. He takes our order as we pepper him with questions about curious items of décor, when the roadhouse became the Valley Green Inn and what exactly is in the Meatloaf Napoleon. And I highly recommend the Hot Buttered Rum Cider.

All the dishes are created as they are ordered – nothing pre-prepared. I’m pretty sure this place has never been introduced to a microwave. The omelets, Eggs Benedict, all magnificent. I had the Crabcake Benedict and my taste buds are strongly requesting an encore.

The décor is pure 1930’s, antique cabinets on the walls protecting the special china within; hissing radiators like you’d find at great Grandma’s house and a feeling of quiet warmth with smiling faces everywhere.

For a restaurant of this excellent quality and reputation, the modest $20 to $25 for any of the brunch entrees makes this an affordable delight for almost anyone. It’s very difficult to be unhappy is a place like this.

The Valley Green has hosted thousands of weddings and celebrations of every kind over the years – it’s more than a restaurant. It’s an experience.

For more information, visit http://valleygreeninn.com/ Reservations are really necessary, and can be made online or by phone at (215) 247-1730.

The Inn is at 7 Valley Green Rd, Philadelphia, PA, and if I can find myself there, it really IS within reach.

The Creekside Cafe

It’s very easy to miss, but you won’t want to.monroe_creekside_cafe-3548

A veritable hole in the wall with a big, heavy wooden door and a little blonde girl pressing her nose on the glass, grinning at me. A sign almost as big as the café, says EAT with “Creekside Café” printed at the bottom, almost as an afterthought. A display case, whitewashed with the knots showing through like misplaced drawer pulls.Added to by smiling faces and pleasant, enticing aromas.

The entire restaurant is about the size of a normal living room with three small tables and a shelf along the wall for another 8 – maybe ten people to eat. The little blonde is giggling. I love giggles.

monroe_creekside_cafe-3552Frankly, I was just looking for someplace new to have a relaxing lunch with my sweetheart, and saw the posting on one of the local web sites. Unsure of what to do since the cook was busy preparing the lunches of others who came in before me, I stood there looking lost.

Ok, I usually look lost but that’s another story. When she saw me, she said to sit anywhere, and someone would be there to take care of us shortly.

A gentleman came in quickly wearing an apron over a t-shirt and shorts, obviously returning from a very local delivery. In a moment, he was with us.

For a teeny establishment, they have a fairly robust menu. Janet ordered a “Cubano” and I had “The Barton”, named after the Boy Scout Camp “Camp Barton” which is on the lake, just down the road.monroe_creekside_cafe-3554

“The Barton” is a sort of Reuben sandwich, piled high with pastrami and (I think) pickled onions instead of sauerkraut, served with the tastiest salad I’ve ever had, and THAT is saying something. I could identify basil, lettuce, dill, maybe cilantro and some other leafy things that defy description. A few sunflower seeds and a slice of tomato dressed with a simple vinegary dressing completed the plate.

The little blonde, obviously the daughter of a patron, was giggling again.

The iced tea deserves notice. I have ordered iced tea at hundreds of restaurants. Many have been good, and a few excellent, but this was “just right”. “Classic Iced Tea” they call it, retrieved from a plastic jug in the front of the cooler, gave me the taste I was longing for; a perfect complement to the “reubenesque” sandwich I was happily consuming.

The price was modest, the two of us had a hearty and VERY tasty lunch for under $25 (including the tip).

This weekend, the fall colors will be at their peak. Why not visit the Creekside Café at 4 West Main St in Trumansburg on your way to enjoy Taughannock Falls State Park and its delightful riot of fall colors?

Just look for the big, friendly “EAT” sign.

The Creekside Café is open Wednesday through Sunday from 8 a.m.–2 p.m.( 9 a.m.- 2  Sun.) Breakfast  on Saturday is offered until noon and on Sunday, all day.

Count on a friendly welcome. And guess what? They are “Within Reach”!

For more information and to learn the history of this unique establishment, visit https://creeksidetburg.com or call (607) 342-8145