Quest Adventure Gaming

monroe_GuestAG-5586“You’re all we’ve got. Make us proud, team, and bring our ship home. Reed out.”

“Who is this Admiral Reed anyway? It doesn’t matter, he’s in charge of the Third Solar Fleet, and he’s given us a mission. Let’s get it done.”

Here begins a difficult, intense and fun adventure into rescuing the USSC 308 Wayward Storm. It’s all part of Quest Adventure Gaming, a fully immersive and exciting gaming / roleplaying experience, now open in Watkins Glen.

Unlike many of the other “escape room” attractions available in central New York, this one (and those to come) are story driven with a very human element. Personal video logs, belongings in the lockers – even their garbage give it a reality and personality that must be experienced.monroe_GuestAG-5582

And the space adventure is only the first of several to come.

Have I experienced the adventure? No. I don’t want to without a crew. I have teen grandchildren though… They might make a formidable crew. The experience is appropriate for 2 to 6 participants.

monroe_GuestAG-5593Alex Richmond is the creator of Quest. He is a fascinating combination of computer geek, historian, traveler and visionary. Oh, and carpenter too. The set of the Wayward Storm is neither shiny plastic or rough lumber – it is a well thought out and crafted environment set, complete with lockers, touch screens, the main viewer, and controls of every kind appropriate to the story.

The background noise, ship sounds, cooling fans and a general feeling of motion make the experience even more real. With the slightest effort, you can believe you are actually on the ship…

I had the pleasure of spending some time with Alex at Quest, going behind the curtain and seeing what actually goes on. Cameras are placed in the adventure room so Alex can keep an eye on the action – and even offer a hint or two if the players get hopelessly stuck. They are never completely alone.

Behind some other curtains are the beginnings of the next adventure room. Watching the excitement on Alex’s face as he described the process and his vision led me to believe the result will be monroe_GuestAG-5589extraordinary!

Hosting adventures is in Alex’s blood, having led many groups to Europe. He has a special fondness for Rome, where even more history is being discovered every day. He uses his extensive knowledge and fertile imagination to create adventures that exercise the mind and make use of your powers of observation.

The next project will be “Sweet Nightmares”, just about as far from space as you can get but just as intense. The set is just now under construction. I can’t wait to see the completed project!

What does the future hold? I suspect it’s large…

You can find Quest Adventure Gaming on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, or at

monroe_GuestAG-5579Or visit them at 607 N Franklin St in Watkins Glen. Plan your next adventure. After all, it’s within reach…

Jerlando’s Ristorante

I ought to start paying attention.

I’ve been driving through Watkins Glen regularly since 1971, turning left from 414 tomonroe_jerlandos-4851 14. Right on that corner is the neatest little restaurant I’ve seen in a while.

Jerlando’s Ristorante is a place you can get everything from pizza and burgers to shrimp and scallops. It is exudes a delightfully casual ambiance, while decorated in a wonderful Italian style. Flowers decorate the front and welcome you in.

We walked in at 5PM to a mostly empty restaurant and remarked on the quantity of staff for a small crowd, but shortly after we were greeted and seated, the patrons began streaming in, rapidly filling the restaurant – on a Tuesday evening.

monroe_jerlandos-4857The wait staff is special, Our server was right on the money. He appeared the instant we wanted him, yet we never had the feeling of him hanging over us.

I’d like to compliment Jerlando’s Garlic Knots. They are the best anywhere, fresh baked per order served with butter and marinara sauce. Lots of garlic. I love garlic…

Silly thing – I love Balsamic Vinaigrette. The dressing on the salad was so much better than “normal” vinaigrette. Ok, I can’t quite explain it, but it had just a bit more “bite” than the store-bought stuff.

The entrees were served at precisely the moment the salad was finished. Not quite suremonroe_jerlandos-4863 how they do that so exactly, but it works. Janet had the Shrimp Scampi and I had what they call “Tavern Steak”. The steak was served on a plank with a generous portion of fries. The meat was very tender and juicy, cooked perfectly.

We declined dessert – there just wasn’t any room. We will go back. Repeatedly.

For the two of us, the bill was just $50. Well within reason. The menu runs from personal pizzas and burgers to the upper end restaurant fare. There are choices for every taste and budget.

The cool thing, it’s within reach. Visit Jerlando’s when you’re doing the Seneca Wine monroe_jerlandos-4855Trail. You’ll love it.

For the menu and all the story, go to or call them at (607) 535-4254.


Mario’s Restaurant in Lake George

It was a Friday night, June 1992. My friend Rob and I were just down from the top of Prospect Mountain where we had seen the fireworks and laser light show, the highlight of the Americade motorcycle rally. It was about 45 degrees, raining and we were soaked, cold, nearly drowned rats, disheveled and shivering.

Rob rode us up to the back door of the restaurant – I hadn’t caught the name of it, but it looked warm, and that’s all I cared about. Hobbling in wearing a rain suit that was every bit as wet inside as out, I thought of several young ladies wearing short shorts and t-shirts we had seen on our ride down the mountain, and wondered if they had survived.

My musings were cut short by a welcoming smile, and an offer to hang up our wet things before we were shown to a table. The aromas floating about did a great deal to make me forget about the cold and look forward to the dinner in store.monroe_MariosLakeGeorge-4877

This was my introduction to Mario’s, a Lake George landmark at the North end of town. Mario’s has been a single family owned business for 64 years, serving the best in American and Italian fare right up to (and including) last week, when we marked our 26’th visit, and it is a treat every time.

The warm welcome remains just the same as it was way back then. Some faces have changed, but I believe that the Maître Dame was the very same person who welcomed us in 1992. The staff is engaging, wanting to learn where we are from and sharing some of their lives as well. What was unusual is that the staff appears completely comfortable with each other – truly a family.

Last week I wrote about the Tamarack Inn and our waitress Tina. I found out that Tina is now working at Mario’s, and was positively gushing about how warm and welcoming the staff was to her.

monroe_MariosLakeGeorge-4878Maybe that’s part of the magic. Great food and warm family feeling all around.

Our waitress Janet, her first day back after several years of family time gave us extraordinary service – apologizing for not having the entire menu, specials and details at the ready – but that was minor. Her smile was radiant – like she had just returned to where she belonged.

The appetizers were everything we had hoped for, Calamari done perfectly – and stuffedmonroe_MariosLakeGeorge-4880 mushrooms with lots of yummy bits of cheese and bacon inside generous sized portobello caps. My main course was their Shrimp Terzetto; shrimp prepared 3 distinct ways I’m glad I ordered that particular dish, because I don’t know if I could have chosen between the scampi, the parmigiana or pomodoro. They were ALL exceptional.

No room left for dessert tonight, but there’s always next time. Our check, which included 2 glasses of wine each came out to about $132, which included a very generous tip for exceptional service. I even handed Janet a $20 bill personally in addition to the check – she was that good.

On the way out, we stopped at the Maître Dame’s station to tell them that for the last 26 years, Mario’s never disappoints, and that we were served exceptionally well. I know you will be too.

Next time you’re in the Capital Region, make the special trip up to Lake George for a memorable evening at Mario’s. It’s a hike, but still well within reach!

Visit www.marioslakegeorge for more information.

The Beautiful Villa Roma Resort

This past week I was one of a team running the Professional Photographers Society of NYS annual convention FocusNY 2018. This was the second time we’ve had our convention there, and I have a few comments about the entire experience.

First comment, “Wow!”monroe_Villa Roma Entrance

The resort is located outside of Calicoon NY, south of Rt 17, about two and a half hours south and east of Lansing. Our purpose was of course, to run a convention. The sales staff and management made arrangements easier than I could have dreamed, with rates absolutely reasonable and service excellent beyond expectation.

The last day, we had a problem with a connection between a presenter’s laptop and the projector. An AV tech (pert of our group) and I went to the lobby and asked a gentleman who looked in charge for help. “We’re in a pinch” I said.

monroe_Villa Roma StaircaseHis response: “Well then let’s get you un-pinched”. Within moments he provided for us a 55” TV that served the purpose wonderfully.

This was the quality of experience provided by Villa Roma throughout the convention.

I apologize for the lack of photos – I was involved in running the event so was otherwise occupied. The good news is that the images on the web site,, are accurate. It’s a beautiful place.

Ok, you don’t give a crap about a convention; you just want a cool place to take your family for a vacation.

This is it.

The accommodations are upper end. We had a suite with the most comfortable bed and pillows that I have ever experienced at a hotel. That’s saying something. We’ve been to a LOT of hotels. The suites and many of the rooms have kitchens, full size refrigerators and ovens, again, way past expectation.

My favorite spot in the hotel is the indoor swimming area, perfect for relaxing during the rare unoccupied moment. The hot tub is big enough for a board meeting, but small enough to enjoy the company.

What to do at Villa Roma?

Golf is the first thing you see, but there’s bowling alleys, stables with many horses for trail riding, Olympic sized playgrounds, an ice rink, fitness center, programs run just for the kids, two night clubs, a salon for that necessary massage after the day’s activities and even an OTB parlor.

Located in the Catskills, there are excursions for white water rafting and every other kind of recreation monroe_Villa Roma 1the region offers.

And don’t worry about where to eat. There is a huge main dining room, a Starbucks, café, Ice cream parlor and pizzeria inside the main building, plus more restaurants at the pool and golf course, open seasonally.

Ok, I’ll admit, I’m gushing a little. It’s deserved. The only thing “less than perfect” was the buffet dinner in the Roman Garden Café – the lemon chicken was a little blah – but everything else, including the cannoli for desert was great. The wait staff, housekeepers, desk staff and everyone else were engaging, helpful and showed a uniformly excellent sense of humor.

All-inclusive packages are available for those of you that go on vacation to leave worries behind.

Villa Roma is that place – to leave all your cares.

Visit their web site, and look around.

Then go there and play.

Winter Wonderland vs Christmas Camera

That new, beautiful camera you found under the tree is still in its box. You’re a little frightened because of all the controls and hieroglyphics placed all over the thing. You know in your heart that it has the capability of taking photos worthy of National Geographic, but in its box, at least it’s safe.

It’s time to leave your comfort zone. The camera too. You see, if you don’t PLAY with it, you will never get GOOD at it. So it’s now play time.

We have so many beautiful spots locally, and even more in winter. Ice and water can be some of the coolest subjects. Pun intended.

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Dawn’s Frosty Arrival

Here is the obligatory warning label. Don’t be stupid. These last couple below zero days remind me of a beautiful sunrise I just HAD to capture. 8 below, slippers and jammies on, sliding down the lane to the barn. As the wind began to penetrate the fleece jammies, I began to realize the “oopsie” I had just done, but I was going to tough it out.

Finding the perfect spot at the perfect moment, I got the shot. And lost a slipper in the snow. In trying to get the missing slipper on one foot, the other slid out from under me and I ended up face first in below zero snow, both slippers now missing and thoroughly frozen. I DID, however, save the camera at the expense of my back and shoulder.

My point? Dress for the foray into the cold. I could have spent those few moments dressing properly and putting boots on, and the image would still have been as good. It makes a funny story, but I wasn’t feeling very humorous when I got back to the house to find I had locked the door on my way out… The look on Janet’s face is a great subject for an entirely different story…

Second warning label. Don’t be in a hurry. Plan ahead when you can. Glass has this nasty habit of fogging up when you come in from the cold – you know this from the way your eyeglasses fog after taking the dogs out. Your camera is no different, except for the mass of the glass involved. It takes a WHOLE lot longer for the camera lenses to warm up from outside to inside than your eyeglasses do. My suggestion? Take a few minutes to warm up the car before driving to the beautiful iced waterfall.

Remember, good judgement comes from experience, and experience comes from POOR judgement. I drove from home to a portrait job in an ice-cold car – and when I got to the warm location, the camera was essentially useless until it warmed up and the fog on (and inside) the lenses evaporated. If the family had been in a hurry, it wouldn’t have ended well.

Taughannock Falls is a great thing to photograph in the winter. The ice formations around the top of the falls look rather like the teeth of a prehistoric monster and the thicker ice has the hint of a beautiful blue hue. For this example (on how to do it correctly), remember to warm up the car first. Keep the camera in its bag in the car and near the heater. Don’t cook it, but keep it warm.

We’re finally there. It’s a fair walk to the base of the falls but worth it. Today is overcast – the perfect weather for Taughannock. When the sky is blue and the sun is harsh, the shadow line cuts the gorge like a knife, and it’s fair impossible to get a good photograph.

It’s time to plan the shot. Momonroe_In Winter Actionst people say it’s beautiful, snap the photo and get back to where it’s warm – but not you. You have a new fancy camera, and damn it, you’re going to take a new fancy photograph.

Ok, pay attention now, I’m going to give you the core secret of excellent photography. Ready? Ok, here goes.

monroe_Winter Taughannock-
Taughannock Falls in January

“To get the image nobody else can get, you have to DO what nobody else is willing to DO.”

I find myself clambering down the bank of Taughannock Creek on to the ice, and set the tripod as low as it can go, maybe 10” off the ice. I sense the ice cracking and I can hear the burbling of the water underneath my prone body.

I squeeze the shutter slowly and I’ve got it. Well ok, I stayed and got a lot of images without moving. I didn’t dare move until I was completely done. Carefully, slowly, I edged back to the bank and struggled up the steep incline.

Here’s the last piece of advice I have for you today. When you get back to the car, your camera will be just about frozen. DO NOT put it next to the heater. Put it in the way back or at least on the back seat, in its bag. Let it warm slowly to keep it from fogging up again. You can, however, put yourself next to the heater. I’m sure you will be about frozen too.

And you won’t fog up. At least I hope you won’t.

Even with all I’ve told you about photography, visit the local falls anyway. Even the tiniest waterways are beautiful this time of year.

Enjoy our region. It’s beautiful, and it’s all within reach.

Then visit a Finger Lakes winery.

Black Willow Winery

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Black Willow” is the name of our farm. We raise a few goats and make a little cheese. The farm is named for the huge, ancient black willow trees that grow behind our house. It’s a very peaceful “natural” area.

Imagine our surprise, on leaving the Renaissance Faire, to see a booth advertising “Black Willow Winery”, and offering tastings. Our first thought was that with the name “Black Willow”, there folks must be ok, so we introduced ourselves. We were greeted warmly by John Little and chatted while tasting their wines and their excellent meads.

monroe_Black Willow-4898This year was the third time we’d encountered them at the Faire, and determined that we should meet these fine folks at their family owned and operated Lake Ontario Winery.

Being a Finger Lakes native, I had become a bit of a snob about Finger Lakes wine, and almost completely unaware of the wine trails in western New York. Black Willow Winery is about 20 miles east of Niagara Falls within an effortless walk of Lake Ontario, and part of the Niagara Wine Trail. It is a fair hike from Lansing – it took us 3 plus hours to get home – but very worth the trip.

I’m not so much of a snob any more. Just sayin’…

We arrived at the winery in the early afternoon. The storefront was all decked out for Halloween with cheery spiders, webs, pumpkins and all the stuff that says, “Good Time Inside”. Greeted by Ashley, one of the extended family who work at the winery, we felt like friends that just hadn’t met yet. She is an outgoing young lady and enthusiastic about the winery.

monroe_Black Willow-4902My first surprise was the variety of products they had for sale; wine and mead of course, but Artisan oils, vinegars and designer chocolates that appeared to be miniature works of edible art. I couldn’t taste everything, but the chocolates are high on my list next time.

The center of the tasting room is set up like a lounge for enjoying the wine and quiet conversation, surrounded by the whimsical chaach that shows the delightful sense of humor of the proprietor.

The wines are good too – this is, after all, a winery – and a meadery. A few bottles of their Reisling followed us home. Reislings seem to pick up the attitude of the winemaker, and Black Willow’s Semi Dry is serious with an aftertaste of playfulness; a feeling that keeps revealing itself to you even after it has left your pallet with memories of gentle fruit flavors.

“Odin’s Nectar” is the smoothest mead I’ve ever tasted. Not flavored by anything but the honey, it is best served warm and feels like a snuggly blanket from the inside out. Their other meads have flavorings and are best served chilled, like Valkyrie’s Lure with peach and cinnamon. Yes, both followed us home as well.

Black Willow Winery is the ongoing dream and passion of Cynthia West-Chamberlain and Michael D. Chamberlain, and is only 7 years old. For such a relatively new winery to have won awards such as New York’s Meadery of the year, and gold medals in state, national and international competitions speak to the enthusiasm and attention to detail that the owners and staff pay to their product.

Their nephew John Little gave me the “backstage tour”, explained both the history and the future growth plans. For instance, they used to use exclusively local honey, but the producers couldn’t keep up with Black Willow’s demand, so most of their honey now comes from larger producers in PA. The Diamond grapes are grown at the winery, with other varieties coming from the finger lakes and other regions within the state.

Recently they have begun hosting and catering celebrations at the winery which can be formal and elegant, or casual and intimate at their impressive fire area backed with boulder sized stones. It’s a beautiful place to enjoy the mead and gaze at the fire.
monroe_Black Willow-4908
I’ve just touched the surface of Black Willow Winery’s operation and offerings. You need to see it for yourself. Make a day trip to Niagara Falls and visit a winery or two (or three) on your way home. But make SURE that Black Willow is on your list. It is a bit of a trip, but is very much “Within Reach”!
phone: 716-439-1982

5565 West Lake Road
Burt, NY 14028

Making Christmas a Little Brighter

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On what might have been a dismal Christmas morning, more than 4,000 children received soft, furry friends, courtesy of the generous Central New York Community. The Teddy Bear Toss at the Syracuse Crunch game December 2, sponsored by Stanley Steemer of Syracuse, netted thousands of stuffed toys, and with the additional donations that continued to flow in, the number easily surpassed 4,000.

After the toys were collected from the OnCenter War Memorial Arena’s ice, they were whisked away to the Stanley Steemer building near Carrier Circle to be cleaned, disinfected, dried and refurbished as necessary – to like new condition. Once they were all spiffed up and ready, the toys were bagged and trucked to the Salvation Army’s Christmas Bureau, held on December 20 in Shoppingtown.

We all can imagine the way a child’s eyes light up seeing a new furry friend, but it is even more important for those among us who are less fortunate. Thanks to the Salvation Army and a battalion of corporate and individual volunteers, this holiday season will be remembered for its warmth and generosity.

The Teddy Bear Toss is a significant part of the Salvation Army’s Christmas Bureau – held this year in Shoppingtown Malls first level – but it is only one piece. Books, personal care items, games, toys, balls, a complete Christmas dinner including a turkey and much more are given to families who have registered their need.

Huge plastic bags with Salvation Army emblazoned on them were filled as volunteers escorted families through the maze of gifts and necessary items. Paper bags of age-appropriate stocking stuffers, one for each child in the family, were lined up and added to the collection of items in the big bags.

The corporate sponsors from companies as diverse as Lockheed-Martin, Wegmans, Carrier, C&S Companies, TRC and more – as well as many individuals – were actively helping with large smiles on their faces.

Although the Salvation Army does their good work for our region all year round the, Christmas Bureau is the Salvation Army’s biggest event. Seven months (or more) go into the planning and logistics of the event, it is the thousands of volunteers that make it possible.

And organizations like Stanley Steemer and the Syracuse Crunch do their part to make it fun.

We are all thankful to live in this wonderful community.


A Bear’s Eye View, Teddy Bear Toss 2017

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That’s me, on the right.              Photo: Scott Thomas

“Arriving December 2’nd at the War Memorial Arena, I had no idea the journey I was about to begin. But  it was going to be special! That’s me on the right. The Teddy Bear holding the Teddy Bear.

We entered the arena and noticed that almost every seat had furry friends like me – maybe not exactly, some were bigger, most were smaller, bears, puppies, ducks and even a Minion – all sitting on their seats in anticipation. But anticipation of what?

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“4,000 of us flew to the ice”


There was a hockey game just beginning, a lot of men chasing a little black thing on the ice. Everyone was on the edge of their seats anticipating something wonderful.he next thing I knew, the crowd roared, jumped to their feet and I was flying; sailingover the glass and landing on the cool ice while thousands of my stuffed friends joined me. More and more toys flew – I thought the rain of toys would never stop. Nearly 4,000 of us landed on the ice; the start of an incredible journey to a beautiful end.

We were all gathered up by smiling and excited people. Hockey players, Pee-Wee hockey kids, men in suits and the boys who run the shovels when there are breaks in the game. I was picked up by one of the little guys in a red jersey and placed in a bag for my next trip.

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“The Little Guy in the Red Jersey” Photo: Monroe Payne

It was a cozy trailer with all of my friends snuggled around me. As we rode and bumped along, I wondered what would be happening next, and who I would meet next, and where I would eventually go.

The door opened and the light streamed in. I saw happy, smiling men in black shirts with a yellow oval on the front with the words “Stanley Steemer” printed across. Bag after bag was taken from the trailer, and I heard the muffled sounds of machinery coming from the other room.

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My Bath

Soon it was my turn and I was carried into a bright room where the same men were cleaning all my friends. I was carefully, thoroughly washed and disinfected and placed where blowers gently dried me off. As I sat there, a nice man who apparently was directing the cleaners, came and had his picture taken with me. I felt very, very special at that moment.”

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With Jeff Triciani, the Owner of Stanley Steemer of Syracuse 

Every one of the toys are special, and are destined for the Salvation Army’s Christmas Bureau where they will become the new best friend for many of Central New York’s needy children.

This is the 7’th year that Stanley Steemer had partnered with the Syracuse Crunch Hockey Club for the Teddy Bear Toss. This year, more toys were collected than any previous event, nearly 4,000, all being donated and distributed through the Salvation Army.

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 7’th Annual, and there will be many more to come.

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.

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. Shoppingtown in DeWitt is donating the 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.

This year’s Christmas Bureau will be held Wednesday, December 20 at the vacant JC Penney store at Shoppingtown in DeWitt. The location has the benefit of lots of parking, and ample space for people to wait, out of the Syracuse weather.

What Teddy Bears REALLY Want

They live in the shadows, barely visible.

Sometimes lost, sometimes on the back of shelves forgotten, buried under piles of outgrown toys and sometimes just left behind. They are sad, unloved, useless…

They don’t deserve this.

Once, they caused a sparkle in a youngster’s eye.
Once, they were a bedtime companion to hold.
Once, they were a confidant, a guest at a little girl’s tea party, a shoulder to cry on.

Now they sit, forgotten and forlorn, remembering the days of their usefulness and yearning to be loved once more.

And they want to fly.

Funny thing for a teddy bear to desire, to be thrown.monroe_TBT-7252

But this December 2, they will get that chance – to be thrown on to the ice when the Syracuse Crunch Hockey Club scores their first goal of the game against the Bellville Senators. Their lives begin anew with that flight, starting a journey that will lead them into the waiting arms of a child that needs a new friend.

Can YOU help them begin this journey of renewal? Can YOU give a forgotten teddy bear, pound puppy, beany baby or any other stuffed toy from your home a new life? Think of the joy on a young child’s face as they discover a new friend waiting for them in what might, otherwise, be a bleak holiday season.

This is the seventh year that Stanley Steemer will partner with the Syracuse Crunch for the Tired Teddy Bear Toss. These two civic-minded organizations, led by Jeff Triciani of Stanley Steemer and Jim Sarosy of the Crunch, collect teddy bears and all manner of stuffed toys in preparation for this event, where they are distributed on the seats in the OnCenter War Memorial Arena. Some of the crunch fans bring their own collections of stuffed toys, bags full, to throw on to the ice.monroe_TBT-3000

This is the most fun anyone will ever have at a hockey game. The smiles on the faces of the fans as they throw the toys as far onto the ice as they can, and the grins of the players is a special sight.

With amazing speed, the War Memorial staff, Crunch Man, the Ice Girls and volunteers collect the toys for the next step in their journey, to the Stanley Steemer building on monroe_TBT-7344Commerce Blvd where the Stanley Steemer technicians turn their attention from professionally cleaning carpets to cleaning, refurbishing and disinfecting the thousands of Stuffed toys who began their journey with that exuberant flight.

This labor of love takes nearly a week to accomplish by four or five technicians, and owner Jeff Triciani and manager Mack Lemmon. Their considerable expertise in the task guarantee that when the toys are eventually delivered to the Salvation Army’s Christmas Bureau at Shoppingtown, they will be in as close to “like new” condition as possible, and ready to become best friends with children from nearly 3,000 families in the Syracuse area.

This year the Salvation Army has moved the annual Christmas Bureau to the former JC Penney store in the Shoppingtown Mall from their usual venue, the OnCenter. Although the location is unfamiliar to the Christmas Bureau, it does have advantages including lots of parking and lets volunteers and individuals wait inside, and not out in the Syracuse winter.

The outpouring generosity of individuals and companies in the Syracuse area is truly astounding, as is the work of Stanley Steemer and the Salvation Army in distributing the mountains of food, books, toys and yes, teddy bears into the hands of those who truly need them.

Will YOU be a part of the generosity and the fun?

Please bring your gently used or new stuffed toys to either the Syracuse Crunch Hockey Club’s office in the War Memorial Arena, or drop them off at the Stanley Steemer building, 6710 Commerce Blvd, near Carrier Circle.

For more information, or to donate, please contact Stanley Steemer at (315) 455-7148, or the Syracuse Crunch at (315) 473-4444

Why don’t YOU be part of the fun? Crunch tickets are very affordable, and can be purchased at Bring your family. Bring your holiday spirit!

And yes, by all means, bring your teddy bears!

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, or better yet, visit the winery at 5480 State Rt 89, Romulus, NY, in Seneca County. (315) 549-2599