Archive | August 2012

Photo Challenge: Geometry

This post is long overdue, but WordPress put up the perfect photo challenge to (kick me in the pants and get writing) I mean, get me motivated:

What is urban? This is what true urbanism should be. A blend of city and nature on a perfect summer day.

I went to a lot of places over the summer, but my favorite destination, for always, remains:

New York City.


It’s a place where I grew up, and you’d think I would be tired of it already. Seen it all. Been there. Done that.

That’ll never happen. Because there is always something New to discover in New York City. Even for us natives.

For example, in our annual summer visit to New York City, we toured the High Line.

Opened in recent years and built on refurbished elevated rail lines, the High Line lets the visitor walk the thin line between street level and the heights of skyscrapers. It is a strip of gardens, fountains and orchards that blooms right between steel, brick and glass and wooden water towers. It repurposes an older structure that would have otherwise been torn down and instead has been transformed into a public space and one of the best places to snap pictures in all of New York City.

It goes on for about 20 blocks above the West Side’s meat-packing district and there are plans to extend the High Line to more of the old abandoned El.

With fountains, flowers and musical and cultural events, all set in a shining beacon of sustainable public space, to me it’s the best 20 blocks you can walk right now in NYC.

I shot these photos on my dad’s Nikon:

Fairport Community Rallies around Coach. My Interview with Gary Brown.

A Few posts back, I wrote about my wondering around Fairport, asking random people in the village about which local folks would make a good story and my brother calling me crazy for doing so. Well, if I didn’t wander around aimlessly, I wouldn’t have found a flyer about a golf benefit for Coach Gary Brown. And I wouldn’t have had the honor and the opportunity to meet this wonderful and brave family facing an incurable disease. Fairport Football coach Gary Brown, center, with his family, from left, Mackenzie, 17; Mike, 12; Max, 19; and his wife, Mary, at their Fairport home. Community support helped build the handicapped-accessible porch.

garybrownFairport Football coach Gary Brown, center, with his family, from left, Mackenzie, 17; Mike, 12; Max, 19; and his wife, Mary, at their Fairport home. Community support helped build the handicapped-accessible porch. / KATE MELTON
Written by
Stacy Gittleman

Get to know Gary Brown

Profession: Field manager at RG&E.
Family: Wife of 21 years, Mary. Sons Max, 19; Mackenzie, 17; and Michael, 12. Mother-in-law, Rita Clark.
Hobbies: Boating, fishing, hunting.
Brown’s advice for living every day:Make someone laugh. Give 110 percent to family and community. Banish the phrase “I can’t.”
What: 15th annual Fairport Football Alumni Association “Gary Brown Red Raider” Golf Classic.
When: 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 9.
Where: Victor Hills Golf Club, 1450 Brace Rd, Victor.
Information: Sponsorships $100. Portions of the proceeds will go to the Gary Brown Foundation for MSA Inc. For sponsorship opportunities and more information, contact Don Santini at (585) 223-1274.

When Gary “Brownie” Brown played center for the Fairport Raiders in the 1970s, his coach Don Santini took notice of how his enthusiasm and determination would unite the team at game time.

Santini again drew upon these traits decades later when he asked the 1977 Fairport High School graduate back to help coach the team as a volunteer.

In 2003, Brown, a field manager for RG&E, completed the New York State High School Coaching Certification program and joined the coaching team for the Raiders.

Santini, who retired from coaching after leading the Raiders from 1975-92, describes Brown as “a doer.”

When Santini’s widowed sister-in-law needed her house painted, Brown organized a crew of friends and students to get the job done. Brown in 2007 started an alumni fundraiser to sell bricks to create a “Walk of Pride” walkway on campus to benefit the football team and raise scholarship money for Fairport graduates.

For seven seasons, Brown taught students what it takes to be successful on the field. He helped them build speed, coordination and balance.

But starting in 2009, Brown noticed some troubling symptoms in his own physical condition.

He often felt dizzy and had trouble keeping his own balance. He could not run as fast as he did in previous years.

After tests and doctors’ visits that came up empty and just days after his oldest son Max graduated Fairport High School in June 2011, Brown was diagnosed by a doctor in Michigan with a rare, degenerative disease called Multiple System Atrophy, or MSA.

MSA is a progressive and incurable neurological disorder that impairs the body’s involuntary (autonomic) functions, including blood pressure, heart rate, bladder function and digestion. The Parkinson’s disease-like symptoms, such as slowness of movement, muscle rigidity and poor balance, affects 15 out of 100,000 people nationwide.

“This has been very stressful on all of us,” Brown said in slurred speech — another symptom of the disease. He noted that his wife, Mary, and sons attend weekly counseling sessions with a therapist. There is also a counselor available to Max as he attends classes at State University College at Cortland.

Through therapy, the Browns have come to a realization that they can’t go through this alone. But with the outpouring of the Fairport community, they won’t have to.

In January, Santini and other close friends of Brown established the nonprofit Gary Brown Foundation for MSA. Money from the foundation will be used to help the family with medical and counseling costs, raise awareness about the disease and offer support to others in Rochester struck by this disease. So far, just two others with MSA in the Rochester area have contacted the foundation.

The first fundraiser held back in January drew 900 Brown fans out to roast the coach and bid on silent auction items. It raised $58,000. The next, a golf tournament sponsored by the Fairport Football Alumni Association, will be held 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 9, at Victor Hills Golf Club, 1450 Brace Road, Victor. In addition to funding athletic scholarships at Fairport High School, a “significant portion” of the money raised will benefit the Brown Foundation, said Santini.

Funds from this foundation have enabled Brown to enjoy the company of family and friends on a porch with a handicapped-accessible ramp.

Brown thanks local contractors like Westwood Development for donating their labor to build the porch as well as a handicapped-accessible bathroom and bedroom on the ground floor of their house. Bristol’s Garden Center also donated materials for landscaping.

The foundation also paid for a golf cart that Brown uses to drive to the school to watch football practices and games. Though he is no longer coaching, Santini said his reputation still carries on and he gets a warm welcome from the kids.

“Fairport Raiders past and present, and even little siblings not yet in high school, will come over to shake Brown’s hand,” said Santini.

Mary, who describes herself as a “Buffalo girl,” can understand why people like her husband want to spend all their lives in Fairport. She has been “blown away” at the support the community has bestowed upon her family.

“If I pick up the phone to one person for help, I get 10 responses,” she said, referring to her neighbors who have prepared meals for nearly a year and helped care for their sons while Brown travels to Michigan for treatments.

The prognosis is grim. Doctors have given Brown a life expectancy of four years. But Brown knows he will be in good hands. In 2007, Mary received her master’s in nurse practitioning at the University ofRochester, long before Brown became ill.

“You know what (the late) Steve Jobs said, how you can only connect the dots in life when you are looking backwards? I truly believe that. I truly believe there are no coincidences in this life.”

Hello, Pumpkin! (And Tomatoes, and Basil….and Corn…..)

Like any venture in farming or gardening, my garden this year had its successes and failures.

My eggplant plants never made it past seedlings, their leaves turned into lace work by pests.

My cucumbers suffered the same fate, not before offering a few vegetables to pick.

But, there are some vegetables that made it through.

Many people think of October as time for picking pumpkins, but don’t tell that to these two fine specimens:

As I picked them out of my garden, a fellow gardener in a neighboring plot said: Wow, look at that pumpkin! Isn’t it EARLY for pumpkins?

Maybe. Maybe these orange orbs are a bit early to the party, but  don’t tell them that, you’ll hurt their feelings.

Then, there are the tomatoes:

This is the first batch of my tomatoes. Some are as big as grapefruits.

I cut this one and made a tomato/mayo sandwich with some bread I picked up at a local bakery (okay… that local bakery is Panera’s, but it’s still local).

Now, I have some mozzarella in my working refrigerator, and some basil in my garden. I’m off to get another loaf of bread so I can make another sandwich.

What are your favorite recipes this time of year? Send them my way and you can guest post on my blog.

Celebrate Life (and a good bike ride) with an Ice Wine Slushie

Along the wine trail on Niagara-on-the-Lake is the Ice House.

We were biking along for about 11 miles along the Niagara River and we passed the Ice House.  We vowed to go to the ice house on our way back after our furthest point, which involved going down, and then back up, a very big hill, just before we reached the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge.

That way, the Ice Wine Slushie would have been something well-earned on a hot July day.

First, the Ice House is set on a beautiful vineyard. Okay art history buffs, what artist do these photos remind you:

We locked up our bikes, hugged the Ice House Polar bear for luck:

and went inside to learn about how ice wine is produced. Actually, because we live in the Finger Lakes New York region, we have knowledge of ice wine, but it’s worth learning – and tasting – more than once.

Ice wine is growing in popularity and the Finger Lakes and the Ontario wine region produce the highest number of award-winning ice wines in the world. Wineries in colder regions take advantage of frigid temperatures by leaving grapes on the vine in the winter, and then quickly harvest and crush them while the grapes are completely frozen. This concentrates the flavor into a sweet but not syrupy wine that is not just for dessert but can be paired with food. I’m not going to botch up the facts of how it is produced, and why it is more expensive than other wines, you can read about that here.

Here is a photo of an Ice House employee bottling the micro batches of wine produced at the winery:

But now, to the Ice Slushie.

Now forgive me, but being the typical American girl that I am, this is what came to my mind when our inn proprietor first informed us of the Ice Wine Slushie:

I know, right? Unnatural colors. Big – at least 16 ounces. So how am I supposed to drink something made out of a concentrated wine THAT size and get back on my bike?

But no. In reality, the ice wine slushie, a 3-oz. drink was just enough to refresh and not intoxicate. For $10, my husband and I shared three different types of ice wine, paired with different snacks like chocolate, pretzels, and spicy wasabi peas to bring out their different flavors.

No, we did not plunk down the $50-75 for a bottle of ice wine. But the tasting, and the slushie, made this the most memorable stops on our day of biking and tasting. And in the future, if we have something special to celebrate, we’ll be sure to pick up a bottle.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Wrong

As the Commercial goes, everyone loves Marineland.

Everyone but me. I think it’s WRONG.


This blog post was inspired by the blog Platform 9 3/4 after the blogger’s visit to the very sad and neglected animals in “The Guindy National Park” in Chennai, India. The blogger was outraged at the sorry conditions where the animals lived, the weak looking monkeys and birds kept in small cages, unable to fly.

I felt the same sad way when I visited Niagara Falls’ biggest attraction, Marineland.

Marineland, famed for its 450 foot Skyscreamer ride, can’t decide whether it is a zoo, an aquarium, or an amusement park. Maybe it should skip the first two and stick to the rides.

The park has a lot of marine life but clearly they are exploited for the entertainment and not an educational value. When we visited the beluga tank, for example, it was small and bare inside, with one small ball for the belugas to play with. There was no visible literature about how beluga populations have been hurt by whaling, fishing, and motor boats.

That is why I posted this picture in the photo challenge: wrong.

Niagara-on-the Lake: Where to Stay, Where to Peddle, Where to Sip, Where to Sleep

Upon check-out at Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Antique Slumber Inn, after a great breakfast of freshly cut fruit, homemade blueberry muffins and French toast, I was asked to sign the guest book that sat on an — antique — desk.

I flipped through the pages to see what other guests wrote. Our proprietor Cathy, a native of  Niagara on the Lake said, “you’ll find many folks from Rochester in there, it seems like we get a visitor from Rochester nearly every week.”

And why not?

Niagara-on-the-Lake (on Lake Ontario,Canada, that is) is 100 miles from Rochester, NY , but it feels  at some times as if you have gone abroad.  Canada  is another country, after all. You need your passport to get there. In Canada, where people say “aye” instead of “huh?” in conversation, things are measured in metrics, you will find a wine country that rivals Napa or Sonoma.

First, where we stayed

The Antique Slumber Inn has been in the same  family for five generations. While the house itself is 130 years old, inside it was gutted and completely new, you could still smell the newness of the paint.

The bedroom we stayed in had a cathedral ceiling, an octagon window and our own bathroom – all bright, clean and new. The location was right off the main strip but close enough that , once we parked our car, we didn’t drive it for our entire stay, chosing to walk or bike everywhere we needed to go.

At breakfast, we chatted with a young couple from Luxembourg. They were touring around New York and Canada and we asked them where they had been. As it turns out, on their visit to New York City, they went to the same Yankee game my parents attended, left at the very same time at the sixth inning as the skies opened and thunder roared.

Of course, I asked what else they saw and where they ate, and — if they had any good pizza.

They said that the pizza was very disappointing. I asked them, how could this be, disappointing pizza in Manhattan? Until they told me the only pizza they ate was

Completely mortified, I apologized to them whole heartedly.

As a New Yorker, my heart went out to them. I still think of them now, the poor young couple from Luxembourg who think that Sbarros is New York Pizza.

After consoling the folks from Luxembourg, we were on our way to rent bikes. Bike rentals in town go for about $50 a day, but at our B&B, Cathy rented them out for a nominal fee of $5, just enough for their upkeep. She also gave us coupons at selected wineries for tastings. We first peddled into town to stop to buy some sunglasses at the apothecary.


In the heart of downtown, Niagara-on-the-Lake can make the visitor also feel like they are back in time.  There are Victorian bed-and-breakfasts with vast porches, streets lined with gardens

There are even ladies on their way to tea after taking in a play from the Bernard Shaw Festival walking with gloves and parasols:

Where we sipped

The wine trail is clearly mapped out with signs bearing a grape logo. Some of our route took us along the Niagara River. Other parts took us along long straight roads called “lines” that went out into the vineyards and orchards.

After we cycled across town and through the Commons, our first stop  on our bikes as we traversed the trail along the Niagara River was  Riverview Cellars, where our pourer Greg did an impressive job of switching back from English to French as he  poured for us and a couple from Quebec.

This was our first stop on a WHOLE day of biking and sipping, so Craig took notes on which wine we liked from which winery. Copious notes. The Pino Grigio was a safe choice, but the Reisling and Cabernet, which had hints of leather (so we were told. Yes, it did taste like leather, but that’ what made it taste good) had much more character, and they were our favorites here.

We tried ice wine at Reif, a winery specializing in German varieties of grapes.

And then did more tasting at the Frog Pond, an organic winery:

I was really routing for the wine here. They use no pesticides on their grapes, rather they rely on a bird they imported from Africa that roam free in the vineyards to gobble up the pests. But really, this was the poorest tasting wine we sipped all day. It’s a new venture so maybe they’ll get it right in a few years.

In all, we peddled over 20 miles and sipped from seven wineries.

Be advised, that if you bike and taste, there are police on bikes to check the sobriety of bikers along the wine trail. After my fifth winery, located out on the “lines” – that’s way out in the vineyards, where each “line” road is separated by a square kilometer of vineyard – I was less interested in wine and more interested in water.

So I stopped to get wet by one of the many irrigation devices that sprayed plumes of water into the parched vineyards.

After a 20 mile bike ride, it was great to get back to our inn and rest in the hot tub.

But I still haven’t told you about the Ice Wine slushies. Yes. Ice. Wine. Slushies. I’ll save that for a later post.

I’m not Crazy, I’m Just Trying to Find Stories!

I’ve had lots of free time on my hands this month as my kids are all (I mean all three!) away at summer camp and my husband, well, he still has to work so we can eat and have a roof over our heads.

Me, I’ve had time to explore and actually wander around the outlying towns I cover instead of just “visit” the towns on the Internet through municipal webpages.

Sure, there is lots of information about events, festivals  and programs online, but there is no substitute for hitting the pavement and asking around.

On such a visit to Fairport, I took a break, sat by the Erie Canal and called my brother in New Jersey.

He asked what I was up to.

“Oh, I need to write a profile story about a person from a town I really know very few people, so I’m walking around this cute little village called Fairport. I’m  stopping into the library and local shops and saying hello and asking people for ideas.”

He paused. He chuckled. Then he began to speak. When my brother speaks, he has no filter. At least not  with his sister.

“You’re going around ASKING random people if they have ideas for you? You know who does that? CRAZY PEOPLE!!”

Perhaps. Perhaps the unstructured time of summer has driven me mad. But just  wandering around I gathered the following for story ideas:

  • A beauty shop that carries only sustainable products and is one of the only salons in the country that has a state of the art ventilation system that is constantly bringing in fresh air to protect the health of clients and employees. They also collect food for the local food pantry and portions of their profits go to a well project in Uganda.
  • An upcoming music festival
  • An ice cream shop owned by a Xerox manager called the Moonlight Creamery that has special wine-food-ice cream pairing events and crazy flavors like oatmeal ice cream.
  • Most of all, I found a golf fund-raiser to raise money for a Fairport football coach battling a degenerative neuro muscular disease. The minute I saw it, I said, THAT’s my story.

But, I can’t wander around all the time, people. I need your help.

I need for you to tell me about great little shops on the east side of Rochester that have great shop owners with interesting lives.

I need to know what organizations you’re giving your time to and what events that are coming up that go with your cause.

I need to know about the issues in your town you care about, how you are getting involved and how others can do the same.

Fall is coming. I’m nearing the end of my story idea rope and I can’t wander around the streets in the cold of February. Send me your best ideas NOW!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Growth

This week’s photo challenge was an easy one.

These are sunflowers in my spot in the Brighton Community Garden. Just 10 weeks ago, they were seeds in a packet.

Hiding in all this growth is my youngest child, my baby. I know every parent says this, but  I can’t believe how much he’s grown, and how much he  will grow and change after his first summer at sleep-away camp.

“No, you may NOT tip, Young Man!” And other things heard and seen in a Canoe in Muskoka

With absolute awkwardness, I got in the canoe, rented from Algonquin Outfitters in Huntsville, at the front. I don’t remember canoes being so wobbly, probably because I hadn’t been in one in at least 20 years.

“Are you sure that this canoe isn’t extra narrow?” I called back to my teen son.

My son climbed into the canoe with ease. The one who earned his golden oar after canoeing for five summers straight at camp. I let him take the back.

It was the last morning together with the boys. It had been a blessing in disguise that we couldn’t drop them off for Session II of the summer at Camp Ramah in Canada as early as we planned. That way, we had this one more adventure before we dropped them off for a whole month at camp.

On the first half of our trip, we divided the boys per canoe: My husband and younger son, 8 in one, and myself and my 13-year-old in another. That worked well. My husband and my teen took control, telling the less experienced rowers (my youngest and I) which side to paddle, and actually how to paddle.

Before  that morning’s canoe ride  with my 13-year-old son, I did not know there was such a thing as a C stroke or a J stroke. To me, it was all one thing, put your oar on the left side or the right, put it deep in the water, and pull back. I also did not know that, several times a week at camp, my son would wake up extra early to go canoeing with a small group of campers. Imagine that, a teen getting up extra early, when at home on vacation, I can barely get him out of bed by 10.

He said at camp he also played his guitar in a canoe.

He also told me one of his most spiritual moments at camp was when he and his other campers brought their prayer books and conducted morning services on the canoe.

Prayer books. On a canoe?

Clearly, the campers knew there were times for tipping the canoe, and other times, carrying precious cargo, times to keep the canoe perfectly balanced.

We rowed along a calm lake that had many inlets and narrow passages, so much that it seemed to have a current like a river. We passed quaint houses with well cared for and decorated docks.

We passed under a freight train bridge where a man working on the rails shouted greetings (and advice) to us from above. (You’ll just have to use your imagination here. I didn’t photograph him. Taking pictures, managing an oar,and trying not to tip over proved to be very challenging!) 

“Great day for a canoe ride, Ay? You should steer a little away from the side, Ay? I say, Ay, I think you’re headed for a rock, steer clear, Ay?”

Was my ineptitude that apparent? All those “ays.” I definitely knew I was in Canada.

Things were going well until, exploring the second half of the lake,  my older son insisted we switch. My son wanted to take his little brother under his wing and show him the ropes of rowing. He offered the argument that his edah (Hebrew for group) of campers never socialized with my son’s age group on waterfront activities and this would be his only chance to have some brother bonding on a boat.

Begrudgingly, (but I knew it was a bad idea) we agreed.

First, they got stuck going around a curve in a bramble of branches.

Then, they kept turning in circles as they got stuck in a current.

My older son overestimated my younger’s experience with the  oar. In his mind, he had to be an expert by now. After all, little brother had been canoeing for  an entire hour with dad. It was a lesson in brother bonding, and resisting the urge to throw little brother overboard.

Now that I was in the canoe with my husband, I wasn’t doing much better. Apparently, sitting in the front of the canoe, I pull my oar out of  the water way too fast and was splashing my husband at every stroke. He was clearly the one in charge in this canoe, the backseat rower.

“Stop splashing me, please! ”

“Three more strokes on your left, please!”

When I was in the canoe with my son, his main suggestion to me:

“Mom, just sit there and let me do the rowing. We’ll be better off that way.”

I did do some rowing, at my insistence. I needed the workout. Was it my fault I didnt’ spend five summers learning how to canoe as a child?  Also, my son didn’t complain that I was getting him was wet when I oared in his canoe! Getting wet was half the fun, just as long as we didn’t tip. Actually, in the heat, I wouldn’t have minded getting tipped, except I had a new camera on board.

Finally, at a private cottage dock with a little white dog barking at us the  whole time, we regrouped and switched back to our original rowing arrangements.

Rowing taught  us several things. For one, when you are in a boat with someone, squabbling just makes you go around in circles. To get anywhere, you both have to paddle in perfect harmony.

Mayim Bialik on Tu B’Av, the Jewish Holiday of Love.

It’s August. The air is heavy and the cicadas of high summer are chirping loudly in the trees. 

It’s this time of year, long ago, that I met my b’shert, my intended, at camp. I was (badly) playing tennis and some girls he knew from his synagogue introduced me to him. He chased after every tennis ball I missed, and there were a lot.

In honor of Tu b’Av (meaning the 15 of Av), TV star and Modern Orthodox Jew  Mayim Bialik  explains how she met her b’shert.

What was the very moment you met yours?

Whatever your faith, I hope this day brings extra luck to you and perhaps today, you will also meet the love of your life.

Elvis Costello, matchmaker | The Times of Israel.

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