Little miss muffet…eating her curds and whey…


On April 16, 2015 the Barrington public library offered a free presentation to the public; “Cheese Making 101”, that both my wife and I were fortunate enough to attend. Matilda Coletta and Phil Griffith, two local chefs, conducted a great presentation on how anyone can make various types of cheese at home, with little experience and a minimal number of ingredients’.


Malinda completed her degree in home economics, and currently continues to inform folks about food science and nutrition. Phil Griffin her husband, attended Johnson and Wales and taught culinary studies there, and in addition spent a number of years as a chef.  They both enjoy cooking and on an ongoing basis share their knowledge with numerous groups throughout Rhode Island and nearby Massachusetts.  They also offer cooking classes through their website

Their presentation lasted approximately 60 minutes. They are both extremely energetic and fun, and in between their anecdotes, stories, and comic relief along with some fun bickering – they did a great job in entertaining the group, as well as informing them on the ease of cheese making.

With regards to making cheese, although the recipes can be rather simple, that is, they don’t require a lot of different ingredients, there are some critical elements that the chef needs to pay attention to. Temperature is one of those critical elements. For some people, temperature control can be one of the toughest operational processes to master. One of the suggestions that the presenters offered to help control temperature, was to bring the milk temperature up slowly. Heating the milk gradually, allows the chef to “approach” the desired temperature, but not exceed it. Heating it too quickly, and you could fly right past the desired temperature, and that could ruin the process. Another critical element is the ‘pans’ that are used. That said, the proper balance off acid and bases is the key to success as well. Aluminum pans are NOT good for cheese making as they will interfere with that balance of “acids and bases”. They recommend stainless steel pans.

They were able to share 3 different cheese recipes with the group – ricotta, yogurt, and mozzarella cheese. What was amazing to me was how simple many of these recipes were to follow. Depending on which type of cheese you were planning to make, was dependent on the types of ingredients that we needed for the recipe. In all types of cheese making, the one thing that remains consistent – the cheese maker’s goal is to try to “separate the curd from the whey”. The “curd” is the solid portion and the “whey” the liquid.

Some of the ingredients that are needed are milk, cream, salt, and citric acid. Interestingly they recommended using “raw milk” for the best and most consistent results. Raw Milk – this is milk straight from the source be it cow, goat, sheep or even buffalo. It is full of natural bacteria and organisms.  Pasteurized and ultra-pasteurized are sometimes used, however, not really recommend. Pasteurized Milk – this is milk which has been heat treated to up to 172 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds or more in order to destroy any undesirable bacteria present. However, by heating the milk (or cream) during pasteurization it can affect the natural enzymes and proteins in the milk.  By heating it to such a high temperature, the whey proteins can be altered as part of the process. The curd you get tends to be slightly weaker. [Also, pasteurization definitely changes the flavor of milk].  One final ingredient is called “rennet” – available in tablet or liquid.  There are several types of rennet available, vegetable, animal and organic rennet and all work equally well.  Some people do use “junket” as a rennet substitute, but rennet is the best.

With regards to equipment, I mentioned earlier that a stainless steel pan is preferred.  A scoop-strainer helps scoop out curd like ricotta and other types of cheese. A strainer – plastic or stainless steel should be used to drain the curd. Cheese cloth or linen clothes are used for straining harder cheeses. A cooking thermometer. There are numerous types; some that can be hand-held, and others that have an insertable probe that drapes over the side of the pan.

When Malinda was making the mozzarella, it was interesting to see how the yield in the curd had changed.  She began by scooping the curd into the plastic strainer.  She rotated the strainer over and over, to drain as much whey out of the curd. She continuing to rotating, scooping out more curd, and it was surprising to see how much smaller the yield had gotten.  She then began to work the yield by hand continuing to extract as much liquid as she possible. Stopping to microwave it for 30 seconds and then continuing to work the curd.  She repeated this process several times, and after some rigorous kneading and stretching – the mozzarella was ready!

Our final treat, was to be able taste the fresh the yogurt and mozzarella cheese that they made for us. It was amazing to see the taste difference between this fresh cheese and the store bought. This was a great experience, and I would highly recommend that anyone who has the opportunity to try it, give it a whirl. It’s a great family experience for adults and kids to share. Recipes for making all types of cheeses are readily available on the internet. Many of these ingredients, additional suggestions, and equipment is available on line at

Please make sure to visit Malinda and Phil’s website.  As they like to say…”We teach you how to play with your food”.



“If the shoes fits”……repair it!!

101-2365_Shoe_Repair_George_20141108-38“Those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end, we’d sing and dance forever and a day…” are just a couple of the chorus lines from the song that Mary Hopkins sung and made famous back in 1968. If we take a look back to 1968, it was such a different time and place in our society’s history. The unemployment rate was 3.8%, the cost of a gallon of gasoline was 34 cents, you could buy your favorite song on a 45 record from the corner drug store, and when the bottoms of people’s shoes wore out…almost everyone had them repaired! Since then, shoe repair businesses, as well as, many other traditional businesses slowly but surely have gone by the wayside.

‘Shoe-makers or cobblers’ as they would become better known, had been in the business of repairing, restoring, and reviving all kinds of men’s, women’s, and children’s shoes for years. Even prior to the 1960’s, these artisans actually created many peoples shoe’s hence, earning them a more common name – “shoe-makers’.

I was fortunate enough to visit one of these local businesses who continue to carry-on the tradition of repairing people’s shoes. As you walk into the store you’re, greeted by a chipper gentleman named George. George has a quick wit and a great personality. Your senses are immediately drawn to stores surroundings. The sights and smells of the leather mixed with the different type of adhesives and the various dyes that he uses in the repair process permeate the air.

His business continues to thrive, even though we live in such a disposable society. Many of today’s shoes, unfortunately he is unable to repair, mainly due to the materials they are made from and the type construction. Shoes that are made from rubber or canvas in most cases may not be repairable, or for that matter, it may be cost prohibitive for the repair. However, premium world grade leather shoes like, Salvatore Ferragamo, Santoni, Allen Edmonds, Gucci, Magli, Johnston & Murphy, and Alden are just some of the top brands that he might have come across from time to time. (Just to note, a men’s pair of Santoni’s can cost upwards of $850 a pair!) The more common and more mainstream types, which he might see for repair, are Florshien, Cole Han, and Prada. Interesting enough, he has many firefighters and police employees who bring their work shoes in for repair. This makes perfect sense, as they are quality made shoes as well.

As he continued to escort me though his store, we continued his tour, and he explained what many of the various machines were used for. As you might expect, he does have his standard workbench and hand tools used for most of his repairs. A shoe stand, used to prop the shoes in place, while he pries, cuts, glues, or hammers. On the right side of his workbench, I saw something that caught my eye. I noticed a small container oozing huge amounts of this stringy substance. After closer examination, I observed it was a bottle of adhesive. However, from removing and replacing the brush so frequently, over a period of time, it created something that had the appearance of mini ‘white-volcano’, spewing white lava. Next to his workbench, he has his inventory of various sized soles, heels, and leather pieces which he uses for most of his repairs.

There are other machines of various sizes, strategically placed throughout the store that are the additional tools of his trade. One particular machine was his “shoe press”. Once the soles (or heels) are glued into position, he places these inserts onto the arms of the shoe press. He then places these ‘arms’ into the shoes, then clamps the arms down, creating pressure until the glue dries overnight. He has some other vintage shoe presses that he no longer uses. These had the ability to connect to an electrical wall outlet, which would allow them to heat the shoes and the adhesive, while applying pressure as well. Next to these, were two other types of machines. Once the soles, leather pieces, or heels were glued into place and dried, any overlapping portion needs to be removed. The first machine was known as a ‘nubber’. This ‘nubber’ is used to remove the larger amount of excess material, then the shoes can be transferred to the second machine, the ‘trimmer’. This trimmer is used for the finer detail work and removal before the final sanding and buffing. This trimming, is not as easy as it looks. The shoes have to be held in the correct position on the machine at all times, otherwise too much material gets removed, or the shoes could get damaged. I watched as he continued to work on a few of these repairs, and how careful he was in removing the excess material. Behind his workbench, was a lighted heat-box that allowed him place a shoe onto a holder inside the box. He had 3-floodlight high intensity lights, to heat or softens the shoes to make them more pliable and easier to work with. These worked great for removing the rubber soles for repairing or replacement. There were also some upright heavy-duty stitching machines, for the larger boots and leather items.

There were two old fashioned Singer sewing machines for the more delicate items. We discussed what some of the more difficult challenges that he’s encounter. Many times he is asked to dye and match the bridesmaid shoes to their dresses-another difficult task. In most instances, the materials absorb the dyes differently, making it extremely difficult to match to the dresses.

One final piece of history that he shared with me was that he had two shelving racks that were salvaged from a Brockton shoe factory and given to him. These rack date back close to a 100 years! Ironically, during the roaring 20’s, Brockton became known as the shoe manufacturing capital of the world. I guess it’s fitting that such items should remain in business where they can continue to be used, appreciated, and keep the traditions intact.






Let’s all go to the Faire…King Richards Faire

001_0569_Thumb_King_Richards_08312014-EditIf you enjoy a little diversion from reality, and want to transport yourself back in time, then King Richards Faire is for you.  Tucked away in the woods of Carver, Mass. (or as its better known this time of year as “Carvenshire”) are where the festivities begin.  Before they open those gates and as visitors begin to arrive they set the mood.  The visitors are greeted by a cast of characters, and then King Richard and his royal court welcome’s everyone to their kingdom and of course the Faire. The interesting thing is, it’s amazing to see how many of the attendees come in costume to take part in the festivities, dressed in period clothing to complement their surroundings. Both adults and children wearing costumes and face makeup – it was hard to tell them apart from the King Faire troupe.

Eventually you enter through the kingdom’s gates into the wooded fairgrounds….and let the festivities begin.  As you proceed through the entrance, you come face to face with fairies, wenches, warlocks, dancers, magicians, rider’s on horseback; all waiting to perform for everyone’s enjoyment.  There are booths where numerous artisans are creating their wares all around you.  Glass blowing, leather and wood crafters, pottery makers – and even palm readers – if you dare.

There are lots of things to do at the fair for people of all ages, especially the kids.  Kids can enjoy an area specifically designed for them.  Games, archery, rides, face painting, and interactive story telling – tons of things for them to do.  As for adults, there is plenty to do as well.  There are numerous shows that run throughout the day.  There are jugglers, fire-eaters, minstrels, acrobats, just to mention a few.  Another example of their entertainment is the “The Tale of the Tiger Show” also known by its other name, “The Big Cat Show”.  Either name – it was amazing.  You get a chance to see Bengal tigers, white lions and tigers, a liger (the mating of a male lion and a female tiger), monkeys, really-really close.  The presenters that work with the animals do a great job explaining and differentiating the animal types, and really make people aware at the rate of extinction that these beautiful large cats are experiencing.

The “Mud Show” was a little on the corny side for my taste, but other visitors seem to enjoy it. The other shows that seem to really draw the crowd’s attention were the jousting events.  Although the jousting portion was ‘visibly’ staged, the tricks and stunt riding that the riders had to perform were pretty interesting to see.  Definitely a different skill set.

All things considered, the fair was fun for one and all.  One final note, anyone planning to attend the fair for the first time should make sure that you bring plenty of extra cash.  It is a little on the pricey side.  Parking is free.  There is an admission, approximate $29.00 for adults, $20.00 for children.   For food, drink, treats, etc., you have to purchase tickets.  The quantity of the tickets you need is based upon what you order for food or drink (or entertainment). For example a small beer has a value of 9 tickets, a large is 12. (The ticket value I believe is $1.00 per ticket)  A chicken finger platter with fries was 8 tickets ($8.00).



Enter a doorway into the past…

Thumb_9916_Delektas_Pharmacy_20140701I’ve attend numerous photography seminars where I was encouraged by many professional photographers who lectured amateurs (like myself) and other professionals alike about “pre-visualizing” a scene or photo. That is, pre-planning in advance for capturing that special photo. Their lecture consisted of planning for the appropriate time of day or season, the type weather, as well as the nicest area or location to obtain the best composition. Ironically, I had been doing just that with respect to a particular location I’ve been eying to photograph for numerous years. I had driven by this particular location on numerous occasions, waiting patiently for the right moment to capture the photo.

This winter a group of us visited Newport for a social gathering and photography event. What we hadn’t planned on, was the amount of snow we were about to receive that day, but we still planned going. We arrived in Newport, settled in for a bite of lunch, and then ventured out to photograph. Needless to say, once we noticed how heavily the snow began to fall and that the roads were becoming dangerous we decided to cut the afternoon short and head home. The driving was extremely slow. However, as I proceeded home, I was treated to the scene that I had pre-visualized and desired for numerous years.

Many might remember “Gower’s Drug store” depicted in the classic film “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Or maybe “Vincent’s Drug Store” highlighted in the movie “The Sandlot”. Well we don’t have a town named Bedford Falls or Glendale located near us…but we do have a small community of Warren, Rhode Island, that has its own unique taste of nostalgia. The photo below is the exterior of Delekta’s pharmacy during that heavy snowfall that evening. Delekta’s is located on Main Street, in Warren. The lighting, the time of day, and the weather were perfect for me to acquire the photo I wanted. I titled the photo “Every time a bell rings”, because it reminded me so much of the drug store depicted in the film “It’s a Wonderful Life”, and was one of the classic lines from the film.

Delekta’s is a family owned pharmacy that still maintains the nostalgic look and feel both inside and outside. Several months later, through a mutual friend I was able to gain access to photograph the interior of the pharmacy. I met with the current owner Erik, who graciously allowed me to photograph the interior. The building that houses the pharmacy is over 150 years old. But as for the pharmacy itself little has changed. It truly is an amazing place. It’s like stepping back in time to a different era. The pharmacy at Delekta’s continues to fill prescriptions for its customers who remain loyal to the pharmacy and its longtime ownership. During my time photographing, several patrons came and went. I couldn’t help but observe how personal there service was. Each patron knew Erik, and most importantly, Erik knew them.

Very different from the big-box retailers that include pharmacy, not as profit center, but as a way of luring consumers into their stores in hopes that they purchase other items during their visit. And maybe, you might find the same pharmacist working there, the next time you visited. Delekta’s features an original tile floor, a vintage manual cash register (which includes a “5-cent” key on its keyboard). Still on display is much of the vintage glassware, apothecary items, and medicine bottles that one might expect to see in a pharmacy from the 1940’s. And for a treat, they have a vintage working soda fountain where you can several flavors of ice cream in a dish or a cone, or you can order one of their famous “cabinet’s”. Cabinets are a Rhode Island tradition – but Delekta’s makes theirs with their own secret syrup ingredients. (Cabinet’s – better known as a frappe or milk shake to non-Rhode Island folk). They even have some cute 2- seat booth for those who decide to have a seat and enjoy their ice cream and the view.

So if the fast-pace of your day-to-day life is stressing you out, pay a visit to Delekta’s. It’s like stepping back in time to a slower turn-of-the century lifestyle. Stop in for a “coffee-cabinet” and enjoy it the old fashioned way.

Art or artwork…what is it that defines it?

PostImage9453_Rosa_Parks_20140531 - Copy
I was reflecting on the various types of art, artwork and fine art, I’ve been exposed to over the years. It has been stated numerous times, that “art can take many forms”.  We’re all familiar with the art we see as paintings, sculpture, tapestry, and pottery, just too mention a few.  However, as technology has changed over time the tools artists have used have changed as well, now incorporating computers and video technology. The more I reflected, the more I continued thinking – how is concept of ‘art’ is actually defined?  I know how my heart and my feelings define ‘art’ when I experience it, but wanted to examine how a dictionary might define it. Merriam-Webster defines ‘art’ as; “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power”.

Armed with that definition of art, I recalled the many photography competitions and seminars I’ve taken part of or witnessed over the years. I’ve experienced various judges, competitors, and speakers commenting that they frowned upon capturing photos of someone else’s “art or artwork”. Photographing someone else’s “art or artwork” could consist of photographing paintings, sculptures, and statues, etc., created by other artists. They further stated, “you are not creating your own art, you are stealing someone else’s ideas…”.  This thought process has always puzzled me. Obviously, they are entitled to their own opinions and feelings. In my opinion, some of the wonderful characteristics and benefits of photography are that it allows all of us to have a freedom of expression. It allows us to use our imaginations, and create by using our emotions and inner feelings. It offers us a freedom to capture and record moments – moments in time – moments of the present, and more importantly the past. Recording these memories for future generations to review, enjoy, and cherish,  is such an important piece of what photography is all about, and what it has to offer our world.

Last weekend a group of us were fortunate to visit a location in Roxbury, Ma., that was meticulously and generously covered with graffiti. [Graffiti ranges from simple written words to elaborate wall paintings, and it has existed since ancient times, with examples dating back to ancient Egypt]. This property was secured by a tall chain link fence and prohibited to the general public. Fortunately we were able to speak to the property manager, and he did offer us admission to photograph and record these beautiful renderings. This property was once the home of an MBTA bus maintenance facility. (There is even an “Orange-Line” train depicted on one of the murals). Unfortunately, within the next several weeks this property and its buildings will be undergoing demolition. Regrettably – for the sake of progress – they plan to tear down the existing buildings, and the area will undergo an extensive retail and housing redevelopment project.

The graffiti we found was incredible! It truly was amazing to see the detail and eye-popping color in these drawings and paintings. These artists were able to create these sketches, drawings, and images with hundreds of cans of various colored spray paint. This was ART!  These paintings supported and upheld that true definition of ‘art’. These artisans used their creative skill and imagination, visual form in the paintings and sculptures, adding wondrous colors, and producing works to be appreciated. I saw all the qualities of ‘art’ being there. These artists-muralists utilized many different styles and incorporated them into this graffiti. These buildings contained abstracts and murals that told stories; photos, and graphic tell-tale representations of Boston and Roxbury’s personality. Many of these paintings offered symbolism and spoke out to numerous social issues.

For example, on one wall was a beautiful mural of Rosa Parks, depicted in black and white. Rosa Parks, set her mark on history, as she became known to all of us today, as the “mother of the civil rights movement”. This was due to her arrest for refusing to give up her bus seat (to a white man) back in the 1950’s. We found a depiction of “Mr. Miyagi”, taken from “The Karate Kid”, attempting to capture a fly with his pair of chopsticks…”man who catch fly with chopstick accomplish anything”.  Another depicted a reference to the “Floorlords”.  A high energy hip-hop dance group from Boston, celebrating 32 seasons of performing. Even “The Incredible Hulk” makes a ‘break-out’ appearance. All of the gray building walls on the property were covered with many of these dioramas. Even the roof vents, roof tops, and stair cases were covered with these drawings. It was unsafe for us to get to these areas, but we were still able to witness and enjoy many of these paintings from our vantage point.

Even though these drawings were not contained in a museum or gallery like The Louvre in France, these artists did create these works of art using their own medium, displaying them in their own way and in their own form of gallery, to tell their story for others to enjoy. I’m so happy that I was able to capture many of these renderings. Once the buildings are torn down these artworks will be gone forever.



October in Salem

6383_Salem_20131019It’s America’s largest Halloween party and we invited ourselves! This year, I had the opportunity to visit Salem, Massachusetts on a Saturday in October with some photographer friends for a night of photography, fun, and some entertaining people watching.

It was a challenge getting into the city, but once we were there, the city came alive with its Halloween and decorative atmosphere.  The city was crowded, but definitely manageable.  It was a beautiful night so we had plenty of opportunity to wander around, take photographs, and enjoy the sites.  It’s amazing to see how many people turn out in costume, many are locals, but most are out of town visitors.

My wife and I have had the opportunity to visit Salem on numerous occasions in the past, to enjoy its historic past, but never during the month of October.  There is a lot of history in the town of Salem to experience.  Sites like “The House of Seven Gables”, “The Custom House”, “The Peabody Essex Museum”, are just a few of the areas not to be missed.  One of the great benefits of Salem is that it’s a great walking city and very easy to navigate.  As I walked along the streets, seeing the old house from the 1600 and 1700’s, I couldn’t help but think about the events that this city had experienced.  When you mention Salem to anyone, they can’t help but think…witches.  It was such a small part of Salem’s history, but it has left such an indelible mark which has become one the main reasons that thousands and thousands of visitors flock to the city every year, especially in October.

It was great to be able to experience and photograph these sites first hand.

No-lights, camera, action, pumpkins, and more pumpkins…

6173_RWP_Pumpkins_201310018This fall my wife and I, along with some friends had the opportunity to visit the “2013 Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular – Pumpkinville” event at Roger Williams Park.

This was our first time visiting, and it truly was spectacular to say the least. It was awesome to be able to walk along and view the display of over 5,000 illuminated jack-o-lanterns representing various regions of the U.S.A.

It was very crowded that evening, but definitely worth the wait. After purchasing our tickets, we proceeded down the trail, and it took approximately 45 minutes before we arrived at the displays.

The carvers divided the displays of pumpkins into various vignettes within the walk. Some of these carvings were extremely intricate and the representations so realistic. They represented numerous dioramas from across America, cultural landmarks, history, fictional characters, cartoons, and many other childhood favorites.  Some of the regions that were included were, the Heartland of America, Pacific Coast, Mid-Atlantic, New England, and Appalachian Highlands.

We were informed that these carver-experts began working on these pumpkins in the middle of September.  They constantly continue to maintain the presentation and keep it fresh throughout the month of October.

As we experienced, weekends are extremely crowded so anyone planning to visit during those times, plan extra time.  Allow extra time for walking the trails into the displays, and with the crowd, it also does make for a difficult time in trying to take photographs.  But it is definitely an event that shouldn’t be missed.

Bermuda – Crystal Caves

001_Bermuda-divmapOn May 17 my wife and I along with several friends, set sail on Norwegian Cruise Line’s ship ‘Dawn’ from Boston to Bermuda.  Living in Rhode Island, less than 60 minutes away, cruising out of Boston is extremely convenient for us.   My wife has always wanted to visit Bermuda.  The 7-day cruise offered us 3 full days on the island.  Since this was our first visit, we decided to purchase one of the ships excursions which offered a 5-hour tour of the island. From the ships dock, our tour included visits to Gibb’s Lighthouse, the towns of Hamilton and St George, the ‘Unfinished church’, Tobacco, Horseshoe, and Elbow beaches, just to mention a few.

On one of our other days in Bermuda, we decided to visit the Crystal Caves, before spending the remainder of the day at Horseshoe Bay beach.  During our island tour, the guide did mention that there were 2 choices for these underground marvels, the Crystal Caves and the Fantasy Caves.  However, he did indicate that there really was no reason to visit both.  The Crystal Caves were the better of the two choices.  Located in the town Hamliton, The Crystal Caves are one of the largest on the island.  There was very interesting story as to how the caves were discovered.

The history of the caves began in 1905 when 2 young boys were playing cricket.   Their made its way into some bushes and while trying to retrieve their lost ball, the boys discovered a large opening in the ground.  As they attempted to climb down the hole, they began to realize that this wasn’t just an ordinary hole; it kept going deeper into the ground.  The owner of the property was notified and lowered his son down into the hole and discovered the wonder of the cave.  It’s estimated that these caves are over 30 million years old.

When our group arrived, after paying our admission, we entered the cave with our guide and we descended a steep ramp for approximately 75 feet or so.  At the base of the ramp, we descend 88 stairs into the cavern.  The caves are approximately 36 meters (120 feet) below the ground level.

After our guide’s brief introduction and his re-telling of the story of the cave’s discovery, we preceded further in our tour of the cave. We eventually walked across a pontoon style bridge, and noticed these dramatic formations, that is, numerous stalactites, stalagmites, and deep crystal-clear pools (of sea water).  Interestingly, in portions of these pools they have a depth of 55 feet-but they are so clear that you can see the bottom.  The walls of the cave, as well as the stalactites and stalagmites are mainly made up of limestone that continues help form these growths.  As the water drips from the ceiling, it collects particles of limestone and continues to distribute them over time.

We did notice that many of the stalactite and stalagmite columns had the tips broken off.   Our guide informed us that stalactites grow at the approximate rate of 0.5 inches every 100 years!  So these tips weren’t going to be replaced any time soon.  With the clarity of the pools you could see various stalagmites rising up from the bottom.  The motion and ripples in the water beneath us, allowed me to take some photos that created a painterly-impressionistic look to them.

As for the formations in the cave, many of the visitors over time have given them various nicknames.  You’ll see shapes similar to animals, serpents, dinosaurs, and even people.  If you have an opportunity to visit Bermuda, make sure to stop off at the Crystal Caves, you won’t be disappointed.

Christmas at Radio City Music Hall and NY City

Early in December my wife and I, along with two of our close friends were fortunate enough to visit New York City.  We had visited New York numerous times in the past, several times during the spring and summer, and other times during the holiday season.  What can you say about New York City at the holiday’s, it’s probably one of the most festive places you can visit.  Sites like The Rockefeller Center tree, the skating rink, the decorated retail Christmas windows, are just a few of the famous landmarks that make New York so special during the holidays.

Our friends had purchased tickets for “The Radio City Back Stage tour”, which allowed us to visit restricted areas of the music hall. It was an awesome tour.  I was fascinated to learn the history of the complex as well as the story of the Rockettes.  During the guided tour you have an opportunity to visit “Roxy’s” private entertainment area, and meet one of the performing Rockettes and ask questions.

The complex and building have a history that dates back to the time frame of our country’s great depression and the stock market crash which occurred during the 1920′ and 30’s.  John D. Rockefeller was one of the major contributors in the inception and development of Radio city. Our nation was so fortunate that someone such as John D. Rockefeller was living during that time. Without his mindset and financial resources, the Radio City property may have never been developed.

As the property(s) continued to expand and media companies (RCA for one) took advantage of the commercial spaces, all this activity and added growth drew the attention of a very colorful individual, S.L. Rothafel. “Roxy” as he was known to his friends, was a character in his own right. He was well known by many for creating entertaining shows in other parts of the country.  His flamboyant and elaborate entertainment used all the genres of the day; genres like vaudeville, dance, movies, etc., all utilizing flashy decor, lighting, and vibrant backdrops.  Hence, with his help, along with the Radio city development folks working with many of the country’s top designers and artisans, Radio City Music Hall was born. During the continued construction and design of this popular showplace, they had the grandest of intentions in mind from the very beginning.  They created and designed an awe-inspiring venue, with lots of glitz, pop, and pizazz.  Furniture, moldings, drapes, chandeliers, and carpets, were all carefully chosen, to enhance the building’s interior.  Much of this philosophy and ambiance can still be seen in The Hall’s designs today.  Even the men and women’s rest rooms, designated as “lounges”, offered a different look and art-deco style for their time, never seen before.  By the 1940’s Radio city became one of New York’s largest attractions.  Many films made their first premier in the theater. Vintage films like Bambi, The Jolson story, Breakfast at Tiffany’s all made their premier’s at Radio City, along with some contemporary films like Sex and the City 1 & 2.

But as the 70’s approached, the news was not good.  Changes in film distribution made it difficult for Radio City to secure exclusive bookings of many films of the day. Furthermore, the theater preferred to show only G-rated movies, which limited their film choices as the decade wore on.  Film presentation finally ended in 1979.  Decisions were made to convert the building to office space. A combination of preservation and commercial interests (including an irate commentary on Saturday Night Lives’ Weekend Update given by John Belushi) resulted in the preservation of Radio City and in 1980, after a renovation, it reopened to the public.

With regards to the theater itself, Radio City Music Hall is the largest indoor theater in the world!  There are no poles supporting its arched-curved ceiling, which means there really isn’t a bad or obstructed seat in the house.  An enormous stage, with elevator sections that raises and lowers performers as needed, there is a separate orchestra elevator which can raise and lower the entire orchestra when desired.  There are also numerous other features that were designed to add and enhance the entertainment experience for theater visitors.  Interestingly enough, during a major restoration ($70 million in 1999) for the Hall, experts assessed the stage and theater area for any improvements that they felt might be needed. It was unanimously decided that no changes, and/or improvements were necessary – a real testament to the quality of its initial design and construction.

For many years, I had always wanted to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.  Unfortunately, during our other one-day bus trips surrounding the holidays, there was really never enough time. There are so many sites to see, not to mention trying to navigate the city, parking, etc., all of these factors have always presented additional challenges. It’s always been difficult trying to fit everything in. Other folks who I’ve spoken with, who have attended the show in the past have always commented on how much they enjoyed the show, and that The Rockettes were pretty astonishing.  During this holiday visit to the city, our friends made all the plans. So lucky for us, they were able to purchase tickets for us to attend the Christmas Spectacular on Saturday evening.

The show was FABULOUS!  It was beyond all my expectations.  This year celebrates the 85th season for The Rockettes, and they showed everyone why they’ve been able to maintain such a legacy. Their showmanship and show-stopping choreography continues to dazzle everyone.  Parts of the presentation features a 50-foot LCD screen (a screen so sharp and clear it must be seen to be believed) that not only acts as a backdrop of sorts for several portions of the show, but was also used to transport viewers throughout scenes from New York City, past and present. Naturally, Santa Clause takes center stage and on numerous occasions, in 3-D!! Wearing the 3-D glasses, puts you right into the action as you fly with Santa over many of the major landmarks of New York City. New lighting effects coupled with a great music score and amazing dance routines all combine to offer a fantastic entertainment experience.  Of course several times throughout the performance, The Rockettes themselves entertain us in their glamorous costumes, and several costume changes, showing us their famous “leg kicks”. [Some of the costume changes need to be accomplished in less than 80 seconds!] They offer a new segment this year, incorporating a New York City double decker tour bus on stage which appears to move, carrying tourists and The Rockettes up and down the streets of New York.  And another fan favorite is the “March of the Toy Soldiers”, highlighting their unified dance and movement, and ending with their famous cannon shot, causing all the soldiers to fall, in a domino-like fashion down the line. At the end of the spectacular, you get to see and hear the sounds of the “Mighty Wurlitzer” organ that is over 65 years old.

All of us enjoyed the show very much, particularly myself.  I would highly recommend to anyone who has not seen the show, to make every effort to do so.  Some of the tickets can be fairly expensive, however, there are various kiosks and booths at time square that offer discounted tickets, for Radio City and many other Broadway shows and are quite reasonable-many discounts for the same day performances.

In closing, I’ve always believed in maintaining traditions. I understand that change is sometimes necessary for numerous reasons, and in many cases inevitable. So many things in our society have changed over time to make way for “progress”, but it’s nice know that there are still places like Radio City Music Hall that maintains the traditions of the past while making accommodations and provisions for the future.

Rockettes Christmas dance video


Christmas dance number


Additional videos


Rockettes the March of the Wooden Soldiers part 1


Rockettes the March of the Wooden Soldiers part 1

Rockettes Wooden Soldiers part 2   

Rockettes Wooden Soldiers part 3

Christmas in New York City video






Looff Carousel, Rhode Island – past meets present

In 1886, the shores of East Providence (i.e. Riverside), Rhode Island were fortunate to become the home of a very popular and luxurious waterfront destination. Along those shores, summer visitors were given an opportunity to enjoy numerous summer cottages, bath-houses, and a beautiful deluxe hotel. Labeled the “Coney Island of New England” visitors flocked to these shores and beaches to relax. Thus “Crescent Park Resort” was founded.

In effort to lure visitors off the beaches, and offer a different type of entertainment, the owner of the property at that time (Charles Boyden) came up with an interesting idea. He decided to build an amusement park on that Riverside waterfront section. A few years later, he hired a furniture maker/wood carver Charles I.D. Looff to build a carousel on the property. Looff’s carvings were different than most.  His animals and horse designs were creative, imaginative, unique, and stylish. Hence the Looff Carousel in Riverside was born.

During my youth in the 1960’s, I have strong memories of this very special place. It was one of my family’s and my favorite weekend destinations. During the summer months there was always something special happening there. The park catered to family members of all ages, young and old alike, On hand, was your typical theme park fair, awesome sea food, delicious all-you-can-eat clam cakes and chowder at the shore dinner hall, peanuts and cotton candy, among other usual amusement park snacks. There was even a special stand for popcorn and saltwater taffy-a seaside favorite.

Obviously one of the other major attractive features of the park were the notable rides and midway games. Many might remember, ‘Kiddy-land’,’Tumble Bug’, ‘the Flying Fish’ (a roller coaster style ride), ‘Go carts’, ‘The Fun House’, ‘The Showboat’, ‘The Whip’, ‘The Riverboat’, ‘Dodge Em’s’, “The Penny Arcade (with of course ‘Skeeball’), ‘Shooting Gallery’, and the “Ferris Wheel”. Many of these were riding-style attractions, while others were walk-through adventures.  Nonetheless, with the classic “in your face’ dayglow paint, their sights and sounds, offered us the fun times many of us remember.

Sundays were always a special day for me at the park.  On Sunday, they offered a lot of free entertainment. Many notable celebrities visited and performed for us.  Roy Rogers and Dale Evans (and Trigger of course), The Lone Ranger and Tonto, The Three Stooges, characters from TV’s Gunsmoke, were just a few of the entertainers that come to mind. When I think back, I still can’t believe I had the opportunity to see many of my TV idols (most of which I’d only seen in black and white!) appearing on that stage right in front of me in living color!  I remember what a thrill it was for me to actually shake hands and speak with “Festus” (Ken Curtis) from TV’s Gunsmoke. Those days, were happier days. People still had to deal with the challenges and strife of everyday life, but it seemed to be a lot easier to cope.

The park continued to thrive over the years, surviving tough economic times, as well as some pretty catastrophic weather, namely hurricanes. The Hurricane of 1938 caused significant damage, and Hurricane Carol, in 1954, which decimated a lot of the coast. Nonetheless, with a few repairs, and Crescent Park was back in business. Unfortunately, in the 1970’s, (along with many of its peers) the Crescent Park Amusement Park, ran into financial difficulty, and was forced into bankruptcy. A sad day for all of us who remembered the fun times we had experienced at their park over the years.

Luckily, the Looff Carousel has survived over time. A group of local citizens rescued the Carousel from being sold off. Shortly thereafter, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. In 1987, the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service designated the carousel as a National Historic Landmark. The building is one of Looff’s classic circular buildings. From the exterior, the building appears to have three tiers.  The lower portion is the main entrance to the carousel ride itself.  The second tier provides additional interior lighting for the carousel. Finally, the topmost tier creates the “coppola or dome” shape that you can see.  The third tier, provides natural air circulation-a way to allow the heat to escape on those hot summer days.  Here are some photos that I’ve taken around the exterior of the carousel building.

In the summer of 2010, the Carousel was closed while they were conducting some major repairs. One of the main gears from the ride drive mechanism had to be replaced. It was not an easy job. The main center portion where the drive mechanism was located beneath the ride had to be exposed to gain access and replace the gear. There was no way of obtaining a replacement gear locally, so they had to have a company in some other area of the country, manufacturer and ship a replacement gear.

A “band organ” that was manufactured in Germany provides the “calliope” style music for the carousel. It utilizes a Wurlitzer 165 music roll system, to provide the music. [The Wurlitzer 165 replaced the original German cardboard book music system that was installed]. The carousel manager Ed, was nice enough to allow me to take some photos during its repair. I was fortunate enough to be able to see some of this equipment that normally is concealed while the ride is in operation. The music system, the drive mechanisms, the gears, etc. One note, the photos of the gear that needed to be replaced doesn’t really do justice to its size.  In person, its size is impressive.

During the repairs, I was fortunate to be able to get close and photograph many of the horses and animals in the carousel. Some of which were even mythical. The colors and designs were extremely vibrant, and they looked amazing. Many of the horses themselves were adorned with beautifully colored saddles. On some the harnesses and saddles they were decorated with gold and jewels. Some of the horses had smaller creatures and animals clinging to them. Rabbits, dragons, and serpents are just a few of the creature’s inhabiting the carousels domain. The following are some photos I took of the horses and animals in the structure.

In the building there are numerous other signs and artifacts from the original park.  There are vintage photos, original park game kiosks, sign’s, etc.  Many of which will bring back vivid memories of bygone era – an era that has not been forgotten.  Here are just a few of these images.

I’m very fortunate to live close to the carousel in Riverside.  I visit there numerous times in the summer. When I walk thru the carousel doors, I feel as though I’m stepping back in time. When you see the ride, hear the music, smell the popcorn, you are transported, to a different time and place. It really conveys a true vision of the past. Also, in today’s day age of video games, IPods, and computers, its’ really nice to see adults, children, and families spending quality time together enjoying each other’s company. I would strongly recommend to anyone, if you have an opportunity to see and experience the Looff Carousel, do it. It’s a fun filled afternoon with family and friends, both young and old.


Carousel motion video click to view















Twilight Zone On Location – Part 1

Many of us can remember back in 1959, one of the more famous television series that came onto our black and white televisions sets.  It began with one of the most notable music introduction themes, that to this day is still used in many television commercials and video clips.  The penetrating background music, a gripping narration guiding us toward a vision of space…followed by a door careening towards us…a window which shatters into pieces…a creepy eyeball…e=mc2 …a flying spaceman…a crazy clock with its hand spinning uncontrollably…we just crossed over into…“The Twilight Zone”.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over 50 years since we first heard those words, from the show’s extremely talented creator Rod Serling.  Rod’s genius, created a show that had been televised for 5 seasons, and had a generous following.   Over time, many shows have tried mimicking the shows vision and creativity, but many would agree, none were ever able to do so.

Over those 5 seasons, the show was mainly filmed on the studio lots in California, but occasionally, specific locations were required to accommodate explicit landscapes and backdrops for those various episodes.   Combining both the studio lot with these off-lot locations really gave some of these episodes a more realistic look and feel.

In 2010, a close friend of mine, Paul Giammarco, and I chose to take on the challenge of attempting to seek out these various off-lot locations.  With Paul’s passion, love, and extreme familiarity of the show, we felt that we might be able to create a “then-and-now” photo log of our journey to these somewhat forgotten locations.  With that, Paul began work on the project.  Utilizing DVD video stills to capture specific screen shots, along with various maps, and extensive Internet research, he and I were able to identify what we felt were some of these remote locations.   We booked our flights and our rooms and thus our journey began.

So as began our sojourn in the Death Valley area.  Our first region to visit was Zabriskie Point.   Zabriskie Point is a part of Amargosa Range located in east of Death Valley, in Death Valley National Park.  Named after Christian Brevoort Zabriskie, its composition is made up of sediments from Furnace Creek Lake, which dried up 5 million years ago, long before Death Valley came into existence.

Two episodes from the Twilight Zone series, “I Shot an Arrow Into the Air” (1960), and “The Lonely” (1959), were both filmed at Zabriskie point and at Desolation Canyon as well.  We eventually visited Desolation Canyon to obtain additional stills, and attempt to find those other filming locations and backdrops as they appear today.  Both episodes did involve space ships and asteroids, which made Zabriskie and Desolation Canyon perfect filming locations offering great backdrops, to create an un-earthly feel.  One interesting note I’d like to point out, is several of the “Star Wars” films were shot in and around Desolation Canyon, areas appropriately named “Banta Canyon” and “Jawa Canyon”, were home to many familiar scenes from those films.  These following photos depict screenshots from the original Twilight Zone episodes “I Shot an Arrow..” and “The Lonely”, comparing them to present day, from both Zabriskie and Desolation Canyon.

The episode titled “The Little People” was filmed was filmed at MGM; the process-shot with the landed rocket used Desolation Canyon as a backdrop.   Its premise, a spaceman finds tiny inhabitants on a planet and forces them to recognize him as a God.  Again, the backdrops of Desolation Canyon, do give it the look and feel of being on another planet.  The following are our photos from “The Little People” filming locations.

One of our final destinations was the town of Olancha, California.  Olancha is located in the higher elevations (3650 feet above sea level), just at the foothills on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.  The episodes, “The Rip Van Winkle Caper” (1961) and “A Hundred Yards over the Rim” (1961).

“The Rip Van Winkle Caper”, an episode that involved four thieves, that in an effort to escape the police, create a plot to live in suspended animation for 100 years along with their stolen gold bars.   The foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range offered a great backdrop for this episode.  The barren and rugged terrain really conveys to the viewer the desolation and desert feel.  It drives home, what it must have been like for these individuals to fight for their lives.  The following are the photos from “The Rip Van Winkle Caper”.

And finally, we come to one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes.  “A Hundred Yards over the Rim”, tells the story of 19th-century western settler, portrayed by Academy Award winner Cliff Robertson, who sets off on his own to search for water to help his dying son, but instead finds he had stepped into the modern era.  Part of this “modern era” is a diner that we were fortunate to locate.  However, it was in a bad state of disrepair.  The gentleman that owned the property, was living behind the building, and structure did have a for sale sign in the window.   At first, it didn’t look at all like the original diner from episode, but with a little imagination, and after looking at it for a while you can see the similarity.   There were other scenes from the episode, where again, the director tries to convey the desolation and isolation that Cliff’s character was experiencing through the desert area.   Ironically, Paul and I experienced those same feelings of desolation and isolation when we first arrived.  Wondering how these earlier settlers could have managed with the extreme temperatures variations, lack of water, and isolation.   Death Valley temperatures have reached as high as 134 degrees, and virtually having no rainfall.  With that, photos from the “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim” episode.

In closing, Paul and I really enjoyed our experiences in visiting those vintage locations.  This trip helped us develop a deeper appreciation, for the area, and for what the cast and crew must have dealt with on a day to day basis working in Death Valley.  On one occasion, Paul did make a comment to me during one of our photo shoots, “they call it Death Valley, this place is anything but death…”.   I really thought about his comment, and I couldn’t agree more.  Despite all its potential harshness, we discovered that Death Valley does have an abundance of natural beauty, making it truly come alive.   Artist Palette, The Devils Golf Course, Furnace Creek, Mesquite Dunes, are just a few of the other areas we visited, all of which offer life to this beautiful landscape.  As stated at the beginning of this post, this is “part one” of our journey.  Paul and I hope to return some day to visit several other Twilight Zone locations.  Please visit the following link to view Paul’s short video clip, “Twilight Zone On Location”.


Fantasyland – Newer and more fantasy than ever

Last week, my wife and I visited Walt Disney World with some friends.  We were fortunate to be able to stay on the Disney property, which gave us easy and quick access to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot.

Since my wife and I have been Vacation Club Members for a number of years, Disney (and DVC) was gracious enough to invite us to see and tour the New Fantasyland area prior to its opening.  This new area is opening in phases, and is scheduled for its grand opening for guests on December 6th of this year.  The nice thing about having the DVC member access, is that we could take our time walking through, since there were only a few other folks in the area.  It’s not often that you have the opportunity to photograph at a Disney park, with virtually no one else in front of you.

As we began our journey I was amazed at the level of detail that this new area offered.   The waterfalls, rocks and boulders, all leading the way up to the ‘Beast’s’ castle which was modeled after the Disney animated classic Beauty and the Beast.   Before proceeding to the castle, we stopped by Gaston’s Tavern, which will soon become familiar to everyone for the great sticky buns that they serve there.

Next we entered the Beast’s castle to view the interactive show titled, “Enchanted Tales with Belle”, previewing some incredible special effects along the way; a mirror that disappears and turns into a secret doorway to the library for one.  We continued into the library where the show resumes to give guests a great opportunity to visit and interact with Lumiere, Cogsworth, and eventually Belle during this lively re-enactment of the story.  There are plenty of photo opportunities with Belle during the finale.

We then crossed the bridge to tour the’ Be Our Guest Restaurant’, which houses 3 magnificent dining rooms, right out of the animated classic.  Complete with its west wing, the major and minor dining rooms, the ballroom, frost on the windows, the famous red rose in its glass case – petals and all.

After our visit with Beauty and the Beast we moved on to Ariel’s Grotto.  Our next attraction was the ‘Under the Sea -Journey of the Little Mermaid’.   As you walk through the entrance, Disney created numerous vignettes along the way featuring the various cast members of The Little Mermaid classic.  These mini-shows are a great idea for entertaining guests as they wait to enter the main attraction.  Finally, you enter Prince Eric’s castle, and board a giant clamshell.  The clamshell takes you through a re-telling of the animated classic, first on land and then you travel under the sea to enter Ariel’s underwater world.  As with Enchanted Tales with Belle, the attention to detail and special effects were astounding.

Unfortunately, we did not have time to visit ‘Storybook Circus’, the new replacement area to Mickey’s Toon-Town.  Visible everywhere, we observed many barricaded areas which enclosed regions under construction, and will eventually be home to many more attraction for this newly designed area.

As we exited, we were informed that after its completion this new area will nearly double Fantasyland’s size.  However, as I’m somewhat of an old-fashioned Disney fan, I do hope that they do retain some of the older attractions.  Granted, many may need some refurbishing and updating, but they are, and always will be part of my fondest memories of the Fantasyland attractions.

Fall Foliage – New England

The crisp air, apple picking time, pumpkins sold everywhere…a true indication that fall has arrived in New England.

This year seemed to be an extraordinary year to check out the changing leaves.  I’ve always felt so fortunate, living in New England to be able to see the leaves change almost every day.  As the temperatures dropped, more and more leaf colors continued to emerge.  I did utilize a great Android app called “Foliage Leaf Peepr”, which helped me find and report on the best and brightest colors this year.

Our New England cruise gave us a great opportunity to see the diverse range of color change from green, turning, moderate, etc.  The several photos that I’ve included with this post, were taken at Roger Williams Park, in Providence, Rhode Island.  Fortunately for me, I was able to take these shots the week prior to hurricane Sandy’s arrival.

Bay of Fundy – St. Johns, New Brunswick

Location of the Bay of Fundy

A number of years ago on one of our trips out west while visiting our glorious national parks, my wife and I were fortunate enough to meet some very nice folks.  Since that time we’ve traveled with them on numerous occasions.  On the week of Oct 14, 2012, we all decided to take a cruise out of Boston, Massachusetts.  Its ports of call included Portland and Bar Harbor Maine, St. Johns New Brunswick, and Halifax Nova Scotia.  Since we were very close to peak foliage, these stops did make for a great backdrop for photographing.

During the stop in St. Johns, my wife had surprised me and had planned a photo excursion for me with a professional photographer.  He brought us to photograph numerous areas in St. John’s, one of which included the Bay of Fundy.  The Bay of Fundy is a bay on the Atlantic coast, on the northeast end of the Gulf of Maine between the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.  The Bay of Fundy is noted for having the highest tidal ranges in the world.  Tides can rise up to, and surpass, 40-50 feet.  Living in Rhode Island, we do experience tide changes daily, and even moon tide changes, which offer higher than normal tides; however, nothing like what occurs in the Bay of Fundy.  As a matter fact, I noted numerous areas where lobstering and fishing boats were lying on their sides because the docks that they were fastened to were not high (or tall) enough to accommodate the tide change.  When the tide went out, the boats would be leaning or lying on their side on the sea floor.  As the tide came in, the boats would begin to right themselves and float upright against the dock, ready to go to work.

The interesting thing is there are various areas throughout this coast where this bay touches, and where you can experience this tidal phenomenon.  Obviously, it would require a return visit during the same day to truly appreciate the differences between the tide levels.  Areas like Hopewell Rocks (the location of the famous formation “flower pot rocks”) or an area on the St. Johns River where you can visit the famous “reversing tides”.  On this excursion we were fortunate enough to visit these reversing falls.  We arrived early to observe the falls in action.  They were churning, cascading, rapidly rushing in the direction of the Bay as the tide was outgoing.  When we returned later that morning, the tide was beginning to change direction and we witnessed the water had almost stopped.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to see it reverse its direction fully, but I’m told that when it does, it can impact the river and its inlets 78 miles upstream.  A real tribute to the power of nature.