Tag Archives: niagara falls

Books & Cream Puffs

Stacks of books

Christmas has come and gone again. It comes slowly and goes so quickly. We have been  lucky with our weather in Niagara Falls so far. The weather stayed mild and almost a balmy 55 degrees for much of the Christmas week, allowing us to get outside and soak up as much sunlight as we could during the shortest days of the year. Thankfully for us- as the Winter Solstice is in our rear view mirror, the days will start getting longer even as the winter weather starts to arrive.

The city surely is appreciating this beautiful early winter weather. I’ve been out walking to some of my favorite places and it seems everyone has the same idea. This week people were happily bustling down the street with their groceries and holiday supplies. Bicycles are still out in full force- with no snow impeding their riders.

I visited the library several times this week, just at the end of my block. I must live in one of the best locations in the city because at the end of the street I have the Main Library for Niagara Falls which is always full of people surfing the internet, reading newspapers and magazines on the big leather club chairs and exploring the big stack of books under a soaring cathedral ceiling with strategically placed windows allowing filtered sunlight to stream down the levels of floors.


Constantly obsessed with pouring over the latest memoirs, I took out a stack of book twice this week  that I have been reading every spare minute of the holidays.

This week I finished The French House, by Don Wallace which was an interesting and comical look at a family’s experiences in staying in a small French cottage for vacations over the course of several years. It touched me with it’s candor and humor in times of desperation in attempting to make an empty and abandoned house a home over the course of a long period of time and through a series of financial ups & downs. (Familiar story to me!) It also helped me understand what the author learned over a period of greater than ten years- what he came to understand about moving into a neighborhood already well established and inhabited by long term residents. That’s a lesson that I think will personally help me as I work into the already established neighborhood of Memorial Parkway in Niagara Falls.

This week I started, stopped and returned again to the memoir named New Slow City by William Powers. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this book for a few reasons. Right now I am really going through a period of intensely difficult work- with a large workload and a jam packed schedule. This book really focuses on the concept of working less in order to enjoy life more. While I appreciate what the author is saying and what he is trying to teach me, I find it so impossible to relate at this point that I have had to put the book down and come back to it several times. However; I am absolutely thrilled at what I am learning that I can apply to our beloved business, 24 Below Gallery and Cafe. 24 Below was born because of my passion for giving local artists and artisans a platform to sell their products on a regular basis. It is more than a retail outlet to me; it is a community that connects artists with each other and consumers of art and food with the makers. This memoir has really helped me with an added dimension to our business that I will really be excited to talk about more in the future. In the meantime, the painting and flooring continues in our new gallery on Third Street.

Finally, the memoir I am currently immersed in- to the point of reading obsession is Billion Dollar Painter, by G. Eric Kuskey. WOW! This memoir is a fascinating deep insight into the world of mass art production and distribution from the artist Thomas Kinkaid. Before you serious art lovers turn your nose up and scoff at the “jigsaw puzzle art” like I did, give this book a chance. Mr. Kuskey, the author, headed up the Licensing Division of Thomas Kinkaid’s brand and gives us an honest look into the realization of the artist about the nature of his work and it’s disconnect from the art world. He shows us how Kinkaid’s viewpoints were formed, what he thought about the mass marketing of his art and what he was trying to accomplish with it. It is a seriously revealing look into the behind the scenes operation of the mega-market of art reproduction and into the corporation. To me, I can clearly see the meeting of sales-minded business people with the crazy cast of characters artists attract- right down to the fleet of Kirby Vacuum salesmen, the In House Company Preacher with too much power, and the simulacra of a Rockwellian life that the artist was trying to lead even through beer goggles- as he put on his costume of a born again Christian artist in a fairy tale cottage. Wow. I started the book yesterday and I am halfway through. I can’t even imagine what the rest will tell me.

Have I mentioned I am supposed to be working on the formal business plan for my business? Oh yes- this holiday has been sprinkled and spiced with various mad crazy binges of consumer data, marketing plans, income projections and demographical research so that I can complete our first formal business plan for 24 Below. The business plan, like so many other small businesses, has resided in my head and in my heart. I have steered the ship of 24 Below by instinct and the metaphorical stars… and it’s working quite well. Having had a smashing successful start, without the help of investors, grants, loans or financial backers, I am now going to see what type of economic incentives or small business loans might be available to us so that we can get serious about really growing the business to it’s full potential. Our beautiful art gallery has created such an enormous amount of goodwill and community that I don’t want to drop the ball and I want to manage the potential wisely. So I am completing a well thought out business plan and I am going to meet with knowledgeable advisors to see if we should consider going for a loan or other funding. This requires the business plan, which I am told should be about 20 pages of solid data and excellent writing. All this during a library book reading binge?

As if that wasn’t enough- I made cream puffs for Christmas! Spreading a little holiday cheer with my baking. The cream puffs are a nice simple dessert to make and a great way to share with friends my love for baking and pastry making. Thanks to Niagara Culinary Institute, I learned how not to be intimidated by creating beautiful pastries and soon I will be baking these beautiful little puffs of goodness for our gallery/cafe. I am including a link to a recipe for cream puffs at the Steamy Kitchen blog.  It’s not my recipe, but the recipe I use is from culinary school and goes by weight measurements and large batches.

I was so happy to deliver the cream puffs to our local heros at Niagara Falls Fire Department working on Christmas Eve, and to my working friends at the beautiful Piccirillo’s Florist, and especially to my very dear friend, whose 1o1 year old father requested them in the first place!

My cream puff brigade:  (now a delicious memory)

cream puffs



Late Night Double Feature Picture Show

In a manic rush of the changing seasons, coming holidays and work overload this week has been and incredible challenge of stamina, sanity and amusement!

There is so much to do here in Niagara that a person can go crazy narrowing down the choices.  I had to sacrifice some of the great events this week but in the end I had a great time.

This month marks the one year point since we made the winning bid on a city auction for a lovely craftsman duplex in a strong neighborhood. Our purchase and renovation has been featured in Circa, on online magazine for old house lovers.

Since that time, we’ve waited out a winter and begun work to the graceful old girl and continue to push ahead. We toiled in the summer heat with demo and endless drywall and painting projects. Our goal of moving into the house by this Thanksgiving has had to be postponed but we are persevering with a loving renovation.

I found a photo of a beautiful arts and crafts era decoration on the web early in the project and struggled for a way to somehow fit it into our home. I decided to replicate that design for our address numbers.

house numbers

(Inspiration, Left / New House Numbers, Right)


In the middle of the week I was lucky enough to be invited to a kirtan in nearby North Tonawanda.  Just a 15 minute drive found me and a few good friends at a small historic Strand Theater in the city. We were greeted by welcoming people in a warm and friendly cozy building. At the bar was a buffet of food that folks brought in to share along with smiling faces and warm greetings. The kirtan was lead by a group of talented and glowing people.  The best way I can describe a kirtan for those who have never attended is that it is a singing, chanting meditation of the Hindu tradition- but open to everyone. You don’t need to know what the words mean. Just the rhythm, harmony and repetition of the sounds and the syllables slows your breath and clears your mind so that you can connect to a place that soothes your spirit. The theater is informal- and homespun. We sat on cushions on the floor and soft comfortable sofas that took the place of theater seating. The walls and ceiling were illuminated by tiny green dots of light- stars that slowly moved around and above us during the enchanting experience.


The night was so healing for me that I will be sure to watch for upcoming events thanks to the facebook group Buffalo Kirtan. Yet another great way to connect with my fellow Western New Yorkers who are leading an eclectic life.

From spiritual highness to experiential strangeness the week ended on a note of sheer abandon at the Rocky Horror Picture Show hosted in the beautiful Riviera Theater. Come as you are or come as you want to be; this Rocky Horror Picture Party is hands-down the best one I have been to since 1988. The Riviera doesn’t “tolerate” Rocky Horror, it CELEBRATES it! Prop bags were for sale (sold out!) and we were allowed ALL of the props from rice to water guns from toast to playing cards and all the toilet paper we could throw!

rocky horror 01

The theater was packed with revelers and the mood was all for one. Suddenly buddies with the people in the rows behind and in front of us, we tossed inflated condoms like beach balls across the crowds. We shared toilet paper rolls to relaunch and covered each other during the rain storm. Before the picture show began we were surely treated to amazing drag performances and the slow burning sizzling tease of Burlesque.  By the time the midnight showing of Rocky Horror ended, the theater looked like a shipwreck and we were all so thankful to know that volunteers were staying for an all-night cleanup and that the Riviera was not going to be stuck with 5200 playing cards and 2800 pieces of dry toast.

rocky horror

This week ends back where it started; lovingly working away on this old craftsman house. Promising her we’d be there before the winter is over and that she has already suffered her last year without heat. Today we work on more brick repointing, interior painting and prep for refinishing the beautiful hard wood front door.

What a whirlwind of a week! What a great place to call home.

Bowling Alleys, Soup and Change

A week that started off with an 80 degree high temp ended in the 30’s and I have finally accepted that it is again Fall. Walking through the crunching leaves scattered over the sidewalks I feel time ticking down to the winter. This means it’s time for indoor entertainment, cooking and change.

We were invited by some friends to meet up at a local bowling alley (Rapids Bowling Center)  for Karaoke Night last weekend. I stepped out of the car and walked into a bizarre independent film scene. The bowling alley was flooded with a mellow blue glow from the night time games on the lanes. The welcoming and roomy lounge was filled with people from every walk of life laughing and singing and dancing.

bowling alley


The bar went wild for Rob Z of Z-Licious Karaoke who lead Karaoke with so much glee- dancing and singing that his happy spirit was contagious! Soon we were cheering on everybody who came up to sing- and there were some amazing singers. The most unlikely choices of song for each person. A man who came in looking like a clergyman calmly strode to the mic- and the burst out “BABY GOT BACK”! A tough guy with tattoos and a backwards baseball hat sang Love Ballads from the 70’s.

Rapids is like an outpost of strangers in a strange land. Even the most misfit shy and awkward person can make friends and bond with the group of former high school glory girls who are all there to just have a good time. People at the edge of 22 are high fiving 70 year old ladies. No judgements.

Saturday night Karaoke at the Rapids turns out to be a hell of a good time!  If you’re into bar food this is also the place to be. We snacked on a huge platter of french fries smothered in golden cheddar cheese, bacon and ranch dressing. Now I have a plan for some indoor winter fun.

My other cold weather coping mechanism is cooking. And this nearly 50 degree drop in temperature week brought out a taste for some soup. What’s better to warm up a chilly old house than a simmering pot on the stove?

I found a very simple quick soup that was done in less than an hour start to finish! Not a gourmet-artisanal-hand-crafted-everything-from-scratch kind of thing but a good old modern America comfort soup. It popped up on social media last week and I thought steamy soup in my kitchen was just the thing to chase away the Fall chill. It’s called “Lasagna Soup” and though it contains not all the ingredients of a great lasagna, it does deliver on it’s promise of tomato-ey goodness with savory Italian spices and belly warming ground beef and noodles. You can find the recipe HERE at Taste of Home.

We people of Western New York state are great at adapting to changes. It’s in our blood to transform from shorts at the beginning of the week to jeans and sweaters by the end of the week. Viva La Niagara!