Back to the Concerts by Karen Shughart

We moved from a mid-sized metropolitan area to a small village on the south shore of Lake Ontario in the Finger Lakes region of New York almost seven years ago. We love being part of a community where everyone truly does know your name, and the beauty surrounding us is inspirational. I wouldn’t be writing the Edmund DeCleryk mystery series anywhere else.

There’s lots going on here, especially during summer months, but attending monthly cultural events was an integral part of our lives where we used to live, so we decided to explore what was available in nearby Rochester and other nearby communities.  The highway system is good, and within a short drive there are a multitude of choices:  Broadway offerings performed by excellent touring companies; ballet; opera; community theatre; choral performances, and concerts of every sort. 

We discovered a wonderful performing arts venue, The Smith Opera House, in nearby Geneva, and that each year they offer a subscription to a cultural series that includes performances by both the Rochester and Syracuse symphony orchestras, world renowned dance troupes and award-winning vocal groups. This series became the opportunity for a monthly date night, preceded by dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, located a few doors away from the performing arts hall. It was something we looked forward to, especially during winter months.

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Then the pandemic hit, and our date nights in Geneva fizzled. The series was cancelled, and we found ourselves scheduling nights at home: pizza, perhaps; or takeout from a nearby restaurant; followed by streaming cultural events on TV. It was nice watching events from the safety and comfort of our home, and we agreed we enjoyed those evenings, but it wasn’t the same.

The Smith has opened its doors again, but for safety reasons there will be no subscription series this year. Each performance will be available as a separate entity, there will be no paper tickets (just an email confirmation) and patrons must order online or purchase their tickets at the door the evening of the event. Masks plus proof of vaccination will be required, plus there will be social distancing inside the venue.

We’re fine with that.  I just ordered two tickets for the first symphony performance to be held later this month. The restaurant we like has re-opened but with strict guidelines; we’re fine with that, too. We’re happy to be able to get out for an evening.

While we are looking forward to resuming some semblance of normalcy in our lives, I must admit to feeling a bit anxious about attending these performances in person as more cases of Covid and its variants seem to be gaining a chokehold on our country again.   We also realize that things could change between now and then. It’s okay, we’re willing to deal with it. Life is in flux, it usually is, but we’re hoping for the best.

The Pear Garden by Karen Shughart

We call it the Pear Garden, and this is how it started. I come from a family of dog lovers. Almost everyone has or has had dogs: my husband and I, our kids, my siblings, nieces and nephews, cousins. When they pass, we grieve for our fur babies for a long time; and we always remember them fondly, even after we adopt a new pet.

A few years ago, one of our great nieces and nephews came to visit with our daughter, Jessica. Emil was maybe about nine or ten that year and still grieving for the family’s dog, Pear, a lovely, gentle Golden Retriever who had been laid to rest a few months before. Emil was still sad about the loss. We live on Lake Ontario, and Jessica and Emil went off to the beach to collect smooth stones at the water’s edge. Then they came back and painted them with creative, colorful designs including four of them each with the initials that spelled “PEAR.”

Behind our garage there’s a mulched bed of shrubs with some spaces between them. The stones were artfully arranged in one of those spaces to honor Pear’s life. We said prayers and sang songs.  I had wondered if the stones would survive our harsh winters, but to this day they are as bright as when they were first painted.

A few weeks ago, our niece, Suzanne, her husband, Tom, and their two daughters came to visit. While they don’t have a dog, my brother and sister-in-law, Didi and Grammy to the girls, had recently sent Gus, their sprightly Wheaton terrier, over the rainbow bridge.  Maya and Hannah had loved Gus and were taken with our Pear memorial. Our daughter was visiting this time, too, and a little while later we added painted stones for Gus.

When I told my sister about the expanding garden, she remarked that when she and her husband visit us from Florida this fall, they would like to paint rocks and place them in our garden for their beloved dog, Sally, another gentle Golden who had recently succumbed to an unexpected illness.

In the past, we’ve scattered the ashes of our own dogs where they most liked to romp and kept the remainder in ornately carved boxes stacked upon shelves in our library. Now I’m thinking that we need to paint stones for them and add them to the growing display. Our adopted Beagle, Nova, has been with us for about a year-and-a-half. We love her dearly, and she’s as much a member of our family as our other dogs were. I hope, though, that it will be years before painted rocks bearing her name are placed beside the others.

As it turns out, there’s a new tradition that’s begun in our family to remember all the dogs we’ve loved. Perhaps Pear is watching somewhere from puppy heaven, proud to have been the first of these and pleased that we’ve named our memorial garden after him.

SUMMER IN SODUS POINT by Karen Shughart

It’s like a grand, sweeping piece of classical music, starting out slowly and gradually building until it reaches a crescendo; imperceptibly winding down and then soaring to a breathtaking ending.

That’s pretty much what it’s like living in Sodus Point in the summer. Located on the south shore of Lake Ontario, we have seasons, defined seasons, and for three-fourths of the year it’s quiet. There are fewer than 900 permanent residents.

The switch is flipped, starting around Memorial Day. There’s an increase in activity. Summer residents begin readying their cottages for warm weather. Tourists, staying at inns and rented homes, stroll our streets, visit our attractions, line up for ice cream, dine on the decks of our waterfront restaurants, or purchase California rolls and bao buns, specialized coffee, baked goods, barbecue, and tacos from food trucks that circle a parking lot like covered wagons.

July 4th weekend brings more traffic-hundreds; maybe thousands from around our region-for classic car and kiddie parades, craft shows, fun runs and a spectacular display of fireworks, beginning at 10 p.m. Our days are long this time of year. We watch the fireworks from our front porch, the jostling crowds and traffic too challenging for the likes of us, and the noise unsettling for our small Beagle, Nova.

A week or two later more visitors from across this country-and pre-pandemic-countries from around the world, descend upon our village to partake of the scenic beauty, pristine beaches, hiking trails, fishing spots, museums, lighthouses, gift shops, great food, and music. There’s lots of music.

Summer is when our historical society and museum sponsors nine weeks of Sunday afternoon concerts in the park on a bluff overlooking the lake. Motorboats anchor, sailboats drift lazily, and pedestrians spread blankets or unfold chairs to listen to a diverse selection of music while munching on hot dogs and sausage, popcorn, and ice cream. Often, during the week, music vibrates through our windows from bars and restaurants lining our business district.

Most of our friends and family visit during summer months. There’s lots to do: sunbathing on the beach, simple meals cooked on the grill, visits to wineries, farm stands and orchards, and to our local farm animal rescue shelter; be sure to bring bags of carrots and apples for feeding the residents. Friends with boats take us and our guests on tours of the bay or for longer sojourns, we rent pontoons. Although we can hear the Sunday concerts from our front porch, it’s a quick stroll to the park, and part of a must-do Sodus Point experience.

Late in August the summer people begin pack up and leave.  School is starting, soccer and football practice, too. Tourism wanes, but the crowds return to celebrate Labor Day weekend. It’s the grand finale: an annual clambake sponsored by our ambulance association; the final concert on the bluff; and another sumptuous fireworks display. Soon, very soon, there will be quiet on our streets with the promise of autumn in the air, a breathtaking ending to a fine summer.

The Wine Cellar by Karen Shughart

This month, to celebrate my birthday, friends treated me to lunch at a lovely restaurant/winery with charming views of Seneca Lake, in the heart of the Finger Lakes. The restaurant not only carries its own wines, but also a splendid selection from other wineries located here, along with those produced elsewhere in the United States and internationally.

Maybe it’s because of the burgeoning wine industry in the Finger Lakes – it’s the second largest producer of wines in the U.S. – that wine features prominently in our social life. Each night before dinner, my husband, Lyle, and I have a glass, every meal we share with friends at their homes or ours as well as at restaurants, includes wine. We sip, we taste, we compare, and we share. It’s part of the culture.

Right around the time that COVID quarantining started, Lyle decided to clean out a basement room directly beneath our kitchen that has thick stone walls and a stone floor.  We figured it may once have been a cistern, the house is about 130 years old. Remarkably, in both the heat of the summer and chill of winter, that space stays cool at about 56 degrees.

For as long as we’d owned our house, this was one room I had never, ever entered. It was gloomy and dark with cobwebs, discarded doors, rusted paint cans, a hodgepodge of debris and a broken wooden table. It took him hours, but eventually he got rid of all the junk, cleaned the floor and walls and cleared out the cobwebs. What an amazing transformation! The stone walls were charming; the floor was, too. It was wired for electricity, there was a burned-out bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. Then it struck me. While we enjoy wine and had taken wine appreciation classes at nearby New York Kitchen in Canandaigua, our wine storage options for collecting it had been limited. This was the perfect space to create a wine cellar.

Just outside the room we hung a round, wooden sign: “Wine Pairs Nicely with Good Friends.” We bought a light fixture to hang from the ceiling. For comfort, my husband installed some interlocking rubber tiles over the floor. We found an authentic wine barrel that we placed in one corner of the room; a huge Finger Lakes wine country poster sits in another. We purchased racks and started filling them, rows organized by varietal.

A colorful rug anchors the middle of the room, with a small, rectangular table covered with a Provencal – print cloth, a perfect spot for wine glasses and bottles to open for tastings.  Over the winter, we had an electric fireplace installed for those chilly wine-tasting nights.

Our journey began with an appreciation for wine and the abundance of vineyards so close to where we live. It has continued with the creation of our own wine cellar, a fun space for small groups of friends and family to gather, and a silver-lining project during the isolating time of COVID.

City Mouse or Country Mouse by Karen Shughart

Are you a city mouse or a country mouse? Does the thought of rural life make you yawn? Or does the idea of living in a city send electric shocks of anxiety through you?

I grew up in Pittsburgh. I enjoyed concerts performed by the symphony orchestra and boarded a streetcar with my mother for shopping excursions and lunch at downtown department stores. Our family went to the zoo, visited museums, and in the summer enjoyed the rides and games at big, regional amusement park. A branch of the Carnegie Library was within walking distance to our home.  I remember attending a live performance of what was the forerunner to the Mr. Rogers TV show. I loved the energy of the city, the hustle and bustle, the diversity of people and activities.

One set of grandparents lived in a small, rural town in Ohio. From their front porch you could see the Ohio River, and there were meadows and fields at the end of their road. We weren’t allowed to swim in that river, but I do remember hikes and picnics in sun-kissed fields, crowded with delicate Queen’s Anne Lace, purple thistles, and sunflowers. You could hear the train whistle and wave to the conductor from their backyard. I loved those visits, too.

 My children grew up in a mid-sized town in central Pennsylvania: safe, secure and with plenty of space to roam around, but we lived within proximity to major metropolitan areas. We exposed them to museums, concerts, historic sites, and a variety of restaurants that served food unlike the types available in our town. Those experiences impressed them, and as adults they have chosen to live where gridlock traffic is juxtaposed with economic and cultural opportunities.

There’s energy in a city that you don’t find in a rural setting. Where you can walk or hail a cab or call Uber to get just about anywhere in minutes. Where GrubHub is takeout. When visiting our children, I sometimes long for that lifestyle. But then, after a few days, I yearn for the solitude of the place we call home.

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We retired and moved from central Pennsylvania to a bucolic village in the Finger Lakes region of New York on the south shore of Lake Ontario, not too far from several large cities and on the other side, Canada. It’s a big lake, with beautiful beaches and waves that look and sound like the ocean.

Quiet three seasons, in summer restaurants, shops, and museums fill with visitors, and outdoor activities abound. Cars line our street for Sunday concerts in the park, and our July 4th celebration attracts crowds from miles away. You wait in line at farm stands and for tastings at wineries. It’s exhilarating and enervating at the same time. I hold my breath, not fully exhaling until September.

So, what am I? I’d say I’m a country mouse who likes best to feast on the grains of quiet and solitude but occasionally ventures into a city to forage for more exotic fare. What about you?