Monthly Archives: January 2016

The Morris-Jumel Mansion

Day Thirty-Six: Visiting both the Morris-Jumel Mansion/Little Red Lighthouse in Riverside Park Washington Heights January 16th, 2016

Before I could finish my walk of Washington Heights, there were a few sights I wanted to see before it got too cold. So on a mild but brisk afternoon after a long morning in the Soup Kitchen, I visited the Little Red Lighthouse and the Morris-Jumel Mansion. I missed seeing these spots during the summer.

My first part of the trip lead me to 181st Street and the long walk down the street to Riverside Park. I was amazed of how beautiful 181st Street is at all seasons. It is still breathtaking in the winter as it is during the summer except you can see more. You could view more of the formations on the riverside cliffs at this time of the year.

Even in the short time since the summer ended, there have been many changes in the neighborhood. More buildings are under scaffolding and being sandblasted. A lot of storefronts are empty and the mom-and-pop businesses that I passed over the summer have closed their doors showing that the neighborhood is in transition. Slowly more expensive restaurants and shops are opening east of Broadway.

The view of lower Manhattan from Fort Washington Park in 2023

The walk down the path through Fort Washington Park is quite steep so make sure that you have comfortable shoes on and do your best to avoid the bike riders who speed by. At the end of the path, turn the corner and you will see the small lighthouse hidden behind a leg of the bridge.

It is rather unusual spot for a lighthouse, but it has a rather colorful past. Located underneath the George Washington Bridge along this treacherous section of the Hudson River once known as Jeffrey’s Hook, this is one of the few surviving lighthouses in New York City.

The Little Red Lighthouse in Fort Washington Park

As traffic increased along the Hudson River, so did the number of shipwrecks at Jeffery’s Hook. In an attempt to reduce accidents, a red pole was placed at Jeffery’s Hook jutting out over the river to warn travelers of danger. In 1889, two 10-candlepower lanterns were placed on the pole to aid navigation. Much of the land surrounding the lighthouse, including the riverbanks of Jeffery’s Hook, was acquired by the City in 1896 and became known as Fort Washington Park.

The Little Red Lighthouse had been erected on Sandy Hook, New Jersey in 1880, where it used a 1000-pound fog signal and flashing red light to guide ships through the night. It became obsolete and was dismantled in 1917. In 1921, the U.S. Coast Guard reconstructed this lighthouse on Jeffery’s Hook in an attempt to improve navigational aids on the Hudson River. Run by a part-time keeper and furnished with a battery-powered lamp and a fog bell, the lighthouse was an important guide to river travelers for ten years. The George Washington Bridge opened in 1931 and the brighter lights of the bridge again made the lighthouse obsolete.

The Little Red Lighthouse below the George Washington Bridge

The Coast Guide planned to auction off the lighthouse but an outpouring of support for the beacon helped save it. The outcry from the public was prompted by the children’s book, ‘The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge’, written by Hildegarde Swift and Lynd Ward in 1942. In the popular book, the Little Red Lighthouse is happy and content until the great bridge is built over it. In the end, the lighthouse learns that it still has an important job to do and that there is still a place in the world for an old lighthouse. People then sent money to save the icon from the auction block.

Little Red Lighthouse II

The book “The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge by Hildegarde Swift

In 1951, the Coast Guard gave the property to the parks and in 1979 it was added to the National Register of Historical Places.

(New York City Department of Parks & Recreation)

It is a neat little park under the bridge and should not be missed when visiting this part of Riverside Park.

Instead of climbing back up the long path, I took a stroll down the paths of Fort Washinton Park and walked by the river that was so close that you could put your hand into it (don’t!). It was a beautiful walk to be so close to the river and see the vistas of the cliffs of New Jersey and view the river both up and down stream. On this cool winter day, the park had a few joggers but not too many other people.

Riverside Park in the Spring

My walk took me back to 160th Street and the cross bridge that took me back to the neighborhood that I had visited earlier this summer. This extension of Riverside Drive leads back to Broadway and I crossed back up to 161st Street to my destination of the Morris-Jumel Mansion located in Jumel Terrace right off High Bridge Park.

I made a pit stop for a snack at Esmeraldo Bakery on Broadway at 538 West 181st Street (see review on TripAdvisor and for their Cubanitos, a sweet meat pie and Rellenas, a mashed potato meat pie that are deep-fried. They are so good and at 2 small cubanitos for $1.00 and the Rellena for $1.25, it is quite a steal. Their doughnuts are really good as well. They are also $1.00. The staff always tolerates my broken Spanish.

Esmeraldo Bakery

Esmeraldo Bakery 538 181st Street

Jumel Terrace which is located between 162nd Street and 160th Streets located on a bluff overlooking the Harlem River on its own park like setting with great views of both the Bronx and other parts of Manhattan. It is surrounded by a neighborhood of beautiful, renovated brownstones, some still having their lights and decorations up from the holiday. It must have been beautifully decorated for Christmas.

The Jumel Terrace Historic District in the Summer

The Morris-Jumel Mansion, located at 65 Jumel Terrace, is the long surviving Colonial residence left in Manhattan. The mansion was built as a summer ‘villa’ in 1795 by the British Colonel Roger Morris and his American wife Mary Philipse, it originally commanded extensive views in all directions. It viewed New York harbor and Staten Island to the south; of the Hudson and Harlem rivers to the west and east and of Westchester County to the north.

Morris-Jumel Mansion at 65 Jumel Terrace

The grounds of the Morris-Jumel Mansion

Colonel Morris was the son of the famous architect Roger Morris, a fact which may explain the extremely innovative features of the mansion such as the gigantic portico and the rear wing which was the first octagon built in the colonies.

The Morris-Jumel Mansion Gardens in early Spring

The house’s situation and large size made it ideal as military headquarters during the Revolution and it was occupied successively by Washington, General Sir Henry Clinton and the Hessian General Baron von Knyphausen. As the Morris’s were loyal to Britain during the Revolution, their property was seized and sold after its conclusion. In 1790, Washington returned for a cabinet dinner at which he entertained Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Hamilton and Colonel Knox among others.

The Morris-Jumel Gardens with crocuses peeking out

The later history of the house centers on the Jumel’s. Stephen Jumel was a wealthy French émigré who married in 1804 his beautiful and brilliant mistress, Eliza Brown. They bought the mansion in 1810. In 1815, they sailed to France and offered Napoleon safe passage to New York after Waterloo. Although he eventually declined the offer, they did acquire from his family many important Napoleonic relics, some of which can be seen in the Blue Room on the second floor. Stephen died in 1832 and Eliza married the ex-Vice-President Aaron Burr in the front parlor one year later. They were in the process of a divorce a few years later when he died on the day the divorce was finalized. On Eliza death in 1865, she was considered one of the wealthiest women in America.

Spring flowers peeking out in the gardens

The History of the Mansion:

(Morris-Jumel Mansion welcome Guide)

The house tour is self-guided and you are able to walk all around the first and second floors as well as the kitchen in the basement. The mansion had just finished having all the holiday decorations packed up for the season, so the mansion was in a little disarray. The kitchen is really interesting with all the period cooking tools in which we take the electronic ones so much for granted today. The antique waffle iron is really interesting.

The upstairs bedrooms have been restored and you get to see where Aaron Burr slept. Eliza had adopted her niece and she became Eliza’s daughter and her children her grandchildren, which by the painting in the house she must have been very fond of growing up.

Morris-Jumel Mansion III

The inside of the Morris-Jumel Mansion

In the summer months, the gardens are really nice to walk around in and are nicely landscaped. On a cool winter afternoon, it was nice to sit outside but there was not much to see. The mansion is definitely best either during the holidays or in the warmer months.

Morris-Jumel Mansion IV

Madame Jumel and family

It was nice to visit these sites as I missed them most of the summer and both are worth checking out. If you need to have dinner before leaving the neighborhood, Broadway is lined with many interesting Dominican restaurants that are reasonable and have nice menus.

Places to Visit:

Morris-Jumel Mansion

65 Jumel Terrace

New York, NY  10032

(212) 923-8008

Open: Sunday 10:00am-5:00pm/Monday Closed/Tuesday-Friday 10:00am-4:00pm/Saturday 10:00am-5:00pm

My review on TripAdvisor:

My review on my blog, “”:

Little Red Lighthouse

Fort Washington Park

Hudson River Greenway

New York, NY  10032

Open: Walk around when the park is open

My review on TripAdvisor:

My review on my blog, “”:

Places to Eat:

Esmeraldo Bakery

538 West 18st Street

New York, NY  10033

(212) 543-2250

Open: Sunday 7:00am-8:00pm/Monday-Friday 5:45am-10:00pm/Saturday 7:00am-8:00pm

My review on TripAdvisor:

My review on

Author Justin Watral and his father, Warren Watrel

Day Thirty-Five: Happy Birthday Dad! January 5th, 2016

When I started this project so many months ago, I dedicated this blog to my father, Warren George Watrel, who was more than just ‘Dad’ to me. My father encouraged me at every turn, never let me give up and pushed me and wanted me to accomplish my dreams without putting limitations on them. Since I was a child, he never forced me to do anything I didn’t want to do because he knew if I hated something, I was just going to leave it knowing it wasn’t the right match of what I wanted to do in life. The two things standing out was wrestling in junior high and working at certain restaurant chain as an adult, two things I really hated but did because I thought it was what I should have done.

When I got frustrated, he asked me what I really wanted and then encouraged me to find it and I always did in the end. This went with jobs, friends and life in general. My father never judged but wanted my brothers and I to be happy. That is pretty rare in a parent where everyone is competitive and thinks their child should be in the Olympics or go to Harvard. Speaking as a swimmer who won two medals at the Junior Olympics and as a Cornell Alumnus, I never had an interest in going to the Olympics as an adult and love it when Cornell beats Harvard at ice hockey and basketball (one day football) and was happy in the decisions I made because at the end of the day, they were my decisions not his and his support in what I wanted was very enlightening. When I take my lumps, they are my lumps.

When my dad’s health was affected by a serious stroke in 2011, I never gave it a thought that I would help him, it was a given to me. His battle to get healthy was our battle and for three and a half years I watched my dad defy every doctor who said he would never walk, speak or have a life again. Some of them even wrote him off as he might be a vegetable.

What I saw was a person stuck in a body that he wanted to get out of and was willing to try anything to get there. I never saw a man work as hard as he did to get well. Between he inpatient, out-patient and work outs with personal trainers and water aerobics, I saw the old him start to emerge with a stronger attitude, a more open view on life and a much more social person who was ready to open up to people. One of his therapist even encouraged him to go on speaking tours to encourage others not to give up and set an example of what can be accomplished with diet and exercise.

Sometimes in the end, due to circumstances beyond our control, things happen. My father passed away on October 13, 2014 and it broke my heart. The one thing he left me with a will to continue on and not give up. He set an example of what can be accomplished through hard work and dedication and believing in ones self as well as being encouraged by the outside forces of life to succeed.

He set an example that just because you have a disability, that your life is not over. It just becomes a different kind of the life. I was lucky to be with him every step of the way and was proud of his accomplishments and being able to live the life he wanted to on his terms. In essence, we still looked out for one another. As his son, I was proud to help him achieve what he wanted to in his life.

So to my remarkable father who set the example of never giving up, foraging ahead and not setting limits on himself or anyone else, I wanted to say with great love, Happy 81st Birthday Dad! I love you, respect you and miss you every day. Thank you for giving me the gift of letting me help you and making me a better person for it. The greatest present I get now, sometimes from complete strangers who saw us in everyday life, say to me “Oh, I used to see you and your dad together at such and such. You were such a good son to take such good care of your father” and I have so many seniors say to me “I wish my child would do for me what you did for your father”.

Well, to all of you who helped us along the way and encouraged him to never give up and just live life, a very big thank you! Your kind words every day made his life complete and also thank you for noticing. It makes my memories so much better that someone saw all this and was encouraged on their own. I don’t know how many people he inspired but I look around now and I see so many people who themselves have gotten better because he set an example of never letting a stroke dictate how his life would be and continued to live it.

See my dedication to my dad in all my sites,  “”, “”, “”,” and in “” all under that have been created in honor of my father.

Happy Birthday Dad with much love from me! I miss you so much but am inspired by your example as a person. We should all learn from it. My walk continues soon and as I explore a place we loved to visit so much, I will continue to be inspired by you and respect you in every way.

Dad & I

I love you!

The Christmas Tree in the Woodstock, NY town square

Day Thirty-Four: Returning to Woodstock, NY for the Christmas Eve Parade and the Christmas Holidays December 25th, 2015

I put my walking project in Manhattan on hold to participate in other activities that I was organizing during the month of December. Trips in the city became day trips to the museums, walking tours and many holiday events that was I was invited to or helped organize for other people.

Some of the memorable events I had was organizing my holiday party at work. I work with the disabled who are a very active bunch of people. I make sure that there is always exercising, stimulating speakers and lively engaging conversation. These are not people who will ever sit on the back of the bus if I can help it. I always want them to know you can get better and make better of any situation.

We had a lively party with exercise, music and good food. As I do every year, I have the Bamboo House 28 South Broad Street in Ridgewood, a small Chinese restaurant, cater the party (see my reviews on TripAdvisor) with wonderful lunch specials. You have to try their Sub Gum Wonton Soup, Mom’s Dumplings and Crystal Garlic chicken.

The Bamboo House at 28 South Broad Street

This little hole in the wall is amazing and the owner, Mrs. Woo, has been a real friend over the years. She has been so accommodating to me over the years. She helped me out when my father and I used to eat there before our water aerobics class and my dad loved the food there. It was a lively afternoon of good food, wonderful conversation and holiday cheer. Everyone had a nice time.

All these project took their toll on me as well as getting ready for entertaining my family after the holidays. I had to prepare brunch for twelve and clean the house and touch up the lawn before the visit. Even in the beginning of the Winter, the temperature was at 60 degrees and the lawn was growing. I was still cutting and edging the lawn into January.

I was able to sneak into the city after all the work was done and before I left for Woodstock to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art at 1000 Fifth Avenue for a Christmas concert in the Musical Instruments Wing with a pipe organ I never knew the museum had and a brass trio from Columbia University.

Metropolitan Museum of Art Christmas Tree

The Christmas Tree in the Metropolitan Museum of Art

It was an afternoon of lively holiday favorites with a sing along and a lot of cheering. I got to see the tree in the Medieval Wing again before it would be taken down for the season. It is something you should really see when visiting New York during the holidays.

Metropolitan Museum of Art II

The Metropolitan Museum of Art at 1000 Fifth Avenue

I spent my second Christmas holiday enjoying the natural beauty and spirituality of Woodstock, New York. Last year it was a place of escape but this year it was a place of relaxation and reflection. I put the holidays into perspective and took a good long look at my life. Of what I have accomplished and what I want to accomplish. It is the most quiet and peaceful place to do it in.

I came up for the Village Parade on Christmas Eve night, a tradition in the town for over 50 years. Every year they try to find a more creative way to have Santa Claus appear and the anticipation is a lot of fun to watch. Last year though it rained like crazy but this year it was warm, clear and enjoyable. It was 70 degrees that night.

It is such a lively parade and a real family orientated event. There must have been hundreds of people lining the streets of this small hamlet, that like Rhinebeck, is beautifully and creatively decorated for Christmas. There a unique store displays with colored lights around the buildings and windows, festive displays around the stores and colorfully lit Christmas tree right in the town square, something out of a postcard.


Christmas in Woodstock, NY 2015

Well, every year they try to top the way Santa appears in the parade and they didn’t disappoint this year as Jack Frost and the Easter Bunny appeared first and then a hat inflated on the float and then there was smoke and steam and then Santa appeared in a explosion of confetti. Everyone cheered and applauded when Santa appeared and he climbed off the float and greeted everyone. He got to the square and started to meet with the local children.

Christmas Parade in Woodstock, NY 2015

Christmas Parade Woodstock, NY 2015

While the kids were taking their requests to Santa, I went over to listen to the Christmas concert by the Dutch Reformed Church performed by jazz singer, Lindsay Webster.

Lindsey Webster, a local singer and her band was singing Christmas carols on the lawn of the church. I had heard her in concert the year before and her and her band are excellent. She knows how to sing ‘White Christmas’ and ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’. I asked her keyboard player if they cut a holiday album and note to everyone we my have to wait until next year.

Christmas Parade Woodstock, NY 2014 (My first Christmas in Woodstock, NY)

As soon as the parade starts, it is over. The whole place has to clear out by 6:45pm so that the Dutch Reformed Church can hold mass at 7:00pm. I had to run back to change clothes for mass.

The Dutch Reformed Church at 16 Tinker Street does things so differently then then the church that I go to, it is so much more lively. Their choir and bell chorus makes the mass so much better. Plus the pastor is very inspiring with his sermon on the meanings of Christmas and how it is in our lives.

Dutch Reformed Church Woodstock.jpg

The Dutch Reformed Church at 16 Tinker Street in Woodstock, NY

After mass, it was another dinner at Joshua’s at 51 Tinker Street off the square, which was beautifully decorated with lights all over the trees in front of the restaurant and display in the windows (see the review on TripAdvisor) and then a walk around the square before I went to bed.

Jousha's II.jpg

Jousha’s Restaurant at 51 Tinker Street at the holidays (Closed in February 2022)

The square where the Christmas Tree is located was so quiet and peaceful it is a great place to wait for Santa. I just sat there and looked at the tree. No one else was in the square but me and I forgot how much I missed this spot from last year. It was quiet reflection. I really did think I would see Santa that night.


The Village Green B & B at 12 Tinker Street in Woodstock, NY at a later wintery day

I almost thought that when the burglar alarm was set off at five in the morning. I had to call the owner of the Village Green B & B where I was going to reset the alarm and that he had better check it in the morning. I thought Santa was trying to get out.

After a restful wake up three hours later and a leisurely breakfast, I was on the phone with relatives and friends from nine in the morning until about one thirty in the afternoon. After long conversations with people I have not spoke with in a while and wanting to go to the movies at four, I got out of the B & B and toured around the Catskills for the afternoon. Since it was Christmas Day, it was extremely quiet.

My journey took me up Route 28 to Phoenicia and the Pine Hill area again like last year but I decided to take another turn and drive through Route 214 and go up to Tannersville and Hunter. The drive through the mountains is very inspiring. I now know why so many writers and painters live up there.

Phoenicia was extremely quiet and being 67 degrees, it gave me the energy to walk around the downtown. I could not believe how depressed the town got in just one year. So many businesses either closed or had moved to another spot. That was not a good sign. Still a picture perfect town nestled in the hills but even I could tell the tourists have stayed away.

The only life in the town that day was at the Phoenicia Fire Department as they were having their annual Christmas Party and it was still going strong long into the afternoon. Last year it broke up by one.

Even thought there were no leaves on the trees, the site of the forest was still breath taking and scenic. There were barely any cars on the road until I got to Tannersville, NY, a quirky little town on a quiet highway up in the mountains.

There was not life there either as only one restaurant was open to a small crowd of people and a deli selling coffee to a steady stream of locals. This was a very artsy town with a performing arts center and a few galleries but even I wondered how much art must these people have to sell to stay open in this location. I almost had lunch here but traveled on.

I drove through hills and gorges and came across a waterfall that I did not find too exciting but cars full of Asian tourists seem to love. The parking lot was jammed with people walking over to take pictures,

The remainder of my journey took me back to Woodstock to go to Upstate Films to the movies and dinner at Little Bear Chinese Restaurant at 295 Tinker Street (see review on TripAdvisor) in Bearsville, NY .

Little Bear Cafe

Little Bear Restaurant at 295 Tinker Street in Bearsville, NY (Closed October 2021)

There I saw the largest crowd of people that whole day as the restaurant was packed with hungry diners who had come after the movies for dinner. The whole place was so jammed with people trying to eat at once that the service was rushed and the food overcooked for the most part (see my review on TripAdvisor).

Little Bear Cafe II

The view from the tables by the window

My last evening was spent in the square again, doing some writing by the Christmas tree. Even though it was’t the most beautiful tree it seemed to fit the town nicely with it’s artsy look and beautifully strung lights. It fit the mood of a hipster Christmas.

Leaving the next day was hard because I was so relaxed. I walked around the busy square which had come back to life with locals and tourists doing their business. Woodstock is a very special place and I will always remember my Christmas’s here fondly.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Everyone!

If you like this visit to Woodstock, NY for Christmas, check on my return to Woodstock, NY on Day Sixty-Three:

Places to Visit:

Metropolitan Museum of Art

1000 Fifth Avenue

New York, NY  10028

(800) 622-3397

Open: Sunday-Thursday-10:00am-5:30pm/Friday & Saturday 10:00am-9:00pm

The Christmas in Woodstock:

Woodstock, NY: Annual Christmas Parade Christmas Eve night

Places to Stay:

Village Green B & B

12 Tinker Street

Woodstock, NY  12498

(845) 679-0313

Places to Worship on Christmas:

Dutch Reformed Church for Christmas Eve Mass

16 Tinker Street

Woodstock, NY  12498

(845) 679-6610

Places to Eat:

Bamboo House

28 South Broad Street

Ridgewood, NJ  07450

(201) 447-3111

Open: Sunday 12:00pm-9:00pm/Monday Closed/Tuesday-Thursday 11:30am-9:30pm/Friday-Saturday 11:30am-10:00pm

My review on TripAdvisor:

Jousha’s (Closed February 2022)

51 Tinker Street

Woodstock, NY  12498

(845) 679-5533

Open: Sunday-10:00am-9:00pm/Monday-Friday-10:00am-10:00pm/Closed Wednesday/Saturday 10:00am-11:00pm

My review on TripAdvisor:

Little Bear Chinese Restaurant (Closed October 2021)

295 Tinker Street Street B

Bearsville, NY  12409

(845) 679-8899

Open: Sunday-Thursday-12:00pm-10:00pm/Friday-Saturday-12:00pm-11:00pm review

My review on TripAdvisor:

Please watch this video of the parade. I credit the contributor of the video of the parade. It really is a magical night. I credit the contributors of YouTube for these videos.

This video was from my first year in Woodstock, NY when it poured like crazy.

Don’t miss the Christmas Parade in Woodstock, NY. You should see it once!

Day Thirty-Three: The first Annual “Teens, Tots & Toys: the Holiday Festival with special guest, World & U.S. figure skating Champion, Elaine Zayak with the Friends of the Lodi Memorial Library December 19th, 2015.”

One of the projects that I was working on as the Junior Friends Chair of another Friends group two years ago was the holiday event, “Teens, Tots & Toys: the Holiday Festival” an all day event that was filled with movies, craft making and celebrity visits all to raise funds and collect toys for the Emmanuel Cancer Foundation of Midland Park, NJ. It had all been planned and then got cancelled. It was an omen too as it snowed the entire day that year and all holiday events had to be cancelled.

It was time to put the event into motion. As my holiday activities were in full swing, we had just finished Christmas tree sales selling 240 trees through our Men’s Association, Christmas Decorating judging with the Mayor’s Celebration Committee, visits to help out in the Soup Kitchen, the fire department’s Annual ‘Santa Around Town’ and volunteering for the Sinterklaas parade, ‘Teens, Tots & Toys’ was the last big event on my list of holiday events.

We invited US Champion, World Champion and Olympian Elaine Zayak to join us for a book reading, Q & A and then an autograph session to be followed by two movies and then lastly gingerbread house making. I knew it was going to be a long day. It had taken six weeks to plan.

Even though the crowds were low (I never understand the patrons of this library that don’t appreciate a really great free event), the event went off nicely. Elaine showed up with her son, Jack and could not have been friendlier. She had just come back from teaching at the Hackensack Ice House and was dressed in her US Figure Skating jacket. She was a true professional.

Elaine Zayak

Elaine Zayak in 1994 when she came back at the United States National Champions

I felt embarrassed by the turnout but Elaine was like don’t worry about it. She had been through this before at book signings. She had been at ones where there were five people and some where there were fifty. She told me she wanted to have something where she and Jack could spend the day with each other and she could involved him. The afternoon was perfect for that.

We started the afternoon with a warm welcome to the crowd that was there and wished everyone a Happy Holiday season. Then I went on to talk about the Legend of ‘Tinker Street’, the magical elf, who the event was honoring and then I introduced Elaine.

Tinker Street the Magical Elf

‘Tinker Street, the Elf’

A lot of the audience did not know of the contributions to figure skating that Elaine had done. She had introduced so many triple jumps into her skating program when she was starting out that the famous ‘Zayak Rule’ had been created to limit the amount of jumps that you could have in a program. She also brought a sense of athleticism to the sport by encouraging skaters to not just use a sense of style but a sense power to the sport. This gave it a strong point after the ‘figures’ went away in the judging.

Elaine read along with her son, Jack, from the book the “Skating Shoes’ by Noel Streatfeild. This book was made famous by the movie, “You got Mail” when Meg Ryan mentions the book to a bookstore patron. It was a very uplifting book about two friends and fellow skaters who were starting to compete against each other. The two of them took time to read from the book.

Teens, Tots & Toys Picture IV

Elaine Zayak and her son, Jack

During the Q & A, there were some interesting questions that many of the Friends members had such as her competitions, what it was like to be in the Olympics, many of the famous skaters that she competed with and against, the Tonya/Nancy affair that was taking place at the same time at Nationals in 1994 and what she was doing today. She took a lot of pride in what she was doing with her teaching and encouraging young skaters.

Elaine Zayak with the Friends of the Lodi Memorial Library
Teens, Tots & Toys

Ms. Zayak with the Friends of the Lodi Memorial Library

We filmed the entire event and unfortunately the Mayor had been a little late because of a mix up in the time so we were able to refilm this segment of the program. We as the Friends, lead by our President Judy Schroeder, presented Elaine with an honorarium making her a member of the Friends of the Lodi Memorial Library, the Library Director Siobhan Koch presented Elaine with her own copy of the book, “The Skating Shoes” and then the Mayor made his presentation.

Teens, Tots & Toys Picture VIIII

Lodi, NJ Mayor Emil Carafa with Ms. Zayak

Lodi Borough Mayor Emil Carafa presented Elaine Zayak with an official medal from the Borough of Lodi, New Jersey and then placed the medal on her and read a proclamation from the Borough of Lodi honoring her many accomplishments. It was very touching to both her and the audience. Another nice thing about it is that the Mayor remembered when she was still skating as a teen and helping raise money for her to compete. Elaine also donated her fee to her two favorite charities, which we thought was very nice of her.

Teens, Tots & Toys Picture VII

Mayor Carafa with Ms. Zayak

Everyone then joined us for a reception in honor of her visit. We had a beautiful spread of food donated by Inserra Shoprite of Lodi, New Jersey. The reception included a six foot Italian hoagie, a platter of fresh cut fruit, three trays of assorted cookies, assorted chips and assorted juices, bottled waters and sodas that the patrons could enjoy. Elaine’s son, Jack, really seemed to enjoy himself, first helping his mom with the book reading and then enjoying the good food.

Teens, Tots & Toys Picture X

The Friends of the Lodi Memorial Library presenting Ms. Zayak with a membership to ‘The Friends of the Lodi Memorial Library’

After Elaine and Jack left for the afternoon, we showed the film ‘Arthur Christmas’, the story about one of Santa’s two sons who helps save Christmas for one little girl whose gift was left behind in the North Pole. It is a very uplifting movie about the true meaning of the holiday and the spirit of giving.

After the movie, about fifteen families with about thirty children participated in the first annual making of Gingerbread houses, in which everyone looked like they had a lot of fun. You should have seen some of the creations that came out of that afternoon, made of icing and candies.

Although we did not have the crowd that we thought we would, everyone who came had a very nice time with the event. There is still a lot we have to learn about running these events, the patrons who came had a nice time meeting Elaine Zayak and her son, watching the film and creating the gingerbread houses.

This is what I read from the Legend of Tinker Street, the Magical Elf:

‘The Legend of Tinker Street’

Teens, Tots & Toys Mascot, the holiday elf, Tinker Street, is a lovable little prankster, who lives in the valley of the Catskills Mountains in which the downtown Main Street of Woodstock, NY is named after.

Tinker Street is a gregarious, generous elf who represents the happiness, generosity and thoughtful charity during the holiday season. Tinker Street does not represent one holiday but all holidays celebrated where love, family and get-togetherness are found.

Coming out of his home only on December 1st of each year, you can never truly see Tinker Street. You can only feel him when good thoughts pass through you, when a good deed is done and when helping another person is done with great kindness.

Tinker Street is an elf of great kindness and tolerance and where you find him is in the understanding that no two holidays are alike so respect for them is very important. The true meaning from a visit from Tinker Street is the generosity to charity, the thoughtfulness of a distant family member or friend and looking back to the kindness and remembrance of someone who is gone but not forgotten.

When we receive a visit from Tinker Street, we see only the best in ourselves and others around us. When you see a big smile on someone’s face or happy laughter in a gathering, you know Tinker Street has been there.

So to be part of the very first celebration of “Teens, Tots & Toys”, we wish you and your family a happy and healthy holiday season and experience the magic in the days ahead.’

Tinker Street II

This event also raised the awareness of the Emmanuel Cancer Foundation of Midland Park, New Jersey and the Friends of the Lodi Memorial Library donated the next week around fifty toys and forty children’s books from the library that were donated to the charity, which helps families with children with cancer. It was a big plus to the Foundation of our donation and it helped so many children in a tough holiday season.

For all you patrons who attended the event or donated toys to help, thank you all from the Friends of the Lodi Memorial Library for making such a big difference in a strangers life. You all show the true meaning of the holidays by giving of yourselves and commitment to charity.

Merry Christmas to you all!

Please enjoy this two part video of Elaine Zayak’s  visit to the Lodi Memorial Library and her ‘key to the city’ presentation by the Mayor of Lodi, Emil Cafara!

Elaine Zayak’s Reading at the Lodi Memorial Library’s “First Annual Teens, Tots & Toys”


Elaine Zayak being presented Honorariums from The Lodi Memorial Library and the Mayor of Lodi, NJ presenting her the medal from the Borough of Lodi, NJ.

Elaine Zayak receiving a “Key to the City” medal to Lodi, NJ

Elaine Zayak at the U.S. Nationals

Elaine Zayak in the 1994 National Championships


Articles on the event for the Friends of the Lodi Memorial Library:

Our full page coverage in The Community News December 2015

Teens, Tots & Toys Elaine Zayak

Click to access feb16.pdf

The Sinterklaas Parade in Rhinebeck, NY

Day Thirty-Two: “The Sinterklaas Parade” in Downtown Rhinebeck, NY December 5th, 2015

The Christmas holiday season was a whirlwind of activities for me that took me again away from Manhattan and up to Rhinebeck, New York for the annual ‘Sinterklaas Holiday Festival’ and activities. Sinterklaas is a Dutch holiday tradition that has been recaptured in the Hudson River Valley and is run the first Saturday in December every year. It is to celebrate the coming of ‘Sinterklaas’ or “Santa Claus” as we know it. This was my third year in helping out in the parade.

Sinterklaas at the closing ceremonies

As the literature states, ‘Sinterklaas is the celebration where children are transformed into Kings and Queens and honored as the bringers of the light at the darkest time of the year.

The tradition of Sinterklaas comes all the way from the Netherlands, brought by the Dutch settlers who arrived in Rhinebeck over 300 years ago. Sinterklaas, the patron of children and sailors, finds a welcoming community in the Mid-Hudson Valley as recreated through the lens of modern day America.

The revived tradition is non-denominational and all inclusive, everyone is invited to participate. The young, the old, the in-between, absolutely everyone and anyone who wants to be part of a community of hope for a joyous and peaceful world are all welcome.’

Our coordinator for the parade, Trish, wanted me up by 10:00am and that was a treat taking a two hour drive from Northern New Jersey to Upstate New York, but it ended up being a very nice and very quick trip up as there was no traffic on the road.

Again the weather could not have been nicer as it reached 60 degrees in Rhinebeck at the height of the afternoon and even I could not believe it got that warm. It was such a nice day that when we were putting the floats together, I did not even need a jacket.

I put together the ‘Honey Bee’ puppets as my first project. The artist did a really nice job with them as they were our theme for the parade, honoring one of nature’s creatures, the Honey Bee.

Us at the set up

The ‘Honey Bee’ floats were the mascots in 2015

The History of the Honeybee:

‘Distinct from all other animals with the exception of those that give us milk, the Honey Bee makes more honey than they need for themselves and that’s why there is enough for us. They don’t just give us sweetness but medicine, flowers, fruits, vegetables and meat, natures beauty and bounty. They make our lives beautiful, tasty and nutritious.’

We put the puppets together in record time and later in the parade (see YouTube under ‘Sinterklaas Parade 2015), they made quite a site as it grew dark and they lit up the beginning of the parade. After my partner, Liz and I, put them all together, we worked on the knight horse costumes for the parade and then on the star puppets. We had so many people helping that we got done in record time and got to spend the afternoon enjoying the activities in the afternoon. We did not have to be back until 4:30pm for the startup of the parade.

The Sinterklaas Parade in Downtown Rhinebeck, NY

The festival was chock full of events for all age groups, from puppet shows, to book readings, musical acts on stilts, storytelling and all sorts of musicians from the local colleges from brass bands to a Capella groups to choirs performed at all the churches and at city hall. In the parking lot across from the Beekman Arms Hotel, there were high wire acts, local bands and all over town there were local groups like the Four H and the Boy Scouts selling treats at booths all over the Main Street.

There is a special show at the Church of the Messiah called “Into the Light: A holiday Spectacular”, which has become very popular every year. The lines wrapped around the building. Its the holiday story of a young girl’s journey throughout the world searching for the light. The play features giant puppets and groups of children from the church singing.

‘Into the Light’ show at the Church of the Messiah in Rhinebeck, NY

There was a giant honeycomb in the courtyard by the restaurant that makes thin-crusted pizzas and the kids got to meet the Queen Bee. The line was so long that I could not get in but later that evening I was able to see the inside and I have to say that one of the artists was creative in putting this together.

I also saw a giant polar bear walking around town and you had to sing him. It must have been a long day for the actor who had to do that in that heavy costume but it was fun to watch. Watching the kids to sing to him and watch the bear dance was a lot fun.

There was a Pocket Lady who symbolizes the generosity of Sinterklaas and in her pockets are all secret surprises for children and at the Rhinebeck Fire Department there was a Crowns & Branches workshop where kids could decorate branches and crowns that would be used in the parade and meeting the Wish Lady, who would provide a wish for your branch. Watching the Grumpus do there dance all over town was a lot of fun. They are some of Sinterklaas’s helpers and I swear are probably the same people who have been doing it for years. They dance and bang drums all over town.

The Grumpuses in Downtown Rhinebeck, NY

The best part was visiting the Reformed Church for their bake sale. They had really good frosted cookies and I swear I went back three times much to the thankfulness of the kids running the booth. The Third Evangelical Lutheran Church has a lunch area in the basement and they made a mean grilled cheese for a small donation and the tables off to the side was laden with Christmas cookies, which were part of the cost of the lunch. When I tell you these people can bake at the Church, they can bake. Their frosted cookies and cakes were really good. For a small donation, you can eat like a king for lunch.

At dusk, when it starts getting darker, the lights on the trees come into full form and all the businesses on the Main Street light up their display windows. The town looks like a little Christmas village out of a Currier & Ives portrait. It really puts you in the Christmas mood.

Downtown Rhinebeck, NY at Christmas

Downtown Rhinebeck, NY

I got back to the library at 5:00pm to get ready for the parade. My job like last year was lighting Sinterklaas himself. That is a lot of fun because you are at the beginning of the parade and you get to see the whole parade coming down the hill and that is quite a site.

Like the Macy’s Parade, there is such anticipation at the start of the parade and watching it come down the hill is like being at Mardi Gras. It is so well lit and so colorful with bands playing and people dancing and so full of energy. It looks like a giant party coming down the hill.

The guy who plays Sinterklaas I worked with the year before so I knew him. We did not get to talk much during the rain storm that drenched everyone last year and we just wanted to get off the parade route. This year it was still slightly warm as the parade started so it was fun to spend a lot of time with the kids. He is a naturally born ham and the kids just adored the guy. I had to chase him around the parade route with a lighting pack and a giant candle that lit him. He had all the fun and I had to make sure that he did not go dark the whole time. Work yes but it is so much fun watching how he made each one of these children’s day. Every time he passed a child to talk to them, they were so happy and they cheered.

Sinterklaas Parade II

Sinterklaas leading the parade

That was the power of Sinterklaas. If you are not in the holiday spirit, the Sinterklaas parade will definitely put you in the mood. It was a spectacular night of bands, great costumes, creative puppets and festive cheer.

The Dancing Polar Bear closing the show

It didn’t end a moment too soon as it typical with Rhinebeck this time of the year that the temperature drops like ten degrees in one hour. I handed my lighting wand in and watched all the costume characters from the parade get introduced to the crowd by the parade leaders. It was a nice way to end the parade and collect all the props while keeping everyone engaged.

I spent the night in Rhinebeck and relaxed. This is one event you should not miss while in Upstate New York. The Sinterklaas Celebration is a real treat of holiday activities and good cheer!

Merry Christmas!

The Sinterklaas Parade 2015

Check out my other Christmas Adventures in Rhinebeck, NY:

Christmas 2019 Day One Hundred and Fifty-Seven:

Christmas 2018 Day One Hundred and One Hundred and Twenty-Seven and Twenty-Nine:

Christmas 2017 Day One Hundred and Day Ninety-Nine:

Christmas 2016 Day Sixty:

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade 2015

Day Twenty-Eight-Thirty One: A New York Thanksgiving November 2015

Thanksgiving was an interesting experience as I celebrated for my second time in New York City. My best friend came in from Michigan to spend time with me while her son’s former high school band performed at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I don’t know the whole status of global warming but it was an unusually warm Thanksgiving week. It was a four day treat to be in New York City with a place to sleep.

I know I skipped from Upper Manhattan to Lower Manhattan but it was nice to play tourist when given the opportunity. Spending a week in New York City with a bunch of tourists from Michigan is interesting. They traveled as a pack and did not want to leave the group. I had to drag my best friend away from these people so I could really show her the city. We had a great time.

For the record, my best friend, Kris, I have know since my first week as a freshman at Michigan State University and has been one of my best friends since I was 17 years old. Since that time, this was only the second time she came out to visit me. We saw the city through a series of tours and our own travelling around.

Our first night in Manhattan was watching the musical “Aladdin” with a bunch of high school students and their parents. It was bad enough to be on the top tier of the theater but we were also squeezed into seats that were made for people who are about 5.5. We were packed in like sardines. I could see that most of the kids enjoyed the show as well as the parents. Frankly I preferred the movie.


Aladdin the Musical

Our place of residence for the week was the Holiday Inn Express on West 36th Street see review on TripAdvisor) and I highly recommend the hotel when visiting New York. It is centrally located near Macy’s and the 34th Street shopping district and by the subway route that can take you anywhere you want to go in Manhattan.

Holiday Inn Express

The Holiday Inn Express

The rooms are small but well-appointed with a large bathroom and shower area which was relaxing itself and the beds were so soft and firm that I got the best night’s sleep for the whole trip. Their breakfast buffet in the morning was excellent. Some of the best eggs and sweet rolls that I had in a free buffet and there was plenty of food each morning.

Holiday Inn Express II

The hotel had the best breakfast buffet

Our day of touring started on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving when we took a group tour with parents of the high school band group Kris was touring with during that week. Most of these people had never been to New York before and it showed in the way they behaved. You would think some of these people had never been to a city before even though Detroit is not far from their homes. Everyone acted so wide-eyed.

Our first stop was in lower Manhattan on the Circle Line out to Liberty Island. My word of advice when visiting Liberty Island is to climb the statue if you have the time. This is the main reason to visit the island. Walking around and taking pictures and then visiting a gift shop is not getting the whole feel of the island.

Circle Line

Circle Line by Liberty Island

Our next stop was Ellis Island (see review on TripAdvisor). Plan at least three hours plus lunch if you are visiting the island. There is so much to see and do in the main building.

First off, do not miss the Wall of Immigration names outside the main building. I showed Kris many of my family members whose names were on the wall. The Wall was a major fundraising effort by the Ellis Island Foundation and it proved so popular with people wanting to put their ancestors name on the wall that they had to build a second wall.

After a 45 minutes lunch and seeing the orientation movie (which I had seen before on my many visits to the island), we did not have much time for anything else and we took the boat ride back to Manhattan.

Ellis Island

Ellis Island

Our next stop was the 9/11 Museum and Memorial (see review on TripAdvisor). I had been to the museum before and if you really want to have your emotions tugged at you, visit the 9/11 Museum. It is run by the same woman who had run the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC and has the same emotional power. It would be too long to describe how you might feel when visiting the museum but it is something you should not miss.

World Trade Center

World Trade Center site

The pools where the footprint of the old buildings are just as emotional in the 9/11 Memorial garden. Really take time here to reflect on what happened that day and say a prayer for these victims. They have made a very somber event rather cheerful and the park reflects that.

Our last part of the all day tour was going to the top of the of One World Trade to see a view of the city. One World Trade is the tallest building in the Northern Hemisphere and the view from the top proves it. Since we did not get there until 7:30pm, it was dark and the building was quiet. We had the most amazing view of New York and the surrounding area.

When I say it was the most spectacular view is an understatement. You could see all the way into New Jersey and clear out to Coney Island. If the amusements were up and running this time of the year I am sure I could have seen them. It was nice to walk around and see all the views from every angle but avoid the over-priced gift shops. They will really rip you off in this building.

World Trade Center II

The view from One World Trade Center

We concluded the evening with a drink at One Mix Bar (see review on TripAdvisor), the bar restaurant at the top of the One World Trade. It has the most breathtaking views, a creative cocktail menu and a very standard dining menu. Have a drink here but don’t bother eating dinner here as the menu is not that creative and very expensive.

We got back to the hotel around nine and just relaxed. It had been a long day of touring and we both wanted to get to bed early to watch the parade the next day.

There is nothing like seeing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade live. It was quite a site. This is the second time I have been in New York City to see the parade in person. This is after seven years of participating in the parade as a Macy’s employee from 1988-1994, first as a balloon handler then as a celebrity escort.


Macy’s Parade

It was a beautiful day for the parade, warm, sunny and clear and I could see perfectly the view from where I was standing to the parade route, which was a half block from the hotel. The hotel was right around the corner from Macy’s Herald Square.

It’s nice to be on the other side of the parade by watching it. The floats have not changed much over the years and the balloons seem like old friends to me especially seeing Ronald McDonald, which I held in 1989.

The one thing I felt bad about is that the Walled Lake Marching Band just walked by us and probably only performed for a few minutes by the store before having to march on by.

The worst part of the parade is that either I am getting old or not with it but did not recognize any of the celebrities on the float with the exception of Pat Benitar and Mariah Carey. Either I am not watching enough TV or these kids are just blending into the social fabric.

After the parade was over, it gave Kris and I a chance to walk around the city and see Central Park. We did get a chance to see the zoo the previous day but also to enjoy the wonderful weather.

That night was a Thanksgiving buffet cruise around the lower part of Manhattan with the most spectacular views of the skyline and a ride around Liberty Island at night with the statue lit up in all its glory. Now that alone was some site. The lower Manhattan skyline is just spectacular at night with its sweeping views. I was impressed that for being on a tourist cruise that the Thanksgiving dinner was that good. The only problem was that the staff did not replenish the food that quickly and the families looked like they were ready to riot. That was a real problem as people wanted seconds.

When we got back from the dinner cruise and before we went to bed, Kris and I made the fatal mistake of going to Macy’s at 11:45pm at night. The place was a mob scene even this late at night. Everything was 60% off and people were buying like merchandise had just been invented. Everyone had bags in their hands and you could not even walk down the aisles it was so mobbed. After seven years with the company and working in the buying offices for four of them, I never thought the Union would allow the store to open on Thanksgiving but here is was and it looked successful. We had to fight the crowds back and this was after midnight.

Macy's Broadway

Macy’s Herald Square

Our last day in the city, we went to Central Park to hear the band play. The impression I got was that the New York Philharmonic had invited the band to play with them in the Band Shell in Central Park. In reality, the band played four songs including their fight song to a crowd of proud parents and groups of New Yorkers passing by who rolled their eyes every time they asked a parent of the band what was going on. The look said it all, “Isn’t that quaint that a Midwestern band is playing in our park”. I have been coming into the city since I was three and could pick up on that.

We spent the rest of the afternoon touring Central Park, seeing the zoo again, visiting the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ statue. seeing Cleopatra’s Needle and then touring the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the rest of the day. I just wanted to show Kris the best the city has to offer.

Alice in Wonderland Statue

‘Alice in Wonderland’ statue

I had to check out early to help with Christmas Tree sales for the Men’s Association on Saturday morning, so it was a quick breakfast and then the bus ride home. It was nice to experience a Thanksgiving in New York City and will have to visit everything again in more detail but it was a nice overview of the parade and all the tourist attractions in Lower Manhattan.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Here’s the parade from 2015:


Places to Stay:

Holiday Inn Express

60 West 36th Street

New York, NY 10018

(212) 897-3388

My review on TripAdvisor:


Places to visit:

Liberty State Park/Ellis Island Park

Statue Liberty National Monument

New York, NY  10004


My review on TripAdvisor:


National 9/11 Museum & Memorial

200 Liberty Street

New York, NY  10281

(212) 312-8800

My review on TripAdvisor:


Top of One World Trade

235 Fulton Street

New York, NY  10006

(844) 696-1776

My review on TripAdvisor:

My review on TripAdvisor of the One Mix Bar:


Macy’s Department Store

151 West 34th Street

New York, NY 10001

(212) 695-4400

Open: Hours vary so please call or check their website


Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade

Every Thanksgiving Morning


Circle Line Cruise