Hidden Gems: Sonnenberg Gardens

(Photos courtesy of Sonnenberg Gardens)

My aunt and uncle recently visited from out of state, and I was deputized family tour director. We decided to make a day trip to Canandaigua which included the Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion State Historic Park.

Videos and photos give you a sense of the sprawling 50-acre estate. In person, you can see why the Thompson family kept the name Sonnenberg, meaning “sunny hill” in German. I recommend 2 to 3 hours to visit.

The author enjoying Sonnenberg Gardens on her recent visit.

Volunteers are Key

In 2006, the State of New York declared Sonnenberg a state park. However, the state does not fund daily operations. Therefore, the park relies on admission, donations, and 320+ volunteers who pitch in by driving visitors around, answering questions, and even tending rose bushes.

The knowledgeable, friendly folks we met added charm to the visit. The volunteer who drove us around the estate gave us lots of local stories and interesting information.

The Highlights

The Italian Garden. Photo courtesy of Sonnenberg Gardens

You can wander around on foot and listen to an audio tour available through your cell phone that provides an overview including:

History of the Estate: Sonnenberg was the summer estate of Frederick Thompson, a New York City banker, and Mary Clark Thompson, an area native and daughter of a New York governor. They both came from wealth and privilege, a fact that is certainly on display in their home. Yet they also gave back to the community by funding universities, museums, and scientific research.

Japanese Garden: Mary visited Kyoto, Japan in 1903. This inspired her to hire Japanese craftsmen to build her a garden complete with a Buddha statue and tea house.

The Japanese Garden. Photo courtesy of Sonnenberg Gardens.

The Rose Garden. Photo courtesy of Sonnenberg Gardens

Rose Garden:  In the original garden, only red, pink, and white roses grew. The garden was reconstructed in 1973 to resemble the original. Today, 2,500 rose bushes are in bloom.

The Rose Garden. Photo courtesy of Sonnenberg Gardens.

Deer Park: Mary imported European fallow deer and created a special area for them to graze on the south lawn. We saw one up close while we were there!

Roman Bath: Although in ruin today, in 1914 water was pumped from Canandaigua Lake and was warmed for this heated pool.

Mansion: The 40-room Queen Anne style home has large windows and breezy porches. 19th-century furniture, clothes, and accessories give you a flavor of what the mansion may have looked like. You can wander around by yourself, poking through the rooms.

Photo courtesy of Sonnenberg Gardens.

Statues: There are a number of statues throughout the park, including one of the Roman goddess Diana (she had her own temple on the grounds but the statue was relocated to another garden due to decay) and a statue of Pan in the rock garden.

The Details

  • Location: 151 Charlotte Street, Canandaigua, NY 14424
  • Hours: Open 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., 7 days a week May 1 through October 31.
  • Extended Summer Hours (Memorial Day-Labor Day): 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
  • Accessibility: Wheelchair accessible with the exception of the 2nd floor of the mansion and some areas in the Rock Garden. A tram service may be available from the parking lot to the mansion and back.
  • Dog-friendly? The park does not allow pets, except service animals.
  • Admission: $14 for adults (discounts available), $2 for children ages 12 and under

For more info: Visit the Sonnenberg Gardens Website or call (585) 394-4922.

Don’t Miss

Check the online calendar for lots of events throughout the year like an orchid show in the spring, moonlight concerts in the summer, haunted walks in the fall, and holiday decorations in the winter.

How I Came to Love These Zucchini Bread Recipes

I didn’t care much for my first-ever attempt at making zucchini bread. I didn’t want to make it, but my mom had asked and I wanted to help. However, the problem was, zucchini grossed me out.

Overcoming my Fear of Zucchini

I have nothing against zucchini. I had just never eaten it or even seen zucchini up close until my mom handed me a giant mixing bowl filled with grated zucchini. I didn’t want to touch it. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to actually eat it.

The author initially had some hesitancy about eating zucchini.

My mom handed me the recipes and I made the bread. But I never got around to trying it. Later on, my friend convinced me to try one of her zucchini muffins. Although I was terrified the muffins would be the strangest and grossest thing ever, they weren’t. This was a big step toward overcoming my fear of zucchini.

My Journey to Loving Zucchini Bread

Flash forward a year and I actually decided to make zucchini bread for a work meeting. My mom didn’t have her recipes anymore, so I looked up recipes for zucchini bread and chocolate zucchini bread.

I started with the plain zucchini bread. I’m not a fan of nuts, so I skipped that ingredient. I was pretty excited once I put the pans in the oven. I then began to work on the chocolate zucchini bread.

The author bakes zucchini bread.

Halfway through the directions, I realized I didn’t have enough white sugar. At this point, it’s about 10 p.m. on a Sunday night and I was not in the mood to drive to Wegmans. I did a little googling and realized I could substitute the brown sugar I did have for the white.

I didn’t know if it would work.  But I hoped for the best.

Being a chocolate fanatic, I may have added extra chocolate chips. As I was about to start pouring the batter into the pans, I realized I had already used my only two loaf pans! I got creative. I pulled out two round cake pans and poured in the batter, effectively changing chocolate zucchini bread into chocolate zucchini “cake!”

On Monday morning, I brought the zucchini loaves to the meeting and the favorite by far was the chocolate zucchini bread because of the sweet chocolatey goodness. However, my favorite was the regular zucchini bread. It was sweet and tasty!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Try them out for yourself and let me know what you think. Trust me, as an extremely picky eater myself; it’s not as weird as it sounds (or looks).

Print Recipe
Zucchini Bread
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease two 8x4 inch pans.
  2. Sift flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon together in a bowl.
  3. Beat eggs, oil, vanilla, and sugar together in a large bowl. Add sifted ingredients to the creamed mixture, and beat well.
  4. Stir in the zucchini until well combined. Pour batter into prepared pans.
  5. Bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the pan comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a rack for 20 minutes. Remove bread from pan and let completely cool before serving.
Recipe Notes

Recipe adapted from AllRecipes.com

Print Recipe
Chocolate Zucchini Bread
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
  1. Place grated zucchini in a sieve to drain any excess moisture.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two 9x5 inch loaf pans.
  3. Whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt and cinnamon until smooth.
  4. Add melted butter and almond extract to egg mixture. Beat until smooth.
  5. Stir grated zucchini into egg mixture.
  6. Slowly add flour mix to the bowl and mix everything together.
  7. Divide the batter into two pans.
  8. Bake for 40 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely before serving.
Recipe Notes

Recipe adapted from SimplyRecipes.com.

Healthy Substitutions

Note that there are many substitutes you can try to make your zucchini bread even healthier. Try using:

  • Egg whites instead of the whole egg;
  • Unsweetened applesauce instead of oil or butter;
  • A smaller amount of chocolate chips;
  • Whole wheat flour instead of white flour;
  • Agave nectar instead of sugar;
  • More healthy alternatives

15 Ways to Stop Stress Now

You’re stressed. But you don’t have to cruise to a tropical island to relieve your stress or anxiety. Here are some simple ideas to get you out of your rut:

  1. Drink a cup of hot tea.
  2. Breathe … deeply.
  3. Step outside. Breathe in the fresh air.
  1. Have lunch with a co-worker, friend or family member.
  2. Doodle.
  3. Listen to music.
  4. Walk!
  5. Plant-ify your house or workspace.
  6. Stand and stretch. Every hour.
  7. Praise others.
  8. Smile! Try a full-fledged smile that leaves crinkles around the eyes.
  9. Erect a “wall of inspiration” in your work area.
  10. Clean up your house or workspace.
  11. Skip work email. Talk in-person or over the phone.
  12. Set work meetings for 45 minutes (instead of one hour). More time between appointments!

More Stress-Free Inspiration

Read 12 Ways To Workout On The Cheap and 50 Small Changes For A Healthier Life.

New To Medicare? This Cheat Sheet Should Help

You may not have given much thought to choosing a health insurance plan if you always obtained a plan from an employer. The benefits were there when you needed them.

But when your 65th birthday comes along, you’ll probably need to pay more attention to your insurance. Why? You’re now likely eligible for Medicare. You’ll likely have to go and pick your own plan from a health insurance company. This can be especially daunting if you’re retiring and need to protect your health and your budget.

Don’t worry. My job is to explain Medicare in an easy-to-understand way. I’ll let you in on what you need to know and how to go about choosing a plan.

First, let’s understand the basics.

What is (Original) Medicare?

Medicare is health insurance from the federal government for US citizens and permanent residents who are at least 65 years old. Congrats! Through years of hard work, you’ve earned coverage.

Medicare is separate from both Medicaid (an income-based program) and Social Security.

Younger people with disabilities or people with end-stage renal disease may also be eligible for Medicare.

What are the Parts of Medicare?

Medicare has four parts:

  • Part A helps cover inpatient stays at hospitals or skilled nursing facilities, home health services, and hospice care.
  • Part B helps cover medically necessary doctor’s visits, outpatient care, and some medical equipment and preventive services.
  • Part C plans, also known as Medicare Advantage, are approved by the federal government and run by private insurance companies. These plans provide all Part A and Part B benefits, but you may pay less for certain services. They may also include extra benefits and Part D prescription drug coverage.
  • Part D covers only prescription drugs. Private insurance companies offer Part D plans.

What does it cost?

Watch the following video to learn if you have to pay for Medicare Parts A and B:

What if I want more coverage?

Private insurance companies offer other types of plans with extra benefits and lower out-of-pocket costs. There is typically a monthly premium for these plans.

For example, you can purchase a Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C) which includes Part A, Part B, and Part D all in one plan. The private insurance company sets out-of-pocket amounts like deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance. These plans may also include extras like gym memberships, dental cleanings, and coverage for glasses and hearing aids.

These plans allow you to choose your doctor from a network. You should check with the insurance company to find out if your doctor is in their network.

You can also choose to purchase a Medicare Supplement plan (also known as Medigap). In this case, Medicare is your primary insurance and pays the majority of your costs. The Supplement plan will fill in the gaps, helping pay Part A and B deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance for things like hospital stays and doctor visits. These plans are regulated by your state, and benefits are the same regardless of which insurance company you choose. These plans do not include prescription drug coverage, but many companies also offer stand-alone Prescription Drug Plans (Part D plans).

With a Supplement plan you can visit any doctor’s office or hospital in the country that is currently accepting Medicare patients.

Choosing Between Plans

You cannot have both a Medicare Advantage and Medicare Supplement plan at the same time. You pick one or the other.

Why choose a Medicare Advantage plan? Why choose a Medicare Supplement plan?
Lower monthly premiums, and the convenience of having all the coverage you need in one plan. Little to no cost out of your pocket in the form of deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance.
Extra benefits like gym memberships and dental cleanings. Choose a doctor nationwide.

Watch the following video for Medicare Advantage enrollment periods:

In New York State, you can buy a Medicare Supplement plan at any time throughout the year.

When to Sign up for Medicare

If you’re working past 65, ask your employer how Medicare works with the employer’s coverage. This depends on the size of your company. For more, watch this video:

That’s it!

I hope this helps! If you have any other questions, please feel free to review some of the resources created by myself and my colleagues at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield by going to ExcellusForMedicare.com.

Ok, one more thing

Looking for information about new Medicare cards? Click here to learn more.

Hidden Gems: Salem Art Works

If you are in the Albany-Lake George area and have a taste for outdoor sculpture, then Salem Art Works in Salem, N.Y., is well worth the trip off the beaten path.

Salem is a small village located southeast of Lake George on the New York-Vermont border. Founded in 1762, Salem features beautiful 18th and 19th-century architecture. A great place to have dinner is the Salem Tavern, where a Salem Art Works staff member plays records (yes, vinyl) in the bar on Tuesday nights. Running through the area are the Battenkill River and White Creek, which are graced with three classic wooden covered bridges.

Salem Art Works occupies the grounds of a 119-acre farm on the edge of the village. It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit art center and sculpture park. Large sculptures occupy the grounds and can be enjoyed while strolling the trails of the park. Expect to walk about three miles altogether if you want to cover all of the trails. The park also features some beautiful views of the Green Mountains.

So What’s My Connection?

Just in case anyone who knows me is wondering why this unrepentant suburban redneck has a connection to the arts, let me explain. My high school buddy, Nick Micros, is a recognized sculptor now living in Switzerland. Early this year, Nick told me that he would be moving his collection of six large sculptures from New York City to the Salem Art Works.

Six large sculptures created by Nick Micros.

Having outgrown his studio in New York City, Nick learned that Salem Art Works hosts exhibits of many artists known for their larger works. He welcomed an invitation to show his collection in a rural setting with plenty of space. His pieces had never been shown together in one place at the same time. Nick’s collection will be on display at Salem Art Works for three years.

Sculptor Nick Micros and author Hugh McCabe pose in front of one of the sculptures at Salem Art Works.

I told him to count me in as a helper. Given that Nick needed my help, and I only see him every few years, this was a great opportunity to lend a hand and spend time with one of my closest friends. It took us three whole days to set up Nick’s collection, some of which needed to be cut into sections for transportation to Salem. Because the outer layers of these works are made of plaster and cloth, we were able to put them back together.

Just Like Old Times

Sculptor Nick Micros and author Hugh McCabe.

Working on the project with Nick was just like old times. Nick and I played football, lifted weights and worked summer jobs together through high school on Long Island. As different as we are (technical geek vs. the artist), our connection is still as strong as it was when we were young. With Nick now living in Europe, we treasured the time together. It was especially gratifying to help Nick with a project that would have been a stretch for Nick to complete on his own.

Opposing Figurative and Abstract Imagery

Sculptor Nick Micros with one of his works.

Nick’s sculptures are a mixture of opposing figurative and abstract imagery. They include multiple large and small objects and represent people, events and times in Nick’s life while paying tribute to modern art masters. Knowing Nick and having grown up together, I found the sculptures to be very familiar. When you see them, expect to be struck by their size and overall form. As you move closer, you will be drawn into intricate details that will keep you lingering with each piece for quite some time.

Hugh McCabe admiring a sculpture at Salem Art Works.

Visiting Salem Art Works is well worth your time. With its mission of supporting emerging and established artists, there is a vibe and energy that is palpable. You’ll have an opportunity to view an amazing variety of artwork in a unique and beautiful setting. It will be worth your departure from the beaten path.

Hope you enjoy the visit!

The Details

Address:  19 Cary Lane, Salem, New York 12865

Phone: (518) 854-7674

Admission: Free. Donations are greatly appreciated.

Park Hours:  Dawn to dusk, 365 days a year

Winter Office Hours: Monday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. (October – May)

Summer Office Hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (June-October)

Guided Tours: Available daily during office hours (please call ahead). Self-guided tours are also available, but you can simply enjoy wandering through the grounds during daylight hours.

A Peach of A Summer Salad!

Last summer, I was looking for something new to add to the traditional cookout menu. The fresh peaches sitting in the basket on the counter caught my eye and I wondered how I could use them other than in a pie, cobbler or to top ice cream.

This savory salad, the perfect combination of sweet peaches, peppery arugula, and tangy blue cheese is a complement to any cookout or a stand out meal on its own.

Give it a try and you may find, like we did, that it will be added to the list of “traditional” cookout foods at your house!

Print Recipe
Peach and Arugula Salad with Blue Cheese
  1. Preheat grill to high (or use a grill pan). In a large serving bowl, whisk together extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste; set aside.
  2. Halve and pit peaches; cut each into 6 wedges. Lightly brush wedges with oil. Place on hot grill for 30 seconds on each side.
  3. Add baby arugula and onion to dressing; toss gently to coat. Arrange peaches on top and garnish with blue cheese and hazelnuts.
Recipe Notes

In place of arugula, try baby spinach. Instead of blue cheese, use goat cheese or feta. Can't find hazelnuts? Use walnuts, almonds or pecans. For a slight twist on the original, you can also toss in blueberries or other seasonal berries of your choice!

Hidden Gems: Sterling Renaissance Festival

No summer is complete for my family without a trip to 16th century Warwick, England; or the closest we can get at the Renaissance Festival in Sterling, NY.

Photo credit: Andrew Lesny and Sterling Renaissance Festival


Step into the woods at the event, and everywhere you look there is magic.  Both performers and guests really get into character, so be prepared to yell “Huzzah!” and “God Save the Queen!” when cheers grow up from the crowd.

Photo credit: Andrew Lesny and Sterling Renaissance Festival

The many shows are not to be missed! You can download a full schedule ahead of time. There is music, comedy, theater, storytelling and even a “bawdy” performance at the mud pit. No special effects are used there, just mud and lots of it!

There is also a live joust where you can cheer on your favorite knight. My kids loved riding the horses after the event. The swordplay made an impact, too — my son recently told me, in all seriousness, that he wants to be a swordsman when he grows up.

Another must-see for my family is Don Juan and Miguel. They are a comedic act that my husband still loves after seeing them for 20 years.

The author with her son at the festival.

Festival games are not for the faint of heart. My kids like tossing knives, shooting arrows, and visiting the dungeon museum! There are also people-powered rides powered by the stronger members of the staff.

The author’s daughter, shooting a bow and arrow.

If you appreciate fine artisans and their crafts, there is a lot to look at in the royal marketplace. You can see glass sculptures being made, browse through costumes, and purchase a wide variety of products from knick-knacks to jewelry and fine art.

And of course, you will need food and drink to sustain you for the day. My husband will eat a turkey leg, while my vegetarian daughter prefers the falafel. Luckily there are lots of options for everyone.

Prefer Pirates or Bagpipes?

Check out the themed weekends that are available. We appreciate the discounts on family weekend, bit if you prefer pirates, bagpipes, or a romantic weekend you might visit later in the summer.

The Details

Location: 15385 Farden Road, Sterling, NY
Hours: Saturdays & Sundays, July 7th – August 19th, 2018, 10:00 AM – 7:00 PM
Accessibility: The main paths are wheelchair accessible and handicapped accessible. Parking and restrooms are available.
Admission: $25.95 for adults (12 and up), $15.95 for children. Additional charges for games, rides and food.

For more info: www.sterlingfestival.com or 1-800-879-4446

6 Fresh Ways to Get Fresh Air

Fresh air. We all know what it is, yet we don’t get nearly enough of it. Nowadays, it seems like it’s difficult to squeeze in time for a cup of coffee, let alone get some nature time. I’m here to tell you that getting fresh air during the day doesn’t have to be very hard.

Sitting inside all day often makes us more tired and bored, and Americans spend 90% of their lives inside. Getting some time in the great outdoors, even for a little, can do wonders for your mental and physical health. Air is all around us, but in enclosed rooms, we tend to feel more drowsy and unmotivated. The good stuff can be found outside, and imagine how much better we’d feel if we snuck in some of that good stuff. Read on for some easy ways to do so.

1. Let the birds join your meeting

Not by bringing them inside, but have a meeting for work or school outside. Switching up a meeting to a beautiful spot in the park could even make for a more productive and happy group.

2. Going for a walk is simple, but is aimless walking not your thing?

Walk and explore the hidden gems in your community.  There may be parks or other spots around your local area that you haven’t noticed. Take up the opportunity to walk outside with your kids, friends, or alone and you could even discover a new hidden gem of your own. To make it a challenge, go on a photography hunt to find the most picturesque outdoor spots in your town.

3. Ditch the Gym

No, you should still workout. This is still a blog about living a healthy lifestyle after all. But to make your workout even more refreshing, move it outside. There are several apps you can use for an at home (aka outdoor) workout where the only equipment you’ll need is your body. And your lungs will thank you.

4. If you think retail therapy is better than outdoor therapy, combine the two

Instead of spending hours inside a huge mall, opt for a strip mall or outdoor outlet center. The outdoor walk between stores may not seem like much, but it is definitely better than being indoors all day.

5. “PLAY BALL” and join an outdoor sports league or group

Organized sports aren’t only for kids; there are adult sports leagues of all breeds, including softball, baseball, basketball, running, even kickball. There are leagues all over upstate, including the Rochester, Buffalo, and Syracuse regions.

6. Take the scenic route where you wouldn’t normally

Meaning, park a little farther away at the grocery store, work, school, or anywhere you have to go to soak up more time outside.

Finally, if all else fails, don’t miss a huge window of opportunity. Let the fresh air in by opening the windows in your office, house, or in the car during your commute.

15 Foods You’re Not Eating (But Should!)

My approach to healthy eating focuses on eating more, not less.

Feast more on certain “nutritional rock stars” that are good for your heart, stocked with vitamins and low in calories.

Many of these superfoods also help you feel full longer — a great thing for shedding weight.

Eat more of These superfoods

These foods might not be a staple for you – yet. But they have the potential to transform meal time (or snack time) into a healthier experience.

  1. Oats: Heart-healthy. Fills you up so you eat less.
  2. Canned/fresh tuna: Full of vitamins. Also heart-healthy.
  3. Salmon: Similar benefits as tuna. Also full of brain-boosting fats.
  4. Greek yogurt: Lots of protein. Can energize you and keep you healthy.
  5. Berries: Good for the heart! May help reduce your risk of diseases.
  6. Nuts: Another heart-healthy superfood. Watch your portions. Nuts are calorie-rich, unlike many other foods on the list. Step outside your comfort zone and feast on pistachios, walnuts, and pecans.
  7. Water: Curbs your hunger. Helps you lose weight.
  8. The following veggies are super low in calories. They’re full of vitamins, such as folate, which helps prevent birth defects. Don’t know how to cook these tricky foods? Here are some ideas:

  9. Cauliflower: Try roasting its florets. Cauliflower mashed potatoes is another popular, healthy alternative.
  10. Brussels sprouts: Another great candidate for roasting. Toast with olive oil or Parmesan cheese.
  11. Kale: A great green for salads. Toss with your favorite dressing and toppings. Baby kale tends to be more tender. Or “massage” regular kale leaves to tenderize them.
  12. Arugula: Another salad staple. Or, sauté with other vegetables.
  13. Bok choy: Use its leaves in salads or sandwiches. Or, drizzle with olive oil and throw on the grill.
  14. The following foods are great protein sources. They can serve as a healthier alternative to meat, which tends to have more fat and contains cholesterol.

  15. Beans: Try garbanzo beans for a super healthy kick.
  16. Dried peas: Consider adding to soups. Split pea soup is a classic.
  17. Lentils: Very versatile. Try them in stews, salads, soups and side dishes.

A surprisingly delicious summer salad

I didn’t expect this “farro” salad to be tasty. Farro is a kind of super-healthy whole grain that at first glance looks unappetizing. It looks like you’re eating a big bowl of barley!

Turns out I was wrong. Farro has a nutty and pleasant taste that is extra scrumptious when paired with diced apples, raisins and sliced almonds.

As a bonus, farro is rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber. Like many whole grains, farro may also help lower your risk of diseases, including heart disease and diabetes.

So whip up a bowl of this farro salad at your next summer shindig. Surprise your guests with this unusually tasty side dish.

Print Recipe
Apple & Almond Farro Salad
  1. Mix everything together and add oil and balsamic mixture. Feel free to add chopped tomatoes, diced cucumbers, red peppers or other veggies.