Is Diet Soda Healthier than Regular Soda?

I’ve been there. Worried about too many calories or too much sugar, I ordered a diet soda, feeling a little bit better about my healthier choice.

I’ve heard that regularly drinking soda (or “pop” as I’ve learned it’s called in Western NY) has health risks like increasing the risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions. Since diet soda doesn’t have sugar or calories, it’s a better choice, right? Well, not quite.

How Diet Soda is Different

Diet soda may have fewer calories in the short-term, but there’s still long-term harm to your health. Diet soda and other “sugar free” drinks are sweetened artificially with high-intensity sweeteners. Research shows that regularly drinking artificial sweeteners harms the body:

What’s the Bottom Line?

When it comes to regular or diet soda, moderation is key. What does moderation look like? Research shows that even one can of soda (regular or diet) per day can harm your health. If you regularly drink soda, some simple swaps can help you kick the habit:

  • Add fruit to water to boost the flavor. Lemons, limes and oranges work great
  • Try flavored sparking water. Look for one that has only 2 ingredients: carbonated water and natural flavors
  • Carry a water bottle with you to make it easy to grab when you’re thirsty

Looking for other simple changes that can have a big impact on your health? Check out 50 Small Changes for a Healthier Life.

When Should Your Kid Visit the Dentist?

My 2 ½ year old welds his mouth shut whenever I try to brush his teeth.

But there he was on a recent morning, jumping into a dentist chair, opening his mouth super wide and obeying the dentist’s every order.

I, at first, contemplated the merits of hiring strangers to rear my children, since my kids clearly obey them more than me. I then realized the rare opportunity to sit in a chair, unburdened, for several minutes. I relaxed while the dentist examined my suddenly obedient child.

Yup, my son’s first trip to the dentist went better than expected. But turns out this visit was 1 ½ years too late.

Do 2-year-olds get cavities?

Dental experts recommend that your little bundle of joy visits the dentist by his or her first birthday.

I was tardy with that first visit! But I’m not alone. Most families bring their child to the dentist when they’re older than 2 years old, according to a survey.

Why trek to the dentist at such a young age? The dentist needs to start checking for problems, such as tooth decay (cavities). You might not think it’s a big deal if those baby teeth suffer from decay, since your child will lose them eventually.

But cavities now might spell trouble later for those permanent chompers.

Since my little guy fights the daily brushing, I was grateful that he was cavity free. In fact, I was shocked to hear that about one in five children ages two to five years old has a cavity!

At the visit, you’ll get tips to help your child maintain healthy teeth. You’ll learn about brushing and the importance of fluoride (one of the secrets to a cavity-free mouth!).

You’ll likely get answers to other questions, such as how to handle things like thumb sucking.

Plus, getting your child used to the dentist chair when they’re young will hopefully set them up for lots of future stress-free visits.

Tips for the first dental visit

If the dentist doesn’t trigger a weird obedience reflex in your kids, that first visit can be a daunting experience. Here are tips for easing into that first visit:

A fellow mom also shared the following ideas:

  • Explain that they’re going to a tooth doctor – and we need our teeth to be as healthy as our bodies
  • Ask the dentist’s office if your child can sit on your lap. But also let your son or daughter take a ride on the dentist chair (her son loved that!).
  • If your dentist doesn’t have a prize bin, consider packing something small as a reward for being a great patient. Nothing big really – a sticker, a race car, a rubber bracelet.

There’s one more big tip that may have also contributed to my son’s successful visit.

My little guy idolizes his big brother. Who did he watch get his teeth cleaned before he jumped into the dentist chair? His big brother.

If your youngster looks up to a sibling, cousin or friend, you might want to consider bringing him or her along on that older child’s next trip to the dentist.

Hidden Gems: Cornell Botanic Gardens

The rhododendrons and azaleas were in full bloom, from magenta to pale pinks and creamy whites, when my work colleague, Linnea, and I visited the Cornell Botanic Gardens in June. This little gem of a park is not so little. It covers acres of land that are part of the Cornell University campus and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Gardener’s Delight

If you like nature, flowers and trees, then this is the place for you. Linnea and I spent a couple of hours enjoying the beauty of the landscape, pausing to enjoy flowers close up and sniffing their delicate fragrances. We snapped a lot of photos, especially of plants we favored for our own gardens. Each plant is tagged with its common and scientific names for easy identification.
Not only did the garden’s beauty delight us, but also its statues, buildings, including a pagoda, and meandering trails.

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Would you believe there are 17 themed beds? They include ornamental and practical herbs, heritage vegetables, perennials, ornamental grasses, groundcovers, conifers, containers, and plants of winter interest.

Herbs to Dye For

In particular, I wanted to visit the herb garden. I was not disappointed. Plants are grouped as:
• Ancient herbs
• Bee herbs
• Dye herbs
• Edible flowers
• Herbs in literature
• Herbs of Native Americans
• Medicinal herbs
• Ornamental herbs
• Sacred herbs
• Salad and potherbs
• Savory seed herbs
• Tea herbs

Tussie mussies and nosegays, gatherings of fragrant herbs and flowers. invoked images of Victorian ladies.

The site also includes a 100-acre arboretum. More than 100 different species of birds have been sighted there. If you’re into hiking, there are several trails.

I discovered the gardens when I was writing a story about herb gardening for this blog. My Google search for Cornell Cooperative Extension, a free, excellent resource for farmers to weekend gardeners, brought me to this place. I had no idea it existed, even after living in upstate New York for more than 40 years and visiting the Ithaca area several times.

The Details

Location: 124 Comstock Knoll Drive, Ithaca, NY, 14850
Approximate driving times: Binghamton, 75 minutes; Rochester, two hours; Syracuse, about 80 minutes; Utica, a little more than two hours.
Hours: Open dawn to dusk year round.
Accessible: Yes, a few stairs on some paths.
Dog friendly: Yes, on a leash.
Admission and parking: Free.
For more info: cornellbotanicgardens.org/our-gardens/botanical or 607-255-2400

More to Explore in Ithaca

Although there’s plenty to explore on the Cornell campus, Ithaca has much to offer, including the Cayuga Nature Center, Museum of the Earth and the Sciencenter and its Sagan Walk, a ¾ mile 1:5 billion scale model of the solar system that’s also a memorial to Ithaca resident and astronomer Carl Sagan. Ithaca Commons is a mix of restaurants, shops and events. Linnea and I were lucky enough to visit the gardens at the same time of Ithaca’s Annual Festival.

Check them all out on the discovery trail.

Hidden Gems: Washington Grove

What’s the secret?

A “forest in the city,” Washington Grove is a unique, oak-hickory forest. It’s located on the eastern edge of Cobbs Hill Reservoir in Rochester, New York. The park is a grove of giant old trees that transports visitors into a quiet, secluded woodland. Here, it’s easy to forget how close you are to the city.

Highlights

Washington Grove offers all the marvels of a forest in close proximity to other amenities of Cobbs Hill Park and the City of Rochester. It’s a great place for hiking, jogging, cross-country skiing, bird watching, dog walking and observing local flora and fauna. In addition, as you wind your way through the many trails of the park, you experience firsthand our region’s glacial topography and 200-year-old trees.

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The Details

Designated as Washington Memorial Grove in 1932, the park features about 26 acres of a relatively undisturbed forest of oak and hickory trees.

Easy entrances:

  • East entrance – end of Nunda Blvd (14610)
  • West entrance – top of Reservoir Road in Cobbs Hill Park.

The park is maintained through a partnership with the City of Rochester and a citizen group, the Friends of Washington Grove. The group works to preserve the park’s natural history by removing invasive plants and re-introducing native forest plants as part of the Washington Grove Restoration Project.

It’s important to protect and preserve this hidden gem by obeying park rules, including:

  • Walk bikes through the park area
  • Keeps dogs on a leash
  • Stay on trails

Don’t Miss

 The water tanks near the northern edge of the grove – they feature beautiful local artwork!

Still exploring? Just a short drive away is Corbett’s Glen Nature Park.

Hidden Gems: Grimes Glen

My husband and I recently ditched the kids with a sitter, fled south down Canandaigua Lake and landed in picturesque Naples, N.Y.

Our destination was Grimes Glen, a Finger Lakes gorge that boasts two, 60-foot waterfalls and a 1-mile walk past 200-foot shale bluffs and giant hemlock trees.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Tip #1
Bring water shoes! Or rain boots. Or old footwear that you don’t mind getting super wet.

The trail is a bit, well, incomplete. We started on even terrain, but soon began climbing through rocks and trees to avoid having to jump into the creek. At several points, the trail is the creek bed, so your feet will get wet.

Tip #2
Of course, we forgot our water shoes, so we walked barefoot through the creek. Be careful of the big, slippery rocks. Center your foot on the clusters of smaller rocks, and you’ll be less likely to fall.

I eventually gave up my barefoot expedition and put my old hiking boots back on. Sloshing through the creek was a bit more fun when I didn’t have to worry about sliding everywhere!

(Side note: The hubby had previously walked through Grimes Glen when the creek was a bit drier and easily jumped from rock to rock to avoid the water.)

MY FAVORITE PART

At the end of the walk, there’s a rope that you can use to help pull yourself up to the top of the falls. I made it about halfway up. Ian, a more adventurous climber, made it to the top.

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DON’T MISS

Apparently, there’s a swimming hole at the bottom of the second falls. I was so focused on climbing up the falls’ wall that I completely missed this “don’t miss” feature.

RANDOM FACT

Grimes Glen has the oldest fossilized tree in New York state.

THE DETAILS

Location: Grimes Glen Park, 4703 Vine Street, Naples, NY 14512
Hours: Open year round, dawn to dusk
Parking: Limited parking at Grimes Glen, but you can park in the municipal lot on Mill Street. The park is also in walking distance from the village of Naples.
For more:  Go to http://www.co.ontario.ny.us/Facilities/Facility/Details/Grimes-Glen-Park-11

Snack Your Way to Your Summer Weight

Healthy snacking might sound like an oxymoron. But there are a lot of benefits to snacking – especially if you want to shed a few pounds in time for swimsuit season.

If you snack on the right foods, you tend to consume fewer calories throughout the day. You’ll feel fuller longer and be less likely to overeat or reach for unhealthy foods.

In addition to looking good poolside or at the beach, individuals who stay at a healthy weight reduce their risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, and some cancers.

Here are a few tips:

  1. Rather than snacking on cookies or chips, have a handful of raw almonds. A serving is 23 almonds. Put a serving of almonds into individual snack size bags and leave them in key locations such as your desk, purse and the beverage cup holder in the car. Almonds are heart healthy and a protein-packed snack!
  2. Pair a small amount of cheese with whole grain crackers. The protein in the cheese will keep you from feeling hungry.
  3. Try one of my favorite snacking recipes – Cookie Dough Hummus! This recipe is delicious on a piece of toast and as a snack with apple slices, baby carrots or graham crackers. Check out the recipe at the bottom of this story.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also offers the following healthy snacking ideas:

  1. Try three cups of air-popped popcorn instead of oil-popped popcorn. You’ll consume 73 fewer calories.
  2. Avoid the vending machine. Pack an eight-ounce, nonfat, no sugar added yogurt. That’s 82 fewer calories compared to a package of six peanut butter crackers.
  3. Consider packing vegetable sticks and fresh fruit, “nature’s fast food.”
  4. Substitute a sugary 12-ounce can of soda with a bottle of carbonated water for 136 fewer calories.
  5. Instead of chocolate sandwich cookies or other sweet snacks, eat a bowl of berries or a juicy peach.
Print Recipe
Cookie Dough Hummus
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  1. Put the beans, peanut butter, maple syrup and vanilla into a food processor. Blend ingredients until smooth. Once blended, mix in chocolate chips.

For more healthy snacking ideas, visit fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org.

Power Poses: My Good Luck Charm

Stand tall with your hands on your hips! Or, flex your muscles! Do whatever pose makes you feel powerful for a few minutes.

 Two upstate New Yorkers share how these “power poses” might have boosted their confidence. You can also visit ExcellusBCBS.com/LiveFearlessNation for more on how to make small changes for a healthier life – one fearless step at a time.


Wonder Woman Gets Me Through

By Elaina Mancuso

When I first learned about power posing, I was baffled. I did yoga before, but that was for relaxation, not to pump myself up. Could standing big, outstretched, and breathing deeply boost my confidence, too?

I gave it a try at my desk after my friend Lynn and I talked about it and sent me a link to the TED Talk. (BTW – since the Ted Talk, the science behind power poses has been hotly debated.)

Elaina strikes a power pose at her desk.

She took me through the ropes. The Wonder Woman pose. Feet on my desk and hands behind my head. I think we even practiced the V for victory pose. I didn’t feel the effects that day—I was simply testing it out. But the concept stuck with me for months, all the way up to an anxiety-inducing presentation.

My presentation was one of many that day—sales training. I thought back to the conversation with Lynn and the TED Talk I had watched and I gave it a go, this time for real.

My presentation was after lunch, so while everyone was finishing their meals, I stepped out of the room and into the hallway. I walked around a little bit to calm my nerves, then found the perfect spot to strike my pose. I coached myself through it: “Okay. Hands on hips. Feet hip- length apart. Big, controlled, deep breaths. In and out. This is kind of like yoga. Oh my god, I’m power posing. You’ve got this. You’re gonna rock this presentation.”

After my minute or two I walked back into the room and took it away.

Not only was I feeling calmer, I felt more at ease with the material and the audience. I felt more natural and relaxed—like a better version of myself—and was able to get through my presentation without a hitch.

But I can’t give power posing all the credit. I’ve got to chalk up some of my success to preparation and practice. I also realize that power posing might not work for everyone, and that there may (or may not) be science to back up its effects.

Still, power posing worked for me. It was my good luck charm and I’m going to leverage its effects before every presentation.


Power posing your way to a new job

By Lindsay Speicher

Lindsay Speicher

When I first heard of power posing, I honestly thought it seemed a little trite and cliché. My attitude toward the idea changed, however, when this past year I landed several interviews for a job I really, really wanted.

Nothing is more frustrating than being prepared, really knowing your stuff, and then having it go out the window when it’s time to present because you’re nervous and insecure.

When I’ve had this happen in the past, it’s because I’m (1) too anxious during an interview to really articulate the smart things I have to say, or (2) thrown off my game by the dreaded “imposter syndrome.” That’s when I think, “there is probably someone who is stronger, better, faster and smarter than me waiting in the wings right now, who would be 10 times better at this than me … and it’s only a matter of time before everyone finds out!”

Not very helpful thoughts to have when you’re trying to present the best version of yourself to a prospective employer!

With my interviews fast approaching, I wanted to be certain my nervousness wouldn’t hinder my confidence, and subsequently, my performance.

I consulted the internet-career-advice-universe, and I found interview tips that went something like: prepare, practice, reflect, and relax. Several articles even referenced “power posing,” and how useful it could be for the “relax” portion of the pre-interview prep, which I needed the most help with. I finally decided to watch the TED Talk and see what it was about.

The science behind “power posing” has been debated, but I deemed Amy Cuddy’s presentation a compelling case for trying it out. Even if the study was dead wrong, or if I was immune to the “magic” of “power posing,” what could it hurt? Trying it out was totally risk free, so I added power poses to my interview day plan.

Here’s how I did it

 Before any big presentation, interview, speech – whatever — most of us head into the bathroom to freshen up and take a minute to get composed. Enter “power posing!” Once I arrived at the company and checked in, I stepped into a stall, struck my pose, and gave it as long as I could.

Lindsay finds the perfect place to freshen up and get composed.

I stretched out my arms in a big V, puffed out my chest, and took some deep breaths.  I was grateful no one else was in the bathroom, otherwise they might have seen my outstretched hands above the stall door, which would have totally thrown me off. I kept it up for what seemed like forever, but was probably just about a minute.

So did it work?

I “power posed” before each of my three in-person interviews and my phone interview. Each time, I walked out feeling like I gave it my absolute best. As an interviewee, you really can’t ask for more than that. Was it the “power posing”? Maybe! Did I feel more confident, focused, and able to be myself in the interviews? Yes!  I’ll honestly never know whether it was the power posing or something else, but I got the job, so I know it didn’t hurt!

Would I recommend it? Sure! My advice to fellow nervous presenters, interviewees, speechmakers, etc.:  breathe deep, regroup, remember you know your stuff, and strike a “power pose!”

8 Ways To Pack A Healthy Lunch You (And The Kids) Will Actually Eat

You want to pack a lunch that you and your kids will actually eat. It might seem tough. But with a little help, you can become a wiz at creating packable meals that are healthy, yet tasty.

The Basics

  1. Try planning ahead to ease a lot of the stress. When making dinner, remember that leftovers can make a great lunch the next day and the freezer can be your friend.
  2. Make sure you have the right supplies. Your containers should be insulated and have enough space for an ice pack or a thermos container. Packing reusable napkins or silverware is also environmentally and financially friendly.

What’s Sweet

  1. Fruit is a quick and easy snack that can be eaten individually or paired with another food.
    • For your kid – Fresh fruit (alone or with yogurt)

    • For you – Cottage cheese with fresh fruit

  2. Create homemade trail mix to make sure family members can enjoy their favorite ingredients. Mix dried fruit with nuts, raisins, pretzels, and even chocolate chips.

What’s Crunchy

  1. Cut up vegetables — such as carrots, cucumbers, or celery — to make a crunchy snack that people of any age can enjoy.
    • For your kid – Vegetables with dip

    • For you – Vegetables with hummus or tzatziki sauce

  2. Try peanut butter (or almond butter) with rice cakes, bananas, apples or pretzels. You could make the childhood favorite, “ants on a log,” by pairing celery with peanut butter and raisins.
  3. Try adding vegetables to the top of your pizzas and consider using pita bread as your pizza “dough.”

Not your usual sandwich

  1. Mix up your sandwich bread by using whole wheat bread, tortilla wraps, or pita bread. Since sandwich meats contain a lot of sodium, try alternatives such as salads; peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; or chicken, tuna, or egg salad sandwiches.

Here’s a recipe to try:

Print Recipe
Chicken-Avocado Sandwich
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sandwich
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  1. Combine avocado, lime juice, black pepper and garlic. Spread evenly on one bread slice. Top with chicken, lettuce and tomato.

For more tips or recipes, check out the Excellus BCBS Pinterest page at pinterest.com/excellusbcbs.

Sage Advice: 7 Tips for Your Herb Garden (Recipes Included!)

I’d rather be cooking than gardening, but there’s something about growing and using my own herbs that’s satisfying to the soul and palate and a treat for the senses. Once planted, they grow quickly–sometimes, it seems, right in front of my eyes. In the morning, I do some tactile and aromatherapy as I touch and smell the herbs.

Growing your own herbs can be daunting to the novice gardener. Here are tips for first-timers:

  1. Start small by growing plants in containers. After you bring the plants home from the farmers’ market, garden center or hardware store, repot them in larger containers with good potting soil.
  2. In upstate New York, wait until Memorial Day to grow them outdoors. If we do get a frost or the threat of one, it’s easy to cover the containers with a blanket or move them to the garage. The animals don’t get to my deck where I grow them in containers, but they do get to my neighbor’s garden in the ground.
  3. Check the website herbgardening.com for a wealth of information for growing herbs—from anise to watercress—inside, outside, in containers and even hydroponically.

Here are more tips from Pamela Shade, a horticulturist and curator of the Robison York State Herb Garden at the Cornell Botanic Gardens in Ithaca, New York.

  1. Don’t tuck your herbs into a shady corner of your yard. Most culinary herbs require full sun and a minimum of six hours direct sunlight daily.
  2. Fight root rot and fungal diseases by providing plants with well-drained soil. Add several inches of compost to improve the soil quality of heavy, wet, clay soil.
  3. Because herbs need room to thrive, allow plenty of space between plants for good air circulation and to encourage maximum growth. For example, basil plants should be spaced at least 12 inches apart.
  4. Don’t over-fertilize as this will decrease the flavor of the herbs.

Not all herbs are the same, since some want to be raised in certain ways. Shade offered the following advice:

Some herbs can be started from seed indoors during the winter and spring. These include thyme, a perennial, (February); parsley (March); basil and marjoram (early April).

Other herbs are best grown from seeds directly planted into the garden. They include anise, dill, caraway, cilantro, cumin, fenugreek and mustard.

Longing for lavender or sage? It’s best to purchase plants from a reputable nursery since they take a long time to grow into mature plants large enough to transplant outside into the garden.

Now that you’re an herb-growing expert, you can start cooking! Herbs are a flavorful and calorie-free addition to any dish. Here’s how I use some of my favorite herbs:

  • Basil. Good in pesto or in a tomato and fresh mozzarella salad, on pizza and in marinara sauce. Basil is wimpy and turns limp at the first sign of cold weather. Freeze pesto in ice cube trays, remove to a freezer bag, and take out as needed for a winter treat that reminds you of summer’s bounty.
  • Chives. Excellent potato or cauliflower salad. (See recipe below)
  • Mint. Add to hot or cold water for flavor. Chew on mint leaves instead of gum or candy. Mint is a take-charge herb that spreads far and wide. Grow it in pots to contain it. If you plant it in the ground, cut the bottom off a pot and plant the cylinder in the ground to damper mint’s urge to roam.
  • Parsley. A must for tabbouleh. Hearty parsley lives up to its name. I’ve brushed snow off it and welcomed it to the warm indoors. (See recipe below)
  • Rosemary. Tasty with roasted potatoes or on pork.
  • Sage. Good with eggs or chicken.
  • Tarragon. Transform leftover chicken to chicken salad.
  • Thyme. Delicious in bean salads, vegetables and with meat.

There’s nothing like harvesting your own herbs and savoring their smell and taste firsthand. To paraphrase an old saying, the scent of the rosemary stays on the hand of the giver. Share your abundance with friends and co-workers. You’ll both be glad you did!

Print Recipe
Roasted Potatoes and Cauliflower with Chives
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  1. Cut the potatoes to ¾ inch cubes. Place on a jelly-roll pan and toss with the oil, garlic powder, rosemary, paprika, salt and pepper. Roast the potatoes in the middle of a preheated 450°F. oven, turning them occasionally, for 15 minutes. Add the cauliflower, toss the mixture well, and roast 10 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender and golden in spots. Toss the vegetables with chives and serve topped with a garnish of whole chives.
Print Recipe
Tabbouleh
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  1. Place bulgur in a heatproof bowl. Pour boiling water over, then cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand 15 minutes. Drain in a colander, pressing on bulgur to remove any excess liquid. Transfer bulgur to a bowl and toss with remaining ingredients until combined well. Enjoy!

Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival

For the last 10 years my family has not missed the Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival. It is a great FREE, community event. You can check it out on Saturday, May 6, 2017 from 10am to 5pm.

Looking at the schedule this year, I’m interested to see the winner of the health innovation challenge where students compete for a prize for the most creative product that promotes good health. I also want to learn more about transcribing sign language to text and my daughter wants to see Quidditch be played.

There are favorite exhibits every year, such as climbing through oobleck, bicycle powered smoothies, and learning about wetland wildlife. But we always stumble upon something surprising.

Photo Credit: RIT

Last year we tried “Rip the Page,” where we made our own poetry by drawing on pages of books and cutting or ripping them apart. At first my kids looked horrified about ripping books, but quickly really got into the idea of taking something and making it their own.

We learned how to “upcycle” by taking an empty plastic bottle and turning it into a planter. We also sat in a wheelchair and navigated a typical room to see how hard it is to accomplish many everyday tasks this way and how new innovations can help. And of course we visit my husband’s exhibit to learn about black holes, gravitational waves, and astronomy. From learning about forces using a dunk tank, to using blocks to visualize chemicals there are lots of hands on math and science experiments to explore that never disappoint.

For our family, Imagine RIT is the first spring festival in Rochester and it is always great to see so many people enjoying the outdoors. About 30,000 people come to the festival each year, but it never feels crowded and we have always been able to park and move about easily.

Have you visited Imagine RIT? Tell us about your favorite exhibit in the comments section below.