Thursday, August 10, 2023

Montgomery County Maryland--A Multi-Faceted Vacation Destination

The beautiful Strathmore Music Center in North Bethesda Credit: Strathmore
Those who are always on the lookout for things to do during a three-day weekend may wish to consider visiting Montgomery County, Maryland. Just recently, I spent some time there exploring the area--more specifically North Bethesda near Washington, D.C., along with Rockville, Gaithersburg, Williamsport, Potomac and finally Dickerson, Maryland. This relatively small area offers so much to do during a long weekend that you'll find yourself wondering how you'll fit it all in.

If you enjoy shopping and having access to a variety of restaurants, I suggest staying in the heart of the action in the Pike and Rose neighborhood in North Bethesda. The deli below caught my attention and gave me a chuckle.

Call Your Mother, a Jew-ish Deli

For accommodations, I can recommend the Canopy by Hilton. It's comfortable, well-appointed and is within walking distance of a bevy of boutique shops and high-end retailers. Plus, I love this little nook, which is tailor made for writers.
Canopy by Hilton in N. Bethesda is made for writers.

The Canopy's onsite restaurant "Hello Betty" serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and offers a large selection of seafood, ranging from crab cakes, to scallops, stuffed flounder, grouper and more.

Hello Betty is an onsite restaurant at Canopy by Hilton

For a change of scenery and an after-dinner drink, I recommend walking across the street from the Canopy to Julii for a blackberry blossom cocktail, which was not only beautiful, but also delicious.

Julii's bar is beautiful and they make a great cocktail.

A friendly bartender made me this delicious and gorgeous Blackberry Blossom.

For those with kids in tow, there's a family fun destination just steps from Julii in the same Pike & Rose neighborhood called Pinstripes, which offers bowling, bocce and made-from-scratch Italian American Cuisine. Menu items include pizza, burgers, salads, pasta and more.

Pinstripes offers food and fun for the entire family.

Another area chock full of restaurants, shops and family fun is the Rockville Town Square. There you'll find the Maryland Women's Business Center (MWBC) Shop Local retail business incubator where makers can test out the market for their goods prior to purchasing a brick-and-mortar store. Jewelry, art and women's accessories are just a few of the things you'll find there.
MWBC Shop Local features local makers.

When I visited the town square area, children were enjoying cooling off in the park on a hot day while parents sat nearby to watch.

Kids cool off on a hot July day at Rockville Town Square.

VisArts features a gallery and offers classes to the community.

Restaurants, like Thai Chef, are in abundance at Rockville Town Square.

A mural outside Dawson's Grocery.

In addition to restaurants, shops and a park complete with water features, Rockville Town Square also touts Dawson's, an upmarket grocer and natural foods shop. In addition, an art center called VisArts engages the community by offering classes and art exhibits. The vibrant and colorful area is a must-see stop for anyone visiting the Rockville area.

Down the road a bit in Bethesda is a music center called the Strathmore, which almost always elicits oohs and aahs from first-time visitors and is pictured at the top of this post. (Photos alone don't do it justice.) The performance space, which seats 1776 attendees, is not only known for its beauty, but also for its education programs and state-of-the-art acoustics where nary a bad seat is to be had.

Two upcoming events in December 2023 include the Manheim Steamroller Christmas and the Hip Hop Nutcracker.

An onsite special events space at the Strathmore.

Located a little further afield is the National Historic Park at the C&O Canal, which attracts approximately five million visitors per year.

Markers at the park tell the story of the Great Falls and the C&O Canal Company, which encountered obstacles in connecting the Potomac and Ohio Rivers. Because the Potomac plunges 41 vertical feet at Great Falls, six locks were created to safely drop the boats past the river. 

Back in the 1870s, the area was popular with Washingtonians who were eager get away and enjoy the scenery. The lock keepers house was enlarged twice to accommodate the hotel and tavern that you see here.

Great Falls Tavern
Further on down the road a bit in Potomac is Swains Lockhouse (Lockhouse 21), named for the family which inhabited the structure for a century (until 2006). Recently it has been rehabilitated by the C&O Canal Trust, in partnership with the C&O Canal National Historical Park--a project that took three years (2016-2019). 

The Swain lockhouse, exterior.

The Swain history is key to the canal history in that the family helped build the canal and went on to own 15 boats, while serving as lock tenders until the canal closed to boat traffic in 1924. They later opened a stand to rent boats and offer tours to visitors.

The interior of the Swain lock house.

What's even more interesting about this lockhouse in particular, and the lockhouses in the area in general, is that the C&O Canal Trust rents them out. Prices vary according to the desired degree of rusticity. 

Located even further afield is the historic Comus Inn in Dickerson, Maryland, which dates back to 1862. Open Wednesday through Sunday, the Comus Inn is a wonderful place to take the entire family (including your four-legged friends) to enjoy the great outdoors, the scenic views, live music, board and lawn games and more.

Comus Inn exterior, Credit: Comus Inn

The menu at the Comus Inn is both upscale and casual and is overseen by culinary director Sammy Demarco, who has worked in kitchens around the world.

Comus Inn Interior, Credit: Comus Inn

Dining room entrees include items like Forest Mushroom Pappardelle, grilled Bronzino, blackened salmon and sirloin steak. At the beer hall and garden, guests can belly up to picnic tables and enjoy more casual items like burgers, pizza and nachos.

Additional Accommodations

Beyond the Pike & Rose neighborhood, there are other highly rated hotels with rooms at various price points.

The Best Western Premier Rockville Hotel and Suites offers an outdoor pool, an exercise facility and the best cheesecake that you'll ever eat at its onsite restaurant Bogart's.

The DoubleTree by Hilton in Gaithersburg took advantage of the downtime wrought by COVID 19 to renovate their event spaces, which now total 16,500 square feet and include a 5,000 square foot ballroom. They offer free Wi-Fi, an expanded fitness center and a heated indoor pool. A newly designed onsite restaurant and bar known as Knife & Fork offers upscale fare and a sports-bar like lounge.

The Gaithersburg Marriott Washingtonian Center offers a fitness center, Wi-Fi and is a short walk to Rio Lakefront for shopping, dining and entertainment. Their on-site restaurant, The Bench, offers lakeside seating with American fare like salmon, filet mignon and crabcakes.

These are just a few suggestions for an elongated weekend of shopping, exploring and enjoying live entertainment in the Montgomery County area, which is close enough to D.C. to add even more sightseeing to the itinerary, that is if you can find the time.


Tuesday, July 11, 2023

A Summer Day with the Stooges

I have a friend who is a Three Stooges fan. Over the years, he'd remind me of this by remarking on my Facebook posts with various Stooges comments, or short clips from the well-known comedians, so when I heard of the Stoogeum in Ambler, Pennsylvania, I decided to "take one for the team" and visit with my husband, Jim (the fan) Gordon and his wife Cheryl.  

To prepare myself for what I was about to observe, I tuned into a very interesting podcast on the drive down called "For Keeps," which featured an interview with Gary Lassin, Stoogeum Curator. The podcast narrator, David Peterkofsky, who refers to the trio as the "clown princes of pratfalls" and the "sultans of slapstick," reveals early on how Lassin came to amass such a vast collection of Stoogeabilia.  

The podcast explains that Lassin enjoyed the Stooges as a kid and his enthusiasm was re-ignited when he met his now wife--whose grandfather was Larry Fine's brother, Moe Feinberg. Feinberg gave Lassin a few Stooge-related items and a collector was born. "That's what really set me off," he said, explaining that collecting pre-internet was difficult, but he enjoyed the chase. Lassin reports that one of his techniques was to overpay for items. "That turned out to be a very good strategy for getting the best stuff," he said. Lassin also became aware of items that were available when he took over the position of Fan Club President when Feinberg retired in 1986. 

At the Museum

What we discovered first was that there wasn't a lot of signage for the place and when we pulled up to a sprawling office building located off the main road, we were a bit confused until we saw the museum tucked away behind a large office complex.

Once inside, we learned that the three-story Stoogeum, which opened in 2004, is comprised of 100,000 pieces of memorabilia spanning 10,000 square feet, with 3,500 on display at any given time. It is also the headquarters of the Three Stooges Fan Club, which touts itself as one of the nation's oldest and largest fan clubs, with 2,000 members.

One thing I should also mention is that photos are forbidden in the Stoogeum, likely because people may decide against visiting if they could simply see everything online, so all photos, (minus the exterior photo), are courtesy of the Stoogeum.

The Stoogeum is tucked away in an office complex in Ambler.

The tour starts on the second floor where visitors have the opportunity to relax on a stool in front of touchscreen panels to learn more about the Stooge's early days--from advertisements announcing their arrivals in certain towns, to digitized articles related to their lives. What I found most helpful is that visitors, after poking their own fingers in Curley's eyes, nyuk, nyuk, can view articles and advertisements by state. So, of course, I searched in Pennsylvania and it turns out the Stooges were quite popular in my state, which makes sense since they are, after all, native sons.

Information which I found particularly interesting was the early origin of the Stooges--something that fans know, but people like me are unaware of. It turns out that their humble beginnings were when they started working for vaudeville performer, comedian and actor Ted Healy as hecklers. The act started with Moe Howard and Healy and expanded to include Moe's brother Shemp Howard and Larry Fine.

Wax figures are remarkably real looking.

As one continues through the collection it appears that anything ever branded "Stooges" has been hunted down and given a place in the Stoogeum.

A wall dedicated exclusively to comics.

Items of "home decor" were particularly fascinating--like Three Stooges lamps, cabinets and even a stained-glass door. Lassin said that his wife drew the line when it came to decorating the house with such items, (which I totally understand), and is why he opened the museum in the first place.

The Stoogeum is chock-a-block with posters.

An exhaustive collection of posters, if not hung on the walls, exist in swinging panel-flip poster displays. What tickled me were the ones in foreign languages like "Les Tois Stooges," which seemed to somehow elevate them to highbrow status.

Mass-Marketed Morons display with items targeted to kids.

I also enjoyed the display titled, "Mass-Marketed Morons," where everything from colorforms, to puppets, Pez dispensers, cereal, bowling balls, beer, trading cards, lighters, Halloween costumes, plates, mugs, hot sauce and more were featured.

Personal items like tax returns and contracts are also on display, with artifacts like scripts, clothing and costumes. Story boards give an overview of each of the men so that by the time you leave, you are comfortable that you have an idea of who they were as entertainers and as human beings. When Lassin was asked to name his favorite item in the collection, he reported that it is Shemp Howard's 1918 discharge from the army. Visitors can also read fan mail and correspondence that Moe and Larry wrote. (They were known for personally answering their fan mail.)  Lassin said that many of the personal items came from the relatives. "Shemp Howard was a pretty good saver and his wife sold off a bunch of things over the years," said Lassin. 

Guests can also take a seat in the 85-seat theatre to view any of 190 shorts the Stooges made in their lifetime.

The tour ends on the third-floor in a gallery which showcases a collection of art, featuring, of course, the Three Stooges, done in a variety of mediums, from pencils, to oils, pastels and more. 

One of the newer items at the Stoogeum is a book written by Gary Lassin called "Tour de Farce," which is an extensive account of the Stooges time on the road, which evidently paid better than their television gigs. The book was published in April 2023 and chronicles five decades of personal appearances.

I suggest spending about an hour to an hour-and-a-half in the Stoogeum to see and read all the exhibits and was surprised at the fact that I can honestly say that I enjoyed the Stoogeum. In the end, I felt that it was time well spent and even inspiring. 

Rabid fans may wish to stay even longer and really get into the weeds when it comes to Stooge history. I have to admit that I underestimated Jim Gordon's level of fandom, that is until I learned that he owned many items that Lassin displays in his Stoogeum. I think that he could have spent the entire night there and been very happy. In fact, when I was ready to go, he was having a grand time playing "Whack a Stooge," like Whack a Mole, but with Stooges, so he could still be there for all I know.

If you go:
The Stoogeum attracts between 4 and 5,000 guests a year and is available by appointment only.
Location: 904 Sheble Lane, Ambler, Pa. 
Telephone: 267-468-0810


Friday, June 23, 2023

Learning about the Pennsylvania Dutch Culture at the Annual Kutztown Fair

It’s nearly impossible to visit the Kutztown area without absorbing at least a little knowledge about the region’s rich Pennsylvania Dutch heritage. To this day, the town is rife with remembrances of a culture that harkens back to the period between the late 1600s to the early 1800s when Germans arrived in large numbers, bringing with them customs, crafts, recipes, resilience and rigor. This group of hard-working people, known as the “Deutsch,” or German, eventually became known by their Americanized appellation--the “Pennsylvania Dutch.”

Three American folklorists recognized the importance of both preserving and celebrating this proud heritage.  Dr.'s Alfred Shoemaker, Don Yoder and J. William Frey conceived of the idea to bring a folk festival to the region and in 1950, the Kutztown Folk Festival was born.  

The event turned out to be a rousing success that attracted nearly 25,000 visitors over a period of just four days and to this day, visitors come from miles around to this day to get a glimpse of the Pennsylvania Dutch way of life.

The annual event returns, once again, to the Kutztown Fairgrounds and runs from July 1-9. Organizers estimate that nearly 130,000 visitors will travel to the area to get a glimpse into the colorful and curious Pennsylvania Dutch culture.

Prepare for some Guten Essen’

Guten Essen’ means good eating, so consider ditching that diet and splurging a little. The Pennsylvania Dutch pride themselves on serving hearty, stick-to-your-ribs fare that satisfies even the greatest of appetites.

Cooking for a crowd is Diana Heffner’s bread and butter. The former restaurant owner has pleasing the masses down to a science. She’s been serving hungry folks at the festival for years now, turning out nearly 100 breakfasts and 200 lunches and dinners each day, on average.

Items on the menu include homemade chicken pot pie, ham and green beans, pork and sauerkraut, meatloaf, roast beef, chicken, pepper cabbage, red-beet eggs and the ever-popular shoofly pie. If you’re the type who enjoys a good debate, you’ll always find a willing participant to spar on which shoofly pie is superior—wet bottom, or dry bottom.

Steve Sharadin, Festival Director, mentions schnitz und knepp when describing another perennial festival favorite. The ham dish comprised of dried apples (snitz) and knepp, (dumplings, or rivels), is a big hit at the fair and few pass up the opportunity to enjoy this authentic Pennsylvania Dutch experience.

Homemade ice cream is extremely popular in the dog days of July.

Those “in the know” can also be found sniffing out pig snout over at the farmers’ market set up by Dietrich’s meats. “They preserve it so that it’s extremely tender,” said Sharadin.

Many visitors are also enticed by the heavenly smell of fresh bread, baked onsite daily in a 19th-century bake oven.

Bread is baked onsite daily in a 19th-century bake oven.

Live Music Strikes a Festive Chord

The 15-piece Shippensburg Blaskapelle German Brass Band will entertain the audience with beer-drinking songs, time-honored melodies and rousing polkas. Add to that various fiddlers, folk singers, country dancers and the Virginia-based, world-famous strolling Sauerkraut Band to continue the merriment throughout the nine-day extravaganza.

Cultural Enrichment

Those interested in learning more about education in the days of yore may want to make it a point to visit the one-room school house display, which features antique desks, blackboards and informational placards describing how schools were run in the past.

A one-room school house gives visitors a glimpse into the days of yore.

To pull back the curtain further, historians will be on hand to discuss additional Pennsylvania Dutch curiosities, like the hex signs that adorn many a barn situated along the sprawling countryside. A professional hex sign painter will practice his art on site to demonstrate how it’s done and those with questions can learn more about the colorful signs from representatives of the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center.

Hex signs adorn many a barn.

An old-fashioned ride operated by a mule.

During the festival, a variety of quilts will be on display and available for purchase, with the top 24 reserved and selected by a panel of judges for an auction slated to occur on the second Saturday of the festival.

According to Heppe, the crowd-pleasing auction attracts an audience of at least 1,000. One of the highest-selling quilts commanded an astounding $15,000, with others selling for amounts $7-8K range “Most auction for a little bit above $1,000 or more,” said Heppe.

Arts, Crafts and Education

Nearly 200 nationally recognized folk artists and traditional American craftsmen will be in attendance to share the fruits of their talents. Visitors can watch craftsmen transform materials like raw sheet tin material into pieces like mugs, coffee pots and lanterns, to name just one of the many demonstrations that will take place during the event. 

Interesting handmade crafts are everywhere.

Those curious about Pennsylvania Dutch folk art that includes calligraphic script seen on various documents from house blessings, to marriage and baptismal certificates, can learn more by attending a class on Fraktur conducted by the Schwenkfelder Museum & Library based in Montgomery County.

Those who are curious about the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect can gain some insight into the language by attending any of the daily classes conducted by Keith Brintzenhoff, a long-time festival participant and musician.

Doreen Buchman is just one attendee who enjoys returning year after year. When pressed to pick a favorite activity, she chose the quilt auction. “I’ve purchased three over the years,” she said. Buchman said that overall what she enjoys is the variety. “There’s everything from hex sign painting, to broom making, and glass blowing,” she said, describing the walkways lined with booths, barns which house the crafters and the enthusiasm of the craftsman who enjoy sharing their skills. “It’s a family oriented event that appeals to all ages,” she added.

The quilt auction is a popular event.

Buchman says that she’s been to many festivals, but enjoys the Kutztown Folk Festival the most for its authenticity. “It’s fun and you feel like you are part of what this area is all about and that’s the Pennsylvania Dutch Heritage.”

To learn more, visit their website at

Admission: $16

Students (13-17) $6

Children (12 and under) FREE

Parking: Free

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

The Past Comes Alive at Lancaster's Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum

Many people who are born in Pennsylvania can claim at least some German ancestry and I'm one of them, so a visit to Lancaster's Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum felt a little like old home week as I explored the many exhibits on the property. 

The Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum is a story is about a pair of brothers--a Mennonite family from Lancaster named Landis, who understood the value of collecting items to tell the story of Pennsylvania Germans who immigrated to the area.

The tour starts at the Visitor's Center.

Site Administrator David Blackburn kindly accompanied me on the tour of the 100-acre living history museum founded by brothers Henry K. and George Landis in the early 1920s. Today the site is owned by the state of Pennsylvania and run by the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission (PHMC). Blackburn describes the destination as one of the largest museums of Pennsylvania German history and describes how it came to be. "Collecting took place when the brothers were older. The catalyst was when they took notice on how quickly America was changing, so they focused on preserving the Pennsylvania German way of life," he said.

Among the many artifacts are bullets, buttons, artwork, coins, Conestoga Wagons, antique tractors, dishes, glassware, Fraktur (calligraphic text), pottery and more.

Guests start their tour in the Visitor Center where they can view a few exhibits like the folk carving above, which was done with a simple pocketknife by Wilhelm Schimmel, an immigrant from Germany who moved to Pennsylvania.

Also on display is work done by Nettie Mae Landis, a sister of the Landis brothers, who, as an upper middle-class member of society, dabbled in art--painting porcelain and working with oils.

What I was attracted to most in the Visitor Center was the the example of reverse painting that hung on the wall. Reverse painting was a technique that German immigrants brought to Pennsylvania from their homeland. To create the painting, artists, using oils, worked backwards, painting the foreground first and then the background in thick layers on the glass.

An example of a picture made using the reverse painting technique.

After departing the visitor center, we strolled around the property to view historic buildings, some of which were moved from the Lancaster area.

An early toe-stir!

Depending upon when you visit, you're likely to see reenactors in the buildings, describing the old German way of life. The volunteer above was toiling away at the hearth, cooking dishes that were made long ago. The item in the foreground of the last photo shown above was used to make toast in the hearth. The bread would be inserted in between the iron arches and one would hit it with their boots to make it spin around so that the bread would cook evenly. Hence, the first toe-stir!

Located a few steps away in another building was a tool shop with a collection of early firearms including plenty of Pennsylvania Long Rifles, along with a gentleman who was onsite to describe them and how they were constructed.

A volunteer explains the gunsmithing process.

A loom located in the craft barn.

To understand a typical home that existed in a bygone era, one only needs to visit "The Erisman House," a log cabin covered with wooden siding and moved from downtown Lancaster. The Erisman House was a typical urban dwelling found in downtown Lancaster in the 1800s. The house was owned for 100 years by the Erisman family.

The Erisman House.

Next on our tour was another example of the Landis brothers' talent. The "Yellow Barn," was built by the the brothers in 1939. Today it is used as an event space.
The Yellow Barn, built by the Landis brothers, is now used as an event space.

Located just a few steps from the barn is an attractive, commodious house with an old-fashioned water pump out front. This is the Landis House where the brothers lived. 
The Landis brothers' house, with interior rooms (below)

Another interesting building located at the museum is the Landis Valley House Hotel that served as a restaurant, bar, post office, polling center and a community space where locals gathered. The hotel was constructed and operated by Jacob Landis, Jr. from 1865-1860. It was located at the intersection of the Reading Road, the New Haven Road and Neffsville Road in Lancaster and remained a business until closing in 1967 was later moved to the Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum.

Landis Valley House Hotel

The Landis Valley House Hotel closed in 1967.

Everyone who has been on tours with me knows that I like a good, old-fashioned country store and this one is no exception, other than the fact that it's a re-creation, which is not to say that the goods are. The store is stocked with original products from country stores dating from 1880-1910.

Products from old country stores.

Golden Rule Blend gives you the stamina to do unto others what you'd have them do unto you.

Another interesting stop on the tour is the "shed" where Conestoga wagons and farm implements are stored.
Antique tractor.

Conestoga Wagon

Another attraction worth mentioning is the Heirloom Seed Project. Starting in the 1980s, museum staff kicked off a project to preserve the purity of seeds grown on Pennsylvania German homesteads. Today, visitors can visit display gardens to observe what non-hybridized produce is being grown.

Before leaving, guests can take a peek into the giftshop where they can purchase a variety of goods made in Pennsylvania.
The Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum gift shop.

This is by no means a comprehensive account of the Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum--there are many more buildings to explore, so allow yourself plenty of time to do so. In the meantime, I hope this short account of what is there will pique your interest and inspire you to pay a visit. 

You can learn more by visiting their website at