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Mike Valletta

Storyteller. Photographer. Traveler.

Month

March 2011

Life Lessons are Learned on Vacation

Most people this time of year go on exotic vacations across the globe to escape the winter blues that most of us have built up from a winter of agony. As for me, I travel to places with a purpose intended. I’m not one to spend lavishly on vacations, especially if they just involve myself. Last week, I made the trip out to Virginia to be with my family and I couldn’t have asked for a better, more relaxing time. I should probably stress the word relaxing. You see, my father’s house is just outside a town called Tappahannock, an incredibly rural landscape complete with cow pastures and logging roads. This kind of place is a great escape, especially for those of us who would like to unwind a bit.

The morning after I arrived, it was time for my morning brew. I looked at the GPS on my phone to find out where the nearest Dunkin Donuts was located. Now, as for someone who lives on coffee house coffee, I desperately needed this, especially after a long 8 hour commute in. To my shock and horror, the nearest Dunkin Donuts was over an hour away! WHAT! This couldn’t be. There had to be something wrong with the GPS. I then typed in Starbucks to see if they had any locations close to where I was. Nope! Still over an hour away for coffee! Oh goodness sake, my morning was already ruined. How does one that has become so used to a Dunkin Donuts on every street corner in Connecticut live without a coffee, for over a week?

Well, my father had an answer for that, and it was called a Keurig machine. I was hesitant at first. I can’t stand making coffee at home. It’s just not anything like the coffeehouse and it simply is never strong enough. Well, since I wasn’t going to drive over an hour for a cup of joe, I knew I needed this coffee. I gave it a shot. After a smooth start, the coffee was actually pretty great! I was hooked! In fact, I was so hooked, I made it my mission for when I got back home to Torrington that I would go out and invest in one of these snazzy machines. I say invest because it costs over $100, but as someone who looks at things on a larger scale, if I invest $100 now for a great cup of coffee at home rather than spending it at the coffee-house, well, I have just invested all that saved money into my retirement portfolio. A pure win!

As my time in Virginia progressed, I began to really enjoy myself. I enjoyed the lazy days of relaxing and watch the world pass me by, which of course there was no world to really watch when you are sitting around watching tumbleweeds pass by. I decided since I had so much free time on my hands, that I would blog about a few things that perk my interest. I grabbed my iPad and began typing away, then I noticed something that would make a tech geek like me, cry out in hysteria; there was no wi-fi! Oh no! I asked my father where the nearest hotspot was located seeing as how there was apparently no internet connectivity for miles. He pointed out that my best bet would be to drive about 20 minutes into town and stop by the library. 20 minutes just to get online? Forget about it! I’ll do without it. After all, I’m on vacation and should be enjoying all of this free time that I suddenly have, which I did.

Later in the week, I enjoyed a night out with my family and some friends at a place called Dave & Busters. What a terrific venue! It’s like a chuckecheese for adults, complete with drinks and entertainment. The food was reasonable and worth it for the prices, but of course for someone who eats like a bird any type of food is reasonable to me. We enjoyed a full course dinner along with some mixed drinks only to find ourselves enjoying a game of hoops in the arcade room shortly after, which is a great way to burn off that dinner!

Every time I visit Virginia, I always enjoy myself. I get to spend a great deal of time with family that I have grown up with over the years, and when I leave it is often hard as it is puzzling. This visit, I not only leave behind my cousins, I leave behind my father and his family. You see, my father made the move over the summer to be closer to our family. My parents have been divorced for years and my mother lives here in Connecticut. Leaving behind my father, even at 24 years old is no easy business. I may be 8 hours away, but to him and I, it is like we are worlds apart. I’m glad to have made the visit and that I have gotten to spend time with my father and the family. Nothing can ever replace this vacation, not even one on a sunny beach in Maui sipping Mai Tai‘s.

The Road to Virginia

While many of you are enjoying, or suffering, from what mother nature is delivering to Litchfield County, I am enjoying some quality time in the farm country of Virginia. I made the over 6 hour trip down Tuesday and I, surprisingly, didn’t hit one ounce of traffic, not even in the always congested New York City! The trip was great as usual. Prior to leaving Torrington, I made sure that my 260,000 mile car was well tuned, and well oiled, for this trip. As a traveler, taking care of my car that can get me to where I want to go is essential, which is probably why it’s still running! I went to Hollings Automotive in the south end of town to fix my brakes, which were pretty beat up, and to finally get my driver side mirror replaced. Hollings knows cars. These are the go to guys in town, and best of all they offer incredibly reasonable prices, even better than all those big guys out there.

Once my car was repaired in a timely manner, it was time to pack up and hit the road. I left around 8AM on Tuesday, noting that I would miss any major traffic on he DC beltway, which is always crowded. As I left Litchfield County and made the trip across state lines, I enjoyed the sights along the way. Some of the best sights were in New York City as I was on the Hutchinson Parkway which then led me to cross the George Washington Bridge. It’s always amazing to see such old architecture, and you don’t have to look far to find it. The bridges of the city are absolutely fascinating with all of it’s great brick arches.

Once I left the city, it was time to hit the Jersey Turnpike, and since I have the EZ-Pass, getting through the tolls was a breeze. New Jersey has never been my favorite part of the ride. It’s long, it’s daunting, and worst of all, these people have no clue how to drive. Prepare to ride the brakes. These people will fly around you without signal lights. Keeping your eye on the road is absolutely essential. There is a section of road, however, where keeping your eye on the road is hard as you peer your eyes to the sky. Newark Airport is located right next to the turnpike and planes are literally flying over you, very low too! It’s wild to see as your driving.

Once I left New Jersey and headed for Delaware, I was leaving behind the land of maniacs. Sorry, New Jersey, but your driving makes me nuts! I’m not an aggressive driver, nor will I ever become one. Delaware is relatively a lot calmer, and noting that, it was time to ease my mind from the nerve wracking Jersey part of the ride. I stopped off at the Delaware Welcome Center rest stop. What a place! This place looked, and felt, like an airport. It was complete with futuristic designs, almost like a space ship of sorts. What I didn’t know, however, was that this place was a very eco-friendly place. Everything from the designs, to the way it uses it’s water, even to the way it lights it’s building, is completely geared to ensuring that it is doing it’s part to protect the environment. I was impressed. More places should do this. We only live in one world, and it’s important that we work to protect it.

While Delaware was great, I had to pursue the rest of my travel before it reached peak traffic time in the capital district. I passed many great places, including the historic Woodrow Wilson Bridge, Delaware Memorial Bridge, and the most interesting destination, the Fort McHenry Tunnel. This tunnel is a destination that everyone should experience. The tunnel is almost completely under water in Maryland. I’m not exactly sure why they didn’t just make a bridge, but the tunnel is certainly interesting to travel in, which you’re driving in for almost five minutes! I know that doesn’t seem like a long time, but when you’re driving under water, it’s enough.

Then, as I made my way past Maryland and past the Washington, DC Beltway, I finally made it to Virginia! When you’re driving by yourself, this is a very long ride. It was great to see the welcome sign, though I knew I was still at least 2 hours from my actual destination, but once I drove through Interstate 95, and made my way past military bases, and past small cities, I finally made it to farm country. This is certainly God’s country out here. The late day sun radiated the landscape and made everything look like gold, even the lush green grass and early spring pastures. I’m glad to be here. Virginia is where most of my family lives, including my father. It’s like a second home in a sense. I’ve spent many years out here enjoying what simplicity the countryside offers, and with family, it’s even better.

Oh No, More Snow!

Whites Woods. Litchfield,CT

Like the rest of Litchfield County, I have been practically relishing in the spring weather that we have had lately. My vacation started on Friday when the temps soared into the 70’s in many locations. I was amazed to say the least. My first day of vacation and I was in heaven with the whole spring fever thing. Then, Saturday came and out went those temps just as fast as they came in. Oh well, it was still great weather to be outdoors and do some early season hiking. I headed out to Whites Woods in Litchfield on Sunday. I couldn’t have asked for a better day out. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and the folks were out and about everywhere enjoying what mother nature threw our way. I hiked along the trails that led up to the boardwalk, and once I arrived to the boardwalk, I saw just how bad our winter had been. The boardwalk was badly damaged, even falling apart in some places. I’m confident, however, that the fine folks at White Memorial will be able to work on the repairs that are needed.

As I walked along the boardwalk, I couldn’t help but love how everyone seemed to be enjoying such a great day. Many were out and about bird watching as others were hiking with their family. This was without a doubt a warm welcome spring, and I couldn’t wait to see more of this weather after the brutal winter we had.

Then, Monday hit. Temps barely got out of the 30’s as I was making my way to my health club down in Bristol and a dusting to 2″ of snow blanketed the Litchfield Hills. Well, looks like someone forgot to tell mother nature we just started celebrating the first day of spring! So much for enjoying another spring hike in Whites Woods anytime soon. Mother nature has yet again fooled us into believing it was spring. Nope, this is New England. Winter can, and will, last until mid April, and since this is the Litchfield Hills, that statement will undoubtedly hold true. Let’s just hope for our sake, however, that mother nature will cut us all a break after the winter we’ve had.

Around noon, it was still snowing as I made my way back to Torrington. I couldn’t believe my vacation was starting to look like January all over again. My assumptions are that mother nature knew I was going on vacation so she purposely called the snow gods. Well, I have news for her. I’m not sticking around. Nope. In fact, I will be driving south come Tuesday morning to spend a week with my father and the rest of my family in Virginia. Take that mother nature, I’m not getting stuck here with you and your bipolar ways. I hope, however, that she doesn’t have the same effect that she is having on New England right now. Though beautiful, I am ready for spring. I am ready for those warm summer days of R&R at Burr Pond in Torrington, and I think I can speak for the rest of Torrington when I say that. Don’t worry, those days will be here before we know it, even if we have to tackle mother nature for it like we were in a football game.

Spring into Renewal with the Torrington Downtown Partners

As the seasons start to change and spring begins to take shape, so too does a renewed sense of revival in Torrington. Many projects are set to launch around town, including the rehabilitation of the western sidewalk on Main Street, which the Torrington Development Corporation says will be similar to the enhancements on Water street. Yes, in our town, spring means there will be a lot going on, but not only from the TDC, the Torrington Downtown Partners have a lot going on as well. A few weeks ago, all of us partners cast our ballots on which awnings we would like to see on the downtown properties. I regret not making any calls on this. You see, I recently discovered that e-mail account has an incredibly sensitive spam filter. The partners e-mail had ended up in that filter, which I didn’t capture until after the voting was closed. As I reviewed the e-mail, I was impressed with the original designs that the partners have chosen, and how they wanted to keep it historically accurate. You’ll see the chosen designs soon, and you can be assured that they will make all the difference of how downtown Torrington looks.

Since becoming a parter at the press release back in the fall, I have been rather impressed what projects they have taken on and what they are doing for our community. This past week, The Register Citizen reported that a fast food franchise, Subway, would soon be making its way downtown and in one of the partners properties. Perfect! Subway is a Connecticut based company and they franchise their operations. I’m not complaining. This is a start of something good as more energy makes its way into downtown Torrington. Not only will there soon be a great place to grab a quick bite to eat as your walking around the heart of the town, but so too will be a hip new office space for the Torrington Titans as they are now located where the old Studio 59 once stood.

The partners are undoubtedly the heart of our city. Great things are happening because of their continued commitment to the fine folks of Torrington. Where once we saw a dying city that was left helpless after the manufacturing facilities left, we now see an energetic ambiance glowing from downtown Torrington as the partners, and many others like them, continue to fight for revival. I am proud to call myself a partner, and that I am doing my part to make Torrington shine ever so brightly once again for many generations to come.

Click here to learn more about the Torrington Downtown Partners

Get Groomed at the Best Barber Shop in Torrington

They say when you look good, your whole body feels good. As someone who focuses a lot on maintaining a healthy lifestyle by both eating right and engaging in a healthy session at the health club, looking great is essential to that formula, and in Torrington, there is only one place that I trust to help me with that piece of the puzzle; Groom Barber Shop. Groom has been my business of choice since I moved to Torrington. It is there where I met Dale & Mike, the experts in town who know how to give a guy the style he needs, and wants! A little off the top is a mere understatement. There is no rushed feeling here. Feel free to shoot the breeze while watching some news or sports on two of their flat screen televisions.

Since I’ll be on vacation this week, and I’ll be heading down south to see my father who moved to Virginia a little more than six months ago, I knew I had to look my very best. After all, wouldn’t you want to look great for your parents? I know I do! I paid my favorite pair of barbers a visit today and got a fresh style with Dale Becker, who I have gotten to know very well since moving to town. This kid knows his stuff and is incredibly talented, even when he’s not cutting hair. Dale is also in the midst of getting into the music business by creating new beats at his studio. I’m impressed with this guy. He has an undeniable amount of optimistic energy that keeps him doing great things, like being a great barber for example.

A visit to Groom usually lasts anywhere from 10-15 minutes, or an hour. They know, however, that slow and steady gets it right every time. Today’s visit lasted approximately 45 minutes. They pay close attention to detail and they finish off the deal with something that’s a little unusual for the Torrington area; hot lather with a straight blade cut. This is by far the best part of the cut. I look forward to it every time, not only does it feel great, but it also really helps when you want the correct style.

Groom has been in town for well over five years. They are known to offer the best service possible every time, but not only do they offer the best service, they also do a lot to give back to the community. This past summer, they gave back to the Torrington community by giving away free haircuts to school age children, just in time before they returned to classes in the fall. This was the third time they gave away free haircuts. They also gave away free cuts when they moved from their former location on Main Street, as well as when they celebrated their 5th anniversary in town.

So, the next time you’re looking to look great for that hot date, or even a night out on the town, be sure pay Groom a visit. Mark my words, you will never go wrong and you’ll get the best service guaranteed. You’ll soon be asking yourself why you have never been here before. Well, now is surely a great time to discover what you have been missing!

Groom Barber Shop LLC

78 Water Street

Torrington,CT 06790

(860) 201-5665

How You Can Help Japan

Like so many others, I have been paying close attention to the devastating events that have taken in place in Japan this past weekend. It’s heartbreaking to see so many lives lost, as well as families displaced and missing. One event after another. First, an earthquake. Next, a tsunami followed by explosions of nuclear facilities and volcanic eruptions. One has to wonder how much can one country take? The thought of something like this occurring here at home has crossed my mind numerous times this past weekend as I watched the events unfold on TV as well as across my news feeds on Facebook and Twitter. We have been very fortunate here in New England to not witness something as catastrophic as Japan, however it most certainly can, and will, happen one day in the future.

As someone who cares a great deal for communities, I can’t help but want to do my part to help those that need us right now in Japan, which is why I am donating $10 to The American Red Cross to aid in the recovery efforts of this horrible tragedy. Sure, it may only be a mere $10, however when you think of it on a larger scale, if everyone were to donate $10, it would have a significant impact. In this economy, even $10 may be hard to cough up. I feel, however, that whatever I needed that money for is not nearly as important as what the people of Japan need it for. These people need our help, and I’m most certainly not going to sit back and just watch the events unfold without doing my part. If anything were to happen locally, you can bet that I would do the same thing. In a different aspect, if anything this tragic were to happen to any of us, I’m sure all those people that we have helped will remember our giving nature and return the favor. We live in one world, and one world only. It’s vitally important that we help each other and act with selfless service, because no matter what we are going through, there is always someone else that is going through far worse.

Part of this blogs core mission is to connect the community, in more ways than one. Today, we are connecting more than the community. A new page has been adapted on the site to give readers a chance to help aid in recovery efforts overseas. The Japan Disaster Relief page will be updated frequently to give readers a wealth of information on ways to help with this devastating disaster. If you want to see a charity added, or know of anyone else that is helping aid in recovery efforts, please e-mail me at NorthwestCTMike@aol.com so they may be added to the page.

One world. That’s all we live in. It’s important to come together to help solve some of the worlds biggest problems because together, everyone achieves more.

Litchfield County Spring Flooding

As we welcome spring here in Litchfield County, we also welcome what comes with spring; Water. Yes, this past week we have seen enough water for all of us to consider building an arc and fill it two by two of just about everything. With the heavy rains, as well as the rapid snow melt, many folks around the county now have unwelcomed water front property. Luckily for me, I haven’t had much in the way of any water issues other than hearing the increased flow of the river that glides its way by house, or I should say now rushes its way past my house as it now resembles the mighty Colorado River with its grand rapids. Forget the skis, it’s time for me to invest in a kayak.

Speaking of kayaks, I knew there was one place in Litchfield County that I absolutely had to check out as it would be a pure kayakers paradise if it were permissible and that place is the Great Falls of Falls Village. As of late, the place has been well above flood stage rising between 8-12 feet. That’s a lot of water, and far more than my Olympic size swimming pool at the health club. I took the short, roughly 30 minute drive from Torrington, to discover it for myself and once I did I instantly found out why they called it the Great Falls. Hello Niagara Falls of Connecticut! Water, water, everywhere, and I do mean everywhere. Forget the kayaking, if someone were looking to go kayaking here they might as well kiss themselves goodbye. Seriously. The flow here is so rapid that it is extremely dangerous and you can instantly be carried away by its powerful force if you made even one mishap. While beautiful to look at and observe from afar, I wouldn’t suggest anyone get remotely close to the falls as it gushes downstream and through Falls Village and other Housatonic Valley towns.

Rest assured, I kept my distance. I perched myself at a hiking trail ledge that was fenced in so that you can view the falls safely, though you won’t exactly stay dry. I felt the force of the falls as I also felt like I was riding on the Lady of the Mist at Niagara, though without the rain gear.

This part of the Housatonic is all part of Connecticut Light & Powers hydroelectric plant which is located downstream. Well, CL&P, I sure hope this is enough water to cut my utility bill in half, though somehow I doubt that. The whole state could be under water and my electric bill would still be outrageous, though a guy can certainly dream. As I watched in awe of the powerful falls, something else was lurking in the woods behind me; mountain men. Yes, mountain men. You know, the guys with cigars and Raggie clothing? You would instantly know a mountain man once you saw one. You see, Falls Village, along with much of the northwest corner of our state, is part of Appalachia. In fact, a small portion of the Appalachian Trail, a 2,200 mile trail from Georgia to Maine, runs through Falls Village. With that kind of information, it’s easy to see why there would be mountain folks running around, and I’m not offending anyone. Not at all. In fact, these folks are proud of their mountain heritage.

As I stood and watched the falls, as well as the mountain men, I couldn’t help but want to strike up a conversation with them. I know, I’m crazy. I should have learned not to talk to strangers years ago. These folks, however, were incredibly friendly and knew a thing or two, not only about the area, but the falls as well. They too also warned me not to get too close, but also gave me some history of the falls and many floods that it creates in the area. You see, every spring the Great Falls becomes extremely powerful as it is right now. It’s like an annual tradition according to the men. As the snow melts from up north, as well as the surrounding area, it fills the river with an overabundance of water and makes the falls a popular tourist attraction. “It’ll subside soon. It always does.” one of the men said “but you should enjoy it while you could.”.

Well, I came, I saw, and I did enjoy. This was a sight to see. Imagine, our very own miniature version of Niagara Falls right here in northwestern Connecticut. I was impressed. Even though we are facing what seems to be the worst spring flooding we have ever seen as I will soon see fish in my backyard from a rising river, it’s certainly great to discover these great treasures that are all right here in our own backyards.

Ring in Spring Skiing with Mohawk Mountain

Everyone in Litchfield County is catching a little spring fever, including our local ski areas. This weekend, Mohawk Mountain in Cornwall will be welcoming spring by hosting March Madness on Saturday and everyone is invited to take part in the celebration. There will be something for everyone with music, food, contests, games, and prizes! Welcome to spring skiing in New England.

As a skier, it’s sad to see the season end and the warmer weather come about. With events like this, however, Mohawk certainly makes the transition to spring seem less painful for all of us who love the slopes and snow. If you plan on attending, be sure to wear your Hawaiian shirt or any other type of beachwear as you’ll get $2.00 off your lift ticket purchase. That’s right, beachwear. Ski down the slopes in style as you are rocking your bathing suit! Mohawk knows how to have a good time, and it all starts off with a Bermuda Triangle Relay Race scheduled to kick off at 11:30AM. This race requires you to dress quickly in Bermuda shorts, Hawaiian shirts, and sunglasses. After you have gotten through that escapade, riders must jump on their skis or snowboards and get to the next check point will they will hand their spring gear to their teammates as they try to beat fellow teams while being timed on the course. This is just one great event that Mohawk is offering, however. Around noon, a slew of events are scheduled to start such as a Beach BBQ on the deck and a Hawaiian shirt parade.

Be sure to stick around all day long. Not only are Hawaiian parades, BBQ’s, and races part of the entertainment, but so too is the snow castle building, Mohawk Beach Volleyball, and S’mores Saturday Beach Party.

Mohawk undoubtedly knows how to have a good time whether it is the start of the season, or the end of the season. This family friendly mountain nestled in the Litchfield Hills is just the escape you were seeking after a long week of work. As your skiing or boarding in beachwear reflecting back on the season that was, you probably can’t resist thinking about next years skiing and riding, as many of us are already thinking about!

Maple Season in New England

As the snow-covered landscape transforms to one that is packed with mud and fun, something else is transforming as well; the trees. You see, not only do the trees in our region start to blossom, they are also starting to produce a liquid, that is if you are looking at the right trees. Sugar maples in New England are very busy this time of year as they produce a sweet syrup, maple syrup, that is delivered to you and served on your pancakes for breakfast. What may seem to be such a simple process, is really quite, well, daunting.

This Saturday, I explored for myself just how this process works. I had been very interested for years in this customary New England process, and I was thrilled to find out that Flanders Nature Center in Woodbury was offering tours of their sugar house and showing off just how everything worked. When I arrived, I was introduced to a young volunteer, Amy, who guided about eight of us through the sugar house and it’s property. We started out discovering how the process had been founded and what had made it so popular. Next, we moved on to what life was like for the children back in the farming days of columnists as children would literally spend hours a day out and about carrying buckets over their shoulders worth of syrup that they had collected from the trees. Carrying buckets for hours? I don’t even think today’s kids can comprehend that as they are sitting glued to their television sets and computer screens. My, how the world has changed. These kids would literally do all this work without complaining too as they helped their families “bring home the bacon” and make a good living out of what seems to be an incredibly hard life.

After we learned about the rather daunting process of going to gather the syrup, we saw a syrup bucket in action ourselves as one was dripping a rather good amount from one of the sugar maples from the property. One person had asked a rather amusing question; “How do you know which tree is a sugar maple?”. Now, I wouldn’t know what to say to that. I don’t know trees. To me, a tree is a tree. Amy’s answer to this question, however, was rather quite amusing to us as well; “The bark” she said. The bark. Honestly? I’m looking around at hundreds if not thousands of trees and every single one of these trees look exactly the same! I couldn’t tell you which bark was which. It was an honest answer though, but we’ll just leave the bark discovering to the professionals.

Lastly, we headed back inside to the sugar house we saw this hot, steamy, boiling process. I stress the steam thing, I thought I was in a sauna. What was interesting to note, however, was just how long boiling it really took. We were told this would take a couple of days as they had to wait for it to get to the right temperature. Days? This thing is boiling like crazy and you still have to wait days as you fiddle around with a little temperature thing that bounces up and down inside the vat. Days. Okay, clearly this is not something I’ll be investing in for my backyard, but it’s great to watch!

My discovery of how maple syrup was made was nothing that I thought it would be. In fact, it was incredibly amazing! I learned a lot of great things, even the little things like there is no thing such as sugar-free maple syrup. Really? People buy those products all the time thinking that they are better for them, when in reality the stuff isn’t even real maple syrup and is diluted with all sorts of other ingredients. Sorry sugar-free fans, you aren’t getting the real deal, but that’s okay. That’s why we have all these great maple professionals here in New England to guide us to the right ones. The folks at Flanders certainly knew a lot about the business, and with the long winter that we have had, I’m glad that someone was available to entertain me about which bark was a maple tree, which I don’t think I will ever be able to tell.

For more information, visit: Flanders Nature Center & Land Trust

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