Sunday, October 11, 2015


Home Serve sells service contracts for your heat and hot water.  You may have also seen their insurance solicitation to cover your gas pipes. That’s another story.  I turned my thermostat on and the heat didn’t come up.  Pilot light on or I would have smelled gas.  I concluded that the tech who last came must have not done a perfect job when he fiddled with the thermostat.  Different Tech comes to the house.  He is not wearing any identification either pinned to him or around his neck.   I ask to see his id and he seems a bit surprised.  He has trouble taking it out from his wallet saying, “Gee, I don’t even remember the last time I took this out”.  Are you kidding?  I asked why he doesn’t wear it around his neck and he tells me that it’s too annoying.  Wait…it’s gets better.

I told him what the issue was and even brought him directly over to the thermostat on the main floor of my home.  I even commented that it was the problem.  However, his eyes see a female senior citizen who has a mobility issue and concludes that I don’t know what I’m talking about.
He goes down to the basement and I can hear him from the top of the stairs doing all sorts of stuff.  I ask what’s happening and he says something about the gas not getting to some valve or whatever.  Then he asks where the circuit breakers are.  I am able to point from the top of the stairs and tell him that one of them is tripped and has nothing to do with the furnace.  He tries it anyway as it trips right after. 
He finally comes up the stairs after not finding the problem and says, “Well, now the last thing I’ll check is the thermostat.”  He removes the cover to find that a wire is loose and that is the problem.  Really?  Should I be surprised?   Although I spoke with his “supervisor”, I intend to file an official complaint for both breach of security and rudeness. 


I chose the city of Reading, in Berks County, PA for this road trip as there appeared to be much to do. A goal of this trip was to explore the accessibility in regards to accommodations, restaurants, and attractions. I brought a rollator and one cane.

Laurie and I hit the road on an early Saturday morning with the city of Ashland as the first stop, more than half way to Reading. After a long drive, lunch was in order. Since the Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine and Steam Train topped the beginning of our itinerary, the Mine Shaft Café seemed the perfect dining spot. 

Corey Machese is the owner of this multi-room café.  Two front rooms are devoted to chomping the Americana cuisine.  There is another huge room with a long bar as well as tables and chairs.  This place looks like the neighborhood family friendly nightspot.  Bands, sports and even an event like a Murder Mystery Dinner.

Our waitress made fresh lemonade. I ordered the soup of the day: Stuffed Cabbage Soup. It was like having a deconstructed stuffed cabbage.  Needed a salad.  Then had one of their various flavored chicken wings.  I chose the sweet Thai Chili sauce, less spicy than Buffalo and still able to dip into bleu cheese with celery stalks.


I noticed a large statue as we came into town and inquired about what is called the Mother’s Memorial. Here is a bit of the history. Erected in 1938, the Mother’s Memorial is situated prominently in the town of Ashland, PA, in the anthracite coal region of Schuylkill County.  The Ashland Boys’ Association (A.B.A.), an organization of men and boys born in Ashland, raised the funds for the fabrication and erection of this monument in 1938. 

At an A.B.A. reunion in 1933, it was proposed to honor all Ashland mothers by erecting a monument or memorial.  Members felt that such a memorial would represent the very foundation of the organization, because their motto was, “Come on home” and home evoked thoughts of one’s mother.  A committee was formed in 1936 to investigate and plan the memorial.  The memorial is based upon the painting, “Whistler’s Mother” and reads, “A mother is the holiest thing alive.”

On to the Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine and Steam Train that has two tours. The train ride, "The Lokie", which is an extreme “rickety” ride along the side of the mountain stops at 2 points. At one point, you stay in the car and the operator gets out and talks about the history of the town of Ashland giving a good view. At the 2nd stop, everyone can get off and take pictures of the surrounding mountains and hear more about the history of the area including the mining industry and about the still burning mine fire under the Centralia Mountain. You can see it from this spot. Boarding the non-accessible train was not easy with the high step and not good for someone with back problems.
The tunnel portion is a ride down into an actual mine that was used back in the early 1900's.  There was only enough time for the one tour.

We then traveled from Ashland to the town of Barto where we checked into the Landhaven Bed and Breakfast, located at 1194 Huffs Church Rd and owned by Donna and Ed Land. 

The building was formerly an 1870s general store.  You can see some of the history in “the event room”.  The first floor has the kitchen, dining room, “gathering room” and one bedroom. I was given one that had a roll in shower and shower bench.  This is very unusual for a BandB.  There are 4 rooms on the second floor and the living quarters on the third floor with an extra bedroom and private bath if necessary. 

Friday night called for entertainment. It was a country-rock-bluegrass sort of local group called Frog Holler. The room was packed with what appeared to be mostly followers of the band.  We all loved the music.  Some of the women in the audience couldn’t help but get up and dance.  Concerts tend to be on both Friday and Saturday evenings with a BYOB.  

We saw a group called Frog Holler. Americana...rock with a hint of bluegrass.  Audience consisted of mostly followers of the band.  Some were getting up and dancing.  Many seemed to know the words to the songs as well.  They put out a few CDs.  

The pillows on the bed were like the best ever!  Would have slept longer if it weren’t for a full day of featured fun to look forward to. Breakfast was a deconstructed blintz.  Bake casserole with the cheese filling.  Then you get to scoop on fresh cooked apple pieces, nuts and a vanilla sour cream.  Donna and Ed maintain an extremely friendly atmosphere. 

Headed for Reading for dinner at Judy’s on Cherry Street. Oy! Did not know that the restaurant was non-accessible and had to climb a flight of stairs.  It was worth it. Although the restaurant looks casual, there were many people dressed up for a Saturday night on the town.  Think of it as “fine dining”.  Judy has an open kitchen in the middle of one of the rooms. If you choose to, you can sit there.  Big oven (and staff) takes up much of the space while owner and executive chef Judy Henry cooks up a storm at the stove top area. 

Bill of fare features a Mediterranean-inspired cuisine. Focaccia bread is brought to the table. They are in triangular shapes with herbs baked in. 

Appetizers: Roasted Italian Sweet Peppers, fresh figs and prosciutto; Butternut Squash Soup with Crab and Curry. Forgot to ask about cumin content. Otherwise, it was delish. The Casuela Roast of Diver Scallops sat in a pool of caramelized onions all cooked with sherry, vinegar and butter.  I was oh so tempted to eat the onions but realized that they may not like me later on. It came with whipped potatoes and a green vegetable.  Duck Sausage with blueberry chutney and butter grilled corned bread with crispy fried onions and roasted corn.

For dessert (I saved a bit of room) there was a gluten-free chocolate cake. She uses Wilbur chocolate, a company located in Lititz, Pa.  They are not closed but no longer give tours. 

Judy owns another restaurant just around the corner called Speckled Hen, a cottage pub and alehouse. There’s local live music on Friday evenings at this authentically restored 18th century log house modeled after the country cottage pubs of the British Isles. You can opt to go here if you cannot do stairs.  They have their own menu as well as being able to get food from Judy’s on Cherry’s menu. 

We stopped at the National Centre for Padre Pio , located at 111 Barto Road. Situated at the high point of 106 acres, it features the Our Lady of Grace Chapel, The Padre Pio Spirituality Centre and the Museum and Cultural Centre in a setting reminiscent of the mountainous terrain of San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy. For over thirty years the Centre has labored unceasingly in spreading and promoting the life, virtues and teachings of Padre Pio.

The Saint Pio of Pietrelcina Museum will transport visitors to an inside glimpse of the life of Padre Pio, the Italian friar who was canonized a saint in June, 2002. The 21,000 square foot facility contains replicas of seven different buildings in Italy representing significant phases in the life of Saint Pio. The museum contains the greatest display of personal belongings of Saint Pio outside of Italy. Visitors will be able to view the replica rooms through a protective glass wall. In addition, a replica of Saint Pio's crypt is crafted from marble and features an altar area.

The following day we checked into Homewood Suites located at 2801 Papermill Road in Wyomissing, just outside of Reading.  It’s a shop till you drop area. All of the rooms are suites with a separate living area, fully equipped kitchen and dining area. A hot breakfast and during the week “social” is included.

They had rooms with a roll in shower.  The bench was attached to the wall for me to pull down. Although there was a shower curtain, the stall was larger enough to need one.  Laurie had a non-accessible room and said that her room was the same huge size.  There are rolling racks for you to use in order to transport your luggage. However, when asking for assistance, a staff member was quite helpful.  

Being just on the outskirts of Reading, the location allowed for less than half an hour’s drive to all of the attractions and restaurants that we took in.  

It is wide-known that you should remove the top cover of the bed immediately upon entering your room as they are usually thrown to the floor and not washed when the rooms are cleaned.  The covers in Hilton Hotels are not the kind that match the curtains.  All of the bedding is stripped and washed.  I am also told that Hilton Hotels are known for providing rooms with not just a roll-in shower, but a shower bench as well. 
Steel River Playhouse in Pottstown was having a performance of Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.  I had seen the original show in Greenwich Village as well as two revivals.  Directors are allowed to take liberties including adding or taking out some songs that were not in the original show that featured 26 songs composed by Jacques Brel.  Laurie had never seen a performance and fully enjoyed it.  I did not.  The director chose to create a plot and some of the songs just got lost in the translation, so to speak.  Interesting to note that some bars of Marieke always sung in Flemish, were copped out on. Oh well.

Btw, the talented performers themselves did a great job. 
There are two theatres located at the Playhouse.  The performance that I saw was at their smaller theatre.  Looks as if the larger one will be taking on a former Broadway show. It should be quite funny.

I wanted to take in an authentic Italian restaurant and Anthony’s Trattoria was the perfect spot. 

Bill Salvatore is the owner/chef and uses the finest Italian products.  We began with freshly shucked oysters from Rhode Island and a Caesar Salad with a housemade dressing. 

This was followed by Florida Key Shrimp, heads still on, cooked in a spicy sauce.  Bread board came out with prosciutto, two Italian cheeses and fresh figs.  Many of their pastas are made on the premises.  We had Tajarin al Granchio, an egg pasta with lump crab meat and garden fresh cherry tomatoes white wine and a hint of chili topped with grated tuna roe.  In fact, there is a garden on the premises. 

Italians have their own version of stuffed cabbage called Involtini di Verza.  Fresh savoy cabbage rollups stuffed with ground beef, pork, Parmigiano and ricotta cheese slow cooked in a garden fresh tomato sauce.  Next came Risotto with spicy sausage and wild mushroom ragu which was followed with pan seared filet mignon in a black pepper cream sauce.  I was stuffed more than the cabbage!

Two desserts were chosen: Chocolate Cake and freshly made cannoli (They even make the shells).   

The restaurant is located at 900 Byram Street in Reading.  (610) 370-2822

Take2Aplacas was the first destination Monday morning. I just love alpacas.  The farm is located at 298 Beech Rd. in the town of Mohnton.  Jo Griffith and her husband Len Smith are the owners. 

Like many owners of alpaca farms raising these adorable animals comes about when one needs to make a change in your mental and emotional hectic life.  Not that an alpaca farm is an easy task, but this family has certainly found it to be rewarding.  There are less than 20 alpacas and mostly female. The two sexes’ roaming areas are kept away from each other and it’s most common to visit the females.  Not like turkeys that may come up to you to peck, they are used to seeing humans and my experience has been that only certain alpacas will come right up to you whether you are feeding them or not.  Don’t be alarmed if they come right up to your face.  It does look like they want to kiss you. They are just smelling you to sense that you are a human being.  

At this particular time of year, they had their wool and oh, so soft.  I love petting the alpacas.  They get sheared once a year around April. The wool is softer then sheep’s wool, which have these little prickly characteristics that tend to make you itch. Alpacas do not. The wool is dyed and made into yarn, which is then made into skeins.  Jo does mostly knitting, especially the hats.  Len, a retired videographer, has learned the art of weaving.  He has passed the art to his autistic son Ryan providing him with the pattern.  Ryan can knock out a 7 foot scarf in one day.  

I bought a scarf, a pair of gloves and a pair of socks that won’t cut off the circulation to my poor, now elderly legs.  There is a small amount of material to allow the sock to stay up on my leg.

Our schedule allowed for a side trip to the Pagoda. The city’s oldest landmark, a seven story, Pagoda, is situated atop Mount Penn.  Commissioned by William A. Witman, Sr., it was completed in 1908 for $50,000. The red brick and 60-tons of terra cotta tile Shogun Dynasty castle is 28-ft. wide, 50-ft. long and 72-ft. high. Witman’s original plan to create a luxury resort that incorporated the structure fell through and in 1910 the 10–acre property passed to Jonathon and Julia Mould who sold the Pagoda to the city for $1 a year later. Although there is one handicapped parking space, the Pagoda is not accessible.

Tours of the building are by donation and visitors climb the 87-step oak staircase to the observation area at the top. On one level there is a small museum with artifacts and memorabilia. On the top-level, 360-degree windows provide a view of Philadelphia’s skyscrapers weather permitting. A Japanese bell, cast in Obata in 1739, is in the center of the room.  Of special note is a Japanese temple gateway located at the entrance to the Pagoda. Annually on December 24th the Pagoda’s lights flash to indicate to the children of Reading that Santa is on his way.

Goggleworks was next on the list. Located at 201 Washington Street in Reading, it is a unique cultural institution located in the 1871 Willson Safety Goggle factory, the first factory to produce optical glass in the world. They are credited with starting the workplace safety industry. The company continually expanded and refined their line until the plant closed in 2002. The building was adapted for reuse and opened 3-years later as the GoogleWorks Center for the Arts. In 2006 it was awarded the PA Historic Preservation Award.

The 145,000-sq. ft. complex consists of six buildings with the five story main building featuring 34 working artists’ studios, classrooms, a 131-seat film theater and café. A museum on the third floor relates the history of the former factory through photographs and artifacts. The first floor gift shop showcases more than 240 regional consigners. On some days and times that it's a hit or miss when people are working at their passions.  I had the pleasure of speaking with some of the artists that were working in their studio. 

Painters and a photographer. There is a small café on the first floor; main building handicapped accessible having an elevator as well.  Laurie was checking out the studios located outside of the main building.

Since it was social night at Homewood, we had a large nosh.  Broccoli and Cheddar soup and lots of salad. They were also having 10 cent beers.  I did not indulge as I needed the sobriety for our next venture, Albright College Center of the Arts in downtown Reading.

The Kinsey Sicks, billed as America’s favorite Dragapella Beauty Shop Quartet. Group consists of Winnie, Rachel, Trixie and Trampolina. It’s always a somewhat raunchy performance of song parodies.  The hilarious show took place in the Memorial Chapel and free of charge.  Their hometown is in San Francisco touring all over the United States since 1994. 

Having only brought my cane and parking a bit of the way from the chapel, some security people offered to take me in a cart of sorts.  I had to later meet with a staff member to take me to an art exhibit, which needed to be open in order for me to view it.  Clare Brill, an artist from Sunnyside, Queens, was having a reception in a few days but I wanted to get photos of the exhibit prior to interviewing her.

The final day brought us to the Reading Public Museum.  It consists of three sites: the museum, arboretum and planetarium.  Wheelchairs are available in the lobby as there are many rooms to explore at the museum.

I was most interested in viewing three particular exhibits.  Art in the Making follows works created by teachers and students of three New York City art institutions along with their counter parts from noteable Pennsylvania and Washington D.C. schools of arts.

The Funnies: Vintage Comic Strips 1940s to 1960s.  Newspaper comic strips by artists Milton Caniff, Charles Schulz, Chester Gould, Mort Walker, Lee Falk, and Chic Young take center stage in this memorable exhibition of more than 90 works, nearly all drawn from The Museum's stellar collection.

The exhibition features classic strips including Archie, Blondie, Beetle Bailey, Ferd’nand, Nancy, Peanuts, Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, and Yogi Bear. Also, action packed comic strips like Steve Canyon, Terry and the Pirates, Dick Tracy, Mandrake the Magician, Tarzan, Lone Ranger, The Phantom, Dr. Kildare, and Brenda Star, among others.  Not enough time to read all the walls as there was much more to view.

One exhibit at the Reading Public Museum, sponsored by Ciao Philadelphia was Italian Futurism.  Drawn from the collection of Steve and Carol Acunto, this exhibition includes more than 30 works by leading Italian Futurists including Giacomo Balla, Alberto Bragaglia, Roberto Crippa, Giulio d'Anna, Gerardo Dottori, Pippo Rizzo, and Lucio Venna, among others.

The colorful display features artists from the first (1908-1919) and second (1920s-1930s) waves of Italian Futurism, a dynamic artistic and social movement that glorified the energy and speed of modern life. The vibrant hues and striking imagery of the artwork truly express the Futurist interest in depicting energy and motion.
These artists were advocates of modern marvels like locomotives, automobiles, and airplanes; and heralded the death of museums and libraries as outmoded institutions of culture in their paintings, drawings, performances, and poetry. According to Mr. Acunto, who serves as Honorary Vice Consul for Italy in New York, the Futurists represent an important advance in the embracement of the modern, industrial, and urbanized world in Italy before, during, and after WWI.

Since I was getting assistance from one of the staff, he took the opportunity of showing off the rest of the rooms.  These exhibits included: Be the Dinosaur: Life in the Cretaceous; Bill Barrett: Inquire Within; and Images of the Divine.

We were then able to hop into a golf cart type vehicle and taken around the arboretum, which is free to the public.  

It was on this last day that we finally got to meet with Lisa Haggerty from the tourism office, joining her for lunch at Say Cheese, located at 600 Penn Avenue in West Reading.  Love the place.  Front area has tables with window and street view. Middle area is there market place with cheeses, meats, etc.  We sat near the back as we parked near that entrance.  

I had Frickles. House cured pickles coated and fried. Fried cheese curds and calamari fries.  Had to have…of course, some mac and cheese using gruyere, asiago, mascarpone and cheddar.  Cheesecake was a must for dessert. All was delish and Lisa was great!!

Reading has been getting on the LBGT map.  Philly was first, followed by Lancaster and now nearby Reading. The reason is that the state of Pennsylvania does not have laws discriminating against LBGT. Tourism offices from several areas want to make sure that the LBGT community is welcome. There are a number of places in the Reading area that joined this promotional group, each now displaying a rainbow sticker.  You can go to their website of and see the list that includes: Take2Alpacas, Landhaven, Homewood Suites, and Judy’s on Cherry.

I had contemplated on going to a pretzel factory but it appeared that many of them were making hard pretzels and not my thing. We found a Philadelphia Pretzel Factory franchise and headed there.  Soft pretzels rolls into figure eights then prepares five in row.  We watched the preparation and tasted a pretzel.  OMG there is a sign that said, “15 pretzels for $5”.  We found another franchise in the area as we set out on our way home. I bought 15 for me and 15 for my neighbor who had been taking care of my cats.  Slice across, put butter mild cheddar cheese and prepare a grilled cheese sandwich.  Ronnybrook farms has a Cinnamon Toast butter that contains some sugar and salt.  I’m going to attempt a philly cheesesteak sandwich.  The pretzel breaks apart in areas so that you can have bite sized pieces. Since they are franchised not all locations have the same sales or promotions.  Looks like the nearest location is about 17 miles from me and out on Long Island.