Fun Times in Liverpool, NY

With today’s official start to summer, I am changing my format slightly to accommodate the (hopefully, eventually….) nicer weather and sunnier skies that we can expect (fingers crossed) in beautiful upstate New York. I don’t want to focus exclusively on businesses for this season, so I plan to include parks and places that people of all ages can enjoy (and often with their four-footed friends). I’ll also focus on a few locations within a specific town in order to give some suggestions for a full day of fun. If that sounds good to you, check in with this blog on Fridays this summer. And now for my first summer post, “Fun Times in Liverpool, NY.”

The Village of Liverpool, NY, is located along the shore of Onondaga Lake, which may have been heavily polluted in the past, but has been cleaned up so well that Onondaga County is in talks about putting in a beach for swimming. That’s pretty wonderful news, and I look forward to that. But for now, there are a ton of options available to enjoy the lake and adjacent park, and there is truly something for people of all ages and abilities. Although most locals are aware of it, people from farther out may not know there is a multi-use paved trail for walking, roller blading, and bicycling that extends around the lake for 7.5 miles in each direction. Bring your dog, they are certainly welcome! There are several locations from which you can join the trail, but if you want to rent bikes (including multi-person bikes and cycle buggies), the entrance by Onondaga Lake Parkway is your best bet.

That entrance is also home to the Griffin Visitor Center, from which you can borrow equipment for bocce ball, shuffleboard and sand volleyball. There is usually an ice cream truck nearby on weekends.

From that same entrance, you can hop on board the free tram all summer, which is a nice ride and ideal for people who don’t have the ability or desire to enjoy the multi-use trail in other ways. There is also a skate park and the Wegmans playground at that location. Further up the lake at Willow Bay, there are picnic shelters with grills available and another playground, as well as a location to rent kayaks and paddleboards.

If you drive a little further up to Long Branch, there is the Wegmans Good Dog Park, and often there are festivals going on during summer weekends.

If you have your own boat, check out the Boat Launch and Marina’s website here. If you travel up to Long Branch Park on July 23rd, you can sail on a dinner cruise on Onondaga Lake sponsored by the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce at this link here.

To get out of the sun for a little while, or on a rainy day, check out the Salt Museum, which is inside of Onondaga Lake Park and details the history of salt in Central New York and its importance to Onondaga Lake and Syracuse in particular. Just down Onondaga Lake Parkway, you’ll find the Skä•noñh – Great Law of Peace Center, a Haudenosaunee Heritage Center that is open from 11 – 4 on weekends, and from 10 – 4 during the week.

After all of this activity, you’ll find yourself hungry or thirsty. There are multiple restaurant options nearby, and it really depends on your tastes. If you want ice cream, there are plenty of options available. I’ve sampled a few and for convenience and quality, I would most recommend either Heid’s or JT’s Creamery and Cafe, though there are several good options to choose from in the area. For coffee or a quick snack, definitely check out Freedom of Espresso or the Cafe at 407. Although both places have great drinks and snacks, I’d like to highlight that the Cafe at 407 supports the work of Ophelia’s Place, which is “a nonprofit dedicated to changing the culture and conversation around eating disorders, body image and body dissatisfaction.” Read more on Cafe 407’s Our Story website.

After a long day, you may not have energy, but the Minor League team Syracuse Mets play just a short drive down the road at NBT Bank Stadium, and they often have specials and fireworks on weekends. Lots of people are excited to hear that Tim Tebow (the NFL star) is a member of the team, but the rest of the team is worth cheering for as well. Most nights, it’s easy enough to buy walk up tickets, but you can also purchase in advance at this link.

If you decide to go, have fun on your day in Liverpool! I’ll be heading to Lake George in a couple of weeks and plan to do a post on that area, we well as one related to Old Forge. Stay tuned and check in every week!

Side Hill Farmers, Manlius, NY

Owners: Side Hill Farmers Cooperative

Address: 315 Fayette Street, Manlius, NY (in the Sno-Top plaza)

Phone: 315-682-MEAT


It’s a little surprising that I haven’t written up Side Hill Farmers yet since I shop there so frequently, but I regularly mention the store to people I meet, and not everyone knows the store is there since it’s a little bit back from the road in a busy shopping plaza. So it’s time to give them a little shout out! It may not be a great place for vegans, but even vegetarians should definitely read on.

Side Hill Farmers’ slogan (taken from their brochures) is “meat, produce, dairy and prepared foods all locally sourced from Madison County and Central NY.” The store has a great reputation as a butcher shop, but it’s much more than that. This is the place where I buy pasture-raised eggs for what I have found to be the best in-store price locally (for a definition and argument in favor of pasture-raised eggs from Certified Humane, click here). The taste is absolutely better than other eggs, and they are usually larger than the “large” eggs at the grocery store. They also sell duck eggs, which I haven’t seen available anywhere else.

If nothing else, Side Hill is worth a visit for a quick lunch of soup or their sandwich of the day, which is always freshly made and very good. Many of their staff have culinary training and it shows in the quality of the prepared food products they sell. Typically, one would find pot pies, mac and cheese, meatloaf or another meal that’s easy to heat and serve for a night when you don’t have time to cook.

Side Hill carries a nice selection of dairy products, including cheese, butter, and yogurt. They sell Ithaca Cold-Crafted hummus, as well as pickled items and fresh vegetables (selection changes depending on availability) and locally made maple products, coffee, honey, jams/jellies, bread, cookies, and soap/lotions. Their freshly made bone broth is sold frozen and is far superior in taste and quality to the packaged or canned soup stock for sale elsewhere.

The most obvious item for sale at Side Hill is their meat. We have bought steak, ground beef, chicken, deli turkey, and sausage from Side Hill, and have found every item to be of excellent quality. Their meats are antibiotic and hormone free, and all humanely-raised. This is not usually the place to buy fresh meat for a bargain (unless they need to clear something out), but in comparison with grocery stores, their pricing for similar quality meat is comparable and often better. For savings and convenience, you can order a Butchers’ Box through their website, which is a 15-pound package of meat that has been flash frozen. Several options are available.

The customer service here is friendly and helpful, never rude. When I have had questions about the ingredients of their daily soups (due to allergies and dietary restrictions), they have happily answered my questions. The Manlius store opened in 2013, and we are lucky to have them. Their website describes their plans to expand production locally, so check out their website and then visit the store.

Sycamore Hill Gardens

IMPORTANT NOTE: This property is only open occasionally, and Mother’s Day is one of those days. Don’t show up without first checking their website for public events!

Owners: George and Karen Hanford (private home)

Address: 2130 Old Seneca Turnpike, Marcellus, NY


If you’re looking for a place to enjoy the gorgeous weather on Mother’s Day, don’t miss your opportunity to visit this local treasure. It only opens to the public a few times each year for fundraising events for local non-profits. Mother’s Day is one of those special days.

This Sunday (May 12) from 11 am – 4 pm, Sycamore Hill Gardens will be hosting its annual fundraiser for Baltimore Woods Nature Center. Adults are $12 this year (unless you bought tickets in advance at a discount), but children 8 and under are free. All of the money collected goes to support Baltimore Woods.

Sycamore Hill Gardens is the private home of George and Karen Hanford. Their property has an interesting history you can read about in greater detail on their website. In short, the Hanfords took a large dairy farm and set to work converting 40 acres of the land into a gardening masterpiece. The rest of the nearly 300 acres is now wildlife habitat and a large conservation area.

The area open for visiting this Sunday is one my family has visited several times. There is a fun hedge maze with a statue at the center (hint: it’s a character from Greek mythology), a Koi pond with stepping stones and a fountain, formal gardens, wooded areas, and a section with a musical touch, among other surprises. Each time we have gone, the flowers had bloomed early enough that we were told we could choose three flowers each to bring home with us, which was a nice surprise. You could easily spend a few hours here and find plenty of natural entertainment.

Parking is across the street and free. There are restrooms available (in the past it’s been port-a-potties), and they usually have some sort of food for sale. I would still recommend you bring water with you because the property is enormous and sunny (if we’re lucky). Don’t miss your chance to check out this local gem this year!

Edward Joy Electric, Syracuse, NY

Address: 905 Canal Street, Syracuse, NY AND 800 Valley Plaza, Johnson City, NY

Phone: 315-474-3361 (Syracuse) OR 607-203-2200 (Johnson City)


If you grew up in Central New York, chances are you already know about Edward Joy Electric. After all, the company has been locally owned and operated since 1875! (To save you the math, that’s 144 years.) In 2015, Edward Joy was honored as CenterState CEO’s Economic Champion. So this post is aimed at those of you who, like me, were not born and raised here and have to find the local secrets for yourselves.

At Edward Joy, you will find higher quality lighting (and a much wider selection) than you do at one of the big home repair stores. Their showroom is enormous and has tons of options for all budgets and preferences. They have indoor and outdoor lighting (including ceiling fans) for all areas of the house, as well as commercial lighting.

We have updated several lighting fixtures in our home with items from Edward Joy, including a dining room chandelier and bathroom fixtures. This month, we needed to replace our outdoor lights because our son broke one with his basketball (oops!) and it was the perfect excuse to finally ditch the lights I have hated since we bought the house. While we were at it, we finally decided to update the ceiling fans in the kids’ bedrooms and our guest room. The choice seemed overwhelming at first because they have so many options, but with the help of Edward Joy’s staff, the decision was made much faster than I expected.

What’s also nice is that with Edward Joy you have the option to buy the light bulbs you need right then and there. They tell you exactly which bulbs they recommend and give you options for cheaper bulbs if they have them. The staff are all really knowledgeable about the products they sell. If they don’t know the answer to your question, they will find someone in the store who does. I have a great deal of confidence that they are giving me legitimate information and not just guessing. In addition, they guarantee to beat any advertised price.

As mentioned in a previous post, my favorite place for antique lighting or lighting repair would be Robbin’s Rarities in Manlius, but Edward Joy is definitely my go-to spot for modern lighting fixtures. They have ALL range of prices, so whether you’re looking for unique or luxury lighting, or if you want something functional that won’t break the bank, you will find it here.

Edward Joy is right off of the Teall Avenue exit of I-690 in Syracuse, so it’s very easy to reach. (Since I live closer to Syracuse, I have never visited the Johnson City location.) Hopefully nobody else has to rush out to replace a light broken by a basketball (or baseball or soccer ball…), but whatever type of lighting you’re seeking, Edward Joy will be able to help.

The Cat’s Pajamas, Ithaca, NY

Address: Dewitt Mall, 99 East Seneca Street, Ithaca, NY

Phone: (607) 272-5582


Social Media: Facebook, Instagram

There is something magical about walking into a store as a child and feeling surrounded by toys. That experience is sadly becoming far less common for the kids of today. First, Toys ‘R’ Us threatened to put small toy stores out of business, and then Toys ‘R’ Us went out of business last year. Big box stores, Barnes & Noble, and online stores are the most common places to find toys now, but small toy stores definitely still exist. They will only continue to thrive if people actually buy things from them, though! And shopping online or at a big box store simply does not provide the same experience for a child as being in a dedicated toy store. A haven of toys such as this exists in downtown Ithaca, and it’s called The Cat’s Pajamas.

The cozy Dewitt Mall is best known as the home of the world famous Moosewood Cafe & Restaurant, which my husband and I make a point of visiting every time we are in Ithaca. Moosewood itself is clearly a local treasure, but so far I have not decided to review restaurants on this blog. There are several other fantastic stores in the Dewitt Mall in addition to Moosewood and The Cat’s Pajamas, so even if you’re not in the market for toys or lunch/dinner, it’s worth visiting.

But back to the toys. This store is heaven for those who love Melissa & Doug. My kids have outgrown most of the toys we have from Melissa & Doug, but they are hesitant to part with them. In particular, their wooden puzzles hold a special place of affection for both kids. We bought most of them from the small toy store that went out of business in our town about four years ago. For a small store, the selection of Melissa & Doug products at The Cat’s Pajamas is vast, and there is something for any child there.

The Cat’s Pajamas has dress up clothes, dolls and stuffed animals, Folkmanis puppets, games, and several clothing items as well. And let’s not forget about their wall of sticker rolls behind the register. In my experience, kids never get tired of stickers, and seeing a wall full of sticker rolls is a real treat for any kid.

There are many great reasons to head to the Ithaca for the day, and add The Cat’s Pajamas to that list. Stop in to Moosewood for dessert afterwards – you won’t be disappointed!

Dutch Hill Maple Farm, Tully, NY

Owners: Nathan and Cristy Williams

Address: 1435 Dutch Hill Road, Tully, NY

Contact: 315-657-8116 or


Social Media: Instagram, Facebook

It’s maple syrup season in Central New York, and my family loves all things maple. In particular, my daughter fell in love with Dutch Hill Maple Cream after we purchased some at Destiny over the winter. She likes it better than maple syrup, which is too liquidy for her tastes. However, I couldn’t find maple cream anywhere else. Finally, I just looked at the jar and contacted Dutch Hill Maple Farm, and they wrote a very nice email back to me that suggested we come to one of their Maple Weekends (March 23 – 24 and March 30 – 31). On the last day, we made it, and it was definitely worth the ride!

If you are about to stop reading because you don’t have time to head to Tully, or because you live too far away, please check out Dutch Hill Maple’s online shop here. You can pick up your item at a later time for free, or you can choose to have it shipped by priority mail. If you live far away, or if you’re buying several items, shipping would make sense.

However, if you can find the time to ride to Tully, I strongly recommend a visit when they are boiling the syrup, if possible. The boiler is modern and the whole process looks quite beautiful – you can peek through the window on the boiler to see the sap boiling down to syrup, or look up to marvel at the massive quantity of steam billowing up through the ceiling. Since Maple Weekends are now over, email the owners to see if it’s still possible to have a tour. Other upcoming events are listed on their website.

We participated in a fascinating tour with Kristina from the Cornell Cooperative Extension, who explained that Dutch Hill Maple has upgraded its technology in the last few years to increase the efficiency of the syrup-making process. She took us up into the woods to see the complex system of tubes and vacuums that bring the sap down the hill, and we were able to see all of the steps to production. It’s amazing how much sap (and work!) goes into making just one gallon of maple syrup. The process is summarized on their website here, but it’s much more exciting to see it in person.

A few years ago, I took a tour I would also highly recommend at Beaver Lake Nature Center that described the basic process of making maple syrup using taps and buckets and boiling by wood stove over many days. I also have a friend in Fayetteville who used to make his own maple syrup in his back yard, and his process was highly labor intensive. I have also visited bigger maple syrup producers who gave a nice tour, but I found Dutch Hill’s tour to be more intimate, with highly modern equipment that made this tour stand out to me. It’s clear that farms like Dutch Hill are at the cutting edge in maple syrup making, and it was an interesting contrast from what I had seen in the past.

But their modern technologies only matter if the taste makes it worth it, and my family (and our friends who joined us) can attest that their product is fantastic. Don’t just trust our judgment – there is an entire shelf on the back wall featuring the awards they have earned, and these awards are outlined on their About DHM webpage, which is definitely worth reading. It’s a nice story of a family farm that started very small and is continuing on with a new generation.

Robbin’s Rarities, Manlius, NY

Address: 109 Wesley Street, Manlius, NY

Phone: 315-682-6071


Social Media: Facebook

Robbin’s Rarities is a truly unique gem across the street from the Manlius Post Office, which is just off the main strip in the Village of Manlius. (Make a left off of Route 92 East at the Burger King, and make the first left on Wesley Street.) This is the kind of store that I hope stays around forever, because I don’t know of a nearby business that provides the same type of service. They have a wide variety of lighting fixtures on display, but there is far more to this business than just product sales.

Repair and reconstruction is one crucial part of their business. If you have a lamp that you truly love – modern or antique – but it’s stopped working, they will likely be able to repair it for you. Let me tell you a quick story about my personal experience here. Years ago, I inherited my grandparents’ antique Tiffany-style ceiling light. While growing up, this lamp was one of my favorite parts of their house, and I couldn’t wait to hang it in our new home. We had it installed by an electrician, and it successfully lit our kitchen table for several years. But one evening after dinner, it made a loud popping noise, sparked, and died. Changing the light bulb didn’t work. Devastated, I called the electrician, who recommended that I take it to Robbin’s Rarities.

I had popped into the store a couple of times and admired their lamps on display, but I had not been fully aware of their unique ability to repair just about any lighting fixture. A few weeks after leaving it in their hands, Robbin’s successfully returned my ceiling light to me, fully repaired, and it happily hangs over my kitchen table to this day. They also restore and refinish metal parts, so the metal portion of the lamp looked better than ever.

My grandparents’ Tiffany-style lamp, successfully repaired by Robbin’s Rarities

Probably the coolest service Robbin’s offers is custom-built lighting. If you make an appointment and bring in an item that you would like to see turned into a lamp, their craftsmen will work with you to create a one-of-a-kind lighting fixture. This is not a service you will find at a giant hardware store.

Robbin’s Rarities is also a good place to go for a new lamp shade. It’s hard to find quality lamp shades that are interesting and properly fit a lamp, and they do wear out over time as well. If you bring your lamp in, they will help you find the right one, and their website advertises a 10% discount for doing so. It’s a lot more affordable to replace the shade of a working lamp than to buy a new one, and a new shade will help spruce up the room and make it look like new.

If you’re going through spring cleaning in the next few weeks, keep Robbin’s in mind for those spots of the house that needed better lighting this winter, or for those lampshades that need replacement. If nothing else, it’s an enjoyable visit to see the unique lighting fixtures on display.