Saturday, December 25, 2010


The girls and I celebrated one of our best Christmas holidays ever this year, but at the same time I find myself reminiscing on another season when the greatest present came a little bit early.

It was a gift that will stay with me forever.

It was on the afternoon of Dec. 8, 2002, and it started during a visit to my parents' house in Sherrill, N.Y. It certainly didn't initially seem like the makings of a memorable occasion, since everything began with a call from the nursing home where my grandmother Irma Ess was a resident. The caller told my mom that Grandma had fallen, but everything was fine; he just wanted the family to know what had happened.

Something told me to make a trip out there anyways. I dropped the girls at their mother's house on the way, and took a drive out to nearby Rome, N.Y. to see her.

(That's me with my Grandma Ess way back in 1964!)

Like most of my visits to the Rome Nursing Home, the first order of business was finding Grandma -- she was always on the move! Rarely in her own room, she didn't lack for exercise at the home since she was an avid walker always traveling up and down the hallways at a hurried pace.

I visited her at least once a week, so I was used to spending the first 10 or 15 minutes on the prowl looking for her.  I always got the feeling she was trying to find a way out of there. Sometimes I'd even have to enlist the help of one of the nursing home staff, and they would chuckle that Grandma was on the loose again. A couple of times we even found her asleep in someone else's bed.

Once I located her, I joined in the walk as we covered the entire length of all hallways several times. I was always amazed at her energy -- she never needed to stop for a break as we walked for upwards of an hour through the building. Hey, when I'm 90 years old I hope I'm that spry.

(Grandma and I play in the snow in January, 1965)

When we finally retreated to her room, we sat down to watch TV. It was the holiday season, so I expected there would be something festive for us to see and wasn't disappointed when we found "A Charlie Brown Christmas." The 1965 animated classic was always a family favorite when I was a kid and it brought back many fond memories of visiting with Grandma and my Grandpa Harley Ess at their Oakfield, N.Y. home as a youngster.

There were so many fun Christmases there; I can still picture their tree in the corner of the living room and all of the lights that adorned the porch overlooking Oak Street. Family traditions like the sharing of Grab Bag gifts -- usually the more outlandish the better -- were born on the Ess side of the family and to this day live on in our family to delight a new generation.

Regardless of if we celebrated with Grandma and Grandpa on the actual Dec. 25 date or not, our Christmas night and early morning was always a thrill for me. Whether we were at their house or if they came to visit us in Sherrill, I would rarely sleep and was always the first one up knowing Grandma and Grandpa would have gotten me everything I asked for from them. My sisters and I were always seriously spoiled, especially by Grandma, and I remember when we were little we always begged her for money. She always delivered. And whenever they drove in or we arrived at their house we always ran to her yelling "Grandma!" while totally ignoring poor Grandpa, although he never seemed to mind.

(Grandma and Grandpa Ess join me in celebrating my wedding in 1992.)

We sat watching the show and holding hands. When it was over we hugged and kissed, I told her I loved her and would be back soon, and drove home.

The early morning call Monday really didn't surprise me that much, as my mom told me Grandma passed away in the night.

I will always cherish that evening. It was a Christmas gift that keeps on giving, as today, eight years later, hearing any of the songs from the Charlie Brown show immediately bring back the memories of that last night with my Grandma. I am taken back to a simpler time of our visits to Grandma's house -- making colorful Christmas decorations with her, eating our big family holiday dinners often joined by our other relatives, sharing presents, and all the time feeling my Grandparents' love.

In the spirit of the holiday and celebration of Jesus' birth, I think there was something happening that Sunday that goes beyond earth-bound explanation. I felt a compelling urge to be with my Grandma on that day, even after the caller from the nursing home said everything was fine.

Maybe it was because I was the oldest grandchild; some family members have even said I was her favorite. I just know I feel honored and blessed to have been the last member of the family to be with Grandma and to have shared those last hours in the loving way we did.

To me, that was the greatest Christmas present ever.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Imagine Fritz Scherz thanking ME for attending his party and having a great time today.

I suppose it's true there was a certain amount of work done on my part plus a financial investment made, but I wouldn't have missed this event for the world. Plus I got to share some quality time with both Gabby and Sam, so it was a doubly enjoyable afternoon.

The happening was Fritz's Holiday Party for the Town of Verona on Dec. 12, 2010, a get-together he organized as a town councilman to invite out residents for a couple of hours of games, snacks, storytelling, face painting, a drum workshop, and a visit from Santa himself. He sent me the original press release notice; realizing the importance of the event I responded with a longer, more in-depth interview and preview story. I also quickly volunteered our services to help the cause by becoming our clown alter egos from our St. Peter's Lutheran Church clown ministry team to help entertain the youngsters at the party. Okay, Sam decided she wasn't stooping low enough to don a clown face, but she still came along as our Marilyn Munster to assist Gabby as Gibbers and myself as Bingo as we painted faces and made new clown friends.

(Gibbers and Bingo in our brand-new holiday garb, bought that morning in the ladies department at Walmart. I'd like to note this outfit adds a couple of hundred pounds. )

(Magician Matt Episcopo, left, was one of the many volunteers Fritz enlisted to come out and give the kids and adults alike a good time at the party.)

(But we just couldn't compete with the crowd-stealer in red who came in the back door about halfway through the party to hear the kids' Christmas wish lists.)

One of the coolest activities at the party was hearing our local elected officials reading Christmas stories to the tykes. Check out Oneida County Executive Tony Picente, New York State Senator Joe Griffo, and Oneida County Sheriff-elect Rob Maciol as they share tales of Christmas with the kiddies and kiddies at heart:

(Oneida County Executive Tony Picente, top, New York State Senator Joe Griffo, middle, and Oneida County Sheriff-Elect Rob Maciol read Christmas stories to the youngsters.) 

Fritz wasn't the only one from my list of favorite musicians at the party, as Central New York country music legend Matt Chase also came out to the festivities to share his talents and guitar. Truth to tell, I don't listen to country music as a rule, but I could listen to Matt and his Thunder Canyon Band all day. He and Fritz are also two of the top acts in our Sherrill Summer Concert Series, and I usually try to schedule them as bookends to start and finish the summertime fun.

(Matt croons some Christmas tunes for the audience -- didja know Matt has actually recorded an entire album of Christmas music?)

Fritz's Polka Band drummer Mike Faraino even gave a drum workshop for the kids, showing them some of the techniques of his trade.

(Mike shares his tricks with the sticks)

The party was a real family-friendly event both for the attendees and us folks putting it on behind the scenes. Gibbers was a clown off the old block with her face painting prowess, and the kids warmed to her immediately. Sam was also invaluable to me, as she took most of the pictures appearing here.

(Photographer Sam, 16, standing, and Gibbers, 17, working hard at the party.)

(Gibbers shows her artistic skills as a painter.)

Meanwhile, Fritz's wife Kathy and kids Katherine and Marissa also hustled and bustled throughout the party to make sure everybody was having a great time and deserve kudos of their own!

(Kathy, Katherine and Marissa lead the kids in some craft projects at the party.)

Even though Sam was taking pictures, I still needed to do some interviewing for the newspaper story, now online at At our last staff meeting, my beloved boss Karen told us she wanted us to have a more memorable presence in the community. Well, I bet New York State Senator Joe Griffo won't soon forget this interview ...

("Excuse me, Sen. Griffo ... I'm Bingo the Love Clown from the Oneida Dispatch and I'd like to ask you a few questions ...")

And luckily my church pastor Greg Tennermann came out for the party, so he could see I didn't leave church that morning before the service was over to go to the pool hall ...

("Sorry I had to leave church early this morning, Pastor Greg, but I had to go home and put on my face ...")

I always joke that I search out parties, invite myself to them under the guise of promoting the event with an article, and then write that story so I can call it work.

Regular readers will probably see right through that by now, knowing that I really am enjoying myself at these festivities even as a slave laboriously to craft a story that captures the essence and mood of the fun. The Fritz party was one of the best times I've ever had in the field of journalism -- just don't tell the corporate bean counters or they'll withhold my pay. And I need that check to pay for those fancy new duds.

So while Fritz was thanking me for my assistance, I honestly feel indebted to him -- he is one of the most genuinely community-spirited guys I know and it is my honor to help him out. If there's a more honest, people-friendly, caring, and gregarious person on the Earth I haven't met him!

(He's our hero Fritz, center, with Gibbers, left, and Bingo.)

Fritz just ran a thank you letter to all of his volunteers on the Internet, and here is my own response to his words, basically a thank you for the thank you:

"As one of the volunteers at this event, I would like to offer my personal thanks to Fritz for making this a great time, not only for all of the people who came out for the party but for all of his helpers as well. It was sincerely an honor to be able to assist my good friend in helping brighten the holidays in Verona. Fritz is one of the greatest persons I've ever met, and it is my pleasure to be able to work with him on this. I already look forward to doing it again next year!"

Sunday, December 5, 2010


It was a great evening of fatherly pride as both of my high school-aged daughters were on stage Dec. 2, 2010 at the Camden High School's National Honor Society induction. The event was made even more special as NHS President Gabrielle, 17, welcomed sister Samantha, 16, as a new member that evening before the audience of a couple hundred people, also including their mom Laurie Semo, step-dad Jeff Semo, and kid sister Hannah.

(Gabrielle, left, and Samantha stand in front of the National Honor Society banner Dec. 2, 2010 following the induction ceremony at the Camden High School in Camden, N.Y.)

Watching Gabrielle on stage at the podium as she ran the ceremony, directing her fellow students and the adult participants as well, made me both misty and amazed as I saw how she had blossomed far beyond the shy and quiet youngster of only a few years ago. Was that really my little Gabby up there? It was hard to process the image I saw as this person I used to hold in my arms as a baby seemingly transformed overnight into a young woman.

(Gabrielle strikes a majestic pose at the podium during the National Honor Society induction ceremony.)

    (The ceremony was a real family affair as the girls were joined by their cousin and fellow inductee Melissa Kirby, 16, left, and little sister Hannah, 7, front.)

(And while we were there, Samantha shared some of her artistic talents with us, showing the exhibit featuring her work on the wall at the school. I must say these girls are some awesome students, even if I'm just a little biased!)

The whole ceremony is on YouTube right now -- although the slide show in part 6 is already banned in Germany and will probably be coming down soon -- so get started with part one at:

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Imagine my surprise when the bare naked ladies I was expecting to see perform on stage turned out to be a quartet of fully dressed dudes.

Okay, that joke is getting old -- I never really thought Barenaked Ladies was anything but a rock band before their Nov. 27 concert at the Turning Stone Casino Event Center in Verona, N.Y. And as it turned out I couldn't have been more entertained it really had been a troupe of nekked females.

In the spirit of full disclosure, prior to the show I wasn't much of a fan of the Toronto-based Barenaked Ladies -- featuring Ed Robertson on guitar and vocals, Jim Creeggan on bass and vocals, Kevin Hearn on keyboards and vocals, and Tyler Stewart on drums and vocals -- but I sure was when I left. At first, I simply figured it would be a fun way for Gabby, Sammy and I to kick off the holiday season, something they would enjoy since Barenaked Ladies' music is more from their generation.

(Barenaked Ladies musicians, from left, Jim Creeggan, Kevin Hearn, Ed Robertson, and Tyler Stewart thrill the audience with music and mirth Nov. 27 at the Turning Stone Casino Event Center)

Familiar hits like "One Week," "Brian Wilson," and "It's All Been Done" got the crowd to their feet singing along and moving to the beat, and their quips between tunes set a fun and festive tone that enhanced the show and grabbed the attention of even a novice Barenaked Ladies concertgoer like myself.

Kevin's jest about the "gambled eggs" being a hit on the breakfast buffet table at the casino might have fallen a bit flat, dying even after a couple of attempts to raise a chuckle from the crowd. He finally accomplished the guffaws by an exasperated "(F-bomb) me!" that brought a roar of laughter even from Gabby and Sammy, who I'm sure have never heard that word before. It was a part of the fun as the audience laughed along with him (and not at him) as his joke choked.

His vocals on "Another Heartbreak," however, proved an unexpected highlight in the show as he quickly won over the audience with his emotive live take on the track from their latest CD "All in Good Time."

The theme to TV's "Big Bang Theory" offered a surprise guest appearance. It seemed 13-year-old audience member Danielle Fleming had learned all of the gazillion words to the song, and her mom held a sign to tell the band of her accomplishment. Suddenly, Ed invited her up on stage to prove her talents, ordering her a microphone and sound monitor headset. Danielle appeared a bit nervous at first, but Ed loosened up the mood by letting her know she was free to say anything she wanted on stage.

"Are there any swear words you've always wanted to say?" he asked her, telling her it was OK to use any language she wanted. Danielle confessed she did not swear, so Ed responded, "Do you want a smoke?" The audience loved it, although I couldn't quite see how Danielle's mom reacted. The young singer did a great job and Ed gave her the advice to leave town and never come back in pursuit her career into stardom.

(If I had $1,000,000 I'd hire Barenaked Ladies to come back for another show)

"Pinch Me" brought the concert crowd to the penultimate peak of pleasure, and by then anybody wondering if this band formerly known as a quintet could function as only a foursome had those doubts quelled. Of course, lottery theme song "If I had $1,000,000" was the big hit of the evening, made even more fun with some seriously creative improv at the end including a lively rap by Ed.

Tyler took a trip into the spotlight himself during the encore, saying he was making amends for his quick rendition of ELO's "Turn to Stone" superimposing the words "Turning Stone" at the end of the regular set (Hey, I liked it, especially since the ELO hit IS from my generation!). He belted out a raucous lead vocal on "Alcohol" and "Feliz Thanksgiving" that proved he's more than just a bald head behind the drums.

A line in their "Thanks, That Was Fun" concert closer perfectly captured the spirit of the night as the group sang "Thanks, that was fun/Don't forget, no regrets." It's certainly not to message in the rest of the song, but that particular part caught my ear as the sentiment I had for the band as we parted ways. Thanks for a great time, and I can't wait to catch up with you again next tour.

(Mike, Gabby, and Sammy kick off the holiday season with a fun night of Barenaked Ladies)

Check out a complete setlist for the evening at For more on Barenaked Ladies log on to and tell them Hot Scoops sent you!