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The fall semester of 2010 has come to a close at Utah State University. I took my last final this morning, and as I walked through the door into the 10 degree weather, I breathed a sigh of relief. With a smile on my face – watching the vapor that vented from my mouth as I exhaled – I briskly walked to my car and left campus.

For a couple of months now, I have been anticipating a trip to Pennsylvania to join my family and old friends for Christmas and New Years. I moved to Utah almost five years ago. This is the first time since then that I’ll be spending the holidays with my loved ones. As I’ve prepared for this trip, I have thought about all of the great things I have done here in Cache Valley since I moved here not so long ago. I’ve seen several shows at the Ellen Eccles Theatre. I have enjoyed many hikes and nature walks. I have also begun to explore local eateries, as well as coffee shops and ice cream parlors. Autumn hosted several iconic, annual events that I believe help make Cache Valley what it is. All of these things I’ve done add to the unique signature of this beautiful northern Utah treasure.

The past couple of weeks of winterish weather have reminded me what it’s like here during this wonderful time of year. Leaving the house in the morning to see the sun glistening on the powdery snow makes for a wonderful way to wake up. More often than not as I  jaunt around town, doing the things I do, I catch myself with a grin – if not a full-blown smile – on my face. I think to myself, “Man! I’m really glad I came here!”

Soon I will be on a plane heading 2,300 miles east. I’ll spend some time in New York City at Rockefeller Center and Times Square (a past-time of mine and my family’s), and as I look at the holiday lights I will remember the quaint streets of Providence and Logan (and surrounding areas). There’s something really cozy and comfortable about this place! I feel welcome. I embrace each day with a determination that life is good.

I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to blog about my adventures. This is my last post on the Cache Valley Blog…maybe someday I’ll do it again. Thank you for reading. Remember, as you explore Cache Valley, keep your eyes open for me, I’ll be around!

Ever since age 15 one of my favorite places to go is the local coffee shop. As a poet I have written many times about the solace and respite found in such a place as an espresso joint. Even if you don’t drink coffee, a good coffee shop has so much (more) to offer. The essence, the ambiance, great food, a wide variety of hot and cold beverages – these are all, among other things, excellent reasons to visit your local beanery.

Whether you go to write, converse, read the paper, do the puzzles, meditate or just plain be around people, the sweet smell of fresh ground, fresh brewed coffee will delight you. I even spent time working in a coffee shop in Moab as a barista and manager. While I had these jobs, I learned many tricks of the trade, including what the difference is between a breve, a latte and a macchiato.

No matter where I go, I stick my nose out in search of the best place to sit down, grab a drink and open my notebook and write. Now that I live in Cache Valley, the obvious local destination is evidently Caffe Ibis (usually referred to as just “Ibis”). Ibis does not only sell coffee drinks, it also roasts its own beans. The roasting/brewing company touts a wide selection of roasts, including several that are triple certified – organic, fair trade, shade grown/ bird friendly. To the conscious coffee drinker, these are excellent qualities for a bean to have.

Caffe Ibis is also a bustling deli that prepares some wonderful breakfast items for people of all tastes. The walls in the shop are adorned with artwork produced by local painters, photographers and multimedia artists. In every  corner of the store, you can find gourmet chocolates, locally grown produce like apples and garlic, trinkets and other exotic treats. Ibis is just an all-around great place to explore. As I said, you don’t have to be a coffee drinker to find a reason to be there. Several afternoons and nights, the shop is home to musical performances by local singer/songwriters.

If you want the true coffee shop experience, take it from me, Caffe Ibis is the place to be. Devoted fans come from all over to purchase the unrivaled, triple-certified roasts that are offered. Ibis also ships their beans to Moab – a place where I lived for a few years – to supply some of the local coffee dispensaries there. If you are interested in finding out more about Caffe Ibis, you can go online and check out their frequently updated and beautifully designed Web page at: http://caffeibis.com/.  Ibis is also part of the Cache Valley Food Tour so those who are interested can see the magic as it happens behind the scenes. If you stop by, make sure you say ,”Hi.” I’ll be there.

In the heart of downtown Logan is nestled maybe the oldest restaurant in the area still in business. I’m talking, of course, about the Bluebird Restaurant. The Bluebird originally opened in 1914 as a soda shop and candy store. Apparently it moved to where it currently resides, at 19 North Main St., in 1921. Since then, from what I learned today, the Bluebird has been serving food to residents and visitors of Cache Valley.

Today was the first time I actually went into the restaurant to eat. It was almost 2 p.m. and I hadn’t had lunch yet. Not being familiar with the menu, I asked the waiter who greeted me what he would suggest. I was told that some of the house favorites include the Bluebird Chicken, Steak Oscar and the Clubhouse Sandwich. At lunchtime, I’m always a fan of a good club.

I was very impressed by the Iron Port soda that I ordered. It was made the way I imagine sodas were traditionally made – start with club soda and add the good stuff. The flavor of the drink was unique and refreshing.

I decided to go with the Clubhouse Sandwich, on rye bread, and because English chips were available, I opted for them as my side. The sandwich was great and the chips lived up to what I expected. To me, this is comfort food.

I enjoyed my meal from a seat at the counter, which faces a large mirror mounted above what I was told is the original marble from when the establishment was built. The atmosphere was certainly quaint. I almost felt like I was back East in a New York diner about 60 years ago – I’m speculating, of course. As I sniffed the air, I could smell the wonderful, splendrous smell of chocolate. This is because I was practically surrounded by it. Behind me were numerous cases filled with chocolate creations of all shapes and sizes. There was milk chocolate, white chocolate and dark chocolate in endless supply. There were macaroons and candy bars and chocolate covered everything. I learned the decadent treats were chocolatiered by Alvey’s, from Richmond, Utah.

If I would have had more money, I probably would have left with a bag full of chocolate goodies. Unfortunately, I was not financially prepared to feed into my weakness. I was, however, happy to find that most of the menu items on the Bluebird menu were very affordable, including my sandwich.

On my way out, I was able to look around at the restaurant, and see the multiple stories available for fine dining and banquet seating. The ceilings were high and the walls were adorned with ornate, restored moldings and paint. There were also several pictures of historic Logan landmarks. The Bluebird Restaurant was certainly a step back in time. I was treated with the same level of hospitality I’d imagine existed when the place first opened its doors to patrons in the early 1900s. For anyone looking for a warm atmosphere, a free look into local history and a delicious, affordable bite to eat, join me at the Bluebird…see you there soon!

Polar Extremes

In the summertime, the sun shines, the birds sing and the grass is green. Kids play out in the streets and in their yards until late in the evening. The sun does not set until late in the day, and even when it does, the light lingers in the sky at dusk.

As autumn rolls around, the leaves in the trees change color. They take on the most brilliant array of colors. The crisp evening air inspires romance and reminiscence of childhood memories of playing in piles of raked leaves. Pumpkins are carved, crops are harvested and parents prepare their children for another year of school.

The fall season eventually begins to wane, and here, in Logan, Utah, we taste winter sooner than the calendar foretells. Although the solstice is not until three quarters of the way through December, snow has already fallen several times upon Cache Valley. Coats and gloves, shovels and snow blowers, and even festive lights have been returned to circulation in preparation for another chilly winter season.

Yesterday (Nov. 23), a ferocious storm arrived on the coattails of a blustery, relentless wind. Schools closed early in anticipation of the cantankerous cries of old man winter. The howling wind blew snow in all directions but primarily horizontally. Those summer citizens, who revel in the sunny beauty that Cache Valley has to offer, may know that we see such storms, but it seems as though they may not fancy such frigid extremes.

After living in southeastern Utah, in a place where the sun never seems to go away and summer temperatures skyrocket, I find happiness in seeing blizzards such as the one that came yesterday. From the warmth of my home, I stood at the windows in awe of the spectacle that I beheld. Within an hour, the streets went from macadam black to wintry white. It seemed, at those moments, that if I saw a polar bear or penguins shuffling by, nothing would have been out of order.

I truly love the wide range of beauty that I have seen since I moved here. What a variety of adventures to be had! I’ve enjoyed summer hikes in Logan Canyon. I’ve enjoyed evening musicals and operatic matinees at the Ellen Eccles Theatre. I’ve discovered splendid venues for fun and affordable dates. I’ve seen the sun shine as it glistens on the pearly white, snowcapped Wellsville Mountains. Within the next few weeks, I will continue to explore the wonder of Cache Valley and eagerly report on my findings.

I must say, in light of the holidays, that I am truly thankful that I’ve been able to move to Cache Valley. I am undeniably grateful for all of the wonderful times that I have had here already, and I am sure there are many more to come. I say with confidence, to anyone who has the opportunity visit, or live here, this is a truly remarkable place. Thank you for reading…I will see you soon. Happy Thanksgiving!

When I was in middle school, I used to tag along with my younger sister and her friends to go ice skating. Back then, I had no fear. For all intents and purposes, I was made out of rubber and cold was of no consequence. We used to skate as fast as we could, and we had fun doing it.

For years I went without skating, not because I didn’t want to, but because I just didn’t think about it. A little while ago, I was invited to go ice skating at the Eccles Ice Center, in North Logan. Almost 20 years since the last time I went ice skating, I decided it was time to see if I still had it in me.

The Eccles Ice Center is an impressive facility. It is equipped with a concession stand, both hockey and figure rental skates, and an area for group events. The arena hosts figure skating events and the Utah State University hockey games, among other things. According to its website, the Eccles Ice Center opened in 2002. I can attest for the fact that the facility is fairly new and kept in good condition.

I’m a personal fan of indoor skating because the ice seems to be in better condition than a lake, for instance. Also, you don’t have to worry about falling into water that could potentially ruin your day. The Eccles Ice Center was a great place for me to test my abilities. I’m happy to say that I am still capable of ice skating. I can even skate backwards…it’s the turning back around part that I don’t quite have down.

I personally went with a large group, but I would suggest the center to anybody looking for a good place to take a date. I may have to get a couple more practice sessions in before I take my own date, but eventually I’ll be out there doing triple axle watchamacallits and all that fancy olympic stuff. One cool thing I took notice of was a very simple device that I never saw when I was younger. Essentially, the device was a walker for ice skating. I thought it was nice that there were several of these on hand for beginners to use as they venture out on the ice.

The Eccles Ice Center gets my stamp of approval. I’m excited to enjoy the semi-civilized brutality of a USU hockey game in the near future…if you decide to make a trip, for whatever reason, bring a coat and keep your eyes open for me. I’ll be there again soon.

Holy Howl

Every Halloween, I’m always asked by my friends and cohorts, “What are you going to be this year?” To some, this is a particularly genuine question to ask. For me, the answer is simple…I’m going to be a zombie. Over the past few years, I have been improving on the creepiness and outright disturbance-factor of my interpretation of the typical postapocalyptic, undead flesh-eater. This year, I think I did well.

Anybody who puts any significant amount of effort into a Halloween costume of any kind, should have a great place to go show it off. What better place to go than the locally-renowned “Howl of the Dead” party? This event has been touted as the largest Halloween party west of the Mississippi River. The venue is the Taggart Student Center (TSC) at Utah State University. The Howl, as most refer to it, is sponsored by the Associated Students of Utah State University (ASUSU) and is coordinated in conjunction with Student Services. Proceeds go to benefit university programs.

Just how big is the Howl? The TSC’s maximum legal capacity, according to fire code, is 7,000 people. I was told that 6,800 tickets were sold this year, at prices ranging from $10 to $25. Being the punctual guy that I am, I arrived, ticket-in-hand, when the doors opened, just after 8p.m. This allowed me to get in while the building was still sparsely occupied. This way, I was able to see all of the craziness unfold.

It was clear that a lot of planning went into the entire production. There was a large dance troupe that all looked very much like myself. Apparently, they were inflicted with the same reanimating, flesh-hunger inducing disease that I was…that is, they all looked like zombies. Every 30 minutes or so, the zombies would all convene on or near the stage that faced the massive line of people waiting to get in. Eerie techno music played while the dancers lurched and clawed at the air in unison. Between performances, the ROTC students, all dressed in full army gear, along with a decontamination crew, apprehended and quarantined the meandering undead. Three times, I was mistaken for part of the show and ended up in the arms of four or five army personnel, being hauled off to the quarantine zone. This sort of entertainment went on throughout the night.

In the TSC Ballroom, a very large dance area was set up with a team of DJ’s playing dance music. In the field house, bands and other performers provided even more entertainment. Of all of the parties I’ve been to, including Halloween parties, nothing quite comes close to the Howl. This is something that is definitely unique to Cache Valley. Students and other young people from all over the state were in attendance. The party was scheduled to go until 1 a.m. When I was leaving at 11p.m., there were still at least 1,000 people, in line, waiting to get in. Wow! I’d say I’ll see you there next year, but it might be hard to find me. Just look for the zombies, I’ll be the one gnawing on your arm. Happy haunting!

I’ve been to art walks and gallery walks before, I’ve enjoyed some excellent exhibits, but nothing compares to the North Logan Pumpkin Walk. Area schools, scout troops and organizations from all over Cache Valley worked together to show off all their inner pumpkin-Picassos and DaVincis this past weekend in an area of the county referred to by some as North Park (where North Logan and Hyde Park meet).

Friendly neighborhood police had their Halloween party lights on and directed the multitude of pumpkin walkers who came to witness the harvest season spectacle. Elk Ridge Park, the specific site of the walk, was set up in way that directed the seemingly n ever-ending queue of visitors through a circuit of life-size scenes. The main medium used in each display was, you guessed it, PUMPKINS! And, to a lesser degree, gourds of all shapes and sizes. Each year the event has a theme, from what I was told, and this year, the theme was animation. I would say there were roughly 50 to 60 different representations of every animated movie, cartoon and kids’ show you can think of…and even some I’ve never heard of.

I have to hand it to the participants, a lot of these cartoonish pseudo-menageries were of a relatively high caliber of artistry.  I was without wine or cheese for this specific showing; however, cookies and hot chocolate were floating around. The Pumpkin Walk producers are so serious about their archive of artistic autumn exhibitions, that they have highlighted past years’ pieces on their website. According to the site, the annual event started in 1983 and has been free to the public every year since. There’s more information about the history, along with other fun extras, on the site which is accessible via the link at the bottom of this post.

I have to say, some of the highlights of the approximately quarter-mile jaunt were the “Polar Express,” “Winnie the Pooh,” “Little Mermaid,” and “Dr. Seuss” tributes. At the end of the journey was a semi-enclosed area which housed tower heaters and the more time-intensive pumpkin creations. Among these works were hollowed pumpkins with tiny, dollhouse-like displays inside them and intricately carved jack-o-lanterns showing off various popular cartoon images.

In the months leading up to this year’s event, I heard a lot of excellent reviews from pumpkin walks held in past years. “You have to go to it,” I was told. I’m not unhappy that I did. This was a one-of-a-kind display, it may not be ready for the MoMA or the Met, but they can’t have it anyway. It’s things like these that I’m finding contribute to the quaint rusticity of tight-knit agrarian communities like those in Cache Valley. Join me next year, just before Halloween, for the next installment of pumpkin fun…you know I’m not going anywhere!

Pumpkin Walk link: http://www.pumpkinwalk.com/

maze n. : a confusing intricate network of passages (According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary and Thesaurus.)

corn maze in Cache Valley : a whole lot of Halloween/autumn fun!

A couple of nights ago, I joined a group of peers and headed just a couple of miles south of Logan to check out the Little Bear Bottoms corn maze. Amazingly enough, I’ve lived 30 years and never been to one of these before. I’ve done haunted hayrides, pumpkin-patch pumpkin picking, and all sorts of haunted houses, ships, and warehouses. Needless to say– but I’ll say it anyway– I’m a big fan of finding a reason to throw on a hoodie and enjoy the crisp night air of the fall season with some friends.

There are several excellent autumn-oriented outdoor activities we can take part in here in Cache Valley. Two other local labyrinths are the American West Heritage Center’s Halloween Harvest and Corn Maze and the Green Canyon Farms corn maze. I’m sure they’re equally as fun!

Little Bear Bottoms hosts ample parking just off the highway. The entrance was well-lit and easy to find. Because I was with a large group, we were able to get a discounted, group rate. As we waited to enter the grounds, I saw a massive stack of hay bails, sprinkled with kids of all ages. On one side of the ginormous hay pile, was an area covered with mattresses for jumping into. The bails of hay were actually part of a structure that created a multi-level three-dimensional labyrinth.

There were definitely an array of mazes, not just one. For another element of confusion, and quite possibly for practice, there was a string maze that covered about half an acre. After graduating from string, we moved on to corn. I joked about wondering if I would see Kevin Costner or some dead baseball players come walking out of the field. I know, bad joke…but dead baseball players would be spooky.

We walked into the maze and were surrounded by cornstalks about 10 feet tall. This was no simple task. I’m not sure how much land was covered by the carved-out corn corridors, but my group and I wandered for a while. Even with the moon in the sky and the peaks of the Wellsville Mountains on the horizon, it was still hard to gauge exactly where we were going. The maze seemed like a complex composition of circles, half-circles and random paths. I think I passed the same two people about nine times. After 30 minutes or so, we found our way back to the entrance…that wasn’t the goal. We tried one more time and eventually made it to the other side.

The Little Bear Bottoms corn maze was a hit. It provided a good venue to hang out with friends and have a good time. Now I have to check out the other corn mazes that Cache Valley has to offer. If you decide to give one of them a try, look out, because you might find me lurking between the stalks, trying to find my way out!

I was told the other day that if I live in Cache Valley, I have to go to Aggie Ice Cream. I’ve been

Aggie Blue Mint is all the rave in Cache Valley. The frozen blue mixture consists of mint blue ice cream with chunks of Oreo Cookie and white chocolate.

living here for 14 months, and I just went for the first time, two nights ago.

Aggie Ice Cream is located on 1200 East, just north of 700 North, in Logan. The facility is on the campus of Utah State University, and it is connected to the Nutrition and Food Science building.

I went to the shop, with a date, around eight in the evening, and I was pleased to find ample parking spaces outside. Usually, it is very hard during the day to find a place to park anywhere on campus. Campus parking lots are permit-only, but Aggie Ice Cream provides about a dozen free parking spaces marked by free parking meters. I’ve never seen a free parking meter before. All you have to do is push the button and you get up to 30 minutes. Wouldn’t it be nice if all meters were like this?

As soon as my date and I walked through the front door, we were greeted with smiles from the ladies behind the counter. Above them was a giant menu board that touted at least 20 different flavors of ice cream. I noticed too, on my way in, that there was a rack of postcards with pictures of local scenery. The store manager must have known I was coming.

I asked the smiling scoopologists  behind the counter what the most popular flavor of ice cream was.

Logan, Utah, native Muriel McGregor smiles as she presents a fresh-scooped helping of Midnight Munchies ice cream in a waffle cone. McGregor said she's loved Aggie Ice Cream since she was a child.

I anticipated their answer would be Aggie Blue Mint, and I was right. Aggie Blue Mint is exactly what it sounds like, it’s blue and it’s minty; but it has chunks of chocolate in it. One of the ladies told me the great thing about this mint is “it’s not like other mint ice creams.” It’s obvious why this would be the favorite among customers…because everybody loves Aggie blue. I’ve personally never been a fan of mint ice cream. I know, say what you will, but I did try the blue stuff…I had to. After all, I am an Aggie too. They were right, it’s not quite as overpowering as other mint ice cream.

Ultimately, I was drawn to Strawberry Cheesecake and Midnight Munchies. I opted for the former and my date tried the latter. There’s something about ice cream that is made on site, it just tastes better. It was creamy, yummy, flavorful, and of course, cold. My date said Midnight Munchies was filled with chunks of chocolate goodness. I was so captivated by my own, that by the time I thought to ask for a bite of hers, it was all gone.

Aggie Ice Cream was a great place to take a date. The facility is actually a part of the Cache Valley Food Tour, which includes other locations such as: Bluebird Candy Factory, Caffe Ibis and other great local businesses. I’ve included the link for more information at the bottom of this post. Aggie Ice Cream does tours at 1:30p.m. on weekdays. I’ll see you there!

It’s not really always sunny in Logan, Utah, but it sure is sunny most of the time. I love it! Blue skies and sunshine are a great way to keep the spirits up; and when it does rain, it’s refreshing and welcome. Having lived here for just over a year, I have to say, the weather here is quite pleasing. We’ve had an extended summer; the extra weeks of warm weather have provided copious opportunities to get out and enjoy my surroundings.

One of the things I love most about this area is the fact that we are surrounded by rural farmland, yet we still have the comforts of modern city living if we care to partake. I’m able to travel just a few miles down the highway and enjoy a plethora of wilderness hikes and backcountry treasures, without using much gas to get there.

I also love the quaintness of living so close to farmland. Most of my neighbors own horses, cows, turkeys and other wonderful creatures, that help make my days so interesting. Even though I live in the suburbs, I feel like I live in the country. What a beautiful place to be!

Before I moved here, I was warned by southern Utahns how cold it was in Cache Valley. I’ll admit, the winter is nothing like winter in the Bahama s, but I’ve realized: most of the naysayers haven’t even been to Cache Valley. I was made to believe I would have icicles hanging from my nose in June. In all actuality, the winter is filled with some of the best snow in the universe…and skiing and snowboarding opportunities abound.

Now that it is autumn, as I mentioned in my post last week, there are even more great things to go out and experience as I gear up for winter. Some of the things you might catch me at are: the annual Providence Sauerkraut Festival, Friday, Oct. 22, the Providence City Annual Car Show, the following day, and the annual Pumpkin Walk. These aren’t all of the great upcoming events, but I will be in attendance enjoying all that Cache Valley has to offer, be sure to look for my blogs about these events; and as always, you might even see me there!

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