Tuesday, November 30, 2010

These are a few of my favorite Lehigh Valley things...

I'm no Oprah, but when I find something I love, I have to share it.

Over the next month, not in any specific order, I'll share some of my favorite things in the Lehigh Valley, just in time for the holidays. Some are specific to the holiday season, and others can be enjoyed year-round. My mission is to share some of the great local events, features and gift ideas that make the Lehigh Valley special. There are scores of local traditions surrounding the holidays, organizations with small marketing budgets, and opportunities to give back and/or enjoy the Lehigh Valley. I hope you'll take advantage of some of them.

Please share your favorite things here on the blog, on the Lehigh Valley Transplant Facebook page, or on Twitter (@lvtransplant).

Favorite Thing: Volunteering and Giving Locally
It's the time of year when your family or workplace might be thinking about doing something nice for the community. Adopting-a-family, serving in a soup kitchen, and donating toys for kids are three traditional ways to give. It's hard to know the kinds of needs that community organizations have, particularly because they are frequently so understaffed that they can't return your call. I'm experiencing this right now with one well-known nonprofit in the region.

A couple of organizations in the Lehigh Valley have responded to the needs of the organizations and the community's desire to support them.

The Volunteer Center's web site features a search function, where would-be volunteers can see the kind of work that's available, appropriate and possible for them or their group. Or, check out the Holiday Opportunities page (more organizations are added daily). Highlights: Ring a bell, collect donations, transport seniors to holiday parties, lend a hand at a tree-lighting ceremony.

The Morning Call newspaper compiles a list of organizations that need donations through their "Be an Angel Campaign." The printed version was in this past Sunday's newspaper and is printed more than once during the season. Their web site also provides a helpful tool that can narrow your search. Got a ton of pet supplies you don't need and want to give to an organization in Allentown? There are five groups matching this description that are registered with "Be an Angel," and so far, none have indicated that their wishes have been fulfilled.

Instead of giving a wrapped holiday gift to my parents, I make a donation in their honor to their charity of choice: Equi-librium's therapeutic horseback riding programs. Sometimes I'll pick up a book or CD I think they'd like, but I never have to troll the malls looking for gifts for them, because I know that's what they really want. I recommend this method of celebrating the season: it's much easier than shopping, thoughtful, useful and tax-deductible!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cyber Monday in the Lehigh Valley

I love local shopping, but I miss some of the stores I enjoyed when I lived in DC or visited friends in other big cities. Trader Joe's, Anthropologie, Dean & Deluca, Papyrus, and Penzey's are some of my old faves. Since the stores were located in urban locations, I'd pop in to pick up something special after meeting friends for brunch in Chevy Chase, before happy hour in Georgetown, or on the way home from work near the White House. I do the same thing now before Civic Theatre shows in Allentown, after lunch in Historic Bethlehem, or following a visit to the Easton Farmer's Market.

In preparation for Cyber Monday, I did some online research on Cyber Monday Eve (Sunday night). I started by visiting http://www.cybermonday.com/. Lots of dealies all day, some announced by the hour.

Then, I went to my old standby, Retailmenot. For as little shopping as I do online (Boden, Penzey's, maybe Harry & David), I always check Retailmenot.com for discount codes. I frequently find extra gifts and shipping deals. With my standard Penzey's order (including refills of curry powder, garlic salt and cinnamon), I got an extra 1/2 cup jar of Arizona Dreaming and 1/4 cup jar of Bicentennial Rub free.

I wouldn't be me if I didn't remind you of great opportunities to shop locally, too. Retailmenot also keeps track of printable coupons for local retailers. Right now Aardvark Sports Shop is offering 15% off apparel and accessory items (A couponclipper offer). Akroyd Hardware will give you $5 off a $25 purchase (a Valpak offer). And those are just two stores starting with the letter A in Bethlehem. You get the idea!

Also, check out the local site on Etsy to browse some crafts and gifts that 30 local artists have created and shared with the world. From handmade jewelry to stationery, soaps, doll clothing, and stuffed plush cupcakes, there's a wide variety of items as well as price points.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Cupcake Happy Hour: Apotheca Salon, Shuze and Guerilla Cupcakes

This Thanksgiving Eve, instead of going to a high school reunion, I invited a couple of young female entrepreneurs to meet for cupcake happy hour. I'd heard about a company called Guerilla Cupcakes, and reached out to its owner, Marina, by email. She offered to bring "samples" over to the south side of Bethlehem, where my friends Amanda and Jennifer are both small business owners. Marina got her start in October when, after baking for friends and neighbors, she branded her company with a cute skull and crossbones logo and brought the goods to the Day of the Day celebration in Allentown. She imports some of her ingredients from her hometown in Puerto Rico, and is happy to mix up a batch of all-organic or vegan cupcakes. She doesn't have a storefront (yet... we are encouraging her though), but she does take orders. She moved to the Valley to be near her boyfriend, also a transplant working at Lutron. If you're craving a cupcake with a unique flavor, email Marina or call 347.839.3239.

Marina, la reina de cupcakes.

Some of Guerilla Cupcakes' amazing treats - Puerto Rican vanilla with vanilla butter cream, Smoldering Chocolate with chocolate orange butter cream, and carroty cake with white chocolate cream cheese frosting

Amanda and her business partner Julie started Apotheca Salon after many years working as estheticians at other salons. After a while, they both realized they wanted to do more for their clients, and finding the perfect spot at 101 East Third Street in Bethlehem, they opened Apotheca this summer. Their style is casual and unpretentious, eco-friendly and always ahead of the trends. In addition to skin care services, including waxing, visitors can shop in Apotheca's boutique, try out new skin care and makeup products, get a spray tan, and have their hair cut, colored and styled by Apotheca's stylists. I've been a loyal customer since 2006 and am thrilled to see their business taking off. To make an appointment, call 484.821.1497.

A few of Apotheca's yummy treats.

Amanda King, one of the two owners of Apotheca Salon, and our gracious hostess.

Finally, Jennifer Mann and her partner Rich opened Shuze two years ago at 17 East Third Street on the South Side of Bethlehem. They have since expanded, opening a store next to Wired Cafe at 520 Main Street in Bethlehem, too. Their philosophy is: shoes, handbags, clothing, accessories, *fun. Both stores are go-to places to shop for yourself or for a gift for a fashionable friend or family member. If you're not sure what the of-the-moment accessory is, trust Shuze's fashionistas to recommend. There's never pressure to buy, and you leave feeling great, even if you don't get anything this time. Believe me, you'll be back. If your gift isn't the perfect fit (like the pair of shoes I tried to buy for my bf), returns are welcome. Shuze is offering $30 for $60 on Groupon today, so now's a good time to sign up if you haven't yet... 50% off accessories and shoes? Yes, please.

Jennifer Mann, actually sitting down (a rare sight), yes, she's the one that owns Shuze and won the Young Athena Award, NOT the state rep.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Opening Black Friday: ArtMart in Allentown

Art Mart, an artist-operated and locally-created holiday shop, is returning to downtown Allentown. The store officially opens Wednesday, Dec. 1 and will be open during the Downtown Tree Lighting from 4-8 on Dec. 2. The pop-up shop is located at the Holiday Inn at 9th and Hamilton streets and will exclusively feature handmade, original goods by area artists and artisans, including one-of-a-kind gifts such as knitted and crocheted hats and scarves, jewelry, hair accessories, home d├ęcor, and original art. Each Saturday, artists will demonstrate their work inside the store. Art Mart will be open from Dec. 1-31: Wednesdays 11-2 & 4-7 Thursdays 11-2 & 4-7 (Dec 2 is City Tree Lighting - we will be open until 8) Fridays 11-2 & 4-8 (Dec 24 and 31 there will be no 4-8 shift) Saturday s 12-7 For more information, visit the ArtMart Facebook page, call 215-704-9497, or send an email.

Where should he open a Middle Eastern restaurant in the Lehigh Valley?

I received a reader email this week from a woman whose nephew very wants to open a small, family-run restaurant with a modern middle eastern menu. She writes:
"He will be putting all of his savings into this venture. I know how fickle the restaurant biz is. Do you have any advice for him as to anew growth location ...a bad location... where growth is going? Is the area around Lehigh University...a good location? what do you think??? any advice is great. Thank so much. Aunt Sharon"
First of all - Aunt Sharon, you are awesome. If/when your nephew's place opens, I'd like to share a modern middle eastern meal with you, whatever that means! Second, I think now is an awesome time to start a business, especially if you don't need bank financing. Your nephew can even get advice from the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Lehigh University. The SBDC provides consulting services and educational programs to entrepreneurs wanting to start or grow a small business. Their consultants can help test a new business proposition, shape a business plan, or find funding. If I were going to open a small business, I'd look to the areas where other young entrepreneurs are finding success. One test? If a business with a demographic to my target market has renewed its lease (maybe more than once!). So, a young, first-time business owner wants to serve up Middle Eastern cuisine, with modern vibe. A few neighborhoods come to mind.

  • First, check out Seventh Street in Allentown. If your nephew wants to be along the Valley's "ethnic restaurant row," this is it. It's where many people go to find authentic Caribbean, Chinese, Mediterranean, Thai, Mexican, Central American, Italian, and southern cuisine. Call Peter Lewnes at 7th Street.

  • Next, look at the south side of Bethlehem. Businesses like Loose Threads, Homebase, Eskandalo, and Shuze have found that proximity to Lehigh University and Moravian College, as well as a growing shopping/dining/arts district, means good foot traffic for reasonable rents. Ethnic restaurants like General Zapata, Tulum, Nawab, Thai Kitchen and Olive Branch do brisk take-out and eat-in business. Call Samantha Schwartz at the Downtown Bethlehem Association.

  • Finally, research downtown Easton. The food scene in Easton is arguably the best in the Valley. Many Easton restaurants have a full book on Friday and Saturday nights. Lafayette College is nearby, and Easton's proximity to New Jersey (and its residents' taste for food they've tasted in New York and its suburbs) means you've got a decently sophisticated palette to work with. There is already one good Middle Eastern restaurant, Phoenicia, but that shouldn't preclude you from calling Kim Kmetz at Easton Main Street.
Readers - any thoughts? Especially business owners?

LVIA vs. EWR, PHL and MDT - Go local when traveling!

Transplants in particular do a lot of traveling, or hosting out-of-town guests, especially around the holidays. In my research on restaurants near the airport, I came across a useful tool on the Lehigh Valley International Airport (LVIA or ABE) web site.

If you're pricing flights out of the area, you can easily calculate the actual costs to fly out of our local airport compared to other regional airports (Newark/EWR, Philadelphia/PHL, or Harrisburg/MDT). I'll admit that I favor flying out of Newark for west coast flights, mostly because there are lots of direct flights in and out of the larger airport, and there's less likelihood that I'll miss my scheduled departure because I'm stuck in traffic (ahem - PHL). But if I want to fly anywhere else, particularly the midwest, south, or Canada, our local airport is where I look first. Almost any day of the week, you can hop on a direct flight out of LVIA to Toronto, Washington/Dulles, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Charlotte, Atlanta, Myrtle Beach, and multiple Florida locations.

Right now, round-trips to Orlando/Sanford, Orlando, and Ft. Lauderdale all average less than $150. I was surprised to learn that round trip flights out of the Lehigh Valley to Dallas/Fort Worth, Phoenix, and Seattle were all less than $200 (*before taxes and fees, Saturday night stay). This is competitive with other regional airports, not to mention the time and cost for driving and parking (or car service) to the airport.

In addition, parking at LVIA is closer, cheaper and doesn't require a shuttle - or you can have someone drop you off. Our local airport is easy to navigate, is less crowded and a lot quieter. There are rarely lines for check-in and security, and baggage claim is a breeze. Wi-Fi is free. The planes are smaller, so boarding times are shorter. I've never been "bumped" from a flight out of Lehigh Valley - they're rarely oversold. However, you won't have the same shopping or dining experience that you might enjoy at a larger airport (if that matters to you), or as many options: you're less likely to be able to fly standby, and if your carrier cancels your flight, you might be driving to Philly or Newark anyway.

(A note to anyone who is considering taking a trip on Continental Airlines out of LVIA: many "flights" actually begin with a shuttle bus trip from Lehigh Valley to Newark, which is included in your ticket price.)

Happy Thanksgiving, to all you locals and transplants - and remember, as much as possible this holiday season, go local!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Restaurants near "ABE" airport

I'm all for supporting local businesses, franchises and indie places. But a recent question and follow-up comments on Twitter got me thinking.

Looking for another local restaurant to try on Thursday night!

@missdezubay Location/Cuisine preference?

@mldrabenstott Near the airport...

@missdezubay Ooh -- dead zone for good restaurants.
Not much of interest unless you head toward Union Blvd -- Pho to East, Alladin
to west.

When Vanessa from @ValleyYPs and I were planning to meet for lunch near the airport, I asked her, where do people go for lunch around the airport? She replied: Saladworks.

Especially when you want to meet someone who's "on the other side of the Valley" from where you live or work, the area near Lehigh Valley International Airport (LVIA - but locals and the FAA still call it ABE) is pretty convenient - right off Route 22 and lots of options. So, what's the state of dining near the airport and the industrial parks that surround it? If you've never been, I recommend that you visit Mocha Mike's, Taste of Italy, Copperhead Grille, and Cactus Blue. Here's a breakdown of what's available:

  • Coffee: Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, and Mocha Mike's (a drive-through at the Westgate Mall - if you have never been, it's fun and convenient)
  • Italian/Pizza: Airport Pizza (3360 Airport Road, Allentown), Taste of Italy (1860 Catasauqua Road, Allentown)
  • Sushi: Ichiban Japanese Steakhouse (1916 Catasauqua Road, Allentown)
  • Hot dogs: Dad's Hot Dogs (2362 Catasauqua Road, Bethlehem) or Yocco's (1930 Catasauqua Road, Allentown)
  • Sandwiches, soups, wrap, salads: American Cafe & Grill (995 Postal Road, Allentown), Saladworks Bethlehem (3215 Schoenersville Road, Bethlehem), PrimoHoagies (2410 Catasauqua Road, Bethlehem)
  • BBQ: Dickey's Barbecue Pit (3221 Schoenersville Road, Bethlehem)
  • Steaks: Gregory's Restaurant (2201 Schoenersville Road, Allentown), Jack Creek Steakhouse (1900 Catasauqua Road, Allentown), Prime Steak House (325 Stoke Park Road, Bethlehem) a.k.a. "where Steak and Ale used to be."
  • Chinese: Mi Chong's (3350 Schoenersville Road, Bethlehem) or Garden Family Chinese Restaurant (2915 Schoenersville Road, Bethlehem)
  • BYOB/no alcohol: Cactus Blue (2915 Schoenersville Road, Bethlehem), Friendly's
  • Sit-down restaurants with a full bar: Copperhead Grille (1731 Airport Road, Allentown), Roma Ristorante (925 Airport Center Drive, Allentown), Applebee's, Chess'N Checkers (1801 Airport Road, Allentown), Red Robin Gourmet Burgers (1875 Airport Road, Allentown). There will soon be a PJ Whelihan's Pub a.k.a. "where Bennigan's/Paddy's was" (3395 High Point Boulevard, Bethlehem)
  • The new shopping center on Airport Road at Route 22 also has The Gyro Company, On the Border, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Panera Bread, and Zoup (1830 Airport Road, Allentown)
What do you think?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hot Yoga in the Lehigh Valley

Lehigh Valley Yoga (1701 Union Blvd, Allentown) is hosting the first hot yoga classes in the Lehigh Valley Fridays at 6:00 pm. This yoga pratice is for those who enjoy working up a sweat, as well as a flowing through a series of yoga poses. The room is usually maintained at a temperature of 95-100 degrees. A vigorous hot yoga session promotes profuse sweating and makes the body very warm, and in theory, more flexible.

Some people claim that this type of yoga produces detoxification of the body (because of all the sweating, I guess). I haven't personally experienced this, but if you don't feel your hangover as much following the class (whether it's due to the workout or the large quantities of water you'll inevitably consume), go for it. I attended some classes at the Bikram Yoga College in DC. The classes were packed with men and women who like their exercise a little extreme - mountain climbers, boxers, bodybuilders, and people who try radical diets and exercise challenges (e.g. 100 days of consecutive yoga classes). The classes were tough. I have a feeling the Lehigh Valley Yoga classes are a little more moderate, but I haven't been to class yet, so who knows!

If you go, bring your own yoga mat and towel, and dress for the heat. Hot Yoga is not advised for pregnant women, beginners or people with heart problems or high blood pressure.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Shop Local: Milk and Honey Kids, Bethlehem and Allentown

Gorgeous photos by Patrice Mitchell
Sometimes I seek out business owners for the scoop on their businesses, and sometimes they find me. Rebecca, the owner of Milk and Honey Kids (3303 Bath Pike, Bethelehem and 3900 Hamilton Blvd, Allentown - both next to Talbots), sent me a sweet email... the kind this blogger loves to get, beginning with, "Hi, I just stumbled across your blog, Like you I wasn't born here, lived here on and off growing up and returned 3 years ago."

Rebecca worked for J Crew in NYC and Greenwich, CT, and after being a manager for years, she decided to be a personal shopper. When she and her family moved to the Valley, she noticed that there weren't any children's boutiques. Since June she's opened two very successful stores and carries some lines of apparel, gifts and toys that no other Lehigh Valley retail carries: Tori Spelling's Little Mavens by Hartstrings,

KC Parker clothes for pre-teens, Olive Juice clothes for kids, Melissa and Doug educational toys for children (including completely affordable and adorable wooden dollhouses and huge stuffed toys), and an item I think is genius... teething necklaces from Sonny and Reed. Wonder if they come with matching earrings.

The store is packed with unique items. It's perfect if you need a gift for a baby or kid but have no idea what to get. Rebecca and her team can recommend items in a variety of price ranges. Or if you're like me and dread gift registries at big box stores, shopping at Milk and Honey Kids is a breath of fresh air.

But like LeVar Burton said on Reading Rainbow, don't take my word for it: See what Patrice Mitchell, Lehigh Valley Momma, MOOB Train (Mom Owned/Operated Businesses) and Laini's Little Pocket Guide have to say.

Special thanks to Rebecca for hosting a little trunk show fundraiser for the horses and kids at Equi-librium therapeutic riding, and best wishes on your plans for growing Milk and Honey Kids in and outside the Lehigh Valley!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Teavana... where did I hear about this place?

If you are like me, you sometimes "know" something but can't remember how you learned it. Google Reader has saved me many times. If you read a bunch of blogs but do not maintain an RSS Feed, or aren't even sure what an RSS Feed is, Google Reader is a great tool. Just log on to Google (if you don't have an account, creating one is free), then under "Reader," you can subscribe to the web sites and blogs you enjoy reading. Just "add a subscription" when you find a new site you want to follow, and delete it if you change your mind. Then when you're trying to remember how you read about something, you can search using a keyword instead of racking your brain.

This week, I couldn't remember where I'd read about Teavana, the new tea shop open in the Lehigh Valley Mall. It is a chain, but a new chain concept to the Valley, so I wanted to share it with you.

Instead, since it was so easy to find their posts, I'll let you read what The ElVee, Lehigh Valley Momma, and Retail Watch had to say about it.

I wrote about tea earlier this year. I didn't mention that in DC, I loved Teaism, an Asian tea house that serves up tasty bento box lunches along with a wide variety of teas and amazing salty oat cookies. Holly and Liesl tweeted about being able to enjoy a salty oat cookie together earlier this week, and now I can't get them off my mind.

In the Lehigh Valley, I enjoy shopping at Christine's Secret Garden for tea at home, now that Cupteavity is closed. If I'm not in Easton, I can even get her teas at Tallarico's Chocolates in Bethlehem and the Kitchen Warehouse in the Allentown Farmer's Market.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Join something... meet someone!

When you're new somewhere, you might feel a little lonely 'til you find your "people." Transplants aren't the only ones seeking "community." Frankly, anyone who's new to their station in life (marital status, kids, career changes) might want to connect to some other people who share a common bond. The most common question I get is how to meet people in the Lehigh Valley - not just for dating or drinking, but for meaningful, life-enriching conversations and experiences. I've been collecting a list of groups that might be a good match for anyone who has an interest in developing new friendships!

  • The newcomers club of the greater Lehigh Valley is a group of women who help new residents as well as those who have a change in lifestyle (new baby, single, widowed, retired, etc.) by introducing them to new friends in the Lehigh Valley. They meet once a month, plan social, civic and charitable events, and have a great time sharing their unique histories and new shared community. They even have a Facebook page.

  • The Network of Young Professionals is an active group of men and women who want to get the most out of their experience in the Lehigh Valley. They aim to foster awareness of employment possibilities, welcome new young professionals to the area, support community organizations, provide professional development opportunities, and engage in social networking. If you go to an event, you don't need to bring a friend - every time I attend a "Net" event, I meet people who say "I just started a new job and the people I work with said I should join this group." Everyone is up for trying new things and meeting new people. Check out their calendar of events or join their email list for occasional updates.

  • Love a little physical action, paired with female bonding and snarky humor? Maybe Lehigh Valley Rollergirls can be your new sorority. The Lehigh Valley Rollergirls, the area's only women's flat track roller derby league, and the best players from this league compete together on one travel team, the Hissy Fits. Come see all the action.

  • Have twins (or higher multiples)? Check out the Moms of Multiples of the Lehigh Valley. They meet in Fogelsville on 2nd Thursdays.

  • It's cold outside! If you're thinking about knitting, meet up with The Knit Wits at the Whitehall Panera every other Thursday at 7. Meet, mingle and trade yarns with local knitters, crocheters and needle point addicts! Join the group for a relaxing evening of comparing patterns, sharing techniques and trading tips on stitches, sweaters,

  • Lehigh Valley MochaMoms is a committed to helping stay-at-home mothers of color connect to one another & the community.

  • Do you imagine yourself fit and strong, striding comfortably down the road during an easy workout or a 5K race? First Strides, a gradual 12-week program, will help you comfortably progress from the couch to walking, jogging or running at a pace that's right for you. Groups meet weekly in Bethlehem, Bethlehem Township, Allentown, Hanover Township, and Stroudsburg.

  • Didn't see a group here that floats your boat? Check out this week's calendar on Meetup.com for more options. From Quakertown to Nazareth and everywhere between, basketball and volleyball, meditation and crafting, dineouts to weightloss support, there is a group meeting THIS week.

If you try out one of these groups, report back... how did it go? If you're an administrator or member of one of these groups, put in your two cents. And as always... let me know what I missed.