Saturday, April 26, 2008

Hidden Gems

Green County is home to many artisan businesses, and one of the tastiest is on the east side of Monroe's downtown Square. Chocolate Temptation is one of the Hidden Gems of Green County.

The exterior colors of cafe au lait and bittersweet chocolate hint at the delectable treats awaiting inside. Step through the doors, and the gentle aroma of chocolate and coffee envelope you.

The Buol family has been creating gourmet hand-dipped chocolates at Chocolate Temptation in Monroe since 1995. Their truffles are exceptional - a domed shell of chocolate encasing a rich, superb blend of cream and chocolate. They offer a wide variety of flavors, each a with its own unique appearance, miniature works of art. My favorite include the caramel, the hazelnut and the cappuccino with a chocolate covered coffee bean perched on top.

If truffles are not your treat of choice, the case is filled with other confections - Gertles made with pecans, caramel and chocolate; creamy chocolate covered nougats; solid chocolate pieces and more. Children love Chocolate Temptation's shaped chocolate lollies; the stars and frogs are always a hit. Try the creme de menthe covered Oreos or milk chocolate dipped peanut butter cookie.

Desserts and ice cream are also available. The tiramisu is excellent, and their ice cream dishes and sundaes are festive with a sugar wafer cookie on the side.

The other specialty at Chocolate Temptation is their coffees and other drinks. Year round, they offer a changing selection of specialty coffee flavors available by the cup or purchase a pound of beans to take home and brew yourself. There is a full menu of lattes, cappuccinos, and mochas, both iced and hot. In the summer, you will see many cups of their raspberry lemonade walking around the Square in the hands of happy customers.

The sign above the display case reads "I can resist anything but temptation". With the variety and quality of the treats at Chocolate Temptation, who would want to resist?

Friday, April 25, 2008

One Hard Hat in Pink, Please

Can you swing a hammer? Turn a screwdiver? Building a home may be easier than you think! Consider volunteering at a Women Build event for Habitat for Humanity. Sponsored by Lowe's, this Habitat for Humanity program empowers women while helping provide housing for people who may not otherwise be able to obtain the dream of home ownership.

As a child, I spent entertaining hours pounding nails into my father's workbench with his hammer, much to his annoyance when he would later come in to find fifteen bent nails sticking out of the top of the bench. However, my construction skills never passed that stage. I reached adulthood without knowing much about how easy most building projects can be. All it took was Luis, my ever patient husband, showing me how easy most building projects can be to give me the confidence to tackle things on my own. Now, I am still content to let him mud and tape drywall when we build a new wall in our home, but it is satisfying to decide to rearrange my kitchen cabinets or lay tile in our mudroom and know that I have the skills to do it myself.

If you are a woman who feels inept with tools and household projects, I would strongly encourage you to look for a Women Build event near you. You will be welcomed warmly, and you can learn a new skill. Take a step out of your comfort zone to come out, learn something new, meet some new people and help build a home for someone in your community.

If you already know your way around a drill driver and air nailer, Habitat for Humanity can certainly use your help. Come to a Women Build event to help other women learn these skills and put your talent to good use.

Women are always welcome at any Habitat for Humanity build, but if you are feeling like a fish out of water at a construction site, a Women Build event can be a good place start.

Visit Habitat for Humanity's Women Build page for more information and a directory of events near you. Green County does not have a Women Build event going on, but if you can make a short 45 minute drive, both Janesville and Madison are doing Women Build projects.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Things to Do

If you are looking for something to do this weekend in Green County, consider the attending one of the following events:

~ The Monroe Theater Guild production of Drawer Boy is playing on Friday,Saturday Sunday at the Monroe Arts Center. Tickets are $15 for non-member, and are usually available at the door. Call the MAC at 608-325-5700 for more information.

~ The Monroe Business Expo is happening on Friday and Saturday at the SLICE. Sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, more than forty local businesses are participating in this event. 12 pm until 7 pm on Friday, 10 am until 5 pm on Saturday. Admission is free.

~ The new Albany Branch of the Monroe Clinic is complete. The grand opening celebration is on April 26 from 11 am until 1 pm. There will be kids activities, tours and the doctors will be available for conversation. Refreshments are provided.

~ Brooklyn is celebrating Depot Days this Saturday and Sunday. There will be fun for the entire family with Speeder Car rides, model railroad displays, carnival, artist displays and more.

~ Toffler's in New Glarus is having live music again this Saturday evening starting at 9 pm. They are featuring the solo guitar music of Don J. No cover charge.

~ Dance and Dine at Turner Hall will feature music by the Don Peachey Band. Sunday from 2 pm until 6 pm.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Spring Fever

Spring has finally sprung here in Cheese Country. After the long, hard winter we have had here, people are peeking outside, eager to start the spring activities. Tops on the list of many people in our area is working in the garden.

The garden center choices in our area are numerous. Up in New Glarus, Brenda's Blumenladen is loaded with plants, trees, shrubs and garden ornaments. Near Brodhead on Greenbush Rd, Ahrens Acres is a full service greenhouse as well. Just west of Monticello on Hwy N, Garden Path Greenhouses is a popular spot. A few miles north of New Glarus, you will find Sugar River Nursery on Hwy 92. Down by Lena, IL., are three more options - Lily Pad Garden and Nursery, Judith Ann's Garden Center and Double K Nursery.

Here in Monroe, I like to visit The Garden Spot, located on the corner of 13th St and Hwy K, just a ten minute walk from the downtown area. Do not let the modest storefront fool you. The Garden Spot has two important elements - a friendly, helpful owner and a large variety of plants and gardening needs. There is always a good selection of shrubs and trees (fruit trees, shade trees and evergreen trees).

We stopped in today and already there is a variety of perennial flowers, fruit plants and herbs along with the trees and shrubs. More stock is arriving next week, and as the weather continues to warm up, the annuals, hanging baskets and vegetable seedlings will be available. Now is the perfect time to put down some new mulch for the growing season, then come back in a couple of weeks for the flowers and vegetable plants. Seeds and gardening accessories are also available for purchase indoors. If you have no idea what you want to plant, ask for advice. The owner is knowledgeable and personable.

We like to support local businesses, and trips to The Garden Spot are a spring and summer tradition around here. Stop in next time you are in need of something for your garden.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Property of the Week

This week's property is a commercial lot in Monroe.

I hear what you are asking - a parking lot? Yes and no. This is a commercial lot only one block off of Monroe's Downtown Square. Currently, it is a parking lot. We all know that parking can be a premium near the Square, especially during the downtown events when the street parking is banned and the city lots are closed to the general public. If you are looking for additional parking for employees or customers, this is a rare opportunity for your to insure plenty of parking for your business no matter what.

Look beyond what is there now, and imagine the possibilities. The historic buildings on Monroe's Square are wonderful, but they do not lend themselves easily to all types of businesses. Plus, vacancies are not always easy to locate. Take advantage of this generous 62x120 foot lot with a 20x60 foot alley to 11th St and build exactly what you need. It could the best of both worlds - a great downtown location and a modern building. Priced below assessment at only $29,000, business owners and entrepreneurs should pay close attention to this one!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Hidden Gems

I am starting a new series with this post, called "Hidden Gems". Over the course of the next year or so, I will occasionally talk about some of the specific people, places and things that make our are a special place to live. I often mention these items in the Things to Do posts, but I thought it would be nice to go into more depth about some of them.

If you have children and live in the Monroe area, sooner or later you are bound to meet the smiling face of Miss Kris.

Miss Kris is the heart and soul of the children's room of the Monroe Public Library. She is there with a smile, greeting children by name and quick to remember their interests and personalities. Many young kids happily bounce up the stairs to the children's section to give her an update on their lives. She listens patiently, taking the time to pay attention, ask questions and genuinely care. Older kids play on the computer, read, do homework and chat away on the sofas and beanbags under her watchful eyes. Older kids like to gather after school or on weekends to be with their friends or play on the bank of computers available for their use. The Children's Room is a welcoming place for kids of all ages.

If your children are younger, come to Storytime. Miss Kris usually leads the energetic Storytime every week for the preschool set. Filled with puppets, songs, fingerplays, stories and crafts, Storytime is an hour of fun for everyone. Come on Thursdays at 10 am. Toddlers have their own storytime on Mondays at 10 am, specially designed for 18 month through 3 year olds. Toddlers are welcome at the Preschoool Storytime with siblings, but it is fun for them to have their own time too. Once a month, the library does a Celebrando storytime in Spanish and English, led by Miss Kris and a father from the community. There are also special events like Pajama Storytime every once in a while.

Also popular at the library are the puppet shows put on a few times a year by Miss Kris and her crew of teen volunteers. The kids spend hours writing and rehearsing the shows, and the productions are fantastic.

The library also hosts family movie afternoons on occasional Saturdays, complete with popcorn. Gather in the air conditioning on a hot summer afternoon and laugh your way through a movie with the kids. It is a fun family time.

In 2004, Miss Kris was honored with one of the Green County Quality of Life awards, given to people who have made significant efforts towards improving or maintaining our quality of life here in Green County. It was well deserved. Miss Kris and the Children's Room of the Monroe Public Library are one of our Hidden Gems here in Green County.

Gracing the walls of the Children's Room is an incredible mural by another of our Hidden Gems, local artist Suzanne Miller. Only two small portions are shown here. The mural stretches ninety feet across three walls of the library. This is a masterpiece filled with intricate scenes that each manages to relate to the section it is over - from a cow jumping over the moon and a grown up (who strongly resembles Miss Kris) reading to children in the picture book section to an older child reading by flashlight under a sheet tent by the non-fiction and older children's books. The mural shows the wonder of literature, the amazing world that opens up as children start to explore books. Bring your kids in on a rainy day and spend the afternoon playing "I Spy". You will find endless things to spy in this intricate work of art.

Monday, April 7, 2008

What do you like about it here?

The Green County Tourism board is taking votes for a "Best of Green County" contest. You can vote online here. They cover it all, from favorite festival to best outdoor dining to best local cheese. Vote in one category or all twenty-seven, but go vote. Tell us all about your favorite hidden gems in the area.

Some of my favorites include the following:

Best Burger - The Gridiron in Brodhead, under new management. The burgers are thick and really good.
Best Special Occasion Restaurant - The Dining Room at 209 Main in Monticello. Few would a restaurant of this caliber when driving through this tiny town.
Best Selection of Local Cheese - Roth Käse’s Alp & Dell in Monroe. Stop in and talk with Bruno; he can recommend some fantastic cheeses to take home with you.
Best Coffeehouse - Cafe Claudeen in Monroe. Settle down in the squashy chairs to read the paper and enjoy your latte or frappe. Stay for lunch and try the quiche!
Best Sandwiches - Fox's Feathercreek Bakery in Monroe. I know, the name says it is a bakery. The baked goods are fantastic, but so are their lunchtime sandwiches. I recommend the BLT; Luis likes their Gourmet Grilled Cheese.
Best Scenic Drive - Take a Sunday drive through the hills of York Township. It is truly beautiful in that corner of Green County.
Best Park, Trail or Natural Area - Pick up your state park pass and stop at New Glarus Woods State Park for a day. The hiking trails are not too challenging. It is a peaceful spot to walk away an afternoon. If you are in the mood for more, follow the trail from the park down to New Glarus for a snack or to hook up with the Sugar River Trail and hike some more.
Best Place for Chocolate or Dessert - Chocolate Temptations in Monroe. The awning states Artisan Chocolates, and they speak the truth. The truffles are delectable; caramel is my favorite. Luis is a fan of their tiramisu.

Green County has a lot to offer. Go vote for your favorites!

Friday, April 4, 2008

You Ought to be in Pictures

What could be more important than location when selling your home? Maybe the photographs, according to a new study by the National Association of Realtors.

Gone are the days of grainy black and white pictures on photocopies MLS sheets. Today's home buyer is internet savvy. Over 80 percent of all home buyers look on the internet for homes, either to find the home they are interested in or to find out more information on a specific home. Some Realtors may claim "Oh, not around here". They are wrong. I have heard that claim from Realtors in our community, yet I have heard the opposite from many of the buyers we work with.

If 80 percent of people are finding homes on the internet, the photographs are the first thing that will grab their interest. No photograph, the buyer clicks on to the next house. Show them something attractive, and they are start looking more. People are clicking on the photos of a house even before they click on the map to find out where it is. The photos grab them first.

An internet listing of a home with multiple photos may also sell your home faster. Research shows that nationwide, home with 1 photograph spend an average of 70 days on the market. Homes with 6 photos spend 40 days on the market. Up it to 16 or 20, and they sell even faster, 36 or 32 days on the market. Homes with multiple photos also sell for more. Nationwide, homes with one photograph sell for 91.2% of their asking price. Homes with 6 photos sell for 95% of their asking price. This difference is huge.

Is your Realtor taking multiple, good quality photographs of your property? Are the angles attractive? How is the lighting? Are the photographs good enough that you would buy your own home again? I have heard from more than one of my sellers that their house looks so attractive on the internet that it reminds them why they love their home and makes them consider staying. That is the power of good photographs in an internet listing.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Happy Birthday, Monroe!

Monroe looks pretty spry for its age. Pull on the party hats because our town turns 150 years old on Friday!

Join the Sesquicentennial Gala at Turner Hall on April 4 from 7 pm until 11 pm. Community members will gather for a party featuring "Rocking Dueling Pianos", jokes, entertainment and much more. There will be an opening ceremony, huge birthday cake, vintage item display, decades of costumes, souvenirs for sale, historical storytime, food, drink and dancing. Tickets are $10 in advance at Ruf's, Turner Hall or the Chamber of Commerce, or $12 at the door.

The Monroe Theater Guild has put together a living history presentation and party for the area schools for Friday morning. Homeschoolers are welcome to attend any of the shows, so call the district office for times and locations.

Our town is pretty fantastic. Let's hope the next 150 years keeps Monroe lively and growing.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Property of the Week

This week's featured property is a remodeled home in Monroe.

Step into the comfort and convenience of this home only one block away from Monroe's Historic Square. This house has so much character! There are beautiful archways throughout, and charming quirky details like the pass through window between one bedroom and the hallway. The vintage light fixture in the foyer and iron railing on the staircase are fantastic period elements.

At the same time, you will appreciate the renovations that have been taking place over recent months. There is new carpeting, the kitchen is being completely redone, and the wood floors in the living room have been refinished.

There is plenty of room to raise a family with over 2100 square feet and three bedrooms. Expand your space even more by creating outdoor living spaces on the secluded backyard wooden patio and front yard stone patio. This property has a 2+ car heated garage with plenty of room to store other toys. Garage has span-crete floors with a full basement that features underground access to the house.

If you want a charming home in a great location, this is it! Leave the cars parked and walk to all of the downtown amenities, parks and schools. Priced at $145,000, it also includes a home warranty for your peace of mind.