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Saturday, September 30, 2006

COLUMCILLE--Bangor, Pennsylvania

A friend, Susan, read the newspaper article that led six Red Hat friends and I to pick a beautiful summer day, rent a van, and follow winding Route 94 through the green farmland, rural communities, and small towns of New Jersey and Pennsylvania to Columcille in Bangor, PA.

This peaceful preserve, located on seventeen acres of calmly meandering trails through verdant woods, is special in its serenity.

Since 1979, Fred Lindkvist and Bill Cohea have been creating Columcille as a restorative sanctuary—a place of serenity, a place of myth and mystery. Indeed, the word “Columcille, ” meaning “dove of the Church” is the Irish nickname for St. Columba, the Irish Celtic Monastic who founded the monastery on the island of Iona. Columcille is a unique combination of myriad beliefs. Just go with it and find peace is probably a good motto for the place. Look at this invitation from the brochure.
The Stones of Columcille
“Myth and Mystery”

Stones are guides and connect
To the Source of Creation in the
Beginning timeless spirit
Of consciousness.
Joining stars to stars,
Age to age.

Come dance with the stones.
Touch them.
Hear their songs.
Prepare to enter realms unknown.

Journey well.
And may the Spirit of
Oneness of all
Awaken your memory
And connect you to the
Mysterious Source.

Enter through the Infinity Gate
And journey at your own risk.

Sounds intriguing? We thought so.

We enter Columcille to be greeted by a swirling array of variously colored butterflies hovering over the flowering butterfly garden. Smiles all around.

Before us is the Circle of Stones placed in an open field to connect the energies. At one point just outside the circle is the St. Oran Bell Tower, a high stone concentric structure purposefully left unfinished and open to the sky, and hence, to the realm of possibility. It does not take us long to fall under the spell of Columcille.

Beyond the Circle of Stones lead paths through the woods, serpentine walkways which somehow cause us to stop and listen to the quiet and peace. There’s not much opportunity to do that in the world, and Anne notes that if she lived closer to Columcille, she might be inclined to linger with a good book on one of the stone benches placed along the paths to allow journeyers a moment’s pause.

Eileen and I stop by the wayside to ring the sweetest, melodious bells. We listen as their music wafts away, echoing in the woods, breaking the silence but in no way breaking the peace.

We stop to enter St. Columba Chapel. The stone in the center of this small, round building with its heavy, carved wooden door is the Stone of “Centering and Grounding.” It is cool and serene inside; lighted votive candles flicker. Lining the walls are stone benches—places to sit and contemplate.

We climb the hill to the most familiar structure, Thor’s Gate, Guardian of the North Wind, the “Mighty Wind of Voyage.” Thor’s Gate is reminiscent of the stones of Stonehenge (or the blocks of Foamhenge in VA). We can’t resist pretending to pose beneath, spreading our arms out from our shoulders pretending to be Samsons! We can only be quiet and well-behaved for so long!

Picking up our pace a bit and becoming less focused and serious, we head to the labyrinth, making some irreverent Harry Potter jokes, chuckling a bit, and walking the stone maze, looking with, I must admit, raised eyebrows, at the odds and ends left on the “altar” in the center. It’s a bit difficult to keep seven girlfriends on a totally quiet and serious tack.

As we enter the woods again, we have a choice of paths. We select one and soon find our orienteering skills are sorely lacking, and we miss or circumvent the stones we seek. We decide to try again after lunch.

At lunch we meet the gentlemen (and their dog) who have sculpted this garden, Fred and Bill, and we spend a lovely time with them as they feed the koi in the pond and share some of their history with us.

Later we decide to try again to find The Sacred Women’s Site, but we leave Carol behind to fulfill her contemplative urge with a book of psalms.

We find our way successfully this time, experience a kind of wonder as we see other stones in the woods, and climb back out to emerge in an open, grassy space where high, stone monoliths impress with their strength. Our emergence from the dark, leafy world of woods to this green field, natural yet unnatural as host to the stone intruders—or not—create strange feelings. There is a sense of wonder all around us, and we have to stop and inhale deeply, taking in our surroundings through every pore. Beautiful and new. Happy.

If you cannot visit Columcille, go to their website and explore it that way. What Rich and Bill call a sacred space is a mixture of so many primordial beliefs. They invite all to visit. They invite all to join the Company of Columcille and help in their commitment to “mentoring the land and those who pass through it.” Columcille, BTW, is free for all to visit, but you will want to leave a well-deserved donation to this good place.


Only fifty miles from Washington, DC, the city of Fredericksburg, Virginia has two faces worth seeing. One is the modern city with a growing population. The other is a well-preserved historic slice of Americana displaying beautiful streets lined with centuries-old homes, monuments, and museums. It is, alas, a city that bore the brunt of several major Civil War battles—Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and The Wilderness--one unfortunate claim to fame.

Before heading to Fredericksburg, travel the web to Fredericksburg. Look under Community and then Tour the Town. You can not only take a virtual tour but also download a map marked with the historic sites and information on each site. It’s a good way to plan your stay.

In Fredericksburg, as I’ve often suggested, go straight to the Visitors Center on Caroline Street. There’s ample parking outside and brochures and expert advice inside. Think about purchasing a Pass that will allow you discounted admission to some of the many sites. AAA offers a 20% discount. We picked up a walking tour map which we used as our guide, but to cut down on walking, some friends took the Trolley Tour and found it very informative.

George Washington spent his youth in Fredericksburg, leaving in 1752. There are many GW sites in the area as family members remained. George’s mother, Mary Washington, spent the last seventeen years of her life in Fredericksburg so she could be near her daughter, Betty. George bought her the house in 1772. Inside is period furniture including some of Mary’s own, and in the garden grow boxwood she planted! Even in 2006, sitting on the back porch overlooking the garden creates a peaceful setting.

I was taken by a portrait of Mary. George’s resemblance to his mother was uncanny. Not a handsome woman, thought I. Then I learned that Mary’s irascible nature made her refuse to sit still for a portrait. The artist painted everything but her face and slipped George’s in there instead! Remarkable. Ha! Ha! Does that make her a "handsome woman"?

We also visited Kenmore Plantation & Gardens. This 18th century home was built by her husband for George Washington’s sister, Betty. Undergoing extensive restoration work, its elaborate and beautiful plaster ceilings survive from colonial America. They are the work of the same “stucco man” who worked at Mt. Vernon. It’s extremely interesting to hear about the restoration process. The tour not only focuses on the magnificent house and gardens but also on the lives of Virginia’ gentry. Amazingly the house suffered little damage during the Civil War although some bullet holes remain!

In addition to the many historic homes, Fredericksburg is tragically linked to the Civil War. Four important battles were fought here between 1862 and 1864—100,000 men fell.

We visited all four sites, taking a guided walking tour from the Fredericksburg Visitors Center of the Fredericksburg Battlefield, visiting buildings, monuments and remaining walls and roads, thereby gaining a clearer picture of what happened there.

Two Visitor Centers help interpret the four battlefields, and we took a driving tour combined with walking tours. With our friend, Carol, a student of the Civil War, we took “The Wounding of Stonewall Jackson” walking tour.

The richness of this area cannot fully be appreciated in a brief visit. Fredericksburg is a place to revisit. Enjoy and learn from your stay; then digest and return. Virginia preserves its history well, and one can spend a lifetime taking in all the sites.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


This is pretty important. Travel restrictions are changing constantly these days. It’s almost impossible to keep up as our government tries to ease restrictions without compromising security—a difficult thing at best in a country where there are several thousand planes—yes, that’s right—in the air at any one time.

The best thing to do before you begin to pack is check with Travel Security Administration (TSA). You'll get the latest info on what you are allowed to pack as well as how things should be packed. Bookmark this site in order to keep up to date. If you’re traveling internationally, also check the U.S. Department of State for passport and Visa requirements, travel warnings and suggestions (and mind them), and other information that may pertain to you. Dates for new passport requirements have been changed several times, and knowing when they go into effect is something that begs checking. Bookmark this site as well. Changes occur and it is best to be prepared.

If you’re taking a driving trip, an important site to consider is the Federal Highway Administration’s site where you can get road closure, traffic updates, weather conditions and other important information that might enable you to ease on down the road a bit more comfortably. Look at the map, click on the state, and you’re good to go.

And, of course, consider TATravel for your travel planning. Bookmark this site as well or simply come back to Third Age Traveler and click the link on your left.

Monday, September 25, 2006


795 Route 284, Westtown, New York 10998
(845) 726-3822

Interest after the our review of Gigi’s Folderol II, that gem of a restaurant tucked away in tiny Westtown, New York, lead us happily to bring four more friends, our dining-out buddies.

What an exquisite evening! Raves all around. To top it off, our waitress, Virginia, is also the owner, and we have a terrific conversation getting to the interesting history of Folderol and learning that the idea of six degrees of separation really works.

First we learn that Virginia lived in the same community in Greenwood Lake, Furnace Brook, as we did (only we lived there while Virginia was still in diapers and we've been gone for 26 years). The Warwick realtor who helped her find Folderol, Patty Brady, is the mother of my niece, Nicole’s, fiancĂ©, TJ Brady. Small world, isn’t it.

Back to Folderol. Virginia had a restaurant in Greenwood Lake, but she had to find a new location. She found a wonderful old home in Westtown. On a “reconnaissance” visit with her mother, the owner of the building thought they were trying to break in. Thus began their relationship.

All’s well that ends well, and seven years later Folderol is one of the finest restaurants in the area. Virginia and her husband make their home there too upstairs in this lovely old home that they’ve renovated.

Now to the main course. Richard Wiggins (Wiggy) is at the piano playing the old and the new so beautifully that his melodies, floating into our dining room, cause both Iris and Joyce to comment. He’s masterful, and he lends a great deal to Folderol’s ambiance.

Virginia describes exuberantly each item on the menu while Ron, Allan, and Rob comment and tease her. She is surely a patient woman. The banter is relaxing and joyful, making everyone laugh. Folderol is more than a great restaurant; it’s a great experience.

Maui Spring Rolls, Escargot, and salads begin our meal. For descriptions, please go to the July 2006 archive. We continued with roast duck—scrumptious, rack of lamb—out of this world. Everyone was thrilled.

This visit to Folderol found our evening spread before us as a banquet of music, witty conversation and a superb dining experience.

Trust me; while its address may suggest isolation, Folderol is very close to Middletown and Rt. 17, Port Jervis and Rt. 84, and Warwick. And know that Virginia is smart. Folderol is open on Monday when many restaurants are closed. Don’t be a stranger. Gigi’s Folderol II is a diamond!

Audio book: John Jakes' SAVANNAH

We chose John Jakes’ Savannah or A Gift for Mr. Lincoln as the audio book accompanying us to Virginia because it is an historical novel that seemed also light-hearted, our requirement for audio books used for the road. Too much detail or too serious a topic is apt to draw attention from driving. That’s a no-no. Jakes is also the author of North and South Trilogy, lending him some authority in the Civil War period. This is an 8.75 hour long recording.

War is hell, and we all know how Sherman burned Atlanta, proving once again that the way to stop a war and the killing is actually to be brutal and to make the enemy understand the consequences of its actions. Sherman’s actions earned him a reputation that frightened Georgians standing in the way of his inexorable march to the coast, and Savannah stood in his path. Word of his approach reached the glorious and charming old city far before he did, and the citizens and politicians were petrified. Sherman’s goal was to hand Savannah to Lincoln as a Christmas present. His goal was not to burn the city, but to allow it to exist in the spirit of the season.

Into that setting, Jakes places Sara Lester, a war-widowed rice plantation owner and mother of a feisty, Confederate-loyal, independent, 12-year old daughter, Hattie. Throw into the mix a politician (and relative), Judge Cincinnatus Drewgood (not surprisingly reminiscent of a Dickensian character as Jakes is a life-long Dickens admirer), greedy for Sara’s plantation, a gangly teenager, Legrand Parmenter, with an affection for Hattie and itching to go to war, several scraggly, dishonest Yankee soldiers out to do the best they can for themselves through looting on their foraging missions, and an Indiana Yankee Sergeant who saves a freed slave and slowly begins to open up his mind to the equality of men. Wait, I’m not through. The war is covered by newspaper reporters, and one Yankee from New York begins to grow fond of the Widow Lester. Hmmmmm....

There’s a lot going on here, but Jakes writes simply. This is really a holiday story of people in a war-torn 1864 world trying their best to keep some form of normalcy in their lives. Two truly prized possessions exist in this story: Amanda, Hattie’s pet pig who is kept even though she, as the humans, is sometimes close to starvation, and Sara’s friend Bea’s piano, played by Bea and the news reporter from New York. They are statements of the values that remain despite the horror of the times. There is the feeling of good will toward men by some very powerful people here, but there is also a feeling that there are always those out to exploit others and enrich themselves.

This may not be Jakes’ best work, but it is a good companion to the road, particularly when you’re headed South.

Saturday, September 23, 2006


I must admit I struggled through Barbara Tuchman’s Pulitzer Prize winning history, The Guns of August. It is very detailed, but that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that her non-fiction work details the short time prior to World War I and the opening weeks of the war--the first thirty days.
I couldn’t escape the arrogance and stupidity of the people whose duty it was to protect the citizens of their countries. They cared for nothing other than their own vanity and positions of power.

Rather than responsible rulers, I read of men who were so involved with their own pleasure, they had little inclination to deal with evolving tensions and problems. I read of men who were cultural fascists—men who felt it their destiny to spread their “superior” culture to the less-civilized European countries. Much of the impetus to wage war was the German feeling of being “slighted” by the French.

I met men who felt that, despite advances in weaponry over the years, bright red uniforms and sabers would dare the enemy to face the vital and enthusiastic French soldier. Career military officers refused to employ the longer range artillery of the day, leaving their soldiers to be slaughtered. History tells us that WWI decimated an entire generation of French youth.

Politicians and career soldiers protected their turf, planned for years the possibilities of attack, and had no qualms about violating other countries’ sovereignty or neutrality. They lied to each other, entered foolish treaties which they might or might not honor, and laughed in disbelief at the possibility of a long war. They lied to themselves.

I found it impossible to sit and read The Guns of August for any length of time. The history was too horrific, almost too sickening to tolerate.

Even Tuchman’s style was often filled with bitter irony. Witness these words. She is quoting Kitchener, England’s War Minister. “‘The special motive of the Force under your control,” he wrote [to Sir John French], “is to support and cooperate with the French Army…and to assist the French in preventing or repelling the invasion by Germany of French or Belgian territory.” With a certain optimism, he added, “and eventually to restore the neutrality of Belgium”—a project comparable to restoring virginity.” Tuchman adds at the end of the next paragraph, “It [these orders] was to haunt the Allied war effort long after Sir John was replaced and Kitchener himself was dead.”

Saddest to me is that we do not learn from history, and the human foibles that engendered the First World War—the War to End All Wars—remain the same. The Guns of August is a fascinating read, but unless you can divorce yourself from its gruesome reality, best leave it for a home-read.

Monday, September 18, 2006



That's a beautiful blog and thanks for all the good words about Jacque as well as our Tea Room. Come back and visit us any time. Bring this e-mail and your next pot of tea is on us!

I have forwarded the e-mail to Jacque and read out the choicest bits to her already. I am fortunate to have great staff in our Tea Room, specially Jacque, and I'm so pleased you had such a good time. I will definitely pass this on to our website manager and ask to link to yours.

Best Regards,
Anupa Mueller