Search This Blog

A Bit More

Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Acapulco has a mystical quality born of movies and movie stars. I picture luxurious homes nestled in the mountains surrounding a gloriously magnificent bay where Hollywood’s yachts and Mexican fishing boats mingle. Acapulco was the escape of Johnny Weissmuller, John Wayne, and many other stars. I picture exciting nightlife filled with the beat of Mariachi music, colorful clothing, and exotic food and drink. I envision the famed Acapulco cliff divers, flying in graceful arches out over the craggy and dangerous cliffs to cut the water cleanly and beautifully. I hear the amazed gasps of onlookers. That is the Acapulco we see as the next stop on our Panama Canal Cruise. Acapulco puts my senses into magnificent overload.

As Hualtulco was championed as the Acapulco of 20 years ago, I love the exciting air of the Acapulco of today. Nothing here disappoints, and though Acapulco is often derided as too touristy, I say again that I am a tourist and I want to see, particularly on a first visit, how a destination earns its reputation.

We book a motor coach tour where Carmen, our terrific and knowledgeable guide, gives us insight into her beloved city. For two years Carmen spent two hours daily studying English because, she says, that is the way to break into Acapulco’s economy. She speaks beautifully. She boasts that there is no welfare in Mexico.

We begin with a drive through the city, looking at the city’s squares, dominate images in any Mexican city. The square is where people congregate, dance, meet on Sundays after church, and enjoy themselves. We drive along the beachfront where fresh fish is sold daily by Acapulco’s fishermen, and we travel Costera Miguel Aleman to Puerto Marques Bay. The views are stunning. The water is the deepest blue with ribbons of breaking surf. The cliffs rising through the waves glint in the sunlight, and form patterns of bronze or lush green above the blue. Breathtaking! We stop at La Quebrada to watch the famed Acapulco cliff divers.

These young men, who are unionized as cliff divers, traditionally learn their skills from their families and begin as young children. The height of the highest dive is 130 ft., and because of the risks, a diver can make that dive no more than once weekly. This is a show to behold.

The divers walk down the stairway to a patio overhang. Leaving their sandals behind, they dive into the water and swim across the inlet to the cliffs. Barefoot, they climb up the steep cliffs until each reaches his rocky perch.

I gasp as some find their centers and fling themselves from the cliffs, their beautiful bodies arching, their arms spread wide and high, their toes as pointed as great danseurs. Their bronze bodies contrast with the rocks and the water, and we viewers are awed by the beauty and the daring.

Then other men leave their stone parapets, reaching out and then

somersaulting to jackknife toward the water, stretching to their final, clean, entry to the water where we view small, white, momentary, bubbly circles.

The lone man who makes the 130 ft. dive stretches his muscles, prays and crosses himself at a stone altar before his attempt. He literally flings himself from the precipice, gliding through the air away from the cliffs until he allows his body to cut through the air into the water. You will see from my photos the heights from which he dives.

As if we haven’t seen enough, our tour then takes us to The Mayan Palace Hotel for lunch and for some time to enjoy the facilities. This magnificent Mayan themed 5-star hotel captures the beauty and freedom of the ocean and reflects, dramatically, the history of a people. From the beach the views of the mountains are stunning. The hotel captures the Mayan architecture. It is lush and open with vibrant flowers of all kinds and hues. Walking past several pools, we come to the most extraordinary mile-long pool which winds its way along the beach. It is landscaped, edged with lounges and nicely spaced ladders to enter and exit. Glorious. Rob and I spend the rest of our time there and swim much of its length. What a fantastic way to enjoy our day.

We even learn that the Mayan Palace is a timeshare as well, and we can come back through RCI. That’s a thought worth considering although this winter we are off to Cancun—on the Caribbean side--for a few weeks.


Huck's Lowcountry Table
1130 Ocean Blvd.
Isle of Palms, SC 29451
The email address for Isle of Palms’ Huck’s Lowcountry Table is, the philosophy of owner/chef J.J Kern who defines food as “a beautiful woven tapestry of all the fabrics from cultures and communities around the world. Some of the strongest fibers…come from right here in the community of Charleston, SC.” In this charming restaurant we found the reality of this tapestry—warmth, comfort, and an excellent dining experience.

We had a chance to chat with J.J. who described his use of local produce to bring authentic Lowcountry flavors to his innovative and interesting dishes. We asked our friendly and excellent server, Danielle, to recommend dishes exemplifying South Carolina cuisine, and the result was a glorious meal.

With our drinks, we savored a honey and citrus bread served with butter flavored with peppers and pimento. It was going to be a hard act to follow, but Rob, Wendy F., and I shared some starters: Cornmeal Dusted Fried Calamari served with a pickle-tomato relish and She Crab Spoonbread. We hadn’t a clue about this dish, but it was wonderful. The calamari was done perfectly, lightly fried and still tender and tasty. Huck’s is a relax-and-enjoy restaurant. We had only just begun.

Once again we took Danielle’s advice. For her entrée, Wendy chose the Pan Seared Scallops. They were plump, juicy, and done to perfection. They were served with a butternut squash puree, rainbow chard, and warm molasses bacon vinaigrette. Doesn’t that make your mouth water? It should!

Rob, probably because it was our first night back in the South, went for the Southern staple (for him, anyway)—Buttermilk Fried Chicken served with sweet potatoes and sausage gravy. The chicken was peppery, crispy, and light. Look at this photo. Doesn’t this dish look beyond wonderful? It was.

I selected Crispy Seared Crabcakes. Incredibly tasty though very different from the crabcakes we love in MD. These had a smoother, softer texture, and a peppery flavor as opposed to Maryland’s scrumptious lump crab cakes. Huck’s crabcake coating was superbly crispy—a charming combination of flavor and texture. They were served with creamed Carolina Gold rice and spinach, and Old Bay shallot aioli. The Carolina Gold rice, however, stole the show. This rice was creamy, fluffy, and slightly salty. A delicious and unusual treat that was different enough to prompt googling.

Carolina Gold rice is an heirloom rice once a commercial staple grain grown in coastal South Carolina. There is even a Carolina Gold Rice Foundation which began in the 1980s to revitalize this crop, and Carolina Gold rice is making a comeback. According to the foundation, “Carolina Gold rice differs from other long grain rices in its chameleon starch quality, which will produce classic fluffy long grain, creamy risotto or sticky Asian-style rice depending on how it is cooked.” It was a treat for me and obviously very “South Carolinian.”

As you can see, this was a full dinner, and we opted for coffee but no dessert. BUT the ice cream at Huck’s is homemade, and Danielle cajoled us into sharing butter pecan. WOW! This ice cream had a unique texture. It was slightly grainy and very light. What melted in our mouths were the true flavors of real butter and many, many pecans. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted a butter pecan ice cream like this. Absolutely terrific.

J.J. Kern is an artist. His warm and friendly restaurant and his thoughtful approach to the food he proudly serves make Huck’s Lowcountry Table a must-stop if you’re lucky enough to vacation on the Isle of Palms.


My book of the year is Mary Ann Shaffer's The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. This novel is exciting, and it’s honest-to-goodness literature; it has all the hallmarks of a great book. The most inviting element of Guernsey… is its form. It is epistolary--a series of letters. Through these letters the reader enters a private world and reads personal thoughts. It’s a way for Shaffer to develop individual characters without the usual description; the characters literally develop themselves, and we get to know their most intimate thoughts. Combine these revelations with an intriguing plot, and you’re taken on an emotional ride as each new event is uncovered.

The story begins on Jan.8, 1946 immediately following the end of World War II when people in England are trying to rebuild their lives after years of war, bombings, and deprivation. That's true in busy London where our main character lived through the bombing and destruction. It's also true on the quiet Channel Islands occupied by the Germans during the war. There people are trying to find--or remember--what life is like on a small island isolated from the mainland's hectic life. It’s not easy re-defining the meaning of "normal." This dichotomy of lifestyles suggests a close look at life's values.

One of the strongest aspects of the novel is the diversity of character. As in any society, the range of personalities, values, and reactions to events is diverse. How people react to war, occupation, and material shortages reveals personality traits that may remain hidden in a better world. The characters’ letters reveal their reactions. Through the people on Guernsey and the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society we gain familiarity and insight. So does our main character, Juliet Ashton.

Juliet Ashton is a young, weary London writer whose home, belongings, and sense of normalcy have been bombed into oblivion. Trying to write a book as a transition from a wartime columnist attempting to bring some humor into a humorless situation to a recognized author rebuilding a shattered emotional life and adjusting to a blitzkrieg-free post war environment, Juliet begins to find some sense to the world through a casual correspondence with a Guernsey Island inhabitant, Dawsey Adams.

Juliet's relationship widens through letters to other members of Guernsey's Literary and Potato Pie Society, people also desperate for news of the world after years of Nazi occupation. Their letters reveal the pains and joys of life lived under dire circumstances. The letters reflect their resilience, and this novel becomes praise for the human spirit.

But don't think this is a serious, no-nonsense book. It's not! There is plenty of lol funny stuff going on, and there's burgeoning affection and confliction as well. Juliet is aggressively courted by super-wealthy, wheeler-dealer, suave Markham Reynolds who inundates her with flowers, wines and dines her in a way that her war-rationed mentality finds gloriously stimulating, and brings her into international society. Very tempting for a girl who delights over real eggs and real sugar for icing!

The key is--This book is delightful, real, vivid, exciting, and, to my absolute pleasure, a piece of real literature! The characters will become your friends, and you will yearn to visit the Channel Islands (although the inhabitants will hardly enjoy becoming a tourist spot). Start the New Year right, and treat yourself to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Friday, December 26, 2008


I have to bring you back to Sept. to pick up at Massanutten, VA. We had such a great time there, and if you've never driven through the rural Virginia countryside, you're missing some great beauty. We stayed at the Massanutten Resort in McGaheysville VA, (a timeshare and member of RCI) but we also did some driving and took in some great local sights....

I left you last month after Rob beat my sister, brother-in-law, cousins, and me on the resort's fantastic miniature golf course. We went into Harrisonburg for dinner, but we spent the rest of the evening enjoying each other's company and catching up.

The next morning, Robyn, Rita and I met at the Woodstone Recreation Center Pool for water aerobics, and Rob headed back to the treadmill. Each morning there is an hour long water aerobics class, and it is quite a workout. Our instructor had us moving the entire time, and while it never was boring, it was not just fun and games; it was a workout. We jogged, stretched, balanced, used noodles and bicycled around the pool and used, for much of the hour, water weights. Those weights are an amazing addition to the workout, and by the time we were done, I really felt it in my shoulders. They provided the resistance exercises that are so necessary in a good workout. There were about 15 people in the class including a few men.
After the class we relaxed those muscles in the big hot tub--at 105 degrees--the same as at home. Rita and Robyn and another woman from the class were initially reluctant to enter at that temperature, but being an old hand at this, I got in and they followed. Another "classmate" demurred and just talked with us from the side. After our stay in the hottub, we three got back in the pool to cool down. What a great morning!!

We parted, went back to our suites, showered and changed, and met again for an afternoon drive through the Virginia countryside. In some fields the cornstalks were still standing while in others they had already been cut down in preparation for the winter. But the grass was still very green, and the dark brown Virginia cows were, for the most part, lying down, a sign of rain. Indeed, rain was forecast and the cloudy day foretold of the rain to come.

Our first stop was the indoor Mennonite Market at Dayton, a year round establishment filled with all kinds of possibilities. The Mennonites appear to mix more with the outside world. I saw cars and trucks in addition to the horsedrawn carriages. In addition to the homegrown produce and meats in the market, there were what seemed to be strange additions. For instance, this area of Virginia, still several hours from Blacksburg, was definitely Hokie territory, and the number of Virginia Tech items rivaled the college's own book store in downtown Blacksburg. On the other hand there were few UVA items. Other booths sold jewelry, lace, furniture, food, and there was one interesting store that specialized in handcrafted goods from third world countries offering everything from area rugs from Pakistan selling for several thousand dollars to attractive nut bowls made from recycled newspaper. We all made purchases, and then Rob and I stopped for lunch at Hank's Smokehouse--an outlet of our favorite restaurant in the area--and enjoyed marvelous pork BBQ and brisket sandwiches.

When we left the Dayton Mennonite Market, Rita guided us along the winding country roads and up and down the beautiful hills past farmers' stands with their tables loaded with vegetables and bright orange pumpkins of every size and shape, horses in their pastures, and in one place two young bucks. It was a wonderful ride. Virginia has so many older homes, some dating back several centuries. There are old towns and many spots marked for their Civil War fame with signs explaining the area's Civil War significance. We crossed over rivers and headed to a special park in Mt. Solon, VA.--Natural Chimneys, a remnant of the time when much of Virginia lay at the bottom of a prehistoric ocean.

With rain threatening we weren't too anxious to take a long hike, but the gatekeeper assured us that the chimneys were just a bit off the parking lot. There were people camping and a roadie setting up for a weekend music festival. Before us to the side of a big open field stood the chimneys, towering 120 ft. above us--tall, stately and foreboding. Much of the surface was covered with thick, green vines. From one angle, they look like chimneys; from another angle they look like the turrets of a long-forgotten fortress. Tree shoots protruded from every ledge or protrusion. Far away at the tops of the chimneys trees grew. There was a kind of grotesqueness about them that was not diminished by the guard rails, the keep out signs and the snake warnings. There was no need to tell me twice. I would admire the chimneys from a distance.

It is very important to have an idea of the chimneys' history in order to appreciate them. Let your imagination run a bit and think back to those primordial seas gradually receding as the earth thrust upward during the Appalachian Revolution. Then imagine the volcanic activity causing the layer of strata we observed six feet from the base of the chimneys. is the power of imagination thrusting the observer back through time that makes this a powerful experience. It is the current green field and eerie, forbidding peacefulness that emphasizes the tumult of the past.

In the evening we celebrated Bill's birthday in Robyn and Neal's suite, feasting on some of our purchases at Drayton including banana chips and then organic spinach spaghetti. Robyn made an unbelievable carrot cake, Bill's favorite, and the lovely day eased into a perfect evening.

THE LANDMARK INN is a place to remember

Rt. 94
Warwick, New York 10990
845 986-5444

Thursday nights are great because my two golfing buddies, Mary and Beth, and I play year-round. In good weather we play a round of golf, repair to the 19th hole, and then Rob and Mike join us for dinner; once the weather turns colder, we “play around” and just meet for dinner at Warwick, New York’s Landmark Inn, and it’s a weekly delight. We skip restaurant seating and head for the bar which has a regular Thursday night crowd. It’s hellos all around and lots of hugging and kissing—as if we hadn’t seen each other in years! Warm and friendly and happy.

The Landmark Inn is a 227 year old Inn retaining the charm befitting its age. Walk along the covered porchway and enter into a dark wood paneled entryway with floors of wide planks. It’s pleasant and welcoming, dark and warm. We like the bar for its informality and its ambiance, but the restaurant is terrific. The food is excellent, and we’re able to order from either the bar menu or the restaurant menu.

Good food and good service are the order of the evening. There’s a popcorn popper. Just grab a big bowl and fill it. Order your drinks and begin. Don’t hurry; you’ll never be rushed, and if the kitchen can fulfill your wish, it will. This is a comfort food place, and there’s a steady flow of customers throughout the evening.

This evening, amazingly, all five of us order the same item--a scrumptious, juicy, huge, cheeseburger (we differ on types of cheese and degrees of done-ness). Each of us asks for it in a different way, from still mooing to medium, and each receives exactly as requested. These burgers are too big for a mundane hamburger roll. They come on super-sized Kaiser rolls. I ask if we can have sweet potato fries rather than french fries, and that’s what we get—but not those crisp overdone sweet potato fries. These are wedges, lightly done on the outside but still soft and very sweet potato-y on the inside. No piddly portion here. We receive a stack of potatoes, a huge half sour pickle, lettuce, tomato and purple onion slices.

The Landmark’s hamburgers spoil you. You’re loath to order one elsewhere because the chances are it won’t measure up to this gastronomical extravaganza.

Our group isn’t usually so similar. We’ve had marvelous cannelloni, crab cakes, chicken breasts with melted provolone, a spectacular turkey club with potato salad, half of which usually accompanies me home, and a host of other choices. The menu is varied, and no one leaves hungry. It’s a compliment to the chef that we’ve settled into a comfortable repetition.

Coffee rounds out the evening, and after two enjoyable hours, we part. There’s always someone else to take our table, yet it is never too noisy nor too crowded.

If you happen to be in the Warwick area, this is a place you might wish to try. You won’t be disappointed. Make sure you look through both menus before you decide between the bar and the restaurant. Either way, enjoy.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

MANHUNT-You Know the Ending, but You're Caught Up in the Suspense

Manhunt, the 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer, a New York Times Bestseller by James L. Swanson is a moment-by-moment account of the spectacular hunt for John Wilkes Booth following his audacious assassination—the first presidential assassination—of Abraham Lincoln. This non-fiction, thoroughly researched account reads as exciting as fiction, and amazingly the reader, who already knows how it all ends, sits in suspenseful anticipation! This history is an exciting and entertaining read.

I particularly wanted to read this book since I learned from our Charleston, SC visit in October that Lincoln had been invited to attend a re-dedication ceremony at Ft. Sumter on April 14, 1865 but declined. He went to the theater instead. Had he accepted, the history of our country would have been altered.

Swanson secures our interest by reminding us of Lincoln’s second inauguration on March 4, 1865 at which time John Wilkes Booth, consumed with hatred, was in the crowd. Fast forward to April 3, 1965 when Richmond fell, and Booth saw his time to act against Lincoln quickly disappearing. A previous kidnapping plot evolves into assassination.

From this point, Swanson keeps his reader in blow-by-blow touch with the movements and emotions of this historical drama, and he is able to build the suspense as Booth collects his co-conspirators, prepares his plans, executes them, and daringly escapes. He eludes search parties for 12 days, and the account is fascinating.

As Booth had hoped to kill the entire cabinet and the Vice President as well as the President, we follow those plans through Booth's co-conspirators' actions. Sometimes the details are graphic and in the book’s epilogue are accompanied by photographs of the aftermath—for instance the disfiguring knife wounds on Secretary of State William Seward. We follow Secretary of War Edwin Stanton’s uncompromising search for everyone connected with Lincoln’s assassination as well as with the botched assassination attempts. We follow his suspension of laws, his belief in quick and final justice, and his attempts to prevent John Wilkes Booth any inkling of fame.

Equally and sometimes even more intriguing are the never-changing human reactions: the actress who wants history to remember her and cradles Lincoln's head in her lap so he will bleed all over her soon-to-be famous gown, the surreptitious cutting of a lock of his hair as a relic, the attempts to move Lincoln so that he will not be remembered as dying on the floor of a theater, Booth's overwhelming desire to see newspapers so he can read the “reviews” of his deed, etc.

This human element gives Manhunt its power and brings history and the people involved alive. In fact, Booth’s “celebrity” is so contemporary and his audacity so self-righteous that one can easily see some of today’s stars--Sean Penn, Jane Fonda or Michael Moore, who use their celebrity to embrace enemies like Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, transported back to the 1800s. It is the unchanging human nature that sends chills as one reads the account of this manhunt. The greed for the reward money when the manhunt is over astounds. Even Andrew Johnson’s presidential commutation of sentences seems incredible though very contemporary.

Revisionist history is not new. Swanson, in his epilogue, traces the care with which Booth’s image has systematically been altered over the years, and in restoring Washington DC’s Ford’s Theater (after many less prestigious reincarnations), the tours detail Booth’s path to the President’s box—a box in which no President who attends the theater sits.

This IS a vacation book. It amazes, clarifies, and unless you’re a Civil War scholar, I’m sure it will answer questions you never thought you had. The biggest problem might be trying to put it down.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


You know I’ve enjoyed my train travels. Here’s some news from Amtrak that is worth checking out. Amtrak’s USA Rail Pass is now available for purchase in the U.S. It used to be available only to travelers who lived outside this country.

The passes are available for 15, 20, and 45 days of travel. The 15-day pass offers eight travel segments for only $389. The 30-day offers 12 segments for $579, and the 45-day pass offers 18 segments for $749.

A segment of travel occurs each time a passenger boards a train or connecting Amtrak Thruway bus. You must begin your travel within 180 days of pass purchase, and you must have a ticket and reservation for each train you board.

You can really plan some great vacations, and once you get past the older tracks and tunnels in the east, you enter a world of domed cars and some spectacular sightseeing. Check out the possibilities.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


At last we are in Mexico. It is our first time on the Pacific coast of the country, and we will visit three very different and interesting ports: Huatulco, Acapulco, and Cabo San Lucas.

Huatulco with its 18 miles of coastline forming nine beautiful bays of soft, white sand beaches is our first port of call. Today’s Huatulco is Acapulco twenty years ago, and it is ripe for development. That’s what is happening here as resorts open and Americans join Europeans in this quiet city of only 7000 year-round residents. Much of the area has been designated an ecological reserve, so Huatulco has a very different and less hassled feel from much of the Mexican Riviera.

As the ship pulls into port, the panorama is spectacular. We stand on our balcony, and as we shift our views, we’re greeted by high, forested mountains almost layered behind a colorful, picturesque village and sparkling white sandy beaches. Look in another direction, and we’re treated to a coastline sprinkled with intriguing rock formations. Recreational boats ply the seductive waters, and even as we try to photographically capture this elusive scene, we are anxious to leave the ship and experience what are eyes reveal.

Marty, Sue, Rob and I opt for a lazy day on the beach. That’s a must. While the Coral Princess has many options, it does not have beaches and ocean. We book a shore excursion to Las Brisas Resort. When it opened in 1987, it was the largest Club Med in the western hemisphere. Now operated by Las Brisas, it still has the facilities and activities for which Club Med is famous.

The problem is that this shore excursion is poorly managed. The hotel is very beautiful and luxurious, but we are dropped off at Las Brisas with no instructions from the tour operator (selected by Princess), and no one we ask seems to know how our excursion works or what facilities and activities are available to us. We basically have to find our way around and discover these amenities ourselves. That consumes time. However, this is the only excursion on the entire cruise that proved a disappointment. When we took our concerns back to Princess in the evening, we were given a refund for the day. So it’s difficult to hold too much of a grudge because we’re resourceful, did manage to have a decent day, and Princess attempted to make it right.

As I said, we four are resourceful, and in no time we found a beach, lugged some lounges together under a palm umbrella, and headed for the water which was lovely and calm. Our homing instincts led us to the nearest beachfront bar, and we kicked back, enjoyed the local beer, and relaxed a bit. We did not get to sail or snorkel—a BIG MINUS because the deep cove in which the hotel sits would have made sailing an absolute delight—and we did not get to sit down and enjoy the hotel’s cuisine; hence we missed the local specialties. As we discovered our way back to meet our coach, we spotted the catamarans just around a corner on another part of the cove. Rob and I just looked at each other. Still we had been warmed by the sun, cooled by the water, and spent the day with our friends. And our walk let us enjoy meeting iguanas on every possible rocky place. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it?


Poogan's Porch
72 Queen Street
Charleston, SC 29401

Charleston, South Carolina's Poogan’s Porch is a restaurant Rob and I wanted to visit during our last Charleston stay, but time did not permit. You'll find Poogan's Porch listed in many of the Charleston guidebooks, but we are lured here for more than its gustatory reputation. We'd taken a Charleston Ghost tour, and Poogan’s is one of the unearthly stops.

Poogan was the dog that lived in this home, now a restaurant. Poogan is buried in the front yard of the restaurant. There's a small monument there in his memory. It is reported that many patrons who dine on the porch feel soft nudging at their feet, but when they bend down to peek beneath the draping table linen, there is nothing there to disturb them. Hmmmmmmmm

We went for lunch following our Gullah Tour of Charleston. Wendy Fitzgerald, Rob, and I were anxious to see if we could coax up another ghost who lives in the building. This is the ghost of the old spinster woman, Zoe Armand, who once lived in this house with her sister Elizabeth. Guests at the Miller House hotel across the street have reported seeing a woman dressed in black standing at the windows on the upper floors long after the restaurant is closed.
Zoe was a real witch in life, very nasty, and in death she periodically torments patrons who venture to the second floor ladies' room. When a diner walks down the long, narrow hallway toward the end of the house and locks the door of the single ladies' room, SOMETIMES there is a dreadful loud banging on the door. But when the frightened woman in the lavatory drums up the courage to open the door, she is greeted by a still and empty hallway. I asked our Ghost Tour guide if anything bad ever happened to the patrons, and he assuredly said no one had ever been harmed.

At lunch we three sat calmly in the lovely dining room downstairs waiting for our lunch. Wendy decided to use the ladies' room--the second floor room--and she departed. Rob, her diabolical brother, quickly urged me to go up and start banging wildly on the door. Being the mature individual I am, I practically tripped over myself hustling up the stairs. I must have banged pretty hard because a man emerged from his nearby office, and seeing it was only another woman, quickly retreated. Meanwhile Wendy emerged from the room, eyes tearing with laughter. She had already decided to do the same thing to me! Humph! We both had a good chuckle, but unfortunately neither of us met any ghost. Too bad. And now to lunch.

Poogan's Porch is lovely. Each room is beautifully appointed, and the menu varied and interesting. Of course we asked our waitress to recommend Southern specialties--things we cannot order back home. And she did. Lunch was absolutely delicious!

We began with a shared order of fried green tomatoes--thank you Fannie Flagg for making fried green tomatoes high on northerners' "gotta try" list. They were delicious. Rob tried the gumbo which Wendy and I also tasted. Wow!

Our entrees were wonderful. The waitress convinced Rob to try the Shrimp and Grits. He'd received the same recommendation before but yielded to other yearnings. This time he listened, and he was thrilled with the tri-colored peppers, sweet onions, tasso ham and blue crab gravy.

Wendy ordered the Southern Po Boy with Cajun remoulade and catfish. Nothing was left on her plate either.

I ordered the Jambalaya, a mouthwatering combination of a spicy tomato creole sauce, sausage, chicken, and rice. Super! Experimenting with regional foods is exciting and fun.

This was a great lunch as well as a fun time hunting up ghosts. Too bad we were only successful with 50% of the afternoon’s potential.


Ah, Virginia in September is absolutely gorgeous for a New Yorker. It's still summer here although there is just enough of a hint of autumn to make the temperatures absolutely delightful. Here we are, back at Massenutten Resort in McGaheysville, Va, just minutes off the I 81 in Harrisonburg, home of James Madison University. Massanutten is primarily a time share resort, the biggest in the Vacation Village chain. It's an easy drive from New York, and it is located in the magnificent Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. (Do you know that bluegrass song?)

We're staying in a different section of the resort this year ( . Last year was Eagle Trace, a Silver section in this resort; this year we're in Woodstone, a Gold Crown property. We've got a big, beautiful two bedroom, two-bath suite that is laid out to insure each couple’s privacy. There's a cozy gas fireplace which we use on the first night just because it adds a charming glow. Our balcony looks out over other units to the mountains. It's still early autumn here, several weeks behind New York, and the weather is delightful. We've met my cousin Rita from Richmond, my cousin Bill from Tucson, and my sister Robyn and brother-in-law Neal from upstate New York. They're staying at The Summit, another Gold Crown section here. Their two bedroom unit is laid out a bit differently from ours but offers the same amenities, and in this case, their Jacuzzi is a double while ours in only a single. Hmmmm At any rate, the units offer us plenty of opportunity and space to get together, hang out, and reminisce. That's what we're here for.

Yesterday before Rita and Bill arrived, Rob and I headed to the Woodstone Recreation Center, one of two recreation centers on the resort property. There we used the treadmill for a while and then headed back to get ready to meet Robyn and Neal. We four headed to James Madison University's Arboretum.

We were told it is one of the few university arboretums in the country open to the public. We took full advantage and picked up an Arboretum Walking Tour trail guide to help us identify the trees and remaining flowers. We ate our picnic lunch at one of the tables and just relaxed in the warm sun. The guide map sent us along lovely wood-chipped trails past signs that at the right seasons pointed out flowers in bloom or suggested a pause in the walk to admire a tree or bush. As it is late Sept., most of these treats are gone, and we were advised that in March and April, these trails are ablaze with a glorious outpouring of color and variety. Occasionally we'd come across a pavilion where a seminar was occurring and once a young, lone runner sped by, earbuds in place. He nodded as he passed us.

Our walk took us past a picturesque pond complete with stone waterfall and ducks. While it is possible to buy duck food from the machine for a quarter, Robyn had some bread crusts left from lunch, and the ducks seemed quite satisfied. We also saw turtles in the water or sunning themselves on rocks. In the middle of a bustling university, this natural haven seemed quite remote and peaceful.

There is also a Meditation Garden that we decided to save for another visit. Instead we headed back to the resort and the best miniature golf courses I've ever played. It's not only a good course attractively designed but also the views of the Shenandoah Mountains are so lovely that it's hard not to stop and admire the scenery. They're very clever at the resort; there are actually two 18-hole courses back to back with different colored flags to separate them. This way they avoid a pile-up when the facility gets crowded, not that it has been in any of the times we've come. Still, we like to travel off season, and indeed there is blessedly a lack of children at this time of year. We were on the 14th hole when Rita and Billy arrived, and I'd like to claim their arrival took me off my game and that's why I came in 3rd, but that would be a lie, and there are few things worse than a bad lie in golf. Ha Ha Simply means I'll have to come back to play again and try to beat Rob who came in first.


Finally got to a book given to me as a birthday present in 2007. Glad that I did. Old anglophile that I am, this #1 British bestselling book sparked an appreciation for a departure from the ordinary. The book is The Reading Group. The author is Elizabeth Noble, and gentlemen, it is almost definitely not a book for you. Glamour (UK) writes, "This is a real female-bonding novel in the very best sense; it's witty and immediately engaging." I heartily concur.

I am immediately intrigued by the novel's unusual structure. The reading group meets once a month; the time span of the novel is one year. Each chapter introduces the book selection of the month. Each month a different woman makes the selection. The book becomes a reflection of each member’s personality but also speaks to the other women in some profound way, reflecting aspects of their own lives. Their personal stories are also revealed--their loves, heartbreaks, successes, disappointments, and growth. The women's personal stories evolve as the year progresses and often impact on their reactions to the book selection. They learn, through the books and their sensitive interaction with each other, how to cope with the intricacies of life's relationships. In the course of the year, each woman grows not only as an individual but also as a compassionate and understanding friend. See, it IS a woman’s book.

On one lovely level, The Reading Group demonstrates what we readers know--that there is something powerful and special about reading between the lines--in books AND in life. Personal growth can come from both. Immediately the relationship with reading brings a feel-good moment to me!

On another lovely level, I know how important my friends are to me. Friendship among women is very different from friendship among men. The Reading Group applauds the importance of these special relationships, and that puts it up with The Divine Secret of the Ya Ya Sisterhood.

I did have a bit of trouble for a while as I was introduced to the many characters in this book. The plot encompasses the group's members, their husbands and significant others, their children (and their problems), and some significant outsiders. Not quite a cast of thousands, but definitely enough characters to have me checking back to the character listing at the beginning of the book. Ms. Noble must have had a premonition.

Don't be put off if it takes you a bit of time to get into this book. The many characters and the fact that each member of the group has a different life challenge--hence a slew of subplots to suck you in—doesn’t allow the book to flow as I might have liked. But once you've been bitten, you will want to find out how each problem is resolved. And I think you will be satisfied.

The Reading Group is a good one to take along on a trip. Oh, and if you're an Anglophile, you'll love these women and their language, their slang, their references, and their interests. At the same time they are universal, they are also oh so British. Enjoy.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


I'll write about these waterfalls and give directions at a later date--probably when we've been to all eight waterfalls beginning just outside Milford, PA. Rob and I had a lovely summer day exploring these areas when the water did a slow, summer dance. My friends and I thrilled at the rushing and the noise on this autumn day, and I thought I'd share it with you.
Click to play
Create your own slideshow - Powered by Smilebox
Make a Smilebox slideshow

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Believe it or not, this is an excellent time to travel because everyone wants your business. If you look carefully, you can snag some super deals. Here’s some things you might consider:

1. Think about the “shoulder season,” which runs from about April 15 through June 15. Prices are lower on flights and hotels, and crowds are smaller too. Choose a destination and check on the web to learn about the weather. Is it a rainy season? What are the temperatures? You can find some great tropical locations or you can hit Europe when airfares are often close to half price.

2. Think about Latin America where prices are favorable to Americans. Rob and I loved Costa Rica. We’re heading to Mexico for two weeks this winter. Try South America. Expedia reports that roundtrip airfares between the U.S. and Latin America average under $500 year round.

3. Make sure you sign up for where you will be notified of airfare specials from your area. If you are flexible, you can get a great deal on your vacation.

4. Look at for some good deals. Cruise lines, for instance, are offering all kinds of specials right now.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


My uncle Jesse gave me two Sue Grafton novels, telling me that she put together an intriguing and interesting story. Right he was, and though Rob and I listened to S is for Silence as a perfectly performed audio book, I think I am going to go back and pick up the other letters of the Grafton alphabet—beginning with A is for Alibi.

The characters who people this 19th novel in the Kinsey Millhone series are not particularly admirable, not even Grafton's private investigator, Kinsey Millhone. She's hard-boiled enough that late in the book she apologizes to a woman for being relentlessly cold and unfeeling for the pain others might feel in the solution of this decades' old disappearance. But even her regret is fleeting. The suspects themselves are unattractive in their attitudes and actions, and each one has a grudge against the missing woman that makes her disappearance no surprise. Still, their baseness might be what makes them interesting, and Rob and I had plenty to talk about as we each tried to guess the ending of the story. It might be that Kinsey’s less than perfect character makes her more interesting, if less brilliant, than a Sherlock Holmes, although he could be pretty awful too.

The premise of the plot is interesting. The book is set in 1987, but the mystery really begins in 1953—on the 4th of July. A young woman out to see the annual fireworks display vanishes leaving her young and adoring seven year old daughter with a father the child knew more as her mother's sparring partner than as a loving dad. Violet’s disappearance is of local interest for a while primarily because she is the town’s femme fatale—very 1950s--and all sorts of rumors are attached to her name. But interest fades into local folklore, as such stories might, once the novelty wears thin. She was neither liked nor missed. She had a bad reputation, fought publicly with her husband, and was respected by few. Where she fled, with whom, and how she was able to leave remains an unsolved mystery, and it is not until many years later that her now-middle-aged daughter whose life and self-esteem were destroyed by the abandonment seeks to answer those questions as a way to pull her own life back together. Enter California private investigator Kinsey Millhone. Digging into people's pasts can be very unpleasant, and in some cases, dangerous, but that is exactly what Kinsey Millhone is hired to do. She goes about her job with a vengeance!

If you like audio books, this is a good one. Judy Kaye did a splendid reading. If you like detective mysteries, this is a good travel mystery--a perfect vacation book. It will have you guessing just as it had us.


These days Costa Rica, nicknamed the “Switzerland of Central America” because of its tall mountains with slopes cradling lush vegetation, is a major sun destination, so it is with additional interest that Rob and I looked forward to the time here. We also booked a great shore excursion that included a 90 minute drive through the city and countryside, a gondola ride up through the forest canopy with commentary from a naturalist-guide, and a trip on an amazing jungle river. We were not disappointed.

Costa Rica is the second smallest republic in Central America. It’s narrow, and you can easily enjoy Pacific Ocean beaches as well as Caribbean beaches. It has magnificent rain forests. Only a few degrees from the Equator, the temperature throughout the year rarely moves more than 10° away from the norm of 89°. It has only two “seasons,” the rainy and the dry, and from what our naturalist-tour guide, Randall said, it can rain 15 days straight during the rainy season, and rainfall can reach 100 inches per year. On the other hand, when you think of the lush vegetation this climate engenders, you feel you’re traveling in a tropical paradise filled with magnificent, tall trees, brightly colored flowers, and jungle-rimmed rivers where crocodiles lazily sun themselves on the banks, iguanas gaze at the passing tourists with arrogant disinterest, and a plethora of birds fill the air with their sight and song.

Now through the Panama Canal and in the Pacific Ocean, our ship docked in Puntarenas, and for our tour we traveled in a Mercedes coach through the port village with its colorful shops and stands filled with all the souvenirs any tourist could desire. Randall gave us a running commentary on the history of Costa Rica and its democratic traditions including free education for all citizens. In school, English is mandatory. With these new opportunities for its citizens, Costa Rica has attracted businesses like Intel because there now exists a skilled workforce. Sounds a bit like Ireland, and look at their boom economy, the Celtic Tiger!

Our first stop was the Guacalilo Estuary where we boarded a covered shallow draft river cruiser to explore the ecological offerings of the Tárcoles River. In this country where the rain forests impact heavily on everything Costa Rican, there is a huge push at ecco-tourism so that visitors gain an understanding of the fragile interweaving of nature. The company Princess Cruises hires stresses the Save the Rainforest campaign, and their very knowledgeable guides point out changes in the ecological balance throughout their presentations.

The river cruise is extraordinary. We begin moving slowly along the shore of this brackish river, and our bus guide changes hats, slips on a field glass harness and we have a real expert on Costa Rican wildlife. BTW, guides are licensed in Costa Rica, and Randall is a college grad and extremely knowledgeable—and sharp eyed.

We see about 23 different species of birds, and Randall describes their habitats, unique qualities and notes if they are in any way endangered. He points out iguanas of all colors and shapes. He does the same with crocodiles and explains that of the many types of crocodiles that once existed, only about seven different types exist today. I loved seeing the birds, but I admit the crocs were incredibly exciting. They lie on shore almost camouflaged by the brown waters and sand.

They lie there, some absolutely mammoth and mean-looking, mouths open to breathe, and should they decide to stop posing for us and head to the water, they rise on their legs, looking quite ridiculous but still incredibly lethal. They move swiftly and smoothly—more swiftly than one would imagine of a reptile often more than eight feet in length can move—and they silently, stealthily, slip beneath the water leaving behind not so much as a ripple.

It’s utterly amazing. All we see are two bulging eyes and the end of a snout. We viewed this scene several times during the ride, but repetition did not diminish the dramatic spectacle.

Our boat went to the spot the river opens to the ocean, at which point we turned around and took another route back. We entered a man-made river carved out of the jungle years ago by a foreign corporation now long gone. The river has been maintained, and it offers a unique opportunity to travel into areas which would have been inaccessible to us. There we saw and heard the cries of howler monkeys high up in the trees. Their loud screeching echoed through the jungles as they leapt between trees. Seeing animals in their own habitats is incredibly exciting, and Rob and I have decided to investigate the possibilities of doing more eco-tourism.

After we returned to the dock, we boarded our coach for our journey to the Pacific Aerial Tram.