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Monday, March 31, 2008


I really thought I'd have a great Yankee baseball story for you. Great photos. Some talk about the Opening Day ceremonies at the last Opening Day EVER at the House That Ruth Built--that great old Yankee Stadium that NO FAN wants destroyed. We even had great seats!!!!!

IT RAINED. AND RAINED. And the game was called. Yes, it's going to be played tomorrow night, but it just isn't the same, and besides we cannot go.

Can't say we didn't try. We bucked the traffic going in--you can bet the game was sold out. Rob let us off in front of the stadium and tried to find parking--which he never did; because of all the construction at the new stadium, many lots are long gone. We just stood around inside--except Carol, the biggest Yankee baseball fan, who went to the rails and watched Joe Giradi kick the turf and shake his head--and waited with a sinking feeling for what we knew would be the inevitable announcement. Then cell phone contact with Rob who called from an intersection where he was blocked from driving past the stadium. Traffic was so heavy and moving so slowly, he was still quarter-inching his way through that intersection when we arrived, having walked the entire distance from 157th St. to 154th St. to meet him!

Oh, I forgot to say that Carol and I were interviewed for Fox News, and coincidentally Marianna was watching at 5:00 and saw me!!!! We were still working our way to Suffern at that time! Carol made it to, and we let the family know.

May not have been the best day, but it was a moment in time that will never come again. I am going to frame our tickets!

Saturday, March 29, 2008


Despite the promise of Florida sunshine, sometimes the temperatures plummet, and here we are at the Palm Beach Shores Resort with promises of 30° weather tonight. It is in the low 60s today, so we dress in long pants, long-sleeves, and head not to the beach but to the Norton Museum in West Palm Beach to view its Florida treasures.

The Norton Museum was founded in 1941 by transplanted Chicagoan Ralph Hubbard Norton who commissioned the Art Deco/Neo Classical building as a way to share his extensive collection. The Norton Museum's collection consists of over 5000 works of American, Chinese, Contemporary, European and Photographic art. The building is impressive with wings added to the original to house the growing expansion of the collection, and the museum also includes gardens.

Rob and I begin exploring the American Collection. I particularly enjoy paintings from the Ashcan School, that group of artists dedicated to recreating an unflinching depiction of life on New York’s lower east side. I always am drawn to New York anything, so these paintings and others such as George Bellows’ "Winter Afternoon," a 1909 view over the Hudson River from Riverside Park warms my heart. Another favorite of mine, Childe Hassam's "Melting Snow on Fifth Avenue" holds me for a few minutes of appreciative viewing.

Wherever there's an American collection, watch for the Norman Rockwell. Here is "Tea Time," another example of this illustrator's philosophy to "paint life as I would like it to be." Delightful. For the real Rockwell treat, however, visit the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA.

Andrew Wyeth's "Road Cut" looks just like Warwick to me, but I also am moved by his words," I prefer winter and fall when you feel the bone structure in the landscape."

Walking through one archway, we pass, with a jolt, one of the most unusual examples of contemporary art by Duane Hanson. This is "Young Worker," a statue standing in a small alcove. Made with real hair and clothing, at first glance this seems a real person Hanson creates these statues, always having the character gaze up, sideways or down, never straight ahead.

Then off to the European collection, spending much of the time with the Impressionists. Here is an impressive collection with works by most of the great artists. I enjoy a Sorollo, "Child on a Beach," a small work but sparkling with the light on the teal water. The joy is just standing there and absorbing. As Paul Cezanne said, "If I think, everything is lost." That's something to think about.

Then off to enjoy some Chagall who said, "Art seems to me to be above all a state of the soul." I like that.

We stop for lunch in Cafe 1451 (the address of the Norton on S. Olive Ave.) where the items on the menu are named after artists, works of art, etc. The Cafe is a pretty room reminiscent of the Corcoran Gallery's restaurant in DC. Rob and I chose Paul Strand--roasted turkey/mango butter/ficelle bread + side salad and Richard Avedon--California avocado/cucumber/tomato/mango chutney/sprouts/whole-grained bread + side salad. Very pleasant. If you go to the Norton, do lunch there.

After lunch we visit some of the other galleries. The extensive Chinese Art holdings include many Buddha sculptures, and it is interesting to see the different depictions. Some of the pieces on display date to the Tang dynasty--618-906. Very impressive and very beautiful.

The museum also houses a very representative photographic selection. In fact the museum owns 2,200 photographs. I always enjoy looking at photographs, so this was just another good time for me.

A friend from New York, Gail, told me about the Norton after a trip down here, and I am passing on that recommendation to you. Does it beat the beach for a winter-weary Yankee? Not really, but it is a great place for a rainy, cold, pull-out-Plan-B day.


I’m traveling in Florida right now crossing swamps as we head from Orlando east to I95. I’ve just finished Carl Hiassen’s Skinny Dip. His outrage at the rape of Florida’s natural resources by developers—agricultural as well as housing is fresh in my mind. I can’t help turning a jaundiced eye at the number of developments along Rt. 46. But this is not a serious environmental book; it's a rollicking attempted murder mystery set on islands, cities, and Everglades of Florida. It's a good chuckle!

Skinny Dip is delightfully entertaining, slightly caustic, bitingly satirical, and a smile evoking read. It’s a great book to travel with, and you’ll smile through a lot of it!

Native Tongue, my first foray into Hiassen’s weird cast of unlikely, misfit, and misplaced characters, made me pick up Skinny Dip. I wanted a little fun with an Equalizer (remember that TV show?) ending. Skinny Dip answers that need.

Beautiful, rich, blonde, athletic Joey is upended over the rails of the Sun Princess by her husband who takes her on a second anniversary honeymoon cruise. Unfortunately for him, Joey, a college swimmer, knifes into the water and heads toward the still sparkling lights on the Florida shore—still a long distance away in waters rife with sharks, man ‘o wars, and all manner of dangers.

Sorry I can’t tell you any more about the plot, but take my word for it, Hiassen creates another unlikely bunch of characters acting in unusual ways to twist and turn the plot so you just keep guessing. You'll get a kick out of Joey and the people who surround her.

One of Hiassen’s literary devices is to introduce new and important characters throughout the book to help him tie up the loose ends. I can never quite be sure that I can foresee each frayed end neatly whipped. It’s part of the Carl Hiassen fun, and I highly recommend it even if you’re not visiting his home state of Florida.


Mario the Baker
13695 W Dixie Hway
North Miami, FL 33161
305 891-7641

On our recent Florida visit with friends June and Sid, we originally planned to head down to South Beach for a lively sampling of that famous sparkle, but June and Sid are newly made great-grandparents, and it had been a hectic week. So off we go to Mario the Baker, a North Miami landmark since 1969 where Italian food rules and 250-300 pizzas and 100 dozen garlic rolls are sold daily.

Mario the Baker is a big ole cavern of a place with red lacquered tables and a never-ending flow of people picking up pizzas and take-out. If you’re looking for fine dining and ambiance, Mario’s is not the place. This is a place for good, reasonably priced Italian food. The line stretches from the counter to the door. Not only is there the line but also there are virtually no empty tables in this seat-yourself restaurant. We four find one of the last ones. It doesn’t take long to discover how one place can attract such an awesome following.

Service is immediate and very friendly. We’re given a basket of tasty, doughy, warm, luscious garlic rolls. June warns us of the size of the entrees and suggests we split the entrĂ©e, order an extra salad and a side order of pasta. The salad is fresh and generous, and Rob and I understand June’s sage advice.

We share veal parmigiano. The veal is tender, and this dish is definitely big enough for two! Remember those old TV commercials: “Mangia, Anthony!”? This meal is an authentic Italian feast. The pasta and sauce are exactly as they should be.

Through it all there is good conversation and catching up—an integral part of the good-natured atmosphere.

Mario’s is very busy, and that may account for the fact that our waitress neglects to offer coffee or dessert. No room for dessert anyway, but perhaps a cup of coffee….

Sid tells us that this Mario the Baker spun off several others—now numbering 11 in south Florida, but this one is known as THE ORIGINAL. If you’re in the area, it would be well worth your while to look up Mario. This is good, substantial, homestyle Italian food. Mangia.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

YOU MAY PLOW HERE - Traveling back in history

Sometimes a national treasure is not something we can keep in a museum. Instead it may be part of an oral history we’ve somehow archived. That's the case when we read Sara Brooks’ story, primarily in her own words, in this interesting book You May Plow Here by Thordis Simonsen. Sara Brooks' story opens up a world we didn't learn about in school, a world barely touched even in fiction or in the movies but which, through Sara's vivid recollections, reveals a world that no longer exists. It's a perfect travel book. As you take your own trip, you'll travel Sara Brooks' life as well.

Sara entered the author's' life when Thordis Simonsen was four, and for the next 37 years, a trusting and loving relationship developed. This book results from hours of recorded reminiscences, stories about family members, circumstances and growing up Black in rural Alabama. It's a heartwarming monologue, full of love, determination, evaluation of the times and the values. Nothing is glossed over, and Sara frankly discusses her own triumphs and failures.

The unique beauty of this book is that it is in Sara Brooks' own words--her cadence, her vocabulary, her vernacular. Thordis Simonsen changed very little--changes for the sake of clarity. She also arranged some of the events chronologically, again for the reader's clarity--as the interviews lasted over a period of years, and stories were not necessarily given in chronological order. Despite the changes, the voice is Sara's, and as you read, you come to respect what she has to say.

The world has changed considerably since Sara Brooks was born in 1911. Throughout her story, she comments on those changes and reflects on what they mean: having toys, having free time, being taught about growing up, sex and marriage, values, having little to eat, providing for a family, having fun, being exposed to very little of the outside world, racism, religion, children, caring for others, self-sufficiency, etc. Sara deals with them all, and in the course of her long life came to timeless conclusions about how to live.

One very important aspect of her reflections is how hindsight enters into our lives--often that 20/20 vision occurs too late to rectify our mistakes--and often we come to realize how right were those who we chose to ignore or against whom we rebelled. Even while Sara ignored advice or teachings, she eventually found her way because what we are taught finds a place in our brains, and when the time is right, we are able to recall it, bring it front and center, and use it in the way it was originally intended.

I finished You May Plow Here with several strong feelings.

1. Preserving our history is essential, and Sara Brooks' story is an American story, part of who we all are.
2. Despite our differences, we are the same. We share common wants and needs and desires. We rise and fall.
3. We get through life better if we have a goal and if we have and give love, and not necessarily in that order.

When you finish reading You May Plow Here, go back to the cover and closely examine the photo of Sara Brooks--her eyes and her fingers, particularly her fingernails. I think that says it all.

Through a grant, shortly I am leading a discussion of this book. I contacted Thordis Simonsen to see if she could offer any additional insight, and we've emailed a bit. I asked about the photo she speaks of in her afterword, the one of her and and Sara Brooks. As it turns out, she did not keep that photo because it did not capture Sara's spirit. I doubt if anything could.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Before we left for Ireland and Scotland last fall, we planned a special vacation with friends to visit the Massanutten Resort in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. We feared missing the beautiful autumn of the Hudson Valley, and we thought we could catch up with it on Skyline Drive, one of the most magnificent roads in the country.

Once again we called on our time share vacations and headed to Massanutten Resort, a four-season community Rob and I had already visited once in the early Spring. Here was a new season and a new experience. Massanutten is a comfortable six hour ride from home. It's located off Rt. 81 near Harrisonburg, VA., home of James Madison University.

Massanutten Resort is huge!! Whether you're there on a timeshare, a rental, or as a hotel guest, you never have to leave the grounds to find ways to amuse yourself. But if you're into sightseeing and American history as we and our friends are, you find yourself in a virtual treasure trove of possibilities.

We stay in a townhouse with separate suites on each floor. Our friends stay upstairs in the suite with the Jacuzzi and half kitchen. We stay downstairs in the suite with the full kitchen. Both suites have balconies and fireplaces, and with the separate suites, we are all comfortable and able to enjoy our privacy. We love the gas fireplaces, but I'll spare you the photos of the guys fast asleep in front of the fire.

We'd come not only to relax but also to take in some of the unique features of the region. First day trip: Luray Caverns. I'll refer you back to ( ) when we took our family there. These are the most popular caverns in the East, and if you've never been, try to find a time to do the tour. It will blow you away!

The following day our ambitious plan is to head to Thomas Jefferson's glorious Monticello, then on to at least one winery, and then to Staunton, Virginia and an evening performance at the Globe Theatre, the only true replica of Shakespeare's Globe Theater in the United States. I have to tell you we didn't quite make it

Oh, we get to Monticello, all right. But Monticello is not a site to see quickly. It’s a marvel that is meant to be thought about and slowly savored in the same way that Jefferson spent his life thinking, planning, building and re-building Monticello to make his dream come true. Although Rob and I had been there twice before, it is absolutely impossible to go through without marveling at the man and his fine mind. We respect him as the author of the Declaration of Independence, but that is only one part of Thomas Jefferson.

The clock over Monticello’s main entryway, for instance, tells us not only the time but also the day and the month. Maintaining its accuracy made it necessary for Jefferson, in order to include all twelve months of the year, to cut holes in the floor allowing the weights measuring the months to sink to the proper levels. It's amazing. Dumbwaiters transported food and drink from the lower levels of the kitchen and wine cellars up to the dining areas. In his office, he had a copier that allowed him to write with one pen while a second attached pen made an exact copy. His skill in design and architecture lead him to build a magnificent home, and his knowledge of agriculture and animal husbandry allowed him to run a profitable and important plantation.

You cannot help but leave Monticello in awe of Thomas Jefferson.

Unfortunately our guidebooks did not indicate that the local wineries do not provide tours in the off-season, but we are allowed into one, Barbour, which Jefferson’s winemaster helped make into a premier Virginia winery. You remember that in its earliest days winemaking was not encouraged by the Virginia Company, and so until relatively recently, wine has been but a small part of Virginian agriculture. ( We do get to walk around the ruins of Barboursville, an historic landmark designed by Jefferson for Gov. Thomas Barbour. Built in 1814, it burned down on Christmas Day 1884.

As we try to find an even more accommodating winery, we drive through lovely rural farmland and find ourselves not far from Montpelier, James Madison's home.

Virginia is the home state of eight presidents, and three, Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, were contemporaries and relatively close neighbors. When we found ourselves unexpectedly in Madison’s back yard, we decide to drop in.

None of us had ever visited Montpelier, but Rick and I had recently finished reading James Madison's biography. President Madison, if I remember my high school days correctly, was not taught as the major influence in our country's founding that he was. Reading about him, I learned he was really the major author of our Constitution and Bill of Rights, and he was also one of three men who wrote the Federalist Papers which explains our Constitution and delineates the role of our government and its responsibility to us.

The visit to Montpelier far exceeds our wildest expectations. Madison's home is undergoing major renovation, and we are able to witness the ongoing work. Some rooms have been stripped to the original wood lathes upon which plaster would be applied. In another room, pencil marks trace the patterns of the original wall papers by following the marks they'd imprinted. The restoration is painstakingly done and extremely labor intensive, but without the dedication of the craftsmen, this piece of our American history would be lost forever.

Outdoors, landscapers work to re-create the roll of the lawns leading to the house. Those lawns had been planned by Madison with help from Jefferson to create a pleasing effect and an awesome view.

The work is expected to be completed in about a year, but the guide tells us that with a chuckle in her voice and a twinkle in her eye.

Do I have to tell you that it is too late to drive over to Staunton and Shakespeare? You know I must go back to that Shakespearean Theatre, so there will be at least one more visit to this area! Instead of faraway Staunton, we opt to do a leg of Skyline Drive and try to catch the sunset over the mountains and valleys.

Skyline Drive begins at Front Royal, Virginia and follows the Blue Ridge Mountains for 105 miles. It becomes the Blue Ridge Parkway and continues all the way to the Great Smokey Mountains in Tennessee. We did a 15 mile leg. There are lookouts all along the way, and the views are magnificent. Many years ago when Rob and I used to camp in the South (before children), we kept missing the opportunity to drive Skyline Drive because of fog. It took three trips to hit it right! Boy, was it worth the wait! On this day, we take the drive slowly, stopping very often to take photos and gaze over the magnificent valleys and abundant vividly colored fall foliage. It makes one breathe deeply and marvel at nature's beneficence. Deer cross our paths, and they don't seem bothered at all by our presence. Those 15 miles as our world moves from daylight to dusk to night are not to be missed.

Back at Massanutten, we skip the evening show in favor of games of Phase 10, and on this trip we don't play golf or go horseback riding. We use the indoor pool, and Pam and Rick decide to hike, but they find the ridge trail was closed because of bear and hunting season. OMIGOSH.

We do have a wonderful game of miniature golf at the resort. It’s the best miniature golf course we’ve ever played. There are actually two 18 hole courses that break up the crowds (there were none when we played), and the courses are creative and fun. The course looks across the mountains, and the views are terrific. It’s a great experience, and although I didn’t win—Pam did—we had fun!

These are a great few days. The separate suites assured our privacy, and our friendship guaranteed a relaxing and enjoyable few days. Virginia is one of our most interesting and diverse states, and the area around Harrisonburg is burgeoning with interesting historical (we were themed presidential, but it's astounding for Civil War sites as well) and natural sites for everyone in any season.


Do you subscribe to Netflix? As avid movie watchers, we do, and relatively recently Netflix offered instant viewing--select a movie and watch it instantly on your computer. No hassle, and very easy to do. You can choose from movies in your queue or select from the Instant Browse menu.

When we can, we travel with our laptop computer, and down in Florida-both at Palm Beach Shores and Resort on Singer Island and Sheraton Vistana Resort in Orlando, we had free computer access in our rooms. On several evenings when we weren't heading out, we simply put the computer in front of us, turned down the lights, cuddled up, and watched a movie. It's a very nice way to spend an evening!