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Saturday, February 28, 2009


Our visit to Maine led us to Portland’s Wadsworth Longfellow House, the home of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow until he left to teach at Bowdoin College.

The home has been painstakingly restored by the Maine Historical Society whose headquarters are located next door. Our very knowledgeable and enthusiastic docent is a member of the society. The home had been donated to the society by Longfellow’s daughter, Ann, who died in 1902. Most of the furnishings are original, and those reproductions such as wallpaper, carpeting, floor coverings, and curtains have been carefully reproduced based on notes, letter, and remaining artifacts.

There are quite a few pieces that really catch the interest as well as the imagination. The house belonged to Longfellow’s grandfather who served with George Washington during the Revolutionary War. In the house are three important examples of his high regard for Washington. The first is an engraving of Washington on horseback; the second is a pitcher decorated with Washington’s portrait and regarded as such a treasure that it was used only at Christmas; the third is an engraving of Washington ascending to heaven. These three artifacts tell an entire story of a man’s feelings.

Some of the furnishings were brought up from Longfellow’s home in Cambridge when he was a professor at Harvard. Included in this group are his Chickering piano and his flute. The poet, famous for “Song of Hiawatha,” “The Children’s Hour,” “Paul Revere’s Ride,” and other familiar poems, was also an accomplished musician.

I learned quite a bit about Longfellow, so highly regarded that a plaque honoring him has a place in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner, a place where I’ve stood in awe at the great men and women represented in that shrine.

On the walls of the house hang pictures of the older Longfellow, the one we’re familiar—a stern man sporting a long, flowing white beard. What I didn’t know was the tragic story behind that beard.

Longfellow’s second wife used wax to seal envelopes filled with locks of her children’s hair. As she did this one day, her dress caught fire, and though Longfellow tried to smother the flames, she was so severely burned she died the following day. He did not escape unscathed. His neck and face were also burned to such an extent that shaving became almost impossible, hence the flowing beard. And the constant reminder.

Pulling out my dusty and taped copy of Longfellow’s poetry that I inherited from my father, I’ll undoubtedly enjoy the time spent with him even more because of this visit. If you’re in Portland, perhaps taking the ferry to Canada or enjoying a visit to this state, make sure you take some time to visit Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s home.


Never Call Retreat is the third and final installment of this "what if" series by Newt Gingrich and Willian R. Forstchen, and it is as splendid as the previous two novels. What if the South won the Battle of Gettysburg? History tells us that the devastating losses the South suffered at this infamous battle so depleted its military strength that it never recovered. Indeed, Gettysburg was as far north as the South ever came.

By only slightly tweaking history, Gingrich and Forstchen have Robert E. Lee listen to General Longstreet's battle suggestion, change the original battle plan and site, and win the Battle of Gettysburg which fictionally occurs at another locale. The next two books, again by only slightly tweaking the circumstances or decisions of the commanding generals illustrate how difficult it is to plan a war, how colossal the losses may be, and how luck, weather, or a host of other unpredictable circumstances often influence the outcome of a battle, a campaign, or an entire war. These novels alter so little of history that their fiction seems plausible.

History does out as it must, but throughout the novels, readers are tense with expectation and suspense. Never Call Retreat is so well written that even a knowledge of history is sometimes muddled, and we wait to read the outcome--or at least the path to that outcome. The description of the battles, the thinking of the men in charge, and the recurrent appearances of characters, both historic and fictional, add to the evolution of the authors' thoughts.

One thing is certain. As historians, Gingrich and Forstchen respect both Grant and Lee. They are treated as the great leaders they were--noble in victory, humble and proud in defeat. Surely both men, despite ordering others to almost certain death, displayed a respect for life and love of country despite their fundamental differences.

Believe this--there is even a surprise ending! It brought a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye.

Kudos to Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen. These three novels are excellent in the way they treat history and the men and events that shape our history. I was so impressed by this series that I bought another "what if" book by them, Pearl Harbor. I'm looking forward to it.


Mr. McSweeny first told me about Rehoboth Beach, Delaware way back in 1967 or 1968, He loved it, and I’ve wanted to visit since then. Finally last July we were there at the beautiful beachfront Boardwalk Plaza Hotel, a perfect place to meet Allison and Don who had made all the arrangements for us.

Isn't there always a bit of a kicker in any vacation? Allison and Don had been to Rehoboth before and told of an ocean as calm as a lake with a fine, sandy bottom. We've met people from St. Louis who vacation there every year and say the same thing. Though our weather is beautiful, the sky clear and blue and temperatures in the high 80s, Hurricane Bertha sits off the coast of Bermuda and seriously impacts our beautiful weekend. The surf is rough! There are lots of pebbles. This ocean is angry; it’s no lake! We have no trouble going into the ocean which is a rather chilly 68°, but what the heck. It’s so hot on the beach. The water is refreshing. Some of us get tossed around a bit including me. Getting out of the water is a lot more difficult. The strong undertow keeps knocking me over and I get slammed around and tossed head over heels under the waves a few times. But I don't get hurt, and I find the experience more embarrassing than frightening. There is a man, however, who emerges with a chest scraped and raw. He was beaten down by the waves and pulled by their power across the pebbly bottom. Still, fighting the waves is part of the fun of the beach, and we do it enthusiastically. Other beachgoers are loving it. Some dig in the sand and build their own “levees” to hold back the flood. We’ve become used to seeing levees fail, and these do, allowing the ocean to sweep across the beach to form lakes and gullies wherever a declivity exists. That’s fun too, and the children splash or ride their boogie boards on these shallow ponds.

We raise our beach bags high above the sand and allow the water to wash over our feet. It’s an adventure! Leaving the beach around 5 PM each day, we four head to the rooftop spa and deck of our hotel, and we watch from on high the futile attempts to stem the tide. The water gets rougher and rougher and floods the entire stretch of sand. Rehoboth Beach is a beautiful city established in 1873 specifically as a resort. Over the years it has been popular to different demographics, and the result is a comfortable mix of people looking for a peaceful beach, good restaurants, interesting shops and an “olde tyme” feeling. If that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll find it all here. The main street is great. You walk past the big gazebo where you hear big band sounds on Saturday night. A trolley runs to other beaches in the area. Shops line the streets. One interesting aspect is that many shops have several outlets. There are several Grotto Pizzas (we didn’t try them) and Thrashers French Fries—a long-time staple. These french fries, vinegary and salty, are sold only at Rehoboth Beach. We tried them—Rob and I shared a $4.00 medium bucket. It’s huge. And nice. The repetition of outlets cuts down on the lines, and that’s pretty good on a hot day at the beach when you’re yearning for a nibble. I had to pop into Gidgets Gadjets to buy my sister a present. It hearkens back to our childhood and one of her favorite puppet characters. Of course I stopped in Del Sol but not before we watched a street chess game. Back on the boardwalk the atmosphere changes at the gazebo. Walk in one direction and you stroll past restaurants and hotels. The boardwalk is lined with benches just right for people watching. What is notable is that Rehobeth Beach is not lined with bars as so many other beaches are. If you’re into a louder scene, you have to move to beaches south of Rehoboth.
In Rehoboth, civility is the order of the day. Bike racks are provided, but for much of the year there’s no bike riding on the boardwalk after 10 AM. Dogs are not allowed for much of the year. It is a calmer world where you can rent your beach umbrellas and chairs and sit back and relax.

Walk in the other direction from the gazebo, and you enter fun land. At night this part of the Boardwalk is busy with people strolling in the pleasant, cool beach night. Many people enjoy ice cream cones from one of the many homemade ice cream stores.

There are games and rides galore. On one roof is a miniature golf course. Among the other games is that old horse race game where you squirt water to make the horse move. There’s 10¢ SkeeBall (REALLY) and old style bumper cars. I got a real kick out of these, and no, I didn’t ride the bumper cars—this time.

Rehoboth Beach is a lovely place to visit. You’ll enjoy the welcoming atmosphere, the apparently lovely and varied accommodations available, the spacious and clean beach, the restaurants and shops, and the amusements. It could be a perfect summer vacation. Check it out.


586 N. Franklin Turnpike
Ramsey, NJ 07446

Believe in the bad economy? Not if you head to Kinchley’s in Ramsey, NJ on any night of the week for pizza or other Italian food. The place is mobbed. Every seat at the bar is filled; people are waiting for their take-out orders; tables are crammed with families or couples, and the noise level is high. The wait staff doesn’t walk in Kinchley’s; double-time is the name of the game. The flow is constant and it’s smooth. Kinchley’s has it down to a science, and diners are not disappointed in the food, the service, or the prices. No credit cards accepted here. Cash only.

Kinchley’s parking lot gives the secret out. It’s packed. The building itself is totally undistinguished. The interior is nothing to write home about, but for over 30 years, Kinchley’s has been a staple for the neighborhood. My 60+ year old friends made this the weekend hangout when they were in high school and swear it hasn’t changed much over the years. For those who have moved away, it’s a place you make sure you get to on a visit home.

Why? At Kinchley’s you will get the best thin crust pizza you can imagine. This is not your typical New York/New Jersey pizza. The crust is cracker thin, and the toppings are varied, generous and delicious. There’s a two-slice minimum, but this is not a two-slice place. The pizza is so light, you don’t fill up. One person can polish off a medium pie with ease. Rob and I, usually two slicers, split a large pie with sausage and peppers. Wonderful!

There’s no greasy, drippy cheese here. It pulls away in strands. If you fold your slice, you don’t have to worry about oil dripping out the end. It’s baked to perfection, and you leave wondering when you’ll have an opportunity to return.

Zagats has mentioned it, and Trip Advisor lists Kinchley’s as the #1 place in Ramsey! If you’re traveling up Rt. 17 and have a yearning for a real treat, make that right turn onto Franklin Turnpike and within minutes you’ll see Kinchley’s on the right. Pull in. Enjoy.


The true horror of Stephen King’s The Shining is not in the supernatural he presents in minute and exquisite detail until we cannot help but see it. The horror of The Shining is in the recognition of the way we are. The supernatural brings out repressed aspects of our nature, leaving us open to its suggestions and coaxing and cajoling us to wander its horrific hallways and dark paths.

That is the strength of The Shining. Take something we can believe in—a little extra personal perception, a kind of intuitive understanding and insight, an openness to suggestion—and extend its boundaries, push the envelope, and set us up to look at the possible extremes of our own weaknesses.

King does this unveiling masterfully. His main character, Jack Torrance, takes a caretaker’s job in The Overlook Hotel, high in the Colorado Rockies—a place that winter isolates and toys with as it pleases. With him are his wife, Wendy, and their son Danny. Neither one wants to be there, but they stay with Jack. Every one of these characters has a history that will be key to the response to The Overlook.

Jack, an aspiring playwright, is a recovering alcoholic fresh from being fired from a private high school for some sociopathic behavior involving a student. He never seems to work on all cylinders. He is easy prey at the hotel.

Wendy is simply trying to keep the marriage together. Her history involves a family history that makes one shudder. She’s a sufferer. She needs to protect her son.

Six year old Danny, adored by both, is a love bond between them. He also lives in the eye of their storm. Jack, in an alcoholic stupor, once broke Danny’s arm, and everyone is wary of a repeat performance. That’s one part of Danny’s history. The other is that he possesses The Shine, something he doesn’t really understand but something that bonds him to the Overlook’s cook who heads South for the winter. The Shine allows Danny to be privy to things he is too young to understand intellectually. He deals with these things intuitively.

The Overlook, isolated and solitary for six stormy, snowy, wintery months, is alcohol-free, and it is a place for Jack to rebuild and begin anew. The winter should be a symbolic spring for the Torrances.

The Overlook, however, also has a history. It is full of restless spirits, evil, partying, and hungry for control. It can seduce the weak, and it does.

King is masterful at description. Every inch of the Overlook comes alive—literally and figuratively! I felt the characters’ fear and pain. I saw the results of unleashed passions and horror. I experienced the transformations that occurred. I felt this book. You will too. Pack this book and take it with you. It will travel well—unless you’re going to an isolated, old hotel in Colorado.

Friday, February 27, 2009


In our provincial way of thinking, we believe that everyone speaks English to some degree and that everyone takes American money. To some extent that is true, but if you really want to get a feel for the country, there are some things you might do.

See if you can pick up some of the language. I used a program called Onlingo for some months before we headed to Cancun. I can’t say I was diligent, but I was able to bring back enough Spanish so that I could have an actual conversation with a taxi driver. We discussed the price of gas—higher in socialized Mexico than in the U.S., his feelings about President Calderon, his feelings about government corruption, and the beauty of the area around Cancun. It was wonderful, and it wouldn’t have happened without Onlingo. True, he slowed down his Spanish considerably, but he was very willing to help me communicate with him.

If you’re not interested in buying a program like Onlingo or Rosetta Stone, go to and click on “Free on-line courses and education” under step 2 for free on-line courses. It will pump you up for your trip.

Many of the people in charge at the hotels speak English, but the serving people, etc. often know just enough English to do their jobs. But they appreciate it if you try, and they try to help you out. People are nice.

We had a great experience in a restaurant. Rob ordered bourbon without ice. The waiter brought the drink, placed it in front of Rob and said, “Bourbon, nice.” Rob knew the waiter wanted to indicate there was no ice. Rob and he then began a somewhat convoluted discussion that ended with the waiter knowing the word was “neat” when you indicated no ice. They actually shook hands at the end of the discussion.

A second hint concerns money. Yes, many people will accept American money, but the exchange rate is not always equal. For instance, from our hotel, the taxi fare to the airport was $27.00 US. However, when we converted that to pesos at the going exchange rate, our real cost was $18.90 US. That’s quite a difference even with the ATM fee factored in.

When you use the ATM, there will be fees, but it may still be worth your while to do the math. At the hotel desk, the exchange rate may not appear as advantageous, but there are no fees. It doesn’t take long to figure it out, and once you do, the rest of your vacation will be smooth. It’s also kind of fun, and a good travel experience to use the country’s monetary system.