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Friday, May 31, 2013


I love my sunflowers!  Ours are planted and I cannot wait for them to bloom.
Is it that they have become symbols of happiness?
Is it because my daughter and I walked through fields of them in Nova Scotia?
Is it the mesmerizing pattern of the Fibonacci sequence?

Saturday, May 25, 2013


Bluegrass Festival, Gettysburg
66th Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival
 The grass isn’t always greener; twice a year, in May and again in August, the grass in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania’s Granite Hill Camping Resort is definitely BLUE.  That’s when the Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival is there, a four day musical feast for anyone who loves Bluegrass music.  This is the fourth time we’ve gone, and it’s always quite a thrill.  This is the 66th festival at this site!  Not 66 years because the festival occurs twice a year, but still, 33 years is pretty darned impressive.  Here’s my post from 2011 when we went in August.

Rhonda Vincent took this Panorama photo of the crowd when she played. It is on her FB page.
It was taken on a Smartphone.
She gave permission to share.
I came to bluegrass late—really only over the last few years, but Rob is a long-time fan of some of the greatest bluegrass artists.  But I love live music and music festivals, so the thought of heading for a weekend in Gettysburg was enticing!  Little did I know that I’d fall in love with this great music.  It’s not the singing; it’s the incredible talent of these musicians. 

Gettysburg is about as far north as the circuit comes although last year we saw Rhonda Vincent in Gettysburg the night before she was scheduled to be solo up in Bethel Woods, a venue up in the Catskill Mountains of New York, so perhaps for those at the top of bluegrass, there is a worthwhile audience in the North. 

Bluegrass Festival, Gettysburg
Rhonda Vincent, from a bluegrass family, playing a great mandolin
Bluegrass means constant touring for the performers, and Rhonda Vincent was heading home to Missouri after being on the road for 45 days.  Not an easy life.  You can check her out on Facebook.  She took the panorama photo of the crowd (much smaller than usual because it was drizzling and 57°--kinda nasty) that I posted above.  You can view it on her FB page to see how the crowd from the stage perspective.

Bluegrass Festival, GettysburgThis is such a great festival.  Half days on Thursday and Sunday and full days on Friday and Saturday.  Rob and I go for Friday and Saturday, leaving our house at around 7:30 AM to get to Gettysburg by 11:00 AM when the first act begins on time. 

Best bluegrass band
Here's my favorite combination courtesy of Rhonda Vincent's band.
There's the fiddle, the banjo, the mandolin
the bass, the dobro, and the guitar.
Sweet, sweet music!

The sound I love best comes from this combination of instruments: banjo, mandolin, dobro, bass, violin and guitar.  For added richness, throw in a second fiddle.  No amplification of instruments, just a mic to carry the sounds out to the people.

Speaking of sound systems, the one at Gettysburg gets raves from the performers.

One performer told the story of being at a venue in Philadelphia—big place, huge, expensive sound system, but it was badly managed by inept technicians.  When his group couldn’t get the sound right, he told them to give them one mic and they’d do just fine.  And they did.  Real musicians do not need the technical doodads to make music!

What happens at Gettysburg once that music gets started is set after set with no more than five or six minutes between for setup.  Sets run about 45 minutes apiece with 12-15 songs.  First act goes on at 11 AM; last act Friday began at 11:15 PM, Saturday 11:20.  The only break is from 5:00-6:00 for dinner.  Each act does a set by day and a set by night.  Talk about constant music!

Bluegrass Festival, Gettysburg
Just an impromptu dinner time jam session.  Lovely!
BUT THAT’S NOT ALL.  These same musicians run workshops throughout the day on everything from “Celebrating Appalachian Roots” to playing individual instruments—mandolin, dobro, for instance—to songwriting.  Additionally, they have Jam sessions, sometimes members of different bands and sometimes with the public.  There are lots of folk walking around with their instruments, and during the dinner hour, we got to listen to impromptu jam sessions. 

Bluegrass Festival, GettysburgThere are venders of quality instruments as well as of souvenirs (our beer cozies are Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival, and yes, we have t-shirts), and there are plenty of food venders as well.  Each performing group sells its cds and dvds, and it is all big and friendly.

Bluegrass Festival, Gettysburg

Bluegrass Festival, Gettysburg
Kids were in the pool (it was very hot on Sat.), but no running and yelling.
Bluegrass Festival, Gettysburg
Got kids?  They have activities for them too, including musical ones.  The kids are so well behaved even though the swimming pool is right next to the stage.  Frankly, you’d think you’re on another planet because everyone is polite, neat, and friendly.  But don’t kid yourself.  Long beards, logo emblazed shirts, tie-dyed tees, overalls, skimpy shorts all are here—harmoniously in every sense of the word.  This is a Peace Place with great music.  Read my 2011 post for some more info, but know Rob and I will be back, and I’ll probably write about this festival again.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


This is the rear wall on the U.S.S. Arizona, sunk by the Japanese in their attack on Pearl Harbor
December 7, 1941
Memorial Day is for the men still entombed on this sunken ship and for all the
other men and women who have died to keep us free
God Bless Them
Never forget them

Standing on the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, I can see parts of this sunken ship
and I am tremendously and tearfully moved by the thought of the men
entombed therein.
God Bless Them
Remember them and others who gave their lives for their country--and us--to keep us free.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Amuse Bistro--ArubaIt was serendipitous that we stopped to look at the posted menu at Aruba’s Amuse Bistro just outside the Playa Linda Beach Resort.  Although we were actually heading to another restaurant recommended by friends, the menu was so tantalizing that it beckoned us, and we willingly followed.  We were not disappointed.

Before I even get into our delicious dinner, let me begin with the strikingly comfortable ambiance the owners created.  The peaceful atmosphere was a bit surprising when you consider that Amuse Bistro sits right on Juan E. Iraqusquin Blvd., and people and traffic constantly pass by.  The restaurant, however sits just far enough off and at an angle to the sidewalk creating for the diners a feeling of being removed from the busy-ness of the world around them.  Pardon the expression, but it’s a delicious feeling.

After a day at the beach, it is nice to spend the evening in a casual yet elegant surrounding and to enjoy the comfortable weariness of a full day.  The atmosphere should not be rushed.  This is exactly what we discovered at Amuse Bistro.

Amuse Bistro--Aruba
The lighting made this a very romantic setting
We sat outside under a lighted covering.  The temperature, as it is in Aruba, was warm and caressing. The easy jazz that played in the background was so nice and light that we asked the waitress if there were musicians inside.  Surprisingly, the music was actually streaming on a good sound system.  Volume was low enough to enjoy the music and still be able to have a quiet conversation.  That combination is unfortunately rare nowadays, and we welcomed it.  Everything contributed to a relaxed yet casually refined mood.  How perfect is that after a day at the beach?!

Amuse Bistro--Aruba Amuse Bistro serves French-inspired dishes, but there is no attempt to make you wish you were in France.  You want to stay right here in Aruba.  At Amuse Bistro everything is made from scratch with fresh ingredients.  We’re not talking only about main courses.  Those from-scratch offerings include the bread, mayonnaise, salad dressings, and, yes, even the ice cream!  Dining here, therefore, is unlike any other restaurant, and we sat back and enjoyed the experience.

There’s another nice touch offered at Amuse Bistro.  Diners can order anything on the menu as an appetizer or as an entrée thereby allowing a size selection.  It’s an excellent concept.  We were tempted to order several different appetizer portions so we could taste a wider variety of dishes, but in the end we were won over by the Catch of the Day.

Amuse Bistro--Aruba
Notice the attributes of each wine.  Nice.
 But let me not jump ahead.  After our cocktails, we ordered wine to have with dinner.  Even the way the wine is offered brings a smile.  The “bottle” menu listed the suggestions.  Not only did we have the name of each wine, but also we had the unique qualities of the wine, so we could sip and allow our taste buds to search out the different flavors to which we had treated them.  That’s exactly what we did.  It was fun. 

We chose the Argentinean Malbec wine, fruity and earthy.  It is a cross between a California Cabernet and a California Merlot.  We were pleased with that choice.

We began our dinner with escargots in garlic butter and served with toasts.  This appetizer is one of our favorites, and it’s something I make at home.  Amuse Bistro’s preparation was lovely.  Escargots is an appetizer to eat slowly and to savor.  We did.

Amuse Bistro--Aruba
lovely lighting
lovely gazpacho
While we did not order soup, a complimentary tasting in a simple tiny glass bowl of Amuse Bistro’s gazpacho topped with a pine nut was served to us, and that was a pleasant treat.  The gazpacho was delicious, but the special touch simply added to our enjoyment of the restaurant. 

We did enjoy a wonderfully fresh salad, and then on to our entrées.  So much on the menu was tempting that this decision did create conundrums.  The Catch of the Day it turned out to be a perfectly tasty decision.

Amuse Bistro--Aruba
our grouper
absolutely delicious
lovely presentation
lovely dinnerware
The Catch of the Day was pan-fried grouper served on a bed of spinach and accompanied by mashed potatoes and bok choy in a very light cream sauce.  The presentation was artful, the taste extraordinary. 

Let me digress here to the presentation.  The photographs of our meal show the lovely dinnerware, colorful, unmatched yet all complementary to the deep blue linen and to each other.  The candlelight reflected the blue in our water glasses.  There was also variety in the shapes and sizes of the plates—different yet complementary. 

I was especially taken by the plate on which our entrée was served.  The colors of our meal—the shades of creamy white of the sauce and potatoes, the variable greens in the bok choy, and the lightly browned fish fitting so well on the dinner plate with its blue fish wrapping around the edge—added to the pampering atmosphere.  Who doesn’t like to be pampered?

The dining table became a canvas upon which a picture-perfect meal was presented—not a formal painting, but an elegantly casual picture fitting the restaurant’s setting and the island’s mood. 

We did not have dessert though it was tempting.  We sipped our coffee and then strolled Juan E. Iraqusquin Blvd. just as tourists do, enjoying the sights, the sounds, and the marvelous Aruban evening.


Friday, May 10, 2013


Alaska glacier-scape
This is not the moon.  We were on an Alaskan glacier. 
The black backgound are the mountains through which the glacier flows.
Breathtakingly beautiful.  Being there is almost a spiritual experience.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013


Eastern Shore Toyota, AlabamaHere’s an unusual article for a travel blog.  It’s about Eastern Shore Toyota in Daphne, Alabama where we ended up by chance (and a big billboard) when two warning lights flashed on after driving through some powerful, pounding rain.  Unless you are already a customer, you probably will not believe what I have to tell you!  Just imagine…

It’s Saturday.  We are more than one thousand miles from home in a part of the country with which we are unfamiliar.  We have more than a day’s driving to our next destination in Louisiana.  The rain pounds our car making visibility poor, but we are afraid to stop in fear of being rear-ended by another driver and his inability to see.  Two red warning lights come on simultaneously, and we know we have to react. 

We stop along the highway to call the dealership whose billboard we have just passed.  Bring the car in, we’re told, and they’ll take a look.  The dealership is 30 seconds off the highway at the next exit, and it is the largest Toyota facility we’ve ever seen spread over what seems to be acres of cars and a huge building.  The rain is over.

The service bay appears just like the one near our home—until we pull our car up to the waiting service representative, give our name, and then walk to the service desk.  There we are greeted by a huge electronic sign, "Welcome Robert Dembeck."  On the wall behind is a big service star honoring our military far from home.  Our very attentive service advisor, Nate Hicks, is sympathetic to our plight, explains it will take about two hours to check these warning lights, informs us of the basic charge for the service, and invites us inside all the while explaining to us how we might spend our time.  I am thankful we have our Kindles. I think he is joking. 

He is not. 

Eastern Shore Toyota, AlabamaThe building is unlike anything we’ve ever seen.  There’s a big TV lounge—not unusual in dealerships—with comfortable seating and a big flat-screen TV tuned into a sports channel. Not unusual.  There’s also a nice computer bar. There's wi-fi.  Also not quite unusual.

Eastern Shore Toyota, AlabamaBut if we would like some ice cream, cake, coffee, or lunch, all we need do is head to the café.  It’s around the corner from the TV lounge, and there are about eight round café-type tables to set a café mood.  There's another TV there, so our viewing will not be interrupted.  This cafe service is free for the customers, but the people who work at Eastern Shore Toyota do pay nominal fees.  The café is busy the entire time we are there.

Eastern Shore Toyota, Alabama
The cafe section had its own TV too
As we sit sipping our coffee, a VIP service representative comes over to sit at our table to make sure we know the possibilities to occupy our time and that we are comfortable and happy about the service we receive.  She chats a bit, content with our contentment, before moving on.

Eastern Shore Toyota, Alabama
Lovely piano lounge in the middle of the showroom--
carpeting included!

Rob and I are quite comfortable in the café, but had we wanted to, we could have moved to the piano lounge with its big overstuffed leather sofa and wing chair, its baby grand piano and some modern sculpture and plants.  We could have chosen from the magazines lying on the coffee table if we were so inclined.

We did walk around the showroom to look at the latest Toyota models, and we learned that should we wish, we could shoot some pool or play Foosball.

You’d think this car wonderland would be noisy and bustling, but all of this is in a calm and comfortable environment. 

Actually, I’ve saved the best for last.  There is a manicurist, Ashley Norris, available for women waiting for their cars.  At her site a sign informs customers that this is a free service and that tipping is not allowed.

Yes, I have my nails done.  Ashley is wonderful and charming.  She, Rob, and I have a great conversation all the while.  Her husband is a National Guardsman who served in Afghanistan, so we immediately have a connection as we are headed to Ft. Polk to visit our son.  She is friendly, and it is a pleasure talking to her.  We talk about everyday life in New York and Alabama.  It is a great experience for us.

We learn about some of the differences in car buying between New York and Alabama.  Unlike New York, in Alabama a buyer can drive the car home the same day.  Sometimes Eastern Shore Toyota has barbecues on Saturday.  They feed the customers, party, and at the end of the day, the lot might be practically empty!  As a POP shopper, I'd probably have a driveway full of cars!

Eastern Shore Toyota, Alabama
a Yankee to boot!
I do have one more “highlight” to add.  Here’s a picture of a fixture in the men’s bathroom.  Wouldn’t want the guys to miss the game, would you?  And, no, I did not take this photo.

When our car is done, we are told that the problem might simply be a glitch caused by the torrential driving rains.  If it is not caused by water, the search and repair is very expensive.  The technicians could not duplicate the light problem, so they do not want to do a possibly unnecessary repair.  They suggest heading to our destination in Louisiana.  If the lights come back on, we need to immediately find a Toyota dealer, but if we’re lucky, our rain soaked car’s computers momentarily misread the signs.  I add this paragraph because it points out how ethical this dealership is. 

I also add that the lights never came back on, and we drove through Alabama to Louisiana for a few days’ visit.  Then we drove up through Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee and all the other states between there and New York.

Thank you, Eastern Shore Toyota, for making what could have been a terrible day into something worth writing home about! 

Friday, May 03, 2013


Florida Alligator
Yes, he is real!  He posed for me in Everglades National Park in Florida.
Seeing him and so many of his buddies live and in their natural habitat was mindblowing.
If you go to Florida, visit the Everglades through the National Park Service.

Thursday, May 02, 2013


Fifty years after Emiko Amai loses half her face and almost all of her family when the first atom bomb is dropped on Hiroshima, she is a documentary filmmaker seeking information on the bombing.

In Dennis Bock’s compelling novel, The Ash Garden, Emiko seeks out Anton Boll, a German physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project to develop the bomb and then went to Japan to study the aftermath of its use. She also meets Boll’s Austrian wife, Sophie, who came to Canada as a Jewish refugee and who lost her entire family during the Holocaust. These three characters’ intertwining histories and their individual perspectives produce a powerful look at how human beings may react to the seminal moments of their lives—particularly when those moments happen in a time of war.

Anton Boll is first and foremost a scientist. He leaves his native Germany not for political or moral reasons. Rather his single mindedness and dedication to his science lead him to break with the scientists with whom he works and with whom he disagrees. He seeks his own avenue, and he leaves Germany as well as his mother whose fate, presumably sealed by his defection, he reflects on just once in this novel.

He is, in fact, the last scientist to flee Germany before the borders close, and that is as late as 1940. Science is more than his vocation; it is his lifeblood. The politics are unimportant.

Sophie is Jewish, and after escaping Austria, she eventually finds herself in a refugee camp in Canada, behind wires and with guards to keep the refugees in. The war rages in Europe, but Sophie is a teenager determined to escape from this camp too. Anton, a young and handsome visitor to the camp, sees her, falls in love and rescues her by marrying her. She does love him, and they are blissfully happy.

The war forces their togetherness to be short lived as before long he is called away to Los Alamos to continue his work on the development of the atom bomb. There he remains.

The bomb is successful; the war ends, and Anton visits Hiroshima to study the destruction. He is stunned beyond comprehension.

When he finally reunites with Sophie who has waited patiently in Brooklyn, he finds he cannot communicate his reactions to Hiroshima nor can he fully understand his own reactions to what he experiences and the devastation he sees in Hiroshima. He finds Sophie is also changed, and things cannot be as they once were. She does not reveal the sources of her change either. Much as they want to, they cannot go back to “before the war.”

Over the ensuing years, Sophie’s and Anton’s attempt to cope with their physical and psychological alterations and to find some way to exist happily together is a constant struggle because, in their own ways, they still love each other. Their very different backgrounds, their inability to fully communicate, and their physical problems are minefields they tread carefully.

Emiko’s entrance in their lives appears unexpected, but this novel is full of the unexpected, so be prepared to gasp.

She, of course, wants Anton to admit that the bomb was wrong and that he is repentant for his work. That is not the way he feels, and as their relationship unfolds, we see sides of him heretofore hidden as well as sides of her of which she was not even aware.

This is a book well worth reading. It is well written. It will travel well, and it will give you pause to think.

How you, the reader, react to this pivotal moment in history and to this book is something I would love to discuss. Unfortunately I missed the discussion with my own book club, but if you read The Ash Garden, please use the comment link at the bottom of the post or email me. I’d really like to know, and I’d like to share my own thoughts with you.