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Friday, August 30, 2013


Isle of Palms, South Carolina
Another "peaceful" scene
Isle of Palms, South Carolina is one of the barrier islands.
It is located not far from Charleston.

Friday, August 23, 2013


Mennonite Farm in Pennsylvania
We've passed this Mennonite farm so many times and viewed it only from afar from the highway.
This time we took the next exit and spent an hour or so meandering through the
beautiful farmland.
Ah, what loveliness once you get off the highway!

Thursday, August 22, 2013


I may be ready to move a new book into my Top Ten list.  It’s Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, a phenomenal story full of the unexpected and written with superb skill and control.  On one hand, my response was intellectual because the story takes place in Germany during WWII beginning in January, 1939, and the characters, ordinary people living in Molching, a town just outside Munich, are not the people one usually reads about in WWII books.  In that way The Book Thief is reminiscent of All Quiet on the Western Front.  On the other hand, however, much as I fought against it, I had a visceral reaction to the book and its characters.  So much of the time I was told what the future would hold for them; yet I read hoping that somehow the story would progress differently.  It never did. It is impossible to escape the tragedy that was WWII.

Zusak does not lure his readers into The Book Thief; he grabs them by the collar and yanks them into the story through the most original first person narrator I’ve ever met.  I cannot be a spoiler here and tell you; you will find out soon enough, and perhaps you will be moved to alter your preconceptions about what he represents.  I hope I did.

You will follow this narrator through the story of a little girl, Liesel, who is given into the protective care of foster parents living on Himmel (Heaven) Street after….That you will find out as you read.  You follow her life as seen through the narrator’s eyes from the moment he first spies her on the train.  He tells her story as recorded in the book she wrote which he carries “in one of my vast array of pockets, I have kept her story to retell.  It is one of the small legion I carry, each extraordinary in its own right.”

By January, 1939 the people in Germany are hungry and suffering, but Adolf Hitler is still in his glory.  German soldiers still go with pride to fight in Russia.  Allegiance to his cause is everything, and those who do not follow the party line or who do not APPEAR to follow are suffering even more.  Liesel’s foster parents, Rosa and Hans Hubermann receive a small stipend for taking her.  It helps them get by.  They are ordinary and extraordinary people at the same time, but that is something you will find out as you read.  What is constantly remarkable about The Book Thief is that our narrator, while jumping ahead in time to reveal the future, never does so in a way to ruin the present for the reader.

Through our narrator we are introduced to the rest of the Hubermann family and the people of the neighborhood including the children, particularly Rudy Steiner, with whom Liesel plays.  We get to know every one as human beings with all their idiosyncrasies and foibles.  It is our narrator who smoothes them out for us, evaluates them, and finally softens all the rough edges to show their longings and their deeper selves—sometimes appreciated and sometimes lost to those around them.  It is this microcosm of humanity that touches me most.

In his explanations, the narrator gives us many reasons for the way people act as they do, and he does it in a straightforward manner often listed as “facts about….”  We may not immediately understand, for instance, how an accordionist becomes a major player in this novel, but the FACT that it is important is introduced within the first pages. 

As the narrator begins, “It’s just a small story really, about, among other things:
*A girl
*Some words
*An accordionist
*Some fanatical Germans
*a Jewish fist fighter
*and quite a lot of thievery”

Interest is piqued, and off you go to find out about the list. 

Beautifully written, Kusak’s writing is spare and tight yet the reader can see and experience every place, action, and emotion as it happens.  Characters suffer cruelly, but they also exhibit courage, morality, perseverance, and friendship.  The book is ultimately uplifting and thoughtful.  It is a book that will stay with you.

A caveat: The Book Thief is considered Young Adult Fiction.  Frankly I’ve never known a young person to whom I would offhandedly give this book.  It needs to be discussed because it may be troubling to many young people.  Maturity will peel away the various levels and make Zusak’s message more palatable.  It’s a great book to help build a parent/child relationship.

Friday, August 16, 2013


Santa Barbara's Moreton Bay Fig Tree is believed to be the biggest in the country.
Planted in 1876, it was designated an historic landmark in 1970. When it was measured
in 2010, the trunk diameter was 12,5 feet and the branch spread was 198 feet.
It is a beauty to behold.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Rayne, LA-Frog Capital of the World
Monsieur Jacques
He was left with unpainted skin to represent all mankind
On the plaque is a quotation from Corinthians:
"Not all flesh is the same but there is one kind for
human beings...."
I can safely say that Rayne, Louisiana is a city like no other we’ve visited.  In the 1800s, this small coastal prairie community was known as Pouppeville.  It renamed itself Rayne after the engineer who laid the tracks bringing the railroad to Pouppeville, and, by extension I guess, brought newly named Rayne into the world.  By the 1880s, a gourmet chef from this Cajun city was selling bullfrogs to the restaurants in New Orleans and making a name for himself and his town with his Rayne-raised frogs. 
Rayne, LA-Frog Capital of the World
The train station in Rayne, Louisiana

Enter three enterprising Parisians in the early 1900s who opened an export business shipping frogs’ legs to universities and premier restaurants around the country.  Thousands of frogs’ legs left Rayne each week for upscale restaurants. At one time even New York City’s world famous Sardis restaurant boasted frog legs from Rayne, Louisiana on its menu.  Rayne billed itself The Frog Capital of the World!

This smidge of history is not, however, why Rob and I drove 2.5 hours from Deridder, Louisiana to visit Rayne.  We headed there because Rayne is not only called The Frog Capital of the World but also because it is replete with frog statues and frog murals.  It takes a map to see them all.  How could we miss that!

Tiny Rayne (Rayne is under 4 square miles in size) is decorated with FROGS!   I’ll let you take a gander at a few of them.

Rayne, LA-Frog Capital of the World
Frogs represent different businesses;
Flower shop, Jewelry store, Dry Cleaners, Bank, Piggly Wiggley
Rayne, LA-Frog Capital of the World
That muscle frog sits outside the Rayne Boxing Club
There are skaters, policefrogs, newspaperfrogs,
and others.
Rayne, LA-Frog Capital of the World
Of all the murals around town, this one is my
Rayne, LA-Frog Capital of the World
These are all painted on the backs of buildings.
Rayne is incredibly charming!

Rayne, LA-Frog Capital of the World
Rayne is also a City of Murals
There are frog murals throughout the town like this one in front
of the Rayne Acadian Tribune office.
While Rayne takes itself seriously as Frog Capital of the World, it also enjoys laughing at itself.  If you look at the city’s website you will see the column “Ribbiting News.”  Love it!

Rayne is also featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and not for frogs!  It’s for its cemetery.

St. Joseph’s cemetery is the only Christian cemetery facing north to south.  Christian cemeteries traditionally face east to west—east with the rising sun a metaphor for the beginning or life and west with the setting sun a metaphor for the end of life.  Several versions float around explaining St. Joseph’s unique deviation.  Whether it was a priest negligent in supervising ignorant workmen or whether the graves were originally mislaid and then the expense of digging and re-burying was so prohibitive that they continued to bury in that direction offer two possibilities.  Pick one that suits you.  Either way, it certainly is intriguing.

Now here Rob and I are deep in Cajun country with a big dose of Creole thrown in, and we are in the frog capital of the world, so how can we not stop to eat?  But where?

Rayne, LA-Frog Capital of the World
Definitely the real deal.
All the little items you need for your home were inside.
These stores have all but disappeared elsewhere.
In downtown Rayne simply because the exterior looks so interesting we make a stop in the Worthmore 5 & 10, and it is as authentic as can be.  If you remember the real Woolworths, you will recognize and be charmed by Worthmore. 

Inside we meet two totally charming local ladies who tend Worthmore.  We overhear one telling the other about a great meal she’d just had.  So we ask for her restaurant recommendation for authentic local cooking.  Without missing a beat, she sends us to Gabe’s Cajun Food.

Gabe’s is the place that locals go.  It is the place that people in the know leave the highway to visit.  It is crowded with people who are not tourists.  If you are looking for cloth napkins, go elsewhere.  This is homemade heaven, not fast food.  Peruse the menu, place your order, and have a seat.  You’ll get yours in a paper basket or a Styrofoam takeout container, but you’ll enjoy some great and inexpensive eats!
Gabes in Rayne, LA
We wanted to taste the region,
and Gabe's was a great place
to do just that!

In Lake Charles, Louisiana, Rob and I developed a taste for boudin sausage.  If you’re unfamiliar with boudin, read this:

“I figure that about 80 percent of the boudin purchased in Louisiana is consumed before the purchaser has left the parking lot, and most of the rest is polished off in the car. In other words, Cajun boudin not only doesn’t get outside the state; it usually doesn’t even get home.”
       Calvin Trillin, from his essay, “The Missing Links: In Praise of the Cajun Foodstuff That Doesn’t Get Around.”

We were going to have boudin balls no matter what we ordered.  Gabe’s were delicious.

The posted menu was too tempting for Rob who, if he had his druthers, would have had a little of everything.  I thought he’d go for the frog legs as we were in Rayne, but it was the shrimp as we were in Louisiana, and the etoufee as we were in Cajun country that caught his eye.  Served over rice with some fried shrimp and cole slaw as well, he was pleased with his Shrimp Etoufee.

I’m just too timid to try frogs’ legs.  I stuck to my fried chicken favorite, only here it was Cajun Fried Chicken.  I asked how hot it was, and the counter attendant said she didn’t know; it depended on who had made it in the morning!  OK  I played along, and the chicken was great.  Spicy but not really hot.  I also liked the dirty rice.

Lunch in Rayne was a happy time.  I doubt if Gabe’s is on the tour bus lunch-stop list.  But it should be.  It is a place like Gabe's that makes a road trip so super!

Visit Rayne’s website for some interesting Rayne facts.  Learn about the Frog Festival held over Labor Day Weekend.  I think it sounds grand.  Most of all, don’t overlook these special places that abound across the country.  They just might be real memory makers.

Friday, August 09, 2013


Garden at Ashlawn-Highlands
The kitchen garden at Ash Lawn-Highland, the home of our
fifth president, James Monroe
A neighbor of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, this home is a
"must visit."  Take the tour.  

Sunday, August 04, 2013


photo courtesy of stock images and
As I begin to write on July 23, 2013, we’re waiting to hear from our friends—the couple traveling with us—who will call from the hospital where she is admitted and where he stayed overnight and where they will be again tonight and perhaps for several more.  It’s highly likely we will leave for home without them.

The circumstances, unfortunately, remind me that I haven’t written any travel tips in a while.  What happens when someone suddenly gets sick?  What should we carry with us when we travel?  How do we protect ourselves?

Here are my suggestions, and I hope if you have others, you will add them in the comment section following this post. 

Make sure you travel with your insurance cards.  If you’re over 65, carry your Medicare card as well.  BUT know that your insurance may not be accepted at all and neither will your personal check.  In Aruba, for instance, the welcoming booklets clearly indicate the location of the hospital in Oranjestad but immediately make it crystal clear that you will need cash or a credit card.  No U.S. insurance is accepted.

In our friend’s case, a call to the insurance company took care of hospitalization as she was admitted through the Emergency Room.  Become familiar with your insurance company’s protocol, and if a phone call is necessary, make sure you don’t delay.

In addition to insurance preparation, be aware of nearby medical facilities in case you need them.  Many hotels and resorts list them, but if you are traveling when the emergency strikes as we were, use your smart phone to locate the nearest facility.  We went first to an Urgent Care and then were directed to the ER.

Do you have a Health Care Proxy and a Living Will?  While these may not be accepted at every medical facility, you should travel with them and you might even carry the Proxy on you.  I know this sounds gruesome, but just tuck it away as a regular part of your packing; you don’t have to think about it, but it is there if you need it.

Carry a copy of any medications and dosages.  It will make a big difference to the doctors you see.  You’ll be asked for this information.  If you have a chronic problem, a brief medical history might be appropriate.  Check with your physician.

If you are traveling out of the country, you might consider joining IAMAT (International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers), a Canadian-based organization through which, among other services, you will receive a booklet listing doctors, their credentials, and their ability to speak English.  Not only do you want your physician to understand exactly what you say but also you want to understand exactly what he/she is saying to you.  You don’t want the doctor to misunderstand your explanations nor do you want to misunderstand instructions pertaining to your health.

I might add, as well, that those of you who buy travel insurance might check the provisions providing transport to medical facilities. Does it provide local service or in case of something dire, will you be brought back to the United States

On our tour of Ireland and Scotland a few years ago, an American woman traveling alone had a stroke on the first night.  She was still in hospital in Dublin when the tour ended in Edinburgh almost three weeks later.  The tour company arranged for her daughter to fly over, but I never learned more about this event.

On a 2003 February cruise leaving Ft. Lauderdale, a bit more than midway to our first stop in Puerto Rico after a day at sea, a teenager developed appendicitis.  She had to be helicoptered from the ship to the hospital.  A parent accompanied her.  It was an extraordinarily exciting event to watch as the helicopter lowered the stretcher and the ship turned into the wind to steady it and the water poured out of the pools and we were aware of the huge number of passengers by virtue of the crowds gathering to watch what could have been a scene out of M.A.S.H.  But someone had to pay for the “taxi” service.

Rescue at sea-cruising
bringing the stretcher back to the helicopter
Rescue at sea-cruising
only the staff was allowed at that end of the ship while
the evacuation proceeded
I bring up these two examples because the unexpected does happen, and it is not necessarily a matter of age.  Our friend’s problem was diagnosed as Lyme Disease that attacked quickly in all its virulent fury.  Her heart block was a result of Lyme and entirely reversible after a three week course of intravenously introduced antibiotics.  She began the treatment in Virginia, and was able to drive home to have the next day’s dose in her local hospital.  She was not released from the hospital in Virginia, however, until the EKG made release acceptable.  She was hospitalized for six days.  Not a picnic but totally curable.  Not age related and not something seen in the Shenandoah Valley.  Good doctors.  Good hospital. But, when the unexpected happens, someone might end up with a whopping bill.  You don’t want it to be you.

Friday, August 02, 2013


The Lincoln Memorial as seen from
the World War II Memorial

In a cruel and senseless act, someone defaced the Lincoln Memorial this week
but that person cannot deface the importance of the man
or the words inscribed on that Memorial.