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Wednesday, November 27, 2013


For Thanksgiving, I thought I'd post a bit early.  I took these photos at a deployment ceremony as the soldiers left us and got on the bus headed for the airport and a year away in Afghanistan.  You know why I was there.

We are thankful that we have men and women and their supportive families.  Their sacrifices cannot ever be repaid.

The Red Cross runs a holiday card program to deliver cards to members of our military.  The deadline in Dec. 6.  This is the address:
Holiday Mail for Heroes
PO Box 5456
Capital Heights, MD 20791-5456

I don't know who this woman saying goodbye is, but their hands tell the whole story for me.

As this soldier says his last goodbyes to his family,
we can all see what a wrenching moment this is.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Hudson River is one of the grandest in the world.
This view from The Walkway Over the Hudson State Park is fantastic.
It you can get to Highland or Poughkeepsie, GO!
This is the longest pedestrian bridge in the world at 1.28 miles and 212 feet tall.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Kinderkijk, The Netherlands
Kinderdijk, a windmill paradise!
I've already said how I found Amsterdam to be an amazingly interesting city.  The whole of the Netherlands has an incredibly marvelous history that applauds man’s ingenuity and genius.  Here is a country of more than 14,000 square miles where there have been archeological finds going back to the Roman times, but no evidence of settlement.  Even today, 25% of the country is below sea level. 

Yet Holland was once a great power.  In its strongest period, the Dutch East India Company commanded a huge portion of the world’s trade; the country had colonies, and, of course, my own hometown, Manhattan, was once New Amsterdam.  Place names still recall the Dutch influence.

Kinderkijk, The Netherlands
Picturesque and peaceful
For many, the country is famous for its windmills, and UNESCO named one area in the Netherlands, Kinderdijk, a World Heritage Site because nowhere is there such a concentration of windmills. We got to visit.

Windmills were introduced from Mesopotamia in the 16th century, and Kinderdijk actually had a windmill dating from 1521.  It burned in 1997 but has been restored and operational since 2000. There are also eight windmills from 1738, eight from 1740, and two from 1760. 

The land in the Netherlands is reclaimed from the water via dikes and windmills.  Dikes are constructed around a body of water, and then the water is pumped out by the windmill creating a polder, a stretch of land that might be used for farming or industrial purposes.  The pumping continues into and out of reservoirs until it can be dumped into a river that leads to the sea. 

Kinderkijk, The Netherlands There used to be over 10,000 windmills in the Netherlands.  Today there are approximately 1,000 left, the task passed down to mechanical pumps.  A pumping station in Kinderdijk, reputed to be the largest in the world, has taken over this never-ending job.  But the windmills in Kinderdijk were operational until WWII and still can be used in case of emergency.

Kinderkijk, The Netherlands
Imagine raising a family in here.
Notice the blades are only a foot off the ground.
People lived inside the windmills—a very difficult life—and raised their families there.  That’s hard to imagine as the insides seem far too confined.  If you have the opportunity to visit Kinderdijk, you will be flabbergasted at the idea of raising a family of ten or twelve inside. 

What I’d like to share are pictures of the windmills of Kinderdijk.  They’re graceful and awe-inspiring.  You’ll immediately see the beauty of this World Heritage Site.

Kinderkijk, The Netherlands

Kinderkijk, The Netherlands

Kinderkijk, The Netherlands

Kinderkijk, The Netherlands

Saturday, November 09, 2013


This is Calabash, South Carolina
Idyllic is the word I think of as I look at this photo

Thursday, November 07, 2013


Here’s another wonderful historical novel.  This book is Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, and through it I time-traveled back to Seattle, Washington and the internment of the Japanese population soon after the United States entered WWII in the Pacific. 

This is a love story, but it illustrates once again how complex are the influences that shape our destinies.  This theme catapults Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet from a period piece to a universal exploration of the human condition and the human heart. 

Most of the books I’ve read about this period of our history were written in a Japanese voice, but Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is written from the Chinese perspective of Henry Lee as an adult and as a child.  Ultimately, however, the author raises points as universally appropriate to 2013 as they were to 1942-1986. 

In 1942 Seattle, the Chinese and the Japanese neighborhoods abutted one another, but with Japan engaged in a war against China, the feeling from Henry’s father is one of enmity.  Most of the people in Chinatown had relatives in China and all had an historical tie.  Today’s readers know from history the horrors of Japan’s war on the Chinese, so right or wrong it is understandable that Henry’s father forbids him even to enter Japantown, Nihonmachi.  He hates the Japanese and sees no difference between those in Japan and those in America.  This is only one source of the father/son conflict in the novel. Nihonmachi is home to jazz clubs, unseemly in Mr. Lee's eyes, but even as a boy, Henry is a fan of Jazz. 

Henry’s father makes him wear an “I am Chinese” badge so Caucasians will not mistake him for Japanese, and he sends him to an all-white school in another neighborhood rather than to a Chinese school.  He insists that America-born Henry speak only English.  Because Henry’s father and mother speak only Cantonese, this dictum essentially cuts off all communication between Henry and his parents.  Henry is an outsider in school and an outsider is in his own silent home.  Henry is twelve years old. 

Mr. Lee is not attempting to make Henry “American.”  He still wants Henry to eventually return to Canton to finish his Chinese education.  Henry is Chinese first.

Also attending the all-white school is Keiko, a Japanese girl with whom Henry develops far more than a friendship.  She, too, is American born, but she and her parents consider her American.  She speaks no Japanese.  With her, despite the political history, Henry is not an outsider.  Indeed, even Keiko’s parents accept and like him.  She, however, remains a secret to his parents.

Henry and Keiko, scholarship students at the school, are hounded and bullied by the white students.  They are totally ostracized. As part of their scholarships, they help serve lunch to the other students, and that is where their friendship develops under the watchful eye of a rather unusual lunch lady, Mrs. Beatty.

Another important character is Sheldon, a Black jazz saxophonist who, in Henry’s youth, was a street musician looking for a big break.  Sheldon’s work in a jazz club in Nihonmachi causes Henry to break his father’s rule.  Henry introduces Keiko to Sheldon, and this wise man knows and cares for them both.  I sensed a hint of Huckleberry Finn’s Jim, the surrogate father to a boy who is adrift. 

Culture, ethnicity, friendship, and love are universal qualities that impact on all our lives no matter how we try to be different from our parents or from our background.  This story becomes universal.

It is beautiful to me that what binds together Henry, Keiko, and Sheldon is Jazz.  Jazz is a uniquely American music.  Some musicologists say it began as African-Americans blended spirituals and the field hollers of plantation slaves and then, as time passed, mixed it with the syncopated beat of ragtime and the sounds of driving marches and brass bands.  In this novel, different as one might see Henry, Keiko, and Sheldon, they come together harmoniously as Americans just as diverse elements of music came together harmoniously as Jazz. They are different but they are the same.  As Sheldon tells Henry, “Fix it.”

Jamie Ford’s narrative begins in 1986 when boxes of Japanese belongings are uncovered in the renovated Panama Hotel. These were things hidden by Japanese being taken to the internment camps during World War II.  Most never returned to Japantown.  Ford flips back and forth between 1986 and the 1940s as Henry remembers the war years. All loose ends come together neatly in the denouement.  This technique works so well because Henry grows up, his parents grow older, Sheldon ages, old characters leave, and new characters are introduced.  That’s what happens in life.  Some characters, like Mrs. Beatty, are quite remarkable, but as they are never quite understood through Henry’s eyes, there are aspects of them that we’d like to know about but which are never revealed.

Ford’s story is strong and well developed.  This is a wonderful read which will have you shaking your head, sighing, and wishing life were easier for everyone.   After all, aren’t many of our most precious things on the corner of bitter and sweet?

Monday, November 04, 2013


Amsterdam canalsSome say the name Amsterdam is derived from its source, a Dam on the Amstel River.  As a result of the dams, the Dutch created Amsterdam’s canal system—one that nearly boggles the mind. Amsterdam is laid out in concentric semi-circle rings of 165 canals with a combined length of 60 miles. Its nickname is “Venice of the North.”  The center is at Dam Square

Just imagine the thought processes involved in creating this Canal Ring which recently celebrated its 400th birthday and is still growing—165 interlocking canal networks arranged around 90 islands and offering crossings via almost 1,400 bridges!  No wonder it is named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a place of significant cultural or physical import.  Amsterdam is certainly both of these.

Amsterdam canals

In my last post about buildings in Amsterdam, I indicated how “dry land” is at a premium in this city where 35% of the population is under 25 years old.  Despite the approximately 6,800 16th, 17th, and 18th century buildings in Amsterdam, housing is at a premium and buying a warehouse apartment runs 500,000 euros (roughly $665,000 US).  The buyers are often two-income-childless couples. It’s not hard to see why houseboats are a popular alternative living space. Houseboats line many of the canals.  Think in numbers around 2,500. 

Amsterdam canals

It’s as expensive to own a houseboat as it is to own an apartment in Amsterdam.  Actually, what one buys is not the boat but the mooring.  It has been more than 30 years since a boat could come along and freely attach itself to a mooring.  With regulations, each mooring is taxed and its use monitored.  No more are available which means with each passing year, the value rises.  Some houseboats are absolutely magnificent.  Some are little more than boxes.  Some are homes; some are places for entertainment or business.

Amsterdam canals
There is no shortage of places to sit outside with friends and watch life float by.
Privately owned boats of many sizes and shapes, business boats, tourist-themed boats, and sightseeing boats all ply the waters of the canals. There are also water taxis for your enjoyment and transportation.  Some taxi “drivers” double as tourist guides.

Amsterdam canals
DHL finds a way to deliver no matter where you are.
Just look at these photos for merely a glimpse at the possibilities in traveling and/or living along the canals.

Amsterdam canals

Amsterdam canals

Amsterdam canals

Amsterdam canals

Some things are musts in Amsterdam.  Taking a canal boat and seeing the city from that vantage point is a must.  We simply walked into one of several companies located on the same block.  There are many tours available, some with open boats.  You can also paddle your way along a canal if that is your wont.  No matter what you choose, you will really enjoy the tour and the narrative history that accompanies it.

Amsterdam canals