Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas in New York

One of my favorite places to visit during the holiday season is New York City. I never get tired of the holiday decorations and store windows. This year we stopped for lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square and shopped at the M&M's store.

We bought some great scarves from a vendor and walked all around Midtown. We battled the crowds at Rockefeller Center to see this year's tree which came from Hamilton Township, NJ! Here are my versions of the classic holiday in NYC shots:

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Sherlock Holmes Weekend

It has been so long I actually forgot my Blogger password! But with the Lyme Disease finally under control I am feeling more like writing now. Long story short, Gladys the Sheltie Puppy was acting very lazy and holding her little pointy paw up when she walked, so I took her to the vet. We had a Lyme Disease confirmation in eight minutes, and the vet wisely suggested I get tested, too. The human test takes more like eight days, especially when the doctor mails the results to you via Pony Express. (In the meantime, I treated a case of bronchitis!) Gladys was fine after a few potent antibiotics, and I am entering my last week of the giant blue capsules.

But rather than get stuck on a ticky subject, I'll write about one of the interesting things I managed to do this month. I had been looking forward to this year's Sherlock Holmes Weekend in Cape May, and there was no way I was going to miss it because of that silly Lyme Disease and annoying bronchitis. I had been working on a new costume so that I could have a slightly different Victorian look each day. This is a weekend-long event, starting on Friday night with the revelation of a murder or two. The event takes place in the Victorian Inn of Cape May.

Professional actors portray the characters including Holmes and Watson. Participants are encouraged to dress Victorian, but few do. I was happy to see about eight women dressed on the first night. Saturday's events include the Search for Clues Tour where participants get to investigate a half-dozen Victorian inns for clues to the mystery. Knowing Sherlock Holmes, most of these would end up as red herrings (totally unrelated to the mystery's solution), but it is great fun to see the insides of the inns. This year I decided to skip the walking around on a cold, rainy afternoon because my bronchitis would have most certainly turned to pneumonia. I joined the group for the next part of the mystery at the Inn of Cape May immediately after the clues tour. Four of us were dressed up and got our picture in the local paper:
Sunday's installment includes a delicious lunch and the solution to the mystery. There's no way I'd ever solve these mysteries and win the prize--they are multi-faceted and convoluted. We're not just looking for whodunit; we are also attempting to figure out why and who the accomplices are. But isn't that the fun of Sherlock Holmes? Cape May's MAC keeps everyone interested, though, with prizes for best costumes, Clueless Wonder, and the amateur detective who comes closest to solving the mystery.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Strasburg, PA

A couple of weeks ago, I spent a weekend in Lancaster County, PA. I go there often, but rarely stay over. This was a treat. I was working on an article about the railroad destinations in Strasburg, but I found time to hit my favorite quilt fabric stores and I dropped a little cash at the outlets, too.

I drove out Friday evening and checked into the Red Caboose Motel. I've always wanted to stay at this motel where you get to sleep in a real caboose. I was actually in a part of the mail car and it was very comfy. I had French toast the next morning in the Victorian dining car which was doing a brisk business. There's a button behind the hostess station that makes the car feel like it's moving. With my camera I walked around the motel's grounds to check out all the clever activities for kids. There's a petting zoo and buggy rides around Amish country, and a 72-step viewing tower that used to be a silo. I got some great shots of the surrounding Amish farmland from the top.

I also visited the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania just down the road. This huge museum features huge locomotives and "rolling stock" representing the railroad history of Pennsylvania. This photo was taken from the bridge over the display. Out in the restoration yard I got a couple of photos of some old rusty cabooses waiting to be restored. Although I was supposed to be learning about railroads in Pennsylvania, I bought a book on New Jersey railroads in the bookstore.

Right next door to the Red Caboose Motel is the National Toy Train Museum. This place has displays of antique and contemporary American and European toy trains and three huge layouts. Each of these has buttons visitors can push to operate the trains and accessories. There is even a display of toys other than trains made by the famous toy train maker, Lionel: a little electric stove and and airport among other things.

The Choo Choo Barn is another attraction just down the street. It started as a display in Mr. Groff's basement, and has grown to a huge layout featuring scenes of Lancaster County. Periodically, the lights go down and it's all lit up with twinking stars above. There's a house that catches on fire, a fire engine that drives over, a ski lift, and a tiny Strasburg Rail Road. This display is in a large room at one end of this mini-complex with train-related stores featuring books, videos, and Thomas merchandise.

I stayed at the Rose Garden Bed and Breakfast in Strasburg Saturday night (the Red Caboose was booked solid!) and then went for my ride on the Strasburg Rail Road. This is the attraction that was here first: it's America's oldest-running short-line railroad. All of the cars are restored (beautifully) to be correct to the 1930s even if the car is actually older. I road in a coach car, but for a little more $$ I could have ridden in the posh first-class car or the fancy dining car for a meal. I'd ridden this train before, but I hadn't noticed that the locomotive pulls the train backwards for the first half of the 45-minute ride, then pulls around the train on a different track to the other end of the train. Now it pulls the train frontwards back to the Strasburg station. It has always done it this way. Huh. Even though this wasn't one of the weekends that the famous Thomas the Tank Engine visits Strasburg, the place was packed! I noticed other people visiting multiple train destinations, too.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Hamilton-Trenton Marsh

I've just added a new online photo album to my list on the right side of this blog. There is now an album of 40 photos from all seasons in the Hamilton-Trenton Marsh. This Mercer County park is behind my house ("location, location, location!") and gives us beautiful views all year. In the winter when the leaves are off the trees, we can see the whole of Spring Lake from the living room. When the leaves form in the spring, we have less of a view, but this means the birds are back! Having the marsh right next door, we see and hear some interesting species, but since I'm not a birder I can't identify all of them. I have seen the usual robins, cardinals, bluejays, goldfinches but also catbirds, red-winged blackbirds, owls, and a pheasant. I'm still trying to get some good photos of these birds.

The marsh is a great place to walk, with a camera or with a dog! Gladys the Sheltie puppy had an interesting experience months ago when she was tiny: she peered over the edge of the lake's bank and saw a puppy looking back a her. As she tried to get a better look, she tumbled head-first into the water! I should have re-named her Narcissus--wasn't he the Greek god who did just about the same thing in a myth? Almost any time of year there are great nature shots. The swans usually cooperate, and there are usually Canada geese and ducks. At the Friends of the Marsh Photography Exhibit (currently at the Ellarslie Museum in Trenton) I have seen some great shots of more unusual species such as great blue herons and beaver. I haven't been lucky enought to catch those yet. Here are my favorite swan and turtle photos:

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Off to Berlin

We rode the superfast train from Cologne to Berlin. It took us only four hours to do what the bus needs twelve hours to do. It didn't seem all that fast, really, unless you try to focus on the ground right next to the track. The buildings and fields further away did not appear to be rushing past any faster than usual. Once at Berlin's mod new station, we were met by our local tour guide and bus. This station is huge with lots of stores and restaurants and lots of glass. (Enrico and our regular bus loaded with our luggage were taking the highway, and managed to meet us at the hotel after our tour.)

Our guide Christabel took us around Berlin and we stopped to visit some of the more interesting sites. First was the Kaiser Wilhelm church which was bombed during WWII. This facade to the right is really all that is left. A modern replacement church was built next to this sight, but the facade of the old church was left as a memorial to things lost in the war.

Eventually we made our way through the city to the Brandenburg Gate. Christabel led us through the center columns which used to be reserved for the kaiser! Finished in 1791, this is the only remaining gate of thirteen that used to stand on the perimeter of the city. Just past the gate is Unter den Lindens Avenue, a street with shops at one end and museums, libraries and performing arts centers at the other. I haven't figured out yet why the Old Library is known as the "Kommode".

It was hard to tell where the former East Berlin starts and West ends, except here by this remaining bit of the wall (below) and Checkpoint Charlie to the right. A lot of the guys from our tour gladly posed for photos in front of the famous checkpoint. The eastern part of the city has been working hard to catch up to the modern west side. I had to refer to my map to see exactly where our hotel sat.

This piece of the wall that wasn't torn down shows how impossible it would be to climb over. It's pretty igh for one thing, and that part that looks like a rubber bumper on top would keep a person from getting a grip good enough to hoist themself over. And then there are rows of barbed wire. Around the city, there are parts of the wall displayed showing the graffitied western side and the immaculate east side.

Finally after a long day of travelling and touring, we relaxed for awhile in our (East Berlin) hotel, a very modern, minimalist place called Moevenpick which is also the name of some German ice cream. This is the kind of place that leaves candy on your pillow. Since we were in Germany, the candy was Haribo Gummy Bears. This was a very fancy hotel by my standards, with a beautiful view out the window, and a bathroom wall made out of glass block. Although we were tempted to stay in that evening and put our feet up, we had signed up for a variety show at the Winter Garden Theater which turned out to be great fun.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

I'd like to go back...

I'd like to go back to Rothenburg. We only stopped there briefly on our way from Nuremberg to Munich but I was intrigued by the medieval walled town. I've done quite a bit of reading on the middle ages, and like most people, I suppose, I picture that era as dark and dingy. Rothenburg is a medieval town with half-timber buildings in pleasing colors. It was cheerful-medieval. I didn't have time to check out the Medieval Crime Museum, but one of my tourmates did, and it sounds like this would be an exception to the cheerful-medieval vibe in the rest of the town. I spent my time shopping: I bought a three-piece ceramic German oompah band (clarinet, tuba and drums) and a silver cuckoo clock charm for my bracelet. I couldn't leave Rothenburg without buying a couple of the Schneeballs that they are famous for. These are really just strips of pie dough rolled in a ball and sprinkled with sugar, dipped in sticky-sweet glop, or covered in dark chocolate. They weren't a hit with everyone, bu I enjoyed my chocolate-covered Schneeball.

I'd like to go back to Leipzig. This was another quick stop with just enough time to eat lunch and shoot some photos. We chose a great restaurant--Auerbach's Keller--which was the setting for a scene in Goethe's "Faust". It's underneath a shopping area called the Madlerpassage, and its entrance is maked by scultures of events from its history. Anyway, the food was great. My selction was pork rolled in bacon with cauliflower and potatoes.

I was most excited about another Leipig site, the Thomaskirche. This beautiful church saw Martin Luther lectures, Mozart's organ playing, and the baptism of Richard Wagner. But even more importantly, this is where Johann Sebastian Bach spent most of his career. Much of his revered church music was composed for this gig, he met his second wife here (she was a soprano in the choir), and JSB is buried here. Fo a former music major, this is hallowed ground. I'd like to go bach to Leipzig to get a feel for Bach's city and exploe the Bach Museum!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Some Castles in Germany


Our first sightseeing excursion of the tour was a cruise on the Rhine River. There were castles, churches and towns on either side. The castles and castle ruins are the highlights, appearing one after another with little property surrounding them. (Eleventh-century Sooneck Castle is above, and Reichenstein Castle from 1192 is below.) These mostly anonymous medieval landowners were always jousting with their neighbors for more land.


I've had this unread book on my shelf for 22 years that I bought in the 1980s after hearing a review on the radio. It's a biography of the non-anonymous Frederick the Great, King of Prussia. We music majors knew about Frederick because he was an excellent flutist and notable patron of the arts. We visited his palace on the tour, Sanssouci in Potsdam. Sanssouci means "without worries" and this palace became a headquarters for intellectuals and Frederick's sophisticated friends. Voltaire lived here for three years. Frederick's tomb is on the grounds, and visitors leave flowers and potatoes on it. Why potatoes? Because Frederick brought the plant to Germany to feed the hungry poor. He forgot to tell them right away that they were supposed to eat the bottom part of the plant. They were eating the leaves and not liking it very much.


The other palace in Potsdam is Cecilienhof, where the Potsdam Conference starring Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin, and later Truman, Attlee, and Stalin, took place. It was in this palace that they signed the Potsdam Agreement after World War II.


Another superstar king was Ludwig II (sometimes referred to as Mad King Ludwig). He built

three famous iconic German castles, and we visited two on this tour. First, Linderhof with its man-made grotto and countless priceless porcelain vases. This castle, decorated in exaggerated Rococo style if tht's possible, features a waterfall fountain outside Ludwig's bedroom window. (see right.)

Linderhof's man-made Venus Grotto, a ten-minute walk up a steep hill, was a retreat for the king where he had his buddy Richard Wagner's opera, Tannhauser, performed while he floated around the man-made grotto lake in a boast shaped like a scallop shell. (Think Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus".)


Ludwig's other famous castle, Neuschwanstein, also has a grotto inspired by the work of Richard Wagner, but it also features a bigger tribute. The singer's Hall, a fancy Rococo auditorium, is decorated with murals depicting scenes from Wagner's operas. Ludwig loved music and he loved reading: both of these castles feature upholstered reading nooks. This is the famous fairy tale castle that inspired Cinderella's place at Disneyworld. We missed out on the "money shot" photo of the castle because of clouds, but there were still plenty of photo opps on the property:

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Back from Germany!

There are things that make life wonderful, but those things are not the same for everyone. For me it has always been music, art, a good story, and good friends. In recent years it has become clear to me that travel is one of those things, too.

from the Rhine cruise: Ehrenfels Castle Ruin

I've just returned from a tour of Germany organized by professionals instead of by me, and I had a great time. I'm tired physically, but my mind is re-traveling to all these places, sorting them out and selecting the favorites. I never thought I would enjoy such a tour with the early wake-up calls and limited time at interesting sights, but I was wrong. We got to know almost all of the other 41 people on the tour, eating with different groups for breakfast and supper. We saw lots of sights and were kept on time by our amazing tour director Renske. I could never have planned such an interesting tour on my own, nor could I have stayed in such nice hotels. Renske told us some great stories from the history and culture of the various regions (one of my pillars of a beautiful life, remember). The food was great--either the hotel meals or the places we tried on our own. It was such a nice change to get my nose out of the travel guide and put the control in her (and Globus's) hands. Our excursions (included and optional alike) were planned efficiently around times they are least busy (and not closed for local holidays or renovation). This is stuff the average tourist wouldn't know.
(Furstenberg Ruin 1219)

The transportation was always figured out for us whether it was by bus, boat, or train. Our amazing driver Enrico took us through cities and mountains, and down hundreds of miles of highway, making it look easy all the time. He had the responsibility of loading our luggage on the bus almost everyday, and I know first hand some of those bags are HEAVY.

Rhine River tour boat

So I'm a changed person. Tours are now an official kind of travel, one of my five pillars of beauty in life. Now it is my task to sort through my just-under-one-thousand photos and sort out all of the castles, churches, towns, cities, markets, and statues we saw!

Flower stand in Munich

East Berlin

Friday, September 12, 2008

Hoist the Jolly Roger: International Talk Like A Pirate Day

Sadly, scallywags, I'll be in Germany (Cologne and Berlin) on International Talk Like a Pirate Day (where it is something like Sprechen Sie wie ein Pirat Tag). While I'm gone, I hope my readers will check out Cap'n Slappy and Ol' Chumbucket's page, for tips on how to celebrate this festive holiday. At the very least, visit where you can get your own Pirate Name.

If you're way too serious for any of this silly pirate stuff, I would recommend Pirate Wisdom: Lessons in Navigating the High Seas of Your Organization by Elisa S Robyn, Ph.D. and Cindy L. Miles, Ph.D. (iUniverse, 2006). I heard one of the authors speak at a conference thinking this would be a fun topic to finish off the busy day of listening. How surprised was I when this pirate metaphor turned out to be a well-thought-out philosophy on getting things done at work (or at school or any organization) without going through the usual procedures. Consider the sailboat that needs to sail into the wind. Sailing directly into the wind would require too much energy and would take too long (folly), but a zigzag pattern would eventually get the sailboat there more efficiently. This is called tacking upwind. Imagine approaching a challenge at work this way, and you've got the idea of Pirate Wisdom. You'd eventually get to the solution even if you didn't go directly from point A to point B.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Cape May Stage: Doubt

Cape May is lucky to have two professional theater groups in town. The other night I attended the Cape May Stage production of John Patrik Shanley's "Doubt". The beautifully-restored Robert Shackleton Playhouse was packed for this show. I'd been wanting to check out this group, but with all the cultural activities available in Cape May now, it took a while to get around to this theater. I'm glad I waited, not only because I got to see a great production of "Doubt", but because Cape May Stage donated half the proceeds from the evening to the Beach Theater Foundation. I'm already a frequent filmgoer at the Beach Theater.

The play started around dusk, and from across the street the Robert Shackleton Theater looked so cute lit up with a line of people waiting to get in. It was September, but it could have been a picture on a Christmas card. Right behind where I was standing to take this photo, a barbershop quartet in Hawaiian shirts was warming up in the Rotary Gazebo. It was nice to see the theater close-up so that I could inspect the amazing award-winning restoration work that was completed a few years ago. Before Cape May Stage took over the building, it was a sad-looking welcome center that sometimes hosted small events. Now it is a gorgeous theater with stadium seating and a palette of muted colors.
The play was a thought-provoking experience, exploring the concept of doubt in a Catholic school. With only four actors, the story was rich (after all it won the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award for Best Play). I'm no theater critic, but the acting was good, the characters believable, and the scenery was minimal but just right. The audience surrounding me was spellbound by the performance and rewarded the actors with a storm of applause.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Pearl S. Buck House

I visited Pearl S. Buck's big stone farmhouse in Perkasie, PA, last weekend. Pearl Buck was an amazing woman most famous for authoring The Good Earth. This was only one of many books and other writings that earned her the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes. the house, although large, seems humble by today's standards. Her treasure room with the Nobel Prize for Literature displayed prominently among her many other awards, keys to cities, and academic hoods from her honorary doctorates, seems plain but elegant.

Pearl Buck was never a fancy lady. She spent most of her childhood and pre-college years in china with her missionary parents during a time when that country was in upheaval and treated foreigners poorly. She returned to the US for college and then again with her husband when they realized her daughter was going to need lifelong medical care. In the end, she lived 40 years in China and 40 in the US.

She bought the farm, Green Hills Farm in Perkasie, in 1935. At the time, she had two children, but she and her second husband went on to adopt seven more. With her Bucks County neighbors Oscar Hammerstein, James Michener, and David and Lois Burpee (seeds), she created an organization that specialized in adoption for bi-racial kids, and another organization to aid children in need in their own countires. Today those two organizations have merged and still thrive. Pearl S. Buck International now exists in a new building adjacent to the farmhouse.

The farmhouse tour started in the big kitchen and brought us through the dining room, living room (where the Dalai Lama once sat!), upstairs to her bedroom and treasure room, and back downstairs through the library, Pearl's offices, and her husband's office. Along the way we saw some of her 8,000 books, the Good Earth Desk, and the gown she wore to the Nobel prize ceremony. The house is just as she would have left it, except for the gardens which are tended by Pearl's daughter, Janice, now in her 80s!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Cape May Sand Castle Competition

The Ninth Annual Sand Castle Contest took place on August 8, 2008, at The Cove beach in Cape May. Sand sculptors of all ages competed in different classes for cool prizes including Can You Dig It sand tools and gift cards donated by local merchants. Spectators were greeted by a humongous sand castle sculpted by Matt Long, the contest organizer and creator of Can You Dig It Sand Tools:

The secret to sucessful sand sculpting lies in the ratio of water to sand. First there's the pound-up, where sand is shoveled into large wooden forms the night before a contest. Water is added and the mixture is pounded down every few inches to form the right consistency. Buckets with and without bottoms, shovels, and plastic knives are used. Some sculptors use molds, but the best ones are bottomless so that exess water can drip out.

Many of us specialize in drippy castles, where wet sand is dribbled between the fingers. Although this technique is not frequently used in contests, it can be used for trees and bushes. This year's Cape May contest featured an amazing complicated drippy castle that did win a prize.

The crowd favorite of this year's contest was an marvelous collaboration called Frosty vs. Wally, depicting a snowball fight between a snowman ...

and a walrus ...

each behind their respective walls. Camelot was there,
and even Yankee Stadium!