Smitten by the Mitten.

I started humming it pretty much as our plane landed in Detroit and ear-wormed it for the entire week until we rolled into Chicago.

“Michigan seems like a dream to me now / It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw / I’ve come to look for America…”


I grew up three miles south of the Michigan border, but time spent there during my childhood was either negligible or forgotten, or both. Well, except for one night senior year of high school when friends and I took advantage of Michigan’s kindly state law which at that time made it legal to drink at age 18. Needless to say, the night did not end well. Michigan raised their drinking age to 21 not long after, a decision possibly set in motion by the debacle in which our hapless crew discovered the folly of mixing copious amounts of cherry vodka and Coca-Cola.

But that was then and this was now, and after a week’s tour in Texas and a twenty-four hour foray to Virginia, we were ready to low-key it for several days until we were due in the Windy City. What could be more low-key than a road trip through Michigan? So off we drove from Detroit, north by northwest, me riding shotgun and humming Paul Simon and crinkling the paper map on my lap and generally driving my dear husband out of his mind. (It’s a talent of mine, well-honed after many decades of practice.)


Cornfields make me nostalgic. Way back when I had a newly-minted drivers license I used to take the Buick out on the back county roads of northern Indiana and drive past miles and miles of cornfields. Then, I was lost in the corn maze of adolescence and the corn maze of the Midwest, desperate to escape from both. But now I see a cornfield and I want to just stop by the side of the road and look at it for awhile. As Annie Proulx mused in The Shipping News, “as you get older you find out the place where you started out pulls at you stronger and stronger.” I was feeling that pull. I hummed a little louder.

“So I looked at the scenery /she read her magazine/ And the moon rose over an open field…”

Paul Simon was willing us to stop in Saginaw, where I have read that a local artist painted the  lyrics to America on various down-on-their-luck buildings around the town. But the more practical consideration just then was lunch, and with all due respect to Mr. Simon, we weren’t looking for Mrs. Wagner’s pies. Since we had fond memories of our German lunch the previous week in Fredericksburg, TX, we decided to veer off I-75 and see what was cooking in the little town of Frankenmuth. The answer: pretty much everything!



You really need to be hungry as a horse to eat at Frankenmuth’s  Bavarian Inn. Maybe that’s why Buddy the Belgian draft horse is stationed right outside the restaurant. For a nominal fee, you can commune with him over a few oat cakes, which seemed like the least we could do after we’d just downed noodles and cabbage and bratwurst and fried chicken and more.


A post-prandial walk around the neighborhood and across the covered bridge was a necessity:


No color in the trees yet, but just a hint of fall in the flowers:


The mitten that is the lower peninsula of Michigan turns out to be a size large and it took most of the day for us to make the catty-cornered drive up and across to our destination on Lake Michigan. Hours and hours of cornfields and barns and me looking out the window and humming, lost somewhere between Midwest past and present. Those familiar gray skies. Miles of flat highway stretching out beyond us. I had no idea where we were, but it sure felt like home.

” ‘Kathy, I’m lost,’ I said, thought I knew she was sleeping /
‘I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why’ /
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike /
They’ve all come to look for America /
All come to look for America /
All come to look for America”

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How to Remember the Alamo.

It reads almost like a folk tale. In March of 1836, a few hundred men huddled in a roofless fort, fighting to the death in a quixotic battle against two thousand Mexican soldiers commanded by the autocratic and ruthless General Antonio López de Santa Anna. Davy Crockett was there with his rifle and his coonskin cap. So was Jim Bowie, too ill to wield his eponymous knife, but said to have died propped up in his bed aiming two pistols at the Mexican soldiers who barged into his room.


“Remember the Alamo!” is the most famous of battle cries, but the history behind it is complex and the stories it spawned seem almost fantastic. Seeing, however, is believing and it is well worth a trip to San Antonio to experience it firsthand.

A few things to remember if you go:

  1. It’s right in the middle of town – an easy five-to-ten minute walk from most of the centrally located hotels.
  2. “Be prepared for how small it is”, everyone said. If you are expecting a massive fort,  you will be surprised. A secularized mission, The Alamo lacked a roof and even the most rudimentary defense structures.
  3. Your understanding of the events will be greatly enhanced by taking the one-hour Battlefield Tour.
  4. Current excavations at the site are yielding artifacts and insights into the events that took place during the siege and the battle.
  5. No photographs inside The Alamo. Staff members were unable to provide a reason for the ban on cameras, but the rule is actively enforced.
  6. See the movie! The AMC Rivercenter 11 offers a stirring IMAX film about the Alamo with several showings daily. The production values and the attention to historical detail are excellent.


A massive monument outside the shrine pays tribute to the illustrious patriots who died there. To understand their decision to stay and fight given that they were wildly outmatched by Santa Anna’s forces requires an unraveling of the historical events that led up to the battle and those that followed it. Start with the Lousiana Purchase and then connect the dots from the Mexican War of Independence and the colonization of Texas to the Battle of Gonzales and the Texas Revolution and you start to get the picture. There does not seem to be consensus on the “best” book about the Alamo, but there are a handful that are popular:

  1. The Blood of Heroes: The 13-Day Struggle for The Alamo – and the Sacrifice that Forged a Nation by James Donovan (528 pages)
  2. Three Roads to the Alamo: The Lives and Fortunes of David Crockett, James Bowie, and William Barret Travis by William C. Davis (816 pages)
  3. Texian Iliad: A Military History of the Texas Revolution by Stephen L. Hardin (344 pages)
  4. The Alamo by Frank Thompson (384 pages)
  5. The Alamo: An Illustrated History by George S. Nelson (114 pages)



I read The Alamo by John Myers Myers, a rather colorful treatment of events in which the author asserts that Sam Houston’s Texan army “was no better organized than a centipede with jake leg”. But the sacrifice at The Alamo inspired Houston and his troops to victory just  a month later at the Battle of San Jacinto, where the cry “Remember the Alamo” spurred the Texians to overpower Santa Anna and his army and gave rise to the Republic of Texas. History at its most stirring, and most definitely worth remembering.




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In Rio Life: Two Days and Dinners on the River in San Antonio

San Antonio was an unexpected delight.  Topside is an inviting and gracious historic town dotted with century-old buildings. And down the stately stairways a river idyll awaits.

Ahead of the trip, I dithered around the myriad hotel options. It was hard to choose. Luckily, I found what I think must be the jewel in San Antonio’s crown: The Mokara. Upon our arrival, we splurged on a river view upgrade. Magical!


From the welcoming cup of coconut horchata in the lobby to the graciously appointed room to the genuine hospitality received from every staff member, our stay was perfect.


We could have gazed out of our balcony window forever. But, of course, man does not live by bed alone. Where to eat?

Our first reservation was at Boudro’s. At first glance, its taco-shaped umbrellas lining the River Walk appeared unremarkable. But as we settled in and chatted with the couple next to us, we learned that this was their third meal at Boudro’s in four days. And when our server appeared with a cart to prepare guacamole for us table-side, we began to catch on. We live in California. We know our way around an avocado. But this was, by far, the best guacamole we’ve ever tasted!


And we’re not the only ones to think so. Boudro’s gets so many requests for their guacamole recipe that they’ve posted it on their web site:

Boudro’s Guacamole Recipe

Freshly prepared at your table with diced avocado, roasted tomato and serrano pepper, cilantro and fresh lime and orange juices. Serves two.


Juice of 1/4 of an orange
Juice of 1/2 a lime
1 avocado seeded and scooped out of skin
2 tablespoons roasted and charred Roma tomatoes, diced
1 roasted Serrano pepper, seeded and diced
1 tablespoon medium dice red onions
1 teaspoon chopped cilantro
coarse ground salt to taste (sea salt is better)

Squeeze juices into bowl. Add avocado and coarsely chop. Add onions, roasted tomato, serrano and cilantro fold into avocado mixture. Add salt (more is better). Result should be crudely chopped not mashed. That’s it, enjoy!


The guacamole was a hard act to follow, but their Texas Filet of Sirloin & Frites with Fire fries, fried jalapeños and plantains with chimichurri sauce was a revelation that made me want to stay deep in the heart of Texas forever.


One of the buildings in San Antonio brimming with history is the Menger Hotel. Among its storied guests was Teddy Roosevelt, who is said to have recruited his Rough Riders in the Menger Bar. According to the Legends of America web site:

“It was here, in the Menger Bar, that Roosevelt recruited hard-living cowboys fresh from the Chisholm Trail, to his detachment of Rough Riders. Reportedly, Teddy would sit at the bar and as the cowboys came in, he would jovially offer them a free drink (or several) as he worked his recruiting strategy upon the unsuspecting cowpoke. Many sobered up the next morning to find themselves on their way to basic military training at Fort Sam Houston before joining in the Spanish American War.”


If it was good enough for Teddy, it was good enough for us, so on our second evening, we went over to take a look. Designed in 1887 as a facsimile of London’s House of Lords Pub, the room is composed completely of mahogany:


We ordered a drink and toasted to Teddy after the bartender showed us the bullet holes in the paneling purportedly shot by Roosevelt during his recruitment efforts.

Then we made our way back to the River Walk to dine on the terrace at the elegant Las Canarias:



The view was sublime:


We ordered from the tasting menu. Starters were Corn Chowder for me and Shrimp Cocktail for the CE:



For my main course, I chose the Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin that was accompanied by a divine Farro Risotto, Collard Greens and Brandy Apple Compote:


I dared not taste dessert after all that, but the CE and his enviable metabolism enjoyed the Creme Brûlée:


All this fun and food and I haven’t even gotten to the reason we came to San Antonio. Next post: remembering The Alamo.







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You So Pretty, San Antonio!

Two lovely days in San Antonio. What was envisioned in 1921 as a paved-over storm sewer to manage flooding of the San Antonio River instead became an enchanting “River Walk” due to the vision and persistence of architect Robert Hugman.

Mid-September was a perfect time to visit; relaxed, no crowds and easy walking:


You kind of have to take one of the goofy little “cruises”. Our guide was Demetrio and he shared a wealth of history and terrible jokes. It was perfect.


On an early morning walk, we had the path to ourselves.


Lots of thoughtful arty touches along the way…


Something new to see with each bend of the river.


Lush plantings everywhere and everything so nicely manicured.


The old and the new and the new-made-to-look-old happily co-exist.


Leafy, langorous and verdant, a great escape from the Texas heat.


Next post – where to stay/eat. Unsurprisingly, we did not go hungry…

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There’s schnitzel in them thar’ hills.

Texas hills, that is.

After a weekend in Austin for a Very Important Project (hope to report on that when I get some professional pix) we took a little meander so we could say we dipped our toes in the Hill Country. Half a day hardly qualifies me as an expert, but from what I saw, Hill Country is “hilly” in that it is slightly less flat than a greasy-spoon pancake. You will not be making mountains out of molehills here. Topography aside, what little we saw of it was absolutely charming.

It might seem a bit scrubby if you (unlike me) live someplace where it occasionally rains, but from what I hear, it is absolutely verdant compared to West Texas. Wide open country, every turn on the road offering a perfect set for a spaghetti western. We loved it.


Since our time was limited, we picked out one town to visit: Fredericksburg. It was founded by German settlers in 1846 and don’t you forget it: the town is hasenpfeffered with German restaurants. Since we rolled onto Main Street just in time for lunch, we were faced with the tough job of choosing which one was uber alles. We ended up at Der Lindenbaum, a quaint eatery named after Franz Schubert’s composition of the same name.


I don’t know where this restaurant falls in the Fredericksburg rankings, but it was easily the best German food I’ve tasted (disclosure: I have not been to Germany). The CE observed on his way to the restroom that all the cooks were Hispanic but they truly have a way with schnitzel and bratwurst. On a beastly hot day there was, of course, no choice but to start with a frosty glass of draft German beer.


And then move right on to the bratwurst, knackwurst, Polish sausage and homemade sauerkraut:


After that lunch, we needed a walk, so we strolled down Main Street a bit:



We were surprised to find an array of home goods stores stocked with furniture and home decor items at very attractive prices. We found a lovely piece of glass at the Talk of the Town gallery that someone will find under the Christmas tree if it doesn’t fit in our New York apartment…any takers?

glass vase on shelf.jpg

Fredericksburg, Texas may seem an unlikely setting in which to find the National Museum of the Pacific War until you learn that was the birthplace of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet during WWII.


I don’t think you could find a more thorough treatment of the subject anywhere, and by that I mean that after an hour, we had extreme museum fatigue and had only seen about one third of the exhibits. The tip off should have been that the tickets are good for forty-eight hours, which is what it would take to really do justice to all that is there. I especially appreciated the compelling video presentation of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, “a date which will live in infamy”.

Among other artifacts, we saw an immense Japanese flag:

Japanese flag.jpg

A door from the U.S.S. Arizona which sank in Pearl Harbor:

USS Arizona door.jpg

And an FM-2 “Wildcat” fighter:


But our most memorable sighting was of this gentleman, a member of the “greatest generation”, who we met at lunch.  He told us that he was a B-29 navigator  during the war. At age 94, he is a frequent visitor to the museum. It was an honor to thank him for his service:


We could easily have spent a couple of days in Fredericksburg and the surrounding Hill Country communities, but we had miles to go. And we probably didn’t need to indulge in another helping of schnitzel.


Next stop, San Antonio…




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In Dog Years, She’s Perfect.

Chloe just turned ten. And I don’t want to talk about it. I know what they say about dog years. Well, la la la la la with my fingers plugged in my ears to that! Here are some Chloe pix through the years…

The day she became ours:


She was the CUTEST puppy!!!


With her “big sister” Soho:


Fast forward a decade – and by the way, Soho is still the boss! (Thanks to Lori for the photo)


Dizzy adored her…


And so do all the chickens:


That time when the CE said “Why would we get another dog when the kids are grown and gone”. And then it turns out they’ve come home all these years just to be with Chloe:


She’s pretty good with grandkids, too:

Evie, Viv and Chloe Easter 2012

James loves a Chloe pillow:


I just hope she lives forever. Happy Birthday, sweet girl!


Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring — it was peace.” – Milan Kundera

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Book Shelf: Andrew Klavan’s Great, Good Book.

I am squeamish about books regarding faith. I have almost a visceral resistance to them. For one thing, it can all go downhill pretty quickly once you depart from the poetry that is the Old and New Testament. (Okay, Leviticus is not exactly lyrical verse, so I stand immediately corrected, but I think the Book of Psalms pretty much knocks it out of the park.)

I am also incredibly, inexplicably lazy about my “faith” reading. I scan the sky and it doesn’t look like it’s raining apocalypse this minute, so I figure G.K. Chesterton, like heaven, can wait. We have three crisp copies of Tim Keller’s The Case for Christ on a shelf; all unread. When Bob Goff’s antic Love Does swept through the Christian community like a comet a few years back, I was entertained but not moved. It took me twenty years to get around to reading Mere Christianity. And dust has gathered on a bookmarked copy of The Confessions of St. Augustine. I have every intention of finishing it. Someday.


So it was with trepidation that I signed up for an advance copy of Andrew Klavan’s The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ. And with great surprise that I found myself not wanting to put it down. I felt like a fly on the wall as he described his early childhood in Great Neck, New York. My stomach lurched as he courted disaster throughout his school years. Smart kid, indifferent student, repeated cold-sweat classroom moments where he almost but never quite gets caught. I was completely caught up in his drifting odyssey after high school, his daring triumph at getting the girl of his dreams, and I rooted for him as a young journalist and author, toiling in solitude as he churned out reams of fever-dreamed manuscripts.

Klavan has ultimately made a successful living as a writer of crime novels, including  Don’t Say a Word and True Crime, both of which were made into popular films. He is skilled at engaging a reader, at pacing the action, at moving the story forward. But this is his story, and as I read I saw the writer grappling with the personal revelations of his protagonist – himself. It is the strength and the weakness of this book. He shares the pain of a clouded childhood, the despair of a broken relationship with his father, a struggle with mental illness. He tells the story so well, but I – perhaps selfishly – found myself wanting him to show me more. He speaks of a “dissociated” mother who seems vague and somehow just out of frame at the periphery of his life, but I couldn’t quite put a finger on what he meant. He describes his father as physically and verbally abusive, and I believe him, but the reader doesn’t quite see where the blows are struck. He draws the curtain aside because he wants to let us see, but it is so painful, and you feel his instinct to protect the people who caused him so much pain. He describes a cathartic journey through psychotherapy but I never quite pinned down the diagnosis. Severe depression, I would guess. His narrative is so vivid that it encourages the voyeur in the reader – I want to see more, more!

Klavan’s story is so absorbing that it could be worthy as a memoir alone. But the personal details are really just the underpinnings of a greater journey, a journey of faith. His family was culturally Jewish, but spiritually bereft. His parents did not believe in God, and they didn’t even think too highly of other Jews. You might say that the family religion was being smart, at which Klavan excelled. Way too smart for something like faith in a Christian God. So you can only imagine the consternation with which he is dragged, after reading Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment “away from moral relativism and toward truth, toward faith, toward God.”


Yet this is a reluctant, ambivalent journey. One of the successes of Klavan’s book is that his story is as accessible to an unbeliever as a believer. Steeped in literature, psychiatry and philosophy, it is aimed at a critical reader. He is a man for whom “as long as a religion might even appear to serve me as an emotional crutch, I dismissed it as a form of weakness.” He admits that “Whenever I heard someone say Jesus as if he really meant it, it made my skin crawl, as if they’d said squid or intestine instead.”

The surprise of the book, and of Klavan’s life, is not so much that he eventually comes to faith but that he passes through the suffering we all accept as the human condition into a life infused with true, real, actual, no-kidding, no fooling,  joy. “I was feeling the joy of my joy”, he says. In our postmodern world, even those of us who believe don’t necessarily expect joy. And, as a skeptic and an intellectual, Klavan seems as amazed by it as the reader. For the Christian, his story is buoying. For even the most cynical non-believer, I have to think it would at least be tantalizing.  Who doesn’t want to experience true joy?

For all the faith-based books I have left unread and all those that failed to move me, the exception has been Thomas Merton’s stunning classic The Seven-Storey Mountain. It is generally regarded as the modern-day Confessions of St. Augustine. Klavan’s book is, perhaps, a post-modern version. While it does not purport to stand with the towering Mountain, I did sense a breeze blowing in that direction while I read it.

Klavan’s subject is great and good and so is his book. He concludes that “you cannot know the truth about the world until you know God loves you, because that is the truth about the world.” Along the way he rejects hypocritical religion, he rejects insufficient religion but most resoundingly, he trades the religion of secularism for the cross . “I saw the empty tomb and I had faith.” 




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