Saturday, July 31, 2010


Today I took the Box to Costco to buy one of their tremendous chocolate cakes, a mile high and covered with chocolate shavings. It was destined for consumption by hungry American sponsors and International Fellows at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle.

Susanne and I are community sponsors for a French Colonel and his family. He is studying this year at the War College. Community sponsors help to acclimate the "international fellows" to the American way of life and try to integrate them into our community.

One of the historic buildings at the War College.

When I arrived at the War College, I was asked if I had any weapons or explosives. I showed the big bread knife that I had brought to cut the cake. I wonder if that was the reason the officer at the gate made me get out of the car, open all the doors and trunk, and raise the hood. He looked under the car with a mirror on a stick. All that was missing was a sniffing dog. And the worst part was apologizing for the messiness of the interior of the Box! "Oh, don't worry, sir," said the guard. "I have seen many filthier than this."

Once inside the gate, I found the area where the picnic was being held, deposited the cake, showed the woman how to cut it (she thought that was pretty cool), and then asked her how I could find "my guy," the way the sponsors tend to refer to their officer. She took me right to him, at the end of the food line. There I met him and his lovely wife and four children.

We got to know each other in line and later at the picnic table. It will be fun to get to know them better this year. When their kids had worn out, we all left. I collected the knife and serving tool and the remainder of the cake, which was the plastic lid. Not only had the cake totally disappeared (a good thing, really!), but so had the plate.
On the way back to the Box, I watched the International Fellows in a tug-of-war (see video link below). Kids were still playing in one of those inflated bouncy "castles," and some of the older kids were kicking a soccer ball around the field.

Yesterday the Box had gone in another direction. Susanne has the idea that she would like to have a longer dining table, one made of old barn wood. Naturally, the Internet provided the name of a company that makes such items. And it was not too far away, with two showrooms, one in Bird-in-Hand and the other in Intercourse, Lancaster County.

So we drove south on I-283 then to US 30 and finally to Old Philadelphia Pike. There we wound our way through farm fields and small towns until arriving in Bird-in-Hand. It was there that we encountered the first schlocky tourist shops. We saw the table shop, but being hungry, we headed first for the Bird-in-Hand Farmers Market. There was a lunch counter there, but you had to sit on a stool, and it did not look very comfortable. It was a small market, but everything looked fresh and good.

We decided to go on to Intercourse. There we parked at Kitchen Kettle Village, where I had just been with the LEC French students the week before. It's a fake little village of shops, some nice and others selling the same souvenirs as elsewhere, but more tastefully. We did have a nice lunch at the Kettle Café. Then we walked around a bit (the weather was really nice), and took off back down the road to the Old Road Furniture Company. They had some very beautiful tables, but all more "refined" than the barnwood table Susanne wants.

A very nice young man talked to us a bit then gave us directions to the barnwood store at the other end of town. There at E. Braun Farm Tables were a lot of options such as length, width, thickness of table top, number of extensions, kinds of wood, etc. Susanne liked them all. The salesman there told us that there were other styles on display at the Bird-in-Hand store, so we decided to check them out.

In the Intercourse area, you see lots of Amish folks driving buggies and wagons, walking, or riding scooters (both children and adults). We stopped to take a picture of Susanne stealing corn (just kidding) and were surprised to see a barefooted Amish girl, about 8 or 9 years old, on a scooter, riding alone down the side of the highway, dodging the horse poo. Now, we all know that we would never let our kids do something like that.

Interestingly, "my guy" at the War College said that during their first week, they all took a bus tour of Lancaster County, and he was very uncomfortable looking out the bus window at the Amish people, comparing it to one of those rides through a zoo to see the animals in their natural habitats.

Anyway. after seeing the farm tables, we decided to drive home through Lititz, where we stopped at a store where Susanne wanted to look for a large "tobacco basket." We need one badly, you see. She was unsuccessful, but we walked around town to the other charming shops there.

Soon we decided to continue on up Rt. 501 to Myerstown, where we would eat dinner at the iconic Kum Esse Diner. I had the senior meat loaf. For the life of me, I can't remember what Susanne ordered. Unfortunately, they seem to have made the booths narrower since our last visit, so my getting in and out was not the most graceful thing I have seen.

From there we continued north to Bethel, where we joined up with I-78 eastward toward I-81 and home.

Here are the tug-of-war video and some additional photos:

  Kitchen Kettle Village in Intercourse.

"Our" French family heading home for naps.

Monday, July 19, 2010


The weather was great yesterday, so it seemed like a good idea to take a ride to Mt. Gretna in Lebanon County. It's a woodsy resort area with many cottages from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I really wanted to check out the miniature golf course there as part of the LEC French student excursion to Pennsylvania Dutch Country this week.

I invited my sister Rachel along, since we generally have lunch together after church, and we were joined by Susanne at the famous Chez McDonald's for a gourmet lunch. We set the Box on course for Mt. Gretna, heading east on Rt. 22, then onto old Rt. 22 to Harper's Tavern in Lebanon County. We changed direction there and headed south through Annville, and then east again on Rt. 322, past Cornwall and its extraordinary historic iron furnace, and south again to Mt. Gretna.

As we pulled into the village, we spotted the miniature golf course on our right. It was beside a store called La Cigale (French for 'cicada'), which sold fabrics, tablecloths, tableware, and photographs from beautiful Provence in southeastern France. It seems a Mt. Gretna couple had once brought home some things from their trip to Provence, and the next time they went, they were asked to bring certain things for friends and family. Soon, they were in business!

We went into the store first and looked around. While the women kept looking, I went next door to survey the golf course, which, I am sorry to say, I found lacking. I did enjoy, however, a brief conversation with the manager, a nice lady with a classic Lebanon Valley Pennsylvania Dutch accent.

So, it was back to the store for me. We continued to examine a number of items, all of them attractive. They even had the bee motif glassware that we have collected. We were able to resist, but Rachel made a purchase to give as a gift.

Leaving there, we drove a short distance to a group of distinctive yellow-painted wooden buildings, once part of the Mt. Gretna Chautauqua. According to Wikipedia, "Chautauqua is an adult education movement in the United States, highly popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Chautauqua assemblies expanded and spread throughout rural America until the mid-1920s. The Chautauqua brought entertainment and culture for the whole community, with speakers, teachers, musicians, entertainers, preachers, and specialists of the day. Former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt was quoted as saying that Chautauqua is 'the most American thing in America.'"

Among the buildings remaining, we like the Jigger Shop best! It's a sort of open-air ice cream shop with the Jigger being its signature sundae, featuring vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, marshmallow topping, and their secret ingredient, "Jigger Nuts." Being people who never eat things that are bad for you, we denied ourselves the Jigger. The women settled for small dishes of ice cream while I had something I have not had for years, a chocolate malted milk shake.

Once our treats were consumed, we walked next door to a small shop and browsed. The yellow building looks a lot like a tiny Greek temple. There were some interesting things for sale there, but our sales resistance is now perfected. We left no money behind.

As we departed, we decided to go home a different way, and so the Box headed south again so we could pass the lake and watch the fun. There were tons of canoes on the water and hundreds of sunbathers and folks in the water on the far side of the lake.

Continuing on, we drove through tiny Colebrook, with its Coleman mansion and Tastee-Freeze, back to Rt. 322 at Campbelltown, passing by Annie's Soft Ice Cream (do you see a theme here?), through downtown Hershey and past the park and its many roller coasters, ending up back home just in time for a late afternoon nap.

Here are some additional photos from our drive. Click on any photo to enlarge it.

Dinnerware is displayed on tablecloths
made from French fabric in Mt. Gretna .

Susanne really liked this green tablecloth;
I liked the big yellow crock in the back.

This beautiful metal bench caught my eye. For the first
time ever, though, Susanne said it was too expensive!
I thought it was a bargain. Role reversal at work.

Gorgeous photos of lavender fields 
were for sale.

Rachel chats with the sales woman
after making her purchase.

I loved this scene of a lavender grower and his cart.
I forgot to look at the price!

Here's Susanne at her favorite green table.

The garlic man peddles his crop.

The cigale is shown in the dinnerware and the salt
and pepper shakers. It's the emblem of Provence.
I can hear cicadas outside as I am typing this!

More figurines show traditional Provençal costumes.

Flowers outside the Jigger Shop.

Susanne watches a sundae being made as she waits to order.

My malted milk shake was to die for (from?).

 The outside deck of the Jigger Shop was filled. 
It's so pleasant there, among the trees.

The signpost at Mt. Gretna.

One of the old Chautauqua buildings, now a shop.

Goodies for sale.
Canoes ready for a trip across the lake.

 A canoe glides by our vantage point near 
a dead tree, gnawed to death by a beaver.

The Coleman mansion at Colebrook is still beautiful.
It was built in the 18th century by the family who owned
Cornwall Iron Furnace and a nearly identical furnace
at Colebrook, Lebanon County. 

Sunday, July 4, 2010


Even in 91 degree heat, the Box fairly purred its way across the Susquehanna River to the home of our friends Edie and Bill Walsh. Edie and I worked together at the Historical and Museum Commission for many years on the Executive staff, and then after our current Governor took office, we got the boot to other areas of the Commission. We were among the last of staff to retire before the "reign of terror" came, when the PHMC's budget was slashed and our now-former jobs thrown into jeopardy.

Susanne and I arrived last (of course) and were pleased to meet Edie's friends, whom, it seems, she has recruited to participate in the International Fellows Program at the Army War College in Carlisle, and the foreign officers we're sponsoring. We're all "community" sponsors, and our job is to help the families who come for the year to feel at home and learn more about our region.

"Our" officer, Col. Patrik Steiger of France, was unable to attend the party today because he had already been invited by the French military attaché in Washington D.C. We'll get to meet him after his family arrives at the end of the month.

While the children from Holland and Canada played in the pool, we adults mingled near the hors d'œuvre and got acquainted. We met Wilfred and Annette from Holland, Derek and Rhonda from Canada, and Nacet from Turkey, and their community sponsors.

After a wonderful Fourth of July all-American meal, we played a game of Jeopardy that Edie had made up, tailoring it to the audience. The men, even after several gracious "passes" to the women, were triumphant in the end. The evening ended with a round of sparklers.

Last to arrive and last to leave, we came upon Nacet at the curb trying unsuccessfully to start his car. Bill went in to find jumper cables while Edie turned her car around at warp speed to offer its battery for a jump start. Friends helping friends. How American!

 Sandy, Nacet (Turkey), and Leon

Derek and Rhonda (Canada)

Wilfred, Annette and kids (Holland)

Like George Washington, I cannot tell a lie --
I created this patriotic dessert.

Edie ("Alex Trebek") moderates the Jeopardy game 
based on history of the U.S. and the guest's countries.

 The women think seriously before offering 
their answer, er, question.

Some of the guys cogitate in preparation for their
triumphant win over the women.

The new friends pose for a group portrait.

Sparklers illuminated the dusk as we celebrated our
nation's Independence Day.

Susanne and Edie, in the style of Click and Clack
(the Tap-it Brothers) of NPR's 'Car Talk' try to 
determine what the problem is with Nacet's car.
Bill appears with the jumper cables and sets to work
getting our Turkish friend on his way.