Monday, December 23, 2013


This past week, Susanne and I drove into town -- Linglestown, that is -- to meet our friends Mike and Judy at the St. Thomas Roasters, a popular coffee shop on the square. Mike and I went to high school together back in the twentieth century, and his family sort of "adopted" me. They are of Hungarian descent, and I was always interested in their language and customs. Mike's grandmother lived with them, and she spoke mostly Hungarian, and I learned a few words of greeting. (I also learned some words I should not have.)

Mrs. S.
Mike and I hung out a lot in the old days, and after he went out to attend Ohio University, I kept on visiting his family in Harrisburg, including his brother Bob, who was too cool for school.

When their dad was transferred to San Antonio, Texas -- he was a civilian working for the military -- I went out there to visit them. Mike was in the Navy then and was home on leave.

We went to see the Alamo and, of course, the famous River Walk, where we "joined" a private club in order to have a martini, since only private clubs were allowed to sell liquor. If you have not been to San Antonio, it's worth considering. It's pretty darned hot there in the summer, but you can just drive from air-conditioned place to air-conditioned place. It's only the time spent walking from the car to your destination that is a drag.

It was a great trip. It cost me two weeks' pay to fly ($156 -- I was a poor starving teacher then) and just to make sure I remembered the trip, I was stopped, while driving Mike's dad's car, in Cotulla,Texas, then known as the watermelon capital of the world.

Cotulla, as everyone knows, is a small town of about 3,700 people. The founder and CEO of has a 25,000-acre ranch in Cotulla. Lyndon Johnson taught school there as a young man. O. Henry, the short story writer, lived there in the 1880s to benefit from its dry climate. If you want to move there, you can get a house for about $29,000. But watch out for cops behind the billboards.

I got off light, I guess, with a trip back to the police station and a $35 fine. Mike laughed the whole way back to San Antonio. I should have dumped him then.

Mike's dad died some years back, but his mother, Esther, died only recently. She was a doozy, that woman. She had big hair, a personality to match, and was quite beloved of her family and community. She and Mike Sr. had operated a bar and grill in Dayton, and when they moved here, she waited tables in several high-class restaurants and was a favorite of the customers. While I did not see her often often after they all became Texans, I thought of her and her family regularly.

So in the coffee shop we found a table and ordered our morning libations. We spent about two hours there, jawing on all sorts of subjects, from the Kennedy assassination to the codification of spelling of Hungarian names and whether or not Mike could be related to one the most famous eastern Europeans of all, Vlad the Impaler.

Finally, when the clientele had turned over three or four times, we decided to call it a day. On the porch we took some photos to remember the occasion.

Mike and Judy live just up the hill from town -- they came back to Harrisburg years ago and Mike worked for the military, like his dad, and Judy was a magazine and book editor) -- but we (shamefully) do not see each other often. Perhaps we will make a more regular habit of it, even branching out to lunch or dinner. Or maybe home visits!

 Mike, Susanne, and Judy

 John, Susanne, and Mike

 Susanne admires their sporty BMW. I doubt that 
I will be riding in there soon. Maybe I can get in
if they put the top down.

 After breakfast, we did a little shopping and
came across this enormous vehicle, apparently
unable to fit completely into one space.

December 22 was the Fourth Sunday of Advent at Market Square Presbyterian Church, and I arrived at church early for two reasons. One was to hand in a hat and scarf that Susanne purchased for one of the ladies who attends our Sunday morning community breakfasts. Many of the men and women who come to eat live on the streets or in homeless shelters. At the very least, they should be able to keep warm in the winter, so our deacons collected a ton of hats and scarves. Wouldn't you know -- the temperature that morning was 60 degrees! There will be plenty of cold weather soon, sorry to say.

The second reason was to prepare for a PowerPoint presentation I had created to accompany a talk on the historic church's archives, given by the archives committee chair for an adult Sunday School class. It was fun creating the presentation, and those in attendance seemed to appreciate it. Without going overboard, I used some of the new "transitions" gadgets available in PowerPoint. For example, a slide can fade out and back in to the next slide; a slide can "drop" backwards as if a piece of poster board is falling to reveal the next slide; and the real-crowd pleaser is when a slide turns into a curtain -- like in a movie theatre -- and opens, swaying all the way -- to reveal the next slide. There were calls to "do that again!" so we all enjoyed a good laugh. By the time I took this picture, the presentation was finished, and I was rushing off to choir.

This evergreen, decorated simply with white lights, greeted visitors and members in the church atrium. Some people wondered where the decorations were, but I really appreciated the tree as is -- natural and glittering against the fabulous 19th-century John A. Weir memorial stained glass window.

On the way home, Mr. Box and I stopped at the ShurFine store on Rts. 11/15 in Enola, opposite the world-famous Enola Rail Yards. I had to buy ingredients for a low-sugar dessert I am taking to my sister Rachel's house for dinner tomorrow. I had the pleasure of buying sugar-free and fat-free puddings and Cool Whip, and graham crackers. I had to make it today so that it can sit overnight and soften the graham crackers. I hope it is good. If not, I will be forced to bring it back home and eat it all myself.

As I was shopping, I was astounded at the number of chips and pretzel makers we have right here in central Pennsylvania. These brands are famous locally and offer many variations on their products. The makers seem to have mostly Pennsylvania German names, too, now that I look more closely. I am making myself hungry now but I'm fasting for a blood test in the morning, so no dice.

I'm hoping these pictures will be enjoyed by old friends who now live outside our area but remember these treats from earlier days.

When I was leaving, I noticed a twin Scion xB in the next row. I wonder if they knew each other in Japan. Do you think they might have blinked their lights in greeting while their owners were in the store?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


                                                                 from the Internet
Today was a busy one on the road, with many shoppers out looking for gifts and bargains the week before Christmas.

I myself rarely shop, not because I am cheap (which I am), but because I am pathetic when it comes to choosing the right gift. That includes knowing anyone's size (including my own), the right color, the right style, what's in style, an appropriate price (no price is too low for me), and so forth. That is why I have always given over this delightful (heh heh) duty  to my lovely wife, Susanne.

Today, however, after attending a meeting of the officers of the Historical Society of Dauphin County, of which yours truly is privileged to be the president, I ventured forth into the retail world to choose fabulous gifts for Susanne. I managed to find a few things that I think she will like and can use. Let's hope for no repeat of the year we exchanged gifts and then promptly returned them all.

My last stop today was at Stauffer's of Kissel Hill, a Lancaster, Pa.-based garden center that sells lots of Christmas greenery and home decorations. It's located just west of Linglestown on Pa. Route 39.

The first thing that caught my eye was a fantastic fake candle, battery-powered and incredibly realistic. First we had those battery-powered candles with a static "flame," then a flame that seemed to flicker, and now this, which is so impressive that I had to practically touch the flame to be sure it was not real. The $30 pricetag was impressive, too.

Elsewhere in the store, there were gorgeous flowers (especially poinsettias, of course) and small trees, along with ornaments, and my favorite -- miniature houses! Let's take a look:

 I like these 8- or 10-inch trees for a table or desk.

 Have you seen purple poinsettias before?
Nothing says "Christmas" like purple!

 Little white snowdrops and red poinsettias go together well.

 The red amaryllis is always the star of the show.
It's a native of South Africa.

Pink poinsettias were in  full bloom.
Poinsettias are indigenous to Mexico
and derives their common English name
from Joel Roberts Poinsett,
the first United States Minister to Mexico,
who introduced the plant into the United States in 1825.

This old door was adorned with a snowy wreath,
accompanied by lighted branches.

Pink flamingos, anyone, or three little pigs?

If my sister Rachel didn't already have
2.1  million Santas,
I might have bought her one of these.

Ah, here they are, little houses! The one in the front
is made of painted metal, and the one in the right rear
is made of clay. The clay one reminds me of the clay villages
you see in the French Christmas villages with the little
painted clay santons. More on that subject later.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Main Street in "the coolest small town in America."
We just can't seem to help ourselves. When we want to go somewhere charming and fun, we head for Lititz, Lancaster County, recently named "the coolest small town in America" by Budget Travel. It's pretty, bustling with activity, and has nice shops and eateries in the downtown section.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Susanne is interested in a "re-do" of our house, which has not changed much (except a little for the better, I think) in the last few years. She has already ordered a long dining room table made from reclaimed barn wood. (You may remember our trip to Intercourse to order it.)

So last Saturday, she wanted to visit some shops in Lititz to look for cupboards or book shelves for the living room.

On our way through the Annville area, we came across a furniture store that we have been visiting since we were first married. Horning's has always had nice furniture at reasonable prices. We bought our first couch here. We bought the hutch that stores our collection of Breininger pottery, and at least one other thing I recall, a ladder-back chair that little Matthew broke when he pushed it off a trunk where it was placed for a second -- a nano-second, actually -- while Susanne vacuumed in our apartment living room. It still bears the marks of repair, and I still think I should have spanked the little bugger.

The pretty blue chair.
So, we turned into Horning's parking lot (did you hear the one about the magician who drove down the street and turned into an alley? -- think about it)) and entered the store. There we came across a sales associate who sits near me in the Market Square Church choir!  John was a designer of liturgical goods after being a public school art teacher. He is excellent at design of all types, including interior design. I was hoping we might encounter him.

John B. welcomed us and answered Susanne's questions about the company that had made the aforementioned hutch. Alas, it was no longer in business and could not supply matching bookshelves. He showed us others, and a lovely little chair caught our collective eye. It was in one of the colors we are anticipating in our new color scheme, and it fit Susanne well. (Of course, it did not fit me. It was like a doll chair for this big dood.) She anticipated many evenings of falling asleep in that chair before tumbling into bed for the night.

We thanked John and promised to see him soon. Actually, we hope to have him come up and look at our living room and dining room (if you have been here, you know it's a large space divided by a "knee" wall) and make some recommendations for color and furniture placement.

Back on the road, we discovered that it was lunch time and stopped at the Quentin Haus, a small
The pretty little burger.
restaurant on Rt. 72, on a section that runs past Cornwall and Quentin on its way from Lebanon to Lancaster. Susanne had quesadilla and some sort of chowder while I had a simple little burger, not the best I have ever had. It was a pleasant enough stop, but we were soon back in the car and charging through the forest along Rt. 322 toward Lititz.

First stop was the Shaker Shoppe, which you have encountered before on this blog. It's located on a ridge just south of town. We were greeted warmly by Tom Rossman, shop owner, who was just removing a loaf of bread from his bread machine. The Shaker Shoppe produces high quality stained and painted furniture, faithfully recreated from original Shaker patterns or adapted for modern use. And they have wonderful sales! One was underway last weekend, and we were there to look at their bookshelves and cupboards. They had a stained bookshelf and a painted one. Susanne wants a pair, so the timing was just not right.

Bread from Tom's bread maker
We had a nice time talking to Tom and his wife, looking around the store, and dreaming of throwing out everything we own and replacing it for a complete Shaker look. It was soon time to head into town, but there will no doubt be many future visits to this world-class workshop.

Our favorite antiques shop on Main Street in Lititz is called The Moravian House, operated by a pleasant and knowledgeable couple, Mark and Linda Johnson. They have a mixture of true antiques and other home accessories of more recent vintage -- like yesterday. All of the goods are nicely presented in their shop, and they're very helpful.

Susanne honed in on a bluish beat up wooden cupboard that we learned had been found in a cabin in the Catksills. It had a nice patina of age on the exterior, and the interior of the doors showed a nice original intact paint. Susanne and Mark did some serious talking and measuring.

"What is the width?" Susanne asks of Mark.
Each time we visit The Moravian House, I salivate over a great big wonderful step-back hutch, big enough to hold a lot more of our Breininger pottery collection. I looked at paint color samples and dream of having it someday in our house. The problem is that I will need to play the horses -- and win!

Finished window-shopping, we took a quick drive down Main Street, past the beautiful Moravian Church and Linden Hall, the oldest girls school in America, enjoying individual house decorations and the vintage star decorations on the street lamps.

We passed Wilbur Chocolate Company's retail outlet on our way out of town but did not give in to temptation, as you can see in this little video.

Soon we were on our way up Pa. 501, west on US 322, and then onto Pa. 39 towards Linglestown. We stopped at the Giant supermarket to purchase some artisan bread to take to Market Square Church the next day for Bistro, a fundraiser our congregation organizes each year to help folks who are down on their luck. Church members and others prepare somewhat "exotic" soups, artisan breads, and desserts. Musicians provide a nice atmosphere, and the whole thing is a jolly affair. This effort has raised more than $100,000 since its inception.

Bread bought, Susanne and I headed home to put up our feet and exhale. But not before attending our own annual outdoor Christmas tree lighting. It was spectacular!

And now some additional pictures for those of you who are foolish enough, er, I mean care enough to read further!

Welcome to Quentin Haus.

Like all smart phone users, Susanne rudely ignores her lunch partner.

The charming entrance to the Shaker Shoppe in Lititz.

Now I call this fresh merchandise!

Furniture and pottery: what's not to like?

There's one of the bookcases on the left wall.

This is the 1796 John Phillips House on East Main Street.

These fanciful paper trees adorned the window sill.

The Moravian House glittered with holiday decorations for sale.

I like any representation of a house (or other structure), 
in no matter what medium.

Here's the big hutch I need to display more pottery.

A  hummingbird for the tree.

 Pilger Haus condos across the street from the shop
 beckon, "Buy one, buy one, you'd be home already!"
A simple but elegant 18th century doorway on Main Street.

Young people stroll near Linden Hall under the starlight.

When we were shopping for bread in the Giant at Hershey,
I came across this odd little cake.
I think it was hollow in the middle.
I must examine one more closely. Mmmm.