Book Review

Christy Billings, my colleague for the veterans’ writing group, suggested that we each write a review of a book that we were reading or had recently completed. Except for one of our WWII veterans who checks out books almost daily who decided he had nothing to say on any of them, everyone rose to the occasion. I was traveling with Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith on my recent forays to Denver and Williamsport. Here’s what I wrote:


Alexander McCall Smith writes faster than I can read. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series is now up to more than a dozen volumes. I got lost at about number six and have started over.

Morality for Beautiful Girls confronts Precious Ramotswe of Botswana, the owner of the agency, with a series of crises. Her fiancé, the owner and chief mechanic of Speedy Motors, is wallowing in depression, her business appears to be failing, and her assistant needs extra funds to support a dying brother, on top of the money she sends to the rest of her family.

Enter the Government Man who suspects his sister-in-law is trying to kill his brother. When he appears to threaten Mma Ramotswe over the question of a license, she says, “I cannot hear what you are saying. I cannot hear you.” This approach seems a far better way to settle a dispute without either yelling or sticking one’s fingers in one’s ears and yelling, “La-la-la-la-la” to drown out the other person.

AMS layers his narratives in the most excellent way, and reading the books is like peeling off the leaves of a delicious artichoke, to arrive at the heart, which one dunks in a great deal of butter and savors to the last bite.

So, pour yourself a cup of bush tea (here called rooibos or red bush) and sit under a tree to contemplate the world according to Precious Ramotswe.

If I Could Be …

One assignment for the veterans’ writing group was to write about whom they would choose to be, either a real person or a fictional character from before 1930. I limited it because we have people in the group who were alive then and I didn’t want them choosing someone they knew. After some protests, I withdrew the time limit.


If I could be anyone from the past, it would be Harriet Tubman. Though she suffered greatly in her early years and later voluntarily subjected herself to a great deal of privation, she had a number of qualities that I admire and that I want to emulate.

She had courage enough for ten people and was able to impart it to others as she led them to freedom and safety.

She had single-minded determination to thwart the slaveholders and slave catchers.

When she wasn’t eluding capture in the swamps and forests of the South, she worked to secure enough money to return to her role as conductor.

She had a great imagination – enough to dress as a man to deceive the people who wanted her dead so badly they put a bounty of $40,000 on her, representing more than $1 million today. Her home state of Maryland added another $12,000.

John Brown dubbed her “General Tubman” for her skill in organizing the escape of slaves from Maryland.

She served as a spy and scout for the Union Army during the Civil War and led a raid that freed some seven hundred slaves in South Carolina.

Despite disabilities brought on by blow to the head she received as a child from the plantation overseer, she lived to be almost one hundred years old.

She has inspired generations of people and remains a respected woman who made great contributions to our country.

Williamsport Day 3

I stumbled downstairs on Sunday morning because the housekeeper had left me DECAF!!! The only people I encountered were two of the black princesses from the previous evening’s wedding, now sporting hoodies, headscarves, dorm pants, and slippers.

I topped of my travel mug, and then Betsy and I walked over the median and through the parking lots to Wegman’s where we stocked up for the trip home. The whole place gets a 10 rating, with special recognition for the manager.

As soon as we stepped outside the hotel, we found the entire portico area housed a fleet of huge motorcycles out of Ontario. Betsy noticed their pristine condition, and on our return the odor of a heavy-duty solvent wafted through the air as the portly, graying, tattooed bikers shined and polished and buffed.

We parted at D&D across the river before hitting the road at about  10 a.m.

Click & Clack: Tom Magliozzi, left, and younger brother Ray.
Click & Clack: Tom Magliozzi, left, and younger brother Ray.

The return trip was much quicker, mainly because there was no active construction and not nearly as many restricted areas. Plus until about noon the traffic stayed at a mere trickle. Either people were in church or sleeping in. I had better luck with radio reception – actually managed to hear pieces of Car Talk. The boys sound better when they fade in and out. They’re a perfect accompaniment to a road trip.

Even the lunatic area from Danbury to I-691 wasn’t too bad, though there was the usual quota of idiot drivers.

Loved the trip but looking forward to being stationary for a while so I can implement all the stuff I set up in W’port.

Not Sushi Friday

I spent another delightful Thursday dinner with my friends at Sushi California and so did not do a Sushi Friday.

Real sashimi. Credit:
Real sashimi. Credit:

And here I’m explaining why I will not be updating my reviews of three places.

Sakura Garden Japanese Steakhouse in Glastonbury received a B+ when I visited in 2011 because of the excellent fish. I returned there about a year ago and was so turned off I’ll never go back. The two under chefs were sweeping the floor behind the sushi bar and proceeded to return to cutting fish without washing their hands. I wasn’t sure whether to be pleased that I had finished eating or revolted because of what may have preceded the preparation of my meal. I did not call the health department and am now wondering why.

Samurai in Old Saybrook received a provisional grade of D because of the flies alighting on the open to-go container of rolls and the fact they may not have had a functioning hot water heater.

Singapore Grill and Sushi Bar in New London also received a grade of D because of a dirty water glass and a fly infestation. Without the health problems, I would not have returned because of the distance.

Conclusion: It is entirely possible that the gastric “issues” people report with sushi have less to do with the fish and more to do with the lack of hygiene among the preparers and the casual open-door policies that flying insects.

Williamsport Day 2

We ate a generous and inexpensive breakfast in the hotel, surprised that we were the only diners. It was nine a.m., and the waitress said that many people didn’t come to down because it wasn’t included, or they tried to sneak into the Holiday Inn Express next door.

Betsy went to the farmers’ market as I dove into the pile of notes and clippings and stuff that I’d accumulated. She returned with bread to go with the sublime olive oil and balsamic vinegar with herbs that was marinating.

We wrote  until around one when I took a walk. Williamsport is a study in contrasts with cute boutiques, book store, antiques shop, brew pubs. At the end of the little downtown area are junked cars, rundown and boarded up buildings, sidewalks and roads in utter disrepair.

The people at the farmers’ market were packing up. They consisted of a goodly number of Amish/Mennonite folk in homespun blue shirts and black pants, with the women in white caps, long dresses and heavy black shoes. The “English” farmers did not look at all prosperous.

I followed the red hearts with the white arrows stenciled in the sidewalk. Never did learn what they were for, probably some sort of healthy heart initiative.


I followed the GPS directions to Wegman’s to see if I could reserve a Sunday Times. It turned out to be right behind the hotel, much quicker to walk than to drive around the block, down a one-way street and through the Kohl’s parking lot.

The place was a revelation — with a full restaurant, huge gorgeous displays of fruit and vegetables, an enormous bakery, and of course all the stuff that one finds in a regular grocery store. It’s a more upscale version of Stew Leonard’s without the dancing cheese and talking pig.

The very nice manager said they didn’t receive many NYTimes and they generally sell out by 10:30 or 11. “I get here at 7. If you can’t get here before 10:30, call me and I’ll set one aside for you.” Wow! The Carmel Valley folks need to take a lesson from this place.

We wrote some more — or actually I organized notes and put them into a file with subheads so I could find it to add to the MS. We did a taste comparison of the Amarone she bottled (sublime) and the 2000 Amarone I brought. They needed to breathe for a good long time but tasted fabulous in the end. They also both complemented the bread with the herbed oil and vinegar — or the o&v complemented the wine. Whatever the order, all was delicious.

Betsy went to listen to music in the evening and I curled up with my Kindle.

A terrific, productive day.

Williamsport, Pa., Day One

I really haven’t been on the road since 2013, it just seems that way.

Actually my friend and fellow writer Betsy McMillan and I have been plotting this trip since winter as a way to just get away and write.  I vetoed a winter trip on the theory that Pennsylvania had probably not improved its snow removal practices in the years since I moved away. Instead, we chose construction season, but it was more than worth the drive.


Betsy at the Peter Herdic House
Betsy at the Peter Herdic House

My car having failed to start on Tuesday (that’s another story), I rented a cute little Hyundai Elantra and then got off to a slow start because a mystery light appeared on the dash of that car, and I wasn’t about to read the thousand-page manual to find out what it was. So at 9:30-ish on Friday the 18th, I drove to the rental place. The young man who waited on me took one look and said, “Oh, it’s low tire pressure.” We walked around the car and couldn’t see a problem so he drove over to Valvoline and was back before I could finish a phone call.

I drove out and ran into the usual insanity in Waterbury. Roads were clear after that, even in Danbury, until I hit the NY line. Then it was construction, construction pretty much from Newburgh to Williamsport, single lanes on 84, 81, and 80 with 45 – 55 mph speed limits, which was really 25. Then more construction on the state road with a line of traffic stretching up one hill and down the next.

I lost NPR at the Conn. boarder, listened to WCBS 880 until Scranton or thereabouts, then tried FM again. It was all “come to Jesus,” either with music or with talk until the outskirts of Williamsport. I’m assuming I picked up the Bucknell U. station, which was playing “Science Friday.” It faded in and out but was better than any alternative.

Highlights: NY has changed REST stop to TEXT stop, which I think is genius with a notice that a third text-while-driving offense will result in loss of license. Hooray!!!

A stop for gas in Nuangola, Pa., cost about sixty cents less per gallon than in Conn., and I don’t think I spent $50 on gas for the whole trip.

I arrived in Wport at about 3:30 and drove in circles, though I only passed the Little League Hall of Fame, etc. once. Asked at a D&D,  where none of the workers seemed to know where to send me, though they were pretty sure it was over the river. The river being West Branch of the Susquehanna. I could only see the Holiday Inn Express – did not realize that Hampton Inn, H.I. and H.I.E. all occupied the same real estate.

Drove through some gorgeous, expensive houses where the homeowners mostly seemed to be doing their own yard work. A  fringe of ghetto licked near the hotel.

Finally arrived at the hotel an hour later. Had to wait because people had taken all the luggage carts and failed to return them.  Settled in at 5-ish. Called Larry. Showered. Waited for Betsy, who arrived at about 5:45. We organized and then went to dinner, her treat.

The Peter Herdic House, Victorian era, is an opulent display of wealth, primarily in wood because Herdic was a robber – I mean lumber — baron. The cupola with the chandelier hanging down three stories is the highlight. It was hot, hot, hot when we got to the top but more than worth the trip.

Dinner served up mouth-watering selections. I had Prosecco, Betsy Chateau Ste. Michele Riesling. She enjoyed a salad with cherries, and goat cheese; I had excellent basic greens and let the waitress talk me into adding the dressing, not putting it on the side.

“We dress. We don’t drown,” she said, and I agreed. For dinner, I had spinach gnudi – a variation of gnocchi but without the leaden-ness, served with a tomato-cream sauce and pine nuts. Betsy had shrimp with pasta and vegetables. We loved our meals but both left with half in take-out containers.

We wrote some during the evening as we sipped more drank wine, The excellent Pinot Grigio that Betsy crafted and a bottle of Casal Garcia that I brought.

Please blame any inaccuracies on the excellent beverage.

Trying To Leave Orlando

After lunch I attempted an Internet connection at various locations around the airport and finally located wi-fi outside Mickey D’s. It turned out to be even slower than my old dial up, but I was able to conduct a minimal amount of business.

New impression: Older guy sat down on the bench next to me, played with his phone and then weird looking female companion showed up. He walked away, and she said something fairly loud. I jumped and said, “Excuse me?” She said, “I was doing something that is ‘so called talking to myself.’ “ Then she turned her back and proceeded to lather herself with some heavy-duty vile smelling lotion.


The best part of my layover was the spa that offers chair massages, among other services. I had a deep tissue 15-min. massage that felt like it lasted 30. The masseur hit the spots on my left arm and below my right shoulder blade, along with places in my lower back, which I never mentioned. I felt rejuvenated. Not sure if the video will take.

As I was leaving the Spa some of the tension returned because I heard an announcement that all persons on Flight blah-blah-blah should report to the gate, “So we can make it out of here before the thunderstorms.” The booms of thunder and dramatic lightning flashes (southern style) followed not long afterward so I don’t know if they made it. There was a long delay in arriving flights, and then a whole bunch arrived at once.

SW Snaufs 2 through infinity: Email sent at 9:20 a.m. saying Flight 410 would depart at 3:50 p.m. Email sent at 10:41 a.m. saying flight would depart at 6:35 p.m. These two showed up while I was eating lunch at 2 p.m. A bit later I was on the phone with Larry as crowds were eyeing the TV to watch the World Cup, and I received an email, sent at 4:10 that the flight would depart at 6:55 p.m.

I left the spot to let some eager soccer fan take my place. The board showed the flight leaving at 9:40 p.m., but the “customer service” rep told me that the flight would leave at 7:55 p.m. so I walked some more and on a whim went to the gate at 6:25 to find the plane had already started boarding. There was never an announcement of course. They couldn’t say, “Flight 410, which was supposed to leave at 1:20, p.m. is scheduled to depart at about 7 p.m.” Just to be safe, I waited to  call Larry until I was actually sitting on the plane.

A positive: I wrote 1,700-plus words in an hour, and except for the smell of fried carrion, some tacky perfume, and screaming children, spending a day in provincial airport really was all that bad.

Leaving Denver

O.S. crew: Marcia, Tom, Liz, David, Anna
O.S. crew: Marcia, Tom, Liz, David, Anna

I arose at 4:30-ish and finished packing. Marcia was up by 5, and we left before our target hour of 5:15. Minimal traffic meant I was in the airport at 5:35. So sad to be leaving my dear friend, but so happy for her.

Grabbed coffee, then couldn’t find my boarding pass. The guy took my id. instead. I lucked out with an aisle seat in the thrid row because the young woman in the window seat had to purchase two seats. I feel soooo sorry for her. She seemed to be drinking water and eating throughout except for a brief nap.

The flight was delayed by at least 45 minutes because “a crew member” was late. Right at departure time the announcement came over that “the person” was in the airport. My seat mate started to laugh and said this had happened before. She had made 6 or 8 trips, and the pilot was late for at least two.

SW Snafu No. 1) The airline emailed a status change for the flight saying it was now scheduled for 7 a.m. Problems: The email went out at 8:53 a.m., and I received it at 12:45 p.m. when I arrived in Orlando.

Once the flight took off, the pilot left the fasten seat belt sign on for forever. He took it down for about three mintues and then put it back up because of “anticipated turbulence” or some such, which never materialized.

Once we landed, I discovered that I had two minutes to board the flight to Hartford and said it out loud. The number 410 will live in degradation. The very nice lady Row 2 heard me, and in true Steel Magnolia style ordered everyone out of the way so I could get through. I profusely thanked her and her seat mates,  who were all dressed in lime green T-shirts. As I checked with the agent for a gate, and she looked a bit dismayed as she said, “Oh, it’s delayed.”

From then until we were in the air, details of exactly how late kept changing as did the reasons given the passengers: equipment problems from Baltimore, weather, maybe Air Traffic Control “issues.”

I made my way to the ladies’ room and then wandered about,  received a $200 voucher, which was useless for a finding flight that day since the wi-fi in the Orlando airport moves at a snail’s pace.

I checked in with Larry who was more than understanding – said just sit tight. It had happened to him more times than he could count.

Wandered around some more – just to avoid sitting for another five or six hours after the 3 and 1 /2 hrs. of the flight from Denver.

Ate lunch at Au Bon Pain, which I thought was an improvement over Johnny Rivers’ salmon that would be way too sweet and way too caloric. So I wound up w/ a Chipotle veggie burger with avocado – 690 calories and some chips. I ate only half of each but slugged down a 12-plus ounce cup of green tea, which made me feel SO much better.


  • Family with five ? six ? kids – Dad wipes down two tables for four each and yells – that tea water is hot. They bring in drinks and food from McDonald’s. He slugs down one daughter’s soda and says, “They give free refills here.” It is now about 1:30. Mom looks at the phone and says, “The flight leaves at 2.” He says, “And after I wiped down two tables.”
  • Woman sits opposite me, consumes some kind of chicken, turkey and water, the whole thing in less than the time it takes me to eat half.
  • Guy at next four-person table moves when little kid pulls his chair out.
  • Woman bangs into barrier. It isn’t really well marked from a distance, but she does say she wasn’t paying attention.
  • The mobs traveling with children think they are the only humans on the planet and that their Ugly American children are entitled to impose on other people, hogging space, making cacophonous noise, and being impossibly obnoxious.

Denver Day 3: The Wedding



The weather held, and we were outside. It is truly amazing that one can sit at dusk, on grass, and not get bitten alive and also not become a tiny puddle from the humidity when it’s 80-plus degrees.

Marcia and Susan looked elegant. Marcia wore a print shirt, black background with white flowers and green accents, white capris. Susan a beautiful white silk blouse and black capris. At one point, Marcia was going to wear a white silk blouse, and I offered her my turquoise earrings and necklace, which covered old, borrowed, and blue. She wound up with Susan’s mother’s topaz – a stunning piece, and Susan wore my turquoise, making jokes about how she loved it so much she wanted to keep it but did understand the concept of “borrowed.”

Their vows were simple and heart-felt and beautiful, about how they met and went to a movie that sounded truly awful and didn’t move in after the second date, which is apparently a stereotype for lesbians.

Cecile, the other bridesmaid, and I both spoke briefly about how we’d been bugging Marcia and Susan to get married – me offering wedding planning services and a justice of the peace in Connecticut, and Cecile pushing Iowa. We all decided that their own backyard in Denver was the ideal spot. Sam said how much he valued his moms and all they’d done for him – as did Tim.

After we ate, Tim and Rebecca, his girlfriend, sang. Before they started, Tim said, “We have a special surprise – and someone yelled, “A stripper.” Rebecca’s mother said – loud, loud, loud, “It better not be – that’s my daughter up there.”

There was so much food I didn’t even get to look at it all – ate a fabulous samosa, some chips with a ton of pico de gallo, a ton of shrimp, a piece of spice bread, and much much later a piece of very sweet, almond-flavored wedding cake. There was also pulled pork, little sandwiches, and I don’t know what all else.

Besides Tom, the O.S. contingent included Marcia’s brother David, who was accompanied by his wife Joan.

The party wound up about 11 and the cleanup about midnight. I was not at all sleepy but finally succumbed at about 2 only to wake up at 4 – 45 mins before I needed to get up.

I kept trying to persuade Marcia to let me catch transportation to DI, knowing full well that she’d turn me down.

Denver Day 3, Wedding Prep

Being written in the Orlando airport, where my flight to Hartford is delayed FIVE hours because of equipment problems. Did I receive notice? Of course not! Later update: perhaps delayed ten hours.

Southwest’s rotten communications will conclude this series of posts.

So Tuesday  morning – wedding day – Marcia and I had a quick cup of tea and then headed to Spinelli’s for biscotti, which she had to buy in a box because they hadn’t baked the homemade version. I bought this amazing boule – rough country bread.

We dropped off the goodies and then headed back to Target for more wine and more lights, Sam having done a fabulous job stringing what we bought on Sunday. Marcia realized that they needed half-and-half also. By the time we pulled into the lot, Susan had texted a real  shopping list, and we exited with another pile o’  stuff, which included a ten-percent discount on another six bottles of Ravenswood, which everyone adores.

Back at the ranch, Marcia and I joined Valerie, Jim, and Debbie for breakfast on the patio. We formulated a plan for the evening, one with rain, one without.

A good part of the rest of the day was spent persuading Susan to rest, which she mostly did. Valerie and I helped them choose their outfits. After some back and forth and to and fro, they both looked elegant. (Photos tomorrow),

People began to arrive about 45 mins. before wedding time. Delaine had everything under control, and we all jumped to her bidding, though she described herself as the “indentured” maid of honor.

Tom Willard had called earlier to see if he could bring a copy of The Street for me to sign. I told him I didn’t usually sign my mom’s books, but I’d make an exception for him. He said he wanted it “In loving memory of my mother.” When I said yes, he said, “I love you.”

Susan and Marcia have the most fabulous collection of friends, who all adore them. Here’s an example of way: I was finishing the commentary on the vets’ writings while everyone else was  eating lunch. I heard Marcia say, “I’ll be there in just a minute. I just want to see if Liz wants lunch.” I love that woman!

I declined lunch, having eaten a huge serving of bread and cheese for breakfast. Everyone sat around asking what should we do? Debbie and Jim went to pick up the cake. We maintained a vigil for Zoe, the resident canine, to keep her from the food. She had found her way into a  sealed package of macadamia nuts and wound up tied to a tree in the lower yard.