Photographing the Photographer

Husband sometimes gets left out of family photos because he is always behind the camera – we can count on him to capture the memories.  For that group shot I insist on when all my chicks are together or I want one of the two of us for something special, he will set up the camera on a tripod, click the timer and run over to be included in the photograph.

On a recent trip to California he enjoyed photographing new sights and documenting our trip.  As we drove along scenic routes he would often pull over and click away.  Convincing myself that I would take photos to proudly display on my blog in response to a Weekly Photo Challenge from Word Press or to illustrate a thought or poem,  I had taken along a simple camera of my own.

In the spirit of things I did take a few snapshots, but it became more fun for me to stand back and enjoy the moment as Husband did all the work.  I did capture him a couple of times with his camera in hand.

Along Highway 1 late in the afternoon

Framing his shot

I enjoy the photos that other bloggers post in response to Weekly Photo Challenge, but I will not be participating.  Personal photo challenges are enough for me!

Sleeping in Angela’s Suite

On a recent trip to the west coast Husband and I left San Francisco, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and took scenic Highway 1 up the coast.  We spent the weekend in quiet Mendocino, a small town on the beautiful Northern California Coast.  Quaint Mendocino boasts thirteen bed and breakfasts, but we choose Blair House, Jessica Fletcher’s home in the television show Murder, She Wrote that ran on CBS from 1984 to 1996. Angela Lansbury played Jessica Fletcher.

I was a bit disappointed when we arrived as the front entrance was obscured with scaffolding as the front of the house was in the process of being repainted and repaired.  Fortunately the workers were gone for the weekend.  The white picket fence was also in the process of being repaired and eventually re-painted.  We were told by Norm, the sole caretaker, to enter from the side gate and go in through the kitchen.  Somehow it seemed appropriate to enter through Jessica’s side door directly into her kitchen where her neighbors and friends had dropped by for dinner, advice or a cup of coffee.  A bicycle was parked near the back door.

We choose to stay in Angela’s Suite on the first floor that featured a cozy but spacious bedroom with fireplace, a generous parlor with a second fireplace and a private bath with a luxurious claw foot bathtub.  Norm provided us with a complimentary bottle of wine from a local winery, Hirsch Vineyards, when he gave us the key to Angela’s Suite.

 Photos by Husband.


Parlor fireplace

Husband and Crone in parlor

Breakfast is served from 8:30 until 9:30.  Norm provided a hearty and healthy breakfast served family style in the dining room and consisted of granola and cereals, English muffins, bagels, fresh fruit,  jams and cream cheese, milk, tea, orange juice, and plenty of good fresh coffee.  The first morning we shared breakfast with two young couples from London who were on their way to San Francisco for a week.

The last night we had an early dinner at Mendocino Cafe, Norm’s recommendation for us, and was an excellent choice.  It was casually intimate with indoor and outdoor seating.  We enjoyed quiet dinner music provided by a talented guitarist.  After dinner we walked along the streets and window-shopped at mostly closed stores as the sun was setting in the west.  Mendocino is a lovely place to visit and much different from my coast in Texas.

Photo by Husband

View of Mendocino

Angela Lansbury came to the United States from England when she was fourteen years old.  She has been a successful actress in movies, television and stage.  This year she was in the Tony-nominated revival of Gore Vidal’s timely political play, The Best Man, along with another octogenarian, James Earl Jones.  She turned 87 on October 16.  It was a pleasure to stay in Angela’s Suite!  For information and reservations go to the website for Blair House.

Related Information on Angela Lansbury

Tuscany in Texas

In June Husband and I went to the Texas hill country to buy peaches from our favorite grower, Gold Orchards, and to check out some wineries.  The Gold Orchards store is basically a small roadside stand in the tiny town of Stonewall on highway 290 between Johnson City and Fredericksburg.

There are about ten wineries located on this 36-mile stretch of highway called Wine Road , but the one that caught my attention was Grape Creek Vineyards with a sign that proclaimed, “Tuscany in Texas.”   Tuscany is on my list of places to visit, but each year there seems to be some reason why we can’t take that trip to visit our friends in Tuscany at their olive farm, Podere Boggioli.   This might be as close to Italy as I would get this year.  With a little wine perhaps it really would seem like Italy!

Entrance to Grape Creek Vineyards-Photo from their web site

The entrance with its bell tower sets the mood as the gravel road leads upward between Chenin Blanc vineyard toward the Tuscany-style villa that serves as the tasting room and gift shop.  It did not disappoint.

Thinking Tuscany…not Texas

The villa did indeed reflect old world architecture with its tiled roof and beams, stonework, landscape and obligatory fountain.  Even Italian music quietly playing added to the ambiance.  As we got out of the car a limo pulled up and out tumbled several excited and well-dressed ladies.  Now that is the way to tour wineries!

Inside we browsed the wine-related items and a generous selection of crackers, cheeses and nibbles.  We missed the Barrel Tasting Cellar Tour that included a tour of the winemaking  facilities and barrel cellar.  Instead we settled for tasting six wines and chose from white, red, sweet and semi-sweet and port.  We bought three bottles:  2011 Viognier, 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah Texas and a port.

OK, so maybe those working in the tasting room spoke with a Texas twang instead of  in Italian and I was really not in Tuscany.  Still this small yet elegant winery with a bed and breakfast is worth checking out if you are in the area.

The Crone in Faux Tuscany

Husband in Faux Tuscany

From Johnson City you see gently rolling hills, peach orchards and pass the entrance to the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site that is worth the stop.  The self-guided tour is free and takes you by the graves of President Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson.

At the end of the road is Fredericksburg which offers history, shopping and good food.  We had lunch at Fredericksburg Brewing Company and enjoyed sampling excellent ale.

Our last stop  Gold Orchards was to buy a half-bushel of peaches for peach cobblers.   I use a recipe from “Aunt Pearl’s Cookbook, A Man’s Cooking” by Joe Sears.  Maybe I’ll share it in another post!  Cheers!

My Favorite Bibliophile…

A couple of years ago Husband and I took a road trip to North Texas to check out family history on my father’s side.  We visited small country cemeteries, a beautiful old courthouse, a log cabin and Uz, a town near where my grandfather was born.  All that is left of Uz is a state historical marker.  My great-great-grandmother, who is buried in the area,  kept a diary from 1876 to 1888.  Today I think she would have been a blogger and would have definitely embraced Facebook.  But that may be another post!

Since we were so close, I had to visit Archer City, where my favorite bibliophile – Larry McMurtry – lives.  He was born near Archer City and grew up in the area where his father ranched.  The first stop was the Royal Theater.

Crone at the Royal Theater

As a not-so-famous-bibliophile myself I love to visit used bookstores wherever I travel as I seek bargains and rare treasures, so a visit to Archer City was perfect.  The small town (population 1848) is home to Booked Up Inc., a series of bookstores owned by McMurtry.  They are right in downtown Archer City near the courthouse and scattered around in several buildings.  There is a guide to tell you what type of books are in each building.  The day we were there it was quiet and we usually found that we were the only customers.  When I found my first treasure, “The Golden Man” by Victor W. von Hagen, there was not even a sales person around  to take my money.  Then I noticed something posted by the front door directing me to go to building number one to pay.  It was like being in someone’s personal library with books stacked high on shelves (ladders for he brave) and organized loosely by category.  There were no other literary related items for sale.  And we would have to go elsewhere for coffee.   The other buildings were similar:  some smaller, some larger but all smelled of warm dust and old paper.

The last stop was building number one where indeed  I was able to pay for my treasures and encountered Leo, the bookstore cat.  Dare I think that since Larry McMurtry does maintain a home in Archer City not far from his book stores that he might actually be in town and stop by?  Alas, a sign read, “When will Mr. McMurtry be here?  At his whim.”  I confess that I did persuade Husband to drive ever so slowly by his home before we left town.

I have read  many of his books, fiction and non-fiction, and  it would be hard to choose my favorites, but these would be at the top of my list.

“Lonesome Dove”
“Terms of Endearment”
“In a Narrow Grave”
“Duane’s Depressed”
“Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen”

Recently I was surprised to learn that at age 72 he had married the widow of fellow author and friend, Ken Kesey, on April 29,  2011.  James McAuley interviewed him last year for an article in The New Yorker titled “Larry McMurtry’s Dying Breed:  A Visit to Archer City.”

McMurtry, in addition to being a novelist, essayist and screenwriter,  has been a book collector for many years and has bought out the stock of several old and prestigious  bookstores.  In one non-fiction book he includes a chapter titled “Book Scouting” and explains it this way.

I’m sure that I’ve had as much pleasure in the hundreds (or maybe thousands) of bookshops I’ve been in, going along row by row and shelf by shelf looking for a title or an edition that I’ve never seen, as my father did culling and inspecting the many cattle herds he bought from.  The process of selection, weighing the qualities of various animals, in his mind, was a work that required judgment, sophistication, experience, and – if you will- taste.

And that, essentially is what I try to bring to the composition of my book shops: taste, which if applied persistently will result in an interesting mixture of books, none of which is undesirable or unappealing.”

McMurtry has often written about the changing world of the dying breed of the cowboy and co-wrote the screenplay for “Brokeback Mountain.”  He also hints that  book collectors may be a dying breed as well.

How we read is changing.  I like the digital world for blogging, news, articles, shopping, reservations/tickets and some of the social media, but I must have my books.  They are comforting to me.  I can take them with me anywhere and anytime, touch them, make notes in them, mark them with a favorite bookmark, stack them on the floor or make room for one more in a book shelf.  When I give one as a gift, I write a dated message inside.

Perhaps I am a dying breed also.  Maybe I am in good company!

Next Year in London!

“There’s the Texas Embassy!  And they’re celebrating Cinco de Mayo,” I blurted out from the back of the classic black London cab.  My fellow passengers, husband and son, looked at me as if I had drank one too many pints of ale with my lunch.

It had been an American Express moment.  Husband had lost his wallet on our second day in London, and we were retracing our steps back to a shop near Trafalgar Square.  Fortunately, a salesperson had found the wallet where it had been left behind when he was paying for some items.  Counting out those pounds and unfamiliar coins was still new to us, tourists that we were.  Once the financial crisis was over I explained that the embassy was actually a restaurant called Texas Embassy Cantina, and because it was May 5, they were celebrating Cinco de Mayo.

When Texas was an independent country, from 1836 to 1845, an embassy was established in 1842 in London in the offices of Berry Brothers wine store at #3 James Street.  With Ashbel Smith as the new country’s Minister to the Court of St. James, diplomatic relations were friendly between the outspoken Texans and the reserved British.  Texas joined the Union in 1845 and the embassy was closed.  Today a small plaque marks the location:


 In this building was
The legation for the
Ministers from the
Republic of Texas
to the
Court of Saint James
1842 – 1845

Erected by
The Anglo-Texan Society

     British novelist Graham Greene founded the Anglo-Texas Society in 1953 and served as its first president.  The group’s    main objective was to foster closer social and cultural ties between Britain and Texas.  Greene’s biographer, Norman Sherry, recounts the more light-hearted origins of the society and relations between the stiff British and the  rowdy Texans in his book, The Life of Graham Greene, Volume II.   In 1976 the Anglo-Texan Society was offically dissolved.

     Over 150 years later Texans visiting the city can feel right at home the moment they walk into the Texas Embassy Cantina at No. 1 Cockspur Street, only a short distance from the original embassy.  Located in the impressive and historic Oceanic House with the Lone Star flying proudly outside, it could be mistaken for a real embassy – this is London after all.  Not far away are Buckingham Palace, No. 10 Downing Street, Parliament, Westminster Abbey and the National Portrait Gallery.  The building itself has historical links to America as it formerly housed the White Star shipping line that owned the Titanic.  After the Titanic sank on its way to New York, relatives and friends came to the building to check the list of survivors.


The inspiration for the restaurant in the heart of London came from Texas oilman Russell J. Ramsland, Jr. and attorney A. Hardcastle, both of Dallas, who missed Tex-Mex food when they traveled.  With a successful Dallas restaurateur, Gene Street, and a former Lord Mayor of London, Sir Alan Traill, the group planned for three years.  Dallasite Thom Jackson is the general manager today.

The decor is typical Tex-Mex restaurant style found in many Texas cities and towns – fiesta lights, border town atmosphere, weathered doors and windows, faux plaster walls, serapes and the mandatory tortilla factory.  Upstairs an 1880s saloon has been recreated with a 29-foot bar and the obligatory nude painting hanging above it.  Texas icons and flags complete the illusion of being in the Lone Star State.  One could easily imagine a couple of tall, tough, Texas Rangers swaggering in at any moment, the jangle of spurs, the scrape of a boot on a bare wooden floor, the scent of liquor and dusty heat.  Or maybe Chuck Norris.

Dishes on the menu will satisfy the cuisine cravings of most any homesick Texan, from chips and salsa to fajitas and flan, Mexican beer and margaritas with familiar sounding names like Hill Country Peach and Padre Island.  Yet the food has a certain English twist that one can’t quite explain.  I suppose it is to pacify the local and international palates also. But for Texans far from home and tired of ale and plowman’s lunch, it is a haven.

Texas Embassy Cantina

Crone and Son in London, May 1995

Returning to the restaurant that night for dinner and the celebration of Cinco de Mayo, we did feel at home as we enjoyed Tex-Mex cuisine served with London panache. Mariachis dressed in authentic black attire and sombreros, appearing suspiciously British, sang “El Rancho Grande” upon our request as they strolled among the tables.

Despite the differences of the past, the people of Texas and Mexico continue to share more than just the Rio Grande.  Today Cinco de Mayo is celebrated across America in many cities by those of Hispanic descent and other U.S. citizens who support freedom and liberty for all people.  Relations continued strong between America and Britain when Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George W. Bush, the former governor of Texas, met and agreed on many issues.

Now each Cinco de Mayo I vow, “Next year in London!”

The Road to Ricardo Brig Casarico

Recently a very fine photographer and blogger, gweaverii, mistakenly assumed a photo she had seen on my blog via Flickr on the sidebar was taken by me.  I was flattered, but  it was not mine as I have never posted pictures on Flickr and only take snapshots.  By way of making amends to the actual photographer, Ricardo Brig Casarico, I decided to research his work and post something on my blog about him even though I am sure he never knew I was briefly given credit for his stunning black and white photograph titled “Horror Road.”  It reminds me of a scene from the 1949 movie, “The Thrid Man.”

"Horror Road" by Ricardo Brig Casarico

So far this is all that I know about him:

1.  He lives in the northern part of Italy – Monzae e Brianza, Lissone.
2.  His Flickr profile is mostly in Italian.  The little in English states he is “male and taken.”
3. The photo was taken January 2, 2012 in Esino Laria, Lombardy, Italy.
4.  His photos are in both black and white as well as color and are outstanding.
5.  Two photos feature cigars – one is Cuban.

I am not a member of Flickr and don’t know my way around it very well, but you can view Casarico’s photos via the link below.  I admit that I do not have his permission to post “Horror Road,” but I hope I can be forgiven as I posted it to make amends for my blunder.

As most of you can tell from my simple blog, I am new at this and still learning.  (I have removed Flickr from my blog!)  I take a wrong road now and then, but look what I sometimes find.   Every day is a new adventure!  And lately I keep finding roads that lead me to Italy.  Is that a sign or coincidence?


In November my husband and I spent several days in the French Quarter in New Orleans.  We had not been back since Hurricane Katrina, so it was good to see that the city and people had made a comeback despite a killer storm. 

One morning we took the St. Charles Avenue streetcar to the Garden District. You can ride one way for $1.25 or buy a one-day pass for $3.00 good also on the other streetcars,  Canal Streetcar and Riverfront Streetcar.  On the  ride we encounter locals utilizing the public transportation as well as other tourists.  There were a few unusual riders:  Santa, a nun in a purple habit and matching Mardi Gras beads, a man in red tights and cape.   The conductors are helpful and friendly to everyone! 

We departed the streetcar at Washington Avenue and walked left for one block on Prytania Street and stopped at the Garden District Book Store.  It is located inside The Rink which is just what it sounds like – an old skating rink (buildt in the 1880s) which now houses the book store, a coffee shop and other small retail shops.  The day we stopped in we just missed a book signing by Walter Isaacson,author of Steve Jobs.

Garden District Book Shop

From there we took a walking tour of many lovely homes.  It was like walking back in time as we strolled the tree-lined streets as we admired the old homes which were well-maintained and presented various architectural styles.  Most of them were built in the 1840s when cotton and sugar cane produced wealth for the landowners.  The area reflects mainly the American influence as opposed the  influence of the French and Spanish of the early settlers of the Vieux Carre’. It was once was a separate city.  Today individuals such as Anne Rice, Nicholas Cage and Sandra Bullock have at one time maintained homes there. My favorite was one with a huge corner solarium.

We ended up our walking tour at the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 near where we started from across from The Rink.   Established in 1833, this “city of the dead” is one of the oldest cemeteries in New Orleans.  The raised tombs are, of course, because it is below sea level.  The site has been featured in Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire.

There I found that a possible distant relative was buried.  He was Wheler Harvill.  He apparently came to New Orleans and married a widow.  He must have been accepted because they allowed him to be buried in the family tomb.  His father, Bon Harvill, came from North Carolina so he may indeed be a distant, distant relative.  There must be a story there so I will do more research! 

At the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1

Our final stop was The Rink where we  had coffee at Still Perkin’ before we caught the St. Charles back to the French Quarter for another stop at Harrah’s!

A Diamond for the Queen

H.M. Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne at  the young age of 25 on February 6, 1952 after the death of her father, King George  VI.  Her coronation took place June 2, 1953.   This year she will celebrate her Diamond Jubilee – 60 years as queen.  London will be celebrating her Diamond Jubilee June 2-5 with activities all over the city.  CNN puts it this way: 

The Diamond Julibee will be marked with a special four-day holiday weekend in the UK…packed with enough pomp and spectacle to rival Prince William and Catherine Middleton’s royal wedding.”

One spectular event will be a parade of up to a 1,000 boats, ships and steamers lead by the Queen’s Royal Barge down a seven mile stretch of the Thames.  In past centuries the river was often used for royal celebrations but less so in modern times.  Surely Handel’s “Water Music” will be played! 

Many other events are planned including a concert at Buckingham Palace, lighting of beacons across the Commonwealths and a service of thanksgiving at St. Paul’s Cathedral. 

Her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, the longest reigning British monarch and longest reigning female monarch, was on the throne for sixty-three years and seven months.  Queen Victoria’s beloved Prince Albert died twenty-one years into their marriage and left her with forty years of widowhood.  Queen Elizabeth, who will be 86 this April 21, has enjoyed good health and the continued companionship of her husband, Prince Phillip, 90.

I admire the Queen as she has aged gracefully through the years.  She continues to carry out her duties dressed appropriately as always in her coordinated coat dresses and hats whether entertaining a United States president, addressing Parliment or greeting her subjects.  Her royal status has not shielded her from the usual ups and downs of ordinary family life.  Whatever the royal family does – good or bad – is fair foddar for the British tabloids.

Queen Elizabeth deserves a magnificent Diamond Jubilee!  I wish I could be back in London June 2-5 to celebrate.  Long live the Queen!

Related articles and sites

The Queen that never sails…

In May of  2011 the Queen Mary celebrated the 75th anniversary of her maiden voyage.  If you can’t afford to sail on the Queen Mary 2, try the Queen Mary at Long Beach, California and relive the glamour days of steamship travel without ever leaving the dock.   

Queen Mary

The Queen Mary made her maiden voyage in 1936 from  England to France and then on to New York.  She was owned by the Cunard Steamship Company.  It was the way the rich and royal crossed the Atlantic in style in both directions.  During World War II the ship was  fitted out to carry troops and one time carried even carried German prisoners of war.  Then in the 1950s she again returned to hosting regular travelers.   In 1954 a young Queen Elizabeth, with the Queen Mother on board, returned to England after a visit to the United States via the Queen Mary.

As times changed the aging  Queen Mary was eventually put up for sale.  In 1967  the city of Long Beach purchased her and docked her as a tourist attraction.  You can take a self-guided tour with or without audio.  You can even have your picture taken as you board.  For an overnight stay suites or small cabins are available and you can dine at one of several restaurants and enjoy drinks at one of the bars or lounges.   They are decorated in the 1930’s-style art and decor.  Strolling about the decks one can only imagine what it must have been like to travel across the Atlantic in luxury in a bygone era when movie stars, millionaires and royalty mingled along the ship’s rails. 

Some of the interior scenes from the 1972 movie “The Poseidon Adventure” were filmed on the Queen Mary.  In 1997 the exhibit “Titanic: The Expedition” made its West Coast debut aboard the ship.  The Queen Mary also has her share of ghost sightings and paranormal activity.

In February of 2006 the modern luxury liner, Queen Mary 2, stopped in Long Beach.  The younger ship sounded her horns for a grand old lady of the sea.  Queen Mary 2, part of the Cunard  ships, is the only ship offering a transatlantic cruise schedule each year.  She entered service in 2004. 

I may never be able to take the Queen Mary 2 to England, but at least I have toured the Queen Mary and sensed the spirit of her past.  Long live the Queen!


The glamour days of flying are over.  It is more like preparing for a trip to hades.

First, you must present your papers.   Then all personal belongings are all taken away from you – purse, laptop, shoes, jacket,  billfold, cell phone, magazine, change, teddy bear, keys, cap – and placed in an institutional bin and conveyed to inspection via x-ray.  Depending on the airport, you will be directed to go through a metal detector or advanced imaging technology which means that someone will see an image of your body that reveals every bulge, sag and curve of your naked image.  It is all very anonymous, we are told.  If you set off the metal detector, you will have to undergo a pat down or you may be randomly chosen for a pat down.  You pray that you are spared the humiliation of setting off the metal detector and slowing down the line.  Once you are cleared, you and the other refugees scramble to collect your stuff, put your shoes and jacket back on and regain your dignity.  All of this is carefully choreographed by the Transportation Security Administration, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security.



Maybe I’ve watched too many classic black and white movies from the 1940s, but it seems that flying was more civilized back then.  In the airport scenes the men wore a coat and tie; the women chose  to travel in tailored dresses or smartly cut suits and  hats and sexy high-heeled pumps.  (Think Joan Crawford style.)  Passengers walked openly from the terminal to the waiting plane with its propellers revving up in anticipation of the long flight.  Yes, it was Hollywood’s version of flying, but it is still a nice illusion in black and white.

Who can forget that final scene in Casablanca at the airport?  It’s dark.  Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) is dressed for travel in a skirt, jacket, white blouse and hat that reflect the uncertainty and tension of the departure.  Her eyes are brimmed with tears.  Rick (Humphrey Bogart) is noble in his overcoat and fedora as he puts principle above love and makes sure she boards the plane with her husband, Victor (Paul Henreid).  When the plane is safely airborne, he and Captain Renault(Claude Rains ) walk away into the night.  Rick and Ilsa will always have Paris – in black and white, of course.I realize the TSA and the government only want to keep us safe, and I appreciate that.  For my next trip I think I WILL fly…well, maybe another time.