ONWARD WITH “O”

New activity – OFF THE GRID Exhibit

We’re sometimes hesitant to go to an art gallery because we can drive 45 minutes, only to find that the exhibit we expect to see is comprised of a small number of paintings that don’t impress us. Not so in the case of the Cerulean Gallery in Dallas. The exhibit we went to see was called “Off the Grid.” When asked why we were told that the artists wanted to show works of art that were not the usual style or medium they were used to working in. Of the 3 artists we both agreed that our favorite was a Dallas artist, Leslie W. Friedman. She’s won several awards and has worked in many media but her current passion is working with hot-fused glass and stained glass. The resulting art pieces are quite lovely and very different from anything we’ve looked at.

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Carmen Menza was another artist that caught our eye. She attempts to see how various materials react to surrounding light and indeed, the colors in the pieces shift with the transmission of light as demonstrated to us by the woman we talked to at the gallery. We thoroughly enjoyed this visit. Now if we can only make some room on our walls……

Movie Theme – Opportunists, Obsession

Laura: I’ve always wanted to see Billy Wilder’s film “Sunset Boulevard.” So I was pleased to see it pop up during my search for movies that dealt with “Opportunists.” After watching the movie, I’m more inclined to list it as a movie about “Obsession,” but whichever label I choose, the film itself is Outstanding! The acting, dialogue and storyline put it among the very best films about the motion picture business and its long-reaching effects on those who comprise that industry. It features a delusional has-been silent movie queen (Norma Desmond), a down-on-his-luck screenwriter (Joe Gillis), a mysterious butler (Max) – even a dead monkey in a casket! Although I agree that this film earned its 1950 Academy Award Best Picture nomination, it was a heart-breaking story – one that leaves you worn out. Its themes are definitely still relevant and make me wonder which films being made in this century will one day be regarded as masterpieces. I do think that memorable, witty and clever dialogue go a long way toward making a film stand the test of time and “Sunset Boulevard” has tons of it. One of my favorite exchanges is when Joe meets Norma and says, “You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be big.” Norma answers, “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”

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O WHY ARE WE SO SLUGGISH THIS MONTH?

So far, we haven’t gotten to many O activities but this week, and next, should be a little more productive – we hope!

Starting the month slowly with our more “mental” pursuits.

New authors – O’Brien, O’Toole and O’Donnell

Books

Barbara: I’ve never had trouble finding a book that I liked by a new author for the month, but this month was an epic failure! First up was Tim O’Brien who wrote a book of short stories called “The Things They Carried,” about his experiences in Vietnam during the war. I just couldn’t get into his writing style and was not compelled to finish. OK, I thought, I’ll just switch to “The Death of Bees” by Lisa O’Donnell. The description was appealing since it involved two sisters, but the start of the book was so unenticing as she described the sisters’ attempt to bury their parents whose bodies were so rotting as to be oozing liquid. Once I got to the sentence where the author described one sister having to “scoop” the body into a bag, I said to myself “I’m out of here.” So onward to author number 3. The book “Hemingway Didn’t Say That” by Garson O’Toole should have been right up my alley. During the course of our blog, I’ve done a lot of Learning Centers that focused on the origins of a word or phrase, so I was looking forward to this book. Unfortunately, the writing style was so esoteric as to make my eyes cross. I never did find out what Hemingway didn’t say! So, alas, this month I’m going back to an Old Faithful, Joyce Carol Oates. She’s not easy and necessitates a lot of concentration, but she is very good and I’m going to attempt to read “The Mudwoman.”

Movie Theme – Olympics

Movies

Barbara: “Visions of Eight” is a documentary devoted to the Olympic Games in Munich 1972 during which the Palestinian Black September Organization brutally attacked and killed eleven Israeli athletes and coaches plus a West German police officer. The film was divided into eight segments, each directed by a different director. Interestingly, only John Schlesinger’s segment made any mention of the tragedy that overshadowed these Olympic events. The rest of the segments each highlighted a sport that was of special interest to the director. I had two particular favorites. The first was “The Strongest” directed by Mia Zetterling. It focused on weight lifting. She wanted to study that sport because she said the athletes were obsessed and “I’m not interested in sports but I am interested in obsession.” I am amazed that these men can live without their hearts and brains exploding and would like to know the statistics on their health as a group. When it showed them lifting the barbells I thought their veins were going to pop. What a sport! The other segment I liked was Arthur Penn’s “The Highest” about pole vaulters. What made it so special was the way he filmed it, sometimes in silence, sometimes blurred, or in slow motion. It really focused on the beauty of the sport and the finesse of the vaulters. I was happy that I found this film and it reinforced my love of documentaries.

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N IS N-DING

New Activity – WINDOWS TO NATURE Art Exhibit

Barbara: Fighting my naturally lazy nature, and thanks to the ABC Life, I pushed myself to go to an art exhibit titled “Windows to Nature” being held at the Lover’s Lane Methodist Church. They have quite a nice ARTREACH Gallery and this month it was filled with lovely paintings celebrating nature. The two artists featured were Donna Chambers & Elaine Jary. According to the artists, the paintings “reflect our interpretation of the restorative quality of nature in our lives. Taking time out from our day-to-day activities to observe the miracles in nature that are all around us provides much needed calmness and reminds us to be grateful for the beauty we find in nature; beauty that provides moments of peace in our busy lives

I totally can relate to what they said and so can Laura, who from time to time would take a walk and find at least one thing in nature that made her smile. As a matter of fact, on the way to the exhibit I happened to hear a song by one of my favorite singers, Michael Franti and Spearhead, which had a lyric in it that went “today would be a very good day just to have a good day all day long.” That, combined with one of Elaine Jary’s Robins in a gorgeous background of orange, which seemed to call out to me, led to a new purchase for my office so I can “have a good day all day long” while I’m posting!

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New Recipe – NEEPS AND TATTIES

Laura: Ever heard of the recipe called “Neeps and Tatties”? Well I hadn’t but when I did, I knew I had to make it.  I came upon it last week, as I was browsing through my “Recipes from the Root Cellar” cookbook – and who could resist this smile-inducing recipe title! I had never heard of a Neep nor a Tattie, so N month was the perfect time to get acquainted.

It’s a mashed potatoes and slightly mashed turnips (or rutabagas as they are also called) combination popular in the American South.

Neeps and Tatties (2)

However, it gets its name from the Scots, who traditionally serve it as an accompaniment to haggis (a dish that will never grace my table…yikes!). I chose to serve it as a side to my bison burgers – and it was quite tasty!

Media Travel – THE NETHERLANDS

Laura: Our quest to keep traveling prompted me to visit The Netherlands. I truly regret not having been there in person but rather than miss out altogether, I enlisted the help and guidance of Rick Steves in his Europe series. I saw two episodes: Amsterdam and The Netherlands beyond Amsterdam. I loved seeing, hearing and learning about this amazing country and its fascinating cities. I was particularly struck by how many bikes there are in Amsterdam. There are a million people there and as many bikes! I was also intrigued by the attitude of the Dutch people and how they are so relaxed about life. It reminded me of when my son returned from his year spent at Utrecht University as part of the University of California’s junior year abroad program. We were eating at a restaurant and he noticed a “keep off the grass” sign and he scoffed, stating that we would never see such a sign in the Netherlands since they didn’t have such “rules.”

Masterpiece Project – 1984

Barbara – While Laura continued her virtual travel, this month I decided to continue our “reading the old classics” by seeing the movie version of the classic 1984. While I did actually read this book years and years ago, I really didn’t remember anything but the idea of a Big Brother. I thought it appropriate because sometimes I feel like Facebook and Google are like Big Brother in that, the minute I search for something, ads and emails appear on that topic. The movie was very creepy and depressing and I think in this case I should have let well enough alone. I can still understand, though, why it is considered a classic.

Activity –  NOSTALGIA

Laura: With so much time spent at home these days, I have found myself watching more than my fair share of tv shows. Hulu has been my good friend, as it offers many successful older shows that are no longer being produced – offering a second chance to revisit some of the shows that were mainstays of my past – in other words I devoted some time to making N month my Nostalgia month. Wikipedia defines nostalgia as “a sentimentality for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.” I rewatched several episodes from the The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Wonder Years and The Golden Girls. I enjoyed all of them but discovered that out of those three, the show that made me feel particularly nostalgic was The Wonder Years. That program was produced during the 1980s when I was raising my children. I find myself increasingly missing those days and The Wonder Years brought those feelings forward more than the two others shows that were not connected to my family. Not surprising when I realize that those years were among my favorite time periods in my life and any time I can revisit those memories is a joy.

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NO LACK OF HOLIDAYS

Learning Center

The Learning CenterNational Holidays

Barbara – It seems like every day on social media, National this day or National that day is announced. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a National This and That day. Do you ever wonder who comes up with these days?  Well, as it turns out – no one special.

I went online to see how to create a National Day and found out that anyone who can come up with a new day that hasn’t yet been used can do it. There is a National Day Calendar and a National Day Archives. So, I decided to create National Make a Funny Face Day. I went to the National Day Archives and filled out all the information: name of the holiday, how to celebrate it, why we should celebrate it and had to upload a picture to show what I meant. Here are the details:

WHAT IS THE NAME OF YOUR NATIONAL DAY?

National Funny Face Day

WHEN WILL YOUR DAY FIRST BE CELEBRATED?

8/29/2021

BRIEFLY DESCRIBE YOUR NATIONAL DAY.

On this day celebrate by making a funny face at a random stranger. For example, you can go to the market, look at someone who is a stranger to you and cross your eyes or just make a funny face and see if they do it back to you or just laugh. Greet your friends with a funny face. You can have a secret funny face greeting, similar to a secret handshake.

WHY IS THIS DAY BEING CREATED?

Especially in these times, with so many people sitting at home and feeling isolated, the sillier we can be the better. If someone is wearing a mask and can lift it up and make a funny face at someone it should surprise them enough to get a laugh or even a similar response. I think it will be good for our mental health and enjoyment of life.

HOW SHOULD THIS DAY BE CELEBRATED OR OBSERVED?

As I said in my description, go out to a place where you will meet people you’ve never met before. As you’re about to pass them make a funny face and see the reaction. If you are with friends, create your own personal, shared funny face that you have to use whenever you come upon them. See how many funny faces you can receive in return.

I got back a reply saying my day was accepted and I was excited! However, lesson learned: they wanted a fee of $500. So, I’m not sure if they are legit or not but they certainly are not going to get my money!

And here’s the picture I sent them which is as good a response to their request as any:

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USING OUR NOODLES

For N month we decided to get up close and personal with Noodles. Due to its recent surge in popularity we chose to sample ramen noodles. First up was Ninja Ramen. The menu items all looked appealing, so we decided to order two dishes and share. We always make this mistake as we could have easily been full from the Yoki Soba. This dish wasn’t made with the noodles we think of as ramen, but it was absolutely delicious. For our second dish, we made another mistake by asking the waiter if the spicy ramen was really spicy, and he assured us it was very mild – WRONG. Our mouths were nearly on fire so next time we ask a waiter that question we will specify that we are from the East Coast! Unfortunately, this dish, while traditional ramen, did not hit the mark. The noodles were too chewy and lacked any flavor.

But we couldn’t give up there. So, we tried another place – Marufuku Ramen. Aside from the appeal of the name, the menu truly focused on ramen noodles for their entrees. We made no mistakes here. We opted for Chicken Paitan Ramen. This lived up to the ramen hype. The broth was delicious, the chicken was soft and tasty and the noodles were just right.

Learning Center
THE LEARNING CENTER


“USING YOUR NOODLE”

Barbara – Why should your head be associated with a long, stringy bit of pasta? I guess if you roll it around in circles it could resemble a brain. As early as 1720 the word noodle was a stupid person, but nobody is certain how that came to be. The leading candidate was the word noddle which meant the back of the head since the 1400s. The phrase “use your noodle” was originally used as an insult – comparing a simpleton wagging his head around like a floppy noodle. By 1762 noodle referred to the head itself, stupid or otherwise.  Nowadays it’s no longer an insult and simply means “think about it.” But that doesn’t sound nearly as appealing and I fully intend to flop my head around a bit the next time I use my noodle.

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N STARTS NOW

We had to postpone N from last month. Between Laura’s visit to her family in San Francisco and Barbara’s visit from her family from Los Angeles, there was plenty of activity. At first, we were putting pressure on ourselves to do things for the letter N but then we took a step back and realized that it would be exactly the opposite of what our ABC Life is about.

But Nothing like the present! Starting N with a song…

Activity – NAME That Tune Bingo

Barbara – I got in the mood for N month with some bingo. But not any run of the mill bingo – Music Bingo at the City Works Eatery and Pour House. Laura couldn’t make it so I went with my friend, Pam. Somehow I had in my head that this was going to be a dive but I couldn’t have been more wrong. City Works was a nice restaurant with good food and good music. Instead of numbers on a bingo card, the emcee played a song segment and we had to “name that tune” by matching the title of the song to our bingo cards.

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Whether you like bingo or not you’ll have fun just moving to the music of the 80s, 90s and other themes.

Movie theme – Neglect

Since we didn’t take care of business with N for an entire month, we felt it fitting to choose Neglect as our movie theme. We looked at both ends of the spectrum and selected two Oscar Nominated films – one about a child and one about elderly neglect. Capernaum is a hard movie to discuss. It focuses on a 12-year old Lebanese boy, Zain, who is neglected and abused and lives a life surrounded by poverty and crime. It culminates with him suing his parents for giving birth to him. His point was if you can’t take care of your children and give them love then why have them? We can’t help but agree with him.

Our other film, The Mole Agent, is a documentary about an elderly man who is hired by an agency to be a “resident spy” in a nursing home with the purpose of seeing if the agency’s client’s mother is being neglected and abused.  We came to really like and admire the Mole who is extremely kind and patient with the other seniors. His conclusion was that there was no measurable neglect by the staff, but neglect was certainly a problem caused instead by the residents’ families. He found that the biggest problem in the home was loneliness, which could easily have been resolved (or at least reduced) by a visit to the loved one by the family that put him/her there in the first place.

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MORE FUN WITH M

New Activity –Marching to a Different Drum

Exercise afficionado is not in our job description. However, when the opportunity to join one of our women’s groups for Drumba arose, we jumped – or should we say marched – at the chance of getting in some aerobics in a fun way. Drumba is a fast-paced exercise class that combines aerobic marching movements with hitting a large exercise ball with drumsticks. It was an opportunity to move madly, raise your heart rate and laugh at the realization that you will never be mistaken for Ringo Starr.

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New Projects – Masterpieces and Media Travel

This month we are launching two new projects.

We are both avid readers yet there are so many classics that neither of us have read but which peak our interest. We are very curious to know the story line and reasons why these books have reached the status of masterpiece . However, we realize we’ll never get through them all so we have allowed ourselves to take a shortcut by watching those which have been adapted to film. We’ve started this month with Moby Dick and, while we didn’t particularly enjoy the story, we can finally say we have an appreciation of the various meanings of one of the most famous opening lines in literature: “Call Me Ishmael.”

Our second project is Media Travel. Recognizing that there are many countries we will never get to visit, we decided to get there by proxy. Barbara “visited” Malta which, as the host of “The Travel Bug” says, is a place that is often ignored when planning a trip to the Mediterranean. The people are described as speaking Arabic with the hand gestures of an Italian but who are sometimes more British than the British themselves. It’s too bad we didn’t do an add-on when we took our trip to Sicily.

In an episode of “Discovering the World,” Laura traveled to Madagascar, where she fell in love with the wildlife – approximately 80% of its species of animals and plants are endemic to the island. It’s hard to resist a high jumping lemur and an upside-down tree (better known as a “baobab”).

Nothing beats a first-hand experience but rather than miss seeing these countries entirely, we’re happy to sit in front of our tv’s and travel “remotely”.

New author – Mary Morris

Barbara: So many historical fiction books that have been recommended to me are about the same subjects so when I heard about Gateway to the Moon by Mary Morris I was eager to read it and glad I did. The time period was that of the Spanish Inquisition when the Jewish and Muslim populations in Spain were forced to convert or be expelled or killed. Interesting to me is that a large number of them came to the New World and settled into what is now New Mexico and their descendants did not know about their origins. They observed traditions such as lighting candles on Friday night, not eating pork or mixing meat with dairy but had no idea why they were doing it. But what will stay with me for a long time – not in a good way – is the fact that those who were tortured by the Inquisition had to actually pay for it, literally. The Inquisitors had a pricing list and depending on the particular torture you received, you would have to pay for that item on their list. This book was a real eye opener.

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MEMORIES ARE MULTIPLYING

2 points: New city: MALAKOFF

As we’ve mentioned many times, the ABC Life has been the perfect vehicle to get us to experience new activities, visit new places and expand our minds and palettes. So each month, we are on the lookout for matchups with our letter of the month and purposefully choose alphabetically. But this month, the letter chose us – and delivered a relaxing, memorable getaway.

Meet MALAKOFF, a small town in Henderson County. Neither of us had heard of this town on Cedar Creek Lake, but luckily one of our book club friends knows someone who lives there and she let us all house sit for a few days. The setting was perfect! The grounds were lovely, the lake was peaceful and we relaxed, laughed loudly, read quietly, played games (Mahjongg included)…well you get the picture.

An added bonus was the unexpected culinary gems we discovered. One was a local winery with a lunch selection that left us drooling (among other things the best Caesar Salad ever)

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and the other a beautiful restaurant behind a small store that had wonderful decor and even better food.

To top things off, we took a wrong turn and came upon a random family of deer in someone’s yard.

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Relaxation never felt this Marvelous!

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MEETING “M”

This month is proving to be a busy one as there are quite a lot of M activities that appeal to these ABC Sisters.

2 points – Moroccan Restaurant

We have had various types of Mediterranean food and love it, but never anything specifically Moroccan. Lucky for us there’s a great restaurant in Dallas to introduce us to this cuisine. Medina Oven & Bar on Victory Park Lane was a gem. The ambiance, with its couches and pillows in bright colors and the music playing in the background, added to the experience but it was the food that won us over.

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Morocco (2)

We split two dishes: Moroccan Beef Cigars and Moroccan Kafka Kabobs. Both were excellent and we definitely will be putting this restaurant on our “we want More” list.

2 points – Geometric and Madi Museum

We decided to visit some unusual museums for “M” month. You’d be surprised at what comes up when you Google “unusual museums in (your city)”. We had never heard of Madi art so we were intrigued. Madi stands for Movement, Abstraction, Dimension and Invention. All the Madi art pieces have items that come out of the piece and are three dimensional. The art was quite beautiful but one of the best things about this museum is Spencer, an extremely knowledgeable and personable tour guide. He taught us the difference between geometric and Madi art (geometric is two dimensional and has shapes such as circles, squares, etc. in it, while the Madi art has parts that stick out). Plus, he knew the history of all the artists whose work was displayed and was obviously enjoying giving tours, especially to children. The museum is free and we were more than happy to give a donation.

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Madi (2)
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The museum and restaurant were in close proximity so it made for a Marvelous afternoon outing.

2 points – Movie Theme: Masculinity

When we were deciding on an “M” theme for a movie this month, we were both immediately drawn in by the synopsis of filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s 2015 documentary “The Mask You Live In.” This film presents a fascinating but alarming look at the influences on boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while adhering to society’s expectations surrounding masculinity. On any given day, they are encouraged to push down their true emotions and never cry or look fearful. Friendships are devalued, women are objectified, and violence is sanctioned as a “masculine” way to deal with conflicts. We’ve all heard or seen boys being told to “be a man”, “grow a pair” and “don’t be a sissy” – or phrases similar but more graphic. This documentary contains a lot of frank discussion and dialogue and presents statistics throughout that are alarming and depressing. You can’t help but be affected by this film and left to reflect on certain memories regarding the boys and men in your life.  Although you can argue that this movie tries to cover too much ground, it is still better to raise our consciousness on this topic and embrace some societal changes than to turn a blind eye. Our boys and men deserve to wear their true face…not a mask. 

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LEAVING A RAINY L BEHIND

L month has been a challenge, but we still managed to do, see or read things which we would never have done if not for the ABC Life.

2 points – Movie Theme: Loneliness

Laura: Everyone longs for meaningful connections with others and when that is denied, loneliness is often a constant companion. In the movie Dear Frankie, we meet two lonely characters: Lizzie and her deaf, nine-year-old son Frankie. Moving from one city in Scotland to another, Lizzie rarely finds time to make friends, while her son’s loneliness mainly stems from a longing for his absentee dad, who he believes to be away at sea. Frankie’s only relationship with his father is through an exchange of letters, which he cherishes. However, it is really Lizzie who is sending the letters, and when this charade is threatened to be revealed, Lizzie must find a stranger to impersonate the dad. The movie moves slowly but its strength was in the acting. The main characters all could say so much with just a look or a gesture – and that kept my interest and earned my admiration. The movie lingered in my mind for days after and led me to realize that my opinion on movies can fluctuate, often settling in on a more favorable note than I had first thought.

2 points – New Author

Barbara: for my new L author I picked up a book from my bookshelf entitled Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren. Although this is the type of book I almost never read – it’s a light love story where you know every single thing that’s going to happen as you’re reading it plus it is the antithesis of a book club book – since I’ve been reading books for four separate book clubs, I sometimes need a break from heavy discussable books and just want something that I can read without hardly thinking. Surprisingly this one wasn’t bad, and I was able to read it in two days. Not exactly a recommend, but not a full out pan.

2 points – Movie

Barbara – This isn’t quite an “L” theme but it is the movie Laura was named after so I just had to watch it.  I never had seen the classic movie Laura nor had I read the book it is based upon but any time I hear the song it automatically makes me think of it and wonder why not. So, I decided to correct that omission. I found the movie quite charming. Dana Andrews as the detective reminded me of Columbo with his seemingly innocent questions. I was very nostalgic seeing the Good Humor truck and watching him play with the little game where you tilt something and try to get the little metal balls into the holes (I’m definitely aging myself). The character of Waldo was a hoot and his delivery impeccable. My favorite line in the movie was when he told the detective that he tries to be the kindest, most sympathetic person in the world and, asked if he was successful, answers “I should be sincerely sorry to see my neighbor’s children devoured by wolves.” The music was super dramatic and made me think they had just come out of silent movies where the music had to convey all the emotions, but it made me laugh. All in all, I was very glad to have seen my sister’s namesake movie.

2 points – New city Guess what? “L” has soul! And we found it in the city of Lancaster. In between patches of rain, we managed to make it to Lancaster dry and hungry. Smack in the center of their historic town square, we found Casserole Soul Café. We knew we were in the right place when we came in and saw this sign:

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We ordered two small plates to share (thinking we were being very responsible with small), but when they came, boy were we surprised. The portions were enormous! We asked the very sweet waitress how she managed to stay so skinny and she said she was only there two weeks. We told her we’d check back in a year and bet she’d be much heavier. The food was absolutely delicious so how could we resist their fried chicken tenders, fresh corn bread and the numerous sides of mac and cheese, candied yams, beef enchilada casserole and broccoli and rice casserole (they generously allow their casseroles to be portioned into a side dish). We could have been sent home in a wheelbarrow!

But wait! There’s more. We visited a charming little shop called The Tattered Jacket Bookstore. After hearing the history of how this bookstore had been converted from its origins as a barber shop, we turned our attention to how creative the owner was in placing adorable props on top of books. Barbara decided she would definitely start searching for her own Humpty Dumpty bookshelf figures. And for our last stop in Lancaster, we decided to see what Lovin Spoonful Bakery was all about  – and how could we not sample their cookies? This was also a charming place and their door mask warning cracked us up.

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Lancaster

All in all, it was a lip-smacking and literary day – and a lovely way to take our leave of “L” month.

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