… but no Willy Wonka, unfortunately. It would have been fun to have discovered a purple-gloved and delightfully eccentric (not to say raving bonkers) Johnny Depp in there, but it was not to be. We had to make do with the lovely ladies who worked in the hand-made kitchen!

This is Wilbur’s chocolate factory, Lititz.

Never heard of Wilbur’s? No, neither had we, and we never saw any on sale anywhere outside Lititz, either – not even in the rather delightful family-run chocolate shop in Washington DC which had about a thousand brands of chocolate I’d never heard of. However, our travelling companion, Jeannine, had heard of Wilbur’s, which is how we heard of Wilbur’s, and why we took a trip to Lititz to check it out.

Wilbur’s is great. They have the above-mentioned hand-made kitchen, of course, but the actual factory is above the shop, so you wander round to the accompanying thumps, rattles and rolls of the heavy machinery over your head and the delicious smells of chocolate in the making. The shop itself is full of really good chocolate; perhaps not the best chocolate in the world, but certainly one of the nicest American chocolates I’ve tasted, and there’s a huge variety. I chose some almond bark and nonpareils, OH chose white chocolate buttons and a box of milk chocolate maple creams. Jeannine, poor soul, is dairy-intolerant, so bought nothing this time – oh yes, she does cheat on occasion, but can’t afford to do so too often.

And then there is the little chocolate museum. Actually, it’s scattered around between the shop and the kitchen, but it’s fascinating. They have a wonderful collection of chocolate teapots.

Yes, yes, I know that’s not what they’re really called, but I simply couldn’t resist! Tee hee.

And they have mills and rollers and grinders and moulds and extruders and all kinds of stuff you wouldn’t – in your wildest dreams – consider to be a part of a chocolate-maker’s equipment. Some of them look as if they might feel more at home in a torture chamber, but the only torture I can imagine being perpetrated in Wilbur’s is, quite frankly, to be dairy-intolerant!

This is a mill, for grinding the cocoa beans.

Looks as if it’s seen a lot of action, doesn’t it? I imagine it used to be used right here, in the days before mass-production was possible.

There were smaller mills and grinders, sitting on the floor below the shelves of chocolate for sale. This is a ‘refiner’ and likely used to grind the beans a little finer after the mill had been used.

And there was a whole room, sadly roped off, of other fascinating stuff. Old tin moulds, arcane bits of machinery, adverts, sieves, pans, jugs and nameless … um … sticks? … etc.

I’d have loved to see the factory upstairs, too, but of course, there are Health and Safety concerns about allowing the general public to trample through a food preparation area. However, the rest of Lititz was fun, too. It’s a pretty little town, with some nice, unique shops. I’ll leave you – for now – with this one:

It’s a gift shop, but quite a classy one. The ladies stock hand made or small-run goods of a very arty and fun type, and they specialise in contemporary American artisan-made crafts. I bought myself a pair of dichroic glass earrings, but I could have spent a small fortune. And the fun thing is that the shop is named after the owner’s greyhound, Haven, who has become their logo.

I have to say, the greyhound on the swinging sign outside was the reason we went in.

Next time, I’ll show you the Halloween decorations. Lititz was one of the most beautifully decorated of all the little towns we visited!

Posted on October 22, 2012 in The Home Front by Jay16 Comments »

Yes! Macro Monday is back, with a new and fiendish puzzle for you. We all need to exercise our grey matter, don’t we? And as we get older, it becomes even more important to keep it active. Actually, lots of things become more important as we get older, don’t they?

Take a look at the pic, and see if you can guess what this little object is. Remember this is Macro Monday; it isn’t going to be something huge. What you are seeing is part of a larger object, seen from an angle which makes it look unfamiliar. You are also seeing paintbrush marks in the paintwork, which should give you some idea of scale, perhaps.

It seems to me that pretty much every normal household in the civilised world will have at least one – and probably more – of these things. They are something most of us use every day, some more than others. They aren’t very expensive, and yet most of us hang on to them far beyond their useful life, as if reluctant to spend the money on a new one. I wonder why that is?

Take your guess, and write it into the comments. I’ll be back tomorrow evening (UK time) and I’ll post a picture link to the answer – and at the same time, I’ll add the answer at the bottom of the comments. That way, latecomers can still have a guess.

And now I’m going to try to have a guess myself. How many of you will get it right this time? I’m going to say about three-quarters of you, because I think you’re a pretty smart bunch of people!

Thanks to Lisa’s Chaos for hosting this fun meme.

UPDATE: – Aaaaand here is the solution to this really-not-very-taxing problem. And you are clearly a much cleverer lot than I had previously thought! Go here to see the picture from a slightly different angle, and see if you were one of the … *ahem* … 99.9% … who got it right this week!

Thanks for playing, everyone! I’ll try to have another ready for you for next Monday, and I’ll try to make it more difficult, but hopefully not impossible.

Posted on October 19, 2012 in Hounds, Life, the Universe and Everything by Jay10 Comments »

Well, by now you will have gathered that I have been away on my holidays for more than two weeks, in the US of A. We went over for the Greyhounds Reach the Beach event at Dewey Beach in Delaware, but of course, we also went over to see friends, and of course we went off to see a bit more of the US of A while we were there, because it is a very long way from here for a long weekend. And that was a jolly good thing, because the GRTB thing was a tad disappointing, with a lot fewer hounds attending.

Some say it was because there was a falling out within the greyhound group which had been organising it, and if that’s true it’s a great shame. Some say that the town has become more expensive to stay in, and perhaps a tad less welcoming to the hounds, and if that’s true it’s very short-sighted of them, since we bring a great deal of money into town with us. And clearly it isn’t true for all of the local businesses!

My own view is that it’s probably largely because a) Dewey Beach is a long, long way from most other places, b) Delaware is not the most spectacular of states, being very flat and fairly featureless, and c) these days there are a ton of other greyhound events being held, often in more interesting and/or central locations. People only have so much vacation time, and only so much money to spend, so the chances are that the folk from (for example) Tennessee, who used to make the effort to travel 800 miles to GRTB in Delaware, will now be attending Mountain Hounds in – guess where? Yep, Tennessee. And the folk from the west coast will be attending the greyhound event at Solvang in California, and the folk from Georgia will go to Sandy Paws on Jekyll Island, Georgia, etc.

Nevertheless, some people do still travel a long way to Dewey, including some friends from Canada. This is one of their dogs, Ben, an absolute sweetheart and super relaxed.

His adopted ‘sister’ is a very princessy young lady, whose aim is to look gorgeous at all times. Here’s Brooke!

We stayed in a beautiful condo with Cincinnati S and California K, their husbands, and CS’s two gorgeous greyhounds, Zen and Annie. Now, Zen has to be the dog with the least apt name in the whole world, because far from being chilled and relaxed at all times, she lives on her nerves and would not come out from behind her person’s chair for anyone she’d known less than a year. At least.

Bless her, she did allow me to pet her a couple of times, but no looking please, or she vanished. Annie was the opposite, all over anyone who would make a fuss of her! As you can see, she was a fool for love …

We attended one or two of the planned events, where Zen was happy so long as one of her special people was on the other end of her leash, and Annie was just happy. This is the Blessing of the Hounds, held in the open in a little green park by a minister who is also a well-known and respected greyhound owner: Gill, seen here near the tree in the background.

And a less happy event, the Bell Ceremony, which is held as a memorial to all the hounds lost during the year, many to the dreaded osteosarcoma, a very aggressive form of bone cancer. Osteosarcoma is responsible for a good percentage of the three legged greyhounds in the USA. It’s a lot less common here, and we now know why: the research team at Ohio State University who run the Greyhound Health and Wellness Program, have been working in conjunction with other researchers at a children’s hospital and have isolated the gene which causes it. This is great news for the greyhounds, since it will be possible (hopefully soon) to prevent affected dogs from breeding if they test positive. Also on the horizon, gene therapy for dogs diagnosed with osteosarcoma, and much longer post-diagnosis survival times.

Three cheers for Dr Couto and his team!

Dewey was still quite busy with vendors, who spilled over to Rehoboth and took over half the Fire House there, and I did a little shopping, of course, but not so much as previous years; a new leash, some jewellery, etc. And that’s sad, too, because if the vendors don’t make enough money they’ll stop coming and they are what make GRTB so much fun … but transatlantic travel means limited luggage space and we still had two weeks to go.

I’ll leave you with this example of the way greyhound people decorate their cars. It’s a lot of fun!

Next year? I dunno. Maybe we too will try a different event …

Posted on October 16, 2012 in Life, the Universe and Everything, Wildlife by Jay13 Comments »

Standing in the autumn sunshine on the banks of the Hudson in Poughkeepsie, all seemed peaceful and lovely. The sugar maples were turning a beautiful fiery orange, the waters were reflecting the blue, blue sky, and there were few people about.

Seabirds contentedly preened and groomed themselves on the pebbly banks, and waded in the crystal clear, shallow waters, ruffled by a gentle breeze.

The geese were having a lengthy ‘fie-out’ as my mother would have said. Not a feather was to be left unstraightened.

The gulls were there too, snapping up the bread tossed by a small family near the jetty, and behaving really quietly for gulls – no screaming or anything.

This one posed beautifully for me. I think he may be a young Ring-Billed Gull. Certainly, they were nowhere near as raucous as the Herring Gulls I’m used to!

And then I turned to gaze into the waters of a little creek and I saw this.

No. It is not a Christmas decoration, brought out a tad early by a festive-minded citizen. It is a fishing float, with plenty of nasty monofilament nylon still attached, all ready to trap the legs and/or wings of an unwary bird.

There were more:

The pictures aren’t great, since the sun was doing a great job of bouncing off the surface of these deadly little pretties, and I was a little too far away to get a good shot. I could see the nylon line attached to them, but I couldn’t see much detail. I only hope that there were no hooks for the poor birds to get caught in, or lead weights for them to swallow by mistake and slowly but surely poison them.

And people wonder why I have such a low tolerance for fishing.

I know there are responsible fishermen. And in fact I have no quarrel with those who fish responsibly for food and eat their catch. But you will never convince me that hooking fish out of the water (then ripping the hook out and tossing them back in) is harmless and does not hurt or injure them, so I have no patience with fishing for ‘sport’, even leaving aside the collateral damage to other wildlife, like those birds up there.

Even without the injury and pain, how would you like to be walking along a towpath, only to be yanked with no warning underneath the water where you are convinced you’ll drown. Oh, but no worries! They’ll pull that nasty hook out and toss you back onto the land, so that’s alright, then.

Isn’t it?

Um, well … no. I’m sorry, but personally, I don’t think it is!