Saturday, December 20, 2014

BAD JOKES: Musicians who double as comedians

On Dec. 19, we went to see Nu-Blu, a bluegrass band from North Carolina, as part of the concert series presented by Brandywine Friends of Old Time Music. The band was terrific, but the reason I'm mentioning them is a joke cracked by the mandolin player, Austin Koerner. I'm sending it out to all of you who raise chickens:
Q: What do you call a chicken coop with four doors?
A: A chicken sedan.
And the very next night: another concert (this time at the Kennett Flash), another avian joke, this time by David Bromberg:
Duck walks into a bar and orders a drink.
"I can't serve you," says the bartender.
"Why not?" quacks the duck.
"Because you have an outstanding bill."

Thursday, December 18, 2014

EAST MARLBOROUGH: A hive of activity in December at the post office

The Unionville post office gets pretty nuts this time of year. When I got there at 3:15 p.m. on Dec. 15 to mail one package to Minnesota and one to England, there was no line at all. But as I was filling out my customs form (fortunately not the long one), I ran into a West Marlborough friend and started chatting. Then her farrier came in, and she introduced him. As soon as they left, a Newlin pal walked in ... and the next thing I knew there was a line stretching to the door, and I wasn't in it.
Fortunately everyone in the queue was in a good humor, although the woman next to me could not make up her mind which stamps she wanted (though she definitely did not like the Janis Joplin ones). In contrast, the guy behind me was easy to please; he approached the counter and said, "One magi. One snowman."

HUNT CUP: Where your ticket and raffle money goes

Not only is the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup a much-anticipated fixture on the fall social schedule for many of us, it also raises a lot of money for a good cause.
This photo, by Jim Graham, shows Anne Moran of Unionville (left), co-chairman of the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup Committee, and Mrs. J. Maxwell Moran of Willistown (right), board member of the Chester County Food Bank and feature sponsor of the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup Races, presenting a $60,000 check to the Larry Welsch, executive director of the Chester County Food Bank. The presentation took place on Dec. 16.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

2014: Some highlights of the year that's behind us

I always end the year with a recap of the significant events that I've covered, in no particular order.
1. The mushroom drop in Kennett Square that brought in 2014. It was cold, and crowded, and wonderful. I'm so glad they're doing it again!
2. The Spring Brook Farm controversy, a zoning dispute in Pocopson involving a program that gives handicapped kids a chance to interact with farm animals. Things were very ugly there for a while, with one of the township supervisors expressing impatience with the farm's supporters at a public meeting, but fortunately the situation has been resolved.
3. The construction of the Pocopson roundabout, which greatly inconvenienced motorists, businesses and residents since this spring. The project was supposed to be finished this fall, but it didn't open until Friday, Dec. 19. And next on the drawing board, the Route 926 bridge over the Brandywine, the bridge that always floods, is going to be closed for a lengthy renovation project.
4. The Newlin Township horse boarding ordinance. Over almost universal objections, the township supervisors passed a new ordinance requiring many owners of small farms to get special permission to take in equestrian boarders. The price tag for each hearing? $1,500. The controversy drew packed houses and brought out world-class equestrians to oppose the rules.
5. The fall election campaign, which returned Chris Ross to Harrisburg for another term despite his earlier retirement plans. Suffice it to say that the twists and turns of the campaign were THE topic of lively conversation and speculation for weeks.
6. Hood's renovation. The popular restaurant in downtown Unionville has been undergoing an expansion and is temporarily operating out of a trailer. I for one can't wait until they finish.
7. The Anson Nixon Park summer concert series on Wednesday nights. Great fun, terrific music, good food, a beautiful venue, fun socializing!
8. Tubing on the Brandywine on a hot July day. If I were a better writer I could describe how utterly blissful it was, but I'll just say: Heaven. One of the best afternoons of the year.
9. London Grove Monthly Meeting's 300th birthday. The Quakers celebrated their heritage with a series of lectures, concerts and suppers.
10. The fire at the Chalfant mansion, the iconic building on North Union Street in downtown Kennett that was designed by Frank Furness; you might know it as the one with the upside-down chimneys. The home had been split up into apartments, and the fire left the tenants homeless. There's no word yet on whether the owner will rebuild.
11. "Nineteen Minutes." The Kennett school board voted, 7-1, to keep the Jodi Picoult bestseller about bullying and a school shooting in the school's library collection despite a parent's objection that the book was inappropriate and could be harmful to certain students.
12. And those who left us in 2014, some after long, full lives and others much too soon: Maureen Kanara, Sam Barnard, Charles Patton, Sonia Ralston, Stefanie Jackson, Leo Daiuta, Arthur Joseff Teitsort-Birog, Bernie Langer, Marcus Macaluso, Carolyn Swett, Jon Olson and Betsy Turner. Holding their loved ones in the light, and may they rest in peace.

BETSY TURNER: A lovely lady and a life well lived

Betsy Thompson Turner died on Dec. 11. I met her in the early 1990s when I started going over to her house, Woodside Farm, to play tennis and to swim, and I quickly discovered that any friend of her children received the warmest possible welcome from her and her husband, George (you didn't call them "Mr. and Mrs. Turner" for very long).
She was a lovely person and the definition of a gracious hostess. I would never hesitate to accept an invitation to any event at her house, because it was always superbly organized and chock-full of smart, funny guests, all great storytellers. She took entertaining seriously, and her food was always top-notch, whether a perfectly cooked roast of beef at a dinner party or a plate of snacks beside the tennis court.
She was an amazingly kind woman. I remember being at her house for cocktails one miserable winter night, and I received an unexpected call that my later plans were cancelled. She made it plain that I was staying to dinner, no protests allowed, and without a fuss added another place at the already-set table next to her husband.
And generous! Guests never left her house empty-handed. When asparagus was in season, she'd cut some for you; the same with strawberries, or flowers, or a book she was enthusiastic about.
We will miss you, Betsy! My thoughts and prayers go out to her family and friends.

MUSHROOMS: They're not just for ringing in the New Year

Mushrooms, it seems, have made it into the world of high fashion. The November issue of "Vogue" magazine lists several trendy and doubtless pricey products involving our favorite fungi, like sunscreen with shiitake; skin cream with reishi; powdered lion's mane and maitake (to add to smoothies or coffee), and "The Daily Good," a concoction of enoki, oyster and king trumpet mushrooms, spirulina, spinach, blueberries and ginger. A photo of a maitake mushroom accompanies the brief article.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

KENNETT SQUARE: One busy afternoon in the borough!

It's Sunday evening, and I am tired but exhilarated as I write this account of the day's events.
This year Helen Leicht, popular disc jockey at the Philadelphia radio station WXPN, chose the Kennett Flash as the venue for the taping of her "Home for the Holiday" Christmas special. We got there just as the doors opened at 12:30 p.m., made a beeline for our favorite seat in the balcony, and immediately ordered lunch, which turned out to be quite good. (Pity the waiters, trying to find the correct tables during the performance!)
This year's four performers, Lizanne Knott, Dan May, Jen Creed, and Cole Redding, did a few songs each; what a variety of styles they had! One of the final pieces, Jen's show-stopping version of "O Holy Night," was so impressive that the teenagers at the table next to us actually stopped scanning their Facebook pages and listened to her with rapt attention. The singers were accompanied by some very competent musicians, especially keyboard player Michael Frank.
After the show my date and I hustled up North Union Street to the Kennett Friends Meeting, where historian Elliot Engel delivered a fascinating and hilarious lecture on how Charles Dickens' "Christmas Carol" changed the modern conception of Christmas -- as well as the greeting card and publishing industries.
Professor Engel is an excellent speaker, with the impeccable timing of a stand-up comedian. He sported a green plaid costume that looked like a cross between a Victorian frock coat and golf-course attire. This was the 15th time he has done a Hadley Fund lecture, and his reputation preceded him: Every seat was full, and we even saw the organizers bringing in some folding chairs.
(And thanks to the kind couple who came up to me before the lecture and said all manner of nice things about this column. Very much appreciated.)