Saturday, December 31, 2011

Birdland


Here’s one for your birding life list!
On Dec. 30 my friends David and Connie Carter reported seeing a very rare albino pileated woodpecker near their home in Pocopson. 
Connie said: "The typical pileated woodpecker is a remarkable 16 – 19 inches high, has black and white feathers, and is the only woodpecker with a flaming red crest. In flight their large wings flash black and white." 
She said the albino pileated they saw on several occasions "is almost pure white, retaining the flaming red crest on the top of its head.  This is a different bird from the “extinct” Ivory-billed woodpecker found in the south."
"One birder from the West Chester Bird Club said he sat at Shaw’s bridge last year after one was seen last January for over 4 hours – excluding the time he went for coffee - and never saw it."

Connie was kind enough to share two photos of this remarkable bird.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Competition

For the past few years the Tally-ho family has played a post-Christmas dinner game called Greedy Santa (I've also heard it called Yankee Trader). Everybody buys and wraps five small inexpensive gifts; I stopped off at Staples and came home with packages of binder clips, rubber bands and sticky notes. All the gifts are piled into the center of the table, and the hostess sets the timer for an hour. The players go around the table rolling a pair of dice. When you get doubles, you get to take a present from the center, and you get to roll again. If you get snake eyes, you get two presents! (The presents stay wrapped until the end of the game.)
When all the presents have been taken, then the fun starts and people's cut-throat natures emerge. You continue rolling the dice, but you get to take presents from each other! A present with a particularly intriguing wrapping will get taken frequently. My sister-in-law kept taking one from me because it was wrapped in a tin she liked; of course, when I rolled doubles, I would immediately take it back from her.
A senior family member attempted to protect his stash of presents by hiding them on the floor; he was quickly found out and denounced and his wealth was systematically redistributed.
My sis-in-law adds a wrinkle to the traditional rules by requiring players who roll doubles to don a silly alligator hat.
At the end of the hour the presents are unwrapped. The large package that attracted such attention was a four-pack of toilet paper. I went home with two packs of (my own) binder clips, a bag of candy, a tin of cookies, a windshield broom and a tablet for writing grocery lists.

Suet

When I woke this morning there was a coating of snow on the ground, which reminded me that it's time to start putting out suet for the birds. I make my own; it's easy and fun, although in the end it's probably less expensive to just buy the pre-made squares.
Here's my recipe: Melt 1 cup of peanut butter and 1 cup of lard. Mix in 2 cups of quick oatmeal, 2 cups of cornmeal, 1 cup of flour and 1/3 cup of sugar. Pour it into whatever small individual plastic containers you have (I just re-use old suet containers) and freeze. It's easy to pop the suet cakes out of their containers and hang them on a tree; I have a little cage for the purpose.
These seem to be a special favorite of  woodpeckers, flickers and nuthatches.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Fail

I heard a funny story at a most amusing Boxing Day brunch in Kennett Square. It seems some police officers had arrested a not-too-bright criminal and brought him into the station for questioning. They lifted up the lid of the photocopier, had him put his hand on the glass plate and told him the machine would light up every time he told a falsehood.
He promptly gave a full confession.

Turning of the table

This morning I was doing a postmortem review of the holiday season with a Unionville socialite, and we discussed the perennial plight of getting cornered by a frightful and garrulous bore at a party. How to escape? Of course, at a cocktail party you can look over the bore's shoulder with sudden interest and remark that a fresh plate of hors d'oeuvres is just that instant being brought in and you MUST have one. Or you can resort to the hoary empty glass ploy, saying you are parched and need a refill. 
But what about when the person sitting next to you at dinner is the relentless bore? This is not a new problem, and a few generations ago they even had an accepted way to solve it: it was called "turning the table."
According to Emily Post's 1929 etiquette book, the hostess "turns from the gentleman (on her left probably) with whom she has been talking through the soup and the fish course, to the one on her right. As she turns, the lady to whom the `right' gentleman has been talking turns to the gentleman further on, and in a moment everyone at table is talking to a new neighbor."

Directions

All of us Tally-hos love maps and are precise about directions -- a good thing, given that two family members are pilots. So perhaps it's not surprising that the only family dispute over Christmas was a geographical one: whether the new Bancroft Elementary School on Bancroft Road is north or south of the Route 1 bypass.
"North," said I. "It's right near New Bolton."
"South," disagreed my brother, "and it's nowhere near New Bolton! It's near the New Garden airport."
After a few increasingly heated exchanges my mother brought out her Chester County atlas and proved us both sort of right.
Yes, the school is south of the Route 1 bypass (what was I thinking? It's right at Pemberton Road!), but it's also near the New Bolton Center. My brother explained when he thinks of New Bolton he thinks of the entrance off Route 926 and didn't realize it stretches all the way down to Line Road. And as far as being near the airport, he was thinking as the crow, or a pilot, would approach the landing strip. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Thinking outside the door

A local woman named K. M. Walton has written a contemporary young-adult novel called "Cracked" and has a creative way to promote it: a big sticker on her car door. I spotted it at the food store a few weeks ago and just got around to visiting her website.
"Cracked," which was released Jan. 3, is about a high-school boy who is the victim of bullying. Chester County Book & Music Company in the West Goshen Shopping Center is having a launch party for the book on Saturday, Jan. 7, at 7 p.m. It's published by Simon Pulse, a division of Simon & Schuster.
Although "Cracked" is her first novel, K.M. also wrote "Teaching Numeracy: 9 Critical Habits to Ignite Mathematical Thinking."

Coexisting

The Christmas spirit was everywhere this year. Foolishly, I waited until Friday to go food shopping at the Giant supermarket in New Garden, and of course the parking lot was jammed with people buying provisions for their feasts. But inside the crowded store, nobody seemed to be ornery or in a hurry; indeed, they seemed eager to smile and chat. It was a nice surprise.
The spirit of cooperation and good will continued at the Y. People who aren't used to using the track will often walk on the outside lanes, blocking those who are moving more quickly, or kids will walk two or three together, oblivious to anyone who wants to pass. But these minor irritants just didn't happen on Saturday, the day before Christmas. Parents were actually on hand supervising their kids and ordering them to stay on the inside lanes. Yes, two young women were walking side by side, but they were paying attention to the people around them and automatically changed to single file when a runner approached.
Wow! Wouldn't it be wonderful if such courtesy continued all year?

Great meal at the Greathouse

I've raved before about the Farmhouse, the nice restaurant at Loch Nairn Golf Club, but I'd never been to the Greathouse before, the other restaurant at the club. I'm glad to say that it's every bit as nice. Eight of us gathered there for a family day-before-Christmas luncheon. It was beautifully decorated, the food was wonderful and the service -- not just the delightful waitress, but everyone there -- was perfect: gracious and thoroughly professional.

When he made the reservation, my father arranged to have the bill charged to his credit card, outsmarting the other senior member of the party (who conceded defeat gracefully, not that he had much choice).
The Greathouse overlooks the golf course, which was busy on the sunny and not-too-chilly afternoon. Some of the golfers were even wearing Santa hats.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Year that Was

Some highlights of 2011, in no particular order:
1. Doe Run Farm creator/Urban Outfitters founder Dick Hayne showed up at a West Marlborough township meeting, even if (a) he didn't speak up and (b) it didn't concern one of his projects. Here's hoping that he attends more meetings rather than just sending his representatives as not-always-accurate mouthpieces.
2. I traded in my German sports car for a Honda mini-van. Lesson learned: Prestige means nothing in Unionville if you don't have decent ground clearance.
3. It was such a wet spring that we had to wait til the end of May to plant the garden, and then the beginning of the school year was postponed because of flooding. We had snow at the end of October, but the week later it was the warmest Pennsylvania Hunt Cup I can remember (the course had to be quickly reconfigured because of the mud).
4. There were a few stink bugs, but nothing like the horrible invasion of 2010.
5. My dear friend Paul turned 50, got married, bought a house in Seattle and won an international wildlife photography award (walruses in northern Norway, a bear catching salmon in Alaska). (I know, Paul visits Unionville maybe once a year, but readers seem to enjoy hearing about his adventures anyway. Go figure.)
6. The sign at Blow Horn was erased, prompting lots of media coverage and a peaceful Saturday-morning "Occupy Blow Horn" motorcade. I hadn't blown my horn at Blow Horn in years, but now I do, every single time.
7. The earth shook. I missed it because I was in my car.
8. Con man Tony Young finally got his comeuppance, and his mansion was razed.
9. The Whip Tavern and the ongoing litany of complaints by some of its Springdell neighbors led to a series of beyond-tedious township zoning hearings. As an audience member I got a lot of knitting done and earned my "Aging Whipster" T-shirt. As a taxpayer and as a Whip fan, I hope that the popular restaurant can figure out a way to solve its parking problems. As a planning commission member pointed out recently, the township has spent more than enough time and money -- taxpayers' money -- on this issue.

10. The Unionville Community Fair had a rodeo! Very exciting.
(Thanks to one of my best pals for helping me come up with this top-ten list over a quiet Boxing Day/End of Holiday dinner at Sovana Bistro!)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Scoop

"Beating Tilda" seems to be a new and popular sport at parties this season, and it's one that I love.
Here's what happens: A neighbor or friend grabs my elbow, marches me over to a quiet corner and breathlessly says in a confiding voice, "Have you heard ..."
If I have heard the news, we swap stories and details and compare the reliability of our sources (they vary widely).
But the REAL fun happens when, perchance, I haven't heard the news.
"YES!" exclaims my informant. One otherwise dignified social leader actually pumped her fist at this point. Another chanted, "I beat Tilda! I beat Tilda!"
Honestly, who needs that national magazine's "Most Interesting People of the Year" when you live in Unionville?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A certain lack of Ziel

There was a sense of unreality and frustration in the West Marlborough Township hall the evening of Dec. 13.
Richard Hayne, billionaire founder of Urban Outfitters, has applied for permission from the township for two activities at his sprawling Doe Run Farm in Springdell: (1) processing and wholesaling cheese and yogurt at his creamery and (2) processing and wholesaling vegetables at his greenhouse complex.
The hearings were held back to back and, to dot the legal i's and cross the legal t's, Mr. Hayne's representatives covered a great deal of the same ground, producing deja vu in the audience.
Unfortunately, there was also a strong sense of mistrust. Mr. Hayne has already been making cheese for many months now without permission from the township, selling it at his Terrain stores and local farmers' markets. Also, Mr. Hayne has never testified at any township hearing dealing with his property, leaving his representatives to -- presumably -- speak for him. But they are also the ones who famously once said that Mr. Hayne intended to make cheese for his own personal use only.
Also, David Ziel, the rep who was supposed to address most of the issues of interest to the township -- like truck traffic, wastewater management and such -- wasn't even at the hearing. Supervisors and audience members again and again asked exactly what would be going on in the creamery and the "processing shed," only to be told by Mr. Hayne's attorney that Mr. Ziel was the person who could address that. (He is supposed to appear at the continuation of the hearing on Thursday, Jan. 5.)
Springdell resident Joseph Huston told me after the meeting that he was reminded of the old Cheech & Chong comedy routine "Dave's not here!" It was the best line of the night.

Dental woes

This morning I was at the very busy Longwood Starbucks having coffee with a dear friend who is the office manager at a local dental office. I'm not sure what led to a discussion of popcorn -- our conversations are always global in their scope -- but she said it's the number-one cause of dental problems at her office over the holiday. Apparently crunching down on a piece of popcorn, much less an unpopped kernel, can wreak havoc with a tooth that's weakened or that already has a small fracture in it. And patients trying to get those pesky bits of shell out of their gums can actually push them down further, requiring dental tools for removal.

A safe bet

My old newspaper friend Kurt, now at the Oneida Daily Dispatch, wrote an editorial on Dec. 15 criticizing the local hospital for not releasing information to the paper about patients, even if they gave permission.
"Dollars to doughnuts," wrote Kurt, "this is a modern notion to avoid lawsuits."
What a delightful and underused phrase! I looked it up on Wikipedia and found out that it means "a faux bet in which one person agrees to put up the same amount of dollars to another person's donuts in a bet (where a donut is considered to be worth much less than a dollar). Betting someone dollars to donuts is a rhetorical device that indicates that the person is confident in the outcome of an event, but it does not usually involve an actual bet with actual payoffs (either in dollars or in donuts)."
I asked Kurt what the reaction to his piece was: "It's 4 pm and I haven't heard from the hospital yet, but dollars to doughnuts it's coming."

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Warning!

A Unionville family had a very scary experience last week when one of their Labrador retrievers "went from normal to incessant seizures to comatose within a half-hour," said the owner. They rushed the poor creature to West Chester Emergency Animal Center, where the vet found a bag's worth of chewing gum in her stomach. It seems that the xylitol sweetener used in some types of gum is toxic to dogs.
"It was a VERY close call and she really was on death's doorstep," reports the owner. Fortunately, the Lab seems to be on the mend and was released in a few days.
Now the owner wants to spread the word that gum with xylitol sweetener should be kept away from dogs: "Glad she is a hefty sort (80 lb) or she would have been done. Two sticks of gum can kill a 20-lb dog."

House tour

Every year I look forward to being a hostess on the Kennett Square Candlelight Home Tour. The borough's Historical Commission always does a great job lining up a variety of houses and taking care of all the details, everything from publishing the brochure to lighting the luminarias. I even heard a compliment about the tasteful gold wristbands!
We lucked out this year in terms of the weather, as the past few years had been wet and dreary. I was stationed at a charming and beautifully decorated Victorian house. As hostess my duties include opening the door (brrrr), greeting people (my favorite part of the job), answering questions (some on the nosy side) and directing traffic flow through the house. This year I also had to keep the fires stoked; the owner had thoughtfully piled plenty of logs next to each fireplace.
One of my co-hostesses looked stunning as always but was under the weather with a sinus infection. At one point, with about an hour still to go, I suggested that she head home early to bed.
Absolutely not, she said, unwrapping another cough drop.
Then I remembered: oh, right, she's a foxhunter! No way is she letting some wimpy, penny-ante, non-life-threatening ailment get the better of her.

Meals on foot

For the past 14 years the neighbors on Huntsman Lane in East Marlborough have celebrated an excellent holiday tradition: one family offers appetizers, another entrees, and so forth, and the residents walk from house to house, getting a little exercise in between courses. I'm told that both the food and the conversation at this year's "dine-around" were terrific.
I happened to drive down the cul-de-sac one recent evening and I have to say, these homeowners do a splendid job with their holiday lights and decorations. I love those little bright blue lights that seem to be so popular these days.

Newlin update

Newlin Township has a really nice-looking new website, www.newlintownship.org, designed by township secretary Gail Abel. On it you can find information about Newlin's history, government, officials, ordinances, committees, and meetings. Minutes from supervisors' meetings will start to be posted online in 2012.
According to the website, Newlin, which became a township in 1840, comprises 7,700 acres, 3,900 of which are protected from development (including the beautiful ChesLen preserve off Route 162 north of Unionville). There are 1,285 township residents, with a median age of 41.9. Of the 20 miles of roads maintained by the township's road crew, 7 are unpaved.
"The Township owns 16 acres of land where the Township Maintenance Garage is located at 1751 Embreeville Road (Rt. 162). The Garage is where Township residents vote. Future plans are to renovate the house which is on the property to make it suitable for meetings, an office and fireproof record storage."

In a recent "Newlin News" newsletter, Board of Supervisors Chair Janie Baird thanked Ms. Abel for her work on the website and also township resident Wayne Bullaughey "for his help both past and future" with the website, and for his local photographs on the site.

Blow Horn update

I wish I had known this before Christmas, but artist and photographer Lee Schlingmann just told me that her note cards and prints of the pre-October Blow Horn corner (that is, before the "Blow Horn" sign was erased) are on sale at Tender Touch Gifts, the shop next to Triple Fresh in Ercildoun.
Also, I couldn't help but think of the Blow Horn controversy when I came across this verse in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer: "Cursed is he that removeth his neighbour's landmark."

My true love gave to me

Our demon-in-human-form instructor at the Y celebrates Christmas each year by wearing a series of increasingly outlandish hats to class, bringing in little treat bags of healthy snacks for us, and making us do an appalling series of exercises using the "Twelve Days of Christmas" structure. For instance, you start with one pushup; then you do two shoulder presses and one pushup; then three chest presses, two shoulder presses and one pushup ... and up to twelve burpees (squat-thrusts), eleven medicine-ball slams, etc. It takes a full half-hour. For the lower-body version we alternated 12 reps of an exercise (squats against an exercise ball, say) with lunges back and forth across the room while holding 12-pound hand weights (note the elegant echo of the "12" motif).
She told us the sum total of exercises and reps involved but I blocked it out.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Every four years

A woman and her little boy, John, were sitting next to me in a waiting room this morning. The mom told me that although John was 4 years old, he hadn't had his first official birthday party yet because he was born in a Leap Year. She said that a woman she knows, another Feb. 29 baby, was treated to a Sweet 16 birthday by her daughters -- on her 64th birthday.

Monday, December 19, 2011

On the cover

The cover art on the Dec. 12 issue of "The Chronicle of the Horse" is by Unionville artist and horsewoman Susan Tuckerman. Her artwork, "On Course," shows Buck Davidson and Ballynoe Castle RM ("Reggie") competing at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

Grounded

I was at my favorite shipping store today mailing Christmas presents. Not surprisingly for Dec. 19, the place was swamped, with boxes and mailing bags stacked everywhere ready for the UPS and FedEx pickup.
The two young clerks seemed remarkably calm and poised, even though they were both downing large cans of Red Bull, the caffeine-packed "energy drink." When I remarked on their choice of beverage, my clerk read aloud the wording on the back of the can: "Improves performance, especially during times of stress." He said the drink seems to help when he's confronted with difficult customers, and indeed he was very patient with the demanding fellow in front of me. 

Shopping

What a delightful little open house/craft sale at Inverbrook Farm in West Marlborough on Saturday! Claire Murray invited several local artisans and vendors to the Lofting family farm; there were cheeses by Talula's Table, jewelry by Whitney Marsden, adorable hand-made bags and aprons by Bessie, "inspired orchids" by Chansonette, herb rubs by Happy Cat Organics, stoneware by Lyla Kaplan, beeswax candles and even rain barrels. The dining room was full of wonderful quiches, ham, latkes and desserts.

I bought some fancy salami and cheeses for my sister and her family, and a sweet little toiletries bag for my teenage niece. I used a credit card to pay and the woman from Bessie's used her smart phone to swipe it (she had to stand by the window to get a signal). Instead of a receipt I received a text message while I was still standing there: very cool!

Food by Trader Joe's

I've been to two Christmas parties this month where most of the food has come from Trader Joe's. As a frequent party-goer, this is a trend I definitely like. Not only is it much less work for the hosts, but it's also delicious: on Friday night the buffet spread included those yummy little hot dogs wrapped in pastry and chicken satay on skewers as appetizers, and then baked ham for dinner.
At a party postmortem this hostess told me that her guests stayed much later than usual: more than coincidence?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Right and fitting

I spent a fascinating morning at my friend Susan's barn with Keith, the local rep from StΓΌbben saddles. We got a master class in saddle fitting. Using a stripped-down saddle as a model (with only the tree and webbing and brass stirrup bars), he explained to us how a saddle serves as the interface between two complicated three-dimensional objects in motion: the horse and the rider.
Then he analyzed how Susan's saddles fit her horse and her husband's horse and gave advice on how the fit could be improved (some additional padding). She took copious notes on a yellow legal pad.
To our surprise, we learned that a bigger horse (say, her husband's 17-hand, 2-inch horse Diesel) does not necessarily take a bigger saddle -- Keith said this is a common misunderstanding. Rather, the fit depends on how the horse's anatomy is put together, in addition to the rider's body mechanics. He showed how an improperly fitting saddle can force the rider's legs into an incorrect position, and said that fit problems might be responsible for her horse's tendency to buck while going downhill, and even for her husband's back soreness after a long day in the hunt field.
Keith brought a truck full of beautiful brand-new saddles, with supple full-grain leather and precise stitching. Real craftsmanship.

Just say no

Just in time for New Year's Eve dates: At a party last night a twenty-something friend -- smart, pretty, lively and a martial-arts fan -- was telling us about her romantic woes. She gets a lot of attention from thoroughly unsuitable young men, many of whom have difficulty taking "no" for an answer, even when it's given frequently and in no uncertain terms.
When one of these persistent suitors begs for her phone number, she has started giving out the number for the "Rejection Hotline." It looks like a legitimate number, complete with a local area code, but when you call you get a message saying that you're out of luck. Desperate times....

Friday, December 16, 2011

Input

About 50 residents -- a full house -- gathered at the West Marlborough township building on Dec. 15 for a wide-ranging discussion about the zoning process, a proposal for the township to take over responsibility for state roads, and the proposed earned income tax that would help to fund it.
First, township solicitor Dwight Yoder and engineer Al Giannantonio gave a concise and well-organized summary of the local zoning process, as well as common pitfalls and misunderstandings (for instance, a "special exception" to a zoning ordinance is actually neither. "A terrible term," said Mr. Yoder). For a while there I felt like I was back in my State & Local Government class in college, minus Professor Entman's Marxist spin. The supervisors said they wanted to educate the public about the zoning process because an increasing number of zoning issues had arisen in the township.
Residents asked several questions about who enforces the ordinances and how landowners can prove that a nonconforming use has been ongoing on their properties.
Then traffic engineer Al Federico outlined the state roads that the township is thinking about taking back, such as Route 842, Route 841 and part of Springdell Road, parts of Newark Road and Route 82. He analyzed the costs that the township would have to bear (for instance, maintenance and snow removal) in return for gaining more control over the road in terms of speed limits and traffic restrictions.
One thing I learned is that taking back a road excludes the bridges, which PennDOT would still control.
Residents raised numerous objections and alternatives to the road turnback proposal:
  • Would the township face additional legal liability?
  • How much more equipment and personnel would be needed to maintain the roads, and could the township building accommodate it?
  • Would having the township control the roads actually make a difference in terms of reducing traffic?
  • Could the "traffic-calming" strategies actually backfire?
  • Do all the roads need to be "taken back" at a time, or might it be better to experiment with only one at first?
  • Would the money be better spent on more traffic enforcement, perhaps expanding police coverage?
By this time it was after 9 p.m., so the discussion of the proposed earned income tax consisted of only a brief explanation by the supervisors' chairman, Bill Wylie. I had expected this to be the "hot" part of the meeting, but I guess everyone just wanted to get home.
One exciting side note: Doe Run Farm owner Dick Hayne was at the meeting, to my knowledge the first one he has EVER attended. He stood in the back corner by the road grader and said nothing. At the end of the meeting he came up front, introduced himself to the supervisors and then left. I can understand wanting to operate behind the scenes, but why on earth didn't he do that a long time ago?

Is it a barn?

There's a two-story structure being built on Wilson Road in West Marlborough, and a few neighbors told the township supervisors they suspect it may be a garage with an apartment upstairs, rather than the barn that the owner has permission to build. 
At the December meeting, township engineer Al Giannantonio of Yerkes Associates reported that he inspected the structure and said the second floor contained nothing but electrical outlets. However, he did see some piping in place even though the owner did not have approval for a septic system. He planned to follow up with the owner.
The township supervisors (Bill Wylie, Mike Ledyard and Hugh Lofting) said they are considering having people who apply to build agricultural buildings, which are less stringently regulated than houses, sign a document spelling out exactly what does and does not qualify as an agricultural building. A proactive township resident sent them several samples of such a document.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Paybacks

According to U.S. District Court documents finalized November 28, Neely Young, convicted con man Tony Young's wife, has admitted that "between late 1999 and April 17, 2009, she received or benefited from fraudulent transfers ... totaling at least $26,964,594" and acknowledged she is liable for $20,423,511.88 that wasn't recovered from the sale of the Youngs' houses (Maine, Palm Beach and here in West Marlborough), cars and personal property. (She'd owe one more dollar if I hadn't snapped up a Waterford vase at the auction. You're welcome, Mrs. Young.)
Tony is serving a 210-month sentence in a Georgia penitentiary. Last we had heard, Mrs. Young and the couple's two children were living in Florida.

Another path

Thanks to my reader Sally for sharing her "scenic route" from Unionville to Wegman's east of Downingtown!
"From center of Unionville, take 842 east about 2 1/2 miles to Indian Hannah Road on left. Indian Hannah Road to Northbrook Road and turn right. Northbrook Road to center of Marshallton (at 4 Dogs), left on Sugarsbridge Road to light at 322. Turn right, cross Brandywine, and make immediate left on Skelp Level Road.  Go one mile to crossroad and turn right onto Harmony Hill Road. Follow Harmony Hill about a half mile to Valley Creek Road. Turn left onto Valley Creek and follow it to light at Boot Road (stream on right and geology on left, plus dark railroad tunnel).Continue through light (Quarry Road) to shopping centre on left. Regal Theatre and Wegmans.Whole trip is 10 miles with little traffic. We live in a very beautiful country in Unionville!"
Amen to that, Sally. We certainly do!
And here's my pal Rob's advice:
"Another shortcut option that I use regularly: Route 162 East, turn left on Stargazers Rd, then left on Strasburg and immediately right on Shadyside. Take Shadyside to 322 and make a left. Make a right on Boot, Left on Quarry. The main bonus is that I can stop in Embreeville on the way there and see if the grandparents or Mom need anything while I'm there."  

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Always and forever

I was filling out a customs form at the Unionville post office yesterday (mailing cookies to England) when a woman asked what exactly a "forever" stamp was and whether she would need to supplement it when the price of stamps goes up by one cent starting January 22, 2012.
Seemed like the obvious answer was "no," but I decided to do some research anyway.
According to stamps.com, a forever stamp is exactly that: "Forever Stamps were created by the United States Postal Service® (USPS®) in 2007. They are non-denominational First Class® postage, which means that they can be used to mail First Class letters no matter what the postal rate."
Useful? Certainly. But:
"There are a few drawbacks associated with Forever Stamps. First is that although they may be used to send mail to international addresses, customers must calculate the difference between the current First Class rate and the international rate and affix additional postage to ensure delivery. Similarly, if a piece of domestic mail weighs more than one ounce, additional postage must be used. In both of these situations, customers all too frequently find themselves affixing multiple Forever Stamps to their envelopes, overpaying to send their heavy or international mail for lack of exact postage."

A certain lack of Ziel

There was a sense of unreality and frustration in the West Marlborough Township hall the evening of Dec. 13.
Richard Hayne, billionaire founder of Urban Outfitters, has applied for permission from the township for two activities at his sprawling Doe Run Farm in Springdell: (1) processing and wholesaling cheese and yogurt at his creamery and (2) processing and wholesaling vegetables at his greenhouse complex.
The hearings were held back to back and, to dot the legal i's and cross the legal t's, Mr. Hayne's representatives covered a great deal of the same ground, producing deja vu in the audience.
Unfortunately, there was also a strong sense of mistrust. Mr. Hayne has already been making cheese for many months now without permission from the township, selling it at his Terrain stores and local farmers' markets. Also, Mr. Hayne has never testified at any township hearing dealing with his property, leaving his representatives to -- presumably -- speak for him. But they are also the ones who famously once said that Mr. Hayne intended to make cheese for his own personal use only.
Also, David Ziel, the rep who was supposed to address most of the issues of interest to the township -- like truck traffic, wastewater management and such -- wasn't even at the hearing. Supervisors and audience members again and again asked exactly what would be going on in the creamery and the "processing shed," only to be told by Mr. Hayne's attorney that Mr. Ziel was the person who could address that. (He is supposed to appear at the continuation of the hearing on Jan. 5.)
Springdell resident Joseph Huston told me after the meeting that he was reminded of the old Cheech & Chong comedy routine "Dave's not here!" It was the best line of the night.
In other Doe Run Farm news: Mr. Hayne is building an indoor pool and squash court on the site where Tony Young's mansion used to be. He is also converting the existing clay tennis court into a grass one -- not necessarily because he prefers playing on that surface, but for storm-water management purposes: clay is considered to be an "impervious surface," and he is allowed to have only so much paving on the property.
Also, you might remember that at the November township supervisors' meeting a resident pointed out that Mr. Hayne's new corn crib was too close to Hicks Road. Township engineer Al Giannantonio of Yerkes Associates reported that he looked into the matter and found that not only was it in the road right-of-way, it was also built in a flood plain, which isn't allowed. Mr. Hayne's rep told him it would be moved.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

And on earth peace, good will toward men

For me, the biggest challenge of the Christmas season is trying to make bright conversation while balancing a little plate of hors d'oeuvres and a wine glass without dropping them. I usually end up both spilling something AND putting my foot in my mouth.
But for a lot of people the general merriment of December is doubly hard. Perhaps they're facing a health challenge, or they've recently lost a loved one (human or animal), and they feel isolated from the rest of us who are rushing around happily buying gifts and devouring shrimp and mini-quiches.
Think about it. I'll bet you know somebody who's sick, or grieving, or going through another kind of rough time. Don't forget about him or her this Christmas.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Movin' on down

Well, you may have gathered that I bought a new car, trading in my posh-but-getting-to-be-troublesome German sports car for a brand-new Honda mini-van just in time for the winter.
Friends' reactions ran the gamut from utter dismay to disbelief, but I love it.
Just two days after I bought it, I was at a Christmas party and pointed it out proudly to a friend. It turns out that she, too, had just "traded down," replacing her Audi with a Toyota. We laughed about how we were both so happy that we'd gone the practical and dependable and non-prestige route. (I also got a big break on my insurance premium, and even a refund!)
My new car also boasts satellite radio, a sunglasses-holder and a roomy, deep beverage holder that securely holds a drink from Starbucks or a pint of Baily's chocolate milk (in comparison, the old car's beverage holder seems downright flimsy). Stop laughing: it's important!
The odometer rolled over to 100 on the way to breakfast at Perkins; to 200 on the way home from the Jennersville Y; and to 300 on Strasburg Road while going Christmas shopping in West Chester. And its inaugural fill-up was at the Willowdale Landhope.
I bought the car from a dealership only half-an-hour away, but I could tell they didn't get many country customers. I  got some really weird looks when I said I needed more ground clearance because I drive on unpaved roads every day and often park in pastures.
A neighbor told me she once had to assure a salesman that, yes, she really did want to buy a pickup. "But ladies don't drive trucks," he told her. And another friend said her salesman tried to talk her out of getting a brown car: "Nobody wants brown," he insisted.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Remembering the past

I first visited the Chester County Historical Society when I was in the fourth grade, writing a report on Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad in Chester County. I loved poring through the archives -- the fancy, sometimes-illegible handwriting, the yellowing paper, the knowledge that these old letters, newspapers and ledgers were around at the very same time the Underground Railroad was operating.
I had the same experience this past weekend when I was doing some photographic research at the Society's library. The wonderfully helpful librarian, Pam Powell, had pulled out some files for me to look through, and I donned my special white gloves and spent a few hours sorting through fascinating photos of life in Kennett and Unionville in the 19th and early 20th century. A cinema marquee in Kennett advertised a D.W. Griffith spectacular: "Exciting Night!" A group of  folks posed on the front steps of Pyle's dry goods store in Willowdale, one man with a crutch next to him. A gas station in the middle of Unionville boasted three old-fashioned pumps with "White Flash" fuel.
And there were some fox-hunting photos that could have been shot at last Saturday's meet, except for the ladies in skirts riding side-saddle.

Ticks

Yesterday afternoon I was over at a friend's house in Cochranville, admiring her new skylights, when her husband returned from an afternoon of buck hunting. He flopped down in the mudroom, unlaced his boots and started removing his many layers of camo and orange.
"Don't forget to check for ticks," she reminded him.
I thought ticks were a summer problem only, but apparently not: he said he has found deer ticks well into the winter. After all, he's out there in the woods and brush, right where the deer live.

Carol sings

You can get back to the basics of Christmas with carol sings at two historic Quaker meetinghouses: at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18, at Marlborough Meeting (the corner of Marlboro and Marlboro Springs Roads in East Marlborough) and at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 19, at the old West Grove Meeting House (not the one in the middle of West Grove), 605 State Rd.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Deflation

There's a big blow-up Santa on the front lawn of a Unionville village house that for some reason was grossly under-inflated the other morning when I stopped by the post office. Santa was lying face-down on the grass, and the wind was making his arms pound on the ground, just like a toddler having a tantrum at the supermarket.

Sinus infection

This lingering sinus infection that's going around is sending even committed physician-phobes into the clinic. It features a sore throat, a cough and unpleasant sinus congestion, and from my experience and that of my friends, it doesn't get better on its own without antibiotics.
After days of symptoms and actually missing a day at the gym -- the last straw! -- I finally called my doctor's office on a Friday. I described my symptoms and apologetically asked if they thought I should wait til Monday to come in.
"Why would you want to do that?" the kind nurse said, giving me an appointment for that very morning.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Getting to Wegman's

Two readers replied to my plea last week for an efficient route from Unionville to the Wegman's supermarket east of Downingtown:
From Steve:
"842 to Northbrook Road, hit 162 at Marshallton for a couple hundred yards, then Sugars Bridge Road to 322. Right before the narrow low bridge entering Downingtown, turn right (at the Wawa) on Boot Road....then a left at a light at Quarry Road. You can dead end at 30 or enter the shopping center at the movie theater. The fastest and most scenic I think."
From an anonymous reader:
"This Wegman's fan starts out as Steve directed above, except turning right onto 322, going over the open grate bridge, then making a left onto Skelp Level Road. Then you turn right onto Boot Road & continue as above. Only cuts off that corner where the Wawa is, but it feels pretty quick to me!"
An alternative, of course, might be to build a Wegman's closer to Unionville. Just sayin'! 

Shop local

In this year's thank-you gift basket that the Cheshire Hunt delivered to landowners: blue mugs with the hunt's name in orange; a jar of Swarmbustin' honey from Walt Broughton of West Marlborough; a selection of teas from Mrs. Robinson's Tea Shop in Kennett; and granola bars from Dough Run (love that name!) in Unionville.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Family dinner

Just got home from a family dinner at the Texas Roadhouse on Route 1 in Glen Mills to celebrate the truly amazing pace that a certain father-son pair set in the 5K Stride run on Sunday. The Roadhouse is the favorite choice of the younger member of this duo, who always orders the 8-oz sirloin (and usually manages to finish it, if he doesn't sneak too many preprandial rolls, that is). The place was hopping, as usual, even on a Monday night.
As we finished and were boxing up our bones to take home for the dog, a manager came up, introduced herself and asked about our dinner. We told her the service was quick and accurate and the meat was cooked just as ordered. I was impressed: how often do you get a visit from the manager at any busy restaurant, much less a chain steakhouse?
We will definitely go back.

Another tale from the Island of Unionville

At the post office today I saw a petite woman from behind and greeted her: "Hi, Babette!"
It wasn't Babette.
"I'm Sue," she corrected me. "But Babette's a nice person, so I don't mind."

Under construction

The newest project at Doe Run Farm, the West Marlborough compound being developed by Urban Outfitters founder Richard Hayne, is an indoor pool and squash court on the site where Tony Young's mansion used to be.
Mr. Hayne is also converting the existing clay tennis court into a grass one -- not necessarily because he prefers playing on that surface, but for storm-water management purposes: clay is considered to be an "impervious surface," and he is allowed to have only so much paving on the property.
In other Hayne news, you might remember that at the November township supervisors' meeting a resident pointed out that Mr. Hayne's new corn crib was too close to Hicks Road. At the December meeting, township engineer Al Giannantonio of Yerkes Associates reported that he looked into the matter and found that not only was it in the road right-of-way, it was also built in a flood plain, which isn't allowed. Mr. Hayne's rep told him it would be moved.
Mr. Giannantonio said he also inspected a structure being built on Wilson Road after residents told the supervisors that it appeared to be a garage with an apartment above, rather than the barn the owner had said he was building. He said the second floor contained nothing but electrical outlets, but he did see some piping in place even though the owner did not have approval for a septic system. He planned to follow up with the owner.
The township supervisors (Bill Wylie, Mike Ledyard and Hugh Lofting) said they are considering having people who apply to build agricultural buildings, which are less stringently regulated than houses, sign a document spelling out exactly what does and does not qualify as an agricultural building. A proactive township resident sent them several samples of such a document.

Whip zoning

It doesn't look like the Whip's proposed zoning changes for Springdell are going to pass. At its Dec. 6 meeting the West Marlborough Township Planning Commission recommended that the township supervisors NOT approve the changes, which the Whip's attorney suggested would help the popular tavern solve the parking problems that have plagued both customers and village residents.
However, the planners expressed frustration with the ongoing problems and the time and expense the township (that is, the taxpayers) has incurred in dealing with them, and urged all the parties to reach a solution.
Planning Commission Chairman Josh Taylor was also upset about the anonymous flyers that have been circulated around the township criticizing the proposed zoning changes, calling them "incorrect" and "propaganda."

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Paybacks

According to U.S. District Court documents finalized November 28, Neely Young, con man Tony Young's wife, has admitted that "between late 1999 and April 17, 2009, she received or benefited from fraudulent transfers ... totaling at least $26,964,594" and acknowledged she is liable for $20,423,511.88 that wasn't recovered from the sale of the Youngs' houses (Maine, Palm Beach and here in West Marlborough), cars and personal property. (She'd owe one more dollar if I hadn't snapped up a Waterford vase at the auction. You're welcome, Mrs. Young.)
Tony is serving a 210-month sentence in a Georgia penitentiary. Last we had heard, Mrs. Young and the couple's two children were living in Florida.

Monday, December 5, 2011

But Siriusly, folks

For years I've read about satellite radio, but until a few days ago I had never actually experienced it in my car. I have a three-month trial of Sirius XM and I have to say, it's pretty amazing. I briefly wondered how I would manage the 200-some channels. There's a channel for just about everything: professional golf and every other sport you can imagine, traffic reports from around the country, reggae, Broadway, heavy metal, gospel, country music, Sinatra, Elvis, hip-hop, club music, Punjabi music, talk radio from all over the political spectrum, BBC news. (No Unionville news channel, though!)
I very quickly realized that whole categories were of no interest to me, but the channels I do like are very good indeed (yes, you can probably guess which ones) and I programmed them in instantly.
A consumer word to the wise: I  understand that if you let your trial subscription expire, the company will significantly lower its monthly price to lure you back.

Waders

Longwood Garden's continuing education catalog for 2012 contains the most enticing sentence I've read in a long time: "You will have the rare opportunity for one hour to get into the world-famous water lily pools for a frog's-eye view of this spectacular display," reads the description of a photography workshop.
Wow! Who hasn't wanted to do exactly that on a hot summer's day?

Feed the birds

A West Marlborough neighbor wonders what she's doing wrong: she put out her bird feeders but isn't getting any birds. That has happened to me before, and you just have to be patient. Sometimes it takes a while for the birds to show up.
That certainly wasn't the case for me this autumn, though. A blue jay was at one of my feeders within minutes of my filling it up for the first time a few weekends ago. And lots of chickadees and nut hatches have been visiting. They're even brave enough to harass the squirrels!
It's been so warm that I haven't made any suet cakes yet. As I'm writing this, I just got back from a lovely half-hour walk over to a neighbor's house to drop off a misdelivered letter. It's in the 60s, and I'm having a hard time believing that in a few hours I'll be getting ready for a Christmas cocktail party.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Found!

Happy news from a gym friend in West Grove: the family lizard, Perry, who had been missing for over two months, was found alive and well, out back by the playset. "Survived the snow!" she notes with disbelief. Perry is back in his cage after his adventure.
According to last week's paper, Kennett borough is considering enacting an ordinance banning exotic pets, but I think Perry, despite his wanderlust, would be exempt because he isn't venomous and poses no threat to humans.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Getting there

If there's a (1) direct and (2) pleasant route from Unionville to the Wegman's supermarket outside the borough of Downingtown, I wish somebody would tell me about it. Route 30 through Coatesville, Thorndale and Downingtown is certainly direct and interesting, but it has too many traffic lights. Strasburg Road is a fine east-west road and easy to get to, but there's no direct connection up to Downingtown; the best route would seem to be Marshallton-Thorndale Road (which gets you to Route 30) or Shadyside Road (which gets you to Route 322, near the Harmony Hill/Gibson's covered bridge). I've heard that Sugarsbridge Road north from Marshallton is another good connection between Strasburg Road and Route 322; next time I'm going to try that.

And yes, this was actually a topic of animated and heartfelt conversation at a recent brunch I attended. Welcome to the world of Wegman's fans.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Township meeting

If you live in West Marlborough, clear your calendar for the evening of Thursday, Dec. 15. The township supervisors are holding a special meeting at 7 p.m. at the township hall to discuss "1) the required permitting process for all work done in the Township and 2) whether to apply to PennDOT to request the turn-back of maintenance responsibility for a number of roads in the Township currently maintained by the State."
In recent months, both have been the subject of animated discussion not only at township meetings but basically anywhere and anytime that township residents run into each other. This should be an interesting meeting.