Tuesday, December 30, 2014

SHOPPING: Two store clerks who make Tilda's life easier

I want to give a shout-out to the workers at two local stores, both in the Longwood Village shopping center, who went above and beyond for me in recent days.
The first is a young man at the GameStop store. My friends convinced me that as a smart, hip middle-schooler, The Young Relative would greatly appreciate a gift card from the store, which sells videogames and the gadgets you need to play them with.
Well, my knowledge of videogames begins with "Pong" and ends with "Asteroids" and "Space Invaders," so the store was uncharted territory to me. I walked in, looked around, and saw lots of signs for unfamiliar games with words like "Assassins" and "Warcraft" and "Batman" in the titles. I was totally at sea and threw myself on the clerk's mercy, asking him how much I should spend on a gift card.
To his credit, he neither rolled his eyes nor named a hugely inflated dollar figure. He simply said that most of their games cost between $40 and $60, so $50 would be a good round number. 
I asked him whether he had a lot of clueless "older" customers like me and he laughed and said some grandparents are extremely well informed and simply rattle off exactly what they want to purchase for the grandkids.
"Some of them know as much as we do," he said, with admiration.
The other worker I want to praise is a middle-aged cashier at Staples who always makes shopping there a pleasure. She's not only very efficient but warm and nice. You get the sense that she enjoys her job and interacting with her customers. She pointed out a rebate I was eligible for but had missed ("You might as well get every penny you can," she advised). She knew exactly what to do with the three credit cards I handed her (debit card; Staples membership card; ink discount card), scanning them in the correct order. Top-notch service.

DAY AT THE OFFICE: Sometimes it's tough not to be distracted

My current proofreading project is a 300-page book about fool's gold (pyrite). It's clear that the author, a geologist, loves his subject--so much so, in fact, that he has made it his life's work and is writing this book just to share with a wider audience his boundless enthusiasm for this common mineral. Frankly I think he may be the world's biggest fan of the stuff, which he claims is responsible for the discovery of America and pretty much our entire way of life. Technology? Mining techniques? Environmental science? Medicine? Bacteriology? Yep, he links pyrite to all of them.
Anyhow, my deadline is fast approaching, so the past few mornings I've headed out right after breakfast to one of our local coffee shops, where I spread out my papers, plug in my headphones (yoga music) and get to work.
Just as I was about to start today, however, I overheard a conversation at the next table.
"Well, it could have something to do with the fact you locked me in the closet," I heard one woman telling another. From what I could gather, she was recounting how she and a sibling had had an contentious Airing of Childhood Grievances over the holiday.
And then a guy sat down next to me and, on his tablet, started Skyping with a man in China. In Chinese!
It's a good thing I have an overdeveloped work ethic, because my fellow coffee-drinkers were lots more interesting even than the chemical composition and idiosyncratic properties of pyrite.
What I was just as glad NOT to hear, though, was the string of job interviews being conducted at a table near the door. As I was coming in, I heard one applicant saying something about "impacting our facilities"; as I was leaving I overheard another saying, "In short, that's what I know about your company."

CLEANING: Another endorsement for the magical cleaning cloth

A nice fellow came up to me at a Christmas party and thanked me for writing an item a few weeks ago about Streakfree Microfiber Cloths, the cleaning cloths that genuinely work, and with just water, no need for additional cleaning products. In fact, he said they work so well that he actually went searching for more things to clean, both inside the house and in his car. He even ordered some of the cloths as stocking-stuffers!
And no, I assured him, I am NOT getting a kickback from the Baltimore manufacturer (www.streakfreeproducts.net). I'm just glad to spread the word about a humble, low-tech, US-made product that lives up to its billing and truly makes housekeeping less onerous.

Friday, December 26, 2014

CHRISTMAS: It was a great day "for kids from one to 92"

On the morning after Christmas, we went to Perkins in Avondale, which is usually a pretty mellow place in the morning. Not today: there was a loud, large family making merry two tables away. The noise was no big deal, they were just being cheerful, but thank goodness the usual morning Bible study group that meets in that part of the restaurant had already departed.
The merry-makers were leaving at the same time as we were, hollering good-byes to siblings who were standing right next to them, and while we were in the lobby an elderly woman from the group came up to us.
"Sorry about all the noise," she said, explaining that all her grandchildren were there. Even though she felt the need to apologize, she couldn't conceal her joy at having her family around her. It was very sweet.
"You were pretty lively," I agreed, smiling.
"Yeah, we were thinking of joining you!" said my breakfast companion.
I was fortunate enough to spend part of Christmas Day with another joyful group that included all ages, from an infant (it was her first Christmas!) through two folks in their eighties. The toddler kept us well entertained, especially when he was playing with one of his presents, a toy coffee-maker. This wasn't just a simple percolator; no, it made lattes, and cappuccinos, and even fancy macchiatos. It made a realistic grinding sound and a steaming sound. By the end of the evening he was on his way toward becoming a full-fledged barista, except perhaps when he tried to insert the cluster of plastic beans into the customer's cup.
My sister's branch of my family celebrated Christmas at their home in Minnesota. Both college students in the family were home on their winter break, from Harvard and Stanford, and my sister reports the most memorable present was an record player. Neither of the digital-age youths was familiar with this ancient technology: "What speed do you play them at?" " Is the first song on the outside border of the inside?"
My sister says she got out her old Beatles LPs and played them all afternoon.

ON THE MEND: Clean living and a good immune system

I suppose that everyone just might be right: maybe I am slightly competitive after all.
This afternoon I was bragging about how quickly and thoroughly I routed a nasty Christmas cold, missing only one item on the busy social calendar.
A friend offered an alternative explanation.
"Maybe it was a wimpy cold," he suggested. "Instead of a rhino-virus it was ... oh, a chipmunk-virus."
Gee. Thanks for that.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

AUTOGRAPHED: All I wanted was a right-side-up signature

At last, post-Christmas, all can be revealed about what I went through to buy a copy of "41," President George W. Bush's brand-new biography of his father, President George H.W. Bush.
I thought it would make a great Christmas present for my father, so I went to the Bush Center's website and ordered an extra-special copy signed by the author.
It arrived a few days later. I opened the package and carefully turned to the autographed page.
It was signed, all right: upside down.
I went online and looked up W's signature: the one I had was authentic, yes, just 180 degrees in the wrong direction.

I fully realized the irony of this: Here is a politician deemed by many to be less than intelligent, and he signed a book upside down.
I immediately shared this news on Facebook and my friends, mostly liberals, absolutely ate it up. One wrote to the hip late-night political talk shows that skew strongly to the left and suggested they feature my copy of the book for amusement value.
Others persuaded me that it was far more valuable than a right-side-up book and that I should try to sell it on eBay. So I did, but alas there were no takers.
I spoke to a rare book dealer, and he told me that what probably happened was that W had been given just the pages to sign, not the whole book, and a binding error was to blame.
So finally I called the Bush Center and informed them about the upside-down signature. There was a long silence.
"You have a very unique book," the bookstore person said.
Yes, I realized that, I told her, but I had paid a lot of money for it and really wanted a right-side-up signature. She understood and replaced my copy immediately.

PATTON MIDDLE SCHOOL: Not just a lecture on "the facts about drugs"

The discussion at my family's traditional Christmas Eve luncheon was a wide-ranging one, and I took particular interest in an account by the Young Relative of a recent drug abuse program he attended at his middle school. He said he and his friends thought it would be just another lecture that they'd have to sit through -- but no. This was a graphic and hard-hitting program showing the physical toll that drug abuse can take. It included dramatic recordings of phone calls to parents in the aftermath of drug overdoses and arrests.
Thankfully, the assembly had an impact on this hard-to-impress group of kids. I asked the Young Relative why, and he thought for a minute and said it was because the people who put the program together showed respect for their audience and treated them as maturing young people who would, more likely than not, soon be facing this situation.

CAROL SING: A spirited evening in an old Quaker meetinghouse

Normally the West Grove Friends Meeting's carol sing is an introspective, low-key, reverent event. It's held in a tiny, mostly unused meetinghouse that is illuminated by only a few candles. It's so dim that you can't recognize people from very far away; plus everyone is bundled up in layers because the only heat comes from a pot-bellied stove. When the fire-tender opens the door to add another log, you can see a mephitic red glow from inside the stove.
Usually, in Quakerly fashion, a small group of hardy singers settles into atmospheric silence, and when the spirit moves you, you start signing a Christmas carol, and everyone else joins in.
This year it was considerably more jolly. First of all, the benches were full, not just the ones closest to the stove. Second, people came prepared to sing, really sing, and not just traditional religious carols but secular Christmas songs. Even after the formal part of the carol sing ended, a bunch of us got our hot chocolate (heated atop the stove) and cookies and brownies and then returned to singing.
Everyone knows the first verse of songs, but there was a lot of hesitation over the second verse.
At one point I started "Good King Wenceslas" and when we finished the first verse ("Deep and crisp and even"), I kept singing -- "He rules the world with truth and grace" -- feeling a little smug for knowing the rest of the song. Gamely, my fellow singers joined in.
At the end of the verse I stopped.
"That wasn't `Good King Wenceslas,' was it," I said shamefacedly.
It was a lovely event, full of fellowship, and not spoiled in the least by the fact that people used their cellphones to provide both light and lyrics.

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.)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

WHOVILLE: "All the tender sweetness of a seasick crocodile"

The sing-a-long, live-action version of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" at the Hockessin Public Library on Saturday put everyone in a holiday mood.
The first-ever event, sponsored by the Hockessin Business Association and the library, drew a standing-room-only crowd of parents, grandparents and kids. The children clustered up front on the floor. We were told by one of the organizers that we were welcome to join them, but we opted for chairs instead.
First the audience practiced the songs, twice. It was funny seeing the nonsense Dr. Seuss words written out as subtitles: "Trim up the town with goowho gums and bizilbix and wums."
And then the movie started, with live actors performing it as the classic cartoon played behind them on the big screen. Charles Shattuck, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited, played the evil Grinch with gusto and drew shrieks from the little ones when he made his entrance. He brought along his hapless dog Max (stuffed) and acted out the Grinch's fiendish attempts to spoil the Whos' Christmas. The little girl who played Cindy Lou Who was adorable, with her red Who tiara.
At the end, of course, as the Grinch realized that Christmas couldn't be stolen, his heart grew three sizes (sproinggg!) and he cheerfully returned all the Whos' belongings and presided at their Christmas feast.
My date and I had a great time, singing and laughing and watching the little kids and the actors. We happened to see Charles the next day at another Christmas event, and he said he had a blast and hoped to do it again next year, maybe with even more special effects. We're going to bring a child along with us for camouflage so we can sit up front.

THAT TREE: A Christmas tree over Springdell

Don't miss the illuminated "That Tree," the lone tree that sits atop a West Marlborough hill. It's always an impressive sight, no matter what the season, but this is the first time it's ever been decorated with Christmas lights.
The best view is from Route 841 between Blow Horn corner (Route 82) and Springdell. A few weeks ago my Sharp-Eyed Friend saw workers with a bucket truck up there and assumed they were doing some tree-trimming -- which they were, but in a totally unexpected sense of the word. Thanks are due to landowner Dick Hayne and his employees for giving all of us neighbors a treat this season.

LISTENING IN: A stranger who thinks I need to be busier

On Friday evening I got a useful (and always-needed) reminder to think before I speak.
As we waited for a Christmas concert to start, my friend and I were discussing the upcoming weekend's timetable.
"I don't have much on the schedule for tomorrow," I said.
The eavesdropping woman in the row behind us abruptly leaned forward.
"WHAT?" she said in disbelief. How could anyone, especially a woman, not be swamped two weeks before Christmas? Perhaps I would take care of her to-do list, she suggested, thrusting her phone at me.
I smiled politely but gave my companion an eye-roll. The woman was just kidding, at least I think she was, and there was no way for her to know that by "having nothing on the schedule" I wasn't including the several hours of editing work that, as a freelancer, I do every day. Or perhaps she thought I had "lads" to run my errands for me.
Either way, I didn't feel compelled to explain myself to this stranger.
Contrast that to the nice woman who overheard another friend and me talking at Perkins about our confusion over the Mennonites versus the Amish. She, it turned out, was a Mennonite herself and, after asking it was okay to join our conversation, patiently explained the differences. We thanked her for sharing the information.

Friday, December 12, 2014

EXPECTING: An impending birth is announced

Mothers-to-be are now taking to Facebook to announce their pregnancies.
A gym friend of mine who lives in Cochranville did so last weekend by posting three photos on her page.
One showed her two kids on a raft with the caption "Room for one more." The second had the words "Older" and "Younger" next to her son and daughter replaced by "Oldest" and "Middle." And the third was a grainy but unmistakable sonogram.
It was the best post I saw all day. Marvelous news from one of the most relaxed, sensible modern moms I know.
Even this frankness was trumped on Wednesday, though. An old gym friend of mine is married to a DJ in Boston, and she called in to the station to inform him, live, on the air, that her birth process was starting. She was astonishingly matter-of-fact, especially for a first-time mom, urging him not to rush on his way home. (They had a beautiful baby girl on Thursday, photos of whom were posted on Facebook moments after her birth.)

TRAFFIC STOP: A check at Broad and Cypress Streets

A friend was 15 minutes late for lunch today, but when she arrived had a classic island-of-Unionville story to relate.
It seemed she was having a slight difference of opinion with a Kennett Square police officer about the color that a traffic signal was showing when she entered the intersection (although they both agreed it wasn't green).
The officer pulled her over and noticed from her vehicle that she was an equestrian.
Only in Unionville would a police officer ask the next question that he did: "Who do you hunt with?"
(Long story short: after a pleasant chat, they agreed to disagree and she received a warning.)
Another indication of how popular equestrian sports are in our area: I noticed Cheshire's schedule posted on the wall at my mechanic's garage. Where else but ... ?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

HOLIDAY CDS: They make it feel like Christmas

Around Thanksgiving time I made the impulse purchase of several Christmas music CDs put out by popular singers.
The best of them, and it's very good, is "The Gift" by Susan Boyle, the woman who became a star in my book simply by reducing Simon Cowell to stunned silence when she auditioned on "Britain's Got Talent." Her CD is a great combination of traditional, beautifully arranged carols and some offbeat, thought-provoking selections (Lou Reed's "Perfect Day"?). And I've always loved the Church of England hymn "Make Me a Channel of Your Peace," which she performs simply and reverently.
She also sings the songs correctly: in "The First Noel," "looked" should be a two-syllable word. Tilda has spoken.
As for the other CDs? Well, apparently you what you need to do these days to release a Christmas CD is: (a) mash up a traditional carol with a modern "holiday" song, to the benefit of neither one; (b) throw in "ad libs" and phony-sounding laughter; (c) riff on an unimportant word in the song, change the key, add a disco beat, or leave a pointless pause so long it sounds like a glitch ("later on [3 seconds of silence] we'll conspire").
But then, just as I was about to leave the CDs behind "accidentally on purpose" in a public place for some other listener, the singer would do a smashing, heartwarming version of "All I Want for Christmas" or "You Make It Feel Like Christmas." Time to do some cutting-and-pasting on the playlist.

CREATIVITY: Elbow macaroni: accept no substitutes

The Shopping Partner and I were in the grocery section of the Kennett Wal-Mart the other day, buying fixin's for macaroni and cheese for a potluck supper. As he was scanning the shelves for the correct-size box of elbow macaroni, I suggested that perhaps using shell-shaped pasta would be a nice change of pace.
Silly me.
"Shells?!" he said in disbelief. In loud disbelief. "SHELLS?!"
It seems that in some people's minds, mac and cheese can be made with only one type of pasta, and that type of pasta is elbow macaroni. This was explained to me in very plain language.
The shopper standing a ways down the aisle tried really hard to contain his amusement during this exchange but was as unsuccessful as I was.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

CHATHAM: A meteor sighting on Sunday night

I got to see a meteor tonight! We were driving home through Chatham on Sunday evening, having picked up Chinese takeout from the China Kitchen in West Grove, and there it was, a huge, brilliant, gold star speeding from left to right, leaving behind a broad trail of gold sparkles. Magical! And we didn't even have to get up in the middle of the night, bundle up in layers and stand outside shivering and yawning and squinting.
A few moments after we saw the meteor we passed the Stillwaters Presbyterian Church on Route 841, which happened to be hosting a "live nativity" scene that evening. I don't think the meteor was part of their display, but who knows? Maybe their special-effects person has friends in high places.

CELTIC HARP: Gillian Grassie and a terrific potluck supper

Saturday night's harp concert by Gillian Grassie was the last official event in London Grove Friends Meeting's 300th-anniversary celebration, and it was a delightful and well-attended evening. The potluck supper preceding the concert was an absolute feast, with turkey, ham, salads, pasta, vegetables, bread and more delicious side dishes than I could count, followed by a well-stocked dessert table (the chocolate cake with mandarin-orange sauce deserves special mention).
In true island-of-Unionville fashion, Gillian (who went to London Grove's kindergarten), her mother Babette Jenny and her step-father sat at our table, along with the doctor we've all gone to for years, and one of her sons. The conversation ranged from prion disease in sheep to the exotic Eurovision Song Contest winner Conchita Wurst.
Gillian was a charming performer with a lovely voice, and it was fascinating to watch her play her big Celtic harp, flipping little levers on the strings to create sharps and flats. In her hour-plus set, she played a funny version of "Santa Baby" (she noted the irony of singing the materialistic song in a Quaker setting), Tom Waits' "The Last Rose of Summer," Regina Spektor's grim "Laughing With," Rodgers & Hammerstein's "It Might As Well Be Spring," and a few of her own compositions, one inspired by the Coleridge poem "Frost at Midnight" and another, "Hinterhaus," by the German custom of having a "back house" that passersby can't see from the street.
She closed with a sing-along of "Silent Night."

Thursday, December 4, 2014

YMCA: Some good news on the financial front

Usually the year-end "Dear Valued Member" letter from the YMCA lists all the good things the Y has does over the past 12 months -- and then tells you how much your dues are going up.
What a surprise this year: rates are actually decreasing! Not by a lot, but it's still good news.
From what I hear, some of the Y branches have been facing stiff competition from the chain fitness centers that have moved into the area; they've been luring Y members away with their lower fees.
Even without the price rollback, I still think the Y is a great value: I live halfway between two branches, and I'm at one or the other several times a week.

THE GRINCH: An interactive performance of the Dr. Seuss classic!

I am an unrepentant purist when it comes to "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Misguided family members have tried to persuade me that the Jim Carrey version is somehow better than the original cartoon classic; they are so very, very wrong.
And the following Grinch-fest sounds like a pretty darn awesome event.
At 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13, at the Hockessin Public Library, they're going to show the original cartoon video of the Dr. Seuss book, along with audience participation a la "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." There will be a green-skinned Grinch (played by a prominent and very nice Hockessin business owner). There will be a Cindy Lou Who. There will be a seasick crocodile, and a Max with a outsized horn tied to his head. The audience will be encouraged to join in ("Stink. Stank. STUNK!"), singing and making merry noise as the Whos celebrate Christmas, with or without presents.
It's free, it's family-friendly and it's sponsored by the Hockessin Business Association (or should that be "Whockessin"?) and the New Castle County Libraries. The library is at 1023 Valley Road.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

WEST MARLBOROUGH: Power outage doesn't faze township officials

Oh, the irony.
The evening of Dec. 2, the members of the West Marlborough Planning Commission were discussing how renewable energy technology should be handled in the township's zoning code -- when suddenly the (electric) power went out in the township garage where they meet.
But by the light of flashlights, cell-phone screens and flashlight apps, they carried on, as did the township supervisors, who met after them.
(The photo shows supervisors Hugh Lofting, Bill Wylie and Jake Chalfin shedding some light on the situation.)
Road crew member Hugh Lofting Jr. arrived quickly, turned on the township dump truck's headlights for illumination and lit some candles. Township zoning officer Al Giannantonio held a flashlight aloft, reflecting it off a white piece of paper like an old-time photographer.
PECO was alerted in a comically roundabout way. I took a photo of the supervisors and posted it to Facebook. A township resident who is in South Carolina, seeing my post, called PECO to report the outage.
The township officials and the audience made the best of the situation. Several people told me that "at least you'll have something to write about!" (Like that's ever a problem in West Marlborough.)
Resident Don Silknitter remarked that no one could accuse the supervisors of keeping residents in the dark.
And during the meeting supervisor Bill Wylie asked for public comment, and then looked out into the darkness where the audience was sitting. "Seeing, or rather hearing, none. . . " he quipped.
I'm told that the blackout resulted from two transformers blowing on Buck Run Road. It affected everyone west of Newark Road to the village of Springdell.
So back to the original discussion: the planning commission, which is working on revisions to the township's zoning regulations, agreed to ask engineer Harry Roth to prepare brief, clearly written guidelines for alternative energy sources such as solar and wind power that will be easy for residents to understand, will protect neighbors, will take into account the noise, height and appearance of the technology, and will require the equipment to be well maintained and dismantled when it is no longer operational.
The township supervisors also welcomed their new colleague, Jake Chalfin, who replaced Josh Taylor. The board agreed to advertise its proposed 2015 budget, which calls for no millage increase. And they agreed to wait until January to vote on the proposed revised permit fee schedule so that Jake could review the changes.

WEST MARLBOROUGH: Police and zoning updates in the township

Also at the dimly lit township meeting, township police office Bob Clarke reported that during his 40 hours on duty in November, he investigated 21 incidents and issued 13 traffic citations: eight for speeding, two for driving without a license and three for parking violations.
Lieut. Rich D'Ambrosio from the Avondale state police barracks gave his quarterly report on state police activity in the township. He said that in September, October and November there were 50 incidents in West Marlborough, including 10 vehicle crashes (four serious), four criminal incidents (including one arrest for harassment), three thefts and no burglaries or serious assaults.
He advised residents to keep their cars and houses locked. He said that during the holiday season thieves drive around looking for packages to steal, so he suggested leaving a note asking delivery drivers to drop off packages out of sight. He also advised giving Christmas tips in person rather than leaving them for the recipient (or a thief) to pick up.
Zoning officer Al Giannantonio reported that he received a zoning application to build a house, a barn, a three-car garage and a two-bay tractor shed at 326 Apple Grove Road, which is directly across the street from the Plantation Field grounds, near the township's border with Newlin. He is reviewing the request. He said he approved a request by the owners of 551 West Street Road to construct an addition.

INTO THE WOODS: The other White Clay Creek Park

When I think of White Clay Creek Park, I think of wonderful old London Tract Meetinghouse, the fabled "ticking tomb" in the graveyard, and pleasant walks along (sometimes through) the creek. But until we visited on Saturday, I didn't realize that there is a "whole 'nother" eastern part of the park, called the Judge Morris Estate, that's entirely in Delaware.
We parked at the Judge Morris mansion, paid our admission fee as out-of-staters and set off on the Chestnut Trail. Even though the temperature was in the thirties, we had a pleasant (brisk) hike through the woods, hearing chickadees and spotting some interesting tree fungus.
This part of the park is certainly close to civilization, though: we could hear the low rumble of traffic from the Kirkwood Highway and Polly Drummond Hill Road throughout, and at one point on the trail we were almost walking through someone's backyard. As the park's website says, "Come to White Clay Creek to escape the encroaching development of New Castle County."
A friend who graduated from Salesianum said he was very familiar with that part of the park, having spent many of his leisure hours there as a youth.

FOXCATCHER: 1996 murder makes it to the silver screen

The film "Foxcatcher" was released by Sony Pictures Classics on Nov. 14, based on the sad tale involving millionaire John du Pont and the wrestling team he coached at his Newtown Square estate (du Pont murdered Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz there in 1996). Steve Carell plays John du Pont; Mark Ruffalo plays Dave Schultz; Channing Tatum plays Mark Schultz, Dave's brother; Vanessa Redgrave plays John du Pont's mother; and Sienna Miller plays Dave Schultz's wife.
The film was shot in the Pittsburgh area. Because Foxcatcher Farm was torn down in 2013, Morven Park in Leesburg, Virginia, was used for exterior shots of the mansion.

BLACK FRIDAY: Will Thanksgiving soon go international?

Richard Allinson, a pal of mine who is a disc jockey in England, took to social media to solicit song suggestions for his Black Friday radio show. Wait a minute, I thought: they don't have Thanksgiving in England; how can they have Black Friday?
It seems that Black Friday is yet another American export, and one that, not surprisingly, is being embraced by British retailers.
"It's become a great day in the calendar," Mark Lewis, online director at a British department store chain, was quoted as saying in a Nov. 28 Wall Street Journal story by Peter Evans.
First, though, marketers need to bring British consumers up to speed on exactly what Black Friday is. According to the article, electronics retailer Currys offered this explanation on its website: "The Black Friday shopping deal phenomenon began in the U.S. It's always the Friday after Thanksgiving Day and is seen as the kickoff for the shopping season leading up to Christmas."

Sunday, November 30, 2014

LIVE MUSIC: Celtic harp and Christmas music concerts

Two concerts are coming up in Unionville this Saturday evening, Dec. 6.
(1) Unionville native Gillian Grassie will be playing the Celtic harp at London Grove Friends Meeting. A potluck supper will be at 5:30 p.m. and the concert starts at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free; the concert is the final event in London Grove's year-long 300th anniversary celebration.
(2) The Brandywine Valley Chorale will be performing its holiday concert at 7:30 p.m. St. Michael Lutheran Church. "Accompanied by orchestra and organ, the choir’s centerpiece is the Bach “Magnificat”, a musical setting of the biblical canticle taken from the book of Luke. In addition, the chorale is premiering a new work, “Shepherd’s Song At Christmas.” Local artist David Bennett Thomas has taken the words of Langston Hughes’ writing and set them to an original score."  Tickets (adults, $15; students, $10) are available online at thebvc.org or at the door.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

RIP: Goodbye to Mrs. Swett, an Upland teacher

Carolyn Swett of Unionville, a longtime third- and fourth-grade teacher at Upland Country Day School, died on Nov. 20 at the age of 77. Her former students have been sharing fond memories of her and recalling her as a sweet person and a memorable teacher. I met Mrs. Swett only a few times but was always struck by her kindness and her smile. My condolences to her husband, Tom, and her family.
Her memorial service is at 11 a.m. Dec. 6, with visitation at 10:30 a.m., at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 122 E. Pine St., Georgetown, DE. 19947.

CLEANING: A product that lives up to its billing

This is going to sound like an infomercial, and for that I apologize, but my mother has discovered a truly great product. It's a microfiber cleaning cloth, and all you have to do is wet it, wring it out and then go to town on any kind of grime you have around the house, from kitchen grease to bathroom scum to windows, walls, and floors.
I don't like housecleaning, to put it mildly, but I am singing the praises of this product because:
(A) It really works. I have used it to clean stink bug stains on walls, stainless steel fixtures, my computer monitor and keyboard, the stovetop, storm windows and the (formerly) cruddy inside of my driver's-side car door (I often open the door by pushing on it with my foot).
(B) You don't need to use any smelly, itch-inducing chemicals, just plain water.
(C) You can throw it in the washer and reuse it.
The company that sells this cloth is called Streakfree Products in Baltimore. The U.S.-made cloths are six dollars each, and you can order online or by calling 1-877-373-3050.

PARADE: Light-hearted at Kennett's Christmas Parade

The Kennett Christmas parade (officially the "Holiday Light Parade") on Friday evening was a hoot. We loved seeing the fire trucks, tractors, balers, hay wagons, a propane truck, and work trucks festively decked out with lights, wreaths, inflatable snowmen and such as they drove east on State Street toward the middle of town. The contingent of giant pieces of equipment from the Hickses' Meadow Springs Farm was especially impressive. A lot of the drivers brought along their little kids, who beamed with delight as they waved at the crowd.
The lighted mushroom made a special appearance on a cart before its New Year's Eve drop, and to end the parade Lou Mandich chauffeured Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus into town in an antique car. We were amused to see a second Santa walking along the sidewalk escorted by two elves in green outfits, who were telling all and sundry about how difficult it was to keep Santa on schedule during the holiday season.
There was also a costumed contingent from KATS, the theatrical troupe that puts on the annual pantomime. (This year's show, “Comedy of Errors & Pirates,” will be January 23 and 24, 2015, at the Kennett High School auditorium.)
I've said it before: Kennett does parades really well.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

COFFEE: That is one expensive credit card

Is there something here I'm not understanding?
It seems that the coffeeshop chain Starbucks is selling, for $200, a "limited edition" "sterling silver" card preloaded with $50 in credit. "Just a few left!" reads the ad. "Head to a store and get it before it's gone!"
So let me get this straight: They actually expect consumers to pay $150 for the questionable privilege of possessing a coffee credit card in their wallet?
I have to say, I am really souring on Starbucks. First they remove the comfy chairs from their Longwood store. Then they send me mournful emails lamenting the fact that I have lost my "gold status" (a direct result of the lack of comfy chairs). And now they fill up my inbox with gimmicky come-ons like this!
Wawa, Foxy Loxy, and Philter, here I come.

FOXHUNTERS: A big crowd for the Thanksgiving Hunt

This morning was the Thanksgiving Hunt Meet at the Kennels in Unionville, and dozens of carloads of folks braved the cold to enjoy the traditional pageantry of the horses and hounds.
For us spectators, it was glorious to see the snow-covered fields and to feel the warm sun. For the riders, it wasn't such a great day; Master of Foxhounds Mike Ledyard, in his welcoming speech, used the word "challenging" to describe the footing. It was fun to watch Ivan Dowling and Stephanie Boyer leading the eager hounds out from their kennels to start the day's sport.
I had a great time seeing friends and neighbors from so many circles. I'll single out two for their headgear: spectator Ron Fenstemacher in a turkey hat and foxhunter Richard Buchanan in a traditional black top hat (he changed into a helmet for the hunt).
There was also some serious tailgating going on. As I was walking through the rows of cars, I was offered Dunkin Donuts coffee, a Bloody Mary with celery sticks, Champagne (in glass flutes!), mulled cider and hot chocolate laced with vodka.
Most of the spectators were well wrapped up, although I did see one hardy kid in shorts throwing snowballs. And apparently not everyone expected they'd be walking through snow: I had to laugh when I heard one shivering young woman protest, "This is like the tundra!"

KIDS AND DOGS: An encounter with a helpful little boy

A Kennett Square Facebook friend reports that she and a friend were shopping for fleece material at the fabric store the other day.
"I told the lady I was with, here is another shade of brown.Here comes this little curly-haired tyke about 4 or 5 years old, grabbed that bolt of material, wrestled it off the shelf and clumsily handed it to me. He was so proud of what he did.
"I told him that material was perfect and it was going to be used to make my doggie a blanket for Christmas.
"I also told his mother how proud she should be of her son. I hope he never changes.
So many children are not taught to help or to even respect the elderly. I wish I would have gotten his name. I just wanted to share something good for a change."

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

JENNERSVILLE: Traffic improvements at Route 796

Curious motorists like me are wondering what the final configuration will be of the Route 796 exit off the Route 1 bypass. A new medical center, Penn Medicine Southern Chester County, is being constructed at the intersection, and as part of the approval the developer was required to make road improvements. The exit ramp off Route 1, the entire length of which backs up during the evening rush hour, has been widened and is now divided into two lanes, one marked for right turns only. And given the orange construction barrels on the site, it looks as if the short stretch of Route 796 between the bypass and Woodview Road is going to be widened, and a concrete base was installed that could hold a traffic signal.
More will doubtless be revealed. The medical center is slated to open in the summer of 2015.
Farther down the Route 1 bypass, residents are objecting to a giant digital billboard proposed to be built near the Route 10 exit in Lower Oxford Township. There's already an online petition asking the township supervisors not to rewrite the township's zoning ordinance to permit the installation of this sign, which would be even bigger than the one on Route 202 (Concord Pike) south of Route 1.

CAROLS: A merry noise at local Quaker meetinghouses

Three local Quaker meetings are hosting community carol sings: Bradford Meeting at 11 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 21; Marlborough Meeting at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 21; and New West Grove Meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 22.
Bradford Meeting is on Strasburg Road in Marshallton; Marlborough Meeting is at the intersection of Marlboro and Marlboro Springs Road in East Marlborough Township; and New West Grove Meeting is at 609 West State Road in West Grove (this is NOT the main meetinghouse in the town of West Grove).

Saturday, November 22, 2014

ESCAPE: Paying to be "Trapped in a Room with a Zombie"

I am always the last to hear about trends, so perhaps "Trapped in a Room With a Zombie" will not be news to you. A Unionville mother and her daughter were telling me about it at breakfast on Friday, and as best I can figure out it's a sort of audience-participation murder-mystery event for the video-game crowd.
After you buy your ticket, you and a group of strangers are escorted into a room where an actor dressed as a zombie is chained to a wall (now there's a resume builder).
You have an hour to escape, and to do so you must solve cascading puzzles and riddles that allow you to unlock padlocks, open safes, locate keys and such.
I asked for an example and my friend recalled that there was a piece of cloth with holes in it that, held over a sheet of numbers, highlighted the ones that formed a lock's combination. In another case, a rebus showed a web plus a hand stirring something -- which meant the next clue could be found in the Webster's Dictionary!
(Thankfully, there are staffers on hand to offer assistance for the less clever.)
Meanwhile, every five minutes the zombie's chains grow by a link, allowing him to get closer to the participants' brains and doubtless increasing their motivation to escape.
My friends did this in California, and obviously they managed to escape, but they say there's also one of these events in Philadelphia. What a fun birthday party it would be for the right person!

LUNCH: Chicken salad sandwiches at the "Quaker Fare"

We just had a tasty meal at the Kennett Friends Meeting's "Quaker Fare" luncheon. Their chicken salad is always the best, and the cranberry salad, mushroom soup, and apple crisp were excellent too. They seemed to have a good turnout--we recognized several Quakers from Kennett and London Grove, including Pat Horrocks, Jessie Cocks, Betsy Walker and Jean Tennant-- and as we walked in we were greeted by our pal Lars Farmer, who did a great job of publicizing the event.

GRATITUDE: A shout-out to my wonderful readers

With the approach of Thanksgiving, I want to express my gratitude to my readers and to my family, friends, neighbors, gym mates, Facebook friends, and total strangers who contribute "Tilda items" to this column, willingly or not. I try really hard to feature in "Unionville in the News" as many different circles of our community as I can, and I absolutely couldn't do it without your help.
I also greatly appreciate all your nice comments about the column over the years (I started writing it in 2007). As you can probably tell, I have a lot of fun with it.

LOCKDOWN: Bomb threats disrupt the day at school

I overheard some local schoolgirls talking the other day about the bomb threats at their school (they didn't say which). The threats seem to have become frequent, so much so that the girls seemed completely unfazed about the situation. Their main concern seemed to how the lockdowns and searches wreak havoc with their classes and their lunch.
I suppose it's the equivalent of the "duck-and-cover" atomic bomb drills they had in schools during the Cold War, but there was nothing like that in my generation.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

THE LOOK: And yet I can't help wondering, what does she look like?

In recent days two women, on meeting me and learning that I write this column, have said that I didn't look the way they thought I would.
One said she thought I would be heavier, given the number of times I write about going out for meals and taking advantage of the food at parties and fundraisers. She's quite right, of course, but I also reminded her how often I write about my exercise classes!
Another woman told me she thought I'd be tall and blonde. I didn't get a chance to ask her what about my column made her think that, although no doubt there are a lot of tall, blonde (and skinny) women in Unionville.
For those of you who don't know me, I am not tall; in fact, the Young Relative points out regularly that he is now taller than I am even without his shoes on, and doubtless he will soon be towering over me.
As for the blonde part: those streaks in my hairdo were definitely not put there by nature.

SPORTS: Pickleball is a hit at the Kennett Y

What is pickleball?
It's a game along the lines of tennis, played with oversized Ping Pong paddles. Three doubles matches were being played in the gymnasium at the Kennett YMCA the other day while I was walking around the track, and it looks like a great deal of fun. I spotted my gym friend Rita and her husband Felix welcoming players of all skill levels to the game.
I noticed that the game has an unusual scoring system, not the love-15-30-40 of tennis but a three-digit score, 9-1-2 for instance. I looked it up when I got home and found that the third digit denotes whether the server is the first or second server for his or her side.
The gymnasium is reserved for pickleball on Tuesdays and Thursdays at mid-day; check the schedule.

FIRE: Historic home gutted, tenants displaced

What a shame about the 1884 Chalfant House! The mansion, at 220 North Union Street in Kennett Square, went up in flames on Wednesday afternoon. Known for its imposing "upside-down chimneys," the house was designed by noted Philadelphia architect Frank Furness and built for Kennett businessman William Chalfant.
Fortunately no one was seriously hurt in the fire, and the four tenants (the house was divided into apartments) and their pets all escaped. A GoFundMe website (220 N .Union Street Fire Relief Fund) has been set up to help the victims, who lost all of their belongings. (I've contributed and I hope you will, too.)
Multiple local fire companies, including Longwood, Kennett, Po-Mar-Lin, Avondale, Oxford and Hockessin, were on the scene; in addition to the flames and smoke, these hardy firefighters had to cope with the strong winds and sub-freezing temperatures.
Two news helicopters were flying overhead, and people who live near the scene (including Kennett Square mayor Matt Fetick) posted their dramatic photos on social media.
As soon as I heard about the fire I turned to my copy of "Greetings from Kennett Square" by local historians Joe Lordi and Dolores Rowe. They describe the Queen Anne-style house as "magnificent" and say that the top-heavy chimneys "are thought to resemble early locomotive smoke stacks."
The house was an important work by Furness, who also designed the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts on North Broad Street in Philadelphia, the old library at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Wilmington train station.
I'm told that the house once was a funeral home, and there was still a crematorium in the basement. The house was on many summer walking tours of the borough and was slated to be on this year's candlelight tour as well.

PENNOCKS: Quakerism and the Pennocks in Chester County

West Marlborough resident Mark Myers gave a fascinating talk at Primitive Hall on Wednesday night about the Pennocks (Joseph Pennock built the Hall in 1738) and Quaker life in eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century Pennsylvania. Mark lives in a house built by one of the Pennocks, serves on the Hall's board of trustees and has done a great deal of research on the family.
He started his talk-- held in the candlelit grand center hall--on an amusing note by asking for a show of hands: How many audience members were Pennock descendents? Several people raised their hands.
"OK," he said. "That helps me decide what I'm NOT going to talk about."
Mark discussed the basics of Quakerism like temperance and pacifism and how they shaped the lives of the Pennocks and other colonists: one Pennock was "eldered" for getting drunk at Darby Meeting, and others relinquished their roles in government rather than vote for military action.
Mark talked about Quakers during the Battle of the Brandywine (basically, neither the Americans nor the British trusted them), the Hicksite/Orthodox schism, and the differing Quaker perspectives on slavery. He also showed slides of suburban Philadelphia buildings that Joseph Pennock would have known, including the Chester courthouse, and photos of a half-dozen more recent Pennock descendants, including baseball great Herb Pennock.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

KENNETT: Lunch and an art sale at two N. Union St. churches

Artist Patsy Keller alerted me to an "Artisan Fair" that the Episcopal Church of the Advent in Kennett Square will be holding from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 22. In addition to Patsy's fused glass (both art glass & jewelry), there will be works by a dozen other artists, including Hattie Weselyk's silver jewelry, Carol Apicella's mosaic mirrors, and Ray Parisi's photographs. Part of the proceeds will support the church’s outreach programs.
Also on Saturday, Nov. 22, and just a block away, is Kennett Friends Meeting's "Quaker Fare" luncheon to benefit the American Friends Service Committee. For $10 ($5 for kids) you get a chicken salad sandwich, mushroom soup, cranberry salad and other goodies. It runs from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

RESALE: Goodwill store is opening on November 28 next to Lowe's

A new Goodwill resale store and donation center is opening at 7 a.m. Nov. 28 next to the Lowe's home-improvement store in Avondale. The sign is already up, and the store is already full of clothes hung on racks, arranged by color. Some of my budget-minded friends are excited to have a Goodwill store so close. As for me, I'm more likely to drop off stuff I don't wear anymore -- which makes me happy, too.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

AUTOMATIC: A machine that splits logs for you

Just in time for wood-stove season, a video has been going around on social media showing an amazing, high-powered machine that splits logs for you. All you do is feed the log in and it comes out split as neatly as a cut-into-eighths apple.
After watching this machine in action, a friend of mine (and a new wood-stove owner) informed his wife that to get his hands on one of these, he would sell both her and the dogs.
But another friend was less impressed: "Let me know when they market one that actually stacks the wood!"

Friday, November 14, 2014

COURTS: Why top-notch defense lawyers earn the big bucks

A friend was called to jury duty in West Chester this week and was seated on a criminal case involving a man accused of writing a large number, a very large number indeed, of prescriptions for narcotic painkillers. My friend takes his civic duty seriously and was determined to be impartial, so he listened carefully to the opening arguments.
After the prosecutor spoke, my friend was convinced the guy was guilty.
Then the defense attorney got up, and he spoke without notes, conjuring up folksy imagery about his grandmother's pancakes and painting his client as a warm-hearted soul who just had his clients' best interests at heart. Sure, he conducts business a little differently -- the cash payments, the lack of an office staff -- but look how loyal his patients are! (The pancakes, it seems, were a metaphor for the fact that there are two sides to every story. You probably shouldn't analyze that one too closely.)
Then the first witness was called. He made reference to a previous arrest of the defendant, and the proceedings came screeching to a halt as the judge declared a mistrial.
My friend came home and promptly started doing research on the Internet. He rarely curses, but he let a few choice words fly when he came across the dozens of articles about this guy's years-long involvement with the law and realized how he had almost been swayed by the defense lawyer's smooth talk. He even recognized a photo of a man who had been sitting at the prosecutor's table -- a federal DEA agent.
A reporter friend of mine who wrote many of the stories about this guy said one of the highlights was when she discovered a defamation suit he filed against some of his med-school professors who dared to suggest that perhaps medicine wasn't the best career choice for him. (He lost the lawsuit.)

CENSORSHIP: Let's give 'em something to talk about

Hey, it was time for a new controversy.
The gossip-filled election season is over.
Owners of horse farms in Newlin are, however grudgingly, applying for and receiving special exceptions to comply with the highly unpopular new ordinance.
And then along comes "Nineteen Minutes." In short, one parent wanted the best-selling book by Jodi Picoult to be banned from the Kennett High School library because she felt it was inappropriate. The book is about a school shooting and bullying and contains some graphic language and violence.
The school board rejected her request by a 7-1 vote, the lone dissenter being the minister of a Kennett fundamentalist church.
There was an absolutely spot-on editorial in last week's Kennett Paper, hoping that a censorship issue like this never again raises its ugly head. The editorial writer quoted school board member Rudy Alfonso, a Navy veteran: "Banning this book, to me, would almost be like turning my back on all those hundred of thousands of American veterans, men and women, who died to allow us to keep those freedoms and not to have censorship. I see this attempt to ban this book as if we live in Nazi Germany."
There's a world of difference between finding something troubling and wanting to ban it. Speaking of Nazi Germany, I find books and websites by Holocaust deniers disturbing. I find violent, misogynistic song lyrics disturbing (and all too common). I find our culture's worship of celebrities disturbing.
But banning them? Not only is it impractical in today's world, where kids are two jumps ahead of us technology-wise, but surely it would be better to use these troubling books as valuable teaching moments.
For instance, instead of banning Holocaust deniers, let's make sure kids study the Holocaust. Have them read first-person accounts by the prisoners and the solders who liberated them. Then they'll have a frame of reference to debunk the hateful deniers.
Yes, I swallowed hard when I saw The Young Relative reading "Of Mice and Men" in the sixth grade. Part of me wanted him to stay in that sunny world of suburban childhood innocence, with Legos and "Star Wars" and "Plants vs. Zombies."
But he's a young man now. And I well remember the empowering sense of pride I felt when, at his age, I was trusted enough and considered mature enough to read what in those days passed for edgy books: "Catcher in the Rye," "The Godfather," "The Magus," "Manchild in the Promised Land."
And all of them were right there in our school library.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

SIGNS: Drawing your attention to a village and a war hero

I've noticed three new signs in the past few weeks.
The first two I don't even need to tell you about because I know you've seen them (unless you are a certain pair of snowbirds who are basking in a warmer climate): the handsome "Historic Unionville Village" signs on Route 82 on either edge of town.. As one wag (OK, me) quipped, "Like you really need a sign to tell you you're in Unionville?" The East Lynn Grange was the organization that installed the signs.
The second is a blue-and-yellow historic marker that we spotted on the way back from our adventure at the Oxford Wal-Mart on Saturday. The marker is on the north side of Route 926, east of Route 10, and it commemorates Villa Nova, a one-room schoolhouse that operated in Upper Oxford from 1866 to 1954. Vietnam War hero Robert A. Davis, son of Viola "Polly" S. Brown-Davis, was a pupil there; he died in combat in 1966 while shielding his comrades. The sign was just recently dedicated by his family.

WARM MILK: In search of used horse blankets

Our friends at Bailey's Dairy of Pocopson Meadow Farm have put out the following request:
"Attention Equine friends: We are looking for used horse blankets for this winter. While most cows are extremely hardy and can handle the freezing cold temps, we have a few older girls that deserve to be spoiled. The blankets do not need to be clean or in great shape [or waterproof]. You can drop them off at the farm store. Thanks!"
Baily's is at 1821 Lenape Unionville Road. And it is well worth a visit even if you don't have a blanket to donate.

THE SEASON: Like you have nothing else to do in December

Three things to put on your December calendar:
1. The Christmas tree lighting ceremony will be from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday, December 6, at the Martin's Tavern park in downtown Marshallton. It is sponsored by Friends of Martin's Tavern. a group dedicated to preserving the town's historical structures.
2. On Saturday, December 6, Unionville native Gillian Grassie will perform on her Celtic harp at London Grove Friends Monthly Meeting. A potluck supper at 5:30 (all are welcome, just bring a dish to share) will precede the concert, which starts at 7:30. This is the final event in London Grove's year-long 300th-birthday celebration.
3. Elliot Engel will speak at 3 p.m. Sunday, December 14, at Kennett Friends Meeting. His topic: "How the publication  of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in 1843 changed forever the way we celebrate Christmas. Using biography, anecdotes, analysis, and LARGE doses of humor, Professor Engel brings back to life both the wild popularity of this most famous Christmas story and the marketing genius of its remarkable author. The profits of his book-signing sales will go to a children’s hospital founded by Charles Dickens himself in 1852." The free program is sponsored by the Hadley Fund, which has brought this entertaining lecturer to town several times. He has such a following, in fact, that one of my readers wants the event moved to a larger venue!

SPECIAL OLYMPICS: Kennett youth wins Valor Award

Congratulations and a high-five to James Sarno of Kennett Square, who won the Valor Award at the recent Pennsylvania Special Olympics Fall Festival in Villanova. His plaque reads: "Award of Valor: Strength, Spirit, Sportsmanship."
His justifiably proud mother, Regina, posted dozens of photos of James participating in the tournament with his WCU Rammies team and winning his award.  "Hope Facebook does not explode with Special Olympic photos," she wrote wryly (but with joy in her heart) on her page.

Monday, November 10, 2014

BACON: Choice is always a good thing

Clearly I am traveling in the wrong circles. A friend attended a fund-raising buffet breakfast in Kennett this weekend and was impressed that he could select from TWO kinds of bacon: one chewy and one crunchy.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS: Some tough young athletes

I was picking up pizza the other night and noticed the pleasant young woman at the counter had her wrist taped up. I asked her what happened, and she said another player had crashed into her as she was going up for a layup in a basketball game that morning. She had fallen and hit both her head and her wrist. And then her coach, fearing she might have a concussion, wouldn't let her take her free throws! (Another player did, and made one of them.)
I had to admire this latest example of the resilience of youth. There she was, not only hard at work but telling the story with a smile!
Speaking of high-school sports: I want to offer a belated "Hail Unionville" to the UHS girls field hockey team for winning the district championship. They beat Central Bucks South 3-1 to take the title, with goals by Logan Perkins, Erin Matson and Annie McDonough. Well done!

ELECTION NIGHT: Interesting results in the local townships

Once you're a reporter, following election results gets into your blood. In the old days we'd stay up until the last returns came in from the county or the specially extended deadline arrived (whichever came first).
It's much easier these days: starting at 10 p.m. I was glued to my tablet, checking the county's excellent election returns website to see which precincts had submitted their results and how the county-wide totals were looking.
As it turned out, the voters in East Marlborough's South and West precincts picked all the winners: Democrat Tom Wolf, Republican Joe Pitts and Republican Chris Ross.
Here are the local township results:
East Marlborough South (Missionary Baptist Church on Bayard Road): Wolf beat Tom Corbett 52% to 47%; Pitts 54%, Ross 61%. Turnout was 46%.
East Marlborough West (the township building): Wolf 51%, Pitts 56%, Ross 60%. Turnout was 49%.
East Marlborough East (Patton Middle School): Corbett 54%, Pitts 60%, Ross 64%. Turnout was 55%.
West Marlborough: Voters here in my township split their tickets, going for Ross and Wolf. Republican Pitts and Democrat Houghton tied at 139 votes each. Turnout was 47%.
Newlin: Voters went straight Republican, backing Tom Corbett, Pat Meehan, and Chris Ross. Turnout was 60% (good on ye, Newlin!).
Pocopson Corbett beat Wolf by only six votes; Republicans Meehan and Stephen Barrar won. Turnout was 46%.   
In the always left-leaning Pennsbury North 1 precinct (Crosslands): 68% of the voters cast a straight-party Democrat vote. Wolf, 62%, Houghton, 68%, Whitney Hoffman beat Barrar with 68% of the votes. Turnout was a commendable 70%.
In contrast, in the Pennsbury North 2 precinct (Chadds Ford Elementary), 69% of voters cast a straight-party Republican vote. Corbett, 56%, Meehan, 68%, Barrar, 65%.Turnhout was 50%.
Pennsbury South 1 (the township building): Corbett 53%, Meehan 60%, Barrar, 57%. Turnout was 49%.
Pennsbury South 2 (Hillendale Elementary): Corbett 54%, Meehan 65%, Barrar 59%. Turnout was 52%.
In New Garden Township, the Bayard Taylor Library's referendum seeking dedicated library funding was once again defeated, 55% to 45%. My theory is that it's not so much a vote against the library, it's just that so many New Garden residents work and shop in Delaware, they are simply less focused on Kennett Square.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

NEW BOLTON: An indoor arena for evaluating horses

On Nov. 4 New Bolton Center showed off its Ilona English Equine Performance Evaluation Facility as part of a lecture on equine sports medicine.
The 80-by-120-foot indoor arena, built by King Construction, is spectacular. Large windows line its two long sides, allowing tons of natural light in.
Top-level event rider Ryan Wood, on Powell, walked, trotted and cantered around the ring and went over a few jumps to demonstrate how quiet the MC Ecotrack footing is (it's a blend of wax-coated sand, fibers and rubber).
Ilona English, breeder and owner of Summit Sporthorses and Sportponies in Ringoes, NJ, was the major donor for the facility. She was on hand for the talk (in fact, she owns Powell) and said a few words about how important it was to have an evaluation facility like this where vets can put a horse through its paces no matter what the weather. According to New Bolton's website: "This world-class indoor arena provides the perfect environment for clinicians to conduct in-depth evaluations of horses for medical and performance issues, most commonly lameness."
The lecture was given by Elizabeth Davidson, an associate professor of sports medicine, and Liz Arbittier, staff veterinarian in the section of equine field service. It's always interesting to hear these articulate experts speak and to see their videos and images, especially when they present case studies and explain what steps they took to diagnose and treat their patient.

TEXTING: Before there was texting there were telegrams

I love texting. It's a concise and efficient means of communication. No, of course it doesn't replace conversation and actual face-to-face time spent together, but for "Running 5 mins late" or "Can you pick up pizza" or "Radio 2 is playing 1979 greatest hits," nothing compares.
Of course, there is nothing new under the sun. Emily Post's etiquette book, circa 1937, noted that, for identical reasons, telegrams were quickly replacing written or phoned invitations:
"Telephoning a message and fifty names to the telegraph office takes at most five minutes, whereas calling each of the fifty numbers (including busy signals and messages left for those not at home, and enforced conversation with those who talk for half an hour) would take anywhere from twice to ten times as long."

PEACH BOTTOM: An auction of troughs and millstones

I saw an ad for a Lancaster County auction of an "eclectic collection" of sandstone water troughs and millstones and immediately put in on my schedule.
Do I need a water trough or a millstone?
I do not.
Do I have room for a water trough or a millstone?
Not at all, but it looked fascinating anyway.
So I drove west to the town of Peach Bottom in Fulton Township, passing lots of Amish farms and some great roadside-market signs: "Free Turnips," "Eyeglass Frames and Garlic" and "Guinea Pigs and BBQ Pork Roasts."
The merchandise at the preview didn't disappoint. Garden designers were eyeing the picturesque old water troughs, the antique cast iron and stone urns, the garden statuary, and the lengths of decorative cast iron fencing. One guy was striding along the display of millstones, pausing for a split second to measure the diameter of each and then barking the dimensions into his cellphone. There were big slabs of stone that had been used as steps and curbing in nearby Port Deposit, Maryland.
I checked out the prices the day after the auction and one of the big-ticket items was an ornate urn with three herons at its base that, according to the label, might have come from a DuPont estate. It sold for $3,800.
My question was this: How were the people going to get their purchases home? These were not pieces you could pick up, wrap in an army blanket and put in your trunk. There must have been an army of forklifts springing into action after the final gavel banged down.

WEST MARLBOROUGH: Updated zoning ordinance on the way

The West Marlborough supervisors had a quick meeting on Nov. 3.
With the concurrence of the township's planning commission, the board asked township engineer Harry Roth to update its zoning ordinance with new language about riparian buffers, forestry uses, and broadband telecommunications to comply with state guidelines. The township will hold off on updating its floodplain regulations, however.
Zoning officer Al Giannantonio said he approved a permit for a pole barn in the 700 block of Spencer Road and a permit for a two-car garage that Ron Towber wants to build in Springdell.
There was no police report from Officer Robert Clarke and no report from building inspector Eddie Caudill, who had been in the hospital.
Supervisor Hugh Lofting reported that the township road crew has been working on getting the township's new truck ready for winter. The township bought the 2006 truck from West Goshen Township and is going to sell its 1993 dump truck.
A resident who lives along Route 926 thanked the supervisors for prodding the bank that owns a foreclosed Sportsman's Lane house to clean up the property. She said reported at previous meetings that the weeds and vines were trespassing onto her property.

WEST MARLBOROUGH: Jake Chalfin becomes a supervisor

Congratulations to Jake Chalfin, the newest member of the West Marlborough Township Board of Supervisors.
Jake will fill out the term of Josh Taylor, who resigned because his new job in Lexington, Kentucky, will keep him out of town much of the time. He will join supervisors Bill Wylie and Hugh Lofting.
Jake, who lives in Springdell, was promoted from the township's planning commission and, in fact, had just chaired his first planning commission meeting on Nov. 3 before the supervisors announced his new position. Jeb took over as chairman when Jeb Hannum moved to Virginia this summer.

Monday, November 3, 2014

UNIONVILLE: A windy day at the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup

How windy was it at the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup on Sunday afternoon?
Well, suffice it to say that a set of porta-potties blew over (fortunately with no one inside). Some fellows from Hickman Sanitation showed up, and they were quickly uprighted.
Hearing the wind howling around that morning at home, I thought we'd freeze and it would be a short day. Just the opposite: The bright sun kept us warm and we had a great time socializing with lots of friends and neighbors.
For the big Hunt Cup race itself we witnessed an amazing finish: we were standing right at the final jump and all six competitors crossed it simultaneously, then dashed to the finish line. Arcadia Stables' Delta Park, trained by Jack Fisher with Sean McDermott up, was the winner. (He placed second in the 2013 race.)
The only blot on the day was in the first race, when a horse collapsed while going over a fence and died instantly, I found out later of a heart aneurysm. It was tough to watch: his jockey got up immediately and raced back to him, but there was nothing anyone could do.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

PANCAKES: A good breakfast with the Masons

You've seen the signs and banners. You've said to yourself, "I've got to go to that one of these days."
Next time the pancake breakfast cooked by the Brothers of Kennett Masonic Lodge 475 rolls around, definitely listen to that voice.
The pancakes were really excellent. My breakfast-mate and I devoured four each, plus sausage, coffee and orange juice. It was well worth going out in the cold and rain, and the hearty meal gave us a good full stomach, fortified for the day's errands.

Friday, October 31, 2014

CONOWINGO: Our breath-taking national bird

I played hookey on Friday afternoon, dug out my binoculars and headed down Route 1 to the Conowingo Dam in Maryland in search of bald eagles. Standing on the west bank of the Susquehanna, I immediately spotted two of them perched on one of the concrete abutments at the base of the dam. And just a few minutes later I saw an eagle weave through the high-tension lines ("He's teasing us," muttered the photographer next to me, who wanted a clear shot of eagle and blue sky without power lines).
Then the eagle swooped down, plucked a fish out of the river with its talons and flew off, right toward me. It was spectacular. As he flew over, I heard a barrage of camera shutters, like when Nicole Kidman poses for the paparazzi on the red carpet. The wildlife photographers who gather at the dam are an interesting and patient bunch. The most serious ones dress in camouflage and even shroud their gigantic, tripod-mounted lenses in camo.
I highly recommend a trip to the dam to see our national bird, which has made a remarkable recovery since the pesticide DDT was banned 40 years ago (the chemical, funneled up the food chain, was causing their eggs to crack).
Saturday, Nov. 8, is Conowingo Eagles Day, with presentations on the dam and wildlife photography. The event will take place at the Dam pavilion on Shures Landing Road from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. You can sign up at rsvp@supportconowingodam.com, and there's more information on the "Support Conowingo Dam" Facebook page.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

UHS BOYS' SOCCER: Undefeated Ches-Mont champs!

A special "Hail Unionville" shout-out to the undefeated UHS varsity boys' soccer team. As Ches-Mont league champs, the Indians were the #1 seed going into the District 1 AAA playoffs and shut out Conestoga, 3-0, in their first-round match at UHS on October 25. They'll play Central Bucks East at Great Valley at 5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 6.
Thank you to all-kinds-of-proud soccer mom Allison Stautberg for emailing me about the team and soccer dad Mark W. Shafer (who was clearly a sportswriter at some point in his life) for sharing this vivid description of the team:
"Led by senior captains Henry Shafer, Brian Cortese, Sam Alfonsi and Andrew Chegia (all of whom have been school teammates since Fall 2009 when they played on Patton Middle School's 7th grade team), the team plays an aggressive yet unselfish, ball-control style of play.
The mid-field is patrolled and dominated by midfielders Logan Carlow, AJ Bernstein, Tim Yarosh, and Jeff Stautberg.
The defense is anchored by Cortese, Dan Beckman, Jack Seilus, and Chegia with Shafer in goal.
Up top, the brunt of the offensive damage is inflicted by Peter Ferraro, Aiden Walsh, Alex "The Great Dane" Andersen and Alfonsi.
In addition to the senior-dominated squad, the roster has some outstanding talent from the UHS Class of 2016 which includes Juniors Mark Ellsworth, Eli Lipsman, Mike Kosuth, Austin Brown, Ryan Humes, Mike Ceribelli and EJ Jankowski."

IN THE MOOD: Borough Christmas tour is coming up Dec. 14

Lynn Sinclair asked me to spread the word that Kennett Square's 14th annual Candlelight Holiday Home Tour is coming up on Dec. 14 from 4 to 7 pm.
"We will not have a snow storm or a day-long drenching downpour," she stated confidently (as you might infer, the tour has had rotten luck weather-wise the past few years).
Tickets are available on the borough historical commission's website, www.KennettSquareHistory.org

CANINE PARTNERS: Honoring a departed benefactor

Nancy Biddle Kelly sent me a message after reading my item about Bernie Langer's memorial service at St. Michael Lutheran Church on Oct. 11. Thanks to her, I learned something new and very, very nice about him.
She writes,  "He was a wonderful man (and quite the "character" too) and we all miss him so much. I was sitting in the narthex during the service since we are training a service puppy for Canine Partners for Life. Bernie and Claudette support CPL too, and named a puppy after their son, and that puppy and his puppy handler were at the service too."
I noticed a service dog in the lobby, and of course I knew Bernie loved dogs, but I didn't put two and two together. How wonderful, and how in character!