Sunday, June 29, 2014

How to get involved

A friend suggested that I provide information about how readers can express their opinions about the controversial Barn at Spring Brook Farm situation. Great idea! Online petitions to support the Barn have been set up that you can sign (search for the farm name), and full information about donations is available on the Farm's Facebook page and on its website. The Barn's street address is 350 Locust Grove Rd, West Chester, PA 19382.
And you can attend the next Pocopson supervisors' meeting on Monday, July 14, at 7:30 p.m. at the township building, 740 Denton Hollow Road. (Don't forget about the Route 52 detour.)
I should add that it will NOT help matters for those who support the farm to send threatening emails and make nasty phone calls to the neighbor whose complaints sparked the whole situation. Bad behavior by any party is only going to make it harder to resolve this already heated, emotional situation.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Epic fail

And I was so assiduous about gathering Giant gas discount points! I challenged a Facebook friend; I used all the "2X" coupons in the circular; I bought five big boxes of tissues, enough to last through the winter, to earn more points.
The upshot was that I racked up seventy cents off per gallon of gas.
And then I forgot to use them: I filled up at another gas station the Thursday before the points expired.
What to do?
I offered them to a friend, who was thrilled at the idea of filling up her behemoth of a truck with discount gas. I loaned her my Giant card on Saturday morning and she headed straight to the Giant gas station in New Garden. Fifteen minutes later I got a call: the place was a mob scene. She said any savings were being offset by the gas she was using idling. She was heading home.
Next time I'm setting an alarm on my phone to remind me of the expiration date.

Seen on Broad Street

I was driving past an attorney's office in downtown Kennett the other day and saw, in the front yard of the office building, a man in a dark business suit (I assume the lawyer) taking a photo of three people (I assume his clients) who looked very happy -- a man and two women. What was going on? I wondered. A property transfer concluded? Some family business settled? A new business getting started? Whatever it was, the occasion was apparently worth preserving for posterity in a photo.

Form vs. function

A friend who made the transition from the corporate world to Unionville farm life said she used to have clearly demarcated wardrobes: work and home. No more. Functionality has taken precedence. She used to berate her husband for comingling "good" clothes and barn clothes in the washer, but there's no need for that anymore: they're just all clothes.
(I take that with a grain of salt: I've seen both her and her husband look very smart when they get duded up. So what if they're still in muck boots?)
I , too, was shuffling my clothes from my winter to my summer closets and found some truly sad specimens, like a faded blue polo shirt with a frayed collar and many holes. I used to save such treasures for gardening and outdoor work, but now most of my clothes seem to be suitable for that: I tossed it out.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Mass transit

The SCCOOT bus service got a positive review from a friend who is transportation-challenged for one more month. He took it from Kennett to West Chester the other day and found the experience "quite pleasant. The drivers are nice. The bus is air-conditioned. You just sit there and you're delivered to your destination."

Nixon Park concerts

We had a great time listening to Alligator Zydeco at the amphitheater in Anson B. Nixon Park in Kennett. The band sounded great, the setting overlooking the lake is beautiful, and we got to say hi to lots of friends.
It was the first of a summer-long series of free Wednesday evening concerts from 7 to 9 p.m. You bring your own chairs, and you can either bring a picnic or buy food from the vendors. This past week Byrsa Bistro was offering a "Mediterranean sampler" of hummus, baba ganoush, cucumbers, stuffed grape leaves and olives with pita bread, along with their wonderful mint iced tea. Philter had coffee and cookies and La Michoacana had popsicles -- which were very welcome because it was a hot evening.
It's a very relaxed and pleasant way to spend an evening -- some excellent people-watching, too. The lineup of bands and vendors is on the park's website.
(By the way, dogs on leashes are welcome to attend the concerts, and there were plenty of them, including one little guy who is lucky enough to be spending the summer with his owner's mother in Kennett rather than with his owner in Manhattan.)


The Cranky Friend has regained his kidney-stone-free status, but his single status remains unchanged. He was particularly unimpressed with two women who popped up on his online dating service recently.
One stated that she was seeking "the missing link."
"She's likely to find it, if that's what she's looking for," he said.
Another listed as a book she had recently read "an autobiography of Eric Clapton, called `Eric Clapton: An Autobiography'."
"I can't date a tautologist, and she can't date someone who makes less than $100K, so we're perfect not together," he said.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The long way home

I took the longer way home from the Kennett Y today just because it was such a beautiful summer evening. The sun was setting over the peaceful West Marlborough landscape, highlighting in painterly fashion the curving rows of fragrant, just-raked hay (farmers making hay are the busiest people I know this time of year).
Ahead of me I saw a woman walking her dog and stopped just to share my appreciation for the all's-right-with-the-world evening.
She said she'd just been thinking exactly the same thing: She had walked her dog three times that day just to enjoy the view, which, she suggested, and quite correctly, is among the most beautiful on Earth.
We got to chatting; she moved to our township only a year ago and is still adjusting to the fact that it takes 20 minutes to get anywhere. But, she quickly added, that's a small price to pay. I think we could easily have stood by the road for an hour talking; only my hungry tummy put an end to the conversation.
I'm so glad I chose to take "the back way" home. The scenery alone is always enough to lift the spirits, but tonight I got the bonus of welcoming a new-ish neighbor and making a new friend.

The more things change...

This morning the following story from the June 26, 1884, "Daily Local News" appeared on the Chester County Historical Society's Facebook page. My first thought was, "What a great Tilda item that would've been!" I can think of a few 21st-century equivalents of the eccentric Mrs. Elkridge; can you?

Mrs. Eldridge, residing in that vicinity, who has recently attracted public attention by her eccentricities, drove to the residence of her sister, Mrs. Stackhouse, at Hamorton, where she left the team. During her absence two ladies living in the house with Mrs. Stackhouse concluded to drive Mrs. Eldridge’s team to East Marlborough to attend the funeral of Mrs. Edith B. Harry. Shortly after they left Mrs. Eldridge returned, and not finding her team concluded to get one ahead of the ladies. The mail running between Hamorton and the Red Lion was about to start and she took passage with it. On reaching Red Lion she walked to Allen Harvey’s, whence, finding her horse and carriage hitched to the fence, and having divested them of robes and other property not hers, she drove to West Chester, leaving the lades to get home as best they could. The affair has created considerable merriment among those acquainted with the circumstances of the case.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Another chapter in "The Island of Unionville"

I have a friend in Newlin Township who raises chickens, and I collect egg cartons for her from various friends. I was heading to "downtown" Unionville today and thought I might see her at the post office or Hood's, so I brought along my three most recently collected cartons.
No signs of her truck, but I did see a pickup from a local feed mill parked in Hood's lot, loaded with bales of hay and bags of Purina's Layena chicken feed in the back. Bingo! Maybe they could deliver my cartons.
"Hey," I called to the feed mill guys, who had just finished their lunch. "By any chance, are you going over to [Tilda's friend's farm]?"
No, sorry, they said; they'd just been there the day before.
"Every Monday," one of them explained.

Hay fire

Two hay wagons and 250 bales of hay were destroyed in a fire on Route 842 at Byrd Road here in West Marlborough on June 23. When I drove by the next afternoon, all that was left were charred axles (they almost looked like modern sculpture), charred patches of earth and the stench of drenched, burned hay. By Saturday the wreckage had been removed and the burned area was being reseeded.

This informative (and well written!) account of the fire appeared on the Po-Mar-Lin Fire Company's website:
"Po-Mar-Lin Fire Company, Station 36 with Ambulance 23 was dispatched for a Truck fire at the intersection of Byrd Rd./Rt. 842. Ambulance 23 arrived to find two farm trailers with 250 small bales fully involved with a hay rake still attached. The operator had moved the tractor away from the burning trailers. Engine 36 made the response with 6 volunteers and upon arrival utilized the front bumper turret to hold flames back from the hay rake while the crew stretched an 1-3/4" hand line to extinguish the rest of the pile. While crews worked to break up the hay and extinguish the fire, other members of the crew assisted the owner with unhooking the hay rake which was mostly unharmed due the quick work of the Engine crew. PML was assisted by Tanker 24 from the Kennett Fire Company No. 1 and Tanker 23 from the Avondale Fire Company. Avondale Fire Police and West Marlborough Township road crew shut down Rt. 842 while crews worked. 
Thank you to Engine 39 from West Bradford Fire Co. for covering the area while crews were working.
Special thanks to Unionville Lawn Care and Meadow Springs Farms, Hicks Brothers, for the assistance of 2 loaders to break up the hay and move off the road during cleanup."

Collective nouns

I lived in England for a year. Thirty-some years later, I still spout British slang like "half-four" ("four-thirty"), much the annoyance of everyone in the vicinity (eye-rolling in the case of the Young Relative; maniacal rage, in the case of the Cranky Friend). But I can never get used to hearing usage like "Uruguay are fighting back," as I did while watching the World Cup over my grilled cheese and tomato sandwich at Hood's today. It sounded wrong to me back then ("Oliver's army are on their way"), and it still does.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Red Sombrero

There's another Mexican restaurant to try: the Red Sombrero Fresh Mexican Taqueria, next to Starbucks in the Shoppes at Longwood Village (the shopping center on Baltimore Pike with SuperFresh and Staples). We stopped in on Saturday night at 6 p.m., and by the time we left every table was full (they also do take-out orders). You order your food at the counter, pour your own drink, and they bring your meal over to you (very promptly in our case). We picked a chicken burrito ("Pollo Loco") and a steak burrito ("Red Sombrero Burrito"). They were tasty, stuffed full and very fresh--and they didn't stint on the jalapeno peppers! The crunchy chips were very good, too.
The menu is available on the restaurant's website. And yes, it's the same Red Sombrero that's in the Dilworthtown Crossing shopping center on Route 202.

Saturday, June 21, 2014


There was some discussion in the Tally-ho household recently about whether a certain R-rated movie was suitable for the middle-school Young Relative. My first reaction was that I didn't want him to be exposed to the very questionable material, attitudes and language.
But then I remembered when I was his age, and the book "The Godfather" by Mario Puzo was all the rage in my class.
Did it contain violence? Yes, graphic and extreme. Racism? Yep. Cursing? Bloody well right. Irresponsible drug and alcohol use and other bad choices? For sure. Sex? Oh, my, yes. The one kid who had a paperback copy passed it around surreptitiously and, not surprisingly, it automatically opened right to the dog-eared page 29, the scene in which Sonny Corleone gets friendly with his sister's maid of honor.
So imagine my surprise as a seventh-grader when my mother -- my MOTHER! -- bought me a copy of "The Godfather" at the used-book store. I had horrible images of her discovering some of the naughty material in it and thinking I had tried to pull one over on her by expressing interest in it.
I thought I'd better take the bull by the horns.
"Mom," I said, with considerable embarrassment. "There's some kind of, um, adult stuff in this book."
"I know," she said matter-of-factly. "I thought you were mature enough to handle it."
Forty years later I remember those words with pride. And I still have my copy of the book. "Soon to be a major motion picture from Paramount," it says on the back cover.
(Oh, and the kid who passed around the book in our class? He went on to become a Secretary of Education for Pennsylvania.)

Chicken salad

Just a reminder that Philter serves a very good lunch -- in addition to their coffee and tea offerings. I met a friend there on Wednesday to catch up on Unionville news and gossip and we had their wonderful curried chicken salad with currants. They offer several varieties of chicken salad, and all of them are delicious. Their green iced tea is wonderfully different, too. Philter is at 111 West State Street in downtown Kennett.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Safety first

The perils of running, and attending, a hugely popular but weather-dependent event!
The Chester County Hot Air Balloon Festival was held at Plantation Field, at Route 82 and Green Valley Road, on June 13 and 14. The organizers had to cancel the first day's activities due to bad weather and soft grounds, and then on the second day the scheduled evening launch ("mass ascension") was cancelled at about 6 p.m. because the strong winds posed a safety risk.
Meanwhile, the hordes of people trying to get into the field on Saturday afternoon (admission was $10 per car) created a traffic jam on Route 82 that stretched all the way back to the Unionville roundabout. One woman I spoke to traveled from Lionville to meet friends at the event but got stuck in the gridlock for more than an hour; she and her boyfriend had to cut their losses and turn around because they had another event to attend. She said the person she was supposed to meet is more familiar with Unionville's back roads; wisely, he took Route 162 and then Powell Road, turning on to Green Valley Road from the north. Another friend of hers managed to get to the event but, because of the launch cancellation, she summarized the day as "essentially, a $15 funnel cake."
(I'm told the food vendors at the event had a field day, and some even ran out of food and drink.)
Nobody was second-guessing the decision to cancel the launch, but I did hear some suggestions that maybe the event's traffic management could use some tweaks.
The organizers alerted people to the cancellation on Facebook by saying, "Mother Nature is just not cooperating ... Wanted to get the word out to those waiting in traffic so you can decide if you still want to come. Thank you for your patience. We are as disappointed as you. To those already here. Thank you. Your $10 is going to a good cause!"
(According to the event's website, the beneficiaries are Downingtown West Wrestling, The Garage youth and community programs, and Plantation Field Horse Trials.)


A friend who is a frequent movie-goer gives two thumbs up to the newly reopened Painters Crossing AMC movie theater. She and her family paid extra to sit in the special lounge-chair section during a screening of "Edge of Tomorrow," the new Tom Cruise action movie. She said the seats were wonderfully comfortable and the in-theater food service greatly enhanced the whole theater experience.

A pint of Tilda

Like the reformed Ebenezer Scrooge, the American Red Cross has been as good as its word. After I complained on Facebook about the almost daily messages I was getting from their telemarketers, they struck my phone number AND e-mail address from their rolls. In fact, and to their credit, they didn't even send me a reminder that I was signed up to donate at today's blood drive at the Episcopal Church of the Advent. (Yes, I remembered to go anyway.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Let's get along

Over the weekend I mentioned on my Facebook page that some littering bicyclists were leaving trash along my road-- and oh, what a firestorm of cyclist-directed venom I unleashed, even from normally circumspect and even-tempered people! As in so many situations, it seems that because of some offenders, a whole class of people gets tarred with the same brush.
I hesitate to criticize anyone who is out there getting exercise, but in the interests of promoting harmony on the roads, might I suggest that cyclists (a) ride in single file rather than taking up a entire lane and (b) not litter under any circumstances? And motorists, please remember the "four-foot law" that I mentioned a few weeks ago. Thank you.

Used books

Here's a shout-out to the good folks at the Kennett Area Senior Center's used-book store at 113 South Union Street in Kennett Square. I saw the always-enthusiastic bookstore manager, Harry Wackerman, having corn fritter pancakes for dinner at Hood's tonight, and he came over and told us that the volunteers at the store are all loyal "Unionville in the News" readers. Very much appreciated!

Monday, June 16, 2014

At the movies

Thank you to the Young Relative for letting me know that the Painter's Crossing AMC movie theater has reopened, complete with "Fork & Screen" in-theater food service (there are age restrictions) and a special "Cinema Suites" area with reclining chairs (you pay extra for that). It has been closed since late winter for renovations. He also highly recommends "Godzilla," which, it seems, is a far cry from the cheesy, low-tech monster movies we remember from our youth.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Underground Railroad tours

Michele Sullivan, a board member of the Kennett Underground Railroad Center, sent me an email with information about the group's summer bus tours of local Underground Railroad sites. The Kennett area was an important way-station for slaves on the road to freedom, and the tours, which are led by volunteers, include several original abolitionist houses; the first street in Kennett, where descendants of abolitionists still live; and an 1801 Quaker Meetinghouse.
Tour dates are June 29, July 27, and August 24. The two-hour tours start at 2 p.m. at the Brandywine Valley Conference and Tourist Center, 300 Greenwood Rd., Kennett Square. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for children (the fee is charged just to cover the cost of bus rental). Advance registration is required; checks should be written to the Kennett Underground Railroad Center (KURC) and sent to 296 Kendal Dr., Kennett Square, PA 19348. Please include your email address and phone number.

This too shall pass

The Cranky Friend has had a kidney stone this past week, which would provide ample justification for his normally sour mood. But to his credit, he has been taking it in stride (opioids and a naturally high pain threshold are helping) and even finding some wry amusement in the trying experience.
For instance: To encourage the stone to pass, his doctor ordered him to drink three liters of water a day. Trying to envision how much that was, the Friend immediately pictured a three-liter jug of wine.
"Three liters!" he exclaimed. "If you drank three liters of wine you'd be pretty looped!"
The doctor gave him a small smile.
"No," he said. "You don't want to hydrate with wine."
The Friend said people have been phoning all week, clamoring for updates on the stone's journey through his system. He said that our interest reminded him of nothing more than the breathless, nonstop news coverage devoted to John Glenn's Mercury space flight.

Music in the Orchard

There were just too many choices for what to do on this past Saturday night: the Balloon Fest at Plantation Field; a history talk at London Grove Meeting; a concert by the Holmes Brothers in Media; "women's music" icon Holly Near in Bryn Mawr; not to mention a pre-Father's Day family event. What to do? Our choice was to head west to the 1719 Hans Herr House in Willow Street, Lancaster County, for an outdoor concert in their apple orchard.
The opening act was two young women, one on percussion and one on guitar and mandolin, who are part of the folk/bluegrass/blues group Indian Summer Jars from York. They said they'd had a busy day: they'd already played one concert in Mechanicsburg and ran a 5K in Harrisburg!
The group Sopa Sol was Frances Miller on violin and Daryl Snider on guitar, with one of Frances's students joining them on violin for "Wayfaring Stranger" and "The Devil Went Down to Georgia." Frances also played an unusual instrument called a hang drum that looked like a wok and sounded like a steel drum. She and her husband own a dairy farm in Quarryville, Fiddle Creek Dairy, and she said she learned early on that when you marry a dairy farmer you marry not only him but also his cows.
The concert was very informal--you bring your own chairs or blanket--and drew everyone from hippies to bikers to older folks with their grandkids. Adorable kids were running around in the area in front of the stage. One young boy got a little too close to the stage and, while jumping up and down, accidentally dislodged a cable for the sound system.
"This is what I love about live music," said my companion. "Singers forget the words. Cables come unplugged. Keepin' it real!"
People either brought picnics or bought food from the onsite vendor, OCB Cakes, which is a bakery and coffee shop in Strasburg. We bought a very tasty pulled pork sandwich and a loaf of Old Bay-seasoned bread with crab dip. They also offered veggie kebabs, sticky buns, whoopee pies and ice cream.
During the 20-minute intermission we walked around the grounds of the historic site and admired the fenced-in vegetable/herb garden, the actual Hans Herr house, and a replica of a Native American longhouse (the outside surface is made of sheets of textured rubber that really look like bark).
It got pretty chilly as the sun went down toward the end of the show. People were wrapping blankets around themselves, and I was glad I packed a pair of socks. The guy in front of us turned up the collar of his madras shirt to try to keep his neck warm.
This show marked the start of the third season of concerts in the orchard. Four additional shows are on the schedule on June 28, July 12, July 26 and Aug. 9. We'll be back! (Oh, and it's a lovely drive out to Willow Street, which is just south of Lancaster.)

Friday, June 13, 2014

"Who needs a pilgrimage?"

Sonia Ralston, who died at Crosslands on June 7, used to write a monthly column for the Kennett Paper called "Dear Friends." A column she wrote in July 2000 about her husband's death made such a impression on me that I ripped it out of the paper (this was before everything was online) and saved it in a drawer.
In this remarkable and graceful piece she wrote about how kind people were to her and her husband in his last days -- her taxi-driver, the nurses, neighbors, custodians, her newspaper delivery person -- and how much those seemingly small gestures meant to her, reinforcing her belief that we don't need to make distant pilgrimages to find God.
"For if one believes that God is Love ... then that sought-after face may be seen on the street where you live ... in the schoolroom where your children study ... or in the unexpected kindness of a stranger," she wrote. "We witnessed how emptying a wastebasket and vacuuming the same floor day after day can become an act of love when it is done with a genuine and kindly word of encouragement."
We writers talk about struggling to achieve an authentic "voice" in our work. Mrs. Ralston had clearly reached that goal -- and her voice was that of a gentle, spiritual and genuinely grateful soul.

Where is it?

Rural folks who use a post office box number for mail delivery instead of a street address have told me that UPS and FedEx drivers sometimes have trouble finding their houses. I was at the Unionville post office the other day when a worried-looking young man came up to me and asked for help finding the La Mancha Animal Rescue. He was on his way to adopt a pet, and his GPS led him to the post office, because the good people at La Mancha have a P.O. box as their mailing address.
Fortunately I knew exactly where La Mancha is and could give him directions. I hope he made it there and was able to give a pet a "forever" home.

The waiting room

I was working through my lengthy to-do list on Friday and around lunchtime stopped off at the Tolsdorf oil-change place on Baltimore Pike near Longwood Gardens. Who should be in the waiting room but two of my best pals, neither of whom I had seen for ages. We immediately squealed and hugged and started catching up, much to the amusement of the customer sitting across from us reading a business magazine. He told us we shouldn't worry about him spreading any of our indiscreet chitchat anyway, as he is moving away to the Poconos.
The nice guy at the counter was very understanding as well. He said it actually happens all the time that friends run into each other while getting their cars serviced.
(By the way, I hope Chris Ross's successor in office, whoever he or she may be, distributes those red, white and blue "Things to Do Today" note pads, because I go through them like crazy.)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Tell me Y

Three tidbits that might be of interest to YMCA members:
1. After the long winter hiatus, workers have been making good progress on the parking lot being built on the hill across Race Street from the Kennett Y. A lot of earth has been moved, shrubs and trees have been planted, and there's now a set of steps leading down to the road.
2. In addition to inadequate parking, one of the most common complaints I hear about the Y is the deafening volume in some aerobics classes. Not only do some of the instructors turn the volume up to 11, but then they need to shriek to be heard over top of it. The sound carries well beyond the room where the class is held. One member at the Jennersville Y was so concerned that he even brought a decibel meter to class recently and documented that the volume significantly exceeded recommended standards (104 decibels in one class!).
I'm told that a sternly worded email went out from management asking instructors to keep the noise down. I'm also told similar emails have been sent out again and again. Management justifiably prides itself on its emphasis on safety; one could argue that this an important safety issue for our ears and not just a matter of taste.
(There is nothing new under the sun. From a book on colonial Latin America that I'm editing: "One traveler in the 1770s testily recorded that the sound [from a public dance] was so `annoying and disagreeable as to provoke one to stop up his ears and to cause the mules to stampede, and they are the most stolid and least flighty of animals'.”)
3. The Brandywine Valley Y is merging with the Upper Main Line Y effective Sept. 1, and the new organization will be called the YMCA of Greater Brandywine. (Back when I first joined the much smaller Y twenty-some years ago it was called the Kennett-Unionville Y.) According to the letter sent to members, after the merger becomes official we'll be able to use the Y facilities in Lionville, Berwyn and Malvern: "Consolidation will have no effect on membership and program fees, or on bank drafts. Creating a new Association will result in cost efficiencies and eliminate redundancies, which will stabilize rates and ensure a uniform method of establishing appropriate rates and fees."

Possible Rokeby Rd. project?

At the June West Marlborough Township meeting, Supervisor Hugh Lofting reported on the statewide conference on dirt, gravel and low-volume roads that he attended recently in Wilkes-Barre. He said about 350 people attended. He said he learned about some state grant money that might help the township shore up the stretch of Rokeby Road that has been gradually collapsing into the Buck Run.
"I think it would be a perfect situation," he said hopefully. He'll look into the grant requirements and will report back at the August township meeting.
At a February 2013 township meeting, the supervisors told worried residents who live near the site that stabilizing the stream bank to prevent further damage has to be done in accordance with strict environmental regulations and would be a very costly endeavor that the township couldn't easily afford.

Saturday, June 7, 2014


It was pure serendipity that we visited "First Friday" in Oxford on June 6. We were going to see local troubadour Charlie Zahm perform at Oxford Friends Meeting, and we arrived in town early to get something to eat. What a surprise: downtown Oxford was packed! There was live music; the shops, galleries and second-hand stores were open; and nonprofits and churches were publicizing their activities. There was even a troupe of belly dancers performing.
We walked up and down the main street, ate some ice cream, and then settled in at the meeting house for Charlie Zahm's concert of Revolutionary War and Civil War songs, including "Yankee Doodle," "Chester," "Goober Peas," "Shenandoah," and "Battle Hymn of the Republic." It was poignant that we were listening to these songs of war and loss and love of country on the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
Charlie performed along with fiddler Tad Marks, and the good-natured banter between the two of them was amusing. They recently returned from a trip to Qatar, where they performed for American military personnel.

Home & Garden Day

I don't think I can remember a Home & Garden Day with nicer weather than this year's event. It wasn't pouring; it wasn't sweltering. Instead it was sunny and warm, and we had a great time, hitting five of the eight spots along the Kennett Pike corridor.
What a variety of houses! We toured photographer Jim Graham's charming home/gallery (impeccably tidy), an imposing country manor house (loved the white roses climbing up the stonework), a splendid garden designed by Danilo Maffei, and an Arts and Crafts-style house with a salt-water swimming pool. I think my favorite stop was the final house we visited, where vivid modern artwork shared wall space with nineteenth-century family portraits and photographs of the homeowner's political colleagues.
The food is always a bonus on this tour, and this year, whether by coincidence or design, the theme was mushrooms. We had mushroom crepes (from Portabello's), mushroom dip (the Kennett Square Inn), and mushroom ravioli (La Verona); we also enjoyed chocolate chip biscotti from Sinclair's Sunrise CafĂ© and very welcome iced coffee from Starbucks. The coffee station was manned by my dear friend, Ed Fahey, and his wife, Sue, who landed a plum assignment next to a quiet little pond.
The directions and signs were excellent, the parkers were friendly and efficient and the tour guides did a great job making sure we saw all the highlights.
At the final house the parker told us that our Jeep was just the right size to fit into the stone center island of the cul-de-sac. So at his request we parked there, and as we left he told us that people were much amused at the sight.
I doff my straw hat to the library's super-organized Special Events Committee, who set the standard for these house tours. As always, the event is a fundraiser for children's programs at the Bayard Taylor Library in Kennett.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Tales of Newark Road

Thank you to a public-spirited citizen who moved a recently struck deer carcass off heavily traveled Newark Road earlier this week. I'm told he carried it in the bucket of his front-end loader to a remote part of his property, where the turkey buzzards could dispose of it.
Speaking of Newark Road: Another resident is begging motorists to slow down. The speed limit is 40 m.p.h., but she said she sees people flying by her house regularly and even passing other cars. "Somebody's going to get killed," she warned darkly, as we stood in her front yard watching traffic during evening "rush hour."

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Bike ride

"Unionville in the News" reader Bill Clement wrote to tell me that this year's "Chester County Challenge for Cancer" ( will be on Sunday, June 22, so just a heads up that there will be an especially large number of bicyclists on the roads that day. The main rest stop will be at Kinloch Woodworking on Route 82 in the middle of Unionville, with another on White Horse Road toward Cochranville. The ride is a fundraiser for the Chester County Hospital Cancer Center and Neighborhood Hospice. There are five rides scheduled: five miles, 10 miles, 30 miles, 50 miles and 65 miles, the latter described as "most challenging, hilly."

West Marlborough police news

Police matters took up most of the June 3 meeting of the West Marlborough Township supervisors.
First, Trooper Rich D'Ambrosio, from the state police barracks at Avondale, made one of his periodic reports about state police activity in West Marlborough. Since March, he said, there were a total of 45 incidents in the township, including two criminal cases (one harassment, one theft) and 11 car crashes, three of them involving injury or significant damage.
He advised residents to lock their car doors and to call the police if they see something suspicious. He said West Marlborough always has the lowest crime statistics in the entire district: "You have a very safe community," he said.
In response to a question from one of the supervisors, he said the state police did not play a major role in the Chester County Detectives' recent break-up of a large local cocaine-selling gang "other than us going out and grabbing bodies."
In addition to coverage by the state police, West Marlborough also hires Lieut. Robert Clarke to work 40 hours per month. He reported that for May, he issued 13 citations (10 for speeding and three for parking) and five warnings.
Lieut. Clarke also reported the results of a traffic study he conducted along Runnymede Road near Springdell from May 17 to 27. He found that 37 percent of the 427 motorists (215 eastbound and 212 westbound) were exceeding the 25-m.p.h. limit: 92 were going 26 to 30 m.p.h., 43 were going 31 to 35 m.p.h., nine were going 36 to 40 m.p.h., nine were going 41 to 45 m.p.h., two were going 46 to 50 m.p.h., and three were going 51 to 55 m.p.h. No one was going above 55 m.p.h.
In other business, building inspector Eddie Caudill reported that he issued three building permits to township residents in May, two for HVAC installation and one for a new deck.

A new life for the Brown Derby

Olen Grimes, the owner of the Artworks gallery in Kennett Square, has bought The Brown Derby restaurant in downtown Toughkenamon. He and his two business partners, Ray Maxwell (who will double as chef) and Steve Burkes, will be renovating the place, a local institution, and hope to reopen soon as the Fire Hill Pub. Maxwell was formerly the chef at the Foxfire Restaurant at the Stone Barn here in West Marlborough.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Blow Horn update

I'm delighted to report that the historic Blow Horn mill at Routes 82 and 841 is going to be preserved and renovated.
General contractor Chuck Ginty of Unionville, who has the fascinating assignment, was kind enough to show me around the eighteenth-century fieldstone mill one morning last week, with the generous permission of owner D.D. Matz.
The iconic "Blow Horn" stone is going to remain where it is, forming the edge of a courtyard. But the rest of the wall nearest Route 82--the one that was mangled when a wide tractor-trailer hit it last October--is going to be taken down, stone by stone, and moved about eight feet back from the road, for safety's sake.
Chuck said Mrs. Matz asked him to assess the mill shortly before the accident, and he predicted that given its level of deterioration, "it would be two to five years before something tragic happens. ... when the truck hit, it goosed us all into action." Parts of the mill are in obviously bad shape, with gaping cracks, a collapsed wooden floor and damaged beams. We could hear and see baby birds in a nest in one of the walls, and there was fresh fox scat on an upstairs floor.
The mill is going to be completely repointed and new windows will be installed. Its future use hasn't been determined.
In the dirt-floor basement there are several beautifully built arches where water flowed in and out, providing the power source for the mill, as well as chutes where farmers could drop off their grain from the outside of the building. The millstone is missing. The muddy basement floor is going to be cleaned up, drained and covered with concrete.

The massive beams, Chuck said, are made of hemlock (Pennsylvania's state tree). By studying the saw marks, he can tell the date of some of them and even how big the saw blade was (huge).
Belts and gears conveyed the power from the basement through the three levels (there used to be another story on top as well), with wooden chutes directing the finished product into big storage bins. The gears still turn, thanks to the animal fat that was used as lubricant.

Chuck found a pile of the substantial canvas belts with metal scoops that were used to carry the grain automatically from floor to floor.

On the top floor, which is bright and airy, there's an old scale, and a windlass with thick rope that dangles down through a trap door.
Some of the craftsmanship is beautiful, with unexpected decorative touches on the staircase banister and the curved plaster window reveals. In the mill office on the main floor, scrawled sums are still visible on the white plaster wall.

The date stone on the west wall bears two dates: 1744, when William Harlan owned the mill, and 1789, when Caleb Phipps bought and enlarged it. Several owners and uses later (grain, lumber, cider), it was destroyed by fire in 1884 but was rebuilt a year later by owner William Hannum. It was purchased by Buck & Doe Run Valley Farms in 1946.

I'm pleased that the mill is being preserved -- thanks, Mrs. Matz -- because it holds a special place in the hearts of a lot of us Unionville residents. Blowing your horn at the corner is a quirky tradition that mystifies outsiders, but it's a much-loved part of our history.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Birds at the ball park

There was some avian drama at the URA baseball fields the other night. The Young Relative's team was playing in the field closest to the road, so we spectators were standing next to the little but dense area of wetlands. A red-winged blackbird was perched on a tall reed in the swamp, protecting her nest. She'd fly directly at the head of any spectator she saw as a threat, which proved to be an effective means of keeping people away. She even got tangled up in one Mom's hair.
Later in the game a Canada goose flew slowly and low, right over the infield. Fortunately the boy at bat smacked a line drive rather than a popup. I'm not sure how hitting a goose would be scored according to the URA rules.

A new lifestyle

Tilda's father recently retired, and it seems that he has put his 60-some years in the labor force behind him with remarkable ease. My brother stopped by our parents' house on Friday and my father asked, "So what did you do today?"
"I went to work," my brother said. "It's Friday."
"Oh! That's right," said Dad, with a certain degree of satisfaction.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Meet you at the Station

Should you feel the urge for an ice-cream cone in downtown West Grove, you might want to try "The Station Ice Cream Shoppe." It's a tiny place on the north side of the railroad tracks (hence the name), near the West Grove Post Office, Twelves restaurant and the Light Within yoga studio; the library and police station are just across the tracks.
After a few hours of doing yard work on this past sunny Sunday afternoon, I stopped in and ordered a dish of coffee almond fudge ice cream (what's not to like!) that was delicious and exactly the right temperature -- some places serve their ice cream so solid that it's hard to scoop it into your spoon and it gives you brain freeze. The place seemed to be doing a steady business. There are chairs and tables where you can sit outside, and the stereo was playing doo-wop music.

Gossip central

On Saturday the Cranky Friend (multiflora rose pollen is his latest affliction) asked me whether a mutual Unionville acquaintance is still dating so-and-so.
"I don't know," I replied with some asperity. "It's really none of my business."
There was a stunned silence.
"Just . . .  just let me groove on that a minute," he said haltingly. " `It's . . . none . . . of . . . my . . . business.' Coming from YOU! I . . . I just don't know what to say."

A wonderful thing to do

Last week I wrote about the Kennett Square Memorial Day parade and told you how a friend's Dad, a WWII Navy veteran, had the time of his life riding in it and waving at the crowds. The family went out to lunch afterward ... and here's what happened:
"Some kind person at Applebee's bought many $20 gift cards and told our server to make sure every service person eating at the restaurant got one, especially our table with the WW2 vet. That was an awesome gesture from an anonymous person."

Josiah Harlan

I've written before about Josiah Harlan, the nineteenth-century Newlin resident and world traveler whose daring adventures in India and Afghanistan were the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling's short story "The Man Who Would Be King."
John Snider is giving a talk about him at the Marshalton Inn on Strasburg Road on Tuesday, June 17, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. "What this man did and how he managed to stay alive doing it will be the subject of our PowerPoint presentation," reads the flier. The lecture, part of the Chester County Historical Society's "History on Tap" series, was originally scheduled for January 21 but -- no surprises here -- got snowed out.
I have it on good authority that Mr. Snider is a great storyteller.


Sweet talk

On top of the bakery counter at the grocery store there are usually free samples: a clamshell pack of oatmeal-raisin cookies, say, or sliced-up pieces of cake. But on Saturday I was surprised to see two plates of full-size cupcakes.
"These can't possibly be samples!" I said to my shopping companion.
The woman behind the counter overheard me and assured us they were indeed giveaways. My pal immediately selected a vanilla cupcake with a pouf of vanilla icing and sprinkles. Even though they looked really tasty, I declined.
"Oh, come on," said the baker. "It's a big store. You'll walk off the calories for sure."
Right. If only it were that easy!

Meeting house architecture

Leona Provinski reminded me that on Saturday, June 14, London Grove Friends Meeting is hosting a talk by Seth Hinshaw on the architecture of Quaker meeting houses from 1670 to 2000. The talk starts at 7:30 p.m., with refreshments to follow. Mr. Hinshaw is senior preservation planner at Wise Preservation Planning in Chester Springs. The lecture is part of London Grove's 300th anniversary celebration.


Could those stick-figure families and other decorations on your vehicle be compromising your privacy? The concern is that they're revealing information that "bad guys" could exploit. A stick-figure small dog could mean that burglars wouldn't need to worry about encountering, say, a Doberman. A father stick-figure in a military uniform could mean he might be away from home. "Honor student" bumper stickers provide information about where your kid goes to school.
I kind of liked the rotting zombie stick-figure family I spotted on a vehicle at the URA baseball fields the other day. Surely that would put off a potential burglar! Even the undead cat looks pretty fierce.