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."