Sunday, February 28, 2016

UNIONVILLE: Mink sighting in West Marlborough

Driving home at night, I'm always careful to scan the roadsides for those telltale reflections from the eyes of creatures (it has to do with a light-reflecting surface in their eyes called the tapetum lucidum). We're accustomed to seeing deer (herds of them this winter!), opossums, skunks and squirrels, but on Saturday night at about 9:30 we encountered an animal we didn't recognize at all. It was all black and had a slim body and a full tail, like an elongated squirrel. It crossed in front of us and was a quick little runner. As soon as we got home we checked out Internet videos and came to the conclusion that it was a mink.
I asked friends on social media if that was possible, and learned that yes, minks do live around here. I heard about sightings on Frog Hollow Road, Hicks Road, Laurel Road, Tapeworm Road, and Route 100, and retired Unionville teacher Don Silknitter said he had spotted two just that day in his yard at Rokeby Hollow.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

MYSTERY: Where is the cloak?

A friend was good enough to bring to my attention a truly unusual ad in last week's classified section of The Kennett Paper. It read: "Lost: An evening coat fit for the Dowager Countess Violet disappeared at a Downton Abbey event at Winterthur December 11. If you need help returning it, drop it at Jacques Ferber shop, 2 Greenville Crossing, 4001 Kennett Pike. No questions asked."
I believe it's time to call in Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane or some other Golden Age sleuths.

BOOK SALE: Adding to my library

Even though I didn't get there until late Saturday morning, I found some true gems at the Unionville High School PTO's annual used-book sale.
My most notable find was "Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle," a 1966 compilation of modern poetry that took me back immediately to my Sixties elementary school days, when we'd order popular paperbacks through "Scholastic Magazine." "Watermelon Pickle" was always one of the selections.
Even though I'm a huge fan of quick-and-direct purchasing on the Internet, it's great to take some time and just browse for a change. I was impressed by the large foreign-language section, and I enjoyed browsing through the "collector's corner" of older books. I bought a little 1911 volume, "Truths: Talks With a Boy" (I was amused when the volunteer wrapped it up for me in brown paper).
I saw half-a-dozen different editions of one of my favorite books, "Jane Eyre," each with a different cover illustration of the governess and her would-be bigamist employer.
There were plenty of bestsellers by Clive Cussler, Nora Roberts, Alexander McCall Smith and Tom Clancy still on display, along with multiple copies of "Three Cups of Tea," "Bridget Jones' Diary," and "Eat, Pray, Love." I've finally accepted that I am just not smart enough to enjoy Muriel Spark's writing. Nor did I purchase any of the green-covered Virago Modern Classics series of books by lesser-known 20th-century female authors in which my sister has long been trying to interest me.
My vote for the most unusual volumes on offer: "A Glossary of Plastics Terminology in Five Languages" (can you believe no one snatched it up immediately?) and "Lawnscapes: Mowing Patterns to Make Your Yard a Work of Art" (the book cover is Astroturf!).
I overheard some entertaining conversations among book sale browsers. Two high-schoolers were looking through the boxes of "Cliffs Notes" (conveniently next to the "Classics" section). The girl remarked that she found "The Old Man and the Sea" boring. The boy said he enjoyed "Macbeth" and "The Odyssey." A younger boy presented his selections to his father for approval: the dad gave the thumbs-up to a dictionary but vetoed an M-rated videogame.
In one corner was a bulletin board of items that the volunteers found in donated books, among them a map from the Louvre; a handwritten recipe for "Simple Lasagne"; an article about getting your Christmas cactus to bloom; and a bookmark from the old bookstore at the Parkway Center in West Chester, the precursor to Chester County Book Company.
I hope the PTO made lots of money for its programs. Several people have told me what great stuff they found. And as I left, the ladies on the cash desk told me that the dates for next year's sale have already been set: Friday, Feb. 24, and Saturday, Feb. 25.

It's a book! It's a door mat!

This is the display of items found in donated books.

JUST IN CASE: Note where the AEDs are

Since taking the CPR class at the Longwood Fire Co. on Feb. 15, I've started noticing AEDs all over the place -- most recently in a lobby at Unionville High School. Keep an eye out for them. They are very easy to use; with audio and video prompts, they walk you through every step the process of trying to save a heart-attack victim.

RENOVATIONS: Goodbye to Connie Nichols

Connie Nichols, one of the founders of the Tick-Tock Day Care Center in Toughkenamon and a longtime member of Kennett Friends Meeting, died recently. I think the sweet, fitting tribute shared by her son Rich on social media is worth reprinting:
"Connie is survived by husband, Bill Nichols, and children, Jim, Nancy, Rich, and Roger, nine grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. In addition to raising her family, she touched many lives over her time in Kennett Square.
Connie's first restoration was the Bayard Taylor house in Cedarcroft in 1958. Her proudest moment was the opening of the Tick Tock Day Care Center. Many houses and projects followed, including the Gregg house on Chandler Mill Road, a couple of South Broad Street houses, and two West Grove historic properties.
She has been a happy resident of Kendal at Longwood for 18 years.  A reception will be held at Kendal on Friday, March 18 at 12:30.
In lieu of flowers or donations, please save an old house."

DRIVING: A bad choice

A friend came up to me in the Y hallway, eager to share a story. A Pocopson resident, he said he was approaching the roundabout on Route 52 near his home on a Thursday afternoon, in light traffic, and was astonished to see another motorist making a LEFT turn into the traffic circle instead of a right.
He gave further details in an e-mail the next day:
"I was trying to figure out how he did it, and so coming up 52 to the circle today I saw that he must have gone to the left at the triangle with the directional sign and the yield sign which directs you to go to the right (counterclockwise) at the circle. Anyway, there was no traffic and I guess he just figured – what the heck."


ON THE GO: Mobile bookkeeping

Heading to Downingtown on Friday afternoon, I saw a car at the intersection of Buck Run and Strasburg Roads that had a sign on the driver's-side door advertising "Reliable Mobile Bookkeeping." Without thinking, I broke out into, "It's the oldest established, permanent floating craps game in New York" from "Guys & Dolls." (High-school kids beware, this is what happens when you get involved in musicals.)
But seriously, what does a mobile bookkeeping service do? I looked it up when I got home and learned that RMB is an company founded and run by Katie Smith. According to her website, "We will come to your place of business and offer our bookkeeping services so you can spend the time you need to grow your company and not worry about numbers.  We are able to set up your books and maintain them hourly, weekly or monthly without interfering with your daily routine."

Thursday, February 25, 2016

EMPTY BOWLS: Raising money for a good cause

When I signed up to attend the Empty Bowls fundraiser for Kennett Area Community Service, I expected that it would be a tiny event with a few people ladling out soup to people like me popping in to Kennett on their lunch breaks.
My first clue that I was way off the mark should have been that the dinner seating was sold out more than a week in advance and only luncheon tickets were available.
I showed up to the Red Clay Room at 12:30 p.m. to find a packed parking lot and just about every seat taken inside the hall. It turns out that this is a major event, in its fifth year!
Lucy D'Angelo, one of the organizers (her husband, Pete, serves on the KACS Board of Directors), was nice enough to take me under her wing and explain the protocol in terms of getting in line for lunch (soup, salad, and a roll), checking out the dozens of baskets on the silent auction tables and selecting a pottery bowl to take home.
Lucy told me that because there were two seatings, the businesses that donated items and services for the silent auction had to give TWO gifts (the ones to be sold during the dinner seating were stored under the tables at lunch). I was impressed at such generosity, and the amount of effort that it took the volunteers to pull all this together.
During the formal program Unionville Presbyterian Church pastor the Rev. Annalie Korengel Lorgus welcomed everyone, and KACS executive director Melanie Weiler showed a moving video about the services KACS provides (a food cupboard, housing assistance, case management and emergency financial help). She said the goal of the agency is to respect their clients' strengths and dignity and guide them as needed rather than to tell them what to do. She described the clients are fighters, survivors and problem solvers who have learned to be creative in overcoming their difficulties.
The attendees and sponsors represent a who's who of the Kennett area. I sat with KACS treasurer Jeff Yetter and his wife, Carol (fresh off her second-place ribbon in the United Way's Chocolate Lovers' Fest) and saw Kennett Square Mayor (and new father!) Matt Fetick, new library board president Tom Swett, Kennett Y director Doug Nakashima (and a whole contingent of Y staffers), optometrist Carol Anne Ganley, architect Dennis Melton, and retired public health nurse and active community volunteer Joan Holliday.
In keeping with the overarching "Empty Bowls" theme, two dozen community groups made and donated pottery bowls, everyone from preschoolers to Girl Scouts to retirees at Crosslands. I picked a gorgeous bowl, a subdued blue with rust-colored highlights, that will be perfect for my breakfast cereal.

SWITCHED: A township appointee

Two people (the chairman of the Newlin Township Board of Supervisors, Janie Baird, and a gym friend) pointed out a foolish error I made in last week's account of the library board meeting, and I hasten to correct it. I wrote that a few years back, a previous incarnation of the library board rejected a candidate that her township proposed. They didn't; they rejected a candidate that another township, Pocopson, proposed.
Here is the corrected paragraph:
"Board member Karen Ammon said she attended a meeting of the Pocopson Township supervisors and reported that they are working on finding a resident to name to the Board. Relations between the library and Pocopson have been strained since the Board rejected POCOPSON's previous candidates, saying they didn't have the skills the library needed."

Monday, February 22, 2016

BOVE: A new owner for the jewelry store

Bob Strehlau, the general manager at Bove Jewelers in Kennett for the past 15 years, is the new owner. He made the announcement online on Monday morning, saying that customers should "stay tuned for information regarding our grand opening." The State Street shop closed its doors on Feb. 13.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

UNIONVILLE: UHS used book sale this weekend

Just a heads up that the Unionville High School PTO's annual Used Book Sale is this coming weekend at the high school. The hours are 4 to 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26, and 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27 (with the $10 bag sale to follow from 3 to 5 p.m.). Even though I have no more room on my bookshelves, I always find wonderful books and DVDs to buy. I'm still reading one of last year's purchases, "Bingo Night at the Fire Hall: Rediscovering Life in an American Village" by Barbara Holland. It's a beautifully written book about the author's bumpy transition from life in Philadelphia to a cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

PIZZA: Two pies for two people

We tried a new (new to us, that is) pizza place on Sunday night, Kennett Pizza and Pasta, and were quite happy with our pies. Yes, "pies" plural: two pies for two people makes sense when one is a meat lover and the other isn't. My ricotta, spinach, garlic and tomato pizza was delicious, and my dinner partner declared himself just as pleased with his ham, sausage, and extra cheese version.
And even with our medium pies, we will have plenty of leftovers! I've never outgrown my college-age love for cold next-day pizza (though I no longer wash it down with beer).
The pizzeria is at 420 West Cypress Street, and the website is

GIRL SCOUTS: A microcosm of the world

Two dozen local Girl Scout troops brought cultures from around the globe to the Unionville High School cafeteria on Friday afternoon as part of their annual "Thinking Day" celebration. The girls from each troop researched their chosen country and put together displays about its geography, history, people, politics and customs. Then they traveled to each table to learn about the country, get their "passports" validated, do a craft and fill out a worksheet of questions. (Sample questions: What were the winners of the Ancient Olympics given? What is the only indigenous animal to Iceland? and What five countries border Argentina? How many political parties are there in China, and where are they headquartered?)
My friend Karen, one of the Scout organizers, promised me there would be food, and was there ever: chrysanthemum tea from China, mango candy from India, mini-eclairs from France, a spicy rice dish with chicken from Botswana, pastries from Greece, cookies from Italy and Walker's shortbread from Great Britain. And those are just the ones I could remember!
A drummer from Botswana added an especially festive touch to the cosmopolitan event. I learned that he was a friend of a troop member and had almost literally just gotten off the plane from Africa.

NEW BOLTON: All sorts of creatures

You never know what you're going to see at New Bolton Center, the amazing veterinary facility that is in our backyard. A friend's horse had an appointment on Thursday, and she asked me to meet her there to lend moral support. She clinched the deal by offering me a dozen eggs from her chickens (which have started laying more plentifully because of the longer days).
While we were there, not only did we get to watch New Bolton's world-class farrier, Patrick Reilly, at work changing a hoof cast, but we also saw a goat-patient being wheeled between buildings on a stretcher. (Another friend who volunteers there said she recently got to babysit for a kangaroo.) And as my friend led her horse back to the trailer, three eagle-eyed professionals scrutinized his gait (the verdict was good); unaccountably, the scene reminded me of fashion editors peering intently at an exquisite haute couture model walking the catwalk.

MR. BROOKS: Chatham loses a friend

Bob Brooks, a longtime and well-known resident of Chatham, died on Feb. 13 at the age of 88. Every December for the past 10 years, my neighbor and I would head over to Mr. Brooks' place on Route 41 to buy a Christmas tree from him. We'd always tried to dicker with him over the price by pointing out that it was near the end of the season, or the tree I'd selected was the smallest on the lot and should really be discounted.
He never, ever budged.
"Thirty-five dollars," he'd say, and you knew that was his final answer.
Mr. Brooks was in the hospital in December, so even though I got an excellent, fragrant tree as always, it just wasn't the same. He was a sweet man and will be missed by many. My sympathy to his family, and may he rest in peace.

BYPASS: Accident waiting to happen

I've been complaining a lot about bad drivers recently, I know, but really, there were some truly foolhardy motorists on the Route 1 bypass during the freezing rain the other afternoon. The sun was going down, and the road markings were invisible underneath the slush and ice. I was gripping the wheel and doing maybe 35 mph, but people were speeding past me, weaving and tailgating as if it were sunny and dry. I felt far safer after I exited the bypass and drove home via the back roads.

CPR: Learning to save a life

On Feb. 15 I took an excellent "Hands-Only" CPR course at Longwood Fire Company, sponsored by the Chester County Hospital/Penn Medicine. The recommended rescue protocol when you encounter someone who has suffered a heart attack has changed considerably from when I first learned CPR. Now you call 911; give chest compressions, but not artificial respiration; and use an AED if there's one available.
During our practice session on mannequins, I learned that giving chest compressions at the proper depth and speed is quite a workout for the wrists and shoulders. The three paramedics who supervised our practice agreed and said that's part of the reason they try to get as many people trained as possible, so that one rescuer can take over when the first gets tired.
It was invaluable having the paramedics as instructors, as they were able to share their firsthand knowledge. In the lecture part of the class, Matt Eick, a Longwood Fire Company paramedic, emphasized the importance of knowing the signs of a heart attack in case you ever suffer one, and factors that can increase your risk.
Despite the snowstorm and the slippery roads, more than a dozen people showed up for the training, including my friends Ann and Tom Nale of Kennett Township.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

LIBRARY: Consultant hired to move things forward

At their Feb. 16 meeting, the Bayard Taylor Library Board, under new leadership, hired a "strategic visioning" consultant, Carl Francis, to help them move forward after a year of controversy.
His immediate assignment will be helping the board to figure out what the library should be called. The prior board tried to change the name from the Bayard Taylor Memorial Library to the Kennett Public Library, causing much criticism from the public and hobbling the board's progress toward building a new library.
Board member Jeff Yetter said the "name question" needs to be settled quickly so that the board can, among other things, publish the library's annual report and print up book bags.
Even though the library's 2016 budget shows a $75,000 deficit, the board agreed to pay Mr. Francis a retainer of $17,500, which will go toward his $225 hourly rate.
(In his report to the board, treasurer Bill McLachlan explained that he hopes to make up the deficit by increasing donations, securing grant money, and shifting cash from the library's investment account.)
Tom Swett, the new library board president, said he had previously worked with Mr. Francis, who is CEO and Chief Strategist of Envisian, in projects involving the Stroud Water Research Center and Chester County's open-space referendum. Mr. Francis helped Easttown Library to build a $7 million building almost 10 years ago.
In his presentation to the Board, Mr. Francis said "a lot of my work centers around difficult situations" involving risks and high stakes. He said the current controversy over the name poses "some real challenges" but if properly handled can lead to an enhanced relationship with the community.
He said he plans to explore "where are we as an organization and where we're going" by gathering and analyzing facts and considering possibilities.
For instance, he said, he was surprised when he walked into the library that there was no indication of who Bayard Taylor was. "We should honor Bayard Taylor," he said. "People should have a sense of who he was."
The Board also welcomed two new members: Loren Pearson, school psychologist for the Kennett district, and Brenda Mercomes, a retired college administrator. Loren was appointed to the Board by Newlin Township (her husband is supervisor Rob Pearson). Brenda was appointed by Kennett Square borough council.
Board member Karen Ammon said she attended a meeting of the Pocopson Township supervisors and reported that they are working on finding a resident to name to the Board. Relations between the library and Pocopson have been strained since the Board rejected Pocopson's previous candidates, saying they didn't have the skills the library needed.
The board meeting was the first to be held in the basement conference room at Liberty Place at Center and State Streets rather than at the library. Mr. Swett changed the monthly meeting time from 7 p.m. to 5 p.m. and then changed the location so as not to disrupt library programs.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

BLUEGRASS: An evening with Dry Branch Fire Squad

While anybody who was anybody headed east to Philadelphia on Friday night for Bruce Springsteen's "The River" concert, we headed south to Newark to hear Dry Branch Fire Squad, a venerable bluegrass quartet, as part of the Brandywine Friends of Old Time Music series.
The band's founder, mandolin player Ron Thomason, has a dry sense of humor and an exceptionally easy stage presence. At one point he mentioned that he'd received several requests from the audience -- as well as a request NOT to play a certain song.
He declared himself baffled.
"How do you NOT play a song?" he wondered aloud, claiming he was experiencing "existential angst" at the very prospect.
He told an anecdote about being asked to host a workshop at a music festival. He said he didn't know what a "workshop," was and in fact had become a musician expressly to avoid both parts of the word.
Later in the anecdote he asked the audience what the late folk singer Utah Phillips' real first name was.
"Bruce," replied several in the audience.
"That is a common error," he said.
"Zipper," one man suggested.
Ron cracked up. "That is an uncommon error," he said, his voice shaking with amusement.
Although his stage persona is that of a Virginia redneck with, as he put it, a one-digit genetic code, a family tree that doesn't fork, and only a single helix in his DNA, his skill on the mandolin quickly put the lie to that. The band members (Tom Boyd on banjo and dobro; Jeff Byrd on bass; Adam McIntosh on guitar and mandolin) took turns stepping up to the mike for their instrumental solos, and they created magical vocal harmonies.

TECHNOLOGY: Ready for their close-ups

Much of the post-Super Bowl hoopla has focused on the controversial halftime show, but what struck me most about the whole broadcast was the astonishing improvements that have been made in video technology. The cameras and TVs have gotten so advanced that, from a sideline camera, you could see the expression on the quarterbacks' faces. The picture is so sharp that you could lip-read what the coaches uttered when a call went against them (my mother is a genius at such interpretation). If you really wanted to, you could watch the sweaty players chatting on the sidelines or inhaling oxygen.
The technology was especially noticeable when, for nostalgia purposes, they showed clips from early football games, some in black-and-white and recorded for posterity with what seemed like a single, fixed camera. I remember such broadcasts.
I was also reminded of the changing technology -- and our changing tastes -- while listening to a skit on the radio by Elaine May and Mike Nichols, a comedy duo popular in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In this sketch Nichols played Kaplan, a frantic fellow who used his last dime to call the operator from a phone booth (remember them?), searching for a phone number. May played the unsympathetic, by-the-book operator who first told him the number was listed in the directory and he should just look it up, then assured him that his dime would be returned, even though he knew gotten stuck in the coin mechanism. There were some funny moments (he was spelling his name for the operator and said, "K, as in knife"), but it went on for eight minutes! Maybe my attention span has gotten shorter or maybe I've internalized today's faster-paced comedy style.

FUNERAL: Goodbye to Mr. Lowe

Last week we went to a funeral for Milton Lowe, who lived at Brandywine Senior Living. Mr. Lowe, who is the father of a friend of ours, served in the Navy in World War II and was a long-time and active member of the Jewish War Veterans. Members of that group held a moving ceremony for him, speaking about his military service, his groundbreaking career in electronics, his 66-year-long love affair with his wife, Phyllis, and his volunteer work as a docent on the Battleship New Jersey (in his honor, the flag that was used to drape his coffin flew over the ship).
One man said that he and Mr. Lowe had worked together on many Jewish War Veterans programs and recalled fondly that they didn't always quite see eye to eye about how things should be run. Knowing how strong-willed and plain-spoken Mr. Lowe was, I could just imagine those fiery clashes.
After the veterans' service, the traditional, ancient Jewish service followed, and Mr. Lowe's two children and his son-in-law spoke about their father. I have no words to describe what an amazing, beautiful, and funny job they did.
At the cemetery, the Jewish veterans, some of them quite elderly and frail, stood at attention in the cold to pay their respects. One determined woman, using a cane to get around, painstakingly maneuvered through the mud and placed a ceremonial shovelful of dirt on his coffin.
Two seaman in blue uniforms folded the flag with their quick, precise, practiced movements and presented it to the widow with those formal words of sympathy and respect prescribed by the military. "Taps" closed the funeral.
It was a dignified and beautiful service, full of honor, love and patriotism. Another member of the Greatest Generation has left us.

JUSTICE: A footnote to constitional law

The two-volume Constitutional Law book I'm been editing has, much to my surprise, been fascinating. (Several lawyer friends have said "Con Law" was by far their favorite class in law school.)
A recent section about the death penalty mentioned the case of Troy Leon Gregg, a convicted double murderer who broke out of Georgia State Prison the night before his scheduled execution in 1980, and then was promptly beaten to death in a bar fight by two of his fellow escapees.
Gregg's death sentence was the first one upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court after the justices, in Furman v. Georgia, decided that the death penalty was unconstitutional as currently applied.
According to Wikipedia, Gregg and three fellow inmates, "dressed in homemade correctional officer uniforms, complete with fake badges, had sawed through their cells' bars and then left in a car parked in the visitors' parking lot by an aunt of one of them. Gregg was beaten to death later that night in a bar fight in North Carolina. The other escapees were captured three days later."

CHALFANT: A new life for a grand mansion

Here's some great news: the 1884 Chalfant House at 220 North Union Street in Kennett Square, boarded up and vacant since it was heavily damaged by fire in November 2014, is being rehabbed. I'm told that the owner plans to have her real-estate office on the ground floor, with apartments above.
Known for its imposing "upside-down chimneys," the house was designed by noted Philadelphia architect Frank Furness and built for Kennett businessman William Chalfant. In addition to repairing the fire damage, the workers have torn down the garage behind the house and will also raze the frame addition at the rear. (Local historian Lynn Sinclair told me that the frame structure was added by Chalfant's widow, Sarah, in 1913. It contained "an extra bathroom and other conveniences," according to a contemporary newspaper item.)
In their book "Greetings from Kennett Square," Joe Lordi and Dolores Rowe described the Queen Anne-style house is "magnificent" and wrote that the top-heavy chimneys "are thought to resemble early locomotive smoke stacks."
The house, once a funeral home, 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.

UNION STREET: The white line is there for a reason

Saturday afternoon I was heading south on Union Street in Kennett, in front of Tom Macaluso's bookstore, waiting at the light to turn green so I could make a left onto Cypress Street. The driver in front of me had pulled out way beyond the white line, forcing cars turning onto Union Street to make a wide, awkward turn. The outraged glares of the inconvenienced drivers directed at the inept motorist made for some entertaining viewing.
That line is actually there for a reason, but I'm thinking the motorist was from out of town and didn't realize that: after the light changed, he thought about turning into a few streets, turned on his blinker each time -- and then promptly pulled into a dead-end alley.

HOOD'S: A warm dinner on a cold night

We had a terrific dinner at Hood's BBQ in Unionville on Saturday night. I don't often eat beef, so it has to be really good when I do. The sirloin steak (their special for the evening) met that standard, and more. So delicious!
Annalie Korengel Lorgus, pastor at Unionville Presbyterian Church and a Hood's regular, was eating at the table next to us. As she was leaving we asked her if she'd had a good dinner.
"A Hoodie," she replied. "The perfect food."

Thursday, February 11, 2016

THE Y: A nontraditional audience

I was proud to be part of an amazing exercise class the other night at the Kennett Area YMCA.
Our cardio class -- one of the toughest the Y offers, if I do say so myself -- starts at 7:45 p.m., and as usual there were high-school kids shooting hoops in the gym up until the last minute.
The instructor and I were watching them horsing around and commented that it was great to see kids being active instead of staring at a device.
Then she said, "I have an idea."
She walked over to the stereo, donned her wireless mike and announced to the dozen or so boys that they had an option: they could leave, or they could stay and participate in class.
"I can guarantee that I'll have you huffing and puffing," she challenged them.
After some sidelong looks at each other, the boys stayed -- and they gave it their all.
When the moves got a little complicated, the instructor told them how hot they'd be on the dance floor, making them smile. When the choreography called for running around, pivoting, and leaping from side to side, she assured them this would greatly enhance their basketball skills.
What great sports the boys were! And polite, too! Hats off to all of them, and to our instructor for thinking outside the box to be welcoming and inclusive. I really hope they come back, because they added an indescribable energy to class.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

RETREAT: Not talking for 140 hours?

This morning a woman at the Y was telling me, at great length and with greater enthusiasm, about a 140-hour "silent retreat" she had attended recently at a meditation center in Maryland. She said that the break from having to listen to clients worked wonders for not only her spiritual growth but also her blood pressure.
I am a big fan of peace and quiet, certainly, but I expressed strong doubt that I would enjoy such an extended period of not speaking (not to mention getting up at 5 a.m.).
"Oh! You would!" she assured me. Somehow I don't think I'm going to put it to the test.

HUNGER: A simple lunch or dinner

Jeff Yetter asked me for some publicity about "Empty Bowls," a fundraiser to benefit the Kennett Food Cupboard. Here's how it works: you buy a ticket and you get a simple lunch or dinner of soup and bread at the Red Clay Room in Kennett Square on Thursday, Feb. 25. Plus you get to take home a handmade ceramic bowl.

Lunch is from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Dinner is from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Tickets, which are $25, are available by calling the Food Cupboard at 610-925-3556 or online (

WOODPECKER: Heard and now seen

On Feb. 2, Tom Herman spotted a pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) behind London Grove Friends Meeting. He said that he and his wife, Risa, "have heard him for the last 4 years and finally captured an image of him." And he was kind enough to send it to me.
Pileated woodpecker; photo by Tom Herman.

My Audubon bird book describes these large woodpeckers as "usually quite shy; presence best detected by loud call," which is a "loud, rolling kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk."

THEATER: A green ogre and a panto

This spring's Unionville High School show is "Shrek the Musical," and it will be presented on Thursday, March 3, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, March 4, at 7:30 p.m.; and Saturday, March 5, at both 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 via; or $14 for adults and $12 for students and seniors at the door. We will be at the Thursday evening show. According to the press release, "Shrek the Musical" is a one-of-a-kind, hilarious fairy tale in which curses are reversed, monsters get the girls, donkeys and dragons find love, and princesses are beautiful in all shapes and sizes." Director is Scott Litzenberg, and Justin Bowen (one of the Jets in last year's "West Side Story") stars in the title role.
In other theatrical news, after being first drenched by sprinklers and then snowed out on its original performance dates, the Kennett Amateur Theatrical Society's pantomime "Sherlock & the Beanstalk" will be held at 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20, at the American Legion Hall in downtown Kennett Square. The number of seats is limited, but tickets for the cancelled shows will be honored. "The best show never seen!" trumpets the rueful press release.


At the Exxon/Pep Boys station on the southeast corner of the Route 202/1 intersection, the sign gives prices for gasoline, diesel and CNG. What is CNG, I asked my travel companion (his breadth of knowledge continually delights me). Compressed natural gas, he explained; it's a type of "green" fuel used mostly by buses and fleet vehicles.
Sure enough, later that day in Voorhees, N.J., we spotted two municipal trash trucks sporting signs saying they used CNG.
The price given at the Exxon for CNG was 0.00, which I took to mean that either they didn't have any on hand or it was free.

SIGNS: They're no good if you can't read them

With primary election season in full swing, we should be seeing a crop of campaign signs and bumper stickers. A word of advice if you have anything to do with creating them: Make sure the wording is legible from a distance! On Friday we saw a bumper sticker that said "I someone with syndrome." The letters of the syndrome name were so tightly squished that we could not make it out, even when we were close to the vehicle -- and as a science editor, I know a thing or two about disease names. We joked, irreverently, that perhaps the syndrome in question involved hyperacute eyesight.
Later that day I saw "Open House" signs on all four corners of the Willowdale intersection. What was the open house for? I'll never know: the lettering was just too small.

JENNERS POND: Catching up with an "old" friend

On Wednesday I went to visit an old friend (meaning, of course, a friend of long standing) for coffee at her home in Jenners Pond; she and her (now deceased) husband sold their Kennett home and moved there a few years ago. I had never been to the Jennersville retirement community before and was astonished at its large size. I was very impressed with my friend's lovely twin home, which has a full lower level with a workshop, a more-than-ample ground floor with a nice kitchen, and a lovely loft office upstairs. 
Later that day I saw a gym friend who works at Jenners Pond and told him my favorable impression of the place. He is a warm and down-to-earth guy and beamed with pride, saying that the first priority of everyone on the management team is the residents' happiness and well-being. He even told me that my friend should feel free to contact him with any problem, no matter how minor.

Friday, February 5, 2016

WEST MARLBOROUGH: Getting the job done

During their Feb. 2 monthly meeting, the West Marlborough supervisors had high praise for their road crew's dedicated performance during the January blizzard.
Supervisor Bill Wylie said although many small townships contract out their snow removal, "we've always thought we're the kind of community who likes to know who's doing the work." He said the road crew "takes special pride in doing a good job ... I think our residents appreciate it."
Tom Brosius of Marlboro Mushrooms told the supervisors he greatly appreciated the road crew's timely help so that his employees could get to the farm safely.
In other business, Supervisor Hugh Lofting said he is continuing to work on getting a grant from a program that targets "dirt, gravel and low-volume roads" (defined as less than 500 cars a day). The money would go toward stabilizing a steep bank along Rokeby Road that slopes down to the Buck Run. Residents have brought the problem to the supervisors' attention several times in recent years.

WEST MARLBOROUGH: Update on police agreement

At their February meeting, the West Marlborough supervisors said they have been talking to the East Marlborough supervisors about continuing their police services arrangement. Since 2008, West Marlborough has contracted with East Marlborough to receive 40 hours of service a month; that has been provided by Chief Robert "Clarkie" Clarke. West Marlborough was going to discontinue the arrangement at the end of 2015, but several West Marlborough residents objected.
As Supervisor Bill Wylie explained, "A lot of people really value some sort of police presence in the township ... having somebody to call would be very useful and reassuring."
Under a new "on-call" agreement being contemplated, Mr. Wylie said, the officer who responded to a West Marlborough resident's phone call might be Clarkie or one of East Marlborough's two part-time officers. Residents have said they would be fine with that.
At the February meeting Clarkie presented his statistics for the service he provided to West Marlborough in 2015: 84 days worked, 480 hours worked, 204 incidents handled, 265 calls to 911 received, 89 speeding tickets issued, 24 parking tickets, six stop-sign violations, two tickets for driving without a license, two tickets for driving an unregistered vehicle, one ticket for passing in a no-passing zone, one ticket for careless driving and 63 warnings.
For January 2016, he handled 21 incidents, received 26 calls to 911 and issued eight citations (two for speeding, three for running a stop sign, one for an inspection violation and two for parking).