Sunday, December 31, 2017

KENNETT SQUARE: An evening with friends

We spent Saturday evening with two dear Unionville friends, enjoying dinner at Giordano's and just catching up with each other. There was a lot of laughter, bad jokes and quotations from "The Simpsons," as well as more serious conversation.
At one point we were discussing the new tax code: the husband of this couple is a professional money guy and needs to keep up with such matters. I expressed my fervent hope that health insurance premiums would still be deductible, as my monthly premium is now upwards of $800 a month.
"Eight hundred dollars!" exclaimed the wife. "That's more than I spend on horseshoes!"
She and I looked at each other and laughed uproariously, realizing the First World nature of so many of our problems.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

LONGWOOD: Even in the winter

Longwood Gardens just informed me that my membership would be expiring in a few weeks, and I immediately renewed. After all, visiting just a few times a year pays for your membership, and members get discounts on plays and concerts.
We're so lucky to have one of the world's great horticultural attractions so close by. I will occasionally pop by on a cold winter's day just so I can visit the staghorn ferns, the bonsai, the Venus flytraps, the roses, or the banana plants; stroll down the acacia passageway into the wonderfully humid, fragrant orchid room; and listen to the visitors from all over the world chatting in multiple languages.

CHRISTMAS: The power of lights

People's Christmas lights were pretty remarkable this year. A lot of folks have bought those projectors that shine images all over the side of your house, either stationary dots of color or rotating snowflakes, snowmen or Santa Claus heads (which makes me a little dizzy). The ever-inventive manufacturers have even equipped these projectors with discs for multiple holidays: circling pumpkins for Halloween, or the Eagles logo for football season.
The workers at the SECCRA landfill always put up decorations on the chain-link fence along Route 41, and this year I noticed that they had installed a single lighted tree, like a beacon, on the very top what we call "Mount Trash."
Some bicyclists I saw a few nights before Christmas were getting into the holiday spirit (along with increasing their visibility). A group of six or eight were riding single-file westbound along Route 82 through "downtown" Unionville, with multicolored flashing lights on the spokes of their wheels. The effect was almost psychedelic. 
But once again, some residents of Church Hill Road, south of Avondale, take top honors for their incredible Christmas lights display, which they put up in memory of their son. Each year they use a crane to hang large white lighted stars high up in the trees along the road, and the light is reflected in the water of the White Clay Creek below. It's a stunning and moving sight.

BAYARD TAYLOR: Happy Birthday, Bayard!

The Kennett Library will be celebrating Bayard Taylor's birthday on Thursday, Jan. 11. I'm told there will be birthday cupcakes for all, as well as a "literary open mic" program starting at 6 p.m. According to the library's website: "Come share a poem, short story, or excerpt of your own work, or read us one of your favorites from an author you admire. Don’t have anything to read? Just bring your mind and ears to support literacy in your local community."
The library is at 216 E. State Street. Bayard Taylor was born in Kennett Square on Jan. 11, 1825.

Monday, December 25, 2017

WALMART: Navy and gold

It can now be written.
Back in November I got the idea of knitting winter hats in the Unionville High School colors, navy blue and gold, as Christmas gifts for two family members. I went to Walmart to buy the yarn, knowing they stock sturdy, washable yarns in a kaleidoscopic assortment of colors.
Too kaleidoscopic, in fact: I couldn't decide which was the perfect blue. I asked a fellow yarn shopper for help, but she had never heard of Unionville (I know; imagine!). I had better luck when I asked three nearby sales clerks. Not only had they heard of Unionville, but they even called up the UHS website and held up skeins of yarn next to the computer screen to get the closest possible match.
Excellent customer service --- and the hats turned out perfectly.

STINKBUGS: It's crunch time

Perhaps it was my later-than-usual bedtime the night before (with its larger-than-usual dessert intake), but I must have been groggy indeed not to notice the stinkbug sitting in my Christmas-morning bowl of Cheerios.
Until, of course, I bit into it.
I am here to tell you that stinkbugs taste exactly like they smell. You're welcome; thanks to my serendipitous misfortune, now you don't need to take part in the time-honored scientific tradition of self-experimentation.
On the upside, I got to cleanse my palate with some awesome chocolate fudge made by a kind neighbor.

MARSHALLTON: Historic house destroyed

A fire that broke out at 6 a.m. Christmas Eve Day destroyed a c. 1800 house at 1408 West Strasburg Road in Marshallton. No one was hurt. The house was set back from Strasburg Road behind a high hedge, and the property backed up to Northbrook Road, next to the Martins Tavern historic site. All that remains is a white-painted stone foundation and a pile of charred timbers and lath, broken glass, and shingles.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

UNIONVILLE: Healing and hope

In her "Longest Night" service on Dec. 21 at Unionville Presbyterian, the Rev. Annalie Korengel did a beautiful job describing the disconnect that a great many people feel at this time of year: How can you feel jolly like you're "supposed to" at Christmastime when you're grieving for a loved one or suffering from the misery of depression? 
Light, hope and faith will gradually conquer the darkness, she assured us, just like the hours of welcome daylight gradually lengthen as we get past the Winter Solstice. Part of the opening prayer was, "Help us know that You are present with us in all of our moods and feelings and seasons."
The 45-minute service also included New Testament readings, a hymn, Christmas carols and a candle-lighting ceremony to remember those who have passed.

KENNETT TOWNSHIP: Way's Lane property sold!

The Bayard Taylor/Kennett Library wrapped up 2017 with two huge wins.
In November the citizens of New Garden Township voted to support the library by paying a direct tax. Previous library boards had failed to convince New Garden residents that this was a good idea, sponsoring and then losing at least three referenda.
And in December the library board sold what was known as the Waywood property on Way's Lane, which it had purchased more than 15 years ago in hopes of building a new library there. To the board members' consternation, their vision of moving the library "out of town" turned out to be a spectacularly unpopular one. There was a candlelight vigil outside the library. Heated letters to the editor filled the Kennett Paper, each side accusing the other of skullduggery. The ensuing fissures and mistrust took years to heal.
But now a completely new library board, under the direction of veteran fundraiser Tom Swett, has purchased from the borough an "in-town" site on East State Street, just a stone's throw from its current building, and has done a great deal of the behind-the-scenes diplomacy needed to secure political and financial support from the community.
The sale of the 5.3-acre Way's Lane property (to Chatham Financial, which has its headquarters on McFarlan Road, very close to the site) will provide both proof of the board's commitment and some ready cash. The Board originally paid $550,000 for the property; Chatham Financial bought it for $900,000.
Here's the Board's statement on the sale:
"The $900,000 proceeds from the sale will be used to help build the new Kennett Library at the corner of State and Willow Streets. The Kennett Library is very grateful for the generosity of Chatham Financial who paid considerably above the appraised value of $750,000 in order to help fund the upcoming capital campaign. The sale of the property is an important step forward that was needed to make the vision of a new Kennett Library a reality."

Friday, December 22, 2017

WILMINGTON: A Solstice Walk

I marked the Winter Solstice on Dec. 21 by taking part in a mid-day Labyrinth Walk at the Delaware Art Museum's open-air labyrinth, housed within the stone walls of a former reservoir. It was just above freezing but sunny, and the winding paths of the labyrinth were more crowded with walkers than I'd ever seen them.
When they reached the middle of the labyrinth, some people lingered quietly to savor the moment. One free-spirited woman -- attached to the laces of her burgundy boots were cut-outs of Monarch butterfly wings -- stood smiling with eyes shut and face and hands uplifted to soak in the sunshine.
Another festive visitor wore a marvelous steampunk top hat with a garland of holly and ivy around the brim.
There were a number of young kids, competing to see who could get to the middle the fastest. They made a funny contrast with the visitors who were walking in stately fashion, seeming to measure each pace as they negotiated the labyrinth's 90- and 180-degree turns.
It was great to see our tireless hostess Carol Maurer, who looks after the labyrinth, schedules periodic maintenance get-togethers for volunteers, and organizes events like the Solstice walk.


The new Go Green N Clean car wash by the Kennett Walmart has finally opened, just in time for winter salt season. I was going to check it out today -- my car is perpetually in need of a wash -- but I drove right past the entrance. Either it's not clearly marked or, just as likely, I totally overlooked the sign. The entrance, I now know, is on Onix Drive, behind the Hilton Garden Inn.

KENNETT: Distracted?

Motorists in downtown Kennett Square are a columnist's dream; it seems like I could feature a new instance of what-were-they-thinking? behavior each week.
Today, for instance, a woman parked in front of Sam's Subs on East State Street and blithely opened her car door right into traffic. I had to brake sharply so as not to crash into her or the door. And one can't even excuse her recklessness by saying that she needed a Sam's Sub stat, because while I waited, she took pains to carefully fold in her driver's side mirror so it wouldn't get hit.
I'm shaking my head.

KENNETT: New townhouse development

There's a big difference between reading in the newspaper about a forthcoming project and actually seeing it get under way. I was driving on Hillendale Road the other day, west of the Five Points intersection, and saw that construction has started on the Ryan Homes development called Sinclair Springs. Seventy-eight townhouses will be built on the 20-acre site, which will have two entrances/exits off Hillendale Road. Prices start in the $320,000s, and the townhouses will be built in groups of four to six.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

CHRISTMAS: Prince of Peace

The benches were filled for the annual carol sing at Marlborough Friends Meeting the evening of Dec. 17. After a short period of silent worship in the Quaker style and two Bible readings, the singing part of the program started, led by a guitarist and a harp player.
We sang a nice mixture of traditional hymns like "Joy to the World" and "The First Noel" and secular songs like "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Jingle Bells." "The 12 Days of Christmas" had us all out of breath by the time we finished with all those lords and maids and drummers.
It's funny to hear the different ways that people pronounce words like "Deity" (Day-ity? Dee-ity?) and "Alleluia" (Is there an initial H or not?).
Several of the songs took me back sharply to elementary-school Christmas programs. Thanks to our martinet of a chorus teacher, I still make a point of enunciating the "gel" in "angel" very distinctly, and I pronounce the second syllable of "comfort" like it's a military fort, not "fert." 
The evening closed with a beautiful, reverent version of "Silent Night," followed by cookies, cider (fitting; the Barnard family of Barnard's Orchards were among the founders of Marlborough Meeting) and good fellowship.

GARDENING: A great calendar

Landscape architect and gardener Carol A. Krawczyk of Kennett Square has published a beautiful wall calendar, "The Garden Calendar for Southeastern Pennsylvania 2018."
Carol describes the calendar as "filled with monthly gardening tips, full color photos of plants in bloom during each month, and gardening suggestions in the actual calendar. The actual calendar part includes red letter days (deadlines), green planting/harvesting dates, and blue to-do chores in the garden."
You can buy a copy at RP Nurseries in Willowdale; the State & Union shop in Kennett Square; the Gateway Garden Center in Hockessin; and online at eBay. Carol has also created a Facebook page for the calendar if you want more information.


We were loading our groceries into the Jeep at the megalomart on Saturday evening when the guy across from us climbed up into his giant pickup truck, started the engine and revved it up loudly a couple of times, pumping out noxious-smelling exhaust. He then pulled out from his parking space abruptly and sped through the lot, probably not the most considerate move given the place was full of little kids and distracted shoppers pushing carts overflowing with Christmas stuff.
Just a few minutes later, we came across his broken-down truck with its four-way flashers on, sitting there blocking a lane of traffic. I was ashamed at the sense of satisfaction I felt at the guy's misfortune.

PETS: The squeaky cat toy

The other day the mischievous Clarence swatted one of his squeaky cat toys into his water dish, causing the mouse's internal squeaker speaker to chirp without ceasing. Thinking that perhaps it just needed to be dried out, I tossed it in the dryer for 20 minutes. It was dry, but it still squeaked.
I stuck it in the fridge, then the pantry, just to get it out of earshot. No luck: I could still hear its high-pitched chirps.
I put it outside, but then it started to rain, which I feared would be counterproductive.
Finally I stashed it in the freezer overnight. The next day, mercifully, it was back to normal, chirping only when Clarence batted it around.
Pretty sturdy technology for a cat toy!

NEW GARDEN: Primo's Hoagies is coming

Fans of Primo's hoagies are in luck: there's a franchise opening on Baltimore Pike in Toughkenamon, on the east side of the Jenkins & McMahon plumbing supply house. The sub shop is set back a bit, so it's difficult to see when you're coming from the west.
And speaking of Toughkenamon, every time I've driven past the Brown Derby restaurant for the past few weeks, there have been no signs of life inside. Out of curiosity I peered inside and saw only the word "closed" written on a piece of white paper taped inside the front door.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

MEDITATION: The pain cave

Twice a week I take part in a high-intensity exercise class at the Y that's challenging not only physically but mentally. Let me illustrate: at one point the other night we were doing crab-walks back and forth across the room, for four minutes straight, while the "Sponge Bob Square Pants" anthem was blaring. You look ridiculous, you're panting for breath and your muscles are screaming (it helps that the instructors are funny, loud and motivating).
So I was describing the class to friends the other day, trying to get some new recruits, and one woman commented, "It sounds like meditation."
Say what?! To me meditation means sitting quietly with your eyes closed, letting your distracting thoughts drift away, with perhaps some incense smoldering and a gong chiming. (More often than not, I nod off.)
But my perceptive friend was absolutely right. Talk about focus: in the midst of this class all you can think about is the next 30 seconds (that's how long a set lasts) and how you're going to get through it. You can't think about the hassles of your day, or the problems of the world, or your skyrocketing health insurance premium. There's no room for ego or "spin."
Plus it absolutely torches calories. A win-win situation.

ENCORE: A store with a history

Apparently I am very late to the game in discovering the Encore consignment shop on Route 1 in Hamorton. I've been donating a lot of my late mother's household things to charity, but some things are just too "good" to give away. A few friends suggested that I try consigning them at the Encore, an upscale shop that benefits the Chester County Hospital.
So I did some online research to get ballpark prices, read through the shop's detailed and sensible rules, collected several "good" items (some artwork and silver) and headed over there on Monday morning. The consignment process operates on a number system, like at a bakery, and I waited in my car for about 15 minutes before my number was posted on their bulletin board.
The volunteers went through my stuff to see if it met their quality standards (all but an unexciting silverplate dish did), and we agreed how they should be priced. I found the volunteers to be friendly, organized and knowledgeable, and I'll be eager to see what prices I get (the shop, of course, keeps a certain percentage).
An interesting historical footnote, courtesy of my friend Joan: in the 19th century the Encore building housed a store that sold only "free" goods (those produced by free labor rather than by slaves). From R.C. Smedley's 1883 "History of the Underground Railroad in Chester and Neighboring Counties of Pennsylvania":
"Hamorton's activity against slavery included more than building a school and hall, and listening to speeches. The village also supported a long-running "free store" operated by Sarah Harvey Pearson. Pearson first opened a store which boycotted goods produced by slave labor in a stone house on the north side of Baltimore Pike. In 1844 she built a new store of brick on a lot across the road which she had recently purchased. The store originally was kept in the north room but was moved to a frame addition built by her husband George on the south. George Pearson also was an ardent abolitionist and active in the Free Soil Movement. Pearson operated her business as a free store through 1858."

GOOGLE: Twenty questions

One of the side effects of keeping the "location" function of my phone activated at all times is that it allows Google to keep track of my movements. Their algorithm even tries to predict my next destination and it's often spot on (not too tricky when it involves my fairly regular gym schedule). 
Supposedly to provide helpful information to other users, Google often asks me a litany of questions about the places I've visited. When I have time, I answer them. Most of them are straightforward, asking about parking, takeout food, and wheelchair access, but others are judgment calls: How are my inquisitors defining "expensive"? What do they consider a "good" place for vegetarians? What does it take for a venue to be easily noticed from the street "in normal traffic"?
Other questions are just plain bizarre, like the one asking whether the Kennett Walmart sells borax.
I've bought some strange things in my day, but never borax. What is borax? What aisle would it be in? (Back in the day, wasn't there a cleaning product called 40 Mule Team borax?) 
Perhaps they're just trick questions to make sure you don't answer "yes" to everything indiscriminately.

BULBS: Paperwhite mania

I was tardy buying my bulbs for indoor forcing and managed to snag pretty much the last paperwhite bulbs in Kennett. And when I opened the box containing my amaryllis bulb, I discovered that it had already started growing inside its cardboard confines. It was sending up a ghostly white stalk and flowers. After being exposed to the light for a couple of days, the stalk has turned a light green and the flower is showing slight tinges of pink (it's supposed to be bright red). I supposed I could have returned it to the shop, but it's more interesting to conduct a natural history experiment. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

WILMINGTON: A seafood dinner

What a spectacular meal we had on Sunday evening at Harry's Seafood Grill, which is on the Christina River in Wilmington. We were celebrating a family member's 32nd birthday and let him choose the location. Happily for all of us, he picked Harry's.
We were a little late getting there. Not used to Wilmington's one-way roads, we ended up driving past the restaurant three times before discovering the parking lot. There's a nice big sign ... once you see it.
The menu is a lengthy one, so much so that the waiter had to give us some guidance. The fact that we hadn't seen our guests for a while and had lots to catch up on didn't expedite the ordering process.
The food was wonderful. I had three kinds of raw oysters, briny and delicious, followed by big-eye tuna with pea shoots, noodles, scallions and shiitake mushrooms. The others at the table also ordered seafood: crabcakes with arugula, garlic and tomatoes; the three-course lobster dinner; and seared Hawaiian opah with squash and kale. One member of our party avoids eating gluten and was happy to see that there was a variety of gluten-free choices.
For dessert I had stunningly delicious home-made chocolate and cherry gelato, possibly one of the best desserts I've ever eaten. The woman next to me ordered a dessert coffee flight, which turned out to be three small glasses of coffee, assorted liqueurs and whipped cream. She shared some for tasting, and by the time they returned to her she couldn't figure out which one it was that she preferred (salted caramel, maybe?).
By the time we left, the restaurant was full, including a rowdy group of ladies next to us and a family party all dressed up in sparkly holiday clothes.
After dinner we visited our guests' high-rise apartment, which is only a five-minute walk across the river. We had to get off the elevator at the floor below and sneak upstairs so as not to frighten their anxious dog, who actually seemed very happy at the return of her minders.

HANS HERR: Candlelight tour in the snow

Some of you may have spent a cozy Saturday evening in front of the fireplace, hanging ornaments on the Christmas tree while the snow fell steadily outside.
Not us.
We had tickets for the sold-out Christmas Candlelight Tour at the Hans Herr House in Lancaster County, and we were determined to get there. We left early, stuck to the main roads and got there only a few minutes late. We were amazed at the amount of traffic we encountered, including Amish buggies.
We thought the tour would be something simple, perhaps just a costumed guide showing us around the house, which was built in 1719 by immigrants from Germany who came to this country seeking religious freedom. But it turned out to be a fascinating tour of the entire property, including demonstrations by a weaver, a flax spinner, a blacksmith, and a basketmaker. We rode through the snow in a Conestoga wagon.
One of the highlights for me was the Native American longhouse, which we had seen before, but only from the outside. Our guide, actually the museum director, explained that it was an accurate recreation of the way that the Eastern Woodlands Indians lived in pre-European Contact times in the 1500s and 1600s. Two layers of wooden racks lined the walls, the lower one for sleeping and the upper one for storage. There was a small fire burning in the middle of the longhouse, offering some welcome warmth despite the ample smoke.
In the kitchen of the Hans Herr House, a guide explained how linen was made. I had no idea that it was such a painstaking process. The flax needs to be carefully grown so that the stalks are straight and long. Then it needs to be pulled up by the root, soaked, crushed in a brake and then run through a hackle to separate out the desired fiber. Only then can it be spun into yarn and woven.
As always when I visit historical places, I'm reminded of how tough our ancestors were and how easy we have it in comparison. The basketmaker, for instance, was telling us that baskets were not a decorative art form; they were a vital part of life. You couldn't just go out and buy some Rubbermaid, he quipped. (He also told us how they preserved eggs during the winter: they poured lard over them.)
The evening ended in the candlelit dining room-slash-chapel of the main  house, where the guide, with the help of a German guest who happened to be on hand, read the Christmas Story aloud in German. Then we all sang "Silent Night," also in German, with the help of lyric sheets.
It was a magical evening -- and fortunately the drive back home was much easier.


It looks like work on the long-delayed Rokeby Road project will actually begin in January 2018. At the West Marlborough Township meeting on Dec. 5, Supervisor Hugh Lofting said the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has decided that the work must be done between January 1 and March 30 so as not to disturb the bog turtles that live in the area. Bids have been solicited for the project, and a meeting of contractors was set for Dec. 11.
The goal of the project is to shore up a steep slope that has been collapsing into the Buck Run. Residents have been complaining about the worsening situation for years.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

WEST MARLBOROUGH: An explosive topic

Just what are those loud "booms" that many local residents have been hearing at all hours during the past few months?
The mystery prompted a lively discussion at the monthly West Marlborough Township meeting on Dec. 5.
Bill Shaw, who lives on Newark Road south of London Grove village, came to the meeting to express his concerns to the supervisors. He said the noises sounded like explosions going off north of him (he said he was familiar with how explosives sound, having worked in demolitions in the military). He said he knew they were much too loud to be coming from the nearby gun club (the Southern Chester County Sportsmen's and Farmer's Association).
Mark and Anna Myers said they too have heard the noises, sometimes as late as 1:30 a.m., and thought they sounded like a cannon being fired. Anna Myers said it was difficult to tell which direction the noises were coming from because they echoed.
Supervisor Jake Chalfin said that after hearing about the noise from several residents he contacted the Pennsylvania State Police, but they had no leads or theories to offer.
The supervisors suggested that residents keep track of the times they hear the noises.
Theories put forth so far include the following: (1) there's blasting going on at a quarry somewhere; (2) someone has a cannon on his property and likes setting it off for fun; and (3) the noises are sonic booms from aircraft breaking the sound barrier.

MARKETING: Nothing but the truth

With all the apocalyptic hyperbole, meaningless buzzwords and self-serving spin that bombard us these days, it was downright refreshing to see this slogan on a work truck in West Chester the other day: "Roofs Leak. We Fix Them."
Plain, straightforward, and to the point. I applaud!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

KENNETT SQUARE: Open-air market

The Kennett Square Holiday Village Market at The Creamery (401 Birch Street) is well worth a visit. I stopped by the open-air market on Saturday and was amazed at the variety of items that the vendors were selling, like scarves, ornaments, vintage Christmas decorations, S'mores kits, prints and artwork, ceramics, wooden bowls, jewelry, cards, shiny silver spoons with phrases stamped on them, and fancy polenta and catsup from Happy Cat Farm. Musicians were playing "Feliz Navidad," and an ice sculptor was carving a snowman. Members of the Spade & Trowel garden club were selling greens, holiday arrangements and paperwhites kits. There was a variety of food and drink for sale, and portable heaters kept everyone warm. 
I got a chance to meet Meredith Langer, a Kennett Square calligrapher who organized the market, and complimented her on a job well done. I was impressed with the variety and quality of the vendors and, judging by the large crowd, the organizers clearly have found a niche. 
Parking on Birch Street was difficult; a free shuttle bus runs between the 100 block of South Broad Street and the Creamery.
The market is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9, and Sunday, Dec. 10.

NPR: The Squire of the Square

A loyal Unionville reader called me the morning of Saturday, Dec. 2, to report that Kennett Square had just been mentioned on National Public Radio! She was listening to a quiz program in which celebrities were asked to identify bits of information as truth or urban legends, and this celeb didn't believe that Herb Pennock was really the Squire of Kennett Square. The host corrected her and went on to mention that Kennett is the Mushroom Capital of the United States. 

WEST MARLBOROUGH: Good food and good company

The annual pre-Hunt get-together at Lydia Bartholomew's Plumsted Farm on the morning of Saturday, Dec. 2, was great fun as always. Addressing the guests from horseback just before the hunt moved off, Anne Moran, one of the Masters of Mr. Stewart's Cheshire Foxhounds, took a few minutes to thank Lydia for her hospitality and to express appreciation to the landowners for allowing the Hunt to cross their properties. 
Then the foxhunters headed off to the east, toward Newark Road, while the rest of us socialized with friends and neighbors and enjoyed the lavish spread of pastries, fruit, chili, fruit, subs and hot coffee (with or without additives). It was a lovely morning, with bright sunshine and brisk but comfortable temperatures.

EARTHQUAKE: An odd sensation

The 4.1-magnitude earthquake that rattled our area just before 5 p.m. Nov. 30 was greeted by either excitement (by me), jaded boredom (by those who have lived on the West Coast) or confusion and regret (by those who missed it). 
I was sitting on the sofa trying to solve a puzzle (I participate in a weekly nerd-fest competition) when I heard a rumbling noise and the house shook. My first thought -- who thinks of an earthquake initially? -- was that it was either a cattle trailer or a heavy dump truck on the road outside, but there was no sign of either. Nor was there a low-flying helicopter, which can also shake the house. 
Puzzle-solving was preempted as I immediately went online to find out what was going on. 
I should add that the cats showed no reaction to the tremors; both continued snoozing per usual.
I missed the August 2011 earthquake (I was in my car), so I was glad to experience this one. 

ST. PAT'S: The Sharrett Courtyard

On Thanksgiving morning, Father Chris Rogers dedicated the new courtyard at St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church to the parish's longtime priest, Father Victor Sharrett. The Father Victor F. Sharrett Courtyard sits between the church and the former school building. (Thank you, dear Doug, for sharing this photo.)
As Father Rodgers wrote to his parishioners:
"The vacant land between our Church and School was for decades the place of our parish convent and the home of the Sisters of St. Joseph who taught in our parish school. As such, the ground is holy. Our project will recapture that holiness, creating a welcoming path and entrance in the shape of a Celtic cross, a shrine on the convent porch and a garden with benches, beauty and life. The ground that housed our Religious Sisters will once again be a place of welcome, reflection and prayer for many years to come."

The Father Victor F. Sharrett Courtyard was dedicated on Thanksgiving.

FIRE: Generous support

As I mentioned in last week's column, the response was swift to the fundraising campaign set up for the family that lost its Dean Drive house, possessions, and pets in a Thanksgiving night fire. The initial goal was $25,000; within nine days 549 people, many of them anonymous, had donated a total of $40,263 and the campaign was ended. 
One of the fire victims wrote what I thought was a beautiful message of thanks: "The kindness of our community, including many of you whom we have never met, has been immeasurable and has continued to fill our hearts. You have truly made a difference in our lives and given us hope for the future. We are witnesses to the good that exists in this world and that alone has provided more mental and emotional healing than you’ll ever know." 

WEST MARLBOROUGH: Ready for winter

West Marlborough Township's new road grader arrived on the morning of Nov. 27, and it is so big it barely fits in the township garage. Hugh Lofting Jr. and "Brother" Wilson of the township's road crew were happy to show me the features of the yellow 2007 John Deere grader, including its gigantic side plow. They said it's much quieter than the old grader. 
The township used $70,000 in state funds to replace its 1973 Caterpillar grader, which will be sold to neighboring Newlin Township. The new grader came from Jackson County, Iowa, where it was used to maintain the county's 550 miles of dirt and gravel roads. 

"Brother" Wilson and Hugh Lofting Jr. with the new grader.

BIRDS: Late arrivals

Finally the birds have found the seed and suet in my backyard! I've been filling the feeder regularly, but only the squirrels have been enjoying the seed. This week I was happy to note that numerous chickadees have shown up, and just this morning I spotted a red-bellied woodpecker at the suet feeder. Maybe the birds' tardiness has something to do with the warm autumn?

QUAKERS: Sing we now of Christmas

If you're looking for somewhere to sing Christmas carols, with no new-fangled inflatables, glitz or projected lights, here are three "Friendly" suggestions from the local Quaker community.
Bradford Friends Meeting will hold its annual Christmas sing at its meetinghouse in Marshallton at 11 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 17.
Marlboro Friends Meeting will hold its annual Carol Sing at its meetinghouse in Marlboro Village at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 17.
And West Grove Friends Meeting is holding its annual Carol Sing at "New" West Grove Meeting, which is actually a very old, mostly unused meeting house at 609 West State Road. There's no electricity, but there are candles and a red-hot pot-bellied stove. It's at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 18.
I can tell you from experience that all receive a warm welcome at these events.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

LONDON GROVE: Solomon's Temple

On my travels the other day I was heading west on West London Grove Road at Guernsey Road when I saw what looked like an old cemetery and the remains of a church.
A quick Google search and I learned that it was the site of the African Union Church of London Grove Cemetery, also known as Solomon's Temple Cemetery. The small church building's fieldstone foundation remains. Most of the grave markers are from the late 1800s or the early 20th century. Several are marked with American flags to honor veterans who fought for the Grand Army of the Republic during the Civil War. According to John Ford's stone, he fought in Company C of the Third Regiment of the Pennsylvania Colored Troops. (The regiment saw action at Fort Wagner on Morris Island, South Carolina, and then spent the rest of the war fighting in Florida.)
Civil War veteran John Ford died on March 28, 1915.

According to the findagrave website, for a time in the 1980s a local Boy Scout troop maintained the site; in fact, the wooden staircase and wooden fencing on the Guernsey Road side were installed as part of somebody's Eagle Scout project. Now London Grove Township keeps the grass mowed, but several tombstones have fallen over, parts of the ground have sunk, the wooden steps are rickety, and there were a few fallen branches on the ground. Perhaps another Scout project?

GARDEN: Ready for winter

It was such a warm autumn that I just put my garden to bed last weekend, uprooting the now-slimy celosia, harvesting the purple potatoes (thank you, Vincent), lifting the gladiolus and hymenocallis for the winter, and marvelling as usual about how two-inch-diameter, ten-foot-tall sunflower stalks can grow from a tiny black-and-white-striped seed.
I didn't get a chance to order my usual exquisite, expensive tulip bulbs from White Flower Farm, so I fell back on Plan B: Lowe's. And sometimes it pays to procrastinate: they were 75 percent off, and the clerk told me they'd been marked down that very morning. (My experience with Lowe's bulbs has been very positive, especially since I treat tulips as annuals.)

INFERNOS: A generous community

Like so many others, I was saddened by the tragic fire at Barclay Friends in West Chester. When the call went out seeking donations for the displaced residents, we headed to the Kennett Walmart and filled a cart with toiletries, towels, underwear, clothes, slippers and socks. We were about to head to the donation drop-off point in West Chester when I checked online and found out that they'd been overwhelmed with donations and had to close down early because there was nowhere to store everything. (Perhaps you saw the photographs of the stacks of donated walkers and wheelchairs.)
We went back to Walmart and returned everything. Selfishly, I was grumbling a bit because I really wanted to pitch in, but I was also pleased that the community was so generous.
Sadly enough, another chance to help out arrived just days later, and even closer to home, when a family on Dean Drive in the Cedarcroft neighborhood lost their house, possessions and dogs and cats to a quick-moving Thanksgiving night fire. The next day, a relative started an online donation site with a goal of raising $25,000. Within a day more than $32,000 had been raised, thanks to more than 450 donors.

EXAM: A scary prospect

On Saturday we had dinner at the Saw Mill Grill in Oxford with a young man who's working hard to gain his certification in a highly technical healthcare field. He already has passed two written exams, and the final step involves taking an oral exam this spring with not just one inquisitor but six of them, who each grill you for 30 minutes. The exam has a fearsome reputation -- the pass rate is only 50 percent, and the examiners are authorities in the field.
He told us a horror story about a hapless examinee who recognized his questioner's name and politely said that he'd studied the man's textbook.
The author pulled out a copy of the textbook from his briefcase and opened it to a random page.
"In that case," he said, "perhaps you'll be so good as to summarize this chapter for me."
I tried to reassure the poor fellow, pointing out how articulate and knowledgeable he was and how well he was able to explain the field to laypeople like ourselves.
He looked highly skeptical, pointing out that we were chatting over a relaxed dinner, not in the pressure cooker of pivotal oral exam.

FEAST: An excellent Thanksgiving

Here's hoping you had a nice Thanksgiving. We made our usual trek up the Northeast Extension to Perkasie, where we caught up with infrequently seen family members, played with the two well-behaved dogs, teased the kids about the very green (but delicious) mint chocolate chip cookies they baked, and after a heartfelt prayer enjoyed a traditional turkey dinner. (We brought the mushroom casserole; thank you, Marlboro Mushrooms.)
A few funny things about the trip: At the Wawa near the Quakertown exit we spotted two young men sporting carefully arranged pompadours (I caught one checking his hairdo in the driver's side mirror); they looked like members of the rockabilly band The Stray Cats. On the way home through Harleysville we saw a sign for "Angst & Angst, Attorneys at Law," which cracked us up. (A witty friend later suggested their slogan should be, "We worry for you.")
And at the Wawa in Lionville (we like Wawas), we asked the clerk if he had had his Thanksgiving dinner yet.
"No," he replied, "but my girlfriend says she has a surprise for me when I get home."
He actually looked a little anxious. The guy behind us in line tried to conceal his laughter.
Having a holiday in the middle of the week throws everyone off. Even the radio shows seemed to be out of whack. On Friday afternoon, a friend who listens to a lot of WXPN reported with some surprise that DJ Ben Vaughn was playing Earth Wind & Fire.
"That's not Ben Vaughn," I corrected him. "Ben Vaughn is on Saturday. It's Funky Friday."

ELISE: Best cat name ever

A friend was showing us photos of his new-ish rescue cat, Elise. We asked him to explain the name. It suits her, he said, because she is small and very cuddly. And then there's also the homage to Beethoven: Fur Elise.

LCH: Honoring a board member

Congratulations to West Marlborough resident Alice Moorhead, who received the APEX Award for Board Excellence to honor her exceptional service on the board of directors of La Comunidad Hispana, which provides medical, dental and social services for local Latino families. She received the award from the Pennsylvania Association of Community Health Centers' conference in Lancaster. The APEX awards (short for Awards for Primary Care Excellence) are given each year to community health centers in Pennsylvania.


UCF: Some happy parents

The Unionville-Chadds Ford School District got a strong vote of confidence from two district parents I was talking to the other evening. They made a point of buying a house in the district and said they were baffled to learn that some of their neighbors pay massive amounts of tuition to send their kids to private school. Why, they wonder, when the quality of education in UCF is so high and the district's reputation is so stellar?
(And I hear they have a pretty good football team, too.)

Saturday, November 25, 2017

KENNETT: The Light Parade

Much to my regret, the Holiday Light Parade and one of my favorite exercise classes were scheduled for the same time on Nov. 24, so I caught only the prequel and the aftermath of the parade. On my way to Kennett on Newark Road, I saw a brightly illuminated tractor hauling a hay buggy full of kids -- not an everyday sight! -- and in the parking lot of the Landhope at Willowdale I saw another piece of lit-up farm equipment, this one pulling a wagon full of Christmas inflatables. And judging from the crowds of people streaming back to their cars on State Street after the end of the parade, it was a huge hit.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

MUSIC: Appalachian tunes and more

On Nov. 17 we headed to Newark for the opening concert of the Brandywine Friends of Old Time Music 2017-18 series. The quartet of Adam Hurt (banjo and fiddle), Beth Williams Hartness (guitar), David McLaughlin (banjo and mandolin), and Marshall Wilborn (upright bass) played a wide variety of bluegrass, old-time, and gospel tunes -- even George Jones's "She Thinks I Still Care" -- in addition to originals like David's entertaining "Skeleton Dance" and "Going Back to Old Virginia."
Adam used a West African gourd banjo to play "Old Molly Oxford," a Morris dance tune -- talk about genre-bending! He explained that the gourds are grown between boards so that they develop into the right shape and size. In introducing Washington Phillips' "What Are They Doing in Heaven Today?" Adam also mentioned another instrument I'd never heard of: the manzerene, a sort of home-made zither with violin strings that Phillips would assemble before every performance.
The show closed with a rousing singalong of the Carter Family's "My Home's Across the Blue Ridge Mountain."
In the next show in the Old Time Music series, The Herald Angels will perform at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 15, at the Unitarian Universalist Hall, 420 Willa Road, Newark.

NEW GARDEN: Townhouses being built

While driving home via Pemberton Road the other day, I noticed that construction has started on the 86-unit Pemberton townhouse development in New Garden Township. The Bentley Homes townhouses will be built in groups of three or four, and prices start in the mid-$200s. The Bentley website highlights the development's proximity to Bancroft Elementary School. 

UHS: The Art Gala

Paintings, photographs, metal sculptures, etchings, pottery, carved rocks, jewelry, fused glass, painted furniture, collages, tiles, paper sculptures and probably lots of other media I'm forgetting about were on display this past weekend at the 42nd annual Unionville Art Gala, a fundraiser for the high school PTA.
I made several circuits of the artwork on Saturday afternoon and had to keep reminding myself that I'm trying to get rid of things, not acquire more. I think my favorite works were the whimsical little etchings and paintings of animals and woodland sprites by Katy Winters of Havertown.
As always, part of the gala was devoted to pieces created by UHS students, including portraits, still lifes, jewelry, Adirondack chairs, sculptures and even a beautiful prom gown. The featured artists were seniors Margaret Clisham and Helen Nichols. I recognized several names, either as friends of the Young Relative's or from school activities. The talent on display was impressive!

NEWLIN: State funds to repair Laurel Road

On Nov. 17 State Rep. Eric Roe sent out an email announcing that Newlin Township will receive a $754,354 grant from the state to rebuild an 820-foot portion of Laurel Road that collapsed into the Brandywine Creek after heavy rain in the spring of 2014.
"This project will include rebuilding the compromised portion of Laurel Road, installation of a new guardrail, removal of debris, stabilization of the bank to halt ongoing deterioration and relocation of new utility poles," said Rep. Roe.

The collapsed section of Laurel Road in May 2014.
In other news out of Harrisburg, the Senate has voted to name the Eastern Hellbender our commonwealth's official amphibian. But apparently there's a move in the state House to nominate a much smaller creature, the Wehrle’s salamander. I'll keep you posted on this important decision by our legislators.
Reporting on this would have posed a problem at a newspaper where I used to work: the publisher had a debilitating fear of snakes and would not allow in the paper any story, photo or graphic of anything resembling a snake. I once had to eliminate a cobra headdress from some clip art of a pharaoh.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

SNOW DAYS: On the ground

I got to chatting with a retired teacher today about whether we're going to have a snowy winter. She told me that some years back she worked in a western Pennsylvania school district, where the superintendent wasn't the one responsible for declaring snow days. No: that duty fell on two of the bus drivers who lived in the most remote parts of the district. If the snow was falling there and they couldn't get out, they'd consult with each other and then tell the superintendent to cancel school.
Apparently it didn't happen very often.

HOCKESSIN: The Grinch returns!

This program down in "Who-ckessin" is well on its way to becoming a Christmas tradition. Once again the Hockessin Business Association is hosting a showing of Dr. Seuss' "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," with actors, audience participation, singing and lots of noise!
This year's show will be at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9, at the Hockessin Library, 1023 Valley Road, Hockessin. It's free and very family-friendly.
Portraying the Grinch (completely against character!) is our friend Charles Shattuck, the owner of the Wild Birds Unlimited store.

WILLOWDALE: Night owls

Yes, it's true, the Landhope convenience store at Willowdale is once again open 24 hours a day, so you can buy coffee, soda, ice cream, lottery tickets and gas very late at night or very early in the morning. In fact, according to the sign on the door, they're looking for employees to work the second and third shifts.

FRITANGAS: Delicioso!

A friend pretty much commanded me to try Fritangas Snacks, a Mexican restaurant in that little brick strip mall on South Union Street, across from Kennett High School.
When it comes to Mexican food, I hear and obey: we two Anglos went there the next night for dinner.
The place is freshly painted and bright and cheerful inside. The menu on the wall is written mostly in Spanish, but the friendly woman who waited on us translated as needed.
We had burritos -- tinga de pollo (shredded chicken) for me and carnitas (pulled pork) for my date -- and they appeared from the kitchen very quickly. The chef toned down the spiciness at our request but included a little container of hot sauce on the side. To drink I had pineapple-flavored agua, which was excellent, and for dessert a dish of coffee ice cream (yes, it was cold outside. So what?).
As the name indicates, in addition to ice cream, tortas, burritos, tacos and quesadillas, Fritangas also sells a wide variety of authentic Mexican snacks: nachos, esquites (corn salad), elotes (corn on the cob), frituras, dorilocos, churros locos, and intriguing combinations of fruits, vegetables and crunchy tidbits.
The restaurant's winter hours are Monday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

POOL: Sets and laps

I'm always entertained by the chatter of the schoolkids in the Y locker room. The other day one girl was telling her friends that for English class, she was assigned to write about "something painful." She chose swim practice -- a perfectly valid topic, though probably not what the instructor intended. The teacher made the mistake of trying to correct the girl's swim-team jargon. The young athlete's description of her point-by-point rebuttal to the teacher (who sounded like an insufferable know-it-all) was devastating.
I'm encouraged by kids who display that sort of spunk. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

HOCKESSIN: Old meetinghouse photos

Hockessin Friends Meetinghouse is holding a talk on Saturday, Nov. 18, about Charles S. Philips, who photographed Quaker meetinghouses, other buildings and landscapes in New Castle, Chester, and Delaware counties in the 1890s. On Jan. 14, 1896, he visited Hockessin Friends Meeting.

Pamela Powell, photo archivist at the Chester County Historical Society, will present a slide show of images by Philips from the historical society's collection.

Potluck supper is at 6 p.m., with the program to follow at 7 p.m.

The meeting's 2018 calendar, "Quiet Shelter: Selected Photographs of Friends Meetinghouses by Charles S. Philips,” will be available to purchase for $20. The cover features an image of Hockessin Meeting from the CCHS collection. The calendar is a fundraiser for the renovations of the meeting's First Day School classrooms.

Hockessin Friends Meeting is at 1501 Old Wilmington Road.

HAMLET: The play's the thing

Leave it to the courageous actors at Unionville High School to take on "Hamlet" as their fall play. We had never before seen senior Suchi Jain, who played the lead role, on the UHS stage and greatly admired her intensity and her command of the language (not to mention her fencing skills).
Sophomore Rachel Tierney played Ophelia, and she did a great job with the "mad scene," staggering painfully around the stage wearing only one shoe.
The lighting, designed by Jonathan Chidekel, was striking, especially in the opening scene, when a spotlight narrowed in to highlight the telling detail of Claudius and Gertrude's clasped hands.
The curtain call was funny: everyone reverted to being smiling high school kids only seconds after the last scene, where pretty much everyone dies violently.
Hearing the Bard's words reminded me of the play's many contributions to our language -- to name just a few, "neither a borrower nor a lender be," "ay, there's the rub," "to thine own self be true," and "there's method in his madness."

Saturday, November 11, 2017

KENNETT: The Charge of the Light Parade

The annual Christmas parade (officially the "Kennett Square Holiday Light Parade") in downtown Kennett will be held on Friday, Nov. 24 (the day after Thanksgiving). It is always an absolute hoot, with impressively decorated farm equipment, fire engines, and work trucks. The competition among farms gets quite heated, with more elaborate light displays and juicier generators each year. Santa and Mrs. Claus arrive, too, usually in an antique car. The parade gets under way at 6:15 p.m. According to Historic Kennett Square, it starts at Center Street and heads east on State Street (against traffic flow) before turning onto South Broad Street.

WEEDS: Green Grazer Goats

A loyal Tilda reader was intrigued by an advertisement he saw for Green Grazer Goats, a Lincoln University farm that rents out its herd of 32 goats to serve as efficient, economical and eco-friendly weed-eaters.
The ad points out that goats can clear noxious vegetation like poison ivy, kudzu, and wild rose and can access hillsides and irregular terrain that heavy equipment can't.
The goat owners bring the goats to your property, set up temporary electric fencing to keep them corralled, and visit often to monitor their progress. They also provide shelter, vitamins and minerals for them.
Green Grazer Goats is on Facebook (the videos of the goats at work are impressive!), and the phone number is 484-643-6939.

CHADDS FORD: Upscale Mexican food

For this week's date night we made our first visit to Agave Mexican Cuisine in Chadds Ford, which opened earlier this year. The interior is very attractive, with soothing lighting; you'd never know it used to be a Wawa. As soon as we sat down, a server brought us water in a thick glass decanter; soon after, chips and zingy green salsa appeared. 
Our food arrived very quickly. My trio of shrimp tacos ($16) came in a clever zig-zag holder that kept them standing upright. They were excellent, and I liked the novelty of having a whole leaf of lettuce rather than the usual shreds. My date, in a red-meat mood, ordered a ribeye steak with cactus and mushrooms ($27); he gave me a bite or two and it was really good.
The parking lot was full, but because the dining room is spacious, it didn't feel crowded at all. At the table next to us was a family with two school-age kids, but most of our fellow diners were couples and friends.
Agave is a BYO, and many people were drinking their own wine, hard cider, and beer (the restaurant also offers tequila mixes). One diner brought a selection of beer for his party in a wooden carrier that reminded my date of his UHS wood-shop project.
Agave is at 1620 Baltimore Pike, catty-cornered from Hank's diner.

WALMART: A careful clerk

This week's customer service shout-out goes to Trevor, a checkout clerk at the Kennett Walmart. My oddly assorted purchases the other night included a loaf of bread, a bath mat and knitting needles. Trevor made a point of fitting them all into my shopping bag with meticulous care, even wrapping the bath mat around the bread, so that nothing got crushed, torn, or punctured. Thank you!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

PARKING: Driving skills

If you can't parallel park, heed my advice: head out to a parking lot on a Sunday afternoon and practice. But please: you will not endear yourself to anyone by tying up blocks of downtown State Street traffic on a rainy Tuesday night at rush hour while you inch backwards and forwards, not getting appreciably closer to the curb.
At one point it looked like the driver had (sensibly) given up. She pulled out into the lane of traffic, and the patient motorist in front of me started pulling into the spot. No! She actually started backing up again! A collision was barely avoided.
Finally, a passenger had to get out of the car and guide the driver into the spot.
The night before I'd witnessed another traffic mishap, this time in the parking lot of the Jennersville Y. While trying to park, a woman drove completely over a traffic sign in the median. When she backed up, the sign caught under the bumper, tearing off the entire front part of her car with a painful grinding noise. I didn't stick around to see what happened after that.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

UHS: A great season

Congratulations to the Unionville girls' varsity field hockey team, who made it all the way to the state playoffs. After winning the Chesmont American League title, they beat Boyertown 7-1 in the first round of district playoffs. They went on to beat Pennsbury 4-3 (in double overtime), lost to Downingtown West 0-3 but came back to beat Haverford 4-1 and then CB South 6-1 to make it into the state championships. But on Nov. 7 they lost a 0-1 heartbreaker to defending state champion Emmaus (despite outshooting Emmaus).

Good luck to the graduating seniors on the team -- I understand that many of the athletes will be continuing their hockey careers both during the 2018 indoor season and in college.

WEST MARLBOROUGH: Grader en route

Excitement is mounting as West Marlborough Township awaits the delivery of its new road grader.
I'm only half kidding: it was the main topic of discussion at the Nov. 6 township meeting. The township used $70,000 in state funds to purchase a 2007 John Deere grader to replace its venerable 1973 Caterpillar grader, nicknamed "Sisyphus." The new grader was purchased from Jackson County, Iowa, where it was used to maintain the county's 550 miles of dirt and gravel roads.
Sisyphus will be sold to neighboring Newlin Township.
The township also purchased a bright yellow V-shaped plow blade that will fit on the new grader, and road crew boss Hugh Lofting Jr. drove to New York State on Nov. 7 to pick it up. Out of curiosity, he researched the serial number on the old plow blade and learned that it was manufactured in 1942.
Hugh-2 said he expects the new equipment will be ready for use by the time the first snowstorm of the winter hits us.

OUCH: Health insurance woes

Those of us who are self-employed and pay for our own health insurance learned in early November that we are facing huge premium increases thanks to the tumult in the insurance marketplace (and a myriad of other reasons too complex for me to sort out).
My plan is being cancelled; my insurance carrier is suggesting a replacement that is 20 percent more expensive, has a higher deductible, and covers less (a virtual trifecta of good news!).
And there's nothing you can do about it. To be a responsible adult, you need to have health insurance, and there's absolutely no competition.
I wish insurance company executives and politicians would come out and acknowledge how painful and infuriating these premium increases are for average people.
If only they'd drop the spin and buzzwords and say something transparent like: "Look, we hear you: You think we're greedy blood-suckers who use your premiums to go on corporate retreats to Boca Raton. But here's exactly how we set your rates. Here's why they are so high. Here's what an MRI costs. Here's what an average hospital stay costs."
Instead, my carrier has been running a series of online spots featuring diverse, well-dressed, prosperous-looking people and happy families gazing at their laptops and phones with huge grins on their faces. Why are they grinning? Why?
Get real, guys: "open enrollment" season is not a cause for rejoicing and your new dental plans are not "exciting" to us.
My health insurance premium has become one of my largest monthly expenses, and it galls me to see insurance companies spending money on expensive ad campaigns and frills that I don't need or want (recipe tips? little magazines with trendy graphics? No, thank you!).
Even the $150 that I receive as a rebate each year because I'm a regular at the gym now represents a laughably small fraction of what I'm paying in.
The word "unsustainable" comes to mind.

CRAFTS: Centerpiece sale and workshop

My friend Linda Southerling asked me to spread the word about a holiday centerpiece sale and workshop that the Four Seasons Garden Club is holding on Saturday, Dec. 9, at the Episcopal Church of the Advent on North Union Street in Kennett Square. The sale of already-made centerpieces will begin at 9:30 a.m. and will last until 2 p.m. For more information about the do-it-yourself workshop, you can e-mail to request a registration form. 

NEW GARDEN: Service with a smile

I'm glad to see that Café Americana is doing well. The cheerful little family-run restaurant in the Giant shopping center in New Garden was bustling when I stopped in for lunch the other day in the middle of an errand run. I ordered an omelet with broccoli, cheese and spinach, and it was delicious.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

UNIONVILLE: The Hunt Cup Races

Sunday marked the 83rd running of the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup races in Unionville. The skies were overcast (no need for sunglasses), it wasn't windy even on the hilltop (no portable toilets were blown over this year), and the temperature (in the 60s) was just right, unlike some years when our extremities have been numb for hours afterward.
We were amazed at the courage and balance of the riders in the Mrs. Ford B. Draper Invitational Side Saddle Race, which was won by Julie Nafe on McCradys.
Jockey Mark Beecher won the Lewis C. Ledyard Memorial Race (on Bruce Fenwick's Daddy in the Dark) and the Arthur O. Choate Memorial Race (on Rosbrian Farm's Class Brahms). And in the four-mile-long Pennsylvania Hunt Cup race he was leading most of the way on Welcome Here Farm's Where's the Beef until he was overtaken by the same horse and the same rider who won the race in 2016: Darren Nagle on Irvin S. Naylor's Ebanour.
We were relieved that although there were as always a few spills, nobody (horse or rider) was seriously injured this year.
Between the races we caught up with lots of friends and neighbors (including the hard-working executive director of the races, Kathee Rengert), feasted on some excellent roasted chicken, rubbed the belly of the canine member of our party, and sat there comfortably solving the problems of the world while gazing out over the idyllic Unionville landscape.
One funny remark we overheard: a dad was carrying his unhappy-looking son and told him, "Well, maybe next time you'll wear socks."

Saturday, November 4, 2017

BVSPCA: Saving kittens' lives

The Brandywine Valley SPCA (whence we adopted our amazing miracle rescue cat Clarence) has received a $50,000 grant to develop its "Mama-in-a-Box." According to the BVSPCA's fall newsletter, this invention is designed to help care for the large number of kittens that arrive at shelters in spring and summer. It "provides a replica momma cat that can support up to eight kittens with a built-in heating mat and temperature-controlled bottles in a natural position. This setup allows caregivers to focus on bathing and stimulating and, in turn, to have more lifesaving capacity."
The BVSPCA team received the grant, one of two awarded nationally, after presenting the idea at the Petco Foundation's Innovation Showdown program in May.

HERSHEY: A race in Chocolate Town

We spent Saturday in Hershey at the PIAA cross-country championship, and I'm happy to report that the amazing Unionville High School girls' XC team took sixth place in the entire state!
The girls' team comprised Madison McGovern, Marcella Krautzel, Hallie Weaver, Josie Cicchino, Katelyn McGovern, Meghan Smith, and Gemma Krautzel. The girls' times for the 3.1-mile course averaged 20 minutes 6 seconds. The notoriously tough course ends with a brutally steep hill that must have been excruciating for already exhausted legs and lungs.
Before the race we walked around the team tent area. Some of the teams had decorated their tents with enlarged photos of the athletes' heads, and we were amused to see that one team honored its star runner by mounting his cardboard head on a pike! Didn't that used to be the fate of executed traitors?
Naturally, chocolate plays a key role in the town: the banners in the huge parking lot sported the names of Hershey candy bars; the lamp posts were decorated with Kisses; we drove past the Chocolate Workers Union Hall (a historical plaque commemorates their sit-down strike); and we chuckled at a billboard advertising the Cocoa Counseling Center.
After the meet, I asked Google Maps to find us a restaurant near Elizabethtown and it suggested Martin's Country Kitchen, Home of Randy Lee's BBQ, right on Route 743. Great choice! We cleaned our plates and didn't need another meal the rest of the day.

GREENVILLE: In loving memory

I had the honor of attending F. Michael Donohue's memorial service as Christ Church Christiana Hundred on Oct. 2, and I don't think I've ever been to a service that better reflected the honoree. Everything was done right. The beautiful church was packed (I imagine there were a lot of empty offices in Wilmington that morning). The hymns were beautiful and uplifting ("Abide With Me" and, set to the tune of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy," "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee"). The eulogies, by Mike's longtime business partner Rodman Ward Jr. and his daughter-in-law Kirstie Donohue, painted a portrait of Mike as a distinguished leader of character and integrity, a masterful stockbroker, an avid athlete, and a loving family man (and sometime prankster). 
I was especially impressed with the Rev. Ruth Beresford, who led the service. Perhaps sensing that there were many non-churchgoers in the crowd, she explicitly invited all to take part in the Communion ritual and explained all the details that can baffle outsiders. It felt very inclusive.
The reception afterward in the parish hall was catered by the Wilmington Club, and (of course) included the club's signature fried oysters.

THE FLASH: Up in the balcony

An evening at the Kennett Flash is always fun, especially when you sit in the balcony. It's only a few steps above the rest of the room, but you feel like you're in your own spacious VIP lounge, furnished with comfortable sofas.
On Sunday, Oct. 29, we were at the Flash to see Sarah "Hurricane Hoss" Larsen (who has played with Mason Porter) and Abbie Gardner (of Red Molly). When she performed her song "Modena," Sarah drew raucous applause from our party, two of whom have worked in the tiny Chester County borough.
Just a caveat if you decide to eat dinner at the Flash (they offer snacks and sandwiches): we ordered before the show started and our food didn't arrive until intermission. There was only one very busy waiter for the entire room, and by 7:45 we were getting so hungry that we were paying more attention to his comings and goings than the performer: "Do you think that's our food? Is he coming our way?"

APPLIANCE: Shouldn't be this tricky

I bought a new lamp the other day and was eager to see how much better my office would look with a brighter bulb. But first I had to unwrap the power cord, which was not a simple matter. First I had to remove the tiny white elastic string holding it to the lamp socket. Then I tore off the cardboard label and peeled off the super-sticky multilingual safety warning wrapped around the bundled-up cord. Underneath were three very tight zip ties (not simple twist ties, mind you) holding the bundle together. I had to find a penknife and gingerly saw through the zip ties without nicking the power cord. I can't imagine someone with vision problems or arthritis being able to manage without assistance.

Friday, November 3, 2017

KENNETT TOWNSHIP: New houses going in

What's going on near the northeast corner of the Five Points intersection south of Kennett Square? It's "Stonehouse," another housing development by Tom Bentley. His company, Bentley Homes, is building 38 "carriage homes" in nine clusters of three, four, or five units. There will be two entrances to the development, both on South Union Street. The houses will be priced in the mid-$400,000s, and the first units are expected to be ready next spring.
The website describes the development as "nestled in the heart of Kennett Square," only "steps" away from Kennett High School, within walking distance to downtown and "minutes" away from Longwood Gardens.

BB&T: An excellent employee

Shout-out to Laura Bernal, a teller at the New Garden East branch of BB&T Bank. I went in there the other morning with at least 40 checks to deposit. This is not the account I usually use, so not only had I forgotten the account number but I don't even have an ATM card for it.
No matter: Laura quickly totalled the checks (double-checking her math) and made sure she put it in the correct account. She assured me that my ignorance of in-person banking was no problem (I'm sure it was) and even apologized that the transaction took her so long (it didn't).
Excellent customer service from a delightful human being.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

WEST CHESTER: New technology

Bill Haaf of Chester County Citizens for Climate Protection ( asked me to mention his group's upcoming lecture, "The Current State of Carbon Capture Techniques," at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 8, at West Chester Borough Hall, 401 E. Gay St. Princeton professor Michael Celia will be discussing ways to capture carbon dioxide in order to reduce greenhouse gases while still burning fossil fuels. The captured carbon dioxide can then be used to make chemicals or can be stored deep underground.

DINNER: Locavores

Our Sunday supper was a memorable one: we had roasted chicken with potatoes and carrots, both just harvested from the garden, marinated with cider from Barnard's Orchards. Easy and delicious.

LONDON GROVE: Draining the swamp

I spotted some excellent product placement the other day. The pest-control company called Mosquito Joe has placed a sign at the corner of Route 926 and, you guessed it, Mosquito Lane.

Excellent product placement!

A waggish friend wondered what an appropriate sign would be on Tapeworm Road.

UHS: The Prince of Denmark

For the Fall Play, the ever-ambitious UHS students have decided to put on "Hamlet," and we have every confidence they will do their usual close-to-professional job. The curtain goes up at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 9, Friday, Nov. 10, and Saturday, Nov. 11. Tickets are available at the door.


About 40 antique automobile enthusiasts gathered at Primitive Hall on a warm, sunny autumn morning for a tour of the 1738 Pennock homestead, followed by a drive through the Unionville countryside. The "mum tour" was sponsored by the local Model T club and was organized by Lou Mandich and Charlie Brosius.
Standing on the mounting block at Primitive Hall, Charlie gave a brief history of the beautiful area that the motorists would be driving through. He explained how Lammot du Pont bought up 4,000 acres of land to form the Buck & Doe Run Valley Farms, where he raised cattle, hogs and horses. (Coincidentally, Mr. du Pont's nephew, Irénée du Pont, and wife Barbara were part of the mum tour.)
After World War II W. Plunket Stewart, founder of the Cheshire Hunt, persuaded Robert Kleberg of Texas to purchase the land, plus another thousand acres, to serve as grazing land for his King Ranch cattle. In the 1980s the Brandywine Conservancy was established to save the land from being sold for development; instead, the acreage was subdivided into parcels no smaller than 30 acres.
"The efforts of the Brandywine Conservancy and other private, county, and state conservation programs today have resulted in over 25,000 contiguous acres of preserved land, the area we will travel through today," Charlie said.
Just a few of the antique cars that rallied at Primitive Hall on Oct. 21. Photo courtesy of Lou Mandich.

The itinerary took the motorists, driving everything from Model T's to Corvettes, along Route 841 to Greenlawn Road, St. Malachi Road, Springdell Road, Route 82, Covered Bridge Road, Doe Run Church Road, Fairview Road, Brandywine Creek Road, Green Valley Road, Powell Road, Scott Road, Route 162 and back onto Route 82. The tour ended with lunch at Hood's BBQ.

RIP: A gentleman and a soldier

The word "gentleman" comes to mind immediately when I think of F. Michael Donohue, who died on Oct. 24. He was smart, courteous, funny, worldly, well-informed and well-dressed, with a military bearing (after all, he had been an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps).
Whenever I was invited to an event at the beautiful Kennett Township home he shared with his wife, Audrey, and an assortment of dogs, I would accept immediately, because I knew the company, the conversation and the food and drink would be top-notch. I think my favorite image of Mike was him standing at the doorway greeting his guests, with his hand out and a broad smile of welcome. It would be hard to imagine a more gracious host.
Quite simply, "F. Michael" was one of the best. We are holding our dear friend Audrey in the light.

KENNETT: Scout spaghetti dinner

Boy Scout Troop 24 had a full house for their spaghetti dinner at Kennett Friends Meeting on Saturday. The food, as always, was delicious: I look forward to chowing down on the meatballs, the homemade sauce, and the mushrooms over linguini. The dessert table had a Halloween theme: I chose a cupcake with a skeletal arm emerging from the chocolate icing.
The polite boys, in their Scout uniforms, did a good job fetching drinks and bussing tables. As a bonus we got to watch a video of the youths in action over the summer, setting up tents, cooking over a campfire and plunging into a river.
One veteran helper told us that this year's fundraising dinner was an unusually popular one, with many takeout orders: usually there's a lull in the action in the middle of the afternoon, she said, but not this year. And we had a nice chat with a fellow diner about the value of Scouting and the importance of supporting local community events like this, even if our families aren't directly involved.