Tuesday, February 28, 2017

THE Y: What a community asset

I often talk about the Kennett Y in terms of some funny incident I witnessed, or an amusing conversation I overheard, or a grueling workout I endured.
But it's way more than that: all corniness aside, it's a community meeting place that connects so many groups of people who wouldn't otherwise mingle. In these divided times, when people tend to live in their own siloes, it's great to have such a unifying presence. You see so many ages, races and nationalities there, playing basketball, lifting weights, doing yoga or working out next to each other. I've heard Chinese, German, Spanish, Greek and Russian spoken, and those were just the languages I recognized. As I heard someone say the other day: we all sweat the same color.
I just called to schedule my annual eye exam. Who answered the phone? A woman I know from the Y. A friend said good-bye to me the other day with the words, "See you at the Y!" I'm advising a retired executive who's writing a business book -- and where do I know him from? You guessed it. 
Plus it's the best bargain around.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

KENNETT: Goodbye to the Half Moon

Widespread dismay greeted the news, announced via Facebook on Feb. 23, that the Half Moon Restaurant and Saloon, long a fixture in downtown Kennett, would be closing its doors on March 11. Patrons recalled first dates and first kisses they'd had at the popular restaurant and said how much they would miss the restaurant's wild game dishes, the signature crab nachos and the view over Kennett from the rooftop dining area. I had my fiftieth birthday party there and enjoyed many a meal with family and friends.
Moving into the space will be Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen, which is now at 270 E. Main St. in Newark. According to its website Grain is  "a warm, inviting place to meet friends and enjoy a shared experience of contemporary American fare in a casual and energizing space where well-crafted food and drink happily go hand-in-hand."

GIRL SCOUTS: Cookies for the military

My busy-bee friend Karen, who is always deeply involved in several projects simultaneously, is helping to organize "Operation Cookie Drop," which sends cartons of Girl Scout cookies to local members of the military who are stationed overseas. The project is sponsored by the Brandywine Valley Girl Scout Service Unit, which serves the Kennett Square and Unionville-Chadds Ford School Districts.
Karen writes:
 "Will you help us get the word out about our Operation Cookie Drop community service project? We usually send about a total of 5500 boxes or more a year overseas to 28 to 35 hometown heroes. We are looking for addresses of men and women in the armed forces who are known to anyone in our local area. It can be spouses, cousins, friends, brothers, sisters, neighbors etc. Please send all addresses to Karen D'Agusto at kdagusto@aol.com.
"We are also looking for local sponsorship to help with the mailing of the boxes. Our yearly mailing costs run about $2,500. Each Girl Scout troop donates part of their hard earned cookie money to mailing these large boxes. Unfortunately, it is never enough to cover the costs of mailing the boxes."
Speaking of Girl Scout cookies, I had to laugh the other day when I saw "Use or Freeze Before Sept. 1, 2017" written on a box of Thin Mints. As if!

UNIONVILLE: The Used Book Sale

Once a year, thanks to the hard work of a regiment of volunteers, the Unionville High School gymnasium is transformed into a used book shop to raise money for the school PTO. I stopped by on Friday evening and, as always, had a great time browsing through both popular trade paperbacks (there were endless copies of "Eat, Love, Pray") and utterly offbeat works (a detailed initiation manual for a certain fraternity; so much for secrecy!).
This year the "collectible" corner had quite a selection of old books about Native Americans, and judging by the "required reading" table Unionville kids are still reading Shakespeare, Charlotte Bronte, Mark Twain and Hemingway (excellent!).
I went home with a 1960s etiquette manual (I collect them) in case I need to know how to address a Roman Catholic bishop at a dinner party. I also was delighted to purchase four seasons of "The Sopranos" on DVD for only $4 each. I doubt the etiquette book takes up the topic of how to address a mob boss.

KENNETT: Empty Bowls luncheon

On Thursday, Feb. 23, I went to the "Empty Bowls" luncheon at the Red Clay Room in Kennett Square. This annual event raises money for Kennett Area Community Services and always attracts a big crowd of sociable folks from local businesses, churches, healthcare organizations and retirement communities. In fact, everyone was so busy mingling and networking that emcee Matt Grieco had a tough time getting them to simmer down so he could start the formal program.
After Father Chris Rogers of St. Patrick Church gave the invocation, Executive Director Melanie Weiler gave a presentation about the activities of the KACS. The group's Food Cupboard provides nutritious food to families in need, but the organization also connects people to longer-term services that help put them back on their feet and become self-sufficient. The nonprofit is also focusing on why its services are in demand in the first place.
The event is called "Empty Bowls" to raise awareness that hunger exists even in our enormously affluent area. Various community groups (like Scouts, schoolkids, youth organizations) make and donate bowls, and each guest gets to take one home. (I got a festively decorated one that will be the perfect size for my oatmeal.)
The lunch consisted of soup (mushroom, vegetable or chicken noodle) and a small salad, followed by cookies and coffee. I went alone and sat with people I didn't know, but we quickly started chatting about how nice it was to attend a simpler fundraiser that didn't involve dressing up and being asked to write big checks.

EAST MARLBOROUGH: A bald eagle sighting

Around 5 p.m. last Friday I was driving east on Street Road and spotted a bald eagle flying overhead, near Byrd Road. It was so big and so magnificent. I've seen our national bird many times down at the Conowingo Dam in Maryland, but only once before here in Chester County, and never before so close. My bird-identification book describes the bald eagle as unmistakeable, and that is absolutely correct.

Friday, February 24, 2017

COMMUNICATION: Sorry, wrong number

This morning a perky robo-caller told me she had great news to share: she could reduce my student loan payments! I should immediately "enter 1" to take advantage of this money-saving opportunity.
I hung up. For one thing, I graduated from college 37 years ago. What's more, thanks to my generous parents, I did not have any student loans.
I really should stop answering unknown calls; the numbers of all of my loved ones are programmed into my phone already. But here's the thing: certain friends and family members of mine pursue potentially dangerous hobbies (involving speed or height; usually both), and I have this nagging fear that the call might be from a hospital emergency room trying to get hold of me.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

KIDS: A big fat misconception

Yesterday I overheard a group of middle-school girls chatting after school.
"Oh my God! She is so fat!" shrieked one.
"I KNOW! Have you seen her eat?" asked another, making loud gobbling noises.
Wow, how cruel kids can be, I reflected sadly, recalling a book on eating disorders I'd recently edited.
The girls' conversation continued.
"Remember how little she was when she was a puppy?!"

Monday, February 20, 2017

QUAKERS: A Presidential connection

In response to my item last week about how Quakerism is far less common in California than it is in Chester County, an astute reader commented that "Richard Nixon, born in Yorba Linda, California, was the son of a Quaker mother. He attended Whittier College, near his home, a Quaker school."
I'd forgotten about President Nixon's Quaker roots.

SLANG: Young Relative update

If you hear your Unionville High School student using the adjective "nifty," you can thank the Young Relative. At dinner on Sunday he used it, quite aptly, to describe an especially neat solution to a crossword puzzle and then explained that "nifty" has been on frequent rotation in his vocabulary playlist recently.
I looked up the word's origin on "Online Etymology Dictionary" and found that "nifty" first appeared in the middle of the 19th century, "perhaps theatrical slang, first attested in a poem by Bret Harte, who said it was a shortened, altered form of magnificat."
Who knew!
By the way, the Young Relative said he is looking forward to running outside again after a winter of competing indoors. Although he enjoyed the track team's road trips to various colleges with indoor facilities, he much prefers the fresh air.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

WEST MARLBOROUGH: A baffling encounter

Late Saturday afternoon, we were just pulling into my road when a middle-aged woman at the intersection rolled down the window of her dark-blue BMW and asked us, very politely, if this road led to The Whip Tavern.
Not really, I said, but I can get you there.
Well, she wasn't quite sure: that might be where she wanted to go -- or perhaps the Landhope in Willowdale.
(My house is only a few minutes away from both of those fine establishments, but they are in completely opposite directions.)
I tried to pin her down: Where exactly did she want to go?
After several rounds of asking the same question and receiving vague answers, we managed to learn that some friends of hers had built a new house somewhere in Unionville -- did we know them? -- and she thought that by simply driving around the countryside she could find it. Apparently she didn't think to ask for the address, and the idea of phoning them didn't occur to her.
We finally gave her directions to downtown Unionville -- a straight shot -- but I'm not at all confident she made it there.

Friday, February 17, 2017

UNIONVILLE: Book sale Feb. 24 and 25

Just a reminder that the Unionville High School's Used Book Sale is coming up Friday, Feb. 24, and Saturday, Feb. 25.
I had fun selecting books to donate and dropped off a giant box of them at the high school the other afternoon. For years I'd thought it was mandatory to acquire all the works of my favorite authors, but I've come to realize that there's really no point in keeping the ones I don't like. The layer of dust and the pristine spines made them easy to spot on my shelves. Even a couple of Barbara Pym novels and some Agatha Christie mysteries (both of whom I adore) ended up in the donation pile.
The sale, held at the high school, runs from 4 to 9 p.m. Feb. 24 and 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Feb. 25, with the $10 "bag sale" to follow from 3 to 5 p.m.

WEST GROVE: A wonderful meal

We can always count on Twelves Grill and Café in downtown West Grove for a special evening. I love everything about the restaurant, from its setting (a former bank) to its top-notch food, distinctive service and relaxed, calm atmosphere.
For appetizers we had the mushroom soup and the cheese plate (I'd never before had smoked Goudam [not a typo]), followed by crab cakes with grilled asparagus, roasted baby carrots and smashed potatoes, and incredible home-made cinnamon ice cream for dessert.
Everything was wonderful; in fact, just writing this makes me hungry again.

SPRING: It'll be here soon!

I did a double-take when a formerly very blonde friend showed up at the gym on Thursday evening: her hair was now a pretty auburn color. She said she'd dyed it spontaneously as a way to celebrate the lengthening of the days and the approaching spring (the Spring Equinox is on Monday, March 20).
I agreed that a few minutes more of daylight each day is adding up and really makes a difference in our outlooks. Also, my snowdrops are in bloom, and when filling the bird feeder I need to be careful not to tread on the tulips, crocus, and daffodils, which are up maybe an inch. The hellebores should be flowering presently.
(A friend reminds me darkly, though, that we usually get our heaviest snowstorms in March.)

DOG SHOW: Poppet is the best

Hooray for Poppet! Betsy Harris's adorable Border Terrier won Best of Breed honors at the 141st Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York on Tuesday. Betsy and Poppet live in Kirkwood, Lancaster County. 
Betsy's sister, "Aunt" Amy McKenna, of Unionville, went up to Madison Square Garden for the event.
A Norwich terrier, Twice as Nice, took first place in the overall Terrier Group, and a German Shepherd, Rumor, took the Best in Show award.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

RODENTS: Gen X cats

The exterminator stopped by for his quarterly visit to a museum where I volunteer and reported that the mice had eaten every bit of the bait he had put out last time.
Perhaps we need a cat, I suggested.
He disagreed. He said that several of his clients have reported that their cats either just play with mice or completely ignore them. 
Is there some kind of social change occurring in the feline population where they are abandoning their traditional role? Or have they just become slackers?

Sunday, February 12, 2017

PHILOSOPHY: Small but important

I think I may have found an appropriate epigraph for "Unionville in the News." It's from Israeli philosopher Iddo Landau's forthcoming book "Finding Meaning in an Imperfect World," which will be published this spring: "The small things are a very important component of a meaningful life; small things are what life is made of, and they can contribute a great deal to its meaning."

EAST GOSHEN: The dam project

"Please complete your dam survey," read the East Goshen Township sign that a sharp-eyed reader spotted on his travels the other day.
No, it wasn't a typo, nor were the township officials getting testy with residents. They simply want citizens' input about what the township should do with the Hershey's Mill and Milltown dams. (There is plenty of information and maps about the projects on the township's excellent website.)

THEATER: Back to the 1980s at "Rock of Ages"

On Sunday afternoon we had a fun time at "Rock of Ages," a nostalgic trip back to the 1980s that's on stage at the Milburn Stone Theater at Cecil County Community College. It's one of those shows were the music is by far the main attraction, with the plot existing only to link the songs.
And what songs they were! The play was jam-packed with a few dozen mega-hits, like "Sister Christian,"  "I Want to Know What Love Is," "Can't Fight This Feeling" and a hilarious rendition of "Hit Me With Your Best Shot." The finale was Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'."
The singers and the on-stage band ("Twisted Snake Poison on an Extreme Starship") did a super job, and the cocky narrator was very funny. We loved the period cigarette machine on stage -- I couldn't remember the last time I actually saw one.
The ushers got into the spirit of the things, wearing outlandish 1980s-inspired costumes and makeup. We overheard one of them leading two patrons to Row D, which she called "Def Leppard."
A group of middle-aged women in the row in front of us got a bit too much into the spirit, arriving after the show started, coming back late from intermission, giggling, talking, and frenetically waving their arms at the stage. It was distracting to everyone around them, and I suspect their rowdiness had something to do with the wine glasses they were carrying.
The show runs through Sunday, Feb. 19, and is recommended for ages 13 and up due to some adult language, topics and vintage 1980s bad behavior. FYI, they offer a senior citizen discount, and they define "senior citizen" very broadly as 55 and up - ka-ching!

Friday, February 10, 2017

WEST MARLBOROUGH: Yes to a second story

Dr. Frances Koblenzer, the owner of 175 Springdell Road in West Marlborough, has received permission to add a second story to her 800-square-foot garage. As proposed, there will be two bedrooms and a sitting room on the new second floor, and as part of the renovation project, part of the ground floor will be turned into a mudroom, changing room, and bathroom, with a stairway up to the second floor. (Period Architecture Ltd. of Chadds Ford designed the project.)
In granting permission for the expansion, the township zoning hearing board said she could not install a kitchen and could not rent out the unit. In legal terms, "The use of the accessory barn/garage building as so expanded shall be limited to occupancy by relatives and friends, such that it shall never be leased as a rental unit of any kind, and will not [be] put to any use not involving occupancy by family members and/or friends."
Dr. Koblenzer needed to appear before the zoning board before starting the project because her garage already exceeds the maximum 15-foot height for an outbuilding permitted by the township's zoning code, and adding the second story would further increase the height by six feet (from the current 20 feet to the proposed 26 feet). 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

MUSIC: Old-time music in Delaware

My friend Brownell Ferry asked me to mention that father-and-son Old-Time roots duo Ken and Brad Kolodner will be performing a free concert at the Lower Brandywine Presbyterian Church (across from Winterthur) at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 12. According to the Kolodners' website, "Old-time music is a uniquely American form of traditional roots music that grew out of the melting pot of Celtic music and African rhythms, preceding Bluegrass and country music, yet still evolving today." The Kolodners played in June 2016 at Anson B. Nixon Park as part of the summer series.

QUAKERS: George Fox on the West Coast

Quakerism is such a popular faith here in Chester County that almost everyone is familiar with the practice of silent worship. Not so much elsewhere in the country, though.
I was watching (on DVD) the final season of "Six Feet Under," a wonderful HBO series about a family, the Fishers, who run a funeral parlor in California.
One bereaved family requested a Quaker service, baffling co-owner Nate Fisher. Maggie, a friend of the deceased man, explained to him that Quakers sit in silence and wait for God to speak to them.
"What if He doesn't?" asked Nate.
"Then we make something up," she said with a smile. "At least, I do."

MOVIES: Where "Split" was filmed

M. Night Shyamalan's latest movie, "Split" (as in split personality), has been number-one in terms of box office figures for the past three weeks. The director, who lives on the Main Line, is known for shooting his films locally, and although he didn't use Unionville as a location like he did for "The Happening" (or Chadds Ford for "The Village"), he did use the Fisherman Restaurant, 440 Schuylkill Road, Phoenixville, as the location for a flashback diner scene. He also shot in Philadelphia (at the Silk City Diner Bar and Lounge, 435 Spring Garden Street, the Philadelphia Zoo, and 30th Street Station) as well as at Sun Center Studios in Aston.

Monday, February 6, 2017

USPS: Special delivery

I foolishly lost an ID card and after turning my purse and wallet inside-out searching for it I phoned the company to beg for a replacement. They didn't make me grovel too much, and the customer service person told me to look for the new card within 7 to 10 days.
"And I really mean `look for it'," she emphasized. She explained that the company's logo is so subtle that people glance at the envelope, assume it's just junk mail and toss it, then call back in irritation asking where their new card is.
(Now don't go staking out my mailbox, readers. The card will do you no good.)

Sunday, February 5, 2017

CPR: Free classes coming up

Last February I took an excellent Hands-Only CPR training course, sponsored by the Chester County Hospital/Penn Medicine, and I was pleased to see that it's being offered again. Here are the upcoming dates and times in our area:
-- Thursday, Feb. 16, 10 to 11 a.m. OR 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., Penn Township Municipal Building
-- Thursday, Feb. 16, noon to 1 p.m., Chester County Hospital
-- Monday, Feb. 20, 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. OR 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Longwood Fire Company
-- Thursday, Feb. 23, 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. OR 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., Chester County Hospital
The class is free but registration is required. You can register online through Chester County Hospital's website or call 610-738-2300.

KENNETT: A walking tour through history

On Saturday afternoon I was one of the volunteer guides for a Black History Month walking tour through downtown Kennett that highlighted 19th-century abolitionists and members of the African-American community.
Despite the freezing temperatures, we had a huge turnout of visitors; they even started showing up 15 minutes before the tours were set to officially kick off.
The tour started at the Underground Railroad mural at State and Willow Streets, which depicts conductor Harriet Tubman holding a lantern. From there we walked north on Willow Street, west on Linden Street to Union Street, and then over to the Genesis Walkway, stopping at houses and churches of historical interest.
At the New Garden Memorial AME Church on Linden Street, the Rev. Maxine Mayo welcomed us warmly and told us about the church's 191-year history, highlighting the important role churches have played in the black community (and still do).
She said that on New Year's Eve, her church and many others still hold "Watch Night" to remember how African Americans gathered in the hours before the Emancipation Proclamation officially took effect on Jan. 1, 1863, unsure of what would happen. 
The New Garden AME church and burial ground were originally located in the Bucktoe or "Timbucktoo" part of Kennett Township but the building was burned down in the mid-19th century and the parishioners decided it was safer to rebuild in town. The former church site (now part of the Bucktoe Creek Preserve) is being excavated, with a view to providing headstones for those who are buried there, and one of the project archaeologists showed us some relics that have been found at the site, such as some fragments of marble and a 19th-century penny from the Netherlands.
Also at the church, Michelle Sullivan from the Kennett Underground Railroad Center explained the vital role that freed slaves and other African Americans, not just white Quakers, played in helping slaves escape via the Underground Railroad.
By the end of leading two tours, I was so cold that I could barely enunciate "ardent abolitionist" one more time. Thank goodness for local historian Lynn Sinclair, who wrote the tour script: she opened her Sunrise Café on State Street to tourgoers and provided us with cookies, tea, and coffee.

UNIONVILLE: Time for the book sale

A heads up that the annual Unionville High School Used Book Sale will be held from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 24, and from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25 (with the "bag sale" from 3 to 5 p.m.), at the high school. The major fundraiser for the high school PTO, this is always a wonderful sale, and I always find some treasures (and those that aren't as interesting as they looked at first glance, I just donate back the next year).

Saturday, February 4, 2017

MUSIC: Old-time music in Newark

I've come to expect bad jokes from the performers at old-time music concerts, but the ones at Friday night's show in Newark, Del., were truly awful.
-- What happens if you don't pay your exorcist? You get repossessed.
-- What happens if your clock is hungry? It goes back 4 seconds.
-- Musician A: Did you bring your potato clock?
    Musician B: What's a potato clock?
    Musician A: Oh, you don't know what a potato clock is? I get a potato clock every morning!
I didn't "get" that last one for several seconds; when I did [say the last few words slowly] I let out a loud groan. The guy behind me asked me to explain it to him, and then he, in turn, groaned.
Oh, and the music? It was terrific and very cheerful, again as we've come to expect from the Brandywine Friends of Old-Time Music concerts. 
Uncle Henry's Favorites, a quartet from Charlottesville, Virginia, performed for the first hour. After intermission the Orpheus Supertones took the stage, comprising Pete Peterson and Kellie Allen from Oxford; fiddlers Clare Milliner and Walt Koken from Pocopson; and Hilary Dirlam on bass.
For the grand finale the two bands joined up and played a couple of songs together, closing with a rousing sing-along of "Down by the Riverside." At one point on stage there were two upright bass players, three fiddlers, two mandolin players, a banjo player, two guitar players and a guy on the harmonica.

JENNERSVILLE: Dinner at Two Stones Pub

Our first dinner at the new (it opened last fall) Two Stones Pub in the Jennersville shopping center was a pleasant one. I expected to see burgers and sandwiches on the dinner menu, but there were also full dinners. I ordered the crab cakes with asparagus, potatoes and beet vinaigrette, and my dinner buddy had the pork schnitzel with green beans, potatoes and mushroom gravy. Both of them were delicious and attractive. I indulged in dessert as well, a multi-layer slice of vanilla cake with peanut butter mousse, chocolate ganache and whipped cream.  
(Friends have also told me that the teriyaki salmon is always perfect and have also recommended the turkey burgers and butternut squash soup.)
We are not beer drinkers, but of course there's an extensive menu dedicated just to beer, and I heard our waitress offering samples to other customers who weren't sure whether they'd like a certain brew.
The bar part of the pub is nearest the door, and when we arrived at 6 p.m. every bar stool was occupied, as was nearly every table. The hostess said that 15 minutes earlier the place had been quiet. It wasn't a problem at all, though, as we were seated right away, and in a quieter section. As we were walking to our table I recognized two tables full of friends from the Jennersville Y, which is just a stone's throw away.

Friday, February 3, 2017

KENNETT: A new bus for the Friends home

On Feb. 3 I had the pleasure of attending an unconventional ribbon-cutting ceremony as the Friends Home in downtown Kennett Square officially put its mini-bus into service.
The brand-new Wolfington vehicle can hold 14 passengers (plus the driver) and has a lift and fold-up seats to accommodate wheelchair users. The Home's board purchased the bus for $65,000 using money from the special Burns endowment fund for travel.
Friends Home Board member Tom Brosius, who was on hand for the ceremony, said the bus will be able to take residents to places like Longwood Gardens and Lancaster County shows, and the Peebles department store will be a regular destination.
At the ceremony on Friday, residents gathered next to the bus and posed for photographs as staff members bustled around, fretting about whether it was wise for them to be outside in the cold.
A full contingent of men and women then boarded the bus. The destination for the very special inaugural run? The Foxy Loxy ice-cream shop in Unionville.

Friends Home resident Mae Powers, age 100, in the black down coat, played the starring role in the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Friends Home Executive Director Christine McDonald, in the gray coat with black lapels, is behind her.

The Friends Home bus embarks on its inaugural journey --  to Foxy Loxy in Unionville for ice cream!