Monday, August 28, 2017

WEST MARLBOROUGH: Charlie Zahm returns to the Hall

For the third year in a row, the weather was utterly perfect for local balladeer Charlie Zahm's outdoor concert in the walnut grove at Primitive Hall. Charlie and fiddler Tad Marks played a wide variety of songs, from "This Land Is Your Land" to Irish and Scottish folk tunes to the stirring "Bring Him Home" from "Les Miserables." "The morbid side of Charlie Zahm," as Tad put it, emerged as Charlie sang "The Green Green Grass of Home" (about a man awaiting execution) and a song about a massacre in 17th-century Scotland. The two musicians closed the show with a rousing version of "Those Were the Days," the 1960s hit by Mary Hopkin that was in fact one of the first 45s I ever purchased.
About 50 people attended the show, many bringing coolers and picnic baskets. Charlie, who lives in East Fallowfield, has a loyal following of locals, who call themselves "The Zahm-bies."

KENNETT: A Sky Tour on Sept. 9

Was your interest in all things planetary piqued by the solar eclipse? The Chester County Astronomical Society is holding a Sky Tour for adults and kids on Saturday, Sept. 9, starting at 7:30 p.m. at the athletic fields at Anson Nixon Park.
The astronomers write: "The program provides an orientation to the stars and planets with the help of a green laser light, which makes it easier to follow the leaders as they visit (point) to the stars. Come view planets, star clusters and galaxies using our members' telescopes.
"As the sky darkens we will see Jupiter, the king of the planets, sinking toward the glow of the Sun. Then take a long look at the most beautiful planet in the solar system, Saturn. As the sky becomes fully dark we’ll dive deep into the heart of our Milky Way Galaxy to see Messier 22, a large globular cluster, faint nebulas: the Lagoon, the Trifid and the Swan.  Last but not least we’ll gaze upon our neighbor the Andromeda Galaxy and we’ll see 2.5-million-year-old light coming from a trillion stars!"
Star-gazers are asked to bring a small flashlight (light pollution) and dress for the weather.The event will be cancelled if it's raining or if there is heavy cloud cover.


Sunday, August 27, 2017

RED TAPE: Yes or no?

Sometimes things get so absurd that you just have to laugh. As my late mother's bills arrive, I've been either paying or disputing them. One bill from a doctor that should have been paid by the insurance company had been rejected, so I called the company. Alas, because I was not the person named on the account, the customer service rep told me that HIPAA regulations would allow her to provide only "yes" or "no" answers to my questions.
Not having the energy to argue -- it would have been futile anyway -- I shifted into "Twenty Questions" mode and phrased my questions in closed-ended fashion, like a careful trial attorney. It was an interesting exercise in efficient communication, and I actually got the answers I wanted. (It helped that the rep was a cooperative human being and didn't stick strictly to the format.)

UNIONVILLE: Horse Trials coming up

And just like that, it's September, which means that the Plantation Field International Horse Trials are coming up. This is a hugely prestigious international equestrian competition, with top-level riders and horses and rising stars in the eventing world, and it's right in our backyard.
Here is this year's schedule:
-- Thursday, September 14: dressage in the main arena
-- Friday, September 15: dressage in the main arena
-- Saturday, September 16: CIC 2* & 3*  show jumping in the main arena, 8 a.m.  to 4:30 p.m.; CIC 1* cross country in the morning
-- Sunday, September 17: CIC 2* & 3* cross country, 8:30 a.m.; CIC 1* show jumping in the main arena
(The asterisks indicate the level of competition, with 3* being the most advanced.)
At the lunch break on Sunday, according to the website, "American legends from the racing world come together to compete in the Real Rider Cup. Jockeys, trainers, owners and veterinarians will test their mettle over a show jumping course in the main arena in a must-see event."
This year the Retired Racehorse Project is the event's beneficiary. Again, from the website: "These horses can have successful second careers in other disciplines after they leave the track, and our aim is to highlight their talent and heart throughout the weekend. The Retired Racehorse Project will give a demonstration on Saturday featuring horses that will compete in the Thoroughbred Makeover at the Kentucky Horse Park in October. We will also have celebrity Thoroughbreds like Icabad Crane making an appearance at the event."
As a spectator, I always have a great time at Plantation Field. It's a beautiful venue, you get an amazing close-up view of the action, and there are also shops and food vendors to visit and friends' tailgate parties to stop by. Volunteers are always needed; go to the website for more information.

EAST MARLBOROUGH: Wawa has reopened

The renovated Longwood Wawa on Baltimore Pike reopened on schedule last week, much to the relief of road warriors who rely on it for bathrooms, sodas, coffee, subs, snacks, lottery tickets and cash. A friend who is a connoisseur of all things Wawa in the Philly suburbs visited early on and said that the renovation appears to be a hybrid of two different Wawa styles. He was amused when he saw a customer walk into the store, pull out his wallet and then gaze around him in confusion as he realized that the ATM machine was not where it used to be.

EAST MARLBOROUGH: A silent officer

I was driving home through Unionville the other day and spotted an East Marlborough Township police vehicle parked in the upper lot across from Hood's BBQ. I pulled in, looking forward to a chat with Chief Robert Clarke, who always has some interesting news to share.
Alas, there was only a realistic-looking, uniformed police dummy sitting in the passenger seat. I imagine just seeing the police vehicle sitting there, with or without Clarkie, is incentive enough to make speeders slow down, which is after all the whole point.

Friday, August 25, 2017

MORTALITY: A life well lived

Perhaps you've noticed that Tilda's column has been a little, well, thin for the past month. There's a good reason for that: instead of going to concerts, hanging out with friends and generally getting out and about, I spent the past month caring for my mother after she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia.
Thanks to the amazing people at Heartland Hospice, my mother got to spend some true quality time with her family and died peacefully at home, in her own bed. She was proud of the fact that she far outlived the original prognosis of "days" that sent my brother and me dashing to the airport on July 21 to catch the next flight to her condo in Florida. My brother drove her back to Kennett Square, a two-day road trip, and he, my sister, and I pulled together so that one of us was there with her 24/7.
I bought a new computer so I could set up shop and do my editing over at my mother's house ("I hope you're getting your work done," she'd say about five times a day, worried that she was being a burden). My kind friends rallied round to take exceptional care of my animals back home, even texting me photos. My wonderful neighbors made sure the mail, packages and newspapers didn't pile up too much.
And the Young Relative totally stepped up to the plate, volunteering to prepare his grandmother's lunch every day and happily doing chores around the house. He would report in after his shift was over, telling us how much soup she had eaten and whether she'd been strong enough to get outside for a few steps. He showed a natural compassion, creativity, strength and poise; after this, I would not be surprised if he goes on to become a medical professional (after a stellar college track career, of course).
Mother was bound and determined to get some legal paperwork taken care of, and Peter Temple and his staff bent over backwards to complete it as quickly as possible.
Matt Grieco and his team at the funeral home were compassionate and efficient and made things as easy as they could throughout the whole process; special thanks to Martha and Maribeth.
The flowers, cards and kind messages we've received have been a wonderful source of support.
An optimist to the end, my mother insisted that we focus on all of our happy family memories rather than to feel deep sadness at her loss.
I'll let you know how that goes.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

WILLOWDALE: Tilda is easily swayed

Just put an "S" next to my name -- S for Sucker, that is. I felt so guilty every time I pushed the "No Loyalty" button at the Landhope Farms cash register that I finally signed up for their loyalty card, though I'll probably never use it.
Whoever came up with that phrasing has a profound understanding of the human mind. Really, who wants to keep declaring, with every sub, milk, soda, coffee or ice cream purchase, that they are not loyal to such a key institution in Unionville life?

Saturday, August 19, 2017

STORMS: Weird light

What a remarkable aftermath of that strong thunderstorm that blew through our area the evening of Friday, Aug. 18. I saw a rainbow over the New Garden Shopping Center -- some people reported a double rainbow -- and the sky contained so many different types of clouds that it looked like the Golden Book of meteorology that we pored over as kids. A patch of dark clouds would be flanked by bright blue sky, and next to that would be horizontal lightning, and then the pouch-like mammatus clouds. My car's automatic headlights kept going on and off as I traveled up Newark Road, and I felt like I needed to switch from my sunglasses to my regular glasses every minute.

OXFORD: A spelling fail

The funniest typo of the week appears on the roadside signs that have popped up for the Oxford "Flee" Market. In one sign along Baltimore Pike in Toughkenamon, someone actually tried to make the "e" into an "a." Every time I see one, the "Guys and Dolls" lyric comes into my head: "It's the oldest established permanent floating craps game in New York."
And speaking of roadside signs ... every single summer the organizers of the Chester County Pond Tour put up hundreds of signs publicizing their event, many times multiple ones at the same corner, and after the event they remove perhaps dozens of them. It's been three weeks since the event and there are still at least three at the Schoolhouse Road/Baltimore Pike intersection.

Spell-checking programs don't always work. This sign was on Route 10 north of Oxford.


SCHOOLS: Changes in school start times

In the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District, the upcoming school year will bring some changes in the timing of the school day as well. For elementary school pupils, the day will start at 9:10 a.m. and will end at 3:40 p.m. For students at Patton Middle School and the high school, the school day will run from 8 a.m. to 2:43 p.m.
In the words of the district administrators: "We are all now in the mode of transitioning from summer to the start of the school year. This year that transition includes new routines around new school start times.  Bus pick-up times will shift, drop off times have changed and so have the bell schedules. We are here to help all stakeholders with the transition. The School Start Time website is a central resource for all items related School Start Times, providing background for the decision and now continuing as a resource for the implementation and ongoing evaluation."
The URL for that website is

WEST MARLBOROUGH: An outdoor concert

Local favorites Charlie Zahm (on guitar and vocals) and Tad Marks (on the fiddle) will be playing an outdoor concert on Sunday, Aug. 27, in the walnut grove at Primitive Hall, 830 North Chatham Road in West Marlborough Township. The Hall, the historic homestead of the Pennock family, will be open for tours from 3 to 5 p.m., and the concert will start at 5 p.m. Bring your lawn chairs or blankets and a picnic. Suggested contribution is $25 per car.

BUSINESS: Clothes, plants, food

A few business notes to share with you:
1. Trail Creek Outfitters expects to open a branch store in downtown Kennett the first week of September. They are moving into the storefront at 120 West State Street formerly occupied by the ladies' clothing boutique Chantilly Blue (which moved across the street to 117 West State Street). "We will have a selection of your favorites from Patagonia, The North Face, Prana, Kuhl, and Smartwool. Also popping up will be some fresh, new brands like Hippy Tree, True Grit, Dylan, Cotopaxi and Ten Tree. Our space is cozy so we won’t be able to stock everything that we have in the Glen Eagle store, but we will be travelling back and forth and will have what you want by the next day (maybe even the same day)."
2. Richard and Kathy Pratt, who own RP Nurseries in Willowdale, are trying to spread the word that they are NOT closing their business. They wrote on their Facebook page: "Did we sell some of our land? Yes. Did we sell ALL of our land? No! Our garden center, gift shop and landscape services division are all still here to serve you for many years to come!"
3. Hood's BBQ in downtown Unionville will be closed from Saturday, Sept. 2, through Monday, Sept. 11, so the Hood family can take a well-deserved vacation. Regular business hours will resume Tuesday, Sept. 12.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

FAMILY: Together again

It's been many years since I've actually lived in the same house with my siblings, so the past few weeks have been instructive. I have learned, for instance, that my sister detests bananas and microwave ovens and uses sunscreen from India, herbal cough drops from Switzerland, and headache "powders" from England. My brother, an engineer and a serious athlete, can go through a two-pound barrel of mini-pretzels in a matter of days and washes everyone's dishes immediately after use. And neither one of them likes the ticking of a clock, which I find soothing. In fact, they actually took the offending timepiece down from the wall and stuffed it under a sofa cushion.

LONGWOOD: A great fireworks show

After a week of wall-to-wall challenges, it was a pleasure to just sit and watch the Longwood fireworks on Saturday evening. How do they keep coming up with new pyrotechnics every time?There were fireworks that blinked at random, ones that multiplied like the sorcerer's apprentice, orange ones with a green eye, like a celestial fiber-optic cable, roller-coaster ones that rose and then fell, and even some that resembled Longwood's beautiful pink-and-white hydrangeas. My favorite may have been the ones that lined themselves into rows and then burst into multiple colors, like a monitor screen full of icons.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

KENNETT: Furry fun

The Treetops Kitty Café, 305 W. State St. in downtown Kennett, is having its grand opening from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 19.
"Admission to the cat lounge for that day will be $1 per person and as always, there will be drinks and snacks available to buy. We’ll have a face-painter and some cat-centric activities for kids and at 2 pm, we’ll be featuring cat stories and books. At 3 pm we’ll have presentations about cats  (e.g., bottle-feeding, socializing young kittens, general cat care, health  and behavior), as well as information on cat rescue and volunteering for the café."
What is a kitty café, you ask? It's a place where, for a small fee, you can hang out and play with the dozen or so cats up for adoption who wander around the lounge. There's Wi-Fi, and there are drinks, snacks, and pet supplies for sale, with all income going toward operating expenses and animal care. 
Treetops Kitty Café is run by the non-profit TreeTops Animal Rescue.  Normal hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

EAST MARLBOROUGH: Peace in our time

A fed-up East Marlborough reader writes:
"Why is it some folks decide on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday evening to mow their lawn, blow off a deck, trim their yard or do some other very noisy activity?"
She says she and her husband were enjoying a glass of wine on their deck one recent weekend evening when a neighbor decided to fire up some yard equipment and then proceeded to operate it for more than an hour. She said she was so angry she got in her car and made the rounds of the neighborhood, asking residents to be more considerate and not use power equipment after 6 p.m., at least not on weekends.
"I never did identify the culprit, but I did meet more neighbors than I had previously known," she writes.

FAIR HILL: Spotlight on Cecil County

Three-day-eventing fans are excited that Fair Hill International, just across the line in Maryland, has been nominated by the U.S. Equestrian Federation to host a prestigious four-star competition. The sport's governing body, the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), will make the final decision this fall. If approved, the first four-star event at Fair Hill would be in fall 2019.
If selected to host the event, the 5,613-acre property would see major upgrades (funded privately), including "an irrigated turf racecourse, new cross-country course, rings and graded grass field on the infield, and a grandstand overlooking the turf track and rings," according to a press release.
The competition would also bring a significant number of horses, riders, grooms and spectators to Cecil County, all of whom would need a place to stay and food to eat. 
A three-day-eventing competition comprises dressage, cross-country and stadium jumping phases. A four-star event indicates the highest level of competition.

KENNETT: The final show

The blue-shirted musicians of the West Chester Community Concert Band filled the stage at Anson B. Nixon park on Aug. 9 in the final concert of the summer series, and they played a wonderful mixture that ran the gamut from marches and ragtime to Sinatra and Gershwin (hearing the sublime "Someone to Watch Over Me" brought a smile to my face). During a medley of early 20th-century dance tunes, the woman in front of us was inspired to get up and dance the Charleston with considerable spirit.  
The crowd skewed toward the more mature end of the spectrum; in fact, the Friends Home mini-bus brought a whole row of residents and staffers to the show.
And one friend told us that this show was by far her favorite of the summer; she admitted that although she attends all the concerts, she wears earplugs during the louder rock-and-roll ones.
The State Street restaurant Portobello's was the food vendor for the evening, and their exotic mushroom crepes were just delicious.

SUMMER: A few more weeks

"Where did the summer go?" is a lament I've heard repeatedly this week. There's a "Welcome Back" banner at UHS, school supplies of innumerable variety are on sale, and at least one student of my acquaintance really needs to get cracking if he hopes to finish his summer reading ("Brave New World" and "Animal Farm," never more relevant). It will be interesting to see how the high school's delayed-opening experiment goes this year: will the students actually get more sleep?
The man next to me on a recent flight told me that in June he and his family had moved from Iowa to Florida. His kids were dismayed to learn that their summer vacation would last only a few weeks, as Florida schools start in early August. (However, the children were mollified by the fact that their new house has a backyard swimming pool.)

Sunday, August 6, 2017

TECHNOLOGY: Getting above itself

I am really enjoying my new computer (thank you, Best Buys on Concord Pike), but I find its slogan a bit presumptuous: "HP Pavilion All-in-One: The Centerpiece of Your Modern Family," it proclaims on a sticker on the base. The computer apparently has a pretty high opinion of itself.
Also: wireless peripherals have improved vastly since I last tried them. The keyboard and mouse work perfectly.

KENNETT: A special open house

Hosting an open house is all in a day's work for real estate agents, but this one was really special: on Aug. 3 Jayne Bair and her colleagues at Century 21 Pierce & Bair threw a party to celebrate the opening of their new office at the historic Chalfant Mansion at 220 North Union Street in downtown Kennett.
I stopped in at 6:30 p.m. on my way to the Kennett Y and the place was full of well-wishers chatting and enjoying the raw bar, all kinds of hors d'oeuvres, and luscious-looking desserts. And on my way home 90 minutes later I saw that the party was still going strong.
Jayne renovated the Queen Anne-style home after a fire in November 2014 and the results are spectacular: the charred woodwork has been repaired and polished, the ornate fireplaces have been cleaned, the soot and grime have been removed from the mirrors and the building no longer smells like smoke. It looks wonderful. At the party a video screen showed dramatic photos of the "before" and "after." 
Built in 1884 for William Chalfant, the house was an important work by architect Frank Furness, who also designed the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts on North Broad Street in Philadelphia, the old library at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Wilmington train station.

Friday, August 4, 2017


I was at the Megalomart the other morning looking for a deck of playing cards for someone who likes to play Solitaire the old-fashioned way. I thought they'd be in the office supplies section, or maybe the crafts section, but they weren't. I spotted a clerk in the back-to-school section.
"Excuse me," I said. "I'm looking for a deck of playing cards."
"Toys," she said, without looking up.
"And where is that?" I asked.
With this, she looked up and gave me a glare.
"In the back. Where there's a 'Toys' sign."
I just had to laugh.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

POCOPSON: It will open soon!

I'm not sure which is more eagerly anticipated: the reopening of the Longwood Wawa convenience store (set for Aug. 23) or the reopening of the Route 926 bridge over the Brandywine Creek (set for Sept. 1).
Some friends who live near the bridge wandered down there the other day and reported to their surprise that there are actually two bridges being built, plus the intersection of Routes 100 and 926 is being moved.
In PennDOT's crisp (that's a compliment) engineering lingo: "PennDOT’s contractor will improve Route 926 (Street Road) by replacing the 79-year-old bridge with a new three-span structure built at a higher elevation; rebuilding and raising 1,700 feet of the roadway approaches to make them less prone to flooding; replacing the nearby culvert over Radley Run with an 84-foot twin arch concrete culvert; and realigning 800 feet of Creek Road at its northern intersection with Route 926 (Street Road)."
The latest report from the contractors, as of July 27, is as follows: "Everything is starting to take shape, last week crews poured the new 926 bridge concrete deck, and began the improved culverts at Radley Run. The causeways are out of the waterway, and most importantly the project continues to advance on time, and on budget." 
Perhaps trumping both the bridge and the Wawa reopening is the much-anticipated return of the Bread Ladies (the Bakers at Red Lion). Finding that they couldn't stand the heat, they very wisely got out of the kitchen for July and August. "See you in September!" reads their sign. 

KENNETT: Bring the lava lamps

Nostalgia was rampant among the crowd on Aug. 2 as Kofi Baker's Cream Experience took the stage at the next-to-last summer concert at Anson Nixon Park. The rain stopped just in time for the 7 p.m. show, the sun came out, and the temperature was perfect.
Kofi Baker is the 48-year-old son of Ginger Baker, legendary drummer for the 1960s supergroups Cream and Blind Faith. Kofi, too, plays the drums -- including one lengthy solo -- and told some entertaining stories of growing up in a psychedelic house. He mentioned that unlike his hippie parents, he leads a healthy lifestyle and is a regular at the gym -- and it certainly showed in his strength and endurance.
The band performed extended versions of all of Cream's hits, like "White Room," "I'm So Glad," and "Sunshine of Your Love," bringing "awws" of remembrance from us boomers. They did Jimi Hendrix's "Manic Depression" as an encore.
One thing I love about the Anson Nixon concerts is their small scale. At intermission we saw the other two members of the band -- Mike Keneally and Robert Pagliari -- hustling up to the refreshment area to order some pulled-pork crepes from Yor So Sweet. Kofi had given the crepes a rave revue, and rightly so: they were delicious.
The West Chester Band will play at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 9, to close the season, and the Kennett Food Cupboard will be collecting donations at the show. Apparently there is plenty of empty space on their shelves.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

UNIONVILLE: News central

Those of use who don't work in an office miss out on having a traditional "water cooler" to serve as a conversational hub, but the Unionville Post Office is a great substitute. Ther other morning I ran into an acquaintance there who introduces himself to me every time I see him, as if he's not a memorable enough character as it is.
I shook hands with him and gave him a hearty good morning.
"Friendliest post office in the world!" he exclaimed.

UNIONVILLE: Summer vacation

Driving past the Unionville high school/middle school complex, you might think that school was already back in session. I was there at breakfast time one recent morning (en route to Landhope for a half-gallon of milk) and the place was a hive of activity. Members of the cross-country team were running around the track (the Young Relative's practice starts at 6:30 a.m. to beat the heat), football players were stretching out their shoulders using wooden poles, and dozens of soccer balls were spread out on the grass like dandelions, just waiting for the soccer camp participants to show up.
And just up the road at St. Michael's church, a canopy was set out ready to host Vacation Bible School activities.