Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Summer Reading

The last day at the Arden pool was a beautiful day. More people than I have seen all summer congregated in the little hollow where the temperature is about ten degrees cooler than it is even in the pool's parking lot. Still the sun is hot and only a mad, humming soda machine stands to promise any kind of bought refreshment. Arden swimmers know to bring in their own water and watermelon. No snack bar here.

This last day is a weird one. We are all Fair Hungover. I don't mean the alcohol kind, but that is part of it for some of us. Lots of people in town worked so hard to get the pieces into place, often at the expense of sleep. Two days later we are the walking wounded. And too, we are the walking exhilarated. The 108th fair is in the books, and it was a glorious success.

At the pool's edge I am trying desperately to finish reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I have never read it and found the slim paperback when I was sorting through my bookshelf looking for volumes to sell at the Arden Fair Book sale. Now or never, I thought. I have been carrying this book around with me for far too long and hoped to make it my final tick mark in my quest for a book-a-week this summer. Kind of. My goal was fourteen books from Memorial Day to Labor Day. I did not finish the Bell Jar. Too many distractions at the pool on the last day--a memorial service for one. Above the pool, on the deck that wraps around the Gild Hall, well-dressed Ardenites stood watch over the mer-people.

They were saying goodbye to Chuck Conner, an Arden giant who, among other prominent roles, was the booming voice announcing all activities at the Fair for over 40 years.  Chuck and his wife Phyllis lived in a home and gardens they designed in Ardencroft on the edge of Sherwood Forest for over 50 years before they finally moved to assisted living around the same time we moved to Arden. I met Phyllis recently in July. But though I never met Chuck,  I feel an affinity with the family. We have a connection: They used to live in our house in the late 50's early 60's. And so, reading becomes tedious as I feel my energy pulled toward the full house--those throngs come to support the Conner family. I've witnessed the parade of people entering the hot hall and I know many of them.

And so, my summer reading goal is cut short by my inability to separate from real life. It is a condition I know all too well and the reason I made the summer reading pledge in the first place. Why have I had such a difficult time keeping my attention on my reading these last few years? I think I have finally figured it out. For years, I blamed social media for shortening my attention span to short clips. But this summer, I realized that isn't the case--at least not entirely. When I space out and take my focus away from my book it is because I am massaging the words in my mind. Often they are a springboard that makes me want to dive into my own work. Like seeing paintings in a museum or gallery and rushing home to pick up the paint brush. That is what it feels like. I start exploring and figuring out the stories I am working on. Even when I don't have a book in current work, I get ideas for new stories or new ways to develop characters. I am not a great analyzer of fiction--at least not consciously. I can't tell you what literary devices authors are employing to tell their stories. I can't even usually remember what I have read. It's really embarrassing. As an author I live in fear someone is going to ask me my influences or ask me my favorite book quote. I sincerely don't know.

In spite of my handicaps, I have managed to complete the following books. Some of them are physical books which are best for the hot sun and the pool. Some I read on my iPad. Some were audio books which helped me also get some summer walking miles in. Even in those listening experiences I got distracted often and needed to rewind and play parts over again. Since my goal was finishing books, I didn't put too much pressure on myself to choose anything other than books that caught my fancy, but I think it is pretty diverse little collection of titles. The list includes non-fiction as well as fiction, half by men and half by women, a memoir, some historical fiction, more than one time-travel book, and even a book narrated by a dog.

1. Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
2.  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (This led to a clothing purge and a book purge which brought me to my Bell Jar challenge.)
3. Unhappenings by Edward Aubry (a friend of mine who took a writing retreat in Arden)
4. Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult
5. Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian
6. The Storyteller  by Jodi Picoult
7. Bathing the Lion  by Jonathan Carroll
8. The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
9. 11/22/63 by Stephen King
10. The Grace That Keeps the World by Tom Bailey
11. Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl
12. A Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
13. Tuscany for the Shameless Hedonist by Ariela Bankier

And now onto a new goal of as many books by the end of the year. Life will dot my reading experiences as it does my writing. That's okay. It's how it should be.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Walking the Labyrinth: A Heroine's Journey

Just as I found out I was pregnant at age 27 with our second child, I landed myself in a group of magical women (and several highly evolved men) at our church. We had joined the UU Church of Lancaster when I was pregnant with our first child for the sake of raising our kids within a faith tradition, but little did I know that I would be the one reaping the benefits. I was taking some courses and  doing some discovery work with the divine feminine-- which is a very empowering subject to undertake while pregnant. I should have guessed that I was incubating a girl child, the first in many generations on my husband's side. All of a sudden I had sacred chants and totems to guide me through. The women I met through my studies were real guides in that they modeled Goddess light for me. In a society that is still patriarchal in nature, it was truly eye-opening and a major point on my personal path. If you have studied the Heroine's Journey (the feminist response to Joseph Campbell's The Hero's Journey), this would be the part where I met my allies: both human and supernatural.

Image of a seven-circuit labyrinth at night
One of these allies is Sarah Preston. She, along with many of the others I met, got together for the purpose of making a labyrinth for the church. I had not experienced labyrinths before, and I did not join the efforts of this group even though it included many of my new friends. I was thirty minutes from our church home with two small children, a full-time job, and a husband who travelled with his job. I do remember being excited about what they were doing and couldn't wait until their big project was unveiled. In the meantime, I bought some books on labyrinths to understand more. Labyrinths are unicursal paths (one way in and one way out) that are used in many cultures and religions (independently of one another) as a walking meditation. Labyrinths can be found in French cathedrals, Native American cultures, Scandinavian countries etc. Many incorporate sacred geometry into their design. For instance, a classic labyrinth has 7 circuits which correspond to musical notes on a scale, major chakras in the body, colors of the rainbow. Finally, the canvas labyrinth, a painted replica of the 12-circuit one in Chartres Cathedral was finished and open for walks. I took my mom to one of the early open walks. She was hooked as well. It became a catalyst for many outings together.

From then on, I looked for more labyrinths to walk. If I had to guess, I'd say I've walked well over 50 different labyrinths in about a dozen different states. Sarah Preston had a herb labyrinth in her back yard. From that labyrinth, she started her business Herbs From the Labyrinth in which she used the herbs to make lotions, salves, and other products, most of which had healing properties. Sarah is a healer.  (You can read about her here.) Her knowledge of the body and natural cures is extensive, and I've consulted her on many issues. While I lived in Lancaster County, I taught monthly journal writing classes in her shop and even co-convened a couple all-day chakra workshops directly from her garden labyrinth in conjunction with a local kundalini yoga teacher. 

Fast forward fifteen years. When the time came that Mark and I knew we had to move out of Lancaster County, I went on a writing retreat to Omega Institute in October of 2012. We didn't know where we were going to move, and I was pretty apprehensive about the mystery of our future, but every day I was at Omega, I walked the labyrinth on the grounds. I got still with myself as I walked the circuits, and let them do their magic. I didn't force it, but in the calm stillness I had glimpses of what I wanted my new life to include. By early December 2012, Mark and I were ready to call our realtor friend Cynthia to let her know of our decision to move to Arden, DE.

Art Map Poster of the Ardens with watermark
The night we saw our house the first time (we had signed an agreement before actually seeing it) and met the previous owners, we sat around the dining room table toasting with champagne and eating chocolate chip cookies. We discovered that the del Tufos were UU's also and that Keri was also raised in Lancaster County. That night, I told the group that Arden needs a labyrinth. I truly believed that walking the Omega labyrinth had directed me to live in this place. Keri loved the idea and enthusiastically agreed to help bring it into being. From that cold spring day in 2013, we allowed the idea to percolate. In June of this year we brought our plans of an Arden Labyrinth to the village meeting (to be voted upon in September).

I write this blog today because of two very exciting things that will happen at the Arden Fair on September 5th. The first is that I will be selling art maps that I designed for $20. All proceeds from these maps will help to fund the labyrinth project. Keri and I will be selling them out of Linda Toman's ceramics booth overlooking the Moonlight Theater. But I am also really excited to announce that Sarah Preston is coming to the Arden Fair as a vendor in the Peddlers, Potions, and Practitioners Marketplace at the Buzz Ware Community Center. She will have her full line of herbal products including bug repellent, lotions, baskets, etc. If she brings a tenth of the selection she has in Radiance, her Lancaster Shop, Arden is in for a treat. I hope that people will stop and say hello and make her journey worthwhile so that she will come again and again. 

The labyrinth is a metaphor for our life's journey as it bends on itself and repeats themes, circling in on answers, asking more questions in the process. I am hopeful about the prospects of building a labyrinth here, especially since the energy seems to be bubbling in that direction. And while we have not reached our goal yet, I am thankful for my many mentors and guides and who have bought me to this place at this time in my life. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

August Days and the Arden Pool

We are in the last days of August. Summer's swan song. This is simultaneaously a slowing down and a speeding up. People are readying for the fair and getting ready to go to school; I have written about that.  But it is the sense that we are in deep season that has us all in a focus. Those people who like spending days at the beach are making it a priority to spend as much time possible down there. We are close enough that the beach can be a day trip. What August means for me is that I am trying to can or freeze some of the summer's bounty so we can remember the heat in the form of spicy salsa or the sun in the form of creamed corn. And then we have the Arden Pool. The membersip has been slipping in recent years. It is expensive to belong to the pool here. $450 for a family of four when I had paid more like $150 to belong to a pool in Lancaster County. Even at $150, I had to weigh how many times I would have to go to make it worth my while. In Arden, I don't even come close to breaking even, but in the last days of August, I am making a valiant stab at giving our pool memeberships some worth. Instead of saying I came to the pool five times, I am hoping to make it ten. I bring my books in order to meet another self-imposed goal, that of reading a book a week over the summer. But the pool in August is no time to be reading. We women have some serious gabbing to do. We are passing pie cookbooks back and forth, readying to enter the fair pie contests. We look through the glossy pages as if we are going to make something other than our tried and true tarts. Dale will make peach raspberry, and I will look to my roots with a Pennsylvania Dutch lemon sponge pie. Neither of us has dreams of winning.

Diane comes around with raffle tickets to win passes for two to the pool next year. Nobody has any money on them. The pool doesn't have a snack bar. Why bring money? But this is a great part in the story to introduce Diane. She is one of the first people I met in Arden, though she won't recall it. We used to come to the pool when we visited Arden on the weekends. Diane was at the pool. Diane is always at the pool. She was sitting with her daughter, both of them sporting outrageous tans and matching tattoos and talking about wanting to move to Hawaii. I was sitting on the next lounger over trying to figure out how I could move to Arden, and here she was, planning to exit to the South Pacific. Let me tell you a bit of the legend of Diane. She was a very early bonded member of the pool. Even though she didn't live in Arden, she begged her husband to let her join the Arden pool.  He acquiesced because she promised to sell her motorcycle to get the money to join. Diane was pregnant at the time, and George said yes to get her off the motorcycle. Diane spent all her time at the Arden Pool and just about gave birth there. These days, when she is not at the beach, she is stationed on a lounger in the back of the pool near the sheds. If she has her chair somewhere else, it means some sort of insect alert is in order along the back fence. Note to self: Always see where Diane is perched before you put your towel down.

Diane comes as soon as the pool opens to swim her laps---equalling a mile--as she prays. She isn't the only one. The pool water is imbued with many prayers said during many laps, I have discovered. Although, I don't spend much time in the water even when I go to the pool (If I were a tea bag, I wouldn't even be in long enough to give the water a good steep.), but I do make a point of getting my head under at least once, so I can get my dose of the wonderful ions these praying mermaids are infusing into the water.

On dry land, between dips, Diane reads her summer away. I never see the same book in her hand twice. She reads lofty books and pedestrian ones; her tastes run the gamut. I love talking to Daine about books because she is so passionate and so well-read. She makes the writer in me blush at the holes in my own reading list.

But the pool is a judgment-free zone. The women I have come to sit with at summer's end are here in spite of bodies that aren't always what we would like them to be. Kerry is here in a bikini that she bought after a summer of cancer treatments. She has a very different outlook on her body than in summers past. The poetry she has written about her journey has stunned me with its raw honesty and superb imagery. Kerry's mother, Dale and I lament that we have to knock off the sugar and simple carbs even as we pass the pie books bewteen us. Even Keren, the petite yoga teacher, is on the mend after a debilitating concussion this past year. Mary shows us her latest tattoo and tells us of her wedding plans. She is marrying the town Santa Claus. She asks to borrow some sunscreen, because Santa aka Ricardo aka Richard is getting burnt. I pass some to her and put some on my own reddening thighs. These bodies have supplied us with so much real life work that we don't have the energy for self-consciousness at the pool. We are here. We are marking the season, and letting the sun brand us as its daughters. Sharing our stories and recipies and prayers and books and sunscreen and light, storing all these things for whatever may come our way in the colder months.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Preparing for the Fair

It is late August. Hopeful, summer-hyped parents are posting photos on Instagram and Facebook of bright, shiny back-to-school grins. Hair is parted and smoothed in extraordinary care. Even picture day at school won't compete with this coiffed perfection. In addition, I've seen photos of what appears to be the same freshman college dorm room decked out in variations on a theme. Bright batik wallhangings, furry pillows that have to replace the cuddles of the beloved pets left behind, and edgy posters that are the hallmark of first impressions--except that these kids have already gotten those nasty first impressions out of the way through social media. With last week's cool spell, it seems everyone is moving forward to fall.

And so, with the Arden Fair approaching--that definitive slash that knocks the crown off Summer's head--I am letting go of Arden as a camp experience. I am going into my third Arden Fair, and as I do, it feels as though I am beginning my junior year at Arden University. But first--the Fair. It was the one thing we hadn't experienced prior to moving to Arden. I had done to other fairs. The Ephrata Fair (Longest Street Fair in PA) and the Mount Gretna Arts Festival. Even the Denver Fair which covers the area at a local park.

Arden Fair has a different vibe. First of all, it is only one day--not a whole week or weekend. In twenty-four hours it is like the whole thing never existed. The fair started back when Arden was a summer community as a way for artists to sell off their wares before they returned to winter over in the cities of Wilmington and Philadelphia. This is the 108th Arden Fair. Only in Arden would someone point out that this is a mystical number--the same number as beads on a mala. Meditate on that! If I had known that little tidbit, I would have submitted a T-shirt design based on the exultation of that number. I had the winning design for the fair T-shirt last year. (Pretty good for an incoming sophomore.)  The other thing that makes Arden's fair unique is the homemade nature of it all. This is not some slick traveling carny show. Right now the town is busy sorting donated books for a book sale, practicing making pies for the pie contest, sewing homemade banners to festoon the main avenue. Jennifer Curly has finished recruiting folks to person the children's games. Toby Ridings is running the tenth annual Peddlers, Potions, and Practitioner's Holistic Marketplace in the Buzz Ware Village Center. People don't realize what her decade of contributions have meant in terms of maintaining our community building. Buzz Ware better beware, because she is making the case for some sort of annex named after her.  Jan Rudzinski will make iced coffee. I wish I could list all the volunteers, because the list is staggering. The Arden Club keep tabs. The list contains over 300 names, which is an amazingly high percentage of the adult population of the Ardens. A percentage of involvement you'd be hard pressed to duplicate in any other community in this country.

My husband's job for set-up (and he takes a day off work for this) is to climb ladders to hang garland. I know why he volunteered to do it, but I cannot watch. His dad fell off a ladder two years ago, and I have a vivid imagination. Last year, I was in charge helping the featured artist set up and attend to the gallery art show (one of the only air-conditioned spots in town). This year, I am going to be at Linda Toman's ceramics booth selling art maps I designed as a fundraiser to get a labyrinth built in the Ardens. Linda is also the Grand Poobah of banner making. Just when I think the flags around town have reached saturation levels and she can take a breather, she finds a way to bring more embellishment. That's when I realize that I am the only person to have set silly limitations. You cannot have too much color. The banners and flags are spectacular, one-of-a-kind and definitely not of the variety you can order from a catalog.

Linda's husband Pat is running the show this year. A gentle but assertive leader; he is a good one to undertake the task. The first year we helped to set up, we were given a lunch of pizza and a dinner of fried chicken and potato salad. Somehow the fried chicken got axed. I may have to petition Pat to bring it back. I am like Pavlov's dog. After one fair set-up, I associate hanging banners and setting up booths with fried chicken. If they don't serve it, I will have to run out and get it anyway.  I'd be willing to sacrifice the pizza if necessary. Even I know it isn't about the chicken. We contribute because the fair brings money into the Arden Club which provides most of the programming and events in the Ardens, from our pool and lectures, to our concerts and dinners. It is a huge undertaking, but the money generated is worth it. If ever there was a team-building exercise or, in this case, town-building, it is this. Look what we can do when we all work together.

I cannot begin to describe all that happens at the fair. Concerts, German beer garden (Edmond Bischoff's Brats and German potato salad are my favorite fair foods), Antique show, kids' rides and games, artisan wares, book sale, plant sale.  Check out the Arden Club webpage to find out more. And come. It is always the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend which is September 5th, this year. 10AM-6PM. Let us show off our villages in the best possible way. You can't miss us. Just look for trees and flags.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Red Threads

"An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but will never break." 
--An ancient Chinese belief

I just had a notification from my Time Hop App that talked of a pizza party Mark and I attended six years ago at our friends, Cynthia and David's house. We didn't realize then that we were less than four years away from living in Arden. Cynthia and David invited us and two other couples for pizza making. We were encouraged to bring toppings. I brought homemade goat cheese, homemade barbecue sauce, and caramelized red onions. And it was at this party that we met Joe and Keri del Tufo. We hit it off immediately because, among other things, we both had daughters the same age. It was a lovely evening in the barn for all--except maybe poor David who was doing the dance of grilling the pizzas. Our topping-heaving approach (because everything sounded so good) was at odds with what he knew of how to grill pizzas. But we were buzzed on wine and summer and interesting conversation. One such conversation included Joe and Keri telling us how they how to downsize belongings to move into their enchanted little cottage. "You need to see this house," Cynthia, ever the realtor, told us. Little did we or the del Tufos know she would be selling it to us in a few years. Little did I know that Keri had an aversion to both goat cheese and onions.

Fast forward six years on that same date and we found that those same people were around our tables on our front patio of the aforementioned enchanted cottage. Add a few more couples. It was an impromptu gathering that we called happy hour but just meant that we would have grazing foods and not something that typified a meal. Corn and artichoke stuffed jalapeños, Sweet heat turkey meatballs, bruschetta, homemade salsa and chips, cucumber salad, fruit salad, venison bologna, and several growlers of beer that Mark had purchased that afternoon from Tired Hands Brewery near where he works. The bottles of rosé people had brought were largely untouched.

The next night, Mark and I felt a little bored after our impromptu party, but could think of nothing to do. We decided we would grill some salmon and drink the rosé and get a little snockered on wine and fireflies. (We don't really have many fireflies, but Mark lit several torches and lanterns). After we had eaten, we were sitting with our wine when we noticed a couple who had ridden bikes down our road. The road ends at our house where it enters the woods. It was twilight, and it seemed as through the man and woman were considering whether to continue on into the forest.  They turned and saw us. We waved and walked over to them with our glasses of wine in hand. I recognized Mhairi (pronounced Mary). She had been sewing fair banners in the Gild Hall when I stopped in on some business the day before.  She introduced her husband Stuart. The two of them, along with their daughter Lindsay had just moved to Arden a few weeks earlier. Originally from Scotland, but having been in this country many years, they came to Delaware the way many people do--because of a job with DuPont. We invited them to share our rosé abundance. They stayed almost two hours, and it was as though we had a hole in our schedules (and extra rosé) just for this purpose.  Being that Mhairi and Stuart are aspiring chocolatiers,  I brought out Wilbur Buds from our native Lititz. This surprised Mark. He didn't realize we had a stash in the house.

And it is like this that the red threads connect us in a way that feels both random and pre-destined. I think back to chance encounters I have had with people. Sometimes only once. The man on the airplane to New Orleans in 1998 who had such fear of flying that he was quaking but whose job, setting up self-checkouts at grocery stores (I had never heard of such a thing), meant that he had to fly several times a month. The woman I met while in the chair at the hair salon who became a fast friend. The two artist mamas I met online on a SARK message board but who embodied not only red threads but lifelines. And even meeting Mark. Such a thing necessitated that his parents move their family twice--from Michigan to Nebraska and from Nebraska to Pennsylvania-- and finally settle in a hometown that had been home to my family for generations. All for a job at Kellogg's.

Today, I don't want to think too much about why things happen the way they do. Thinking about it might wear away its magic. Instead, I think I'll just take a moment to be grateful for red threads, pink wine, grilled pizza, corn flakes, and chocolate.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

What the heck is a Silver Anniversary?

Twenty-five years ago today, we were married in a candlelight ceremony that started way too late in the evening. Do you have any idea what time it gets dark in August? It was a different age. George H.W. Bush was president, but we had yet to engage in the Gulf Wars. Mark was driving a black Chevy Celebrity, which I hated. It was so big and boxy. I was driving a hand-me-down 1976 Buick Skylark that had passed from my grandmother to my parents to me. I was grateful for the car and had no complaints. It had a radio and AC, even if it did leak oil. At the time we got married, Mark was newly employed as a computer operator at Alumax. I had just come off a stint as a teaching assistant at PA Governor's School of the Arts, but had no other prospects, just a brand new BFA in Fine Arts. In August of 1990, we didn't have the Internet or email or cell phones or GPS, and I had given half the guests directions to the church which included a wrong turn. We didn't even have DVDs. We went to the movies or we rented video tapes at independently owned video stores. (Blockbuster didn't come to our area until later.) The number one movie in theaters was Ghost, but Dances with Wolves took home the trophy at the Academy Awards that year. Rent for our first apartment, just off the square in Lititz, was $400 a month, which included heat, electric, water, and trash. The U.S.S.R was still intact. Marriage existed only between one man and one woman, which we were--barely. I was 21, and Mark was 22.

As a bride, I wore an off-the-shoulder, ivory gown with a wreath headdress that I thought was timeless, but seems so dated now as we look at the photos. I remember that I picked out Mark's ivory dinner jacket by watching the Soap Opera Awards earlier that year. On the day we were married I had a headache from some questionable blue-green cocktails I had consumed the night before. I ate a hangover breakfast at Burger King and had the first mani/pedi of my life. After a night of barhopping, Mark played golf with his buddies and, not yet having a wife to badger him about sunscreen, got a nice sunburn that showed up great against his ivory dinner jacket in the wedding photos. We registered at Boscov's for a bunch of stuff we no longer own, save our china. Not having many vacation days to play with, we took a short camping trip to Chincoteague, VA, immediately after our wedding, and a more substantial honeymoon trip to Cancun the following year. Our wedding ceremony took place in the Lutheran church of my childhood. We had no intention of keeping the ties with that church after our wedding, but we had yet to find our church home, so we settled for the church we knew. I didn't want my dad to walk me down the aisle, but our minister counseled that this particular ritual represented parents "letting go" which finally convinced me to keep the tradition. I have no idea how it was that Mark's parents "let go" of him.

And so it was when we entered married life. At the time, it meant that my parents could no longer institute a curfew, which they had upheld in the days leading up to our wedding, and that I could park my car on Main Street in Lititz overnight without it being a scandal. I have said before that I got married primarily to be taken seriously as an adult. Not that I didn't love Mark and want to spend my life with him, just that the rush to get married took care of a few other pesky details as well. It wasn't as if I was jumping from one caretaker to another. I considered myself a feminist with enough independent tendencies to stake out my own territories in life. Mark and I were not a fixed unit, but a voluntary union of individuals. I hyphenated my last name not understanding what a pain in the butt it is to have two last names. Today, I would counsel my younger self to just keep my last name and forget the add-on. That, perhaps, comes with its own hurdles, but at least I would know where to find my file at the doctor's office. In spite of our feminist outlook, Mark and I adopted very traditional roles in our marriage. I cooked and sewed. He maintained the cars and the toolbox. We each did our own laundry.

After twenty-five years, the world has changed, the nature of marriage has changed, and we have changed along with it. We have had five different addresses, fourteen different cars, more job titles than I can reasonably count, three dogs, and two kids. We've gone through three mattresses (a fourth is desperately needed), five grills, four lawnmowers and I'm guessing eight televisions--but Mark could tell you for sure. I think we only ever bought two new computers. The rest were put together Frankenstein-style from parts that Mark acquired or bought. The first refrigerator we ever owned is currently my brother's beer fridge. Our first baby's crib had been passed down and used by six children before it fell apart. (No babies were injured.) We have been to 33 different states and five countries together. And Puerto Rico. We have killed a lot of houseplants.

And through all this, I'm not sure I understand any more about marriage than I did when we went into it.  I know it takes flexibility and a commitment to continuing on the path together. You need love, but you don't need the the consistently blissful kind of love. Sometimes love is a verb--a really hard verb that falls somewhere in the category between digging ditches and operating on brain cells. This country is going through a change in what it defines as marriage, but it isn't really a new definition for us. Early in our marriage, we joined the Unitarian Universalist church which, for as long as we were members, performed union ceremonies between same-sex partners. A marriage contract is as much business contract as it is anything else. I believe in divorce. I also believe in what Goldy Hawn has said about her non-marriage to Kurt Russell. "What I do like about the fact that we're not married is that when I wake up in the morning I really do wake up fresh and re-born every day. I know that I could walk out at any moment but we chose to be together." Does marriage keep us from recommitting to our unions each and every day? I don't know. If I believe in divorce and non-marriage, can I really say I believe in marriage? I don't know.

What I do know after being married to Mark for twenty-five years: I love this man, physically, emotionally, and intellectually. Some days more than others. I feel secure maneuvering through the world with him. He has my back, and I have his. I choose him every day. He tests me in every way possible. I am not always comfortable with that. I like who I am when I am with him most of the time. I know I have left parts of myself undeveloped or underdeveloped because he has certain skills and has always been a part of my adult life. I am not sure how I feel about that. I respect Mark as a parent. I am thankful that he was my partner through the main parenting years. (I realize we aren't quite finished yet--and may never be.) I know that we are great traveling partners. Is that a tell for the rest of it? I am glad to navigate this tricky, ever-changing world with someone who is so adept at change and dealing with challenges. If I had to break up the roles, I would say that I am the roots of the operation and he is the wings. And I know, we still have more to teach each other.

I don't think I will ever completely figure out what marriage is exactly or if we are doing it correctly. It's okay. We know how to file our taxes and click off the appropriate boxes when the world makes us declare ourselves. I can live with that. It isn't important what everyone else thinks marriage should or should not be. It only matters that we have agreed to walk this path together and will do so for the foreseeable future. And this silver anniversary thing? Silver: a shiny metal that give me a good excuse to reflect back over many years.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Coolest Small Town in America

Mark and I grew up in Lititz, PA, and lived there the first year of our marriage. After twenty years and two more addresses in other Lancaster County burgs, we returned to Lititz for a two-month stint before we moved to Arden, DE. We were between houses, and Mark's parents put a roof over our heads for that period of time. During those months, Lititz was celebrating being voted the Coolest Small Town in America (2013) by Budget Travel Magazine. It was a great time to set up camp. Second Fridays (of the month) were hopping in a pure party of the arts and small businesses that lined Main Street. Our kids went in search of the free sunglasses that were the souvenir of the newly crowned "cool" kids. Mark and I availed ourselves of strong IPAs at Bull's Head, a brewpub that overflowed onto a sidewalk near the town square--and around the corner from our first address as a married couple. We clinked glasses and commented that, had Lititz been this cool at the time, we would have never left our little second-story apartment that overlooked the back stoop and garbage bins of the aforementioned brew pub.  And the town is cool--in more than just "coffee houses and brew pubs" kind of way. At the north end of town, Rock Lititz --the brainchild of existing entertainment industry giants Clair Bros Audio, Tait Towers, and Atomic Designs--has launched a venue for top musical artists from around the globe to practice and technically perfect their arena shows. Rock star sightings are a normal occurrence in Lititz and have been since we were kids. Lititz was a great place to grow up, and now its coolness factor is undisputed. Had Mark's job been closer to our native town, we would have gladly settled there instead of Arden for our next act.

My nieces and nephew at Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery in Lititz, PA
Lititz is more than a gimmick contest in a magazine to me: it is my heritage. If you trace my dad's family back through his mother's mother's mother's (10 mothers total) you will find the first European settler to Lititz Springs area. Of course, it was her husband's name-- Christian Bomberger-- that we memorized in fourth grade at Lititz Elementary School. But Christian wasn't alone in the dugout home he carved out of the land in 1722. His wife, Maria, was doing the laundry in the springs. Imagine the amount of dirt that accumulated in your clothes and linens when you lived in a dugout? A few decades later, in 1756, the Moravian Church came along and claimed the Lititz area for its own purposes. This is where my mother's family came into play. Originally Quakers who came to Pennsylvania with William Penn, they had a son who married into a Moravian family and he had a son who lived in Bethlehem (another Moravian settlement) for a while until an Indian raid sent that son (my gr-gr-gr-gr-grandfather) leaping off the roof of the up-in-flames Brother's house (where the unmarried men lived) to dodge bullets in a forest and eventually escape to Bethlehem's sister town of Lititz where he started a family. He was a potter, and his grandson (my gr-gr-grandfather) Julius Sturgis became the founder of the first commercial hard pretzel bakery in 1861. You can still tour this pretzel bakery today. (One more "cool point" for Lititz!) In the beginning of Lititz history, the Moravian Church owned all the land parcels in town and leased them only to members of its congregation until 1855 when it sold off its parcels and opened the town to outsiders.

**Are you paying attention, Arden? I started life in an intentional community in which residents had to lease the land on which they lived. 

 Lititz was the first community in Pennsylvania to establish a historic district, which is why its older buildings survive in such pristine condition. In the 1970's the downtown merchants got together and formed an association that bought up properties and bolstered business in the town for decades to come. As a result, Lititz has a thriving downtown and economy where many other towns are now shuttered, abandoned or have some sort of token commerce. Lititz boasts both the oldest girls' school and the longest running Fourth of July celebration in this country.  The latter has one of the best fireworks displays around, and you can bet that the soundtrack that accompanies the show is top notch--as it is provided by the same folks who are "rocking" Lititz at the north end of town.

In this blog, I've detailed a lot of what the experience of living in Arden has brought to us. Maybe we sought Arden out because community is so important to us. I came preloaded with expectation, having cut my teeth in a place that values neighbors, honors its history, and moved into this century with such forward thinking it is astonishing. Arden has a great history, too. I have read much about it in the short time I have been here. My friends joke about my geeky spouting of Arden trivia. My knowledge is not complete, but certainly well-informed. I do honor my new town's 115-year history with the same reverence I give to Lititz, though Lititz history is over twice as long. Sometimes, I run into Ardenites who are stubborn about change in the community. I can't blame them. They don't want  the Arden of their collective childhood to fade away. Their memories can account for half the history of the place, so of course their experience has weight. I can respect that. But I am glad to see forward momentum here as well. As an example, The Arden Concert Gild has grown over the last decade to the point where our Gild Hall is a true venue, competing for artists with other great hotspots in Wilmington and Philadelphia. How interesting that music plays such a central and progressive role in both my beloved towns?

And so Arden, I offer you my past, as you have offered me yours. When I step forward at village meetings or offer suggestions in various committees, know that any challenges I make to the status quo are informed and respectful of the past. Just because I seek changes doesn't mean that I don't honor the story. I haven't been here very long, but I have great joy and enthusiasm for our village life, and I come to you with a storied history of my own.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Loneliness and Connection

Recently I read an article on loneliness that was forwarded to me by psychologist and life coach Dr. Eric Maisel. I took a writing course with Dr. Maisel and have found his books on creative stumbling blocks and their antidotes to be on target with my experience of the creative life. His daughter Kira Asatryan, also a life coach, wrote this particular article, 4 Disorders That May Thrive on Loneliness. In it, she posits that if you suffer from depression, social anxiety, addiction, or hoarding it may be worthwhile to consider the loneliness factor. Let's face it: in our modern society, the ability to achieve real human connection is often hindered by our fast-paced lifestyles. And the connections we do have through social media tend toward superficiality.

Before moving to Arden, I had experienced many periods of deep loneliness. Probably the most pronounced period came after college. While at the University of Delaware, I lived in the Belmont Honors House. Inside a huge house that used to be home to the president of the university, I lived with nineteen of the most intriguing and inspiring minds on campus. Today I keep in touch with many of them. They live all over the world and are tops in their fields. I loved living in that environment. Sure, I had to wait in line to use the bathrooms, but I wasn't lonely. Not ever. Then I graduated.

Mark and I got married within months of my graduation (which I completed a year ahead of schedule). Soon I landed a job as a CAD operator, designing fabric on second shift. We worked in shifts because the design computers and the software were so expensive back in the late eighties, early nineties that we need to run them at all hours to make full use of the investment. On my shift, I worked with two other co-workers. I never saw my new husband who worked first and third shifts as a computer operator. None of my high school friends had graduated from college. I had nobody to go out with and was too tired at 11:30 PM to even consider it if I had. We had few people besides our relatives who we saw with any regularity. I didn't realize that this wasn't normal adulthood. I daydreamed about recruiting people to live in a commune just so I would have people to interact with during the daytime hours. This was 1990-4, before we even had email to stay in touch.

I joined a step-aerobics class with a bunch of grandmas who were available in the morning hours. I took up knitting and watched soap operas before work. My favorite soap of that period was Another World. I was so caught up in the characters (Anne Heche as twins Vicky and Marley, etc.) that I would dream about them. If one the actors from the show was in Soap Opera Digest, I would buy it and read it over my dinner break at work.  I would go to the mall on Mother's Day Weekend when cast members made special appearances. One time, I even won a script signed by the cast of Another World. I kept it on a shelf with the video tape containing the actual episode. (Boy, could I work a VCR.) To this day, this is the only time I have ever won anything in a drawing. The characters on that show were my friends. I had no idea just how much I clung to them during that period of my life until I looked back on it. Was I depressed during that period? I don't think so. My rich inner life kept me from that. I also knit some mighty fine sweaters during that time period.

I gained more ties after we had kids. We joined a church. We got connected to the World Wide Web in 1995 a year after our son was born. I started working day shift which was much more amenable to social interaction. Still, it wasn't until I moved to Arden that I began to see what a boon community could be in a person's life. Now I have multiple close friends within walking distance of my house. If I go three days without seeing one of them, it would be highly unusual. I see other neighbors at dinner nearly every week October-May when we go to Arden Dinner Gild, and I have so many other venues for human contact that sometimes I have to lock myself inside my house for a day to have 'me' time. I was so starved for human interaction, I don't think I could ever imagine wanting that before. In my previous life, if someone had suggested an outing, I would go. I didn't care where we were going--or even who it was with. I get to be discerning now.

I have compared living in Arden to being back in the Belmont House. So many interesting people who live so close and make themselves available. Always something to do and someone with whom to share the experience. And I don't have to share a bathroom with anyone except my husband and daughter. It is a chance to be alive and to be grateful that I am living in this place with other awe-inspiring souls. I think back to that young woman with only her soap opera for friends. I don't feel sorry for her, so much as I wish I could give her a hug and take her out for lunch--because I have something really big to tell her. The woman who was head writer for Another World during those early years of my marriage lives in Arden, perhaps a half mile from our house.

I knew that Donna had written for the soaps. She is a Facebook friend, and we have friends in common, but I am not the rabid daytime fan that I was twenty-five years ago, so I didn't linger on the fact except to note that I had yet another fellow writer who lived in my village. I only recently made the connection to my past world when she posted a Throwback Thursday photo on Facebook. I saw the photo which prompted me to research exactly which soaps she wrote for and when. Imagine my surprise when I learned that the woman who authored "my friends' lives" lives across town from me. I know it is just the universe winking at me, showing me a "then and now" moment, a thread of connection through time and space.

There is lonely, and there is relationship. That human connection is available to us, in real world terms. Sometimes, we just need to turn off our screens and find it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Summer Communities

Arden comes alive in summer. Readers may have noticed that my blog has slowed to a crawl. I am buzzing with the usual warm weather activities: pool, ACRA Summer program, walking, gardening, grilling, outdoor concerts and plays, backyard socializing, and dabbing my feet and ankles with salve to calm the itch of bug bites. I pull my bike out of the shed and take in more of Arden than I can on foot. As I ride by houses in various states of renovation, I can't help consider that Arden was initially formed as a summer community. People didn't winter here They lived in their idealogical centers of Philadelphia and Wilmington from whence their Georgist groups orbited and dreamed of a day when Arden could sustain their vision year-round.

The Arden Fair, always the Saturday before Labor Day, was a time when artists could sell off their summer inventory before returning to the city. Then, the Arden cottages and cabins, most without heat, would be shuttered until warmer temperatures once again prevailed. It didn't mean that Ardenites left their belief systems behind. But they did have feet in two worlds. I think about this when topics get heated and people rail at village meetings. I love that we all are so passionate here, but when Arden began, people experienced this concentrated community in 3 or 4 month doses. Doses that were tempered always with warm breezes and lots of fresh air. These days, we don't get that kind of break from one another. This is not to say, I am tired of this community. I'm not. I love living here year-round. But I am ready to take a vacation. Before this summer, I just wanted to stay here all the time and never miss an experience. Now, I know I can take my leave and come back to Arden with my juices flowing just as those first Arden residents did when they passed through the Arden "gate" on weekends and in the summer.

When I explain Arden to people back in Lancaster County, I often invoke Mt. Greta, a summer community in Lebanon County. They, too, have full-time residents now, but it is still a casual, wooded place with Victorian-style houses bumping up against one another on a hillside overlooking a lake, open air theater, bike trails, and The Jigger Shop--an ice cream shop with a hallowed reputation.

Mt. Gretna precedes Arden by a decade. It wasn't a Georgist enclave, but it was formed with the same jolt of intention by the Methodists when they identified it as a good place for a Chautauqua. The Pennsylvania Chatuaqua was modeled after the original New York Chautauqua Institute which was founded in 1874. At its heart, the Chautauqua movement was about offering adult education outside the bounds of college. Learning could be casual--of the vacation variety, like learning something new while visiting a unique location. Or it could be more in-depth. In addition, Chautauquas put great emphasis on the arts. Communities such as these boast theaters and large gathering places for lectures and classes. And while this movement came from the Methodists, it was meant to serve the larger Christian fellowship.

While Arden and Mt. Gretna have different origins and different styles of architecture, we do have some core values which, from the outside, look very similar. Both communities have huge arts followings and support lots of live performances and concerts. We both have educational type lecture series and activities for our residents such as yoga and house tours. We both have end-of-summer arts festivals and crazy narrow roads that really don't support the huge influx of visitors these festivals attract (but we make do--shuttling people from far-off parking spots). Mt. Gretna retains more of its summer feel. I am not sure of the percentage of residents that live there year round, but I know lots of families who have summer houses there, as opposed to Arden which has lost that summer community reputation. Still, it is a good fit for comparison and at least gives people a reference.

"Oh," they say and nod their heads. It is enough to contemplate on a summer's evening dizzy with fireflies and mojitos. I will save my spiel on Georgism for cooler weather.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Honeymoon Phase

Arden is an intense place to live. The first months can be exhilarating as you feed off the energy of the village and put your whole heart into the experience. At least I did. I jumped right into the deep end of things: volunteering to cook dinner for the dinner gild, helping to decorate for the fair, starting a Winter Solstice observation. Some people find Arden to be a bit clannish when they first come, but I guess if it was that way, I was oblivious to it. I plowed ahead, not caring if I stumbled over the subtleties of the social hierarchies that were in place. What social hierarchies? I would walk up to people and start a conversation.  It isn't that my personality is such that I need a spotlight (I can be rather introverted about my extroversion, if that makes any sense), but people know my name here. I will introduce myself and find that my reputation precedes me. My daughter introduces herself to adults as Jill Althouse-Wood's daughter, since I am apparently a reference point now. I find this to be funny, because people did not know me where I lived before. If I was known as anything, it was as Jonah's mother. But it does go to show you that someone who has only been in the community for a short time can contribute and can have impact. This is both positive and negative. It can be positive if you have boundaries, but boundaries in Arden can be hazy things. Everyone knows your business; it's true. That can mean that folks come to your aid or it can mean that they bash you on the public forums on the internet. Sometimes over the same issue.

Case in point. Mark decided to take over the annual softball game played to commemorate the time Ardenites were jailed for playing baseball on a Sunday in 1911. The previous organizer, a man who moved in about two years before we did, was completely burnt out on Arden doings. He had put his heart into this town only find himself physically and emotionally exhausted from the charges he had led. And he had been lead on a lot of projects and committees. Mark decided to step in and make this game happen on a week's notice. When he made his intentions public, he had many people volunteer their help immediately. But then there were the curmudgeons who chimed in to make, what was essentially a pick-up game, into the most complicated and fraught of arrangements--to the point where we hope they do call the cops on us. Getting jailed for reenacting a point of rebellion in Arden's history would be so meta.

Speaking of the fuzz, New Castle County cops know us here. We in the Ardens are forever calling in suspicious cars, lost dogs. Certain residents report loud music, even if that loud music comes from concerts ordained by the town. Recently the village of Ardencroft has been having high stakes personality conflicts which require a police presence at town meetings. Insults became accusations became threats. An unhealthy escalation that, at its core, stems from folks who really care about their village. At least that is what I choose to believe. It is hard to wrap your head around it when you see at least eight police cars lined up on Harvey Road all following up on leads that pertain to Ardencroft village meeting chaos.

We are all heart here. I have not been to an Ardencroft meeting, but come to a village meeting in Arden. While I've not seen uniformed guards, I have witnessed the exquisite torture that goes into trying to get a new slide installed on the Arden Green. I myself am involved in a group trying to install a labyrinth on the same sacred green space. When trying to bring a motion before the village, you need to come with all the passion you can muster encased in a very thick skin. Coming to these meetings is supposed to be the antidote to the luster of Arden. The honeymoon phase. Ah, what bliss. When one is so enamored that all you can take in are the sounds of the babbling brooks, the sight of gilded forest canopy, refrains of Shakespeare, the aroma of the next Gild dinner wafting in the air, and the motion of the wave as you automatically lift your hand to greet your neighbor. But, beware the shadow side.

I've heard the phrase, "Ready to get the hell out of Dodge" from those who have had enough of the touchy-feely, in-your-face, full-on demands of village life.  It can suck you dry and leave you to the husk of yourself if you aren't careful. I'm not saying I will never reach that point, but I am trying to proceed with caution and gratitude. I moved here for a reason. I am not so fresh-faced, that I don't see the reality of the situation. I do know that sometimes even magic needs a big push from the little man behind the curtain. So far I am caught up in the complexities in a way that is messy but livable. But stay tuned to this blog. Take the temperature of what I have to say. If Utopia was all it was cracked up to be, we'd all be living here.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

As My Daughter Turns 18: Reflections on Parenting

This week, my daughter turned eighteen. In Delaware, nineteen is the age of emancipation, so I am not sure how that works. Is she an adult? Isn't she? Do we still have to sign for her? Is she allowed to move out?  She can vote, buy cigarettes and lottery tickets, ask for her own doctor's records (her doctor is in PA), and get any number of body parts pierced and tattooed. So I am just going to assume we've crossed some sort of line. Our son is twenty. As far as I'm concerned, we've ushered two children into adulthood, so at this juncture I am going to take a breath and reflect a little.

I certainly didn't see this day coming when I was pregnant. In preparation, I read What to Expect When You Are Expecting and What to Expect the First Year. The series goes on to What to Expect the Second Year and What to Expect: The Toddler Years. I didn't read them and the series didn't continue. I think, by that point, you realize that no book can cover it all.  A lot of times, you are just living day-by-day as a parent. Sometimes breath by breath. Thank goodness the Internet came into our home when our oldest was a year old. Yes, that's right--we ventured into parenthood without the safety net of the World Wide Web. What else? Not all gas stations had pay-at-the-pump, so I would drive five miles out of my way so I didn't have to run inside to pay with my sleeping infant in the car. Ditto for ATM's (they were called MAC machines, then). I had to make sure I went to a drive-up machine.  We laid our children on their side in the crib, propping them between foam triangles. Belly sleeping and back sleeping were no-nos. Cameras had film and needed to be developed. We didn't get our first digital camera until Maren was five. We had cordless phones in our house (though not all of them) and an answering machine. No cell phones, though. We had a VCR and borrowed my in-laws huge video recorder for special occasions.

Mark and I worked opposite shifts when we became parents (figuring that the less time the baby was with a sitter the better). Jonah slept between us for two years. Another no-no, unless you were a proponent of the family bed. We weren't. We were just a proponent of sleep, and Jonah wouldn't sleep in his crib. He would scream bloody murder. We lived in a duplex at the time and didn't want to wake the neighbors. Okay, it wasn't about the neighbors; it was us. We wanted to sleep. It didn't occur to us to ask a doctor about this. And, as I mentioned before we didn't have the Internet; we couldn't Google, For God's Sake Help Us Our Baby Won't Frickin' Go To Sleep.

The kids grew, and I realized that some of the things I thought I valued, I didn't. I thought I wanted them to be raised without TV and sugar, but they had those things at the sitter. Did we change sitters? No, we adored our baby sitter, so we adjusted our expectations. Reading aloud to my kids and the family dinner were things that became sacred to me. Having our family be part of a larger extended family and having the kids be raised in a faith tradition (We joined a UU church the month we found out I was pregnant with Jonah.) were also important. We exposed our kids to nature and art, music and sports. We were never good at adhering to a schedule. Nap when you were tired or in the car on the way to whatever activity we were racing to. I volunteered in the schools. Mark built sets for plays and coached little league. We travelled to as many places as much as we could afford. Having our kids see a bit of the world, envision something bigger than themselves, was important. We did it all without video players in the car. I read to them instead.

I don't know what I would have done differently.  Living in Arden, I have witnessed a style of parenting that is simultaneously more unfettered and more sheltered than what my kids experienced. Arden kids explore and have great independence from a young age, but do it within the safe boundaries of the community. Kids know their neighbors and know where to get the band-aids or  cookies if the need them. This safe haven from which to explore their world sometimes gives Arden youth tunnel vision, because--as we know--the whole world is not like the Ardens. But the kids do get to ride bike and visit friends and gather in the woods and by the pool or walk to the library. They have the freedom of choosing their own activities at ACRA's summer camp. As older teens they graduate to campfires at Indian Circle and Kan-Jam in the Gild parking lot. And imagine concerts that teens and their parents can both attend, but separately, neither group acknowledging that the other is sharing the music.

I do wish my kids had had some of that (in Jonah's case) and more of that (in Maren's). Where we lived previously, my kids couldn't even ride a bike safely. They did a majority of their bike riding at their grandparents' house. If I had to go back and change what I did as a parent, I would probably try harder to give them a safer place from which to explore and gain independence. I used to walk into town as a kid, from the age of eight. I learned to talk to adults and make purchases on my own. I learned how to get lost and found again. But how is any parent to know what our kids will need? How could we have prepared our kids for Facebook or Xbox 360 or smartphones or even [author shuddersNo Child Left Behind? I don't have the answers. Jonah and Maren still have things to figure out in a world that is constantly changing. They are smart, thoughtful, creative kids who make me so proud even as I nitpick at them to make appointments and clean up after themselves and take initiative. I know my job as their mom is far is from finished, but at this plateau, I am going to stop and admire the view.

I leave you with a poem that was written by an Arden poet of yore. She was speaking of her youth, but what she expresses still applies today and is widely circulated among our community.

Arden Child

When I was young
And it was necessary
For my world to be
Small and safe and beautiful,
Here it lay, outside my door.
The greens became enchanted land;
The woods, an endless trail,
The sound of creek and rocks
My symphony.
Barefoot and free, I ran
Along the wild paths.
Fruit from a hundred trees
Fell to my hand
Above the hedgerows were the sky and stars,
Remembered blue as blue.
A proper soil for a growing soul
Where love, a circle round,
Assured me of my place on earth.

--Marjory Poinsett Jobson

Marjory Poinsett Jobson (1916-85)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Jetsons meets Little House on the Prairie

When I was little, I was immersed in the Little House on the Prairie books and TV show. Living in Arden, I sometimes imagine I am living in Walnut Grove--but with electricity. Like Laura, I live in a rustic house that looks like it was cobbled together by elves or someone's Pa. We are nestled outside a forest with other houses that look like they came into existence in a similar magic fashion--and are held together in a ways that have baffled home inspectors. We have a creek or two, neither of which is quite a fishing hole material, but one is playing host to a family of beaver this summer.  And when the winter was really bad two years ago, we all banded together until the train came through with supplies and food.  Okay, the thing about the train didn't happen, but we did act pretty neighborly toward one another.

I would say that the way that my life most resembles the Little House books has to do with the community spirit. We don't have sing-alongs, spelling bees or church picnics. Instead we have the Arden Concert Gild, Saturday dinners, and the talent showcase of ACRA summer camp. People walk the narrow streets to get to the events. We chat and catch up. Gossip a little. Ask after the health of a neighbor. Report on a tree down on one of the paths. And yes, we have our very own mean-spirited Nelly Olson who sometimes makes life miserable for those who cross her path. I don't have to name names. Nelly is an archetype who makes her own presence known.

It would be the quaintest of lifestyles except for all the technology. My husband is an IT guy. While I was reading LHOTP books, he was hacking the very early video games so that he could trounce every high score his brother obtained rightfully. Mark's predilection for programming means that above our rough hewn fireplace mantle we have Hue lighting which he can control by his iPhone. I can control them, too, but I haven't found the practice as convenient or user friendly as Mark has. What was wrong with our dimmer switches? In addition we have home security, house cameras, dead bolt we can activate with our touch if our iPhone is on our person. We drive electric or hybrid automobiles. From under our carport, built in the peg fashion, the blue light of our chargers glow against the backdrop of the dark forest.  Computers. Tablets. We have all the gadgets, sans the new iWatch. I am not entirely comfortable with the new technology. It isn't that I am a technophobe. It is just that I don't like the fact that my life changes so quickly before I get used to it all. For example, last week, I  rented a DVD from a grocery store kiosk only to come home and find out that we don't have a DVD drive anywhere anymore. My computer doesn't even have a drive. Mark said he would come home and hook one up, but I had rented the DVD to watch in his absence, knowing he had an after-work engagement. I was so mad that I paid to stream it, cursing that I just paid twice to rent the same mediocre movie.

When I feel that technology is closing in, I sometimes do something that takes me away from it. I read a book, the kind with actual pages made from the pulp of a tree. Or I can some homemade salsa. I sew a skirt. Or I poke a stick at my garden (I am not a great gardener, but I make stabs.) Mark, too, seeks refuge in the natural world after his day working as the head of an IT Department. His latest battle, one that Pa would approve of, entails wrestling our modest leasehold away from the grips of invasive plant life. He is working to eradicate the bamboo, ivy, and lesser celandine which is the bane of village gardeners and the Arden Forest Committee. And jointly, we go for our hikes. The back and forth from nature to technology creates a balance--mostly. 

I am typing this blog post on my MacBook Pro while wearing socks I knit for myself. The windows are open, the breeze is blowing in. It is getting dark in my living room, but not quite knowing the best way to turn on the lights, I will sit in the dark until it is time to walk to the ACRA Summer Program Open House. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Green Tara, Ladybugs, and Girl Power

I belong to a group of women who meet weekly to meditate and solve all the world's problems. That isn't the greatest description of our doings, but the truth is harder to pin down. We started as a book group to read, discuss, and go through exercises for Brene Brown's book, The Gifts of Imperfection. From there we talked; watched videos and movies; did projects; contemplated life; drank wine and hot tea; burned journals; consoled, commiserated and advised one another; and have gone on field trip or two. (Stalking Elizabeth Gilbert may or may not have been involved.) This winter, we worked through Sarah Susanka's book, The Not So Big Life. But we aren't a book group. You can only move through so many self-help/motivational books before you start to question whether you are addicted to saving yourself from yourself or if you are going to take what you learned and live your life more fully.  We are choosing the latter. About a third of our group has a background in counseling, a third has a background in the arts, and over half have been Unitarian Universalists at one point on another. It makes for grand introspection, if introspection can be a sport played by nine women. And yeah, we are going to keep it at that number. It works for the Supreme Court, and it works for us--as counsel and witness to one another's lives. We named the group Green Tara. Green Tara, for our meditation practice and subsequent reaches toward enlightenment. Green is also a play on Green Lane--our usual meeting spot.

Green Tara at Two Buttons
Sometimes we need to get outside of ourselves and Green Lane. Last Thursday, we took a field trip to the city of Wilmington. (Arden is a northern suburb. We have a Wilmington address, but identifying with Wilmington is purely voluntary. Some people don't take advantage of the scene and culture to be had. For others, it plays a big role. I am somewhere in the middle.) Wilmington has been having block parties once a month in the temperate months. Thursday's block party was themed The Ladybug Festival as it was a showcase of female musical artists, many of them local. A spectacular evening. I was dragging, but so happy I went, because the energy was uplifting. The GT's and I were angling to see Angela Sheik, an international looping guru, who lives in Wilmington. I have been Angela's groupie since Mark and I saw her at one of Cynthia's barn shows four years ago. But Thursday evening, I was introduced to more artists, including Mary Arden Collins, a native of Arden who makes her home in California and whose latest album features a collaboration with Keb' Mo'. Her voice rang pure and clean like a bell. I was mesmerized. Jenny Leigh, another bright spot on the lineup, concluded the evening with gold boots flashing and some raucous good county music. Along with the music, the crowd added to the energy of the summer evening. People of all ages, colors, income levels, family situations, sexual orientation and fashion sense collided in the streets. It was a visual feast as well as a treat for the ears. Not to mention taste as I ate my Seoul Bowl and drank my Ladybug-tini which was very playful--a dark pink concoction with blueberries standing in for the dots on a Ladybug's wings. I stayed up past my bedtime on a school night and didn't yawn once. In fact, I am pretty certain I had a smile pasted on my face the whole time.  As Jenny Leigh sang, "Hands up!" And so we did.

I've heard the phrase Girl Power bandied about a lot over my lifetime. For me, the truth of that phrase is less of a karate kick or a high five and more of a group hug. We women are communal in nature and our strength comes in the currents that run between us.  A society like the one in America that focuses on the individual, doesn't always value the expressions of those who do things as a group, but I am increasingly aware of how radically powerful a cluster of women can be. Green Tara has done that for me. And an evening at Ladybug? It just might provide the soundtrack.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Arden...red, WHITE, and blue

Arden Dinner in White Sparkler Sendoff, photo by Joe del Tufo

I have been lax in my blogging. I have sent my novel off to my agent for review, and as a result I have no novel writing to procrastinate. Hence, no blogging. The effect is multiplied because it is summer, and I am busy, running around Arden in the beautiful weather--summer camp songs of my youth, popping into my head. Something about all the deep green foliage and the twisty roads and trails that conjure my first forays into selfhood. Ah, summer camp.

ACRA's summer program is in full swing now. This week they had an ice cream sundae party and played water "Hunger Games." The program is in its post-July 4th stride now and heading for the home stretch. Three weeks down and two weeks to go. I didn't blog about July 4th, busy as I was with our own doings. This year, Mark and I drove to Lewes where we hiked with our hiking group from Cape Henlopen to Rehoboth beach, ending our eight-mile trek in a glorious mess of marmalade-topped shredded Austrian pancakes at Kaisy on Rehobeth Avenue. Not very American, but a worthy celebration just the same.

Back home in Arden, our daughter Maren and her boyfriend participated in the Arden Games on the Green. With participants ages four to eighty-four, the games reflect friendly competition at its finest. How serious can you get over the sack race or three-legged race or slowest bicycle race? Plenty. The first year we came to the games (which was within five days after moving to Arden) we saw a youth painted to the likeness of Darth Maul from Star Wars I movie. He was killing it at every event. Who is this kid? Two years later, we know him as our daughter's boyfriend. He was nursing an injury this year, but still gave it everything he had. Other Arden teens painted themselves in a more event appropriate red, white, and blue. The games started with the ceremonial running of the torch around the Green.  Last year, our son got to carry it part of the way as part of his involvement as co-outdoor activities coordinator at ACRA's summer program. Arden doesn't have any officially sanctioned firework events in the evening, but those who are looking for a show know where to go unofficially. Invariably the whole town will hear about the debris on the Pettit Green the next day. We had to explain to our daughter that even though she didn't set off any fireworks, if she was part of the crowd who enjoyed them, she was also responsible for the mess and should go help clean it up. Who knows where traditions like these start or how long they have been around?

From longstanding rituals to the stand-alone pop-up event. A week after July 4th, Arden joined in the trend (started in France?) of the diner en blanc. Participants wear all white and gather in a predesignated spot. They decorate a table with white and bring out a prepared picnic. Of course, Arden put its spin on things. Arden Night in White was a fundraiser for the new kitchen being installed in the Gild Hall. Ninety people who bought tickets, including us, met in the Gild Hall parking lot to process to the secret location for the festivities. Here is where I admit that Mark and I knew of the secret location. It was the back yard of our friends Cynthia and David. It is the same back yard where we first got our introduction to Arden back in May of 2009. It is a magical spot indeed, and the weather could not have been more glorious--an unusual July evening in which heat and humidity took a breather. The soundtrack for our procession and dinner was a fitting and quite impressive playlist of artists who had performed in Arden Concert Gild's shows over the years. Everyone got to work, setting the stage. So many beautiful tables. So many artful menus. The costumes were thoughtful and outrageous and a delight. One woman, not from Arden but who somehow stumbled upon promotion of the event, showed up wearing her wedding dress. She and her groom, who was not quite as obvious, had gotten married earlier in the day. They won the prize for best-dressed. How could they not?

While nobody else wore a gown, everybody brought their A-games and ratcheted the celebration to a higher level. I saw trays of cheeses, homemade aioli, lobster salad, white gazpacho soup shots, creme brûlée, appetizers so decadent they need to be eaten in one-bite allotments only-- off of white ceramics soup spoons. Our table featured an Israeli menu we recreated using recipes from the famed Zahav restaurant in Philly, and we served the fare in white Chinese food boxes for added whimsy (and convenience). As for the tablescapes: white crudités platter, lush flower arrangements, bird cages, lanterns, feathers, architectural elements, fairy lights, and textiles. With all the creativity, the prize for best decorated table was not as easy a choice for judges, but they managed to declare a winner.  It was a good thing that Joe del Tufo was on hand to document the glory with his all-seeing camera lenses. That man is a ridiculous light-bender and storyteller in his own right. The event was an unqualified success. Before the sparkler sendoff, we managed to raise about $3,000 for the new kitchen.

I don't know if I witnessed the start of yet another Arden tradition or if, like Brigadoon, the tale of this event will fade into the mists, to be talked about in reverent whispers for the next decade. I'm not sure we could improve upon the perfection that was had. Another possibility that was kicked around was an Arden tie-dye dinner. Something different indeed that would defy comparison. And it was suggested that we should wear the same clothes we wore to Dinner in White, only tie-dyed for that event. That would be a heck of a thing to do to one's wedding gown.

Gallery of photos from the event.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Songwriter Envy

Last week, I sent out my completed novel to my agent. To be more accurate, I sent her the completed rewrite of my novel, a process that took approximately nine months. Yeah. That's a very telling amount of time. I wish I could say that sending my book this time was a hallelujah moment, but I didn't even bother to break open the wine bottle that night, because the truth is that I don't know if this was a significant moment.

I have been working on this novel for over three years, sending versions back and forth across the ethers so my agent and her minions can return it to me chock full of notes which usually sends me  into a creative and emotional tailspin. I could have gestated two baby elephants in that time. My dad keeps asking me, "What am I supposed to tell people when they ask people what you are up to?" I know. People ask me, too. I don't know what to tell them. I'm working on it. It was easier when I worked on the first novel. I was employed (going all Clark Kent) as a fabric designer. Nobody suspected I was actually Superman working on a novel. They didn't ask. I didn't have to give out progress reports.

I have other novels that haven't seen the light of day and never will. I also have parts of novels that are in various stage of completion. I have often said that in my next life I am going to be a songwriter. If you write a song and it sucks, you just throw it away, grumble for a day or two, and write a new one.  It is true that I don't know exactly how long it takes most people to write a song, but my daughter can crank one out in an afternoon if she is fueled with enough angst. As her mother, I've given her the needed motivation on several occasions. (Taylor Swift's mom will back me up on this.)

Last night, we had the pleasure of sitting down with two musician/songwriters over drinks at our friend Cynthia and David's barn. Shawn and Jordyn,  newlyweds who make up the harmonic alternate folk duo, Flagship Romance, were taking a night off from their 60+ stop Honeymoon tour. (Let me be clear: although, I want to be a songwriter in my next life,  I'll let someone else take those songs on the road. I am not cut out for the gypsy life.) Flagship Romance have been past features in Cynthia and David's summer Barn Concert series, and Mark and I don't miss a barn concert if at all humanly possible. Being barn groupies, we pretty much invited ourselves over when we heard that Shawn and Jordyn were in town. We buffered our arrival with the gift of good beer. Know thy audience!

I told them of my songwriter aspirations which are basically novelists woes in disguise. They regaled us with stories from the road which is another reason to befriend traveling minstrels--to get the news from outer kingdoms. More than that, we all sat around in easy camaraderie, talking influences and nodding to great musical performances. We moved onto the subject of audience/reader interpretation of material and how an idea that started off in our head becomes its own magical creature once the public braids their experiences into what we mistakingly own as our creations.

Impromptu gatherings with the artist set are par for the course here--but never mundane. I count myself lucky to be able to have exchanges with so many artists and art enthusiasts, those who live here and those who are traveling through Arden. They are the springboards to important conversations. What is art? Who has ownership of it? How can we collaborate? How do we get paid in this new electronic economy? What other mediums inspire us? How do we make sense of our world? Craft beer lubricates these dialogs which always seem to end in song when the musicians are in town. I take these lyrics and melodies home with me where I process them over a night's sleep. My dreams take ownership of them--possibly to transform them into more of what I do. After all, they are part of the novelist's experience now. It is a true Möbius strip.

Flagship Romance headed south the next day, and with them went my songwriter fantasies. I am a novelist and sometimes painter. I know my place in the order of things. My book is in the cloud now. The cloud--an image that used to represent heaven, is my artistic purgatory. That's fine. Time to pick up a paintbrush.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Happy Arden Houseaversary

Today is the second anniversary of the day we moved to Arden, having signed on our house two days earlier. Two years ago was a day fraught with emotion and a few tears of frustration since we were moving ourselves--in the pouring rain no less. We rented big trucks from two different U-Haul places, but neither one of the trucks was available for us on the day we had reserved. Why go to the trouble of reserving a truck? We were stuck with what they had to offer--one smaller truck and a trailer attachment. Mark ended up making four trips back and forth from our Denver, PA, storage unit to complete the move. Cynthia and David, our friends who were the impetus for our move to Arden, brought us and the del Tufos (in moving hell of their own across town) some freshly fried cronuts to cheer us up.  Fried buttery dough with sugar did help. Cynthia didn't want us to hate her. She was pretty much solely responsible for every one of the teetering stacks of boxes. We call her the puppet master. She gets you to move--even if you didn't know you wanted to.

It was through her association that we decided to move to Arden. I've told some of the story before. Here is the rest. In December 2012, we called Cynthia and told her of our intention. She laid out a time line for us to sell our house and move to Arden in June. (This is where it gets eerie, because everything happened for us just as she dictated it to us over the phone.) After talking to us, she put out the call in Arden asking around to see if anyone was looking to sell in the next six months. Bob and Lon answered the call. I am not sure how serious they were about moving or if they were just putting out feelers. We came down in January to check out some houses in Arden. We weren't crazy about any of them. The last one we went to see was Bob and Lon's house on Green Lane. It wasn't listed. They didn't have a price, but we went anyway. They had chocolate covered biscotti set out for us which was a plus in my book. Also they had some pug art around the house, which made us think they had a pug--which they did. Their house was gorgeous, beautifully decorated in a European style that is more luxurious and ornate than anything we ourselves could pull off, but the bones of the house were good, and the kitchen and bathrooms had been recently updated. What really took the house out of the running for us was the scale. It was more house than we wanted. We wanted to downsize to something more manageable. This house had an in-law quarters. We had to say no.

Bob and Lon had reimagined and done work on another house across town--a smaller cape cod. Keri and Joe del Tufo lived there and loved it. The problem was that they had lots of house guests and could use more space. Even so, they didn't have the intention to move until Cynthia put a bug in Keri's ear. What if I could get you a house that was just like your house--only bigger? An in-law quarters would work for them. She showed them Bob and Lon's Green Lane house, and they decided they would buy it if certain conditions were met. I don't know what their checklist included only that, like our moving timeline, Cynthia seemed to oil the machine to meet all their conditions. Which left Joe and Keri's house available for purchase. As I have already blogged in Buying a House in Arden and Other Irrational Behavior, Part 1 and Part 2, we put our bid in for our house without ever setting foot inside. We saw the pictures, but what sold the house, even more even than the visuals, was the fact that we knew it had been redone by the same people who remodeled the Green Lane house. We knew Bob and Lon's work, their aesthetic, and we felt confident that the gamble was worth it.

So on June 27th, 2013, Joe and Keri purchased the Green Lane home from Bob, and we purchased the Hillside house from Joe and Keri. In a few twists of fate and two house moves later, Bob and Lon became Keri and Joe's current neighbor. We talked of doing a progressive dinner to see everyone's houses, but that never got off the ground. In kind of a backward way, I got the whole cast of characters together for dinner at our house. It had been years since Bob and Lon had been inside their former home, which had been their first home together.

Bob had moved into the house in 1999, and Lon joined him in 2003. Together they renovated the house, taking out walls, gutting the kitchen and upstairs bathroom. In 2006, they sold the house to Joe and Keri. We asked Bob and Lon to bring pictures of the house before the remodel, which they did. What fun to see what the house looked like. I need to get copies of some of the photos. Most interestingly, the kitchen (a smaller footprint than at present) had fire-engine red, high-gloss cabinets. We couldn't believe the chicken coops where the previous owners raised all types of fowl including turkeys. The landscaping was a lot more open than the mature plantings we have now. The house itself was sided in brown asbestos, which Bob updated with cedar shingles. They installed a gas fireplace near the kitchen which Keri and I raved to them about. What a great feature. Keri and I also both lamented that we didn't use the real fireplace which we found out from the photos used to be brick before Bob had it refaced in stone. We saw the difference of our master bedroom before the ceilings were vaulted. What a transformation. Bob and Lon put so much of themselves into this house. And the house that Joe and Keri bought. Bob and Lon had a photo album of things to show them as well.

We took everyone on a tour of the house as it is today and showed them some of the work we had done and told them of the projects we had planned for the future. They had forgotten some of the touches they had used. It was great to hear stories about how some of the changes came to be. What is also interesting is that all three sets of owners had different styles and aesthetics which the house supported. Bob and Lon decorated in their French Country lodge style with embellished antique furniture and old world charm. Their rooms made you want to hold a snifter of brandy and smoke cigars. Keri and Joe had a more relaxed cottage style with a stack of suitcases as a table and slipcovered furniture. I would classify our style of decorating as mid-century modern rustic--Mad Men meets summer camp. And the house accommodated us all.

When we bought the house, we inherited a black and white, group photo taken in the main room of our home during a birthday party in the 1960's. It was former owner Earl Brooks's, 70th birthday party. Given that we had two sets of former owners with us, we set out to recreate the shot. Something to pass on to the next set of owners when our time here is done. And, too, to commemorate a great evening spent with friends with whom we just happen to share the love of a house.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Rainbow over Delaware...and beyond

"Joe is running through the halls with a rainbow flagged tied on like a cape high fiving everyone." Tweet attributed to Jill Biden on a parody Twitter account.

We moved into Delaware on June 29, 2013 and two days later, same sex marriage became legally recognized. Delaware was the 11th state to do so. Same sex marriage would become legal in Pennsylvania (where we left) a year later after a ruling in Federal court deemed bans on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. It is no secret that I felt religiously and politically stifled in the area where we used to live. The conservatism of Lancaster County is well known. When I was growing up our Congressional Representative was Bob Walker, known to be the most conservative voter in the House of Representatives. It is also an area where you are routinely asked What church do you go to?-- and church membership is a given. Note that the question was not Do you belong to a church? And in this case, church was a Christian church. Too many times, we had to explain Unitarian Universalism (our church home in Lancaster County) to people who couldn't fathom what we were talking about--even after we explained it.

So when we moved to Delaware just at the moment it was allowing same-sex marriage, it felt as though it was affirming us, too. I know that sounds silly, and I don't mean to make light of those who have real cause to celebrate the act of legislation. We are, after all, a heterosexual couple whose union has been recognized for 22 years before moving to this state. But something was lifted in us. We became a little more free to be the politically and religiously liberal folks we were.

Delaware has a few things to be proud of in this swing of the country toward marriage equality and one in particular: favored son and Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden. The democratic party hadn't been putting its neck on the line for the cause. They had been too quiet about gay issues since the whole debacle of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. What a mess that was. But Joe Biden came out for same sex unions during an appearance on Meet the Press on May 6, 2012
"I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men marrying women are entitled to the same exact rights. All the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly I don’t see much of a distinction beyond that."
His remarks sent the White House scrambling to update their official position, which Obama delivered three days later in an interview. Maybe Obama was going to do it anyway--eventually--if the pollsters said it would help him his election--but Joe, in his trademark bluntness got the ball rolling and set the rainbow flag to unfurling. A mere three years later, we are celebrating the historic ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States of America that makes same-sex marriage the law of the land.

Joe Biden was instrumental in this landmark decision for another reason--he was on the Senate Judiciary committee when Justice Kennedy, who wrote for the majority in the decision, was nominated by Reagan and appointed. For those of you who can remember back to 1987, Kennedy was not Reagan's first choice. Reagan first nominated conservative judge Robert Bork for the Supreme Court opening. The nomination sparked massive protests from The Senate Democrats and Joe Biden, from his seat on the Judiciary committee, protested the nomination. Biden felt firmly that the Senate vote was put into place to balance an executive agenda that veered too far from center. Bork was not approved, and Reagan nominated Kennedy instead, knowing that his moderate stances would appease the democrats.
Justice Anthony Kennedy writes for the majority opinion: No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

I didn't really understand the impact. States had been dribbling in in support of same-sex unions. And now you can get married in every state in the union. I understood that. It wasn't until I was on Facebook and saw the post of one of my friends who lives in Texas. Angie had married her longtime love a little over a year ago in New York. She posted WE ARE LEGALLY MARRIED WHERE WE LIVE! The Supreme Court had affirmed Angie and her wife. Said that they were who they thought themselves to be and that they could carry that identity with them over state lines, wherever they happen to be in this country. I am thrilled for her and for all my friends who are now able to marry and carry their union from state to state. To be honest, I felt a little squeamish about celebrating our wedding anniversary in this country knowing that it was a privilege that not all couples had. This summer, Mark and I are celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. It will be a great celebration here in Delaware.