Monday, March 30, 2015

Spring Mania

I woke at 5 AM this morning, no alarm clock needed. With the threat of my husband's 6 AM alarm, any sleep I would've gotten after that point would have been counter-productive as I would have woken in the wrong cycle. Just go with it. I got up, took care of the dog, meditated, and started blogging all before my husband got up for the day.
photo by David Gerbec

I could list the activities for the rest of the day, but suffice it to say I was going a mile a minute. I kept making alternate promises to the faithful pug that we would walk or nap. Well, I didn't actually say the "W" word out loud--just in my head.  I did , however, say the nap word and that was enough to send pug into spinning circles every time I got close to the staircase.  I was tired, but then I would get distracted by a thought of a design idea or run to the internet to look up a technique I needed for the next project I am attempting. One of my notions had me running to Michael's again. Word to the wise--don't buy a huge canvas on a windy day and then mistakenly park two superstores away. Unless of course, you like wind-surfing on asphalt.

Yes, I am smack dab in the middle of spring mania. I am not a winter girl. Freezing temperatures render me as inert as an ice cube. In the summer heat, I wilt.  Right now I am in the sweet spot. No heat. No pollen. No bugs. I can open a window and breath deeply. AH!  I want to do everything. And part of the delusion is that I actually believe I can. The problem is that I need to temper my excitement, lest I rush myself because of some panic that my ideas are coming faster than I can realize them.  The last thing I want to do is enter a project in full-on zing mode. I need a calmer presence of mind to keep myself in the zone where I can actually accomplish anything.

I'm looking to exercise and meditation to help me even out my jagged edges. As much as I want to wake up tomorrow and launch into painting my parking-lot wind-sail, I know it will serve me better if I write for an hour or so upon rising and then take a time out to go walking with the Misty Morning Walkers. Ninety minutes of hoofing it at a fast pace will get me into a calmer state of mind when I finally sit down with my canvas. I am excited about the new painting and my idea for it. It is either going to be fabulous beyond words or really stink. I can feel it. Or maybe that is just the mania talking. It is a mixed-up mindset in which everything exists as an extreme.

I don't know if other people get this way come springtime. I have not been paying attention long enough to know if this is normal for me. Then again, this is the first year that kids' activities have not slowed me down. No cooking meals for an entire cast during production week of a drama show or hand delivering frozen cookie dough that was the track team fundraiser. Maybe it is my children that have kept me tethered to earth for this long. What am I without their grounding energy? I have no idea, but as an artist and writer, I know these times are special.  I need to pay attention when the muse calls my name. Is it mania? Maybe or maybe not, but whatever this frenzy is, I am going to harness it and ride the wave for as long as I can.

Gone to the Dogs

An Arden Pug
We first understood how Ardenites felt about their dogs when we came down to Arden in 2010 see the Shakespeare play As You Like It. Arden showcases this play every ten years because this is the play that gave the village its name; Arden Forest is the setting of As You Like It. In the play, characters leave notes for one another in the forest.  Think Tree-mail. As we always did, Mark and I hiked in the forest with the kids while we were here. During the run of the play, the people of Arden left notes for one another all over the woods. Some of the epistles hung from branches in plastic baggies. Others were in containers, glass jars and metal Altoids containers. And some were just tacked to trees. But the most delightful of the notes we witnessed were between two dogs who obviously used the woods for their liasons. I'm not sure which dogs they were. Had I known we would move down here three years later, I would have paid closer attention.

And then there was the pug. The first time we were in Arden, Mark and I took a grand looping walk around the three villages and encountered a pug in a fenced in yard. Being pug lovers, we stopped to talk to its owner about her dog and life in the Ardens. That interaction was very warm and inviting. We were strangers, but it didn't matter. When we moved here four years later, we tried to figure out who it was that we had talked to and where this house was. All our memories from our first visit were fuzzy because we had met so many people and had so many new experiences. A couple of weeks ago, I was out walking with the Misty Morning Walkers, and we had strayed from our usual route in order to explore one of the forest paths. When we came out of the forest, there it was--the pug house. Except this time there were 4 or 5 Frenchies in the yard. Linda told me that they used to have a pug. Then she told me who lived at the house. Mystery solved. Our pug owner was no other than Pat Morrison, wife of the newly elected Ardencroft Town Chair. I can't wait to relay the story to Pat when next I see her and tell her that she was one of the friendly faces who convinced us that the Ardens were the place to be.

Dogs have great stature in the Ardens. At an appointed dog park hour people bring their dogs to the Green to play. Folks let their dogs off leash to bound around on the forest trails, much to the chagrin of the Safety Committee and a vocal few on the Ardenistas Facebook page. Another Facebook page exists so we can introduce our pets in case someone spots a dog or cat on the loose. We have identifying pictures with which to compare. The most heartbreaking sign of Arden's love of pets is the fact that animals get dumped in the Ardens with the hope that they will be adopted and cared for.

I have an interesting perspective on dogs, having an elder pug who thinks he is an all-terrain dog at home and a walking gig with a year-old Golden who is as trail-ready as they come. It makes for many different kinds of interactions. I've even tried walking both of them together in Arden Forest in the iciest of conditions. This led me to carrying the pug, letting the golden off leash so he wouldn't pull me over on the ice, and looking desperately for one of those famous Arden shortcuts out of the forest. Spoiler alert: we found one, and I survived the undertaking.

I know that we villagers are not alone in our love for dogs (and cats). The love of a pet is universal. Perhaps this compassion for animals is more visible because of our open green spaces, the closeness of the community, and the fact that we have a forum for grumbling about and defending the off-leash dogs on Facebook. But what I do know is that Eli (our pug) feels very welcome hither.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

What makes a weekend?

I woke from a dream of all these little kittens attacking me. Biting, clawing. They were all over me-- even in my mouth. So much for sleeping in on the weekend. Weekends have meant different things to  us over the years. We had other rituals. We spent many Friday nights with the Steeds who used to be our neighbors. When they moved, we continued to drive to see them or they drove to us--until the kids' schedules got too crazy. They were our wine friends. And Buckeye friends. If it was college football season, we would drive back to their house on Saturday for the Ohio State Football games.

When the kids were little we would have breakfast on Saturday mornings at the Pancake Farm in Ephrata with Mark's parents. The kids ordered chocolate chip pancakes in the shape of Mickey Mouse--until Jonah discovered waffles with a side order or sausage. That ritual died away when I started training for my one and only marathon which I ran with my sister-in-law in Chicago. Saturdays were our long training runs. We had church in Lancaster on Sundays which we hit about 2 or 3 Sundays a month, stopping for coffee and pastry along the way. While Gramps was still alive, we sometimes made the trek to Elizabethtown on a Sunday night to visit with him and my parents. It was a haul, so we didn't do it often. During the years we had HBO, we were faithful to watching Sopranos or Six Feet Under. Movie night could be any night of the weekend. Having kids, we didn't go out much. Mark got projects done on weekends. He likes to be busy tinkering. And naps. We like our naps. That is probably the one thing that hasn't changed since coming to Arden.

We have our patterns here, too, but each weekend can be different. We started this weekend off slow. Friday night was just us, our new sectional, Ben and Jerry's, and a Netflix movie. Then the attacking kittens. Whoa. They ushered me into Saturday in a most startling way. Mark and I had a full docket of projects lined up. He was painting. We had decided to paint a wall in our living room which is a bit traumatic since we are painting over paneling. Usually if you don't like a color, you can go back to the way it was. Meanwhile I set up a temporary sewing station in my daughter's bedroom (HA! We shall see if she reads my blog now.) I sewed two skirts for spring. Then it was on to the garden to help spread wood chips and prepare the soil. It was a planned event so many people were there helping.

While I was spreading wood chips with Dave, he was telling me about his dream which involved music and The Buddha. I contrasted that with my dream about the demon kitties. Dave is trying to get a dream interpretation group at the Buzz. He looked at me with curiosity when I told him about the kittens. Then he told me what an animal bite means in the shamanic tradition: It is your calling, trying to get your attention. Toby came over and added her spin. She specified spiritual calling. I thought about all my spring projects vying for my attention. It seemed to me that this is what the dream was about. Still, it was fascinating to discuss with others. I may have to consider this dream interpretation group when it is realized. Mark brought the trellis frame he built for climbing vegetables. I then had to string it, which is time consuming. But it kept me rooted to the spot, listening to the conversations around me. I heard bits and pieces. People coming together with ideas in the most synchronistic way. I couldn't help but think that vegetables are the least of this garden's bounty.

Plenty of fresh air and plenty of work. We had no time to nap, because we had to get to the Dinner Gild early. This week's menu was a 50's themed dinner. People showed up in costume. Mark and I considered pulling his letterman's sweater out of storage, but thought better of it. We didn't want to embarrass ourselves trying to put it on. The last time I had worn Mark's sweater was in high school, and I was swimming in the thing. The menu included chicken a la king, Chex mix, assorted stuffed celery and jello among other offerings.  Early rock-n-roll played over a more recent portable stereo. I heard rumor that the chef's table was going to host a little martini party for those who stuck around. Not me. I was off to see the local high school's production of Rent. Our daughter was the lead in the musical the year before, so it was great to go back and see the kids from that show progress and move into new roles. I was blown away.

Now Sunday is upon us. The hike is a given. We are more loyal to our Sunday hikes than perhaps any other activity in the history of our weekends. This time we are going to a nature preserve near Media, PA. It is part of a quest to hike all the local preserves and get the prize--a fleece vest. We may or may not stop at Pinocchio's for beer and pizza. Actually, this is probably a given, but we are going to pretend we can take or leave it.  I have a Michael's run in my future to buy picture frames for our newly painted wall. Have to strike before the coupon expires. We were invited to go to a concert in Philly, but we are opting instead for a quiet dinner and movie with friends. I can imagine we will finish the weekend the way we started it--tired from our exertions.

And herein lies the biggest question. The one we pose every weekend. Will we get our nap?

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Waldheim: Naming and Claiming our Arden Home

People in Arden give their houses names. Or their houses come with them. I have heard of The Castle, The Burgess, The Pine Nuts, Arden Pottery and Weaving Shop (which is a name derived from the house's original function) among the many home titles which are usually accompanied by some sort of hand-crafted signage. I don't know where this propensity for naming houses comes from exactly, but I tend to believe that people name their vacation homes sooner than they name their everyday homes. Like naming a boat. And, as Arden started as a summer community, this could explain it.

Gramps standing in front of the cabin he built.
In the 1950's, my grandpa built a getaway cabin on some forest property fifteen minutes from his home. Gramps felled the trees and built the fireplace himself. He called his place The Bush. He made a sign that hung on the outside of the cabin which read, Waldheim, in a Germanic font. We are Pennsylvania Dutch (German) and the word means Forest Home or Home in the Woods in German. I don't know why we called the cabin The Bush when the sign read Waldheim. I never asked Gramps about that little discrepancy.

I remember summer get-togethers at The Bush. We would truck in the side dishes and desserts, and Gramps would set up a charcoal grill for hamburgers and hotdogs. White-haired Grandma Elsie (Gramps's mother) would sit on a rocking chair on the porch and tell us stories about her youth. My grandma (Gramps's wife) would shake her head at Elsie's stories, so we never knew if the world Elsie was telling us about was real or a product of her growing dementia. Did it matter? I learned about outhouses and Daddy-longleggers. Gramps rode us around the property on Gomer, his old tractor. He would drive and the pipe smoke would waft back to us. (I refuse to believe anything bad about pipe smoke.)

As we got older (and Gramps did too) we would have clean-up days to fight back all the weeds and encroaching forest that were a constant reality at The Bush. I guess we didn't do nearly enough of them, because when Gramps decided that the property was getting to be too much work, he sold it without telling the rest of the family. I don't know if he retrieved the sign before he sold it, though I don't think so. Nobody in the family seemed to know where it was when I asked.

When we found our house in Arden, I knew about the Ardenite habit of naming their dwellings. I loved that habit. I had named my previous house La Porte Violette, even though nobody ever names their copy-cat house in a sub-division. La Porte Violette was more of a state-of-mind, a name I thought I would take to every house I lived in, so long as I painted the door purple. I did not ask if our new Arden house had a name. Or maybe I did and accepted the first "No" I got without digging any deeper. I knew I wanted to name the place Waldheim. Our last name is Wood. We live in a wood home on the edge of the woods. What could be more poetic than Waldheim? (Well, perhaps the Italian translation of Forest Home would be more poetic, but none of us are Italian.) I painted the the name Waldheim on a sign that hangs above our outdoor chalkboard.  I used a script that was a cross of the Pennsylvania Dutch Fraktur and the Old English font that appears on signs around Arden. Though it isn't Gramps's original sign (I would love to have that), the painted board looks good; the name feels right.

I am not quite sure if that is how naming a house works in Arden. If you can just come in and name your house, and people will accept your dominion over your dwelling. Every square inch of this village comes preloaded with its own history, so it is a bit brazen to think that any newcomer can play with that. It takes a while to become part of the lore here. I still tell people I live in the del Tufo's old house and probably will for years. But I am writing this blog, telling my stories publicly about this place where I landed. If my goal is lore, I think I am on my way. I can just about see my grandma shaking her head. And Gramps is here, too. There are occasions when I can smell his pipe tobacco. Even if I have not gone through the proper channels naming our house in Arden, at least I know he is with me and he approves.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Overcommitted or Should be committed?

Spring is here and I know it from the way I am zinging around in my head--usually when I am trying to meditate. Bounce with me. This week I figured out some new decorating schemes in our house that involved selecting and buying paint to paint one wall. On this wall should go some photographs. So I selected some photos. Photos must be framed. I went on a preliminary shopping expedition for frames. Now the adjacent walls need new artwork to go with the scheme. A painting has started to formulate in my head. But back to the photos. While I was on Shutterfly thinking about which photos I want to order, I decided to do a few pages in the hiking photo album I am creating. Nothing like a little mid-day graphic design.

I am writing lyrics to a song. Yes. A song. Why? Because the words were there. I need to write down what I can until Maren comes home to help collaborate with me. Where was I before I was so rudely interrupted by uninvited lyrics? Oh, yes, digging out my painting supplies to paint a large wall painting. But then my fabric shipment came. Apparently I have decided to sew my own wardrobe now because I was so upset at the choices of dresses when I  was looking online for something to wear to an upcoming spring wedding. Do I just decide to sew a dress? No. I order fabric for a dress, two pairs of pants, two skirts, a pinafore (yes, a pinafore), a slip which can double as a pinafore, and a blouse. Guess what fabric doesn't come with my order because they ran out of the color I wanted? Yes, the fabric for the dress to wear to the wedding. Sigh.

A friend's son just got an operation, and I signed up to bring her family a casserole. But then I heard another friend is going in for an operation on the day I signed up to make the casserole, so I thought--what the heck--I'm making a casserole for us and for the friend. What is one more?

The community garden has started. I was planning out my plot when my neighbor offered me some peas to plant. If you have peas, you need a trellis. I used to have the cutest trellis that Mark and I made from scratch a la Martha Stewart instructions. Go to the hardware store and get supplies (which was naturally a separate trip from the paint-buying expedition.) While we are at the hardware store, we might as well look at tubs. If we are looking to put in a new tub, then the bathroom naturally needs painted. Pick up some more paint swatches for that room.

We have plans to go to New York soon to visit Maren and hike the Brooklyn Bridge. Then it is on to spend Easter Sunday with Jonah, the 'rents, and our friends Jeff and Kathy. We have tickets for two concerts, two plays, and a comedy show in the coming weeks. Oh, and did I mention? I did get voted onto the Forest Committee last Monday for a two-year term.

Lest you think this is all a giant ploy to procrastinate writing my novel, I will have you know that I am back at it. Writing with enthusiasm this time. This is springtime in my head. It is like this most years, and amazingly, I do get most of my projects accomplished--somehow. Mark is no different. Between the two of us, we are about as crazy as two people can be.  But somehow the energy of imagination ends up being the energy we need to fuel our ambitions. All I can say is, thank goodness I finished my quilt.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Sectional Requirement

We had lived in Arden for four months when it dawned on us that we had been inside more of our neighbors houses here than we had living in eighteen years in our previous zip code. I imagine that the open door policy in the Ardens stems from its inception as a summer community, when kids went in and out of one another's cottages,  slamming wooden screen doors and not caring that they just let in three winged creatures.  In Arden, we are used to bringing the outdoors inside and vice versa. What is a door, really? Arden's tagline is You Are Welcome Hither, and the Ardenites I have encountered take the welcoming very seriously.

As a result of all this hospitality, I have been privy to a lot of home interiors. And I love it. Mark and I used to go on the Lancaster County Parade of Homes all the time as young newlyweds. It is how we came across our home in Reinholds. We stopped going on the Parade of Homes because all the houses started to look alike. All that French Colonial outside with open floor plans and beige as far as the eye could see on the inside. Not so in Arden where no two houses are built alike. Even individual houses have a hard time figuring out what style they want to be. Our next door neighbors live in a 100-year-old craftsman cabin onto which they built a large Southern Louisiana, Creole style addition. It works. Arden does have its fair share of craftsman era and tudor revival cottages that were favored by the founders of Arden (an architect and a sculptor), but those influences in the town aren't oppressive. It would be interesting to count the influence of style on houses in Arden. And the colors? Pick one. We'll find a house that represents the hue.

One similarity that I have noticed in Arden houses is that no matter what size or shape the living or dining room, people make the most as far as seating options. I don't think I've ever seen so many sectionals in one community (But take that with a grain of salt as you know I haven't been in many houses within the communities I have inhabited. Just new, empty ones with beige, wall-to-wall carpeting.) I have never been a fan of the sectional until I moved here. As a piece of furniture they are clunky and territorial--taking over all the prime real estate within a house. Like suburban sprawl in a cornfield or man-splay on a subway.

Before long, however, people started inviting us to movie nights, and I began to see how many people you could seat comfortably. Soon, I began to look at our living room and wondering how we, too, could seat more of our friends and neighbors around our big screen. I started going on and entering sectional into the search engine. This wasn't just the stuff of man caves. I get it now.

Just yesterday, the men delivered our sectional. We had to take out a row of cabinets to accommodate it. But what is a game cabinet if you can't have friends over to play games? We will find another space for our things. This is the way of it. I call it the welcome hither style of decorating. You can be as eclectic and funky as you want as long as you can seat eight.  We still have some things to do to complete the look in our new and improved living room. I will post photos when it is complete. Might it be done in time for the Mad Men finale? I hope so. In the meantime, I think I will go to the grocery store and load up on popcorn.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

This Arden Marriage

Arden has a reputation as a hippie commune and a nudist colony. I have yet to see a naked person, but have caught a glimpse of the occasional domesticated hippie. (You know who you are, George Brocklesby.) Regardless of the reality, folks love a good urban legend. They get a gleam in their eyes when you mention the romantic life of Ardenites. While I am not saying that fun tales of spirited marital exploits don’t exist in this small village, this is not one of them. This is the story of a real relationship in the face of life transitions.

Mark and I are coming up on our silver wedding anniversary later this summer. I would love to tell you the ways that moving to Arden has affected our marriage, but it is a little difficult. Scientists will tell you that you should really only introduce one variable into your experiment. We have had several variables at this time, not just a relocation. Right before we moved from Reinholds, both of our kids were still in school. We had family dinners, movie nights. We were going to our son's track meets, our daughter's plays. Jonah had his license, so we were just starting to be freed from the shackles of carting kids to and from activities. We had a house with three bathrooms including a double sink in the master bath. We had a family room as well as a living room, and we had a room dedicated to our home computer and my art supplies. 

Fast-forward to Arden. Our kids are both out of the house, at the moment. We are empty-nesters.  Even when Maren was here, she was in-and-out, driving on her own, skipping out on dinner. We are down a bathroom and two sinks. Not only do Mark and I share a bathroom sink, now, but so did our daughter, until recently. We have a catch-all room that serves as Jonah's room when he is here, which perhaps accounts for one-eighth of the time since we moved. We have a living room, but no family room, which means we have fewer avenues for escape. As I am typing out this blog entry, Mark is sitting across from me, working on his laptop. It looks like we are playing Battleship. That would never have happened before the move. 

Taking all those variables into consideration, I will tell you a little of the ways our marriage has changed since we moved to Arden. We are a lot more social. Even though we lost a lot of kids' activities, it seems we are always running to be with friends or do the various activities we do together and separately in the Ardens. We are together more, but that together time is spent with other people. Quality alone time is less than it has ever been--even with kids. We are less dependent on each other for emotional support. We have other people in our lives who support us. We don't always communicate the way we should simply because we don't have to. Most of our communication comes by way of the almighty iCalendar. Oh, you are going out with the guys tonight? We are in synch but out of touch. 

Last week I repaid the wife of couple who bought us tickets to a show. Mark repaid the husband. We didn't tell each other. The other couple didn't tell each other. It was only a fluke that we discovered the duplicate  payment. Those are the situations we can laugh off. Sometimes, it isn't so easy. When we fight, it is because we have lost our connection. We have been so busy bonding with the outer world that we forget to ground ourselves in what is the primary relationship of our lives. Time to add date night to the iCalendar. And walks. When the weather warms and it is light into the evening, we have a better chance of walking and talking, just the two of us. But even that doesn’t guarantee communication.

Now that both kids are out of the house, our dinners together feel eerily quiet. Being the more talkative one, I try to draw Mark out. How is it that he can be in deep and animated conversation with our friends the entire seven miles of a Sunday hike, but I have to force feed him subjects to discuss? Maybe we need one of those box of cards you pull out that have questions on them to start conversations. Or maybe we should try asking each other those 36 questions designed to make people fall in love. Ooh, la la

Those are for the times we want to be together. At other times, we feel as though we are on top of each other in this house. We purposely downsized. I hated cleaning all the house we had before. This house is manageable. We do have different sitting areas where we could sit separately doing our own thing, which is fine if our thing is silent. Having the television at the center of our open floor plan is a strange new distraction. In our old house, we only had one TV, and it was located in the basement level family room, away from it all. If Jonah had the boys over to play video games, we barely knew they were there (once we got them to turn down the volume and the bass). We could ignore them. It is hard to ignore the TV now. We have a sitting area in the bedroom that we go to if one of us or Maren is occupying the TV, but it does seem as though we are being banished. I'm not sure why. Our bedroom is the lightest, cheeriest room in the house.

It is a new rhythm for us, that is certain. We have had to adjust at other points in our marriage. When we had kids. When Mark changed jobs. When friends moved away. When I quit work to write full-time. When we got iPhones and joined Facebook. Oy! We will figure this out and get our equilibrium back. In spite of this glitch, we are the happiest we have ever been, and that is a big boon to our union. When we finally get the communication and togetherness piece in place, we will have a more balanced life than ever before. I think we are getting there. Our closest friends here are also folks who have been married for twenty-plus years. It has been a joy to witness other marriages covering the same leg of their journey and know we are not alone. We have been able to compare notes and laugh (cry?) about the potholes in the road. Shakespeare said it best "I have thrust myself into this maze,
Haply to wive and thrive as best I may." (The Taming of the Shrew 1.2.56-7)

Next question: How to celebrate our 25th Anniversary here in Arden. Perhaps matching tie-dye T-shirts are in order. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Arden Town Meeting, Our Slide into Local Politics

Last night Mark and I participated in the quarterly Village of Arden Town Meeting at the Gild Hall. Every time we go to a town meeting (this was my sixth and Mark's seventh), people ask us if Arden has scared us off yet. I wonder how many more meetings we will be asked this question. While I ponder my answer, I admit I am fascinated by this whole process. And I am new to it. I only ever attended one township meeting while living in East Cocalico Township and that was because someone proposed building a huge garage for his business on the tiny residential plot next door to our house. I never even attended any sort of church business meetings because I didn't want to sully my spiritual experience with something so practical as budget talk or the building report.

This is different. Arden meetings implement a direct democracy in which a town chair presides over the meeting. Residents who are over 17 and have lived in Arden for more than six months can vote on measures and make motions. I am still learning the procedures. Because I haven't been involved in any sort of governing body before, I don't know what is unique to Arden and what is "regular" practice. To underscore my naiveté, I must tell a somewhat embarrassing story. I was deep into a Gilmore Girls marathon (love the Stars Hollow town meetings, by the way) when the character Rory mentioned something about Robert's Rules of Order.  Roberts Rules of Order? They're for real? That isn't just a made up Arden thing? What did I know? I was operating under the delusion that some Georgist town father named Bob came up with that scheme. So when you are reading my commentary on the meeting, you will have to understand that I am coming from a place of wonder that is almost childlike.

March's meeting is the yearly election meeting. This year we were voting in a new town chair as well as many committee members.  In the months leading up to the election, all the committees went scurrying around looking for people to fill out the ballot. It isn't enough to have uncontested seats on each committee; each committee needs a full register of choices. This gets very difficult. The Ardens maybe have 400 adults from which to draw to fill their committees.  Some residents are not active at all in town politics. Some have been very active in the past and are burnt out now. Arden requires a lot of volunteerism, and not just within its government, but also within its culture. Committees are always trying to find fresh blood and new energy to keep the machine in motion. Consider that Mark and I have been among the 60 or so people at the past town meetings. We are active. We are interested. We are new. Arden has the following committees: Archives, Audit, Budget, Buzz Ware Village Center, Civic, Community Planning, Forest, Playground, Registration and Safety. Between the two of us, Mark and I were asked to run for all but Archives. It is also interesting to note that no committee approached both of us. I guess we have our niches. I agreed to run for a spot on the Forest committee simply because I got tired of saying no. I am already on the Arden Community Recreation Board, and that commitment has been enough for me at the moment. Mark was on the ballot three times. Last night I was asked, "Do you want to be on the Forest committee?" People are used to the fact that some names are just there to fill out the ballot. I am that person, but if I got elected to the committee, I would give it my all.

About half of time of the town meeting is spent on committee reports. The other half is made up of recognition of new and departed residents; reports from Town Chair, Trustees, Treasurer, Advisory Committee, and Board of Assessors (those who determine land rent for the year); and old and new business. All the meetings I have attended have lasted about three hours. Herein is the problem. We want more attendance and participation at the meetings, but they seem to drag on for days with most of the time being eaten up in the minutiae of the mundane. Since I have been attending meetings, the most heated topic has been the replacement of a playground slide. Before that it was the chopping down of a single tree that was blocking light from the community garden. These two issues sparked hours of passionate nitpicking. Of the three people running for Town Chair, two were running under the promises of keeping meetings short and effective so that more people will participate. The other candidate may or may not have instigated some of the most lengthy exchanges on the barn floor.

Things get pretty heated. I sit on the outer ring of the chair circles and knit. Sometimes, I say incantations of peace under my breath. Think Professor Snape murmuring spells to keep Harry Potter on his broom during the quidditch match in The Sourcerer's Stone. That's me. I'm not sure how much power my yarn and mantra magic is having. Even with me "Ohm-ing" quietly, the microphone still slams to the ground, and people walk out. It isn't just tantrums for tantrum's sake. The people here care. They are smart. Lots of Duponters who are used to a meeting. I think that company may have invented them. And if they didn't invent them, then they elevated the business meeting to something close to a Japanese Tea Ceremony. Besides the engineers, we have the artists. The ones who always have to look at a problem from a different perspective, one that nobody else has seen before. The same people come up to the microphone again and again. I can't help it. I begin to count. Others groan. My dismissive thoughts crowd out any points these sticklers are trying to make. Some of last night's hot topics included: the investment of gift monies, processes for grants, and the question of which committee should oversee the G-Arden.

My newbie alliance sits with the committees. We have voted these people in. They have spent their precious time coming together to take care their slice of Arden business. They research and debate in their smaller circles. When they are through with that process, they present findings and decisions along with their proposed motions. It is then, that people get in their faces and on the microphone over the details. Here is where I believe things break down. The committee meetings are the places for the debate. If it is an issue that you care about, go to that meeting and hammer it out while the metal is hot. Don't wait until they bring the finished bronze sculpture before the whole town. Committee meeting times and their agendas are publicized and open to the public--or they are supposed to be. It isn't a perfect system. I understand why some of the debate happens after the fact. But I am still of the mind to let elected committee members do the heavy pounding. If you don't like what is happening, vote them out.

And here it comes full circle. Back to the place where we are trying to get more people involved. More people running--and excited about running--for spots on each of the committees so people have a choice of leadership. Last night, at the start of the meeting, we had a crowd of at least 90 people, hungry for their ballots. By the meeting's end at nearly 10:30 PM, we were lucky to have 30. We were there until the Danny's final adjournment as town chair. I was tempted to leave early, but Mark is the kind of guy who always stays to help stack the chairs, much to my yawning chagrin. Tomorrow we will know the results of the election. A new town chair. Will that make the difference? Will the Arden electorate initiate us into the bold new world of committee work? I don't know, but I feel a certain privilege in this process. No, Arden, you haven't scared me off yet.

For those interested, here is a link How Arden Government Works.

Monday, March 23, 2015


In early 2009, a trio of women, Keri del Tufo, Toby Ridings, and Shelley Robyn set out to change the landscape of Arden. I have already mentioned that Arden, as a Tree City USA, boasts a near 75% canopy. That is a lot of trees. Great for drinking lemonade in the shade. Not so great for vegetable gardening. The three-woman task force decided to make a community garden available for all those who don't have enough sun to ripen a pepper. The Ardens are very supportive of gardeners. One of its gilds is the Gardening Gild, though it is a separate entity from the community garden. With lots of help, the three managed to turn an old, fenced-in playground that was no longer in use, into raised garden beds and pathways. They incorporated  some of the old playground equipment into the design. A jungle gym became trellis for runaway tomato plants. The monkey bars became an arbor.

The garden was in full swing, but still new enough that the gardeners were enthusiastic, when we visited Arden for the first time in May of 2009. During that initial visit, Mark and I, with map in hand, explored all areas of the Ardens.  At the time, I had been a square-foot gardener for many years. I had maintained a cook's garden, exclusively using raised beds, since the early 1990's. Some years I got very creative, like the year I grew only purple vegetables and plants. More vegetables come in purple varieties than you would think. As somewhat of a playful gardener, I was really intrigued when we came across the community garden/playground while we were out walking.

We engaged the two women who were working in the garden, who told us that they had started the garden. I have no way of knowing which two out of the three we were talking to, but if I had to guess I would say that we spoke to Keri and Toby. Little did Keri know that she was enticing the future buyers of her house to make Arden their home. Keri was still in the honeymoon stage of her house and probably would have cringed at the thought she would sell it one day. Mark and I were in awe of the community spirit and the friendliness of all those we encountered on our walks around the Ardens. Just another hammer blow planting the SOLD sign that would be in our future. I told this story to another gardener at the kick-off night for this year's crop of G-Ardeners. He was excited to hear a first-hand account of how the garden actually grew "community" as a crop. It is true that the garden supplied some of the attraction that eventually brought us here.

This will be my second year with the group. We moved into Arden in late June of 2013, too late to join. My plot is 4x5 which is just perfect for me. Next to my house, I grow herbs in colorful pots that sit on a huge tree stump. It works better for me when my herbs are accessible to my kitchen, and I have just enough sunlight to grown them. I will grow only vegetables in my 20-square-foot plot.  With the way the woodland animals like to nosh on vegetables, it is better that my vegetables are behind a fence. The community garden is a quarter mile from my home. I usually walk Eli over to the garden once a day. He sits, smiling and panting, outside the garden under a large tree while I tend the plants. If I let him come inside the fence, he would just pee on everything. That's a male dog for you. I've started planning out this year's offerings. I think I will give up on eggplants--which saddens me. Not only are they my favorite vegetable, but they are the last vestiges of my purple garden year.  They just didn't produce much last year. I will also cut down on my hot pepper varieties to three: jalapeño, poblano, and cherry hots. Though I love to have a huge variety of the hots, we just can't eat them fast enough.

I do want to experiment with cucumbers, beans, and peas--vegetables I haven't grown in my gardens for a long time. This means going vertical which means making a new trellis like the one Mark and I built years ago from a tutorial in a Martha Stewart magazine. I am excited to share this process with my neighbors. We have a fresh lot of gardeners coming in this year. New blood always makes things more fun. Toby talked of community parcels that will have things like herbs for all of us to share. I hope we have a communal zucchini patch as well since squash takes up too much space for me to consider growing them. We had a great spread of them last year in the common area. I remember taking four flowers off the vines and bringing them home, stuffing them with ricotta cheese, batter dipping the whole lot and frying them up. With a few cherry tomatoes, it was the lunch of the gods. And of course, everyone in Arden is anticipating Alex Rudzinski's G-Arden fundraiser Caprese Salads with homemade focaccia, mozzarella, and pesto as a springboard for the still-warm-from-the-sun tomatoes. Those salads are crack! I bought four for my family last year and then proceeded to eat all of them myself.

Spring is here. While it may take a few weeks for nature to reflect that fact and for the gardens to produce the first peas and spring onions, the enthusiasm we G-Ardeners feel is already ripe for the picking. Get me to a greenhouse!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Concerts at the Arden Gild Hall

Joseph Arthur, photo by Joe del Tufo
Last night, Mark and I attended a concert at the Gild Hall about which the headliner called "the best concert of my life." Joseph Arthur is a folk rock singer/songwriter/instrumentalist who is known for painting artwork on stage while he is simultaneously performing music. After playing to a receptive crowd for about an hour and a half (fifteen minutes longer than his usual set), he came back onstage for an encore that lasted an additional forty-five minutes. The encore seemed like more of a house concert the way Arthur engaged with the audience. He was in full-out banter mode, which those who have experienced his previous live performances say is rare. He hardly ever talks to the audience. 

I am still a music novice and am not comfortable giving my notes on musicians except in cases when the hairs raise on my arms. I have had a few of those experiences at Gild Hall. Gil Landry, the opener for Justin Townes Earle, is one such recent example. I could have flown away on his lyrics; they were so evocative. I know that those who were sitting around me had an almost equal experience listening to Joseph Arthur. As for me, his on-stage art-making took me out of the zone needed to make such a connection. I wasn't buying into his art cred, and it became a distraction to me. I am a musical novice, but I have been studying art all my life. It is just my opinion. Arthur has Peter Gabriel and Micheal Stipe singing his praises; he doesn't need my endorsement.

But even though I had a disconnect, I have to admit that something happened last night. Something that elevated the concert-going and concert-performing experience. The Gild Hall has that kind of energy. It is a 160-year-old converted barn with a storied past that includes livestock and Georgists, costume galas and Shakespeare. Besides the fact that the barn has been outfitted with dream sound and lighting equipment, it also boasts high ceilings and warm wood. After touring the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville this fall and seeing the all wood in that place, I believe in the material's power to hold music. Something about wood brings a honeyed richness to sounds.

The Gild Hall is also about the people. The shows draw enthusiastic crowds who are not here for the glitz of a venue, but for the music, plain and simple. Ardenites walk to hear musicians whether they know them or not, simply because the music is in their back yard. They sit interspersed with fans who drive far and park in a muddy field to belt out the lyrics they have memorized from the artists they love. The Hall can seat 250 or accommodate a standing crowd of 300. Sometimes the shows are a combination of seats and dance floor. Folding chairs allow for a certain flexibility.

If you are talking about the enthusiasm of the people at these shows, you cannot overlook the fact that the entire enterprise of a concert season (15-plus shows) is entirely run by volunteers. Ron Ozer is their king. He scours the east coast, going to venues and festivals, searching for acts to bring to Arden.   He has a love of world music which means exposing our little village to voices from across the globe.  If you find Ron out in the wild and he doesn't have a flier or a poster for the next concert on his person, he is probably on his way to the emergency room. Forget that. I am sure if ever Ron Ozer had to be transported to the hospital by way of ambulance, it would only be after he had given the EMTs and driver a handbill promoting the coming show. The enthusiasm of those on the concert gild and the volunteers who sell merch, run the bar, collect tickets, and feed the band is unbounded. If I had a criticism, it would only be that the Gild needs a little more estrogen in its ranks. Even in Arden, the music scene has a gender bias.

The Arden Concert Gild has three more shows in its season. I encourage you to check out the lineup. I know the boys have fought valiantly with music management and against other venues to bring it to us. I promise you will have an experience. Perhaps I will see you there.

Rate of Assimilation

We have heard from different sources that we have melded with the community of Arden at a faster than normal rate. Our friends and long-time residents have joked that we know more people in Arden than they do. We feel it, too. It was an immediate sense of belonging here. Not everyone who moves to the Ardens comes by that feeling so quickly. Some never do.
Sculpture by Rick Rothrock

Assimilation has two-tiered meaning. It can mean to take in--as in the community of Arden has taken us in. It can also mean to share similarity--to be congruent. I can't speak for Mark, but this is the first time I have felt this kind of belonging. In college, it took me until my third semester to find my footing. In Reinholds, I never really felt it. I felt like a foreigner in a county where my motherline runs deep. I recently traced my mother's mother's mother's... etc. lineage as far back as I could go. Eleven generations of women who all lived in Lancaster County. One would expect that I would have experienced assimilation in this, the land of my mothers, but I didn't.

I'll give another story to illustrate. Years ago, I was sitting and watching Maren's dance class with other parents. I saw a woman who was sitting off to the side with a pile of books. On top was a We'Moon Desk Calendar with a piece of blank paper, clipped to the front cover.  It was obvious that this was an attempt to obscure the book, so people didn't know what it was. Enough of the cover was still peeking out so that I could recognize it for what it was. For those that aren't familiar with We'Moon, it is (according to its website) "an empowering datebook and multicultural earth spirited calendar, We'Moon features art and writing by and about women: an exploration of women's experience and perspectives, a goddess-inspired creation from the growing edge of global women's culture." I leaned over to Lucinda, who I had met casually before, and said, "Oh, you have a We'Moon calendar."

She looked at me, startled. "You know what this is?"

"Sure," I said.

To which she replied, "Are you from around here?"

And it was true. It seemed that in Lancaster County, I almost had to speak in code to find other like-minded people, if I had the nerve to speak up at all. I had been taking my kids to the same babysitter every workday for six years before we discovered we had the same political leanings. Why? Because as a liberal in Lancaster County, you had to assume you were the odd woman out, politically. It wasn't always safe or easy to speak your truths. In my son's high school, Obama not only lost the mock election in 2012, he came in third to student write-in votes for Ron Paul. 

I am not saying that the whole of Arden is democrat. I will say that Arden has outspoken democrats, and for me, just that notion is very refreshing. Arden also has outspoken feminists. Active Unitarian Universalists. People who are open about the fact that they meditate.  People who are open about the fact that they talk to spirits. Then there are all the artists. Mark, too, has people with whom he can talk about the things most important to him: his projects, IT tech, beer making. He is also very curious about Georgist philosophy. We don't have commonality to everyone in Arden, but most people who live here are open to the things that make each individual unique. You are quirky? Arden embraces the peculiar. I've said it before. We found our tribe. Assimilation may have been quick, but it took us a long time to get here.

Sundials by Rick Rothrock
Yesterday, I got the message from sculptor Rick Rothrock to come over and watch as he calibrated his sundials in his sculpture garden for the spring equinox. I am deeply moved by Rick's work and will someday own one of his pieces. I've talked to Rick at length about his motivations and influences. Spirals. Vesica Pisces. Oculi. The play of changing light on the stone as the sun moves across the sky. I see Rick as a true shaman. He is speaking an ancient language with the medium of light and earth. What could be more ancient than charting the sun's movement across the sky through the day and the seasons? He showed me how each of his sundials marked the passing of time in different ways. Not fast or slow. It wasn't as if one of his sundials was five minutes fast. But they each played with the sun's light in a different way. 

We are coming up on two years that we have been casting our shadow in the Ardens. Were we fast-tracked into this community? I don't know. Time is a funny thing, as is our expression of it. We do what we can with the light we are given. And what is time but our relationship with the sun? 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

In Arden, I will lose weight...and other misguided notions

I thought that when I moved to Arden, I would lose weight. It's true. We had to move out of our home in Reinholds and put all our things into temporary storage for two months. For the most part, this meant a total purge of pantry items. I still cooked for the two months we lived with my in-laws, but I was careful not to accumulate food stuffs. We would move to Arden, and the pantry would be a fresh start. In Arden we would live within 15 minutes of Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. I would have access to that great wall of serve-yourself fancy grains and jewel-like, dried legumes. I would buy the expensive meats carved from the loins of grass-fed cattle who had a happy backstories posted for my reading pleasure. Because we would be paying top dollar for happy meat, we would eat less of it. Meatless Monday might drift into Tuesday and Wednesday. I would grow vegetables in the community garden, and those I couldn't grow, I would buy at Marini's produce which was close enough that I could walk to once a week, carrying my market basket through the woods. I would do Yoga regularly at the Buzz and take long walks throughout the village and into the forests. And guess what? All those things really happened. I wasn't wrong.

Here's what I didn't count on--all the friends we would gain and all socializing we would be doing. Community dinners. I mean, I knew I would be eating at the Dinner Gild. We used to come for dinners before we moved in, but that was one dinner a week. I didn't count on Beverley Fleming and her catered specialties like sesame chicken showing up and in my face at every buffet table across town. I didn't count on adult trick-or-treating or that we would find friends who would not only be beer snobs with us, but egg us on to greater and greater hoppy heights. We are like the geocachers except that instead of looking for hidden treasures, we search for hard-to-get IPA's. The same friends, or maybe their wives, pushed us to bourbon and rye tastings. And do you know what goes with bourbon? Bacon. Brown sugar-cured, maple-slathered bacon.

In Arden, there are so many occasions for covered dishes and casserole gifting that I have started keeping things like disposable, deep-dish, aluminum containers and lids around so I don't have to worry about bringing anything home from parties or so people don't have to worry about giving the dishes back if I deliver a tomato pie to a sick friend. And we have been the recipient of food goodness starting from the very beginning with a coffee cake given to us by our neighbor Betty upon moving in. We have made homemade cronuts with the gang. Celebrated Good Friday with a fryer. Bring over anything, and we will fry it. Oreo cookies are a must. Fried peeps were a grave disappointment. There is nothing that can't be celebrated with food in Arden. The final episode of Breaking Bad, the band Jonas Sees in Color coming back into town, the first snow, Mardi Gras, feast days of lesser saints, and my favorite excuse--Thursday. I've already mentioned in previous blog entries that our Sunday morning hikes end in pub fare about 50% of the time. All those feel-good miles obliterated by french fries and a nap.

Having more restaurants to choose from has been detrimental, too. Folks in North Wilmington think that the pickings are slim. They never lived in Reinholds. I must have a southwest chicken salad from El Diablo at least once a week. When I am being good, I bring it home and put half of it in a container for the next day. I am not always good. Larry took me shopping at Booth's Corner Market and showed me his favorite stands. Did I know about fried Mac-n-cheese and Philly cheesesteak baked into a pretzel wrap? They know Mark and me by name at Two Stones Pub. We are there often. At the same time we are frequenting 2SP, we are avoiding the doctor's office. Last time I was there, I was admonished. My weight gain issues were dismissed with the charge to use MyFitnessPal to track calories. I'll get right on that. Bev, what is the nutritional analysis on that Sesame Chicken?  David, how about them cronuts? How many calories in a Dinner Gild chicken mole dinner? Mark has an order for blood work that he has been ignoring since October. I think we are going to switch doctors.

You should come to my pantry and see all the beautiful mason jars lined up and filled with bulgar wheat and cranberry beans, chia seeds and dried chili peppers. During the week, I use the mason jars to make brilliant grab-n-go salads. I have a spice drawer to die for. I still cook healthy foods. I still have delusions of finding that sweet spot of eating less calories than I burn off walking to and from all the events in town. I've heard tell of a little thing called moderation. I am going to contemplate it while I eat a breakfast of an oatmeal cookie as big as my face. It is leftover from my book club.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Women in the Woods

In the Ardens, the women gather around the campfire at Indian Circle on the mornings of the solstices and equinoxes. As I understand it, the tradition started when, after a hike, some women were sitting on the huge rocks in Naaman's Creek  and talking. They were relishing the company of other women and said, "Hey, we need to get together more often." Feeling nature's rhythms, as women do, they agreed to meet on the quarter points of the earth-based calendar. I am not sure how many years the gatherings have been taking place or even if it matters.

I went to my first Women in the Woods two years ago today, shortly after we signed the agreement to buy our house and about three months before we moved in.  I thought it would be a great chance for me to meet the women of the Ardens and learn some names. Only one problem. The women of the Ardens are known for having some of the best winter hats I have ever seen. Several of the women are knitters, and for those who aren't, the Ardens have master hat makers who sell their beautiful, funky wearables. I am afraid that when I was first introduced to this bevy of future neighbors that I experienced "hat focus." You know how eye witnesses to crime often focus on the weapon instead of the features that could potentially nail a criminal? I was too focused on the hats these women were wearing to take notes of faces. When we moved to Arden in the middle of summer (No hats!), I had to be reintroduced to everyone because I had memorized their toppers. In my defense, I was a fine arts major in college with a concentration in fibers. I am wowed by that stuff and knew I had found my tribe.

But back to Women in the Woods. I am not going to divulge what goes on around the campfire. As minor deities, we deserve to keep our mystery intact. There is a reason that men who go hiking in the forest on solstice and equinox mornings quickly turn around and hightail it out of there when they see all that feminine power focused in one location. I will tell you this: gathering with women, in person and without agenda, is a gift, and it is treated as such. No politics here. We lose that at the entrance to the Arden Woods. It all falls away.

This morning's gathering fell the night after a particularly contentious election held by the village of Ardencroft. And by contentious, I mean police presence, death threats, and newspaper headlines. Former besties took up sides against one another. Turmoil fractured committees.  The village government was at risk of shutting down. I have not blogged about all that was going on in Ardencroft because as a resident of Arden, it is not my story to tell. I do know how scary the ordeal was for those involved. Though last night's vote was decisive, the issues are not one-hundred percent resolved. This morning some of the women who were most closely ensnared in the drama were present at Women in the Woods. You would never have known it. We were a circle around the fire without hierarchy, without a target. At one point, because of some news unrelated to the elections, a group hug became necessary. Snow falling on trees and stream, the fire purifying all of us with its smoke, the miraculous appearance of flowers. I felt the strength of womanhood that surpasses all that other shit.

As women, we gather. We mark the moment.  We herald the incoming season. We disperse to wear all the various funky hats we wear in our villages. The earth continues on its orbit around the sun. We shall meet again.

La Porte Violette (The Purple Door)

When we readied our house for sale in Reinholds, our realtors recommended two things--that we paint over my menu chalkboard wall and that we paint our purple door and mailbox to match the gray-blue trim. I don't think I said goodbye to our house the day we moved out; I said goodbye to it the day we painted over the door. Even Jonah, who refrains from comment on most issues, said, "It looks so sad."

How did the purple door come to be? Other than the fact that I picked the color and painted it. (One of the few things my husband has allowed me to paint. He says I am too creative with a brush.) The purple door was a direct result of our experiences at Moondance. As we would come back to reality from our holiday jaunts at this magical place, I thought about what it was that I wanted to bring back into our everyday lives. The answer was that I wanted a relaxed intentionality. I wanted our home to be a place that reenergized us for the outside world. And I wanted a place where my creative juices flowed. When we first went to Moondance, I was working full-time as a fabric designer, trying to get a literary agent for my novel. Though my kids were 5 and 8, the only activity they were engaged in was Sunday School. Jonah would start baseball the following year.  We still had our evenings free. Meal times seemed a likely way to bring "Moondance" home.

At dinner, we would try out some of the recipes from Moondance, and from there, I would riff with other garden produce. Tomatoes and peppers and eggplant. Oh my! Perhaps that was the time when we started having a glass of wine with dinner even though it was mid-week. In the weeks following Moondance, I would take care packing my lunch for work. I would buy a special cheese and make a salad of garden lettuces and homemade vinaigrette.  I would clean the kitchen after dinner and imagine I was "zenning". We played games in the evenings instead of rushing to turn on the TV. And I prioritized my creative life. Even in the midst of job and family, I knew I had to make room for the important things--the stuff I wanted to spend more of my time doing.

I needed to name this state of being. I needed to remind myself daily to renew my commitment to being in the moment with my family and with my life. I painted the door purple. It said, "I enter into this life and home with intention." When I pass through this door I am reminded of the life I want to have. And even if I move, I can paint any front door purple. I also made a sign for our house that said "La Porte Violette" or the purple door in French. It was another way for me to delineate the experience. If the name Moondance evoked the magic of a holiday, then La Porte Violette reminded me that there was enchantment to be claimed even on a Thursday night when I was lugging groceries into the house after working all day.

When we moved to Arden, I loved the natural colors of the front doors of our new house, which were a quiet green. Frankly, I was scared to introduce another color to the palette.  What if I wrecked the soothing vibe? With my friend Jodi's help, I picked a shade of purple that would blend with the other tones. I knew I needed to do this. Once again, I was the one painting the doors. (We actually have three front doors in Arden). One small hiccough occurred when I accidentally ran over one of the doors with my car while it was lying under our carport waiting to be sanded down. Luckily, Mark was able to fix it because it was a custom size. But soon, we were living life behind the purple doors again. Our new friend Keri bought us Purple Cowboy wine to celebrate. It was her house previously, so I was a little nervous to show her the change I had made. She loved the color and said she thought of painting her new front door that color, but didn't want to seem like a copy-cat. I encouraged her to do it anyway.

I am home again. Walking through my purple door is a gateway--an invitation to be present in life, to engage in a creative practice, to be fully myself. And it is an invitation for those who want to join me. Come on over.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Moondance Connection

Before we attended the Games on the Green in Arden, we had other July Fourth festivities. For about ten years, we drove to our friends' retreat in southwest Ohio over the holiday. Our friends--actually the aunt and uncle of our best friends--came to Ohio over the summers to get away from the oppressive heat in Houston, Texas. Susan bought sixty-some odd acres of mining lands a hilltop away from the dairy farm where she was raised and created a summer retreat. This land is in the middle of nowhere. Roads are hilly, mostly dirt and gravel. The nearest big city is Wheeling, West Virginia. Susan and Wayne fly into the area via the Pittsburgh airport. Susan built her "barn" on the hilltop overlooking fields where she cultivates grass for hay and woods where she has carved paths for hiking and driving the Mule utility vehicle. The ambiance of the place is rustic and casual but with an elegance for which Susan is known.

The first year we came to Moondance, our kids were five and eight. They hopped out of the car and claimed immediate boredom. Nothing to do. Indeed, we had left the electronic world behind. They were going to have to rough it out here in Ohio's only hilly region. But then, after a long weekend of riding in the Mule, blowing bubbles, grilling hot dogs over the fire, flying kites, painting pictures, catching frogs, hoola hooping, watching fireworks, hopping hay bales, they didn't want to leave.

We parents didn't want to leave either. We had rainy happy hours drinking Wayne's margaritas--accompanied by Susan's homemade guac and chips-- under the metal porch roof. It only seemed to rain at happy hour, and only for a bit. Then Susan would make dinner in a leisurely fashion. She always wanted to eat by 7, but we rarely sat down before 9. We would set a table outside on the hill and watch the sun slip below the horizon. Everything stopped when the sun was going down. It was must-see. Even the dog faced sunset. Or maybe he was just facing the deer who were scampering in the fields below.

The dinners were not your usual hamburger hotdog fair. We had grilled redfish on the half shell or Pechuga a la perilla (grilled marinated chicken) or Cajun shrimp kabobs. Leg of Lamb, marinated flank steak fajitas, paella. All with a fresh green salad from the garden. We have had some of the best meals of our lives atop that hill. It never hurt that we were always famished from spending time out of doors and from the late dinner hour. The wine never hurt either. We vacationed in California Wine Country with this group, and we all appreciated a good bottle. Wayne and Susan took great care to get us our favorites, bottles we couldn't get easily in Pennsylvania. After dinner, we would work up a good Cinch tournament that would last long into the night.

I used the time at Moondance to read books on philosophy and art theory and journal. Susan has huge  circular wicker chairs that swallow you up. Mark would volunteer for projects around the place. He helped build a pergola and repair a fence. He also lent a hand with the electronics, setting up outdoor speakers so that Susan could play the jazz or country music that were the soundtrack of our balmy dinners. Mark liked doing it. He  was content to be away from the office or cubical and doing things with his hands.

On the actual Fourth of July, neighbors would come on their four wheelers for the huge picnic dinner. One of the neighbors, another summer visitor, had a huge RV. He helped supply the fireworks. The show eventually got so big, he started hiring his own fireworks guy to manage it. Moondance's fireworks show rivaled that of all the small towns in the area. We know. We could see six towns worth of fireworks from our perch. By the last year we went to Moondance, there were probably 100 people and 20 four-wheelers gathered for the event.

Life was genteel. We took Reubens and French potato salad to picnic by the stream to skip rocks or to the pond to fish.  We picked raspberries, and Susan made pies. Jim (of the fireworks fame) would stop over with a batch from the fish fry--whitefish freshly caught in the Great Lakes--for us to devour in late afternoon. We all pitched in with dishes, and when Susan got out the electric broom, she didn't call it cleaning. She was "zenning".  She had built a fern bar  (a wooden bar and seats near a patch of ferns) in the woods where we could sit for drinks. If you found the right trail you would discover a tree house or a rope swing or a watermelon cooling in a natural spring or Susan's half wild cats or just a pair of adirondack chairs in the middle of nowhere, looking out over a picturesque ravine.  The kids received presents from the fairies every night and went on a fairy treasure hunts. Over the years, Susan added to the enchantment. She had a wine cave dug out of one of the hills. Before that she had installed a hot tub where I swear my kids learned to swim. Just as well. They also all learned to drive here on the Mule and subsequent utility vehicles. Eight was the age and a true rite of passage.  I did yoga from the moon terrace and painted in the pavilion. It was magazine living, and it was down-in-the-dirt, backroads country.

Every year, on the five-hour return trip home, I would try to figure out how to capture some of the magic of this experience and infuse it into our everyday life. I was convinced it was possible. You had to be present for the sunset. You had to pick wildflowers and light lots of candles. You had to get dirt under your fingernails and be amazed by a starry night. You had to hoe the garden, catch the frog and then turn around and dress for dinner and not care that dinner was late. I never had it all figured out by the time we reached home, but I had glimmers of what I wanted. Moondance was the start of a conversation that started with the question: How do I want to live my every day life? I am pretty sure that experience and that question led us here to Arden.

Tune in tomorrow when I tell the story of the purple door. Hint: it has to do with Moondance.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Church of Arden?

photo by Joe del Tufo
We joined the Unitarian Universalist Church of Lancaster in January 1994, the same month we learned I was pregnant and we would be parents for the first time. This was not a fluke. We sought out a religious community precisely because we were thinking of starting a family. I want to clarify that I don’t see church as a place to locate the Divine. I don’t think God has an address (or even a sufficient name, for that matter.) For me, church was always about finding a community of people who gather to grow and seek together. And in Lancaster County, our church also meant sanctuary from the pervasive conservatism we faced. For over 18 years, we attended services at UUCL, took adult classes, taught Sunday morning religious education. I  also helped facilitate earth-based activities, classes, and rituals. The last Sunday service we attended UUCL was when our oldest child graduated from youth group. After the service, we all went outside and watched as he and those in his class released butterflies. It was the perfect end piece and full circle moment to our experience as members of the church. A month later, we resigned our membership because we were about to move to Delaware.

We knew we would take time to get our footing before looking for a church in Wilmington. And when we were ready, we also knew that there was more than one liberal faith community within minutes of us. (Unlike in Lancaster County, where there was only one option, a half hour’s drive from where we lived.) But here is the thing: we have found everything we needed in a religious community right here in Arden. Time and time again, I quiz myself to see if I am getting it all. 

Let’s start with Sunday morning. We faithfully meet our friends at the Gild Hall parking lot at an early hour. From there, we hike. Sometimes it is in the city, but about 75% of the time, we hike in nature. Mark and I have a better attendance record hiking than we ever did with church. If we miss the hike, it is either that we have a really pressing engagement we can’t get out of, we are on vacation, or we are sick. Even temperatures in the teens do not deter us. I am not the only person in the group who calls this activity church. We walk in nature, really take it all in, and along the way we talk and are in community. It is a mediation. It is communion. It is celebration. 

In Arden, I have attended meditation groups, met with women in the woods on solstice and equinox dates, led outdoor winter solstice sunrise services, supped in community, attended lectures, fed neighbors in need, been fed when I was in need, and helped to clean up the Memorial Gardens where those in the Ardens lay their dead to rest. Memorial services take place in Gild Hall, and weddings happen in our outdoor theaters, though I’ve never attended any of these, yet. I have sat in Arden village meetings when we bow our heads in a moment of silence to remember those who passed. In those same meetings, we recognize new neighbors who have joined our numbers and babies who are recently born. In addition, I am a member of a weekly women’s group that started as a book group and which now defines its purpose with the words: inspiration, growth, presence, and connection. We are doing some deep self-work—together. (An interesting note—the Ardens are peppered with people who identify as UU’s. In daily life, I have more interaction with UU’s here than I did when I was a church member living 1/2 hour away from our church.)

Here is the question: Do I need church? Recently I read an article by Rev. Galen Guengerich, Ph.D, former Lancaster County native, now Senior minister at All Soul’s Unitarian Church in New York City, entitled 10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Unitarian Universalism. His 9th tenet is this: the discipline of gratitude calls us to worship together. But what is worship?

“The experience of worship is what distinguishes religious communities from other kinds of communities,” Guengrich writes. “It’s a time when we gather to remind ourselves and each other of what we should never forget: our utter dependence on the people and world around us for everything.”

There are times when I ask if the missing piece in my Arden experience is the worship experience. But according to Guengrich’s definition, I believe I do experience worship. Certainly, I experience the piece that reminds me of a world that is larger than myself and that I am connected to others, the natural world, and the larger world of idea/culture. In the comment section of Guengrich’s article, Susan Christie adds, “If we think of "worship" as paying attention to that which we love, it works for me!” I like that definition, and I am living it.

The only other slice of church life I wonder if I am missing is the call to service. We are working on that. Our hiking group has talked about cooking meals for the homeless. Mark and I help with forest clean-up, which is service to our environment. I am on the Arden Community Recreation Committee which plans activities for all ages throughout the year and provides a free children’s summer program in the Ardens. During that program I have volunteered my time to do journal writing with the kids. Service is always an area in which I can expand, but I am doing my part to actively offer my gifts up to the greater good. In some ways I am more active in my service here because I can do it without having to drive an hour.

For the time being, Mark and I have called off the search for a new church. Not in favor of secularism, but in finding the spiritual, finding the connection, finding purpose in everyday life--and finding it with the people we encounter and in the places we find ourselves. Amen.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Degrees of Delaware and Arden time

We are barely in Delaware, but we are here, a few miles over the line. Near the point where the furniture stores and computer stores hover (Really, I bet they cast their shadows into Pennsylvania) and vie for your sales-tax-free spending dollars.

I went to college in Delaware, but I saw that more as college culture. I didn't get a sense of what it meant to live in a different state. So what has changed for us in Delaware besides acquiring the country's ugliest license plate? We thought we were getting away from scrapple, that Lancaster County classic that is revered and hated in equal measure, but apparently scrapple is even a bigger deal in Delaware. They even have a festival devoted to it, though it shares a billing with apples. I have mentioned the beach culture and how, even in Wilmington, the ocean pulls people away from their normally scheduled lives. And don't call it the shore. That's New Jersey.

In Delaware, I have been at events where the governor is in attendance, and he is approachable. When you govern over three counties, as opposed to Pennsylvania's 67, it makes you more available to your constituency. All Delaware politicians are. Everybody has a story about Joe Biden. I am convinced that any Delawarean could call him up today and the call would go through--straight to the man. That's how it works in Delaware. It isn't Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon (a Pennsylvanian). In Delaware, you are only one or two degrees removed from another Delawarean. It isn't an island, but until the 1950's and the building of bridges and I95, Delaware was not readily accessible to those who lived outside of it. You had to really want to come here, and you had to really want to leave. It was a bit of an isolated population.

Sometimes, it is hard to figure what cultural differences are Delaware and which are purely Arden. In Arden, we have Arden time. It's a slippery thing, time. In Arden, you tell people you are going to start the procession or the egg hunt at a certain hour.  However, if you actually start it when you say you will, expect a few disappointed children whose parents were operating on that buffer of anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes that fall within Arden definition of on-time. I'm not sure whether to chalk that up to a more relaxed south-of-the-Mason-Dixon-line way of life or to the artist/hippie disdain of rules. Or maybe it is a little of both. Mark and I have acquired more tie-dye shirts than ever before. We are trying to to meld into this new informality. "Trying" is a funny way to say it. Who has to try to be late? It isn't as though we are having to go the other way and fit into stricter codes of conduct. My hair would never stand to be high-society. No sommelier is ever going to look at me and say, "Let's push the expensive wines." This new relaxed way of being fits us, but learning to let go is an art. In letting go of standards of time and of formality, even just a tiny bit, you find out where all your tensions and hang-ups lie. It is a good lesson.

Monday, March 16, 2015

LOVE and other Philadelphia Icons

Sylvester Stallone with Larry Strange
photo by Joe del Tufo
Another perk of living Arden is its accessibility to Philadelphia. Mark works in the Philadelphia Main Line, so it is precisely this proximity that brought us to Arden. It sometimes feels like Arden is a suburb of Philly instead of Wilmington. It's probable that we've been to Philly more often than downtown Wilmington since we moved here. That is part of the problem of Wilmington; It suffers from little sister syndrome. Why settle for the art and dining options in Wilmington when, for an extra ten minutes of travel, you can be in Center City Philadelphia with all its magic?

Our Sunday morning hiking group avails itself of Philly at least once a month. We can get there in thirty minutes on a Sunday morning. We call these our urban hikes. Larry Strange, our unofficial leader, is a Philly boy. He loves to show us around, and we are willing disciples. In fact, the hike that launched our Sunday morning group was a nine-mile trek on a beautiful September day which wound us through Fairmount Park and ended at Federal Donuts on Sansom Street for a chicken/donut lunch. Most of our Philly hikes involve food. Even our daughter, Maren, will rise early to accompany us when we go to Philly. Is it any wonder that our hiking group became a habit? 

We call our group Strange Adventures after Larry. I have loads of stories of our outings--and they truly are adventures--which I will tease out over the course of this blog. This group and its adherents have been at the heart of our assimilation into the Ardens. You will want to hear some of these stories. I experienced them, and I am still shaking my head in disbelief.

This Sunday, we went to Philly as we did last year, not to witness the St. Patrick's Day parade, but to be part of the energy surrounding the event. People are crazy, costumed, and more than a little bit inebriated at ten in the morning. What can be more fun that watching the spectacle unfold? We speculate, of course, as to what is under all those kilts. Larry is Irish, and I think he needs to look into getting his own kilt for next year.  This has all the markings of becoming a tradition--as is Larry's tradition of getting home later than the rest of the group. He hangs with other native Philly boys in pubs after we go home, and finds his way back to Arden by combination of rail and Uber--another indication of just how accessible Philadelphia is to us.

This is my second experience of St. Patrick's Day in Philly. Last year, our hiking group somehow got caught up in the middle of a Chinese parade happening at the same time. That was a head-scratcher. This year, our plan called for hiking in a different part of the city. We started at WXPN, a good place to park on Sundays, circled around University City, and then it become hazy for me. We usually walk up to the art museum by way of the path along the Schuylkill River path, but Larry must have found some sort of portal to get us there faster--either that or I was lost in conversation, as I am apt to be. The brain trust on these hikes is though the roof. Each person is treasure trove of knowledge and ideas, and it doesn't matter who I am lined up with when we are walking; the conversation is always stimulating. I  gain at least 10 IQ points from these hikes. (Temporary IQ points. I lose them again when we hit the pubs.) 

photo by Joe del Tufo
photo at Philadelphia Art Museum by Joe del Tufo
Joe took plenty of pictures along the way. He documents the hikes though photos that I later archive and make into photo albums for the group. We posed with different sculptures around town. Joe got a great shot of us women on a statute by the Philadelphia Art Museum. We bypassed all the people taking photos with the Rocky statue. There was a line. And we laughed at the fitness trainer who planted himself at the bottom of the Art Museum steps where he shouted at two women to encourage the epic stair climb. No stairs for us this time; we were moving onward to get to the newly opened City Tap Room, former home of The Public House, where we had brunch reservations. On St. Patrick's Day weekend, it is good to have such forethought. Two of our  twelve-person hiking crew bailed on brunch; they had a family engagement. But Larry was meeting friends, so that brought the number in our party to about sixteen. We waited for them to set the long table for all of us.

 Look to the man at head of table. Directly above him.
Guy in beanie is Stallone.
What to say? The brunch was superb. Mark's chicken and waffles were insanely good with a red pepper jam and thyme butter. And the beer list, the reason we were here, was top notch. By getting there early, we had just beat the rush. I took a photo of our group at the table. This is something I never do because Joe is the photographer, but he was mid-table, and I was at the end, so I took the shot. A couple of minutes later a flurry broke out at the opposite end of the table from me. Stallone was in the house. He had been sitting at the next table over the whole time. We had walked right by him to be seated. In our defense, he was wearing a knit beanie and dark glasses. Joe hopped up with his camera and asked him to pose for a photo. Sly obliged. Pfft. Those people waiting in line at the Rocky Statue. We had the real thing. I then checked my group photo, and sure enough, I spotted Stallone's beanie hovering above our group.  This hike is going down in history. Perhaps Stallone will even get the coveted cover spot in the yearly photo album. These are the kind of funny moments of serendipity that seem to happen to us on our hikes. Or maybe we are just more aware on Sunday mornings, having taken a respite from our ordinary lives. Open to nature. Open to culture. Open to little winks from the Universe. Yo, Philadelphia. City of Brotherly Love. How we love you.