Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Arden House & Garden Tour

The first weekend we came to visit in Arden, Cynthia took us on the House & Garden Tour, an event sponsored by Arden Community Recreation Association (ACRA). The tour isn't open to everyone. You have to live in the Ardens or be guest of someone who is a resident. It is a free event designed to show off house and garden projects and remodels to neighbors. We saw more than a handful of houses on that first Sunday. Coming as we did, from a cookie-cutter development that varied little from three main house designs, seeing the variety in Arden houses was a rainbow feast for our beige-weary senses.

When it comes to architecture,  Arden started modestly, but purposefully. One of Arden's two founders was the architect Will Price and he imbued the early Arden houses with the style of the Tudor Cottages. I have been doing some reading about the early planning of Arden and discovered that one of my oldest and dearest friends lives in a neighborhood in Wayne, PA for which Will Price was a prominent architect. I happened to visit Missy a few days after this year's house and garden tour. Missy is more than an architecture buff after getting her Master's Degree in Interior Architecture and Design from Drexel. She showed me examples of Price's work which was loftier in scale than the stuff of Arden, humble by comparison.

Treehouse built by Jeff Politis
Humble is a good word to describe Arden architecture. The focus of Arden was always community. Small, but meticulously gardened lots, giving way to large public spaces where the real action happened--from baseball games to hop-rocking and from live theater and shows to the Arden Fair. The cottages were not meant to denote your status. That was to be kept under wraps as you linked arms with those from all socio-economic levels. Still, Ardenites aren't Amish. Pride is not a sin. We like to show off our palaces. But here, palace is not a celebration of how much square footage you can cram under one roof, but how many stories you can build on one foundation. This year's tour included The Jungalow, a home built for Upton Sinclair with monies from the Fels-Naptha Soap fortune (the same fortune that financed Arden). The Jungalow, in its present state, bears little resemblance to that cabin, but features remain in the original part of the house: the paneled walls, the built-in-book shelves, the craftsman-era fireplaces that are ubiquitous in early Arden houses.

G-Arden--community garden of Arden
Other spots on the tour included a magnificent treehouse, built by Arden's newly elected town chair, who is on sabbatical from career and really enjoying his time with his young boys. We saw the original farmhouse of the farm that eventually became Ardencroft in 1950. The Craft Museum was also on the tour.  I helped letter a sign for the G'Arden, which was the final destination before everyone went inside the Buzz for a lovely reception featuring Beverley Flemming's wonderful tea sandwiches. After the long walk (this was on top of the five mile hike we did earlier in the day, I couldn't keep away from the chicken salad.

I am still learning about the founding and design of this town, discovering its influences which include the socialism of William Morris's Arts and Craft's Movement and the open, public spaces of Central Park designer Frederick Olmsted. I hope that I can document some of what I uncover in this blog, because it really is a fascinating glimpse into a very specific slice of American history. What happened in the building of Arden is a result of what was going on here and in the world in 1900. As an Art History minor, I am fascinated by these artifacts. As a writer I am inspired by the stories.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Barn

As an outbuilding, it was so new that it hadn't been treated yet with stain or paint. When we first came to stay with Cynthia Dewick and David Gerbec at their Little House in Arden, you could still smell the fresh wood waiting to be cured by elements.  We sat with Cynthia and discussed the color she was thinking about staining it--a green to go with the trim of the house. The barn had been built by Amish men using the older methods and more secure connection of wooden pegs instead of nails. According to Cynthia, the builders sang as they built it. Perhaps that is what sealed its destiny as a music venue.

Our kids were the first people to sleep overnight in the barn in the blue swinging daybeds suspended from cables from the barn's high ceilings. Cynthia and David have a design sense that is at once sophisticated and casual--culled from magazines, a love of good typography, and travels in the Southern United States. Sitting on the swaying day beds, drinking good wine, if the motion overwhelmed us, we could catch our feet on the huge lacquered stumps of trees that were both coffee table and foot stool.

Joe del Tufo was the first to suggest that the barn be used as a house concert venue. Cynthia and David didn't quite know what this house concert deal was all about. But Cynthia approached a musician who was opening for an act at the Gild Hall, and soon she had booked Angela Sheik as The Barn's first act. From there, Cynthia has been able to book acts from all over the country. House concerts give musicians autonomy that few big venues can match. And the paydays aren't bad either; most places give them 100 percent of the house earnings. At $15-20 per person suggested donation, they can make more than they do in larger clubs that sometimes penalize artists if they can't bring in the crowds.

The Barn, photo by Joe del Tufo
Mark and I, living in Pennsylvania in the days before our Delaware dreams, didn't hesitate when we were invited to the first barn concert. I didn't matter that it was a weekday; we were there, driving the hour and half to Arden. We have been constants at The Barn shows, missing only one show in the three seasons of offerings. We have joked to Cynthia and David that they need to get engraved nameplates to affix to the backs of our chairs. We used to sit up front, but for the latest show, Keri saved me a seat on one of the the day beds, which are unhooked from their cables and set on the floor in the back to use as cushy seating for the shows. It is a different perspective seeing the show from the back. I got to witness the concert playing out on the faces of those three dozen lucky folks in attendance.

This past weekend, we were treated to the music of Matthew Ryan and the Northern Wires. Mark and I had heard Ryan play solo at Burlap and Bean, a coffee house in Newtown Square, PA, almost a year to the date of his show at The Barn. At that time, he was just returning to the stage from a hiatus, and he apologized as he stumbled on some of his own lyrics. While that, too, was an intimate listening room environment, it was a different concert than The Barn. Audiences in The Barn are leaned-in and primed for musicians' confessionals. It is as much a venue for story-telling as for song, and we always leave the place feeling as though we have been let in on a secret. Matthew Ryan was witty and self-aware as he referenced favorite poets Seamus Heaney and Leonard Cohen. He was coy when he revealed that he now lives in Beaver, Pennsylvania, a place name that is so lost on itself that residents fail to see the titillating double entendres in many of their town slogans.

Matthew Ryan performs at The Barn. Photo by Joe del Tufo
Then there is the music in The Barn. I am convinced that wood makes for honeyed sound. Something about the material adds richness to the vibrations. I've experienced it at The Gild Hall and heard tell of it when we toured Ryman Auditorium with its long wooden church pews. The amber lighting, a mix of bare Edison bulbs and mason jar candles, adds to the feel that you have stepped into back into a golden age before screens reflected blue light into our faces. At Ryan's concert, fabric artist Linda Celestian debuted a large artwork which acted as backdrop. The aquas of the curtains added another dimension. As did the band. Saturday night's concert marked the first time for a band, rather than a solo or duo act. As evidence, a huge van was parked in Cynthia and David's driveway, rather than the usual beater car of a traveling musician. They brought down the house and made Cynthia glad she preemptively told 84-year-old neighbor Ruth Bean to remove her hearing aids before she went to bed. After the show--in a continuation of the confessional and perhaps due to some celebratory Jameson shots-- we found out that band member Bones was the bass guitarist from Midnight Oil. Respect.

The Barn has ruined me for all other music venues. It is the place and the people, but it is also the music. If I had to reduce my CD collection to just the ones I bought at the shows--and one always buys the music offered out of the minstrel's suitcase--I would lead a well-soundtracked life. With Alternate Route's Nothing More and Barnaby Bright's Gravity, Angela Sheik's Run for Cover or Flagship Romance's Treason,  I could choreograph the rest of my days. Because it has no heating, The Barn only hosts shows in warmer months, and with the 2015 season open for business, I suspect that my CD collection will grow in spite of my current state of bliss.  To quote singer Susan Enan--Bring on the Wonder.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

99 Elephants a Day

Seven years ago, I helped bring Fine Arts Day to my daughter's elementary school. Helped being the operative word. Art teacher extraordinaire Michele Swoope did all the heavy lifting. The day starts with an assembly. The last two times I have been back this assembly has featured a local rock band. After that, each grade level attends half hour presentations by six visiting artists. Also included in the day are two hands-on art experiences and a lunch time date with the Van Gogh Bus (traveling art museum out of Harrisburg PA).

Some of the 36,000 elephant prints created by Suzanne Fellows in 2014
When Michele announced this year's Fine Arts Day, I asked if I could come back as an artist liaison.  I used to be a substitute teacher when Michele was out. It was my favorite assignment as a sub, and I loved the kids. This year, it was my pleasure to be with Suzanne Fellows as she made her presentation. Suzanne is an artist/activist with a studio space in the Goggleworks in Reading, PA. In 2014, she started on a project to save elephants from poachers. She had learned through some internet research that 360,000 elephants were murdered for their tusks in 2013 alone. She decided to do something about it. She launched a campaign called 99 Elephants a Day. Every day of the year 2014, Suzanne dedicated herself to making 99 small elephant prints to represent each of the elephants killed that day. At the end of the year 2014, she had made 36,000 of her tiny prints which were the size of artist trading cards (2.5" x 3.5"). She continues to sell her prints, mostly through Etsy, for $9 and sends 1/3 of the money to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, specifically to foster orphaned elephants. In 2014, she was able to foster 27 baby elephants. Elephants have always been my favorite animal. As a kid, while other girls were learning to draw dogs and horses, I was sketching elephants. Babar was among my favorite children's books. Perhaps that is why I have such an affinity for Suzanne and her cause.

The presentation hit home with the students as well. It was important for them to hear the message from someone who uses her art to change the world.  I was proud to be a small part of it. We started Fine Arts Day so kids could see the role of art in their community, and so that they could see the range possibilities for careers in the arts. Being immersed as I am in Arden's artist community, I see that the arts are more integrated with life here. Children are used to seeing the guest artists that come and go as visitors to their summer program. They attend youth Shakespeare workshops, attend outdoor concerts, and see all those neighbors who are artists selling their wares at The Arden Fair. While I would love to create a whole world of artist utopian communities in which to indoctrinate our children to the powers of art, I realize that is an overreach. Until that those dreams come true, I will gladly make the pilgrimage back to Reamstown Elementary and bask in that singular sphere of influence. Does that count as art activism? I don't know. But it puts me in hopeful place to think about changing the world through art.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Slow the F*k Down, part 2

I wrote my previous post before I knew that the train crash in Philadelphia was caused by high speed. Perhaps it was something in the air that made me feel this issue at that time. The idea for the blog entry came when I was sitting at a new coffee shop working on my novel. I looked up and saw a sign for the Slow Bar where this coffee shop offers pour-overs. I came to the coffee shop specifically to try a pour-over which had been touted by Ron of Concert Gild fame. (If anyone should know about coffee, it's the guy who hits three or four concerts a week and still manages to work a 9-5 job.) But when I didn't immediately see the pour-overs on the menu, I ordered my standby Cafe Americano. Had I missed the sign for the slow bar because I was going too fast?

However the theme began, my post about slowing down has taken on a new significance. I am not feeling so bad about the use of bad language and the invocation of Samuel L. Jackson now. It is horrible that this happened on a passenger train. Senseless. And yet I am so happy it wasn't one of the trains carrying crude oil through residential sections of Philly. I can't imagine the horror of that situation.

The point is that speed is something that is seductive. It is human nature to see how fast we can take a process.  In sixth grade, I read an except from the book, Cheaper By The Dozen. The parents of the brood of twelve were efficiency experts. (Redundant, I know). It was their job to try to hone processes to get work done in the fewest number of steps and eliminate wasteful motion. They taught their children to be efficient as well. This story has stuck with me my whole life. I used to think about it when I was doing dishes. It echoed in the back of my head when I was multi-tasking by folding laundry and making phone calls or when I chopped all the vegetables needed for four meals instead of just the one I was making presently. I felt a strange pride when I ran errands and was able to consolidate trips--to the point that I go absolutely berserk if my husband tells me he is running to Home Depot to get a package of screws for a project. Going out on a five mile round trip, for one pack of screws? I feel as if he is mocking my whole religion.

I have an idea for a bumper sticker that says, "Get out of my way! I'm late for yoga." I am sure I could sell hundreds to those folks, we are speeding up to get to the place where we can slow down. It's bad when you need a time-out to figure out moments in my day where I can deliberately slow down. Where I can hone zen-like mindfulness by single-tasking. My brain has been begging for this for years. My poor brain has been going on all cylinders most days in a way that distracts me and causes me to make stupid mistakes. I know how it can happen. You speed along at twice the speed you should be going. Your mind is not engaged on your task but on the three other things you are thinking about. CRASH! This is where meditation becomes so important. My women's group  engaged in a guided meditation last night after we had taken several weeks off of the practice. It wasn't easy getting my mind to stop its chatter, but it was sorely needed, and I am glad we took the time to do it together. Tonight, is the weekly Arden Sangha. I used to go to this meditation group when we first moved here, but the group fizzled. I loved going, and I also hated giving up a night of the week to sit around doing nothing. Seemed so counterproductive. But was it? I was meditating with my community. How often do you sit in a roomful of your neighbors and just be? I am glad they resuscitated the group. It makes sense to me to make slowing down into a practice. Today I will find one thing to do mindfully and slowly. I will do it with intention. Perhaps the only speeding train that I can stop will be the one in my head, but it will be a blow to suffering, one way or another.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Slow the F*k Down

Harvey Road bisects Arden and divides Ardentown from Ardencroft. It starts off as Grubb road and is the main drag that takes folks from Naaman's Road down to Foulk Road, past Marsh Road where it changes names to Harvey, through the Ardens and eventually to I95 or Claymont. In that stretch where it enters the Ardens (you will notice it becoming heavily shaded by trees at this point) the speed limit changes to 25 miles per hour. Almost nobody does the speed limit here. Brooke, the queen of our safety committee lives on Harvey. She and her committee were instrumental in getting one of those light-up signs--the kind that tells you just how fast you are going--along this stretch of road. It helps. It helps me at least. I tend to forget, and it is a reminder. As is Brooke's ascertainment that slowing down here means only a minute of your time. We have only been here for less that two years, and we can attest to the number of accidents along this road in a short time--especially at night.  It's enough to make you want to hire Samuel L. Jackson to do shout-outs to the speeders using the same voice he used to read the satire of a children's book, Go the F*k to Sleep.

"I mean it, sh!thead. Slow the F*k down!" 

I'll get the safety committee right on that.

Everything is about speed in this society. I know people who use to ride bike for exercise around here who won't do it any more. It's too much of a risk with traffic. But it isn't just traffic. Our society wants everything faster. Give us high speed internet, fast food, 7-minute workouts, speed dating, fast-drying nail polish, high-speed rail, faster processors on our already super-fast computers.

In Arden, you are forced to slow down. Even if you are someone who ignores the Harvey Road speed limit signs, if you turn onto one of the winding streets in the Ardens, you will discover that you really can't go the speed limit of 20 miles per hour. The roads just won't let you. They are narrow, in some places only wide enough for one car. We have random speed bumps. It is true that one woman in Arden set up her own speed bump--a line of rocks across her road. She sat to one side of it in a folding chair and watched her handiwork in action. Arden town founders and planners agreed that the roads would not be the direct grids of most great cities. They purposely designed the roads to meander. The walking paths, some hidden and almost secret, are actually the direct paths. They encourage people to walk to their destinations, which is also an intentional slowing of everything save one's heart rate.

Years ago, I was a proponent of the Slow Food Movement. Started in Italy, the group aimed to preserve regionalism  and the old ways of cooking instead of the industrialization and globalization of food. For my part, I believed in the home-cooked supper and the family dinner time. It was sacred to me as my kids were growing up. We rarely ate out. Here in Wilmington, we dine out more often, but we also eat food cooked by our neighbors with our neighbors at long tables of the dinner gild. The local markets know all about the dinner gild and they bend over backwards to get us what we need. The dinners are leisurely, often going late until they morph into another leisurely activity, such as board games or poetry recitations or a concert or teens playing Kan Jam in the parking lot.

Though not a direct Arden activity, we have also benefited from our slow downs on Sunday mornings. Our hiking group goes all over the area. We are almost like those search and rescue teams going over each square mile with a fine tooth comb. While we are hiking we notice everything. If Joe isn't taking a photo of another drop of dew hanging off of some new plant tendril, then Linda is picking up some bone she found to add to her collection of natural objects to draw. She also points out all fungus growing on dead trees. Susie makes art out of natural found materials, so she is always scoping out the stuff at the sides of the trail that nobody else would notice. My slow attention happens as I walk, but also afterwards as I put together the photo albums of photos that the group, and mostly Joe, takes of our wanderings. It is in the making of the albums that I get to see and play with the patterns that emerge from our outings.

Mark and I are considering a vacation later this year to commemorate our twenty-five years of marriage. Those twenty-five years went by so quickly it seems. And the trips we are looking into now are walking trips. We have checked out such trips in places such as Colorado and Wyoming and even as far away as Italy. We have done fast-paced travel, and now we want to see what happens when we explore an area at a crawl. These trips are the kind where you take a small backpack with you, and your luggage gets transported on up ahead. You walk and meander, lunching at a winery perhaps, moving on until you are famished again from your exertion. Then you dine at a local trattoria or share a family style meal with other hikers at a lodge. Nothing is a done deal; we are just in the planning stages. We might even stay home and do a few short outings from here. But we know enough to know that life comes at you fast. If you don't take the time to slow it down, you may miss the whole experience.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Living with Less

Part of the process of moving to Arden included downsizing, which is something we were looking to do.  I had long been a fan of The-Not-So-Big-House movement, and really enjoy the poetry of those really tiny homes when I see them on Pinterest. Our first venture into Arden was in a place called The Little House. It was in that approximately 150-square-foot dwelling that our Arden mindset began. If I had to guess, I'd say we lost 1,000 square feet as well as a two-car garage when we moved here. We lost vaulted ceilings, a bedroom, a bathroom, and a family room. Our kitchen in Arden has storage for days, but I was coming from a house where I had a large kitchen, plus a dining room china cabinet, a full bar and bar cabinets. Those needed to be condensed. I didn't count the number of boxes I lugged to the Re-Uzit shop or the bags I sent to the curb. But my clearing was thorough and powerful.

It felt good to lighten the load. Still, I didn't get rid of everything. I gave myself permission to keep things I wasn't sure about because I didn't know what our new lives would entail. Looking around the house now, I hardly recognize anything from our old life. Most all of our furniture is gone and replaced by pieces that work better in our smaller, darker wooded home. We didn't start out to replace it all. The transition happened gradually. Today, I await the chair and ottoman, the last pieces to finish off the living room project we started in February.

I do find that this house is much easier to clean. It is more manageable to me, and I don't regret losing our square footage. It is about usability and sustainability. I don't remember missing a single thing I have gotten rid of, though I will tell you that sometimes I don't remember if I got rid of something or not. Did we keep the Bocce balls? Do we still have the camping pie irons? I am losing my sentimentality. Gone is the hockey jersey I worked so hard to earn. Gone is my high school artwork and box of letters that Mark and I wrote to each other in college. Mildew was a deciding factor in the last two, but I feel lighter for having released them. I have my memories.

Recently I read the book: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. She claims that her process of purge-first-then-store decluttering is one that has zero recidivism for those prone to the messies. I agree. I have been able to maintain a level of order in our new house. But now that we have been here for two years, I want to take my purge to a whole new level. After living in Arden, I can see that some of the things I held onto--just in case--are not necessary in our new life. I am going to go through my belongings with an eye for what serves me here, in this place.

Marie Kondo has two very specific and hardfast rules for getting rid of things. First of all, you need to touch the item in question--hold it in your hands. It isn't enough to look at the books on your shelf and say--do I want to keep these? And it isn't enough to look at the clothing on your hangars. Pull everything of a kind out and into one area. Then handle each item and ask yourself, Does this bring me joy? She goes into more detail, describing, for example, what to do with items that are weighted with sentiment and items that contain hopes for "one day." It is a good, quick read. And it does inspire a joy-driven life.

Speaking from my own experience of purging: when you get rid of a lot of extraneous belongings, you can really appreciate the items you do have. Like a child with twenty dolls. What do you do with them all? What about two dolls? With two dolls, you can play. Don't get my wrong. I still have my stashes. I am especially hoarder-y when it comes to glassware, and I have developed a bit of a mason-jar fetish since we lived here. I think that started when Maren announced, after seeing our house for the first time--"OH! We can drink out of Mason Jars here." I am pretty sure this energies of this house caused me to do the single-click Amazon.com purchase of all those purple mason jars I bought in February. I have no memory of making the transaction myself. But I can allow for these few niche collections after having let go of so many other things.

Purging is its own energy force. Everyone has heard the story of the man who could not accept a gift because he was carrying too many things already. Release the stuff. Learn to live with unfolded hands. If you give away possessions, you are making more room for new energies to swirl around you. It was certainly true for us. We are richer than ever with fewer belongings. We travel lighter. I can do Europe in a weather-variable time of the year for ten days with only a carry-on. Going to Europe is not about lugging suitcases--let me tell you. Having two outfits to choose from frees your mind up to decide which of sixty restaurants deserves your Euros.

Don't take my word for it. Try it. Purge ten items. Purge ten more. Let go of something you didn't think you could and see how it feels. Give something to someone less fortunate--even if you paid a lot for it. Give away something your grandfather made, but you know your kids don't want to be saddled with when the time comes. Maybe you can't just move to the house of your dreams in the community of your choosing just yet, but you can open up the environment you do have to surprises and joy and abundance.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Give Mom a Break

I signed up for motherhood in April 1993 when I went off the Pill. At age 24, I had readied myself for this task by spending the summer rereading all the Little House on the Prairie books, this time seeing the stories through Ma's eyes. Pretty much, that was my preparation. That and reading  the still viable What to Expect When You're Expecting. We did not supplement that manual with anything from the Internet. We had no Internet. My first pregnancy test did not involve peeing on a stick; I had to construct a chemistry lab and use droppers, test tubes, and magic crystals to complete the test. I think pee-on-the-stick kinds were just beginning to be available, but they were expensive and as I had gotten an A in High School Chemistry,  I went cheap.

Here is where I confess my delusion about motherhood. Mark and I had been married three years, and he was going to night school to finish his college degree while working full time. I, too was working full time on second shift as a fabric designer. I wanted to get my MFA in Fine Arts, but it was idiocy to think we could both be in school at the same time. I would wait until Mark was done. And while I was waiting, I would fulfill my biological imperative. Do the thing that Mark couldn't do for us: I would gestate the next generation. Then, person created and husband graduated, it would be my turn to go back to school. Claire Huxtable was a lawyer with five kids. I could do it, too.

But NBC had changed its Thursday night lineup. My son was born on September 24, 1994, two days after the TV show Friends premiered. Here were six people my age living it up in their twenties while I had just essentially shut it all down. I had grown up on the family sitcom where mothers of teenagers were youthful--so they must have had kids when they were younger than I was. Who changed the rules? And that is just the thing. The rules of motherhood have been changing ever since.

Nobody told me that the norm of a working mother in the 21st century would be to log more time with her kids than a stay-at-home mom did when I was a kid. Nobody explained that the Internet would be coming and that we would be expected to save our kids from new terrors and not just the predators. What our kids could see at the touch of a button made Tipper Gore's campaign for album labels and Nancy Reagan's Just Say No seem as helpful as a couple of windbreakers in a hurricane.

As a young girl, I had the choices of cheerleading, swim team, and basketball as group athletic activities. They were free--or close to it. Now parents have to pay thousands of dollars so their kids can play any number of different club sports. And they have to spend weekends in other states (hotels, cha-ching) so their kids can play in tournaments--hours, sometimes days between games. And who cares if the games are over Mother's Day Weekend? Our moms didn't have the almost debilitating influence of Pinterest. Pin the Tail on the Donkey, some punch, some balloons, and a cake. Done.  And if they had a party for you when you were seven, don't expect another one until you were sixteen. Theme? Tell me one person my age who had a themed birthday party. Sure, if your parents could afford it, you might have your party at the roller rink, and when you were sixteen, they might hire a kid to DJ, but that was the height of it. I wasn't competing with the parent who got their kid a DJ, I was competing with the parents who travelled the country for fencing tournaments or who booked month-long stays in L.A. so their kids could audition for pilot season.

And did you know that now the twenties are now considered the new teen years? Adulthood has been delayed. You can now cover your kids on insurance until they are twenty-six. Yippee! But what has prolonged childhood done for motherhood? I got married at 21. I took on the adult world early. I was a young mother, but in that was the hope that I'd also be young enough to enjoy life when my kids were on their own. I know the drill--that mothers never stop worrying about their kids. I get that.

My point is that when I signed up to be a mother, it was a different world, a simpler time. I was aiming to be a mix of Caroline Ingalls and Clair Huxtable, with an MFA. I cannot honestly say if I would have taken on the task of mothering if I knew some of the modern challenges and increased societal assumptions that would come with it. I love my kids. I love the people they are. They surprise me at every turn and are my best teachers. I know I am far from a perfect mother. I like to say I tried hard, but some days, I know I just gave up, the sea of expectation being too vast. I hope they will forgive me my foibles as I, too, am trying to navigate this ever-changing world.

I realize, too, that this isn't unique to my generation. Nobody planning to have a baby dreams of what it will be like to parent in the world of the future, or can even imagine what the world will be five, ten, fifteen years away. Parents of yesteryear didn't account for space travel or the Columbian drug trade or the Vietnam War or the invention of the television or Elvis. They just did what they could with the information they had at hand and went blindly into parenthood with that information. Maybe the best thing we can all do on Mother's Day, is give our moms a break.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Dark Side

Mark and I had a fight the first weekend we visited Arden six years ago. Actually, we were embroiled in ongoing personal gunk in the months before we came to our first Arden getaway. The muck we were going through wasn't the kind of stuff you fight over, more like the kind of thing you for which you band together as a couple. Still, the situation was long, drawn out, and it was taxing us. We needed the mental, emotional, and physical break of a weekend away more than anyone could possibly know.

It started off on a bad foot. I met Mark at his work which was half-way to Arden. He couldn't get out as quickly as I wanted, so I had to wait for him. But soon we were on our way. Not sure why, but we stopped for a Chadd's Ford wine tasting along the way. I guess it was to soften the edges so we could officially get ourselves into weekend mode. I have documented that weekend in other blog entries, but never told the story of the fight we had. I believe it was our second night. We were walking back to the Little House from seeing a musical at the Candlelight Theater. It was dark, and I couldn't see where I was going on Arden's strange, curvy, bumpy roads and paths. I wasn't used to the dark. I don't even like driving in the dark. Mark didn't slow his pace, telling me that my eyes would adjust. I am also someone who falls. I am the kind of person who trips over her own feet, while Mark is the type of person who did hurdles in high school.  He flies over obstacles, and could cross a raging river on a tightrope if he needed to. Did we have cell phones to use as flashlights? I'm not sure. If we did, Mark scoffed at using them. The whole exchange got heated. He stomped away while I fumbled in the dark, in tears. I am sure that the dark wasn't the real reason for the fight. We made up that night, but not right away.

Six years later and we are at a Brews and Bands event, the last concert of the season at the Gild Hall. I wanted to leave the event earlier than Mark did. I got the key from him and walked home by myself--well after midnight. After you get beyond the Gild Hall parking lot, it is dark. No street lights for these quirky camp roads of ours. I had my phone with me, but I didn't need to use the flashlight mode to see or to be seen. I just walked that last half mile home in the quiet, dark of the night. I have developed my night vision in Arden. I love walking around here after dark. It really does awaken the senses and sharpens the mind even as it is relaxing it. I am not more sure-footed than I was, but I am more trusting in my ability to navigate. I know, from repeated wanderings, where the roads curve and bump. As I was walking. I looked up at the stars and, as I was freshly dosed with allergy medicine, I breathed deep. In the dark stillness, I took myself back to that first night walk and remembered how on edge we both were. I wish I could reach out to my younger self and tell her how things would turn around. I wish I could tell her that she didn't have to fear the dark places in her life because the dark is the place from which the seed gathers energy, cracks its hard shell, and starts to grow. Most of all, I would love to tell her that yes, she would make Arden her home one day, and it would be transcendent and worth the trouble of getting here.

Last night, I came home, locked the door, realized that Mark didn't have the key, unlocked the door, and went to bed. At 5:30 AM, I discovered Mark wasn't in bed. I panicked, wide awake, and reached for my phone.  Had something happened to him? Had he falling a ditch somewhere between here and the Gild Hall? Had he been run over? I saw then that he had texted me that he had been locked out and was sleeping in his car. Apparently, I hadn't completely released the lock when I attempted to unlock the door last night. I ran outside and ushered him in. He was cold, but unharmed. Not angry. It will make a good story. I love this man. I love this place. I am beginning to really love the dark.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Going Home Again

When we left Lancaster County we experienced a bit of a "good riddance" moment. We had felt trapped where we were for some time. We lived in a place with few amenities. The culture was conservative, which is fine, but it was so conservative that it didn't even seem to allow room for debate, much less conversation. Our family and friends were spread all over the county, and because we were the outliers in that far northern tip, it seemed that we were always the ones making an effort to journey to them. Perhaps I am being unfair in my last statement, but we were always running-- always burning gas in an effort to have social interaction. We also watched tons of Netflix movies during our tenure in Reinholds because we often didn't have the energy to make the hour plus commitment to the round trip commute with kids to do any of the things we wanted to do or see any of the people we wanted to see.

I won't go so far as to say we were miserable during those years in Reinholds. We were in the thick of childrearing and that accounts for some of the battle-weary look in our eyes, but it also accounts for much of the joy. Our kids, and their activities, were a focus in a way that they--mobile, graduated, and semi-self-sufficient--are not here in Arden. If you have been reading this blog, then I think it goes without saying how being in Arden has awakened us in ways we could not imagine. We are thriving here in Utopia.

So, when we have to make that hour-and-a-half drive back to Lancaster County, it sometimes feels as though we are being sucked back through a vortex to black-and-white Kansas after having been to the Emerald City. And we aren't as excited at the prospect of coming home as Dorothy is. The difference is that Dorothy wants to go home; home is her quest. We, on the other hand, get summoned back to the L.C. for events and gatherings that are not our call. Our son is there. Our parents are there. My sister's family. Mark's brother's family. Extended family. We are back for holidays, weddings, rites of passage.  Recently, I have had multiple friends take me to task for not making the effort to visit them and spend the day.  None of my friends seem to overlap. Girls' night out and the proverbial killing two birds with one stone is not really an option. Each friend wants a day to themselves. The problem is not that I don't go to Lancaster County. (I will be there four times this month.) It is that when I go, I have to rotate through all the people I want to see, have to see, and still not see everyone who is important to us.

And then there is the fact that I feel my energy change when I go back. Arden feeds me. Though I don't have the confines of a job, I am effective and I get lots of meaningful work done here.  Sometimes, I feel as though Lancaster County sucks the life right out of me.  We had some tough years there. I had some lonely years there, feeling isolated--socially, spiritually, and artistically. I am making the journey back a lot more often than I would like. I don't get a chance to miss the parts that were good when we were there. I often feel resentful, like someone who is being forced awake in the middle of a wonderful dream for something as mundane as a dentist appointment.  I wrestle with that feeling of dissatisfaction, because I do really want to see the people from our past. The one thing I don't respond well to is guilt, especially in its subtle forms. That shuts me down more completely than a bank on a national holiday. And I don't respond well to those who think I need to make the allowances because mine is the more flexible schedule. Those who think that have not seen my schedule. If I am coming to see you, I am taking a day off of my work, just as you would have to take a day off of your work to come see me.

I know it isn't realistic for friends and family to visit me in Arden all the time. I am happy that my son and my in-laws make the journey down as often as they do. That helps. Other friends have journeyed to see us, too, which gives us an indication of the strength of our bonds. It is very easy to take people off our list of must-see when we are back if they have never made the effort to come see us. If we have had a past association with you--believe me, you are welcome hither to our house in Arden at a moment's notice. We have practically pulled former church acquaintances into our home and forced them to sup when we found out they were coming down for a concert at the Arden Gild Hall.

I ask patience and empathy, and maybe a little forgiveness from our Lancaster County friends and family. We  are still working out the rhythms and politics, the emotions and dog logostics of our visits back to the home country. And Lancaster County for all its contradictions and complexities will always be our home country and our North Star. The place we come when the native tribe calls us back.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Learning New Tricks

Closing in on two years in Arden, and I am starting to understand the pace, the calendar, the way things work. I am in the groove. I was recruited to be on the Arden Community Recreation Board (ACRA) in January 2014, just months after we moved in. If you ask other board members, they were snagged early in their Arden career as well. That's the way of it; all committees are always trolling for fresh meat. This committee seemed a good fit for me. I enjoy helping to plan recreational activities. I have creative flair and lots of ideas. Though don't ask certain people. It was partially my idea that had us gluing cotton balls and small mirror disks to fishing line to hang in the Gild Hall to simulate snow and ice during the Holiday Party. You have no idea what it is to transport and hang 60 such lines at 14' a piece. I may never live that one down.

The biggest piece of the ACRA calendar is the Summer Program. It is a five-week program, three hours a day/ five days a week, for all kids of the Ardens. And it is all run on donations. In general, the  program gives kids about five or six options of activities for the morning hours. They choose what they would like to spend their time doing. The art room, outdoor activities, playground are always options. In addition,  the committee brings in guests from the community to interact with the kids and supply other activities. An excellent way to build community ties across generation, ACRA Summer Program has be in existence since well---forever?? That's an exaggeration, but of all the adults who I know who grew up in Arden, I have yet to meet one who didn't participate in Summer Program as a kid. Last year when I ended up on the Summer Program committee, I was a little intimidated. I didn't even know the mechanics of it, much less the people who have run it for years. It took me a while to get up to speed. Terri (one of those adults who went to the program as a kid) gave me the job of securing playground monitors, and I even did that badly. I talked to a few people, got them signed up for the first week, but relied on the program registration process to recruit the rest of the (mostly) parent volunteers.

As I was learning what the program was all about, I hung out at the Buzz: volunteering for the playground myself, teaching journaling as a club, and interviewing staff to see that their needs were being met. I began to get a feel for this crown jewel of Arden activities. I helped out with the history hunt as kids got clues at various historical spots around Arden. I, too, learned facts of the town. I saw the cookie baskets that the kids prepared for the over-eighties Ardenites and realized the lengths this town goes to connect its population, to involve those who are at risk for feeling shut-in.

Fast-forward to this year. I am on the committee again, and I am emailing and calling folks all over town to come and spend the day at the Buzz-- asking them to showcase artwork, lead groups in drumming, build forts, teach drawing, garden--sharing any and all skills they have with the young people. I know who to call and have thought up some new people to involve. I am astonished at the network and the understanding that I have developed in such a short time being immersed in this community. It almost feels like I have broken the code on a foreign language.

I addition to my duties with ACRA, I am helping create a sign for the G-Arden that will be on display for the House and Garden tour that is coming up. This weekend, I will take a route and go door-to-door soliciting donations for ACRA. Tonight, I am going to the Civic committee meeting to talk to them about a project that Keri and I would like to initiate in Arden (more on that after the meeting).

I am not writing this to toot my own horn, but because I am amazed at how useful I feel in this community.  They have taken me in and put me to work. They are using me in ways that are natural for me (sign design) and ways that are completely out of my comfort zone and make me grow (going door-to-door asking for money and calling people up on the telephone). I love to cook, but I have never cooked a dinner for a group of people in triple digits as I did when I was lead cook for Dinner Gild.

I am forty-six years old. I am learning new tricks. (Connect your own dots on that saying.) I knew I would come to Arden and have to learn my way around--find a new pharmacy or favorite date night restaurant, for instance. But I had no idea how much this community would challenge me. How I would have to step up to meet its expectations. I am not the same person I was when I came here. I have more confidence in myself. I see possibilities in areas I never knew before. Arden is fashioning me to become more useful to the community at large. Girl's got skillz. I apologize for the 'z'  but I am feeling some extra pizazz. Translated back into 46-year old, white woman speak: I am going to need to update my resume.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Laughter Is the Best Medicine--Sometimes

Kids in the Hall, photo by Joe del Tufo
Last night I went to Kids in the Hall comedy sketch show at the Grand in Wilmington. As a cultural phenomenon, I knew nothing of their work. Nothing. So basically Mark and I put our bucks on the line at the recommendation of our friends, cognoscenti of all things entertainment. We do that from time to time. Okay, almost all the time. We look to our new friends in Arden to recommend everything from movies to restaurants, music shows to theater. They lead. We follow. For Kids in the Hall, we were promised belly laughs like we never had before. And while we found them to be supremely entertaining, I believe they were overbilled. Mark and I did not have an investment the catalog of their work on their TV show and the nostalgia that it inspired. It was all new. As Kevin MacDonald sung his comic introduction of the group for those girlfriends dragged here by their 41-year-old boyfriends, I began to see that I was not the target audience, but that I could still readily enjoy the offerings. It just might mean that the "boyfriends" who had brought us to this event might have to reciprocate with something in our realm of our young adult wistfulness. I am trying to decide what that might be. Perhaps some of the failure of the evening to live up to the promise was the fact that downtown Wilmington had only one restaurant/pub open for pregaming.  Chelsea Tavern was filled to the gills. We walked aimlessly around the Market Street area, but nothing, not even the pizza or sandwich joints were open on a Sunday night. We ended up having bad wine in plastic cups and some packaged peanuts and cheese crackers in the Grand's bar. Very disappointed in downtown Wilmington on a Sunday evening. Who knew they shut down?

I had high hopes for this show. Actually, I had more on the line than anyone knows. It wasn't fair, because honestly, KITH were great. As was the meet and greet afterwards in the pinball machine-studded lobby of Mobius New Media. My friends do know how to pick entertainment. It is just that my expectations were skewed. I have been to a show in the recent past in which I laughed so hard that my abs hurt for days after and I had the worst headache in recent memory--all from laughing. Two years ago, in June, my sister and I took our dad to see Bill Cosby perform live in a show that was to support the School District of Lancaster.

Bill was a staple of my childhood, well into my young adulthood. Our Cosby indoctrination started with Fat Albert when we were kids watching Saturday morning cartoons. Our dad would watch with us if it wasn't basketball season. And nothing was funnier than watching my dad watch a Cosby stand-up comedy routine. We would laugh incredulously at his high-pitched giggle--nosies that we never heard coming from this man who was known more for his bellow. My sister, Jan, has a dead-on impression of Cosby's dentist bit that she has been performing since she was ten.  My bu-lip-ip is on the b-floor. Jan and I never just texted each other, ok. We used the Cosby-inspired OBKB from that sketch. And I don't think there is an episode of The Cosby Show I haven't seen. I was such a Cosby fan that Mark and I even went on a date to see that clunker of a movie, Leonard, Part VI--in the theater!

So getting tickets to see Cosby live for our dad for Father's Day 2013 was a no-brainer. That one show is my personal benchmark for comedy. I have never laughed harder in my life. It was a perfect memory. Until recently. Hannibal Buress told us we should have known before that time period. It was out there. We chose to ignore the press. I feel guilty for that. Now my perfect memory is tainted. I want to laugh harder than I did that day. I want to take my dad somewhere else, more perfect, for Father's Day. (And I realize that more perfect is not a thing--but I want it to be possible.) I believe the women who have accused Cosby of unspeakable things. But I also believe that a person isn't just one-dimensional. As a writer, I give my characters nuance, good and bad traits, because that is realistic. We are not our best, nor are we our worst traits. We have talents to cultivate and demons to overcome. Bill Cosby's worst traits goes way beyond nuance. He is a criminal who has used celebrity to bypass the system. His crimes were against those who were not only vulnerable to his power as an industry great--that was bad enough--but he went the extra step of assuring that these women were physically inert. I do not live in a black and white world. I prefer the grays. They are so much more interesting. So I can hold two ideas of one person in my head. I can see Bill Cosby for the good he has done, as well as his horrific misdeeds. But I can no longer celebrate the good he has done because he has never answered to his crimes. I am not saying I could celebrate him even if he did own up and take the sentence he deserves. (In my opinion, this would involve incarceration for the rest of his days as well as financial restitution where it would help.) But if ever he had a chance at redemption in my heart, I would, at the very least, need to hear some ownership and apologies for his actions. He is a sick man. He is a misogynist and a criminal. And he is a comic genius.

It was way too much to ask Kids in the Hall to take me to that place where I could laugh away that painful dichotomy and set a new bar for live comedy. But for ninety minutes they did entertain me and make me forget about the torn cape of my hero, mostly because who can resist a man in drag much less five guys wearing wedding gowns. I will keep on trying. Next time Amy Schumer comes to Wilmington, I am there. She gets it. I'll invite Jan to join us, but we will probably have to leave my dad home for that one.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Arden in May

We first encountered Arden in May six years ago. It really sucks you in. The trees are iridescent green, boisterous in their new foliage. And flowers. It is a gardener's paradise here. Every year I am here, I see new species. Arden has many specimen plants, the kind for which collectors go wild. It is hard for me to discern whether the new things I am noticing are different to me as someone who lived fifty miles north in a slightly different plant zone or if they are rare to everyone.

In May, the warblers are back, bringing the sound that is so nostalgic to me. I am remembering summers at camp most of all. I was a girl scout who went to day camp the week after school left out, but I also went to Lutheran Bible Camp in the Poconos.  Of Lutheran camps in the area, I insisted that my parents send me to the Lutheran camp that was farthest from home. At age eleven, I picked Mt. Luther for the architecture. I wanted to sleep in an A-frame. It is funny how walking around Arden can dredge up memories such as that for me.

I am not the only one who understands the magic that May brings to the villages. Dozens of neighbors went out to the their mailboxes and front doors on May 1st to find small decorative bags filled with flowers. May Day! What other town does that? And May Pole dancing? We didn't have the May Pole this year, but I participated in the ritual in years past, even if it didn't always land on May Day.

Onto May 2nd which is World Labyrinth Day and World Naked Gardening Day. I have not seen any naked gardeners. The rumor of nakedness in Arden is highly overstated. Don't move to this town if you believe the rumors that it is a nudist colony. I keep waiting, but everyone remains clothed. As for the labyrinth--Keri del Tufo and I made a pact on the night we bought their house that we would bring a permanent labyrinth to Arden. Today, we got up early and created a pop-up labyrinth out of flour on the green. It will last until it rains or gets overcome by the dew. Perhaps a day or two at most.  We are working on a proposal to make a more permanent labyrinth for everyone to walk.

After we finished with our civic mischief (gift?), I headed over to the Memorial Gardens where the annual cleanup was already in progress. I would guess that we had forty volunteers from ages 3 to 84 in attendance, beautifying the grounds, weeding and mulching around the graves. Ruth Bean, who gave us our official welcome when we moved to Arden, was the grand marshall. She is the unofficial caretaker of the gardens, as her property butts up against the Memorial Garden.  Families join together to clear the gravesite of their ancestors and loved ones. The best part of helping with the clean-up is all the stories we hear of the deceased, those Ardenites who came before us and lived storied lives. Last year, I had the honor of sprucing up the plots belonging to the Brooks family who lived in our home many decades ago.

As I was working this year, I saw the tiny cottage where Mark and I first stayed that fateful May weekend in 2009. The little house was nestled across the fence from where we were working. It seemed to nod and wink at me, a co-conspirator whose job it was to see that Mark and I landed in Arden. Aching back, I'll admit that I didn't work at the Memorial Garden for more than an hour-and-a half. Then again, many hands do make light work. I took off early with Toby who wanted me to consult on a sign she was making for the G-Arden. The community G-Arden, too, is in high gear. The frost date in Delaware is May 7th. We gardeners are busy, both with the prospect of vegetables come July, but also because the G-Arden is on the House and Garden tour in a couple of weeks. Alex and Clay are busy constructing all sorts of hard structures for the G-Arden. Folks have volunteered to put in the community squash plot and plant the decorative  window boxes that will top the fence.

May will tax me with the job of trying to capture all that is going on in this community as I strive to keep up with all the activities I am doing myself. Tonight, I will head to the final Dinner Gild dinner of the season which is put on by the playground committee. They are serving sliders as they raise money for the new slide. Sliders. Get it? Then, the kitchen will shut down for the renovations for which we have been raising funds for the last year. I must go now and text my daughter to make sure she is back in time to go to the dinner. She has been rollerskating and biking around town today with her boyfriend, Joey.

Already I surrender to May, and it is only the second day.