Monday, June 29, 2015

Happy Arden Houseaversary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Rainbow over Delaware...and beyond

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

William Shakespeare, Arden, and me

Mark and I loved Arden on our first visit in May 2009*, could envision ourselves living here one day, but it may not have gone further than that had it not been for Arden's Shakespeare culture. Of our kids, one is an Anglophile and the other is an actor. Their Venn diagram of commonality doesn't include much, but you will find Shakespeare and Monty Python among their few shared interests.  Because Arden boasts the oldest outdoor Shakespeare theater in this country and has a history of summer Shakespeare productions that spans a century, we were curious about their latest endeavor, The Comedy of Errors. So for our second visit to Arden, in June of 2009, we brought the kids. Anything to foster healthy sibling interaction.

Shakespeare isn't just another quirky pastime for an arts community; it is central to the culture in Arden. This village was founded on the principles of Georgism and the Single Tax. Arden founders, sculptor Frank Stevens and architect William Price, met and honed their ideas of Utopia while members of Philadelphia's Single Tax Society. One facet of this society was the organization of a Shakespeare Club within the group. What does Shakespeare have to do with Georgism and the Single Tax? Performing Shakespeare was the training ground for competent public speakers. As they performed, the members were gaining poise and comfort in front of an audience. Their ultimate goal was to create great orators to spread the message of Henry George to the masses. Shakespeare productions became so central to architect William Price's life that when he built his family home in Overbrook, PA, he made the third floor into a theater to accommodate performances.

When Price and Stevens actualized their dream of a utopian village near Wilmington, Shakespeare was at the heart--literally. They created an outdoor theater for performances off of the center of the main green.  The Field Theater exists today in almost the same form, with its simple boulder backdrop and circular bench seating, that it had when it was created in the early 1900's, though these days, it does boast better lights.

Arden can even trace its name and motto to Shakespeare's writing. I knew about the name. Arden Forest is the setting of the play, As You Like It, which is performed every tenth year in Arden. In the play, the characters exchange notes by tree-mail, posting letters on the trees of the forest. When we came to Arden for the second year (2010) to see the play, we went for a hike in Arden Forest and were thrilled to see life imitating art. All throughout the forest, notes were left for friends. Some were hanging from the trees with baggies protecting the words. Others were in jar or tins. We saw love notes from one dog to another. We were quite enchanted by it all. Even more impressed by this touch than we had been by the towel folding at Disney Resorts.

As for the motto? I hadn't realized that "You are welcome hither" was Shakespearean until I went to see this year's production of King Lear.  I groaned when I heard it spoken. I should have known! I like the fact that Arden is constantly surprising me with little tidbits of its Shakespearean history. The Craft Shop Museum (a building constructed in the Elizabethan style of architecture--another nod to Shakespeare's England) is featuring a historical retrospective of costumes. I have got to get over there to see them. I was awed by this year's costumes, all sewn by volunteers. I was one of the helpers last year and was privy to some of the behind-the-scenes process. The attention to detail is remarkable. With few sets to speak of (the aforementioned boulder), costuming becomes an even more important aspect of storytelling.

These days the shows feature professional actors along side some of my amateur neighbors.  (I really shouldn't discriminate. Some of the professionals are my neighbors as well.) It has been fun to meet some of the Ardenites we had been watching in plays all those years. They were more welcoming than rock stars, but we were still a little star-struck. As evidence,  I offer an example from my Time Hop, a Facebook post from four years ago, "Maren [my actor child] made a friend at the pool; the girl who played Miranda in The Tempest last night. Of course."

I know I have just scratched the surface of the ways the Shakespeare has influenced village life--and by default--me. I hope this blog post opens me up to even more tidbits. I love connection. Speaking of which, our son travelled down from Lancaster County specifically to watch King Lear with us. If Shakespeare can keep our kids tethered to us, I will have another reason to be grateful for the Great Bard.

* Of note--my novel Summers at Blue Lake contains a scene that takes place at an outdoor Shakespeare performance and perhaps influenced Arden resident Cynthia Dewick to tell me that I would love Arden and offer her "Little House" up to us for the weekend. Cynthia read my book because a mutual friend of ours picked it up for their book club to read. In February 2008, I attended the book club in Newark, DE, and met Cynthia for the first time.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Summer in a Box

Moving to Arden, I was rather meticulous. I say, I, because I did most of the packing. We moved in June 2013, almost two years ago. I started packing in November 2012 after our Thanksgiving meal. I had no idea where we were moving (Arden had yet to be conformed) just that we were indeed moving. I packed my china first because, after Thanksgiving, we wouldn't need it for a while. I was careful, wrapping each plate in paper, stacking it in strong boxes, labeling each with a bar coded sticker, and giving each a colored dot that indicated the destination room. In the case of the china the dot signified that it was for dining room (which is ironic since our new house doesn't have a dining room). In all, I think the boxes numbered into the 190's. (I can't be sure; I took the moving app off my phone after the move). We moved all the boxes into a storage unit in April where they lived for two months prior to our move in June. I didn't lose one item to breakage or one box to the ethers, but then again, we moved ourselves and were very careful. Even with all this organization, I had periods after the move, when the boxes were stacked oh, so, high, that I burst into tears from the feeling of overwhelm. What had we done? Our realtor and friend, Cynthia, brought us cronuts (donut croissant hybrid) that her husband, and our friend David, had made. Baked goods helped.

After a week, I felt better. We had stacks of empty boxes. I put the call out on the informal town bulletin board on Facebook that I had boxes to share if anyone needed them. Our neighbor Betty claimed some to help move her art classroom. This started a conversation in which Betty found out that I had been an art substitute and Viola! I had a gig the following school year subbing at the private school where Betty teaches. Other of our boxes went to the ACRA (Arden Community Recreation Association) Summer Program, so they could pack their supplies up after the program ended in July.

The summer program is a tradition that goes back seventy years in Arden. In its current incarnation, kids who live in the Ardens, or whose parents or grandparents live in the Ardens, can register for the donation-driven, five-week program. Every morning for five weeks, Arden kids swarm to Buzz Ware Village Center to pick from one of at least five daily activities. They have a choice of art room, outdoor games, playground, indoor games including board games and foosball, puzzles, reading, and actives driven by special guests, who are usually members of the community sharing talents and hobbies with the next generation. Last years' guests led the kids in activities ranging from hip-hop dance to an Ardens history treasure hunt. I have not seen any program like it. Last year, our son was the one of the outdoor activities counselors, and I was a visiting guest, who taught the kids to make journals. I am totally enamored and transfixed by what goes on in this program. It accomplishing so many goals, from cohesion (the kids in Arden go to quite an array of different schools) to intergenerational interaction, from community spirit to plain old fun. The kids can't wait for ACRA to begin. Many of the summer program participants start their mornings at swim team practice and then they walk across the street to ACRA Summer Program. They are busy and active. The teen counselors, many of them alumni, have employment. As an ACRA board member, I got to sit in on interviews for the counselors. Time and time again, the candidates sited the freedom to choose their activities as the reason they loved ACRA Summer program. Parents feel safe in sending their kids somewhere where their they are engaged with something other than an electronic screen. Kids had the autonomy that keep them coming back for more.

Today is the day that we move the boxes from the sheds and complete the ACRA summer takeover of the Buzz. The town loses revenue for the five weeks because it cannot rent the space for parties or events, but they deem the loss to be a worthy investment in the future. The takeover is quite a process from laying down and taping of carpets, to the removal of appliances. Last year when I helped I almost had an episode of PTSD because I had to carry boxes that still had the labels and stickers on them from my move. I don't mean to make light of PTSD, but moving was traumatic and to think about it, to this day, makes me a little queasy--except for the part where I crave a cronut. I will help with the Summer Program transition again today. I will carry the boxes with the knowledge that I am now a part of the cycle of the year here in Arden. Open the boxes. Bring on Summer.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Working the YES!

I grew up in a outlying part of town. We had maybe eleven houses on our street and a disproportionate amount of boys--mostly older than I was.  Most of my friends lived in clusters in neighborhoods that were further away than my bike could reasonably take me on a daily basis. In addition to being geographically remote, I was also put in my own reading group in elementary school because I was advanced. Stuck in a corner to do my work--at my own pace. Sometimes, I deliberately slowed my pace in my reader, hoping that one of the reading groups would catch up to me. They never did, and when I came to a play in my reading book, I never had to perform. I had nobody else with whom to act it out.  Nobody with whom to start a discussion. Because of these conditions, I felt very isolated as a kid.  Good for the imagination and a boon to literacy; books were my friends. I also had all the social awkwardness for which bookworms are famous. I was just missing the geeky pair of glasses.

I spent a lot of my childhood on the outside looking in. I watched my brothers play baseball in little league after they outgrew the backyard games I enjoyed playing. I heard of my friends' exploits second-hand because I was never there. They took the bus to the mall or the train to Duran Duran concerts, things I would never dream of asking my parents if I could do. It took me until 10th grade to work up the nerve to ask to go to a school dance. On so many occasions, I would hear of the parties or happenings, after the fact, and feel jealous that I hadn't had the experience.

I felt the same way living in Reinholds. I was so far outside the cultural center of Lancaster where we felt the greatest pull. Our church was in Lancaster, but we missed out on so much being so far away. Again, I was the kid on the outside looking in. I do have to remember that part of that period in our lives was also about raising kids and not being able to leave them so we could bop around on the arts circuit. Our move to Arden came at a great time when our kids were old enough that we didn't have to worry about leaving them for a night out or for a Sunday hike that lasted all morning. We are in the thick of things here, socially and culturally. I am in heaven. Always something to do.

About a year after our move to Arden, one of my friends said something off-handed about the way I said "yes" to everything.  All invitations. Any proposed adventure. Practically all the activities that are listed in the Arden Page. Jill will do it! She meant it as a compliment--the openness I had to it all. But it got me thinking,  Am I saying 'yes' to everything because all these opportunities are enjoyable to me or because I don't want to be the kid who is on the outside looking in?  My fear of missing out was so bad that Mark and I had to force ourselves to take a vacation last year. We wanted to go somewhere, but we did worry that we would be absent for some big Arden event while we were away. I specifically remember looking at the dinner gild menu for the week we would be gone and sighing that we would miss it. Never mind that we would be in the south, experiencing the bourbon and whiskey trails and eating BBQ, Hot Brown sandwiches, and Nashville Hot chicken.

Now that we are in Arden almost two years, I am being more discerning with my "yes"answers. It is true that we had to try out some of these happenings to see which activities we liked and what would stick. From all those yeses, we were able to figure out what was important. Yes, I want to walk with the Misty Morning Walkers and meditate with the Arden Sangha, but neither work with my schedule. I did want to go to Philly Beer Week with my hiking buddies, but I don't like big crowds and waiting in line, so I opted to see (and cry my eyes out while watching) the play Steel Magnolias at the Candlelight Dinner Theater.  We don't say yes to every concert opportunity, though we probably won't miss a Barn Concert at our friend Cynthia and David's venue if we can help it. We have learned to pass up invitations if we are tired or have had a string of activities. We, who at one time had a six month attendance record, have missed a Sunday hike here or there. And we have started planning a vacation with little thought as to what we will forgo while we are gone. (Okay--this isn't completely true. We asked Ron Ozer what Arden Gild concerts were going to be going down in the new season of shows.) But I am working on being in the moment. If I am enjoying what I am doing at the time I am doing it, then missing another event is not a reason to fret, and it is definitely not a reason to forgo enjoyment of the event that I chose--even if that event is a nap.

I know I needed those months of opening myself to all of it, so that I could figure out what my priorities were. My yes-giving is a work in progress. I will continue to add meaning to the word until it becomes the shape of the life I want to live. For now, my child-self is particularly pleased to be part of the larger circle of life in the Ardens. To have so many friends and cultural events that are in walking distance is a complete luxury. I will continue to take advantage of all this abundance around me and say yes often,  but I am learning that saying no can sometimes be the most powerful yes of all.

Saturday, June 6, 2015


Larry, David, Joe, Mark, and me at City Tap Room that fateful day
"I do not believe in meaningless coincidences. I believe every coincidence is a message, a clue about a particular facet of our lives that requires our attention." Deepak Chopra

Sometimes synchronicity is subtle. If you aren't paying attention, you might miss the clues the universe is giving to you. Other times, the powers of coincidence hit you over the head with a bottle (of beer). This weekend is our Larryversary, the anniversary of the day we met Larry. It isn't everyday that you meet someone and it is so momentous as to cause a ripple in the fabric of the universe. But that is what this was. Put it another way--Larry was an inevitability.

June 9, 2013. We had finally made it to the month of June, the month we would be moving into our Arden home. We had been living with Mark's parents for about six weeks because we were between houses. We weren't exactly stir crazy, not being in our own digs, but we liked to find things to do away from the house. As much to give Mark's parents a break as it was for our own good. It was Philly beer week and we had perused the website to choose one event of the 611 possible events. We chose to go to Local 44 near Drexel for their Russian River event. We especially wanted to try Pliny the Elder. The place opened at 11, but we wanted to get there early to make sure we got our quarry. Nothing worse than driving over an hour to Philly for a specific beer and then being told it had kicked. We parked the car at 10:30 and walked to stand in line to wait for Local 44 to open. And we could see that a line had indeed started to form.

As we walked up, Mark said, "Is that David with Joe?" I squinted. It sure looked like them. Sure enough, when we got closer, we saw that we would be standing in line directly behind David, our friend and the husband of our Arden realtor, and Joe, the guy from whom we were buying our house. It was a crazy coincidence; we couldn't have planned to arrive behind them in line like that if we had tried. That's when they introduced us to the other guy in their group--Larry Strange. Maybe we should call this our Strange-aversary. David had been the one to invite Larry and Joe on this outing. He knew Joe, but not well. Joe was more a friend of his wife, Cynthia. And though Larry lived across the memorial garden from David and Cynthia, they didn't know him well. They were new acquaintances. That was all about to change. I didn't realize it, but what I was witnessing was the start of the Fab 4, the core group of friends that would make up Mark's circle, perhaps the first circle of male friends he has had his whole adult life.

We got the last five seats at the bar when Local 44 opened. We ordered our Pliny, followed by Blind Pig, and Racer 5. We had some tastes of Russian River sours for which our palates were unprepared. We had poutine and other pub fare--and all of this before noon. While we drank and ate, we learned that Larry had children the same ages as our kids, with one heading to college in the fall, just as we had. He was an IT guy married to a fabric artist for almost 24 years. (We had been married 23 years)  Wow! Lots of crazy coincidences. When our bill came, the total was considerably less than expected, but we had had such a time getting the bill--the place was packed--that we paid it "as is" and tipped well. Perhaps, we shouldn't have, but we chalked up the cheap eats to the good fortune of the day as it had played out so far.

Out in the hot sunshine of the June day, Larry told us about this cool building that was open as part of Hidden City. The building, a long abandoned performance hall, was near where Larry used to have his business, and he had always wanted to see inside. Hidden City had allowed artists access the site, and using anything they found there, they had created an art installation. The concept was intriguing to me. I had a beer buzz, so I am not saying that I was one top of my game. We were in no hurry to get home. Sure! We're game! What we didn't know is that we were about to embark on our first Strange Adventure. 

Strange Adventures is the name of our hiking group that meets on Sunday mornings starting in September of 2013. That was three months into the future and after we had gotten to know Larry a little better. That June day, however, we didn't know of Larry's curiosity about city spaces and his penchant for trespassing. We didn't know that he knew the city like the back of his hand. I was in flip-flops as I followed him and the others through a hot labyrinth of streets that were strange to me. Along the way, Larry pointed out things like the closed abortion clinic whose doctor had just been convicted of murder. How is it that I am following some man I just met around the streets of Philadelphia to go see the inside of an abandoned building?  This was not how I saw my day playing out when I had awoken that morning.

Installation in Kingdom Hall of Pythagorus
Two miles and a few blisters later, we arrived at the building on Lancaster Ave. It was orange with sculpted details that hinted at past grandeur. The artists who had transformed the space had made a story to accompany the installation. This was the lodge of the followers of Pythagorus, perhaps something like the Masons crossed with something out of Indiana Jones. The Kingdom Hall of Pythagorus was a temple to mathematics, geometry, and the triangle. I myself, am a student of sacred geometry, so I was mesmerized by the installations in this abandoned building. Room after room of echoed triangles and eerily beautiful constructions. Some played with light. Others played with perspective and tilt. Each corner contained something unexpected. It wasn't like I had found my church, but it did feel like I had found my people. We were moving to a place where folks looked for gems like this to experience. 

 We walked back to our cars with a stop at another Philly Beer Fest venue to quench our thirst. We toasted to our adventure and ignored a few phone calls from Joe's wife, Keri. (Apparently, Joe was supposed to be helping her pack boxes so they could move out of the house we were moving into.) We had no idea that this was our new Sunday ritual, following Larry to intriguing places in the city and in nature. We didn't know that pubs and beer would play their part--so much so that these four men would start brewing beer together. Mark didn't know that these would be his best buds, but it did feel like something. If I felt as though there was a message in the day's coincidence, it was that Mark and I were on the right path to home. The universe was rewarding us for our risk to move to Arden. 

Installation in Kingdom Hall of Pythagorus
Tomorrow, Mark will be recreating the trek to Local 44 with part of our hiking group. Although I would love to go, I am not as enamored with the Beer Fest crowds. I went last year. I will bow out this year knowing that Mark will celebrate enough for both of us. I am going to go instead on a local hike with some of the women in our group and to see Steel Magnolias, playing at the Candlelight Theater. But I will raise a glass to Larry and wish him a happy day. I wonder if he calls it his Jillaversary.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Small State, Big Heart

I know a lot of people don't understand how things in a small state work. Coming from Pennsylvania, I know I didn't. Delaware is intimate. By that I mean that everyone knows everyone. You are one degree removed from every other Delawarean. In some ways the state of Delaware seems smaller than Lancaster County. We have three counties here, the most populated being New Castle County where we live.  Delaware also includes Sussex and Kent Counties. I'm not sure what goes on in the county level government when the state is so small. That is something I want to investigate. Contrary to PA, Delaware cuts out the middle man of the county level wherever it can. It also makes for better streamlining of services. For instance, we have DELJIS which is the Delaware Criminal Justice Information System. This is state wide and provides timely shared knowledge of anything that goes on in law enforcement/courts throughout the state of Delaware. This is unlike Pennsylvania in which county systems are in place and may vary from one county to another.

Another thought that comes up: Mark and I wonder what it would have been like running at the Delaware State Meet for track and field in high school.  Our district meet in Pennsylvania (maybe even our 2-county "county meet") was bigger than the whole state contest here. Do they even have county meets in Delaware? How hard is it to qualify for the State Meet? It's fun to be a big fish in a small pond. A year and a half ago, Mark and I walked across the state of Delaware at its middle. It's fun to brag that you've walked across an entire state. It only took us four hours.

Being a small, closely knit state, this also means that people band together in good times and bad. The recent death of former Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden is an example. Everywhere I go, people I know are recounting their experiences with the politician and his father, Vice President Joe Biden. (Joe Biden lived in Arden in his youth. Occasionally and without fanfare, he passes through here and wanders into Gild Hall to see the old place.) The shock and mourning for Beau are real. And it isn't just about the traffic headaches that this funeral is causing in Wilmington. People remember young Senator Joe Biden taking the train home every night from D.C. to be with his young sons, survivors in the automobile accident which killed Biden's wife and daughter. They remember Beau's service to this country when he went to Iraq as a Major in the National Guard. We had high hopes that he would become Governor one day. Many examples show just how the Bidens care about the people of Delaware, and the feeling is mutual.

I must admit that I feel a bit like an in-law at this Delaware Family Reunion. I haven't been with the family very long. But the standoffishness is on our part. Delaware has been a welcoming family and has claimed us as their own. Maybe we will never rise to favorite son status or have the kind of funeral that closes roads, but we are slowly making our own web of friends and acquaintances. A small eco-system. One of its state nicknames is the Small Wonder. I agree, and I am happy to call it home.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Ode to a Second Brother

Indulge me. This is a post I wrote 3 years ago on my Mortal Mom blog. The occasion was my brother Nate's 40th birthday. He is one of my biggest influences in life.

When I was three, I got another brother.
"No thanks. I already have one of those!"
"Not one like this."
My parents were right. This was no redundancy on their part. Probably the first difference we noticed was that this one was a climber. My parents built two new bedrooms onto the house to accommodate their growing family. The rooms weren't quite ready for habitation, but Nate fell out of his crib one night, forcing them to move him to Jed's bigger crib. Jed got to move into his room a day early. I got stuck in the old room watching to make sure the convict baby didn't try to make another run for it. From then on, I became safety patrol, informing authorities of breaches in security and public safety. Nate climbed so many things, tables, bookshelves. We have proof. My mother always took pictures before scolding him. Meanwhile, Jed and I stood on the sidelines, scratching our heads, wondering why we never thought of any of this.
Of the four of us, I'd have to say that Nate got into the most trouble. He had more imagination and guts and less inhibitions than the rest of us. We used this to our advantage. "SUCKS" didn't sound like such a bad word, but just to be sure we sent Nate in to say it to my dad. Sure enough, it did not make the approved list, as indicated by the soap bubbles floating from Nate's mouth. Note to self: Don't say "sucks."
We put our marks on each other. I tickled Nate when he was hanging upside down on the swing-set and caused him to have stitches. Check for the scar on his bald head. My only black eye? Him--or his head, rather. He caused me to go through the glass screen door, which gave me enough scars on my forearms for my sister's mother-in-law to ask her if I had tried to commit suicide. Suicide. No. Fratricide? No...comment.
Still, this extraneous brother let nothing stop him--even a full leg cast on one leg and an immobilizing brace on the other. He climbed bleachers and staircases, and yes, he fell flat on his face. But fear of the faceplant, real or metaphorical, was never a reason not to do something for Nate. This guy sold encyclopedias door to door in California one summer during college.
I did safe things over my summer breaks--most notably, take more classes. During one such summer session, I came home from college to see my brother Jed give a commencement address to his high school class. The same weekend, I went to the Joan Jett concert, in which Nate was the opening act in the form of a lip-synch competition. Nate performed in this ritual and won first place with a rendition of Joe Dola's "Shaddup You Face". He wore a cub scout hat and had his friends as his back-up band, one mock-playing an accordion. He bought Oakley sunglasses with his prize money.
He loves designing T-shirts. In college he hand painted a T-shirt for pregnant me. It had a huge succulent pear on it and the word RIPE. I loved that T-shirt and wore it to my baby shower. Around the same time, the Seinfeld years, he made a T-shirt for himself to wear around campus. It said, "Spongeworthy." AGGGHHH! Must refrain from making some sort of joke that includes the words "poster child" and "birth control" in it.
I am afraid I have not always been the most supportive of older sisters. I pooed (from the approved word list) on his idea to try out for the Penn State basketball team. This was right after his summer ordeal selling encyclopedias door to door. He was a 5'10" white kid who needed knee surgery. Poor guy trying to relive his high school glory days. I was imagining another faceplant. Instead, the following year, his face is on masks that people wear to the Bryce Jordan Center where fans chant his name. Every year, the team hands out 4 awards to its players, and each year that Nate was on the team, he won one of those awards, including the Coach's award.
Because of this brother, I've seen the President. He's the reason I first saw the great capital cities of the Europe: he was in England for a year as a basketball missionary, trying to save the redcoats from the false prophecy of soccer. This guy tried out to be the Nittany Lion and was runner up. He was also runner up for Pennsylvania Student Teacher of the Year. As an elementary school counselor, he painted his head every year, so the kids wouldn't be afraid of him. He does kind of look like a convict or Jesse Ventura, but a turn as a magic 8 ball or the globe solves that. I have watched him read a poem he wrote to his bride on his wedding day that left not a dry eye in the church. I have watched him defend his doctoral dissertation. That was more of a sweaty palms ordeal. Afterwards, our grandpa started listing his physical ailments over the phone.
"Not that kind of doctor, Gramps."
"Well, what good are you?"
Plenty good.
This brother of mine takes more pictures than anyone I know. And happily, for the last 40 years, I have been able to look through Nate's fish-eye lens and see the world in quite a distorted and weirdly wonderful way. Had my parents stopped at 2 kids, life would have been very boring indeed. I would have taken less risks and had fewer adventures (scars). If it hadn't been for Nate, I would never have taken pictures of myself dripping in purple paint or taken my own faceplant risks such as sending my novel out to agents or telling dad I was dating or a democrat or dating a democrat. Without Nate, I wouldn't be who I am. This, I know this for sure. Happy birthday to Nate. Happy life galvanization to me!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Life Passages and Landscapes

In a week's time I was back in Lancaster County for three of life's passages: a wedding, a funeral, and a graduation party. Driving back to Lancaster County is like going back in time now, as well as space. Any time I go back, I return exhausted, as you imagine a time traveller would be. In the past week, I  revisited parts of my own life--my wedding, my various graduations, funerals of loved ones as well as participating in the events that were in real time. It made for a long week, but one filled with love and connection and reflection all taking place in familiar backdrops.

I come from a tradition in which religion plays a big part in these life passages. God is invoked. We pray for those who are transitioning from singled to marriage and from life to death. It is a comforting ritual, and yet it is something that is increasingly foreign to me. I don't look for the divine. I look to pattern. These days, I tend to reach for poetry and nature in these moments. Nature because it is always in flux. It mirrors the changes in my life back to me, and I am soothed by the way it resurrects itself at every turn--especially this time of year. Poetry,  for its rhythms. I have my favorites. Mary Oliver unites nature with poetry in a way that seamlessly joins my two supports. John O'Donohue is especially observant as he councils us to bless the changes with our attention to them. I access his book To Bless the Space Between Us the moment the wind starts to pick up in my life.

Years ago, I listened to an interview John O'Donohue gave with Krista Tippett's On Being in which he talked about physical and spiritual landscapes and the intertwining nature of the two. "What amazes me about landscape, landscape recalls you into a mindful mode of stillness, solitude, and silence where you can truly receive time." The interesting part was that I was listening to this interview while walking near my home in Reinholds. For those who have not been there, I lived in a place of rolling fields. The view changed with those hills, but on many points in my walks, I could look out and survey miles of farmland. I passed million dollar homes on my walks, shacks, a one-room Amish schoolhouse, four different breeds of cow, not to mention goats, chickens, and the occasional fox family. Where there are chickens, there too are foxes. Walking there was expansive. It freed my mind by making me small. The sky was endless.

The landscape is much different in my new home. I cherish my hikes in the woods. Here, in this setting, the woods embrace you. You are folded into nature, a secret part of it. Your eyes close in on the trail before your feet, so you don't trip over the terrain. If you see the sky, it is through peepholes atop the canopy. Some days I even have to speculate at the weather, because I can't see enough of the sky to see for myself. Walking is an interior thought process here. Sometimes that isn't enough of an escape because I am already wired for introspection. It is when I am too much in my head that I long for the wide view.

I never thought, with all the nature of Arden, that I would miss my previous walks, but I do. I miss the open landscape enough that I am homesick for it at times. Our hiking group helps with that. We do get to see some vastly different terrains on our walks. We even add the urban skyline and the ocean view to the mix.

In addition to marking time and ceremony in Arden, I will continue to travel back to Lancaster County to share in the life passages of family and friends that happen there. As I move between the two landscapes I am sure they will have an impact on how I experience these points of transition-- whether I take the wide sweeping view of life, seeing all the points that led me to this one, or if I choose to take up residence in the immediacy of situation. Either way, I am happy I get to project these landscapes over the screen in my mind and merge them with the moments in which I live.