Monday, August 31, 2015

August Days and the Arden Pool

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Preparing for the Fair

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Red Threads

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

What the heck is a Silver Anniversary?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Coolest Small Town in America

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 7, 2015

Loneliness and Connection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Summer Communities

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Honeymoon Phase

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

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

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

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

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