Sunday, January 31, 2010


On a cold winter's day, I went to church to sing with the choir at Market Square Church at the 11:00 a.m. service, followed by a lunch and the annual congrega-tional meeting.

I got home just in time to greet friends for a little afternoon jaunt. Four of us piled -- rather comfortably, I must say -- into the Box for a trip to the Sweetest Place on Earth, our neighboring town of Hershey. Susanne and I and friends Guy Kehler and Lindsay Mills had planned this little outing a few weeks ago.

We took Rt. 22 out to Rt. 39 and then cruised south to Hershey. Skirting the famous amusement park, we ended up on Chocolate Avenue and the shiny new building housing "The Hershey Story," a museum recounting the life and times of chocolate magnate Milton S. Hershey.

A trompe l'œil painting of Mr. Hershey with school age children dominated the lobby and recalled Hershey's founding of a school for children.
We had gone mainly to see the "Apostolic Clock," a 19th century mechanical wonder owned by Mr. Hershey. A crowd was assembling, and finally at a quarter of the hour, the clock chimed and the clock came to life, with apostles passing before Christ himself under the watchful eyes of the three Marys. See a video here.

A video described the action. In two minutes it was all over. The crowd disbursed, perhaps to check out the museum's café or the "Chocolate Lab," where one could make one's own Hershey bar. Our next stop was the museum shop, where there were a few nice decorative items, some books, and lots of Hershey products! After a brief discussion, we decided not to tour the museum that day but instead to adjourn to Hoolihan's, a relatively new restaurant next door.

We spent time eating and yacking and drinking iced tea, then headed for home with a stop at Winslett, the housing development where I "greeted" in the model home yesterday. Guy and Lindsay enjoyed seeing the stylishly-decorated mini-mansion.

l. to r. -- Lindsay, Susanne, Guy
Back at our place, we enjoyed dessert, showed off our new bedroom furniture, and got ideas for some renovation projects we have in mind. All in all, it was a very pleasant day with friends we don't see often enough.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Tonight I attended my first meeting as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Historical Society of Dauphin County.

The Box and I had to fight evening traffic on I-83 to get there on time. At 5:00 p.m., there is gridlock on Front Street, where the John Harris-Simon Cameron Mansion is located and where the meetings are held.

I met a lot of nice people who are working hard to preserve and advance the history of Dauphin County and the mansion. I even got my first assignment -- to write a letter enticing people to go on a bus trip to Winterthur and Nemours, two of the famous DuPont mansions in the Brandywine Valley. Want to go?

After the meeting I got a chance to snap a picture of the Box near the illuminated mansion. Hard to decide which one is prettier!

Oh, I read somewhere that a Scion owner said the only thing she did not like about the Scion was having to get inside to drive -- because then she couldn't see the outside. Now that's love!

Here's a photo of the mansion from the corner of Front and Washington Streets.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


It was cold, windy, and dreary today as we drove to Ethel Street to visit the East Shore Area Branch of the county library system. It's undergoing a huge remodeling. The miniscule parking lot has been greatly enlarged as you can see in the photo.

Susanne headed for the fiction and books-on-tape. I stood in line for a while for a chance to use the computerized catalog, but was finally sent over to the "Questions and Answers" lady, who directed me to where I could find books on the Shakers. (My interest has been piqued by our purchase of authentic reproduction Shaker bedroom furniture.)

I am hoping the Box will take us this summer to one of the Shaker villages and museums found throughout the northeast and upper south. Even those this sect, which split from the Quakers, never numbered more than 20,000, they left quite a legacy of building and furniture design and inventions. Did you know that a Shaker woman invented the circular saw? They also invented the slotted spoon and the flat broom we all use today -- even the clothes pin!

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Thankfully, the silver Box is a tall car -- I can get in it while wearing a hat! -- and a narrow car, so it was able to navigate some very narrow streets today as my sister Rachel and I cruised around the uptown neighborhood in which we grew up.

We started by checking on the condition of our last house there, near Sixth and Wiconisco streets, and found it to be in pretty good condition. Our mother's famous jungle red screen door has been painted black, but all in all, little has changed.

As we moved south on Sixth Street, we passed our grandparents' (and father's) homestead, now burned out and boarded up. There must have been quite a lot of activity in that house of Irish and Scottish immigrants and their five children in the early 20th century.

We turned left onto Radnor Street to pass Aunt Sarah and Uncle Midge's house, looking pretty good, although the one next door has been removed. Turning south on Jefferson, we drove one block to Columbia Avenue (only its name is classy) and headed west to Agate Street. The 2500 block, when we lived there, consisted of two rows of identical row houses facing each other across a one-lane street. The eastern side of the street has been cleared for several years now, and the western side, where we lived, appears to be headed for the same ignominious fate.

At 2544, the glass in the storm door was broken and the rungs in the porch railing were lying in a heap on the sidewalk. Two legal notices of some sort were taped to the window in the door. From the second floor front bedroom, a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus peered out over the street.

Only two of the houses appeared to be occupied or even habitable. Windows were broken out on one house, and tree branches were growing up through the porch. The house at the far end of the row has been removed. I suggested to Rachel that this was the home of Mrs. Webb, or "Webby," who called us each year on our birthday and cackled her version of "A happy birthday to you..." over the phone.

Just steps from our house was the city's Gorgas Playground. Here we spent lazy summers swinging, swimming, and participating in activities planned for kids. Our mother had represented the playground in her time and was known as the runner for Gorgas. It was at the playground that we picked dandelions to take home to mom. Our yard had no grass, only brick.

My parents always claimed that we had to move from Agate Street because the living room was so small that my brother Michael and I, growing boys, could no longer sit opposite each other without getting our legs entangled. I think I was in third grade at the time.

Another vivid memory was a Saturday morning spent with my parents trying to get me to take an aspirin since I had a fever. An earlier pill had stuck in my throat and begun to melt. Do you know that awful taste? Anyway, I would not "open up," and attempts included hiding the aspirin in an egg sandwich! How can we remember these things and not recall yesterday's weather?

A lovely sylvan setting on present-day Agate Street.

Our house two years ago when the porch
rungs were still attached.

Three adorable Robinsons ready for trick or treat c.1947.
 (The rungs were there then, too!)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


On December 25, having spent a lovely Christmas Eve at my sister Rachel's house and later at Market Square Church, we spent Christmas Day quietly at home. The next day, we filled the Box with Rachel’s and our Christmas and birthday presents for Sarah, Cole, and Chloe, and zipped over to Carlisle to get on the turnpike, headed west.

Although I was suffering from chest congestion and cough, I was looking forward to our overnight stay at the historic Bedford Springs Resort, just south of the turnpike at Bedford, and a four-day visit with the family. On the way through Bedford, we stopped at a cool little shop with a mix of antiques and folk art, and then had a hot cup of java at the coffee shop next door called "HeBrews."

I had heard a lot about Bedford Springs several years ago when the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission was working closely with a developer to rescue the old hotel from its dilapidated state. Omni Hotels spent millions to renovate what was basically an early-19th century resort for "taking the cure" in the magical waters of the surrounding springs.

It's been transformed into a world-class hotel, preserving much of the historic materials and atmosphere. There were many people staying at the hotel and enjoying the restaurants, public spaces, and the swimming pool. We had a nice conversation with a family from near Hunt Valley, Md., who loved historic places like we do. Like many others, they planned to go skiing in the morning.

We enjoyed the beautiful room, even though I had to sit up in a chair all night to avoid suffocating, and had fun exploring all of the "galleries" that front each of the buildings, added on as the hotel grew. After a buffet breakfast, we packed up, checked out, called the valet to bring the Box, and headed back to the turnpike, even though the Box kept drifting in the direction of nearby Gravity Hill, perhaps in an attempt to discover the mystery of that freakish place.

It was nice to have a shorter ride than usual, and we finally arrived in New Brighton. The kids had come home from their dad's place earlier than expected, so we were late! After hugs and kisses (and removing our shoes) we settled in for our visit.

I plopped into the "Papi chair," where I spent most of the next four days, watching the kids play when Sarah went to work, greeting visitors who came by, and spending the nights sitting up.

December 30 was Sarah's birthday, so we took her to a restaurant she had chosen. It turned out that everyone but the kids was pretty much disappointed in the meal, but we did have a nice time being together. When we got home, we sang "Happy Birthday" (press 'click' under 'play song') and enjoyed the cake we had made and decorated during the day. Sarah opened her presents with gusto.

On December 31, the kids went to spend New Year's with their cousins in McDonald, so we sent them off with Aunt Stacy (Sarah had gone to work), and started out for home, taking an alternative route, one which did not pass Oram's donut shop. Darn.

The Box endured day after day of snow showers in what looks like a black and white world.

Susanne enjoys the folk art shop in Bedford.


A cozy and comfortable room at Bedford Springs


 Christmas tree in the main lobby

The pool gallery

Restored swimming pool

Our favorite cozy nook near the elevator

Madame prepares herself for dinner.

In the morning, the Box arrives
as if by magic from the parking area.

We say farewell and head to the turnpike.

The Box attempts to dock with a coffee truck
in order to satisfy Susanne's mania for java.

A bright and cheery welcome at New Brighton!

Cole and Chloe work out a computer problem.

"Happy Birthday, dear Sarah..."

I bought Sarah this garden lantern
from a friend who is a potter.

The glow from the tree says, 
"Merry Christmas to all." 

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


On December 18, we made a day trip to Baltimore to watch Ian enjoy some Christmas experiences -- the first that he is old enough to appreciate.

We met Matt, Marylee, and Ian at a mall not too far from their home. When we arrived, we found them, along with hundreds of others, gathered around an elaborate miniature train village in the center of the mall. Ian was happy to see us (something grandparents worry about), and we looked at the village a while before adjourning to a mall restaurant for some delicious pizza. The restaurant was adjacent to the entrance, so we watched the people come and go.

Matt's friend from high school Brian (who works with Matt) and his family were arriving to visit Santa on the second floor of the mall. They stopped in for a brief visit and then set off to wait in line for Santa.

After checking out a few stores, Susanne and I headed over to Matt and Marylee's house to visit while Ian napped.

Then we bundled up and headed to 34th Street in the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore for the annual holidays lights extravaganza there. Virtually every nook and cranny of all the houses on both sides of the block are decorated with lights and other holiday decorations. It was cold, but we enjoyed strolling up one side and down the other to take it all in.

After dinner in a cozy Hampden restaurant, we headed homeward, anticipating a late-night snowfall.

Where's Mommy?

The Ravens are not forgotten.

A little bonding

The Gallaghers -- Luke, Brian, Emily, and Colleen -- were at the mall to see Santa.

Susanne finds an outfit she likes.

The Box is so roomy that Matt can ride in the back
after making a purchase at -- dare I say it? -- K Mart.

Ian checks out the neighbor's choo choo train display.

They call it the "Miracle on 34th Street." I read
somewhere that people roam the crowds
posing as homeowners and asking
for donations for electicity!

I think I can hear the meters spinning now.

A hubcap tree

A "Frito Pie" was the appetizer at dinner.

Marylee and Matt enjoy a brew.

Ian opened some presents from us before we left...

...and gave us a calendar with lots of pictures.


After a beautiful drive through southern Virginia, we arrived at Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia and Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. We drove down the road near to Robin's former home and the department store where she worked years ago. Soon the shopping centers and fast food joints thinned out, and the countryside reappeared.

We had reservations at Old Mill House Bed and Breakfast in Graves Mill, Virginia, a tiny cluster of buildings in the middle of a valley hugged by two mountains in the Blue Ridge range. I made the reservations at this old farmhouse as a contrast with the fancier hotel in Staunton.

It was near dark when we arrived at the farm house. It was a charming old place that began life as a log school building. We enjoyed the rest of the evening making popcorn, reading, and watching TV.

After the absolutely quietest night I have ever spent, dawn cracked, and we headed downstairs for a tour of the house and a delicious breakfast of yogurt, orange juice, eggs, bacon, and biscuits and gravy. We had a nice conversation with the innkeeper, who is a champion of historic preservation in her community.

After breakfast, we drove to nearby Montpellier Station, where we visited Montpelier, the home of President James Madison and his famous wife Dolly. Many subsequent additions had recently been removed, and we saw a lot of construction and restoration details during the tour.  It was beautiful, and we look forward to a future visit to see the house completed and furnished.
We drove into nearby Orange to have lunch, then got on the road northward through Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

The next morning, at home, that troublesome tire was flat again! It turns out that there was a nail that made the trip from Harrisburg to Greensboro and back without letting us down! What a good boy the Box is!

The view from the porch of the Old Mill House

Our cozy room

A frosty silver Box in the morning sun

The back porch at Montpelier

 Cabin of a former slave near the mansion

We had lunch in a cool place in Orange, then headed home.