Architecture Field Trip

On Sunday, June 25, my husband and I visited Allentown, PA, for a house tour sponsored by the West Park Civic Association. If you follow my art blog, you will know that I participate in an art show in the park each June. We were there last weekend (though it was held in the Masonic Temple, next door to the park, because of the weather; look here if you want to see more). Usually the house tour is set for the following day, and I never have had the energy to go back to try it out (we live about an hour away).

This year, though, the tour was held the following weekend. We decided to make a day of it.

We got to Allentown about 10 AM so that we could have something to eat before we walked around. We chose a restaurant recommended by a friend a short distance from the park (thank you, Adrian!) called Union and Finch. I can recommend it now myself, too – our meals were delicious, and everyone there very friendly.

Here is the apartment building across the street that you saw reflected in the window of the restaurant. I love the name of it, Julian Court. Very elegant sounding. The building is also beautiful – look at the brickwork and other details.

I’m warming you up for the tour by showing you this building. This section of the city dates from around 1900-1920. It’s densely settled, with apartment buildings, businesses, and rowhomes or twins lining the streets. Space is at a premium, so West Park itself makes an oasis of green and openness in the city layout.

After lunch we parked at the Masonic Temple and walked through the park to the ticket location outside the Church of the Mediator, located on the edge of the park.

Lots of people there. (You can see my husband in the chili-orange shirt.) Once we paid, we got a booklet with a map and some info on each house, and we set off.

I won’t go into much detail about the houses we visited, as photos were not allowed. Generally, the houses were tall and narrow and featured layouts with lots of bedrooms and less living space than you might find in today’s homes. Previous ages needed this layout because of larger families and yet fewer possessions. Kitchens in particular are small in this age of house, although we saw some innovative ways they had been enlarged or adjusted.

We also saw a lot of beautiful woodwork and flooring. We went in one house, now the headquarters of a local business, with the softest glowing wood on the stairs – I read later that it was Brazilian mahogany. Think about that!

So, I’ll give you a view of the outsides of the kinds of houses we saw.

Besides the street access, many houses had alleys running behind them. I’ve walked along these alleys in the past and I think it is more interesting what you can find in these spaces than along the front, many times.

One building really stood out to me – a church located at 15th and Turner, right off the park. I’ve noticed this building for years but never been inside – it has been closed for as long as I can remember except for a short period a couple of years ago.

A former Episcopal church, built in two parts – 1907, I think, and 1930. It is not enormous, but it takes up the entire lot, coming right on to the sidewalk. An individual now owns it and hopes to develop it in some way. We took a look inside – here is the 1930 section (pews removed some time ago) and a nice window – there were quite a few throughout the building.

It’s difficult to say what will happen to this building – for one thing, it has no parking. The neighborhood presses right up against it on all sides. And for another, it is very expensive to maintain, I am sure. Still, I hope a use can be found for it.

After that, we retrieved our car and went home – to our 1950’s split-level. And though I enjoyed visiting these older homes – they reminded me of our previous house, a Victorian from about 1890 – once again I reflected on the good fortune that brought us to our current home, airy and spacious-feeling as it is.

There is no place like home, that was the theme for this day.

Orienteering and Doing It Somewhere You Might Not Expect

Last week on June 14 my husband and I participated in an orienteering event. I’m going to tell you all about it. But first, I’ll talk a little about the sport of orienteering.

Basically, orienteering is following a course from point to point using a map and a compass. You progress through the points in order and check in with an electronic device at the marker at each location. It’s a competition, with the fastest person winning, but winning is also relative.

For one thing, at events, there are different courses set up over the same ground with varying difficulty levels. So there’s a “fastest person” in several categories. And then there is the idea of the personal challenge – getting around the course at all (my goal), figuring out how to manage obstacles, completing the course in the most efficient manner…all these things are achievements. Last, the pleasure of being outside, in the woods or meadows, and the fun of climbing or scrambling around or running on trails…that’s maybe the best part of all.

We belong to the Delaware Valley Orienteering Association and we are rank amateurs, having started last year and done maybe ten events. But we really enjoy it and I can’t say enough about how friendly, helpful, and encouraging the group has been to us.

Anyway, I participated in the orienteering event in the recent Senior Games. And I’ll take this moment for an aside: my photo appeared on the cover of the 2017 brochure from my 2016 performance – I am in the upper left corner wearing the pink sweatshirt.

Anyway, while there, I learned about a Wednesday night series the DVOA was doing this summer. The idea was to go to a different location each week, offer two courses at beginner levels, and shoot for an event lasting about 2 hours at most. It sounded like a great way for me to improve my skills. My husband’s participation is dependent on the course; he is still recovering from his fall and rough terrain is not good for him.

A couple of weeks ago, we did the event at the Schuylkill Nature Center – two courses in a traditional wooded trail setting. I did both courses and my husband cheered me on. But then – we realized there was one coming up we both could do. And it was something unusual for the club as well – the location was the grounds of the Norristown State Hospital.

One of the buildings still in use. The grounds are open and green with trees and lawns and plenty of space.

This facility is a mental hospital, founded about 140 years ago, a large campus located about 30 minutes from our house. The Norristown Farm Park, immediately adjacent to it, and where I did orienteering in the Senior Games, is now a county park. It was originally the farm attached to the hospital, where patients worked in fields, a fish hatchery, and with livestock, as was common practice in the past.

The hospital now is almost entirely closed down. There are still some patients who live there; some of it is used for day programs; and there is a heavily guarded forensic section (we did not go near this part of the facility). The remaining residential patients are transitioning out. Most buildings on the campus are closed and some are being torn down.

 

 

All this means for our orienteering experience is that acres of landscaped grounds with an array of buildings are there, waiting for the challenge. And, since it is a “tame” landscape, nicely mowed, my husband could participate.

OK. We arrived at about 6 PM and got ourselves set up. I planned to do course #2 first and he took course #1. We clicked the start and got our maps.

 

 

The control points are numbered and straight lines connect them (not that you should follow those lines, indeed. It’s harder than that). There is also a key to the locations’ exact positions once you arrive in the general area – I use the one written out rather than the one done in symbols.

 

You are looking for these markers. When you find the one you want, you insert your clicker into it to register your arrival.

 

 

I won’t go into the details of my two sessions – just a an overview of things. And while I talk, I’ll show you pictures of the grounds as I go along. (I took them after the event, not while I was running.)

Keep in mind that unless I say differently, every one of these buildings is closed and mothballed, no longer in use.

First of all, you need to understand that I am a good runner, pretty fast and with endurance. Number two, I am terrible at relating the map to the actual landscape. Just terrible. My technique is sort of like water circling the drain – I get close, I go around and around, I run back and forth, and I finally come in to the control point with a big flourish and an internal sigh of relief.

 

I ran over these stairs several times on my way to control points. They traverse a semi-sunken passageway between buildings in the older section.

I also have a tendency to miss the plain and simple things the map is shouting at me and so I often end up very perplexed; when I review the situation suddenly it is clear, and I would have sworn the map had changed, in my hand. This tendency leads me to explore a lot of places I didn’t have to on my way to the control points.

 

I did have a nice talk with two workers on a break who wondered what we were doing. I stopped for a couple of minutes to show them the map and they helped me by pointing out the control point I was looking for behind a hedge. Remember, they knew nothing of orienteering before I came along, but they could read a map…

 

This building is in a newer section – it has an interesting circular auditorium inside the rectangle form of the building, or so it looked, through the windows.

 

But I digress. My husband, on the other hand, though a slower runner than me even at his best, can go directly from point to point. Hits the target every time. It all just flows for him. He was held back by his walking speed on this occasion.

 

Anyway, I finished the course I was on and he was already in. I decided to go out again and do the course he had done, while he rested. I beat his time (I’m running, remember) by about 15 seconds. Well, if you run in circles, this is what is going to happen.

 

I’ve got a better idea now of what I need to do to improve. First of all, I know I can’t go from point to point. I do better when I pick out intermediate points in between and work my way along. Second, before I start running off, I need to slow my thinking down enough to focus HARD on the map so as to try to anticipate the places I will get confused and what will signal me that I have gone badly wrong. Third, standing and thinking is ok. I don’t have to let the clock ticking in the back of my head urge me on before I am ready.

 

I got very mixed up in this area. I thought the control point should be in front of me, in the grass to the left. It was behind me, hidden by a hedge (which was of course on the map…)

 

Nonetheless, I really love the focus and the exhilaration of orienteering. I love running along with a goal in mind and meeting the challenges of each segment of the event.

I also found that the experience of playing a game in this particular location led to quite a bit of reflection. Not that long ago these buildings would have been full of people – a whole society existed here. As I ran along I imagined what memories these buildings, all silent now, hold in their bricks and concrete. I wondered if it were disrespectful to the patients and their suffering that I was running heedless through their walks and courtyards or jumping over stair railings.

 

 

I noticed, though, that the outside world is seeping in. There is free access to the site now, with an open gate. Near our start point a large crowd of brightly-dressed children were playing in a soccer game while their parents cheered, sat on lawn chairs, and ate dinner from coolers. There is a community garden with greenhouses, worked by members of the surrounding neighborhood (they have signs advertising their plant sale at the gate). I noticed quite a few people obviously out for an evening stroll or walking a dog – people from nearby making use of the lovely grounds.

As my husband said, it is a good thing that we can add happy memories to the history of this location. I think he is right. I am very grateful for being able to have the simple pleasure of doing an outdoor activity with other people, all of us enjoying ourselves.

the insubstantial

It is what holds the pieces of your life together.

Egg and Extra

Lots happening along the Green Ribbon trail in Flourtown/Fort Washington, PA, today.

I left home early today and parked the car at the day use area along Mill Road. Headed down the trail and for a change, at the fork I went left instead of right, toward Stenton Avenue. I’m not sure why but I almost always go to the right fork first. Why I mention this fact will become clear, I assure you.

It had rained hard all day yesterday and things were still very wet today. I was skipping from puddle to puddle when I hit this dry stretch.

What is that in the middle of it? I got closer. Look! A robin’s egg, and guess what – no robin in it now, which means a new little bird somewhere in a nest nearby.

I felt sure it had been there since at least yesterday, since it had a little puddle inside it. And look, I match.

Well, I continued along my way, coming up to the last little bit before the trail ends at the gate at Stenton Avenue – the trail parallels the road here.

At this spot I heard a discreet beep of a car horn – not enough to startle me but enough to make me look. Guess who – my husband, driving by on his way to work. He pulled into the little area to say hello. He told me he had seen my car at the lot on the other side of the park – I’d left before him this morning –  and he knew I was in here somewhere, never thinking I’d up and appear. And I thought, what a good thing I went to the left rather than the right at the fork this time. What a nice surprise for us both.

So he turned around and went off on his way.

I did the same.

Later on, I came on this area where water is trapped when the creek overruns the banks. I was very taken by the reflections in the still water. Then I had the idea of throwing a stick in the water to stir things up. The trees became wiggly strands waving away at me. Now this amused me and I can’t say why.

I took a picture of this tree on April 19 and here it is on April 26. There is a lighter green hue to the groundcover now and it is taller.

Green Ribbon Tree 8 4-19-17 small

April 19

April 24

Here’s a warning – this nice-looking light green ground-covering plant is not nice. It has a Velcro-like stickiness to it and where it touches your skin, it will itch and burn, leaving no mark, just that maddening pain.

It grows all over this flood plain. My husband calls it “seven-minute itch weed” but I am here to tell you it can be with you more like seven hours, if you are dumb enough to run along a trail, bare-legged, brushing your legs past it at every step. Don’t do this. Wear long pants.

Finally, I ran up the hill to the bird stand and then back down the access road. Here are two birds that have got baby birds under their care – I heard the chirping. These two let me get quite near. I thought they were chickadees but I am not sure – they had a blue cast to their feathers? I am hoping my bird-expert friend Diane can tell me.

Well, I went on my way from here – the remainder of this very nice walk was uneventful but refreshing, in a light misty rain, and with lots to think about.

Walk Around the Park

The other day I was telling my friend John N. about a great walk in the Fort Washington State Park. He’s done the roads there, but not ventured out into the wilds. I told him I’d take him around the loop to show him the route. Later I started to think – how long will it be before we can get together to do this? In the meantime, John is missing a really nice walk.

I was at the park on April 17 and I decided to photo the route. I think it will be enough guidance for John to try on his own if he wants.

Background – this circuit is about 2 miles. It’s part of the cross-country course run by several local high schools in their meets. I became familiar with it running charity cross-country 5K events in the park. Now I go there and do it on my own – sometimes running and sometimes, like today, walking it. The route is composed of a big loop (the one I am showing today) plus a smaller half loop covering much of the same ground and including the dreaded Power Line Hill. We’re not going up that hill today but I will point it out.

The weather was off-and-on rain showers and quite mild the day I took these pictures. OK, John, here goes!

1. Park in the lot next to the bird watching stand and the bathrooms.

2. Go over to the bird stand and start down the hill, aiming for the two benches down there at the bottom.

3. Head down the trail.

4. You’ll come to this fork. Go to the right. And as a note, if you went left, you’d end up on the Green Ribbon trail by the creek. Nice to know this as it’s a good way into that part of the park. And notice the rail line – here’s a good view of it.

5. Now just go along the path. It’s easy to see. It parallels the freight rail line on the left.

6. Keep your eyes open and look to the right when you see the power poles. This is the Power Line Hill. In an actual 5K race this hill comes along about 70% of the way through (the race start is in a different location than where I started). Believe me, this is a killer hill. Looks pretty easy? Remember, it ends way off up there in that open area.

7. Keep on going along the path, until you come up to this bird house on a pole.

8. You veer off to the right – the path is still clearly visible.

9. Look, beach volleyball on the right.

10. Keep going along the line of brush until you see this signpost.

11. Don’t be startled if a train comes along while you’re in this section. I’d say about half the time one passes while I am here.

12. Follow the arrow on the sign and veer right, keeping pretty close to the brush. You’ll see birdhouses all over the park, by the way. And the baby trees have plastic sleeves around their trunks so that the deer can’t eat them.

13. At this point your aim is to get over to the park road that is in front of you (past the pink trees – hard to see in this picture). You can angle over or you can go straight to the pavement.

14. Once on the pavement, you head to the left.

15. When you reach the intersection, you’ll turn right. I always like to do a loop around the little island first…

16. Walk down this road a short distance, until you see the signpost on the left.

17. Now we are at my favorite part of the loop. Pick up this little trail going into the woods.

18. Follow the trail up the hill. If I am running, it takes me about two minutes or so to get to the more level section.

19. At the fork, go right. If you go left, you will end up on the upper park road and you’ll eventually end up at the same finishing point, but – the dirt trail is just more fun.

20. This section of trail skirts the brush on the right, with the overnight campsites on the left. You will see several groups of picnic tables and so on. And at times, the trail gets a bit vague. Just stay along the edge of the vegetation.

21. When you see this bench and the power pole, it’s time to get on the paved road.

22. But wait – I will show you where the Power Line Hill exits – look to your right and down the line of poles.

You say, So what? OK. I’ll walk a little way down it.

And I turn around and look back up. I have seen people crawling at this stage of things, in a 5K race.

23. Back on the route. It’s all easy from here. Go down the hill on the paved road and pass around the gate.

24. Come out to the main road. Does this look familiar? You have finished the loop!

Well, I hope that this travelogue was useful and I especially hope that John will be able to follow it, because I think he’ll enjoy the walk. I know I’ve enjoyed reliving it!

A Good Omen And Things Starting Off Sunny

I got a text from a friend. Driving through Glenside, PA, our town, he went past our florist. Your name is the name-of-the-day at Penny’s, he told me.

I knew exactly he meant. So I hopped in the car and drove right over there.

And there it was.

I went right inside and announced myself. My name is Claudia, I said, and that’s all I had to say. I was escorted into the flower refrigerator and left to choose. I took my time – so much to look at,  and also, I love that cooled flower air smell, why not indulge?

I made my choice and stepped back out into the sunshine.

I brought my rose home and put it into a vase. And now I feel the first day of spring is mine! Thank you, David, for alerting me; Penny’s Flowers, for choosing my name; and first day of spring, for …being the first day of spring!

Getting the Hurt Leg Fixed, Chapter Eight

The hurt leg is on the mend. My husband went back to work this past Monday. It’s the first time he’s been in an office since December – the accident occurred on Christmas, you may remember.

There have been some changes – partly as a result of the injury, he decided to move to an office in the suburb rather than returning to the city office. It’s nice – not far from home, and I like the new schedule.

He is still walking with the brace. Now it’s time for him to begin to regain strength and endurance. Both legs have lost a lot of muscle. There are still months of rehab ahead. But things are progressing!

I am adjusting to the new situation. Once again, feeling a little disoriented. Yesterday, I came home to a nice surprise – my husband had sent me flowers. You may find it amusing that I did not learn this in the traditional way – opening the door to the delivery man.

No, coming home from the gym, I swerved around the truck parked in front of my house, wondering why it had to be parked so close to my driveway. Then as I was getting out, the delivery man appeared at my shoulder, startling me. But he just wanted to let me know he had dropped off the flowers.

Such nice flowers, too, and I was so touched that I cried.

I set them in the dining room. Suitable site for admiration of the blooms, I thought. Then, I started thinking about – the stems. They are very visible in the container. I liked the look of them.

I was reminded of synchronized swimmers – I’m a big fan of the sport. As a former competitive swimmer I know what it takes to move in the water. I am impressed by the athletic ability it takes to do what they do – perform while putting out a whole lot of energy and effort under the water.

The stems of the flowers are the same way, I thought – they support the good looks above the water line in the vase, quietly keeping the blooms alive and holding the flower heads high.

Think about it.

Hurt Leg Chapters from the past:

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Getting the Hurt Leg Fixed, Chapter Seven

My husband’s leg continues to improve. On Sunday, February 19, we went to a local park, Cisco Park, in Erdenheim, PA, to get in a little bit of a walk.

cisco-park-2-17-3-small

Cisco Park is a modest little place that punches above its weight, as far as all the things to do there. It has a half-mile figure eight paved trail; tot lot; ball fields; picnic tables; a little dam; a creek; and a pond.

A pond that was full of geese on this sunny day. The scene reminded me of a marina full of boats at rest. Never mind what that sign says.

cisco-park-2-17-5-small

This plot of land has an interesting history. I read up on it courtesy of the marker near the parking lot. Apparently it was a small amusement park about 100 years ago, another one of those built in the Philadelphia suburbs, accessible by streetcar, to attract business for the streetcar company. The roads, Hillcrest, Montgomery, Paper Mill, and Bethlehem Pike, are in the same positions today, but the tracks are long gone.

You can clearly see that this pond has been around for a while, because there it is on the map! As a personal note, my husband grew up near here and it was a popular ice skating destination back then (before the sign…)

The marker said that the building marked “Casino” was not a gambling establishment but rather a place for music shows and dancing.

Well, my husband walked a half mile, and I did about three (warming up for a marathon session of yard work later that day, something the nice weather made it a pleasure to do). The park was very busy – kids in the playground, dog walkers, people watching the geese, and walkers like us, getting out on a really nice day.
Hurt Leg Chapters from the past:

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

scribbling

scribbling

scribbling

 

I present these oracle-like artist trading cards for your review and possible edification! You remember such items from the past, maybe – here they are again.

I make these cards and then I give them a phrase cut from printed matter, chosen at random but maybe not. See if you get any kind of push or insight or set off on any train of thought from looking and reading these, even if it’s just to say, “Whaaat?!”

Day After Thanksgiving, Part 3

Here is the last installment of the trip into Center City Philadelphia that my husband and I took on the day after Thanksgiving. When I left off in the previous post, we had walked down Chestnut Street to Dilworth Park to visit the Garden Maze and to check out the craft fairs. There was one more thing to see, though, and you might have noticed something about it in this picture:

dilworth-plaza-11-24-16-2-small

Ice rink! Ice rink!

skating-dilworth-plaza-11-25-16-5-small

I’ll tell you right away, I didn’t skate. I last got out on the ice in 2004 and in that session I broke my elbow. With my balance issues and the memory of how long it took for that elbow to heal, I have no business ice skating, but…I do like to watch others doing it!

This rink (sponsored by a large orthopedic institute, something I found amusing, especially since the doctor who treated my broken elbow is associated with it) is a real ice rink, not an artificial-surfaced one. And it’s here all winter, open day and night. I’d love to see those sparkly little lights in the evening…We spent some time watching people go around the circle, all kinds of people, with all levels of skill (including none). When you look at the pictures, notice  the smiles.

Above the scene, William Penn stood, as he has since 1901, at the top of City Hall Tower, and took it all in.

wm-penn-11-24-16-small

Well, that’s the end of the travelogue. After we finished at Dilworth Plaza, we did take in a little shopping – but for art supplies, at the Dick Blick store a couple of blocks away. It’s a treat for me to go to the store itself rather than buying online, so I can’t count it as shopping, exactly…and at the store, I won a $5 gift card when I spun the wheel for a prize. Couldn’t do that online!

Then we drove home. Nice day we had, wasn’t it?

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