Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sinking of the White Pearl

A week has passed since the event, but it’s still fresh in my mind as if it happened only minutes ago: my son went down with his pirate ship, the White Pearl. (No worries. He came back up. This story is not a tragedy.) About five weeks back, my son’s friend invited my son to participate in Sunbury’s upcoming Cardboard Boat Regatta. Roughly, the rules require that boats entered in the regatta be made entirely of cardboard. Though they can be held together at the seams with duct tape, the boat cannot be covered entirely with duct tape. After that, only glue, caulk, and paint are allowed.

My son’s friend designed a boat that resembled the great ships of old-time pirates. Together my son and his friend cut cardboard, glued it together, caulked seams, painted, and created special decorative touches. There was a mast, a skull-and-crossbones flag, a crow’s nest, and a bowsprit. There were pirate costumes, a toy parrot on a shoulder, a baby doll with a pirate’s hat in the crow’s nest, and the ship’s name: The White Pearl painted on its bow.

baby on board

At the regatta, there were dozens of clever boat designs: one shaped like a dragon, another like a hammerhead shark, a truck with wheels, a small car, a gondola, something called Alien Invasion, and even the Titanic II (which looked more like a river barge or a rectangular canoe than an ocean liner).

There were three divisions: Adults-only, mixed adults and children, and children-only. During the race of the mixed division, I learned that moms and their teenaged sons should not build and race cardboard boat together. She yelled, “J stroke! J stroke!” He yelled, “I’m trying.” She yelled, “Sweep! Sweep!” He yelled, “Shut up!” Neither looked happy, though their boat stayed afloat through the whole race.

Then there was the White Pearl. Two good friends, dressed (roughly) as pirates, set the boat in the water. My son’s friend in front, my son in back, gently climbed into the great ship. My son, however, could not get his right leg into the boat—with each attempt, the boat listed hard to the port side (left)… and then the starter’s horn sounded.

The mass of boats surged forward as the crew of the White Pearl paddled. With each stroke, the great ship listed more to port. After, perhaps, five or six strokes, the great ship’s mast fell, and only seconds later the spine of the White Pearl cracked… she hadn’t even cleared the end of the dock.

The stalwart pirates managed to save the baby, as they dragged sixty pounds of soggy cardboard out of the river. The whole mess went into a nearby dumpster. But, when prizes were awarded, my son and his friend received notice for Best Sinking! Knowing the deadly sins, I try not to feel pride, but on this day my soul is weak. I so hope they enter next year’s cardboard boat regatta.

For the complete City Slipper experience, visit my web site at http://www.cityslipper.com/.

Also, please visit my blogs about growing your own vegetables and fruit: Your Small Kitchen Garden and Your Home Kitchen Garden

Monday, August 18, 2008

A Country Wedding

This past weekend, my wife and I attended the wedding of one of her friends. In my experience, it was an uncommon event: it was held at a farmer’s produce store outside of town.

I’ve attended, perhaps, twenty weddings. Most were held in churches, followed by drives to country clubs or hotels or other places that could hold crowds for meals and dancing. Only three weddings I’ve attended were outdoors and independent of churches. Those were the most enjoyable, excepting, of course, my own wedding which, though it was in a church, made all weddings pale in comparison. (My wife might read this blog entry. You get my drift.)

This weekend’s wedding was absolutely delightful! The farm market—Ard’s—has evolved in the twelve years we’ve lived here from a simple produce store with a deli counter into a produce store with a restaurant and family-friendly attractions. These include a rope maze, a gunny sack slide, various playground items, a goat pen, and a corn maze that opens when the corn is tall enough.

We’ve gone to Ard’s for their annual customer appreciation days (a small carnival), to choose Christmas trees, and to ride a hay wagon out to a pumpkin patch where we harvested our jack-o-lantern candidates. Ard’s seems very successful, and I’m sure some of that success comes from these extra bits they provide for the community.

For the wedding ceremony, there were rows of benches on the lawn behind the building—adjacent to an open-air dining area (under cover) that wraps around the back corner. Sitting on these benches put the goat enclosure immediately to our right; we could see the goats wandering up and down a ramp that leads to a feeding station about 20 feet over our heads.

During the ceremony, a rooster crowed three times, and then strutted between the guests and the wedding party. The service was simple and pleasant, and afterward we walked to the dining area where we had a buffet dinner service before guests (especially the youngsters) headed out to play volleyball, to explore the corn maze, and otherwise to enjoy the farm market’s recreational facilities.

As the bride’s brother spun up some tunes and got the dancing started, I enjoyed the goats, visited the rooster, and watched patrons of the store come and go. It was such a pleasant time in such a remarkable place. Imagining that the choice of this venue must represent the tastes and sensibilities of my wife’s friend and new husband, I must conclude: my wife has good taste in people.

For the complete City Slipper experience, visit my web site at http://www.cityslipper.com/.

Also, please visit my blog about growing your own vegetables and fruit: Your Small Kitchen Garden

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


While at the Mennonite grocery store today, I did quite a bit of shameless people-watching:

There was a heavy old woman who I saw only from the rear as she selected a cart outside the store, pushed it in front of the entrance door, and stopped there to read the specials listing—blocking my way for several seconds (very unhealthy seconds for a former Bostonian). When finally she started walking, it was with a slow limp, so I felt not only impatient, but also guilty about being impatient.

There was a late-middle-aged mother with her twenty-something son. He seemed nervous and awkward. She also seemed nervous. She was helping with his grocery shopping, and they were carrying on as if they’d both gotten their first own apartment and they were stocking the larder for the very first time.

There was a very pleasant young-looking older gentleman with a full head of white hair. We did a little shuffle dance in front of the deli counter as I bounced from end-to-end selecting lunch meat and cheeses while he held position awaiting service. We chuckled together several times.

There was a young couple who seemed exasperated with each other as he repeatedly asked her whether she wanted the item he held. Later I saw him pushing the cart alone and dropping in items; she was nowhere near.

There was a woman only a little older than I, dressed modestly and meticulously. She smiled warmly each time we passed, and she filled her cart with supplies for pickling and making jams, jellies, and preserves. I guessed she ran a tight and very happy Mennonite household.

The moment that made all this so memorable was the one that took place between an impossibly old couple. She sat in a wheelchair, and he somehow pushed her around, though looking frail enough to qualify himself for a wheelchair. Estimating forward from my dad’s 88 years, these folks must both have been in their late 90s.

He doted over her, including her in every moment of their shopping trip. At the tomato bin, he leaned in for a tomato and held it close so she could reject it, sending him back for another to judge.

I thought hard about the idle inattention that is so common among married couples: how easy it would be to leave the wife home—or simply to push her along while loading the cart to your own whim. To see this couple completely involved both with their chore, and with each other, infused me with hope for the long-term health of my marriage. Wouldn’t it be sweet to reach 90 with my wife, and still find ways to spend quality time with her?

For the complete City Slipper experience, please visit my web site at http://www.cityslipper.com/. And check out my other blog: Your Small Kitchen Garden.

Friday, August 8, 2008

West End Fair

It is so intensely fair season in central Pennsylvania. Every small town, every county, and every fire station…as well as some farm stores, a hospital or two, and bunches of churches, sponsor fairs, festivals, or carnivals. With some of these events running for a day, others for a weekend, and still others for an entire week, it’s impossible to patronize all of them. For that matter, smaller fairs and carnivals seriously resemble each other. Unless you absolutely can’t live without fried dough, you can quickly overdose on fair season.

This past week was about the Union County West End Fair which runs for a week at the western end of Union County. Last night, my daughter and I headed out to enjoy the county fair atmosphere.

We visited a pavilion of exhibits that had been submitted for judging. These included baked goods; fresh vegetables; canned fruits and vegetables; crocheted and knitted clothing, blankets, and rugs; photos; paintings; paper crafts; sculptures; scrap books; flower arrangements; and antiques (yes, if you have an old stove-top coffee percolator, it might win a blue ribbon at a county fair).

Other pavilions held rabbits, pigs, sheep, cows, and goats. Off beyond the pavilions was a track designed for the tractor pull. Here’s a niche sport: Hook your tractor to a heavy weight, and pull the weight as far as you can on a soft dirt track. The trick is to keep the tractor’s wheels turning without letting them lose their grip on the track. From time-to-time a tractor pulls a wheelie as it approaches a stall.

Just off the fair’s midway, a large open-air stage faced three rows of bleachers and several dozen lawn chairs. A talented bluegrass and country band played for about 90 minutes, with a second set scheduled to start 90 minutes later. My daughter and I watched a few heats at the tractor pull, shared a funnel cake while we listened to the band, and left the fair after about two hours.

The music was quite good, and the rabbits and goats were especially cute. The pigs, cows, and sheep were also entertaining. Still, the high point for me was dinner I had at a friend’s sausage truck—Gunzy’s Hot Sausage.

My friend--a school teacher—has been working the sausage truck with his family since he was a kid. This was the first time I’ve seen the truck. It is actually a large trailer whose sides fold out to create an enormous restaurant at the fair. The sausage is a perfect mix of hot and sweet, and I’d have been satisfied if the entire fair was no more than my friend’s sausage truck.

Still, I had a relaxing evening with my daughter doing something “different.” We won’t be going to a lot of county fairs and firemen’s carnivals, but I’m sure we’ll find a few things to entertain us at the fairs we do visit.

For the complete City Slipper experience, please visit my web site at http://www.cityslipper.com/.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

News from the Countryside

On Thursday of this past week, the prominent headline on the front page of our local paper read, “BEAR RUNS WILD IN TOWN.” This newspaper, the Daily Item, originates from Sunbury, a town about 10 miles south of Lewisburg. The paper covers the central Susquehanna Valley, including such places as Selinsgrove, Milton, Mifflinburg, Middleburg, Northumberland, Danville, Elysburg, Warrior Run, and dozens of other small towns.

Of course, the Daily Item also offers news from Pennsylvania cities, from other states (when the stories seem juicy enough), and from around the world. But for all these sources, the prominent headline was about a bear wandering around downtown Lewisburg. It inspired me to dig through our pile of “waiting to be recycled” newspapers. Here are prominent headlines:

Thursday, July 24: Want 60% better mileage?
Friday, July 25: Park hit by blackout
Sunday, July 27: Woman saved teen’s life
Monday, July 28: Goodbye, produce aisle
Tuesday, July 29: Doctor sees poverty’s toll
Wednesday, July 30: Constable reform sought
Thursday, July 31: BEAR RUNS WILD IN TOWN
Friday, August 1: Without pact, airport closes
Saturday, August 2: Bailout offer on table

There were other headlines each day, but these were the ones accompanied by color photos. In ten days (couldn’t find July 26’s paper), our headlines told about a man who built a hydrogen generator to improve his car’s gas mileage, about a blackout at an amusement park, about a woman pulling a kid from a wrecked car, about buying crop shares to reduce your grocery expenses, about a medical doctor’s experience as a volunteer in Zambia, about a desperate need to provide better oversight of constables throughout Pennsylvania, about a bear, about a local airport closing because of financial trouble… and then about a bailout offer to keep the airport running.

The point? These were big stories for our community. We have wilder and crazier news weeks, but they are few and far between. One appealing aspect of rural living is that most of our exciting headlines wouldn’t fall anywhere near the front page of a city newspaper (well, a bear grazing in central park or on the Boston Common might get a mention). We get to make our own excitement; the community rarely forces it upon us.

For the complete City Slipper experience, please visit my web site at http://www.cityslipper.com/.