Filling up the Media Lab

The collection site I’ve set up at the lobby of my office at the Schuylkill River Heritage Area is filling up! Thanks to everyone who has so generously given so far.  We’re still collecting, so if you want to contribute to the North Coventry Food Pantry, you can bring any non-perishable food items or laundry detergent to 140 College Drive in Pottstown between 8:30 and 4:30 M-F.

It’s been gratifying to see the enthusiasm surrounding this food drive, which has been organized by The Mercury and the Town Square Bloggers. So many bloggers are participating, and so many people have been donating in an effort to fill area food pantries that have been experiencing empty shelves recently. Recently, my friend Barbara from High Street Yoga posted this great blog with pictures of her clients in yoga poses holding donated goods.

Also Sanatoga Post has posted a list of all the articles, blog post and collection sites in this article, which also has details about the Fill the Media Lab campaign and The Mercury articles that inspired it.

Here’s link to a map with other sites listed where you can drop off donations.

Help Out the North Coventry Food Pantry

March 2, 2012 3 comments

When I told friends I was changing my blog from focusing on doing something different every week to doing something meaningful every week, several of them warned me that I would have to plan carefully in order to accomplish my goal. Well, I’m not a great planner, so of course I didn’t. But fortunately, a meaningful activity specially made for blogging has fallen into my life. No planning necessary–or at least, not much.

I’m referring to The Mercury’s Fill the Media Lab challenge, recently organized in conjunction with Town Square bloggers. I am one of many bloggers who will be blogging to collect food for area food pantries, which are faced with a shortage of food and a growing number of users. You can read a great blog post by Mercury Editor Nancy March here; and another great article by Joe Zlomek in the Sanatoga Post.

One of the food pantries that will benefit from this effort–which seeks to collect 20,000 food items and 1,000 containers of laundry detergent by Easter–is the North Coventry Food Pantry, located on Urner Street in North Coventry. The pantry serves families in the Owen J. Roberts School District.

According to Ginny Wade, who runs the pantry, it serves about 90 families, or a total of 250 people. And that number is growing all the time.

“It seems every month we get a couple more people. We have a lot that are coming because they are sick or they’ve lost their jobs,” Wade said.

The number of people using the pantry has skyrocketed since Wade first got involved with it seven years ago, when it assisted only nine families. That’s in part because it has become more well-known over the past few years. But it’s also the result of the economy, which has left more families facing rising food prices and lower paychecks.

Wade said she is always grateful for all donations. “We’re always in need. We rely solely on community support for this pantry,” she said.

While she does receive some government ordered canned goods, those arrive infrequently and aren’t enough to feed the 90 families. The pantry is open once a month, and Wade tries to provide each family with a wagon load of food.

Among the items the North Coventry Food Pantry identified as its greatest needs are: peanut butter, canned pastas, canned fruit, tuna, and boxed macaroni and cheese. But all non-perishable items are welcome, including canned goods and pasta.

Since Chester County residents can’t go to Montgomery County food pantries (and vice versa) the North Coventry pantry is really the only nearby place where OJR families can receive food (other than a small one in Spring City).

Please help us Fill the Media Lab! You can donate items specifically for the North Coventry Food Pantry by bringing them to Wade’s home at 148 W. Main Street, near the North Coventry Recycling Center; or drop them in a box in the lobby of the Schuylkill River Heritage Area offices, at 140 College Drive in Pottstown, adjacent to Riverfront Park. The lobby will be open Monday through Friday 8:30-4:30.

Click here for a map with all the other drop off sites currently available. And check out the other Town Square blogs for more information on this worthy cause.

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Donate Old Board Games

February 11, 2012 2 comments

In the realm of doing something meaningful, this won’t top anyone’s list. But I’m starting small. In my quest to do at least one meaningful thing each week, I decided to begin by simply paying attention to what organizations are asking for. So, when I received an email from the Gallery on High, in Pottstown, that stated “We Want Your Recyclables!” I opened it, read it, and, instead of hitting delete, I made a conscious effort to respond. Okay, I know some people do this all the time, but I don’t. So, you know, I’m kind of proud of myself. Because, to be honest, it did take some effort.

The email listed the items that were needed for recycled art projects. Most were commonplace recyclables like paper towel tubes, empty milk jugs and plastic laundry detergent  containers. But the gallery was also seeking old board games, and it specified that missing pieces were not a problem. So, on Saturday morning I opened the game cabinet in our family room. My eyes feasted upon a stack of beat-up board games in broken boxes. I began pulling them out and asking myself questions like: “Really, we still have Junior Scrabble?” and “Why, when my youngest child is 14, do I still own this Barney memory game?” Obviously, it never occured to me to donate my old game boards to any cause before. Since the email had specifically requested Scrabble games, I was happy to find a pack of Scrabble tiles (the board had been used for one of our own art projects).

Among the games I selected for donation were: Bingo, Junior Monopoly, Junior Scrabble, Lotto, Clue, and the Barney memory game that is at least 20 years old. They were all in pretty shabby condition. I slid them into a large shopping bag and brought them right over to the gallery. There, a former member of my Girl Scout troop (back when they were Brownies and the Barney game wasn’t so ancient), was behind the counter. “Don’t judge me on the condition of these games,” I pleaded. She promised not to.

And that was it. It was simple really, but I felt like I’d accomplished something. I’d cleaned out a cabinet and donated the unwanted contents to a gallery that actually wanted them. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday morning, right?

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Take a Glass Blowing Class

February 4, 2012 3 comments

This has to be one of my favorite Groupon-inspired activities. Along with three of my friends I took a one-hour glass class at Taylor Backes, a glass art studio tucked away on Washington Street in Boyertown, PA. I made this fabulous paper weight on the left. Really, can you believe I made that? In one hour, no less? Here are a few things you might be interested to know.

1.We didn’t actually do glass blowing. There was no blowing involved in this. But we did, under the direction of our very patient teacher, Dan, learn about the art of making beautiful works of art out of glass. At least, to us they were works of art.

2. The Gallery. Taylor Bakes has been producing beautiful glassworks in Boyertown for 25 years. My friends and I had no idea it even existed, but we were wowed by the  studio from the moment we walked in the door. Gorgeous glassware was on display in several rooms that featured an impressive variety of artwork, from  enormous and colorful vases, to small dragonfly ornaments and even smaller pendants and earrings. It was worth the trip just to gaze on the merchandise. On the left you can see the owner, Will, standing in front of a display of bowls. It’s worth noting that studios like this can make me nervous, I feel like I might break something. But everyone we met put us at ease, and we felt comfortable exploring the gallery.

3. The lesson. Located off the gallery is the production studio. Our instructor, Dan, introduced us to the basics of the studio. This included an oven that is heated by propane and remains heated at all times (except when it is cooled for maintenance) because it takes a lot of energy and time to bring it to the proper temperature. I don’t recall what the temperature is, but I can tell you this: It’s very hot. Dan used a long pole to pull a blob (I’m sure that’s not the correct term, but you get the idea) of glass from the main oven. Then, he gave us some brief instructions and brought us over to a second oven (in photo) where we would work on the glass. Even in this small photo, you can see how intensely hot it is. Next to it is a table with different colored bits of glass.

4. Hands-on.  Our job was to heat the blob of glass in the oven, then dip it into the colored glass of our choice, then reheat it, then dip into a second color, reheat, and, if desired, dip into a third color. “Less is more,” Dan warned us. Nevertheless, I couldn’t resist using three colors, and felt tempted to use all the colors, but I think this would be like mixing all the Easter Egg dyes–the paper weight would have turned out grey. So I didn’t. My friend Diane went first (I went last because I couldn’t make up my mind about which colors to use. Also, I was nervous about messing up.). We all watched as she, as per Dan’s instruction, kept spinning the pole in the oven, then dipped the molten glass into the colored glass.

5. Colors. Here’s my friend Anne dipping the glass into the colors. The colored glass had different textures. Some were powdery, others coarse. Dan explained that these textures each produced slightly different effects. This meant, of course, that I had more decisions to make–not just color, but effect.

 

6. Twisting: Once we’d chosen all our colors and finished heating them, we brought the pole over to Dan, who kept it rolling while we used what looked like a very large tweezers to pull and twist the glass. On the left, Barbara is twisting her glass. Although it is pliable, the hot glass is still thick and harder to pull than I’d expected. Still, I liked that part of the process because, well, manipulating hot glass was just kind of cool. Each time someone did this we were amazed by how pretty the colors looked. Of course, they were molten hot, and looked nothing like the finished product would, but they still looked great!

 7. I finally decide on colors. Okay, after everyone else went I had to make up my mind and be brave. I chose three colors: cobalt blue, green, and white.  There I am on the left. I look like a pro! But I kept worrying that my glass would drop off the pole–it felt like it would. Dan, sitting patiently in the back, assured me it wouldn’t. Also, I was startled by how intense the heat felt when I was standing right in front of the oven. But it was enjoyable at the same time. I felt like I was really learning something.

 

 

8. Finishing: Once we finished twisting, Dan took over and made it look nice for us. He added more clear glass, then formed it into a round ball using the tool on the left. It’s a wooden bowl with the side cut out and it’s dipped in water. Dan also used a metal table top to roll the glass into the proper shape. I still think he had to work a little longer on mine, even though my friends assured me that wasn’t true!

 

9. Cooling. When they were all done, the paper weights were placed into a cooling unit, which was still very hot. The glass needs to cool slowly or it will crack, we learned. This takes about a day, so we didn’t take our finished product home with us. I think they look kind of cozy in there.

 

10. Thanks Dan!: This wouldn’t have been half as fun if Dan weren’t so patient and willing to explain things to us. He answered all our questions. We learned that he went to Tyler School of Art, and had worked for another glass blowing outfit in Reading, Pa before coming to Taylor Backes (which I thought was interesting because I never really thought about what the job market might be for glass blowers). He also explained, in answer to our many questions, that glass blowing is a collaborative effort that is almost always done with more than one person. Making a large piece will sometimes take four or five people. Our friend Barbara teaches yoga, and he said he could do a warrior pose. That’s what he’s doing in the photo on the left! Anne asked him if we were the chattiest bunch he’d ever taught. He kindly said we weren’t!

Our finished products:  

Don’t these look great! We learned that Taylor Backes offers a much more intense six-hour class that actually involves glassblowing. I really hope to try this. Also, I’m keeping my eye out for another Groupon like this. I would love to have my 14-year-old son try it.  Even if there isn’t another groupon for glass blowing, I’ll definitely go back to the studio next time I’m shopping for a really unique gift.

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Doing Something Meaningful

January 31, 2012 2 comments

I’ve made up my mind to change my blog a bit, so it won’t just be about doing something different every week, but will focus on my efforts to do something meaningful every week. I’m not always earth’s most organized creature,  nevertheless, I’ve learned that when it comes to blogging (and when it comes to many things, if you think about it), some degree of organization is necessary. Therefore, my first step will be to outline specific goals for the year. (I know most people probably do this sort of thing on January 1, but, whatever). Here’s my to-do list.

1.  Support a Cause. I often blow off requests for support. Or else I decide to think about it later, which I never do. I will choose a few causes and find ways to help out.

2. Volunteer. When my kids were in elementary school, I spent a lot of my time in volunteer activities. Now, not so much.  Nevertheless, requests for volunteers pop into my almost daily. This year, I’ll read through them and instead of automatically hitting delete, and select one or two get involved in.

3. Visit someplace meaningful. Traveling is a good way to add meaning to your life. I’m planning a trip to England in April, so before I go I’ll do some research to find one activity that is, in fact, particularly meaningful.

4.  Read up. I tend to read novels and steer clear of anything that smacks of self-help. This year, I plan to read a few books on adding meaning to my life.

5. Sign up for a benefit ride.  Every year I think about doing one of those bike rides where you have to raise money for a cause. But I’m the worst fundraiser imaginable. I wince at the idea of asking for money. Still, I’ve been dreaming about it forever, so I think it’s finally time to stop wincing.  I will sign up for a ride and figure it out from there.

6. Make contact. It’s easy to just let go of friendships once you stop seeing people regularly. I want to make a better effort to keep in touch with friends I no longer have the opportunity spend a lot of time with.

7.  Join something. Believe it or not, the reason I usually don’t join clubs or community organizations is because I hate attending meetings. Sound lame? Think about it–a lot of organizations are really about meetings. Nevertheless, there are plenty of organizations in the community that are doing really good things that I would like to be involved in.  I plan to get involved with one of them.

8. Donate items thoughtfully. I have a tendency to donate only when it’s convenient. I drop my old clothes off at the nearest drop box, and contribute to food pantries when I happen to think of it. I want to make more of an effort to donate food more regularly and, when I have clothes or furniture in good condition, to seek out a charity that needs them.

9. Engage in a meaningful activity. By which I mean, take a yoga class, because it seems like this is an exercise that is intended to improve your mind and your attitude, as well as your body.

10. Continue to blog occasionally about trying something new. I think trying new things does add meaning to my life, so I will integrate new activities into my blog whenever I can.

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What I Learned from Trying to do Something Different Every Week

January 16, 2012 Leave a comment

I don’t think I actually got to 52 diffferent things last year. There were a few weeks when I just didn’t manage anything blog worthy. But the goal to do at least one new activity each week was always on my mind, and, for the most part, I stuck to it. Here’s what I learned.

1.  It doesn’t matter what you wear. When I first started trying different things, I noticed that, as soon as I considered embarking on unfamiliar territory, I began fretting about what outfit I should wear. The question of whether to dress nicely or casually, to wear jeans or a skirt would honestly take up space in my mind. I’ve always done this, but because I was trying something new weekly, I became keenly aware of how much energy I was investing in fashion anxiety. So I came up with a strategy that has has worked for me. That is: when in doubt, dress up.  If you look better than everyone else, that’s never a problem. Honestly, I’m still waiting for that to happen. Also, I’ve noticed that unless you are attending a very formal event, nice jeans are universally acceptable.

2. It takes effort. I am not a good planner. Nevertheless, I became aware over the course of the year that I needed to plan a bit in advance if I wanted to try something different each week. Otherwise, a week could quickly fly by and I’d be staring into the empty face of a Saturday with nothing scheduled, searching event calendars for something I could talk my husband and son into trying.

3. Event calendars are great. I learned that there is always something new and different to try within a one to two hour radius of my house. How do you find them? You check online event calendars posted by newspapers. Or you log onto visitor center sites and click on their “Things to Do” button. Also, Groupon. It gives you an opportunity to try new things at half the cost. Read the fine print though. I still haven’t done that zipline tour I signed up for last summer.

4. The scarier it seems, the better the experience often is. Some of my favorite adventures caused me the greatest anxiety beforehand. I worried intensely about taking my son on the Bike Philly ride (worried about a crash, his hating it, not finding parking, etc.), but that was incredibly fun for both of us, and afterward I felt good that I had introduced him to the festive world of event rides. Similarly, I had some qualms about going to the beach for a girls weekend last spring, and was curiously apprehensive about attending an Elton John concert, after not having been to a concert in years. New experiences are like roller coasters or  really steep descents on your bike–the scarier it seems beforehand, the better it usually is.

6. It’s a good way to connect. I went on a tubing trip with my brother, took a pottery class with friends, went on a bike ride with my son, took a wine tour with co-workers and was introduced to Indian food by another group of friends. When you experience new things with people, you develop a new connection to them, and that adds a wonderful dimension to whatever it is you’re trying. I fell like the best part of this year was all the fun I had doing things with friends and family.

7. It’s good for your brain.  I had a few people question my decision to try something new every week. But having it on mind kept me more aware of how many different things there are to try. It also forced me to be more open minded about what I would try (tubing, for example, and that zip  line thing I’m still scheduled to do in April). What’s more, I found that the more I tried different things, the less anxious I became in preparing for them. Most new adventures end too quickly. I spent a lot of time worrying about doing Yoga on the Steps at the art museum (I don’t do yoga, so I feared falling off the steps). But  none of my worries were warranted and I met some great people that day. Because I had many such experiences, over time I began to worry less and approach new challenges more thoughtfully.

8. It fosters self-discovery. At my age, you would think I would know everything about myself. But, in fact, I was sometimes surprised at the activities I was drawn to. Not suprisingly, a lot of them revolved around food and bike adventures. But Ialso enjoyed tremendously some art-related experiences (a trip to the GoggleWorks, in Reading, and a pottery class). I consider my greatest discovery this year to be Longwood Gardens–a place I’d only visited once before, but found could be visited and revisited in every season with something new to discover each time. That surprised me, a bit, since I don’t necessarily consider myself a garden person.

9. I recommend it. Although my year of blogging about doing something different each week is over, I still plan to continue trying new things regularly. I have a better attitude toward trying new things. I no longer feel you have to be majorly adventurous, and I discovered there’s a lot to do that requires very little adventurous spirit. There’s plenty of discovery to be had in trying small things. You can learn a great  deal, for example, by going to a horse race, if you’ve never been to one; or by taking a chocolate tour of Philadelphia, if you’ve never given more than a passing thought to the infinite varieties of chocolate. I am still amazed, whenever I consider it, at what goes into producing a bottle of wine–a lesson I learned on our mini local wine tour. There are so many things to learn and experience, but it’s easy to fall into the habit of doing the same things over and over again.  Making a commitment to try new things, at least periodically, should be on everyone’s agenda.

10. I’m not completely done. I still plan to blog about new things, I just want to change the focus to trying something meaningful every week. But I’ll blog about that, next time.

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Visit a Greenhouse all Decked Out for the Holidays, Go to the Zoo and a few other things

I’m going to admit right up front that I love New Year’s Resolutions. Even though they seem somewhat unnecessary (I mean if you want to change something in your life, why not just do it whenever?) And even though I’m sometimes finished thinking about my resolutions by February, I still find that resolving to change for the better is an enticing January endeavor. Nevertheless, I’m done with resolving to lose weight and exercise more. That feels so 2010 to me. Last year I resolved to do something different at least once a week. And for the most part I kept that resolution. This year, though, I’m going to focus on blogging better and more often-especially since I missed a few weeks recently. My goal is to blog twice a week.

And, instead of doing something different every week, I’m going to try to do something meaningful every week.  Volunteer more, donate to charities more thoughtfully, and get more active in community and school organizations that are seeking assistance.

Meanwhile, here are a few things I’ve done differently since my last blog.

1. Visit a Greenhouse filled with Poinsettas. For years I’ve been hearing about Glick’s Greenhouse’s holiday display. So, last weekend, my husband, son and I went out there and waited in a long line of cars just to get into the parking lot. I theorized that this quite possibly was the biggest traffic jam that back Oley Valley Road has ever seen. Once inside the Greenhouse, there was another long line which moved slowly through a display of wreaths creatively designed by local businesses that featured things like curlers for hair salons and miniature guitars for a music school. But the real attraction were the pointsettias. Boasting over 1,000 pointsettia’s, the display featured a beautiful variety of colors (even blue, my son noted). The theme was a cowboy Christmas, so the plants were interspersed with western accents, such as cowboy boots, horseshoes and saddles. My husband and I thought it was stunningly beautiful and a fun holiday attraction. My son described it later as “Room after room filled with the same plant.” So, maybe not exciting to a 14-year-old. But they offered free popcorn, cider and hot dogs, and even Ian was happy about that.

2. Go to the zoo: I’ve been to the zoo many times, but I never went to the Pittsburgh Zoo. Several weeks ago, while visiting my daughter in Pittsburgh on one of those unseasonably nice weekends, my family and I decided to spend a few hours checking out the zoo. In the past, I’ve only ever gone to a zoo in the summer. So this is what I learned about going on a cool fall day: all the animals are awake. Every lion, elephant, ostrich and primate was out moving around and, in some cases, interacting with one another. Aside from that, the Pittsburgh Zoo, I discovered, is very entertaining for several other reasons. First, it’s a nice size. There’s a lot to see but you don’t feel weary by the end of the day. Secondly, the animal habitats are, for the most part, roomy. I hate when I visit a zoo and leave thinking all of the animals were unhappy because space was inadequate. But the thing that really made this zoo spectacular, in my opinion, was that it also had an aquarium with many, many interesting sea creatures on view. So, if you find yourself in Pittsburgh, I would definitely recommend taking a trip to the zoo.

3. Bake bread. I have made bread before, but I’ve never made it with a group of friends. Recently, after our regularly scheduled book club meeting was canceled unexpectedly, three members of our club decided to get together after all. We discussed the book only briefly; our real goal was to bake bread. This idea came at the suggestion of my friend Diane, who hosted the get together and had recently purchased a 25 lb bag of flour for holiday baking. This made for a particularly fun evening, since we first mixed and kneaded the dough, then sat and chatted as we waited for it to rise. Then, because we were making a braided challah loaf, we braided the dough and formed the loaves. By that time, it was fairly late,  so two of us went home and Diane put the bread in the oven to bake. The next morning I picked it up from her and couldn’t wait to taste it. There is nothing like the smell, taste and texture of home made bread, but this was especially good since I’d made it with friends.

4. Go to a play. There are so many great holiday productions, but this year  I went with friends went to see the musical comedy Motherhood at Philadelphia’s Society Hill Playhouse. This, again, was organized by my friend Michelle, who is amazingly good at finding fun things to do and rallying us together to do them. Before going, I worried that I was too far beyond the young motherhood stage to enjoy this show. As it turned out, though, any mother could relate to this musical. The acting was great, the singing fabulous and there too many genuinely funny lines and songs to list here. You can listen to clips of the songs here. Who could not relate to the Costco Queen song? (My favorite line, preceeding that song: “She’s having a storegasam!”) At the end of the show, I really felt the  kind of camraderie you feel after you’ve spent an evening with a group of mothers who relate well to your own experiences. I definitely recommend seeing this. The good news is, it’s playing in Philadelphia through February 19, so there’s plenty of time to buy your tickets and organize a group of friends to see this together.

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