2015 draws to a close…year in a blog review

1909703_1103110143035269_5097884919631902045_n2015 has been quite the year.  I have had plenty of moments where I wondered if being me on the Internet was worth it. But then today I received a note.

Every now and again people contact me with things that I think are beyond my capacity to help – and it is never about money (heck I don’t have a silver spoon in my mouth so that isn’t happening)- it’s people seeking information.  Today someone sent me a note. To say thank you for providing them with a necessary connection for their family.

It was just fate that helped me show them a good direction (nothing more) , and I did it because paying it forward in this world with no strings attached is what being human is supposed to be about. It’s not about money or status, it’s about caring.  And fate. Maybe even to an extent the kindness of friends and strangers.

And that simple thank you, privately said and heart felt? That was awesome. As opposed to others I have met in this journey called life for whom “paying it forward” comes with strings and strands of personal gain, that is not how I operate.

Human kindness.

How quickly we can all get caught up and forget about being human and being kind.

2015 was a bit of a crazy year in one part of Chester County. West Vincent, to be precise. Those folks have survived a toxic election season and as of their final meeting last night can hopefully close the door on Tammany Hall style politics….at least until their Lower Merion refugee decides to run for re-election or not.

West Vincent and their election season reminded me once again how awful human beings and purported adults can be towards one and other. It was actually nastier than a Main Line election season and that is saying something.

In 2015 I learned to shed fake friends with less regret or “what ifs”. I also learned about people not meant to be in my life for long and it was o.k. People have to choose within their own comfort level. And learning to let go of people who are wrong for your life without feeling guilty is actually hard. But I am learning.

One person who had once claimed I was a  friend was indeed a disappointing learning curve.  They deliberately lied and tried to hurt me to raise their own shall we say “sympathy” profile on social media? The irony is, I had quietly let that person go when I sadly realized the only thing they were true to was whatever anyone else could do for them. I figured it was easier to let go after a couple of years then to allow them further in. Trust after all is everything, and at least for me if the trust is broken, it’s a hard road. But Karma is real, isn’t it?

There are people who throw around catchy Christian phrases about being “blessed”, but truly those are the people you not only forgive for their idiotic selfish trespasses, but pass a prayer along for because you actually feel sorry for them and their lack of realization of how their actions actually affect them. They think their little white lies and bald faced fibs won’t catch up with them, and unfortunately they should remove their blinders.

2015 was a year of learning more about myself as an adult.  It was about letting go and learning to be more accepting about what I can’t control.  It was about taking chances on people whether or not they ended up becoming part of my world, or were just a passing, pleasant  thought. It was therefore, about personal growth after a fashion. It was also about opening other doors and windows. It was about opening completely to love and having faith and finally not being afraid of either.

2015 was a difficult year for some of my friends. But they have faced it with grace and courage. Sometimes as adults, we yearn for the simplicity of childhood. For some, childhood wasn’t so simple and growing up freed them. Life is a complicated puddle of color and emotion and life circumstances never entirely predictable although to say we have a hand in our own fates is to an extent true because life is what we make of it.

2015 was about renewing more relationships time and distance had interrupted over the years.  One of the most marvelous things I have discovered about Chester County is  who lives here.  Not just the amazing new friends I have made since moving here, but people from all stages of my life I had lost track of through distance and life circumstance…who all live in Chester County now.

In 2015 I got to see the Duffy’s Cut site and get to know it’s patron saint, Dr. William Watson of Immaculata. What a marvelous educator. And just a super bight,  genuine human being.  A perennial student of history, I deeply appreciate what he is about.  I also met some other like minded souls who also find other things in Chester County that I find important of interest.  Loch Aeirie and the ruins of Ebenezer AME on Bacton Hill.  I am also happy to discover there are many like minded people out here when it comes to historic preservation and preservation of Chester County’s amazing beauty and natural resources.

2015 was a year of super fun non-profit events. My favorites were Natural Lands Trust’s Stardust, Brandywine in White, and Main Line Animal Rescue’s Bark-O’Lounge (where I learned to wear my glasses while bidding on silent auction items!!)

2015 meant the loss of some family of my father’s and a dear family friend.  That was kind of hard. But they left wonderful legacies of their own.  And memories to keep us smiling for years to come. 2015 also marked a decade since my own father passed. Time passes so quickly.

2015 was also an amazing gardening year.  I expanded my gardens and they rewarded me. It is one the most fun things for me to just go dig in the dirt and it has been that way since I was a little girl.

2015 I became a cover girl when one of my photos graced the cover of County Lines Magazine. I also had my own photography show thanks to Christopher and Molly Todd of Christopher’s Restaurant in Malvern.

The last two months of 2015 have been a crazy kaleidoscope of everything.  Friends, family, and holidays.

This has possibly been one of the best Christmas seasons of my life and at four and one half years cancer free the emotion of the season and the joy is felt by me most profoundly. And somewhat humbly.

I am truly grateful to you my readers  and the insane numbers of people who visited according to WordPress .  As a blogger I am a writer and I have some amazing mentors and friends who are full-time writers. They inspire me daily.  I understand that not everyone appreciates my style, and that is ok.

My journey through Chester County and the second half of my life continues to evolve and grow.  It’s hard being a stranger in a new land, so I really appreciate those folks who have made me feel so welcome and shared experiences with me and pointed me in new directions. Intellectually as adults we have to continue to grow. It keeps us alive.

And as 2015 draws to a close a special note for my friends and family and especially my sweet man.  You are the bedrock of my life and the love your show me is almost indescribable. I am a fortunate woman indeed. To be loved and respected and valued as an individual just as you are is one of the greatest gifts in this world. Trust me when I say I love you all in return. To the moon and back.

Here is a wish and prayer for an amazing 2016 for all. There is no place like home, is there indeed, Dorothy?

Cheers!

 

Sit there with a blank expression

Say you can’t go on anymore

It’s not like me to come out and help you

Maybe I’ve been down this road before

 

Been living in the shadows

Now you come out slow

Now you’re in the saddle

Got to ride a long

Now your dream was shattered

These days are through

Maybe something mattered

It’s not just for you

 

Some are gonna go for broke

Some will lay down

I’ve been too long standing still

All I know is whenever you need me

You reach out and set me in motion

 

Looking out on that long valley

Telling me I’ve come so far

You’re the reason I finally got there

 

~Bruce Hornsby “Set Me in Motion”

 

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amaretti cookies

 

(For Karolina)

Amaretti Cookies

2 3/4 cups of almond flour – I find this at Wegmans or Kimberton Whole Foods if you live locally.

1 1/4 cup of superfine sugar – you can take regular granulated sugar and put it through spice grinder to get this if you can’t find superfine in the grocery store. Some people use confectioners sugar I prefer this. And I use organic white cane sugar that I put through the spice grinder – or coffee grinder take your pick.

3 egg whites

1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter

1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract and – not imitation real almond extract

Beat the egg whites until you get soft peaks. Beat in cream of tartar, don’t over-beat.

Add sugar followed by almond extract and then little by little the almond flour until mixed.

Your dough will be smooth but it will be sort of sticky because it’s almond flour sugar and egg whites.

Transfer your dough to an airtight container and refrigerate overnight.

The next day preheat your oven to 325°

I use silicone baking sheets on my cookie sheets – otherwise use parchment paper.

Drop by teaspoons full a couple inches apart on the cookie sheet – I get about 12 cookies per sheet.

Before you put your cookies into the oven to bake I dust them with festive Christmas sugar – this year I used red last year I used green sugar.

You bake 14 to 17 minutes. You’ll just sort of know when they’re done they’re sort of brownish on top and they crack a little.

Take out of the oven and cool on the cookie sheet for 10 minutes before moving to a cookie rack to completely cool.

Store in an airtight tin.

Enjoy!

nothing says christmas in east whiteland like more demolition for development 

 

Once there was a little stone house on Morstein Road in East Whiteland. Old timers would tell you it wasn’t a very happy house so no one was surprised the family wanted to sell it after a death in the family.

As local lore and legend had it a few neighbors approached the family about purchasing even small pieces of the land to protect the woods and natural surroundings as we all know developers will shoe horn in wherever they can…especially in municipalities like East Whiteland which are shall we say developer friendly?

 
Anyway, local and legend also  has it that the family didn’t respond well to neighbors interested in purchasing parts of the land and lo and behold they came forth to East Whiteland along with the developer for a two lot subdivision plan a while back.

It was astounding to hear these people tell the zoning board that no one wanted to buy the property which is why they were selling to a developer. It’s on the record somewhere I attended the meeting. But they wanted the most money out of the land which is their right, even if it sucks for the neighbors.

The house sat and rotted for a couple of years and the other day I thought I heard the sounds of demolition through the woods to the side. And when I drove by today  lo and behold, the house was no more. I couldn’t help but wonder if they moved the family items that you could see in the front windows out of the house every time you drove by before they demolished it, or if somebody’s probably holiday platter that sat in a picture window in the front just got bulldozed away along with the house.

So now neighbors in East Whiteland get to deal with the reality of yet more development.  

Yes, it’s just a two lot subdivision but you can see by what has been cleared away that whoever is building there isn’t very interested in the trees or natural surroundings. But then if they were interested in trees are natural surroundings they would’ve only got one house approved wouldn’t they?

Now neighbors got to babysit construction of a two  lot subdivision to make sure that stormwater runoff is treated properly and septic. Unless of course that is one of the sections over there that has public sewer access.

Merry Christmas in East Whiteland – nothing says happy holidays like  demolition.

Do I sound sarcastic? I was going more for ironic but I’ll take sarcastic. Chester County is going to be as messed up as the Main Line  if it doesn’t start to pay attention to every development project.

Yes it’s a two lot subdivision, it could be a heck of a lot worse it could be some of those lovely “carriage home” or “townhouse” developments. But for those who live nearby there is always the same things to worry about —issues with construction stormwater management , septic problems, drinking water wells.

I hope this project goes smoothly and I know it was coming but right or wrong, the fact that they tore down a house at Christmas just bothers me.

The other day when I was visiting Duffy’s Cut I was struck by the juxtaposition of development quite literally a stone’s throw from the Duffy’s Cut  site. It made me realize how quickly Chester County’s geography is changing.

We can’t save every old barn, every house, and so on. I know that. But what frightens me is the density that is replacing all of these things. 

It’s like we all moved out here for the open space and the land and the farms and the feeling that you could just breathe…. And slowly but surely one development project at a time it’s all being erased.

Thanks for stopping by on a rainy day.

  

our inconvenient history: duffy’s cut

DSC_1297I saw Duffy’s Cut today. It took my breath away. It is such a compelling story, and it is an eerie, silent,  almost sacred place. Yet it is also an inconvenient history, an inconvenient truth.

DSC_1171When I was little my one grandfather whom I called Poppy would tell me stories of how the Irish were persecuted at different times in this country (John Francis Xavier Gallen was Irish and born in the late 19th century) . When he was a little boy, my great grandmother Rebecca Nesbitt Gallen was in service and was the summer housekeeper to the Cassatt Family in Haverford. If I recall correctly, he lost a lot of family during the Spanish Flu Pandemic of the early 20th century, but I digress. Poppy would tell me of anti-Irish sentiment and tales of “Irish need not apply”.

My other grandfather, Pop Pop, would tell me of anti-Italian sentiment. Poppy’s wife, my grandmother (my Mumma), who was Pennsylvania German, would tell me tales of anti- German sentiment during both world wars.  And so did my own mother.  Yes, I am off on a slight tangent here, but for all that the United States was founded as a nation of immigrants, different sets of immigrants have been persecuted at different times throughout our history and even today. Considering the immigrant stock that runs through my veins I identify with this and am basically unapologetic about my views.

So maybe while Duffy’s Cut is one of Chester County’s most astounding and horrific pieces of history, can it also be said cruelty to various sets of immigrants is as much a part of this country’s inconvenient history as slavery and indentured servitude were?

But back to Duffy’s Cut. I heard about that from my Poppy as a little girl, yet we never learned about it in history class in school. Well one history teacher I had knew of it, but it wasn’t taught to us.

duffys cutI first wrote about Duffy’s Cut in 2013. I happened to be passing by the Duffy’s Cut historical marker at the time,  and stopped to photograph it.  Given the clouds of mystery and intrigue still surrounding Duffy’s Cut, I think the foggy afternoon was perfect. I also think that given the development occurring in Malvern (borough and East Whiteland) by developers who don’t truly give a rat’s fanny about the area, the history, or the current residents (they care about building and selling  projects) it is also appropriate to remember the history. You can never truly move forward into the future if you can’t honor the past, or that is just my opinion as a mere mortal and female.

I have always thought the tale of Duffy’s Cut to be a huge part of the history of Malvern. The Duffy’s Cut Project is housed at Immaculata. You can go see it.

The Smithsonian Channel has a special about it – called the Ghosts of Duffy’s Cut.

Duffy’s Cut is a big deal.  What was Duffy’s Cut? Most simplistically the mass murder of Irish rail workers in 1832 around the time of a cholera outbreak they were blamed for but most say in actuality didn’t cause.

 

DSC_1184There had been a cholera outbreak.  People believed the Irish bought the disease with them. They didn’t as the records for the ship would later prove, but it didn’t matter. Those 57 men (and a woman) were immigrants who spoke mostly Gaelic and lived in the shanty town created to house them next to the railroad (Philadelphia and Columbia line) they were helping create in Malvern.DSC_1340

These immigrants were different. They were “dirty Irish” and locals at the time were suspect of them and threatened by them. I am sorry that sounds awful, but it is an unfortunate truth. I think that and the murder of at least some of these Irish rail workers is why this story has taken so long to unfold and is still continuing.

For example did you know that there is an edition of a paper that was a predecessor (I believe) of the Daily Local called the Village Record.

The October 3, 1832 edition of the paper had an accurate telling of what happened down at Duffy’s Cut earlier that year. The edition of the paper disappeared. The only thing that still exists is the November 8th correction article. The more palatable version of events (yet how was any of it ever palatable or acceptable?)

So my friend and I met with Dr. William Watson at Immaculata today, and he took us to the site. I will not disclose the exact location of the site because well, shall we say, Duffy’s Cut still makes people uncomfortable. And modern day residents who live near this piece of history deserve to NOT be pestered by amateur sleuths and ghost chasers.

DSC_1289Dr. Watson and his brother Reverend Frank Watson became intrigued by Duffy’s Cut when they were given a file that had been in the possession of their grandfather, Joseph F. Tripician.  Their grandfather had been a secretary to Martin Clement, the 11th president of The Pennsylvania Railroad. Their grandfather had Clement’s old file on Duffy’s Cut. (And it was Clement who put up the stone monument  at the edge of the tracks.)

Part of the PRR employee Julian Sachse document from the papers of Mr. Tripician from Martin Clement. This image appears many places including where I found it Duffy's Cut: The Murder Mystery of Malvern By William S. Patton III, Spring 2014 (PSU.edu)

Photo courtesy or Rev Frank Watson and Dr William Watson –  Part of the PRR employee Julian Sachse document from the papers of Mr. Tripician from Martin Clement. This image appears many places including where I found it Duffy’s Cut: The Murder Mystery of Malvern By William S. Patton III, Spring 2014 (PSU.edu)

In April 2010 Smithsonian Magazine had this amazing article on Duffy’s Cut. You can read it online today.

And articles keep being written . Especially because Dr. Watson and his brother and their team have actually gotten some of the remains returned to family descendants in Ireland to be buried with other family members.

The world has taken notice of Duffy’s Cut and what happened there. Perhaps more so than around here truth be told. However, in 2012 an Inquirer reporter named Kristin Holmes wrote a wonderful article about the Duffy’s Cut workers remains which were given burial space at West Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Long-forgotten dead of Duffy’s Cut get proper rites

POSTED: March 10, 2012

When the bodies of the 57 Irish immigrants were dumped into a mass grave in 1832, it was a secret, perhaps meant to shroud a violent end.

But 180 years later, in a ceremony to commemorate the railroad workers’ deaths, there was pomp and fanfare.

Bagpipes, a procession, and a regal, 10-foot high Celtic cross grave marker were part of a funeral service Friday meant to give five of the 57 the proper burial they never had.

The observance at West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd was the culmination of a 10-year research project, known as Duffy’s Cut, to determine the fate of the workers who stepped off a boat from Ireland in June 1832 and were dead eight weeks later.

While most died of cholera in an epidemic that swept the region, researchers say some may have been slain in an act rooted in fear and prejudice….The investigation began in 2002 when the Watson brothers, 49, read a secret file that mentioned the workers and a mass grave. The papers were left to them by their grandfather, who worked as a secretary to the president of what was then the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad, and is now part of SEPTA.

The brothers began research that would eventually involve geophysicist Timothy Bechtel; the Chester County Coroner’s Office; Earl Schandelmeier, an adjunct professor at Immaculata; Janet Monge, the keeper of skeletal collections at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology; and others. Project researcher John Ahtes died of a heart attack in the midst of the investigation….

The men from Donegal, Tyrone, and Derry Counties sailed to the United States and were promptly hired by railroad man Philip Duffy of Willistown. The mass of workers lived in a shanty near the tracks. The washerwoman served them. Within eight weeks, they were dead – of cholera and other causes.

Four skulls unearthed at the shanty site show signs of blunt trauma, investigators said. One has a hole that might be from a bullet.

The men probably were the victims of anti-Irish sentiment, the fear of cholera, and prejudice against immigrants, researchers say.

“Their sacrifice has been our motivation,” Frank Watson said.

“Their sacrifice has been our motivation.” How beautiful a sentiment is that?

In the spring of 2013, the New York Times continued with another part of the story: they covered the remains of young John Ruddy being returned to his descendants in Ireland:

With Shovels and Science, a Grim Story Is Told

The New York Times

Decades ago, just before the Pennsylvania Railroad was auctioned off, Watson’s grandfather — who worked for the company — saved key company records before they were destroyed. Among them were documents that hypothesized the location of the mass grave and reported the deaths of 57 workers.

The documents also clearly stated that the information was intended to remain a secret.

It was a “crazy coincidence” that the railroad company’s records survived through his family, Watson said.

The papers confirmed fears of a cover up. If the men’s deaths were due to cholera, why weren’t they recorded in a local paper, like most cholera deaths were at that time? And why would some of the bodies have been brutalized?

The answers remain elusive.

 

Have you noticed when you mention Duffy’s Cut you get many reactions/opinions?  Ok I get it. Some day the entire truth will come out….and I wouldn’t want to be related to people who either took part in making these workers disappear or the cover up which ensued. It will be like saying you are related to Benedict Arnold. Or a slave owner. And it is something else historically wonky that basically happened in East Whiteland. (Dare I say it? Has the East Whiteland Historical Commission ever opined on this? Participated in research in any way? Or just erected a slightly historically inaccurate sign?)

But it is part of our history around here.  And for those of us with at least partial Irish lineage, well, don’t you just want to know? Will finally learning the truth be so bad? John Ruddy from Donegal and the woman Catherine Burns from Tyrone have been returned to their modern descendants and buried in Ireland. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to identify the remains of more workers so that they could be sent home to their modern day descendants and rest in peace?

Fresh research and searching for the truth is underway. That has gotten a lot of coverage the past few months in Ireland, incidentally:

Derry Journal: Duffy’s Cut: Hopes that the mass grave of Irish dead have been uncovered

IrishCentral.com: Further testing underway at Duffy’s Cut mass grave of 57 murdered Irish

Irish Echo:Work begins on Duffy’s Cut mass grave

And I can’t forget to mention the television piece done by CBS3’s Walt Hunter this fall as well: EXCLUSIVE: New Search Begins For Secret Main Line Grave Holding Irish Rail Workers

EW DCYou will notice in the Walt Hunter report the incorrect verbiage on the Duffy’s Cut sign by the stone monument – by the East Whiteland Historical Commission. I mean I guess they tried but they state the wrong year (1834 when the incidents occurred in 1832) and the well wrong cause of death – black diphtheria, and the disease was cholera. The text of the sign is “Burial Plot of Irish Railroad Workers. Died Summer of 1834 of Black Diptheria- East Whiteland Historical Commission.”

Core samples are being taken.  Amtrak seems to be cooperating a little more (I call that a true Christmas miracle – hopefully that continues.)

And oh yeah, thanks to the latest Walt Hunter story Duffy’s Cut has even made People Magazine.  So what of other local media? Since it was the paper that possibly eventually became the Daily Local (Village Record, West Chester, PA) had that article that disappeared from October 3rd, 1832 how about an in-depth update from our local paper or any of the other Chester County newspapers?

Dr. Watson took us to the little museum at Immaculata where we saw the artifacts and heard the tale.  I also find it fascinating how many songs and musical tributes to Duffy’s Cut exist. (You can buy a CD of songs on the Duffy’s Cut Project Website.) But it was when he took us to the site where it hit home ten days before Christmas.

DSC_1336The site feels almost sacred and is so quiet except for the occasional piercing whistle of a passing train or a hawk overhead. Dr. Watson told us not only the tale of the workers but his tale of his grandfather’s file and all the twists and turns it has taken to get this far.

DSC_1248And as his words floated in the air around us and I gazed at a stone monument and surrounding woods, could I heard in my imagination the sounds of the workers? Did they just sort of float in the air outside of our normal consciousness? I am not being fey or deliberately dotty but when you stand there and you hear what happened to them, you can almost see and hear the past…and feel it.

We need to put this right. We need to support this ongoing project as a community. It is part of our history on so many levels, like it or not. We can’t undo what happened, but we can help correct it on some level by finally getting the entire story told.

DSC_1246And finally we can learn from this. Every generation in this country founded by immigrants fleeing persecution, we somehow as a nation seem to persecute over and over different sets of NEW  immigrants to this country. How is that showing the religious and cultural tolerance on which this country was founded?

As a society, we can do better. We need to honor our dead locally whether at Duffy’s Cut or  the ruins of Ebenezer AME Church on Bacton Hill Road, or farther out towards Kennett Square and elsewhere where other bits of our history is disappearing whether it takes the form of old houses involved in the Underground Railroad, to all the abandoned graveyards that dot Chester County and the rest of the state.

We shouldn’t whitewash our history or pretend uncomfortable and horrific things didn’t happen. We learn from those mistakes. If you cover them up, as human beings we are then doomed to repeat them unless we break the cycle and face the past.

I have a bunch of photos from today from the site and the museum. I will get to them over the next day or so. You can visit the Duffy’s Cut Museum in the Library at Immaculata when the library is open. The actual Duffy’s Cut site is NOT open to the public it is impossibly located to do that, so kindly respect that fact because so many over the years have not.  People folly hunting for Duffy’s Cut only jeopardize the work that archeologists, geologists, and historians are trying to accomplish and that is not right.

Before I sign off, a big thank you to Dr. William Watson. He is kind of a big deal history professor and he took the time for us to show us Duffy’s Cut and tell us all about their work surrounding that. Educators like him make all the difference in how you learn and I think his students are so very lucky to have a professor with a passion for history like he has.

This has been a very long post….so thanks for reading through until the end and for stopping by.

DSC_1229

santa season 

Decorating days are here. I like it to be festive and beautiful not Christmas psychotic. 
I have taken a long time to hunt my Christmas decorations and as a process it is a constant evolution. 

I find decorations I like, but if I find ones I like better I will swap things out. 

  Some people just do mass assemblages of layered and layered decorations with not much restraint (or taste) and well it ends up looking like an episode of Christmas Hoarders. If you take your time it makes it easier and you don’t have to put out all of the ornaments and decorations…rotate them!

Last year I did a lot of little decorated  trees with feather ornaments and such, but this year I decided to have more Santas and nutcrackers out  instead. (I did one small tree with vintage ornaments for our bedroom – a tabletop tree).

 

Ebay and Etsy are great resources for Christmas decorations and ornaments. So are Facebook yard sale groups, church rummage sales, and garage sales and my favorite…barn picking 🎅

 Decorating for Christmas is easy and fun. Use Pinterest for ideas and inspiration and keep it simple to start.
Vintage holiday table linens and dishes also do not have to cost a fortune at all. 

But seriously where people screw up every year is they take the time to decorate… And then it’s paper plates and plastic cups! Just say no! Buy yourself a pair of festive dish gloves and towels and do the dishes! 

Happy Merry Festivus!