holiday rambling: harman’s cheese and country store in sugar hill, nh

Many, many, many, many years ago my family would go to Vermont some years for vacation. A friend of my late father’s had a house in Bondville, Vermont which was half-way up one of the access roads to Stratton Mountain.

We weren’t skiers, we would go in the “off-season” or summer. Bondville is a little spit of a town and the house was nestled in the middle of nowhere in the woods. You would see all sorts of nature go by, and not many people. It was a big ski house, so we would bring friends and my parents would bring friends.

One year, one of my then best friends came with us. It was long before anyone was married except for my sister, or had kids. My friend and I would wander and explore on our own. She had come with me also because there was a special side trip I agreed to take with her to New Hampshire. She wanted to pay her respects at the grave site of a friend of hers who had passed away. Her friend had died under sad circumstances and I am not sure why he was buried in Sugar Hill Cemetery (also known as Sunnyside Cemetery), but that’s where his family placed him.

This was the time of only old school maps and asking for directions. There was no Google maps or Waze. We got lost several times en route to the cemetery. This was the trip when I also went barn picking for the first time.

After we visited the cemetery and my friend left her letter for her departed friend, we went exploring.

One of the first things we discovered down a windy country road in New Hampshire was an old farmer with a couple of barns. One of these barns (and it was huge, one of the biggest barns I have ever been in) was chock full of antiques and collectibles. It was a dirty and dusty old barn and was like an episode of American Pickers, before there ever was American Pickers. I dickered with the owner for some pink porcelain tea cups for my friend.

We discovered many other places that day including a wonderfully beautiful old small hotel with a lovely golf course called Sunset Hill House. Not too far from Sunset Hill House we discovered Harman’s Cheese and Country Store for the first time.

I still remember the visit like it was yesterday. A real old school country general store. Wood floors that creaked underfoot and all. The people running the store couldn’t have been nicer. We bought amazing white cheddar cheese, maple sugar candy, and maple syrup. And I signed up for a mailing list I have now kept my name on for decades.

Harman’s still sells the best cheddar cheese ever. Their cheese is my absolute favorite and they also sell my second runner up favorite, Grafton Village a Cheese from Grafton, Vermont. Grafton’s cheese store at that time was accessed via a dirt country road. Grafton’s cheddar is my mother’s favorite, but I still like Harman’s best. And still today, Harman’s cheese can only be ordered from them versus Grafton’s cheese which shows up at specialty cheese sections even around here.

But one of the things that keeps me ordering from Harman’s is their old school tiny paper catalog that gets mailed in a little envelope with an annual letter from the owner. It’s a throwback to the letters most people used to send with Christmas cards. I love that!

Some day I hope to get back to visit Harman’s in person. They are part of my annual holiday traditions. You can find them in person in Sugar Hill, NH, on their website, and on Facebook.

I know we have many fine cheese makers here in Chester County, but Harman’s Cheese and Country Store is a delightful small business with wonderful products. We don’t have many of these businesses left, no matter where the location.

Thanks for stopping by.

dear philadelphia err filthadelphia

Dear Philadelphia,

Appalachia or Albania or Calcutta ? Can’t decide what the look is you are going for this fall.

I have never seen the streets look so bad or full of hazards. You can be on foot or in a vehicle, it doesn’t matter.

And the city is dirty. Filthy dirty. So it doesn’t matter if you are building shiny new buildings, everywhere you look is a hot mess. Oh sure there are trash cans… but the ones I passed yesterday were full and garbage spewing over. Then there is whatever is on the ground.

And your homeless population seems to have increased. Increased enough that they are blocking the streets begging. Even a homeless man on 16th Street lying down completely on the sidewalk reading a book with people stepping over him.

I am a native Philadelphian and yesterday we had family and friends in from out of town and it was embarrassing.

The buck stops at the Mayor’s Office in City Hall on this one. Hey Jim Kenney are you blind to all of this? Do you think you could stop running for re-election long enough to take a good look at what everyone sees and experiences? It’s a little hard to experience the best Philadelphia has to offer when all she seems to offer is filth, fractured roads and sidewalks, and people in dire need of help.

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San Juan Islands: Food for the Soul // REI Adventures & Tastemade // ( captions & subtitles) from KGB Productions on Vimeo.

I was watching the Today Show while getting dressed this morning and caught this piece on this woman who chucked a Wall Street career to essentially dig in the dirt. Her name is Audra Lawlor.  She lives on Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands of Washington State.

Every morning now I hear the beep-beep-beep of construction equipment as yet more developments are given birth to in Chester County. I found this woman’s story inspirational because this is about people saving the land, growing on their land, and getting their hands dirty from digging in the dirt.

We need more of that here. CLICK HERE TO SEE HARRY SMITH INTERVIEW AUDRA LAWLOR ON TODAY. This is inspirational.

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Read more about Audra and her company in Saveur (excerpt below):

Saveur TRAVEL
This Orcas Island Jam Company Transforms Local Plums into Vibrant Seasonal Preserves
Girl Meets Dirt is on a mission to save the island’s legacy fruit trees and jar their bounty

By Beth Graham
June 12, 2019

If you’re driving the winding roads of Orcas Island in late summer, you can smell the ripening fruit all around. On one such morning last year, I stopped the car at my destination and met Audra Lawlor, owner of Girl Meets Dirt, who was surveying one orchard’s recent Italian plum harvest in tall rubber boots and a denim shirt. As we walked among the rows of trees with their full canopies spilling over onto the trail, Audra picked up a fallen plum from the ground and turned it over in her hand between us. “Before I got here, most of the fruit from these trees would have rotted on the ground,” she says. Lawlor and her team of five mighty women at Girl Meets Dirt harvested more than 2,500 pounds of Italian plums alone last season.

Some people leave their corporate jobs to rescue animals. Audra left Wall Street to rescue pink pearl apples and Orcas pears. Today, many of the island’s residents see her as the steward of the legacy fruit trees on the island, a 57-square-mile piece of the San Juan Islands, an archipelago that lies in the waters between Seattle and Vancouver, just barely on the U.S. side of the border….By the end of the 19th century, many inhabitants had made their way over to work the plum orchards and operate the prune dryers (barnlike structures where the fruit was set to shrivel up), and the economy was surging. The success allowed the building of docks for steamships, as well as a boon for jobs sorting, grading, and packing fruit for transport. It also led to an island that became far more orchard than anything else. The country lane that runs through the center of Orcas Island’s main village is still named Prune Alley.

Many of the legacy fruit trees—entire orchards of them—fell into disrepair during a period of economic downturn around 1915. It was in part due to the rise of railroads, improved irrigation, and heavy planting in nearby eastern Washington, which became a fierce competitor. Islanders began to ignore the fallen fruit, and tree limbs weakened with overgrowth. Thousands of trees were left to die, and the plum industry collapsed. It wasn’t until decades later, when the island began attracting new residents—those who sought out the area for its bucolic landscape—that the trees gained new stewards. Today, Lawlor and her company are working with fellow islanders to revive and utilize those trees that remain.

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phoenixville houses

One of the really fun things about Phoenixville is the wide and varied architecture.

All different styles literally spanning centuries. These are just three random houses that caught my eye a few days ago.

Phoenixville is also another one of those great front porch towns. Front porches and gardens are what make a house a home and what make a neighborhood welcoming.

I still have photos to post from the beginning of September from West Chester that I need to get to because it’s another front porch town.

honey, it’s called survival

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SLATE: In the Name of Love
Elites embrace the “do what you love” mantra. But it devalues work and hurts workers.
By MIYA TOKUMITSU

“Do what you love. Love what you do.”

The command is framed and perched in a living room that can only be described as “well-curated.” A picture of this room appeared first on a popular design blog and has been pinned, tumbl’d, and liked thousands of times. Though it introduces exhortations to labor into a space of leisure, the “do what you love” living room is the place all those pinners and likers long to be.

There’s little doubt that “do what you love” (DWYL) is now the unofficial work mantra for our time. The problem with DWYL, however, is that it leads not to salvation but to the devaluation of actual work—and more importantly, the dehumanization of the vast majority of laborers.

Superficially, DWYL is an uplifting piece of advice, urging us to ponder what it is we most enjoy doing and then turn that activity into a wage-generating enterprise. But why should our pleasure be for profit? And who is the audience for this dictum?

Yes, this is an old article.  But it struck a chord with me. The author turned it into a book or vice versa. (Not really sure.)

A friend posted this on their Facebook page and it is an intriguing read. Even if I do not necessarily agree with a lot of commentary. I spent years doing what I did NOT love at that point any longer mainly because I was afraid to take a gamble on myself, and I had bills to pay.  Breast cancer freed me from that because I had to leave my old industry literally to reduce my stress or fear recurrence. (It was one of those times where your medical care team does an intervention, and like it or not, you have to or should listen.)

When the author of the article says things like the quote below it’s like she is mocking those of us who left the corporate hamster wheel.

“DWYL is a secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment. According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation but is an act of love. If profit doesn’t happen to follow, presumably it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient.”

Doing my own thing is not elitist, well, it’s survival. I am 55. Corporate America does NOT like to hire women over 50. Or even in their mid-40s.  We are too expensive when it comes to things like healthcare and we are old enough to mostly know our own minds.  Knowing your own mine is a threat.  It’s far easier for them to hire women half of our age who can still sport short skirts without looking too old to sport short skirts.  And if they have a choice between hiring a woman my age who doesn’t color her hair and who hasn’t had “work done” and one who has? Botox and hair coloring win every time.

Ageism is a real thing.  It was a very strange sensation realizing I was no longer one of the younger ones in the room.  And since I stopped coloring my hair, I look in the mirror and I see relatives who came before me.  I loved every one of them, but I am still not sure how I feel about it some days.

Some days I wonder should I have had “work done” even a little filler like a lot of women I know? And every time I have this conversation with myself, it ends the same way: I am who I am, I can’t pretend to be someone else.

On some days I am fine with my age and who I am.  Other days it’s like where did my 25 year old ass and legs go?

Yet, the reality is me at 55 is a heck of a lot happier than me in my 20s.

Being in your 20s is exhausting.  The games with dating and learning to be yourself.  The games with who were actually your friends, and the hurt of the ones who betray you and you should have let go of long before that.  Or being in your 20s and to have a boyfriend cheat on you and they don’t understand why you couldn’t just move past it and not walk? And neither do some of your friends?

The twenties and even your thirties was the whole additional journey of trying to find yourself as a woman and trying to learn how to be an adult.  Some days were better than others, remember? Remember the days you wanted to scream into an empty room?

Working in your 20s, or what I remember in the financial services industry (and friends who were in different industries had similar tales) meant learning to keep your back to the wall when some older male colleagues around and I even remember one temp job I had where my first day two women warned me not to get caught in the room where the copy machines were with one guy in particular.

Damn we all could have had our workplace #MeToo moments and a lot of us did to varying degrees. But we didn’t talk or tweet about it, we just survived.  Because we had to.

I had a lot of friends get married in their 20s.  In a lot of cases I should say the first time.  As I attended wedding after wedding sometimes I just didn’t get how you could go from being dependent upon your parents to being dependent upon a spouse without any chance to grow in between and learn who you were.

A lot of my friends were just on autopilot to marry and produce children.  We were partially all raised to be that way.  Maybe that sounds elitist, I don’t know. It is just the way it was.

I was a late bloomer so I did not marry until much later and I think the timing was right for me. I spent a lot of time feeling like I did not quite fit and didn’t quite know myself.  But it took years to even admit to myself that I liked spending time by myself.  I was at the end of an engagement where I had the epiphany that if I did end up just with myself I would be o.k.  That realization was very freeing and I think it was a key to opening me up to the woman I am today. Or who I might become.  Some days I still wonder am I there yet?

Career-wise I had a path that wasn’t necessarily the path I would have chosen initially but I liked it and it paid the bills.  Was it fulfilling? Nope. But it sure was eye-opening as to human nature.

Then came breast cancer.  I could no longer handle the stress, the hours, the mental gymnastics of cut throat and duplicitous people.  Being a woman in my old industry was exhausting on a good day, but after breast cancer surgery and treatment? I just couldn’t do it any longer.  And it had ceased being rewarding long ago.  And it’s an industry that still treats women like crap and always will.  And I would never be hard enough.

So breast cancer gave me the courage to look at things differently.  It was hard. It still can be hard.  People ask me why some days I do so much? The answer is I was in my old industry for so long, I forgot how to relax.  You were geared to getting so much done in one day. You had to.  You were subject to everyone else’s deadlines.

Doing more of what I love and being able to love what I do? It became about survival and starting to experience ageism.  And when ageism smacks you in the face, it’s a real bitch. So when people say do what you love (DWYL) is somehow elitist, well sometimes it is the path that opened for you. I wasn’t ready to be a greeter at Target or WalMart, sorry.

So I took a risk. I took a chance on complete change. It’s just as hard some days as putting up with crap as a tiny cog in the wheel of Corporate America, trust me.  Nothing is perfect, and those who pretend it is are doing themselves a disservice.

Let’s talk about other things in realm of ageism as a woman in the workforce.  I learned this in my 40s when I became a statistic in the layoffs done at Wachovia Securities before Wells Fargo came in.  Corporate jets were not expendable, but worker bees like me were.  Do you know how surreal it was having an HR folder full of accolades and customer testimonials as to how GOOD a job I did, and being fêted nationally by the company as a “volunteer of the year” for my volunteerism in my community to being a corporate pre-merger layoff statistic?  Seriously, the day I got my package they gave me a chart showing where everyone was getting cut in my region and whether they were male or female.

After being forced as part of a giant corporate separation package to take a time out (in case they decide to UN-lay me off and bring me back), I came back out into the workforce late 2007 to early 2008.  A completely crap economy and here I was a woman in my 40s. Why hire me when they could hire someone so much younger? And then there was the interview where the interviewer literally asked why I did not remember him.  Apparently I had turned him down for a job like 15 plus years prior and he never got over it? (Yeah THAT wasn’t too weird, was it?) And then there were the job interviews that were like marathons. Literally hours in one day like a perverse corporate endurance test.

And in this brave new world of interviewing a lot of the interviews were not even face to face any longer. And even if you sent a thank you note for an interview like you are supposed to, sometimes they just didn’t bother to ever reply. Most of the time they never bothered to acknowledge you even submitted a resume.

When I finally did land a job which on paper sounded amazing, among other things I was working for someone who did not offer even access to healthcare benefits, proper vacation time, or a retirement plan.  But I needed to work, I had to support myself.  So I took it.

This is the job I should have left three months in, but instead I stayed about four years. I left post breast cancer.  I was exhausted.  Because I worked for a company that offered no benefits, sick days, vacation days and never had a policy on sick or vacation days per say, I pretty much had my breast cancer surgery and came right back to work.  I had to work through my post surgical treatment.  I felt like I was in a white collar sweat shop and damn didn’t my ancestors work themselves to the bone a immigrants to the US so future generations like myself didn’t have to?

But I did not have the courage or faith in myself to leave.  Until my husband looked at me one day after the doctors had done their intervention and told me I had to get out of the current job that the stress would kill me, and said “quit.”

I looked at him like I misheard him. So he repeated himself and said “Quit. It’s not worth the stress and something else will come along.”

So I did what I never had done, I quit. And a weight lifted off of my shoulders. But this was the job that left me with Corporate America PTSD.  Not only didn’t I want to get back on that hamster wheel, I couldn’t.

So I changed everything. I had to. Has it been easy doing only for myself? No not every day because some days I feel like I have adult onset A.D.D. and for love or money, I can’t concentrate. But it’s nice to feel like me again, or to maybe even finally know who I actually am.

Growing up the choices were career girl or get married.  Even after the day of bra burnings, female empowerment, and women’s lib that was still pretty much it.  Today, in a lot of ways, it still is. And I am so sure a lot of women will read this and be enraged. Stuff it ladies, I am not breaking new ground here.

One thing I agree with the magazine article writer on is if you kind of want to “have it all,”  you might need to have lots and lots of lovely money to begin with. If you are just a regular person, that mantra is a little harder to achieve.  But I do believe that you should try to love what you do, or at least like it.  Otherwise it’s not worth it and weighs you down.

Women wear many hats in life.  We walk many tightropes. But somehow, we get there, don’t we? It’s called survival.

Thanks for stopping by.

 

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rambling down memory lane….

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Some weeks I write a lot, other weeks not so much.  As I sat at this traffic light this afternoon headed towards home I realized again how much I do NOT miss the Main Line.  And I smiled again at the presumptuousness of those who refer to Malvern and places like Chester Springs as the “Main Line”. They don’t get it, it’s not the Main Line, and thank goodness.

When I was growing up the Main Line was a far more civilized place until the changes started to seem to appear in the late 1970s .  It was then that I remember my mother remarking about people who had bought a neighbor’s house on Brentford Road in Haverford always lined up their expensive cars right out front like a car lot or showroom, instead of parking them down  behind the stone wall near the garages.

But it was true, it was the little changes. At first you didn’t notice much.  But as the old families moved out, and new people moved in and old homes started to get torn down or bumped up to what we would come to call McMansions, change was coming.  Long time businesses closed, new businesses came in, some good some bad.

Movie theaters started to close. First I remember was the Suburban in Suburban Square.  That was a grand old theater once upon a time. I can’t even find photos of it anymore.  The next movie theater I remember closing was the Wynnewood theater. Then in more revent times the Ardmore Theater on Lancaster Avenue which has yet another horrible fate planned for it.

Then the department stores. I am not sure of the order but Bonwit Teller, B. Altman, Wanamaker’s, then ultimately Strawbridge & Clothier. For me Bonwit Teller and B. Altman were particular favorites. Followed by Wanamaker’s.  Strawbridge’s in Ardmore was always hit or miss I thought.

Then old time restaurants and diners.  Now I am not saying a lot of these places were culinary masterpieces, but they were the everyday “joints”.  The Viking Inn and Smorgasbord in Ardmore, for example. It opened in 1930s and was the only Scandinavian restaurant around.  I forget when it closed exactly, but it died a slow and horrible death.  And all of the diners that used to be around. I remember some were even those silver metal diner buildings.  Like the one which was in Rosemont once upon a time.  Now there is a McDonald’s where it once was.viking

I remember as even a teenager, out here, where I live now in Chester County, seemed so very far away. Today, I can’t imagine being anyplace else.

I had medical appointments today and had to venture to the Main Line to go to Penn Medicine in Radnor. It’s amazing that we live in and around affluent areas because the roads are in such terrible shape.  And the drivers.  Cutting people off, angry honking, lights and stop signs are all apparently optional.

Every time I go to the Main Line now I feel like I can’t breathe.  There is so much more density and traffic and I feel about a million years old when I pass by what was someone’s house I once knew.  You drive by and you remember who used to live there and the house wasn’t a McMansion or a townhouse or apartment building.  It was just a nice house.

When I was growing up after we moved to the Main Line I remember summers coming back from the beach.  My parents’ early cars had no air-conditioning so I remember the searing end of summer city heat as we came over either the Ben Franklin or Walt Whitman. When we reached the Gladwyne exit of the Schuylkill the temperature just dropped.   All that verdant green. Not so much anymore because well development, development, development.

134 Cheswold Ln, Haverford, PA 19041Even the august Merion Cricket Club is not safe from development and supersizing. Truly lovely when growing up, today, it’s a shell of what it was.  Changes to the original dining rooms, elimination of the casual and teenager friendly Cricket Room and a series of chefs who aren’t remarkable except for how the food has declined in spite of the tarting up of dining rooms. Plans exist to turn Merion into a suburban country club.  These plans would include some of my favorite houses around the club. I especially loved the pink stucco house at 134 Cheswold Lane.  That was the house my parents house sat in the summer of 1973.  The summer the Haverford Hotel was torn down .

I have written about this house and the Haverford hotel before. It was at this pink house on Cheswold Lane that my younger sister learned how to swim in the pool behind the house in the secret garden you could not see from the street.  The garden had the first blueberry bushes I had ever seen.

I also remember spending Saturdays in Bryn Mawr with my friends. Going to Katydid and the bookstore next to it. The Greek diner down from the movie theater. Maybe buy candy at Parvins Pharmacy.

Katydid was originally in Bryn Mawr before moving to Wayne .  They had these little mice in little dresses that were real fur. We used to collect them.  I think some of them are still in my dollhouse from growing up that my sister has in storage somewhere.

It was nice being a kid then. Summer nights were for kick the can and other games we actually were able to play in the road without anyone hitting us.  Certainly can’t do that on Main Line streets now.

When my friends and I were growing up, we always thought we’d grow up and live where our parents lived. HA! It was a nice thought, but between the home prices and ridiculous real estate taxes most of us either can’t or choose not to.

There are so many businesses that are gone. Restaurants. Bakeries. Book stores and who remembers The Owl at Bryn Mawr College? I loved, loved, loved that store. Second hand and antique and out of print books. The Owl bookstore was I think founded to support the college’s scholarship fund. And the older ladies who ran The Owl were amazing.  That place was floor to ceiling books, and several floors of books. It was dusty and sometimes dim in the lighting department but you could get lost for hours looking at books. It was heavenly! (Especially on a rainy day.)

Driving around today I wondered if half of these people in their giant SUVs on their phones ever paused to breathe?  Did they enjoy where they lived? Or was it all back and forth and maybe push someone out of line at the Starbucks drive thru?

Thanks for the memories old Main Line, but nouveau Main Line? I just don’t miss you.  You don’t get yourself anymore. History and tradition and genteel living, all memories.

Thank you Chester County for the new memories.  And being able to find spindle back rocking chairs from Maine in old barns.

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