Vultures of Culture

‘Mature’ sorority sisters travel around the Pennsylvania region to devour culture and the great outdoors. From Philly's Museum of Art and the rockin' Martin Guitar factory in Nazareth to bike trips in God’s Country up north, we tour and taste, sightsee and sample, learn, lunch and laugh. Just a bunch of old birds? Not us!

The Wild, Wild West

No matter how much you plan for a vacation, it’s sometimes wise to stay fast and loose and saddle up with serendipity when it comes trotting along.  You grab it by the reins and climb aboard, just like Wendy did in Monument Valley during the long-awaited, two-vulture swing through the Southwest last week. As much as I relish trip research and itinerary planning, one thing I now recognize: the best times in life are often unscripted and happen in spite of you.

We were vacation day +3,  about an hour into the MV tour with Harry, our Navajo Spirit Tours guide, when we rolled by John Ford Point, an outcropping of rock perfectly positioned in front of West Mitten and Merrick buttes that the old-Hollywood director used in many of his classic John Wayne westerns. It’s a great place to pose and play cowboy or cowgirl. The scene is vintage American west and an iconic location for a photo op.

Just a few sticky details though. It’s up pretty high, and that docile horse is just a few feet from the edge. No thanks, I said to myself. I’ll just watch these chumps from afar.

So imagine my shock, my awe when Wendy jumped at the $5 photo op to climb atop this horse. Who did she think she was, Annie Oakley or something? Me, Calamity Jane, wanted to say, “Darn tootin’. You sure are loco, pardner.”

Instead I bawled, “Nooooooooo way.” I know my limitations. What about an unexpected “Hi-yo Silver” horse-stand moment? What then? What if the horse suddenly got tired of posing and wanted to gallop away? WHAT THEN, WENDY?

But she insisted. She bravely, gamely, enthusiastically put that foot in the stirrup and yanked herself tall in the saddle. The horse handler took her camera for photos while I stood off to the side to document this moment for my scrapbook. He took about three quality clicks and was readying to usher her down to earth when Wendy suddenly gets the urge for more. Sort of like John Ford wanting one more take of the Duke riding high. She blew off the horse guy and started directing the next shot.

For as long as I live I will remember her saying, “Hey, how about this?” and thrusting her right hand out into the dry desert air. Dialogue ran through my head. Something like, “Boys, I think that’s a water hole out yonder.”

Check it out:

 At that point I doubled over and lost it.  Helpless with laughter. I mean, look at this!!!!! That girl’s got gumption!

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Sofa Update

The sofa lives. Where? Not sure. But we pocketed $1 from its sale. And right before vacation, too. Extra spending money!!!!

We Are, Vul-chures or Ode to Amy O

The Vultures were on campus at Penn State University on Saturday to cheer on the super-spiking women’s volleyball team and one particular member of the clarinet section in the PSU pep band.  The team from Iowa got shellacked with powerful serves, formidable blocks and digs, and kills too potent and precise to be repelled. Thing is though, our dear musician Matt Block got it even worse.

Matt, son of vulture Pat Block, got a big dose of vulture love on Saturday—which may be more affection than any college senior needs or wants from  a group of rowdy women calling your name or holding hand-made signs.

Head cheerleader was our Colorado vulture Amy O, computer company manager/real estate mogul who’s always up for daring outdoor adventure and fun times with family and friends. She is our highest flying vulture when it comes to seizing the day. She dives, hikes, paddles, climbs, bikes and wears leopard print pants. She is the guru of gusto, and was the mastermind of the Block Rocks!!! sign. Who else, we all agreed, would have done this but Amy O?

Amy O and our queen bee vulture Joan (Amy K’s mother) are the two most artistically-gifted women in the group. They made a fast getaway to Michael’s for the essentials: dazzling silver posterboard,  adhesive black letters and then finally, a picture of Matt that we sent from his mother’s smart phone to the Kelchner printer. Amy O pieced it all together with her signature style, and the Rec Hall stands had a bit more pop than usual. She even walked down to the floor to invite the camera crew to broadcast the image onto the big screen but, alas, she was refused. How often in life, we wondered, does that happen to our Amy O?

  The gang had double the fun on Saturday.  We got to lovingly harass our friend’s son–who took it with good humor and grace by the way–while also watching a magnificent display of athleticism and skill. The PSU women, who upset #3 Nebraska earlier that week, were favorites to defeat Iowa.  Although they started slowly,  Penn State’s women were bigger, stronger and more talented. They leaped higher, “killed” more frequently and with more authority, and sprawled and rolled over the hardwood digging out their opponents’ spikes and returns on nearly every point. Surely they must be considered among the nation’s best players. They also wore fab hair accessories. We especially loved Megan Courtney’s pink ponytail ribbon!!!

The team, national champions in 2010 and 2011, is now 12-1 and will continue playing throughout the fall. The NCAA championships are in mid-December and we’ve got a hunch they’ll be in the thick of it, attacking, attacking, attacking. And Matt, he’ll be safe from any more vulture ambushes. He can play his clarinet in peace. Our work here is done.

The Miller-Monticello Connection

Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home located outside Charlottsville, Virginia, is the only private residence in America to receive UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) designation as a World Heritage site. That’s a very big deal. But Monticello is a beautiful, historical, awe-inspiring big deal, so it’s all very deserving.  It’s got architectural marvels, agricultural displays, and innovations that made 18th and 19th century life less tedious: seven-day clocks, dumb waiters, revolving shelves and bookstands. Its creator, Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States and author of our Declaration of Independence, was a genius. I believe most of us can agree on that, but after taking the house and behind-the-scenes tours last Friday, I think Monticello had a little extra help getting on that list. How ’bout that color in the dome room? Down there it’s referred to as Mars yellow. North of the Mason-Dixon line we call it blinding.

Jefferson loved his bold yellows. It showed up in his signature dome room and his dining room downstairs. Yellow, in the non-mellow Jefferson tones, has successfully spanned the centuries because my husband is driving around in a vehicle with a strong Monticello vibe. He’s got his own Mars yellow truck.

On this recent trip to Monticello, Steve said he felt vindicated in his color and design choices of late. He’s got the matching truck and earlier this summer painted our shed a yellow bright enough to be seen from the Space Shuttle.

So here’s the big picture. I’m living with a Renaissance man who has the same taste in colors as Thomas Jefferson. Is this possible? Can the man who built this:

and designed this:

be kindred spirits with the man who brought home furniture that looked like this?

I think the two of them would have hit it off. And just think of the fun they could have had down at Home Depot looking at paint swatches.  Steve and Tom. BFFs.

Labor Day = Pierogies

Two vultures flew north to a Scranton suburb Sunday to crash a family picnic/birthday party featuring lots of delicious food, but we’re still talking about the homemade pierogies. Mrs. T. should put a paper bag over her head in shame when you compare the two products. See the suburban Scranton version below and then just envision the frozen six pack buried someplace in the back of your freezer:

Notice how the pierogies bathe in a shallow pond of butter.  And how ’bout those translucent bits of onion sprinkled over top? These pierogies were huge, stuffed with velvety smooth mashed potatoes, and shamefully addicting. The two that I ate for lunch were big enough to fill nearly half of my plate. Fellow vulture Pat and I were gobsmacked and did not fight the invitation to take some home.

After the buffet (oh yes, there were other attractions: meatballs, braciole, pasta, pulled pork) there was cake. Two kinds–Delta Zeta cherry nut and marble with chocolate mousse filling. Oh yea.

And then we had our insulin.

That Sofa? G-O-N-E

Pardon the obvious lack of culture in this post friends, but the sofa departure of 2012 is worthy of an update, doncha think?

You know perfectly well what sofa I’m talking about. The sofa my better half brought home from a local flea market back in July simply because it was free and might blend in with the eclectic decor of his fabulous man cave? That sofa.

Well, it’s gone. History. Loaded onto the truck and sent packing to the Bethel auction. Even the auctioneer said, “When I tell you ‘No Sale’ on the sofa, don’t get mad at me.” Wow, this from a guy who encounters junk from people’s attics and basements on a regular basis. A comment like this from a junk expert like that lets you know the sad truth–you’ve got one fine piece of crap on your hands.

The sofa sat for about a month in our garage. After my husband announced his “find” and I walked outside to see it, a tad of marital discord descended upon the household. Not pretty. But I’m married to an optimist, a man determined and unswayed by the rantings and ravings of an enraged wife. No amount of hysteria would deter him, so he did what any self-respecting,  misfit-furniture loving husband would do. He unloaded it off the truck.

And here’s how I know there is a God. It didn’t fit through the door leading to the downstairs family room/man cave. So it sat there, like a broken down parade float, for weeks. And after a day or two, things started to appear on its plush, velour cushions. The sofa became a holding area for other castoffs. And then occasionally I’d sit on it if the washer needed just a minute or two to finish its spin cycle. And then everytime you walked down into the garage you expected to see it and that earth-toned 70s print, a flower arrangement with mums and asters and dahlias and zinnias and seed pods, all in golds, whites, tans and touches of blue. The garage had never looked brighter or more welcoming. A sofa in the garage? How unique.

A strange sort of attachment syndrome had begun here. The sort you experience when a mangy stray cat  suddenly meows at your back door. You feed it because you pity it and then it finds a place in your heart and then you don’t really think it looks mangy anymore and then you say, ‘What the heck? I’ll keep it.’ It was starting with that sofa and I had to put a stop to it. Also, Steve said if I didn’t get it out of here he WOULD find a way to make it fit through that door. ‘Nuff said. I was on the move.

Finally, the day had come. Time to part with its big blooms, its wood accents, its attached arm pillows. With its shiny harvest gold surface gleaming in the morning sunshine, the sofa was loaded for its last voyage.  A new home. A final chapter. Another screaming wife? Who knows,  but it might just kick-start a new franchise of literature and movies–Sisterhood of the Travelling Ugly Sofa. Ya never know.

Smile, You’re on Auction Cam

For the second year in a row the vultures have done double duty at the annual cabin-palooza. Not only do we stage  a first-rate woodlands retreat, but the vultures pull off a wildly entertaining Chinese auction to benefit the Mansfield University Karen Starner Jacobson Scholarship fund. Jacobson served as sorority advisor to the Iota Theta chapter at Mansfield for nearly 40 years and passed away January 1, 2011.  Last year’s auction netted $500. This year we hit $900. We like to think Mrs. J would be proud.

But no wonder. The contributions were thoughtful, tasteful and so generously created. And they were beautifully displayed by head stylist Kimmie S. She was a blur of merchandising flair Saturday morning, arranging everything from Coach bags and wallets to artwork, food bags and baskets, gift cards, scarves, coats, MU mugs and jewelry. She brought tables, pink tablecloths and boxes to transform an already light, airy porch into a boutique-quality showroom.  That’s NY state’s resident vulture Jan F. in the background. We loved seeing Jan  return to the fold and hope she’ll be back for many more gatherings. Jan, by the way, won the coveted pink and green jacket from the Super Girl collection contributed by SG fashionista Amy O.

And then there was finance minister Sharon K, who handled ticket sales and receipts. Sharon, who in the next two years will be appointed grand high exulted mystic ruler of the MU Alumni Board, is obviously a woman of many talents, and the money left that Sunday in her capable hands. Thanks to Sharon for being our Brinks truck.

The grand total was impressive but so was the luck of the draw. The vultures who went home last year without a prize made a haul this year!!! Bravo Wendy, Pat and Donna. Special kudos to Pat  whose luck surpassed us all. She won the painting by senior guest vulture Joan K.  that captures the spirit of the weekend–a green leafy haven for friends to sit back, relax and talk eye-to-eye with women who knew you then, know you now and know what you still can be. Display it proudly.

It’s All About the Cake

It’s cabin season in upstate Pennsylvania, and the vultures are on the move.

Cars laden with luggage, pillows, lawn chairs, coffeemachines, serving platters and glasses, coolers (with peanut butter fudge ice cream), wine, bathing suits, cameras, inner tubes, boogie boards, food for breakfast, food for lunch, food for dinner arrive on Boop Road for the annual summertime creekside fete.

And then there’s the car/motorcade that comes with the CAKE. The cherry nut Cake all the way from Scranton. A Cake so dense no weakling can carry it; a Cake so lushly moist and frosted no Weight Watcher can assign points to it; a Cake made so famous by its taste and allure entire meals are planned around it.

The Cake is legendary and wields great power. It has its own shelf in the refrigerator, a sizeable fan base and a handler/designated baker liaison who oversees ordering, transport and cake asset allotment on Sunday before departure. Beyonce should have this much influence.

“Where’s the cake?” a few of us ask upon arrival. “When are we going to cut it?” inquires another.  “I get a corner piece,” declares a frosting addict. “This salad is great, but I’m really just pacing myself for the cake,” someone else confesses during Friday’s lunch.

Each year we come to the cabin to talk and laugh and relax and play and cement our longstanding friendships.  The mortar? Buttercream, of course.

Yo, Adrian. Let’s Eat (or The Vultures Tour a Food Landmark in Philly)

    This is how much we like food. We will awaken at 5 a.m. in our rural and suburban homes to drive into northwest Philadelphia–about 80 miles– and then board a SEPTA train that whisks us to center city Philadelphia, home of the historic Reading Terminal Market. The only glitch was exiting the train at Suburban Station instead of Market East,  but we re-boarded before being abandoned in a location without a cheesesteak or fresh peach in sight. Think of the trauma! My commuter savvy has plummeted because it was me bossing everyone around to get off.  What does Homer Simpson say? D’oh?

So, to recap—we drove, we rode and we walked our way to see and sniff and taste this food. And it was good. Very, very good. Bassett’s ice cream. Roast beef sandwiches from DiNics, dark chocolate almond bark from the Pennsylvania General Store, pastries from Termini Brothers, pie and whole wheat rolls from Beiler’s Bakery. Total yumminess. And lest you believe we stuffed ourselves on high carb treats all day, let me just point out that we sought out vegetable stands and took lots of pictures. Hey, there’s a cornfield right across the street from my home. I see food that’s good for me by the time I get the morning paper each day. I was here for the crazy good stuff and photo opportunities of  antioxidants.

    However, this outing was more than just a road trip to leer at food. We had signed up for the Taste of Philadelphia market tour, which is held every Wednesday and Saturday at the Market. Today, it was just the three of us and our guide Gail, a congenial Philly native who supplied all the food lore we could gobble up about the Reading Railroad,  Philly’s role as the center of the food universe in the 19th century, and the true story behind the creation of hoagies, cheesesteaks, and soft pretzels. Although the tour is advertised to last 75 minutes, we hung out with Gail for nearly two hours. We had samples of snapper soup,  ice cream,  pretzels and candy, which whet our appetites for a second course—lunch!

   The Terminal has so much to offer. We were overwhelmed with choices. The colors, the signs, the noise, the people, the displays, the smells. We’re determined to go back and sample our way through the place.Image

    And as much as the day was about food, we emerged slightly more aware of how to get around the big city without our cars. The train trip was a relaxing alternative on a hot day to the Schuylkill Expressway. Once we arrived–correctly–at Market East, the market was across the street. It was pretty simple, and we’re determined to do it again. Sure, I bought luscious candy and whole wheat rolls, but I think I returned home feeling, as we used to say in the old days, “so cosmo.” You know, savvy, brave, eager to try again. We got out of our comfort zones, had a bit of an urban adventure, and washed it all down with a mouthwatering sandwich for lunch. Talk about a perfect day.

Be a Smart Shopper

When the vultures aren’t kayaking or biking or touring or learning, we’re shopping. And we’re good at it. Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, home base for our last outing, offers lots of great places to peruse and spend. There’s the decadently priced Lily Pulitzer line at Tickled Pink, home furnishings at Mod Cottage and Bella Luna, and the uniquely tasteful ladieswear at Carlton’s. But if we want a shopping thrill that’s gentler on our wallets, we head to Browseabout Books on Rehoboth Ave. They put out a sign to welcome us each year:

Well, there are other wise people in the store, too, but we like to believe they’re speaking to us. They’ve got all the latest nonfiction and fiction best-sellers as well as a wide assortment of staff picks to meet everyone’s beach reading needs. And like any decent store a few blocks from the beach, this place carries a wealth of toys, games, puzzles–really quality puzzles–cards and gifts. You name it. It’s a browser’s heaven. Once you enter, it’s impossible to leave quickly, especially if you’re a book lover on the prowl for something new, buzzworthy, quirky or time-tested in literature.

The store offers lots of special events, too. We left this charming beach town on Thursday, two days before Madeline Miller, author of The Song of Achilles, a modern re-telling of the Trojan War story that is getting great reviews, was set to appear. In an age of e-books and e-readers, this brick and mortar indy bookstore is a place you want to support and celebrate. Maybe even cherish.