Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Holidays!

May the coming year be filled with peace and hope for all of us.

Wissahickon Diary will resume in mid January.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


Cormac and Dan drinking pints in a pub.Apropos of nothing, other than this last day of November, 2008, has been a particularly sodden and lonely one, when there is so much uncertainly in the world and too many examples of man's inhumanity to man, and that I wanted to recall better times and company, here's a picture of my old friend Cormac Clancy and me having a pint in a pub outside of Dublin in December of 2001, the occasion being an impulsive decision by Donna and me to hop a flight to Ireland to celebrate my 40th birthday. (Cormac is the good looking one.)

The decision to make the trip had been rash, considering that the attacks of September 11 and the attendant fears of travel abroad that followed, still hung over everything. Looking back of course, no regrets. A wonderful time we'll remember the rest of our lives.

In a few weeks from now we will make this trip again. We won't be celebrating my birthday this time (it will have passed), but Donna's daughter and father, who will accompany us along with Donna's son and mother, will see in their twentieth and seventy-third years while we are there. Certainly, occasions they will always remember.

And we will all see in a new year. Here's to hoping it will be a good one, not only for us, but for you and yours as well, and the rest of the world, too.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

CHillie afternoon

Face of CHillie.That's CHillie. She hangs out on the northeast corner of Germantown and Southampton in Chestnut Hill. She is truly a Renaissance bear. Not only is she a work of art...

All of CHillie, showing she is also a map and a bench.but also a cool and funky map of Chestnut Hill and environs (or perhaps I should say imaginations). And a bench!

She is the creation of artist Rebecca McKillip Thornburgh, and you can read (and see) all about how she came to be on Rebecca's blog.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sarah can't hurt this one

Polar Bear's face in window display.Window display, Robertson's Flowers, Chestnut Hill, Sunday afternoon.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Bear with me...

Sculpture of a bear in front of a restaurant.That's Gus, according to a plaque in the sidewalk, standing in front of the Melting Pot restaurant, near the intersection of Germantown and Southampton Avenues, in Chestnut Hill. I like to think of him as the ambassador of fondue.

Bear with me. This is the beginning of a theme...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Der himmel über Chesnut Hill

Germantown Avenue, Bethlehem Pike.Intersection of Germantown Avenue and Bethlehem Pike, Sunday afternoon.

Yesterday (Saturday, November 15) felt freakishly like summer. The temperature soared into the seventies, and the humidity was as oppressive as any day in August. To top it off, the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for the area into the evening. I stepped out onto my front porch toward the middle of the afternoon to see my neighbor across the street, in shirt sleeves, struggling to set up his Christmas display.

Throughout the night, wind and lashing rain marked the onset of a cold front. This afternoon the temperature was nearly thirty degrees cooler than yesterday, with enough left over wind to drive the cold right through you. The sky had that classic late autumn look, thick gray clouds piled under bright blue. I pulled down the ear flaps on my cap when I went out. The holiday decorations in store windows and lampposts on my trip to Chestnut Hill seemed entirely appropriate.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Wait, wait... don't read this!

Update: here she is!

Erin of, well, Erin fame, will become even more famous after Saturday when she appears as a contestant on NPR's Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me!

I'm not going to say whether or not she wins... Okay, I am. She wins.

If you don't believe me, call her at (123) 555-9876, and hear Carl Kasell's voice on her answering machine. I swear this is true. Except for the phone number, which I made up.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Full circle

Tulip poplars in fall.Fall,
Tulip poplars in sumer.summer
Tulip poplars in spring.
Tulip poplars in winter.and winter.

Tulip poplars, in the grove down from Park Line Drive.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Donna's favorite tree, my backyard, Sunday afternoon. (And she took this photo, too.)

Hint: if your really want to see the tree, enlarge the image by clicking on it, and check out the reflection in the window.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Golden maple leaf.Maple leaf, Sunday afternoon, in the grove below Park Line Drive.

Donna and I were headed down into the Wissahickon to take photographs of the giant tulip poplars.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Purple berries.Purple berries, a neighbor's yard, Sunday afternoon.

I have no idea what these fellas are, but they sure are pretty. If you do, please let us know.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Kinda like the week after Christmas

An Obama sign in a yard strewn with fallen leaves.Nearly a week has passed since the election, but the yards here in Germantown and Mt. Airy are still displaying their Obama signs. We Democrats haven't won an election in quite some time, and I suppose we don't know how to handle it. Of course, this is unlike any election any of us have ever seen, given that so much is at stake. Also, the man we have elected seems extraordinarily qualified to handle the task.

To be sure, the times ahead will be long and hard, and if we are to get through them, we will have to all pitch in, a theme Mr. Obama has struck throughout his campaign.

But for now, it feels like the days after Christmas, when nobody wants to be the first to take down his Christmas tree, hoping to hold on to all those good feelings, and to stave off thoughts of all of the work that lies ahead in the year to come.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

So proud

American flag.

Wissahickon in Autumn

Wissahickon Creek, from Rex Avenue Bridge, Saturday afternoon.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Rex Avenue Bridge

Rex Avenue Bridge.My bike has been begging to be included on the blog, so I've finally given in.

Thomas Mill Covered Bridge

Thomas Mill Covered Bridge.Saturday afternoon.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Parson's Book Store.Parsons, late 1984 or early 1985.

This is a re-post from a previous blog of mine. It occurred to me to do this after receiving an email from Brendan Lynch, the author of Parsons Bookshop: At the Heart of Bohemian Dublin, 1949-1989. Mr. Lynch had read my piece after a friend of his had shown it to him. I highly recommend his wonderful book to anyone interested in the Dublin literary scene of that era.

I know where and when I bought Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds because for some reason I decided to inscribe the first blank page in the book:
Purchased from the old ladies at Parsons bookstore, where the bridge crosses the canal at Baggot Street, Dublin, 15 April 1983.
I have no idea what inspired me to write those words. To my recollection, I have not inscribed a book before or since.

When I read it now, "old ladies" strikes me as demeaning. I'm sure I didn't mean to be callous. I probably thought that the white-haired, soft-spoken women who ran the shop were quaint. At twenty-one, I often viewed people and situations, especially in Ireland, as subjects for my amusement. What I didn't know then was that these remarkable women -- Mary King, May O’Flaherty, and their assistants -- had actually known Flan O'Brien (real name Brian O'Nolan), and that he and one of my other literary heroes, Patrick Kavanagh, had been regular visitors to the shop during the heights of their careers in the 1950s and 60s.

I certainly did know of the significance of Parsons bookstore, and the role that its proprietors played in Irish literary history, when I returned to Dublin in late 1984. I had a small flat on Herbert Place, just down the canal from the shop, and I would drop by every morning. I liked the idea that I was walking the same ground as O'Nolan, Kavanagh, and other famous writers like Brendan Behan, and exchanging pleasantries with their old friends.

But if the women ever thought of me at all, it would only have been as the shy American who came in every morning and bought a copy of the Irish Times and a Cadbury bar. In the six months that I visited their shop, I never engaged them in any meaningful conversation. “Good morning,” “Thank you,” and comments about the weather were as far as I got.

I don't know why I didn't ask them about the old days, or divulge my passion for the work of Kavanagh and O'Nolan. I suppose that I had some silly notion that my dignity would be compromised, that I would appear to them like a typical American tourist. What a shame. They were gracious and kind, and likely would have given me anecdotes that don't exist in any of the biographies. Who knows, I might have learned something interesting or important I could share here. But that opportunity is long gone. So is Parsons, and so are those venerable women.

I learned of Mary King's death on June 25, 1995 -- ten years later and three thousand miles away from Parsons. I was in another bookstore, the Borders in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia, near where I now live. I must have been feeling nostalgic for my time in Dublin, and purchased a copy of the Irish Times. Her death notice was the first thing I saw when I turned the front page. It read in part:
Queen of books dies aged 83
A landmark of Dublin's literary world has passed away with the sudden death of Mary King. Aged 83 she ran Parsons book shop in the city for 38 years and her knowledge of books was unsurpassed.
I clipped the notice out of the paper and it has been stuck inside my copy of At Swim-Two-Birds ever since.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sunset, Walnut Lane Bridge

Sun setting from Walnut Lane Bridge.A few weeks age, before the tulip poplar's leaves began to change.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Osage orange

Osage orange. We used to come down Germantown Avenue from the PA Turnpike to get into the city twenty-eight years ago when I was a Freshman at Temple University. Around where we crossed the line from Montgomery County into the city limits, we would see Osage oranges strewn along the sides of the road. A connection between the life I was leaving, and the new life I was going to.

Osage oranges grew along the banks of the Davidsburg Run where it ran through the lower meadow of our farm when I was growing up. As kids, my cousin Steve and I would drop them into the water and race them down the current, a competition to see whose would be the first to bob under the fence into the neighbor's field.

Today Donna and I rode our bikes up Andorra Road, near where I used to see the Osage oranges years ago, and found this specimen.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Happy Birthday Abe!

Korean mums in bloom.Korean mums off the front porch.

I don't usually post on weekends, but then I found out that it's Abe Lincoln's birthday.

Happy Birthday Abe!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Jack's p.o.v.

Inside of a jack-o-lantern, looking out.Have a great weekend, whatever your perspective happens to be.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pumpkin Pickin'

Jack-o-lanterns on a porch railing.Pumpkin Pickin', not unlike Festivus, is a made up holiday created in answer to the over commercialization of a traditional holiday -- in this case, Halloween.

Donna, my girlfriend, came up with the concept twenty years ago, or so, and it goes like this:
  1. You get a bunch of your friends together (especially, but not necessarily, if they have kids). For the last five years, we've gathered in a cabin in an undisclosed location in northern Bucks County.
  2. As a gang, you descend on a local and sincere pumpkin patch to search for the most jack-o-lantern-worthy pumpkins.
  3. As a gang, you return to the undisclosed location and create your masterpieces on the front porch, which requires the use of various and sundry implements of destruction, and the accumulation of mounds of pumpkin guts. When they are finished, you line them up on the porch railing.
  4. Then you bring your friends inside and give them liberal amounts of food and libation.
  5. After dark, they all get lit. (The pumpkins, that is.)
A line of lighted jack-o-lanterns at night.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Bad pumpkin!

Jack-o-lantern, next to a glass of beer, throwing up.Pumpkin Pickin', Saturday afternoon.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Halyomorpha Halys

Stink bug.That's Halyomorpha Halys. Or the brown marmorated stink bug, to you and me.

Until 1996, they were not native to Pennsylvania -- or the United States, for that matter. Somehow they sneaked in.

If you live in an old house in my neck of the woods, with woods being meant more or less literally, you most likely have run into these fellows. They tend to show up in droves as the weather gets cooler, seeking out warm places to hibernate until spring arrives.

The unnerving sound of their erratic flight, a sudden buzzing that almost always ends with an abrupt thwack, is as common as the sight of them. They don't so much land as crash into things -- walls, furniture, you. Probably the reason one finds a lot of them dead.

Whether dead or alive, be cautious in handling them. Their name is well earned. When threatened (or squashed), or insulted, they emit a very disagreeable odor -- like rancid almonds, I have read. So far I have not experienced this first hand. Having been forewarned, I am careful.

Pick them up in a tissue and flush them down the toilet, is my advice. Rehabilitation -- to borrow from Woody Allen -- is out of the question.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Family portraits

An astonishingly handsome middle aged man holding two cats.Tom, Dan, Colleen, October 2008.

Same pose and subject as previous photo, taken thirteen years earlier.December, 1995.

An earlier piece about Tom and Colleen.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Getting over the wall

People helping each other over a stone wall.A very passionate and articulate young man (he's only four months older than I am) who wants to be our next president held a rally in a park in my neighborhood on Saturday morning. We got up early and stood in line for hours with thousands of our neighbors to hear him speak.

In the twenty minutes or so that he was at the microphone he spoke on many important issues of the day, first and foremost, of course, being the economy, but also education, health care, energy, and the environment. He also spoke eloquently on the role of personal responsibility, stressing that government alone could not solve the massive problems facing the country.

He spoke to us, not at us. The crowd, which was truly a cross section of the culture ethnically and racially, was one, with him the way crowds are with rock stars or evangelist preachers, interrupting his discourse with whoops and hollers, chants, enthusiastic applause. He is, after all, one of the most powerful speakers of our time.

Afterwards, thousands had to figure their way out of the park. A large contingent of us surged toward the edge of a field that looked like a promising exit onto the street. When we got there, we found we were at the top of a wall, maybe five feet above the sidewalk. Not a problem. An ad hoc system was established. Those over the wall first turned and helped the strangers following them. Smiling faces, arms reaching up, words of encouragement for the unsure. We all made it. Amazing what we Americans can do when we work together.

Barack Obama.Barack Obama, Vernon park, Saturday morning.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Biff's new friend

Biff's hand strokes a big gray cat.Biff and cat (name unknown), Sunday afternoon.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


Trees in the Wissahickon tinged with gold and red.Wissahickon Valley from Walnut lane Bridge


Hawthorne berries.Hawthorn berries, Johnson Street.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

I love this time of year

Autumn leaves and blue sky.Near Blue Stone Bridge, Sunday afternoon.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Autumn flowers

Orange and yellow flowers.Blue Bell Hill, Saturday evening.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The neighbors

Two cats, seen through a fence.
Saturday evening, Johnson Street.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

And all for a good cause

Medal awarded to participants in the MS150.
So they gave out one of these medals to everyone who completed the first 75 miles of the MS150 City to Shore bike ride on Saturday, which included the two of us. (City to shore being from the suburbs of Philly to Ocean City New Jersey.) If it hadn't been for Donna, I probably wouldn't have done it this year.

That would have been a shame. It was a beautiful day for cycling, and the view of the ocean as we barreled into Ocean City was spectacular. An offshore storm had the waves rolling up to the size of mountains. The sky -- pardon the cliche -- was truly alabaster. Later we met up with old friends we'd unexpectedly met along the way, and bought Kohr Brother's frozen custard on the boardwalk.

And all for a good cause, research into Multiple Sclerosis. So many of the participants, and the hard working volunteers who supported them, know someone who is suffering from MS. The irony of being able to exult in physical activity on their behalf lurked over the day's activities.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Still tinkering

Hi all. I'm still tinkering with the look and feel of Wissahickon Diary, as you may have noticed if you're a regular visitor. (And yes, I know it isn't working quite right in Internet Explorer. I'll try to fix that tonight.) With each iteration, I get more confident in going "under the hood" of the Blogger template and making changes to the HTML and CSS. Heck, I might even make this a monthly thing, ala Dooce, creating a new banner to refect the current season.

Anyway, I'm having fun. I'll start posting new photos soon.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

An agreement

Spider on sink. So here’s the deal. She can stay where she is, in that inch or so of space between the cabinet and the wall. For my part, I won’t scrunch her up in a tissue and flush her down the toilet, though that would be so easy to do, given that the toilet is, after all, only three feet away. Nor will I trap her in a glass and throw her out the window to fend for herself in the wilderness of the backyard.

She, for her part, has to understand – and I don’t mean to give offense, I’m just telling it as it is – that the mere sight of her creeps me out. I don’t want to be rubbing elbows (my two to her eight) in the morning as I brush my teeth or do what little shaving it is that I do. She forgets this from time to time, but a rap or two of the tooth bush on the counter is sufficient to send her scurrying. When I’m not home, I don’t really care what she does. She can watch Oprah and Ellen, or surf the net. Or wait for other bugs to get caught in her web. She is not allowed into the homebrew, but so far this has not been a problem.

And finally this: I keep a messy bathroom; I know and don't need to be told. She is going to have to accept this without complaint.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Whale mural on building.Whale mural, as seen from Market Street Bridge, Center City, Philadelphia.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Drexel Dragon

Drexel banner with dragon beside water fountain.Drexel University, Wednesday morning.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Heading in

Fountain in front of Korman Building, Drexel University.Drexel University, West Philadelphia, early Wednesday morning.

Heading in to work, that is; not the fountain.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Woke up same time I did

Big fat cat on my bed.Tom, Sunday afternoon.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Hannah baby was a honey of a girl

Blue sky and trees through a window.
From my bedroom, Sunday afternoon, after the nap.

Hurricane Hannah, or what little of her we got, gave us a windy and raining Saturday without too much fuss, and departed by Sunday leaving us with a splendid early autumn day.

By the way, this is Monday's post going up Sunday night. I'm tired of looking at the yellow caution tape.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Please be careful

Caution tape.I will be working on Wissahickon Diary this weekend, revamping the design and some of the content. If you stop by, don't be alarmed if the site is down, or if it looks really funky.

Have a great weekend!

Unhappy plastic frog

Frowning plastic frog in birdbath.
This makeshift birdbath is actually the bottom tray of a flower pot. The plastic frog was found buried deep in the ground while digging in the garden.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


Honeysuckle flowers.Honeysuckle, front porch, Sunday evening.

Hard to get mad at honeysuckle. Its kind of of like the stray cat that'll do anything to win your affections. The flowers are not only pretty to look at, but what a sweet aroma it puts into the breeze on a late summer night.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Red wheel barrow, yes; chickens, no.

Red wheel barrow behind berries,
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
-- William Carlos Williams

Monday, September 1, 2008

A bit blurry (as were we)

Peppers on the grill.Peppers on the grill, Sunday evening.