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Archive for the ‘Pop Culture’ Category

Chinese Lantern Festival Lights Up Franklin Square

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When the Chinese Lantern Festival came to Norfolk, Virginia, my sister and her family reported back that the display was amazing and not to be missed when it comes to Philadelphia. On opening night, the display was spectacular, illuminating over seven acres of Franklin Square!

Artists create the lanterns using cloth and heavy wire, creating a mosaic-like effect. In addition to light shining through the cloth, thousands of LCD lights outline some of the designs. Against the night sky, the colors looked brilliant.  Wheels whirled along one of the pathways, and a two-hundred foot dragon glowed with yellow and red.

The festival marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year, typically held around the beginning of February but postponed in Philly to April for friendlier weather outcomes.

Not to be missed: a ride on the carousel . . .  for all ages! Spinning around while riding the horses, viewing the kaleidoscope of colors, truly a magical moment.

Zydeco: Philly’s Mardi Gras Party 2016

12657450_10207781476689215_1548317181980620869_oUntil a few months ago, I never even heard of Zydeco. A friend suggested that since I’ve been exploring the dance scene, that I might try Zydeco.  First, I had to find out–what is Zydeco? Zydeco originated in southwest Louisiana in the Creole culture. Creole folks descend from various nationalities including Haitian, Native American, French and Spanish immigrants. The music usually has a fast tempo, and the main instrument is the accordion accompanied by a washboard, guitars, violins and drums. Elements of R&B, rock, soul and other music genres have worked their way into Zydeco performances.  According to Wikipedia, Zydeco is similar to Cajun music but has has a harder, faster sound that features a rhythm that shifts accents to weak beats.

I’m certainly no expert on the music, but seems that the music has a recognizable sound, and the beat is so strong that it is hard to resist moving to the music.

At the Friday night Mardi Gras Party, the evening started with a dance lesson, which is typical for the Allons Dansor venues. I usually show up early for the dance lesson, as it is a great way to get moving, to review the steps and to meet the newcomers. The steps are easy, and by dancing as a group, no need to feel self-conscious. Eventually, the gender lines form partnerships to practice the closed position.  Partners switch out when the instructor introduces a new step.

A short video shows the introductory steps and then the dancing with live music from Curley Taylor and Zydeco Trouble.

Spirited Nights

Halloween and Mardi Gras have elements in common: religious origins, costumes, masks, revelry. Halloween has its origins in the festival of Samhain when the Celts would light bonfires to mark the beginning of the winter after the harvest time. On All Hallows Eve, as it is during Mardi Gras, the boundaries between worlds of reality and fantasy blur, and supposedly otherworldly spirits roam the earth.

This joyful music from the swamps of Louisiana can be played for a sultry slow dance. The word Zydeco derived from mispronouncing the French phrase: “Les haricots ne sont pas sales,” translated as, “the snap beans aren’t salty” and means, “I don’t have any spicy news for you.”  The video, however, does offer spicy news of such a slow dance on a Halloween night. Music by The Bayou Brothers!

Symbo

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Late Show with Stephen Colbert and other New York City Adventures

Get the Tickets!

Two weekends before Christmas I took the Bolt Bus to New York City to visit with my sister, Jean. Her husband was diligently signed up to attend a three-day cardiology conference, doing good for the world by keeping updated on latest in advances in heart care, whereas I was on a holiday spree and lucky to have a place to stay.

My New York City wish list included attending the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. The Colbert Report, Stephen’s satirical take on political pundits, was one of my favorite late-night shows on Comedy Central, so when Stephen migrated over to David Letterman’s slot on the weekday slot for late night entertainment, I followed him. I was not disappointed. Stephen has a cleaver wit, producing humorous skits with his guests, and he can also sing and dance. I hadn’t attended a taping of a television show since grade school, so this would be an opportunity to update my experience.

I began looking for tickets in October, but the December calendar for ticket release was not yet up. Every morning I went to the Late Show site, checking to see if the tickets had been released. As soon as the tickets became available, I signed up online. Those tickets did not guarantee entrance, however, as the show over books to guarantee that all seats are filled. We would have to build in time to stand in line to secure a seat.

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Jean and I waited in line for a couple of hours, taking turns stepping into the nearby shops.

So happens that we were standing right next to a restaurant where a poster of holiday shakes, Sweets for the Season, occupied a space on their window. The sign stated, “Back for a limited time!” Oh, no, if we didn’t buy one now, we’d never get one! The question was: which one to pick? After some debate, we decided on the Peppermint Chocolate Chip, oh yeah!

Finally, at 3pm, the Late Show staff distributed entrance tickets to folks lined up on the sidewalk.

Soup Kitchen

IMG_2713We had some time before we had to return to the theater, so we headed out to the restaurant made famous by the “Soup Nazi” episode of Seinfeld when Jerry and George placed their order at the soup stand, which supposedly offered the most delicious soup in the city. Well, George makes an issue of not getting bread, whereby the cook shouts, “No soup for you!”

Luckily, we got our soup without incident. For $10, the cook handed us a little bag with a cup of one of the best-tasting soups I’ve ever had, a piece of bread (unlike George), a chocolate candy and an orange. We walked over to Central Park, a few blocks away, and ate in the vendor tent area. I wished we had more time to wander among the little shops, but we had to get back to our room and then over to the Sullivan Theater to wait in line again to get into the show.

Live Taping

IMG_2720By 4:30, the Late Show staff had us lined up inside the lobby of the theater.  A sign at the entrance proclaimed that the Late Show had all rights to our image “for all perpetuity and throughout the universe.”  Was that warning written by a lawyer or their comedy writers? In any case, they had themselves covered, for sure!

The ushers showed us to our seats, in the second row from the stage! . . . one of the advantages to standing longer and earlier in line. We watched the hubbub of activity on stage, five cameras moving about and stagehands assisting with setup. Jon Batiste and his band, Stay Human, played several numbers, musicians coming into the audience to perform. Paul, the warmup comedian, came out to get the audience psyched; we even rehearsed the shout-out, “Steph-En, Steph-En . . . ” The show does not use audience laugh/applause signs, which I remembered from my last encounter with a tv production. Instead, the stage manage waved a cone of paper to rev up the crowd and that worked well. In a sense, we became part of the show as the directors depend heavily on audience reactions rather than laugh tracts.

Stephen’s History Lesson: Meeting Button Gwinnett

Stephen’s first guest was Lin-Manuel Miranda, composer, lyricist, rapper and actor, best known for creating and starring in the Broadway musical, Hamilton. Lin-Manuel and Stephen performed a short skit using rap to spoof Hamilton but referencing another founding father, but almost unknown, Button Gwinnett from Georgia. Lin-Manuel played John Adams in the sketch.  What really surprised me was that someone, let alone a founding father, was named Button!  The audience was primed to reply to Cobert’s question, “What’s my name?” The crowd shouts back, “Button Gwinnett”! The camera pans the audience, and there we are! Jean and I (turquoise scarf shows up very well) at 2:41 into the tape for our 10 seconds of tv fame!

Isaac “Ike” Barinholtz, actor, comedian, best known as a cast member on MADtv, from 2002–2007, and for his roles on The Mindy Project, The League and Eastbound & Down, was the second guest. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, a funk/soul band performed several numbers at the end of the program.

The show was energetic, fast-paced and entertaining. Doesn’t hurt, of course, that Stephen and I would agree on many political issues. I enjoy his constant skewering of Donald Trump.  I would return to watch the Late Show again or perhaps the Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore.

Another Taping: with James at Times Square

That evening we were off to Times Square to find my nephew, James, who was working camera equipment, during a taping of “King of Thrones,” a mock book signing. We found James, and he was able to take off a few minutes to visit and show us around. Throngs of people gathered around the set, some wearing costumes from the television show, Game of Thrones. How exciting to have a connection to all the action taking place on the Square.

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On the walk back to our hotel we shouldered our way through the crowds at Rockefeller Center. The tree in center stage displayed thousands of colored lights, and golden flags sparkled as they waved in the night breeze.

Skating at Rockefeller Center and Other Adventures

The next morning we were up early to get, yet again, in another line, this time to go ice skating at the Rink at Rockefeller Center. Part of what I love about ice skating is twirling around in a beautiful location. The Rockefeller Rink was decked out in beautiful holiday decorations and lights.

IMG_2746IMG_2761Luckily the lines to get into the rink moved fast; seems that most folks just want to do a couple loops around the rink and that’s enough.

We had some extra time to look around the stores in the Rockefeller building. Murals hung on the wall, including this one of NBC television celebrities  . . . except the talented lady who never made it into tv, except on the Late Night Show. Photoshopping is so much fun.

Just this past October, our high school class held their reunion, and I was able to connect with my friends from Springfield. My best friend, Dorothy and her husband, Aron, live in Manhattan, so this was another to chance to catch up with them. We stopped for lunch at the Great American Health Bar at 35 W 57th Street. The food was excellent, especially the  split pea soup served with fresh bread. I would stop in again.

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IMG_2774On our way to get tickets at the Red Box for the Illusionists, we did some window shopping. Saks Fifth Avenue decorated their elegant storefront windows in blue and white this year, and garlands and lights surrounded each display. St. Patrick’s reflects in the background in the photograph.

Shoppers swarmed along the sidewalks as the unseasonably warm weather, reaching 70 degrees, encouraged people to be out and about.

Views from Williamsburg

Our last destination for the weekend was Williamsburg, a neighborhood in the borough of Brooklyn, as James had recently moved to an apartment near the East River. The rooftop of James’ apartment building offered expansive views of the Williamsburg Bridge and city. We walked to East River State Park, another great place to view the New York skyline.

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So ended our fantastic three days in New York. I boarded the Bolt Bus for the trip to back to Philly with many wonderful memories of our weekend trip.

Fashion faux pas: Wear the coat or reupholster a chair?

Coat in closet

I often purchase clothing that I believe is a great buy: on sale, has all the right elements of color and style, yet when I bring it home, the item remains hanging in the closet, with the tag still attached.

I found a coat in the bowls of my sister’s storage closet. I pulled it from the other temporary cast offs, attracted by the color and velvety fabric. I said to my sister, “It looks like it has possibilities.” And immediately tried it on. For six years the coat stayed in the closet. Was it time to release it from its confinement?

The coat felt heavy, and in response, I slumped my shoulders. The sleeves were too long and there was too much padding on the shoulders. Still, I checked it out in the mirror hoping it might recover if only I hem it or take in or something! In the end, all I could do was laugh with the realization that this coat would return into the back closet.

What do you think? Is this redeemable? Or should I pass it to a thrift shop? Or would this be best on a chair? Post your comment below and let me know what you would do.

New Shoes

When I think of new, what comes to mind is shoes. Purchasing new shoes is often at a benchmark time in our lives. The baby begins walking and before stepping out into the world, must have a new pair of shoes. Before the first day of school arrives, parents shoe up their kids for a fresh start. For the bride, putting on the shoes is the final step as she prepares to walk into a new life with her partner. There are those times, however, when shoes become the outfit and if nothing else, well, it’s just fun to wear a new pair.

Weekly Photo Challenge: New

Childhood Memories, 1950s: Our Favorite Toys

Dolls with K & J

Displaying our dolls and stuffed animals

Working-class suburban children had more toys than kids from any previous era, although we had nothing to compare what life was like for children who grew up during other times or places. We didn’t know how lucky we were! Economic prosperity followed World War II, and parents had some expendable income and prices were relatively low. Parents expected us to share our swing set, wading pool and sandbox with our neighborhood friends. While we had many toys, they did not waste away in a mountain of plastic. We played with each toy, and parents were generally careful about buying too much. Toys fell to pieces from wear. Kids had time to play, as we didn’t have many chores, and mom was home to take care of the house, for most of us. In our family, our parents impressed on us to take care of our things, and if we didn’t, that demonstrated we would not be not entitled to any more. Santa delivered many of our toys on Christmas morning. My mother told me that when I was three, I exclaimed that I heard Santa’s sleigh bells, which kept me believing in the jolly old elf for years.

Backyard Swing Set

The 1950s brought in the era of reasonably priced, if not terribly safe or functional, swing sets. Some sets offered options, such as  rings, gliders, ladders or a slide, which would get burning hot in the summer. Fathers plunked the sets down in the middle of the yard on the hard earth without sand or wood chips. When swinging more than slowly back and forth, the entire set would fly up in the air. My dad added boards to the bottom to stabilize the set. Nevertheless, the swings became a place to hang out, if nothing else, passing the odd moments between other activities. Milling around the swings, we would start a game of tag, freeze tag or hide ‘n seek, hop scotch or jump rope. On summer nights, we’d find glass jars and collect lightning bugs.

Horns 1955

Skating

Suburban sidewalks and patios provided the perfect platforms for the metal roller skates with the leather straps. A key locked the skates to our shoes, and off we’d go around the neighborhood. In the winter, we signed up for ice skating lessons at the local rink, earning different color buttons as we moved up through the various skill levels. There was always a program at the end of the season to show off our talents, and the best part was wearing a fancy costume. We skated on creeks and ponds and at the tennis courts, which the township fire trucks would hose down to create smooth surface.

Trikes, Bikes and Scooters

David 4th of July Bike

TricycleKids under six would ride tricycles. Made of heavy steel, the trikes usually had a little platform in the back where a friend could go for a ride as we peddled.

Most, but not all, children in our neighborhood owned a two-wheeler. The popular Schwinn was equipped with foot brakes and large tires. A durable bike, it was difficult to peddle on steep hills. Some rode their bikes to school. Later, we graduated to the English bikes with gears and hand breaks. Because of the ease of peddling, we ventured further out of our neighborhood to explore local towns. Our municipality required bike licences, and we would ride up to the township building to go though the testing, which usually consisted of riding in a circle and straight line.

Dolls

christmas Baby dolls

1952 Christmas: dolls, bikes, clothes

Baby Dolls: Our cuddly baby dolls, made of vinyl soft plastic became our first favorite doll. Some had rooted hair that we could brush and some could be fed with a bottle and wet a diaper. Our layettes included blankets, pajamas, booties, and assorted outfits. We had cribs and baby carriages for taking our babies out for a ride in the neighborhood. Every night we would put the dolls to bed in their little cribs. I played with my Shirley Temple baby doll so much, she eventually disintegrated.

Christmas doll cribs

1954: Cribs, scooters, blackboard, lunch box

Walker Dolls: As we grew older, we graduated to a walker doll, usually about 14 inches tall, their legs and head would move together. These dolls were porcelain with mohair wigs and eyes would open and shut. Some of these dolls came in bride outfits. My friend, Joan, had the Ideal Toni doll, associated with the Toni cosmetic company, and came with her own permanent wave kit. I believe my doll was an American Character Sweet Sue. Joan and I had many of the same outfits for our dolls. We usually kept their clothes in small suitcases so that we could carry doll and outfits over to our friends’ houses. My the time my parents purchased a walker doll for my younger sister, the popular Shirley Temple, they were mostly made of plastic with rooted hair.

Madame Alexander and Ginny Dolls: These were the eight-inch little girl dolls, and we collected dozens of outfits for them and had at least two dolls. The accessories were endless: slips, shoes, socks, handbags, hats and headbands. The clothes were detailed and well-made. Our moms helped us create beds out of cigar boxes, using clothes pins as legs. Mom made little blankets, sheets and pillows. We could also buy furniture, including patio and bedroom sets. In the picture below is the cardboard suitcase that Ginny carried back then.  The price was still marked on the box: $1, for a nightgown, slippers, robe and towel.

High Heal Fashion Dolls: In the late 1950s, the 8-inch high heel, or grown-up doll, became popular. This doll was the precursor to Barbie. The dolls were proportional but designed to wear high heels. We could buy a variety of outfits and accessories including nylon hose, simulated pearl necklaces and earrings, and fancy undergarments. The Revlon Fashion doll was the most common, but one manufacture created a doll after a local Philadelphia television celebrity, Sally Starr, hostess for Popeye Theatre, which ran from 1955 into the early seventies. Like Sally, the doll was dressed in a cow girl outfit with hat, boots, gun and holster.

Doll Houses

Doll house; puppets

Doll House and Puppet Show

We had two metal doll houses, which came with moulded plastic furniture for every room. The miniature pieces, brightly colored, represented detailing of wood, bed linens and upholstery. In the photograph above, a colonial house, made by Marx toys, resembled our two-story home. My sister and I spent hours rearranging the furniture, trying to decide the aesthetic placement of all the little pieces. We would make up stories using the plastic characters that came with the set.

Sleds

Most kids had the American Flyer sled, made of wood with metal sliders. Our neighborhood had a great hill for sledding so at the first snowfall, we’d be out on the hill before the cars and snow plow removed the snow. Later, we used the aluminum twirling sleds, the circular disks that would twirl down the hill.

Sledding

Boy Toys

Boys had several different toys than their sisters. Boys would run around the neighborhood playing cowboys, donning hats, holsters and fringed shirts; in several blog posts I write about how television, especially the Westerns, influenced play back then. Erector Sets, a collection of metal pieces, including wheels and gears and an electric motor, could be put together with nuts and bolts to build any number of mechanical contraptions. Interestingly, girls did play with Lincoln Logs. Why were girls given Lincoln Logs and not Erector Sets? Maybe tool use was considered too masculine for girls. Boys also had model train sets, usually set up around Christmas and placed around the tree. Some boys had train layouts in their basements. During the holidays, my father would set up his train set from the 1920s for his daughters. I liked the train but was more interested in arranging the houses to make a holiday scene.

Lincoln Logs

Lincoln Logs and Dog

All the Others . . .

We had more playthings in our toy chests: tinker toys, hula hoops, paddle balls, balsam wood gliders, slinky, view master, jump ropes, paper dolls, crayons and chalk. We spent many hours playing games with our friends:  Old Maid, Canasta, Clue, Checkers and Chinese Checkers, to name a few.

We had a wonderful time with the variety of toys available to us and developed friendships that formed around the games and toys. If you have written a blog post about toys in the 1950s, please include a link in the comments.

Pirates Celebrated at Marcus Hook Festival

September 21, 2014

The legend that Blackbeard, the notorious pirate of the 18th Century, once walked the streets of Marcus Hook, a town nestled on the Delaware River just below Philadelphia, provided the justification for a lively festival and an opportunity for the Marcus Hook Preservation Society to raise booty for the restoration of the Plank House, where rumor has it, that Blackbeard and his crew spliced the mainbrace!

Marucs Hook isn’t the only town to celebrate their pirate heritage. At the Beaufort Annual Pirate Invasion: It Takes a Village to Pillage, the town recreates actual pirate invasion in 1747. Blackbeard also made several appearances in Beaufort until the governor of Virginia tracked him down. The seaport festival in Philadelphia is the backdrop for a pirate battle on the Delaware River, as tall ships blast their cannons in mock high seas battles.

The pirates at Markus Hook opened their encampment to visitors, their period tents offering vignettes of camp life, with open fires providing the aroma of burning wood. Firearm displays, cooking demonstrations and craft tables gave the landlubber much to gaze at and appreciate. Pirate garb is particularly fanciful, with feathered hats, long waistcoats, billowy blouses and gold jewelry. Most events didn’t cost a single dabloom, if you can just resist spending your last farthing on pirate wares at the vendor booths.

The entertainment on stage included enthusiastic performances of pirate music and sea shanties, from groups such as the Brigands. Pirates brandished their swords during the lively swashbuckling contests.

Canon firing complements of Archangel, TheVigilant Crew and the Crew of the Mermayde.

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