Tiny Horse in a Turtle Costume

I keep having to remind myself that Halloween is coming. This is the first time in my living-out-on-my-own adult life that I’ve lived in a place where I might get trick-or-treaters. I actually had to buy candy. Sure, I’ve only seen six kids in my neighborhood, but you never know how far they’ll come from on Halloween.

I think I missed the Newtown Halloween Parade already. It’s likely it would have been last weekend—typically it’s the Saturday before Halloween. Which I discovered the first year I lived there when, at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, a marching band began to play outside my bedroom window.

Surprised, I opened the curtain to discover that yes, a band indeed was marching down the street next to my house, led by a drum major clad from head to toe in a green body suit. He was a very brave young man.

1186153_595842591212_1733777672_nThe band came along, costumed to varying degrees, and, following them, quite possibly the most adorable thing in the face of creation. A hundred or so little kids, all dressed up in their costumes, walking up the street with mommy and daddy, following the marching band.

That parade became one of my favorite traditions. I would grab myself a cup of hot cocoa, open the living room window, and sit on the sofa, looking out to watch the parade of two and a half-foot tall Batgirls, pajama-clad color guard, small pirates, Lego men, lions riding in strollers, and Narnian princesses.

Two years ago, I found perhaps the most amusing sight of my parade experiences. A woman was trying to navigate away from the marching band, pulling what I thought was a costumed dog toward my side of the street. I was videoing the band, and found myself slightly perturbed that they were in my shot, but not bothered enough to care. It was only when they turned, so the animal stood perpendicular to my position, that I realized he had hooves. There, on a leash outside my window, videoed for all the world to see, was a tiny horse in a turtle costume.

Tiny Horse

The Quaker Maple

I’ve got an app on my phone called Timehop. Every day it gives me a catalog of all of my social media posts on this day in previous years. I shall begin by saying with pride that I have not yet used it to find fodder for this month’s blog posts. I shall then break my victorious streak and tell you that I am using it today. You do what you can when you get into the final third of the month.

One of my posts, from a year ago on Instagram, was a photo collage of a tree I call the “Quaker Maple.” I loved the Meetinghouse across the street from our apartment in Newtown for a number of reasons. I loved the clean white lines of the building, the porch with swings I always wanted to go sit on but never felt brave enough to. I loved the graveyard beyond it, full of the seeds of resurrection, the sinners and the saints. Everyday people buried in everyday graves, marked with simple stones. It was a lovely place.

I loved the parking lot and driveway, which were typically empty, and in which Christine and I often directed friends to park if we had a house full—not an uncommon occurrence. As we said to one another, after all, they’re Quakers; it’s not like they’ll be mad, they’re pacifists.

Missing the Quaker Maple this year. #autumnisadrugforme #newtownpa #courtstreet #timehop

A photo posted by Carolyn Givens (@carolyncgivens) on

But most of all, I loved the gargantuan maple in the front of the lawn. I loved it in all of its moods, all of its seasons. I watched its branches dark against steel skies on wintry days, lined with white on snowy ones. I watched it burst with pale green in the spring and thicken into a miniature forest of glossy dark leaves standing up from the branches in the summer. It was typically the first herald of autumn—and that was my favorite mood.

It would burst. Burn. Flame. Golds and reds and crimsons and browns. In the morning the tips of the top branches were alight with the sun peaking over the housetops. In the afternoon the low light shone between the houses and lit it from within.

It dropped its leaves, filling our driveway multiple times each autumn, but I couldn’t mind. It was worth it.

Oh, yes, I do miss the Quaker Maple.

When Your Tuque Falls in the Curry

The full title of this piece—which, sadly, wouldn’t fit very well—is:
When Your Tuque Falls in the Curry:
And Other Problems of Using Your Laundry as an Outdoor Fridge

-The Annals of a Philly Winter-

Our laundry facilities are in a lean-to by the side of the kitchen that doubles as an entryway to the apartment. It is completely un-insulated and it has two windows and a storm door. So, heat: no.

These facts are unhelpful in the deepest, coldest days of winter when the water line to the washer freezes and you’re stuck, unable to launder your clothing. There’s a space heater in there for just such moments. Sadly, I have a tendency to forget that until after I’ve discovered the frozen water line again.

However, the lack of heat is quite helpful on those late fall/early winter days around the Thanksgiving and Christmas when the temperature outdoors is cool and the kitchen is filled to brimming with good things to eat. Hello extra fridge space!

On Sunday, we were to have seven people for dinner. Due to a snowstorm and horrid road conditions (and, if you were to believe headlines at Weather.com, all kinds of impending doom), we only had three of us. There’s lots of leftover curry. I just set the pot out on the dryer and voila, it’s chilled. Today for lunch I took a ladle to it, dipped, and poured over my bowl of rice, microwaved and had deliciousness.

But I dripped. And I didn’t clean it up immediately. Little did I know the impact that one small lapse in judgment would have….


On Sunday, we got more snow in four hours than we had all of last winter. The winter before, it had snowed on October 26. That’s it. I think. I vaguely recall another snowstorm that I missed ‘cause I was out in Lancaster, but suffice it to say we’ve been in a bit of a snow drought these past two winters.

This week has been working to make up for it. Philly/NJ had eight inches Sunday (to our 4” up here) and today we’re looking at 4”-6”.

Here’s the thing about Philly snow, though: it’s wet. There’s almost no getting around it. You know that lovely, dry, squeaky stuff from Michigan and Alaska? The kind you can just sweep away with a broom? A rarity here.

So this afternoon I went out to shovel. I swept the wet piles off the car and then took the shovel to the drive, lifting with my knees the whole(ish) way through. (We won’t talk about how my back hurts right now).


Snow BWI live on a tiny street. Most of the houses on it were built 50-300 years before the advent of cars. You can fit two cars side by side, but, well, y’know.

So it’s a one way street.

But here’s the other thing about those houses built 300 years before the advent of cars: nobody was thinking about parking lots and garages. I look at the houses on my street and wonder where on earth they put the horses. They must have had carriage houses somewhere else, ’cause I can’t find ’em.

One would think, with this tiny street and no real parking options, that shoveling would be easy, right? But here’s the thing: one small truck plows one single lane. That’s it. And it’s on the far side of the narrow little street from my driveway. So my drive, filled as it is with a vehicle, with only about four feet between my back bumper and the street, takes on another 8-12 feet of length in its shoveling needs. Lovely.


Then there’s the fact that there’s nowhere really to put the snow. Directly in front of my car is a wooden deck. Beside it, a 3-foot by 4-foot garden bed, and then of course, the 1-foot easement across the street—another 12 feet away. It’s always an adventure figuring the best ways to pile snow into our miniscule snow piling spaces. 4”-6” is nothing. I’ve cleared over a foot into those spots.

But all this is hard work. And with the temperature just barely hovering around freezing (that’s 32 degrees Fahrenheit for you Americans, and zero Celsius for everybody else), you get hot pretty quickly—all that lifting with (sort of) the knees and pushing across the street and piling snow (and the leaves under it) in precarious mountains.

So even when you think ahead, and you only wear one layer under your coat, you still get hot pretty quickly.

I bundled myself up: Columbia jacket, water-resistant lined pants, ear bags (or “ears,” as I call them), gloves, and hat. And 20 minutes in, I was starting to overheat.

I know what to do first in that situation. It’s why I wear both the ears and the hat: remove the tuque.

I set down the shovel, go to the storm door, open it, pull off my hat, and toss it in, aiming for an empty spot on the dryer.


I now have a woolen tuque with curry on it, friends.

Crazy, Small-Town Parades

I thought that the small-town parade had been left behind me in Glennallen when I moved here from Alaska – really, who could compete with the shutting down of a main highway for 45 minutes at the height of tourist season so that the Electric Company and Parks Service can drive big trucks down the road and throw candy to the crowd.
But Newtown almost compares. There is a whole lot of character – and a bunch of characters, too.

Textures of the 18th Century

You know those days that are just right? The ones where you wake up in the morning, having slept just enough, and you get up, and you do the things you need to do to get the day rolling, but no more. The ones where you take a walk, pick up a hot cocoa at Starbucks, stop in at the jeweler’s and find that you only owe four dollars for your fixed earrings, and then continue your meander down the street. As you go you pass the Tubby Olive and the Grapevine Grocer, the Lubavitch and the Newtown Borough Hall. Flakes begin to fall as you approach your destination, the Newtown Theatre, and you cross the street to the chattering voices of children, coming out from their viewing of The Polar Express to the sight of snowflakes.
You make your way inside, buy your ticket, and find a seat, thrilling in the old red curtain that covers the screen and the miniature town and train that stretch from side to side of the stage. And a few moments later the lights dim, and the curtains open, and you take a trip back to your childhood as you watch a Disney fairytale and melt into your seat at the song where the hero and the heroine fall in love.
It’s those days that make you think that it can’t get much better. That this must be the pinnacle, but you realize that it’s only 3 PM and you still have much to do. You walk back out into the chilly town and you remember that the Half-Moon Inn is open for visitors, so you wander back through the streets, approach the stone building at the corner of Center and Court, and reach your hand out to open the door…
And that’s when you realize you were wrong. Because, as much as the day had been perfect so far, it only got better when you stepped back two centuries into the wood, metal, and stone of an old inn, full of the smells of crackling fires, mulled cider, and roasting duck.
After all that, the best part of your day were the textures of a lost century.

Apartments, Storms, Power Outages, and Syllabi

Well, I found an apartment. It’s the downstairs of a neat old house in Newtown. And I love that concept. The house is on a little V of land between State St. (the main st. of Newtown) and Court, a residential street which goes off at an angle. Means that there’s traffic out almost every window, but since it’s Newtown, most everything rolls up by 7 PM. Anywhere I go is going to feel noisy after my current apartment; I figure I’ll get used to it. The apartment is the bottom floor of the house, and the top two floors are a separate apartment (a little larger). I had originally looked at both, and liked the idea of either, though the upstairs is probably more than I need, and therefore more than I need to spend. There’s a patio/deck out the back, fenced in, for outside-ness, and then, of course, all of Newtown for walking and exploration. I love both the main street and the surrounding neighborhoods there, so I look forward to lots of walks. Right across Court St. is the Friend’s Meetinghouse, with a big hedged lawn, that Chuck, the owner of house, said they often went over and used when they wanted grass space.

Aiming for mid- to late August for moving in. I’ll miss being where I am now (in terms of setting, and comfortableness of the people), but I won’t miss how far away it is from everything! I’m looking forward to avoiding the turnpike. Currently I’m spending almost $20 a week in tolls alone.

PBU is on a four-day work week over the summer, so I’m basically working Monday through Thursday, and taking Fridays off. So yesterday was the “end” of an extremely long week. Here’s hoping when Lisa’s back in place things will settle into some sort of routine. Pretty much the entire department will be completely new. Good things and bad things about that. It means that we won’t be stepping on toes when we say, “no, we’re not doing things that way anymore,” but it also means that there’s no one around who knows what’s been done and whether or not it’s worked…guess we’ll have to find out the hard way.

It was my intention to do some writing last night, and maybe watch an episode of something off of Hulu, but as I ate dinner, the heavens opened, and I set my computer aside to watch the storm. I closed up all my windows and the rain came down like a waterfall. Fascinated, I changed into clothes that could get wet and stepped out the door. I was hot and sticky (yesterday was a truly Philly summer day), and figured I would probably need to take a shower to cool down anyway, so I might as well let the rain soak me. Within a minute I was absolutely drenched, and at about the two-minute mark I was cold. That and the sporadic lightning encouraged me to go indoors again, so I went in, dried off, and changed. I walked through the living room with the wet clothes to take them to the laundry, and somewhere between the living room and when I entered the laundry, the power went off. Suddenly my evening plans changed – no computer (or, very little since I didn’t want to use up the battery and I couldn’t get online), limited phone use (again to save the battery), and no lights…I pulled out a book and used the daylight while it lasted and then a flashlight for a little while before sleep overcame me – got more than halfway through.

After the rain stopped, around 8 o’clock, Chris (my landlady) hopped into her car to go get Bill (her husband) from the train station. He was coming home from a business trip. About 10 minutes later she was back, there were two trees down at the end of our road, and she couldn’t get out. She ran into a neighbor whose son was bringing him back from the end of the road in a golf cart and he had gotten home from work after the trees fell, so his car was parked on the far side. He agreed to go get Bill, and a bit later Bill was delivered safely home by golf cart.

The power was out all night, and Bill pulled out the generator early this morning to cool down our refrigerators for a few hours. The road got cleared by about 8:30 AM, so I came on over to Starbucks for a while. I have a syllabus to finish and had planned to work on it here anyway, just now I do it out of necessity. That said, I should probably stop writing this note and get cracking on that…it’s due by the end of the day. Hopefully the power at home will be restored rapidly. This time it seems to just be a downed line, whereas when it was out the other year the entire transformer had gotten struck by lightning…here’s to less than two days without power!