Characters Come to Life at the Enchanted Library

Politics, man. Politics.”

We utter the phrase in disgust during this feels-like-Moses’-forty-year-journey-though-desert election. It’s commonly tossed about when things don’t go our way from the boardroom to PTA meetings.

Except when politics or nepotism works in our favor then we are suddenly pro-politics.

As a board member of the Upper Merion Township library for the past two years, I saw the opportunity for politics to play in my favor and jumped at the opportunity.

At the August meeting, during the annual rundown of the many activities the library hosts, the Enchanted Library date was announced along with the books they chose short scenes to bring to life – Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Paddington Bear…

“I’ll be Paddington!”

It takes more than politics and a hatful of marmalade to play Paddington.

It takes more than politics and a hatful of marmalade to play Paddington.

My offer was met with laughter.

“No, really I’ll play the part of Paddington. Do I have to audition or something?”

My wink-wink backdoor dealings may need some work but I was confident that politics would play in my favor.

I was politely informed that middle schoolers from the Junior Friends Thespians play the parts of the fictional characters.

Politics, man. Politics. I wanted to wear the blue duffle coat, red hat and have a worrying marmalade habit.

“I would have settled for Winnie the Pooh,” I said to Tom, still sore from my rejection.

“I know. Maybe next year you will get a part in a play for children performed by middle school actors,” Tom said. He has a unique backhanded way of getting his point across.

On Friday night, I made the short trip to the library to see the eighth annual Enchanted Library for the first time. And, of course, to scope out the actors who stole my roles. I got my eye on you too, Winnie the Pooh.

“It’s one of my favorites and we get a huge crowd from the community (300-350 people). I love seeing the kid’s eyes light up and see them experience books in a whole new way,” said Laura Arnhold, Library Director. Arhnold praised Children’s Librarian Rebecca Ginther who was in charge of the program.

“We want people to see the library as a place to go not only for information but a place to have fun. You can learn things and have a great time,” added Arnhold.

Groups of families signed up in advance for time slots to be led through the darkened library illuminated by white string lights.

The first stop was a visit to the Hundred Acre Wood. After the performance, I asked Pooh if that was the bear she hoped to play. “I just wanted to be a character people knew,” said Morgan Puglisi whose favorite books are The Land of Stories series.

“I like Paddington better. He’s a little bear,” said Srisha Srinivasan who played Pooh’s party pooper pal Eeyore. Srinivasan enjoys reading graphic novels.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Amelia Bedelia, Miss Nelson is Missing (with a scary-good performance by Kasha Canale), If you Give a Mouse a Cookie and Strega Nana rounded out the performances before the Paddington finale.

Paddington – an ever-kind stranger in a strange land was enchanting. If I felt a twinge of jealousy, it immediately disappeared as Josh Canale, an 8th grader at Upper Merion middle school, embodied the bear’s spirit.

“It wasn’t really the part I wanted but I like it and I’m okay with it. I was originally stage crew and they had me as a backup. The person who was originally Paddington couldn’t make it tonight,” said Canale almost apologetically when I told him I wanted the part.

What the…They have a backup Paddington? I clearly didn’t think my plot though when I set up a bear trap.

“We do let the middle school kids shine,” explained Arnhold on why I didn’t get the part. “They spent 6 to 8 weeks working on these parts and you can tell they care about the characters and being able to do this for the community.”

A library doesn’t need Junior Thespians act out scenes from famous books to be enchanted. It doesn’t have to offer refreshments or hang lights from the shelves to be magical. A library itself is a magical, enchanted place filled with more adventures than you can go on in a lifetime and more information than you can possibly obtain. We are constantly looking for ways to improve our lives but a simple constant is the power of reading. Each teacher I speak to I always ask what is the most important thing a parent can do for their child. The answer is the same – “read to them.”

Numerous studies have shown that students who are exposed to reading before preschool are more likely to do well in all facets of formal education. It helps them develop their speech, communication, language skills and to me, perhaps most importantly, forms an imagination.

Need proof? My mother read to me when I was small enough to cradle in her lap and today, I’m a thirty-something woman who thinks she can play a bear from darkest Peru.







No Escaping the Latest Attraction in King of Prussia

If it’s fall it must be pumpkin spiced or haunted. Either way, the sugar or adrenaline high wears off within five minutes and you are left wondering, “I paid for that?”

I may never understand why people pay to get the beejesus scared out of them at Terror Behind the Walls or Frightfest. I’m pretty much that way with any adrenaline activity which are suddenly popular like indoor skydiving, trampoline parks and ziplining. You want fear? Check out your student loan balance. Want to live dangerously? Try walking up the steps with a full basket of laundry in a pair of slippers.

I have adventurous friends who are nice enough to invite me to such things (even though I always say no) and snarky enough to do the chicken cluck to mock my cowardice. In the fall, to early for fake-chainsaw wielding hayrides, a few of them made plans for escape rooms.

“Are you going to my mother-in-law’s?” I asked.

Thankfully, it isn’t being forced to converse with the elder Mrs. Kohler. An escape room is a physical adventure game in which players are locked in a room and have to use elements of the room to solve a series of puzzles and escape within a set time limit.

On June 17, Brian Keen and his wife, Noel opened Escape Room Mystery in King of Prussia offering four themed rooms; The Laboratory, Revolution Spies, The Egyptian Tomb and The Billionaire’s Den.

Keen, who always loved building and puzzles was an engineer at Volvo when he felt he was falling out love with the corporate world.

I'll be locked in a room with this guy.

I’ll be locked in a room with this guy.

“We’ve all done the hayrides or corn mazes. They are fun and I love doing them. This is something most people don’t know about. If they don’t know what it is, it’s going to be unique,” said Keen of Escape Room Mystery.

“My wife and I decided we wanted to start our own business. We were looking for a year for the right business and wanted to go into something inspiring. We went to escape rooms and liked them and it matched up with my controls and electronics background. We think that separates us a lot in the industry.”

Trapped in a room, to me, is more of an actual fear than sitting on the back of a trailer as teenagers dressed in a plastic mask jump out of the woods. I have too many questions. Is there Wi-Fi? Can I bring something to read? Can I crack a window?

“It’s fun! You do it with a group!” said my more adventourous friends.

Trapped in a room with other people? Sure, I pick David Duchovney, Tony Goldwyn and Alexander Skarsgård,

Keen, had a much different list for his “Escape Roommates” choosing his wife and a few members of the Supreme Court.

“I love knowledge,” he said about his choices.

It shows in the Escape Room Mystery. Keen engineered the product and designed the puzzles with his wife along with the electronics.

“It was a full service-engineering concept from prototype to production and now we are in the customer service part,” said Keen.

Escape Room Mystery averages about 450 guests per week ranging in age from 16 and up. It is geared toward adult entertainment with groups of 5-10. Some groups are couples enjoying a night out and a large number are on corporate team building trips.

“They are apprehensive because the boss is making them come but what they really learn is they need to communicate. We’ve seen the groups that get out are the ones who are talking to each other,” said Keen.

The one thing that is similar to haunted houses is the screaming coming from the rooms. It wasn’t a shrill, “eek.” It sounded excited and Keen noted there is usually a lot of screaming and cheering when they escape or find a certain clue. Keen enjoys the cheers and hires people who want to see the guests succeed in solving the various clues.

What happens if the hour passes and they don’t escape?

“They are eternally trapped forever but we come get them,” Keen deadpanned.

“One of the most common responses we get is that was a lot more fun then I expected.”

Sounds a lot better than a haunted hayride. Now to get in touch with my prospective Escape Roommates.



Comic Book Store Owner Finds the Real Deal

Spoiler alert: the next superhero blockbuster is inside Comic Zen on Main Street in Lansdale.

“Absolutely,” agreed new owner Tim Hershey. “It might be happening in the next month with Dr. Strange and Wonder Woman. There is a whole slate coming out and most of them are movies I totally believe in. If you look past the next ten years of scheduled movies there is something else in here that could work. I don’t know what it is. I’m sure Hollywood already has their eyes on it.”

Hershey purchased Comic Zen from its previous owner and opened on September 2nd for First Friday in Lansdale. Hooked since he bought his first G.I. Joe comic book, Hershey worked in comic book stores but always had an eye on operating his own.

“The biggest problem was what happened in between like life, money and children. I never had enough of whatever it took,” said Hershey.

A Lansdale resident for over twenty years, Hershey walked in Comic Zen the week before the previous owner announced his plans to close.

“It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

Aside from comics, the store sells shirts, toys, supplies, statues, novelty items, games, and collectables.

Worst. Column. Ever. #sarcasm

Worst. Column. Ever. #sarcasm

According to leading comic-book sales analyst John Jackson Miller, who runs ComiChron, a blog on comic sales, unit sales of the top 300 comics were down for 15 years after a high in 1997. June’s sales numbers showed the industry’s best selling month since December 1997. There are no records of comics bought directly by consumers, instead they are tracked by the number of units by retailers in anticipation of demand.

The top ten best-selling comics of September 2016 included:

Batman #6 (DC), All-Star Batman #2 (DC), Batman #7 (DC), Civil War II #5 (Marvel), Justice League #4 (DC), The Walking Dead #158 (Image), Trinity #1 (DC), Supergirl #1 (DC), Suicide Squad #2 (DC), Justice League #5 (DC).

New to the comic book scene by way of Deadpool or Suicide Squad? Hershey will be happy to guide you. Last summer, from social media post praise, the promise of a sarcastic superhero…and, okay Ryan Reynolds, I headed to the theater to see Deadpool. Superhero movies aren’t my favorite genre but I made an exception. I ended up seeing Deadpool twice and wasn’t the only one. The movie grossed over $782 million worldwide breaking numerous box office records, including becoming the seventh highest-grossing film of 2016, the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time when unadjusted for inflation.

Comic books are Hollywood’s muses because they are ripe with blockbuster material – heroes with superpowers, demented villains and lots of wham! pow! explosions.

A summer blockbuster usually translates into the masked candy collectors on Halloween (Captain America, Spider Man, Iron Man, expect to see Harley Quinn from Suicide Squad this year). Then it parlays into a Christmas wish list items such as action figures and Hulk Hands.

“So many people now love Deadpool who had no idea he existed before the movie. There are people who could care less what the product is as long as it’s Deadpool. Harley Quinn is a similar entity,” said Hershey.

Past experience and from watching The Big Bang Theory may make you believe that the comic book store is a guys-only zone. Maybe even a nerd filled one.

Then geek became chic.

It was accepted, even cool to collect old video games, spend Saturday nights at poetry readings and the nerds were no longer just the lust objects of the Katie Bambi’s of the world. Now Hollywood starlets marry tech nerds.

“I am of two minds. In my own world I love diversity, the more types of people involved, the happier I am. At the same time I am an old time fan boy and there is a certain amount of ‘this used to be our thing.’ Now anyone can claim to be a comic book geek and there is a part of me that is like you haven’t been doing it long enough. You don’t have a right to that title. But I will never tell anyone they can’t have an interest,” said Hershey.

Don’t expect to go into a comic store today and see only guys poring over the latest issues of Dr. Who. Hershey witnessed a huge shift over the decades.

“I started shopping in stores when females didn’t come into comic book shops. They were afraid of comic book shops and comic books shops were afraid of them. Slowly, certain things like Neil Gaiman comics brought some of those female readers in and these days its closer to 60/40. It is amazing, commented Hershey.

“They are coming in on their own. I do have couples who shop together but they are looking for their own purchases. There is such a diversity of every kind in shops these days. Slowly but surely the comics themselves are duplicating the diversity and I am enjoying that.”

The reason comic books have remained a staple and fruitful ground to be translated into movies could be as simple as simple as hero vs. villain. Or it could be the reason why Captain America is Herhey’s favorite.

“It’s the ideal,” explained Hershey. “He understands the world and this country is not perfect but he represents the best and sometimes the worst in all of us with the idea that we all have a place here and it’s worth fighting for.”







When the Eagles win, we all win

Philadelphia Eagles fans have been hungry for a championship since 1960. Their appetite isn’t limited to Super Bowls. Many fans can’t imagine tuning into their beloved Birds without a perfect game day spread. Hall of Fame selections include pizza, wings, hoagies/zeps, cheesesteaks, beer and chips. Nachos, pork sandwiches and meatballs are the crafty veterans of the bunch.

On game days, I like to cook something “low and slow” like a pot of sauce and meatballs, soup or chili. Others choose to do pork or roast beef in a crock-pot. We can agree that during the game you need a salty snack and something delicious to dip it in. I have threatened to forego a full menu and have guests bring over their favorite homemade dips.

When the hometown team wins, it keeps fans interested. And eating. No one wants to watch a sorry squad fumble their way to a 4-12 season. Nothing could turn my stomach faster than watching Andy Reid blow a first quarter timeout or Chip Kelly call yet another two yard swing pass. If I tossed my food in frustration, the wall behind my television would look like a Jackson Pollock of wing sauce, sour cream and pizza grease.

When the Eagles win, it doesn’t just mean free Dunkin Donuts, it also provides a boost to small businesses.

“Without a doubt the more success the Eagles have the more business small businesses and big businesses do. It’s great revenue for everybody. When they win everybody is happy. On game days we may open earlier for the tailgaters. We want to attract them to get their needs, beat traffic and get there early,” commented Steve Carcarey, owner of Collegeville Bakery.

“Very much so,” said Keith Gallo, owner of Tony G’s Pub and Eatery in West Norriton, of the uptick in business when the Eagles are winning. “At the bar and around town people are dressed in Eagles gear and are upbeat. It’s great.”

Steven with franchise QB.

Steven with franchise QB.

Carcarey, and his son Steven, often seen in his Eagles gear around the bakery, perhaps got the ultimate fan/local business owner experience. On September 8, Carcarey and Steven hand delivered their custom, original Eagles tomato pie to the Eagles at their practice facility, the NovaCare Complex. Steven had lunch with the players and presented them with tomato pies.

The Collegeville Italian Bakery’s Facebook page is filled photos of Steven posing with Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, head coach Doug Peterson, and many players, including quarterback/savior of the franchise Carson Wentz. Steven’s favorite players are quarterbacks and even admitted to being a Nick Foles fan. Now he on the Wentz Wagon.

“We’ve met Eagles before but we’ve never had the opportunity to put it out there in front of the Jeffrey Lurie and bring it into their building. We were able to do it in large part to Christian Molnar (Director of Team Relations). Steven got a once in a lifetime opportunity and it is a day he will never forget. They were so welcoming. They are a class act organization,” said Carcarey.

The Eagles players, like anyone with taste buds (except the one person who will make a point to comment), enjoyed the tomato pies which thrilled Carcarey.

“We tell them it’s a cold pie, you eat it as is. Not only is it delicious it’s a great presentation. Our goal is to do business with the Philadelphia Eagles in the future. We do think it would be successful at the Linc. I would love to do that,” added Carcarey.

Collegeville Italian Bakery tops tomato pies with logos (top selling Eagles, Phillies, Ursinus, and business logos) made of grated cheese. The game day novelty is a big seller but according to Carcarey, their idea was copied by other places. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I guess there’s enough pie to go around for everybody but I hope they would give us credit that we started it.”

A tomato pie makes for a good appetizer and Collegeville Italian Bakery has an expansive menu including their popular wood fired wings (marinated overnight) and a mouth watering Nutella Bar.

In a different part of Montgomery County, but still “Eagles Country”, every week Tony G’s does giveaways during the game and during night games they open the second floor bar to accommodate guests. Bestsellers include the chicken wings done in over twenty styles (I’m a mild buffalo girl), cheesesteaks and pulled pork sandwiches.

Gallo, a die-hard Eagles fan, doesn’t get to watch the games when it gets busy.

“But I enjoy it better listening to my regular customers yell and scream at the TV’s. They are so passionate and the things they say are a riot,” said Gallo.

Off to a 3-1 start the Eagles have surprised even their most optimistic fans. A season that was supposed to be rebuilding now looks like the playoffs may be a possibility. I know I’ll be glued every snap.

“The future’s bright with the Eagles. I think they are in very good hands with Pederson. Obviously they know something to go all the way up in the draft and get Wentz,” said Carcarey.

“It’s exciting. Who would have thought with a rookie coach and quarterback we would be 3 – 1. I’m hopeful that we have a good season & great future!” added Gallo.

The Eagles, fans, and small businesses all hope so.

Food tastes a lot better when you’re winning.






Springsteen could lead a generation to seek help

Bruce Springsteen to his millions of fans across the world is known as a musician. There are other descriptions for the New Jersey born rocker – storyteller, humanitarian, “The Boss,” and with his recently released autobiography, Born to Run, author. In the book, Springsteen describes the magic act. “…Eighty thousand rock and roll fans waiting for you to pull something out of your hat, out of thin air, out of this world, something that before the faithful were gathered here today was just a song-fueled rumor.”

Die-hard Springsteen fans are addicted to this magic act and swear by its power to those who have yet to witness it in person.

Ahead of the release of his autobiography, Springsteen, with a plethora of life experiences to chose to discuss his struggle with depression.

He reveals he is treated with talk therapy and antidepressants and worries that his own depression will become unmanageable like his father’s: “You don’t know the illness’s parameters. It lasted for a long time. It sneaks up on you. It’s like this thing that engulfs you. I got to where I didn’t want to get out of bed, you know? And you’re not behaving very well at home, and you’re tough on everybody — hopefully not the kids; I always tried to hide it from the kids. Patti really had to work with me through it and … her strength and the love she had was very important as far as guiding me through it. She was, ‘Well, you’re gonna be okay. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow but it’s gonna be alright.’”

Springsteen gives fans plenty of reasons to smile. He may have pulled his best magic act in revealing his struggle with male stigma if it helps reduce the stigma.

Springsteen gives fans plenty of reasons to smile. He may have pulled his best magic act in revealing his struggle with male stigma if it helps reduce the stigma.

Springsteen, 67, isn’t the only baby boomer struggling with depression. “We know for certain that baby boomers have a higher prevalence rate of depression than the generation before them,” says Donald A. Malone, Jr., M.D., director of the Mood and Anxiety Clinic in the department of psychiatry and psychology at the Cleveland Clinic. “The fact remains that we are not sure why—but much of the research is pointing to daily stress as a precipitator of their depression.”

I recently spoke to Tony Salvatore at Montgomery County Emergency Services (MCES) who has over twenty years experience in suicide prevention, crisis intervention, program planning and development.

“No one would be surprised if Bruce never said anything but the fact that he did given how well thought of he is with his fans, his disclosure is as positive as any male role model you can think of. Among baby boomers, celebrity endorsements in this case do mean a lot,” said Salvatore.

Salvatore speaks of mental health, depression and suicide with the depth of knowledge and a twinge of pleading in his voice. He, and many others, realize the stigma and how it may stop someone from seeking the help they need. Especially men.

“There might be a more fundamental problem with men. They don’t ask for directions or help. It’s hard to get a man to come out and admit to anything that may set him in a negative light, being weak or not being able to take care of himself. Depression is probably the top of the list. We don’t teach boys to ask for help. Women learn it at an early age. The gender stereotype is whether you are the head of the chess club or the starting linebacker, when the going gets tough you hunker down. We are not going to address that high male suicide rate until we get men to ask for help before its too late,” added Salvatore.

Montgomery County has seen an increase in suicide around 2011. According to the Department of Health in 2013 there were 89 reported suicides and most were Caucasian, adult, males. It has also gone up on a state and national level each year.

“The majority of people who take their lives in Montgomery County probably had no contact with a mental health. Part of it may have been the stigma that kept them from taking advantage of the services. I’m not blaming the victim. Lowering the stigma would do a lot to motivate people to get help,” said Salvatore.

MCES has signs on the both the Norristown and the King of Prussia side of the Dannenhower Bridge.

“They are not there for you to see as a driver. They are there for someone who walks out on the bridge. People go out on that bridge just to see what it’s like to look down at that water. If you ever been down below the bridge, it’s like four stories. It’s high. It doesn’t look it driving over,” said Salvatore.

Motorists have seen people standing on the bridge and called 9-1-1. Many times when police arrive, the person says they aren’t going to jump but are still brought to MCES.

“It’s called a rehearsal. Suicide is a planned behavior. It’s the outcome of a process of emotional and psychological breakdown,” explained Salvatore.

If Springsteen can move the needle to lower the stigma, even just a little bit, it could save lives and be his most powerful magic act.

Those signs on the Dannenhower Bridge may not be meant for motorists speeding by but the message, and the services are always there – “Help is available. 24-Hour Crisis Hotline 610. 279.6100.”





Political fantasy meets reality with Tony Goldywn’s visit to Norristown

I don’t talk politics in my column. Too many other columnists in the newspaper choose to make it their main topic. It doesn’t mean I don’t care about the current state of the country or its future. I do, just in my own personal way.

Although I don’t wax poetic about the interworking of the government it doesn’t mean I’m not fascinated by it, especially when it’s dramatized. All the Presidents Men, JFK, and American President make my channel changing finger stop. The West Wing continues to be immensely binge-watchable. But my vote for best fictional president in a landslide goes to Tony Goldywn’s Fitzgerald Grant, the leading man on ABC’s Scandal. His policy can’t hold a candle to The West Wing’s President Barlett. His personal indiscretions make JFK look like a saint. Doesn’t matter. He gets my full support not only in election years but every Thursday, when his chiseled face, perfect head of hair, and goose bumps-in-a-good-way voice demand my full non-DVR’d attention. Luckily, my Scandal-watching buddy Sandy is “Team Jake” (the show’s other stud) or our friendship would be kaput.

Imagine my joy when I heard that Goldwyn had received the many tweets I sent and finally decided to come to the area and visit me. Okay, not exactly. When a guy is that dreamy, it makes a girl a little…silly.



Goldwyn made a stop along his campaign tour for Hillary Clinton at the Pennsylvania Coordinated Campaign Norristown Office on Forest Avenue. He arrived around 5 p.m. on Sunday to a crowd of over sixty staff, volunteers, and a few Gladiators, as fans of the show refer to themselves.

“I’m glad to be here and want to thank you for your activism and your willingness to be part of this effort because it could not be more important,” said Goldwyn after a being introduced. “I have two daughters in their early twenties and I am really concerned about what kind of country they are going to raise their children in. In my lifetime we have never experienced an election like this. I thought electing President Obama was the most extraordinary thing I could imagine but there was no Donald Trump on the scene. He makes John McCain seem like your favorite uncle.”

Goldwyn spoke passionately of the woman he admired and mentioned the homework he did on her before hitting the campaign trail. He stressed that his main mission and the purpose of his trip to Pennsylvania was to make sure everyone gets registered by October 11th and gets out to vote on November 8th calling it “not only a constitutional privilege it’s an obligation in my view.”

With Election Day fast approaching, volunteers signed up to register voters, make phone calls, work in the office, and recruit volunteers.

“Every election is very important but this election the difference between the candidates is starker than ever,” commented Tony Heyl, Bridgeport Councilman.

Added volunteer Roseanne Milazzo, “We have the most exciting choice being able to elect the first female President of the United States. We need a woman’s perspective. The opposition is obviously not in favor of women and women’s rights. Hillary’s the most qualified candidate.”

His character, President Grant isn’t up for re-election, which works out well since Goldwyn doesn’t think he would fare well.

“I think Hillary should win,” said Goldwyn if Fitz ran against Clinton. “Even though Fitz makes Donald Trump looks like a boy scout. Hillary is way more qualified than Fitz.”

Scandal’s sixth season will not premiere in the fall due to Kerry Washington’s (Olivia Pope – Fitz’s love interest) pregnancy. Clinton supporters didn’t seem to mind missing the pair’s sizzling chemistry as they were planning debate watch parties.

“They are going to show Hillary Clinton is light years ahead Donald Trump in terms of depth of knowledge, understanding of policy and what it actually takes to be president,” said Goldwyn of the debates. “I think Trump has portrayed no understanding and contradicts himself in one sentence. Hillary is someone who has everything it takes to be president and I think the debates will show that. Hopefully, the theatrics won’t overwhelm the substance because people need to see the substance or lack thereof of these two candidates.”

I was lucky enough to see Goldwyn up close (incredibly gracious, well-spoken, more attractive in person) to hold me over. But what should other Gladiators to do without a fall season of Scandal?

“Put all of that time and energy into getting Hillary Clinton elected. You will be so happy on November 9th and will only have to wait a few more weeks until Scandal comes back on the air,” said Goldwyn.

Will fans be happy this season?

“You will. It’s really good.”