Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Pottsgrove Manor Hosts Annual May Fair Saturday

Acrobat Signora Bella will perform at the Pottsgrove Manor May Fair Saturday.
Blogger's Note: The following was provided by Pottsgrove Manor.

Celebrate spring at the Annual Colonial May Fair held at historic Pottsgrove Manor on Saturday, May 7, 2016 from 11:00am to 5:00pm.

This yearly event is a fun-filled day with activities for all ages including games, music, dancing, and crafts.

Tucker's Tales Puppet Theatre will present interactive puppet shows and will also provide festive historic music around the grounds during the event.

Signora Bella will delight audiences with her acrobatic feats.

Members of the Tapestry Historic Dance Ensemble.
Colonial conjurer Levram the Great will perform historically-themed magic shows and entertain visitors with pocket magic tricks throughout the day.

Members of the Tapestry Historic Dance Ensemble will demonstrate authentic English country dances. As always, visitors will be invited to join in and dance around the maypole to help open and close the fair!

In addition to the entertainment, a variety of early American crafters and demonstrators will be on hand to display historic skills and trades and sell their wares.

Young visitors will have the chance to meet colonial farm animals, watch a blacksmith at work, see how candles were made, play with colonial toys, try an 18th-century bat-and-ball game, dance around a child-size maypole, help churn butter, and more.

New this year, the site will also be offering free make-and-take crafts for kids.

The first floor of colonial ironmaster John Potts’ 1752 manor house will be open for self-guided tours during the fair.

Colonial crafts will also be on display.
Visitors will also be able to shop at the manor’s museum shop for colonial games, books, and unique gifts.

MMG Concessions will offer a variety of refreshments for sale, including burgers, cheesesteaks, hot dogs, sausages, sandwiches, fries, hand-rolled pretzels, and fresh-squeezed lemonade.

The fair coincides with the third annual “Pow-Wow on Manatawny Creek,” celebrating the culture and traditions of the Lenni-Lenape Native Americans.

The pow-wow will be taking place during the hours of May Fair and will be held at Memorial Park, less than a block from Pottsgrove Manor. The public is encouraged to visit both events for an experience that spans time periods and cultures.

For a schedule of the day’s activities and a list of vendors and craftspeople that will be at the fair, visit http://www.montcopa.org/1421/Annual-Colonial-May-Fair.

A donation of $2.00 per person is suggested for this event. Visitors can park for free at the Carousel at Pottstown building, 30 West King Street.

Limited overflow parking is available at the Pottstown Quality Inn across the street from the Manor.

Paid parking is also available in the “shop & park” lot at High and Hanover Streets in downtown Pottstown.

There will be free trolley rides during the fair between the carousel parking lot, the pow-wow at Memorial Park, downtown Pottstown, and Pottsgrove Manor.

Handicapped parking is available in the museum’s parking lot. Pottsgrove Manor is located at 100 West King Street near the intersection of King Street and Route 100, just off Route 422.

Pottsgrove Manor is operated by Montgomery County under the direction of the Parks, Trails, and Historic Sites Division of the Assets and Infrastructure Department.

For more information, call 610-326-4014, or visit the website at www.montcopa.org/pottsgrovemanor. Like Pottsgrove Manor on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pottsgrovemanor.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Ringing Rocks Explores Asian Art

Photos and video by Evan Brandt
This kindergarten and pre-K sculpture was created with children and, in the case of pre-K, parents each making a scale to be put on the fish.

So I'll be the first one to tell you I don't know much about art (algebra either).

Ringing Rocks Elementary art teacher Joy van Ruler.
This is a source of constant dismay for my wife Karen who, in addition to being
way smarter than I am, majored in art history in college.

But I do know what I like and what I don't like. I like Chinese and Japanese landscape paintings (because the people are to scale and so small), and I don't much care for Jackson Pollock, this despite growing up with one of his prints in our living room.

Luckily, you don't have to depend on me to guide you through the elaborate and colorful art show staged last week at Ringing Rocks Elementary School.
Ringing Rocks students created these mandalas.

That's Joy van Ruler's job.

She explained that each year, the students not only learn some of the basics of art, but also the culture that goes creates it -- one continent at a time.

This year, it's Asia's turn.

So as parents and children swelled the halls of the school, festooned with art of seemingly endless variety, van Ruler explained that there was a method to it all.

Paper lanterns on display.
By leaving out Antarctica -- whose art remains, to date, undiscovered, or at least under appreciated -- children from kindergarten through fifth grade in Pottsgrove get exposure to each continent's art.

This year students created Chinese dragon masks, paper lanterns and painted
Indian elephant festival art and mandalas.

Here she is to explain better than I can.

Of course art has some common elements no matter what continent inspired it.

Student-made Chinese landscapes.
For example, landscape painting occurs in most cultures.

So the display at Ringing Rocks included a panel explaining landscapes using on of Andrew Wyeth's more famous examples.

This was then contrasting it with the Chinese and Japanese landscape painting style.

Students then made their own.

The students also created their own Autumn landscapes that did not have to be Chinese in style.

Other basic elements of art explored in the Ringing Rocks display include shapes, as demonstrated through an exploration of Georgia O'Keefe paintings.

vanRuler used George O'Keefe to teach shapes.
And what art curriculum is worth its sale without a look at the human body, and how to draw it.

For the youngest students, that meant their hands, and, as everyone knows, the best way to draw your hand is to trace it.

The evening's events also included some music and dancing, enjoyed as much by students as by parents.

Take a look at Joe Zlomek's posts in the Sanatoga Post to see some video of how that went.
Everyone has traced their hand at least once.

But alas, the news and another municipal meeting called me away and I could not stay for more than 40 minutes.

But I left more re-assured that the next generation of leaders may be even better-equipped than mine to appreciate the importance and universality of artistic expressions.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

What the Firkin?

The beer at Pottstown Firkin Fest was served in a commemorative glass.

Never one to turn down an opportunity to taste many beers, your humble blogger was among the hundreds who made their way to Pottstown's Memorial Park Saturday for the first-ever Pottstown Firkin Fest.

As crack Mercury reporter Marian Dennis reported in her story on the subject, a Firkin is "a type of barrel that holds cask-conditioned ale. According to the Firkin Fest website, the beer has less carbonation and, as a result of being unfiltered, is more cloudy and has a 'complex flavor and aromatic profile.' The specific type of beer allows brewers to experiment with different flavors and since all the beers available at the event were brewed specifically for the Pottstown Firkin Fest, guests got a unique opportunity to taste and admire the craft.

Mercury Editor Nancy March was one of several judges,

and, as this photograph shows, she took the job seriously.
What's not to like?

Well, to be honest, I did not like all of them.

But why should I expect to? It was beer, certainly I could find a brew to suite my tastes.

Those tastes run more toward Belgian whites, lagers and pilsners, with an inexplicable fondness for Sly Fox Brewer's oatmeal stout thrown into the mix.

I'm not much inclined toward India Pale Ales, IPAs as we beer-lovers know them, so that limited my choices as many of the selections used that beer as a base for their experimenting.

But some determined searching found a number of brews I favored.

Your humble blogger conducts research.
That searching meant that I spent less time than I should have at The Mercury's table, where we gave away free pretzel necklaces, pens, tote bags and papers.

But this journalist stops at nothing to get to the bottom of a story (or a glass) .... ahem. 

Ever the odd-ball, the beer I discovered I liked best won no awards. 

And even more odd, it was a "double IPA," brewed by "Evil Genius," a name which I confess drew my both my attention and admiration immediately.

What Trevor Fitzgerald had discovered, to my delight, was that running the beer through nectarines not only gave it a fruity taste, but extracted what I find to be the overly metallic bite of an IPA's hoppy character.

It seemed from the smiles on the faces I saw that plenty of other folks found plenty to be happy (and hoppy) about as well.

Happiest among them, perhaps, were the volunteers from the Pottstown Regional Public Library whose volunteerism earned them the proceeds from Pottstown's second great beer event in six months.

And if you don't believe me, take a look at all these Tweets....

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The County Commissioners Are Coming to Town

Montgomery County Commissioners, from left, Josh shapiro, Val Arkoosh and Joseph Gale.

Did you have anything you'd like to ask the Montgomery County Commissioners?

Maybe you want to know what so much county funding drives so much low-income housing to the borough.

Maybe you'd like to hear why they don't provide additional county dollars to help with the additional load those low-income families put on our police department and schools.

Or maybe you just want to know when the Schuylkill River Trail will be finished.

Well Monday night is your chance.

The commissioners are starting their goodwill tour, which they call "Conversations with Commissioners” town hall meetings right here in Pottstown.

They will be at the Montgomery County Community College West Campus South Hall Community Room located at 101 College Drive, on Monday at 7 p.m.

Maybe you should be too.

“These sessions are a very effective way to keep residents informed about what we are doing and to hear what issues are foremost on their minds” Commissioner Chair Josh Shapiro said in a prepared statement.

“These sessions are another way we use to keep residents informed about what we are doing in county government,” said Commissioner Val Arkoosh said in a press release about the series.

“We live stream our board meetings online and use social media a great deal to inform everyone about what is going on in the county," she said, "but the ‘Conversations’ provide a true, personal level of contact with our constituents.”

Friday, April 29, 2016

More Cowbell With Your Concert Sir?

If Christopher Walken wasn't present for this year's Pottstown High School Spring Concert, he was at least there in spirit.

To get that joke, you need to be familiar with the infamous Saturday Night Live skit in which Will Ferrell plays an over-enthusiastic cowbell player at the recording session of Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper."

No matter how over the top he gets (not including how his stomach is over the top of his pants), producer Christopher Walken wants more -- as in "I've the fever, and the prescription is more cowbell!"

And to understand why you're reading about this in a blog post about Pottstown High School's spring concert, you need to know that Director Michael Vought gave the band some freedom this year to have input into the program -- and that's what they came up with.

As the band played a medley of "Don't Fear the Reaper," "Tequila" and "Oye Como Va," some members armed with cowbells did what cowbell players do best.

The Jazz Band added a new number to their repertoire,

Trombone Shorty's "Buck Jump."
But that was at the end.

Before we got to any of those shenanigans, we heard first from the Jazz Band, which added a new number to their repertoire, as well as from a spin-off of the Jazz Band, a trio who call themselves "The Gentlemen."

They are comprised of trombonist Kyle Kratzer, baritone saxophonist Casey Mest and guitarist Gary Oberholtzer. As is evident in the video below, it is definitely something different.
The Pottstown High School Flute Ensemble

Then veteran music educator Nancy Mest took the stage with her flute and clarinet ensembles, students she has taught since they were wee little musicians.

After a nice intermission, we came to the main event, which was the full concert band, which played five numbers, the last of which featured quite a bit of cowbell.

The Pottstown High School Concert Band
Another example of input from the students was the selection of the theme from
"Avengers: Age of Ultron," just in time for the release of the next Captain America movie.

For extra authenticity, some of the low brass donned masks and helmets that Tony Stark would have been proud to call his own.
Senior Awards await presenting.

Before closing out with said cowbell feature, and an impromptu and spirited rendition of the marching band anthem, "Horse" -- which had the band members spelling out "Trojans" at the top of their lungs -- there were the senior awards.

And without further ado, we present the Tweets (and some cowbell).

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Planners Back More Development at Upland Square

Photo by Evan Brandt
Ed Reitz, a planner from Douglass (Mont.), left, and Kurt Zebrowski, a planner from New Hanover, take a closer look at the site plans for the commercial expansion off State Street, opposite Upland Square, in West Pottsgrove.

Although Wednesday night's meeting of the Pottstown Metropolitan Area Regional Planning Committee lasted barely 30 minutes, it did manage to generate some news.

Plans for the development of nearly 20 acres across Upland Drive from the Upland Square Shopping Center and behind the recently constructed Citadel Bank building are moving forward.

Owned by the Gambone group, the first concept plan was submitted to the township in 2011.

That plan, completed by Kennedy and Assoc., included a 100-room hotel; 105,000 square feet of retail space; 11,000 square-feet of restaurant space; a 4,000 square-foot bank, a gas station/convenience store and a 918-space parking lot.

Some of uses have been pared down and the plan presented to the regional planners Wednesday night calls for two retails buildings, one of which will be a grocery story, several restaurants, including one that specializes in Chicken Wings, and a dentist's office, said West Pottsgrove Commissioner Dominic Gentile.

The current plan shows no development plans for the 
Upper Pottsgrove portion of the site, shown on the right.
The grocery store has previously been identified as Lidl, a German-based chain that offers food similar to the Aldi in Lower Pottsgrove at the Home Depot off Armand Hammer Boulevard.

Upper Pottsgrove Commissioner Elwood Taylor said his township has supported development at the site, but wants to ensure that access remains solely off Route 100.

"Upper Pottsgrove has been very supportive of development in this area from the git-go," said Taylor. "There was controversy int he comminity about expanding commecial development in this area and UP stood up and defended that decision and so we're excited to see this happen," Taylor said.

"Our concern is that access to the Upper Pottsgrove parcels be maintained through the new development," given that there are currently no plans to develop those parcels.

"The crux of the issue is State Street to the north is residential, and for the last 10 years, we have been very careful about not allowing State Street to become a throughway to a commercial center," said Taylor.

With those concerns expressed, the regional planners voted to allow Montgomery County Planner Donna Fabry to write a letter declaring that the project complies with the regional Master Plan, which targete commercial growth for that area.

And with that, here are the Tweets from an otherwise very short meeting:

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Pottsgrove Has Zero Tax Hike Budget in Sight

Charged with finding a way to craft a 2016-17 budget without raising taxes, its looking like the Pottsgrove Schools Administration will get a a lot of help from the state.

Expecting maybe $100,000 more than the previous year's budget, the state spending plan that went into effect without Gov. Tom Wolf's signature will actually be providing about $300,000 more, Business Manager David Nester told the board Tuesday night.

Back in February, Nester presented the board with a first budget look that indicated the possibility of a 2 percent tax hike -- an increase of $91 for the average district homeowner.

The board in turn, instructed the administration to return with budget scenarios for what it would take to get to a 1 percent tax hike, and to a 0 percent tax hike.

Having already begun work on that charged with a series of potential savings initiatives -- some of which are outlined in the Tweets below -- Nester said the news out of Harrisburg was, for a change, better than expected.

"I think we can get close to zero," Nester said. "How close, until we get more answers, I can't tell you. I'm confident we can get under 1 percent, but how close we can get to zero, I can't tell you yet."

One key factor may be how quickly the state can act on its plans for PlanCon, the funding mechanism to provide partial state reimbursement for school construction costs.

Nester said the Pottsgrove budget has $850,000 in this line, but he is concerned about whether the state can borrow and distribute the $2.5 billion will be a budget factor for Pottsgrove.

If it comes during the current budget year, it will be a boon, but if not, it may create an $850,000 shortfall in the 2016-17 budget.

"Right now we're feeling positive, but whether we can get close to zero, depends on how much things change," he said.

Nester's advice, which the board took, is to present the proposed final budget to the board at its next meeting. That will have the latest figures available, allow the budget to be advertised and "available for public inspection" and still provide 45 days to make further adjustments.

"I've been involved wit this process for four years," said Pottsgrove Schools Superintendent Rick Rabinowitz, "and in my experience the proposed final budget always gets reduced, and I have to say these numbers certainly are encouraging."

Here are the Tweets from the meeting.