A winter’s day in New Hope, Pa.

February 29, 2012 – An extra day this month/year provides the perfect opportunity to tour the historic and quaint village of New Hope in beautiful Bucks County, Pa.

If you can’t be there in person – the weather is expected to be cold and dreary today in this neck of the woods so save your extra day for the spring – you can take a virtual tour now and imagine the sun warming face as you stroll along the cobblestone streets on Main Street.

You’ll find New Hope along Route 32, just off of Route 232 and about 25 miles north of Philadelphia. The road is the former main connection between Philadelphia and New York City, and was once considered the halfway point that found travelers stopping for the night while in route to Manhattan. And if you fall in love with the area during your visit, the house above is for rent; it’s located in the heart of town, right on Main Street.

Along Main Street (Route 32) sit a plethora of merchants like Love Saves the Day, an interesting memorabilia shop, along with restaurants, bars and inns dating back a few hundred years or more, such as the Mansion Inn and the Logan Inn.

The Logan Inn in particular is a popular spot with locals and tourists because it’s said to be haunted by several ghosts including Revolutionary War soldiers and historic figure and former Vice President Aaron Burr, who stayed there frequently before his legendary duel with Alexander Hamilton had him fleeing to South Carolina to avoid imprisonment.

A few miles south on Route 32 brings you to Washington Crossing Park, and the spot that General George Washington and his small army crossed the Delaware River on Christmas night 1776 to attack Hessian troops in Trenton, N.J., a pivotal battle in the American Revolution.

Heading north on Route 32, which turns into River Road once you pass the shops along Main Street, brings you to some fantastic views of the Delaware River, and Lambertville, N.J., which sits across the river. The Black Bass Hotel, also known as the Jewel of the Delaware River sits on the bank of the river, and offers brunch and dinner.

Across the street from the hotel, the Lumberville General Store offers a bakery and quaint luncheonette for those looking for a quick bite or snack.

In all, the area is home to more than 100 historic buildings, which sit among the natural beauty that continues to entice visitors to New Hope, Pa.

Even on a winter’s day.

A lunchtime tourist in her own city: The Reading Terminal Market

February 27, 2012 – Hungry? This lunchtime vacation features some of the speciality foods that Philadelphia is famous for, so you’re in luck. Almost everything you desire relating to food and other specialty items can be found at the city’s historic Reading Terminal Market.

Situated at 12th and Arch Streets in downtown Philadelphia, the terminal is no longer a part of the Reading Railroad; these days, rail services are part of SEPTA’s local transportation service and contained in the building across the street. Instead, the terminal hosts a grand marketplace that has maintained its name and historic charm, and is conveniently adjacent to the Philadelphia Convention Center.

This year, the Reading Terminal Market celebrates its 120th anniversary. It first opened as a farmers market in 1892 to sell produce and other farm goods, and today still sells locally grown produce, along with a variety of other famous Philadelphia foods, such as soft pretzels, scrapple and cheese steaks from over 100 vendors. Tony Luke’s is one of Philly’s favorite places to get a cheesesteak, or his famous pulled pork with brocolli rabe. The sandwiches are so good that Tony Luke beat famous chef Bobby Flay when they had a cheesesteak cook off a few years back. Philly does it best!

The market also includes many Amish specialties from nearby Lancaster County.

Time spent at the Reading Terminal Market is often an event, as it offers more than just vendors selling their wares. Visitors are welcome to participate in a variety of activities. Earlier in the month, for example, in honor of Valentine’s Day couples were invited to get married in the center court at lunchtime. But if that’s not your thing, you can wallow in the sounds of live music, or take a cooking class from one of Philadelphia’s top chefs.

If you’re a tourist, a trip to Philadelphia isn’t complete without visiting the Reading Terminal Market. And if you’re a local who has never experienced it, what are you waiting for?

Road to Hollywood comes through Philadelphia

February 24, 2012 – Turner Classic Movies (TCM) does a terrific job throughout the year keeping classic Hollywood movies in the mainstream, and they really pump up the action during February when they feature “The 31 Days of Oscar” and pay tribute to past winners.

After the last Oscar is awarded on Sunday, they’re hitting the road and rolling out the red carpet throughout North America as part of their “Road to Hollywood” series. The scheduled event marks their third annual movie road trip, which kicks off on March 1st in New York City with a viewing of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and visit ten cities in all, including Minneapolis, Houston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Miami and Toronto. View the schedule here. 

Each screening features a TCM host and a special guest star associated with the film; attendees will mingle with the likes of Eva Maria Saint, Shirley Jones, Angie Dickinson, Ernest Borgnine and Tippi Hendren.

The road trip comes through Philadelphia’s Prince Theater, located at 1412 Chestnut Street on March 15. The theater will screen Hitchcock’s classic “North by Northwest” with special guest star Eva Marie Saint. Tickets are free and are available on March 1.

Classic selections in other cities include “On the Waterfront”, “Marnie”, “Elmer Gantry”, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”, and “The Birds”.

This is an opportunity that doesn’t come around too often; if they’re coming to a theater near you go and enjoy! I’m sure you won’t regret it. And if I’m one of the lucky people who get to attend in Philadelphia, stay tuned for an in-depth summary of the event.

Best Picture nominations cover a wide range of interests

February 22, 2012 – Every year I make a plan to see all of the films nominated for Best Picture before the Academy Awards.

I rarely make it, but the last few years I’ve really failed miserably. It’s become more difficult now that the Academy increased the nominations from its typical five films to include those that are not just artistic, but also appeal to the masses.

For 2011, nine filmed are nominated, I’ve seen six, and I’m happy with that achievement. The three I didn’t see, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”, “Hugo”, and “War Horse” held little appeal, so I skipped them. I’ve never been a huge Tom Hanks fan, a cardinal sin in Hollywood I realize, and although I’ve heard good things about “Hugo” and “War Horse”, they didn’t have what it takes to make me rush to the theater; I’ll wait to see them on cable.

Out of the remaining six, I thoroughly enjoyed five; the “Tree of Life” was a little too out there for me. Here’s a run down on the rest:

The ArtistI reviewed this film back in early February, and I believe it’s a shoo-in to win. The story may be a simple one, but it’s told in a unique way that’s never been done before, at least not since they started making “talkies”. That adds up to Hollywood gold.

The Descendants – George Clooney may be Hollywood royalty, but he has a better chance of taking home the Best Actor prize than this film being named Best Picture. I gave it a great review, which it deserved, but it has some pretty heavy competition that I don’t believe it can overcome.

The Help – I enjoyed this novel turned movie about the Southern Belles and their “help” at the dawn of the civil rights movement, and I gave it a glowing review. While it’s great to see the actors get their kudos for great performances, The Help’s chances of being named best picture are just as strong as this blog getting “Fresh Pressed” (the Academy Awards of the blog world).

Midnight in Paris – As Woody Allen movies go – and I love most of them – this is up there with the best. I still can’t say enough good things about how imaginative and fun it was, not to mention well written and well acted. I see the film winning for Best Original Screenplay, but I can almost guarantee a Best Picture win isn’t in its future.

Moneyball – I missed this one in the theaters, but thanks to the beauty of On Demand, I was able to catch it this week on cable. As a baseball fan, I liked this film a lot; it was interesting to be given an insider’s view of how small market teams can compete in the sport that has let players’ salaries get way out of hand.

Moneyball is one example of films nominated in the Best Picture category to appeal to the masses. In other words, it’s good, but it doesn’t have a chance to win. It was interesting to learn that ***** spoiler ahead ***** the Boston Red Sox credit their first World Series win to the logic Brad Pitt’s character, Billy Beane, used with the Oakland A’s in their 2002 season.

The Tree of Life As stated previously this was a beautifully made film, but one that was more difficult for me to understand than 2001: A Space Odyssey. This is usually the type of film that Hollywood likes to reward with an Oscar, but I still think the trophy will go to “The Artist”.

A lunchtime tourist in her own city: Chinatown

February 20, 2011
– Ni hao ma! It’s time for another lunchtime vacation.

Over the past two weeks, we’ve visited historic Old City and the Curtis Building and its surroundings. Today, we’ll venture a little further west (ironically) and visit our friends from the Far East who inhabit Chinatown.

Many major cities have a Chinatown area; perhaps the most famous is located in San Francisco, but Philadelphia’s Chinatown could give it a good fight for authenticity. I’ve been to both and I am equally impressed with Philadelphia’s effort and its over 1,000 Asian-American residents who’ve created a bit of their mother country right in our backyard.

The entrance to Chinatown is officially 10th and Arch Streets, as shown by this photo. The Chinatown gate, which is known as the “Friendship Gate” is an internationally known landmark and a symbol of cultural exchange and friendship between Philadelphia and its Sister City, Tianjin, China.

Consisting of just six city blocks, Philadelphia’s Chinatown is small compared with other Chinatowns around the country. Still, the area is home to over 50 restaurants, a Buddhist temple, an Asian Bank and several gift shops and grocery stores. When visiting you get the sensation that you’ve left Philadelphia and ventured far across the globe.

I was quickly brought back to reality though when a delivery truck stopped in front of me and flipped open it’s hatch in the back. Inside lay about a hundred or so pigs ready for delivery, already slaughtered, yet their heads still in tact and their hooves bound for the journey. It was a horrible sight, and I walked away with my head hanging low, and feeling a little sad for my Suidae friends.

Sometimes vacations turn out a little different from what we expect.

Life imitates Seinfeld

February 18, 2012 – Ready to feel old?

It will be 14 years in May that Seinfeld aired its final first run episode.

That doesn’t seem possible, mainly because the sitcom is still shown on hundreds of TV stations across the country several times a day. And oddly, like many older shows can, it doesn’t seem dated.

For a show about nothing, the sitcom touched something in many of us, maybe even more than we realize. We followed the lives of Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine closely, not because they were particularly nice – they weren’t – but because we related to them in some way and they made us laugh. We’d never want to be friends with this self-centered bunch because we’d end up as the brunt of their jokes. No one else wanted to be around them for too long, either. Except for each other.

Still, we liked them enough to invest in time watching them, and they will forever be ingrained in our culture. The last place I worked, for example, hosted Festivus parties during the holidays rather than the more traditional event – thanks to Seinfeld. And I know we weren’t the only ones.

Workplaces in general seem especially susceptible to Seinfeldisms. Whenever a co-worker at my former office would say they were tired and could use a nap, I could book a bet that someone would suggest they pull a George and take one under their desk. Or co-workers coming back from the vending machine have been known to shout out, “These pretzels are making me thirsty” for a laugh or two. We even had a funny cafeteria guy who’d shout “No soup for you!” on occasion.

No explanation was necessary. Everyone knew these phrases and what they related to.

Seinfeld also had a huge impact on our language and culture, not just in my office, but around the country. The majority of people are familiar with made-up expressions like anti-dentite, close talker, and schmoopie. They know who the Moops refer to, and what the urban sombrero and the manssiere are. They probably also understand what it means in Seinfeld speak when a book is “flagged” or when someone is “sponge worthy” or “master of their domain.”
It just goes to show you that no matter how individual we think we are this comedy touched something we have in common in all of us, and it spread quickly and found its place in our language across the country. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

So, why does everything in life relate to a Seinfeld episode? Our lives are certainly about much more than nothing. We’re complex and compassionate human beings with… you know, yadda, yadda, yadda…

Jane’s World: The top ten movies of all time

February 16, 2012 – I’ve wanted to put together this list for a long time, but it seemed too difficult to wrap my brain around.

If you love movies as much as me, you probably understand. How can you pick favorites from the massive variety available without narrowing it down to at least a category? It would be easier to list the ten worst movies ever made. Challenge be damned, I mustered my courage, buckled down and completed the task.

In honor of the upcoming Academy Awards – an event like Christmas morning to me – here’s a list of what would be considered the top ten movies of all time if I ran the world:

10. Muriel’s Wedding/Betsy’s Wedding – Yes, we have a tie and not because I’m too lazy to pick one, but because both wedding themed movies are equally good for different reasons. Muriel’s Wedding is a unique Australian film that introduced two of today’s finer actresses to American audiences. Toni Collette plays the socially inept Muriel, a girl willing to go to extremes to get married, and Rachel Griffiths, of Six Feet Under and Brothers and Sisters fame, plays her best friend. Muriel’s Wedding is a better movie than the other as far as the script and storyline, but Anthony LaPaglia’s hilarious Stevie D and Madeline Kahn’s wonderfully modest mother of the bride in Betsy’s wedding deserve a special mention and shouldn’t be missed.

9. Airplane! – I love comedies as much as the next guy, but normally slapstick isn’t my thing. Airplane, however, defies those rules and is hands down the best comedy ever made. It’s definitely the king of all disaster spoofs, which paved the way for many more to come – some wonderfully good and some dreadfully bad. Airplane also has to be the most quotable movie of all time, and perhaps even the most viewed. I dare you to find someone who hasn’t seen it. Better yet, without it we wouldn’t know the comic genius of Leslie Neilson, or the Naked Gun movies, which deserve special mention because it gave us another truly quotable line, “Hey, that’s Enrico Palazzo!”

8. Gone with the Wind – There’s no greater heroine than Katie Scarlett O’Hara. She may have been a spoiled young woman, but she also brilliantly maneuvered her way through the challenges of the Civil War. She was definitely the mentally strongest character in her family, and in the story. Sure, there are plenty of wonderful performances in the film, but all pale in comparison to Vivian Leigh’s Scarlett. Despite its four-hour length, I can get swept in this saga every time it’s on television, and have even traveled to the theater to see it on the big screen. This film swept the Oscars in 1939, winning Best Picture, Best Actor for Clark Gable, Best Actress for Leigh and Best Supporting Actress for Hattie McDaniel, to name a few.

7. Imitation of Life – The earlier version with Claudette Colbert is good and closer to the original story, but the 1959 film with Lana Turner and Sandra Dee is so full of wonderful drama, it has to be crowned as the queen of all tear-jerkers. Based on a 1933 Fannie Hurst novel of the same name, the story seems almost modern as two single mothers, one black and one white, struggle to raise their daughters alone, until they find each other and combine efforts. The drama occurs when the black daughter, who often passes as white, decides to lie about her roots and completely deny where she came from, which breaks her mother’s heart. Good Hollywood stuff, and if you plan to watch, have plenty of tissues on hand. The film was nominated for two Oscars for Best Actress for Juanita Moore and Best Supporting Actress for Susan Kohner.

6. Raiders of the Lost Ark – Of all the action movies out there, this is one of the best. When my friends and I first saw this as a new release back in 1981, we loved it so much we stayed to watch it again at the next showing. Of course, it was back in the day when you could get away with that sort of thing. I adore this movie for many reasons, but mostly because it’s not your typical “blood fest” action movie, but rather it entertains with a compelling storyline and great performances that captivate you from the beginning. In other words, it’s a thrilling movie that the whole family can enjoy. And watching the handsome Harrison Ford as the dashing and debonair Indiana Jones isn’t bad, either. The movie won four Oscars for Best Art Direction, Editing, Visual Effects and Sound.

5. When Harry Met Sally – A witty script, a fine cast and a timeless soundtrack all combine to make When Harry Met Sally the best romantic comedy of all time. Plus it asks the age-old question can men and women be just friends, or does sexual attraction always get in the way? The movie features Meg Ryan at her absolute best and Billy Crystal, who’s always funny in each role he chooses. Kudos to the supporting cast, Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby, who play it well as their best friends who coax them along and try to show them they really do belong together. This film was nominated for Best Original Screenplay.

4. Ordinary People – Robert Redford’s masterpiece, Ordinary People, may be the movie that had the most impact on me at that point of my young life. I was still a teenager when I saw this heart wrenching drama of a family trying to cope with the death of one of their own, and a son desperately trying to forgive himself, and gain his mother’s love. In addition, the film featured Mary Tyler Moore as I had never seen her before, playing the cold, distant mother, who worried too much about what her society friends thought, and was incapable of showing her younger son that she cared. Timothy Hutton won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for this role, his first, and Redford won for Best Director. The film also won for Best Picture.

3. Charade – Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant are a perfect combination in this fun Hitchcock like classic, despite their 25-year age difference. Supposedly Grant wanted it written in to the script, which is as thrilling as it is funny and charming, that Hepburn’s character is pursuing him rather than vice versa because he felt odd about the age difference. Charade earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song, and was remade albeit poorly as “The Truth About Charlie” with Mark Wahlberg and Thandie Newton. But don’t waste your time. See the original.

2. The Big Chill – What happens when old college friends get together for the funeral of one of their own? Great music and conversation and plenty of surprising twists and turns. I especially love the storyline between William Hurt, who plays a former radio psychologist, and Meg Tilly, the young girlfriend of the deceased friend. The rest of cast is also superb and features Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, Mary Kay Place, Jo Beth Williams, Tom Berenger and Jeff Goldblum. It also was the first film appearance by a young Kevin Costner, but his scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. The film earned Best Picture and Best Actress (Glenn Close) nominations.

1. Notorious – Alfred Hitchcock’s spine tingling Notorious is tops on the list. Cary Grant stars opposite a very creepy Claude Raines and Ingrid Bergman, the woman the FBI hires to get the goods on Nazis they believe are planning something in South America after WWII. Grant falls in love with Bergman’s character, the girl with the tainted past, and he is often as cruel and he is romantic with her. There are so many thrillingly tense scenes and fine performances in this movie, there is no better. Not only is it the most romantic movie of all time, with just enough ups and downs along the way that make for good drama, but it’s also has one of the cleverest scripts ever written. Grant is a fine actor, and Bergman is luminous.

P.S. Special mention goes to the following, which made the initial list and had to be cut to narrow it ten, a painfully difficult task: Annie Hall, Amelie, The Big Lebowski, The Graduate, Groundhog Day, A Hard Day’s Night, Terms of Endearment, Thelma and Louise, and The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

A Valentine for the rest of us

February 14, 2012 — I was going to post something snarky about the over-commercialization and unbelievable pressure of Valentine’s Day, but this blog has a better message.

It reminds me of airing the grievances on Festivus, which is always fun.

Enjoy your day! And if you’re minus a significant other this year, buy yourself flowers and chocolate, celebrate, and try not to slug anyone if they tell you today is also known as Singles Awareness Day.

A lunchtime tourist in her own city: Jeweler’s Row

February 13, 2011 – It’s time for another lunchtime tourist experience.

Last week I shared photos of the historic landmarks in Old City Philadelphia captured on my first lunchtime getaway. Here are photos from my second one-hour vacation, which I took the following day, and I hardly had to leave the building where I work to take all in. The day wasn’t as bright and sunny as last week, but it was still relatively warm for winter, and worth the trip.

The Curtis Center – I work on the 11th floor – is located at 6th and Walnut Streets in the heart of Old City. Many tourists visiting the area often make a stop inside the building, which is historic in its own right. The building used to be home to Curtis Publishing, where my mother worked as a young woman, and was also once home to the Norman Rockwell Museum. Rockwell used to arrive at this very spot with his paintings, meeting the deadlines for the covers of the “Saturday Evening Post”, which was printed here.

The museum has since closed, but the lobby still houses the famous “Dream Garden”, a 15 x 50 foot glass mosaic mural executed by Tiffany Studios in 1916, the same year Rockwell sold his first painting to the “Saturday Evening Post”. The mural is constructed from 100,000 pieces of glass laced with gold leaf and is said to be the finest Tiffany mural in the world. It’s been designated a historical object by the Philadelphia Historical Commission and tourists probably snap as many pictures here in the lobby as they do across the street at Independence Hall.

Around the corner from the mural, on the other side of the building, the 12-story atrium opens to an elegant marble hall complete with a bubbling fountain and a domed skylight. The atrium is a popular venue for weddings and other catered affairs. There have been a few Friday nights when I had to make my way through an event to reach the exit, and each time I was tempted to stay as a guest and enjoy the party.

On the 7th Street side of the building, a few steps brings you to the intersection of 7th and Sansom Streets, home to Philadelphia’s famous Jeweler’s Row. The area is composed of nearly 300 retailers and wholesalers, and is the oldest diamond district in the United States, established in 1851. Most of the stores that line the row between 7th and 8th Streets have been owned by the same families for five generations.

On the Walnut Street side of the building, between 6th and 7th Streets sits Washington Square, one of Philadelphia’s five original squares laid out by William Penn in 1682. The park’s original name was Southeast Square, as Penn, who was a Quaker, didn’t believe in naming places after people. I suppose the people who named the state of Pennsylvania, it’s University and many other landmarks didn’t care about the tradition. The park originally served as a potter’s field, or a burial ground for strangers in the city. During the Revolutionary War, the British kept a jail/prisoner of war camp on the grounds. Today it’s a popular spot for the city’s workforce to eat lunch on nice days.

Across the street, at 701 Walnut Street, sits the Pennsylvania Bible Society. Dating back to 1808, the house and the society are the oldest of its kind in the country and have distributed Bibles in 73 different languages.

So that’s a tour of the building where I work and its immediate surroundings. Next up I plan to explore Chinatown.

It’s almost time

February 13, 2012 – The caravan of equipment leaves Philadelphia today enroute to Clearwater, Fla., the home of the Phillies spring training camp.

That’s right, folks – pitchers and catchers report this week.

In other Phillies’ news, Shane Victorino will appear in the Feb. 20 episode of “Hawaii Five-0”. Can you say, “Book ‘em Shane-o”?