West Chester Coffee Blog

Coffee. 1990 61X81 cm Oil on canvas.

Coffee. 1990 61X81 cm Oil on canvas.

In 1984, when I was 23 years old, I headed off to Rome to study abroad for a year. The first thing that I remember doing on the very first day that I was there is ordering a cup of coffee. That moment can really be considered a dividing point in my life, Life Before Good Coffee (LBGC) and Life After Good Coffee (LAGC). Prior to that moment, coffee was just something you would have in the morning to get you moving. After that moment, it became ritualized. Not just any cup of coffee would do. Each morning I'd stroll up Via del Corso on my way to school, and along the way I'd take in a dozen or so cups of cappuccino. Aah. La dolce vita!

When I returned to Philadelphia in 1985 a stark reality slapped me square in the face. The thing that had become a daily sacrament was replaced by something unfit to clean the bathroom floor at the 30th Street Station. I either made my own cup of coffee or there was none to be had. Life took a serious down turn for a while. In fact, you will see a cup of coffee in many of my paintings from the late 1980's, like the one above. This manifestation of me crying on the inside. 

By the time Mary and I were married in 1991, I had heard rumors that good coffee could be found in Seattle. This left us with only one option; we packed up the wagon and headed west. For the next 20 years or so we lived in a relative state of coffee stability. In the Pacific Northwest every wide spot in the road had a drive through espresso stand. Really. As a wildlife biologist, I often worked in some very remote areas in Washington. There was never a place so remote that I couldn't find an espresso stand and get something good to start my day off well.  

It also happened that during that 20 years, the idea that "coffee was something more" seem to spread throughout the county. In our return to the east coast in 2011, Starbucks could be found from coast to coast and everywhere in-between. Albeit, the Great Plains can still be considered the great plain. I actually had to put some effort into finding a Starbucks in that part of the county but it could be done. 

Here in West Chester there is a Starbucks on the corner of the main junction downtown. It is always full of people. That is not all; Starbucks has competition. There are many cafes and restaurants around West Chester offering something better than could be found here in 1985. Some of these places seem to know what the coffee ritual is all about and some of them think that running Folger's through an espresso machine will do. 

Emily and I are here to help sort out the good and the bad for you. We plan to visit as many places in West Chester that have coffee to offer beyond the roadside diner drip swill. Every weekend or so, we plan to visit a different coffee shop and report to you what we think about it. Our first stop will be the Starbucks on the Corner of High and Gay in Downtown West Chester. 

I mention Starbucks a lot in this short blog post. In the Pacific Northwest Starbucks was considered a dirty word amongst coffee snobs, me being one of them. However, there are many reasons to like Starbucks and what they do. More on that in our next post. 

Russell and Emily. 

Harper's Ferry

This past weekend me and few of my classmates here in Frederick took a break from studying and went for a visit to Harpers Ferry. Most people might recall Harpers Ferry as the location where the abolitionist John Brown made his attack against the federal armory. Harpers Ferry was also a highly valued strategic geographic point by both the Union and Confederate forces in the American Civil War, changing hands several times during the corse of the war. After the war, the economy never really returned to the small town at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers and as a result left the area frozen in time. 

What is there today is a great example of what a small town in the mid 19th Century would have looked like. Nearly the whole of the downtown and the surrounding area covering the states of Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland is now a National Historic Park

On our part, we couldn't have picked a finer fall day for a visit. My roommate Jake, along with Heather, Steven, and Rubin spent the day there taking in the sights. We also got our daily dose of exercise as the walk from the main parking area to downtown then across and up to Maryland Heights was quite the workout! 

I did discover a link to my personal family history while I was there. I noticed that the Confederate General that commanded the troops in the battle of Maryland Heights in 1862 was General Joseph B. Kershaw from South Carolina. Since my family is from the Kershaw and Lancaster County area, I wondered if my ancestor William Joseph Flectcher (my grand father's great grandfather) might have been apart of this battle.  

Knowing that he was sharp shooter in the Flat Rock Guard, Company G, of the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers it didn't take very long to find out that he probably did fight in that battle (As a side note, the company was also present at the battle of Antietam, Cold Harbor, Chickamauga, and Gettysburg, and many others). I also found a map of troop movements before and after the battle of Maryland Heights that show that he most likely marched right through Frederick and the streets that I now ride my bike to work upon. The Flat Rock Guard was apparently a rough and tumble group of soldiers. One of it's members "cut and wore a pair of cuff buttons from a fragment of his own skull." Yikes! 

Skull jewelry aside, I recommend that if you ever get the chance to visit Harpers Ferry. It's rich history and natural beauty are well worth the effort. Check out a mix of photos taken by Jake and I here and at Stephen's photo stream here.

Russell

Frederick, Maryland

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As most of you know, I started a new job in August with US Customs and Border Protection. It is an awesome job that utilizes all of my strengths and interest. Plus, it actually pays well with great benefits. Monday marked the sixth full week of work there and my third week of training at the USDA Professional Development Center in Fredrick, Maryland. And Tuesday marked the first day of furlough on account of the conservative side of the House of Representative having their heads up their anal orifices. 

So, today, six weeks and two days in to my employment, I find myself at home with Mary and the kids, which ain't all bad. Since I got to Frederick I have been trying to find the time to do a blog post on life there and now I seem to have found the time to do just that. I do expect to go right back to Frederick when the intestinal obstructions are cleared as we still have approximately seven weeks of training to complete. For now I will enjoy my mini vacation and being with my family.

Frederick is an interesting little town. Actually, it isn't that little. The metropolitan Frederick area has a population of about 66,000 people. It lies about 50 miles west of Baltimore and about 50 north-northwest of Washington DC. Established in 1745, it is an old town with a rich history. It served as a major cross road in both the American Revolution and the Civil War. The town is the final resting place for Frances Scott Key. In fact, my daily bike commute goes past the Mount Olivet Cemetery where his family plot is located.  

Frederick is the home of Fort Detrick and just outside of town you can find the presidential retreat Camp David. The town is in  Maryland's piedmont between the Appalachain Mountains and Chesapeake Bay and outer coast. Ten miles to the south is the Potomac River. Along the rive is the C&O Canal bike trail which runs from Washington DC to Pittsburg. I would love to take a few days off of training and ride the the entire trail, but since my training is a condition of my employment, I'll wait to do that some other time. My first weekend there I did manage to ride about 40 miles of the trail up to Harper's Ferry and back which was fantastic. 

Downtown Frederick is pretty neat. It has a vibrant downtown area with many shops and places to eat and there are many old and interesting buildings to see. There is a canal that runs through town that I thought must be linked to the C&O Canal in some way, or at least harken back to a bygone era when goods moved easier on little barges than on the stiff wheels of a wagon. When I googled the Frederick canal I did not find a thing about it. I ended up asking one of the instructors at our training center about it's history and he told me it was built in the late 1970's for flood control. Not the answer I was expecting. When I googled "Frederick flood" I did come up with many images showing Frederick underwater. So in the end it seems as if the Frederick Canal had more influence from a civil engineer than an urban designer. Either way, I found that the canal adds lots of charm to the downtown area. 

We are living in a Marriott Suites Hotel and the rooms are actually quite nice. Most of us share a suite with a roommate, however, we all have separate bedrooms. My roommate is Jake. Jake is from Utah but his CBP duty station the Blaine border crossing in Washington State where the Peace Arch is located. He is also a botanist, so we have much to talk about. The hotel is on the south side of town and our training center is on the north side of town. We are provided vans to get to get to and from the training center, however, I brought my bicycle with me and ride it to the training center every day. It is only about 6 miles each way and only takes me about 20 to 25 minutes to get there. I occasionally stop a the Starbuck's Coffee in downtown Frederick which adds a little time to my ride, but it sure makes me happy.  

My training program is demanding, fun and interesting. Our class is made up of 35 people from all over the United States, and I am certain that they will all be a new set of life long friends. I especially like the diversity of our group. Perhaps half of our class speaks english as a second language or are bilingual. There are even a few southerners in the class so I can speak my native tongue - Southernese. However, with no other Philadelphians in the class I generally keep that tongue to myself as it is a lexicon that most adults generally find offensive. I don't even know what you call that tongue. How about "Yo, youse got sumtin to say, din say it", or how about just "Yo?" Yes, that's it, I speak Yo!

So, like, yo, if'n youse want, click on the word "here" over dare -----> here  and check out sum shots of Frederick and my friends and stuff. Aright? Aright den, dats what I'm talkin'bout. 

 

Finally some good news from the home front

I haven’t made mention anything about my search for employment, primarily because there hasn’t been anything to talk about. We knew when we left Washington State and moved across the continent to Southeastern Pennsylvania that finding work for me would be a challenge.

In my search for a job I applied to well over 100 positions. I don’t know exactly what I applied for, as I quit keeping track of them after the 84th one. Some of these were positions where I met the minimum qualifications and really didn’t have high expectations for, but I figured I had nothing to lose by applying. Most positions, however, I was highly qualified for with a graduate degree and around 20 years experience.

Of all these I had only 3 interviews, all three with the state of Delaware. I believe all the interviews went very well, but in the end, I was not the one selected for the position.

The 37th application that I sent out was back on 28 March 2012. This was for a position with position as an Agriculture Specialist with US Customs and Border Protection, which is part of Homeland Security. This position was a very good fit with my education and work experience. I figured I had a pretty good shot at that one. Also,  on 12 June 2012, I applied for a position with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service as a meat and poultry inspector. Not as great a fit, but I did meet the minimum qualifications. Both of these positions were with federal agencies and were permanent positions and had full benefits.

On 29 June 2013, I got an email from Customs saying that my application scored an 80 and that 70 was passing. It didn’t give me any other reference as to what this meant, so I had no idea if this was good or bad or what my chances were. I ultimately figured it was good, as I wasn’t rejected from the process. Then on 13 October 2012 I got an email saying that I was a tentative selectee for the position and the pre-employment process of background check, drug test, health screening, so on and so forth, would begin. I also learned at that time that I was selected out of 2000 applicants! Oinga-boinga.

Also in mid November of 2012, I got a letter from USDA stating that I was being considered for a meat inspector position in southern New Jersey. However, they had changed the position from permanent with full benefits to a temporary hourly position with no benefits. When I first applied, the commute to New Jersey would have been just barely worth it if it included health care. Without health care, this position simply wasn’t worth leaving my current position as a stay at home dad, so I turned it down.

Days, weeks and months clicked past. Just when I’d get to the point that the Custom’s position was slipping away, I’d get a message from them with a question about this or that or that they were moving on to the next step in the process. In what seemed like measurements on the geologic time scale, I passed the qualification verification, drug test, background check, etc. By the first of March I was left with only the health screening.

Let me tell you, when you are over 50, there is nothing but questions about your health. In short, I made over four trips to the doctor for this, that, and the other. Questions arose about injuries that I sustained over 30 years ago when I was a young gymnast. As aggravating as this was for me to deal with, it was probably more so for my doctor who had to address and document all these questions.

Finally at long last, on 22 July 2013, a checkmark appeared by the medical review part of the pre-employment process. Everything was completed! I got a letter stating such and that I was now being referred to the “scheduling unit.” What this really meant was that I was entering into another period of uncertainty because I know I would not be scheduled for anything unless there was a funded vacancy available for me to fill. Knowing that our legislators currently have no interest in making our government function smoothly a funded vacancy could occur tomorrow or a year from now.

Another big unknown would be if I got a final job offer where would the Duty Station be? I applied for the position because it said there was a position available in Philadelphia, assumedly at the airport. This would be a very reasonable commute from West Chester. However, applications for the position are to a region, in my case, to the Mid Atlantic, which stretches from JKF in New York to Richmond Virginia and west to Charleston, West Virginia. If a job offer was for Richmond Virginia, then all of this could be a wasted effort. I had not option other than to sit back and wait. Something I have become very good at.

In the meantime, on 3 June 2013, I got an email from USDA saying that I was being considered for another position as a meat inspector, this one in a kosher poultry processing plant in Birdsboro, PA. Shortly thereafter I had a telephone interview with the supervisor of the position. On 18 June, I got a letter offering me the position. Like the other position, this one was temporary and had no benefits. However, with Mary at home for the summer to keep the kids and the uncertainty of the Customs position, I accepted this one as something to do while I wait. Plus, I think it somewhat ironic that I got my graduate degree in ornithology and all those years studying and watching birds, that it would all culminate with a job as a chicken checker in Birdsboro, PA. What were the chances of such a thing?

Like the Customs position, this one had a pre-employment process. I assumed it would be somewhat less rigorous since national security is not involved, however, like the Customs position, this one had a health screening. And as before, it involved the body of a 50 year old male. Ergo, the process began to stretch out. Again, my poor doctor had to respond to what seemed to be an endless number of questions. Finally, yesterday at noon, my doctor emailed me and said that the final set of health forms were being faxed to USDA.

With that, I was back to waiting. Waiting for everything. We happen to be on vacation at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. With nothing left to worry about I set out for a bike ride down the Delaware coastline. I stopped along the way to look at grasses and sedges and other interesting plants grow in coastal saline environments. At 2:00 PM, as I was standing in ankle deep mud with a handful of interesting sedges, I got a phone call.

I am happy to say that on Monday, 19 August, one year, four months, and 22 days after I applied, I start work at the Philadelphia Airport. It looks like my chance at chicken checkin’ in Birdsboro is behind me.

In the end, this was the one position that I felt was a great fit for me and only one that I really had hoped I would get as it is a great continuation of my career that I began in Washington State. The pay is good and there is great opportunity for advancement. I look forward getting started!

Russell

 

The Stroud Preserve, 28 April 2013

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I normally don’t visit the preserve in the weekends but my son William loves water critters and wanted to go wade around the Brandywine. I figured it was just warm enough not to get hypothermia incase he fell in, so off we went.

We went down stream where it was more wooded. I let William have at it and I kept an eye out for birds and plants. I did pick up two new first of the year birds, Eastern Kingbird and Black-and-white Warbler. Again, the most common bird in the trees was Blue-gray Gnatcatcher of which I found two more nearly completed nests. I also found a couple of pairs of Rough-winged Swallow with burrows in a cut bank of the creek. Most exciting was a borrow of a Belted Kingfisher. This was just barely within the preserve boundary. I was glad to add that to my list of nesting birds.

I still looked very hard for Louisiana Waterthrush and Prothonotary Warbler. This area should be ideal habitat for these species. This habitat would also be good for Hooded and Worm-eating Warblers, which are also absent from the preserve list. I’ll continue to check the area over the coming months. Hopefully, one of the four species will make an appearance. The only new plant that I came across was a species of pondweed called curly pondweed (Potamogeton crispus) which native to Europe. I only saw a three or four plants along the half mile or so of stream bed that we walked along. So it wasn’t that common.

William had a great time. And as I predicted, he fell in the water up to his neck when he tried to walk across a log that broke in half when he was completely over the water, and as I predicted, he did not go hypothermic. He did find a baby snapping turtle. They sure are cute when they are the size of a silver dollar. I told William to make nice with it now because the next time he comes across it he may not have such a pleasant disposition!

Check out photos of our walk in the mud here.

Start time: 11:30

End time: 1:300

Temp: 63-68°

Wind: 5-7 mph from the south

Skies: clear

Species Total: 39

  • Black Vulture – 4
  • Turkey Vulture – approximately 10
  • Canada Goose – 2
  • Mallard – 2
  • Red-tailed Hawk – 1
  • Mourning Dove – 4
  • Chimney Swift – approximately 20
  • Belted Kingfisher - nest in creek bank
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker – 3
  • Downy Woodpecker – 2
  • Northern Flicker – 1
  • Eastern Phoebe – 4
  • Eastern Kingbird –2, FOY
  • Warbling Vireo – 2
  • Blue Jay – approximately 10
  • American Crow – 2
  • Tree Swallow – approximately 50
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow – approximately 20, nesting in burrows in the creek bank. 
  • Barn Swallow – approximately 10
  • Carolina Chickadee – approximately 10
  • Tufted Titmouse – approximately 10
  • White-breasted Nuthatch – 2
  • Carolina Wren – approximately 5
  • House Wren – 1
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – approximately 15
  • Eastern Bluebird – approximately 5
  • American Robin – approximately 10
  • European Starling – approximately 20
  • Yellow Warbler – approximately 10
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler – 1
  • Black-and-white Warbler – 2, FOY
  • Common Yellowthroat – approximately 10
  • Eastern Towhee – 3
  • Song Sparrow – approximately 10
  • Northern Cardinal – approximately 10
  • Red-winged Blackbird – approximately 25
  • Common Grackle – 2
  • Brown-headed Cowbird – approximately 10
  • American Goldfinch – approximately 20

Win Win and Forgotten Philadelphia!

The Four Humors of Tinicum, 2012, polyptych, oil on wood panels. 60.7X14 cm. 


If you haven not had the chance to see Forgotten Philadelphia you will have one more opportunity! Just to remind you, it is a show with my painting (above) about the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Philadelphia. 

This is the third and final stop of this exhibit sponsored by the non-profit literary magazine Philadelphia Stories. The show is from April 15 to May 17 at the Center for Architecture at 1218 Arch Street, Philadelphia PA. 

There will be an opening for the show this coming Friday, April 19. This opening serves as a fund raiser for Philadelphia Stories and has a cover fee of $20 ($25 at the door). Unfortunately, Mary and I will not be able to make it to the opening because of a busy weekend for William's confirmation and Paddy's first communion. If you haven't or can't see the show there is also a wonderful book published with reproductions of all of the artwork and literature. The book in of itself is a nice work of art. 

For friends and family in the San Francisco area you will have an opportunity to see one of my paintings on display (below) in Richmond, CA, at the National Institute for Art and Disabilities (NIAD). It is part of a benefit for the institute called Win Win. Tim Buckwalter, my good friend that I went to undergraduate school with at the Tyler School of Art is the Art Director at the institute and asked if I could donate one of my paintings. I was more than happy to comply! 

Both of these organizations do great work in the art community. If you have a chance to support their work please do so! 

The Four Humors of Sometime Soon, 2013, polyptych, oil on wood panels. 61X15.25 cm. 


That was a cold one!

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Dang nation, spring soccer can be really tough sometimes, I hear it is even tough for the players as well! Being the hardcore fans that we are, Steve and I suffered through the rain, sleet  and snow to see the Union come out on top of the New England Revolution 1-0. All I've got to say is that it's a good thing they won this one because if they hadn't I think Steve and I, along with a few other fans, would have taken the field and taught them a lesson! Luckily, most of the rain and sleet occurred before the game started and at half time. See photos of the day here

Life with the Boys

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Paddy, William, Steve and I have been living it up lately. This past weekend,  Steve and I were especially excited because it was the start of the MLS season! We also have new seats where we are actually allowed to sit down (we use to be in the supporters section where you had to stand the entire game and shout obscenities at the opposing team, and sometimes we shouted obscenities at he home team. It is Philly after all). The first game of the year was with Sporting KC (Kansas City). We started off great with a goal in the 17th minute from recently reacquired Sebastian Le Toux. Then memories of the last season came flooding back with Sporting KC made three unanswered goals. Oh well, the boys in blue will do better next time. Check out photos of us all here

Steve and Russell Visit the Land of Pork

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Last November my great friend from my days in art school, Gerry Bannan and his lovely wife Betsy, honored me by having a solo show of my paintings in their studio/gallery in Roanoke, Virginia. I'm still impressed that they arranged to have Bill Clinton visit Roanoke while I was there. See the details of that visit here.

The show in Roanoke was up for November and December. For most people that would be enough. But not for Gerry. He then moved the show to the Patrick Henry Community College where he teaches. So, for January through the 19th of February, folks in the town of Martinville VA got to see (put up with) my work. On the 19th Gerry invited me to come and talk to his students about my work.

The first trip down in November I went by myself. For this trip I managed to talk Steve Garr into coming with me! Now, I have had success with this in the past, because I there were at least two other times I talked Steve in to crossing the Mason Dixon Line to head deep in the the land of boundless slow cooked pork. Once with his brother Mike and once with the legendary Jim Reed.

This trip, much to my regret, was way to short. Unlike the good ole days where we could roam at will, I had to be back in West Chester to make sure the kids were off to school and such. We left at 7:00 AM on President's Day and returned the next day at around 10:30 PM! A whorl wind tour but fun nonetheless! Check out photos of our trip here

Vitamins

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Some folks have asked how my vitamin levels are doing. I have been on my massive doses of vitamin D and B-12 for about 4 weeks now. As you can see from the photo above my hands and feet are no longer so cold that they hurt all the time. In fact, when I stepped out in the snow barefooted today it felt really refreshing because they were so terribly hot! A month ago I could barely get out of bed without socks on. It's nice to have things back to normal! So, yes, my vitamin treatments are having a positive effect! 

The Red Show

I might be short on paying work, but I am having a fair amount of success in getting my paintings shown. I will have another of my paintings in a show called The Red Show in Stoudsburg, PA. I don't know how long the show will be up, but the opening will be on Saturday, February 9th from 4-8 PM. 

I think the painting that will be on exhibit will be the one above, called The Four Humors. It could be the one below, called The Letter. I'll find out on Saturday! If you are in the area, please stop by! 

Forgotten Philadelphia

The Four Humors of Tinicum, 2012, polyptych, oil on wood panels. 60.7X14 cm. 

The Four Humors of Tinicum, 2012, polyptych, oil on wood panels. 60.7X14 cm. 


Last fall I was part of a painting and writing exhibition called "Forgotten Philadelphia" through the organization Philadelphia Stories. The show featured 16 visual artist. Each artist proposed a location in Philadelphia that meant something to them and might be off the beaten trail, or in other words, a forgotten part of Philadelphia. The people at Philadelphia Stories then paired each visual artist with a writer, who then went out and wrote about the location. 

I proposed to make a painting about The John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. When I live in Philly over 20 years ago I use to visit this place often as it was one of the best birding spots around. Back then it was called The Tinicum National Environmental Education Center after the creek that flows through it. The poet that I was paired with was JC Tood, who wrote absolutely wonderful poem about the refuge. 

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The show in Center City was up from September 15th to November 9th. If you missed it you have another chance to see it because it is moving to Arcadia University from January 21st till February 20th. The opening reception will be on Wednesday, January 23rd at 7:00 PM. 

Along with the exhibit Philadelphia Stories published a book (right) with all the works in it. If you are interested in buying a copy they are available here ($30 hardback).