Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Center City Christmas

I walked only a few blocks from the train station to the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, but I took in a lot of Christmas magic along the way.

This happened to be the first day of the Christmas Village in Love Park, a collection of pop-up shops and food establishments just across the street from Suburban Station. I bought some unique gifts here (most were not even for me) and enjoyed a schnitzel sandwich. It wasn't easy, but I avoided the siren call of the strudel stand.

Next, I wandered over to Dilworth Park, just outside City Hall, which has recently been renovated. There is ice skating there at the Rothman Rink where a fountain will be in the warmer weather.

Lots of banners give color to the streetscape at Dilworth Park and then along Broad Street. Nutcracker? Mary Poppins? Either one, thank you. The City Hall tower photo-bombed this shot.

The Union League was formed in 1862 to support the Union and Abraham Lincoln, and this building was built in 1865. The Union League House on Broad Street is tasteful but festive.

The crowd at the Academy of Music was waiting to see The Nutcracker.

The view from the Kimmel Center's Roof Garden looked somewhat holidayish thanks to the colorful banners lining Broad Street.

And then back to City Hall and Christmas Village after the concert and everything is festively illuminated!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Quilts in the Mill (Prallsville Mills, Stockton, NJ)

Prallsville Mills in Stockton, NJ
I only have a few minutes to tell you about the great day I had at this quilt show (Quilts in the Mill) at Prallsville Mills overlooking the Delaware-Raritan Canal and with the Delaware River just beyond
A Churn-Dash Exhibited
because I have an hankering to go quilt something! It was a kaleidoscope of a day. My friend Lynn drove down from Schenectady to meet me at this show, and brought copies of her brand-new quilting book which I will tell you about in a few. (This is exciting!) Lynn especially wanted to hear the popular quilter Linda Hahn speak and see samples of her New York Beauty quilts. Let me tell you about this show first...

I've been to this annual show before, a few times, and I'm happy to report it has grown. There were more vendors than ever before, more quilts exhibited on the mill's three floors, three ways to win prizes, and the speakers were in a second building with some more vendors and prizewinning quilts from previous years. Just inside the front door was a quilter's dreamland of fabric bits and larger pieces for deep, DEEP discounted prices. Basically, I was buying fabric from other people's stashes, but to a quilter who might want just a wee bit of this and a bit of that, this is heaven. Besides the bigger pieces folded and bundled, there were three plastic bins with a sign that said, "Fill a Bag for $1. Bag must zip." And, my friends, the bags supplied were GALLON-SIZED. So I did:

My gallon-sized bag of loot (This was fun)

And there were treasures, some of which will go into my general stash to provide variety and some will go directly into scrappy projects already started. And there were a bunch of these stars:

One of the treasures from my bag o' loot.

I only bought one star, and I'll make it into something somewhere. I bought plenty more wonderful things: there was a button lady with thousands of buttons, and a vintage linen vendor from whom I bought some antique linen hankies even though I'm just wrapping up my antique linen hankie quilt. (I guess there is another in my future.

Prallsville window (with canal)
Before I move on to Lynn's and Linda's books and projects, I have to dwell for a moment on how warm and friendly quilters and quilt appreciators are. Attending a quilt show like this is a treat for the eyes, and inspiration for the needle, but even if an attendee knows no one there are nice people to chat with. The feeling is like a metaphorical cup of tea or warm cozy quilt on a chilly evening. Even better is when an attendee runs into quilters she hasn't seen for awhile.

Jane was there, and it was nice to catch up with her. I also ran into a posse of ladies from the retirement village where  I teach Music courses. WHAT??!! What are they doing here?? It is quite a trek from their Shangri-La to Prallsville, so imagine my delight when I saw their roadtrip van pull up. We had a joyful reunion as I'm not teaching there this fall (I'll return in the Spring with The Evolution of the Symphony), and I spent the next couple of hours with tears of joy in my eyes. I'm not sure if they remind me of my mom and aunts, or if they inspire me to be like them in 25 years or so, or if it is just because they are so supportive and encouraging to me when I visit them with lectures and musical examples. But of course they were at the quilt show--they fit right into the positive vibe of these things!!

Such a charming place to have a quilt show!

So back to the show... Linda Hahn is a quilter from Manalapan, NJ, who has published two books with the American Quilter's Society (and has two on the way). Her specialty is the spikey New York Beauty pattern which I have not yet attempted. I picked up New York Beauty Simplified (AQS, 2011), and some templates and tools to rectify this lapse in my quilting oeuvre. I grabbed some shots as she did her trunk show:
That's Linda Hahn with one of her smaller quilts. Check out that quilting on the black!
The very versatile NY Beauty pattern in yet another setting.
Many of Linda Hahn's New York Beauty quilts have NY-inspired names. This is "Beauties on Broadway".
And last but not least, my friend Lynn's book. It has been a delight to watch Lynn grow as a quilter. We met when she was in graduate school at Rutgers for Music Education and I was the Music Librarian then. We attended lots of concerts given by her and my colleagues and often got together for lunch to chat over music topics and whatnot. THEN WE FOUND OUT WE BOTH LOVED QUILTING! She was kind of new to the art at that time, but she had some great ideas and lots of enthusiasm. She joined my quilt group for a bit and enchanted my gang. Then she moved back to upstate New York and started a family, so it's a real treat when I get to meet up with her at a quilt show like this. I asked her to tell you about her new book, so here she is:

In case you would like to buy the book for yourself or your library, or invite Lynn and her co-author Kathryn to speak at your guild or show, here are their deets:

AMISH SHADOWS Light Reflected by Kathryn Rippeteau Greenwold with Lynn Reynolds Makrin (2014, KayLynn Designs)

Now you must excuse me because I have to go sew small pieces of fabric together to make bigger pieces of fabric, also known as quilting!

Saturday, September 6, 2014


Cape May Point Labor Day surf

The most photogenic spot I visit often is the stretch of the Delaware Bay beach in North Cape May, New Jersey, that I've known all my life. I enjoy shooting sunsets and rough surf there as my Facebook friends are quite aware. This is also the best place to try out new techniques and tricks in order to come up with new perspectives on the place and different-looking photos. Here's a round-up of ideas that you can use no matter what kind of camera you are using.

JUST BEFORE SUNSET, everything turns golden in other locations, too, but on the beach this is especially flattering light for people, dogs, and scenery with the sun at the the photographer's back.

Gladys at Sunset (Margaret Montet)

Shooting into the sun, we can catch some spectacular sunsets and silhouettes, too. Try positioning the subject in front of the setting sun: kids frolicking, boats sailing, dogs fetching, fishermen fishing, lighthouses and other iconic seashore structures are some of my recent silhouette subjects.

Fishin' (Margaret Montet, iPhone shot)

This is probably a good time to let you in on my big digital photography editing secret. I don't just take one perfect shot of a subject. I take many, changing settings and perspectives even when I'm not really sure what the result of the changes will be. Later on, I look through my shots and pick the very best to use or post. Based on what I just said in the previous paragraph, I would have thought that the best shot of these paddle boarders at sunset would have happened when they paddles in front of the sun (from my vantage point). My favorite turned out to be this one, just before they got to that spot. I'm really glad I took lots of extra shots.

Paddleboarders at Sunset (Margaret Montet)

THE BLUE HOUR starts about thirty minutes after sunset. I had been unaware of this concept until I read an article in the May2014 Outdoor Photographer magazine by photographer Kurt Budliger ("Get into the Wet Zone"). Budliger writes about the Golden Hour, extended shutter speeds for silky water, unspoiled sand at low tide, and this mysterious Blue Hour. Cool, I thought, I won't pack up and go home as soon as the sun goes down. I'll stick around and shoot in various directions and see what I get. Here's one of what I got:

The Blue Hour at the Delaware Bay (Margaret Montet)

It's fun to use props when shooting beach photos. We have to take care not to get sand into anything that might be harmed by it, and that includes props and regular photo gear. Keep the camera in its case while setting up shots with props, and maybe make some plastic-bag booties if you are using a tripod. The two props I experimented with recently didn't care much about sand, but my camera and lenses always care.

THE CONVEX MIRROR is a fun gizmo that I use to get interesting shots. Again, I take many shots and look through them later to find the best. Not only do I fiddle with camera settings, but I also move around a bit to adjust the angle between me, the mirror, and the subject I think I want to show up in the mirror. Here are some samples using a small convex mirror from the hardware store:

Convex Bay Sunset (Margaret Montet)
Convex Gladys (Margaret Montet)
Convex Margie and Gladys (Margaret Montet)
Then there is the repurposed PICTURE FRAME. This might be a cliche technique for snapshots of people, but I haven't seen it used much for landscapes. The idea here is the same as for anything that appears in a frame, whether it is art in a literal frame, or live entertainment on a stage with a proscenium arch, or a person's face surrounded by a floppy hat. The eye goes to whatever is inside the frame first. My cheapo plastic frame broke as soon as I tried to position it in the sand, but I was able to get some cool shots before it completely fell apart. In the future, I might drill a hole in the side of the frame so that I can stand it on my tripod or Gorilla Pod. I like this shot of the lighthouse with the gulls standing around acting naturally, and the beachgoers outside the frame. I wasn't paying any attention to them while lying on my stomach on my towel shooting this series of photos, but I like what the colorful people add to the shot.

Cape May Point Lighthouse and Gulls (Margaret Montet)

So you see, you can take some interesting shots no matter what kind of camera you have and a little creative thinking. Check out this guy:
North Cape May

Monday, August 11, 2014

Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum

There is a short list of places and activities I recommend to people visiting Cape May County, and this is on top of that list. It meets my basic history requirement (it's authentic, not made up for tourists), and it is just plane (make that plain) interesting. It occurred to me recently while making such a recommendation that I hadn't been there for awhile. Yesterday I was happy to see that the museum takes up more of the space of its restored World War II hangar, and there are more planes and displays, including a tribute to the United States Coast Guard. By the way, I blogged about this museum back in 2011 for and you can read that piece here.

World War II-era Boeing-Stearman PT-17 Kaydet biplane
The National Air Station Wildwood (NASW) Aviation Museum is devoted to informing visitors about the WWII contributions of the Helldiver pilots. They trained at this airport during that war, and as you'll learn from the informative orientation video, 42 of them died during this intense training. Consider this: when things go right for these guys, they swoop down in their aircraft, drop the bomb, and then pull up immediately so that the exploding bomb doesn't catch their tail. That's dangerous enough, but what if something goes wrong while you're up there? What are you going to do?? So, that's the main thrust of this museum's message, but wait, there's more!

First let me explain that the NASW Aviation Museum is not in Wildwood as its name would have you suspect. It is closer to Rio Grande, NJ, but that name makes people think of Texas, and that would REALLY be confusing. The next closest municipality with a distinctive name was Wildwood. I guess "Cape May" was already taken by the then-Navy, now-USCG base. Wildwood was an entertainment hotspot even then, so the name probably had happy memories associated with it for the pilots who trained here.

The many military vehicles are set up so that visitors (YOU if you take my recommendation) can walk up to them, touch them, inspect some of their motors, and possibly even go inside them. You might recognize this big-bubbled Korean-War-era helicopter from the opening of M*A*S*H:

Bell 47 (H-13 Sioux in its military life)
The NASW Aviation Museum considers the TBM-3E Avenger torpedo bomber the centerpiece of its collection. This plane was built at the General Motors Eastern Aircraft Division in Trenton, New Jersey, and was used for training and patrol along the coast. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as is the Museum itself.

Fred poses in front of the gigantic TBM-3E Avenger propeller to show you how enormous it is.
Not all of the aircraft here is WWII- or Korean War-era. Check out this helicopter, the AH-1 Cobra, which started production in 1967 and was used after the Vietnam war to the present day:

You get to check out the AH-1 Cobra's engine and look inside the cockpit.

Not all of the vehicles here fly. This is a newer display (at least since I last visited): a Ford. This regular sedan was painted to represent NASW (the paint is original) and it was used to drive bigwigs around the base.
1941 Ford Super Deluxe Fordor Sedan
The Ford's blackout headlight
Fred clowning around under the Ford's hood.
So how did I get that cool shot of the Ford from above? No, I was not sitting on top of one of the planes or hanging from the hangar's rafters. The museum now has a replica of an Air Traffic Control Tower which is delicious for photographers because we can get shots like this one of multiple planes and stuff:

A bird's eye view of the front of the museum
Be warned, photographers, that the light here is tricky, especially on a sunny day like yesterday, so have your photographic strategies ready!

Another nice touch yesterday was that the back door of the hangar was open. We weren't allowed to go out on the tarmac, but we could stand behind barricades and look out at more planes, and even watch a modern plane or two take off.

That's the Vultee BT-13 training plane poised by the back door, and the Russian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 with the red stars and '23' next to it.
And here's a small modern plane taking off.
Finally, there's the new US Coast Guard exhibit. The USCG Training Center where all recruits go for boot camp is nearby in Cape May, and that's the reason my parents settled in this region in the first place over sixty years ago. It was remote and wooded back then, and much of the human life had something to do with the Coast Guard. The helicopter below is original to the museum, but the Hummer, ship, and special exhibit are new.

HH-52A Seaguard, amphibious search-and-rescue helicopter

The only time you'll see me behind the wheel of a Hummer, in this case a USCG Hummer

"Always Ready"
Impressive collection, don't you think? And consider this: I didn't even show you the Bird Dog, the Tomcat, the Tiger II, the Skyhawk, the Thunderbird, the gyrocopter, or Fred's favorite spot, the display of jet engines! Highly recommended. (Eat at the Flight Deck Diner or Erma Deli, both also highly recommended and  nearby.)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Pennsyvania Academy of the Fine Arts: Washington Foyer
Art Museums have cut back on the postcards they sell in gift shops. This disturbs me because I've always enjoyed taking pieces of the collection home, either to display somewhere (usually where I write), to include in a scrapbook, or maybe to file away in my official postcard box. That box is a museum of places, art, and whimsy just waiting for me to revisit.

PAFA: The Rotunda
The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) does sell postcards, ten for $5.00, and I was pleased to find some of my favorites from the Academy's collection of art by Americans.

Washington Foyer, detail

  • Daniel Ridgway Knight's (1839-1924) "Hailing the Ferry" (1888) was my favorite in my favorite room, the Henry S. McNeil gallery of landscapes. It's a rather large (64.5" x 83") oil painting showing two girls hailing a ferry by a river much the same way we'd hail a taxi at Broad and Cherry Streets in Philadelphia. What knocked me out about this painting was the exquisite detail of the girls' faced and clothing, realistic enough to pass for a photograph. Ridgway painted this landscape thirty years after he was a student at PAFA, but still too early suspect this work to be a mashup of oil paint and photograph.
  • "George Washington (Lansdowne Portrait)" (1796) by Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) is one of the many familiar portraits that greet the visitor around almost every corner. You've seen this portrait of Washington, looking like he does on our dollar bill, standing on an Oriental rug in front of a fancy red-velvet-upholstered side chair, gesturing toward a drapey red tablecloth with a quill and inkpot on top and big books underneath. A red drape is pulled back revealing an American nature scene outside. Is that a Colonial-dressed male doll slouched against the column by the window? It seems Mr. President has been to a Colonial Williamsburg gift shop!
  • I just read James McBride's National-Book-Award-winning The Good Lord Bird last month, so my eyes were drawn to the modern but primitive "John Brown Going to His Hanging" (1942) by Horace Pippin (1888-1946). It's a somber scene with cold white and gray buildings, black trees that have lost most of their leaves, and faceless people clad in shades of black and charcoal. The only colors are the scarves around the people's necks and the ropes binding John Brown's arms to his notice the scowling black woman down in the lower right, wearing a bright blue and white gingham skirt. She's the only black person in the painting, and none too happy about this execution. It turns out this is Pippin's own grumpy grandmother.
I didn't see a postcard of Benjamin West's (1738-1820) showstopper, "Christ Rejected," (1814). West was born in Springfield, which is now Swarthmore, and was one of the first American painters to win fame and respect outside of this country. This gigantic (200" x 260") painting was created near the end of West's life after he had been living in England for fifty-four years. Jane Austen looked at this very painting and said, " pleased me." That nugget of knowledge pleases me!

Looking from The Rotunda to the Washington Foyer
I wasn't allowed to shoot photos of the art (hence the links above--please click on them to see the art), but I was allowed to snap flashless photos of this glorious Frank Furness building from 1876. It's now called the Historic Landmark Building. (PAFA's newer, modern Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building is next door.) It's Victorian and Gothic and it represents Philadelphia and the Gilded Age. I didn't focus much on labels because I'd rather concentrate on focusing my Nikon.

PAFA exterior
PAFA puts their Mission ("PAFA promotes the transformative power of art and art making") on the free map along with the history of the Academy. Although the building didn't appear until 1876, the Academy was founded in 1805 by a group of Pennsylvanians including Charles Willson Peale, Rembrandt Peale, and Benjamin Rush. It's the country's first art museum and school of fine arts, right here at Broad and Cherry Streets in Center City Philadelphia.