Wanamaker Organ

We love showing friends and family around Philadelphia, especially if they are first-time visitors. Our itinerary is down pat: we visit all the best sights in Old City (Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, the Franklin Museum, Washington Square, Christ Church, etc.), stop by Reading Terminal Market for sticky buns, and, schedule permitting, hit up a Phillies game.


When DH’s family visited us a couple of years ago, they also discovered a favorite gem of their own, the Wanamaker Organ.


The building that houses the organ is near City Hall at Chestnut Street. Wanamaker’s used to be an old-timey department store, the nation’s first, in fact. These days it’s just a down-on-its-luck Macy’s.


The organ is a doozy, though – it’s the largest operational pipe organ in the world. It was originally built to impress the masses at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Later it was purchased by John Wanamaker to adorn his Philadelphia department store. Because department stores used to have class!


The organ is put to use for regular performances during the week, during regular store hours. So come to Macy’s to argue belligerently with a cashier while trying to return soiled items that were purchased over ninety days ago, and stay for the glorious organ soundtrack.


Filed under Outings, Philadelphia



Yesterday we woke up slowly at 6am, made breakfast and coffee, listened to new music, went to the gym, picked up Chinese food on the way home, watched a soccer game, and snuggled with the dog. By evening we were parked on the couch watching TV as it snowed outside. It was a regular winter Saturday for us, Valentine’s Day and all, just another reminder that we have it so great.

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Nord Nute

You would not believe the amount of self-pep-talking we had to do in order to leave the house this week. Sometimes, in the evenings, Lucille 3 snuggles up in a super snuggly way and then we’re all, “I guess we don’t need to move an inch…ever again.”


BUT, we also know that, as human beings, sometimes fresh air can be vital, along with happy hour beer specials, which is why we reluctantly but intentionally dragged ourselves to Frankford Hall last Wednesday night.


In this situation, the pros were two-fold: happy hour drinks and sausages at a German-style beer hall, and Nerd Nite programming. Nerd Nite Philadelphia features three short presentations on various nerdy topics on the first Wednesday of every month at Frankford Hall. This past Wednesday, for example, there were talks on passenger pigeons, the science of food taste, and dogs who detect cancer in humans. Happy Hour + Learning = FUN.


I was so proud of us. We were out and about! We sat at a table with strangers and everyone introduced themselves and listed their impressive nerd credentials. People talked of their geeky jobs, the techie blogs they write, their scads of followers on Twitter. DH, sensing an opportunity for levity, introduced himself: “Hi, I’m [Death’s Head] and I’m illiterate. I came here for something called Nord Nute.”


Look, I know you kind of had to be there, but this was hilarious to us and we’ve been riffing on that one dumb joke all week. Out on a Wednesday night for Nord Nute? Pretty good for a February.

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Filed under Marriage, Outings, Philadelphia


I read a book last year whose first line introduces the story on a “dark greasy February morning.”* In Philadelphia, today is exactly that: dark and greasy. But instead of feeling defeated by winter, let’s enjoy some pictures of our resident dachshund. Lucille 3 has the luxury of burrowing all day on her favorite couch cushion, regardless of the grossness of February mornings.

Now you see her:


Now you don’t:


* “In a taxi skidding away from the Gare du Nord, one dark greasy February morning before the shutters were down, Henrietta sat beside Miss Fisher. She embraced with one arm a plush toy monkey with limp limbs; a paper-leather despatch case lay at her feet. Miss Fisher and she both wore, pinned to their coats, the cerise cockades which had led them to claim one another, just now, on the platform: they had not met before.” The House in Paris, Elizabeth Bowen.


Filed under Books, Lucille 3

Reggie Ho

Last week, Death’s Head was horrified to learn that I had never seen the iconic football movie Rudy. I knew about the final scenes, of course, with the crowd chanting “RU-DY!” and the swelling emotional music, but I had never seen the movie from beginning to end. So, in preparation for the Super Bowl today, we watched Rudy together on Friday night.

Afterwards, DH continued my education by showing me this short about Reggie Ho, medical student turned unlikely hero kicker for Notre Dame. I don’t care much for football, but inspiring real-life sports tales will always make me teary.

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Filed under Marriage, Totally Useless

Audacious Freedom

On Martin Luther King Day last year I had plans to visit Philadelphia’s African American Museum only to turn away because of the long line around the block to gain entrance. This year I was extra determined, but it turned out there was no line to get in anyway, at least when I was there around noon. The museum was super-duper crowded, though, as I expected it to be.


The exhibits presented head on some of the disturbing and downright terrible aspects of U.S. history, including the long systematic abuse and disenfranchisement of African Americans. But the spotlight belonged to great black leaders who contributed to the betterment of this nation, with emphasis on the Philadelphia region, through literature, religion, music, and general culture.


On permanent display is the “Audacious Freedom” exhibit, which documents African American history in the one hundred years following the founding of the United States. One part of this exhibit gives a day-in-the-life view of a black family in eighteenth century Philadelphia, and it’s particularly well-suited to youngsters. Here was a family having dinner with their friends, here they were up early in the morning to bake bread, etc.


It was difficult to linger long at any one part of the museum due to the amount of people who were crowded in. But it was important for me to be there, to listen and to hear, and to honor Martin Luther King’s legacy alongside so many other Philadelphians.


The museum also has an auditorium which is home to a lot of great programming, and I get the impression that much of the museums efforts are focused there. Really, this place is more than a museum, and in any case, I’m so glad I visited. Recommended, indeed.

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For purposes of posterity I’m including pictures of my hair in all its unruly glory. I have zero control over it, no matter what life-changing products you might recommend. For your hairdressers, I believe this is called the “Jimmy Neutron.”

Anyway… here I am just checking in with a few tidbits from our week:

–  We spent a few evenings this past week watching Ken Burns’ Prohibition documentary. It’s classic Ken Burns, which is to say that it’s very informative, with a strong appreciation for narrative irony and human hypocrisy. Our favorite character was George Remus, the lawyer turned bootlegger who successfully defended himself against murder charges with the first case of the “temporary insanity” defense.

– I also watched First Position and Twenty Feet from Stardom this week, because three day weekends are the best. On Saturday I read a book cover to cover (a book I LOATHED, but a whole book nonetheless), on Sunday I watched movies all day long (hence the documentary recommendations), and today I visited a museum (more on that later).

– For the past few years I’ve been doing all my reading for free thanks to some great local libraries. My new rule is that I can only buy books that I’ve read, loved, and regret not having around. This rule is the only reason I walked out of a book store liquidation sale with only one book: Robertson Davies’ The Fifth Business. I read the whole trilogy during our last weeks in Germany, and on returning to the States I felt that there was a hole in my bookshelf without a Davies. The book store didn’t have anything else I had read and loved, so I walked out with one book and a clear conscience. It feels good to be so morally superior.

– I mentioned a few posts ago that my favorite podcast of 2014 was Pop Culture Happy Hour, but I don’t want to let 2015 go by without also mentioning a new NPR podcast called Invisibilia. The first episode, about the “secret history of thoughts” was fabulous. Think This American Life meets Radiolab.

Happy Monday to you all, my dearies.

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Filed under Books, Totally Useless