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Jack’s Pumpkin Glow Philadelphia

pumpkin glowThis was our second annual family outing to experience Jack’s Pumpkin Glow Philadelphia.

pumpkin glow5,000 Carved Pumpkins/Fumpkins

This 3rd annual Halloween spectacle in Fairmount Park (near the Mann Center) features 5,000 carved, lighted pumpkins. We were blown away last year by the dazzling pumpkin displays and prefer family-friendly Halloween celebrations. We’ve done our share of creepy haunted houses, ghost tours, and insane asylums.

Thanks to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, we discovered that most of the pumpkins are actually fumpkins: made of synthetic material, colored and molded to resemble organic pumpkins. We were not overly upset by this revelation (unlike those crying Scam! on Google reviews). When you see the intricate designs they create, and calculate that the display is up for weeks in all-weather, it’s the only viable approach.

Amazing Artistry

The carved pumpkin displays grew progressively more elaborate and mind-blowing as we strolled the trail. The entrance featured a field of jack o lanterns, glowing in shades of purple, green or gold. Each was unique. We admire a snow scene shimmering with white-lit pumpkins. Next was a haunted ship with pumpkin clusters intricately carved into sea creatures. As we rounded the bend, we were surrounded by trees encircled with hundreds of shimmering carved pumpkin globes.

pumpkin glowEven more impressive were the huge dinosaur sculptures. they presented famous works of art by Dali and Frida Kahlo recreated in a 3-D canvas of hundreds of carved, joined pumpkin shapes.
For the special Philadelphia version of The Glow, there were carved pumpkins celebrating local PA icons like Rocky, Ben Franklin and Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton.)

Phillycentric Displays

pumpkin glowThe finale was a tribute to Philly Sports teams, featuring Gritty and the Fly Eagles Fly soundtrack for the Eagles. There was also a fitting resting place for the New England Patriots: a graveyard with tombstones for Tom Brady and Gronk.

Tips and Event Details

The Glow runs evenings until Sunday November 3, 2019. It is located in Fairmount Park near the Mann Center. You have to purchase timed tickets in advance on their website. Search online for 20-30% discount coupon codes. Allow at least an hour to stroll the 1-mile paved trail. You can purchase a limited selection of pricey food and beverages on site. For 2019, they have added a $5 parking fee. Park instead in the NW Shopping Center a few blocks away and walk over.  Parents beware: every child who was leaving had scored a lighted globe or necklace from the gift shop.

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Cherry Street Pier

cherry street pierOn a blustery October weekend, we trekked from the 2 street station to explore  Cherry Street Pier.  This latest Delaware River waterfront renovation  is next to Race Street Pier and Fringe Arts. The Pier offers close-up, wraparound views of Ben Franklin Bridge.  The $5 million transformation of the 55,000 sq. foot Pier has much to offer. There are walk-in artist studios, sustainable plantings, shopping and food trucks for quick bites and drinks. We saw flyers about music and live entertainment as coming attractions.


cherry street pierA 3-weekend-long free Festival for the People hosted by Philadelphia Contemporary launched the Pier. This eclectic celebration of visual arts (tattoos to technology) encouraged visitor engagement.  We spun fluorescent sculptures and watched others pecking out verse on old-school manual typewriters. However, we gave a pass to riding industrial tubing seesaws and joining drop-in yoga.


What we enjoyed most was chatting with the artists and exploring their work. We learned that there was a lot of “hurry up and wait” for the artist tenants here. For example, an artist confided she had only 3 days notice to get her space ready! That explains why many studio spaces were still in progress and closed to visitors. It’s described as a gallery shopping experience. So, cherry street pierit would be helpful to see prices for the artworks.


Also, we are curious to discover what the huge wood structures (shown in the yoga photo) are for. They looked like they’re for sitting and eating. But the chairs were too short and tables too massive for us to move. After strolling the Pier, we recommend heading to nearby United by Blue for instagram-worthy french toast and salads.




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Last Bastille Day at Eastern State Penitentiary

last bastille day at eastern state penitentiaryOn July 14, 2018, I ambled behind hundreds of sweaty revelers down Fairmount to celebrate the last Bastille Day at Eastern State Penitentiary. For the past 24 years, the historic prison has co-hosted a Bastille Day show and after-party with their neighbor, the London Grill.  It began as a lively intimate restaurant party each July 14. But the event soon exploded in size and pageantry into an elaborate music and drag cabaret extravaganza. The 2018 publicity claimed it is Philadelphia’s largest free theatrical performance.

The Guillotine and Edith Piaf last bastille day at eastern state penitentiary

The pre-show featured multiple beheadings of juicy watermelons, based on thumbs down votes from the crowd. The annual executioner this and every year was  Sean Kelley Senior VP and ESP’s first employee. The main attraction, the Bearded Ladies Cabaret, made a dramatic entrance on the main tower parapet.  John Jarboe was a winged Edith Piaf in gold lame, crooning and rappelling down the stone fortress. When he reached the entry door, he unfurled a huge banner proclaiming RESISTEZ!

Joan of Arc, Ben and Cautionary Tales

What followed was a rapping and dancing procession of famous heroes who fought for freedom and justice. Joan of Arc made a live phone call to Senator Pat Toomey’s office, encouraging the crowd to shout out their protest messages.  The Handmaids appeared as a harbinger of worse disasters to come, and Marc Zuckerberg sang You Belong to Me (courtesy of the Police.)

Marie Antoinette and Tastykakes

last Bastille Day at Eastern State Penitentiary

The eagerly-awaited annual climax was the appearance of Marie Antoinette. She was enacted with gusto and a frightful pink wig by Terry McNally, co-owner of The London Grill. She swigged Chardonnay and mocked the complaining masses below. Finally, she uttered her famous line, for the last time: Let them eat Tastykakes!
The crowd below was pelted with a rush of  Tastykake butterscotch krimpets –2,000 packages were flung down from the balcony. The lucky bourgeoisie in the receiving area checked their wrappers to see if they were a lucky winner of a large Tastykake stash. I took that as my cue to head out as Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar on Me boomed down.


art creativity

Theater Skam’s Fashion Machine

fashionmachineOn a brutally cold January evening, we trekked out to Fringe Arts  by Penns Landing to join a unique audience participation event: Theater SKAM’s Fashion Machine. As devoted Project Runway fans, we were intrigued to see how kids could create a whole new outfit in just an hour. It always took 1-2 days and maximum drama for adult Runway contestants to accomplish the same task.

I’m in!

Attendees were warned to come dressed in clothes they didn’t mind having destroyed (my word).–The theater greeters preferred the word reimagined. They did promise to leave one item unscathed from each outfit chosen. We had to declare our intentions by slapping either  “I’m in!” or “I’m Chicken” stickers on our chest. The photo at right shows attendees who are fessing up to being chickens. I was a little nervous volunteering to be in, thinking they’d go for the blank slate potential of my old black pullover sweater and leggings. However, they had plenty of willing souls. I also suspect “the fix” may have been in. The designers seemed pretty chummy and comfy with the”volunteers” chosen from the get-go. But it was all in fun since there were no valuable prizes at stake.

fashion machineIt was reassuring (after 1 year in Trumpworld)  to see such a diverse group of boy and girl designers ages 9-13. The kids broke into 4-person teams to consult with their clients.

There was the obligatory sketch, then “run and snatch as much fabric as you can in 2 mifashion machinenutes” step. Then clients handed over their clothing and padded around in terrycloth robes for rest of the hour.


Skam is a Canadian theater troupe based in Vancouver, BC. They were inspired to do this project after their high-stakes theater experience in which kids cut adult volunteers’ hair. For the Fashion Machine Phillies crew, they offered 12 hours of training. They not only taught sewing machine use, but also covered the history of fashion styles, how to chat up clients and weaving techniques. The 4-person team did video interviews with the students which they shared during the nerve-wracking 30 minute countdown to the runway show.

Before & After Designs

fashion machine

Here’s an example of how the young designers transformed a before outfit into an original creation with limited resources.
The groups worked amazingly well together and didn’t ask much for adult help.

The main stress was that the sewing machines kept jamming. Yet, unlike Project Runway contestants, they did not resort to the glue gun.





At the runway shfashion machineow, the clients got into the spirit, strutting and twirling with pride as the audience cheered everyone on. It was the perfect finish to an engaging and inspiring evening. Here’s the group photo of all the designers and their models.



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Fireflies Experience

On a balmy Saturday evening in early October, Wes and I headed to Philadelphia’s Sister Cities Park  in Center City see Cai Cuo-Quong’s Fireflies Experience. Cai is an internationally renowned artist who was commissioned by the Association for Public Art (aPA) to create an engaging public work to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Ben Franklin Parkway (Parkway 100). The Parkway is our city’s premiere hub for culture, history and major events –a tourist mecca that rivals Old City with Independence Hall.

Unique, Illuminated Lantern Artwork

The artist created a luminous, multisensory group experience that is a spectacular kickoff to the centennial celebration. Cai’s work features 27 pedicabs, each illuminated with colorful paper lanterns. The 2-seat cabs are pedalled by a driver who gives a one-way ride along the Parkway between Sister Cities Park and Iroquois Park (by the Art Museum).

Every cab was aglow with a unique constellation of fanciful shapes. Some cabs had a theme (stars, animals, outer space). Some were more of a hodge-podge. We enjoyed the parade of 1, 2 or  3 pedi-cabs all in motion  down the Parkway promenade.

Free Pedicab Rides

Fireflies experienceAmazingly, the rides are free and given with a smile by enthusiastic aPA volunteers. We found out too late, that ride reservations were required. The site promised that some walk-in spaces would be available. When we tried our luck however, we were warned to expect a 1 1/2 hour -2 hour wait. And there was no guarantee of a ride. The photo is the long line, an hour before the show closing.

The Fireflies Experience was blessed with dry, warm weather throughout the September 15-October 8 installation. In these days of stress and strife, it was a much needed lift to be surrounded by exuberant  riders and strollers. Even the folks on the long lines were in great spirits.Thank you aPA and Cai!

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United by Blue Workshop

United by Blue WorkshopIt was a frigid winter night in Old City: perfect weather for a cozy evening of crafting with my daughter at a United by Blue workshop. We had visited UB’s  flagship store on 2nd Street previously to shop. We admire the integrity of their designs and their bold environmental pledge– to remove a pound of trash for every product sold. Since 2010, that amounts to more than a million pounds!

Beginning Embroidery

United by Blue hosts events and hands-on workshops regularly in their 2nd Street store. We discovered their Beginning Embroidery class on their website. There is a small fee, but you get to take a full complement of supplies and instructions home to practice.
United by Blue workshop

Our workshop was led by Danielle Conyers, UB staffer and outdoor adventure artist of Escape Threads. We were attracted by her workshop description. She promised that no stitching experience was necessary and all levels were welcome. It was lovely to see several mother-daughter pairs in the class,  eager to give embroidery a try.

Basic Stitches

Since we were a group of 20 novices, Danielle gave us all the same mountain design to reproduce. In less than two hours, we learned four basic embroidery stitches: running stitch, back stitch, split stitch and satin stitch. To Danielle’s credit, everyone left with a completed and personalized design. It was very relaxing to sit quietly and concentrate on mastering the movement of the needle and thread.

I chose to use my embroidery hoop as a frame. I’ve hung the piece where I can admire our handiwork, even if I only vaguely remember how it was done.


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Expressive Hand pottery studio

A visit to The Expressive Hand pottery studio was the perfect birthday gift from my daughter. It’s a cozy “paint your own” walk-in storefront on South 9th street. We donned our boots, trooped over on a blustery winter weeknight and had the place to ourselves. The staff was friendly and the vibe was low key which I appreciated. I hadn’t done anything more creative in years than host an adult coloring workshop at work.

Paint Your Own Bonanza

We had an hour before closing time, so we each picked a little round bowl to decorate.There was a huge array of brushes, paint tips and other implements to use. It was a little overwhelming for novices. We opted for two brushes and a squeeze-tip paint bottle for highlights. Rebecca created an intricate design in cobalt blue on a white bowl.

I chose some pastel shades, then free painted color bands, more sloppily than I’d liked. I had forgotten there are no easy do-overs in ceramic painting. When I got home, I discovered that I had picked the exact color scheme of the gift card invitation Rebecca had designed for me.

Ready for Pick Up

It was a relaxing evening. We reminisced about afternoons painting Christmas Village houses at Plaster Fun House in NJ. Our bowls were glazed and ready for pick up at the Expressive Hand studio in a week. I’m pleased to report the bowl is a welcome addition to my kitchen counter. I use it every day to hold the Splenda for my daily coffee.