Thursday, December 23, 2010

Festive Cape

Wow, Capers!  There are some seriously great looking light displays around the neighborhood this year.  Nice work!  Looks like everyone is ready for the big day.  All the great looking decorations inspired me to holiday up the Cape Blogger header photo.  I tried to make it snow on the blog, but it kept locking up my site.  Maybe next year I'll be more savvy about such things.  As it stands, we might be getting some white stuff for real by the end of the weekend, but probably not in time for Santa.

Here's hoping you have it all under control.  Time to wrap it up folks - pun intended.  For those celebrating Christmas, I wish you all a peaceful and joyful holiday.  For any who are not, thank you for your patience.  :)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Vote for Your New Board of Governors!

In the hardcopy December Caper, we all received informational bios on the candidates for the 2011 CSC Board of Governors and a ballot.  If you've misplaced yours, as I have, there are extra copies down at the Improvement Association office.  Please take a moment before January 7th to place your votes to determine who will guide our community through the upcoming year.  The election includes the Board of Governors, the Budget Committee, and approval of the FY2011 budget.  The Cape is a big neighborhood with a BIG operating budget, and the Board and Budget Committee get to determine in large part how that money is spent.  I think they've done a great job in the past, but we should be interested in having a say.

I can tell you in 17 years here in the Cape, I've voted in community elections once, maybe twice.  It just hasn't been on my radar.  I do intend to vote this year, but it occurred to me that it would be REALLY great if we could do it online.  I do find it difficult to remember to fit a trip down to the Clubhouse into my daily craziness (that's a little lame, but true).  You can mail in your ballot, but finding a functioning pen, an envelope, addressing it, finding a stamp, taking it to the mailbox...  Again, SO incredibly lame, but that's the reality of why it doesn't get done in this household.

I would cast my vote in a heartbeat, though, if the ballot were readily available online.  I'm envisioning a reminder e-mail with a link to the bios and an online ballot on the CSCIA website.  Maybe even a question and answer page where Capers can post questions for the candidates online.  There are ample online voting software packages available - eBallot, Vote Pro, Big Pulse, etc.  I'm sure there must be a way to verify residency and one vote/person or household.  I have to believe such a capability would dramatically increase the level of participation in our elections.

The fact is, a very few people elected by a VERY small portion of the Cape (I don't know what the typical voter response is, but I'm guessing less than 20%? 10%?) controls the direction of this community.  Again, I have been pleased in the past with the work our hardworking Board has done, but I'd like to see more community involvement and input, as would they, I imagine.  Making use of available technology to make voting and information more accessible would be a great start.  Perhaps this has been batted around at those meetings I'm so bad about attending.

While we're at it, how about a CSCIA Facebook page?  Twitter feed from the CSCIA office?  Live video feed of the community meetings with an option to play back the video?  Strategically placed webcams around the community so we can go online and see if the water is high at Deep Creek, or if it's crowded at the Main Beach, or if our kayaks are safe at Lake Claire or the Little Magothy?  OK, I know there are privacy and security issues with the last one, but it would be really cool.  I love the Bay Bridge traffic cam and the Naval Academy harbor cam.  Why not some Cape cams (vandals might have a go at them, but at least we would have them on video in the act)?  Anybody else have other ideas?

Community involvement has been a struggle in the Cape for decades, and now the technology is available to change that.  Maybe something for the new Board to consider.  Please take a moment and cast your vote the old-fashioned way before January 7th.  It's still every bit as important if a little archaic.  You can also place your vote in person at the Membership Meeting at the Clubhouse on January 11, 2011 at 7:30PM.  I'm off right now to cast mine (if the office is open, that is.  Online voting would always be open, 24/7.  I'm just saying...)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Tracks in the Snow at Sunrise

I awoke to this view after being jarred awake by a phone call from the robot version of Superintendent Maxwell at 6 AM letting me know I could sleep in this AM (can we opt out of the call and just get the e-mail or text?).  While sleeping in was no longer doable (early morning phone calls are always disconcerting), I was happy to be up to appreciate the sunrise.  Our Eastern view is obscured during the warm months by foliage, but once the trees drop all of their leaves, we are able to enjoy the sunrise through a veil of bare branches.  This morning's was especially lovely with the new snow on the ground.

Since I was up, Laika had to join the party, so we went for a morning stroll around the backyard.  By the way, she is recovering very well from her second surgery.  She will still need to be on a leash outside for another month or so, and she's not bearing full weight on the most recently treated hip, but as far as she's concerned, she's raring to go.

With snow on the ground, I gained a little insight into her sniffing and snorting frenzy when we go outside.  Normally it's impossible for me with my human sense of smell to know what interests her so.  She will spend hours sniffing around every bush and blade of grass in the yard (she's got a built-in fur coat while I shiver in my pajama bottoms and slippers). The tracks in the snow this AM revealed a little of what she knows that I don't.

There is at least one red fox that lives over the edge of our yard.  We've seen it on several occasions, but not recently.  I see evidence in the form of berry-laden scat and the odd pile of bird feathers that it frequents our yard but haven't had visual confirmation in a couple of years. The fox family keeps different hours than do we.

This morning, Laika pulled me toward one of her favorite patches of bushes, and I noticed a trail of animal tracks winding in and around it.  It's always fun after a snowfall to try and guess what's been cruising your yard based on the tracks left behind.  I'm no expert tracker, but I've made amateur identifications of squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, cats, birds, dogs, and foxes just in our yard.  I feel pretty sure the tracks we found this morning were left by our friend the fox.  They were smaller than any of the neighbor dogs' paws, larger than the black and white cat's that considers our yard its territory, fatter than a raccoon's, and certainly not a squirrel's.  Combined with the fact that they disappeared over the edge of our yard into the gully where the foxes have their den, and I am 95% confident of my assessment.  Here are the pictures.  See what you think.

Fox Tracks?

My hand (disregard sausage fingers)  for reference.

Sketch from a red fox website

Online verification - see top picture leftmost track

Laika put her nose to every one of these tracks in utter excitement.  The cool thing is that she doesn't need the tracks at all to find the fox's path.  Her nose tells her what is normally invisible to my senses.  It's really remarkable and why dogs are employed for a wide range of tasks from bomb and drug sniffing to detection of disease and epilepsy (may not be scent related in the latter case, but still cool).

Our extra two hours this morning has expired.  Time to get the kids on the delayed bus and get on with my day.  Thank you Laika and Superintendent Maxwell for the early morning adventure.  Everyone get to work and school safely as you make your own tracks through the day.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Baking!

Right about now is when Christmas baking is kicking into full swing for most people.  Some folks start earlier, but I've not found that to be advisable in my case.  Two weeks before Christmas is more than enough time for me to snarf down alarming amounts of cookies and candy.  Any more lead time, and the New Year's resolutions just get that much more delusional.

Every family has their own Christmas baking traditions - some that are handed down through the generations and others that are discovered along the way and are good enough to be incorporated into the portfolio.  Part of the fun of Christmas baking, too, is not just what we make in our own homes, but being on the receiving end of treats that flow in from friends and neighbors, giving us a taste of their holiday baking traditions.  Some of these have become as highly anticipated as any of our own goodies.  My kids each have at least one cookie made by friends that they prefer to any of mine, although they're not allowed to say it to my face.

Christmas cooking for me is all about candied fruits, nuts, butter, and sugar - ingredients that were historically available in the harsh winter months.  Fresh fruits, for instance, weren't available at Christmas way back when, so preserved versions were used in the form of jams and candied fruits.  Candied fruits today are found almost exclusively in the oft ridiculed fruitcake.  I actually do like true fruitcake, as opposed to the mass produced bricks that mysteriously get bought up during the season by God knows who.  I also see the fruit in German stollen cakes, but I've never tried one.  Graul's carries them this time of year, but I'm guessing they can't compete with the real deal.

I use candied fruit in my annual batch of fruitcake cookies.  My family was introduced to these over 20 years ago by one of my Dad's patients.  Isabelle was a phenomenal southern cook, and she showed up one day before Christmas with a 5-gallon tin full to the top with these gems.  They were the best thing we had ever tasted - festive with red and green candied pineapple and cherries but not a hint of what you might associate with traditional fruitcake flavor - just moist, sweet, rich, buttery, nutty, goodness.  Isabelle was generous with her recipe, and my mother and I have been making them ever since.  It's a labor of love - cutting up the fruit is truly tedious and messy - but the payoff is grand.  They are in my estimation the perfect Christmas cookie.

Fruitcake Cookies

The second Christmas cookie that we always bake are Swedish spritz - another perfect cookie for the season.  I picked up this tradition from my Mother-in-law, along with her antique cookie press.  I battled the old copper and tin press for a few years before I broke down and bought a new pressed cookie gun (tradition only gets you so far).  It was a revelation.  My next big step will be to move up to the electric version - pressed cookie nirvana.  We press these cookies in a variety of shapes including Xmas trees, snowmen, wreaths and stars.  They are tender, buttery, crunchy, bite-sized cookies sprinkled with red and green sugar sprinkles.  Always festive and pretty and perfect with a cup of coffee in the morning or with a cup of tea late at night.  Santa LOVES them.

Swedish Spritz

The final cookie that I like to make are what I grew up calling "sandies".  In my husband's family, they are known as "pecan balls", and I've heard people of Russian descent call them "Russian tea cakes".  They are round cookies made from fairly dry dough so they keep their round shape when they cook.  The main ingredient is pecans, and when they're out of the oven, you roll them in powdered sugar.  I think they look like snowballs, and I love the crunchy, nutty, buttery flavor.  I like a little more powdered sugar on mine than the picture below.


That is my trifecta of Christmas cookies from the Roberts household.  I guess the recurring theme is sugar, butter, nuts, red, green and snowy.  One ingredient that I've never embraced as part of Christmas baking is chocolate.  I like making chocolate candies (fudge, chocolate covered nuts, caramels, and fruits), but not cooking with it.  I couldn't tell you why.  Chocolate is a new world ingredient that was only known in beverage form until the mid 19th century.  Evidence of cacao as a beverage has been found in Honduran ruins dating back to 1400 BC.  The Spanish explorers brought it back to Europe from Central America in the age of exploration.  The drink became wildly popular there through the 17th and 18th centuries, initially in royal courts and eventually with the masses in "chocolate houses" - old world versions of Starbucks.

In the mid 1800s, a Dutch chocolatier figured out how to process cacao to remove the bitterness and make it mild enough for cooking.  This eventually led to the invention of what we know today as chocolate.  At any rate, I'm not really sure why chocolate doesn't feel right for my own baking at Christmas.  Maybe it doesn't feel as traditional somehow - a mere 150 years old - new kid on the block.  I know it's popular in other households, though, and we are happy to chow down on all the yummy chocolate treats that come our way.  We're actually contemplating making a "buche de noel" or traditional French yule log cake this year, and that will require letting go of my chocolate bias.

The other two items I've been known to make in the past are divinity and cheese wafers.  Divinity is an old timey candy made with egg whites, corn syrup and nuts.  It's kind of a cross between nougat and meringue - VERY sweet.  My Father-in-law loved it, as do I, so I always made a point of making it for the two of us.  I didn't have the heart to last year after losing him a few months earlier, but I think I'll make some this year and eat it all myself for the both of us.  It's a tricky concoction, and I've been known to blow up two different hand mixers in the process of mixing it, but when it's just right, it earns its heavenly name.  The little mounds of snow white candy look like the peak of the matterhorn.


The cheese wafers are little bite sized, buttery, cheddary, spicy, crispy rounds that are my Mother-in-law's favorites.  They are perfect for parties and get togethers.  My recipe for those comes from my Great Aunt Dorothy Jean who was the master at making them.  I do a close approximation, but she was the queen at that and most everything else in her southern world.

The only thing that saves me from eating my body weight in butter, sugar, flour and nuts during this season is giving away the vast majority of our baked goods as gifts.  I pack up and ship out as much as possible to friends, neighbors, family and teachers.  It's the true joy in baking them - the chance to share the fruits of our labor with others.  Most of us don't have too many opportunities to do that these days - to spend hours on end baking in the kitchen and then offer that piece of ourselves to the people who are special in our lives.  It's just one more thing that makes this time of year like no other.

I'd love to hear your Christmas baking traditions.  Feel free to share your stories and/or recipes.  I'll let you know how the "buche" comes out.  I'm not terribly optimistic, but if the cake doesn't roll well, we will bury it in mounds of chocolate frosting - thank you ancient Central Americans/Aztecs and Mayans, 16th century Spanish explorers, and 19th century Dutchmen for making this possible in my 21st century kitchen...


Aunt Dorothy Jean's Cheese Wafers (from the United Methodist Women's "From Latta Tables" cookbook, Latta, SC:

2 cups grated extra sharp cheddar cheese (best to grate it yourself - can be dry if you buy pre-grated) 

1 cup whipped margarine (I was always a little unsure what she meant by whipped margarine, but I have best results if I use softened stick margarine and literally beat it in the mixer before adding the other ingredients so it's creamy.) 

2 cups all-purpose flour 

1/4 - 1/2 tsp ground red cayenne pepper (I go heavier with this - a full tsp. - like them spicy) 

1/4 tsp salt 

and the secret ingredient - 2 cups Rice Krispies 

Mix all the ingredients together. It's a fairly crumbly dough at first, but the butter and cheese bring it together eventually. Roll into small balls the size of a marble (I do about 1/2 - 3/4 inch diameter). Place on slightly greased cookie sheet and press each ball flat with a dinner fork ( like you would peanut butter cookies, but just one direction). Bake about 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Makes about 4 dozen depending on the size. Store in airtight containter. 

The only problem I've ever had with these is that if you undercook them, the Rice Krispies retain too much moisture and you get kind of a stale texture. Make sure you cook them long enough and don't make them too big. 


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Tree is Up!

2010 Roberts Family Xmas Tree
I think the most patriotic I feel each year is when we put up our Xmas tree.  Thanks to my Mother-in-law, we have every official annual White House ornament (I went back and filled in the ones issued before I was a Roberts).  I can count on her each year for the newest White House ornament and a gift-wrapped bag of whole, shelled pecans.  It took me a few years to understand the pecan thing (apparently her church sold them as a fund raiser), but now I would be crushed if they or the White House ornament didn't show up under my tree.  It's tradition.

My personal favorite of the ornaments is the 2007 edition that depicts the first and only Presidential wedding in the White House - that of President Grover Cleveland to Frances Folsom - held in the Blue Room.  There is another ornament showing Rutherford Hayes out for a snowy sleigh ride and one of Andrew Johnson out and about in his carriage.  They are a wonderful timeline of life in the White House.

I am not prone to fits of patriotism (Michele Obama got in trouble making such a comment), but I LOVE our White House ornaments and the excitement the kids show at taking them out when we trim the tree.  They insist on hanging them in chronological order.  Kathryn unpacks and Henry hangs them.  It's nice to set aside some of my cynism and disillusionment for a day and enjoy a little pride in our country's history.  Thanks Mom.  Merry Christmas, and USA!  USA!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Two Local Favorites - Midnight Madness and Uptown Redesigns

If you're like me and missed Midnight Madness this past Thursday, we have a second chance this Thursday, Dec. 9th from 6 PM - midnight.  This is a great opportunity to get out and about downtown - enjoy the holiday decorations and live entertainment on the streets of our lovely historic town, knock off a few more holiday gifts, and support our local business community.  I went a couple of years ago, and despite a torrential downpour, had a terrific time browsing, visiting, and buying.  The bad weather was a good excuse to pop into a local watering hole for a hot toddy.

One of my favorite rising local businesses has moved into a West St. storefront for the holiday season and will be open from 6 - 9 PM on Thursday.  Annapolis resident, Sandy Philpott, started her company, Uptown Redesigns last year, and has found terrific success with her innovative business model.  She takes used leather coats and materials (scavenged from local thrift shops or provided by customers) and remakes them into stylish handbags of all shapes and sizes.  Her company cleverly integrates a fashion oriented product with the "green" movement to create environmentally conscious, quality bags that we can feel a little (lot) better about owning.

I stumbled onto an article about Uptown Redesigns last year in The Capital, and instantly knew I had a coat that was in need of Sandy's handiwork.  Back in the 70s, my Mom bought my Dad a tan, suede, sport coat.  They were a hip young Air Force couple living the good life on base in Northern California, and the suede coat was the height of style.  Dad wore it until it ceased to be "cool" when he settled into the more mature lifestyle of a doctor in private practice.  The Air Force years drifted into their past, and the suede coat gradually drifted to the back of the closet in their new suburban track home.

There it stayed until my senior year of college in 1987/88.  I raided my parents' closets for any free outerwear that might pass as stylish on campus at Duke.  This was the era of over-sized, big-shouldered, men's coats being in style for women trying to find their place in a male dominated world/workforce.  We all wore our fathers' old Brooks Brothers overcoats, cardigan sweaters, and yes, even suede blazers.  The coat accompanied me to a blurry array of college parties, sorority events, and classes.  It's amazing it survived in any kind of wearable condition, but I continued to use it even after graduation when I joined the workforce at NASA.  The number of women in high tech jobs was on the rise, but workplace fashion lagged behind.  Not that it mattered in my high-water world of engineers, computer programmers, and rocket scientists...

Eventually, the suede coat made its way to the back of even MY closet.  I pulled it out now and again like an old friend, but there came a time when it finally lost all appeal to me as outerwear.  The days of baggy and shapeless were behind, and the coat had seen its final use.  I was incapable, however, of parting with it.  It represented too much history - both my parents' and mine.

Fast forward to 2010 when I stumbled onto that article about Sandy Philpott and Uptown Redesigns. I immediately saw the potential for the rebirth of my beloved but bedraggled coat as a stylish handbag, once again serving a meaningful purpose.  The suede was still in great shape if a little soiled around the edges, and it had become remarkably soft and pliable with years of wear.  I contacted Sandy, and we made plans to make the handoff at a street fair in West Annapolis.

So I delivered the precious raw material of my Dad's old coat to Sandy and told her to do with it what she would.  I loved her excitement at the prospect of a new project and all the creative possibilities.  My only guideline was that I wanted a good-sized utilitarian tote that made use of the original buttons, making the bag recognizable as my Dad's coat.  I intended to make a gift of it to my Mom for her birthday, and it was important to me that both my parents see the resemblance without me pointing it out.

Sandy turned the coat around in short order, and I ended up with not one, but two stylish and useful bags with crazy sentimental value (I can assure you I have no other bags about which I can make that claim).  One was the tote that I had requested, complete with the original buttons as trim, the original coat pocket flaps on the outside, and the original inside lapel pocket incorporated into a pocket inside the bag.  The second was a clutch put together with the scraps of suede and blended with some brown leather scraps from another project.  I was delighted beyond measure.  My plan was to let my Mom pick the one she liked best and keep the other for myself, but when my Mom received them, she loved them so much that she refused to part with either one.  I guess I'll have to wait for them to be left to me in the will...

Here are the before and after shots:

The Old Suede Coat

The New Custom Tote and Clutch
In Action to Get a Feel for the Size

If you have any old, dated leather items taking up space in the recesses of your closet, you might consider having Sandy remake them into a bag that better fits with today's fashion sensibility.  Or, if you're looking for a nice leather bag that has been "up-cycled" from an unappreciated cast off, stop by and visit Sandy's shop at 162A West St. over the holidays to see her current inventory and watch her work her magic in person.  She really does nice work, and her enthusiasm is infectious.  You can't help but wish for her to succeed.

The bags are not inexpensive.  There's a slight discount for providing your own leather, but you pay a premium for her custom work and for the satisfaction of knowing that you've acquired something of beauty and function that was nearly left to rot on the trash heap of humanity.  It seems especially worthwhile in the case of an item with sentimental value attached to it.  She will be open on Thursday evening from 6 - 9 PM for Midnight Madness.  Bring your leather goods with you if you want to have her give you some ideas.  You can always contact her through her website, and you can also find Uptown Redesigns on Facebook.

I will be stopping in to see Sandy on Thursday night with another dinosaur of late 80s/early 90s attire from my closet- a full, suede skirt that is nearly ankle length.  It's not a length that I can wear today without looking like a cross between Pocahontas and Susan B. Anthony, so I hope to have Sandy lop it off to a flattering knee length and make me something new and interesting from the ample leftover leather.  The skirt has been hanging in my closet for 20 years.  It's well overdo for a 21st century update by a 21st century entrepreneur.

Hope to see you downtown on Thursday!

Images of Things to Come - Brrrr!

Cape folks have been sending in pictures to our CSC community mailing list of Cape St. Claire in the winter.  It's the time of year that I first saw and fell in love with the Cape.  They were nice enough to let me share them on the Cape Blogger (thanks Laura and Debbie).  If you click on the Cape Photos tab beneath the big picture, you can take a look and start to think about what might be on the way this year for our little enclave in the way of snowfall.  (Word of the day - enclave - "enclosed territory that is culturally distinct from the foreign territory that surrounds it" or "territory whose geographical boundaries lie entirely within the boundaries of another territory" - I had to look it up to be sure I was using it properly, and I kind of liked the idea of that word to describe our little Cape universe...)

What do you think?  Another record breaking blizzard in store this year?  Who knows.  Has anybody checked an almanac?  While scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the reality of humankind's effect on the increase in average global temperature, winters like the one we saw last year make me wish it had not been called "global warming".  Americans as a group have a little trouble appreciating certain issues from a "global" perspective.  One winter of heavy snow in our neck of the woods and the theory is clearly disproven.  But I digress...

Feel free to send me any pictures of the Cape you would like posted - bitter cold rebuttals of global warming or otherwise.  Here are a couple I took last year - not from the same storm, though.  Brrrr!!!

During the Feb. Blizzard

Frozen View Down the Creek

Frozen View Up the Creek

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...

Friday, December 3, 2010

Cape Holiday Events

Ready or not, the Christmas season has arrived full tilt.  I still have one foot in the "not" category, but I'm coming around.  The Hanukkah folks are well into their 8 days of celebration, so I guess I should be glad for the few extra weeks at our disposal.  I'm in good shape with respect to shopping, but I'm having trouble getting into the decorating spirit.  I see that many of our Cape neighbors are ahead of me with respect to lights and trees.  I'm hoping by this weekend to catch up a little, at least with some preliminary decorating.  It will be another week before we bring home a tree.

For those of you with more shopping to do or looking for some cool locally crafted holiday items, check out the 28th Annual Bruin Holiday Craft Bazaar this weekend up at the high school.  It will be held on Saturday from 9:30 - 3 and supports Broadneck Athletics.  For those of you with young kids, you don't want to miss the annual Breakfast with Santa held in the Cape clubhouse.  This year's event will be on December 11th from 8:30 - 10:30, hosted by our very busy Strawberry Festival Committee.  I think they need to rename themselves since they do so much more than Strawberry Festival planning.  The registration form and information can be found in the November Caper online.

Back to tree trimming, we are in the "later" camp when it comes to putting up our tree.  Growing up, my family always bought and trimmed the tree the weekend after Thanksgiving, but my husband has never adopted that schedule.  It's all I can do to get him to bring the tree home by the middle of the month.  His argument is that the tree dries out too much by Christmas otherwise.  I've actually come around to this approach during our 17 years of marriage.  We try to get the tree up a couple of weeks before the 25th and then take it down on New Year's Day.  That gives us a solid 3 or 4 weeks to enjoy it, and by then, I'm ready to be done with all things Christmas.

One tree trimming tradition that I've frankly never understood is the Christmas Eve trimming.  I guess if that's how it's always been done in a family, then tradition must be upheld, but it's a little foreign to me.  The only pro I can come up with is that it gives a family something to do in that Xmas Eve downtime that can be tough to fill sometimes.  And then, I guess you're obligated to leave it up well past New Year's.  Again, once January 1st arrives, I want Christmas out of my life for the next 10 - 11 months, but that's just me.

As for this year, we are shooting for December 11th to put up our tree.  I think I'll be ready by then.  We've found in recent years what works best for us is to put up a small artificial tree in the basement and decorate it with all our goofiest ornaments - the ones the kids made in preschool and elementary school that are composed of bad photos and pasta, primarily - maybe the odd plastic spoon.  Then upstairs in the family room, we put up our live tree with the train around it.  The kids and I work inside on the trees while Dad works on the outside lights.  I am in charge of repairing any light strands that won't light.  Ugh...

When all is trimmed and lit, we settle down for a bowl of homemade chili, some hot drinks (cocoa for the kids and something more interesting for Mom and Dad who are in need of a stiff drink by this time), and our annual viewing of a true Christmas classic - no, not Miracle on 34th Street or It's a Wonderful Life.  Our post-tree trimming movie tradition is National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.  It's truly therapeutic to watch the Griswolds navigate the holidays after our own day of fun mixed with frustration.  The movie never gets old and is always right on the mark.  Links to some of the classic scenes:

Where you gonna put a tree that big?

Kiss my a$$

Christmas Lights


Hap Hap Happy

Turkey Carving

Sorry, got carried away...

What are your tree trimming traditions?  Have you given up on live trees (solving the dried out tree problem)?  What about your other Xmas habits.  Does Santa leave gifts out in the open or does he wrap?  What's your Xmas Eve tradition (for us - sushi at Joss followed by Lights on the Bay, which is always a little lame - the lights, that is - but we do it anyway).  What's your signature Xmas cookie?  Eggnog, yum or yuck?  Anybody like fruitcake?  Anybody ever injured by one?  It's a whacky season, but you gotta love it.  Happy holidays!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sugarplum Fairy Visit

Whoa, it was a chilly one this morning!  My car thermometer read 27 degrees when I pulled out of the driveway to take Henry to strings at 7 AM.  Henry, I might mention, was wearing shorts.  I guess he didn't get the frost memo...

When I got home, the sun was up, and I noticed that the last of my knock-out roses were shimmering with a dusting of ice, courtesy of Jack Frost or the Sugarplum Fairy.  They looked yummy enough to eat!  Don't get any ideas, Papa... (my Dad has been known to reach across a fine dining table and eat a rose from the arrangement just to make the point that roses are in fact edible).

 Everybody stay warm!!!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all you Cape St. Claire folks!  For those staying put, enjoy a lovely day here in the Cape.  For those who will be driving over the holiday, I wish you open, traffic-free roads, quiet kids, and reliable cars.  For anyone braving the airports, safe travels, and I hope you avoid having your "junk" touched in the interest of air travel safety.  :)  In case you missed it, here's the link to the youtube video of the guy going through airport security who is very sensitive about his goods:

I understand the frustration, and I'm not sure it's truly possible to effectively screen for every threat and maintain some semblance of dignity and privacy, but we all need to do our part to get from point A to point B, safely and responsibly.  Frankly, my "junk" is not that sacred.  As long as the person searching me is being professional, and the policies are well defined and consistent, I'm willing to endure the inconvenience.  It's better than the alternative.  But then, if the policies are TOO well defined, it makes them predictable for those who would attempt to thwart them, and where does it all end?

I think I come down on the side of the TSA on this one, but I go back and forth.  Anybody have any thoughts about the new security procedures implemented by TSA?  Keep in mind, this time last year, a guy got through security with bomb materials in his underwear.  It was a very close call, and we were none too happy about it.  It's bad enough that he managed to get explosive material through security, but even worse that other red flags slipped past multiple layers of security prior to boarding.  Are we, the public, paying the price in inconvenience and indignity for shoddy work by Homeland Security, etc.?  How do we strike the proper balance between security and privacy?

Let's hope we get through this holiday season without more of the same.  Wishing us all patience and composure during this stressful time of year.  I hope everyone gets where they're headed safely in time to enjoy a wonderful day of food and tradition with their families and friends.  Have a VERY Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Birthday Wishes

Wishing a very happy birthday to two of my favorite people - my best friend Helen and my husband, Mark, who coincidentally share a birthday. Maybe I should seek out people with November 20th birthdays. It's been lucky for me so far.  Love you both.

glitter graphics
Glitter Graphics, Happy Birthday Glitter Graphics

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Suicidal Leaves

I made the monumental miscalculation of doing a full-yard leaf raking on Monday.  It was a multi-pronged approach involving a leaf blower/vacuum, lawn mower, and good old rake.  I am still sore from the effort, but my yard is NOT still leaf free.  It looked tidy for all of 48 hours.  Last night, the season earned its name when a mighty wind blew through, stripping the trees of the vast majority of their foliage.  The photos below show before and after pictures of the trees in my yard taken 48 hours apart.

Before                                  After

Before                                   After

I wasn't naive enough to think that more leaves were not on the way, but come on now - all at once?  This time, I would have been correct to procrastinate.  The clip below demonstrates pretty closely how the leaves came down overnight (jump ahead to the 49 second mark to skip the leaf family suicide and go straight to the mass defoliation).

My motivation to get the leaves up was company headed this way at the end of the week.  I knew it was supposed to rain Tuesday and that Monday would be my only opportunity before they arrived.  Ah well, I will have to go with the seasonal look.  If this wind keeps up, maybe most of the leaves will blow over the edge of the yard anyway.  On a more positive note, my view has improved dramatically.  I am just beginning to get a peak of the end of Deep Creek out my kitchen window...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Broadneck Bookworms

Several years ago, one of my running buddies mentioned that she and her daughter were in a mother-daughter book club here in the Cape.  Being a big reader with a particular affection for young adult and children's books, I was immediately interested, but didn't have the nerve to ask to be a part of the group.  When I asked my daughter, who is also an avid reader, what she thought about joining a mother-daughter book club, she was not particularly excited, although I don't think she really had much of an idea what it was.  I put it to rest but secretly harbored a wish to be part of this group.

Two years ago, I got my chance - the call-up from the big show!  There was an opening in the club, and they wanted to know if my daughter and I would like to join the group.  I excitedly asked her how she felt about it, and again, she was lukewarm.  Well, forget the warm and fuzzy mother-daughter part, I was going to be part of this club if I had to drag her kicking and screaming.  I told them that we would both be delighted to join the group and eagerly awaited our first meeting.

Fast forward two years (I mean that literally, and no pun intended), and the book club has been everything I had hoped it would be.  I know that my daughter has enjoyed it every bit as much as I have, if not more.  The Broadneck Bookworms consists of eight young ladies, all now 8th graders in middle school, and their mothers, in addition to two girls and their Moms who are on "sabbatical".  One of the girls lost her mother in the years before my daughter and I were in the club, but she continues to be a part of our group, and we are so happy to have her in our fold.

The format is as follows:  We meet once a month for two or three hours to discuss our latest book, have some snacks or dinner and maybe a glass of wine or two (the Moms - duh).  We rotate hostesses and meet at their house, or if the weather is nice, at the beach or the pool.  An activity is usually planned that relates to the story we've just read, sometimes even a field trip, but occasionally the girls just run around or talk girl talk when the discussion is over, and us Moms have a chance to catch up on the latest in our Cape lives.

An obvious goal of any kids' book club is to encourage reading and reading comprehension, particularly in the earlier years, and I think we have accomplished that, although most of the girls are big readers anyway.  It's also a great way to get your kids to read a broader variety of books - to step outside the genre to which they're typically drawn and discover other styles.  My daughter and I both enjoy fantasy books, but by reading book club selections chosen by other girls in the group, we've had a chance to try some different subject matter and have enjoyed many of them a great deal.

More importantly, what the mother-daughter book club has provided is an opportunity and forum to have conversations with our daughters about all the life topics that come up when we read.  Some of the books we have liked the least have led to some of the most dynamic and thoughtful discussions.  We have discussed romance, friendship, loss, poverty, racism, death, politics (domestic and foreign), current events, family roles, media influence, the environment, bigotry, sports, body image, stereotypes, and yes, even sex in recent months.  I particularly value this aspect of our club as we navigate the middle school years and head into high school next year.  As much as we like to believe the communication lines are open with our girls, it's good to have this extra venue where our daughters are at ease with people they trust and enjoy to say things that they might otherwise hold back.

The middle school years can be tumultuous for the most together of young people.  Kids, and I believe girls in particular (biased, perhaps), go through dramatic physical and emotional changes in a very short period of time.  I feel like we've found in our book club a sort of refuge from some of that - a place that's consistent and familiar and safe.  And for us Moms, as diverse as our beliefs and political views may be, we have a strong mutual respect and fondness for one another as mothers trying to guide our girls to adulthood in as healthy a way as possible.

Get the flash player here:

I suppose if I were worth my salt, I wouldn't have sat around waiting to be invited to a book club and would have just started one up myself (although I'm especially happy to spend time with this particular group of lovely young girls and their Moms).  I highly recommend it for girls OR boys (my friend in CA is in a mother-son book club), and I don't suppose there's any rule that says it couldn't include Dads.  It would require a more "evolved" Dad than most husbands, I imagine, but it's certainly not out of the question.

A group could also be tailored to any age, but 3rd or 4th grade strikes me as a good time to start - when the kids are reading chapter books and more able to sit still for a meaningful conversation and then go play or do an activity fairly independently.  We actually have The Little Prince on our list for our December meeting (we try to keep it short for the busy holiday season).  Profound ideas can be found in the pages of very small books and in the minds of very young kids.

Starting a club during elementary school also gives the kids a chance to gel as a group before reaching the chaos of the middle school years.  The more allies the better!  While our girls do not necessarily move in the same groups at school and have diverse interests, they share a camaraderie born of book club bonding that is always comfortable and serves them well out there in the middle school jungle.

For older-aged groups in the age of social networking and cell phones, there are a slew of effective tools for communicating book club news.  E-mail has served us well, and we just recently created a private Facebook Group for the Broadneck Bookworms that allows us to post messages, book suggestions, meeting times, etc.  In addition, the girls text one another frequently (sometimes constantly!) which is a helpful reminder about the upcoming book club meeting.  Books are easier to access through technology, too, through, or the even snazzier Kindle (or other e-reader of your choice).  For purists, the local public library continues to do the job very well.

You can find plenty of information online about starting your own book club.  I wasn't around when ours was started, so I can't offer much advice on that front.  Our intrepid leader, Mia, is the brains, and frankly the heart, behind the operation, and she is always prepared with her camera, notecards for each of us to write down an impression of or thought about the current book, a list of book suggestions, and a calendar for planning our next meeting.  It's really a fairly minimal effort with a tremendous payoff (maybe I should ask Mia before making that claim).

Mia actually has a second book club for her 3rd-grade daughter called the Page Flippers (how cute is that).  I entertained the notion ever so briefly of starting up a club with my son, but I had serious doubts about the viability of such an endeavor.  I got enough static about the now defunct piano lessons and taking him to Broadway shows (he will be a well-rounded young man if it kills me, and it might).  I'm not at all sure I would be successful engaging him and a group of his Halo-playing buddies in a book club conversation that involves sitting still and coming up with insightful observations about The Secret Garden.  Clearly it would need to be tailored to a different audience, and I think I would have needed to have started earlier when I had a little more control and energy.  Thankfully, he's turning into a great reader in his own right (kudos to Percy Jackson, Hiccup the Viking, and Alex Rider...)

Whatever the case, if you're so inclined, gather up the bookworms in your circle of friends (or those that need a little nudge to become one) and consider creating a group for yourself.  It's a terrifically valuable social outlet for both the kids and the parents.  And in a fast moving world of sound bites and twitters, I think it's important for kids (and parents) to find opportunities to stop and spend a little time forming and expressing their own thoughtful opinions about what's in front of them.  A book club is just one way to go about it.  You'll have to find your own club, though, because I'm not giving up my spot!


I came across a column this week on Hometown Annapolis (the online Capital) by Eric Hartley about a book controversy at North County High School.  Apparently Aldous Huxley's Brave New World was assigned to a high school class, and a petition has been signed by a group of parents who want the book banned.  This is a book that consistently shows up on the short list of greatest novels of the 20th century.  I'm embarrassed to say that I've never read it, but I certainly will, now.  I might even suggest it for book club in coming years when the girls move up to high school.

I personally believe that we do our kids a disservice by not exposing them to a range of thought provoking, age appropriate material before they head out into their own brave new worlds.  Every kid is different, but the world they will join as an adult one day is the same for everyone - full of unimaginable things for which we can't possibly prepare them on a case by case basis.  I think we owe it to them while under our tutelage to expose them to a variety of ideas and experiences in a controlled setting and teach them how to weigh options and anticipate consquences (no, I'm not talking about buying them a 6-pack and knocking it back with them).  These years are flying by incomprehensibly fast.  We have a very brief window in which to instill just a startup dose of wisdom.  If not by the end of high school, when?

What do you think?  Have you read Brave New World, and would you object to your high schooler reading it?  Do you think shielding our kids from behaviors that we find objectionable is the best way to prevent them from joining in?  Or do we arm them with knowledge - have the hard conversations with them - in the hopes that they will make good decisions for themselves when we're not around to slip the blinders over their eyes?  I'd love to hear your thoughts on the North County controversy and whether you've heard of similar issues here at Broadneck.  Happy reading!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Darker Evenings but Brighter Mornings

The time change has finally come, and I am ready for it this year.  I think the extension of Daylight Savings Time - starting earlier and ending later - is a big improvement.  I'm prepared for shorter days by the time the temperature drops in November, and it feels like spring comes a little sooner with the earlier leap forward in March.  Why didn't someone think of this sooner?

It's always hard to leave warm, long days behind and prepare for winter chill and earlier darkness, but there's also something comforting and cozy about it.  I love the feeling of my family being safely tucked in for the day earlier in the evening.  Soccer practices come to an end, and our dinner time naturally shifts earlier leaving us with more together time before heading off to bed.

Mornings, on the brighter side, don't feel so middle-of-the-night, at least for a while.  It is refreshing to head out across the Cape at 7 AM, in daylight instead of darkness, for my Monday morning orchestra carpool, making it easier to dodge the high schoolers crawling through the streets on their way to school.  I find it a little creepy on dark, foggy mornings the way they materialize through the mist - like the walking dead.  As with most things, they are not as frightening in the light of day.  What IS frightening is that I will be a parent of one of them next year...

Everyone make an extra effort to get your full eight hours of sleep to head off the ill effects of our time-shifted world.  Statistics bear out an increase in traffic accidents and general fatigue following time changes.  Be extra alert as you head out into the week, and return home safely to the Cape, before darkness falls if you can, to your bright, warm homes.  It's time to hunker down a little as winter descends.  It's a special time of year in its own right, and we can be secure in the knowledge that it will be followed by a joyful spring forward in a few short months.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

New Magothy Tide Chart

I've added a page to Cape Blogger with a 2-day tide chart for the Magothy - specifically Mountain Point, which by my best Google Earth calculation is at the southern tip of Gibson Island (as in, the end of Mountain Road, I guess) - right at the mouth of the Magothy.  Some on-the-ball company in Kaikoura, New Zealand called OceanFun Publishing provides this free version of their graphic tide charts, among others.  I have to give credit to the Yacht Club of Cape St. Claire for this cool link.  I shamelessly borrowed from their good find.  I've been unsuccessfully searching for local tide table code and was happy to stumble onto this source - literally at the ends of the earth.  It looks like the image below:

Mountain Point

I may tweak it cosmetically if I can figure out how to do it, but the information is accurate, down to the moon phases, and moon and sun rise/set.  You can click around it to get interactive details at a given time, and it can be advanced into the future.  Awesome!  Now I can add Kaikoura to the list of places I'd really like to visit one day!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Cape Safety Awareness Day

The Strawberry Festival Committee is hosting the first Cape Safety Awareness Day at the Main Beach on Saturday, November 6th from 10 AM - 2 PM.  This is a free event, and it sounds like they're going to have lots of really cool activities and exhibits.  Check out the following link for details:

Just a few of the especially cool sounding activities:
  • The children and adults will be amazed at the BGE exhibit which fries Hot Dogs on Live Wires.
  • Anne Arundel Traffic Engineering will entice the children with an interactive pedestrian signal.
  • Anne Arundel County Road Operations will provide the opportunity for an up close and personal interview with the Snow Plow Man and his Dump Truck.
  • Anne Arundel County Police and The Sheriff’s Office will entertain the entire family with a K-9 Demo.
  • Anne Arundel County Fire Department will provide the children the opportunity to learn about fire safety while exploring their gear, a fire truck and an ambulance.
  • The Maryland State Police will offer tips on driver and pedestrian safety while allowing the children the opportunity to explore their vehicles.
I don't know about you, but fried hot dogs on hot/live electric wires, watching police dogs do their stuff, crawling through fire trucks, ambulances and cop cars, getting up close and personal with the snow plow man, and playing red light green light with a pedestrian crossing signal sounds like kiddie (and grownup) nirvana to me! Bring the kids down between soccer games for free fun and safety education, all on our beautiful Main Beach. Bet you even learn something useful yourself!

Here's my all time favorite safety song (well, after the BGE "Do Not Touch" song that my kids sang ad nauseum). You can find the original 1982 Men Without Hats video, extended version (very weird!) at this YouTube link:

I kind of prefer this 2008 remake by some goobey college kids.  Come on, sing it with me now, "Ssss-Aaaa-Ffff-Eeee-Tttt-Yyyy, SAFETY, DANCE..."


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Last Farm on the Magothy

Came across this story in Bay Weekly. Cool little piece of Magothy history. I hope they can manage to preserve the land.

Last Farm on the Magothy

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Cape St. Claire's Olympic Hopeful

So did all of you know that one of Cape St. Claire's own is headed to the 2012 Olympic Games in London?  I did not until I received a notice last week about a fundraiser this Friday at the Cape Clubhouse for Farrah Hall.  Farrah is Cape born and raised, a Broadneck High and St. Mary's College graduate, and now a world class windsurfer - number one in the US.  How cool is that!  The fundraiser is a spaghetti dinner/silent auction/raffle/presentation to be held this Friday, November 5th, at 7 PM.  The cost is $15/person.  Kids under 10 are free.  Farrah will join us at her old stomping ground to fill us in on her journey to the Olympics and raise some funds to put toward the effort.

For those of you who would like to learn more about Farrah and her story, she has a website at and a blog at, in addition to a Facebook page and a Twitter account, chronicling all her exploits and progress toward her goal.  It's clear from reading about her that she is a very special young woman and a terrific role model for our kids and our community as a whole.  Take advantage of the opportunity this Friday to meet her in person and show your kids what a winning combination hard work, focus, and a passion for anything you love can be.

Are there any other Cape athletes headed to the 2012 London Olympics or with their eyes set on 2014, or 2016 even?  If so, I would love to hear and blog about them.  I don't know about you, but winning an Olympic Medal - heck, just participating in the Olympics - is up there on my top three list of fantasy experiences.  It might even be number one (neck in neck with winning a Nobel Prize for Peace or Physics and flying on the Space Shuttle - all equally unlikely).

Attending the Olympics as a spectator is as close as I'll ever get to Olympic glory.  We are actually contemplating a family trip to the 2012 Games in London.  The kids will be the perfect age for the full on Griswolds' European Vacation experience, and they are as crazy about the Olympics as my husband and I are.   If we do end up going, we will be front and center in our loudest red, white, and blue attire and voices cheering on Farrah and any other local sons and daughters with our best, "U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A", or perhaps instead, "C-S-C, C-S-C, C-S-C"...

Friday, October 29, 2010


Whew, I think Fall officially blew in last night!  I heard big wind and leaves hitting my window around midnight.  These are the lovely days of Fall to be enjoyed before the cold settles in for a few months.  Conditions are shaping up nicely for an ideal night of trick or treating on Sunday.  We're looking at the low 50s and a bit of a breeze.  For the more bare costumes (of which there are many these days!), a sleeve might be in order.

Halloween has its origins in the ancient Celtic observation of Samhain (pronounced SAH win), the word being derived from Old Irish meaning roughly "summer's end".  It marked the beginning of a new year.  The ancient Celts believed that the border between this world and the Otherworld became thin on Samhain, allowing spirits (both harmless and harmful) to pass through. A family's ancestors were honored and invited home while harmful spirits were warded off.  The trick or treating part evolved in the Middle Ages from the poor going door to door on "Hallowmas" (Nov. 1), the night before All Soul's Day (Nov. 2), asking for food in return for prayers for the souls of the dead.  (Again, thanks Wikipedia.)

As with many holidays, our modern celebrations have lost touch with the original intent, but they were important celebrations and observations for the ancients in a world that held a lot of hardship and uncertainty for them.  We've reduced a heartfelt recognition of seasonal change, charity for the poor, and homage to the dead, to fun costumes and candy, but it's still a great holiday.  It's worth taking a moment to appreciate the continuum of folklore and tradition that has passed this holiday down through the generations from the Middle Ages and before to our neighborhood streets.

The Cape is a great trick or treating neighborhood.  Some sections are more into it than others.  Our house is on a little dead-end spur, so we don't get the full neighborhood traffic, but our block is pretty active.  My only complaint is that it's a little dark and hard to see the kids coming and going.  My husband always brings home some new kind of flashy light for the kids to wear around their necks each year.  Flashlights are definitely needed.

I made the catastrophic mistake of buying our candy several days before Halloween this year.  My husband always pressures me to buy it in advance so the good stuff doesn't run out, but that's just the point.  I don't want the good stuff that I can't resist sitting around for days within my reach.  Willpower is NOT my strong suit.  I'm thinking seriously about wearing my dog's invisible fence collar and placing the training device next to the candy.  It would deliver a significant warning zap that MIGHT be a sufficient deterrent, although frankly I'm not sure.  I've put a serious dent in the Baby Ruths and Butterfingers already.

There are a couple of houses on our street that go big with their Halloween treats.  One place hands out stuffed animals - the kind you would win at a carnival.  When my kids were little, that made their night.  Another house does the full size candy bar thing - another crowd pleaser.

Our least favorite Halloween loot:  random hard candy of indeterminate age and source, Necco wafers (I love that these are old timey candies but have never developed a taste for them), stale popcorn balls (and let's face it, aren't they all stale?), pretzels, gummy snacks, the creepy orange and black wax paper wrapped chew candies, and god forbid, raisins or a toothbrush.  Come on folks.  It's Halloween already.  I know our kids' lives are overrun with candy, but the problem is the other 364 days of the year - not the one day dedicated to sugar.  Quit trying to promote healthy choices on Halloween!  Save it for the day after.

Here's another Halloween issue I'm hearing a lot about this year.  How old is too old to trick or treat?  I hear a lot of people say that they don't want teenagers showing up at their door looking for candy.  I even saw one town in Illinois that passed a law banning trick or treating for anyone over 12 years old.  I guess it was seen as a public safety concern, but it seems really misguided to me.  Clearly some teenagers are a problem on Halloween - smashing pumpkins and causing general mayhem, but honestly, those same kids are out making trouble the rest of the year as well.

I have no problem with kids of any age coming to my door if they have made a respectable effort at a costume (I hold the older ones to a higher standard), are polite to me and respectful of my property, and set a good example for the younger kids.  In fact, I encourage it.  When I was growing up, we trick or treated at least through middle school - probably through 9th or 10th grade - and the costumes got more and more clever the older we got.

And that brings me to my final Halloween "issue" of these times - the deteriorating state of costumes for teenage girls, or for younger girls for that matter.  I realize nobody is forced to wear a store-bought costume, but after years of wearing meticulously homemade Disney princess costumes, my daughter rebelled and has insisted on a commercial costume ever since.  It's become more difficult with each passing year to find something that's appropriate for any young lady who is not standing on a street corner.  When we entered the Halloween store this year, I felt like I was in a porn shop (not that I would know :), and that was just in the teen section.  We ended up with some trampy fairy outfit which I have modified enough to be presentable.  Parents - if it's short, please put some shorts or leggings under it; if it's low cut, throw a decent tank top or T-shirt under it; if it has random garters?, cut them off...

Everyone have a safely spooky and fun Halloween this weekend.  It really is a terrific celebration - a chance to express ourselves in new and clever ways, to have fun with our families and friends, and to get out and about in our neighborhood.  I will make myself open to any wisdom from my ancestors who might be paying me a visit this All Hallow's Eve as they are "invited home" and enlist their help to ward off any bad spirits.  I will particularly be thinking of my Father-in-law who we lost last year around this time and whose birthday is on Halloween.  His was a pure soul that does not require our prayers, but we will honor him with our happy memories on a day when he feels especially close.