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.

Monday, October 25, 2010

We Can Rebuild Her...

When we were looking for our first house in the Cape, our top priority was a fenced yard so we could become dog owners.  It ranked above a garage or walk-in closets.  My husband and I both grew up with dogs in our homes and knew we wanted to start out our married life with our own just as soon as possible.   We already had a cat, and we loved them as well, but cats and dogs are apples and oranges.  Having one does not take the place of the other.

For the 17 years that we have been married and lived in the Cape, our breed of choice has been Great Danes.  Our current Dane, Maggie, is a six-year old harlequin who we've had since she was eight weeks old.  She was preceded by Schuyler (pronounced Shuler) who was two-years old when we found her through Great Dane rescue - also a harl who lived to be nine (a respectable lifespan for a Dane).  Her predecessor was Gwynevere (Gwynie), an angel of a black Dane who we lost at three years of age to lymphoma.

It's not easy, or even advisable, to be so invested in a particular breed.  With pure breeds comes the battery of health conditions that plagues each one uniquely.  With Great Danes, the list includes bloat, wobbler's, cancer, hip dysplasia, just to name a few.  After 17 years and three Great Danes, we've seen several of these.  The gene pools for pure breeds are just a whole lot smaller than for your average pound mutt, and small gene pools are not good for the survival of any species.  Add to that the poor breeding practices of people out to make a buck, or even well intentioned people who love the dogs but don't know what they're doing, and the breeds really start to suffer with a host of defects.

Knowing all this, we have still been drawn time and again to Great Danes.  Every breed has a common set of traits that make it uniquely different from any other.  With Great Danes, it's the gentle, adoring spirit residing in that massive body that has us hooked.  While all of our Danes have had distinct personalities, each one has filled the house with the same presence - leaned on us and sat on our laps in the same way.  Every Dane we meet is instantly recognizable to us from our experiences with our own.  We laughed hysterically through  Marmaduke - a movie probably funny only to Great Dane owners.

I don't think anyone can argue that getting a dog from the pound is the more responsible thing to do.  We always struggle a little with this, and it's part of the reason we went through Great Dane rescue for our second dog.  Everyone has to decide what's best for them.  I would just encourage people who choose a pure breed to do their homework when it comes to breeders and avoid the pet store when it comes to buying a purebred puppy at all cost.

So on to the real topic of this post.  Over the winter, we decided to take the next big leap in dog ownership and get a second dog.  Even we were not crazy enough to take on a second Great Dane without adding a stable to our house.  We were thinking more along the lines of a dog that would be better suited for Cape life/boating - generally more of a dog and less of a couch potato - and presumably lower maintenance with respect to health.

Enter our new breed of choice, the Australian Shepherd.  We were introduced to these dogs by both a family member and a friend who we recently visited.  We fell in love with the happy, smiling disposition and smart mind.  After some searching for a breeder, we brought home a ball of fur on Memorial Day this year and named her Laika, after the first dog astronaut (actually, cosmonaut) in space.

Laika at 8 weeks.
Laika is no Great Dane.  She is more akin to Tigger of Winnie the Pooh fame, bouncing around as if on springs, defying gravity.  While lounging is the predominant activity bred into Great Danes, Australian Shepherds were bred to herd, and all of our clothes show evidence of her attempts to herd us around the yard with a nip for encouragement.  Where Maggie hates the water, Laika can't stay out of it.  She loves the baby pool we bought her, and heads down to the dock to wade in the creek at every opportunity.  She even likes to sit out in the rain.  Maggie avoids going out in the rain with every ounce of her 145 pounds.  Laika is all dog, where Maggie is certain she is at least half human.

Laika Lounging at the Dock
Maggie and Laika
We have loved this ball of energetic fur from day one, and now at seven months, that love is being put to its first test.  Well, not our love, because there's no question that we adore her and are committed to her wellbeing.  It's another tricky question we've been presented that many dog owners are faced with at some point or another.  Just how much are we obligated to provide in the way of health care for our pets, and how much is even appropriate?

As early on as three or four months, we noticed that Laika would limp on one or the other of her hind legs after running hard.  We didn't think much about it since it always resolved in a day or less, but through months four and five, we started to notice her getting up slowly and having occasional difficulty with stairs.  When she played with Maggie, she would frequently yelp in pain if her legs slid out from under her awkwardly, and her back legs were turning out to the side instead of facing forward.

The combination of symptoms concerned us enough that we had X-rays done when she went in for her spay surgery.  The pictures indicated what we already suspected, a moderate level of hip dysplasia, although her symptoms argued for a more serious case.   Hip dysplasia is not terribly well understood - bad looking hips can last a lifetime with no symptoms while less dysplastic (loose) hips can present with severe pain.  Laika was in the second category, and her level of discomfort did not bode well for her future.  I notified her breeder for their records.  Our contract stated that we could exchange our puppy for a new one if hip dysplasia was diagnosed within the first two years.  That was simply inconceivable to us.  We were Laika's and she was ours, come what may.

So we were presented with two options by the vet.  Medicate her with pain killers and anti-inflamatories as needed to manage the discomfort until such time that the hips became riddled with arthritis, at which point the choices would be a total hip replacement or euthanasia, probably sooner than later.  Or, go with a more aggressive approach involving surgery on both sides of her pelvis to try and correct the poor hip configuration.  This particular procedure can only be done in a very narrow window - between 4 and 8 months (maybe up to 12 months) - before any damage has started to occur to the joint.  The prognosis is fairly good, but it's a very invasive and expensive procedure (not as invasive or expensive as total hip replacement, but no picnic).

There is no right or easy choice here.  It comes down to weighing all the information and doing what is best for you and your pet.  For some, the expense is a show stopper, and that is a legitimate call.  No matter how much we love our pets, we can't bankrupt ourselves in the pursuit of their care or compromise the wellbeing of our human family.  Even if we can afford it, I'm not sure it makes sense to put our pets and ourselves through such complicated medical procedures.  We never even entertained the notion of chemotherapy for our two Danes who had cancer.  The outcome was not much improved for the amount of discomfort it would have required, not to mention the expense.

This was a little different situation, however.   Laika was a young, healthy dog in every other way, the prognosis for her recovery was good, the alternative was bad, and while the cost was not chump change, we were able to afford the procedure with a little shifting of priorities and a commitment from the kids to do their part.  This was going to be a family decision with an understanding of what each of us would sacrifice to make it happen.

"Gentlemen, we can rebuild her...".

I guess you can see where I'm headed with this.  We did decide to go ahead with the surgeries (one on each side of the pelvis, two to four weeks apart).  I just brought Laika home today after weathering the first round very well.  She is not a happy camper with her elizabethan collar and frankenstein looking right hip/leg, but she's bearing some weight and has a good appetite.  A narcotic patch is providing her with a constant source of pain relief, and with luck and rest, she will be through the worst of it in a couple of weeks - just in time to do the other side.  When all is said and done, we will have a bionic dog with stainless steel plates holding together her new and improved pelvis.  It wasn't quite six million dollars, but enough to make us catch our breath and downsize Christmas.

This is how you show you LOVE me?
Little Miss Muffet.
We won't know for some time, and may never really know, whether this was the best route to take.  Like all the tough decisions in life, we gather all the information at our disposal, weigh the pros and cons for our given situation, and forge ahead trying not to second guess ourselves.  I guess I'm thankful to have had a choice, but sometimes technology and advances in medicine muddy the picture.  We have to work hard to sift through it all and make the best call for all parties involved.

So exactly what do we owe our pets?  Here is what I believe to be the very minimum.  Number one, love and affection tempered with constructive discipline and boundaries.  Dogs aren't happy or healthy when we don't give them positive structure and routine.  Next is food and water - one or two good meals a day - followed by some sort of shelter.  Not all dogs are created equally, and shelter can mean different things to different dogs.  For our Great Dane to survive the elements for any period of time without a soft, dry, warm, bed would seem cruel and unusual punishment to her, but a dog like Laika is clearly equipped to withstand, and even enjoy, the outdoors, with the exception of extreme weather.  I think we owe them spay/neuter surgery, yearly veterinary checkups, standard vaccines, and heartworm, tick, and flea protection.  When we can, we owe them treatment of the things that ail them within reason, and comfort from their infirmities.  And when the time comes, we owe them a peaceful and dignified farewell.

OK, frankly that list pretty much applies to all the ones we love and care for.   While our pets are not humans, they are certainly members of many of our families, and we are rewarded for our investment of time and money many times over in the form of loving companions who bring us joy, happiness, and loyalty.  I realize not everyone shares that view, but this family's life is much richer for sharing it with our animals.

Well, technically, we would be richer without them.  Six million dollars richer...

Friday, October 22, 2010

NBC Washington Video News Clip About CSC Covenant

...featuring the Cape Blogger.  Count how many times I say "ridiculous" in 5 seconds. :)

View more news videos at:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tainted Covenant

Hopefully everyone in the Cape is by now aware of the offensive language that continues to be a part of our community covenant.  The CSC Improvement Association took an admirable stand this year and decided it was time to do something about it.  They invoked an obscure piece of legal mumbo jumbo that stated that the covenant could be changed with 85% approval from our residents, and a ballot was included with this year's homeowners association bill making it as simple as possible for us to vote on the change.

Last night, a resolution was put before the County Council asking for their approval as Cape property owners to change the language.  You can find Resolution 47-10 at:

It was passed by the council unanimously (thanks for the e-mail and for representing the Cape, Sam).  This takes care of one hurdle in the path to changing the covenant.  While many have responded, I believe more votes are required from Cape residents to get to the requisite 85%.  Over the summer, I asked CSCIA Board of Governors President, Sam Gallagher, where we stood, and a few hundred votes were still needed.

This evening, I got caught by a camera crew from NBC news (I'm not sure if it was the Baltimore or DC affiliate - both have covered this story in the past) interviewing Capers down at the shopping center about their opinion of the covenant language (I guess the county council docket triggered the interest).  I was asked if I was aware of the language, how I felt about it, why I thought it was still in the covenant, and how I would feel if it doesn't get changed.  While I do pretty well expressing myself on a keyboard, public speaking is not my forte, and I fear - no I know - my passionate feelings about the issue did not come across as eloquently as I would have liked on camera.  I'm hoping they do some judicious editing.  If anyone saw me on the 11 o'clock news, cut me some slack.

Had I been better prepared, here's what I would have liked to have said for everyone to hear.  How do I feel about the offensive language in the covenant?  While I understand that it was common practice in community covenants written in the early part of the 20th century and allowed to remain in them even after the Supreme Court ruled the documents unenforceable in 1948 and then after they were ruled unconstitutional by the Fair Housing Act that was passed as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, it utterly escapes me how anyone in 2010 could consider this type of exclusionary and bigoted language to be either legal or acceptable by any standard of human decency.  It is wrong on so many levels that it makes my head spin.

Why do I think it's still in the covenant?  I expect a lot of people in the Cape were not even aware that the language existed since it's blacked out in the document.  I did not know about it until several years ago.  Those who do know about it were probably satisfied that it was crossed out - out of sight out of mind.  And then inexplicably, I guess there are some who actually support leaving the language in the covenant evidenced by the few votes so far that have been returned in favor of keeping it.  The CSCIA frankly hasn't had a lot of options for making the change until the new 85% criterion was discovered.

How will I feel if this effort is not successful and the language does not get removed?  In a word, ashamed.  I would be ashamed of this community and frankly embarrassed to live here.  There is simply no place for this kind of bigotry and discrimination in our world.  There are few things of which I am absolutely sure, but I am clear and confident in my belief that this language is perverse and that anyone who thinks it should remain is a racist and dead wrong.  While people may not be responsible for an upbringing that made them racist, they are responsible for remaining so.  I understand the fears and insecurities that feed into this form of hatred, but we have to rise above those fears and recognize them for what they are - our own weaknesses and failures.

For anyone who thinks that they agree with the language in the covenant, stand in front of a mirror, look yourself in the eye and say these words out loud:

"At no time shall any lot or any part thereof be sold, leased, transferred to or permitted to be occupied by any Negro, Chinaman, Japanese, or person of Negro, Chinese, or Japanese descent"

If you can say that without knowing in your gut how wrong it is, then try this.  Substitute White Person for Negro, Chinaman, and Japanese and see how that makes you feel.  If you still are OK with this language, then you are truly in the minority who deserves to be excluded.  And I don't buy the argument that it's not worth the effort to remove because it's unenforceable anyway.  The CSC covenant is a living, functioning document, and it should represent the values and lifestyle of today's Capers.  I don't want me or anyone else in this neighborhood to have to make excuses to reporters anymore.

For those of you who have not yet placed your vote, please stop by the clubhouse during office hours and submit one.  OK, if you're one of the freaks who disagrees then please crawl back in your hole and stay there.  This language needs to go ASAP so we can get on with the business of being the responsible and gracious 21st century community of which so many of us strive to be a part. If we still don't have the votes, and going door to door is the next step, then sign me up.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Cape from Above

I snapped a few pictures out the window of my plane as it was landing yesterday after my weekend in Detroit.  We always get a kick that the main landing pattern at BWI almost always brings us in over the Magothy.  When the kids are with me, they try to be the first one to see our house.  I was on the wrong side of the plane for the money shot this time, but I got a few closeups of the river, and a couple more distant shots of the Cape and Baltimore.

It's clear from the air that peak power boating season is over and fall sailing is in full swing.  These are some of our favorite boating days of the year with the drop in humidity and temperatures and the brilliant blue skies.  The shoreline also starts to get colorful as the leaves change.  The landing path doesn't take you right over Annapolis, so I couldn't get a look at the power boat show downtown.  I missed it this year, but my husband and I typically take in the show for our anniversary which always falls on the same weekend.

Looking toward Baltimore/Key Bridge
Upper Magothy with Patapsco and Baltimore at the top
Home Sweet Home.  Labels that are hard to make out are
Broadneck High to right and Bay Hills Golf Course in the foreground
Dobbins Island with Gibson Island behind
Looking out the Magothy toward the Bay
Here are a couple others of the Magothy - looking down on Dobbins (at the very bottom of the first picture and further right in the second).  Note the dark spot in the water in the two pictures.  I asked Henry what he thought they were.  His first enthusiastic guess was a monster in the Magothy, but upon further inspection, we both decided it must be the shadow of my airplane.  Cool!  Although he thought a monster would have been cooler.

Airplane shadow to right of small island
Airplane shadow lower center

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Halloween Happenings in the Cape!

Just call us Cape Fear!  Actually I think the Cape was called that once upon a time for unflattering reasons, but nevermind that!  Back by popular demand, it's Halloween Happenings at the Clubhouse. The Strawberry Festival Committee has put together a fun filled day of ghoulish activities to entertain the little ones in the Cape. OK, I don't really see anything scary about it - just LOTS of cool Halloween things to do! And what kid can get too much of Halloween. Adults, too for that matter.

The shindig will be held on October 23rd from 10 - 3 in the Clubhouse corral. Activities will include hay rides, face painting, a moon bounce, scarecrow making, crafts, and more. Cost is $5 per child (the registration form doesn't specify what constitutes a child, but I'm thinking 44 is a good cutoff), and $6 extra for scarecrow making supplies.

You must register in advance, so print the sign-up form on the website, fill it out and return it with payment to Mary Lamb. Her information is on the form.

Also, for the adults out there that want to get in on some Halloween action, the Goshen Farm Project is hosting a Halloween Ball on Friday, October 22nd from 7 - 11.  Click the same link above for more info.  Costumes are encouraged!

And finally, don't forget the ever popular shopping center trick or treating for the kids.  This year it will be on Saturday, October 30, from 5 - 6:30.

Happy haunting!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Enough with the Stink Bugs

By now, everyone is all too aware of the stink bug invasion that has reached epic proportions in this first part of Fall.  They have been multiplying and colonizing over the summer, and now they are completely inescapable.  The few I was aware of last year really didn't bother me that much, but the sudden explosion of them in the past couple of months is about to push me over the edge.

I just finished clearing off and power washing my back porch.  Over the summer, piles of coolers, sporting equipment, and golf clubs had accumulated - all the seasonal items that were easier to leave out than put away.   As I started going through them one by one, I was horrified at the number of stink bugs that I found.  They were all in the folds of our umbrellas - at least a dozen on each one - and the golf bags were crawling with them.  It freaks me out just telling about it.  I shook and pounded bags until every last one fell out (I hope).  They quickly scurried away into the nearest crack or crevice.

The worst part is that if you give in to your fury and smash them, you are rewarded with a putrid smell that is their dying insult to you.  Even my pets have learned not to squish them when they play with them.  They just bat them around gently and then let them go on their way.  They are dastardly little creepy crawlies.

At my nephew's outdoor wedding a few weeks ago, just as the bride made her stunning entrance and settled in next to her dashing husband-to-be, a stink bug came buzzing in from above and lighted on the back of her veil.  She was completely unaware, as was the rest of the wedding party, but it was in clear view of those of us in the audience and somewhat distracting from the beauty of the moment.  A lady near the front did what all of us were dying to do but afraid to for fear of causing a scene - calmly rose from her seat, walked up behind the bride, and deftly swiped the offending stink bug from the lovely veil in one quick motion.  Nicely done.

Apparently this stink bug invasion began back in 1998.  Some clever little bug made his way to our shores from China and went about the business of making this new land his home.  The bug was first documented in Allentown, PA and gradually made it's way up and down the East Coast along the I-95 corridor.  I'm not a fan of some of the new immigration laws popping up around the country, but I would fully support deportation of each and every member of the species halyomorpha halys back to China.

halyomorpha halys

So I'm officially declaring war on these buggers.  No more will I gently release them to the outdoors to invade my umbrellas and golf bags.  It's straight down the toilet with them.  If I can't send them back to China, at least I can flush them in the general direction.  It's a war I can't win, but when has that ever stopped us?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Ramblewoods and the Lost City of Atlantis...

I'm sure all of you are familiar with a street in Cape St. Claire called Ramblewood Dr. It parallels Green Holly, one of the main drags into the neighborhood, and then loops up and around the end of it. Along with Southview and Chestnut Tree, it defines the border between the Cape and the community of Atlantis.  Seagreen Dr. is the only way into and out of the lost city of Atlantis by car, and you have to go across or down Ramblewood to get there. What you might not know is that what is now just a suburban street was once a wooded realm...

I've heard a little of the history of the odd way that Atlantis is inserted into the bowels of the Cape. Apparently the last large piece of undeveloped land in Cape St. Claire was a wooded strip with the borders that I've described above ending on the shore of Deep Creek where it meets the Magothy. It was known locally as, the "Ramblewoods". Generations of Capers explored this wooded 60 or so acres and probably cut through it to reach the opposite end of the peninsula or the mouth of Deep Creek. I can only imagine how unique and cherished that section of untouched land must have been.

At some point the owner of the property made the inevitable decision to sell it to developers (early 80s?). Just about any one of us would have done the same at the opportune time, but it must have been crushing to those who lived in the Cape. While we of course don't hold this against our neighbors in Atlantis, I think there will always be a little resentment and a sense that the Ramblewoods should have remained untouched or somehow part of the Cape. An overhead picture of the newly cleared land and first paved streets of Atlantis hangs on the wall at Broadneck Grill above the table near the dessert display (my favorite seat in the house).

There is a palpably different feel to Atlantis than the Cape. When you pass from one into the other, there's no question that you're in a different place. Atlantis is wide, evenly paved roads and culdesacs with sidewalks and cute black lamposts neatly bordering the streets. The lawns are manicured in front of a mix of 80s/90s split foyers and 2-stories along with a strip of contemporary waterfront homes at the Deep Creek end. I envy the wide roads when I'm on a bike; of course, I covet their public water with every ounce of my being (see Aug. 13 post); and there's not a power line in sight (see previous post).

The Cape is all narrow, uneven, meandering, wooded roads with sidewalks only along the major arteries and then just on one side - the minimum to meet county requirements to get kids to school safely. The houses are a hodgepodge of 50s ranchers, 70s split foyers, 80s and 90s 2-stories, and upgraded waterfront showplaces. I affectionately used the term "rednecklectic" to describe our community in a previous post, and I think that pretty well sums it up.

But perhaps more than anything (with the exception of its water privileges), the Cape is defined by its trees. The first time I ever drove through Cape St. Claire, it was in the winter after a light snow, and the neighborhood was magical - the trees and yards dusted with a perfect frosting of white. I knew right then that this is where I wanted to live (OK - a million dollars in my pocket might have landed me in Amberley or Bay Ridge, but that ship has sailed). It was all about the trees and the wooded feel. True, it can be a pain when the wind blows and the power lines come down, but I blame that on power lines that should be buried - not on the trees.

And that brings us back to the other way you can tell that you're in Atlantis and not the Cape - by looking up. Along the borders of Atlantis, you can see a tree line of higher and older trees than anything else in the community. Most of the trees within Atlantis were planted when it was developed, and they are noticeably younger and more ornamental than the native trees that stretch toward the sky along the perimeter. These are the last remaining sentinels of the Ramblewoods - the ones left behind to remind us of what was.

Remaining "Ramblewoods" along the border of Atlantis.

I'm glad I wasn't here when the Ramblewoods were chopped and bulldozed. I'm really not THAT big of a tree hugger, but it would have been tough. If you look closely, however, the Cape does have some remaining places where you can get a taste of what the Ramblewoods might have felt like. Pockets of woods exist along the borders and some within the community that have escaped development for one reason or another. A little exploring will lead you to one if you take the time to look. I bet some of your kids know about them.

When we remodeled our house a few years back, my husband and son started going on what they called "Manly Man" hikes to escape the disarray of our household. They would bundle up (it was winter), take the dog and a walking stick, and head out across the Cape to find adventure. On occasion, I was allowed to join them on these "Manly Man" walks, and I was amazed at the wooded places they had discovered. They're extensive enough that you can briefly forget you're in a suburban community and pretend for a moment to be deep in the woods.

For the most part, these areas lie along the perimeter of the high school or the elementary school and border College Parkway and Cape St. Claire Rd. Another is squeezed in the no man's land where Atlantis meets the Cape on the Southview side - a remaining strip of the Ramblewoods. You have to find the secret entrances, and you never quite know where you'll come out on the other end.

Laika and I ducked into a trail off of Mt. Pleasant just the other day and emerged behind the high school stadium. I have to believe this is a standard path home for high schoolers. There are some well-worn trails in these backwoods, so I know we're not the only ones who have walked them, and we've found evidence that paint-ballers frequent the bigger areas off of College Parkway. In fact, on one of my guys' "Manly Man" walks, the woods erupted in paint-ball fire requiring some hasty evasive action.

Cape Backwoods...

The best time of year to search out these wooded areas is late fall or winter when the mosquitoes and poison ivy have gone dormant and the brush and vines have died back. As safe as I feel in the Cape in general, I wouldn't suggest going alone. It's just a bad idea to go to any remote area by yourself. At a minimum, take a trusty dog with you, and let someone know where you're headed. It's also important to be considerate and respectful of people's property. Occasionally, you emerge near someone's backyard, and you need to allow the time to backtrack if necessary.

As the weather starts to turn cooler, find a few hours on the weekend to walk around the Cape and perhaps you'll find some surprises of your own. It's the best way to get to know a place and your neighbors. Our community will never again be open farmland and deep dark Ramblewoods, but even in suburbia, you might find some traces of what was once here. And in another 50 years, even what's here now will be changed. Enjoy it while you can so you will have your own stories to tell about "the old days".

Not having lived here before Atlantis was developed, I may well be over-romanticizing the true story of the Ramblewoods. If anyone has their own "Ramblewoods" story to tell or can add to or correct my information, please post a comment or e-mail me.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Maimed Trees

I just returned from a short jog around my end of the Cape - tentative first steps in the rehabilitation of my bad heel.  While I was out, I passed a bucket truck trimming tree branches hanging over power lines - post storm clean-up I guess.  I'm not sure if they were power company contractors or hired by some other party to trim damaged limbs.

This raises one of my handful of pet peeves (you'll hear about most of them at some point or another I'm sure).  I have a nearly visceral reaction to the way trees are mutilated to make way for archaic power lines.  They just look awful, both the power lines and the butchered trees.  Some have as much as 1/2 of their crowns removed - such an indignity.  All this in the interest of protecting power lines that are an eyesore, a frequent inconvenience, and an occasional hazard.  Check out a few of the Cape's victims:

The power line from the telephone pole to our house comes from the opposite side of the street, and our house is set a good ways back, so the line has a fairly long distance to travel causing it to droop.  Several times since we've lived here, the line has pulled away from the bolts that hold it to the house and ended up across my lawn.  Each time we swear we're going to have it buried, and each time, a) if funds are available, we put off the inconvenience or b) if money is tight, we are discouraged by the expense.  This must be the way the county views it as well, because I can't imagine it would not be an improvement to bury them (a huge expense and brutal initial inconvenience but longterm improvement and savings).  When the economy is booming, nobody has the will, and when times are tight, the money's not there.

I'm just tired of seeing the trees pay the price for old technology and short sightedness.  Even if you couldn't care less about the trees and think the ones in the way should just be removed altogether, you can't deny that the power lines are plain ugly and a nuisance.  What was an innovation at the turn of the 20th century is a dinosaur at the beginning of the 21st - another example of America's aging and outdated infrastructure.  If anybody would like to share more examples of the Cape's sad, maimed trees, feel free to send them to me and I will add them to my collection of carnage.  More about Cape St. Claire and trees in my next entry...

Monday, October 4, 2010

My First General Election Candidate's Forum

This is the last I'll post about the 2010 General Election Candidate's Forum, but now that I've actually attended one (full disclosure - I had to leave before they got to the State Senate and District 5 County Council candidates), I wanted to give my amateur impressions.  I'm a little embarrassed that this has been going on for 25 years, 17 of which I have lived in Cape St. Claire, and I've never attended before now.  I will lamely plead distracted/apathetic youth followed by distracted/exhausted parenthood.  While I've been diligent about voting over the years (OK, I missed a few - make that a lot - of the mid-term elections), I have never made the effort to attend the General Election Candidate's Forum.  I will do so in the future.

First let me apologize to County Executive Leopold for an embarrassing cell phone gaffe on my part.  The candidate had just begun his presentation, and I was reaching for my cell phone to turn down the volume, when I got an urgent text from my husband that Virginia Tech managed to pull out a win over NC State.  The text alert on my cell phone is Homer Simpson's iconic "D'oh!".  Maybe it was just me, but it sounded really loud, and I was mortified.  Can't take me anywhere...

I won't go into detail about the candidates and their talks, but let me say that I was really impressed with both the Forum and the candidates (with one significant exception, but I won't go there).  Mr. Biondi did a fine job of moderating.  The audience was asked to write their questions on note cards which were collected continually and given to Mr. Biondi to consolidate and present to the candidate(s).  It's not ideal in that every question cannot be fielded, but I think it's the most workable solution.  It allows for the most common questions from the room to be addressed to the candidates.

The room was pretty full at the start of the Forum, but it became noticeably more crowded when it was time to hear from U.S. House of Representatives candidates Andy Harris and Frank Kratovil.  It was the most animated exchange of the night, both between the candidates and from the audience.  The crowd got ever so slightly unruly at one point, but Mr. Biondi quickly restored order.  For this confrontation-averse person, it was somewhat uncomfortable, but fascinating to watch if a little cringe inducing.

The crowd thinned a little when it was time for the next round of candidates - those running for the Maryland District 30 House of Delegates.  Let me say that hearing from these six people was my favorite part of the evening.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear thoughtful and well presented responses from them all, regardless of where they were coming from politically.  While I didn't necessarily agree with them all, I was reassured by their apparent level of commitment and serious consideration of the issues that affect our daily lives.  Mr. Biondi commented at the conclusion of their segment something to the effect of, "You can't say we don't have a good choice for delegates this November", and I would agree.

The other thing that struck me during the evening was the earnestness of many of the people in the audience in their desire to hear what the candidates had to say and to form an educated opinion on which to base their vote.  The couple in front of me in particular was soaking up every tidbit and soberly weighing what was presented.  It was clear they were conflicted, because none of these choices is particularly straightforward (if you think so, then you're not doing your homework), and they were making every effort to sort through the issues and propaganda to help clarify their positions.  I was so much happier to see that response than the minds-already-made-up cheerleading contingent.

I guess what I came away with was an appreciation for how little I know about local politics and for the value of these types of gatherings to begin to correct that.  They are certainly not perfect (in some ways I came away more confused than ever) but should be a part of our attempt to understand who and what we're voting for and how it affects our world.  Considering how few people actually vote these days, I guess it's that much more important that we know what we're doing.  It has raised my general awareness, and I will make a concerted effort to attend in the future.

I'd like to say thank you to all the men and women who pursue public office.  I can't even begin to imagine the drain it must be on the private lives of these brave souls.  Defense Secretary, Robert Gates spoke at my alma mater, Duke University, this past week.  He was encouraging young people to seriously consider public service in the form of military duty.  We place the full burden of defending this country on a very few men and women, and most of us are entirely too disconnected from that burden.

In his statements, Secretary Gates quoted from a letter that John Adams wrote to his son in which he said, "Public business, my son, must always be done by somebody.  It will be done by somebody or another.  If wise men decline it, others will not; if honest men refuse it, others will not."  John Adams embodied both of these qualities to the immeasurable benefit of this country.  Here's wishing for more of that wisdom and honesty for the politicians of today, and for us constituents that we might make good choices for our country.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Bay Bridge Chill

My new friend, Louise, sent me this excellent photo that she took of the Bay Bridge.  It makes me shiver just looking at it!  Notice the slushy ice on the surface of the Bay, the gray sky and those bare trees on the other side.  I love the cool, winter chill with the bright green and red lane markers popping out on the bridge.  Very nice!  This is one of the few shots of the Bay Bridge that I've seen from the Eastern side looking back.

My mother-in-law and several other members of my husband's family live in the Bethany Beach, DE area, so we make the trip to the Eastern Shore pretty frequently.  We always know when we get to this point of the drive - approaching the Bay Bridge - that we're as good as home.  It's great to know that Cape St. Claire is right on the other side one exit away.

If anyone else has a picture of the area that they would like me to post, feel free to send it to  If you don't want it to be copied or used by anyone else without permission, then send it with a watermark, or I can add one if you like.

Thanks Louise!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Stormy September

September is storm month here in the Mid-Atlantic.  The worst weather I've known in the Cape has always come in September (not counting snow and ice).  The tornado that swept through the Cape in September of 2006 took out two huge trees in our backyard.  Floyd passed through in September of 1999 taking out a tree in this yard, as well, but before we lived here.  And of course Isabel paid us a visit in September of 2003 wreaking havoc throughout the area.  It's appropriate that big storms are given names, because they certainly have a range of personalities.

Tropical Depression 16 was no Isabel.  She even lost her name, Nicole, before she made it to us, but she brought the highest water we've seen since, and no question the heaviest consistent rainfall in a 24 hour period that I've ever known.  Floyd is the only other storm that might compare in the rainfall category, but we lived in a different Cape house then with fewer drainage issues.  I heard a story on NPR recently about how much water is actually contained in the clouds of large hurricanes. It's some ridiculously huge amount like the volume of 100 million elephants.  After yesterday, I can believe that 10,000 or so of those elephants fell in my yard.

Our current house sits at the dead end of a street where it starts to dip down into a gully.  The end of the street part is great - no traffic and we can dump our leaves over the edge of the yard.  The part that's not so great is that our entire yard is sloped.  There's not a flat spot on our lot.  In addition, we have a long driveway that runs from the street, along the side of our house and around to the back where we have a detached garage.   The areas of the yard with established grass handle the water very well, but when it really rains hard, water courses down our driveway like Class 2 rapids.

To keep all this water from flowing straight into our garage, there is a dip along the front that directs the water off to the side.  There is also a stone barrier along the side of the driveway that prevents the water from draining across the yard.  The end result is that ALL the water that comes down the driveway converges on one spot at the right end where it has to drain.  We have a drain grate there with buried drain pipe that directs the water off the edge of the yard.

This handles the water fine until you introduce debris in the form of 10,000 acorns lying in my driveway!  Yes, I believe I had 10,000 elephants and 10,000 acorns all trying to escape my yard through a single 12 inch drainage grate.  As you can imagine, this was not a workable situation.  I fought the battle for a while, standing over the grate in a raincoat trying to clear the acorns from the drain to let the elephants pass, but at a point, I conceded the battle and let them have at it.  The result was a pile of acorns and a flooded garage.  The picture below illustrates the problem:

Some of my 10K acorns and the 12- inch debris-covered drain.

I know there are Capers who suffered bigger disasters thanks to TD16 - flooded basements, sunken or lost boats and equipment, and power outages.  Our power only flickered once, but I know other Capers who lost power in the evening and were rudely awakened to it coming back on in the night.  I will say I was happy to see a fleet of emergency repair trucks hovering yesterday afternoon and evening - on the ready to deal with downed trees or blown transformers.

Hope all you fellow Capers weathered the storm reasonably well, and for those who were worst hit, let's lend a hand where we can.  Let the cleanup begin.  The good news is that Stormy September is over.  Welcome October!  Let's hope that's it for the fall and no more crazy weather until winter...