Monday, November 7, 2011

Sewing, Sincerity, and Sexuality - The Inspiration and Humanity of Tim Gunn


It's not typically my style to be a celebrity chaser. I am not easily starstruck or impressed with fame for the sake of fame. I enjoy following the tabloid headlines here and there, but the vast majority of what poses as celebrity these days is talentless, manufactured deadweight. Many so-called "stars" are nothing but money making machines for themselves and their sphere of hyenas with no connection of value to the real world (can you tell I'm maxed out on the Krapdashians?).

There are notable exceptions. The George Clooneys, Jolie-Pitts, Matt Damons, Sandra Bullocks, Paul Newmans, and Madonnas of the world seem to try to do their part. They put in time as spokespeople for this cause or that and throw significant chunks of their earnings at their charities of choice. They make some attempt to put their celebrity to good use. Some are misguided or perhaps just looking for a good photo op, but at least they show some capacity to be outward-thinking and make the effort to carve out normal lives for themselves.

I don't necessarily expect the rich and famous to head up behemoth charitable organizations or adopt a gazillion impoverished babies. It's certainly refreshing though to at least see them acting appropriately and exhibiting an awareness beyond the ten-foot bubble of fame that encapsulates them. I know there are challenges that come with the role. The media and fan-base fixation on them can be suffocating and even dangerous. Still, despite the difficulty creating a normal life, some of them manage to get the important stuff right, or at least as right as any of us can - home life, relationships, parenting, generosity, behavior. They take their craft seriously, work hard, and set an example worthy of our attention.

Recently, my daughter and I saw the signs up at Annapolis Mall that Tim Gunn of Project Runway fame would be visiting for a fashion show with the opportunity for fans to meet and be photographed with him. While we would not have blinked at most opportunities to get up-close with a celebrity (Bieber? - blech, Lindsay? - laughable, Snooki? - snasty), we both resolved that if possible, we would not miss this chance to get some face time with Tim Gunn, one of our very favorite TV personalities. We read the fine print and marked the date on our calendar.

My daughter and I are huge fans of the show Project Runway. Reality TV can be hit or miss - mostly miss - but I find a lot to appreciate about this particular show. First, host Heidi Klum is a celebrity who it appears to me gets it right. She is smart, funny, and most importantly, does not take herself too seriously despite being fabulously beautiful and successful. Her family life seems wholesome and healthy, and she presents as real and sincere.

I might wait in a line to meet Heidi Klum, although waiting for hours to get a picture with a supermodel might be rough on the ego. On Project Runway, I find her comments entertaining and insightful and honest. If I had to choose a celebrity's life to lead, it might be hers (not that I fantasize about that or anything, um... but come on, Seal for a hubby? Does not get any cooler than that - just saying'). Even so, I don't actually think I would wait for any significant length of time to meet her. While I'm impressed with her, it's not the same warm fuzzy I feel for Tim Gunn.

Second, I love the insight into the world of fashion and clothing design on Project Runway. I find the designers to be truly talented and creative, and I love watching them interpret the challenges into high fashion (or low fashion on occasion). Their work demonstrates that fine line between tasteful and trashy or just ordinary. They have created masterpieces of fashion from birdseed and trash bags, and they all have personal style out the yingyang.

Third, I just enjoy watching the sewing that goes on. I come from a family of very capable seamstresses including my Mom, her sister, and my great-grandmother on my father's side. Even my brother has been known to whip up a kilt for a friend in need of a costume and sew canvas awnings for his house. I can remember my Grandmama Mac sewing for me when I was a very little girl - sweet little smocked dresses and play clothes. Here is one of my earliest Grandmama Mac custom designer fashions:

White Easter dress.


My mother sewed on Grandmama's old Singer throughout my childhood. She made Easter dresses for me, the odd John John suit for my brother, and doll clothes for my Barbies. She made us matching mother-daughter outfits that were the height of 70s fashion (take that for what it is - I'm talking orange polyester jumpsuits and full length denim skirts that would have been right at home on the Brady Bunch). She also sewed all the linens, curtains, chair covers and quilts for my daughter's nursery.


Mom sewing in a hotel room I think?

Mom on the old Singer making terry cloth
 robes for the whole family for Xmas.

Mom doing her best Florence
Henderson in a homemade maxi.

Very short pink Easter dress made by Mom
accessorized with some styling white sunglasses.

Again with the very short hemline!
Mom made both of these outfits
- venturing into menswear.

She was only responsible for mine here.
Don't know if my brother is laughing at
the thing on my head or his crazy outfit.

My Aunt Joyce has been a seamstress by trade in the latter part of her life, and as a young woman, she made my mother's wedding dress. The dress is a true thing of beauty - creamy, dense, white satin with a perfect neckline and long sleeves the likes of which you would never see today in a world of endlessly repetitive strapless carbon copies. It is classic and elegant and simple in a way that rivals Grace Kelly's. Aunt Joyce also made the red brocade satin bridesmaids and flower girl dresses for the December 26th wedding which were my goto dress up outfits as a little girl.

Mom and Dad on their wedding day. Designer
Aunt Joyce just over Mom's right shoulder.

Me dressed up in the red brocade.

Whoa, getting sidetracked... Fourth, and most importantly, we love to watch Project Runway because of Tim Gunn. This guy is a gem among men. He is intimately knowledgeable about fashion design. He taught and was chair of the fashion design department at Parson's, the famous New York school of fashion design, for twenty-four years before taking over as chief creative officer of Liz Claiborne. The thing that is most appealing about him beyond his wit and expertise, though, are his remarkable graciousness and warmth. He is quick with a hug or supportive critique for a distraught or conflicted contestant and not afraid to show emotion. His sincerity and honest nature radiate right out of the TV. I don't know how many times I've said I would love a Tim Gunn in my life when I need words of support and encouragement.

So when we learned Tim Gunn was coming to town, we went into full-on groupie mode and figured out where to be when. He has partnered with the Lucky Brand clothing line to promote their stores and fashions while at the same time promoting his book, Gunn's Golden Rules, Life's Little Lessons for Making it Work. His visit included a Lucky Brand fashion show commentated by him followed by a question and answer session and then an "after party" catered by California Pizza Kitchen. For a $100 purchase at Lucky Brand, you also had the opportunity to meet Tim, get a free signed copy of his book, and get your picture taken with him.

Since we just had to have that face time, we made our purchase and then waited in the gargantuan line following the show to get our picture. I ended up being placeholder as my daughter and her friend took a few strolls down the mall to pass the time. The wait was made much more bearable by the endless flow of drinks and pizza provided by California Pizza Kitchen staff. I have to hand it to the organizers, they did not skimp on refreshments. They even had ladies from Bare Essentials freshening up makeup at the head of the line so we didn't look too homely after our ordeal when we met Tim.

Despite the long, slow wait, I didn't see any disgruntled fans in the crowd. It was mostly women of all ages, a few brave, self-confident male fans, and confused but devoted-to-their-wives-and-daughters dads. While I was initially discouraged by the amount of time Tim spent with each person who came through the line, by the end, I was just astonished and impressed at his ability to keep up the meaningful and sincere conversation. That graciousness that comes across so distinctly on TV was on full display for his fans who love him for that very reason. His hugs were just as forthcoming as on the show.

When it was finally our turn, we basked in the glow of his company for our few moments as he signed our book. We spoke about his family tradition of men at the Naval Academy (no kidding) and my family tradition of sewing. I told him in all honesty that his show had inspired me to take up the craft in a more serious way. For years, I threw together Halloween costumes on Grandmama Mac's old Singer, now in my possession. Recently, in large part as a result of watching Project Runway, I have purchased a more modern, if inexpensive, sewing machine and taken on some more challenging projects. I made a cute wool blend skirt with kick pleats and a zipper, and I'm now about halfway through a wool blazer - darts, sleeves, pocket welts and all. OK, it's not Project Runway material, but not bad for a first try.

A few puckers to iron out on the sleeve.

Still have the collar facing,
lining, and hemming to do.

Miraculously a perfect fit. Pleats need ironing.

Sewing and sincerity are not the only ways that Tim Gunn has been inspirational. He also has been open about his sexuality and contributed a video to the It Gets Better Project that has done such a wonderful and powerful job of increasing awareness about and acceptance of GLBT youth.



I, for one, am tremendously happy that Tim Gunn was unsuccessful in his desperate suicide attempt as a young man. Otherwise, we would not have known the terrifically entertaining, wise, and kind man that he has become. I know that my gay friends and family must be inspired by him as I am. I am so pleased to have had the opportunity for me and my daughter to shake his hand and return his hug. I am not awed by his celebrity but rather his humanity.

The girls with Tim

Wore my It Gets Better Project T-Shirt.
The sweater is my Lucky Brand purchase.

In closing, I will leave you with Tim's list of Golden Rules from his book. They are the titles of each of the chapters. Good ones for all of us to keep in our poorly stitched and ill fitting hip pockets...

Gunn's Golden Rules

  • Make It Work!
  • The World Owes You . . . Nothing
  • Take the High Road
  • Don't Abuse Your Power - or Surrender It
  • Get Inspired If It Kills You
  • Never Underestimate Karma
  • Niceties are Nice
  • Physical Comfort Is Overrated
  • Talk to Me: There's Always Another Side to the Story
  • Be a Good Guest or Stay Home
  • Use Technology; Don't Let It Use You
  • Don't Lose Your Sense of Smell (*i.e. don't get used to things that stink)
  • Know What to Get Off Your Chest and What to Take to the Grave
  • When in Rome . . . I Still Wouldn't Eat Monkey Brains
  • When You Need Help, Get It
  • Take Risks! Playing It Safe Is Never Really Safe
  • Give Back (but Know Your Limits)
  • Carry On!


www.tips-fb.com

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cape-mandering

“Nothing will produce Bad History more directly nor brutally, than drawing a Line, in particular a Right Line, the very Shape of Contempt, through the midst of a People,-- to create thus a Distinction betwixt 'em,-- 'tis the first stroke.-- All else will follow as if predestin'd, unto War and Devastation."
--- Thomas Pynchon, Mason & Dixon
The above quote was my opening salvo in a draft blog post full of righteous indignation at the proposed Maryland redistricting plan that bisected the Cape. Like most Capers, I was outraged at the notion that our tight-knit community would be split down the middle into two separate congressional districts. What kind of gerrymandering insanity would divide the interests of a well-defined, cohesive locality, leaving half of us within a strange part waterfront, part Baltimore beltway, part Howard and Montgomery County constituency while lumping the other half into a chunk of Anne Arundel bizarrely attached by a land bridge to the belle of the beltway, Prince Georges County? Really?

OK, it's not like Hampton Drive would have become the Mason-Dixon line or the Berlin Wall. It would not have been a line dividing one lifestyle or set of beliefs from another. No physical barrier would prevent movement from one side to the other. It was not drawn to banish, ostracize or otherwise relegate one group of people or ideology from another. The line was simply drawn in the interest of political expediency as a way to balance out numbers of voters to the best advantage of the majority political party.

Capers responded with justifiable concern, passionately expressing their dismay on the public comments page of the Maryland redistricting website. In addition, the CSC Improvement Association prepared and submitted a thoughtful and persuasive letter to the Governor's Advisory Committee, the text of which follows:
On behalf of the 7,500 residents of Cape St. Claire, I am writing to vehemently oppose the Committee’s new congressional redistricting proposal. Cape St. Claire is a waterfront community located on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay comprised of more than 2,300 single family homes. The community is bounded on three sides by bodies of water: the Little Magothy River, the Chesapeake Bay, the Magothy River, and Deep Creek. Indeed, our connection to the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries is fundamental to our community identity, and has been since Cape St. Claire was founded in 1949.  
For the past 20 years, Cape St. Claire has been part of the 1st Congressional District, as were most of the Chesapeake Bay waterfront communities in Maryland. The new proposal arbitrarily divides our tight-knit community into two separate districts -- with one precinct in District 3, and the other two precincts in District 4. While because of our size we vote in three precincts, the community participates in elections as a whole: we have Candidate Forums in which all residents participate; we routinely host our Congressional Representatives at community meetings; and while we may have thousands of residents, we act very much like a small neighborhood.  
Splitting our community into two districts will confuse and disenfranchise our residents. An arbitrary line will have been drawn through the heart of our community which will create an abomination where one resident can't have a conversation with his or her neighbor about their common representative--that surely cannot be a responsible way to encourage participation in our great democracy. In the words of one of our residents (who serves as a poll judge on election days), "splitting Cape St. Claire will be logistical hell come polling day."  
We are equally astounded to read that some believe that we have more in common with Prince George’s County than with our Chesapeake Bay waterfront neighbors. And since the community is split in half, does this mean one half of our community identifies with Annapolis (District 3) while the other half has more in common with Landover and Greenbelt in District 4? Cleary, our interests are not being represented in this proposal.  
We understand that a line has to be drawn somewhere. But, to split a community in half--one that is only a square mile in size is ridiculous. To add insult to injury, putting one half of that community in a district that runs right up to the District of Columbia line demeans and dismisses the 62-year history of our community's ties to the Annapolis area. We respectfully request that Cape St. Claire, in its entirety, be placed within District 3 with the rest of the Annapolis area and other central Maryland waterfront communities with which we share so much in common.
Lo and behold, when the governor submitted his finalized plan to the General Assembly, the Cape was intact once again! Somebody was actually listening on the other end of the line. The whole of our community was redrawn into District 3 - the tortured light green district on the map below - contiguous only by boat at the mouth of the Magothy River and by a thread east of Baltimore City. Taken as a whole, it looks like a duck pointing at western Maryland. The light blue-green District 4 shaped like monster arms is where half of us were almost relegated.



While our voices were thankfully and refreshingly heard on this particular occasion, I still am not at all comfortable with the process. Had it not fit conveniently in the Democrat's overall redistricting scheme, I doubt the change would have been made. The redistricting that occurs every ten years following a census is not a pretty business. It necessitates the drawing of lines to divide states up into contiguous districts that contain roughly equal numbers of people ostensibly ensuring "one person, one vote" per Supreme Court guidelines.

The kicker is that state legislatures, in our case the Maryland General Assembly, are generally responsible for Congressional redistricting. In other words, the state's majority political party has control of the process and can pick and choose where they want to slide district lines to the best advantage of their party. It's done with equal ruthlessness by both parties and has a major impact on the outcomes of elections.

In recent history, the political parties have become increasingly overt in their attempts to create districts that promise the best results on election day. No contortion of a state map into district boundaries is too extreme. While redistricting with any kind of racial bias is not permitted by the Constitution, there is nothing prohibiting partisan-based motives. Here is a nice example from Illinois:

Illinois district contiguous only by
virtue of the highway to the left.

and another interesting district courtesy of the infamous 2003 redistricting of Texas:

Some of Tom DeLay and Rick Perry's handiwork splitting
heavily Dem. Travis County into three solidly Rep. districts.

Neither of the major political parties is above exploiting this conflict of interest. The primary goal of this latest round of redistricting in Maryland was to pick up a seat for the Democrats in the next election by increasing the vulnerability of 10-term western Maryland representative Roscoe Bartlett (maybe that's who the District 3 duck is pointing at). The system seems fundamentally flawed when a party in power can dramatically impact the outcome of congressional elections - the politicians picking the voters instead of the voters choosing their representatives. And since the party in power likes it that way, they have no incentive to change the system.

It makes my skin crawl, like so much of politics these days. While gerrymandering is nothing new and many would argue a necessary "part of the game", it seems to have taken on a whole new level of unfairness in recent decades. The country has been carved up into increasingly polarized constituencies as our system of government continues to be warped and manipulated in favor of those in power or with monetary influence.

For any of you who would like to have a go at this dirty business yourselves, I came across an online redistricting game. It's actually a pretty fun learning tool - a little slow to load at first, but worth your patience. If you have kids and would like to demonstrate the complexities and partiality of drawing congressional lines or just want to better understand it yourself, this is a great way to do it. You can play the role of party heads named Libby Rahl or Conner Servative and shift the district lines in several imaginary states until the number of constituents is correct while simultaneously pleasing or angering animated representatives. Some of the representatives' names include Tyree Hugger, Manny Pulative, and Celia Coen-Valley. Entertaining and educational at the same time!

For the next ten years at least, Capers can rest easily knowing that our interests still lie together on the congressional map. Neighbors across the street from one another on Hampton Drive will still be represented by the same Member of Congress. Next time around, who knows where they will put us or how they will divide us. The only thing that is certain about the redistricting process is that they will in fact divide us - with a "Right Line, the very Shape of Contempt". www.tips-fb.com

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Taylor Swift Is Making Me Eat Oatmeal

At my annual OB/GYN checkup earlier this year, my doctor suggested that I have some blood work done as it had been a while since my last blood letting. My doctor, by the way, looks about eighteen years old and bears an uncanny resemblance to Taylor Swift. She is a lovely, bright young woman, and from what I can tell a fine doctor, but I don't know if she's the best choice to usher me into my fragile menopausal years.

With each yearly visit, more and more parts of me wrinkle and sag further south while Dr. Taylor Swift is just coming into her prime. I worry it could get ugly on an intensely hormonal, insecure day. As I sit vulnerably on the paper-covered exam table half exposed in an open-front hospital gown, I start to imagine myself in a glowy, hazy Taylor Swift video where Dr. Taylor and I do a guitar duet version of You Belong With Me:
My part: 
'Cause she wears short skirts
I wear an ugly gown
She's a cheery MD
And I'm in the stirrups
Dreamin 'bout the day when I sit up and find
That my breast exam is all normal this time.
Taylor MD comes in: 
If you can see that I'm the one who understands you
Knows your per-i-od and does your pap smee-ee-arr.
You belong right hee-ee-eerre.

You're-old-but belong right here.
The ladies might appreciate my ditty. Guys - you will have to come up with your own tune about coughing and prostate exams. Too bad for you Taylor Swift is an OB/GYN and not a urologist...

Anyway, back to the blood work. I kept putting it off with plans of losing a few pounds and getting in better shape before coming face to face with my cholesterol levels. In the past, my total cholesterol has been a little high, but my LDL or "bad cholesterol" was within normal range and the elevated total resulted from a high HDL or "good cholesterol" level. Even though my total was a little above the recommended numbers, I rationalized that my excess "good cholesterol" got me off the hook from worrying about it.

Well, I finally dragged myself down to the lab to get my blood drawn since the extra ten pounds I'd been carrying did not seem to be in a hurry to drop off. I fasted for the obligatory twelve hours before my appointment. Why is that so ridiculously hard to do? Basically just skip breakfast. You would have thought I had not eaten for days by the time I weakly crawled into Wawa for coffee and a Sizzli after the lab visit. I suspected the results of my blood test were going to mean changes to my diet, and I wanted to get in a last relatively guilt-free greasy breakfast.

When the results came in the mail, I was not too terribly surprised to learn that my total cholesterol was forty points higher than five years ago. While my "good cholesterol" was still very high, my "bad cholesterol" was now seventeen points above normal range. At the bottom of the lab report, a handwritten note from Taylor was scrawled which read, "Start a low cholesterol diet and follow up with your primary care doctor." There it was - the directive from Taylor Swift to clean up my dietary act:
Taylor: 
And you've got LDL that could clog up this whole town
You haven't checked it in a while, need to bring it down
You say you're fine
I know you better than that
Hey what you doing with a Sizzli like that.
Me: 
Cause she wears short skirts
I wear sweat pants
She's a cheery young thing
And I need some implants
Dreamin 'bout the day when I wake up and find
That my bathroom scale has been wrong this whole time...
Sooo. Here I am a few weeks later having made some modest changes to my fitness and eating behaviors. I am trying to be more consistent with my exercise and do something physical each day whether it's a bike ride to Graul's instead of driving or a short run. I have also cut back on high cholesterol foods, and I try to work fish and vegetarian meals into our dinner menu two or three times a week. I still allow myself eggs here and there because I love them.

The other dietary change I've made is adding the mother of all cholesterol busting foods to my breakfast menu. Yes, I'm talking about good old reliable oatmeal. I've made attempts in the past to embrace oatmeal, but somehow I've resisted preparing and eating it on a daily basis. I'm not a creature of routine in general, so I guess that should not be a surprise.

For the past two weeks, however, I have cooked myself a bowl of old fashioned oats every morning, and I have to say, I have become a fan - you might even say a groupie. While oatmeal is not glowy, hazy, Taylor Swift smooth, youthful, and glamorous, it does perk up nicely with the addition of some well chosen enhancement products. Just as a little collagen cream, face spackle, and matte powder freshen up my saggy, mushy exterior, oatmeal becomes pretty darn appealing when topped with an assortment of fruits, nuts and spices - instant oatmeal facelift! Here are before and after pictures of my oatmeal:

Sad old oatmeal
Oatmeal post-facelift

I bet most of you can find a way to like oatmeal if you get creative enough. You can cook it with almond or soy milk instead of water, swirl in some honey, nutella, or peanut butter, top it with granola or yogurt, or add chopped apples. strawberries, or even dark chocolate chips. My version here is cooked with a drop of vanilla extract and cinnamon and topped with some brown sugar, sliced almonds, banana and dried cranberries. I used pumpkin spice yesterday with chopped pecans and some crumbled ginger snaps. Just keep some basic ingredients on hand and have at it.

I personally like the old fashion variety of oats. They cook up in five minutes on the stovetop and have a better texture to me than the quick or instant kinds. Steel cut are also good but take longer to prepare, and that's just not doable for me. I get distracted and forget about them and end up with a pot of inedible, solid glop.

You know, I think Taylor Swift is great - both the artist and the doctor. I am secure enough in my aging skin to appreciate their youthful energy and beauty and confidently stand alongside with the wealth of experience and battle scars that come with maturity. I was there once, and they will be here one day - looking for ways to dress up their mushy, saggy oatmeal and get their cholesterol in check. We have to keep our senses of humor and perspective intact to make it happily and healthfully to the finish line.

Here's Taylor's adorable video for You Belong With Me released back in 2009 when she was 19 years old. She's a ripe old 21 now and seemingly wise for her years. May we all be so.

www.tips-fb.com

Monday, October 3, 2011

Cape Mom's Magic Mumbo Sauce

Over the summer, I opened up the local section of the Washington Post to find an article about someone I know - a fellow Caper. This has actually never happened before, loyal Post reader that I am. I paid big bucks to get my in-laws 60th wedding anniversary announcement published in the Style section, but other than that, I have never personally known a person from a Post story.

The article I came across was a lengthy one about a local DC condiment called mumbo sauce. I had never heard of such a thing, which is not surprising. Despite living in DC for two years and within thirty miles of the city for my entire adult life, I have regrettably never had the opportunity to get very familiar with DC subculture. I was too busy starting a career and then a family to stop and immerse myself more deeply in the real DC (just one of the things I would go back and tell my younger self to do).

When I say the real DC, I'm not talking the swanky, exclusive streets of Georgetown or the power brokering K Street corridor but the REAL DC - the DC where people are born and raised and live their lives. DC subculture is less touted than in other great US cities, perhaps because of the District's unrealized statehood ambitions. Also, the accelerating gentrification of the city is eating up and pushing out much of the authentic color and diversity of the local scene. Despite the growing homogeneity of the city, the rich homegrown traditions and innovative local music and arts communities persist if you know where to look.

Fellow Caper, Arsha Jones, is someone who can tell you a thing or two about the "real" DC. She is DC born and raised. I first met Arsha just after volunteering to take over the Cape St. Claire Elementary School website. As interested as I was in working with the website, I didn't know squat about web design. I learned enough from the previous webmaster to maintain the existing site, but I had no real clue what I was doing.

Arsha approached me at one of our PTO meetings and introduced herself. Her oldest was just entering kindergarten at Cape Elementary. She was an accomplished web designer by profession, and she offered to help revamp the website using up-to-date tools that were more powerful and easier to maintain. I couldn't believe my luck. Her energy and expertise had dropped right into my lap - both greatly needed and appreciated. I owe what little I have learned about blogging and website creation to her patient tutelage.

When I opened up the Post last July, I immediately recognized the name and photo of Arsha in the article about mumbo sauce. Somehow in her free time between raising three very young kids (with another on the way), working as a web designer, and blogging, she had started making, marketing, and selling her own mumbo sauce. I get dizzy just thinking about it. Her energy and entrepreneurial spirit simply amaze me. Her product is sold under the name Capital City Mumbo Sauce.


I won't retell her full story or the background of mumbo sauce here since it's told better by the actual reporter who got paid to write it in the Washington Post Article. When I finished reading it, I went straight to the computer and ordered myself a bottle of her mumbo concoction. It arrived in my mailbox soon after, and I used it that evening to smother a dish of baked chicken for dinner. My family happily licked their fingers through the meal and declared it "yummy!".

As Arsha says on her website, the flavor and consistency fall somewhere between barbeque and sweet and sour sauce. It would make a great glaze for pork chops or ribs and sets off especially well against salty flavors. While we thoroughly enjoyed it on our baked chicken, from what I understand, the true calling of Mumbo Sauce is as a coating for chicken wings or fried chicken - DC's answer to buffalo sauce.  That is what makes mumbo sauce aficionados swoon.


You know those tastes that we grow up with and are acutely linked to our memories of a place? For me, the flavors of my childhood revolve around the mexican food of the California central valley or the southern dishes of the Carolina low country. We love them because they are delicious but also in large part because of the fond attachment we have to their place in our upbringing.

Mumbo sauce is one of those flavors or even THE flavor for folks who grew up in the African American community of DC. Arsha has quickly tapped into a sentimental market of DC expatriates who are overjoyed to have access to their beloved mumbo sauce. Just take a look at the testimonials on the website to get a feel for the meaning of this sauce to people who know it and the various ways it is used.

I highly recommend getting a bottle or two or three of this sauce for yourselves. The sweetness of it might be an acquired taste for anyone who did not grow up with it, but I acquired it pretty darn fast. The vinegar and very slight bite of heat from cayenne put it over the top for me. I expect you will find myriad ways to apply it to your own favorite foods. If for no other reason, it's worth trying just to add to your database of knowledge about local cuisine, and even more importantly, to support a hard-working local Cape wife and mother of four who is enterprising enough to start a new business.

Arsha selling her Capital City Mumbo Sauce
at DC's Eastern Market in Capitol Hill

Best of luck to Arsha on this new venture! I know she's rapidly acquiring a cult following. I am feeling some mumbolicious inspiration for tonight's dinner plan myself. As I type on my now sticky computer keyboard, I am dipping Utz Party Mix into a dish of bright red Capital City Mumbo Sauce...mmmmm. www.tips-fb.com

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Cracker Jacktastic Baking Contest 2011

Some of you may recall my post from last year about our company picnic baking contest. I was in search of a winning recipe that would meet the year's theme requirements. Last year the theme was Maryland. I went with a Baltimore Bomb pie made with Berger's cookies that earned the last part of its name in my rendition.

My attempt was not particularly good, although I loved the idea of using yummy Berger's chocolate cookies as an ingredient. It was actually not what I initially planned to bake. You can read about my search for a recipe and the cake I expected to make in this previous post. The recipe did not work for me as a single cake, but I went back later and tried it as individual cakes, and they were divine.

Anyway, as it turns out, my blog post about my choice of recipe backfired on me when it caught the attention of another company employee. She was searching for a recipe idea as well, and thanks to a Google search, stumbled upon the detailed description of my contest entry. D'oh! Company intelligence had found me out!

Well, this year, I would not fall into the same trap. The picnic was this past weekend, and I kept my baking plans close to the vest as the date approached. Our picnic theme this year was baseball, and desserts for the contest had to contain Cracker Jacks and peanuts as ingredients.

This turned out to be somewhat tricky as Cracker Jacks tend to have a stale texture to begin with and when combined with standard dessert ingredients, the popcorn loses any crunch it might have once had. The caramel coating and peanuts were my main inspiration, and I decided to go with some sort of apple recipe with a Cracker Jack/peanut streusel topping.

After a few iffy test runs, I settled on a Paula Deen recipe for Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars. I am not a tremendous Paula Deen fan. I find both her and her mamma's-coat-tail-riding sons in particular to be a bit annoying and her recipes to be too rich and heavy. The woman can cook, though, and when I encountered this recipe, I was not above jumping on Paula's coat-tails right along with the Deen boys. It appeared to be the perfect one to adapt for the baking contest. I named my variation Cracker Jacktastic Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars.

Thanks to my son's soccer game, we were late for the picnic and arrived just in time to slide our dessert into home plate. The umps were on the fence about whether I was SAFE! or OUT!, but my entry was ultimately accepted. Here are pictures of this year's competition:


1st Place winner - big presentation points for
 creating the giant Cracker Jack box and prizes.

Going with the Nationals over the Orioles -
risky, but  more color coordinated.

Entry by the intelligence agent who found
me out last year. These were VERY good.
A variation on buckeyes.

My (Paula's) Cracker Jacktastic
Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars

Another variation on the cheesecake idea

2nd Place winner - baseball cake-pops

Ooey gooey Cracker Jack confection

Cracker Jack Fudge!

Cakes encased in marshmallow pillows
with crushed peanut coating. These were my
kids' favorites. Also VERY good!

In the end, my Cracker Jacktastic bars placed 3rd despite the near disqualification. Personally, on taste, I am confident that mine was better than either the 1st or 2nd place finishers. They clearly had me on creative presentation, though. You need the whole package to compete with this crowd.

Ah well, there's always next year, and I will once again be gunning for the 1st place trophy. I am not above dirty tactics either. I just might have to put out some misleading advance blog posts with false information to throw off those nosy Information Services folks... www.tips-fb.com

Sunday, September 11, 2011

If Only We Could Draw Them Back

I came across this photo while looking for a new Facebook profile picture for 9/11. It's from a blog called OBM7* / Culture. Harold would similarly draw our World Trade Towers back with his Purple Crayon...


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Friday, September 9, 2011

9/11 In the Cape


Wow, can it really be 10 years later already? This decade has flown in the blink of an eye. Many people mistakenly think of the start of a decade or century as the year ending in zeroes - 1800, 1900, 2000, etc. In fact, these blocks of ten and one hundred years begin on January 1st of the 'x1 years, meaning that the 21st century officially began on January 1st, 2001.

But the reality for Americans who witnessed the events of 9/11 is that our 21st century began on September 11th, 2001. It's the day everything changed for this country and for much of the world. It's hard to overstate the impact of that late summer day. Most of us recall the event down to the minute that we first learned of the inconceivable - that the heart of our country's economic, military, and political centers had been viciously and devastatingly attacked during peacetime by a foreign enemy for the first time ever using our own domestic jetliners.

The only thing even close to the scale and surprise of this attack in the history of our country was Pearl Harbor, and frankly, even it pales in comparison. On that infamous day, we lost the better part of the US Pacific fleet and a similarly terrible number of lives as 9/11. However, it was a naval base on a distant island that was not yet even a state, as opposed to major population centers at the heart of the Manhattan financial district and the capital of the United States in Washington DC. The attack on Pearl Harbor was directed at our military by squadrons of enemy military fighter planes. Of the 2403 people who were killed, only 68 were civilians. In contrast, the attacks of 9/11 were carried out by a dozen guys in business casual attire inconspicuously boarding domestic flights with box cutters to terrorize primarily civilians.

The scope and daring of the plan still leave me in awe. I can watch footage of the planes flying into the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon today and still not wrap my head around the mad audacity of it. I know we Americans don't like to think of anyone getting the best of us, but these guys seriously did. They saw how to hit us where it would hurt, both materially and psychologically, and they executed it with deadly and heinous effectiveness. To make matters worse, we were left with no tangible target for retaliation with the exception of Osama bin Laden, and it took the better part of this decade to find him.

While the damaged New York and Washington DC landscapes have been largely rebuilt, as a nation, we are still in many ways reeling. We are fighting two terribly expensive wars (both in dollars and lives) and as a result have lost more Americans than we did on 9/11. It doesn't seem entirely clear what our goals are or that we have made a long term difference in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Our military can't stay forever, especially in times when we are talking about the need to cut our defense budget. We can arm and finance those we consider to be the good guys, but that's what we did with Osama bin Laden once upon a time, and look where that got us.

Certainly the seeds of our current economic crisis were already planted well before 9/11, but the dubious choices made since then in the name of national and homeland security have escalated the debt problem and left us much less prepared fiscally to deal with the mess. As individuals, we were told that the best way to help our country post 9/11 was to go out and spend - fight dastardly terrorism with glorious consumerism. Many of us did just that and are now as crippled with debt as our country.

You would hope an event like 9/11 would unite a country - bring us together in our shared desire to rise above it. Instead though, politicians and the media have taken advantage of the climate of fear and uncertainty to press their own agendas instead of putting country first. A vacuum of sound, conscientious leadership has allowed opportunistic fear-mongers to encourage anger and polarization and grab what they can for themselves in the ensuing distraction. I worry that before we all wise up and snap out of it - stop being told what to think - the damage will be permanently done - may have already.

Sorry. I don't mean to be so fatalistic, but I see very little to suggest that we are a better country for having been through 9/11 together. We are bursting with potential and even wealth despite the massive national debt, but paralyzed by the inability to seek out common ground. Ideology and a my-way-or-the-highway attitude rule the day.

Maybe my grim mood is just due to the endless rain. If only the sun would come out. Then I might be able to drum up some enthusiasm for writing my congressman and asking him to pass the American Jobs Act, but oh yeah, he's a Republican (and a schmuck to boot) so he's contractually obligated to reject anything sponsored by a Democratic president.

Whoa... again my apologies. I realize those are not helpful or constructive comments. I'm just proving my own point about anger and distraction. I'm serious though, the rain, economy, politics, and 9/11 media bombardment have me in a major funk.

I set out this gray morning simply to blog about my personal 9/11 experience here in the Cape. On the morning of September 11th, 2001, I was a 35-year old Cape mother of two young kids, ages two and almost four. My husband was in Florida at the Kennedy Space Center working on a proposal for his fledgling aerospace engineering company. I was headed to the Cape dance studio for my daughter's Tuesday morning ballet class. This is the last picture I took on the morning of 9/11 before leaving for the dance studio.

My Kids In Our Last Few Pre-9/11 Moments

I heard about the plane that flew into the first tower on the radio as I drove down to the shopping center. As us moms sat in the waiting area with our younger children, we learned about the second plane and began to get a sense of the bigger scope of the attacks. When news came in on the studio radio about the Pentagon and the possibility of another hijacked plane in the air, we all started to come a little bit unhinged. New York was bad enough, but DC? Way too close for comfort.

I was in a mild panic by the time class was over, and I hustled the kids into the minivan taking just enough time to strap them into their car seats with jittery hands. I called my husband in Florida (it wasn't illegal yet to drive and talk on a cell phone - just stupid) and had barely enough signal to tell him to turn on the TV in his secluded Cape Canaveral conference room. By the time I got home, the first tower had collapsed and as I watched, shaking in disbelief and horror, the second soon followed.

Once the haze of shock began to clear a little, I realized that I desperately needed my husband to come home. I'm not a needy type, but I was fearful for the safety of me and my kids like I had never been before. The brilliant blue skies were eerily devoid of the typical commercial air traffic but buzzing with the sound of fighter jets patrolling for god knows what might still be up there.

My parents called, and also fearing for us in the DC area, suggested I drive to South Carolina with the kids. A big part of me was tempted to run to mom and dad, but the grown up part of me knew I needed to stay here until I better understood what was happening and my family was reunited. It was clear flying home from Florida was not an option for my husband, so he and a couple of his coworkers drove their rental car as far as my parents' house in SC, overnighted there with them, and then drove the rest of the way home the day after.

I can't even describe my relief at having my family together again. I hadn't slept the night of 9/11 with my kids and Great Dane tucked in my bed around me. Without my glasses on, I imagined every blurry star out my window was a commercial jet that I knew was not supposed to be in the sky. I curled up with my husband the night after that when he had returned home and cried myself to sleep - a combination of fear and sadness and the relief of not having to bear it alone.

I know we all have our own personal stories about 9/11. It was simply horrendous for each and every one of us, both as individuals and as a nation. I can't even begin to imagine the agony of those who experienced it first hand and lost their lives or the life of a loved one.

Mayor Giuliani nailed it when he gravely stated that the losses would be "more than any of us can bear". As I watch the replays on TV ramping up to the 10th anniversary, I still can't bear it. I still feel a sob catch in my throat every time I see those soaring towers burning, the wound in the mighty Pentagon, and the scar in that lonely Pennsylvania field, all connected by violence and tragedy.

The hope for my country that I clung to ten years ago is still my hope today. I hoped that she would be strong, wise, rational, and possessed of enough grace to overcome the losses of that day. I hoped for leadership that would make responsible and constructive choices for our country and her people that would honor the principles of fairness that make this country great. And I hoped for a better understanding of those who felt such anger at us that they would envision and execute such horror. They say hope springs eternal. Perhaps, but mine is wearing thin...

Wishing us all blue skies free of fear. Actually, I think I see the sun peeking out even as I write... www.tips-fb.com

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tobacco Road

Amidst all the activity surrounding the start of school, the earthquake, the hurricane and ensuing power outages, some new signs have popped up on the windows of a vacant storefront in the Cape St. Claire shopping center. I only tuned in enough for it to register a couple of days ago. The red signs which I assume announce the arrival of a new business read, "Discount Tobacco." I saw some activity in the shop yesterday, but couldn't get a peak inside.


I guess a new Cape shop is better than a vacant storefront, and in this economy, we should probably be cheering for the success of any company. I've got to say, though, that smoking products are not up there on the top of my list of things I'd like to see open up in the shopping center. I can imagine that smokes are not cheap at Graul's, Bella's, and the Shell station, but frankly, I would like to see them cost a bloody fortune - not be even more convenient and cheap for my fellow Capers.

I don't mean to rag on smokers because I know it's an incredibly tough habit to kick. I can't even quit biting my nails, and they aren't jacked up with nicotine. I smoked cigarettes for a year or so during college after a semester abroad in England (where most of my bad habits either began or were amplified). The main thing that kept me from going past the point of no return upon my return to the States was the disapproval of my good friends and future fiance and the expense of it. It was neither socially acceptable nor affordable on my post-college, sandwich-making income.

Both of my parents were smokers from their 1950s teen years through their 1970s young married life. I can remember as a five or six year-old when they were finally successful in their joint attempt to quit, about the time my Dad finished his medical school residency. They excitedly put me on the phone to my grandmother three thousand miles away to tell her that Mommy and Daddy had "kicked the habit". My Dad continued to smoke a pipe for a few years after that, but he eventually gave it up as well.

So I'm familiar with how easy it is to pick up the habit in our invincible youth and how dreadfully hard it is to quit when we wise up and start to get a sense of our mortality. It just makes me sad and a little angry when I see teenagers smoking on the corner behind the high school fondly known as "The Pit". It's so darn bad for them and is going to cost them and us in the years ahead. For the most part, laws protect the rest of us from second-hand smoke in bars, restaurants, and workplaces, but it doesn't protect us from the heartbreak of losing a loved one before their time to lung, mouth, or throat cancer.

That's why I guess I'm a little dismayed at the notion of a smoke shop opening up here in the Cape. The health food store in the shopping center was short lived but I fear a discount cigarette shop will thrive (how ironic is that). Perhaps the business will be more slanted toward fine cigars and pipe tobacco than cigarettes. Still, I would much rather have seen a pet supply store, a bakery, a seafood market, a florist (used to have one of those), a FOURTH beauty/barber shop, a craft shop, a sporting goods store, maybe a bait, tackle and boating supply shop, or dare I even dream it, a bookstore to replace Borders...

There are still several empty storefronts down at the shopping center. If any of you could open your own business down there, what would it be? What are your secret entrepreneurial dreams? What shops would you like to see somebody else open up? What do you find yourselves routinely seeking out beyond the boundaries of the Cape? Let's hope this economy finds a way out of the muck before too very long so that business throughout the Cape shopping center can thrive and grow.
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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Capeshots From the Morning After Irene









Well, our household escaped the ravages of Irene relatively unscathed. Many small limbs are down in our yard, and of course the power is out. I think the whole Cape went down at the same time based on the Facebook updates I saw.

We all hunkered down in the basement for the night with the pets and slept fitfully while the winds blew likewise. Daybreak revealed that Irene was still not quite done with us but perhaps had already done her worst.

After a quick survey of the property, my husband and I went about the work of snaking extension cords from the generator to all the necessities, first and foremost the well and coffee pot followed by the refrigerator, toaster oven and miscellaneous chargers. We bought our generator in anticipation of Isabel, and it has proved a worthy investment. We are seriously considering going with a whole house propane generator in the near future. For now, the old Briggs and Stratton is doing a fine job for us.

Once electricity was flowing, hubby, Laika, and I hopped in the truck and took a slow ride around the Cape. We didn't stay out long so as not to be in the way, and I would recommend the same to all.

While we didn't see any terrible devastation, we did find plenty of damage in the form of downed trees. A few were blocking roads or down over power lines, and some were on top of cars and houses. We also saw a good Anne Arundel County and BGE work crew presence setting about the work of clearing roads and piecing our power grid back together. Again, I would stay off the roads as much as possible to give them time and room to work.

I'm no expert, but I'm guessing days rather than hours of outage for many in the Cape. The BGE website is currently reporting 108K Anne Arundel customers without power. We will need to be patient.

Here are some of the pictures I took this AM. Everyone be careful out there and help each other out. Keep those generators away from your houses in well ventilated areas, and be smart with the extension cords. As we approach nightfall, assuming the power is still out, be careful with candles. Irene was destructive enough without adding to it with carbon monoxide poisoning, electrocutions, or fires. Stay safe Capers.

PS. I'm publishing this from my only source of Internet at the moment, my Droid. Apologies for any formatting issues. Couldn't figure out how to add captions. Those porta johns at Lake Claire may already have been bashed prior to Irene.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.5
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Friday, August 26, 2011

Go Time

Every three hours for the past two or three days, I've eagerly pulled up the latest predicted track of hurricane Irene from the National Hurricane Center website. I keep expecting the next update to be the one to verify that we are or are not going to be in the path of the worst of the storm. Each time, it creeps a hair to the east or west, and two consecutive creeps in one direction or the other have me convinced that it's a meaningful trend. I study the slightest tip or wobble of the eye to divine whether we are in for just another rainy day or the apocalypse.

The reality is that the update that tells the real story will be the one that's too late to do anything about. It will be another 12-24 hours at least before we know with certainty if and where Irene will make landfall and how that will impact her path. By that time, it's game over in terms of proper preparation.

So far, we have stocked up on groceries, flashlights, batteries and fuel. The rest of today will be spent stowing loose items in the yard (once I quit blogging...).

Provisions

Flashlights and Batteries

The boat ramp at Deep Creek had a backup yesterday afternoon, and this morning when we pulled our boat, a steady stream of trailers waited their turn. Local hardware stores are bringing in extra generators. Water bottles are starting to sell out here and there, and I've even heard of a gas station out of gas. A storm shelter has been designated at Annapolis High School. The city is handing out sand bags, and downtown parking garages are offering free parking to residents at risk from rising water. The list of preparations continues to grow.

Much of this may very well not be necessary, but we won't know until it is in fact necessary. Don't let your fear of looking overcautious keep you from taking the basic and easy precautions. The city and state are making every possible resource available, and local businesses are calling in reinforcements with respect to supplies. Better to look a little foolish now than a lot foolish later.

As for the boat we trailered this AM, it's entirely possible that it is more at risk from a falling limb in our driveway than from an unlikely worst-case tidal surge on the lift. We seriously considered leaving it down at the dock. During hurricane Isabel, though, I watched with alarm as my husband lassoed our free floating boat from an invisible pier three feet under water in the pitch power-out-darkness of night to keep it from floating away. It's not something I want to watch again.

So we've placed our bet on the wheel of falling tree and branch roulette with fingers crossed that we chose just the right spot in the driveway for the boat and cars. There is an element of guesstimation at work here, but at this point, we all still have some time to stack the odds in our favor. That time is running out, though, and today is our last best chance to tie up the loose strings.

Everyone be careful and considerate of one another as Irene approaches and in the aftermath. I honestly don't have a clue what is in store for us. If all the preparation turns out to have been unnecessary, we can be nothing but thankful. It's not like all the food I bought will go uneaten. Heck, half of it is eaten already...

PS - You know where I've always really wanted to ride out a wicked storm? Baltimore Light! How cool would it be to view it from right out in the Bay safely enclosed in a solid brick structure that's stood since 1908? I might not have as much faith in the precariously leaning Sharps Island Lighthouse or chicken-legged, wooden Thomas Point, but Baltimore Light - I would buy a ticket for that show. Although I'm not sure I'd utilize that outhouse in a hurricane or otherwise...

Baltimore Light (Daredevil Potty on the Left)

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Earthquake in the Cape!

Sooooo, how was THAT for a first day of the 2011 - 2012 school year? I thought the main drama of the day would be choosing my daughter's outfit for her first day of high school or maybe a fight in front of Cape Elementary over the new dropoff rules, but noooo, Mother Nature had to one up every bit of it with, of all things, an EARTHQUAKE.

And not an altogether insignificant earthquake, even by West Coast standards. This rumbly tumbler was a solid 5.8 on the Richter scale centered in Virginia, and it was felt all along the I-95 corridor from Georgia to New England and then some. Now that's something you don't experience every day, even this girl who grew up an hour from San Francisco. Here's the "shake map" of the event showing who felt what in our area:



I actually didn't feel the earthquake because I was on the road coming into the Cape, but my husband sent me a text from Angler's where he was picking up some fishing supplies. My son (who had not started school yet) served as textographer and read, "Did you just feel that earthquake?" to which my son transcribed, "No, but there are lots of Capers standing out in front of their houses with cell phones in hand looking really confused." Maybe that's not so out of the ordinary, but in large numbers, it was notable.

When I arrived home, my neighbor gave me the play by play of the quake. A quick tour of my house revealed evidence that we had, in fact, experienced an earthquake. These pictures of the "destruction" in my house tell the tale (with captions in case you can't make out the full scope of the devastation):

Crooked Picture

Crooked Picture

Tipsy Barbie

Toppled Book

Deodorant Strewn Off the Shelf

Unhung Mirror Knocked Over

Crooked Map of Annapolis - Kind of Apropos

OK, it wasn't the great quake of 1906, but it truly did shake things up on our typically steady peninsula. My husband's good friend who stopped by Graul's on his way to our place to buy chicken for their fishing outing arrived at the grocery store to find it closed with aisles full of boxes. In an attempt to buy another fishing prerequisite, beer, he learned from the folks at Bella's that they had miraculously only lost four bottles of bourbon (ouch) and a half dozen or so other miscellaneous bottles of booze. ("100 bottles of beer on the wall, 100 bottles of beer, earthquake them around, shake them down, 99 bottles of beer on the wall...").

In the end, it was a lot of excitement with only a very little damage for us in the Cape - a little more so for our fragile historic downtown Annapolis. Even so, it was disconcerting that cell phone communication was immediately compromised due to the high level of airwave traffic, and the roads were jammed with an equally high level of roadway traffic. Parents delayed in that traffic could neither get home to their kids nor make calls to check on them. The Anne Arundel Public School website was not up to the barrage of visits, either. Thankfully, our good Cape neighbors did their part to round up the stray kiddies until their parents could get home safely.

Here's a funny picture from a blog called Boring Pittsburgh:

WTF? Pretty Much Sums It Up

Still, all of this strikes a little fear in my heart for a truly catastrophic disaster. This serves as a good wakeup call for us to spend a little more time on those emergency cards that the schools send home. It's worth seriously thinking through how our kids should get home when we can't get to them and talking to them about what to do until we arrive. As for my household, one small measure we have taken is to install a cipher lock on one of our doors. It's provided some peace of mind knowing the kids don't rely on an easily misplaced key to get in the house.

Where cell phones were unreliable yesterday either for calls or texts, I have to say, Twitter and Facebook never lost a step. Information was flying over social media at the speed of disaster. I knew instantly via Facebook that the quake had been felt by friends and family as far south as South Carolina and as far north as Connecticut. I also learned pretty quickly that my kids were safe at school and that area schools had been evacuated but would dismiss at the usual time. This information has to be taken with a grain of salt and filtered sometimes to get to the facts, but it's an invaluable tool in fast moving situations, especially when mobile phones and websites aren't up to such heavy use.

Following the earthquake, a couple of friends on Facebook posted this article from Gawker.com about the West Coast's reaction to our "quaint" earthquake. It's very funny and makes two good points. First, while the earthquake was not catastrophic by any stretch, neither was it trivial in a location that is not conditioned to this sort of threat. I think all things considered, our levels of alert and concern were warranted.

The day-after assessment is revealing that our area did not escape unscathed. The Washington Monument sustained a crack (I will NOT be superstitious and view that as an omen...), and the Washington Cathedral lost some finials from its spires. Downtown Annapolis also saw some damage to older structures. It remains to seen what other underlying harm might have been done.

Second, I think West Coasters can't fully appreciate the immediate and intense fear that accompanies every boom, bang, and bump that those of us on the East Coast feel or hear following 9-11, particularly in the DC to NY corridor. To a person, it's the first thought that leaps to mind when things shake, rattle or rumble. While the whole country was wounded that day in 2001, I think those of us closest to it geographically experienced a particular level of trauma that is still all too fresh.

DC does not have skyscrapers, but there are plenty of buildings tall enough to have given people a real fright from the swaying and shaking triggered by the quake. Then we had the sight of people running out of federal buildings in fear that brought back vivid and fraught memories of a day that fundamentally changed those of us who watched the horror of 9-11 unfold from just down the road. I think with that as a backdrop, our reactions were justified.

So, that should be enough natural disaster excitement for one week, right? Who gets nailed with an earthquake and say, a hurricane, that close together? Well, hopefully Irene will keep turning to the right like she has with each new update of her track and leave this already shaken part of the country alone. The trend for her eventual path so far has been slowly but steadily eastward. Let's hope that continues.

Still, the track is much too close for comfort, and everyone should be thinking ahead to the possibility of very heavy rain and tropical storm force winds later in the weekend. The winds in particular can mean very high water (or very low water) depending on what part of the storm impacts the Bay. Be prepared to secure your boats or take them out of the water if necessary, and stow away any loose articles in your yards. Have your generators tuned up and get some gas to power them. Heavy rain and wind could mean power outages in the Cape and surrounding area. While we can be forgiven for our lack of earthquake preparedness, there is no excuse for not being ready to deal with a hurricane given the lead time and our wealth of experience here on the East Coast. The devil we know...

Wishing everyone a calmer day and week ahead. Thanks to everyone who did their part to keep our kids and neighbors safe yesterday. When the ground shakes, Capers rock more than ever! www.tips-fb.com