Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Prevailing Winds

This past Sunday, we finally made that trip over to Annapolis for lunch by boat. It was our first cruise down Ego Alley of the season. Even after 17 years of boating, docking is never without peril to pride and property, and the stakes are that much higher with a crowd of onlookers. Ego Alley will separate the seasoned boaters from the amateurs, and will even make fools of the seasoned ones now and again. On this day, we were pleased to score a spot on the wall and tie up without incident.

We enjoyed a lovely lunch in the outdoor courtyard at Reynold's Sly Fox Pub. Since we had Laika with us, we needed a place that was dog-friendly. Afterward, we made a stop by Kilwin's for ice cream and candy before returning to the waterfront.

When we were almost to the boat, my husband remembered that he needed a couple of items from the hardware store (when does he not?). This is not the first time Stevens Hardware has come in handy. You never know when you might need a new rockfish bottle opener, spray hose nozzle, or red, white and blue carbine clip for the planer boards. I waited outside by the door with Laika and window shopped while the boys picked up these "necessities".

While I was biding time, my eye was drawn to the shiny copper weathervanes on display just inside the door. This is not the first time they have caught my attention. In particular, the majestic great blue heron in flight had captured my fancy, and I have been secretly plotting to get one for the top of our detached garage for some time. As I gazed longingly at the heron, I noticed a bright green sale tag hanging from his beak and got a little more interested. When my husband finally emerged from the store, I handed him the leash and went to check it out.

Copper Heron

Well, the price was marked down to suit, and having a birthday approaching, I asked the nice lady if she would get one for me from the back. When she returned, she deposited a tremendous but lightweight cardboard box at my feet. I leaned out the door and asked my husband if the box would fit on the boat. He gave me the "really?" look but was a good sport and carried it across the parking lot to the boat. We got a few odd looks from the aforementioned onlookers as we hoisted it over the rail, but it fit securely in the cockpit, and we cast off from the Alley with our booty.

Great Brown Box Containing Great Blue Heron

On Tuesday, in lieu of going to watch the Blue Angels as we and the rest of the city of Annapolis had originally planned, my husband climbed atop the garage and installed my new weathervane. He carefully aligned the two directional plates using a compass, and sprayed the pivoting rod with ample WD-40 to allow the heron to readily fly head-on into the slightest breeze. I was delighted with the result. In truth, the heron might be a little oversized for our garage, but I think he looks mighty fine soaring over it. Now, I need only look out my window toward the garage to gauge the direction of the prevailing winds.

Life-sized Copper Heron Will Oxidize to Blue-Green

If only it were so easy to assess all of life's prevailing winds and know what they will blow our way. The wind that gently pivots my heron can occasionally lash out in devastating fury. Parts of our country have recently born the brunt of some of these catastrophically damaging winds. We were all heartbroken for the Tuscaloosa area among others several weeks ago when hundreds of tornadoes tore through the midsection of the nation, and then even more horrified in recent days at the 6-mile long swath of death and destruction that ripped through Joplin, MO, the deadliest single tornado in recorded US history. And the storms continue to come, spawning new funnels across the country almost daily, it seems.

The images from Tuscaloosa and Joplin are reminiscent of the tsunami-wracked areas of Japan in terms of the level of complete and utter devastation. Even with much more sophisticated forecasting tools than a weathervane, meteorologists and seismologists are still unable to accurately predict the fiercest of winds and waves. They are some of the worst that Mother Nature can exact upon us.  Click here for a remarkable and dramatic before and after graphic of the area surrounding the Joplin high school.  It's mind-blowing.

Those of us in Cape St. Claire have had our own fairly recent brush with a tornado. While the F1 that skimmed across Severna Park, Arnold, and the Cape in September of 2006 was nothing to compare with the multi-vortex F5 that hit Joplin, it left that signature path of damage and debris unique to tornadoes. It is the closest I hope ever to come to a full-blown tornado. My husband and I watched from our deck as the sky turned wild and green. When the leading edge of the storm arrived, we ducked inside for cover from the hail. I watched from a front window of the house as he watched out back.

The back is where the hovering twister's path crossed our yard. My husband saw the bottom of the suspended funnel wring the crown off our largest tree, a rock solid beech 60 feet high and two feet in diameter, just as I heard the telltale "train" sound. Although I had never heard this sound, there was no mistaking it. We simultaneously yelled for the kids to get in the basement.

This is what we found when we ventured out to assess the damage - a yard littered man-high with large branches from three topless trees. The tornado had apparently taken a right turn over our yard, sparing our favorite tree. My kids claim it was because the tree face scared it (see picture below). It's as good an explanation as any for nature's caprice. Again, this was nothing compared to the Armageddon scene in Joplin, and not even as bad as some of our Cape neighbors fared, but a big mess for 30 seconds of ferocious wind.

Debris Field

Topless Beech Tree

Looking Up the Yard

Looking Down From the House

The Tree That Turned a Tornado

Closeup - "No Tornadoes Shall Pass"

Once the shock of what had happened became reality, we went about the business of cleaning up and contemplating life without two of our oaks and our steadfast beech tree. The residents of Joplin have lost much more, but they will do the same in their own time with the help of their family, friends, state and nation. The fact is, while the prevailing winds may spin and knock us around, they don't, in fact, prevail. Human kindness and resilience do.

Reinforcements Arrive with Chainsaws

Helping Hands

I hope our new windward heron never has to stare down a tornado, but if he does, at least we will know what direction it's coming from. Sending healing thoughts to all the folks in tornado central. If you have a dime to spare toward tornado relief, I've put the link for the Red Cross donation site back on the right sidebar.  Some of you may also have relief campaigns through your work direct deposit like my husband's company. Do what you can if you can. The favor will be returned if and when it's our turn, God forbid.

Monday, May 23, 2011

No Blue Angels This Year Folks...

D'oh! Apparently a press release from the Blue Angels just came out stating that the Tues and Wed performances for the Naval Academy have been cancelled due to a problem with their show this past weekend in Lynchburg. This has forced them to stand down until they sort things out. It's still in question whether they will make the Friday flyover. Shoot! Guess we all have to go to school and work this week after all! Might I suggest an alternative?

Not quite the same, huh? Sorry gang. Hope they're safely back in the air soon.

The Blue Angels - Navy, Blue and Flying!

It's Commissioning Week at the Naval Academy, a week that those of us in Cape St. Claire look forward to almost as much as the graduating class of midshipmen. For the graduating middies, it is the culmination of four years of a college education unlike any other in the country. Our new Navy officers will move on from the hard work of training and learning here at the Academy to the hard work of serving their country. We have shared our city, and even our Cape homes as sponsor families to some of these kids. They are the pride of Annapolis, and we like to send them off in style with a heartfelt congratulations.

As host city to this fine Academy and home to a significant population of USNA alum, Annapolis and the Cape are fortunate to enjoy a few perks of proximity. Each year as the third week of May rolls around, we are treated to the thrilling roar of F/A-18 Hornets buzzing through our skies. The Blue Angels precision flying team pays us a string of visits during Commissioning Week, first during a training run on Tuesday, then for the actual precision flying demonstration on Wednesday, and finally for the graduation ceremony flyby on Friday. It is a fitting tribute to the best and brightest that the Naval Academy has to offer who will take up the important work of defending our nation.

Next year's Class of 2012 will unfortunately be deprived of this tribute as a result of some poor planning on the part of the previous Academy Superintendent which I ranted about incoherently in a prior post:

Commissioning Week Without the Blue Angels?

It appears that other than the irreversible disappointment of missing them next year, sanity has prevailed, and the Blue Angels will return to our skies in 2013. All the more reason not to miss them this year, though. I know a lot of Capers and their hooky-playing kids would have been crushed to permanently lose the yearly Blue Angels show that we've come to know and celebrate. It's an integral part of the bond our community shares with the Naval Academy.

I always find the juxtaposition of 21st century technology skimming the tops of 18th century steeples and domes to be awe inspiring. Within one field of view, a glimpse of the continuum of our country's history from our past to our present.  How did we get from the Liberty Tree to supersonic jets?

The story of the Blue Angels dates back to the mid-1940s. Following WWII, the Navy was looking for a way to showcase their air capability by creating a flight exhibition team. They needed a name for this team of pilots in blue planes (not jets at that point but Grumman F8F-1 Bearcats which were state of the art for their time). The following is an excerpt from the book: Blue Angels: 50 years of precision flight by Nicholas Veronico and Marga R. Fritze:

How the Blues Got Their Name
Let's face it, "The Flight Exhibition Team" is not a very catchy name. To find a new name, the team ran a contest throughout the training command, and (Thea) Voris described how the winner was picked:
We were getting hundreds of names back, but not one grabbed us like we wanted to be grabbed. I got a call to go up to the staff, this time to meet with the chief of staff, Capt. Bill Gentner. He asked how the name contest was coming. I told him that we were just not finding anything right yet, but that I was sure we would get something soon. Gentner told me he had one for me to consider, the Navy's "Blue Lancers." Something rung a bell:  I remembered that his son had submitted this one. I said, "Yeah, it's got a ring to it, hasn't it, Captain." He asked me to give it serious thought, and I knew what he meant.
We were going to go to New York for a show, and Wickendoll, who was my No. 2 man, was looking through the New Yorker Magazine. We were sitting having a scotch in my room at the BOQ (bachelor officers quarters), and he said, "I've got it, Boss." I asked what he meant. He was looking at a column called Goings On About Town, and the nightclubs were all listed. The Blue Angel nightclub was a big thing in its day. I think it took up a whole block. Four orchestras, eight or nine bars - it was massive. I said, "Gee, that sounds great!  The Blue Angels. Navy, blue and flying!"

With the help of the press at a subsequent airshow in Omaha, the pilots pulled an end around on Capt. Gentner, and the team became known as the Blue Angels instead of the Blue Lancers. The rest, as they say, is history (OK, that doesn't take us all the way back to the 18th century. You're on your own for that research).

Enjoy the shows wherever you are over the next couple of days. If you're driving, please try to keep your eyes on the road or pull over if you just can't resist looking out the sunroof. I've been there and nearly driven off the Severn River Bridge at the excitement of being buzzed by the Blue Angels in formation. My kids tell me Magothy River Middle is planning "field days" this week in anticipation of mass absences. Most schools in the area don't force us to come up with lame lies like "dentist appointment" anymore. They just acknowledge that a significant number of kids will be absent and even provide instructions on how to minimize the disruption to the school day with early dismissals. If you can't beat them...

Here's the link to the schedule of events for this year's Commissioning Week. Weather permitting, I expect to be on the water to see the Blue Angels on Tuesday, but I'm not sure about Wednesday. What is your favorite place to watch the show? Let me know, and feel free to send me pictures or post them on the Cape Blogger Facebook page. Congratulations to the USNA Class of 2011!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Neither Snow Nor Rain Nor - Ants?

I went out to my mailbox this afternoon to post a letter. This doesn't happen terribly often in the day and age of online bill paying, Paypal, e-mail, text messaging and Facebook. Just about any information or money that needs to get to someone can be accomplished electronically. A few exceptions force me to address an envelope, dig out a stamp, and make the trek to the old mailbox (ours is not right in front of our house but around the corner with a row of others in no particular numerical order).

When I opened my mailbox (which I haven't visited in weeks since my kids retrieve incoming mail), I was greeted with a small, seething colony of tiny black ants. UGHH! They were busily moving plump white eggs into the back corner of the mailbox. I guess the recent rain disrupted their nest and sent them looking for higher ground. It must have happened today sometime since my daughter, who typically picks up the mail on her way from the bus stop, did not fly in the door yesterday screaming hysterically about ants.

We are no strangers to ants in this house. It's the one recurring pest that we've dealt with since immediately after buying it. Just after signing our lives away on a mortgage, I discovered a swarm of winged insects along the side of the house emerging from a hole in the ground. My first panicked fear was termites. We were aware when we bought this circa 1959 Cape house that it showed signs of prior termite treatment, but the inspector saw no recent or current damage.

I grabbed one of the critters and headed for the repository of all knowledge, right and wrong - the Internet - to determine if this was a termite or an ant. It turned out to be an ant (something to do with the ratio of wing to abdomen length - more than I ever wanted to know). They swarm like termites to expand their colonies, some of them sprouting wings to boldly invade new locations.  I knew carpenter ants could be as destructive as termites, but these did not appear to be that variety. I breathed a little easier. Our new home, and biggest investment of our lives, was not being devoured by insects.

Well, we have continued to have ant problems over the years and have simply come to live with it. Economy Pest Control comes yearly to do their thing, but they are no match for the ants. Short of laying waste to our entire property with an arsenal of toxins, who is? They show up in different places in different ways, usually when the spring rains come. We had the odd fall swarm one year that managed to infiltrate our basement, but it wasn't a big swarm and just a few of them worked their way into the house. The dog food bowls are a favorite destination, and every now and again, they find their way to the kitchen. These are few and far between but always a freak-out instigator. How dare Mother Nature try to send her little minions into our pristine fortress! I suppose if it were pristine, the ants wouldn't come...

The mailbox was a new one on me. I ran back to the house and grabbed the ant spray and a towel. These were effective enough at clearing them out. I felt a moment of guilt as I watched the little guys running for their lives with their precious eggs, but I just really don't know a humane way to eradicate ants. They chose poorly when they selected my mailbox for a refuge. The mailman will probably wonder what that chemical smell is coming from it, but at least he won't encounter a nest of ants. If not for my kids' soccer camp registration only accepting checks, it would have been a different story.

What other pests do you Capers contend with (no, I don't want to hear about your annoying neighbors and kids)? I suspect termites must be out there plotting against us in the community. I see evidence of rodents chewing items we have stored in our garage, although I've never seen a mouse. I've encountered the odd roach, but nothing to compare with the numbers or sizes they see in the Deep South. Carpenter bees have bored into our deck here and there but never done enough damage to worry us. The Cape is spared from the worst of the deer population thanks to our watery borders. And then there are the stink bugs. Don't even get me started.  You can see how I feel about them in my post from last fall:

Enough With the Stink Bugs!

Ah well, if the world is really going to end tomorrow, it won't matter anyway. We will be gone, and the pests will remain behind to finally have the world to themselves. Perhaps Matthew's beatitude should have read "Blessed are the eek!:  for they shall inherit the Earth"...

"Ants" by Bob Berman, Helium poetry

Ants crawling along the wall
Like little soldiers marching off to war
Traveling one after another until they reach their destination
They are smashed
By me,
I don't like ants.

And a link to an all time great kids song about ants (careful, the music plays automatically):

The Ants go Marching

Oh, and your kids might get a kick out of this link. You can create a "lemonade" drawing on the computer screen and then "call" the ants. They invade the screen and descend on your drawing. I kind of enjoyed it myself.

UpToTen - Boowa and Kwala : Lemonade Ant Art

Share with me any other favorite ant art, songs, tales, or poetry.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Endeavour's Final Mission

"...Indeed, all the business of life is to endeavour to find out what you don't know by what you do; that's what I called 'guess what was at the other side of the hill'."   
Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington

Tribute to the Missions of the Space Shuttle Endeavour

If all continues on schedule with no additional glitches, tomorrow will see the final launch of the space shuttle Endeavour. She is the baby of the space shuttle fleet, commissioned as a replacement for Challenger which was tragically lost in 1986. This final mission will be her 25th since her maiden voyage in May of 1992 - 19 years of reliable service to her country. She was named in honor (or should I say honour?) of the HMS Endeavour, the British Royal Navy research vessel - hence the British spelling. (Confession - I have spelled this wrong in the past and one day before her final flight, I finally get it right. Better late than nevour).

Proof of the Spelling

Launch is scheduled for Monday, May 16th at 8:56 AM Eastern time from the one remaining shuttle launch pad at Cape Canaveral, 39A. The previous launch attempt on April 29th was scrubbed due to problems with an electronic unit. The folks at a blog called Sentimental Journey posted this ad from 1992, suggesting that the real reason for the delay was that NASA forgot to stock up on batteries (I'd like to note that Rayovac spelled the name wrong in their ad, as well)...

Our family was lucky enough to attend the previous shuttle launch in February - Discovery's final mission. I described the incredible experience and posted launch videos on my blog afterward: As Promised, STS-133 Launch Video. I was eager for my kids to see a launch before the fleet was retired. It was truly memorable for all of us.

The launch tomorrow and then of Atlantis over the summer will regrettably mark the end of NASA's storied manned space program. This has particular significance for those of us here in OUR Cape who have spent all or part of our careers down the road at Goddard Space Flight Center. Anyone who has worked for NASA or a NASA contractor understands the emotional attachment we all have to the space shuttle program. It's been very hard to let go.

If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend a road trip to Florida to catch that last flight of Atlantis and take in a little NASA history. There will be nothing like it anytime soon nor ever again under NASA's charge. Manned space flight will from here out be in the hands of the public sector. It will be a zoo in Cape Canaveral for tomorrow's Endeavour launch and then for Atlantis over the summer, but well worth the effort if you can get down there. If you miss the launch, you can always take a tour of the space center and pick up a surfing lesson in Cocoa Beach at Ron Jon's Surf Shop.

I will share with you the poem my son wrote for his language arts class following our trip to Florida for the previous launch. He was not thrilled with the homework assignment but found inspiration in what he had witnessed. If I had any doubt that the experience would have an impact on my kids, this showed me otherwise:

Wishing Endeavour and her crew a flawless launch tomorrow followed by a successful mission. Once she lands, she will be prepared for retirement to her new home in LA at the California Science Center. California Dreamin' for a girl who has helped us to see "what was at the other side of the hill."

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Life is Good in...the Ghetto?

I was having an after-school chat with my kids one afternoon last week about their day, and one of them mentioned that the Cape is referred to by some of their non-Cape middle school friends as "ghetto", as in, "The Cape is SO ghetto." I was taken aback at this casual comment because the word ghetto is loaded with a variety of heavy meanings and connotations, most of which my children do not even understand. How was it possible that our ordinary, happy, suburban life in the Cape could be considered "ghetto" by anyone?

I went online to look up definitions of "ghetto". Obviously the word brings to mind impoverished, crime ridden, inner city neighborhoods where violence, lawlessness, and lack of opportunity prevail. I know the Cape has its unsavory elements as evidenced by the odd drug bust, rundown home, and incidents of vandalism, but it certainly does not rise to the level of this description.

The origin of the word ghetto dates back to the 14th century when persecuted Jews were forced to live in poor conditions on the Venetian island of Getto. Of course, we are all familiar with the Jewish ghettos created centuries later by Nazis, the most infamous of which was the terrible Warsaw ghetto. Again, not the type of ghetto with which the Cape was being labeled.

No, I think the way that ghetto is being used to stereotype the Cape fits better under the definition that I found online at Urban Dictionary: "An improperly overused word that most teenagers and young adults use to describe something that is old, run down, or dirty." Not that I'm suggesting "mean kids" are going around Magothy River Middle openly degrading those they perceive to have less. The way the use of "ghetto" was described to me by my daughter was more joking than nasty, but there's still an underlying message there that I don't love.

My mind flashed back over the 18 years we've lived in the Cape to try and grasp this perception of the place we've come to know as home. I have affectionately referred to this community in the past as "redneck'lectic" to describe the somewhat eclectic vibe of the neighborhood tinted with its "local color". We have a wide socio-economic range in the Cape, and we certainly harbor a few unsavory characters across the spectrum. Some people have the means to shield themselves from such elements in gated or upscale communities. Some do not. Others weigh them against their personal comfort level and decide if the benefits of their chosen home outweigh the negatives.

The latter applies to our choice to live in the Cape. We were drawn here by the sense of community that comes with having our own quality schools in walking distance, a shopping center, post office, gas station, churches, beaches, marinas, restaurants, fire station, swim club, etc. We fell in love with the trees, non-cookie-cutter homes, quirky character, and fabulous water access. We loved it enough to choose it twice when we bought our second home in the Cape. We are not blind to the few distasteful aspects of this place, but find enough value to continue to make it our home. Everyone makes tradeoffs when they select a place to live and raise a family. We are fully satisfied with the ones we've made.

Since I know I cannot significantly alter the Cape's rap as "ghetto" for those who insist on labeling, I think instead I will own it. People who survive ghettos are marvels of resourcefulness and toughness. These are qualities I can embrace as I get in touch with my inner Cape ghetto mama. Our kids will be tougher for walking the mean, hard streets of the Cape on their way to sailing camp at lovely Lake Claire beach, to swim team practice at the Swim Club, to get an ice cream at Rita's, or to participate in the yearly Strawberry Festival parade or Elementary School 5K race. It's rough out there in the 'hood, Capers, but we're made of tenacious stuff. Don't mess with the Cape or the feared CSC Improvement Association might go all gangsta' on you. Oh, and watch out for those little Garden Club ladies. They might be packing...

Recent Cape Garden Club vandalism at the shopping center: (can nobody put an end to their reign of terror)...

*For the record, I have no idea if the Garden Club is comprised of "little ladies", and the pretty flower beds at the shopping center may not be their handiwork. I do have my suspicions that they're packing, though. Here's the link to the Cape Garden Club website with information about the "plant sale" this weekend. Don't let the pretty flower pictures fool you. They will mess you up...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Rockfish In the House!

I mentioned in my Mother's Day post that we were planning to do some family fishing on Sunday. Well, my husband and I slipped out on Friday for a scouting run to see what we could hook up. We knew the wind was going to pick up in the afternoon, so we instructed the kids to close up behind us and NOT MISS THE BUS as we headed out for the dock. It was a cool morning, but we bundled up and took coffee along to sip on the slow ride out of Deep Creek.

Heading Out of Deep Creek
Part of Our Arsenal
Resident of Deep Creek Green 3
Neighbor at Green 1

For those of you who are avid fishermen, you are painfully aware that it has been a VERY slow trophy season. When it hasn't been windy, it has been raining, and that has the Bay water stirred up as muddy as we've seen it. The deep shipping lane looks fairly normal blue/green, but the water color changes dramatically and suddenly to mocha as soon as you hit the edge of the channel where the depth decreases. Of course, that is where rockfish like to hang out - along that dropoff - and the theory is that the water is so murky, they just aren't seeing the lures. There's also the possibility that the population has taken a hit from all the illegal gill nets set by poachers that have recently been recovered with thousands of dead rockfish ensnared. The chatter on the VHF radio Friday made several references to what parts of those poachers' bodies should be used to string them up (trophy season VHF conversations are entertaining but not family listening material...).

Not to be deterred, we put out our full spread of 14 poles, affectionately called "the porcupine". In order to pull 14, we use two planer boards with four or five fishing lines each. Planer boards are a testament to the determination of fishermen to optimize their chances for a catch. I won't go into the details or physics of planer boards, but they effectively extend the beam of your boat by 10 yards in both directions allowing you to troll with more fishing poles. I would like to meet the person who came up with the idea for these makeshift/poor-man's outriggers. It's the kind of thing Ben Franklin would have invented if he were a waterman. Our boards are decorated with logos from each of our alma maters - one Virginia Tech and one Duke. We keep a tally each season of the number of catches on each set of boards.

Hokie Planer Board

After trolling just across the Bay from Annapolis for an hour or so, we managed to stumble across a nice rockfish who took a fancy to one of our lures and hung on for the ride. He was a nice fat 33 inch fellow (could have been a lady, I suppose) who ended up being our one fish for the day (caught on the Duke planer board, I might add, 1-0 Duke). We did not complain. We heard many reports over the radio of boats heading in empty handed. One lady came on to announce that she just put a 46-incher in the box - her Mother's Day present. She received hearty but somewhat begrudging congratulations from the other fishermen. One guy answered that he had a 50-incher that got off the hook at the boat. Yeah, right...

Our Catch

We trolled for another hour or two, but by 1 PM, the wind that we knew was coming was upon us, and it was time to bring in the lines. My husband was hungry for a second fish, but I knew the one we had would feed us for two or three meals. We don't like to freeze fresh rockfish. If it's been frozen, what's the point of going out to catch it? We bundled up for the bumpy ride home and handed the Bay over to the blow boaters who thought the change in conditions was just fine.

Sailboat With His Main Reefed
Surely Named for Cape St. Claire

As it happens, we did not get out again on Mother's Day. We enjoyed our lazy Sunday morning too much and instead, hit Sports Authority to outfit the four of us in trail runners/hiking tennis shoes for our Grand Canyon trip coming up when school is out. I've been eager to get them so we can break them in. We grabbed Mother's Day lunch at a sushi place in Bowie, and headed home to get ready for the obligatory Mother's Day soccer game.

We ended up with three good rockfish meals courtesy of our 33-inch haul on Friday. We enjoyed our first on Saturday for lunch - Rockfish Benedict. It's traditional Eggs Benedict but instead of Canadian Bacon, we substitute Maryland Rockfish, seasoned with salt and pepper and sauteed in a little olive oil.  Heavenly!

Rockfish Benedict

OK, that's not our Rockfish Benedict. We ate ours too fast to get a picture! But it looked very similar. The dead giveaways are the pretty sprinkling of parsley and orange garnish - not happening in this house. Saturday night, it was grilled rockfish marinated in lime, cilantro and olive oil along with mint juleps for the Kentucky Derby. And finally, tonight, the kids' favorite - rocko tacos. Rockfish until we bust (or start exhibiting signs of mercury poisoning).

What kind of luck have you all had this trophy season? Send me pictures of your best catches ( or post on the Cape Blogger Facebook page. What are your favorite ways to prepare rockfish? I'd love to hear your best recipes. Hope you all had a nice Mother's Day.  To close out this mother of a day, here is my family's favorite Mommy Power song that the kids serenaded me with on the drive home from lunch today - Shaggy's Strength of a Woman. They know it's my favorite:

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Mother of All Days

Here it comes! That loaded day of the year anticipated by mothers throughout the land... and dreaded by their husbands and children. Yes, if you are a complete recluse and it has caught you unawares, or just a big old procrastinator, it's time to start panicking. Mother's Day weekend is upon us. You will have to pull out your A-game to get something good together by Sunday. Your options are to wow her with a big ticket item, or do the hard work and come up with something touching and thoughtful. The clock is ticking...

Perhaps dread is a little strong, but it's certainly a daunting challenge to distill the love and devotion we feel for our mothers into one single day of appreciation. Can cards and a flower sum up our affection? A day at the spa?  Breakfast in bed? Dinner and a movie? All of these are nice choices that would score solid points in my book. Some Moms like to be showered with affection on their day while others prefer a day of peace and solitude - a "me" day. When my kids were little and perpetually underfoot, the idea of even a half day to myself was pure nirvana. Now that they are beginning to assert their independence and find reasons NOT to be around me, I'm more needy of their attention on my day.

For those with kids in pre-school and elementary school, you can always count on a sweet keepsake on that front. I have an assortment of handprint paintings, bouquets of flowers made from traced hands and feet, shadow silhouettes, personalized plates, bronzed baby shoes (OK, they're really old tiny Keds tennis shoes painted gold, but crazy cute). The list goes on and on. I've got to hand it to the teachers at Anchors-A-Wee and Cape Elementary for some very touching mementos that the kids were always proud to bring home.

Well, those days are behind us in this household. Middle school teachers understandably have no time for stroking Mom, so the kids are on their own to show us the love. Luckily for mine, I have no grand expectations for Mother's Day. If they produce a card and treat me to one less eye roll and a decrease in the bickering on Sunday, I will be satisfied. Plus, they are covered by their Dad who always comes through with a dynamite Mother's Day (which is all terrific in May, but come June and Father's Day, the pressure is on to return the gesture...).

Actually, I think the plan shaping up for this Sunday is our first family day out on the water for the year. If weather permits, we will take the boat out to do a little trolling for rockfish and then head into Annapolis/Ego Alley for lunch - a perfect Mother's Day outing in my estimation - one that traps my children within reach for a few hours. If they misbehave or drive me insane, I can always dump them overboard...

Wishing all you Cape Moms a lovely day on Sunday. You have certainly earned it. What do all of you have planned? What is your idea of the perfect way to spend Mother's Day? What's the best Mother's Day gift you ever received? What's the worst? Any classic Mother's Day disasters to share (I'm recalling one year when I was a child with my brother going to the emergency room for stitches - surely a winner for my Mom).

Speaking of my Mom, a quick shout out to Millie George, who continues to set the standard by which I measure myself each and every day. I have matched her on some fronts, but I will never equal the full body of work or make it look as effortless as she did and does. Love you, Mom!

Mom and me (think the tub is a pea-shelling pan).

Here are a few quotes I dug up (well, cut and pasted) about mothers and motherhood - my gift to you.  Send me any others that resonate.

A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie.  ~Tenneva Jordan

A suburban mother's role is to deliver children obstetrically once, and by car forever after.  ~Peter De Vries

The moment a child is born, the mother is also born.  She never existed before.  The woman existed, but the mother, never.  A mother is something absolutely new.  ~Rajneesh

A man loves his sweetheart the most, his wife the best, but his mother the longest.  ~Irish Proverb

Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children, and no theories.  ~John Wilmot

It kills you to see them grow up.  But I guess it would kill you quicker if they didn't.  ~Barbara Kingsolver

On Mother's Day I have written a poem for you.  In the interest of poetic economy and truth, I have succeeded in concentrating my deepest feelings and beliefs into two perfectly crafted lines:  You're my mother, I would have no other!  ~Forest Houtenschil

Mothers are fonder than fathers of their children because they are more certain they are their own.  ~Aristotle

Sing out loud in the car even, or especially, if it embarrasses your children.  ~Marilyn Penland

There is only one pretty child in the world, and every mother has it.  ~Chinese Proverb

Your responsibility as a parent is not as great as you might imagine.  You need not supply the world with the next conqueror of disease or major motion-picture star.  If your child simply grows up to be someone who does not use the word "collectible" as a noun, you can consider yourself an unqualified success.  ~Fran Lebowitz

I want my children to have all the things I couldn't afford. Then I want to move in with them.  ~Phyllis Diller

My mother never saw the irony in calling me a son-of-a-bitch.  ~Jack Nicholson

Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away.  ~Dinah Craik

Monday, May 2, 2011

Ding Dong, The Witch is Dead

My son and I travelled to New York City this past weekend with the Magothy River Middle School orchestra, band, and chorus. I've made the school trip twice before with my daughter. Last year we saw Phantom of the Opera and Mary Poppins and paid a visit to the Statue of Liberty and a recording studio. This year, I was thrilled to learn that we would be seeing Wicked on Broadway and also get a tour of Radio City Music Hall, Top of the Rock (the Rockefeller Center observation deck on the 67th floor), and the 9/11 Memorial. A trip to New York is always exciting, and I was happy to chaperone.

I read the book Wicked by Gregory Maguire several years ago, and thoroughly enjoyed the twist on L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, one of my favorite childhood books and movies. Wicked is a dark and clever prequel to the Oz tale from the perspective of the Witch of the West. The retelling details the making of a villain - the complexity of the underlying person and political, personal, and social events that shape both her and her image. It also highlights how the legend and reputation of this person are molded by those who would demonize her for her contrary views. In the show, the audience and her closest friends on stage appreciate the person she truly is, but the rest of the Land of Oz simply know her as the detestable, evil Wicked Witch of the West.

When her death and that of her sister from the East come at the hands of a young girl from Kansas (first in a tornado-lofted house and then with a bucket of water), the Ozians gather to celebrate and sing. In the Wizard of Oz, the Munchkins sing "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" when the first sister is killed and in Wicked, the song is, "No One Mourns the Wicked" at the demise of the westerly witch. They know and care nothing of the green woman in the funny black hat or the nasty lady in the sparkling slippers who terrorizes them from atop a flying broomstick. They are simply glad that their long nightmare has come to an end.

So after seeing Wicked on Saturday and then hearing the news on Sunday night that Osama bin Laden, our own Wicked Witch of the Middle East, had at long last been killed, the first thing that popped into my head was, "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead." Unlike the character in the musical, bin Laden was truly a very bad guy responsible for thousands of deaths, and his death is incredibly welcome news and long overdue. This charismatic leader of al Qaeda who has been ruthlessly terrorizing our land for decades was dead at the hands of our fine Navy Seals, and as people around the country learned the news of his demise, much like the people of Oz, they flocked to the gates of the White House in DC and to Ground Zero in New York to cheer in celebration and rejoice in song. It was a spontaneous outpouring of joy that our arch nemesis was at last no more.

It's a testament to how raw the pain of 9/11 remains in our national soul that almost 10 years later, the death of the man behind it could trigger such spontaneous and intense emotion. I experienced the staying power of that pain myself this weekend as Henry and I viewed the 9/11 history on display near the footprint of the World Trade Center and the new Freedom Tower that is rising from the site. As I viewed the outlines of the old towers, I was suddenly struck out of nowhere by a heavy wave of grief that brought tears to my eyes for an instant. It's still right there under the surface even for someone who did not suffer the direct loss of a loved one. All of us Americans who witnessed it are permanently imprinted with the images and wounded by the horror of that terrible day.

Freedom Tower Rising

Plans for World Trade Center Site

Somehow though, last night I did not have exactly the same initial reaction to the news as the chanting revelers, though I don't begrudge them their festive expression. Perhaps because the events of 9/11 were especially fresh in my mind after visiting Ground Zero on Saturday, I was personally overcome anew by the news with an overwhelming sense of sadness that this man ever came into existence - that this villain was created. Events and powerful people unwittingly helped shape and empower the vicious criminal that he would become. I guess for me, my feelings of rejoicing and relief were tempered with a need for reflection. While we are right to celebrate, we also should strive to understand what fed into the creation of this terrible villain and keep it in mind as we navigate the events of the Arab Spring that continue to unfold.

Will the death of this man put an end to al Qaeda and snuff out terrorism? Of course not. None of us is naive enough to believe that. Osama bin Laden's power and influence have been greatly reduced in recent years, and being on the run (well, holed up in a mansion - way to inspire your followers, Osama), he was not the al Qaeda mover and shaker that he was prior to 9/11. In addition, the events that have unfolded in the region during the Arab Spring have repudiated everything that bin Laden espoused - hatred of Western ideas and forms of government. The protests in the squares and streets of Egypt, Yemen, Lybia, Syria, Tunisia, etc. have been fueled by young Arab people demanding democracy and freedom from oppression in the name of any ideology. They have no use for al Qaeda and its leaders. Bin Laden is just one more corrupt Arab leader responsible for the deaths of thousands to go down with the Arab awakening.

Still, even though he may not have wielded the power on the ground that he once did, it is important to our national psyche that this villain has been snuffed out, melted, deposited in the ocean depths to dissolve in water. The word closure is overused, but that's exactly what the death of this man provides for our country. Closure is that point following upset or tragedy where loose ends are tied up and it becomes more possible to release the unproductive, incapacitating grief and start to move forward with a healthier outlook. I am hopeful that between the stunning uprisings of the Arab Spring and the justice finally exacted on Osama bin Laden that perhaps we have a shot at a new beginning in our relationship with the Middle East - a chance to start fresh and maybe recapture the spirit of unity that in our shock, anger and despair, we squandered following 9/11.

Everyone enjoy this national day of celebration and breathe a sign of relief. It truly does feel like a 10-year nightmare has come to a close. We are right to rejoice, but thoughtful work remains to deter the forces of hate and oppression. Maybe at last we can really get down to it. Ding Dong the Witch is Dead! Now we need to expose those worthless, showboating Wizards posing as leaders behind the curtain...

From Wicked, some of the lyrics to No One Mourns the Wicked:

Good news! She's dead!
The Witch of the West is dead!
The wickedest witch there ever was
The enemy of all of us here in Oz
Is Dead!
Good news!
Good news!

Let us be glad
Let us be grateful
Let us rejoicify that goodness could subdue
The wicked workings of you-know-who
Isn't it nice to know
That good will conquer evil?

No one mourns the Wicked
No one cries "They won't return!"
No one lays a lily on their grave
The good man scorns the Wicked!
Through their lives, our children learn
What we miss, when we misbehave...

And Goodness knows
The Wicked's lives are lonely
Goodness knows
The Wicked die alone
It just shows when you're Wicked
You're left only
On your own

Yes, Goodness knows
The Wicked's lives are lonely
Goodness knows
The Wicked cry alone
Nothing grows for the Wicked
They reap only
What they've sown