Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Wedding is Coming, the Wedding is Coming!

We Americans may have fought a bloody war to free ourselves from the rule of a sovereign, but clearly our fascination with British royalty lingers over 200 years later. Many of us can't resist the temptation to keep up with the comings and goings of the British monarchy. Perhaps it's our inner Tories responding to the crown and scepter all these years later. Or maybe it's just our celebrity crazed culture that can't resist a spectacle regardless of social class. Thankfully, the Today show and CNN didn't go on location weeks in advance of a Khardashian or Spears/Federline nuptial...

Anticipation of Kate and William's wedding has reached a fever pitch as the big day has approached, and thank goodness it is finally upon us. I don't know how much more I can take. As eager as I am to view the event, the buildup has been excruciating. I don't need to hear one more tidbit about Kate's fashion sense or William's bald spot. All I REALLY care about is the dress. Big props to the royal secret keepers for making Kate's wedding day attire the best kept secret of the century. Even Wikileaks hasn't released it...

I was 15 when Charles and Diana were married back in 1981. We lived in California, so it was an all-nighter to see the wedding live. I sat alone in front of our TV in the family room in my robe (house robe, not royal robe - I pretended) and watched every moment of the pomp and fanfare. I was enthralled by the billows and billows of cream silk taffeta that poured out of the glass carriage resulting in puff sleeves that would have sent Anne Shirley into fits of delight and a 25-foot train that followed Diana down the aisle of St. Paul's Cathedral. The wrinkles that horrified stylists when she emerged from the carriage magically disappeared as the ceremony began (fairy godmother must have tended to that). The dress looks dated and frumpy and almost childlike now, but it set the standard for every other wedding dress for the next decade until the minimalism of the 90s took over followed by the monotonous straplessness of the 2000s. I'm fairly certain that Diana's bouquet is responsible for the mammoth floral arrangement that I carried down the aisle in 1993 (my arms were numb by the end of the ceremony...)

I think even then as a 15-year old, I was aware of what a poor match Charles and Diana were. He has never been terribly likable and not at all dashing, and Shy Di was, well, shy, and seemingly fragile. I remember feeling a bit of an "ick" factor about the age difference and wondering what she could possibly see in him (OK, future King of England...). I hoped that maybe there was some underlying affection that would be sufficient to make a successful marriage.

Well, we all know how that fairytale ended, but what did come of it was a couple of what appear to be terrific boys. William in particular seems to have inherited his mother's greatest assets - her easy, warm, winning personality and good looks minus the doe-eyed vulnerability and lack of self-confidence (he did get the Windsor bald spot and rather big teeth, but he's still easier on the eyes than his Dad). I think the royal family got what they hoped for out of Diana - a worthy heir and spare. For all the drama that Diana brought to the royal scene, I don't think there's any denying that she was a wonderful mother, and her boys are her greatest legacy (followed by her charity/AIDS work and of course, that dress...).

So I have higher hopes for the couple that will walk down the aisle of Westminster Abbey tomorrow morning. I certainly don't have any firsthand knowledge of these two or a crystal ball, but they both seem well suited, comfortable in their own skin, and sincerely fond of one another. And as far as I've heard, there's no Camilla on the sidelines to put a wrench in things (I'm also looking forward to seeing what SHE will wear - she has donned some dooseys!  Thank goodness she is the step-mother, and she and Charles never had children together...).

Yes, I will be up to watch this royal wedding as I was almost 30 years ago, but this time I'm on East Coast, Cape St. Claire time so I can get some sleep and set an alarm. And this time, I won't be alone. My 13-year old daughter is as keen to get a first glimpse of the dress as I am (we watch way too much Say Yes to the Dress). We all know what the men will have on - military uniforms and morning suits - but I don't have the faintest clue what to expect for Kate. White? Cream? (my guess is white). Fitted? Full?(hoping for long, lean and flowing without being skin tight or a marshmallow). Hair up or down? (I'm thinking back but not up). We will all know tomorrow morning when the wedding of the century thus far gets underway. Since this dress is likely to impact wedding dress trends possibly until my daughter gets married, God, please don't let it be strapless...

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Opening Day and a Murder of Fish Crows

Striped Bass - locally known as Rockfish

The month of April is marked by several significant events. One is tax day. We were granted three extra days this year, so it falls on Monday, April 18th. I finished mine yesterday for good measure - just in case the government was pulling one over on us - late April fool's. Then there's Easter, which moves around to make life interesting, and this year is very late - not until next week. Finally, and frankly most significantly of all in this household, is Opening Day for Trophy Rockfish season. It is just about as sacred a day as any in my husband's book, and usually, we are all mobilized, out of the house, and on the water before dawn seeking out stripers.

This year, however, my husband has work obligations that are keeping him in the office as opposed to on the Bay, and he is none too happy about it. The only consolation for him is that a wicked storm is bearing down on the area that will make trolling for rockfish a colossal pain (not that we wish that on the other fishermen/women out there, - just makes him feel better that he can't be out). I saw my neighbor head out early, and another friend put his boat in at the community ramp late last night and left it at our dock so he could get a start before daybreak. My husband is living vicariously through them.

Despite being at work, my husband texted me at 9 AM to report that it was already blowing 16 at Thomas Point and would be 25 - 30 by 11 AM. At 10 AM, he updated me that it was gusting up to 40. He's been out in worse, but it doesn't make for a fun day - better than being in the office, but a workout. Looks like the best bet today was to get out and back early before it got snotty (to use my husband's jargon). I hope all of you who braved it stayed safe, found some fish, kept what you could, and gently released what you couldn't so we can catch them another day. For those who are waiting for fairer seas and skies tomorrow, good luck to you. Send photos of your biggest, loveliest rockfish to:
and I will post them on the blog photo page and on the Cape Blogger Facebook page - or you can post them there yourself. If you're so inclined, feel free to share where you caught them and what you were pulling. My husband would be much obliged...

As for the murder of crows, I posted a while back about a flock of what looked like crows in my yard (A Murder of Crows!). I'm still not entirely sure what they were, but they were too small for American Crows. This morning, I heard a ruckus outside and went to investigate. I spied a small flock of large black birds in a tree at the end of our yard. They had a very distinct call that I did not recognize as the typical caw'ing of crows, but they certainly looked like crows - bigger than the ones I saw earlier in the year, but still not the size of American Crows. Here is a video of the cacophony:

I came back inside and pulled out my new favorite toy - my bird call book. It has pictures of birds and recordings of all of their calls. I flipped to the section about crows and started playing the calls of any that inhabit this part of the country. When I got to the Fish Crow, I knew I had my bird. And how appropriate for Opening Day! Even the birds know that fishing season is underway! Here's the Audubon Society's picture of a Fish Crow.

Audubon Society Drawing of Fish Crow

I was not familiar with the Fish Crow although I'm sure they've been frequenting my yard for more years than I've been here. Now that I know their call, I won't mistake them again. It's very distinct. Here's a video of the picture in my book along with the recorded call:

What do you think? Fish Crow? Sounds right to me. The book says they are smaller than the American Crow with a different voice. Also a good fit.

Here's hoping all you fisherfolk and fish crows found what you were looking for today in the nasty weather. I think perhaps we were spared the worst of what is passing through the deep south in the way of tornadoes and thunderstorms, although I'm hearing some loud rumbles now. Any of you with boats at the marinas, the water is pretty high - skimming the tops of the piers. My parents in South Carolina report VERY strong winds down their way, and they have cleared out the closet under the stairs of their civil war era farmhouse to ride out anything rough. It has good bones and should protect them from whatever comes their way. They weren't sure if the dog would fit.  I told them to take a deep breath and squeeze him in. Otherwise Rocky might end up in Oz...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Peeps as Art/Expression

In my past couple of posts, I've made reference to my somewhat unhealthy obsession with Peeps, the ubiquitous seasonal marshmallow treat. This is a condition that presented itself in my adult life. I never knew Peeps as a child. I'm not sure if that was a function of geography (did they have Peeps in California in the 70s? - real ones - not drug induced psychedelic rainbows of chicks and bunnies) or if my parents simply were not attuned to them. I can't recall ever seeing a Peep until my late twenties. They simply weren't on my radar for the first 20+ years of my life.

Then I met my husband and joined the Roberts family, and the Roberts know Peeps. Some of my earliest and happiest encounters with my husband's family were Easter gatherings at his parents' house. His mother always had dishes full of Easter candy, and one of them was always a colorful jar of Peeps. Anyone who knows something about Peeps knows that there are two schools of thought about how they taste best - fresh and squishy or aged and firm (i.e. stale - this is the complete opposite of our human forms - firm when we're young and squishy when we're old). The preference must not be altogether genetic because the Roberts family has a healthy mix of both. The lid of the Peeps jar would be alternately left off or on during the day to either preserve the soft texture or speed up the aging process depending on who was last to reach for one.

My Peep obsession is not unhealthy by virtue of eating them, however. I don't. I have never liked marshmallow (unless toasted and melty on the end of a stick or roasted and placed between two graham crackers with a piece of a Hershey's chocolate). So Peeps have never appealed to me as food. I'm not sure they really even constitute "food" (closer to styrofoam packaging material), but the bright colors and simplicity of form have always been irresistible to me, and over the years, I have become a true Peeps groupie to rival any member of the Roberts family. I would venture to say my devotion to Peeps has surpassed all of them.

When the little neon critters start showing up in stores in the spring, it's all I can do not to fill my shopping cart with every conceivable shape and color. Pink, blue, yellow, green, orange, purple, red, chicks, bunnies, eggs... It's mind blowing. And even more appealing than the look of them is the FEEL of them when they're fresh. The slightly sandpapery but smooth texture of the sugar that contains the improbable squishiness of the marshmallow. (Mr. Whipple and I share a fetish - his for Charmin and mine for Peeps...). Last but not least, they set a standard for simplicity of form that is unparalleled.

The purist in me is most fond of the yellow chicks and pink bunnies. Yellow and pink were the original colors, along with white, in the early part of the 20th century when it took 27 hours for Sam Born (patriarch of the Just Born company - even the name is adorable) to make just one marshmallow chick. The pink and yellow perfectly echo the spring colors in my yard - the yellow forsythia and the pink weeping cherry and camellia. These are the two colors most often found in Peep novelties. I have yellow chick and pink bunny light strings and refrigerator magnets. Lenox even does a Peeps series of collectible figurines. I have the salt and pepper shakers. I haven't gone so far as to buy the Swarovski crystal Peep, and I can't imagine I would (unless they make it in color instead of clear. Then perhaps...). Here are my two latest, favorite Peeps things - my mousepad and T-shirt...

And here are some really cute ideas for ways to use Peeps in baking. I might actually be able to handle a Peeps S'more...

Of course, marshmallow Peeps these days come in a rainbow of colors, most bright or pastel, but I've seen red ones and heard tell of sinister black ones (a murder of Peeps?). It's this palette of repetitive brilliant color that must have given someone the idea to use Peeps as an artistic medium. Several years ago, I saw a feature in the Washington Post announcing the winners of a Peeps diorama contest. Our family was enthralled by the level of artistic expression and floored by the potential (this was at the peak of my kids' elementary school diorama project involvement, so the art form appealed on many levels). I decreed that WE would enter this contest the following year.

As February approached the next year, we started gathering our supplies (I say we, but this was purely my obsession. The kids just went with it and my husband tried to ignore it). I gave into that old urge and filled my cart with every imaginable color and shape of Peep. The kids and I all chose our subject and went to work on our best Peep creations. We lived for weeks in a haze of neon peep dust and sneezed in technicolor. I don't even want to think about the effect inhaled Peep sugar might have on our respiratory systems down the road.

In the end, we had four entries for the contest - two for me and one for each of the kids. Here they are in all their sugary glory:

Henry's "One Giant Peep for Mankind"
Christy's "Peepacle on the Hudson"
Kathryn's "America's Next Top Peep"
Christy's "Goodnight Peep"

So you're thinking, "Surely one of you won, right?" Well, as it turns out, the year we made our entry, the Post received over 1000 entries for the contest. That made me feel better until I took a look at the top five finalists and got a bitter taste in my mouth. Here is one of those top five:

2009 Peeps Diorama Contest Finalist

I know, I know! How is this possible!? They got me on execution maybe, but I don't think it captures the event NEARLY as well as mine. Serious sour grapes on my part. But as if that were not bad enough, here is one of the five finalists from last year (a year AFTER my entry):

2010 Peeps Diorama Contest Finalist

OK, I'm sorry, but I was truly robbed on this one. Once again, they might have me on execution, but come on, Peeps boxes for furniture had to be worth some points, and my idea and entry for this diorama came a full year earlier! Clearly I haven't recovered from the injustice. It still gets me worked up thinking about it. My only explanation is that with over 1000 entries, they just overlooked mine. Maybe one day I will let it go...

So my Peeps artistic spirit may have been a little crushed by my contest experience, but I'm still a huge fan of the event, and today is the big day when this year's winners will be announced. Keep an eye out for it in today's Washington Post - either online or in print. Maybe it will inspire you to enter next year or just create your own Peep art for fun. They had some cool framed Peep art on the wall at the Peeps and Company store at National Harbor. My son really wanted one, but they were selling for over $100!  I told him his Mommy is a pretty decent Peep artist in her own right, and I could make him one for a fraction of the cost. Having seen me in the throes of Peep art madness before, he replied, "Nevermind".

As I was writing this, the winners of this year's contest were posted. Aaaghhh, the excitement! Here is the link:

2011 Washington Post Peeps Diorama Contest Results

I have to go now. Peeps out!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Peeps, Pups, Passports, and Politics - Part 2

It's Monday, and here we are on the other side of the federal budget showdown with the government still up and running. Congress got there kicking and screaming Friday night with minutes to spare. I don't think many of them were willing to take the rap for withholding government services and paychecks from Americans during an economic downturn. Our feckless leaders, against every fiber of their petty, partisan beings, managed to pull a compromise out of their collective rear ends at the last second (I want to use another F word here, but it would be unbecoming and not fit for print, and feckless is actually a great word to describe Congress of late: 1. Lacking in efficiency or vitality. 2. Unthinking and irresponsible. - I think the first is a pretty apt description of the Democrats, and the second could apply to a particular sect of the Republican party, but you could interchange them and it would still work).

So when exactly did compromise become a dirty word? We work tirelessly to teach our toddlers the value of sharing and working together, but the example Congress is setting for our young people flies in the face of those lessons. When did our leaders and much of our population become a bunch of 2-year olds with an all or nothing mentality - mine mine mine - my way or the highway? The lame Democrats pouted and procrastinated about the budget and the manic Tea Partiers threw a Planned Parenthood tantrum - infantile, self-concerned behavior from the people we depend on to govern. I guess maybe it's fallout from the "me" generation, but seriously folks, we need to get it together and rediscover the art and grace of compromise. While as Americans, we value our right to be individuals, we also as Americans have a contract with one another to act in each other's best interest. Compromise is our most powerful tool for interacting effectively and ensuring that everyone's collective needs are best met. When we cease to value opposing perspectives and approaches and insist on viewing the world through a narrow, stubborn, selfish lens, we set ourselves on a course toward our demise.

I am grateful to the Republicans, and yes the Tea Party, for forcing this budget issue and insisting that we get serious about reigning in our spending. It demonstrates why we need both parties, and others, at the table. Having said that, the cuts need to be made in as fair a way as possible across the board. If our representatives start stubbornly cherry picking budget items or shielding fat cat contributors to suit or advance their own partisan agendas or campaigns, this will not go well, and we will all pay a price for it. If they get serious about being fair and working out mutually digestible compromises - spread the pain as much as possible - we will all be better for it. I know, I'm getting delusional now...

OK, I am DONE with the politics part of my title. I will wind it up by sharing this picture of my daughter and her new passport that arrived on Thursday - just in advance of the possible shutdown - so we had our bases covered in case Congress crashed and burned on Friday. I commented in a Facebook post that while the middle finger is unintentional, it is apropos. Take that, Congress.

As for the Peeps, they too were held hostage to the possible shutdown of the government. I decided to take advantage of a light soccer schedule this weekend and planned an excursion to DC for me and the kids. Our first stop was to be a pilgrimage to the Peeps and Company store at National Harbor. I will wax poetic about Peeps in a later post, but suffice it to say that we are Peeps crazy in this household, and we've been eager to check out this Peeps mecca for some time. It's a bit of a drive just to shop for Peeps paraphernalia, so we decided to tack on a visit to the Smithsonian in DC - ah, here comes the roundabout Peeps tie-in to the government shut down. Bear with me...

My son recently asked if he could use some of his allowance money to adopt an orphaned elephant through the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. This is a remarkable organization run be a remarkable woman, Dame Daphne Sheldrick, in Kenya. They take in orphaned baby elephants and nurture them until they are ready to return to the wild. Henry browsed the photos and stories of elephants online and was drawn to Dida, a four-year old female elephant, who was rescued as a baby from a sewage drain. After dealing with Laika chewing up Kathryn's passport last week, an elephant lovingly cared for by others in Kenya was the kind of pet I could handle.


Then last week, I heard an interview on NPR with Daphne Sheldrick and a movie director discussing a new 3-D IMAX film called Born to be Wild about the Sheldrick center and a similar foundation in Borneo that raises and releases orphaned orangutans. The movie was opening this past weekend at the National Museum of Natural History's Johnson IMAX Theater. I thought the kids would enjoy seeing this film about Dida's refuge, so I went online and purchased tickets for a Saturday show. The plan was to hit the Peep store early and then head into DC by Metro (bus and rail) to avoid the Cherry Festival Parade parking fiasco.

Well, of course, until midnight on Friday, this plan was in jeopardy as the Smithsonian would have been closed, but thanks to Congress hammering out a COMPROMISE, our adventure was salvaged, and it was a fun time indeed. The movie was terrific, if a little too short to suit me. I could have watched those wonderful elephants and orangutans and their generous caretakers on and on. If you have opportunity to get down to DC, it's worth the price of admission (free for the museum of course, but $9 for the IMAX movie).

I'm not a fan of crowds, and that's exactly what we encountered at the Smithsonian on Saturday, but as we picked our way through the hordes of families, both American and foreign, waiting to see Marie Antoinette's diamond earrings or a mammoth or T-rex, I couldn't help but be happy that all these people's plans, like ours, had not been ruined by the pettiness of politics. I was especially appreciative and proud of the wonderful services and enriching opportunities our federal government provides with our tax dollars, and I am hopeful that when the axe really comes down, that it will be wielded with as much wisdom and fairness and maturity and consideration of the nation's, and all her peep's, wellbeing as possible.

Some of the things we saw on Saturday because the government was open:

Natural History Museum Rotunda
Sikh Khalsa Day Parade
Easter Island Dude
Quiet Museum Stairwell
Some Prehistoric Water Creature
Hope Diamond
Peeps Mecca

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Peeps, Pups, Passports, and Politics

Long time no post! I ran out of steam and inspiration in the past few weeks. I've also been preoccupied with an onslaught of my kids' spring activities combined with a case of home improvement spring fever. My todo list just seems to get longer and longer as I struggle to keep up with the change of pace from sleepy winter to frenzied spring. Don't get me wrong, I'm delighted to see the warmer and longer days. I'm just trying to keep up with mother nature.

So, let's see how the alliterative elements of my post title relate to the craziness of the past week of my life (thanks to my sixth grader for reminding me what alliteration means). I will start with Pups and Passports. A couple of months ago, I renewed my kids passports. They were originally issued for a Disney cruise we took many years ago and had expired. My daughter needs hers for an eighth grade French class trip to Quebec in mid-May, so I decided to go ahead and get them both reissued. I was way ahead of the game and had the new passports in hand by early March.

On Monday of this week, I left the dogs closed in the office when I went out to run errands because I was expecting our cleaning service. I took a quick look around to make sure nothing was in easy reach of Laika, the 1-year old Aussie. I noticed a stack of papers to be filed which included all four of our passports and slid them to the back edge of the table with a box in front of them. Without a second thought, I closed the dogs in and headed out to tend to some business.

When I returned, I went to let the dogs out and did a quick survey of the room. Nothing looked terribly awry, but I did notice a paper on the floor which turned out to be my son's birth certificate. It was in that stack of papers - part of the passport application process that I had not yet refiled. The certificate was not damaged in any way, but it was a clue that Laika had gotten into my stack and prompted me to look further. Upon closer inspection, I noticed a second item on the floor which was in decidedly worse condition than the birth certificate, and I immediately recognized it as the remains of a passport. CRAP!

I lunged for the chewed up blue booklet mouthing a prayer to whoever cared that it was not Kathryn's.  I opened to the remains of the first page to see the tooth-marked photo of my daughter glaring at me with disgust. You must be kidding. Of the four passports to choose from in a two inch pile of paperwork, my dog decides to destroy the one I need in four weeks. It took every ounce of restraint in my body not to kick the goofy ball of fur straight to Canada - passport or no. (The gazillion dollar investment in her hips over the winter also factored into my flash mental weighing of the pros and cons of punting her).

As acceptance of the destruction sunk in, I switched gears to figuring out a solution. Hmmm, new passport needed in four weeks with my husband out of town (both parents must be present to apply for a minor's passport or a notarized document from the absent parent must be provided). As if that were not complicated enough, add the prospect of an indefinite government shut down beginning this Friday, and things really started to get iffy.

I ran to Google for an answer, and started to get a handle on what would be required to have a new passport in hand before the end of the week.  I was not going to trust the fate of my daughter's trip to the hands of Congress. My faith in their ability to keep the government running was/is thin at best. My husband and I were relative newlyweds during the last shutdown in 1995, and both of our jobs were impacted - his as a NASA employee and mine as an onsite NASA contractor. We sat home for three unpaid weeks in December wondering how we would make our mortgage payment and get our failing heat pump fixed. That one lasted 21 days. A similar shutdown this time, while not entirely likely, would potentially doom our chances of getting a new passport.

I won't drag out the gory details any further except to say that 36 hours of e-mails, phone calls, notaries, documents, post offices, Fedexes, passport photos, early dismissals, fees, and a 16-hour-round-trip-flight-from-Florida later, we have a new passport on the way. Again, if I had any confidence in Washington DC's ability to keep this country running beyond Friday, I would have had other options, but I wanted that passport in hand before the country grinds to a halt.

So that covers Pups, Passports and Politics. How do the Peeps fit in? I'll save that for Part 2. My devotion to Peeps could make me even more long-winded than usual (not to worry, the title for the next post will still work as an alliteration thanks to the P in Part)...