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Confessions of an Un-Runner

Cyndi Paxton Johnson

Back to School Brings Challenges, Blessings and Gratitude!

by Cyndi Paxton Johnson

Every mom has the picture of her baby's first day of school. Proud and nervous he stands in his shiny new clothes with his shiny new backpack. Some pictures tell a slightly different story. Here's MY picture of my daughters' first day of school ever!

No new clothes or backpacks, they wouldn't let me drive them to school but shrugged off my hugs and trudged up the country lane to their bus stop. My big girls!! 

Ok, they ARE in Junior High. But it was STILL their FIRST day of school - ever. We've always homeschooled - and liked the lifestyle and the flexibility it afforded us.  We homeschooled for many reasons, including the ability to tailor the educational experience to the child. Well, and the fact that I would have made a HORRIBLE public-school parent. 

Me: "Why are you teaching fractions to a child who can't yet add?"

      "Why did you give her an "A" on this paper? She's mixed up their/there and has no subject-verb agreement on that last sentence."

       "No, we're not going to cancel our plans this weekend so she can draw a picture of a turkey. That's not a good use of her time."

Trust me - the teachers would have put out a contract on me in no time. I would have seriously flunked out. 

So....why are 2/3 of my kids now attending school? They wanted to go. One was more interested than the other, but after a tour and some serious grilling of the assistant principal they both decided to try the school adventure. 

So far - they like it! I'm even enjoying it. When one of them was writing a composition and couldn't whine and complain to me to get out of it - I was downright giddy. (ok - she was happy about that, too. Apparently I'm WAY too critical of her writing. Whatever.)

Make Your Life a ROCKIN' Reality Show!

by Cyndi Paxton Johnson

We all know fear - and change - is part of life. Yada yada yada.  It’s easy to say the words – but it’s harder to walk the walk.  Doing something new is terrifying! Your heart rate increases, you wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat and wonder if you’re doing the right thing. It’s hard to think of anything else, since your entire body goes into that “fight or flight” scenario – preparing for action.

But we need this shake-up, this rush of adrenaline, this pure terror.  Without it, we stagnate – lose interest in moving forward – and resign ourselves to watching yet another reality tv show – watching others risk all without ever leaving the safety of our easy chair.

Why else would reality shows be so overwhelmingly popular? All the drama without ever having to risk anything, ourselves. 

But let’s face it, folks – Our lives ARE a reality show!  Every day we face choices that will determine what direction our lives will take.  We even have an audience watching our performance – our family, friends, even neighbors.  Our very own fan club, cheering us along!

…so I thought the GPS was supposed to keep me from wandering around in circles?

by Cyndi Paxton Johnson

I like maps.  I like planning my route, calculating the best routes, rest stops and note worthy attractions.  I like leaving a congested highway and making my way on back roads, with only the most basic of maps to keep me heading in the chosen direction.  I’m famous for my “shortcuts” – and most of them involve dirt roads.  Reading maps has given me an innate sense of direction (note: unless I’m in DC, then all bets are off).  I can be on a dirt road surrounded by cornfields – and simply “know” which direction leads to home. 

As a map connoisseur, I rejected the GPS with the conviction a Coke Classic lover showed for New Coke.  I snickered over stories of hapless individuals driving into walls or off of bridges while following their electronic masters.  Really? A little common sense, please! You see? This is what happens when we rely on electronics instead of our brains, people!

Pride goeth before a fall. And mine fell when I landed a training contract that required me to drive all around two states, making dozens of stops along the way.  I started with my maps, of course. It took HOURS  to plot my route.  I eventually succumbed and bought a highly rated GPS – and I was on my way!

I took to my new GPS toy the way a dieter takes to dessert buffet.  It was so easy! All I had to do was follow Lola’s (yup, Lola!) rather annoying insistent vocal commands – and I magically arrived at my desired destination! So easy!  I’ll admit to feeling frustrated by her determination to keep me on the major intersections – I much prefer short cuts and back roads.  And so, I would deliberately turn OFF Lola’s preferred path – and when she got too vocal in her objections – I shut her off.  I think everyone should come with an OFF button – don’t you?

Plumbers, Mechanics and More. Oh Joy.

It's been one of those weeks. Everything in my life is making odd noises: the minivan, the pump, the children. (ok, the children's noises may have been due to the sheer number of kids involved.) Nonetheless, having to deal with a plumber AND a mechanic in the same day left me feeling quite sorry for myself (and my wallet).

Because we believe in small businesses we tend to call the little guys: the solo plumber, the small repair shop, etc. They're not always as effecient as larger organizations - and I've spent a bit of time tracking down the mechanic, trying to get an estimate for the work. (because if it turns out to be triple what I'm expecting, I'm going to need to get some xanax from my doctor. It's best to be prepared!)

Yup, I've worried about the cost of all this manual labor. Plus parts. Did you know the silly 20 gallon pump tank costs $158 from a plumbing supply house? It's an empty tank, for crying out loud! {sigh}

HEAT: The Unexpected Dangers

by Cyndi Paxton Johnson
As the mercury rises and we brace ourselves for yet ANOTHER stretch of nasty weather - it's time to ask ourselves..."Was all that hairspray of the 60's and 70's REALLY worth it???" 

We all know the standard dangers of extreme heat - heat stroke, heart attacks, etc. (yada yada yada) - but for me, the dangers of heat are MUCH more, well, dangerous!

1. CRANKINESS - both my own - and other peoples'. Let's face it- if you really want to see my head explode this is a great time to push my buttons. (and I'd prefer to be cranky ALONE - so the rest of you crank-heads go bother someone else.)

2. Reduced work performance.  Now is NOT a good time to need the services of those requiring fine motor skills. Avoid neurosurgery, piano concerts and hairdressers. (trust me on this last one - OIY!!!)

…and so they dragged me, kicking and screaming, into the digital age

by Cyndi Paxton Johnson

I used to be cool. Really! I was active on WOW (the pre-AOL chat room) before most folks ever heard of the internet.  I was cutting edge – for a non-techie. I even had a column in the now defunct online  Cecil County Magazine.  And, no thanks to my now husband, I had a computer WITH a hard drive!  (my first computer had only two floppies because – and I quote my wonderful techie husband – “No one would ever need an entire 20mb of space!” In his defense – it was a LONG time ago!)

And yet, despite my advanced beginnings – I am now a technological wash-out.  I own NO Apple products.  I FINALLY got a GPS last Christmas –and like it. And, most importantly from a Book Slut point of view – I FINALLY have a Kindle.

We have ONE Kindle in our household – and we’re constantly fighting over it.  Because of this – there’s an eclectic combination of digital books for our perusing pleasure.  I’ve finally found some Facebook folks that keep me current on FREE and low-cost ebooks:  BookGorilla, Pixel of Ink, Readers of Kindle Books, etc – and I’m stocking up

Additionally, there are plenty of business books that we’re perusing – which keep us motivated and growing! I LOVE taking ONE of my entire libraries with me wherever I go – it makes waiting MUCH less frustrating! (still love the thousands of books in our home – but digital sure weighs less!)

 

I don’t know how we survived without our Kindle for so long – something about loving the feel of a real book in my hands.  You get over it. Trust me. 

Maybe one day I’ll have an i-pod! 

Endangered Childhood: Growing Up Shouldn't be Dangerous!

by Cyndi Paxton Johnson

broken bike by ~droplet86I can't turn around without finding yet another example of endangered childhood - online or in my own community. It's reaching epidemic proportions - and I'm terrified of what will become of these once innocent children. I've been insulated by the homeschooling community and the parenting blogs that were my lifeline - though they made me feel like a bad mom for not buying natural peanut butter and not getting my brood to eat sprouts. But my gang's finishing their first year in public school (and loving it), and I've gotten to know a lot of kids who have more to deal with than JIF peanut butter. 

There's the teenage boy who was kept confined in his sparse bedroom and allowed to do nothing outside of watching his spoiled little sister. Or the sisters who are tossed between homes like a volleyball, occasionally landing back with their abusive mother. Or the girl who witnessed a fatal shooting in her home - by her father. 

Childhood shouldn't be this traumatic.

Stinkin’ Bugs!

by Cyndi Paxton Johnson

We’re under attack. The infinite numbers of aliens are breeding rapidly, and they’re infiltrating our homes, our businesses and our very lives.  There is no simple solution, as they are resistant to chemical warfare  - and seem too plentiful for physical combat.

I speak, of course, of the dreaded Stink Bugs – the 2011 equivalent to biblical swarms of locusts.  They’re eating crops, damaging the economy – and in general, annoying the stink out of us!

The question, of course, is what to do about them.  Apparently the FIRST thing to do is make sure there are NO cracks or crevices which allow stinkbugs to enter your home.  Great, just great.  Let me take the next 10 years off and try to find all the leaky spots in my drafty home.   Ok, assuming the stinky creature WILL find a way into my abode – what can I do about them???

My first line of defense to any problem – ignoring it – does NOT work. Trust me.  And, although exterminators are advertising a chemical solution (including one poor slob dressed in a stink bug costume on a busy (sunny) Elkton intersection in 95 degree heat), it seems that their solutions are only temporary – and primarily based on keeping the bugs from entering your home for a few weeks. I’m a bit past that – they’re already inside! (at least I’ve never eaten a stink bug – I’m told that’s a bit beyond nasty!)

Five Steps to take this Summer that will Transform Your Life!

There's no more putting it off - Summer is upon us. Tis the season for surf, sand and family time - and we've earned every minute of it! But this summer, let's also concentrate on US - and our dreams! Here are five things to do this summer that will change our lives!

1. DREAM - What are your dreams and lifetime goals? Do you even know? NOW is the time to dream big. What do you need to accomplish so, when you look back over your life, you see a life well-lived? Write down as many as you can; things to do, to see, to become, to learn. Then go back and circle the top five that you start working on NOW!

Now that you know what you want, visualize your world as if these things were already accomplished. See the details of your day, and feel the joy and satisfaction of knowing you have accomplished these things. Do this EVERY SINGLE DAY. 

2. BIG ROCKS - Remember the story of putting rocks, pebbles, sand and water into jar? You have to put the big rocks in first, or the smaller stuff will fill up your days and you'll never accomplish the really important things. We all have a million little things that we need to do each day - but we need to make sure the important, dream building stuff gets done, too. 

Look over you dreams list. For each goal write down the steps you need to take to make your dream a reality. These are the "Big Rocks". Every day list 3-5 action steps (in different categories) - and make them the priority for your day. Break down large, involved steps into more managable actions. You'll still have the daily stuff to do - but just knowing that THESE are your priorities will super-charge your journey toward your dreams!

Beware of Allstate Motor Club - and their salespeople!

Things that annoy me:

  1.  telemarketers
  2.  liars
  3.  manipulators
  4.  shady business practices

Put them all together and you get my recent experience with Allstate Motor Club. I usually don't even answer the phone when I know it's a solicitor. But we have Allstate Insurance, and I really didn't pay attention to the words following Allstate on the Caller ID. They're counting on that. 

So I made the mistake of answering my phone, and immediately realized this was NOT my insurance agent calling with a question. Instead the salesperson immediately began reading from the script, talking fast and apparently not pausing for extraneous things - like air. Sometimes I let them finish their spiel, but I was busy with sick children and doctors and after a couple of minutes I interrupted to say, "No, thank you."  They immediately talked more, going into Spiel #2 without hesitation. Again, I interrupted. "No, thank you." Then I hung up.

That was my second mistake.

Country Canning Corner

Abundance: the inner peace that abounds when we gaze at our overflowing gardens and our stocked pantries and freezers. Canning is simple - we can all learn to preserve and savor nature's bounty!

James R. Coffey

It’s Time to Can Soup and Chili

by J.R. Coffey

It is hard to believe another canning season will soon be over.  This is the best time of year to can soups to have for the Winter ahead.  Hunters will soon be going out and I have included directions on how to can beef or venison.  All of these make for quick meals.  Just heat and serve.  You also do not have to worry if the power goes off and losing your food.  I will give you some general information for all of the recipes that will follow:

General Directions for Soups

1). I prefer to make my broth or stock the day before.  This allows you to skim off the excess fat and discard it or use it for soap.  Some fat should be left in, but too much will prevent jars from sealing.

2). Prepare all vegetables just as you would to cook.  Peel and chop or dice every vegetables.  String and cut or break green beans, shell limas or peas, cut corn off of cob etc.  Some of this can be done the day before and items refrigerated to finish the next day.  Soup spoils easily so work with help or in amounts you can do quickly.

3). Leave 1” headspace in all jars.  Clean jar rims and seal.  Failure to clean jar rims can result in seal failure.

In a Cucumber Pickle

By James R. Coffey

I hope everyone had a good Winter and Spring season.  It is hard to believe another canning season has arrived.  It seems like everyone at some time has a glut of cucumbers and the recipes that follow are some of my favorite ways to preserve them.

Bread and Butter Pickle

This is a recipe I have won a Blue Ribbon on at Cecil County Fair.

3 pounds medium size cucumbers

2 large white onions, sliced
½ large red pepper, washed, seeded and choppe
2 T. canning salt
1 ¼ C. cider vinegar
1 ¼ C. sugar
1 ½ t. mustard seed
1 t. turmeric
1/8 t. ground cloves

Wash cucumbers and cut off and discard a thin slice from each end.  Slice cucumbers as thin as possible, either by hand or use a food processor.  Layer cucumbers, onions, peppers and salt in a bowl.  Let stand for 1 hour.  Drain vegetables and rinse in cold water.  Combine vinegar, sugar and spices in large kettle and bring to a boil.  Add vegetables and heat, but do not boil.  Remove from heat.  Pack pickles into clean jars, leaving ½ “ headspace.  Wipe jar rims.  Seal.Process 5 minutes in a boiling water bath.Makes 4 pts.

Let’s Can Apples

by JR Coffey

The smell of cooking apples seem to say Fall.  It is that smell and taste that we want to capture in the canning jar.  I believe Fall is one of the busiest times in regard to canning and preserving.  Many fruits are in during the Fall season, including grapes, apples, pears, plums and figs.  Let’s get started canning! 

The varieties of apples are endless.  I prefer Golden Delicious to can for Baking, Ginger Gold for Apple Chutney, Winesaps, Grimes Golden or my favorite Northern Spy for applesauce and apple butter.  The early apples such as Summer Rambo and Transparent are good for sauce and cooking as well.  I use the same apples for pies as for sauce.

Apples for Baking

1 gallon apples, peeled and quartered

1 C. sugar

1 t. Fruit Fresh

Mix sugar and fruit fresh and sprinkle over apples.  Cover and let stand overnight.  Next morning, pack apples into clean jars, leaving ¾” headspace.  Add hot water to juice left in container and dissolve sugar and divide liquid among the jars.  Add more water to fill jars to within ¾” headspace.  Wipe jar rims, seal and process (cold pack) 5 to 10 minutes in boiling water bath.  Do half gallon jars 15 minutes.  Do not process too long or they will turn to sauce instead.  Golden Delicious are excellent canned this way.

A slight variation is to use 2 to 3 pounds sugar for a 5 gallon container of prepared apples.  To serve, put your apples in a casserole dish.  Sprinkle with about ¼ C. brown sugar and dot with about 1 or 2 T. butter.  Bake at 300 degrees for 45 to 60 minute.

Apple Pie Filling

Please see Peach column for my pie filling to can recipe.  Just add 1 T. ground cinnamon per double batch of glaze for each ½ bushel of apples.  This will can 14 to 16 quarts each time.  You could add some apple pie spice (1 to 2 t.) instead of or in addition to the cinnamon.  Some also like about a teaspoon of vanilla as well in apple pie filling.

Let’s Can Tomatoes

by James R. Coffey

It is hard to believe August is here and Fall is around the corner.  Hopefully everyone is stocking their canning shelves with food for the coming Winter season.  This article will deal with several ways to preserve tomatoes by canning, juices, soup and sauces.  I am hearing that tomatoes are very plentiful so let’s start canning them.  Several sources for canning supplies are your local Walmart, Good’s Store in Quarryville, PA. And also Byler’s Store in Dover, DE.  Check at also local hardware and also within your bulk food stores if you are near an Amish/Mennonite community.

Plain Solid Pack Tomatoes

Peel, core and remove hard green spots.  Leave whole, halve or quarter.  Pack tightly into clean jars, pressing down so juice will cover them.  Leave 1” headspace.  Add NO water! Add 1 t. canning salt to a quart or ½ t. canning salt to a pint.  Add also ½ t. citric acid to each quart or ¼ t. citric acid to a pint. If you do not have citric acid use: 2 T. Realemon juice to a quart or 1 T. Realemon juice to a pint.  You may add also ½-1 t. sugar if you desire as well.  Do not omit either the citric acid or the lemon juice in any canned tomato recipe.  Wipe jar rims, seal and process by one of the methods below:

Hot Water Bath: Pints: 20 minutes; Quarts and Half Gallons: 30 minutes.

Pressure Canner: Pints and Quarts: 15 minutes at 5 pounds pressure or 10 minutes at 10 pounds pressure.  Half Gallons should be fine for the same time.

The USDA recommends all raw packed tomatoes be processed 85 minutes in the boiling water bath.  This is overkill in my opinion and results in mush.  My time follows the old recommendations and that in other areas of the United States.  Be sure not to can a low acid tomatoes.  I always use a high acid type to can.  For easy peeling, wash tomatoes and drop in boiling water.  Leave ½ minutes.  Remove and put in cold water.  Leave about 30 seconds and the skins will slip off.  I like mine still warm to peel quick. For all raw packed cold tomatoes, I have cold water in my canner and I do not time it until the water is at a rolling boil.  For all hot packed jars, use hot water.  If you forget, you will have broken jars either way.

Let's Can Peaches II

Recipes by James R Coffey

Peach Pie Filling

4 to 6 quarts prepared fruit, as for canning

2 C. Clear Jell (Check at Amish Bulk Food Stores or on line)

2 C. cold water

7 C. sugar

1 t. canning salt

6 C. water

Mix clear jell and 2 C. cold water until smooth.  Combine the sugar, salt and remaining  6 C. water and  bring to a boil.  Add clear jell mixture and cook until thick and clear.  Add fruit.  Fill jars, leaving 1 to 1 ½ inches of headspace.  Wipe jar rims, seal and process by one of the methods given below:

Water Bath (pints and quarts): 30 minutes

Pressure Canner: (pints and quarts): 10 minutes at 5 pounds pressure.

I only can Fruit Pie Fillings in my pressure canner as I feel it makes mush of fruit otherwise.  I use this for Peaches, Apples (add 1 to 2 t. cinnamon), Blueberries, Cherries (can add red coloring and a little almond flavoring, if desired), Blackberry, Apricot and other berries.

Let’s Get Peachy! Canning Peaches Volume 1

by James R. Coffey

It is hard to believe, but fresh peaches are starting to show up in markets and probably will be early due to all of the warm weather we have had here this year.  My next several articles will be on preserving peaches in several different ways.  I hope to do one on tomatoes as well as we approach August and September.  Some of my favorite varieties are Red Haven, Sun High, Loring, and Elberta.  I would say my absolute favorite is Red Haven.  I call them “If-y Stone Peaches!”.  The reason is sometimes they are freestone and sometimes they want to cling to the stone and they have to be cut off, but no other compares for flavor and the ability not to darken. 

There are several methods of preserving peaches.  I prefer canning them.  Freezing is easy as well.  Just peel, pit, slice and sprinkle a little sugar on them and add a little Fruit Fresh according to package directions and freeze.  Red Haven will really keep their color.  You can also grind them, add the Fruit Fresh and freeze in recipe amounts for jams, cakes and other uses.

Canning is my absolute favorite way to preserve fresh peaches.  Peaches are also high in acid and need a very short processing time as compared to low acid food.  It should be one of the first can items for a novice.  Peaches can be canned and sweetened several different ways.  I will give all that I know as well as how to use agave nectar as well.

How to Can Peaches

Peel, cut in half, and remove pits.  Save peeling and pits later for making jelly.  This is why I do not like to scald the peaches and I feel it makes them slimy and harder to peel.  Pack peaches, raw, cavity side down into clean jars, leaving 1 inch headspace.  Follow directions below as to how to sweeten and finish:

Direct Sugar Method: Add ¼ to ½ C. granulated sugar to each quart.  Some adds up to 2/3 C., but I feel the lesser amount is better.  Fill jar to the neck with cold water.  (This is about 1 inch headspace and is for all methods).  For pint jars, use half of these amounts of sugar.

Recipes for Strawberry Jam, Frozen Strawberries, Strawberry Lemonade, Strawberry Rhubarb Freezer Jam and More

by JR Coffey, author of Country Canning and Country Canning II

Preserved Strawberries 1
Cap, wash and weight strawberries. For every pound of strawberries, use one pound of sugar. It is best to cook one quart at a time. Combine berries and sugar. Let stand
several hours, then bring to a boil and cook for 20 minutes. Skim as needed. Remove from fire and plump overnight. Pour hot preserves in a shallow pan and allow to cool.
Shake pan occasionally. Cover with plastic wrap when cool. This makes the strawberries plump up and absorb the syrup. Next morning, pack cold preserves into jars.
Wipe jar rims, seal and process at 180 to 190 for 20 to 25 minutes. Do not allow water to boil or berries will shrink considerably.


Preserved Strawberries 2
Use firm, ripe whole berries. Scald 2 full heaping quarts, leaving them in boiling water 2
minutes. Drain and add 4C. sugar. Boil 2 minutes, counting the time after the entire
contents of pan are bubbling. Remove from fire and after bubbling has stopped, add 2
more C. sugar. Boil 5 minutes. Pour into shallow pans so preserves are not over 1 12"
deep. Let stand overnight. Cover with plastic wrap when cool. Shake the shallow pan
frequently so berries will plump and absorb the syrup. Can as directed in Recipe 1.
Makes 5 to 6 half pints.

How to Can Asparagus

by James R. Coffey

Enjoy Spring Asparagus throughout the year! More recipes are available from my two books, Country Canning and Country Canning II.

Remove scales from stalks and wash. Cut in jar length pieces. You can process cut asparagus pieces separately. Do not can the tough bottom part of the spear. Pack jar, add salt and water to fill jar. One most vegetables and meats I use 1/2 t. canning salt to each pint or 1 t. canning salt to each quart. Wipe jar rims, seal and process by one of the methods below:


Water Bath: 2 1/2 hours (pints and quarts)
Pressure Canner: pints: 25 minutes; quarts: 35 minutes at 10 to 11 pounds pressure Some do pints 2 hours, quarts 3 hours in water bath or pints 30 minutes, quarts 40 minutes in a pressure canner. Both methods work and keep well.

Pickled Asparagus by the Jar (Dill Type)
Remove tough ends and scales. Wash asparagus. Prepare jars and lids. It will take 1 to 2 pounds of asparagus for each jar. Use pints or quarts. Cut asparagus to fit jar. Leave 1" headspace. To each jar, add as directed below:

Canning Blackberries and Corn and Beans - Oh My!

By James R. Coffey

My! How fast Summer is flying by and how quickly the busy part of canning and freezing are fast under way. I have had request for blackberry recipes and I will add several vegetables that are in season as well.

In this post – Canning:

Blackberry Jelly,  Jam, & Blackberry Preserves!

Green Beans     Sweet Corn

If you need instructions on HOW to can, refer to earlier blog posts!

Making Bread Spreads Using Commercial Pectin - Multiple Recipes!

by James R. Coffey
Spring is the time to make delicious, easy fruit spreads that will preserve the flavor of spring all year! First, I'll teach you how to make your own spreads - then share many fantastic recipes! This column includes recipes for Cranberry Apple Jelly, Pomegranate Jelly, Dandelion Jelly, Rhubarb Jelly, Raspberry Rhubarb Jam, Blueberry Rhubarb Jam and More!

General Directions For Making Bread Spreads Using Commercial Pectin

Wash and rinse jars (this can be done using a dishwasher). Prepare canning lids according to manufacturer’s directions. Measure sugar and set aside for later use. This is where the two pectin methods now change.

Dad's Shore Life

John's PictureJohn's PictureI'm a lot of things, husband, son, business person, web site guy, photographer, wanna-be artist....the list just goes on; but the mostly, I'm dad.

John K. Johnson

Evening Contrails

Contrails at SunsetContrails at SunsetWe were heading to Cambridge to hear our friend Anne Watts and Boister play their latest CD live, when we got a feast for our eyes.

Life in a Jar -- Irena Sendler

It's time for another look at the email inbox, this time I found one of those emails that sounded to good to be real.  This had to be a made up story, just to get get people to forward it.  Turns out that reality was actually better (worse?) than the email.

I will not go into details, but I will encourage you to follow the links below and read more about this remarkable woman from the old world and the remarkable young women from the new world that gave a story life.

Here is the email, I have inserted dates/corrections in parenthesis to correct the context of the email:

Irena Sendler


There recently (May, 2008) was a death of a 98 year-old lady named Irena. During WWII, Irena, got permission to work in the Warsaw Ghetto, as a Plumbing/Sewer (actually she worked for the health department) specialist. She had an 'ulterior motive' ... She KNEW what the Nazi's plans were for the Jews, (being Polish.) Irena smuggled infants out in the bottom of the tool box she carried, and she carried in the back of her truck a burlap sack, (for larger kids..) She also had a dog in the back that she trained to bark when the Nazi soldiers let her in and out of the ghetto. The soldiers of course wanted nothing to do with the dog and the barking covered the kids/infants noises.. During her time of doing this, she managed to smuggle out and save 2500 kids/infants. She was caught, and the Nazi's broke both her legs, arms and beat her severely. Irena kept a record of the names of all the kids she smuggled out and kept them in a glass jar, buried under a tree in her back yard. After the war, she tried to locate any parents that may have survived it and reunited the family. Most had been gassed. Those kids she helped got placed into foster family homes or adopted.

The Spoiled Under-30 Crowd!

by John K. Johnson

We all have one (or more) friends who send us every stupid email in the world; every dumb joke, every cause - real or not, every outrage (again, real or not).  Most of us delete 99% of these emails and get on with our lives.  Me, I tend to read them, scream at them, research them and send them back to the original sender with the results of my research telling them just how WRONG the email was.

However, every once in a while, you get one that is worth your time, you read it, you enjoy it, you share it with your significant other, or forward it to you email list - or you post it on your website!

THE SPOILED UNDER-30 CROWD!!!

 When I was a kid, adults used to bore me to tears with their tedious diatribes about how hard things were. When they were growing up; what with walking Twenty-five miles to school every morning....

 Uphill... Barefoot... BOTH ways ...Yadda, yadda, yadda

And I remember promising myself that when I grew up, there was no way in &*^% I was going to lay a bunch of crap like that on my kids about how hard I had it and how easy they've got it!
 
But now that... I'm over the ripe old age of thirty, I can't help but look around and notice the youth of today.  You've got it so easy! I mean, compared to my childhood, you live in a $#^% Utopia!

There's a ???? ???? in the Toilet!

You just know that can't be good.

I'm just sitting there, minding my own business, and I hear the sound that makes every parent freeze in their tracks. At least, one of my kids is screaming with that voice; it's the voice that says "There is arterial gushing from my neck region", or "She touched me". I struggle to make out the content of the scream through the door that is separating us.

"There is ???? ______ in ???? upstairs toilet." Oh yeah, I wanted to hear that. Maybe I can pretend to be asleep?

Chickens are tough!

One Tough ChickenOne Tough ChickenIt has started getting cold here on the shore. (Not as cold as Tok, Alaska, -78F last I heard) It has been getting down into the 20s at night and, of course, we are concerned for the newest members of our family.

This is our first winter with chickens and I have been having nightmares about getting up one morning and finding 8 chicken-sicles hanging upside down from the perch in their chicken coop. Guess what, chickens are a lot tougher than they appear.

Discover Space to Live In

Tips on organizing your home


by Debbie Bowden

Organize Your Day - Make a List

Feeling “list-”less?

by Debbie Bowden   Organize Now

I love, I mean really love, lists. To do lists, grocery lists, project lists. There is just something so satisfying about writing down what I need to do or buy, and then crossing it off.

The other day, I attempted to not make a listof the household chores I wanted to get done. I thought, “I can do this. I’ll just keep everything in my head and mentally click it off when done.” Admittedly, I was still making a list, only not writing it down. It was tough to get through the day’s work! I’d get something done and not feel the visceral satisfaction of pen to paper in crossing it off a written list. I felt as though I would forget to do a chore or do it out of order. I was a mess, but I did get through the day.

At the end of the day, I found that I got more satisfaction at completing the chore, I guess because my focus wasn’t on the list. I also found that I didn’t feel rushed to get things done with the only goal in mind of crossing it off the list.

All of this gave me insight into what my organizing clients probably feel -- that slight sense of panic, the burden of an outside force causing stress, and helplessness. It pains me to think of anyone feeling that way about her surroundings. I’m glad that I am available to help.

Basements – the underbelly of disorganization

by Debbie Bowden   Organize Now

If you are fortunate enough to have a basement (with the low ground of the Eastern Shore, some of us don’t have that extra space) you probably store a lot of stuff there. A LOT of stuff. It is easy for the sub-home space to be cluttered because you don’t see it everyday (or more importantly, your mother-in-law doesn’t see it!)

Basement organizing offers a special challenge because most of the items in the basement were put there to get out of the way of your living space. Therefore, it is especially important when you tackle a basement that you be in the frame of mind to purge.

It is easier to organize the basement in areas – it makes it less likely you will become overwhelmed. Divide the basement into quadrants, either literally or figuratively. Go through each organizing step – gather, sort, categorize, and distribute, in that quadrant. Give extra attention to the categorizing step. This is where you decide whether to keep an item, throw it away, donate to charity, or save it for a yard sale. Be mindful of the axiom, “if I haven’t used it in a year, then I don’t need it.”

You may have to tackle the basement project twice, perhaps once in the spring and then again in the fall. That’s ok because you are still regaining control of your space.

Cleaning versus organizing

by Debbie Bowden  Organize Now

With spring just days away, most people want to get the house cleaned and freshened (thus the term “spring cleaning”). It feels good to open the windows, air out the house, and wash away that stale winter feeling. It is also the time that most people start organizing projects. It seems to make sense that while you are cleaning to straighten those closets, rearrange that pantry, or (gulp) tackle the garage.

Allow me to offer a bold idea – do not organize and clean at the same time! This probably seems blasphemous from a professional organizer, so I’ll explain my reasoning.

When there is a lot of clutter around, cleaning the house is just that much harder. You are working around the “stuff.” Conversely, cleaning at the same time you are organizing adds time exponentially to the organizing project.

Therefore I suggest organizing and cleaning in two separate timeframes. You will actually accomplish both more quickly. Organize first because you’ll get rid of the clutter and that will make cleaning go smoothly. Plus, there is a bonus -- you’ll feel like you’ve renewed and refreshed twice!

Organizing Your Thoughts

by Debbie Bowden  of Organize Now

We’ve all had days, weeks, months where there is just too much to do. Let’s say you have three major projects at work, the kids all have after school activities, your mother needs a ride to the doctor, the dust is an inch thick in your house, and the laundry is looking like a monster from the Saturday morning cartoons. Whew! Where to you start? Everything needs to be taken care of now!

Just like organizing your space can help make you feel at peace in your home, so can organizing your thoughts. Situations like the one I describe above call for more than just a To Do list because of the pressure of the deadline. You need to take the mental organization one step further.

Despite the deadlines, not everything has to be now. In every case, there is an order of priority. It’s finding that priority that can seem daunting, and it calls for breaking down all that you have to do into manageable tasks day by day.

Taking the example above:

  • Work projects: which project or project task has the closest deadline? You should concentrate on that first. You might try to work on the least time-consuming yet productive task so that something is done.
  • Kids’ activities: Look for an alternate transportation option. Perhaps call in a favor and ask your neighbor to drop off and pick up the kids.
  • Taking Mom to the doctor: this may be your one number priority because the appointment can’t be changed. You will need some

Don’t Organize on Snow Days

by Debbie Bowden Organize Now

It would be so easy for me to recommend organizing while you are stuck in the house on these o’ so many snow days.

Let me be realistic. If you are stuck indoors, that means so are your kids. They are bored, as they will no doubt tell you every five seconds. So entertaining the children comes at the top of your to do list on a snow day.

Being organized can help with cabin fever. First of all, you will know right where the hats, gloves, and scarves are kept when the kids want to go outside. You may even have an idea if you have an old corncob pipe to place on the snowman.

Secondly, you can be prepared with activities and games for the snow bound. It helps to know right where all your craft supplies are or where that old Monopoly game is stored to make a quick answer to “I’m bored.”

Lastly, if your space is organized, you aren’t going to fret about “this mess” and be less stressed. You’ll be happy to spend the time in your home with your kids. And this winter, that’s been A LOT of time.

Distracted clutter; distracting clutter

by Debbie Bowden   Organize Now

One of the reasons clutter starts pulling up is because we are all so busy. Think about it – you walk in the door after a long day at work, flop your purse and keys and mail and tote on the nearest table, and put the milk and eggs in the fridge. You may be lucky to get your coat hung on the back of a chair, much less in the closet. Then while your better half and kids are all chatting with you, you try to make dinner.

In the middle of the melee, you do manage to get the mail in a basket on the kitchen counter, on top of a week’s worth of other mail and a note to sign for your kid’s school. Later, after dinner has been served, the dishes cleaned up, and the load of laundry in the washer, you sit down to answer all your emails. Suddenly, its time to put the kids to bed, and just as you lean in to give little Johnny a goodnight kiss, he asks about the school note.

Yikes! “Where is it?” you ask yourself. Panic ensues. Is it in the office? No. In your purse? No. How about on the stack of magazines near your chair in the living room? Nope. Now you’ve spent 20 minutes looking for a piece of paper. As you walk into the kitchen for a drink, your brain does that magical thing it does and you remember the note is under the pile of mail. Disaster averted!

Get Organized for the New Year!

by Debbie Bowden  Organize Now

New Year’s resolutions are as varied as the people who make them: lose weight, take a college class, eat healthy, keep in contact more with friends and family, and my favorite – get organized. Here’s a tip that can help you start and be successful in organizing any space.

Break your organizing project into small, manageable tasks. It can be a help to write down a plan in an outline form, for example:

Organize House

  • Linen Closet
    • Gather all towels and sheets
    • Sort towels and sheets
    • Categorize into keep, throw away, giveaway
    • Distribute: put the “keep” into back, put the “throw aways” in the garage as rags, take “giveaways” to Goodwill
  • Office
    • Gather all paperwork and files
    • Sort the bills, the junk mail, correspondence, pictures, etc.
    • Categorize into bills to pay/file, paperwork to trash or shred, pictures and letters to file
    • Distribute: file bills and paperwork, trash or shred items, put pictures away, put correspondence in the to do pile to take care of later.

By breaking the project into smaller tasks, you are more likely to perform each task because you will find you are the time and energy to “gather all towels and sheets” versus trying to tackle “organizing the whole house.” You’ll also find that your plan becomes a handy To Do list you can use to track your progress and show your success in keeping your New Year’s resolution!

Organizing your Email

by Debbie Bowden Organize Now

When I organize for a client, I focus mainly on the stuff in the house. But for my own organizing, I apply the principles to my email storage as well.

Like most of you, I get emails that vary from friends’ quick notes to requests for organizing services. And of course, the ever-present “junk!” I treat my email like the snail mail. The junk gets deleted immediately. I read the friendly notes, respond in kind, and usually delete them. I liken these types of emails to phone calls. I don’t record my phone calls so why would I save these emails. I will “save” the friendly email if I need to use it as a reminder (more on that later). Finally, I read and respond to business email, save to the appropriate folder, and print if necessary.

I have set up folders in the Inbox, much as I have hardcopy folders. The folders are labeled for the appropriate topic: “organize now,” “taxes,” “charities,” “saved,” etc. Some of these folders have subfolders to take the organizing one step further. As soon as I am done with an email thread, I file the LAST email in the folder and delete all the rest. I only save the last email when the person I am emailing and I reply to back and forth. That way, I have all that was written in one document.

I also use the “For Follow Up” option on my email as a reminder system. There are different colored “flags” and I assign one color per folder. This is a great system, and it keeps my main Inbox neat. Here’s an example: let’s say a friend wants to see a concert in a couple of months. We “e-chat” back and forth and finally decide on a date and time. Because I need the last email as a reminder for scheduling in a future date, I save it to my “friends” folder.” Then I flag it purple. Once or twice a week, I go through my “For Follow Up” folder to see what’s happening soon.

Email is a wonderful tool, but it can get just as cluttered as your home and then it becomes uneffective.

Maintaining a clutter-free home

 

 

by Debbie Bowden of Organize Now

Let’s say you get your house organized. You’ve worked hard, probably with a knot in your stomach, but you are rewarded with no junk, no clutter, no extraneous stuff. Good job. Now you can move on to the real secret of being organized – maintenance.

Maintenance isn’t nearly as time consuming as initially organizing, but it does call for diligence. This step in the process of being completely organized calls for a change in habit. Like any habit we change it means doing things differently and establishing a new pattern.

Here’s a tip that is a tremendous help with maintenance, and only takes 5 to 10 minutes a day. Go through your entire house and pick up stuff. It doesn’t matter what time of day as long as it is around the SAME time each day (I do this when I get home from work because I am NOT a morning person). To start this new habit, literally walk through every room. Look for stuff that is out of place and put it back in its spot. Remove items that don’t belong and put them where they do belong. Most importantly, finish the room before moving on to the next.

Let me repeat that – finish the room before moving on to the next. It is too easy to get distracted by trying to tackle multiple rooms all at once. Distraction is probably the number one culprit of not having a good maintenance routine.

When you first start a maintenance routine it may take you longer than 10 minutes. But each day the time you dedicate to maintaining will shorten. Before you know it, your house is consistently organized, and that is a habit you can definitely live with.

Does Empty Space Attract Clutter?

by Debbie Bowden of Organize Now

box

I hear, “Well, there sure is a lot of space now.” That statement puts fear into the heart of an organizer because when most people are faced with empty space, they feel a strong urge to fill it. Then guess what – more clutter!

Here are a few tricks to fool the eye that the empty space just doesn’t exist:

Arrange your clothes with 2 to 3 inches between each piece. This gives the illusion that the closet is full, but gives more actual space if needed. (An added benefit – your clothes won’t get wrinkled being crammed together.)

Dude, You Gotta Hear This!

Spotlighting the best of Maryland's music scene.

Travis Mamone

An Afternoon with Chester River Runoff

By Travis Mamone

Despite the rainy and cold weather, Chester River Runoff warmed audiences with an afternoon of toe-tapping bluegrass at Easton’s Night Cat.  With their smooth three-part harmonies, excellent musicianship, and topical lyrics, it’s no wonder that What’s Up Magazine recently named them a band to watch in 2010.

Chester River Runoff has no drummer, so bassist Marc Dykeman and guitarist/singer Ben Arminger provided the rhythm section.  The voices of Arminger, Dykeman, and banjoist Sam Guthridge blended perfectly, while Nate Grower’s fiddle complemented the harmonies.  The set listed included both originals and covers.  Covers included an old Chesapeake Bay sea chanty called “Lynchberg Town,” the Osborne Brothers’ “Up This Hill and Down,” and a John Hardford number that featured an extended fiddle solo by Grower.

The originals included classics like “Old Brown” (a tribute to their maroon touring van), “Breakthrough,” and “Too Many Sunny Days.”  The latter is a true story about a terrible drought that occurred when Guthridge and Arminger used to work on a pumpkin farm.  The boys got topical with the song “Plastic Houses,” which voices fears about overdevelopment ruining the beauty of the Eastern Shore.

                        For future gigs and sound samples, visit their MySpace page at www.myspace.com/chesterriverrunoff.

Review:DEANNA BOGART—LIVE AT NIGHTCAT

By Travis Mamone

No one can deny that Deanna Bogart has soul.  It just seeps through her pores whether she’s singing, blowing her saxophone, or playing the piano.  And this past weekend, fans got a double dose of that soul at Easton’s NightCat.

Bogart draws such a crowd that she had to play two shows this weekend:  one on Friday the 8th and the other on Saturday the 9th.  Opening Saturday’s show with an instrumental jam, Bogart pounded the piano keys and stomped on the floor while Mike Aubin kept time on the drums.  She then launched into the boogie-woogie-inspired “Over Thirty (Down and Dirty),” a song that she claimed she wrote when she was 29.  Bogart stuck with originals, mostly, although she did do a soulful cover of John Hiatt’s “Have a Little Faith in Me.”

Of course her set list included her signature song, “Still the Girl in the Band.”  The bouncy number ended with an extended improvised coda that kept the audiences attention no matter where she went (she even hit a high note on the piano with the heel of her boot).

After a 20-minute break, Bogart and Aubin got back onstage and went straight into “Baby You Got What It Takes.”  Things calmed down a bit during the touching number “Soulache,” written for Bogart’s daughter Alix.  The show ended on a high-spirited note with “Down the Road,” which featured a scat solo by Aubin.

This is the second year Deanna Bogart has played at NightCat, and I don’t think it’ll be her last.  To find out where she’s playing next, go to www.deannabogart.com.

RHIANNA LAROCQUE: RISING STAR

By Travis Mamone

Meet Rhianna LaRocque:  former Severna Park native, current Northeastern University student, and a promising talent.  Her laid back acoustic melodies and stunning voice have already garnered the attention of such seasoned veterans as Rob Levitt. 

Q:  How did you get into music? Was there a lot of music in your house?
A:  I always loved music, but was always too shy to sing in front of people. It was really when my aunt's boyfriend came to our house for a visit and taught me couple chords on the guitar. For about six months, I sat in my room for hours at a time and practiced. An opportunity arose to perform when I decided I wanted to audition for a school production, and for that audition I sang in front of people for the first time. After that, I realized playing music was what I wanted to do.

My grandmother was a singer, but nobody in my immediate family plays any instruments. My mom claims my musical abilities came from her playing The Beatles, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and James Taylor when I was a baby.

Q:  Who were some of your influences?
A:  There is a ridiculously long list of artists that influence me, but to name a few, Joni Mitchell, Andrew Bird, Wilco, Feist, and Radiohead. I'm also lucky enough to be surrounded by a ridiculously talented group of friends, and I get a lot of ideas, support, and input from them.

Q:  When did you start writing songs?
A:  My first few songs were written in tenth grade about a failed relationship. They're really quite silly to me now, but it's cool to look back at how I've changed in the last few years.

Q:  What inspires your music?
A:  Honestly, I wish this wasn't the case, but for the most part...boys.

INTERNATIONAL JET SET AND BLACKWATER REFUGEES

INTERNATIONAL JET SET AND BLACKWATER REFUGEES—LIVE AT THE GREEN TURTLE

By Travis Mamone

Despite a crappy soundboard, local bands International Jet Set and Blackwater Refugees delivered an outstanding show this past Friday at the Green Turtle in Easton, MD.  And with a standing-room only crowd, it turned out to be the sports bar’s biggest show to date.

            Blackwater Refugees, a new alt-country trio from Easton, was the first act.  Led by Mike Shorter on bass and vocals, the band takes the grit of old school country and adds a twist of rock and roll.  At first it was unclear whether or not the Refugees would get to perform, since the soundboard blew out right when they were set to begin.  But after some tinkering, the boys kicked off their 40-minute set with signature song “County Jail.”  The Refugees did mostly originals, but through in a few covers, including “D.U.I. or Die” by Those Darlins.  That was supposed to be their last song, but after a couple of audience members called for one more song, Shorter yelled, “I can’t disappoint my fans” into the mic, and the boys delivered a killer encore.

JAYME PLOFF AND MINUS ONE—LIVE AT NIGHTCAT

By Travis Mamone

           After a few months off, Jayme Ploff returned to NightCat on August 29 singing jazz with the trio Minus One.  And it was well worth the wait!  Her expressive and dynamic voice dominated throughout the evening, and Minus One’s classic jazz sound proved to be the perfect match for Jayme.

            Minus One opened with four tunes.  Their sound is reminiscent of the classic piano-led jazz trio sound of Vince Guaraldi.  Musically all three members--Rodrigo Pinchiera on keyboard, Bob Kammann on drums, and Gary Barnes on bass—were perfectly in tune, giving each other enough room to follow the songs wherever they lead.  Barnes, however, was the one to watch for during his impressive bass solos.

            After a short break, Minus One returned to the stage with Jayme on the mic.  The set list both opened and closed with two of her original compositions.  The opener, “Imperfect Me,” would fit perfectly in Cole Porter’s songbook, while the closing “Noah’s Song” was a sweet and beautiful lullaby written for Jayme’s newborn nephew.  The rest of the songs were jazz standards.

TOMMY: AN AMAZING JOURNEY

by Travis Mamone

Easton High School has done it again with their production of the Who’s rock opera “Tommy.” Under the direction of Tom Quimby, the cast and crew bring Pete Townshed’s masterpiece to life with excitement, drama, humor, and great rock and roll.

Based on the Who’s 1969 double-album, “Tommy” tells the story a boy who, after witnessing his father kill his mother’s lover, becomes psychosomatically deaf, mute, and blind. He is abused by his Uncle Ernie and Cousin Kevin, grows up to be a champion at pinball, and, when he regains his senses, becomes a messianic figure to his fans.

“Tommy” was made into a move in 1975, and then went to Broadway in 1993. Easton High performs the Broadway version, so don’t expect to see Tommy’s mom roll around in a pool of beans.

But do expect to see an outstanding cast that includes Jacob Porch as Tommy, Sarah Lowe as Tommy’s Mother, Shane Taylor as Captain Walker, and Matt Filbert as Uncle Ernie. Filbert is a standout; he can bring out both the humorous and lecherous sides of Uncle Ernie convincingly. Another cast member to take notice of is 7th grader Ian Young, who plays Tommy as a child. He’s mostly quiet during the first act, but in the second act he finally gets a chance to display his tremendous voice.

Jordan Page

By Travis Mamone

Jordan PageJordan Page
“Listen to the sound that you hear,” Jordan Page sings, “like an echo in your head/ there’s a strange vibration rising/ from the heart of America.” Page challenges his audience to do just that: listen. Listen to what’s going on in the world, to what our leaders are doing, and to an incredible local talent with a powerful message.

His brand of acoustic rock--a mixture of Bob Dylan and Pearl Jam, among other influences--is a powerful call-to-arms against injustice and war. "I will not submit to authority of man/ I'm alive I'm awake," Page announces on the percussion-driven "Listen." "Song for Bob" is an acoustic plea for peace dedicated to Dylan. “You taught us that war is a sin and a sham and a shame,” he sings, “and the penance we pay for our silence is more than just taking the blame.” But Page also has a softer side. “Evergreen” is a catchy, romantic song dedicated to his wife. “My love is evergreen,” he sings, “she’s got the ways and means to give me the heart of my desire.”

To find out more about Jordan Page, visit his website at www.jordanpagemusic.com.

Spotlight: Jayme Ploff

By Travis Mamone

Jayme PloffJayme Ploff
For the past couple of years Jayme Ploff has been dazzling audiences across the Eastern Shore with her soulful and dynamic voice. Originally a jazz singer (she studied Jazz Vocal Performance at the University of Miami), her repertoire also includes pop covers and original songs. Whatever she sings, her voice brings each song to life.

Ploff has two CDs; the first is a four-track demo of original compositions. “Release the Beast” is an empowering anthem written after some one referred to its author as a female dog. “Take your lips and plant them firmly on my ass,” she snarls, “’cause I’ve been to your house and I know you built it out of glass.” “My Life” explores the struggle between our parents’ wishes and our desires. “I hate to tell you it’s a fact of life,” she sings, “not everything you say and do is right/ I go my own way.”

Ploff also has a live jazz CD, which features standards like “What a Difference a Day Makes,” “Blame it on My Youth,” and “Besame Mucho” (the only song Ploff says she knows in Spanish).

For more information, go to her website. And if you go to any of her shows, she likes it when the audience says, “Woo-hoo!” Just something to keep in mind.

Punk Rock at Easton Historical Society

Procrastination RecordsProcrastination Records

by Travis Mamone

Local punk bands Press Black, World Class Defects, and Psycho Rainbow will perform at the Historical Society in Easton, MD this Saturday, January 24th, at 7 p.m. The show celebrates the release of a new album featuring Press Black and World Class Defects. According to Press Black’s MySpace blog, the CD “will have four unreleased originals from each band, and each band covering one of the other band’s songs.”

For those expecting radio-friendly pop punk like Blink 182 and Good Charlotte, look elsewhere! Press Black and World Class Defects--from Easton and Greensboro, respectfully—are bringing back the original sound and attitude of classic hardcore punk. These aren’t catchy little numbers about skater boys and high school proms; these guys sing about destruction, mind control, death, and nonconformity.

Psycho Rainbow is an up-and-coming indie band from New York. Don’t let their huge ironic sunglasses fool you—these guys have the talent! Their blend of psychedelic, surfer rock, and noise pop make them a band worth seeing live.

Coffee Cat: What's In a Name?

By Travis Mamone

The Coffee Cat in EastonThe Coffee Cat in EastonMany of you have noticed several changes with Coffee East coffee shop in Easton, MD, especially their name. Is it Coffee East, Coffee Cat, Night Cat, or what? And will anything else change? Hopefully this will clear things up.

Coffee Cat is the café portion, where you can order lattes, sandwiches (try the chicken Panini with goat cheese!), and pastries. Night Cat is where you can see live shows every weekend from a variety of artists. It’s the same building, of course.

But why change the name? As you may or may not know, the coffee shop is now under new management. The same people who now own Coffee Cat also own Hair o’ the Dog Wine and Spirits. So to keep with the pet theme, Coffee East

Erin's Bookshelf

Erin Mawn

Dance Your Way Through Summer

by Erin Mawn

One thing that I have always loved about the beginning of summer, besides the obvious answers like the smell of fresh cut grass, warm breezes and flowers in full bloom, is that it is dance recital season. I started dancing when I was three years old, and I continued all the way through college. I loved the excited murmurs and shouts of joy in the dance studio when the costumes finally arrived. We couldn’t wait to try them on, and imagined what we’d look like on stage performing in front of all those smiling faces. The weeks leading up to the performance were hectic in a wonderful way: frenzied mothers asking about tights, little girls parading around in adorable costumes that made them look like dolls come to life, older girls practicing their routines around the clock, and harried dance instructors frantically trying to corral their students. Being on stage was, and is still is, one of the greatest feelings, but it was also a little disappointing to know that dance classes were over until the fall.

Don't worry- you get a do-over!

by Erin Mawn

I recently came across a “Choose Your Destiny” young adult novel at a thrift store. I always look at the children’s book section in all thrift stores, hoping to find an old favorite or something I’d heard about, or even something completely new to read and add to my collection. This book is titled “What if Everyone Knew Your Name” and it is one of the books in the “Choose Your Destiny” series that follows Haley Miller, an average teenager who has lots of adventures (and misadventures) during her high school years. Of course, she does not have any particular adventure unless you choose for her to have it. These books are modeled after the now-outdated "Choose Your Own Adventure" books.

I remember those type of books from my childhood, and it never really occurred to me that an author might choose to re-vamp the style for today’s young adult audience. But that is exactly what Liz Ruckdeschel and Sara James have done in these books which are quickly gaining popularity among teenage girls. There are currently seven books in the series, but even a single book can be read several different ways depending on the choices the reader makes.

Ghost Stories and More by Maryland Writer Mary Downing Hahn

by Erin Mawn

One of the first books that I remember loving- not just liking, but loving- is Wait Till Helen Comes. This book was so wonderfully frightening that it fueled my young imagination to create and write my own ghost stories. They were, of course, very crudely written because I was only eight years old at the time. I was just beginning to learn how libraries work, and so I went to the same shelf to see if I could find any more scary stories by the author. There was another book, which I read an enjoyed but it was not a ghost story, so I went to the librarian and promptly asked for her help. Being an elementary school librarian, she probably expected me to describe the story or the cover art on the book, but when she asked if I remembered the author’s name so she could look it up in the card catalog, I promptly answered “Mary Downing Hahn.”

(She was impressed that I remembered the author’s entire name.)

Ever since then, that name has stood out to me as I browse books. In bookstores, library book sales, tag sales, and even online, I could never resist scooping up a book by Hahn because I knew it was guaranteed to be a good read. Even now, twenty years later, I continue to read and collect these books.

Irish Dancing

 by Erin Mawn                                             My name is Erin. Erin comes from the word Éirinn, which is a form of the word Éire. Éire, of course, is the Irish word for the country of Ireland. When I introduce myself to people, they sometimes ask “Are you Irish?”. Sometimes it’s a tongue-in-cheek comment, but sometimes it seems to be an honest question, as if the person asking it wants to confirm that I am of Irish ancestry since I am using the name of an entire country to represent my own little self.

Although in March, everyone can be Irish, right? St. Patrick’s Day is widely celebrated in America by Irish and non-Irish alike. Why? Because it’s fun! Watching parades, singing folk songs (if you know them), having a drink (or two). What’s my favorite part of being Irish?- the dancing! (It certainly wasn’t the Catholic school uniforms I wore for years). Irish dancing is one of my favorite things to do, and instead of just getting to do it on the 17th, I get to do it this entire month!

I am teaching an Irish dance class at nearby Chesapeake College all through this month. After learning just a few basic steps, such as the 1-2-3 and the 7, you’ll be able to learn an entire set dance.  Irish dancing is great fun, and a great work-out as well. The music is very catchy, and before you know it, you’ll be doing 1-2-3’s in your sleep!

If you missed out on this course, then don’t fret; the Irish dance course is going to be offered again in July. Just check the Chesapeake College Continuing Education course catalog.

New Cookbook Introduces Healthy Persian Cooking

by Erin Mawn

I suppose every nationality takes immense pride in its food; each St. Patrick’s Day my father insisted on having a traditional Irish dinner complete with corned beef, potatoes and cabbage. As a self-described ‘foodie’, one of my joys in life in trying new foods. When I was young I visited Australia and actually tried shark meat, kangaroo meat (it’s equivalent to Americans eating venison) and the pride of the Aussies: Vegemite. In college I went to England, and I was more than happy to go out each night to a different pub and try the fare. However, rather than spending all the dough to travel to a foreign country every time I want to try a new food, I have learned to look for local venues that offer interesting dishes. My newest experience though, is a do-it-yourself one.

stuffed grape leavesPersian cuisine, or the cuisine of Iran, is deliciously diverse and also very health conscious. Many of the dishes use rice as a staple ingredient, and almost all of them have fruits and vegetables either as main ingredients or as sides. I realize that most people would have no idea how to begin cooking a Persian dish, and so to make the process easier, here is the book to lead the way: Simply Persian Cuisine. The book is presented in a very straight forward manner, so that anyone, even those whose free time is at a premium such as working mothers or college students, can pull together a healthy and delicious meal.

Review: The Lovely Bones Movie

by Erin Mawn

This past Friday night, I was one of the many people who saw “The Lovely Bones” on its opening night. I was surprised at how many young people there were in the theater, but that was probably due to the fact that the movie is rated PG-13, so no parents are required. I must admit that I was concerned about the quality of the movie; beforehand, I could not resist looking up some reviews of it and the majority of them seemed disappointed that the movie did meet its potential.

It is true that the movie takes some liberties, but I was relieved that it leaves the more important things alone. For example, the reader and movie go-er are not surprised at what happens to Susie Salmon because both the book and the film tell us immediately that something horrible befalls the young narrator. I was worried that perhaps the film would focus on that one terrible scene in order to increase the drama and horror of the story, but like in the book, the terrible incident is merely the catalyst for the story, not the focus of it.

Since I already talked about the story when I reviewed the book a couple months ago, I’ll focus on the film aspects of it: I was impressed with Stanley Tucci’s portrayal of George Harvey. I did not even realize that it was Tucci in this role when I saw the movie trailers because he looks like the quintessential creep. (I am used to Tucci in more likeable roles, such as “The Devil Wears Parada” and the Kit Kittredge American Girl movie.) His performance almost overshadows that of

Saoirse Ronan, who plays the protagonist Susie Salmon because the audience is so horrified by his character. Not to say that Ronan is not ideal for the role of Susie Salmon: her adolescent beauty (caught perfectly between a girl and a woman) is striking and she emanates an innocence so endearing and believable that the audience is truly saddened when she is robbed of it.

Enjoy the Works of Laurie Halse Anderson

By Erin Mawn

Hello readers (and editor)! I apologize not posting again sooner, but I have adopted the popular mantra that everyone seems to be saying lately: “life’s crazy right now”. If anyone is curious, I HAVE been doing a ton of reading lately, I just have been lax in the writing part. Sometimes when I read a book, I think “I cannot wait to write a blog about this incredible story!”. Other times, I enjoy the story but it just does not motivate me to write.

As my best friend said to me recently, I have had quite a literary year. First, I attended a talk at my local library hosted by Joshua Wolf Shenk regarding his insightful book “Lincoln’s Melancholy”. I used this book for two of my projects in graduate school and I was very excited to finally meet the man who wrote it. Then, over my summer vacation, I traveled to Colorado where I was able to meet my favorite illustrator, Michael Hague. (I did write a blog about him; it is one of my earlier posts.) This was a very special experience for me because I grew up reading his books and those pictures have always stayed in my mind. Most recently, I drove to Newark, Delaware to see Laurie Halse Anderson “speak” (if you don’t get my little joke yet, you will in a minute.)

Laurie Halse Anderson has written both young adult novels and picture books; her first YA novel, titled “Speak” was a New York Times Best Seller, as well as a Printz Honor Book, and National Book Award Finalist. It was also made into a movie for television starring a now-uber-famous Kristen Stewart. Her other novels include: “Catalyst”, “Prom”, “Fever 1793”, “Twisted”, and “Chains” (another multi-award winner). During the event, she read an excerpt from her most recent novel “Wintergirls” which is available now. She the welcomed questions from her live audience as well as from readers across the country who were able to view the event through a live internet feed. Afterwards, she was available to sign books for her adoring fans, who ranged from middle-aged adults to little children. My favorite fan was the little eight-year old girl clutching a copy of one of the Vet Volunteer books, a series written for children about children who work in a veterinarian’s office.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

The Classic Regency Romance - Now with Ultra-Violent Zombie Mayhem!

by Erin Mawn

I have a confession to make: I have never read a Jane Austen book to the end. Believe me, I have tried. I feel I owe it to the world of literature that I love so much to not just ‘get through it’, but to actually enjoy reading it, too. I know the stories of Austen, especially when they are reimagined in modern cinema. For example, one of my favorite 90’s movies is “Clueless” which is loosely based on Austen’s “Emma”. (“What-ev-er!“)The book and movie “Bridget Jones Diary” is based on “Pride and Prejudice”; the sequel to this smash success (both book and movie) was titled “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” and was based on “Persuasion”. I have seen the mini-series “Pride and Prejudice” as well as the more recent movie starring Kiera Knightley, and I dragged my boyfriend to the theater to see “Becoming Jane”, a biopic starring Anne Hathaway. I love Jane Austen’s stories, I just could not get through one of her books. Well, not until the zombies came, anyway. . .

Seth Grahame-Smith’s hilarious parody of Austen’s most well-known work has been exalted by readers and critics alike; you get all the goodness of social intrigues and blossoming romances, but there’s also a ton of zombies wandering around the English countryside that need to be dealt with before anyone can live happily ever after. Luckily, Elizabeth Bennet is an expert at weapons and martial arts. If you’re already familiar with the real “Pride and Prejudice” (either seen the movies or actually read it) then you pretty much know how the story goes. But that’s not really the point in this book; the point is to laugh at the ridiculous dialogue which follows early 19th century formality, but refers to battling the living dead:

“Mr. Collins tells me that you are schooled in the deadly arts, Miss Bennet.”

“I am, though not to half the level of proficiency your Ladyship has attained.”

“Oh! Then — some time or other I shall be happy to see you spar with one of my ninjas.

Are you sisters likewise trained?”

“They are.”

When asked what inspired him to re-write the Austen’s famous love story, Smith replied, “I just thought it’d be really funny to desecrate a classic work.” He seems like one of the geniuses with an off-beat, dark sense of humor that I’d love to meet sometime, if only to pick his brain. (Sorry, couldn’t resist the zombie pun.) Ever true to the modern literary discussion circle, Smith includes thoughtful questions for discussion at the end of the novel, such as:

Book Review: The Lovely Bones

by Erin Mawn

I was introduced to this book by one of my students while I was teaching literary terms. I was discussing the different points of view that literature has and when I was discussing the idea of the omniscient narrator, one of my students asked “Like in “The Lovely Bones”?” . Not having read the book myself, I asked her to explain the story to me. My student went on to explain that the story is being seen, literally from above, by the narrator of the story. However, “The Lovely Bones” differs from the usual type of omniscient narrator because unlike the majority of them, who are unnamed and who never reveal HOW they know the story or how they are significant to the story in any way, this dilemma is cleared up on the very first page of the novel:

“My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.”

Hollywood's Versions of "Little House" Fail to Impress

Little House on the Prairieby Erin Mawn

I am a fervent fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I own the whole collection of Little House books, all of her nine original books from “Little House in the Big Woods” to “The First Four Years”. I also have in my vast collection of books all of the prequels and sequels to her stories; the stories about Martha (her great-grandmother, Charlotte (her grandmother), Caroline (her mother, Ma Ingalls) and her daughter Rose. The prequels and sequels are written in the same simple style that made Wilder’s books so easily accessible to generations of readers. The stories possess the wholesome values that made these generations’ parents comfortable and able to enjoy the books alongside their children.

Spiritual Currents

“Spiritual Currents” is a regular column that promotes and explores the Mid-Shore’s deep spiritual diversity—with “spirituality” broadly defined as our search for enduring meaning in life. This ongoing quest can unfold within religious traditions and without them, within our relationships and in solitude.

If you would like to share a local event or a personal story that reflects this journey on the Shore, please contact me here (put “Spiritual Currents” as the subject line).

Dwayne Eutsey

Finding a Religion to Abide By

by Dwayne Eutsey

For various reasons, I’ve been missing-in-action from this column for a while.

In addition to my full-time work, there’s the part-time job I took on a year or so ago; there’s the fact that we have a house full of adolescent kids now (which may help you understand why I have the part-time gig); and there’s that new religion I’ve been helping to found.

Yes, you read that correctly.

In what spare time I have, I’ve been spreading the good word of the Church of the Latter-Day Dude (or Dudeism), the world’s slowest-growing religion, to the masses. www.dudeism.com

Inspired by the Coen Brothers’ film classic The Big Lebowski, Dudeism follows the laid-back path revealed by the movie’s main character, called the Dude (hilariously played by Jeff Brides), who exemplifies for all us stressed out sinners just how take it easy, man, in a world gone crazy with stress.

Or as Dudeism’s founder Oliver Benjamin (aka the Dudely Lama) describes it:

The idea is this: Life is short and complicated and nobody knows what to do about it. So don’t do anything about it. Just take it easy, man. Stop worrying so much whether you’ll make it into the finals. Kick back with some friends and some oat soda and whether you roll strikes or gutters, do your best to be true to yourself and others – that is to say, abide.

Dudeism is in part a joke, but it’s a joke with a serious undercurrent drawn from the ancient traditions of holy fools and trickster gods with a lot of self-deprecating Taoism, humanism, and Kahlua tossed in.

Sandy’s Real Revelation

by Dwayne Eutsey

       Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture they    do not understand, but the passages that bother me are those I do understand. Mark Twain

I first became aware of the Bible’s “end times” prophecies through Hal Lindsey’s bestseller The Late, Great Planet Earth back in the ‘70s.

In the book (which went on to become a movie narrated by Orson Wells), Lindsey laid out how he believed current events at the time were fulfilling predictions about the end of the world in the Book of Revelation, the Bible’s mysterious and controversial grand finale.

As a 12-year-old with an overactive imagination, I remember reading and re-reading Revelation once I finished Lindsey’s book, poring over the strange and obscure text and searching for hidden clues that would reveal what the future had in store for us.

The clues I found were as scary and titillating as they were baffling. The Four Horsemen…Gog and Magog…the ominous figure of the Antichrist…the final battle between Good and Evil at Armageddon. What did it all mean for us? Are these events unfolding now in our lifetime?

I suppose a lot of people are still intrigued by such questions and are still searching for whatever glimpse into the future that may lurk in Revelation’s murky depths.

Just Who IS Santa Claus, Anyway?

by Dwayne Eutsey

According to an email I received from the Easton YMCA Tuesday, there will be an opportunity this Friday to indulge in some holiday cheer at the Y from 5 pm to 7 pm.

The event, free for members of the YMCA, will feature crafts, games, hot cocoa, cookies…and, of course, a chance to meet a jolly old man with a long white beard dressed all in red.

No, I don’t mean one of the members of ZZ Top pictured here. I’m talking about the Big Christmas Kahuna himself: Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, St. Nick, Father Christmas, or whatever alias he happens to be using at any given moment.

Santa is everywhere you look lately: holiday TV shows, commercials, movies, music…So pervasive is he in our collective unconsciousness that whenever we see him, no explanation is necessary. We all know he’s the guy who lives in the North Pole with elves and who zooms around the world in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer at the end of the every year. He leaves toys for all the good boys and girls and sticks and coal for the bad ones.

It’s a familiar story, but am I the only one who finds this Christmas myth a bit strange?

Even as a kid, when I eagerly looked forward to Santa’s arrival each year, I found it odd (and even a little creepy) that Santa knew EVERYTHING I did. He knew when I was sleeping, he knew when I was awake. Scarier still, he knew when I was good or bad, for heaven’s sake! As Christmas approached, I grew increasingly paranoid imagining this jelly-bellied guy sneaking around my window day and night, peeking in to see what I was up to.

Just who in the world was this guy, anyway?

The answer to that question depends on whether you’re referring to the religious saint or the secular icon.

According to the St. Nicholas Center, a website dedicated to promoting the history of the real Christian saint who inspired the Santa Claus legend:

A Day in the Life: Remembering Lennon

by Dwayne Eutsey

Thirty years ago today, a deranged man murdered John Lennon on the street in New York City.

I can still remember clearly when I heard the news that day, oh boy.

I was a teenager attending Cambridge-South Dorchester High School (CSDHS) at the time, so it was rare for me to wake up early in the morning (especially on a school day). My mom, in fact, would have to knock on my bedroom door a few times after my alarm clock went off just to get me out of bed.

On that morning 30 years ago, however, I woke up before the sunrise. I’m still not sure why. Because I couldn’t go back to sleep, I switched on the radio beside my bed and searched the dial for something to listen to before the dreaded alarm clock went off.   

I found a station playing the Beatles’ classic “A Day in the Life,” one of my all-time favorite songs, and laid there in the pre-dawn dark savoring it. By the time the haunting tune had reached its dramatic finale, I was drifting between sleep and consciousness as that crashing, concluding piano chord slowly faded.

“John Lennon, dead at age 40,” the deejay somberly announced in the growing silence.

All these years later, I can still feel the shock of that moment reverberating like that endless piano chord.

Why is that, I wonder?

The So-Called “War on Christmas”: Waged by Ignorant Armies on Both Sides

 by Dwayne Eutsey

There’s a controversial billboard in New Jersey featuring what appears to be a traditional nativity scene:

 A bright star shines in the night sky above the silhouettes of a man and a woman kneeling beside a manger in a humble barn, with three men riding on camels approaching.

 What’s causing the big controversy (if the strife-hungry news media can be believed, anyway) is not this rather conventional representation of the birth of Jesus; it’s  the eye-grabbing message above it that creating a stir:

 “You know it’s a MYTH! This season, celebrate REASON!”

 According to American Atheists, the group sponsoring the billboard, the message is targeting what they call “closet atheists” who are supposedly afraid to express their true beliefs, or nonbeliefs, during this time of year.

 However, as you can imagine, the billboard has also caught the attention of many Christian believers.

 The Catholic League, in fact, has sponsored a billboard across from the atheists’ sign featuring a large image of people dressed as the stereotypical Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus with “You Know it’s Real. This Season, Celebrate Jesus.” written above it in large letters.

In the report I saw on TV Wednesday morning, the CBS correspondent, known for her quirky focus on offbeat stories, featured representatives from the two opposing sides. The atheist basically derided people of faith for believing in a God that everyone “knows” doesn’t exist, while the believer accused atheists of believing in nothing or in the “fairy tale” of evolution.

Blah blah blah humbug.

This “I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I” level of discourse illustrates for me what I find so frustrating about the alleged “War on Christmas” we hear about as the holiday season approaches, as well as the grudge-match these two groups have year-round.

What both sides don’t seem to get is that yes, Virginia, the Christmas story IS a myth, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

Before you think I’ve been sampling the spiked eggnog early, let me explain.

Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service Provides a Garden of Gratitude

by Dwayne Eutsey

Henry Ward Beecher, a popular American minister in the 19th century, once observed: “Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul.”

With tough economic times lingering on compounded by rancorous political divisiveness these days, that blossom of gratitude may have wilted somewhat for many of us.

However, one tried-and-true way to nurture our sagging spirits is to gather with others and celebrate the blessings we share as individuals and as a community.

Easton’s annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service is a great opportunity for us to come together from our separate lives and faith communities and become part of one large refreshing and abundant garden of gratitude.

The service, sponsored by the Talbot Association of Clergy and Laity (TACL), will be held this Sunday, November 21, at 7 p.m. at Temple B’nai Israel in Easton (101 West Earle Avenue). Corey W. Pack of the Talbot County Council is the featured speaker with special music provided by the TACL Interfaith Singers.

Last year’s service included traditional hymns from various traditions, reflections, prayers, and a Native American chant.

Seating for this popular event fills up quickly, so participants are encouraged to arrive early.

A Brief Meditation on the Days of the Week

by Dwayne Eutsey

I’ve been mulling over the change of seasons and the shortening of daytime that this time of year brings.

The way my mind works, this kind of contemplation often ends up with me mentally chasing thought-bunnies down random rabbit holes full of obscure but interesting tidbits of trivia (well, interesting to me, anyway).

This time around, my seasonal meditations inspired me to pull a dusty dictionary down from the shelf to refresh my memory of how the names for our days of the week have etymological (and spiritual) roots in Germanic paganism.

Although the practices and beliefs of early pagans remain murky, we do know their agrarian-based mythology was deeply rooted in the natural world and the annual turning of the seasonal wheel. Based on the Old English origins of the names for days of the week, these pagans apparently dedicated each day to one of their deities.

For example, “Sunday” originates from the Old English Sunnandaeg, or day of Sunna, the Germanic sun goddess. Pagans honored her brother, Mani, god of the moon, with Monandaeg, our modern-day Monday.  

The Spirituality of Toy Story

By Dwayne Eutsey

(Adapted from a lay sermon I gave at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Easton on July 25, 2010).

About 10 years ago, when my wife and I were the parents of newborn twins and a two-year-old son, I found a philosophical/spiritual resource that helped me cope with the day-to-day grind of new-parent survival by reminding me of a few profound and enduring spiritual truths.

It wasn’t the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, or any other religious text, because with commuting every day to a full-time job, and having three kids in diapers, who had time for reading, let alone scriptural interpretation?

It wasn’t sitting meditation, because when people experiencing extreme sleep deprivation sit down and shut their eyes for a moment, the next sound you’ll hear from them won’t be “oooommmmm” but “zzzzzzzzzz”.   

This resource didn’t involve heavy theological discourses, dogmas, doctrines, or hard-to-understand references to ancient times and places; instead, it offered its spiritual lessons in an engaging, colorfully animated format with lively, funny dialogue, and was set within the simple context of a child’s bedroom.

I mean, of course, the highly popular Toy Story series. For anyone who has been secluded in a child-free cave for the past 15 years and doesn’t know what I’m talking about: the three Toy Story movies follow the adventures of a group of toys that belong to a boy named Andy. The toys, who are led by an amiable cowboy named Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) and an astronaut action figure named Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen), can only come to life when human beings aren’t around.

Dandelion Faith

By Dwayne Eutsey

I suppose like many people with yards to care for, I’m not a huge fan of dandelions.

Especially for anyone with an idealized vision of having a plush and perfectly manicured lawn, these pesky weeds can be something of a nuisance.

As anyone who has seen my yard can tell you, I’m obviously not obsessed with achieving the perfect lawn. However, I am compelled to drag out the mower whenever I see the grass becoming shaggy with numerous white puffballs and little yellow sunbursts dotting the green.

While I may not like all the dandelions I see blotting the yard, I can’t help but marvel at their quiet, undaunted tenacity. No sooner have I mowed them down than new stems are already sprouting defiantly from the ground—a reminder that, to paraphrase Shakespeare, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in my yard care philosophy.

“Exciting the Laughter of God’s Creatures”—Remembering Mark Twain’s Spirituality

By Dwayne Eutsey

Although Wednesday marks the 100th anniversary of Samuel Clemens’s death, any reports of his alter ego Mark Twain’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

In fact, Twain remains as well-known today as he was a century ago.

In January, Easton Middle School performed a popular musical adaptation of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer that had many of us humming sunny tunes about life on the Mississippi while shoveling snow here on the Eastern Shore. A couple years ago, Twain’s brooding image adorned the cover of Time magazine beside the somewhat ominous headline, “The Dangerous Mind of Mark Twain.”

That dichotomy between the whimsical and cantankerous aspects of Twain’s legacy captures well how we’ve come to understand his enduring iconic presence in our culture. As with most icons, however, there are usually many complex ambiguities coursing like murky river currents beneath the familiar façade we think we know.

Twain’s attitudes on race, for example, remain a matter of debate and have even led some to call for banning Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from schools because of its alleged racism. In terms of his religious beliefs, many people also assume Twain was an embittered atheist who, especially late in life, took devilish delight in mocking God and ridiculing Christianity.

The Centrevillain

"a funky blog about life in downtown Centreville, the capital of Queen Anne's County on Maryland's Eastern Shore"

Mary McCarthy

Christmas in Centreville

by Mary McCarthy
 
The holidays are here again in our cozy little town. Lights line the streets, wreaths grace the old courthouse, the quaint bridges, and the gorgeous new iron entryway to the cemetery. On Lawyers Row, a whimsical "Scrooge and Marley" sign hangs on a historic law office, and this year for the first time, beautiful trees line the brick sidewalks; decorated by girl scout troops and other local organizations.
 
Beautiful!
 
But the true beginning of the holiday season kicks off with the Centreville Christmas parade this Friday, December 4 at 6 p.m. The parade leaves the high school, travels down Kidwell, up Commerce (to a grandstand with judging in front of the courthouse), across Broadway and ending on Chesterfield across from the Board of Education. Being on the parade route was one of the reasons we bought our house!
 
It's the cutest small town parade anywhere, and this year the big man himself will be hanging out in the courthouse square. Thanks to the local Centreville Alive group, Santa has set up his workshop on the vacant lot between the old barber shop in the spot where they tore down that old building (across from the courthouse). It looks great! And kids can visit Santa before, during and after the parade.
 
If you miss Santa on that busy night, he's in town for Breakfast With Santa the next morning! He'll be in Corbaley Hall (on Homewood Ave, next to Centreville Elementary, behind Mother of Sorrows Church on Chesterfield) on Saturday morning Dec. 5 from 9-11 a.m. There's also a Gingerbread contest, White Elephant sale, silent auction, bake sale and luncheon featuring the popular local favorite Chicken and Dumplings (or crab soup!). There's even a Secret Santa workshop so kids can pick out gifts for their family members and get them wrapped!
 
Also goin on in town Saturday is the Heck With the Malls sale, with tons of cool craft vendors and artisans at the Arts Council building and specials at all the shops in town.
 
I'll be there (specifically- running the Secret Santa at Corbaley Hall!) Hope to see you around town during all the fun holiday cheerfulness...it's the most wonderful time of the year!

Chestertown Charm

by Mary McCarthy
 
I had a chance to visit Chestertown this week as part of the cool "Eat Drink Buy Art" passport program where I'm visiting nine towns around the Eastern Shore.
 
I love downtown Chestertown- the food at Feast of Reason, the shops like Twigs and Teacups, coffee at Play it Again Sam's, the cute kids' clothes at Pride & Joy, you name it. I even stopped by the Chestertown Natural Foods store to get some stuff for my vegan teen (egg substitute- I finally found it on the Eastern Shore!).
 
But you know what my favorite part was? Finding the Chestertown Old Book Company and chatting with Jerry. He is so amazingly knowledgeable about old and rare books and his shop is so cozy and cool. I am in love with books and now I am in love with his shop! Chestertown is so fortunate to be able to support not one, not two but THREE bookstores and I learned that:
 
THIS WEEKEND is the first ever Chestertown Book Festival!
 
The Chestertown Book Festival is the first and only book festival on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and is a celebration of the authors, books, and literary traditions of the Eastern Shore. The inaugural event will take place November 13-14, 2009 with author visits in shops, restaurants, and other gathering places throughout Chestertown. Click the above link for details.
 
Now if we could only get ONE book store in Centreville I'd be thrilled. And I'd run it too if I could pay the rent!
 
Anyway, I hope to see you guys in Chestertown this weekend for the book festival! What a cool annual tradition to start on the Shore!

Dinner Theatre Comes to Queen Anne's County!

(Note: If you can't make opening night, the play also takes place November 8 at 3 pm, November 13 and 14 at 7:30 p.m. Regular ticket prices are adults $10, Students and Seniors $5)

 

by Mary McCarthy

How exciting is this?! Our local Queen Anne’s County High School Drama department has announced their first dinner theatre! Saturday November 7 is the opening night of the hilarious comedy A Delightful Quarantine by playwright Mark Dunn and will include the special dinner event. The play relates the story of what happens when seven different households are put under quarantine for three days. The households include individuals who are not necessarily friends or family, and includes seven story lines resulting in often laughable results, answering the question of what happens when you have nowhere to go.

  

The best part (in addition to DINNER and A PLAY?!)? The dinner theatre event is also benefitting a local charity. CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children) and the Queen Anne's County High School Drama Department are working together to host the opening night dinner theatre. Doc's Riverside Grille is catering the event in the lobby of the high school on opening night, Saturday, November 7 at 6 p.m.  Tickets are only $20 (Jinkies! Cheap night out!)and include both dinner and the play, which immediately follows the dinner. I will absolutely be there, and not just because- um, my daughter is playing the role of Kitty! (Break a leg, sweetie!)

Halloween Around the Mid-Shore

by Mary McCarthy
I am a bit of a Halloween freak. Here's a picture of my Centreville 1881 Addams-family-looking Victorian at Halloween. The ghosts in the windows were drawn (on painters' dropcloths) by local artist Brian Draper, who I worship!
 
Some local folks have attended my Halloween parties- adult costume galas held in my neighborhood once a year, though I have to admit to this year's being a bit smaller (I hate the recession!). The competition for costume prizes is fierce, to say the least.
 
Many of the articles I write professionally are Halloween oriented. I am even Hallo-crazy enough to have my own Halloween website, Creative Halloween. This year, I am excited to announce I put together a Halloween book called Adult Halloween Parties in honor of the groan-up parties I've had at my house over the last decade. So if you are looking for food, decor, drinks, costume or other Halloween ideas, I hope you'll check out the book.
 
So what are some ways to celebrate this most spooktacular of seasons around the area? Well, I recommend visiting Adkins Arboretum for any of their fantastic fall events. The haunted trail is awesome! If you don't mind traveling just a bit (under an hour)- I wholeheartedly suggest taking a trip up to Middletown, Delaware to visit Frightland. I went this past weekend and came home hoarse from screaming in fear! It is a TON of fun- not for the faint of heart or young of child though! Also they have a carnival with carnival food including cheese fries. Cheese fries. Need I say more?!

Eat, Drink, Buy Art

by Mary McCarthy
Before I tell you about my awesome Eastern Shore weekend, I have three downtown Centreville business news items: a.) the new coffee shop (Joe Breeze) is open and fantastic with Village Bakery goods on the way from Chestertown! b.) the flower shop on the corner is open again! My kids have been saving their money for a new Webkinz. and c.) the new Pet Shop (Tails, Feathers and Fins) has opened next to Subway. Go visit the new businesses in town and support them!
 
Ok. Now.
 
There's this cool new tourist program on Maryland's Eastern Shore called Eat, Drink, Buy Art (EDBA). It was started at Maryland Life magazine as a way to encourage folks from all over the state to visit the Shore. EDBA chose 9 towns across the Shore to promote this year, they are: Chestertown, Berlin, Easton, Snow Hill, Denton, Salisbury, Cambridge, Princess Anne and Elkton. I am sucking it up and not whining about how there are no towns in (ahem) Queen Anne's County, because I am SURE they will be included next year and that Centreville will be spelled correctly on the map as well!
 
The EDBA deal is free and includes a passport (found in any participating business in the 9 towns with a sign out front) that you take around to shops, restaurants and art galleries in the different towns. You get your passport stamped and then for each stamp, you're entered another time for a drawing with great prizes from the participating towns. It's like a fun treasure hunt across the shore- I really encourage you to check out the website (above) and find some time this fall to visit these fantastic historic towns. Maybe I'll see you while I'm getting my passpport stamped!
 
This past weekend my bloggy friend Jen G. of Hip as I Wanna Be (check out her blog for more photos) and I visited Snow Hill and Berlin. We stayed at the gorgeous 1895 Atlantic Hotel in Berlin (pictured). Two movies have been filmed in Berlin- Runaway Bride and Tuck Everlasting. The reason? Berlin is gorgeous- buried power lines (like I wish we had in Centreville!!) create an original Victorian streetscape that's to die for- the restaurants, shops and art galleries are amazing. Berlin held their annual (huge!) Fiddler's Festival, so we got to meet banjo dudes and listen to cool bluegrass music.
 
Snow Hill has always been my favorite town on the Shore- the collection of Victorian homes and downtown commercial buildings is astonishing. (I'm a dork that I have one, but...) My favorite Victorian architect is Jackson Gott, and I was fortunate to visit Governor House, one of Gott's most amazing residences in Maryland (Gott also designed the Snow Hill Courthouse and a number of downtown Baltimore buildings as well). The owners took Jen and I through, and I was in awe at the tilework of the mantels alone- getting to see the inside of one of the best Victorian houses on the Eastern Shore was a true highlight of my weekend.

Harboring Some Fun

by Mary McCarthy
 
I have a confession to make. I had never, ever left the Centreville harbor by boat until the past week. Yeah, yeah, I know, I've lived on the Eastern Shore for nearly a decade! How could I NOT have gone anywhere by boat?! Well, putting aside the facts that we don't actually HAVE a boat (we've been on the boat slip waiting list since we moved here) and that, um, everyone hates me so I don't get invited, I really was surprised that I hadn't left the Centreville harbor until this week.
 
Within a week, I took two boat trips from Centreville. One 'quick boat ride' to Kent Narrows and back, and one day-long, tons of families beach picnic trip. Both were amazing! On our friends' 'fast boat' (so called by my four year old son), I loved zipping around the bay- seeing the Russian Embassy from the water, and how pretty the landscape is from the boat. Favorite? Seeing the amazing waterfront homes. And nearly a week later, the beach picnic (I actually ended up taking a nap in the shade with my little boy- heaven!) was a ton of fun, too. Not just because of the amazing hoagies (I say hoagies, I'm from Philly. You can go ahead and call them 'subs' if you like.), but because hanging out with friends, the kids playing in the tidal pools, catching crabs, digging for clams and tubing behind boats (not me. others.) just made for an amazing day.

CORSICA RIVER WATERSHED AWARENESS DAY

by Mary McCarthy

This Saturday is gonna be busy here in old Cville. In addition to the Quilt Affaire I told you about last week, this week the Corsica River Conservancy is also holding the fourth annual CORSICA RIVER WATERSHED AWARENESS DAY on Saturday, September 19, 12 noon to 4:00 p.m., at Bloomfield Farm located on Rt. 213 just north of Centreville.  

 
This free event combines family fun with environmental education.  Attendees can learn about the Corsica River Watershed Restoration Project via exhibits, demonstrations and opportunities to talk with experts involved in the project. There will be “ecotours” of various conservation practices around the preserved farm which is now part of Queen Anne’s County’s recreational assets.  
 

There's also tours of the historic farmhouse, a variety of tasty food offerings, hayrides, a straw maze, pumpkin painting, and creative craft activities for children. Lively musical entertainment will be offered throughout the day by Chester River Runoff, a dynamic local bluegrass group that mixes original Chesapeake songs with unique takes on traditional favorites. The first 100 families attending the event will be given a free native tree. The Town of Centreville will be having a free raffle for a recycled oak rain barrel. There's also a raffle for an airplane ride over the Corsica Watershed. For more information call 410-758-0835 or visit www.corsicariverconservancy.org.

Having a Quilt Affaire

by Mary McCarthy

Yes. The Queen Anne's County Historical Society is spelling affaire with an 'e' because they're all old-fashioned cool like that.

Mark your calendars for the upcoming fun event on Saturday, September 19, 2009 from 11am to 4 pm.. QACHS (the Historical Society, not the High School -pay attention, people!) is holding a display of antique quilts and refreshments in the garden at Wright's Chance, 119 North Commerce Street and also at Tucker House, 124 Commerce St. right here in historic lovely downtown Centreville, MD. The tickets are only $5.00 per person and can be purchased the day of the event.

When I first moved to town, I was the first-ever Executive Director of the QAC Hist Soc, and I really enjoyed it. House tours, historic house museums and other old-y stuff is right up my alley. I even added Centreville as a district to the National Register of Historic Places so that we (in our 1881 Victorian) and others in town could take advantage of the historic tax credits for rehabilitation (20% helps when you're in The Money Pit!)

So please support your local Historical Society (and the two historic house museums they own and operate in town) by visiting Tucker House and Wrights Chance on September 19th to see their gorgeous quilt collections as well as the antique quilts of their members and friends.

Hope to see you there!

JELLY MUNCHKINS, A New Coffee Shop and Dollar Store Re-do

by Mary McCarthy

Dunkin DonutsOn my regular humor blog, www.pajamasandcoffee.com, I made a very small mention about how, when I was a kid, you used to be able to buy Jelly-Filled Munchkins. The internet and twitter and social media being what they are, SOMEHOW the CEO of Dunkin Donuts got ahold of it, sent me a tweet on twitter, and before I knew it, I found jelly-filled Munchkins have been added to our local DD! The first batch were AMAZING, very jelly-y, but the ones I bought last weekend had like hardly any jelly inside. Careful, DD, me and Dunkin Dave are tight now and I will rat you guys out if you get cheap on me!

The former Hayden’s Alley, which was opened-then-closed by Just Plain Joe’s and has been sitting empty for months and months is A-BUZZ with activity! How exciting is THAT?! When the “Coming Soon” sign went up I was so excited! You know what I miss the most? The little upstairs room that overlooks the courthouse (plus, unfortunately the UGLY POWER LINES that need to be BURIED when the state rips up the road again!). As a writer (and former council member), that spot was always one of my faves to hang out with a latte and a laptop. So, I hope the new shop still has that upstairs room open. I will post more details here when I know them- stay tuned!

Bus-ted

by Mary McCarthybus

Welcome to Back to School season, everyone! Aahh, peanut butter and jelly, binder dividers, and thousands of trees falling as paperwork piles to the ceiling. So charming.

Forgive me, readers, while I step up onto this soap box for a tiny moment.

Did you know that it is the formal policy of the Board of Education of Queen Anne's County NOT to bus high school students who live within a MILE AND A HALF of the school? As in, a kid who lives at, say the Wharf, is supposed to walk to the high school in rain, darkness (they'd have to leave their house before 7 a.m.) or on icy sidewalks. Across a state highway. Twice. Past potentially unsavory characters outside the laundromat. Past several intersections at a busy shopping center with no crosswalks. Oh, and uphill both ways.

Ok, just kidding on the last one, but seriously?

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