Monday, November 22, 2010

Hermione Is In the House

My husband paid me a compliment last night. As we talked about the new Harry Potter movie we had just seen, he said, "You are a lot like Hermione." At first, I assumed he was comparing my bushy hair to hers, but he wasn't. He was referring to her character and abilities. I take this as a huge compliment because even though Harry is the chosen one, the hero, Hermione is really the one who saves Harry and crew repeatedly.

From the early books through the latest installment, Hermione has many times over pulled out a spell or charm which quickly changes the outcome of what could be devastating situations. She always is the one who comes up with the plan of action. Hermione, through her logical thinking, pieces together seemingly unrelated or othewise cryptic information to solve the next doom-ridden segment of Harry's tumultuous life. And her piece de resistance, Herminone's beaded bag, from which she produces anything and everything that you could possibly need at the precise moment when you need it most. Hermione has it all.

I do all that too. Granted, we are not stalked by the most heinous evil the world has known, and thankfully, no one in our house is doom-ridden. But our lives can be a bit complicated and the planning, logical thinking and sense of calm needed to keep it all moving and in the right direction is what I do. Without me, as Hermione of the House, the evils of male disorder would take over and things would fall apart. No one would bathe. No one would be able to find anything. No healthy food would be consumed.  No one's needs would be met, as they are now, before they even knew they had the need. As Hermione of the House, I keep the evils of poor hygiene, excessive clutter and lackluster nutrition disarmed. Expelliarmus!

And when we leave our home, I have my own beaded bag like Hermione. Although it's not beaded. It's a faux leather satchel from Target. But it does seem to have similar magical properties to Hermione's bag. I produce all manner of desired and unexpected things from it. Gum (any flavor), Tums, toothpicks, salves for all uses, phone numbers, extra layers of clothing, Swiss Army knife, tape, Sharpies. As we travel further from home, the items in my bag become more varied and of greater need. Magazines for all tastes and reading levels, extra batteries, Benadryl, Raisinettes, underwear (you never know...).  Accio!

I believe my beaded bag skills developed quickly, almost overnight, in the year 2000, when my first son was born. Only then it was called a diaper bag. Don't all moms have a magic bag?

My husband was also implying other similarities between Hermione and me. Hermione is a bright light in Harry's life. She's grounded. In the midst of chaos, she provides a reminder of greater purpose and calm. That hasn't always been the role I've played in our relationship; he's been the Hermione of the Relationship at times in the past too. Someone always needs to play that role. But for now, it's me. In times of upheaval, someone needs to conjure the innermost positive feelings to see the truth of a situation. Expecto Patronum!

Post Disclaimer: I realize I am an adult using Harry Potter references in comparison to my own life. Just be thankful it's not Twilight I'm using as a reference point.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thanksgiving Short List

We are on the downside of November, sliding quickly into the Thanksgiving holiday and I have not said one thankful thing on my blog this month. Last November, I participated in a bloggers game of listing things I was thankful for. I spent a little time each day thinking of things for which I was thankful.

I didn't participate this year because frankly I have been too busy to commit to anything else. It was the daily posting that I couldn't commit to, not the thinking about my many blessings. I think about those everyday even in the midst of my busy-ness.

Since I only have a few days of November left, I'll have to make a short list of thankful things. In contemplating my short list, I went over my 2009 list. It included some fluff, I must admit. Mocha lattes and wooly socks for example. While they are nice, do they really belong on a list of thankful things? I guess when you live in 2010 middle class America and pretty much have access to most things, they do. Spoiled children rarely appreciate the important things they have.

Since I only have time and space for a short list, I need to get real for 2010. So, here's what I have been thinking about but not posting these past 20 November days:

  • My family. All of them. From the ones I wake up with in the morning to the ones I rarely see or talk to.
I got nothing else on my short list. Sure there are many things that I could mention, many things that are important to me and make my life better, more fun, easy. But my family, all of them, are the most most important aspect of my life, of anyone's life. Have you ever known someone without something they considered a family? They probably didn't have a whole lot of positive stuff going on in their life.

Family, no matter how you define yours, is a web of support and a safe haven from the worries of the world. I've got that. I am thankful for that. I hope you have that too.


So as to not be overly sentimental and schmaltzy about the family thing, let me point out that my family is also a source of belly-laughs. We all have a great sense of humor. I know everybody thinks themselves funny, but my family really is. Just ask any of us.

I guess having a funny family would be second on the short list. I'm looking forward to spending some time with my funny family this holiday season.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

If You Don't Know Shawn Like I Know Shawn...

While I'm on the subject of music, let me tell you about one of my absolute favorites...Shawn Mullins. I mentioned him yesterday and feel I need to clarify what I said. I labeled him as "the guy who did Lullaby." I did that not because that's how I think of him but because that may be how most people think of him. Lullaby was Shawn's 1998 break out hit. That's the year most people were introduced to Shawn and probably the same year many forgot about him. But my history with Shawn started long before 1998 and I have never forgotten him.

I first found Shawn playing solo acoustic guitar, unplugged, in the upstairs coffee room at Oxford Books in Buckhead in Atlanta. I think the year was 1991. Shawn was scraggily looking and his performance was similar. He played a song called Shimmer which stuck with me.

As I made my rounds listening to local music, I saw Shawn again and again around Atlanta and each time his songs stuck with me. After a while, I stopped seeing Shawn around so much. And then one 1998 day, like the rest of you, I heard Shawn and Lullaby on the radio. With that, Shawn rocketed out of his small Atlanta fame into national Adult Top 40 chart notoriety for a few weeks in the summer of 1998.

For years, I would take Shawn with me Everywhere I Go, and listen to his music over and again. I had clients all over the state of Georgia and Shawn would accompany me on all those long intrastate drives. Or rather I would accompany him.

More years go by and I'm grocery shopping here in Maryland. I hear from the grocery store Musak Shawn's voice and I think it's All in My Head because after Lullaby, I thought everybody else forgot about Shawn and he was probably hiding out near The Gulf of Mexico or even Catoosa County. But there he was again.

Now that we were reunited, I made a point of seeing him live at Rams Head in Annapolis when he was passing through. You would have to be dead for Shawn's music to not Light You Up.  Listening to Shawn's music is like Leaving All Your Troubles Behind and it gives you Something to Believe In.

Shawn will likely end up one day on a One Hit Wonders show. That's unfortunately what the masses will remember of him. But he is so much more than that one song from the late '90's. He is a phenomenal songwriter and performer. In songwriting circles, he is highly regarded and has worked with many big name songwriters, most of which the masses don't know either. 

But you can break out of the herd. If you don't know Shawn like I know Shawn, do yourself a favor and follow all those links and listen. Then go directly to iTunes or Rhapsody or where ever you get your music and buy some Shawn. And listen again and again.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Living Rooms Were Made For Live Music

My husband and I love the live music experience. Our relationship started with a shared passion for live music. We spent most of our early dates on the front row of what was then The Library on The Strip adjacent to the UT campus, listening to The Woodies play. Then we moved on to Atlanta and found ourselves listening to then unknowns like Mr. Crowe's Garden (later to become The Black Crowes) and Shawn Mullins (later to become better known Shawn Mullins, the guy who did "Lullaby") in places like Oxford Books and The Black Horse Tavern. All of these venues were small and you could be easily right up front, experiencing the music, seeing the fingers on the frets and sometimes being splashed with sweat.

Those front rows days have passed for us. But our desire to hear live music is still strong. And we have found a new way to get that live music experience in a way that fits out lifestyle better - house concerts. A house concert is a small, intimate live music performance in the comfort of a private home. House concerts are usually by invitation only so as to keep them intimate. Food and beverages are served and may even be potluck. The performers are hired to perform a few sets and in between sets they mingle with the guests and enjoy the party themselves.

We went to a house concert last week in a private home on the banks of the Potomac River. The featured performer was Pops Walker, an acoustic blues/folksman based in the Shenandoah River area. Pops' performance was very entertaining. He is drawn inward by his own music but his emotions play out the song all over his face. You are drawn right in with him. He was funny, ironic and soulful all at once. And a damn good guitar player.

Pops was joined in performance by Kipyn Martin, a fresh breeze of a person and a phenomenally talented young woman. Kipyn has a voice like butter, creamy and smooth. She herself is quite the guitar player and songwriter.

And when Pops and Kipyn played together, they complimented each other perfectly.

The concept and experience of a house concert is perfect. You get to see quality performances in a comfortable setting. You get to meet and talk with the performers and music lovers who are all really interesting people. The performers get a wholly appreciative audience and their undivided attention. Everybody shares great food and drink. What else could be better?

We are now house concert converts and are planning our own little event:

House Concert at the Scott's
Performer TBA
Date TBA
By invitation only

Until those details are hammered out, I'll leave you with a few more photos from our evening with Pops and Kipyn...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Don't Say Happy Veterans Day, Say Thank You

Let us recognize our veterans and soldiers from long ago wars and those still serving today. Thank you.

Field of Stars
World War II Memorial
Washington DC

The Three Soldiers
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Washington, DC

Memorial Wall
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Washington, DC

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I Live in a Small Town Which is Now on a Forbes List

Last week, our little hamlet was listed on in "America's Best Neighborhoods 2010", a roster created by the nonprofit American Planning Association (APA). The list includes great neighborhoods which offer a wide variety of amenities: green space, nice homes, safety, cultural and historical significance and the like. Frederick definitely has all that. Being included on the roster is a nice feather in our community cap.

The specific blurb about Frederick in the article mentions our sense of history. We are surrounded by Civil War history with Antietam, Gettysburg, Harper's Ferry and, lesser known but equally significant, Monocacy Battlefield all within driving and even biking distance from our city center. Since Frederick's historical significance is the item specifically mentioned in the article, I assume this is what gave us the edge to get us on the list. I am not a history expert or even necessarily one who gets overly excited about history, but I can appreciate the historical importance of my area. And if history gets us a mention in some highly esteemed magazine which may positively impact our housing values, then I can appreciate our history even more.

Being no real estate expert either, I may be wrong, but I would imagine that being on such a list is a good thing. And at least for the next year until the 2011 list comes out, if I were selling a house within a stone's throw of Frederick, I would surely mention this in my sales flyers. What's a mention like that worth in today's real estate market, $10,000? More? That would be nice.

Forbes doesn't give all the details that the APA accumulated for its star neighborhoods. It does mention our "quaint old buildings" (history again) and the Carroll Creek Linear Park as neighborhood treasures. But I would like to all see the details. Without access to that, I am going to imagine what is on their list. I suspect that Frederick also got high marks for its downtown restaurants (thanks to the likes of Volt  putting us on the map last year on Top Chef) and its frequency of high quality festivals and events like the monthly First Saturday art gallery and shopping events. I suspect we got good grades for cleanliness and safety also.

Frederick definitely deserves to be on this list with all it has to offer. But I must point out a few things that I, as a transplant from a larger metropolitan area, believe are missing from Frederick. While Frederick has a thriving art community and clearly supports the arts, it is lacking in its support of music. There are so few venues in the downtown area or even outside the downtown area that support live, original music. You can definitely go to places that play cover music or "garage bands" (is that even a term anymore?) around town. But to see original singer/songwriter or other uniquely talented musicians, you have to drive way down one of the many roads leading out of Frederick. Or you must patiently wait until the Weinberg has some musical act on their calendar, which in my opinion is not often enough. That venue in particular could offer so much more especially since it is the only venue of its type in our community.

But the Weinberg aside, where are the smaller venues that could accomodate and support musical talent? This may seem like a shameless plug for a particular musician, but it's not. I get to hear him play all the time. But he doesn't get to hear other musicians play. Nor do the rest of us. The few venues where live music was played that did exist have perished as music venues (West Side Cafe, Frederick Cellars, Venuti's, even Firestones at one time). I find it hard to believe that there isn't a market for live music here. Many of our friends are music lovers and share this same complaint. And there is music all around us in the adjacent communities. What's up Frederick? If nothing else, embrace your musical history a la Francis Scott Key and support some live original music. If you play it, they will come.

The next thing on my list of what's lacking in Frederick is shopping. Before you get riled up and start spitting out names of the fabulous local downtown stores, let me say that I love them all. We have unique gift and antique stores that I frequent. And we have great shopping at Shab Row and even a Loft on the other side of town. But I can't live my life and support my shopping needs on antiques and gift items. Nor am I pleased each time I run into a friend or stranger wearing the same lovely shirt I am wearing from Talbot's or Loft. The FSK Mall has a good offering of shops, but why oh why Frederick fathers, is the Fredericktowne Mall becoming the hollow wasteland that it is? Have you ever heard of Old Navy? For those of us with kids (that would be most everyone in Frederick), when we need to replenish our cheap t-shirt supply, we rather not have to drive to Hagerstown or Leesburg to do it. So maybe while you're completing the plans for the Clemson Corner shopping center on Route 26, you could consider an Old Navy or similar instead of another tanning bed place like the new one that just popped up next to the FSK Mall. Really? I didn't even know people still used tanning beds.

Don't think that my shopping dissatisfaction does not come from being an avid shopper or even from the fact that I came from a larger metro area. When I go home to visit my parents in the small town that I grew up in, the shopping options are better there than here. For example, they have a Dick's Sporting Goods. Frederick doesn't. Not that our family has huge sporting goods needs, but I'm just saying it would be nice to have options other than Sports Authority (not that there's anything wrong with that) or having to drive 25 miles to another sporting goods store.

You get my point and you probably have examples of your own. Frederick has much to offer and I do enjoy living here. My kids are happy and are in great schools. We have great friends and plenty to do. But if I could make it just that much better, a day in Frederick would go something like this:
I would drive through my picturesque neighborhood on the way to drop the kids off at their really good schools and then head out to pick up a few things from the unending selection of stores within a 3-5 mile radius of my highly-valued home after which I would make plans with my husband and a few great friends for an evening out to include a sumptuous yet affordable meal followed by quality live music performed in a funky venue.
Throughout the day, I would of course take time to appreciate the historical significance around me. I would just be an ingrateful complainer if I didn't.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Will Run For Gummy Bears

You all know I love the atmosphere of a race. This Sunday I got to have the race atmosphere in my own driveway, literally. The Inaugural Frederick YMCA 10-miler graciously included my address in their route. And to make it even more special, in my mind at least, we were perfectly situated at mile marker 5. The exact middle. The half-way point. Sweet.

What do you do when a race is passing by your driveway? You get out there and cheer. And we did  for the 300ish runners that passed by our house. Extra coffee was brewed, hot biscuits were baked and donut holes were purchased. All of this was for us, the spectators. We had to keep our energy up for all that cheering. And drumming. Yes, we had a snare drum going at 6:45 a.m. Sorry neighbors, but you did get that extra hour of sleep from the time change. And this race only happens once a year. So deal.

As for the runners, in addition to cheers and a cadence, we had water (until we ran out of cups) and gummy bears. You've never seen an adult get so excited about gummy bears until you've met them with a plateful at mile 5.

The runners loved having a cheering section. Really, who doesn't loved to be the object of a good old-fashioned cheer? Go! Go! Go! You Rock!

We were joined by a few friends and our little group was the only set of spectators on our street. I hope next year there will be more. Maybe some of my neighbors could be challenged to make more noise than we do. Bring it on!

Don't tell my neighbors, but I already have plans for next year's race. Assuming the route stays the same and we are still mile 5 (crossing my fingers), we will be blaring from large speakers Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" in a repetitive loop. Why you ask? So we can all scring (that's scream and sing combined) these lyrics:

Woooaah we're halfway there...wooooah
Livin' on a prayer
Take my hand and we'll make it, I swear
wooooaah...Livin' on a prayer
It's gonna be awesome. It would only be better if I am actually running next year's race past said mile 5 and my personal cheering section is doing all of this for me.

I'm not even half-way there yet in my running, but all it takes to get there is a little motivation, some Bon Jovi on the mp3 player and a little prayer can't hurt.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Very Potter Halloween

As all Harry Potter fans know, there are 19 more days until the opening of The Deathly Hallows - Part 1. We are fans. In preparation for the opening and in honor of all things Potter, our Halloween was Potter themed. The stars of night were our own Harry and Ron.

Our Harry has scars, but not on his forehead.
And even though our Ron is a real redhead, he wanted to punch up the color a bit.

The grandparents even got into the act. Afterall, what's a Potter night without Molly and Arthur Weasley?

Here are the Weasleys with son Ron and all but adopted son Harry.

Professor Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore was there fighting dark forces And Professor Sybill Patricia Trelawney was there predicting doom for all.

Here Prof. Trelawney sees something wicked while Dumbledore takes an important call from He Who Must Not Be Named. 

Work calls even on Halloween. Seems the dark forces never rest.

Alas, Happy Halloween to all, Potter fans and not!