Baltimore’s Royal Couple Gets Hitched

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In perhaps the most talked about betrothal since that of Kate + William, Natty Boh and Sally Utz were officially married today at noon at Power Plant Live. Classy event for a classic duo. High profile shenanigans have marked their entire engagement, with the slender Mr. Boh proposing to an ebullient Ms. Utz on a billboard near Baltimore’s Penn Station in 2007. The couple, whose ages have not been made public, has been followed closely by papparazzi ever since, or at least it feels that way. In truth, the blissful event was a cunning publicity stunt for an ad campaign that moves forward full-force this week, wedding rings adorning said mascot lovers. 

 

Oh, The Rapture!

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Last year I received a flyer on my windshield that warned about the end of the world coming up very soon. Since my boyfriend’s birthday is May 22 and my own is May 25, last year we both decided to ignore our credit card bills, and go for a lavish four-day weekend in New York City over our birthdays. If that was going to be the last one ever, what a great way to spend it! This year, despite a busy schedule and that same pesky credit card balance, I agreed to the same trip. It seems like a win-win. If we get taken up, we’ll be so happy. And if we’re one of the Left Behind, we’ll have some great pizza and enjoy the Mets-Yankees game. I’m sure at least 18 of those guys will be left to play. Plus it’s only be a short train or bus ride home to see our friends who will no doubt still be in Baltimore ready to party like it’s 2011 (at least for the next 153 days).

Chinoiserie Chic

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Confession: We’ve gone cuckoo for Chinoiserie. (You know Chinoiserie, it’s an art style reflecting Chinese influence–embracing elaborate decoration and intricate patterns.) Chinoiserie accessories include wall art, lamps, rugs, fabric and furniture. Our biggest obsession: hand-painted Chinese wall panels. DeGournay and Gracie offer the loveliest. (Pictured, De Gournay in Portobello.)

Chinoiserie wall scenes depict trees, flowers and birds in garden landscapes, classic Chinese village life, mythical settings and images reminiscent of 18th century France.

Dating back to the 19th century, the wallpaper has been used by royal families and European aristocrats for decoration of their palaces and castles. But you don’t have to be a crowned head (or a newly crowned princess) to afford these luscious panels. Online resources offer single framed panels that don’t require a note on your home as deposit. Our disclaimer: “Buy the best and you will only cry once.” (Good advice from the iconic Miles Redd.)

Designers and fashion superstars who have used Gracie and De Gournay: Baltimore’s Billy Baldwin, Dorothy Draper,Tony Duquette, Bunny Williams, Katie Ridder, Victoria Hagan, Aerin Lauder, Gloria Vanderbilt and Anna Sui, to name-drop a few…

Taffeta Terror: What Was Your Worst Prom Moment?

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Prom night has always packed pressure. These days, the bright white limo costs a bundle, and every young one piled inside competes to stand out. If you’re a girl, your historic dress has to be just right to please you, your modest mom and dad, who sprang for it, while still enough to stun your date. If you’re a perfectionist female, who attended prom in the 70s or 80s, when it was all supposed to match, your shoes ought to blend, and might have been dyed to echo the big-wave-like ruffles of your bright blue float, er, dress. (Remember having blue ankles for two weeks?) If you’re a guy, you’re likely striving to seem confident and debonair for the first time in your short life, as you greet your girl’s somber pop and accept hugs from her giddy mother, who scrubs a spot of dried blood from your freshly shaven cheek, only making it bleed more. What happens next in America usually involves too much cologne reapplication, too much dry ice…and is a DJ-pumping study in chaos theory. Baltimore, please tell us your worst or weirdest prom memory, for a chance to win dinner at a pre-prom-worthy eating establishment soon to be announced. Think of it this way: You’ll get to go on an adult date in style, in non-candy-colored duds, and achieve post-prom catharis at the same time.

Yelling is Her Calling

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This is as quiet as my house ever gets: the whir of traffic, often punctuated by the boom of bass; sirens and copters; yelping, yipping, barking dogs—from blocks away to the pair at my feet; wind chimes, lawnmowers, and the chirping of a dozen species of birds, including one who sounds like the laugh at the beginning of the Surfaris’ “Wipe Out.”

It’s only ever this quiet during the school day, when my husband and daughter leave me to my own devices.  Even then, I’m compelled to fill their sonic void with sounds—court TV shows, music, a random video shared on Facebook.  I screech Heart’s “Barracuda” in the shower, play guitar, shout at the dogs.  I’m shouting at them right now, as they have just knocked over the zero gravity recliner, where I sit.

When my family is home, it’s clear we are loud.  It’s partly because I am a yeller.  I come from a short line of yellers and loud talkers, a detail I was cautious about sharing with my infant, but you can’t hide noise in your diaper bag.  It’s hard to whisper “You ASSHOLE” to the pokey driver in front of you.  It’s tough to hide your parents’ arguments, telephone fights with your sister, a public loathing of litterbugs and Express Lane abusers, and general abrupt disgruntle when that’s the person you are, whether by nurture or nature.

Even though I yell, I don’t need anger management.  I need control.  I once wrote that I yell to get people—my family, mostly—to listen to me, to respond to my THIRD REQUEST, DAMN IT, since the two nice ones went unheeded. DINNER IS READY!  YOUR SHOES DON’T BELONG IN THE KITCHEN!  CLEAN YOUR ROOM!  I yell to insist I really did tell them the seder is Monday night.  I TOLD YOU LAST WEEK THAT THE SEDER IS MONDAY NIGHT! 

I yell at the dogs when they bang into me. WATCH IT, DOGS!  I yell at the TV news. THAT’S NOT NEWS, YOU IDIOT, IT’S A MCDONALD’S PRESS RELEASE!  I yell at Serena’s band when they are anywhere besides the basement or outside.  DOWNSTAIRS OR OUTSIDE!  I yell at my daughter’s friend to go home so I can yell at my daughter.  I yell to get my husband to stop interrupting me mid-sentence to nag me about why the spray paint is sitting quietly on the deck, to get my family to PUT MY CAPOS BACK ON MY GUITAR WHERE THEY BELONG, to get my puppy to SIT!

The baton, with attached foghorn and vuvuzela, has been passed.  Serena Joy (a garlic necklace of a name chosen to counter that of her mother, Neurotic Misery) yells, too—at her mom and dad, her friends, the dogs, her band.  And my husband, Marty?  Let’s call him a passionate discusser.  He comes from a long line of boisterous talkers, grumpy West Virginians—Hatfields, in fact (the real McCoy!)—people like his Uncle John, who drank beer at lunchtime in the diner and bragged loudly of his sexploits; people like his brother, the builder/rock climber/ballerina, whose answering machine messages are spoken as if we’ll be playing them back from a neighbor’s house. His mom, who has lost much of her hearing, can still hear us. 

Our family is overheard in restaurants.  Marty’s cheer of appreciation (YEA!) can be heard on every family’s School of Rock video.   But our volume is about more than our voices.  (Our hair might as well be an ad for volumizing products.)  At any given moment in the Miller household, in any room, you are likely to hear a movie, a song, saxophone, drums, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, keyboards, drum machine—many of them at the same time, often one turned way up to hear over another.  Doors slam.  Dogs tussle.  The refrigerator groans like a ghoul.  Serena can’t calmly tell her dad that his timing is wrong on Led Zeppelin’s “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”; she has to shriek the correction.  I yell from the living room to the attic, hoping to be heard over the Wii; Serena yells her reply.  Our dog, Chance, yells at our new puppy, Jett .  And Marty passionately discusses the mess I’ve made in the house, the unwalked dogs, the spray paint can left on the deck.   He chews his food passionately, too.  I turn on the TV at dinner time to drown it out, and Serena turns the volume even higher. 

Shortly after I gave birth, I developed a sleep disorder and became so sensitive to the pesky sounds heard above the quietude that I had to muffle them with a white noise machine and foam earplugs.   The last straw, the thing that bled through my barriers to a soundless sleep and led to my isolation was Marty’s nocturnal inhalations and exhalations.  (Marty snore?  Never!)  I eventually moved to the guest room because the volume of his “nighttime breathing” was the only thing standing in the way of a good night’s sleep.  Serena, who already sleeps with her door closed, often gets out of bed in the middle of the night to close his door—because, as she puts it: “he [nighttime breathes] like a frickin’ tractor.”  If he didn’t, the four battery-operated clocks—one on the wall, one on the dresser, and two next to the bed, all set for a different time and a different alarm, all with a second hand—would have done me in.   I have a clock on the wall of the guest room, where I sleep, but its batteries are on the dresser.

These days, if I manage to sleep through the alarms, the excited morning dog whimpers, the banging screen door, the whistling coffee pot, and the social studies documentaries (who am I kidding? Social Studies documentaries? Zzzzzz.), then I am awakened at 6:30 a.m. by the siren of ended lesson planning: a rousing version of Muse’s “Hysteria” on electric bass or one of Billy Bragg’s anti-government ditties, sung with Cockney accent and passion, if not perfect pitch, accompanied by zealous guitar strumming in the echoic kitchen, a favorite playing place for its acoustics.

I suppose I should be embarrassed, especially that the clean clothes are in the closet, but our dirty laundry is often wafting out the window for three seasons.   That my overnight guest, visiting from Hawaii, was awakened by the loud charms jingling from Jett’s collar every time the dog moved and the 4:30 a.m. alarm that went off in the bedroom, despite my husband’s being out of town.  That when my daughter told me on Facebook that I should yell less, the next-door-neighbor’s daughter, away at college, “liked” it.

I sometimes worry about how loud we are (the neighbors always tell us they enjoy our harmonies; they neglect to mention the discord), but the truth is that I don’t know of any other way to live. I apologize for the sounds of us, but, at the same time, I can’t stifle them. I love our cacophony, our laughter, our play, and our music, even if it comes bundled with the yelling, snoring, and loud-chewing package.  I feel guilty that I’m entering Excedrin’s “What’s Your Headache” contest with a video of my daughter playing every instrument in the universe, with the volume up as high as it goes, because it’s a downright lie.  The music in my house never gives me anything but delight.  She is a thirteen-year-old girl who rocks.  So does her fifty-something dad.

The time has come to wholly embrace the loudness that is the Millers. Songs and movies should be rewritten about us: Turn it Up. Pump Up Our Volume. It WILL Get Loud…er. WHO LET THE DOGS IN? 

Yeah, that’s right. We are the Millers, and we go to eleven. (That’s one louder.)

BSO Music for Sale

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It’s no secret that, like most orchestras across the country, the Baltimore Symphony is in financial difficulty, looking desperately for new sources of revenue and trying hard to attract ticket-buyers. As a subscriber, I sometimes can’t help feeling it would be better if the symphony died a quiet, dignified death. It might be preferable to the current cringe-inducing hustle, the posters of Marin Alsop, Paul McCartney tributes, wine-tasting nights and SuperPops. This month, for example, the Schumann concert is billed as “A Beautiful Mind,” and will be accompanied by an on-stage discussion about whether “manic episodes were responsible for Schumann’s bursts of creative genius” (who cares?). Even worse, throughout May, many concerts are paired with “Decorators Show House events,” in which symphony-goers are invited to visit a local show home and to “Purchase the perfect gifts and quality additions to your home décor from among designer items displayed throughout the Show House and from the on-site boutique.” When a concert that would interest me is paired with a “theme” like this, I’m immediately turned-off—why assume that those who like classical music are also interested in “designer home décor”? If this is what the symphony has come to, I’d prefer to sit at home and listen to the radio. At least I can turn it off when the ads come on.

"Bloomfield’s" Pedigree and Beauty

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An unmistakable sign that you have entered Maryland horse country, “Bloomfield” sits at the corner of Tufton and Greenspring Avenues. It is as quintessentially “blue blood shabby” as you would expect. The boxes are all checked:historic significance, pedigree and beauty. Can’t you just picture an idyllic post Hunt Cup party here? Gin flowing and headbands all askew? Quick, someone call Slim Aarons!
Bloomfield started life in 1780 as a new pad in the New World for Samuel Worthington. His land holdings covered all of, you guessed it, the Worthington Valley. The house was built with the imported bricks of his disassembled English home (ties to England – check). In the 1920s, Bloomfield was purchased by the Vanderbilt family for their dear boy, Alfred, on his 21st birthday (American royalty – check). Alas, Alfred found his gift lacking (spoiled brat!). Having grown up among the Gatsbyesque mansions of Long Island, he had bigger plans. These manifested themselves in the construction of the imposing “Rolling Ridge” next door (another story for another day, darling). The house was then sold to the Parr family whose patriarch was the president of the Maryland Jockey Club (equestrian affiliation – check). Over the years Bloomfield has been home to raucous parties, tempestuous marriages, cock fighting, divorces and plenty of general W.A.S.P. dysfunction (lets face it, no one checks these off, but they always exist). All of this brings a patina very specific to houses of this type. The true beauty of the home, however, has always been its situation among boundless bucolic perfection. Ah, the views. Today, those views are of the neighboring “Sagamore Farms,” which has recently been brought back to grandeur by Under Armour’s Kevin Plank. How nice then to live at Bloomfield and enjoy all that loveliness without the expense of refurbishing and maintaining Sagamore (reportedly in excess of $15 million and growing). Bloomfield has just been sold to a lovely young couple from a lovely old family who are said to have an affinity for horse racing. Let’s hope they know how to throw a good party…and invite me.

Rating the Inner Harbor Attractions

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No one asked us our opinion, but we thought we’d weigh in anyway on the nine proposals before the Baltimore Development Corporation for attractions to increase interest in the Inner Harbor, that tarnished old Baltimore jewel.  Descriptions below compiled from The Baltimore Sun

Beach volleyball courts on Rash Field.

* * * * * Love the simplicity. Inexpensive and green too!  Volleyball tourneys are sure to attract a crowd.

Eighteen-hole miniature golf course on Rash Field.

* * Miniature golf is good clean fun for the family, but it can be riff-raff-y for teenagers and young adults. And is miniature golf something that will really motivate adults on date night to head to the Inner Harbor?

A 200-foot “observation wheel” at the end of Pier 5. 

* * * * This is a Ferris wheel, plain and simple. Although we love the classic silhouette of a Ferris wheel along the sky, we’ve all been on Ferris wheels and a bigger one won’t get the crowds to the Inner Harbor. Isn’t the pro trapeze school nearby enough carnival juice for one tourist-y urban setting? We’d favor this more if there weren’t better proposals to consider.

A 27-seat “trackless” train from the Inner Harbor’s north shore to the carousel near the Maryland Science Center and Rash Field.

* * * A nice alternative, especially on a hot, humid Baltimore summer day, but ultimately not enough pizzazz.

A trampoline, a 200-foot “observation wheel,” a carousel and miniature golf course, as well as facilities for wall climbing, rappelling and slides, among other things, for Rash Field, West Shore Park and other areas. 

* * Sounds like PlayLand. 

Sky trail rope course, location unspecified.

* * * A little dull. Lukewarm.

The aerophare between Harborplace’s Light Street Pavilion and the Baltimore Visitor Center. 

* * * * * This unusual “flying lighthouse” offering panoramic views of the city is getting the most buzz and for good reason.  We have no idea what it is!  We’re already curious! Deemed Baltimore’s smaller version of the Eiffel Tower by the project’s developer. 

An aerial tram ride and zip line from Federal Hill to the Baltimore Visitor Center.  

* * * * This gondola lift-like air tram poses the biggest threat to the aerophare. Sounds like fun and unusual enough for visitors and to try on your own.

A variety of activities, including a 60-foot tower for rock climbing, zip lines, a three-person giant swing, kayak tours or land-based scavenger tours and a “team building” center. Terrapin proposes to use Rash Field, West Shore Park and the waterside plaza in front of the Maryland Science Center

* * Okay, you lost us at “team building center.”  Sounds like a work seminar. 

Which is your favorite?

Babies & Bars: Not as Good as Gin & Tonic

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You’d never show up to pick up your babysitter while gulping down your third Red Bull and vodka, explaining,  “Sorry, but I couldn’t get a bartender!” Yet, you don’t feel strange about bringing your baby to the bar every once in while when you can’t get a sitter?

Although your bartender makes a little more than twice as much as your babysitter, approximately $30/hour on a good night, most babysitters live and eat at home, get their healthcare paid for by their parents, get paid in cash, and never see a W-2. So really, your bartender makes a little less in the way of disposable income. 

Does this cause any kind of resentment from the other side of the bar?

To get some straight dish, I visited and talked to bartenders, current and former, from Grand Cru, Brewers Art, Tapas Teatro, Clementine, The Dizz, the Mount Royal Tavern, Fraizer’s, Holy Frijoles, Ryan’s Daughter, and Zen West. The bartenders ranged in age from 25 to “none of your business,” with a combined 70-plus years of bartending experience in some of Baltimore’s most popular and entrenched drinking establishments. By giving them the liberty to speak without attribution, they were able to let you know some things here that they aren’t always comfortable saying in front of your credit card  their tip bucket directly to your face.

It’s Not Your Imagination. They Do Like You

First, you should know that your bartenders love you. It was the first thing they said. Bartenders are in this business because they like to be with people. In fact, all but one made a point to say that they actually mostly like your kids too. One sympathetic bartender, a father himself declared, without hesitation, that when he’s not working, he’ll often take his five-month-old out and plop the carrier on a stool right next to him at the bar. “I like to sit at the bar because I like to talk to the bartender,” he explains, “bartenders are good company and I don’t want to sit off in the corner just because I have a kid.”

Yet, as much as they enjoy your company, as charming and amused by you as they seem, it’s important to remember that while you’re drinking, they’re working.  On a scale from you to your kids, most bartenders are going to rank their preference closer to the former, preferring juicy tips to Juicy Juice boxes.

Another bartender put it more succinctly: “Honestly, I don’t care if there are seven babies all lined up right at the bar in car seats –as long as they’re all going to tip me.” 

No Laws on These Babies

At the third bar I visited, I began to explain that I already knew that it’s illegal for kids to sit at the bar. And the bartender quietly correct me, inadvertently letting me in on one of the bartenders’ most-closely guarded secrets: it is not actually illegal to have a child in a bar in Baltimore City. 

In fact they can sit right at the bar, without breaking the law at all.  

A quick call to the Liquor Licensing Board confirms this.  I spoke with Jane Schroeder, deputy executive secretary for the Board of Liquor License Commission for Baltimore City.  Schroeder was very clear that this only applies to Baltimore City, and that other jurisdictions can make there own laws. “But there is no legislation that specifically addresses people under 21 being in a bar,” said Shroeder.  “They just can’t drink there.”

But privately owned establishments can refuse service to anyone they choose, right?

Yes, she said, as long as it’s not based on race, color, religion, or national origin. Likewise, to keep things fair, places aren’t allowed just to arbitrarily deny customers because of say, a strange hairdo, too many facial piercings, or a preference for the Yankees.

Some legitimate reasons service could be refused:

• Unreasonably rowdiness

• Overfilled capacity 

• Closing time or the kitchen is closed

• Large groups of non-customers looking to just sit 

• Inadequate hygiene (e.g. excess dirt, extreme body odor, etc.)

In most cases, refusal of service is warranted where a customer’s presence in the restaurant detracts from the safety, welfare and well-being of other patrons and the restaurant itself.

Can you think of anyone who might meet one or all of the criteria for refusal of service?

Hmmm.

Anyone who often raises his voice to its highest level despite being asked to quiet down? 

Who travels with a very large stroller, big bag of toys that he strews out over 2 tables?  

Who can sit for hours without paying, and then, doesn’t wash her hands after going to the bathroom? 

Some places, like Grand Cru, have instituted an “adult swim” policy to keep kids out after 6 p.m. You’d be wise to respect this. The truth is, your baby’s always on the verge of getting bounced from a bar; it’s what you do that makes the bough break.

Naps and Nappies

While most parents will readily tell you that they wouldn’t dream of keeping a child in a bar after 8 p.m., it seems that early-to-late afternoon drinking with the tots is deemed acceptable. Not too early, so as to seem problematic, and not too late, so as to seem neglectful. In the bartending world the earlier time of day is known as Happy Hour, a time for cheap drinks and eats. A time for illicit office romances to begin and people to ruefully complain about bosses. For better or worse, Happy Hour is an adult way to wash off and down the workday doldrums or for those who have been home all day with the kids (and gone to the trouble and expense of getting a babysitter) to get away from the kids. In the world of small children, this same time of day is known as the Witching Hour, a frightful stretch somewhere between afternoon nap and dinnertime. Just when you’re winding down, they’re just getting started. A few pops may take the edge off for mommy and daddy, but this can just fan the flames for a little one who feels that every hour is his Right-to-be-Happy Hour.

Be mindful of boundaries, both physical and societal, especially in smaller spaces. Yet another bartender tells a story of looking to the back of his bar and seeing  “six giant strollers blocking the way to the bathroom, so people who weren’t wearing diapers had trouble getting back there.”  

Almost all of them squeamishly recalled at least one public changing of the underguards right at a table that was next to another table of people eating. If you don’t see a changing table in the bathroom, that may be a good indicator that they don’t want you to make one out of one in the dining room.

Don’t Just Unpack-N-Play

One of the biggest single gripes that your server has is with the expansion of Baby A into Sections 1, 2, and 3. Bars (and restaurants) are dangerous places. Knives, flames, boiling liquid, shard-prone glass are the things that make these places run. Wee ones tend to reside below eye level, the perfect target for harried feet. Mashed bananas, flung cookies, and rolling crayons can become lubricants for a busy bartender’s feet. “The scariest thing to me when kids are around: carrying a big tray of hot coffee or tea,” said one.

Before setting up camp for your little ones in a tavern or restaurant, survey the scene to make sure that you’re not in the shipping lanes.

Time Outs All Around (and Make it a Double)

Best advice: know your kids and respect their habits. If Delilah gets fussy after an hour, remember to order your drinks by the glass, not the bottle, and be emotionally prepared to leave after just one. As frustrating as it can be, there’s no need for you to get upset and throw a tantrum when it’s time to go home.  If you’re good, you can come back another day.  He’ll make it one more for your baby–just make it one more for the road.

In fact, your bartenders want you to come back and enjoy yourself. And they’re definitely looking forward to seeing your kids again…say in 15 or 20 years…

 

The New Yorker Praises the Maryland Film Festival

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The New Yorker’s Richard Brody wrote a glowing piece on the Maryland Film Festival today.  We love the way he refrains from naming names, and just likes the aesthetic of the festival. We couldn’t have put it better ourselves…