Rants & Raves

Stoltz Listening Room Provides Local Music Lovers with the Basics

 by Dwayne Eutsey

The Avalon Theatre’s Stoltz Listening Room has the three basic C’s I look for in a good music venue: it’s cool, casual, and close to home.

The coolness factor is immediately obvious the moment you step into the recently renovated room located upstairs from the theater’s main stage. There’s the muted lighting from globular ceiling lamps illuminating the space; displayed on one wall are beautifully strange and vibrant images taken by renowned photographer Pete Turner (many of which adorn the album covers of jazz albums as well as the rock band Steely Dan’s Greatest Hits); even the acoustic foam serving as the stage’s backdrop, with its soothing, ever-changing hues, has the appearance of modern art.

This décor makes the Stoltz Listening Room the perfect place to hear hip new acts in an intimate setting. I saw one such performer last Friday, a singer/songwriter/guitarist from Denver who calls herself Danielle Ate the Sandwich (her last name is actually Anderson). Touted as a “YouTube sensation,” Danielle’s set ranged from the quirky to the poignant and profound, often all wrapped together in a single song (the offbeat and touching number “We are Hot Dogs” comes to mind). Her reputation as a cross between Joni Mitchell and sardonic comedian Sarah Silverstein definitely fit well with the room’s ambience.

Robert Cray Band: Still Hot, Smokin’ Fun

By Dwayne Eutsey

Not long into the Robert Cray Band’s rocking set at the Avalon Theatre Monday night, I overheard someone behind me ask his friends if Robert Cray was from Easton.

“No, he’s from Texas. Why?” someone else replied. (Music geek’s note: Cray is actually from Georgia).

“Well, it just seems like he knows a lot of people here,” the original person said.

That observation should give you a sense of the easy-going rapport guitarist and singer Robert Cray and his band shared with enthusiastic fans packing the historic theater.

Cray, who has performed at the Avalon before, casually strode around the stage between numbers as if entertaining a group of friends back home in his living room (long-time bassist Richard Cousins, in fact, performed the entire concert barefoot). Fans in the audience responded in kind, good-naturedly yelling out song titles, lyrics, jokes, and just about anything else that came to mind.

When playing songs from his expansive repertoire, however, Cray was usually all business (with some playful musical moments sprinkled throughout).

Whether belting out room-shaking solos such as the one during “Chicken in the Kitchen”, exploring a dreamy soundscape in “Poor Johnny,” or playing everything in between, Cray remained rooted in place on the stage delivering up several smoking hot servings of his soulful musical blend time and again.

After leaving fans cheering on their feet with fan-favorite “Smoking Gun,” Cray followed up with the bluesy ballad “I Can’t Fail.”

Based on the audience’s raucous approval throughout the evening, it would appear as though Cray’s words (and performance) really hit home.

The Library Guy to Host Book Discussions

On Friday, September 17, at 9:30 a.m., and again on Thursday, September 23, at 6:00 p.m., “the library guy” (a.k.a. Bill Peak)  will host a book discussion on this year’s One Maryland One Book: “Outcasts United.”  One Maryland One Book is the Maryland Humanities Council program in which people all across the state read the same book at the same time. 

“Outcasts United” tells the true story of a coach who turned a disparate group of refugee children into a single unified soccer team.  The challenges she faced were immense.  The children were poor (one child showed up for his first practice wearing the only sneaker he owned, and was immediately dubbed “One Shoe”).  Many had experienced unimaginable violence in their short lives.  And all of them, to one degree or another, were disoriented by the strange new world in which they found themselves.  Yet through hard work and determination they came together to turn in one remarkable season.

Speaking of the book in The Star Democrat’s August library column, Peak wrote, “I loved this book.  At a time in my own life when the challenges seemed to arrive daily in big, lumbering pairs, it gave me a hero (the coach) and a group of likeable kids who overcame challenges that made mine pale by comparison.  It inspired me to go on.  The Maryland Humanities Council and I would like to share that inspiration with you.  Drop by the library, check out a copy of ‘Outcasts United,’ then sign up for one of the book discussions I’ll be leading on the subject.  I think you’re going to love the ride.”  To sign up for one of the library’ guy’s book discussions, call the library at 410-822-1626. 

Laboring with Earl

by Cyndi Paxton Johnson

I’m tracking Hurricane Earl while I listen to B.B. King sing the blues (which should tell you a bit about MY week!) I haven’t prepared for a hurricane since Isabelle, teaching my small child about the weather as we collected oil lamps, batteries and water.  The little girl is 12 now – but the old “hurricane gene” kicks into automatic function. 

Firefighters in Baltimore are already preparing – because by the time they KNEW Isabelle was going to slam them – it was too late to get into gear.  So…while I cautiously watch the news – and it still doesn’t sound too bad for us inland shorebirds – I’m also making my list.  For those of you on the Atlantic Ocean or Delaware Bay – you not only have to prepare your home for damaging rain and winds – you also have to be ready to evacuate, if necessary.  Makes me glad our small beach is a ½ mile away!

So tomorrow I’ll gas up the car, gather some food that doesn’t require cooking (since it’s too hot for the woodstove – which I cooked on during the blizzard!), refill the oil lamps, stock batteries for the radio, and put away the lawn furniture & decorations.  I’ll also make sure everyone’s prescriptions are stocked! Thursday morning I’ll fill all kinds of containers with water –  six people go through a LOT of water!

Most days I dream of a house on the ocean – today I’m feeling sorry for those homeowners – having to batten down the hatches and hope for the best!  

Happy Hurricane (and Happy Labor Day, too!)

Oliver! lets you reflect on your own emotional journey


By Michelle Danelle Sebly

Sylvia S. Maloney, Director/Producer of Oliver! , and Becca Van Aken, Children’s Co-Director of same, gifted a packed house last Saturday night with an awe-inspiring musical performance, fun for children and adults alike. Lionel Bart’s Oliver! is the third production in Church Hill Theatre’s 2010 season, New Directions.

This musical tells the story of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist almost entirely in song and dance, with just the right balance of action, drama, humor  and intrigue. Primarily for family audiences, Oliver! Also contains just enough tongue in cheek adult humor to entertain accompanying adults.

The cast, considering how large a cast it is, perform flawlessly together, adults, young adults, and children alike. Out of a cast of thirty-one, younger and older were equally represented, with fourteen kids and only three more than that number in adults. For Caroline Hazuda and Joshuah Tyer, street urchins in Fagan’s gang, it is an exciting debut performance. Caroline is a third grader at Kennard Elementary School, and enjoyed her experience so much she may just audition for another musical! Joshua, also in the third grade, attends Church Hill Elementary School. He performs in Oliver! side by side with his grandfather, Owen McCoy, who portrays both the Knife Grinder and a Bow Street Runner.

Relax with a great book - A single thread by Marie Bostwick

by Cyndi Paxton Johnson

I stumbled upon a fantastic book last week – a single thread by Marie Boswick.  The novel gets my Quick Read Recommendation based on the following points:

1. It doesn’t make me work.  I read a LOT of non-fiction for work. For pleasure, I prefer to quickly lose myself in the pages.

2. I identify with the characters.  No gun-toting, psychotic  gals living to ride on the back of some guy’s Harley and get revenge on the cheerleader that dissed her a million years ago.

3. The main character is a woman at a cross-road who decides to risk all and follow her dream.

4. Emphasizes the complexity and beauty of female friendship.

5. Talks about real issues, such as breast cancer.

6. Has a touch of romance – without bodice ripping or millionaires who save the day.

7. Teaches me something new – in this book I learn about quilt making!

8. The book inspires me to try something new, to follow my dreams and to value the people in my life!

Confessions of a Kitchen Snob

By Cyndi Paxton Johnson

Ok, I admit it – I’m a kitchen critic. I dislike cutesy, new-fangled or gimmicky when it comes to my culinary tools. I’d rather have several solid items that serve me well than drawers full of single use items.  Seriously – an egg slicer? Chicken-shaped measuring cups?  A special plate for holding deviled eggs? 

Unfortunately, my dislike for tools with poor or single function does NOTHING to dissuade me from trying new gadgets in my Holy Grail search for the ULTIMATE KITCHEN TOOLS & APPLIANCES.   Here’s a few that have NOT lived up to criteria:

Champion Juicer – expensive and considered one of the best in the world, especially beneficial for Cancer patients (I’m told) – I find it annoying to clean and dislike BAGS of pulp byproduct – seems wasteful. 

Large Cuisinart Food Processor – also expensive – and works very well.  Was great for making scone dough, in addition to chopping. But – annoying to clean. (especially now that we have no dishwasher)

Kitchenaid Mixer – the next to highest model – but not powerful enough to handle double & triple batches of dough – which is what I make. 

So, now that I’ve dissed some of the largest names in the world of food preparation – what DO I like?


Get free shipping when you order a Vita-Mix!Well, my new favorite kitchen tool (and the reason I’m selling the juicer and food processor) is the Vita-Mix.  I’d vaguely heard of it when I was intrigued by a Jack LaLanne Power Juicer commercial, and started searching online. Turns out THAT juicer/blender didn’t do too well in the reviews – everyone swore by the Vita-Mix, instead.   A couple of months later I was fortunate enough to attend a Vita-Mix demonstration – and I was sold.

I’m now the Smoothie Queen of the neighborhood – and we’re all enjoying a LOT more fruits and vegetables! Even when I make fruit smoothies I add some cabbage to the mix – it’s instantly emulsified and adds only sweetness and nutrients to the overall taste!  On slow, the Vita-Mix is also a food processor, chopping whole onions into manageable bits!

Best of all – it’s SO easy to clean – just add some warm water & dish detergent and turn it ON for 10 seconds. (don’t add more than the 2 cups of water directed – or you’ll have a sudsy Mount Vesuvius on your countertop – NOT that I’d ever DO that, of course! {Grin!})

A Spelling Book that WORKS!

There are many different ways to approach spelling. It's possible I've tried them all. The most popular are grade-appropriate spelling lists; unrelated words the child spells, defines, and memorizes. Except one of my children doesn't. She cannot memorize spelling words - even with games, physical movement, rewards, and so on. She gets very, very upset that her younger sibling can easily memorize and repeat the words.

I abandoned spelling lists a year ago - just because it seemed like I was setting her up for constant failure. I still BOUGHT spelling curricula, mind you - I just didn't use it. I kept hoping that by spelling out the words she asked for - she would eventually learn to spell. Except it didn't work. She can't spell. 

Last week, in desperation, I pulled out my brand new copy of "Sequential Spelling 1". I had ordered it last year, but after discovering the book primarily consisted of pages of word lists - and nothing else except a few "what to say" pages at the beginning - I put it away in disgust. But desperation does strange things to a homeschooling mother.

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.

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.

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