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Get Crabby…

Steamed Crabs and Mallets to "get crackin' with"

Steamed crabs and mallets to “get crackin’ with”

Regions of the United States all come with an attachment to food, a food they each think they do better than anyone else.  The deep south has grits and fried chicken, Texas has tex-mex, New England has clam chowder and both Chicago and New York claim pizza.

We Marylanders claim crabs. We can steam, crack, pick, or cake them like no one’s business. The crab is key to Maryland culture; the state tourism site has pages of information on the Great Places to Eat Maryland Blue Crab. Heck, the Blue Crab is the state’s official crustacean, and how may states have an official crustacean? We will even eat them whole, shell and all (when we catch a soft shell, that is). So we celebrate our love of crustaceans with crab festivals.

I know it may be a little late but the biggest festival is the Chesapeake Crab & Beer Festival, which boasts it’s the largest one of its kind in the world. The annual festival is held in two locations, one at the beginning of the summer in June, and the other at the end of the summer in August. The June festival is held in the Inner Harbor, Baltimore (founded 1729). The August festival is held in the National Harbor (founded 2008), which is slowly becoming a place to enjoy an evening by the water with some quality food.

The end-of-summer festival has morning and evening sessions that run from 11am -3 pm and 5pm -9pm. You buy a ticket and get an all-you-care-to-taste experience, including more than 50 craft brews, live music and thousands of chairs, tables and mallets for you to get cracking. Did I mention there will be crabs to eat?

The festival steams more than 60,000 crabs. So let’s do some crab math.

There are 6 dozen large male crabs to a bushel (large basket), 72 crabs, which means the festival will go through 833 bushels. You need 12 crabs to create a pound of meat so that means you have 5,000 pounds of crab meat, or the potential to make 10,000 crab cakes.  You get 36 teaspoons in a can of Old Bay, a necessity of any crab cake recipe, and you use only 1 tsp per cake.  So that’s a minimum of 277 cans of Old Bay seasoning.

You still have time to head over to National Harbor on Sunday, August 23rd if you live in the DC area.  The website says they are sold out, but I spoke to the promoter and he said they have plenty of tickets left for purchase at the door. The best advice would be to bookmark the festival page in you browser and keep checking back so you can make a weekend of it in Baltimore or National Harbor next year.

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Say Thank You, Please

I may have said it before, but my upbringing in manners and etiquette was quite formal.  I can still remember each time my brother and I would go to spend the night at our friend Jimmy’s house, which was often, being told by our parents “say ‘yes, sir’ and ‘yes, ma’am,’” though Jimmy’s mother Nancy was like family. I still carry a lot of that formality to this day.  My use of sir and ma’am isn’t forced, it’s just my default way of addressing people — even children.

With that being said, it may not surprise you that whenever we stay for an extended period of time or think the service at a guest house, B&B, or pension is excellent a thank you gift after departure feels only natural. The Emily Post manners guide even has a section with a list of inexpensive thank you gifts for house guests.  You’ll notice my favorite gift is at number 10 on the list, a picture frame with a picture taken during your visit.

The watercolor below is our take on that idea. Amanda’s Aunt Lillian is a very talented artist, so we commissioned her to paint this picture based on a photo taken on our trip to Seatown, England earlier this year.

A watercolor of the Anchor Inn at Seatown, England

A watercolor of the Anchor Inn at Seatown, England by the talented Lillian Tanner.

You probably appreciate when people say thank you, so when someone opens their home, even if it is a business like a B&B, you should say it, too. One of the points of travel is making friends, and isn’t making friends with someone who can offer you a place to crash and offer you a warm cup of tea after you long travel a great idea? And, for me, I just like letting people know how much their kindness and hard work is appreciated.

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20 Hours on the Bay

I have a pretty close relationship with my younger sister, a closer relationship the most older brothers and younger sisters, but that relationship does have its boundaries. For example, I did not attend the mentally scarring event also known as her bachelorette party. Instead of being present for that highly awkward situation, her finance Matt and I decided to go for a overnight sail on the Chesapeake Bay.

I will admit to being a bit nervous about this adventure, and not because of a fear of being lost at sea. I have known Matt for nearly a decade and this would be the longest time we’ve ever spent one-on-one together. 

I arrived at Sandy Point State Park at the foot of the Bay Bridge a bit later than planned but still was able to beat the boat, which Matt was bringing down from their house in West Virginia more than 70 miles away. If you’re not from Maryland you may not realize Bay Bridge traffic tends to back up a lot on Fridays in the summer. You only have one place in Maryland to cross the bay, and that’s the bridge near Annapolis. The incredibly high bridge is tall enough to let cruise ships and freighters easily pass underneath. The height is so intimidating to some drivers

a service used to be offered in which a pilot car would lead you over the bridge.

When Matt arrived it didn’t take long to raise the mast and rigging (stowed for transport) of the 22-foot Catalina. We eased her (since all boats are girls) into the water, then picked up and filled out our yellow tags which we tied to our antenna to let the park service know where we were heading and that we planned to be out over night.

We pushed off and headed out under our the power of the small electric motor, which made it easier to navigate the narrow channel from the harbor. We ran up the rigging and the sails and caught a gust of wind and were off at a good clip. But that didn’t last long.

The bay is notorious for its wind dying out around 3 p.m. When you’re on a sailboat that becomes a problem. We slowly limped along at about one knot (just under a mile an hour) for the next four hours. We had some fits and spurts of conversation and that was fine. I’ve never known him to be to chatty and the simple peace and calm of the water and gentle breeze was good enough for me.

It was around 7 p.m. when the wind picked back up, just in time to set us on course for the cove on the far side of Sandy Point where we would anchor for the night. The far shore was dotted with homes and summer homes of some of the Annapolis elite, each with its own dock and a boat bobbing in the water.

With our anchor dropped, our small Catalina became a transformer. The roof for the cabin extended up and the sun shade the over the cockpit doubled the live-aboard space. I wisely remembered to bring a large mosquito net, a lesson learned in Virgin Gorda, which we draped over the sunshade freeing us from the threat of horseflies and other biting bugs. We listened to music and had a little to eat as the sun began to set. I even made time to FaceTime Amanda. A sunset over the water is a beautiful thing and even more amazing as it set in the west the full moon began to rise in the east moments later.

It was a long day. As usual, I had gotten up at 1:30 in the morning and all the activity had me pretty tuckered out. The gentle rolling of the boat on the water rocked me into a sound sleep. I’m good at sleeping in the sunlight, which is good since I was sleeping out in the open on the deck, and wasn’t ready to get up with the sunrise. We pulled in the netting and scarfed down the last of the donuts Andrea had sent along for us before setting sail for our return leg.

Our return trip featured one thing we didn’t have the day before: wind. A stiff breeze carried us to the breakneck speed of 6 miles per hour. It wasn’t long until the bay was filled with sails catching the precious wind on a hot summer day. I took the helm as we made a bee-line for the bridge. We’d charge into the wind the tack over at the middle of the span and let the southerly wind carry us to the channel. We worked great together tacking back and forth getting the most out of our head wind.

The teamwork truly became important in an instant as a gust came up, pushing the boat onto its side. I dove down with the tiller and turned her dead into the wind causing the jib to flap as Matt jumped over me to release the boom and spill all the air from our sails and right the boat. The excitement only lasted a moment, but it was enough for us both. We were close to the channel so decided to go ahead and lower the sales and power up the electric motor for the final quarter mile.

We pulled her out of the water and packed up the sails and mast, relaxed and recharged for the rest of the week. I have to admit there was nothing to be nervous about. We didn’t talk much, but the simple act of sailing together was a bonding experience and a good one for future brothers-in-law.

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I Think I’m Turning Japanese… Otakon 2015

Warning: Geek Alert!!!!!

My sister Andrea and I got to experience the amazingness that is Otakon in Baltimore last weekend.  Otakon is one of the largest Japanese anime, manga and culture conventions on the east coast. 30,000 fans crowd into the Baltimore Convention Center in costumes ranging from Love Live! (a show about school girl pop stars) to Voltron (a show about a large robot defending the planet), making it quite the spectacle. We (of course) had to go in costume too. My sister went as a teacher who dresses like a maid and wears bunny ears, but constantly tries to kill her students at a magic school.  I dressed as one of her students.

We know how to nerd out.

The con covers two hotels and the entire convention center with dealers, artists, panels, video premiers and exclusives. A few highlights from our trip include the panel called “Magical Girl to Mother Dragon Women in Anime.” This was a little academic but extremely interesting. For example, did you know all magical girls (e.g. Sailor Moon) can trace their roots back to Samantha in the U.S. television show Bewitched? We also sat in on a panel with production company Harmony Gold as the president told us about the Sony-backed Robotech movie. We sat in a concert with glow sticks watching the Love Live! cast (voice actors) concert video.

We must have walked miles over the weekend. We stayed in the Inner Harbor, a few blocks from the convention center at the Hilton Garden Inn.  The staff was very welcoming and used to the annual party and the fun cosplayers it brings.

The convention actually began on Thursday with a big outdoor concert, then continued through Sunday. The schedule of events often lasted until 2:00 in the morning, especially the dance parties with anime cover bands, EDM, and late-night viewing of 18+ anime (you need a special wrist band for those).

The panels we attended were all pretty good, some could have been better but all were good. One of the most fun aspects of the convention is that the program lists schedules and locations for group photo shoots. If you’re cospalying as one of the characters from the shows listed you can drop by while a gaggle of photographers take your pictures with other similar cosplayers. It’s great for people-watching and being impressed by the skill used to create the wearable works of art.

We exhausted ourselves but had immense fun. I think this passes ComicCon for my favorite convention.  I can’t wait to go back next year.

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Harpers Ferry: A Quick Note on the Fire

A fire that began in the early hours of July 23 in the historic town of Harpers Ferry destroyed several business and irreplaceable history. The two large buildings made of timber and stone that were gutted by the fire had stood for 200 years.

I arrived on the scene at 6:30 a.m. and the fire department was still struggling to put down the fire after three hours. It wasn’t officially put down until around 11:00. You could see the smoke from six miles away.  The only saving grace of the tragedy is not one person was harmed.

Harper's Ferry Fire Harpers Ferry, West Virginia is one of the historic jewels of the United States. The small town in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia sits on the flood plain and hillside of the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, about 10 minutes from where I grew up. It was founded in 1734 by Robert Harper. He started his ferry across the Potomac in 1761 and the crossing became a gateway for early settlers traveling west in the frontier, which in those days was considered between 100 and 200 miles from the Atlantic coastline. American founding fathers Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both visited Harpers Ferry in their day.

Harper's Ferry Fire

The town is best known for  radical abolitionist John Brown’s raid on the arsenal in the town in 1859 in is attempt to steal weapons and supplies to start a rebellion to free the slaves being held in the United States.  The raid failed but is considered one of the sparks that lead to the U.S. Civil War that started in 1861.

The town is part historic park and part functioning town, and well worth the visit for any one who like history, hand-made crafts and the feel of village life. The town has seen many tragic events in is long history: fires, the raid, massive floods and the Civil War (to name a few), and it’s still standing and prospering.

The fire was devastating and eight business were destroyed, but the town is still there and waiting to host your visit. We’re coming up on the best time of year to visit, too. Harpers Ferry is stunning in the fall as the leaves in the Shenandoah Valley begin to turn.

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New Years for Nerds: A Front Seat for the #PlutoFlyby

I count myself as a lucky man for many reasons, in part because my job as a photojournalist gives me the opportunity to experience once-in-a-lifetime events — several of them in the last 14+ years.

This past Tuesday in the early morning hours, I rolled into the parking lot of John’s Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, home of the New Horizons space probe team. The day was to be the day we finally got a good clear look at the planet we call Pluto. The New Horizons craft had been traveling for the last nine years at speeds reaching and exceeding 45,000 miles per hour as it journeyed toward the edge of the solar system.

It was a trip that took so long that it saw the planet the mission was sent to explore demoted to dwarf planet status. On a flag-waving note, the United States is the only country in the world to have sent a probe to visit every planet in the solar system.

To set the stage, the large hall was packed — it was like New Years for nerds. The crowd of more than 200 consisted of scientists and engineers, families and coworkers — even Bill Nye himself — all ready to celebrate the culmination of more than a decade of work and waiting.

Pluto Press Kit

As the time to reach Pluto ticked down into mere hours and then minutes, I got the chance to talk with Annette Tombaugh, the daughter of the man who discovered it. She told me his story; he was a farmer who made his own telescope and asked the local observatory to take a look at it to see if it was any good.  The observatory thought it was so good they offered him a job. He began scanning the sky as a professional with no formal training and came across a strange star, one that looked like it moved. Less then a year after he was hired he officially discovered Pluto.

We all hushed as the clock counting down New Horizons’ closest approach to the Pluto reached 20 seconds, and then at nine (because Pluto is the ninth planet) everyone began to count down. When the clock hit zero the audience erupted in cheers and applause with hugs and high fives circulated around the room to celebrate a job well done.

We don’t hide the fact that we’re a little spacey here at No Kids, so when I say this was one greatest events I’ve witnessed you have to understand our level of nerd-dom. We have a Pluto throw pillow bearing the year of its discovery (1930) and its demotion (2006).

F-Yeah, Pluto

Zeke, excited about the flyby.

Still, no matter what your personal level of nerdery, this was and is a big deal. We as a species have a duty and a drive to discover, whether that is here on Earth as we look at other cultures or up in space where we look at the stars.


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Greece: In and Out of Ruins

Once again Greece shouts “oxi!” (no), and it sends shivers through Europe. This time it’s not taking the moral high ground by saying no to Mussolini and the fascists, it’s to the European Union and the repayment of its debts.

I’m not a going to get into the details (and this is most certainly not a financial blog), so let me just put it this way: Greece’s economy is over-burdened by debt. The country owes billions to everyone, including its own people. A long-lasting set of entitlements and pension programs is adding to the burden as well as the attitude of most Greeks that paying taxes isn’t necessary.

The main industries in Greece are food and tobacco processing, textiles, chemicals, metal production, mining and — most importantly — tourism. But it hasn’t experienced any growth in the industrial sector since 2014, the unemployment rate hovers around 27% and isn’t rebounding anytime soon. To put that statistic in perspective, Americans thought the sky was falling back in 2009 when the unemployment rate reached 9.9%.

The point I’m trying to make is that the country is flat out broke. Even if the Greek government forcefully collected all the taxes owed them and slashed its public spending it would be a mere raindrop in an Aegean Sea of debt.

"The Exemplary Beach at Batsi"

“The Exemplary Beach at Batsi” – Andros Island, Greece

You hear phrases like  “country in crisis,” and “protests shut down Athens,” and you may think it’d be a bad time to visit. Who wants to be caught in a mob of angry Greeks? I sure don’t.  But just like the  long-held Greek tradition of avoiding paying your taxes, the tradition of showing your guests hospitality is still ingrained in their culture.

You will be treated as an honored guest in their country, especially since you are bringing much-needed cash into the economy. The $1,000-$2,000 you spend on a week’s vacation in the islands or on the mainland is important to each local economy. Not all of the money you spend will find its way into the coffers of the government, but it’s sure to end up in the pockets of the tavern owner or pension host.

Your tourist dollars are going to make or break the local economies of the white-washed villages and seaside towns you admire each day as you stare longingly at your office calendar of Greece. And when you plan your trip, consider visiting the ones outside of the popular cruise ship circuit.  I guarantee they’ll be just as beautiful and even more thankful for your visit.


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