Monday, September 29, 2014


I'm back after an insane work week where I was all but sleeping at the office. When the real world intrudes, there is sadly no time left over for the blogosphere or fabulousness. There are only hours til deadlines that pass entirely too quickly, endless documents to edit and format, and copious amounts of caffeine - which, since I don't drink coffee, meant that I consumed more Coke Zero last week than my body wants to deal with in an entire season.

Squire Andy talks about
Colonial Annapolis
Before things got particularly crazy, I got together with my friends Dave and Mari (of the hiking expedition this summer - you'll see them referenced a lot, as they are some of my best friends), who had decided to have one last hoorah before the season took off. Like me, they are performers (that's actually how we met), and with Mari's show opening this past weekend, Dave's in November, and mine in December, we wanted to get in one last weekend of fun before we had to turn ourselves over to our respective stage obligations.

Fortunately, this involved no planning and very little decision making on my part. This made it an even better vacation than I could have hoped for!

We drove down to Annapolis in the morning for a walking tour of historic Annapolis. Now, I had done this (maybe even this exact tour) when I was in the 4th grade, as does every 9 year old in the state of Maryland, since that's when they teach us all about Maryland History. But since that was more years ago than I care to admit to, it was a nice refresher.

A Colonial inn on Church Circle,
complete with flower vendor on the sidewalk
The tour included St. Anne's Episcopal Church (one of the oldest in the state), the state house, and the U.S. Naval Academy.

Chambers for the House of Delegates
The Chapel at the U.S. Naval Academy
I think the biggest shocker for me was going onto the campus of the Naval Academy. I remember a time when going to Annapolis meant drooling over the handsome cadets looking all polished in their white uniforms.

Now they all look painfully young...

The tomb of John Paul Jones beneath
the chapel at the U.S. Naval Academy

At the end of the tour, we were all starving and thirsty, so we ducked into the general store along the main drag and asked for a restaurant recommendation. I always prefer to ask the locals where they go to eat, and avoid the touristy spots - you inevitably get better food with less hype. We were steered across the bridge to Davis' Pub (which was actually featured on an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives) and sat outside to an amazing lunch of BLT Deviled Eggs and Chipotle Habanero Pulled Pork Sandwiches - very messy, but worth every bite!

We had to walk off everything that we'd eaten, so we made our way back to thank the man at the candy counter of the general store for his recommendation, where I couldn't resist buying a giant turtle pecan cluster. So yummy!

The boaters took advantage of the gorgeous sunny day
And, of course, us being us, we had to stop in The Spice & Tea Exchange, since Dave & Mari are both incredible cooks who like to experiment with spices and even grow their own herbs. And I couldn't resist buying more tea, even though I haven't made it through my stash from the last time I went to their Georgetown location! But honestly, how is a girl to pass up Coconut Oolong tea?

Then we bolted up to Baltimore, because Dave had signed us up for the Fells Point Wicked History Pub Crawl. Our guide, Cliff, was a riot, and even though I've been to Fells Point many times, there were definitely some revelations from our tour! Our first stop was Sticky Rice, which in its earlier incarnation as a brothel was where Billie Holiday got her start singing!
Once upon a time, this was a bordello
where Billie Holiday used to sing
Next up was One Eyed Mike's, a Grand Marnier Bar. We couldn't believe how quickly the cost of a shot skyrocketed between the bottom shelf GM and the next step up!

Who knew there were so many kinds of Grand Marnier?
Then we were off to The Horse You Came In On, known for its connection to Edgar Allan Poe. You can get completely lost in the hilarious sayings and posters on every wall. While we were there, I tagged us all on Facebook. Minutes later, we turned around to find a big group of our theater buddies had snuck up behind us - they were having dinner a few doors down before going to see a show in the neighborhood. That's Baltimore for you - a big small town.
A favorite (and final) haunt of Edgar Allan Poe

Do the flags give away that
this is an Irish pub?
Our final stop was The Cat's Eye Pub, which at one time allegedly had IRA connections. Whether it was the deafening music we could hear from the street, or the fact that I come from a long line of Irish Protestants, we opted to skip this one, and went back to Sticky Rice for some Japanese cuisine! Delicious!

Entirely too much food, a day full of walking and history - it was a great way to kick off the autumn season!

All content and images are ©The Casual Diva, except where otherwise noted. Content may not be republished without prior consent of the author.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Five Breakfast-y Dreams

What a week it's been! And now Scotland has voted to remain part of the UK in a peaceful and democratic move. It's a great reminder that history is unfolding in front of our eyes every single day.

In other news, it has turned chilly here, and I can tell we're right on the cusp of my favorite season, autumn! But with the cooler days comes a greater reluctance to drag myself out of the warmth and comfort of my bed.

It doesn't help that this has been a bear of a week, and I find myself short on both sleep and energy.

All week long, I've been trying to finish off the skimmings from my peach and blackberry jam-making projects (I'm down to half a tea cup of Blackberry Port Jam) by eating it on whole wheat toast for breakfast. But this morning, my unwillingness to face the day meant that I was running late, and so I justified not packing my breakfast and just grabbing a 90-calorie granola bar by reminding myself that I'm only working until lunchtime today.

Still, as I sit at my computer and write this, I find that I really don't want that granola bar. There's breakfast, and then there's Breakfast.

I went through many years of not starting out the day with a meal - I even prided myself on my ability to go without. But now it's become a regular part of my morning ritual, and I find myself not looking forward to tearing open that wrapper.

Five Things I'd Rather Eat for Breakfast

  1. Peanut Butter Oatmeal - Regular oatmeal was never good enough for my mother. Too plain, too boring, too bland. So she created a simple recipe for Peanut Butter Oatmeal (until I was in college, this was the only way I remembered eating oatmeal). Just combine in a medium pot 2 cups milk, 1 cup instant oats, 1/2 cup brown sugar, and 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter, and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. The oatmeal thickens very quickly, so once it's in a bowl, I like to pour some more milk over it. It's not the healthiest way to start the day, but it sure warms you up on a cold morning!

  2. Ring-a-lings - My mom only made these a few times when I was a kid, but I loved them and always begged her to make them. The recipe is courtesy of Pillsbury.

  3. Monkey Bread - When I was little, my mom had a microwave monkey bread recipe that she did in a glass pie plate. I would get so excited that I would yell, "Boy, oh boy!" And so for years, that's what we called it - Boy Oh Boy. I've never made the microwave version myself, but whenever it's my turn to bring in breakfast for the office, I skip the Dunkin' Donuts and the Panera bagels and usually make some version of Monkey Bread. There's so many ways to do it - the classic recipe, the savory version, as an appetizer, or really, any way you can think of! Right now, I'm thinking that the Pumpkin Cheesecake Monkey Bread sounds appropriately fall-ish!

  4. Southwest Omelet - Surely you didn't think this was strictly a carb-loaded list! I go through phases with eggs - sometimes I just can't get enough eggs in my diet, and other times, I don't want to see, smell, or taste an egg. But right now, a nice warm omelet filled with garlic, tomatoes, bell peppers, and onions and seasoned with a little cumin and chili powder sounds marvelous.

  5. Mimosas - Yes, I know I said things I'd rather eat for breakfast, but who doesn't love champagne for breakfast? I actually don't care for the stuff on its own, but mixed with equal parts OJ, you just can't go wrong. I made mimosas for a Craft Day I hosted several months ago, and let's just say that we were a very happy group of ladies!

What breakfast are you fantasizing about right now?

All content and images are ©The Casual Diva, except where otherwise noted. Content may not be republished without prior consent of the author.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Casual Diva Takes the Stage

What a busy weekend it was! I know, I know, when is it not? But it was a big weekend for Baltimore, and it seemed like everyone pulled out the stops. From the Star Spangled Spectacular (to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the writing of the Star Spangled Banner) to our winning Orioles, the town was hopping!

On Friday, our building management had a cookout on the roof, so we hung out in the sunshine (getting a little crispy around the edges at the same time) and watched the Blue Angels practice for their big show the following night. If you've never seen them, you're missing out on quite the airshow by some of our Navy's most talented pilots.

We'd also been watching the clipper ships come in and out of the Harbor all week.

We braved the traffic to get across town (because the President had come to town for the celebration, so no one was really going anywhere at 4pm) for Happy Hour in Federal Hill before heading over to Camden Yards to watch our beloved Orioles take down the Yankees for the second time that day!

Saturday morning dawned gray and rainy, which, combined with the strain of having yelled to much at the baseball game, did not bode well for my morning audition. I got through it, and even did passably well. But I had ignored some of my tried and true tenants of auditioning. It was sheer luck (and a poor turnout at the auditions) that let me shine.

Wait! What? There are rules for auditioning?

Of course there are!

I've been doing musical theater for almost 30 years (I was really young when I started!!!), and there are absolutely must-do and should-do items on the list. For example:

  • Do your research. Into the show, into the theater company, even into your fellow actors (it never hurts to know who else is going to be going for the same roles as you). I'm always amazed when I see someone audition who doesn't know what the show is about, or what style of music the show uses. If you aren't at least marginally familiar with the show, how do you know it's something you'll enjoy doing? This is something you're going to be dedicating a lot of time and energy to over several months - make sure you know what you're getting in to!

  • Dress comfortably. This is crucial. You don't have to be slovenly, but you definitely need to wear something that you feel at ease in. Often, you'll be asked to dance, but even beyond that, if you're more concerned with staying balanced on your 5-inch heels (I've seen it happen), you're going to be distracted while you're singing or acting, and not showing the director the full degree of what you can do. I usually go for a t-shirt and yoga pants, or a skirt and tights. I still look feminine, but I don't have to think about flashing anyone (I've see that happen too!).

  • Be prepared. This kind of goes hand in hand with my first point, but even more so. If it's a musical, rehearse your audition song so that you know it well enough not to be thrown off. Inevitably, something will go awry - the accompanist will take the tempo too fast or too slow, or miss notes, or not have an amp for their keyboard so that you can't hear them. The director may cut you off before you get to your favorite part. You may be asked to sing something completely different, or in a different style or accent, or kneeling on the stage. These are all things that have happened to me, and no matter how frustrated or shaken you feel, it helps to show directors that you can roll with the punches.

  • Be okay with rejection. I've given some auditions where I felt like I blew them away and that I was a solid contender for a leading role, and then not gotten cast even in the ensemble. I've had other auditions where I felt I gave a mediocre performance, and then was offered the lead with gushing praise from the director. When I was a kid, not getting the part I wanted felt like a crushing blow - I'd cry, I'd beg my mother to explain why they didn't like me, I'd argue that it was all so unfair. But I survived the rejection. Now, when I don't get cast, or don't get offered the part I want, I'm still disappointed, but I recognize that directors all have their own reasoning. Sometimes you get offered a different part that may not be as glamorous, but it more challenging or more fun anyway. Sometimes, no matter how right you are for the part, there's simply someone who is better. And sometimes, it just wasn't meant to be.

  • Be respectful. Don't argue with the director. Don't make fun of people who mess up their auditions. Don't talk through other auditioners' cold reads or songs. Remember, if you get cast, you're going to be spending a huge amount of time with these same people - start off on the right foot.

  • Have fun! Remember, it's theater, not the pursuit for a cure for cancer. We do it because we love it - the music, the costumes, the make-believe. If it stops being fun, it's time to find a new hobby.

All content and images are ©The Casual Diva, except where otherwise noted. Content may not be republished without prior consent of the author.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Five Things That Make Me Go Mmmmm

Does anyone else remember that song from some time in the '90s with the chorus line, "Things that make you go mmm, mmm"? Was that C&C Music Factory? Sadly, I'm not a walking encyclopedia of music knowledge the way my brother is - he can tell you who the studio drummer on Winger's second album was and how long he played with the band and why he stopped, without even blinking an eye. I'm lucky if I know who performed that song on the radio that I like to sing along with.

Anyway....for some reason, as I sat down this morning to write, that song popped into my head. I'm not sure if the song was supposed to have a different meaning,  and so your Friday Five is all about things that spark my curiosity, and make me go, "Mmm?"

Five Things That Make Me Go Mmmmm
  1. Why are Peanut M&Ms so addictive? I can resist any other kind of M&M. Any kind of candy, for that matter. One of my coworkers keeps different candy stocked in her office at all times, although it's been years since she had a single sweet (that's willpower for you!), and I'm usually able to resist the temptation to pop a chocolate, or a Skittle, or a Reese's Cup into my mouth. But every once in a while, she'll have a supply of Fun Size Peanut M&M packets that she'll pull out just for me, and my resolve crumbles. Those little bite fulls of chocolatey, peanutty goodness are my Kryptonite - but I have no idea why. There's plenty of better tasting junk food out there...

  2. Realty TV - why is it still around, and so popular? I'm not talking about the competitions - I do absolutely love So You Think You Can Dance, because those kids are wildly talented - but rather the reality shows that just follow "normal" people around in their "normal" lives. Are we really so hard up for entertainment that mocking others is the most appealing option? Give me scripted TV (and granted, some of it isn't that well written) or better yet, a book, any day over celebutantes, screaming dance moms, or Duck Dynasty.

  3. Why don't the blooms on my lilies last longer? Seriously, I get maybe two weeks of glorious pink perfumed gorgeousness every July, and then they're gone, leaving just waxy green leaves and 4-foot stalks for the aphids to suck on. Sigh. I love them so much. I just can't understand why they have to pass so fleetingly through my year.

  4. Why am I incapable of opening a can of anything without nicking my finger? I have two can openers - one is just a basic cheap one that I've had since college and works just fine, and the other is a heavy-duty KitchenAid red can opener that I could use to defend myself in the event of a zombie apocalypse. But regardless of which one I use, there's always that tiny little piece that sticks up where the lid breaks off, and it never fails but I cut myself. These hands have had enough!

  5. Why is this giant Praying Mantis on my desk? I seriously just noticed this! I looked up and noticed it on my team trophy from this year's office Fitness Challenge. Ack! It just jumped off and is staring at me over my computer monitor! I'm not typically squeamish about insects - I grew up in the woods after all - and I'm not one of those girls who jumps up on her chair and screams at the sight of a spider. But this is a very LARGE insect, and it is not keeping its distance! Where on earth did this thing come from?!?! Eva tells me they are supposed to be good luck - with everything that's happened in the past month and an audition tomorrow, I could certainly use it!

That's what's circling in this mind today. Have a great weekend - I'm off to release a Praying Mantis into the wild (or at least into the shrubs outside the office entrance).

All content and images are ©The Casual Diva, except where otherwise noted. Content may not be republished without prior consent of the author.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Hidden Treasures

I hope everyone had a gorgeous weekend!  I always look forward to the weekend, not because it means not being in the office, but because it's a chance for me to catch up on all of the things I've let slide at home over the course of the week. I can leisurely fold laundry while watching episodes of Criminal Minds on Netflix. It's not unheard of for me to dance around the kitchen to the tunes on my iPod while drying dishes. I'm sure I keep my neighbors entertained (or slightly scared) by holding conversations with Georgia through the storm door as I week the flower beds.

And it means that I'm not in the office.

Whatever my weekend plans are, they always end up changing. I never end up getting the big stuff accomplished. Sometimes, it's because of the opportunity to sleep in, and then take a nap on the sofa. After all, a girl has to catch up from the week, right? Sometimes it's because a friend calls with a better offer for how to spend the day - last week it was mattress shopping with my brother.

This weekend, I was determined to be productive. I cooked. I folded laundry that, I am somewhat ashamed to admit, has been in the laundry basked for more than a week. I cleaned. I organized. I turned down an offer from my friends to go to the Renaissance Faire (I really wanted to go, and with these particular friends, but I had to resist because of what follows...).

A while back, I had been a victim of a home invasion of the four-legged rodent variety. This was the first mouse I'd seen in the house in the 5 years I've lived here. Georgia, of course, was of no help other than alerting me with her neurotic behavior to the fact that a mouse was running around the kitchen. Once the little devil was caught, I thought I had done a good job cleaning up after him (her? I didn't bother to check.). But here we are, weeks later and still finding little surprises all over the pantry.

So I decided enough was enough! I was going to take back control of my pantry!

The first step was to empty everything out of the pantry which, for a townhouse, is not very small.

I didn't realize until I started running out of space on the dining room table just how much I had in the pantry. As you can see, not only was the table fully loaded, but a chair and the kitchen island as well, with the heavier items stashed under the table. If I had to move next week, the local food pantry would hit the motherload, because there is no way I could pack all of this up!

Not only did I pull everything out, but I had to wipe all of it down. Some of my lesser-used bakeware is also stored in the pantry, and it all went into the stack of dishes to be washed.

Now, when my friends texted me about going to the Renn Faire, I was tempted. I mean, REALLY tempted. But not only was I not feeling 100% due to some mouth issues I'm getting checked out later this week (I'm sure my mother would say that it's not possible for a doctor to cure all of my mouth issues!), I knew my downstairs looked like this. It was reloading day, and my undiagnosed OCD was up for the challenge!
I actually loved the opportunity to reorganize, condense, and sort. I'm either super easy to entertain, or slightly crazy!

I didn't notice so much as I was pulling items out and wiping them off, but as I attempted to put everything back into the pantry in some semblance of order, I found a few really cool things that I had forgotten I had, some of which I still haven't figured out what to do with yet.

One of my friends from Europe gave me this chocolate sauce, so you know it's the good stuff. I always figured I'd save it for when I was entertaining, but always forgot to put it out. I have a little fondue-sized crockpot - I'm thinking dipping sauce for strawberries and pound cake at my next craft day!

For some reason, I have four giant cans of pumpkin, each one big enough for two pies, or two large loaves of pumpkin bread. I'm not really sure why I have these - my best guess is that I got a little paranoid about the reported pumpkin shortage a few years ago and bought it when I could. Thank goodness the fall baking season is almost here!

Couscous! For a while, I was on a real couscous kick - I'm the only member of my family who seems to like it. The craze has kind of worn off - I like it, but don't obsess about it now, and this package is the only remnant of those wild months!

I found this intriguing item last year at my local produce market, and could resist buying it. Combining two of my favorite spreads - apple butter and barbeque sauce - how fascinating! And it's a locally made product! Unfortunately, I'm still at a loss for what to eat with it (chicken? pork?), and every attempt to find a recipe that would use it just gives me a recipe for - you guessed it - apple butter.

My four-and-a-half years in South Carolina didn't change my diet astronomically - I resisted attempts to become an acolyte of all things chicken-fried - but it did give me a love of grits for breakfast. While on vacation in Georgia, my parents picked up this bag of stone milled grits as a gift for me, but It got wedged in an unseen corner of the pantry, and I've never gotten around to using it. I'm thinking there may be some variation of shrimp and grits in my immediate future!
As a reward for all of my hard work this weekend, I then baked these amazing Blackberry Cheesecake Bars from The Pioneer Woman to bring to the office. I couldn't resist having some for breakfast (don't judge!), and they are amazing! A satisfying weekend, indeed.

So your question for today is, what odd or interesting items do you have lurking in your pantry, waiting patiently for you to rediscover them?

All content and images are ©The Casual Diva, except where otherwise noted. Content may not be republished without prior consent of the author.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Five Things You May Not Know About Me

Two post in one week? What is the world coming to?

This week, I've decided to do something new. Since I am a champ at list making, I've decided to do a (short) list each Friday on a different subject. Maybe this will help us get to know each other better, or at least understand a little more about why I'm weird (fabulous, but weird). Feel free to contribute to each list in the comments!

Five Things You May Not Know About Me
  1. I have overcome many of my childhood food aversions, but to this day, I still do not like beans of any kind. Really, I don't get along with most members of the legume family (including peanuts, which I love, but which make me break out horribly). My aversion to beans has been a source of much amusement to my family over the years, including my many schemes (some extreme) to dispose of beans at dinner rather than eating them - many a green bean was sacrificed to porcelain throne.

  2. When I was searching for a house five years ago, I looked at more than 120 houses (that was the point at which my real estate agents stopped counting) in a 6 month period. Some people would call that being picky. I prefer to think of it as getting it right the first time.

  3. I love to bake. I mean, really love it. It's one of my go-to stress relief outlets. I think it's the process of following the steps of a recipe that helps me decompress - it helps me get out of my head and just work out my frustrations. Plus, it makes my house smell heavenly, and quite frankly, like a home.

  4. I have studied 4 foreign languages, and am considered fluent in German (at least, I hope I'm considered fluent, otherwise that bachelor's degree is a waste!). I even taught high school German for a brief period of time, in what I now refer to as "The Dark Months". *shudder* Seriously, my freshman were lucky to survive the experience.

  5. Don't tell the Monty Python guys, but I genuinely don't have a favorite color. If asked on any given day, I might tell you that I love purple - there are so many amazing shades of purple in nature. Or I might say that I prefer green - my bedroom is painted green. I also love blue. And orange. I look fantastic in red. And who doesn't love yellow - such a friendly color! Do I really have to pick just one?
So that's it, my list of random factoids about myself. What would be on your list?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

It's All About the Little Things

I've been struggling for a few days, trying to decide what to write about for this week's blog. It's not that I haven't been busy, or that I've put my projects and pursuit of fabulousness on the back burner - that's not it at all! In fact, I've rarely been busier! I think it's that I have so many things going on, a lot of which require a great deal of energy, that I am having difficulty putting it all into words.

And then there are some things that I'm still struggling to define my feelings about.

So in the meantime, I'm going to leave you with a funny anecdote from Labor Day weekend.

Several weeks ago, I decided that I was going to start my holiday weekend a little early, and drive out on Friday to visit my parents, who live a little over an hour away. I knew that Mom would be at work for part of the time, but Dad is retired, and this girl never passes up a chance to hang out with her Daddy! I had some vaguely nebulous ideas about what we'd do, centering around creating furniture for Georgia (so that she'd stop climbing my armchairs), but mostly was just looking for an excuse to spend time with the ones I love.

Sometime after lunch and a jaunt in Dad's garden to pick tomatoes and "albino" cucumbers, we settled onto the porch swing that has hung on the deck since I was a teenager. Surrounded by sunshine, blooming flowers in every color, and sleeping cats, it seemed like a little slice of heaven as we rocked and chatted.

Pearl cucumbers from Dad's garden. They kind of looked
like giant weevils, but were actually quite delicious!

Then there was a creak. And then a groan. And then we were tipped backward to face the sky.

Then the back of the porch swing gave way, and I saw my dad's legs fly up over his head!

I thought I was hanging on, but once Dad's counterweight was gone, the swing decided to spit me out as well. I somehow flipped so that my head was under the swing and my feet were on the deck railing.

Once we could both catch our breath and determined that there were no major injuries that required First Aid or a doctor, we started laughing and couldn't stop. Through gasps of merriment, I kept insisting that it wasn't funny, but Dad was adamant that it was as he shook with laughter. Even recounting it to Mom hours later, we couldn't control ourselves and had tears streaming down our faces in the retelling.

I'm pretty sure she thought we'd knocked a few screws loose.

All content and images are ©The Casual Diva, except where otherwise noted. Content may not be republished without prior consent of the author.