In Search of America

November 3, 2011

When I first thought about the idea of driving all the way to California alone, I quickly recoiled at the thought. No way, I said. I’m past all that and I immediately recognized the vulnerability of my years and my gender. I Googled “driving across the country” and as I read the typical stories of young people finding themselves I thought, “no, this is crazy!”

I mentioned the idea to my son, who was getting married at the Reagan Ranch, known as the Western White House during the 40th president’s tenure. “No way, Mom!” he said. “I would worry about you the entire time. What if something happens to you?” Funny how we switch roles when our children grow up. I shelved the idea for a while but I kept going back to the computer and searching routes and thinking of the unimaginable beauty and what it would be like to capture some of it and that the opportunity may never happen again. Now I had an excuse and I was getting more motivated as I looked into the real possibility of how to make it happen. I had always wanted to go back to the southwest. At 20, I had flown into Albuquerque and drove to Los Angeles from there with a friend and fell in love with the stark landscapes and deeply saturated color that made me feel like a character in a Dali painting. I remembered shadows that stretched into infinity and skies that churned like a kaleidoscope of dark and light then cleared into the bluest blues and reddest reds I could imagine. Now I was a photographer and I wanted to experience it again through the lens of my camera.

I secretly mapped it out and planned the route. I would drive the southern route to Interstate 40 west to Albuquerque, NM, up to the grand Canyon and down Interstate 15 to LA and on to Santa Barbara, CA. My husband was leery of my plan and concerned for my safety but he was supportive, knowing it was something I had always wanted to do. I had wanted to do it with him but his response of “send me the video” let me know that my dream was not his. I think now it was just my fear of being alone and only secondarily desiring to share it with him. “Why not?” I finally thought. I wanted to stop when I felt tired and stop when I saw a picture and I knew that would drive him crazy. I had raised two children, been a wife, worked as a fashion photographer for many years and always put my family, career and friends first. I had to fight the guilt of feeling self-indulgent, irresponsible and foolish, as most mothers do when doing things for themselves. I persisted and finally I knew it would be a gift I would give myself that would yield much more that it would take. I searched for two weeks for just the right GPS with weather updates to avoid tornados in the plains and to keep me on track. I ordered audio books of my favorite authors, cultural and philosophic commentaries that I never had time to read, recordings of all my favorite Leonard Cohen music and a little poetry. I could refresh my imagination with concepts usually out of reach with my busy schedule as my eyes watched the reality and beauty of our country stream from my windows like a magnificent movie.

I left on April 10 this year. I was thoroughly familiar with the beauty of Virginia and though I loved every inch of it I was looking forward to the West because it was a landscape I had not experienced firsthand since that brief experience at 20. I drove about 500 miles the first day and the second. One day I drove 700 miles. I stayed in local motels and avoided chains. When I entered Texas I was incredibly inspired, knowing there were so many miles of unfamiliar territory for me to see and absorb. I had taken the interstates up to that point but now I wanted to see every mile of it up close that would reveal another side of the heart and soul of this myriad nation, its people and the landscapes that captured the imaginations of so many artists that had gone before me. I wanted to be steeped in the authenticity of an identity defined by the values of the people who lived there. I stopped at remote diners and listened to the locals talk about fences that needed repair, sheriffs that arrested the teenagers who drank too much or drove too fast, hippie artists that made jewelry and the battle over the mining rights where they found their turquoise and silver. I talked to waitresses who loved their remote lives and listened to their stories, looked at the snapshots of their children tacked to the walls and studied the faces of men who sat in rusty chairs with lined faces and wistful glances. One woman in the hills of New Mexico told me that she woke up one day to the sound of rattlers and saw a very large and deadly Mojave rattlesnake curled up next to her bed and watched it crawl away.

I thought of the images of travelers going west during the Great Depression. I wondered what held these people here and imagined what it would be like to be one of them. As the miles passed I couldn’t resist the temptation of stopping every few miles and snapping a few pictures. I only wished I could be there for a longer time, knowing that there were many more beauties to behold if the light were right and I could wait for just the right time. I had to press on so all the pictures were taken from the window of my car or just a few steps away from it. I jealously thought about Ansel Adams and the many years he had trekked up mountaintops and waited for the perfect season, time and light to capture the most profound and enduring images to be had of his experience with light and landscapes.

What struck me was the endless variation of mountains and their shapes and textures. Of course I love the golden hour of light in the evening before the sun sinks out of sight and the first light of morning, but I never expected things to be so excited all day long. I actually had to pull over a few times, almost breathless at what I was seeing, and almost hit a tree when I drove into Grand Canyon National Park and suddenly drank in my first glance at the canyon. I had seen pictures, but the reality was so arresting, I almost couldn’t take my eyes back to the road. I simply had to stop and there on the rock where so many others had the same experience it was written in small letters: “Only God.”

Finally there was the desert. I had packed gallons of water, oil, food and various other survival-type gear, remembering the many miles where there was nothing. I had chosen an even more remote route. I loved the old junkyards where all the cars of the ’50s and ’60s still remained and looked like an old Bogart/Bacall movie set. There were trains and old motels from the ’50s with their original signs brightly colored and prevailing in the desert where the weather is dry and things don’t deteriorate as they do in the East. I couldn’t believe how many structures still stood intact and were simply abandoned. My daughter Noelle had joined me for the last part of the trip out and she was as adventurous as I was, so we took a few risks, like driving through some of the reservations some locals thought were ill advised. We stopped and spoke to the Native Americans and though they seemed genuinely surprised to see two women alone in a sky blue Jaguar, they were incredibly gracious and accommodating. Some of the most memorable landscapes were of a sandstorm swirling around the setting sun behind the volcanoes of northern Arizona. It reminded me of an old black and white movie of a spaceship landing. I was certain we were about to be stolen by aliens.

We stopped for the night in the next town and would arrive in LA the next afternoon. I had done it! Santa Barbara! Of course, the wedding is another story in itself, much too exciting to talk about in a few lines, but soon it was over and I dropped off my husband and daughter for their journey home and set out again on Route 15 to Las Vegas and on to Interstate 70 east through Nevada, Utah and on into Colorado. I got stopped by a ranger in a park in Utah who wondered if I had been drinking because I kept stopping in the middle of the road to take a picture and there was no shoulder to pull off the road. I thought I was the only one there but he let me go after a stern warning about stopping on curves and using the scenic pull-offs designed for observing the vistas. Did he not get it? I had to get that shot of light and shapes and that didn’t necessarily happen where the designers of this road had deemed appropriate. I tried to obey him, but I confess I did steal a few more frames of those forbidden places.

The trip back was no less adventurous or delightful. I saw wild burros that blocked the road and were utterly unconcerned about this person and their car and took their time moving out of the way as I snapped on. I passed through ghost towns where cactus flowers bloomed and valleys surrounded by random sculptural shapes looked like crowds of people laughing and I felt like I was taking an ink blot exam that I could interpret according to the preferences of my imagination. As the roads swirled horizontally and suddenly climbed vertically seasons of winter and summer changed with the elevation. It was winter in Vail, CO, but the landscape emptied into spring and summer by the time I reached the plains. I wished it would never end. When I entered Missouri, I stopped in St. Louis to see old friends and headed home on Interstate 64, where I had driven many times before. Washington, 36 miles! I had done it! I felt empowered, charged and as I downloaded all the photos and saw them I could relive it. What’s next? I want to go back and do it all again — only this time with grant money and a book in mind. What is the prevailing thought? We can, in most cases, do things we think we can’t and becoming one with ourselves makes us more capable of giving, receiving and experiencing life and joy. [gallery ids="99157,102894,102899,102904,102909,102914,102919,102924,102929,102934,102889,102884,102955,102951,102859,102947,102943,102864,102869,102874,102879,102939" nav="thumbs"]

Steeplechase Races

Following is a sampling of the race meets and point-to-points scheduled for the spring of 2010. For a complete list of Virginia’s 2010 steeplechase events, visit the Virginia Steeplechase Association’s Web site at

Warrenton Hunt Point-to-Point
Saturday, March 13, 12:30 p.m.
Airlie Race Course
Warrenton, VA

Piedmont Fox Hounds Point-to-Point
Saturday, March 20, 1 p.m.
Salem Course
Upperville, VA

Bull Run Hunt Point-to-Point
Sunday, March 21, 12:30 p.m.
Brandywine Park
Culpeper, VA

Orange County Hunt Point-to-Point
Sunday, March 28, 1 p.m.
Locust Hill Farm
Middleburg, VA

Old Dominion Hounds Point-to-Point
Saturday, April 3, 12 p.m.
Ben Venue Farm
Washington, VA
540-364-4573, 540-636-1507

Loudoun Hunt Point-to-Point
Sunday, April 11, 12:30 p.m.
Oatlands Plantation
Leesburg, VA
703-777-8480, 540-338-4031

Middleburg Spring Race Meet
Saturday, April 17 1 p.m.
Glenwood Park
Middleburg, VA
540-687-6545, 540-687-6595

Fairfax Hunt Point-to-Point
Sunday, April 18, 1:30 p.m.
Morven Park
Leesburg, VA

Middleburg Hunt Point-to-Point
Sunday, April 25, 1 p.m.
Glenwood Park
Middleburg, VA
540-454-2991, 540-687-6069

Virginia Gold Cup Race Meet
Saturday, May 1, 1 p.m.
Great Meadow
The Plains, VA

Farm Dogs

In the morning he would explode from the stable doors, a chaff-colored blur of lolling tongue and drumming footpads and ears all aflutter. As he ran he flung little clods of grass in every direction, meandering through the field as if it were an airy forest of his own design. Behind, the wood barn, light brown, stained with rain and standing in the shadow of quiet limestone mountains. Below them, the coal shelves and the strange subterranean reaches of mystic Appalachia.

But none of that was on Peanut’s mind. The sun was out, he was free, and if you thought it impossible for a Labrador to smile, you’d have been mistaken. Five years later, the Georgetown pooch has since graduated to more celestial pastures, but the Shenandoah Valley barn remains with a standard roster of around 25 canine guests. The boarding facility is the property of Country Dogs, started by Mark and Victoria Cave, who found their first customer in Peanut. The lab now graces the front page of the company’s website. “I spoke with [Peanut’s owner, a Georgetown resident] a year ago or so and said, ‘You know, we’ve never taken down that picture of Peanut. He was our first boarder.’ She was tearing up … We still have those real solid relationships with our old customers,” Mark Cave says.

It isn’t surprising. After all, it’s not always easy for vacationing dog owners to find a place to stay for their best friend, let alone a door-to-door service that carts dogs between the Washington
metro area and the 17-acre farm just south of Front Royal, converted in July 2004 to accommodate dogs. Cave and his wife — both former teachers at the Maret School in Woodley Park — got the idea from Josh Tuerk of Puppy Love Petsitters, who mentioned the high demand among dog lovers for boarding that wasn’t, well, dungeonlike.

That’s the draw of Country Dogs. After the shuttle ride from the city, boarders are led to spacious,
oversized stalls in what was once a barn for horses. Each dog is let out, off leash, into a giant fenced run for four to six hours a day and is free to explore the pond and fields with other furry guests.
Sounds like summer camp, only without the cafeteria food.

For the Caves, that’s exactly what makes their business unique. They eschew the concrete
paddocks and noisy corridors of traditional kennels in favor of a healthier, more peaceful setting, one that affords their boarders some freedom — and a chance to shake off the stress of being away from home.

“I don’t try to cut people down who are in the industry who are doing it other ways,” Cave says. “But we do believe strongly in the idea of fresh air and exercise.”

It’s catching on. Although the Caves count Washington as their original target market, they have since expanded to serve New York and Philadelphia with a 69-acre farm in Bethel, PA. Another facility serving Boston is in the works.

Both farms are designed for long-term boarding, with an average stay of 13 days. Some canine companions drop in for only a weekend, but Cave says the farms have hosted canine companions for six months or more.

He warns that customers can expect limited availability during the holidays— the D.C./Northern Virginia farm is booked for Thanksgiving and Christmas — but says last-minute spots do open up occasionally. Naturally, reservations are more easily obtained during the post-holiday lull.
Which, as any smart traveler knows, is the best time to leave town anyway. But don’t forget
your dog just might be having more fun.

Country Dogs charges a boarding rate of $35 per night, with a $22.50 transportation fee each way. Find out more at [](

Debate ensues over winery noise levels


-It’s a battle fought over noise, lighting, property and business rights, with outspoken and vehement players on both sides.

And it was waged at Warrenton’s Green Building with surprising civility.

Virginia wine country residents and owners gathered in the sleepy Fauquier town Nov. 12 to debate the proposed amendment to a county ordinance outlining rights for the region’s burgeoning — and wildly successful — wine industry. Per the request of neighbors, the amended version curtails wine tasting hours to a traditional window of 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Evening events are limited to one per week with up to 60 attendees, and one per month with up to 200.

Under the amendment, outdoor amplified music is prohibited, and lighting must conform to the county’s light shielding specifications.

Neighbors say the proposal is the only way they can guarantee a little peace and quiet for themselves since the advent of the wineries over the past decade. Farm wineries are known for hosting events frequently as a publicity tool and to gather a community around their product.

Opponents of this approach denounce it as an excuse to throw raucous parties.

“The public welfare is abused by wineries when they establish a massive industrial processing
plant,” said neighbor Jack Holtz of Delaplane, who said the trucks, traffic and party noise destroy the region’s rural magic. One accuser even said — almost jokingly — that local wine quality is inversely proportional to the winery’s social scene.

Wyla Layton of Marshall called the behavior of many wineries “self-defeating,” saying that frustrated neighbors will eventually be forced to sell out to multi-use developers.

Other neighbors simply took exception to amplified music. Wayne Peterson of Broad Run, who lives near the popular Pearmund Cellars, said, “Our biggest issue is noise. We can hear everything at that winery.”

Winery owners spoke passionately in defense of their businesses, but for the most part seemed to listen closely to their neighbors’ cases.

Dan Mortland of Fox Meadow Winery said the county already has a process to regulate wineries that is underused, and further restrictions would prove stifling.

“Just use your process,” Mortland said. “We’re not interested in being a party business, but events are necessary.”

Brian Roeder of Barrel Oak Winery sought to temper some of characterizations engendered by neighbors.

“We are not industrial complexes, we are artisanal businesses,” he said, pointing out the small-sized vintages and cozy tasting rooms of each establishment. Roeder also cited sharp rises in California property values due to the farm wine industry, and said Virginia’s industry
brings in $4 million in annual revenue to the state.

“You guys are in a bind financially,” Roeder told the Fauquier Board of Supervisors, who earlier
reported a loss in revenue resulting from the economic recession. “Don’t knock down the wineries.”

The hearing served primarily as a discussion forum. Board Chairman R. Holder Trumbo said testimony would be gathered for another month before the issue is taken to a vote.

It’s Steeplechase Season!

Perhaps it was a friendly wager over a pint of ale after a rigorous day of fox hunting through the Irish countryside. No one is quite certain, and history is vague as to the outcome. What we do know is that the sport of steeplechase, with its roots firmly embedded in fox hunting, began over 250 years ago when Cornelius O’Callaghan challenged his neighbor and fellow horseman, Edmund Blake, to a match race from St. John’s Church in Buttevant to St. Mary’s Church in Doneraile, County Cork, Ireland. Taking the most direct route from point to point, or in this case steeple to steeple, the four and a half-mile contest on horseback required that the horsemen traverse challenging fences, ditches, stone walls and other obstacles found in the terrain. The sport derived its name from this early “chase” from steeple to steeple, and the obstacles that the riders had to overcome as they raced through the countryside evolved into the hurdle and timber fences we see on today’s steeplechase courses.

Steeplechase eventually made its way to the United States in the 1800s, becoming a popular sport particularly on the East Coast. Today, the National Steeplechase Association, located in Fair Hill, MD, is the official sanctioning body of steeplechase horse racing in America. Races are generally classed as either a hurdles race or a timbers race. Hurdle races usually cover a distance slightly over two miles, with horse and rider leaping over obstacles that are constructed of natural or synthetic brush-like material standing four feet, six inches tall at their highest point. Timber races, typically longer in distance and considered more difficult than hurdles, are run over wooden rail fences of varying height, which are not as forgiving. Horses participating in steeplechase must be thoroughbreds, a minimum of three years of age, and registered with The Jockey Club.

This year, more than twenty race meets and point-to-points will be run in Virginia, giving spectators ample opportunity to experience this exciting sport. Enjoyed not only for the thrill of the race, steeplechase is the perfect occasion to tailgate with friends, engage in some merry-making, and enjoy the beautiful venues that so graciously open their gates to race fans and horse lovers of all ages. For many, the races are an annual tradition that is eagerly awaited as soon as winter temperatures give way to more temperate weather.

Attracting more than 50,000 spectators each year to Great Meadow in The Plains, the Virginia Gold Cup Race Meet is one of the most popular and highly anticipated springtime events in the Washington D.C. area. Saturday, May 1 marks the 85th running of the event, which this year flaunts an impressive total purse of $185,000 that will be shared among four hurdle races and two timber races, including the prestigious $75,000 Virginia Gold Cup. While fashion tends to run the entire spectrum at most steeplechase events, the Virginia Gold Cup is renowned for its spectators looking as if they’ve just stepped out of the pages of Town and Country or been dressed personally by Ralph Lauren. Hats atop perfectly coiffed hair rival those seen at the Kentucky Derby, which, coincidentally, is run the same day. Not surprisingly, corporate events on Members Hill, as well as tailgate gatherings along the rail, often reflect the same sense of impeccable style; gourmet fare, fine linens, china, silver, and flower arrangements with every petal in place. Make sure you arrive early enough to catch the Jack Russell Terrier races and spend some time on vendor row shopping for that perfect rail-side gift.

If you prefer steeplechase on a slightly more intimate scale, mark your calendar for the 89th running of the Middleburg Spring Race Meet on Saturday, April 17. Glenwood Park, located in Middleburg — the heart of hunt country — will open its gates at 10 a.m. to welcome race fans to the oldest sanctioned steeplechase event in Virginia. Unobstructed panoramic views of the racecourse ensure that spectators won’t miss a hoof beat. Make sure you bring your camera, as you are guaranteed photo opportunities you’ll not want to miss. The Temple Gwathmey, one of the country’s oldest hurdle races and featured event at this meet, boasts a $50,000 purse this year. Six additional races — three over hurdles, two over timber, and one training race on the flat — round out the day’s total purse of $140,000. Between races, take a break from your picnic or tailgate and make your way over to the paddock area where you can check out the flurry of activity as the horses warm up and await their jockeys for the next race. This event promises a day of great racing against the backdrop of the upscale country elegance Middleburg always delivers.

The Virginia Gold Cup and Middleburg Spring Races are just two of the many steeplechase events held each year in Virginia. In addition to race meets sanctioned by the National Steeplechase Association, many area hunt clubs organize point-to-point races at various locations throughout the Commonwealth. Whether your calendar permits you to attend a race meet or point-to-point, be assured that neither will disappoint.

Some things to consider as you plan for your day at the races:

• Races run rain or shine, although in cases of severe weather, they may be cancelled. Check the Web site or phone the contact number for your particular race if you are unsure as to whether the event will be held.

• Consider fashion and comfort as you determine your attire for the day. While the tendency is to consider fashion first — and understandably so — the weather, of course, should be the primary factor in determining your selection. Early in the season, when chilly temperatures may prevail, ladies may want to consider slacks and a stylish blouse with a tweed blazer. In warmer weather, steeplechase races are the ideal occasion to show off that perfect little sundress. If you’re considering heels, think wedge heels. Stilettos and spike heels will make for a difficult and unpleasant time on the turf. Hats, of course, are always in style, so go for it, don’t be shy. Men usually can’t go wrong with khaki pants and a blazer, although at particular events, some may choose a sport coat and tie. If the weather seems uncertain, remember to bring appropriate outerwear.

• If invited to a tailgate, be sure to ask your host what you can bring. Beverages and desserts are always welcome, and if by chance you’ll be engaging in some friendly wagering at the tailgate, don’t forget to bring some cash. Corporate gatherings are generally catered, so just arrive and enjoy the fun.

• Allow ample time to arrive at your destination. Traffic in and around race venues will more than likely be somewhat congested, so allow extra time.
How fortunate we are to have access to a sport so entrenched in history and steeped in tradition. Take a moment and imagine all that goes into this effort — the support of the owners, the untiring work of the trainers, jockeys and grooms, and the skill and athletic prowess of that magnificent animal we call the horse. As you raise your glass to toast a day at the races, listen carefully, and in the distance, you just may hear the steeple bells of St. Mary’s Church as Mr. O’Callaghan and Mr. Blake race to the finish.

Check out a schedule of Virginia’s upcoming races here.

Raising Change

When it comes to educating the nation’s children, the talk always comes back, boomeranglike, to the almighty dollar — funding from the state, from the federal government, funding per student and household, funding for teachers and administrators.

The volatile combination that makes up the education debate — that is, students and how best to budget their scholastic upbringing — sparks some of the most heated name calling and bluster in the public forum.

Snips over the District’s public school budget have kept the newspapers working hard lately (as evinced the city council’s recent spat with DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee) but what you won’t hear about is the daily challenge for some schools to foot their own bill, that is, without help from taxpayers.

Enter the world of private education.

While the phrase conjures images of blazers and bookish upper-crusters, many private and parochial schools — which nationally are responsible for educating around 10 percent of students — operate on a lean budget, and aside from non-profit tax breaks and D.C.’s now-frozen voucher program, receive no public funding from the government. The business of keeping cash flowing freely, then, is a big one, and most of the nation’s private institutions have whole departments devoted to it.

Their job is to think of ways to drum up the dollars when tuition revenue won’t quite pay all the bills. And while most private schools are happy to accept donations from the general public, advancement departments usually have a few target markets in mind, with alumni and parents naturally serving as primary benefactors.

Most schools set a fundraising benchmark in the form of an annual fund, which aims to reach a certain dollar amount by the end of the school’s fiscal year. Annual funds are easy to donate to, are trackable — many schools keep a running tally on their websites — and can be tailored to commemorate a significant individual or date, say, the school’s centennial. They’re lucrative, too: Gonzaga College High School and St. Albans School report around 10 percent of their operating budget comes from annual fund revenue. In only 15 years, Woodley Park’s Maret School has increased its annual fund earnings from $250,000 to $1.6 million. Figures at other schools are smaller, but across the board annual fund revenue is cited as a gap-bridger when tuition, as it often does, only covers 80 to 85 percent of operating costs.

But advancement departments don’t just serve as liaisons for deep-pocketed alums. Most are composed of talented fundraisers with a knack for making donations worth the benefactor’s while. That means events — auctions, galas, golf showdowns and the like — which form a nicely symbiotic arrangement to earn money while fostering a lively social scene within the school community. Think of Washington’s storied gala scene on a smaller scale — and with higher-caliber small talk.

St. Albans, for example, is home to an active parents association that conducts the annual Christmas House Tour of five stately homes in Cleveland Park. The houses are typically owned by alumni or relatives of students, and through ticket and sponsorship proceeds, the tour has raised an average of $350,000 annually since 2004.

The yearly effort is contributed to the school’s Centennial Campaign, which is aiming for a hefty $80 million goal by the end of the year.

Sidwell Friends, the prestigious Quaker school with the Obama family bragging rights, recently passed — a year ahead of schedule — the $56 million benchmark for its Call Us Friends campaign, begun in 2002. The project was a grassroots effort by the school and over 150 volunteers (parents and students alike) to fund a new athletic center and fill out financial aid coffers for needy students.

The school’s annual auction and book club also directly benefit the Dollars for Scholars program, which has proved so successful that Sidwell Friends averages a guarantee of two-thirds tuition for its aid recipients — generous, given the school’s $30,000 price tag.

Many schools also maintain a long-term planned giving program, in which a lump sum is contractually placed in trust and supplies annual payment to an agreed-upon party. Georgetown Visitation’s Charitable Gift Annuity arranges for annuities to be paid to the donor for the duration of their life; afterward the original gift is bequeathed to the school. Opposite that is a Charitable Lead Trust, in which the school receives annuities for a slated amount of time before the gift is returned to the donor. Gonzaga, National Cathedral School and Maret School all conduct similar programs.

Talk about a step up from the bake sale.

2010 Summer Camp Guide


-Ah, summertime — the apogee of every kid’s year. The quarter-long punctuation of an existence measured in semesters and three-day weekends. The annual big kahuna of all vacations.

Adults living in Washington think of it as something of a dreadful time. You still go to work, you pay bills, you race around — just the same as any other season, only sweatier, and perhaps with a twinge of bitter animus that you, too, could once clear your schedule from Memorial to Labor Day, and you thought it endless.

But that is the great allure of summer: that children, who in many ways are always wise beyond their years, somehow convince themselves with astonishing zeal that it will never end, which is maybe what makes the experience so formative and special.

With the innocence of youth in mind, we’ve selected some of our favorite summer camps around the city and region. They have a funny way of making these hot three months fly by, but you can be sure the memories will endure.

Audubon Naturalist Society, 301-652-9188
Where: Headquartered in Chevy Chase, MD; the Society operates two other camps in Leesburg and Clifton, VA.
When: The first programs begin June 21 and extend through mid-August. Full-day (9-4) or half day programs are available, depending on the child’s age and schedule. Overnight trips are available for older students.
How much: Classes start at $165.
Offering unique programs for children aged 4 to 15, Audubon’s camps are designed to foster environmental awareness among the nation’s youth. They feature direct experiences with our natural world through hands-on activities, games, crafts, experiments, and explorations. Campers can expect to spend most of their time outdoors, but every camp has an indoor classroom to use as a home base.

Levine School Music and Arts Day Camp, 202-686-8000
Where: Campuses in D.C. (2801 Upton St., Van Ness), Bethesda’s Strathmore Center and Arlington (Ballston).
When: Full-day (9:30-3:30) and half-day (9:30-1:30) programs available from June 28-July 16 and July 19-August 6.
How much: $1044 for full-day students, $720 half-day.
Levine’s summer camp has a loyal following, with many campers returning each year. Levine nurtures the total musical child in a supportive and stimulating environment. Through singing, dancing, playing instruments and sharing artistic experiences, children develop skills for creative expression and aesthetic awareness that will last their entire lives.

TIC Summer Camp, 703-241-5542
Where: GWU’s satellite campus at 2100 Foxhall Road. Classes also available in Bethesda and McLean.
When: 8:30 to 3, five days per week. Four sessions are operated throughout the summer, the first beginning June 21. Each lasts about a week and a half.
How much: $800 per session.
Total nerd camp this isn’t: from the beginning, campers are divided into two age groups, juniors (6th grade and younger) and seniors (7th grade and older). Each day, one group takes technology courses geared for kids, while the other is immersed in an athletic program; after lunch the groups switch places, so that each camper gets three hours of technology instruction and three hours of sports each day.

Camp Arena Stage, 202-554-9066
Where: Georgetown Visitation School, 1524 35th St.
When: 9-4, five days a week. The camp offers a four-week intensive session beginning June 28 and a two-week half session beginning July 26.
How much: $1600 for full session, $900 half
Camp Arena Stage empowers young people to express themselves more fully through art by encouraging them to make art that speaks with their own voices. Campers create their own schedules, choosing from a host of classes in theater, music, dance, media and visual art. They can try unfamiliar art forms and/or pursue current artistic interests: it’s up to them.

Camp Shakespeare, 202-547-5688
Where: STC’s rehearsal studios, 516 Eighth St. S.E.
When: 10-5 daily, sessions begin June 21.
How much: $695. And yes, the T-shirt’s included.
This two-week day camp aims to enhance the understanding of Shakespeare’s language through the exploration of movement, text, improvisation and performance. Young people ages 9-18 will analyze and interpret Shakespeare’s text, create dynamic characters with their bodies, voices, and imaginations and explore the art of stage combat. Camp will culminate with a performance for friends and family onstage at the Lansburgh Theatre.

Georgetown Day School’s Hopper Day Camp, 202-274-1683
Where: GDS’ lower school, 4530 MacArthur Blvd.
When: Week-long sessions from 8:30 to 3, beginning June 21. Half-day options available.
How much: $395 per week, ages pre-K to 11.
For the youngsters. Start the day with 4 classes (arts, sports, drama, science, cooking & more) & spend the afternoons on water play, talent shows, field trips, Olympics and more. Each group of 5-10 campers will travel with a junior counselor; experienced teachers will lead each class.

Sheridan School’s Shenandoah Summer Camp, 540-743-6603
Where: Sheridan Mountain Campus, Luray, VA.
When: All-day sessions beginning early July. Most last five days, but older students may opt for two-week programs.
How much: Sessions start at $565. High school-level “Ironman” programs run around $1300.
For the adventurer in every family, Sheridan’s classic outdoor camp centers on community building, mastering outdoor skills and back-to-nature basics. You also can’t get a more idyllic setting: the 130-acre campus borders the Shenandoah River and Shenandoah National Park near Luray (not to mention its famous caverns). Campers will have their pick of opportunities to view wildlife and woods, and certainly make a few friendships along the way.

Georgetown University Summer Day Camp at Yates Field House
Where: Located right on Georgetown University at Yates Field House and Kehoe Field
When: Six weeks offered with the first program beginning June 21 and the last program beginning July 26. Camp hours are from 9am to 4pm. After care is available until 4:30pm.
How Much: Weekly tuition for Yates members is $275. Non-Yates members $375. Register online.
Yates Summer Day Camp is celebrating their 30th year as a comprehensive day-long camp at Yates Field House and Kehoe Field. Campers ages 6-10 years enjoy activities such as arts and crafts, indoor and outdoor games, swimming, movies, talent shows and much more.

At School Without Walls, A Theatre Without Limits

As the old adage goes, “Those who can’t do, teach.”

However, this is not quite the case for Tyler Herman, the 23-year-old theatre instructor of Washington’s acclaimed magnet school, School Without Walls.

Referred to by students and faculty as “Walls,” the institution is well recognized as the best public high school in the District, and one of the best in the region. Established in 1971, SWW is of a certain Montessorian ilk, helping students to expand their education beyond the classroom “Walls” and turn the nation’s capital into an equal player in their intellectual cultivation. With a student body of less than 500, the students are afforded plenty of individual attention to help shape their futures.

Backed by new principal Richard Trogisch and Chancellor Michelle Rhee, the school has recently been restructuring itself to achieve higher academic standards in an ever-expanding, open-ended classroom environment. The new building, in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood, forgoes lockers to keep the school looking less like an institution, and more like a welcoming environment for children to learn.

SWW has a partnership with The George Washington University to provide classes free of charge for qualifying juniors and seniors. The newly established GW Early College Program offers students the opportunity to achieve an Associates Degree in Liberal Arts while they’re still in high school, granting them access to all the educational amenities that GW has to offer. The school’s Gilder Lehrman Initiative funds historic field trips around the region with visiting historians serving as guest lecturers and seminar leaders.

The list of student electives — of which they are free to take plenty — rivals some colleges, and there are mandatory internships within the city for graduating seniors.

Yet, as of last November, there was no theatre department. Enter Herman.

A recent graduate of Cornell, Herman came back to the area, having grown up in Silver Spring. With a degree in theatre and dance, and a minor in music, he didn’t have much intention to teach upon graduation. “I wanted to be an artist,” he says.

Picking up small work in a number of local theatres, he began instructing youth theatre programs part-time at Round House Theatre and other local high schools. “I had heard a lot of horror stories about public schools,” says Herman. “Students are unruly and uninterested.” But when Walls approached him to take on a position in their theatre program’s maiden voyage, he was surprised at what he found.

“A 99 percent graduation rate, and a 95 percent college-bound rate,” he exclaims. “These kids are smart. And they want to learn.”

Still, Herman maintained that he didn’t want to simply be a teacher. He laid out his objective in starting the theatre program as a working actor. “I’m big on creating work,” he says. “I am a working actor in this town, so I want to bring it around to the community, create a mindset of not just fun, but a career.”

Herman’s mission is to use the school’s fresh program as a way to reach out to the community, producing relevant work with as much input from the students as possible. The productions are not just for the public, but are inspired from within the public.

As SWW’s first main-stage production, Herman chose Molière’s “The Miser,” a satirical comedy about a rich moneylender and his children who wish to escape his penny-pinching household (allude away, my fellow metropolitans).

However, the copy Herman had was a translation from the 1950s (Molière was French), which, according to Herman, “Felt stuffy, not very timely or relevant.” So Herman, fluent in French, took it upon himself to re-translate the show, change a few characters around, put in a song and dance break, and fill in plot holes from the original script.

The style of theatre is actor driven, the leads played their own instruments, most being members of the high school band. Herman even decided to have the students play their own songs, which they began improvising onstage, creating a different theatre experience every night.
In many sections of the new text, Herman would merely write down framework and recommendations, then had the students “Create their own moment.”

“They made the show their own by crafting the characters they were creating, making it genuinely funny for them and the audience every night. Taking ownership of the theatre … I come in with my ideas, and they take it and do their own thing, and sometimes it’s even better. So, encouraging that creativity has become a huge part of the process.”

He wants his students to tell their own stories. “I don’t want to create high school-level work,” he says. “I want to create real work that’s done by high school students.”
Herman is now looking to get certified as a teacher — no teaching degree, just to be clear, but a vocation degree.

As far as his own work is concerned, he is working through the summer with Young Playwrites Theatre, Shakespeare Theatre Company, Arena Stage, and Round House Theatre. He will soon be appearing in “In Faction of Fools” with Welders Theatre Company.

A year out of school, and Herman is entrenched in theatre. He is beginning the framework of a winter festival at SWW with work primarily written by his students. A Shakespeare drama in the fall, a musical in the spring, all while working on his own theatre projects outside the classroom.

If the old adage had come about with Herman in mind, it would surely read a little differently: “Those who teach, do.”

Murphy’s Love

November 2, 2011

Dear Stacy,

I am writing about something that happened several months ago, but it’s not getting any better, so I thought I could use some outside perspective. Things were not going well for me. My job was stressful thanks to a jerk boss. My wife was pregnant with our first child and was having a very difficult pregnancy (uncomfortable most of the nine months, then on bed rest for the last five weeks). Our finances were stretched after we took a loss on selling our condo and moved into the bigger house that she wanted before the baby came. I was anxious all the time, had insomnia, was on the verge of panic attacks nearly every single day. I want to set the scene because I know I will look like a jerk after you hear what happened next. Basically, I was miserable and not myself at all.

Then I had an affair with a coworker’s wife. It began as a flirtation, and moved into intense online chatting and texting. When my wife went on bed rest, I began a physical affair with the woman. Long story short, my wife found out after our daughter was a month old. I ended the affair immediately and have been trying to get us into couples therapy ever since, but she won’t go. We sleep in separate rooms and only talk about our daughter’s care at this point. My wife is back to work and our daughter is home with a nanny, but nothing else is back to normal. I know that if we could only go to couples counseling, everything would be alright, but she refuses to even talk about it. I feel the distance between us growing and am worried about the holidays coming up because it will be hard to hide our problems when spend time with our extended families.


Dear Sorry,

You admit you screwed up, but the rest of your letter suggests you might really want to share the blame for the more recent outcome. It was subtle, and likely unconscious, but it sounds like you have shifted responsibility for the distance in your marriage to Wife. She won’t go to couples counseling. She refuses to discuss it. She needed a bigger house. She is only focused on Baby’s well-being.

Let me add one more to your list: She is in post-traumatic shock.

Discovering infidelity is like detonating a bomb. Baby was one month old when this explosion took place? So Wife was already living under siege, with a newborn destroying both sleep patterns and general life expectations (newborns are notoriously dictator-ish). She then learns that you have been escaping the warzone by having sex with someone else. My assumption is that Wife immediately went into survival mode and hasn’t come out yet. This is what we do when we experience trauma – we don’t come out until it’s safe, and your house (not to mention the great unknown of “couples therapy”) is not safe.

Barbara Steffens, a sex addiction expert and co-author of “Your Sexually Addicted Spouse,” likens traditional couples therapy with a sex addict and spouse to being assaulted and then being asked to sit in support of the attacker. PTSD makes us hyper-vigilant, suspicious and deeply depressed because we replay images and feelings of the assault again and again in our minds. Wife was assaulted by the reality of your infidelity; your entreaties about couples counseling are likely retraumatizing.

Instead, she needs her own opportunity to heal, within her own, separate support network. I know your instinct is to do as much as you can to fix this for her, but you cannot be her support network this time. She needs her own people: a friend, a clergyperson, a counselor. But she’s not going to pursue any of those things until she feels safe enough to let her guard down and let herself be truly aware of what has been happening in your household. There is a lot you can do to help with this part. First, you must take responsibility for your actions yourself.

Get to a certified sexual addictions counselor (they have the best info on infidelity, regardless of whether you think you’re a sex addict). Get to a 12-step meeting. Read all the Patrick Carnes books. Put parental controls on the internet at home. Give her your email passwords. Be transparent and repentant – this won’t have to last forever, but you need to make an outward and obvious demonstration of your intentions to heal yourself and then your marriage. Make this about you each being healthy first. Later, perhaps in several months to a year, you can begin the process of making your marriage healthy again.

Dear Stacy,

I’m in a sticky situation and am not sure how to proceed. I am a teacher at a private school. A student’s father recently emailed me, inviting me out for “drinks or more.” I’m happily married and wear a wedding ring. I’m not sure, but I assume the father is divorced or separated. The student is not in my class, but I have a vague memory of meeting the father at a fundraiser last year. He only recently sent me this message, making it sound like he’d been thinking about this for a while. I am both sad for him (he sounds really lonely) and creeped out. I have absolutely no interest in pursuing anything – my husband thinks the situation is hysterical, by the way – but I also don’t want to do anything that would put my reputation or job at risk in anyway. Keeping parents happy is an unwritten rule at our school, and I’ve only been working here for a few years.

-Embarrassed/Harassed in Northwest

Dear Northwest,

I am with you on the “creeped out” part. Although you didn’t provide the entire message, it’s hard to read “drinks or more” in any other way than that Mr. Inappropriate is propositioning you.
I wonder if you might have a school handbook or something from orientation that might give us a hint as to how the higher powers might look at something like this. If you feel comfortable with your direct supervisor, I’d suggest starting with that person before you craft a response to Mr. I. I understand your concern about your reputation and position, but I guarantee that your school’s “unwritten rule” about keeping parents happy does not demand that you date any dad who asks.

Meanwhile, Mr. I’s method of pursuit (faceless email) may suggest one of two things: A) he is embarrassed and hiding behind the web, waiting to see what you might do with the ball he just forced into your court, or B) he has done this before, and perhaps has asked the same thing of other teachers who may or may not have come forward yet. In either event, providing too much sympathy could be read as a sign that he should continue the chase. After talking with a higher up about school policy, I’d recommend a brief reply that shuts down the entire conversation without any name-calling (e.g., don’t address it “Dear Mr. Inappropriate”). Make the message clear: you are not interested and this was unacceptable.

Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor and certified Imago Relationship therapist practicing in Georgetown. Her website is This column is meant for entertainment only, and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. We really do want your questions! Send them confidentially to

The Washington International Horse Show

October 24, 2011

At this moment, equestrians worldwide eagerly await a letter bestowing the honor of competing in D.C.’s 52nd Annual Washington International Horse Show (WIHS). For many riders, the summons will not come. Yet, between October 26th and 31st, 500 elite-level riders will enter the ring at the Verizon Center, vying for prize and prominence.

The last indoor championship horse show to be held in a major metropolitan area each year, WIHS has been months in the making. Only recently has the deluge of numbers from qualifiers across the country ceased. Now it’s up to show officials to invite only the best riders based upon points and money won in previous competition over the last 12 months.

As WIHS CEO Eric Straus puts it, “Many people want to come and compete at Washington, but you’ve got to earn your way in legitimately.” This requires a tremendous commitment from the most skilled of riders.
“Most of our competitors will have competed at a minimum of 20 shows [in the last year] to try and get qualified,” says Straus. “In most cases it’s going to be closer to 30.”

That’s a remarkable amount of effort considering the horse show lasts six days, but WIHS is one of the last shows of its kind. Indoor metropolitan championships have been on the wane for years now, largely due to their failed business models — reliant upon wealthy patrons for funding. Additionally,
shows such as Madison Square Garden’s National Horse Show are municipal in name only, with the actual event occurring in Syracuse, NY.

The fact that WIHS still manages to have a $7 million impact on the District each year, according to a report by Dr. Stephen Fuller of George Mason University, is a testament to Washington’s enduring equestrian tradition. Straus raves, “It’s vibrant. It’s alive. D.C., Maryland, and Virginia have a huge equine competition population.”

While the surrounding region serves as the backbone for the pool from which riders are pulled, WIHS attracts star riders from across the globe. Last year’s competition included amateurs and professionals from five nations, some of whom were Pan American, World Cup, and Olympic champions.

Jockeys and their Horses

It’s often easy to forget that there are two athletes in the ring at any given time. But like any sports star, a horse’s abilities must be developed through rigorous training. While light work can start as early as age two, international rules stipulate that a horse cannot be entered in open international
competition until the age of six. This is done to protect the bones in a horse’s knees, which, much like an infant’s developing bone structures, are not fully fused until it has matured. However, with proper stable management and care, horses have been known to compete well into their 20’s.

Rodrigo Pessoa, a talented Brazilian show jumper and Olympic gold medalist, was in attendance at last year’s competition. Additionally, show jumper and Olympic gold medalist McLain Ward was a contender. Hailing from Brewster, NY, Ward and his horse Sapphire are known to steal the show. Just two weeks ago, they topped the richest prize money class in the United States, the $1 Million Grand Prix. Their partnership, says a pensive Straus, reveals how beautiful the bond between horse and rider can be.

The Main Events

Interested parties, keen on witnessing this spectacle firsthand, need not worry about lacking horse show experience. WIHS is bound to have something for everyone. Some basic information for the amateur observer is that WIHS features two types of jumping horses. Hunters emulate foxhunting
with their visually appealing routines and are judged subjectively on performance, style, manners, and way of going. Jumpers, on the other hand, are judged objectively based upon whether or not they jump clean (no faults), and time serves as the deciding factor, according to class specifications.

WIHS also features a class unique to the show, known as puissance, which means “strength” in French. Time is not a factor in this high jump class, where riders start with six fences in the ring. With each clear round, jumps are eliminated until two remain. One of these, the wall or vertical, goes as high as seven feet. WIHS holds the North American indoor record for rounding the wall, set in 1987, with an astonishing jump of nearly seven feet six inches. Feel and timing are critical, as neither horse nor rider can see over the wall. Puissance is a perilous class to compete in, but an exhilarating class to watch.

Barn Night

Aside from the actual competition, WIHS has various side events scheduled to take place throughout the week. Thursday night is Barn Night, which has become something of an institution in Washington.

The evening is designed to draw crowds from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, as well as the District. Groups will compete in contests, including Best Costume, Best Banner, and Largest Group by state. Divided into several parts, the evening will feature a parade of group representatives, the Gamblers’ Choice Class, a speed class for jumpers, and autograph signings and photo opportunities to bring things to a close.

Kid’s Day

Saturday is Kids’ Day, which will run from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. Expect pony rides and plenty of games in addition to photo opportunities with the new WIHS mascot, Major, and characters from the newly revived television series, My Little Pony. That evening, WIHS will host the Caisson Platoon Therapeutic Riding Program.

The Charity

On top of being a world-class horse show, WIHS functions as a charity that has raised $2 million for its partners in its 52-year existence. This year, WIHS has partnered with the Tragedy Assistance
Program for Survivors (TAPS), Operation Silver Spurs, and ThanksUSA, while highlighting the Caisson Platoon. The platoon operates out of Fort Myer and performs honor burials at Arlington Cemetery. Moreover, their horses are used in equine-assisted therapy at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda. The work the platoon does with the nation’s wounded warriors and amputees is under-publicized, according to Straus, and their exhibition is intended to promote their cause.

In 1961, Jackie Kennedy commissioned Tiffany’s to create the President’s Cup, the only equestrian cup with the President of the United States’ seal. As the old guard, charged with protecting the President, the Caisson Platoon exhibition precedes the presentation of the President’s Cup.

A military ticket program and the introduction of a new trophy, the Armed Forces Cup, are among WIHS’s other charitable endeavors. WIHS has stated that, for every clear round over six-foot-three, a donation will be made to the three military charities.


For those still feeling left out, there will be plenty of vendors hawking their wares on site. Saratoga Sadderly & Outback Survival Gear specializes in Australian oilskin coats and Pikeur. Stablecloth will be supplying custom riding apparel, and Vogel Custom Boots offers made-to-measure boots and shoes. Vandermoore Jewelry is among the higher-end vendors available, and for those with a sweet tooth check out Lady Ann Candies. These are just a sample of the medley of vendors that are sure to be present throughout the week.

The WIHS is sure to be a success, in large part due to the individuals helming it and their dedication to the District. Said WIHS Director of Community Relations, Diana Hosford, “What I bring to the show is different than what [WIHS horse experts] bring to the show, but we’re basically trying to create something that the equestrian world will love and that the local community will embrace.”

WIHS President Juliet Reid, who is responsible for assembling the team that includes Straus and Hosford, has lived in Georgetown with her family for 10 years. “I assumed the role of President last year because my daughter rides,” said Reid, “Washington is our home, and while we travel to shows all over the country, Washington is very special.”

Lifelong equestrians like Straus do not shy away from promoting their sport in and around Washington. Having grown up in Texas, Straus recalls traveling to Middleburg and the Plains to purchase horses. While he no longer rides, he still officiates and urges: “If you’re a young person or an adult who wants to start, you need to find a barn that specializes in beginners. Because everyone needs a good foundation. There is a multitude of barns in the Maryland and Virginia area that provides that.”

If you’re still not convinced that the Washington area is an equestrian mecca, visit the Verizon Center during the Washington International Horse Show. As Reid put it, “Something magical happens for six days in downtown D.C. at the end of October — Streets become stables, and the country comes to the city.” [gallery ids="99199,103409,103430,103414,103426,103419,103423" nav="thumbs"]