2011 Annual Letter from Kurt & Marieluise Riegel

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Here's another of our annual greetings, summarizing our events last year and carrying our best wishes to you for a super-duper 2012! A few readers made the mistake of complimenting us on last year's annual letter, thereby inadvertently encouraging us to continue. Their mistake, our joy, because we enjoy reflecting on each year's happiness and challenges.


We made a big life change. We sold the old house (don't ask) and moved across the Severn. Disengaging from the old house was tough on Marieluise, a perfectionist in all things, implying that she would keep the house spotless for sale, divide and pot plants to move to the new house. So we endured the trauma of selling a house in suburban Arnold (ugh), but experienced delight in moving to the village of West Annapolis (yay). We really enjoy being in a real community where neighbors walk, encounter each other and socialize in the daily course of life.

Suburbia, as Pete Seeger and Malvina Reynolds taught us, is mostly about Little Boxes. (Residents awaken in their house box, drive in the car box to the office box, then back in the car box to the house box where they watch the TV box until unconsciousness descends. On rare exits from the house box, they ride gasoline-powered lawn mowers surrounded by a box of noise that makes neighborly conversation impossible, perhaps sometimes driving the car box to the fitness center box to exercise on a machine while wearing headphones lest conversation with human beings erupt.)

On our first morning in the new house we knew we were definitely in the right place. Across-the-street neighbor Mayor Josh Cohen greeted us with a welcome-to-the-neighborhood present of a dozen eggs freshly laid by his own chickens! (But not in his own back yard, more about that later.)

Our attractive Annapolis house started as a cottage in 1930, with recent additions of an attached garage, studio, bedrooms, a kitchen/dining/living great room. It has three geothermal wells which serve as a heat source in winter and a heat sink in summer, a very efficient electric heat pump moving heat in whatever direction is required. It works well.

We're within sight and walking distance of Weems Creek, in which Labrador/Golden mix Lexi happily cavorts nearly daily. Kurt transplanted 6 red oaks trees, sprouted from acorns fallen from a 150 year old in our old back yard, to our new front yard and is quite content to hang around another 60 years while they mature.

Marieluise worked her fingers to the bone establishing a new garden in our yard. The results are already wonderful and we expect it to burst out in expanded glory next Spring. She started a perennial border and vegetable garden, dug 18" deep drainage channels and filled them with 3000 pounds of river rocks, installed blinds, set up bookshelves, set up her studio, and worked on her Etsy shops.

Now that we're "townies," Kurt delights in going to most meetings and running most errands by foot or bicycle. He feels human again. Both of us have been participating in neighborhood activities such as a delightful dinner club that roves from one house to another, a stunningly good idea for connecting neighbors and building community.

Other Highlights

Kurt's involvement in civic affairs included his testimony before Annapolis Planning Commission, the Transportation Board, and City Council concerning a new Bicycle Master Plan for the city. He expects similar appearances regarding the proposed repeal of an ordinance now prohibiting the keeping of backyard chickens. We really want to have hens presenting us each morning with fresh eggs again!

Marieluise now has a large and well-configured artists studio where she continues her efforts on her a adult women's wear made of recycled sweaters, ever more creative and unusual, and original design children's wear. She exhibited at two shows, foregoing her usual appearance at Sugarloaf Craft Festival. Calculating that recession-discouraged buyers would probably not materialize for that high-end show, she instead relaxed to two smaller shows in Annapolis, one at the Naval Stadium and the other at the West Annapolis Oktoberfest Festival about four blocks from our new home.

Kurt is teaching his course Environmental Compliance Management again at Johns Hopkins University in the Spring semester. As usual, it sold out within a few days of its announcement, a gratifying vote of confidence.

Examples of the pleasures that are to be tasted in our new hometown are unusual events like the Parade of Lights, an annual flotilla of parading sail and power boats festooned with all manner of lights and decorations. We've participated as crew on participating boats in prior years, but this year were content to watch from shore and wave as they passed by.

Other events revolve around the rivalry between The Maritime Republic of Eastport, a part of Annapolis which declared war on the rest of Annapolis a decade ago for some transgression most have forgotten. Eastport re-issues its annual declaration of war upon "Westport," as Annapolis is contemptuously called. Hostilities take the form of a tug-of-war using a rope across Spa Creek, and the acclaimed ".05 K Race" across Spa Creek Bridge, spectators helpfully providing cups of water to exhausted runners.

Kurt worked with the Antares Group on the DOE Smart Electric Grid R&D program and was delighted to follow last year's work on the DOE Geothermal Research Program by acquiring our very own geothermal system. We recommend them.

His watershed work continues, Kurt serving on the Severn River Commission and on the Board of the Severn River Association (SRA). He appeared in Maryland Public Television's documentary Rivers of Worry, cruising the length of the Severn on a boat chartered by MPT to point out problems and opportunities. Priest Point, the last large tract on the lower Severn, lost its zoning protection to yet another mansion with associated clearing, outbuildings, and facilities. It was very sad to see that virtually nobody had the will to fight to protect land already zoned for open space at the water. Government officials, zoning employees, even watershed protection groups are babes-in-woods-about-to-be-cleared. All caved to promises by a developer. SRA's Centennial was celebrated this year, and a kind of gallows irony was on display during a film showing a fully-treed Severn a hundred years ago. The trees are gone now and today's timid brand of "conservationist" lacks spine to fight for much of anything lest he become unpopular among those holding money and power.

We had a wonderful trip to Los Angeles for Kurt's first grandchild Jack's bris, an epochal family event that united all the Riegels and Millers. It was wonderful to get together again and to bond more closely. We also had a fantastic visit to a Dreamworks studio where Tanya was directing a sound crew working on her latest movie.


We joined Kurt's mother Jane Riegel to celebrate her 101st birthday last January and attended a nice musical concert nearby. We'll be celebrating her 102nd in two weeks!

Offspring & OffspringOffspring

On Kurt's side: Tanya completed Fright Night, her first 3D film, Glee: The 3D Concert Movie plus lots more, finally taking a vacation (that's what they call unemployment in Hollywood) for sailing with her Dad in Annapolis, and to France with Veronique for Christmas. Sam continued his many projects especially including work as the writer with his partner Rob Blatt on The Sing-Off, and Quyen was busy with Free Ride among other projects not the least of which is their new son, still in production. Eden finished her work on The Young and the Restless and has been devoting most energy and time to new son Jack while hubby Andrew Miller is absorbed as executive producer on the hit TV show The Secret Circle. We descended on Los Angeles on the 8th day after Jack's birth for a bris ceremony, an important family event carrying significance and emotion, nicely complemented and allayed by healthy doses of conversation, food and drink. Last year everybody bought a new house and this year most had completed renovations and were well settled in. That is, except for Tanya and Veronique whose renovation of their Mulholland Drive mansion is a very big deal lasting a long time. Nonetheless, they expect to occupy about when 2012 begins.

On Marieluise's side: Tonya continues teaching architecture and design in the United Arab Emirates. She and her husband Kevin Sweet took on a new challenge with the arrival of his 17 year-old autistic son who must be taught life skills.
Pasha worked crazy hours offering more variety in classes at her gym, organizing triathlons and races in support of individuals in her community. She finally figured out why she's been feeling lousy. Her artificial hip has been disintegrating, burdening her body with toxic chromium and cobalt, as explained here, quacks will ever be with us. Husband John's mother died so it's been a stressful year indeed for them.
Mark Stewart
is loving his sustainability job at the University of Maryland and travelled with his girl friend Taya to Paris & Switzerland.

Skiing and Sailing

This year's ski adventure was a return to Telluride CO which we like very much. We stayed in a charming inn only steps from the ski lift and had a fine time about town, après-ski. Ski buddies included Ed & Linda Gray, their daughter Bonny Mitchell, and our Sam and Quyen. Skiing and weather were just perfect. Sam and Quyen had only a few days but nevertheless ascended the learning curve from snowboarding novices to pretty darn competent, doing slopes comfortably on snow boards that still challenge us on skis. Our plans for 2012 include a return to Park City, but not during Sundance Film Festival week.

The sailing season begins each year with a Burning of the Socks ceremony, and the Grays again hosted a wonderful gathering, starting the season just right. On the spur of the moment, mostly because the wind happened to be fantastic, Kurt sailed Starducks to the annual Pirates and Wenches Fantasy Weekend. He tore north in the Bay at hull speed all the way from Edgewater to Rock Hall MD, not turning on the engine until just before entering Swan Creek and anchoring. There he was met by Marieluise, brother Quentin, Ed & Linda Gray for a rollicking good time. Finer wenches and pirates you will never see. Quentin and I sailed back the next day in fair winds, although not quite as favorable going south as they had going north, and had a fine brotherly adventure.

On another voyage, after crossing the Bay on Starducks to St. Michaels we had an incident. Marieluise was moving from the sailboat to the dinghy when she lost her balance and instead leapt through the air toward the side of the dinghy already supporting Kurt and dog Lexi. Naturally, she capsized the boat, killing her cell phone but mostly just feeling foolish. We emerged from the water but Lexi was nowhere to be seen. Had she drowned? No, she was swimming in the air space beneath the flipped dinghy, and we extricated her. The aphorism "One hand for the Boat" must be honored.

We had our customary sail to the Severn during the Naval Academy's Commissioning Week for the Blue Angels aerial show. It's a fine custom, but we hear that stressed budgets may have made it a thing of the past.

Odds 'n Ends

After three years Kurt's annual promise to Marieluise for a "big-ass TV" to hang on the wall was wearing a bit thin. Basically, he ran out of excuses and so finally bought one on the internet. It works fine but playing multimedia files from the desktop computer remains a technical challenge. There are a hundred different video formats but the TV set only understands two and so we're still struggling with format conversion software, DLNA server software, streaming services and HDMI and LAN/network connections.

We had nice musical experiences in a performance of Stonewall Country at Lime Kiln Theater with Robin & Linda Williams, and two house concerts. One was the annual blowout hosted by Linda & David Krantz, whose support of music is now legendary, near Lexington VA and the other at a house concert in Columbia MD.

A partial list of visitors included Tanya & Sam Riegel, Devra Davis & Dick Morgenstern, Abby Williamson, Craig & Mark Stewart, Taya, Marcus & Cathy Aillery, Pasha and John Marlowe with Josh, Emmy & Jaimie, and Jack & Rosemary Davis.

We have a few of the creaks and groans that descend on people with age but count ourselves lucky among our contemporaries, some of whom have already been felled by the ominous scythe that hangs over us all. May you, and we, continue to dodge it for a long time.

Have a wonderful 2012, keep in touch with us, come visit or sail with us on Starducks, and we look forward to seeing you soon!


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