Tag Archives: loudoun

St. Patrick’s Day cookies, anyone?

How cute is this St. Patrick’s Day greeting from my former co-journalist, Liz Coe, and me? Six years ago we were working at the Loudoun Times as the education and business reporters. I miss those days. (I baked green cookies today, in case you were wondering). Happy Luck of the Irish to you all!

Liz and Hannah
Six years ago, I was the Business Reporter and Liz was the Education Reporter at the LoudounTimes.com

Chocolate Guinness Cake recipe*:

Ingredients for the cake:

1 cup Guinness
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups superfine sugar
3/4 cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

Ingredients for the topping:

8 oz Philadelphia cream cheese
1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream

Directions:

Preheat the over to 350 F, and butter and line a 9 inch springform pan.

Pour the Guinness into a large wide saucepan, add the butter — in spoons or slices — and heat until the butter’s melted, at which time you should whisk in the cocoa and sugar. Beat the sour cream with the eggs and vanilla and then pour into the brown, buttery, beery pan and finally whisk in the flour and baking soda.

Pour the cake batter into the greased and lined pan and bake for 45 minutes to an hour. Leave to cool completely in the pan on a cooling rack, as it is quite a damp cake.

When the cake’s cold, sit it on a flat platter or cake stand and get on with the frosting. Lightly whip the cream cheese until smooth, sift over the confectioner’s sugar and then beat them both together. Or do this in a processor, putting the unsifted confectioners’ sugar in first and blitz to remove lumps before adding the cheese.

Add the cream and beat again until it makes a spreadable consistency. Ice the top of the black cake so that it resembles the frothy top of the famous pint.

Makes about 12 slices

*From “Feast” by Nigella Lawson.

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Virginia is for lovers, but I love New York

My hair required the full 30-block walk to air-dry into a limp shag. I had fresh bug bites trailing up my arms and I was wearing flats. It was Halloween morning and my first day on the job in my office at 44th St. and Madison Ave.

Hurricane Sandy had made landfall in New York three days earlier and mere hours after I hopped off my bus with a single suitcase from Virginia. My apartment wasn’t ready yet, so I had to stay in a Greenwich Village hotel. By hotel, I mean hostel, as my room was the size of a galley kitchen and I had to share a bathroom at the end of the hall with the other guests.

As the storm rolled in Sunday night, I sat alone watching Mayor Bloomberg on TV as he warned of impending mayhem. And then he repeated himself in Spanish. I was impressed.

Occasionally, I would measure the storm’s severity against the state of a single tree planted on the rooftop of a nearby a high-rise building. As the sky darkened around the potted sapling, it would continue to bow back and forth with growing effort. This is the last image I saw before everything went black.

The transformer supplying power to lower Manhattan caught fire, shutting down the electric grid south of 34th Street and left half the city without power for two weeks. Later, aerial images of the city reflected a brightly lit and barely touched Upper Manhattan, while its lower half was barely visible. It kind of looked like a black and white finger-shaped cookie.

There would be no charging my phone, no hot showers, no hair drying, no warm food, no TV. I was effectively camping in the greatest city in the world and paying hundreds of dollars for the pleasure. I had 40 blocks to trounce in order to plug my phone into the outlet behind the cash register at a deli. I cried.

On Survival

“If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. “

Goodness, New York will beat you down until you’re humbled beyond even what you think you deserve.

Virginia is for loversA born and bred Virginian and a native Loudouner, I’ve been told my entire life that I belong in New York. I’m no longer clear on what this says about me. My first job was as a newspaper journalist for the publisher of this magazine. When I left after five years, I left my mark as a glowingly successful magazine editor with a critical eye and a talent admired by young girls near and far.

New York saw me coming and laughed in my face to the tune of Sandy’s strong winds. I’m not the shit, this much I now know to be true.

Sandy launched a long and relentless initiation into the ebbs and flows of this city. The good news is I’m less offended now. I no longer notice when a simple request isn’t cushioned between a “please” and “thank you.” There’s no time for filler words when we’re all existing in varying degrees of survival mode. Just get it done.

I never knew the meaning of a deadline before New York. My new title is “digital content director,” which essentially means I’m still a writer even after having sold my journalism soul to the marketing devil. Such as it is, I now produce more content in one week than I could have ever churned in one month in Virginia.

My ambition hasn’t changed; but my expectations of myself and others has reached such a high level because I now exist in a culture of healthy competition and collaboration. Not only do I want to sharpen myself against my coworkers, but I don’t want to let them down. It’s a daily game of better, faster, stronger. Sometimes I win, oftentimes I lose.

On Manners

“Southerners are nice on the outside, but hard on the inside. New Yorkers are hard on the outside, but they’re soft on the inside. “

A Mid-Westener shared this with me. Here in New York, we from the South, Midwest and, well, basically, anyone who was born outside the borders of the tri-state area — we are different.

The fact of the matter is, New Yorkers don’t have time for pleasantries and some people don’t appreciate that. Smiles are sparse on the streets as a means of self-preservation. The rule is: Do not engage.

They’re not rude; they’re just not opening themselves up to the crazies. I no longer feel guilty for not asking “How are you, today?” to the my coffee guy. On the other hand, Southern hospitality really gives me an edge. When I need something from a coworker, I still lead with “How was your weekend?” or “What’d you get into last night?”

It still gives me pleasure to see them lean back, their body physically shift into a more comfortable position to engage in a chitchat session– like I’m winning at making people softer one day at a time. A manager made a point to commend me for planning a happy hour for a coworker’s birthday. Is that all it takes to move up the ranks here? Am I working late for no reason when I could just bring in some snickerdoodles instead?

A man once stopped me in the office lobby.

“I’ve never seen anyone smile to themselves before,” he said.

I still smile. People still stare without engaging. The implication being I’m likely batshit crazy.

Loyalty

There’s a saying that you’re always in search of three things in the city, “A better job, a better apartment and a better boyfriend.”

Gone are the days when a person will spend his or her whole career advancing through one company. It may be generational, but a New York employee is considered to be loyal if they stay with a single company for longer than six months.

I love nyI only know a handful of people who are happy in their current role. Sure, this is a symptom of “the grass is greener” syndrome, but in New York there’s also the knowledge that there are thousands upon thousands of other jobs out there waiting on the other side. There’s always the next step. There’s always a new opportunity. I’m not sure what this says about the state of our happiness or contentment, but I know the feeling is mutual because companies here don’t reward loyalty. If you’re underperforming, you’re gone. It’s as simple as that.

The struggle to be a woman working and living in New York is real, as the kids say. The truth is the insecurities I felt about my career and talent remain the same – it’s just that now the self-doubt reflected back in a larger mirror. I still don’t know if I’m making the right career choice. I still don’t know if I’m any good. I still don’t really want people who know me to read my stuff.

There will always be better writers. People work way harder than me and they’re much more creative and have better grammar skills. They write without curse words.

I ask myself the almost-daily question as to why the hell I’m here. I don’t really know, other than that New York is all the while accepting of my shortcomings. Knowing that there will always be someone better than me means that I have nothing to lose.

It also means I really have no other choice than to put my fingers to the keyboard everyday. New York allows the room for me to believe that any storm can be faced if I show the ability to bow back and forth and not break.

Loudoun: The happiest place on Earth?

“Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be,” Abraham Lincoln once said.

If that’s the case, then it seems Loudouners consistently choose to be content. SmartAsset, a New York-based financial technology firm, last month released its official ranking of “The Happiest Places in America,” and Loudoun took the crown.

Listed are the top five happiest counties in Virginia.
Listed are the top five happiest counties in Virginia.

What does it mean to be happy? Personal definitions of happiness are expansive. Some measure it based on success in marriage, family planning, the obtainment of professional goals or robust participation in charitable works and community building. Considering the number of sweeping variations, it’s difficult to believe this adjective can describe one location in particular.

The firm’s analysts addressed this issue by identifying eight metrics to compare one county’s happiness level over another. Despite Loudoun’s population nearly tripling within the last 25 years, it still outranked approximately 1,000 counties in the study in six of the eight metrics considered.

The metrics were organized into four categories and weighted equally: family stability (marriage and divorce rates); physical health, which namely focuses on life expectancy and the percentage of population who regularly exercise; personal financial health, including bankruptcy rates as well as the ratio between median and minimum income; and economic security, (average unemployment and poverty rates between 2009-2013).

Loudoun’s 3.6 percent poverty rate is the lowest of any major U.S. county. Its marriage rate ranks eleventh at 62 percent and residents have an average life expectancy of 83 years-old, which tallies sixth overall.

“Loudoun County is very proud of all of the things that it offers its residents, such as a quality, award-winning government; quality schools; great communities in which to live; and a healthy job market,” said Glen Barbour, Loudoun’s public affairs and communications officer.

While Loudoun scored markedly well in areas the firm considered to be most important –GDP growth, upticks in new business licenses, building permits and municipal bond investment, SmartAsset’s Kara Gibson wrote in a statement to the county – its softer skill attributes are what shine for the residents who live here.

Although it sits in the outskirts of Washington, D.C., which is one of the most congested cities in the nation, the county “feels like a perfect escape with its rolling countryside, farms, historic estates and gardens,” said Beth Erickson, chief executive officer at Visit Loudoun, the county’s tourism bureau.

“Its breathtaking beauty and numerous attractions make it a great place to live and visit,” she said. “People enjoy the growing beer and wine scene, the farm-to-table cuisine and outdoor opportunities that range from hiking and kayaking to ziplining and biking down the W&OD Trail.”

Happiness knows no boundaries. Virginia also takes the crown as the happiest state in the nation with three of the five most happy counties situated in the Commonwealth – cheers to Fairfax and York counties, as well.

Organic bronzing: Let your glow shine

Aldie resident Jennifer Wignall is shining a different light on the tanning industry. The time has come to ban the act of baking in a tanning bed. Take a moment to wash clean of orange streaks and rinse off the potent stench of chemical-laden creams.

Tanning, at its core, is a practice laced with a tinge of egotism. It’s akin to whitening, waxing or other self care regimes and is not exactly a must-have service. Or is it?

Jennifer Wignall is introducing a safe way to get that glow.
Jennifer Wignall is introducing a safe way to get that glow.

Jennifer was once a lifelong tanning bed user who visited the salons on a routine basis to obtain and maintain a bronzed glow. She loved the way she felt with tanned skin. Years later, after her twins were born and she suffered a bout of Melanoma – of which she has since fully recovered – the entrepreneur decided to drop tanning beds altogether in favor of spray tan.

But the best of intentions are not always well met and she suffered an allergic reaction to the spray tan.

“People don’t realize that your largest organ is your skin. What goes into your body is just as important as what goes on it,” she said.

Instead of retreating to a life of pale and insipid skin she took matters into her own hands. She has a medical background, a natural curiosity and built-in gumption that helped her as she dove into research of the ingredients of typical spray tan solutions. She spent months breaking down the chemicals and striped bare what wasn’t needed. The Organic Bronzing Station was born.

The company is not a vanity project for Jennifer. Sixty percent of materials placed on the skin are absorbed into it. Over time this can be toxic to overall health. Armed with this knowledge the 28 year-old mother of two twin boys then developed her own custom formula that is organic, vegan and gluten and paraben-free in 2013 and the company was born.

The spray is high quality and high-end. It runs an average $50 for a seven-to-10 day tan and is currently found in 33 stores throughout the Washington, D.C., metro area, Florida, Arizona and New York. She hopes to hit 75 partnerships by the end of this year.

The product has four strengths that blend nicely with people of all skin tones and nationalities and clients discuss their ideal color with consultants who create a customized experience. The goal is to give clients a glow or a step or two darker than they’re natural color.

Jennifer isn’t aiming to transform anyone. She just wants to let them shine.

Five must-have Spring fashion trends

“Flowers? For Spring? Groundbreaking.” You may have heard this eponymous quote from Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada that implies florals in fashion for spring are, in fact, not groundbreaking.

Designers disagree. New York Fashion Week has concluded and the designers have spoken: It’s full-on for florals. It might be hard to see the end of winter, but spring is just around the corner. It’s time to refresh your wardrobe with these five fashion trends:

Florals for spring days

What comes to mind when one thinks of spring? Flowers, of course. London’s Victoria Beckham and other designers such as Celine and Max Mara sent flowers down the runway in February. Further- many of them were pink. (Shop: Altar’d State Rose Garden Tunic, $79.95 – The Village at Leesburg)

Leather
One may consider leather to be a fall fashion staple, but spring temperatures can still necessitate the thick fabric. Saint Laurent and others like it as skirts and shirts in addition to jackets. Don’t knock it until you try it. (Faux leather skirts for $19.99 and Lamarque Sissy Lamb Leather Skirt (shown) for $249.99. It’s your choice at Wilson’s Leather at the Leesburg Premium Outlets)

All white everything

Imagine a vacation to Cuba where everyone’s donning white linen tops and pants down by the beach. That’ll be you this spring, just at home and probably to work. White ushers in warm weather and now we’re seeing it doubled – and tripled – up throughout outfits. Don’t be afraid to wear all white, just make sure that the tones match. Also try white nail polish (Essie’s marshmallow is a favorite, $8.50, found in most drugstores.)

Finally flat

Finally the day has arrived that designers have embraced flat shoes. No longer do you have to toddle down hallways and sidewalks on stilettos. Long accepted by the fashion set in New York as practical and fashionable for hitting the streets, the flat is making a comeback on the runways as well. Pointy-toed and ankle-strapped versions are the hotness right now. The biggest surprise, however, is that designers are showing sneakers at their shows. (Fit yourself at Potomac River Running, which specializes in custom-made sneakers.)

Beautiful bohemian

Boho, the new term for bohemian, is essentially wearing cuts, fabrics and styles that harken back to the 1960s and 70s, but with a modern flare. Flowy shirts, crop tops, bell-bottomed jeans and statement necklaces will be seen throughout the soon-to-be warm weather days. What better place to shop for these pieces than where vintage goes to thrive – Re-Love It on 21st Street and Blue Ridge Hospice Thrift Shops. There’s one in downtown Purcellville.

Ask and You Shall Receive: School Board Approves Williams’ First Budget

The Loudoun County School Board has given Superintendent Eric Williams more than he asked for.

At its January 29 meeting the board approved an amended Proposed Fiscal Year Operating 2016 Budget that now totals $982 million — $1.2 million more than Williams had requested.

Williams presented his first budget proposal as Superintendent to the Loudoun County School Board in early January asking for $68 million. An average 2.5 percent pay raise for teachers and staff topped off his list of requests.

The Board matched Williams’ requests in kind. It voted that LCPS employees who are already at the top of all pay scales will see their paychecks bumped up thanks to a one-time increase representing 1 percent of their annual salary. This can be achieved with no fiscal impact to the budget.

The board hopes to reduce the LCPS employee health insurance program by five percent – from 15 to 10 percent – for a cost savings of $2.6 million while also reducing the health insurance premium increase from 10 to 9 percent, which saves $450,000.

Altogether, the board approved 10 motions that altered the budget in ways sure to have parents and school staff alike celebrating. High school class sizes will be reduced by one student each, which will require the system to open up an additional 41 full-time teaching positions to the tune of $3.69 million. The board also hopes to reduce class size contingency positions from 40 to 35 full-time-equivalent positions for a savings of $450,000.

Kindergarten classes, which have had to make numerous concessions during the past few budget cycles, are primed to make a resurgence. Williams’s budget sought to allot for the addition of an estimated 1,875 full-time Kindergartners as well as a more than 2,500 additional students across all grades. While aiming to fund all-day kindergarten classes at those schools with space available, the 15-to-one student teacher ratio means 14 full-time employees have been removed from the budget. This will save the school system just short of $1 million.

The budget includes a handful of restorations, including fully scheduled summer schools and the reinstatement of 14 eliminated middle school library assistants. These two restorations total around $1.8 million.

Smaller line items include building a playground at Meadowland Elementary for $50,000 and hiring a transition specialist who will be able to assist special education students. This position will be advertised for $119,000. Lastly, the board hopes to shuffle several staff members from Heritage and Potomac Falls high schools to Park View High School, which will have no effect to the budget.

When presenting his budget in early January, Williams lauded LCPS’s successes, including its high SOL pass rates and its ability to make concessions to close the budget gap. Those concessions, chief among them freezing Library assistant positions, passing on athletics participation fees to students and not offering teachers and staff pay raises beyond cost of living increases, are forcing LCPS to bend to where it might break. This argument will most likely be heard time and again as the budget is presented to the Loudoun Board of Supervisors this month.

In order to fund these requests and more, the board must accept the equalized tax rate, which is estimated at $1.13 per $100 in assessed value. This would leave an estimated $30 million gap and assumes the Loudoun’s Board of Supervisors will give them $59.7 million from the general fund.

It’s a tall order, but one that Williams isn’t asking for in blind faith. Still, the comprehensive list of requests comes after last year’s especially contentious budget season when the Loudoun Board of Supervisors’ budget left the school system with a $38 million shortfall.

Loudoun: The Rich Keeping Gettin’ Richer

Talk with the Times circa 2010.
Talk with the Times circa 2010.

Chatter is heating up around Loudoun that the county will once again be named the richest county in the nation.

Like a fountain of wealth that just keeps on giving, Forbes has awarded the county the designation for several years, which reminded me of the video I filmed in 2010 called “Talk with the Times,” where I discussed the reasons behind the award. Have a looksee on the Loudoun Times website.