An exotic holiday getaway - to Cleveland

The Baltimore Sun

L inda Campagna and her husband, Thomas Streib, two retired Army first sergeants who've always lived on a budget, are splurging $5,250 on a quick Christmas getaway. Their exotic destination: Cleveland.

They could have stayed home on the couch and, without shelling out a dime, had a visit of sorts to the house where they'll lodge. But watching A Christmas Story on TV isn't quite as much fun as actually sleeping in Ralphie's bed.

"We're spending Christmas Eve in the Christmas Story house," Campagna said. "We are going to eat a Chinese turkey dinner, which I guess is duck. And the" - cue Italian accent - "FRAGILE box will be delivered to the house. And there will be four decoder pins in the mailbox. And we get to take the leg lamp that gets delivered home. And the next morning - the blue bowling ball under the Christmas tree, a can of Simoniz, the pink bunny suit. And we'll also get bars of Lifebuoy." (In case anyone lets a certain four-letter word slip.) "And there'll be two Red Ryder BB guns behind the desk."

If you've seen the 1983 movie, you'll understand. If you haven't, well, I don't know how I'd begin to explain.

Campagna and Streib both work for Boeing in Annapolis Junction and live over the Pennsylvania line in Stewartstown. They won the right to live out a film-fantasy Christmas by outbidding other fans in an eBay Giving Works Charity auction.

The house itself was sold on eBay a few years back, and Brian Jones, a fan out in California, bought it, restored it, and opened it for tours. Giving Works approached Jones about offering a night there as a fundraiser. They let him choose the charity, and he picked The Wounded Warrior Project.

The cause, Campagna said, "definitely resonated with us."

As does the movie, needless to say.

"When my husband and I first met, it was during the summer and we were talking about movies and he said, 'You've never seen this movie?' " Campagna said.

So they rented it. In July. It was love at first viewing.

The couple's three grown daughters won't be joining them for the holiday. But just like everyone back at Boeing, they're eager to see the pictures.

"They especially want a picture of my husband in the pink bunny suit."

'$1,000 Charity Martini'

Here's a gift idea for last-minute Christmas shoppers out there: the Capital Grille in Baltimore and elsewhere is offering the "$1,000 Charity Martini."

"Each cocktail is adorned with a stunning, limited edition White Topaz and Diamond Caviar Rope Bracelet created by acclaimed jewelry designer Steven Lagos," the news release says.

I'm not sure what white topaz and diamond caviar is, but I imagine it's worn rather than eaten. I'm sure your server will know.

In any case, the drink-and-trinket combo will benefit Share Our Strength, a childhood-hunger charity.

Last year, the Baltimore location sold eight of them. With a counterintuitive tough-times pitch, Capital Grille hopes more diners will bite this year.

"This holiday season, an increasing number of Americans intend to make donations, in lieu of giving gifts," the release says. "With The Capital Grille's Charity Martini, you can give both. Share the 'gift of giving' with your loved ones and ensure that they look as good as you feel."

Brewing up some trouble?

News release scribes for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security don't get to write too many whimsical leads, but Jeffrey Cannon, 20, of Huntington apparently provided the occasion last week.

Arriving on an Aer Lingus flight from Dublin, Cannon was arrested at Dulles International Airport, accused of carrying an elaborate smoking pipe and four unusually large tea bags containing marijuana and hashish.

Under the headline "Traveler's Tea Bags Brew Dope," the release began: "Some people enjoy consuming tea for its antioxidant health benefits while others enjoy tea for the caffeine rush, but for one international traveler, his tea was more the mind altering kind."

A self-imposed pay cut

State employees' unions balked when Gov. Martin O'Malley first floated the idea of furloughs. But right from the start, the governor had four takers - all under one roof.

Baltimore Circuit Court Clerk Frank Conaway called on all elected and appointed officials in every branch of government in Maryland to donate a portion of their paychecks to state coffers.

"I don't see why we just pick on state employees because all of us drink out of the public trough," he said at the time.

The Conaway family is unusually well represented at that trough. Conaway makes $98,500 a year as clerk. His wife, Mary Conaway, earns the same amount as city register of wills. Their son, Frank Conaway Jr., earns $43,500 as a state delegate. Their daughter, Belinda Conaway, makes $58,425 as a city councilwoman. They all share the same Ashburton home. And good thing they're pooling expenses now that furloughs of up to five days are official.

The Conaways' self-imposed pay cut will cost the family in the neighborhood of $5,000 by my calculations. Is the check in the mail yet?

No, Frank Sr. said, but only because there's a chance the judiciary will come up with a furlough plan of its own, which would cover him and Mary. Frank Sr. assured me they're still willing to dock their own pay - just not twice.

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