ANY WOMAN who has ever dreamed of being in a beauty pageant has envisioned herself looking elegant in her beautiful gown, walking gracefully down the ramp in her swimsuit, handling the judges' questions with poise and wit, and winning Miss Congeniality every time.
These thoughts flit into our minds; then we laugh at ourselves and get on with our lives. But sometimes, fate intervenes.
In Jennifer Brady's case, fate came disguised as her mother, Mary Brady. Several months ago, Jennifer received an ad for the Miss Maryland Teen USA pageant and said, "Oh, this would be cool." She put it on the table with her other mail and forgot all about it. But her mom didn't.
Mary Brady filled out the information on the application and sent it to the pageant. A few weeks later, Jennifer got a call informing her that she had been chosen as a semifinalist. Only then did mother tell daughter she had sent in the application.
After another interview, Jennifer was named a finalist and began to prepare for the pageant, which was held last weekend at the Marriott in downtown Baltimore.
Jennifer quickly learned that being in a pageant is a lot of work. She spent months learning about the program, choosing the clothes she would need, practicing pageant-style walking, and raising money to pay for program costs.
Amber Coffman, the 1998 Miss Maryland Teen USA, invited Jennifer and several other contestants to her home to advise them about what to expect, how to perform on stage and how to prepare for interview questions. And all of this activity was going on in the middle of Jennifer's busy senior year at Archbishop Spalding High School, where she is an honor student.
Jennifer joined 118 other Maryland teen-agers vying for the crown of Miss Maryland Teen USA 2000. From Saturday morning through the end of the pageant Sunday night, the pace was hectic.
As soon as she arrived at the hotel, Jennifer was interviewed by the judges. Then, there was time to practice the group dance number, to walk down the ramp in her bathing suit and again in her black, beaded ball gown.
Best of all, there was lots of time to visit with the other girls.
The crown was awarded to another teen, Niambi Powell. But Jennifer feels that all the girls were winners. Being selected as a pageant finalist is an honor in itself. Only 119 girls were chosen from thousands of entrants.
The girls shared an experience that has left them a lifetime of memories. They made lots of new friends. And they had fun. In Mary Brady's words, "A few of the girls were very experienced in pageants. But for most of the girls, this was a one-time event. And it was a blast."
Jennifer reports: "Every new experience makes it easier to meet people."
Faced with hundreds of people she had never seen before, she thought she might be intimidated. Instead, she enjoyed making new friends and sharing good experiences with them.
Next year, Jennifer plans to attend Emmanuel College in Boston to study elementary education. And her experience in the pageant has reinforced her self-confidence in the face of the somewhat daunting prospect of starting fresh in a new town with new people.
Now that the pageant is over, a very tired but happy Jennifer Brady is ready to return to school. And in May, she plans to wear the black, beaded gown at her senior prom, enjoying her memories and making new ones.
Breakfast with Santa
Santa Claus has been so busy getting toys ready for Christmas that he doesn't have time to cook. So the "elves" of Arundel High School's Key Club will help by preparing a hearty pancake breakfast for him from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Saturday at Crofton Fire Hall on Davidsonville Road.
Admission to the breakfast is free, but donations are welcome. Key Club secretary Jackelyn Shimko reports that all money raised at the event will support Kiwanis Club efforts to combat iodine deficiency disease, a serious problem in many developing countries.
Music lovers from all around the county opened the holiday season Sunday evening with the Charles Dent Community Messiah Sing-Along at historic St. James Church in Lothian.
Some of the singers belong to St. James Parish. Others were just visiting. Some are professional musicians, and others were members of church choirs.
Most of us were simply people who love to sing Handel's "Messiah."
Perhaps we had sung the "Messiah" years before, in high school glee clubs or choral groups. And the music never left our hearts. The chance to sing in the chorus, without scheduling months of rehearsal time, was just too good to pass up.
Charles Dent was founder of the Calvert County Christmas Concerts and spread his love for music around the community. Dent's work inspired the beginning of the sing-along series. For 13 years, St. James has sponsored the event on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. The sing-along was directed by Michael Ryan, and accompanied by organist Patricia Tyndall. Soloists were soprano Brenda Fogle, alto Patricia Wolfe, tenor Richard Pearson and bass John Bury.
As soon as the music started, Handel's magic took over the church. We were mesmerized by the familiar beauty of the arias. When Ryan lifted his hands, the whole church followed his lead in the choruses.
Standing in a church surrounded by Handel's music was just glorious. And fun. If someone made a mistake, no one noticed. It didn't matter. Only the music mattered, and our shared love of it.
At the end of the program, after we sang the Halleluia chorus, Ryan reminded us, "Same time next year." I can hardly wait.