view counter

All (All)

Good health or the Lemming Effect?

Charging into a nearly freezing body of water in the middle of the winter is a tradition for people around the world. Frequently, the plunge is made on New Year’s Day.
    The first New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge is credited to Coney Island, New York, in 1903. Founder Bernarr Macfadden believed that a dip in the ocean during the winter could be “a boon to stamina, virility and immunity.” The Coney Island Polar Bear Club takes ocean plunges every Sunday from November through April, with the largest on New Year’s Day.
    The notion that cold water could have health benefits probably came to America with European immigrants, who believed that cold-water dips, alternating with sauna or steam baths, promoted good health.
    Boston has the second-oldest New Year’s plunge, started in 1904 by a group called the L Street Brownies.
    January brings two plunges to Chesapeake Country.
    The new year begins with a Polar Bear Plunge in North Beach at 1pm. It’s a free event with all welcome. Register by December 28 or on the day ($25) to record the moment with a T-shirt and certificate and support Calvert Meals on Wheels.
    At the end of January, the Maryland State Police and Maryland Special Olympics invite plungers into the Bay at Sandy Point State Park. The 21st annual Polar Bear Plunge has become so large that it stretches over three days, January 26 to 28, with the main event Saturday: www.plungemd.com.
    “The first year I think there were 300 plungers,” says Jason Schriml, of Special Olympics of Maryland. “We are anticipating 7,000 for Saturday this year but will have around 10,000 for all three days.”
    Last year’s plunge raised nearly $2.3 million for Special Olympics.

Maybe, just maybe, you will

We expect great things this time of year.    
    No wonder, for the winter holidays set expectations high.
    December 21’s winter solstice promises us that, Big Picture, everything will turn out all right. Despite the gathering chill, we will not spin off into the frozen blackness of space. Light now begins its slow gain. Sunset moves later day by day from its earliest, 4:44pm on December 12, until by January 1 we have gained 10 minutes of evening light. Sunrise soon moves earlier each morning from its latest, 7:25am on December 30, until by January 31 we have gained 12 minutes of morning daylight. Warmth will return with the light. By vernal equinox in March, Earth quickens with life.
    Christmas on December 25 makes an even bigger promise. That holiday celebrates God’s coming to Earth in the form of a human baby. Growing into a man, he knew our joys and sorrows even until death. Rising from the dead, he promised to lift us up with him. Nowadays, even on the feast of his birth, Christians know what’s coming at Easter — and into eternity.
    As if that’s not enough, here comes Santa Claus, flaunting the laws of physics to ride down from the North Pole in a reindeer-drawn sleigh filled with toys destined to be delivered — in one long night — to every girl and boy the whole world over.
    Next comes Hanukkah, beginning at sunset on December 24 this year, illuminating the Jewish world with its own miracles: victory over oppressors and enduring light, symbolized by the eight days of the feast. Nowadays, that’s eight more reasons to bring out the gifts.
    Not to mention New Year’s Day, when we agree to believe that we, too, will change for the better.
    No other time of year sets such high stakes. Or makes such high demands. So try as we might, our holidays do not always live up to our expectations. Your festive efforts mean less to everybody else than they do to you. One side of the family feels slighted comparing their share of your attentions to the share on the other side. The people who join your celebration don’t join you in values. The wrong present breaks somebody’s heart. The plum pudding falls. Or worse, sets the kitchen on fire. You’re all alone on Christmas.
    Try as you might, the transformative promise of the season doesn’t trickle down to you.
    Disappointment is the pivot point of the annual Christmas story you’ll read in this very paper, written this year with heart, skill and humor by Victoria Clarkson.
    Christmas morning, she writes, “found me sitting in holiday traffic on a two-hour journey to my mother’s house, crammed in the minivan with six cranky kids, listening to holiday music for the sixth week in a row. Three of the children had already asked Are we there yet? One child had to go to the bathroom, and another was torturing her baby sister.
    “Christmas at Mom’s house was never going to be like the homecoming at the Walton’s or George Bailey’s in It’s a Wonderful Life.”
    Read it and rejoice with her in that holiday’s redemption from a most unlikely source.
    Victoria’s story is truth, not fiction, and therein is cause for wider hope.
    It’s solstice hope, of the sort that comes in tiny steps — steps as small as one minute a day — but stealthily reaches a critical mass as when winter yields to spring.
    That’s how I expect the light — the rebirth of hope — to come.
    May you have a bright solstice. A blessed Christmas. An illuminating Hanukkah. And a happy new year!

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com
Plus a life in stories: www.sandraolivettimartin.com

Scout lures wood ducks to Franklin Point State Park

Wood ducks are swamp-loving birds, so Shady Side, with its historical nickname The Great Swamp, ought to be the kind of place they’d like. All the more so Franklin Point State Park, 477 acres of wood and waterfront on the Shady Side Peninsula, where humans are welcome but not common.
    Wood ducks are welcome, too. To add curb appeal to the park, Boy Scout Reggie Scerbo, 18, of West River, has built and installed seven nesting boxes that satisfy the requirements of the picky and distinctive species.
    The medium-size dabblers have heads shaped like helmets and thick, upright tails. The males stand out like brilliantly colored harlequins. Less visible are the clawed toes that enable them to climb trees to nest in cavities. Lacking trees, they settle for nesting boxes built to just the right specifications.
    “The entrance hole had to face the water, regardless of compass direction,” Scerbo explained. “The height from the ground had to be about six feet, with an oval hole with a diameter of three by four inches. It is also important to put bedding inside the boxes, since wood ducks rely on the rotten wood that would be in a dead or dying tree. A predator guard is also important to keep out snakes, raccoons and other predators.”  
    Reproductive survival is low as the newly hatched ducklings are driven by instinct to flop out of the nest and follow their mother to the water. Nearly 90 percent of wood ducklings die within the first two weeks, mostly due to predation, according to the Chesapeake Bay Program. The vulnerable species was hunted nearly to extinction a century ago.
    Now humans are helping the species recover.
    Scerbo’s box is one of about 1,800 on Maryland public lands, from which some 8,000 chicks were anticipated in 2016.
    The Maryland Wood Duck Initiative recruits volunteers like Scerbo, offering training, site review and box location help as well as providing materials — cypress for the boxes and street sign poles for the supports.
    “Reggie figured out how to make it happen,” said West/Rhode Riverkeeper Jeff Holland. “He worked with experts from the Maryland Wood Duck Initiative to get technical support, cleared the location with the Maryland Park Service and got the help of the Scouts of Troop 249 of Edgewater in assembling and putting in the right place.”
    The ducks helped Scerbo earn the rank of Eagle Scout.
    “We expect a wonderful impact on resurgence of this species in our habitat,” Holland said.

A story for the original Star Wars generation

The campaign against the Empire is not going well for the rebel alliance. Momentum is building, slowly, but not consensus. Half the alliance wants war; the other thinks senate proceedings and trials better for the galaxy.
    Things get worse when scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen: Doctor Strange) sends a secret message reporting that he’s helped build a weapon the Empire calls the Death Star.
    It has the power to destroy a planet with a single shot. Such a weapon gives the Empire the upper hand.
    Erso reveals that he’s built a hidden weakness into the Death Star to aid the rebels. Erso himself is missing.
    The plan is to contact Erso’s daughter Jyn (Felicity Jones: Inferno) to make inroads with her dad’s old friends, now rebel fanatics. Jyn has been searching for her father ever since the Empire kidnapped him, so she leaps at the chance.
    Jyn joins rebel spy Cassian Andor (Diego Luna: The Bad Batch) to find her father and steal the plans for the Death Star. Cassian, however, is under orders to shoot Galen on sight.
    If you’ve ever seen a Star Wars movie, you know how Rogue One ends. But it’s so well done that knowing the ending hardly matters.
    Director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) gives us breathtaking action, including a harrowing battle on an island. The machinery and tech of the Star Wars universe blend with gritty sequences featuring soldiers and guns to convey the human cost of war.
    Another smart choice is staying far away from the Force. This is not a movie about Jedis. It’s about non-magical people who must make real sacrifices for their cause. Grounding this fantasy universe in reality adds consequences to action. A soldier who dies in Rogue One is not joining the Force, just rotting on the ground.
    Luna and Jones give charismatic performances that leave you rooting for the rebellion. The real star of the movie, however, is K-2SO (Alan Tudyk: Moana). A reprogrammed Empire droid now working with the rebels, K-2SO is a comedian who steals every scene. Imagine a slightly tougher and more sarcastic C-3PO.
    Think twice about bringing the kids to this Star Wars movie. Made for adults who grew up with the original trilogy, this addition to the universe is a darker take than the usually family-friendly fare. People die, war is hell and betrayal is seemingly inevitable.
    For fans, it’s a great sci-fi-war experience giving us plenty to talk about while we wait for Episode VIII.


Great Sci-Fi • PG-13 • 133 mins.

Sure-to-please choices

You’ve tried to choose a gift for the sport in your life, the dedicated angler, canoeist, hiker, shooter or sailor. And you’ve failed.
    The look in an aficionado’s eye on opening a present naively intended to enhance the enjoyment of a particular sport is a dead giveaway. Just what am I going to do with this? Next — but too late to mask the eye movement and expression of astonishment — come effusive explanations of just how special the gift is and how much it is appreciated.
    Here’s how to do better this year. If you are not dead certain that the gift is indeed unique and desirable within the context of that sport —almost impossible if you don’t share the passion — give a gift certificate.
    A certificate for a favorite restaurant is an excellent choice, as is one from a good sporting goods store. If the person in question is keen, sartorial-wise, a certificate from one of the better area clothing stores will may be the ticket. For those impossible to anticipate, I note that liquor stores are beginning to sell holiday gift cards.
    But if you must choose a sporting gift, try something like this. For boaters, a new piece of technological boating gear has recently arrived in retail stores to satisfy a safety requirement of the U.S. Coast Guard, the Weems and Plath electronic flare and emergency SOS light.
    Flares are required to be onboard any craft larger than 16 feet that intends to go on big water or operate at night. Flares inevitably have an expiration date (usually three years hence) and are inherently dangerous to operate.
    This new electronic flare never expires, is safe to use and is superior in terms of visibility and effectiveness of operation. All boaters will eventually possess one of these new devices in lieu of the incendiaries. If you want your skipper to appreciate your thoughtfulness, and to keep safe at the same time, giving one of these new devices is a sure avenue to success.
    LED flashlights are also an ideal gift for the sports inclined, especially the small units with high light output (1,000-plus lumens). These devices can be lifesavers in emergencies. Every car, motorcycle, boat (or other floating or moving conveyance) should have one somewhere onboard.
    They’re also handy for non-sporting occasions as they thoroughly illuminate any dim, dark walks back to an automobile and can effectively (though briefly) blind and ward off anyone who threatens to approach uncomfortably close. The better ones are the size of a small candy bar.
    Another unique LED creation is the Larry Light, a small, inexpensive, bright stick of lights that is directional and magnetized so that it can be attached anywhere there is metal for hands-free illumination of dark recesses. They’re also handy for casual photographic applications.
    The incredibly efficient Yeti brand coolers have become quite popular of late despite their hefty price tags. Yeti also offers hot/cold drink cups and thermos bottles that are unbelievably efficient as well as more affordable. They make an ideal gift for almost anyone.

Get a fast start with my Gouin brew

This is a great time to activate the compost pile. The fallen leaves are rich in nutrients and organic matter. Mother Nature has been using leaves as natural mulch since the beginning of time.
    I begin with my leaf blower, blowing as many leaves as possible under the branches of the shrubs to mulch them over winter.
    For my compost pile, I then use the lawnmower to chop the remaining leaves by mowing the lawn with the blade set at five inches above the ground, starting from the outer-edge of the lawn and working my way into the center. This pushes the fallen leaves into the center of the lawn where I can harvest them easily and transport them to the compost bin. Chopped leaves compost faster than whole leaves.
    With the garden hose handy to spray water on the leaves as I load them in the bin, I lay a 10- to 12-inch layer of chopped leaves and cover it with a uniform layer of leftover compost from last year. To hasten the composting process, I sprinkle about one cup of urea or ammonium nitrate per 10 square feet of area and water thoroughly. Each layer of leaves covered with compost needs to be wet in order for composting to start. Dry leaves do not compost.
    If you do not have leftover compost from last year, make your own compost starter by adding a shovel full of garden soil to a five-gallon pail. Add one-half cup of cheap dish detergent and one cup of urea or ammonium nitrate fertilizer. Stir the mixture well, and sprinkle it over each layer of copped leaves added to the pile. The detergent will help in wetting the leaves, and the ammonium nitrate or urea will provide nitrogen to stimulate the microbes in the garden soil into doing their duty. Five gallons of this Gouin brew is sufficient to cover about 30 square feet of composting area.
    The larger the compost pile, the better. Compost piles smaller than five-by-five-by-five feet will not generally become very active until next spring when temperatures warm. However because of mass, larger compost piles are capable of generating and maintaining high temperatures all winter long — providing the composting materials remain moist.
    A long-shank thermometer of two feet or more is helpful in monitoring microbial activity. You can also see the effects of microbial activity by simply digging into the pile on a cold day, watching the vapors rise and feeling the warmth of the compost. If you did a good job of preparing the pile, rising temperatures should be measurable in two weeks or less. You should also notice significant reductions in volume as temperatures rise. This means that the microbes are digesting the leaf tissues and generating heat and carbon dioxide.


Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

When you think about it, a homemade Christmas cookie is quite the thing

As a taste treat, it’s hard to complain about an Oreo. Still, you’ll find in these pages reason after reason why store-bought cookies — even Oreos — can’t compare with homemade. Especially at Christmas, which is for cookies what Thanksgiving is for pumpkin pie and Hanukkah is for latkes.
    Taking advantage of that season — and under the influence of my fondness for Christmas cookies — we’ve made this issue the Bay Weekly Cookie Exchange. Just as in a person-to-person cookie exchange, it brings you into the good company of a friendly gathering of Chesapeake Country bakers sharing their cookie traditions, memories and recipes.
    For each of us, Christmas cookies come with memories. If you come from a baking family, you surely have yours. Over the years, your memories grow into stories.
    Those stories enrich our cookie exchange. Reading them is almost as satisfying as tasting the cookie.
    Stretching from a spring boat trip as a child in Texas to gather the fruit for jelly-making to the Christmas baking to gift-giving, the story of Linda Davis’ Mayhaw Thumbprint Cookies is the essence of this season.
    John Janosky’s memories, and cookies, come from Poland. Audrey Broomfield’s Buttergebäck are German. My girlhood cookies, baked by my mother’s friend Margaret, were Sicilian. Where we come from is another part of the story that lives on in our Christmas cookie traditions.
    Your memories are an ingredient — maybe the butter — in who you are. Sharing them, like giving a tin of homemade cookies, extends your family circle to include us lucky recipients.
    Love is another ingredient baked into homemade cookies. Maybe it’s the sugar.
    “I bake to show people I care,” Marion Graham told us for this story.
    Words like those make cookie sharing downright philosophical, one person reaching out to another in the intimate connection theologian Martin Buber described as the I-Thou relationship. Plus, cookies taste good.
    Ingredients are another distinction.
    “I don’t like artificial ingredients,” Marion tells us, “so I bake cookies from scratch and try to make them healthier.”
    Healthier for her means oatmeal, the substitution of egg whites for whole eggs and adding Sugar in the Raw into the mix.
    Whole wheat pastry flour is another step to healthier cookies, as are honey, molasses and, in a couple of recipes I use, olive oil instead of butter. Strange as that may seem, the cookies are delicious.
    Local ingredients from neighborhood chickens and regional cows and wheat fields are another way that at home we can bake a philosophy of living into our cookies.
    Are those reasons enough? They are for me. It’s time for me to get home and bake the spice cookies, made with olive oil, that have been chilling in the fridge. My husband is looking forward to eating some tonight.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com
Plus a life in stories: www.sandraolivettimartin.com

They’ll keep us company till the osprey return

Right on time, tundra swans
have dropped from the skies over Chesapeake Country like giant snowflakes. They are big birds, weighing 20 pounds or so in maturity with a six-foot wingspan.
    About December 1, perhaps I heard their raucous cries cutting through the dark of night. Four or five days later on Fairhaven pond, I saw a pair of white birds so big that they couldn’t have been gulls. December 10 the evidence was incontrovertible: a pair flapping over the pond, a couple pair more paddling through the water, skirting the skin of ice.
    That’s modern swan time; used to be they’d arrive reliably for Veterans Day, just as the osprey arrive reliably for St. Patrick’s Day.
    Tundra swans are creatures of cold weather, but the freeze in their Canadian nesting grounds sends them south in search of food. They come as families, parents and a cygnet or two, only four months old and making this two-month flight of thousands of miles from above the Arctic Circle. The big birds fly at about 50mph; they follow the freeze south through Canada, feeling along the way.
    The Chesapeake is a historic wintering spot, and they’ll stay with us from now until earliest spring. So you’ve lots of opportunity to meet them.
    See their loose Vs passing overhead, hear their bark and spy the huge birds close up as small flocks float on Bay marsh ponds and coves, long necks stretched to the muddy bottoms to harvest grasses, clams and other small mollusks. Long-distance flying is hard, hungry work, so it may take a while before those elegant, long necks rise to show you the species-signature black beak.

It all goes back to Hansel and Gretel

In one form or another, gingerbread has been popular since at least mediaeval times.
    “Gingerbread was a favorite treat at festivals and fairs in medieval Europe — often shaped and decorated to look like flowers, birds, animals or even armor,” according to Smithsonian Magazine. “Several cities in France and England hosted regular gingerbread fairs for centuries.”
    Gingerbread became especially popular in Germany, where monks baked the confection starting around the 14th century. Lay bakers then started making the treat and took their recipes extremely seriously, guarding them as family secrets.
    Building gingerbread houses likely started in Germany. Records of gingerbread houses start in the 1600s but became really popular after the Brothers Grimm fairy tale Hansel and Gretel was published in 1812, according to The History Kitchen.
    In the tale, a witch lives in a house made of delicious candy and cookies. The house is a trap she uses to lure children into her home and, eventually, her oven. Somehow the story inspired bakers to create their own baked houses, and people liked them, despite their terrifying associations. Gingerbread houses now range from the simple to the extreme.
    This year, the United Kingdom’s National Trust commissioned a gingerbread house that is astounding. Built by an English cookie making company, the mansion took 15 months and 500 hours to create. It was inspired by Waddesdon Manor and is made up of 66 pounds of butter, 240 eggs and 480 pounds of icing. It is six feet tall and has details that many of us would never imagine going into a gingerbread house, like paintings, beds, chairs and elaborate carpets, all made of confection. See the creation at https://waddesdon.org.uk/whats-on/biscuiteers-manor-in-gingerbread/
    Closer to home, a gingerbread White House is always part of the holiday decorations at The White House. This year’s house is constructed of 150 pounds of gingerbread, 100 pounds of bread dough, 20 pounds of gum paste, 20 pounds of icing and 20 pounds of sculpted sugar pieces.
    Fifty-six more pseudo gingerbread houses, each actually made of Lego bricks, represent each state and territory
    If you have $78,000 to splurge, you can order an organic gingerbread house custom made to look like your own home, adorned with pearls and a five-carat ruby from veryfirstto.com.

Deep, dramatic and depressing — just in time for Christmas

A janitor in Boston, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck: Triple 9), sleepwalks through life. After work, he guzzles beer, preferring bar fights to women.
    Though Lee doesn’t seek change, it finds him. His older brother drops dead, leaving a commercial fishing boat, a big house in their hometown and a 16-year-old son. Named guardian of Patrick (Lucas Hedges: Anesthesia), Lee has no idea how to help the boy with his grief or how to parent a teen who’s juggling girlfriends and used to getting his way with caustic sarcasm.
    Making Lee’s task harder is his small hometown. Tragedy ruined his marriage and sent him scuttling to Boston. Home again where everyone knows the pain of his past, Lee encounters his own demons.
    This moving, funny drama about the power of family and the ways people cope with grief is one of the best films of the year. Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan (Margaret) picks apart the family dynamics, slowly revealing each member’s past and pain. Each flashback builds the narrative, developing a complex family history.
    Dialog is sharp and often quite funny. Lonergan’s knack for dysfunctional families shows in every word Lee or Patrick speak. These caustic men are terrified of their sadness. Their sarcasm and biting judgments are their desperate front.
    Affleck carries the movie with a nuanced and deeply personal performance that should make him a contender come awards season. By keeping Lee almost affectless, he shows just how damaged the character is. It’s a dramatic contrast to the Lee in flashbacks, who’s hapless but full of life.
    As Lee’s ex-wife, Michelle Williams (Certain Women) also offers a stellar performance. She is his opposite, an open wound of emotion and pain. As she feels so acutely, she can’t understand how Lee shuts himself down. The two work beautifully together in a fascinating, painful dynamic.
    Manchester by the Sea will stir you, but it offers no easy answers.


Great Drama • R • 137 mins.