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Yes, but do it at the grocery

Anne Arundel Countians are lucky to have their recycling picked up at the curb. With the county’s single-stream recycling program, you don’t even have to sort. Even so, 26 percent of what goes into the trash is recyclable, according to Anne Arundel County Recycling.
    Getting that quarter of our waste out of the trash stream depends not only on the will to recycle but also our knowledge.
    You can find a list that outlines most of what is and is not accepted for curbside recycling on the website www.recyclemoreoften.com.
    How about plastic bags?
    Reading the website left me confused, so I asked direction from Rich Bowen, Recycling Program Manager for Anne Arundel County.
    Most plastic bags that stretch when pulled are recyclable. This includes grocery bags, bread bags, retail bags (even the thicker plastic retail bags) and newspaper bags. Also in this category are zip-top or roll-top food bags and cellophane plastic wrap.
    Not recyclable in Anne Arundel’s program are shiny metallic bags like chip bags.
    Gather recyclable bags together, please, Bowen asks.
    “For curbside pickup, we ask that residents bundle these bags together and tightly tie the bundle so that they don’t come apart during collection or sorting,” he told me.
    Still, curbside recycling is not the best solution for plastic bags.
    “The best thing to do with them,” Bowen advises, “is take them to the grocery store with you and deposit them in the collection bin at the front of the store.”
    The reason is what happens to the bags after you put them out for recycling.
    “The biggest buyer for bags right now is the company that makes Trex decking,” Bowen said. “The composite lumber material uses the plastic bags to make its product. They want clean bags and feel that when the bags are collected with other materials they get soiled by other recyclables so they can’t use them,” Bowen said.
    Also, if the bags come loose during sorting, they can get lodged in the gears of the mechanism that separates paper, metal, glass and plastics. Escaped bags gum up the works, causing the machine to slow down. This results in a slower processing time, which makes costs for recycling all single stream materials increase.
    Many — but not all — grocery stores have obviously located plastic bag collection bins.


Has a sight stymied you? Does an oddity bewilder? Your curiosity may be featured in an upcoming column. Send your questions to chesapeakecuriosities@gmail.com.
 

Fish favor a careful angler

We were drifting soft crab at the Bay Bridge for rockfish when I let my bait get too deep. It fouled on bottom debris. Gritting my teeth in frustration, I maxed my drag, froze my reel spool with my thumb and backed the skiff away. I had lost a number of rigs over past seasons on this particular support, so I assumed that this was just another dues payment.
    I felt my monofilament line stretch as I moved away until it finally broke free, and I reeled my line back. I was surprised to see my hook still attached. Checking its point to ensure it had not been dulled, I rebaited and we set up for another drift.
    When a short time later a good-sized rockfish took my bait, I realized two mistakes I had just made. The first was that I had maxed my drag setting when I snagged my line and had neglected to reset it. The second was that I had ignored the effect of putting so much strain on the line. When that big lunker headed away, the drag held fast. I desperately backed off the adjustment, but my line snapped before the effort could have enough effect. Slumping dejectedly as I retrieved the loose line, I felt like a fool. This was far from my first rodeo, and I had made these mistakes before. Together they spelled disaster.
    As you impart acute strain on a knot, as I did when trying to break off my snagged bait, it continues to tighten, stretching the line and causing it to cut into itself until the knot, or some other weak point in the line, eventually fails.
    Though in this case the knot had not broken and my bait had pulled free, the mono within the knot had already been critically weakened. Coupled with the subsequent stress of a big fish and an extreme drag setting, the knot failed — and a trophy-sized fish easily broke off.
    The lessons, of course, are that when you put high stress on knots, cut them off and retie them — or suffer the consequences. When you mess with your drag, always remember to adjust it back to the original setting.
    The next disaster due to detail happened just a few days later. My favorite hook for bait fishing is made by a quality manufacturer, but with one minor flaw. The shank gap where the hook eye was formed was just a little larger than I would have preferred.
    Early in the season, it made no difference because we were using 30-pound fluorocarbon leaders, more than adequate for our light tackle and thick and tough enough to withstand a questionable hook-eye gap. However, a few weeks later the bite changed. We went from fishing big baits deep with 30-pound leaders to live-lining small perch with sections of 20-pound leader.
    You can guess the rest. During a battle with a particularly large and powerful striper, I experienced a long-range release, inexplicably losing the big devil. When I retrieved my line, I discovered my knot was intact but had slipped through the gap in the hook eye. There’s an old Wall Street saying: To know and not to do is not to know. I had known of the flaw and had done nothing. Willfully, I remained stupid.
    I still use that hook as its other qualities are significant. But ­whenever I get a fresh pack, I anoint the gap on each hook eye with a touch of epoxy. I have not lost a fish to that defect since.
    Retying stressed knots … modifying or eliminating flaws in terminal tackle … always checking for nicks and abrasions in the your line … being sure that the ring inserts on your rod guides, particularly the tip top, are undamaged … continually checking your drag settings: All of these are small habits acquired by experienced anglers.
     The longer you fish, the more little stuff you remember. When that big fish is finally on the line, minor details can make all the difference.

Vegetables from A to Z — plus a little free protein at the K

As July rolls into August, locavores are in high corn. Literally, for in the fields around us corn is reaching to the sky. Figuratively, because we can eat our fill of Maryland-grown sweet well-kernelled ears — along with all the complementary fruits of the season, from beans to zucchini, with plenty of tomatoes along the way. Mid-summer’s harvest supplies a fruit or vegetable for every letter of the alphabet, except maybe X.
    The morning after the Governor’s Annual Eat Local Cookout, husband Bill Lambrecht and I toured our home garden. With the heat wave moving in, the valiant kale — the plant on which so many cool weather meals were built — was doomed. I harvested it for one last stand. The plants were too old for salad or to be crisped with olive oil in a slow oven, as a friend suggests. But they weren’t too old for that down-home favorite, a mess of greens.
    My recipe offers a distinct variation on that old theme. Or perhaps it doesn’t.
    Harvesting the kale, I pulled the plants up by their roots, clipping off the freshest stems and discarding the rest, including a thriving community of Colorado potato beetles, pretty striped bugs that had been feasting on the leaves. I could tell the bugs were healthy, for they made short work of climbing out of the four-foot-tall paper yard waste recycling bag in which I stuffed them. Eventually, I had to catch them one by one and consign them to, I hoped, death by suffocation in a plastic bag. Easier to manage were the caterpillars, lots of small, thin, striped ones, the cabbage moth larvae, and a few softly fat pale green ones, the cabbage loopers.
    I was pretty successful in corralling the beetles, I saw, as I stripped the leaves from the stems. For that job I have a nice tool, a flat plastic half disc perforated with four holes of ascending size. Choosing a hole, I pulled each stem through, collecting the leaves in a bowl. Discarded along with the stems were lots more caterpillars.
    Garden kale takes ample washing, indeed triple washing, in bowls of water, sinks of water and under streams of water. Each washing turned up plenty more caterpillars, drowned or holding tenaciously to the curly kale leaves. When I’d surely gotten them all out, I filled a large, low pot with deep green leaves of kale.
    In the pot on the stove, I sprinkled the kale with dried mustard and a nice pinch of chilies dried from earlier years’ garden crops, plus grindings of fresh pepper. “You know when it’s enough,” my mother said, and I’ve always followed that measure — except in baking, which my mother seldom did and perhaps her motto explains why.
    I cook a mess of kale with only two more ingredients: a jigger of cider vinegar and about six times as much apple cider. This time of year, when apples are still to be harvested and pressed, a child’s juice pack is just about the right amount. Cook slow and long. When the greens are cooked, I add two or three cloves of garlic — ours is just harvested — crushed and sautéed in olive oil. That’s all it takes for a fine mess of local greens.
    Except, as the kale wilted, I saw that this mess of greens had another ingredient.
    “What local dish are we having tonight?” my husband asked that evening.
    “Organic kale with fresh garlic and small striped caterpillars,” I said.
    “Free protein,” says Bay Gardener, Dr. Frank Gouin.
    
    Find recipes without caterpillars, created by top Maryland chefs for the Governor’s Annual Eat Local Cookout, in the 2016 Maryland Buy Local Cookbook: http://mda.maryland.gov/Documents/cookbook16.pdf

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com

I ain’t afraid of no all-female reboot!

Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig: Zoolander 2) hopes to earn tenure at Columbia. The professor is smart, serious and laser focused; but her career is put in jeopardy when a book resurfaces on Amazon. Co-authored with her former best friend Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy: Central Intelligence), the book considers the science of ghosts.
    Erin co-authored the book on ghosts with her former best friend Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy: Central Intelligence). When no one believed them, Erin walked away from ghosts — and Abby.
    All that changes when MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones: Saturday Night Live) finds a mysterious device attracting ghosts to the Big Apple.
    Erin, Patty, Abby and her new partner, the slightly unhinged engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon: Finding Dory), the newly formed Ghostbusters set out to save New York.
    Smart and funny, Ghostbusters is a worthy reboot of a classic. It is, however, a very different beast. It pays tribute, with all six original cast members making appearances, but it’s astute enough not to copy. With humor that’s more modern and self-referential, the reboot focuses on what it’s like to navigate the world as a woman.
    When director Paul Feig (Spy) announced his all-woman take, internet comments ranged from mildly misogynistic to vile.
    Instead of dismissing the vitriol, Feig leaned in, making internet commenters part of the story. The women are constantly harassed online and dismissed because of their gender.
    Ghostbusters works so well because of this cast of women. Both Jones and McKinnon do comedic heavy lifting, earning laughs and kicking butt. McKinnon creates an unforgettable oddball.
    A surprisingly strong member of the ensemble is Chris Hemsworth (The Huntsman), with his brilliant take on the bimbo secretary.
    Though humor and cast are refreshing, there are flaws. Like most movies about the supernatural, it doesn’t stand up to close examination. And Feig spends too much time on Wiig and McCarthy when he has an ensemble of stronger characters to pull from.
    Still, as far as summer blockbusters go, you’ll laugh, reminisce and even see Slimer. I was heartened by young girls leaving the theater excited about careers in physics so they could create cool machines like Holtzmann. It’s about time the princess culture was bucked for careers in ghost busting.

Good Comedy • PG-13 • 116 mins.

But which butterfly is which?

Who’s that flittering around your summer garden? Most likely it’s a swallowtail butterfly.
    The swallowtail family includes more than 550 species, flourishing on every continent except Antarctica.
    Among North American swallowtails, a familiar sight is the large black butterfly with yellow spots and some blue and orange scales. That’s (Papilio polyxenes), the Eastern black or American swallowtail. Named after the mythological figure Polyxena —youngest daughter of King Priam of Troy — this winged beauty enjoys Queen Anne’s lace and the herb rue. Its caterpillar is called the parsley worm because of its love of the herb.
    Eurytides marcellus, the zebra swallowtail, is noticeable for its distinct zebra-striped black and white wings. The late-summer broods have long delicate tails; look close and you may see a red stripe in the hindwing. Look for them dancing around pawpaw trees this time of year.
    The familiar Eastern tiger swallowtail, Papilio glaucus (shown above), is the handsome black and yellow fellow gracing your neighborhood. Females have an extra dash of blue scaling on their wings. You may even see them puddling, congregating on a patch of mud to draw nutrients and minerals from the ground. In 2013, Chesapeake Country saw a surge in their numbers.
    “Every few years, we consistently see a rebounding of swallowtail butterflies,” says Elmer Dengler of Bowie.
    He suspects the plentiful tulip poplar and cherry trees contribute to the robust swallowtail population.
    “These trees are the preferred food sources for swallowtail caterpillars. They do well when their food sources do well,” Dengler says.
    Concerted efforts to plant native species in our gardens have helped take a bit of pressure off all species of butterflies, although Dengler says he still hasn’t seen monarch numbers rise as much as he’d like.
    “We need to continue to spread the message that diversity in your lawn and garden contributes to diversity in butterfly populations,” he said.
    Take note of who’s visiting your flower patch, and be on the lookout for monarch caterpillars and chrysalises among the milkweed. They will be emerging soon to continue their northern migration and won’t hang around very long.

What you’ll gain (and lose) — plus how to get started

Growing vegetables in raised beds is highly recommended when there is limited space, or if your soil does not drain well or is stony. But to be successful, the selected site needs at least eight to 10 hours of full sun if your intent is to grow tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, eggplants, squash, cucumbers and snap beans. With less than eight hours of direct sun, you will be limited to growing lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, cabbage, broccoli and kale.
    Raised beds give you the advantages of good drainage, additional growing space and easier management because you have less bending. There are disadvantages, too: having to irrigate more frequently, higher summer soil temperature, colder fall and spring soil temperatures and problems using power equipment such as tillers.
    A common mistake in establishing raised beds is using commercial potting blends, which are engineered for growing plants in pots and small pans. These shallow containers allow water to accumulate at the bottom, in a perched water table, within reach of the roots. Because commercial potting blends are rich in organic matter and porous materials, they have a high air-filled pore space, which does not make for good water retention. This means having to irrigate and fertilize frequently to obtain a desirable crop. The combination of higher growing media temperatures and low water-holding capacity demands frequent irrigations. More frequent irrigations result in a greater loss of nutrients as water moves through the soil.
    You’ll do better by manufacturing your own soil by purchasing subsoil containing 50 to 60 percent sand. Do not purchase topsoil, for it will be full of weed seeds and live roots of perennial weeds. Subsoil, the layer beneath, the topsoil, is relatively free of weed seeds and roots. Blend the subsoil with one-third by volume of compost if your raised beds are a foot or less in height. If the raised beds are deeper than a foot, fill to within three inches of the top edge and cover the soil with a two-inch-thick layer of compost. Spade or rototill the compost into the upper six inches of soil.
    Regardless of which method you use to fill the raised bed, allow at least two weeks before taking soil samples for testing. Since most subsoils tend to be acidic, most likely it will be necessary to add limestone, but without soil test results, the exact amount cannot be estimated.
    If your interest is in organic gardening, top-dress each year with a one-inch-thick-layer of compost prior to spading or tilling in the spring. Compost has a mineralization rate between 10 and 12 percent, which is essential to maintain a proper nutrient level for the garden to be productive. The mineralization rate is highly dependent upon soil temperature, and raised beds have a higher soil temperature than gardens.
    For conventional gardeners, follow the recommendations on the fertilizer bag. Commercial fertilizers tend to be acidic, so your soil should be tested every three to four years. Apply additional compost at least once every three to four years when using conventional gardening practices. Organic particles in compost deteriorate with time, and you are seeking to maintain a three to five percent level of organic matter for carefree gardening.


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

First, catch some small spot

As I flipped my live perch over the side, my son did the same. Hoping that we would not have to wait too long for action, I let the small baitfish swim down and away from the boat. The lines streamed aft and out to port as a light wind pushed our skiff over the calm water.
    Within a few seconds, my line was feeding out unusually fast. I glanced around for orientation to gauge just how fast the tide was moving. My son called, “Dad, your line is crossing over mine,” but when I tried to check its flow, I discovered it wasn’t the current that was pulling out my baitfish. It was something far stronger.
    “I’m getting a run already; something took my bait.” I said, “You’ll have to bring your line in.”
    “I can’t. I have a fish on,” he answered. His rod was bent to the corks, and line was pouring off of his spool.
    Throwing my reel in gear, I came tight to my fish to the same effect, my rod bent down and a strong rockfish headed out and away. I did my best to keep my line from crossing my son’s. For long moments it was a delightfully difficult situation.
    Laughing and dodging around each other as we finally got separation, I had to warn John to push his rod tip deep underwater to keep his line clear of our motor’s lower unit. His fish had turned and managed to angle his line under the hull. I thought about raising the motor in assistance, then decided my hands were full. It was every man for himself.
    The response had turned us optimistic. When we arrived, I had been alarmed to see more than 50 fishing craft clustered in the area. Fortunately, most of the others were trolling or anchored and fishing bait. Neither would interfere with our live-lining tactics.

Tips for Live-lining Success
    A number of details can make big differences in your rate of success. The bait must swim as naturally as possible; ideally no weight should be added to the line. Place the hook no deeper than one-quarter inch just in front of the dorsal.
    To maximize the bait’s freedom of movement, we use loop knots to secure a 6/0 live bait hook to the leader. Using at least 18 inches of no more than a 20-pound fluoro leader helps in the stealth department.
    When fishing open water, make your presentations to marked fish in drift mode to give you a definite advantage. Search until you have found good marks, move up current, then drift down over their location with your motor off. Your electronics will tell you how deep your quarry is and approximately when your bait will drift through them.
    Maintain constant but delicate contact with the baitfish through line tension. Knowing just how the bait is swimming — and lending pressure when it is to your advantage — will trigger strikes. When you feel the baitfish making evasive movements, snubbing it up briefly will make it move more frantically. The stripers are alerted to the bait’s distress and often respond with immediate attacks.
    A long pause, free of all line pressure, is almost always necessary after a rockfish grabs the bait. Unless you’ve got very small perch or spot, it’s difficult to get a hook set until the rockfish has really engulfed the bait. A long five count is the minimum.
    Strike with a firm, measured pull, not a hard strike. Particularly with bigger fish, if it has swallowed the bait, a forceful strike can rip the bait and the hook out of the soft tissue of the fish’s throat. During the fight, keep the pressure moderate for the same reason.
    Do not attempt to horse a fish in the last few feet nor snub a last-minute dash for the bottom. Be patient, set your drag on the light side, let them run and you’ll land ’em all — as we did that day.

Caught live and dressed for you this and every week in Bay Weekly

What do you love to do?    
    Discovering what that is and making the time to do it is a key to a happy life.
    I learned that lesson from Joe Akers, who when I met him had stepped back from the stage of world affairs to take over a small-town Illinois newspaper.
    “When I worked for the oil companies,” Akers told me the evening of the June afternoon I walked into his newsroom, “I’d leave and never know when I’d be back. Three weeks, that’ll be all, my boss said on sending me to South America.
    “By then I was wise to him. All right, I said, but I want one condition. I want to come home once a month.
    “Fine,” he said.
    “That stay lasted 11 months and took me to nearly every county in South America. But he kept his promise. I came home 11 times.”
    Back then, I’d bumped into what I loved to do, and I was making time for it. Discovering people like Joe Akers kept photographer partner Sue Eslinger and me on the road for two years.
    Two years have stretched into a lifetime. After leaving Illinois, and Illinois Times, I joined with my family in creating Bay Weekly so I could keep telling the stories of people whose work and play made this their equivalent of Akers’ “the best life I’ve ever lived — that I can remember.”
    Most everybody who’s ever written a story for Bay Weekly has shared my sustained delight in discovering, first-hand, the dynamism of people doing work they love.
    That’s why you have the pleasure this week of reading The Original Social Network.
    Writer Karen Holmes was dancing at the Davidsonville Recreation Center when she chanced on the Anne Arundel Radio Club reaching out to the world by Morse code, voice and digital over the 24 hours of this year’s nationwide Ham Radio Field Day.
    Find a bunch of people erecting electronic Maypoles, and you take notice. If, that is, you’re like Holmes, whose association with Bay Weekly has turned her into the version of a journalistic hunting dog we call a newshound.
    Like Sue and me in those early years, Bay Weekly reporters catch their stories where they find them.
    Proudly, they bring their catch back to me, and we dress them for your reading pleasure. Just as Karen Holmes has done in this fascinating story about people — our neighbors in Calvert and Anne Arundel counties — whose passion is connecting.
    In the inner sanctums of journalism, there’s a lot of talk nowadays about “rekindling the passion for print” — in other words, how to get people to do what you’re doing, reading a newspaper.
    Of my prescription for keeping print alive and well, you’re living proof: Find writers and reporters who love their work, and send them out to bring back stories of people making the world tick. These are stories people will read.
    We’ve got stories of that sort for you again this week, thanks to writers like Victoria Clarkson, first appearing in Bay Weekly this week; Kathy Knotts, a journalist for 15 years, the last for Bay Weekly; and intern Robyn Bell, our St. John’s College grad who’s discovering what thrills us all in this business: finding good stories and bringing them back to you.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com

A thrifty couple’s guide to having your cake and eating it, too

Come this fall, I am officially adding strategic planner to my resume. After moving, working two jobs and planning a wedding from 700 miles away, I’ve earned it.
    Some couples hire a wedding planner to help design their special day from top to bottom. My fiancé and I knew from the start we’d be taking on the planning ourselves. So when I got engaged, I started by reading magazines and web blogs. These resources can be a great help, but they lured me into a false sense of confidence. Doing this yourself is a lot of work. Don’t get me wrong: It’s an exciting time, but keeping so many balls in the air takes serious organizational finesse.
    As a bride-to-be, I’ve been determined to create a wedding that is true to my fiancé and me and sustainable for our finances, family, friends and our planet. By sharing my experience, I hope to help other ambitious brides create their own dream weddings.

About Us

My fiancé and I met in graduate school at Duke University, where we were both pursuing master’s degrees in environmental management. From friends, we quickly evolved into something more. Four years later, he popped the question in front of the Jefferson Memorial in D.C.
    Surprised with a photographer to capture the moment, an antique ring I had fallen in love with (that he had hidden in our closet for two years), some beautiful words and a round of applause from the onlookers, I said Yes. It was perfect.
    That was April 2015. We have been wedding planning almost nonstop since, first from D.C. and most recently from our new home in ­Cambridge, Mass.
    My fiancé and I both work in the environmental field, I most recently at Chesapeake Conservancy in Annapolis. We are both conscious consumers. We wanted our wedding to support local businesses, have a very natural feeling and be as gentle on the earth as possible. Through all our planning and decision-making, these values were non-negotiables.

Let the Planning Begin

Get out a new notebook, start a Google Doc or buy a pocket calendar; it’s about to get organized in here! Whatever works for you, use it to track conversations, contracts, payment deadlines and lingering questions. Keep it all organized and in one place. In the future you will appreciate your organization.
    I’ll talk you through my notebook, now nearly full. But first, a few general guidelines.
    Decide up front what wedding elements are most important to you and your fiancé. Develop a budget accordingly. Track your monetary commitments as you go to avoid surprises later.
    The internet is your friend. Good places to start are WeddingWire.com and TheKnot.com. Pinterest is also great for figuring out your style, colors and décor.
    Be willing to make tradeoffs. It was important to us to have a seated meal, but we were perfectly happy with a DJ instead of a band. Making compromises in some places will allow you to comfortably spend more funds in others.
    Ask for references. Hell hath no fury like a disappointed bride, so you are likely to get very honest responses. We have done this for most of our vendors, and it has been hugely helpful.
    Don’t overextend yourself financially. If it sounds too expensive, it probably is. The wedding business is priced through the roof, but there are great options if you’re willing to look around and think outside the box.

Where to Marry

Start with choosing your venue.
    For us, this was easy. In graduate school, we spent countless hours exploring the Sarah P. Duke Gardens adjacent to Duke’s campus. That’s where we wanted to tie the knot.
    Popular wedding venues book up quickly, especially in the spring and summer, so we traveled to Durham to secure our spot right away. Even a year and a half in advance, only two Saturdays were available in October 2016.
    If you don’t have such strong feelings, think about places special to you as a couple: a favorite city, vineyard or ambiance. As you dream, consider the time of year you want to marry, the number of guests, whether they will be willing to travel and your budget. Then, visit the contenders.
    Walk the grounds, talk to the staff and envision your day. Some venues require that you use pre-approved caterers and services, which may be a deal-breaker for you.
    Once you book the spot, you can dive into the details.

The Caterer

Catering was our next stop. Duke Gardens had a limited list of approved caterers, which made our decision easy. We were flexible on the cuisine, as long as most was sourced locally. Ultimately, we chose the caterer that presented us with a menu that spoke to our tummies and to our worldview.
    If you have a particular food preference, let that guide you. And, if you’re nearby, definitely meet with caterers in person and try their food.
    Next came choosing between a seated dinner and a buffet. Each has tradeoffs. Buffets generally have lower costs for wait staff but may require you to order more of each dish. Buffets tend to be cheaper overall, but seated dinners seem more elegant. After a lengthy debate, that’s what we choose. All our guests will be coming from out of town, so we felt it important to treat them to a relaxing meal.

The Dress

My dress gave me the most anticipatory heartburn. I am not one to spend a lot of money on clothes, especially on clothes I will only wear once.
    My mother eased my pain with her suggestion of Cherie Amour Bridal Resale in Howard County’s Historic Savage Mill. Cherie Amour sells donated wedding, bridesmaid and mother-of dresses. All proceeds benefit Success In Style, an organization that works to dress people in crisis for employment.
    I saw my perfect dress in the window. Originally priced at more than $4,000, it cost me $550. Mom and I had a special afternoon together, and I was smitten with both my dress and helping others.
    Whether you find your dress at a bridal salon, your mother’s cedar chest or a bargain alternative, remember that you will need fitting and tailoring, so include those funds in your budget.

Photography

Making this decision was fun. Hours of looking through photos online helped us decide on a style that suited our wedding vibe and venue. With those elements and our price point, it was easy to find a photographer that fit our needs. Again, online reviews and phone calls to discuss our vision were invaluable.
    Be on the lookout for specials. During the month we booked, our photographer was offering a free engagement shoot. We hadn’t planned on engagement photos, so this was a happy surprise — and a rehearsal for getting past feeling awkward.

Flowers

Flowers can really rack up your tab if you’re not careful. We found that smaller operations tend to be more reasonably priced. We also supported a small business by choosing a mother-daughter team who grow flowers in their back yard. Their passion for flowers was infectious, as was their delight in using flowers to bring joy to others. It was a perfect fit.
    Using local, seasonal flowers helps cut both costs and your carbon footprint. But the flower industry is weather-dependent, so you need to be flexible. If a flower we want isn’t blooming when we marry, our florist won’t be able to use it. We were fine with that, but you should let your florist know your must-have flowers.

Music

Music was the hardest booking from afar. We knew we’d hire a DJ, but it would be sight unseen. Online reviews and references saved our day — we hope. I’d rather have trusted my ears, and I hope you can.

Hair and Makeup

I knew I’d need help with my hair, and I trolled photos on Pinterest to decide on the look I wanted. Then, I found stylists that demonstrated my aesthetic and chose the one I felt most comfortable with over the phone. I’ll visit Durham before the wedding for a trial run.
    In terms of makeup, I decided to invest in some good makeup and training, rather than a makeup artist for the big day. I went to a makeup store for lessons from a professional, which I see as an investment in my bridal shower, bachelorette party and rehearsal, as well as my wedding.

Plus …

I wish I could say our planning is complete, but we still have a few decisions to make, including choosing our wedding rings. Despite my best planning, others will come up. Yet so far, my type-A personality, obsessive organizing and thorough note-taking is paying off. I look ahead confident that we will have created a wedding true to our ethic and to ourselves, happily shared with our best friends and family.
    Good luck to you, too!

Two dogs learn how to navigate the big city in this cute comedy

Max (voiced by Louis C.K.: Horace and Pete) is a terrier living an idyllic life in New York with his owner/soulmate Katie (Ellie Kemper: The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt). They go for bike rides, share dinner and snuggle up to sleep. Max couldn’t be happier.
    Except that every day Katie does the almost unforgivable: She leaves. Most pets in Max’s apartment building spend their time alone socializing and binge eating, Max waits doggedly for Katie’s return. He stares at the door. He whines. He consults the neighbor cat.
    Max’s loneliness ends when Katie brings home Duke (Eric Stonestreet: Modern Family). The new dog is loud, big and attention-getting. Max hates him on sight and plots to rid himself of the interloper.
    Duke thinks the same about Max.
    Trying to one-up each other, the feuding dogs get lost far from home. It’s a big city out there, filled with loud noises and scary creatures. With no idea where home is, they find themselves hunted by a demented band of human-hating ex-pets.
    If the story sounds familiar, it’s probably because you saw it in 1995 when it was called Toy Story. Similar in plot points and major themes, The Secret Life of Pets is a furry version of the Pixar classic. It doesn’t delve so deeply into themes like fear of being replaced, jealousy and learning to accept others. But it does provide some great jokes about dog and cat behavior.
    Chances are, if you’re a pet owner, you’ll find a character that reminds you of your own fuzzy friend, from loyal Max to indifferent, taunting Chloe (you guessed it, a cat). The world of pets is given interesting little touches, and it’s fun to watch dogs shout at squirrels to get off their turf.
    The brilliant voice cast is loaded with comedians, from C.K. to Kevin Hart to Jenny Slate, each knowing exactly when to push a line or pause for comic effect. Albert Brooks (Finding Dory) is particularly delightful as Tiberius, a hawk who wants friends but must fight his raptor urge to eat them.
    Filled with silly laughs, clever observations and just a bit of scatological humor, The Secret Life of Pets will appeal to little ones and keep adults entertained. Jokes are solid and performances strong.
    If you have children who don’t like creepy crawlies, be aware that the 3-D show features snakes and gators snapping directly at the audience. There’s no need to pay extra to traumatize your child.

Good Animation • PG • 87 mins.