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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.

From boxwood to white pine, you’ve many evergreen choices

Here in Chesapeake Country, we have an abundance of evergreen plants to choose from. Many — but not all — narrowleaf greens will hold their needles if you treat them right, while adding beauty and aroma to your home. For long-lasting holiday greens, gather arborvitae, Canaan fir, Douglas fir, junipers, Nordman red cedar, red pine, Scots pine and white pine.
    Many broadleaf evergreens will also hold up throughout the holidays. Choose from American holly, cherry laurel, Chinese holly, English holly, English ivy, mountain laurel, pachysandra, periwinkle, rhododendron and southern magnolia. Japanese hollies are plentiful, but their foliage does not stay as attractive for as long as the other varieties.
    Increase the life of greens by cutting one to two inches from the base of the stem as soon as you bring them indoors and immersing them in 100-degree water. Change the water at least every other day.

A Bonus from Boxwood
    Back in colonial days, gardeners pruned their boxwoods by breaking branches just prior to the holidays for use in making decorations. In cold weather, boxwood branches become very brittle and can easily be broken from the main stems. This may seem crude, but it is a very effective method of pruning boxwood and making maximum use of the prunings.
    Boxwood branches have many decorating uses, such as making wreaths, sprays, kissing balls and centerpieces. To increase their longevity in the home, carry along a pail of hot water, about 100 degrees, and immediately place the broken end of the branches in the water. The cold stems will absorb the hot water readily.
    To punch holes through the boxwood canopy thus allowing light to penetrate into the center of the plant, break branches 12 to 14 inches long. Breaks made when temperatures are low are clean and will heal quickly come spring. Another advantage to pruning boxwoods by breaking branches during winter months is you have more time, so you can do a better job. Winter pruning also gives you a head start on spring pruning.
    Still another advantage of breaking branches is that you reduce the chance of spreading canker diseases from plant to plant. Pruning boxwoods with shears during the summer increases the chance of spreading canker-causing diseases from plant to plant.


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

Why are pelicans still hanging around the Bay so late in the year?

Brown pelicans have become summer residents hereabouts, nesting on Smith and Holland islands in the southern Bay when the water is warm and fish are plentiful. This late fall, however, the big-billed birds have been sighted as far north as Ft. Smallwood Park and Ft. Armistead Park near Baltimore.
    “Seeing them that far north in the Bay in November is notable,” says David Brinker of Maryland Department of Natural Resources. “I don’t remember observations like this in years past.”
    As for explanation, Brinker explains that last month was warm “so the waters of the Bay don’t seem to be cooling as fast as they generally do. This means that fish are more active than usual, so the pelicans can still find food easily. So they’re sticking around longer than normal.”
    In a typical year, pelicans start migrating south in late October or early November. Leaving Maryland, most pelicans end up in Florida or the Caribbean islands for the winter. Some go as far south as the northern part of South America.
    In the Chesapeake, pelicans nearly disappeared in the 1960s and 1970s because the pesticide DDT weakened their eggs. They didn’t return until 1987.
    Now, Brinker says, “We have somewhere between one to two thousand breeding pairs of pelicans every summer. I think part of the reason we’ve had this great expansion of birds is that they’ve discovered the great resource of the Bay ecosystem, especially the menhaden.”
    Odder still, a small flock of white pelicans winters at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on the Eastern Shore.
    “Thirty to 50 birds have been spending their winters there for the past five or so years,” Brinker said.
    White pelicans spend their summers in the Midwest and west, nesting in freshwater wetlands, then typically wintering along the southern coasts of the U.S. and Mexico.

Adjust your dress and technique, and you might still catch one

This is the end my friend, the end.
It hurts to set you free.

Rock legend Jim Morrison’s words echo my thoughts as our rockfish season heads to a close on Dec­ember 20. It has been a fine year chasing my favorite Bay species, and I still hope for a few more encounters.
    I’ve gotten in some good December licks in the past. Jigging around the Eastern Shore rock pile at the Bay Bridge has been memorably productive during this last month. Though I’ve been out of action recently with unexpected boat motor repairs and foul weather, I am itching for another chance or two.
    Just a couple of years ago, a friend and I couldn’t get a jig with a small dropper to the bottom for all the big white perch that were schooled there. The reason? Four- and five-pound rockfish would pounce on the rig before it was halfway down. The year before that, a simple two-ounce jig with a lip-hooked minnow slow bumped along deep shell was the key to lots of striped winter action. I’m planning over the next few days to be trying them all, especially a chartreuse Bernie’s Bomber rig, a two-ounce feather-dressed jig followed with a fluorescent yellow Meushaw jig dropper. Stripers will be my target, but I won’t discard any chunky white perch that decide to jump the rig.
    Both rockfish and white perch are at their dinner-table best this time of year, fat as pigs from fall feeding and as firm as tuna from the deep cold water both species prefer this time of year.
    Of course Maryland’s winter weather will always play a role in deciding when to go.
    Since I’m fishing from a light 17-foot skiff, I’ll stick to windless days with temperatures in the mid-50s and won’t stray too far from the boat ramp. Though in my youth, nothing discouraged me until my rod guides started freezing up, the last few years I’ve discovered the December conditions much more uncomfortable than I remembered them.
    Waterproof (not water-resistant) foul weather coat and pants are a must, even on calm sunny days. It doesn’t take much for an errant bow wave to splash onto the boat and soak your clothes. I don’t care what the advertisements say: No matter what you’re wearing, it won’t keep you warm if it’s wet.
    A good hat is a must. Bring an extra along in case the first blows off while you’re at speed. Gloves are handy but don’t expect to keep them dry, so stay away from fleece. Wool is best. It’s also a good idea to bring a hot beverage in a good-quality thermos, as it will keep your core warm and make everything more comfortable. Limit your alcohol intake. In quantity, alcohol gives the illusion of warming you up while actually dropping your body temp.
    Keep in mind that as the water temperatures fall, especially below 50 degrees, fish will search for their prey more and more by smell and less by vision. Adding a strip of fresh bait to your lures or going strictly to live bait will generally improve your results. Using synthesized potions to make your baits more scent attractive can also be helpful. Slowing your retrieves and lure action to match the lower metabolisms of the cold-blooded quarry is wise.
    Expect extreme patience to pay off more than constant relocation and experimentation.

Could that be the season’s best gift?

Help! I shouted as the tide of all I had to do threatened to overwhelm me.
    My to-do list is so long that I expect it to outlive me. That’s the way it is in my family. My mother never forgave her third husband, John Allison, for dying — with dirt on his hands — before he’d finished planting her rose bed, leaving her in burgeoning spring with a legacy of chores undone. Any new season piles more on the list, none more than this holiday season.
    What I really want for Christmas, I said to myself, is someone who loves me enough to give me a couple of hours help.
    Then I heard the retort of the nail gun my home-improver par excellence was deploying to lay my new wood floor. And up the stairs came my husband, serving as errand boy, with another load of wood. As they worked, my job — removing carpet tacks and nail strips — shrunk to proper size.
    Comfortable as self-pity occasionally feels, it is not a woe I deserve. In managing my home and in doing my newspaper business, I have people I can rely on.
    For at Bay Weekly, as at home, the work is endless. Like a hungry family, Bay Weekly barely digests one meal before it needs another. I’d never manage even my part — just the writing and editing — by myself.
    Nor do I have to. 2016 is no different from 2006 … or 1996 … or 1993. In every one of our 23 years, good people have stepped up to help. Writers continue to find such satisfaction in making stories — and in all the learning this craft takes — that they write for love, certainly more than for wages.
    In all the other jobs it takes to make a paper, that run of good fortune continues. Sales people step up to keep us going, convinced — and convincing buyers — that advertising in Bay Weekly helps a business thrive. Drivers keep their routes for decades, bringing each new edition of Bay Weekly to just the spot you expect to find it.
    If anybody deserves self-pity, it’s Betsy Kehne, who’s done her job unassisted for most of her two decades as Bay Weekly’s production manager. And general manager Alex Knoll, who ought to be an inch or two shorter after carrying it all on his shoulders these many years.
    Not me. I am a woman fortunate in people on whom I can depend.
    Not everybody has the luck of people they can call on to join in seeing their projects through.
    That’s why I want to spend a few words in this gift-giving issue on Partners in Care, a helping organization unique to Maryland. In four regions, including Anne Arundel and Calvert counties, it’s the place to turn when you need a little help but don’t know who to ask.
    Partners in Care (www.partnersincare.org) is an exchange community. Members exchange services — rides, errands, chores both heavy and light, professional services like tax advice and grant writing, even friendly visits or a game of Scrabble. Amazingly, there’s no cost but participation in whatever way you can.
    “Our expectation is that each member will contribute time (volunteer), talent or treasure (money),” says Barbara Huston Partners in Care founder.
    Gently used clothing and household items are resold at Partners in Care’s Upscale Resale Boutique at 6 South Ritchie Highway, Pasadena. That’s where Patricia Caldwell, who you’ll meet in All I Want for Christmas, volunteers. Sales and monetary donations support all Partners in Care programs.
    Age complicates both managing your own to-do list and finding helpers. So many people needing help are older. Members are 50 and older, with volunteers of any age welcome. Often families join together. In 2015, for example, Partners in Care exchanged more than 500 services each week.
    Partners in Care Anne Arundel’s Linda Dennis talks to Southern Anne Arundel residents hoping to age at home Sunday, December 11 at 1:30pm at Captain Avery Museum. You’re welcome to learn more.
    Beyond Partners in Care, you may decide, as you seek to please people you love with gifts this holiday season, that help may be the gift they’ll most appreciate.

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

Once upon a time …

Step into the ancient Chesapeake, and you could have become a crocodile’s dinner. So it’s a good thing all those crocodiles were creature of the Miocene epoch (23 to five million years ago), gone long before Homo sapiens discovered the modern Chesapeake.
    Their remains, however, are still here, along the Calvert Cliffs, as well as in coastal states down to Florida.
    There avid fossil collector George Klein, of Chapel Hill, NC, got to know these ancient crocodiles, called ­Thecachampsa, whose length may have approached 30 feet. He’s gotten to know them in such detail — down to each of the 19 bones that compose their skulls, excluding the lower jaw — that he’s published a book on the beasts and their comparison to living American alligators.
    His book, published in digital and hard copies by Calvert Marine Museum, is of necessity skeletal, as bony fossils are all our two species of large crocodiles — Thecachampsa sericodon and Thecachampsa antiquus — left behind. Skeletal Anatomy of Alligator and Comparison with Thecachampsa is the kind of book you’d read as a fossil collector seeking to identify your finds.
    “I expect that this work will inspire on several fronts and further our understanding of extinct alligators and crocodiles by bringing new finds to light,” says Dr. Stephen Godfrey, curator of paleontology at the museum — and sponsor of its Fossil Club.
    That’s where you’d go to get to know crocodiles, great white sharks and many other ancient denizens of the oceanic pre-Chesapeake. You’d also meet human enthusiasts near and far as the club works with fossil collectors all over the world to advance the field of paleontology and grow the museum’s collection.
    Or you could wait a while and maybe see the real thing.
    “Although crocodilians have not inhabited northeastern North America in several million years, as global climates warm,” writes Godfrey, “perhaps they will someday re-inhabit coastal Maryland.”
    Take a look at all that remains of Thecachampsa at www.calvertmarinemuseum.com/276/CMM-Publications.