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Allison Colden tweaked oyster reef balls to help break up dead zones

      A fiction writer imagining a character destined to become a key figure in Bay oyster restoration could save much time by basing the depiction on real-life Allison Colden, a fisheries scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. 
     From an early age, Colden seemed destined for a role in Bay restoration. Growing up in Virginia Beach, she gravitated to the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, learning about the Bay and the problems it is facing. She did her undergraduate work at the University of Virginia, majoring in biology while doing field work on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. For her PhD at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (part of William and Mary College), she researched how to construct oyster reefs for maximum production. Next, foreshadowing the political aspect of Bay restoration, she spent a year on Capitol Hill as a NOAA fellow for a California congressman, advising on fisheries and natural resources policy. Then, in January of 2017, after a year with a Virginia nonprofit estuary restoration group, she joined the Chesapeake Bay Foundation as a Maryland fisheries scientist specializing in oysters.
     She does some work on other fisheries — notably crabs and striped bass — but most of her time goes to our favorite bivalve.
     “I’ve been fixated on oysters for a long time,” she told me as the 60-foot Foundation workboat Patricia Campbell, moved up the Severn River to begin an oyster restoration experiment.
     “Every research paper I worked on in college turned out to be about oysters. By the time I entered grad school I knew I wanted to work on bringing this important species back.”
     Joining Chesapeake Bay Foundation gave her opportunity for hands-on science. “As much as I respect and admire my academic colleagues, I realized it took more than publishing papers to effect change,” she said. 
      Now an Annapolitan, she’s never far from the Bay.
      “Every day my husband and I take our Australian terrier Bismarck on a walk along Back Creek,” she said. “Being able to work for positive change is important to me as a citizen of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.” 
 
Hands-on in the Field
      In April 2018, the Patricia Campbell was underway to drop concrete reef balls into the Severn River to test one of Colden’s oyster-directed hypotheses: Could “man-made oyster reefs with vertical structure agitate currents and break up dead zones?”
     It’s long been known that weather can affect dead zones; turbulent weather stirs up the water column, distributing oxygen-rich waters throughout. Could added structures do the stirring?
      The hope was this stirring would mix the oxygen-rich water on the surface with the oxygen-depleted water on the bottom, thus lessening the dreaded dead zones that plague our waterways every summer.
     These vertical structures were concrete half-balls about two feet across. The ship’s crane easily lifted the 240-pound balls and precisely placed them about a mile up from the Route 50 bridge in an area known as the Winchester Lump.
     This experiment was about water stirring, but reef balls make good oyster habitat, too. So why not try to grow more oysters at the same time? The balls were preloaded at the Foundation Oyster Restoration Center in Shady Side with almost a million oyster spat. An instrument pod to measure certain key water parameters, like stirring, was also lowered to the bottom. The pod was to be retrieved in a few weeks. In the fall, Colden and the team of scientists would return to the new reef to check on the progress of the oyster spat.
 
Murphy’s Law
      Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Who hasn’t experienced it?
      In the biological and environmental sciences, Murphy’s Law can call on the forces of nature to humble up even the best-planned experiment. In this case, it was the record-breaking rain. All that fresh water pouring down lowers the salt content of Bay water. Fish can swim to areas of higher salinity. Oysters don’t have that luxury; they can be stunted or die if the water isn’t salty enough.
      The deluges also had other effects. Freshwater sitting on top of saltier water creates a boundary that discourages mixing of the water column, exacerbating dead zones. There was also a significant algae bloom, a mahogany tide, in the river this summer. Such blooms cause dead zones.
       The reef ball instruments recorded a four percent increase in mixing of the water column due to the reef balls. Still, the effect on the biology of the river was less clear; Colden suspected the algae and the fresh water would greatly affect the ecosystem of the river.
      To get the final word on that, she would have to wait for the return trip to the reef balls.
 
Return to Winchester Lump
      The April trip to place the reef balls had been a pleasant day on the water; the trip in late November to check the progress of the oysters was anything but. After several delays due to gale warnings and rain, the day of the trip was cold and cloudy. The only person who seemed properly dressed for the weather was the dry-suit-clad diver who would attach lines and floats to the submerged reef balls so they could be hauled up and examined.
       The balls emerged from their seven-month soak yielding expected but still disappointing news. There was plenty of life on the balls, but no oysters; rain and algae had done them in.
       All was not lost, however. The concrete was covered with false mussels. These are also filter feeders, which contribute to water quality, but they tend to be transient. Also present were worms and hydroids, a colonial animal like coral. We even found a naked goby fish.
      “We showed the reef balls can increase water column mixing and can decrease dead zones,” Colden explained in our followup interview. “We also learned that water depth matters, and in the future we might want to try the technique with a shallower bottom. We also learned that even with a low-oxygen, low-salinity environment, we can have life. It’s just different life.”
From electric to plug-in to hybrid, there are more ways than ever to drive clean
    By now, we all know about the ­Toyota Prius.
    I’m talking about the world’s best-selling gas-electric hybrid: a car that uses both an electric motor and a gasoline engine. You can drive it just like any other car yet use much less fuel. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that today’s Prius gets 52 miles per gallon in a mix of city and highway driving, compared to 32 miles per gallon for the similarly sized, similarly powerful, gas-fueled Toyota Corolla.
     But if you’re aspiring to use less gasoline in the new year, the Prius is just one of many options. As an automotive journalist based in the Annapolis area, I’ve had a chance to try out a host of hybrids, plug-in hybrids, electric vehicles and other fuel-thrifty models. For nearly any automotive need, there’s a car that minimizes or eliminates gasoline consumption — in many cases, without even calling attention to itself.
     Let’s go over how these cars work, some important factors to consider about them and some of the best models to buy. 
 
Electric Cars
      Some people see electric cars as glorified golf carts. Others picture a $100,000 Tesla. But a wealth of electric vehicles, known as EVs, exists between these extremes. Most of today’s models accelerate with speedy silence and can travel well over 100 miles per charge. 
     The primary hurdle to an electric car is the range. Range has improved dramatically in just a few years. For example, today’s Nissan Leaf goes 150 miles per charge, more than twice the 73 miles for the original 2011 model, for a similar base price of around $30,000.
     Using a 240-volt car charger, available for home installation and in some public locations, you can achieve about 20 miles of range per hour’s charge in the Leaf. You can even plug into a standard 120-volt outlet to charge four miles of range per hour. That’s not going to help you on a road trip, but it means many commuters can easily recover overnight. Some public stations include fast-charging, which in the Leaf gets you 90 miles of charge in 30 minutes. (I use the Leaf as an example because it’s the best-selling, affordable electric car, but other models have similar specs.)
     Speaking of expense, purchase prices are another common concern. Even the least expensive EVs are often above $30,000, and these tend to be compact economy cars. Luxury models, meanwhile, combine sporty performance with eco-friendly fuel savings, but even the cheapest of those (the Tesla Model 3 sedan) starts at nearly $50,000.
      That said, a $7,500 federal tax credit for electric vehicles removes some of the sting. Then there’s the operating expense: BGE customers typically pay about 7.5 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity, which works out to less than $2.50 per 100 miles on most all-electric cars.
     Among all-electric cars, the Leaf and the Volkswagen e-Golf stand out for blending range, comfort, and value, starting at about $30,000. The Chevrolet Bolt brings more interior space and a 238-mile range for about $5,000 more. Tesla’s lineup offers phenomenal performance and a high-tech vibe, and prices align with similarly sized, similarly powerful luxury vehicles.
 
Plug-In Hybrids
     If you just don’t feel comfortable with an all-electric car, or if you want a broader selection of models, a plug-in hybrid may be just the thing.
    With a plug-in hybrid, you charge up a battery with electricity from the grid, but you also have a gasoline engine on board to help if your juice runs out. Nearly every market segment offers a plug-in hybrid, everything from affordable compact cars to minivans to luxury cars.
     Plug-in hybrids don’t provide the same electric-only range as a pure EV, due to smaller batteries. Some also need the gasoline engine to accelerate speedily or cruise on the highway. But many plug-in hybrids offer enough range for all-electric commuting or errands, with a gasoline engine that can kick in when you need to go farther or haven’t had a chance to recharge.
     As with electric vehicles, the purchase price can be high. But also like electric vehicles, federal tax credits are available (up to $7,500, depending on the size of the battery).
    An outstanding new plug-in hybrid is the Honda Clarity midsize sedan, a model that combines space-age styling with everyday comfort and quietness, plus an EPA-estimated 47 miles per charge. Prices start at $33,400, and it’s eligible for the full $7,500 tax credit.
     If you need more space, the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is another standout. This seven-passenger minivan can carry your family an estimated 32 miles before burning any gasoline. Prices seem high at $39,995, but here, too, you can claim the $7,500 tax credit. Factor in the tax credit and the hybrid’s many standard luxury features, and it’s roughly the same price as a comparably equipped gas-only Pacifica van.
     Brands from Ford, Hyundai, Kia, Mitsubishi and Toyota to BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo all offer plug-in hybrids. Check them out. 
 
Hybrids
     Maybe all this talk of plugging in your car seems like a hassle, or your home doesn’t have a plug within reach. Or maybe you’d like to spend less.
     You wouldn’t be alone. That’s why standard hybrids (such as the Prius) remain more popular than their plug-in counterparts. The Prius and several strong competitors all start below $25,000 and can top 50 miles per gallon.
     In a standard hybrid, the electric motor helps propel a hybrid car so that the engine doesn’t need to work as hard — and therefore burns less gas. The gasoline engine also helps recharge the electric batteries when they get low, which is why you never have to plug it in. On the other hand, you’ll burn some gasoline on every trip.
      A wide variety of vehicles are available as hybrids. Toyota and its Lexus brand alone offer 12 distinct models, ranging from the subcompact Toyota Prius C ($21,530) to the Lexus LC 500h luxury sports coupe ($96,710). Price premiums for hybrids have also decreased over the years, making them sounder decisions for your wallet along with the environment. 
     The Prius has a useful blend of roominess and fuel economy, while several competitors — the Honda Insight sedan, Hyundai Ioniq hatchback and Kia Niro crossover-wagon — bring quieter rides and more user-friendly interiors for even less money. 
     Among larger models, Toyota and Lexus often make the most economical options. The midsize sedan class, though, has an uncommon number of excellent options.
 
Efficient Gas-Only Cars
     If your budget doesn’t support a hybrid, or you’re not finding one that you like, numerous gas-only cars also offer standout fuel economy.
     A popular trend pairs a small engine with a turbocharger, which kicks in with extra boost if you need to accelerate hard. That means that you get the efficiency of a small engine when you drive gently, but sufficient power when you need it. Many Honda vehicles, among others, do quite well with this approach — provided that you avoid aggressive driving with a lead foot.
    While that advice applies more to turbocharged cars and to hybrids, it’s an easy way to save fuel whatever you’re driving. The more you can stay off the gas pedal, the longer you’ll go before you need to buy some more. 
 
 
Brady Holt, of Riva, is an automotive reviewer and journalist. 

Clear your calendar for these holiday traditions

What: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
       Cool Factor: Feeling apprehensive about dragging your entire family out to a holiday theatre performance? Take our advice and bring them all to see the seasonal antics of the Herdman family in this production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, based on the book by Barbara Robinson. These delinquent children somehow end up center stage at the local church Christmas pageant and teach their community a little something about the magic of the holiday. Even better for your family, it’s free.
       See It: Dec. 6-9, 7pm, Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church, Severna Park, free: 410-647-2550.
 
What: Colonial Players’ A Christmas Carol
      Cool Factor: The spirit of Christmas is the wonder in a child’s eyes when Scrooge talks to her waiting in line with parents for a ticket to Colonial Players’ Annapolis holiday tradition, A Christmas Carol. It’s another child’s giddy excitement when Ebenezer pulls him from the audience to dance as he joyfully transforms from cold-hearted humbug to warm, genial benefactor.
         In 1981, local actor/director Rick Wade tinkered with a musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’s classic. When Colonial Players offered to stage it, according to Wade, “More than a few people thought it would quietly fizzle out as a one-year experiment. Annapolitans, bless ’em, took the play to their hearts.”
      Speaking of tradition, Wade’s daughter Sarah directs this year’s production, after growing up with the show in several roles over the years. She leads a cast of more than 20: Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim, Fezziwig, the townsfolk, the ghosts.
      The gifts don’t stop with the final performance. A large portion of the proceeds goes to local charities so the spirit of the season can reach beyond December.
       See It: Dec. 6-16; tickets are sold out, but standby tickets are offered first-come-first-served 30 minutes prior to each show: www.thecolonialplayers.org.
 
What: Muddy Creek Gifts From the Arts
        Cool Factor: See the creative wonders artists in Southern Anne Arundel County — including art teachers and their elementary school students — have imagined and made. Then use their inspiration to create your own art in the Studio Intrepid. The holiday show and sale features original paintings, photography, jewelry, pottery, glass, woodwork, wearables and raffles for arty baskets and student masterpieces.
       See It: F 11am-6pm, Sa 10am-6pm, Su 11am-5pm thru Dec. 9, 161 Mitchells Chance, South River Colony, Edgewater, free: www.muddycreekartistsguild.org.
 
What: Living Christmas Tree
       Cool Factor: For more than 30 years, Riverdale Baptist Church has celebrated the season with a 30-foot-tall living Christmas tree decorated with thousands of synchronized lights plus 70-some human ornaments: choir, orchestra and a heart-warming play, all rising 10 levels on a wooden platform to spread the good news. Come early to see the live nativity. 
       See It: Dec. 8 & 9: Sa 1:30pm & 6:30pm, Su 1:30pm, Riverdale Baptist Church, Upper Marlboro, $12 w/discounts, rsvp: www.livingtreetickets.com.
 
 
What: Lighted Boat Parades
       Cool Factor: Chesapeake Country loves showing off its boats, and decorating them for the holidays is a good excuse to get back on the water, even on a chilly night. See boats of all sizes and shapes in Eastport, Deale and Solomons. The Eastport parade has been nominated for the third time as one of the USA Today 10 Best Readers Choice Holiday Parades in America.
       See It: Saturday, December 8, Eastport Yacht Club Lights Parade: Lighting the Annapolis harbor for 36 years, this glittering parade features nearly 40 illuminated boats in two fleets: one circles in front of Eastport, City Dock and the Naval Academy seawall; the other cruises the length of Spa Creek. Arrive early for a spot along the Annapolis waterfront. 6-8pm, from Eastport Yacht Club to Naval Academy seawall: www.eyclightsparade.org.
        Saturday, December 8, Solomons Boat Parade: This lighted boat parade, part of the weekend’s Christmas Walk activities, starts at 6:15pm, visible from Back Creek to the Patuxent River walk: www.solomonsmaryland.com.
       Wednesday, December 19, Deale Parade of Lights: Decorated boats cruise Rockhold Creek. 6-10pm, staging at Hidden Harbor Marina, Happy Harbor and Shipwright Harbor ­Marina, rsvp to enter boats: 410-867-3129.
 
What: Shells & Bells
       Cool Factor: Sleigh bells and oyster shells: Christmas has come to Annapolis.
      Celebrate the season at Shells and Bells a party with front-row seats to the Eastport Yacht Club’s Parade of Lights. You’ll watch the twinkling procession from the comfort of a heated tent on the top tier of the Annapolis Charles Carroll House.
      “There’s so much to look forward to,” said Kaitlin Davis from Shells and Bells. “But the best part is, it’s for a great cause.” 
       Proceeds from ticket sales, live auction and raffle benefit the Chesapeake BaySavers, an Annapolis environmental nonprofit working toward a healthier Chesapeake Bay.
      The Shells and Bells reception begins with cocktail hour 5-6pm for donors and VIPs. After that, the doors open to all ticket holders.
       All drinks and food are included in the price of your ticket. 
      See It: Dec. 8, 6-10pm, Charles Carroll House & Gardens, Annapolis, $125, rsvp: www.shellsandbells.org.
 
What: Family Train & Toy Show
      Cool Factor: See networks of trains and tracks, old and new sets and accessories in standard O and S gauges, repair and replacement parts and test tracks, all laid out by The National Capital Division Toy Train Operating Society.
      See It: Dec. 9, 9am-3pm, Earleigh Heights VFD, Severna Park, $5 w/discounts: 301-621-9728.
 
What: Holiday Cheer 2018
       Cool Factor: Kids and teens steal the show with musical numbers and special guests in The Talent Machine’s annual holiday production, featuring special guests Santa, elves, Rudolph and Frosty.
      “After 25 years, we are excited to be showcasing a brand new set,” says The Talent Machine’s Kim O’Brien.
      “Expect something close to a Broadway-level show,” says Tami Howie, lawyer by day and parent of three Talent Machine performers. “The older kids mentor the younger ones and take them from being timid to becoming a huge personality.”
       See It: Dec. 14-16 & Dec. 20-23: F 7:30pm, Sa 2pm & 7:30pm, Su 2pm & 6:30pm, Key Auditorium, St. John’s College, Annapolis, $15 w/discounts, rsvp: www.talentmachine.com.
 
What: Santa Speedo Run 
       Cool Factor: Baby, it’s cold outside, and Chesapeake Country is trading coats for Speedos.
      The 12th annual Santa Speedo Run is a chilly Main Street tradition to spread holiday cheer to local children in need. Since 2006, hundreds of Santas in speedos have donated more than 5,000 toys and books to make kids smile during the holidays.
      Along with your unwrapped toys, bring your sneakers, swimsuit, a bag to put your clothes in while running, a copy of your registration email and other Santa Claus gear.
      Doors open at 10am at O’Briens on Main Street. Run or watch from the sidelines. After the mile run, the after party begins at O’Briens. Enjoy live music, crazy costumes, and maybe even the fellow in red himself …
      Pro tip: wear your Speedo under your street clothes for a quick strip down when it’s time to run. Register early to be guaranteed a spot.
      See It: Saturday, December 15, toy donation box sets up at 10am, check-in 10-11am, race 12:15pm, Annapolis, rsvp: www.santaspeedorunannapolis.com.
 
 
What: Christmas Cantata at Grace Brethren
      Cool Factor: Looking to rekindle your feelings of hope this holiday season? Find it at this musical celebration that combines choir, orchestra, soloists, praise band and video to create a musical journey of the miracle of Christmas.
      “We chose this upbeat, contemporary musical to lift our spirits as we consider the wonders of the Christmas season and the joy that fills our hearts as we reflect on God’s provision for us,” says John Bury, worship director. “During the 10:45am service we will also offer a special time for our children grades 1-4, as they also seek to experience the joy of this special season.”
      See It: Dec. 16, 8:15am & 10:45am, Grace Brethren Church, Owings, free: www.calvertgrace.org.
 
What: Annapolis Arts Alliance Holiday Shop
      Cool Factor: Visit a pop-up shop in downtown Annapolis, where 20 artists of the Annapolis Arts Alliance bring their wares to you for your holiday browsing (and buying). Jewelry and accessories, ceramics, herbalistics, paintings, homeware, wearables.
      See It: Tu, W, F noon-7pm (till midnight during Midnight Madness events), Sa 10am-7pm, Su noon-7pm, thru Dec. 23, 232 Main St., Annapolis: www.annapolis-arts-alliance.com.
 
What: Lights on the Bay
      Cool Factor: An annual Chesapeake favorite, Lights on the Bay is now under the helm of the Anne Arundel County SPCA. “This event is a tradition for generations of families. Children who once went with their grandparents, now go with their own kids,” says Anne Arundel County SPCA president Kelly Brown. See Sandy Point State Park transformed into a drive-thru holiday experience. New displays are added every year, and many marriage proposals happen here. Check the website for special discount nights, such as Military and First Responder Night, Ugly Sweater Night and more.
      See It: Nightly 5-10pm rain or shine, thru Jan. 1: Sandy Point State Park, $15/car, $30/van or mini-bus, $50/bus (check online for various discounts): www.lightsonthebay.org.
 
 
–Kathy Knotts, Shelby Conrad, Krista Pfunder Boughey and Jim Reiter
Here’s how Chesapeake neighbors describe their very best gifts
      The best gifts bring happiness to both giver and receiver. Memorable gifts forever hold a place in the heart, and recalling the moment the gift was given recreates the pleasure. 
     This year, reflective Chesapeake neighbors told us about gifts that have meant the most to them through the years. We’ve shared their stories in the hope that reading them reminds you of the best gifts you’ve given or received.
–compiled by Krista Pfunder Boughey
 
Rick Anthony
Anthony is director of Anne Arundel County Department of Recreation & Parks
      “My dad bought me and my two brothers our first motocross bicycles. After we opened all of the gifts inside, he made us take the trash out. The bikes were in the back yard, and when we saw them, we promptly lost our minds.”
 
 
 
 
 
Liz Demulling
Demulling is a director of the League of Women Voters of Calvert County
      “When I was 10, our family started giving an experience as a gift instead of an item. That year marked the start of the tradition. We’ve done so ever since, but no present has come close to the one that year: tickets for all to a hot air balloon ride.”
 
 
 
 
Joy Hill
Hill is CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Southern Maryland
      “Fifteen years ago, a group of friends got together to provide two weeks of groceries for a working mother of five who was having a hard time making ends meet. The look of surprise and gratefulness on her face when she realized that all the food in the car was for her and her kids was truly a gift to us.
       “We have done this every year since for families in need. Last year we provided groceries for 14 families. This year we hope to do more. Giving to others is the best gift I have ever given to myself.”
 
Steuart Pittman
Pittman is the newly elected Anne Arundel County Executive
      “When I was about 12 years old, the family procrastinated on everything to do with the holidays, including getting a Christmas tree. 
      “Our family would cut down a tree from the farm. Over the years, the pine trees had been replaced by tulip poplars. There was a shortage of pine trees, and very few remaining that had that Christmas tree look.
      “About two days before Christmas, I went alone into the woods in search of a tree. The longer I stayed out, the more the trees were starting to look more like Christmas trees. I sawed one down and hauled it back to the house. 
      “I was teased by my five sisters for some time after. The tree wasn’t a very good Christmas tree; it was not full; it had few branches on which to hang ornaments. But it served as the family Christmas tree that year.
      “That tree still reminds me that sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands.”
 
Jen Frum
Frum, of Chesapeake Beach, a busy mom of two boys, found time to create and sell homemade coasters at Freedom Hill Horse Rescue’s Christmas market.
       “My mom saves everything, especially art work; she was an art teacher. She had been creating scrapbooks for me and my sisters. They started from when we were babies until we were in middle school. When we were in our 40s, she gave them to us. We were all really touched by her gift.
      “We also received a written account of oral history from our family history, dating back from the 1800s.”
 
Scott Goodman
Goodman is sales manager at Criswell Used Cars in Edgewater
      “I’ve always decorated the house for Christmas. Ours is the corner house, and I’ve put up lights, candy canes and snowmen for 25 years.
      “There is a school bus stop near our house. One of the nicest gifts I’ve received was when a little girl waiting for her bus told me that my house decorated for Christmas was the most beautiful thing she’s ever seen.”
 
Raoul Graves
Event planner, Graves owns Next BIG Things ­Productions in Annapolis
      “Every year we gather people to sponsor giving gifts to children. This year will be the third year in a row that my wife Clarice and I host the event. The children meet Santa and other animated guests. They eat lunch and create Christmas ornaments to take home.
      “The children make build-your-own Christmas gift kits. The kits get delivered to John Hopkins Children’s Hospital the week of Christmas to children staying in the hospital over Christmas. This way, the sick and shut-in children can make a present and give it to a loved one.
      “At the end of the day, the children at our event are surprised with a gift.”
 
Kate and Jack Harrison 
Harrison is Twin Beach Players’ president; Jack is her eight-year-old son.
      “Every year we make time to go to Ocean City the weekend following Thanksgiving. It’s a tradition to see The Festival of Lights and visit with Santa. When Jack was five, he decided that he did not want Mommy to follow him to chat with Santa. I snuck around back to hear his special request.
       “He didn’t ask for Legos, or toys or a bicycle. He asked for a baby. Sure enough, by the end of January, he was the first person to know that his baby brother was on the way. He’s an amazing big brother, and I’m so excited for him to share his wholehearted belief in Santa with two-year-old Reid.”
 
Shannon Nazzal
Nazzal is director of Calvert County Government ­Department of Parks & Recreation
      “I’d say the best (or most memorable) gift I’ve received was from my dad when I was a kid. My dad is always about jokes. There’d always be something silly under (or on) the tree. I couldn’t say how old I was, but probably under 10. I would get to open one present on Christmas Eve. Inevitably, I’d always end up picking the joke gift.
     “One year it was a window squeegee, another year it was a plunger, and another year it was a handheld mirror that laughed when you held it up. So memorable in fact that we’ve kept the tradition going with my kids and have a good laugh every year when my dad tells my daughter the story of when Pop Pop hung a plunger on the Christmas tree.”
 
Hudson Ridgeway
Five-year-old ­Hudson lives in Chesapeake Beach
       “My fire truck Lego set because I love fire trucks. I want to be a fireman when I grow up so I can be just like my daddy.”
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Anne Sundermann
Sundermann is executive director of the Calvert Nature Society
       “After years of Barbie dolls and tea sets, my parents finally gave in and bought me a microscope and a home chemistry set that I had thoughtfully highlighted in the Sears catalog. 
      “In this year of Sears’ bankruptcy, I can’t help but recall how that catalog was the stuff of dreams. Those gifts also let me know that my parents saw my love of science as valid and true.”
 
 
Lynne Sherlock
Sherlock owns Tara’s Gifts in Annapolis
      “I was the first of my friends to receive a Barbie doll the year that they were released. 
      “Another fond memory is when myself and my two sisters were given matching Dale Evans cowgirl outfits complete with hats, boots and all the fringe trimmings.”
 
 
 
 
Jane Walter
Walter is co-owner of A Vintage Deale gift and antique store
      “When I was turning 30, my mother gave me a day at the Elizabeth Arden Red Door spa. It was a day of luxury: massage, pedicure, facial and steam bath. It is the best gift I’ve ever received.”
 
Minnie Warburton
Warburton is an Annapolis writer, artist and ­performance poet
      “One Christmas, my very hard-working daughter, Samantha, who received ridiculously few days off, even at holidays, handed me a card. It read, The Gift of Time. She had taken off days so we could be together.”

Play to remember — and repay

After Michael Schrodel’s early death in 2001, his family and brothers of Sigma Tau Gamma fraternity of Frostburg State University hosted a golf tournament to celebrate his life and memory.

“He wanted to give back to organizations that helped him when he was sick,” says his daughter Carmen, a student at James Madison University. “My dad liked to golf, so we figured a golf tournament would be a good way to bring people together for such a great cause.”

In 15 years, the Michael D. Schrodel Golf Classic has raised more than $100,000. All proceeds from the Classic benefit Calvert Hospice and the Michael D. Schrodel Endowed Scholarship Fund at Frostburg, his alma mater. 

As well as supporting causes dear to Schrodel, it is, his daughter says, “such a fun day, a reunion of new and old friends!”

Friday, July 20, at Compass Pointe Golf Course, Pasadena. Sign up to play or sponsor until July 15: https://birdeasepro.com/Event/Register/8885.

Pysanky, the jewel-like Ukrainian eggs, keep the world in balance

     As an American of Ukrainian heritage, Coreen Weilminster cherishes the Easter traditions with which she was raised. Especially when it comes to the ancient art of pysanky, eggs decorated using a wax-resist method similar to batik. In design, in legend and in Christian tradition, these eggs have kept alive a gentle folk art reflecting the Ukrainian nation.
     “I grew up in the anthracite region of northeastern Pennsylvania, in a one-horse town called Nesquehoning,” explains Weilminster, 47, of her legacy. “Immigrants flocked to the area just before World War I to work the mines, among them my grandmother’s family.” With them came pysanky.
       The term pysanka (in its plural form, pysanky) is derived from the Ukrainian words pysaty, meaning to write, and kraska, meaning color. The process is delicate, the product dazzling. A special tool called a kitska — basically, a funnel attached to a stick — is first heated over a candle flame and then filled with beeswax, which quickly melts. Using the molten wax as ink, one writes (as Ukrainians say) a design on a raw egg, then dips the egg in dye. The dying can be repeated in darker colors, each round of wax sealing a different color on the shell. In the final stage, the wax is removed to reveal the finished pysanka.
      Weilminster’s grandmother came from a family of 13 children. During the Lenten weeks prior to Easter, three of her sisters (Weilminster’s great-aunts) spent evenings in the kitchen crafting jewel-like pysanky. It was a magical time. From watching these women, Weilminster learned the process. At the age of 16, she was ready. She picked up a kitska and created her first egg. 
      A pysanky artist was born.
 
The Power of the Egg
       Since pagan times, the tradition of decorating eggs with beeswax and dyes was widespread in Europe, especially among Slavic peoples. Archaeologists have unearthed ceramic decorated eggs in Ukraine dating back to 1,300bce. Many pysanky made today feature motifs adapted from the pottery designs of an ancient tribe of people, the Trypillians, who lived in Eastern Europe from roughly 5,200 to 3,500bce. References to pysanky abound in their art, poetry, music and folklore.
      Trypillians led peaceful lives as farmers and artisans. Like most early humans, they worshipped the sun as the source of all life. In the land that is now Ukraine, eggs decorated with symbols from nature became central to spring rituals and sun-worship ceremonies. The logic was simple. The yolk of an egg symbolized the sun and its white the moon. In winter, the landscape appears lifeless, as does an egg. As an egg hatches a living thing, so the sun awakens dormant fields in spring. Thus the egg was considered a benevolent talisman with magical powers, able to protect and bring good fortune. 
      Legend says the first pysanky came from the sky. A bitter winter had swept across the land before migrating birds were able to fly southward. They began to fall to the ground and were in danger of freezing. The peasants gathered the birds, brought them into their homes and nurtured them throughout the winter. Come spring, the peasants set the birds free. The birds returned bearing pysanky as gifts for the humans who saved their lives.
     In early Ukraine, a veil of superstition enshrouded pysanky. They protected from fire, lightning, illness and the evil eye. To ensure a good crop, a farmer coated an egg in green oats and buried it in his field. For a good harvest of honey, he placed eggs beneath his beehives. For a plentiful fruit harvest, he hung blown eggs in his orchards and in trees surrounding his home. When building a new home, he marked its corners with eggs, then buried them in the ground as a form of protection. 
     “An early legend said the fate of the world hinged upon pysanky,” Weilminster says. “Evil, in the guise of a monster was kept chained to a cliff. Each year in the spring, the foul creature sent his minions to encircle the globe and tally up the number of pysanky made. If the count was low, the creature’s bonds would be loosened, unleashing all manner of evils.”
 
Writing in Symbols
       At the root of all pysanky is symbolism. Every color, every symbol has meaning, many echoing pagan respect for nature and life. Late in the 10th century ce, however, their interpretation changed as Christianity gained acceptance in Ukraine. Ancient pagan motifs and Christian elements blended. Pysanky lost their connection to sun worship. Once tied to the sun god Dazhboh, motifs featuring the sun, star, cross and horse came to represent the Christian God. Grapes, a harvest motif, came to represent the growing Church and the wine of communion. The fish, formerly a mystical action figure, came to symbolize Christ. Triangles that signified the trinities of air, fire and water or the heavens, earth and air now honor the Holy Trinity. 
        Still, lurking behind the Christian symbolism are traces of magical thinking. Take, as an example, the 19th and 20th century burial customs observed in Christian families when a child died during the Easter season. For food to eat and a toy to play with, the child was buried with pysanky. Even today, lines written on pysanky should remain unbroken so as to not break the thread of life. 
 
Keeping the Tradition Alive
       As the most important religious holiday in Ukraine is Easter, pysanky has become linked with its observance. With the arrival of the Lenten season, the women in traditional Russian Orthodox families often get down to waxing. 
      As a wife, mother, professional and pysanky artist, Coreen Weilminster has come a distance from her Pennsylvania roots. Living in Arnold, she enjoys the Chesapeake life with husband Eric and their two teenage daughters, Brooke and Braelyn. On weekdays, she works in Annapolis, coordinating educational programs for the Chesapeake Bay National Research Reserve in Maryland. Somehow, though, on evenings and weekends, she finds time for pysanky. Now with 31 years of pysanky experience, she happily shares her love of the craft with others, teaching workshops in her home and at the Jug Bay Center Wetlands Sanctuary in Lothian.
       At this year’s Jug Bay workshop in late February, Weilminster spoke with nostalgia about her family’s mystical late-night egg decorating sessions.
     “In the weeks before Easter, my great-aunts Helen, Irene and Elizabeth began making pysanky by the dozen,” she said. 
     Attention was paid to color, rhythm, symbolism, harmony and the unwritten rules of technique. 
     By Ukrainian tradition, making pysanky is a holy ritual for the women of the family. No one else is supposed to peek. After the children are put to bed in the evening, the fun begins. 
     “In pagan days, the pysanka was considered a vessel. It held life,” said Weilminster. “Even today, the purpose of making pysanky is to transfer goodness from one’s household into the designs. You’re to put an intention into your eggs and then give them away as gifts. We gave them to celebrate births, weddings, funerals and religious holidays. Especially on Easter Sunday.” 
      As members of a Russian Orthodox congregation, Weilminster’s family observed all the old Easter traditions. 
      “On Easter morning, we brought the food for our Easter feast to the church for the Blessing of the Baskets,” Weilminster recalls. “We’d line a basket with hand-stitched towels. In went pysanky, ham, horseradish, butter molded into the shape of a lamb and a loaf of Paska bread, a yeast bread enriched with eggs and melted butter. Pussy willows might be tossed in for effect.” 
      Back stood the parishioners as the priest and altar boys made a joyous procession. The priest sprinkled holy water and blessed the baskets.
     “It was impressive. But all I wanted was the ham in that basket,” sighs Weilminster.
 
The Moment of Truth
     When the class got down to business, Weilminster instructed on waxing and using the aniline dyes she had mixed — all while reminding her students to be forgiving of themselves. 
      “Keep in mind that this takes time and practice. Your egg will look like it’s your first egg,” she said. “It is. Still, when the wax is removed, I promise you, you’ll love it.”
     At first, students worked in silent focus. Gradually, confidence grew. At the end of the waxing and dyeing process, Weilminster helped each student blow the egg out of its shell. Then came wax removal.
     “Traditionally, wax was removed by holding the egg over a candle flame,” Weilminster said. “Me, I believe in modern hacks. I use the microwave.”
     Loud squeals emanated from the kitchen as one anxious student after another wiped the softened wax off their pysanky. All he or she wanted to do was make one more, and another after that. 
     That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Dr. Joan Gaither’s quilts document lives and history

      Mention quilts, and people often share memories of grandmothers or great aunts working with needle and thread, joining pieces of fabric with precise stitching.
      Dr. Joan Gaither, who documents history with cloth and thread, describes herself as “a quilter who breaks all the rules.” Her quilts are covered with images, words and objects: buttons, ribbons, pieces of jewelry, shells — anything that can be sewn to fabric and symbolizes an aspect of the story she tells.
       She stitched her first quilt after the death of an aunt whose story and family history she wanted to memorialize. As she added text and photos to represent the lives and careers of seven generations of her family, the quilt grew to an impressive 10-by-12 feet. It includes the colorful and imaginative embellishments that now characterize her work and features brilliant Maryland state flag colors representing her family’s ties to Baltimore.
       That experience 18 years ago launched the Maryland Institute College of Art professor into fiber arts and three-dimensional collage. Gaither has since made over 200 quilts, telling her stories and those of black Americans. Many have themes of identity, racism and social justice. Others honor the lives of individuals who have influenced national politics, education and the arts.
       Through this month, you can see her quilts in Baltimore in the exhibit Freedom: Emancipation Quilted & Stitched at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum, which celebrates the contributions and legacies of people of color in Maryland.
       Each image, object, fabric and color, she explains, has symbolism. Most quilts are edged in African mud cloth. A strip of blue stands for the ocean passage. Red, white and blue fabric represents America. Pieces with railroad tracks are the Underground Railway and the flight to freedom. 
      “The strips are often held together by safety pins, some still open,” she explains, “to symbolize the pain of slavery, oppression and injustice.”
       The topics of the quilts on exhibit range from Gaither’s personal history to broad topics of national interest. Laid out in a pattern like the Maryland flag, her Sesquicentennial 1864 Slave Emancipation Quilt has blocks that represent all of the counties in the state, plus Baltimore City. Each block focuses on events and people associated with emancipation. More than 400 people across the state helped in creating this quilt, which will continue its travels throughout Maryland when the exhibit closes at month’s end.
        Collaboration is a hallmark of Gaither’s work. She brings together local communities, school children and church groups to create and construct quilts. One of her largest quilts (10 by 14 feet) depicts the entire Chesapeake Bay and celebrates the lives of its black watermen. That inspiration was, she says, “my discovery that there was very little record of the contributions of African Americans to Bay-oriented industries.” Individuals from towns all around the Bay contributed information, family photographs and objects to make the history come alive.
       No experience required is the message at Gaither’s quilt-making workshops. People come with words, photographs and mementos. She brings ink jet printers, scissors, markers, boxes of embellishments and inspires her quilters to capture memories and stories on fabric. Sewing is done with large needles and simple stitches.
        A group of young children who swarmed into her exhibit the day she and I visited were drawn to details on the quilts, calling out to one another as they noticed yet another fascinating or unusual embellishment: strings of beads, a political button, a plastic crab. She answered some questions, then encouraged the kids to talk with their families and elders: “Ask them questions about their lives,” she said, “about what they remember from when they were young.” 
        “Memory aids, instruction manuals and moral compasses” are our stories, author and journalist Aleks Krotoski says. Gaither’s quilts are just that, capturing history, documenting and honoring lives, describing their lessons about the past and their calls for justice and equality.
       Follow Gaither on Facebook: www.facebook.com/JoanMEGaither.

Have fun even with a sizzling sun

1. Breezy Bay Fun: You can catch a crisp breeze on the water. Climb aboard The Tennison for a Historic Sunset Cruise out of Solomons July 19, Aug. 9 and Sept. 6 or the skipjack Dee of St. Mary’s July 26, Aug. 23 and Sept. 13 (www.calvertmarinemuseum.com). Lift a glass at the Wine in the Wind cruise out of Annapolis Aug. 24 (www.schoonerwoodwind.com).

2. Make Your Own Slip and Slide: You need a grassy surface (hills are the best), a hose and a tarp (www.tinyurl.com/kj55thb/). Attach pool noodles to the sides to contain the water and people and use soap to make the slide slipperier. Make a sprinkler by attaching a hose to a two-litter bottle with holes.

3. Become One with the Water: Learn to paddle board, which works every part of your body. Schedule a lesson with Stand Up Paddle Annapolis or rent a board on your own (www.supannapolis.com).
    Or take a seat for Kayak the Patuxent at Jug Bay on July 20 (www.aacounty.org/recparks). Explore the Chesapeake on Aug. 8 at Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michael’s (www.cbmm.org). Join in the Marsh Ecology Paddle Aug. 3 at Jug Bay (www.jugbay.org). Glide on Parkers Creek Aug. 9 (www.acltweb.org). Light up the night on a Full Moon Paddle Aug. 10 (annapolisboating.org).

4. Mid-summer Movies: Enjoy free movies on the beach at North Beach July 19 and Aug. 16 (www.northbeachmd.org). Go into the cool at Bow Tie Cinemas for the Kids Summer Film Series on Tuesdays and Wednesdays through Aug. 20 (www.bowtiecinemas.com/programs/kids-club/). For any movie showing at Bow Tie Cinemas, you can save with Super Tuesday deals: $6 tickets all day and $5 large tubs of popcorn (www.bowtie
cinemas.com/programs/super-tuesday/).

5. Skate away from the Sun: Escape the heat on skates. Cool down at the City of Bowie Ice Arena during a public skating sessions or sign up the kids for a summer camp (www.cityofbowie.org/icearena). Roller skate at Skate Zone in Crofton with deals on public skates every day (www.sk8zone.com).

Sign on for the DataBay Reclaim the Bay Innovation Challenge

     It’s the irony of our modern technological society. For most of history, we have craved more facts, more data. We had no problem putting these data to good use as fast as we gathered them.
     In the last couple of decades, that situation has reversed. We now have much more data than we can possibly use. This holds true for the Bay, where data ranges from water samples collected by citizens to reports from orbiting satellites. Just one example: We have water quality data for the entire Chesapeake. You can go online and find maps showing the daily water temperature and clarity.
    The challenge is figuring out how to use all this data for positive change.
    Can more brains help?
    Bring motivated people with the right set of skills and experience together for a weekend of intense collaboration to develop innovative ideas. That’s the plan behind the DataBay Reclaim the Bay Innovation Challenge.
    “We want to get environmental scientists collaborating with information technology people to foster new ideas,” explains Mike Powell, chief innovation officer for Gov. Martin O’Malley. “Most people are one or the other. This is an opportunity to get the best from both.”
    Similar plans have worked in other places on other problems. An event last year led to the creation of Baltimore Decoded, which provides citizens with user-friendly web access to all Baltimore city laws.
    The Reclaim the Bay Innovation Challenge runs from Friday, August 1 through Sunday, August 3 at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater. So far, some 50 IT pros and environmental scientists have signed on. There’s room for 50 more, including you.
    Bring a team or join one at the event. Together, you’ll generate ideas for using available data to restore the Bay and involve more people in that important work.
    On Sunday evening, teams will present their findings. Top-rated ideas win cash prizes and will be presented to O’Malley and a panel of entrepreneurs, investors and environmental scientists.
    Is this challenge for you? Learn more at: http://databay.splashthat.com.
    Curious about what types of Bay data are available? Answers at http://databay-data.splashthat.com.

Calvert Marine Museum chips away at 58 million years

Persistence pays off. That’s the case with retired farmer Bernard Kuehn of Accokeek.
    After 30-plus years combing the stream bed running through his farmland for fossilized sharks’ teeth, Kuehn hit the jackpot this month.
    He discovered the soft-shell turtle fossil that lived over 58 million years ago in the Paleocene epoch.
    Heavy rains this spring exposed new layers in the creek bed, revealing the significant paleontological find on Kuehn’s farm, which was under water millions of years ago.
    The reptile would have inhabited fresh water near the ocean.
    Kuehn’s rare find, which he donated to Calvert Marine Museum, is one of only three known specimens of this species.
    Paleontologist Peter Kranz from Dinosaur Park in Laurel investigated the fossil, then asked Calvert Marine Museum for help in quarrying it.
    Joe and Devin Fernandez from Diamond Core Drilling and Sawing Company had the special equipment, a diamond-blade chainsaw, to cut the turtle out of the rock while preserving most of its shell. The turtle was delivered to the museum wearing a coat of rock.
    Unlike a normal turtle’s smooth shell, the fossilized soft-shell turtle’s shell is bumpy from a skin over the living shell.
    The ancient two-by-two-foot reptile appears to be whole.
    The inch-thick hard shell — like a coat of armor — would have protected the turtle from most predators all those millions of years ago.
    It will take many hands — and months — to remove the rock from around the bones as Calvert’s marine paleontologists study the rare specimen.
    Stop by to see the fossil and the work in progress in the Museum’s Prep Lab.