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A Home Observatory of Your Own

A Home Observatory of Your Own
Pamela Heyne, AIA

If you have an interest in a home observatory, you are not alone. Hobbyists and retirees are looking at the sky in increasingly sophisticated ways. And the home observatory can take many different forms. But first, from a practical standpoint, is this a reasonable hobby to pursue on the Eastern Shore? While we have relatively dark skies, we are not as pristine as say a mountain site in Colorado.


I posed that question to John Jardine Goss, president of the Astronomical League. He said that it really depends on what type of experience you want. “If the person is primarily interested in visually observing and imaging the planets using expensive equipment, an observatory makes sense. Planetary work doesn’t necessarily require dark skies, though it helps. However, visually observing galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters really requires a dark site to get the most out of the experience.” He made several other important points. “While the MD eastern shore does not have pristine, dark skies, many people would be surprised at the number of stars that can be seen. One test is whether or not the Milky Way can be discerned in the sky glow.”(Answer, yes. ) He also mentioned that skies tend to be darker when businesses close and residents go to bed…so 2 am is a better viewing time. John also said that the best telescope is “the one you will use.” Same with an observatory…it will not be worthwhile if you won’t use it.

OK, you are still interested in that observatory. Let’s say you want to build it on your existing house. First off, you will need to make sure the telescope is stable. The usual way of insuring that is to construct a dedicated pier for the telescope itself….the slightest movement from people walking on the floor will compromise the settings. Additionally, the floor cannot touch the pier. Of course, how the pier extends down through the house requires careful planning.

The form of the observatory can range from slide off or fold down roof hatch, to metal or fiberglas cylindrical dome. The dome, with an open slit or “clamshell” opening, rotates to allow for the earth’s rotation. The telescope, on a mount bolted to the pier is motorized so that it also rotates.

Domes are typically 6’ to 30’ in diameter. The smaller domes might be accessed from a terrace. Larger domes might have room for a stair, possibly with a hatch. Many stargazers want to share the experience with one or two guests. Importantly the observatory cannot be heated or cooled….It must the same temperature as the outside air. One reason you see so many white domes is they reflect heat better, though some manufacturers fabricate them in earth tones to blend in more with surrounding residences.

Computers are usually placed near the telescope but in a more comfortable setting, like a small office which might be just downstairs from the telescope.

Though this might be considered a hobby, you will need to check your local codes and get appropriate building permits. The highest you can build for a private residence in Talbot County is 40’. Insurance is also a consideration.

The price for home observatory can vary tremendously. People who are handy can construct a shed (once again…check with codes for this will be an “ancillary structure”) and have a simple slide or fold away roof. For more elaborate designs, well, you know…”the sky’s the limit.”

Pamela Heyne, AIA is head of Heyne Design, in Saint Michaels, Md.

Food Friday: The Great Lunchbox Cookie Bakeoff

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! School is starting! Everyone is ready for the heat of summer to be over, and for all the crisp fall excitement that a new school year brings. While we are in denial about Sunday night homework anxiety panics, we are looking forward to new shoes and new school supplies. There is nothing like a fresh, fragrant box of crayons!

Before I allow the wave of nostalgia to completely sweep me away I have to remember that filling lunch boxes can be an awful tedious grind of a routine. It is difficult to keep all the lunch plates spinning in the air while trying to provide a nutritious and delicious meal to be consumed in a flash, in a loud room, filled with quick-to-judge pint-sized peers. I am afraid that those cute little notes I put in my kids’ lunch boxes were hastily pocketed, because those mean girls at the table were too cool for such sentimentality. And if the vixens of the fourth grade were scornful of those yellow post-it tokens of motherly love – what were they saying about the organic oatmeal raisin chocolate chip cookies?

It is such a punch list – to make it healthy, tasty, portable and appropriately cool. No wonder we give in to buying packages of Chips Ahoy cookies. They are uniform, anonymous and safe for the perilous world of scornful fourth graders. But they are not fun to bake.

Cookie baking is a great family activity. When you are tender and vulnerable to the Sunday afternoon homework anxieties, pull that fourth grader into the kitchen. Forget about the teachable math moments of measuring ingredients accurately. Sift a little flour onto the kitchen counter, and roll some dough balls around. Have a chat while you wait for the oven to preheat. Nibble on some chocolate chips – someone needs to taste test them for quality control. Show the love while eating the cookie dough – it means more here in the kitchen than some corny lunchbox note. Burnt cookies never tasted sweeter than these.

And putting a batch of homebaked cookies in a box and sending it off to a far away college does a lot to assuage the growth pains at both ends of the mail route. Everyone will remember how the time slowed for a while, while the butter was softening and the cookies were baking. We always wanted the process to hurry along, so the cookies would be done, and out of the oven. Now we want the cookies to bear the sweetest memories across time and miles.

I digress. Bake some cookies for everyone. You can never go wrong.

Trust Martha to figure out that there are three kinds of chocolate chip cookies: crisp, soft, or cakey. It all depends on the amount of butter you add. She probably has reams of top secret think tank research about brownies, too.

Do not be this person. Do not be a vegetable sneak. Those fourth grade girls will make your life a living hell, and I will pay them to do it! http://www.food.com/recipe/chocolate-chip-zucchini-cookies-61402
Instead, be like Nigella. Warm, earthy, sweet and flavorful. And perhaps you will develop a cute British accent.

Here is the original back-of-the-packet recipe from Nestlé for their tollhouse cookies. You can’t go wrong, however intimidating Martha and the mean girls seem. https://www.verybestbaking.com/recipes/18476/original-nestle-toll-house-chocolate-chip-cookies/

And don’t mention it to my children, but I also found that keeping a box of Ghirardelli chocolate chip mix on hand is like finding a dollar in a pair of blue jeans that has just tumbled out of the dryer. Warm and toasty and a pleasant surprise.

Have a most excellent school year!

“I’ve been making a list of the things they don’t teach you at school. They don’t teach you how to love somebody. They don’t teach you how to be famous. They don’t teach you how to be rich or how to be poor. They don’t teach you how to walk away from someone you don’t love any longer. They don’t teach you how to know what’s going on in someone else’s mind. They don’t teach you what to say to someone who’s dying. They don’t teach you anything worth knowing.”
― Neil Gaiman

Adkins Arboretum Native Plant Nursery to Host Special Night-Out Event, Open House

Josh Taylor aster butterflyAdkins Arboretum’s Native Plant Nursery will open its doors on Fri., Sept. 9 for a Night Out at the Nursery event. The public is invited for light fare, live music, a cash wine and beer bar, a raffle, a silent auction and shopping in a fun and festive atmosphere. The Nursery offers the Chesapeake region’s largest selection of ornamental native trees, shrubs, perennials, ferns and grasses.

Following the Night Out event, the Nursery will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sat., Sept. 10 for a Fall Open House and Plant Sale. All members, including those who join during the Open House, receive a significant discount on plant purchases.

Brilliant orange butterfly weed and stunning red cardinal flower attract pollinators such as bees, birds and butterflies to the garden, while native asters add subtle shades of purple and blue. Redbud and dogwood dot the early-spring landscape with color, and shrubs such as aronia and beautyberry provide food and habitat for wildlife.

Fall is the best season for planting. Trees and shrubs planted in fall have a chance to set roots before the heat and stress of summer. The Arboretum participates in the Marylanders Plant Trees program, an initiative by the State of Maryland to encourage residents to plant native trees. The program offers a $25 coupon toward purchase of native trees that retail for $50 or more.

Open House visitors can also learn about the Arboretum’s Native Landscape Design Center, a unique offering that pairs homeowners with a landscape designer to create a beautiful and affordable native landscape that benefits wildlife and the environment.

Proceeds from plants sold at the Fall Open House benefit the Arboretum’s education programs. For more information, call 410-634-2847, extension 0 or visit adkinsarboretum.org.

Photo: Native asters add color to the fall garden and provide nectar for numerous butterfly species, including this painted lady. A selection of asters will be available at Adkins Arboretum’s Native Plant Nursery Fall Open House and Plant Sale on Sat., Sept. 10. Photo by Josh Taylor Jr.

Adkins Arboretum is a 400-acre native garden and preserve at the headwaters of the Tuckahoe Creek in Caroline County. Open year round, the Arboretum offers educational programs for all ages about nature and gardening. For more information about programs, visit adkinsarboretum.org or call 410-634-2847, ext. 0.

Best Management Practices for Weed & Pest Control

grasshopper_0597August 24, 6-7pm rescheduled from June!

Learn from the growers. Gain an understanding of the importance of using integrated pest management practices and techniques for your garden. Make a difference by using herbicides properly. Help us improve water quality and enhance habitat in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Smart gardening for the health of the Bay!

For more information and to register call 410.745.9620 or visit http://www.wetland.org/ restoration_MAMI_Workshops.htm   Please pre-register as space is limited. $10 donation per workshop helps to fund our Education Outreach Initiatives.

Food Friday: Summer Corn

I am shocked. Shocked! Shocked to realize that we are in summertime wind-down, and I have only had corn on the cob twice! What have I been thinking? Corn is delicious, easy peasy, and totally beautiful. Look at those kernels! Symmetry, precision, uniformity – yet each is a tiny, individual microcosm of corn deliciousness. Prepare yourself for some genius corn recipes.

And yes, I realize that I am going against my cardinal rule of summer, and I will be turning on the oven, as well as the stove. Some pleasures are worth the extra heat in the kitchen. I plan to take everything out to the picnic table anyway, where I can enjoy a bit of a breeze, and watch the birds sail home. The mown grass smells particularly green at this time of year, and I have a nice chilly glass of cheap white wine. What could be better? Why having some melted butter dripping down my chin, of course!

My mother, as I am sure most mothers who came before us did, boiled the living daylights out of ears of corn. And yet, the corn still tasted like the golden miracle that nature intended. Perhaps, like lobster and popcorn, corn on the cob is merely a vehicle for butter. That is a conundrum I am willing to spend the next thirty years mulling over in my pointy little head.

I like to steam corn on the cob in a big pot, with just an inch of water, and a metal vegetable steamer. I like to use the big lobster steamer pot. This is a dramatic production. Mr. Friday likes to wrap the ears of corn in great sails of aluminum foil, dotted with big gobs of butter, which he then tosses onto the sizzling grill. I suspect he is reliving Boy Scout camping trips. If some of the corn isn’t burnt and charred then it hasn’t been properly grilled. Just in case you wondered how to tell it was done. http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2013/07/best-basic-grilled-corn-food-lab-recipe.html

If you are of a more practical ilk, and like to cook one meal, and have viable leftovers, then this frittata dish is for you. Cook it once, and use it again for breakfast or lunch. It travels well, so you can nestle it in a brown paper sack and call it lunch. Or it could be the basis of a picnic. You can eat it with your hands when you are stuck in weekend beach traffic. It is a marvel! http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2016/08/frittata-bacon-corn-gruyere-dinner-in-20-recipe.html

I always cook too much corn – just look at the size of that lobster pot! With the extra ears of corn I have more than a few options for meals for the week. Those ever practical folks at Food52 have a great corn salad recipe: https://food52.com/recipes/37430-sriracha-lime-corn-salad

Summertime also means lobster time. We like to have a lobster fest at least once a summer, and this usually means lots of leftovers. Here is a budget-friendly recipe that brings the lobster fest feelings back home: http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1017627-corn-and-lobster-tart

If you would like to enjoy an elegant meal, then consider this corn soup recipe from the New York Times: http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/12665-summer-corn-soup

Think ahead! If you are particularly ambitious, and have bought a lot of sweet summer corn from your local CSA or farmers’ market, here is a recipe for corn relish that will distill summer for you, when you have forgotten how hot and grumpy you were in August; a little bit of summer sunshine for the long gray days of winter: http://www.daringgourmet.com/2015/07/19/homemade-sweet-corn-relish/

“I have no hostility to nature, but a child’s love to it. I expand and live in the warm day like corn and melons.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Food and Eco-Tourism Workshops

MID-SHORE FOOD SYSTEM COALITION 1Join a round table workshop on “Food and Eco-Tourism on the Mid-Shore,” at any one of the upcoming sessions in the five-county mid-shore region. The first is coming up fast: Thursday, July 21 at noon at the Dorchester County Library.

Why attend? The aim is for you to leave the hour-and-a-half session with three new ideas for your business.  Share in strengthening the regional food systems with positive outcomes by personally involving you and your business in this economic development/marketing workshop.

The Mid-Shore Food System Coalition (MSFSC) is launching this first series of workshops to brainstorm new ideas and revenue streams with a focus on community resilience and triple-bottom-line sustainability.

Go to the MSFSC website www.MidShoreFoodSystem.org, to review the mission and goals as this initiative moves forward.

To reserve a space, please email director@midshorefoodsystem.org.

Additional “Food and Eco-tourism” sessions are planned for Tuesday, July 26, 8 p.m. at the Kent Library in Chestertown; Monday, August 1, 7 p.m. at the Caroline County Library in Denton; Saturday, August 6 at 10 a.m. at the Talbot Library in Easton; and Thursday, August 11 at 6 p.m. in Centerville at the Queen Anne’s County Library.

Money to Help Many Maryland Homeowners Stay in Their Homes

The state of Maryland wants you to stay in your home. They have funds available for many state homeowners to make repairs such as installing ramps and widening doors. It is called the Accessible Homes for Senior Homeowners Grant Program.

Grants, not loans, are provided to qualifying homeowners on a first come first serve basis. You must be over 50. The state also wants proof your income is 80% of AMI, which stands for area median income. You will also need a list of three bids from contractors with Maryland Home Improvement licenses.

Previously a loan program, this became a grant program in 2013. The thinking behind it is this: by keeping seniors in their homes , neighborhood stability is maintained. This also provides work for local builders, and helps other local suppliers. During fiscal year 2016 (July 1, 2015-June 30, 2016) the program provided $998,000 in 47 grants.

Contractor training and information is upcoming on two separate days from 11:30am – 1pm.

7/27/16 – Richard Henson Center, #2122, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, University Blvd. S., Princess Anne, MD 21853 (Somerset County)
8/4/16 – Chester River Yacht & Country Club, 7738 Quaker Neck Road, Chestertown, Md. 21620 (Kent County)
Pamela Heyne is an architect with an office in Saint Michaels. pam@heynedesign.com

Food Friday : Salads – Hold the Lettuce

Is there anything more boing than a lettuce salad? It is nothing but tasteless, crunchy water, slathered in oleaginous dressings, dotted with hot house tomatoes, sprinkled with stale croutons. Do you remember Bac’n Bits – those leathery maroon soy flakes that purportedly tasted like bacon? I am much happier now that I fry my croutons in bacon fat, and then crunch that real bacon up and scatter it on my salad, not overlooking a smackeral for my constant, dogging companion. How about orange French dressing? Now we can hurl a garlic clove into a bowl, douse it with good oil and vinegar and salt, and there we have it, the best salad dressing ever. Holy smokes, the times they are a changing, and everything salad-wise keeps getting better.

Personally I could never understand the appeal of the iceberg wedge salad. Whack a wedge out of a head of iceberg lettuce, dribble it in bottled blue cheese dressing, serve it on a minimalistic square plate and charge $9 for it. I could do that at home, except that I wouldn’t. I would rather eat something a little more flavorful and deelicious. How about you?

True confession: I violated my summertime rule about shunning the kitchen, or at least the hot stove, earlier this week. Once I had rooted around the internets looking for interesting salads, I must admit to you Gentle Reader – I boiled water. It is shameful, I know, but my cause was good and just, and ultimately, I got three meals out of that half hour of steam heat. I think it is a healthy ratio of time spent cooking compared to time spent eating nice, cool leftovers.

Spy Summer Farm Stand Salad

3 cups fusilli (or any macaroni product you have on hand – fusilli is very attractive and super hard to draw)

1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil – or what you can approximate from the grocery store

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

1 cup diced cukes (I still like the seedless English variety, but use your fave)

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved (or just chunk up some tomatoes from your kitchen windowsill)

1 ear of cooked corn – slice the kernels off, please

1/2 cup chopped peppers

1/2 cup snow peas

1/2 cup fresh green beans

1/2 cup asparagus tips

1/2 cup fresh mozzarella, cubed, or a handful of feta, or shavings of Parmesan

1/4 cup roughly chopped Vidalia onion

1/4 cup chopped celery for lots of crunch!

1 clove of garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Maldon salt

In a large, large bowl: add the crushed clove of garlic, and whisk it with the olive oil and vinegar. Add the red pepper flakes, and some Maldon salt.

Boil the pasta according to the directions on the package. Drain in a colander, rinse with cool water, and shake the water off like a good dog. Add the pasta to the big bowl of garlic and oil. Toss the pasta until it is evenly coated with the good garlicky oil. Set aside.

Boil up another pot of water and toss in the asparagus, peas and beans for a minute or two, just until everything looks as bright green as the first grass in spring. Drain in the colander, and quickly dump them into another bowl filled with ice and ice water, to halt the cooking. Kazaam! Crunchy, green vegetables ready to mingle with your delicious pasta.

Now toss everything together, tear into some French bread, and have a fortifying glass of cheap white wine. You can repeat this as a side dish tomorrow night, and then have it for lunch the day after that. Feel free to embellish – you can add chicken, shrimp, salami, olives, artichoke hearts, sprouts, roasted red peppers, basil, flat leaf parsley – you name it. You can even serve it on a bed of lettuce.

“Wine and cheese are ageless companions, like aspirin and aches, or June and moon, or good people and noble ventures.”
-M.F.K. Fisher

Beautification Continues along Easton Rails-to-Trails

TCGC Railway Garden

View of the new garden from the Easton Rails-to-Trails (photo by Marsie Hawkinson)

EASTON, MD (July 18, 2016) — The Talbot County Garden Club has a long-standing partnership with Historic Easton, Inc. and Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage on the maintenance of the gardens around the historic Railroad Station in Easton.   Over the last few weeks, The Talbot County Garden Club has worked with Garden Design of Easton to help redesign and rejuvenate a section of the garden dedicated to one of its past members, Polly Shannahan.   The new design incorporates new native plantings with multi season appeal for easy maintenance and stepping stones to enable walking between sections of the garden.  Come enjoy the newly rejuvenated section as you walk along the Easton Rails-to-Trails.

About the Talbot County Garden Club

The Talbot County Garden Club was established in 1917 to enrich the natural beauty of the environment by sharing knowledge of gardening, fostering the art of flower arranging, maintaining civic projects, supporting projects that benefit Talbot County and encouraging the conservation of natural resources.  Noteworthy projects include maintaining the grounds of the Talbot Historical Society, Talbot Courthouse, Talbot Library, the Children’s Garden and Fountain Garden at Idlewild Park and numerous other gardens and activities.  There are currently a total of 101 active, associate and honorary members.

August 2016 Skywatch: Planets and Meteors

I often feature the planets we can observe in our night skies in this column because they stand out so well and because one can get a thrill knowing that they are seeing another distant world in our Solar System. August’s warm nights this year offer plenty of good planet viewing. No fewer than 5 planets show up soon after sunset. And this month the annual Perseid Meteor Shower, always the best one of the calendar year, peaks in the pre-dawn hours of August 12th.

The planet show begins in early evening twilight. As August begins, Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter form a straight line. Venus is closest to the horizon; Mercury is to Venus’ upper left, and Jupiter is at the top of the line. Venus is the brightest of the trio, at magnitude –3.9, and should be easy to spot 1/2 hour after sunset. Jupiter, though dimmer at –1.7, will have greater altitude, so it should be easy to see. But binoculars will likely be necessary to see Mercury, about 8 degrees to the upper left of Venus.

From August 4th through August 6th the crescent Moon will appear to pass through the sky where the trio of planets are found. On the 4th the Moon will be just left of Mercury, with both objects 6 degrees above the horizon 30 minutes after sunset. On August 5th the somewhat fatter Moon will be just below Jupiter, and on the 6th the Moon will be above and left of Jupiter. The Moon being close to the planets will help point them our to us.

During August the orbit of Venus will make it appear to climb steadily away from the Sun, while Jupiter will look as if it is sinking down toward the Sun. This will set up a very close conjunction of Venus and Jupiter on August 27th. Indeed the two planets will appear closer to each other than at any time since May of 2000! They will almost appear to merge! Telescope views will put Venus and Jupiter together in the same field of view. And binoculars will separate this stunning planetary pair and will also reveal Mercury 5 degrees to their lower left.

After this great conjunction, the orbits of Venus and Jupiter will cause them to appear to separate. On August 31st Venus will be 4 degrees to Jupiter’s upper left. Mercury’s orbit will have taken it down toward the Sun by then, where it will be lost in the Sun’s glare.

After the skies darken fully look south where two more planets, Mars and Saturn, will be found. Mars the brighter and appearing reddish at magnitude –0.8 is on the border of Libra and Scorpius, almost due south some 10 degrees above and right of Antares, the reddish and brightest star in Scorpius. Saturn glows yellowish at +0.3 magnitude and sits just above Antares. A gibbous Moon will be seen 8 degrees above Mars on August 8th.

Mars’s orbit takes it east (left as we face it) for 3 weeks in August and it enters Ophiuchus on the 21st, passing 2 degrees above Antares on the 23rd, and in line with the star and Saturn. On the 25th, Mars will be 4 degrees below Saturn.

Turning attention now to the Perseid Meteor Shower which peaks on the morning of August 12th over in the northeast sky. The Perseids always rank among the best meteor showers of the year, and 2016 could be exceptional. Some experts are saying the rate of meteors could reach 150 per hour —- some 50% higher than typical years. The reason is because Jupiter’s gravity recently tugged the stream of debris from the Perseids parent Comet, 109B Swift-Tuttle, closer to Earth’s orbit. It should be good anyway, so look northeast anytime form 1 am to dawn on the morning of August 12th.

Moon phases for August: New — Aug. 2nd; 1st Quart. — Aug. 10; Full — August 18; and Last Quart. — Aug. 24.