Food Friday: Cool Beans!

We are still a few weeks away from Labor Day. Despite the constant heat it feels a little bit like fall is on its way. Maybe it is all the back-to-school sales. Maybe it is just wishful thinking. I have seen leaves falling in the back yard. They are probably just as exhausted and as exasperated with the weather as I am. I’m still avoiding the heat in the kitchen. I have a new Tana French mystery I would like to read, rather than wending my way around the kitchen, making something for dinner.

A perfect summer meal is something that you can prepare once, enjoy mightily, and then serve another couple of times. Poor Mr. Friday. Last night we had tuna salad-filled peppers, with a pasta dish and a green salad on the side. (Shades of my childhood!) Lucky me though – there’s enough left over for a couple of lunches. Luke the wonder dog and I can go sit out on the back porch after lunch. He enjoys soaking up the solar energy with his black coat. You’ll find me tucked back in a shadowy corner, sneaking in another chapter of The Trespasser before I head back into the Spy offices. We don’t get out for lunch much, and tuna is a step up from our usual peanut butter crackers.

Garden report: I pulled out the leggy tomato plants last weekend. They didn’t fare well when we were on vacation, and were looking very sad and droopy. And quite frankly, I was fighting a losing battle with the birds, who insisted on first dibs. I will concede that the birds deserved the blueberries that they stripped from the bushes – they being early risers where I am not. But the tomatoes were different. I had gauzy Italianate visions of fresh tomatoes and creamy burrata dinners, with tasty wine and the attentive Mr. Friday. These fantasies were dashed by the birds who were peckish, destructive and selfish. Back to the farm stand I will go for some red, ripe, intact tomatoes.

The containers that held my tomato dreams are now home to the new herb farm. Basil, parsley, rosemary, mint and a few cheerfully yellow marigolds. There are three basil plants, soon to be the basil bushes (I hope), supplying elements of interest to salads for the next month, and then forming the basis for clever warm meals come fall. I do not know if the birds have an appetite for these particular herbs. I hope not.

We are having house guests this weekend, and they are folks we haven’t seen for a long time. I’ve been getting ready in so many odd ways. Do you think they will notice that I weeded the window boxes? Or that I touched up the paint on the wall near the recycling basket? More importantly, I have laid in a supply of wine and nibbles. Which is more to the point, I think. Today I am going to do a little prep work so we have lots of time to enjoy each other, and lots of time to eat and drink and talk our heads off. I’m thinking a nice cool bean salad at dinner, that can be broken out at lunch again on Sunday. They are driving down from Connecticut, so we want to make it worth their drive time, and introduce them to a few flavors of the south. http://gardenandgun.com/recipe/chef-david-bancrofts-butterbean-salad/?

But Mark Bittman, one of oury household gods, has something even easier: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2012/05/mark-bittmans-green-beans-with-crisp-shallots.html I can handle a little blanching and sautéing on a summer morning. This is a meal I can prepare in advance, and by the bushel, so we will be well-supplied for the weekend.

I am going to get a little crafty, and in honor of the solar eclipse on Monday I will be baking some homemade moon pies. Thanks, Garden & Gun for all your help this week! I will be waddling a little more than usual when walking Luke the wonder dog! http://gardenandgun.com/recipe/anatomy-of-a-classic-do-it-yourself-moon-pies/

“After luncheon the sun, conscious that it was Saturday, would blaze an hour longer in the zenith…”
― Marcel Proust

Editorial: We’ve Been There with the Talbot Boys Before but Haven’t Done Anything

When the full impact was felt from the violence in Charlottesville that took place in front of a statue of a Confederate general last weekend, it is suspected that more than a few Talbot County citizens felt a certain degree of deja vu as the media once again put the spotlight on similar Civil War memorials commemorating those who served to defend the institution of slavery and state rights.

Two summers ago, Talbot County faced its own moral dilemma in discussing the fate of the Confederate soldier monument entitled “For The Talbot Boys” on the Courthouse lawn in downtown Easton. This came in the aftermath of the Charleston massacre, which motivated the local chapter of the NAACP to file an official complaint with the County requesting that the statue be removed.

That NAACP complaint led the Talbot County community into an intensive six-month conversation about racism and the history of the Eastern Shore and slavery. Several town hall meetings were arranged to discuss these issues, dozens of letters to local newspapers were published, and open hearings were hosted by Talbot County Council.

The Talbot Spy also felt the need to provide extensive coverage of this issue. Thinking it was consistent with our educational mission, and also seeing it as what educators called a “teachable moment,” we completed an eight part special series (re-published in today’s Spy) with historians, religious leaders, elected officials, and local citizens to provide context and commentary on what Talbot County needed to do in the face of this difficult moral dilemma. We also didn’t hesitate to offer our own opinion on the statute.

The outcome of this debate, as ratified by the Talbot County Council members, was to keep the Talbot Boys statue where it stands today. Their decision, represented by Council President Corey Pack remarks, talked about the legal and cultural reasons why monuments like the Talbot Boys should not be disturbed. While President Pack made it clear that more could be done to acknowledge the real history behind the statute, as well as the Union boys that also died in the conflict,  the Council did not see these solutions as part of their legislative responsibility but encouraged citizens to take on a leadership role to rectify these profound gaps.

But since that summer of 2015, it is sad to note that not one group or individual has stepped forward to ensure that the full story of Talbot County in the Civil War is honored. The Talbot Boys still sits on the Courthouse lawn without interpretation, without a balanced viewpoint, nor acknowledging the other four hundred young boys from Talbot County that fought for the Union and end slavery.

Perhaps the Charlottesville tragedy will spur our community to take action finally. But this time, let’s please finish the job.

 

 

 

Easton Sidewalks: Marc|Randall on Dover Street

For Marc Randall, the owner of Marc|Randall, a women’s apparel store on Dover Street, the bet has always been that will be a select group of women on the Mid-Shore who care enough about fashion and quality, and who also have the means to spend $250 for a sweater.

In fact, this business plan has been in effect for twenty-five years now. Starting in 1993, Marc, and three fellow investors, felt the time was right for a high-quality women’s clothes store in Easton. And on many levels, this calculation has turned out to be a significant success story. The store has attracted many patrons who are indeed willing to seek out exceptional quality and pay the relatively higher costs that go with its quality, as an extension of their sense of fashion and timeless appeal.

And this customer base has also been very devoted to Marc as well. Year after year, this unique band of loyalists, make it a habit to build seasonal wardrobes are built around Randall’s distinct sense of style. It is also not uncommon for Marc to experience the joy of seeing those sweaters and dresses passed down to daughters and granddaughters.

All of this should add up to a certain sense of security that the Marc|Randall store should be sustainable during this rapid change in the retail sector, but that doesn’t stop Marc from worrying that younger women will not carry on this tradition.  With consumers forgoing quality and seeking lower prices, he can only hope that this great history of fashion on Dover Street will continue.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about Marc/Randall please go here

Profiles in Spirituality: Unitarian Universalism with the Mid-Shore’s Reverend Sue Browning

According to the Unitarian Universalist Association’s own data, the U.U. Church currently has just under 200,000 members in the entire United States, and about two hundred of them attend church in Kent County or Talbot County on any given Sunday.

In comparison, the Episcopal Church, another relatively small denomination, has about 3,500 active members in the same region, while the Catholic faith comes close to having 7,000 adherents.

These numbers may suggest that the Unitarians represent a tiny part of the religious fabric on the Delmarva, but those statistics do not account for the extremely high level of activism these small congregations — one in Kent and the other Talbot County — participate in during the year in their communities. In fact, when one factors in contributions that the U.U. Church make locally in such critical areas of concern for social justice, immigration, and the environment, one then can one see the full impact of the Unitarian Universalists on the Mid-Shore.

And one person who sees that impact on an almost daily basis is the Reverend Sue Browning, who is in the unique role of being the minister of both the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Easton as well as the Unitarian Universalists of the Chester River in Kent County.

The Spy sat down with Rev. Browning to talk a bit about Unitarian Universalism as a faith, which is liberal by nature and characterized by a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” In other words, Unitarian Universalist members do not accept a creed per se but are unified by a shared search for spiritual growth.

We also talked to Sue about the important role that faith, unconventional as it may be in the U.U. Church, plays in the life of its members, the spiritual dimensions of aging, and the need to exercise one’s compassion and gratitude like a muscle which will only gets stronger with time.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about the Mid-Shore Unitarian Universalist Churches, please go here for Chestertown and here for Easton

 

 

 

Saddle Shoes and The Kingdom of Heaven by George Merrill

Getting to the right place for the wrong reasons is more the rule than an exception.

For a long time my parents were uncertain which church to affiliate with. My father had been raised Methodist, and my mother Dutch Reformed. Neither was an active churchgoer but – as many middle class people – they thought their children could use the respectability of some religious affiliation. Proximity I think finally clinched their decision: the Church of the Ascension was much closer to our house than either the Methodist or the Dutch Reformed Church. The parish was an easy walk from home so there was no need for transportation. My religious journey began not with aspirations to greater piety but for proximity and convenience. I was baptized there. I was ten at the time, considerably older than the typical baptismal candidate.

I had little sense of what baptism was about. The rite assured that I would become an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven. At my age, these theological formulations went over my head and I remember my baptism now only because of the relief I felt that my suit and especially my saddle shoes remained dry during the ritual. Prior to the baptism, my parents bought me a glen plaid suit and the shoes for the occasion. I was a clotheshorse and eager to wear my new clothes. The solemnity of the occasion was of secondary importance to me if I was aware of it at all.  Dressing up was first priority– a shallow motivation to be sure – but I was nevertheless respectfully clothed to claim whatever my new status was as a child of God and an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Even during the baptism my worldly desires dominated.

During the baptism, my head was slightly inclined over the baptismal font in preparation for the priest to pour water on top of my head. This was done three times in the name of the “Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.”  I could think only of how to protect my saddle shoes from any cascading water. Fr. Rogers was skilled at this maneuver so the shoes remained dry while I received my new inheritance. For all the wrong reasons I was initiated into a spiritual community, which grew in importance as I became older and more aware.  I would say, the choice of that parish also turned out to be a good call, even as my parents, or me for that matter, had little if any sense of the implications that belonging to this community carried.

How many decisions do we make or in which we enthusiastically participate during our lives without having any idea of what’s really going on?  It’s probably most of them. Those decisions cause no great harm. A fortuitous outcome of many of mine has led me to believe there is an overarching reality that redeems us even as we muddle through life. To see such grace at work during our lives requires a hard look at the erratic course a life follows.

Voting, marriage, and buying a first home are three decisions I imagine most of us make while poorly informed. Studying up on your candidate, engaging in pre-marital counseling or contracting for a house inspection can offer some assurances that we’re acting with our eyes open. However wide our eyes may be opened, there are always surprises. Many blindside us but some are welcomed.

Scientists deal with this reality regularly. In investigating one phenomenon, they invariably discover something radically new and altogether different.

One day, scientist Perry Spencer of Raytheon was fiddling around with a microwave emitting magnetron used in radar when he felt an odd sensation in his pocket. He felt something sizzling. A chocolate bar in his pocket had begun melting. By a fluke he discovered what we know as today’s microwave ovens.

Navy engineer Richard James was experimenting to find ways to stabilize delicate instruments on ships that were always rolling and pitching at sea. What he inadvertently stumbled upon is what delights the heart of every child; the ubiquitous “Slinky.” Three hundred million sold worldwide.

There’s a spiritual message in this. It’s a dead-end to insist we have to get it right.  There’s a piece of scripture that has suggested this but only because it has been misinterpreted. “Be ye perfect even as your father in heaven is perfect.” Know anyone who is up to that? If you do they will probably bore you to death. The English word ‘perfect’ is an inadequate rendition of a word that at its root means ‘compassionate.’ As human beings we are not challenged to “get it right” but to be compassionate, a far more challenging ideal. Aspirations to perfection lay an enormous burden on you and me. Perfectionists can drive themselves and everyone around them nuts.

The election of Ascension to be my spiritual home and the baptism that followed it was hardly the result of high-minded piety or idealism. It’s nevertheless where the full story began. I became a part of a nurturing community through my turbulent adolescence, aware of the healing power words and music while I discovered some of the timeless tools by which I could attempt to plumb the mysteries of God and of my own soul.

And all I knew when all this began was that my parents were delighted not to have to drive us to church and the saddle shoes remained dry during my initiation into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

 

Delmarva Review: Clues to John Barth’s Genius: Jimmies, Jazz, and Scheherazade by John Lewis

John Barth wanted to be a jazz musician. He played drums in a combo—with his twin sister, Jill, on piano—that gigged around Cambridge on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and after high school graduation in 1947, he high-tailed it to New York City to study at Juilliard. “It was an absolutely clear and unambiguous experience to learn that what I had hoped was a pre-professional talent was, instead, a pretty good amateur flair,” he told me, over crab cakes at Easton’s Tidewater Inn. “This was the big band era, and I was studying orchestration. I was a drummer, but I didn’t want to spend my life on the road. Being an arranger sounded more respectable.”

Barth had hoped to emulate Billy Strayhorn and Pete Rugolo, his heroes. “But I knew from the first week at Juilliard that the young woman on my left and the young man on my right were going to be the professional musicians of their generation,” he recalled, “and I was going to have to look for something else to do.”

Barth actually has the angular and craggy appearance of a jazz musician, a look that’s accentuated by a closely clipped, white beard and the occasional beret atop his bald pate. But his personality is infused with professorial confidence and sharp wit, a testament to his rapport with the fiction muse he tapped after transferring to Johns Hopkins and finding “something else to do.”

“It was the opposite of what happened at Juilliard,” he said. “When I stumbled into fiction, I had the unequivocal feeling that this was my true calling: all I had to do was learn it from scratch.”

Barth felt the Cambridge education system left him largely unschooled. In fact, he has said “nothing since kindergarten prepared me for [college]” and noted that, despite being on the academic track in high school, his career counseling amounted to a 10-minute talk with the phys ed teacher.

I’ve heard folks question how a “backwater” like Dorchester County produced such a keen intellect, and—if you ignore the inherent snobbery of such a comment and consider Barth’s claim that his formal education was lacking—it is a mystery. Lord knows what it was like between the Depression and World War II, when Barth called Cambridge home. But he obviously got something vital from the Shore that informed his writing and worldview. And, it turns out it was

the perfect incubator for an autodidact with a pen- chant for brilliant meandering. In fact, meandering is something of a refined art in that part of the world, and it’s key to getting at the essence of Barth’s particular type of genius.

Meandering permeates just about everything in Dorchester County—from the unhurried and digressive conversations taking place on the street and in country stores to the flatness of the landscape itself, which is characterized by its tangle of curving roads and bending shoreline intersected by cuts and creeks and other bodies of water that rise and fall with the moon.

Coupled with the flatness, such undulating and fluid geography is endlessly fascinating, though it can be downright disorienting, and it’s no wonder Barth had to look beyond the horizon to his “navigation stars” for direction. Barth told me he considers Scheherazade—the female storyteller of One Thousand and One Nights—one of his “principal navigation stars.”

“With her life ever on the line, only as good as her next piece, Scheherazade remains for me the most piquant emblem of the storyteller’s lot,” says Barth.

These days, Barth, whose noted books include The Sot-Weed Factor, The Tidewater Tales, Giles Goat Boy, The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor, and the Scheherazade- inspired The Book of Ten Nights and a Night: Eleven Stories, is now a navigation star in his own right. He gets mentioned in the same breath as Thomas Pynchon, Vladimir Nabokov, and James Joyce and is considered one of the greatest figures in world literature. He’s swooped in and out of the mainstream, won the National Book Award (for Chimera in 1973), and influenced the likes of David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Lethem. He’s actually achieved adjective status— Barth-ian, or Barth-like is synonymous with intelligent, metafictive, postmodern literature.

Thinking a map might be useful in navigating around Barth’s hometown, I was in luck: the Cambridge library has put together a Barth walking tour. With commentary from the author himself, a map directs pilgrims to sites of interest, which include his boyhood home on Aurora Street, his grandparents’ house on the corner of Maryland Avenue, and, according to Barth’s comments, “East Cambridge Elementary school, where I once got paddled for writing a naughty poem about our teacher, my introduction to the pleasures and pains of authorship.”

The tour leads down to the river—again, in Barth’s words—“The Choptank rivershore at Aurora Street’s foot, where we kids [including my twin sister, Jill] played year-round, and the Route 50 bridge nearby, where we swam and dived among summer sea nettles.”

More than a baptism, Barth equates his immersion in these waters with life itself. “I never tire of remembering that the salinity of these waters is about the same as that of the amniotic sea that we all first swam in,” he told the Dorchester County Friends of the Library during a 2005 talk. A copy of Barth’s text is on file there.

At the riverfront—which is still accessible, although you’ll have to maneuver around a hospital that’s been built in the intervening years—it’s easy to see what captivated Barth and fired his imagination. From this spot, small waves approach from the horizon to lap against a shoreline that stretches out on both sides. Looking up, you’ll see the Choptank River Bridge leading north to Baltimore and Washington. Looking down, you’ll find teeming life at your feet, an entire ecosystem just below the surface: minnows, patches of sea grasses, jellyfish, and the occasional blue crab.

The Maryland blue crab remains a potent symbol of the region, and it flourished in the bay’s brackish waters when Barth was a boy. In the summertime, the Choptank’s waters were teeming with hard crabs, soft crabs, and peelers— jimmies (males) and sooks (females) alike—scurrying sideways across the river bottom. They not only caught Barth’s eye, they subtly influenced his approach to writing. In fact, Barth tells me he comes at subjects sideways, “as blue crabs incline to do.”

Here, the crab becomes symbolic of postmodern literature, with regards to crafting Barth-ian metafiction in which the storyteller moves sideways through streams of information to systematically and subtly change perspective along a narrative bend. That’s the way Barth thinks, writes, and speaks.

In conversation, he can sound downright annotated, as I learned during lunch. When discussing novellas, for instance, Barth noted, “The market for them is gone.” He added commentary, “an interesting form that was popular from the time it was invented,” along with when (the 18th-century), where (Germany), and who popularized it (Goethe). He opined that it is “a lovely narrative space.”

He then playfully defined a novella as “a work of fiction too long to sell to a magazine and too short to sell to a book publisher.”

And finally, he offered advice: “When you perpetrate one, you usually need to add on a few short stories [in order to sell it].”

An Eastern Shore native would recognize, if not the subject matter, the measured pacing and wry tone of such comments. It’s the same sort of discursive storytelling that’s been going on for generations around potbellied stoves, across shop counters, and on docks and wharves throughout Dorchester. Barth relishes being that sort of meandering storyteller, (not so) plain and (not so) simple.

The locals say he got the storytelling gene from his father, Whitey. At the house where he wrote his first novel, The Floating Opera—it’s part of the walking tour— the current owner was out sweeping the sidewalk when I visited. At the mention of the Barth name, he lit up. “He was a natural storyteller, the best you ever heard,” he said, leaning on his broom. “He was extremely erudite.”

But this guy wasn’t talking about John Barth, who’s known as “Jack” around town; he was talking about Whitey. “If Jack could write as well as his father talked, he’d really be doing something,” he added. “It seems like Jack takes ten pages to tell something that could be told in one.” He set the broom aside and lauded Whitey’s storytelling prowess, noting that he had owned a popular soda fountain, called Whitey’s Candyland, on Race Street. Although the building has been torn down, the location is noted on the walking tour, and Barth recalls that it’s “where we all occasionally helped out but mostly hung out.”

Hanging out, he was exposed to storytelling as a lively and witty art courtesy of Whitey, who also served as judge of the Orphans Court for 44 years, worked with the volunteer fire company, was a devoted American Legion member, and was an in-demand after-dinner speaker at functions throughout the county. “By comparison to his life,” Barth has written, “my own (literary and academic) seems almost reclusively detached, its radius much wider but its roots far less deep.”

Where Whitey burrowed, his son scuttled.

Besides passing along the storytelling gene, Whitey helped expose his son to popular and modernist fiction. Barth devoured the paperbacks his father stocked at the shop, and it was there that he first encountered books by Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, and H.P. Lovecraft, along with William Faulkner’s Sanctuary and John Dos Passos’ Manhattan Transfer.

He’d go on to devour books in the Hopkins library, where he shelved classics as a part time job and spent countless hours browsing the stacks and discovering the vastness and diversity of world literature. Like his Cambridge days, it left an indelible mark on his body of work. “If you happen to be a refugee from the Dorchester County tide marshes, as I was and remain,” Barth once told a Washington College audience, “and particularly if you aspire to keep one foot at least ankle deep back in your native bog while the other foot traipses through the wider world, it is well to have such an off-the-cart smorgasbord under your belt, for ballast.”

Barth returned to Cambridge for the unveiling of a historic marker honoring him, and, perhaps most tellingly, he’s set his last few books on the Shore.

His 2008 book, The Development, was comprised of nine related stories set in an Eastern Shore retirement community where “a failed old fart fictionist” (Barth’s words) named George Irving Newett lives. G.I. Newett. You can practically hear Whitey chuckling at that one.

Barth tells me, via email, that his forthcoming book features Newett as its narrator: “The novel’s full title is Every Third Thought: A Novel in Five Seasons. Title borrowed from Prospero’s remark in Shakespeare’s Tempest, of course (`Every third thought shall be my grave’); subtitle from the five seasons of the story’s present action (First Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer, Last Fall) and the corresponding `seasons’ of the narrator’s life.

“After an accidental trip-and-fall head-bang while [Newett and his wife] are touring Shakespeare’s house in Stratford-Upon-Avon, he experiences a series of five seasonal dreams/visions/hallucinations/whatever that trigger recollections of his boyhood, young manhood, maturity, and later age in `Bridgetown’ and adjacent `Stratford,’ in `Avon County’ on MD’s Eastern Shore.”

Barth, now 81 years old (in 2011), seems intent on coming home, again and again. When asked if this will be his last novel, he writes that “time will tell. Since its completion, I’ve written no further fiction.”

But Barth says he has started writing a piece about his years as a jazz musician— presumably doing so while keeping one foot at least ankle deep in his native bog.

John Lewis is editor at large at Baltimore magazine and teaches writing in the Curatorial Practice MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art. This story was published in Volume 4 of the Delmarva Review, in 2011. His work has appeared in The Oxford American, Rolling Stone, The Washington Post Magazine, and many other publications. He lives in Cambridge, MD with his wife and two children.

The Delmarva Review is a nonprofit literary journal publishing compelling new poetry, fiction and nonfiction from writers within the region and beyond. It will celebrate its Tenth Anniversary edition in November. The Review is supported by the Eastern Shore Writers Association, private contributions, and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For more information, please visit: www.delmarvareview.com.

Food Friday: Stone Fruit

Summer vacations are swift-moving bodies of water. They are cool, and refreshing. They eddy and spool around the shallows, then hurtle past, gurgling while you paddle for a leisurely afternoon or two in the dappled sunshine. And then you go home.

We have returned from a week of cooler temperatures at a little mountain house in western North Carolina. Our adventures there were much the same as here: daily trips to the grocery store and to farm stands. Everything was centered on food, but we got a chance to look up from our books, and appreciated the sound of the approaching wind through the tall trees. I sat on the porch one afternoon waiting for a rain shower to move through the little valley. It was delightful to be sitting in someone else’s creaky, listing wicker, instead on being firmly planted in front of my computer.

We were on holiday with our former Pesky Pescaterian daughter and her almost-three toddler son. She no longer shuns meat, but eats it in judgemental moderation now. She is more organic than we are, although we noticed her scarfing down the goldfish with as much enthusiasm as the Young Master. And the Young Master blithely ignored our well-intentioned attempts at serving him organic and virtuous meals by subsisting on a diet of strawberries, bacon, grilled cheese sandwiches, mac and cheese, and goldfish. He did have cheese pizza once, but only because he was held in such thrall by a parade of passing dump trunks that we could have given him liver and onions. Not that we ever would, of course.

Who knew that large machinery could be so fascinating? And who knew that there was so much construction happening this summer? We certainly managed to pick the best part of the universe as far as our toddler was concerned. On all our forays out of the house we spotted back hoes and excavators, dump trucks and steam rollers, bulldozers and motor graders, crawler loaders and trenchers. My. We all got an education. He was politely dismissive viewing all of the other sights we were so eager to point out to him: cows, goats, horses and acres of Christmas tree farms. He asked repeatedly for ducks, but we weren’t able to find any for him. Luckily there was always another truck on the horizon.

There was an intersection near the grocery store we frequented that was being enlarged. The parade of passing construction trucks was alluring enough to get him into the car seat (willingly) for our daily pilgrimage to the market, where the adults were most interested in dinner and snack fixings. Oh, and wine.

We needed a daily fix of summertime strawberries, blueberries, peaches and cherries. It was stone fruit season, and we couldn’t get enough. I had to break my summer rule about not using the stove for this recipe, but I think you will find it is well worth the momentary discomfort. You can go out on the back porch for a little while, and wait for a summer rain to come sailing through: http://www.bowenappetit.com/2012/07/11/peach-upside-down-cornmeal-skillet-cake-bye-bye-ca/

This is one which garnered the former Pescatarian’s approval, and it does not require a stove at all! Just a sharp knife and a major hunger factor. Have it for dinner or breakfast, after all, you are on vacation: https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/12558-minty-fruit-salad

Peach Melba does involve a little cooking – you have to poach the peaches – but do it early in the morning. That will leave you more time to watch Jungle Book again tonight. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/nigella-lawson/peach-melba-recipe-1946359

And we spent some time sitting in Adirondack chairs, watching the delighted future construction foreman playing with his trucks in a gravel bed, while we were sipping cocktails before dinner. This is perhaps the best use of stone fruit we could find, as cool and refreshing as the New River, in which we dipped our toes before squealing about how cold it was. Such delightful first world problems. This cocktail goes very well with goldfish. http://www.bowenappetit.com/2012/07/23/summer-cocktail-cherry-bourbon-fizz/

“There is no situation like the open road, and seeing things completely afresh.” — James Salter

Mid-Shore Arts: Monty Alexander Reflects on Jazz, Easton, and Hope

If Chesapeake Music’s Monty Alexander Jazz Festival was just named to honor Alexander’s significant and lasting legacy as a jazz pianist over the last sixty years, that would be justification enough.  Monty’s accomplishments are well documented in the annals of jazz history, and the cumulative impact of his career would lend any jazz festival some important “street cred” with those that follow regional festivals around the world.

But when the Jazz festival’s founder, Al Sikes, drove up to New York City eight years ago to ask Monty if he would lend his name to a fledgling jazz festival in a pretty remote part of the Mid-Atlantic, Sikes knew that having a connection with the Jamaican-born musician was much more than honoring Monty’s performance career.

In many ways, it is Monty Alexander’s arc of experience in jazz over the last fifty years that makes it such an honor for Easton to host this annual event. Starting with small bars in Miami as a teenager, when he was first noticed by Frank Sinatra, and later been witness to every phase of jazz from the Mid-Century forward with friends such as Miles Davis, Milt Jackson, and or even Ravi Shankar.

The Spy caught up with Monty at Patsy’s, one of Frank Sinatra’s favorite joints in Manhattan, to talk about his Jazz Festival, but also about where jazz is these days. In particular, his observations on the early roots of jazz, where its disciples would learn on street corners from the masters, to the current world of contemporary jazz artists, many of whom are more likely than not hold degrees from such famous conservatories like Berklee and Juilliard.

Monty also talks about the theme for this year’s festival, which, to his own surprise, focuses on spirituality. In this case, it is his attempt to amplify the important role of hope in our complex world, or, in his own words, his effort to, “see the donut and not its hole.”

Jazz on the Chesapeake is a program of Chesapeake Music. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit here or call 410-819- 0380.

Senior Nation: The Artists of Londonderry

It makes sense to visit the Academy Art Museum and smaller art galleries in Easton and St. Michaels when one wants a sense of the local art scene on the Mid-Shore, but sometimes of the best examples of native talent can be found in the most unlikely places.

One of those is at Londonderry on the Tred Avon, just off of Port Street in Easton. This very special retirement community counts among its residents highly accomplished retired professionals in almost every field, from college professors to well known corporate leaders, but it has also attached some exceptional visual artists who continue to produce stunning landscapes, portraits, and few abstract paintings to the pleasure of the entire community.

Last week, the Spy took some time to capture a small sample of the kind of art now on display in the public spaces at Londonderry.

Strangers by George Merrill

One summer, as a teenager, I worked as a laborer for a ship’s chandler in New York Harbor. In those days, freight ships had access through their hulls for tenders to come alongside and deliver staples. I was always thrilled to meet my foreign peers as we handed off sacks of coffee and boxes of fruits from the tender to the ship. One of the rituals – it seemed universal and instinctual then – was to greet our fellow laborers from various foreign ports by offering them cigarettes. There would be an immediate nod and smile of camaraderie. The recipient would in return take out his cigarettes like Gauloises and offer me one as I extended my pack of Camels toward him. Then came the task of trying to converse, as neither of us spoke the other’s language nor were we even sure where others were from. We would gesticulate, point emphatically, raise our voices for emphasis, as if volume would bring understanding, as we attempted to learn more from one another. Where are you from? Who do you work for? In the process we occasionally understood differences and what the other was getting at. I remember how exhilarating it felt to wend our way through the apparent differences that separated us to connect and discover something in common.

I believe to know others and be known is one of the most basic hungers of the heart. We yearn to be connected, to be a part of the whole.

There is something universally satisfying about finding kinship in a stranger. For starters, it might mean nothing more than establishing that you’re both smokers. Still, better to begin there than to remain strangers. We may be from different countries, speak different languages, and even have similar bad habits, but we all enjoy the same heritage having traveled here the same way riding the Milky Way. In one instance for me, the awareness of others grew from floating alongside foreign freighters in New York Harbor and finding some hitherto unknown traveling companions.

A thought about this apprehension with strangers today troubles me, but I am not sure what there is to do about it since I fear it’s become a way of life. How has such universal suspicion has become part of our daily lives? I’ve become increasingly aware that in the last maybe twenty years we are living reactively, defensively with each other. I hate to see it, but it’s begun showing itself in all kinds of ways that communicates the message that whatever is strange and unknown is necessarily dangerous. It’s evident in small ways. The popular way of saying our goodbyes is to say ‘take care.’ Must we be so hypervigilant and remind others to be?

There are public indicators that we must protect ourselves from one another. I’ve noticed in supermarkets that there are disinfectant dispensers or handy wipes to clean off the carts we push to carry groceries in. It’s as if just being human is a dirty enough business to make us threats to one another.

I have watched my children as they raised their own and observed how they behave. It’s as though there were dangers everywhere. ‘Don’t talk to strangers’ is a refrain I hear from many parents these days who legitimately fear for their children’s safety. Few children today roam the neighborhoods to play. I cannot but feel sad. Whatever has happened to us that we don’t welcome the stranger, but instead suspect him or her of being dangerous?

In a strange twist, the cellphone has both lent itself to this phenomenon and at the same time offered some protection from some of the imagined dangers. Children now carry their phones everywhere and some texts they receive can be frightening. The children also have in their hands the instruments by which they can seek help in situations where they might be vulnerable.

Every parent’s nightmare is losing a child or fearing he or she may be walking into danger. Is there a more anxious atmosphere now than there was fifty years ago? I suspect there is and it results I believe from loss of real neighborhoods where people know one another by name. Here on the Shore where retirees come to live, some permanently, some weekending, has created communities where people have houses close by but do not know who their neighbors are or if they do, rarely see them.

It’s interesting to note that new houses under construction have their porches in the back of the house to insure privacy. In the past, porches were on the front where neighbors welcomed seeing other people coming and going. “Private Property, No Trespassing” is a common warning seen on the lawns and front gates of many properties.

A prominent African-American educator once told me about growing up near White Haven here on the Shore. It was during segregation and in a small black community. Despite the indignities of segregation, she recalled fondly the neighborhood. To paraphrase her story, she said that since that long ago time, she has not experienced the safety and solidarity of a community. Neighbors knew each other and were called “Aunt” and “Uncle” by all the kids. Even if Mom and Dad weren’t at home, kids had to behave, as neighbors kept an eye on them. They grew up as we hope kids grow up; feeling safe and cared for. People knew and had come to trust one another.

My granddaughter Leighton is fifteen. She recently volunteered at a summer camp in Delaware providing day activities for children from homes with limited means. One little girl, age five, grew fond of Leighton. One day as they were engaged in activities, the girl looked to Leighton and said; “If you were only brown you could be my sister.”

“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” reads the scriptures. I would add that angels come in all colors and many don’t speak English.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.