Checking in on the Avalon with Al Bond and Jessica Bellis

The last time the Spy had a chat with the Avalon Foundation folks was approximately two years ago at a time of real celebration. After months of political debate, some of it being slightly harsh by Talbot County standards, and good old nail biting, the staff and volunteers accomplished their long-term goal of buying Easton’s major performance theater on Dover Street.

And while there was a perceptible sense of relief that this lengthy process had reached its end, the Avalon was still not out of the woods. Not only did the organization face $2 million in deferred maintenance for the building itself, last minute changes in the sales agreement had added almost another half million to their capital fund requirements. It was hard for anyone involved not to be intimidated by the need to raise a staggering amount of public and private support and very quickly.

Fast-forward to the end of 2017 and both Al Bond and Jessica Bellis, the management team at the Avalon Foundation, don’t hesitate in saying that the last two years has been the best on record for the Foundation and its newly acquired theatre and listening room.

Not only were the capital funds successfully raised, but both the primary stage and the Stolz Listening room are now averaging 150 performances a year as well as hosting 30 outside organizations with an additional 90 events. At the same time, the Foundation continued to break records for the Plein Art festival as well as maintaining its 4th of July celebration, sponsorship of Easton Farmers Market, and expansion of MCTV programming.

If there were any negative aspects of the last 24 months, it has been the mild frustration expressed by Al and Jessica that the vast majority of the building’s most significant improvements are invisible to Avalon patrons.  With such successful completion of such unsexy projects of repointing the brickwork, improving backstage equipment, replacing heating and air conditioning, hardly any of this is noticeable to the theatergoer.

The Spy caught up with Al and Jessica last week to talk about the last two years. We also discussed the remaining projects, many of which will be more obvious to its guests, like the renovation of its public bathrooms and new paint for the theater. They also hint at more exciting programs to come that may go beyond their primary physical location as well as having high confidence that the Mid-Shore region will continue to support live performance for many years to come.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about the Avalon Foundation please go here

 

The 1st District: Introducing Candidate Michael Pullen

According to Easton’s Michael Pullen, a powerful political transformation took place for him over the last few years which has turned this long-tenured public servant into a congressional candidate.

That’s the time it took for the former Talbot County Attorney to witness a time when the fundamental values he grew up with, and with which he conducted his professional life, seemed radically at odds with what can now be described as the Trump era.

In the Spy’s second installment of introducing the current candidates running for the 2018 Congressional seat for Maryland’s First District, Pullen outlines in detail the journey that led him to declare his candidacy and how his experience in the public arena has best prepared him to really “represent” the voters of the Eastern Shore.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about Pullen for the US Congress please go here

Phubbing by George Merrill

Two of our children and four of our grandchildren joined us for Thanksgiving. The grandchildren, girls, range 17 years on down. Early in the day everyone winds up in the den. Most like to watch the Thanksgiving parade and, later in the day (why I have no idea) the dog show and so the room can get packed. The den’s not that big.

I’d been in the kitchen paring vegetables and after finishing up I walked into the den. Except for my wife and me, both our children and the four grandchildren were in the den – three girls and their Dad were on the sofa; Mom and one grandchild sat in chairs. The television was on. Ostensibly everyone was watching the parade or, in a perfect world, would have been.

Three of the grandchildren were texting. One was playing a video game on her iPhone and Mom and Dad were either texting or getting text messages. As for the television screen, it may as well have been blank. As for the audio part, it could just as soon have been the sound of the one clapping.

In the interests of full disclosure I confess I’m a Luddite and while I love my family, I find this behavior abominable. There’s no other word for it . . . well, maybe one and I learned of it only recently. It’s called phubbing and it is reaching epidemic proportions. The word is a conflation of phone and snubbing. It refers to individuals interacting with their iPhone (or other devices) rather than engaging with the human beings that they may happen to be with.

Phubbing is addictive. More and more and more people find it hard to resist. This is a serious. The phubbers have the frightening potential to transform us from homo sapiens, the typically gregarious social animals that we are, into hyped up phubbees, zoned out on the latest news blip, phone call or text message. All it takes is a tiny electronic blip or hum and we’re hooked.

Only last week The Washington Post reported studies about the many couples that are straining to maintain their love for each other while struggling with the allure of their androids and iPhones. This is not fake news, either. Researchers at Baylor University surveyed over 140 people and found that “almost half had been ‘phubbed’ by their partners, that is snubbed in favor of checking social media, news or texts on their iPhones.”

The managing editor of The Week Magazine, Theunis Bates, confesses to being caught up in the seductions of the electronic media and says he has been both a phubber and phubbee so he knows first hand the stresses involved.

Even should a phone not be in use, psychologists claim its presence alone in the middle of the table in the restaurant may cause interpersonal problems. Studies reveal that “simply leaving the phone out while dining . . . can interfere with your connection to your dining partner – perhaps because their eyes keep flicking toward the device eager for new alerts, suggesting that a piece of technology is more interesting than you are.”

Soon a kind of pavlovian response develops for compulsive iPhone users. Just by tapping a screen they are immediately rewarded with an “always updating streams of photos from family and friends, and tweets from the president.” Information varies widely and may include reports of the latest sexual abuse allegations being leveled at high-end capitalists, movie stars, clergyman and congressman. For the less discriminating phubbers there’s always a Trumpian rant or an endearing image of a friend’s new cat.

There’s mounting evidence that the rewards that this constant stream of data affords us are similar to the rush recreational drugs provide. Our electronic devices can turn us into addicts. As of 2015 there were an estimated two billion smartphone users with the number expected to rise by twelve percent in the next year.

Statistics are sobering. The average smartphone user checks in about eighty times a day either on Facebook, instagram feed or web links. I did however consult Google (I was alone when I did) to find out how many cell phone users there are worldwide. I want to emphasize here that it was my initiative to make the contact and only in the service of fact-finding. I want the record clear that I’m not addicted. I enjoy constitutional immunity.

 

St. Paul once said that we discover our strengths through weakness. I am a total electronic klutz, hopelessly inept with any electronic device. When trying to figure which icon to tap to retrieve a call or get weather, I behave like the centipede that gets flummoxed trying to decide which leg to put down first. I am not at all seduced by the lure of electronic beeps and buzzes. Actually I’ll frequently leave my iPhone at home because I find it intrusive and get irritated when I start messing with it. Being an electronic klutz has delivered me from the hand of the marketers and the snare of the phubber. The downside is that I’m often clueless as to what’s going on in the world that day. Hey, as I see it, maybe that’s not a bad thing. Most of it is demoralizing, anyway.

As with other addictive behaviors, confessional stories of personal struggles with phubbing are beginning to emerge, ironically, many on social media. Heather Wilhelm from the National Review writes to alert us as to what is happening: “Who among us hasn’t looked up at least once, smartphone in hand, slightly dazed, only to discover that precious bundles of minutes and hours have somehow slithered by, lost to all eternity, usually in exchange for no discernable enlightenment at all.”

In a more sober reflection I think that phubbing today does have an ominous side. It’s as if we in the post-modern era were like ten year olds who found a shiny nickel-plated revolver in the attic. We’re enthralled with its glittering properties, but have no idea how destructive it can be to ourselves or to those around us.

Phubbing may compromise our ability to be attentive, either to our environment or to each other. We’d literally become scatterbrained.

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.

 

Food Friday: Holiday Latkes

We love potatoes. I imagine most quasi-normal people do. It is my life’s goal to find the world’s best French fries. Long ago I read a Calvin Trillin book about his travels in Italy one summer with Alice, where they wandered from village to village and market to market, sampling many foods, but primarily experiencing pommes frites and gelato. What bliss. Then I spent months trying to create the perfect pommes frites, as idealized by reading an entertaining book about travel and eating. I don’t know if I choose the wrong potatoes, or lacked basic Fry-o-later skills, but nothing ever seemed to capture the delight in eating fresh, blazingly hot, crispy double-fried frites as described in the book.

I have also tried for years to re-create Buffalo Chips, the deep-fried, British-style, thick slices of potato, that we had years ago at the Spring Garden Bar and Grill in Greensboro, North Carolina. The chips were the perfect side dish with their incredibly memorable Philly Cheese Steak sandwich, which is another dish I have never been able to repeat at home. I use a mandoline now for slicing the potatoes, so they are thinner and a little more uniform, and pleasant to look at, but they are never quite crispy and plumped-up as the ones we had years ago. (I have just visited the website, and find the steak sandwich is still on the menu, but no mention of the Buffalo Chips. This could be tragic news. If any of our Gentle Readers venture to Greensboro, please stop by and do some vital research for us… http://springgardenbarandpizzeria.com/) Perhaps the Buffalo Chips will be my madeleines…

We prepared vats of mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving, because it is the American thing to do, and because they would be repurposed for a few more days: as a significant component of the legendary Pilgrim Sandwich, as potato pancakes for a nice, leisurely breakfast to have with the Sunday paper, and they make a nice pie crust topping for the inevitable turkey pot pie. We are actually planning ahead when we boil up a bunch of extra taters for the holidays.

With Hanukkah starting next week, we threw ourselves into exhaustive research for latkes, which are a more forgiving variation on crispy, fried potatoes. It is easy to fry up extras, and then freeze them for future use. That way, if you have company for a Hanukkah meal, you are not stuck in the kitchen, while everyone else is enjoying your light touch and handiwork. Or, you can keep a stack or two in a warm oven, if you want to prepare them ahead of time and serve them in one fell swoop. French fries would never stand for that.

I appreciated the extra hint this time around to wring the grated potatoes in a dish cloth, twice, before mixing them with the egg, onion and the flour. That step made for lighter latkes. And I do not have a food processor, which I think would have reduced the time spent preparing the potatoes – but I did have a willing assistant who manfully grated the potatoes on the box grater, and managed to do it without scraping his own knuckles. There is nothing like holiday ritual meal for bringing everyone into the kitchen.

https://toriavey.com/toris-kitchen/crispy-panko-potato-latkes/

http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/2012/12/adam-and-maxines-famous-latkes

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Potato-Latkes-104406 This is a good recipe for the gluten-free folks.

Happy Hanukkah!

“Still ours the dance, the feast, the glorious psalm; the mystic lights of emblem, and the word.”
– Emma Lazarus

The Art of the Merge with ShoreRivers Jeff Horstman

While it could be said that the proverbial writing was on the wall for some time, the Sassafras, Chester River and Mid-Shore Riverkeepers, and their affiliated organizations, were getting a pretty clear message over the last three years from their major institutional funders that these three, very similar enterprises must consider consolidation for the best possible mission delivery.

As a result of this welcomed nudge, representatives of each group began to meet eighteen months ago to discuss the logistics of this somewhat complicated merging of functions and governance. But inevitably the most exciting part was when these organizations could start to see the raw power that could be achieved by the change. Not only regarding protecting their beloved river sheds but also have a far greater presence in Annapolis and the halls of Congress to pursue their advocacy work.

It fell on Jeff Horstman, the current director of the Mid-Shore Riverkeeper Conservancy, to manage the process which ultimately led to the creation of ShoreRivers.  And he will become its executive director at the beginning of the new year.

The Spy felt it was a good time to sit down with Jeff and talk about how the process, as well as the delicacy and sensitivity needed as these three very different cultures with very similar goals, become a new nucleus.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about the new ShoreRivers please go here

Mid-Shore Arts: Artist Emily Lombardo Has a Three Year Chat with Goya at the AAM

One of the first things that must be said in prefacing our Spy interview with artist Emily Lombardo is that her current exhibition, The Caprichos: Goya and Lombardo at the Academy Art Museum, is not complicated for the audience to comprehend.

Two artists, separated by some 300 years, offer similar and sobering images of their contemporary society’s failures. For Francisco Goya, his eighty etchings, which make up the original work known as Los Caprichos, reflected the terrors of the Spanish Inquisition and the moral bankruptcy of the Catholic Church among many other social illnesses of his time.

For Emily Lombardo, who, as a young art student in Boston would spend her afternoons at the Museum of Fine Art observing Goya’s work, Los Caprichos offered her an entirely new gateway to express her moral outrage at today’s injustices as well as, you guessed it, the moral bankruptcy of Catholic Church and its more recent sins related child sex abuse.

The challenge for the audience is to go beyond these often dark images and see how these two worlds both contrast and connect with each other in this remarkable exhibition organized by the AAM’s curator Anke Van Wagenberg.

The Spy caught up with Emily before the opening of The Caprichos: Goya and Lombardo to talk about this extraordinary undertaking (it took both artists three years to complete their work) and some suggestions for visitors and they observe these two worlds which fill the Museum’s two primary gallery spaces for the next few months.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information on The Caprichos: Goya and Lombardo please go here

 

Exit Interview: Nancy Andrew and the Future of Habitat for Humanity – Choptank

Almost since the Spy began publishing in 2009, we have welcomed the opportunity to talk to long-tenured nonprofit leaders in anticipation of their planned departure of the organizations they serve.  While it’s unfortunate that human resources offices nowadays have somewhat co-opted the phrase “exit interview,”  it does describes the interest and usefulness in capturing these informed leaders reflections on the causes they serve and their analysis of the challenges and opportunity to come.

And that is the case with the Spy’s latest interview with Nancy Andrew after her eight years with Habitat for Humanity – Choptank. Nancy has decided to leave the organization as its executive director at the end of January after eight years at the helm.

And while Nancy acknowledges that her decision to leave Habitat matches her time spent leading Talbot Mentors, another highly respected Talbot County nonprofit, her reflections in her interview with the Spy indicate to her that nonprofit organizations, like any business, go through cycles of development which is not related to periods of time.  Nancy also shares her thoughts on how things have changed but also how the organization’s core business and mission has not during that time.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about Habitat for Humanity – Choptank please go here.

 

 

In a Sightless World by George Merrill

  • I have an inner light. So do you. You’ll notice it mostly when everything else darkens.

I don’t recall exactly what age I was, but there was a period as a child when I was tucked into bed before I felt ready to go. I entertained myself by closing my eyes and pressing on my eyelids.

I’d place finger pressure on my closed lids. One or two cheerio-shaped images appeared and they orbited through this interior universe. They changed colors the way the Northern Lights paint illuminated colors across the blackness of night. The colors went softly to magenta. Then they streaked yellow and finally to muddy brown – the way streams look after rainfalls. Surprisingly, the cheerio-shaped images were colored the same light tan as they look in a cereal bowl at breakfast. The background colors remained soft pastel as they slowly morphed from one color to another. This visual display that entertained me long enough so that after several minutes I was ready to sleep.

I was feeling festive the other day and found myself counting my blessings. It’s seasonally appropriate. I was surprised and pleased that I came up with as many blessings as I did. I’ll mention two that are for most of us so ordinary as not to worth mentioning. I can see and I can hear. And seeing is a joy.

The mid-Atlantic fall season reminds me of the soft pastel colors of my childhood’s bedtime adventure. In Vermont, where we go to visit children, fall colors seem almost garish, deeply saturated, stunning in their own way, but different from the Shore. It’s the difference between brilliant oil paintings and softer pastels I’ve seen, each relishing color, but rendered in different moods.

I read a moving essay by the acclaimed poet and Vermont essayist, Edward Hoagland. He, at eighty, lost his sight and writes about what it’s been like for him learning to live in a sightless world. He is an author of books that he can no longer read. There’s cruelty in being deprived of the functional organs of our creativity; Beethoven, who for deafness, never heard his great symphony performed and had to be turned around to receive the applause of an adoring audience that he could not hear.

Unlike my childhood adventure in which I chose to invite my inner lights to glow, Hoagland had no choice. I could always return to see the day. Hoagland cannot.

“Blindness is enveloping,” Hoagland writes. “It’s beyond belief to step outside and see so little, just a milky haze.”

I’ve spent large portion of my life reveling in the joys of sight. I’ve been enthralled by the marvelous textures shadow and highlight creates and the panoply of colors in changing landscapes. I’ve been an avid photographer since nineteen forty-seven. I’ve been writing for over twenty years and been practicing both arts with my eyes. Hoagland’s story disturbs me. With so great a loss, how does he cope, I wonder? How would I cope? I want to know where that well is from which he draws his strength? He still engages in his life with curiosity and wonder while continuing, without self-pity, to come to terms with a sightless world.

There’s a line is his essay that might suggest what that is: “Like Plato’s cave, your brain consists of memories flickering on the wall. The phenomenologies of sight [for Hoagland] are now memories . . . you can’t size up a new visage, yet the grottoes in your head have more to plumb, if your sight was lost midlife or later. You can go caving.”

Like the ancient caves of Lascaux, the walls of our memories are inscribed with the story of our lives. Now settled in the cave’s shadows, Hoagland sees his own stories written on the walls. He can revisit them. He goes caving.

I understand this to mean that while mourning the loss of seeing new vistas, he returns to the old ones and finds in them mystery and meaning.

The events of our lives once lived and inscribed on the walls of our soul’s memory, when reviewed in the here and now, often reveal so much of what we’d overlooked. Memories like that sparkle like diamonds when held up to an inner light. Turned slowly and deliberately they reveal many more facets than we ever thought were there when we first took hold of them. They become, as jewelers say about the finest diamonds: “of the first water.”

We possess an inner light. For some it’s a spark. It’s waiting to be kindled. For others it’s more like a flickering flame that appears in their eyes, the way I’ve heard compassionate and loving people described. Hoagland, I believe, through his poems and essays, illuminated the natural world in ways that helped us to see more deeply into a world he is no more privileged to see.

As I conclude this essay the sun is near setting and the late afternoon light illuminates the oaks in soft orange colors reminiscent of Dutch painters.

I wonder what new sights Hoagland is seeing with his inner light. His inner light will illuminate with new light, the familiar scenes of his life.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grants in Action: Making Way for Daisies with the Women & Girls Fund

While many private foundations do admirable work in countless ways in their support for nonprofit charities, very few of them have made it a priority also to encourage and mentor young philanthropists to understand the challenges and benefits that come with giving money to needy organizations.

That cannot be said of the Women & Girls Fund which for the last several years has done just that with a dedicated program called the Daisy Fund.

The Daisy Fund was designed to help parents, grandparents, or friend teach their young loved ones the art of giving by setting up them with a designated fund ($10,000 minimum pledge) in their child’s name with the Women & Girls Fund which requires the direct input of the participants in making grant decisions.

Now with eleven active participants involved, the Daisy Fund also provides educational opportunities and field visits to applicants to learn the importance of due diligence and the vetting process to determine the best use of their funds.

Over the last few weeks, we spent some time with two Daisy Fund participants, along with Women & Girls Fund Board member Donna Cantor, to understand how powerful this program has become. .The Spy reached out to Donna’s granddaughter, Lauren Westrick, in California via FaceTime (hence the poor audio quality) as well as Women & Girls Fund founder Alice Ryan’s daughter, Allie Prell in Easton, to talk about their experience.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about the Women & Girls Fund Daisy Fund please go here 

 

Mid-Shore Education: The Country School’s Plans for Goldsborough Street with Justin Nonemaker

Even when you take into account the long history and great affection that Talbot County has for the Country School, it is an incredibly daunting task for any small private school to raise enough capital to dramatically change their campus’ physical plant, add new classroom space, and redesign their parking and student pick up zones, mainly when it needs to happen all at the same time.

That certainly is the case for the K-8 school on Goldsborough Street as board members, parents, and staff work their way to the finish line of an almost $10 million fundraising campaign.

And the person that is the most responsible for the successful execution of this effort campaign is Justin Nonemaker, chair of the Board of Trustees at the school, Country School parent, and co-founding partner of ShoreGate Partners in Easton.

The Spy talked to Justin a few weeks ago to hear more about their plans, their early success the campaign has had to date with $7.6 million raised, and the long-term impact for the school community and for the streetscape on Goldsborough.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information on the Country School please go here