Senior Nation: Updating Dixon House with Residents in Mind

For Don Wooters, co-owner of Dwelling and Design, taking on a large manor house’s interior and creating a totally new environment for its occupants is nothing new. For years, Don has traveled the country doing just that for dozens of clients who have purposely sought out his unique eye for design.

What is new is that one of his most recent clients, the historic Dixon House, the assisted-living residence on North Higgins Street in Easton, was seeking more than a fresh look. With most of its residents well over 90 years old, Dixon was asking to use a new design with colors, fabrics and textured wallpapers that were both comforting but also stimulating to the eighteen men and women that call it their home.

And now that the paint is dry and the work crews have left, the Spy thought it would be a good time to check in with Don, and with Dixon House’s director, Linda Elben, to talk about this particular project.  Challenged to ensure that the non-institutional feel of Dixon was preserved, Don and Linda speak in their interview about their selection of colors, getting feedback from residents, and how the new look has dramatically changed for this group-living space.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about the Dixon House please go here

Mid-Shore Health Futures: UM Medical System and Shore Health Team Up to Fight Opioid Drug Epidemic

With such successful awareness campaigns as “Talbot Goes Purple” and “Recovery For Shore” events alerting the Mid-Shore community of the dangers and tragedies that come with this unprecedented wave of the opioid abuse creating havoc in rural Maryland, we thought it might be a good time to check in with University of Maryland’s Shore Regional Health, and its parent organization, the University of Maryland Medical System, to understand more about the crisis and more importantly, their approach to education and treatment for those seeking help for themselves or their loved ones.

That gave us the opportunity to spend some time with the University of Maryland’s leading expert on addiction and treatment, Dr. Eric Weintraub, who heads up the alcohol and drug abuse division of the University’s Medical Center, and Donna Jacobs, the MMS’s vice president for community health,to discuss the current state of the epidemic and their community outreach efforts.

One example of that kind of outreach will take place on November 29 at Chesapeake College’s Todd Theatre, and three other locations in Maryland, as hundreds of stakeholders gather to talk at the Not All Wounds are Visible: A Community Conversation about Addiction and Substance Abuse . This event is open to the public and provides an opportunity to hear from and talk to healthcare professionals and community leaders about addiction and substance abuse, including opioid and other drug addictions, as well as recovery programs and strategies.

This video is approximately nine minutes in length. For more information about Not All Wounds are Visible: A Community Conversation about Addiction and Substance Abuse please go here

 

Dropping The Bat by George Merrill

I killed a bat, once. I never felt right about it. It was wrong, so unnecessary, so driven. I discovered for myself how quickly fear incites violence.

Bats are mammals, warm blooded and hairy like dogs and cats. Their wings, fashioned of thin-skinned membrane are frequently translucent. Their skeletons are shaped remarkably like humans, except that their knees bend the wrong way, like herons. Bats see, but find their way about more effectively by emitting and receiving sound waves, not unlike sonar. Like musicians and whales, bats negotiate their world by sound. But unlike musicians and whales, bats are irrationally feared.

“Liminal,” Professor Gary McCracken at the University of Tennessee, suggests of these little creatures, attempting to explain why bats give so many of us the willies: “They do not fit into people’s view of the normal scheme of things. They tend to be in between.” The human mind remains uneasy with ambiguity.
Not everyone finds bats creepy. The Chinese saw bats as symbols of good luck and bat images regularly appear in their tapestries and rugs. The Navajo Indians venerated bats as mentors during the long night hours, associating bats with their deity, the ‘Talking God.’ However, enjoying status hasn’t necessarily been an enviable estate for some bats. The Chamorro peoples of Guam, while honoring bats at special ceremonies, express gratitude for their contribution to Chamorro culture by eating them. Bats, as a result, have grown scarce in the Northern Marianas; the Chamorro’s have taken to importing bats. Being without honor in ones own land can sometimes be a blessing.

I once saw a moving picture of a bat, a Lyle’s flying fox, one of the larger bats. The photographer had taken the picture as the bat flew past a strong light, which lighted the creature the way sunlight illuminates leaves. The light set the bat’s torso in sharp relief with stunning clarity. I could see that the bat looked just like a human being, head high, arms reaching out sideways, legs extended backwards. The entire body looked woven together by the translucent wing membrane surrounding its body, which from the light behind it, shone like a penumbra, a glowing halo. The bat looked like Jesus on the cross, ascending bodily to heaven, and going to glory.

One November evening my wife, Jo, and I were sitting reading in the living room. A bat swooped over our heads; making two more passes before it went out into the hallway and out of sight. In about five minutes it returned, making a second sweep, as if he’d forgotten something, and then was gone.

The thought of his return frightened me. I had resolved earlier, that should the bat reappear again in the house, I’d swat him with the squash racket. With a twist of the wrist, I couldn’t miss.

I went to the closet, took a racket and waited for the bat to appear again from the hallway. By then my heart was pounding; the racket shook slightly in my hand. I couldn’t help myself now; I was committed. I had a passing sense that I was possessed with fear, and behaving like a madman.

The bat soon returned to the living room. I was waiting, racket in hand. A second bat appeared. They flew opposite courses around the living room. Ducking and feinting as if the bats were after me, I swung wildly, but hit nothing. I disturbed the tranquil air.

I stopped for a moment and steeled myself against an impulse to run, long enough to imagine the bats as squash balls; I turned my fear into sport. And as one bat began passing slightly over my head, I aimed deliberately and swung the racket firmly, snapping my wrist at the same time. The racket struck the bat full bore with a sickening spongy ‘whump.’ The bat flew against the wall, and with tiny high-pitched squeaks fell to the floor on its back. The bat twitched, its chest heaved and one outstretched wing lay motionless.

I felt triumphant at first. I watched the bat on the floor. His eyes were large, open as though he were surprised, and wondering. He had a pug face covered with soft brown hair; the bat looked like a miniature pup. One wing was broken asunder, the other drawn next to him as if he had tried vainly to protect himself from injury; hearing the sound of the racket approaching at terrible speed, he could do nothing to avoid it. I was sure for a moment that he was looking at me, and asking me, “Why?” The tiny chest rose and fell for a minute or so and suddenly ceased moving. His world his ended with a ‘whump.”

My wife, Jo was standing next to me. She had suggested earlier that we open a couple of windows and following the drafts the bats would leave on their own accord. Of course she was right but by then I was possessed. For many men, violence arrives too quickly on the heels of fear. Jo looked at me the way women often look at the men they love when their men do things they don’t understand, things which men feel compelled to do–driven kind of things–and her eyes looked moist, gentle and terribly sad.

I felt a faint wave of nausea; I wanted to run and to hide, to avert Jo’s eyes and never see the bat again but as I turned my head, near the tip of the bat’s broken wing bone, I saw four tiny fingers and a thumb. The bat possessed hands, one of which lay open, as if he were waiting for me to reach out and take hold of it.

Jo walked across the room to open windows.

I felt hollow, empty.

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: Love Those Leftovers!

We have taken the Spy Test Kitchen on the road this year, so we are recycling a column that seems to run almost every Thanksgiving. NPR has Susan Stamberg’s mother-in-law’s cranberry relish, we at the Spy have The Tall One’s Pilgrim Sandwich. Gobble, gobble!

Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish: https://food52.com/recipes/38994-mama-stamberg-s-cranberry-relish

I hold Calvin Trillin in very high esteem, as my friends who have often been buttonholed with me badly re-telling his witty food and family travel tales, can tell you. But I think he is way off the mark when he posits that the national dish for Thanksgiving should be spaghetti carbonara. Really? Where is the fun in that?

http://www.rlrubens.com/Thanksgiving.html

Thanksgiving at our house was an exclusive affair this year, as my Gentle Readers know. There were just the four of us, and a 23.59 pound turkey. And here we are, the day after Thanksgiving. Post-parade, post-football, post-feast. Also post-washing up. Heavens to Betsy, what a lot of cleaning up there was. And the fridge is packed with mysterious little bundles of leftovers. We continue to give thanks that one of our visiting college students is an incessant omnivore. He will plow systematically through Baggies of baked goods, tin foiled-turkey bits, Saran wrapped-celery, Tupperwared tomatoes and wax papered-walnuts. The Pesky Pescatarian dispatched her piece of swordfish with efficiency and aplomb, which is mysterious, since she had a tuna sandwich for lunch and the Tall One abstained from a mid-day meal…

It was not until the Tall One was in high school that his abilities were honed and polished with ambitious zeal. His healthy personal philosophy is, “Waste not, want not.” A sentiment I hope comes from generations of hardy New Englanders as they plowed their rocky fields, dreaming of candlelit feasts and the iPhone 8s of the future.

I have watched towering constructions of food rise from the plate as he constructs interesting arrangements of sweet, sour, crunchy and umami items with the same deliberation and concentration once directed toward Lego projects. And I am thankful that few of these will fall to the floor and get walked over in the dark. Of course, there is the dog, Luke, so nothing much makes it to the floor.

I read that swan might have been the main course at the first Thanksgiving. How very sad. I have no emotional commitment to turkeys, and I firmly belief that as beautiful as swans are, swans are mean and would probably peck my eyes out if I didn’t feed them every scrap of bread in the house. Which means The Tall One would go hungry. A veritable conundrum.

The Pilgrim Sandwich is the Tall One’s magnum opus. It is his turducken without the histrionics. It is a smorgasbord without the Swedish chef. It is truly why we celebrate Thanksgiving.
This is a pretty feeble Pilgrim Sandwich recipe. 
http://cbsop.com/recipes/the-pilgrim-sandwich/

This is way too fancy and cloying with fussy elements – olive oil for a turkey sandwich? Hardly. You have to use what is on hand from the most recent Thanksgiving meal – to go out to buy extra rolls is to break the unwritten rules of the universe. There are plenty of Parker House rolls in your bread box right this minute – go use them up!
 http://www.rachaelray.com/recipe.php?recipe_id=4202

And if you are grown up and sophisticated, here is the answer for you. Fancy Thanksgiving leftovers for a grown up brunch: http://www.saveur.com/article/Menu/A-Brunch-For-The-Day-After-Thanksgiving
Here are The Tall One’s ingredients for his signature Pilgrim Sandwich:
Toast (2 slices)
Turkey (2 slices)
Cranberry Sauce (2 teaspoons)
Gravy (2 tablespoons)
Mashed Potatoes (2 tablespoons)
Stuffing (2 tablespoons)
Barbecue Sauce (you can never have too much)
Bacon (if there is some hanging around)
Mayonnaise (if you must)
Lettuce (iceberg, for the crunch)
Celery stalk (more crunch)
Salt, pepper

And now I am taking the dog for a run before I consider making my own.

Dan Pashman, who hosts the highly amusing and informative podcast, The Sporkful, thought that the run-of-the-mill Pilgrim Sandwich was a little too bready, and he has a brilliant alternative notion: fry up some of the leftover stuffing, à la hash brown patties, to make a new vehicle for holding all the turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and gravy together. Brilliant! I do not believe that spaghetti carbonara would taste as good today, unless perhaps, it was enclosed in some fried stuffing patties…
http://www.sporkful.com/thanksgiving-is-for-eaters-with-amy-sedaris-2/

“The Indians were so disgusted that on the way back to their village after dinner one of them made a remark about the Pilgrims that was repeated down through the years and unfortunately caused confusion among historians about the first Thanksgiving meal. He said, ‘What a bunch of turkeys!’ ”
-Calvin Trillin

The Heart of It (Part Two) by Amelia Blades Steward

Sometimes it takes a while to process things. Such was the case after witnessing the meeting of Casey Artzer and his heart donor family, Elizabeth, Rodney, English and Chloe Tong in June of this year. The Artzers arrived on a beautiful Eastern Shore day full of sunshine and hope. I had arrived early to record their meeting, trying to stay in the background of this poignant and touching reunion. This vantage point allowed me another perspective, that of the Tong’s Corgi, Maggie, and it is from Maggie’s point of view that I can share part of this story.

Pictured back row, left to right, are Chloe, Rodney and English Tong. Pictured middle row, left to right, are Kathy and Casey Artzer and Elizabeth Tong. Pictured in front row is Lisa Colaianni, Donor Family Advocate with The Washington Regional Transplant Community.

I had met Maggie in puppy class with my Corgi, Schooder. Like most Corgis, Maggie liked to be center stage, greeting people enthusiastically when arriving, jumping with delight and eager to be petted. I guess my focus was still on her a bit when the Casey and his mother Kathy arrived at the Tongs house in June. I wondered how her welcome would interfere with the embraces that the families would share.

As Casey came down the Tong’s sidewalk, seeing Rodney for the first time, the two embraced and held onto each other. My eyes drifted down to Maggie and I realized that she was not jumping up to be greeted, but instead, she was sitting mindfully at Rodney’s feet, looking up at Casey as if to say, “I know you are special and a part of my family too.” We walked inside where Elizabeth Tong was waiting in the foyer of their home. Again, I was struck by Maggie’s attention and behavior, sitting dutifully at Elizabeth’s feet and looking up at Casey in wonder.

Twenty-four years ago, Rodney and Elizabeth Tong, and their daughters English and Chloe, of Royal Oak lost their son and brother, Hunter Tong, age two and one half, to an unexpected death. Hunter’s parents chose to donate Hunter’s organs and his heart went to a one-year old child, Casey Artzer in Topeka, KS. This June, Casey came to meet the Tong family. He had already met English Tong seven years ago, but decided to reach out to the whole family after reading English’s blog post about the visit.

Lisa Colaianni, Donor Family Advocate with The Washington Regional Transplant Community, who met the Tongs after the donation and who has become a family friend, comments, “Today, we have a 25-year old who is alive because of Hunter’s donation. It’s unusual to have a meeting like this happen so many years after the donation. I have facilitated meetings as soon as three months after the death of a donor. The meetings usually take place after a year and usually before five.”

Rodney Tong recalls the week, “We gave Casey a real Eastern Shore experience, taking him sailing for the first time at the Chesapeake Maritime Museum and he loved it. He also rowed with Chloe’s rowing club, the Eastern Shore Community Rowers.”

The Artzers stayed next door at the house belonging to a friend of the Tongs. The house, located on the water, had a pool and provided the perfect respite for their week-long visit. The Tongs hosted a build-your-own Taco Night and also made crabs and rockfish plentiful during the Artzers’ stay.Rodney adds, “Casey reveled in the Eastern Shore fare.”

Elizabeth Tong recalls the fun the two families had making dinner the first night. She states, “We are very grateful the family was willing to come across the country to meet us. It was light and easy and we all got along well. The week was about doing fun things with this new family we were getting to know. It was easy and comfortable.”

Pictured is Casey Artzer playing ukulele at the Tong’s musical jam session.

Casey, a history buff, enjoyed a trip with his mother to Washington, DC to take in the monuments and the White House. The Tongs organized a picnic and jam session with local musicians, so Casey could play music. Elizabeth adds, “I think the jam session was his favorite event of the week! He is a talented musician.”

Casey Artzer reflects on his visit with the Tongs, stating ” Oh wow! I can’t wait to go back! I had such a great time hanging out with Rodney, Elizabeth, English and Chloe. Their food was amazing, I loved sailing and getting the chance to row with the Chloe’s row team. I was sore for a while after going with English to Cross Fit! And I can’t thank them enough for the jam session. I feel a deep connection to them all, especially Rodney.”

The Tongs noticed how much Casey and Rodney had in common. Rodney notes, “Casey and I had a lot of similarities. I made a real connection with him. He has a wonderful general knowledge and is a very curious person like I am. He ran errands with me and helped me finish a crossword puzzle. He loves to travel like me and for the rest of his life wants to do as many things as he can.”

English Tong, who originally made the connection with the Artzer family and who was only four years old when Hunter died, states, “It made my brother’s life more real. When it’s been so long, it’s easy to feel far removed from him, but having his heart near me again gave me back his existence.”

“The whole thing was unreal, but amazing,” adds Chloe Tong. “I felt a weird instinct of comfort with Casey. It was so amazing to see how he was enjoying life to the fullest. I felt connected almost right away in a way I never have before.”

Elizabeth Tong, Kathy Artzer, and Rodney Tong.

For Casey’s mother, Kathy Artzer, who says she and the Tongs have always been connected by Hunter’s heart, notes that the two families are now connected by true friendship. She adds, “It’s hard to put in words what this trip meant to me and Casey. I have always kept them in a special place in my heart, but spending time with the whole family was surreal and extraordinary. Rodney, Elizabeth and the girls are all lovely, kind, hilarious and unique, in their own right!”

She reflects, “Giving my family the gift of life 24 years ago was so selfless, during the worst tragedy. It was also wonderful to get the sense of love in the Eastern Shore community, in which the Tongs are a huge part of.”

Elizabeth Tong was a founding member of the Donor Family and Community Advisory Council for the Washington Regional Transplant Community (WRTC). She continues to be a volunteer WRTC Donate Life Ambassador, speaking at Continuing Education Courses at Children’s Hospital in Washington, DC, sharing with the professionals who work with transplant families that it’s ok to be emotional. She comments, “It’s important for these professionals to hear from a donor mom just how meaningful it is to be able to donate a loved one’s organs. It becomes a gift not only for the recipient, but also for the donor.”

Elizabeth adds, “Meeting Casey and his mother was a very meaningful experience – sort of like collateral beauty. We are no longer strangers. To actually meet Casey was a gift. Now our families are joined. There is a piece of Hunter that is still living and it’s doing good.”
Rodney concludes, “Casey is keeping Hunter alive and Hunter is keeping Casey alive.”

The heart is a beautiful thing.

For information about making the decision to be an organ donor, visit Washington Regional Transplant Community’s website at www.beadonor.org. To see a video about the Tong’s story and their reunion with Casey, visit here.

Mid-Shore Health Futures: Deborah Mizeur on Rural Health Recommendations, Timeline and Vigilance

The last time the Spy checked in with Deborah Mizeur, the co-chair of the State of Maryland’s Rural Health Delivery Workgroup, was when things had just begun to get started. The Workgroup members were approved by Governor Hogan, the Maryland Health Care Commission was assigned to provide staff assistance, and the charge seemed simple enough; oversee a study of healthcare delivery in the Middle Shore region and to develop a plan for meeting the health care needs of the five counties — Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot.

That was thirteen months ago, and at that time, it was clear that while Mizeur was optimistic, there were many unknowns about whether a very diverse group of well-meaning citizens and professionals with very different philosophies on health care delivery, could come together to form a consensus on rural health on the Eastern Shore and perhaps throughout the state.

The selection of Ms. Mizeur and Joseph Ciotola, the health officer and EMS director for Queen Anne’s County, to co-lead this effort was an inspired one. Both of them seasoned health policy experts who lived on the Mid-Shore, Ciotola an Mizeur worked tirelessly to build consensus with the group as it slowly came to agree on both the Workgroup’s findings, recommendations and a timeline for implantation.

Last week, Deborah took a break from her Apotheosis herb farm kitchen and office to talk to the Spy about where things go after the Workgroup presents its final recommendation to the Governor and Maryland Legislature to consider in the upcoming lawmaking season.

As Mizeur notes in her Spy interview, the Workgroup realized that all of their recommendations could not be done simply with the approval of Annapolis, but instead must be accomplished over the course of years. It was also important to prioritize what had to come first, and the committee was unanimous in wanting two important steps to take place.

The first was for the state to immediately provide incentives for physicians and other health workers to work in rural areas of the state. The second was the formation of regional health collaboratives that would connect all the major private and public health providers in such locations as the Mid-Shore to coordinate and improve services and eventually move forward with the implications of Rural Health Care Complex in the region, which allows residents a “one-stop” shop for their comprehensive health needs. In addition to those primary objectives, the Workgroup was also in total agreement that the hospital  in Chestertown should continue to provide inpatient services as well.

Just those few steps, warns Mizeur, will take the full support of Governor Hogan, the University of Maryland health system, and most importantly the residents and voters of the Mid-Shore to continue to add their voices of support and diligence to make sure all parties keep their commitments.

If that happens, Deborah Mizeur is convinced the the future of healthcare on the Shore can look very bright.

This video is approximately nine minutes in length. To review the Workgroup’s full report please go here. To view the Spy’s first interview with Deborah Mizeur please go here

 

The 1st District: Introducing Candidate Jesse Colvin

It’s too bad that one of Jesse Colvin’s most compelling examples of his character is pretty much reserved for those who know something about college basketball.

A candidate in the Democratic primary for the Congressional 1st District seat now, and with four active tours of duty in Afghanistan as a U.S. Army Ranger behind him, Jesse still has a hint of horror in his voice when he recalled before our formal Spy interview of being a freshman reporter on Duke University’s student newspaper and asking the famed Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) why he had ‘screwed up’ after a critical match against the University of Maryland.

The crowded press room fell silent as Jesse’s basketball heroes started to awkwardly shuffle their feet as Duke’s only living god, who is referred to on the Duke campus as “GOAT,” as in “Greatest of All Time,” came down on the cub reporter in a rage of fury that would crush a typical nineteen years old. But that might be the point; Jesse Colvin is not your ordinary anything.

A gifted student with a bright future in the field of international relations, Colvin instead signed up to not only serve in the military but sought out and earned a position in the 75th Ranger Regiment, perhaps the most elite fighting force in the world.

With all that in mind, it doesn’t seem so shocking then to see someone of Jesse’s age, with no significant political background, decide that he has what it takes to win what is turning out to be a hotly contested Democratic primary contest in June of next year and then defeat Representative Andy Harris in November.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. We have included Jesse Colvin’s “Coach K” story after the credits. For more information the Jesse Colvin for Congress campaign please go here

In Praise of Oysters by George Merrill

Oysters at Thanksgiving are a tradition on the Shore.

However, before I lived on the Shore it was in1960 that I first ate oysters. It was in New Orleans at Galatoir’s restaurant. I had them on the half shell and then ordered Oysters Rockefeller. I was hooked for life.

Every New Years Day since I prepare Oysters Rockefeller for family and friends. Even those who normally think of oysters as ‘yucky’ will allow that as a Rockefeller, an oyster not only becomes a class act, but an epicurean delight. I believe it’s the bacon and Spice Pariesienne that’s used which lends this dish its unique taste. Who doesn’t like bacon? In any case, preparing them is a ritual act like performing a liturgical rite. Presenting the oysters ceremoniously to guests earns the chef deep reverence. Fresh oysters, dressed with select ingredients and steaming in the rock salt beds on which they have been baked, there’s nothing quite like Oysters Rockefeller.

For me, oysters have been a family affair. The paternal side of my family had been involved in New York and Staten Island’s prolific oyster trade for over 250 years. An oyster 200,000,000 years old would look about the same as those we see today in the Chesapeake Bay or like the one’s my great-grandfather harvested in Raritan Bay. There aren’t many creatures about which we can say that, although the horseshoe crab is a close contender.

Oysters’ ability to survive and not change greatly over time is daunting considering the assaults they’ve suffered from man and beast alike, pollution and starfish. They work at their survival by maintaining a low profile, staying stuck-in-the-mud, having a thick shell and a hard edge. They also have some exotic habits.

If there is a preponderance of females among oysters, some females may simply become males in order to level the playing field – or vice versa. Necessity, the mother of invention, illustrates in this case how mothers can become fathers as required. Actually this same phenomenon frequents our own day as divorce becomes more common and mom winds up being both mother and father. For oysters, however, it’s an issue of DNA and not dereliction of duty that initiates the transformation.

Oysters are comfortable in a transgender world although I imagine courting could be challenging. An amorous oyster making his advances may not get what he bargained for. She might switch leaving him with some soul searching about same sex relationships.

To keep their enemies away, oysters house themselves in the most disreputable looking shells: misshapen, gnarled, uneven and rough to touch. Their shells can inflict a nasty cut. They’re covered with muck. I’ve seen resident barnacles and little red worms burrowing here and there on their shells – enough to put you off. The oyster’s sleight of hand is to appear ugly, but only to the uninitiated. Starfish have been onto them for ages. They’re more interested in an oyster’s inner life. They see beyond appearances.

The ramshackle exterior belies the oyster’s smooth interior living space. Within, the oyster inhabits a miniature palace, a salon, and elegantly glazed and satin smooth. The pearl-like patina of its walls is accented with occasional splashes of blue. The interior forms a seamless sanctuary where the oyster rests safely ensconced as cozily as though it were royalty reclining between pillows of silk.

Oysters are unique in their ability to inspire both revulsion and admiration. Like Quasimodo in the Hunch back of Notre Dame, their malformed bodies fascinate and endear many to them. In the same way, I find oyster shells beautiful. Native Americans used the shells – sans oyster meat – as currency. Making change may have created problems or sales were simply rounded off to the closest shell.

I live on a creek. In a sad annual ritual, in late winter, a waterman walks the shoreline along the low water mark. It’s an odd sight. He walks slowly in search of oysters that tongers may have missed. He tows a small dinghy behind him and when I see him he seems a little like a man walking a dog. He may stop, talk on his cell phone for a few minutes and continue his search. Finding an oyster he picks it up by hand throws it in the dingy and moves on. It’s sad because I take this to mean that oyster populations are diminishing in the Bay. They were once so abundant in New York Harbor during the era of early Dutch settlers, that one resident wrote how oysters were so prolific one could about walk across them on the waters between Governors Island and lower Manhattan,

My admiration for oysters goes far beyond my stomach or my eyes. It’s about holding in my hand the descendant of a prehistoric creature whose family inhabited the earth as life itself was just beginning to sort itself out. They were there shortly after the dawn of being. If oysters had eyes to see and tongues to speak they could tell us about how this marvel we call creation began its long trek. They would be witnesses to how life struggled from the sea to survive on land, to take wings and fly, to develop legs to walk, thumbs to hold, and minds to remember the past and to imagine a future.

If oysters only talked, imagine the stories they could tell us.

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.

 

Mid-Shore Gardens: The Satisfaction of Co-Design

The Adkins Arboretum hit on something quite popular when their Native Landscape Design Center started offered co-designing programs. Amateur gardeners looking for help with their projects, but also wanting to fully participate in the design process, are paired with professional landscape designers to accomplish this goal.

And that’s what Mid-Shore resident Chip Heartfield decided to do for his home in St. Michaels and began parting with designer Christina Pax, who heads up Annapolis Native Landscape Design. 

We caught with both of them recently at the Bullitt House to talk about this horticultural match and how both the home gardener and the professional designer both benefit from this new way to create something unique for Eastern Shore homes and their surroundings.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about the Adkins Native Landscape Design Center please go here

Food Friday: Thanksgiving Blast Off!

Here we are, poised on the cusp of Thanksgiving planning, and the countdown is blithely ticking away. The grocery store is going to be nuts this weekend, so if you have been assigned a Thanksgiving task, you better get out there early on Saturday and stake your claim on the mixed nuts, the fancy crackers, the yams, or the organic, farm raised green beans. I hope to high heaven that you have reserved your bird! Otherwise you will be stuck with a frozen Butterball, which you will need to start thawing on Monday.

Are you hosting this year? I was poking around in a kitchen drawer the other day and found the still-wrapped-in-cellophane package of festive holiday cocktail napkins I had bought for last year’s Thanksgiving, and never remembered to use. At least I am still prepared on that level of middle class etiquette. Though no one noticed the lack of finger bowls last year, either. I must have raised a pack of wolves.

Have you thought about a centerpiece? I am always a big fan of using what is at hand, instead of getting fancy with flowers. I always think you can never have too many candles – which puts us in the camp of people who eat Thanksgiving as dinner, and not as a football halftime event. I use an apple corer to make hole in apples, pears, pumpkins,cabbages and squash. I like using low candles so we can see each other across the table. Candlelight can be so flattering. I know I look better in the golden glow, and the shadows mask all our wobbly bits. There is so much to be thankful for!

This year we are traveling, as our Gentle Readers may remember from last week. We have been assigned to pick the turkey up on Wednesday. We will be bringing wine and years of Thanksgiving cooking expertise. This is the first time our daughter has cooked Thanksgiving. I was telling a visiting carpenter about our plans earlier this week. His personal cautionary tale was not the usual rhubarb of turkey woe. For his first Thanksgiving as the chef, he conferred in the kitchen with his experienced grandmother, who inspected the turkey for offending giblet packages. She said that the bird was ready for stuffing. A few hours later, once the turkey had been roasted and basted and brought to the table to be carved, they found the turkey neck still inside the bird. Granny had not been as thorough as she thought. Let that be a lesson to you! It was a teachable, memorable moment and it was better than the textbook case of trying to cook a frozen turkey. I promise to be alert to potential disaster. I will check both ends of the bird.

Since it is my job in the venerable Spy Test Kitchen to keep up with cooking trends and Thanksgiving hints, I have been rooting around the internets looking for helpful ideas to pass on to you. I hope you have been paying attention:

1. Buy your crucial Thanksgiving ingredients this weekend – Thursday morning is no time to go shopping
2. Have your parents buy the fresh, organic, free-range turkey and a case of wine
3. Remove the giblets AND the turkey neck
4. Buy lots of flattering candles
5. Cocktail napkins and finger bowls are optional
6. Buy a keg of beer – it makes perfect sense
http://www.thekitchn.com/why-you-should-get-a-keg-for-thanksgiving-250994?

Have a fabulous Thanksgiving. Play nicely. Give sincere thanks. Blast off!

Here are a few Thanksgiving toasts.

“Here’s to alcohol, the rose-colored glasses of life.”
— F. Scott Fitzgerald

“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.” – Henry David Thoreau
“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy. They are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
– Marcel Proust

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
– John Fitzgerald Kennedy

“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.” 
― Oscar Wilde