Archives for December 2017

Starting Over by George Merrill

In my first attempts to write a personal essay appropriate to the New Year, I fell into a trap. As most of you know about writers, their first drafts are awful. That’s’ why it takes so many rewrites to get it to work and if not, at least get it representative of what an author truly feels – not just some attempt at posturing.

I began with a theme in mind. The theme was “starting over.” I thought the new year is one kind of ‘starting over’ and starting over is also an old Buddhist teaching about how we can skillfully deal with our efforts to, well, start over. It specifically refers to deepening our spirituality simply by learning how to not quit in discouragement, but to just start over.

The teaching guides me in ways to gain the riches of the spirit and self-control by minimizing aspects of my life that work against it. This always requires a change in how I normally go about things. Typically – and New Year’s Eve is one good example – after the first drink, I will swear to either give up something or to embark on some new discipline. The giving up invariably involves certain foods and uses of alcohol or tobacco; chocolate is a big one as is resolving to abstain from certain disagreeable habits like flipping the bird at pokey drivers creeping down the St. Michaels Road. Having only two lanes makes such people really irritating. Vowing to exercise regularly is another frequent resolution.

New Year’s resolutions don’t last. There’s good reasons for that. They’re not undertaken for substantial reasons, or to say it differently, they are undertaken for egoistic motives. Just why I choose to forswear some particular food or drink, or even undertake to change other habits is frequently driven by negative motives rather than an aspiration to more noble estates. Topping the list is a desire to lose weight and look good. ‘Because I am fat’ becomes an issue of pride more often than it is a concern for good health. In fact, I’d offer the thought that most New Year’s Eve resolutions I’ve undertaken are to prove something to myself. I long to prove that I possess strength of character and resolute will. I am not, as I secretly fear, a wuss or wimp. I have character, determination.

I will own that there are people who by sheer force of will can alter their undesirable traits, but I would not want to live with them. I notice they remarry a lot. Maybe they don’t smoke or drink or eat fatty foods, run every morning and drink ten glasses of water daily but the very undesirable character traits that led them into bad habits in the first place, remain. They’re not overindulging anymore, they’re self-righteous and know everything, instead.

But back to my problem in writing an essay appropriate to the new year.

As I started writing, I began thinking about the year as I’ve experienced it since last January. The trap: I just grew more and more angry. In a snit, I typed away furiously about how we’re being jerked around by a flood of mindless tweets with which the White House floods America’s cyberspace; I thought of a federal judge charged with pedophilia whose Christian constituents defended him by comparing him to Joseph, the father of the Holy Family. After all, Joseph dated Mary, Jesus mother and Mary was well Joseph’s junior. So, what’s the problem? It’s beyond crazy, that’s the problem.

And then I remembered the president of a Christian College who encouraged his students to carry a concealed weapon so they might be prepared to shoot Muslims. I felt as though I was flying over the cuckoos’ nest. Felt, hell, I was flying over a cuckoos’ nest.

At lunch, I mentioned to my wife, Jo, how worked up I’d been while writing. As I told her she assumed a look, like I’ve seen on the faces of those who’d just eaten a bad oyster.

“What?” I said defensively.

“Why rehash what everyone knows anyway? Is there something helpful, something different instead that you can say that might help us live through this with some dignity and hope?”
So much for St’ Paul’s admonitions that wives defer to their husbands. It’s a new ball game.

That’s just what the last year has been instructing us, instructing me. It is a new ball game.
My challenge is to hold still to the ideal that how we play the game is as important or more so than winning. The trap I fell into was identifying with the aggressor. Ranting against the absurdities of this administration is simply doing the same thing as I claim to be denouncing. I’m just firing off another round of mindless tweets.

In situations where people have been treated abusively or contemptuously, there is a tendency to assume the vicious qualities of the perpetrators. In short, I want to unleash on others, what they have, or I imagine they have, visited on me. It’s one variation on revenge.

Starting over is a significant discipline in Buddhist spirituality. It recognizes the deep desire to do something good, be something worthwhile, but invariably to slip back into old habits. It’s discouraging. The tendency is to be self-critical, and feel inept in meeting the challenge. If we slip often enough, eventually we just quit.

I want to start over again this next year by attempting to be as wise as a serpent, but gentle as a dove. I mean by that looking directly at the evils and absurdities that surround me daily, but with a clear eye and gentle spirit. And if I get riled up and want to go on a new rant, just remember to go back and start over. I then keep my focus on what’s important for me to be about and not remain stuck and focused on the provocateurs.

There’s a phrase that I’ve known for years. One part is from psalm 37. The latter part I don’t know but together they make the point beautifully:
“Fret not for the evil doer, lest thou be moved to do evil.”
May we all gain the grace to live wisely and courageously in the coming year. And, if we slip and fall into old ways, let’s just start over.

Blessings in the New Year.

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.

Spy Habitat Price Points: What $410,000 to $700,000 Buys You in Talbot County

This week’s feature is a property listed for $549,000 at 23583 St. Michaels Rd. in St. Michaels.

On my daily commute through St. Michaels I pass by this house and was attracted to its charming cottage style and its waterfront site. I loved the bay extensions on each floor that are the full width of the rooms within- one a sitting room on the ground floor and the other the master bedroom sitting area above.

The variated hardwood flooring throughout the house was a deft touch that unified the open floor plan. Triple French doors lead from the deck off the family room to a terrace paved with large mortared stones. Its free-form shape becomes part of the serene landscape with its westerly views and living shoreline along Harris Creek.

I liked how the triple windows, the bay windows and the long windows filled the rooms with light. The kitchen’s warm gray cabinets blended with the stainless steel appliances for a seamless look and the breakfast bar connected the kitchen to the dining room. The contemporary furnishings throughout the house were scaled very well for each space. My favorite room was the master suite with its sitting area surrounded by the full-height bay window, the gas fireplace and the bath with a separate shower and tub.

For more information about this property contact Cornelia Heckenbach with Long and Foster Real Estate at 410-745-9283 (o), 410-310-1229 (c) or , “Equal Housing Opportunity”

Jennifer Martella has pursued her dual careers in architecture and real estate since she moved to the Eastern Shore in 2004. Her award winning work has ranged from revitalization projects to a collaboration with the Maya Lin Studio for the Children’s Defense Fund’s corporate retreat in her home state of Tennessee. Her passion for Italian food, wine and culture led her to Piazza Italian Market where she is the Director of Special Events, including weekly wine tastings and quarterly wine dinners.

Grants in Action: The Ladies of Nia and Women & Girls Fund Prepare Young Girls for Real World

While the accomplishments of the BAAM program in Talbot County has become well known for its mentoring programs for young boys, it was comforting for the Spy to learn the other day that there was a Mid-Shore equivalent just for girls, thanks in part due to the sponsorship of the Women & Girls Fund.

Nine years ago, six young women took a “girls trip” to reunite with childhood friendships from Lockerman Middle School in Denton many years after they had graduated from college and had started professional careers. As Malica Dunnock, one of the ringleaders of the group recounted in her interview with Spy, every woman on that trip had an extraordinary sense of being blessed to find a way to higher education and all the promises that it brings to young people. And like many who have had good future like this, the ladies quickly moved on to talk about ways to help a new generation of girls have that same experience

That was when this special friendship circle formed of The Ladies of Nia, which borrows the African term for “purpose” in the organization’s title, which has been working with dozens of girls growing up in and around Denton to find a path forward to the same opportunities as the founders.

The Spy talked to both Malica and Alice Ryan, the founder of the Women & Girls Fund, about The Ladies of Nia, their young students, and their special partnership.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about the Women & Girls Fund or to help support its work please go here 

Food Friday: Happy New Year!

Before opening the Spy’s much lauded Test Kitchen, one of my home office Christmas parties consisted of inviting a friend over to have a sad glass of indifferent Chardonnay, and to watch Leslie Warren’s Cinderella on our new fangled VCR.

This year for New Year’s Eve I am kicking back with gin and Champagne (probably Prosecco because we are starting a New Year’s Resolution Budget). We will fire up the Acorn TV and watch a couple of episodes of the original Upstairs, Downstairs. There is nothing that makes me feel like a schlubby, indulgent, middle-aged, middle-class American faster than Upstairs, Downstairs.

Prosecco or Champagne? It’s a personal choice. I am hugely impressed by a stately bottle of Veuve Cliquot, and would probably serve it to Mr. Hudson, the butler from Upstairs, Downstairs, if he ever came to call. But I find a pretty orange label on a bottle of Mionetto Prosecco just as appealing. Lady Marjorie, also from 165 Eaton Place, would never comment on the lower price point. She would be pleased just to loosen her corset stays and have a second glass. And then Lady Marjorie will tell me to relax, and to enjoy myself a little bit. “You never know when disaster will strike,” she confides. (Lady Marjorie went down on Titanic, so she has some experience with life changing moments.)

Mr. Hudson would tell me to pull up my bootstraps. The Christmas cookies are almost gone. In the meantime, it is Friday night, and it has been a long week. It’s the last time to indulge in 2017. Instead pouring a glass of my usual cheap winter Malbec, I thought I should test some seasonal, perhaps New Year-ish cocktail recipes, to get back into the holiday spirit. These are crowd pleasers, but they require a little planning.

“The feeling of friendship is like that of being comfortably filled with roast beef; love is like being enlivened with Champagne.”
– Samuel Johnson

French 75s
“Hits with remarkable precision.”
-Harry Craddock, The Savoy Cocktail Book

2 ounces gin
1 ounce lemon juice
1 spoonful extra fine sugar
Shake the gin, lemon juice and sugar in a cocktail shaker filled with cracked ice until chilled and well-mixed and then pour into tall glass containing cracked ice and fill up the glass with Champagne. This clever cocktail was said to have been devised during WWI, the kick from the alcohol combo being described as powerful as the French 75mm howitzer gun.

“Meeting Franklin Roosevelt was like opening your first bottle of Champagne; knowing him was like drinking it.”
-Winston Churchill

Champagne Cocktail
In a Champagne glass add a teaspoon of sugar and enough Angostura bitters to melt the sugar. Add a tablespoon of Grand Marnier or cognac and mix in with the sugar, bitters mix. Add a “fine” quality Champagne and stir. Float a slice of thin orange on top. This is what Ilsa and Victor Laszlo sipped in Casablanca.

“Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.”
-Mark Twain

As always, our festive friends at Food52 have some delightful ideas for nibbles to help soak up some of the bubbly we are sure to be drinking on New Year’s Eve.

On a recent trip to food-forward-thinking-Charleston, friends ordered Aperol and Prosecco cocktails, because they are oh, so trendy. I did not realize that this is the most popular cocktail in Italy. And now it can be one of yours, too!

Aperol and Prosecco
3 parts chilled, dry Prosecco
2 parts Aperol
1 splash soda
Serve with on the rocks in wine glass or rocks glass
Garnish with a slice of orange (this makes it practically health food!)
This is very pretty, and so seasonal: pomegranate mimosas. Yumsters.

“My only regret in life is that I didn’t drink enough Champagne”
-John Maynard Keynes

And the best of both worlds: a Black Velvet! Champagne and Guinness. This drink is simply equal parts stout and sparkling wine, and to be honest, there are some who will never understand its appeal. But to fans, this is a perfect special-occasion drink, particularly suited to mornings and late afternoons. I had my first on a gelid night in London, at Rules, in Covent Garden. Divine.

Black Velvet
4 ounces (1/2 cup) chilled Champagne or Prosecco
4 ounces (1/2 cup) chilled Guinness Extra Stout
Pour the Champagne into a tall glass. We first had ours served in heavy pewter tankards, but at home we eschew the delicate flutes for a sturdy rocks glass. This is not an effete drink. It is robust, and fills your hand with determination. Be sure to pour the Guinness on top. (This is important: Guinness is heavier. If you pour the sparkling wine second, it won’t combine evenly, and will need to be stirred. I shudder at the thought!)

Enjoy yourself this weekend. Happy New Year! Loosen those corset strings. And let the games begin, again, on Tuesday.

“Why do I drink Champagne for breakfast? Doesn’t everyone?”
-Noel Coward

Talbot Historical Society Project Rewind: Getting Ready for New Year’s Eve

We have many beautiful photos at the Talbot Historical Society but this H. Robins Hollyday Collection 1939 Washington Street Easton, Md Christmas Eve image is so special it deserves to be reposted every Holiday season! Enjoy and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Talbot Historical Society!

Contact: Cathy Hill to share your old photos. Comment, Like our page and join THS!

Bay Oysters increasingly Resistant to Diseases

Oysters come to the Cooperative Oxford Laboratory for a checkup. But they never go home, even if they’re in peak health. They’ve sacrificed their goopy gray bodies to science.

The federal-state lab in the former fishing village of Oxford on Maryland’s Eastern Shore is where government scientists examine oysters and other fish for parasites, diseases and any other maladies that may be afflicting populations in the wild.

The low brick building was built in 1960, on the heels of a major oyster die-off in the Chesapeake Bay attributed in large part to a mysterious new disease called MSX. Since then, the lab has been engaged in a long-running effort in both Maryland and Virginia to track and understand MSX and another disease, Dermo.

Both are single-celled parasites that target oysters, but uncharacteristically can kill their hosts — in a matter of weeks in the worst cases. Dermo was first detected in the Bay in 1949, though it may have been here long before that. MSX first popped up in Delaware Bay in 1957 and in the southern Chesapeake two years later. Precisely how it’s transmitted remains unknown.

Both diseases have repeatedly ravaged Chesapeake oysters over the last five decades, and remain a major concern for the future of the estuary’s keystone shellfish. It is not only a source of income for watermen, but also a prolific water filterer and a builder of reef habitat for other fish and aquatic creatures.

Hundreds of oysters collected by Maryland Department of Natural Resources biologists during their annual reef survey are brought to the Oxford lab every fall. Once there, tissue samples are taken and processed, with cross-sections of the animal sliced thinner than a human hair, then stained purple, pink and blue-black and studied under a microscope.

“You see this pink coloration?” pathologist Carol McCollough asked as she pointed to one slide showing the cross section of an oyster’s internal organs magnified on a screen. The small blot in the oyster’s intestinal tract indicated that its blood cells were responding to something foreign, she explained. “There’s MSX in that area.”

That’s a much less frequent sight in the oysters examined these days at Oxford —and at its counterpart at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in Gloucester Point. Once a scourge of the Bay, especially its saltier waters, MSX has receded, and though still found infecting some oysters in some places — 11 percent on average in Maryland last year — it’s nothing like it used to be.

Dermo, on the other hand, remains widespread — nearly two-thirds of the oysters collected from Maryland’s Bay waters in the fall of 2016 had it. But Dermo doesn’t appear to be as lethal as it was in the past, either.

“The trend that we’re really seeing is that the mortality consequences of those disease pressures seem to be fairly consistently less than they were in previous years,” said Chris Dungan, a DNR research scientist who oversees the Oxford lab’s oyster evaluations.

Although there’s no direct evidence, Dungan said he and others think that the decline in dead oysters found in surveys “reflects increasing resistance to those diseases . . . by the process of natural selection.”

Ryan Carnegie, Dungan’s counterpart at the Virginia lab, said that, although it’s largely circumstantial, he also sees evidence that oysters have developed resistance to becoming infected by MSX. And there are indications, he added, that they’ve developed an ability to tolerate Dermo without succumbing to it.

MSX was once rampant among oysters in the saltier Bay waters in Virginia, but now, Carnegie said, “we do not see much MSX at all . . . which suggests they are resisting the parasite from colonizing their tissues.”

Dermo levels seen by Virginia’s fall survey so far appear to be normal, Carnegie said, though it’s a relatively new normal. Disease levels the last decade or so, he noted, have been higher than they were in the 1990s, the last time there was a major outbreak.

“The baseline for Dermo levels in the Bay has increased,” Carnegie said, “yet the oysters are doing better and better. . . . They’re not allowing themselves to be completely overrun by the parasite.”

That’s a big deal, he added, because at its peak, MSX was killing 90 percent of the oysters it infected in the Bay, and Dermo was killing 70 percent of those it infected — every year.

One of Carnegie’s graduate students, Lauren Huey, is looking into another phenomenon that may be a byproduct of oysters’ growing ability to tolerate Dermo: even though they’re infected, they’re ramping up their ability to reproduce.

Since 2003, around the time of the last major Dermo outbreak in the Bay, Carnegie said that research shows infected oysters have been able to increase their egg production.

“We don’t fully understand how they’re doing it,” he said, but it’s clear that oysters are living longer in the Bay than they used to. As a result of that longevity, they’re reaching bigger sizes and producing more eggs.

Carnegie cautioned that the Bay’s oysters aren’t going to be free of the specter of disease anytime soon. “It’s still a dominant factor influencing oysters,” he said, “but the oysters are starting to regain control of the situation and they’re doing much better.

“This has taken decades, and it’s a long race,” he concluded. The key to continued progress may lie, he suggested, in protecting the continued survival of those oysters that apparently have the right genes to fend off or tolerate the diseases.

For Bay scientists and managers, Carnegie said, “It’s a matter of promoting policies that are going to help the oyster help itself as it fights these parasites.”

To some, that may sound like leaving a significant number of bigger, older oysters unharvested so they can produce offspring — the intent behind establishing sanctuaries.

Timothy B. Wheeler is managing editor and project writer for the Bay Journal. He has more than two decades of experience covering the environment for the Baltimore Sun and other media outlets.

Habitat for Humanity Choptank has selected JoAnn Hansen as New Director

Habitat for Humanity Choptank has selected JoAnn Hansen as its next executive director. Hansen has been involved in advancing the mission and cause of non-profit organizations in Chicago, New York City, New Jersey, and now here on the Eastern Shore for more than 25 years. Most recently, she served as the chief executive officer of the Dorchester Family YMCA

Hansen follows Nancy Andrew who in October announced her plan to leave the organization in January 2018. This was timed so that an executive search committee could identify her successor and to have a productive transition. Andrew has served with the affiliate for over eight years including six as its executive director.

Outgoing executive director Nancy Andrew (left) and Habitat Choptank board president Charlie Bohn (center) join in welcoming JoAnn Hansen as the nonprofit’s next staff leader.

“Nancy has been a tremendous asset to our mission and its impact on the community,” says Charlie Bohn president of the board of directors. She led Habitat Choptank through the after effects of the economic downturn, growth of the home purchasing program, launch of a neighborhood revitalization program, expansion of the affiliate’s ReStore, and restructuring of the nonprofit’s balance sheet and funding sources.

Hansen was born and raised in Bonfield, Illinois, located approximately 60 miles south of Chicago. “It was a rural community not so different from the Eastern Shore,” notes Hansen. “I’m so grateful to have found my home here. Home is so much more than a physical location. It’s a place of safety and security with a sense of belonging and purpose. It’s a blessing to now be able to help others find those same things working with Habitat for Humanity Choptank.”

Hansen’s passion for serving people and communities is evident throughout her professional endeavors. “We are excited about what JoAnn can achieve for our affiliate and our work in Dorchester and Talbot counties,” says Bohn.
Her career has included public policy and program development in refugee resettlement and immigrant services along with fundraising and marketing to support special needs children. In working with Summit Area YMCA and then Dorchester YMCA, she focused on strategic planning and budgeting to advance the organization’s mission of youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.

Hansen holds a BA in Communications with a minor in Public Relations. She completed a Masters in Counseling and Human Resource Development from Roosevelt University in Chicago and later received a Masters in Public Administration from New York University.

Since 1992, Habitat Choptank has made home ownership possible for 75 families and currently partners with 12 local home buyers. Income-qualifying individuals and families are offered access to affordable mortgage financing in order to purchase a new construction or rehabbed home from the nonprofit’s project inventory of durable and energy efficient houses. After completing “sweat equity” hours, attending pre-homeownership classes, and meeting debt reduction and savings goals, these buyers will purchase homes that they helped construct and assume the full responsibilities of home ownership including maintaining their home, paying property taxes and repaying their mortgage over 30 to 33 years.

In 2015, the nonprofit expanded its housing services with the implementation of a Neighborhood Revitalization program. Neighborhood revitalization focuses on listening to residents’ challenges and aspirations and then creating partnerships to make changes that are important to those residents. Based on that input and identified gaps in community services, Habitat Choptank’s inaugural neighborhood revitalization program has focused on providing weatherization services and critical home repairs to income-qualifying households, many of them seniors, in and around the neighborhoods where Habitat builds. To date, more than 100 households have partnered with Habitat for these services.

To learn more about Habitat Choptank’s programs, to donate or volunteer, call 410-476-3204 or visit or.


The Green Phoenix Gallery – Spotlight on Fair Trade Artisans

This January, The Green Phoenix Gallery is pleased to recognize the beautifully crafted works by our Fair Trade artisans from around the world.

What is Fair Trade? At The Green Phoenix, we are often asked this question, so, here is a short list of basic Fair Trade principles which ensure that: the artisans we buy from are paid a fair wage; trading partnerships are based on reciprocal benefits and mutual respect; that prices paid to producers reflect the work they do; that producers share decision making power; and that national health, safety and wage laws are enforced. The Fair Trade Federation screens and verifies that the companies marketing the artisan-made products are practicing these Fair Trade principles, and we buy only from companies that are members of the Fair Trade Federation. We are proud of our commitment to bring Fair Trade practices into our local business here in Easton.

“We find our Fair Trade artisans in many different ways, some through customer referrals, but most are through the Fair Trade Federation itself” says gallery owner Andi Tassencourt.  “We offer Fair Trade goods from Nepal, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Peru, Mexico, and Estonia. You will find a diverse collection of jewelry, accessories, and home décor reflecting the amazing talents of all these regions.”

“The international flavor of hand crafted works by our Fair Trade artisans, in combination with our eclectic mix of fine, artisanal crafts by local artists, and oil paintings by Diane DuBois Mullaly, offers an environment with a full range of creative arts for the community to enjoy!”

And FRIVOLOUS FIBERS Yarn Boutique, located inside The Green Phoenix Gallery,adds even more interest, featuring a new collection of its own line of gorgeous, hand-spun, and hand-dyed yarns. Stop by to see and feel the yarn for yourself, and ask about knitting and crochet lessons and groups.

The Green Phoenix Gallery is located at 31 N Harrison St, Easton. 410-822-7554. For the months of January-February-March 2018, we will be open Tuesday – Saturday 10 am – 5pm.

Upcoming Programming at the Library January 8 to 11

Easton Library to Offer Needlework Program

On Monday, January 8, from 3:00 – 5:00 p.m., the Easton branch of the Talbot County Free Library will once again offer its popular Stitching Time program.  Patrons are invited to work on their favorite project with a group.  Limited instruction will be available for beginners.  Newcomers welcome.  All library programming is free and open to the public.  Patrons do not need to pre-register for this program.  For more information, please call the library at 410-822-1626, or visit

Contact: Chris Eareckson, telephone: 410-822-1626

Library to Host STEM Story Time at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum

On Wednesday, January 10, at 10:30 a.m., the St. Michaels branch of the Talbot County Free Library will host a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) story time at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.  Children 5 and under accompanied by an adult are invited to come learn about animals in the winter.  All library programs are free and open to the public, but pre-registration is required for free admission to the museum.  Please call the St Michaels Library at 410-745-5877 to pre-register for this event.

Contact: Diana Hastings, telephone: 410-745-5877

St. Michaels Library to Host Bay Hundred Chess

On Wednesdays, January 10 & 24, and February 14 & 28, from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m., the St. Michaels branch of the Talbot County Free Library invites patrons to come in to learn and play the time-honored strategic game of chess.  Beginners welcome.  All library programs are free and open to the public.  Patrons do not need to pre-register to participate in this program.  For more information, please call the library at 410-745-5877, or visit

Contact: Shauna Beulah, telephone: 410-745-5877

St. Michaels Library to Offer Minecraft

On Wednesdays, January 10 & 24, and February 14 & 28, at 3:30 p.m., the St. Michaels branch of the Talbot County Free Library invites children 5 and older to explore the world of Minecraft on the library’s computers.  All library programs are free and open to the public.  Patrons do not need to pre-register to participate in this program.  For more information, please call the library at 410-745-5877, or visit

Contact: Diana Hastings, telephone: 410-745-5877

St. Michaels Library to Host Memoir Writers

On Thursdays, January 11 & 25, and February 8 & 22, from 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m., the St. Michaels branch of the Talbot County Free Library invites patrons to record and share their memories of life and family with a group of friendly, like-minded people.  Participants are welcome to bring their lunch.  All library programs are free and open to the public, but patrons are asked to pre-register for this program.  For more information, please call the library at 410-745-5877, or visit

Contact: Shauna Beulah, telephone: 410-745-5877

St. Michaels Library to Offer Family Games

On Thursday, January 11, at 3:30 p.m., the St. Michaels branch of the Talbot County Free Library invites patrons to bring the whole family to the library for an afternoon of board games and fun educational children’s games.  This program is for all ages, but children 5 and under must be accompanied by an adult.  All library programs are free and open to the public.  Patrons do not need to pre-register for this program.  For more information, please call the library at 410-745-5877, or visit

Contact: Diana Hastings, telephone: 410-745-5877

Easton Library to Host Young Gardeners Club Program

On Thursday, January 11, from 3:45 to 4:45 p.m., in the Easton branch of the Talbot County Free Library, the Talbot County Garden Club will sponsor another of its popular gardening programs for children in grades 1-4.  All library programs are free and open to the public, but patrons do need to pre-register for this program.  For more information, please call the library at 410-822-1626, or visit

Contact: Laura Powell, telephone: 410-822-1626

Christmas Humbles or Should by Al Sikes

Most writing has an autobiographical dimension—sometimes disguised but always there. This essay was triggered by a brief moment in my life which was recalled by an obituary last week.

The obituary was about Cardinal Bernard Law whose last real job for the Vatican was as Archbishop of the Boston diocese. Law was found to have covered for priests who in one way or another preyed on young boys. He was disgraced, removed and given a nominal position in Rome.

I spent some time around Bernard Law in the middle of the 1970s. Pope Paul VI named Law Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield–Cape Girardeau in Missouri. At the time I was practicing law in Springfield and was periodically in community settings with him. He was in many ways a charming, larger than life character.

His talent and charm moved him along quickly. He went from a backwater in the Church to one of its most important positions; he became Archbishop of the Boston Archdiocese.

That position became more important than what I assume were biblically informed principles–power became more important than the Church; at least if the Church is an organization of believers and followers.

Where I grew up, religious leaders were culturally important. Journalists didn’t poke around their lives and positions to find errant conduct. Today there is a journalistic swagger that follows an outing of a religious hypocrite. We are finding that the clerical calling attracts about as many hypocrites as any other career pursuit. Too bad.

We all need moral leadership—true north. It is unlikely to come from pursuits that celebrate success almost regardless of how achieved. The celebrated have a hard time avoiding the magnetic force of riches and fame at any cost.

In Christianity, the most important speech Jesus gave was the Sermon on the Mount. Most recall this counterintuitive pronouncement: “the meek will inherit the earth.”

We should also recall this metaphorical truth: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.” Matthew 7:15-17

The New York Times in its Christmas Eve edition, ran a quite lengthy story on Vice, a media company and its co-founder and Chief Executive, Shane Smith.

The writer, Emily Steel, in her profile of Smith wrote, “Along the way Mr. Smith regularly mocked traditional media companies as stodgy and uncreative. But in recent years he set about courting conglomerates like the Walt Disney Company and 21st Century Fox, which were eager to profit on Vice’s cachet with millennial audiences. The latest round of investment gave the company a valuation of more than $5.7 billion.”

She continued, “People involved with Vice during its early days described a punk-rock, male-dominated atmosphere in which attempts to shock sometimes crossed a line.”

In a 2012 interview with the Financial Times, Mr. Smith recalled his earlier days with Vice. “I would be at the party and would just want to get wasted, take coke and have sex with girls in the bathroom.”

Ms. Steel concluded: “A media company built on subversion and outlandishness was unable to create “a safe and inclusive workplace” for women, two of its founders acknowledge.”

Diseased trees? Bad fruit? I wonder what Walt Disney would think?

If the lessons of Jesus define your true north, then yielding to the pull of power is destructive on more than just a personal level. The Catholic Church was harmed irreparably by the actions of a few who persisted in covering up a wrenching departure from the covenants of faith.

In the last several months, friends or acquaintances of mine who regarded themselves as evangelical Christians have backed away from that adjective as too many so-called evangelical leaders have been lured by political power into the orbit of Donald Trump.

I have been blessed and inspired by a quiet spiritual missionary and friend who was often in the presence of secular power but found the words to quietly warn against its downside. And, while living and working in New York, I joined a small group that was taken on an extraordinary tour of the Bible by Tim Keller who founded and led Redeemer Presbyterian. Beyond the biblical lessons, we were given a very human lesson in humble constancy.

But let me return briefly to the present. Christmas, even in a secular society, inspires probing explorations of the other side—the transcendent.

And my guess is that Pope Francis chose to go public around Christmas with these words to the Curia (the Vatican-based operational arm of the Church). He warned them of being corrupted by “ambition or vainglory.”

But easily the most compelling of the pieces written around the underlying story of Christmas was penned by Kim Phuc and appeared as an Op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal. She began: “You may not recognize me now, but you almost certainly know who I am. My name is Kim Phuc, though you likely know me by another name. It is one I never asked for, a name I have spent a lifetime trying to escape: “Napalm Girl.”

In these words she relates, “I was photographed with arms outstretched, naked and shrieking in pain and fear, with the dark contour of a napalm cloud billowing in the distance.”

Kim Phuc goes on to tell of a salvation experience on Christmas Eve in 1982 and then expresses what should be the essence of both Christmas and every other day: “Christmas is not about the gifts we carefully wrap and place under a tree. Rather, it is about the gift of Jesus Christ, who was wrapped in human flesh and given to us by God.”

As we anticipate a new year we should all, leaders and followers alike, update Jesus’ most famous speech by re-reading Abraham Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg or recalling the words of Albert Einstein: “Our time is distinguished by wonderful achievements in the fields of scientific understanding and the technical application of those insights. Who would not be cheered by this? But let us not forget that knowledge and skills alone cannot lead humanity to a happy and dignified life. Humanity has every reason to place the proclaimers of high moral standards and values above the discoverers of objective truth. What humanity owes to personalities like Buddha, Moses, and Jesus ranks for me higher than all the achievements of the enquiring and constructive mind.”

“What these blessed men have given us we must guard and try to keep alive with all our strength if humanity is not to lose its dignity, the security of its existence, and its joy in living.”

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.