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That’s the closest you can get to fishing when winter howls

The 10-day weather forecast calls for wind and consistently low temperatures, occasionally a bit of rain and clouds. Not the kind of outlook that lifts your spirits, unless you’re a waterfowler. I hadn’t joined a hunt club this season, so that didn’t include me.
    Worse yet, I had chores on my conscience. I had cleaned most of my fishing tackle late in November — only to need it again for early December’s last-minute rockfish bite. So half of my tackle was fouled, awaiting another cleaning. I had also neglected to put on my reel covers for the winter, so my collection of rigs has been accumulating light dust flavored with errant dog and cat hair.
    Still, the next best thing to fishing is fooling with fishing tackle. So this week I took a deep breath and got to business. The dust and hair I conquered with a medium-width, soft-bristle nylon paintbrush that I keep handy for the PC keyboard.
    Next I clipped off leftover terminal rigs, cleaning the outfits over a large towel I could shake outside. The tackle with fish slime and salt residue took longer to rectify. Then I hit everything with a light coat of silicone, sat back and took stock of the situation.
    It had been a long time since I had done any internal maintenance: drag washer cleaning and regreasing; bearing lubrication; level wind and casting brake attention. All these ensure that the next season starts out trouble-free. Early fishing is no time for a long series of problem-solving interruptions.
    I had a bit of work ahead of me. That’s because of my fondness for multiple rigs: bait-casting setups for chumming; others, slightly different, for live-lining; yet others for light-plug casting; stiffer sticks for heavier plugs and jigging; and light spin outfits for perch.
    I had done little plug casting the past season, so I decided those outfits could wait. But all of the bait rigs and perch rods had seen extensive use.
    My preferred bait-casting reels, Abu Garcia Ambassaduer 5600s, have to be taken apart before anything can be done to them. My outfits are modified with Abu Soft Grip Power Handles and Carbontex drag washers. Everything else is stock. A YouTube video details disassembly and service: www.youtube.com/
watch?v=7k9Hb75gXJg.
    Another video that covers a Shimano spin reel is analogous to just about all fixed spool reels: www.youtube.com/
watch?v=kflr4kraG50.
    Shimano, Okuma, Penn and other manufacturers all have similar website support for specific reel models.
    It looks like classic winter is descending upon us. Don’t squander your cabin-bound hours with TV or video games. Maintain your tackle and dream of next season.

Four SEALs fight for their lives in this gripping action film

Navy SEALs Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg: 2 Guns), Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch: Savages), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch: Bonnie and Clyde) and Matt Axelson (Ben Foster: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) are proud frogmen. They run long distances at great speeds, push their bodies to their limit for fun and take deadly assignments as part of the job.
    The latest mission should be an easy one. Their task is to scout a village in the woods of Afghanistan, positively identify a terrorist cell leader (code named Rick James) and report back to headquarters. Next, they’ll either get permission to eliminate the target, or fade into the shadows.
    The mission goes haywire because of three men and their goats. Herding their flock up a mountain, two boys and their father literally stumble on the frogmen. The SEALs have a choice: Kill the goatherds, or let them go possibly to return with an army of angry terrorists.
    Can the four team make it out of Afghanistan alive?
    Lone Survivor isn’t coy about what happens; it’s spelled out in the title. Though you know early that only one SEAL leaves the mountain, the film is a thrilling, gut-wrenching portrayal of a real incident. Stay through the credits to see a tribute to the brave men who lost their lives. 
    Director Peter Berg (Battleship) doesn’t bother with artistic shots or subtle imagery. His straightforward storytelling style doesn’t leave much room for nuance or character development. What he does well is convey the actuality of life for men stationed overseas. The opening credits show footage of actual SEAL training and how extreme it can be. Other effective sequences invoke the shadows of the people back home, whether the men are chatting with wives or wondering what to buy their fiancée.
    Berg also delivers on action, making the SEALs’ fight for survival brutal and terrifying. Gunfights in real life probably don’t come with visual metaphors and a soaring soundtrack, so Berg’s pared-down approach seems realistic. Berg views these SEALs as nearly superhuman, and his admiration shows in every shot.
    Keeping the SEALs from becoming action heroes are the actors entrusted with their story. Wahlberg, Foster, Kitsch and Hirsch keep their characters grounded in reality, showing their flaws as well as their dedication and drive. Together, the cast creates a tangible sense of brother­hood.

Good Action • R • 121 mins.

But learn their tastes, and they’ll give you flowers

Are your African violets blooming?    
    If not, read on to learn why and what you can do to bring out the flowers.
    African violets’ long-standing popularity grows from lush foliage and their habit of winter flowering. The plants are challenging, but not more than many in-home gardeners can manage. Even propagation is possible with a little knowledge on your part.
    African violets are shade-loving plants whose leaves scorch under the direct rays of the sun. Grow yours in places where they receive only diffused light. Or try growing lights.
    When you re-pot, use only a rich organic rooting medium that has been sterilized. You’ll find the right mix at garden supply stores, or you can sterilize your own in the microwave. Heat a gallon of moist rooting medium for 10 to 12 minutes on high.
    African violet varieties are vast because these popular plants have been hybridized extensively. Cultivars range from miniatures to larger than normal, with varying types of petals, flower colors and velvety foliage.
    Not all the hybridizing has produced good qualities. In breeding, some desirable characteristics such as disease resistance, wet-soil tolerance and plant vigor have been compromised. Many of the new cultivars require special care. Some want to be grown in sterile rooting media. Others demand extreme care in watering, refusing to tolerate over-watering or wet foliage. Still others can’t abide fertilizer accumulation along the edges of their pot. Even winter flowering has been lost in some cultivars.
    African violets are picky about temperature. If they don’t like the temperature where they live, they won’t flower.
    Many of the new cultivars will flower consistently only when temperatures remain constant. Older cultivars flowered best where temperatures were warm during the day and cool at night. The windowsill was often the best place for growing African violets. Today’s African violets are best grown in the middle of the room where temperatures remain more constant.
    It’s still true that you should avoid wetting the foliage when watering the pots. If you typically water from the bottom up, change over once a month and water from the top down to prevent fertilizer salts from accumulating along the top edge of the pots. Accumulated fertilizer salts will burn the petiols, or stalks, of the lower leaves in contact with the edge of the pot. Fertilizer salts appear as tiny gray-green granules clinging to the inside edge of the pot starting from the surface of the rooting medium. If you’ve got them, scrape them off.
    Have I answered all your questions about raising African violets? If not, write and ask and I’ll reply.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

Our closest approach to the sun does make for the shortest season

Twilight Thursday and Friday evening reveals the new crescent moon low in the southwest with Venus blazing a few degrees away tight against the horizon. Venus sinks lower in the early evening sky over the next week, finally disappearing between the sun and earth on January 11. Then, after a few days absence, it reappears in pre-dawn skies, where it will blaze as the Morning Star until autumn.
    Moonless skies provide a dark backdrop for this year’s Quadrantid meteor shower, which is at its best in the wee hours before dawn Friday and Saturday. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Boötes, but can appear anywhere in the sky. The Quadrantids can produce from 50 to 100 meteors an hour, but timing — or more aptly, luck — is essential, as this shower peaks within just a few hours, and then it’s over.
    You shouldn’t have any trouble spotting Jupiter, which reaches opposition Sunday, when it will shine in our night skies from sunset until sunrise, far brighter than any star. At opposition, the gaseous giant is its closest to earth and farthest from the sun, with earth right between the two.
    Mars rises around midnight and is high in the south as daybreak approaches. Far below the red planet is Saturn, actually a little brighter but harder to see so tight against the horizon.
    Saturday, earth reaches its closest point to the sun for the year — called perihelion. At that point the sun is roughly 3 million miles closer to the sun than it is at aphelion in July. While 3 million miles may seem like a lot, the distance has little correlation with the change of seasons, which are a result of earth’s 231⁄2-degree tilted axis. It does, however, affect the length of the seasons, since when the earth is nearest the sun it is also traveling its fastest — more than three percent faster than at aphelion. As a result, the seasons come and go quicker this time of year, with the time between December’s solstice and March’s equinox almost five days shorter than from June’s solstice until September’s equinox. As a result, winter is the shortest season for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere.
    Saturday, two weeks after solstice, is the latest sunrise of the year. Sunrise comes a few seconds earlier than the day before, and while the change will be subtle at first, by the end of the month the sun will rise more than 10 minutes earlier than it does now.

Get out and dig to be ready for spring

If you did a good job of building your compost pile last fall, now is a good time to stimulate more microbial activity.
    Just before Christmas, temperatures in my compost pile dropped below 100 degrees from a high of 130 degrees measured just three weeks earlier. This falling temperature is due partially to a drop in surrounding ambient air and partially to a lower rate of microbial activity.
    Microbial activity in composting can fall because of low levels of oxygen, excessive dryness, less available carbon or fewer sources of nitrogen. For most home composting projects, low levels of oxygen are unlikely unless your compost pile is taller and wider than 12 feet. Exchange of gasses is likely to be fine as leaves are bulky and do not pack easily. Thus, compost cooling is most likely due to a sudden drop in ambient air or dryness.
    To check for moisture, thrust your hand into the compost and squeeze firmly. If the composting waste feels wet like a sponge, there is adequate moisture. If the compost feels on the dry side, drag out the hose and wet the pile down with a heavy stream of water. After the compost appears adequately wet, use either a grub-hoe or digging spade, going as deep into the pile as possible while adding more water. The excess water will drain deeper into the composting mass.
    If possible, empty the composting bin and wet the waste before re-filling the bin. Digging into the composting materials will grind the larger particles into smaller pieces, stimulating greater microbial activity. Ground leaves compost faster than whole leaves.
    Within a week after you’ve reformed the pile, temperatures within it should increase. However, if your compost pile is less than three feet by three by three, it is not likely to give you much temperature rise due to a lack of mass.

Crappie are at the head of the class, followed by yellow perch

The winter solstice, officially the first day of winter and the shortest day of the year, is already two weeks behind us. This annual planetary event is in another way the beginning of the end of winter. From here on out, daylight hours are growing longer and springtime ever closer.
    That also means the blooming of the new fishing season since the fish, their instincts triggered by this change in the amount of sunlight, begin moving out of their deep water holes to migrate toward shallow water to spawn.
    The first species to react to the sunlight change is crappie, also called specs or calico bass. Crappie are schooling and moving up the tribs into fresher water to reproduce. It’s a bank fishing expedition you’ll need to mount to catch them, with Eastern Shore tributaries being the destination for most everyone chasing these tasty critters.
    However, Patuxent River anglers favoring freshwater impoundments (with their insider info of springtime honey holes) should also begin harvesting slab crappie within days if they haven’t already.
    In the very near future, yellow perch spawning will begin.
    The young males of all fish species are first to show up in the shallows, where they remain the whole of the spawn. The slab crappie and lunker perch generally come later and in surges. There is no way of predicting when. You just have to keep trying.
    Recently, Ed Robinson (a.k.a. The Scout), tortured me with an account of a 100-plus fish day on Dorchester County’s Transquaking River. Though there weren’t a lot of keepers in that crappie bonanza, it is a strong indicator that the new season is exploding.
    Joining in on this first of season fishing is not a difficult task. Arm yourself with a light to medium spin outfit, a few bobbers and some small shad darts in various colors plus a few bottom rigs setup with No. 4 hooks and one-ounce sinkers. Baits can be as exotic as wax worms or as mundane as red wrigglers, minnows and grass shrimp. Rubber boots and warm clothing are an absolute necessity.
    Anglers of all experience levels can choose their destination from the DNR website: www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries/fishingreport/ypercheast.html for the Eastern Shore; or www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries/fishingreport/yperchwest.html for the Western side.
    Early season fisheries are not limited to these two fish. Soon after the yellows, white perch will begin to stir and move up into these same areas. Then the hickory shad and the herring. The latter two species are protected from harvest, but as they suffer little mortality from being hooked this time of year, they are available for catch and release.
    One other aspect of the sport of early season fishing is also critical to continued success. When the commercial fyke nets and fish traps are set by watermen each spring, they will shut down an upper tributary’s recreational fishery faster than an acid spill. If a promising start suddenly dies, head downstream to get below the nets.
    Over all of these first few months, chain pickerel will continue to prowl the same waters. An excellent game fish, they follow the schools of spawning crappie and perch and feed off them, gaining fat and preparing, eventually, for their own reproductive run in March and April. Chain pickerel are a firm, white-fleshed fish and, though they are filled with fine bones, if they are filleted correctly they produce an excellent meal.

Sometimes, you shouldn’t go home again

The only thing that could bring together the Weston women is tragedy. When the family patriarch — poet ­Beverly (Sam Shepard: Out of the Furnace) — goes missing, the three sisters converge at their ancestral home, steeling themselves to deal with old hurts, family secrets and, worst of all, their mother.
    Violet Weston (Meryl Streep: Hope Springs) has been terrorizing her family since anyone can remember. Rude, cruel and high most of the time, Violet loves only her pills and her booze, both stashed around the house in case of emergencies. Two daughters have fled the state, but one has stayed in hopes of earning a kind word.
    Did Violet drive her husband away? Or has he, too, gone on a bender?
    The family emergency comes at the perfect time for all three of the Weston daughters, who are going through tumultuous changes. Ivy, the youngest (Julianne Nicholson: Masters of Sex), lives down the road and resents the sisters who left her to deal with mommy dearest. Ivy has a secret: She’s planning a big escape.
    Middle child Karen (Juliette Lewis: Open Road) devotes her life to finding a replacement for her mother’s love. She’s found a string of terrible men and awful relationships. She’s brought along her latest fiancé — no less a disaster — in hopes of impressing mother.
    Eldest Barbara (Julia Roberts: Mirror Mirror) is also in crisis. Her husband has left and her teenager hates her. Still, she guilts both husband and daughter into joining her, hoping Violet won’t notice the rift.
    Will the Weston women find healing? Or will they join together to kill Violet?
    Based on the play by Tracy Letts, August: Osage County is the film to see if you’ve spent the holidays arguing with family. The comedic drama examines how Violet’s poisonous relationships have infected every aspect of their lives.
    Director John Wells (Shameless) makes Violet’s home cramped and dark if theatrical. The film doesn’t flow easily. Each scene seems more a set piece than a natural progression of storytelling. The only thing missing is a curtain drop.
    Excellent performances save August: Osage County the movie. As the matriarch, Streep is a collection of vices and vicious words overlying a deep sadness that adds pathos to her villainy.
    In a performance that’s both confident and commanding, Roberts stands out. Struggling to suppress her inherited cruelty, her Barbara is a wonder to watch, whether trying to show her daughter love or wrestling her mother to the ground.
    August: Osage County isn’t a film for everyone. There’s enough blue language and abusive behavior to send most holiday audiences running for the exits. But it’s a fantastic showcase for a troupe of powerful actresses.

Good Drama • R • 121 mins.

Wild Orchid chef takes over Sam’s kitchen

It’s a new year. With the flip of a calendar comes a chance to renew, refresh and remodel.
    In Annapolis, the new year offers opportunity for two local restaurateurs to help each other.
    Andrew Parks, owner of Sam’s on the Waterfront, has announced his new executive chef, Jim Wilder. Chef Wilder recently closed his Westgate Circle restaurant Wild Orchid after a difficult three-year tenure.
    Timing is everything, so hopes Parks, who has struggled to consistently employ an executive chef in the eight years he has owned the waterfront restaurant built in 1986 by his grandfather, the original Sam.
    Each man endeavors to bring the best of his farm-to-table vision in this new marriage of culinary talents. Each restaurant has — or has had — the green restaurant certification.
    At Sam’s, Parks takes the front-of-house role with Wilder running the kitchen.
    In the past, Wilder has worked both ends of the operation, with 13 years at the helm of his highly regarded Eastport Wild Orchid his pinnacle, to the head-scratching move to the behemoth at the Severn Bank Building — a move that would be his undoing.
    Few understood Wilder’s decision to sell the warm and comfortable 40-seat Eastport café in 2010 and move to the 250-seat former Greystone Grill on the other side of town.
    That decision “was not based on sound business models. I had to keep my mind occupied,” Wilder said, after the untimely death of his and wife Karen’s son, Andrew Wall, from brain cancer in 2009. “It was the bottom. And I deal with depression by keeping busy. Depression drove me.”
    Building a dream kitchen provided a needed distraction from grief. It also afforded access and opportunity to expand Wilder’s Company’s Coming catering business, along with a large floor plan that offered him ideal accessibility for his wheelchair.
    The dream was not meant to be. The restaurant closed in July 2013.
    Parks has his own challenges keeping Sam’s profitable and relevant. Hidden within the gated Chesapeake Harbour Marina community, the restaurant is difficult to find. Warm weather brings boaters out and swells the population of Chesapeake Harbour, where many residents are summer only. Still, Parks estimates that 80 percent of his business comes from outside the community. Getting diners in the door is an ongoing pursuit. Parks hopes hiring a well-known chef will do the trick.
    Chef Wilder brings his most popular dishes to the menu. Butternut squash soup with crab, scallops Napoleon and pork tenderloin wrapped in bacon join Sam’s favorites: lobster mac ’n’ cheese, rockfish and Kobe burgers (half-price on Tuesday).
    The transition has been subtle thus far, though Parks is enthusiastic about a new winter menu and many collaborative surprises to come.

Got a tasty tip for a future’s Dish? Email Lisa Knoll at thedish@bayweekly.com.

Grunge, hip-hop and Gen Y angst color this whimsical romance where mortals meet magic

The Annapolis Shakespeare Company has shaken up the Bard to magical effect with a 1990s’ setting of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that is da bomb! Grunge, hip hop and Gen Y angst color this whimsical story of romance, mischief and enchantment in Fairyland, where mortals meet magic and are none the wiser for it.
    Guest director Kristin Clippard, formerly of the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, has created a magical forest cloaked in fog and sparkling with frost under a pregnant moon. The walls are like birch bark strewn with carnations under a canopy of red, white and orange umbrellas backlit with twinkling lights. As the umbrella covers us in all types of weather, she explains, love can cover all our woes. And there is plenty of woe to go around.
    It should be a happy time; Duke Theseus (Stephen Horst) is marrying Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons (Laurent Turchin). Guests have come from far and wide for the nuptials. There is Egeus (Nick Pinto) and his daughter Hermia (Amanda Forstrom), her friend Helena (Ashlyn Thompson) and Hermia’s two suitors: her beloved Lysander (Joel DeCandio) and preppy nerd Demetrius (Ben Lauer), who spurned Helena to pursue Hermia — this at her father’s behest.
    Lysander and Hermia are emo soul mates destined for turbulence in the parallel universe of Fairyland. Queen Titania (Turchin) has turned frosty toward King Oberon (Horst). Thus the king dispatches his meddling assistant Puck (DePinto) to enchant Titania with a love-at-first-sight potion. Embarrassment is the point, as the queen is expected to fall in love with a creature of the forest. She does: Bottom (France Vince) is a mortal endowed by Puck with a donkey’s head and tail. Watching this odd love unfold are the queen’s attendants: First Fairy (Valeka Holt), Peaseblossom (Gray West), Mustardseed (Samantha Nelson), Cobweb (Nicole Mullins-Teasley) and Moth (Miranda Savage).
    Meanwhile, the same potion causes both Lysander and Demetrius to pursue Helena, leaving Hermia in forlorn confusion.  
    Bottom is a member of an amateur theatrical troupe of tradesmen come to perform the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe for the royal wedding. This childish play-within-a-play features Piper Quince (Holt), Francis Flute (West), Tina Snout (Nelson), Snug (Mullins-Teasley) and Robin Starvling (Savage). With West in drag as Thisbe, it makes a hilarious finale to madcap shenanigans in the forest.
    This show is rife with potential for confusion both of Shakespeare’s making and this production’s double and triple casting. Yet it’s easy to follow, swinging with ease from extremes of tenderness to slapstick. Diction and gestures, so important to a modern understanding of Shakespeare, are crisp and clear. It’s energetic and creative with dancers of all shapes and ages doing cartwheels and back flips, and Puck literally climbing the walls.
    Music figures large with ’90s hits such as “Kiss Me” and the theme from Titanic alongside the traditional “Holly and the Ivy.” Fairy costumes are mostly neon and shredded denim, a grunge look that is vivid, if not magical, with odd makeup that is likewise jarring. Is that the Mario Brothers I see among the tradesmen’s denims and flannels? Whatever. It’s a hoot.
    There are no weak performers among this cast.
    DePinto shines for his remarkable versatility not only acting but also singing and playing guitar in a delightful duet with Holt, a fine dancer and singer. Horst brings a welcome vulnerability to both his royal roles, and Turchin her trademark frostiness. Forstrom and DeCandio exude a passionate infatuation that contrasts well to Thompson and Lauer’s more comic roles. Vince’s donkey is a perfectly lovable ass. And Nelson as a brick wall that raps Shakespearean couplets milks a gallon of laughs from a pint of dialogue.
    This Dream is two and a half hours of escapist frivolity that will win converts to Shakespeare. Alas, the senior set is likely to miss the cultural references that make this production unique.

Direction and Set: Kristin Clippard. Choreography and Lights: Sally Boyett. Costumes: Kristin Clippard and Maggie Cason. With Audrey Bertaux as Standby.
Playing thru Dec. 22, Th-F 8pm; Sa 2 and 8pm; Su 3pm at the Bowie Playhouse, White Marh Park. $24 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-415-3513; www.annapolisshakespeare.org.

Everybody gets into the spirit

Mayhem meets knee-slapping ­comedy when the Herdmans collide head-on with the Christmas story.
    Barbara Robinson’s Christmas alternative — it’s no Christmas Carol — is a good choice for Twin Beach Players: Both have to do with a small town where everybody has a part to play in making Christmas.
    The fictional small town’s kids have grown weary of wearing bed sheets to play the same role and speak the same lines year after year in the annual church pageant. Boredom yields to horror when the Herdmans come to town.
    The dirty half-dozen Herdman kids bully their way into the cast and hijack the pageant. With no idea what’s going on — they don’t even know the Christmas story — they make up a script as they go along.
    As we watch, the pageant turns into a huge, hysterical mess.
    Forty-six of the town of North Beach’s real-life children, from preschoolers to teens, are inspired, whether as angels, shepherds or Herdmans — who’ve stolen the key parts of Mary, Joseph, Herod and the Wise Men.
    In this community of theater, parents leave the audience to take the stage alongside their kids. Ten adults stay on-stage, enjoying their roles as avidly as the kids do.
    The audience is enchanted, moved from tears to side-splitting laughter in no longer than it takes to blink.
    The theater — normally a Boys and Girls Club gym — is decorated for the holidays. The young cast’s singing of classic carols — including “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Away in a Manger,” “We Three Kings” and “Silent Night” — open our hearts. Recorded Christmas music continues during the short intermission.

Playing F & Sa 7pm, Su 3pm thru Dec. 15 at the North Beach Boys and Girls Club. $12 w/discounts: 410-286-1890; www.twinbeachplayers.com.