This Week's Top Stories
Warming to an Alternative Fuel — The Sun
|photo courtesy of Maryland Energy Administration
This Pasadena home was the first solar-power installation using money from the state’s Solar Energy Grant Program.
State grants help you realize your solar dreams
by Carrie Steele
If you’re considering harnessing the sun’s rays for your energy needs, there’s no time like now. Particularly because the state wants to help you out.
Solar energy is pollution-free, so there are no emissions released into the air, unlike coal-burning power plants. And best of all, the fuel is free and plentiful.
Maryland is helping its citizens turn to solar energy with Senate Bill 485, signed into law last spring by Gov. Robert Ehrlich. The legislation created a program helping homeowners and businesses get solar power by offsetting some of the costs of a new solar power system.
The bill, passed last spring, recommends that $500,000 be available for the grants and is up for renewal every year. But while negotiating the current and upcoming fiscal year budgets, Gov. Ehrlich slated only $103,500 for both years.
Homeowners, business owners and local government officials can apply for grants to help cover some of the costs of solar water heating or photovoltaic cells, which produce electricity from the sun’s rays. Non-profits and religious organizations can also take home a piece of the solar grant pie.
Grants cover 20 percent of your total system cost, which translates into maximums of $2,000 for solar water heating systems, $3,000 for residential photovoltaic systems, where you can catch solar energy from your own roof. Non-residential photovoltaic systems can receive up to $5,000.
The extended deadline of May 16 gives applicants more time to meet requirements.
So far, the Maryland Energy Administration has heard from about 28 applicants in eight different counties; most of those have been residential applications, said solar grants program manager Tim LaRonde.
“Montgomery County is historically quite active,” said LaRonde of solar energy-seekers. “Anne Arundel has a completed project; Calvert County we have not heard from yet.”
To help solar energy get a foothold across Maryland, the administration will try to award “at least one project in every county and Baltimore City,” LaRonde said. After April 15, however, those placeholders for each county will be lifted, and they’ll award grants on a first-come-first-served basis.
“We wanted to get applications from all over the state,” said LaRonde. “That wasn’t the case.”
A family in Pasadena recently completed the first solar installation using money from the Solar Energy Grant Program. Aurora Energy, based in Annapolis, installed its 3.2 kilowatt photovoltaic solar energy system.
Most of the systems that Aurora Energy sells are grid-connected systems, meaning that you’re still wired to a utility company to operate in tandem with your solar power, according to Isaac Opalinsky, sales manager.
“The benefit of a grid-tied system is that when you’re producing more than you’re using, you can sell the energy back to the utility,” Opalinsky said. “People with a grid-tied solar system are their own power plant.”
Aurora sells two types of grid-tied systems: those with a battery for back-up power in case of a power outage; another less expensive type has no battery to back up your power.
Either way, with your own energy production, you’re more independent from utility companies and investing in the future.
Solar power, Opalinsky said, is a long-term investment.
“You’re buying 30 or 40 years of electricity all at once,” he said, so you can’t expect payback all at once. But your pollution-free system won’t harm the environment and helps slow the air pollution that leads to respiratory problems.
The Maryland Energy Administration has assisted with and knows about approximately 100 solar power systems installed in Maryland. The total statewide number is probably much higher, LaRonde said.
Solar water heaters cost $4,000 to $6,000 for a system with an 80-gallon water tank. You still keep your existing water heater as a backup.
The grants are intended to cover costs of brand-new solar power systems, although you can get grants to add on to existing systems. Grants cannot be used to cover costs of heating your pool or hot tub, however.
Apply now for a solar grant, and you could be power independent for years to come.
Want to get solar-saddled yourself? See the Maryland Energy Administration’s web site: www.energy.maryland.gov for details and applications; or call 1-800-72-ENERGY. The deadline for solar energy grant applications is May 16.
Poetry Loves Company
|photo courtesy of Rocky Jones
Sharing poetry with other poets is the second step to perfection, “to work and improve,” says poet Rocky Jones.
Local poets get together to perfect their passion
by Dawn Kittrell
Local poets say that listening to your inner muse is only the beginning of writing the perfect poem. Sharing poetry with other poets is the second step in the quest for perfection. “It’s a night to work and improve,” says Rocky Jones of Prince Frederick Library’s monthly Poets’ Corner. “There is always a positive energy; people share constructive criticism.”
Librarian Robyn Truslow provides refreshments and leads the group, which is usually about six people, in a small orange meeting room on the ground floor of the Prince Frederick Library.
“I’ve returned with something that I thought wasn’t quite there yet, and the group helps me. I’ll rewrite it, and a couple months later I look at it again and it goes back into the rewrite process,” explains Jones.
I sit on the rim of your cup
In danger of being drunk.
Such is cricket-to-human adoration
I hitchhike on the hem of your sweater
Riding your gentle sway
Come evening —
I’ll fiddle you to sleep
Poems are short but not quick, agrees Shirley Brewer, the resident poet at 333 Coffeehouse, the monthly third-Friday performance venue for local folk bands and poets at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis. “Sometimes I put my poems aside for a week or even a year if they aren’t coming along, and then I go back to them.”
Thus revision finishes what inspiration starts. Poet Max Ochs, who read at March’s 333 Coffeehouse, found his inspiration in a charismatic poet with a bohemian style.
“I met a guy named Jim Clark a long, long time ago in Annapolis, and he wore long black turtleneck sweaters and wrote poems in these black and white composition notebooks and I just thought that was so thrilling. It just made me want to do it, and imitate him. Jim Clark inspired me,” said Ochs after an evening of music, poetry, coffee and cake.
Brewer warms her inspiration on the fires of other poets as well, finding hers in exotic places. “I’ve taken a lot of poetry workshops in this country, in Ireland, and Italy,” says Brewer. “I get a lot of inspiration from those.”
Stirred by visions of Celtic bards,
A spurt of mystic steam
Urged me to converse
With a cow near Kilmurvey.
Face to face with the creature,
Her peaceful features melting
Questions rose like cream in a bottle:
Why did you jump over the moon?
Were you fed up with giving,
no one ever showing thanks?
Did you run out of juice?
How did you know it was safe
to leave behind
the milky comforts of home?
|photo by Dawn Kitrell
“Sometimes I put my poems aside for a week or even a year if they aren’t coming along, and then I go back to them,” says Shirley Brewer, the resident poet at 333 Coffeehouse.
If emulation makes poets, what is the muse that inspires the poems?
“I get my inspiration from different things, an experience I’ve had or a headline in a newspaper. I have a lot of memoir poems,” says Brewer, who records her inspiration in a lavender tablet.
As soon as the first words are on paper, revision starts.
“I rewrite and rewrite,” Ochs says. “The first time I like to write it with pencil; then I take it to the computer and play with it. I like to move the words around. They’re like pieces of colored glass; I start making a kaleidoscope or collage.”
While some poets revise on their own, many others seek the advice of their fellow poets.
“You can probably understand the poem when you wrote it,” said Linda Fry, another reader at Calvert’s Poets’ Corner. “But it’s good to get the feedback. If someone says I don’t understand this section or This is misleading, you can make it clearer.”
As well as diligence in pursuit of the perfect poem, local poets share another commonality: the search for an audience, whether to improve their craft or to appreciate it.
333 Coffeehouse is more a performance venue than the workshop-like Poets’ Corner, and Max Ochs hopes to join a workshop. “I try to make the words sound like music, sound beautiful, too, but they have to make sense at the same time,” he says. That’s part of the guidance poets get from constructive listeners.
Brewer and Jones both rework their poems with the Poets of the Green Table, who meet informally at Barnes and Noble cafe on Wednesday evenings.
Then Jones returns to Poets’ Corner. “It’s a different way of approaching things, getting together with other poets. When you are sharing with a room full of strangers, you learn a little bit more from each other than if you got together in a bar to watch football.”
Poetry and Writers’ Workshops
Anne Arundel County
333 Coffeehouse hears poets at 8pm on the third Friday of each month at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis, 33 DuBois Road: 410-266-8044.
Poets Night Out meets the second Friday of each month at 7pm at Annapolis Barnes & Noble, where original poetry by locals is on display through April. The poets read their work on Friday, April 15, at 7:30pm: 410-571-1115.
Poets’ Corner welcomes all poets at 7pm the third Thursday of each month at Calvert County Library on Main Street in Prince Frederick: 301-855-1862.
In Praise of Folly
|In a University of Maryland School of Medicine Research Study , Dr. Michael Miller linked laughter to better cardiovascular health. Miller recommends a good belly laugh a day.
The April Fool has the last laugh
by Debra George Siedt
I can’t remember the last time I was the object of an April Fool’s joke, let alone when I actually pulled one on some unwitting suspect. But the tradition is well established without me.
The prankster’s day arose when the New Year’s Day was switched from April 1 to January 1 in 1582. People who refused to accept Pope Gregory XII’s switch were made fun of and sent on fool’s errands amidst much laughter. Four and a quarter centuries later, new research suggests that laughter deserves not only a day of its own but an everyday place in our lives.
“April Fool’s Day is always an excellent time for hearty laughter,” said Michael Miller, director of preventive cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center. “But we would also say that laughter should be part of a daily routine for heart healthy behavior since there may be cardiovascular benefits.”
Miller was the principal investigator in a University of Maryland School of Medicine Research Study that linked laughter to better cardiovascular health. The study found that laughter causes the tissue that forms the inner lining of blood vessels, called the endothelium, to expand and increase blood flow. The benefit was similar to those that result from aerobic activity.
But don’t put away your treadmill just yet.
“We don’t recommend that you laugh and not exercise, but we do recommend that you try to laugh on a regular basis,” Miller said. “Thirty minutes of exercise three times a week and 15 minutes of laughter on a daily basis is probably good for the vascular system.”
For the study, volunteers were shown clips from two movies, one expected to produce mental stress (Saving Private Ryan) and one expected to produce laughter (King Pin). The results showed that volunteers who watched Saving Private Ryan had reduced blood flow, whereas King Pin watchers showed increased blood flow.
“We observed that the lining of the blood vessel dilated in response to a movie that caused laughter,” Miller said. “In contrast, mental stress had the opposite effect.”
The study builds on Miller’s research in 2000 that surveyed 300 people and found that people with heart disease were 40 percent less likely to laugh than people without heart disease. Miller hopes that further research will uncover exactly what it is about laughter that makes for happy hearts. He’s also eager to learn if that effect is connected to reduced risk of heart attacks.
“Because the endothelium serves as the gatekeeper of the vascular system, the results of this study raise the possibility of a potentially important mind-heart connection,” Miller said. “Until further research sorts out the cardiovascular impact of laughing … we would recommend at least one good belly laugh daily.”
So this April Fool’s Day, I’m going back to playing the fool. I might put fake spiders in a friend’s salad, surprise the little one with a lunchbox treat of a dyed-green turkey sandwich or tell my husband I ran out of gas on the Beltway. As I enjoy my great big laugh, I’ll blame it on doctor’s orders.
The Bay Gardener
|by Dr. Frank Gouin
Pruning Fruit Trees
A yearly trim minimizes flowers, forcing better quality fruit
Pruning is the most effective method we have to improve fruit quality. Fruit trees tend to produce an over-abundance of flowers to ensure against crop failure. The reason fruit trees exist is to produce viable seed. But when all of those flowers are allowed to produce, the resulting fruit is small and poor. We grow fruit trees in our back yard to produce quality fruit for the table. For this hope to become a reality, we must yearly prune fruit trees so as to minimize the number of flowers they produce, which forces the tree to produce better quality fruit.
Trees should be well established before you begin pruning and training. So pruning and training of fruit trees begins a year following transplanting. Most home gardeners are afraid to prune and often don’t begin until it is too late.
A well-trained fruit tree looks like a Christmas tree, with two to three well developed bottom branches 30 to 36 inches above the ground. The angle where the branches connect onto the stem should be as near to 90 degrees as possible. Avoid narrow crotch angles. There should be a strong central stem that is pruned to grow to a height of six to eight feet, depending on your fruit-picking abilities. This method of pruning allows for good light penetration and air circulation throughout the tree structure.
Yearly pruning for fruit trees that are properly trained only requires the removal of all branches that are growing on the underside and on the topside of all bottom branches. Leave the side branches because they’re the ones that will produce fruiting wood. Next, remove all branches that are less than 12-inches long along the central leader and bottom branches; this puny growth is not strong enough to support good fruit. This method of pruning enhances quality without affecting yield.
Professor Emeritus Francis Gouin retired from the University of Maryland, where he was the state’s extension specialist in ornamental horticulture. Follow his column of practical gardening and plant advice every week, only in Bay Weekly. Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Virginia, a gathering of fish experts at Virginia Tech last week produced this unsettling conclusion: the American eel may be the next Bay creature destined for the endangered species list. Fish ecologists blamed the usual culprits of overfishing, loss of habitat and pollution for a dramatic decline recently in the population of the slimy, snake-like creatures that once were abundant in the region’s saltwater and freshwater alike, the Roanoke Times reported …
In Calvert County, the new owner of the landmark Buehler’s Market in once-rural St. Leonard has some kind of sense of humor — but what kind we don’t know. “Cheap Bland Budweiser” is selling for $7.33 a 12-pack, according to an outdoor sign, while Stroh’s goes for $6.85 for a five-pack …
In Washington, the Natural Resources Conservation Service is offering $1,000 incentive payments to Maryland farmers willing to put together a nutrient management plan. The money comes from the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, part of the farm bill, and aims to protect water quality and find beneficial uses for manure. Phone 410-848-6696 to learn more …
In China, authorities imported a U.S.-made scarecrow machine to frighten away birds at the Beijing airport. But the Chinese birds weren’t fazed by the machine’s bird noises, prompting a search for scary sounds from Chinese fowl. “Local birds did not understand the foreign language,” the Beijing Evening News reported …
Our Creature Feature comes from New Jersey, where the state is contemplating birth control as an option to killing an abundance of bears in the northwestern part of the state.
The Star-Ledger reported that birth control — tried with captive bears in New Jersey last year — was included in a list of alternatives in a report to the state Supreme Court. The court halted a bear hunt in December, questioning whether there were as many troublesome bears in New Jersey as state wildlife biologists contended.