Dock of the Bay

Volume VII Number 44
November 4-10, 1999

Dear Principal: AA Kids Say the Darndest Things

photo by Christy Grimes Betty Moreland and her self-published book, Dear Principal.

For the coming season, arm yourself with the following holiday facts: Santa has helpers called shelves, and his reindeer are Donner, Vitzen, Bouncer and Q-Tip - at least according to an unnamed Lothian elementary student.

This priceless information found its way into Dear Principal, a little treasure box of comic elementary school moments compiled by principal Betty Moreland.

When she retired from Lothian after 28 years as principal, Moreland carried away more than memories. From her desk drawer where she'd been tucking them regularly for years, she gathered the bundle of funny episodes featuring her staff and students - all the incidents and exchanges she'd casually but faithfully recorded. Eventually she culled and shaped them into Dear Principal.

Though touching, Dear Principal is surprisingly unsentimental. "Oh, well, it is actual," offers Moreland.

Some of the entries are paralyzingly funny. A few moments are actually a little risqué - a slight eye-opener, considering the kids quoted are aged six or seven. Moreland chalks this up to the times. "Parents have become more forthright with children in terms of body parts and functions," she observes. "TV may have forced the issue." Suffice to say, kids this age seem to have discovered all definitions of the word 'nuts.'

"I didn't plan to record what I was picking up on the job," says Moreland. But 12 years ago she was asked to speak at the school system's end-of-the-year party, and in place of a speech decided to regale her colleagues with the funny things she saw and heard every day. Moreland's end-of-the-year address was a hit, becoming a regular event. Even the bartenders catering the event would transfer their operation into the hotel conference room to catch the act.

A lifelong Southern Anne Arundel Countian, Moreland spent 40 years with county schools, starting as an English and math teacher at Southern Junior High. She left after four years to have the first of four daughters. A few years later, she was asked to fill a mid-year vacancy teaching first grade at Shady Side Elementary.

"I had thought junior high was perfect until I discovered first-graders," says Moreland, enchanted by children just entering school and starting to learn. "There was no kindergarten then. I liked the innocence of the first graders, and their eagerness to learn."

Several years later she was recruited as principal of Lothian. Moreland rose to the challenge, but with initial reluctance. "I knew I'd miss the daily instructional part of the job," says Moreland. "That's what you love when you're a teacher - seeing children learn." But Moreland accepted the post and never looked back.

"I had no plans for it originally," says Moreland of her collection. "After I retired people would ask me when I was going to write a book." In place of a narrative memoir, Moreland produced a simple, spare volume of short strokes that says more than a straight account ever could. Dear Principal is subtitled "A behind-the-scenes peek at humor in the schoolhouse" and delivers just that. A reader who has only been in school as a student will see how things look from the other side of the desk.

"I really had teachers in mind when I put this together," Moreland says. "Especially those at my school. We were a real family. I know that gets said so much it's tiresome, but some of us were together almost 30 years. Here at Lothian, we see the grandchildren of children we've taught."

One family member is Moreland's secretary, Lucretia Brown. "She's a playful person," Moreland grins. Moreland liked Brown's elaborate and silly desk doodles so much they adorn a few pages of Dear Principal.

Moreland identifies the children in her book only by common first names. Still, "People call me up and say 'I know that's my kid on page 23," Moreland laughs. "Sometimes they're right."

Meet Betty Dixon Moreland and get a signed copy of Dear Principal Sunday, November 7 from 1 to 4pm at Galesville Hall.

-Christy Grimes

For Guinness Sake, Bay Shuckers Snubbed

photo by Bob Seeman

For 23 years, the paths of the swiftest shuckers have converged at the St. Mary's County Oyster Festival, where the U.S. champion is crowned, en route to the World Oyster Opening Championship in Galway, Ireland.

There was the late Cornelius Mackall, of Calvert County, a three-time U.S. champion and Irish winner whose fondness for a nip now and then didn't impede his blinding speed with an oyster knife.

Then there was big-busted, hot-tempered Heidi Harrellson, a German-born woman from Florida who put male shuckers in their place in winning the St. Mary's championship in the late 1970s. Years later, after competing in Ireland, she changed her name to Heidi Ho.

But as it stands, this year's St. Mary's champion, George Hastings, of Severn, who was crowned October 17, won't be traveling as far as Mackall and Harrellson. Organizers of the St. Mary's event say that Guinness, the Irish-based ale maker and sponsor of the international championship, is holding its own shucking events that will send an American other than the St. Mary's champ to Ireland.

"It's pretty sad," said Mike Marlay, a St. Mary's County Rotarian who has been a driving force in the oyster festival.

So far, organizers of the St. Mary's event have been unable to work out an agreement with Guinness that would send Hastings and future St. Mary's-crowned champs to Galway, Ireland.

According to the St. Mary's organizers, Guinness set up a series of promotional events in more than 20 U.S. cities - including Baltimore - that will produce the American participant in Ireland. And because Guinness has increased its sponsorship of the Irish championship, the brewery is calling the shots on both sides of the ocean, Marylanders say.

David Taylor, administrator of the St. Mary's festival, said that St. Mary's representatives have been trying to work out an arrangement with Guinness since last year. So far, he said, they have been rebuffed. "We have a patent, a trademark, on the words national champion," the St. Mary's man asserted.

A Guinness representative in Connecticut did not return a phone call to discuss the company's plans.

Under a steady rain in Southern Maryland, Hastings defeated first 11 male competitors, then the woman's champion, Clementine Macon, of Urbanna, Va., to win the St. Mary's crown. Macon was actually seven seconds faster than Hastings - 2:12 to 2:19 - in shucking two dozen.

But when judges added penalty seconds for cuts and nicks to the oysters, Hastings came out seven seconds ahead.

In the 55-year-old world championships in Ireland, contestants will confront a plate of 30 smaller, clam-like oysters from Irish waters. Over there, the word 'shucking' is spurned; they call it oyster-opening. The Irish like their oysters unblemished. A French participant who showed up at this year's Irish competition with an ingenious U-shaped knife was speedy in unhinging the meat from the shell. But the oysters had too many nicks for the judge's liking.

At the St. Mary's event as well as Galway, judges also frown on seeing droplets of blood - from the fingers of knife-wielding shuckers - on oysters.

But unless Guinness relents, St. Mary's victors won't get the opportunity to show their style or shed their blood on Irish soil. Nor will they get the chance to return as world champion, like Cornelius Mackall, who proudly displayed his trophy for years.

There's hope, though it's dwindling with passing time. Guinness representatives told the St. Mary's organizers that they would meet with them in October, but no meeting has yet been scheduled.

Still, an agreement with Guinness would set well with Mike Marley, who has traveled to the Galway competition seven times.

"We have not done anything to create any sort of animosity. We have always had a fine relationship with the people in Ireland," he said. "We just hope Guinness will listen and we can work things out."

-Bill Lambrecht

Grabbed by Nature at Jug Bay

photo by Christy Grimes Jug Bay Director Chris Swarth illustrates how difficult a bird's life is with a marble maze game.

You're 10 years old. You're at some wildlife place on a class field trip. You're all standing in tall weeds, smacking bugs away and squinting at some creepy guy with a skin problem who is explaining something about the 'ecosystem.' What a treat.

The folks at Jug Bay Wetlands know this scenario far too well. For their unique nature center, when remodeling time came, they wanted something original.

"Jug Bay's is not a typical nature center exhibit of stuffed animals and things you just look at," assures naturalist Karyn Molines. "It's hands-on. You won't find anything out there even close to what we're doing."

The new exhibit Jug Bay dedicated this fall is more like a boardwalk arcade. Except you need no quarters.

People - plenty of them older than the school children who are Jug Bay's most regular visitors - are pulling levers, turning cranks, pushing buttons or just poking stuff. You might actually learn something, too.

"There's a lot about this area people don't know about," says Jug Bay Director Chris Swarth, who masterminded the exhibit. "I wanted this exhibit to be engaging and, I guess, challenging. Rather than reading something on a wall, you play the games, spend time with the information in a way you'll remember more than you might at a more common display at a nature center."

Check out, for example, the Sedimentation Machine, which is more exciting than it sounds. It works a little like the he-man test-your-strength game. Its point is to show you what too much sediment does to water, but it grabs you two ways. When you turn a crank, you pump water in a Plexiglas tank, stirring up the little black pellets settled on the bottom to represent sediment. It's fun to watch. But stirring up the pellets also blocks out the light powering a little solar ammeter, and turning that crank fast and hard enough sends the needle toward zero. That's the he-man part.

"I guess our other goal is to share all we've gathered from studies carried out here. We have tremendous information on wetlands, their importance, the plants and animals that live here, and this exhibit tells these interesting natural history stories," Swarth says.

The story of the hooded warbler, for instance, in the game "It's a Bird's Life." You learn just how tough it is to be a bird while you steer a marble through a maze, hopefully avoiding the perils of being eaten by a hawk, having the wind knock your nest down or losing a chick to a blue jay, for starters.

"You try to get the visitor to be part of the exhibition any way you can," says Chris White, who with his wife, Virginia, designed the exhibit.

White's firm has also designed exhibits for the Smithsonian Institution, the National Zoo and St. Michael's Maritime Museum among many others. As well as turn the ideas of Swarth and his staff into fun, interactive games that transmit some occasionally sober concepts, the Whites' must make them hardy enough to withstand relentless hordes of school kids and others.

Like the 'touch' exhibit, which in addition to a huge, foot-wide toadstool includes a grab-bag collection of teeth, bills, fur and feathers from Jug Bay critters.

Over every surface of the exhibit hang skillfully intricate wildlife illustrations, all by Annapolis scientific and nature illustrator John Norton, who also does nature cartoons. Norton is unaccustomed to seeing his work on such a large scale. He's also unaccustomed to feedback: "So the joy of working with Jug Bay was, it was everybody's kid. Everyone cared," says Norton.

The Jug Bay exhibit also features live displays of some common sanctuary residents, like the pumpkinseed hogchoker, which looks like a spotted flounder, and a few painted turtles, among others. Along with painted and box turtles, Jug Bay hosts the legendary stinkpot, who lives up to its name. It discourages interest by secreting something malodorous, which the staff could only describe as "musky."

Pop quiz: You're driving along Rt. 2 and see a box turtle lumbering over the dividing line. As a friend and protector of turtles everywhere, you get out of the car, pick up the turtle and put him on the side of the road. Which side do you put him on?

The answer: you put him back on the side he came from. "Box turtles live to be 80 years old and they do it all within an acre. When box turtles get moved out of their territory, they're more likely to hurt themselves," says sanctuary naturalist Charlie Muise.

Jug Bay wants to avoid boring its volunteers as well as its visitors. There's no envelope stuffing here.

"Volunteers do the field work for our studies," says Swarth. "They catch birds in nets for banding, catch turtles and salamanders for long-term studies or test river water for pollutants."

Give them a call to find out just how much fun you too can have: 410/741-9330.

-Christy Grimes

Flu's Nothing to Sneeze at: Vaccinate Now

Flu clinics aren't like golf clinics or soccer clinics where you pick up tips and learn new skills, but they do offer protection against the virus that spreads so easily when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

There's no prediction yet from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention on how severe this year's flu will be. Because flu flourishes fall and winter, monitoring doesn't begin until October, a spokeswoman said.

But flu is always potentially dangerous, waiting to explode with epidemic fury. It did just that in 1917-1918, rushing around the world with awesome killing power.

You know the symptoms: fever, chills, headache, dry cough, sore throat, muscle aches and extreme fatigue. Usually, the dreaded illness lasts only a few days, but it may continue as long as a week or two. It can lead to pneumonia and worse. From 45,000 to 80,000 people in the U.S. - 90 percent of them elderly - die each year from the flu, according to state and federal agencies.

The virus is continually changing, so to protect yourself against it, you need to get a new flu shot each year. This year's shot will immunize people against the three strains judged most likely to hit this year: Beijing A, Beijing B and Sydney A.

How well a vaccine protects you varies, like the disease itself, from year to year. Their success has a lot to do with how prescient vaccine makers have been. The strains included in the vaccine must be chosen nine or 10 months before each influenza season, so a new strain can be missed.

Typically, the vaccine is 70 to 90 percent effective in preventing flu, at least in healthy young adults.

Flu season runs from September through March, peaking in December and January. Shots are urged early, because protection takes about two weeks to develop.

People of any age can get influenza. Most in need of protection are the elderly, who are most susceptible to the disease and its complications. This year, pregnant women have been added to the list of those who should receive flu immunizations, health officials say. The vaccination is safe for women in their second or third trimester of pregnancy.

Besides the elderly and expectant mothers, people at risk for a serious case of influenza include those with heart, kidney, lung disease and asthma; whose immune system is weakened by HIV/AIDS; who provide essential community services; students and staff at schools and colleges; and anyone who wants to reduce their chance of getting the flu.

There was no effective flu vaccination in the early part of the century, when over one-half a million people in the United States (and 25 million people worldwide) died of the mis-named Spanish Influenza. The flu actually began its human course in our own country in Kansas at the U.S. Army's Camp Funston, when a company cook reported to the infirmary with typical flu-like symptoms. By later the same day, 107 soldiers were sick, and from that humble beginning, the flu swept the world like a firestorm. Today, a devastating pandemic like the one of 1917-1918 is far less likely, thanks to development of vaccines.

Call a friend, or take an elderly relative with you, to one of the following walk-in flu clinics in Anne Arundel or Calvert counties:

Anne Arundel County: Walk-in; no appointment necessary, a $5 donation is suggested but not required:

For more information, call the AA County Flu Line: 410/222-7343.

Calvert County Health Department Flu Clinics: Walk-in, $5 per vaccination.

For more information, call the Calvert County Health Department: 410/535-5400 or 301/855-1353.

-M.L. Faunce

Way Downstream ...

In Washington, Maryland Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, a Republican, is one of three sponsors of new legislation that would impose restrictions on jet skis. The bill would ban personal watercraft from coastal waters that are designated sensitive areas, within 200 feet of shores and in navigation channels. It would also prohibit operation of a jet ski in a way that "injures, harasses or disturbs wading, roosting or nesting birds or marine mammals"

Nevadans have banks for money, eyes and even sperm. Soon, they will have a water bank, which enables Nevada and next-door California to store water in Arizona acquifers, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt announced last week. Just like with other banks, they'll have to pay fees

In California, state attorney general Bill Lockyer announced last week that the state had seized 250,000 marijuana plants this year - twice the number of a year ago. Countered Keith Stroup, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws: "This is an enormous waste of law enforcement resources that should be focused on violent and serious crime"

Our Creature Feature comes from Wyoming, where a calico cat named Kitty survived a recent journey to the Campbell County landfill in a dump truck and repeated compacting. She was rewarded: Nine-year-old Katie Malgren adopted her.

Remarked Katie's mother, Elizabeth: "An animal who lost half its lives at the dump deserved to have a home."

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Volume VII Number 44
November 4-10, 1999
New Bay Times

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