Maryland 3.0: The Many Layers of Smith Island Cakes with Brian Murphy


Like any famous iconic food, there is a good bit of fact and fiction in telling the story of the Eastern Shore’s legendary Smith Island ten layer cake. Debates on how many layers should be used; who created the first one; and what was the precise date of its discovery continue to this day, but there is an interesting list of contradictions about Smith Island Cakes that are just as interesting to the Spy.

Some of those contradictions apply to owner Brian Murphy and his business model. For example, Smith Island Baking Company is a local small business but their customer base is both national and international. Murphy grew up on the Eastern Shore but he is also the product of Wharton with over a decade of being a successful commodity trader. And, oh yes, he has also run for governor and is raises six children with his wife in Talbot County. This is not your typical homegrown entrepreneur.

In his Spy interview, Brian talks about his background and his passion to successfully move Smith Island Cakes into the high-end segment of the gourmet mail order food market. He also talks about his devotion to Smith Island but also the transportation challenges of getting thousands of cakes each year to airports to satisfy one day service. Most importantly, Brian talks about the role that excellence plays in building a company.

This video is approximately six minutes in length. Additional video provided by Smith Island Baking Company.

Out and About (Sort Of): Oysters, Energy and Canneries by Howard Freedlander


As the holiday season begins in full swing on Thursday with Thanksgiving, followed in four weeks by Christmas, the last gasp of community activities is filling the calendar, as is usually the case at this time of year. Last week proved no exception.

On Wednesday evening, Nov. 18, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) hosted its Oyster Expo at the newly-opened Eastern Shore Conservation Center in Easton. Academic, government and non-profit organizations filled the space with exhibits and chatter about the future of the oyster fishery and the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 11.15.07 AMAs I learned in the Sunday Star, one group which had no exhibit—Talbot County watermen—did not endorse the convivial atmosphere and feeling of partnership that I thought permeated the event. While a representative of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) touted the success of the Harris Creek Oyster Restoration Project in Talbot County, watermen questioned the efficacy of this well-acclaimed sanctuary established to replenish the oyster population.

Dr. Elizabeth North, a scientist at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Horn Point Laboratory in Cambridge, is undertaking a research project to examine how the oyster industry and policymakers can join forces to achieve consensus on policies and regulations affecting those making their livelihoods harvesting oysters. Based on skeptical comments made by a representative of the watermen’s association, I find it crystal-clear why Dr. North’s project is important in seeking a balance, however difficult, between restoration of oyster habitat and continuation of a once-thriving industry.

On the Thursday following the Oyster Expo, I attended the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy’s (ESLC’s) annual conference, this one focusing on renewable energy. In a way, there’s a link between restoration of the oyster habitat and use of renewable energy, such as solar and wind.  If there’s a limited volume of fossil fuel energy in our world—and some may question that assertion—and use of coal and oil pollute our world and create unhealthy conditions and global warming, then renewable energy is critical to the long-term survival of Planet Earth.

Though the ESLC conference contained no dire predictions of doom and gloom, the message was clear to me: we cannot conduct business as usual in our personal and professional lives as we must accept responsibility, hopefully, to conserve our natural resources and find ways to use alternative energy sources. This effort thankfully seems to be gaining greater and greater support in the corporate and non-profit worlds.

I was disheartened to read the past weekend that the British government is withdrawing subsidies for solar and wind firms, seemingly buckling under to pressure from the fossil fuel industry. This is regrettable. While the United Kingdom may not be the world power it once was in the 20th century, it still has a strong voice in the international community.

Finally, on Friday evening, I heard a wonderful talk by Ed Kee, secretary of agriculture in Delaware, about the history of canneries in the Delmarva Peninsula. His presentation was part of the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy’s newly inaugurated series of Shore Talks. Up to the middle part of the 1900s, tomato canneries were a major industry on the Eastern Shore, characterized by Kee as the “king” of food processing at the time.

One of the most prominent players in the tomato processing business was Phillips Packing in Cambridge. This company dominated the economic landscape of Dorchester County.

Why has the canning industry nearly vanished on the Delmarva Peninsula? As Ed Kee explained, one reason was that our little part of the world could not compete with the volume and prices produced by growers in the huge state of California. All is not lost of the Shore’s link to food processing, in Kee’s opinion, as poultry has become a dominant industry, as illustrated by Perdue Farms. Another form of renewal.

One final comment about restoration and renewal: Thanksgiving represents a time, before the relentless onslaught of Christmas pressure to buy and buy more gifts, to celebrate family and the sustenance it provides as we navigate the flows and ebbs of life. Plentiful food, accompanied by chatter and laughter, is a strong antidote to difficult challenges.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Heather Guerieri: The Compass Regional Hospice Mission


Following our interview with Mildred Barnette, founder of Queen Anne’s Hospice Volunteers and first Executive Director, Hospice of Queen Anne’s, the Spy talked with Heather Guerieri, Executive Director of Compass Regional Hospice.

Here, Heather talks about how she became involved with Compass, how hospice has evolved over the last 20 years, and offers insight into the changes that led to Hospice of Queen Anne’s being rebranded as Compass Regional Hospice in 2014 and becoming the sole hospice provider for Queen Anne’s, Kent and Caroline Counties.

It is important to realize that Compass Regional Hospice offers a wide spectrum of services that include a commitment to “care on your terms” philosophy implemented by collaborating with the patient, family, hospital and physician—a personal network of care.

Guerieri also talks about the Bridges Program, which offers supportive care for individuals who are transitioning to the next level of care or are not yet ready for hospice. When care in a patient’s home is not possible, a six-bed residential Hospice Center in Centreville and the Caroline Hospice Home in Denton offer a clinically supportive environment in a home-like setting.

Guerieri has been Executive Director of Compass Regional Hospice since 2007.

For more information about Compass Regional Hospital, go here.

To donate to hospice, go here.

Mid-Shore Health Future: Dr. Jerry O’Connor on Chestertown’s Hospital


Dr. Jerry O’Connor, a surgeon who has practiced for 32 years at the University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Chestertown, has some very serious concerns about the future of the Chestertown hospital. After three decades of watching the medical center be downsized and merged into the UM Health system, he has decided to speak out about those concerns as Shore Health begins a final review process for its long term strategic master plan.

One of Dr. O’Connor’s issues is related to the process that Shore Health has used in this planning effort, which he feels has ignored or marginalized the concerns of many medical professionals in Chestertown. But his main concern is the possible loss of in-patient care in Kent County. He believes this is a result of Shore Health, and other Maryland health care providers, relying on GBR (global budget revenue) and population health metrics which focuses on numbers rather than people.

In his Spy interview, Dr. O’Connor remains guardedly optimistic that Shore Regional Health leadership has not closed the door on a workable solution for Chestertown. In particular, he is eager for decision-makers to look more carefully at making Chestertown a “Critical Access Hospital” allowing for a more flexible reimbursement structure. While that might take some time, he feels Shore Health can in the meantime do far more outreach and consultation with doctors in Kent County before a final plan of action has been decided.

This video is approximately fifteen minutes in length

Full of Years Part 5: On Mystery by George Merrill


It was great fun when a magician came to our house to entertain neighborhood kids. He’d pull handkerchiefs from his sleeve, snatch coins from behind our ears and identify which card we’d plucked from a full deck. He could make a small skeleton dance on the piano. That was super spooky. The show was magic, it was cool, but it was not mystery. Mystery is something very different.

An invisible web connects you and me to the entire universe and to each other. That’s mystery. We’ll have occasional glimpses of this web. It’s similar to how the night gathers dew on spider webs and when the sun rises they glitter radiantly, but only briefly.

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 12.17.53 PMExperiencing mystery is like exposure to sunlight; too much can blind us as St. Paul was blinded on the road to Damascus. His sight returned however, and he saw far better than ever before. He even also lost his attitude (breathing threats and murder against the disciples.) This particular kind of confrontation with mystery is called conversion.

Years ago, on my sailboat, I was motoring out of the Patapsco River into the Bay from Baltimore. The air was still. A fog developed. I’d never been in fog so thick. I could see only yards off the bow. No markers were visible. I knew I was right on the edge of shipping channel, but had no idea where currents were taking me. Then suddenly, from the corner of my eye, I saw a dim outline of a buoy. As I shifted my gaze directly to it, the buoy disappeared. What I couldn’t see head on, was visible from the corner of my eye.

The receptors in our eyes are more sensitive at on the periphery than at the center. I think that’s true of the heart. Its sidelong glances often reveal the sacred to us.

Philosophers call these revelations of the sacred, ‘hierophanies.’ Hierophanies momentarily reveal how deeply you and I and the holy are connected through love, grief, joy, and gratitude. The same potter has turned us all.

Scientist and physician, Lewis Thomas, comments on hearing. “You cannot really hear certain sequences of notes in a Bach fugue unless at the same time there are other notes being sounded, dominating the field. The real meaning in music comes from tones only audible in the corner of the mind.” Whether looking or hearing, we engage mystery best by being still and attentive to how seemingly inconsequential things can become radiant.

The poet William Blake put it this way:

To see a world in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wildflower.
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.

The sacred lives not in heaven, but in our mundane routines. It’s the last place most folks think to look. We won’t usually experience it head on or hear it amidst noise. A gentle touch, being compassionate, and remaining still will create a few of the optimum conditions to be surprised by the sacred. Meditation helps.

I used to summer on the North Fork of Long Island. My children were six and ten. They wanted to feed chickadees from their hands as they’d seen a neighbor do it. The trick was to extend your arm and stand still because the birds were easily spooked. You’d put sunflower seeds in your hand and hold them palm up. Their attempts to coax the chickadees to land on their hand were thwarted because they couldn’t stay still long enough for the birds to light.

After several disappointing attempts, my daughter decided not to try so hard, but to just stand still with an open hand. She’d figured out that it was all a matter of letting go and not ‘trying so hard’ to make it happen. If she was still and waited, the birds would come – and so they did. As one lit, she swung around and said, “Look, Dad,” and the bird flew from her hand like an ascending rocket, while the sunflower seeds scattered all over the yard.

No matter. She now understood that to connect intimately with the birds, becoming still, being attentive, and waiting patiently was the only way to go. An open hand helps, too.

Do we see best in the brightest light? No. High noon on a bright sunny day reveals the least. There are not the shadow and highlight necessary to expose the texture of landscapes. For elders living in the longer shadows, the mystery often appears during the remains of the day. Kids tend to go for the brightest light.
The problem for elders is our accumulation of junk. We’re like the houses we’ve lived in for years. Our attics are filled with clutter that we don’t know what to do with or even why we’ve kept it in the first place. The advantage to elders is that they don’t need as much light to see what’s sacred. They just need to get rid of the clutter.

The heart has more direct access to the sacred than the mind does. Our minds work too hard. They fidget, fuss, plan, judge, posture, evaluate and rarely remain still. Our hearts “get it” sooner than our minds do. The best way access the wonder of mystery is by holding still, remaining attentive and waiting expectantly.

It’s not magic, but it works.

Chestertown’s Rob Comfort: Haiti’s Helping Hand


News cycles, except in-depth journalism, are an endless carousel of hazy snapshots of the world we live in, lost to today’s new bright shiny object.

Catastrophic events fire up our sympathies and sometimes calls us to action, but as the catastrophic event continues, our concern fades or is eclipsed by another headline.

For instance, what do we remember about the Republic of Haiti, the most populous country in the Caribbean and the only country to have defeated three European superpowers, and as author Gearoid Coleman wrote, is “the only nation in the world established as a result of a successful slave revolt.” Or that since 2004, floods, an earthquake that may have killed hundreds of thousands, hurricanes, cholera and food shortages, have devastated a country already suffering from unstable political regimes. Or, that it’s one of the poorest nations in the world.

But for Chestertown contractor Rob Comfort, Haiti became much more than a story left behind in the news cycle. He entered the story, and has lived it as part of an outreach program whose mission is to build houses, medical facilities and other structure, one by one.

Comfort is a team-leader for the Charlottesville, Virginia Building Goodness Foundation, whose mission is to “connects skilled volunteers from the design and construction industries with vulnerable communities at home and abroad.” Comfort and his team of three or four spend up to two weeks in the mountain villages of  Haiti building houses for the impoverished. “It’s not like a house you or I would be living in—it has a dirt floor and no electricity—but for someone who was living without shelter or in a tent, it’s a palace.”

Shy of attention, Comfort felt it was time to introduce the project to others who might feel the need to be a small part of the solution in what seems to be a never-ending cycle of destruction. It’s not an easy week—it’s rough camping in harsh circumstances. But it’s hands-on and every nail that goes into a new roof means shelter for someone who had been living in a tent or under scrap wood lean-tos their whole lives.

“We can’t save Haiti,” he says. “But each time I leave Haiti, another family has a house.”

Comfort also volunteers in another suffering county—Nepal—for All Hands Volunteers. The organization, like the Building Goodness Foundation, rallies volunteers for its worldwide projects, from Detroit to Malawi. In April of this year a 7.8 earthquake ripped through Nepal leaving 9,000 people dead, 23,000 injured and total devastation to the infrastructure. Comfort and his team have been working to rebuild schools, shelters and community centers.

“It’s really tough there. The building that didn’t fall are now fragile. People are traumatized,” he says.

Comfort invites all to look at the two organization websites and consider lending a helping hand. “It will change your life as much as theirs,” he adds.



The Best of the Best: Mid-Shore Community Foundation Honors Regional Leaders


There is something very special about the service awards handed out to local leaders by the Mid-Shore Community Foundation (MSCF) each year. While many organizations offer similar honors to the area’s very best volunteers, it’s rare to find a bestower who knows more about their recipients than the region’s leading community foundation.

In fact, MSCF makes it their business of knowing what is happening in their five county service area (Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s, and Talbot counties) and who is doing it, as part of their larger mission to improve the lives and health of their residents. And it is with this special perspective that many have come to see the MSCF annual awards lunch as such a great moment for the Mid-Shore.

The Spy, in partnership with MCTV, decided it was worth sharing the awards ceremony at Chesapeake College in its entirety to understand better how important this recognition is for the honorees and the community as a whole.

This year, Albert Gipe, Catherine Poe, JoRhea Nagel Wright, and Rob Collison were acknowledged in Caroline Hall on campus while the a special recognition award was given to Dr. Karen Couch of Kent County Public Schools. MSCF president Buck Duncan served as master of ceremonies.

This video is approximately 40 minutes in length and is produced in cooperation with the Avalon Foundation.

Nancy Mugele to Lead Kent School as New Head of School


The Board of Trustees at Kent School in Chestertown has announced that Nancy Mugele will be the next Head of School. After a nationwide search, the selection team was in unanimous agreement that Ms. Mugele possessed the essential professional experience, desire and energy to lead Kent School. In a letter to the Kent School Community, Board of Trustees President, Chris McClary ’91 wrote, “Nancy has a demonstrated passion for education and a deep understanding of independent schools.

For the past nine years, she has been an adjunct professor for the Johns Hopkins School of Education, where she has taught a course in the certificate program for leadership in independent schools.” McClary continued, “Nancy looks forward to immersing herself in the Kent School and Eastern Shore Communities. She and her husband, Jim, are looking forward to combining their love of the arts with their passion for the outdoors in Chestertown.”

Ms. Mugele earned her BFA from Syracuse University and a Certificate in Brand Marketing from the Kellogg School of Business at Northwestern University. She brings an impressive level of administrative leadership in independent education to Kent that includes a fifteen-year tenure at Roland Park Country School in Baltimore where she has served as the Assistant Head of School for External Relations. In her role as a key administrator and member of the Executive Council, Nancy has demonstrated her expertise in strategic planning, all areas of institutional marketing, communications, external programs and Board relations. In addition to her leadership at RPCS, Nancy has served on the Board of the National Coalition of Girl’s Schools where she earned national recognition as its Interim Executive Director.

While in this important role during a transition year, Nancy launched new research initiatives with Harvard and Penn, formed relationships with school heads and principals across the country, and led the organization in strategic planning, re-branding, and the launch of a new website. Currently, Nancy serves on the Board of the new Lillie May Carroll Jackson charter middle school in Baltimore City where she chairs the Marketing committee and has also been involved with the design of the educational program.

In accepting the position, Ms. Mugele quoted Kent School’s founding headmistress, Joan Merriken, “Joan Merriken wrote: ‘Perhaps the most rewarding part of my job is watching the intellectual, moral and personal growth of every Kent School student. I am always proud of their academic success, but seeing what fine young people they become pleases me even more. Learning to define one’s standards and values is an integral part of the curriculum, and it will continue to be.’ I, too, will continue this legacy, keeping the students always at the forefront, while holding the School she loved in trust for years to come.”

Mugele continued, “I am filled with deep gratitude for Kent School’s firm foundation, appreciation for its nearly 50 years of academic, artistic, athletic and moral excellence, and excitement about the future, as together, we advance the mission of our School and soon celebrate our 50th Anniversary.” Ms. Mugele will assume her new position in July 2016.

Kent School is an independent school located in Chestertown, MD that serves boys and girls from pre-k through grade eight. Kent School’s mission is to guide students in realizing their potential for academic, artistic, athletic, and moral excellence. The school’s family-oriented, supportive, student-centered environment fosters the growth of honorable, responsible citizens for our country and our diverse world. For more information about Kent School visit or call 410-778-4100 ext. 110.

Full of Years Part 4 Love and Loss by George Merrill


The November day was cold. The wind blew easterly from the ocean, lending a bite to the air that made me shiver. We traveled the ferry from the Island to Brooklyn on the way to bury my grandmother at Greenwood Cemetery. It was 1951 and I was seventeen at the time.

I had already lost four of my close relatives in the span of five years. Fr. Rogers, our priest, conducted the graveside ceremony for my grandmother as he had for my other relatives. The committal was brief. When it ended, we returned to the cars. I looked back and suddenly felt panicky. I didn’t want my grandmother to be left in the ground alone on such a bleak and inhospitable day. When I got into the limousine I looked once again to the gravesite on the hill; Fr. Rogers stood there, as if he planned to be there for a while. He looked serene and at ease and I immediately felt comforted, because I knew he would look after her when we’d gone.

We can endure most anything if we know we are not alone.

Not long ago, I served as a doula for a dying friend. She was ninety-two. A doula functions as a kind of midwife who provides bedside presence, support and comfort through an individual’s dying process. The doula’s role is to facilitate a transition in the way a midwife comforts and aids the mother through her birthing process. I was not presiding over an ending – the way I’d often done as a priest performing last rites. I felt useful being a doula that evening, but I had one regret. Although my friend remained comatose while I sat with her, I held her hand, but didn’t think to read or sing to her. I wondered afterward if a voice might have been more soothing, the way just the sound of lullabies comforts infants.

The pain of loss is cumulative. As we suffer current losses, the previous ones are partially awakened from dormancy and some residual pain is added to the present loss – exacerbating the ache of mourning. Grief is a universal experience. Its pain subsides slowly. In time it leaves a slight scar. Like others of life’s chronic conditions, grief can be managed so as not to interfere with daily living. To mourn is the price for being fully human and caring for others. We also mourn for the things we once did and now can’t.

A seventy-year old man told me with tears in his eyes that he was physically no longer able to play tennis. At eighty-one, I nearly killed myself attempting to sail a sixteen-foot sailboat solo as I once did easily when I was fifteen. My mother always said I had to learn the hard way. We live by the process of taking hold and then letting go. We live it best when we know when to take hold and when to let go.

For most of us, the three biggest rites of life’s passages in which we participate, either as spectators or participants, are the rites around births, marriages and funerals. People often weep at all three but hopefully, not for the same reasons. Marriage and the birth of a baby are about beginnings; about hopes . . . in short, births and marriages celebrate a future. What’s different about death and funerals (now called celebrations of life) is that they manage loss by celebrating of a life already lived. Even the most ardent Christian who is convinced of bodily resurrection, will still grieve for his loss. Along with other mourners, Jesus wept for his dead friend Lazarus, whom Jesus later raises from the dead. Simply put, mourning is a part of being alive, it’s one of the common denominators shared by all humanity.

I’ve heard some people say that dying should be a private act and has nothing to do with others except close friends and family. They wish no memorial services or any other event. They prefer going anonymously into that dark night. I guess that has something to do with how we understand our lives in relationship to others. I believe we Americans are obsessed with the need to express our individuality (I got my rights) to the extent that we give little thought to the importance of where we belong in a community and our responsibility to it.

As a priest who has conducted celebrations of life, I’ve noticed that there is profound intimacy in sharing grief. It produces a distinctive sense of belonging unlike other rites of passage. Whether we have religious inclinations or are atheists, the importance of attending some communal acknowledgement of our loss is critical to the healing process in mourning.
Calling funerals a celebration of life isn’t just making nice. With the loss of the loved one there is an automatic recollection of moments – often, significant ones – during which we have shared with that person some pieces of our own lives. Death and dying are the reminders that we all share a common destiny, and we are made stronger by dealing gently with it as we welcome others to mourn with us.

We can endure most anything if we know we are not alone.