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The annual spelling bee wrapped up last week, and as usual, it was the highlight of my year. I thank my lucky stars every time we help sponsor it and I have to go.

For a word professional, the bee is a little bit like Little League baseball to a major league scout. It’s where the hot prospects get their start, where burgeoning talent first appears, where they learn the intricacies of the infield fly rule or, in this case, the limitations of “i before e.”

I’m not one for huge displays of nationalistic pride, preferring a quiet appreciation of the various and wide-ranging glories of America to wearing a 3-foot stovepipe hat in a stars and stripes motif, but every year the bee gives me goose bumps as a showcase for the best our great land has going for it.

The kids are all smart, especially the winner, Sydney Christley, and their last names come from every continent, and they have hair and skin in just about every variety that human DNA allows.

They are the products of public schools, private schools and even no school at all when home-schoolers show up, and all are equally welcome.

They are polite, neat, orderly and nice, congratulating and consoling one another as the vagaries of the bee dictate.

The folks at Matthew Henson Middle School did a fine job of organizing and decorating for the bee, and the spell-off at the end was as tense and suspenseful as anyone could wish.

I do have a bone to pick, however, with the folks who send out the words that are the raw fodder for the bee. Hard is fine, even necessary to winnow out the kids who are merely competent spellers and not the preternatural spelling geniuses who win the spelling crown (I picture something elaborate in gold, each spike topped with a bejeweled stumper like “syzygy”). But it’s gotten kind of out of hand. One of the words this year was “hoomalimali.”

Yes, I know. I was not the only one with a blank look on my face. Webster’s Unabridged says it’s of Hawaiian origin and means “something designed primarily to attract positive attention,” with “soft soap” given as a synonym. Those photo-ops where politicians on the campaign trail stop to serve homeless folks at a soup kitchen? Hoomalimali.

But my gripe here is not about the origin of the word or really about the word itself. It is a fine word, and one that I plan to use frequently during upcoming election years. And it obviously wasn’t too hard; the eventual second-place speller, Danielle Williams, nailed it.

My gripe is that my credibility as someone who is supposed to know a fair amount about language is threatened when a word like that comes along and my natural reaction is a facial expression normally only seen on the faces of the lesser primates confronting higher mathematics. I would like to be able to nod sagely, let a superior smile wreathe my lips and applaud politely when the youngster gets it right, but hoomalimali? Not going to happen.

There are a good few curve balls like that every year, including this year a number from Afrikaans, which has spelling rules approaching the contradictory and Byzantine nature of English itself. “Uit” is pronounced more or less like “out,” for instance, which makes me glad that fate didn’t send me to South Africa. Afrikaans also has a great word for a kind of meat pie, “bobotie,” which I like to say when I need cheering up.

My gripes are puny, though, compared to how much I enjoy the bee every year, especially because I actually knew how to spell the winning word, capricious, so I was able to look appropriately intelligent at the end without too much hoomalimali.

Community-needs forum scheduled

Southern Maryland Tri-County Community Action Committee wants to make sure the community’s needs are being met.

The committee will hold a forum to gather information on unmet needs in Charles County 6 to 8 p.m. March 20 at Brawners Estates Community Center at 6655 Weaver St. in Indian Head.

“Who knows the community’s needs better than those who live and work in it?” a committee news release asks. Residents’ input is important in the committee’s strategic planning process.

Contact Delilah Balz at 301-274-4474, ext. 219, or delilah@smtccac.org.

Foundation’s Waterfowl Show moving to Leonardtown

Everyone is invited to attend the annual Community Foundation of Southern Maryland Potomac River Waterfowl Show, with a reception and dinner 6:30 to 9 p.m. May 24 and wildlife art and more 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 25 at the St. Mary’s County Fairgrounds on Route 5 in Leonardtown. The show will feature dozens of artists showcasing wildlife art.

Dinner tickets are $50. Tickets for Saturday are $5, and all proceeds will benefit the foundations’ grant and scholarship program. In addition to the showcase, there will be exhibitions of antique decoys and sporting artifacts, working decoy competitions run by the International Wildfowl Carving Association, outdoor field competitions, a decoy and related items sale and swap, free decoy appraisals by Potomac Decoy Collectors Association and a live auction of old decoys and other items.

Organizers are looking for artists to display their work and sponsors.

For more information, contact Burkey Boggs at 301-934-1366 or burkeyboggs@verizon.net, Gretchen Heinze Hardman at 301-885-0108 or Gretchen@cfsomd.com, or Chad Tragakis at 202-944-3373 or chad.tragakis@hkstrategies.com.

Health, human services directory available

The 2013 edition of the United Way’s Charles County Director of Health and Human Services is available.

Copies are being distributed to agency sites, libraries, schools, civic and fraternal organizations, medical and government offices, private practices and other points of public access.

In partnership with the Charles County Public Schools, United Way is including in the directory are approved host sites that provide volunteer opportunities to students needing to fulfill the student service learning requirement for graduation.

Free copies of the directory are available at the United Way office at 10250 La Plata Road in La Plata between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. The directory also is available at www.unitedwaycharles.org for download.

For more information, contact Dayle Hadden at 301-609-4844 or daylehadden@unitedwaycharles.org.

Commissioners offer scholarships

Two scholarships to help county students with higher education expenses are being offered by the Charles County commissioners.

The deadline is March 1 to apply for commissioner-funded scholarships for the fall.

The Charles County Teacher Education Assistance Grant is a $1,000 renewable scholarship administered by the Charles County Scholarship Fund. Go to www2.ccboe.com/PDF/scholarships/CCFS_App_2013.pdf to apply.

The Charles County Commissioners Nursing/Allied Health Scholarship, administered by the College of Southern Maryland, is awarded to county residents enrolled in the clinical portion of the nursing or specific allied health programs at CSM. Go to www.csmd.edu/Financial/scholarships/ to learn how to apply.

For more information, contact Denise Ferguson at 301-645-0554 or fergusod@charlescounty.org.

March SCOOP now available

The March 2013 edition of the SCOOP newsletter from the Charles County Department of Community Services is available online at www.CharlesCountyMD.gov/CS.

Printed copies of the SCOOP are available at local senior centers.

This issue features St. Patrick’s Day party plans at the Richard R. Clark Senior Center at 1200 Charles St. in La Plata. Wear green and practice up that brogue for the party 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 14. Award-winning vocalist Mike Surratt will entertain with a variety of instruments and music. Lunch will be genuine Irish favorites followed by bingo. The fee is $3, plus lunch donation.

The Indian Head Senior Center will be joining the Waldorf Senior Center at 3092 Crain Highway to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day at 10:30 a.m. March 14. The South County Showstoppers, who are 25 talented seniors, will perform a special St. Paddy’s Day variety show. Lunch will be followed by a game of Pictionary, with prizes awarded. The fee is $2, plus lunch donation. The deadline to register is Thursday, March 7.

Go to www.CharlesCountyMD.gov/CS, or call 301-934-9305 or 301-870-3388.

Local groups win preservation kudos

The Charles County Historic Preservation Commission hosted a preservation reception and awards ceremony Feb. 9 at the Old Waldorf School in Waldorf.

The commission announced the 2013 Charles County Preservation Award winners. The Friends of Old Waldorf School Foundation and the Bel Alton High School Alumni Association and Community Development Corporation won awards. The Old Waldorf School group renovated the building to keep it in use as a multi-service community center for current and future generations to enjoy.

The Bel Alton group restored Bel Alton High School for use as a community development center to help low-income residents through workforce development, job creation and health promotion.

County resident Michael J. Sullivan received a preservation service award for his ongoing efforts, including the restoration of Mount Victoria mansion in Newburg and the discovery of Charles County’s long-lost courthouse and the Zekiah Fort.

Ham radio club to offer free FCC license exams

On March 2, the Charles County Amateur Radio Club will begin a new phase of public service by administering free amateur radio FCC license examinations.

Several members of the club have taken the steps necessary to become certified to administer the tests in accordance with federal regulations. There are currently three levels of amateur radio licenses. The Charles County-based radio club is certified to issue tests for all levels from beginner through expert.

“While many certified groups cover the costs associated with the federal exams by charging a fee, we felt it important to offer the tests free of charge,” said Rob Hoyt, the radio club’s vice president, in a news release.

The first test session will be held at the Waldorf West library at 10405 O’Donnell Lake Place. Registration is preferred, but walk-in applicants will be accepted.

To register for an exam, go to k3smd.org and click on “Ham License Exams,” or call 301-843-3476.

Foundation schedules Potomac watershed cleanup

Dedicated volunteers are invited to join the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s 25th annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup 9 a.m. to noon April 6 at sites throughout the Potomac watershed.

In 1989, the foundation held the first cleanup, where 150 volunteers removed three tons of trash from two sites on the Piscataway shoreline. Fast forward 24 years to last year’s cleanup, where 14,616 volunteers at 660 sites removed 262 tons of litter, and it becomes clear that, over the years, the annual event has engaged a watershed-wide network of volunteers and become a catalyst event for raising awareness about the litter problem in the region, a foundation news release stated.

The foundation hopes the upcoming cleanup will continue the trend by engaging more volunteers at more sites throughout the region, making the silver anniversary cleanup the largest one yet.

Host a site, volunteer or be a sponsor. Go to potomaccleanup.org.

Open mic night at coffee house

The Southern Maryland Traditional Music and Dance HomeSpun Coffee House will sponsor an open mic at the Christ Church Parish Hall at 37497 Zach Fowler Road in Chaptico on Feb. 22.

The doors open at 7 p.m., and the music starts at 7:30 p.m.

The admission fee is $5, and performers are admitted free. Light refreshments will be provided; donations are suggested.

For information or to sign up to perform, contact John Garner at garner@wildblue.net or 301-904-4987. Go to www.smtmd.org for directions.

Applications being accepted for STEM scholarships

The Marine Corps Aviation Association John Glenn Squadron is accepting applications for its 2013 merit-based college scholarships.

Applicants must be St. Mary’s, Calvert or Charles counties high school seniors or the dependents of MCAA members who are pursuing STEM-based degrees in college and show an intent to work in a career field that supports the Department of Defense.

Go to www.mcaa-jgs.org/scholarship.html to apply.

Applications are due by March 15.

Since the inception of its scholarship program in 2007, the MCAA John Glenn Squadron has awarded $183,500 in scholarships to 45 tri-county students. Individual scholarship awards have recently ranged from $4,000 to $6,000, with an average of $4,800 last year.

Accokeek Foundation plans better river access

The Accokeek Foundation will significantly increase and improve public access to the Potomac River at Piscataway Park for views, boating and other recreational uses as one of the 21 partner recipients of the National Park Service Chesapeake Bay Office’s fiscal 2012 investments.

The federal funding will be leveraged with funding from the state of Maryland to complete the project.

The National Colonial Farm boat dock, which was destroyed by Hurricane Isabel in 2003, is currently being rebuilt to allow visitors to arrive by water. The current Saylor Grove Fishing Pier will be retrofitted to accommodate larger tour boats that serve passengers on the Potomac River, according to a foundation news release.

Additional improvements to the fishing pier include installation of a floating pier and gangplank, and a fixed ramp designed to accommodate visitors with mobility issues. The project includes the addition of a canoe and kayak dock adjacent to the pier.

The entire project is on track for completion by this summer, the release states.

A public opening celebration is planned as part of the foundation’s annual fundraising Leadership Salute event June 22.

For more information about the boat dock project, contact the site manager, Brandon Burton, at bburton@accokeek.org or 301-283-2113, ext. 33.

For details, contact the development office at development@accokeek.org.

PRAD accepting grant applications

Patuxent River Appreciation Days announced the opening of the 2013 grant round. Nonprofit organizations that provide educational programs or conduct research activities about the importance of the Patuxent River or Patuxent River Basin are eligible to apply.

The grant recipients for 2012 were the Calverton School, the Purple Martin Club on the grounds of the Calvert Marine Museum and the Patuxent Naval Air Museum.

Awards of up to $1,000 per organization in any one calendar year are made on a competitive basis by the PRAD board.

To request an application for a grant, contact Melissa McCormick at 410-326-2042, ext. 41, or mccormmj@co.cal.md.us.

Provide the name of the nonprofit, a contact person’s name, a complete mailing address and a daytime telephone number or email address. Deadline is March 25. Go to www.pradinc.org or www.calvertmarinemuseum.com.

Fairy houses and gnome homes wanted

Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center is accepting applications for the fourth annual outdoor exhibit of fairy houses and gnome homes at the center at 13480 Dowell Road in Solomons.

The exhibit will run from May 4 to Oct. 13. Houses will be placed in and around the trees and woods of the sculpture garden. Interested fairy and gnome home builders should go to www.annmariegarden.org for complete guidelines and instructions on how to register. Deadline is March 1.

Grape growers schedule pruning workshops

The Maryland Grape Growers Association is now registering attendees for its annual grapevine training and pruning workshops.

The Southern Maryland workshop will be 9 a.m. to noon March 9 at Perigeaux Vineyards and Winery at 8650 Mackall Road in St. Leonard.

Taught by experienced growers, the clinics will educate both new and seasoned growers on the best practices for trellising, training and pruning grapevines of varying ages and varieties, and will be tailored to the growing environments found across the state. Other viticultural practices, including disease and weed control, fertilization, vineyard equipment and safety, also will be addressed.

The cost of each clinic is $15 for MGGA members and $26 for nonmembers. The clinics will be held rain or shine.

Other clinics include one from 9 a.m. to noon Feb. 23 at Boordy’s South Mountain Vineyard in Burkittsville and one 9 a.m. to noon March 2 at Harvest Ridge Winery on the Delaware border in Marydel.

Registration is encouraged. Walk-up registration is permitted when paying by check or with exact cash.

Bring pruning shears, and dress for the weather. Go to www.marylandgrapes.org to register.

Register for writers conference in St. Mary’s County

Registration is open for the Chesapeake Writers’ Conference at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, which will be held June 23 through 29.

Writers at all levels will gather on Maryland’s beautiful Western shore for a week of workshops, lectures, panel discussions and readings, as well as daily workshops in fiction, poetry or creative nonfiction led by college faculty.

Being held in conjunction with the conference will be a special workshop for high school-aged writers. The inaugural Chesapeake Youth Writers’ Workshop will offer a unique experience for those interested in the graphic novel. Youth writers will study the art and craft of graphic storytelling, focusing on creating stories with words and pictures.

Participants also will be able to experience the bounty of summertime in Southern Maryland as they enjoy concerts, kayaking and day-tripping to nearby parks. Lodging will be provided on the St. Mary’s College campus.

Applications for the conference, as well as the writers’ workshop, are accepted on a rolling basis; however, space is limited. More information can be found online or by contacting conference organizers at ChesapeakeWritersConference@smcm.edu.

Love science and hate litter? Monitor trash

For those who have been to a river cleanup and even called legislators about the bag bill, what else is there to do to but be a part of the solution? Join the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s trash monitoring program.

The foundation is revitalizing its monitoring efforts to provide important data about litter that will be critical in guiding new policies, tracking changes in litter and identifying new hotspots or problem streams, according to a foundation news release.

Those interested will be trained and asked to adopt a site and conduct monitoring at least quarterly.

Upcoming trainings are scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon March 9 at the REI Outdoors store in College Park and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 23 at the Bethesda Green nonprofit.

RSVP to potomaccleanup@fergusonfoundation.org to attend. Email potomaccleanup@fergusonfoundation.org, go to TrashFreePotomac.org or call 202-973-8203.