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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Spring Burgers

With the warmer weather and the grilling season back my thoughts turn to hamburgers and nothing beats cooking them on the grill. The old concept of the hamburger being beef is now outdated. Burgers come in all forms-turkey, salmon, pork, buffalo, lamb and black bean for the vegetarians. Buns now reflect a more diverse style with pita, wraps, English muffins, bagels and Ciabatta rolls. For those on low carb diets going bunless is now a popular option.

What you put on your burger now has many more options. Avocado, pineapple, jalapenos, yogurt, green chilies, horseradish, wasabi and salsa are now taking the place of the more traditional toppings of bacon, tomato, onion and mushrooms. The traditional cheeses of cheddar, Swiss, Muenster, provolone and American are being expanded to include feta, buffalo, goat, bleu and brie.

The choices can seem to be overwhelming. This was brought home to me when I visited Big Daddy’s in Charlotte North Carolina. You had a choice of 7 different meats or black bean, 9 condiments, 6 breads, 24 toppings and 11 cheeses. Ordering the different possibilities took a lot of thought. After ordering many of the different options you realized when they brought your order that you had misjudged the size of your mouth.

When it comes to buying a burger in one of our restaurants we have a few categories of places (not even counting the fast food places). The first are the “retro” places like Johnny Rockets, Five Guys and Cheeburger, Cheeburger or second like Fat Burger and Fuddruckers. I didn’t include Red Robin in either category because they are different and for my money the best for burgers and fries.

Others worth mentioning are the Tuesday night half price burgers at Coho’s (best turkey burger), Outback and Red, Hot and Blue in Laurel. I hear that Victoria Gastro Pub has a pretty good burger but I haven’t tried it yet.

Interesting how many Howard County restaurants made the Baltimore Sun’s 50

best restaurants.

Some recipes from BJ’s Journal

Turkey Cobb Salad Burgers serves 6

PREP TIME: 1 5 M1N., COOK TIME: 25 M1N. Made with easy, all-natural frozen turkey patties, this burger pays homage to the famous salad invented at Hollywood's landmark Brown Derby™ Make it the star of your next dinner.

6 Harvestland® All-Natural Frozen Turkey Patties, defrosted (Also available fresh)

Wesson® Vegetable Oil 6 Portuguese Rolls,* split Salt and Pepper, to taste

1 head Hearts of Romaine Lettuce

2 Vine Ripe Tomatoes, sliced

4 large Eggland's Best Eggs, hardboiled and sliced 2 small Hass® Avocados, sliced thin 6 oz. Wellsley Farms® Bacon, cooked and crumbled 6 Tbsp. Wellsley Farms® Artisan Blue Cheese Crumble

1 . Brush burgers with oil and place on preheated medium-high grill. Cook until first side is well seared with distinct grill marks, 4 to 5 minutes. 2. Carefully flip burger and cook 4 to 5 minutes until instant-read thermometer reads 160° 3. Place on rolls, season with salt and pepper, and top with lettuce leaves, tomato, egg, avocado, bacon and blue cheese. Serve immediately

Buffalo Burgers with

Spicy Buffalo Barbecue Sauce serves 6

PREP TIME: 1 5 WIN., COOK TIME: 10 M1N. Lean and flavorful, buffalo is a natural for cholesterol-conscious burger buffs. And when you serve it up in a pub classic like this, it proves that a good-for-you food can be a good time, too.

1 '/2 lb. Great Range™ Fresh Ground Buffalo
Wesson® Vegetable Oil

6 Wellsley Farms® Crusty Rolls* split

2 Vine Ripe Tomatoes, thickly sliced

6 Tbsp. Ken's® Steak House Blue Cheese Dressing

Iceberg Lettuce


2 Tbsp. Frank's® RedHot® Original

Cayenne Pepper Sauce

2 Tbsp. Heinz® White Vinegar

1/2 Tbsp Lea & Perrins® Worcestershire Sauce

1 '/2 Tbsp Domino* Light Brown Sugar

2 tsp. McCormick® Mustard Powder
1 tsp McCormick* Chili Powder

!/2 Tbsp. water

1. Whisk all sauce ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside. 2. Divide buffalo into 6 even portions and form into 1 "-thick patties. Set aside at room temperature. 3. Preheat grill to medium-low, then brush each burger with oil before placing on hot grate. 4. Brush burgers with sauce and cook until well seared with denned grill marks, about 5 minutes. 5. Carefully turn burgers, brush with more sauce and cook 5 minutes or until instant-read thermometer reads 150° 6. Remove immediately and place on rolls. Top with dressing, lettuce and tomato and serve

Mahi Mahi Burgers with Lemon-Garlic Aioli Sauce SERVES 6 PREP TIME: 1 2 WIN., COOK TIME: 16MIN.

This popular warm-water sport fish is a favorite in seafood restaurants. Its moist, firm meat and mild flavor are great for burgers and pair perfectly with this easy lemon and garlic sauce.

6 frozen WorldCatch® Mahi Mahi Burgers,*

(or frozen WorldCatch® Salmon Burgers)

1 tsp. McCormick® Lemon Pepper

Wesson*' Vegetable Oil

6 Arnold® Multi-Grain Sandwich

Thins,® split

Fresh Express® Spring Mix

1 Wellsley Farms® Red Onion,

sliced thinly


1 Tropicana® Lemon

1 cup Hellmann's® Real Mayonnaise

1 '/2 Tbsp. Grey Poupon® Dijon Mustard

2 cloves Garlic, crushed
!/2 tsp. White Pepper

!/2 tsp. Sea Salt

1. Using fine grater, carefully grate outer yellow layer of lemon peel into small bowl. Cut lemon in half and squeeze juice into bowl, removing any seeds. 2. Add mayonnaise, mustard, garlic, pepper and salt to bowl and whisk until smooth. Refrigerate until needed, up to 2 weeks. 3. Pre-heat grill to medium. Brush burgers with oil, sprinkle with lemon pepper and place on grill. Cook 4 minutes, turn carefully and cook 4 minutes until instam-read thermometer reads 140° Remove immediately and place on rolls. Top with a generous dollop of aioli, the sliced onion and spring mix and serve immediately.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Prince William and Cate Middleton start a new royal tradition

Guess I chose to blog on the event that people will be talking about today and put my own spin on the event. It seems with each generation of the Royal Family (of course I refer to the British Royal Family—is there any other?) they become less royal in the traditional sense and reflect more of a “common” touch. It was once mandatory for future kings and queens to only marry other royalty. It seems like Queen Elizabeth will be the last Queen to follow that tradition. Prince Charles broke that tradition in marring Princess Diana. Can’t blame him with the potential partners get better looking when you expand your choices beyond other royals. Having said that what does he see in Camilla (not that Charles would ever be offered a modeling job)? Prince William seems to have chosen another beauty.

The tradition that they are breaking that I like most is that instead of having people send them gifts they are requesting donations to the charities they support. Prince William and Cate Middleton have requested that people donate to one of their charities instead of giving them gifts. Credit the younger generation for showing the way to a more socially aware world. This is a trend that I would suggest for all of us that really don’t need more “stuff.” The trend to request a donation to charities is one that I have suggested to my family instead of giving me Christmas and birthday gifts. My family has also started donating to a Baltimore family at Christmas that consists of a grandmother raising her four grandchildren.

Think about getting into that giving spirit the next time you celebrate a special occasion. It truly is better to give than receive.

On a more serious note the article on the cold weather shelter and the increasing use of the shelter for families is disturbing.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

So you think you know how to handle money??

With April and Financial Literacy Month drawing to a close I wanted to do one blog on money. Something we all need but seem to never have enough. On the topic of money it is hard not to go into my “parent” mode and sound “preachy.” Certainly my kids can tell you about how well I do that.

In our consumer society the number of “things” we need to have to survive seems to grow exponentially every year. Our “wants” blur with our “needs.” What a few years ago seemed needed, a land line phone, TV which was free, one car per family, houses averaging under 1500 square feet, one bathroom per house and eating out being for a few holidays a year, seem so inadequate today. Paying off your mortgage was a goal for people before they retired. A house was where you lived not your investment.

This problem seems to have even spread to Washington where you reduce revenue (Bush tax cut) increase spending (Defense Department, Medicare and Social Security) and pay for everything on credit (national debt).

In Howard County we have a great resource that provides education and counseling on financial literacy ---makingCHANGE. I have gotten to know Michelle Glassburn the past few months and the excellent work that she does with many county organizations on financial literacy. I have asked her to give me some important points to share with you.

“The biggest mistake people make is to spend without really knowing where their money goes -- no budget... I've worked with SO many people of different socioeconomic backgrounds... whether you are the homeless guy that doesn't realize how much money you are spending on your addiction or the middle class family that's struggling with money but paying thousands to Verizon for tv, internet, phone and cellular -- the key is awareness. You can't effectively diet without knowing what you weigh and how many calories you're taking in...and you can't be financially successful if you don't know where your money is going.

The second biggest issue is a little tougher. In true Oprah-esque terms -- you have to live an "authentic" financial life. You need to face the debt demons that are on your credit report (lots of folks don't even pull the report b/c they know it shows trouble...). And you have to live within your means. If you earn $60,000, you have to stop living a $120,000 lifestyle. I don't care what your parents have, how you grew up, what your neighbors do, etc. We get so caught up in putting on this "front" of showing success in Howard County. It's almost easier to tackle these issues with folks in the city -- not as much keeping up with the "Jones's".

If there's one QUICK thing people can do to get started, I'd say to add up what they are paying for tv/internet/phone/cellular. Remember -- we've been led to believe this stuff is now a "need" -- but it is NOT. Remember 1992? We paid for our phone - that was it. And guess what, it's not any different today.... it's just that Comcast and Verizon have convinced us otherwise.”

I would like to add a few suggestions to Michelle’s. First you need to “pay yourself.” Have an automatic deduction of 10% that goes into a savings account. The amount should be 10% until you have an amount equal to 3 months of expenses. This will allow you to cover unforeseen expenses (house repairs, car repairs, medical bills) without charging or borrowing. When you reach the savings goal have 5% of the amount go into a 401K or some other form of investment and continue the other 5% into savings. Don’t think you can put this amount away from each check? Look to cut expenses until you can because you are living beyond your means and will pay someday---it is just a matter of time.

The second suggestion is when you pay off your car loan you continue to put the monthly payment into a separate savings account to be able to pay cash when you buy your next car. Have you ever looked at what you paid for your car with interest? A $20,000 car can easily end up costing $24,000 or $25,000 depending on the terms.

Show me your papers

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Rebuilding Together in Howard County

This Saturday is the big day for Rebuilding Together in Howard County. This program, formerly known as Christmas in April, provides repairs and renovations to low income households every April for one day. This Saturday 850 volunteers will participate in work on 22 homes and 2 non-profits (Humanim and Athelas Institute). The work is targeted to the elderly and the disabled. Now in its 19th year the local effort has benefited hundreds of county residents. Wheelchair ramps, grab bars and other home modifications are their specialties.

Groups from all over the county participate in the effort. Volunteers are always welcome and especially those with trade skills such as plumbing, carpentry and electrical experience. Kendall’s Hardware in Clarksville and the Home Depot are partners with supplies for the projects. The projects this year are set but if you would like to volunteer in the future or belong to a group that is looking for an activity consider contacting them after this weekends work. You can always make a cash donation on their website.


Volunteers are still needed for the May 14th Columbia Bikeabout. Contact Jeanette Lichtenwhalner at 410-715-6781

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Budgets are Moral Documents

Some years ago I reluctantly accepted the job of developing and monitoring the budget of a County agency. I say reluctantly because I considered myself as a “program” person. Numbers and budgets were things that bookkeepers and accountants were interested in. What I learned in doing that job was that the person who knows the budget and the numbers controls the program decisions. I was more impactful on programs as a budget person than I was as a program person.

What we are seeing on the national level in our budget discussions in a very broad sense is the clash of two very different philosophies. One believes that the measure of a society is how you take care of your most vulnerable populations and another that believes what is "good for General Motors is good for America."

The budget discussions that are taking place at all levels of government are not just about dollars and cents but also about what we value as a country and a society. How do we define our collective needs that we entrust to government? How do we define what is meant in the U.S. Constitution’s preamble “to promote the general welfare.” The contrast between what Paul Ryan is proposing in his Committee’s budget and that from the Congressional Progressive Caucus is striking. Ryan’s budget cuts $389 billion from Medicare, the public health insurance program for seniors (and turns it into a voucher program) and $735 billion from Medicaid, which benefits Americans too poor to afford private insurance. Two thirds of the spending cuts come from programs for low-income persons. Head Start, Pell grants, low-income housing and food stamps are cut in a major way. The Congressional Progressive Caucus proposes a budget that brings our budget back into balance by eliminating the Bush tax cuts and ending our involvement in our two foreign wars.

In the Ryan budget the Department of Defense budget is kept relatively steady and unchanged. The waste and fraud that is rampant in the DOD budget is not addressed. With the United States spending 46 cents of every dollar spent worldwide on the military spending we continue to place that spending on a different scale than domestic “general welfare” programs. When members of Congress talk of escalating our involvement in Libya the costs of that escalation never seems to be a problem. The “war on terror” is a perfect war for the military budget because it will be never ending. How can you end a war that has no defined enemy other then some broadly defined group called “terrorists”? Do we really think that a few hundred fighters in the mountains of Afghanistan justify our spending hundreds of billions of dollars? That works out to about a billion dollars per fighter.

The budget is not just numbers on a ledger but it is a statement of what we value in our country. It is a moral document. With the US being the leading manufacturer of military weapons for the world it is fair to ask the following question, “Do we fear our enemies more than we love our children.” The answer to that question is in the priorities of the budget we pass. Saying “the children are our future” may make us feel good but where we put our money tells us what we value.


If you would like to see how you would make the budget choices to balance the budget go to this link.

There is a story on the Columbia Patch today on the churches involved in providing cold weather shelter. While the cold weather holds special problems for the homeless, homelessness is something that exists year around. I would hope that involvement in the cold weather shelter would encourage religious congregations to become engaged in homeless issues year around.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

From Photographer to Blogger

Tale of Two Cities has a post about the transformation of Howard County resident David Hobby from a everyday photographer to a blogger that shows again how the internet has changed us all in amazing ways. It is a good read.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Save the Planet (or just our corner of it)

With yesterday being Earth Day (which I totally missed) I thought I would play catch up by giving you information on a great Columbia event that combines seeing our beautiful bike path system and learning a little about Columbia that you didn’t know.

The Columbia Association’s (CA) 11th annual BikeAbout and Town Center walking tour will be held on Saturday, May 14 at the Downtown Columbia Lakefront. Participants in the BikeAbout may begin the ride anytime between 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. The Town Center walking tour will begin at 10:30 a.m. After the ride or walk, participants are invited to think “green” and participate in Save the Planet Day, beginning at 11 a.m.

This year’s BikeAbout route will take riders through Town Center, Wilde Lake, Harper’s Choice and Hickory Ridge, highlighting history in Harper’s Choice and the Middle Patuxent Valley and traversing some of the most picturesque pathways in Hobbit’s Glen and Clary’s Forest. Walkers will follow a route to Oakland Mills; explore a historic cemetery and outdoor sculpture; as well as take in the art and architecture in Town Center.

Bicycling and walking for recreation and as alternative transportation are two key factors of environmental sustainability. The Save the Planet Day event will feature other green initiatives and highlight what CA and the community are doing to make Columbia more environmentally-friendly. The Save the Planet Day event is being coordinated by the CA Teen Advisory Committee.

BikeAbout, organized by CA’s Columbia Archives and Open Space Division is a popular event drawing several hundred bicyclists annually. The route takes advantage of Columbia’s extensive pathways while uncovering the area’s historic and natural beauty. Signage and guides at key stops make this not only a bike ride, but also a tour that helps area residents discover the history of where they live.

Pre-registration for BikeAbout is encouraged. Registration forms are available here; CA headquarters, located at 10221 Wincopin Circle; and Columbia Archives, located at 10227 Wincopin Circle. For more information, please contact Barbara Kellner at 410-715-3103 or

Watch video of the BikeAbout

Having just driven to Pennsylvania on Route 81 I appreciate the roads we have in Maryland. Why does PA make their roads out of concrete that break up and need to be constantly repaired when the blacktop roads of Maryland hold up so much better??? We get spoiled.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Battle Hymn of the Paper Tiger Grandfather

Having read the Amy Chua’s book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom" I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that I am probably the opposite of her in raising children. Her disciplined style was something that I never developed with my children. My wife was the disciplinarian in the family and old Dad was the pushover. If you needed money you better not ask Mom but you could always sweet talk Dad. Thank goodness all the kids turned out well behaved because of my wife’s discipline.

Well it has only gotten worse with grandchildren. Is there anything sweeter than the smile or giggle of a grandchild when they walk in the door and see you? They’re not dumb--- they know that Grandpa has all kinds of good things to eat that they don’t get at home. Ice cream and fruit are never off limits at Grandpa’s house (I can’t let my daughters read this blog). Get a book and Grandpa will read to you all night long with his funny voices. If I had know grandchildren were this much fun I would have had them first.

Having raised daughters with dolls and playing house and school it is quite a change to have grandsons. Do boys have some special energy source in their bodies that allows them to go at full speed all day long? Is there a reason why they can’t pass a stick without picking it up and hitting every tree with the stick as they pass? Do all boys have a fascination with trucks? It is a wonder that all boys don’t grow up to drive trucks.

Yesterday we all took a trip to the National Zoo with some of their parents and then it was back to Grandpa and Grandma’s house for dinner, a movie and a cousin’s sleepover night. Just about a perfect day for the "Paper Tiger Grandfather". God only knows what it will be like when the great grandchildren come.


Congratulations to Tom Coale at HoCo Rising for reaching his $3,000 goal to support Grassroots.

The Baltimore Sun in an editorial this morning shows how we are fortunate to live in Howard County.

I blogged on mental health issues a while ago and NAMI the National Alliance on Mental Illness was mentioned. They are a great organization that works with families dealing with mental health issues. You can donate to their effort online or participate in one of their walks.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Investing consistent with your values

For many of us contributing to causes that we believe in and investing to maximize the rate of return on our investments are mutually exclusive. Our beliefs are separated from our choices in investing for our future. We have a hometown organization that gives us the opportunity to align our investments with our belief in developing neighbor communities.

In addition to being a shopping mall developer and the creative genius behind the development of Columbia, Jim Rouse had a passion for developing affordable housing. When he left his involvement in the running of the Rouse Company he devoted himself the Enterprise Foundation to raise capital to built affordable housing. The most well known local example of this is his involvement in restoring housing in the Sandtown section of Baltimore.

The Enterprise Foundation through its Enterprise Community Loan Fund now has a way that individuals can invest in an “Impact Note” that is used to provide affordable housing. Notes start at $5,000 and return a 2% to 3.5% rate of return depending on the length of the term of the note. While this does make a substantial commitment financially it does make sense for anyone looking for a stable way to invest that provides others with the opportunity to have affordable housing.

As their brochure states in giving examples of the types of investments:

Eva Martinez and her two daughters lived together in Washington, D.C.’s Mt. Pleasant neighborhood in the St. Dennis building. Their landlord emptied the building through poor management and “buy-offs” in an effort to convert the building into market-rate condominiums. The family’s strong belief that working families deserve the right to remain in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood led them to endure many nuisances and some serious risks. Yet they successfully realized their dream. Through the tenacity of the Martinez family, the assistance of pro-bono counsel firm Arnold & Porter and help from the National Housing Trust-Enterprise Corporation financing was secured to acquire, renovate and keep the property affordable.

Now, families will be able to enjoy fully renovated, energy efficient affordable apartments near numerous bus lines, a metro station and a number of grocery stores and schools.

St. Dennis will undergo significant renovations including energy efficiency upgrades to meet the Enterprise Green Communities Criteria. Improvements include an environmentally sustainable new roof, windows, individual HVAC systems, kitchens and baths. Meanwhile, historic features, including the hallway’s marble terrazzo flooring and fa├žade, will be preserved.

In Mt. Pleasant, these improvements demonstrate the vast potential of neighborhoods working together to build healthy, thriving communities.

“The courage and perseverance shown by the Martinez family reaffirms the real meaning of having an affordable home in a community where you have built roots and a sense of belonging,” said Enterprise’s David Bowers, vice president and Washington, D.C., Impact Market Leader.

To learn more about this investment you can contact Liz Sessler, Investment Marketing Manager at 410-772-2545

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Run for your life

Watching the results of Monday’s Boston Marathon I am in awe of any human being able to run 26 miles at a 4 minute 45 second per mile pace. For a normal human in good shape running a 6 or 7 minute mile is moving at a racing pace. It also reminded me that for most of the world that doesn’t run the idea of going out to run in the dark on a cold winter morning must seem like insanity. I know because I was once there.

People that I have known for a long time often ask me “Are you still running?” Somehow there is the expectation that you can only run for so long and then you have to retire from running. The idea that you can run into old age is just not a concept that most people expect. I guess they feel that one day I will tire of the running routine and rejoin the “real” world that enjoys sleeping in on weekend mornings. But I would mourn the loss of the peacefulness of being out in the elements alone with my thoughts and enjoying the sensation of movement. There is nothing like the feeling your body has after a cardiovascular workout in the morning. Sweat is good!

I have been running for over 25 years and have seen my running go from running 10K races in around 40 minutes to becoming a slow old jogger. I have even had fast walkers pass me! I have to say that experience is depressing. Last year my daughter who runs Ironman triathlons asked me what I was doing to celebrate my 60th birthday year. I hadn’t really thought about it other than thinking I have probably lived 2/3rds of my life (3/5ths if I am really optimistic on my longevity!). She said in a non-condescending way “Would you run a marathon with me before you get too old?” I had not run a marathon in 17 years since I ran the Columbia Marathon in 1993. And I didn’t even finish that one. She said that her husband (another skinny 20 something!) and her were going to do the Chicago Marathon on November 10, 2010. 10/10/10. That gave me 8 months to try and get my slow jogging body in shape to do 26 miles again. I thought I would be doing good to finish in 6 hours.

After doing slow runs of 4 hours on Saturdays for a couple of months last summer I thought at least I wouldn’t die trying to run in Chicago. What I didn’t know was that the temperatures in Chicago the week of the marathon would set records for the dates in October. As we ran the temperatures rose from the mid 60’s to the mid 80’s. We heard the sirens of ambulances picking up runners suffering from dehydration. The aide stations the last few miles had so many runners on Army cots with ice cubes being poured over them that many runners had to lie in the grass. OK, I know that the non-runners reading this are saying, “And you want me to believe runners are NOT crazy?”

With my daughter pulling me along the whole 26 miles I did finish in less than 6 hours and had father-daughter bonding memories that will last a lifetime (and the loss of the nail on my big toe).

I just don’t know if I am ready yet to hear her say “So Dad what are you going to do to celebrate your 70th birthday year?” I think I will take a pass on that one.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

One size may no longer fit the Village Center model

I have done one blog on the decline of the village centers and have been reading some other blogs on this issue. Frank Hecker has written how village centers have changed, Columbia's Future wrote about the Owen Brown Village Center and the Wilde Lake Village Center. The factor that seems to be weakening the concept of the village center as a place for village residents to shop is the development of other shopping choices like BJ’s and Costco. The addition of Wegman’s will further weaken the retailers in village centers. If grocery stores no longer bring residents to the centers how will the smaller retailers in the centers survive? Will village centers have to develop a niche to survive against the big box retailers?

In earlier posts I have talked about how we are seeing diversity in restaurants of every ethnic type. In addition I have noticed the growth of the ethnic grocery stores. The HowChow blog has posted on the wide variety of ethnic grocery stores in our area. I have tried many of these small stores and have enjoyed trying items that looked interesting. Some items became favorites and others were “interesting” tried only once. Where once you had to travel to other countries to taste the items that you can now buy locally. Most of the owners of these markets are helpful in telling you how to use the unknown items. With the increasing ethnic diversity in Howard County I would expect this trend of ethnic merchants to increase.

The only problem with the ethnic grocery stores is that they are spread out across the county and usually in hidden locations that are not visible from the road. Wouldn’t it be interesting if one of the village centers became a hub for these grocery stores? You could go from the Mexican market to the Indian market to the Asian market. Combine this with some ethnic restaurants and an ethnic craft store and you have something that would draw people from all over the county to a village center. Add an ethnic festival and entertainment in the warm months and you have a village center as a cultural center. Maybe even a location for the Foreign Born Information and Referral Network office and the African Art Museum of Maryland.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Aborted before Inception

OK so this blog’s title was a way of getting your attention on an important topic that I wanted to discuss in today’s blog. What I wanted to talk about was something that I have noticed about what happens or I should say what “doesn’t” happen with good ideas everyday-they die because of the difficulty with moving an idea to implementation. How many times have you heard someone say, “You know what would be a good idea?” And then that is as far as it goes. The step from an idea to a reality is often cumbersome.

I was attending a meeting this weekend with a group of professionals from a well known non-profit. At the end of our meeting we started listing all of the activities that could move our effort ahead. A list of 27 ideas was developed and then we had to rank them into the top 5 ideas. All that was accomplished with a great deal energy. But when the time came to talk about how this organization would implement the ideas it became apparent that the bureaucracy of this organization would mean that multiple people and various sections of the organization would have to sign off on most of the ideas. All this meant that for most of the ideas to become reality it would take a great deal of time and energy. This group has some dedicated leaders so maybe some of these ideas can be implemented but the odds are not good.

The idea of identifying and organizing a group of people to undertake a community project seems daunting. The thought of having to create a non-profit entity is something most people would find too difficult and expensive. With the connective platforms that have been created with the Internet the possibility of creating networks to provide a community service is being used frequently today to address and develop a community service. The key advantage to a network is how easily an idea can move to a reality using one of these platforms and the viral nature of the Internet.

I can give many examples of this in our community. The first is an example that I was directly involved in a few years ago. I had many times thought that many of the items I was taking to our County landfill might have some use to someone but I couldn’t figure out how I could identify that person. I thought that maybe a community swap meet that I had heard about might be one way of doing this but it seemed like too much work for a minor benefit. It was just easier to take the item to the landfill and be done with it. I certainly felt uncomfortable being part of the “throw away” culture where nothing was ever repaired ---just thrown away. One day I read an article in the Baltimore Sun about a new online group called Freecycle using the Yahoo Groups platform. Suddenly the answer to my idea was apparent. I immediately went to my computer to look up the Freecycle site and found that there was no freecycle near Columbia so I just set one up. It took me 5 minutes. What has been the result of that 5-minute effort? Today 6 years later over 4600 people are members of the Columbia Freecycle and there have been over 150,000 posts to the site. With many posts more than one item being offered it is difficult to say exactly how many items have been freecycled rather than being throw out and ending up in the landfill. I don’t want to leave the impression that no work has been necessary since that first 5 minutes. Some amazing volunteers keep the site operating properly by moderating the site. Untold hours are spent each week with this effort. The point is this—would I have created this community resource if I had to develop a board, draw up by-laws, obtain funding and hire staff required to operate a non-profit? Not likely.

I have written of other efforts that use the networking capabilities of the Internet to provide their services. Neighbor Ride uses volunteers to provide transportation to senior citizens in Howard County. Drivers take rides by responding to email requests that outline the rides that have been requested. Around 99% of the ride requests are provided. The old method of providing this service would have been to buy vehicles, hire drivers and pay for insurance. The number of rides provided this way would have been fewer than the present system and the cost would have been much higher. More vehicles would have had to be purchased and more drivers hired under the old system. With the Neighbor Ride system expansion is just identifying more volunteers, something they have been very successful in doing.

The Cold Weather Shelter program that I have written about is another example of networking community resources instead of building more homeless shelters and hiring more staff. While the coordination of an effort like the Cold Weather Shelter is not insignificant it has growth potential that can more quickly respond to growing demand then raising money to build more shelter beds. Anyone who remembers the time and effort it took Grassroots to expand knows how this is true.

An alternative to traditional charities to provide money to meet financial need has developed over the past few years. That alternative is the networking of Giving Circles. The Women’s Giving Circle in Howard County is the best know giving circle. A network of women make a commitment to give money to women in need in an easy and effective manner with a minimum of bureaucracy. The need is identified and usually met in the same day. No lengthy application process with multiple forms and review groups before the support is given.

Will networks replace non-profits as a way to meet community needs? The answer to that question remains to be seen. I do think that it is safe to say that more nonprofits will use the networking tools that the Internet provides to expand or to create new services. As time goes on the networking method may become the predominant method used by nonprofits to meet community needs. In the future when someone is asked to assist in meeting a community need their response maybe “Is there an App for that?”

Good article in the Baltimore Sun this morning on another example of crowdsourcing that I blogged on last week.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Pools in Columbia—Past, Present and Future

I recently attended a community meeting on the Columbia Association Aquatics Master Plan. CA recognizes that as Columbia matures and changes demographically some of the original features like neighborhood pools may have to change. It isn’t like some of those changes have already occurred. When I moved into the Elkhorn neighborhood in the late 70’s there was a big sign at the bottom of my street announcing the future location of a neighborhood pool and elementary school. When the houses in the neighborhood were built the signs came down and nothing more was heard about the “future” pool and elementary school to which my kids could easily walk. HRD or someone thought the signs would be good for marketing even if there were no plans for either amenity.

As the newer neighborhoods like Kendall Ridge and the villages of Hickory Ridge and River Hill developed the idea of smaller neighborhood pools changed to larger pools serving larger areas. The small neighborhood pool had already outlived its practicality in the newer neighborhoods. One size doesn’t seem to fit all especially when some of the first pools are within a “stone’s throw” from each other. Locust Park and Jeffers Hill, two low utilized pools, are practically next to each other on either side of Route 175. Faukner Ridge and Running Brook are another example of two pools being so close to each other that they compete for usage.

What CA is seeing is that some neighborhood pools are vastly underutilized. Talbott Springs has an average daily attendance of 58 or almost half the daily attendance of the next lowest attended pool. This is in spite of having one of the highest number of residents within one half mile of the pool. Locust Park the 3rd most underutilized pool has the highest number of residents within one half mile of the pool. In both cases this is because of the high number of apartment building near those pools. However the income of families living in those apartments is some of the lowest for families in Columbia. Family income in neighborhoods seems to correlate with pool attendance. This is spite of CA having a program for low-income residents to get a reduced membership fee. Other factors seem to be involved in the low utilization of those pools.

While the competition from Lifetime Fitness and the YMCA may compete for with CA there seems to be a market for all three to survive very well. It certainly seemed that Lifetime did cause CA to upgrade the Hopewell pool and go to 24-hour operation at Supreme Sports Club to not loose members.

One of the overlooked benefits of the pools is that for many teenagers in Columbia it was their first paying job. Nice youth employment program for Columbia.

The changing demographics of Columbia with our aging population will require that CA look at how the pools can be used by mature adults. I know that we dropped our CA membership when our kids left home because they had been the driving force in our joining CA. As this becomes the norm in neighborhoods the pool usage will decline unless pools can be marketed to mature adults instead of families with kids at home.

Some of the ideas that came out of the meeting I attended was that pools have more planned social events for adults like “Beach Boy Night” or “Parrot-head Night” with food, music and trivia games for baby boomers. Mommy and Me swim for mothers with small children. Swimming lessons for anyone who couldn’t swim even if you didn’t have a CA membership but could show a Columbia residence. The final point was further discussed that there should be times for any CA resident that pays a CA assessment fee to be able to use underutilized pools without having to be a CA member. The usage could be limited to a certain days or times or frequency of usage. What is the point of having underutilized facilities and denying residents who pay around a thousand dollars a year in CA assessment access to those pools?

I will be going out of town for a few days so everyone have a great weekend. Blog to continue next week.

Children’s Mental Health Services-Are they a luxury we can’t afford?

Anyone who has tried to get mental health services with private insurance has found out that most insurers look at mental health services as nice but not as important as other health services. Broken leg-- no problem, mental health problem—a couple of visits and you better be cured. This rarely is adequate for any mental health issue and especially with children. So as a family struggles with the disruptions that having a child with a mental health problem can cause, treatment from a mental health professional can seem like “a bridge too far.”

As this country struggles to recover from the budget deficit causes by the billions to banks and other corporations, children’s programs are on the chopping block. After all not many elected officials get campaign contributions from children. As officials talk about the world they want to leave to their children and grandchildren it just doesn’t include support for families with children in need of mental health services.

We are fortunate to have an organization in Howard County like the Maryland Coalition of Families for Children’s Mental Health. Founded by Jane Walker and other children’s mental health advocates and incorporated in 1999 they provide a wide range of support services to families dealing with mental health issues in children. I have known Jane for a very long time going back to when she worked with the Family Life Center. Jane is one of those tireless advocates that make Howard County such a rich community with supportive services.

Funded from a variety of public and private funds the Coalition provides one on one support to families in need of resources and support. Even though their main office is in Columbia the Coalition provides service in many locations throughout Maryland. Information on local mental health resources, support groups, webinars and publications are just some of the services they provide.

The first week in May is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week. The First Lady of Maryland Judge Katie O’Malley is the Honorary Chair for the week in Maryland. As a Maryland judge our First Lady sees the impact of mental health issues on families in her court every day. Untreated mental health issues can lead to social ills such as homelessness, domestic violence and abuse. Society can pay now with mental health service or pay later with more expensive interventions.

I received the following information on NAMI of Howard County:

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a grassroots mental health organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and post traumatic stress disorder. NAMI provides education, support, and advocacy to achieve our goal of freeing people with mental illnesses and their families from stigma and discrimination, and to facilitate access to mental health treatment that expedites recovery. NAMI is a non-profit organization and does not charge for any of its programs or services. The website for the national organization is

The Howard County affiliate of NAMI offers support groups and educational courses based on a model created by the national organization. For specific information about the Howard County affiliate, go to

Mental illness is a serious medical condition that affects one in four families, translating to over 25,000 households in Howard County (based on the 2010 census).

Mental illness usually strikes individuals in the prime of their lives, often during adolescence and young adulthood. All ages are susceptible, but the young and the old are especially vulnerable. About one in ten children has a serious mental or emotional disability. Half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, three-quarters by age 24!

Mental illnesses are treatable. Between 70 and 90 percent of individuals have significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life with a combination of pharmacological and psychosocial treatments and supports. The earlier treatment begins, the better the prognosis for recovery.

NAMI Howard County offers six family support groups and two for adults who have a mental illness. Since you are specifically addressing children’s mental health, I have attached a flier with information about our two support groups for parents of children and teens with mental health issues. Feel free to copy and paste the information to your blog.

We also offer three life-changing educational courses:

-Family-to-Family is a course for people who have an adult relative who has a serious mental illness

-NAMI Basics is a course for parents of children and teens with mental health issues (see attached flyer)

-Peer-to-Peer is a recovery education course for adults who have a mental illness

Swim Run Write Blog has an interesting blog today about memories of an earlier Columbia.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

In Praise of Government--Really!

The political culture today is that the government is the problem with what we are experiencing in our country today. The "reduce the government and solve all our problems" crowd seems to be following the Tea Party philosophy. Haven't we been here before? As Ronald Reagan once said "Government is not the solution government is the problem." Demagoguery about government is popular. In this political climate it is refreshing to have our County and State elected officials quietly going about the job of governing without the dramatics. As we look at the scandals that have hit Baltimore and Prince Georges County we can appreciate the good government officials here in Howard County. I can’t really remember ever hearing of any hint of scandal from one of local elected officials. And maybe Maryland can finally get over our sad past of the Mandel and Agnew time.

Having been a Howard County employee for over 25 years and getting to know many of the elected officials I found them to be dedicated and accessible. I will never forget how Chuck Ecker was so down to earth. We used to have Office on Aging staff member on the lookout for him when he would come to visit one of our senior centers because he would come in in his quiet manner, mingle with the seniors and be gone sometimes before we knew he had been there. Not many officials would be as uninterested in being formally recognized. Plus he even invited every County employee to his office for coffee just to hear their comments about how things were working in the County. Republican or Democrat our County Execs and County Council have been models of what you want in our officials.

The excellence of our schools has many causes but the diligence and hard work of the dedicated School Board members should not be overlooked. I have never talked to any of them without sensing how dedicated to our students they were.

The quality of elected officials that represent Howard County at the Federal level is equally noteworthy. Our past senators like Mathias and Sarbarnes and our present senators Mikulski and Cardin set an example that I wish the rest of the country would imitate.

So as we hear the childish behavior of officials in DC, which will only intensify as we approach the next election season in 2012, we can be proud that we don’t contribute to the low standard of Congressional politics. If you see one of our elected officials in the near future tell them you appreciate the work they have been doing that has brought Howard County so much positive recognition.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Community Engagement through Crowdsourcing

As anyone who has been reading this blog probably knows I am fascinated with how the Internet and social media can be used in new ways to engage the community. The development of "wikis" has shown how open source programs can use the collective knowledge of many people to create innovative products. The old phrase “two brains are better than one” gets a whole new meaning when you bring together the collective brains of hundreds or thousands of people with a variety of backgrounds and knowledge. The most famous creation of a wiki is Wikopedia.

According to Source Watch “After experimenting with Nupedia, which relied on approved editors for quality control, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales concluded that a top-down "cathedral" development model would not allow the project to be successful. Wales sought a method whereby a larger group of users could asynchronously or simultaneously review content. Wiki software, which allows casual users easier access to editing tools, offered Wales an alternative to the problems he saw in the Nupedia model. Wikipedia soon developed a large group of regular users who controled content by reviewing recent changes and individual watch-lists of pages that they wanted to watch for changes. In a contrast to the Nupedia model, in which edit privileges were difficult to come by, Wikipedia offered edit privileges by default. Administrators revoke edit privileges at their discretion based on policies, and on their opinion of content or contributors. Wikipedia, more so than other wiki services in early 2004, had become a main source for encyclopedic content redistributed by other sites. While this means that a much greater body of Internet content is freely available, it also means that any errors in Wikipedia are reproduced across the Internet.”

The world of community services can use the wiki model to harness the collective knowledge and engagement to create needed community services. This model called “crowdsourcing” is a new innovative technique to be used by non-profits and other service providers to engage the community. Crowdsourcing does represent a new “bottom/up” model that challenges the more traditional board of directors driven "top/down model of operation. Many Boards are uncomfortable to give up some of their control of organizational operations and determining the direction of “their” organizations. Strategic plans are often developed with little input except from the board directors. Many organizations are uncomfortable accepting how closed their organizations are in obtaining input from the wider general community. Sometimes public hearings are held to satisfy a funder more than set a new direction for the organization.

There are many examples of crowdsourcing to collectively develop a project. Gretchen McKay, an Art History professor at McDaniels College, had some of her students help design some of her courses. This goes against the top/down model of professors with doctorates assuming that their role is to transmit information to students in a non-collaborative manner. Somehow educators have forgotten the old Chinese maxim of “Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand.”

Would you believe you could create a symphony orchestra by crowdsourcing? The YouTube Symphony Orchestra has performed at New York's Carnegie Hall. Over 3000 musicians auditioned for the orchestra by submitting You Tube videos.

Governments are now using wikis as a way to get citizen input into solving community problems. Some even hold contests to identify the best ideas. The Federal Government is getting into this business with a challenge to the public to address issues of interest to the Federal Government. This is a more open process than putting out a complicated bid offer for which only professional groups could compete.

Fox is using crowdsourcing to hold a competition to create a 3-5 minute cartoon video for the Family Guy show. Fox will select the best and the public will vote on the winner of the contest.

Non-profits can use crowdsourcing to replace or supplement focus groups and needs assessments to obtain a sense of what community needs are in any area and to brainstorm possible solutions. The persons involved in the process might also be potential volunteers to implement ideas.

To overlook the potential of collective solution finding through the use of crowdsourcing is one of the most overlooked and yet a powerful benefit of our new digital technology. Wouldn't it be interesting to use a crowdsourcing approach to develop a Howard County Community Engagement Summit to identify important County issues and solutions?

Good article in the Baltimore Sun today April 16 that shows another example of crowdsourcing.

Post script- The Howard County Government Facebook page only pushes out information to the public. It is one directional. How about a way to allow citizens to post an issue or concern to be addressed by the county government? Maybe there would be more than 210 people who have "liked" the page.

Baltimore Sun has information on how you can get paid for innovative gadget ideas.

Frank Hecker has a great follow up to my blog on Village Centers that is a must read. I love his ideas on specialized Village Centers. I think that is an interesting direction to be examined.

Paula Linn has alerted me to a newly formed group in Howard County called 'No Labels'. The intent of the group is to address the important issues in this country without the traditional Republican and Democrat labels. No Labels hopes to organize groups in every Congressional district throughout the US. Sounds like a group of independent moderates who are tired of the voices of the two extremes. The Howard County group has had two meetings and will meet April 26th from 7pm to 9pm at Howard County Central Library,10375 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, MD 21144. There is a website for No Labels at which promotes the organization. Also please note that people who are interested in the local Howard County meeting can sign up at

Good commentary in the Baltimore Sun today on the impact of the Ryan Budget on Children's Health Care.

Columbia Patch has an article on a growing problem with graffeti. Anyone who has read the book One Broken Window sees this as a troubling sign for any community

The Columbia Association is sponsoring a "Dog Day Afternoon" this Saturday to bring your pets to. Check it out