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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Economic benefits of walkable and bikeable Columbia

   With Columbia actively engaged in a plan to redo our downtown area it might be useful to look at how this process is playing out across the US.  I recently finished read the book "The End of the Suburbs" by Leigh Gallagher.   In this book Ms. Gallagher lays out how the suburbs planned in the 1950's and 1960's are now being reexamined as a lifestyle as we move farther into the 21st Century.  The idea of a tract home in the suburbs with a long commute to a job in the city is no longer the lifestyle of Millennials and Generation Xers. While singles and childless couples have always been common as city residents we now see that these couples are opting to stay in the city to raise their children.   Baby Boomers are also following a movement back to urban areas.  This reality can be seen in Baltimore.  As some offices are relocating to Harbor East in Baltimore the former offices are being renovated to provide housing for people moving into center city Baltimore.
      What is causing this readjustment in living choices?  Some of it is tied to the changing family structures.  The old norm of marrying in your early 20's and beginning to raise 3 or 4 children that promoted suburban living is now no longer the norm.  Today's young person is more likely to attend college and graduate school, begin a career, marry in their late 20's or early 30's and then have children later in life.  For these individuals the idea of living on a cul-de-sac in suburbia is less common than in it once was. They are accustomed to the activity of an urban environment and the possibility of a short commute to work.  A commute that may even involve a short walk or bike.
      The first part of this story resonates with me as a member of the Baby Boomer generation.  I remember loving living in a number of locations around DC in the the 1970's.  Walking to restaurants and other city activities was common.  A short ride on a bus (this was before most of the subway system existed) could get you most places you wanted to go.  Attending concerts at the Capitol and watching the sunset over the Capitol is something I still remember.  I frequently attended Congressional hearings or floor debates (as boring as they were) on controversial legislation.  The only difference was when we started to raise a family we opted for a suburban community with a twist---Columbia.  After visiting the suburban communities in the Maryland and Virginia (couldn't see myself living in such a conservative state) we fell for the utopian vision of the Columbia story when we visited the Visitor Center.
      So now that we have a "doughnut" hole in our population of young families there is a movement to attract the younger generation with a redeveloped downtown.  Connecting parts of our downtown in a way that develops a more walkable area seems to be in line with what younger people want.  And maybe some Baby Boomers too.  The present Town Center area was designed for the car and is not inviting to anyone foolish enough to try and walk or bike in the area now. Walkable urban places are becoming the new norm among more homebuilders.  Examples in our area are The Villages at Leesburg, Kentland in Gaithersburg, and of course Maple Lawn here in Howard County.  The only problem with these new models is affordability.  You can see this most dramatically by looking at the retailers that are locating in these communities.  Not much chance of a WalMart in any one of these locations.
      One of the important points of the Gallagher book is that walkable communities make economic sense. This reality is rarely mentioned in a discussion of economic development.  Good schools, proximity to BWI and cultural activities in Baltimore and DC are probably most of our County's economic development pitch. Attracting a younger generation of residents may have to promote the walkability that is associated with an urban environment.  While this maybe the direction of the new development in downtown Columbia we have our model of 1960's retailing in the middle of our downtown--the Columbia Mall. While the Mall is moving slowing and incrementally in the new direction of a less enclosed retail model with the new development, it is still taking up a large amount of land in the central core of our town.

        The parking area of the Mall is probably the biggest hinderance to revitalizing our downtown.  Reston Virginia has a model for what our downtown retail area could look like without the Mall.

Some other sites for the economic benefits of walkability are listed here:

I have blogged once before on the dying of suburbs.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Columbia Archives celebrates the 50th anniversary of Columbia's beginning

     50 years ago today Jim Rouse made the first public announcement that the Rouse Company had purchased 14,100 acres in Howard County to develop our planned community. Below are some photos from that time from the Columbia Archives.

       Tonight at 7 pm the Columbia Archives is opening an exhibit called "Creating Columbia: Going Public, Getting Started." The Archives is located in the American City Building located at 10227 Wincopin Circle. The exhibit will run through March 2014.

   In the photo above from the Columbia Archives Jim Rouse presents his plans to the Howard County Commissioners.  The photos below from the Archives shows how the area of Columbia was a patchwork
of farms at the time of the announcement.  A two lane Route 29 is seen at the bottom of the picture.


    There were rumors around the County about who was buying up all this land in secret. One of the wildest was that the Russians were buying the land to establish a village for Russian diplomats. This was a time of the Cold War and the secrecy of the land purchases made sense at that time being connected to the Russians. Remember the movie "The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming?"

P.S. 1

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Pet power

    It seems that there are a number of books being written about the human-pet connection.  Most books talk about the connection having many of the same aspects as our relationships with other people.

     For the past dozen or so years our household has included two toy poodles.  This was not by choice of either myself or my wife.  It is an old story of children leaving their pets with their parents when they move out.  That wasn't the agreement when the pets were purchased.  Their personalities couldn't be any different.  One is shy and the other thinks everyone is his friend.  Can you guess which is which in the photo above?

     This past year has been a story of many visits to the vet's as both of the dogs are becoming senior citizens.  Unfortunately there is no Medicare or Obamacare for dogs.  I would be an early sign up if there was.  We have discovered that there is probably a vet speciality for every dog condition as there is for any human condition.  We have seen an vet orthopedist, ophthalmologist, neurologist and a surgeon.  All in addition to visits to the regular vet.  I don't know how the old country vets had to handle everything but it is a sign of how pets are treated as members of the family in a way that is different from the past.
     This relationship has been especially difficult for my Mother this past year.  She lost my Father a couple of years ago but still had a cat that was just like her child.  A month ago she had to have the cat put to sleep and the adjustment to a house without another person or pet has been especially hard.  She misses the greeting she received when she came downstairs in the morning and when she came back to the house.  Now there is a sadness that has replaced the animal greeting at those times.  She is taking some time to see if she wants to get another cat.
     The human-animal connection has been shown in organizations that bring animals to people who no longer are able to have a pet. Howard County has a program called Paws 4 Comfort that has regular screenings for pets at the Bain Center on a regular basis. The Animal Advocates of Howard County try to find new homes for animals. The National Therapy Dogs Association holds some trainings in our County.

When was the last time you were greeted like this.  This is what it is like at our house when we come back from vacation.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Baby Boomers explode in Howard County

     What do you get when the United States had a baby boom from 1946 to 1963 and Howard County had a quadrupling of our population from 1960 to 1990?  You get a very skewed population of baby boomers living in Howard County. In 2010 fifty percent of the households in Howard County were headed by a baby boomer. This is shown most dramatically in a new report from the Howard County Office of Planning.  The rise in the over 65 population is projected to increase by 165% from 2010 to 2040.  This compares dramatically when you compare that to the increases in other age groups during this same period.  The 0-4 age group increases by 9%, 5-19 age group drops by 1 % , the 20-39 age group increases by 17% and the 40-64 age group increases by 2%.  The bottom line is that the overall population of Howard County under 65 is going to stabilize or decline while the 65+ population is going to significantly increase.  Even more significant is where the most dramatic increase occurs within the 65+ group.  The younger, healthier group of those from 65-80 will actually decline as a percentage of the 65+ group.  The 80+ age group will show a large increase in the next 30 years.  The percentage of the 65+ group in 2010 that was 80+ was 23%.  In 2040 this 80+ group will grow to 35% of the 65+ population.  This is a age group that is most likely to use and need supportive services.  28% of the 65+ population have one disability and of this group 60% have more than one disability.
    Another demographic change in the 65+ population in the next 30 years is the decline in number of non minority residents that will make up this group.  In 2010 the 65+ population that was White was 73%.  This reflects a racial makeup of our County in the 1960's and early 1970's.  The racial and ethnic diversity that has been growing in Howard County the past 20 years will start to show up as we approach 2040.  In 2040 the percentage of the 65+ population that is White will only be 35%.  The growing minority population's ability to afford supportive services as they age will less when you look at the income demographics of Howard County.  In a report prepared for the Housing Office in 2011 the Howard County African American population has an income that is 31% lower than the White population, the Hispanic population has an income that is 27% lower and the Asian population has an income that is 10% lower.
      What do these demographic changes mean for Howard County?  Certainly we will continue to see a growth in housing in our County aimed at the 55+ market.  Home health agencies, assisted living homes, nursing homes and even the hospital should see increases as our population grows older.  Demand for transportation services for a population that no longer drives will increase.  Much of the transportation increase will be for paratransit or door to door transportation.  Some will be for more taxi service and some for bus services.  Growth in County funded services for seniors will increase. The Columbia Association will have to address the changing demographics that will move from young family based services to services that reflect this an older, less mobile population.  Fitness services might have to be more geared to rehab services.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Ravens practice halted suddenly this past week

     Ravens football practice was delayed nearly two hours this past week after a player reported finding an unknown white powdery substance on the practice field. Head coach, John Harbaugh immediately suspended practice while police and federal agents were called to investigate. After a complete analysis, FBI forensic experts determined that the white substance, unknown to the players, was the goal line. Practice was resumed after special agents decided the team was unlikely to encounter the substance again.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Best hiking locally for Fall foliage

     With the recent cooler weather and shorter days our fall foliage should be near peak the next two weekends.  While we may think of New England or the Shenandoahs for fall color we have some areas very close to us that can be spectacular.  This past week I hiked in the Patapsco State Park and took the pictures below along the Crescent trail in the park.  The trail has 0.9 mile and a 2.3 mile loops. The color was not quite there yet but that should be changing very quickly.   

The roots along the path form natural steps at many locations along the trail.

To show the color on this trail at its peak I pulled some photos from Google images.

   Another great location for fall color is in Rock Creek Park in DC.  The park has many different types of trees that adds to its color in the Fall.  Below are some examples of the Park in the Fall.

       With the Ravens bye week this weekend it may be the ideal time to enjoy some nature this weekend.

     This week I went out at daybreak to take some photos at Lake Elkhorn.  The best time to take pictures of Fall trees is at daybreak and just after sunset.  The muted light really brings out the deep colors that the sunlight tends to wash out.

P.S. 1
    Just a reminder for everyone who leaves their car in isolated parking lots to hike.  Don't leave any purses or valuables in plain sight in your vehicle.  These locations are prime areas for smash and grab crimes.  Our County parks are frequently the locations for these types of crimes.Enjoy the weather but don't give these criminals an easy target.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Coho's: Columbia's hometown restaurant

     As you can see in the picture above Coho's last 1/2 price burger night before the renovation was packed as usual.  I had to go this last time for one of my favorite burgers.  Their turkey buffalo burger (not on their menu but by request) is the best anywhere.  This is to say nothing about how the fries that accompany their burgers are addictive.  I usually steal some from my wife's plate after finishing off mine.
     I have blogged on how many of our old Columbia food institutions have disappeared over the years.  Mrs. Z's, The Pub and Produce Galore just to mention a few.  For old time Columbians Coho's remains as one that still provides a great place to get some good food (great crab cakes) and run into people you know.  I rarely go there and not see someone I know.  Granted the crowd at Coho's (especially on 1/2 price burger night!) is an older crowd that have called Columbia home for some time.   These are the people who are first generation Columbians who moved here in the late 60's and 70's to raise their families. They remember the film on the Columbia story that you saw when you first visited the Visitors Center.  They have stayed in many of our older communities long after their kids have left home.
     I will miss going there as we head into winter and remember how inviting walking into the place with the fire in their fireplace greeting you.  November 2014 can't come soon enough to resume coming to this welcoming community establishment again.

From CA on closing:

Last Day for Club Clubhouse Operations Will Be Oct. 26

Construction will soon begin on the new clubhouse at the Hobbit’s Glen Golf Club. The golf club will remain open for play, with limited non-golf services available for golfers.

Columbia Association (CA) has announced that the last day of normal clubhouse operations will be Saturday, Oct. 26. Beginning on Sunday, Oct. 27, limited services will be available in the clubhouse for both the pro shop and The Coho Grill restaurant. The golf course will close on Monday, Oct. 28, for a private outing. This will be the last outing until spring.

From Oct. 29 through mid-November, limited services will continue to be provided in the clubhouse for both the pro shop and the restaurant while furniture and fixtures are removed. Demolition of the existing clubhouse is expected to begin in late November. At that time, reception, the pro shop, and limited food and beverage operations will move to a temporary trailer. A storage building to temporarily house the carts and chargers is being constructed. Restroom facilities will be available at the pro shop, the Racquet Club and at portable locations.

In April, a turn house providing food and drink service will be open. There also will be restrooms at this location. The new clubhouse is expected to be open in November 2014. For more information, please

  Howard County Police released this photo of the suspect in the shooting of a Howard County Police Officer yesterday in Savage.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Confessions of a "leaf-raking slacker"

   They say that confession is good for the soul.  So today I have to confess that I have never seen the point in raking leaves.  Somehow taking organic material like leaves and putting them in plastic bags that don't decompose seems like an non-environmental way to address removing leaves from your yard.

     As an aside why hasn't environmentally sensitive Howard County come up with a more environment way of disposing of leaf waste than our present disposal method of putting our leaves in plastic bags for pick up?  I assume that they are not dumped in our landfill but what do they do with all the plastic bags?

    My hometown in Pennsylvania has trucks that suck up the leaves that have been raked to the curb and then mulched for providing the town residents free organic decomposted mulch in the Spring.
   When we first moved into our lovely treed lot many years ago I found out that if you wait long enough the leaves would mostly blow away to some other place (like my neighbors yards).  My wife always said that there seemed to be no yard work that I couldn't find a reason to avoid.  She didn't buy my "environmentally sensitive" excuse.  Unfortunately getting two dogs meant fencing our yard and providing a barrier to my convenient "excuse" for not raking the leaves.  My next solution was to buy a mulching lawn mower and leaving some of the mulched leaves on the yard.

Piling most of the mulched leaves in a pile in our backyard makes for easy work of this chore.

   This solution doesn't leave a perfectly clean yard but what is left does seem small enough to find its way out of our fenced yard (sorry neighbors)!

   The U of MD Cooperative Extension in partnership with the Howard County Master Gardeners have a "Rake and Take" program that will take your leaves to be used on community gardens.  For info call Pat Hooker at 410-489-4319.

     Like most couples my chores tend to be the outside chores and my wife's chores (minus cooking) tend to be the inside chores.  I don't have any idea how our washer and dryer work and she wouldn't know how to start the lawnmower.  This annual ritual of slacking on leaf raking always leads to a "discussion" with my wife about the division of our household chores.  She would prefer that our yard look more like our perfectly manicured, well maintained neighbor yards and I point out to her the harm of fertilizing and watering yards to get them to look that way.  She then points out that if she did her inside chores the way I do my outside chores our house would be one that we would be ashamed to have anyone enter.  Thinking this over I have to admit that it is a good thing that I am the only "environmentally-sensitive" person in this household.

  Speaking of my hometown, one of the things I miss about Fall is the smell of burning leaves.  This is how we disposed of leaves way back when.  It was a pleasant smell that foretold of colder weather, football games, apple cider and pumpkins.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Columbia Association clothing drive

    The holiday season is approaching and many of our local organizations are making their annual appeals for donations. Today's appeal comes from the Columbia Association. Maybe cleaning out your closet can free up closet space and benefit someone in our community. Here is where you can donate:
    "Collection boxes have been placed around Columbia for Columbia Association’s (CA) 5th annual clothing drive organized by CA’s Youth and Teen Center and its Teen Outreach Committee. Collection boxes have been stationed at:
       all 10 village community association buildings
       Columbia Art Center (located at 6100 Foreland Garth in the Long Reach Village Center)
       Youth and Teen Center @ The Barn (located at 5853 Robert Oliver Place in the Oakland Mills Village            Center)
        Eggspectation restaurant (6010 University Blvd., Ellicott City)

     The collection boxes will remain at these facilities through Friday, Nov. 29. Those donating can bring in new and gently used clothes, shoes and accessories, including but not limited to ties, belts, hosiery, hats, gloves, pocketbooks and jewelry.

    These donated items will then be distributed to community members in need on Saturday, Jan. 18, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and on Sunday, Jan. 19, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Both distribution days will be held at The Barn, which is located at 5853 Robert Oliver Place in the Oakland Mills Village Center.

Youth who are interested in earning community service hours by assisting with the collection, sorting, set-up and distribution should contact Safire Windley or 410-992-3726."


Monday, October 21, 2013

Health Care Signups in Maryland

     Much has been written about the problems with signing up for the new Affordable Health Care Program.  Here in Maryland our program has experienced many of the same problems that other states and the Federal Government has had.  The problems seem to have been with the verification needed from various federal departments and the old technology used with the program.
     Not all states have had the problems experienced in Maryland.  Connecticut and Kentucky have been the two standout states for enrollment.  Kentucky just enrolled their 8,400th person.  Their success seems to indicated that letting people shop for insurance before setting up an online account works.  This would seem to have been a non brainer for people setting up the sites.  What online merchant requires setting up an account before shopping?  
    So where is Maryland today with enrollment? From information provided recently it sounds like the State has heard some of the complaints and are working to change things for the better:

"Marylanders have continued to show tremendous interest in accessing quality, affordable 
health coverage. Since October 1, we have seen more than 217,000 unique visitors to our 
website, there have been more than 15,000 calls to our call centers, and more than 25,000 
people have created identity-verified accounts. More than 16,000 Marylanders have learned 
whether or not they are eligible for financial assistance. 
We are beginning to learn more about the individuals who are exploring quality, affordable 
health care through Maryland Health Connection. Of the first 25,000 accounts created with 
verified identity, (1) the most common age group is 25 to 29 years of age; (2) 53 percent of 
account holders in Maryland are female; and (3) individuals creating accounts come from all 
parts of the state. 
In response to the feedback we’re hearing from users, and based on their suggestions, we 
are adding helpful information to the site. For example, we have posted a new webpage, 
Prepare for Enrollment, which (1) provides information on health plans; (2) shows sample 
rates for a range of example households; and (3) provides instructions on the documents 
needed for the application for financial assistance. 
In addition, our simple but powerful provider search tool allows consumers to search for a 
doctor and find out the plans in which their doctor participates. "
You can sign up with a paper application at a scheduled appointment at the following Howard County sites:

Healthy Howard, Inc./The Door to HealthCare Western Maryland - 8930 Stanford Blvd, Columbia 21045
Chase Brexton Health Services- 5500 Knoll North Dr., #370, Columbia 21045
Korean Resource Center- 10176 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City 21042
Howard County Department of Social Services- 7121 Columbia Gateway Drive, Columbia 21046
North Laurel-Savage Multiservice Center - 9900 Washington Boulevard, Laurel 20723

Residents should contact or 855-288-DOOR (855-288-3667) to for hours of operation or to schedule an appointment at these or any other location.

  From the Children's Time Preschool:
"Children’s Time Preschool is hosting a Fall Fest on Saturday, October 26, 2013 at 10025 Shaker Drive, Columbia, MD from 9:00 am – 12:00 pm. Join the school for games, crafts, food and prizes! The Fall Fest includes an Acorn Hunt for children of all ages at 10:30 am, a visit from Howard County firefighters and their fire truck at 11:00 am, and a trike-a-thon featuring CTP students. Come participate in our raffle at 11:45 am to win fantastic prizes, including passes to Jump Zone, Play N’ Learn, Gymboree and Columbia Ice Ring; gift cards to The Corner Stable Restaurant, Rob Raymer Photography, and TinyPrints; and special gifts from Greenberries and Lucy and Ethel’s. Join us for fun crafts including frame painting and pumpkin decorating, and for games including a cake walk, pin-the-face-on-the-pumpkin, a bean bag toss, and many more! Tickets for games and the raffle are only $1 each. Craft tickets are $2 per craft activity.
Children’s Time Preschool is a private, non-profit, co-operative preschool in King’s Contrivance,
Columbia. For more information on our teachers, our classes, our curriculum, the benefits of co-
operative education, and enrollment information, visit us at "


Saturday, October 19, 2013

It's beginning to look little like Christmas???


   Passing the Merriweather Post area this past week it was hard not to see the workers putting up the lights for the Symphony of Lights.   I understand that it takes a good deal of time to have the lights ready for the post Thanksgiving open.  Still seem strange in mid October with 70 degree weather to see signs of Christmas.

   Even stranger is every year seeing BJ's Wholesale Market put up Christmas merchandise soon after the schools open in September.  Again I understand that many retailers buy their Christmas merchandise from wholesalers like BJ's to resell later in their stores.
    I remember when you didn't hear Christmas songs on the radio until the day after Thanksgiving.  The crazy Black Friday sales now push a number of radio stations to start playing Christmas songs a week or two before Thanksgiving.  Somehow Thanksgiving has become just a holiday to start Christmas shopping.  Macy's and other retailers are now going to open on Thanksgiving to get a jump on the competition.  Remember when the Monday after Thanksgiving was called "Black Monday" because of Christmas shopping done online by employees returning to work and using their high speed internet connections.  Now most of us have high speed connections at home and the shopping online begins on Thanksgiving. Remember when it wasn't automatic to get the day after Thanksgiving off?  Now only employees in retail sales seem to be working that day.
     Where does this trend end?  Will we next lose Halloween?  Or how about year around Christmas.  We already have Christmas stores in many shopping centers that are open year around.  I could never get used to passing the Christmas store in Rehoboth in August in 90 degree heat. I guess Christmas and many of our other holidays (like Presidents Day) are just becoming excuses to shop.

     In another sign of changing times I still remember the excitement of the Sears "Wish Book" catalog arriving in the mail in October when I was growing up.  By the time it came time to pick out our choices for our parents to place their order in early December the pages had become "dog eared."  Ask almost anyone over 50 and I bet they have a similar memory.

P.S. 1
     A heads up to all Christians who want to wish their Jewish friends a Happy Hanukkah this year it starts the day before Thanksgiving.  The last time it was this early was 1861 which was before Thanksgiving was a national holiday.  So this is the first time the two holidays coincide like this.  Maybe latkes for Thanksgiving will be common this year.  So saying Happy Holidays this year will be a Thanksgiving greeting.

From the Historical Society:


The Howard County Genealogical Society will be hosting a free help desk on the third Saturday of every month at our Archive and Research Library located on the second floor of the Miller Branch Library. This help desk is open to genealogical research in all areas of the United States, Europe and other countries. Anyone interested in genealogical research is invited to stop by and have experienced genealogists help you to "break down the brick wall" or get started on your family history. For more information call 410-480-3250."

Friday, October 18, 2013

Give a Howard County family Thanksgiving dinner


     You might be aware that Howard County has been named as the county with the 2nd highest average family income of all the counties in the United States.  This might lead you to think that everyone in Howard County has the income to provide food for their families.  However we have families who live and work at near the poverty level in Howard County.  They are working in our fast food establishments, cleaning our homes or working for a landscaping business.  Minimum wage jobs for many people are supporting families.
    At Thanksgiving many of us want to share our good fortunes with these families who struggle with food security.  The United Way of Central Maryland has been providing Thanksgiving dinners to low income families for over 10 years through their Harvest of Plenty.  Last year over 300 Howard County families had their Thanksgiving dinner provided by this program.  A donation of $15 provides one family with a dinner.  It is not often that with a $15, $30, or $45 donation to have a significant impact for a family in our community.  As you sit down to your Thanksgiving dinner this year you will also have the good feeling that other families are able to do the same thing because of your generosity.  If you are willing to donate to this program click here.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Who needs a grass lawn?

    I have blogged before about my desire to reduce the areas of grass in my lawn area.  My distaste of grass comes from my feeling that it is boring and an unnatural ground cover.  Have you ever seen grass growing in a forest?  Somehow our suburban communities have developed with an idealized image of a lush, green lawn as a symbol of upward mobility.  I have looked to what grows in the wild that has color and variety to replace the grass in my yard.  Even in Columbia with its conformist guidelines you don't have to have grass as a yard.  Of course an over grown unattractive yard of weeds might be an issue with your neighbors but a well maintained natural environment can be an attractive enhancement to your property.
    In this regard I recently talked with Tom Bowman, an arborist with the Davey Tree Expert Company, about how to increase your curb appeal with plantings in your yard.  Tom stressed that variety and color are two of the most important elements to consider if you want to make an attractive natural environment in your yard.  He recommended a mixture of annuals and perennials.  He also stressed that some annuals will also have the ability to reseed your garden for the next season.  Zinnias, marigolds and snap dragons fall into this category and are pictured below.

One aspect of a garden to consider is the placement of bushes and trees in a way that won't distract from the flowering parts of your garden.  Shorter, well pruned bushes such as azaleas and rhododendrons can accent other parts of a garden, particularly as border plantings.  Another important aspect to consider is to plan for plantings that add color at different seasons.  Summer blooming flowers like 

Black Eyed Susans
Echinacea add color as Spring flowers die

   Winter and colder weather doesn't mean that you have to lose all our the color in your yard.  Below are some recommended choices.



Winter cabbage

Redstem Dogwood

Birch trees

 I have blogged frequently about the efforts we can all make in our community to protect the Chesapeake watershed.  On October 26th there will be a simple way to participate in this effort.  Think about joining in this effort.  The following info was sent from the Howard County Watershed Stewards Academy :

"Come Plant The Grove!
When: Saturday, October 26th
Where: Below Wilde Lake Dam
Time: 10:00 AM ~ 12:00 PM
Rain or Shine

This planting initiative is designed to be a celebration of diverse groups and people coming together to ultimately promote cleaner waters flowing to the Chesapeake Bay. We look forward to sharing the joy of planting trees together: plant alone or with your family, friends, classmates or community group.

The Grove will serve as a riparian buffer on a ½ acre site below Wilde Lake dam. Six tree varieties will be planted in this environmentally sensitive location to preserve and prevent further land and stream bank erosion, act as a tree canopy and absorb stormwater and pollutants. The Grove is a Howard County Watershed Stewards Academy project done in conjunction with Columbia Association Watershed Management. Educational materials, snacks and tree helpers are sponsored by British American Auto Care and private donations .

Recommended registration and more information is at

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Tyranny of the absolutists

    Hard to focus on local issues today with what we have been seeing in DC the past month. With the Tea Party congressman we see the danger of people who see the world in black and white terms, victory or defeat. Compromise is surrender or worse yet treason. Simple minds need simple solutions. Complex issues need to be reduced to slogans.  You are either a patriot or a socialist. Their belief system brings back the Barry Goldwater's 1964 campaign slogan, "Extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice....moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."  The way many of us feel today reminds me of a 1970's song.  Thats all for today, maybe sanity will return tomorrow.


P.S. 1
   A PBS Nature alert tonight.  As a huge fan of the PBS Nature show I hope everyone can catch tonight's show on an otter rescue.  It will move you.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Don't throw it away!

   Running last week I passed a house that had a chair, picture frame and kid's tricycle place on the curb with a sign that said "free to anyone."   I thought it was strange that anyone these days would have to resort to this method to get rid of good items that they no longer needed.  Was donating to Goodwill or the Salvation Army too inconvenient?  Don't they people get monthly calls from Purple Heart and the other organizations with regular pickups of anything you want to donate?  I thought it might be a good time with Fall cleaning here to once again remind everyone of the best way to easily get rid of items that you no longer need.  Columbia Freecycle is now into its seventh year and has recycled hundreds of thousands of household items among residents of Howard County.  The nice thing about recycling is that people who want your items come to your house to get them.  And you put one less thing in our landfill.  Trust me there is someone out there who would want that broken item you have or that odd item with which you longer know need.  On the other end of recycling it is amazing what you can get from people who are willing to part with items taking up space in their homes.  As an example I furnished a newborn bedroom for a relative with items from Freecycle.  And these weren't heavily used items but almost new furniture, clothing and baby items. 

    So often we hear how we are a "throw away society."  When was the last time you have shoes or a cell phone repaired rather than throwing them away?  There used to be these types of business in our town.  I remember the shoe repair store in the Oakland Mills Village Center.Recently I heard about a "pop-up store" in New York that would repair almost anything for a modest price.  The picture above is of that store. The people who started this store were surprised how easily it was to repair many of the items that people brought in.  It seems that easy repairs to cell phones were very popular.  They are looking at establishing a network of these types of stores in other locations.  They rely on a network of people with a variety of skills in repairing the items brought in.  Most of the profits of the store are plowed back into the store to be able to expand.  Seems to me like a great start up business for our community.  Maybe in conjunction with a local non-profit as a new revenue source.  There must be some commercial space for donation or partnering with a local merchant who has some space and wants to drive some new traffic into their store.

You can find instructional videos on how to fix almost anything on You Tube 

P.S. 1
From HoCo Library:
"Meet the Author: Vaddey Ratner
A survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, Vaddey Ratner wrote The New York Times bestseller In the Shadow of the Banyan. A descendant of King Sisowath, Ratner and her mother escaped Cambodia in 1979, although many family members perished. Based on that childhood experience, her debut novel explores the unbreakable bonds of family and the power of stories to transcend loss and suffering. Selected as a finalist for both the 2013 PEN/Hemingway Award and the 2013 Indies Choice Book of the Year, In the Shadow of the Banyan was a New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice and appears on multiple lists of the best books of 2012, including The Christian Science Monitor and Kirkus Reviews."

Monday, October 14, 2013

Fifteen years ago this week in Wyoming

   Fifteen years ago yesterday Matthew Shepard died in Wyoming.  He had been beaten and brutalized because he was gay.  This is a summary of the killing from the website started by some of his friends :

      "Shepard had met Aaron McKinney (22), and Russell Henderson (21) of Laramie in a local bar on campus called Fireside Lounge. Henderson had said that he and McKinney had already been drinking beer when they went to the bar and ran into Shepard. Fireside bartender Matthew Galloway later testified at Aaron McKinney’s trial that he served drinks to Henderson and McKinney and said they did not seem drunk (this countered the McKinney defense that liquor and drugs incited the attack on Shepard.) Galloway told the court he watches for intoxication and said McKinney drank very little. “He had no mannerisms or actions that would lead me to believe he was in a state of intoxication.” The two had led Shepard to believe they were gay. Matthew, believing they wanted to discuss the politics and struggle of the gay movement, followed McKinney and Henderson into their truck. After getting in the truck, Henderson said "McKinney pulled out a gun and told Matthew Shepard to give him his wallet." McKinney said "Guess what. We're not gay. And you're gonna get jacked." When Matthew refused, McKinney hit him with the gun. With Henderson behind the wheel, they drove more than a mile outside Laramie, as Matthew begged for his life, McKinney struck him while Henderson laughed. "He (McKinney) told me to get a rope out of the truck," Henderson said. According to Henderson, McKinney allegedly tied Shepard's beaten body to a wooden split-rail post fence, robbed him of his wallet and patent leather shoes, continued to beat him and then left him to die for over 18 hours bleed profusely in near freezing temperatures "with only the constant Wyoming wind as his companion," stated Prosecutor Calvin Rerucha in a McKinney hearing held November 10, 1999."

"A bicyclist, Aaron Kreifels, happened by chance to discover Matthew's body October 7, 1998 and rushed to the nearby home of University of Wyoming professor Charles W. Dolan to phone police. “He sounded to me like his lungs were full of blood. He was breathing hard,” Kreifels testified October 26, 1999 at the Aaron McKinney trial. Dolan and Kreifels then both went back to Shepard and waited for help to arrive. Dolan also testified during McKinney’s trial that “I made the call (to 911). He (Shepard) was bloody. There was a large pool of blood in his right ear.”

"Patrol Officer Reggie Fluty described in her report that when she found Shepard's body, his hands were bound behind his back so tightly to a buck fence that it was difficult to cut him free. Her only duty at the time was not to gather evidence but to assist Shepard. Fluty tried to cut the ropes from Shepard’s hands and when she bent him over he stopped breathing so she turned him back over. “His hands were tied tight and I wanted to free him.” She also noticed that he wore braces on his teeth. And though his face was caked in blood, his face was clean where streaks of tears had washed the blood away. “The only white skin I saw (on his face) was where he had been crying.” A watch and Matthew’s school ID card was found near the crime scene. In her testimony in the Aaron McKinney trial Tuesday, October 26, 1999, Fluty testified that trying to comfort Shepard while waiting for the ambulance she told him “Baby boy, I’m so sorry this happened to you.” During Fluty’s testimony, Prosecutor Cal Rerucha showed the jury pictures of Shepard’s face and the blood stained ground below where Shepard had been left for 18 hours. Some jurors winced as they viewed graphic photos of Shepard’s injuries, including his bloodied face and ear."

   A great deal has happened in the past 15 years since his death.  You can serve opening in the military and be gay.  You can be legally marriage and be gay in a growing number of states.  Many states, including Maryland, now have hate crime laws that protects gays.  Unfortunately Wyoming, Matthew Shepard's home state, is one of only four states that don't include homosexuals in their hate crime laws.  Last week at the Values Voters Summit one speaker even tried to discount the brutal murder of Matt by calling it a "drug related" crime.  

    In Howard County we are fortunate to have laws against discrimination against gays and transgendered persons.  We also have a support and advocacy group addressing the issues facing gays and transgendered persons.  PFlag meets regularly in our county.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Toby's: A piece of Broadway in Columbia


       Sometimes we travel great distances to have experiences that are right under our noses.  This fact was brought back to me last week when we attended the Les Miserables show that Toby's Dinner Theater.  I had been planning on celebrating an anniversary by going to New York and seeing a Broadway show until I saw that Toby's was running Les Miz this month.  This is my wife's favorite play and the idea of seeing the play with only a short car trip just seemed too good to pass up.  We had not been to a play at Toby's for a few years (more than I want to admit) and somehow the attractions of Baltimore and DC seem to draw us there more often for entertainment than what we have in Columbia.  This mistake was brought home to me by the first class production of the performers in this show.  Having seen Les Miz four times with the original performance in NY and a couple of touring groups I can say that the local production stacks up well to the other performances.  The performance at Toby's is only there for a few more weeks so I would encourage everyone to catch it before it leaves.  Sometimes the best things are right under our noses.

    This is a taste of why this play is so loved.  

Friday, October 11, 2013

The future runs on coal??

   I recently visited the town in Pennsylvania that bares my last name.  I have passed St. Clair on Route 81 many times on my way back home in Pennsylvania and have often wondered what the town was like.

   The town was named after an ancestor of mine, Arthur St. Clair, who lived in the area in the 1700's.

  Driving through the town was depressing.  The town seemed to have seen better days.  The median family income is $28,000.  One fourth of the population is over 65. There were few people on the streets.   I knew from reading about the town that it was a coal mining town at one time.  From the signs that I saw like the ones below it seems that the population is still tied to the coal industry.

   It seems that they blame the President for the fact that their industrial jobs are disappearing. The fact that coal is part of our past and not our future seems to be something they have not accepted. I am glad we live in a community that doesn't have this reality. Tying your economic future to a dying industry can lead to a bitter community looking for outside forces to blame.

I received this from the Howard County Climate Change Initiative:

"Thur Oct. 24, 7 p.m.- Climate Reality Presentation at the Howard County Conservancy, 10520 Old Frederick Road/PO Box 175, Woodstock, Maryland 21163 . The members of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps have been trained by Al Gore to deliver Climate Reality presentations in a wide range of community forums. Presenters are Sara Via and Linda Reed. Sara Via is Professor of Biology and Entomology at the Univ. of Md in College Park. Sara became interested in climate change 15 years ago while studying human impacts on ecosystems for a lecture to her class. Since then, she has become increasingly fascinated by the intricacy of ecological interactions between living things and their environments, and by the ways in which these fragile webs are affected by human activities. Sara is known as an energetic and enthusiastic speaker, and her goal as a Climate Leader is to increase public understanding of climate change and motivate widespread public action to curb its rapid progression. Linda Reed is a professional corporate trainer and organizational development consultant with over 25 years of experience. She is also a certified Al Gore trained Climate Leader with deep commitment to the environment. She has sparked many audiences to action and looks forward to bringing her expertise to the Climate Reality momentum. Bio here and RSVP here."

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Richard Dawkins said that one of the reasons we have not heard from civilizations on other planets maybe that when they develop the technology to communication with other worlds they also develop the means to end their civilizations.  The time period for both these to occur is maybe only a century or two.  Hear it at 4:50 in this link. Scary thought!