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Monday, December 29, 2014

Beware of the sham Facebook grammar test!

      It has been hard not to see Facebook friend posts this last week with a grammar test they took.  Most are impressive scores of 15 out of 15.  While these friends may seem like people who are brilliant in grammar I became suspicious of the test when it didn't give you the answers to the test.  How could you know what questions you missed?  To test out my suspicions I decided to see what would happen if I randomly chose my answers.  I chose the first answer to every question and got a score of 15 out of 15.  I then took the quiz again and chose the second or third answer to each question.  Do you know what score I got the second time?  I got 15 out of 15 again.  As many times as I took the quiz answering randomly I never got less than a score of 12 right.
      So what is the purpose of these Facebook quizzes?    These quizzes reveal your profile and you become fair game the minute you allow a quiz or application to access your profile information, even if you use privacy settings to limit access. Third-party developers are able to see everything from your name and hometown to the events you attend and the groups you join. Facebook quizzes may be fun but by allowing the quiz to access your profile, you could be losing your identity instead.  Facebook has become a minefield for marketers to learn about your profile to tailor the ads you see on your Facebook page.  The developers of these quizzes know that you are more likely to share the quiz with your friends if you have a high score so that is the score you will always get. You have been warned!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

So how does Facebook do your year in review??

     If you have wondered how Facebook selected the photos to include in your "year in review" it is all about the algorithm Facebook programmers have developed.  While a little more complicated than this explanation it is mainly driven by selecting the photos posted on your page with the most likes and comments.  For most of us this leads to photos we like to see again but for anyone having bad memories, like a death in the family, this type of picture selection can be hard.
     OK no more blog posting and back to blog reading!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Blog reader for a week

   Too often being a blogger gets in the way of being a blog reader.  When I look at all the blogs posted on HoCo Blogs I realize that I have only read a few of them.  So for the next week, which will be a slow week for many bloggers, I will not post a blog but each day I will just read local blogs I have never read.  After the week I will post what I have found about our local blogging community.  Happy holidays.

Interesting TED Talk on Social Progress Index.
 Listing on index by country.  

P.S. 1
   I saw something today that was common in Columbia in the past but now is rare.  Anyone guess where this is?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Our House- Saving the lives of young men


   The last in my series on organizations you might want to support with a contribution is Our House.  I can think of no more deserving organizations in our area then this program that has changed the lives of young men in the foster care and juvenile justice system. I was fortunate to get to know "Benny" and was quickly impressed with his commitment to the mission of giving young men a skill and purpose in bettering their lives. The program was founded in Ellicott City by Richard Bienvenue  in the 1990's on the grounds of Taylor Manor .

  Our House was able to move to a farm near Olney in 2002 to increase the number of young men that they could serve.  If there is ever a time that anyone is looking at volunteering some time to make a difference in a young person's life then consider volunteering at Our House.   They are always looking for corporate and faith based organizations to engage.  To make a donation click here.

    Our House has been trying to raise funds for a new building to house more youth.


Monday, December 22, 2014

Good bye to Stephen Cobert

     Funny how many of our "friends" we never meet in person but we see them more often than most of our real family.  For the past many years my lunch time has meant watching "The Daily Show" and "The Cobert Report."   They often hit just the right note on the absurdity of our political world.  The genius of Stephen Cobert and Jon Stewart are their ability to combine intelligence with their satirical humor.
     So last week I watched the last Cobert Reports and feel like I have lost a very good friend that I looked forward to watching every week.  I even watched the reruns.  I will probably DVR his new talk show to see how he translates out of character.  Somehow I will still always miss his character on the Report.

    Great to see that my favorite Daily Show correspondent Larry Wilborn with replace Cobert in January.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Healthy Potato Latkes

    It wouldn't be December without making variations on the traditional potato latkes.  Somehow the frying part of making them always seemed to be the unhealthy part.  This year my vegan daughter sent me a recipe that had the latkes baked in the oven.  Of course I changed the recipe a little by adding some shredded carrot, potato flour and garlic.   The resulting latkes, without eggs, didn't hold together as well and not being fried were not as crispy.  But other than that they tasted great and I am sure they were healthier than my normal recipes.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Co-habitating with our local wildlife

     One of the best things about running early in the morning is that you get to see the activity of wildlife that is harder to see the rest of the day.  The past few months I have been noticing the beaver activity around Lake Elkhorn.

It is hard to miss their work with the trees they have been cutting down.

A week ago I saw the beaver go into their mud and stick lodge along the bank of the Lake.

      Even though they can be damaging to some of the trees along the lake I have to admit that I enjoy watching them and admiring how industrious they are. They come no where close to negatively impacting our environment as we humans.  Building our homes here have led to the cutting of more trees than our beaver friends.  And they undoubtedly have been residents here longer than any of the rest of us. The Howard County Rec and Parks has a good brochure on beavers.
     My run down the Patuxent Trail toward Savage is always my favorite run for the variety of wildlife along the trail.  One of the more unusual animals to see are the black squirrels that inhabit the area near the
Brokenland Parkway overpass bridge.  We are used to seeing grey squirrels so seeing black ones is a treat.

     A little farther down the trail just past the Guilford Road overpass bridge a family of blue birds are seen on occasion.

    Although commonly seen (and heard!) it is always nice to see the many Blue Jays we have in our area.

   Finally as you near the iron bridge in the Guilford area you can often see the family of deer that make this area their home.  I have seen a couple of large buck around a number of does grazing on the clover in this area in the Spring and Summer.

   From the Maryland Food Bank:
"The Maryland Food Bank always needs volunteers, but that need is particularly dire after the holidays, when volunteerism typically declines—and we're going to need your help as we enter 2015!
With thousands of pounds of holiday food donations rolling into our warehouse and just a handful of regular volunteers, the food bank will undoubtedly feel the strain in January and February.
     A simple donation of time will help us fight hunger in the coming months. A group of 15 volunteers can pack up to 10,000 pounds of food per shift, providing the equivalent of 7,700 meals to Marylanders in need.
    Get a jump on your New Year's resolution—and make a real impact for hungry households.
Schedule a volunteer shift for January or February today!
There's still time to give this holiday...

Our mailing address is:
Maryland Food Bank
2200 Halethorpe Farms Rd.
Halethorpe, MD 21227 "

Please contact Ms. Kelsey Gower or Ms. Jill Rowlett, Volunteer Coordinators, at 410-737-8282. One-time or regular volunteers are welcomed to join us. "

Another organization that especially needs your help at this time of year is the American Red Cross blood donations. The holiday times are the most urgent for donations.  We seldom have a chance to save a life but donating blood may just do that.  Contact them to donate.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Columbia Archives to offer mini course on Columbia's development

   Continuing to explore the development of Columbia almost 50 years ago the Columbia Archives is sponsoring 3 sessions on the first planning stages of the development.  Here is the info from the Archives and registration for the sessions:

      "A free mini-course being offered this February by Columbia Association’s (CA) Columbia Archives will capture the events of a significant period in the history of Jim Rouse’s planned community.
     “Creating Columbia: A Mini-Course” will be held on three Mondays: Feb 2, 9 and 16, from 2 to 3:30 to 3:30 p.m. at Slayton House, located at 10400 Cross Fox Lane in the Wilde Lake Village Center. The mini-course is free, but registration is encouraged. People can choose to register for all three Mondays or for individual sessions via or by calling 410-715-3103.
      It was big news when the plan for Columbia was presented 50 years ago. The announcement made on Nov. 11, 1964, was met with many questions and some answers. The period that led up to it had included a year of hard work, but what followed was an even more hectic schedule. “Creating Columbia: A Mini-Course” looks at the period from November 1964 to May 1965, covering the formal Columbia plan, the initial reaction to it and the feverish work that followed in order to fine tune the plan, cement relationships within Howard County and ensure that the plan would be accepted and then greenlighted for development.
      The Feb. 2 session, “Introducing the Plan,” will look at the focus on the Nov. 11, 1964, announcement and the initial reaction to it.  The Feb. 9 session, “Inspiration and Perspiration,” will paint a picture of the period in which Columbia transitioned from an idea into the business of building, including the all-consuming details of planning and design, zoning regulations, institutional and industrial development, information and public relations, and the business of managing 14,000 acres of woods and farmland.  The Feb. 16 session, “Columbia Gets the Go-Ahead,” captures Rouse’s schedule, illustrating the pace at which he met the opportunities and challenges of building Columbia.
     These sessions will be led by Columbia historian Barbara Kellner, director of Columbia Archives. For more information, call 410-715-3103 or email
     A related exhibit can be viewed at Columbia Archives until May 2015. The Archives is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., 10227 Wincopin Circle in downtown Columbia in the American City Building. This is the third exhibit in the “Celebrating Columbia: 50 Years Ago Today” series, which traces the events leading up to Columbia’s official beginning on June 21, 1967. The series will conclude in June 2017, when the community celebrates its 50th birthday."

    Time passes so quickly.  I remember attending the 10th Anniversary celebration in 1977 only a couple of months after we moved to Columbia.  I remember Jim Rouse cutting a cake at the celebration as he always did at these times.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Meals on Wheels

      A few weeks ago I indicated that many times the commercialization of the holidays misses the point of what is meaningful about the holidays.  I wanted to highlight some worthy local organizations that deserve your consideration for support at this time of the year.  Here is another organization to consider.

    In Howard County since the 1970's Meals on Wheels has been providing meals to our elderly home bound citizens.  For many of our senior citizens these meals are the difference between having nutritious meals or having limited eating choices.  Meals on Wheels provides a hot lunch and cold dinner during the week and prepared meals for the weekends.  Maybe just as important this service provides a regular contact with the person delivering the meals.  Often this relationship becomes as important as the food.  Our local meals are prepared at the Bain Center and delivered throughout the County.  If you would like to volunteer to deliver meals click on this link.  To make a donation click here.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"Serial" and the "new" medium of podcasts

     With the demise of many newspapers there is a concern about the loss of the role of the investigative reporter.  This reporting role attempted to look in depth at an issue that had complexity that was often missed in the day to day reporting on the issue.  The report that I mentioned in yesterday's blog was just such a piece of work.   With the work of a podcast called "Serial" the future of this type of reporting may have found a new forum.  This podcast is a 12 part story, done by Sarah Koenig from "This American Life", of a 1999 murder in Baltimore.  The locations mentioned in the podcast will be familiar to many of us living in this area.
     What this podcast does (besides making us all familiar with "Mail Chimp!!!") is to look at many of the issues involved in this murder.  Background and areas of uncertainty show how it is too easy to rush to judgement on solving a crime.  While the reporter in this podcast seems to go back and forth on her feeling of the guilt or innocence of Adnan Syed, the person convicted of the murder, the listener finds themselves examining their own beliefs of how our justice system works and what makes someone murder.
     This week is the 12th and final episode of the series and the reporter has made an appeal for contributions to continue to use this format to provide  an in depth look at other issues in the future.  I think it is a worthy investment for all of us to make.  If you haven't listened to this podcast I highly recommend it.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Important Sun article to read

       It is hard not to picture life in many neighborhoods of Baltimore as it's often portrayed as a violent city.  The Wire, Homicide and the recent podcast Serial show the side of Baltimore that is a daily reality of many of the City's children. Yesterday's Sun article on the impact of the violence on young children was important in understanding the challenges that the city faces in changing the future of the city.  The impacts on family life in Baltimore has already seen a couple of generations of dysfunction. Tomorrow's city problems may already be developing as Baltimore's children are paying the price for being exposed to drugs and crime.
       For those of us living our middle to upper middle class suburban lives the realities faced by children in Baltimore may seem like a world away.  Years ago that world and its impact on children was brought home to me on a trip into Baltimore to take one of our teen age foster daughters to a weekend visit with her aunt.  The aunt lived in Southwest Baltimore not too far off of Washington Blvd.  As we drove to her aunt's home she casually mentioned that an uncle had been stabbed in front of a convenience store we passed and that her mother had been arrested in front of another building for selling heroin.  At one intersection there was a pair of shoes over the utility line.  This is a way that someone is memorialized that has been killed at that point. The casualness of her descriptions of these events gave me pause.  I can't think of anyone I have ever known that has been stabbed or arrested for selling heroin.  Maybe these life events could be an explanation for why my foster daughter lived with a heightened sense of danger.  Events or the actions of others that I saw as normal or innocent she saw as threatening and in need of an aggressive action on her part.  My middle class discussions about how to use words instead of fists or how to deescalate a situation seemed so naive to her.  I can remember her saying that no one could "disrespect" her and get away with it.  These types of actions may have been common in her Baltimore neighborhood but they were always a problem in our neighborhood Columbia school.
      Here is a link to the article.

    More on the podcast called  "Serial" about a murder in Baltimore tomorrow.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Definition of insanity

Sandy Hook Elementary December 14, 2012
5 minutes
156 bullets fired
20 students and 6 adults killed
0 federal legislation limiting magazine capacity  

Friday, December 12, 2014

Can you find a good turkey burger in Howard County?


  Having switched from beef burgers to turkey burgers years ago I have noticed real differences in the various turkey burgers offered around our County.  Here is my list of the ones I like starting at number 5.

5. Sonoma's in Owen Brown
4. BRG in Columbia Crossing
3. Eggspectation in Ellicott City
2. Coho's at Hobbit's Glen (to reopen late winter 2015)
1. Columbia Ale House on Dobbin Rd.

Among the most disappointing turkey burger is the one at Red Robin.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Time for a bigger vehicle?

      This week I filled up my car at the Sam's Club in Laurel and paid the lowest price for gas in a long, long time.  Is it possible we might ever see gas fall below $2 a gallon as it has in a few states?  Driving home from Laurel I listened to a news report about how the sales of larger vehicles, like trucks and SUV's, have been increasing since the price of gas has fallen the past few months.  Are people really that short sighted to think that gas will not go back up before they pay off that vehicle.  Will these folks be the ones complaining down the road about the high price of gas as they fill up that vehicle in the future?  Sometimes these folks remind me of people who buy stocks when the stock market is up and sell when the market falls.
     At the risk of being labeled a "tax and spend liberal" maybe it is time to raise the federal and state gas tax.  With our crumbling roads and bridges isn't this a good time to raise the revenue to begin to work on this problem?  Wouldn't we all feel better about paying more for gas to improve our roads and bridges than to have it go to Middle Eastern sheiks and the oil companies?  Anyone feeling sorry to hear about the falling price of the oil stocks?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The gift of reading

    All the time I hear people asking others about the person or teacher that had the most influence on them growing up.  I certainly was influenced by my parents, relatives and teachers but for me the biggest influence was a book that I received for Christmas when I was 12 years old.  That book is the one above called "I Pass" about New York Giants quarterback Y. A. Tittle.  Growing up in a non reading family in a small town in Pennsylvania meant that my life choices would follow closely to the lives of many previous generations of my family.  What changed that trajectory for me was that my grandmother purchased the above book for me one Christmas.  I lived and died with my sports teams as a kid.  I could name every Pittsburgh Pirate or New York Giant.  And  Y. A. Tittle was my sports hero.
      After reading that book I searched our school and town library for other sports biographies and soon had finished reading the limited number of books at each library.  When I mentioned to our school librarian that I couldn't find any new sports biographies she suggested that I try some of the other biographies of famous people.  I found out that these other lives were as interesting as the sports figures I had read.  One thing led to another and I started reading history books--for fun!  Going from a non reader to a kid who always had their "nose in a book" broadened my world and introduced me to people beyond the small town in which I lived.  Suddenly learning became enjoyable instead of drudgery.
     So it is not surprising when I recently read an article in the New York Times recently that reported on a pediatrics group recommending reading aloud to children from birth to encourage child development. My children learned that Christmas gifts from Dad always meant lots of books.  Now it includes the grandchildren.  A childhood without books is missing a great element of childhood enjoyment.  With this in mind the Friends of the Library have some great recommendations for buying books for children on your shopping list.  Maybe there will be an "I Pass" impact somewhere in there for another child.

   Y. A. started an insurance company in California after retiring.  He used to go there every day in the recent past and fans would come every day to reminisce.  I hope to do that one day.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Neighbor Ride

    Today I wanted to post another suggested local organization to consider for a donation during this holiday time.  It happens to most of us.  At some point as we get older the ability to drive becomes a problem and we have to stop being able to drive ourselves.  The convenience of getting in our car and going where ever we want is lost.  Fortunately in Howard County their is a service that is available to fill in this need-- Neighbor Ride.  Neighbor Ride provides over 15,000 rides to Howard County seniors each year using over 200 volunteers.  Since its start in 2004 Neighbor Ride has been a vital transportation link for seniors to get to medical appointments, shopping and social visits.  Neighbor Ride has been recognized as the Best Non Profit in Howard County for 6 years in a row.  To donate to Neighbor Ride click here   or to volunteer to be a driver click here.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Columbia's "Stonehenge-like" sunrise revisited

 Remember a post I made last December about the theory on the purpose of Stonehenge and how the sun maybe used to mark the passing of the seasons?  I pointed out that Columbia may have its own Stonehenge with  rising sun reflecting off an office building near Lake Elkhorn only in December. Coming around Lake Elkhorn this week I saw the same reflection off the building that I saw last December.

  It looks like a rising sun in the West.

The angle of the sunrise hits this building like this only a few days during December.  I never see it any other time of the year.  These pictures were taken at 7:20 am just as the sun was rising in the East.



Saturday, December 6, 2014

Ellicott City Firehouse train garden display

   The Ellicott City Fire Department's Holiday Train Display opens today from 11 am to 8:30 pm.  This train display is the most impressive train display in our area.  If you know of a child or adult that likes trains this is worth a visit.  The display is open this Saturday and Sunday and then from Wednesday through Sundays until January 1st except Christmas and Christmas Eve.

#hocoblogs  #hocoevents

Friday, December 5, 2014

Columbia Village Center Report issued

    This week the Columbia Association released the final report from consultants hired to look at the viability of Columbia's village centers and potential for growth.  This report highlights the difference in each village center and the significant differences in the demographics of the different villages. Retail changes since the Rouse Company first envisioned the village centers is made clear in this report.
      The anchor grocery stores in the village centers now have significant completion from large competitors located away from the village centers such as Costco, BJ's, Wegmans and now Whole Foods.  Doing your weekly grocery shopping at the supermarket in the village center is something that is less common than in the past.  For many Columbians food shopping now includes multiple food stores.  The report summarizes this change in this way:

    "The grocery-centered model is in transition in Columbia, paralleling changes in the grocery
store industry nationwide, which have affected middle-sized chain affiliated grocers, such as
the 25,000 to 50,000 sq. ft. stores in the village centers. The grocery-anchored village center
model has also been affected by development of newer, more specialized grocery store
categories such as Wegmans, Whole Foods Market and Wal*Mart, the latter of which is the
top seller of groceries in the U.S."

     Another area where village center retailers have more competition with restaurants and fast foods.  The selection of each of these retailers has exploded in areas away from the village centers.  Where we once had our restaurant choices limited to restaurants in village centers and the Mall we now have an amazing range of choices just a few miles of where we live.  I can't remember the last time we ate at a village restaurant.
     The report highlights the challenges of the Long Reach Village Center and the lack of a supermarket anchor.  This missing element has had a significant impact on the viability of the village center and has lead to the purchase of the village center by the County.  A deteriorating village center is the last thing you want to see in Columbia.  The impact on the value of housing in the village with a troubled village center could be significant.
     Finally the report makes these recommendations:
    " 1) Prepare Strategies for Future Village Center Changes/Alternatives. The Wilde Lake
redevelopment plan will be one precedent and refocusing of Long Reach Village Center will
be another. Proactive consideration of alternatives to the grocery-anchor model should be
undertaken for those village centers with the greatest competitive challenges.
    2) Review Village Center Planning/Redevelopment Process. Review the village center
planning and redevelopment process as part of the New Town zoning update..
     3)  Identify Infill Locations. Identify locations for new residential infill uses in and near village centers.
     4) Consider Expansion of Retail Retention and Recruitment Efforts. It is recommended
that existing retail recruitment efforts be expanded through a coordinated program. The goal
would be to assist retail businesses and to enhance the business mix in the village centers
and other retail areas throughout the county. The role of such a program, including a
designated retail recruiter, is to reach out to property owners to understand what spaces
they may have available, and to explore the broader market for operators of
innovative/specialty stores, cafes and restaurants, and consumer service businesses that
would complement and strengthen the existing retail mix.
     5)  Promote Technical and Resource Assistance. It is recommended that the expanded retail
recruitment and retention program include promotion and coordination of existing and new
technical assistance programs for retail businesses that need help with business
management, finance, operations, expansion strategies or other issues.
      6) Review and Summarize Columbia’s Existing Commercial Covenants. While residential
covenants are well understood in Columbia, there is less clarity around the extensive use of
commercial covenants that affect potential development/redevelopment in office, industrial
and commercial areas throughout Columbia. There is a need to document these private
agreements including transferability and terms that affect land use and architectural design.
      7) Prepare a GEDS Property Database. Prepare a detailed GEDS database to document
existing uses, associated square footage, ownership, conversions, and occupancies by site
and sub-area. There is no comprehensive inventory today that can inform planning
      8) Analyze GEDS Area ‘Undeveloped’ Sites. Analyze the vacant sites in GEDS and the
adjacent Gateway Loop to understand the competitive development context for the GE
Appliance site, Dobbin Road and Snowden River Parkway sub-areas."


Thursday, December 4, 2014

How do we address our environmental issues?

    I recently had a couple of experiences that had me thinking about one way our environment is being impacted by the choices we make.

      I went into a local Staples store to buy some refills for my pen.  Being environmentally sensitive I use a pen that I can refill instead of buying those plastic pens that you throw away when they run out of ink.  A small impact on our environment but every little choice helps.  What happened when I checked out struck me as possibly undoing my environmental choice.  Before I could tell the cashier that I didn't need a plastic bag for my one item she had already placed my refills in a plastic bag and handed it to me.  I asked her if she ever asks the customers if they want a bag and she answered that they automatically place items in a plastic bag no matter how many items are purchased.
      The next day going to our local Giant to buy a half gallon of milk I used the self checkout line and was paying for my purchase when a Giant employee had already placed my half gallon of milk in a plastic bag.  I retrieved my milk from the plastic bag and put the bag back for the next customer.  The milk was no harder to carry by itself then when it was in a plastic bag.  This experience had me thinking of the number of times I have seen checkout personnel using individual plastic bags for just one or two items.
      After these experiences I read that the Mayor of Baltimore had vetoed a City Counsel bill that would have banned plastic bags in Baltimore.  I know that the politics of this issue and the way it was passed may have played a large role in the veto but it does bring up the issue of the environmental impacts of these bags. While the estimated time it takes for these bags to biodegrade varies from 20 to 1000 years the reality is that most plastics breakdown but never truly biodegrade completely.  While cutting down trees to make paper bags isn't a good solution to this issue it should be noted that a paper bag decomposes in about 1 month. That plastic bag that would have carried my pen refills would probably have been impacting the environment for many generations of my descendants.  My convenience is insignificant when compared to the environmental impact on the health of the earth for my descendants.
    So this question comes back to the public policy issue of how many of our personal choices should be impacted or limited by government action?  Will encouraging individuals to make more environmentally sound choices through public education ever have the same impact as a government action limiting those choices? This type of choice is at the heart of so many of our political questions today.  We see it in mandating the purchase of health insurance, taxing storm water runoff and yes even in banning sugary drinks in County sponsored events.  When is it necessary for the government to impact our choices for the benefit of our communities and when should we have the freedom to make our own choices?  How you answer that question will probably determines your political orientation.
     Back to the plastic bag issue.  California will be the first state to ban the use of these bags next year.  As so often happens with change it begins in California then moves to us in the northeast and then to the country as a whole.  The eliminating of these environmentally damaging bags can't happen fast enough in my opinion.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Howard County Conservancy

     With the changing of the season toward winter I decided to make a trip out to the Howard County Conservancy  at 10520 Old Frederick Road.  It is location is the old "Mt. Pleasant farm was donated for preservation by Ruth and Frances Brown, former Howard County schoolteachers. It is now used for our educational programs, special events and is open to the public for hiking, visiting our nature center and the 3-acre John L. Clark Honors Garden."  The nature center is pictured above.
   Their website describes their purpose as:
     "The Howard County Conservancy is a local, non-profit environmental education center and land trust. The Conservancy was founded by a group of local citizens in 1990. Our mission is to educate children and adults about the natural world, preserve the land and its legacy and model responsible stewardship of the environment. The Conservancy provides environmental education programs at two locations – our home base at Mt. Pleasant Farm in Woodstock and at Howard County’s Belmont Manor and Historic Park in Elkridge."

      The walking trails onsite are like the ones pictured above are grass covered and make a good walking surface.

   Many of the features of the past farm are apparent like the old stone wall like the one pictured above and the tree lined row pictured below.

    At this time of year it is a little harder to find some color but the bittersweet bush, pictured above, was nice to see and some of the leaves on the oak trees, pictured below, that keep there leaves though much of the winter.

    The stream that runs through the farm shows the impact of heavy storm water erosion that in some cases has caused the uprooting of trees like below.

    The location seems like a popular site for Eagle Boy Scout projects like the two pictured below.

   The visitors guide is a good way to plan a visit to the Conservancy.  The map of the trails shows all of the ways to navigate the Conservancy with the length of each trail.
    This Saturday, December 6th, would be a good day to visit the Conservancy for their Natural Holiday Sale from 10 am to 3 pm.  This is how they describe the Sale:

"DEC 6- Saturday 10am-3pm Natural Holiday Sale: You will find an assortment of unique and locally crafted items for sale including natural holiday decorations from the woods, gardens and local farms and markets. Children and adults can make whimsical critters from cones, pods and seed heads. Local pottery, hand crafted soaps and bees wax candles, jewelry, hand crafted accessories, nature and gardening books, nature photography items, kids books and puppets. All proceeds benefit the Conservancy’s environmental educational programs. Families are welcome!"

    In my walk I noticed that beech and oak trees retained many of their dead leaves when all the other trees had dropped their leaves.  It made me do a Google search to find out why this happens.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A suggestion for Giving Tuesday

     A week ago I mentioned that I wanted to highlight some Howard County organizations that you might want to consider donating to during this holiday season.  With this being "Giving Tuesday" I wanted to highlight an organization that has been working with youth in foster care in Howard County for many years. Voices for Children  places volunteers to act as advocates for every foster child in the County.  Most jurisdictions have to prioritize which of their foster children get a volunteer advocate but in our County we are fortunate enough to have enough volunteers that every child has an advocate.  From being a foster parent in Howard County in the past I can tell you that these advocates are essential to insure that the foster children have their needs addressed.
    A few years ago I helped Voices develop a program called Fostering Futures that aims to provide additional support from the community to youth who will be aging out of foster care.  This population is especially in need of support as they transition to adulthood--often with little or no support from their biological families.  Voices is always in need of volunteers to work with this program.
    To make an online donation or to volunteer with Voices click here.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Is Cyber Monday passe?

     Today used to be a big deal for online retailers.  With most people still having dial up at home online shoppers waited till they went back to work on the Monday after Thanksgiving to use their employers cable speed connections to do their online shopping.  Now with most of us having fiber optic connections at home the online shopping starts on Thanksgiving or even earlier.  Employers hopefully appreciate the fact that workers may actually do some work today rather than surfing the internet for bargains.
     If Cyber Monday is outdated now it seems as if Black Friday is also giving way to online shopping.  The need to wait outside a store at 3 am in the cold is giving way to shopping in the comfort of your own home on your computer.  This year Black Friday sales were down 4 percent from last year as the online shopping increased that day by over 9 percent.  Amazon (20 years old this year) even saw a 24 percent increase for the 2 day holiday over the same time last year.  Look for UPS and Fed Ex stock to rise.
    Not to be out done we have also seen the development of Small Business Saturday and Giving Tuesday.  Seem that the amount of cash spent or donated in the next month  makes every group vying not to be left out of the season's spending.  Is it only a matter of time until pet stores have a Wednesday "Buy Your Pet a Holiday Gift" day?  When will we run out of special holiday buying designated days?  Will the competition for special days lead to trademarking the days?

   Remember when the holiday purchases were made from the Sears Wish Book?  Arriving in October this method of purchasing was the way I remember my Mother making holiday shopping easy.  Kids would leaf through the catalog so many times that the pages were "dog eared" by the time we made our final selections around Thanksgiving.  The boxes would be delivered by the mail man and left on the front porch a week or two later.  Just don't get caught shaking the boxes to try to determine what each one contained!  Sears still does the Wish Book but it is now only online.  

     It will be interested to see how all the overflow parking with be done at the Columbia Mall this year with the new housing on the spaces that used to be the overflow parking in years past.  Another reason why I even avoid the Mall more in December than I usually do.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Small Business Saturday in Ellicott City


    Started in 2010 by American Express to encourage holiday shoppers to shop at small merchants after Black Friday, Small Business Saturday for many in Howard County is a time to frequent the stores along Main Street in Ellicott City.   I can make a few suggested stops.  All Time Toys is a store with many toys from the recent past that you won't find in other stores.  Sweet Cascades is a store for the chocolate lover.
The Wine Bin for a wide selection of wines.  Bean Hollow for a latte and pastry.  Portalli's Italian Restaurant for dinner.

  Next Friday is also a great time to visit Ellicott City shops.


Friday, November 28, 2014

Post Thanksgiving pizza??

   It may sound strange to think of the ingredients of a Thanksgiving dinner on a pizza but with a little creativity it can be the basis for a really great pizza.  It can be a better alternative than another turkey casserole for a post Thanksgiving meal.

  After rolling out your dough a little Tzatziki sauce mixed with an equal amount of mashed potato makes the first layer of the pizza.

The second layer is sauteed onion, corn and chopped turkey

A little cranberry sauce adds some sweetness to the pizza, some sauerkraut to make it a Maryland Thanksgiving pizza and then finish with your favorite cheese as a topping.  

The finished product came out of the oven with a leftover Thanksgiving treat that my family loved and it maybe a new Thanksgiving tradition.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Pineapple upside down holiday pancakes

    Holidays are a good time to have a different type of my favorite breakfast meal--pancakes. Nothing says a holiday like a new breakfast treat for the family.   It usually means trying to find recipes that bring a little dessert to breakfast.  My newest find takes a favorite cake recipe and brings it to pancakes. This I found at Rachael Ray's website.
6 pineapple rings
2 tablespoons brown sugar
6 maraschino cherries
3 cups pancake mix
Butter, for cooking whipped cream for serving
Heat a griddle to medium heat.
Rub each pineapple ring with a little brown sugar.
Place a little butter on the griddle. Once melted, place a pineapple ring onto the griddle. Place a maraschino cherry inside the pineapple ring. Ladle about 1/4 cup of pancake batter over the top of the pineapple. Cook for about 1-2 minutes and flip. Cook for another 1/2 minute.

Serves 4-6