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Friday, January 31, 2014

A quiet end to Columbia's most tragic week

   I am headed out of town tomorrow for a break from our Winter weather.  What I normally do with this blog is to have a group of blogs prepared that I can just post on the day that I want.  Being out of town next week I thought I would just post all of them today.  So here goes.

   I attended last night's candlelight vigil for the people killed at the Mall last Saturday. This event was the culmination of the most traumatic week in Columbia's history.  

   Representatives for the families impacted spoke very personally about the the lives of Brianna Benlolo and Tyler Johnson.  A fund is being set up with the Howard County Community Foundation in memory of Tyler Johnson.  You can't donate to that fund through the Foundation's website but only by doing it directly with the Foundation.  Contact the Foundation for more details on donations.

      While the deaths of these two innocent young people I had the feeling that there should have been some mention of the death of Darion Aguilar who also struggled with his mental health issues and also now has a grieving family that carries the burden of trying to sort out what went wrong with Darrion that led him down this deadly path.

   Seeing the large number of new media satellite trucks at the vigil my hope is that the next time we see their presence it is for something less tragic happening in our town. 


    Petit Louis Bistro did a soft opening this week and from the number of diners it seems to be an early hit.  I stopped by the cafe at 6:30 pm just to check out the pastries and found the helpful staff to assist my choices.

   The cafe opens at 7 am and will stay open until customers stop coming.  They will have a clear closing time in a couple of weeks.  This will soon be a popular place to meet for coffee and a pastry and enjoy the view of the lake. 

   I did have to mention to them about anything food related becomes known in our community through HowChow.  They didn't seem to know that yet.


     Three singer/songwriters defined the antiwar/peace movement of the 1960's----Pete Seeger, Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary.   For many of us coming of age during this time it gave voice to much of our growing sense that the world was unsettling.  The protected family environments that had sheltered us up to that point gave way to the realities of a world that had many morality questions.  Solving issues with violence and confrontation seemed to be the road travelled in addressing how we treated our fellow humans in our Country and around the world.  We idealistically thought that we saw a better path in resolving conflicts. Unfortunately my generation has followed the old path in resolving conflicts.  Maybe our children's generation will have more success in transforming the world in the way we wanted.
      With Pete Seeger's death this week I wanted to remember his songs that spoke to a generation that thought we could try to create a different world. This Land is Your Land,  Where have all the Flowers Gone,  If I had a Hammer, Turn, Turn Turn and We Shall Overcome.

P.S. 2

     This week the gun manufacturer Beretta decided that the climate for gun ownership wasn't strong enough in Maryland and decided to locate their new plant in Tennessee.  It seems that with the actions of the Maryland Legislature last year to limit the ability to purchase assault weapons and gun clips that held more than 10 bullets, Beretta felt unwelcome in our State.  This is one time that the loss of potential jobs is a winner.  Tennessee seems to me to be the loser in this case.  Good riddance Beretta.
     With the complexity of any issue as complex as gun violence it is never easy to evaluate the impact of any legislation.  As gun rights advocates like to point out "guns don't kill people, people kill people" and that the issue is one of a mental health problem.  And that is true up to a point.  No one denies that having better, more available mental health services would be helpful in reducing gun violence.  However the shooting at our Mall last week showed that the type of weapon and the amount of bullets that a gun can fire quickly can spell the difference between 26 innocent people killed in Newtown and 2 innocent people killed in Columbia.  If our Mall shooter had been able to obtain an assault weapon and a clip that held 30 bullets as Adam Lanza  did in Newtown, the tragedy could have lasted longer and had many more people killed.  I am glad to live in a state that at least makes some reasonable laws to limit gun violence than in a state that closes its eyes to gun violence and was more attractive to gun manufacturers.  Maybe that is something to think about in visiting a mall in Tennessee.

P.S. 3
    I light of the killings at the Mall I thought it would be good to give some information on a couple of counseling groups for teens in Howard County:
   Congruent Counseling will be offering 2 separate mental health groups for teens ages 13 to 17 in Columbia.
- One for Boys run by a male therapist
- One for Girls run by a female therapist
     These groups will be for teens struggling with depression, anxiety, social issues, family concerns, etc. All group members will be screened prior to group by the group leader. These will be open groups so members can start at any time and end as they are ready/when goals are met. Groups can be a very effective way to help teens learn new skills, receive support, and practice new skills in a safe environment.
     These groups will be covered by most major insurances: CareFirst/Blue Cross, Magellan, Aetna, Cigna, Johns Hopkins, United Healthcare, Value Options (commercial), and many smaller insurances. call us or your insurance company to see if we are in network. Interested clients can call: 410.740.8066 and ask about the "Teen Mental Health Group"
     Additionally the Maryland Coalition of Families (MCF) is offering a course in "Youth Mental Health First Aid."  It's an 8 hour course for adults who work with young people (ages 12 - 18), including teachers, coaches, leaders of faith communities, and other caring citizens. Youth Mental Health First Aid teaches a 5-step action plan to offer initial help to a young person who is showing signs of a mental illness or is in crisis. Participants also learn to connect young people with the appropriate professional, peer, social, or self-help care.  For a limited time, MCF's trainers are able to offer this course free of charge to interested members of the public. To schedule a training, please contact Ann Geddes at MCF at 410.730.8267 x106 or
    That's all folks. Be back in a week.


Thursday, January 30, 2014

A conversation with Valerie Gross: Reinventing libraries in the age of Google

   We see the constant struggles as newspapers, magazines, television and other forms of media try to identify a viable model to continue operating in a digital world.  Google has captured many of us in our daily tasks.  I only know this reality too well.  I get my email through Gmail, blog through Blogger, get my blog images through Google Images, chat with my family members across the Country through Google Hangouts, use Google Chrome for my browser, save Google Documents to the Google Cloud, use a Google Android operating system on my smartphone and oh yes, do my web searches through Google.   You can find an extensive list of Google products at this site.
     Libraries today are impacted by the digital revolution just like every other organization or business today. It maybe hard to remember that Andrew Carnegie financed the creation of public libraries back in the 19th century as a way for many newly arriving immigrants to have access to information as a way to become integrated into American culture.  At the time the public education system was still evolving as a way for everyone to gain the education they needed to advance in social class.  So as we move into the beginning years of the 21st century how do libraries continue to provide a necessary public service when we now have so many digital options for gaining access to information?

    Last week I had an opportunity to sit down with Valerie Gross, President and CEO of the Howard County Library System, to talk about some of the realities of operating a library today.  It is widely recognized that Howard County has an award winning library system.  Last year's recognition by the Library Journal as "Library of Year" was only the latest recognition.  In talking with Valerie it quickly becomes apparent that her vision of a library goes far beyond just a building with rows of books on shelves.  The Howard County Library's reach into our community is extensive in many areas that are innovative in engagement with our community.  The "Choose Civility" program is one example of this innovation.  Choose Civility has become an identity for Howard County.   No matter where you go in our area you don't look very long before seeing a car with the Choose Civility bumper sticker.  I will never forget pulling up behind a car in Tucson, Arizona and seeing a Choose Civility bumper sticker on the car in front of me.  This connection to our County has been replicated by many other community organizations.  So you now see "Choose Love," "Choose Cycling" and even "Choose Insanity."
     The Howard County Library has three pillars that define its mission to serve as an educational resource for the community.  The first pillar of self-directed education is probably the one that most of us see as the purpose of a library.  Checking out books to read, music to which we listen or videos to watch are only the first pillar of our Library.  Equally important are the research assistance and instructional experiences that are provided through the many programs the library provides in its second and third pillar.   The library has a list of book clubs for all types of readers, a blog on health and wellness in partnership with the Howard County General Hospital called Well and Wise,  a literacy program called Project Literacy, the Howard County Book Connection in partnership with Howard Community College and English conversation classes for non-English speaking residents. Combine these services with hosting farmers markets, passport applications and its participation in the Blossoms of Hope project and you begin to see how deep the Library is involved in our community.  The Enchanted Garden at the new Miller Branch is designed to be more than just an enjoyable outdoor venue for the Branch.  It is an environmental and healthy living teaching tool for a wide variety of classes.
     I am just beginning to describe what makes our Library so unique. Partnering with over 125 community organizations and businesses is one of the biggest reasons why the Library has been such a powerful force in Howard County.  The most visible partnership the Library has is the partnership with the Howard County School System through the A+ Partners in Education.  This program sponsored by the Library and the Friends of Howard County Library gives students the opportunity to learn through competitions which enhance their classroom instruction.  The programs in A+ are:
     So what type of person leads this valuable community resource? I was curious to know a little more of how Valerie came to her present position.  In reading the information on her background on the Library website  I was surprised to learn that she has a background in music and a law degree---not exactly the career path you might expect for someone leading a library. One common element of her various experiences was her interest and skill in "organizing things."  Probably a good skill for someone in a library system! This exposure to organizing probably started with some of her father's work as an archivist. Her exposure and involvement in music growing up led her to study at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.  Once again her organizing skill was shown by her involvement in organizing the music collected in the library at the Conservatory.  Moving from the Conservatory library to the library of a law firm developed her interest in the law and she decided to get a law degree to increase her skill with organizing a law library.  As the law firm grew so did her work with organizing the multiple libraries of the law firm.
      Moving back to Indiana to be closer to her family she found a job heading up the public library in Goshen, Indiana a town of about 36,000 people with one library building.  She developed her skills at developing partners in the community and marketing the library by getting frequent stories about the library in the local press.  The schools partnered with the library by giving a library card to every student.  Valerie began to formulate her idea of a  greater partnership with the schools in Goshen along the lines of our A+ program.  Before these ideas came to fruition in Goshen she learned of the opening in the Howard County Library System for a new president.  The question she faced in coming to Howard County was if her successes in small town Goshen would work as well in a much larger library system in Howard County.  By providing a vision, having a highly professional staff and committed volunteers to carry out that vision last year's award as Library of the Year effectively answers that question.
      The demands on library services in the future will be different as our world continues to change at a rapid pace.  Only those organizations deeply engaged with the community will be able to handle the changes as they occur.  It is reassuring to know that our Howard County Library System has shown the ability to be a leader in our community's response to a changing world.

There will a candlelight vigil this evening for the young people who were killed at the Columbia Mall last Saturday.

 The vigil will be today, Jan. 30, at 5 p.m. at the outdoor memorial outside of Starbucks entrance to the Mall. Candles will be available for attendees.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Cruising down Route 1 "ain't" what it used to be

    I realized just how quickly construction can change the face of an area when I traveled up Route 1 from Columbia to Elkridge last Saturday.  Suddenly new housing seems to have quickly gone up.

      The pictures above just show some of the new housing going up along Route 1.  This new construction has been also taking place South toward Laurel with the new HoCo Fire Station in Savage

    And the new housing/retail development farther down Route 1 in North Laurel

    This development along Route 1 was extensively discussed in the last General Plan for Howard County in 2010 as is shown in the legend below showing the zoning along the corridor that includes multifamily housing, commercial development and transit oriented development.

   We are just seeing the construction occurring as the housing market is starting to come back from the recent housing slump.  With easy access to Route 32 and NSA and APL, Route 95 and DC and Baltimore and BWI you can easily see why this newly developed housing would be in an attractive location.  With the development of Columbia nearly complete (except Town Center) and the zoning of western HoCo restricted to large lots for single family homes, the Route 1 corridor is going to be where much of HoCo's housing growth occurs over the next 10 to 20 years.
      The changes we are seeing are the final piece in the changing face of Route 1 from when it was a national highway for traveling up and down the East Coast.  It has long since been replaced by Interstate 95.  This new construction caused me to think about what Route 1 looked like when I first moved to the area. Remember the trailer parks that were the housing of choice on Route 1?

   Remember the 2 elderly ladies who sold lawn furniture and chenille bedspreads, like the one pictured below, at the intersection of Guilford Rd and Route 1 where there is now a McDonalds?  One of my memories of growing up in 1950's in Pennsylvania was the vendors who sold these bedspreads along heavily traveled roads like Route 1.  

    Route 1 had many motels for the travelers along the road.  Many were of questionable quality like the Tip Top.  What types of plans would the "red heart shaped jacuzzis" attract?  Must be 1950's idea of luxury!

   The junkyards along Route 1 were a good place to find that missing part for your car or

where you might be able to find a replacement for the hubcap you may have lost along the road

  Unfortunately I have probably waited too long for my bucket list idea of driving Route 1 from Maine to Key West.  What may have once been a trip down 1950's nostalgia is probably gone now. 

  You can follow many of the local non profit organizations on Twitter.  This link will show you which ones have a twitter account.  For any non profit interested in starting a blog this site will give you useful tips.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Shock, mourning and healing

      Elizabeth Kubler-Ross many years ago identified the 5 stages of loss and grief for individuals in her groundbreaking book "On Death and Dying."  I was fortunate to hear her in a 1 day seminar at the hospital where I was working.  She identified the stages as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance.  This same process can also apply to organizations, communities and even countries.  Think of this Country after the JFK assassination or 9/11.

    This thought of a healing process for our community occurred to me as I visited the Columbia Mall yesterday, with many others, at it reopened at 1 pm.

    Our community will be slowly moving from the denial and disbelief that something like this can happen in Columbia to the point of accepting the fact that our model, planned community can't prevent the deadly consequences that get played out in many of our towns and cities on a daily basis.  You can plan and work to establish a community that has many strong positive attributes but nothing can prevent a violent act when one troubled person can gain possession of a weapon and a desire to directly inflict pain on others.  It is troubling to recognize that this act, like many other acts, seems to have the common element of being a young man with mental health issues that never get addressed in a way that prevents the violent act.

   My hope for our community is that this act of violence will have the positive outcome of being the catalyst for discussions and actions that make us better able to recognize and address the mental health needs of persons in our community.  That might be the best memorial to the lives of the 3 young persons who died on Saturday.



Monday, January 27, 2014

Yes, it can happen in Columbia

     Over the years when the cable news channel would be covering a mall or school shooting I would naturally wonder what it would be like if the event was happening at a local school or the Columbia Mall.  Yesterday unfortunately we all got to experience what that would be like.  It was eerie to see the Mall as the backdrop for press conferences with local officials talking about the tragedy.  We are all more comfortable in reading about our community as making another top 10 list for being a great community in which to live.
      In a strange way the manner in which Saturday's tragedy was handled is another example of why this community is a great place to live.  The police response and Mall management deserve praise for how efficiently the tragedy was handled and  shows how prepared they were for this event.  Over and over you heard the police praise the Mall management for how they have been a partner in preparing for this type of event.  Howard County police were on the scene of the shooting 2 minutes after the 911 call.
      A couple of years ago I used to attend the meetings of the Community Emergency Response Network (CERN).  This network brought together on a regular schedule community organizations in Howard County to discuss and prepare for emergencies. Rich Krieg, the Horizon Foundation, the Howard County Government and others deserve praise for having the forethought to have established this network.     This network was set up with a focus on terrorist threats (we are near DC and NSA) and mass shootings.  The education and preparedness was shown to be critical in an event like the one on Saturday.   I remember meetings where the police and Mall management talked about how often they have training sessions of shooting and hostage situations.  This occurred regularly after the Mall closed.  Other Maryland and Federal law enforcement officers participated and were trained in these sessions. It wouldn't surprise me that similar trainings have occurred in one of our local schools.
       Understanding that the Mall is a likely target the HoCo police usually have an officer in the Mall when it is open and often one in the parking lot.  This law enforcement training and the training of all Mall employees on how to "shelter in place" may very well have been responsible for Saturday's tragedy not becoming worse with greater casualties. Being proactive is such an important characteristic of our local officials and organizations.  It may not be apparent until an event like Saturday's tragedy.  As we file our taxes this year and complain about how much tax we pay, yesterday's events show how those taxes are worth what we pay to our various governments.  Think about that the next time you hear a politician say that "government is the problem."

     With our town such a focus with the news media on Saturday I noticed a trend that I have blogged on before.  I received calls from family and friends scattered all over the Country.  What was interesting was the the younger the person calling the more likely they heard about it on social media and the older the person the more likely they heard about it by watching cable news.  Talk about a generational shift!

P.S. 1
    To show another example of how social media has changed our world     At the time of the shooting I had just left the parking area of the Maryland State Police Building on Route 1 (look for my blog this week on the changing face of Route 1).   Right after I pulled out a number of State Police cars left the station with lights and sirens on.  The State Police Emergency Incident Command Center vehicle soon came down Route 1 with lights and siren.  Of course my first thought was to look at twitter to see if anyone else had posted something on what might be happening.  The HoCo Police had already posted on the shooting at the Mall with multiple casualties.   A word of praise for whoever is responsible for twittering at the HoCo Police Department.  Their accurate and timely twittering of the events knocked down many rumors and gave us frequent updates on the event.

    Comment overheard yesterday from a family member, "Do I shop at the Mall and worry about a copycat shooter or go to Target and get my identity stolen."  Truly a shopper's dilemma!

P.S. 3

Pity the poor geese who have to sit on a frozen Lake Elkhorn


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Nora's Bakery and Cafe


    My search for good places for breakfast led me again to Ellicott City and Nora's Cafe and Bakery. I learned about Nora's when I got a Groupon for dinner. A $25 Goupon gets $56 worth of food for dinner.  Not a bad deal but with the dinner items 2 people would be hard pressed to spend that much.
     While Columbia seems to be the location for chain restaurants, the Route 40 corridor seems to be a haven for ethnic run places.  While some combine multiple ethnic foods, Nora's stays strictly to traditional American fare.
     We have come to expect to spend almost at much for breakfast as dinner in many of our restaurants, especially when they charge $2.50 or $3 for coffee.  Nora's is a good choice that doesn't have to break the bank for breakfast. Most breakfast items in the $5-$10 range. Nora's breakfast specials are priced from $7.50 to $10.50 and that includes coffee or tea.

    Most of the $10 breakfast choices come with a bagel or toast. The toast is not your average toast.  As you can see above the portions are large.  Definitely worth a return trip to try the pancakes or french toast.

     The pastry counter was hard to pass up but a definite choice if you are looking for something to go with coffee. Couldn't some of Columbia's village centers be locations for more of these locally owned types of establishments?
   Final selling point for Nora's?  We noticed 5 police cars parked outside the restaurant at 7:15 in the morning.  Yup, they were all in Nora's having breakfast.  I will always try any breakfast place frequented by police.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Columbia: 10th most perfect suburb?


       Once again we find our town recognized nationally in another "best of" listings.  This new one is from CNBC where we ranked as the 10th best suburb in the Country.   These are subjective lists but it must mean something that we seem to be listed in so many of these national listings.  This listing of suburban choices seem to range over suburbs of widely varying sizes from a few thousand to over 100,000.  We fall on the upper end for population.  It is easy to rule out some of the other communities selected from states as places to live for their politics such as Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia (although Virginia is quickly becoming a blue state) and Utah and some for their weather like Massachusetts and Minnesota. Pennsylvania, although close to us, can be ruled out for both their politics and weather.  Notice how often the snow line for storms is just to north of us along the Pennsylvania line. Kensington, Maryland is also easy to rule out for the traffic congestion of being near DC.  I love to visit DC but would hate to have to commute there each day and don't get me started on what they charge for parking there.
     The biggest problems with these lists is that they have to be based on objective criteria such as education, crime and employment levels.  Based on these qualities you will generally find communities with high median incomes and that is one reason why we are on so many lists. While those are good for measuring some qualities of life in communities it misses some of the more subjective qualities of communities.  Qualities like community engagement, openness to diversity, civility, open green spaces and tolerance are hard to measure but are qualities that attracted many of us to Columbia.  It is those qualities that attract a population that gives us good schools, a great library, honest government, good recreational choices and good employment opportunities.

    Interestingly we are not paired with Ellicott City in this list.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A little praise for CA Open Space management

   Handling snow removal can be a task that can trip up mayors in many cities.  Just ask the newly sworn in mayor of New York.  

     With that reality in mind I think those of us in Columbia should all take time to thank the Open Space management and workers of CA for the great job they do in clearing our local paths.  They were even out Tuesday plowing some of the more heavily used paths to make them usable during the height of the snow.  This great service is seen additionally when there is debris on the paths that is quickly cleared.  Fallen trees are gone the next day.

      I saw an example of this recently when I emailed a picture of a tree leaning over the path that goes along Dobbin Road.  I had always assumed that this was a CA managed path but I found out that it was managed by the County.  This may have explained why the tree had been leaning this way for a week.  I emailed CA about the tree and received a quick email about the fact that it was a County managed path and that they had been contacted about addressing the issue.  The next day I received a phone call about the matter from a CA staff person with the information that the County would be cutting the tree down soon.  The tree was cut down the next day by the County.  I have to say that to get a quick email and a personal call about this manner is amazing customer service.  Not mentioning any names but I wish some other county organizations were this good.


      To me nothing is more important in path system management then dealing with trees that could injure users of the path if they fell.  A few years ago I noticed this damaged tree limb hanging over the path from Lake Elkhorn to Savage Park.  This County managed path is my favorite path for running.  It is a beautiful escape with lots of nature along the path.  Unfortunately this limb was left like this for weeks.  To the County's credit they did have a contractor clear away some of the dead trees along this path recently.  It is great that our County works to provide paths that blend nicely with the CA paths.  The County could learn from CA about how to manage paths for safety and snow removal.  I hate to pick on the County today as I almost always feel we have a first rate County government.  OK, as a former County employee maybe I am a little biased!


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Lessons learned from "fat city"

    One of the nice things about a snow day is that you catch up on things you have not had time for before.  I am a real fan of the TED Conference talks and have a ton of them on my MP3 player.  Yesterday I enjoyed walking around Lake Elkhorn and listening to some of them.
     I one that I enjoyed the most I wanted to share.  It is with the mayor of Oklahoma City and his talk is about their efforts to become a healthier city by losing weight after they were named one of the most obese cities in the Country.  His humor is great and shows how you can inspire a community to collectively accomplish great things once you set a goal.  Here is a link to his talk.


   I couldn't help but notice how our sky was filled with jet contrails on Monday.  I wasn't sure why they were so numerous so I Googled contrails and saw this:

"A thin, short-lived contrail indicates low-humidity air at high altitude, a sign of fair weather, whereas a thick, long-lasting contrail reflects humid air at high altitudes and can be an early indicator of a storm."

So were the contrails a forewarning of our storm yesterday?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Ready for the ice today?


       We all know we live in an area that gets its share of ice in the winter.  We seem to always be caught between the rain to our South and the snow to our North.  It looks like today's track is following this Route 95 pattern.  Hope you have your deicers handy today.  Not all deicers are the same and we should be cognizant of the harmful effects of some deicers on the environment and especially the Chesapeake Bay.  The deicer to use is magnesium chloride.  It only moderately impacts the environment and works best with the very cold weather we are going to have this week.  Thanks to Rhoda Toback for the information from the Feds on deicers.

   Just a reminder that homeowners are responsible to clear sidewalks in front and behind their homes.  The Howard County code states:

"The owner of property abutting a sidewalk in a public right-of-way is responsible for removing snow from the sidewalk within 48 hours after the snow has fallen. In the event of a multi-unit building with more than one occupant, it shall be the duty of the lessor to remove the snow unless the lessor has obligated a tenant who is actually occupying the property to do so. (Howard County Code, Section 18.402(h)."


    Another interesting way to minimize the avoid using salt is to lay down a sheet of heavy gauge plastic on your sidewalk before the snow starts and then pull it up after the snow is done.  Clear sidewalk and no salt.  The plastic that you lay down on your carpets before painting works for this task.

P.S. 2

We were on Jeopardy recently!