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Monday, June 30, 2014

A simple request to our County leaders

     One of the things which I have learned in four years of blogging is that things you write reach people in our community in unique ways.  I have met people for the first time and find out that they have known me through some of my blogs.  It is somewhat strange to have this knowledge only flow in one direction.  They know a good bit about me and I know nothing about them.  I have heard the same thing expressed by well known celebrities.  All of this does point to the reality today that we can communicate in ways that are very different than in the pre-digital past.  For our elected officials holding town meetings or sending out mailings aren't bad they are just so old school to the way persons under 40 receive their information today.
     This ability to communicate in new, powerful ways has many times been lost on the leaders within our communities.  Oh, they may have established a campaign website, a Facebook page or use Twitter to highlight events they have attended but they shy away from communicating in a more in-depth manner using social media.  Blogging gives officials the ability to engage and communicate with a community audience in ways that go beyond the other superficial social medias.  A blog gives a leader an opportunity to dialogue in a more reciprocal manner.
     I have talked with a number of individuals in our community who hold very responsible positions about the possibility of doing a blog.  I quickly sense their uncomfortableness with "putting themselves out there" in such an uncontrollable manner.  They have all heard about the anonymous "flamethrowers" who haunt social media with their harsh comments.  They are also "risk adverse" to saying anything that can reflect negatively on themselves or their employer.  We have all heard about people losing their job because of one of their comments on social media.  These risks can be managed in a way that doesn't eliminate the potential for meaningful communication.
      This brings me to the one example of how blogging can be used effectively.  Tom Coale is one of our most impactful bloggers and community leaders.  The thing that I respect Tom for (among many) is that when he was elected to the Columbia Association Board he didn't stop blogging but used his blog to inform Columbia residents on the discussions taking place in the Board meeting.  Many of the Board discussions were controversial, especially the Inner Arbor plans. Tom always presented the discussions in a way that no one else did.  We could read the Columbia Flyer and learn the basics of the plans but Tom gave us the context of the discussion.  I have been an open advocate for Tom's election to the Maryland Legislature.  Much of why I have taken this step with Tom and not with others running for election in the County is that I know Tom will bring this type of communication if he is elected as a delegate.   I would look forward to reading Tom's blogs on the workings of the Legislature.  Unless I have missed them I don't think any of our County legislators have done this.
      We now have new leadership at our hospital and with the Columbia Association.  We will have a new County Executive and new members of both our County Council and State delegation. I would like to (respectfully) tell them that Howard County is a digitally sophisticated community that would respond well to each of them considering how they can digitally communicate with the community.  Anyone up to doing a blog?  Come on in the water is fine.  I will be waiting to have you join our blog parties as a fellow blogger and not just as a blog reader.


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Vote for Ellicott City's Main Street in Parade contest

  Parade Magazine, the Sunday supplement, is holding a contest to determine the best Main Street in America.  Ellicott City's Main Street is entered in the contest with 15 other Main Streets.  Vote online here 
Post the link on your Facebook page.


Friday, June 27, 2014

Bonaparte Bakery at Savage Mill

     Given our warmer weather now one of the nice places for a late breakfast break is Bonaparte Bakery in the Savage Mill.

    The French breads and pastries (especially their croissants) there are worth the trip to Savage. Eating in the small courtyard, with some of their coffee and you can imagine yourself eating in a French countryside cafe.

 The old country feel of the Savage Mill beats eating outside at one of Columbia's venues overlooking some storm water pond.

     Unfortunately they only open at 10 on weekdays and 9 on weekends.  As pointed out in a HowChow blog even this opening time can be tricky.  Their website also seems to be not working.

   One nice new location for a pastry and enjoy the nice scenery is the Petit Louie Comptoir on Lake Kittamaqundi.

P.S. 1

    Savage Mill even has the palms of which I am so fond.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Pick your own berries at Larriland this Saturday

      Larriland Farms berry picking should start this Saturday June 28th.   This is just in time as we only have one more frozen bag of blue berries from last years 20 pounds of blue berries.

There is nothing like the taste of blue berry pancakes with these blue berries.  I like to add some lemon curd to my pancake batter and add powdered sugar on top.

    We also usually pick some raspberries but it is so much easier to pick a large quantity of blue berries which grow in bunches.   A word to the wise is to get there at their opening time of 9 am as the fields get picked over quickly.  Weekdays are also better than weekend days.
    Here is the schedule for berries:
1. Black raspberries - re-opening Saturday, June 28, 2014. Scattered picking.
2. Red raspberries – re-opening Saturday, June 28, 2014. Scattered picking.
3. Blueberries – opening Saturday, June 28, 2014


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Columbia palm trees revisited

      Last week I wrote a blog on my desire to plant palm trees in my yard.  Just to bring a little of a tropical beach to my everyday Columbia scenery.  I had always assumed that no palm tree could survive our winters and that I would have to settle for trying to plant a banana tree.  But I may have been wrong after looking around the internet for hardy palm trees.

   The Mediterranean Palm Tree can survive in temperatures in the 5-15 degree range.   Palms like this can be winterized by adding dirt and mulch around the base in the winter to keep the ground around the base from freezing.  Here is a description of this palm:
Mediterranean Fan palm trees' leaves are arranged in a symmetrical crown that can reach 8 to 10 feet wide. Mediterranean Fan palm trees have:
Triangular, fan shaped leaves
Leaves ranging in color from blue-green to gray-green to grey-yellow.
Multiple trunks surrounding the main trunk in more mature plants

     The Windmill Palm shown above also grows in temperatures that go as low as 5-15 degrees.  A description of this palm follows:
Windmill Palm Trees (Trachycarpus fortunei) are one of the most cold hardy Palms available. The Windmill Palm Tree has:
Leaves that are arranged into symmetrical crown that is about 8 to feet wide.
Trunks that are usually covered with a loose mat of coarse gray or brown fiber and can grow to heights of 20 to 40 feet.

    We maybe pushing the limits of survivability of these palms in our area.  This past winter had some nights near zero degrees.  However we typically don't go below 10 degrees in winter.  The most hardy palm is shown below.

   This is a Needle Palm and can survive in temperatures down to minus 10 degrees.  While this doesn't have the size or grandeur of the other palms it is of a size (6 to 10 ft) and hardiness that should work for many of our yards.  Here is some info on growing areas
Large, well-established specimens are growing in Washington DC at the United States National Arboretum since the 1960s and in the coastal NYC area at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. It is becoming one of the most popular landscaping palms in the Chesapeake Bay area of Maryland and Virginia 


Monday, June 23, 2014

Making sense of primary voting

     Some how I had expected the Maryland primary date to be last May.   Wasn't primary day once in May?  Or I also seem to remember a primary day in September.  Of course we all know the way primary date during presidential years get shuffled around with states wanting to go early enough to make a difference in the selection process.  You certainly don't want to have your primary so late that the winner was already known.  As if the Maryland primary was ever important in the presidential selection.  We are used to being taken for granted by presidential candidates.  Iowa straw polls and small villages in New Hampshire get more attention than this state's 3 million residents.
     So why did the Maryland Board of Elections pick June 24th for our primary?  With school out many people are on vacation this week.  I guess you could have vote early last week or by absentee ballot but wouldn't it make more sense to have it earlier--like in May?
      At least we now have the option to vote on 8 different days in Maryland.  Being in a "blue" state at least we don't have the issues that other Republican states have with making voting more difficult.  Maybe more states, like Maryland, should look at Oregon's voting by mail which they have had for over 10 years. This would be good at least until voting online gets perfected.  You know that with the younger generations living their lives digitally it is only a matter of time until voting online becomes the 21st Century voting system.  This will happen inspite of the challenges that were shown with the sign-ups for the Affordable Health Care program.

    With Maryland's growing casino involvement maybe we should try an election day lottery with everyone who votes going into a multi-million dollar lottery.  Every ballot would have a ticket stub with a lottery number on it.  Should at least get a large viewership for the election results show. We could fund this using the checkoff on our tax returns like we have for the matching campaign funds that presidential candidates no longer take.  For every dollar donated you get a another chance in the federal lottery.  With the amount the Feds would keep it would fund the election voting lottery.  I know the voting "purists" are probably shaking their heads at this thought!  Just remember that at one time we thought democracy only only applied white, male, property owners.

P.S. 1
     I have never understood why if we have a fixed date for the general election (first Tuesday in November) why we don't have a fixed national primary day.  The system of states all having their own primary day seems illogical.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Biking accident waiting to happen

    My favorite trail to bike in Columbia is the Patuxent Trail down to Savage from Lake Elkhorn.  This trail follows the Little Patuxent River and has some of the nicest scenery in our area.  Anyone who has traveled this trail knows about the blind corner shown above.  This trail has a wide variety of users from walkers to runners to bikers.   The corner above is dangerous for any pedestrian who happens to come around it when a biker is coming down.

This week I once again saw another near accident when a biker (not pictured above) came around the corner and almost hit a walker.  We have a all seen the dance that happens when someone is surprised by someone coming at you.  The biker swerves right to avoid the collision and the walker swerves left in the same direction.  Each then adjusts in the opposite direction.  Once again no one was hurt in this situation but my concern is that a child wouldn't be so lucky.

   The County, that manages this path, needs to cut the bushes that make this a blind corner before someone gets seriously hurt.

   Tonight the Lakefront Concert series has the Caribbean band "Image" at 8 p.m.

Lakefront Summer Festival Concert- Image Band

  • Date:06/21/2014 8:00 PM - 10:00 PM
  • Location:Downtown Columbia Lakefront- Image Band
    ColumbiaMaryland 21044

    Image Band (Caribbean Rhythms)
    For information about the artist please visit
    The Lakefront Summer Festival is sponsored by Columbia Association and held at the Downtown Columbia Lakefront, located off of Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia. Admission is free and so is parking. Click here for additional Lakefront Summer Festival events.
    • All concerts are approximately 2 hours;
    • No glass containers or alcoholic beverages are permitted. 
    • Schedule subject to change without notice.
    • CA Inclement Weather Hotline: 410-715-3127


    Friday, June 20, 2014

    Columbia: No palm trees but yes to bananas trees

        One of the things I have always wanted to plant at my home in Columbia is a palm tree.  Somehow this symbol of warmer climates is something that I love seeing traveling to tropical beach.  I know that some restaurants in our area beaches bring in palm trees for the summer season but they can't last our winters.  But I may have the next best thing that we can grow in our area.  Banana trees.  The picture below is from a house across the street from the Kings Contrivance Village Center.  I took this picture last fall and always wanted to stop by the owners house to see if that was a real banana tree.

        Last week I saw a person in the yard of the home and decided this was the right time to check out this tree.

     What I found was the they have multiple banana trees in their yard.

       The owner said they were afraid that the trees would not survive our cold past winter but they seem to have survived just fine.  The loose their leaves in the winter but everything grows back just fine in the Spring.  Unfortunately these trees haven't yet produced the miniature bananas that supposedly grow on these trees.  The best news is that these trees can be purchased at Home Depot.   Seems like my next purchase in my attempt to diversify my yard plantings. 

          So for all you "oldies" out there and I really mean "oldies" here is a song of which you may have heard.


    Thursday, June 19, 2014

    World Cup Soccer shows US sports ego centrism

        On my recent trip I went into a couple of restaurants that had the World Cup soccer (football?) matches on the big screen TV's.  It wasn't hard to tell by listening to the people watching the matches that they were mostly foreign nationals rooting for their country's team.  The mania that accompanies the World Cup is lost on most Americans.  Watching 60 minutes of any sport where there are only a few goals seems to be too boring for most of us who have little experience with soccer.  Somehow scoring 100+ points in an NBA game or 40 points in an NFL game seems more American.
        I am not sure why British sports have never translated well in the US.  Other countries of the British Empire seem to have continued to play the British sports after they were no longer colonies.  We took the British game of cricket and turned it into baseball.  We took rugby and invented our version of football.
        We claim world championships in our sports that include only American teams.  Wouldn't it be more accurate if the winner of our World Series had to play professional baseball teams from around the world to claim the title of "World Champions?"  Look at how many Major League baseball teams are signing Asian baseball player.  Same for the NBA.   We see how the games of golf and tennis are truly international.  This past year in the French Open tennis match no American even made it to the quarter finals.  This year's Master's Tournament was won by a young German golfer.  
          Sometimes we Americans remind me of Texans.  Texans think of themselves as bigger and better than the rest of us.  They still think the Dallas Cowboys are "America's Team"  even though they are no better than most of the NFL lately.  This Texan delusional image of their superiority doesn't hold up to scrutiny.  This made Rich Perry's travels to other states trying to entice business to move to Texas so laughable.  The only thing that Texas is know for is dirty air and poverty.  Sorry for the diversion on Texas but I think it does show how the rest of the world looks at us in many ways.

        Along the same lines why do we think of ourselves as Americans when the United States is only one of 36 countries in the Americas?  I once referred to myself as an American to someone from Canada and he took offense at my presumption.  He told me that a Canadian would never refer to himself as an American and couldn't understand why we haven't come up with another name for ourselves.  Unfortunately I can't think of an easy term for someone from the United States.  I guess that maybe why we grab just the last part of our name of United States of America.

    P.S. 1
        Maybe why American sports (there I go again with the "American" thing) have not translated to other parts of the world like the British sports of soccer, golf and tennis is that our empire building days have not been as long as the British Empire.  Maybe we have to give ourselves another hundred years for the World Series to be like the World Cup.

    Wednesday, June 18, 2014

    Howard County 13th healthiest county in the Country for kids

       So we make another national list for living in a great county.  US News and World Report ( I didn't know they still existed) listed us as the 13th healthiest county in the the Country for kids.  Here is what the report said about Howard County:

        "In 2011, Howard became the first county in Maryland to ban smoking at its 50-plus parks. “Our families are thankful for the policy – frankly, it’s what they’ve come to expect,” says county executive Ken Ulman. When he took office in 2006, his goal, he says, was to make Howard a “model public health community.” Today, Healthy Howard programs certify schools, restaurants, workplaces and child care facilities – designations that help people make the smartest choices about where to eat, live, work and play, Ulman says. Another pride point: In 2009, Howard became the first county in the nation to ban minors from tanning beds. “We had to fight the industry and those who said we were going too far,” Ulman recalls. “But there’s no need to expose our young people to those [cancer] risks. I’m heartened to think of the problems we avoided … we took some heat, but it was worth it.”

          We may quickly shrug off these selections by national news magazines because they happen so often. Kind of like winner another beauty contest.  I am sure these selections are great recruiting tools for our Economic Development Office. Who wouldn't want to relocate to Howard County?  But lets not fool ourselves why we make so many of these lists.  We are a well educated, wealthy county.  I think some of the credit for this reality goes to Jim Rouse and the development of Columbia as a well planned community that attracted a highly educated, progressive population.  To state the obvious I would use this equation ---education=wealth=health.  Look at the top 50 listed communities in the US News and World Report.  Most have a poverty rate under half the national average.  In the US (and maybe in most countries) health status and poverty are still closely linked.  Almost all the 50 communities are in the Northeast or West Coast.  None are in the South or the lower part of the Midwest.  Looking at just Maryland the unhealthy counties are on the Eastern Shore and Baltimore City.
         The link between health and poverty can probably be broken down into 2 main factors--lifestyle and access to health care.  The Kaiser Family Foundation often reports on the link to having insurance and health status.  Here is what they have reported:
         "Uninsured people are far more likely than those with insurance to report problems getting needed medical care.  One-quarter of adults without coverage (25%) say that they went  without care in the past year because of its cost compared to 4% of adults with private coverage.  Part of the reason for poor access among the uninsured is that more than half of uninsured adults (55%) do not have a regular place to go when they are sick or need medical advice (Figure 11)."

         My favorite list that we made is still the one for the best place to date a nerd.


    Tuesday, June 17, 2014

    Polarization has impact on where we live

         For many people travelling to other parts of our Country means experiencing different climates or terrain.  For me it is experiencing other people and cultures.  Differences in people are always more fascinating than the change in scenery.  Last week's blog on Salt Lake City is an example of what I experience on a trip.  We don't realize how we all live in a bubble called Columbia until you travel out of state.

       This becomes apparent out West when you see all the pawn shops that advertise that you can get cash for your guns.  When we visited Carson City, Nevada it seemed like we were on the set of an old western.  No Whole Foods here but plenty of guns, bars and gambling options.  Not surprising that the Bundy standoff occurred in Nevada. I couldn't help but notice how many people smoked there.  The Surgeon General's messages must have missed this part of the Country.
          Of course you don't have to travel out of state to see the divide in culture of our Country.  Just watch how the same topic is discussed on Fox News and MSNBC.   A few evenings last week I would bounce between the two channels to see how each lived in a different world.   On Fox the news that Iraq is falling apart was seen as the weakness Obama administration and our pull out a couple years ago.  Is John McClain ever going to get over his losing to Obama?  On MSNBC the slant was of our mistake to have ever invaded Iraq and the limits of military invasions in ever solving political disputes.
          Is it any wonder that with increasing mobility that we are deciding where to live based on our cultural values?  As put it:
    ""The places where we live are becoming increasingly crowded with people who live, think, and vote like we do," Bill Bishop noted in his 2008 book, The Big Sort. In a country driven by personal choice, he claimed, one thing Americans have been choosing to do is to live among the like-minded—and at a distance from those holding opposing views."
          For me this reality was real when I became engaged to a person who lived in Virginia.  When it came time to discuss where we would live after we married I was sure I wasn't moving to Virginia and have elected officials like the Byrd family of Virginia, the old capitol of the Confederacy.  The Virginia of the 1970's was not like Virginia today.  The past segregated South was not a distant memory at that time.  Here in Maryland we had our liberal Republican and Democrat officials like Mac Mathias and Paul Sarbanes.  What I see in where my children and their Columbia school friends have chosen to live continues this trend of where to live.  Not many are choosing "red states."  The marriage equality issue has really pushed this trend.  Many young people growing up in Columbia can't imagine living in a state that bars gay marriage and reproductive choice.
          So where does this sorting lead?  Are we seeing the beginnings of our Country coming apart?  When do our differences become more important than our shared history and values?  There used to be a time when our opinions were developed by all watching the same news programs and believing in what Walter Cronkite told us "and that's the way it is."   Now it seems we live in a Country where our "echo chambers" divide us culturally.

        Unfortunately a return home also meant catching up on the latest shootings in Baltimore.  When I travel I  usually mention that we live near DC.  Saying we live just below Baltimore brings on discussions about how much of the Baltimore is like what they have seen on "Homicide-Life on the Streets" and "The Wire."

    Tuesday, June 10, 2014

    Nature's hydrologist

          I participated in an ecological walk in Utah that showed the work of nature's hydrologist----the beaver.  We in the East probably don't think much about water supply issues but in the West water is what makes many communities sustainable.  Too often these dry climates are starved for water with sudden downpours that quickly dissipate into ground water that may not be easy for plants and animals to access.

           In our area we fight the damage of beavers in our Columbia lakes. 

        This differs in the West where the beaver is a partner in preventing the water from dissipating and providing a habitat for many animals. 

            Interestingly I had just watched a show on beavers on PBS Nature program.

    Monday, June 9, 2014

    Choose Civility-western version

          Having spent the past few days in the Salt Lake City area I have gained a new perspective on how our Country is changing.   First a comment on being in an area that is "Mormon central" or as they refer to themselves-- members of the Church of the Latter Day Saints (LDS for short).  It is hard to be in a place with more politeness, friendliness and civility.  Ask for directions around town and you will also get some recommendations on where to eat.
        Utah is probably the closest thing we have to a church/state in our Country.  It is difficult to win any elected office in Utah if you aren't Mormon.  The Church and political power are one in the same in Utah.  That has always created some tension with non Mormons.  This is seen in the football rivalry between the University of Utah (minority Mormon) and Brigham Young University (99% Mormon).  Their annual football game is called the "holy war."  That has been the way things have always been in Utah but that is changing.
         The secular population of Salt Lake City is growing faster than the Mormon population.  The beautiful city with great climate has rapidly been attracting a non-Mormon population. Projections show that about 2030 Mormons will be a minority of Utah's population. This will probably be sooner in Salt Lake.  This trend was seen once before in the early 20th Century when non Mormon miners came to Utah. The current non Mormon migration doesn't seem to have the temporary nature of the miner migration.  No where is this changing demographic seen more than with Salt Lake's growing gay population.

       This last weekend there was a gay pride festival and parade.  As a reaction to the conservative political climate of the city gay rights organizations have developed a "in your face" attitude. Gay marriage in Utah is still in the courts but the issue was front and center during the weekend event.
        This "in your face" attitude is more directed at the older church leaders than the younger Mormon population.  Younger Mormons, as younger persons in general, have a more tolerant attitude toward the gay population in their community.  In talking with a couple of young Mormons I heard an attitude that sounded more like "live and let live."  One even mentioned that the generational gap in attitude is quite severe in many families.  This can be a challenge because family is the center of Mormon life.  The strength of family support and civility can be tested for any Mormon who decides to come out. 

          Politically Utah is still strongly a red state but it is not hard to see that a "pink" state may be in Utah's future.  Climate and generational changes may move Utah politically in the next generation. Nice that Marylanders are already there.  Utah-nice place to visit- but Howard County still feels more "civil" to me.


    Saturday, June 7, 2014

    Hiking the Millennium Trail

      This week's hike is a little farther away than my other hikes this year.  We are in Park City Utah and the trails available for hiking are spectacular.  The Millennium Trail was finished in 2000 just before the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.  The skiing events were held in Park City

       The wild flowers are just coming into bloom at this 7,000 ft level.

    The wildlife is abundant

       Finally the view from the top of a trail after a day of hiking.

    Friday, June 6, 2014

    Cuba de Ayre

          I remember in the 1970's traveling through Miami trying to find a Cuban restaurant that I understood had true Cuban food.  The area got seedier the farther I went but I was determined to find this place.  It did have great food and have tried to eat in Cuban restaurants when I travel.  Fortunately I now don't have to go far to find Cuban food.  Cuba de Ayer in off Route 29 in Burtonsville is a popular spot on any weekend night.
        Pernil, traditional Cuban roasted Pork, shown above is one of my favorite dishes.  This pork is marinated with bitter orange juice, lemon juice, garlic and pepper, dressed with onions. Moros y Cristianos which is a black bean and rice dish is a great side dish with a choice of maduros (sweet plantains) or tostones.

        The Cuban sandwich is my next favorite dish. I borrowed a photo above from HowChow for this dish.

         This morning taking a beautiful hike in Park City, Utah I couldn't help thinking about something my Father said to me when I graduated from high school.  He told me I was lucky to be graduating when I did because young men he knew when he was in school were being drafted in World War II to be part of the D-Day Invasion 70 years ago.  Sad to think we still resolve disputes in such tragic ways.


    Thursday, June 5, 2014

    National Harbor pre-casino

        I recently had a chance to visit National Harbor near the Wilson Bridge off the Capitol Beltway.  Having seen it from afar on the Beltway it was interesting to see it up close.  It resembled a small city and reminded me a little of downtown Reston.  Upscale shops, restaurants and hotels make up what is there now.

      A large convention center serves as the anchor.

    This is all pre-casino.

          With the recent awarding to MGM to develop a casino at National Harbor this location could attract even more conventions and conferences.
       We have seen the progress of casinos in Maryland from its early forms of gambling in Cecil County with the Hollywood Casino in Perryville to the Maryland Live Casino in Arundel Mills to the soon to open Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore.   Once the casino gets built here I can only imagine how it will change the features of National Harbor or the traffic on the Capitol Beltway near the Wilson Bridge.


       Ever wonder what happened to the "Awakening" sculpture that used to be at the end of Hains Point?  It is now at National Harbor.  When Hains Point would flood it always looked like a drowning man.