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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


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Community Action Council of Howard County

    As we approach Thanksgiving and the incessant advertising for Christmas I have to say that I have mixed feelings as the holidays approach every year.  On the one hand I love the music, lights, food and special occasions that occur at this time of the year.  It is our most festive time.  But on the other hand the overboard commercialism of the holidays seems to be so meaningless in terms of what holidays should be about and for me that is sharing.  Over the next few weeks I hope to highlight some of our community organizations that give us an opportunity to share our good fortune with others at this time of year.
    Today I want to highlight the Community Action Council of Howard County (CAC).  This non profit organization grew out of the Great Society effort of the 1960's and is the focal point for many programs that benefit low income residents of Howard County.

They manage the Food Bank

The Energy Assistance Program 

Head Start 

Weatherization and housing assistance

When a tenant is facing eviction or needs help with a utility turnoff CAC is usually the organization that tenants turn to.  

At this time of year they are also the ones providing Thanksgiving dinner to over 300 County residents in the next couple of days.

  To make a donation to this organization just click on this link.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Is the "rain tax" dead?

       The use of derogatory terms by opponents of new programs seems to be an effective way to systematize ideas and programs.  Remember the "flush tax," "death tax," "death panels," and of course labeling the Affordable Health Care program "Obamacare."  On the last one, Obamacare, having your name associated with a program that provides health care to the uninsured is a positive legacy for the President in my opinion.
      So one of the issues that became part of the political debate in Maryland this last election cycle was the so called "rain tax."  In today's anti-tax climate calling anything a tax can help you gain traction if you want to oppose a law.  I think storm runoff fee might more appropriately be called a "user fee" as it only impacts those creating the problem that needs to be addressed.  Time will tell but I expect that the "rain tax" will be eliminated in the next Maryland Legislative session.  Maybe there is a better way to address the problem then a tax but given the projected deficit in the Maryland budget I doubt that other revenues will be found to address the issue.
       So  what is the issue that the fee was supposed to address?  With more of our land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed being developed for both residential and commercial uses the amount of runoff from this area, with impermeable surfaces, has caused severe environmental impacts on the Bay.    Below you can see the silt runoff that flows from the rivers and streams into the Bay.

   Compounding the problem of the silt runoff is that it includes the fertilizers that are used by farmers and residents.  This causes the algae blooms that we see in many of our lakes and storm runoff ponds.  Below is an example of this closer to home in Lake Elkhorn.

     The Columbia Association has to dredge our lakes and a frequent basis to remove the algae blooms and aquatic plants using a machine like the one pictured below.

   The Columbia Association has also attempted to impact the storm runoff going into Lake Elkhorn by building rock barriers, called infiltration trenches, to capture the silt as show below in a stream that feeds the Lake. 

      Last week I had a chance to talk with Ned Tillman who has written a couple of books on the stormwater runoff issue and other environmental issues impacting our communities.  The books I have been reading "Saving the Places We Love" and "The Chesapeake Watershed" are important books to read if you want to learn the background story to why action is required to restore health to the Chesapeake Bay.  
     So if we don't like to be taxed to address this problem how can we take responsibility for the problems we are creating?  As homeowners we are at the point of origin of the problem.  We are in the best position to address the issue at its origin--our roofs, our driveways and our lawns.  Below is a picture of the storm runoff on my yard.  

    The water from my roof downspout flowed along a path between my yard and my neighbor's yard every time we had a heavy rain.  A gully was being created by the frequent storms.  Talking with my neighbor about the issue I mentioned that the Columbia Association had grant funds to install rain gardens that paid for 2/3 of the cost of the landscaping to build the rain gardens.  We went in together and had two rain gardens installed.

    Not only are the rain gardens effective in solving our storm water runoff problem but they are attractive.

They also attract birds and butterflies to our yards.  And yes the deer enjoy some of the plants too.

    Above is a picture of the rain garden in action during a thunder storm like the one pictured before showing the runoff.  In the picture above you can see how the runoff is channeled through my rain garden into my neighbor's rain garden and not into the street.   
     So now with the rain garden in place I have decided to slowly but surely eliminate as much of the grass in my yard as possible and replace it with ground cover and plants that are more environmentally friendly than grass.  I have never used fertilizer on my yard so you can imagine that my yard was never the green carpet that seems to be the goal of many suburban homeowners.
     Below are some of the hostas that I have planted along with the other ground cover and plants that are replacing my grass.

    My goal is to have all my grass gone in 2 years and to work to develop a certified wildlife preserve.

    On my other downspout I have installed a rain barrel to catch the rain water from my other roof.

      So with the probably death of the "rain tax" I would hope that it doesn't mean that we close our eyes to the reality that the Chesapeake Bay is under stress from development.  I would hope that both local and state government would look at implementing programs to make rain gardens, rain barrels and other approaches affordable and to assist homeowners and business to take the responsibility to address the issue.
Playing politics with the issue on a taxing basis may win political points but it comes at the sake of the health of the Bay.  I would hope that the Chesapeake Bay really is important enough in defining Maryland that other remedies to this issue can be found.  So as the opponents of the tax claim a possible political victory with its repeal I hope there are enough of us to ask them what they want to do to address the health of Bay in a more effective way.


    Permeable surfaces like the ones below are another way to address the issue.  Maybe tax credits or some other incentives can be found to encourage more of them in the future would help.


Middle Patuxent Enviornmental Area Autumn Olive RemovalWhen: Tuesday - November 25th, 9 AM to 11:30 AMWhere: South Wind Circle Trailhead off Trotter Rd, Clarksville

This Autumn Olive Removal event con­tinues the effort to remove the woody non-native inva­sive plant which has degraded habi­tat in many Howard County parks. The event is part of the ongo­ing Con­ser­va­tion Stew­ard­ship Pro­ject, a joint program of Howard County Mas­ter Gardeners with Recreation and Parks. No bend­ing or expe­ri­ence needed; mostly pruners and shears work. All ages wel­come.

Driving Directions: South Wind Circle Entrance to MPEA
Route 29 to Route 108 west towards Clarksville or Route 32 to Route 108 east. Turn onto Trotter Road to South Wind Circle (about 1 mile). Enter the circle and proceed to trailhead on left (opposite Misty Top Path). Please carpool.

For more Information:
Aylene Gard, Master Gardener, 410-992-9889 or
Jeff Claffy, Assistant Natural Resources Manager, MPEA, 410-313-6209

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The role of libraries in a changing world

  As a long time supporter of our HoCo Library I have blogged often on how our Library is expanding the concept of what a library is all about in our digital world.  I recently read a report from the Aspen Institute that discussed this new role in a comprehensive manner.  Here is a short summary of what the report discussed:

    "Public libraries are poised to play a leading role in helping individuals and communities adapt to this changing world. Many libraries already are linking individuals to information and learning opportunities, driving development and innovation, and serving as community connectors. With nearly 9,000 public library systems and 17,000 library branches and outlets across the country, there is already a significant physical presence and infrastructure to leverage for long-term success. Enabling all libraries to fulfill their new roles will require library leaders, policy makers and community stakeholders to re-envision the public library and take advantage of the opportunities it offers."

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ribbon cutting on the Kittamaqundi path

    Yesterday the newly completed 1.5 mile path around Lake Kittamaqundi was officially opened. The path now gives us a chance to see some of the wildlife that inhabit the far side of the Lake.


Friday, November 21, 2014

Columbia Association progress on paths

     With today's (Friday, November 21) ceremonial ribbon cutting of the completion of the path around Lake Kittamaqundi at 1 pm to at the new bridge CA adds another link in our community path system.  All of Columbia's lakes now allow users a path to circumnavigate each lake.  CA's notice on the event explains:
     "The ceremony will be held on the northwest side of the lake at a new bridge and boardwalk that brings pedestrians and bicyclists over a wetlands area. The quickest route there from the Downtown Columbia Lakefront is to take the pathway outside of Sushi Sono and walk north. For those who may need assistance to get to the ceremony from the lakefront area, CA also will be providing golf cart shuttles to the site that will leave from near Sushi Sono starting around 12:45 p.m."

   Yesterday saw the Planning Board hearing on construction of a 10 ft wide path connecting the path over 29 to the Blandair Park.  The 10 ft wide paths are CA's plan to make high usage paths more user friendly to both walkers and bikers.

    The additional signage on the path system to direct users to the lakes is a nice navigational tool to encourage users to explore the lakes.

   Yesterday on a walk across the pedestrian bridge over Route 29 I stopped to watch the work on adding an additional northbound lane on 29.  I couldn't help but wonder how nice it would be to have a 10 wide bike lane down the middle of the median of Route 29.  When the Rouse Company planned a new larger Route 29 and a Route 175 to be the main north/south and east/west roads for the new town the planning unfortunately didn't include bike transportation on these new roads.   As I have blogged before (sorry to be so repetitive) for bikes to be a real method of commuting the routes like 29 and 175 (and maybe 108) need to have some thought given on how bikers could safely utilize these direct routes to commute. 


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Suggested book to read

     A couple of week's ago I had a chance to catch up with Wes Moore at the Howard Community College.  I had the opportunity to meet Wes a few times in Baltimore a few years ago in some work both of us were involved with. Wes has one of those inspiring life stories that inspires anyone who listens to one of his presentations.  Growing up in Baltimore Wes could have followed many paths in his life but was fortunate to have a Mother that recognized his potential and channeled him in positive ways.  Another young man growing up in the same neighborhood with the same name followed a different path and had a very different outcome.  The story of both is told in the book "The Other Wes Moore."  Since Wes is the author of the book most people assume that the other Wes Moore is the one who is now in prison.  The message that Wes has is how fine the line is from his story to the one of the other Wes Moore.  I recommend the book to see the Baltimore story shown in the "The Wire" and "The Corner" from an up close and personal perspective.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Planning Board considers Inner Arbor Plan


    This Thursday November 20th at 7 p.m. the Howard County Planning Board will continue to hear residents comments on the proposed Inner Arbor Plan.  This is a continuation of the hearings they held two weeks ago.  The number of residents wanting to comment was so large that they decided to postpone any decisions until they heard all the comments in this additional meeting.
   According to a report in the Baltimore Sun:

    "The plan will be developed in seven phases. The first phase of the development, which is funded by a county grant of $1.6 million, will build an outdoor amphitheater, called the Chrysalis, east of the concert venue. It is envisioned that the shell-shaped amphitheater, which will be made out of a lightweight fiberglass, will be used by both Merriweather operators and the Trust.

    The second phase includes building a pathway and elevated boardwalk over a natural stream bed and swale from the corner of Little Patuxent Parkway and South Entrance Road to the Chrysalis. That phase requires extensive stream restoration, which costs approximately $500,000. McCall said the Trust plans to develop the first two phases in tandem.

     Future phases, which could take between one to two years each to complete, include a glass and mirrored guest services building called the Butterfly; a children's playground inspired by circles, called the Merriground; a 300-foot-long floating seating area called the Picnic Table; and the Caterpillar, an 800-foot-long, 15-foot high tube -– which will be landscaped with potted plants and green artificial turf –- dividing the park and the concert venue.

    It also includes creating a new access point and parking for the park called "Free To Be Drive," which is phase seven and likely will be the last development."

    The development of the Inner Arbor plan has been a long awaited addition to Town Center to increase the utilization of Symphony Woods by the community.  The development has not been without controversy with the original plan developed by Cy Paumier being substantially altered in the new plan.  For a good summary of this controversy a link to Frank Hecker's blog is the best one I have read.  


Monday, November 17, 2014

Education for all goes online

    The internet has made taking educational course as easy as sitting down at your computer.  I have recently finished an online course on the Constitution and the Supreme Court.  The course was offered by Coursera an online education site.   Wikipedia explains this program as:

".....a for-profit educational technology company founded by computer science professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller from Stanford University that offers massive open online courses(MOOCs). Coursera works with universities to make some of their courses available online, and offers courses in physics, engineering, humanities, medicine, biology, social sciences, mathematics, business,computer science, and other subjects. Coursera has an official mobile app for iOS and Android. As of October 2014, Coursera has 10 million users in 839 courses from 114 institutions."

     Some courses have a fee but many are free like my course.  Some of the courses are taught at the college level but many are designed to be introductions to a subject area that doesn't require much advanced knowledge to successfully complete.   My Constitutional course was just such an introductory course.  For 8 weeks I reviewed 3 videos from the professor which were each about 10 minutes long.  The course was taught by Kermit Roosevelt III---the great, great grandson of Teddy Roosevelt.  He is a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
      While I was somewhat familiar with the Constitution and its amendments from college courses and following the news I did gain a perspective on how our current Constitutional issues are being viewed.   You soon realize that those who describe themselves as being a "strict constructionist" or wanting our current judges to follow "what our founders wanted when they wrote the Constitution" have probably little familiarity of how our Constitution was arrived at beyond the Second Amendment.  Just like interpreting the Bible, the Constitution has sections that can be used by proponents of both sides of an argument.  An example of this is the Second Amendment where gun control advocates can believe that the right to bear arms was only in the context of a militia and gun rights advocates can believe the right goes to any citizen and not just related to a militia.

    The HoCo Library also offers access to online courses through Gale Courses.  Check those courses out here.

    Finally there is the amazing courses offered through the Khan Academy on their You Tube Channel.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

HoCo Library a "Top Shelf" library

   We all know that our Library has been recognized for being the best library in North America but now the Library as been recognized as a "Top Shelf" library.  What does this mean?  The Washington Post had this to report:

    " The annual Library Journal Index tallies the number of library visits, items checked out, attendees at programs and public computer use reported by every public library in the country. Then it measures how those numbers stack up against other libraries with similar budgets to evaluate the volume of services each library provides, per capita, to its community."
    " Howard County’s library system was one of only three libraries in Maryland to make the cut. It earned a five-star rating — the top grade — and was judged the second most-effective library overall in its spending bracket in the entire country."
  Here is the full report.


Friday, November 14, 2014

Rock Creek Bike trail from Lake Needwood in Montgomery County

     When we think of Rock Creek Park we think of the park in DC that goes by the National Zoo and down Beach Drive to the Potomac River.  The park actually begins in Montgomery County and the paved bike trail begins at Lake Needwood.  The beautiful lake is shown above.  The maps below show the northern parts of the trail.


    Our beautiful weather at the beginning of this week made for a bike ride with the fall foliage at their peak.

    The trail was mostly flat as it went along Rock Creek stream but there were a few steep uphills that required shifting gears.

   The overpasses like the new one at Viers Mill and the other underpasses meant that there were only a few streets to cross at lights.

  As seen above and below the scenery was worth the biking effort.  These are days we will look back on in a few months when it is too cold and snowy to bike.

  We only did 17.6 miles so we didn't get into the DC section of the trail but hope to find a day soon when we will explore the other sections of this trail.

    To get to Lake Needwood go south on Route 29 to Route 198 west on Spenserville Rd which turns into Norwood to Avery to Lake Needwood Rd the park entrance on the left.