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Monday, January 26, 2015

Is biking on the roads safe?

     The recent death of a biker in Baltimore has brought the issue of bike safety on our streets to a new level of awareness.  The danger of biking on heavily traveled streets is something that discourages many of us from even considering taking our bikes on local trips.  We are fortunate to have bike paths in Columbia that does give us some alternative routes to use but often we are forced onto local streets that are heavily traveled.

 I have blogged on this before on the situation on Dobbin Lane and other heavily traveled roads like Little Patuxent Parkway.  Biking to the Mall? Not something to be done easily.  Retrofitting our roads to be more friendly to bikers and pedestrians should be the goal for Howard County in the 21st century.  But to do this you have to build the goal into any road or building development. The hiring of a bike and pedestrian coordinator in the County is a good first step in this direction.  The example of how this can be done is in Holland.

   Below is a before and after picture of a busy street in Holland.


Friday, January 23, 2015

Everything you thought about addiction maybe wrong

    Every once in a while I come across an article that makes me think about something differently and today I wanted to pass it on for your morning read.  It will make you think.  Thanks to a couple of Facebook friends I became aware of this article on the Huffington Post about what maybe the main cause of addiction.  It brings up some interesting information about why some people become addicted and others exposed to the same drugs don't.  The article challenges the notion that addiction is primarily a physiological issue and discusses how social connections maybe a better explanation.  Well worth a read.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Try one of these restaurants for Restaurant Week

   Want to get out of the winter doldrums?  Try one of these restaurants during Howard County's Restaurant week.   Runs through February 2.

   My recommendation is to try Iron Bridge.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Health care for all session

From the Horizon Foundation:

"Maryland is pioneering a new hospital care model that is focusing our hospitals more on prevention and strengthening their relationships with other health providers in their communities. This is producing better outcomes for patients, keeping people healthier, and making it easier for consumers to navigate the health care system.

A forum on Thursday will be hosted by Health Care For All to discuss these changes, innovative collaborations between health care institutions and faith communities, and how to implement these new models locally. This is truly unique in the nation, and Marylanders should know about the new opportunities available.

We hope that you will attend and encourage those in your networks to come and learn about how they can take advantage of these exciting changes. Here are the event details:
day Jan. 22nd
The Meeting House at Oakland Mills Interfaith Center
5885 Robert Oliver Place, Columbia, MD 21045

All are welcome! If you or anyone in your network would like to attend this meeting, please RSVP to Stephanie Klapper at or 410-235-9000. "

#hocomd #hocoblogs #hocoevents

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

$1.85 gas? The good and bad of the lower gas prices

    The Exxon gas station in Virginia caught me by surprise on a recent visit.  $1.85 gas price was something I had not seen in a long, long time.  Filling up for under $25 instead of $50 helps with splurging on a nice lunch. I am not sure where the price drop will go but we might as well enjoy it while it lasts.
     So where is the bad news with the gas prices?  The lower prices for gas make people buy more gas guzzling trucks and larger vehicles that make our efforts to reduce air pollutants a harder sell these days.  Amazingly shortsighted car buyers think that these prices will last long term.   Seems that  Saudi Arabia is trying to drive the rest of the world out of the oil business by undercutting the price.  Once they have accomplished that they will raise the prices.  Gaining back their market share of the world's oil is the game they are playing.
      This might be a good time to buy a hybrid as they are less in demand and maybe cheaper.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A surprise for the baby boom generation

      I remember a time when we baby boomers thought of ourselves as a revolutionary generation.  We challenged authority, created a sexual revolution and changed the world that our parent's WWII generation knew.  They might have been the "greatest generation" but we would be the ones who would define what the world would look like for future generations.  Little did we realize we would be defined more for being the last generation of the pre-digital world rather than defining the future.
      I thought of this new reality on a recent trip when the first thing I did after arriving at my hotel room was connecting my computer to the hotel wi fi.  Somehow not being digitally connected (except for my phone) was a priority over unpacking my suitcase.  How times have changed.  I still find myself with one foot in the digital age and one foot in the pre-digital age.  I still use a paper map to verify what my GPS navigation system is telling me the best route is.  I still carry a paper pocket calendar even thought I use a Google calendar.  I use my smartphone for almost all my calls but still have a landline.  I get most of my news from MSN but still get the paper edition of the Baltimore Sun and watch the evening news.  I pay most bills online but still write some checks.  I still read printed books but own a Kindle.
      I guess we baby boomers have to be satisfied with being a transitional generation and not the revolutionary generation we thought we were.
    I recently dreamed the Baltimore Sun announced they would stop publishing their print edition.  I know this reality is only a short time away.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Lemon ricotta cheesecake

    Somehow I have never been a fan of cheesecake made with cream cheese.  Too heavy for my taste.  On a trip to Rehoboth Beach this past October I had ricotta cheesecake that was fabulous.  Looking for a recipe I can across a few and added lemon curd that made this even better.  Here is the recipe.

1-1/2 cups crushed vanilla wafers (about 45 wafers)
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

32 container whole-milk ricotta cheese
2/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
6 eggs
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup lemon curd
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt

In a small bowl, combine wafer crumbs, butter and lemon peel. Press onto the bottom of a greased 9 1/2-in. springform pan. Bake at 325° F for 12-14 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool.

Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, stir ricotta with a rubber spatula until it reaches an extremely smooth consistency. Add the sugar and flour into the ricotta, mixing thoroughly.

Stir in the eggs 1 at a time. Next add in the vanilla, cinnamon, lemon curd, and salt. Mix well. Pour batter into crust.

Bake in the center of the oven for about 75 to 90 minutes at 300° F, until the cake is a light golden color. When it's ready, the center should be fairly firm, and the point of a sharp knife inserted in the center will come out clean.
Cool cake on a wire rack. Cover, and chill till serving time.

  Using a store bought graham cracker pie shell works well too and makes the recipe easier.


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Volunteer for the Martin Luther King holiday


     The Jewish Federation of Howard County is participating in the national MLK Day of Service. They are sponsoring several programs throughout Howard County.  If you’d like more information about the program, feel free to contact Michelle Goldberg at or 410-730-4976 ext. 118.

       You can join them on Monday, January 19th at Heartlands Senior Living, Grassroots Cold Weather Shelter at Temple Isaiah with the Autism Society, and Food on the 15th at Morningside Park Apartments and The Tiber Hudson Building for a morning of volunteering! There are limited spaces at each location. Register online today:


Monday, January 12, 2015

Time to pay for bags of trash?

  .  If you have been a reader of this blog you know that I have been a proponent of recycling much of the trash we accumulate.  Howard County makes it easy to recycle most of our recyclable materials but our present system is completely voluntary.  Most of us recycle as a civic duty but there will always be a part of our community that is too lazy or just not convinced of the value of recycling. This past holiday season gave me a lesson in how having to pay for bags of trash was a motivator to increase recycling

  While visiting a relative in Pennsylvania I accidentally threw some trash in a trash bin and was quickly told to move it to the recycle container in a nearby closet.  It seems that the town was trying to close its local landfill by moving the town to a goal of zero trash.  Their plan to was start charging for each bag of trash you set out on your curb.  Stickers had to be purchased  for the different sized trash bags.  The fee for the stickers started out modestly but was scheduled to increase each year.  Kind of a "pay to play" plan for reducing the need for maintaining a landfill.  While the motivation to move to this system was more economic than environmental it started me thinking of why our County has not considered this as a move to encourage more recycling.  We have been an early adopter of trying methods to recycle waste but the method of making people pay for not recycling might be needed to get those who are less motivated by environmental concerns.

    This blog might also be a good time to plug the Columbia Freecyle as a good way to recycle just about any household item you no longer need.


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Royal Taj move update

    It seems that my choice in eating out frequently brings me back to the Royal Taj.

     Their Chicken Tikka Masala is the best I have had anywhere.  I know that it is probably the most popular Indian dish there is but it is so good that I had to order it again.
    Having earlier this year talked with the owner of the Royal Taj about their move to the building housing the Applebee's in the Columbia Restaurant Park I expected that they would have been moved by now.  Apparently some building permits have held them up to this point but he is now hopeful of their move by this Spring.  They will have a larger space, room for groups and own the Applebee's site as opposed to leasing their present space.

Thought for the day:  The key to eating healthier is to not eat any food advertised in a TV commercial.


Friday, January 9, 2015

Ellicott City H Mart

   Last week I checked out the new H Mart in Ellicott City on Route 40 where the old Shoppers used to be.  The proliferation of Asian markets along Route 40 apparently hasn't reached the saturation point yet. 

    This market is very similar to the H Mart farther out Route 40 in terms of the selection of foods.  With that being said it is more convenient than having to drive all the way out Route 40 to Catonsville or beyond.

Nice selection of vegetables.  Fruits were more limited maybe because of the winter season.

Some of the items I picked up are some of my favorites like the sesame mochi,

the White King Hotcakes that are a slightly sweet light pancake that I come to love,

     and finally the raisin tea drink that is great hot or cold.  A must try if you haven't had this drink.

#hocofood #hocomd

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Remembering the King

      The King of rock and roll would have been 80 today.  Maybe it is good we don't know what he would look like at 80.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Government budgeting

     So as new administrations take over in Howard County and Maryland we find that budget deficits are larger than projected previously.  Haven't we heard this before?  Seems like I remember Gov. O'Malley's first year as Governor was also dealing with a large budget deficit.  I also remember the tough first budget years that County Execs Chuck Ecker and Jim Robey faced.
     Howard County's FY2015 (July 2014-June 2015) deficit is about 1.2% of its budget and the Maryland deficit is a little over 3% of its budget.  So how do we seem to always get into budget deficits when administrations change?  Budgeting always has one big unknown.  You can know what your expenditures are going to be (with the possible exception of snow removal costs) but it is far harder to predict revenues 18 months down the road.  Somewhat like trying to predict what the stock market will do 18 months from now.  For Maryland and Howard County the government sequester undoubtedly had an impact on local and state revenues.  Both are both heavily dependent on government spending to fund their economies.
     I think there maybe a second possible reason why new administrations face budget deficits.  Outgoing administrations have a harder time saying "no" to budget requests in their last year because they know that the next administration will have to deal with any shortfalls in revenue.  You don't want to alienate any possible campaign contributors by not fully funding programs they support in an election year.
     I am not as familiar with the Maryland budget preparation but I was involved for many years with the Howard County budget preparation when I was responsible for preparing the budget for a county agency.  The process began with a meeting of county employees responsible for budget preparation with the county budget director.  For most of my years that person was Ray Wacks.  You may never heard of Ray Wacks but anybody in county government or an agency requesting money from the county knew who Ray was. Ray had the unenviable job of being the one to say "no" to your funding request.  Some of us used to go to that meeting knowing that the first thing Ray was going to say was that it was going to be a tight budget year with few increases.  The message never changed from "good" economy years to "bad" economy years.  We all knew that this was Ray's way of discouraging us from easily requesting  new money.  He set the tone that we would have to have strong case for new program requests.  My agency was fortunate to be serving a growing demographic group so we able to get many of our funding requests funded over the years.
      In Ray's defense he was one of the smartest people you would ever what to know and the county benefited from his knowledge of projecting Howard County revenues.  Ray had a great historical perspective on county budgets and the pitfalls of wrong projections.  Ray had a lot to do with Howard County's Triple A bond rating. Just for a point of explanation our bond rating determines how much interest the county has to pay on the bonds it issues. to borrow money.  It is a big savings to the county that we can pay such a low rate of interest on the bonds we issue to fund our capital budget. County Execs would come and go but Ray provided the continuity to the county fiscal affairs.
    Ray no longer serves as County Budget Administrator.  Gail Benson is now Acting Administrator.  Gail has long service in the Budget Office and would be a good replacement for Ray.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Treating icy driveways and sideways in an environmentally friendly manner

    I have blogged previously on the problems that we have when we fertilize our yards to keep them green and today I want to mention another homeowner enhanced problem for the winter season.

     With this morning's light snow it is a good time to discuss this environmental issue. The use of salt on our sidewalks and driveways creates environment problems for our waterways.  Here are the facts:
1. Excess salts build up in the soil, just as they do with chemical fertilizers.
2. Salt residue prevents plants from absorbing moisture and nutrients.
3. Salts can leach heavy metals, which eventually make their way into water supplies.
4. Salt on grass or sidewalks close to roads can attract animals, which may be hit by cars if they’re licking the salt from the ground.
5. Plus, salt can burn our pets if it lodges in their paws.
   So what are you to do to avoid the dangers of ice on our sidewalks and driveways? The best solution takes some work with frequent shoveling and sweeping the loose snow with a broom. 

 An ice chipper works with ice. 

Here are some alternatives to salt:

      1.  Sand. This is a great alternative to salt. Sand provides traction, is inexpensive, does not harm the environment, and sweeps up easily. Brick sand is best because it is coarser and more granular than regular sand. Brick sand can be purchased from building supply stores. Sand also has a relatively low albedo, which means it will absorb sunlight, helping to warm ice/snow and contribute to faster melting. It does tend to track easily into homes, however.

      2.  Ashes. If you have a wood burning fireplace at home, ashes are a convenient and economical alternative to salt. Ashes provide traction and will melt ice quickly when it is sunny (ashes have a low albedo, which means they will absorb sunlight). Please be careful to keep ashes away from food gardens, as there may be heavy metals present in ashes.

     3. Kitty Litter. This option may be more expensive than other alternatives, but it provides a great deal of traction. If you already have kitty litter at home, this can be an easy alternative to salt. Unfortunately, the residual material has a tendancy to turn into mush as the snow and ice melts.

     4.  EcoTraction. One commercial alternative that shows promise is "EcoTraction". Limited application of this product used in conjunction with sand. Check out the EcoTraction website for more information on this salt alternative.   Locally available at  Morin Distribution, 9305 Gerwig Lane,
Columbia, MD 21046,  301-953-0250

   If you are going to buy a de-icer then here is some information on the environmental issues with each choice.

Monday, January 5, 2015

A week of blog reading

     Interesting how lazy you can get not doing a daily blog.  I thought that I would spend every day browsing the blogs on HoCo Blogs last week.  Somehow it was harder for me to have the discipline to read blogs daily than to write one.  I did find some blogs that I plan on checking in the future.  Not surprisingly the food blogs caught my attention the most.  Too bad there aren't many politically oriented blogs although HoCo Rising and The 53 do a good job of touching on local politics.  Nice having Tom Coale back as a blogger. Thanks to Tom I learned of a couple of blogs that cover the local scene.  Is This Thing On? has some interesting observations of people around our town. Another of Tom's recommendations, Spartan Considerations, is a blog I plan on checking with regularly.
    Now the food blogs.  Can you believe there is a blog devoted to popcorn?  Talk about an narrow focus for a blog.  My favorite blog post was from My Soup for You on raspberry cream cheese french toast.  Tried the recipe and it was pretty good.  On a healthier note the grilled shrimp with citrus and fennel salad with Three Beans on a String was something I have to try.  The blogger was also talking about doing program called Whole30 which apparently encourages people to eat healthier for 30 days.  Not sure about the trendy eating plans.  Sensible eating usually just means eating less meat, more fruits and vegetables, less dairy and only whole grains.
     If you follow this blog you know that environmental issues are something that I have posted about on a regular basis.  Since I met with Ned Tillman a month ago I have been reading the two books he wrote that have a great deal of stories about our local environment.  I have learned so much about our environment from these books and will be posting more about the books soon.  Ned's blog called Saving the Places We Love is a great blog on the environment.

    Surprising to see how few religious organizations post in the Faith section and companies in the Company section.  The world of blogs still hasn't reached each group apparently.

    I realize that my reading of new blogs would not be possible except for HoCo Blogs.  Thanks again Jesse.