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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

NPR to get rid of comments


   Anyone who has ever blogged realizes how the ability to post anonymously gives angry people the chance it get angry without direct consequences.  Even some well known sites like National Public Radio have stopped allowing comments because to the extreme comments from some people.  When these people are blocked they just get a new user name.

      I wish more discourse could follow the example of our Library's bumper stickers "Choose Civility."

Monday, August 29, 2016

The face of homelessness in Howard County


      I have blogged before about the increasing amount of panhandlers in the Columbia area.  The question I posed in the subject of this blog is one that I know most of us have had when seeing a panhandler.  Recently I received a blog comment on my blog post saying this:

    "I am homeless not by choice but because of the riots in Baltimore city, after trying to find a new home for my 2 grandchildren and my 2 son's I lost my job, my landlord didn't have insurance so he decided not to fix the home since then I haven't been able to come up with a security deposit which means you are homeless. ,so I take offense to your narrow mind and hope you pass me and my grandson at bjs--'i hope it happens to you one day and people don't give you a penny."

   I decided that I would look for the person who had posted this comment to my blog to learn more about her story.   

     Recently I saw a woman panhandling near BJ's who looked like she could be a grandmother. This was one of those recent days with the heat index near 110.  I stopped and surprised her by asking her if she was the person who made a comment on my blog.  I was disappointed to have her say that she couldn't read blogs because she had no access to a computer. She didn't have a problem with my posting her picture but I have decided not to use her name.
    She freely told me about how her life changed dramatically when she lost a job.  She had worked at a number of jobs and had a stable life leaving with her daughter and grandchildren in an apartment that they shared.  Her loss of a job made the apartment unaffordable and she moved into her car and her daughter and grandchildren moved into a shelter.  She explained that she panhandled to afford to rent a room in a local motel so that she didn't have to sleep in her car.  She further told me of meeting the other people who panhandled and how one in panhandler educated her on how to panhandle.  She was told to only panhandle on private property so that the police couldn't stop you from panhandling.  She was also told to get the permission of the commercial property owner.
     When I asked her to describe the type of person who was most likely to give her money she quickly said that was African Americans both men and women.  Next was young people, especially young women.  The people most likely to ignore her were men, especially older men.  I guess she was talking about people like me.
     I asked her how she reacted to many people thinking that panhandlers were people with substance abusers and that giving them money would only go to supporting their habit.  She showed me her arms and asked me if she looked like an addict.  She also said if anyone thought that she would take a drug test to prove them wrong.
     I next asked her the other question that many people have about panhandlers.   Why don't you just take a minimum wage job rather than panhandle.  She said she tried that some but most of the jobs required her to be on her feet more than she was able.  She can take frequent breaks in her car to rest her feet while she panhandles.
      We talked about other panhandlers in our area and she mentioned that many of them knew each other.  She said that the young panhandler who tutored her on panhandling lived in the woods behind a shopping center in Columbia.  In fact there was a small village of homeless panhandlers living together at that site.  They had made being homeless and panhandling a conscious life style.  They were different from the other panhandlers like herself who saw their situation as temporary until they got their lives back together.  She excitedly told me about a job interview she had the next day that seemed to have the potential to get her back to her old life.  I wished her luck and told her how to contact me to let me now how she did with the interview.  I have not heard about how things turned out but will look for her again when I am in that area.   
     I hope to talk with more panhandlers in the coming weeks to give a face and story for most of us who just pass them by as we go about our daily activities.

     When I asked her about reaching out to local support services for the homeless she mentioned the support she had received from some of them and especially had praise for the Day Resource Center on Route 1.  If you have mixed feelings about giving money to panhandlers directly giving a contribution to the Day Resource Center is a good way to make a difference with homelessness in Howard County.  Here is a list of donated items they are in need of.


Friday, August 26, 2016

Make a memorable breakfast dish this weekend

     Try a Dutch Baby pancake this weekend.  Here is the video.

3 eggs
½ cup flour
½ cup milk
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch of nutmeg
4 tablespoons butter
Syrup, preserves, confectioners' sugar or cinnamon sugar

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Combine eggs, flour, milk, sugar and nutmeg in a blender jar and blend until smooth. Batter may also be mixed by hand.
Place butter in a heavy 10-inch skillet or baking dish and place in the oven. As soon as the butter has melted (watch it so it does not burn) add the batter to the pan, return pan to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, until the pancake is puffed and golden. Lower oven temperature to 300 degrees and bake five minutes longer.
Remove pancake from oven, cut into wedges and serve at once topped with syrup, preserves, confectioners' sugar or cinnamon sugar.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Soon BJ's will mean a restaurant rather than a warehouse shopping store

     It wasn't too long ago when I was surprised to see construction fences around the area in Columbia Crossing Shopping Center where Macaroni Grill had been for a number of years.  The building was being torn down and soon signs for a new restaurant went up.

    The signs for BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse confused me.  Was it a burger place or a pizza place?  Apparently it is both in addition to having a large selection of craft beers.  Doesn't it seem as if craft beers are everywhere these days? Even the family themed Red Robin burger restaurant has reformatted itself to increase alcohol sales.  I remember a time in the past when you went to a restaurant to eat and a bar to drink.  Now the two seem to have become blended as bars have expanded into more extensive food menus.
     For anyone wanting to try this restaurant chain out before the Columbia restaurant opens you can try the one in the Town Centre of Laurel on Route 1 Laurel where the old Laurel Mall was.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Act now for the best grapes you will ever taste

    There is a little secret out there in the grocery stores right now.  We are now in that tiny window of a couple of weeks when you can get the grapes called Cotton Candy.  They are now in Giant and Wegman's among other grocery stores.  If you haven't tried them don't let their high price stop you from trying them.  Don't wait as they will be gone soon as they are so popular.  I know you will be hooked on them as much as I am.  For a real treat freeze some of them to eat frozen.  They will be like eating real candy!

      I have thought twice about doing this post as I really don't want these grapes to disappear too quickly before I have my annual fill of these grapes.


Monday, August 22, 2016

How we got to the Ellicott City flood


      How often will we see more floods like the one that Ellicott City experienced a few weeks ago?  What were once called "once in a hundred year or thousand year floods" seem to be more related to the past than the present situation.   Using old weather models to assess current and future weather may under estimate storm intensity. What seems to be the new reality for areas like Ellicott City and Louisiana with recent floods is related to two significant factors.
        The first is the global warming of the oceans is causing rain storms to become more intense.  Warm water evaporates at higher rates putting more moisture into the air.  In a 2015 article in the Nature magazine article on climate change the following was written:

    "In the last decade record-breaking rainfall events have occurred in many places around the world causing severe impacts to human society and the environment including agricultural losses and floodings. There is now medium confidence that human-induced greenhouse gases have contributed to changes in heavy precipitation events at the global scale. Here, we present the first analysis of record-breaking daily rainfall events using observational data. We show that over the last three decades the number of record-breaking events has significantly increased in the global mean. Globally, this increase has led to 12 % more record-breaking rainfall events over 1981–2010 compared to those expected in stationary time series. The number of record-breaking rainfall events peaked in 2010 with an estimated 26 % chance that a new rainfall record is due to long-term climate change. This increase in record-breaking rainfall is explained by a statistical model which accounts for the warming of air and associated increasing water holding capacity only. Our results suggest that whilst the number of rainfall record-breaking events can be related to natural multi-decadal variability over the period from 1901 to 1980, observed record-breaking rainfall events significantly increased afterwards consistent with rising temperatures."

    Do you know the temperature of the Chesapeake Bay this summer?  Would you believe 87 degrees at the mouth of the Bay?  The temperatures of the Bay have been increasing for some time.  One study found that the Bay temperature is increasing .5 to 1 degree Celsius every decade.   As reported in the study:

     "A new study shows that surface water temperature in the Chesapeake Bay is increasing more rapidly than air temperature, signaling a need to look at the impact of warming waters on one of the largest and most productive estuaries in the world."

    The second cause of increased flooding is the amount of development of areas with impervious surfaces.  Areas that once absorbed the rain water now lead to more storm runoff.  The Baltimore Sun had an article that pointed out the developments around Main Street that now funnel water in the direction of Main Street

     Ellicott City is additionally more vulnerable to storm runoff because of the granite that encases much of Main Street as pictured above.  It seems as if you couldn't design a better funneling system than we have with Main Street being at the narrow end of the funnel.
      Given this reality that has few easy solutions where does that leave the restoration of the area.  I have already mentioned one option but the reality is that the commercial aspect of Main Street will always predominate in the discussion of what the future holds for Main Street.  Can retrofitting and re-channeling the way that water flows toward Main Street ever adequately address the flooding potential?  How do you correct a problem that may have few manageable and affordable options?  The balance between options that have a realistic chance of addressing the problem and what is affordable and practical will always create a difficult dilemma moving forward.  The next chapter in defining what form Main Street will take needs to be a broad examination of how to develop the area as an asset for the County without ignoring the current reality of more frequent devastating flooding.

     Like most of us in Howard County when we get a heavy thunderstorm, as we have recently during the cleanup, my thoughts go to how well the runoff is being handled on Main Street.  This video shows that there is some significant runoff after a normal Summer rain storm.


Saturday, August 20, 2016

New Indian grocery store

    Last week I had a chance to checkout a new Indian grocery store in the shopping strip on Dobbin Road next to Riverside Cafe.

   The SS Indian Grocery had a wide assortment of Indian foods.

     These types of stores tend to pop up quickly in our community.  They are a great addition to those of us that enjoy trying different ethnic foods.


Monday, August 15, 2016

A new paradigm Ellicott City

     It has now been a few weeks to digest what has happened with the Ellicott City flood.  The Baltimore Sun on Sunday had a front page article highlighting the impact that development has had on the flooding problem with Main Street.  Main Street was built for a different time when the main source of flooding came from the Patapsco River.  Now the problem is the feeder rivers that flow into the Patapsco at Main Street.  The development around the area has created impervious surfaces that channel more to the rain water into these feeder rivers which were never designed to handle the amount of water runoff.  The developments are not going away and remediation efforts post development may only marginally improve the problem. It is interesting to look back at an article from a few years ago to see how marginal most flood control efforts would be.  At some point the question has to be raised that maybe Main Street as it has existed in the past isn't viable going forward with just a restoration of the buildings damaged in the flood.  Having said that Main Street Ellicott City is a County asset that can't be abandoned as having outlived its original purpose.  My hope is that the time spent moving forward would look more broadly in the restoration effort.  To simply look at rebuilding the area to restore it to its previous state maybe shortsighted.  We know that it is only a matter of time till we see the videos of the next flood of Main Street.
      I have blogged before on paradigms and how they cause us to be too narrow in our focus in solving problems.  For how this is a problem click on the link in the previous sentence.  Simply put paradigms are the blinders we put on that cause us to miss new opportunities to improve how we do something.   Many times we only take our blinders off when something stops working as it has in the past or we experience failure when in the past we were successful.  If we take too long in taking off or blinders failure is repeated.  Think Kodak's slow response to digital photograph or Borders Books not developing an online store fast enough.
      So getting back to Ellicott City what is the paradigm?  In my opinion it is that retail stores are what gives Main Street its vitality and viability.  Are there other possible options for Main Street that may create a new vitality for the area that better reflect the fact that the area is vulnerable to flooding. I think there are these options.

     One option I would like to propose is an Ellicott City Festival and Recreational Park.


     Think of it as an Ellicott City version of Symphony Woods with its unique Ellicott City historical twist.

 Ellicott City hosts many holiday events that could use this type of park at a focal site.
   Using an historical theme think of a December colonial holiday celebration using some of what Williamsburg does in December.

   Even more some of the type of summer events that CA hosts at the Kittamaqundi Lakefront could be hosted in a park in downtown Ellicott City but with an historical twist.
    I am reminded of the old expression of "turning lemons into lemon aide."  The lemons in this case is the flooding potential of the streams flowing into the Patapsco River and the lemon aide is an Ellicott City Festival and Recreational Park that would never have been considered until the recent flood.

    I know that some may say that it is too early to be looking at the redevelopment of Main Street while the recovery effort is still in the early stages.  I understand that point of view but it won't be very long before decisions will be made on the restoration effort and it is useful to begin some of those discussions before options are narrowed down.

   A shout out to all the bloggers who have been posting information on Ellicott City and its recovery efforts.  That shout out is loudest for Tom Coale who has been in the forefront of the recovery effort with the Ellicott City Partnership.  The two main sources of support to merchants and residents are the following:


Friday, August 5, 2016

Central Maryland United Way raises money for Ellicott City recovery

I wanted to share a press release from the United Way:

United Way of Central Maryland Raises $100k+ to Provide Humanitarian Relief for Those Affected by Flash Floods in Ellicott City

"BALTIMORE (August 4, 2016) – Since the launch of United Way of Central Maryland’s ECStrong Fund for humanitarian relief in Ellicott City on Monday afternoon, more than $110,000 has been raised from local corporations and more than 700 individual donors. United Way of Central Maryland established the ECStrong Fund at the request of Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman.

“Thank you to Howard County Executive Kittleman and Governor Larry Hogan and their staffs for their responsiveness and leadership in dealing with this disaster,” said Mark Furst, president and CEO, United Way of Central Maryland.

“Our hearts go out to all those affected by the devastating flash floods this weekend in Ellicott City,” said Sandy Monck, chief impact officer, United Way of Central Maryland. “As a resident of Ellicott City, I’m personally and professionally humbled to be a part of this. The strong sense of community I have felt and witnessed since the flooding is heartwarming. Everyone is coming together to help one another — and United Way is here to help wherever we can. We will continue this fund as long as it is needed.”

One-hundred percent of all donations received through the ECStrong Fund will go to humanitarian relief for Ellicott City and those affected by the flooding. United Way will work with Howard County Government and others to determine where and how these funds will be distributed quickly and efficiently.

“I am thankful for the support we've received from United Way of Central Maryland and the rest of the volunteer community following the devastating flood that ravaged Main Street in Ellicott City,” said Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman. “The offers of money and volunteer hours came quickly, and we are humbled by everyone's quick and generous offers of help. We’re working around the clock to secure, recover and rebuild our beloved historic community. We will rebound from this tragedy but right now we need to provide our residents and businesses the support they need with temporary housing, financial assistance, clothing, food and other basic essentials. The work of United Way, the Ellicott City Partnership and the Community Action Council will help those in need while we continue toward what is expected to be a long recovery as a result of this devastating flooding. We are very appreciative of the kind thoughts, prayers and acts of kindness many of you have shown our community. We are forever thankful. And we are #ECSTRONG.”

To date, corporate commitments have been made by BB&T, the Transamerica Foundation, the Ravens Foundation, First National Bank, W.R. Grace Foundation, Inc., Grimm and Parker Architects, The GIVING MOORE Foundation, Holly Poultry, Griffith Energy Services, Inc., the Jewish Federation of Howard County, Honey’s Bar and Grill and United Way with more coming in daily. WJLA Washington, DC’s ABC news affiliate, will be hosting a live telethon tomorrow to raise funds for ECStrong, and UPS employees are volunteering to staff the telethon phone bank. iHeartMedia Baltimore is donating $1 from every ticket sold to 93.1 WPOC’s Weekend in the Country at Merriweather Post Pavilion to benefit the ECStrong Fund

“What is most incredible about all this is not just the generous companies who have stepped up to help but also the nearly 700 individuals who have made contributions, both large and small, to stand with Ellicott City,” said Furst.

To assist those affected by this disaster, text the keyword “ECStrong” to 51555 or visit

Together, we can help Ellicott City stand strong and recover.

About United Way of Central Maryland

For 90 years, United Way of Central Maryland has been empowering families to become self-sufficient by focusing on the building blocks of a better life: education, employment, housing and health. Family Stability is at the heart of this work, which includes helping children be successful in school so they graduate with a bright future; ensuring individuals, children and families have a safe, affordable place to call home; helping people find stable employment that brings in enough income to cover the basics and ensuring our neighbors in need have access to healthy, nutritious food and healthcare. All of this work is supported by the 2-1-1 Maryland United Way Helpline, a 24-hour, 7-day a week service that provides information and referrals on a variety of health and human service issues to individuals. Program volunteers answered more than 100,000 calls for help in the last fiscal year. United Way is improving lives in central Maryland communities, but no one can create change alone. That’s why United Way of Central Maryland is encouraging individuals to get their friends, colleagues and others involved, to do more in the community and help more families in central Maryland. Together, United Way of Central Maryland, its supporters and its volunteers can empower more families in the communities it serves: Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard Counties and Baltimore City. To learn more about the United Way of Central Maryland, visit "

     Jessie Newburn shared this WUSA video

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Moratorium on political posts


     My Facebook home page these days has seen the battle between the followers of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.   People living in "Trumpland" and people living in "Clintonland" are living in different bubbles.  I really do wonder about the future of our country that seems as divided
as our county was in the 1850's.  I don't expect a Civil War again but I am not sure what we will look like if the divisions keep widening.
      I don't post to Facebook because I use my blog to express my policy beliefs.  If you follow this blog you know my feelings about universal health care and gun control.  I know that those who share my beliefs and those who oppose my beliefs don't change their views because of my posts.  It is the same for posts on Facebook.  So for the next 100 days that we have to endure the crazy politics of this election cycle I am not posting anything political.  I recommend the same for people posting on Facebook. We are a very divided Country right now.  I get that.  Let's not let the small part of us that is our political beliefs make us intolerant of those who don't share our political beliefs.  No one enjoys political debate more than me but I am tired of the debate these days.  I wish the election was today as I am not looking forward to hearing more of the divisive discourse going on now.  The problem is that there are already people ready to start the 2020 election the day after this year's election.  It makes me envious of the countries with parliamentary systems that can change leaders in a matter of days.


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

A tale of two rivers and some thoughts on rebuilding

   Howard County has been defined by two rivers--the Patapsco and the Patuxent.  While the Patapsco saw the development of business along its course in Ellicott City and Elkridge the shores of the Patuxent has remained undeveloped and provides for a wide flood zone.  That flood zone is missing from the area around Main Street in Ellicott City.   While both rivers crested many feet above flood level the destruction and loss of life in Ellicott City will run into many millions of dollars and many months to recover.
     Just compare the difference in how building in a flood zone looks.  Here is what the Patapsco River did to  Ellicott City on Saturday night and Sunday morning.

     Here is the result from the Patuxent River overflow on Sunday morning


                       Below you can see the water was 3 feet over this bridge.

     The clean up of the Patuxent River will be taken care of mostly from nature with a little help from humans in removing a few trees.  I don't know the cost but it will be minuscule compared to the Ellicott City cleanup.  A natural flood plane like what we have with the Patuxent River repairing itself is the reason why building in a flood plane doesn't make much sense.
     Ellicott City was built along the Patapsco River to transport goods to and from Ellicott City.  When it was built the river was an asset to the community.   As we have built up the city along the river and its tributaries it has become a destructive force for the city.  With the frequency of destructive storms that we have been having I sometimes question a rebuilding effort that will only get us to the next storm.  If we would have had some of the buildings collapse on the Tiber side of Main Street the loss of life would have been much greater.  Rebuilding along the Tiber Tributary, without significant changes, should not be an automatic response.  What made sense two centuries ago may no longer make sense today.

      Just to remember what happened only 5 years ago.

P.S. 1

      In touring Ellicott City I have always been amazed at how some of one side of Main Street is built over this river tributary.  This is one of the tributaries that caused the flooding of Main Street in this weekend's storm.  Not my idea of logical town planning.  Maybe time to reevaluate some of the structures along Main Street.

P.S. 2
     For a historical perspective on there is one more challenge for our historic town.


Monday, August 1, 2016

Human chain formed to save woman on Main Street Ellicott City flooding


   The courage displayed by a group of men to rescue a woman trapped in her car is nothing short of heroic. The man in the video shown being knocked down was able to recover his footing and get back to the rescue. Here is what was posted from The Still Life Gallery:

"Last night there was a devastating flood that destroyed the Historic District of Ellicott City. Many people sought refuge in the foyer of our business. One of them was a true Hero, Jason Barnes, who risked his life to save a woman who's car was being washed down Main St. He is lucky to be alive as he was almost washed away while rescuing Jaime Knight. "

This video from The Still Life Gallery shows the action.

Two people were not so lucky on Saturday.

Link to donate to the victims of the Ellicott City flooding.

     These are the items in high demand at the Howard County Food Bank:

High-protein canned meals with pop tops (e.g., ravioli, spaghetti, soups)
Breakfast, snack or energy bars
Paper plates, napkins, plastic forks and spoons
Diapers and baby food products
Here us their contact information:
Address: 8920 Maryland 108, Suite A, Columbia, MD 21045
Hours: Open today · 9AM–6PM