Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Lesson in Independence

For the past three years, Mama Wordbones and I have hosted a neighborhood gathering on the 3rd of July. Our Ellicott City community is only three years old and this is our little way helping new neighbors get connected with each other.

Each year I have purchased a patriotic trinket to hand out to the kids at the party. As I noted in this post from last year, finding Independence Day items in local stores can be oddly problematic. Last year, MaryKate Murray suggested that for future parties I check out the Oriental Trading Company.

This year I took her advice. The Oriental Trading Company has a huge amount of Independence Day items. I settled on the ribbon with star pictured above and placed my order. When the ribbons arrived, I noticed something that wasn’t shown in the sample picture on the website. Each individually wrapped ribbon also had a “Made in China” sticker on it.

My first thought was to go through the two dozen packages and remove these oval gold stickers. Then I changed my mind. This could actually be a teaching moment. Considering that the bulk of our national debt is held by China, it seems appropriate to recognize this relationship on the day we celebrate our “independence.”

Monday, June 29, 2009

Sushi Comes to Elkridge

Another local business has expanded during this recession. Katana Japanese Cuisine in Clarksville has opened a second location in the Lynwood Plaza in Elkridge.
Mama Wordbones and I dropped in this past Friday night and met sushi chef Tim and sushi server Grace.

Again, I’ll leave the restaurant review to those with more discriminating palates but suffice it say that we enjoyed our evening in the new Elkridge version of Katana.

Healthy Howard Headlines

Ken Ulman and Dr. Peter Beilenson have been making headlines lately. Yesterday, in The Washington Post, the County Executive and his Health Commissioner co-authored an op-ed piece in the Metro section about the lessons learned so far in their Healthy Howard Access Plan. You can read that story here.

Earlier this month in this story by Robert Siegel on National Public Radio, Dr. Beilenson explained some of the pitfalls they’ve encountered in the seven months since the program began.

“Of the 10,000 uninsured adults who were eligible for Healthy Howard — people whose incomes are no more than three times the poverty level — only 200 people fully enrolled in the program that was designed specifically for them. An additional 390 are in the queue, which means they have passed the screening and are eligible, and are in the process of providing documentation to get enrolled. Total, that's not quite 600 people — less than 6 percent of the 10,000 who are eligible.”

So far this program seems to be better at generating press than patients.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Lazy Days on Main Street

“Let’s meet at Sharkey’s”

My buddy Alan and I were trying to get together for a drink after work last Thursday. Since we live close to downtown Ellicott City he suggested we meet up at Upstairs at Sharkey’s on Main Street.

“Every time I’d tried to go there in the past it hasn’t been open,” I replied.

“It’ll be open this afternoon at 4:30,” he assured me. Alan has been my friend since we were in high school many moons ago. When he assures me it carries some weight.

Before I got to the door of the bar, Alan waived me into Sweet Cascades, the candy store next to Sharkey’s.

“He’s not here yet, “Alan explained. It was a few minutes past 4:30. I couldn’t resist a “told ya so.”
While waiting in the candy store I struck up a conversation with the proprietor, Sue. As we waited for Sharkey’s to open, she indulged us with samples of her unique confections like the chocolate crabs dusted with Old Bay seasoning. This didn’t sound appetizing at first but the combination of flavors was surprisingly good. The chocolate crabs are available in white, dark and milk chocolate. You can also buy them by the bushel.

Finally, around 5:00 PM, Sharkey arrived and opened his bar. Alan and I walked up the steps to the little bar atop Johnny’s Bistro on Main Street. Sharkey apologized for the late opening explaining that he was a little under the weather.

This is how it goes in the old town on week nights, especially for the smaller establishments like Sharkey’s. Sharkey is the only employee at Sharkey’s. There just isn’t enough business to add another bartender.

As it stands, Alan and I were Sharkey’s only customers that early Thursday evening. When we left after a couple of beers, the bar was empty.

Friday, June 26, 2009

iPhone Lite

This past Thursday I was invited to a “Broker Lunch” at the Patapsco Valley Office Campus over in the outer suburbs of Elkridge. The developer had invited local commercial real estate brokers to a luncheon in the nice but vacant new buildings. You might say that they have a leasing opportunity on their hands.

In addition to a great lunch of crab cakes, they gave out door prizes, one of which was an 8GB iPod touch. As it turns out, I was the lucky dog that went home with this toy.

I have lamented in the past about how much I dislike my new mobile phone. The truth is, if I the iPhone hadn’t come on the scene, I would most likely be content with my LG Voyager. But it did come on the scene and I’m not content. There is little I can do about it too because I’m a Verizon customer. Consequently, I have iPhone envy.

The iPod touch is about as close as I’m going to get to an actual iPhone for now. It isn’t a phone, it doesn’t have a camera, and you can only get on the web from a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Still, though I’m not crazy about the touch screen keyboard, it is fun to play with and it does have some of the same cool attributes of the iPhone. Most importantly, it was free.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Doughoregan Development Dead

According to this story by Larry Carson in The Sun today, Erickson Retirement Communities has decided not to move forward with the purchase of 188 acres out of the historic properties 892 acre estate for a senior housing development. The Carroll family had hoped to use the proceeds of the land sale to finance the preservation of “the nearly 300-year-old Carroll family mansion and other historic structures once occupied by Charles Carroll of Carrolton, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence.”

“"All we can do is look at our options, as we were doing before Erickson came on the scene," said Camilla Carroll, who still lives on the estate, in an e-mail. "Of course there is no money now to restore anything, and historic buildings are falling down as we speak."

These are tough times for the financing of any large scale development project, even a unique opportunity such as Doughoregan Manor.

US Cyber Command Headed to Fort Meade

The Secretary of Defense, Dr. Robert M. Gates, is recommending that President Obama “redesignate the position of Director, National Security Agency to Director, National Security Agency and Commander, U.S. Cyber Command.”

He is further advocating that the headquarters of this new command be located at Fort Meade. The Secretary envisions this command to be fully operational by October 2010.

This could be a huge economic win for our area. As noted in an earlier post, the Cyber Security Initiative could easily top $100 billion.

That’s billion…with a “b.”

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Technical Difficulties

Passing through the mall around 3:00 PM today I noticed the grate was down at Victoria’s Secret.
Then I read the sign.

My warped mind couldn't help pondering what technical difficulties a women’s sexy lingerie boutique might have.

Merriweather to Host FreeFest

It’s official now. According to this story by J. Freedom du Lac in today’s Washington Post, the 2009 Virgin Mobile Music Fest will be held at Merriweather Post Pavilion on August 30th. This year’s music festival is being dubbed “FreeFest” and, as the name implies, all 35,000 tickets will be free.

"Virgin Mobile customers and previous V-Fest ticket-buyers will get first crack at the tickets, beginning tomorrow. Tickets to the event, dubbed FreeFest, will be made available to the general public beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday on http://ticketmaster.com/."

This year’s line-up includes Weezer, and Public Enemy.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Remote Controlled Grass Cutting

This morning, as I was driving down Dorsey Run Road in Jessup, I spotted this odd looking lawn mower moving alongside the road.

I circled back around to investigate.

Standing nearby, with a remote control unit, was Kevin Orner. Kevin is with Commercial Maintenance & Management Corp and he was operating the Dvorak Spider ILD 02.

It’s a mower specifically designed to cut grass on slopes up to 60 degrees.

One of these babies could be a real game changer in my yard.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Graffiti Artist Nabbed

Last month, in this post, I posted a picture of a large graffiti mural on the Verizon building on Oakland Mills Road in Columbia this spring. Today I received the following email from Councilperson Dr. Calvin Ball:

"On your blog, you as well as others have shared concerns regarding the graffiti mural on the Verizon building located on Oakland Mills Road. After sharing your concerns with the Howard County Police Department, an investigation was underway. With the assistance of Oakland Mills High School administrators and the Oakland Mills High School Resource Officer, a juvenile suspect was interviewed and was subsequently charged with destruction of property.

The Verizon Supervisor has been contacted to have the graffiti removed from the building. We were assured that it would be removed within the week.

Thanks Doctor C. Maybe we’re not so much like Brooklyn after all.

UPDATE 4:38 PM: It seems as if the Verizon facilities folks are on top of things. I just drove by the building and its already been cleaned up.

It’s Too Nice Out

It’s hard to sit in an office with a window on day like today. It is especially hard if you actually had the chance to get outside. That’s what happened to me. I had a lunch appointment with a friend and client at Clyde’s this afternoon. I arrived first and snagged an outdoor table. With the exception of the passing of one dark cloud it was a “chamber of commerce” day. We even ran into a smiling Dick Story.

Now I’m back in the office.


General Growth Bankruptcy Update

As General Growth Properties continues to pursue its approval of ZRA 113 for the redevelopment of Columbia’s Town Center, it also continues to navigate its way through the bankruptcy courts.

So what is going on with that?

Last Friday, Jennifer Dawson reported in the Houston Business Journal that GGP had backed out of plans to sell its stake in the master planned community of Bridgeland, Texas. This is the clearest indication to date that the company intends to remain committed to developing master planned communities.

According to this story by Brian McMorris on the Seeking Alpha blog the next key event for the company will occur before the end of this month.

“The other big news the past week was the decision of Judge Gropper, who is overseeing the bankruptcy proceedings, to make a decision by the end of June or thereabouts regarding whether or not General Growth is even entitled to a bankruptcy that includes its malls.

In the most interesting turn of this situation, the parent brought a number of mall partnerships (SPEs) that were financed by securitized debt, under the corporate umbrella. The debt holders cried foul because they thought they were immune to the parent's bankruptcy. Most of the debt holders had refused to negotiate to extend loans with GGP. My thinking is they were trying to take advantage of the credit crisis and had plans to strip away the assets without compensating General Growth.”

Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Good Day for a Mow

It began at seven o’clock this morning. We lay in our bed with the windows open allowing in the uncommonly cool air on a midsummer’s eve. In the distance we heard that familiar rumble of a two cycle lawn mower engine. It had already started.

It was inevitable. I haven’t been counting but it seems like we’ve haven’t had a dry day in over a week. This is prime grass growing weather.

I cut my own lawn. We don’t have a service. We have a small lawn that takes a little over an hour to cut with my eco-friendly electric mower. All of my immediate neighbors cut their own lawns as well. In a period of normal weather we will cut and trim at similar but different schedules.

Today we were all on the same schedule. In an odd sort of communal effort, every dad in our little corner of the world cut his grass today, including me. The last guy just started.

Happy Fathers Day!

Pure Pleasure

Last night Mama Wordbones and I were in the mood for something light for dinner. The problem was that neither of us could specifically articulate what that actually meant in terms of a restaurant choice.

We decided to decide while simultaneously checking out the newly opened Pure Wine Café on Main Street in Ellicott City. The plan was to have an appetizer and a glass of wine while we plotted our evenings eating strategy.

Last December I posted that I was not going to do restaurant reviews anymore on Tales of Two Cities. For one, there are local bloggers like HowChow who are doing a better job than I could ever hope to. Also, I am not what you might refer to as a “foodie” or a “gourmet.” I’m pretty much a meat and potatoes dog. That being said, I could not resist writing a post about our experience.

Last night it was almost as if my taste buds went to a theme park. We tried things we’d never heard of and when we didn’t recognize an item on the menu, our lovely server, Katie, enthusiastically provided a description. It wasn’t long before I was happily stuffing my peppadews with whipped chevre and shallots. The wine was pretty good too.

Before long we were happily eating our way through the small menu of tapas and flatbreads. Unwittingly we had stumbled across our “something light.” We never went anywhere else.

Pure Wine Café is a small place, less than 50 seats, in great spot. The warm atmosphere is nicely complemented a friendly staff. We will definitely return.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Mixing Produce and People

I was struck by a comment made by Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning regarding the issue of the Harbin Farm stand in Ellicott City. According to this story by Derek Simmonsen in the Howard County Times, the DPZ believes that the zoning change that the Harbin family is seeking to keep their produce stand at the corner of Route 99 and Old Mill Road would be “out of character” with the “surrounding residential area.”


Wouldn’t it make sense to keep a produce stand close to the people who actually consume the produce?

This past January, Roger Lewis, professor emeritus of the University of Maryland School of Architecture, gave a talk in Columbia about planning in which criticized zoning as “planning with a blunt instrument.” He was referring by the tendency of zoning efforts to segment different uses rather than allowing a synergistic mix. This segmenting mindset leads to more vehicle trips and congestion.

That would seem to argue in favor of finding a way to keep the Harbin Farm stand exactly where it is.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Scene This Week In...

Today is the last day of school for Howard County public schools. It seems as if our schools are the last in the region to close for the summer as most Baltimore area schools wrapped up their year last week.

No matter, for the students today marks the beginning of a long lazy summer. For the parents, it begins another phase of juggling schedules and trying to the kids constructively engaged.

I think I’d rather be in the students shoes.

To mark the occasion I found this vandalized sign on Beech wood Road in Ellicott City. I thought it was perfect for this week’s scene in Ellicott City.

A couple of years ago, I saw a sign in the parking lot of the Giant grocery store in Lynwood that said “Parking for Expectant Mothers.” At the time I thought this was a nice gesture. I had not seen this repeated in any other local shopping center until I was in the Harris Teeter parking lot in Kings Contrivance Village Center this week. This time there was more than one space set aside and “expectant mothers” had been expanded to “customers with special needs.”

I couldn’t get that out of my head. I mean, who doesn’t have special needs?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Watch Dogs

There is a nice article by John-John Williams IV in The Sun today about Dads getting involved with local schools. The story leads off with a piece about Columbian Mark Scott and his volunteer service at Talbott Springs Elementary School in the Village of Oakland Mills. Scott is part of a program called Watch DOGS (Dads of Great Students) “which encourages fathers or adult males to spend the day at school, where they do everything from assisting teachers with lessons to eating lunch with students.”
Having recently spent some time volunteering as a coach for the Simulated Congressional Hearings at Worthington Elementary School in Ellicott City I have witnessed first hand the fact that there are more moms than dads volunteering in the schools. This program and others like the Meals with Magnificent Men at Cradlerock School in Owen Brown Village are trying to “overcome a traditional bias about gender roles in schools and exposing children to a wider range of role models and mentors.”

Not only is this important for the kids, its pretty fun for dads too.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Too Many Square Feet

In last Sundays New York Times Magazine, Rob Walker wrote an article entitled “Repurpose-Driven Life.” In the article he cites research conducted by Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson that suggests the United States has too much retail space.

“…in 1986, the United States had about 15 square feet of retail space per person in shopping centers. That was already a world-leading figure, but by 2003 it had increased by a third, to 20 square feet. The next countries on the list are Canada (13 square feet per person) and Australia (6.5 square feet); the highest figure in Europe is in Sweden, with 3 square feet per person.”

This is important to consider in the current debate over CB 29 (ZRA 102) which will govern the process for revitalizing struggling village centers in Columbia. While opponents of the legislation are advocating for more community input and oversight to any village center redevelopment, the real issue is whether these struggling centers simply have too much retail space to begin with.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

“A Force for Peace”

According to this story by Larry Carson in The Sun, Liz Bobo has had an epiphany of sorts. "At this point in my life, at 65, the last thing I want to be is a force for divisiveness. I want to be a force for peace…"

Wow! Who knew?

Somebody ought to tell Mary Kay Sigaty and WCI about this.

Move over Ghandi, another force for peace is barreling through town.

Wegmans Saga Part Eleven

A commenter on a recent and totally unrelated post wondered if I “know of any Wegmans in Columbia updates? It has been a few months since any word has been mentioned by you, HowChow, or anyone else.”

The anonymous commenter went on to say that they “Would like to see those yahoos drop their court case against Wegmans!”

I last posted about the continuing saga of the Columbia Wegmans back in the beginning of February. At that time I wrote that Wegmans was indeed moving forward with a projected opening date of spring 2011.

Yesterday, I spoke with Richard Talkin, their local attorney and he informed me that the grocer had prevailed in the legal challenges that sought to derail the project and that they were moving forward. He was not, however, able to give me a projected opening date for the store. The Wegmans website now lists the Columbia opening as “to be determined.”

I suspect that the recession may have more to do with the grocers delayed construction start than “those yahoos” that the commenter referred to.

As of the morning, the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation still lists the Antwerpen Automotive Group as the property owner of the proposed Wegmans location at the corner of McGaw Road and Snowden River Parkway.

If you want to know more about how Wegmans views the economy and their business you can read a recent interview with Danny Wegman, CEO and Colleen Wegman, President, here.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Not Worth the Trip

As the summer heats up and the kids start getting bored with the neighborhood pool routine, some parents will opt for a day trip to the Six Flags amusement park in Largo. The park is an easy 35 minute drive from Howard County and features a water park called Hurricane Harbor.
Sounds like great fun doesn’t it?

That’s what I thought last summer when I packed up Peanut and two of her friends and headed on over there for the day. The bottom line is that Six Flags is the least happy amusement park I’ve ever been to. I can’t recall a single staff wearing a smile. I can only assume that it isn’t a very nice place to work either. The place was dirty too.

Today, according to this story by Mike Spector and Jeffrey McCracken in the Wall Street Journal, Six Flags has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

“Six Flags' bankruptcy is a setback for Daniel Snyder, the Washington Redskins football-team owner who took control of the Six Flags in a proxy fight in 2005 and installed his own management team. The bankruptcy would likely wipe out Mr. Snyder's 6% stake.”

While it would be easy to explain their problems as just another case of too much debt, I personally think their problems go much deeper.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

DC Road Trip

Mama Wordbones and I had that seemingly rare opportunity to get away for a weekend by ourselves. CG (College Girl, Cute Girl, Country Girl and so on) was available to stay with our aging dogs so we decided to take a little road trip and spend the night in DC. We booked at room at the uber-trendy Donovan House on Thomas Circle and headed on down the pike.

Ya gotta love DC. In less than 48 hours we watched a free concert with Nicholas Peyton at the Sylvan Amphitheatre on the National Mall, witnessed, though briefly, the 4th Annual World Naked Bike Ride as it rolled down 14th Street, watched the Capital Pride Parade as it culminated in front of our hotel and drove through the middle of a pro democracy demonstration by expatriate Iranians on Wisconsin Avenue on the way to Georgetown for brunch.

We got back to Ellicott City around 3:30 and now CG and Mama Wordbones have headed over to LakeFest to watch the Glenelg Jazz Ensemble. As for me, I’ve opted to stay home with the dogs. I think I may be suffering from a minor case of sensory overload.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Gittin' Ready

This evening, beginning at five o’clock, LakeFest kicks off the 2009 Columbia Festival of the Arts at the lakefront in Columbia Town Center. This afternoon Columbia’s downtown was a bevy activity as staff and volunteers worked on transforming the sleepy downtown to a happening place.

Tonight on the main Lakefest stage at 9:00 pm the Sauce Boss will perform and prepare gumbo for everyone in the crowd. I found this clip of the Sauce Boss on You Tube.
As I came out of the Lakeside Coffee Shop in the American Cities Building I ran into these three festival staff members who were working on getting the artisans established with their booths. From left to right are Regina Goloborko, Diane Robinson and Carti Winchester. Cari is actually interning for the festival this summer. She is a sophomore at High Point University in High Point, North Carolina.

I hope the weather gods smile warmly on LakeFest this weekend.

Mall Hall of Fame

The Mall in Columbia has been inducted into the Mall Hall of Fame. Until this morning I never even knew there was a Mall Hall of Fame.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What is this Thing?

Back on May 4th, as I was driving through the intersection of Roundhill Road and Doncaster Drive in Ellicott City, I spotted this odd looking contraption. It appeared to be a camera of some sort that was aimed at the intersection.

I asked the police cadet at the school crossing what it was.

“I don’t know,” he replied, “Someone told me it had something to do with the county roads department.”

The next day it was gone.

Later I emailed this photo to my man inside the county government to see if he could shed some light on this.

“I don't, but I've got my sleuths on it now. Should have some info for you soon...”

Then, on May 14th I received a follow up to my original inquiry

“We're still looking, but our highways guys weren't able to identify it. We’re checking with others in the county, too.”

Since then I haven’t heard anything and I haven’t seen this anywhere else. Anyone else out there have a clue?

Maryland to Secede from the South

According to this column by Jay Hancock in The Sun yesterday, Maryland legistlative leaders Mike Miller and Mike Busch “have asked a government trade group to remove Maryland from the company of Tennessee and Oklahoma in its Southern region and place it with New York and Vermont in the Eastern division”

The Senate and House leaders believe that, despite the long held view that the Mason Dixon line divides the north from the south, Maryland has more in common with its northern neighbors than it does with its southern brethren.

“Maryland might be below the Mason-Dixon Line. It might have staffed its factories with migrants from South Carolina, West Virginia and Tennessee. But these days it's as Southern as clambakes and Nancy Pelosi.”


I’ve always felt that Maryland was truly a border state, combining the best attributes of the north with the best attributes of the south. The pace of life in the Free State is not as frenetic as it is in New York but it also isn’t as laid back as it is in Birmingham, Alabama. Marylanders seem to be friendlier than most northerners too. How many northerners call each other “hon?”

Then again, Nancy Pelosi was born in Baltimore.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Continuing Quest for Relevance

According to this story by Larry Carson in The Sun today, the Columbia Council took five hours last night to reach essentially the same non binding recommendation they made back in December.

“After a nearly five-hour, two-part meeting that lasted until 11:45 p.m. Tuesday night featuring testimony, discussion and a little bickering, the board adopted a slightly altered version of its December 2008 position on the issue, delivered then to the county planning board.”

Despite calls by CoFoCoDo spokesman Alan Klein for “community-based gatekeeper” and by Lloyd Knowles for “a master plan outlining specifics such as allowed building heights, density and minimum facilities be adopted by each village,” the board essentially settled on agreeing to the removal of General Growth Properties as the gatekeeper for any proposed changes to the village centers. This is the main premise of Council Bill 29 (ZRA 102). The County Council will begin holding public hearings on this bill on Monday.

I remain hopeful that some day, the Columbia Councils relevance will be equal to its rhetoric.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Changing of the Guard

As I watched my neighbors gravitate towards the corner school bus stop this afternoon it called to mind a changing of the guard. In eight days Peanut will matriculate from elementary school to middle school and no longer will my presence be required nor will it be desired at the corner bus stop.

I’ll miss this daily ritual. It has been a way to connect with neighbors I might not otherwise connect with. For the past three years we’ve shared a few moments in the morning and a few in the late afternoon, rain or shine.

It first hit me last August, as school started back up, when I met new neighbors at the stop. Their kids were just entering the school system. I also noted the absence of a familiar face or two from the prior year. Their kids were on the middle school circuit now.

That’s where I’ll be next year. In eight days the new guard will handed the baton and my time in the corner school bus stop community will be over. The guard changes and life goes on.

Monday, June 08, 2009

In This Months Business Monthly

Sometimes, when I write my column, I’ll begin with one thought and wind up someplace completely different. The trick for me is to try and make a connection between both thoughts, even if that connection seems a bit tenuous.

I’m not so sure I achieved that this month.

The basic idea I started with was the abuse of the ‘reply to all’ function in emails. I found plenty of good material including this article by Matthew Lee on the Huffington Post blog about a “reply to all” frenzy that almost shut down the computers at the State Department and this story by Dylan Stableford in Folio about a company that became so frustrated with ‘reply to all’ abuse that they eliminated the function on the company email system.

Yet somehow, while writing the column, I couldn’t get out of my head the fact that I totally screwed up on the county’s new holiday slide schedule for trash collection.

I read it about, I got a postcard about it, and I even heard people joke about it. Still when it came my day to slide I screwed up. I wasn’t the only one either. Judging from the number of trash receptacles in my neighborhood that stayed on the curb for an extra day, I had plenty of company.

So I tried to tie the trash schedule and the ‘reply to all’ issue together in my column.

How’d I do?

You can judge for yourself by reading this month’s column here.

A Seat at the Table

Bill Ackman, the head of Pershing Square Capital Management and the largest individual shareholder of General Growth Properties, has been appointed to the company’s board of directors.

Recently, Ackman recently made news by announcing that he had had a plan to make all debtors of the company whole in seven years.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

White Feather

Yestersday, I took Peanut and two of her friends for a little hike bike down the Grist Mill Trail in the Patapsco Valley State Park. We parked the car beneath the railroad bridge on Ilchester Road in Ellicott City and set off across the swinging bridge. Our ultimate destination was Cascade Falls.

As we navigated the path though the woods we came across a fellow who was all tricked out as a Native American. He told us that his name was White Feather.

White Feather claimed to have some “Cherokee” in his ancestral lineage. He told me he has been coming to the falls for about seven years. I think he has taken it upon himself to be a sort of spiritual guardian of this area of the park.


The kids, though a bit scared at first, soon realized that he was relatively harmless and they all enjoyed telling their parents that they met a real “Indian” in the woods.

One Out of 7.4 Million

According to this story by Douglas Quenqua in today’s New York Times, out of the 133 million blogs tracked by Technorati, only 7.4 million have posted updates over the last 120 days.

“That translates to 95 percent of blogs being essentially abandoned, left to lie fallow on the Web, where they become public remnants of a dream — or at least an ambition — unfulfilled.”

It isn’t easy keeping a blog going. Some days, like yesterday for example, life gets in the way and there just isn’t time to spend on the blog. Other days, writers block sets in and nothing seems to work for a blog post.

For now at least, Tales of Two Cities is one out of 7.4 million. It may not be the most rarefied group but it sure beats being one out of 133 million.

Friday, June 05, 2009

More Bad News for the Altieri’s

According to this story by Lorraine Mirabella in The Sun today, the Maryland Attorney’s General office is filing charges against the owners of the now seemingly defunct Altieri Homes.

“the Home Builder Registration Unit filed the charges against Altieri Enterprises Inc., trading as Altieri Homes and Athlone LLC of Columbia, along with principals Greig Altieri and Daren Altieri, for failing to comply with state consumer protection laws relating to builder registration, custom-home building and deposits on new homes.”

This past March, the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection also filed suit against the Atlieri’s.

The company used to be headquartered on Red Branch Road in Columbia but that office was closed earlier this year.

A Hard Rain

Back in June of 1972, the summer before my senior year of high school, Hurricane Agnes ripped through Central Maryland and caused severe flooding in Ellicott City. The bridge crossing the Patapsco River was washed out and the water level rose up to the second floor of some of the buildings on lower Main Street. The storm caused nineteen deaths in the State of Maryland. You can see some old newspaper clippings and photos of the Ellicott City flood here.

With the record setting rains we’ve been experiencing this spring and with more rain in the forecast for next week, I wondered if the conditions might be ripe for another major water event in the old town.

I took this video of the river yesterday afternoon.

The water level did not appear to be dangerously high yet, but as this sign indicates, the potential for another flood is still very much on the radar of local officials.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Kimco Drops Apartment Plan for Wilde Lake

According to this story by Derek Simmonsen in The Columbia Flier, Kimco Realty Corporation, the owner of the Wilde Lake Village Center, has abandoned plans to redevelop the center with 500 apartments and a scaled down retail component.

“When we first started this, the marketplace was different than it is today,” explained Geoffrey Glazer, Kimco’s vice president of acquisitions and development, at a meeting Monday at the village center’s Slayton House.

“I have no idea what the concept is (now),” he added. “The economy keeps changing on me and I don’t have all the answers because they keep evolving.”

Given the current situation in the credit markets, the availability of financing for the project was probably questionable.

Kimco will, however continue to advocate for the passage of Council Bill 29 (ZRA 102).

Locks of Love

Peanut has had very long hair since she was at least five years old. Over the years, I have gently cajoled her to consider getting it cut shorter but up until last week she resisted. When she told me she was ready for the big cut I immediately made an appointment for her at Cavallaro & Co in The Mall.

Last night, when we arrived, Becky Wibberley told her about Locks of Love. Locks of Love “is a public non-profit organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children in the United States and Canada under age 18 suffering from long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis.” Peanuts long locks were the perfect candidate for donation.

We mailed off her “locks of love” this morning.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

That’s No Chicken

I’m no farm boy but this sure looks more like a rooster to me. In this story by Derek Simmonsen in The Columbia Flier, he identified one of the new sculptures at Merriweather Post Pavilion as “a 15-foot-tall chicken made out of farm equipment.”

Under I.M.P. stewardship, the outdoor music pavilion has added several whimsical sculptures to the grounds. One of my personal favorites is the tree truck.

Tulip Season is Really Over

When I shop at Traders Joes I will often pick up some fresh flowers for Mama Wordbones. The flower display greets you as soon as you enter the store and it makes buying flowers seem like the natural thing to do.

The trouble is, I’ve had mixed success with their flowers. Sometimes, the flowers will last for almost a week. Sometimes, I’m lucky to get three good days. Last week, they didn’t even make it that long.

Less than 24 hours after bringing these tulips home, they drooped right down to the countertop. I guess tulip season really is over now.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Stand By Me

My buddy Gags sent me an email today with a link to this video. I liked it and thought perhaps the readers of Tales of Two Cities might enjoy it as well.

Playing For Change | Song Around The World "Stand By Me" from Concord Music Group on Vimeo.

Harbins Last Stand

I have an affinity for farm stands. It’s no so much the fresh produce and flowers with me, it more the aesthetics. Farm stands always seem to brighten up their little corner of the world. I've previously written about the Baugher farm stand in Ellicott City but one of my other favorites is the Harbin Farm stand on Old Frederick Road (Route 99). 

Its days may be numbered. 

According to this story by Derek Simmonsen in the Howard County Times, the Harbin Farms stand needs a zoning change to remain in business. Since the family sold off the farm that sat behind the stand, it no longer has the right to continue operating at this location without the change. 

“Attorney Thomas Meachum, who represents the business, said they are requesting a change to business zoning with a restriction that would only allow it to operate as a farmer’s market/produce stand. Rezoning a property that is slightly larger than one acre would not set a larger precedent and any future changes would still require Zoning Board approval, he said.” 

For the most part, most of the neighbors seem supportive of the stand. At the Planning Board hearing last Thursday proponents greatly outnumbered opponents. “About 42 people signed up to testify for the business, but most were unable to do so before time ran out.

I dropped by the stand this morning and met Robert, Will and Rufus as they got ready for the days customers. They hope that the overwhelming support shown at the meeting will convince the Planning Board to make the recommendation to approve the change. 

I hope so too.