Saturday, July 30, 2011

Cool Choir

This video gave me a little cool relief on an otherwise hazy, hot,and humid day. If you like Enya’s song “Storms in Africa” you’ll love this. Enjoy.

Friday, July 29, 2011

I’m Outa Here

I’m going to take off for a few days. For the past two and a half years I have posted to this blog practically everyday. I’m overdue for a break.

I also haven’t gone away for a summer vacation in two years as I stayed home with our aging dogs. The dogs are gone now so I’m leaving too.

I’m not closing down completely. It is quite possible that I’ll put up a post here and there as I shift into vacation mode, but I am putting my normal routines aside, if only for a week.

That’s what summer is for after all.

Stay cool. See you in awhile

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Don’t Toss That Melon Rind

In HoCo we have curbside recycling of metal, paper, plastic, and yard waste. This September, a test group of HoCo homeowners will also be able to recycle their melon rinds.

According to this story by Jessica Anderson in The Sun, about 5,000 households in Ellicott City and Elkridge will be able “to add banana peels, egg shells and even old pizza boxes to their recyclables, becoming one of the first East Coast localities to start a large-scale composting program.”

“The county will provide residents with a 35-gallon container that will be collected once a week, the same day as yard waste. The food scraps will be taken to Recycled Green in Woodbine, where they will be composted and sold as a soil nutrient.”

This is basically a defensive maneuver against the looming increase in the cost of hauling HoCo’s trash two hours south to King George, Virginia. The sweetheart deal that the county has with Waste Management only has two years left. An increase of over 60% is expected.

In other words we need to put less trash on the train or we’ll wind up paying more for trash removal than cable service.

Wegmans Setting Up Shop in Town Center

Earlier this week we learned from HowChow that Wegmans had named Wendy Webster as the General Manager of the Columbia store set to open a year from now. Today I learned that Wegmans has signed a one year lease for office space in Columbia Town Center. The Rochester mega grocer has subleased approximately 5,400 square feet in the Lakeside Building next to the Sheraton. They will be sharing the top floor of the building with the DARS Law Group.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Cool Toy…For Now

It really doesn’t seem that long ago that HoCo loco middle schoolers were eagerly awaiting the debut of the Nintendo DSi XL. Peanut had the original DSi. She got it for Christmas in 2009. It was the uber toy for sixth graders back then.

By the time the new console hit the store shelves last May, she rarely mentioned it. I also noticed that her DSi was around as much anymore.

For her birthday this year she made no bones about what she wanted. She wanted an iPod Touch.

The fact is that she already had an iPod Touch. It was a first version (1.1.5).  Apple is now up to version five. The original just didn’t cut it for her anymore. She wanted Facetime.

“All the kids in school have them,” she informed me.

You really have to hand it to Apple. First they conquered the personal music market, now they are winning over the Nintendo generation.  It comes as no surprise that the company just reported a “record net quarterly profit of $7.31 billion.

This occurred while iPod sales actually declined by 20%.

“The Company sold 20.34 million iPhones in the quarter, representing 142 percent unit growth over the year-ago quarter. Apple sold 9.25 million iPads during the quarter, a 183 percent unit increase over the year-ago quarter. The Company sold 3.95 million Macs during the quarter, a 14 percent unit increase over the year-ago quarter. Apple sold 7.54 million iPods, a 20 percent unit decline from the year-ago quarter.”

Apples good news is bad news for Nintendo. Their share of portable game software revenue dropped from 70% in 2009 to 57% in 2010. 

In the world of cool toys, Apple reigns as King.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Cop in the Council Chambers

This month the security at HoCo County Council meetings was ratcheted up a notch when an armed HoCo police officer became a regular fixture at the proceedings. According to this story by Kellie Woodhouse in Explore Howard this move “was made at the recommendation of Police Chief William J. McMahon.”

“After moving into the renovated George Howard government building in August 2010, the County Council asked McMahon to review the security and safety of its meetings. Based on that analysis, McMahon suggested that an officer be present at public meetings.”

It’s a sad but prudent precaution given recent violent episodes involving public figures. Curiously though, one of the incidents cited as justification for this move was the shooting rampage by Clay Duke at a school board meeting in Panama City this past December. The chief told the reporter that “there are no plans to have an officer at school board meetings, although McMahon said "that's certainly something that I'd be open to."

One thing that may be helpful though. McMahons security review “also prompted the police department to train council staff on how to deal with agitated individuals.”

That training could be particularly helpful for the school board staff.

With all these officers assigned to high schools, council meetings and now middle schools too, will there be fewer officers available for patrols?

Losing One to Jersey

HoCo is losing a biotech company that started here to New Jersey. Yesterday Celsion Corporation announced plans to move their corporate headquarters to Lawrenceville, New Jersey.

"With the advance of the HEAT Study, initiation of two Phase 2 studies and greater activity anticipated for preparation of the ThermoDox® NDA, we have outgrown our current location. Celsion's new headquarters sits in proximity to many of the world's top biopharmaceutical companies, research institutions, academic centers and investment sources, providing access to this deep resource pool at a transformative stage in our development," said Michael H. Tardugno, Celsion's President and Chief Executive Officer.”

Apparently they were also enticed by some economic incentives from the State of New Jersey.

This is a real loss for the HoCo biotech community. Celsion grew out of Chueng Labs which started in 1982 in the Rivers Corporate Park in Columbia. On the other hand, it is unlikely to have a big impact on the HoCo commercial vacancy rate. The new headquarters will be just less than 11,000 square feet.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Precious Stones

While it certainly doesn’t compare with Carmeggedon, the closing of College Avenue in Ellicott City is still a pain in the axle for those who live in the area. The worst part is that it won’t reopen again for a couple of months.

Today I stopped by the work site to see what it was that could possibly take two months to fix. I found out that the culprit is 800 feet of retaining wall that failed.

Now you may wonder, as I did, how on earth it could take two months to replace 800 feet of retaining wall.

“It’s the historic district,” the foreman told me.

That makes it a historic retaining wall. Each stone from the wall had to be preserved so that they can be put back in their original space.

It’s seems a bit of overkill for a wall that few are ever likely to see.

Farm 2 Table

Today is the first day of HoCo Farm 2 Table Restaurant Weeks. Twenty three HoCo loco restaurants are participating with specially priced dishes that include locally sourced ingredients.

HoCo Tourism invited Paul Skalny and I to repeat our restaurant week shtick with the owners of a couple of the restaurants. This time around we spent time with Chad Medina  at Kelsey’s Restaurant in Ellicott City and with Howard Lasky at the Town Grill in Lisbon as they talked about their HoCo loco dishes.  

You can find a complete list of the participating restaurants here.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

All Pow and No Wow

Yesterday Peanut and I rode out to the HoCo Fairgrounds to take in the Native American Pow Wow. It was the first time we had attended this “American Indian Show and Festival.”

It will likely be our last time as well.

The ten dollar admission fee lets you browse through booths selling a variety of Native American stuff, much of which was made somewhere in Asia. There as entertainment of course but I can only sit and listen to a guy blowing mind numbing notes on a flute for so long.

We also sampled some of the supposedly Native American food which included “Indian Tacos” and “curley fries.” Neither of these was impressive.

It was kind of cool however to peek into the now empty animal exhibit buildings and realize that in just two short weeks the place will be buzzing with activity as the 66th Annual HoCo County Fair gets underway.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Placing Blame

Recently, when a commenter to this post accused me of being a racist, a friend asked how I felt about it. I responded that I always consider the source before giving such comments any weight. Besides I told her, “I’ve been called worse. I’ve even been called a Democrat.”

I mention this since my next statement is likely to invoke of chorus of responses dismissing me as nothing more (or less) of being a left leaning partisan hack. If the United States of America goes into default for the first time in the history of this great nation, I will lay the primary blame at the feet of the Republican Party.

I also understand that the Democrats share some of the responsibility for this mess. The true negotiations and positions of the two parties are not always presented accurately in the media. There are subtleties, intentionally vague statements and nuances in every negotiation between the protagonists. Accusations of misleading intentions and a rehash of history of past transgressions are a natural byproduct of this well practiced political doublespeak.

Still, these are all skilled politicians who should know better. For the most part, they didn’t make a jump directly from school board to Congress. They all understand the importance of maintaining a balance between getting reelected with the concept of serving the greater good. That isn’t always easy to do when the going gets tough. While it may play well in papers and with the radical fringe when you walk away from negotiations with the president twice it can hardly be considered working for the greater good of the country.

Oh sure, I realize that some truly believe that the government needs to be brought to its knees in order to save it from itself. That however, is simply being irresponsible. While it may accomplish the goal of solving the deficit crisis in the long term it comes with a high price tag of economic pain in the short term, just when the country can ill afford it. With unemployment still in the double digits in at least seven states this is hardly the time for pushing the government into a default of its financial obligations.

You can call me what you will for placing the blame for the budget impasse on the GOP, just please don’t call me a Democrat.


Even though we water the impatiens every evening, yesterday, when I got home around five, they were gasping for more water.

 Fortunately, after about an hour of getting their much needed drink, these bad boys perked right back up.

Humans are no different. With the heat index likely to climb into the triple digits again today, any outside adventures should include water.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Bifurcated Elkridge

HoCo loco blogger TJ Mayotte recently wrote a column for Elkridge Patch where he lamented how I-95 divides his community.

“Our sense of community should not be split by a mere highway, and we should not allow our self-perception (or deception) to create a town divided. There are many outside forces working against a solidified Elkridge; we should not be one of them. Our elected officials represent portions of our town, none the whole, dividing their attention with other communities. Major roads run against us, and the sway of our neighbors (Columbia, Ellicott City, and Baltimore and Anne Arundel Counties) seeks to pull us apart.”

And yet that is almost certainly the reality on the ground. Even the state sees it as such. In the most recent “Brief Economic Facts” for HoCo prepared by the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, the Maryland Department of Planning separated Ilchester from Elkridge, showing Elkridge as having a population of 15,593 and Ilchester with 23,476.

I believe many folks living in “Ilchester” feel more aligned with Ellicott City than with Elkridge. Market researchers have long acknowledged that major barriers like rivers and highways create both real and perceived separation in communities. Even in Columbia there are those who feel the difference between the east and west sides of Route 29.

TJ thinks this house divided is unhealthy for Elkridge.

“Secession is not an option. Upper, Lower, Harwood Park or Rockburn, we are one community with shared concerns. We would do well to remember that.”

He faces an uphill battle with this notion. I am not convinced that the east side of I-95 shares the same concerns with the west side.

Troy Park Parking

The proposed Troy Park Tennis & Sports Center is struggling to come out of the ground. Though the Howard County Tennis Partners have negotiated a 40 year lease with the county for 14 acres of land in the Troy Hill Park in Elkridge, they still need to raise $44 million in order to build the complex. According to this story by Kellie Woodhouse in Explore Howard, “the complex will include 18 outdoor and 12 indoor courts, an 8,000-seat multi-sport stadium — the 10th largest tennis-specific venue in the country…”

If they are ultimately successful in raising the money and bringing major tennis events to HoCo there is some question as to where people will park. The site plan for the complex shows only 183 parking spaces.

In fairness, Art Tollick, the president of Howard County Tennis Partners, told me that he anticipates using the parks ball fields for temporary parking during major events. Still, that won’t be enough so he has also approached the businesses in the Troy Hill Commerce Park to use their parking lots too. The problem here is that the two closest buildings to the park on Mansion Lane are leased by government agencies with secured parking that would not be available to the tennis park under any circumstances.

Of course parking is probably the least of his worries right now.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Sun Shines on

HoCo loco arts blogger, George Clack, was featured in this story by Janene Holzberg in The Sun today. The Columbia resident is the co-author of with longtime colleague Steve Altman. He also teaches a course at HCC entitled “So You Want to Blog.”

I liked what he had to say about blogging too.

"The most fundamental reason why I blog is to find out what I'm thinking," he said. "And that exercise forces my mind to work at a higher level."

Nicely put.

The Inbox

People send me stuff and for that I am grateful. Most of the time I am able to use the stuff in a post somewhere. Some stuff I get is from readers asking to me plug an event. Other stuff that I get simply defies categorization.

Take the Allen Dyer and vampires story for instance. A reader, whose curiosity about Allen's younger years was piqued after reading this story by Joe Burris in The Sun this week, sent me a newspaper clipping about the embattled school board members early fascination with vampires.

It appears that Mr. Dyer was well ahead of his time. While a high school student at Lincoln High School in Seattle, Allen wrote and produced a film entitled “I Was a Teenage Vampire.”

During the filming our young Alfred Hitchcock caused a little stir when one of his props, a coffin, prompted a call to the police when someone mistook it for a body.

"Police responded to a report of a body on the north bank of the canal and then dug up the empty coffin."

 The article in the paper went on to mention Allen and his movie, demonstrating that he had developed an early appreciation for any kind of publicity.

I also received a note from reader and commenter, Running With Scissors. Scissors and his wife Suzy are playing a benefit at The Whiskey in Annapolis  on Friday July 29th from 8 to 11:30 PM to raise money for Jenny Jones. Jenny is the mother of the 14 year kid who was killed by a group of teenagers in his Crofton neighborhood at four o’clock in the afternoon while riding his bike. As if that wasn’t tragic enough she recently lost her husband to cancer too.

“Come out and hear some great music while supporting a great cause! Suzy Estrada (2011 Annapolis Idol Winner) with guitarist Joe Burcham and Danielle Massarini (2007 Annapolis Idol Winner) will both be performing upstairs. There is a $10 cover charge and all proceeds will benefit the Paul Adkins Memorial Fund. See you there!”

Keep those cards and letters coming folks….

Meanwhile, In A Cornfield in Iowa…

Many expect that the NFL lockout could end as early as today. While many folks around here have been losing sleep about the debt talks impasse in Washington, die hard football fans have been more worried about no football this fall.

That, of course, causes some fans to dream…

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Continuing Ed

My real estate license expires at the first week of August. That means, in addition to forking over ninety bucks, I have to complete fifteen hours of continuing before then. As of the beginning of summer I had none. As of today I have twelve.

Three more to go.

I’ve had a real estate license for about thirty years. During that time the continuing ed requirement has changed a couple of times, some for good some not so much. For a brief period, the commission allowed licensees who held their license for twenty years or more to only take six hours of continuing ed. That was sweet but unfortunately short lived.

It’s not that all bad. Classes can now be taken online which is certainly preferable to sitting in a classroom. In fact I took an online class today. That’s why I didn’t post anything earlier. I was in class.

If I had posted earlier I would have written about the story of Nichole Kelly who tweeted the birth of her child at HoCo General. I first read it about in the Well and Wise blog and later read Amanda Yeagers coverage of the twittered birth in Explore Howard where it currently ranks as “Most Viewed." Nichole told the reporter “we thought 'this would be a perfect opportunity for people to see a little bit of the personal side of me…”

Ya think!

I have to admit that I am pretty old school in my thinking about this. I probably would have been more comfortable with how babies were delivered in the fifties. You know, when Mom would be off in some unseen delivery room while Dad cools his heels in the delivery lounge awaiting for the Doc to say “You can go in and see her now.”

That wasn’t how it played out for me though. I was right in the thick of things as the blessed event occurred. I even spent something like twelve weeks learning the Bradley Method beforehand. Talk about continuing ed!

Anyway, Nichole’s Twittering and contracting left me wondering what we will see next on the social media baby delivery front lines.

Live streaming video perhaps?

69 MG

I took these pictures of the 1969 MGb on the 3rd of July at my buddy Alans house in Ellicott City. The car belongs to a guy named Lewis. He told me that occasionally he’ll take it out on the Beltway on early Sunday mornings and really open it up. For a forty two year old car it’s not a museum piece. This car still gets driven.
MG’s, Triumph TR6's, Sunbeam Tigers and Fiat Spiders were the uber cool sportscars when I was in high school. It amazes me now how small they were.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Dobbin Starbucks on the Move

This morning I heard that the Dobbin Road Starbucks is going to move to the other side of Dobbin Road. When I got to the office I logged on to the CoStar commercial database and saw that their current space is being offered for lease as of this September. The brochure even identifies the space as the “former” Starbucks.

It appears that they may be moving to the building currently occupied by Wendy’s. That 3,300 square foot building is being offered for lease by the Segall Group. The leasing brochure says that it will be available in the third quarter of 2012 but that an "earlier delivery" is possible. This building is almost a third larger than the existing location so it would provide a little more elbow room for the citizens of Laptopistan.

It also comes with a drive-thru window which Starbucks is known to covet.

Second Avenue, Second Hand

Another sign that the economic recovery is somewhat less than robust is the growth of thrift stores.  According to this story by Andrea K. Walker in The Sun, thrift store sales “increased 12.7 percent from 2008 to 2009, the most recent figures available, according to the Association of Resale Professionals.”

"Whenever there is a slow economy this industry thrives," said Adele R. Meyer, executive director of the group. "Our numbers are doing really well."

There will soon be a new second hand store in Columbia too. The former Scan store now has a banner announcing the arrival of Second Avenue, a store “dedicated to bringing customers the best value in clothing, household goods, and collectibles in the marketplace.”

Monday, July 18, 2011

Three Things about Food

We finished up the taping of another promotional video for HoCo Restaurant Weeks today. The original plan called for Paul and I to begin the afternoon at Kelsey’s Restaurant in Ellicott City and finish up at Victoria’s.  That didn’t happen. Victoria’s had to cancel due to a family emergency.

It’s just as well. Our time spent with Chef Chad Medina at Kelsey’s was more than enough for one day. We were eating large by noon. Chad started us off with a chicken tortellini soup and finished us off with a pork tenderloin and corn thingy. Of course he doesn’t call it a corn thingy but I’ve honestly forgotten about half the ingredients. I know it had corn, zucchini, jalapeno peppers and heirloom tomatoes and I know it was delicious. He also whipped up some fig sauce thingy that was very tasty with the pork. The pork/corn combo will be one of Kelsey’s prix frixe menu items during restaurant week. This is definitely not your fathers Kelsey’s.

Did I mention that doing these restaurant week promo shoots were fun?

It beats the hell out of working.

Our minder for these promo shoots is Amanda Hof, the Special Events and Projects Manager for HoCo Tourism. Amanda is a Centennial High graduate and HoCo loco. She’s sort of like our scout mom for these shoots.

Tomorrow night Amanda will be working with the HoCo EDA at the Feastival at Clark’s Farm. The Feastival is the official kick off to Restaurant Weeks and is meant to showcase HoCo loco agriculture.

And lastly, I heard a rumor that the Stanford Grill may be considering closing down and reworking the concept in Columbia. That really didn’t ring true with what I have seen but the rumor came from a HoCo loco in the know type so I couldn’t just dismiss it.

Tonight, on my way home,  I decided to drop in to see how things were going on a Monday night for the now year old restaurant. As luck would have it the owner, David Jones, was standing at the bar talking to his Chief Operating Officer, Juancarlo Parkhurst. Stanford Grill is actually the mothership for a chain of restaurants called Copper Canyon Grill. There are currently five Copper Canyons in three states. The original one is in Boca Raton.

“We are closing that one down for a makeover,” he told me. When completed the Boca location will look more like a Stanford Grill than a Copper Canyon.

They will also be opening a sixth Copper Canyon at the Woodmore Town Center in Prince Gorgeous County.

I’d have to say that the rumors of any impending closure of the Stanford Grill would be greatly exaggerated. On a Monday night at 7:00 PM the place had a nice crowd.

“We’re running about 30% ahead of what we projected,” David shared.

Juancarlos told me the patio has proved to be popular for private parties. He said they plan to add air conditioning next month.

Now that’s living large

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Dream Team Nightmare

Last week, despite the objections of board members Tom Coale and Andy Stack, the CA Board of Directors awarded a no bid contract to Cy Paumier to develop design sketches for all of the public spaces in Town Center. Some board members consider Cy and his group of original Columbia designers and planners as a "dream team" because of their early experience with Columbia and The Rouse Company. They hired this dream team with the understanding that a good number of public spaces in the redeveloped Town Center area will be outside of CA control.

In other words, any design sketches produced by Paumier and his dream team for non CA space are a waste of time, money and energy. Or worse…

Cy is already heavily engaged in the design of a redeveloped Symphony Woods and that process isn’t going very well right now. As part of the enabling legislation for Columbia Town Center redevelopment, a Design Advisory Panel was established to oversee all new development. This would include Symphony Woods. The Panel has been somewhat unimpressed by Cy’s work so far. A recent meeting with Cy to go over his plans was described by one member of the panel as a “complete waste of time.”

Or worse...

The overall concept was chastised by Rob Hollis, the panel chair, as being “engineered for grade but lacks an overall theme.”

“The plans lack adequate information as to the existing tree locations, new tree locations, additional planted areas, clearings, seating areas, amenities (if any), etc.  I assume more information will follow with subsequent submissions, but is there more to the park design than paths?”

He singled out the futility of the café in the woods as well.

“Parks that most successfully accommodate a café will usually have enough mass of park users for the economics to work.  The café is not the draw but the support for the place to go.  There needs to be an amenity of significance to populate the café (i.e.: a playground, skating rink, etc).  Aside from concert days, is there such a draw?”

The answer to that would be no.

His conclusion was equally harsh.

“A park should be a very special place that offers a place for everyone with a variety of spatial, environmental and communal experience.  However, all too often, a park can also be a one loop through and never return again.  As one of the first projects in a “new” Town Center, this park should set the example for other projects to follow.  It is imperative that Symphony Woods Park be of the highest design standards.  The Merriweather-Symphony Woods Neighborhood Design Guidelines do establish a good foundation for the ultimate build out of the park and greater neighborhood.  However, without stronger design influence Symphony Woods Park will be just an assortment of paths, a fountain, a café and a set of stairs.  At this point, I fail to see strength of design in the Symphony Woods Park submission.”

And now this is the guy that the CA Board just hired to design the rest of Town Center! Wouldn’t it be more prudent to see if he and the dream team can pull off Symphony Woods first?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Corner Stable Applies for Liquor License

I just heard from Darrell Nevin that a liquor license hearing for The Corner Stable has been scheduled for July 26th. That would seem to indicate that a deal has been reached for the Cockeysville restaurant to open its second location in the Kings Contrivance Village Center.

We Never Got There

When we asked school board member Ellen Flynn Giles to join us on the podcast we thought we’d spend a large portion of the time talking about her fellow board member Allen Dyer.

That didn’t happen.

In fact, we hardly mentioned Allen at all and that’s probably a good thing. Ellen is serving her second term on the board, which includes a couple of stints as board chair. She is one sharp lady, fluent in six languages. Prior to joining the school board she served on the boards Community Advisory Committee for 16 years as her four children worked their way through the system. Two of her children went on to become teachers in MoCo and one, Alice, is Co-president of HoCo League of Women Voters.

She also has real job as an editor and analyst for energy with McGraw Hill.

Instead of Allen Dyer we talked about how board members spread themselves around the system, no child left behind, race to nowhere, the perfect grade from Sunshine Review, and the search for a new superintendent.

Until yesterday I did not realize that HoCo public system is one of the larger school systems in the country. The average size of a school system in the country is 1,000 students. The HoCo public school system has 50,000 students.

We also discussed elementary school sites in Elkridge. When discussing the Oxford Square location and the perception that it is unsafe for a school to be located near railroad tracks, Ellen mentioned that there has only been one accident on the Camden line in HoCo in the last thirty years and that did not involve children. I wonder if she was referring to Scott Gores unfortunate episode.

Yesterday was also the first time we had an actual audience for the show when four people showed up to listen in.  Okay, that wasn't exactly a huge audience but it was still pretty cool. Dave rigged up a speaker to make it easier for them to follow along.

You can listen to the 45th episode of “and then there’s that…” here.

Friday, July 15, 2011

HoCo Schools Get A+ for Transparency

Yesterday at the school board meeting, Board Member Ellen Flynn Giles announced that the HoCo School System earned an A+ grade for transparency from Sunshine Review. HoCo was one of only two school systems in the state to earn a perfect grade. The other was Anne Arundel county.

It sort of takes the wind out of the sails of those who continually complain that HoCo schools are not transparent enough.

Sunshine Review also grades county governments. Our HoCo loco government earned a C.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Three Things about Food (Bastille Day Edition)

Today is Bastille Day, the French holiday celebrating the storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution. On this side of the pond, the holiday is generally observed by various food related activities like a waiters race. In Ellicott City, Tersiguels is offering a five course chef’s menu dinner for a hundred bucks a head with a quarter of that going to the Ulman Cancer Fund.

Though it has nothing to do with Bastille Day, the 27th annual Foodscape art exhibit at the Mount Royal Tavern in Baltimore has everything to do with food. Originally organized as a counter culture protest against the lack of loco art at Artscape, it has now become part of the Artscape tradition. Though it isn’t HoCo loco I mention it here because my sister, J. Kelly Lane, is one of the founding members. If you are attending Artscape this weekend and want to see some whimsical art about food, drop in to the Mount Royal Tavern.  

I’ll be celebrating Bastille Day out in western HoCo by enjoying some barbeque in beautiful downtown Lisbon. HoCo Tourism has invited Paul Skalny and I to return for another video shoot promoting the  HoCo Farm-2 Table restaurant weeks (July 25th to August 8th). This afternoon we will be filming at the Lisbon Town Grill and next Tuesday we’ll visit Kelseys and Victoria Gastro Pub. Hopefully this time around we’ll get to actually enjoy the food!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Howard County Bans Park Smoking - Video - WBAL Baltimore

Howard County Bans Park Smoking - Video - WBAL Baltimore
Doc Beilenson fumbles on the word "smoke!"

Blandair Begins to Bloom

It’s taken over a decade but the first phase of Blandair Park in Columbia is now well underway. According to this story by Lindsey McPherson in Explore Howard, the first phase of the parks development “is expected to be open to the public late this fall or early next spring, according to John Byrd, the director of the county Department of Recreation and Parks.”

“Blandair will be the second largest developed park in the county, next to Elkridge's 415-acre Rockburn Branch Park, Byrd said. Recreation and Parks also manages the undeveloped Middle Patuxent Environmental Area, which spans 1,021 acres.”

It is six times larger than Symphony Woods.

It is somewhat ironic that Blandair Park will become the crown jewel of parks in Columbia. The county acquired the land from the estate of Nancy Smith who died in 1997 without a will. Up until her death Ms Smith rebuffed several overtures from The Rouse Company and other developers to acquire her property. She even fought an unsuccessful battle against the State of Maryland to keep Rouse Parkway (MD Route 175) from bisecting her property. It is safe to say that Nancy Smith was not a big fan of Columbia but it is Columbia that will now benefit hugely from her intransigence.

There will be a total of seven phases in the development program that will likely take another eight years to complete.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The New Larry is Named Jessica

Jessica Anderson is taking over the HoCo beat for The Sun. The position has been vacant since last month when Larry Carson retired after 42 years of providing HoCo loco coverage.

Initially there will be a void in loco politico analysis though, at least for awhile. She has informed one county councilperson that she will not be doing a political column since she is a little too green on this turf.

Give her time. After a couple of years the temptation may prove too hard to resist.


I have mixed feelings about Ken Ulmans latest Healthy Howard edict banning smoking in all county parks and recreational facilities. On the one hand, there is something to said for the logic of Jay Hancock in his blog in The Sun, “to be philosophically consistent, Howard County has to outlaw public park campfires and barbecues, too.”

On the other hand Ken’s description of smoking as a “dirty, filthy habit,” is exactly how Frank Lane described smoking over fifty years ago. Frank Lane was my grandfather. He was way ahead of his time with this public health issue.

It’s the dirty part that makes the most sense for banning smoking in parks. In his column in The Washington Post yesterday, John Kelly vented about his pet peeves and those of his readers that “have no place in a civilized world.”

First on his list was flicking a cigarette butt out a car window. I feel the same way about those who flick a cigarette butt into a lake, path or park. Having spent my college summers picking up trash in Columbia I have picked up more discarded butts than most people do in a lifetime. 

John is actually running a three part series on the things he hates. I pretty much agreed with everything he and his readers bought up yesterday.

“Driving slowly in the passing lane. Not using your turn signal. Leaving a shopping cart in a grocery store parking lot rather than returning it to the corral. Playing the car stereo so loudly that the bass rattles everything for blocks. Riding a bicycle on the sidewalk. Speaking loudly on a cellphone in a room full of people. The complex packaging of simple items: “You shouldn’t need a pair of wire cutters and a Phillips-head screwdriver to release a Barbie doll from her box,” wrote Jonathan Carter of Bristow. Waiters who say, “You still workin’ on that?” as if your meal were a patch of broken asphalt that needed to be jackhammered. Visible underwear on men. Parking in a handicapped space when you’re not disabled. The overuse of the word “literally.” Using atrocious grammar.”

Today he narrowed his focus to things he hates in the grocery store.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Private Pools and Political Parity

Yesterday I sort of jokingly asked Council Chair Calvin Ball if he had any private pools in his district. Dr. Balls District 2 is often thought as a Columbia district because it includes the Villages of Oakland Mills, Long Reach, and a part of Owen Brown. It also includes Columbia Gateway.

"Watermont is in my district," he told me.


As it happens, the District 2  line crosses over Route 100 just far enough to pick up the Watermont Swim Club, the very same Watermont that I called the poster child for the pools bill. This is also the same club whose president Calvin skewered in the legislative work session on the pools bill!

I was pretty surprised when I heard that. I was even more surprised when I discovered that another of the private swim club, Forest Hill, is in Councilperson Mary Kay Sigatys District 4. District 4 is also thought of as a Columbia district.

The math here seems pretty simple. Four of the five council members have a private swim club in their district that would benefit from this legislation. It’s summertime, people are at the pools and this bill has stirred up the HoCo loco political waters. Forget about redistricting, intermodal terminals and charter review commissions, pools and property taxes are what people are really getting worked up about.

I’m now saying this bill passes at the next council legislative session on July 28th.

UPDATE: Lindsey McPherson with the HoCo Times kindly pointed out to me that all council members have a private swim club in their district. I had overlooked the fact that the Atholton Swim Club is in Jen Terrasa's District 3. Thanks Lindsey!

Three Things about Food

Back in December I posted about East Moon Asian Bistro coming to Shipley’s Grant in Columbia. Then nothing happened for awhile and I was beginning to wonder if the deal had tanked.

Apparently not…last week when I was in that part of town I noticed that construction for the new restaurant is well underway. Judging from the looks of things I’d say they are on track for a late summer opening.

And speaking of nothing happening, for two years now I’ve heard the staff at T-Bonz talk about a the impending arrival of an outdoor patio. From the looks of things I’d have to say that it won’t be this summer.

The Shady Oaks Grill Room at the Timbers at Troy public golf course is finally opened though I wouldn’t make a special trip to Elkridge to check it out. When Mama Wordbones and I stopped by just before the 4th weekend we found the place to be a bit sterile. The worst transgression was that they served us draft beer in a plastic cup. That’s okay for college keg parties and the odd occasion when you run short on glasses but there were less than five people in the bar at the time.

There is potential here. The bar has a nice outside deck overlooking the 18th hole and if they get their act together it could provide a nice HoCo alternative to those outdoor dining places that overlook parking lots. Right now I would charitably call Shady Oaks a work in progress.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Target Rich Environment

This afternoon, as I was talking to Baltimore artist Stewart White, a CSX freight train came rumbling through town across the bridge in front of us. He had just finished telling me how much he enjoys coming to Ellicott City to paint. “It’s what you might call a target rich environment for painters,” he said smiling.

Indeed. According to Beth Forbes, there are around 28 juried painters participating in this years “Paint Itplein air event. That doesn’t include the 41 or so other artists who deployed around the old mill for the weekend. She said that was more than double the number from last year. Beth works for the Howard County Center for the Arts and together with Lauren Neal from HoCo Tourism they gave the big picture of the event. They were manning an exhibit of works from earlier in the weekend that was set up at the Second Sunday Market.

The combination of the two events on a sunny, but not too hot, summer afternoon only made it all the more target rich.

For me the fun was also in talking to the painters. None of them seem to mind my inquiries about their work and the event.

And painters were everywhere today, tucked into to myriad of nooks and crannies so prevalent in the centuries old town.
Yesterday, at The Wine Bin, I even spied one painting while inside a store. I joked to Cheryll DuVall that being inside an air conditioned store was not exactly keeping in the spirit of the whole “plein air” thing. It seems to have paid off for her though. I spotted the picture she was working on in the store at the Second Sunday exhibit. It had a sold sticker on it.
According to Beth, tomorrow evening the HoCo Arts Council will host a reception and exhibit of all the artists, juried and non, at 6:30 PM. Since most if not all the artists did multiple pieces there should be plenty to see. The event is open to the public.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Parting with Patch

The original editor of Columbia Patch has departed with the online community news site. David Greisman, who in less than a year became a very familiar HoCo loco face, resigned last week.

I got to know David during his brief run with Patch and he asked if I’d put his parting message on Tales of Two Cities. As he put it “I just figured I'd say a goodbye in lieu of writing one on the Patch website itself.”

I’m more than happy to oblige a fellow HoCo chronicler.

David’s Patch Parting Message

“As Tom referenced earlier this week, I’m no longer with Columbia Patch, the local news website I’d headed since August 2010 and launched in October; my last day was July 5. In the days before and after, I’ve reflected on the value of these past months – not just with the company, but with the community, too.

Like many who grew up in Columbia, I wanted to spend some time away from my hometown. And I did, spending two years finishing my education in Carroll County, then going much, much farther away, cutting my teeth as a news reporter for three years in a somewhat quiet corner of New Hampshire.

I arrived back in Columbia in July 2010. I didn’t have a job. And I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to work in journalism anymore. 

I fell back in love with Columbia. Because of that, I truly loved the work I did as a journalist here.

I’ve been fortunate to be part of an exciting, challenging venture, becoming part of this rich mosaic of information here in Howard County, from the quality coverage from The Baltimore Sun and the Columbia Flier/Howard County Times, to the many dedicated bloggers whose voices add so much, to my colleagues at Patch and the valuable work they’ve put in.

I sought to write both the stories that nobody knew about that deserved to be told and the stories that everybody knew about that deserved to be told right. I was able to work with professional freelancers who gave more depth to the local news coverage. I took special joy in mentoring some younger writers, in particular a crew of eager sports reporters who never minded spending the extra time.

There is a lot that goes into being a local editor for Patch. The company had initially recruited me for Westminster, where I went to college and where I had interned and freelanced for The Baltimore Sun. I held out for Columbia.

My hometown is where I had more insight into what stories needed to be told and why. My hometown is where I could see on a friend’s Facebook status that Michael’s Pub was closing, and where I would immediately know how much that story would resonate with readers.

I loved what I did here until the very end. So why did I leave? Because I was no longer the right fit for Patch’s direction.

It was a difficult decision, and I felt such heartbreak in making it. So many of you in this community have supported me, whether it was through your coming to the website, sending out links to articles we’d written, telling others about Patch, contacting us with story ideas, or even just saying hello when you saw me around town.

I didn’t want to let you down by leaving. But I am wholly confident that whomever ends up replacing me (the competent, friendly assistant editor and Columbia resident Lisa Rossi is temporarily filling in) will work hard to pick up where I left off.

I’ll still be rooting for Patch, just as I do for the newspapers, blogs and others whose work makes this community a better one.

And I’m still looking to be involved with Columbia and Howard County. I left Patch in the same way I left New Hampshire, giving myself time to hunt for jobs and figure out what the next step should be.

I arrived back in Columbia in July 2010 not sure what I’d end up doing and where I’d end up living.

I’m confident now that there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”

Friday, July 08, 2011

Wet Paint

One of the HoCo summer events Rachelina Bonacci talked about on "and then there's that..." was the plein air event. Showing an utter lack of sophistication, I had to ask her what that was.

It’s French of course. It means “open air,” for those of us who should have paid more attention in French class. Today, through Sunday, a group of juried artists will spend the weekend in Ellicott City painting out in the open air. Afterwards, their works will be on exhibit at the Howard County Arts Council.

We go weeks without rain around here but no sooner do the artists hit the HoCo loco streets than Mother Nature decides to exert a little of her own artistic influence on the scene.

Weather did not deter these two painters though. Lynn Metha and Bob Jansto demonstrated why a car with a hatchback is a practical choice for the plein air practitioner.

In Memoriam…John Mackey

I grew up with the Baltimore Colts. My dad was a big fan and regularly attended games at Memorial Stadium in the sixties. The gridiron warriors of that era were larger than life figures to me growing up; Unitas, Marchetti, Shula, Donovan, Moore, Laird, Berry, Curtis…and John Mackey to name a few.

By the time the Colts left Baltimore in 1984 I was five years out of college and working for The Rouse Company. Up until that infamous early morning move on March 29th, I had become the fan my dad was. When the Colts left town I stopped being a fan of the team but not those players who bought football glory to Baltimore.

About eight years ago I ran into John Mackey at the Iron Bridge Wine Company. He was sitting at the bar with his wife wearing a black cowboy hat. At first I was reluctant to approach him but Steve Wecker, one of the owners of Iron Bridge, encouraged me to say hello. I’m glad he did. It turns out that John was more than  happy to be recognized and spend some time with an old fan. John talked of the glory days and showed me his Super Bowl ring and Hall of Fame ring. After we parted and I had returned to my table, he came over and handed me this note.

It was obvious to me back then that he was also suffering from early stages of dementia. This would prove to be a huge challenge for his wife as it worsened.

John Mackey passed away this week. Rest in peace my brother….

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Cute Energy

No sooner had I read this interview with Bill Gates in this months Wired magazine then I spot this Astrum Solar crew at work on a home in Ellicott City. My immediate thought was "how cute!"

In the interview, Wired editor Chris Anderson asks Gates, who had just discussed his own involvement with a nuclear energy firm, where else “should we be focusing besides nuclear? On massive solar plants in the desert? On middle-size stuff for office roofs? Or is there a reinvention that could be done right in the home?”

To which he replied:

“If you’re going for cuteness, the stuff in the home is the place to go. It’s really kind of cool to have solar panels on your roof. But if you’re really interested in the energy problem, it’s those big things in the desert.”

Even then he’s still no big fan of solar.

“You know, the sun shines during the day, and people turn their air conditioners on during the day, so you can catch some of that peaking load, particularly if you get enough subsidies. It’s cute, you know, it’s nice. But the economics are so, so far from making sense. And yet that’s where subsidies are going now. We’re putting 90 percent of the subsidies in deployment—this is true in Europe and the United States—not in R&D. And so unfortunately you get technologies that, no matter how much of them you buy, there’s no path to being economical. You need fundamental breakthroughs, which come more out of basic research.” 

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Picking Preferences

This past weekend I had the opportunity to indulge in some steamed crabs at a friend’s house. Sitting around the newspaper covered table I noticed that not everyone attacks the blue crustacean in the same manner. This morning, on the front page of the Food section in The Washington Post, I saw a link to a crab picking video with Chef John Shields.

I was intrigued.

I handle the legs a bit differently. If you twist them just so while pulling them off you can get a nice hunk of meat on the end.

I’ve also seen people who not only crack open the claws but the legs as well. That’s just too much effort for too little reward in my opinion.

In This Months Business Monthly

One of the things I enjoy most about being a commercial real estate broker is the opportunity to work closely with the leaders of a variety of businesses. Real estate matters for most small to medium sized firms are more often than not handled by the owners or some senior executive of the firm. Working with these people means that, to a certain degree, you are privy to their strategic plans

Over the years I’ve gotten to know a few of these people quite well and I’ve been with them through the good times and bad times. In good times that means helping them secure larger offices or warehouses. In bad times it means helping them to deal with excess space through renegotiation of contracts or subleasing space.

In the case of Ease Technologies, the relationship goes all the back to when we both attended Wilde Lake High School in the early seventies.

Recently I helped Ease secure a space for a growing part of their business. We actually started working on the assignment about two and a half years ago, right about the time the economy hit bottom. Though this particular part of their business looked promising they were reluctant to enter into a long term lease agreement in that business climate. They instructed us to find them a short term deal. After the first short term deal expired, we negotiated for another, then another....

Over that time, the HoCo loco economy began its slow climb out of the recessionary doldrums and the fortunes at Ease began to improve as well. The landlord was also doing better. In fact, it had come to the point where our short term deals were no longer that attractive for them. They had other companies who were interested in leasing the Ease space for a longer period. They told us no more mini deals.

So Ease stepped up.

It would be inaccurate to say that this was an easy decision, even for the company named Ease. Like most of the businesses we work with, they are not yet comfortable that the recovery fully taken hold or that the business unit housed in this space will continue to handle the volume of work it has now. Growing a successful business however, means that you can’t always play it safe. There are times when the business leader is required to take a leap of faith based on what they know and what they believe will occur in the future. Everyday, in offices all around HoCo, those types of decisions are being made and that is what will get things rolling around here again.

You can read this month's column here.