Saturday, June 30, 2007

Turkey Farm Barn Destroyed By Fire

A barn and farm equipment at the Maple Lawn turkey farm is destroyed by fire, causing an estimated $1 million in damage.

The Sun says fire officials are investigating the cause. The Iagers, who own the farm, had apparently just moved equipment into the barn to get out of the way of advancing thunderstorms.

Columbia Talk has picked up many a Thanksgiving Day bird at the farm, and we've always admired the operation there.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Girl Scout Bike Power

Two senior Girl Scouts in Troop 1874 totally put our little bike map project to shame...Check out what they've done in Harper's Choice..

Here's what they say about their accomplishment:

"For our Gold Award Project, we decided to put the bike trails of Harper’s Choice online. To do this, we traveled on the trails and took pictures along the way. Using a GPS device, we were able to get the coordinates of various spots on the paths. We feel that this is an important addition to the Harper’s Choice Community website. It will allow people to print a detailed trail map and look up information about tot lots, pools, and schools that are accessible along the pathway. We hope that the Harper's Choice Bike Site will help people to become more aware of the trails and encourage them to use the pathway system in Harper's Choice and broader Columbia." -- Lizzi and Jessica

Fairs, Fireworks and Funny Men

We're not sure we can handle so much fun....

The Columbia Fair, the signature event of the town's 40th b-day part, starts today and will include a carnival with rides after all. The Sun tells us it will also include entertainment, free food, and "more than 40 artisans and crafters from the East Coast, more than 25 businesses and 16 food vendors. The fair committee also set aside room for 35 nonprofit, government and religious organizations to rent booths for a lower price."

Town Center will then host the July 4th fireworks, sponsored by the Kiwanis for the 17th straight year, with more entertainment and carny stuff to do. For the full 4th monty, put your blanket out early and then head over to the Longfellow parade. The Flier gives all the details here.

Finally, the boss alerted us to this one (why aren't we on this mailing list!?)....

The Howard County Chamber of Commerce has lined up humorist Dave Barry to be the featured entertainer for the Chamber’s Annual Signature Event on Friday, Oct. 5 at Turf Valley Resort in Ellicott City.

"For 25 years, Barry was a syndicated columnist whose work appeared in more
than 500 newspapers in the United States and abroad. He won a Pulitzer
Prize for Commentary in 1988, and has written 25 books. Two of his books
were used as the basis for the CBS-TV sitcom 'Dave’s World,' in which actor
Harry Anderson played Barry."

The theme for this year’s event is “Funny Business.”

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Chinese in Columbia

We saw this item in the school system's internal "Inside Howard County Public Schools" newsletter:
Three Columbia high schools will be offering Chinese language classes in the coming year.

Wilde Lake offered the class for the first time last session and there was enough interest at Long Reach and Oakland Mills to start classes there.

Long Reach has even formed a partnership with Beijing #22, a school in China. Administrators, teachers and students spent part of last year exchanging visits and e-mails. According to the school's Web site the China school's orchestra and basketball teams may pay a visit in the coming school year.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Living Wage

The HoCo Council is scheduled to take up a bill that would set a "living wage" on county contractors that is higher than the level recently set by the state. County exec Ulman wonders about the budgetary impact of paying more.

From the Sun:

"Sponsored by Chairman Calvin Ball, an east Columbia Democrat, and co-sponsored by Jen Terrasa, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, the bill would require contractors with five or more workers who do at least $100,000 a year in county work to pay at least $12.41 an hour, which is 125 percent of the federal poverty guideline. It exempts nonprofits and some contracts involving special circumstances.

That is higher than the $11.30-an-hour standard set for the Central Maryland region in a similar law on state government contracts signed by Gov. Martin O'Malley last month. Maryland was the first state in the nation to pass a living-wage bill, though Baltimore adopted one in 1994, and living-wage laws also exist in Montgomery and Prince Georges counties.

'I looked at what it costs to live and survive in Howard County,' Ball said. He concluded it takes at least $52,000 a year for a family of four to get by in high-cost Howard. Ball said he calculated that if a husband and wife made at least $12.41 an hour, their combined earnings would reach that level."

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Police Suspend Step-Out Traffic Stops

The area papers today are carrying this Associated Press report:

"A week after a Howard police officer was fatally injured during traffic duty, Anne Arundel and Howard county police have temporarily suspended policies that call on their officers to step out of their vehicles and into traffic lanes to catch speeders.

Howard County Cpl. Scott Wheeler suffered serious head injuries June 16 when he was struck while working on a speed enforcement detail on Route 32 near Savage. He was flown to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he died.

Investigators said the driver, a 24-year-old Columbia woman, did not see Wheeler. She is cooperating with the investigation.

Anne Arundel will evaluate speed enforcement policies during the 30-day suspension. Howard police said the use of so-called 'stop teams' would be halted until a review of the practice is complete.

Despite the suspension of the 'step out' policy, Anne Arundel officials said that speeding complaints will continue to be a priority."

Monday, June 25, 2007

The I-95 Asphalt Blues

That's the tune I've been humming for weeks now as Maryland repaves the interstate between Baltimore and Washington. If I'm lucky I get up to Columbia from Washington just before the traffic cones start going up to close off two of four lanes for this necessary evil. If not, I just settle back and try not too let too many X!@#$ cut in front of me :).

According to the Sun, state highway officials said they expect the double-lane closures to end about mid-September. "Single-lane closings will continue through mid-November as the contractor performs such tasks as replacing topsoil at the road's edge," the newspaper says.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Splashdown's Come Down

Columbia Association is mulling what to do with the Splashdown water slide in Wilde Lake, according to the Flier. It's needs at least $30,000 in repairs now and 10 times that in upgrades over the next two to four years. CA VP Rob Goldman says the slide draws 13,000 people annually, but that number could fall when a fancier park opens over by BWI.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

You Could See This Coming

WaPo published a front page story last Sunday on the "latest casualty of suburban sprawl," the demise of the personal mailbox.

Today, the paper printed this letter:

"Mia Hall of Southern Maryland complains that her new five-bedroom dream house is lacking only one thing to make it perfect -- a mailbox ["You've Got Mail . . . a Block Away; New Homeowners Decry Cluster Boxes," front page, June 17].

"In Columbia, we have had cluster boxes since the founding of this community. When I moved here in 1992, I thought they were a smart solution. Cluster boxes are a great place to catch up with neighbors, and the security of a lock just makes sense these days. Yes, I have to walk a bit to get my mail, but with the rise of obesity among Americans (I am as guilty as anyone), certainly it makes sense to walk at least a block once a day.

"Also, postal workers who otherwise would travel from house to house and no doubt leave their vehicles idling now use less gasoline.

To Ms. Hall and others living in sprawling new exurban subdivisions, I say: Get a little exercise while doing your bit for the environment.



Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Last Day of School!

The public schools wrap up another year.

Several administrators are being assigned to new schools this fall in what has become an annual rite. According to the Sun, Nancy Thompson will go from being assistant principal at Steven Forest to principal at Talbott Springs. David Larner, assistant principal at Hammond Elementary, will become principal at Clemens Crossing Elementary. Clemens Crossing current principal, Peggy Dumler, takes over at Laurel Woods Elementary

Meanwhile, the Sun has a report on enrollment projections, which suggest no elementary or middle school should suffer excessive overcrowding until 2010. There was a brief discussion during the school board's meeting about the impact of the government's decision to consolidate thousands of jobs around the greater Washington region and move them to Fort Meade.

That shift is expected to bring to put new pressure on the housing stock, especially since there are limits in Howard on how many new units can be built in any one year. It doesn't take an economics major to know that if demand grows faster than supply there will be consequences. Housing prices could go up; good for us who already have homes; bad for people trying to buy and settle in our community.

Apparently, there's talk of running through some what-if development scenarios this summer. That could be an interesting exercise.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Rosie Rocks

Celebrity gossip alert!

Rosie O'Donnell made a surprise appearance in town on Sunday, when she played drums for Cyndi Lauper during a show at Merriweather, according to People magazine. The mag said she joked about her stint on "The View," saying the women there "will stab you in the back with a high heel." !!

Then, she tossed her drum sticks (drumsticks?) to the crowd!!!

Tomorrow, we'll give you an inside peek at the shocking things that go on at the neighborhood grocery store!!!!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Traffic Officer Dies

A police officer working a speed trap on Route 32 near Route 1 Saturday dies after being hit by car. He apparently was in the road trying to flag down a motorist when the accident occurred.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Choose Civility

That's the new bumper sticker slogan appearing on cars around town, part of a countywide initiative led by the Howard County library. Several other bloggers in town turned us on to this, and today seemed as good a day as any to mention it after a 15-year-old was arrested for bringing a semi-automatic into Hammond High School. According to the Sun, the student allegedly took the gun from a locked gun safe at home and tucked it, unloaded, into his waistband. He also apparently had nine or 10 rounds of ammunition. Students alerted a teacher, and administrators relayed the information to the police officer on duty at the school.

The "Choose Civility" car magnets are free. Jesse at Hometown Columbia said she picked up hers at the East Columbia branch.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Wilde Weekend

Wilde Lake takes center stage this weekend as part of Columbia's 40th b-day celebrations. The town's first village is hosting festivities at the village center and a tour of famous homes, including founder James Rouse's lakefront abode and the square donut of a house owned by his next-door neighbor (and longtime CA pres) Pat Kennedy.

Columbia Talk has been in both when we used to stop by to collect money for delivering WaPo back in the day. At the time, we were envious of the hip digs. But now, looking at all the huge palaces that have become home to today's crop of top developers, we marvel at how truly modest the residences are.

It's a reminder that Columbia's original leaders lived among the people who bought their homes.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Report Cards

It's report card time for the public school system, and, of course, the results are open to glass-half-full-half-empty interpretation. The Sun says overall scores are up, and for the first time in the school system's history, every subgroup was able to meet the county's stringent standard of scoring 70 percent proficient in reading. WaPo points out that scores slipped ever so slightly for certain grade levels.

Howard's scores hover around the top in the state and some say gains are harder to achieve when you breathe our exalted air. To that thinking, schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan offers a caution.

"Overall, our performance is still extremely high," Caplan told WaPo. "I think what sometimes people forget is that here in Howard County, we have students who are underachieving as well."

The graphic at the right was prepared by WaPo from data provided by the Maryland State Department of Education. School-by-school results can be found here on the state's Web site.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Ulman Pushes Green Development

County exec Ulman kicks off his legislative push for what WaPo calls "eco-friendly" development and the Sun dubs "green" buildings. The actual details are hard to come by; the legislation is still being drafted. But the stories say the plan is to give developers tax breaks, speedier approval processes and other incentives if they build in a more environmentally sensitive way and keep energy conservation in mind.

Green development may sound like an oxymoron, but the coverage hints that the legislation will curb McMansions, excessively paved cul-de-sacs, and other suburban scourges. The new rules may also allow developers throughout the county to compete for some annual housing allocations currently set aside for the west, allowing more development in our parts.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Hometown Biotech

Columbia is home to some interesting companies; one is Martek Biosciences off Dobbin Road. The company turns vats of algae and fungi into nutritional supplements and its customers include some well-known brand names, such as Yoplait Kids, Breyers Yogurt and Horizon Organic Milk. There's even research underway to see if certain oils might help Alzheimer's patients. Last week, Martek reported that revenues were up for the most recent quarter compared to 2005. Higher expenses, however, pushed down profits some.

Biotech companies can be risky ventures, their prospects sharply up one day and down the next. Martek certainly has gone through its share of ups and downs. But at a time when many of the big names in Maryland's biotech industry --MedImmune, BioVeris, Digene -- are getting gobbled up by other companies it will be interesting to see what happens to hometown Martek.

Monday, June 11, 2007

River Hill Tops People Tree

From the public schools, a look at overall athletic performance by high school teams:

People Tree Cup Standings

The People Tree Cup recognizes overall excellence in interscholastic athletics by a Howard County public high school. For scoring purposes:

  • Points are assigned to those schools participating in each eligible varsity sport upon the completion of a particular athletic program and the awarding of the county trophy.
  • If 12 schools compete, the county trophy winner will gain 12 points, second place will gain 11 points, and so on.
  • Half points are gained in the event of a tie.
  • At the completion of the school year and after all county trophies have been awarded and points tallied, the People Tree Cup will be awarded to the school that produced the highest number of points.

The People Tree Cup was awarded for the first time during l978-l979 school year.

People Tree Cup 2007 Standings
Final standing after the 2006-2007 seasons.

01. River Hill (200.5 points)
02. Atholton (199.5)
03. Mt. Hebron (184.5)
04. Glenelg (182)
05. Centennial (177.5)
06. Howard (144.5)
07. Wilde Lake (140)
08. Reservoir (134.5)
09. Hammond (132.5)
10. Oakland Mills (105)
11. Long Reach (101)
12. Marriotts Ridge (92.5)

People Tree Cup Winners by Year

2007 - River Hill
2006 - River Hill
2005 - Mt. Hebron
2004 - Glenelg
2003 - River Hill
2002 - Mt. Hebron
2001 - River Hill
2000 - River Hill

1999 - River Hill
1997 - Centennial
1996 - Centennial
1995 - Centennial
1994 - Centennial
1993 - Centennial
1992 - Centennial
1991 - Oakland Mills
1990 - Oakland Mills

1989 - Oakland Mills
1988 - Centennial
1987 - Centennial
1986 - Oakland Mills
1985 - Glenelg
1984 - Mt. Hebron
1983 - Centennial
1982 - Centennial
1981 - Centennial
1980 - Centennial

1979 - Centennial

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Mike Makes Good

Looks like the folks in St. Mary's are pretty happy with their new schools superintendent, former Howard County assistant superintendent Michael Martirano. Test scores there are up and within a few points of this county's, and St. Mary's is set to open a science and engineering academy and Southern Maryland's first charter school. Here's a passage from a WaPo profile:

"So how did an ambitious 48-year-old educator end up in an area known for being far away and self-contained?

More than a few eyebrows were raised two years ago when Martirano announced he would leave his position as the director of school administration in Howard to become St. Mary's superintendent, but the Frostburg native said he is convinced his new district will soon be seen as a destination.

'We're a good school system on the precipice of being a great one,' Martirano says frequently.

From some, it might seem boastful, but supporters -- and there are legions of them -- say the first superintendent to come from outside St. Mary's in many years has the right combination of big-city experience and small-town charm to get the job done.

Parents love his easy interaction with their children and his commitment to improving test scores. Teachers compliment his nurturing attention that they say never feels stifling. Board of Education members say his lofty goals are infectious. Former superintendent Patricia M. Richardson retired a popular figure, but she never generated anywhere near Martirano's buzz."

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Poku's Plight

The headline says "Help for Homeowners" but so far Columbia resident Kwaku Atta Poku is out of luck in his fight to reverse the foreclosure on his home. Poku and his family were evicted after a snafu in their refinancing, even though he made every payment. The Sun's follow up on Poku's plight quotes state lawmakers, and the governor's spokesman, expressing interest in making changes to Maryland's foreclosure process, which is apparently the fastest in the nation.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Oral History

The folks at the Columbia Archives have latched onto an interesting idea for Columbia's 40th -- they are inviting people to come by and record their memories of the town. These recordings will be transferred to CDs and made available to the public at the archives and the public library (we are thinking about turning the recordings into Internet podcasts once they are available, assuming that's OK with everyone). The library also plans to collect oral remembrances from older Howard residents.

The Columbia Flier said it liked the "This is Your Life" project so much "we've decided to steal it." The weekly is asking people to send in 100-word or less essays on their Columbia experiences.

The archives is taking oral histories June 9 and 10. Call 410-715-3103.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Lucky and Not

Talk about a reversal of fortunes.

Several of the local papers told the story of a Columbia woman who won the county's housing lottery this week. She now has the right to buy a discounted home on the Oakland Mills street where she was reared, where her parents still live, where one brother returned recently and another owns investment property. Talk about a cosmic coincidence.

Meanwhile, the Sun has a piece on a poor guy who lost his west Columbia home to foreclosure through apparently no fault of his own. Despite making regular and timely monthly mortgage payments, there was a screw up when he refinanced and there is no legal record that he ever paid off the original loan. Oh, there is a photocopy of the front of a check, showing one had been written to pay off the original loan but not the back showing it had been cashed, which the court requires. The title company involved is now defunct, and according to the story, the owner has pleaded guilty to fraud charges in an unrelated matter. And the mortgage company has lost the original Deed of Trust.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007


Speaking of birthdays, sounds like the Columbia Festival of the Arts will be having a fireworks display on Friday, June 8 and Saturday, June 9, as part of LakeFest events at Lake Kittamaqundi.

Pioneer Power

There will be no pooh-poohing Columbia's 40th b-day in these quarters. We're totally in the tank for a party. For starters, we wouldn't be here unless those hardy few made a town out of the place. Literally. We remember a particularly anguished discussion between the parents about the risks of moving way out to this farm country between Baltimore and Washington. In those days, there was no network of superhighways; you got here from Washington on a two-lane Route 29. There was just one grocery story and a small village square. The schools were newfangled and didn't hew to the traditional. Columbia in the early days was a place where a college got its start in an inflatable bubble and the town center was so sleepy that they launched hot air balloons from where the library is now. We could go on.

The point is the folks who came here in the early days took a chance; many left predictable, comfortable lives, and tried something new. We think that's kind of inspiring.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Grocery Store Competition Heats Up

Ok, I like to eat as much as the next guy. In fact, it's long been my fantasy to be the fattest man on the planet, but only for one year. But how many grocery stores can one town sustain? The Sun reports today that a Wegman's has submitted plans to open a big store in Owen Brown off Snowden River Parkway and McGaw Road.

I dutifully shop at the Food Lion in Oakland Mills because that's my neighborhood grocery. But when it's time to "beverage up" for the kids' ballgames I head over to BJ's. The best deals on the dog treats my Sophie likes is at Target (where I might pick up some fancy water). Or Wal-Mart. For my healthy stuff I like Mom's, or My Organic Market over in Jessup. It's David's Natural Market and Produce Galore when I'm on the "other" side of the road.

The competition, though, is bound to take its toll. I find I don't go to the Owen Brown Giant much anymore, which is probably why that chain is struggling a bit these days. My wife has joined Costco, which means we will soon be choosing between it and BJ's. And we're curious about the arrival of Trader Joe's.

How about you? If life was fair, who should the winners and losers be?

Monday, June 4, 2007

Tech in The Elementary Schools

From WBAL comes a report on plans by the school system to hire technology teachers for elementary schools. It's impossible from this story to tell exactly what these teachers will do: Teach Word and Excel? Help classroom teachers integrate technology into their lessons?

Here's how the school system's budget described their role, saying the money...

"Adds 53 technology support teachers in elementary
schools to provide job-embedded professional
development for teachers on the integration of
technology into instruction. Addition of technology
support teachers—along with completion of
elementary media assistant staffing—will also
provide additional planning time for elementary
school teachers."

Sunday, June 3, 2007

40 Seconds of Fame For a Meeting Room

Here's a curious article: the Sun profiles the Spear Center, a meeting room in the General Growth Properties building (or is it the old Rouse building?). The piece recounts many happy memories from the days when it was one of the chief gathering places in town, a fact Columbia Talk can attest to having played bartender to a function or two :)

Apparently Rouse shut down the room to community groups in 1998 and General Properties is beginning to open the place up to select nonprofit types again.

It's also a General Properties vice president, Barbara Nicklas, who is leading the event committee for Columbia's 40th birthday celebration

Are we seeing the stirrings of General Properties getting the old band back together?

Community Chroniclers

WaPo's Sunday Source profiles some local bloggers around the region who focus on neighborhood news---"an ever evolving mix of journaling and journalism." None of the subjects comes from our neck of the woods, but one touts Tales of Two Cities as a blog he reads regularly.

The bloggers in the piece offer some advice---or is it challenges?--for the rest of us: For instance, Rick Wilson of Laurel Connections says "There's no way to amass enough readership to make it pay, so people have to do it as part of their daily life. My rule is it can't cost anything but my time."

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Something New

The Columbia Talk blogging empire grows a suburb. Columbia Talk is starting "Behind Columbia Talk." Think of it as a look behind the scenes, or under the hood, or any other cliche you can image, of what this enterprise aspires to become. We're trying to be as transparent as possible to what we're up to. And we could use your help. We created this new Web site because it deals with stuff that isn't really about the news of the day. It's more about building an audience and whatever else we feel like talking about. You'll find the new Web site at

Shop If You Must

Columbia Talk plans to spend most of the day near a baseball diamond but the national pastime has nothing on America's true weekend passion---shopping! And we have new stores to go to--the Gateway Overlook shopping center opens today near Route 175 and I-95. Here's what's there according to the Sun:

"Though sections of the new Gateway Overlook shopping center still are dusty construction zones, several stores, including a Best Buy, Office Depot and Five Below, are scheduled to open today. An ULTA store is to open in mid-June.

"By the end of the year, the sprawling commercial development, on 123 acres at Routes 175 and 108, is expected to have a Trader Joe's, a Loehman's, a Lowe's, a Costco, two banks and several free-standing national chain restaurants, including Houlihan's, Mimi's Cafe and On the Border Mexican Grill.

"Robert Byrne, vice president of General Growth Properties, which is developing the site, said the finished shopping center will also have a 57,000- square-foot building with smaller tenants, including restaurants and a retail store called Golf Galaxy."

Friday, June 1, 2007

Bye Bye Mr. B

Today's WaPo has a piece on the mysterious disappearance of honeybees---they have vanished from my cul-de-sac, what about yours? We don't have much to add to the theories but we do have thoughts on another notable departure, the retirement of 42-year media center veteran "Mr. B" Tom Brzezinski.

Ok, pardon the lame segue, but Columbia Talk has lots of fond memories of Mr. B. He was one of the folks who left an impression in the early days of this new town, who brought people together with his after-school screenings of "Flash Gordon" and "The Love Bug" and his lakefront movie nights---a tradition that continues today. The Flier has a nice story on his career. Our favorite memory is an afternoon at Bryant Woods Elementary when he read aloud from "A Wrinkle in Time" and we were absolutely transfixed.

Thanks Tom.

P.S. The summer Friday movie series at Lake Kittamaqundi starts June 22 with "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." (right after Dancin' Under the People Tree) Among the films to come: "North by Northwest," "The Devil Wears Prada," "Plan 9 From Outer Space," and "The Goonies." The films typically start around 8:30p, or when its dark enough.

Oh, and Mr. B is still the host.