Monday, October 26, 2009

Trucks, Shops and Pumpkins

This morning Governor O'Malley is visiting Laurel (arriving around 9 I've been told) but he's already missed the excitement -- though the street cleaners sent out around 4 a.m. this morning didn't win him votes in this household. During our normal 6:45 am walk -- our group decided to walk down Main, go past the MARC station and around. We were unexpectedly entertained when a very large air conditioning hauling truck most unwisely tried to go under the railroad bridge. The huge amount of damage (including spewing what looked like Freon into the air) to the industrial sized ac units on his truck certainly didn't make his day -- or the commuters behind him. MARC station workers, commuters, and local business folk were amused, but I doubt the driver was. He has some explaining to do to someone.

Also: last Friday we finally went to the Grand Market on 197. WOW. If you haven't visited and seen their extraordinary selection of produce and international foods you've missed a great experience. What the heck do you do with a Banana flower anyway?

I was at the Laurel Museum Sunday for their World of Pumpkins Fun Fall Day. More than 28 kids and happy parents had a great time with pumpkin decorating, pumpkin foods, pumpkin mosaics and more. Executive Director Lindsey Baker told a cute ghost story to enraptured little ones (OK, a couple of older boys wanted it scarier, but hey, we had three year olds there). PS: Thanks Home Depot, Frances' friends and Meadows Farms for the pumpkins.

Thats all for now.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Laurel's Sept. 8 Referendum

The September 8 referendum is starting to generate a lot of buzz. And if the recent flier at my door and Laurel Leader letter to the editor are any indication, serious consideration of the issues we'll be voting on are in danger of being swamped by political vitriol, and unrelated issues. So here's my take on the recommendations. I'll be out of town Sept. 8 and have already cast my ballot -- but hopefully others will start thinking about these, and what they mean for the city's future. Let's see some real dialogue -- here, Facebook, Twitter, newspapers, list-serves, public meetings etc. whatever media you use to communciate. Thanks to Jim McCeney, whose pulled together some good data on what other jurisdictions are doing. In order of those I have strongest feelings on:

Expanding the Council Terms to 4 Years

Reasons to vote against:
. This issue is the big one for me. I want to be able to show my approval, or disapproval, for actions the City Council takes within a reasonable period of time -- not four years after the fact. Two years works for the US House of Representatives. It's fine for the Laurel City Council. Time Commitment. 4 years is a long commitment. I would disagree with the Commission's recommendation that a longer term will encourage more participants. I think just the opposite is true. It will discourage what is already a small pool of people willing to serve. Former Council member Rick Wilson has told me that if he had had to commit to four years he wouldn't have agreed to serve. If our goal is to get more participation, making it a more onerous commitment makes no sense.

Reasons to vote for: The only reasons I've heard for this are the expense to run for office and that it takes people time to learn the job. Neither of these holds water for me. In today's electronic world, getting the word out is less expensive than ever. And if don't think you can grasp the basic job within one year, perhaps you shouldn't run. Council members don't' have term limits. Run for a second term -- and use your experience and record as a reason for reelection.

Voting for Ward Specific Council Seats

Reasons to vote for: Greater accountability in each ward might indeed increase voters' interest in how their representative votes. Many other jurisdictions have this provision. It's tempting to vote for it.

Reasons to vote against: Laurel is a small town -- and while it's tempting to add some partisanship to the voting process to increase turnout, I'd hate to see issues become an us v. them, i.e. Old Town v. New Parts of Laurel. Having representatives live in their wards and one at-large representative with people voting for all seems a balanced solution. Those living in their ward should have a sense of what their constituents there need/want, but all-community voting makes it easier for them to vote what's best for all of Laurel rather than just their part of the community. For that reason I voted against this recommendation.

Changing the Date to November and Expanding the term of the current Council for 11 Months.
Changing the date is not an issue for me. Many (8 of 12) jurisdictions Jim Mc. surveyed vote in November, and it's the month we think of for elections. A note to Laurel: Pick a date and stick to it. Since I've lived here it's been in March and September. Moving dates only confuses voters.

Expanding terms
Reasons to vote for. Moving the election to November in odd years means an election in September 2010 then another in November 2011. That's two elections and the costs thereof. Extending terms would save money.

Reasons to vote against
Accountability and terms in office are closely connected for me. See my discussion above. The cost of an election should not be the determining factor on whether we hold our officials accountable for their service, or, for that matter, hold an election in more than one polling place. It should be noted that the Commission recommended multiple polling places with its recommendation for more wards. More polling places was the logical way to expand voter turnout back in the 1990s when the voter commission I served on recommended a second polling place. It's still a good idea today. No polling place in the newer parts of Laurel, or even alternating the polling places disrespects those who don't live in Old Town Laurel.

Whether or not you agree with their actions, City Council people and the Mayor work really hard on our behalf, and that effort is to be admired. Is salary a determining factor in whether a persons runs for office -- probably not, and it shouldn't be. They do deserve compensation -- and if you figured out their hourly wage v. hours worked I'm sure it would be, truly, a pittance.

However. This issue has become the big bugaboo for this referendum. And it shouldn't have been. The Commission wasn't asked to address this; and the City Council should have shown a little common sense and said "Thanks but no thanks" and not even put it on the referendum. Putting it to the referendum showed a real lack of political sensitivity, and savvy, since they basically punted their responsibilities--and now are being criticized for the action. Yes. Council members work very hard. However. There is a recession,, people are hurting and worrying about their jobs. State and county budgets are being drastically cut and workers are being furloughed. It simply wasn't the time to consider a raise. What were you thinking?

So. Go. Be sure to Vote September 8. If you don't vote, you can't complain about the results!
Note: the City of Laurel has its materials available at its website:

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Two-Legged Wonder

Well, the big news this week is that I'm now off crutches. To say it's a good thing would be a gross understatement. Still have to be careful going up and down stairs, but at least I can navigate them two-legged. Can carry food, and laundry, vacuum, hang up clothes, and, to the joy of husband Ken, again help with kitty litter clean up.

Freedom didn't come soon enough for the Rotary Boat Float, but did come just in time for one of my other favorite client events: ACS' Audrey Robbins Humanitarian Awards. I was able to move a bit to take the needed photos -- though all were MOST solicitous of my hobbling. Still can't drive -- which does put a crimp in things. .

We were also able to go to WV this weekend b/c I can at least climb the two story stairs. All the rain meant the Cacapon was too high and muddy to tube, to Ken's disappointment. We drove to the top of ourhill and I was able to walk in on the path about 200 feet to see the prickly pear in bloom -- one of my personal favorite WV things.

Rain suggested a trip to Cumberland and we revisted one of the area's great little gems: The Brooke Whiting House of Art ( They have an amazing collection, and currently have portrait miniatures and waxes on exhibit, which is what drew me in. Director Cassandra Pritts is lovely and interesting to talk with, and has done a great job there. If you're ever passing near or through Cumberland I recommend a stop.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Life in the Slower Lane

When we last left our heroine, she had just broken her ankle after what was an otherwise idyllic weekend. We're now two weeks out for what will probably be a 6-8 week healing (plus other rehab), if all goes well. Keep your fingers crossed.

First, comments below reflective of fact that in the scheme of life injuries I understand this is relatively minor. Nonetheless -- being able to project forward as it were. Some reflections:

Stairs are not my friend. Our 2 story house means I'm getting up and down via my butt. Friends Jim F. and Joan may have mastered stairs (but withno choice w/hip replacements!). I have not. My appreciation of the virtue of 1 story living as we get older is increasing by leaps and bounds.

Constant vigilance whenever moving around with crutches is key. Houses, shops, restaurants, rest-stop centers (a nightmare) suddenly all pose possible dangers. That lady who tried to open a door almost knocked me over (and was mortified); the person who took forever in the handicap bathroom I wanted to use b/c of grab bars...hmmmm (I'm hoping she actually had a disability, otherwise the 5+ minutes...).

Places w/good Handicap access are deeply appreciated. But I must tell you, those ramps go long distances when you're on crutches, and the rocky condition of many I've encounted make me wonder if anybody notices that a person in a wheelchair or crutches could easily tumble because their repair has been neglected.

Everything just takes longer. A five minute shower is 20 +; dressing, a slow decision and closet selections involving schelping stuff by crutch. Cooking etc -- requires a slow, methodical movement of items from refrigerator, to counter, to cooking area -- and the microvave conveniently (?) positioned over the stove demands careful consideration of balance and potholders. Our kitchen is compact, and with a very sturdy stool positioned in the middle so I can sit, I can prepare, and also fill and empty the diswasher.

Poor husband Ken has had to assume 99% of cat duty -- which is becoming increasingly burdensome. Agnes is not doing too well. Ken's also been a constantly cheerful (OK, internally maybe not EVERY second) and helpful guy -- which is pretty great, considering his life, too has been turned a bit upside down by all this.

I've spend many years in PR working with people with various disabilities -- and this experience, minor though it is -- gives me a truer appreciation of what people who don't quite fit in the "mobile norm" experience every day. It's challenging -- and fatiguing.

Our back door is my new friend -- thank goodness Charlie replaced the Dutch door and after 15 years installed a step. Now we realize we actually need to do something to the driveway.

Friends are good. Have had to ask many people for rides since I can't drive. Thank you all.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Getting the Boot

This should be a blog entry about an idyllic weekend in West Virginia. Our long weekend included a nest of Phoebes (a kind of flycatcher) on our cabin's front porch with lots of little baby birds and a mother and father who anxiously watched the intruders (us) so much that we moved our chairs to another part of the porch.

It also included a very enjoyable ride on the Allegheny Highland Trail, with it's .8 incline on the return (we were pooped by the last 2 miles of the 25 mile ride, it's better when downhill is on the way back.). There was also a nice lunch at the renovated Bedford Springs Resort (worth a visit -- amazing place, especially if you like massively good historic renovations). The Springs has several hiking paths and we took a 2 mile up and back that was lovely. As was 95% of the next day's walk at the Nature Conservancy/Potomac Audubon's new site near Great Cacapon.

Unfortunately, the downside of that walk was my downfall -- literally and figuratively. Foot stumbled on a rut (and on a branch that made an awful CRACK!) and I went tumbling onto the gravel -- with a foot going other way. Getting up it was clear all wasn't well. So we hobbled back down to the car (about 1/4 mile) and back to the cabin, where, after climbing the two-story steps, my undone sock revealed, well, it wasn't pretty and needed attention. So. Good soldier, and very helpful spouse Ken had to pack up all (we hadn't planned to return til Tuesday morning) including the cat and back we went through traffic -- dropping me off at HC General about 6:45-7:00. 3+ hours later I was home with a splint, diagnosis of a broken ankle bone and orders to see an orthopedist in a day or so. "You're going to become good friends with an orthopedist" were their exact words. So I did. Saw a Dr. at MD Orthopedics up the street (nice place , good staff/Drs, but a 4 hour wait for treatment a bit long guys) -- crutches, etc for a while. So I've traded hiking boots for a different boot. Sigh. And become dependent on the kindness of spouses, friends etc for all transportation etc. And did I mention we live in a two story house?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Just Ducky

Just a quick one. The skies parted, sort of, and we were actually able to walk outside this morning (and lucked out yesterday, too). Today we walked in the morning around Laurel Lake. Aside from the very animated and dedicated group of ladies walking in the opposite direction (they lap the lake 5-6 times they said, impressive!) we had additional company.

Laurel Lakes ducks now have ducklings. One group of 4-5 little ones was hugging the bank. Another very little one was with Mom and Dad? One wonders whether the predators--turtles, foxes etc who make growing to full duckhood a tricky business already got some of the second Mom's brood. We'll see how many are there next week. Sorry, no photos this time.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Elementary Police Work

I was at the Laurel Museum yesterday to help with a tour of 5-year olds from Laurel Elementary who were visiting the current exhibit on the 1950s. The kids were great. The entire LES is visiting the Museum, and this is a terrific partnership between our schools and the LHS. One of the reasons it was so appealing for the LES was because the kids could walk to the Museum -- saving $$ on buses. A sad commentary on tight finances -- but a good opportunity to showcase a local resource -- and I think they'll be back..

The youngsters' arrival and departure also sent home a message about Laurel as a small town. The Laurel Police Department sent an escort for the little ones as they walked. And in the 1:00 group, PFC Amirah All-Dinar even came in between comings and goings. She saw the Museum for the first time -- and sat with the kids as they worked with Silly Putty. What a great way to show kids that Police officers can be friendly.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Entrepreneurs, Trains, Tampico and Libraries

Saturday morning, sitting on our front porch (a front porch is one of the benefits of an old Old Town House) drinking coffee I noticed a most enterprising man. I assume he was hired to landscape or do yard clean up in a neighbor's house. What was surprising was not his yard work -- but how he got to being able to do the yard work. This man, for whatever reason, did not have a car or truck at his disposal. Instead, we saw him make multiple trips on his bicycle. On one he was carrying an orange item (Perhaps an electric hedge clipper). On another he had an extension cord around his arm as he peddled down the street. His third trip was the best. Leaving the work house, he returned -- and bicycled back down the street -- power mower in tow. Now that's a work ethic.

Rail Travel
The day before (Friday) I took the 4:03 train to meet up with husband in Alexandria. Sigh. Train was right on time -- and made only 2 stops: Muirkirk/Greenbelt then on to Union Station -- we were there by 4:25. 22 Minutes. Think about that next time you're stuck in traffic. Or wish you could make a quick trip on weekends downtown for a show. I was at King Street Metro by 5:00 -- less than an hour from leaving Laurel, without the driving. A reminder of how our transportation COULD be.

Question; The Marc conductor clearly pointed out that Greenbelt was the last stop before Union Station. Here's a modest suggestion: Just run 1-2 cars regularly between Baltimore & Greenbelt -- folks can transfer at the latter for Metro. It's time to explain to CSX that they're obligated to meet our public needs. If we can virtually nationalize banks and car companies, surely we can get some better rail service.

Tampico and the PTS

This Thursday the PTA is holding a fundraiser at Tampico. Kudos to Eileen Collins and the PTS committee who are making their KaBOOM playground dream come true with persistence and dedication. Kudos also to Eduardo at Tampico -- for his more than generous offer of support - 50% of proceeds. This won't be a stretch for Ken & me since Tampico is easily our favorite local Mexican restaurant. The only question for me: Carnitas or Tinga Taco.

Went to the third LHS movie on Saturday: Attack of the Bodysnatchers. Pretty silly -- bit it did move along and the group enjoyed the Popcorn etc. (thanks Scott). Kudos to Lindsey for arranging the series. Her May 23 collaboration with the Laurel Mill Playhouse should also be fun -- Museum, Eats at Old Town Tavern and Theater: Pillow Talk.

And about the library

Haven't heard much more, but I noted in the last Leader the serious concerns of many Emancipation Park area residents over anything that will affect that historic area. As I've noted earlier, a new Library on the site of the Police Department's soon to be vacated site offers the potential of Main Street revitalization, a beautiful location that will bring people to underused but lovely Riverfront Park, and as an extra bonus, the opportunity to give the Grove area a new community center facility in the ultimately-vacated library building. Talk about a win-win

Monday, April 20, 2009

A 90% Note about the Historic District Commission

While at last weeks Senior Center groundbreaking -- a fine event in itself -- terrific to see former resident and Council member Faith Calhoun-- I had an interesting--and dismaying conversation with a gentleman about the idea of placing the library on Main Street. (which he liked)

As we discussed Main Street development he ended with a comment about how "developers/landlords are afraid to do projects because of the HDC." (or words to that effect.) His comments reflect the all to common, ongoing misinformation -- and desire to scapegoat -- the HDC as a institution that makes it difficult for people to do repairs or keep their property up.

The facts tell a different story.

My friend Jim about a year ago persuaded the HDC (of which he is a member) to keep track of and submit their records of decisions to the Mayor and Council. We have results for FY 2009. The truth is that last year the HDC did not deny ONE application.They had a total of 32 applications. 29 were approved without changes (including staff approvals, given for in-kind work, i.e. if I repair a white fence white the staff can approve the work). TWO were approved with agreed changes. One was continued. So-- fewer than 10% of the applications were even questioned. Ninety percent. NINETY PERCENT were approved as the applicant requested. The previous year's figures were similar: 83% as requested. Seven additional approved with changes. Seven continuedm none rejected.

Frankly, and Commission Chair Laurie Blitz, Mike, Jim and the other commission members may disagree -- I would suggest these figures might actually be a bit to low. I personally would like to see a little more rigor in the sign department -- with the City taking amore active enforcement role. Business owners should consider that signage reflects on the whole street and guidelines to regulate them and keep the place from becoming a trashy mishmash benefit all.

The Commission members in truth more than bend over backwards to work with home and business owners. My observation is that the applicants with the most egregious requests are the ones that grouse the loudest and blame the commission when their truly awful project is questioned.

Next time you feel like complaining about the HDC, or feel reluctant to bring your project before them, remember that based on recent figures you have a 90% chance of getting exactly what you want. (PS read the guidelines first, please, though..)

Oh, and PS for those who insist on confusing the two: The Laurel Historic District Commission is a Laurel City Agency. The Laurel Historical Society has NO affiliation with the HDC and is a private 501c3 Non-profit. The LHS has no say in applications for home and business repairs.

And that's my HDC vent for today.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Why We Should Move the New Library to Main Street

Before we commit to a new library on 7th Street maybe we should consider another location that can have major benefit for many elements of the Laurel area community: The property the police department will soon vacate at Avondale Street/Municipal Square. This site, owned by the City of Laurel, offers many advantages the current site/expansion/rebuild does not.

Building a new library on this site will achieve our first goal: a new, modern library to replace a sadly outdated and over-crowded facility. But it can help achieve a second important goal: revitalizing the economy of a major economic center: Laurel's Main Street.

Who will come to the new library? If current patronage is any indication: people. Lots of people. People who read, listen to music, view movies, use computers. Families and children. People interested in culture. People who shop, walk, dine and want to be entertained.

We talk a lot about the importance of making our communities green; of revitalizing areas, and about the importance of getting people out of their cars. The current library location is for all intents, a pedestrian and shopping dead zone. Rt. 198 is a major thoroughfare, very pedestrian unfriendly, and 7th/216 is an increasingly busy road. (ever try to cross during rush hour?) The Library's current location is pretty much a stop and go someplace else location. That could change.

Think of a Library on the police department site. Patrons could use a great new facility, easily accessible from Main Street, Rt 1, 198, 216 -- but one that, once they parked, was in a walkable area. It's an area filled with historic, interesting structres (take the LHS Walking Tour to see what I'm talking about.)

More importantly, people could go to the library -- and then WALK to a shop. Visit the Meat Market, go up to Finders Keepers for Antiques. Stop for lunch at the new place that will open because there are suddenly lots of customers nearby. Attend a community theater. I talked informally with Bob Mignon, head of the Laurel Board of Trade, and he thought it was a great idea. People at the meeting last week, including city officials, were I think, receptive, especially considering this was the first time most of them had considered it.

Worried about parking needs? Approaching parking for the area creatively could result in a parking structure that not only served library patrons, but also provided much needed parking for Main Street. Deck (multi-level) parking for a library may be an extravagance; decked parking that serves a library, Main Street merchants, a possible development that faces Rt 1 if Fred Frederick decided to develop his site differently, and even the MARC station overflow is economic good sense.

From the new library, which would abut the Patuxent River, and which could be reconfigured to become a Park gateway, people would finally have a reason to walk along Riverfront Park, a wonderful community resource that all agree is grossly under-utilized.

One of the major problems discussed on the meeting the other night was potential disruption caused by erection of a new library. Building on a site away from the current library allows that institution to continue operations without any disruption. More importantly, it preserves an historic park, and designated official Open Space (a major obstacle by all accounts). Emancipation Park, and the Grove have important historical connotations, not only for our city's African American Community but also as far back as the city's mill era. This approach preserves that history.

Extra bonus: once the new building was completed the old library building would be perfect for an additional community center for that part of town.

When the City of Laurel moved City Hall from Main Street it removed a major reason for people to come "downtown." Relocating the police department will remove another central service. Placing the new library in their place could go a long way to reversing this trend.

Even as Laurel expands geographically, it needs to keep its heart. That heart is its Main Street. Can it make a difference? Visit Frederick and see how important a role their library in the Older Part of town is.

We need a new library, and one inside the city limits is certainly the # 1 priority. - but wouldn't a library that not only grows minds but grows COMMUNITIES be an even better goal? Let's come together and find a way to bring the new library to Old Town Laurel

Friday, March 27, 2009

At the Track

My friend Jim and I walk most mornings (3 miles/1 hour). We walk early so get a view of the world that's a little different than what you see once the rest of the world is up and about. Our rainy venues are Arundel Mills Mall and Columbia Mall -- sorry Laurel, much too short and VERY depressing. I'm always disconcerted when I visit those locales when there are actually people there.
But I digress.

Friday is "Track Day." We walk from our Old Town location to the Laurel Race Track where in the early morning horses exercise -- no crowds, no betting, just exercise people taking their mounts out. We've been going for years and the riders recognize us -- and we know enough not to rush up the steps to the track when horses are coming -- they get a little skittish.

This time of day can sometimes yield interesting photos like those here. One, at the finish line was taken the day Magna declared bankruptcy, threatening the survival of the 99 year old track. I thought it pretty ironic. The other was from this morning, when fogged encased the track.

What Lies Beneath

One of the benefits of owning an old house in Old Town Laurel is what you can find from the past. Our house is about 106 years old, and sits on a lot previously part of a larger lot and house. We have a former out-house (honey pot v. latrine) that now is used as a garden shed/home for stray animals/bees' nest.

When the shed floor finally collapsed beyond safety and ability to store our lawn mower, I persuaded husband Ken that all it needed was a couple of sheets of plywood, cut in half. Piece of Cake. Huh!

The collapse was due to rotten joists, so they had to be replaced, and the old cut out etc. Nothin is easy when old is involved. Delightful neighbor Kathryn found this fascinating, so joined in. I designated myself the digger to clear out the accumulation of dirt etc below the old floor so the new boards wouldn't touch wet. In addition to some really good dirt (from leaves. not....other stuff) our former outhouse dig revealed artifacts from the past. A bottle, a jawbone (possum I think) and large lumps of coal. Catherine found the latter particularly fascinating.

The dirt hump in the middle yielded the biggest surprise, however. A brick pathway -- two bricks wide, right under the floor. We decided that perhaps the shed/outhouse was once closer to the previous house, and this path led from it to the now-disappeared alley behind.

We've laid a new floor, but left the bricks. They'll lie beneath for another owner and another mystery.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

New York and Washington: A Tale of Two Subways

We were in NYC this weekend for a get-away weekend. Our travels from our Upper Westside Hotel (Hotel Beacon -- strongly recommend) to Brooklyn and in between reminded me how terrific -- and getting better -- the NY subway system is. People may grouse about the crowds, but at $2 a trip and frequent trains running all day it's a real bargain. And someone has been sprucing up the stations, so a trip downtown becomes a feast of preserved classical subway style and whimsical new art. I compare this experience to Washington's Metro -- cold in style, and charging by the mile. Of course, at least DC has a Metro. We in the outer suburbs of Laurel can only mourn the shadow of what was once an hourly train service between Baltimore and Washington. On Inauguration day my "special" train was at Union Station in 25 minutes -- a good 20 minutes shorter than a car would have taken. NJ and Pennsylvania also benefit from frequent train service-but DC's suburbs haven't figured out that lots of service that people could actually use conveniently would bring ridership -- and use existing rail lines (surely this might be the time for CSX to yield a little). Anyway: that's my thought for today.
And PS: Special thanks to husband who arranged for flowers to be delivered to our hotel room. You romantic guy!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Clearing Those Sidewalks

I walk 3 miles around my community 5 mornings a week, and in some ways I judge my neighbors this time of year by how well they clear their sidewalks. Laggards neither sweep, shovel nor sand. Good people are out there early and often; getting it all up off the ground. As an early shoveler, I am a true believer in the early bird gets nice dry sidewalks. And the ability to walk without boots (which I hate). Laggards are a danger to their community, especially since in our town at least city officials generally have better things to do than give citations to folks who don't meet the 48 hour rule. That's my rant for the day. And with more snow coming next week -- I expect to see you people out their shovels at the ready!