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Blog Party

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Yep, another party for those of us who blog (and read blogs) in Howard County. This one, at Alexandra’s Turf Valley promises to be different.
The description.

Enjoy interesting conversation, tasty food and good music at a party for HoCo bloggers and their readers. Alexandra’s Restaurant, the party’s co-host, is offering complimentary hors d’oeuvres and a complimentary drink ticket for our party goers, happy hour specials and libations demonstrations from Bar Manager Kevin Tsui. Good music (Don Bellew on acoustic guitar) will be playing from 6 pm and into the evening. Come for a short stop or plan to stay longer. (Good news for wine — and bargain — lovers: Wednesday is also Alexandra’s half-price wine bottles night.)

For me, Alexandra’s is one of our local venues, with outdoor dining that overlooks a golf course, and not a parking lot. Not that we can dine outdoors in January. But Turf Valley is somewhere those of us out here in West Howard County can pop over to, if we want a good dinner. With music and half price wine on Wednesdays.

There are still a few spots left over at Eventbrite to sign up. Get there from hocoblogs.

Staying for dinner, maybe? These are restaurant weeks in the #hocomd.


I am thinking about the pork belly, sea scallops and coconut gelato myself.


Information Saturation

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I think I reached the point of brain overload today. Almost seven hours of nonstop information to help me better manage and socially integrate my blog. Along with strategies for tweets, facebook shares, and an introduction to other social media available, if you have the time to use it. Things I never heard of, like VINE. Things I have used like Foursquare.

David Hobby of Strobist was one amazing workshop leader, providing tips and strategies, whether you were a passion blogger, a small business, or what he called “suits” aka people who worked for companies, governments, or in other words, not for themselves. We are really fortunate here to have him providing his expertise, not just at the workshop, but everywhere else he pops up, like at the Conservancy, where I first met him. He really is amazing in his skill, but also in his ability to teach us what he knows.


Today he gave us so much to think about, in an easy to understand manner. Still, it was a huge amount of data to absorb. I know I came away with dozens of ideas. Can’t wait to get our package of what he presented.

I am still processing, in my feeble brain, everything available from Google Analytics, that can help me identify who reads my blog, and what they read the most. WordPress gives me a fraction of that information, including a year end summary of top posts, and other statistics. They piqued my interest in focusing my blog towards the areas I see people reading the most.

David’s examples, using one months worth of that Google Analytics data for his blog, were eye opening. Search engine optimization, for example. How can we pull visitors to our own sites?

What I realized today too, and am thankful for, is the tremendous benefit we derive by having hocoblogs as an asset for the bloggers (and readers of blogs) in Howard County.

I met people from all over the country at this workshop. I had one conversation in particular, where a business owner was impressed at the content on hocoblogs. All grouped in one site. Always up to date. A place where we have created a synergy, and where we learn from and share with one another.

Thanks to Jessie for getting David to offer this workshop. Thanks also to the local bloggers who continue to work together. To promote each other. And, to Jessie and Robin for managing hocoblogs. I don’t think we all remember to tell them how much they mean to our community of writers, and readers.

Oh, today we also saw the announcement of our next regular “get together”. What we have called our “blogtail” parties. Which we will be doing again two weeks from this Wednesday (on the 6th of November). At the Second Chance, again (we do need to find somewhere with enough space for us, on the western side of the county).

Now off to wonder what I would do if my monthly statistics told me I had 1,922,000+ visits to my blog! David, you truly are one amazing blogger.


Some FAQs

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Questions I get asked often about my blogging.

The big three –
1. What do you do with all that food?
2. Have you always cooked like this?
3. How do you find topics to write about every day?

What do we do with all the food? The simple answer, of course, is cook it and eat it. I have to admit it looks like huge amounts of food come in here every week, but really it’s just the fact that most of our food now consists of raw ingredients, which we process.

I did lots of processing today. It was too hot to go anywhere, so I got up early and processed food before it got warm in the kitchen.

Potato salad. Cucumber dip. Roasted beets. Zucchini grated and frozen for bread. Carrots blanched to freeze.

When the CSA arrives Thursday, all that will be left from last week will be a few potatoes.

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The chard will be used tomorrow with the lone remaining tomato in a frittata. As for the rest, the corn went the first night at dinner. All the beans were cooked, chopped and added to some defrosted Trader Joe’s edamame, with a quinoa/brown rice mix, to make a three bean salad. It is being eaten most days for lunch.

Potato salad I made also today to use most of the potatoes left in the bin. All those pickling cukes were added to the dill pickle crock. One of the two slicing cucumbers was used in the gazpacho with the rest of the tomatoes, and the last one became the base for that dip (tzatziki) today. The carrots, I blanched and froze, while waiting for my paste tomatoes to ripen in the garden. They will be used in tomato sauce. Like this one I made last August.

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When you eat 15-20 meals a week at home, and don’t buy frozen dinners, it is amazing how quickly you go through the raw ingredients.

We do salads for lunches most days.

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Not going to work, and having the luxury of time to cook, I have radically changed what comes into this house, and how it is cooked. No, I did not always cook like this. When commuting, I did not make things from scratch. We did too many restaurant meals, lots of take out, and frozen dinners left and right. Lots of those Lean Cuisines for lunches, too.

Now, there are no store bought frozen dinners in our freezers. Everything has been processed by me, so I can control the amount of sodium, sugar and the fats used in our foods. Big change from what we did when working in DC.

Back then, I didn’t even use my crockpot much. When you are gone for twelve hours a day, things tended to turn to mush by the time we got home. Now, dinner goes in the crockpot around 9 am, to be ready by 5 or 6 pm.

The crockpot gives us meals large enough to eat twice, and sometimes to freeze the extra. Whole chickens in the pot. Large vats of soup, or chili. These were things I did not do while working. Cooking large casseroles and freezing parts of them is another change to how I cook.

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Comparing this to those Stouffer’s meals we used to eat, I can’t believe how different our food habits are. This pan of lasagna, which I made last January, fed us for at least four dinners, and a couple of lunches on Sundays.

That last question? Blogging daily. It takes some planning to have topics. Thankfully, CSA, the garden, the cooking, the markets, the farms, the birds, our road trips, volunteering, give me lots of inspiration. Sometimes I have to go to a list I keep of potential topics.

The discipline to come down to the computer and write each evening is something I set as a goal this year. Make it be a part of each day to record some tidbit, or talk about events happening in the community. A hobby that I enjoy and that is important enough to make a priority.

Well, enough sitting here at the computer. I have to clean up quite a few pans from all that cooking this morning. And, figure out what I want to take to the CSA pot luck picnic in Amish country this weekend. Depending on what is in our basket, I may be processing something large to take to share.


My First Political Fundraiser

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For thirty years working in acquisition for the Feds, I wasn’t really encouraged, or inclined, to get into the local political scene. Mainly because it was frowned upon, and because I spent so much time out of the area, i.e., in DC, that I didn’t pay much attention to it.

Now that I am retired and pay way too much attention to local politics 😉 I was interested in attending a fellow blogger’s kickoff party for his political campaign.

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Tom Coale. HoCoRising for those who follow the local blogs. Tom picked the Rumor Mill in Ellicott City to make his announcement. Thankfully Claire from ukdesperatehousewifeusa, another local blogger took some pics and posted them. I didn’t drag my camera out in the rain, and my better half had the smart phone with him.

Tom is running for state delegate in a newly redistricted 9B.

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I first met Tom when he hosted a get together after a fundraiser to pay security deposits for Living in Recovery homes. I also took quite a bit of stuff over to their house when they were putting together a truckload of items to deliver to New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy.

We see each other at HoCoBlogs events, and like most of us involved in writing about life in Howard County, exchange comments and emails regularly.

I think Tom is one of those dedicated, inspired, head and heart in the right place individuals who truly cares about his home state. He would be a very good choice to go to Annapolis.

Best of Luck, Tom, even though you aren’t running in my district.


A Lovely Day in the Neighborhood

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Springtime weather. Seventy five degrees. No humidity. Sunny. Blue skies.

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As we learned today at Dennis Lane’s Memorial service at Merriweather from his family, his favorite season.

Hundreds of friends, family, old college buddies, people from all over Howard County and beyond, came together. Our local area lost a huge promoter of living here. Someone whose motto was “I Live Here. I Work Here. I Love This Place.”

I saw so many old friends of ours. Friends who also knew Dennis. I ran into Claire and JK Lea on the way out. JK was an old neighbor, for I don’t know how many years he was a fixture in Columbia. Saw Tori Marriner. Mike and Nichole Hickey. Countless other friends and blogging compatriots who knew Dennis.

We shared the same barber (at least he and my husband did, Wayne only cut my hair when my regular stylist was on medical leave). For a while the same doctors. Knew many of the same people from the old days. Dennis came to Columbia seven years before me, and we both originally lived in Wilde Lake.

You found them in the collective community that came together to celebrate Dennis’ life.

People like Dennis have many gifts. He could write well, speak well, and related well to everyone. He loved what he did, who he met, and just was one of the county’s biggest cheerleaders.

There is a void here now. I feel for his family and closest friends. I knew him just a few years. He still made a huge impression.

Thank you to all his family and friends, who stood up and shared their memories. It was a lovely day in the neighborhood.


Wegmans, wordbones and howchow

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Say what? This title conveys my route to finding howchow and wordbones aka Dennis Lane. I am a foodie, and yes, a locavore, but still a foodie. Hunt Valley Wegmans was an amazing source of foods years ago, when we ran up and down I-83 to PA to visit my MIL.

Rumors that HoCo was getting a Wegmans sent me on a google search which led me to howchow. This post sent me to discover Tales of Two Cities, and all that lovely inside information Dennis managed to find.

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I used howchow to find restaurants and checked out a few posts about Wegmans by Dennis. A year or so later, I started blogging. I approached howchow to get linked into his web site, and he graciously helped me with links and references. I owe quite a bit to him in getting me local readers last year.

I then met Dennis at my first hocoblogs party, and we talked about many mutual friends. A week later, after my spinal fusion, I was housebound, so I read his entire blog. WOW, what I learned about living here would fill a book!

Tales of Two Cities gave me more info about HoCo than any newspapers did. For me, though, having Dennis add me to his sidebar, and help me grow my locavore/retiree/west county blog was just one of those unselfish things HoCo bloggers like he and howchow did.

This little blogging community is simply awesome. We really care about where we live and what we do. Missing Dennis’ blog will be difficult for many. Missing his close friendship is something I won’t experience as he was a new friend, but I read in their blogs about the closeness of his friendships with my fellow bloggers and I see their pain.

From my little corner of the blogosphere, I think HoCo has many talented writers who will stand up and blog more to share things all of us love about living here.

The local bloggers are wearing red this week to celebrate Dennis’ life. I have nowhere special to go but here is my “red”.

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Choosing Community … Revisited

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Last year after our last blog party, I wrote a post about Choosing Community, instead of just being civil. Community, a closer relationship than just nodding and being distant, but pleasant.

This month’s blog party reminded me of the post. Some of the blogging community have moved on. Sarah, to California, and Matt to Baltimore, for example. But, many interesting people have come to event after event. I get my morning news from hocoblogs. Checking out what is happening on Patch, or moving over to hocorising to get my community news. Tom is the ultimate poster child for choosing community. He is so dedicated to Howard County, in his actions and his words. There are others, too, but Tom really likes to research and post very detailed reports.

It is funny that I went looking at posts. I hit a milestone yesterday. 500 posts. In sixteen months. About a post a day. What was most popular? Besides the fact that every time I look at my sidebar that shows The YEMMies are coming is right up there, and the fact that now is baby chick season at Tractor Supply, and for whatever reason, people still keep opening the Brighton Dam posts, it seems my community postings get the most views. This year I suppose I need to take pictures of the baby chicks, and be sure to get those prices. And, do the weekly visit to Brighton to check how the azaleas are coming along.

I seem to be gravitating into posting as the lone voice in west county. Is there anyone else out here with a blog? Or, are we just surrounded by our farms and animals?

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I think that’s where I will continue to focus this blog. Life as a retiree smack in the middle of Tier III land, surrounded by Tier IV, and blogging about my amazing neighbors and friends out here. Seems I have lots of potential topics, what with markets and farms, and stormwater management, and comprehensive rezoning.

I like this little corner of #thehoco. Just hoping I get another 500 posts with continued inspiration from life out here. Can’t beat the scenery.

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Social Butterflies

In more ways than one.

Last night the 50+ bloggers and readers gathered at Union Jack’s in Columbia to reconnect. We haven’t had a get together since last spring, so it was great to see everyone. It is amazing that we have a local group, close to 300 blogs written by county residents, that gets together and networks. I like Tales of Two Cities blog about the event.

Our hosts last night were from The 53 and ukdesperatehousewife, Bill from the former, and Claire, from the latter.

My husband came with me, and really enjoyed the conversations. Lots of fun, even on a really rainy evening. It looks like we will be doing more of these in the future.

As for the second way to be a social butterfly, I am about to do my refresher training for the spring field trips at the Conservancy. One of the spring topics, for second graders, is Wings, Stings and Leggy Things. I love the butterfly part of this activity. The Conservancy has huge amounts of milkweed, which attracts monarchs. We will even rescue, nurture and tag emerging butterflies to track their journeys. It was a highlight of my first fall there. Tagging butterflies and releasing them. In the spring we talk about how they return here for the summers, and how we have created a welcoming habitat for them to thrive.

I like our training sessions. A one hour refresher course, a hike to rehearse what we do with the school children, and then, of course, the social part of it, we have a potluck on the last Thursday of training. I blogged yesterday about the training. Come out and be a social butterfly with those of us who love the outdoors, enjoy teaching the little ones all about the earth science around them, and who want to make a difference in our own small way.

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My third reference to social butterfly today, that of home gardener, getting ready for the 2013 season. We pruned the butterfly bushes. I am learning how to find and rescue monarchs from the milkweed in the meadow. I blogged last fall about finding it out there. I intend to rescue as many larvae as I can, in order to protect them from predators.

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This is a tiger swallowtail. We have lots of those every year. I know my butterfly bush isn’t native, but it certainly attracts a large number of them.

Spring has sprung, at least for most of what I am doing. Tomorrow, I will be starting my spring greens planting and putting together a salad table. All that, after my social butterfly attendance at Conservancy training.


Cocktail Hour

That civilized winding down hour or so that used to precede dinner in homes before we all became so rushed and didn’t have time or take time to relax. It is one of our simple pleasures a few times a week. We just stop and enjoy the sunset, or watch the news while dinner happily finishes in the oven.

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Tonight we celebrated the opening successes of the Orioles, using my old glasses from the McDonald’s set. They bring back memories. A couple of fairly weak gin and tonics, more for the refreshing aspect than anything else. A little nibble. We hit the Olney Farmer’s and Artisan’s market today and picked them up. Just a handful for us while dinner is still baking.

Tuesday night I will be joining my fellow bloggers in Columbia for a cocktail hour. Only we call them blogtail parties. A couple of our local bloggers are hosting it. It is at Union Jack’s, right next to Columbia Mall. From 5:30 pm. The link takes you to the sign up page. Only a few places left. It looks to be a full house.

I enjoy meeting the bloggers from around here. Those of us who regularly blog and post them on hocoblogs. I might have to borrow my husband’s phone and bring it with me to join in the tweeting and checking in on foursquare. Now, if they can make my favorite cocktail, that Meyer lemon basil fizz, I will really be impressed.

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Our blogtail hour, or two. A chance to get out and relax with our cyberfriends. We can put faces and names to those people behind the keyboards. A really fun event.


Young at Heart

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At least that’s how I feel these days. Even though at times the body tells me I am doing too much. I was putting items of interest onto my calendar. Volunteer naturalist training. Habitat restoration. Wonder walks. Program committee meetings. All at the Conservancy.

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Add to that the bird club events, programs, and the Great Backyard Bird Count coming up the weekend of the 16th-17th of February.

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There’s Greenfest, Earth Day and mixed in with all the rest there are cellar dinners, get togethers, luncheons, and family commitments.

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I can’t believe a year has passed since I was getting ready for neck surgery. Thankfully, that is behind me and I am filling our social calendar with possibilities of days out and about. It may be the last month of winter, but things are getting busy. This weekend besides the Ray Bosmans event at the Conservancy Saturday, on Sunday there is the first event at the Little French Market in Ellicott City with River House Pizza selling wood fired pizza.

If you think retirement means days passing time sitting at a senior center playing cards and getting your blood pressure checked, think again. There is so much more out there to do in Howard County. Oh, and I almost forgot. We are having a much anticipated bloggers and friends party at Union Jack’s on February 26th. Check out the link and sign up if you want to meet many of the bloggers on my Blogs I Read page, and from hocoblogs. I may be one of our oldest bloggers out there, but still, I insist that retirement is my second childhood and I will definitely be enjoying myself.