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Whole Foods 5% Day to Support Conservancy

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Come join us tomorrow at Whole Foods Columbia, to raise money for the expansion of the Howard County Conservancy.

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Every dollar spent there will have 5% donated to the Conservancy building fund. Matched by the France Merrick Foundation.

I will be there. So will Ranger the Owl. I think Ranger will get more attention than me, but that’s OK.

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The Conservancy has raised over 60% of what we need to make the expansion a reality. Ground breaking is scheduled this fall.

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If you have never been there, you really don’t know what you are missing. It is one of the most enchanting sites, that does so much for the citizens of our county.

So, come spend some money. And, stop by and say HI.

Strawberry Social

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Yesterday I attended the annual volunteer appreciation party up at the historic farmhouse on the Howard County Conservancy grounds. I have been volunteering since 2010 and have made it to most of the annual Sunday afternoon appreciation parties.

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The farmhouse is only open for viewing a few times a year. If you wander around outside though, you can find the viewing portal that will show you under the siding original logs.

The volunteers get together to celebrate the end of another busy season. All of the field trips are done. There are the monthly programs still, and of course, summer camp. Still, the crazy field trip schedule has wrapped up. Some weeks, there were field trips every day. Some days, more than one. Without the dedicated volunteers this would not be possible.

The social is simple and fun. Strawberries from Baugher’s Orchards and Farms in Westminster. Vanilla ice cream from Hoffman’s. Lemonade and iced water. Time to mingle and relax. Followed by a short series of presentations including the big reveal of the volunteer of the year.

Some highlights this year. Gwen Morrison, honored for volunteering at 50, yes, FIFTY field trips. Sometimes twice a day. Our requested commitment is a minimum of three in fall and three in spring. The naturalists usually can do more than that, but think about the commitment in hours (2-3 hours for every trip) to be there for dozens of trips. Way to go, Gwen. We worked together this year on BioBlitz at Belmont, one of my favorite activities.

This year’s winner of the Carol Filipczak Volunteer of the Year award was Bob Grossman. Bob is one of those faces seen over and over at all sorts of programs and field trips. He definitely deserved being recognized for everything he does.

There were other fun awards too. Like Rookie of the Year. Guys With Trucks (you have to go ask about that one, I love it). Parking Kings. Jump In. And more I can’t recall right now.

The dedicated drop in gardeners were recognized. For their willingness to wait out rain, over and over and over again, in May. Just when you need to get the gardens in shape, Mother Nature kept sending showers and storms on them.

One other special award to staff this year. Tabby Fique, the land manager, who was the education manager when I started volunteering was honored with one of Alice Webb’s paintings, of the farmhouse, for her 10+ years on staff. To most of the visitors, Tabby is the owl whisperer.

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She was Ranger’s original handler when he came to the Conservancy in 2010. Many people who come to Wine in the Garden were greeted by Tabby and Ranger.

Congrats to all the volunteers who were recognized this year and in years past. I can’t emphasize enough how much rewarding and fun this non profit is, for the volunteers and staff. A great place to work, to help, to visit and to support.

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Thanks for another fun year. Now, we’ve got to get in gear for the arrival of the Fiddlers next week, and hopefully there will be fireflies.

Oh, I almost forgot. We all got little packs of milkweed seeds to sow, wherever we can find a spot that may be a good habitat for the monarch butterflies. And, anyone new got their magnet for their car, to show our volunteer pride.

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Come Monday

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Peace and quiet. No alarm clock. For the first Monday in about six weeks we haven’t had to set an alarm and wake up ready to go with painters, carpenters, plumbers, electricians or other subcontractors.

I realized that six years ago today I set an alarm and got up to go to my last week of work before retiring. My last Monday wake up, for the commute and the stress. Most of the time now, we get up when the sun wakes us. Being on a schedule was almost alien.

I look back on these six years. People told me, you will get bored. You will want to go back to work, if only for the social aspect of it. Interestingly, we have found our social circles in fellow retirees who are active in our hobbies.

Gardening. Ham radio. Volunteering. Cooking and baking. Blogging. Day trips. Wine tastings. We haven’t lacked for things to do.

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What have we done? In 2010, I went through naturalist training and started leading field trips at the Conservancy. I signed up to take the Howard Legacy Leadership Institute for the Environment and became part of that community of “senior” volunteers.

I joined my first CSA in 2011, and became very interested in changing what we ate, and how we cooked it.

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In 2012, after surgery, I got back into my garden, and my kitchen, and slowly recovered from spinal fusion. It took a while but now I hardly remember the long road back.

We do so many things with the local amateur radio clubs. Dinners, contests, lunches, picnics, field day weekend.

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In 2013, I became even more active in giving programs at the Conservancy. I got into preserving foods, and totally changing what came into this house. Eliminating most heavily preserved and processed packaged foods.

We have tackled some major renovations here. Making the house a more energy efficient and “senior friendly” place to live.

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We put up a radio tower, no, two of them.

So, I have to say it hasn’t been boring. I have never even once considered working again. Don’t have time for it. On April 1st, I will raise a toast to commemorate that last day of working. And the beginning of my journey, which thankfully almost never needs alarm clocks.

Glimpses of Springtime

Wasn’t today wonderful? Makes you almost forget it is still winter. On days like today, I begin to plan my garden. My new garden. I moved spaces up at my community garden site. I decided I wanted to be closer to the supplies, now that these arthritic knees don’t like walking long distances on uneven surfaces. I can’t wait to get into planting. These sixty degree days lull you into thinking spring is here. But, is it?

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This was a year ago. Bartlett, pruning on a bitter cold day with quite a bit of snow left on the ground.

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This was my old garden plot two years ago. Looks pretty dreary.

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A big difference from an August picture. In this picture, you can see my new plot in the far right. Flowers. Asparagus. I picked it up because of the irises, gladioli and asparagus. I have been planning what I plant, and getting ready to buy seeds.

This year I am the assistant Food Bank manager. Loving those Tuesday mornings, early before it gets hot, harvesting, weeding, watering and just enjoying the whole atmosphere in a garden.

Today, the weather made me anxious for spring. If you are inclined, there may be garden plots in your future.

Flash Program

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You may have heard of flash mobs. So what is a flash program? That would be a spur of the moment, not planned in advance, free program open to the public. Using volunteers. This Sunday at 2 PM out at Mt. Pleasant, Howard County Conservancy.Have you ever heard about the Great Backyard Bird Count? It’s a national, annual event, spanning the long weekend in February. Information is here on their website. A couple of the board members out at the Conservancy proposed a great idea. Let’s have an impromptu free program the week before the bird count. To help people get started, and to give tips on counting birds in your own back yard.

They have enlisted a number of volunteers, many from the Howard County Bird Club. The nature center at Mt. Pleasant has windows overlooking a number of feeders and all winter long there’s quite a bit of interest from the resident and migrating birds, who stop by or hang around for the food. The bird club has a master list of all the different species seen across the entire site. You should be able to see a number of them on Sunday, and to learn how to identify some of the more common ones who would frequent your back yard or deck.

They’ll be helping you and your family get started on watching birds, and you might get to see some of the more rare visitors like this one.

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I spotted this pileated woodpecker right outside the doors to the nature center around noon, a couple of winters ago. We know they are still around because we can hear them.

Still, a little planning and a food source, on the ground or in a feeder, will keep the birds hanging out in your yard, too.

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Blue jays love the unsalted Costco peanuts in the shell.

Come on out Sunday and see what other tips you can take home with you.

The Soul of the Night

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OWLS!

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What could be a better greeting to an evening about owls than a visit by Ranger, the resident barred owl at Mt. Pleasant (Howard County Conservancy)?

Maybe it’s the presence of Belle, the resident owl from the Belmont site. Or maybe, it’s the treat of hearing Scott Weidensaul, author of the Peterson Reference Guide to Owls, as he leads a program Thursday night beginning at 7 PM. It’s the first of many incredibly interesting programs planned for 2016.

You can pre-register here for Thursday’s event. The various nature events at the Conservancy have become extremely popular, and you don’t want to miss a rare appearance in this area by Scott.

While you’re at it, you may also want to download the 2016 bookmark to keep track of what is happening the rest of the year.

For me, being a member of this planning staff, and working behind the scenes to get these programs planned, and then to be there to see how successful they are, well, it’s definitely a “labor of love”. Volunteering in such a beautiful setting, and being around people who love doing what they do, does it get any better?

See you Thursday maybe?

Thankful for What We Have

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. A time spent with family and friends to celebrate. To be thankful for everything we have.

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For the ability to travel freely. For the ability to say what we wish. For the ability to get a good education. To have clean water. Relatively clean air. Food, water, shelter. We take it for granted, many of us.

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We don’t always do enough for those who don’t have all of the above. Or, don’t have most of the above. I only do a small part. Those weeks last summer that I spent doing the food bank garden are only a drop in the bucket.

Want to help in a small way all winter long? I know a few ways to help, and I am making a note to remember to do those things before Christmas. Go to an outlet. Buy a large amount of socks, mittens, gloves and/or scarves. Find a local church or nonprofit who is collecting items to be given to those who need them to keep warm.

Head over to Costco with a plan. If you can afford $50 or $100, fine, but any amount helps. Buy those bulk packages of canned goods. Tuna. Beans. Two good candidates that help the Howard County Food Bank. Keep the Costco receipt and staple it to your donation acknowledgement. The food bank really needs useful foods. Not the cleaning out the pantry stuff, but things that people who only have a hot plate, and maybe a microwave, can use.

We learned when we put our garden together that certain foods are used the most. Many of the people who need the services don’t have the ability to make meals from scratch. They lack the pans, the baking sheets, the ovens, or other items that we take for granted.

Go through your closets and donate any sweaters, coats, sweatshirts, warm pants that you no longer wear. Winter is harsh around here. We have been downsizing our life, by eliminating all those extras just taking up space and never getting used.

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I missed making a post for “Giving Tuesday” a few days ago. But, we shouldn’t need a day for giving. We should think about how lucky we are, to be sitting in front of a computer, or writing on a tablet, while warm, with the turkey in the oven, and all our family around us.

And, while we are at it, tomorrow, we will be Opting Outside, even if it’s only to string a few hundred yards of power cable to the radio tower. Maybe we will get over to Old Westminster Winery to see the new tasting room. They are open with music on Friday and Saturday evenings. I think it’s a better way to spend Black Friday.

Standing Room Only

I love it when the free programs out at the Conservancy far exceed our expectations. Like today.

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Fifty two people. Ten of them little ones. For Frank Marsden’s talk and walk about finding wildlife in winter.

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Frank told us everything we always wanted to know about scat, but were afraid to ask. Like determining the diet from the color, texture and “ingredients” found. Like how grey fox and red fox are different. How we never see grey fox as they sleep in trees.

We went out for a ninety minute hike, looking for signs of wildlife. We did find deer tracks.

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We also found out that our former ground hog habitat, a large number of interconnected holes up in the meadow, have been abandoned by the ground hogs, and are now inhabited by fox. How do we know that? The smell of fox urine, a sure sign that fox have moved in and are marking their territory.

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We had a lovely day out there, even if it was a bit windy.

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The meadows are lovely this time of year, and by taking a leisurely hike, you can find many signs of the wildlife living here. Take a hike some day. There are four miles of marked trails, and with no leaves on the trees, you can see far across the ridges to neighboring towns.

Back To School

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Not just for the students who go back into the classroom on Monday, but for those of us who volunteer to lead field trips, we begin our fall learning series next Tuesday out in Woodstock, at Mt. Pleasant. The private nonprofit where I volunteer, Howard County Conservancy has a large and interesting series of trips that need hike leaders.

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Our schedule for fall training. Including our ever popular potluck luncheon.

We begin with the Watershed Report Card Program. Which was a huge success last year. Results are here.

Volunteering is easy. You can do as many field trips as you want. They request a minimum of three, and there are dozens of days that children are on the Conservancy grounds at Mt .Pleasant and/or Belmont. Sometimes we even head out to the schools to lead trips. This year I see we are going to practice the Stream Survey Program over at the Therapeutic and Recreational Riding Center in Glenelg.

I also see a new preschool program on the calendar. I like working with the younger children. They are incredibly inquisitive and just really enjoy being out in the fields and woodlands. Particularly in the lovely weather that autumn brings to our area.

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It’s not hard to join us as a volunteer. Email volunteer@hcconservancy.org or call 410 465-8877.

Last year, over 10000 students came to the properties for trips. There are many, many opportunities to help.

See you on Tuesday or Thursday next week?

The Morning After

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The flag was still flying high on the crane when I got to the fairgrounds at 10 am this morning. Most of the rides were dismantled. A steady stream of cars arriving to pick up exhibits, entries, ribbons and premium checks.

I like watching the crews take down the fair. It’s interesting to see. I have been volunteering within the farm and garden building. Stacking up entries for easy retrieval. Helping people find their ribbons, and decide what to do with their vegetables and fruit, now that it’s been sitting around a week.

I started helping a couple of years ago. My favorite part of being there is watching the 4Hers come in to get their entries and their ribbons. It’s also watching children come in to our tables to find their entries, and in many cases their ribbons.

One little boy today was picking up a third, fourth and fifth place ribbon for biggest zucchini. One for him and each of his siblings.

I also enjoy visiting with my friends at the beekeepers’ tables, and just getting to talk vegetables with other gardeners. Commiserating about how our tomatoes suffered this summer.

I just wish we could find someone to take all the less than perfect food (and some that was still usable). There previously were people who took things home to feed pigs or chickens. Now, not so much.

The food banks can’t take them. They have been sitting out in the heat for a week. Most of the tomatoes were going south. The berries, really gone.

Still, it’s fun to help a little and see behind the scenes in tear down.

People were taking their animals home. The stalls were all cleaned up, and new mulch was in a humongous pile out by the show pavilion.

Another year. Another check. This one my biggest. Just about enough to cover what I spent to buy seedlings and plugs at Sharp’s Farm last spring.