Look Out, Whole Foods

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Yesterday I told a friend who grew up in Silver Spring that I was considering stopping by the new MOM’s (My Organic Market) in Timonium, at the intersection of York and Ridgely Roads (near the Old Navy). “There’s a MOM’s in Baltimore?!” she yelped. Well, there is now — and any grocery store that gets people that excited is definitely worth a visit.

It’s easy to see why MOM’s might inspire loyalty in folks. The store’s dominant eco/green bent is no passing fad; the small mid-Atlantic chain has been an early adopter of energy-saving bulbs, wind-power energy offsets, and other energy-saving initiatives. All produce is organic, and they don’t sell bottled water at all — this fact is mentioned on one of the helpful little signs that dot the store, explaining some of its virtuous choices. It’s enough to make you feel like a better person just from a half-hour of grocery shopping.

So how does MOM’s measure up against everyone’s favorite virtuous food clearinghouse, Whole Foods? At 11,000 square feet, the Timonium MOM’s is less than half the size of Baltimore’s Whole Foods stores (both the Harbor East and the Mt. Washington branches are around 25,000 square feet), and has a cozier, less-swanky feel. (“It feels like a big co-op,” one of my shopping partners noted.) The produce section is certainly smaller; all of MOM’s produce is organic, which is either a plus or a minus, depending on how much you care about that sort of thing.

But by my thoroughly unscientific reckoning, MOM’s appears to have a more extensive bulk section than Whole Foods, with a significant bulk spice collection (beet powder! broccoli seed!) as well as bulk loose-leaf tea options. The store has a good selection of prepared foods from Zias, many of them vegan. There’s also gluten-free and raw-food sections, if you’re one of those “special diet” types. On the whole, prices were slightly cheaper than Whole Foods, though not remarkably so. They stocked my favorite tofu (made by Twin Oaks Cooperative Foods). Their bread is super fresh.

All in all, it’s a cozy place with a real commitment to the whole local/sustainable/green ethos. It’s got that new-grocery store smell (in a good way), and all sorts of weird supplements, and a huge tea selection, and employees were almost manicly helpful. Worth a visit for sure.

Be Nicer to Your IT Guy

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Man, whose immature heart doesn’t go out to the fired IT guy at Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems, Inc, who hacked into his former boss’ Powerpoint board meeting presentation and inserted pornography? The CEO was giving a presentation on his latest accomplishments, at the time (cue a naked woman randomly appearing on a 64-inch TV screen!)–according to crime reporter Peter Hermann at The Sun, board is made up of fancy city officials and foundation heads and is chaired by Baltimore’s health commissioner, all of whom got a gander at said porn pop-up. Walter Powell, 52, pleaded guilty Tuesday and will now perform 100 hours of community service and serve three years of probation; additionally he must vow not to mess with remote-access software again.

This story makes us think of every brilliant but brutally overextended IT guy who ever helped us out of a tech jam. Those guys (and occasionally gals) are invariably overworked and under-slept, haven’t you noticed the syndrome? They deal with our computer-related emergencies every single day of the week, facing, too, the psychological fallout from our panic and prissy frustration. Their skin tends to be eighth-grade pimply for a reason–no time to eat right, and not enough hours in the day for exercise and deep sleep. Their grumpy “attitude” might seem arrogant, but you’d be moody, too, if you possessed a rare, essential skill prized by the rest of us only when our laptop’s acting “really weird.”

In closing, it’s hard to fault the guy. One thing, though: Next time our ingenious and industrious Mr. Powell decides to surprise an enemy with presentation sabotage–and if Walter continues to work in IT, we assume there may well be a next time–we do encourage him to get more creative with his imaging. Sure, porn’s got to embarrass a Powerpointing power player, but mightn’t a really bad middle-school-circa puberty portrait of the offender hurt even worse?

School 33 Art Center Studio Artist Biennial

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This Saturday afternoon, from 3 to 6, feast your eyes on new works by Studio Artists currently enjoying their tenure at School 33 Art Center (we capitalize Studio Artists because it’s such an honor to be one). Since 1979, School 33’s Studio Artist Program has provided roomy studio space (at subsidized rates) to more than 125 pro local creatives. In 2008, 33 established the Studio Mentoring Program, which facilitates critiques and professional support between prominent artists and resident artists. 2011 show features artists who have been at School 33 for over two years and several whose tenure has been only a few months. This year’s mentors include George Ciscle, MICA curator-in-residence, Zöe Charleton, acclaimed artist and faculty member at American University, and Cara Ober, artist, curator and arts writer. Best of all: Fishbowl’s own resplendent resident artist, Jowita Wyszomirska, is set to reveal an exciting installation.

Other awesome participating artists: Susan Faden, Laurie Flannery, Matthew Freel, Hyeseung Marriage-Song, Dierdre Shea, Aaron Yamada-Hanff, and Kenneth Yee.

Added bonus: If you’ve not toured the grand old building, a former city school, it’s a work of art unto itself, featuring sky-high ceilings and long, gorgeous windows.

Opening Reception: June 25, 2011, 3-6pm –  1427 Light Street

Big Fish Q & A With Collector, Designer and BMA Trustee Stiles Colwill

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If you subscribe to the concept of predestination – a phenomenon immune to scientific scrutiny – then, perhaps, you could make the argument that Stiles Colwill’s given name ordained him to a career in design and connoisseurship, and to an avocation as an art collector. (Of course, you’d need to fudge his name’s spelling a trifle.) 

As founder and proprietor, he oversees the Lutherville-based Stiles T. Colwill Interiors, designing living spaces for local and out-of-town clients, while also operating Halcyon House Antiques and working as a partner with prominent New York City antiques firm John Rosselli & Associates.

Not incidentally, he has served on the Baltimore Museum of Art’s board of trustees since 1995, presiding as its chairman until last week when he stepped down after five years. Previously, he spent 16 years at the Maryland Historical Society, starting as an associate curator and concluding his tenure there as its director.

Colwill was born in Baltimore and raised on bucolic, 122-acre Halcyon Farm in Greenspring Valley, where for decades his family bred thoroughbred racehorses (his father, J. Fred Colwill, rode Blockade to win the Maryland Hunt Cup in 1938, 1939, and 1940). Stiles Colwill, 59, only recently discontinued the breeding operation, but he still lives at Halcyon, along with his life and business partner of more than 20 years, Jonathan Gargiulo, plus a menagerie of horses, cows, and dogs. The pair maintains elegant gardens and a home chock-ablock with early American paintings, Maryland decorative arts, and 19th century French bronzes.

Although he has stepped down as BMA board chair, Colwill continues as a board member, helping to shepherd the museum’s fundraising campaign and physical renovations. “Stiles’ dedication to the BMA is remarkable,” notes museum director Doreen Bolger. “He has left a huge mark on this wonderful institution.”      

Sum up your life philosophy in one sentence. 

When I look at my glass, it is always more than half full.

When did you define your most important goals, and what are they? 

Many people set goals for themselves; I didn’t really. I just always wanted to give back: to my parents, friends, and the community. So rather than goals, I have had rules to live by that were instilled in me when I was very young. One is from McDonogh’s lower school poem: “Be the best of whatever you are.” Another is from my father: “Always be kind to others.” And a third is from my mother: “To whom much is given, much is expected.”

What is the best advice you ever got that you followed? 

It came from my grandfather Tuttle when I spent a summer with him at about age eight: If you want it, go after it. You can do or be anything that you want. All you have to do is try. 

The worst advice, and did you follow it? Or how did you muffle it?

I guess that I have been very lucky and never been given any bad advice.
 
What are the three most surprising truths you’ve discovered in your lifetime? 

While I was not “surprised” by them, I know these to be true and live by them:

Don’t judge a book by its cover, especially when it comes to people.
Always be yourself.
Never look back – you cannot change the past.

What is the best moment of the day? 

First light on the farm. It is amazingly beautiful.

What is on your bedside table? 

First, let me say something about the table itself. It came from Andy Warhol’s estate sale, and it was his bedside table before it was mine. I remember seeing it in his house years ago, and it serves as a wonderful souvenir of my time living in New York City. The table always makes me smile and wonder, “What would it say if it could talk?”

On it is a silver cigar box that was the rider’s trophy for the 1938 Maryland Hunt Cup, given to me by my father. It was one of his most treasured possessions – and now, mine, too. Also, fresh flowers from our garden or an orchid from our greenhouse, plus stacks of recent books and trade magazines.

What is your favorite local charity?

The Baltimore Museum of Art.

What advice would you give a young person who aspires to do what you are doing? 

Go for it.

Why are you successful? 

Hard work.

What is your favorite piece of artwork (painting, sculpture, installation, textile, furniture, whatever) in the BMA’s permanent collection — and why do you love it so much?

Many people do not recognize this as a work of art, but is it the biggest one in the collection: the magnificent, inspirational BMA building itself — perfectly designed by John Russell Pope. It affects every aspect of the BMA, and I always find new details in it every time that I visit.

What single thing could Maryland’s thoroughbred racing industry do to help save itself, rather than being repeatedly bailed out by taxpayers’ dollars?

The racetracks were successful when operated by great owners like brothers Ben and Herman Cohen (Pimlico) and John Schapiro (Laurel Park). Let someone who is passionate about racing – and deep-pocketed – take over the tracks. Maybe developer David Cordish; let’s see what magic he can make of them.
 
Tell us your most effective universal decorating tip, applicable to living spaces as diverse as urban loft to rural cottage to double-wide trailer to suburban mansion to stately manor.

Make it your own. Always have personal items around. Home is really a nest, and we are all nesters at heart. If you make it personal, you will always feel at home.

How to Get Your Kid Into Private School

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It makes a certain kind of logic:  if you’re going to send your kid to a school that costs $40,000, you may as well try your hardest to get her into the best school that costs $40,000, whatever that takes. Consider including professional headshots of your toddler sporting a bow-tie, and/or including a letter of recommendation from a member of Congress. Or maybe you’d be better off with some good old-fashioned lying and manipulation.

Such is the twisted logic of New York private school admissions, which gets a satirical take from filmmaker Josh Shelov (and stars Neil Patrick Harris and Amy Sedaris) in The Best and the Brightest, which opens this week. “I was eager to write something deeply uncensored,” Shelov told the Wall Street Journal. In making the film, he drew on his experiences finding a school for his own kindergartener five years ago. Unlike his film’s characters, Shelov presumably didn’t invent a more intriguing persona to make himself appealing to elite schools. (Neil Patrick Harris’ character pretends to be “a renowned poet with a forthcoming collection culled from sexually explicit text messages.” He is actually a computer programmer.)

All in all, the movie makes it clear that the admissions process is hardest on the parents. Shelov remembers being plagued by “a general feeling of paranoia that begins to settle in, an atmosphere of ‘you’re not doing enough.’ ” Does this high-stakes, cutthroat world look familiar to you in any way? Or do we just do things differently here in Baltimore?

Does Yoplait Ad Promote Anorexia? (A Baltimore Fishbowl Debate)

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This month, a Yoplait yogurt commercial (please view on our video landing on the home page) made headlines when the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) condemned the spot’s language as promotional of eating disorders. Yoplait and General Mills acted quickly to pull the ad.

In the commercial, we are privy to one female office employee’s internal should-I-or-shouldn’t-I-eat-this-yummy-cheesecake? monologue. Some viewers (as represented by online chat respondents) say the scene is completely playful, real-life practical, no big deal, while others agree with NEDA that Office Chick’s leaning toward an anorexic mindset.

In our first ever Baltimore Fishbowl Debate, staffers Kristin Hughes and Betsy Boyd shout it out.

Kristin’s Pro Yoplait Side:

I think the Yoplait commercial is completely harmless. Seriously, who is NOT offended by something these days? Who cares if Woman A fights with herself, trying to justify eating a piece of cheesecake over a yogurt? Any woman (and I’m sure a bunch of men) would say those things in her/his head while staring into the refrigerator. Everybody is so touchy. God forbid we offend someone! I’m sure someone reading this will be offended that I just used the word “God!”

It’s yogurt, people. Not some comment on eating disorders. I actually read a quote on That’sFit.com about the commercial by someone who was terribly offended, saying, “People don’t realize that it is like walking off a bridge every time a person with an eating disorder opens a refrigerator.” (Really? Is it really like they’re walking off a bridge? Get over yourself!) Back to the main idea, though: Any woman conscious about the food she is putting in her body would have that inner debate over cheesecake or yogurt. People should have an inner monologue to talk themselves out of eating fatty crap over a salad or some fruit. Maybe then, the obesity epidemic in our country (and our very overweight city) would become a lighter problem. The bottom line is, this commercial is not harmful, but potentially helpful. Both Woman A and Woman B are about the same size and weight; they are both normal-sized women, considering thoughtfully what to snack on. I can’t believe people think this mild yogurt commercial is toxic! It just makes me hungry for yogurt…and cheesecake. –KH

Betsy’s Con Side:

Kristin, my friend, lucky you, sounds to me you have a very healthy relationship with food and body image. Sadly, many women and men do not. You don’t offend me, but I believe your view is narrow–and somewhat insensitive.

Check it: The control-freaky young woman depicted in this ad is way OCD, which goes hand in hand with anorexia. To review, here’s what she’s saying to herself as she opens the fridge door and stares down the dessert: “Ohhh, cheesecake. Okay, what if I just had a small slice? I was good today. I deserve it. Or I could have a medium slice and some celery sticks. And they would cancel each other out, right? Or, okay, I could have one large slice and jog in place as I eat it.” Still, she continues. She is beyond health-minded–she is hellishly fixated–trapped in a cycle of repetitive thinking, and therefore obsessive.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, “Anorexia is an emotional disorder that focuses on food, but it is actually an attempt to deal with perfectionism and a desire to control things by strictly regulating food and weight. People with anorexia often feel that their self-esteem is tied to how thin they are.” Sums up normal-size Woman A in a nutshell! When her noticeably thinner, cheekbone-jutting co-worker, Gal B, approaches the fridge, Ms. A takes on a stooping, frowning stance of intimidation. “You’ve lost weight,” A tells B, sheepishly. Swiftly then, A decides that she, like her associate, will opt to consume fat-free cheesecake yogurt rather than delicious, full-flavor cheesecake.

Laid-back Kristin, are you offended yet by my studious detail? The following additional behavioral signs linked to anorexia (also courtesy of the University of MD) also remind me of our Gal A: distorted perception of self, being preoccupied with food, skipping meals, eating only a few foods, and compulsive exercising. I’m pleased that General Mills had the sense to pull the ad.

Advertisers, listen up: We need an appropriate role model for ladies (and gents, for that matter) who intend to watch their weight wisely, not obsess over it! Woman A ain’t it. –BB

Who wins the debate? Which side are you on? Please watch the ad and weigh in!

Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby

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My son’s extended relatives—who all live far from Baltimore—are always demanding more pictures of him be posted on Facebook. I sometimes feel like my wife and I accidentally signed ourselves up for an unpaid digital photography internship. But, of course, our family’s photo obsession is sweet, and why shouldn’t they crave pictures of him? After all, they don’t get to see him every day like I do. So what’s my excuse, then?

I have often been guilty of sitting the kiddo up in my lap so we can look at pictures of him together on the computer screen, (Well, I look at them. He mostly pulls his head back to stare at the ceiling fan.) Only recently did I realize the absurdity of staring at images of my child, when, if I angled my head a few degrees, I could be looking at the real thing.

It reminds me of when I traveled to New York City as a child. I stood just outside the Statue of Liberty, not staring up in awe at the literally monumental vastness of the original, but rather transfixed by the dinky, plastic facsimile my Grandma bought for me in Battery Park before we boarded the ferry.

Perhaps we feel more connection to souvenirs because we understand that they outlast the moments they memorialize. They are the infinitesimally small piece of the memory that we get to own. I still have that little plastic Liberty, and I can now only barely remember the view from the actual statue’s crown. Someday all I will have of my son’s infantile smile are hundreds upon hundreds of digital photos on Facebook and Flickr.

Newt Gingrich to Visit Baltimore Today

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Maryland, which boasts twice as many registered Democrats as registered Republicans, has been playing host to much more GOP primary campaigning than in years past, with Newt Gingrich scheduled to visit Baltimore for a campaign fundraiser on Thursday.

According to Maryland’s GOP party chair Alex Mooney, even a state as blue as ours (and with a later primary than some) can’t be overlooked by Republican candidates this campaign season because the primary race is “so wide open.” Though Mitt Romney is currently ahead in the polls, he may be leading by default as almost 50 percent of Republican primary voters are unsatisfied with the slate of candidates, according to an NBC News poll. And with the popular and polarizing Sarah Palin and Rudolph Giuliani possibly considering a run, Romney can’t get too comfortable yet.

What will Maryland Republicans do with this rare chance to raise their voices and be heard by their party’s presidential hopefuls? Will the GOP platforms this election season  have a decidedly mid-Atlantic flair? Stay tuned.

Love Conquers Destroyed Frat House in Charles Village

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It is no coincidence that Loyola University writing professors Ron Tanner and Jill Eicher met in a consignment shop. They were both nostalgists with a penchant for collecting cast-off objects from the past (hope they go see “Midnight in Paris”). A romance bloomed and the vintage theme continued as Jill helped Ron scout out historic “fixer-uppers” in his quest for a new house. It was 1999 when the newly minted couple first spied the grand Queen Anne style townhouse in Charles Village. Jill loved it and Ron loved Jill. He now admits he bought the house hoping that it would lure Jill to move in, and they could work on the renovation together. Ron also admits he is a hopeless romantic and a rampant optimist. He is not lying.
The house, you see, had been abandoned for a year and perhaps that was a good thing: It gave it some time to air out. For 10 years it had been occupied by a fraternity whose testosterone fueled havoc had all but ruined the circa 1897 beauty. How can a group of young men do more damage in ten years than four whole families did in 100? Well, they used the front hall balusters for batting practice, clogged every toilet in the house, painted the walls with confederate flags and ingenious phrases like “duh!”, devoted whole rooms to the storage of garbage, used the doors for dart practice, nailed elevated bunks (remember them?) into the bay windows and supported a colony of rats. Check out the before photos, appropriately named “damage!” Ron paid $125,000 for the house “as-is” and he got to keep the 19 empty beer kegs.
Somehow, love conquered and Jill moved in, tools in hand. The first year of cohabitation can be challenging in the best of circumstances. Imagine doing it while living in squalor with a never-ending list of physically taxing chores to be done (I am certain that I would turn violent). Ron and Jill’s story (soon to be a book) is exactly as complicated and funny as you would think. There was his wanting to “get it done” juxtaposed with her desire to “do it right.” (Didn’t I just have that exact fight over the recycling last night?) There was the inevitable blame game. (“I have no idea where it is, I never had the hammer, damn it!”) And there were more serious complications, such as running out of money and getting lead paint poisoning. Of course, a lot of good things happened, too. When it came to outfitting the house, Ron and Jill found their love of the past quickly turned into a blissful joint obsession. The couple rigorously researched the most historically authentic tub, scoured reclamation yards for the perfect mantle, celebrated finding just the right moldings and splurged on period-perfect light fixtures. The renovation forced them to reveal themselves and the places where they were and were not compatible.
 
Over seven years the couple toiled to get the house into magazine-worthy shape (This Old House did a story on them) and the results are beautiful in more ways than one.
In 2003, the Tanners triumphantly married in their their lovely home. Today the couple continues to beautify and upgrade. They say they will never be “done” and have a website where they showcase their latest projects. Recently there have been improvements to the yard and the library and, while beautifully executed, you get the feeling that it is all just fun tinkering now. Much like Ron & Jill’s union, the hard work is already done.

Private School Tuition’s Steady Climb

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The Wall Street Journal reported this week that private school tuition at New York City private school will top $40,000 next year, more than many Ivy League universities’ tuitions. Baltimore’s private school tuition, which averages around $23,000 seems like a bargain by comparison.  

Local area private schools typically increase tuition three to five percent annually. In the past decade, tuition has increased about fifty percent as schools have expanded programs, renovated buildings, and took on capital improvements. 

Upper school tuition at Boys Latin is $22,520, at Gilman $24,340, at Bryn Mawr $24,630, at Friends $22,735, at Park $24,470, at Garrison Forest $23,350, at McDonogh $23,370, at St. Paul’s 22,970.  St. Paul’s School for Girls took the unusual step of actually lowering tuition for the 2011-12 year from $23,200 to $22,950.

After the economic collapse in 2008, most local private schools barely raised tuition and there was talk around town of shrinking endowments, drops in enrollment and mass firings of teachers, but those fears were largely unrealized. 

The schools emphasize that it costs much more than the tuition price to educate each child. The difference is made up in parent and alumni donations and endowment earnings.  All local private schools offer financial aid too. At most schools, that benefits about 20 to 25 percent of the students. One admissions officer guesses another 10 percent receive family financial aid, where grandparents or some other relative pay for tuition.

So roughly sixty percent are paying full-freight. Doesn’t that leave the schools a little economically lopsided? 

“All the schools would like to have more economic diversity no question,” said one board member from of a Baltimore private boys school who wished to remain anonymous. “No one likes to see these high costs for tuition.” Although the schools receive few complaints about the price he said.

Is it worth it? If one expects a trophy college admission at the end of the experience, it’s probably not a great investment. Locally, only about 10 percent of private school graduates go on to an Ivy League school. But is that the ultimate measure of an education?