Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Taxes, Schmaxes

Let me begin by saying that I have nothing against paying taxes. I know that the taxes I pay go for services that I appreciate: police, roads, education, libraries, etc. You’ve heard it all before.

The owners of our farm have discussed turning our farm ownership from a partnership to a limited liability corporation. I don’t know much about the differences between the two, but I’ve heard that we would be at an advantage to do so. This discussion has been going on for several years. Today, I asked what was keeping the owners from completing the process.

In a word, taxes. Apparently, the State of Maryland believes that it’s entitled to a large chunk of change when businesses change their legal designation. Rumor has it that the cost runs at about one percent of the total value of the business. I suppose that large businesses that have substantial income can afford such things. After taking a very close look at our books today, I discovered that our farm wouldn't be able to afford to stay in business if we changed our designation. We simply don't have it.

So, Maryland, how can you justify such high taxes? What benefit will we – or the people of this state – gain from them? Especially in this economy, it seems that the state should be trying to help businesses succeed. Sure, charge a reasonable processing fee. Even the government has its expenses. But allow businesses to make smart financial choices without the state greedily consuming more than the businesses would gain.

I’m getting my information second and third hand, so I may be missing a big piece of the puzzle. I’m happy to consider such information should I become aware of it. In the meantime, I’m going to start paying more attention to how our elected officials approach small businesses. I have a lot to learn about both politics in Maryland and being part of a small business. I hope the learning curve isn’t too steep for me.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Kayaking on Mallows Bay

Erin has one full day in Maryland between spending her summer as a Girl Scout counselor in Washington and the school year as a student in Massachusetts. I decided to take advantage of this one day by taking her kayaking with me at Mallows Bay. A week ago she was kayaking on the Hood Canal; today, she was kayaking on the Potomac River.

We put in the kayaks at the relatively new Mallows Bay Park that opened two years ago. In less than five minutes, we were alongside a rusty ship that marked the southern edge of a large wooden ship graveyard from World War I.
Sources vary, but I’ve read that over 200 ships are in this bay. Many were between 250 and 300 feet long when they were built.

Off in the distance, we could see the Virginia shoreline, including the Quantico Marine Base.
We saw marshland to our north and steep cliffs along the Maryland shore. The sky was overcast and a little threatening; the water was its usual murky green with about 12 inches of visibility. A few boats sped by providing us with the only wave action we encountered. The river is so wide at this point that even these waves were pretty small.

Most of the ships in the graveyard were just below the surface. As we neared them, I saw strange rows of something sticking up through the water. Upon closer review, I realized that they were steel bolts from the hulls of the ships. The local water fowl population uses them as perches.
Then I realized that there were many of these rows throughout the bay. Each row signified another ship laid to rest. Occasionally, the kayak would bump into something just below the surface of the water that I hadn’t even seen.

As we paddled around, distant islands revealed themselves to be yet more ghost ships. These ships have become part of the local ecosystem. Over the years, they have started growing plants and even trees on them!
The distant marshland I referred to above turned out to be the hulls that were closer to shore and, therefore, were seeded more easily by the shore birds.
The environmental disaster of all these wooden ships sunk in one location has given rise to a profusion of protected artificial reefs where wildlife can flourish.

Kayaking among the ships was peaceful. The birds fished and flew, some cried at us while others watched quietly. A blue heron amazed me with its beauty and the osprey amazed me with the size of their nests.
Something in the water would come up for air from time to time. I never saw the animal, but I heard it and saw the ripples.

As we returned to shore, a kayaker with fishing poles was just getting in. I asked him what he was fishing for, and he said he was looking for snakehead. So, while one ecological disaster has been averted, it seems another is threatening. Such is the way of life.

I haven’t been on the water for a number of years, but I love it. This trip has renewed my desire to explore many of the waterways in Southern Maryland. We are on a peninsula bounded by the Potomac River to the east, the Patuxent River to the west, and the Chesapeake Bay to the south. Just think of the possibilities. I am no longer able to portage canoes, but I am open to other explorations. If any of my water-loving friends want to go out with me, I’m all for it. Besides my neighbor who lent us these kayaks, I know of several kayak rental companies in the area. One puts in on MacIntosh Run just opposite of the Port of Leonardtown Winery. Anyone up for some paddling and wine tasting?

For those who prefer the virtual experience to the on-water experience, the following video on YouTube is a good rendition of what we saw: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E910Xh7xMDw

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Visit from Allison and Lucas

In late July, our daughter Allison visited for two weeks with her boyfriend, Lucas. He had never been to this area of the country, so they visited such places as Washington, DC, and Williamsburg, VA. We also took him to several of the “must-see” places in Southern Maryland. Yes, there really are places like that around here (Bert’s 50s Diner, St. Mary’s Landing, and Sandgates, to name a few) The one below is the Tequila Grill where we went for Charles' 15th birthday.

Peter’s sister and her family took all of us out on their boat to a peaceful spot on the Patuxent River. The kids have now experienced the torment of jelly fish.

Lucas also had an invitation to earn money helping us out at the farm. He is young, tall, and full of stamina, so we happily enlisted his help. I wasn’t with him every time he worked, but I do know that he impressed the older family members with his work ethic and abilities. He helped us mow using the Skag, put up acres of bird netting, run catch wires for the new vines, and various other farm tasks. Overall, I think we got about 60 hours of work out of him. Did I mention that he was here during a stretch of 90+ degree days? He now knows what it’s like to sweat through clothes without even lifting a finger. He understands how humidity increases ones perception of heat and interferes with the body’s ability to cool down naturally. He said he won’t complain anymore about working in 70 degree heat for his parents back in Bellevue.

Allison also helped out some at the farm, but I chose to use her organizational talents to help me put the house together. She has a little OCD, so she was a perfect candidate for such work. With her help, we emptied most of our boxes and even found homes for most of the belongings that were in them. Several areas of the house begged to be reorganized to accommodate us, and Allison went to work sorting and organizing.

We aren't really the taskmasters that you think. The kids spent significant amounts of time asleep, playing XBox, and playing in the pool.

This is really just a long way of saying that Allison and Lucas were wonderful helpers to us during our initial weeks in our house. They worked hard and maintained a positive attitude and a sense of humor throughout it all. They also got to have a significant amount of time together before they left for colleges in different states.

Thank you, Allison and Lucas. We loved having you and look forward to more visits in the future.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The West Coast Girl Goes East Coast

I haven’t been blogging because I’ve been too busy living. I will try to do better because I have lots of observations about my new life.

In the past month:
• We completed our final move to Maryland.
• We hosted a number of family members from a couple of days to a couple of weeks.
• Peter became a godfather to an adorable little cousin.
• I’ve become an official resident of Maryland with both a license and voter registration.
• We have covered the vineyard with bird netting. Though we have nothing against birds, we have everything against them eating our profits.
• I have placed a German exchange student with a family in Great Mills.
• I have worked at the winery helping label bottles and working the tasting room. I have also applied for a solicitor’s license so that I can sell our wine to stores and restaurants within Maryland.
• We have made many kebabs! I have also diced our abundant peppers and frozen them for the winter. I’ve cooked our abundant tomatoes and made them into sauce. And I’ve turned our excess basil into an excess of pesto.
• Our dog has reacquainted himself with the local skunk population.

In the upcoming month, I will be:
• Sending Peter back to Seattle for a month.
• Kayaking with Erin at Mallows Bay Park, a WWI ship graveyard on the Potomac, considered to be the largest in the Northern or Western Hemisphere (depending upon the source). (See http://www.dnr.state.md.us/naturalresource/winter2001/ghostship.html for an excellent history of the site.)
• Driving Erin to college in Massachusetts. Since she is near the King Arthur Flour complex in Norwich, Vermont, I hope to also pay a visit there. Charles and I will return via New York’s Hudson River Valley, so he can see where his grandpa grew up.
• Sending Charles back to Oregon. We’ll see him again in December.
• Overseeing installation of a fence around part of our yard. It will contain dogs and kids and keep out cars that try to drive over our septic field.
• Keeping myself busy in Maryland while Peter drives Allison to college in Silicon Valley.
• Driving to St. Louis to deliver an antique china cabinet to my brother.
• Taking over the treasurer duties for the farm. If any of you remember my accounting issues overseeing Girl Scout cookies sales at $3 a box, you’ll understand my apprehension.

With any luck, I will write more about many of these topics in the coming days.