Balloonists and spectators get ready at last year's Preakness Week Celebration at Turf Valley. (Photo by Cassie Felch / May 7, 2014)

As Marylanders, we take great pride in hosting the Preakness Stakes, the second jewel of horse racing's Triple Crown. Here in Howard County, we commemorate the event with the annual Preakness Celebration Hot Air Balloon Festival, scheduled this year for Thursday, May 15, through Saturday, May 17, at Turf Valley Resort.

Of course, that venue is "just next door" for those of us living in the Marriottsville/Sykesville/Woodstock area. We may even get to glimpse the balloons as they float high above our homes.

Last year, my family attended one of the evening balloon launches and really enjoyed the festive, community atmosphere. Children can experience a walk-through balloon and other activities geared toward them, but in truth, folks of all ages act young at heart around hot air balloons.

How exciting to watch the crews at work, inflating their colorful charges, to anticipate that moment when they free the balloons from the tethers, and then to watch as those balloons gently ascend into the sky and drift away, appearing ever smaller in the distance.

Balloon launches will take place (weather permitting) at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday and Friday and at 6:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Individuals who are interested in an experience with less hoopla may prefer to attend a morning launch.

Festival activities run from 4 to 9 p.m. on Thursday and Friday. Because of space limitations during those times, public parking is stationed offsite at the Howard County Fairgrounds. The cost is $10 per vehicle (cash only, in advance), and the payment functions as a donation to the Elkridge Adult Athletic Association. Buses shuttle the guests between the fairgrounds and Turf Valley. Entry into the festival is free.

For those who would like to savor the feeling of floating in a hot air balloon, tethered rides and balloon flights are available for purchase. The event also features corporate and craft vendors, as well as food and beverage vendors. Each evening at dusk, a "Balloon Glow" provides another sensory experience as the crews fire up the burners to light up their balloons in the darkening sky.

For more information or event-day updates, call 410-465-1500, ext. 2874. An event flyer is also available at http://www.turfvalley.com.

The Howard County Conservancy invites wine and beer lovers to its annual Wine in the Garden fundraiser on Thursday, May 29, 5-8 p.m. Guests can enjoy a delightful stroll through the garden while listening to bluegrass music and sampling fine wine, craft beers and delicious local food. A silent auction will feature a large variety of travel, food and entertainment items geared toward nature lovers.

Tickets cost $45 per person by May 18 or $55 after that date. Proceeds will help fund the Conservancy's environmental education and preservation programs.

Go to http://www.hcconservancy.org to buy tickets or preview the auction items.

Doug Burian, music director at Glenelg United Methodist Church, has announced the next installment in the church's free community concert series. On Sunday, May 18, at 4 p.m., Brass of the Potomac, a 30-piece ensemble, will fill the sanctuary at 13900 Burntwoods Road with stirring music in a variety of styles.

A reception will follow the performance. Call the church at 410-489-7260 with any questions, or go to http://www.brassofthepotomac.com to learn more about the group.