Howard County's early holiday gift: free parking in Ellicott City's historic district until Jan. 2

County Executive Ken Ulman has given all of us an early holiday gift — he's allowing free parking at all of the meters in the historic district until Jan. 2. What a treat to be able to pull into any available space and not have to worry whether you have enough quarters with you. Even when it's paid parking, it's really inexpensive.

The free parking on Main Street will still have a two-hour time limit and it would be a nice courtesy to other shoppers if you limit your time at the meters to two hours as well. Thanks, Ken!

Window contest

Once your car is parked and you are making your way through the historic district to "shop local," be sure to take in all of the beautifully decorated windows. Shopkeepers are going all out to make the town lovelier than ever and Howard County Tourism wants to celebrate them.

Stop by the newly expanded Howard County Tourism and Promotion Welcome Center in the former Post Office at 8267 Main St., and pick up a ballot to vote for your favorite window. Drop off your vote at the Center through Jan. 2. I'll tell you the winner when it is announced.

Santa sightings

I think I know why Santa is so plump and jolly. According to local calendars he seems to be having breakfast or brunch with children all over town in the next few weeks. I also know who his favorite local elf is — Barry the Bubble Man at the Forget-Me-Not Company has a great elf outfit for this holiday season.

A bubble wand would be a nice stocking stuffer. When you finish blowing bubbles with Barry, go across the street to the B&O Railroad Museum, Ellicott City Station. You know that they have the best model train displays — it is the Holiday Festival of Trains, after all — but they also have Santa and Frosty the Snowman.

"Railroad Santa" will be welcoming children in the Station's Red Caboose Dec.10 and 17. Frosty will be making an appearance at the Station Dec. 11 and 18. The trains are on display Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Station is closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as well as New Year's Day. Call 410-461-1945 for more information.

Second Sunday market

The historic district farmers' market is back for one more time, Sunday, Dec. 11 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. This is a great opportunity to pick up some unique holiday gifts and have a good time enjoying a pulled pork sandwich and a hot cup of coffee. Take home a loaf of Nathan's fresh-from-the-oven artisanal bread from the Little French Market to enjoy with your dinner. Last month I actually saw two shoppers tearing a loaf apart in the parking lot — they couldn't wait to enjoy the still steaming bread. Special thanks to the market coordinator Kimberly Kepnes for helping this event grow and prosper throughout the year.

Miller ribbon-cutting

I am very excited anticipating the grand opening of the Howard County Library Charles E. Miller Branch and Historical Center. The remarks and ribbon cutting begin Dec. 17 at 9:30 a.m. with tours of the building throughout the day until 6 p.m. It's been fun watching the amazingly rapid progress of the building, and as a member I'm especially excited that the Howard County Historical Society will have a significant space in the building as well. The Society has so much to offer that will now be much easier for all of us to access. By the way, membership in the Historical Society or any of the other local nonprofits would make a great holiday gift.

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