Friday, July 28, 2017

The New Market

Have  you been to the newest of the Howard County Farmers Markets? It's on Thursday afternoons at Clarksville Commons. As loyal as I am to the Oakland Mills Market, I just had to make the trek to Clarksville yesterday when I that they were adding live music to the mix.

My family and I really went for the music, truth be told, but what can you expect in a family of musicians? We're fans of the band, Dog Park All-Stars, a local duo consisting of Mickey Gomez and  Aaron Barnett. (I hear there was a little audience participation after we left.) If you want to hear them and visit the new market, you're in luck. They'll be back August 17th.

Actually, we may need to go back, too, because we were so focused on the music that we didn't do the local vendors justice. My daughter and I enjoyed our first ice cream from Scoop and Paddle. I had Chocolate Covered Strawberry. The flavor and texture (mouth-feel?) were wonderful, but overall it was a bit too sweet for my taste. Maybe we'll try again in August and compare notes.

While we were there we tried out YouPizza, one of the new businesses at Clarksville Commons. It's another addition to the very-fast, pick your own toppings pizza experience. (Think Mod Pizza and Pie5.) The customer service was excellent and the pizza was tasty. My husband was able to eat all of his pizza in one go but I suspect this is because he hadn't had any lunch. My daughter and I both had pizza left over to take home. As we were leaving, lots of folks were streaming in. It looks to be off to a successful start.

One thing, though. Can someone explain these bathroom doors to me?

Actually, don't. I'm pretty sure I know what they mean and it's stupid and unnecessary. With all the problems we have in our society right now around rest rooms, this is not even remotely amusing. This pizza is fine. You can get similar pizza elsewhere in town without being insulted by the restroom. Just a thought.

In summary: we'll be back to the market, and next time we'll come prepared to really shop. As to YouPizza? Not so sure on that.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Public and Private

I'm back from my family's annual trip to the beach. For the past three years we have stayed at a deliciously retro-feeling place in Lewes called the Beacon Motel. It's not fancy, but it's clean and comfortable and affordable. There's no work-out room or free breakfast and the internet is periodically rather thin. But the service is excellent and all the staff are warm and friendly. We'll probably be back next year.

There seem to be two schools on acknowledging vacations on social media. Some folks are right out there in the open, posting as they go. Some, like us, are a bit wary of advertising that they are away from home. By and large I save my photos and travel anecdotes for when I get back. There's no right or wrong way, I guess. It's just what we prefer. And we can all choose what to make public or keep private.

While we were enjoying a day of noodling around Rehoboth Avenue, I realized I was going to need to find a bathroom. And, if you have been to Rehoboth, you know that means finding your way to the public facilities down by the boardwalk. As I made my way down the street I thought about how crucial it is to have public restrooms. How many of us would leave the house for more than brief trips if we were not assured of a place to "go" if we needed it?

Imagine if using the toilet were not considered a normal bodily function that our society took into account. How would your life be different if all eyes were on you if you needed a restroom, if it were the subject of punitive laws and very public debate?

As we see various "Bathroom Bills" come up throughout the U.S., I think it's important to realize this is not some intellectual political concept.

Isolating transgender citizens as a class and restricting their rights to use bathrooms is both ignorant and crippling. I read somewhere that it's a way of attempting to erase transgender people from existing in the public sphere. I agree. Just how far would I get in life if the only place I could use a bathroom was in the privacy of my own home?

Shopping? Work? School? Vacation?

How could I risk it? I have no idea how I would live under those circumstances.

Do you?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Charm

I'm running this post for the third time, on the anniversary of its original appearance, for a reason. In many ways it tells the story of the last several years and what went wrong in our school system. In particular, this paragraph:

Once you lose the moral high ground in your community, you lose the authority to make significant decisions that require compliance. You lose the authority to command large sums of money from the County without oversight in your operations. You lose your status as the place parents want to send their children.

We now know that the story of mold in our schools isn't just about Glenwood. Other schools have significant mold issues and teachers, staff, and students have been affected. The only thing that thrived by keeping this story in the dark was the mold.

Quite a bit has changed since the last time I ran this piece. The school board has changed, the superintendent has changed, and with that has come a reorganization of Central Office staff. The school system is looking to hire an Industrial Hygienist. I most certainly hope their top priority is to find someone has possesses the necessary professional certification (and a proven track record) to deal with mold issues.


In the Dark (July 26, 2016) refers to Mold and Truthiness (July 25, 2015)

Mold grows in unseen places: behind, beneath, between. Under, above, maybe just out of reach. It thrives in darkness.

Mold is on my mind this morning because yesterday was the one-year anniversary of my first post about the mold problem at Glenwood Middle School. In "Mold and Truthiness" I outlined the loss of trust with the Glenwood School community because of the school system's failure to communicate promptly and thoroughly about mold in the school.

A parent was quoted in the HoCo Times:

"As a community, we need to demand confirmation of mold remediation and INDEPENDENT indoor air quality testing of all rooms and inspection of walls and ceilings for presence of mold--This should occur FOLLOWING the completion of the HVAC upgrades, BEFORE the start of the school year," read a post about the email July 22. "We cannot allow our teachers and students into a building without knowing that it is a safe environment."

There was a brief moment where the school system seemed to be saying that they "got" the message. It was in November, four months after this parent's impassioned statement. Frank Eastham was quoted in the HoCo Times from a meeting with the community:

"We were trying to identify the source of the problem before we communicated what the issue was, so that we would know if we had a solution to the issue," Frank Eastham said after a parent asked why the school system decided not to communicate with parents about mold growth at Glenwood Middle School immediately after it was discovered. "In the future, we will be more transparent in order to continue to build trust in the community."

The title of the article: School officials say 'lesson learned' about transparency.

Unfortunately, the level of transparency around issues of mold after this meeting did little to build trust with the community. Talking the talk was not followed by walking the walk. Mold continued to be an issue at Glenwood. The school is undergoing multi-million dollar renovations to address this, even though the community was told long ago that all mold had been completely "remediated" and their were no health risks whatsoever.


It should be no surprise to anyone that community concerns led to activism at the local and state level. The County Executive and the County Council took action to look at the issue of mold in all our schools. The State Legislature responded to issues of transparency and accountability brought to them by parents and members of the Howard County Delegation.

Mold continues to be discovered in other schools around the county and communication with parents has been sketchy at best. We have toxic learning environments for teachers, staff, and students, and still the greater focus seems to be on keeping the community in the dark. "Lesson learned"? I don't think so. 

As I re-read last year's post, this paragraph jumped out at me:

Once you lose the moral high ground in your community, you lose the authority to make significant decisions that require compliance. You lose the authority to command large sums of money from the County without oversight in your operations. You lose your status as the place parents want to send their children.

It reads now as an almost creepy prediction of the year that followed. 

Mold and malfeasance thrive in the dark. Healthy communities do not. If you are looking for a place to find the most up-to-date findings about mold in our schools, it won't be from the school system. It will be on a school parent's Facebook page. Will this be the same a year from now?

That depends on you.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017


Things we rely on: clean water, electricity, shelter, enough to eat, reliable internet...They may seem like "the norm" to many of us but none are guaranteed. In fact they are blessings that many in this world do not have. This morning I was dealing with wonky internet that wouldn't allow me to get a post through and it made me think about how I take using the internet for granted.

The tornado touching down in Kent Island has rocked that community and shows us how fast all these "normal things" can be stripped away. Articles about last year's flooding in Ellicott City bring back memories of residents and businesses that lost everything. Punishing heat, nothing but destruction to return to.

Long after the events of those days there are people whose lives will never be the same.

We are living in a time when the very foundation of our nation is being ripped away, not by catastrophic meteorological events, but by those who care most about themselves while cultivating fear of others to a fine point. A weaponized point. There is no more common good. There is no more innate respect of fellow citizens.

I get mine.

You are not my problem.

As much as I feared the powerlessness of the loss of Internet this morning, I fear living in this new world far more. A world without empathy and respect is a world where we have lost everything that is worth having. Our country is nothing if we cannot hope in each other and come to decisions that include the well-being of those different than ourselves.

These are painful and frightening times. I do not know the way back. Or the way forward.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Lima Beans

Jenny's Market posted a large photo of Lima beans on Facebook this weekend and it reminded me of a song I once heard on WTMD in Towson. I wish I could find it for you. It went like this:

Whenever I find money in my jeans,
I always buy some Lima bean.

And I laughed when I heard it and thought, "Ugh. Really?"

Lima beans and Brussels sprouts were the two vegetables I hated the most as a child. You know, the sort of food you would sit at the dinner table until eight o'clock and still refuse to eat. (Yes, my mother tried that. No, it doesn't work.)

Both are foods to which I was reintroduced years later, fresh from the farm, and it made a world of difference. Limas beans as a side dish at a back yard cookout in Southern Maryland. Picked, cooked, eaten.within hours. A bit of butter. Surprisingly edible. The Brussels sprouts from a farm stand outside of Princeton, New Jersey. They were young and tender and we cooked them lightly and marinated them in a homemade vinaigrette for a summer salad. Delicious.

AnnieRie's most recent blog post reminded me that this is the time for the Maryland Buy Local Challenge. While I do shop the Oakland Mills Farmers Market regularly, I haven't ever been to Jenny's, and I should. It's a Howard County institution, and it would get me out of my Oakland Mills bubble to try something new.

Still not entirely sure about the Lima beans, though.

What are some ways that you will be buying local this year?

Comments are welcome here:

Sunday, July 23, 2017

They Came from Outer Space

No, they didn't. But they may have come from out of town.

Last night was the debut of the Chrysalis as a commercial venue, with a concert by Leftover Salmon and Greensky Bluegrass. No, I wasn't there. These are all fan photos gleaned from Twitter.

In order for the Chrysalis to thrive as a venue, it must strike just the right balance between free local events such as the Columbia Orchestra Pops Concert and events like this one, with paying customers. The positive comments I read from fans last night told a story of excitement about how cool this structure is, and the thrill of being present at the beginning of things.

I think it's important to remember that Merriweather Park in Symphony Woods, while first and foremost a community gathering place for Columbia/Howard County, is also meant to be a regional player in drawing people from other places. If you've ever driven out of your way to see a concert, a play, or attend a festival, you know what I mean.

Playing host to people from out of town is certainly something that Merriweather has been doing for quite some time. In this era where everyone has GPS on their phone and most stores have websites that will help you locate them, it should be pretty easy for our out of town guests to find a place to get that needed sunscreen or a restaurant for a quick bite to eat pre-concert.

But since so much of Columbia is off the beaten path, how do we encourage visitors to best enjoy their time here? How do we make such a good impression that they'll want to come again? Aside from the fact that it's just a good thing to want to encourage people to have a good time in Columbia, there's also the economic motivation of the money that these folks will spend supporting local businesses.

In addition, the success of Downtown Development hinges on connecting the Columbia Experience with people who want to be a part of it. They may not know that yet. So, every time they visit, we had better be ready to put our best foot forward. The Rouse Company had the Visitor Center. Now that Columbia is less of a plan on a drawing board and more of a reality, we are the Visitor Center. Do we want people to get excited about Columbia and want to live here? Do we want them to buy one of those original Columbia homes and update it? Do we want them to send their kids to Columbia schools, help support the transformations of the older Village Centers?

You bet we do.

It's good for Columbia, it's good for Howard County, and it's good for all the friends we haven't met yet.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

HoCo Holler: Renata's Tasty Bites

Today I'm going to give you three little words that will change your life: Renata's Tasty Bites.

This bakery is located at 9350 Snowden River Parkway. It's in the same shopping center as House of India. I first heard of Renata's Tasty Bites when she was coming to the various local farmer's markets. I must admit that, from the name, I thought she must specialize in tiny pastries that one could consume in one bite.

Boy, was I wrong.

I had been meaning to get over there for some time, but it actually was my husband who insisted we pay a visit when he read that it was more like a European patisserie. He was hoping for something savory like a meat pie or a sausage roll. His hopes were rewarded. Renata's does make Steak and Mushroom pies, and also Pigs in Blankets, which is about as close as you get to sausage rolls in this country.

The first time we went I picked out a chocolate cupcake which was labeled as Croatian. It was topped  with just the right amount of chocolate ganache, then split and filled with pure whipped cream. It was heavenly. Not too sweet. Just the right amount of richness. It took me several days to eat it. You truly could split one in half and share with a friend and neither of you would feel slighted.

Yesterday my husband stopped in again to pick up more Steak and Mushroom pies and got me a Blueberry Scone. You can see a photograph of said scone in the center of the photo collage above. This, my friends, is no ordinary scone. It begins with a traditional scone which is split and filled to bursting with fresh blueberries which have been and cooked and sweetened just enough and not too much. Then the top is finished off with a light glaze.

This is a life-changing Blueberry Scone. It might make you cry, or sing, or even write a blog post.

Renata's does sweets and savories, and even sandwiches and soups. She has been known to whip up chicken pot pies and meat sauce for you to take home for your evening dinner. Everything tastes homemade. I know many bakeries say that, but this is the real deal. One or two of these tasty bites will make you feel that Renata is a personal friend. Or ought to be.

And so I offer a great big HoCo Holler for Renata's Tasty Bites, an independent Mom-and-Pop business making Columbia just a bit tastier.

Stop by and pay her a visit. Let me know what you tried.

Renata's Tasty Bites Bakery:

Saturday: 8:00 am - 4:00 pm*
Sunday: 8:00 am - 3:00 pm*
Monday: Closed
Tuesday: 8:00 am - 4:00 pm
Wednesday: 8:00 am - 4:00 pm
Thursday: 8:00 am - 6:00 pm*
Friday: 8:00 am - 4:00 pm