Wednesday, July 15, 2020

I Don’t Buy It

I am puzzled by the Governor’s new book release. Of all the things he could be doing right now to make life better for Marylanders, a memoir that paints his years in office as the exploits of a tough guy against the lawless is not remotely useful.

I gave Mr. Hogan credit for his work at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. But that was because I made the assumption that he was going to follow through. He hasn’t. Hogan just seemed to...lose interest. He started strong and then - - boom! - - he made decisions that essentially threw county executives around the state under the bus. After that it was back to Hogan as usual, criticizing and passing judgement on anyone whose choices differed from his own.

No collaboration. No teamwork. No attempt to lift up local leaders to lend credibility to their efforts.

Did he get bored? Did someone in Washington tell him to lay off? I have no idea. But Mr. Hogan started with so much political capital on this issue and squandered it. I’m embarrassed to say I thought he was truly going to take care of the people of Maryland. I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, despite my many disagreements with his political views and past decisions.

I sure look foolish now.

Perhaps at the height of making those pandemic decisions the Governor got sidetracked by putting the finishing touches on his book, or planning the upcoming publicity campaign. It’s hard to say. Perhaps he decided that it’s not my good opinion that matters but rather those good ol’ folks who think that the coronavirus is a hoax and that removing statues of racists is un-American. They’ll probably buy his book. 

I won’t.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

How He Got Famous

This is the story of a meteoric rise to fame in a local Columbia Facebook group. This story is true, only the names have been omitted to respect the privacy of the members of the group. 

It all started on July 6th, on the Buy Nothing (Columbia East) Group.

Gift: blue tutu

No size listed, but banana for reference

Would prefer to have it picked up within the next day or 2.

And then, following in quick succession:


I love your banana for size. It makes me laugh.
That banana is going places.

On July 7th:


I’m wondering who that banana’s agent is... I hope he has a lucrative contract for all of his modeling work this week 

July 11th:


That banana is getting rough.
He’s waiting for his day to shine!

And then, yesterday:


He looks so dapper! 
Googly eyes! 
This banana is my favorite thing.
Omg, that banana!! His agent is definitely doing their job!!

Finally, on July 13th:

Gratitude: thank you to everyone who chimed in and commented on my banana antics (banantics?) this past week. It definitely helped to brighten my day. 

However, it was finally time for the banana to move on and realize his full potential today, so this will be his last post.


I've loved your banantics!
I agree, they certainly had appeal! 
He decided to make like a banana and split. 
Omg this banana post keeps getting better and better. Love your sense of humor! 
He was sad though, because he realized he was no longer appealing.
But now I have no idea how big this is!

And yet, it wasn’t exactly the last word in the banana-tastic saga. A little while later came this tribute from another member, complete with a photo montage and a virtual award:

To gift ... I’m veering off the typical post in that i want to gift to a specific person. I know this is not our normal way of doing things, but i felt that a personal gift of a virtual Emmy award for Best Spokesperson is deserved for Mr. Banana and his hardworking talent agent. Mr. Banana, you put Billy Mays and Ron Popeil to shame. Thank you for brightening our days with your many spokes-person appearances. You will be missed as you enjoy a well-deserved sweet retirement.


I love you all! What a great group of people this is!
But most of all, I hold the memory of Dear Mr. Banana close to my heart. 

He was so young looking back on his blue tutu days! I was shocked at his bold move to add the googly eyes in his glass bowl days. He just looks so majestic in retirement. This look suits him well.

I love him!! I’m so happy that you are honoring him as he enters his golden (brown) years

Another one bites the dust. I'm sure he had a sweet and smooth journey. We loafs you Mr. Banana.

Standing ovation!

How could such a beloved character meet such a dark end? 

Thanks for the laughs!

Thanks a bunch!

Another member posted this photo as a tribute, perhaps the very first piece of Mr. Banana swag?

The mission of the Buy Nothing Project:

We offer people a way to give and receive, share, lend, and express gratitude through a worldwide network of hyper-local gift economies in which the true wealth is the web of connections formed between people who are real-life neighbors.

Their website encourages members to “give freely and share creatively.” The unexpected rise to fame of an unassuming banana seems to me to be a prime example of both. Years from now, if someone asks me what helped me hold it all together during the pandemic, I’ll probably tell them about my Buy Nothing Group, and about a small-town superstar named Mr. Banana.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Don’t Be Fooled

Today is Monday, July (checks calendar) 13th and this is your periodic reminder that the reason that COVID-19 has not completely decimated Howard County is not because it isn't all that bad. It’s because our local government chose to handle it responsibly, and many local institutions are backing them up. A lot of local citizens are choosing to follow suit. 

It takes a lot of work to do all this, whether at the county governmental level or the hospital or in local businesses. You’ll forgive me if I’m beyond frustrated when people look at the successes brought about by these coordinated efforts and say, “See? It’s not a big deal at all!”

So let’s open all the businesses! Let’s send the teachers and students back to school! All these restrictions are inconvenient and unnecessary!

That’s not how this works, folks. As the advert says, “That’s not how any of this works.”

I’d like to give a shout-out today to the Howard County Health Department. They have been running information about how ordinary people in Columbia/HoCo can respond to the COVID-19 pandemic on their Twitter account for quite some time now. They have helpful links to online events. They use humorous memes to communicate public health information. They respond to questions in a timely manner!

If you don’t already follow them on Twitter, you should. Over the last few months they’ve become my unofficial pandemic buddies on social media. For a small example, check out this thread on contact tracing:

I just discovered that this quote, which I’ve loved for years, is attributed to actor Michael Caine. Who knew?

Be a duck, remain calm on the surface and paddle like hell underneath.

When it comes to assessing the seriousness of COVID-19 in Howard County, there are clearly some people who are fooled by how calm things look on the surface. This is probably because they are not remotely connected to how much paddling is going on underneath.

If you want to see what “no big deal at all!” looks like, I’d suggest you take a look at Florida.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Big Drawback

A local realtor I know posted about a dozen houses and asked, “Which one is your favorite?” Strangely enough my top two were in Oakland Mills. Probably my very favorite was a house on Wandering Way. Wandering Way is exactly as the name suggests; it meanders along at a rather casual pace until it comes to a suitably Columbian cul de sac ending.

One of the reasons I have come to adore Wandering Way is that there are a number of “original” Columbia homes which have been updated and customized by subsequent owners. It’s almost the laboratory for new thinking about our older houses. Most people in Columbia wouldn’t even know they exist, because Wandering Way is off the beaten path. You’d have to try to find it.

In the end I had to admit that this house had a drawback I couldn’t get around: no sidewalks. 

To me a neighborhood has to have sidewalks. Otherwise you are saying everyone must drive or walk in the street. It suggests that you aren’t expecting neighbors to be connected to neighbors. Sidewalks can be for roller-skating, trick-or-treating, canvassers encouraging you to vote in the Village election, people out walking for exercise, beginning bicyclists, a trip to the grocery.  I can’t understand why any neighborhood in Columbia wouldn’t have been built with sidewalks as an essential. 

I’ve heard that not everyone likes sidewalks. Somewhere in the back of my mind is a story about a neighborhood that actively fought sidewalks, but I can’t remember which one. Columbia Hills? Allview? If you know, fill me in. For that matter, if you don’t like sidewalks I’d be interested to hear your point of view. 

My little house, a quadroplex on a road dominated by single-family homes, remains my top choice because it is so easy to walk anywhere in the Village I want to go. I don’t have square feet, I don’t have acreage, but I have sidewalks. Sidewalks make for connections. Interestingly enough, our slogan in Oakland Mills is: We Value Connections.

What about you? Are you connected? Do you wish that you were? Share your views in the comments.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Rescued in the Nick of Time

This was almost the story of the terrible, horrible, no-good day. It started when I was cutting the end of a loaf of crusty sourdough bread from Wegmans and my very sharp bread knife sliced into two of my fingers. It was then that I discovered that I was out of bandages save for two teeny tiny ones and one enormous one.

Wait. It gets better.

I cut the enormous one in half and that would’ve been just dandy but one of them was bleeding with great enthusiasm. So I ended up having to concoct my own back up bandages out of paper towels and medical tape. Several times.

Still, I didn’t have much time to waste as I had a follow-up doctors appointment and I didn’t want to be late. I arrived with time to spare only to discover I had driven to the wrong office by mistake. The buildings are near the hospital and the driveways are next to each other. The interiors of the buildings are identical too, dagnabbit.

Back in the car. Arrive at the correct doctor’s office and, at the check in, I see a puzzled look from the woman at the desk. She looks at her computer screen. She clicks. She types. She pauses.

“I’m so sorry, but your appointment is next Friday. You’re a whole week early.”

Dear readers, at this point I thought of many things. Some of them were not printable.

But this is not the end of the story. As I sat at home in my comfy chair, nursing my wounds, I got a delivery.

It was an entire box of Momma’s Gingerbread Cakes hand-delivered to me From Momma’s Kitchen. I had ordered them as a special treat for myself because I adore gingerbread. I had no idea how much I would need it when it arrived. 

I wasted no time in the unboxing and the tasting.

The top sparkled with plentiful sugar crystals and the cake was light and tender with flecks of fresh ginger. I almost cried, it was that good. I made myself eat it slowly so as to appreciate everything about it: the flavor, the texture, the fragrance, the moist and tender crumb.

This is not your mother’s gingerbread. This is Momma’s Gingerbread cake and you could serve it to company or the Queen of England. But it would be very, very hard to share.

Want your own box? Or something else equally delicious from a local, Black-owned business in Columbia/HoCo? Look up From Momma’s Kitchen on Facebook and take a look at her website, too.

I don’t wish on anybody the day I had yesterday, but, just in case it happens to you, it would be a good idea to have “Momma” on speed-dial. 

Friday, July 10, 2020

New Beginnings

A bit of purely light-hearted fun this morning. I need some and I’ll bet you do, too. 

There’s a new business opening in the old Cheeburger Cheeburger space. It’s called Neo Pizza & Taphouse. You can checkout their page on Facebook and their website. It looks like they will be doing fundraiser nights for area groups, just as their predecessor did. That’s good news for local PTAs and area non-profits.

I really know nothing about them, but, after a look at their menu, I’m eager to try their salads. They’re not the same-old, same-old. From their Facebook page:

The best artisan pizza in Columbia. Handcrafted delicious food and a wide selection of Self Serve craft beers in a comfortable, casual atmosphere. Food to go, Happy Hour Specials. Subs, Sandwiches, Wraps, and more. N.E.O. Never. Expect. Ordinary.

Self-serve beer? Hmm.

Neo is not a part of a national chain. There are exactly four so far: Annapolis, Bel Air, Mount Vernon Marketplace, and Columbia. I’d suggest you go here to learn more but you’d have to have an extemely high tolerance for reading narrative text


It looks like owner Leho Poldmae also owns the Green Turtle. Wait, isn’t there a Green Turtle right next door to the new Columbia location? Interesting.

Something else I’m excited about is the opening of the newest venture from Lee Andersen at ManniqArt: DoodleHATCH. Oh, my goodness, this is the first thing that has made me want to leave the house in months.

DoodleHATCH is a one-of-a kind destination for kids, adults who wish they were kids, and visitors seeking something new and different to do.

A pretend store for the mythical creatures of fairy tales, ghost tales, and other worlds, it is an interactive walk through fantasy realms. Stop at the fairy village, visit the hobbit house, and check into the Dead and Breakfast.

They are open by appointment right now to ensure appropriate physical distancing. Wondering about the cost? It’s ten cents an inch: get measured to find out. I did an approximate calculation of mine and it’s quite reasonable. For those of you who remember the visioning work done in Long Reach to reimagine the Long Reach Village Center, this new attraction fits right in. 

Opening businesses in the midst of such uncertainty is a big risk. Neither one of these has the backing of big national chains, so, if we want them to get off the ground, we’ll have to support them. If you have kids, or, even if you don’t, both look like they will be worth a visit. 

If I find myself attending a restaurant night for DoodleHATCH (yes, it’s a 501(c) (3) nonprofit) at Neo Pizza some time in the next year I will award myself cool points for my prescience. 

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Guest Post: Impossible Situations

Today’s post comes from Mindy Levene Spak, Howard County teacher and mother of two children in the Howard County school system. There’s been a lot of talk recently about what going back to school should look like. Ms. Spak has penned a letter which, to my mind, speaks to the heart of what teachers and parents are wrestling with. I share it here with her permission. 


Here is my story both as an educator and a parent.

My 15 year old son has Down Syndrome. I have had an amazing HOCO special ed experience. He has attended Bollman Bridge, PVMS, and will begin Hammond High in the fall. He has been completely underserved during this time.....and his "people" have killed themselves to make it right by him. His support needs are great and his teachers (and mother) are limited in what they can give. And truth be told...I am 100% okay. Because he is safe and healthy. My greatest fear is that he will need to be hospitalized and not understand what is going on. That he will be alone or with just one of us in the hospital. That my entire family will be torn apart as we are split between my 13 year old daughter (rising 8th grader) who also needs two parents and my hospitalized son. I do not know if I am strong enough to live through my son being hospitalized.

For that reason, I am not going back to a brick and mortar building next year. If half the kids go one day and half another...I am still exposed to everyone. I work in a building with 1400 people. I spend HOURS asking kids to put their phones away, to not watch movies while I am teaching, and to keep their hands to themselves. There is no way, no way, I can go back to work. I will quit if I have to. I will homeschool or pay for private school. I am not risking our lives. If Americans cannot forgo 4th of July at the beach or wear masks....then I am not going to teach their children at a school. I just am not.

I am lucky. We don't need my paycheck to eat. I have tenure. I am a white, English-speaking, educated educator. I can walk away. But my ESOL students....that is another story.

My students, whose parents have risked so much so their children can have a better life....they are the ones who are now "essential". These families are doing the work that they have always done - washing dishes, cooking food, yard work, running nail shops or dry cleaners. These families are keeping our society going. And they are exposed to everyone. Kids have stopped attending school because their families need money to pay the rent. They stop attending because the technology is not consistent or easy to understand. Going to school in a 2nd language is hard enough, now you need to navigate a hard system. They stop coming because they were only coming to see their friends. Some have only a 4th grade education and are lost without their friends' cues and support.

Teachers and students are lost without each other. We need each other. I did not go into teaching because I love grading papers. I love the kids. I love helping them expand who they are and what they know. I love being that person who loves them up and cheers them on. And none of that is happening. And it break my hear and if I am not careful it will break my sprit.

BUT WE ARE IN A PANDEMIC!!! It's unprecedented in our lifetimes. We have to be safe. We have to protect ourselves. Let's live through this and then play catch up. We are going to miss out on some very important things. Everyone is missing out. But the reward of all of this is that we increase our chances of enjoying the rest of our lives.

I believe the question needs to be: how can we make on-line learning the best it can be? Not: how soon can we get back to the building?

I am hoping HCPSS does right by us. If they don't, I have an exit strategy that I hope I do not need to use. Because using it would break my heart.


The truth is that criminally bad management at the national level is forcing these kinds of heartbreaking decisions at the local level. Instead of weighing choices that are the best for children and teachers we are faced with nonsensical dictates that have nothing to do with education and everything to do with the storage of children so that their parents can make the economic numbers look better in an election year. This statement from Katie Adams on Twitter accurately describes the situation we find ourselves in:

It’s all true. What choices will we make in Howard County?