Sunday, November 23, 2014


I recommend to you today a man I have never met: Bill Goddard. I have come to respect him solely from my interactions with him on Twitter. I can't remember when I started following him, but it may have been in the aftermath of the shooting at the mall. His Twitter feed has been unfailingly polite, supportive of the community, informative, and wise.

On November 21st, County Executive-elect Alan Kittleman announced that Mr. Goddard had resigned. The Sun article lays the groundwork for the possibility that this was not a decision the Fire Chief came to all by himself. New political administrations apparently have the right to shake things up, bring in their own people. The spoils of war, you know.

Be that as it may, my gut tells me that this is a good, hard-working man who has served Howard County well, and that this is a loss for us. I am not an expert in the fire department. After all, you might say, I only know him on Twitter. What could I know?

I challenge you to go to his Twitter feed and just read. Go back as far as you are able--it's only 140 characters at a time, after all. I think you will get a sense of what I did. This is a humble, very human public servant. Among other things, I think he may be the father of a teacher, because he never missed an opportunity to remind his readers of the dedication and value of those who go into the classroom every day and work with kids.

And maybe that made me like him even more. Just maybe.

This quote from Tom Coale is a reminder of what kind of risks are inherent in a fire fighter's life:

This afternoon, I found myself alongside the funeral cortege for Baltimore City firefighter Lt. James E. Bethea as it went north on 83. As I saw uniformed men and women standing on top of fire engines saluting from the overpass, I thought about how much we hear the term "public servant" during election season without really thinking about what it means. I am thankful there are people in this world like James Bethea; true public servants who risk their lives every day without title or recognition. It is a horrible tragedy every time they are lost.

Take a minute to go on Twitter and thank Mr. Goddard. I think it will mean a lot to him.




Saturday, November 22, 2014

Flying South

A flock of geese just passed over my house, honking away. I saw a similar group yesterday as I sat in my car before teaching. The weather is colder, the days are darker. I'm sitting under a blanket, too chilled to get up and make coffee.

Young children are taught to notice the changes in the seasons and to celebrate them. I remember gathering leaves and acorns in the Fall, and getting excited when we got out the winter hats coats and mittens because it meant playing in the snow was not too far away.

But something has happened to me in recent years as the trees become completely bare and the temperatures drop. I'm resisting. I'm cold, and I long for sunlight and clear skies. I feel too keenly a sense of loss and things ending. I feel myself bargaining with God--just one more sunny day!--instead of celebrating what is and what is to come.

For many years I taught preschoolers and kindergarteners to observe the natural world and to be filled with the joy of each season. Why do we do that, and then somehow lose it for ourselves? If it is something they need to know, then it is something I need to know.

It is time for me to get back to basics, and teach myself. Get out my brightly colored Winter nightgowns and find my fuzzy slippers. Bake my favorite cookies. Play music that fills my heart with joy. Finish that craft project that I put down in summer when it was just too hot to make a fleecy scarf.

Light a candle. And stop cursing the darkness.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Dream Big

Here is my testimony from last night's Planning Board meeting:

I am here to speak in support of the Inner Arbor Trust, specifically the plan for Merriweather Park in Symphony Woods and the phase of the plan you are considering tonight.

There is something deeply human in the desire to tell and retell the story of where we came from. It is a very natural thing to treasure our memories and seek ways to preserve them, whether in scrapbooks, time capsules, or museums. Right now in Columbia we are challenged to balance a deep respect for our roots with the needs of our residents today and in the future. Communities are living entities that grow, change, reach, adapt, and transform. Memories alone cannot sustain them.

The plan you will be voting on tonight has its roots in the very beginnings of Columbia, while also meeting the requirements of our more recent Downtown Plan. Its design will attract new life to an area long-dormant. It will create spaces for play, enjoyment of nature, arts experiences, and restful relaxation. It speaks to who we are as a communty today and inspires us to dream big dreams for the future.

Artifacts can be placed in a time capsule for safe keeping. Communities cannot. While Columbia will always need story-tellers to keep our story going, we will also need dreamers, planners, and builders to bring to life the stories that haven't yet been told. This park will be a place that brings all of us together. I ask that you approve this first part of the plan and continue your support for this park as it progresses.


I wasn't sure I really wanted to go last night. (My dislike of meetings is well-known at this point.) But my desire to see this thing through outweighed the negatives. I went.

The best thing for me was to see and hear so much testimony that was far and away superior to mine. I tend to get caught up in my own perfectionism. I write and rewrite, in search of the perfect turn of phrase.

But last night was an education in how many different kinds of people have chosen to stand up in favor of this park for our community. Brilliant, dedicated people. My presence was but a small piece in the beautiful mosaic that is Columbia. Exactly as it should be.

The Planning Board voted unanimously in favor of the Inner Arbor Plan (phases 1-7).


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Tonight, Tonight, Won't Be Just Any Night

Tonight the Planning Board will make a decision on the first phase of the Inner Arbor plan for Symphony Woods. In honor of this momentous occasion, I am reprinting this post from August 21, 2013.

Good Night Columbia

Came out of Clyde's to the full moon over the water.



I thought I caught a glimpse of Dennis on the way in. Like a scene from a hokey movie, I stopped and closed my eyes and looked again.

"Goodnight, Columbia."

Oh, oh, oh my what a day

Making my way

Around this town.

Oh, oh, oh walking the lakefront with eager feet. Who will I meet?

The light of the dream is shining its beam

It's like a phone call from yesterday

Oh, oh, oh pulling me closer to plans for a

Brighter New Day

Good night Columbia

Every day sees me lovin' ya

Every night near the People Tree

(All the trees sing a symphony.)

Columbia: Goodnight

And some day when the time is right

The world's gonna see what I see

Columbia set free!

Oh, oh, oh look at the lake

Nothing can break

The stillness now

Oh, oh a table at Clyde's and the best of friends

The night never ends.

The names on the bricks, the people who mix,

they say the dream is worth fighting for

So, oh, oh don't let it die

Cause Columbia's ready to fly

Good night Columbia

Now the Whole Foods is just a dream

Soon we'll wake to a place to thrive

We'll be walking, won't have to drive

Columbia: goodnight

And some day when the time is right

The world's gonna see what I see

Columbia set free!

I know every Village, each crazy street name

I know it's important when people came.

But the future is coming, no, it won't wait.

So someone accept it before it's too late.

So, oh, oh, give it a chance

The romance of making a dream come true

Oh, oh, oh something inside of you knows the song--

Just sing along.

Pioneers may say "no" but my heart says "lets go!"

It's like tomorrow is at the door

Oh,oh,oh this is the time

One moment, one meeting with fate.

Good night Columbia

Every day sees me lovin' ya

Every night near the People Tree

(All the trees sing a symphony.)

Columbia: Goodnight

And some day when the time is right

The world's gonna see what I see

Columbia set free!


The Planning Board will accept written testimony until three pm today. Or you can come to the meeting tonight and voice your support.



Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Popping Bubbles

I spent a little time outside the Bubble last night. The "Columbubble", that is. My daughter had a rehearsal in Towson and I found myself killing time at the Putty Hill Panera and thinking how rarely I leave Howard County these days. Trying to get from Columbia to Towson at six in the evening is a serious disincentive--how grateful I am that I no longer have a daily commute.

Anyway--bubbles. In addition to the Columbia kind, I've been thinking of the kind of Bubble that blogger Tom Coale wrote about this summer.

The Bubble is "us". It is the 500 to 800 people across the County that pay attention to hyper-local politics, talk about hyper-local politics, and can name at least three members of the Board of Education (if we were a club, that would be the pass-code). We pay attention to each and every move a candidate makes and will look at campaign literature more than once after it arrives in our mailbox. If you're reading this, you are at the pinnacle of the bubble - you cannot get enough of this stuff.

This post, along with Ian Kennedy's response, challenged my views on the election and my part in it more than anything else that has been written in the last year. In fact, after I read it I felt myself at a dead stop. How much of my writing was Bubble-chatter? Did it have any broader relevance? After all, being in the Bubble is

...not always a good thing...The Bubble distorts things. It makes you see things that aren't there. It builds confidence in places of great doubt. And it is most deceptive around election season.

I've been thinking a lot about another piece, too. This editorial from the Howard County Times truly irked me when it was published following the primary. "Howard candidates would be wise not to ignore the storm clouds", they stated.

Humph! I remember reading this and being annoyed by what I found to be a rather patronizing tone. It came across to me like Dad sitting behind his newspaper, offering tidbits of wisdom without actually putting down the newspaper to see what was going on. "They don't live here!" I thought. "They don't really know what it's like."

Now I re-read it and think, "ouch." Although I'm still not too keen on the tone, I see that familiar suggestion that perhaps politicians and their supporters are too immersed in the Bubble to see clearly. Ian's words come to mind:

I obviously still care deeply about our community and our opportunities but what I've found myself doing is trying to separate my work and my ideals from my emotions. The bubble makes that hard. The bubble asks you to pick sides; to engage in small matters that seem big because the bubble is a grind; the bubble is non-stop.

The results of the election were a big smack upside the head for many inside the Bubble. For me, it has been necessary to take a step back and rethink my part in all that. For others, rebuilding the Bubble is the first priority.

And so it goes.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Snacks and Drinks

Many years ago my oldest daughter visited a high church Episcopal Sunday service where her grandfather was serving as sub-deacon. Afterwards she told me, "Grandpère was giving out snacks and drinks, but I didn't have any." It was a preschool description of Holy Communion that has stuck in my head to this day.

With the relentless posting and reposting of the HoCo Times story on Kittleman lifting the so-called "sugary drinks ban", I find my attention turning today to snacks and drinks. And not the Holy Communion kind, either. I think we forget that there was a time when vending machines were not ubiquitous. Now they seem to be expected.

In fact, eating and drinking as a leisure activity has become woven into our daily existence, which is why our cars now have more crumbs and more empty McDonalds's cups than ever before. And we expect that if we go to a County office building, or the library, that our right to snacking will be accommodated.


Why is this really necessary?

Is the County obligated to provide any vending machines of any kind? I say: no. They must provide plentiful and safe drinking water, functional bathrooms, and a healthy work environment. There is no "right" to vending machines. All employees and visitors are free to bring their own snacks and drinks, healthy or not.

All this carping about "the right" to buy a Coke misses the point. What kind of entitlement is this? Why rely on County vending machines at all? Why has no one said, "Government should not be in the vending machine business"?

I heard a discussion on the radio once about the ethical dilemma presented by movie theaters who sell exhorbitantly priced refreshments and maintain rules against bringing in food from the outside. The ethics expert pointed out that the patrons were visiting the movie theater voluntarily, that it was private property, and that owners had the right to enforce their rules. The interviewer countered that, if the patrons couldn't afford those high prices, they'd be forced to eat nothing at all.

"There's a place where millions of Americans go weekly, sit together in large groups for hours at a time, and eat nothing," the expert said. "It's called church."

Grandpère 's service at the high altar notwithstanding, I think the ethics expert has a point. We will not starve. We will not die of thirst. While I think the concept of using vending machines to offer healthier snacks and beverages was done in the positive spirit of benefiting public health, in my opinion we need to challenge a bigger icon: the vending machine itself.









Monday, November 17, 2014

A Lovely Natural Setting

Yesterday I stopped by the Walgreens at the corner of happy and--wait--I mean, Thunder Hill and Route 175. The parking lot was relatively full and Girl Scouts had set up shop outside, selling cookies. The grounds have been recently replanted and look lovely. It is hard to imagine that this business was the cause of such conflict for some local residents.

Take a look at this post on Tales of Two Cities for a taste of the controversy. Certain residents described an empty parking lot and a boarded-up building as a "lovely natural setting" which should not be despoiled with a retail business. Individuals circulated petitions, stirring up fear that the Walgreens would be open 24 hours and attract a bad element. The traffic pattern would be hazardous and lead to multiple accidents. It was suggested that Rouse himself never wanted that space to be retail (not true) and that the Walgreens would be the destruction of the Village Center (hasn't happened.)

In fact, the Food Lion has actually upped its game since the opening of the Walgreens, and we have added an additional business, the Little Caesars pizza place, since the Walgreens opened. Our local pub has survived a misguided move to close it down and was supported by the community, the Village and the County. The truth of the matter is that the Walgreen's is a thriving and much-needed business in our community.

Why do I bring this up today? Well, many of the very same people who spread fear and rumor and circulated petitions against the Walgreens are now on the team that is fighting the Inner Arbor Trust and the creation of Merriweather Park in Symphony Woods. That's right. The people who described a weedy parking lot in disrepair with a boarded-up business as a "lovely natural setting" want to tell Columbia what a people's park should look like.

Should a "park for a lifetime" be inspiring? Exciting? Far-reaching in imagination and design? Or should it put one in mind of memorials and the dead? And who should choose how our future unfolds? Should it be the kind of people who traffic in smear tactics and whisper campaigns?

Look around and see who is supporting the Inner Arbor. You will see all sorts of people--single, married, married with kids, young professionals, parents, middle-aged folks and grandparents. The support is coming from a wide variety of residents. Then take a very close look at those who seek to take it down.

Consider the source.

The final hearing of the Planning Board will be this Thursday evening at 7pm at the George Howard Building. You have an opportunity to show up in person and speak for a park that will be for all of us. Why does it matter? I think Bill Woodcock said it extremely well:

At the last hearing I called the Inner Arbor "A park for a lifetime". And it's exactly that. One will be able to take their children and grandchildren to the Merrigoround; as teenagers, they'll be hanging out at the Picnic Table; as young adults, walk under on a date, maybe even propose to their beloved, at the Caterpillar; and attend concerts and many cultural events at the Chrysalis and at Merriweather Post Pavilion. And all the while enjoy nature in its purest form.

Let's show the Planning Board what it looks like when people get excited in favor of something. I imagine that it will be a welcome and refreshing experience for them.