Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Work In Progress

Inspired by a local blogger, I got to work today making my own "Favorite Places in HoCo and Columbia" Pinterest Board.

I'm not quite finished, and some of the links need tweaking, but I just couldn't wait to share.

And, if you get inspired, make a board of your own. Send me the link if you want to share it here. Some wonderful things are in the works for us locally,and some wonderful people have been putting forward exciting ideas for Columbia and Ellicott City.

Like my Pinterest Board, we're a work in progress, too.

Take a moment to consider your happy place. The weather is weird and dreary right now. Thinking about favorite places might bring a bit of sunlight into your afternoon. Enjoy!


Monday, January 28, 2013

A Serious Condition

Last week HoCoRising author Tom Coale wrote about what it means to have "Kittamaqundi Fever." I think most of us who know Tom are grateful that he has caught the bug and continues to be willing to serve Columbia on the CA Board of Directors.

That got me thinking about a debilitating condition which has infected our citizens for many years. It is long past time for us to address the negative impact it has had on our community. It may start as Kittamaqundi Fever, but just when does it turn into Pioneer Paralysis?

Or, as Tom so deftly described it, "We're not against progress. We're just against THIS progress."

Paul Verchinski, a member of the Senior Citizen Task Force, gave an impassioned speech Thursday evening in favor of putting a line item in CA's Budget for funds specifically earmarked for seniors. He spent a good deal of time outlining the percentage of seniors living in Columbia--village by village. All in all, according to his report, Columbia's population is comprised of between 20 to 30 per cent seniors.

So, answer this for me. Why were 100 per cent of the people who spoke against the new plan for Symphony Woods from this specific demographic? This, I suggest, is a serious case of Pioneer Paralysis. But why this vehement opposition?

Mary Catherine Cochran clarified this for me:

As a ... ahem... older person who supports the concept plan and will continue to form opinions as the details emerge... I'd like to say that it is easy to jump to the conclusion that a) only older people are against it and b) they're against it because they're old. Many of the folks you see on HCCA are the pioneers that were invested in shaping Columbia in the beginning. Columbia is their canvas of which they are quite proud... Now, young whippersnappers without their level of experience are re-creating their masterpiece, their magnum opus- without even consulting them and their considerable experience. I don't think its about age. There are some pretty old folks who support it but I won't name names as none of us really likes to think of ourselves that way. ..

(A bit of info: she and I are the same age--too "mature" to be whippersnappers and too young to be members of AARP. It can be an awkward age to be in Columbia, but does bring with it some valuable perspective. "Postcards from the Middle," you might call it.)

We know that not everyone who comes to Columbia catches Kittamaqundi fever. (Although, wouldn't it be nice if more of us did?) And, as Ms.Cochran points out, not everyone who started out here, or who has lived here a long time, will develop Pioneer Paralysis. I write to ask these questions--How does it develop? Can it be prevented? Or, better yet--cured?

I don't know. But I do know that there are, approximately, another 70 per cent of Columbians whose voice has not yet been heard. If that is you, or your moms group, PTA, running or workout group, neighbors, co-workers, karaoke or trivia night buddies, friends on Facebook--your voices are important. It matters. Columbia is yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and you are a part of what makes it alive.

Click here to read Ian Kennedy's petition on If you are in agreement, sign it and share it!

For the last week I have been haunted by the memory of an old public service announcement. In my head I hear, "Columbia. It can make 'nothing' happen to you, too."

If we don't speak up, we are a part of the Paralysis. Don't let 'nothing' happen to you, too.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Guest Post: Speaking Out for Symphony Woods

Trevor Greene, River Hill resident and former blogger (HoCoPolitico) has graciously allowed me to share his letter to the CA Board.


Dear members of the CA Board of Directors,

I am writing to offer my family's support of the new plan to improve Symphony Woods. Both my wife and I are lifelong Columbians. I grew up in Long Reach and Kings Contrivance, while my wife grew up in Hickory Ridge. My wife and I got married right after grad-school. When we were deciding where to live it wasn't a matter of where in the USA we wanted to live, rather we had a serious discussion about where in Columbia we wanted to live. It was a given that we would come back to what we affectionately call "The Columbubble" to start our family. We lived for some time in Owen Brown before we settled in River Hill.

Seven weeks ago, we were blessed to welcome our son, Elijah, into the world. He was born at Howard County General Hospital. Being new parents has been an incredible adventure. Every day we learn something new about our son. It is amazing though, because quickly after having a child, you stop thinking about how to improve the world for yourself, and change your mentality towards wondering how you can improve the world for your son. I strongly believe that the new plan for Symphony Woods will be a fantastic amenity to improve Columbia and it will help us raise and educate our son.

It was a given that we would raise our family in Columbia because we love the outdoor aspects of our community. Not a week goes by (even in the cold of winter) where we do not walk our dog around the paths near our house. In the warmth of the summer, we alternate walking around Lake Elkhorn and Wilde Lake. In my 32 years of living in Columbia, I have never once gone to Symphony Woods to walk around. The only reason anyone goes there is on their way to a concert or for Wine in the Woods. In it's current state, Symphony Woods is not a good space for exploring. There is nowhere nearby to park. There are no amenities. There is no way to walk around with a stroller. As it is, there is no reason to bring a child to Symphony Woods, nor any reason for an adult to spend time there.

This is why I am so excited about the "Inner Arbor" plan for Symphony Woods. The new plan changes everything about Symphony Woods, in a good way. It makes it a destination both for families and adults. I love the convenient parking. The concept of an arts area would provide an amenity for Columbians to explore, and a reason to come out. The variety of theater and concert space could be used in a variety of ways to educate and entertain. Restaurants and a meeting space would be used both during the week for business, but also on the weekends for celebrations. More than anything, I am excited about the elevated "tree house" walkway.

I imagine in a few short years we will be taking photos of Elijah as he gets ready for his senior prom. He'll take his date to a restaurant in Symphony Woods, and then walk her to the new ballroom in a new Spears Center where they will dance the night away. Afterwards, our son and his date will meander along the treehouse walkway, while they recall shows they saw as kids at the puppet theater.

There will be opponents to this plan. They will say that you are going too fast. I urge you to ignore those comments. We need this amenity now, so that my son will have the opportunity to experience the Inner Arbor. There has been enough talk. It is time for action.

Of course, this plan needs to be well planned, and the community should be heard as the details are put together. This is why the organization of a trust to oversee the design and development of the Inner Arbor is a fantastic idea. It should not be up to the CA Board to determine the details of this plan. You have enough on your plate already. Please do not go to your CA Board meeting and argue over the finer points of this plan. I urge you to create the Trust, and charge the Trust with the responsibility of creating and implementing a plan for the improvement of Symphony Woods, and then hand the reigns of the plan over to the Trust members.

Thank you for your hard work volunteering for our community. I know how hard your work is, and how often it goes unappreciated. If you pass this plan, I know for years to come people will come to Symphony Woods and appreciate what you have helped create.

Trevor Greene, D.D.S.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Columbia is a Verb

Preservation.  The first rule of preservation is that you must have something valuable to preserve.  In the case of buildings, they should have value to the community through their use, and/or their historical nature.  In the case of land, preservation means protecting an important natural habitat.

Symphony Woods, as it stands today, is none of these.  Let me reiterate--

1. No buildings valuable to the community through meaningful public use
2. No buildings whose historical significance make them worthy of protection/restoration
3. No thriving natural habitat which merits careful conservation

Oh, and something else.  Aside from two times yearly, Symphony Woods has no people. It has no people using the space, no people enjoying the space, no people actively involved through community initiatives to contribute to the space.

And so--leaving Symphony Woods exactly as it is?  This is not preservation. It is neglect.  Like the Victorian habit of maintaining a dead person's room exactly as he left it, a completely static memorial. Lifeless.

Let's compare the newly proposed Inner Arbor Plan plan to see how it addresses the three categories stated above:

1. Headquarters for CA and Arts buildings: Meaningful for public use
2. A re-statement of Columbia's commitment to the arts: Historically significant
3. A respectful reshaping of the landscape to encourage both active and passive appreciation of its beauty:  Conservation of nature

Please learn more about this plan, and contact the CA Board with your thoughts before this Thursday, January 24th. In addition, residents are encouraged to attend the January 24th meeting and the February 14th meeting to voice their opinions in person.  

I am excited about the new plan because it will create something worthy of the citizens of our community. It promotes engagement, participation, and a connection to the values we honor as Columbians. It says, "James Rouse created something great, and we recognize our responsibility to keep that greatness alive in perpetuity." We are responsible.

In other words: Columbia is a verb. So, let's get moving.

Friday, January 18, 2013


My daughter Alice was not the first, but quite possibly only the second female ever permitted to carry the processional cross at the Anglo-Catholic Grace & Saint Peter's Church in Baltimore. What I mean by Anglo-Catholic is extremely "high church" within the Episcopal Church. And by high church I mean extremely formal, ornate ritual, clouds of incense. Don't say it if it can be chanted or sung. And by Anglo Catholic I also mean male-dominated.

In the fifth grade, surrounded by Grandfather as a deacon, mother and stepmother in the choir, father as organist, grandmother in the congregation, she took up the cross as Crucifer. I stood in the Vestry hallway before the service and looked at her, beautifully vested, ready to break down a wall of prejudice that had held girl-children and women back in this church for generations. My heart was full. I sidled over to her and whispered,

"For this was I born--for this I have come into the world...". She smiled a quiet, subdued smile, more at my excitement than any enjoyment on her part. She had her own reasons; she didn't need mine.

I thought of that moment this morning as I reread her blog post of last night. Alice is not the first writer to open up publicly about having bipolar disorder. She may be one of the first to do so in our HoCoBlogging community, however. The brave eleven year old that took up her cross so long ago is still breaking down walls today. She has her own reasons.

Returning to my rather glib Biblical reference, I went back to double-check exactly where it fell in the narrative of Jesus' life. It's from John, of course: the most poetic, my favorite of the Gospels.

"Pilate therefore said to him: Art thou a king then? Jesus answered: Thou sayest that I am a king. For this was I born, and for this came I into the world; that I should give testimony to the truth. Every one that is of the truth, heareth my voice." (Douay-Rheims Bible)

All these years I had kept that quote in my heart as a call to fulfilling destiny. But I had completely forgotten the point: giving testimony to the truth. Breaking down walls isn't enough without the truth to motivate you, a truth you must share, no matter what the consequences.

As Alice moved on into her Middle School years, she became fixated on finding and fulfilling her destiny. Interestingly, it was during this time that symptoms of her illness first appeared, though we didn't recognize the truth of them for many years. The word "destiny" was so important to her that I had it engraved onto a bookmark I gave her when she completed Middle School.

"Alice: Destiny" it read. Well, actually, that is what it was supposed to read, but the shop-girl clearly thought that Destiny was Alice's middle name and left out the colon. So I suppose you could say that Destiny became her middle name during those years.

As a mother, I wanted Alice to carry that cross in church. But when it came to facing the truth of her diagnosis, I struggled. Did it have to be something so serious, so all-encompassing? Couldn't I fix it for her? And worse--was it somehow my fault?

Of course it wasn't--and isn't--about me. Reading her post reminded me of that. Alice has her own reasons for breaking down walls. She brings truths to share with us, no matter what the consequences.

And, like that Sunday so long ago, I am proud to be her mother.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

"The Case of the Mysterious Twenty Dollar Bill."

We all have our own quirky attitudes about money. Although, I am sure that many folks have healthier ones than mine. I have been wrestling with a particular problem for awhile now. It has to do with charity. This is my story.

"The Case of the Mysterious Twenty Dollar Bill."

I don't think my parents gave money to any charitable causes until very late in their married lives. It wasn't until I, the youngest child, had left home that I noticed my mother donating to public broadcasting and a few nature charities. The lesson I learned was, once you are financially secure, then you can think about charitable giving.

I spent many, many years being financially insecure. Those ten years between marriages, as a single parent, took quite a toll on my sense of financial stability. A dollar for the collection plate in church, yes, but charitable giving? That was for rich people.

Well, I have been married for thirteen years now, and the magic "click" of financial security has somehow never gone off in my head. I have given small amounts from time to time, mostly in the twenty dollar range, when specifically asked by someone I know and like. But every time I think about giving on a regular basis, the specter of running out of money looms large in my head. "What if I do this and I don't have money to buy groceries?" I worry.

The other day, after shopping around online for several months, I purchased some craft supplies. I refused to make the purchase until I could make the cost of the item come to less than the cost of shipping. (!) The total came to just over twenty dollars. I have a hard time spending money on myself, so I did feel a little guilty. But I told myself, "Don't feel bad--it's only twenty dollars. That's practically nothing."

And then it hit me. When I make that little splurge, every so often, on craft supplies, I am not afraid I will run out of money. Why? It is the same darn twenty dollar bill! What is wrong with this picture?

Perhaps I still see charitable giving as an activity for rich people. Perhaps I think that twenty dollars is too puny a donation. Certainly my thinking is influenced by my parents' views, and by my years of living paycheck to paycheck. Although now I live comfortably, I'm never far from the thought that I could "run out."

Recently I was in church with my family, listening to my husband's choir sing the musical offering. The collection plate was coming around, and I looked in my purse. I had three singles and a twenty. I needed the singles to pay for my daughter's school lunch the next day. I felt a twinge of panic. What was I going to do?

With a rush of adrenaline, I put the twenty in the collection plate.

And nothing bad happened. I didn't run out of money. Nor was the donation scorned for being too small. It was a very simple thing which I have been making complicated for a long, long time.

So now I begin. I need to start with that symbolic twenty dollar bill, and make peace with it. It begins with me, my choices, and that twenty dollar bill. And maybe the rest of my family can learn something along with me.

I'm not rich. But I am able to make a contribution. A good lesson for the new year.