Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Worn Out

National news is so dreadful that the high point of my day yesterday was a good checkup at the dentist. I got “roughed up” on social media twice yesterday (no blood drawn) and I’m worn out. Some folks think we'd all get along together if we just sat down and talked with each other more. After yesterday I’m upset that such people exist. Forget wanting to sit in the same room with them to have a chat. No thanks.

Some things that are on my mind today:

The proposal to offer more healthy food options in County vending machines.
The draft report from the Area Attendance Committee.
The upcoming Coral Reef Encounter at Macgill’s Common Pool this weekend.
Lawns: who needs ‘em?
The Fundraiser for Matcha Time Café this Sunday.

Yesterday wore me out. I’m going to do my best today to stay away from the news and the internet and recover. See you tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Not Trend-Worthy

For a brief shining moment yesterday I entertained the notion of getting a witty hashtag to trend on Twitter. This is what happens if you have a) delusions of grandeur, or b) too much coffee.

As I waited for my Venti iced coffee (just cream, no sugar) I noticed one of those little chalkboard signs announcing a new product. Now, when you order your drink “with a shot”, you can have it “updosed”.

Wait, what?

That’s right, “updosed”, a made up term which means you can chose how strong you want the added shot of espresso to be. At least, that is my understanding from reading the chalkboard before I drank my morning coffee at the Wilde Lake Starbucks.

I got it into my head that I was going to make “updosed” a thing.

You can now have your espresso “updosed” at Starbucks . Congrats for coming up with a word we didn’t know we needed.

 “What’s wrong with him?” “Don’t know. Looking a little...*updosed* I’m thinking”

Your turn. Use #updosed in a sentence, Starbucks fans.

A few loyal friends obliged.

Large swarms of updosed, free-range preschoolers can be hazardous, so wise parents serve cake and ice cream at the end of the birthday party.

He was constipated till he got an UPdose!

All these kids running around camp like they've been updosed.  #Facts

And, my final offering:

Doctor: I’m afraid there’s nothing we can do.
Nurse: But, Doctor, what about—?
Doctor: Well, maybe. But there’s a lot of risks. 
Nurse: But we have to try!
Doctor: All right. We’ll do it. Prepare the patient to be updosed.

Rather like the poor girl who “tried to make ‘fetch’ happen”, I went for the big splash and made nary a ripple. It was nice while it lasted, though.

Wouldn’t it be fun to be in the room when companies made up these silly words?

Monday, July 15, 2019

The Right Route

Since I generally have no qualms about revealing my ignorance on local topics, I’m going to jump right in with this one. What’s up with Route 32 after the Clarksville exits?

The other day there was an incident on 32 which messed up traffic for hours.

I got the feeling from posts I saw that traveling on 32 was the only way they could get home. I don’t drive out that way as much as I used to, and I certainly haven’t tried to navigate without access to Route 32. But it strikes me as crazy that there are no alternate ways to go.

A lot of work has been done in recent years to streamline entrance/exits on this position of the road, and I seem to remember former County Executive Kittleman and Governor Hogan announcing major improvements. That’s all well and good, but what happens if that’s the one route, it’s out of commission, and you can’t get home?

Hmm...this reminds me of something...

Is this a case where people need to know back roads better, or is it truly that “you can’t get there from here”?

Enlighten me.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Sidestepping Solutions

I have a gig this morning at the Chrysalis, so I’m going to make this short.

Remember Bree Newsome Bass? She’s the activist from Columbia who (quite literally) rose to national prominence when she scaled the flagpole in South Carolina and removed the Confederate flag. I’ve been following her on Twitter ever since.

In light of the multiple issues we face as a community as we contemplate school redistricting, I want to share this quote from Ms. Newsome Bass:

We already have solutions for racism, poverty, immigration, etc. It's not about a lack of solutions, it's that *not everyone wants solutions*. 

A powerful segment doesn't think it's a problem. They are actively opposed to equality & democracy for all. That's the issue. 

We have to stop acting like the issue is a lack of solutions & not an ideological battle over white supremacy vs multiracial democracy. 

This is the fundamental ideological battle that has existed since USA's founding, when they debated but opted against abolishing slavery. 

That’s it, in a nutshell. We have the solutions. We don’t necessarily want them. 

Will Howard County come to grips with this? I don’t know. The variety of responses to the Washington Post article about the hate crime at Glenelg High School have been quite telling. It makes a difference whether you believe that it was an isolated incident perpetrated by a few dumb kids or a symptom of a deeply ingrained systemic problem.

Will our community and the Board of Education debate but ultimately opt against abolishing de facto segregation in our schools? History suggest yes. I’m hoping we are braver this time around.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

I Wonder

My husband was charmed. As we sat in the courtyard, eating our summer treats from Rita’s he watched a little boy zooming around on his little bike. Soon his smaller sister appeared, on a much smaller bike that had no pedals. She was managing it expertly, using her feet to move herself along. Then came a mom, or perhaps a nanny, with a baby in a stroller.

“What a great mom, bringing them here to be able to have this big, safe space to ride around in. It’s wonderful,” he remarked.

It was quite hot. We had each gotten our favorite Rita’s offerings: chocolate custard for him, watermelon ice for me. A few other folks sat at tables enjoying cold treats. Every so often the little boy would pedal past, helmet on securely, a bit of a wobble as he rounded the corners. Now and again a patron for one of the courtyard shops would pass through.

It was pretty darned near idyllic.

One little thought nagged at me, though. As we went back to our car I checked the posted rules for the Village Center common spaces. As I had suspected, no bicycles are allowed. No bikes, scooters, skateboards.

I wonder if they ever enforce those rules. I wonder if they have them posted so they can police the behavior of people they feel are undesirable. I wonder if it matters what age they are. Or the color of their skin.

Sometimes I wonder. Does privilege look like taking your children to ride their bikes at the village center and never thinking to read the posted rules because “posted rules” just aren’t a thing in your world? When one can say, “I just didn’t know,” if challenged and one will be believed, no further questions asked?

Not everyone gets that benefit of the doubt. Not everyone’s children are looked at with a kind and benevolent gaze while doing the things of childhood. Some children get a smile. Others? “They’re probably up to no good.”

Rules are there for a reason, you say. There are safety concerns, issues of making sure that customers feel safe accessing the shops. Of course there are. There always are.

There are also rules written in between the lines. Nuance in how they are enforced. Right now, when my mind and heart are full of images of children who some would say are “not our children”, I wonder how good we are close to home when we deal with children who don’t look like ours.

I don’t know. But, I wonder.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Summer Discovery

An unexpectedly delightful summer discovery: Pepperjacks Subs in Scaggsville. They’ve been there for a while, (since 2003) but we have just belatedly found them.

Pepperjacks has a decidedly old school vibe.

Built in an updated/renovated Amoco service station that dates from 1932, the restaurant has a comfy, back-in-the-day atmosphere. It’s the kind of place you might visit on vacation. We definitely felt as though we could have been at the beach or someplace away from ordinary day to day life.

The service is friendly and helpful. You order at the counter and then find a seat. They’ll holler for you when your order is ready. All the food we’ve had has been solidly good, and the regular sized subs have sometimes been filling enough that half would do for a meal. The root beer floats are stellar.

And for me, it wouldn’t be summer without a good root beer float.

It’s a small place, but there is seating inside and out. They have their own Little Free Library on site as well. Dogs are welcome (outside). I image they get quite a bit of take-out business.

Their website says that they have opened a second Pepperjacks in Annapolis Junction. The food may be the same but I imagine that the vibe can’t be replicated.

Pepperjacks Subs

Serving Breakfast till 10:30AM 
10919 Scaggsville Rd, Laurel, MD 20723

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Not Kidding

The summer of 2019 will be known as The One Where the Goat Ran Away.

For the past two days Columbia/HoCo has been abuzz with reports of a goat on the loose in the area near Howard Community College. I suggested to my family that it was the beginning of a very small agricultural program. They weren’t impressed. I pointed out that it was better than if it were a runaway from the culinary arts program. I was sternly admonished for even raising the possibility.

Let me just say that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, has been ahead of me on this story. WBAL TV, WJZ TV, the Howard County Times, and even all the good folks on NextDoor, where the goat’s wanderings launched a thread of more than one hundred posts. And let’s not forget conversation on Facebook and Twitter. (and a lot of really bad goat jokes.)

WBAL’s post was the first one I read and there’s something vaguely poetic about it.

Eventually the goat was spotted by numerous residents in the Hawthorne neighborhood, including one woman who was startled while relaxing at the pool by its plaintive vocalisations. The adventurous goat made the rounds, eluding capture, for over 24 hours.

The fun was over when somebody called Animal Control. From @Ee_Jayne:

The goat has safely been captured by folks in Hawthorne. I heard him crying yesterday & got close to him, but he ran back into woods.

It turns out that someone did take that helpful advice on NextDoor to call Animal Control, and yes, Animal Control came out and did their thing and succeeded where others had failed. Towards the end of the evening this tweet from HoCoTimes reporter Erin Logan made me laugh:

A spokeswoman said the goat was found to be in good health. It’s currently chillin at the animal control facility. 

But the owners haven’t come forward. COME GET UR GOAT.

So the story of the runaway goat has come to an end. Now the mystery of just who owns the goat begins. If it turns out to be a really good story, you know I’ll write about it. But you’ll probably see it on WBAL, WJZ, the Howard County Times, NextDoor, Facebook, and Twitter first.

I’ll just do the color commentary.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019


It’s all connected. I can’t tell one story without another one appearing. So let’s just make this one of those posts that are all about the links.

Our starting point is this piece by Jessica Contrera for the Washington Post:

A black principal, four white teens, and the ‘senior prank’ that became a hate crime 

If you haven’t already read it, you should. Ms. Contrera takes an in-depth look at the four seniors who defaced Glenelg high school with messages of hate in the Spring of 2018. Its an odd thing to feel one’s own community get that kind of scrutiny from a nationally known publication. And, truthfully, it would have been easy to get it wrong. But this article shows excellent journalism and superb storytelling. If it makes me squirm it is because of how true it is, not how false.

Fresh from the experience of having my breath taken away by this piece, I read the next one with a kind of horror:

Reporter’s food-bank trips highlight issue of low pay in local journalism, by Lisa Snowden-McCray* for the Columbia Journalism Review

In this article I was shocked to discover that journalists from the Chesapeake Writers Guild are making less money than I have been making as an early childhood teacher. Big corporations buy newspapers and run them with an eye to skimming the profits for themselves and squeezing the human capital through round after round of layoffs and increasingly unlivable salaries. 

Almost daily I see people online who are complaining that they have to pay to read a news article, and I try to be patient as I explain than journalists need to eat and pay the rent just like they do. But, considering the way that companies like the Trib suck the financial life blood out of newsrooms, it’s too bad we can’t simply Venmo the writers themselves.

Author Anne Applebaum prefaced a link to a New YorkTimes article with this reminder:

This, in the end, is the point of investigative journalism. Would be a shame if our societies could no longer afford it.

The article? 

The Jeffrey Epstein Case Was Cold, Until a Miami Herald Reporter Got Accusers To Talk - - Tiffany Tsu

It won’t be the first time that I exhort you to subscribe to local newspapers. But I’d also ask you to support the Chesapeake News Guild, whose writers are engaged in trying to negotiate an actual living wage for the work they do. Supporting them is supporting local news. 

*Ms. Snowden-McCray is the Editor of Baltimore Beat. Learn more here.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Dueling Brews

I once had what I thought was a delightful idea that a group like HoCo Rec & Parks should devise a camp where all activities would be reached by riding local public transportation, so that learning how to ride the bus was an integral part of the experience. If you want to change behavior, start with kids, I reasoned. This admittedly off-beat suggestion did not meet with an entirely positive reception.  In fact, one reader retorted that learning how to ride the bus was something children should be learning from their parents and that local government should have nothing to do with it.

Well, then.

I’m back today with somebody else’s idea. This one is aimed at adults. Baltimore resident Brian Seel is inviting you on his Brews and Bus Tour.  Seel, who had a recent brush with fame when he detailed how he manages to commute to Howard County without a car, posted the following on Twitter:

Interested? Click on the Brews and Bus Tour link above. Basic details:

When: Saturday, July 13 at noon
Where: Starting at Monument Brewing
Cost: $4.40 for an MTA day pass and you pay for your own beer
Reading this put me in mind of some kind of a Howard County beer/bus combo, which I mistakenly thought was now defunct. Not so, Maryland Brewery Tours is still a going concern and their next HoCo Tour is, you guessed it, this Saturday. (Also includes MoCo)
Decisions, decisions.
In Baltimore, $4.40 for an all day bus pass, you pay for your own beer, you do some walking. In HoCo//MoCo, you pay $75.00, ride a dedicated tour bus, get brewery tours, and pints are included. All details arranged.
So it depends what kind of adventure you want to have. It seems to me that each has its charms. If you are having a hard time making up your mind, it looks like Maryland Brewery Tours is offering a purely Howard County event on August 10th, so you can...have your beer and drink it, too.
I’m inclined to favor the quirky Baltimore choice that gets people using public transportation. But, who am I kidding? If I’m having a beer Saturday it’ll be in the shade of a cool green lady.
If you go, tell me which tour you took and how it went.

Monday, July 8, 2019

The Big But

A friend of mine posted the following the other day:

PSA: if you need to preface the thing you're about to say with, "I'm not a racist, but..."- don't. There's a reason you feel the need to qualify your remark, and that reason is the thing you'll be wanting to examine. Carefully. Honestly. We all need to be doing this work, it is the work of our time.

I think she’s right. And there are plenty of future blog posts in that statement alone. I do believe it is the work of our time.

I’m going to take the liberty of riffing on that theme to look at a similar turn of phrase, one that appears to be quite popular in Howard County:

I do support affordable housing, but...

A current example: Robinson Overlook. It’s causing a big stir on the Internet right now.

I have come to the conclusion that, for some, the line of reasoning about new housing goes like this:

These dreadful, expensive McMansions aren’t affordable to anyone. We really need more affordable housing.

When affordable housing is proposed:

I do support affordable housing, but...not here. Or not that, or not now.

As Lewis Carroll says in Alice in Wonderland, “the rule is: jam yesterday, jam tomorrow, but never jam today.” In Howard County, today is never the right day for affordable housing.

If we do support affordable housing, then our words should be different. Essentially:

I do support affordable housing, and...

And what? Well, how about:
  • and I’m going to work for improved public transportation 
  • and I’m going to make sure our schools are ready to receive new students
  • and I’m going to advocate for effective affordable housing throughout the county
If we can’t say and do those things, then let’s be honest. We don’t support affordable housing. So just stop saying it. We support what our actions show we support. Saying we support affordable housing in the abstract but opposing it in real life is not okay.

Spare me all the reasons you have for opposing this or that affordable housing project. Oppose what you like.

Just please, please, please stop saying you support affordable housing unless your actions show that you really do.

I’ll close with this statement from Elevate Maryland co-host Tom Coale:

There’s a public meeting of the Howard County Council tomorrow at 2 pm. They will be discussing Robinson Overlook. If it is filled with people opposing affordable housing, it will be a sad day for #HoCoMD. It can’t always be “I support affordable housing, but not here”.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Say It

I came across, and then just as quickly lost, a post by Howard County teens on Twitter calling out the online behavior of students from Mount Hebron High School. They were making fun of a special needs student for not graduating. The conversation they had provided (via screenshot) went from ordinary mocking to vile in moments. (Found it. It’s from May 29th and the exchange took place on Instagram. I’m not going to share the screenshots because I don’t particularly want to give them a wider audience.)

A few thoughts:

*****What is it with Mount Hebron?

*****Do we do enough in our schools to create an atmosphere of inclusion that extends beyond educational placement? What about social acceptance?

*****At least there are students who see this happening and know it is wrong.

I know that my daughter received multiple lectures during her schooling about how her online behavior could negatively impact her opportunities for higher education and employment. She’s tremendously conscious of protecting her online “image”.

But I don’t know how much schools focus on accepting others, empathy, compassion. And those are things which parents must stress from the very earliest years if they want them to be part of what their child becomes. While I am a big fan of implementing a social emotional curriculum in school, that can never replace the importance of parents and family in the growth of each student.

Integrity is doing the right thing when you think no one is watching. Many kids think that that social media is a place where they “can’t get caught”. Letting of off steam, being flippant or irreverent is one thing. Being intentionally cruel is something else entirely.

If we don’t want this end result, we all need to work harder to lay the groundwork for kinder, more compassionate kids. Even if we think our kids are “good kids”. These conversations need to happen or else perhaps our children will not know we think these things are important. It doesn’t “go without saying.”

Say it.

“I care about what kind of person you are growing up to be. Let’s talk about what that means.”

One more thing: are we setting a good example?

Saturday, July 6, 2019

People Like Us

I have been stewing about the right way to share this article and I’ve finally decided to jump in and just do it.

Columbia parents vote with their bus; Believing older schools are inferior, they send children to newer one  by Gady A. Epstein and Erika D. Peterman for The Baltimore Sun

This turned up in my Twitter feed as a reference from an author and it just blew my mind. This article is from 1999, the year I moved to Columbia. I had no idea. Why on earth did the school system allow this? And do we believe for one moment that the parents choice to “self-bus” their children was about the age of the facilities in question?

We had fliers posted on our mailboxes: Your house values are going down because your kids are going to Wilde Lake Middle." 

It’s not race, they say, pulling white children and sending them to a white school.

“Concentrated poverty.”
“Low test scores”
“Unruly students”

This was apparently an example of school parents using the now-abandoned open enrollment policy and calling their experience an extraordinary circumstance. In case you wonder why we don’t have open enrollment anymore, I would hazard a guess that this may have had something to do with it.

This article was shared on Twitter by Lawrence Lanahan, author of “The Lines Between Us: Two Familes and a Quest to Cross Baltimore’s Racial Divide”.  He writes:

In 1969, parents in Columbia, MD—a planned, intentionally integrated community—took kids out of a 43% black middle school and put $37,800 together for a bus to take them to a 80% white school. Just kidding. It was 1999.

Learning about this particular episode in Columbia/Howard County’s history feels extremely timely to me, as hcpss contemplates another attempt at redistricting. It’s important to note that there are plenty of parents who object to long bus rides and children leaving their neighborhood when the object is racial and economic balance, yet they they had no difficulty with that if bus rides and leaving their neighborhood meant maintaining their attendance at largely white, affluent schools.

This is true nationwide, not just in our corner of the world. In some cases parents have abandoned public schools altogether rather than participate in schools which are racially, ethnically, and economically diverse. Just check around for independent schools founded in the late 1950’s, for example.

Years ago my husband and I bought a rug on Craigslist from a couple who lived in a neighborhood of McMansions which we had not even known was there. They had a little boy, we casually asked when he would be starting school. We had unexpectedly hit a nerve.

“They can’t expect us to go to that school, with all those FARM kids and low test scores! People like us,” the father said, gesturing around him and to the neighborhood at large. “We’re having a meeting, Something has to be done. It’s ridiculous!” He was indignant. They were sending their son to Catholic school.

People like us. 

White people, affluent people, people who are uncomfortable if the environment gets too “mixed”. As long as the school cachement areas reinforce their notions of comfort, they are fine. Once they get uncomfortable then the meetings start. And the protests. And the lawn signs and the matching t-shirts, and the flyers on the mailboxes.

It could be coming to a neighborhood near you.   

Friday, July 5, 2019

Rite of Passage

Let it hereby be known that, in the year 2019, I finally made it to the Lakefront to see the fireworks.

Since moving here in 1999 I have gone through many stages in my relationship with the iconic Fourth of July event.

Ooh, there are fireworks?
But where are the fireworks?
That’s got to be really crowded.
That must be a thing for “real Columbians”.
There probably won’t be any place to park.

A few times I was invited to go down by real-live, genuine locals, but I chickened out. Maybe it was too hot, or rainy. It just never happened.

In the meantime I enjoyed our local fireworks display from afar. When I first arrived it was still possible to see them from the top of our hill, or from a bedroom window. But then the trees got taller and blocked our view. So, for several years we enjoyed a pretty good view with some friends who had an “undisclosed location” for their Independence Day viewing. (I’m sorry, I can’t tell you. Sworn to secrecy.)

Like most people, we did spend one year going out by car to find the fireworks only to pull over to the side of the road and stand on the median strip to see the show. Probably the best of all our viewing spots was in the field at Talbott Springs Elementary School in Oakland Mills. It’s a pretty solid view and the community atmosphere is A+.

Last night my daughter and I were able to see the fireworks up close because of the kindness of a friend. And, because my daughter is headed off to college in the fall, I thought it was time she got to have the be-all and end-all of Columbia experiences. And so we went.

We couldn’t have known that the highlight of our evening was going to be, not the fireworks display itself, but a little girl who was watching them with us. She bounced with delight. She clapped her hands. She laughed in wonder.

Then she got tired and sat down to take it all in for a while. We looked over and saw she had put her head down and thought she was done for the evening. Not so. She was just taking a breather and then she was up on her feet  again, cheering on each explosion of color.

Wow wow wow. These fireworks are so cool.

And so, twenty years after moving to Columbia, I finally saw the show that makes Columbia famous. It was particularly sweet to me because of being included by a friend. I joke a lot about never wanting to go anywhere. I still love being invited. Sometimes I actually go.

But the very best part of the night was that little upturned face with eyes as brilliant as sparklers.

Wow wow wow. These fireworks are so cool.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

A Song for the Day

On Sunday evening I sat in the audience at the Columbia Orchestra concert at the Chrysalis and I cried. I cried for my country. I cried for what we have become. And I cried for the injustices that we have always had and yet ignored.

I cried because this man, Sola Fadiran, a graduate of Glenelg High School, introduced me to a song that rocked me to my core. From the Inner Arbor Trust website:

This song is from the Broadway musical “Ragtime”. 

Mr. Fadiran’s performance reached inside me. The words and music set visions churning of children in border camps, frightened and suffering, of Muslim families separated by travel bans, of Black families mourning deaths at the hands of police too quick to resort to tactics of violence and brutality. 

I felt my face, hot with anger, as I thought about how so many go about their daily lives without concern for those who suffer. How could this country bring forth such people, who shrug at injustice because it does not touch them? Who actively vote for those who make it happen?

But I also felt shame. Shame that I am not doing enough. Shame that stringing words together does not bring justice or lighten the burden of suffering.

Today is a day set aside for us to celebrate our country. Instead I give you this song. You can listen to it on Youtube but it won’t match being in the same space with the vibrations of it in your soul. 

Go out and tell our story
Let it echo far and wide
Make them hear you
Make them hear you
How Justice was our battle
And how Justice was denied
Make them hear you
Make them hear you
And say to those who blame us
For the way we chose to fight,
That sometimes there are battles
That are more than black or white
And I could not put down my sword
When Justice was my right
Make them hear you
Go out and tell our story to your daughters and your sons
Make them hear you
Make them hear you
And tell them, "In our struggle,
We were not the only ones"
Make them hear you
Make them hear you
Your sword could be a sermon
Or the power of the pen
Teach every child to raise his voice
And then my brothers, then
Will justice be demanded by ten million righteous men
Make them hear you-
When they hear you, I'll be near you
Lynn Ahrens / Stephen Charles Flaherty, from the musical “Ragtime”

Wednesday, July 3, 2019


Looking for that tiny thread of inspiration this morning. I have a junk drawer of possible ideas (virtual, of course) but nothing looks good to me. Too heavy, too much research needed, too much “same old, same old”...

Hmm. What about this?

The Horizon Foundation asks:

What's your BIG IDEA to spark social change in Howard County?

It’s possible that I have a few ideas myself. But, since I’m looking for inspiration this morning, what do you think?

Good old Wikipedia tells us that social change:

...involves alteration of the social order of a society. It may include changes in social institutionssocial behaviours or social relations.

What’s your big idea?


Tuesday, July 2, 2019

In the Attic

Recently I was in the market for a job (long story) and I found myself looking at job listings. Yes, I’m on LinkedIn. And I searched the listings at the Baltimore Sun website. I also visited our local Craigslist for job listings. 

I tried a little experiment. I clicked on “all jobs” and then specified “Howard County” Or “Columbia” Or “Ellicott City”. The results were eye opening. First off: there are many, many jobs in Howard County that I am not qualified to do. But there was a pattern that showed up as I performed this search each day. Most of the jobs that appeared did not pay enough to support actually living in Howard County.

James Rouse famously said “if you work here you should be able to live here.” In Columbia today that remains largely aspirational. In Howard County no one ever made such a suggestion. One is more often likely to hear comments like “if you can’t afford to live here, go somewhere else.”

Okay, so let’s say they all live somewhere else but we need them to work in Howard County. So that’s who will be on the highways every morning coming in to work, and in the evening going home. That’s more gasoline being burned and more traffic clogging the roads in and out of town.

We need affordable apartments and affordable homes in Howard County. Don’t believe me? Try the Craigslist search yourself. Today, it seems that we’re looking for:

Home caregivers
Auto body techs
Animal caregivers
School bus drivers
Security guards
Servers/Diet Aides/Cooks

How many of these jobs pay enough to make living in Howard County a reality? What would happen if we woke up one morning and only had the workers who could afford to live here? How many vital jobs would go undone? Then all of us would have to get in our cars to go to them.

Yes, I know that we are known for highly educated, highly skilled professionals here in awkward County. We boast doctors and lawyers, IT and cyber security pros, government employees and contractors. That’s great. Tell me how that works for you when you need someone to look after your 
elderly mother or drive your child to school. 

I’ve heard the term “Full Spectrum Housing” and I grabbed this from a document posted online found in a quick Google Search of the term:

Full Spectrum Housing Coalition
Live, Work, and Play in a Robust Community

The Coalition believes that a full spectrum of housing:
Supports economic development
Provides for green and sustainable development
Creates housing for everyone in the workforce including first responders and educators
Supports diversity and equity
Provides a place for generations to live and grow together

Essentially, if you want to have a full spectrum community, you need to have Full Spectrum Housing. This does not mean just the very wealthy plus those at the very lowest end who need subsidized options. It means all the ranges in between. We definitely have a “missing middle” in Howard County. And while it may be appealing to mention teachers and first responders, it’s just as valid to welcome auto mechanics and hairstylists. Let’s not make some people “more equal” than others.

And let’s not persist in maintaining a system where some folks are relegated to living out of town the way Victorian house staff lived in the attic.

By the way, my random screen grab on Full Spectrum Housing? Look what it says at the bottom:


Members include but are not limited to:

Association of Community Services of Howard County (convener)
African American Coalition
Columbia Housing Corporation
Interfaith Affordable Housing Coalition
Congregations Concerned for the Homeless
St. Stephens Economic Development Corporation
Members of the Affordable Housing Task Force

Hmm. Pretty smart, that Google machine.

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Hard Choices

I got inspired this morning by a short video from The Good Stuff about a young fashion designer in New York who makes clothing made entirely from fabric scraps that would have gone in the trash. You can see it here .

In the video he also talks about trying to live a zero-waste lifestyle. That made me squirm a little bit. I have recently been struggling with the fact that all the things I wish were recyclable aren’t really recyclable. I guess that’s why they call it “wishcycling”. It challenges my longtime practice of justifying purchases because I can just “recycle the packaging.”

Clamshell containers with precut fruit or bakery items or deli sandwiches? Nope. I have come face to face with the reality that if I choose that level of convenience, then I have to put that clamshell into the trash, headed to a landfill. Ugh...

When my younger daughter was a baby, I exhorted the rest of the family with this mental picture:

No you don’t have to recycle that. Just put it in a bag and toss it in the baby’s room, because she’ll end up having to deal with it eventually.

No, I wasn’t playing fair. And yes, I did gain some traction with that line of thinking, although I probably changed more behavior simply by persisting in the behavior of recycling, week after week. The fashion designer puts it like this:

Living a zero waste lifestyle isn’t a religion. It’s a practice.

You have to work at it every day. Some days are better than others. But you keep at it.

Rather like blogging, I suppose.

I just read that aluminum pie pans and aluminum take-out containers are no longer recyclable locally. This is breaking my brain a little. How is this even possible? I have a stack of rinsed pans from Halal Guys by the kitchen sink. They appear to be staging a sit-in.

It occurs to me that I can wash them and set them aside for the holidays, make new decorative lids, and use them for the cookie and candy gifts I make this year. It’s a start.

We have multiple opportunities for recycling in Howard County but the truth is that recycling doesn’t come close to touching the enormous amount of waste that we generate every day. Making different choices requires changing our day to day lives and changing how we think.

That’s far more difficult.

Sunday, June 30, 2019


Electronic devices such as tablets and smart phones have created a world where people consume self-chosen content while tethered to ear buds. Families don’t watch television together as much anymore. A long car ride doesn’t necessarily mean singing along to the car radio. We can live and travel in our own separate bubbles with our own individually curated playlists and watch lists.

Live music is a shared experience. We partake together. There is just nothing in this world like a live concert experience. Not only for the music, but for the human connection, the power in communal listening.

At Merriweather Post Pavilion last evening the joy of that shared experience was evident during the first concert of Darin Atwater’s Soulful Symphony.

“Symphonic Music isn’t dead,” Mr. Atwater stated. “It just needs to be resurrected.”

There was something almost church-like in the air as the orchestra and vocalists moved through a program filled with audience favorites and a few vibrant art pieces from Soulful Symphony’s repertoire. It was a performance that invited engagement and response. Audience members called out, sang along, clapped, swayed, even stood up to dance.

Over the past few years I have learned how Quakers believe in the holiness and power of shared silence. It isn’t simply the silence that’s important, it’s the corporate nature of Meeting for Worship. Last night’s Merriweather concert spoke to me in a similar way: the holiness of shared music, the power of experiencing that music together.

If the power generated by last night’s performance could be bottled, we’d be able to light up Columbia for quite some time. The expression “taking me to church” comes to mind. Urban Dictionary suggests it is synonymous with another expression, “giving me life.”

I believe music has the power to give us life. And I believe that sharing music together is sharing that life, valuing the communal nature of the musical experience.

Soulful Symphony has two more concerts this summer if you’d like to share some music with your friends. And a lot of friends you haven’t met yet. In deeply divided times, places we can joyfully experience shared connection are holy indeed.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Summer Sermon

At approximately twelve noon yesterday I hit the self-indulgent part of summer. I had accomplished my one Really Big Goal for the summer and I found myself in line at the Giant putting a box of Barnum’s Animal Crackers in my cart. Impulse purchase. They don’t have the little string on top for carrying but they do have a cardboard handle. It’ll do.

When I was little (yeah, lookout) a box of those animal crackers was one of the few things put directly in the face of children at the grocery for the sole purpose of having them wheedle and whine until they got them. Now every grocery store is a minefield of such items, edible and non-edible. I only remember my mother buying them for me once. I think that may be why the memory is so sweet; it was truly a special event.

Later in the day a post about providing summer meals and weekend snacks to hungry children jolted me out of my nostalgic reverie. We continue to have families who are struggling with food insecurity and children who are hungry in Howard County. Summer time may mean a self indulgent box of animal crackers for me. It means no breakfast and lunch at school for others.

I am so grateful that Howard County is the kind of place where the school system and county government see and respond to that need. And let’s not forget our amazing library system that is a dynamic partner in this program. Feeding hungry children isn’t solely a nice thing to do or a charitable act one ought to do. It’s a long term investment in the success of children. And that means greater opportunities for them as they grow, better outcomes when they are adult members of our community.

The current political climate has contributed to a good deal of finger pointing and blaming in regards to poverty. Some people seem to think they have the authority to state who deserves to be helped and who does not. We are only to help the “deserving poor” according to their particular parameters of worthiness. We are only to feel empathy for some children, some families, some suffering.


Our hearts and souls will be polluted by this line of reasoning and our society will be damaged and corrupted. A child is a child. And we, as adults, have a responsibility to help, as individuals or through our community institutions. A country (or a county) where residents feel no connection to one another will, in the end, will have no cohesion. Without connections the whole thing just won’t work. We will fall apart.

This did not start out being a sermon. It was simply about summer, box of animal crackers, and the memories of childhood. Right now Howard County is building memories for children that will include kindness, and welcoming adults, and enough to eat.

That’s a sermon right there, all by itself,

Friday, June 28, 2019


Nowadays everyone has a social media account and a brand and a mission. Even apartment communities.

From The Paragon, this Tweet:

Hosting a dinner party in your apartment and need supplies? Trader Joe's, The Perfect Pour, and Costco are within walking distance!

The Paragon, whose official name is Paragon at Columbia Overlook Apartments in Elkridge, Maryland, uses their social media account to establish and promote interest for their brand. Well, of course they do. That’s the point. They want to draw interest, entice potential renters to pay them a visit, to imagine being a part of The Paragon experience.

No criticism here.

Just a question. Are there sidewalks? When I read that places like Trader Joe's are within walking distance I want to know if anyone could actually walk or whether they’d be talking their life in their hands. Would the most direct route be through a parking lot? Sidewalks and plentiful crosswalks are key to a claim of convenient walkability. 

I don’t know the answer here, so I’m going to check it out and report back. I do know that there are plenty of places locally that could be walkable but the lack of sidewalks and crosswalks prevent that. And most of us have lived here so long, reliant upon our automobiles, that we don’t even consider that someone would want to walk there.

The new development Downtown is being built with walkability in mind. But what about the rest of town? Is it possible to add walkability retroactively? Is it worth the attempt? Younger potential residents are looking for it. What are we doing as a community to make that happen?

As a postscript, my most recent walk of any length was yesterday, around the parking lot near Roggenart, trying to find where I had parked my car. My own personal walkability could stand to undergo some major overhaul.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

All Are Welcome

The Kona Ice truck was there. The Tiger Sharks Swim Team was there, selling hot dogs, soda, and chips.There was live music from Soultet, face painting, rock painting, and a kid’s prize raffle. Oakland Mills knows how to kick off the summer with a Village party for everyone.

In Oakland Mills our motto is “We Value Connections.”  Part of that, for me, is a deep conviction that all are welcome here.

Last night, as in any night that events are held by the Oakland Mills Community Association, all were welcome. Everyone was invited.

But not everybody came.

Last night, as I sat with my family enjoying the music, I was keenly aware that some of our neighbors were missing. On a day which began with ICE sweeping into town and landing in Long Reach, a simple trip to the Village Center for a party might have been an unnecessary risk.

Yes, there are very likely undocumented residents in Oakland Mills and yes, I think they ought to be able to come to a community party instead of staying inside in fear.

I am not going to argue with anyone about what constitutes criminal activity. Frankly, ICE has been weaponized by the current administration to be an instrument of hate and oppression. Let me state here that the criminal activity I am concerned about most are actions taken to harm, exclude, and terrorize people for being brown. And poor. And “different”.

Last night Oakland Mills put on a wonderful party. Everyone was invited.

I wish everyone could have been there.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Thinking and Knowing

As I looked out once more from the fifth fooor of 2 Merriweather at Downtown Columbia views, a question came to mind.

When did cities become bad?

There was certainly a time when watching big buildings go up was cause for excitement. Think of old film footage of NewYork City. The development and density of NYC meant the Brooklyn Bridge, the Chrysler Bulding, Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center.

Of course, Columbia was never intended to be that big but it was intended to be a city. Yet with each new component of the Downtown Plan set in motion, I see protests that this is taking Columbia away from its roots and its true mission. And the underlying assumption is that cities are bad.

As I went through school there were many times that teachers taught me a particular line of thought:

We used to think_______________. Now we know_______________.

We used to think gods and goddesses controlled nature and the planets.
Now we know about science.

We used to think illnesses were caused by humours.
Now we know about infections and antibiotics.

We used to think slavery was a part of life.
Now we know it’s wrong.

I think we all know that that old trope just doesn’t work in all situations. (Especially for that last one in particular.) I mention it because there seems to be a local feeling that:

We used to think cities were good.
Now we know they’re bad.

Blogger Dan Reed (Just Up the Pike) shares this bit of text referring to Montgomery County.

“...artificially replacing what had once been an authentic place.”

Mr. Reed asks,

Having grown up in Montgomery County, I sometimes wonder when there will be room for nostalgia about this place that is not rooted in

1) farms
2) 1950s suburbia
3) white people with farms or in 1950s suburbia

There’s quite a lot of similarities between HoCo and MoCo. 

Back to last night. When I look at the buildings going up I imagine new people living, working, and enjoying life in Columbia. I imagine Columbia finally becoming the City it was meant to be.

We used to think:
Now we know:

Do we?

Is rural always better?
Was suburban an improvement?
What kind of development is best for people and the environment?

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

News and Nightmares

I have just awakened from anxiety dreams that featured my college bound daughter as an infant, and my suddenly being back in residence at my alma mater for no good reason. This must be because we attended college orientation yesterday. It was quite the experience. I continue to be impressed by how UMBC handles large scale events. But my take away from the day overall is how parental expectations have somehow changed from when I went to college and how places like UMBC have adapted to meet the changing needs.

I need some time to process the experience, and my weird dreams. I’ll get back to you on this.

In the meantime, did you know that Whole Foods has a hot breakfast bar on Sunday mornings? I stopped in to pick up breakfast on the way to the Chrysalis Kids concert this week. There it was, practically calling my name: challah French toast with butter and real maple syrup, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, and a hot oatmeal bar with toppings. It was a special treat for me to pack up a delicious hot breakfast to take the the Uncle Devin Show at the Chrysalis.

Of course one can always purchase snacks and drinks at the park itself, and that includes mimosas.

I went with a cold brew in a bottle from Whole Foods, which I soon regretted. It was ghastly.

I’ve been receiving quite a few book recommendations lately. It is the season for summer reading. I ordered the book Simple Abundance following Representative Dr. Terri Hill’s recommendation on Elevate Maryland. I’ve also put Dream Hoarders and The Color of Law on my list after recommendations by Tom Coale and Roger Caplan, respectively. I broke down and ordered a copy of the children’s book Yard Sale! after referencing on the blog the other day. Definitely worth revisiting. In the meantime I am trying to finish Michelle Obama’s book which I started over the winter break. So much to read!

An outfit called newbreakapp is posting an article from Maryland Reporter with the baitiest of clickbait headlines:

Columbia’s oldest office building being demolished to make way for more density

It’s easier to go on over to Maryland Reporter to read this article by Len Lazarick,
where it bears this title:

Columbia’s oldest high-rise being demolished to make way for more development

Mr. Lazarick’s article outlines future changes to the immediate area without the use of emotional language. His approach is dispassionate while acknowledging how some in the community will feel as the face of the Lakefront changes. It seems to me that the repackaging of his article by newsbreakapp was done with the goal of scaring readers with that devil word “density” and thus prompting extra clicks from emotionally fraught local residents.

Density. Development. All our local dirty words for another day. I’ll get back to you on that, too.

I’m going to see if I can catch a little more sleep of the non- nightmare variety.