Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Snow Business

Just when you thought it was a good idea to encourage the youngsters to go out and play in the snow...

Principal Nick Novak of Howard High School was in the lamentable position of having to notify parents that parties as yet unknown had used school property to draw a swastika and a penis in the snow. Yes, really.

I have to be honest, my first thought was: this is a white boy thing. Now, I don’t know this. I could be wrong. It’s just a gut feeling I have based on past experience.

Second thought: drawing an enormous snow penis may be a big joke to some, but swatikas are not a joke. They appear to be having quite the run amongst local “pranksters” and I’d like to see someone truly lay down the law on this. And not the “go to jail only on the weekends” sort of law, either.

Anyone who thinks that using a swastika is all in good fun needs a boatload of education. Anyone who knows its meaning and uses it anyway needs to come to grips with substantial consequences for their actions. Symbols of hate and violence make targeted students feel less safe coming to school. This compromises their ability to get a good education.

And that is a big deal, friends.

As to the need to show off an admiration for male private parts in such a public way, may I just say we’d all be better off if they kept their big **** energy to themselves.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019


Welcome to the land of pet peeves this morning. It’s a local story, and it’s an Everywhere You Look story: giving credit. Lots of people don’t.

Sharing an inspirational quote? Who said it? Sharing a song lyric? Who wrote it? (Not the singer, the composer.) The same holds for a line from a movie. Credit the writers, not the actor. Yeah, I know, nobody does that. But trust me. The actor would never have said it without the writer.

In local stories, always, always give credit. Don’t use someone else’s photo without a photo credit. I try to get permission from local individuals first. If another person’s article or blog post pointed you in the right direction to address an issue, give them a shout out. If you learned valuable information from somewhere, give a link to your source.

There seems to be a sense that once a piece of writing is up on the Internet, it’s fair game for copying and pasting. While it is there for other people to see, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to take credit for their work or use it to get more hits, etc. I may seem “old school” to some but I still follow pretty much the same rules I learned when writing research papers and essays: credit your sources. Don’t even give the appearance that you are forwarding others’ work as your own.

Just because there’s no teacher reading over your shoulder to catch you swiping other people’s stuff doesn’t mean those actions don’t matter anymore. Remember,

Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching. (paraphrase of a Charles Marshall quote in Shattering the Glass Slipper)

Monday, January 14, 2019

Not Okay

I am currently taking an online course for professional development entitled “Children’s Challenging Behaviors.” I must say I have been pleasantly surprised by how good it is. I have endured plenty of boring and unhelpful PD over the years. This course has really made me think. And it will definitely make a difference in how I interact with children in the future.

One of the sections discusses how early childhood is a time to lay the groundwork for developing a capacity for respect. The author of this particular section holds that a basic quality for being able to respect others is empathy - -  being able to put oneself in another’s shoes, imagine how they are feeling. Young children are developmentally egocentric. They need to learn how to step outside themselves. This is a challenge for them. It takes time, They need support as they find their way from a self-only world view to one that allows for the feelings and concerns of others.

This is why social/emotional learning is such an enormously valuable part of the early childhood experience.

Looking at the news today I see three local stories where adults have clearly not mastered that shift from self-centeredness to respect.

  • In a recent meeting of the CAC, some parents showed a lack of concern for the basic civil rights of trans students because of their own uncomfortable feelings around bathroom use. 
  • On the County Executive’s Facebook page a commenter pokes fun of the concept that Federal workers are experiencing economic hardship during the shutdown because of her personal belief that all Federal Workers are highly paid professionals who live in expensive houses.
  •  Larry Walker of the African American Community Roundtable wrote this morning of two of the students of who defaced Glenelg High School with hate speech looking to have their actions reclassified as constitutionally protected free speech.

In all three cases we see a profound lack of empathy for other human beings. And without that basic ability to feel for others, respect cannot take root and grow. These are lessons that children should be learning from a young age so that, when they become adults, they can have respectful relationships
 both with friends and family and in the community at large. This does not mean giving up one’s own point of view. It mean developing the ability to hold more than one point of view in one’s head at the same time, and caring for the feelings of more than oneself.

Probably one of the strongest phrases I use in my interactions with students is the phrase, “It’s not okay.”

It’s not okay to push Ben.
It’s not okay to take Ann’s toy.
It’s not okay to say they can’t play.

Considering the local stories mentioned above I have much the same response.

It’s not okay to make it harder for trans kids to use the bathroom.
It’s not okay to belittle the financial hardships of others in your community.
It’s not okay to try to justify actions that hurt others.

Is it ever too late to learn empathy? Is there a developmental time window that, once missed, cannot be revisited? I hope not, because we have a lot of work to do.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

It’s Here!

The first snow of the season has arrived. There may be more today, if I am reading the forecast correctly. Kids will likely be enjoying some outdoor playtime today. Teachers may be wondering whether a Monday snow day is in the offing, and at some point today high school students will turn up on Twitter haranguing the school system with pleas, threats,and hard luck tales meant to influence their decision for tomorrow.

This is also the first big snow of the Ball administration. HoCoGov watchers will be keeping an eye out to see how the new team handles the winter weather event. There will be the inevitable comparisons between administrations amongst those with partisan leanings. Most folks, I think, just want to feel safe and secure in knowing that the County knows what to do when it snows.

So far this isn’t a cover the entire car and render most streets impassible snow, which is a very good thing. We’ll see how the day goes. People will be looking to keep up to date by checking County social media accounts or going to the Howard County Government website. There will be anxious attention to the snow plow tracker. And some folks will react by doing the same thing they always do: picking up the phone to ask a question or to request assistance. The County will need to be on top of that, too. Constituent services are the heart and soul of county government, in my opinion.

If it gets significantly worse people will be looking for social media outreach and assistance from their County Council representatives. I’ll be keeping an eye out for that, as well.

I do not know if this particular storm qualifies for the obligatory “County Exec in his after-hours attire meeting with the Emergency Preparedness Weather Team”* photo. I have to admit I am kind of hoping for one to see who all is around the table. But they certainly shouldn’t scramble to produce one on my account. I’m pretty sure they are all busy getting the job done.

Everyone at my house is too old to go sledding. I sure hope we have some neighborhood kids who take advantage of the hill right outside our front door. Our plan for the day involves music, crafting, and possibly watching a movie together. This seems like the ideal time to watch the second Paddington movie, since we’re all caught up with Dr. Who. And I’m still working on Michelle Obama’s book.

Wishing you warmth and a wonderful snow day.

*probably not the official title

Saturday, January 12, 2019


In the spirit of our friends over at Elevate Maryland, I have for you today my most unpopular benign opinion:

I hate spelling bees.

They really aren’t a sign of anything more than a capacity for rote memorization. Why must generation upon generation of American schoolchildren endure this 19th or possibly even 18th century public ritual each year? For some: anxiety and stress. For many: a whole lot of sitting around and waiting until it’s over.

Although the concept of a spelling contest has now spread to a few other countries, it originated in the United States. We see references to public spelling matches after the publication of Noah Webster’s famous “Blue Backed Speller.”

The great American educator Noah Webster first published A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, otherwise known as the Blue Back Speller, in 1783. His goal was to provide a uniquely American, Christ-centered approach to training children.  (Product description on Amazon)

Often when we talk about things being uniquely American, it is out of a sense of pride. In this case I think we ought to look at the other countries that don’t have spelling bees and ponder why they don’t consider this to be educational or entertaining. They might have something there.

Yes, I have heard the reasoning that American English has such a variety of words with irregular spellings and that is why spelling bees are a valuable sort of challenge here. In other countries words are largely spelled following more regular patterns. My complaint is that spelling bees come from an antiquated system of skill and drill, rote memorization which we should have put to rest long ago.

Today many of the nationally ranked, prize winning spellers are home-schooled children whose educational programs are modified to included hours and hours of daily drilling. There’s no decent research out there that supports an education so skewed to favor rote memorization in one subject area. It is essentially the process of creating a bonsai or a topiary kid.

As an aside, I was a great speller in school and did well in classroom spelling bees. So it isn’t a lack of spelling prowess that motivates my opinion. More likely it’s because of the particular kind of social anxiety I had that caused me to get nervous for all the other participants as they waited their turns and struggled for the correct answers. I wouldn’t live through that again if you paid me.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Things to Do

Five am has been looking pretty ugly this week. Today is much the same. I’m thrilled at the prospect of the impending weekend and a chance to sleep in a bit.

I read an article this morning about two Ellicott City folks who are opening a sports bar
in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. It’s great news for Baltimore but the concept itself sounds ghastly to me. But then, I am not a sports bar kind of person.

Upcoming events:

Earth Trekkers - - A Family’s Journey Around the World  
January 12th from 10 to 11:30 am
Howard County Conservancy

Elevate Maryland - - Interview with Council Member Opel Jones
January 14th at 5:30 pm

Gay Day at the Mill - - artists, performers, and history
January 26th from 4 pm to 8 pm
Historic Savage Mill

Great Chili Cook-Off - - to benefit Grass Roots
February 17th from 1 to 3 pm
Clarksville Commons

Evening in the Stacks - - an otherworldly themed fundraiser
February 23rd from 7 to 11 pm
East Columbia Branch

So, HoCo. Do you think it will snow this weekend? Have you done your crisis Grocery Store Run yet?

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Enough with the Dog Whistles Already

In response to the announcement that County Exective Calvin Ball had chosen Lisa Myers as the next Chief Of Police, one man said:

Well, we now know where you are coming from.

This was not meant to be a positive response.

I thought it was such an odd way to express disapproval. Dr. Ball has served on the County Council for twelve years. His record is out there. His campaign for Country Executive was a source of plenty of information about his goals and priorities. But suddenly, with the appointment of Lisa Myers, 

...we now know where you are coming from.

Is this is indeed the case, may I just say that this particular commenter has not been paying attention.

Of course, I don’t think for one moment that we are meant to take this comment at face value. These words are a racist dog whistle intended to indicate that Ball, a person of color, has appointed  Lisa Myers solely because she is a person of color. When whites appoints whites it must be because they are the most qualified for the job but when Blacks appoint Blacks, well, there must be something fishy going on. It must be some kind of unfair racial cronyism. It means that whites aren’t getting their fair share (read: most of the pie) so the use of coded language like “identity politics” will turn up in the comments section as a way to denigrate the choice.

I read the following statement yesterday and I think it’s quite telling:

It was once a crime to teach slaves to read. People fear equity when they're afraid to compete, justice when they know they're in the wrong. - - Janice Chan @curiositybone

This goes hand in hand with Clay Shirky’s statement:

When you're accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.

As County Executive Ball begins his administration and makes choices for leadership positions we cannot know in advance whether he (and they) will be successful in their missions. Some are inclined to believe they will. Some aren’t sure but hope for the best. Some look at his race and/or his party affiliation and know, just know, that something bad is afoot. You can hear their voices in the online comments saying, “Hey guys! Hey guys! He’s not one of us, guys!”

It’s sad. And disheartening. 

If you want to know where someone is really coming from, you’re going to have to do more than aim your pea shooter on social media.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Hop To It

Twitter searches aren’t  exactly foolproof. A search for Columbia (Maryland) turned up this:

We took the Hop On, Hop Off bus tour around Vancouver @ Vancouver, British Columbia.

For a second I could almost imagine that Columbia had a tour bus. But that’s ridiculous. We don’t even have a decent local transit system. 

But let’s pretend for moment. What if Columbia/Howard County did have a Hop On, Hop Off Bus Tour?  What do you think would be essential stops on the tour?

Some thoughts:

The Lakefront
The Chrysalis
The Mall
Blandair Park
Centennial Park
Savage Mill
Clarksville Commons
Main Street Old EC
Robinson Nature Center
The Howard County Conservancy

What am I missing? Please remember this is a purely hypothetical exercise. I’m not up for a lecture this morning on why having a tour bus in Columbia would be silly. Most regular readers of the blog will already know my penchant for contemplating silly things.

Benefits to this kind of a bus tour are many. You don’t have to risk getting lost in an unfamiliar place. You don’t have to find and pay for parking. You can take as much time as you like in the places that you like.. You can do as much or as little walking as suits your needs.

Gosh, maybe we need a Hop On, Hop Off Bus for Columbia Crossing shopping center.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

A New Wave

Four year olds can really take the energy right out of you. After one day back at work I’m struggling a bit with re-entry.

Today I’m sending you over to the Washington Post for this fascinating piece about community spaces for shared experiences:

Why developers are offering ‘experiences’ to attract suburbanites by Katherine Shaver

Most developers aren’t shunning traditional retail as much as Kaplan plans to. But many say they, too, are focusing on more “experiential” ways to attract people and hold on to them long enough that they’ll browse and buy instead of stay home and click. Providing experience now goes well beyond the traditional winter ice rink or summer movie night.
It’s why you’re seeing so many more restaurants, food halls, cooking demonstrations, outdoor yoga classes, smaller concert venues, bars and lounges, farmers markets, tot lots, fire pits, splashable fountains, restaurant-like bowling alleys, and cocktail-serving movie theaters — anything that helps people interact in a way they can’t online.
It occurs to me that one’s stage in life also makes a difference in the kind of experiences one seeks out. Parents with young children may be looking for amenities like splashable fountains. Older couples who are downsizing may come to these suburban hubs for a walkable vibrancy where they can connect with friends. Of course, cross-generational experiences give communities a truly authentic sense of place. We don’t want to place different age groups in silos to the point that they don’t come in contact with one another.

What do you think? Can you think of some local examples where this is happening? Do you enjoy frequenting places that give you those opportunities to have shared experiences?

H/T to Dan Reed of Just Up the Pike  for bringing this article to my attention.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Separate Worlds

Facebook is one kind of neighborhood, and Twitter is another. This is not a new discovery of mine. But never has it been more driven home to me than this weekend.

Over on Facebook we had the usual family stories and photos, taking down the holiday decorations, excitement about the upcoming Ravens game, and various statements of frustration about the ongoing Government shutdown.

On Twitter, it was three whole nights (and days)  on Survivng R.Kelly.  It was horror and heartbreak and rage. I couldn’t make myself watch the show itself. Did you? Did you know about the years and years of manipulation, false imprisonment, and sexual abuse of minors? And how the music industry knew and looked away?

Insomuch as media is an extension of a predominantly white worldview, the largest spotlight has focused much more on white victims. Just as black boys are often perceived to be older and more physically dangerous than they actually are, black girls are often perceived to be sexually mature beyond their years. And with that comes that age old assumption that “they asked for it.”

This weekend I was silent observer to many ugly truths of abuse and betrayal from women who had seen it or experienced it. Relatives had let them down. Pastors had let them down. Friends had brushed off concerns, looked the other way. They spoke to each other in tweets, crying out to the world for once to stop and take notice of the pain of black women and girls.

But I didn’t see any of this on Facebook. My Facebook world is largely white.  My Twitter world is enriched by the words of women of color I do not know in real life but learn from daily. Let’s face it. My only significantly integrated world is my Twitter stream. Over in my white Facebook neighborhood, it’s been silent on this.

Here’s the crux of the matter, in a thread from @DrSamiSchalk:

Most black folks I know have posted about the docuseries in the last few days (thankfully black people in my networks are expressing support of the victims of sexual abuse & coercion though their posts suggest to me that is not the case with their entire friends network)

In contrast, nearly all white folks I know are not even acknowledging the docuseries, the #RKelly conversation, nothing. This divide/contrast reminds me that white people are not required to know what’s happening to and among black folks.

Yet black folks always know what’s happening with white people—it’s essential for our survival. So to every white #feminist I know who posted, raged and bemoaned the events surrounded Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony and the #Kavanaugh appointment:

Where is your outrage for the many black girls & women who have been victims of R. Kelly for years? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, ask yourself why. Why are you not hearing about these black women’s stories which we’ve been talking about for years (see #MuteRKelly)?

I share this with you today because it’s important for me to use my voice to say: I see this, I hear this, I will not be silent. These wounded lives are our business. It is our responsibility, too, to fight for justice and offer to carry the burden of the pain. Do I know exactly what to do? No. But I need to begin.

I need to be willing to open the windows of my Facebook world and let the Twitter voices flow in.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Growth and Change

It’s almost as though the Mall knew I was talking about it.

My apologies to those of you well-informed people out there in HoCoLand who already knew this. I just learned this morning that General Growth Properties is no more, having been acquired by Brookfield Property Partners. You can read more in this article in the Business Monthly. Speaking of well-known businesses changing hands, the Business Monthly also took on new owner and publisher Daniel Medinger this year.

Both of these things make me think about the late HoCo blogger and man about town (citizen laureate?) Dennis Lane. Not only would Dennis have known about the possibility of this acquisition long before it happened, he very likely would have been writing a column about it in the Business Monthly. Oh, how I miss the depth of his background knowledge and the wit and wisdom of his commentary on commercial real estate. 

Giving credit where it is due, I note that the possibility of this transaction was discussed in the Celebrating Columbia Facebook Group as early at December, 2017 when the Wall Street Journal covered the news that an initial offer was made. Certainly some top notch Columbia-watchers there. I don’t remember that original discussion at all, so I clearly wasn’t paying attention. Hmm.

Doesn’t somebody out there want to write the fun, interesting, informative, and accurate HoCo commercial real estate blog? Since most people feel that the era of blogs is already over, I’m not optimistic that anyone will answer this call. And somehow I don’t feel this is a topic that can be successfully covered by an Instagram account.

Dennis wrote for the love of it. As far as I know, he wasn’t driven by a desire to monetize the blog as a source of personal income. Most people who have the expertise and connections necessary to write about local commercial real estate today would probably need it to help pay the bills in some way. The gig economy has made the creation of second or third jobs or what is known as “a side hustle” a necessity, not a hobby.

In the meantime, maybe I’d better subscribe to The Business Monthly.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Could Be

Interesting local story?  Maybe. I have only this screen shot to go on.

I haven’t seen any corroboration on social media from local first responders, no local news response. So, right now, it’s a screen shot, nothing more.

But it made me think about several issues. One is the recent national discussions  about who gets to use the bathrooms at Starbucks. Do you remember that? Starbucks had quite a public moment of reckoning when two African American men were arrested at a Starbucks in Philadelphia because Starbuck employees called the police on them. Their crime? They were waiting for a friend, hadn’t bought anything yet, and wanted to use the bathroom.

The underlying attitudes that led to this event are signs of an implicit bias that “just knows” who the right kind of people are and which ones are sketchy and undesirable. The fact that Starbucks had not addressed issues of bias before this event shows that they hadn’t been faced with the true ugliness of allowing employees to apply general store policies in uneven and discriminatory ways.

The reference in the tweet above to the woman giving birth as being homeless brought to mind an incident back in 2011 where General Growth Properties took the action of banning two homeless people and walked straight into a case with the ACLU.

The head of security at the mall has a general grievance about the homeless hanging out at the mall," said a 59-year-old man who said he has been homeless for more than two years and regularly passes time there, sometimes purchasing food with gift cards given to him.
"I'm basically a familiar fixture to them," he said. "I do not scare people away. I don't panhandle. I don't glare at anybody."

I wonder if there has been any significant improvement in the Mall’s interactions with the homeless community since then. Was there any helpful intervention from County government? Was General Growth willing to work collaboratively with Grassroots? Does this same issue persist eight years later? 

I have from time to time seen comments on social media decrying the downfall of the Mall because there are homeless people in the bathrooms. And occasionally you see coded language about the wrong kind of people at the Mall making ordinary upstanding citizens feel unsafe. (Insert “loud Black teens” here.)  The Mall is private property but it’s also a public space. Into that public space all kinds of people come.

Assumptions that the Mall is an appealing and successful place only if it is peopled largely with white, affluent shoppers may not be held by all of us but they are definitely out there. First off: I have no patience with anyone who feels the need to be protected from black and brown people in public spaces. Second: addressing the issue of homelessness in our community should be an issue with a comprehensive community response. And that  includes the attitudes and actions of people like you and me,  It certainly shouldn’t rest solely on the Mall or on Grassroots.

There’s plenty I don’t know about that. I know about Grassroots and the Route One Day Center  and that’s about it. I know that in most communities where the homeless are pushed out of public spaces they end up in libraries. And that’s another blog post right there. So is what kind of health care our as yet hypothetical expectant mother could hope to get while homeless.

There’s lots to think about. If I learn more, that I can share, I will let you know. In the meantime, if this account proves true this man’s wife and the folks at the Mall Starbucks deserve a shoutout on a job well done. And best wishes for many blessings to the new mother and her baby.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Second Draft

I just deleted my first draft because I’m not sure anyone really wants to hear what I think about football right now.

I had lunch with a friend at Chutney yesterday and it was delightful. Their lunch buffet is varied and delicious, the service was excellent. If only I didn’t have a regular job which generally keeps me away from lunch buffets...

I’m working on a post about the statement by Superindent Martirano about discipline policies. If you have opinions about that, feel free to send me your thoughts. I saw some responses last night on Instagram that troubled me.

It looks like we have two local social media players revving up to be your first source for local news in the New Year. HoCoMoJo and ScottE Blog are running neck and neck on current events. Could it be an outright rivalry? We’ll see. And Elevate Maryland continues to establish itself in the arena of thoughtful commentary of the audio variety. 

If you haven’t read Candace Dodson Reed’s end of year blog post on the most fascinating people in Howard County, you should. There’s a whole host of good people to know on there. One in particular caught my eye.

Richard McCready– I don’t know Richard well though his wife and I run in some of the same circles. I’ve met him once or twice in my previous role with Howard County Government. But I do know this…Richard is known in Howard County for being a music teacher extraordinaire. Every time I turn around, he is being nominated for Music Teacher of the Century! Or best Music Teacher in the Galaxy! Or Music Man Extraordinaire! You can’t help but notice.
On a serious note, his students seem to love him, co-workers seem to admire him, other musicians want to jam with him, and he really does win some dope awards. Keep rockin’, Richard. I see you.   
Lest there be some suspicion, let me clarify that I did not lobby on his behalf. It was a thrill to read this lovely recognition. I won’t say any more other than this: while awards are always awesome, it’s Richard’s creative teaching and relationship-building with students that I admire the most.
Another local musician extraordinaire, DamonForman, played at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage last night as a part of Trio Caliente. Did you catch the live stream? They were excellent. It was exciting to see a HoCo bright light on a national stage.
It’s my last “official” day of Winter Break and I’m going in to work to meet up with my co-teacher and get some work done. Have a great Friday!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

New Year Challenge

This photograph leapt off the page and spoke to me on New Year’s Day:

Used with permission. Photo credit Jon Merryman

First piece of litter picked up for 2019. What’s yours?

The page was the Patapsco Facebook Group. The poster was Admin. Jon Merryman. I do not know Mr. Merryman in real life. A quick Google search finds a newspaper article identifying him as a “stream watcher”.  Another announces a workshop he’s giving (in 2013) to show people how to use a smartphone app to report places along the Patapsco where cleanups are needed. All in all, I think it’s safe to say that Mr. Merryman is a devoted environmentalist. 

I’d have to say that the term “stream watcher” is a pretty passive description for someone who is actively out and about cleaning up trash along the Patapsco. And I’m not just talking about a plastic bottle here and there. Mr. Merryman posts photos of mattresses, old couches, construction waste, and tires. Lots of tires. Sheesh. So many tires.

If it weren’t for Mr. Merryman and the Patapsco Facebook Group, I would have no idea about 1) the natural beauty of this area so close to us and 2) the infuriating regularity with which people use it as a free dumping ground. 

The Patapsco Facebook Group describes itself as “a group to celebrate the Patapsco from its headwaters and tributaries to the Chesapeake, and everything in between!” I highly recommend it if you are interested in learning more about this area. It’s not all about trash, really. It’s a community of enthusiasts who share information, photos, upcoming events, and even pieces of history. 

Back to Mr. Merryman’s photo. It’s a challenge of sorts. Whether we are out walking a stream bed or on our way to work or school, what piece of trash will we pick up today? Will be make sure recyclables get recycled? Will we say no to single-use plastics? Will we pass along a love of nature to our children?

So, a tip of the hat and a shout-out to Jon Merryman and all who love the Patapsco and care for it. You are teaching valuable lessons that all of us would be wise to heed. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Flashback Sequence

My family goes back to school today. I have a few more days of vacation. I’m trying to get back in my normal, post-vacation sleep cycle, and it’s not pretty.

Yesterday I took my daughter to see “Mary Poppins Returns” at the Regal Cinema on Snowden. Actually, she went with me because I really wanted to go. We very nearly didn’t make it at all because my car did that automatic pilot thing and I found myself looking for a parking space near the AMC at the Mall. That’s not a sign of old age creeping up on me, is it?

Thanks to the length of trailers before the actual feature, we made it in plenty of time. 

This is not a review of the film, although I certainly have opinions. At some point yesterday I realized that I had seen the original Mary Poppins film on New Year’s Day, 1965. It was one of the first movies I saw, or that I remember seeing, anyway. I vividly remember getting ready with my family to go to the movie theatre. It was a big deal. A special event. I feel like we may have even dressed up a bit, but I could be wrong on that. We surely wore wool coats that buttoned up the front.

I remember my older sister, then in junior high school, explaining to me what a “musical” was. 

“It’s just like a regular play, but when the characters get to an important part of the story, they sing.” 

I remember the thrill of coming home from school one day to find that my mother had purchased the record album from the movie. Oh, the joy of peeling off the cellophane and putting in on my dad’s hifi stereo system. We played that record over and over. It eventually warped and we still played it.

My sister bought the easy piano/vocal collection and we all stood around the piano and sang our way through every tune. I made my vocal debut that summer at day camp singing “It’s a Jolly Holiday” while sitting on the edge of the stage. My partner froze up and sat there, silent. I just kept on going because by then I had it memorized.

It’s clear that “Mary Poppins” made a big impression on me. And it was largely because of the music. Of course, in those days selling the record album and the sheet music was pretty much the total of merchandizing opportunities for a movie. This was well before one could buy t-shirts and dolls and board games and backpacks and own the actual movie itself within six months.

The new film is infused with many loving touches and deliberate references to the first. Enough so that someone like me walked away flooded with memories of being a little girl in 1965, thrilled with her first adventure of going “to the movies”. 

I’m not sure how the film will land with viewers who didn’t grow up with the original. For this viewer it didn’t take much to evoke that sense of Proustian memory which fills one with the recalled sweetness of days gone by.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Winter’s Tales

Let’s pretend that today is just another day and I am not obliged to produce a retrospective of the last year’s posts nor philosophize about the year ahead. Let’s pretend it is just another dark winter day and you and I have met for coffee at your favorite place. Somewhere cozy.

Tell me your story. No, I don’t mean “tell me the story of you”. Tell me one of the sweet or funny or comforting stories you carry about in your heart to keep the dark away. Snow or no, it is winter and we must huddle together and share whatever we’ve got.

I’ll start. I’m feeling sadness descend over me like a thick mist so let me reach into my drawstring bag of healing tales.

I’ll bet I haven’t told you this one.

Once upon a time, in a first floor apartment in Bolton Hill with a deck and a bit of a yard, I found a turtle. It was quite unexpected. I had recently moved in following my divorce and I was clearing away weeds and brush in order to put in a sandbox for my daughter. I went at it with much enthusiasm and cleared away a large swath and then: there he was. As I recall, he was a box turtle.

I panicked. Here was this unassuming, peaceful box turtle and I had destroyed his habitat. I called my mother on the telephone and asked what I should do. Should I move him into a greener area? Should I put out food for him? Should I call Animal Rescue?

At her suggestion I put out some lettuce and an aluminum pie pan of water. It was a very hot day. By the time I came back he had gone under the deck. I worried. I was a destroyer of worlds.

That evening I was out taking a walk in the neighborhood with my daughter and we noticed a sign posted on a tree.

Runaway Turtle

What an image! A runaway turtle! I laughed. I explained to my daughter. She laughed. But then, a realization. Could it be? The sign listed an address. It was nearby and the house backed on to our alley, across from our back yard. We rang the bell.

A friendly, sandy haired man answered and listened politely to my story.

“That must be him! My boys brought him back from the Eastern Shore but he got loose.”

He came straightaway, across the alley, through our back gate.

“I think he’s under the deck.”

I watched as he got down on his hands and knees and peered into the darkness. I waited.

“There he is, see?”

And then he did something I had not expected. He called the turtle. I wish I could remember what the name was, but, yes indeed friends, he called a box turtle.

And the turtle came. He called it, and it came. Faster than one might expect, actually.  I could see how it had managed to make a getaway from the yard across the street. Soon his relieved owner was carefully picking him up and getting up off the ground. He thanked me. He welcomed me to the neighborhood. And then as an afterthought he introduced himself.

Rouse, the name was. I can’t remember whether he said Jim or Jimmy or James but the name didn’t mean anything to me until I told a Baltimore local who said, “oh, you know! Louie’s Bookstore CafĂ©!”

I did know. Louie’s was a very cool place that truly was a bookstore and a cafe and the service was always curiously uneven because all the waitstaff were starving artists whose works decorated the restaurant and were for sale. They weren’t so focused on the waiting tables part. But we all loved it just the same.

It wasn’t for many years afterwards that the name Rouse meant more to me than that. And then I marveled at this tiny and perfect adventure I had with the great man Jim Rouse’s son and a runaway turtle. A treasure found amidst the greenery as I began a new life in my own place.

It’s a good story to keep your heart warm when the days are short and the news is bleak, isn’t it?

Your turn now. I’ll listen.