Friday, February 28, 2020

Yesterday and Today


Almost as soon as I posted yesterday’s piece on the Columbia Flier Building, a kind reader sent me this:

Community Notice from the County Executive's Office: 

Columbia Flier Building Community Meetings
A Request for Proposals (RFP) will be developed by the County for the disposition of the site and all interested community members are encouraged to attend to provide input at either meeting. Both meetings will cover the same material. DPZ will run the meeting.

a) Wednesday, March 18, 7:30 pm - 9:00 pm 
b) Saturday March 21, 10:00 am - 11:30 am 

Where: Wilde Lake Middle School Cafeteria 
10481 Cross Fox Ln, Columbia, MD 21044

I felt like the used car salesman in a situation comedy who has confidently patted a car in front of a customer only to see the back fender fall off.  What are the chances that both things would happen on the same day?

Everything I wrote yesterday is true. The County owns the property and has found creative ways to use the space that benefit the community. It is also true that the end goal is very likely to sell the building and the land for an entirely new project. That’s just the way it is.

A tip of the hat to new-in-town blogger Jeremy Dommu who drew a lot of local info together at The Merriweather Post yesterday in sharing this announcement.

Now that Gordon Ramsey was worked his magic in Old Ellicott City, perhaps I can interest HGTV in an iconic Columbia landmark?

Hope springs eternal.


Thursday, February 27, 2020

On the Inside


This is what I was waiting to see.



The focal point of the Flier building is a juxtaposition of stairways bathed in light. I’ve seen photographs taken back in the building’s heyday. I admit I stood at the midpoint of this iconic space and just took it in for a while. Then it was time to take a look around.


There were many more additional spaces to explore than I imagined. It definitely gives one that “bigger on the inside” feel.


 If the 1980’s were calling us, what would they have to say?


Outside of what looked like a staff kitchen was a little picnic area. If you enlarge this photo you will see what appears to be a groundhog enjoying the sunny weather.

The reason I got to fulfill my wish was through the kindness of Board of Education member Vicky Cutroneo.  She has been working on an initiative for quite some time to provide a space for Howard County teachers to be able to pick up supplies, which will be provided by donation. Our teachers spend out of pocket money every year to support their own classrooms. Ms. Cutroneo hopes to to take a chunk out of that personal investment through providing a centralized location that serves those needs.

Here’s the exciting part: through collaboration with County Executive Ball and his staff, the Flier Building will be the new home for this endeavor. And, not only that. It will also serve as a home base for the organizations collecting and distributing food for local school pantries. Next season Ms. Cutroneo’s other project, Grace’s Closet, which provides warm winter clothing for HCPSS students, will also take up residence here.

But wait. There’s more.

You probably already know about Free Bikes 4 Kidz Maryland, which collected, refurbished, and donated over four hundred bicycles to area children last December. Their home base? The Columbia Flier Building.

You probably don’t know that the Flier Building provides much needed space for the Howard County Community College Theatre Department. I didn’t until I turned a corner and discovered rooms of props, furniture, lighting equipment, set materials, and more. In a room filled with racks and racks of clothing, we came upon a volunteer who will be assisting with costumes for the upcoming HCPSS production of Les Miserables. The folks from HCC had graciously opened their wardrobe collection for her to use for the show.

I used to feel sad as I passed the old Flier building, knowing it was empty and that no one wanted to buy it. I’ve heard plenty of critical assessments of its value. It would cost more to renovate than to build an entirely new property, they say. 

But right now, at this very moment, it is filling up with a marvelous hodgepodge of community initiatives and I couldn’t be happier. That wouldn’t be happening without a commitment to creative reuse on the part of the county, and the imagination and dedication of people like Ms. Cutroneo and others who will soon be setting up shop in this historic Columbia landmark.

I had a very Columbia feeling as I left that day. Good things are happening. People are working together. A beloved old building is lonely no more.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Behind the Door


Recently I was offered a chance to fulfill one of my long-held Columbia dreams. Readers of the blog know that I have a sentimental attachment to the Columbia Flier/Patuxent Publishing building. I’ve often said that if I won the lottery, I’d buy it and transform it into one of those HGTV Extreme Homes. Something about this particular building, designed by local architect Bob Moon whose wife Jean was the managing editor of the paper, epitomizes for me an entire world of Columbia history.

I wish I had been there.

Last week I met a friend at the site to get a long awaited glimpse of the building’s interior. Here are some pictures I took while I was waiting.










We all have things on our individual Bucket Lists, be they real or imaginary. You may wish you could have explored an Egyptian pyramid or even prowled the corridors of Hogwarts. Me? I just wanted to see what lay behind this door.

I’ll take you in tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Smackdown Supreme


During the administration of Allan Kittleman I’m sure there were times that residents who questioned  or didn’t agree with his policies took to social media to express their displeasure. I don’t have any specific examples on hand, but, it stands to reason that this is so. None of this can compare to the relentless trolling that current County Executive Calvin Ball has endured since taking office. His posts are criticized, mocked, and his plans are lambasted as useless and/or outright harmful.

One particular troll comes to mind. I won’t name them because, well, it might even be a fake account created specifically for this purpose. But, if you read the County Executive’s page with any regularity, you know to whom I am referring. This person seems to have made it their personal goal to foul and besmirch almost every day of Dr. Ball’s term in office.

Questioning and disagreeing with elected leaders is an integral part of our democracy. Name-calling, gaslighting, and false accusations are not. Perhaps these trolls are the modern day equivalent of cranks who had nothing better to do than write angry Letters to the Editor. There is no reasoning with them, no winning them over, no appealing to a sense of human decency.

Last night I bumped into a particularly unpleasant bit of vitriol. I started to respond, then, thought better if it. Instead I found myself thinking of Shirley Temple.

I don’t remember the movie or the circumstances, but one line spoken by Ms. Temple has stuck with me through the years as the hottest, most biting thing she ever got to say in any of her films. She looked at the person in question and said, in an even but confident tone,

It’s too bad, Mary Anne, that your mother didn’t bring you up to be a nicer girl.

For Shirley Temple, it was the smackdown supreme. It has stayed with me. I wish I could apply it with the courage and aplomb as the character in the movie. It strikes at the heart of the matter: if you think it is okay to treat others in such a hurtful manner, there must have been something deeply wrong in your upbringing.

If that is the case perhaps I should feel sorry for people like this. I don’t. I’m exhausted and disheartened by the nonstop invective. I don’t think it does anything to improve our community. Just imagine how much could be accomplished if this person used their energy to make the county a better place.

So much wasted effort.






Monday, February 24, 2020

The Home Place


Friday night I was on my own for dinner and I headed straight from work to The Second Chance Saloon in Oakland Mills. It was nearing six when I arrived and there was a nice after-work, beginning-to-be-dinner crowd on hand.

I haven’t been hanging out at the Second Chance of late because I have gradually realized that I just can’t metabolize those delightful beers as well as I used to. Gone are the days when I could sidle into a seat at a table on the bar side and enjoy one or two “Dogfish 60 minute” and still be functional the next day. I’ve been a little sad about that.

But you just can’t stay away from your home place forever, and dinner was calling. I bypassed my usual - - the chicken cheesesteak with marinara on the side - - and went for a pizza burger. I felt a craving for beef. It was delicious.




I have long since gotten over my trepidation at being a woman alone in a restaurant, especially since the advent of tablets and smart phones give anyone a built in dining companion. I enjoyed my burger and some people watching and I didn’t even need a beer to have a good time. Imagine that.


Sunday, February 23, 2020

Consider the Giver


About that Inspector General for Education. I told you we’d get back to that. My first piece on this might be summed up as follows: it all depends on who is giving the gift. After more research and contemplation, I’d have to say my assessment stands.

Mr. Hogan has shown himself on multiple occasions to have a distrust and dislike of teachers and education priorities. He’s never going to live down that “Union thugs” remark. It seems to be a hallmark of a certain political party. Remember John Kasich and his anxiety about what happens in the teachers lounge? Former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was determined to strip state teachers of their bargaining rights. And then there’s the president’s own son calling teachers “losers”.

Here in Maryland our Governor doesn’t even think that individual jurisdictions have the competence to set their own school calendars. In short, he doesn’t look at Education in a way that invests and empowers. He thinks it needs managing. Investigating. Inspecting. He’s on the lookout to find wrongdoing.

Ironically, the reason that Mr. Hogan was able to appoint an Inspector General was that it “was allowed by a provision in last year’s Kirwan Commission-inspired bill.” (Danielle E. Gaines, Maryland Matters) Yet he is so opposed to fulfilling the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission itself that he went to work raising dark money to fight it.

The Governor would like us to believe that this is what’s wrong with education in Maryland:

For five years, our administration has been working hard to root out corruption, wrongdoing, and the mismanagement of state tax dollars by local school systems.

To be sure, if any of that is going on we need to address it and correct it. But in my opinion the focus on possible malfeasance is a way that Mr. Hogan is taking a magnifying glass to search for the speck in his neighbor’s eye in order to avoid addressing the enormous plank in his own. What’s wrong with education in the State of Maryland is that it doesn’t address the needs of big chunks of the state population. What needs to be changed has to do with looking at the big picture, investing in all children in every Maryland jurisdiction.

We can’t inspect or deflect our way out of this.

Interestingly enough, the Kirwan report already contains accountability requirements as an integral part of the plan.

During a conversation with reporters after a rally in support of the Kirwan legislation Monday morning, William E. “Brit” Kirwan, the chairman of his namesake commission, called the Inspector General “a nice add-on,” but he said the commission report laid the foundation for much more robust oversight than Hogan’s approach.
“The Inspector General — that’s a nice add-on. But the real accountability is embedded in this bill,” Kirwan said of the 199-page 2020 legislation. “I mean, there’s a very strong system of accountability. And I hope the governor will get on board with it.”
That seems pretty unlikely. Mr. Hogan’s “brand” when it comes to education is distrust, disbelief, and  dismissal. He is willing to give multiple statements to the press to delegitimize teachers and education advocates but he hasn’t so far been willing to come in person to work with the Maryland General Assembly to collaborate in making a plan that will lift up our state’s children and transform their futures. 
In closing I want to give a shoutout to Maryland Matters, whose work on the announcement of the Inspector General for Education was far more thorough than anything else I found.  A shoutout to Danielle E. Gaines, whose informative tweet caught my eye, and Hannah Gaskill  and Bruce DePuyt for the piece, “Hogan Appoints Veteran of U.S. Marshals Service as Education IG.” So far, every other piece I have read is a basic regurgitation of the Governors press release.
You can learn more about Maryland Matters here.



Saturday, February 22, 2020

Battle of the Big Story



Is this the big story in Old Ellicott City this weekend? From the Ellicott City Partnership:


Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!  

In other words, LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL!  Join us Saturday, February 22 where good times will be happening from one end of town to the other.  Come for brunch or lunch, enjoy shopping specials and bead giveaways, then land at Boogaloo at The Bin for live music and libations.  Stick around for dinner or after concert fun at one of our many late night spots. If you can’t be on Bourbon Street, Main Street is the place to be!

NOTE  Approximately 600 parking spots are available in lots A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and the Circuit Courthouse Lot. Parking is also available on Ellicott Mills Drive. This weekend, another special event will be taking place in town causing a portion of Lot D to be closed and limited parking on Main Street. Please take advantage of the FREE SHUTTLE running 11am until 9:30pm. Shuttle Stops are:

  1. 3430 Courthouse Drive at George Howard Building
  2. Courthouse Drive at top of Circuit Courthouse Parking Lot / 8360 Court Avenue
  3. 3829 Church Road at Main Street (Firehouse Museum)
  4. 8390 Main Street at Wine Bin Parking Lot
Or, is this the big story in Old Ellicott City this weekend?


There has certainly been quite a lot of buzz about the latter. As befits human nature and Howard County, there have been an assortment of responses from curiosity and enthusiasm, to ennui, nay-saying, and accusations of a lack of transparency. No matter what it turns out to be, I think that responses will fall in more or less the same sorts of categories. 

If I see anyone say, “Well, I thought it was going to be awful but it was great!” I will consider that to be newsworthy.

I have to admit I hadn’t seen any online information about the Mardi Gras themed events until yesterday, although clearly this has been in the works for a while. I follow a lot of Ellicott City themed accounts but nothing about this has popped up in any of my feeds. There must be something wrong with my algorithm.

True to the spirit of this blog, I have prepared an impromptu list of things that the secret event might be but probably isn’t. As per usual, your input is welcome.

How about:

A cattle drive?
Running of the bulls?
Roller derby?
76 Trombones?
Filming of a major motion picture?
Filling up the entire street with jello?

Whatever it turns out to be, I hope lots of folks will turn out to support Old Ellicott City and have some fun. If we are not going to have even one decent snow this winter, let’s get out of the house and enjoy our community.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Raising a Toast


The Melting Pot in Wilde Lake Village Center has announced their closure. In the Baltimore Sun article by Ana Faguy, the reason was listed as a problem with their franchise agreement.  The Melting Pot made it through years of the Wilde Lake Village Center being in limbo, and then, under construction. I’ve been surprised by their ability to hang in there as the local restaurant scene changed around them.

I chose The Melting Pot as the site of my older daughter’s twenty first birthday. I knew it was going to be a splurge and we may have even taken advantage of some promotional deal to make it happen. My husband, not a fan of fancy restaurants, was a bit dubious.

The tone of the evening was set when the waitress came by and asked if we were celebrating a special occasion.

“We’re here to celebrate my daughter’s twenty-first birthday,” I told her, as she started to take our drink orders.

Little sister, then six, piped up, “ But it isn’t her real birthday, that’s not until the weekend!”

The rest of us burst out laughing, realizing she had dashed any hopes of her big sister toasting the evening with her first celebratory cocktail. (She now maintains she hadn’t planned on ordering one anyway.)

The hilarity continued throughout the meal. There was nothing stuffy or “fancy” about it. The hands-on nature of choosing one’s own bits of food, wielding skewers, cooking in hot oil and dipping in sauces put everyone at ease. My (then-future) son in law, who we knew to have talents in sword juggling and flame throwing, was right in his element. The mood play playful. The food, delicious.

My husband had a blast. So much so, in fact, that I worried we’d be asked to tone down our noise level by the establishment. (We weren’t. I was probably overly worried on that one.)

It was a purely delightful experience from beginning to end. In the back of my head I’ve always had the notion of going back for little sister’s twenty-first birthday. We have a few more years yet.

So, pour out a toast to the Wilde Lake Melting Pot. It will always have a special place in my heart.

Do you have any fond memories of The Melting Pot? Share them here.


Thursday, February 20, 2020

Detour


A bit of a detour this morning, I promise it will be worth it.

This post is by  Howard County resident, Amy Hairston:

It’s time to freak out about the state of teaching as a career, Ubuntu Mom blog

Please take the time to read the whole thing.

And, now this:


Keep all this in mind as we think about what needs inspecting and protecting about schools in Maryland.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Inspector Returns


Governor Larry Hogan has announced the appointment of Maryland’s first State Inspector General for Education. I’m going to write more about this tomorrow, but first, here’s a look at where I was on this the last time it came up.

Misgivings (January 23, 2018)

I’m going to blather here for a bit. You can be sure I’ll be writing a more complete post about this in the near future, but this will have to do for now.

I’ve been pondering Governor Larry Hogan’s proposal for an Inspector General of Education in Maryland. We have recently gone through some very hard times with our school system where having such an office would have made it much easier to get to the bottom of some long standing problems. And I know some very good people locally who support Governor Hogan’s proposal.

And yet.

I can’t look at this proposal in a vacuum. It comes from the same Governor who has given credence to school vouchers and school privatization, both of which weaken public education. And this is the very same Governor who called teachers “union thugs”.

That’s my husband he’s talking about. My friends. My daughter’s teachers.

When I hold this concept of an Inspector General in one hand, all by itself, it appears to have merit. I can see what prompted it. I can see the problems it is meant to address. But when I put it in context with other things that the Governor has said and done about Education, I am concerned. I see how it might become a sword to weaken public education, rather than a lifeline to help it up.

If such a proposal were coming from a champion of public education, who really understood teaching and children and how public schools work, I might feel differently. But, at the moment, I’m not entirely convinced.

*****
So, has anything happened to change my mind on this topic in the past two years?

We’ll talk about that tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Magnified



I’m finally on the other side of two surgeries for cataracts. My distance vision is now excellent. Unfortunately I can’t really see the iPad until I get new reading classes.

Since I can’t give you a fully-formed post today, I’d like to use this space to put in a good word for Howard County’s own Elevate Maryland. They’re one of the Best Podcast nominees in the Baltimore Sun’s Best 2020 Readers’ Choice.

You can vote for them here.

It would be pretty cool to see the podcast with Maryland focus and Howard County roots get some wider recognition.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Newsworthy


It is fascinating to me that two articles in the recent Columbia Flier focus on successful local women professionals who are the heads of their households.

Atterbeary Juggles Motherhood, Politics, Activism, Ana Faguy*
Fire Chief to Retire at End of Month, also by Ana Faguy

I am of two minds about this. On the one hand, I do get tired of seeing journalistic takes on how women have to “juggle” their responsibilities if they venture out of the home sphere. It galls me. You seldom, if ever, see this line of thinking applied to men. The underlying concept is that motherhood is a woman’s true responsibility and that anything else is selfish or irresponsible.

Ugh.

On the other hand, it is worth noting that we see two such stories in the paper this week because women continue to persevere and move forward in their careers, achieving professional milestones that would have been unthinkable in my childhood. We may see more and more of these stories before the old “juggling” trope wears out. I am looking forward to that day.

Both Delegate Atterbeary and Chief Ulhorn are single parents. There are plenty of worn-out tropes about that, as well. I am equally tired of aspersions cast upon women who are the heads of their households. Pundits use the spectre of “unwed mothers” and “single-parent families” as a scapegoat for any number of societal ills.

It’s just a lot of hogwash.

Whether a family unit is loving, supportive, and healthy/functional is dependent upon a number of factors. It is small-minded and just plain inaccurate to say that families with one parent aren’t truly ”families”. It’s simply another way for some folks to shake their heads and say “those people” as a way of othering those who are different from themselves.

It is a challenge to be a single parent, whether you are a woman or a man, but it is not a failing, an act of selfishness, or a crime.

I learned from an article in Columbia Patch that these attitudes are actually enshrined in Maryland law:

In vitro access has become an “equity issue” in Maryland since unwed women are not covered by insurance, a Baltimore County senator says. (Elizabeth Janney, Columbia Patch)

Senator Shelley Hettleman is sponsoring a bill which would require that Maryland health insurance plans add unmarried women to their coverage for in vitro fertilization. I suppose that there will be some pushback on this of the “family values” variety. I’m interested to see if this bill succeeds.

The news this week is that women are mothers, and fire chiefs, and legislators, and heads of families. They can face their own challenges and make their own choices. 


*The title of this piece has been changed. It now reads, “Howard Del. Vanessa Atterbeary finds balance as a mom, a politician, an activist“.






Saturday, February 15, 2020

Spreading the Love


For those of you keeping track at home, yesterday I managed to write a blog post promoting an event without revealing the date, time, or location of said event. Let’s correct that. 

A Swashbuckling Evening in the Stacks:
Saturday, February 29  7 to 11 pm 

HCLS  East Columbia Branch

Moving on.

Maryland Matters did another post this year about power couples which got me thinking. I’m not sure how fond I am of the “power couples” concept. I’m going to give it a new twist by looking at some Columbia/HoColocals who are passionate about their work and causes. That kind of love makes the whole community better.

2020 Village Green/Town² 
Columbia/HoCo “Power Couples”

  • Nina Basu & Inner Arbor Trust
  • Bonnie Bricker & Talk With Me
  • Mickey Gomez & Friends and Foundation of the Howard County Library
  • Jumel Howard & Howard County Pride
  • Toby Orenstein & Toby’s 
  • Ian Kennedy & DCACC
  • Chiara D’Amore & The Community Ecology Institute
  • Jon Merryman & the Patapsco
  • Ilana Bittner & HoCoMoJo
  • Bita Dayhoff & The Community Action Council
And, last but not least, I’m going to defy convention and throw in a “throuple”:

  • Candace Dodson Reed, Tom Coale & Elevate Maryland
These “power couples” definitely share the love. Can you think of others to add to the list? Let me know.



Friday, February 14, 2020

Dual-Purpose and Beyond


Continuing on in the theme of dual-purpose businesses, I’ve got a place for you that’s a hands-down local favorite. It’s a place where you can:

Pick up music and movies
Meet up with friends
Have a snack
Do research
Attend community meetings
Take a class
Read
Get on the Internet
Find tools for household repair
Try out music production
Learn a craft
Borrow toys
Hold a study group
Get passport photos taken
Find tax forms

Dual-purpose? That’s more like multi-purpose, almost omni-purpose. If you haven’t already guessed, it’s your local Howard County Library.

Their annual fundraiser, Evening in the Stacks, is coming up. This year it’s “A Swashbuckling Evening in the Stacks” so I expect they'll be going all out with a pirate theme. Tickets are available here.

Howard County’s signature winter gala, Evening in the Stacks, sets sail on a daring swashbuckling adventure in 2020 that is sure to treat guests to a “yo, ho, ho” good time. Guests will experience specialty rums, signature grogs, fruits de mer, encounters with sea-going characters and creatures, and a treasure trove of entertaining activities throughout the evening. (It’s arrrggggurably the best party in Howard County!)

In case fancy dress affairs are not your thing, or the ticket price is out of your range, you can still support the library by purchasing a raffle ticket. Each branch has their own gift basket, plus there’s a grand prize of a Microsoft Surface Go tablet. Tickets to enter each raffle are just five dollars. Click on this link to see what you could win.

Proceeds from this event help our multi-purpose library system facilitate programs like:

  • Author Events
  • Battle of the Books
  • Project Literacy
  • Summer Reading

Stop by your local branch this weekend and sample some of what they have to offer.

Now, if they could just add a laundromat...




Thursday, February 13, 2020

Two for One


The topic of this episode of the Kojo Nnamdi Show sparked my imagination with local possibilities.

How Dual-Purpose Establishments Serve Their Neighborhoods

From the transcript:

From a brewery that sells kids' toys and kitchen gadgets to a barber shop that hosts art shows, we're exploring how local businesses get creative to serve their neighborhood's unique needs.

The Kojo Nnamdi show is rooted in DC, so naturally that’s where they looked for their examples for the show. “But, what about Howard County?” I wondered. Do we have any dual-purpose businesses? Should we have more?

Both Matcha Time Café and Syriana Café and Gallery in Old Ellicott City come to mind as places that provide both food service and sell gifts. But I’m drawing a blank on other dual-purpose establishments. Addition from an astute reader: In downtown Ellicott City, Jaxon Edwards is a coffee shop,  bar, barbershop, and arcade.

Does offering cocktails plus axe-throwing count as dual purpose? Throw in an on-site urgent care and I’d feel a whole lot more comfortable with that concept.

I know I’ve read about laundromats that are also bars or cafes. Would Columbia/HoCo benefit or would that just ruin a perfectly good laundromat? Your opinions are welcome.

And, because I can’t leave a good idea alone, how about your suggestions for unexpected business combinations? I’m open to silliness. Let your imagination run wild.





Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Time to Improve



There’s a debate in town about the school system budget. Some say it is important for HCPSS to ask for what they truly need. Others say the Board of Education must be responsible in what they request from the county. One thing we know: if they don’t get the funds that are actually needed, they must make cuts.

I had another thought. What if we applied the “Improve, Don’t Move” slogan to the school budgeting process? Meet the needs of those schools first. Then use what is left over on the more affluent schools. Perhaps that would be a strong motivator for some to advocate for increased school funding from the county.

Of course, I don’t believe that the process of redistricting was ever about throwing wealth at the “poor” schools. You can read my earlier blog posts to see that. But, since we find ourselves in this funding predicament, why don’t we see how far our funds will go if we meet the needs of those schools deemed “unacceptable “ first.

You might say the organized opposition to redistricting has given us the blueprint to do just that.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

On My Mind


It was a rough night in the sleeping department. Not feeling my usual perky self. Here are two things I’ve got on my mind this morning:


And this picture from the African Art Museum of Maryland which is almost a press release in illustrated form:

I’m going to drink some more coffee and see if I can make myself human in time to go to work. See you tomorrow.


Monday, February 10, 2020

Vision Checkup



If you want to get a good overview of the Horizon Foundation’s 2020 Vision for Health in Howard County report, may I recommend:

“In Howard County, black infants due at twice the rate as white infants, report shows” - - Ana Faguy, Baltimore Sun
 Report: Even in Md.’s Wealthiest County, Health Disparities Persist” - - Josh Kurtz, Maryland  Matters

From the report:

While Howard County ranks among the healthiest communities in the state and nation, we still fall short of our potential. Unfortunately, even in our county, your zip code, skin color, income and other demographic factors can determine your health in very unfair ways.

Educational studies have already shown that test scores are linked more to income than any other factor. And in Howard County we’ve recently had a big lesson on how one’s zip code determines how much expendable income parents can put into their schools’ PTA programs. The Horizon Foundation report has found results that very much follow along the same lines.

We don’t all have an equal chance in achieving positive health outcomes in Howard County.

Through this report, we are trying to re-frame the conversation on racial equity in health. We are looking at the root causes and systems and structures that contribute to and reinforce these disparities. - - Nikki Highsmith Vernick, President and CEO of the Horizon Foundation

  • Root causes
  • Systems
  • Structures
In other words, the attitudes that have created the policies and practices we have now are baked right in to the way that citizens access health care at every level. And the numbers show that the results aren’t the same depending on some very particular factors.

This is not a matter of opinion, or a thinkpiece by a politically-motivated party operative. This is a study, based on collection of data, undertaken by a respected community health foundation. I’ve already seen comments on social media which indicate that some people think that any initiative that examines equity in our community is some kind of liberal hoax. This saddens me.

How can we make any progress as a community if the desire to look at ourselves honestly is taken as a threat rather than an opportunity? How can we hope to improve policies and practices if anecdotal evidence is quoted to refute the results of scientific inquiry?

In some ways I almost wonder if the study we need from the Horizon Foundation is one on how to inform citizens (of differing zip codes, skin color, income, and other demographic factors) of how Horizon Foundation studies and reports are made. How information is collected and analyzed. The qualifications of the researchers. The goals of a study.

As in so many areas where we seek to address equity; those who already get it, get it. And the rest either don’t know, are apathetic, or outright hostile. 

Perhaps a study on how empathy is developed and sustained is warranted. We sure need more of it in Howard County.




Sunday, February 9, 2020

Book Fair Money


Yes, I know I said that I would be writing more about the Horizon Foundation’s recently released Howard County health outcomes report today, but I slept through my time window for analytical thought, so here we are. Look for that tomorrow.

Instead, I have a little assignment for you. Go to Twitter and search the words “book fair money”. Now, read the results. There are plenty; you’re not obliged to read all of them. Just enough to get the point.

It’s pretty stunning how many full grown adults are walking around with memories of how important the book fair was in their school experience. In particular, you will notice how many still feel the sting of being the child who didn’t have “book fair money.”

I’ll never forget how sad I was as a kid when my parents didn’t send me to the book fair with money and everybody would leave with some lit ass books and I’d be waiting against the wall with the teacher.

A good bit of this conversation on Twitter was generated by someone who posted:

The scholastic book fair is free now. Wow.

Another poster added:

lmao it is not free but they do have this thing where parents that have a little more to spare can buy books and put them on a specific wall for the kids that don’t get book fair money can still go in and get new books without getting the charity feeling. it’s actually real nice.

Book fairs are going strong and still a big deal right here in Howard County, where the Homewood Center has launched an initiative to crowdfund free books for every single student in their community. You can help.

Help EVERY student get a book from their wish list @hcpss_hc 1st Scholastic Book Fair on 3/18. Cash and checks can be mailed or dropped off to Homewood Center, any time before 3/13

This is Homewood’s first book fair. Ever. Imagine the joy of every single student being able to pick out a book of their very own. You can help to make it happen. Sign up here:

https://www.signupgenius.com/go/20f0a44a5a82ba6ff2-homewood1

You can donate as little as five dollars. You don’t need to be a big donor to make a big impact. At the moment they don’t have the capability to send money online, so you will need to make sure you do the follow up to get your donation there before the 3/13 deadline.

Homewood doesn’t have its own PTA as they draw students from all over the county. I’d love to see folks from all over the county chip in to make this project wildly successful.


Saturday, February 8, 2020

Sometimes a Laundromat



Once upon a time, long, long ago, when I was running for a seat on the Columbia Association Board for Oakland Mills. I had the opportunity to meet with some residents at the Forest Ridge Apartments and listen to their concerns. I was very nervous in advance of the event, but I needn’t have been. It was a truly educational experience and the people who turned out that day were very kind to me.

Something that has stayed with me since that day is a few of the requests they made. In particular, the ones they made about the Oakland Mills Village Center. When asked what other kind of businesses they’d like to see, the most mentioned were a laundromat and a dollar store. Also mentioned were any decent businesses where young people from their community could get jobs.

When I mentioned their requests to other folks I knew from Oakland Mills, many were squeamish. A few visibly winced. To them a laundromat and a dollar store were the equivalent of living in “the wrong part of town.” It was almost a “what will people think?” sort of response.

”Don’t those apartments have washers and dryers?”

It turns out that they do have washers and dryers but they are very small, so they aren’t truly adequate    for many of the residents’ needs. Want to wash a large comforter? Nope. Have more than two in your apartment? Or an infant? Tough luck.

I think there are far too many instances where people have actual needs that aren’t being met and those of us with privilege just don’t get it. Where some imagine a laundromat with horror - - there goes the neighborhood - - for others it would make the realities of daily life significantly less of a burden. And we don’t see that.

“Don’t those apartments _________?” is just a step away from “Don’t those people_________?”
And that’s a special kind of ugliness that Howard County doesn’t particularly want to look at.

This memory is on my mind today after reading the article in the Columbia Flyer about the Horizon Foundations’s 2020 Visions for Health in Howard County report. The piece, by Ana Faguy, is entitled “Report: County’s black infant mortality rate twice that of white”. I’ll be writing about this more tomorrow. As I read the disparities between White and Black citizens horrified me. Yes, I knew in some vague way that we don’t all have equal health outcomes, but this report spells it out clearly.

Sadly, I can imagine this report being read through the lenses of the better off and that makes me wince. “Why don’t those people______?”

  • Eat better
  • Get more exercise 
  • Go to the doctor once in a while  
  • Take their medication 
  • Etc etc etc 
Those are the wrong questions, because they are questions whose purpose is to judge, not to help. 

The Horizon Foundation is providing us with an opportunity to change outcomes by first looking at the truth of where we stand. We have to want to understand why things are the way they are, and we have to value our neighbors as much as ourselves if we want to create viable solutions.



Friday, February 7, 2020

Ask. And Tell.



Seen at the newly renovated Round House Theater in Bethesda:



As I waited in line to use the restroom at intermission, an older woman gestured to the sign and said to her companion, “It’s all so confusing, isn’t it?”

The sign reads: 

Please use the restroom that best fits your gender identity or expression. A single-stall family restroom is located upstairs.

I didn’t say anything. It wasn’t my conversation. She looked to be in her late seventies and her tone was genuinely puzzled, not judgmental or mean-spirited. She saw it, she noted it, she moved on.

I truly believe that we will move to a point where this is completely a non-issue and the right to use a bathroom will become solely an issue for the person who needs to go. Someday. Maybe not tomorrow, but in my lifetime. However, it will take many allies standing up for the rights of others to make that a reality. 

During the last election campaign for the Board of Education, one candidate stood out in her rejection of fair bathroom access for trans students. She was defeated. But she had supporters in the community and they are still out there. Her loss very likely did not change their attitudes.

I say this now because I worry that current BOE candidates could possibly have similar attitudes but may, as the result of this former candidate’s experience, wish to fly under the radar and keep those views quiet during the campaign. Don’t let them.

No matter where you live in Howard County, make sure you know where candidates stand on this issue. Comfortable and safe bathroom access for trans students is a civil rights issue. It’s an education access issue. If a candidate isn’t willing to champion the civil rights of all students, they don’t belong on the Board of Education. 

There are many issues to consider. Don’t let this one fall through the cracks.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Long Reach Dreams



It looks like something artsy is happening in Long Reach. Of course the Columbia Art Center has long been in residence there, so it makes sense that other arts endeavors are joining it. Recently I’ve  seen several announcements that sound like a new Long Reach Village Center is taking shape:
  • African Art Museum of Maryland relocating to LRVC
  • Howard County Arts Council offering studio space for artists 
  • ManneqART to create new location 
Call me crazy, but all of these announcements made me wonder if the Safeway space could be renovated and transformed into a perfect Toby’s location. Yes, I know, there’s some other plan for that which is more Downtown-centric, but this is my blog and I can pretend all I want. I don’t mean to cast aspersions on the plans in place. I simply like to dream.

“What if’s” are fun. What if Toby’s could be reborn in Long Reach? There’s plenty of parking. They are already a successful, well-known brand in the region and people would definitely come there. And that would mean a lot more people with expendable income visiting Long Reach. And that might mean that other businesses would begin to find Long Reach more worthy of investment.

I’m not a city planner. But I can dream, can’t I? After all, I’ve always wanted to see creative re-use of the Columbia Flier/Patuxent Publishing Building, and this past year we’ve seen glimmers of that. So, who knows?

At any rate, I’m excited at what’s happening in Long Reach. I remember attending the event to re-imagine Long Reach that invited community members to give input for the future of the center. Even then, a desire for more arts space was apparent.

I’m looking forward to a vibrant future for the Village Center and the Long Reach community.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Sixes and Sevens




SABINA: Oh, oh, oh! Six o'clock and the master not home yet. Pray God nothing serious has happened to him crossing the Hudson River. If anything happened to him, we would cer- tainly be inconsolable and have to move to a less desirable residence district. The fact is I don't know what'll become of us. Here it is the middle of August and the coldest day of the year. It's simply freezing; the dogs are sticking to the sidewalks; can anybody explain that? No. But I'm not surprised. The whole world's at sixes and sevens, and why the house hasn't fallen down about our ears long ago is a miracle to me.

The Skin of Our Teeth, Thornton Wilder

I woke up, gave a glance at the news, and this is what popped into my head: the Antrobus family trying to maintain normalcy as chaos and an ice age bears down on them.

To be sure, there’s plenty of interesting local things to note, and I’ll talk about them tomorrow. But this morning the state of our nation has put me smack onstage with Wilder’s characters who huddle together burning furniture to keep warm, while making sandwiches and reciting snippets of the worlds great thinkers. 

It’s a very profound play to rehearse, because those epic questions come up as you work: Is humanity resilient? It’s a really dystopian look at the American experiment, and I think that’s what we’re all kind of waking up to. We assumed we would be inheritors of this great ideal, and now we realize how completely fragile it is. Carey Perloff, “Why Thornton Wilder Matters in the Trump Era” New York Times

Fragile, indeed.

Wilder closes his play with a bit of hope. I’m struggling to find some today.

This is where you came in. We have to go on for ages and ages yet. You go home. The end of this play isn’t written yet. Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus! Their heads are full of plans and they’re as confident as the first day they began,—and they told me to tell you: good night.



Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Good News


The best news of the day is that the State of Maryland does not use the caucus method to decide political contests. And, as proof of just how wonderful that is, today you have the opportunity to vote to narrow the field in the 7th district special election to fill the seat of the late Elijah Cummings.

Schools are closed in order to be used as election sites. Community members will be working the polls. This is a “one day only affair“ and you are invited. I know I’ve been seeing a lot of you talk about the importance of voting lately. Will you be voting today?

I keep reading that voter turnout is expected to be low. Prove them wrong, Howard County. Take a little time out of your day to exercise your right to be an active participant in our democratic system. Don’t leave it to somebody else.

It will take an exceptional person to follow Mr. Cummings to represent Maryland. Whoever eventually wins this seat has an opportunity to grow and learn and become the kind of seasoned, deeply committed public servant that he was. No one will begin there. But someone has the chance to become.  That person will represent you, your family, friends, neighbors, colleagues. Shouldn’t you be a part of that choice?

Here’s a link to the League of Women Voters Election guide. Most of the folks in my immediate circle have already made up their minds. If you are still weighing options, I’d like to put in a good word for Delegate Terri Hill. I’ve heard her interviewed several times on the Elevate Maryland podcast and I’m impressed both by her knowledge and attitude towards public service.  I’ve heard so many positive reports of her work since she was elected as a state delegate. I feel strongly that she would be an able and committed representative to all the residents in District 7.

Individual choices aside, the important thing is to show up and let your voice be heard. From an article in the Baltimore Sun highlighting Elijah Cummings‘ famous speeches:

Cummings recalled how his mother, a sharecropper, had witnessed Americans harmed and beaten while seeking the right to vote, he said.
“Her last words were ‘Do not let them take our votes away from us,’” he said, punctuating each word.
“Voting is crucial, and I don’t give a damn how you look at it,” Cummings said. “There are efforts to stop people from voting. That’s not right. This is not Russia. This is the United States of America.”
Cummings called voting the “essence” of democracy and pledged to “fight until the death” to make sure every citizen had access to the vote. Those without it, he said, cannot progress with the rest of society nor control their destiny.