Saturday, December 24, 2011
Greetings from Santa's Village
Recently my husband suggested a cute little holiday app called "Santa's Village." It is rather like "We Rule", in that you are forever building things and making things and so on. But somehow this little thing has taken over my life. It takes a very specific amount of time to make each kind of toy, and if you don't come back in time to collect it, these annoying little purple things, called Grumpkins, come in and destroy them. And then you have to start all over.
For the first time in my life, I am prioritizing tasks according to how long they will take. Can I start this Toy Soldier now? It might be finished while I am asleep. Should I accept the challenge to produce all those Rubber Duckies if I know they will come due while I am teaching? I have even been setting timers, for heaven's sake, to avoid missing a toy "harvest."
What is particularly disturbing about this is that I would never do this in real life. I am a concept girl--a starter more than a finisher. A procrastinator, a wishful thinker. More touchy-feely than concrete sequential, if you will. What has caused this change in my "it'll get done" philosophy of life?
Metaphor. Yes, I suspect it's because I look at this little village and see multiple worlds. For example:
1. Santa and his elves are trying to build a better Columbia. The Grumpkins are the naysayers who want everything to stay the same.
2. Santa and his elves are the overly-abundant ruling party who are merely displaying their power-hungry desires through land-grabs and graft. The poor, misunderstood Grumpkins can do nothing but express their dismay over this untenable situation.
3. Santa and his elves are really big money developers. The Grumpkins are devoted Pioneers, trying valiantly to preserve Jim Rouse's vision.
4. Those elves are renters, dagnabbit! The North Pole just isn't the same since Santa started that affordable housing program.
5. Santa and his elves are doing their best to provide for people who might otherwise be left out. The Grumpkins are disillusioned elves who think that it's nothing more than Socialism.
6. The app was created to train CA Reps how to relate to CA Staff.
7. The entire app is a metaphor for the Howard County School Board. (Choose your own particulars.)
I have promised myself that even if the app does not automatically shut down on Christmas Day, I am going to delete it. I have too much living in the real world to do!
Whatever holiday, religion, season, or reason--I wish you all joy, and happy times with the people you love.
Friday, December 16, 2011
They've burst your pretty balloon and taken the moon away.
What if you had a party and nobody came? How would you feel? How would you respond?
Consider the ongoing party in Columbia that we call CA Aquatics:
In looking at traditionally underused pools in Columbia, a member of the CA Aquatics Staff suggested that the culture of certain 'populations' didn't promote swimming. In other words, lack of pool use stems from lack of interest.
Really? Isn't this like saying to the starving French peasants that their predicament is caused by a lack of interest in cake?
It's time to wind up the masquerade.
Just make your mind up the piper must be paid.
What if you had a party and nobody came because they didn't know they were invited?
The CA experience, the way that Columbia "was meant to be" is unknown and largely irrelevant to many of our residents. Institutions like this just can't survive without ongoing evangelism, and by this I mean outreach which is continually evolving to meet the needs of its community. Not just to the community we imagine to be the true Columbia. We are not all generally well-educated, generally middle and upper middle folks who can join CA and shop at the Mall.
I do not dispute that CA has some programs to meet the needs of lower-income residents. But I don't think they are being offered in a way that truly reaches the people they need to reach. It reminds me of the Washington Post's rather smug slogan, "If you don't get it--you don't get it."
Very true. And now where are we?
The Party's Over.The candles flicker and dim.
You danced and dreamed through the night,
it seemed to be right...
A young, well educated professional in Columbia said to me recently, "Well, of course there's no way that CA facilities could accommodate all residents. So they had to have a way to restrict it: by income."
Breathtakingly simple. Yes, it may be just one opinion. But this is someone who has lived here for twelve years and this is what has been communicated to her.
Are we really going to where the people are and finding ways that are relevant to them to involve them in the benefits that Columbia can offer? Or are we using the same old ways to promote and expecting, no, requiring, people to come to us?
We are on the verge of closing (at least one) pool located in an area of the greatest need. Actions like this say to me that somebody, somewhere (or quite a few somebodies) think that these people are not real Columbians. Or perhaps, that some Columbians are more equal than others.
Monday, December 5, 2011
A Crisis of Face?
The Columbia Association is going through a process of rebranding itself. Choosing from a collection of twelve well-known archetypes, CA sees itself as Caregiver, Jester, Sage, EveryPerson. What do you think? I am neither an expert in archetypes or rebranding, so I invite you to stay engaged with the process and learn more for yourself. I raise this issue now because the "Ignite" event last week made me realize that I am experiencing a loss of faith, or "Face", if you will, as regards the Columbia Association.
Don't misunderstand me. I believe in Columbia and what it stands for. I believe in the Villages, where you will find community engagement and vibrancy happening all the time. But I'm not sure I believe in "CA."
Panel member Candace Dodson Reed offered the following, "If all people had to go on was what they read in the newspaper and saw online, they would think that Columbia was a dysfunctional place where no one got along and people constantly argued about things."
There you have it: that's my "Face of CA."
People like me, who didn't come here at the beginning, don't necessarily know how to become a part of it all, or even if it is worth it. The steady voice of CA available in the news is resistance, micromanagement, argument, suspicion. I love Columbia, but I do not want to be a part of That Club.
Tom Coale recently made this comment on his blog, HocoRising. "To the extent CA has problems, it is my personal opinion that those problems can be sourced back to the Board. If we were getting paid, I might see the upside of cutting compensation."
His comment jumped off the screen for me. How many of us see this as the "Face of CA?" How many, then, are missing CA's relevance to living, working, and thriving in Columbia?
If CA wants to communicate more clearly what it is about, then it will need to confront what holds it back from being the best it can be. Encouraging new ideas and new faces is a good place to start.
I wonder if the rebranding people are listening.
Friday, December 2, 2011
A panel discussion, moderated by Brian Dunn, focused on engaging Columbia's younger generation and involving them in community affairs. The participants each had a valuable perspective to bring to the conversation. But there was just one problem--why wasn't I on the panel? I'm a parent of a young(ish) child, I live in a starter home, I serve on a village board, I blog about community events. What's not to like?
Oh, yeah, Duh. I'm not young.
This second marriage, second child, second career, second chance at a happy life thing means I am always coming late to this party. Darn. I am forced to click "Boomer" in the live polling, which galls me. Not because I dislike Boomers, but because it's an inaccurate representation of who I am.
I am the youngest in my family--with birth years of 1950, 1953, and 1959. My oldest sister took great delight in lecturing me when I was a teenager in the '70's,"When I was a teenager we cared about Civil Rights. My friends went to the March on Washington. Some were Conscientious Objectors. We boycotted California Table Grapes to support Cesar Chavez. What do you do?"
It was drilled into me that I and my friends would never earn the right to be Boomers. Our teenage years were insignificant; we had no causes.
Somehow, I survived.
I survived through putting myself through college, a turbulent first marriage and being a single parent, working for years in an unsupportive and stressful environment. In the midst of all of that I looked up one day and true love was looking right in my face with kind and gentle eyes.
So, here I am. I caught a lucky break and I have the time, financial stability and mental health to give back a little to my new-found home town. And don't think I'm not grateful, because I am. Every day. Despite the very real physical reminders of middle age, I sometimes forget how old I really am. In my ventures into community life I allow myself an adjusted age of say, 35.
I may not ever get on the "young" panels. nor will I ever be a sage Pioneer. But I do have the joy of knowing that I am home, and that I still have a lot to learn.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
A Blogger's Thanksgiving
I arrived at Tarragon Park a tad early, and sat in my car listening to NPR so as to avoid seeming over-eager. I brushed my hair, and checked that my ipad was charged.
The door was answered by @Wordbones, gracious co-host of our event. "Come on in. We're just choosing the wines for the meal." Pondering the perfect choices with him were the wine enthusiasts of @vinotrip. I knew right away that the selections for our gathering were sure to be first-rate. I heard some banging from out back.
"Don't worry about that," WB explained. "That's just @53Beers getting his tailgate operation on. He's determined to deep-fry a turkey out there."
Delicious aromas wafted through the house. I headed to the kitchen, where @hocohousehon and @howchow were discussing the finer points of roasting vs. sauteing the Brussels sprouts. Heavy cream and toasted pine nuts sat nearby. My offer of help was promptly refused.
@jessiex had arrived with her hoops, and plenty of them. I wondered if I'd even be able to fit inside one after the meal that was to come. The @wellandwise folks crowded around her, bubbling with enthusiasm for a post meal workout. @annathema and @tjmayotte arrived, fresh from a morning run. I was beginning to feel downright sedentary.
What a relief to spot @kikiverde in a quiet corner. We discussed upcoming holiday craft projects as the rest of the gang trickled in. @examorata sat nearby, scribbling thoughtfully in her journal. @ozoni11 slipped in and stationed himself at the computer, uploading photos he had taken on the grounds of Tarragon Park.
@sarahsays arrived with news of the new, free "Aquatibus", designed to move folks easily to the water facilities of their choosing.
"It never would have been possible with out all the valuable research that @ColumbiaCompass put together," she said. "Those statistics, charts, and his insightful analysis moved mountains!" Naturally, Mr. Compass was nowhere near to hear these accolades. Sarah said he was finishing the details of a deal to bring a microbrewery to the Wilde Lake Village Center.
"It's amazing the kind of work he gets done at the Columbia Mall Starbucks," I said.
Heads turned as a scuffling noise came from the entryway. "No press, no press!" someone was saying.
"This is a purely a social event!"
Of course it was @hocomojo,followed by various Patuxlets and Patchlets. "We'll be the judge of that," claimed @bitner as he slid past the gatekeepers. "Who better to appreciate the social nature of this event than your social media neighbors?"
@Annathema greeted them with a gentle smile. "You are very welcome," she said.
@LissaRossi set up on the couch for some live-blogging. She was joined by @dinosaurmom and @lifeslittlecomedies who offered support with snacks, drinks, wit, wisdom, and general hilarity.
@53Beers burst in with, well, fifty-three beers. A great ice breaker, and at just the right moment, I thought.
"But why 53 Beers?" I heard someone say.
"I was all out of gum," he replied cryptically, and retreated to his makeshift Purple Pit out back, muttering something about 'fishwrap'.
I worked my way over to the appetizers, where TJ and LisaB/Mrs S. were discussing the feasibility of running for the school board. @GCGeek offered suggestions as to the benefits of a witty Twitter presence for the would-be candidates.
@ColumbiaCompass arrived, beaming with satisfaction.
"Really, now. A microbrewery in Wilde Lake?" someone asked skeptically.
"Better than an inter-modal." he shot back easily, popping open a beer.
A call from our chefs brought us to the table. An amazing spread of local fare was laid out before us.
I noticed an empty seat.
"HoCoRising," explained Wordbones. "He's volunteering at Grassroots. He'll be along in a bit. "
Thus gathered, we bowed our heads for the blessing.
Happy Thanksgiving to the @hocoblogs community. Please accept this tale in the spirit in which it was intended -- a bit of fun during the dark days as the old year winds down.
P.S. For those who are wondering: of course we would be packing a hamper of the most delightful vegetarian fare for @hayduke and family.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Well and Wiser?
I insisted that my husband take me to the ER because I knew that I was a bundle of risk factors: middle aged, overweight, high blood pressure, high cholesterol. I knew that a woman's heart attack doesn't always present with the same symptoms as a man's. So, even though I wanted to stay home and not trouble anyone, I went.
I am thankful to my whole family for supporting me and taking care of each other. I am thankful, goodness knows, for free wifi at Howard County General Hospital. I am thankful to my friends on Facebook and Twitter who kept me company with online messages of good cheer. I am especially thankful that it was probably GERD symptoms that put the fear of God into me, and not heart disease.
But I am happiest to use this space today to thank everyone who helped me at the hospital: ER staff,
Triage and Admitting staff, Nurses, Techs, Transport employees, Lab technicians, Food Service workers,
Housekeeping, Janitorial Services, Technicians in Radiology and Nuclear Medicine, Dr. Levy in the ER,
Dr. Silverman who monitored my Stress Test...
That's a long list, isn't it? All of those folks, and probably more, were working to make sure I got the best care possible. They were kind and respectful to me and my family. They answered my questions. They smiled at my teddy bear.
Today, encouraged by my family, I am taking a tour at a local fitness facility. I'm going to find the best ways to increase my activity levels, and I am making changes in my diet.
Last night my family gathered for a happier occasion, the birthday of my youngest daughter. I realized, for the first time, what an active commitment I will have to make if I want to be around to see many, many more of those celebrations.
This isn't just Thanksgiving for me, it's a whole New Year.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Next on the Agenda
Both CA Village and Board meetings have a time set aside for residents to sign in and speak about a topic that is important to them. As you might imagine, most people are motivated to do this by something that concerns them. They may be upset, offended, indignant, outraged, or just generally cranky. I'm pretty sure that it's rare for a resident to come down to a meeting to thank the board members for something they have done right. It may happen, but I don't think it is a regular occurence.
It has been my experience that volunteer board members are not sitting around waiting for people to come and sing their praises. Our board's most pressing goal is often simply to get through all the items we need to consider during the time we have allotted to meet, and to do them justice. And let's not forget all of the work our Village Manager has done beforehand to prepare for the meeting. It is amazing the amount of groundwork she covers so that we can do the best job possible for our village.
Now, back to Resident Speakout. Perhaps none of us is at our best when already unhappy about something. But it seems to me that we are seeing more and more people in our culture who come to these opportunities to speak in a combative and suspicious state. Whether at the Village level, Columbia-wide, or throughout the county, citizens jump from concern to conspiracy theories, from irritation to "it's us vs. them!"
This type of mind-set produces very little progress for the resident and extreme stress for the board members.
I have found myself deeply concerned about local matters this week. I want to write about them, but I'm not quite ready yet. Despite feeling low, I still had a glimmer of hope: this week's Resident Speakout.
A group of residents came to speak about a matter that is extremely important to them. They spoke eloquently, and with great respect. They were accompanied by an elected official who had clearly done his homework and was ready to work with the Board. Meanwhile, the board was ready to discuss the issue because we had been kept abreast of the particulars by the Village Manager. We had a wonderful discussion, even a few laughs. Progress was made and, I believe, everyone went away feeling valued and respected.
For those of you feeling as disillusioned as I have been, take this: sometimes, it works.
Monday, November 7, 2011
This fellow did me a special honor by giving me away at my wedding in 1999, as my own father was no longer living. "Pay attention," he said to me rather sternly, as we were about to walk down the aisle. "You need to pay attention. You're going to want to remember this."
Those words came back to me as I read the following:
Monday, October 31, 2011
Walking the Walk
In a time that seems quite long ago, I joined neighbors and friends in support of filling the empty commercial space at Thunder Hill and 175 with a Walgreen's store. I had, for 12 years, kept all of my prescriptions at the Bolton Hill Pharmacy in Baltimore because Oakland Mills had no neighborhood drugstore. I was happy to champion the cause of a much-needed business located "within walking distance of my home."
It's true that I even threw a party at my home when they broke ground, with many of the refreshments purchased at (the River Hill) Walgreen's, just for fun. I normally get my groceries at the Food Lion, and that certainly hasn't changed. Friends of mine from nearby villages pointed out that it would be more convenient, and a savings of gas, to come to the Oakland Mills store when it opened. And of course, I crowed, it would be"within walking distance of my home."
Walgreen's opened on a Friday in mid-June. It has been a wonderful addition to Oakland Mills. I have moved all my family's prescriptions there. And can you guess how many times I have walked there?
Creative people can have a thousand ideas, but fear and uncertainly can kill every one just as fast as it is born. It had to be" warm enough, not too hot, not rainy, not too cold." I had to have "new walking shoes, enough time, someone to watch my daughter, no appointments, no commitments."
It turns out that I needed only one thing, or actually, a lack of something: excuses. This blog post from
Sarah Says about the value of the pathway system to Columbia's citizens reminded me of my Big Talk about the Walk to Walgreen's. Combined with posts by Miranda, Denise, and Sandy about loved ones running the Marine Corps Marathon, not to mention TJ's updates as he actually ran it, I realized it was time to fulfill my promise.
On a crisp, clear morning on the 31st of October I laced up my shoes, zipped up my jacket, and put down my fear.
In just 13 minutes I had put to rest the notion that I was too old or out-of-shape to do it. It wasn't the easiest thing I have ever done, nor the hardest. I made some observations about the route as I walked. The most crucial: why is there no crosswalk at Sohap? In order to cross in the safest and most legal way, I would have to go away from my destination to the crosswalk at White Acre.
So now I have a new goal--who do I talk to about that?
***Well, if you must know: hand lotion, a bottle of water, a cheddar cheese snack stick, and the Christmas issue of Victoria Magazine.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Words To Live By
The blogs that draw me, again and again, are ones whose writers appear to be following this simple process: learn more, think more. And then, they write.
Perhaps this is the blogger's equivalent of "measure twice, cut once." Willingness to learn more, and to really think about what is learned gives the blogger the ability to grow and change over time. This doesn't guarantee that the blogger will necessarily always reach the correct conclusions, or that the blogger is then a "better person" than other bloggers, or even that I will agree with the resulting posts. It means that Jane/John Q. Blogger acknowledges that she/he is not the Center of the Universe.
When the writer's goal is to be to be the Center of the Universe, then the blog commits to Being Right, all others be damned. And some readers want this. They want a place where their point of view is mirrored, their opponents skewered and ridiculed. And that will work for them--until, by chance, their opinions change, and the blog no longer "fits" them.
One of my favorite family stories is about an event which occurred when I was too young to really remember. My sisters were helping my parents take apart the old swing set, to prepare for the arrival of a new one. Each piece had to be removed before the frame was taken down. And so my sister Barb climbed up on the glider and began to unscrew it. She wanted to do it herself, so she didn't listen to warnings from onlookers.
( I'll allow you to figure this out on your own.)
Though it is far too late for her to benefit from this point of view, I think my sister needed to learn more and think more. In this same way, a blogger who is determined to "take down" the opposition may lack the vision to see the big fall that awaits inflexibility and narrow mindedness.
And so I give a big thank-you those Hocobloggers who allow learning, thought, change, and varying points of view. Your posts, the discussions which follow them, and our community are the better for your efforts.
Friday, October 21, 2011
All Politics is Local
This post is NOTabout the initiative, local dignitaries, Talbott Springs, or media coverage. It is about one child: my child. And about how my involvement in local affairs has affected her. When asked about the event, she said, "I wasn't sure I wanted to raise my hand (to take the pledge) but it was Ken Ulman, and WBAL was there..." (emphasis hers)
Yes, that's right. She was keenly aware of the presence of local politicos and the press. And that's more than likely my fault. It's amusing and sobering at the same time. Everything about local events that I need to know to stay informed is discussed at home. I have a child who knows the difference between a Village Board and the CA reps. She knows I've gone to County Council meetings and School Board meetings. She has more than a superficial undestanding of the local blogging scene.
Remember, this post is about a child. So it is important to remember yesterday's Big Event from child's point of view. The best part of the "30 Day Soda Free" Challenge?
"It ends right before my birthday party!"
Happy (soda-free) Friday, everybody!
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Mortality (Not What You Think)
I recently smacked up against mortality in a whole new way after I attended one of the Columbia Associations #AquaPlan meetings. It was extremely well run and I felt they had truly been doing their homework as they moved through the stated process. I came away feeling as though there were many possibilities. I felt hopeful.
But I also had some questions. I wanted to know: how many pools are there per village, and is there any correlation between population and number of pools? When I asked these questions on Twitter, it appeared that this was too touchy an issue to talk about in a public forum. Some of the responses I got came back fast and furious. My immediate response was to crawl under a rock.
Now, I've had some experience with Pioneers who resist change. I'm used to that. But this was different, and I wasn't expecting it. I was beginning to get some insight into a different group--people who grew up here in Columbia. And then I "got" it. It's mortality.
There is something that happens to you, as you navigate adulthood--you begin to treasure your childhood in a whole new way. That is why I go look at pictures of products from the sixties, connect with people from my old neighborhood, listen to old TV show theme songs. It becomes very, very precious. So when people start challenging the Columbia Pool way of life, it's not just a Plan, it's Killing Their Childhood.
You just don't go around killing people's childhoods, folks. If that is how the change is perceived, you are not going to get anywhere. So, how do we move forward? Does the message need to be different? The messengers? The people whose childhoods were shaped by CA Aquatics? How are we going to "make room"?
I don't know. But I have some empathy. Moving around frequently in my youth, I attended three elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school. Of those six schools, only two are still standing. The others were demolished to make way for more modern facilities, or were not replaced at all. I've had to come to grips with that piece of my childhood which I feel is now missing.
I still have ideas and questions about the #Aquaplan. Many may be silly, even crazy. But I think they are worth discussing. But here is where love steps in before reason: I don't want to kill anyone's childhood.
Time for another Beer Summit?
Monday, October 17, 2011
Village Green/Town Squared
"Congratulations on your award," a friend of mine from the PTA mentioned in passing. "I have to admit, I didn't know you had a blog."
Well...(wincing internally, here.)
Yes, I did have a blog, at Columbia Patch. I wrote eight blogs posts in May and June of this year. The support from friends in the #hoco was encouraging. And then something happened that burst my blogging balloon, so to speak.
I witnessed a decision which I felt was so stupid and wrong-headed that my righteous indignation went into high gear and I poured it into my ninth and most passionate blog post. And then I had to swallow the fact that it was better not to publish it.
Until then my greatest fear about blogging was the specter of nasty comments. But it turns out that the deadliest poison was saying nothing. To choose to say nothing. It's true--sometimes saying nothing is the right thing to do. (In fact, more people should do it.) In a culture that says, "Tell it all!" or, "Don't hold back," we don't get a lot of practice in letting things go without comment. It's a discipline.
But I let the disappointment of that experience keep me silent for the last three months. And then, at Monday's HoCoBlogs party, an unusual thing happened. Jessie Newburn of Hocoblogs bestowed up me one of the evening's Blogger's Choice Awards.
In the early years of the Blogtail parties I would get dressed up, head to the events, then turn around and go home because I lacked the self-confidence to walk in the door. Since then much has changed. I credit my time on the Oakland Mills Village Board for giving me the ability to go places and participate without fear. I credit the relationships I have built with local bloggers and community members for giving me people to talk to once I get there.
The name of this blog is Village Green/Town Squared. On a warm October evening, on the patio of the Stanford Grill, I finally understood what Town Squared really means. It means a mix of County and Columbia, men and women, assorted generations, differing viewpoints--celebrating their connections.
I am so there. And that's this Blogger's Choice.