Monday, December 31, 2012

Guest Post: Alice Shafer on Gender & Current Events

I offer as my last word in 2012 what I hope will be a first word in a desperately important conversation, by hocoblogger Alice Shafer.


I am watching football.

My home team, the Ravens, took a loss today - though fortunately we lost when we have already secured our place in the playoffs. My second home team, the Redskins, are currently battling it out with the Cowboys. RG3, Morris, and Garçon are doing what they do, and I'm sitting in bed with a glass of wine and the love of my life, my husband, G. 

Concurrently, G and I have been discussing two books of essays on Joss Whedon's Firefly. We are both fans - I watched the series while it was on TV, G watched it after, and we saw the premier of Serenity, the film, together. 

At the same time, men on television form expert opinions on football, with brief interludes from female reporters on the field. 

And at the same time, a woman in India is mourned. Her death is a terrible and shining point of how things, everywhere, must change. 

Everything we do is so, so gendered. 

I have this game with television - I watch commercials and ask G to switch the genders. Car commercials? Let's have tough women and clueless men. Cleaning products? Obviously, Dad should be there with the Swiffer and paper towels. Power tools and home improvement? Let's see a hardcore mom with sweaty pits and various bits unshaven. It's my small fight with gender, the every day kind, the fight of not really having to feel the effects of gender discrimination and yes, true warfare, because I am so unbelievably privileged. 

Feminism is really, really important. And we need it to do more. 

We need to do more. 

It's really easy to call yourself a feminist when all you do is fight for your own rights. It's simple to play games with the TV. It's simple to point out inequality within semi-nuanced samples of American pop culture. I can rail against Joss Whedon until my face turns blue, and I probably will, and none of that makes a damned difference when we know - we bloody well know - that life being "gendered" means that women are raped and killed. 

Let me say that again. 

Women are being raped and killed. 

First world feminism is awesome. There are gender gaps in pay, in respect, in paid leave, in safety on the streets; there are gaps within our families, in who clears the table, in who is supposed to take care of the baby, in who cooks, in who cleans; there are gaps in how men and women are portrayed in film and literature, in who reports football, in who makes a good TV series. All of these things are so important, and none of them cover the true extent of how damned unequal life really is - not even in other places, now, but just, say, in America, where freedom is supposed to be our creed. 

It would be great to walk down the street without feeling like a potential victim. 

That's not just feminism.  That's human dignity. 

And maybe, sometimes, feminism distracts. 

There needs to be more horror, out there, because women are made victims, are made an easy and excusable target. That horror goes so far beyond the luxuries of independence that allow us to dissent. I am in no way saying that feminism in America is a lost or foolish cause, but I'm saying, in essence, that we still live in privilege.  

I know that rape is a huge problem (problem being a mercilessly paltry word) in the US - I don't need to be told that. I'm saying that perhaps unsayable thing, which is that talking about women's rights, about gender and sex politics, is a hell of a lot different than doing something about it. The fact that we can, in fact, talk about it, is the greatest gift our mostly messed up country can give us. 

Right now people are protesting to be able to discuss the fundamental rights of women. 

And I'm watching football, judging a TV show, and feeling stupid and oh, so lucky to be alive. 

The Skins seem to be doing pretty well, and I see men and women in the stands, full of delight and spit and hellfire. I still wonder what it would be like to live in a world of gender equality, where female commentators give us the scoop on stats and hormones. I still tell my husband that Joss Whedon couldn't write a female character to get him out of a paper bag. 

And women are being raped and killed. 

And that's it, that's the end, because here I am, in my lovely bed with my lovely husband, and I'm a feminist, and I'm not doing a single thing to help. 

I am a woman. I'm a feminist. I am incredibly privileged.  

And I don't know what to do. 

I know I'm not doing enough. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Unanswered Question

I realized yesterday that a reader asked me a question, quite a while ago, that I never answered.  It had to do with the name of this blog. The suggestion was that I had given the blog two names instead of one, i.e. "both "Village Green" and "Town Squared." Now that the sand is just about out of the hourglass for 2012, I thought it was time to tie up this loose end with an explanation.

A Village Green is just a piece of land if no one is there. Having the land set aside for the people is of no purpose if the people aren't there.  It is though our coming together, exchanging ideas, learning, growing, and changing that the Village Green takes on a special meaning. Its power is increased exponentially. Thus, what this blog hopes to be:  Village Green/Town Squared.  The human connection is the point.

I was reminded of just how important this mission is when I read the following post by Sharon Williams.

"I promise this is NOT political: I'd just like to share my thoughts on the Sandy Hook tragedy from a professional/personal perspective and express what I believe all of us can do as individuals to help make things better. And in the end, regardless of our political beliefs, isn't that what we all want, to make things better in our country, our world?

I have been a social worker for 12 years at an inpatient psychiatric hospital working with children, adolescents, and their families. Among the adolescents who present as homicidal (and to a lesser extent, suicidal), the most pervasive phenomenon I have observed is that these children experience anomie. Anomie is defined as a breakdown of social bonds between an individual and their community, resulting in a disconnect between the person and society. Sometimes the children have personal reasons for feeling this way, but my impression is that community, which used to be endemic in this country, has been breaking down for decades. There have been books noting this trend, most notably "Bowling Alone", written by Robert Putnam and published in 2000.

What I think we can all do is start small: Talk to your neighbors. Talk to their kids. Have block parties. Frequent local stores and restaurants and talk to the patrons and employees. If you feel the call, join a church. Join community associations. If you have kids, get involved with the PTA. Start a book club. Volunteer at a local food bank or hospital. There are dozens of things you can do. I realize everyone is busy, but if we can just take a little time to try to connect with others around us, that will do wonders for all children, not just our own. Children will feel part of something, and that feeling will be belonging. And with belonging comes value. And with value comes treating themselves and others well, with dignity, respect, and care. And this will spread like ripples in a pond; it will reach beyond your own neighborhood and town. I know it's not the answer to everything, but it's the answer to something. I think since December 14th, 2012, we've all been striving for answers."

Enjoy your holidays, love your family, keep warm, be joyful. And one more thing: reach out, and keep on reaching, until you make a connection.  


Friday, December 14, 2012

HoCo Holler Returns!

When I was growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, one of the department stores ran an ad campaign with this jingle, "If you haven't seen Higbee's today--you haven't seen Higbee's!" This style of slogan is still in use, apparently, as evidenced by The Washington Post:  If you don't get it, you don't Get It. At the risk of sounding just a little bit hokey, I'm going to put this out there:

The Oakland Mills Food Lion. Try it again; you'll like it.

These are some of the reasons you might try the Oakland Mills Food Lion:

1. You live in Oakland Mills.
2. You are patronizing one of the other Village Center establishments.
3. You are visiting the Columbia Ice Rink.
4. You are attending a service at the Interfaith Center.
5. You have a meeting or event at the Other Barn.
6. You have a doctor's appointment in the professional building.
7. Your child is a member of the Youth and Teen Center.
8. You are attending an event at Blandair Park.
9. You have picked up a prescription at Walgreen's but need something for dinner.
10. You don't have a nearby grocery store where you live. (i.e., Running Brook, etc.)

Here is the reason you might not not try the Oakland Mills Food Lion:

You've tried it before, and were disappointed.

That's a pretty big reason.  We have a great selection of grocery stores in Columbia. Why keep patronizing one if you have been disappointed in customer service, selection, or quality? Until very recently Oakland Mills residents have been grateful, on the one hand, that we have a grocery store in the Village Center, and sad, on the other, that it was so lackluster in fulfilling its mission.

So the people who could choose went elsewhere, and the people who couldn't were stuck.  And for a while it seemed that the Food Lion Corporation was just fine with that. "Give us your tired, your poor...your struggling masses that have no other choice..."

Enter the new manager, Joe.  In the space of a few months he has brought huge changes to this store.  He is the first to admit that improvement will be an ongoing process, but anyone who has patronized this store will see a big difference. The produce section is laid out better, and food is fresher. Displays are more organized and well-stocked. When crowds appear, management responds much more quickly in adding cashiers.

The biggest change is the most important:  customer service.  Cashiers make eye contact, speak to you, smile.  Employees in the store are willing to help you find things. For the first time ever, I saw an employee run out to the parking lot to bring a forgotten bag to a patron.

I am giving an extra-large, value priced HoCo Holler to Joe and the staff of the Oakland Mills Food Lion for the work they are doing to make our store a better place to shop.  And I am asking you to cast your vote for them and what they are doing by trying the store again a few times.  If you like it, shop there more often.

If you see issues that could be improved, ask for Joe.  He told me he wants to know how they can be better. And let me know what you think, as well.

Right now I'm headed down to the store for some oats to make my Famous Oatmeal Cookies for the Oakland Mills Cookie Swaptacular.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

There's No Place like HoCo

Ah, the Holidays! Such a grand time of celebration, sharing, wonder and delight!  If only it didn't come accompanied by that experience that most of us dread.


Don't protest about how love of neighbor is at the heart of the season. You know what I mean.  If you have ever been to the Mall any time after Thanksgiving, you have most certainly found your love of fellow creature sorely tested.  Then there are "get-togethers."  I practically shudder typing the word. Whether they are for work, school, church, or professional or social organization, we will find ourselves spending more time with some folks than we really want to. Scary, creepy people.

And then, there's Family.  No matter how happy our families are, I daresay there are a few relatives we must endure during the holidays that never fail to make our hackles rise, for some reason or other.While "There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays," it is wise to remember that just because there's no place like it, that doesn't make it ideal.

I was reminded of this unpleasant dilemma when I visited Ellicott City Patch this morning. A simple question about sugared drinks brought out many of those folks that populate Howard County in the same way that Holiday get-togethers bring out Crazy Uncle Fred or Negative Nancy from Accounting. I wonder how much fun it is on Patch when they get one of these little parties going?

What a party it is, with many of the familiar faces we have grown to know so well, "Socialist!" "Nanny State!" "Dirty, Filthy!" "Fascist!" Where have you all been since the election? How we have missed you!  See how the adrenaline flows around the punchbowl. One imagines competition for the hors d'oeuvres, a fight over the last cookie.

Yes, sometimes around the holidays we find ourselves at such an event.  Sometimes we are able to politely speak our peace. Other times, it is better to head home early and think good thoughts.

So, wherever in HoCo you may roam this holiday season, however you worship, and whatever you drink, may you find peace, kindness, and patience.

Yes, patience. Some of us are going to need a whole lot of that.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

When The Parade Passed Me By

I'm straying away from my usual home base today in order to rant about something that has been bothering me this week:  HGTV.

Yes, I am aware that time does not stand still and that the HGTV I fell in love with ten years or so ago has been replaced by the "real estate channel".  I rarely watch anymore, but I look forward to December because I enjoy the holiday-themed episodes and specials.

So, I went to the website to find the listing of these programs and when they would be aired. Amazingly enough, that information isn't there.  It used to be. You could make sure you knew when your favorite shows were on and mark your calendar, or set your DVR. If you missed the first showing they listed any subsequent showings.Now?  Nothing.

I tried asking on their Facebook page, and on Twitter. The only response was a link to their "What's on the TV Schedule Today?" page.  The information isn't there. Response to my follow-up question?  Zip. HGTV has decided that people like me don't count. 

It must be something generational at work here.  HGTV has decided that people like me are not their target audience. My approach of wanting to scan all the information and plan ahead must not be the trend they want to follow. There must be some up-to-date theory behind why they are (to my mind) concealing the information about their holiday programming. But what could it possibly be?

I've experienced discrimination in the past because I was a woman, or a blonde (yes, I really was) but I'm finding this hard to accept.  Why would folks in the business of increasing viewership simply not care about what viewers think and want?

And is this what the rest of my life will be like, as I drop out of the target audience for other businesses: a creeping fog of insignificance?

Thank goodness I have a few things closer to home that I can count on:  the Symphony of Lights, Midnight Madness in Ellicott City, the Peabody Chorus Concerts, The Oakland Mills Cookie Swaptacular, the Christmas Eve service at Abiding Savior. No one has tried to hide them yet.

Thank goodness.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Losing Neighbors

Over the past year we've lost two long-time neighbors. It bothers me. These were not close friends, but solid neighbors--the kind that will help you shovel snow, accept a package for you, let you know if you left the lights in your car on. Always willing to say hello. And really listen after they ask, "How's it going?"

In both cases they were renters. But their story in our neighborhood was nothing like the transient, uncaring picture that some like to paint of the Typical Renter. Both were families who lived here for years. Both supported their children and their school endeavors. Both cared for the outside of their homes.

In the case of Ms. A, we watched her little boys go from peddle cars and stick fights to middle school and high school. Her teenaged daughter moved from skin-tight jeans to professional clothing for a job with the school system, helping elementary children. Ms. A. herself went from single working mom to struggling with a physical disability--then suddenly met the man of her dreams and got married. We watched her family evolve and flourish.

But one day the original owner decided he wanted to sell, so they were given notice. And that was it. We watched them pack up and go.  We didn't know them well enough to throw them a party, or ask for their new address. They were just gone.

Mr. B and his family were hip and energetic, upbeat. His son and daughter played out front, then moved to hanging out with friends on the stoop. It was clear that they had strict rules about not allowing friends in the house after school when the parents were at work. The dad helped the son save money to buy equipment for a dj-ing hobby that turned into a small business.  The daughter had a yard sale to raise money to go on a school drama trip. Extended family showed up last spring to photograph the son and his date as they prepared to go to the prom.

But one day we noticed their landlord had stopped by to see them.  And the next week again, the same thing.  One day we woke up and they were gone. Vanished. A whole life: erased overnight, at least to us.

We don't really know what happened. But we know that these were solid neighbors that we liked, who didn't want to leave, and now they are gone. Not everyone has the financial wherewithal to buy a house, and so many things can rise up and change your life situation. When you are a renter with limited financial options  you have less power, fewer choices.

I don't have a big conclusion to draw from this, nor do I have a soltution to the problem.  Today I am interested only in the fact that they were Good Neighbors, and I miss them.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Love Made Visible

Yes, folks, it's going to get a little awkward today. We're going to talk about love.  Not the lovey-dovey, stars-in-your-eyes kind of love, either.  The messy, "why do I always have to be the one who cleans the bathtub?" kind of love.

And I mean that quite literally.  For thirteen years I have been cleaning hair out of the bathtub.  And it's not my hair.  I have gone through stages on this.  First there was a honeymoon period, then annoyance, then anger, then resentment, then forgiveness, then...

My mother died.  And something odd happened.  She started turning up in unexpected ways during my daily life:  when I read to my daughter, or listened to music, or watched a program on television.  And when I cleaned the bathtub.

I realized that, in all the years while I was growing up, our bathtub was immaculate. I never gave one thought to it. I thought that all bathrooms, by their very nature, were sparkling clean.  So that day I had a vision, I guess, sort of "Our Lady of the Bathtub."  My mother, with whom I had a stormy and heart-wrenching relationship, had been cleaning that bathtub year after year, like magic. And I had enjoyed that, without knowing how it happened.

Only it wasn't magic.  I now saw it as an invisible act of love. Love in action, love as an act of the will.  And I had a choice to do the same.  I didn't have to do it, but I could choose to do it.  I could choose how I wanted to look at it. It may sound highly unliberated to say that I found a way to ennoble the act of cleaning hair out of the bathtub.  But what is liberated about it is the choice.

(Here it comes--the connection!) 

Some things in our community life are like cleaning the hair out of the bathtub.  School redistricting. Supporting non-profits. Attention to aquatics infrastructure. Careful stewardship of our land. Transportation. Serving on a Village Board. You don't have to do them. You have to make the choice.

The post-election internet has been filled with anger and hurt feelings on both sides. I've been struggling with how to react, what to feel, what to do. Yesterday, while reading annieriedora's post I had a familiar epiphany:  choose to do the messy, unsexy thing which is your way of making love visible--in your community, and in the world.

"If I could wave a magic wand,"  or "If I won the Lottery," I'd never have to clean the bathtub again. Have you said it?  I have.  But the things we can't throw magic or money at still need to be done. They are the things the others may enjoy without ever knowing who did them. And that doesn't really matter.

What matters is that these are the choices that will make connections between people, rather than dividing them.  I'm grateful to the community of voices in @Hocoblogs for reminding me how simple it is to begin.

And keep at it.


Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Do you want to believe that you have The Power?  Do you want to shape opinion, mold the future, influence your part of the Free World?

You must act quickly.You only have a certain number of days to make your mark. 

Are you ready?  Good.  Now, vote .

In past years I was nothing more than a Low Education Voter.  I didn't know how it all worked. I thought that nominees were vetted, selected, and voted upon by some august body.  I didn't know that my participation mattered.  I didn't know that some candidates were actually out there, beating the bushes for votes. Badgering, wheedling, shamelessly whining for votes. I was naive. I felt powerless.

But now that I've joined the League of Extraordinary Mobsters, I'm ready.  I actually submitted a few nominees this year. And I'm going back, daily, to vote. Yes--daily!  If you love voting as much as I do, well, this is a dream come true.  

The Mobbies, though largely dominated by candidates from Baltimore, has a healthy core of nominees from Howard County.  We have a (dare I say?)  vibrant blogging community, thanks in large part to HocoBlogs,  Jessie Newburn, and the community-minded, collegial outreach of some of the longer-running blogs, such as Tales of Two Cities, and HowChow. 

And I think that we'd like to see the best of Howard County represented.  So, "Welcome to the fourth annual Mobbies competition, where we pit local blogs against each other to battle it out for major bragging rights." Your opinion matters.

Do you remember those elections for third grade class president, where the kid with the most friends always won?  Well, it's still kinda like that for the Mobbies.  The kid who motivates the most friends is going to win, whether he/she has the best blog or not.  

But, by adding your educated voice to the mix, you just might skew that vote towards quality.

Who knows?


Monday, October 22, 2012

Taking the Mickey Gomez Challenge

Thursday morning I got in my car and the windows and mirrors were covered in rain splots and condensation.The windows were easily cleared by the wipers, but the side mirrors were not so easy.  I looked around for a paper towel, take-out napkin or tissue in the car, but there were none. Actually, it wasn't my car, it was my husband's car, and he isn't as concerned about always having paper goods as I am.  Why wasn't it my car? Well, that's a story about a Peter Gabriel concert, a road trip, and a lot of other stuff.

Moving on.  I was in a rush, so I decided I'd be able to manage without the side mirror until I was able to pick up something to wipe it off.  I rolled down my window and prepared to wing it. It was a lovely Fall day, no problem.

Until I got on Route 29 South.  I quickly discovered I was going to need to merge.  Merge left.  Yikes!  Couldn't do it.  "No problem!"  thought I.  "I'll just stay in this lane, get right off, and then pull into the Walgreen's and deal with this."  Exit stage right.

Until I arrived back on the bridge connecting little Patuxent Parkway with Route 175 and I realized that I would have to merge.  Merge left.

Have you ever tried to merge from 29 onto that bit of road?  It can be life or death, I tell you.

So I got back on Route 29. North.

At this point I was beginning to sense a pattern.  No matter what I did, I was going to need to merge left, and I couldn't see a thing.  Bits and pieces of a song began to circle around my brain.  Maybe you would see your life passing before your eyes, but, hey--I'm a musician.

Did he ever return?
No he never returned
And his fate is still unlearn'd
He may ride forever
'neath the streets of Boston
He's the man who never returned.
Only, for me, it went like this:

Did she ever return?
No she never returned
And her fate is still unlearn'd
She may drive forever
through Columbia's circles
She's the woman who never could merge.

After going around in circles several times, I realized that my plan wasn't working.  I would have to try something else. (Duh.)  So I reached out, with my bare hand, and cleared the driver's side mirror. 


And I could see.  Simple as that. 

And my hand was all slimy.  Ugh.

Now, as readers of this blog, I know you will expect a lesson here about how we go around in circles here in Columbia, doing the same things over and over again that don't work, and expecting a different outcome.  And you're expecting me to say that sometimes you just have to get your hands dirty if you want to make meaningful things happen.

Not a chance.  This is just a crazy Monday morning post dedicated to HoCo's own Mickey Gomez. She can take something as simple as a hairbrush, or a dog, or a TV show and create high art and drama through deliciously crafted humor. Or maybe it's the other way around.

Thanks, Mickey, for helping us take ourselves a little less seriously.



Thursday, October 18, 2012

Be Afraid. Or, At Least Feel Suppressed

I don't have a Choose Civility bumper sticker on my car.  I used to, but I took it off. 

Why?  If you must know, I took it off because I kept reading and hearing snarky comments about how it's the Choose Civility cars that cut you off, won't let you in, take your parking place and so on.  And I know that I am not a perfect driver.  I'm not a selfish driver, but every so often I might be stupid. So I took the bumper sticker off because I didn't want to make the Choose Civility movement look bad.

There you have it--Self Suppression. Negative, cynical comments found a way to change my enthusiasm into fearfulness.  Brilliant marketing plan.  "You want people to be kind and respectful? Well, let me make you feel bad about yourself first!"

People like me are the ones who were crushed when the teacher lectured the whole class about bad behavior.  We take it to heart. It didn't matter how many times I was consoled with--"She wasn't really talking to you." It takes a certain kind of person to care that much about other people's feelings and actions. Perhaps just the sort of person that, as an adult, makes the case for civility.

Am I worried that rude, loud, negative citizens feel suppressed by requests for civility? I guess I need to know more about what they perceive as an unfavorable consequence of being civil. The truth is, I worry much more that the gentler, thoughtful, listening members of our community are the ones who are suppressed by uncivil behavior.

There is room to disagree. But, if you feel that you have the evidence to prove that someone is a horse's ass, you don't need to make a horse's ass of yourself in order to prove your point. And that is precisely what you do when you demonize those who disagree with you.

I have great admiration for those in the HoCoBlogs community who understand those boundaries, and respect them.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Taking a Second Look At Gertler

David Gertler, running for a seat on the HoCo Board of Education, has been doing something a little different to get the word out about his candidacy. He has been hosting homework help sessions in math and science, and next week he has coordinated a STEM Career Night. While the conventional wisdom leans towards planting yard signs and waving at traffic, Mr.Gertler is breaking the mold by doing some talent-sharing. 

Why is this so important? Well, having spent a little time with him during the primaries, having followed his campaign since then, I have some insights to share.

When You See:                        The Deeper Message Is:

Technology                               I am excited to share knowledge.

Math and Science                     I like to work with students and parents and I am good                                                  at organizing people to work together.

Homework Help                       I don't have to complain, whine, or dish dirt to be a
                                                 viable candidate.

Career Night                              Our School Board should be listening, collaborating,
                                                  trying new things.

Mr. Gertler has done a great deal of observing and learning within the school system as a parent and a volunteer. He has developed a wide range of valuable skills in his professional life. Most of all, though, his thoughtfulness, tact, and respect for others are what make him such an outstanding potential board member. He could not be offering his services at a better time.


Tuesday, Oct 16th, 7pm at the GlenMar Church on New Cut Road - STEM Career Night.  Come out and talk to Howard County residents who live and work in the area.  They will talk about their careers in math, science, engineering and related disciplines.  The talk is aimed at students and parents to help our kids become more aware of the multitude of career choices in today's economy (and local geography).

Sunday, Oct 21st from 1pm - 2:30pm at the Elkridge Public Library and 3pm - 4pm at the Glenwood Public Library will be FREE homework help in math and science classes for Howard County students.  

More details are on the website, and he's requesting people register (especially for the Homework Help sessions, so they have enough parent volunteers) by sending an email to

Friday, October 5, 2012

An Open Invitation

                                                            I'm inviting you to a party.

When?  Tomorrow, Saturday October 6, from 11 am to 4 pm, rain or shine.
Where?  The Oakland Mills Village Center.
Why?  It's the annual Oakland Mills Cultural Arts Festival .

The Cultural Arts festival is one of the events that has helped me to bond with the notion of living in Columbia and participating in Village Life.  Readers of this blog know that it has taken me a long time to "get with the program", as it were, of the Columbia experience.  I didn't always feel that it was meant for me.

I am extending a personal invitation to  Hocoblogger Matt Wilson, whose recent blog post, "Six Months In", was an unexpected reminder of how I used to feel.  In fact, it should be a wake-up call to all of us who are happy here.  Go read it.  I'll wait.


This is a thoughtful, rational indictment of how we can fail as a community--if we are not paying attention. I immediately thought of the moment when I met Matt, at a HocoBlogs party, where I was a co-host with Sarah Husain of SarahSaysHe introduced himself to me. And I made polite cocktal party conversation with him and moved on, anxious to be a good party host.  I made no true meaningful connection with him, and I made no attempt at follow up.

"Welcome to Columbia.  We're just fine without you, thanks."

Yes, I am beating myself up a bit here, because I am the one who is so all fired up about being invited to the party, about being included, about not being invisible.  And I let this opportunity slip away because I was too caught up in making sure everything was running smoothly. 

"Welcome to Columbia.  We're just busy making sure everything is running smoothly."

Matt's blog post stunned me. Missing opportunities to invite people into your circle is all too easy.

So here goes, for Matt and everyone who is reading this post:

The Oakland Mills Cultural Arts festival is awesome.  It is the true Columbia experience. As you walk around, hearing live music, eating a snack, browsing vendors, playing a drum, learning about  local organizations--look at the people around you.  We are White, African-American, Hispanic, Asian, and all kinds of beautiful mixes. We are racially, culturally, and economically integrated. We live in single-family detached homes, townhouses, condos, and apartments. Our children go to school together. We are dancing to the music together.

We are not perfect.  But we know how to have a good time. And we keep celebrating together, year after year.

The photo?  Yes, it's an old one. But it is very precious to me.  It marks the first time I came to an Oakland Mills Village event.  It was a steel drum concert in the Courtyard.  Mary Kate Murray came up to us, welcomed us, and gave us leis to wear.  She invited us into her circle.

If you want to find me on Saturday, from 11 am to 1 pm I'll be giving free wagon rides for children 2-5 in the ArtsWalk crossing. Look for the colored sidewalk.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Calling All Kids!

Just in, from the Shameless Commerce Division of Village Green/Town Squared: 

"This Saturday, 9/29, from 12 pm to 2 pm, The Second Chance Saloon in Oakland Mills brings you "A Little Lunch Music."  Come enjoy lunch while Early Childhood Music Specialist Julia McCready plays DJ with your favorite Kids Tunes. Room to move and groove, and hands-on materials to explore! All children attending will receive a prize with their meals." Yes, they have a Kid's Menu!

If you are the parent of a young child, you know what a challenge eating out with your kids can be.  This event is for you.  We have the entire dining room, plus we often spill over into the pool room as well.  Everyone is friendly to everyone else; the wait staff is genuinely happy that you brought your children. The music is chosen with the young ones in mind.  And best of all, they can get up, wander up to the stage and dance, sing, and play rhythm instruments.

Now, this particular Saturday is jam-packed with things to do in our area:  the Fall Festival in Ellicott City, Brian Donoughe's Help-A-Child Fundraiser Happy Hour,  and Ian Kennedy's band Pineflood will be appearing at Sonoma's in the evening. Let me suggest that you start the day off right with a laid-back lunch and an experience designed purely for your children's enjoyment.

Oh, and if you like to plan ahead--my family and I will be giving free wagon rides at the Oakland Mills Cultural Arts Festival from 11 am to 1 pm on Saturday, October 6th. 


Monday, September 24, 2012

Celebrity Sightings

Brian Donoughe is my kind of celebrity.  Not the red-carpet kind, not the reality show kind, nor the careening-out-of-control kind.  No, Brian is the best sort of celebrity--he does what he does quietly, extremely well, and doesn't go around looking for publicity.

How do I know Brian? Well, not from his frequent appearances at Merriweather, though I'm told it has been a regular gig. I met him on the Oakland Mills Village Board. He's a no-nonsense guy who hates dilly-dallying and time wasting. He wants facts, evidence, and a reasonable amount of discussion.  To my knowledge, he is probably one of the youngest Columbians to serve as chair of an Architectural Committee. He has even worked with the RAC in Oakland Mills to revise and update the rules to make them easier to read and understand. If you've ever engaged in the RAC process, you know how amazing that is.

Why should you know Brian?  What has earned him celebrity status in my eyes?

Well it has to do with his day job.  Brian is a Middle School Math teacher in the Howard County Schools.And he brought some information to the OM Board about a cause of particular concern to him.   His cause:  the Help-a-Child Fund.  I asked Brian to share some information about this charity with my readers.

"The Help-a-Child Fund is a joint charitable project of the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) and the Howard County Education Association (HCEA). Since 1992, the fund has been the last resort safety net providing retail vouchers for new clothing, coats, shoes, eyeglasses, and more, for hundreds of our students. The fund had 447 requests last school year. So far this school year we have had 112 requests.

100% of the donations go to the students. Donations are tax deductible. There is no administrative cost to the Fund. All labor and materials are donated. Really, it is the ideal charity – close to home, immediately helpful without a lot of red tape, and for children whose specific needs are identified by our own colleagues who know the child’s circumstances."

Wow. Those folks who say that the teachers don't care, that the union doesn't care about the students--do they know about this? I am guessing that they don't, because the business of this group is not to seek publicity, but to help kids.

This Saturday, September 29th, from 5:30-8:00 pm The Second Chance Saloon will be hosting a fundraiser for the Help-A-Child Fund. Don't miss your chance to support this needed (and financially efficient!) charity. Ten per cent of bar sales will be donated.

Your Celebrity Bartender for the event will be Brian Donoughe. If you're lucky you might get an autograph, or maybe he'll let you take his picture while he's mixing drinks.  But, I doubt it.

He's just not "that" kind of celebrity.  He's the Real Thing.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Are we the New American City?

I saw this note from Friends of Bridge Columbia on Facebook:

Howard Hughes Corp. (the developers of downtown Columbia) are holding a meeting about their plans for the pedestrian/bike path connecting the hospital to Blandair this Tuesday, Sept. 4 at 6PM at Slayton House in Wilde Lake. The HHC plan differs from the Bridge Columbia plan and does not include public transit. Please plan to attend to see their plans and advocate for the Bridge Columbia concept.

As I am taking a sabbatical from going to meetings, I have to make a pitch to you folks to go and/or keep yourself informed about this project. I believe it is an important one. I don't think Columbia was called The New American City for nothing.  Innovative, appealing public transit, of which this project would be a part, is essential to our future.  And not just for Columbia, but for the entire county.

As I flipped around the channels last night, I passed a program that described some sort of casino card game which has been transformed into the process of clicking card images on a computer screen.  To be perfectly honest, I do sometimes think I'd rather participate in community meetings like this.  Meetings are over-rated. However, real-live participation remains one of the major ways we do things around here.

So, if you can, go to this meeting. Learn more, think more.  And share your thoughts here.


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Crazymakers in the Community

Look out, Howard County! There are Crazymakers on the loose in your community!

Do I have your attention?

You may not have heard the term Crazymaker before, but you probably know one.  In her book, The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron describes a Crazymaker like this:

"If they can swing it, they are the star. Everyone around them functions as supporting cast, picking up their cues, their entrances and exits, from the Crazymaker’s whims."

Does this ring a bell? Have you served on a committee with this person?  Attended a public meeting that featured the antics of one? Perhaps you have read about the consequences of  a Crazymaker's actions in the local news?

Take a look at this post from Escaping Mediocrity. Blogger Sarah Robinson lays it out clearly:

Crazymakers cannot abide or respect a schedule – least of all yours. 
Crazymakers expect special treatment.  
Crazymakers discount your reality.
Crazymakers make others feel small. 
Crazymakers are expert saboteurs.

There has been a bit of a stir this week about online bullying as it pertains to adults: possibly even bloggers and the commentators who participate in the blogging realm. This started me wondering about Crazymaking and its effects on our community, because Crazymaking takes bullying to a whole new level.

You see, Crazymakers "are also VERY charismatic, often charming and incredibly interesting. Which is how we get sucked in."

Some years ago I served on the HOA Board for my community.  Directly before the spring CA elections, a guest speaker came to talk to us about the issues in the upcoming election.  The predictions were dire. Our visitor believed in the true vision of Columbia, but at the same time, heartless developers were going around, handpicking candidates who would do their bidding to run against the true Columbians.  It was pretty convincing. This person was, by all appearances, calm, rational, and pleasant.

 I found out later that what was said was completely untrue.

Guess what?  I'm not going to name names.  I want you to do that for yourself.  Where do you see manipulation, grandstanding, temper tantrums?  Where do you see charm that serves as a precursor to poison?

When we have Crazymakers in our personal lives, we have to make hard choices about what to do.  Do we set clearer boundaries? Stand up for ourselves more assertively?  Or must we separate ourselves completely from the toxic behavior which is harming us, and possibly, our families, co-workers, or friends?

But what do we do with Crazymakers that want to dominate the public arena?  And, how do we respond to Crazymaking behavior adopted by groups in order to forward their agendas?

I realize that I am running a risk by presuming that none of us are Crazymakers.  A little self-examination at this juncture wouldn't hurt, I guess.

Bullying in any form is serious and needs to be faced.  Bullying that comes dressed with a charming face is insidious and just as harmful.  If you see something--say something.




Monday, August 27, 2012

Is No News "Good"?

Once upon a time, there were places that everybody knew and loved.  You know what I mean, right? Places like The Last Chance Saloon, Michael's, Rocky Run, Produce Galore, Bun Penny.  Everybody went there. At least, that's what I've heard. You can probably name some others, equally treasured.

But times changed. People changed. The economy changed. And then, one day, they weren't there.  Not all at once of course--little by little. Well-known pieces of the community broke away and crumbled.  Some people were angry, some were grieving.  Some asked, "why?"

"Why didn't we know?" 
"If we had known they were in trouble, we would have made a point of supporting them."
 "It's not our fault this happened."
 If someone had just told us, we would never have let this happen."

I don't know the origin of the adage, "No news is good news."  It seems an awful lot like, "If you don't hear anything, it must be okay."  Hindsight tell us the falsity in that. No news? What if we just weren't listening?

Last week, HocoBloggers Tom Coale and HowChow took a look at a tragic news story in Ellicott City, but they heard something more than the headlines.  Underlying all the basic pieces of the story was another story: of a community of merchants who are our neighbors. Hit by one crisis after another in recent years, they were facing an extended closure of Main Street while clean-up from the train accident took place.

Something really marvelous happened because they were listening. And they asked a different question, "What if?"

"What if we can do something to help?"
"What if we can use social media to make it a 'happening'?"
"What if our small, individual acts can create a bigger wave of support?"

Among the long list of things that I am not is: an economist. However, I do know that businesses struggle and fail for a variety of reasons, and that it isn't as simple as well-meaning folks charging in on white steeds to save the day. And under no circumstances am I saying that any of these businesses are in danger of failing. I don't have any knowledge of that, and it is not the point of this post.

The point is about friendship. Do you know who makes the best friends?  People who listen.  Really listen, and pay attention.  If they haven't heard from you, they don't assume that "No News Is Good News". Perhaps you are depressed, or swamped at work.  Maybe you have fallen and you can't get up.

Good friends make good community members. And good community members make, well--they make  a bustling Main Street on a weekend in August, for one thing.

What else could they--we--do?



Tuesday, August 21, 2012

To Have and to Hold

I love books.  I have loved books all my life.  I remember the Little Golden Books of my childhood--Mister Dog, Hansel and Gretel, The Poky Little Puppy.  I remember my mother reading to me at bedtime from a book of children's poems. Oh, how I wished that I had seen the battle between the Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat, or that there really was a Sugarplum Tree in the Garden of Shuteye Town!

When I was quite young, my grandfather gave me a book that changed my life. It was The Bennett Cerf Book of Pop Up Riddles. It was one of the first books that was ever given to me, to have for my very own.  I was the youngest of three and had plenty of books in the hand-me-down sort of way.  But this was a book that had been meant for me to have from the very start.

It was some book, alright.  The pages were shiny cardboard, with brightly-colored illustrations that could open up, pop up, slide over and spring out.  No one in my family had ever seen anything like it. My mother warned me to be quite careful with it.  I had terrible fine motor skills as a child and I'm sure she thought I would destroy it through frustration or lack of finesse.

Not this book.  I won't tell you how many years have passed, but this book has made it through me and my two daughters, and it is still completely functional. (Not perfect. A little "loved.") My daughters knew that they had to ask special permission to read it, and have heard me repeat Mother's admonishment to me countless times, "You have to be careful with it.  Books are our friends."

Books are our friends. Scientific studies and anecdotal observations show that poor children have very little exposure to books in the home, if at all.  It is one of the significant strikes against them when they begin school.  The seeds of school success, fostered through many a bedtime read-aloud, are unknown to them.

Our schools have media centers, and our county has wonderful libraries. But I can tell you from personal experience that nothing can replace the feeling of having a beautiful book of your very own: your book, to read, and read again; to bring for Show and Tell; to sleep with, to dream about, and wake up with. To have and to hold.

The Community of Monarch Mills is holding a Book Drive to benefit the children of their neighboring school, Guilford Elementary.  This is a great cause, and a fabulous way for the Monarch Mills folks to make friends in our area.  Please click this link to find out how you can help.  They ask for gently used books, and many of us have a few we can share.  But I'm probably going to go over to Daedalus, too,where my limited funds will go a long way.

 Well, I'm a sucker for new books.  And I want to spread the love around. 


Friday, August 17, 2012

Sometimes A Bunny Is Just A Bunny

     It began, quite innocently, on Facebook:

I am so glad that we finally got the front bed weeded, cleared and mulched, so that  Mama Bunny could dig a nice little hole and have her kits there-- three, born today, I think.

We put out some carrots and grapes for Mama-- looks like she tried a carrot.

         Pictures??? We saw baby bunnies at the fair yesterday. SO cute!
When the mama saw us she ran away, and babies disappeared into a deeper part of the nest. So, no pics yet. When we came back the nest was beautifully covered up and one of the baby carrots was in small pieces.

         Awwwwww. Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail.

         Maybe Peter will be more daring...

Blackberries! That's what I need!

So it's raining out. Just positioned an open umbrella over nest site. Sheesh! Could the babies drown in there? #bunnymom

             Does the name "Darwin" come to mind?

 For a baby bunny? Are you saying it's the survival of the fittest? Am I interfering with The Prime Directive?

                 I'm just saying, the mommy bunny who builds her nest where the rain can fill the nest might not become a grandma bunny.


Then I began to wonder.  Am I looking at a collision of world views here?  Is my impulse, to help the mama and baby bunnies living in my front flower bed, a typical "liberal" intervention?  Does my friend's reference to Darwin show a Libertarian or Conservative frame of reference?  At this point I was mentally flapping my arms in panic trying to figure out if the desire to help the helpless meant a long term destruction of what I hoped to support, or whether the opposing point of view was...

                I once put a beach umbrella over a bunny nest that was out in the open sun - their little lives are already so precarious!


Another friend had chimed in. Her response broke my overactive mental machinations, and I smiled. Sometimes a bunny in your front flower bed is just a bunny.It doesn't require you to be perfect, or solve the problems of the world.

I've done a lot of reading on rabbits since then. I've learned quite a bit about how mothers care for their newborns.  But I haven't seen the babies again.  We've seen the mother, (at least I think so) nibbling on grass as darkness falls.  So she may be nursing them when we're asleep. She may have moved them once we discovered the nest. Or they may not have survived.

As the campaign season heats up the news and social media this Fall, I am going to try to remember that not everything you see and hear is a springboard to politics.

In other words, sometimes a bunny is just a bunny.



Friday, August 10, 2012

Summer Camp Reflections

Murray Burns: [shouting at rows of houses] Campers! The entertainment committee was quite disappointed in the really poor turnout at this morning's community sing. I mean, where's all that old Camp Chickawattamee spirit? I'm sure I speak for all of us here when I say that I...
Murray Burns: Now, I'd like to say right now that... that...
Murray Burns: Campers, I can't think of anything to say.

(from the conclusion of "A Thousand Clowns".)

I had the opportunity to take the summer off from gainful employment, which has given me my own kind of Summer Camp experience.  More like Camp Mom than Camp Julia, though. In addition to family activities, wedding preparations, ferrying mac to all of her activities, pool dates, crafting, house cleaning, and guest preparation, I have had a lot more time to think about my blog.

Maybe I've had too much time to think about my blog.  I have come to realize that I care too much for what other people think and whether they will like what I write.  So I put pressure on myself to make each post perfect. And if each post doesn't produce a significant response, I go into a slump.  It makes the time that passes between posts longer and longer, as I struggle to get out of my own way enough to be able to write.

Perfectionism is no way to live.  It doesn't do much for your self-esteem as you contract and contort your creative self to become "acceptable." A pursuit of excellence in a true sense means reaching outward and upward. Perfectionism makes you smaller. It distorts your view of yourself, and twists your expectations of others.

So what did I learn at Summer Camp?  I need to get a clearer view of what I want this blog to address, and a saner way to assess how I am doing in meeting my own goals. I shouldn't measure myself by comparison to others. I'm not a watchdog, I don't relay the news, I don't have inside business or political connections, I desire neither to smack folks down or stir up controversy. I'm not selling anything, and I don't have an eye to 'monetize' my writing.

In truth, I'm a miniaturist. I focus on something small and make a connection to something I want to shed some light on. Like this:                                                                                                                        

These are grains of sand, highly magnified.  It's amazing the beauty and diversity that can be discovered here.
Without a closer look, we'd see this:

But I look at that magnified world and see all the zany, weird, wonderful, cranky, stubborn, independent, and caring people in Columbia and Howard County. It's Us. It's our "class picture." How on earth are we ever going to get along? Take another look at the picture--which one is you?

It is the view and the connections that are important to me.  The beauty of who we are, and the interactions we have with one another. And that's what makes a Village Green or a Town Square so important.

I offer special thanks to all of you who, by lending your presence, make this spot on the web an interactive endeavor.


Friday, July 27, 2012

Don't let your mind wander

"Don't let your mind wander --  it's too little to be let out alone."

Something got my mind to wandering this morning. A lovely sight, and unusual.  A girl, somewhere between the ages of 9 and 11, I would say, riding her bike through the crosswalk at Kilimanjaro and Oakland Mills Road.  She was wearing a swimsuit, long brightly colored drawstring pants, a bike helmet, and a healthy sense of self-confidence.

Where was she going at 8 am?  The swimsuit suggests the pool, perhaps Jeffers Hill?  But is it open that early? As I continued down Oakland Mills Road, the image of that lively, smiling girl, so focused on her bike-riding and the fun that lay ahead of her, would not leave my mind.

She was alone.

On a hot summer day, dressed for adventure and fun, she had a place to go, and a purpose.

But she was alone.

In a beautiful, safe neighborhood, crossing a street with a light and a crosswalk, with many family homes nearby--

She was alone.

It is heart-wrenching to me that one girl on a bicycle feels like the last dying gasp of my childhood. I did those sorts of things all the time. I want to celebrate because I see her, yet I worry because, well, we have become a culture of fear.

Recently I followed a link to view a new project from CA:  a comic book designed to help both kids and their parents learn about the many benefits of the Columbia community.   I love it.  I grew up reading coming books; my daughter loves graphic novels.

But I had that same nagging feeling.  They are alone.  These kids are going all over Columbia without adult supervision.  Is that what it was like back in the 70's and 80's, when Columbia was just coming into being? Do the makers of the comic book mean to say we can still have that world today?

I want to believe that, with my whole heart. I want to believe that it's more than a comic book wish.

I have a friend who remembers growing up in Columbia, and his memories are filled with vivid recollections of kids. Kids everywhere, out playing, going to the pool, the tot lots. Teens would babysit if parents were in a bind.  Are there fewer children in Columbia today?  Or are they all inside, supervised by electronic devices or signed up for activities since both parents today must work?

I am fairly certain of one thing.  This girl was not too little to be let out alone. And she wasn't really alone, because her family had given her a chance to develop independence and the joy of accomplishment.

Probably none of them are thinking about that today. But I am.


Friday, July 20, 2012

HoCo Holler!

NPR's Click and Clack (the Tappet Brothers) have the "Shameless Commerce Division" of Car Talk.

Today, I am instituting the "HoCo Holler", my version of highlighting local businesses, at Village Green/Town Squared. Call it Shameless Hometown Heralding, if you will.  (Or think of something better?)

Last Saturday, mac and I hosted a bridal shower for @sommeilbienivre.  We had a guest list of fifteen and house too small in which to entertain them. So,  I reached out to the folks at The Second Chance Saloon in the Oakland Mills Village Center. Since I use their dining room several times a year for "A Little Lunch Music" children's events, I am familiar with the space, the menu, and the staff. Oh yeah, and I hang out there. Like, a lot.

I met with manager Jacquie Ramsey to set up the event and plan a menu.  She got back to me promptly with a list of prices.  We would have the entire space to ourselves from 2-4 for no charge; our only expenses would be for food and gratuity. She even offered to let us chose from their XM/Sirius channels to provide just the right music for the event. We chose "Siriusly Sinatra", a channel which we felt would be compatible with our "Breakfast at Tiffany's" bridal shower theme.

For the desserts and favors, we chose Linda's Bakery on Snowden. mac was happy to come along to place the order, probably because we picked out a few pastries to eat on the way home--a chocolate eclair and a small apple tart--delicious. I brought photographs of what I wanted from my bridal shower Pinterest Board. Linda's was able to do everything we wanted, and even asked for us to send along the photos in an email so that they could match the colors accurately!

We chose vanilla and chocolate cupcakes decorated to look like Tiffany gift boxes, chocolate chip meringues, and Tiffany-blue vanilla macarons to use as our party favors. When I arrived on the day of the shower, a staff member stopped everything to allow me to inspect our purchases. Then another staffer volunteered to carry everything to my car, even going so far as to recommend how to place them so they wouldn't get damaged on the car ride home.

To sum up:  the day of the shower went beautifully.  The Second Chance pulled off everything flawlessly--attentive service, delicious food, great crooning by Sinatra...and the desserts by Linda were delicious.  I did order too much food, so we invited the guys down at the end to help us out.  And I didn't realize that Tiffany blue frosting might give guests an exciting blue lipstick look, but that added to the fun.

A special shout-out to Dave Bittner of Pixel Workshop and Hocomojo, for lending us the piece de resistance for our event:

And Dave--Audrey is doing well and we are going to return her, I promise.

Do you have a HoCo business that deserves a Holler?  Share in the Comments Section below.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

I'm Having A Moment

If you'll excuse me, I'm having a moment here.  A "school supply moment." Oakland Mills Village Manager Sandy Cederbaum aptly coined the phrase in her recent newsletter announcing this year's "Prepare for Success" drive. I found this passage, in an online essay, which describes the feeling well:

I never even liked school very much, but the Back to School season was still something special. Back to School was a time of such great newness it always left me feeling that anything could happen. With my school supplies laid out all clean and perfect in those final days before school started, I could always catch a glimpse of the better me that could possibly emerge that school year.  (Jana Pruden)

But what if you are one of the 9,000 Howard County students that need the Free & Reduced Meal program? What if you are one of the 400 students who are homeless? A child who is already struggling with issues of inadequate food and housing comes to school with significant challenges to learning. And these are the students who need those "school supply moments" the most.  As Jana Pruden states, to "catch a glimpse of the better me."

Changing the cycle of poverty does not happen in one grand gesture, or with the wave of a magic wand. Nourishing food, a secure place to lay your head, and a caring school environment are vital. But the next step, that "feeling that anything could happen"? That next step is where you, Dear Reader, are needed.

You can donate anything from pencils to backpacks. Or, you can make a donation through Paypal. $20.00 will buy enough supplies to get one student started for the school year. I have a friend from church who makes bargain hunting for school supplies her summer project.  The Olympic Games are nothing compared to Mary Jo's school supply sweep. She knows when Staples is advertising pocket folders for a penny.  She knows when Walmart is running a buy one, get one free deal on composition books.  

But the thing she knows most of all is the joy of giving.  Her children are grown.  Her summer tradition benefits the Prepare for Success program in Howard County.

Oakland Mills, like all of the Columbia Villages, has big boxes waiting to be filled with your donations.  Sandy Cederbaum is going to be keeping track of donations this year with a "backpack wall", a visual representation of how the donations are adding up.  She's excited about filling up that wall with tiny backpacks that mean big things for our neediest children.

In one of my favorite movies, "A Thousand Clowns", Jason Robard's character Murray likes to go down to the docks to see off cruise ships. He explains, "It’s a great thing to do when you are about to start something new; it gives you the genuine feeling of the beginning of things.” 

Let's see our kids off in style--ready for the voyage--with a belief that anything could happen.



Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Location, Location, Location

How did you choose your place of residence?  My decision was easy.  I met my future husband, he owned a house in Columbia. Bingo! I knew almost nothing about the area, but I knew it had him in it.  Enough said.

Usually folks have a longer list than mine.  If you watch "House Hunters" on HGTV, you have heard a boatload of them.  Good neighborhood, good schools, big yard, architectural detail, open plan, stainless steel, granite, short commute, local amenities...  The list is seemingly endless. One woman refused to consider any properties without doggie doors. Really.

In Columbia and Howard County, location plays every bit the role that the old saying suggests.  People care about East vs West, whether a home is on CA - assessed property, neighborhood schools' test scores, incidence of crime, quality of nearby shopping, viability of the closest Village Center, walk-ability, bike-ability, and the rest.

I do not propose to interfere with the sacred rite of home selection. Although, as an aside, I offer that school test scores tell you mostly the income level of the area.  The higher the overall family income, the higher the test scores, pretty much.  So, if you want to hitch your wagon to that particular star, you will want to be living with the rich people, assuming you have very deep pockets. My suggestion would be to actually visit the schools, and, if you can, talk to families in the area. But I digress.

Recent meteorological events have brought an additional qualification to mind.  When you are looking at a house, it would be good to know some facts:  how often has this area lost power?  When it is out, how long does it generally take to fix?  What is the longest time it has ever been without power?  Does loss of power mean loss of water?

My family is extremely lucky. We don't lose power very often, and when we do, the outages are manageable, always less than 12 hours--so far--knock on wood. 

Let's make it clear--we are not smarter, more virtuous, richer, or more forward-thinking than anyone else.  We are just plain lucky.  We live in a very modest home in an
area that some Howard County pundits consider to be "sketchy", although our experiences here have been wonderful.  But if I were in the market to pick out a different home, my friends' post-derecho horror stories would be weighing heavily on my mind.

If my power goes out, I want to be in one of those big groups they always fix first. Before this storm, I didn't even know anything about that. It's pretty close to the top of my list now. It doesn't take long in record-breaking hot, humid temperatures to feel that your grip on civilization is slipping. 

One last piece of advice, if you buy a house near a golf course or a major concert venue--they're probably not going to move it at this point, so be forewarned.


Monday, July 2, 2012

At the Crossroads

The other day I sat at a stop light at the intersection of Route 175 and Dobbin Road, waiting to turn left and go to Target.  As I waited for the light to change, I noticed a bearded man at the corner, holding up a sign."Grandfather..." it began. I turned my eyes away, not wishing to encourage him.  I've been told many times not to give money; it enables addiction. As I looked away I noticed that similar sign holders were standing at three out of four of the corners of the intersection. The other two were women.

Three out of four.  I may have gotten used to seeing, and then not seeing, *one* as I travel around town. But three out of four? It felt overwhelming.

Do you remember when JessieX wrote a series of blog posts about the Dobbin Starbucks?  (It was around 2008, BCA.) When I got home I went straight to the computer to find them.  I was searching for an observation that had been going round and round in my brain since I sat at the red light on 175. I couldn't find it, so I am going to have to reconstruct it from my (imperfect) memory. The gist of it was that the true center of Columbia, the "hip, happening place" was the Dobbin Starbucks.

Yes, the Dobbin Starbucks has moved since then, but not by enough to shift the center of gravity, IMHO. And now I feel the connection:  here is the center of Columbia, and here are the poor/unemployed/homeless/panhandlers at their posts. They are not at the Lakefront, or by the Mall; they are at the crossroads of commerce: outcasts in an outparcel.

As I write I can see Downtown Naysayers jumping to their feet, saying, "See? That's exactly why we don't want our beautiful Town Center to be polluted by development. If you build it, They will come."

But that's not the point. The point is that They are here.  They are here. The location is not the point. Putting poverty in an outparcel doesn't make it more acceptable.  The poor are with us--in Howard County and in Columbia itself. 

Hocoblogger Tom Coale has taken poverty off the street corner and out of the woods with his "Living In Recovery" Crowdrise campaign on his blog, HoCoRising. He sees, quite rightly, that it doesn't matter where they are; it matters where they are going.

The suffering we can see makes us uncomfortable.  The suffering we can't see is easier for us to ignore. But as many of our friends and neighbors call out to each other through social media in the aftermath of Friday's storm, what is it like for them? Can we even imagine?

I'm excited by the local support for Tom's campaign.  I'm even more excited by the new initiatives I see bubbling up, inspired by his vision.  So let's get that combined vision-and-action on three, no, four out of four street corners in the #hoco.

So our neighbors won't be standing there alone.


Friday, June 15, 2012

Be The Change

Frequent readers of this blog will recall that I have a new neighbor:  Blandair Regional Park.  Allow me to give you a brief tour.  Here is a picture from within the park itself:

Here is a picture of the Blandair Park Pedestrian entrance on Timesweep:

Yikes!  It certainly seems to reinforce this disparity--Blandair Park is in Howard County; the Pedestrian Entrance is in Columbia. ("Invisible Columbia")

And yet, as deliciously provoking as this contrast is, it is far from the whole picture.  The truth is, while I have looked forward to this park since I moved here in 1999, many of my neighbors did not.  Residents in Cinnamon Tree at Talbott Springs and Emerson Hill complained and dragged their feet throughout the process.  It is hard to believe that a regional park could produce so much NIMBY-ism, but it did. In fact, word on the street is that an Oakland Mills election was turned by (erroneous) rumors that one candidate favored an official, automobile accessible entrance to the park on Timesweep Lane.

So, we don't have a beautiful, county-designed and maintained entrance to Blandair Regional Park. And maybe this is the logical consequence of the oppositional behavior of those who rallied against the Park. But it looks atrocious.

Wednesday I commandeered my family and we went to work.  The results?

We picked up trash, set out the bin for Thursday collection, cut back weeds and vines.  Call it the "Timesweep Lane Pedestrian Entrance Improvement Association."  It begins with me.  Membership is open to those who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty.

"You must be the change you want to see in the world."  Mahatma Gandhi