Friday, May 31, 2013


"Go where no one else will go, do what no one else will do."

          --Mary Lyon, Founder, Mount Holyoke College: the nation's
          oldest continuing institution of higher education for women.

This is more than a statement, it is a charge. It is a benediction and a challenge to go forth and do better than those before you.  I've been thinking a lot about this lately, but with a twist.

Go where Dennis would go, do what Dennis would do.

I don't mean to be maudlin. I'm simply stating my feeling that, in missing someone who mattered to us so much, we take up something of his to pass on in some way. There are so many big and small ways to miss someone once they are gone. In the case of Dennis, his blog was a familiar voice in the community.

I still want to click over to see what he's thinking.

This was clear on Wednesday when word "leaked" about Anthony Brown's future running mate. Something about they way everything unfolded just felt odd, incomplete. Dennis' voice was missing from the conversation.

This blog post from Lisa B, Mrs. S  felt so much like a Wordbones post to me. It was like a balm to the wounded soul. Consciously or unconsciously, she captured his simplicity and delight in exploration, the joy in discovery.

I don't want people to remake themselves in Dennis' image. But I do miss so deeply the sort of small stories he loved to shine his light upon. I'm hoping we can find a way to make sure we stop and see those. And share them.

Please come on Tuesday to celebrate Dennis Lane's life. Hear a story, share a story. I don't cry much anymore, but, I probably will. The gift of life is so precious and it makes no sense that we get to go on living and he doesn't. We can't change it but we can allow it to shape our perception of what comes next. We get to choose, and we can choose well.

We'll come together united by the gift that was Dennis, and we'll take away something to share: tomorrow.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Spontaneous Generation

Last weekend I was pulling up some ivy which was growing along our fence. As I reached for the final handful, a large marmalade cat jumped up through my hands and ran away. Yikes! How did I manage to produce at a cat, ex nihilo?

As I got down to look more closely, I discovered a manhole placed into the grassy hill. The ground around one side had eroded, leaving just enough space for a cat to get in and out. A nice little shelter, a hidy-hole: a cat-portal.

The something-from-nothing analogy brings to mind the amazing annual Flea Market at Abiding Savior Lutheran Church. I have written about it before. Although a relatively small congregation, ASLC continues, year after year, to make significant donations to both charities and families in need because of this flea market.

How is this possible? Every year we all clean out our closets, garages, and attics to be sorted out at the Great Unpacking. Then it is priced, sold, or donated once the Flea Market is over. Nothing goes to waste. So then, how can we do it all again the next year?  Why do we never run out?

Creepy, isn't it?

Okay, maybe not that creepy. We all have too much stuff. And we are probably continuing to accumulate more than we'd like. New people join the congregation, bringing new stuff. Older members may be moving and downsizing. We are all at different points in our life journeys, in varying stages of being able to let go of material possessions.

United by Abiding Savior. United in a desire to help others. United in just having too much stuff!

Mark your calendars--Saturday June 8th, from 8 am to 12 pm.  Books, movies, toys, nick-knacks, housewares, Christmas items, gadgets, linens, small furniture, sometimes bicycles and TV sets, fine china, jewelry, and more.

Abiding Savior Flea Market: If you need stuff, we have the stuff that you need. This year's proceeds go to support the Claudia Mayer Cancer Center.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Fun With A Purpose

I'm all about making connections. When I can put two things together and make people think, that's a good blog post. I'm excited to see two things coming up this weekend that take the concept of making connections out of the abstract and into tangible, multi-sensory experiences. If I can connect you to these cool happenings, then we'll all benefit.

Saturday, June 1st, at Monarch Mills on Oakland Mills Road past Snowden:  the food trucks are coming for HoCo Chow Down!  You can sample a variety of delicacies from area food trucks from 11:30 to 2:30 pm. A portion of the proceeds benefit the Animal Welfare Society of Howard County. You may make your own donation as well. So, you can get wonderful food, support Animal Welfare, possibly adopt a pet (yes, there will be some on hand to meet and greet) and who knows? You might want to take a look at the Monarch Mills apartments while you're there. I love this idea.

Monarch Mills is new to our community. I have been interested to see their engagement with the public through social media. They have definitely taken a community approach. You may recall I wrote a post about a book drive they sponsored for their neighboring elementary school. I like how they are reaching out, making connections, being good neighbors.

Sunday, June 2nd, at locations all over town: The Columbia Home Tour.  This year's tour benefits Rebuilding Together in Howard County. "Rebuilding Together performs home repairs and home modifications such as the installation of wheelchair ramps and grab bars to improve safety and accessibility for homeowners." I have been a docent for the past two years, and this year I'm just going to enjoy making the tour. This event appeals to the HGTV in me. I love seeing what people have done with their houses.

On the Columbia Home Tour website is this sentence,"Creating a sense of community while celebrating the history of Columbia." I love the feeling of balance that conveys. Bringing people together to appreciate beautiful homes. Bringing people together to help others. We need more of that balance these days in the New American City.

As a child I spent many hours in doctors' waiting rooms, often reading the magazine "Highlights for Children". Their motto? "Fun with a Purpose." That has always, always irked me. Why does fun need a purpose?  Fun is by definition its own purpose! But, in thinking about this weekend's events, that old slogan came to mind.

Come and have fun. You don't need to think about the purpose if you don't want to, but while you have fun, you'll be doing good, too.


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Splish Splash

Pool season has officially started. Did you visit one of Columbia's many outdoor pools this weekend? The weather wasn't exactly encouraging, but we managed a visit to the Stevens Forest pool, which is rumored to be heated. That must be a relative term, because it was rather chilly yesterday. We admired the updates--shade structures, hot tub/spa in progress, and a shaded exercise area with a special surface, more forgiving than concrete. Nice work, CA.

I usually go to the Talbott Springs pool first, as it is my "home" pool, so to speak, but I was curious about the added amenities at Stevens Forest. I hear that Talbott Springs is getting a water slide. I wonder if that will increase daily attendance this season.  The past several summer Oakland Mills Community Association has worked hard in collaboration with CA Aquatics to make the pool more user friendly to neighbors.

It's no secret in Columbia that the Talbott Springs Pool is one of the least utilized pools in the system. As a Talbott Springs resident, I have visited newer or more recently updated pools like River Hill and Swansfield and have come away feeling rather jaded. While other pools have Splashpads, beach entry, and enormous umbrellas cemented into the ground for shade, Talbott Springs didn't even have picnic tables with umbrellas, non-reclining chairs or hot water in the showers.

I felt as though the Village of Oakland Mills was like Charlie Brown in the Halloween Special. "I got a candy bar." I got gum." "I got a rock."

Over the the past two summers, the Talbott Springs pool has received more attention. We finally got some tables with umbrellas, a better assortment of chairs, and hot water for showers. The rate for daily entrance has been lowered, and the Columbia Swims program has provided basic water safety/ intro to swim classes at a reduced rate.

We're still one of the most underutilized pools, and we may very well be again this summer. Even with the addition of a $75,000.00 water slide. So, who is right?

One school of thought is this : CA doesn't care about this pool and let it languish because the demographic is not who they care about, and now they want to close it. Another school of thought is, this pool has shown over a long period of time that it is nit being used by residents. Therefore it is not needed, and the money saved by closing it can benefit CA in another way.

Stop, stop! You're both right.

It is true that CA Aquatics let the Talbot Springs pool trail behind as they updated other pools, and their lack of responsiveness to Village concerns has earned them a less than stellar reputation here. Their work in recent years has been a vast improvement, but it is possible that OM residents feel it has been too little, too late.

On the other hand, I feel that there is merit in wanting to spend Columbia Association money, our money, on something that is truly utilized. And what I hear coming from CA is a desire not so much to "close the pool" as to put something in its place which truly benefits and meets the needs of the surrounding area. I think that certain individuals have hijacked this message and turned it into a vision of a filled up hole in the ground, and a lock on a chain link fence.

What would I like?  If we are going to re-purpose the Talbott Springs pool, I'd like the biggest, coolest splashpad in the system. So cool that people would come from other Villages to use it.  And I'd like it to be staffed with enough trained CA employees to interact in a positive way with neighborhood youth and children. Let the neighborhood see how a variety of programs can happen in that space. In addition, I want CA to provide a free shuttle to one of the nearby pools for a continuation of low-cost swimming lessons: "Aquatibus," if you like.

If this is an issue you care about, do something.  Write the CA Board, write Phil Nelson, write CA Aquatics. Write a letter to the Columbia Flier. Go online and make a proposal for the future at Inspire Columbia.  There are a few folks who have made this issue their political football. But your input is what really matters, and if you don't contribute your opinion, the old football 'switcheroo' will continue, and no one will win.

See you at the pool?


Friday, May 24, 2013

Things Change

It's a rather dreary, rainy morning and I find myself in a blue funk. Yesterday was more than a long day for me as a teacher, wife, and mother. I'm just worn out, I guess. But at the heart of this sadness is the combination of changes that make my world feel unstable.

More than anything, Dennis is gone. His take on the world is gone, his energy is gone. Some days it feels as though all the good that was Dennis has been usurped by a lurid news story that won't go away. Yes, there are ways to breathe good into the loss and pain. But it is a horrible change that shifts the ground underneath those who knew him and felt connected to his work.

Columbia Council Representative Tom Coale appears to be considering a run for office in another capacity. Good for him! And yet his presence on the CA board has given many of us our first real glimpse into how things work around here. I fear what will happen without his energy, advocacy, and openness. Is anyone else  out there ready to take the risks he has taken to move Columbia forward and include new people in the process?

My daughter has moved on to Middle School, and I'm still adjusting. Yes, I'm slow in adapting. We loved Talbott Springs and miss the community. It isn't just kids that find middle school difficult. We attended the Evening of Excellence last night and it was wonderful. Students are involved in projects from robotics to primary research, fashion shows in foreign languages, Shakespeare, claymation, environmental film...and still I had that underlying feeling that I don't quite feel at home. By the time I "get it" will it be time for high school?

Since September, my older daughter has gotten married, my younger daughter has moved inexorably towards teenager status, my husband has won two major professional awards and I have run for public office and lost rather spectacularly.No wonder I just want the world to hold still for awhile.

It doesn't, of course. Facing reality feels like a full time job right now. But it's better than the alternative.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

How Villagey Are You?

Is it just me?  Whenever I consciously attempt to name all of the Villages in Columbia, I invariably come up one or two short. Today I forgot Hickory Ridge and Kings Contrivance, but it isn't always the same ones. Every once in a while you see people online trying to remember all of the names of the Seven Dwarves from the Disney movie "Snow White". It's a similar experience. The first few rattle off the tongue easily, and then memory slows...

I decided to challenge myself to see if I actually know people in all ten villages. I do, but just barely. Of course I know many people in my own Village. After that, it dwindles to two or three families apiece. Interestingly enough, the Villages I forgot were the ones where I know the fewest people. I probably know more than I think I do, because many folks in Columbia these days don't self-identify by Village.

When newer residents move to Columbia, they may be looking for the right house at the right price, good schools, a decent commute. The Village concept may not even figure into the decision at all.  Once they are here, it remains possible to live, work and shop without really gaining an understanding of what Columbia's Villages mean, or the unique qualities of their own village. It may be hard for long-time Columbians to believe this, but it's true. Columbia can be just a nice suburban place with grass and trees and shopping centers, if you don't know.

My own evolution from someone who "lived in Columbia" to someone who lives in Oakland Mills has been slow but rewarding. There is no question that my family's quality of life has been improved by understanding how we fit into Oakland Mills and what Oakland Mills can do for us. What about your own village? Do you feel the same? Does being a part of a Village enhance your quality of life?

On Inspire Columbia there is a conversation going on about Village Centers. This conversation predates the website, of course. Strictly speaking, these discussions are usually focused on the retail aspect of the Centers. I'd like to see a wider discussion about what the Village concept means to us today. Just as trends in retail change, trends in how people think of where they live change, too. If the Village concept is to live on as more than a name on a shopping center, it must adapt as well.

What is your Village doing to reach out to newer residents and keep current with the lifestyles of 2013? What would you like to see them do? Tell me something cool about your Village--I always have more to learn.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Can't See the Forest...

It is eight o four. By now I have usually finished my blog post and am posting it.  I have ideas for future blog posts in my head, one that takes more research, one that needs photographs.  I have looked on Facebook, Twitter, through Explore Howard and Columbia Patch. The blog post for today?  Missing in action.

I have said before that I am a miniaturist--I look for the one small thing to focus my light on. I use it as a jumping-off point to talk about something bigger. Some days those small things don't leap out demanding to be seen. Today I find myself scanning, scanning, engaged in a frustrating game of I Spy while my morning minutes slip away.

"The unexamined life is not worth living." Yes, but there a days when we feel as though we have our faces mashed up against it, looking for something meaningful, and yet seeing nothing.  The panic of a fifty-word word search puzzle stirs within us: I can't see it!

And that is when I realized what was missing. Perspective.

Sometimes you have to back up to take a better picture. Try a different angle.
Is it the light source that is the problem? Is the subject crowded out by unnecessary clutter? Does your picture lack balance, symmetry? Maybe you are too close to see clearly.

Today, as I take a step back, I see a swirl of too many ideas: the end of the school year, the devastation in Oklahoma, Village politics, Bridge Columbia,pool season approaching, grief, anxiety, gratitude. It isn't that I don't have any ideas. I have too many. And not enough perspective.

So today I will consciously take a step back, take a deep breath, and wait for the noise to settle.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

More Questions Than Answers

Yesterday's post might have been sub-titled, "What I don't know about Columbia's Interfaith Centers could fill a book." As such it drew the most responses of any post I have written to date. It is good to know that folks will step in with information--I know so much more today than yesterday!

I wonder if Columbia would ever do an Interfaith Center "Crawl" along the lines of a Pub Crawl?  Would anyone be interested besides me? Pub Crawls are usually done on foot, I believe. But what if this were an event more like a progressive dinner, with stops along the way? It could be like the Columbia Home Tour--participants drive themselves from one place to the next. Or it could use Columbia Association vans along with knowledgeable tour guides from the Columbia Archives.

And again, here is something I don't know: has the Columbia Archives ever done an exhibit on the Interfaith Centers? I am always fascinated by the vintage/historical photographs, advertisements and written material that Barbara Kellner and her staff put together to enlighten today's residents about Columbia's past.

As a middle schooler, I participated in a program at our Unitarian Church in Stamford, Connecticut called "The Church Around the Corner." We learned about other faiths and visited worship services in our community. This is the sort of thing that Unitarians do extremely well. But It doesn't need to be limited to Unitarians. I think there's a lot to learn from a visit to Columbia's unique houses of worship.

In order for such an event to work, one would need to find a target audience and a motivator for participation. Would it be a fundraiser for a charity? Would funds raised go towards supporting Interfaith Center renewal? What interesting mysteries might be revealed along the way that would entice normally uninvolved residents to take a peek?

I recently read of some friends taking part in an urban scavenger hunt in Baltimore. Perhaps this event has the makings of a game--Interfaith Center Quest!

My usual desire is to turn everything into a party. With bouncy castles. Maybe I can take this one on as a matter for independent study, and report back to you. But if anyone's up for an IC Road Trip--I'm in!


Monday, May 20, 2013


So, tell me about Interfaith Centers.  Do you go to one? Did you grow up going to one?  Or do you belong to a church in a traditional church building? Do you go to church at all?

I must admit that I have attended a church service in an Interfaith Center only once since moving to Columbia.  Additionally, I have attended services at Christ Episcopal Church, Lake Kittamaqundi Community Church, and Abiding Savior Lutheran Church.

There was a bit of an uproar when St. John Baptist built their new church on the corner of Tamar and 175. Some people seemed to suggest that James Rouse had forbidden church buildings as a part of the Columbia Plan. That sounds rather Soviet to me. Fill me in. Is it possible that the creation of Interfaith Centers and participation in them by various denominations was encouraged, rather than actual church buildings forbidden?

Abiding Savior Lutheran Church will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary this Fall.  It is my understanding that they were offered an opportunity to be a part of the Interfaith Center in Hickory Ridge, but declined. So it seems there is room for both independent, single-denomination churches along with the multipurpose ones outlined in Mr. Rouse's plan.

Multipurpose. Part of me shudders at the word. It brings to mind shiny linoleum, acoustical tile, slide-across temporary "walls", stackable or folding chairs. It feels painfully dated. While intellectually I believe that faith and spiritual practice aren't dictated by physical things, in my heart I will admit that beautiful architecture and a sense of place in a house of worship mean something to me. The Interfaith Center model seems to turn diversity into "no-diversity."

How are Columbia's Interfaith Centers faring in 2013? How have they responded to changes in their Villages? Is this an idea that continues to thrive, one whose time has passed, or one that missed the mark from the outset?

What do you think?


Friday, May 17, 2013

Reunions and Reminiscences

My 30th college reunion is this weekend. I toyed with the idea of going, but in the end I let life get in the way. There was a party for my husband last night to attend, along with Calvin Ball's fundraiser. Today, tomorrow and Sunday are packed with Margo's Peabody Chorus rehearsals and concerts. And, of course, my in-laws are presenting their show at Abiding Savior Saturday night.

I know that if I had put my mind to it, and planned months in advance, I could have made the trip back to South Hadley this year.  Something inside me just couldn't do it, I suppose. How crazy is it that after thirty years I'm still not ready to go back?

I am a 1983 graduate of Mount Holyoke College. I have a liberal arts degree with a major in music. I worked for two years before applying to MHC, as an independent student, because my parents decided during my senior year that they were not going to fund my college education. I was a "bad investment."

I met a Mount Holyoke alum while I was waiting tables at Friendly's near New Haven. It turned out my boyfriend worked with another alum at the School of Organization and Management at Yale. They both reached out to me, encouraged me to visit and apply. Both wrote letters of recommendation for me.

Not for one instant had I ever thought of going to a women's college. But after two years of waiting tables, answering phones, and mind-numbing fast food work I was ready for something completely different. I knew that my 'college prep' oriented high school education meant nothing in the world of work. I was young, intelligent, with no marketable skills.

I was incredibly lucky. Mount Holyoke saw something in me and provided the scholarships and loans and a campus job to make my education possible. My participation in the choral program included trips to New York City, Montreal, and Spain. I will never forget hearing the Glee Club sing a Christmas carol I composed on the steps of St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue.

But throughout it all I was still the same insecure and lonely person I had been before college. And that is probably why I can't make myself go back. I feel squeamish about the "me" that was, all those years ago. I was often broke, with no parental support to get me through the rough patches. I felt defensive about not fitting in. I was not one of the Preppy girls with alligator shirts or Fair Isle sweaters.

I do remember the stunning Laurel Parade during graduation weekend. It's not just for the graduates. All the reunion classes who are present participate, all in white, many carrying signs that describe things about the life and time of their college years, or what they have done since graduation. The parade starts with the eldest alumnae, who were in a classic car, as I recall. So at the very end are the youngest, those about to graduate. We walked through all of those generations, seeing ourselves at twenty five or thirty, in middle age, as grandmothers. This is us. This is who we will be.

Perhaps my reason for going back should have less to do with me and more to do with them, the graduates. Participation in their celebration is an affirmation of their work and dreams. We believe in higher education for women. We believe we can make a difference. We believe you have a special place in this world to do good.

“Go where no one else will go. Do what no one else will do.”
                                                     --Mary Lyon, founder, Mount Holyoke College

Next time.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Something Gained

It looks like I wasn't the only one yesterday intrigued by the post of HoCoConnect on Super Connectors.  This morning I followed up by reading the piece he linked to on what it takes to be a Super Connector.  I found it rather creepy. I think that what made Dennis Lane so brilliant at this is that his was an innate ability. He may have refined it through the years, and I am sure it came in handy in his professional career as well. But nobody had to make a list for him.  He was, simply put, gifted.

It is possible to make a list describing the qualities of anything: what defines prodigy, what makes comedy funny, or why humans are drawn to making music.  Perhaps it is part of the human condition to try to define what is essentially undefinable. Sometimes we want to think it through and establish a concrete process.

Sometimes we want to absorb the beauty of it and enjoy it for what it is.

We have a friend staying with us this week. He was the Best Man at our wedding. He is one of M.'s godparents, so she has known him all her life. His trip is not for pleasure; he is here to sit at the bedside of a dying friend and to support his family.

But from the moment Chris came through our door, something unexpected happened.  Margo lit up. She let down her guard, smiled, laughed. She joined in the silly wordplay and general fooling around. I can't begin to explain the joy her dad and I felt in seeing her relaxed and enjoying herself. We hadn't been entirely sure that she still had it in her.

Chris is living out the tragedy, day by day, of watching a friend in his forties slip away from this life. We are mourning the senseless loss of the "blogger godfather" who seemed to effortlessly hold many worlds together. M. Is carrying the sadness and anger of being in middle school and not fitting in. You would think this would be a recipe for gloom or at least malaise.

But something inexplicable happened in the connection. We provided a place for Chris to be at a difficult time. He brought the ability to find joy in seeing old friends. M. brought her essential self without inhibition. And then there was magic.

"Well something's lost, but something's gained in living every day..."

You can make a list and analyze. You can celebrate joyful mysteries. It doesn't matter how you look at it. There are times that our small connections create a greater whole than the sum of the parts would suggest.

Hope steals into our hearts, blending something lost into something gained.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

An Environment of Acceptance

One auditorium. Two bands, two string ensembles, one chorus, one jazz band. Two and one half hours. Proud directors recognizing students and thanking parents. Thankful students seizing the microphone to thank directors. Proud parents and family members in the audience.

My daughter plays tuba in the Oakland Mills Middle School Concert Band. It is the entry level band. She is in the sixth grade. She is the only tuba. She takes that responsibility very seriously. In fact, she takes almost everything seriously. I have written here before about how difficult middle school has been for her so far. What I want to talk about today is what makes it livable: music.

I highly recommend this short article as an excellent window into what makes music so crucial for middle schoolers. In particular, this quote jumped out at me:

"Providing an environment of acceptance for all students through music—even for one hour per day—is a first step toward connecting with students from all backgrounds and helping them to develop healthy life skills." --The Importance of Music Education in the Middle School Curriculum, Deborah M. Montague

Last night we came to support one tuba player in the band. But of course, one tuba player doesn't make a band, nor one singer a chorus.  The combining of talents and the group interaction as they work together towards an excellent performance is as good an example of "E pluribus unum" as I can imagine.

Lori Schwartz Reichl, Band Director and Team Leader for Applied Academics at OMMS, is well known for saying, "One Band. One Sound. One Family." I can't think of a more important time for young people to learn and experience this than in middle school. Separated and fragmented by ability level or by the social pecking order, middle schoolers often feel more cut off than united. Individually they may feel torn apart by physical and emotional changes that shake their perceptions of themselves and how they fit in.

A look at Mrs. Reichl's web page shows clearly how hard she works to build and maintain the best possible program for her students. It is not surprising that she has been selected as a finalist for this year's Howard County Music Parents "Music Teacher of the Year" Award. Her positive energy is felt through all musical disciplines at the school.

As the parent of a creative, quirky, off-beat kid who plays piano, tuba, sings in the Peabody Choristers, writes poetry and loves musical theater, I know how important the Band Room is in her day.  Mrs. Reichl knows, too. Next to her photograph on her web page is the following statement. "Embrace your uniqueness!"

The joy and discipline of music, shared by dedicated teachers/directors and supported by parents and the school community is a lifeline for many, many students during these extremely difficult years. For these students music is not an extra, not icing on the cake, but rather the sustenance for getting from one day to the next.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Ministry of Hugs

This is a hard week. Nothing feels natural, somehow. Sure, the rote things keep happening but if it takes thought, I find myself back at square one. A lot.

One thing that's going to be easy this week is going to the Reception Honoring Councilman Calvin Ball at the Stanford Grill on Thursday evening. Calvin isn't just my County Councilman. He's a fellow Oakland Mills resident, an involved parent, and a friend. Through the years he's listened to my career aspirations, participated in my daughter's Simulated Congressional Hearing, advocated for residents at Village Board Meetings, read aloud to children at Tabott Springs Elementary School.

I asked Calvin what he's proudest of during his time in office.  He had trouble picking just one thing. He supported funding for the addition of 76 sworn police officers, 137 EMS/Fire personnel, a reserve rescue squad, safety officer, and at least 25 new EMS vehicles including ambulances, engines, tankers and more. He is proud of the growth of his Money Matters Fair (financial literacy) over the years, his support for education including all day kindergarten, headstart, k-12, and community college. 

I think what sums it all up is this: what he enjoys most is empowering others, giving voice to the voiceless and making our community a better place for his children and their generation because of his service.

There's one thing he didn't mention. If Howard County had a Minstry of Hugs, he'd be in charge. Calvin is a hugger. If you know him, you know. Now, don't be alarmed. He doesn't go up to random people and hug them for effect. His hugs reaffirm the connection he already has with you. They are joyful: welcoming and accepting. 

After I lost the election he sent me a virtual hug in the form of a comforting note. His warmth and understanding came through clearly in his words. He reached out to me in a very difficult moment, and I won't ever forget it.

It's not too late to RSVP for this event. I hope I'll see you there. Don't forget to add a little red to your outfit. And be prepared to hug. Because we all need a hug right now. If Howard County doesn't have a Mininstry of Hugs, I say now is the time to start one.


Monday, May 13, 2013

Small Ways

In the morning, the sun will rise. You won't be awake for that, but you have faith that it will happen like all the other mornings. Faith that the light will eventually bring you into consciousness. Feeling the light ease into your brain is how you know that life is continuing. It goes on. Light creeps in, your pull the covers around yourself, pretend you can stay warm a bit longer, reach around for a teddy bear and have one last cuddle before you ease into the day.

These are some of the best moments, so familiar, so reassuring. This is my life, the waking up, the stretching, and yawning.

“Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it -- every, every minute?” ― Thornton Wilder, "Our Town".


Lisa B., Mrs. S. encourages us to get up and love the world all over again.  To that end, I am sharing this invitation from my in-laws, Sam and Joan McCready.

"A number of you have asked if we are going to do our Dickens on Tour show in Baltimore. As a thank you for the use of rehearsal space, we will be presenting the show at Abiding Savior Lutheran Church, 10689 Owen Brown Road, Columbia, MD 20144, Sat. 18 May, 2013, 7pm. Admission Free. Donations to Bunda Hospital, Tanzania. The show had a fabulous reception on two tours of Ireland and we look forward to sharing it here."

A reception will follow in the church hall. Please join us.

We're all finding our small ways to be heroes today, tomorrow, and the day after.


Sam McCready as Dickens

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mom Got Mad

Mom Got Mad
 By Julia Jackson McCready

for Alice

Once upon a time,
Mom got mad.
I thought it was something I did. But it wasn’t.
Life was scary for me.
You know, everybody wants to be loved, and I wanted to be loved a lot.
I thought if I could be really good that she wouldn’t hurt me anymore.
But it never really worked that way.
When bad things would happen, I’d go away to a place inside me that felt safer.
 I’d wait for the scary part to be over.
Inside, I didn’t feel scared. I didn’t really feel anything at all.
Later, when it was safe, I’d come out.
I think I used to tell myself that someday it wouldn’t be like that anymore.
I’d grow up and find someone that loved me and have a real family.
Or I’d become so smart, and beautiful, and funny that my mother would have to love me.
Wouldn’t she?
Finally, I grew up.
But I didn’t know that all along, I was lovable. And it took a long time for me to find out.
Because what I wanted to do was go back and change the parts of my life that had hurt
Like erasing a mistake and starting over.
But I couldn’t, because that was the real picture:
Mom got mad. She hurt me. I was scared.
I wanted to make it stop. But I couldn’t.
The grown-up me can do a lot of things.
I can be loved, and have a real family.
I can be smart, and beautiful, and funny.
But I can’t change what happened to me a long time ago.
Instead, I have to believe in my self, today. Every day.
I have a little girl now, and I want her to believe in herself:
So even when it’s hard, I keep trying.
That way, the old story can come to an end…
…and we can live happily
Even after.


Everyone is worthy of love. I have some happy memories of my mother, but many are complicated. On this Mother's Day I want to honor not only her memory, but all the folks out there for whom Mother's Day is equally complicated.  

May God bless you all. We can live happily even after.




Saturday, May 11, 2013

A Great Little Story

(From March 31, 2012)

Do you regret doing an April Fool's Day post?

Never. I was just thinking about whether or not to do it again this year. Right now I don't have a good idea but, as they say, the day is young...

I've got one ready, but I'm on the fence. I don't have as wide a readership as you do, so it probably won't cause as much of a stir.

Go for it. That's how readership grows. I don't know if I'll be able to make your blogtail party but I'll try. I like your blog. You write good. 

Thanks. You just made my day. 

Happy to oblige!


It took me a while to realize that I was wrong about Dennis Lane. I put together a persona for him without the benefit of actually knowing him.  I decided that he was the coolest of the cool kids, and that I was never going to be in that club. I observed him at blog parties, impeccably dressed, holding forth to a tightly knit group of fans and he seemed to be the grand high wizard of something. Something secret and not easily attained.

It did not occur to me that I could just go up and say hi. He seemed to me to be the sort of gentleman for whom one must procure an official introduction. Believe me, I tried. I loved his writing, the way he looked at things, the way he treated his subject matter.  But I kept myself at a distance out of shyness, or pride. Or both.

I never managed to broker an introduction. In the end it wasn't necessary. One day at Starbucks he appeared out of nowhere to congratulate me on receiving one of Jessie's Bloggers Choice awards at the Stanford Grill blog party. He extended his bigger-than-life laugh and twinkle towards me in a warm handshake and in that moment shattered my carefully constructed "Dennis Lane" and revealed a truer one.

I never really stopped having a fangirl reaction to getting a comment or a link or a shout-out from Dennis. I think that's probably okay. It would have amused him, certainly. Added to that was the knowledge that I could wave at him from across the room, or steal a moment to chat and he'd be happy to see me.

The last time I saw Dennis was at the Union Jack's Blog Party. I came with my daughter Alice, writer of HoCoHouseHon. We were enjoying a little moment of excitement as Hocoblogs only mother-
daughter bloggers. Then something happened which thrilled me to the core. Dennis came over to talk to us.

I remember only snippets of what was said. It doesn't matter. Although I knew Dennis so very little, his impact on me was huge. And that is the point of this remembrance. I barely have the right to write one, in the grand scheme of things. But knowing him made me a better blogger, and helped me learn how to get over myself a little. And it's a great little story.

Thanks Dennis.


Sent from my iPad

Friday, May 10, 2013

Shed A Little Light

What is the difference between a newsletter and a blog?

This morning's post on HocoRising has prompted me to to address this question publicly. Tom Coale has taken criticsim from some fellow CA Board members because he covers CA Board meetings on his blog. I find it ironic that his critics are the same people who rant continually about transparency and openness. Yet they don't want their actions at a CA Board Meeting to come to light.

(Disclaimer: this blog post was written without the knowledge of Mr. Coale. He is in no way responsible for its content. When I write blog posts in response to articles on Columbia Patch, or in the Flier, or another HoCoBlog, it would similarly refelect only my point of view. Got it?  Good.)

Now, back to our question. What is the difference between a newsletter and a blog?  Why do I ask? Alex Hekimian writes a regular newsletter called "Hot Topics" which is sent out to a private email list in Oakland Mills.  While purporting to be an official communication of his work on the CA Board, it is not available to be read by all Oakland Mills residents. You have to know it exists, and request to be added.

An interesting tidbit: when Mr. Hekimian started this newsletter, he didn't send it to the Village Board or the Village Manager. This went on until word somehow leaked back to the Board and they had to request to be added. In a sense, Mr. Hekimian was having regular private communication with a select group of residents without informing the Oakland Mills Village Board or the Village Manager.

I received this newsletter for a brief period of time while I was on the OM Board. Then I was mysteriously removed from the list. I never asked to be removed. Someone had to actively remove me for that to happen.  While I was receiving "Hot Topics" I discovered it was not at all an accurate representation of what was happening at the Village level. I am reasonably certain it doesn't accurately represent what happens on the CA Board, either.

A newsletter should contain news. "Hot Topics" goes out looking like official communication but it is an opinion piece through and through. Mr. Hekimian uses half truths, rumors, and inflammatory statements to stir up residents in favor of his own agenda. This document is not vetted by Oakland Mills or the Columbia Association. I truly don't know why someone hasn't issued a cease and desist order on this. It creates a toxic work environment for both community volunteers and CA professionals whose work is disrupted and sabotaged routinely by its after effects.

Back to HoCoRising, the blog which has taken so much flack.  The blog is posted on the HoCoBlogs website and is open to anyone, no subscription or permission necessary. In addition, Mr. Coale freely admits that his blog contains opinions as well as facts. He has set a high standard for himself in how he will cover the CA Board meetings. He communicates as much as he can without overstepping the bounds of professional behavior.

His readers are encouraged to learn more and come to their own conclusions.Open discourse in the comments section continues this process. He doesn't claim for one minute that his blog is an official part of his representation of his village or his position on the CA Board.

So, on the one hand we have a newsletter whose membership is private, suggests it is official when it is not, and contains opinions that are called fact. On the other hand we have a blog which is open to all, which clearly labels itself as the personal project of a private individual, and is quick to distinguish fact from opinion.

So here is my opinion. If Mr. Hekimian wants to have a newsletter to represent his work as a member of the Columbia Council, it must go out through the official e-newsletter process of the Oakland Mills Community Association. And that means it will be read, checked for errors, and shared with the OM Board and the Columbia Association. But if Mr. Hekimian wants a platform for sharing his personal opinions, he needs to do something very different.

He needs to have his own blog.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Real Estate

Lucy Van Pelt: I know how you feel about all this Christmas business, getting depressed and all that. It happens to me every year. I never get what I really want. I always get a lot of stupid toys or a bicycle or clothes or something like that.
Charlie Brown: What is it you want?
Lucy Van Pelt: Real estate.


I sat across from my daughter in the Nordstrom Cafe yesterday. We chatted over
perfectly seasoned chicken, grilled vegetables, fresh fruit, and peach iced tea. The occasional "ladies who lunch" experience is a treat for us, a mother-daughter splurge. We talked about writing, her upcoming job interview, and the House Hunt.

George and Alice got married in September. They didn't have any immediate plans to buy a house. They rent a spacious condo that meets their present needs. But then two things happened. George got a raise, and the housing market began to shift. Suddenly it looked as though they could afford a house, and that perhaps they had better act before prices went back up.

It's interesting to hear her take on the Columbia housing market.  "Well, I know I want to live in Oakland Mills," she said. "The houses we've seen in other villages are smaller, more expensive, and they need so much work. You're paying for the village name, perception. The houses in Oakland Mills are bigger, more affordable, and in many cases the updating has already been done."

This made me smile. I've been saying to folks for quite awhile that you can get the biggest bang for your buck in Oakland Mills. Now my twenty-something daughter was relating her own personal experiences to me, and that's exactly what she was finding.

I read in a comment on Patch the other day that the only people who live in Oakland Mills have no choice or don't know any better. I'd put Alice up against that half-baked notion any day. She grew up in Baltimore City, so she knows a good neighborhood from a bad neighborhood. She has lived here, worked here, patronized businesses here. She's been doing her homework. This is not naivete.

Every week seems to have both good news and bad news for my village. A well-attended forum on education. A hideous violent crime. And this means opportunities for thoughtful people to ask questions and share ideas, while narrow-minded folks spew stereotypes and insults.

Thank heavens I get to sit face-to-face with the next generation of Columbia and hear a fresh point of view on a regular basis.

Oh, and if you're interested in what some local twenty-something HoCo and Maryland residents are thinking, I highly recommend Buster and Ellie, a new online magazine that beckons to readers-- "Let's Figure Out Our Twenties Together".

Twenties. Wow. I don't know if I ever figured mine out. But that's another story altogether.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

HoCo Holler

Last Saturday, on a beautiful Spring morning, at ten minutes to ten, there was a line. Well, it wasn't exactly a tidy, "line up for class" sort of line. There were people grouped outside the doors, in ones, twos, threes, and family groups. Children dancing about on the sidewalk, older people seated nearby. The sky was clear, the sun was shining, and it was not even ten am on a Saturday.

What would get you out of your bed early on a beautiful Spring morning on a day off from work or school? For me, the list is pretty short: yard sales.  Yours might include children's' sporting practices, a family day trip, or volunteering at a community event. Of course, if you don't have children, you might be eating breakfast in bed...

In the ten minutes we stood there, people continued to arrive. It was a beautiful sight. People of all ages, gathered in anticipation. It was quite a healthy group by the time the doors were unlocked and we were allowed in.

The people I saw that morning came with many ideas, differing plans and goals. But one thing united us. The place we chose to pursue them was the Charles E. Miller Branch Library in Ellicott City.

We were there to use a study room so that my daughter could tape an interview for her GT Research class. We saw a few people talking to Master Gardeners who had set up a table by the door.  Some folks were reading, some browsing, some studying. As we left we noticed that the library was even participating in Free Comic Book Day.

I offer today's shout-out--a big HoCo Holler--to the Howard County Library System. Without question, they have given us a place worth getting out of bed for on a sunny Saturday morning. And if you like to sleep late, don't worry. They'll still be there for you when you wake up.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Lost Sounds

NPR has been doing a series on sounds we miss from the past. These are sounds that don't exist anymore, but that some of us still remember. Yesterday they did a story of the sound of the needle dropping on a phonograph record. One of the contributors focused on the sound as a moment of anticipation to the delights to come. His recollections were like a hymn to the world that record albums opened up to us back in the day.

It is amazing to me to hear that sound today, because before the advent of compact discs and digital downloads, we didn't realize how loud it actually was. The hiss, crackles and pops jump out at us now. Then they were a normal part of the listening experience. We tuned them out, I suppose.

This piece brought to mind other sounds which are no more. The over excited static of a transistor radio. The reassuring, repetitive voices at the end of the line when you called the time or the weather. Real school bells that really and truly rang. The sound as you twisted the wind-up key for a special toy. The sound of old metal roller skates on the sidewalk. The grumbling and clanking of an old furnace on a Winter's morning, steam radiators.

Like the sound of the needle on a vinyl record, one sound I never thought about much was the sound of children playing.  It was, more often than not, the steady accompaniment to most of my childhood. But not today.  Although there are children in my neighborhood, I rarely see them outdoors. And the sound of children playing is so rare that we usually stop what we are doing and look outside to see if everything is okay.

Today our lives are filled with the results of product innovation and technological improvements. Life goes on without the hisses, crackles, ticks, thumps and bangs of years gone by.  But what of the children playing? The absence of that sound is as dangerous to the health of the human condition as the loss of bees or the contamination of groundwater.

I can't bring back Chatty Cathy, Vroom Motors, playing 45's on my record player. I don't want or need to relive my own childhood. But I think I want to do what I can to make the world more welcoming for children to play in their own neighborhoods.  I can start right here where I live.

Suggestions? Sound off in the comments section. I'm contemplating a new challenge.


Monday, May 6, 2013

Monday Morning Inspiration

Do you live in Columbia? Do you have some ideas about how Columbia could be better? Do you wish that the Columbia Association had a way to listen to the desires and opinions of everyday residents?

I do.

That's why I'm intrigued by Inspire Columbia, a MindMixer online community created for CA, to create an ongoing conversation with residents about what they like and don't like, what they wish for, what keeps them here.

They don't ask for much information: email, zip code, birth year. I had a few issues with registration at first. It seems to be harder on the iPad. But MindMixer has great customer support if you reach out for help.  Inspire Columbia is just getting started, and there are already some interesting ideas and supportive comments posted.

The point is to share ideas, and engage the support of others as these ideas take shape through interactions on the site.  It is easy to use, and I can't wait to see it really take off as more people join in. I know from conversations during the campaign that people have a lot of ideas they'd like to share!

As you know, I'm not a fan of conspiracy theorists who suggest we must be protected from CA, or that we need fighters to go up against CA on our behalf to prevent untold horrors from occurring. Inspire Columbia shows that CA wants to know what residents really want, separated from the politically charged nature of angry meetings or negative newsletters.

What do you want?

It's as simple as that. Eliminate the middleman. The more people join in, the more it becomes like an ongoing, live-tweeted survey, if you will. (Do I mean crowd-sourced?) But, different from some surveys, it doesn't seek to shape your responses in any particular direction.  You get to pick the questions that matter, and you get to suggest the answers.

The input from Inspire Columbia could get some very cool things jump-started for our community.

You probably know that the word "inspire" has at its root the concept of breathing in, of life-giving breath. We can't be alive without it. When you share ideas, or learn about other people's ideas, you are providing Columbia with the breath of life.

Remember: those who don't inspire, expire.


Friday, May 3, 2013

Read All About It

Just at the point when Columbia needs in-depth political reporting, journalism is dying. It's not just dying here, we all know what a wide-spread phenomenon this is. The internet is killing print newspapers, ad revenue is down, and people don't read newspapers as they used to.

In Columbia, there's a little more to the story. I've been here since 1999 and the Patuxent Papers have always taken a rather quaint approach to delivering the news. It sometimes appears to be the, "Let's Not Make Any Waves" approach to journalism.  How many times have a vast majority of residents turned up to support something, with a small vocal minority wildly opposed, and the paper reports, "Columbia Divided By New Issue."

Ownership of the paper may have changed, but this approach persists. Add to that a continuing reduction in staff and what happens? Factual reporting of news, the ability and willingness to dig for more than face value, is sharply compromised.

Case in point: the recent CA elections. Maybe ten villages are too much for one person to cover. But only four races were contested. Why weren't the issues in each village explored? I kept waiting serious news coverage of what our race meant in Oakland Mills. I'm still waiting. Reducing the entire election to a referendum on Symphony Woods is not only too easy, it's just plain untrue. But you wouldn't know that from reading the paper.

Throughout the campaign I continued to be surprised and impressed by how many people were reading the Flier. There is a hunger for real news about the New American City. Rather telling is this comment from a Thunder Hill resident, "I wish I could find out what's really going on from the paper. The only way I know what's going on in CA is by reading Tom Coale's blog."

The actual human beings who cover Columbia are young, dedicated, and smart. We don't get to hang on to many of them for very long. I don't even know if we'll get to hang on to journalism much longer, at this rate. What are we going to do? We need the real stories to be told. Believe me, there's some juicy stuff out here in the Colum-bubble. It might even sell some extra papers.

Oh, yeah. Um, well...

So, I've been thinking, what Columbia needs is a nice, small-town Society Column. Please let me know if you have out of town relatives visiting, are hosting a baby shower, or attending a student piano recital.

Maybe political news is just for the big cities.


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Signs of an Ancient Civilization

One lovely Spring afternoon I sat in the beautiful home of Phil and Lynne Engelke, talking about what Columbia was like when they first arrived. They live in one of the iconic Pacesetter homes, which they have transformed, little by little, into a showcase for what is possible for a "starter" home. I was honored to serve as one of the docents last year when their home was selected for the Columbia House Tour.

The conversation turned to how people hang on to the past. I was fascinated when Phil shared this bit of information:

"When we came to Columbia, things were just beginning and the Rouse Company wanted everything to look perfect. And we were all young and hadn't taken care of a house or a yard before, so if we saw the Rouse Company putting out mulch, we mulched, and if those wire harnesses came off of the young saplings as they grew you saw folks go out and make new ones for them! Now it's almost fifty years later and you still see this excessive mulching of trees. It isn't necessary, in fact. Sometimes it is even harmful for the trees. But people keep doing it because that's what everybody else does, and that is how it has always been done. "

Phil and Lynne are truly the antithesis of this way of thinking. Thoughtful and creative people, their home and their lives show clear evidence of growth, change, evolution and adaptation along with a deep reverence for ancient cultures and religions. It's easy to see why they are my kind of "Pioneers."

Arriving home the next day, I noticed that the landscaping company for my HOA
had begun their annual Spring yard work. And then I saw it. I stopped dead in my tracks.

They had mulched a stump. A stump.  The tree in question had been small, sickly, then died, and was cut down last Fall. But the stump remained, and by golly, they mulched it in a beautiful circle just they way they did when it was alive.

You can't make these things up.  I have since seen several more around town, like signs of an ancient civilization. We keep things exactly as they are, whether it makes any sense or not. And when they die we won't question why, or try something new, we just cover it up with more of the same.

I highly recommend two articles on this topic. One is a delightful piece on why you shouldn't over-mulch trees.  The other is this, brought to my attention by Bill Santos of Columbia Compass. It captures local dynamics so acutely that you can't believe the author hasn't been at a CA Board meeting.

My favorite quote, "If everyone who wants to step up and do something to make this city better has to go through this, not many people are going to step up."

We have some big challenges ahead. I, for one, don't want to see people just throw more mulch at them.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Soapbox Wednesday

There are essentially two reasons why I teach. They are at the core of everything I do:

1. To foster a capacity for enjoyment, and
2. To provide a supportive environment for meaningful risk-taking

I have been teaching music and movement to special needs preschoolers for ten years. Before that I taught preschool and kindergarten in a small independent school in Baltimore. Whether I have been charged to develop fine motor skills for handwriting, literacy skills, or to support IEP goals, these two reasons run through everything I have done.

Why? Well, because these are the two things I find most essential to life. What is life if we cannot enjoy it? How will we learn or grow if we cannot take risks? The joy and pride I feel in a room full of students as a lesson takes flight is immeasurable. A student who has never participated makes a first imitative movement. Another finally makes eye contact, or smiles. Progress with my students can be very slow but each step is sweet. I feel grateful to be there.

Whenever I see things that stand in the way of enjoyment and risk-taking, I mourn. These days there are plenty: high-stakes testing and the environment it creates for students and teachers; school schedules that wreck teenagers' sleep cycles; bullying that strips enjoyment from life and decimates the bravery to take positive risks; hunger and homelessness.

Every time I see a teacher create a learning environment that respects these essential needs, I rejoice. But the odds are against them. Those are not the things they are being "graded on." Don't believe me? Ask a teacher.

If these are things you care about, speak up. There was a sizable turnout for a meeting on the HCPSS Health and Wellness Policy recently. Those voices made a powerful statement. You can make a statement, too.

Teacher Appreciation Week is coming up. Are there teachers who support students by honoring both their enjoyment and risk-taking? Write them a note. Let them know how they have made a difference for your child.

My AP American History Teacher was that person for me. His contribution to the person, and teacher, I have become was so great that I made the trek to Connecticut with my husband and daughter when I heard that he was retiring. Thanks, Mr. Atwood. Your work lives on in me.

And in my students.