Friday, November 29, 2013

Third Place

The term "third place" came up recently, at the Inner Arbor presentation at HCC. If you are not familiar with it, a bare-bones explanation: a place, after work and home, where people gravitate and spend time together. An inviting community space. Columbia doesn't really have a lot of those. Bill Santos has a great thing going at the Columbia Mall Starbucks, to be sure, but I am looking forward to the opportunities that the Inner Arbor holds out to us, as well.

Yesterday, on Thanksgiving, I enjoyed photos of cooking and celebrations, descriptions of menus, declarations of thanks, and memories of Thanksgivings past. There were some great discussions about varying holiday traditions and terminology: is it dressing, stuffing, or filling? People were popping in and out as their schedules allowed: as the day unfolded, it occurred to me how much Facebook has become a virtual third space to us.

I first noticed this when we were all house-bound during Snowmaegeddon 2010 (or was that Snowpocalypse?) Stuck at home, cars snowed in, many businesses closed, we found a shared space in a social media community. The ability to ask for help, share frustration, disseminate news, or offer assistance made our tiny individual worlds into a more open, shared community.

If you are a social media expert, none of this is news to you. But, as an ordinary human being, I find this fascinating. The ability to communicate with friends and family both nearby and far away has changed how we celebrate. I enjoy it, and yet I struggle to find a balance between real life and virtual life.

Perhaps others do a better job with that. I'm still working on it.



Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Food for Thought


To shop, or not to shop? I decided to enter the discussion after reading this post on Miss Zoot. After posting the link on Facebook, the following conversation* ensued:

See... there are a lot of stories here, but it's just as dangerous to assume that these workers WANT to work on Thanksgiving as it is that they WANT to have the day off. For every story of someone wanting to work on that day, there is someone that does not, but if they don't take the hours, they could lose their job or lose more hours (getting knocked down in ranking).


AND... people also assume, "well, they are getting paid double or time and a half." Well, not necessarily. Extra pay for holidays is not mandated by law - it's decided on business by business. many of these people are working the middle of the night at the same wage as always. It's only if they go over the 40 hours a week (if hourly) that they can get overtime pay, even if they work a 12 hour day.


But what I do agree with is that the "I believe in family" part is being judgmental is saying everyone has family... No... they don't. But everyone deserves to be treated fairly.


It's the "not judging" that I liked the best.


I agree - but people do judge - all of us do. We make assumptions. We just need to be better informed!


It is food for thought, but its not workers' choices to open stores on Thanksgiving. Every one of these lousy CEOs and all the executives ought to be out there working too.


YAY!!!! I've been trying to get this message across!


How about they just pay their employees to be off and spend time with their families.


How about they pay hourly workers a living wage, too? Good point.


If everyone working on Thanksgiving were volunteers who wanted to be there, I wouldn't have a problem with stores opening. But you know that's not true. It's just another product of corporate greed. And we let ourselves get sucked into it.


Not me. I don't even shop on Black Friday. What I liked about the post was the fact that it made me think about other points of view.


Maybe we should cancel the Ravens game Thursday? :-) JK!


I am not the one to ask--I hate football!


For the record, I would be fine with no football on holidays. IMHO people need a change of pace, an occasional turn off of the path, and a holiday can give you that - unless you do the same things on that day as you do every day.


The only thing on our TV on Thanksgiving are the parades. I suppose it can be said these people work these days too, but I'm also going to assume, most of these people WANT to be there and do that job! (Another false judgement?) No football watching this house. We'll watch a movie together as a family in the evening in the family room.



The blog post on Miss Zoot touched me because I have been there. I have been the divorced parent with joint custody, alone on a holiday. I have worked a full time job, plus a part time job, plus baby sitting gigs on my vacations in order to make ends meet. One year, the serendipitous gift of money in a Christmas card from a school parent was the sole reason I had Christmas.

I will never forget those years. And when the writer touched on that experience, I was suddenly able to believe that, for some people, having the chance to work on Thanksgiving might be financially meaningful in a way that a lot of us don't understand. This writer drew me in and changed my willingness to see a different point of view.

I won't be shopping on Thanksgiving. My older daughter, the one who I sometimes had to live without on holidays, is hosting the meal with her husband. I have so many blessings that one day can't hold them all.

My benediction: if you don't want to shop, don't. But don't judge others.. And if you do shop, be kind to all who are working. Whether or not they want to be there, they are human beings deverving of your respect. The blessing of celebrating a Thanksgiving meal surrounded by family can live on more than one day through human kindness to our fellow-creatures.

Food for thought.


*Comments used with permission


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Conference Day

Parents who are also teachers can be the worst sort of parents when it comes to teacher conferences. We set high expectations, and we know a lot about know the system works. On the other hand, we also know what it is like to be a teacher in a parent-teacher conference. So it balances itself out.

Today I will have three conferences at my daughter's school. My husband is coming to two out of three, but then he has to get back to his school to do conferences. You only get to pick three in middle school, even though your child has substantially more than three classes. You must pick wisely.

What do you hope to achieve through parent teacher conferences? Do you find them to be generally helpful? What are the top issues for you this year? In the past, I have found myself at odds with high stakes standardized testing, too much passive learning, skill and drill programs, lack of recess.

But this is Middle School. Even though kids still need active learning and more than a few minutes of recess, in my opinion, it isn't really a part of the deal anymore. It is all about the academic subject. I wish I could make an appointment with a "whole child specialist" to talk about social-emotional development, organizational skills, and all the other intangibles that you can't post on the Student Portal.

We glean what we can from the slices of our children that the subject teachers see, and we go home and talk about it and try to fit it all together. Sometimes it all adds up, and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes we end up with extra pieces.

What about you? What is the most valuable thing you have learned in a parent teacher conference? Is there anything that you wish could be different?


Monday, November 25, 2013


Last Wednesday I visited Oakland Mills Middle School as a part of American Education Week. I got the chance to observe a GT Social Studies class and a Band rehearsal. I learned quite a bit from each class. Today I want to share something about what I experienced in Mrs. Reichl's Band class.

Symphonic Band is for more experienced players. The room was packed. This is a class that students choose, and must audition for a place, and every bit of the room was filled. In fact, for the beginning of the rehearsal visiting parents had to stand because there was not one extra inch of space for chairs.

Once the opening activities were taken care of, the percussion players went to their posts in the back of the room, and the parents were invited to take those seats. As a choral singer for most of of my life, I had never been to a school band rehearsal. Let me tell you, if you want to have the full experience, you should definitely sit behind the tubas and in front of the percussion! Have you ever heard the term "surround-sound"? That is exactly what we experienced.

In one class period we observed students involved in sight reading, learning musical vocabulary, making music, improving technique, listening to other students, and above all, focusing on the director and student intern. The level of attention demanded and received was awe-inspiring. The students knew the expectations; the teachers gave clear, positive directions and suggestions. Musical performance and student behavior were shaped with a look, a gesture, a raised eyebrow, a breath.

Every student was in that room by choice. Yet I would hazard a guess that the the level of work and the expectations for behavior far exceed those for any other class they are taking. So why are they there?

Immersion. For that one class period, everyone is immersed in the hands on experience of making music. There are no cliques, no smart kids vs dumb kids, no popular kids vs awkward kids. What a relief for these middle schoolers to spend some portion of the day unfettered by the discomforts of being adolescent. Making music is a multi-sensory, full mind-body experience. Lori Reichl shares the joy of that with her students, and for that she has a full house.

Meaningful work. Instant feedback. Working together. Active listening. The joy of creating something beautiful. This is not something that supplements education. This is education.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Parent Fail

That moment when something simple your child says makes you realize you have failed as a parent. Yeah, that.

"Our teachers wants us to write something for the Fox Channel essay contest about Martin Luther King, but I don't want to. You know they throw him at us every year in school but that doesn't really have anything to do with us today. Really, what does he mean to us now?"


Here I am, a highly educated white liberal parent who grew up immersed in a world of the civil rights movement, watching the women's rights movement evolve, the gay rights struggle grow into a movement for LGBTQ equality, and my daughter doesn't understand why Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is important to her today. Parent fail.

Clearly the school has been doing its part, but somehow we have not done our part at home to make the connection in her brain: this is important to us. She is a very literal person and we have not connected the dots for her. And because she is white, middle class, with pretty much every opportunity she needs in life open to her, she doesn't get it. I thought she got it. But, clearly, she doesn't.

My daughter cares a lot about women's rights, and LGBTQ rights. She has always supported special needs students in her school, reaching out a hand of friendship and assistance. She has always had friends in her classes from diverse backgrounds. In spite of this she doesn't know how much rights for people of color, women, LGBTQ people and special needs and disabled people owe to the work of Dr. King and his contemporaries.

We have our work cut out for us. This phrase has been in my head since last night -- "if any one of us is enslaved, then we are all enslaved." When I looked that up, I came across a wonderful song, sung by Solomon Burke: "None of Us Are Free".

None of us are free.

None of us are free.

None of us are free, one of us is chained.

None of us are free.

We have to start somewhere. I refuse to believe it is too late. I'm going to start with a song.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Not Cool

A long-running thread through this blog, and, dare I say, my life, is a desire to be one of The Cool Kids. I don't know why it has troubled me so much over the years. It's probably rooted in a desire to be liked, combined with a rebellious streak that it doesn't really matter. At all. Not one bit.

But it did.

I've never felt as though I was "like other people". As I have gotten older I realize how many of us feel that way, almost to the point of it being a meaningless distinction. What on earth did I expect? That the well-dressed, popular kids in school went home, looked in the mirror and smilingly chirped, "I'm just like other people!" It doesn't work that way. Whatever insecurities I had, others had their own. As much as I felt an odd duck, so did others who perhaps I thought were the coolest of the cool.

This week I found myself struggling with rejection and my first response was to flail about, desperate to get back into the inner circle of coolness. It's embarrassing to be excluded. I'm very fortunate to have friends who listen to me and support me when times are hard. Their advocacy and empathy are far better than acceptance into the coolest of clubs, for their acceptance is complete, and not capricious.

The upshot of this is that I have realized that it is better to be myself than to live in fear of being shut out of the club. To that end, Village Green/Town Squared will no longer be associated with the HoCo Blogs brand. You may have noticed it was cut earlier in the week. I have decided, after much thought, that I will not ask to have it reinstated. Look for links on Facebook, or subscribe directly right here. Your readership gives life to my words.

I look forward to continued fellowship and collaboration with Howard County bloggers and readers. It's not about hanging with the cool kids so much as enjoying the company of friends. And that is the best place to be, after all. For a community blogger like me, that's where Columbia and Howard County intersect. And that is precisely where I want to be.




Friday, November 22, 2013

I Was Four: November 22, 1963

When I was little in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, I loved to watch cartoons every afternoon on the Captain Penney show. Occasionally I would turn I the tv and see this:

(Photo from :

That meant there would be no cartoons. I just hated that guy with the scary eagle-snake-thing that got in the way of my cartoons.

I don't remember the day Kennedy was shot, but I do remember knowing that he was dead and that it was a bad thing and people were upset. And I knew it was my fault because I had thought mean things about him when he had press conferences that interfered with the Captain Penney show. I started to have nightmares.

(Photo from:

In my nightmares, a large, imposing console style television in a dark wooden cabinet would appear in my bedroom. The only thing on the screen was President Kennedy, just a close up of his head, talking, talking, talking...Night after night I was haunted by the talking head of JFK. I was afraid of the television, too. We didn't own one like that, it felt alien. It was the television of foreboding.

Years later, when I was in elementary school, I put the needle down on a promotional recording about the space program. To my horror, it began with John F. Kennedy's speech about space exploration. Although I hadn't thought about it for years, the sound of the dead president's voice brought back the prickly horror and dread of those weeks after the assassination. I knocked the needle off of the record, covered my ears and rolled into a ball.

I don't remember what I knew. Clearly deep inside me was a knowledge of fear, grief, disruption, hopelessness, and anger that stemmed from that horrifying day fifty years ago. I was four. I couldn't make any sense of it. But I absorbed it in a vivid and distorted way.

Just think: four years old on 9/11. Four years old at the time of the Newtown shootings. What will our children carry inside them from those awful times? How will those ghostly half-memories affect their lives?







Drive-throughs and Dilemmas

Yesterday on my way to teach I stopped at the River Hill McDonald's. As I pulled into the parking lot I noticed that the entire drive-through area was torn up and cordoned off by traffic cones and yellow tape. I hesitated.

Then I noticed a man waving. I pulled up. "Is the drive-through closed?" I asked. "I am the drive-through," he replied, holding up a walkie-talkie in one hand, and a laminated menu card in the other.

Well, okay then.

He relayed my order, and I drove around where another nice man, bundled up in the cold, took my money and brought back my change. Then I pulled forward where a shivering woman brought me my order. As I pulled away, I marveled at the clever response to their problem, but I also thought, "That's no way to run a drive-through."

And it isn't. It is an ingenious solution to a finite, temporary challenge, and it shows someone in management is on the ball there. And yet, I don't think they considered how cold their employees would get, nor how demeaning it might feel to them. But it works. And the drive through customers are served.

This is precisely what goes on in our schools in Oakland Mills. They are not bad schools. They are wonderful schools. Realtors, and other people who make judgements based on tests scores or hungry children may tell you otherwise. But those of us who have first hand experience know the truth. They are great schools.

But they are over-burdened. Every day faculty and staff face major challenges that get in the way of learning. Every day they come up with creative ways to respond. But these aren't temporary challenges. So they add one crisis solution on top of another crisis solution and they just keep moving forward. Because that's what they do.

It's no way to run a drive-through. Or a school, for that matter. Scientific research shows us that continuing to operate under high levels of stress is extremely unhealthy. That is true for organizations, too. Our faculty and staff are hard-working, caring, highly qualified and we keep on piling more on them, because they just keep coping.

I sincerely hope that one of the results of the community meeting in Oakland Mills is that County Government, the County Schools, and the Oakland Mills Community Association work together to respond to the concerns of parents who are already there in the trenches, supporting their children's education.

Let's not leave our Village Schools standing out in the cold.



Thursday, November 21, 2013

Mood Indigo

A former choir director had a wry expression which has stuck with me to this day. When faced with in-house 'political' drama and uncharitable behavior in the workplace, which for him was the church, he would smile and say, "See how we Christians love one another."

His expression came to mind when I read this article from the Baltimore Sun this morning about the political race for the House of Delegates in District 9B. It appears to say that the Democratic Central Committee went out to get a "real" Democrat to run because the other candidate, Tom Coale, isn't "Democrat" enough for them.

I find that kind of disgusting.

I make no secret of the fact that I am a friend of Tom's, and this blog is a friend of his blog, if there is such a thing. But my rather visceral response to this isn't about that. It is about how I feel about being a Democrat, and how I feel about political discourse, generally.

Haven't you had discussions where you wished that the other person could completely hear you out, understand, and change their point of view? How often does that happen in real life? It is pretty rare, especially when it comes to politics. So, here we have someone who listened, who thought, who evolved. And changed.

And he's not Blue enough? Sheesh! Isn't having an intelligent, hard-working, committed, thoughtful person coming over to your side enough? This is right up there with older Pioneers refusing to yield power to anyone who hasn't been here long enough to be a "real Columbian". It's small-minded, and short-sighted, to boot.

You can tell a lot about an institution by how they treat their converts. I don't like what this is telling me. And I am a life-long Democrat, a died-in-the-wool Liberal. I don't know anything about the other candidate, but I truly wish someone in that camp would have one of those, "Duh! I could've had a V-8" moments and join forces to support Tom Coale's campaign.

At the heart of what I believe about the Democratic party is that it is NOT the party of small-mindedness. That is what I want to see, and that is what I will support, with my words, my time, and my funds.

How about you?




Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Mayor of Mayhem


Location, position. Checking in. Locate yourself.

Where are you in relation to others?

In the middle, half way down, at the front of the line, in the back of the bus.

Finding yourself. Defining yourself by where you are.


Perspective, field of vision, light and shadow. Glare.

What do you see?

The angle, the distance, a clear view, obstructed view

distortion, disturbance, refusal, denial


Don't know, don't care

Can't see. Can't find a landmark, a lighthouse,

A sign or a map.




In a departure from my usual blogging style, I'm free associating. Why? After watching people talk past each other, reach out, get rebuffed, talked down to, exhorted, chided, pontificating, pleading, freaked out, fed up, and frozen out...

Wait. I'm still at it.





Frieda: You're an absolute mess. Just look at yourself.

Pig-Pen: [looks at himself in Frieda's mirror and smiles] On the contrary, I didn't think I looked THAT good. (From A Charlie Brown Christmas)

We've been looking at ourselves quite a bit recently in Oakland Mills. Last night provided us a truly "up close and personal" view of the differing ways that people in our village operate under stress. (I was not able to be there, so my comments today come only from what I have gleaned on social media.)

From what I have seen so far, responses seem to be divided between those like that of Frieda, above, and Pigpen. Either: we're an absolute mess, or: I didn't think we looked this good. (Actually, more like: I thought it would be much, much worse.) And all of these responses came from people I know and respect. After all, who else do I know on Facebook? Ahh...lightbulb moment.

Blog posts, private messaging, long Facebook discussions and emails have circulated about this issue. Who sees them? Us. Who is "us"? A relatively small group of thoughtful, caring neighbors and community-builders. And amongst this select group there was significant, though respectful, disagreement.

Who is not us? I hesitate to mention it, but the specter of the Spring election rose again: incendiary flyers distributed door-to-door, angry neighbor to angry neighbor. "Hot" letters to the newspaper to get people stirred up enough to pack the place and be loud. It has worked time and again: the Energizer Bunny, or dare I say, the Evil Twin of community activism.

Wilde Lake resident and Columbia Compass blogger Bill Santos shared some wisdom with me as I began my run for the CA Board. "I was naive," he said. "I just thought that if I went out there and shared who I was and what I believed in, that it would be enough to win people over. But it wasn't." I have been listening to some very good people from the County, or who support the County's plans for the Verona, and I hear that same wistfulness. "We are trying to do good. We thought that would be enough."

Some days, though, it felt a little like, "We are doing this good thing, and if you all could just be the kind of people that you are not, then you would get it." Negotiating with Oakland Mills under these circumstances is not unlike a US company entering a foreign market. (And that is probably true with each village.) McDonald's, for example, has to learn not to sell beef in countries where that is taboo if it wants to succeed.

What does Howard County need to learn about Oakland Mills in order to succeed? What does Oakland Mills need to do in order to harness multiple points of view, varying methods of spreading information, and radically different styles of public behavior?

We have to look at ourselves honestly. We cannot say, "we shouldn't be this way," because, clearly, this is exactly who we are right now. Attempts to shame our community may make those who are disappointed feel better. But don't you think we feel bad enough already? What a a weird, crazy hodgepodge of feisty people make up Oakland Mills. Only in completely accepting the entire uncomfortable picture can we make a realistic plan for how to move forward.

Or, as Oakland Mills Board Member and The 53 blogger Bill Woodcock puts it, "That now what?"


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Ongoing Business--with VIP Feedback

Tonight is the much publicized community meeting in Oakland Mills to address concerns about the county's purchase of the Verona Apartments. If you are going, a reminder to bring two things:

Non-perishable food items to help feed hungry children who live in our Village, and

Respect for the Village Board.

I may not have an expert opinion on much in this world, but I feel confident speaking to this. Every time the board meets, and often even when they don't, they are working to make Oakland Mills a better place. I'll just give you a list.

Hearing resident concerns, working together to resolve.

Hosting community sessions to help resolve larger conflicts.

Planning and administering community events that will benefit quality of life.

Promoting Oakland Mills to future residents and businesses.

Trying to get quality merchants for the Village Center. Working to support current businesses in the Village Center.

Working with Cedar Properties to take better care of the Village Center.

Working with the Police to improve safety in our Village.

Supporting Village schools through donations to specific causes and events.

Supporting schools by creating and administering "Oakland Mills Achievers" award.

Reaching out to apartment communities to improve communication and quality of life.

Serving as a review board for RAC disputes.

Working collaboratively with the Columbia Association.

Working collaboratively with Howard County.

And more that I haven't thought of...

No matter what happens at the meeting tonight, the Board will still have to "come back at it" and "keep at it" for the next meeting, the next meeting, and the next. This issue is not the only thing on their plate. They have been working all along to help Oakland Mills, and they will continue to do so.

So, show some respect.


  I received the following note from Al Romack, former Owen Brown Village Board Member. Al is a long-serving PTA Officer at Talbott Springs Elementary School. He knows what it means to be involved and committed.

He writes, 

Julia's post is once again right on the money. But I do feel that she has left a couple really good ones out. 

A1: being a tireless cheerleader for the good, the bad and the ugly. Typically folks, no not all the folks, but a seemingly large bunch, only comment when there is a problem, they only take action or even take an interest when something isn't right or the way they want it. Educating and correcting the bad is an important function, kind of like the mom's and dad's of the village. Looking Ugly in the eye, and seeing it for what it is and working to improve it, is very hard, but necessary. Otherwise it lingers. Most Importantly is Cheering for the good. It is so important for Village Reputation, Staff morale, and resident personal perception. Having a large loving community does not just happen, it is made! 

A2: Educating the next generation on Civic Responsibility. My time on the OBCA board got me exposure to fantastic leaders like Andy Stack and Neil Dorsey, who showed me that it was important to not only take a role in the Village but to reach out to all "making the community better" opportunities. My participation in PTA, CA, the Village is all motivated by the excellent example that these local leaders exhibit. I am motivated to be better because of their example. 

A3: Finally, there is nothing more comforting to the asker and satisfying to the answerer to be able to: Know the right person to talk to, where to get that once in a lifetime resource that you need right now when you are stressed out, that your friend on the Village board. They are there when you need them. Come on now, go out and hug a village board member today!!



Monday, November 18, 2013

Crossroads, Revisited


I was stuck in a bit of traffic on Dobbin, sitting in the right hand lane, near the section where the fast food restaurants are grouped together. I saw cars in front of me trying merge left, so I thought there had been an accident ahead, or road work blocking the lane. As I approached the hold-up, I did a double-take.

He was in his sixties, or maybe seventies, his thinning gray hair on the longish side. His gray jacket looked worn. And he was moving along in the middle of the right-hand lane in a motorized wheel chair. I noticed there was a police car to my left. I wondered if the police would intervene.

They didn't. The man continued his progress. Nobody honked, they either merged out of the lane or drove along slowly. Many, like me, probably had no idea what was gumming up the works.

I kept fearing for this man's safety, and also wondering if driving a wheelchair in vehicular traffic was illegal. One thing I didn't wonder: why he was in the street.

That's simple. There are no sidewalks there. Where else was he going to go?

As I got to the intersection of Dobbin and Route 175, I noticed people on all four corners, in brightly colored reflective safety vests. Wearing Santa hats, they were collecting money for toys for poor children. I'm sure their hearts were in the right place. But I have a better idea.

We need to be out with our buckets, at the crossroads of Columbia, collecting money for sidewalks.



Friday, November 15, 2013

Regional Reach

Do you want to get away from it all? Put the cares of your life behind you? Maybe you don't have the funds or the time for a Carribean cruise. Let's face it, for most of us that kind of getaway is out of reach.

But if you are willing to stretch a little...

The Inn at Norwood is a bed and breakfast in Sykesville, Maryland. The rooms are decorated with seasonal themes, and each has a spa tub and a fireplace. A delicious and ample home-cooked breakfast is a part of your stay, and the owners have a living room full of restored antique arcade/carnival game machines and toys of by-gone eras.

We like to eat dinner at E.W. Beck's. It used to be more of a smoky biker hangout, but since the change in smoking laws, it's a more welcoming place to a variety of folks. It's always busy, but we go on the early side and we've never been turned away or made to wait. You can get locally grown gourmet creations, or traditional pub food.

Another favorite local business is A Likely Story bookstore. It is a wonderful combination of new and used books, toys, gifts, and selections from local crafters. The owner is friendly and there's a couple of couches if you want to rest a bit or take a few extra minutes to chat and look at books. We always find something interesting there.

I can't call it a HoCo Holler, since they are over the line in Carroll County, so let's call it a Sykesville Shout-Out. Next time you have a hankering to get out of town, you won't have far to go...




Thursday, November 14, 2013

My Mall

Where do you shop in Columbia? Do you like to go to the Mall? Does the assortment of retail establishments there meet your shopping needs? I must admit I am not a fan. At this moment I can't think of a single store I would enjoy visiting.

Here is my mall.


This is the Severance Center Mall in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, circa 1963, around the time it first opened. It is the mall of my childhood. It had a Woolworth's, record stores, a movie theater, a bowling alley, a German Delicatessen, a Hot Shoppes cafeteria where my grandparents used to take me and let me drink iced tea when my mother would have said no. ;-)

If you grew up in Columbia, this is your mall.

I've read a lot on the Columbia Facebook page. People have that same feeling about "the mall of my childhood" about the mall in Columbia as Cleveland Heights residents have about Severance Center. (There's a FB group for them, too.) These memories are about life experiences at the mall, sure, but also about the way malls used to be, the way life used to be, the way we used to be.

I support the plan for Downtown Columbia, and I want changes and upgrades to the Mall to be successful. But maybe the kind of stores I like aren't going to be there. That's okay. Perhaps the new Lifestyle Center will bring a new place to meet and hang out, good for outdoor concerts or other community events. A new setting for the Santos Sunday 60? Or inspiration for a new local podcast?

The mall of my childhood is a museum in my head. I can visit it any time I want. The Mall in Columbia moves forward. All I have to do is visit every now and then to make sure it's doing alright.

But probably not between Thanksgiving and Christmas. That's way too much overstimulation for me. Somebody snap a picture of this year's Poinsettia Tree and send it over. That will be enough.



Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Dark Ages

There was a time when wealth, and health, and all manner of good things were considered to be signs of God's favor. By the same token, poverty, ill-health, mental illness, disability and the like were signs of God's disfavor and punishment. Unable to conceive? Crops fail? Family starving? Parent of a disabled child? A veritable sign of your sin, for all the world to see.

But, that was a long time ago, right? We know better than that now. Don't we?

I wonder.

It has become all the rage these days to say that those who are doing well financially are doing so by the sheer dint of effort. They worked hard, did the right things. And those who are poor are slackers. Clearly they didn't work hard, didn't do the right thing. It's as simple as that.

This is nothing but a gussied up version of what was said in the Dark Ages. Except that, in this case, our subjects have put themselves at the center instead of God. I did it, I worked, I studied, I saved, so it is my success, my business, my reward, my hard earned money. And with this comes its darker, shadowy companion--if others are poor, they must have done something wrong.

Years ago I saw a television promo for the Simpsons where someone, possibly Bart or Homer, was saying the Grace before Thanksgiving dinner.

"Dear God, everything that's on this table I put here myself, so thanks for nothing."

The tone and the content of the statement took my breath away. Yes, I'm sure it was meant to be humorous, but to me it was chillingly narrow and mean-spirited. I use it now to ask: when we sit at the table with our families and there is enough to go around, is that a time to be self-righteous?

Does our plenty give us a right to mock and denigrate the want of others? Or should it open a door in our hearts and minds to the awareness of the many blessings which have allowed us to thrive, the absence of which we may never have even considered?

Having had the opportunity for a decent education, the chance to have a job that can make a significant contribution to the family upkeep, having experienced family stability, regular health care, these and many other things have enabled us to "work hard and do the right thing."

Those opportunities should lead to enlightenment -- and a realization that we are called to be a light to others. If we look at our blessings and can only say "I did it all myself, so thanks for nothing" then we have truly remained in the dark.



Small Steps Make A Big Difference

This is the complete text of the letter I sent to Explore Howard/Baltimore Sun in support of the Horizon Foundation's HoCo Unsweetened initiative:


I have been following the Horizon Foundation's HoCo Unsweetened initiative since its inception. As a parent and teacher, I see daily evidence of how sugary drinks affect children and adults. I have serious reservations about high fructose corn syrup, a staple in these highly-advertised beverages. I applaud the Horizon Foundation's willingness to stand up to "Big Soda" and champion our kids.

All summer long, I have been following HoCo Unsweetened through social media as they dispatched road teams to many outdoor venues to educate parents and children about Better Beverages. Their recent video, "Burp Better", was a delightful and pointed culmination of that work. Not a cute publicity stunt, it was an engaging way to highlight the many hours of public education that have already taken place in our own community and nearby.

One of the beauties of public health initiatives is that something quite small can have huge benefits. Oral rehydration salts have saved countless lives in counteracting the devastating effects of diarrheal diseases. More recently, fortified peanut butter packets stop the progressive decline of starvation. Small steps, but significantly beneficial. Public health professionals look at many problems, many needs. The challenge is to to pick and commit to something that can be accomplished. This is precisely what the Horizon Foundation has done.

It is not the role of public health to be provincial. Helping the residents of Howard County may very well require outreach outside of its boundaries. In the same way, our award-winning HoCo Library system plans programs to meet specific needs of county residents while reaching out to participate, learn, and share with others across the nation. Reaching out and connecting is an excellent investment for our county's citizens.

When it comes to healthy choices, HoCo Unsweetened is helping us broaden our horizons.


Monday, November 11, 2013


I have been reading about work on the Columbia Association's first Health and Wellness Center. It seems to me that the primary focus of the health and wellness concept is balance. Rather than treating our problems with a prescription medication, or responding by piling on more exercise routines, this is an approach that looks at the big picture.

Definitions of wellness are rooted in two main concepts: awareness and personal responsibility, and the view that wellness is "...a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." - (The World Health Organization.)

So wellness exists in a healthy balance of physical, mental, and social well-being. And the pursuit of wellness begins in awareness and personal responsibility. Awareness, and balance.

Recent blog posts by Bill Santos of Columbia Compass, and Bill Woodcock of The 53 have examined the growing imbalance between certain demographic groups in Columbia. While the Columbia Association notes our aging population, and plans ahead for their needs, another part of the picture is slipping away: families.

Though some would try to make this an example of generational warfare, it is far from it. The health and wellness of Columbia, indeed, its very survival, depend on a balance of inhabitants: young, old, middle aged, single, married, families with children. This is the balance that will support our schools, businesses, arts institutions, foster community involvement, sustain our infrastructure, and build for tomorrow.

I strongly endorse Ian Kennedy's proposal for a Family Advisory Committee. He states, "The advisory committee structure has been used to great impact in the past, and I believe it can be a way to start addressing and institutionalizing the growing concerns about the dearth of households with children in Columbia."

The beginning of wellness is awareness: we see what is out of balance. Then we acknowledge our personal responsibility to actively restore balance. The creation of a Family Advisory Committee and participation by citizens who value Columbia and its "promise of diversity" will begin a crucial outreach to a valuable group within our community whose voice is often muted by the demands of work, home maintenance, and childcare.

Speaking to the creation of the Health and Wellness facility, Rob Goldman, Vice President / Principal Manager for the Operations Service Bureau, said,"We’re providing the community with what community members told us they wanted,” There is no doubt that the Columbia Association works hard to respond to residents and cares about what they--we--want.

Well, I want to see the voices of families added into the mix of what makes a healthy Columbia--for today, and for the future. If you agree with me, please write and let CA know what you want.



Friday, November 8, 2013

More People in the Room

From a letter I wrote to the CA Board on behalf of the Inner Arbor Plan for Symphony Woods:

"I am here tonight representing my entire family of five. Three of us live in Oakland Mills, and two in Owen Brown. We span an age range from the fifties to forties, to twenties, to almost teens. And I also speak, in a way, for the children my newly married daughter and son in law hope to have and raise in Columbia. I am here to share our hopes. ...

We can't do better by doing nothing. We can't do better by living in fear of losing the past so that our efforts are half hearted and undecided. This is not good stewardship; it is neglect. ...

This continues to be our responsibility to one another: To remain committed to a vibrant, diverse, accepting, and tangibly "better" community. Wasn't the whole point of creating Columbia that we could "do better"? Like the message of the People Tree: though many, though different, we connect with joy to make our community better and stronger."


I returned to this letter, inspired by Ian Kennedy's post about creating a Family Advisory Committee in Columbia. I ran for office because I saw the startling lack of representation amongst younger people in Columbia, and I wanted to be the catalyst for inviting more people "into the room". Ian's proposal is a brilliant way to work within the already existing CA structure to do just that.

Please take the time to read Ian's post, and the accompanying blog articles he links to, from Bill Santos of Columbia Compass, and Bill Woodcock of The 53. If you agree that families are a vital component of a healthy Columbia, write a letter.

As Ian says, Remember when you wrote you college application essay and you talked about some idealistic goal to "make the world a better place"? That idealistic 17 year old is still there inside you, maybe just suffocating under the weight of maturity and responsibilities and "who the hell has time to care about worldly matters when the kids/spouse/house/dog/car needs food/attention/money"?

Whether you are writing for yourself, your grown children, your neighbors, or your friends, your letter could mean getting "more people in the room" for Columbia's future.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Things that make me...


 Alice Kathryn Elisabeth--

"Out with my bestie of 26 years — with Julia Jackson McCready

at Second Chance Saloon."



 A former student's death this week, at the age of ten, of a chronic illness.

The loss of a high school student to an apparent suicide.

The emotional toll on affected teachers, including my husband.



 My younger daughter's discovery of "Sam and Cat" Fan Fiction. Will she enter a fantasy world and never come out?



 The new signs at the Oakland Mills Village Center look great. But does the one near the Interfaith Center seem to be at an odd angle or in an odd place to you? Or is it just me?



 Cutting off food benefits to hungry families who have no clout in government to fight back is no way to save money.



 Last night's Blog Party at the Second Chance Saloon made me realize that the Howard County Bloggers are so much bigger, deeper, and wiser than any brand.



 Watching people I know and love turn their lives around, get back on their feet, make new lives for themselves. Each step, each moment of success.

 A wedding invitation from two friends who participated in our wedding almost fourteen years ago who are now able to enjoy those same legal rights and want to include us in their joy.


“A baby is God's opinion that the world should go on.” --Carl Sandburg

Well, so is rebirth, and the choice to love and go on loving. To take the gift of life and take the scary steps to live anew.

That's what's in my mind and in my heart this morning.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Into the Woods

This tweet drew me in:

@mental_floss: Jim Henson's Home Movies Were Lovely —

The link led to a story about a short film by Jim Henson, "run, run". Set in the Connecticut woods in the Fall, it is what the title suggests. Two girls, Henson's daughters, run through the colorful leaves on a sunny day in 1965. Take a moment to read the article and watch the film. It isn't very long.




What do you think of it? It made me think, a lot. First of all, I had a vague sensation that something was missing. After awhile I realized it was the pathway. In my world, the CA Pathway system is a given. When was the last time you ran in the woods, away from civilization and off of pathways? Lyme disease has changed how many of us feel about straying off of the path. It's the Big Bad Wolf nipping at the heels of childhood freedom. They were carefree; we are cautious.

The girls ran. And ran. It gave me time to appreciate the dated quality of their clothing. Equally dated was the music, by Joe Raposo of Sesame Street fame. I wondered if the clothing and the music would bring to mind Columbia's golden age to someone who grew up here. Back in those golden days, did you run through the woods and stray off of the path?

On, and on. The girls were running, running without ceasing. I began to feel a bit uncomfortable, almost out of breath, watching them. The music picked up, the number of shots from different angles increased. Henson built up the level of excitement as the end drew near.

This is a lot of running, I thought. I felt like I had watched enough. After you watch enough video clips you begin to size them up pretty quickly. "Ah, I get the gist of this." And you click it off.

I was really struggling. After all, it's just two girls running in the woods. What's the point of hanging in there until the end? But--it's Jim Henson. So I hung in there. I wasn't expecting a surprise ending, or some major dramatic payoff, and there wasn't one. It was a nice short piece about two girls running in the woods on a Fall day.

By the end, though, it didn't feel short to me. It seemed interminable. The continuous running, the sameness of the background, perkiness of the soundtrack combined to give me a sense being trapped in an endless loop. I looked down as I clicked it off: 4:08.

I could barely maintain my focus on a piece of film that was four minutes long? Is this what has happened to my brain as a result of channel surfing, social media, games, autocorrect and funny cat pictures?

So, two girls were running in a yellow wood, set free in a world of whirling leaves. And it made me think. About them, about childhood's crazy energy and lost adventures, and about myself, my loss of patience and endurance.

Wednesday I have the day off. I'm going for a walk in the woods. For at least four whole minutes.




Monday, November 4, 2013


One of the aspirations of this blog, or more accurately, of this blogger, was to create a space that encouraged the sharing of thoughts and ideas about our community. Village Green/Town Squared is meant to be the place where Columbia and Howard County intersect. Not a physical space that can be registered on FourSquare, but a welcoming space in our virtual/digital world for listening, thinking, and sharing.

Early on I lamented about my own perfectionism and the feeling that, if I didn't get comments, that I wasn't one of the Cool Kids in the lunchroom. The response I got from friends and fellow bloggers was simple: keep writing. Possibly the greatest motivator I have had to keep writing was my rejection at the polls last Spring when I ran for CA Rep for Oakland Mills. It spurred me on to use my voice in the best way that I knew how.

Last week I posted a series of posts about the County's purchase of the Verona Apartments. For someone who started out blogging as a self-proclaimed miniaturist, it was a stretch. But, no matter how imperfect, my posts brought something I have long wished for: a conversation.

In the same week I discovered that I had been nominated for a Mobbie. Although the Mobbies are primarily dominated by the Baltimore blog scene, Howard County has a feisty representation each year. When I started this blog, I would have seen a nomination as something only the Cool Kids could aspire to.

Now I see it for what it is: a supportive nod of the head from (I am guessing) a fellow member of the Howard County blogging scene. Just as I nominate others whose blogs are a meaningful part of what I read each day. We write, and we say to each other: keep writing. It's all about exploration and the joy of discovery. And about shining a light so others may find their way.



Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Golden Hour

What did you do with your hour this morning? Sleep in? Lie abed? Get ready for church, sports, watch tv, or like me, do laundry? Well, while we were doing that, two local guys got down to work at Starbucks.

I can't wait until Wednesday night at the Second Chance to find out all about it. Join us! It starts at 5:30 and runs until about 8. If you are a Howard County blogger, a blog reader, or just want to know what Columbia Compass and Marshmallow Man are up to, come on out for some good conversation, great drinks, yummy food and legendary Second Chance Saloon hospitality.



Friday, November 1, 2013

Relationships: Verona Apartments, My View

Oakland Mills is not impressed.

Remember Blandair Park? Remember the neighbors who worried about what would happen only to have many of those fears come true? I wanted to believe nothing but the best about the coming park, but the truth is that concerns were addressed only after citizens resorted to angry meetings, name calling, and more. There were many, many missed opportunities leading up to that moment where the County failed to communicate, prevent, remediate.

What if you were a Village in Columbia and you saw that you only received significant attention if you exploded in anger? What would that teach you?

The information that stood out to me in CA Rep Alex Hekimian's most recent "Hot Topics" is that OMCA has retained an attorney to advise them in the matter of the County's purchase of the Verona Apartments. I am not on the village board these days, but I when I see that they are hiring an attorney I see people who feel that their legal rights may have been disregarded, or fear that their legal options are being curtailed.

If you feel that you have a good working relationship with someone, where there is honesty, trust, and cooperation, you don't usually hire an attorney. On the other hand, their are always some folks who love to take the adversarial approach, even if it might not be the best one.

Here is my question: did the County know what kind of pushback they would be facing from the community? The conversation I wish I had knowledge of would be the one where people sat around and said, "How do you think the community will feel about this?" And "What is the best way to deliver this information so that the community feels respected and included?"

I understand the confidentiality issues. But I keep feeling that a lot of what we are seeing is Oakland Mills feeling disrespected and voiceless. The truth may be that this is a great decision for Oakland Mills, Columbia, and Howard County. But right now we have an adversarial situation going on and I wonder if a better approach might have made a difference.

My friend and Councilman, Calvin Ball, gave me these encouraging words,

"We have a great opportunity from this point forward to do better! "

And that's true. We can only accept where we are right now and make the best choices to move forward. Talk, listen, visit the Verona, visit other similar sites where the County is involved. Are there other neighborhoods where a similar change has been made? What was the overall impact? Do citizens there feel that their concerns were respected and addressed?

I want to be open minded about this. I do believe that the Housing Commission operates with a goal of doing good. However, when it comes to building relationships? I'm not impressed.

Perhaps they should have checked our website. Oakland Mills: We Value Connections.