Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Loose Ends and New Beginnings

Getting mad at your blog is like getting mad at your mirror or your scale. If you don't like what you see you have no one to blame but yourself, or bad genetics, I suppose. Getting mad that you have at least five bad ideas for a blog post and not a single good one is merely a reflection of your own short-comings.

Not that I would know. Just passing along that wisdom. From a friend.

Along with that I'm passing along some great advice I really didn't want to get during the past year:

*****You have to go door-to-door.

*****If you call out someone on your blog, even if you don't mention them by name, you're basically saying, "come at me, bro'!"

*****Don't be bitter.

Just sharing in case you, um, you know, need some unwanted advice for the year 2013.

As for the year 2014, here's some advice I'm giving myself, for starters:

*****Try something different.

*****Be bold.

*****Make your own fun.

It is one-forty in the afternoon and I am in the process of trying to figure out how to spend my New Year's Eve according to the three principles above. If I succeed I think that will be an excellent omen for what will follow.



Monday, December 30, 2013

A Wake-Up Call

I woke up far too early this morning, came downstairs to read and fell asleep on the couch. At some point I thought I heard movement upstairs, and so I thought someone would be coming downstairs. I tried to stir myself and couldn't. I lay there on the couch, trying to wave my arm or call out, but nothing happened. And then it happened again, in the same sequence. I thought I heard something, tried to move...

This happened a total of four times, back to back, with varying details: it was my husband, it was my daughter, a television was turned on, coffee was brewed. But in all of them I was completely unable to move. And no one would help me.

I opened my eyes. Finally. I was actually able to open my eyes. I heard water running upstairs, then a door opening. My daughter came down the stairs. I don't think I have ever been so happy to sit up. I knew right away that I had been trapped in a moment of sleep paralysis. It has occurred only a few times in my life, thank goodness. Not my favorite experience.

If you haven't ever experienced it, it feels like your own personal "Groundhog Day" compressed into an extremely short time (which may feel interminable.) Of course I did a quick search and learned that it has something to do with a disruption of REM sleep, when your muscles are normally in a state of atonia. This temporary paralysis is useful in keeping us from actually getting up and acting out the happenings of our dreams.

I know you are waiting for the tie-in here--is it Columbia that is in a state of sleep paralysis? Might it be the older villages, or the school system? Is it a call for more meaningful participation in community affairs? Or a description of how the County views constituents?

It's true that I generally use a small example from which to jump into a larger topic, "to see the world in a grain of sand." Today, though, I have to admit I not straying very far from my own navel. I had a vivid reminder of what a blessing it is to be able to wake up, to move, and to speak. And now I want to challenge myself to do something more with that ability. Less virtual, more actual.

I don't really want to. I love my self-made cocoon, or rather, I have become extremely comfortable within its confines. But something rather serendipitous made me wince this morning. Do you know what sleep paralysis is commonly called? "Old Hag Syndrome."

A fortune-cookie message from Wikipedia? Perhaps. But one I needed to hear.

***News Flash***Update***New Info Released***

This post from Ian Kennedy reveals the shocking truth that I may be suffering from Shifting Sands Syndrome!

Many thanks to Ian for taking on the mantle of the HoCo Dookie Awards once more, with a loving tip of the hat to the wit, brilliance, and self-effacing humor of our beloved WordBones, Dennis Lane.



Sunday, December 29, 2013

Rites of Passage

A Rite for Teenification


Question: Do you renounce all of your mother's values?

Answer: I renounce them.


Question: Do you renounce all of your father's points of view?

Answer: I renounce them.


Question: Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of material possessions?

Answer: I renounce them.


Question: Do you turn to television and pop music celebrities and accept them as role models?

Answer: I do.


Question: Do you put your whole trust in tutorials on YouTube?

Answer: I do.


Question: Do you promise to follow and obey advice only from your peer group?

Answer: I do.


Do all you who witness these vows pledge to remember that those who make them were once human, and will to humanity return...in about eight years or so?




Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Spirit of Andy Rooney

Since we have a minute, and the old year is winding down, let me share with you some things that really bug me, in no particular order:

  • Political fundraising emails that say, "Just chip in 3 dollars." Then, when you click through, suggested donation levels begin at 15 dollars and they actually have the gall to suggest that people 'like you' donate 25.00 or more. This is just cheesy, folks! As God is my witness, if they actually offered the low amount as a choice I would probably give. Every. Single. Time.
  • The trend to put huge amounts of power over education in the hands of people who aren't teachers, have never studied education, have never taught. See also: entire education reform movement. If what you are is a test-maker, everyone looks in need of testing. Follow the money.
  • School rules that mean you can't send birthday invitations to school (might hurt feelings) but you can't get access to students home addresses (privacy). How are you supposed to invite guests: telepathy? This is right up there with the teacher who wouldn't give out a list of first names for Valentines, so children had to distribute nameless cards to each other. In the first grade, that's a missed literacy experience.
  • The growing trend to make sure that all kids have cell phones so that we can know exactly where they are and reach them 24/7. And the corollary that, if we don't do this, we are not being responsible parents. My husband had to admonish a kid who took a call during class. "But it's my mom!" He protested. This is already having far-reaching consequences as young people go to college and every decision is micromanaged through texts with the home base. When will we let our children leave the nest and fly?
  • Nick and Disney tween-teen shows that have the intellectual content of a Twinkie and portray all parents as morons and all girls as frighteningly skinny and perfect-looking.
  • Trolls. In particular: anonymous trolls. Do you want to say vile, hateful, character-smearing things? Attach your real name and photograph so that everyone knows you stand by your words. Yes, everyone. Your neighbors, your family, your co-workers, your employers...
  • Fascinating video clips that won't play on my iPad. Aaaaah! I'm clearly missing out on so much important content!
  • People who are well behaved and respectful in church but routinely talk during the musical portions. Really? You would never talk during the scripture readings or the sermon, so why is the anthem fair game? Is all music just background music to you?
  • When they're restocking at the Food Lion and they just leave carts and boxes anywhere willy-nilly. The whole store looks like an unmade bed. Nothing says, "we had no idea that customers were coming" like leaving aisles blocked, boxes open, shelves a mess, and displays half-finished.
  • And finally, a disturbing new development: have they stopped carrying sticky buns at Wegman's? Say it isn't so!

Please feel free to list your current pet peeves below. Perhaps I'll create a new ritual and burn all mine and start the new year fresh.






Friday, December 27, 2013

Time Travel

The year is winding down. Any minute now, if it hasn't begun already, we will be seeing and hearing and reading retrospectives of 2013. We begin to think of things we might have done better, and make lists of things we want to try in the year ahead. In the United States there will be much focus on New Year's Eve and the ball dropping in Times Square. Christmas comes, and passes, and then we are moving towards the end.

But that isn't the only way to look at it.

In the Christian tradition, the year begins with Advent. So Christmas marks the beginning of a journey, not an end. It's a very different world view--we are not winding down; we are only at the start. It is completely in line with Advent being a time of contemplation and preparation. Pack your bags, get your maps, the journey begins anew.

I must admit that our societal observance of the calendar year usually leaves me feeling flattened after Christmas, not refreshed and ready to undertake great journeys. It's an example of cognitive dissonance: how do I perceive the passage of time? How do I balance conflicting views of beginnings and ends?

But wait, there's more.

What about Solstice? What about the most basic view of the light and darkness, whose observance predates Church years and calendar years? Some cursory research shows that for cultures who observed a solar calendar (as opposed to lunar) the Winter Solstice was the beginning of the new year. This, too, makes sense--the days grow colder, darker, shorter until that moment in which everything begins to lean towards Spring and rebirth. Not a big bang in Times Square but a tiny sliver of light that carries with it the hope of new life.

Life is laid out before us without a map. How we mark and measure it is such a human construct. On Christmas Day my husband and daughter watched the Dr. Who Christmas episode. What a classic example of a television show which has created a rich and complicated mythology. It has its own calendar, its own rituals, its own rites of passage. And in the middle of my crazy contemplation of beginnings and ends, there was one Doctor saying goodbye to it all and a new one leaping into being through regeneration. Perfect timing.

We want to measure and label. We want to put a mark on the map and say, "you are here." But with that comes such a push to think, "what comes next, what comes next, what comes next?" Is it New Year's Eve, or the Super Bowl? Valentines Day, Spring Training? The first drinks outside at the Cactus Patio Lounge or your own Tiki Zone at home? The 4th of July? The Longfellow parade?

I want to be still. I want the ability to enjoy today with all of my being, instead of throwing away my life with both hands. And so I need to chose, and practice, how I want to travel through time. Not chasing time, trying to catch up, nor being chased by it, running in fear, but being firmly planted within it. Finding the present.

A New Year's resolution? Maybe.




Thursday, December 26, 2013


I grew up in a neighborhood that looked like this. (This photo is from a Coventry/Cleveland Heights Facebook group.) Mature trees, old sidewalks, tree lawns, older homes of the center hall colonial variety.

As an adult I lived in one apartment after another. I yearned for the day I would live in a real house, in a real neighborhood. My older daughter and I had a mantra of sorts, "Someday we'll live in a house with an upstairs and a downstairs, a washer and a dryer. And a treehouse."

When we moved to Columbia in 1999 and embarked on a new life as a family in the New American City, it was, in many ways, a dream come true. We finally had that house (minus the treehouse, but, maybe someday...) and yet something was missing.

I had in my mind the now somewhat mythical neighborhoods of my youth. But my new home was a quadroplex amongst quadroplexes. No fireplaces, long driveways with garages out back, no architectural detail, no back staircase, or butler's pantry. No basement or attic.

It was a house with an upstairs and a downstairs and a washer and a dryer, but was it a Real House? In a Real Neighborhood? Was I holding up a standard from the past that my real life would never be able to attain?

As I drove to church on Christmas Eve, and later when I drove home from a party in Running Brook, I noticed how many people had put up Christmas lights this year. And not just on the detached houses--what I would have called "Real Houses" in the past. Within my own little neighborhood of Cinnamon Tree at Talbott Springs it seems there are more Christmas lights than ever.

Something about those lights spoke to me of how my little neighborhood and my little quadroplex have truly become my real home. Putting out Christmas lights is an act of faith somehow. "This is my place. I am shining my light for all to see."

Every so often the figure of Jim Rouse is invoked to prove a point or try to shape debate on a current issue. In most cases I deplore that sort of usage. I will say that the spirit of Columbia lives on in 2013 when someone like me, who grew up in old suburbs, all-white suburbs, can come to a new place, live in a very different sort of house, in a very different kind of neighborhood, amongst a wide variety of neighbors, and feel at home.

And that's what Columbia is all about, Charlie Brown.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013


This morning my little family consists of just three: parents and one teenaged daughter. It feels so tiny to me, having grown up in a family of five.Later today we will have my husband's parents over for Christmas dinner. We will see my older daughter and our son in law tomorrow for Boxing Day. I've spent too many holidays separated from Alice through the challenges of joint custody. Now that she is grown it isn't quite so heartbreaking, as she can make her own choices. It makes me happy to see her creating her own family and family traditions.

Far away in Indiana are my sisters. One sister has isolated herself from our family, and I haven't seen her in over thirteen years. The other sister and family are very dear to us, but we rarely get to see each other. Our reunion at Alice and George's wedding was a highlight of last year for us.

And by marriage is George's family in Pennsylvania, and my sister in law in England. While we have never spent a single holiday together, still we reach out over time and distance to connect and share Christmas joy. It is the essential message of Christmas--despite distance, love can leap across the miles through our shared connections.

Alice's grandmother, and her stepmother both were a part of Christmases past. Though I don't see them very often now, they people my memories of Baltimore Christmases, winter in Bolton Hill, high church Episcopal midnight Mass and stollen on Christmas morning.

My parents are both gone now, and my father in law from my first marriage, too, whose friendship persisted long after the marriage was over. My husband's brother is also gone, and his great aunt for whom Margaret is named. When the holidays come we think of those years past when "those whom we love, now absent from us" were there enjoying the celebration. We miss them.

Holidays make me think about my family. We're supposed to be with family for the holidays, at least the adverts tell us so. But while some of us are rather spread out, others of us, surrounded by relatives, wish we were farther apart. For me it is the former. I am a part of a family stretched thin: from Columbia to Baltimore to Pennsylvania to Indiana to England and Ireland and to the life everlasting. Or at least to Christmases everlasting, in my heart.

The tiny threads that hold us together are not broken. And maybe the holidays make them a bit stronger.




Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Day After

The day after Christmas some people think that it is over. They take down their decorations and haul their trees to the curb. There are dishes to wash and trash to take out. Some people have to go right back to work. Others are at the stores bright and early for the after-Christmas sales. Still others are returning gifts.

The day after a big community meeting some people think it is over, too. After the big turnout, where folks vent, criticize, argue against or support a cause, they go home. And for them, it is over. They may go away feeling like winners or losers, or without the answers they came for, but, on the day after, it's over. Isn't it?

The Community Meeting in Oakland Mills about the County's purchase of the Verona Apartments was November 19th. So on November 20th, some folks felt vindicated, others were angry, some disappointed and depressed. And others were just rolling up their sleeves and getting back to work.

The Village board continues to work on this issue and all things pertaining to quality of life in Oakland Mills. Stevens Forest resident Ian Kennedy, who earlier this Fall got the ball rolling on the idea of a CA Family Advisory Committee, made a proposal for a neighborhood investment fund which could benefit places like Oakland Mills and the challenges we face as an older Columbia Village. For them, it isn't over.

For our County Council Representative, Calvin Ball, I'm not sure it ever gets to be "over". Each day is an ongoing part of the process of something: listening and responding to constituents, crafting solutions, working to get them implemented, receiving feedback, responding to feedback...

You get the picture.

After the meeting on November 19th, Dr. Ball got to work drafting letters to:

Howard County Police Department

Howard County Public Schools

Howard County Economic Development Authority

Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning

Howard County Housing Commission

Each letter addressed specific concerns raised by residents at the meeting. Dr. Ball asked for prompt and ongoing partnership to address the issues. I checked back with him to see if he has received any responses and he said, "Yes. Many have responded or met with me and many are working with the Board on issues and the Master Plan."

This is what happens on the day after. When I left the Village Board I remember thinking that it felt at times as though issues moved through so fast that we didn't have enough time for follow-up. And now that I am not on the Board it can feel as though meetings come and go with no sense of what is coming next. But the follow-up is always there. Places to find it in Oakland Mills: The Board Newsletter from Chair Bill Gray; the Village Newsletter from our Village Manager Sandy Cederbaum; and the newsletter from Councilman Ball's Office. (And sometimes on this blog, and Bill Woodcock's The 53.)

Another sure-fire way to find the follow-up is to get involved to support the issues you care about the most. I still have Ian Kennedy's words in my head as he viewed the crowd at the November 19th meeting: imagine if all the people in this room were gathered here to use their powers for good.*

And so, on the day after Christmas,or the day after New Year's, you may still be celebrating, or you may be putting it all away and going back to everyday life. Then again, you may be taking stock of what came before and charting a new course forward. Wherever you may be, I wish you joy. I thank you for reading this blog, and I invite you to be an active part of your community in the year ahead.





Monday, December 23, 2013

The Call

This post has religious content--kind of.

I go to a small church. Yesterday, at the end of the service, as we sang the final hymn, I noticed some nonverbal communication going on. Someone in the choir looked at someone's mom, who looked at her teenaged son, who looked perplexed. Again, looks were exchanged, this time with a slight gesture to the processional cross. Light dawned on the young man's face, and he went up to the front of the church to "jump in" as the Crucifer for the closing procession.

This post is about the Call of the Cross--kind of.

Sometimes we have a plan. For instance, in our church there is a list for who will assist at each service, who will read the lessons, who will do the children's chat, who will bake the communion bread, even right down to who will clean the church and set up the room. And yet there are a few jobs, traditionally performed by young people, that we have found difficult to schedule. So we often ask for volunteers before the service begins. Sometimes we forget, or they forget...

This post is about God's Holy Church--kind of.

In any community we belong to, there will always be a balance between what is planned and what is not. There will be people who thrive on structure, and also those who delight in spontaneity. Answering the call is different for each of us. This Fall has been full of opportunities to participate and to serve: from Maryland politics, to Howard County budgets, to Columbia's future in Merriweather Park or how it meets the needs of families, to the Verona apartments in Oakland Mills or the future of the Second Chance Saloon.

This post is about gratutude--absolutely.

Whether you make a contribution to your community through serving in an official office, or by staying informed on local issues through reading, attending meetings, and talking to friends, you have made vital contributions this year. County employees, CA employees, Village Board members, PTA volunteers, self-educated neighbors and friends have all "answered the call" to support our community.

We may agree or disagree. We may have differing ways to respond to the challenges we face. What we share is the willingness to keep our eyes and ears open to when we might be needed to "jump in".



Friday, December 20, 2013

It's A Wonderful Chance

The world has endured far too many tv show remakes of Frank Capra's classic film, "It's a Wonderful Life". This time of year is awash with them. I hate to admit that I have never seen it. And yet my overall familiarity with the plot tempts me to suggest--what would Oakland Mills be like if there had never been a Second Chance Saloon?

I don't even want to imagine it.

The Second Chance, whose vitality reaches beyond our Village Center to draw in folks from Howard County and beyond, is having a George Bailey moment right now. Unlike the people of Bedford Falls, we don't have to rely on divine intervention to make things right. We have the opportunity to affect positive change. This is our chance.

Please join us Saturday night from 5:00 - 7:30 at the Community Rally to Keep Second Chance on the Map.
We can't "let Clarence do it." It's time for us to earn our own wings.




Thursday, December 19, 2013

Powerful Women

Last night I was following an event on Twitter and enjoying the banter between some very intelligent and witty local folks. Who happen to be men. I attempted to join in. I was ignored. Soon after, another woman responded and was dismissed as "whining." The conversation continued amongst the men. It was intelligent and witty. And it was clearly a conversation that they were having amongst themselves that they perceived was just for them, I guess. At a party it would be rude to cut in, but Twitter might not be the best place to hold a private conversation.

What do you think?

This is just a little thing, as tiny as the tiniest pebble in your shoe. But, as a self-professed miniaturist, it symbolized for me how much of our world still sees men at the heart of power. Their conversation is the conversation. I know, I know--a big leap. But I'm clearly on A Mighty Girl kick this week. And speaking of mighty girls:

A Throwback Thursday offering--Xena, Warrior Princess. Here you see a fourth-grade girl at the height of her confidence, before adolescence moves in and she begins to question and self-sabotage her powers. This is the age when you believe you are Xena. There are no limits. (And you believe that your mother, with negligible art and sewing skills, can make the costume from scratch. And she does.)

Howard County has some mighty and powerful women. My younger daughter is growing up seeing their contributions to our community, benefiting from their talents and example. And yet she will still have those experiences where she realizes she is not truly penetrating into the conversation, and that her voice is not being heard.

So for her and for all those women I admire so much, I am going to have a little fun and turn an earlier meme on its head.

Make your own. Put yourself in the picture. Choose the topic of the conversation. Be your own Super Hero.

Just make sure to keep an ear out for others who might want to join in.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What You Need to Know

Due to a migraine, I missed the community meeting at TSES last night about Blandair Park and Timesweep Lane. From what I can gather on Facebook, the entrance at Timesweep will be a pedestrian one, and the overall feeling of the community is positive about that. What I don't know is whether everyone felt moved to choose civility at the meeting, but I certainly hope so.

Tonight: County Executive Ken Ulman will hold his first Citizens’ Budget Hearing for the FY2015 budget cycle on Wednesday, December 18.(George Howard Building, 3430 Court House Drive, Banneker Room, Ellicott City / 7 pm)

This is yet another meeting I will not be attending, as it falls on the only day between now and December 25th when all members of my family are available to get a Christmas tree. I have been to this meeting in the past, in support of the Bridge Columbia project. Although I am not a big fan of meetings, this particular one can be fascinating. The tone is friendly and relaxed as different individuals or groups make a case for new or continued funding.

The reason you need to know about this meeting: Ian Kennedy, Oakland Mills (Stevens Forest) resident will be there proposing something new. I quote from a recent email:

I am asking that the County create a "neighborhood investment fund" that could be used to provide loans and grants to help address some of the challenges of our older neighborhoods, like modernizing our housing stock, fostering economic development in our retail centers, improving our community-owned facilities and spaces, and addressing the small, but not insignificant, disparities that reduce quality of life in older neighborhoods (like the fact that some schools can't provide even comparable enrichment activities—like field trips—as others). After an initial investment from the county, it could leverage private money or partnerships to broaden its reach and impact.

I think this is a fabulous idea. You can read Bill Woodcock's take on it here. I applaud Ian for looking at challenges that the older Columbia villages face, and jumping in to work on a solution. This investment fund could be of help not just in Columbia, but also in other communities in Howard County with similar problems. If you have time to go tonight, his presentation should be worth your time.

Lastly, in the #save2ndchance category--put this in your calendar: Saturday, December 21st, from 5-7:30pm, a Community Rally to support the Second Chance Saloon. From the press release:

The dining public also has a chance to voice their opinion. Customers, media, and local area business owners are welcome to attend Keep Second Chance on the Map on Saturday December 21, 2013 anytime from 5:00-7:30 pm at Second Chance Saloon. Local Marylanders will have the opportunity to show a national companywhat’s important to the Howard County community.

I will be there. My entire family will be there. And I am hoping to see you there, too.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Activists. Crusaders. It won't surprise you that everyone in my family has a cause. Right now my main focus is on #save2ndchance. Today I want to highlight the rest of my family.

Older daughter @hocohousehon helps keep the focus on issues surrounding mental illness and health care. (Although I would be remiss if I didn't put in a plug for her post last night which responds to the Baltimore Sun's despicable editorial about Columbia.)

My husband continues to work on creating music programs to reach #theother80, that is, the 80 percent of students in our schools who are not music performance driven, yet who still can benefit from music education.

Seventh-grader Margo has explored a variety of causes through the years. Disability awareness, the need for adequate recess time in schools, and the importance of arts education are a few of them. This year she has taken on new cause which has been educational to the whole family.

At one time it would have been called simply "Gay Rights", then evolved to LGBT Rights. But Margo corrects me to say "LGBTQ". And so I learn a little more. As she has grown up she has come to realize how many people in our lives, through family, our church, friends in the arts community, are affected by how our culture rejects or marginalizes them.

In October she went to the GT Resource Teacher at her school to suggest that the student-run television news feature information each day pertaining to LGBT History Month. Although the teacher was kind, her idea was rejected because the Howard County Schools official policy forbids discussion of this material at the Middle School level without prior parental consent. She was livid.

Through the ages so many groups have been excluded from or marginalized by the educational system. Racial and ethnic minorities, religious minorities, the cognitively and physically disabled. Don't forget that it wasn't all that long ago that being left-handed was considered a disability or worse. We have come so far, haven't we?

This morning as she got ready for school, she talked about a book she liked. "I can't review it for school though, because it has LGBT characters. You know," she finished, simply.

Yes. I do know. Middle school students who are growing into a fuller awareness of themselves can examine race, ethnicity, religion, disability and even left-handedness, I suppose, but something as basic as the gender identity they were born with may not be discussed. Who can possibly benefit from this?

This is a great disservice to our students. Gender identity is so central to who we are. It is not something that will be mailed to us in an envelope like a college acceptance letter, at a time when other people feel it would be appropriate. And, although much progress has been made, LGBT persons continue to experience marginalization and outright discrimination within our culture.

Learning more about who you are. Learning that you are not alone. Learning about others who are like you. And for the cisgendered (another new word for me) learning that everyone is acceptable and should be respected. Middle School is not too early to be learning this.

How will our students become college and career-ready when they need a permission slip merely to learn about who they are?


Monday, December 16, 2013

What You Can't See

Posted on the Facebook page for A Mighty Girl:

Astronaut Sally Ride on why role models matter: "Young girls need to see role models in whatever careers they may choose, just so they can picture themselves doing those jobs someday. You can’t be what you can’t see.”

The accompanying photo:


Yesterday Howard County blogger Bill Woodcock had a little fun with the notion of activist (dare I say crusader?) bloggers in our local community. Okay, maybe a lot of fun. I must admit ignorance of the Avengers universe, so the character match-ups were lost on me. But I love the game. Many a long car ride in my family has been spent casting certain groups of friends as the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Woods, or as characters from the Muppets.

What leapt out at me, as you might suspect from my opening quote, is the lack of women. I know there has been plenty written about the lack historically of powerful comic book women superheroes. That is certainly changing. I enjoyed this thread about creating an all-woman Justice League. And I came across this piece which asks why we aren't seeing major motion pictures based on these characters.

The trickle-down effect for local bloggers is that, if there aren't a lot of women in your chosen universe, then you won't be able to include a lot of women bloggers in your cast. Let me restate: I know that this blog post was for fun. No harm was meant in the assembling of this cast of characters.

But you can't be what you can't see. Sara Husain, formerly of Sarasays blog, addressed this issue head-on and took a lot of flack for it. I've had a few conversations, here and there, about how blogging in Howard County sometimes feels like a boys' club. Not many, really. We're a pretty friendly, well-balanced bunch.

And yet--yesterday I was inspired to imagine that perhaps the women of Howard County blogs need to create a league of their own. In the area of activitist bloggers, the following came to mind:

Sarasays, emeritus



Village Green/Town Squared



Honorary Member: Alice Giles, although she already has her own League.

This is by no means a comprehensive list. I read many more Howard County blogs by women than the ones listed above, but these were the ones that came to mind as ones where local advocacy is a recurring theme. Feel free to suggest others in the comments space. Again, I am doing this in the spirit of fun.

What universe do we choose? Which worlds will be our playgrounds, our domains to rescue and restore? Our daughters and our sons will look at the blogging community we have created and look for pictures of what they can be. Let's give them something dream-worthy.

If we want them to shoot for the stars, then so must we.





Sunday, December 15, 2013

Birth and Rebirth

There are certain stories one revisits many times. The birth of a child may top the list. So, if I have written about this before, forgive me. It won't be the last time...

Margo was my long-awaited child. Divorced in 1990, I spent many long years wondering if I would ever find the right person to love and to marry. I wondered if I would ever have another child. Then, as these things often happen, I had just about given up hope when love found me. I was married November 13, 1999. On November 15th, 2000 Margo was born.

She was a stranger. You know those old baby cards where the caption reads, "I hear a little stranger has come to visit at your house?" Well, that was Margo. She didn't look like anyone I knew. Her sister was born pale and creamy with a hint of pink, a wisp of blonde hair at the back. There was no doubt where she had come from.

But Margo was a stunning surprise. She had black, black hair. A lot of it. And her skin had a dark tone, suffused with a dusky red. And her eyes...they were almost purple. Dark, dark violet like star sapphires. My long awaited child. Who was she?

I share this story today because there are so many moments in life when we catch a glimpse of our children and see within them what they are to become.Yesterday as the members of Cantate (of the Peabody Children's Chorus) assembled on the stage of the Jim Rouse Theater, I had a moment of panic. Where was she? I scanned the group from one side to the other.

And then she materialized. She had been there all along, but I didn't see her because she was so "grown." It was her first concert with the oldest group, her first to wear the full concert dress of Cantate, and she stepped into her place with such confidence that I almost didn't recognize her.

And so I sat. And stared. I listened to the beautiful music, watched my daughter sing and respond to the conductor, watched her enjoy the music and live completely in the moment. And I saw a glimpse of the adult Margo. There in front of me was Margo the young woman. And she was no stranger. In the way she looked, and sang, and carried herself, I saw her older sister, and her father. I even saw a little bit of me. But most of all I saw the beauty of the person she is becoming.

There is no way to fully explain that moment when you see your child emerging into adulthood. If you are a mother, you know. It is as profound as the moment of their birth.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Gift that Keeps on Giving


This has been a week. Challenges abounded. I often take Saturdays off from blogging, but I felt the need to wrap things up: with some unwrapping.

When I was little I had a toy called Kitty in the Kegs. You'll see from the picture that it consisted of numerous plastic barrels which all nested one within the other. The smallest held a tiny cat. Only when I got older did I discover Matryoshka dolls which are pretty much the same thing, only they come in a wider variety of personae.

This week was an exercise in understanding and accessing the many-nesting components of my community. Let's look at the photo of Matryoshka dolls from Wikipedia.

As they are already conveniently opened up, let's start from the smallest and work our way up. The smallest doll represents My House. This is where I have domain over issues such as who empties the trash, who makes coffee in the morning, and when we are going to decorate the house for Christmas.

Moving one level up is my Home Owners Association: Cinnamon Tree at Talbott Springs. We have a resident board. I contacted our president Michael Knott when the State Highway Administration turned up earlier in the week. The next doll represents Howard Property Management, the firm hired by the HOA to collect Association fees and carry out the decisions such as parking lot repairs, snow shoveling, grass cutting, leaf raking, and much more.

Now we begin to reach the village level. I am going to dedicate the fourth doll to the Village RAC, because the first contact many people have with the Village is needing RAC approval. There are residents who deal with RAC issues and yet never learn any more about the Village. Sad, but true. This week our HOA president turned to our Covenant Advisor Deb Bach (who works with the RAC) on the SHA issue.

Next row: the Oakland Mills Community Association. This is where you will find information about OM issues, activities, and elections. Village Manager Sandy Cederbaum works with the community-elected Village Board to plan activities, communicate with residents, resolve disputes, support local schools. When Second Chance co-owner Wendy Binder reached out to me this week about lease issues with Cedar properties, I immediately suggested she contact Sandy, and Bill Gray, chair of the Village Board. They have already been incredibly helpful.

While we all care about the Village Center, we don't own it. In fact, the land is owned by a variety of owners. For the sake of this exercise, our next doll will be Cedar Properties. They own a majority of the retail space, though not all. Residents who want to see The Second Chance Saloon continue its successful business in Oakland Mills need to express that opinion to Cedar Properties.

Moving up: the Columbia Association. Heads up: "the Columbia Association (CA) is a 501(c)(4) non-profit service corporation that manages Columbia, MD., a master planned community..." This means CA is not a government entity. You may laugh, but it isn't all that clear to many. After all, we do have elections...

In the Oakland Mills Village Center they own The Barn (Youth and Teen Center), The Other Barn (Village management and events), and the Ice Skating Rink. It is to the Columbia Association that you pay your assessment fee each year. Go here to get a better view of what that covers. Open Space, tot lots, and a variety of activities and amenities, so many that I am afraid of leaving something out. Within the monies that you pay to CA is a portion which they are authorized by prior agreement to collect on behalf of your Village--in my case, Oakland Mills, to support individual village programs.

Whew! Where are we? Oh, yes. Howard County Schools. If you have kids, the schools are very likely your first experience with Howard County. School requirements, activities, issues about weather closings, school lunches--all fall under hcpss.

Next size in the chain is Howard County government. Here you have everything pertaining to Howard County, including Columbia. (See how nicely Columbia nests inside?)

Street sign down? Road needs to be plowed? Howard County. Decisions about facilities managed by Howard County Recreation and Parks? Howard County. In the case of what sort of an entrance residents want on Timesweep for Blaindair Regional Park, the county will be holding a public meeting at Talbott Springs Elementary School on Tuesday, December 17th, at 7:00 pm. And don't forget to come out to participate in upcoming budget hearings.

If you have never been to a County Council meeting, you should, and get to know your own council member. I have worked with mine,Calvin Ball, on numerous issues. Not everything in life is easily resolved, but I am always grateful for our elected officials and staff in HoCoMD. It was awesome to see the County Executive and team share our spirit of pride and fun on Thursday during #morethangateway-gate.

So there you have it:



Residential property management

RAC/Covenant Advisor


Cedar Properties/Commercial property management

Columbia Association

Howard County Public Schools

Howard County Government

And all in one convenient carrying case! If you still have locals on your gift list, I'd say this is one thing everyone needs. In fact, I needed every bit of this in one week alone.


Friday, December 13, 2013

The Second Chance Needs You

Last Friday morning I was writing a piece to celebrate five years at the Second Chance Saloon, while, at the same time, Cedar Properties in Port Washington, New York, was notifying the Second Chance that they would not be renewing their lease.

Okay, I do not know the exact timing here, but it is pretty darn close. Too close for comfort.

I wrote recently about Facebook being a virtual Third Place. For many of us, the Second Chance is our Third Place. We meet friends there before the school meeting, or after the concert at the Other Barn. A group of moms who practice conscious parenting get together here. So do members of the Oakland Mills Village Board, and supporters of the plan for Bridge Columbia.

Bloggers from all over Howard County converge to chat, eat delicious pub food and refreshing drinks, served by Second Chance's upbeat staff. Friendly, knowledgable, and energetic--if you've met them more than once or twice they know you.

I do not know how a commercial real estate management group in Port Washington, New York, could gauge the value of such a place. How often do they visit? How do they measure success? If it is only numbers on paper, it's not enough. The Second Chance has built up this venue during a recession, in an older Columbia Village which has taken a lot of abuse as an undesirable location.

They--Wendy and Declan and everyone--have proven that Oakland Mills is not an undesirable location. They keep at it day after day, week after week, football game after karaoke nght after trivia night after private party after ordinary family dinner. They bring in folks from the neighborhood and beyond for food, drinks, music, companionship, and fun.

What do we stand for in Columbia, in 2013? Is there still room for the mom and pop privately owned business? We sigh and shrug when Don Pablo's goes, or Chicken Out, but what about the life and times of a local homegrown business whose only desire is to make good in Oakland Mills? Does our future hold nothing but chain restaurants whose coming and goings are dictated purely by numbers?

You may remember golden days of Columbia that were before my time. Or you may be looking ahead to a future Columbia I haven't even imagined yet. Either way, The Second Chance Saloon belongs smack in the middle of what we all believe in. And it won't be there unless we do something about it.

Please read this, from Bill Gray of the Oakland Mills Village Board. And then write to Cedar Properties. And sign the Change.org petition started by Ookland Mills resident Lisa Kehle.

Perhaps Cedar Properties, like Julia Louis-Dreyfus, need a taste of how #AwesomeColumbia really is. Let's give them the best we've got.

Let's #save2ndchance!


Thursday, December 12, 2013


I suspect that actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus should be Googling "How to be a good guest" right...about...now. It seems that it may be a role she hasn't yet perfected. I woke up to some startling quotes in this article, shared by friends on Facebook.

A sampling -- "Thank God the work’s good,” says Louis-Dreyfus, dressed in Selina’s chocolate-brown trench and stilettos. “Can you imagine if it wasn’t? It would be like a prison.”

Of course, to us, Columbia is a place unlike any other. We have our own wacky brand of exceptionalism. And we also feel free to poke at the dark side of that, whether out of frustration or a desire for progress. But that is not the issue here. The issue is, as Pixel Workshop and HoCoMoJo owner Ilana Bitner put it this morning, that "...publicly disparaging your host city seems bad form, disrespectful, and a little mean-spirited."

The reponse from my friends is the one you'd expect from a good host. Come back to Columbia, Ms. Louis-Dreyfus. Let us show you a good time. They're posting photographs of favorite places in Columbia. Here is one of mine:

You will recognize Lake Kittamaqundi as evening begins. A late Spring or Summer view, as evidenced by the paddle boats. Taken as I left dinner at Clyde's, it speaks to me of the beauty that is Columbia.

So, let's have a do-over, Ms. Louis-Dreyfus. Everyone deserves a second chance. But this time, before you come, read this:

"One begins by demanding nothing more than the bare elements of life and dignity, which every host is more than delighted to exceed. The good guest then simply allows the other person to be a good host—to share his gifts, to play her music, to tell his stories, to show her places, and to serve his foods. Finally, a guest should cultivate and express genuine gratitude. It need not be effusive or exorbitant, only sincere." Jeffrey Lockwood, from The Fine Art of the Good Guest.

Look for the hashtag #morethangateway on Facebook and Twitter for more photographic love for our town. Add some of your own.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Road Rage?

Yesterday my neighbor posted the following on Facebook:

SHA ( State Highway Admin) has set up an office in one of the town homes in my neighborhood. How do I know? Because they inconveniently put a sign up in my yard showing where the office is located. So I (inconveniently) moved it since no one knocked at my door to ask. I moved their sign to a more appropriate location by the mail box where it's more visible from the road but I have no clue WHY they are set up in a residential location!

I responded:

That is against the rules of our HOA and the OMCA RAC. I am puzzled.

She then posted a photo:


Later on:

I just spoke with the GENTLEMEN that put the sign up in my yard. He says that they got the house through a Realtor's office & they WILL be operating out of this RESIDENTIAL location. He also asked who moved the sign to which I told him I did & it would have been neighborly if he had asked prior to putting it up.

Hmm...Oakland Mills and, for that matter, Columbia as a whole, has strict rules about what is permissible in a residential area. So does my HOA, Cinnamon Tree at Talbott Springs. Another neighbor, a veteran of multiple stints overseas in the Middle East, was cited for storing his motorcycle directly in front of his house--even though the front of his house faces backward and isn't visible to the street!

We run a tight ship over here. So: the State Highway Administration?

I turned to Twitter:

@macsmom: Why has @MDSHA put a business office in residential neighborhood #OaklandMills? HOA rules forbid this. Perplexed.http://t.co/LzLZeBFk4G

@MDSHA: @macsmom acknowledging your tweet. Looking Into the situation. Will get back to you- likely tomorrow. Thank you. -jp

@macsmom: @MDSHA Thank you so much for your prompt response. Really appreciate it.

I have notified the president of my HOA, and the OMCA staff member in charge of RAC decisions. At this point, I am perplexed. My neighbor, understandably, is upset. She now lives directly next door to the State Highway Administration. So, we'll see what happens today. In the meantime, I thought this comment from a Facebook friend was pretty funny:

They can put it next door to me, IF it means my road gets cleared faster this winter.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Now that you're snowed in, let's talk about cookies. Let's bake cookies. Let's get out the cookbooks or go to Pinterest and choose recipes. Let's reminisce about the wonderful cookies of childhood. Even if people can't agree on whether to say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, they can agree on cookies.

They almost ought to have their own holiday.

Well, they do. The Oakland Mills Cookie Swaptacular is this Sunday at the Other Barn in the Oakland Mills Village Center. They have their own Facebook Group, and and event page where you can learn more and RSVP for the event.

Yes, with the supreme guidance of Oakland Mills resident Mary Kate Murray and her amazing Cookie Chicks, we have been celebrating cookies for eight years now, and the event gets better every year. We are so lucky to be able to have the event in the beautiful upstairs space at the Other Barn. It is a beautiful space, with plenty of room for Swappers to socialize, taste cookies, navigate the vast array of cookie offerings...

And then there's Santa. Yes, the Swaptacular is a kid-friendly event, probably because kids and cookies are a natural combination. Your child can visit with Santa and you can snap a picture and even eavesdrop if you need some ideas for presents...Then there's a craft table for the kiddos, and plenty of holiday music and wide open spaces for dancing. Yes, kids know that if you have the music and the space, it's an invitation to dance. We should all feel that free!

I digress. Back to the Swap:

You bring six dozen of one kind of cookie, in a container, to put on the Swap Table. Bring another container for gathering your cookies to take home. (You'll take a few of your cookies to cut up for the tasting table when you come in.) You will go home with an amazing variety of cookies. It's that simple.

Oh, and there are door prizes. And, if you post your recipe in advance on the Group page, you will be entered in a drawing to win a $25.00 gift certificate to Oakland Mills' own Second Chance Saloon. This is an event where you will see a lot of smiles, and notice that worries have been left at the doorstep. Time slows down for a little while. It gives you that sense of community that makes Columbia awesome.

Sunday, December 15th, from 3 - 5 pm. Please join us.

Monday, December 9, 2013

An Opening Emerges

Over the past several days I have learned quite a bit from reading the comments section for my own blog. This means a lot to me, because one of the things I treasured so much about Tales of Two Cities was the conversations it started amongst its readers. Granted, the conversation I started about an entrance to Blandair Park started out on rather rocky footing, but it has been evolving.
When I attended a meeting about Blandair, hosted by the Oakland Mills Village Board in the Spring, residents expressed opposition (loudly) to any entrance to the park at Timesweep. They had a long list of reasons why neither kind of entrance was acceptable. I got the feeling that there was deep-seated suspicion that, as long as any sort of entrance remained, it could be used to wreak havoc and destruction on their neighborhood.
And yet, both Jon and Melissa have taken me to task for ignoring the plain fact that there is a pedestrian entrance to Blandair Park right now, and that it works just fine. I can't express how happy this makes me. However, I must respectfully disagree. We do not have a pedestrian entrance to Blandair Park at Timesweep. We have a decision waiting to happen. What we have is in a state of limbo. If we had an official pedestrian entrance, it would look like this:

That is to say, it would have professional landscaping, official trash receptacles that get emptied regularly, adequate lighting, and regular supervision by Park Rangers. But, this is what we do have:
The reason it looks like this is that the neighborhoods involved refused to come to any decision about this space, due to anger and mistrust. So, the County said, let's allow this sit for awhile and come back to it. The decision will be made at a future time in conjunction with the neighborhoods.
Well, the future is now. This is no trick, no plot, no conspiracy. It has always been on the books to come back to this issue and come to a resolution. Don't believe me? Read the documents on the Howard County website. If, as I am sensing from Jon and Melissa's comments, the existence of a pedestrian entrance has become more acceptable over time, then that is the solution that a democratic majority will choose.
It is true that I think either solution could work well, if done right. But, I believe that based on a trust that it could be done right. What I continue to hear from some Emerson Hill residents is a lack of trust, which makes it impossible for them to work collaboratively in this process. It is hard to move forward when you are angry. I get that.
So come to the meeting. State clearly what you are for. What do you support? What would you be willing to defend to your neighbors and friends? What will you be happy about in the future? Let this meeting be different than the last one in that we find we can work together on a solution we can be proud of. We all have things that make us angry. Now let's go a step further and tap into what we share and make things work for the good.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Five Years


Five years ago, I stopped dipping my toe into the shallow waters of social media and jumped all the way in. After learning that The Second Chance Saloon would be opening in the space previously inhabited by Fire Rock and Last Chance, I decided I needed to do whatever I could to make sure their opening night was a success. So I created a Facebook group to publicize the event.

It was a great night. I don't know how much difference my small effort made, but it changed my perception of what social media could do. And it reinforced to me that, if we wanted a successful bar-restaurant-hangout in Oakland Mills, we had to support it. How many times in recent years have we heard that a local restaurant was closing and thought, "ohhhhh! I wish I had known! I wish I could have done something to help." Sound familiar?

During the depths of the recession, owner Wendy Binder shared concerns with the Village Board about growing and maintaining a consistent customer base. That's when I decided to create "A Little Lunch Music" (http://columbia.patch.com/groups/julia-mccreadys-blog/p/bp--village-greentown-squared-3) in an effort to bring young families in for Saturday lunch. Out of the same conversation came an informal board commitment to have dinner at The Second Chance before Tuesday board meetings--half price burger night, a bonus.

In the past five years, The Second Chance has been there for many events large and small for my family and friends: birthdays, date nights, Ladies' Nights and Swaps, Vendor/Crafter Shopping Events, parties for Howard County bloggers. Councilman Calvin Ball held a political event there. And let's not forget Beer Club.

It served as a second home for my nephew Chris, who lived with us while doing a college internship. Hungry for the companionship of people his own age, he went down and hung out at the bar with friendly bartender Kevin. Speaking of friendly bartenders, Second Chance has given Oakland Mills resident and Howard County teacher Brian Donoughe the opportunity to tend bar for the Help A Child Fund charity. In fact, they support a variety of charities. Have you donated a toy to Toys for Tots yet?

I've enjoyed music by local friends including Jim Alvey, the McCready/Denhard duo, and neighbor Christina Henderson. I've had dinner as "a woman alone", with my ipad for company, and been treated like visiting royalty. One such night I convinced Howard County blogger HowChow to come down and enjoy outdoor seating and some wings. I've even had brunch on the cactus patio with friends and their dogs!

The Second Chance is more than a commercial venture to me. They helped me host my daughter's bridal shower. They cheered me on when I had dinner before the Oakland Mills Candidate night, and they brought me my usual Dogfish and a pat on the back when I lost.

Recently Oakland Mills resident Ian Kennedy looked at a crowd of people assembled in the Other Barn and wondered aloud, "What would happen if we could channel all this energy for good?" Today, we celebrate five years of a place which is both completely committed to the village of Oakland Mills and continues to draw people in from surrounding areas. The Second Chance Saloon is a bright spot where a lot of good energy is being channelled to keep our Village Center alive and kicking.

Many thanks to Wendy, Declan, Lauren, Jacquie, Christy, Ebony, Kevin, Franny, and all whose names I do not know or have forgotten. Thanks to all who support this business and make it the cool place it is through their patronage. If you can't make it tonight, that's okay. They'll be open tomorrow.

Let's keep it that way.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

An Apple, and More

When I was little (here we go again) there were two appropriate gifts for teachers: stationery, and handkerchieves. Of course I am talking about a ladies handkerchief: floral, feminine, that folded into a square. The kind of implement one's mother reached for, licked absentmindedly, and used to wipe some smudge off of your face.

By the time I was a teacher, there were more possibilities: bubble bath, lotion, candles, chocolate, teacher-themed items, even gift cards. But at Christmas it was likely that I would receive something holiday-themed that my student had picked out. This is how The Christmas Village began.

Preschool children have their own unique methods of gift-choosing. I received ornaments and decorations in varied styles, sizes, and weights. In those days we often had a small, table-top tree. A lot of these items were too large or heavy to use. So Alice and I used our imaginations and turned them into a Christmas village.

Through the years, as new idiosyncratic pieces arrived, we would add them to the collection. A few things have broken, or disappeared in packing and moving, but other amazing things have taken their place. Alice is grown, and now Margo helps me unwrap each piece and she chooses the arrangement of each year's Village. What you see above is this year's incarnation. Here is last year's:

A close-up reveals that residents are gathered for a Village Board Meeting.


I kid you not. As I recall, residents were concerned about the height of the Christmas tree blocking their view of something. I think we we seeing Santa getting an earful from disgruntled neighbors.

From student to teacher, from child to parent, from ornament to village, the years have unfolded with many gifts. The gift of play continues to be the greatest of them all.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013


I noticed this hashtag making the rounds on Twitter last night:


I decided that I am ready to confess mine.

Remember this? I wrote over a year ago about a place near my house, a little no-man's land at the stub end of Timesweep Lane where Blandair Park begins. Well, it's time to talk about it again.

Community Meeting To Discuss Timesweep Lane and Blandair Park Phase III

Upcoming Meeting: Tuesday, December 17, 7:00 p.m. Talbott Springs Elementary School

Councilman Calvin Ball in collaboration with Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks will be hosting a Community Meeting to discuss Timesweep Lane and Blandair Park Phase III. As many may recall, the phasing plan for Blandair Park states that HC Dept. of Rec. and Parks shall reach a resolution on public vehicular access via Timesweep Lane as part of Phase III. Specifically, it requires the residents of Cinnamon Tree and Emerson Hill communities to be engaged and consulted in this matter.(For those not familiar with Timesweep Lane it is located off of Thunder Hill Road, just prior to Whiteacre Road in Talbott Springs and provides access to both the Emerson Hill and Cinnamon Tree Talbott Springs communities.)Community involvement is extremely important in this process. The county looks forward to having an open dialog with residents and welcomes comments so that Blandair can continue to be a valued community amenity.If you have questions and/or would like to r.s.v.p. to this meeting please contact Councilman Ball at cbball@howardcountymd.gov or you may email Councilman Ball's Special Assistant Kim Pruim at kpruim@howardcountymd.gov or call 410-313-2001.

I am a resident of Cinnamon Tree, and I have watched this park, and this situation, develop over the years. And I support an entrance to the park at Timesweep. Here's why:

Maintenance--the end of Timesweep has always been a little sketchy and bedraggled. As an entrance to the park it would be cared for regularly by the County.

Safety--an entrance to the park means more eyes on that entrance. The Park security will need to take on the safety of that space in its overall responsibilities.

Connection--I want the people who use the park to see how easy it is to pop over to the Village Center for a meal at one of our restaurants, or to pick up groceries on the way home. An entrance there means more economic support for Village Center merchants.

Access--we have a beautiful County park right in our backyard. Shouldn't neighborhood residents have a safe, beautifully maintained point of access to enjoy this amenity?

I repeat, I support an entrance to the park at Timesweep. However, I may be the only one. There are some highly vocal and well-organized folks against it. I think they are wrong. I think if we oppose it we are shooting ourselves in the foot here.

Well, that's my unpopular opinion for today. What's yours?