Monday, July 31, 2017

My Summer of Love

Let it be known that, in the 50th anniversary season of its opening, I finally fell in love with Merriweather.

I don't exactly know why it took so long, but, there it is. I suspect I stayed away because I'm not keen on crowds or summer heat. And for a long time our family budget didn't allow for extra expenditures during the summer.

The weather gods have blessed me this year, smiling on both the Paul Simon concert and last night's performance by Belle and Sebastian. For this I am grateful. There's no question that milder temps and lower humidity have contributed to my growing appreciation of the venue. As much as I love music, I hate Maryland summers more, so it's a difficult balance.

Last night my husband and I were surprised by a friend with two passes to the new VIP lounge/area (not sure what it's called). It's a really lovely respite from all the hustle and bustle plus the bathroom lines are way shorter. Everywhere we went last night when it was necessary to show tickets or wristbands or ID the employees were friendly and courteous. Not a dud in the lot.

Despite my reticence to actually turn up at events, I've pretty much always been a fan of the concept of Merriweather since I moved to Columbia in 1999. Hearing music drift over on the summer breeze was an added plus of living in Oakland Mills. I remember being stunned when I ran for CA Rep and an angry voter shouted at me, "You didn't support putting a bubble over Merriweather!" And I thought, "was this even an issue?"

I took a car full of teens to this week's showing of Moana at Merriweather. That late afternoon sun on the lawn was somewhat of a challenge to my enthusiasm, but a cold drink got me through. The Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission is hoping to grow a new generation of Merriweather fans through these family movie nights. I think it's a great idea.

But how about some children's programming? Where's Laurie Berkner, Dan Zanes, Milkshake? That would be a great way to grow an audience, too. If Merriweather can't do it perhaps the Chryalis will fill that need. I think we have plenty of kids/parents in the area who would turn up for events like that. Don't you?

Speaking of the Chrysalis, I'm working on something new and different over there that I'm very excited about. More details soon.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Wrong Side

Of the bed, that is.

For some reason today has begun as the kind of day when I would like more sleep and more coffee and a complete do-over. There's no particular reason. The sky is clear and beautiful. I can hear birds singing outside. I had what one might think is a reasonable night's sleep.

But my thoughts are all a-jumble. There's nothing emerging in my brain as the topic of today's post. Of course there ar lots of dribs and drabs floating around competing with one another. A sampling:

The Howard County Food Bank needs your donations of food and/or $ .
The Horizon Foundation has kicked off the Changemaker Challenge.
You can support How Girls Code tomorrow evening by dining in or out at Tino's.
Sign up to attend the next HoCo Blogs Party, August 21st at Bare Bones Grill and Brewery.

And, on a non-local note, a recommended read: On Paralysis and Perfection, by Jennie Barrett.

See you tomorrow when I will (most likely) get out of the right side of the bed.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Weather Report

It rained most of the day yesterday, and into the night.

Local concerns were not so much about canceled plans or muddy feet tracking a wet mess into the house.

Is Ellicott City okay?

Does anybody know?

How are things on Main Street?

One year ago: the deluge. Terrifying destruction and loss of life. A life-changing struggle to bring a city back.

This morning the skies are clear over Old Ellicott City and people are gathered to remember.

(Photo by Tom Coale)

The recovery in Old Ellicott City is remarkable. But it isn't over. One of the best ways you can help this weekend is to stop by and visit. Come out to one of the events marking the anniversary of the flood. Or just come on over to shop, have a meal, say thanks to local merchants for hanging in there. 

The weather forecast for Ellicott City today is for relatively mild temperatures, cloudy with a chance of light rain. Don't let a few raindrops keep you away.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The New Market

Have  you been to the newest of the Howard County Farmers Markets? It's on Thursday afternoons at Clarksville Commons. As loyal as I am to the Oakland Mills Market, I just had to make the trek to Clarksville yesterday when I that they were adding live music to the mix.

My family and I really went for the music, truth be told, but what can you expect in a family of musicians? We're fans of the band, Dog Park All-Stars, a local duo consisting of Mickey Gomez and  Aaron Barnett. (I hear there was a little audience participation after we left.) If you want to hear them and visit the new market, you're in luck. They'll be back August 17th.

Actually, we may need to go back, too, because we were so focused on the music that we didn't do the local vendors justice. My daughter and I enjoyed our first ice cream from Scoop and Paddle. I had Chocolate Covered Strawberry. The flavor and texture (mouth-feel?) were wonderful, but overall it was a bit too sweet for my taste. Maybe we'll try again in August and compare notes.

While we were there we tried out YouPizza, one of the new businesses at Clarksville Commons. It's another addition to the very-fast, pick your own toppings pizza experience. (Think Mod Pizza and Pie5.) The customer service was excellent and the pizza was tasty. My husband was able to eat all of his pizza in one go but I suspect this is because he hadn't had any lunch. My daughter and I both had pizza left over to take home. As we were leaving, lots of folks were streaming in. It looks to be off to a successful start.

One thing, though. Can someone explain these bathroom doors to me?

Actually, don't. I'm pretty sure I know what they mean and it's stupid and unnecessary. With all the problems we have in our society right now around rest rooms, this is not even remotely amusing. This pizza is fine. You can get similar pizza elsewhere in town without being insulted by the restroom. Just a thought.

In summary: we'll be back to the market, and next time we'll come prepared to really shop. As to YouPizza? Not so sure on that.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Public and Private

I'm back from my family's annual trip to the beach. For the past three years we have stayed at a deliciously retro-feeling place in Lewes called the Beacon Motel. It's not fancy, but it's clean and comfortable and affordable. There's no work-out room or free breakfast and the internet is periodically rather thin. But the service is excellent and all the staff are warm and friendly. We'll probably be back next year.

There seem to be two schools on acknowledging vacations on social media. Some folks are right out there in the open, posting as they go. Some, like us, are a bit wary of advertising that they are away from home. By and large I save my photos and travel anecdotes for when I get back. There's no right or wrong way, I guess. It's just what we prefer. And we can all choose what to make public or keep private.

While we were enjoying a day of noodling around Rehoboth Avenue, I realized I was going to need to find a bathroom. And, if you have been to Rehoboth, you know that means finding your way to the public facilities down by the boardwalk. As I made my way down the street I thought about how crucial it is to have public restrooms. How many of us would leave the house for more than brief trips if we were not assured of a place to "go" if we needed it?

Imagine if using the toilet were not considered a normal bodily function that our society took into account. How would your life be different if all eyes were on you if you needed a restroom, if it were the subject of punitive laws and very public debate?

As we see various "Bathroom Bills" come up throughout the U.S., I think it's important to realize this is not some intellectual political concept.

Isolating transgender citizens as a class and restricting their rights to use bathrooms is both ignorant and crippling. I read somewhere that it's a way of attempting to erase transgender people from existing in the public sphere. I agree. Just how far would I get in life if the only place I could use a bathroom was in the privacy of my own home?

Shopping? Work? School? Vacation?

How could I risk it? I have no idea how I would live under those circumstances.

Do you?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Charm

I'm running this post for the third time, on the anniversary of its original appearance, for a reason. In many ways it tells the story of the last several years and what went wrong in our school system. In particular, this paragraph:

Once you lose the moral high ground in your community, you lose the authority to make significant decisions that require compliance. You lose the authority to command large sums of money from the County without oversight in your operations. You lose your status as the place parents want to send their children.

We now know that the story of mold in our schools isn't just about Glenwood. Other schools have significant mold issues and teachers, staff, and students have been affected. The only thing that thrived by keeping this story in the dark was the mold.

Quite a bit has changed since the last time I ran this piece. The school board has changed, the superintendent has changed, and with that has come a reorganization of Central Office staff. The school system is looking to hire an Industrial Hygienist. I most certainly hope their top priority is to find someone has possesses the necessary professional certification (and a proven track record) to deal with mold issues.


In the Dark (July 26, 2016) refers to Mold and Truthiness (July 25, 2015)

Mold grows in unseen places: behind, beneath, between. Under, above, maybe just out of reach. It thrives in darkness.

Mold is on my mind this morning because yesterday was the one-year anniversary of my first post about the mold problem at Glenwood Middle School. In "Mold and Truthiness" I outlined the loss of trust with the Glenwood School community because of the school system's failure to communicate promptly and thoroughly about mold in the school.

A parent was quoted in the HoCo Times:

"As a community, we need to demand confirmation of mold remediation and INDEPENDENT indoor air quality testing of all rooms and inspection of walls and ceilings for presence of mold--This should occur FOLLOWING the completion of the HVAC upgrades, BEFORE the start of the school year," read a post about the email July 22. "We cannot allow our teachers and students into a building without knowing that it is a safe environment."

There was a brief moment where the school system seemed to be saying that they "got" the message. It was in November, four months after this parent's impassioned statement. Frank Eastham was quoted in the HoCo Times from a meeting with the community:

"We were trying to identify the source of the problem before we communicated what the issue was, so that we would know if we had a solution to the issue," Frank Eastham said after a parent asked why the school system decided not to communicate with parents about mold growth at Glenwood Middle School immediately after it was discovered. "In the future, we will be more transparent in order to continue to build trust in the community."

The title of the article: School officials say 'lesson learned' about transparency.

Unfortunately, the level of transparency around issues of mold after this meeting did little to build trust with the community. Talking the talk was not followed by walking the walk. Mold continued to be an issue at Glenwood. The school is undergoing multi-million dollar renovations to address this, even though the community was told long ago that all mold had been completely "remediated" and their were no health risks whatsoever.


It should be no surprise to anyone that community concerns led to activism at the local and state level. The County Executive and the County Council took action to look at the issue of mold in all our schools. The State Legislature responded to issues of transparency and accountability brought to them by parents and members of the Howard County Delegation.

Mold continues to be discovered in other schools around the county and communication with parents has been sketchy at best. We have toxic learning environments for teachers, staff, and students, and still the greater focus seems to be on keeping the community in the dark. "Lesson learned"? I don't think so. 

As I re-read last year's post, this paragraph jumped out at me:

Once you lose the moral high ground in your community, you lose the authority to make significant decisions that require compliance. You lose the authority to command large sums of money from the County without oversight in your operations. You lose your status as the place parents want to send their children.

It reads now as an almost creepy prediction of the year that followed. 

Mold and malfeasance thrive in the dark. Healthy communities do not. If you are looking for a place to find the most up-to-date findings about mold in our schools, it won't be from the school system. It will be on a school parent's Facebook page. Will this be the same a year from now?

That depends on you.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017


Things we rely on: clean water, electricity, shelter, enough to eat, reliable internet...They may seem like "the norm" to many of us but none are guaranteed. In fact they are blessings that many in this world do not have. This morning I was dealing with wonky internet that wouldn't allow me to get a post through and it made me think about how I take using the internet for granted.

The tornado touching down in Kent Island has rocked that community and shows us how fast all these "normal things" can be stripped away. Articles about last year's flooding in Ellicott City bring back memories of residents and businesses that lost everything. Punishing heat, nothing but destruction to return to.

Long after the events of those days there are people whose lives will never be the same.

We are living in a time when the very foundation of our nation is being ripped away, not by catastrophic meteorological events, but by those who care most about themselves while cultivating fear of others to a fine point. A weaponized point. There is no more common good. There is no more innate respect of fellow citizens.

I get mine.

You are not my problem.

As much as I feared the powerlessness of the loss of Internet this morning, I fear living in this new world far more. A world without empathy and respect is a world where we have lost everything that is worth having. Our country is nothing if we cannot hope in each other and come to decisions that include the well-being of those different than ourselves.

These are painful and frightening times. I do not know the way back. Or the way forward.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Lima Beans

Jenny's Market posted a large photo of Lima beans on Facebook this weekend and it reminded me of a song I once heard on WTMD in Towson. I wish I could find it for you. It went like this:

Whenever I find money in my jeans,
I always buy some Lima bean.

And I laughed when I heard it and thought, "Ugh. Really?"

Lima beans and Brussels sprouts were the two vegetables I hated the most as a child. You know, the sort of food you would sit at the dinner table until eight o'clock and still refuse to eat. (Yes, my mother tried that. No, it doesn't work.)

Both are foods to which I was reintroduced years later, fresh from the farm, and it made a world of difference. Limas beans as a side dish at a back yard cookout in Southern Maryland. Picked, cooked, eaten.within hours. A bit of butter. Surprisingly edible. The Brussels sprouts from a farm stand outside of Princeton, New Jersey. They were young and tender and we cooked them lightly and marinated them in a homemade vinaigrette for a summer salad. Delicious.

AnnieRie's most recent blog post reminded me that this is the time for the Maryland Buy Local Challenge. While I do shop the Oakland Mills Farmers Market regularly, I haven't ever been to Jenny's, and I should. It's a Howard County institution, and it would get me out of my Oakland Mills bubble to try something new.

Still not entirely sure about the Lima beans, though.

What are some ways that you will be buying local this year?

Comments are welcome here:

Sunday, July 23, 2017

They Came from Outer Space

No, they didn't. But they may have come from out of town.

Last night was the debut of the Chrysalis as a commercial venue, with a concert by Leftover Salmon and Greensky Bluegrass. No, I wasn't there. These are all fan photos gleaned from Twitter.

In order for the Chrysalis to thrive as a venue, it must strike just the right balance between free local events such as the Columbia Orchestra Pops Concert and events like this one, with paying customers. The positive comments I read from fans last night told a story of excitement about how cool this structure is, and the thrill of being present at the beginning of things.

I think it's important to remember that Merriweather Park in Symphony Woods, while first and foremost a community gathering place for Columbia/Howard County, is also meant to be a regional player in drawing people from other places. If you've ever driven out of your way to see a concert, a play, or attend a festival, you know what I mean.

Playing host to people from out of town is certainly something that Merriweather has been doing for quite some time. In this era where everyone has GPS on their phone and most stores have websites that will help you locate them, it should be pretty easy for our out of town guests to find a place to get that needed sunscreen or a restaurant for a quick bite to eat pre-concert.

But since so much of Columbia is off the beaten path, how do we encourage visitors to best enjoy their time here? How do we make such a good impression that they'll want to come again? Aside from the fact that it's just a good thing to want to encourage people to have a good time in Columbia, there's also the economic motivation of the money that these folks will spend supporting local businesses.

In addition, the success of Downtown Development hinges on connecting the Columbia Experience with people who want to be a part of it. They may not know that yet. So, every time they visit, we had better be ready to put our best foot forward. The Rouse Company had the Visitor Center. Now that Columbia is less of a plan on a drawing board and more of a reality, we are the Visitor Center. Do we want people to get excited about Columbia and want to live here? Do we want them to buy one of those original Columbia homes and update it? Do we want them to send their kids to Columbia schools, help support the transformations of the older Village Centers?

You bet we do.

It's good for Columbia, it's good for Howard County, and it's good for all the friends we haven't met yet.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

HoCo Holler: Renata's Tasty Bites

Today I'm going to give you three little words that will change your life: Renata's Tasty Bites.

This bakery is located at 9350 Snowden River Parkway. It's in the same shopping center as House of India. I first heard of Renata's Tasty Bites when she was coming to the various local farmer's markets. I must admit that, from the name, I thought she must specialize in tiny pastries that one could consume in one bite.

Boy, was I wrong.

I had been meaning to get over there for some time, but it actually was my husband who insisted we pay a visit when he read that it was more like a European patisserie. He was hoping for something savory like a meat pie or a sausage roll. His hopes were rewarded. Renata's does make Steak and Mushroom pies, and also Pigs in Blankets, which is about as close as you get to sausage rolls in this country.

The first time we went I picked out a chocolate cupcake which was labeled as Croatian. It was topped  with just the right amount of chocolate ganache, then split and filled with pure whipped cream. It was heavenly. Not too sweet. Just the right amount of richness. It took me several days to eat it. You truly could split one in half and share with a friend and neither of you would feel slighted.

Yesterday my husband stopped in again to pick up more Steak and Mushroom pies and got me a Blueberry Scone. You can see a photograph of said scone in the center of the photo collage above. This, my friends, is no ordinary scone. It begins with a traditional scone which is split and filled to bursting with fresh blueberries which have been and cooked and sweetened just enough and not too much. Then the top is finished off with a light glaze.

This is a life-changing Blueberry Scone. It might make you cry, or sing, or even write a blog post.

Renata's does sweets and savories, and even sandwiches and soups. She has been known to whip up chicken pot pies and meat sauce for you to take home for your evening dinner. Everything tastes homemade. I know many bakeries say that, but this is the real deal. One or two of these tasty bites will make you feel that Renata is a personal friend. Or ought to be.

And so I offer a great big HoCo Holler for Renata's Tasty Bites, an independent Mom-and-Pop business making Columbia just a bit tastier.

Stop by and pay her a visit. Let me know what you tried.

Renata's Tasty Bites Bakery:

Saturday: 8:00 am - 4:00 pm*
Sunday: 8:00 am - 3:00 pm*
Monday: Closed
Tuesday: 8:00 am - 4:00 pm
Wednesday: 8:00 am - 4:00 pm
Thursday: 8:00 am - 6:00 pm*
Friday: 8:00 am - 4:00 pm

Friday, July 21, 2017

Revive Refresh Renew?

Remember when I wrote about how effective ice cream is at getting folks to come out to an event in the summer?  Last night I discovered another fabulous draw for those hot summer evenings: water.

My school is one of the sponsors of the Family Concert events at the Fair Hills Shops in Olney this summer. Fair Hills describes itself as an "Upscale Experience, Hometown Convenience." Each Summer they host weekly events with music but the star attraction is really their mini splash pad. Kids come in their bathing suits, or just run in and out fully clothed. There are plenty of places to sit, plus tables with umbrellas for shade.

Folks pick up dinner from the adjacent Subway or Panera and make a night of it. There's even a full service restaurant with outdoor seating overlooking the plaza where all this activity is taking place. Every so often someone would appear with ice cream from the nearby Baskin Robbins, causing a flurry of ice cream requests from those who saw the tempting treats go by. 

Last night's musician had the gentler sounds of Jimmy Buffet, John Denver, and the Beatles in his repertoire, with a few songs aimed just at the little ones. He had a comfortable, easy rapport with the crowd. 

So what does this all have to do with Columbia?

Well, I received a press release yesterday which begins like this:

Columbia Association (CA) and the Howard County Economic Development Authority (HCEDA) are collaborating on a new initiative to support retailers in Columbia’s nine village centers.

The Columbia Village Centers Retail Development Program is being implemented to strengthen the village centers as retailing and community gathering destinations, and will assist small business retailers with technical resources to help ensure their success.

I think this is great news. Collaboration and cooperation between the powers that be in Columbia and Howard County is what Village Green/Town² is all about. I look forward to learning more about their goals. 

In the meantime, I have one request, and I'm getting it in early. I want a fountain, just like the Fair Hills fountain. Preferably in Oakland Mills. 

Just imagine the possibilities.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Guest Post: Looking at the Big Picture

Yesterday I was wishing for a big picture approach to redistricting that looked at these changes through a lens of compassion. I am grateful to be able to share my friend Bonnie Bricker's thoughts on this topic today.


I try not to enter every discussion here, but I'd like to weigh in with a few thoughts about the redistricting process we are entering. My own kids were redistricted (twice) years ago, and it was wrenching to anticipate the change--and much better than we could have imagined.

In the first case, they were attending a school ranked at #1 by test scores and were being sent to one at the bottom of the list. The former school was a sweet community place with few behavior problems, social or economic issues to be addressed, and also little diversity.  The latter school was the opposite.

The community did not want to be moved. It was tumultuous. But we were wrong.  The receiving school did everything necessary to ensure a smooth transition. A constant refrain of recognizing every student's strength - a message we also taught at home- rang through my children's heads for their entire school career. My children had friends across the human rainbow and from around the world. Glorious.

Their classmates taught them every day about culture and human gifts beyond what words and memes can teach.  My children use what they know about humanity in their adult lives today. 

As you approach your own actions about these changes, I hope you'll allow yourself to think what great gifts can occur when children make changes.  They may learn to be more resilient. They may make more friends and keep their old friends, too. They may be less tied to the beliefs of their current friend group and determine what their own beliefs are with more conviction.

Moreover, as an attempt is made to correct some racial and economic resegregation that has occurred, they are a part of building a better community- perhaps one they will wish to move back to one day, one that shows that every student has a chance to succeed and every parent is willing to be a part of a larger village for all of our children.

No need to tell me that your child is the exception that shouldn't be moved or your neighborhood is being treated unfairly.  Of course, there will be some exceptions and of course, the boundary lines for schools must be examined so that we do this in the fairest way possible.

We do need to ask our schools to implement the best processes for school  transitions.  We must also hold our officials to account for allowing development when public facilities can't manage growth.  Schools are expensive; sometimes our children must shift a bit for the numbers in schools to make sense. As long as we examine the big picture, we'll do right by our children.  They deserve nothing less.


Bonnie Bricker is a retired hcpss teacher. She is the author of "Zoom Out Parenting: The Big Picture Approach to Raising Children" as well as numerous articles on social and public policy.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Fear of Loss

The cacophony surrounding school redistricting is becoming almost overwhelming. We are challenged by the first major redistricting in some time, plus a look at APFO which brings up unresolved issues of how we can best handle development in our county.

We have interested and curious voices, concerned and angry voices, fearful voices. We have a multitude of Facebook groups, each targeting a particular piece of the overall puzzle. Whatever this is, it is not OneHoward. It is lots of little splinter groups whose own individual causes have grown so huge that a bigger picture is no longer visible.

"MyHoward!" "No, MyHoward!"

This is not to say that their concerns are not legitimate. Community members have every right to be involved in the process and their voices and experiences should be taken into account. But yesterday I read an exchange between parents on Facebook that rocked me. The thread centered on the assertion  that now was the wrong time to major redistricting, that we should wait until the new highschool comes online. A few voices from Howard High School pushed back: We can't wait to address this overcrowding. Children are suffering.

And then, this:

I don't believe your children are suffering.

Wait, what?

Have we become so fearful of what lies ahead that we are willing to deny the experiences of other parents? Other children?

I am glad that Howard County parents want to be informed, educated, and involved. But in our zeal to protect our children and our neighborhoods we should not become so self-righteous that we lose our humanity and common decency. In addition, in the grand theater of matching t-shirts and coordinated testimony, there are always going to be those whose circumstances don't permit those luxuries. Does that mean their voices don't count? Does it mean their children have fewer needs?

How do we turn our fear of loss into a more open-hearted goal of creating a better educational experience for all of our children? I don't know. Fear is an extremely powerful motivator. It motivates more people to turn out at public meetings than love.

My friend and former colleague at hcpss, Bonnie Bricker, has written a wonderful book called Zoom Out Parenting: The Big Picture Approach to Raising Children. I'm thinking we need a sequel: Zoom Out Redistricting: The Big Picture Approach to Compassionate Advocacy.

I thought a lot about this Facebook conversation yesterday. Later I decided to go back and make a plea for kindness. The entire thread had been deleted. I'm hoping that means the moderator found it as troubling as I did.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Other Side

Have I ever talked to you about Pleasantville? I saw the movie shortly after coming to Columbia and it seemed at the time to be a description of our suburban existence. In particular, for a long time I thought that Little Patuxent Parkway was like this:

Geography lessons at the local high school are limited to subjects like "Main Street" and "Elm Street" because the world literally ends at the city limits. Space twists back upon itself in Pleasantville, and "the end of Main Street is just the beginning again." (Roger Ebert)

As a newcomer to Columbia it seemed that LPP evaporated into Route 175 and then went towards an extremely unfamiliar place called Jessup that was very unColumbia-like. At the time I hadn't been there,  And at the other end it reached the hospital, and then, as far as I knew, just turned back on itself like Pleasantville. It was all a mystery to me. (I may have told you already that my husband got me my first cell phone because I got lost almost every time I drove anywhere in Columbia.)

There was a long learning curve to getting to know the lay of the land here. Possibly because of all the, well, curves.

Unbelievably I have now been here eighteen years. I know where many of the roads go. It's a good feeling. When your goal is to get somewhere on time experiencing the joy of discovery is not particularly helpful. On the other hand, there is still plenty I don't know should I wish to go exploring.

All of this is to share with you a question I have been pondering. It applies to Columbia in my case, but it could apply to anyone in Howard County. What is "the other side of town" to you? What if someone suggests going to a particular place and you protest, "but that's on the other side of town!"

It's really rather silly because Columbia isn't so huge that it can't be traversed in a reasonable time frame, but I suspect that many of us have this mental construct of what is too far for a regular trip. For instance, I live in Oakland Mills. I like Trader Joe's, but I don't go there regularly because it's on the other side of town. I'm more likely to shop there if also have errands I need to run at Lowe's, Best Buy, or Five Below as well.

So, what's your "other side of town"? Do you have one?

Monday, July 17, 2017


Food for thought on a Monday morning:

AMERICAN SUBURBIA FREAKS ME THE F*** OUT. nothing is more dystopically homogeneous & willfully desolate than an American suburb. NOTHING!

I was just talking w family abt this. #ColumbiaMD only loves diversity & inclusion above a certain pay grade.


We've been doing a lot of celebrating about how wonderful Columbia is as we celebrate its 50th Birthday. There's been an awful lot of self-congratulatory prose circulating. Not that we we shouldn't celebrate, mind you, but are we always honest with ourselves?

Some years ago I wrote:

Once upon a time we were pioneers in integration and multiculturalism.  We had just the right kind of diversity, you know: nice upwardly mobile middle class integration and nice university professor sort of multiculturalism.  ("A Reading from the Book of Rouse", March 4, 2013)

There it is: Columbia only loves diversity and inclusion above a certain pay grade.

I have heard people say that if there exists any racism in Columbia today it is because those people came after the crucial beginning years and don't understand what Columbia is all about. I don't know if that is entirely accurate. There's probably a grain of truth to it. Some of the original mission may have been lost over the years. We're like a church that has become comfortable in middle age and lost some of the zeal of its founders.

But what we are dealing with is not racism alone but also economic prejudice. We say that we don't have a social class system in American but this problem we have speaks to classism. Or perhaps we use our discomfort with the poor to justify subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle racism.

"If they can't afford to live here they don't belong here."

"I'm not a racist but--those kids who hang around the village center! Don't they have anything better to do? Why don't they get jobs?"

"All those kids who need free lunch are bringing down test scores at my village school. They're ruining our housing values."

Are we "dystopically homogeneous and willfully desolate"? No. Do we have serious work to do?

Yes. Yes, we do. 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Many Happy Returns

The Downtown Arts and Culture Commission threw a birthday party for Merriweather Post Pavillion yesterday afternoon. As you can see, I got another opportunity to view the amazing chairs from the Inner Arbor Trust "Celebrating the Arts in the Park" contest. I love how different they all are, yet still embody that one theme. Make sure to stop by this summer where they will be on display throughout the park.

We were definitely still celebrating the arts in the park by getting together at the Chrysalis to celebrate fifty years of Merriweather. As the party kicked off you could hear sound checks going on next door. It was clear how important the relationship between the DAC and the Inner Arbor Trust will be in fostering the success of a vibrant Downtown. If it works well, the end result will definitely be bigger than the sum of its parts.

I must admit I dreaded leaving the house yesterday and spending two hours in the summer heat. When I arrived I was stunned to feel the difference in temperature around the Chrysalis. Whoever decided to place this structure exactly where it has been located is a genius. The trees, (you know, the ones they didn't cut down) the hill, the angle...they all work together to protect patrons from the beating-down sun. It was shady, breezy, and altogether gorgeous.

As with any good birthday party, there was cake, and singing, and friends assembled with gifts. Not gifts wrapped up in fancy paper with bows, but the gifts of who they are and what they have done to support Merriweather and the continuing growth of celebrating the arts in the park. I saw so many people there who had gone to meetings, written letters, donated time, money, and talents to the cause. Merriweather has friends--there'd be no point in having a party if it didn't--and they are not just fair weather friends.

For Columbia's sake, that's a very, very good thing.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Saying Something

We've all seen the admonition: if you see something, say something. In a post-9/11 world it brings to mind threats of terrorism by non-citizens. Our fear of violence stemming from "strange-looking foreign people" continues unabated, years after that event. If anything, recent changes in the political climate have made it worse.

People of color in this country have long been on the receiving end of white folks contacting authorities. Suspicious behavior is nothing more than "walking while black" in a predominantly white neighborhood, "driving while black" or even laughing too loudly in a public place. All too often these  reports end in police violence, in many cases toward completely innocent people.

"If you see something, say something."

I've often wondered if I would report something if I found it suspicious or alarming. How would I know it was a legitimate concern? What if I were wrong? What if I were right but afraid to contact authorities because I didn't want to make the wrong call?

This week I witnessed behavior on social media that absolutely crossed the line for me. And it wasn't some "strange-looking foreign person." It wasn't a person of color. It was a local white guy whose online behavior was threatening and full of hate.

I went to Howard County Police website and clicked on the link to report it, I asked them to confirm when they received it, and they did.

I won't ever know how this situation turned out. I do know there haven't been anymore similar posts since that day. But I won't ever know any more than that. I'm hoping for the best.

And my experience confirms that it's not the "strangers" we need to worry about.

Comments are welcome here:

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Big Chill II

In this stretch of hot weather we've been having, it's good to see that the Columbia Democratic Club had an ice cream social. Did you know that the first ice cream social in the United States was held in Maryland?

For me the term "Ice Cream Social" brings to mind Meredith Willson's "Music Man" and a small town in Iowa in the early years of the twentieth century. No television, no internet. (Even the thought of a pool hall for recreation was threatening.) You had to make your own fun. That might mean putting on a show in honor of a national holiday, county fairs, recitations of famous historical speeches, or forming a community band.

Columbia, Maryland is a small town in comparison to the great cities of the world. I've seen it described as a suburban backwater. But we're hardly River City, Iowa. These days we post on Facebook, Tweet, belong to numerous online groups and circulate petitions and requests for donations completely electronically. Why on earth, in the heat and humidity of the Maryland summer, would anyone want to leave the comfort of their air conditioned home to attend a meeting of a political group?

Ice cream. It still has that magic pull during the summer. Like a fireplace in the room during a winter party, it draws people who might not ordinarily get together. In other words, before there was social media, there was social ice cream. We may be more technologically advanced these days but we still need human interaction. And we are often so distracted that we just may need the lure of ice cream to remind us to connect.

I must say I am a bit disappointed by the lack to transparency surrounding this particular ice cream event. Nowhere has anyone shared the kind of information that we, as community members, want to know.

  • What kind of ice cream was served: brands? flavors?
  • Were there any toppings?
  • Reddi-whip or Cool Whip?
  • Any dairy-free alternatives?
  • Did anyone have seconds?
I think I learned from a Facebook quiz that what kind of ice cream you like is a strong indicator of your personality type, so this is clearly information we need to know. In the interests of transparency, my personal favorite ice cream flavors are two retired Baskin Robbins flavors from the 1970's: English Toffee and Watermelon Ice. What does that say about me, I wonder?

What's your favorite icy summer treat? And, would it take ice cream to convince you to go to a summer meeting?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Morning Paper Malfunction

My digital copy of the Columbia Flier won't load, which must be the 21st century equivalent if the paperboy missing my house or oversleeping. Ugh.

Ah, well.

I spotted a photograph this week in this Retro Gallery on the Mall in Columbia. The caption reads:

December 1977
Teens in Columbia claim they have little to do for recreation.

It shows a group of teens sitting around one of the fountains at the Mall.

First off, I graduated from high school in 1977, so those teens look awfully familiar to me, generationally. Also, why the use of the word "claim"? It almost appears to be challenging the veracity of the statement.

"Those teenagers today. They don't know how easy they have it. They have a brand new community, CA recreational facilities, all those cool pathways to explore, the Lakefront, and even a Mall..."

Maybe I'm overthinking that one word a little bit. But I can imagine that generational divide between teens and adults because I was one of those teens (though not here) and now I am an adult, parent to a teen child. Young adult. Whatever.

So here we are in 2017. How do teens feel today about Columbia? Is there enough for them to do, if they don't drive yet, in a place that is largely automobile-dependent? Could this photograph be replicated today with only the fashion styles changed, while the sentiment remained?

That's an article I'd like to read in the Columbia Flier.

If I could just get it to load.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Hidden Names

Things I didn't know about before I moved to Columbia: the People Tree, communal mail boxes, Village Centers, quadroplexes.

Wait, that last one. Quadroplex. I still meet a lot of people who don't know what that means.

I live in a community of homes which are four homes stuck together. These groups, of four units each, are set into the landscape in a rather artistic way so that some folks get decent yard space, some an odd triangular bit, some just a flower bed out front. But there's plenty of shared green space which gives an overall feel of a suburban natural setting.

I used to find it rather odd. It's not how I grew up: old suburb, center-hall Colonial, front yard and back yard. Garage in the back. But at some point when the economy tanked and I realized that we were living in a home that we could afford to live in, I came to terms with my quirky little neighborhood with the stuck-together houses.

Back when I was learning to find my way around Columbia I employed printouts from Yahoo Maps/Directions. Yes, that was before GPS. And I discovered that I lived, not on the main road, as all the signs said, but rather on "Dayshape Drive." Oooh. I like that.

Wait, what?

When did my neighborhood stop using Dayshape Drive and switch over to the main road instead? And was there a point in the building of Columbia when it was decided that housing communities like mine, with shared parking lots out front, didn't warrant their own street names? Why? Were creative Columbia-esque street names in short supply?

Does your home have a hidden street name? Do you know the origin of the present way of doing things? I'm curious.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Follow the Signs

Just in case you've been wondering about the place where the cool kids of Elevate Maryland get their podcast on, I took a little field trip over to Joe's Place Deli yesterday. Okay, I really just wanted lunch, but let's pretend I went there in service of the blog and community information.

The thing about Joe's Place is that you really have to know to know. It is so far off the beaten path that they've resorted to planting a series of signs that guide you all the way from the main road, through a quasi-intersection, around a corner and down a hill. I'm wondering if they should team up with the sign makers for Jenny's Market.

If you want to take a trip to Joe's Place to see them record the Elevate Maryland podcast, or if you just really want an amazingly fresh sandwich or delicious soup, this is what you need to do. Get on Snowden heading towards Broken Land. Keep an eye out for Minstrel Way: the turnoff to the shopping plaza marked by Taco Bell and KFC. Take a right, head up towards the Sunrise Living facility, turning left in the process. Keep going and follow the signs down to the building in the back where you will Find Joe's Place Deli tucked in rather sedately next to Pixel Workshop, home to Elevate Maryland's producer, HoCoMoJo's own Ilana Bittner.

You with me?

If the purpose of Columbia was to encourage the joy of discovery, Joe's Place is the reward for your exploration. You'll have to work a bit to find it. But once you are there you may feel like you don't want to leave. It has a cozy, comfy atmosphere. Joe and his wife Tonya will be there to assist you and engage in friendly conversation. Every employee I've ever dealt with there is pleasant and helpful. And the food is well-made, amply portioned, and delicious.

Here's the deal, though. If you want to have the Joe's Deli experience you must go between 8:00 am and 2:30 pm. No evenings, no weekends. (And it's 2:00 pm on Fridays.) This is why my husband and I only have the luxury of grabbing lunch there during the summer--we both teach during the week. So indulging in the deliciousness of one of their amazing deli sandwiches is one of our special treats of summer.

You can go to their website to check on their daily specials and what soups are on offer. That's where I saw this:

                  To Our Wonderful Customers,

Joe’s Place will be closed Wednesday, July 12th - Monday, July 17th so that we can attend the Wedding of my son in Vermont. 

Joe’s Place will re-open on Tuesday, July 18th.

See you when we get back! — Tonya & Joe

So, by all means: eat at Joe's. Take a friend. Spread the word. But, if you can't make it today, wait until July 18th. If you want you can probably get some great wedding stories along with your meal.

Monday, July 10, 2017

A Sunny Day in Old EC

The old clock is in a museum. There will be a new one in its place. Stores on Main Street continue to re-open almost one year after the horrific flood that devastated Old Ellicott City. Some new stores are opening. Some old ones will not be back.

I visited the Ellicott City Old Town Market Saturday. It's in the parking lot of the Wine Bin. I had never been before but I was going to be getting my hair cut nearby when a social media post from a friend reminded me I needed more Neat Nick preserves. (No, I am not an official sponsor, I'm just a devoted fan.)

As I headed down Ellicott Mills Drive to Main Street I wondered at all the on-street parking spaces that didn't seem to have any connection to residences or businesses. What was the purpose of painting all of those? As I got closer to my destination those spaces were almost filled. I parked in Lot E and walked over to the Market. There were lots of folks out and about, and more continuing to arrive by car.

It turns out that it wasn't just a regular Saturday on Main Street, but also the day of the annual "Paint It!" event. Take a look here to see what was going on. It made my heart glad to see this kind of activity in a place that has struggled so much over the last year.

The market by the Wine Bin is small and friendly. I picked up two jars of jelly, some fresh produce, and some of Umami's delicious baba ghanouj. As I was noodling around surveying the variety of vendors I came across two gentlemen selling coupon books. The sign on their table caught my eye:
benefits Ellicott City Partnership. I opened my wallet.

For twenty dollars you get a book of over 125 coupons to local businesses. Yes, really local, not just the usual chains but many independent mom-and-pop establishments. The coupon for Lucky's in Oakland Mills convinced me they were serious about the "local" claim. For every twenty dollars of the purchase price, ten goes to EC Partnership.

So if you want to help out Old Ellicott City and support local businesses at the same time, this is a great choice. If you are not sure you're going to use a lot of coupons, you could donate that same $20.00 directly to the One EC Recovery Project. Or, take your twenty dollars and go spend it on Main Street.

On my trip home, retracing my original route, I noticed that nearly all of those on-street parking spots I had wondered at earlier were filled. Folks were parking, hopping out, and heading down to enjoy the day.

Have you been to Old Ellicott City lately? What's your favorite thing to do while you are there?

Comments are welcome here:


The Grace McComas Memorial Scholarship Fund has received over $1,250.00 in donations since Friday's post. Thank you so much for your donations and sharing the story! If you have ideas on other ways to continue raising funds for this project, message me through the blog or comment on the blog's Facebook page. (Link above.)


Sunday, July 9, 2017

Sleepy Sunday

A quick Sunday round-up from a tired mom who had to stay up late to pick up her teen from the theatre. In Olney.

  • Thanks to everyone who has donated to the G.R.A.C.E. McComas Memorial Scholarship Fund, and to those who have shared her story, especially local bloggers HowChow, Dr. Chao Wu, Harry Schwarz, Jessie Newburn, and Scott Ewart. 
  • Oh, yeah: HowChow is back. I know I'm not the only one who's missed his voice on local food scene topics. Case in point: his comments section stayed alive as a community unto itself while he was on hiatus.
  • Blogger Annie Rie says she's going to try to post more often, which is great because I've really been missing her voice, too. Also photographs of vegetables I have never seen before plus how to cook them. 
  • I'm hearing rumours of a HoCo bloggers party later in the summer. I'll keep you posted.
  • Today is Free Second Sunday Swim at all CA Outdoor Pools. You need a Columbia Card to get in, but, if you are like us and pay as you go, you already have one,
  • Art in the Park, 2-4. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Monthly Black Lives Matter Vigil from 4-5: Governor Warfield Parkway and Windstream Drive.
I'm working on a piece about visiting Main Street Old Ellicott City yesterday for the Farmer's Market. Look for that tomorrow.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Art in the Park

Tomorrow from 2-4 pm:

You'll get to see the winners of the much-touted chair contest, and there's free Kona Ice! I'm really looking forward to seeing what community members have done with those chairs. I see photo ops in the future. Who could resist getting their picture taken in one of those cool, one-of-a-kind creations?

Also, bring your kids because it's an Imagination Playground play session. If you've been to either of the two recent Chrysalis concerts, you've seen the big, blue foam building pieces put out for kids to play with and enjoy. And they really have!

I took all kinds of photos of kids playing with them but then I realized, "hey, these are kids and I don't have permission to post their pictures." Duh. Scrap that.

So, if you don't know what I am talking about, go here to see photos and learn more about Imagination Playground. Investing in this play equipment was a genius move on the part of Nina Basu, President of the Inner Arbor Trust. She was definitely thinking of all ages when she made plans for this summer's innagural season of events in the park.

Take note of the location for tomorrow's event: near the Little Patuxent Parkway multiuse path. Park in Lot 1.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Sharing the Story

In the Spring of 2012 the Glenelg High School community was rocked by the suicide of a sophomore named Grace McComas. She took her life in response to a drug-assisted rape by a fellow student and the subsequent cyber-bullying from members of that same community in the aftermath of this traumatic event.

In a school of approximately 1200 students, how many do you suppose knew what was going on?

How many knew because they were participating in the bullying?
How many knew and tried to help?
How many knew and did nothing?
How many knew nothing at all?

In the time since her daughter's death Christine McComas has fought to raise awareness of sexual assault, cyber-bullying, and has worked unceasingly to get her daughters complete school records from the year that she died. The response to her efforts has often been disappointing.

How have we responded?

How many participated in a concerted effort to withhold information?
How many sought to learn more and to help?
How many saw and looked away?
How many have never heard of Grace at all? 

The McComas family has established a fund which is to be the basis of a schorlarship in Grace's name. The scholarship will be awarded each year to a student who exemplifies the qualities of G.R.A.C.E. -- Give Respect and Compassion to Everyone. It is a seed sown in faith that we should grow more than academic excellence in our children, something far more precious: love, respect, and courage to stand against bullying and harassment. 

The seed money for this scholarship came in the form of a lump sum donation from outgoing Chair of SECAC Barb Krupiarz. But more is needed for the scholarship fund to be viable. That is where you and I come in.

Here is the Go Fund Me campaign page for the Grace McComas Scholarship. Please click on the link, read the story, and give as generously as you are able. We, as a community, can choose to look at this heartbreaking story and refuse to look away, refuse to do nothing. We can reach out a hand to help and to heal. We can share this story with someone who may not yet know. 

In so doing we will honor Grace. 

If you have a blog, share this request. If you have a wide social media audience, share with them. If you have a church group or a neighborhood group or a community association who could help, ask them. It does not matter how large the amount, more important is how far Grace's story is spread so that each individual who hears feels convicted to help and not to look

That's how bullying ends, when each individual feels convicted to help and not to look away.

Participating in the funding of this scholarship can be a sign from our community that we are upstanders and not bystanders. We can be the hands that help.

Grace McComas Memorial Scholarship:
Barb Krupiarz and Christine McComas speak at BOE about the scholarship:

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Knot a Rumour

And so it has come to pass. The rumored closure of the Tomato Palace is now a fact. When I wrote about this in March of 2016 the post elicited mixed feelings from readers. Most were excited about the prospect of a music venue at the Lakefront. Still, they lamented the possibility of losing affordable, family-friendly food in that location.

                                      (These faithful patrons were unavailable for comment.)

Most of the responses I saw yesterday as the news broke were about the same. Excitement at what a live music venue would bring to Downtown Columbia, sadness at losing a sentimental hometown favorite. As is the case in so many Columbia iconic institutions, I wonder if we just thought it would always be there, rather than actually ensuring its future by regular patronage. If The Tomato Palace had been, and continued to be, wildly successful I'm not sure that the Clyde's restaurant folks would have been brainstorming other uses for that space.

My experience taking my teen daughter to Iota Club and CafĂ© in Arlington gave me a more vivid view of what a live music venue could look like.  I do hope that the new venture at the Lakefront will consider hosting regular underage nights and book talent that will draw high school and college kids. It takes work to do that right but I think that we need to factor in the needs and desires of young people as we revitalize our Downtown. There's got to be more than movies and the Mall for them during the Merriweather off-season.

When I received the press release yesterday outlining the restaurant's closure and future plans, I thought to myself, laughingly, "It's all because of the garlic knots."

If you don't know the story of the garlic knots, let me know, and I'll tell you. Or ask someone who has lived here a long time. Suffice it to say that the garlic knots were right up there with the Poinsettia Tree in the third rail of Columbia essentials. How important were they?

Well, before I went to bed last night I spotted this response of social media:

"That's too bad. I used to go there all the time but I stopped when they got rid of the garlic knots."

I hope the new place is wildly successful. I have another suggestion for them: bring back the knots. Such a small thing, but it just might yield big dividends.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Parade Popularity

Have you seen photos of the River Hill Fourth of July parade? It seems this group was a big hit:

                                                     Photo by Charles Neason Jackson

I don't know the backstory on this, but I do know that it caught the fancy of many a local resident yesterday, not only in person at the parade, but online afterwards as people shared parade photos.

Why? Is it because there's just something fun about challenging the political status quo? Or perhaps we all secretly would like to march in parades with banners and matching t-shirts with our names on them? (And without all the work of actually running for office!)

Public service is a noble calling. Politics is not. We think of public service as listening to and helping constituents, making fair laws, gathering citizens together to work on community problems. Politics is polling and mass mailings, private fundraisers and marching in parades with banners. And matching t-shirts. We admire the former. And shrink from and mock the latter.

And yet both are, at least in our culture, inextricably linked. You can't run a campaign without the money. You can't win without name recognition. Each election cycle sees more of the same. Many people look at this process and roll their eyes. They question the motivation of anyone who would want to do that. It must be about ego, or power. There must be some inherent selfishness at work.

We enjoy laughing at the absurdity of Minh Nguyen who just admits he/she wants the spotlight for the spotlight's sake. But I think that's because we have an inherent distrust of the "political" aspect of public service. It's unseemly. It feels rife with possibilities of deception.

Will the County Council's passage (and subsequent override of the County Executive's veto) of CB 30 make a dent in the local politics game? I don't know if it will change how the public feels about politicians, but I do think it will change who can afford to run, and that's a good thing. I think it will bring more diversity--racial, ethnic, and economic--into Howard County public service.

In closing, here's an exchange between two local residents that made me smile every bit as much as the photograph above:

You would know all the plans for things if you got on the County Council...there are spots open in 2018...we could use more [local] representation!!  ;)

And deal with angry people like myself??? NO THANKS! LOL

That's someone who clearly understands what public service is all about.

Comments are welcome here: