Saturday, November 30, 2019


One of the truly head-smacking responses to recent local conversations about concentrated poverty in our schools has been the posts by several people on social media that they thought they’d just sign up for Free and Reduced Meals assistance. Their reasoning? It was clearly so easy to get. So it was really a scam and lots of people were lying to game the system.

Is there any way these individuals could know whether or not what they claim is true? No. But it makes them feel big and knowing to say it, and it makes people who are not like them look small.

Another line of thinking put forward is that the poster has been through a lot and been an upstanding citizen and never asked for help, so now the county schools “owe them”. Now it’s time for them to “get something.”

All of this comes down to a toxic thought process around who “deserves” help. People make assumptions about others based solely on their own life experiences. They can’t imagine what it is like to truly have no food to feed one’s children, so they accuse FARM recipients of lying. Or of being lazy, or stupid, or selfish. Furthermore, if someone is receiving any benefit that they do not, they want to appoint themselves the gatekeepers of The Deserving Poor.

And now that things are not going the way some of them would like, they think it’s hilarious to suggest taking assistance that they do not truly need. As revenge, maybe? As a suggestion that supports for vulnerable families are nothing but a joke?

Not funny.

I wish I had been able to contact these posters directly to provide some assistance of my own. Or, rather, an invitation. Last Tuesday the Oakland Mills High School Alpha Achievers hosted their annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner.

Come and enjoy a fantastic Thanksgiving Dinner served by the Alpha Achievers of Oakland Mills. bring the whole family. This event is open to all.

I imagine that our FARMs-disparaging friends might have learned a lot by coming and sitting down with many of the same people they generally mock and/or shrink from. How educational it might have been for them to receive genuine charity that came with no judgement, no strings attached. No one was guarding the door in order to screen out the “undeserving.”

A community that many look down on as less-than somehow manages to give of itself, with abundance, every Thanksgiving. And they give without judgement. They do the work, they trust in the gift.

They are not looking for “free handouts”. They are giving free handouts.

I am just earnest and hopeful enough to want to believe that the experience of receiving such a gift and breaking bread with those who are “other” might change our jaded naysayers. Do I think it’s likely? Sadly, no. And do the families in less affluent schools “owe them” anything in order to prove their own humanity? Absolutely not.

I just wish we could move beyond specious arguments about owing and deserving and do the real work of community building and education.

It’s not about what is owed us or what what we deserve. It is about what all of us owe to one another.

Friday, November 29, 2019


Here’s a little game for you. How far could you get from where you live if you could walk only on sidewalks? If I turned right, only a few blocks until I hit Route 175.  If I turned left, all the way to Broken Land Parkway.  I occasionally see people walking along Broken Land on the grass and they never fail to look out of place and vaguely sketchy. “Who would walk on Broken Land?”

The Horizon Foundation has been working on something called the Complete Streets initiative. From their informational page:

Complete streets make transportation healthy, affordable, and sustainable and contribute to vibrant neighborhoods and a strong local economy.

The Howard County Council approved Complete Streets policy on October 7, 2019. How to most successfully implement it and how to fund that implementation seems to be what comes next. In the meantime, the Horizon Foundation continues to advocate for the importance of adequate sidewalks, crosswalks, bike lanes, and bus stops.

I thought of all this when I read the story of a pedestrian fatality in West Elkridge. (Phil Davis, Baltimore Sun)

In a news release, the department wrote that a 2004 Toyota Sienna was driving southbound on Washington Boulevard just south of Montgomery and struck a male pedestrian who was in the roadway.

I wondered. Why was the victim in the roadway? Was he trying to cross without benefit of a crosswalk? Or was he walking along the road because there were no adequate sidewalks? I don’t know. 

I do wish that the Governor were as interested in projects like Complete Streets as much or more than his fondness for enlarging already large roadways. He could do a world of good in so many communities.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Seven Reasons

They say that practicing gratitude can rewire your brain. I can’t vouch for this personally because I haven’t been practicing enough of it. The world we live in is more conducive to a cycle of reactive horror. The alternative, trying to put your head down and “just get by” is doable but exhausting. I suspect that most of us are simply doing the best we can.

The true history of Thanksgiving is not what we were taught in school. I can’t celebrate that old lie anymore. I can try to use the day to stop, refocus, and think on the many reasons I have to be grateful. Any advice my readers have for turning this into an actual daily practice is welcome. In the meantime:

Village Green/Town² Seven reasons to be thankful, 2019

1. Our amazing library system. They truly never stop looking for ways to connect, serve, and inspire. And a shout out to friend of the blog Mickey Gomez for her election to Board Chair of the Friends of the Library. Will Mickey’s love of music, dogs, and craft beer translate into themes for future library events? We’ll see.

2. My Village, Oakland Mills, especially Sandy Cederbaum and our OMCA staff and our board chair Jonathan Edelson. They just don’t quit. Their work as positive, community-building advocates is a big part of why Oakland Mills is hOMe for me and my family.

3. Cured/18th & 21st for their commitment to local nonprofits by making their space available for so many fundraising events. They haven’t been here long but they are already making a name for themselves as reliable community partners.

4. Howard County teachers. I may not have a kid in the schools anymore but I’m still intensely aware of their daily commitment to our community’s children. Amid the drama of redistricting they have kept their eye on what matters most and they’ll have to keep doing that as changes are made and families adjust. And they spend more money out of their own pockets and donate more hours than you will ever, ever know.

5. Nina Basu and the folks at Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods for making good on living the mission of a park for everyone. I continue to be impressed by the variety of events, the deliberate outreach to underserved communities, the partnerships with other area non-profits, and the commitment to providing free and/or low cost programming. They are proving that arts experiences can be engaging, diverse, and accessible. And they are continuing to build a park at the same time.

6. Bonnie Bricker and her team of volunteers at Talk With Me. With a determination to revolutionize outcomes for infants and children by training parents and caregivers in simple techniques that foster and enhance language development, Bonnie is truly changing the world one relationship at a time. It is vitally important work that has long term consequences for every child.

7. My readers. Every day that you stop by is a day I am not merely over here talking to myself. I appreciate your ideas and thoughtful comments over on Facebook. I started blogging when it was still quite the happening thing to do and, given the short lifespan of many things in our modern world, I appear to be trudging on like a dinosaur in a world that has moved on largely to podcasts and instagram. Funny how that works. I’m grateful you are along for the ride.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, however you spend your day. I hope you have much to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019


Columbia/HoCo podcaster Tom Coale of Elevate Maryland is looking for a a place that does a good “Gobbler-like sandwich”. I’m assuming this means turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce on bread. (Correct me if I am wrong.) Can anyone out there point him in the right direction? I can think of several restaurants that served them, but they don’t exist anymore.

Speaking of food, I’m sorry to inform you that you have missed the cutoff to order Momma’s Classic banana pudding for Thanksgiving. But it’s not too late to order cookies for holiday giving. Momma, aka Monica Rogers Williams, makes so many flavors it can be hard to choose. If you have a sweet and salty craving and/or are looking some impressive party favors take a look at these pretzel rods. They may possibly have magic powers.

HoCoNomNom Blog is taking a break this week, but you can read the most recent post here. Ms./Mr. Nom also brought to my attention that we now have a Korean corn dog place at the Mall.

It was nice to spot this post from AnnieRie just in time for Thanksgiving. In “All Hail Kale” she suggests a hearty fall recipe that will use up some of the kale which is abundant at this time of year. My family won’t eat kale, but I got hungry just reading the post.

Coming back around to the folks at Elevate Maryland: they’re having a little fun over on Twitter with a Thanksgiving poll of favorite desserts. Your choices are apple pie, pecan pie, sweet potato pie, and cake. (Don’t tell “Momma” there’s no banana pudding option!)  Its all in fun. Hop on over and cast a vote if you are so inclined.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Purple Prose

Just when you thought Howard County couldn’t get any crazier, now the eggplants have started talking.

Of course I am referring to the whimsical art piece that resides in front of the Howard County Welcome Center on Main Street in Old Ellicott City.

It turns out the Ellicott City Eggplant is a very chatty fellow -- so we've decided to give him a hashtag.  #ellicottcityeggplant.  We may regret it!   Here's his first tweet:

"Hey guys -- the holidays are coming.  Come keep me company? I get lonely sometimes...."

The post and photo come from the Twitter account of Art in Ellicott City - - @ArtEllicottCity - - which describes itself as “a private fund for public art”. They’ve been tweeting since May, 2018, but not very frequently.

I recall with fondness a time when Gingerbread girl took to social media to promote Howard County. I wonder what the #ellicottcityeggplant will have to say for himself?

Once he gets going, I doubt a hashtag will be enough. He’s going to need his own account

Monday, November 25, 2019


A thought for your Monday, from a piece on last week’s Morning Edition:

NEARY: In addition to the nominated authors, there are two lifetime achievement awards. This year, Oren Teicher, retiring CEO of the American Booksellers Association, was honored for his service to the American literary community. And Edmund White, known for his writing about gay life in America, took home the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.
EDMUND WHITE: When I started submitting novels in the pre-Stonewall 1960s, my gay subject matter was offensive, especially since I didn't write about hustlers or criminals or drag queens, but rather about the middle-class guy sharing an office with you. The familiar is more threatening than the exotic.

The familiar is more threatening than the exotic. There it is. We may be intellectually open and consider our selves broad-minded about things happening far away but when it comes to our neighborhood, our schools, our local institutions - - we feel threatened.

Everything seems worth defending in the abstract. But when it sits down next to us in the park that’s another thing altogether. Let us articulate lofty goals and write a check to a worthy cause but God forbid we rub shoulders daily with those who are different than we are.

We do not want the different to become familiar because we are afraid. And we join together with likeminded folks who assure us this is perfectly normal. It is nothing more than what we deserve. It will never get better at this rate. Our actions belie the stories we tell ourselves.

The more we fear, the more we fear.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Get on the Bus

We in Columbia/HoCo are good at many things but there is one glaring example where we fall short. Folks, we need to learn how to ride the bus. I’m talking public transportation and I mean everyone should know how to use it and consciously choose to do so. And I mean me, too, as I have never ridden the bus since I have lived here.

There’s a general sentiment that our area was developed in such a way to be public transit averse. There’s certainly some truth in that. I know I haven’t ridden the bus because I’m not at all sure if it even goes where I need to go. And many people recoil from public transit as somehow dirty, uncomfortable, and inconvenient.

“Public transit. It’s not for me, it’s for those who have no other choice.” Not exactly a winning slogan.

The other evening when my family was celebrating my daughter’s birthday at Seasons 52 at the Mall,  the parking situation was crazy and we were close to being late. My husband texted me: just do the valet parking. I’m not sure we would have made it to dinner if we hadn’t. The restaurant comps the fee.

So here comes one of my whimsical ideas that will undoubtedly tick someone off: what if we taught people how pleasant, comfortable, and convenient riding the bus could be by creating a bus system just for the Mall? Think of how there are a variety of parking options at the airport. One involves satellite parking and being transported by a shuttle to your destination.

What if you could easily park your car and get around the entire Mall property easily because of well- orchestrated bus service? I might even forgo my ban on Mall visits between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

And what if kids grew up having a fun experience of riding the bus at the Mall and carried those expectations into adulthood? What if adults came to see how a bus at the Mall could be as appealing as valet parking? Sponsoring such a service would be a win for the Mall. And with all the bright minds we have promoting Downtown Development, I feel sure they could devise a Fun Bus and a Fun Bus experience that would make people want to come down and try it out, tell their friends, and come back again. Take selfies. Post to Instagram. And so on.

I know that Howard County is working on improved transit plan. But one of the most important parts of the success of such a plan is widening the scope of those who want to use it. While the big picture concepts are percolating, why don’t we start small with a project that many folks would use?

It’s time to get on the Fun Bus, Columbia/HoCo.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Not Perfect

I’m headed towards the two week mark of this relentless chest cold and it’s taking its toll on everything, including my writing. It isn’t the sickest I have ever been, but it just won’t quit. I keep taking over the counter medicine, drinking lots of fluids, and going to work. I cover when I cough and wash my hands a lot, something that doesn’t always happen at work, because:

The people I work with are preschoolers. They don’t always cover when they cough or sneeze, use tissues in a hygienic manner, or wash their hands effectively. They are little. They are just learning. And like me, they often come to work sick because they have no other choice. And that really means because their parents have no other choice.

So they come to school sick, and then classmates get sick, and teachers get sick, and very rarely do any of us get to stay home and recuperate adequately. That’s just the way it is. If you are a parent or a teacher you are already painfully aware of this. About once a year or so I hear some news piece on the radio telling me that research shows that Americans don’t stay home whenthey are sick and that this is really bad for everyone. Well, duh. We know this. Give us something better. Like a solution.

So when I came upon a discussion online as to the benefits of perfect attendance awards at school, I already had plenty of opinions. Just because we’ve awarded perfect attendance for as long as any of us can remember doesn’t mean it has ever been the right thing to be doing. It could very well have been a stupid idea in the first place. A perfect attendance award is either rewarding children who have the fortune to have robust immune systems, really high quality home and health care environments, or who just come to school sick and miserable.

We need an award for that?

If we are looking for other ways to honor children other than the traditional academic awards, let’s look at kindness, willingness to take academic risks, persistence, divergent thinking, creativity. There are plenty of ways that children distinguish themselves day in and day out that aren’t of the “highest grades” variety.

And none of them are perfect attendance.

Lurking under the surface is the dirty little secret that some folks think we ought to have perfect attendance awards in order to motivate “that population” that is innately kind of slovenly and irresponsible if left to their own devices. Every time I see people float this sort of talk I wish that they would experience the instant karma of becoming a member of “that population” to see what it is like.

At this point I would award anyone who was committed to changing our societal expectations that everyone needs to go to work and school sick. There exists a possible world where health and wellbeing are centered. We would have to let go of some old attitudes and so would employers. But it could happen, if we worked to make it a priority.

As for me, I don’t want a perfect attendance award. I want to get better.

Friday, November 22, 2019

A Touch of Nature

On Sunday afternoon, in Catonsville  Maryland, a small group gathered to dedicate a bench that will be placed along the nature trail at Charlestown Retirement Community. It will be located near the stream and in view of a covered bridge.

A group of residents raised the funds for the bench to honor my late father-in-law, Sam McCready, in gratitude for the numerous performances he had given at Charlestown.


Sam’s love of nature was well known to them. They included this quote from Shakespeare in the inscription:

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.

We were told that this is the first memorial dedication ever made for someone who wasn’t a member of the Charlestown Community. These residents felt such a connection with Sam and his gifts of acting and music and his desire to share them at Charlestown that, in a sense, they adopted him as one of their own.

It is so hard to lose someone that you love. On Sunday Sam’s family gathered with some very generous and kind-hearted people to visit that loss again. Yet the moment was leavened by the knowledge that others knew “our Sam” and loved him. And felt his loss keenly enough to make a place in his honor.

Many thanks to all who made this moment and the memorial possible.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

One Or the Other?

Now-County Council member David Yungmann once said to me at a HoCoBlogs party that everything in a place like Howard County came down to either education or land use. At the time I was focused primarily on education and didn’t give much thought to the land use part of his comment.

I’m not sure what brought this to mind this morning, but it does seem like most of what I read about is either one or the other. Or both.

I’ve done a lot of learning in recent years about systemic racism and it certainly has its deadly grip on both education and land use.

I’m hard pressed to think of anything in Howard County that isn’t related. Maybe I’m just not awake yet.

What do you think? Is that all we are? Am I forgetting something? Does it matter that we hold certain over arching values that color our decisions on land use and education? Tell me what you think.

By the way, Mr. Yungmann also said that he and I probably had more in common than I thought. I’d respectfully suggest he may have missed the mark on that one.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Is Anybody There?

I started to write somethjng in the aftermath of last night’s board meeting but I just can’t. And nothing I say can change the toxicity of our community right now. We are not who we thought we were.

The challenge that lies ahead is where to find the funds to remediate the concentrated poverty that the board and the community were unwilling to address. I look forward to specific and realistic proposals on that topic, and soon.

I suspect that many folks will be more than happy to go back to their pre-controversy lives when they were ignorant of just how much need exists somewhere else. The flurry of charitable donations to the poorer schools will, most likely, diminish. We will look back on them as the acts of desperate parents hoping to purchase indulgences to ward off the eternal damnation of redistricting.

Perhaps someone, somewhere, will have been changed for the better by this process and will come away dedicated to making our schools more equitable. If you are reading this and you feel I am judging you too harshly then I hope you will prove me wrong. Fight for those who have less than you do. Convince friends and neighbors that all children are our children and all schools are our schools.

We are going to need you.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Guest Post: Living with Crime is Hard

Today’s post is a local story. The author reached out to me privately, looking for feedback. While I am not a big fan of anonymity I am sharing this because 1) the writer has good reason to fear being known and 2) this is someone I know and can vouch for. I hope that sharing the story can lead to a worthwhile discussion on a difficult topic. 

How Living next door to a Drug Dealer has Challenged my Social Justice Beliefs

In the middle of May I came home from work to find a police officer talking to two of my neighbors. I made eye contact with one of the neighbors as I exited my car and was brought into the conversation. The police had been called due to a verbal altercation between my teenage neighbor and an acquaintance of his, however the teenager was nowhere to be seen, having already gone back into his house.
I live on what a novelist might describe as a “quiet, tree-lined street in wealthy suburbia.” We are a majority democratic county, and I, like most of my neighbors vote blue, very blue. My social justice beliefs run deep, and while I rarely have time to work for those ideals, I hold them close, including some strong thoughts about criminal justice. I try to at least understand the other side of the story, but struggle with what sometimes appears to be a lack of compassion from the right.
So, back to that day in May. Many things were said that day. An insinuation was made that the young man was up to no-good because they had an expensive car and lived in a townhouse (the previous occupants, a family of Asian heritage also drove an expensive car, but the new residents were black). I was incredibly angry with the assertion. I admitted that the young man smoked marijuana and that we had conversed about that activity around my children and come to a neighborly agreement, which he mostly complied with. The officer asked me to call if I saw anything suspicious, including pot smoking. I refused and he followed up by saying that the were “watching” the young man in question, and almost gleefully pointed out that he would be 18 in weeks. Disgusted with my neighbors for making assumptions, the officer for appearing to celebrate the birthday of this young person so he could be treated as an adult in the justice system, and myself for even engaging in the conversation, I went into my own house and closed the door.
Over the next couple of days I had the opportunity to speak with a mid-level officer with the police department, and I complained. I complained that assumptions were being made, I complained that the officer was so excited about the upcoming birthday, I was full of self-righteous anger. And then I shared the story with my teenage sons, who let me know I might be wrong to give the neighbor as much leeway as I was giving him. That perhaps I should pay more attention to his parking lot visitors, and not be so willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when the smell coming from those visitors’ cars was nothing like the smell of marijuana.
I was still not ready to indict him. He was a child, even at 18. I believe in the developing brain, I have an 18-year-old, he is not in any way an adult. I don’t believe in a justice system that forever brands a person a criminal because of what they do when they are 18 or 19, or even 30 if the situation calls for it. I began to question not what the neighbor was doing, but what anybody was doing to redirect him when his brain is still developing when he still had time to choose a different path. I don’t believe that anything was being done.
I still did not feel unsafe. I had a decent relationship with him and with his mother. We exchanged pleasantries and greetings as we came and went. I now saw the activity more clearly and I worried for him, but I never called the police. I didn’t see what was going on in the cars, I didn’t know what the smells coming from the cars were. I was not going to ruin this young person’s life over suspicion. I was raised in a pretty racist environment, I feared I had unconscious bias and I was determined to rise above. I continued to go about my business as though there was nothing going on, and I was okay.
In mid-October, I was woken by a loud band and yelling. I looked out my window to observe a Tactical team raid on the home, in progress. I watched for a bit, but like many nights before I was not sure I wanted to know. My bubble was being infiltrated by something bigger than I imagined. In the morning, I spoke with neighbors, none of whom had seen what I saw. I asked the police department for confirmation that it had happened, and I was reassured that I was not imagining it.
The young man was gone for a couple of days and then he returned. The neighbors whispered about an ankle monitor, but I did not see it, I did not see him. All was quiet in the parking lot at night. It was over. I was wrong, though. Less than 2 weeks after the raid he started having visitors at his door. Then, again, he was making trips to the parking lot. That was the first time I contacted the police. If what was going on over there was so dangerous that they needed a tactical team to enter the home, then how safe was I? How safe were my children? I made phone calls and sent e-mails until I was contacted by somebody who had some answers. There were words like “low-level”, “not dangerous for you and your family”, “eviction”, thrown around. To be honest, I still didn’t know his name. Its hard to admit that they have been my neighbors for more than a year, but I don’t know their names, but there it is. I didn’t want them to be evicted, I wanted the activity to stop.
Ironically, I had purchased a new Ring camera that was set to arrive on October 23. When it arrived I set it up, and the vigilance left me feeling more unsafe than ever before. A few days later the notifications were blasting my phone over and over while I was at work. I finally picked up my phone and saw half a dozen police cars in front of my house. I made quick calculations about where my children were supposed to be that day, at my house or their dad’s. I texted my new contact in the police department and asked for information. I had the dispatcher send a message to the officers knocking on my door that was not home.
A detective called me back and asked me if I would provide the video from my camera for that afternoon. I agreed. He asked me if I could come home so he could download it from my laptop, I agreed (they are not very tech-savvy, I have to say).
I came home, I spoke with the detectives and others who let me know that there was a home invasion. They didn’t say much more, but I saw the police report the next day. A partially masked, armed man had entered the home and demanded cash and drugs. He left out the back door. I now knew the name of the young man who lived in the home and I checked him out on Maryland Case Search. He had first been charged as an adult at 16 years of age for home invasion, firearm possession, and other felony and misdemeanor charges. I learned that the mid-October raid was related to an incident in February when he was still 17, and also involved firearms charges and multiple other felony and misdemeanor charges. I struggled with my belief that his juvenile record should not be open to the public, and my new desire to know everything I needed to know to keep my family safe.
His family added lights and cameras to their home, but he was not deterred. The activity moved out of range of their cameras, not always out of range of mine.
This is the moment when the real personal battle began. I had to do something, but I knew that all of the things I would do would be engaging with a justice system I think is broken. We have no other one to work with though. There appeared to be no other option. I began making phone calls to anybody who would listen. I contacted state and local officials, police department representatives, and a neighbor I knew of, but didn’t know, but who I knew to be politically connected.
He was arrested again. His home was searched again. He was let out on bail again. He was active in the parking lot last night again.
I don’t believe in juveniles being treated as adults, but I am glad that I know that I should be leery of guns, and warn my children to steer clear.
I don’t believe in cash bail, but I don’t want him out of confinement.
I don’t believe in holding the accused without serious cause, but I don’t want him next door anymore.
I don’t believe in wholesale eviction, but I want them to move.
How have we, as a society known for at least 2 years that there was a problem, yet not had any options to redirect him? I can’t help but imagine that his hopes of getting a job are greatly diminished by a public juvenile record. I feel awful that soon his mother, and other members of his family, might not have a home. I see so little hope for him in the short term. At the same time I am scared. I no longer feel comfortable walking my dog after work, or taking her outside for her late-night potty break before bed, although I still do. I am terrified that my children’s dad will find out and try to get full custody, and I wonder at times if I shouldn’t just suggest it until this all works out.
I firmly believe that the ability to hold two conflicting thoughts as true is part of what makes humans so special, in this case I believe that our criminal justice system is broken, and I want it to do more to make me feel safe.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Already Here

When County Executive Calvin Ball presented an initiative to increase affordable housing in Howard County, the typical pushback began: those aren’t the kind of people we want to attract. Over in Montgomery County, it’s the County Executive, Marc Elrich, throwing cold water on the development of affordable housing for the very same reason: that’s not the kind of growth we want here.

What this line of thinking ignores is that the people who need affordable housing are already here. (Or, in the case of MoCo, there.) It’s not about bringing people in. It’s about responding to a demonstrated local need. Isn’t that what good government does?

We already know we have a shortage of 5,500 affordable units in Howard County. Imagine 5,500 human beings. Or more, since some are couples and families. If it helps, imagine them all assembled holding signs or wearing matching t-shirts and overflowing public meetings. circling the mall perhaps. Of course you’re not going to see this in real life because these Howard County residents are struggling just to survive and don’t have time or energy or resources to make a big splash on the local scene.

They are Howard Countians nonetheless.

You say we don’t need more poor people in Howard County. But these people are already here. They work here, pay taxes here. So what should we do, deport them? We know how much money one needs to make to afford to live in Howard County. It should be fairly easy to single out the kinds of jobs that won’t produce that kind of income.

Poof! Sorry, you can’t live here. Bye-bye poor people.

Who will hold those jobs? Forcing those employees out of Howard County will not give them any more money to buy cars or use transit to commute. (And area transit is sadly lacking.)  So imagine that all the businesses powered by the workers no longer exist.

Can we afford that? Does that make for a better Howard County?

Hmm. There must be another way.

Okay, let’s try this. All of the salaries for the lower wage jobs should be increased to make it possible for families to afford to live in Howard County. We know how much that is, so let’s raise wages accordingly. Then we won’t have any more poor people.

But the businesses can’t afford to do that? Or perhaps they’d have to raise their prices to the community so much that we couldn’t afford them?


Of course it’s highly illegal to “deport” low wage workers,  And while advocating for a living minimum wage is admirable, forcing employers to raise salaries to Howard County levels probably isn’t legal, either.

What’s left?

The way I see it, we can either get rid of less affluent people and suffer the consequences (and there are consequences) or we can raise their salaries so they can afford to live here. Or maybe, just maybe, we can make affordable housing a priority so that they can find a place to live that’s in their price range.

You and I make consumer decisions based on what we can afford. Why shouldn’t everyone in Howard County have that choice? Remember, this is about responding to resident need. Are their needs less important than ours?

There are only so many significant variables here. Looking at them and ignoring the need for more affordable housing is actually saying that you are just fine with having poor people in Howard County, because that is exactly the status quo you are defending.

They don’t have to be poor. Wildly expensive housing makes them poor.

What are we going to do about it?

Saturday, November 16, 2019

HoCo Goes HaPo

Quidditch is coming to Howard County and I am...nonplussed.

In case you do not know, Quidditch is a purely fictional competitive sport created by author J.R. Rowling in the Harry Potter book series. Descriptions of Quidditch play provide some exhilarating reading in the books. I can certainly see why Harry Potter enthusiasts would want to recreate the thrill of that experience.

There’s just one problem. Quidditch requires magic. It requires being able to fly on broomsticks and the existence of a moving object called a Snitch which has a magical mind of its own. Many superficial details of the game can be recreated but these cannot.

Am I a purist or a curmudgeon? Hard to say. I simply can’t understand calling anything without both flight and magic Quidditch. Perhaps for a Harry Potter-themed game at a children’s party. But for full- scale competitive play? I am perplexed.

And yet, there it is. And it does not need my permission to exist. I do not condemn it. You may be excited and looking forward to attending the Major League Quidditch Championship. It is, as one commenter on Twitter remarked, “so Howard County.”

What are we going to do when the folks lobbying for more cricket pitches have to compete with a new surge in requests for Quidditch grounds? The next Columbia/HoCo culture wars?


Friday, November 15, 2019

The Real Story

A reminder that, while the big story in town seems to be happening on Route 108 these days, the real story is happening in classrooms all over the county.

Teachers, support staff, and administrators get up every day and move forward on the journey with our children. There aren’t enough hours in the day and we are now painfully that there isn’t enough money in the budget. They do it anyway.

No matter how school catchment areas are drawn, the aspirations of teachers will remain the same. They will bring the same desire to connect, draw out, lift up to every child that walks in the door. Despite what a former era in our school system might have wanted us to believe, teachers are not in the classroom solely to perform as an efficient delivery system of content. Teaching is a far more nuanced and multifaceted calling.

Schools are also committed to working with families of all kinds. Teachers work hard to find ways to connect with different kinds of parents. I wonder what they are thinking right now as they see combative and hateful grandstanding at Board Meetings and in the press? If you were a teacher, how would you feel about interacting with school parents like that? Would you feel safe? Would you feel you could be candid about a child’s progress? Would you be fearful of reprisals if a difficult situation arose?

I’ve seen people point out, ruefully, that our children are watching. That’s true. But so are our teachers. So are our schools. When all is said and done, they will still need to be there to welcome our children.

What are we doing to them?

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Truth in the Mirror

If the convulsions of school redistricting did not provide enough of a moment of self-revelation in Howard County, the responses to a post by the Howard County Police Department give us an even more thorough view.

It’s not pretty.

Yesterday afternoon the Police Department posted about an arrest in a sexual assault case at Reservoir High School. And then the comments started. Victim-blaming reared its ugly head.

Christine McComas, creator of Grace’s Law, was moved to respond:

I surely hope that EVERYONE  living in this county and especially within that particular community, with children or not, back away from gossiping/hating/judging/shaming on social media and warn others not to as well, particularly friends of the boy.
Read these comments and know that some of what they express is absolutely being aimed directly at this girl in much more damaging or threatening terms  from her peers as they take sides   
("you're a slut/whore trying to ruin his life", "snitches I will kill you")
Imagine not only being a young teen and having a horrendous experience, but publicly having the entire community involved in the maelstrom of social media badgering.
It is dangerous and can be deadly.
Let's get in front of it before tragedy strikes again.
Should abuse occur, save it and use Maryland's Grace's Law against cyberbullying to charge and get it to stop.
Grace K. McComas Memorial Webpage

Thank goodness many of the responses were pushbacks against the ugliness. But it is easy to see why women often decide not to report sexual assault. The pain of the event itself is doubled by those who refuse to believe that a crime was committed and undertake to attack the victim instead. If you knew those were your odds, would you report?

Howard County, you are breaking my heart these days.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019


Twenty years.

Twenty years ago I walked down the aisle at Grace and Saint Peter’s Church in Baltimore while the choir sang a piece composed by the groom who awaited me at the front. The joy of that moment had been a long time in coming.

My daughter from my first marriage was my bridesmaid. My future in-laws had prepared a beautiful reception in the parish house. Like most weddings the day went by in a blur. As evening fell we sat by firelight at the Inn at Mitchell House, exhilarated by it all.

We had bought our tickets for a journey whose adventures we could not possibly anticipate.

I don’t want to condense twenty years into a sentimental essay. I simply want to say two things:

I am so far from being a perfect person. I wince at my shortcomings and would probably be overwhelmed by them were it not for the fact that I married someone who makes me want to be better and do better all the time.

And I am so incredibly blessed to have found a love that was returned fully, without reservation.

There’s nothing more important for me to say today than that the last twenty years have been filled with every shade of love: kindness, patience, compassion, creativity, laughter, endurance, generosity, flexibility, and strength. Oh, and music. If it weren’t for music we never would have met at all.

Tomorrow may be the day for writing about schools or concerts or politics.

Today is for us.

Monday, November 11, 2019

A Cure for Monday

UPDATE: tonight’s show has been canceled. Phooey. - - jam

Friday evening I had the chance to experience Elevate Maryland in their new space and, tonight, you can too. They’ve set up shop in their new digs, 10960 Grantchester Way in Downtown Columbia. It’s in the building directly across from Cured.

The space belongs to Howard Hughes and I expect we will be seeing it used for a variety of public events in the future.

The show ended up being different than I expected due to a last minute emergency on the part of guest Dr. Richard Warren. Howard Hughes’ own Greg Fitchitt stepped in at the last minute and answered questions on Downtown development, affordable housing, equity in our schools, and more. I found his presentation to be relaxed and engaging. (As compared to the last time I saw him speak.) I suspect it’s because  he knew he was among friends and also that the stakes of the event were far lower.  He acquitted himself well. It was a lively and entertaining discussion.

Tonight the show features Montgomery County Council member Will Jawando. From his bio:

...Will has worked with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senator Sherrod Brown, and then-Senator Barack Obama. During the 8-year Obama Administration, Will had the honor of serving as Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, followed by a position as an advisor to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in the U.S. Department of Education.

Since Montgomery County is working on some of the very same issues that Columbia/HoCo is grappling with, I am interested to hear Mr, Jawando’s take on equity in school redistricting, affordable housing, and confronting issues of race as a public servant. Last year I followed along as he live tweeted his experiences in trying to get to work using public transit. I wonder if he will have anything to say on Howard County’s Complete Streets initiative?

Come on out. It’s centrally located. Parking is nearby and free. And you'll get to see a cool new space.

Sunday, November 10, 2019


It was a very long time ago that I saw a promo for the television show The Simpson’s which repelled me. The family was gathered around a Thanksgiving table laden with food. Bart, I think, perhaps, Homer, was saying the grace.

“Dear God, everything that's on this table we put here ourselves, so: thanks for nothing.”

My objection to this was not on religious grounds but rather the complete lack of gratitude for life’s blessings.

I was reminded of this quote as I drove home last night and was listening to a public radio show called Live Wire. The guest was Dina Nayeri, speaking on her experience as an Iranian refugee. She was asked how America has changed since she came here thirty years ago. Ms. Nayeri spoke to the growing anti-refugee climate as follows (and I’m paraphrasing):

The difference is that people have come to believe the blessings and advantages they were born with are something that they innately deserve. 

This week I read an online conversation about how privilege plays into the ability of some parents to take a greater role in the redistricting process than others. The compete denial of privilege by some was rather stunning. The line of thinking went like this:

Anyone could do this if they made it a priority. I just work harder. It’s not my fault that those people don’t care enough.

Howard County is home to so many educated people. I find it both heartbreaking and infuriating that our education did not include the truth about how laws and systems have been made and perpetuated  to protect wealth, rights, and privilege for whites. We do not feel the trip wires which take down non-whites as they do all the things we do to create better lives. They do not exist for us.

Similar or even more concerted efforts than our own are sabotaged by a culture that centers White success and fears a world where that success might be shared with people different than ourselves. We don’t see the sabotage. We don’t navigate those minefields. We continue, year after year, to benefit from a system that allows our striving to have meaning and to bear fruit.

And then we have the gall to say that we deserve it. That we worked for it and it belongs to us.

It is not that we have not worked. It is that our culture allows our work to move us forward. Our good intentions are greeted with admiration and not suspicion. Our ideas carry weight in public meetings and our children are welcome without inquiry or interrogation. We move through the waters of systemic racism and do not even know we are swimming. It’s just us being us. Isn't that the way it is for everyone?

No. No, it isn’t.

And the sooner we make learning these bitter truths a priority, the better our community will be.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Merriweather Memories

Merriweather is running a contest right now and the deadline is soon. No, let me correct that. It looks like Howard Hughes is running the contest, which has a Merriweather theme. From the contest page:

We’re calling all concert goers to share your favorite memories from the Merriweather Post Pavilion. For over 50 years, the world’s finest musicians have performed at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Downtown Columbia.

What was the song that changed your life, or the show where you saw your favorite artist live for the first time? What is the moment that you will never forget?

Share your favorite song lyric and memory of the best show at Merriweather Post Pavilion for a chance to win tickets to the 2020 season!

50 winners will be selected and will receive 2 tickets to a concert of their choice during the 2020 season. Each winner will also have their lyrics engraved on bricks located in the plaza as part of an art installation within the Merriweather District. 

I am tempted to enter but my most precious Merriweather memories don’t fit neatly inside the box.

At a memorial service for beloved local blogger Dennis Lane, his grieving partner and her daughter stood on the stage together, arms around each other, while a song they had chosen for that moment played in the pavilion. It was a moment of shared grief that I will never forget and the music was just as much a part of it as the visuals and words of the event. 

At the 50th Birthday Concert for Columbia my daughter’s school performed “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay. Different facets of their musical performing arts groups were represented: choir, band, guitar ensemble. Dancers joined in as well. The lyrics of the song are rather disheartening but the experience of those young people joining forces to create something bigger than themselves will stay with me forever.

So I suppose I won’t enter the contest. You should, though. How cool would it be to have the lyrics you chose memorialized on a brick around the Azlon art installation in the Merriweather District? Winning Merriweather tickets would be sweet, too.

To be fair, I’ve already got a brick.

And I’ve already got greats seats to some of the best shows in town.

I’m pretty sure I’m already a winner.

Friday, November 8, 2019


Trying to think straight at five am is just madness. At least it certainly seems so of late. Almost every idea that pops into my head is followed by the thought that I should put it off until the weekend when I have had more time. And more sleep.

A few tidbits for your Friday:

The Howard County Schools will begin before Labor Day next year, which is what happens when you let local jurisdictions make their own choices. Home rule—I’m in favor of it.

There’s a going to be a free magic show at Christ Church Episcopal on Monday November 14th at 7 pm. It is free and open to the public. I’ll bet there was a time when churches and magic shows were deemed incompatible, but times change. UPDATE: a helpful reader points out that the date should read November 11th.

There’s a new reporter on the Howard County government beat: Ana Faguy. So that means the clock is ticking until the workload and low pay take their toll and she moves on. Of course I welcome her presence on the local scene and I am grateful for any local coverage at all. But I’m going to try not to get too attached.

Local podcast Elevate Maryland kicks off their 73rd episode tonight in a new home in Downtown Columbia. Featuring Maryland Teacher of the Year Dr. Richard Warren, the program begins at six pm. Learn more here.

As you begin to fill up your December calendar, be sure to check out the offerings from the Inner Arbor Trust. Ice and Fire (actually begins November 30th) will feature: lighted holiday displays,fire pits & fire arts, performances, greetings with characters (the Snow Queen, elves, and more),Santa photos, and ice sculptors.

Best of all, it benefits the Community Action Council and will support other area nonprofits as well.

Have a great Friday and a wonderful weekend!