Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Right of Way

When I first moved to Columbia we used to joke that no one ate at home on Friday night. The local phenomenon of heading out somewhere only to be met with an enormous wait everywhere one went led to my husband’s refusal for many years to even attempt to go out on a Friday night.

Times have changed. There has been an explosion of restaurants since then. It’s easier to find a place without a wait on Friday night. On the other hand, just try finding a place to park when you swing by Bonchon to pick up your takeaway order - - on a Monday night.

Really? Wall-to-wall cars at the Mall on a Monday night? Maybe no one eats at home ever anymore! When I finally got parked, Bonchon was hopping. Almost every table was full. Clearly the town that splurged on a Friday night restaurant trip has changed over the years.

Strangely enough, this isn’t meant to be a post on local restaurant patronage. It’s about traffic. Not “too much traffic” but, rather, the changing traffic patterns around the Mall. I found myself really struggling last night to understand who had the right of way. It used to be that cars entering the Mall property always had the right of way. But now we have newer spokes extending out from the mall ring road that feel more like city streets than Mall entrance points.

Who goes first? Who turns? Who waits? How can you tell? I felt as though I was traversing a lawless expanse where my only thought was, “You’ll be lucky if you don’t die.” Obviously I was lucky, or I wouldn’t be writing this post. But it was a white knuckle experience.

Is there some new kind of traffic protocol at work here that I am not aware of? Are there signs posted that I just haven’t seen? I welcome your input. The next time I do a post-Elevate Maryland Bonchon run I want to be ready.

Monday, December 30, 2019

The One About Karen

The first thing that came to mind when I read about that now-infamous letter to the Baltimore Sun opining on how a local football player should spend his personal income was this:

Please, please don’t let Karen be from Howard County.

Over the last year a number of singularly unhelpful letters have turned up in the paper, holding forth on what’s wrong with Baltimore and how to fix it. I cringe when I see their origin: Clarksville, or Ellicott City, or some other Howard County location. In general, the worldview they offer looks something like this:

I am white
I am affluent
I’m not from Baltimore
I don’t know the history
I’m not up on current events

As you might imagine, the advice they offer is limited in value. No, that is too kind. It is ignorant of the deeper issues and often outright racist. If you think the most pressing issue in Baltimore is what to do about “those squeegee kids” then you have not done your homework. These sorts of letters do not make Howard County look good. I wince every time I read one.

This is why I jumped to the conclusion that a letter in which someone named Karen was criticizing a Black football player on buying expensive gifts for his teammates had probably come from out our way. That tone seemed awfully familiar. But, as far as I can tell, this is not the case. I guess ignorance knows no boundaries.

I’ve been catching up on back episodes of Elevate Maryland and there’s a moment in Episode 75 where co-hosts Candace Dodson Reed and Tom Coale offer thoughts on people from outside Baltimore amusing themselves with Baltimore’s political woes. Their discussion occurs towards the beginning of the Episode, during the “Three Things I’m Thinking About” portion of the podcast. It’s worth a listen.

There’s a special kind of hubris involved when affluent and largely ignorant folks think that their advice is necessary or event wanted. It is not unlike very rich people suggesting how the desperately poor just don’t budget well enough. It is more than merely unhelpful. It’s ugly. And hurtful.

Let’s not be that, Howard County. We have enough to worry about right here at home.


Year in Review episode of Elevate Maryland is happening tonight at 5:30. Sign up here for free tickets if you want to catch some of the lively conversation in person and experience the show in its new location.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Eat, Shop, _____

Me: If there’s anything fun you want to do today, just let me know.
She: It seems like there’s nothing to do here but shop and eat.
Me: ...
She: There’s probably a whole blog post in that...

How are you going to entertain those kids now that they’ve been to college and experienced larger worlds? It’s a little harder when you’re generally a homebody.

What have we done over the holidays that wasn’t shopping or eating out?

Ice and Fire at Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods


Well, inspired by this conversation, we decided to go to the Ellicott City Lights house last night. We had somehow never been. I am assuming that most of my readers have already seen this remarkable annual holiday tradition, so I won’t go into too much detail. And if you haven’t, I’d recommend it. I experienced that childlike sense of delight as I discovered each aspect of the display. It provided a moment of happiness for me that felt almost medicinal.

The world is full of unspeakable horrors, our democracy is under attack, but right here, right now, in the lights and music and the aroma of popcorn and the taste of candy canes we are at peace and full of love. The bin for donations to the Howard County Food Bank is filling up. Let’s just pretend that we can bottle this feeling and share it widely.

Who knows? Maybe we can find a way.

So we got off the couch and did something. Afterwards we had dinner at Uno’s and shopped at Target. That’s Columbia/HoCo for you.

A shout out to friend of the blog Nikki Schmidt who posted the following yesterday afternoon:

Fellow busy parents - it's 63° outside and sunny. Take 10 minutes to stand outside, breath the fresh air and turn your face to the sun. Vitamin D is critical for mental health, and this air is glorious.

 I took her advice. Once I was up and out of the house I decided to return some library books at the East Columbia Branch. Wow, do I love our library system. I returned my books, noodled around the childrens’ section, searched the online catalogue for books on an upcoming topic for my classroom, and walked out with a great selection.

And I didn’t spend any money or eat a meal in the process, so I’ll count that as a win.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

It Didn’t Happen

I don’t always think like everybody else. For example, I saw this story:

2 Howard County General Hospital Security Guards Injured After Altercation With Man In The ER
(CBS Baltimore)

And my first thought was, “Thank God it was just a knife.”

This story might also be thought of as, “Mass Shooting Did Not Occur Today In Howard County Hospital.”

Now I am not suggesting that we all should be downright happy that someone is bringing a knife into the hospital and cutting up security guards. Of course not. But can you imagine the damage that might have been done in the ER by an angry/out of control person with a gun?

Hospital ERs have to deal with all kinds of people in all kinds of physical and mental states. Years ago I was in the ER at Yale-New Haven on Memorial Day weekend when a bunch of people injured in  a bar fight were brought in. I watched from my little examination cubicle as the drunken brawl broke out again while they were awaiting treatment. It was scary.

I hope that the security guards are well on their way to being physically healed. I imagine the mental/emotional healing from that kind of crisis takes longer, even if you are trained to be prepared for it. Still, I can’t help thinking how horrific the outcome would have been if a gun had been present. People carry the psychic damage of mass shootings with them for the rest of their lives even if they have sustained no physical injuries. Think of how our community reeled from grief after the shooting at the Columbia Mall.

Yesterday, at the hospital, that didn’t happen. Perhaps it’s a crazy thing to be thankful for, but I am thankful nonetheless.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Headed Back to the Bar

I continue to be a big fan of HoCoLocal Twitter account @ECPix. They combine a love of Ellicott City with great photos around a variety of themes. I shared one here once on baked goods.  Throughout the holiday shopping season the account featured several visual shopping/walking tours of Main Street businesses and their varied goods.

Today Ellicott City Pix focuses on making an environmentally sound change in the new year: Giving up liquid soap and using locally made bar soaps.

...so much better than purposefully rubbing a paragraph of complicated chemicals all over the skin, and ... no plastic containers.  They last a pretty long time if you keep them dry. Plus, they can double as potpourri in the closet as they await use.

Locally made soaps mentioned in this thread include Milo Soap, Biggs & Featherbelle, and Breezy Willow Farm soaps made by Rose Caulder. I have bought the latter to give as gifts and they smell heavenly without being overpowering.

What do you think? Is it time to say no to the endless plastic pump containers and choose natural bar soaps? What would happen if we made a concerted effort to purchase locally made soaps instead?

Do you have any local businesses you’d like to recommend to my readers and/environmentally friendly changes we ought to be considering in the New Year?

Let me know.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

HoCo Holler: Esha Bhatti, Student

On most Thursdays I am getting dressed and getting ready to leave the house by the time my weekly issue of the Columbia Flier appears in my inbox. It’s a little luxury today to be able to peruse it before writing today’s post.

I often find myself headed toward the letters to the editor page to see what is on peoples’ minds. Some letters are eloquent, some angry, some comically bad. In general they are written to advocate in favor of something or to protest against. This week there was one which broke the usual pattern by aiming solely to inform.

A grateful Village Green/Town² HoCo Holler goes out today to Reservoir High School student Esha Bhatti who wrote a letter to the Columbia Flier to explain why Muslims don’t celebrate Christmas. It is a beautifully written piece which shines a light on Muslim beliefs and practices for a community which may be largely ignorant of them. The tone is forthright yet clearly respectful of other religions and traditions.

My understanding of this topic before today was rather basic. “Some faiths celebrate a religious version of Christmas, some don't, and that’s their business and not for me to judge.” But Bhatti’s letter illuminates the why in such a beautiful way. Those of us who celebrate Christmas are supported by a sort of default Christmas setting in both churches and popular culture, not to mention the retail industry. Being different this time of year must feel like swimming against the tide.

But this high school student’s missive is not a complaint, not a protest. There’s no sense of exasperation but purely a desire to inform. And I am guessing that it comes from a belief that with greater understanding comes better relationships and interactions. I heartily recommend that you read it. If you don’t have a subscription it’s worth one of your designated free clicks.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

A Greater Light

The words of the opening collect and prayers from the service of Nine Lessons and Carol are like old friends to me. I sat in my car yesterday to hear the beginning of the service from Kings College.

Lastly let us remember all those who rejoice with us,
but upon another shore and in a greater light,

We lost my beloved father-in-law this year. Everything about our last Christmas together is somehow more vibrant in my memory today. I found myself wondering at church last night what he would have to say about different things in the service. I missed him at dinner afterwards with our church friends. His vibrant, poetic, joyful persona is woven into how I have celebrated Christmas for more than twenty years.

All of us who have lived long enough have lost someone that we love. At certain times of the year it feels as though their presence comes through. Holidays, which we have shared and made holy through annual re-enactment of family traditions, are a time when the separation between our world and the next feels particularly thin to me. Even when our loved one is no longer there, our memories place them there. We can almost reach out and touch them.

I find myself embracing the thought that Sam can “rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light.“  He was always ready to be delighted and astonished. He reveled in new adventures and experiences. As I celebrate today my world continues to be enriched by how he shared his life with us. 

Many of us carry someone in our hearts into our holiday celebrations. Maybe you are one who is feeling that keenly today. I hope their memory brings you joy. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The Great Leveler

Oh, Columbia Patch. I know I should  not expect much from you but I can’t let this one go by.

Here we see a link to a piece about Howard County’s new Online Services Catalogue. And here is a stock photo someone thought would be appropriate.

No, no, no.

Affluent white dad pays attention to laptop while half-heartedly holding a spoon to feed a baby.

No, no, no.

There’s so much wrong in this photo. Centering affluent whiteness. Treating a baby like an afterthought. Reinforcing the stereotypes that men don’t know how to be nurturing caregivers. The only thing that’s right about this photo is also wrong. The baby renders the realism of the scene false by making eye contact with the photographer or someone, perhaps a parent, out of the picture.

Eye contact is the only thing remotely right about this scene.

When I had coffee this Fall with Bonnie Bricker to learn more about Talk With Me, she explained why the initiative is targeted towards all families, and not just a less-affluent, more likely to be at-risk subset. She held up her phone and said,

“This is the great leveler.”

The advent of the smart phone has decimated parent-infant interactions. What were once normal occasions for eye contact and interactive engagement now look more like the photo above. Look! There’s an entire category of stock photos depicting this behavior.

From the Talk With Me website:

Your baby’s brain grows with every interaction you have together.

I’m going to rephrase that in a way that highlights the crisis in child development that smart phones and other electronics are bringing about.

Every time you miss an opportunity to interact with your baby, their brain doesn’t grow.

Why is that important?

What is the most important time in brain development?

The brain remains ‘plastic’ throughout life, but trajectories are set during the prenatal period and early childhood. Brain development is very rapid in the womb and continues at an accelerated rate in the first two to three years in particular. (Brain and behavioural plasticity in the developing brain: Neuroscience and public policy, Dr. Bryan Kolb)
This is huge. We have the power to impact brain development in countless simple ways but there is a cost. The cost is putting our phones down. The cost is paying attention. Infant care is exhausting and mind numbingly endless. The desire to take a break by withdrawing to that readily available electronic space is understandable. But we all too quickly become acclimated to it.
And our babies suffer. And their brains are diminished. And their futures are changed. 
It’s that simple.

The fix is simple, too. Read to the bottom of the Talk With Me page. There’s an easy-to-implement plan that anyone can master. Just as we require people to wash their hands before holding our babies, and that they be vaccinated in order to protect baby’s fragile immune systems, we can insist that people put aside electronics for meaningful human interaction. We should make it just as much a priority.
CAUTION: Improper use can limit and/or diminish the brain development of infants and young children.
If you are giving electronic devices during this holiday season, maybe you can include the information from Talk With Me along with your gift. Understanding suggested operation conditions should be a part of every new toy.


Monday, December 23, 2019

The Staff Meeting Returns

Overslept. Last workday before Christmas. Here’s a Village Green/Town² classic:

(From December, 2014)

Staff Meeting

Santa and Santa's helpers have been taxed to the max in Howard County this year. It seems that every holiday season brings more opportunities to see the Man in Red. I can just imagine a staff meeting at the North Pole...

"Okay everybody, let's get this show on the road."
"Aw, c'mon man, it's only Halloweeeeeen!"
"You know the drill. It gets earlier every year. Gotta keep up with the times."
"Everybody have their calendar?"

iPads, phones, and Blackberries are pulled out. Santa himself clings to his beloved Day-Timer but his Head Administrative Elf double-checks everything and enters it into the Main Schedule on his MacBook.

"Herb, what are you doing? That's an Advent Calendar. You can't open that up yet!"
"It's last year's. Didn't eat all the chocolate yet."

The Head Administrative Elf sighs and hands him one of those nice glossy calendars that the North Pole Real Estate Agent sent over and a candy-cane ball-point pen.

"Alright! Howard County! Let's get this one in the books!"
"Breakfast with Santa?"
"Pizza with Santa?"
"Polar Express?"
"Firefighters with Santa?"

Various hands are raised, dates written down.

"Brunch with Santa?"
"Happy Hour with Santa?"
Dead silence. Heads come up.
"What the heck is going on, man?"

The Head Administrative Elf looks over the tops of his glasses, down the long table.

"I beg your pardon?"
"What's up with all the extra gigs? I mean, we all love the regular rounds of doughnuts, pizza, milk and cookies, even those cold rides with the Fire Department. But every year in Howard County they're adding more, more, more!"

A rumble of assent goes round the table.

"Where will it end? Sauna with Santa? Dental cleanings with Santa? Dry-cleaning pickups with Santa?"

Another speaks up. "This has gotten out of hand. This county wants Santa at its beck and call from Halloween right through til Christmas Eve. Someone's got to draw the line."

"Yeah! Santa's Helpers need to get ready for Christmas, too!"

The meeting breaks down into general pandemonium.

In the midst of the chaos, Santa himself, the Man in Red, stands up slowly, looking at the scene before him. Feeling his gaze, the dissenters fall silent.

He clears his throat. He sighs.

"Must I remind you? Must I even speak of this?" His voice trembles a bit with anger.
"Once our children in Howard County had a place to go to visit with Santa and share their wishes. They knew once they saw the Poinsettia Tree that the time had come for Christmas joy." His face darkened. Santa's Helpers looked down at their hands, twiddled their pens, shifted uncomfortably in their chairs.

"But commercialism and greed have turned their tradition over to the Dark Side..." His voice trailed off. Everyone knew what he meant. He didn't have to go any further.
Exhorbitant photo fees. Requirements to buy large photo packages. Prohibition of parent-taken photographs. It was now Santa only for the well-to-do. It went against
everything they all believed in.

Herb, wiping the last crumbs of chocolate from his mouth, raises his hand.

"Okay, I'm cool with the Brunch with Santa. Pencil me in."

The meeting continues peacefully. All the dates are filled.

The Head Assistant Elf stands, signalling the close of the meeting.

"Thanks, gentlemen. The children are fortunate that you are on their side. This Christmas will be the best ever."

Santa pats his arm. "Wait a minute. Did we ever schedule Happy Hour with Santa?"
The Head Administrative Elf smiles.

"Oh, that's the Office Party. Second Chance Saloon. Half price burger night. Happy   hour prices all night. Uniform optional. Ugly Christmas sweater contest. Raffle, prizes, fruitcake tossing."

That's one date everyone happily fills in.

"That's a wrap, everyone."


Sunday, December 22, 2019

HoCo Goes Hallmark

There’s been some seasonal joking about those holiday movies for which Hallmark is famous. Their formula has been solidifying over the years to the point where it has become a meme.

I thought it might be fun to give this a local twist. Let’s replace the Green section with “returns to Columbia/HoCo”. 

New let’s add some new choices:

  • To save the family farm 
  •  To sell off the family’s original Columbia home 
  •  To liquidate a struggling Village Center 
  •  To get the family business in Old Ellicott City back on its feet 
  • To challenge a decision by the planning board

Now let’s work some romantic magic as our protagonist “magically falls in love” with:

  • An embattled member of the school board
  • A member of the Howard Hughes Merriweather District team 
  • A beloved pastor of an interfaith center congregation 
  • A visionary food entrepreneur at the Common Kitchen
  • An environmental activist 

Let’s add a category - - local settings:
  • Howard County fairgrounds 
  • Main Street EC
  • The Chrysalis 
  • People Tree
  • Enchanted Forest at Clarks Elioak Farm
Ok, folks! Get to work. Mix and match and tell me what you’ve got. 

What else would you add? Did you end up with a movie you would watch? Who would you cast?


Saturday, December 21, 2019


Good morning. I’m here today to talk to you about glee. No, not this glee. And not the glee with which the reindeer shouted out to Rudolph. I’m here to address an accusation made by a prominent local Republican this week. His words came in response to an acknowledgement of the late Elijah Cummings after the vote on the articles of impeachment.

What is sad is that you are hiding your glee behind the death of a congressman.

There was accompanying pontification on how local Democrats’ demeanor was unseemly. They were clearly expressing delight when they should have been reflecting a somber mood. 

The delight is very telling. Sad.

I could not disagree more. 

Do not tell me that I should feel that the vote on articles of impeachment is “a sad day for our country.”  The sad day for our country was when the current office holder was installed in spite of losing the popular vote and through the machinations of a party so eager to win that they accepted help from groups whose aim is to break down and destroy our democratic process.

That was the sad day. Wednesday was a day of reckoning. Wednesday the nation fought back.

I’m going to share a photograph which has been making the rounds on social media lately. 

 Courtesy of the Gross family)

These women have just learned that they are being freed and will not be continuing on to Nazi death camps. Examine their facial expressions. Their emotions are understandably complex but their joy is clear. The unspeakable horrors they were facing have now been smashed by their liberation. It is not a sad day. No one will fault them for their delight.

Right now we have a president and an unwavering cadre of legislative supporters who separate parents and children, who place people in camps, who allow human beings to suffer and die alone without adequate medical care. He uses the powers of his office to gut laws that protect the environment, LGBTQ Rights, safe food handling. He takes food benefits from hungry families and children. He fosters an environment of hatred and intolerance against anyone who is different or who dares to oppose him. He pressures other nations to perform tasks solely for his personal benefit.

The day that the congress of the United States holds this President responsible for his actions against the nation is not a sad one. It is a triumph of the very process the founders laid out to protect the survival of our democracy. If this vote opens a door to stopping the pain that this administration is causing?

That would be a very happy day.

You’re darn right I’m gleeful. Who would not be if it meant that there might be a possibility that this horrific suffering might be ended? How could you not be joyful? We the People have the power to push back and censure tyrants and insist that our elected officials stand for something more than the worship of riches and the callous promotion of human suffering.

You can’t shame me. I’ll take your glee and raise it one. I’m proud.


Friday, December 20, 2019


A moderator of the Buy Nothing Group I belong to on Facebook posted the following this week:

Make a wish this Wednesday!

We all have things that we've "always wanted to have". Post it here. Maybe someone has one just waiting for you to speak up! I know a lot of us really get a kick out of being able to gift something that would mean a lot to someone else.. Happy gifting!

I couldn’t think of anything to wish for.

What came to mind instead were all the wishes I have had that have come true over the years. First I thought of how two friends, who were downsizing, sold me an original Evergleam aluminum Christmas tree for a laughably affordable price, when they learned I had been pining for one for years. They even threw in a functioning color wheel to go with it.

I thought of my first Christmas with my now-husband, where I was at the Mall with my daughter and we put Christmas letters to Santa in a mailbox put out for that purpose. Mine said, “thank you for everything. Please give someone else their wish.”

When I was divorced and a single parent living in a small apartment my daughter and I used to repeat the mantra, “Some day we'll live in a house with an upstairs and a downstairs and a washer and a dryer and a yard and a treehouse.”  How blessed we were for our wishes to come true.

Well, except the tree house. You can’t have everything. But I do love watching Tree House Masters on tv and, you never know. Life isn’t over yet.

I started writing in elementary school and dreamed off and on of “being a writer.” It was a dream that wasn’t fully formed and life and marriage and motherhood and divorce and many other things have intervened and shaped my journey. Somehow I have grown into being a writer in my own way and it has become a big chunk of who I am.

All of these wishes came true in the community which has become “my home town”, although I didn’t grow up here. Columbia/HoCo has become so much a part of me that it’s an integral part of my wishes-come-true. Funny, that. I never wished for a community. But it turned out that I wanted one all along.

Like many of you I find that this time of year reinforces feelings of overwork, being overwhelmed, and not having enough energy or time to prepare for the holidays. Yet when I looked at an opportunity to ask for anything I might have always wanted, all I could think of was how many of my wishes have been answered.


Thursday, December 19, 2019

Get Out!

I go out for recess three times a day. Almost every single day. If it’s drizzly, we wear raincoats and rain boots. If it is cold, we bundle up, and perhaps we don’t stay out as long. When it is hot, we wear sunscreen and sun hats and bring iced water so kids can have lots of drinks. Would I do this if I didn’t work with children? Of course not.

Would my life be diminished? Absolutely.

Children need outdoor play like they need food and drink and rest and love. On days when we can’t get outside enough our students are miserable. They needs to run, climb, negotiate uneven surfaces, balance, ride trikes, scooters, push and pull things, crawl, hang, twist, spin, and dig in the sand and dirt. It is nutritional for them.

If you have kids in your life please make sure that you give them the gift of outdoor play during those times when they are not at school. It is far too easy to feel that you are too busy or that the weather is incompatible with going out. It almost never is. You just have to believe it’s the most important thing, and then live accordingly. 

Child-directed, large motor, outdoor play cannot be replaced by gymnastics classes, or soccer teams, or any of the myriad directed activities that children are scheduled into by well meaning parents. Like the expensive toys we buy to make our children happy, it’s almost always the empty box that sparks imagination and play. Outdoor play is that empty box that our children fill with their own ideas and meaning.

To bring this back to a HoCo local focus, where are the places in Columbia/HoCo that you enjoy exploring with your children outdoors? Parks? Playgrounds? Pathways? 

I could write another complete and detailed post about how crucial outdoor play is to the development of all those things that children will need for school success, but I’m not going to do that today. Today it is enough to say your children need this - - like breathing - - and you will enable them to be their better selves if you foster daily outdoor play in their lives.

It may change your life for the better, too. 


Wednesday, December 18, 2019

News and Notes

While I was home last night nursing bronchitis, a sinus infection and possible pneumonia (!) quite a bit was happening in Columbia/HoCo. A tip of the hat to the people who got out and participated.

Over two hundred people joined in protest in Downtown Columbia in support of a vote for impeachment of the 45th President of the United States. It is heartening to know that, even at such a busy time of year, people will stop everything and come out to support our nation and the rule of law. It is worth noting that principles on which Columbia was founded are completely at odds with the modus operandi of the current administration. 

Meanwhile, on Route 108, the Board of Education was able to chose a new chair solely because one of the nominees voluntarily withdrew her name from consideration. In my opinion, both candidates are extremely able, knowledgeable, and each bring unique qualifications to take on a leadership role. Frankly, the Board was lucky to be able to chose from the two of them. The problem, to my mind, is the splitting of the board into two immovable factions in the face of making this choice. This does not bode well for anything that is to follow. Of course I hope I am wrong on this. We will need much better leadership from all members than a board frozen by factions.

Around town various schools were presenting their Winter Concerts. You won’t be surprised to hear me say that I hold such experiences to be as important as the protest on Little Patuxent Parkway and the meeting at the Board of Education. 

The opportunity to learn about the arts and to perform as artists is an essential part of a well-rounded curriculum and complete education. The arts help students explore realities, relationships and ideas that cannot be conveyed simply in words or numbers. And the arts engender innovative problem solving that students can apply to other academic disciplines while at the same time, provide experience working as a team. (“The Importance of Music”)

Supporting arts experiences for our students would be valuable enough alone purely for the joy of it, but joy alone is not the sole result. Arts education builds more involved, connected, engaged adults. The arts build community.

And community is clearly what we need right now in Columbia/Howard County.


Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Cocktail Party Conversation

I was at a party Sunday (yes, an unlikely occurrence, I know) when the name of Columbia’s founder came up.

“If you say the name of James Rouse three times a Village Center will spring up under your feet,” was one witty suggestion.

I wondered aloud if this could be used to revitalize older Village Centers. It would be extremely helpful.

Later I got an unintended laugh when I asked someone, “Are you from Columbia or Howard County?” Perhaps not everyone makes that distinction the way that I do.

Another topic of discussion Sunday afternoon was who gets to choose how newer buildings with new street names are addressed. For instance, why is the Howard Hughes event space located on Grantchester and not Little Patuxent? Did Howard Hughes decide or the County? Does it have something to do with making buildings easy to find for 911 responders?

And then we were on to maps vs GPS, the unreadability of house numbers, and other such challenges.

I’m not a frequent guest at cocktail parties but it makes sense that I found myself at one filled with other people who are as geeky about Columbia/HoCo as I am.


Monday, December 16, 2019

Help Wanted

Psssst! Over here! I’ve got an offer for you.

Has anyone ever told you that you ought to run for Board of Education? You really should. Right now in my district there only one declared candidate so far and we really need at least two to give people some kind of choice.

I just know you’d be perfect for the job,

What can you expect? Well, the job itself pays almost nothing. But think of your contribution to the community. And you will meet all kinds of interesting people at Board Meetings. Some will be there just to insult you. Some will limit their displeasure to making rude noises. Not so bad, really.

In the present climate you can expect residents who don’t approve of your job performance to malign you on social media and MPIA your emails in an attempt to show how awful you are. Of course, you are going to be truly wonderful in every respect so that won’t bother you, right?

The ideal candidate has a job they can take time away from on a regular basis in order to attend meetings. Of course, if you have enough money that you don’t have to work at all that’s a plus. Besides, the school system really needs people who are really good at managing money. Goodness knows the salary is merely a token of appreciation compared to the hours you will put in.

Remember, this is a non-partisan election. This means that anyone who doesn’t like your views will accuse you of being a member of the political party they don’t like.

By now I am sure you are excited to learn more about how to file as a candidate. I know that someone with your qualifications and passion for public service will jump at the chance. Don’t hesitate. We’re all counting on you.


Sunday, December 15, 2019

Getting the Word Out

What are you doing New Year’s Eve? You may have heard that old song:

Maybe it's much too early in the game
Oh, but I thought I'd ask you just the same
What are you doing New Year's?
New Year's eve?

Some go to parties, some out to eat. Some go to special events at their favorite “watering holes”. Some stay home and watch The Ball drop on tv.

Some wish they could celebrate but no place feels safe.

Making plans for New Year’s Eve can be difficult if you are a person who is living in recovery. If one goes anywhere on New Year’s Eve one is confronted by the drinking culture. It is the one night of the year when it is almost impossible to avoid a steady stream of party hosts offering alcoholic drinks. The evening itself may hold unhappy memories for this very reason.

People in recovery, and the people who love them, have a new opportunity to party this year thanks to Sobar. They’re hosting a New Year's Eve Soirée, Sobar-style.

You can learn more and buy your tickets here. You may remember that Sobar and founder Beth Harbinson was one of the winners of the Horizon Foundation’s inaugural Changemaker Challenge in 2017, with a goal to create healthy and appealing non-alcoholic beverages to enhance choices for those who choose not to drink. Since then they have been serving up their creative concoctions at local events. Now they are moving into sponsoring their own alcohol-free events.

Join us in sending out 2019 in true (sober) style, at this black-and-white-themed extravaganza.
Get fancy with black tie or come in your black jeans and white tee!
Guests will enjoy:
• a relaxed atmosphere in our acoustic lounge and
fireplace room;
• a high-energy, DJ-led dance party;
• catering from the award-winning Chef’s Expressions

• a silent auction, and of course;
• elegant alcohol-free beverages provided by Sobar®

You won’t have to worry about what to do on New Year’s Eve anymore!

From the Sobar website:

I’d like to see this event be wildly successful. I truly believe that there are more than enough people in Columbia/HoCo to support an event like this. They just need to know it is happening. So I’m asking my readers to spread the word around. You may not be interested in this event but you almost certainly know people who are looking for a fun, alcohol free New Year’s Eve celebration.  You may not necessarily know specifically who those people are. Not everyone living in recovery feels comfortable sharing that information.

So I’m laying it on you to share this information. There’s a cool, new party in town and its name is Sobar. Sobar Soirée, to be exact. 

Tell your friends.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

The Snooze Button

I keep falling back asleep this morning. Do you think that’s a sign? It has been a long week in the teaching department, the holidays are bearing down upon us, and yesterday marked the one month anniversary of The Cough That Will Not Die.

But, enough whining.

A few things on my mind and likely to turn up soon in full-fledged blog posts:

  • Free bus service for the holidays
  • Sobar’s New Years Eve Event
  • Musicians from Columbia/HoCo: Gallant and Brent Faiyaz
  • A friendly Thanksgiving football event and how it started
  • Who wants to run for Board of Ed now?
Of course, I’m always open to your suggestions for local stories. The quirkier, the better.


Friday, December 13, 2019

This Means War

There is no war on Christmas. Christmas as a cultural phenomenon starts flowing out of every faucet before Thanksgiving. Even if you have no intention of celebrating Christmas, you cannot avoid it. The trappings of American Christmas celebrations bombard you at every turn.

It may have become more commercial and more secular through the years, but Christmas is what each family chooses to make it within their own home. It is not under attack. No one is endangered for celebrating Christmas.

What is under attack in our country is Judaism. The recent murders at a Jewish Market in New Jersey are just another example of a steady stream of violent acts which have been building over the last several years. A possible change in the law to identify Judaism as a nationality rather than a religion harkens to similar decrees during the Third Reich.

We can’t be silent about this. This shouldn’t be a concern only for our Jewish neighbors and friends. At a time of year when we share common themes of lighting candles to illuminate the darkness, we need to reach beyond our usual circles of celebration to acknowledge the fear and anger of this moment in our nation. We need to say, “I will be there for you. You are not alone.”

There is no war on Christmas. But there is plainly a growing attack on those who are perceived as “different” in this county. First you are different. Then you are feared, then hated, then “othered”. Then you are in danger.

Those who look different, worship differently, are differently abled, love and/or identify differently are every bit as American and deserving of acceptance and respect as those who represent the predominant cultural attributes. This isn’t just a nice thing to say. It is a foundational belief of our nation.

This is the kind of war that can only be waged with the fierce persistence of acts of love and justice. I am searching for ways to show my Jewish friends, neighbors, and coworkers that I am an ally in a dark time.

Join me.


Ice and Fire Festival Advent Calendar 


Thursday, December 12, 2019

All Y’all

I read a thread on Twitter last night about what “home” really means. The phrase that struck me was this: 

You become a resident of a place by giving a shit about it, by bleeding your metaphorical blood and passion all over it, by wanting what’s best for the people around you who you don't even know. Anything else is window dressing or a castle of lies.


...by wanting what’s best for the people around you who you don't even know. 

Possibly the most disturbing thing that has been exposed by our community’s brush with school redistricting is the number of people who feel it is completely fine to want the best solely for their own children or for a small subset of people who they feel are the right kind of people. Community cannot possibly thrive under those conditions. Nor, really, can democracy.

“We, the people” doesn’t mean you and your kids or you and your preferred neighborhood group. It’s a far bigger and more inclusive concept. 

In church last Sunday our new pastor talked about how the English language lacks a plural for “you” and how that distorts our view of some parts of the Bible. In some cases where we read the word “you”, she countered, it should really read “y’all”. (Or what my mother used, “you-all”.) Verses which proclaim:

If you follow my ways, you will prosper.

are not meant in an individual way, but like this:

If y’all follow my ways, all y’all will prosper.


I am not proselytizing here, unless it’s to make a case for the kind of community where people want what’s best for people they don’t even know. And this is not caring in an amorphous, touchy- feely way, but the kind of caring which is manifest in good works. In setting priorities, making promises, and keeping them.

That’s community. And that’s home.


Ice and Fire Festival Advent Calendar