Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Discontent Diaries

I’ve seen some folks online express frustration recently by using statements like:

I am so over Howard County.

Or, was it:

I just can’t even with Howard County.

But one comment I spotted, left as a review of a local nonprofit, takes the cake:

They do nothing to help the real housewives of HoCo.

That’s when my whole train of thought went off the rails. Who are the real housewives of HoCo?

True Confession: I have never watched even one moment of any of the “Real Housewives” shows.  I didn’t watch Desperate Housewives either. Perhaps I don’t like the term “Housewife”. I know I cringe when people call the dramatic play area in a classroom “Housekeeping.” (Maybe that’s just me.)

Here is your question of the day, dear readers. Who are the real housewives of HoCo? What qualifies them to be “real” and what constitutes a legitimate “housewife”? The HoCo part is pretty straightforward.

If ”housewife” means not having gainful employment outside the home, I wonder how many of those we have these days. And, of those, do we think any would fit some archetypal “Real Housewives of HoCo” mold? 

There are many ways to be a housewife, even if there aren’t as many of them as there used to be. You could be married but unable to work due to a disability. You could have young children, need work, but your earning potential wouldn’t cover the cost of childcare. Everyone’s picture does not look the same.

Clearly I have way too much time on my hands right now. But I wonder if it’s a mistake to try to define who is real and who isn’t. 

Monday, March 30, 2020

Great Expectations

I’d like to take a moment today to address the role of schools during our pandemic quarantine. There’s a story here, but not the one most people are talking about. So let’s have a little exposition.

Here are some ways that schools have been asked through the years to respond to changing needs and expectations:

In response to:                                                            Schools provide:

None of these are one-and-done additions to the educational mission of our schools. They require time to enact/complete, whether through daily operations, weekly or monthly meetings,  or annual training requirements. Add to this the national focus on high stakes standardized testing and you are adding more work, more forms to fill out, more meetings about data, more evaluations based on testing numbers.

Despite increasing expectations, our schools continue to work to establish community, nurture relationships, create learning experiences that can connect from grade to grade. I don’t think that most people in our community truly understand how much has been required of them. I would ask parents to look at the list above and tell me when schools would have had the time and resources to prepare a program for distance learning that works for all students regardless of family circumstances and educational ability.

I keep reading posts online from angry parents saying, “they should have been ready.” I look at what they are already doing and say, “How?”

Schools have always risen to the challenges that we have put to them. The list above gives you multiple examples. And they are working right now to respond to the present crisis. They are just like us, working hard to do the best they can in an unprecedented situation. Here is a heartfelt statement from a school principal in Minnesota:

I worry that this may come across to some as begrudging the additional work that is done for the care of children. It truly is not. It is asking the community to look plainly at the additional roles that schools have taken on because our society expected them to. Because there appeared to be no other choice. Because no one else stood up.

Perhaps because I am older than many current school parents, I have vivid memories of my mother’s stories about living through World War ll. She told me about how the whole country came together during a time of crisis. She described England during the Blitz, citizens enduring horrific trials but determined that there would “always be an England.” I look at the Covid-19 pandemic like that. It may look different on the surface but it threatens everything around us in a quite similar way.

How can we best respond to the work our school system is doing under such unimaginable conditions? By being partners. By standing up. By bearing the burden together. If you ever wondered how you would have acted during a great national emergency, this is it. Your children and your community need you to step up.

It is time to lay down our great expectations for what schools “should have done” and get to work in partnership with them, with calmer, kinder, more loving hearts.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Behind the Door, Part ll

There’s life in the old gal yet. This gal:

Back about a million years ago, in late February, I wrote about the present state of the Columbia Flier building. (“Behind the Door” “On the Inside”) Not even a month later, the scene is a bit different.

The seasons change even as we stay inside. Spring has arrived and pink petals carpet the sidewalks leading to the doors. 

Something else has changed. The school supplies that Board of Education member Vicky Cutroneo has been gathering there for use in schools have taken on a new purpose. In a quick change of plan, Ms. Cutroneo is getting those materials out to the HCPSS Grab & Go meal sites to support the work of Columbia Community Care.

In addition, Ms. Cutroneo has reached out to friends and neighbors for additional materials to supplement her cache:

Local friends:  Whilst cleaning out and organizing your closets and basements... if you come across board games, educational games, unused coloring books, packs of crayons... 

I am interested.   Please drop off on my porch or I can pick up from your porch.

Here’s what comes next: the materials are quarantined in the Flier building to ensure no living virus is present, then sanitized before distribution to the sites where Columbia Community Care has set up supplemental assistance for families: Swansfield ES, Lake Elkhorn MS/Cradlerock ES, Howard HS, Oakland Mills MS, Wilde Lake MS.

“I dropped off blank journals and a teacher told me they were a huge hit. Kids want to write about stuff and many don’t have the materials to write,” said Cutroneo.

So, even though the Columbia Flier building is doing nothing, it’s helping in its own quirky way. It’s the quarantine site for art materials, school supplies, games, and craft items so that they will be safe to share with those who need them. Of course that takes creative thinking and dedicated effort from Ms. Cutroneo and the generosity and goodwill of community members committed to sharing from whatever abundance they have.

If you want to assist Ms. Cutroneo in her mission I’m guessing you can reach her through her BOE email (vicky_cutroneo@hcpss.org ) to arrange a no-contact porch pickup. 

To support Columbia Community Care through a monetary donation, time and talent, or gifts in kind of food and household necessities, go to the Columbia Community Care Group on Facebook , or reach out to Erika Strauss Chavarria through her HCPSS email: erika_trasschavarria@hcpss.org .

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Who Lives Who Dies

The announcement that all child care operations in Maryland were ordered to close, save for the ones serving the children of essential workers, prompted a sermon from me on Facebook yesterday.

I know I am most likely preaching to the choir here, but I hope that anyone reading this understands that every single child care professional working right now is putting their life on the line daily, just as much as the essential personnel they support. We have to assume that every child and every parent dropping off and picking up is an asymptomatic carrier. The likelihood that teachers/carers will get sick is exponentially increased.

It’s probable that these providers are not in a position to “not work”. Pay in early childhood jobs is abysmal. I know teachers and assistants who work two and three jobs. Please keep these amazing people in your thoughts. Without childcare the work of so many that we desperately need right now would not be possible.

And maybe we could circle back on this conversation a year from now, okay?

This morning I read a statement originating from India pointing out that the quarantine to protect ourselves and otherS from Covid-19 is essentially a quarantine of privilege. It’s heartbreaking in its thoroughness.

A view from an Indian doctor: 

"Social distancing is a privilege. It means you live in a house large enough to practise it. Hand washing is a privilege too. It means you have access to running water. Hand sanitisers are a privilege. It means you have money to buy them. Lockdowns are a privilege. It means you can afford to be at home. Most of the ways to ward the Corona off are accessible only to the affluent. In essence, a disease that was spread by the rich as they flew around the globe will now kill millions of the poor. All of us who are practising social distancing and have imposed a lockdown on ourselves must appreciate how privileged we are. Many Indians won’t be able to do any of this."

Anyone who doesn’t have this level of affluence is forced to be out and about in order to do the things necessary for survival. That’s not true only in India.

The Baltimore Sun shared an article from the New York Times about how the pandemic is magnifying America’s class divide. From the article by Noam Scheiber, Nelson D. Schwartz, and Tiffany Hsu:

This is a white-collar quarantine,” said Howard Barbanel, a Miami-based entrepreneur who owns a wine company. “Average working people are bagging and delivering goods, driving trucks, working for local government.”


Still, a kind of pandemic caste system is rapidly developing: the rich holed up in vacation properties; the middle class marooned at home with restless children; the working class on the front lines of the economy, stretched to the limit by the demands of work and parenting, if there is even work to be had.

So it isn’t just child care workers who are laying their lives on the line every day. It’s every single person who is forced by their financial circumstances to do the work the rest of us don’t or won’t. We would not survive without them.

But is that acceptable? We go online daily encouraging each other to “stay at home” and we share our struggles with feeling homebound, finding toilet paper, keeping up with the needs of our children. But, despite its challenges, this is a lovely bubble we are in. Columbia/HoCo likely has plenty of us. 

That bubble shields us even more than usual from those who do not share our privilege.  I’ve been seeing memes about how the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted that people who work in food service, delivery, cleaning hospitals, grocery store workers, and so on are considered members of the essential workforce, and that it’s about time they got a living wage.

Right now the differences between the privileged and those who are struggling could not be more stark. Especially since a “living wage” could very well be the difference between who lives and who dies. 

Friday, March 27, 2020

Late Links

Since it’s Friday, and I overslept, I’m going to fall back on the time-honored HoCoRising tradition of Friday links. 

Elevate Maryland is going to do their new remote show thing on Saturday at noon with the folks of Oakland Mills Online. Here’s the link to the event announcement.

No link on this but there is a growing trend of people going on Twitter to report sightings of people congregating in various locations around Howard County. To the Governor. A few thoughts:

  • How were you able to see them if you were at home where you should be?
  • What do you think the Governor will do?
  • Wondering the racial make up of reporters vs. congregators.

Apparently reporting people to the Governor is the new writing a hot letter to the editor.

Woodbine Restaurant Tony Locos is offering a free roll of toilet paper with each take-out order. It’s both a helpful and humorous promotion and it earned them an article in the Howard County Times. Here’s the link to the article by Jess Nocera.

Lastly, here’s some outright fun. Also,  I could swear there used to be a local blog called “Live from the Cul-de-sac” but I can’t find a trace of it now.

Circus Greg and his cul-de-sac circus . This from WBAL:

Man takes circus act to local neighborhoods to entertain people for free 

Did you attend the virtual Town Hall hosted by County Executive Calvin Ball last night?  What did you think?

Have a great day. I’ll see you tomorrow.

Thursday, March 26, 2020


March is Music in Our Schools month! 

There are a lot of disappointed music teachers out there. Student performers, too. March is often the month for special presentations and performances. It’s also a time when music teachers try to involve all the other staff in the building in celebrating music. You might see a bulletin board with photos of the school’s teachers and staff describing their favorite kind of music or telling about how they participated in school music as a child.

Of course, music teachers live and breathe music every day of the year but March is special. It’s a big deal. 

And now we are all stuck in our homes. There are no Music in Our Schools concerts, or bulletin boards, morning announcements, staff-wide or school-wide activities. 

In honor of our Howard County music teachers and students, I’d like to share a little information about someone who grew up in Columbia and attended Howard County Schools. His name is Deepak Ramapriyan. I first learned about him from reading this article by Baltimore Sun Arts and Entertainment reporter Sameer Rao in the Howard County Times.

From the article:

Disney Junior’s latest animated series for preschoolers, “Mira, Royal Detective,” kicks off with a burst of energy. Viewers meet the titular protagonist through a catchy theme song as two meerkats sing “Let’s hear it for Mira, Royal Detective!” over an instrumental mixing pop hooks with lilting South Asian instrumentation. Credit this unique mix to the series’ musical consultant and orchestrator, Baltimore-area native Deepak Ramapriyan.

Ramapriyan may have been born in Baltimore but he grew up in Columbia and attended Howard County Schools. That got me thinking. Did he participate in school music programs as he was growing up? (Truth in advertising: I still do social media engagement for Howard County Parents for School Music, so I’m always looking for a good music story.)

I reached out to Mr. Ramapriyan through social media and, to my surprise, I heard back in less than twenty four hours. Here was my question:

I read the article about your career in the Howard County Times. I was wondering if you participated in school music programs when you were growing up here. I write a Community blog and I’m also a strong supporter of music education. Did you have a good experience? If not, how could it have been better?

From his response:

I participated in many music programs over my years there at school; in elementary school at Swansfield, there were musicals that I auditioned for and acted in them - in middle school and high school I got into orchestra and choir programs - Madrigals at Atholton High School and the Jazz Choir, as well as the main concert choir; also was in orchestra there as well - same in middle school.

Wow. I guess the answer would be yes, absolutely. He was the archetypal Music Kid. His teachers may still be working in the system today. I’ll bet they are proud. But it’s also interesting to note that Ramapriyan had many other interests. In college he took a pre-med course load, focusing on neurobiology and physiology, along with many classes in criminology and criminal justice. Clearly not a one-note sort of fellow. 

The thing is, even if Deepak Ramapriyan had ended up becoming a medical doctor he would still be a success story for music in our schools, because it is obvious that participation in music was deeply interwoven with everything that he learned from a very young age. He would have been a doctor who played in a community orchestra, or played with family members, or supported the arts by attending concerts and making donations. 

Music is (and always would have been) his joy. And the light of that joy was kindled and fostered in school music programs in Howard County. 

I learned something else. Mr. Ramapriyan isn’t just resting on his laurels from the Disney gig. The social distancing thing? He has some ideas. Musical ones.

So, thing about Music in Our Schools, the thing that matters in the long run:  music in our schools never stays just in our schools. Music stays in our heads, in our hearts, in our lives. And music goes out into the world to be shared. Right now, at this very moment, that is something to be truly grateful for.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

First, Then

As local children were returned to their homes from the school system for a period of self isolation, many parents began to worry. What were they to do? How could they make sure their children were “keeping up” academically? Where was the complete plan from HCPSS for daily instruction?

The worry, of course, was only human. The way different people responded to that worry was, shall we say, educational.

I’m not going to delve into the weeds here. I want to focus on a question that was asked in a Facebook group very early on in a discussion of the challenges ahead. I’m paraphrasing, but the gist of it was:

Why is the school system focused on providing meals when their real mission is to educate?

Hmm. Why is that? Schools should be about teaching and learning, right? They’re not food service operations like restaurants or grocery stores. In a time of crisis, shouldn’t they be attending to education?

There’s plenty of very good academic work out there about the history of how schools got into the food providing business. Here is my question:

If not the schools, then who?

Right now schools are the most natural place where children and families are seen and known on a consistent basis. If we don’t have a better and more reliable way to feed hungry children in place and ready to go, then we are saying it’s okay to let them go hungry so my child can keep up with schoolwork.

I don’t think for one moment that the person who asked the question wanted anyone to go hungry. But they clearly did see the setting up and execution of Grab and Go food sites as something that stood between them and the goal they wanted to achieve: seamless and continuous at-home learning plans.

We can talk about how it is particularly beneficial for schools to be in the business of providing meals  and other support services to children in their care because it supports better educational outcomes. (See this basic explanation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.)  If children aren’t fed, healthy, safe, emotionally stable, they can’t learn. Period. And that’s a worthwhile discussion to have.

For me, though, the most basic commitment we have as a community is to address the needs of our neighbors. Hungry children need to be fed. Not because they will behave better, or need less medical care, or get better test scores.

Because they are hungry.

That’s enough.

Parents all over Columbia/HoCo are working hard to make this period of quarantine livable for their families. And that looks different in every home. It’s hard when we are all essentially locked down to keep the big picture of everyone’s needs solidly in our mind’s eye.

One more thing. We need to acknowledge that Covid-19  has brought about an enormous, life-changing, massively disrupting experience for all of us. That there was no “being prepared” for this. That we are all, in one way or another, “winging it” with whatever resources we are able to employ. It’s hard, it’s scary, it’s unknowable and overwhelming. But I absolutely believe that we have the capability to make at least this one commitment to eachother:

First, we feed the hungry children.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Neighborhood News

News you can use from NextDoor: (Stevens Forest edition)

Bear Hunt!

A Bear Hunt is taking place in various parts of the country! Place a stuffed Bear or other animals or dolls, etc. randomly in your windows for children to see while walking or riding in cars. I’m participating, how about you?
I’m in!
Since the beginning of our social distancing I have seen several recommendations for sharing signs of goodwill with our neighbors. This is probably my favorite so far, although rainbows in windows and chalking sidewalks are also appealing.
I just have a thing about bears.

This is Buddy. He has been known to accompany me to the Second Chance Saloon. That’s not his beer, by the way. He’s not of age.
Bears much bigger than Buddy have been making the rounds in France and around the world for the last several years since the advent of Les Nounours des Gobelins, whose daily adventures are chronicled on Facebook and beyond. Here’s a throwback piece by area journalist and blogger Marge Neal that suggests a regional connection:
Scribbles from the Margen: Edgemere: Global Influencer?
Putting a bear in the window, or a rainbow, or chalking your sidewalk to greet children (or anyone, really) whose daily lives have become much more solitary feels like an attempt to maintain a sense of community in a time when we have so little control of many things. We cannot meet up for a play date at the park or happy hour at the pub. But we can post a sign for the wayfarer that they are not alone in their journey.
Who knew that the Pilgrim’s Way would be marked by bears? (Well, maybe the bears did. They don’t miss much.)
Unlike the requirements and restrictions that compound daily, a suggestion to put a bear in your window is just that: a suggestion. A free will offering, one might say. And if you don’t have a bear, improvise. If putting stuff in your window just isn’t your thing, how about offering a smile to those whose paths you cross at six foot intervals? A friendly wave?
It’s important to note that this announcement comes from the Stevens Forest NextDoor. I can’t guarantee it’s happening in your particular part of Columbia/HoCo. But you certainly could set the ball rolling if you are so inclined...
All of this is to say that it’s possible you may see neighborhood children peering in your windows. Don’t be alarmed. They’re just looking for bears.

Monday, March 23, 2020

The Best Meal in Howard County

The best meal I have ever eaten in Howard County wasn’t a meal, exactly, but an evening of food and drink sampling put on by the Weckers of Cured/18th & 21st for area media types. I mention it here in a piece entitled “Social Studies”. Waitstaff brought us plate after plate of carefully chosen selections from the menus of both of the newly opened restaurants. There were special beer, wine, and cocktail recommendations as well.

It was the kind of food where each new taste prompted you to stop and really experience it. The flavors, aromas, and textures combined with beautiful presentation and even carefully-selected plates and bowls to create a bouquet of sensory delight.

Each course was interspersed with brief talks on  subjects such as the history of the restaurant, the evolution of the “Cured”  and “18th & 21st” concepts, how new cocktails are created and executed, choosing tableware to go with menu items, and the personality of each side of the restaurant. We learned about food choices, drink choices, interior design and decoration, music, and mood.

It was a gracious and low key experience. I didn’t feel a hard sell. What I did feel was the pride of our hosts and their sincere belief in what they had created. They didn’t hover as we ate but remained nearby if needed. They had set up the evening so that everything would open like a flower, petal by petal. I was struck by the creativity involved when hearing one gentleman describe how his idea for a signature cocktail had come to him, how he had jotted it down and put it in his back pocket.

It was every bit as much the creative process as that of a composer, poet, or artist.

If you haven’t been there already, I should point out that the visuals are stunning. I didn't save the photos I took that night in 2018, so I will send you to their website. Take a virtual tour.

Cured/18th & 21st Virtual Tour

Since none of us are are really going anywhere today, that virtual tour could do most of us some good.

Today is my birthday. It’s going to be quite different from any other birthday I have ever celebrated. I’m grateful to be with my family and have enough of what we need to get by. We will make of that a party in our own way. But in my mind’s eye I am holding space for a birthday dinner at 18th & 21st once this is all over and we are safe to make new plans. I want to sit in the stunning beauty of that room, listen to jazz on the piano, and savor each delicious moment.


Stephen Wecker has started a fund to help support his staff during the quarantine. Have a little extra to share? Put some in their jar.

Support our Cured/18th & 21st Family

They’re also doing curbside carry out. 

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Supermarket Sweep

First of all, thanks to all of you who have been sharing and recommending my blog in the last twenty-four hours. I very much appreciate your support and I hope I will live up to your faith in me. Of course, the first thing I did this morning was oversleep...

As someone who is self isolating, I have been observing a growing plan of action out there in HoCo land that concerns me. Perhaps my concern is unjustified. I’m putting it out there to my readers for feedback today.

Most of us have never lived in a culture where food and product shortages are routine. I grew up reading about how they plagued the lives of citizens in the Soviet Union. And of course we were taught that the long lines at the shops and the chronic food shortages were the direct result of communism. “We don’t have that because we are a democracy.” Of course, capitalism figured in there somewhere but that’s not the simplistic lesson this elementary school student took away from these stories.

But now, because of our own panic buying, we face those same shortages. And, due to social distancing, we have the long lines. It seems awfully similar to my grade school textbook photographs. 

What we do have these days that the Soviet citizens did not have is social media. It’s not surprising the people are using it to share the information they have about what stores have what highly desired items, in particular:

Toilet Paper
Disinfecting wipes
Fresh fruits and vegetables

It looks to me as though people have created a Covid-19 survivalist game where the goal is to fill all the items on one’s shopping list by hopping from one store to the next, using clues gained from social media. A sort of all-ColumbiaHoCo Supermarket Sweep, if you will. 

But this is not a virtual game. This involves leaving the house, going to multiple locations, coming in contact with shopping carts and store shelves and check out clerks at each stop. Here’s my question: doesn’t this put you and every person you come in contact with in more danger? Is this style of seek and find shopping ultimately a scarily good way of crossing-pollinating contagion?

Under normal circumstances, if we couldn’t find butter at our usual supermarket, we’d look at the next one we shop at. The next neighborhood over, or the one we hit after work or school pick up. That’s the way we are accustomed to thinking. But what if it would be healthier for everyone if we just stuck with one or two closer stores and accepted the shortages there?

Would it? Could we cope with the unfairness of it all if the Clarksville Giant had ground beef and we didn’t? Or if the Oakland Mills LA Mart had a new supply of toilet paper and our store had just sold out? How would that play out? I am just imagining in my head a bunch of Peanuts-like heads upturned shouting, “It’s not fair!”

I am not a medical professional or a scientist. So I am putting it out to my readers. Is my concern worthy of further thought, or is our growing habit of shopping safari completely safe to us and our neighbors? I’d like to get enough factual feedback to post on this tomorrow or the next day.

In the meantime, perhaps that’s a good way for you to share this blog with your medical/scientific friends in order to get their input. Hint, hint. 

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Making My Pitch

You’ve seen this, right?

Facebook has created a way for us to monetize our birthdays for charity and it has caught on. Sometimes I give, sometimes I don’t, depending on the cause, my relationship to the birthday person, and my current financial situation. Some folks find these annoying - - I wouldn’t have been buying you a present in any case, so why are you soliciting me? - - but, like it or not, they have become a part of the social media scene.

You know what’s coming, right? My birthday is Monday and I’m making my pitch.

Take a deep breath. It’s not money I’m asking for. I know my readers are doing the best they can with what they have right now. I’m asking for a different sort of present this year.


That’s right, birthday presence. I’m asking you to share the Facebook page for my blog and invite people to Like it, with the goal of surpassing 500 Likes. 

 I’ve been writing the blog for almost ten years now. I’ve written on everything from Downtown Development, Columbia Association and Village Elections, HoCo Politics, the Howard County Schools, issues of race and equity, the local arts scene and the importance of arts education, local philanthropic initiatives, and any number of Columbia/HoCo events, businesses, and causes. 

Sometimes I go big and address issues outside the Bubble. Sometimes I get personal. 

Like today.

The way that Facebook works, the greater the number of “Likes”, the more likely that people will see the daily posts come up in their feed. That increases the likelihood that they will read it. That in turn increases the chances that they will Like and/or Share it. And that means one simple thing: increasing presence. 

Increasing presence means more chances to share ideas and have more local conversations. Village Green/Town² uses the explainer: where Columbia and Howard intersect. That intersection doesn’t happen at one particular point, but at many, many different points. Including the people and ideas from those many points makes for better conversations. It will make for a better blog.

You can make me more visible so that can happen. What better time than now when most of us are homebound and on the Internet more than usual? You don’t need to buy a card or a gift. You don’t need to make or solicit monetary contributions. You simply need to ask the folks you know to take a look at my blog page and click “Like”.

I look forward to celebrating my birthday with you and your friends. And their friends. And, well, you know. We’re better together.

Friday, March 20, 2020

The Tide is Going Out

One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?” The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.” “Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!”

After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said…” I made a difference for that one.” (Loren Eisley)

You’ve probably read or heard those words before. It is, in many ways, a feel-good story about being willing to do what you can, where you are. I think most of us imagine we would be the child, focused on each small but achievable act, rather than the adult who sees only an enormous, impossible challenge.

I had occasion to recall this story today after reading a Facebook conversation in which the original poster encouraged friends to purchase food from area restaurants who are struggling because of the Covid-19 quarantine restrictions. The post elicited some agreement as folks chimed in to say they had ordered takeout from a number of local establishments. But then another line of thought emerged. It went something like this:

  • Most people don’t have that kind of money, you shouldn’t ask them to do that. 
  • It’ll never last, the support will dry up. 
  • You don’t realize how worried people are about their investments and mortgages right now. 
  • It’s not a long term solution. 
The original poster grew frustrated. For each positive response there was a pushback.

It’s not enough.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot today. Why do we choose to buy that take-out meal? For that matter, why do we visit and hold the hand of someone gravely ill, help a friend by working for a cause that faces huge resistance, or donate our small contribution to a charity which needs so much? We don’t do these things because we believe that we are The Solution.

We do it because of the relationship we have with those we seek to help. We don’t visit a sick friend to make them well. We visit them because we care for them and because an act of connection and caring is never wasted. The boy in the story was not there to “solve the problem of starfish on the beach.” Each saving motion to scoop up and rescue each individual starfish was an individual sign of love in action.

“I made a difference for that one.”

I came across this quote from the musician Prince last night and it is strikingly applicable here:

Compassion is an action word with no boundaries. It is never wasted.

If we are motivated and are able to support our local restaurants during this horribly difficult time it means far more than an exchange of money for goods. It is an act of connection and caring that says, “We see you in distress. We value you. We do not want you to suffer alone.”

There are miles and miles of beach. There are hundreds of starfish. But the beach is our community, the starfish our neighbors. We reach out a hand to lift them up because we know it makes a difference.

Photo credit: Mickey Gomez

Thursday, March 19, 2020

In My Mind’s Eye

For those of us who are more or less housebound right now, here’s a virtual walk around one of Columbia’s most beloved places: Lake Kittamaqundi.

These photos were taken about three years ago. I look forward to making this walk again. Right now I’m trying to think of all the wonderful places in Columbia/HoCo that I love, keeping them alive in my mind’s eye.

What are your favorite local places? Do you have photos that makes you happy? Feel free to share here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Notifications and Nostalgia

It could have been an advert but it was purely a sincere testimonial. While looking for story ideas, I found this conversation on Twitter:

I'm not as content with VOD/home viewing options, so this'll be tough on me. But I did stock up on library DVDs in expectation that the library would close indefinitely, which it did earlier today.

I signed up for kanopy, which seems pretty dope so far

!! Which library system? I didn't think it was available locally. But maybe that's changed?

I signed up for it with my howard county library card easy-peasy two days ago!

I just tried it myself and it is easy-peasy. In addition to a range of film including documentaries there’s also Kanopy Kids, with plentiful choices for children. So, there’s just one more helpful service provided by your Howard County Library. Just go to kanopy.com and follow the directions to sign up. Have your library card handy, and you’ll need your four digit access code as well. (I think it’s the last four digits in your phone number.)

An addition to the list of ways we can help out while quarantined is this ongoing fundraiser to feed hospital workers during the Covid-19 crisis. It costs $6,000.00 a day to cover their meal expenses and food is being purchased from local restaurants, which will be a boon to our area businesses.

Caring for our Caregivers

I was thinking last night about how the only other life experience that most of us have to this kind of community wide isolation is during heavy snow events like Snowmageddon in 2010. It seems almost quaint to imagine HoCo employees at the emergency response center, prioritizing and managing the issues of the county, or meeting around a table, assigning responsibilities.

Already we have moved to a world where that would be altogether too much togetherness. How would that look if all of them were six feet apart from one another? Is it safer for most or all of them to work from home? Many things can be done remotely now which might not have been so easy in 2010.

The biggest difference is, of course, that the obstacle that keeps us confined to our homes is not piles and piles of the white stuff, but a fast-moving adversary with which we are largely unfamiliar and unprepared to fight. I already miss the feeling that all I need to do is wait for the snowplow. Remember all the brouhaha every time the snowplow tracker  didn’t do what we wanted it to do?

Boy, those were the days.

Now we scan the internet for trustworthy sources that explain how the virus will replicate and possibly be tamed by “flattening the curve”, but that is only the beginning. There is no snow-plow tracker for this one that assures us that our time will come and we will be able to venture out as free as we were before.

A shoutout to all our County employees from the Executive on down who are tasked with facing this all-encompassing crisis. Thanks to you, my friends, for staying home as much as humanly possible and following suggested hygiene practices over and over again. Perhaps we all need one of those Facebook icons which mark us “staying the f@#* home” during the Coronavirus epidemic.

As hokey as it sounds, we are all going to need to be each other’s snowplow trackers: encouraging one another that there is hope, that we shouldn’t give up, that better times will come. The world we return to will not be the one we left. But if we work together we will bring as many of us as is humanly possible along to experience it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Capping it Off

I have a confession to make: I am not inspired by elected officials making statements while wearing baseball caps. I don’t care which political party they belong to. It just doesn’t make sense to me. What is the message that one is sending by wearing a baseball cap?
  • I’m sporty
  • I’m youthful
  • I’m one of “the people”
  • I’m trying to keep the sun out of my eyes 
  • I’m advertising a slogan on the hat
In the grand scheme of things,what with the real life and death things we are dealing with right now, I realize that hat choice is way down the list. On the other hand, if I do nothing but go on and on every day about the crisis we are in, our spirits will sink pretty fast. So forgive me if I flip my lid about headwear today.

Men don’t wear hats anymore, other than the occasional wooly hat in winter and ball cap in summer.There used to be so many to choose from. Purely for the fun of it, I’m asking my readers to make suggestions as to what sort of hat might inspire confidence from leaders at the podium. Top hat? Fedora? Bowler? Pork pie? Beret?

What’s in a hat? What does it say? And, for that matter, do we ever see elected officials who are women playing the hat game? Why or why not?

For those of you homeschooling right now, feel free to use this as a jumping off point for your day's activities, for example:

Words that rhyme with hat
Words with a short a sound
Count how many hats you have in your house.
Sort hats by size, color, etc.
Learn about the science of why we wear hats
Study the kinds of hats community helpers wear.
Study American Presidents and their hats.
Pull math facts out of a hat.

I’ll be here all week, folks. 

Monday, March 16, 2020

Staying In, Doing Good

On the first business day/school day of our community quarantine I have some information about what people are doing around town to make things better. There’s probably more initiatives out there that I don’t know about yet, so, feel free to share them with me and I will boost their signal.

First on the list is making a donation to support the Howard County Food Bank. As more and more families are impacted by workplace closures, the need for food will be increasing. Click here to donate.

A specific need is highlighted in this campaign by the Women’s Giving Circle of Howard County: they are raising $5,000.00 to meet the food needs of families enrolled in our local Head Start programs. They have raised about $4,100.00 so far. Your donation could put them over the top. Click here to donate.

A Spanish teacher at Wilde Lake High School, Erika Strauss Chavarria, has started a Facebook Group called Columbia Community Care. She explains:

In light of our community centers and libraries being shut down, many of our kids are in need of activities to sustain their mental, physical, and emotional well-being during this time. Many families are now desperately searching for childcare and are facing loss of income during this time. This group has been set up because so many of you amazing people have shown interest in wanting to help those in our community who are facing hardship. Let’s come together to uplift and support our community. Please check back frequently for details and updates. 

If you are interested in the work they are doing, you can click here to learn more: Columbia Community Care.

A bright light in community spirit as we face at least two weeks off from school is the newly launched Oakland Mills Online, which describes itself as, “bringing our cOMmunity together for online learning: workshops, speakers, and Book Clubs for all ages. They kick off their programming today with programs at 8, 9, 11, and 5. From the site:

We live in a wonderful community full of interesting people who like to help each other. Oakland Mills Online will make the most of our great people resources to keep learning happening and our sense of community growing during this time of social distancing.

Please note: Oakland Mills Online is an area-specific initiative. If you like the look of what they are doing, perhaps you and your neighbors can get a similar program going in your neck of the woods.

This just in: Creativity Challenge from HCPSS art teacher Avery Kristin McClelland:

PLEASE SHARE!!! Teacher and parent friends, I’ve spent almost all weekend creating a website of creative activities for elementary students to do during their hiatus from school. Most of them involve basic household materials. This is a work in progress so please excuse errors or unfinished sections - I am working as fast as possible. I will add more activities each week we are off and possibly create a fb group to share art kids create. You can cancel school but you can’t cancel creativity.

So, that’s what I know so far. By far the most valuable thing you can do is stay at home, stay away from people as much as possible if you must leave the house, and wash your hands. Really. At this point it is a hero’s mission unto itself.