Thursday, April 30, 2020

Weather Report

It’s going to rain today. Local weather reports suggest there may be flooding. For most of us, the thought of heavy rain and possible flooding makes us wince.

Please protect Old Ellicott City.

Flooding has become personal for us in Howard County, most especially for those in Ellicott City who have seen livelihoods washed away and mourned loss of life in rushing floodwaters. Many of us care about Main Street in a general way; they have lived the horror we can only imagine.

Please protect Old Ellicott City

Plans to make devastating flooding less likely have moved forward under current County Leadership. While it may be going as quickly as could be expected, I know it isn’t fast enough for those who live and work in the heart of areas at risk. I know there are strong differences of opinion on the best approach.

Please protect Old Ellicott City.

We live in such a technologically advanced culture that it feels quite the opposite to live daily with a fear of a natural catastrophe.  Think of ancient peoples who prayed and made sacrifices to gods of harvest or weather or the sun. Day by day our community works to make Ellicott City safer. Yet the threat of heavy rain brings us face to face with our ancestors, wondering what angry god to assuage.

Please protect Old Ellicott City.

It’s going to rain today. The pandemic has closed down many businesses trying to get back on their feet after the floods. The showing of the Gordon Ramsay television episode filmed in Old Ellicott City is right around the corner. So much is on hold. People who really, really need hope are looking at the sky and wondering what will come next.

If you pray, say a prayer. If you don’t, think good thoughts. And keep an eye on the weather.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The Usual

A teenager from Howard High School posted racist content on social media. The response from other teens was swift: to call her out, to shine a light on her racist behavior. The principal of  Howard High School has issued the usual statement.

Here we go again.

All those folks out there who claim there’s no racism in Columbia/HoCo, have you talked to your kids lately? Because they might be able to tell you a few things.

Sure, it’s hard to be a teenager under a life-changing quarantine situation but that wouldn’t expose something that wasn’t there before. It was there.

I have absolutely no preaching in me this morning. None. I’m heart sick by the everyday, “everybody knows it” kind of racism in our community, combined with the angry, self-righteous denial that anything is wrong. One of the teens who responded on Twitter asked why they were going to “ruin a girl’s life for something everybody says anyway.”

She doesn’t really know why it’s wrong. She wouldn’t have made a racist post like the one in question, but she doesn’t really see what the big deal is. And she will grown up unwilling to address racism in her community. We grow a lot of people like that here.

The problem isn’t simply with the one who posts the racist language but also with all who are willing to look the other way.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

A Monument to Nowhere

One year ago came the first local glimpse of the kinetic sculpture we know now to be Azlon. Here is the photo shared briefly on Columbia Patch before it abruptly disappeared. (I still don’t know the backstory on that.)

Of course, now this “towering kinetic sculpture” has been installed as an artistic centerpiece to Howard Hughes Merriweather District area of downtown development. Here is what I know:

It’s big.
It moves.
It squeaks.
I’ve never seen it.

That’s right. I’ve never figured out how to get over there. And I have had no particular reason to be “in that part of town.” Now, of course, I’m not going anywhere. But I’ve been thinking about it nonetheless.

One of the things I have been told over the years in my quest to understand Columbia history is that Rouse’s original plans were derailed by a recession in the mid-1970’s. Some things never got finished. Think of the area called the Crescent where the new Merriweather District is forming. It was always meant to be developed but got sidelined in a tanking economy.

So, what now? The current pandemic is surely taking a toll on the economy which will take quite some time to move beyond. We don’t even know how severe the consequences will be at this point. What does that mean for progress in Downtown Development in the Merriweather District and beyond? Could a national/global recession significantly alter the plans or even bring them to a halt?

Could Azlon end up, at least for a while, as a monument to nowhere?

And could Howard Hughes sustain enough damage that it emerges as a company more suited to developing garden apartments and Walmarts?

I do not wish this on them. Or us. But this global crisis is going to have consequences. I imagine that big corporations have contingency plans. I’d like to know what the contingency plan for Downtown Columbia development is.

“So, if there’s an economic crisis while we’re developing the Merriweather District, this is how we will respond.”

Yeah. That. I’d like to know. Because, no matter how breathtaking and innovative your plans, sometimes life comes along and knocks you flat. Just like what happened to Jim Rouse and the Rouse Company in the 70’s. Sometimes the road gets a whole lot longer than you expected.

Do we have a plan for that?

Monday, April 27, 2020

The Difference

What is the difference between me and my family and the hundreds of people who come out six days a week to gratefully receive food and other needed supplies from the sites operated by Columbia Community Care? As time goes by I have been thinking about this a lot.

Of course, first and foremost comes White Privilege, which has guaranteed that generations of my family, leading up to me, could get decent jobs, a good education, buy houses in safe neighborhoods, and have enough to leave a little for their children. I didn’t get here by myself.

Next, my husband and I have jobs that allow us some stability. We are not “wealthy” by any stretch of the imagination. And yet, at least for now, we continue to be able to work from home and get paid. In this regard, we might as well be wealthy in comparison to so many of our Columbia/HoCo neighbors.

We live in a house we can afford to live in, and we have jobs that pay enough for the basics and a few extras. It is a very small house and we are pretty darned sensible with the extras. But right now that might as well look like the golden ticket compared to those whose service and low wage jobs have evaporated during the pandemic and whose housing takes far too big a bite out of their monthly budget.

I’ve written about this before, but it has come back to the front of my mind as I watch the massive effort put forth by Erika Strauss Chavarria and her team at Columbia Community Care. Why is their work necessary? I would argue that the combination of low wages and high housing costs is a recipe for disaster. Low wages are not specific to our area but the high cost of housing is definitely a local feature.

The work of Columbia Community Care, the Howard County Food Bank, and other such local efforts  is necessary not just because of the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic but, perhaps even more, because of the crazy imbalance our culture perpetuates for the marginalized.

We have all seen plenty of articles recently about the importance of essential workers during this crisis. So many of those people without whose work we cannot survive are the same people whose low wages and high housing costs leave them just barely making it during the best of times. What would happen if we, as a society, chose to honor the dignity of their work by insisting on a living wage, and pushed our elected officials to support affordable housing solutions and fought for them ourselves? What if we were determined to remove the barriers which keep members of our community perpetually behind, perpetually out of balance, and perpetually fearful?

Waxing eloquent about the dignity of work when we are painfully aware of how the grocery worker and the hospital cleaner are keeping us alive is nothing but talk if we quickly forget when things go “back to normal”. We have to do better than that.

In the meantime, Columbia Community Care has just unveiled their new website. I am amazed by their commitment in the face of such great need. Support them if you can. Just don’t forget that their mission, to provide compassionate care for symptoms produced by crisis and chronic poverty, is just a part of the solution. It’s still on all of us to fight the systemic inequities that cause it.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Sunday Roundup

We’re going to do a bit of this and that today, friends. It’s just that kind of day.

If you live in Harpers Choice I am so jealous that you got to have online voting in your Village election. When can we get that Columbia-wide? And yet, Harpers Choice residents didn’t reach a quorum in their election so voting has been extended until May 12th. Do you live in Harpers Choice? Do you know someone who does? Tell them to VOTE!


I can’t believe that I failed to mention our beloved library system during National Library Week. What was I thinking? Well, I was thinking that I have a big post in the works about local institutions supporting the community during Covid-19, so I’d get there eventually. Oops. Sorry I missed your big week, Howard County Library! (And look for something on the blog, soon.)

One last thing. I’m listening to the interview on Elevate Maryland with School Superintendent Martirano and he touched on something that’s of personal concern to me. In discussing the challenges of reopening the schools at some point down the road, he addresses safety. Parents may be reluctant to send children back. And teachers and other staff members who are in high risk categories may be fearful to return before there is a vaccine/successful treatment protocols in place. If we reopen the schools before we have reached that point, would there be enough employees available?

This is worth considering. I don’t work for the school system but I do teach young children and I’m in a high risk category. This is something I worry about. I imagine that Superintendent Martirano is getting plenty of feedback both from parents and teachers/staff on this topic.

I read this week that the Howard County Farmers Markets will be back this year. I’m looking forward to learning what safety measures they will have in place. We love our market in Oakland Mills.

One last thing: a special Birthday Wish for a young friend of the blog who lives in Long Reach and has been a big supporter of the children’s dance parties at the Chrysalis. Wishing her a very happy day filled with family love and joyful surprises.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Won’t You Be?

I’ve been doing a bit of world travel this week courtesy of a new group on Facebook called View From My Window. It is just as it sounds: photographs from around the country and around the world of what can be seen from the windows of our companions-in-quarantine. Many of the views are picturesque, but some are quite ordinary. There are beautiful vistas, suburban landscapes, city buildings crowded together.

The message, as basic as a Disney musical: we are all in this together. We may not eat the same food or speak the same language but we are committed to staying home and slowing the spread of an illness which is ravaging our neighbors, both near and far.

It’s an odd concept, which we don’t talk about enough in the US, that everyone in the world is our neighbor. It has become popular in some circles to focus only on what “makes America great” and the rest be damned. I find this to be at odds with many of the world’s great religions that, for example, preach love of neighbor as important as love of self, and challenge us to ask “who is my neighbor?” when we are inclined to think too small.

Along these lines I recommend “Lockdown around the world – part one” from a blog called In Africa and Beyond. It is a collection of brief narrative accounts of quarantine experiences from around the world. One is from Laura Kuckuda* of Columbia, Maryland. She writes:

My day to day schedule hasn’t really changed much.  I’m lucky enough to still be working full-time remotely.  Virtual platforms are nice, but I really do miss the 1:1 interaction with my co-workers who I have built personal relationships with.  

The entire piece is worth the read. Even a mental journey to far-flung places is refreshing these days.

*Ms. Kuckuda blogs at Living and Loving Beautifully

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Bad Dreams and Elections

Things I am good for this morning:  bringing my husband coffee.

Things I am not good for this morning: writing.

I tanked up on caffeine yesterday afternoon to make it through a two hour Zoom professional development course and then I couldn’t sleep. When I finally did get to sleep, I had teaching nightmares about a job I left when my younger daughter was two. She’s now in college.

Some jobs just stick with you.

If you live in Oakland Mills, your ballot for this year’s Village Election must be postmarked by today.  Harpers Choice has an online voting process that must be completed by April 24th. And Long Reach requires mail in ballots to be received by April 24th, so you may have missed the boat there. In my relatively sleepless state this morning it was far easier to find this information at The Merriweather Post blog than at the Columbia Association website.

Here’s the deal: if you can vote in your Village election, do it. I refer you to last year’s most excellent post by Jim Smith on why you probably won’t.  It has been my experience that most ordinary people in Columbia will not even be aware that elections are going on, nor would they understand what the CA Rep does or even their own village board. That’s something that every village board should be working on every day of the year. It can’t be remediated right before an election.

If you don’t have a Village election to vote in, what about the District 7 race? Don’t miss out on your chance to weigh in on that!

If none of these elections apply to you, perhaps reading this weeks digital edition of the Columbia Flier/Howard County Times would be up your alley. You can vote for that here , if you haven’t already.

Here’s a pop of pink for your day. I’m going to take a nap.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Here’s the Context

Two minutes. Two minutes that made me uncomfortable.Stuck in my brain since February 29th.

Episode 88 of the Elevate Maryland podcast, beginning at around eight minutes, thirty seconds in. Co-host Tom Coale takes a stab at the dynamics of the upcoming Board of Education race. It begins, “...and here’s the context that I’m thinking about: the Howard County Board of Education race.” It concludes, “....they’re going to eat that lunch; it’s going to be served to them” at ten minutes thirty seconds. It’s two minutes.

Episode 88 Elevate Maryland  (8:30 - 10:30)

The gist of what is said is this: while local Democrats are reticent to act, the Republican Party is actively supporting candidates for the Board of Education.

When I first heard this segment this it troubled me. There’s an edge to Coale’s voice that could be anger or frustration. And, to be honest, I’m very likely the sort of person that he is angry or frustrated with. I sincerely want the Board of Education race to be non-partisan.

On the other hand, this year’s redistricting war has left a mark. It runs through the county like a gash, an unhealed wound. For a number of candidates, opposing redistricting is almost their only issue. While we have Republicans, Democrats, and Independents running, it has seemed to me that, if there were divisions, they fell more along the lines of where the candidates stood during redistricting.

And then I came across a discussion online which challenged my way of thinking. In a group devoted largely to the opposition of redistricting, a member laid out a plan to change the direction of the board entirely. It went like this:

1. Analyze candidates in every race.
2. Donate money to and campaign for the ones who espouse our goals.

And, to make sure readers understood, the speaker made it clear that no one who was “Blue” would be acceptable, and no one who was on good terms with the County Executive, either. This particular speaker was not an outlier. Their message was understood and well-received.

That, my friends, is partisan politics.

What I found the most troubling was the aim to control outcomes in races where members of this group do not reside. My friends who eat politics for breakfast will find me naive. I hadn’t anticipated this and I guess I should have. This is clearly strategic thinking: make a plan, work your plan, achieve desired domination. Control Board votes, control future policy.

The reason I supported the election of Board members by District was to make it easier for candidates from the less affluent parts of the county to get elected. These areas of the county have long been woefully under-represented on the Board. Since they would only need the funds and organization to mount a campaign in a finite area, non-traditional candidates might have a decent chance at running a successful race.

The idea that those candidates might be facing an influx of cash and/or campaign workers from outside of their district had not occurred to me. While it may not be illegal,  it clearly circumvents the entire reason that advocates worked so hard to have the law changed in Annapolis. The purpose was to give each area of the county a better shot at representation on the board.

In the past, more money generally meant a better chance of winning. So most, if not all, board members came from the more affluent parts of the county.

But now, if one faction is determined to play a “winner take all” game, and that faction contains some of the most affluent county residents, then isn’t well-to-do Howard County reaching right over the new boundaries and making a mockery of them?

Social media has been abuzz over the last 24 hours with the announcement by the Howard County Republican Club of their preferred/endorsed candidates in the Board of Education race. As a response to this (partisan) action it looks as though the Columbia Democratic Club has countered with a list of candidates that they feel comfortable asking their members to consider. (Notice the difference in tone, one that confirms what Tom Coale says about “reticence” in the face of partisan politicking.)

For me, it isn’t political affiliation bursting on the scene that concerns me. Candidates have different points of view;  their goal is to connect with like-minded voters. I don’t begrudge community members in another part of the county electing the candidate they feel best represents their values.

I absolutely and most whole heartedly object to those people trying to use their money and influence to steer the outcome of who will represent me. Or anyone else who doesn’t live where they live.

Perhaps when you are really angry and convinced that you have “Right” on your side then you think it’s fine to use any means to reach your end, even putting your thumb on the scale. So you work to circumvent the spirit of the law. Because power is more important than principle.

Here’s the context: there are some people out there who aren’t content merely to make their own choices. They’d like to make everybody’s choices. Keep an eye out for people like that. A board of education that is elected to fit the desires of the few is going to be a very bad fit when it comes to meeting the needs of all the children in Howard County.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Yes, I Said It

Yesterday Twitter directed me to a thread of things people have been saying since the start of the Covid-19 quarantine. The only one I can remember at the moment went something like this:

If you’re going to eat lo mein on a Zoom call, at least mute yourself.

There’s something I’ve been hearing a lot of lately amongst the locals, and it’s something I don’t  think many were expecting to ever say:

I didn’t vote for Governor Hogan, but...
I don't usually agree with the Governor, but...
I voted against Hogan both times, but...

...he’s doing a good job in this crisis.
...I’m grateful for his leadership right now.
...I think he’s making responsible choices to protect Marylanders.

Truth in advertising: I am one of those people. I think we are incredibly fortunate to have a governor  who takes this medical crisis seriously when, in other states, the response has been wholly inadequate. Yesterday the announcement of a deal to bring 500,000 testing kits to the state was something to cheer about, no matter what your political party.

Seeing Mr. Hogan step up and giving his all during this crisis makes me wonder. It may seem unfair to you that I could possibly be wanting more at a time like this, but here goes.

When this is all over, as much as it ever can be, imagine a world where Mr. Hogan stepped up to advocate for Baltimore in just the same way as he is fighting for the state of Maryland right now. No judging, no throwing shade, no victim blaming. Imagine a Hogan who was willing to hold press conferences that made it clear that the safety and success of Baltimore was his concern and everyone’s concern.

Surely someone who can negotiate around the difficulties of the current White House occupant’s floundering and sabotage can roll up their sleeves and work with any leaders in his own state to make things better. He’d just have to believe it’s that important. Is that too much to ask of the Governor of a State?

As a teacher, I know when a student is headed towards mastery. When they are willing to persist through struggle and multiple attempts to solve a problem, I know that they will soon be ready to tackle new challenges.

Throughout this current public health crisis, Governor Hogan has shown that he is willing to make the most of every possible asset and to forge new connections to solve problems in unexpected ways. Good for him.

Now do Baltimore. ( I mean, take a breather first, but then, let’s all get to work.)

Monday, April 20, 2020


Local liquor stores are pushing out delivery after delivery each day. Restaurants are now permitted to sell you drinks with your dinner. Jokes appear online about the perfect quarantine cocktail, or at what time each day it is appropriate for Mom to switch from coffee to wine.

How about you? Are you quarantining with or without?

For me, it’s without. I don’t drink at home. It’s a “going out”, special occasion thing. I don’t judge anyone else, and some of those creative libations look mighty good, really. But it’s just not my thing.

The sale of liquor generates tax money for the state, which must be helpful in a time like this. And, for restaurants, the ability to sell alcohol for pickup/delivery is a lifeline, because that is where most of the money is made. On the drinks. It almost feels as though one is supporting the community by drinking.

And yet.

Drinking alcohol isn’t for everyone. And the prettiness of fancy drinks and artfully designed bottles by local distillers hides another, grimmer world of the daily purchases of whatever is affordable that feed the habit of those addicted to alcohol. It’s ugly, it’s relentless, and most of the time, it’s what keeps liquor stores in business.

I’ve heard some people say that liquor stores aren’t essential and should be closed down for the duration. On its face it seems pretty reasonable. Of course, it might not feel that way to you. Savoring that special drink may be a part of a host of things you are doing to make the best of a hard time. Some may look at it as a quality of life issue.

But for serious addicts the closure of liquor stores is a life or death issue. Severe alcohol withdrawal can mean tremors, delirium, and seizures. It can mean death.

It’s a tricky topic for me, this Quarantine Happy Hour thing. Seeing my friends online enjoy toasting one another makes me smile. Knowing how important the sale of liquor is to the local economy makes me think. Wondering if this time of isolation will push more folks into addiction as they use alcohol to self-medicate makes me sad.

It’s not a simple thing.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Personal But Public

Once upon a time I wrote a little piece about how the social media team of Maryland State Comptroller had a habit of wandering a little bit too far over the line when responding to those who disagreed with them.


Yesterday, one of the members of that team, the Comptroller’s Chief of Staff Len Foxwell, experienced a smackdown of his own. A statement he made using his own personal social media account about anti-quarantine protestors made a far bigger splash than I am guessing he had intended. Now Republicans around the state are calling for his dismissal.

His boss Peter Franchot felt concerned enough about the situation to address it on Facebook last night. The Comptroller expressed support for Mr. Foxwell in his position of Chief of Staff, labeled his online comments as satirical, and reminded readers that those remarks were posted on a personal social media account, not an official one.

If you want to read screenshots of what has caused this firestorm, or how people are responding, go to Twitter and search Len Foxwell. I’m not sharing it here.

Many of us have been expressing our frustration with those who, by violating quarantine and social distancing guidelines, will very likely make themselves and others sick, overburdening an already overwhelmed healthcare system. Along the way their actions will infect others who had nothing to do with their protest.

That doesn’t feel patriotic to me. It feels selfish, and I have said as much. I find it heartbreaking, and it makes me angry.

Perhaps what Mr. Foxwell wrote was his way of expressing the same thing. I don’t know. But, on its face, it’s glib, mocking, and deeply mean-spirited. From what I have observed, the glibness and sarcasm are well-known parts of Mr. Foxwell’s online persona. (Hence my original post about the Comptroller’s Facebook page.) I would imagine there are some who appreciate the expertise he brings to the job and say, “oh, that’s just his way.”

I think it’s fair to say that not everyone appreciates it.

Yes, it was probably a post written out of frustration, and not meant to be taken literally. Yes, it was his own social media account. But it wandered more than a little over the line. Mr. Foxwell is not entirely a private citizen, even in his time off, and that does place a higher burden on him when he speaks his mind.

His boss appears to have laid this to rest. I’m not entirely sure that’s going to be enough.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Lack of Balance

This morning feels like the time for a light hearted post. There’s a kind of rise and fall to the posts I write. I try to vary them. Too much of one thing can be off-putting. Heavy hitting issues day after day become a burden. So I follow an inner sense of the flow of topics. There should be a feeling of balance over the long haul.

Well, we are all experiencing a very long haul together but today I’m feeling a decided lack of balance. In scanning the news for a good local story I found word that there are Marylanders who actually think that congregating in Annapolis to protest the quarantine and social distancing is a good idea.

Please come to this protest in Annapolis Saturday. Remember to leave your facemask home and do NOT practice #SocialDistanacing Remember you are making a point... #Covid_19 #ThiningTheHerd (sic)

This is not a light hearted story. It is not a feel good story. It is jam packed with ignorance, selfishness, and downright stupidity. When one is dealing with a highly contagious and deadly virus which is easily spread by asymptomatic carriers, this kind of public action doesn’t endanger only the protestors. We can’t laugh it off as something these people are “doing to themselves”. 

They’re not simply shooting themselves in the foot. They’re turning the gun on everyone.

My heartfelt apologies that this is not a light hearted post. Feel free to send me any ideas you’ve got on that front. My daughter sent me a photo of an adorable baby duck this morning and, had I been sure that it was a local duck, I might have written about that.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Don’t Ask

A brief note to Howard County parents who enjoy virtual choir postings on the internet:

Don’t ask our HCPSS teachers to make any.

These requests, pretty much nationwide and who knows how far beyond, are the bane of music teachers everywhere. Let me tell you why.

Rehearsing a musical ensemble in one location is an interactive learning event. Each musician is responsible not only for playing their part, but paying attention to the director, and playing with their fellow musicians. Musicality is not merely playing the notes on a page. It is a collaborative endeavor.

A live rehearsal is not possible using Zoom or other similar platforms. If you don’t believe me, trying singing Happy Birthday with your online group of choice. It does not sync up. As a musician I find this maddening. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try if you are having a purely social gathering. Singing is a deeply human way of communicating.

But a true musical rehearsal or concert coming from many individual locations in real time? Not happening.

What you are seeing when you press play on a virtual choir or instrumental recording is, to be blunt, a parlor trick. It involves a huge amount of post-production work by someone who is using technology to piece it all together and make it appear to be an ensemble. The musical benefit to each individual player is negligible.

It is as though a class full of students were given identical squares of paper to color on while separated from one another, and the teacher was responsible for organizing them in such a way that they appeared to be a great work of art. This is not a legitimate learning experience. It’s far more like color-by-number. There is no listening or responding, no interplay between musicians, no opportunity to improve one’s playing or singing by rising to the musical challenges provided by the conductor.

A virtual ensemble is largely smoke and mirrors: enjoyable for the audience but providing zero learning benefit for the participants. And it is an unbelievable amount of work for whoever does the tech to “assemble” the end result. There are a zillion other ways that music teachers can be interacting with their students right now that are more musical and more pedagogically sound than the production of virtual ensembles.

So, for Heaven’s sake, don’t ask our teachers to make one. They are doing everything they can to bring out the best in their student musicians under extraordinary circumstances and it’s just not going to look the same as an ensemble rehearsal or concert. A creative and educationally sound response is not going to be a virtual choir.

Yes, they are fun. They are cool. They are amazing, and it’s not wrong to enjoy them. If you want to see more of them, make sure you support music technology programs in the school system. Those music tech kids will go out in the world and create more fun, cool, and amazing tech-facilitated musical experiences.

Let your children's music teachers do what they do best: teach.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

A Mask That Reveals

When the national conversation began to turn to the advisability of wearing masks in public in order to halt the spread of the Covid-19 virus, it wasn’t greeted with enthusiasm by everyone. 

Black men fear homemade coronavirus masks could exacerbate racial profiling    - - NBC News

For Black Men, Fear That Masks Will Invite Racial Profiling  - - New York Times 

Yesterday Governor Hogan announced that he is ordering masks to be worn in public places such as retail stores and public transit, along with other requirements to support social distancing and heightened sanitary practices in places of business. From eveything that we know about spread of the virus, this is a sound decision.

From everything we know about institutionalized racism in this country, it will also have unintended consequences.

On April 4th, at the LA Mart in Oakland Mills, a Muslim man was (allegedly) tasered and restrained by a security guard because he would not remove his face mask in the store. According to the story the man in question is a health care worker who comes in contact with Covid-19 patients. 

What possible reason could the security guard have had to require someone to remove a mask as a requirement for shopping in the store? Is it even remotely likely that someone would be hiding a weapon under a face mask? 

Or is it more likely that the guard thought that this man “looked suspicious” and wanted his face to be recorded by store cameras as he shopped? It seems highly unlikely that he wanted a customer to remove a mask in order to provide him with a more enthusiastic welcome. I certainly hope that the Howard County police investigate this incident and that they share the results with the public.

Some time ago, the LA Mart had already created a feeling of unease in the Oakland Mills Community by posting “no hoodie” signs at the door. It may be that ownership and management need some serious intervention on how to support safety in their establishment without compromising the civil rights of their patrons.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The Most Good

Early on in my stay at home quarantine existence I realized how lucky I was compared to others in our community. I didn’t have to work, I had a little money in the bank, and I had a safe place to live and a secure family unit to “hunker down” with. At that point I decided that I would give a little bit of money each day to causes focused on helping others through this crisis.

One of those causes is Columbia Community Care. Founded by Wilde Lake High School teacher Erika Strauss Chavarria, the group sprang up almost immediately with a goal to support vulnerable families by providing food and other essential supplies in conjunction with the Howard County Schools Grab & Go meal sites.

What started with Ms. Chavarria’s ideas and determination has grown into an ever-growing team of volunteers who do everything from donating groceries, ordering from the group's Amazon Wish List, working the tables at school sites to assist families, doing porch pick ups of other people's donations, even shopping and delivering individual families’ lists.

Along the way members have assisted with translating skills when needed, and encouraged families to fill out the HCPSS technology survey so their children could take part in distance learning. Their watchword appears to be: if we can help, we will.

For a group that did not even exist before this crisis, Columbia Community Care has already earned a well-deserved place in the local safety net supporting local families. And they do it with profound respect for the community members they serve. There is a strong commitment to honor the trust that vulnerable families are giving when they connect with Ms. Chavarria and her team.

That’s why a respected philanthropic organization like the Women's Giving Circle has raised and matched funds to support their operation. And that’s why I’ve decided to focus my donations on them for the duration of this crisis. I don’t have a lot of money to throw around but I do know that this is where it will do the most good.

This is where you come in. I know many of my readers are already assisting this group. On the whole, my readers are the helping sort. But just in case you didn’t know, or you didn’t think you had anything to offer, let me suggest some opportunities for you.

First, you can ask to join the Columbia Community Care group on Facebook to learn more about what they are doing and how you can help. If you click on “Files” there’s quite a bit of information already organized for you by member Megan Feroli.

Have money? Donate here:

Venmo @SrChav
CashApp $SraChav

Or use their Amazon Wish List to make purchases.

But there are so many other ways to help beyond cash donations. Perhaps you can do (contactless) porch pick up of grocery donations. Perhaps you can assist at a donation site, or shop and deliver for a family. Maybe you can spread the word amongst your friends and widen the circle of giving.

There is something you can do. I guarantee it. Don’t think that what you offer is not enough: from all our small gifts a greater goal is being sustained. Think starfish, but with a lot more helpers on the beach.

There are a variety of charitable requests out there right now. It is painfully difficult to choose among them when need is so great and funds are finite. I understand that. But, for me, the mission of Columbia Community Care is where my “little bit” can be magnified and make the biggest difference.

An interesting bit of information: as a Howard County teacher, Erika Strauss Chavarria is back at work this week as she begins distance learning with her Spanish classes at Wilde Lake High School. The reality is that she never stopped working.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020


My thanks to the faithful reader who responded at length to yesterday’s post about why we elect judges. If the rest of you are still working on your answers, that’s fine; I won’t take off any points for lateness.

I happened upon an online discussion yesterday about voting by mail, in particular, the Special Election in District 7 to fill the seat held by the late Elijah Cummings. As I watched the familiar arguments unfold, I had an unusual epiphany.

It seems to me that the two dominant political parties start at the same place when it comes to voting but where each goes from there is indicative of their respective world views.

The statement might begin: Voting is so important that....

And one party finishes it like this: we must put in place careful restrictions in order to make sure that none of the unqualified and no bad actors can sully this important process.

The other party:... we must do whatever we can to remove barriers so that all citizens may participate in this important process.

Beneath it all, members of one party seems to believe that “if I am good at heart, my neighbor is likely to be the same.” The other party leans more towards, “I know I would do the right thing but I just can’t trust that other fella.” Is this one distinction the heart of all the differences between the two?

I wonder.

Warning: this is where the post wanders into unusual territory.

These differences put me in mind of how Holy Communion is viewed in different Christian denominations. For non-Christians: Communion is a re-enactment of the last supper that Jesus of Nazareth shared with his disciples.

The jumping off point here is: Receiving Communion is such a holy experience that...

In the Roman Catholic Church: must be baptized and a member of our community of faith in order to receive it, so that you don’t receive without full and necessary faith and understanding.

In other Protestant denominations:...we welcome all to come to the table and receive its blessings with us.

Now, lest you think I have completely lost my mind, I am not suggesting that one political party is aligned with one particular religious denomination. But I am wondering if there is a deep difference at play here, one that causes some to look at the challenges of the world and say “yes, and” or “yes, but”.

I am not inviting any responses which bash specific political parties, or, for that matter, religious denominations. I welcome thoughtful responses to this seeming dichotomy. Can it ever be bridged? Do you think I’m on the wrong track altogether? Do you think there exists a possible world in which these two ways of thinking could be “better together”?

At the moment I am not feeling hopeful on that last front.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Here Comes the Judge

Good morning, Columbia/HoCo! I slept in this morning on account of the rainy weather. Perhaps I need to start setting my alarm again.

I’ll make this brief. I have a question today: why do we elect judges? I find it odd. Then again, I still don’t really comprehend why we elect the Howard County Sheriff, either.

I’m not looking for testimonials from candidates here. I’m hoping that some of my politically savvy readers will come out of the woodwork and explain this. Perhaps you are a student of judicial history. Fill me in.

Is electing judges, rather than appointing them, the best way to go? What should citizens look for in a judicial candidate? What makes for an informed voter?

Since I have all this extra time on my hands, I might as well use it to educate myself.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Essential Bunny

Children across the state of Maryland must have been thrilled on Friday at the news the Governor Hogan had declared the Easter Bunny an essential worker, just in time for the ‘legendary’ hare’s hoppy weekend activities.

I had a similar thrill on Friday when I learned to true identity of the Easter Bunny. It turns out she goes to my church.

Of course, I had long suspected this was the case but couldn’t be sure. Every year this mild-mannered parishioner creates an extraordinary Easter Egg Hunt for all the children of our church. When the bigger kids ran roughshod over the little ones, she created two separate Easter Egg Hunts to level the playing field. If she saw anyone was disappointed in their haul, she took note to make things even better the next year.

Of course the Easter Bunny doesn’t put her feet up all the other days of the year. You always suspected there was more to the story, right? How could anyone with such a giving spirit work only one or two days out of the 365?

Once the responsibilities of egg delivery are laid to rest for the year, next up for our industrious friend is the church flea market. This effort takes a lot of work (and a lot of other bunnies)  to pull off, and the end result is a substantial donation to charity. You’re not surprised that the Easter Bunny would be working to pay down school children's lunch debt, now, are you? I thought not.

As summer hits its peak our Easter Bunny is going through flyers from all the local stores, going on a hunt of her own for the best deals on school supplies. You may think you are good at finding Easter eggs but your skills don’t come close to hers as she scores ten pocket folders for a penny or bonus pencils with a ten dollar purchase. All those back to school items? Donated to be given to area students in need.

Despite preparing for her Big Holiday the Easter Bunny has jumped right in to providing items to the Columbia Community Care group, making regular donations to support families in need during the Covid-19 crisis. That Easter Bunny:  the grass doesn’t grow under her feet.

What was the piece of information that revealed to me the identity of the Easter Bunny? A brief exchange on Facebook.

I have filled plastic Easter eggs.  If I put them in your bin tomorrow morning, will they be taken to Swansfield? Terrific!  I will have them there around 9.  I usually fill them for the church's Easter egg hunt...

I felt something in my heart. When I read those words I just knew. Even in the face of stay-at-home church celebrations and extended families separated from one another, the Easter Bunny was finding a way to bring joy.

I’m not going to reveal the Easter Bunny’s true identity because she doesn’t like to be made much of. And, besides, that would take the fun out of it. You don’t have to take my word for it, either. It’s not so much important to know “who” it is. What’s important to me is that the Easter Bunny does a whole lot more than you ever imagined and that it’s no stretch of the imagination to say that’s she’s an essential worker.

One more thing. The Easter Bunny would never claim credit for herself alone. I suspect she has quite a few helpers in Columbia/HoCo, throughout Maryland, and around the world. Maybe you’re one of them.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Rant Redux

I’ve already posted this on my personal social media accounts but it bears repeating:

You’re not a teacher. You’re not an administrator. You have no idea how a school system of almost 59,000 students operates. But somehow you are an expert at knowing what a transition to distance learning looks like for students from k-12, some in poverty, some who don’t speak English, and special needs students. All this during an ongoing international pandemic!!! You think you are an expert because you have this deep-seated feeling that people like you are not getting good service. That you’re not getting your money’s worth. 

You are breaking my heart, Howard County.

Some folks out there are having a hard time understanding what their responsibilities are during a time of crisis. And I’m not talking about mask-wearing and social distancing. I’m talking about what it means to be a parent when your community is weighed down by the effects of a quickly spreading and lethal virus.

I can’t for the life of me understand how anyone’s reaction to this could be “they owe me”. What part of unprecedented national emergency do they not understand? Imagine we are New Orleans after Katrina. Or Puerto Rico after Maria. Imagine this is London during the Blitz. This is the crisis of our lifetimes and they want to know why they aren’t getting better service?

Their children feel the anger and bitterness. They will absorb the disrespect for the school system. These parents are teaching that, in a time of great suffering, it’s all about demanding to speak to a manager. The lesson is: poor children don’t matter, special needs children don’t matter. The teachers and administrators and their families don’t matter. Only we matter.

Teachers and administrators who travel in the same social media circles read their diatribes and are demoralized. With every rant they weaken the bonds that connect dedicated professionals to the community they serve. As schools scramble to create the best learning experience they can, the specter of angry parents looms large.

We all drink from the same social media water, friends. What happens when you poison the well?

You are truly breaking my heart, Howard County.

Friday, April 10, 2020

What Essential Means

Who sustains my existence right now?

The people who work to keep the grocery and drug store running.
The people who make sure food and medicine get to the stores.
The people working a skeleton crew at restaurants to provide carry-out options.
The people who make home deliveries of all sorts.
The people who pull the orders at the stores or in warehouses.
The people who deliver mail for the US Postal Service.
The people who collect trash, recycling, and yard waste.
The people who process those materials once they are collected.

The people, the people, the people.

The people whose jobs in many cases do not pay a living wage.

The people who struggle to make ends meet in Howard County because housing costs are exhorbitant and residents fight the kind of housing density that would make it more affordable.

During the pandemic the work of these people has been identified as essential. It’s too bad we have not recognized that before now.

My social media feeds are full of the complaints of the privileged. I wonder if many of them are also the type to say, “if you can’t afford to live here, go somewhere else.” Or, “renters don’t add to a community, only home-owners do.” “Those low-paying jobs aren’t really skilled.”  Perhaps they also believe that Howard County is full, or dangerously over-crowded. I can’t know for sure.

I do know that the people I am most grateful for, who sustain my existence and that of so many others, are the ones I’d rather be sharing Columbia/HoCo with. Those of us whose primary condition right now is to benefit from the labor of others who are not paid enough, are not sufficiently protected  from the coronavirus, and whose housing choices are woefully inadequate  need to do some hard thinking about who really belongs in Howard County.

My social media feeds also contains stories of those who are using their time, talents, and resources to support local needs wherever they arise. Their work restores my faith in our community as much as the rants of the well-to-do deplete it.

Who should our community be for? Who “deserves” to live and thrive here? Would it be cynical to say, “If you’re not providing an essential service, you should just live somewhere else”?

Yes, of course it would be cynical. And cruel. And it’s certainly not my job to decide who belongs. Maybe this crisis will move the conversation on who deserves to be here, once and for all.

What a relief that would be.

Thursday, April 9, 2020


In Monday’s post I took a look at the timeline of local LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations. Today I’ll focus on CARY and their BOE Candidate Survey.  Since CARY was founded specifically to address the needs of LGBTQ+ students, it makes sense that they would place a high value on finding out the knowledge and commitment of potential board members on issues that directly impact those students.

I invite you to read all of the responses, or, at the very least, the ones that apply to the candidates you will be choosing from.

I’ll be blunt here. Issues that impact LGBTQ+ students are life and death issues. Bullying, the experience of minority stress in school situations, and elevated risk for homelessness due to parental rejection all contribute to an increased risk for suicide. Incidents of suicide and attempted suicide for Transgender students are linked with whether or not young people are supported by the use of their correct name and pronouns. Numerous scientific studies bear all of this out.

The twenty-nine members of CARY who read and assessed each candidate’s answers decided on a letter grade for each.  An explanation accompanies their evaluation. I noticed that one of the words used multiple times in CARY’s description of how they assessed candidates’ answers is “non-affirming”.  That led me to ponder just what the term “affirming” means in this context.

I found a thorough and explicit description in a public document from the New York City Foster Care System about Identifying LGBTQ Affirming Homes. As I read though the many ways in which foster parents can affirm their LGBTQ+ foster children, it became clear to me that affirming means “life-affirming”.  In a sense, the NYC Foster Care System is saying: these are the expectations we set forth for ourselves because we value the lives of these children and are committed to taking the actions necessary for them to stay alive.

Shouldn’t that be the expectation we have for every member of the Board of Education?  If one is not life-affirming, what then? Life-negating? Life-neutral?

If your child’s life hung in the balance, would life-neutral be enough? If any child’s life hangs in the balance, is anything less than life-affirming acceptable?

For those whose lives are not connected to LGBTQ + family members and/or friends, views on this particular set of issues may seem like ’just a matter of opinion.’ They may assess those opinions on some kind of an internal sliding scale, perhaps comparing them to their own or those held by members of the dominant culture. To those people, CARY’s assessments may seem harsh, because to them it’s just a personal viewpoint and not a matter of life and death.

Take the time to read the candidates’ responses and take note of those who chose not to participate at all. Your own internal grading system may not be the same as that of the members of CARY. Keep in mind, however, that the core mission of this group is to support LGBTQ+ young people in schools. The questions they ask are aligned with best practices in keeping these students alive, helping them grow, and eventually, take flight into the world beyond our school system.

As a youth advocacy organization new to the Howard County scene, CARY has chosen shine a light on issues in our schools that have often been ignored or avoided. For candidates to hedge, equivocate, or demur shows an inability to face head-on the responsibility to lift up all students.  And if they can’t - or won’t - lift up all students, they shouldn’t expect our vote.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020


On Saturday a local organization called CARY (Community Allies of Rainbow Youth) released responses to a set of questions they had posed to candidates for the Board of Education. The reaction from the public has been, shall we say, varied. In addition, many people aren’t familiar with the group itself. Before I write about the BOE Survey I want to address what CARY is and where it comes from: a genealogy of sorts.

In the beginning there was PFLAG, whose roots trace back to 1972 and whose first meeting was held in 1973. From their website:

In the next years, through word of mouth and community need, similar groups sprang up around the country, offering "safe havens" and mutual support for parents with gay and lesbian children. 

In Howard County, the first meetings of a group with similar goals were held in 1995. The resultant group became a local chapter of the national PFLAG organization:  PFLAG Howard County. Here is the PFLAG Columbia-Howard County Mission Statement:

To support parents and caregivers of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer children. We welcome all people — gay, straight, bisexual, transgender and queer — as well as their families and friends. Together, we support each other, educate the broader community and advocate for equality.

One of the support groups provided by PFLAG Howard County is Rainbow Youth and Allies.

Rainbow Youth and Allies — a social group for LGBTQ+ youth and their friends, ages 12-22, in a safe space.

The term “Rainbow Youth” clearly connects to international use of the Rainbow Flag which celebrates the LGBTQ+ movement.

Over in the Howard County Schools, all high schools and some middle schools have student-led organizations called GSA’s. GSA used to stand for Gay-Straight Alliance, but, in recent years has come to be Gender Sexuality Alliance or some similar variant, in order to more explicitly welcome trans and gender non-binary students. I was unable to find a link on the HCPSS website which addresses these groups. (Still looking.)

In 2015 the school system created a partnership with PFLAG Howard County. To be honest I have no idea what, if anything, resulted from this, other than a press release.

HoCo Pride is a local 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is to provide:

...a collection of events and programs that are geared toward the support of, advocacy for and education about the LGBTQ+ community in Howard County.

The inaugural HoCo Pride was held in Centennial Park in the Summer of 2019. I am guessing that the group’s founding was at least a year before this, as they formulated a core group to plan and fundraise for the event itself.

Onto this scene comes the newest LGBTQ+ advocacy group: CARY. (Community Allies of Rainbow Youth) CARY is a grass-roots, volunteer-based organization, whose first meeting was in March of 2019. Their Facebook page appeared in January of 2020. While their goals are wholly compatible with those of PFLAG Howard County, they are a completely independent entity. From their website:

We advocate for LGBTQ+ youth, raise awareness of LGBTQ+ issues in the community, with a focus on the schools, increase understanding of youth experiences across the LGBTQ+ community, and support each other!

Now we come to the political part. PGLAG Howard County holds candidate forums for a number of local raises but they do not endorse.

CARY, a group whose focus is most especially on students, formulated a set of pertinent questions which they posed to this year’s Board of Education candidates. The questions are listed below.

1. Would you support a policy that requires all HCPSS schools to allow transgender students to use restrooms and changing facilities based on their identified gender? Please explain your answer.

2. Would you support a policy that requires HCPSS staff and non-official documents to use the name and pronouns that a student requests? Please explain your answer.

3. To what age groups (if any) is it appropriate for teachers and other staff members to disclose to students that they have LGBTQ family members or are involved in a same-sex relationship?

4. Should curriculum be revised to include reference to LGBTQ individuals, including the fact or possibility that the individuals were LGBTQ identified. If yes, what (if any) is the minimum grade level at which these changes should be made? Please explain your answer.

5. Would you like to see LGBTQ themed works of literature, art, and media be introduced into the curriculum, and if yes, what (if any) is the minimum grade level at which this should be done? Please explain your answer.

6. How should the school system provide more education to parents/guardians with regard to understanding and supporting LGBTQ youth? How should HCPSS reach out to parents/guardians who are unsupportive of their children’s LGBTQ identities?

7. What accommodations should be made for transgender students participating in athletics organized by the school system? Which policies should be revised to reflect these accommodations?

8. Should HCPSS make sure schools offer access to LGBTQ student clubs like GSAs to their students? At what levels (High? Middle? Elementary?) should this happen? Please explain your answer.

9. What changes would you like to see made to the way HCPSS handles identification, reporting, interventions, and prevention of bullying?

10. What measures should the school system take to prevent suicide among the student body?

How would you answer these questions? We’ll talk about the candidate’s responses tomorrow.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Lanes and Leadership

I’ve been thinking a lot about the times when then-Council Member and now County Executive Calvin Ball took flak for addressing ways that the current president of the United States could impact our lives here in Howard County. He got a lot of the “stay in your lane” criticism, along with suggestions that his concerns were nothing more than political grandstanding.

It’s pretty clear to me that everything coming out of the White House daily has a direct connection to Dr. Ball’s ability to do his job protecting and supporting the people of Howard County. We can see how that’s an issue not just for the County Executive but also for the Governor Of the State of Maryland. When citizens don’t believe there is a serious health crisis, their subsequent behavior is a risk to themselves and others, and puts an unnecessary strain on an overworked healthcare system. When hospitals can’t get the medical supplies they need to provide adequate care, people die.

I don’t know how anyone could look at the situation we are in right now and say that what the President says and does has nothing to do with our lives in Howard County.

There’s a well known quote from author Maya Angelou:

When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.

If Ball was weighing the plentiful evidence of what a Donald Trump presidency would look like, that’s not political grandstanding. That’s just good common sense. It’s also a sign of good leadership. You don’t just think about what’s happening right now. You also have to keep your eye on things that might be headed your way.

The current national Covid-19 crisis is a huge example of how what happens in Washington does not stay in Washington. It’s not in a different lane. The lane runs right to us and thousands of other communities all over the country.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Quarantine Cookery

I see you, budding gourmets. I see your photographs of spectacular yeast breads, succulent slow-cooked masterpieces. I don’t know how you happened to enter quarantine with a supply of marinated figs or phyllo pastry.  I felt fortunate that our quarantine found us with with adequate supplies of ketchup and Ranch.

I don’t judge you. But neither can I emulate you.

I have found myself applying the kind of weird creativity to my cooking that was common when I was young and broke: things like adding that last sliced up hot dog to a bowl of ramen noodles. I counted myself quite the chef when I mixed one container of McDonald’s honey mustard with one packet of hot mustard leftover from Chinese takeout. Perfect with chicken tenders or as a dip for hard pretzels!

Last night a friend posted that the leftover bits at the bottom of a bag of kale chips make a great topping for pizza. Another friend is refilling her soy sauce bottle with her stash of soy sauce packets. None of us is down to our last meal. But there’s a kind of frugal ingenuity that kicks in when your trips to the grocery are limited and you are trying to be a good steward of your financial resources during an uncertain time.

My husband brought me an iced coffee but it had been prepared with sugar by mistake. I’m a cream, no sugar sort of person. Did I throw it away? No. I froze it, then threw it in the blender with a scoop of chocolate ice cream I had on hand and enjoyed a fancy frozen coffee drink. I don’t normally have the time or energy to fool with things like that.

Right now time is the biggest asset I’ve got going for me.

How about you? Do you have any quirky Quarantine recipes to share? Any unlikely cupboard combinations you’d like to recommend? What’s your go-to ingredient? Is there one item you wish you had purchased before we all hunkered down that you really miss?

For me that’s got to be hot sauce. We are out and I can’t bring myself to buy it because it isn’t really “essential”.

You hereby invited to share your current gourmet adventures of any variety. If I get enough responses  I will do a follow up post. Here’s where to submit your delicious examples: