Monday, November 30, 2020

Window Dressing


Food for thought:

This tweet brought into sharp focus for me the motivation of our local Re Open Howard folks: comfort breeds a lack of empathy. 

As most of us planned very different, and smaller, Thanksgiving celebrations this year, the folks over at ReOpen Howard saw fit to post one of those tawdry photoshop jobs* for which our local Republican Party has become infamous. There, standing on the the outside looking in a dining room window, table set in holiday finery, lurks the County Executive. 

The photo is captioned: The typical Thanksgiving scene across Howard County today. (Look closely)

There you have it. There’s a world-wide pandemic and the amount of human suffering is continuing to balloon beyond what most of us can comprehend but, that’s not the problem for ReOpen Howard. No, they want to make sure that you know the real problem: there’s a Black man outside your window who doesn’t belong there and he wants your stuff.

Really, if the Republican Party does not want to be known as the party of racism it would help if they did not get down in the mud and wallow with the pigs.

If you care about overcoming the challenges of the coronavirus in our community then that’s where you will put your efforts. And that’s where I see County Government, Howard County Hospital, the Health Department, local non-profits providing food and rental assistance, the Howard County Library serving as a conduit for important public information, the School system providing distance learning to keep our students, families, and teachers safe.

If you care about maintaining your comfort then that’s where you will focus your efforts. And that’s where I see all of the anti-masking, COVID-denying, “open the schools” ReOpeners. They are not engaged in fighting the virus. They don’t even want the focus to be on the virus. They want it to be on themselves.

Its very simple for them: I want my stuff. No one can take my stuff. Give me back my stuff.

And how deliciously funny that they can drag up a racist trope of the County Executive eyeing up the white folks’ Thanksgiving feast in the process. How dare a Black man have the authority to set public health guidelines if it means we are going to be less comfortable? Let’s not forget that these are probably the same sort of folks who’d encourage you to call the police if you saw anyone “who didn’t belong” hanging around your neighborhood. This is not purely some sophomoric effort.

It’s deeply racist, and potentially violent.

That’s how far some people are willing to go to protect their own comfort. 

*Yes, I have a screenshot. No, it’s not fit to share here. - - jam

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Let Go of the Lap



I can’t remember exactly when it was, but, I was definitely well into adulthood when the creepiness of this song from a popular children’s Christmas program struck me. (“Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, Rankin Bass, 1970)

If you sit on my lap today

A kiss a toy is the price you'll pay

When you tell what you wish for --

In a whisper

Be prepared to pay

At this point in my life I was the parent of a young child and an early childhood educator. The implications of placing a child in a stranger’s lap and the suggestion, however light-hearted, that there should be some kind of quid pro quo going on there chilled me to my core.

As a child my grandmother took us downtown to Higbee’s, one of the old Cleveland department stores, to see Santa. We had lunch in the department store dining room “The Silver Grille” and visited the Twigbee Shop, a tiny store within-the-store set up just for children to do their Christmas shopping. We were wearing our Sunday best, school picture best, party clothes outfits. 

And I hated it. 

The part with Santa, I mean. I didn’t know him. I didn’t feel comfortable talking to him. He looked like a stranger, he smelled like a stranger, and I didn’t feel any sense of pleasure in the entire encounter. I have the picture somewhere. I look concerned, like someone who suspects they may be in a hostage situation.

Despite the anecdotal evidence that most small children take a dim view of being foisted upon brightly colored strangers for photo opportunities, the cultural push to continue this tradition remains strong. Even this year, in the face of COVID, many malls and other businesses and cultural groups are working to keep it going.

I guess I understand. When so many traditions we love are impossible right now, we want to do what we can to preserve something, anything, that feels meaningful. That’s why, despite my skepticism about Santa visits, I really liked this article by Angela Roberts in the Baltimore Sun.

It’s a clear, engaging account of what things will look like in a few area establishments who are hosting Santa this year. And it brought to mind something that perhaps we might preserve after this is all over. Why do children need to sit in Santa’s lap, anyway? This year may serve as a valuable lesson to us that the lap component is the least valuable piece of the equation. 

It is not even remotely normal to start up a conversation with anyone you don’t know by sitting in their lap. Issues of bodily autonomy and consent go out the window every time we pretend this doesn’t matter for children. Surely the wonder and joy of seeing Santa and sharing a wish or two can be envisioned in a way where the child maintains a sense of personal space and control over the situation. I think we may see more of this arise this year. 

Of course, you won’t get the same time-worn poses. But that could be a good thing.

After feeling inspired by the newspaper article I popped over to the website for the Mall in Columbia to see what they are offering in the way of Santa this year. The language and images are generic and you don’t get a good idea at all what the experience will be like. I don’t have a young child but I don’t find enough information here to inspire confidence or, even just to feel welcome. There’s also an opportunity to purchase a virtual video visit with Santa, but those look to be sold out.

I think that we have a wonderful opportunity this year to re-evaluate what is most essential in the childhood Santa visit. Times change. Our understanding of what is appropriate evolves. We have it in our power to foster the wonder and magic and anticipation of Christmas without sacrificing something deeply valuable within our children.

It’s time. 

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Face Value

Today’s post may not at first appear to be local. Bear with me. I want to share with you a short video, around three minutes in length, called “A Love Letter to Black America.” Please take the time who watch it. I’m aware that most of my readers are not Black. Watch it anyway.

A Love Letter to Black America

The video, produced by the Black Coalition Against Covid-19, addresses distrust in Black communities about the upcoming vaccine and encourages participation, as well as continued cooperation with public health guidelines such as handwashing, masking, and distancing. It acknowledges the history of untrustworthiness of the American medical community towards Black citizens. It challenges the viewer to get involved and stay informed. 

Since Black communities are so heavily impacted by the spread of Covid-19 these words are timely and crucial. Since the white medical establishment has not always been a trusted partner in advocating for Black health, the messengers in this video are every bit as important as the message. Eight Black doctors and nurses came together to create the Black Coalition Against Covid-19. Their work represents collaboration between Howard University, Morehouse School of Medicine, Meharry Medical College, Charles Drew University, National Medical Association, National Black Nurses Association, and the National Urban League. 

The video conveys not simply a public health push for vaccination compliance, but also a deep respect for the condition of being Black in this country and a firm assertion that, in order for the Black community to opt-in to a vaccination process, the white American medical establishment must prove themselves to be trustworthy. And that means power-sharing and transparency, things that they have been notoriously bad at in the past.

It’s not a “want to have”. It’s a “must have” if our nation is going to come back from this crisis.

Now I’m going to turn away from the main focus of the video to share with you the local connection I experienced when I watched this.

These are the faces and bodies and hearts and lives I do not know because I was raised in an almost entirely white suburban world. The children did not go to my schools and the families did not live in my neighborhood. I did not see them in shops or restaurants unless we went “downtown.” While I was not indoctrinated to believe that people who looked like this were in any way inferior, the truth of my life was that they were “other”. They might as well have been foreign.

Though I have lived in several other places in the US since then, by and large my existence has always been inside a cocoon of whiteness, reinforced by the history of redlining which keeps Black people away from “white” neighbors and out of “white” schools. Even in Howard County, considered to be inspirational for its diversity, we continue to wallow in a privileged system of separation. Talking about it makes people angry. Trying to take action creates whole new fight-back groups against it.

Here is what I saw when I watched this video: all the people who have never been in my life because of systemic racism. Love, beauty, wisdom, strength, humor, commitment shine from these people and my life has been bereft of their value and humanity. My life, and so many lives, are less because of this. Many people seem to think that attempts to address racial inequity are purely about “getting something for Blacks”. And yes, we absolutely should be facilitating what is owed. No doubt about that in my mind.

But I don’t think that we (as whites) truly comprehend how much we lose and are stunted by persisting in an unnaturally white world. Even if we’re not fighting to keep it that way. Even if we are merely content to exist within the status quo.

Decisions we need to be making locally, in housing, for instance, or school redistricting, or anti-bias curriculum, the future of school policing, what kinds of amenities we support, and for whom: we cannot make them in a truly educated way swathed in the comfort of whiteness. It is not enough.

To feel truly comfortable examining these issues we would need to be comfortable with the people this video represents. Because then we would have not just knowledge but also empathy. 

But we don’t, because we as a community keep making choices to keep them out. And then we wonder at racist comments by parents on Facebook groups and racist memes and videos by high school students. Why should we be surprised? The separation perpetuates the system. 

We need to make big decisions locally to change this. But we are often fearful to do this because we lack the real-life proximity required to motivate those changes. 

I’ve seen some folks online asking why people are pushing forward on racial equity issues now during a pandemic. They see it as completely irrelevant, a distraction to “the import issue” on the table. When you watch this video, and when you think about all the ways our community fails the people represented in the video, I hope you can experience a taste of what I did: that it is all deeply, deeply interconnected and we will not solve “the important issue” without it. It’s not a “want to have”. It’s a “must have.”

Friday, November 27, 2020

Staying Alive


Your local story of the day comes from right over the county line in Laurel.

For owner of Venus Theatre in Laurel, every picture tells a story , Katie V. Jones, Baltimore Sun Media

There has been plenty of coverage about wholesale closures of performance venues all over the country. And certainly many local families have experienced personal heartache over student performances that will never be, due to the pandemic. But lost along the way are a patchwork of small arts institutions like Venus

Now in its twentieth year, Venus Theatre is kept alive through the relentless vision and persistence of its founder Deb Randall. Its mission has always been the empowerment of women. 

Playwrights from as far away as Australia and Greece submit plays to Laurel's Venus Theatre. Critics laud the theater's edgy and provocative vision. Audience members drive in from other states. ... Yet seating at this acclaimed venue on C Street maxes out at 30. It has 15 seats on either side of the stage. From your seat, you can almost touch an actor. (Dave Sturm, Howard County Times)

Randall hasn’t wasted any time while shut down due to coronavirus restrictions. She’s been cleaning out and organizing her space. She’s been applying for and receiving grants to make the ventilation systems safer for indoor performances when it begins to be safe to return. 

And, since November 11th, Randall has been posting one photograph per day of items from the theatre’s collection:

Plastic pink flamingos sitting on theater chairs. A pair of red and blue cowboy boots. A lamp without a shade. On Nov. 11, Deb Randall began posting an image a day as part of Venus Theatre’s new initiative, Objects of Survival: Plays of the Pandemic.

To recognize Venus Theatre’s 20th birthday, Randall will post an image for 20 days on Instagram as prompts. Playwrights are invited to create a play inspired by one or more of the images and submit it to Randall on Dec. 15. Randall then hopes to publish five of the plays in the theater’s first anthology.

You can follow along at venustheatrecompany on Instagram. It looks like they are in the process of designing t-shirts to be sold as holiday gifts, so that might be just the thing for the aspiring feminist theatre fan in your life.  Maybe you.

A footnote to this story: if you go to the Baltimore Sun website and search “Venus”, I’m sure you won’t be surprised to call up stories on tennis great Venus Williams and the planet Venus. But your search will also call up eighteen stories over the years about the Venus Theatre, the most recent of which is dated November 25th. If this doesn’t give you a big hint as to why saving local journalism is crucial, I don’t know what would. 

Small stories like independent arts venues, community charitable organizations, neighborhood meetings, creative curriculum initiatives in local schools - - those stories disappear without local journalism. As frustrated as I get with the local news situation from time to time I can’t lose sight of the fact that it’s the best, most professional voice we have to get local stories out there. 

If you want to keep local news going, buy or give a subscription. 

If you’re looking at places to donate for giving Tuesday, consider small arts venues like Venus, or the Chrysalis at Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods. 

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Community Thanks

 Like almost everything in American History, the story we have been told about the First Thanksgiving is a lie. It’s not a celebration of fervent thanks to God for salvation in the wilderness. It’s not a day of sharing with those who are different. It’s only the beginning of a career of genocide and colonization brought by Europeans to a land not their own.

That’s not the day I celebrate today.

But gratitude, unto itself, is worth celebrating. Especially this year, when struggles have been so deep and fear and grief ongoing, I feel it especially important to lift up the people and things who have made a difference for me and others in our community this year. You have your own list, I’m sure of that. What would we do without them?

These people remind us we are not alone. 

It goes without saying that my family and friends come in at the top of the list. I won’t go on and on here so as not to embarrass them. They know who they are.

2020 List of Community Thanks

  • Erika Strauss Chavarria and Columbia Community Care
  • Chiara D’Amore and the Community Ecology Institute 
  • Bonnie Bricker and HoCo School Interest 
  • Matthew Vaughn-Smith and the Anti-Racist Educators Alliance
  • HoCo for Justice
  • Buy Nothing (East Columbia) Group
  • Frontline workers at the hospital
  • All those people giving COVID tests
  • Workers who make sure we can get food to eat.
  • Everyone who wears a mask and follows guidelines to keep others safe
  • Childcare workers
  • Teachers who are continually working to support students through virtual learning
  • Parents who are torn in multiple directions in the face of changing expectations
  • All the helpers
That’s a lot of people to be thankful for and that’s just my list. And, of course, I’m always thankful for my readers. 

I hope that there will be someone or something in your day that lifts your spirit and gives you a reason to offer thanks. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Still Not the News


In the continuing saga of “Not the News”, I turn your attention to this post from the summer:

Not the News

Again, our community has been stirred up by piece of writing which is not news. It’s an opinion piece in the Howard County Times about the very same issue, the ongoing legal case about the Symphony of Lights display. People have very strong feelings about this topic and it has been easy to catch the public’s imagination with suggestions of a big bad Grinch’s malintent.

But it’s not the news. 

It appears to be a highly successful piece of persuasive writing, and it’s backed by the kind of pass-it-on organizing that helped to save Merriweather Post Pavillion. It stirs us up with wanting to help David take on Goliath. But when a piece of writing encourages you to set aside your critical thinking skills and go full steam ahead with your emotions, you lose something.

I have been reticent to write on this topic because I’m a well-known advocate for the Inner Arbor Trust/ Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods, which is a party to the lawsuit. I have felt that the responsible thing to do was to allow the case to proceed in court. If you haven’t seen a lot of “publicity” expressing the other side of this story, I suspect that’s why: not because their reasoning doesn’t hold up, but because they have an ethical commitment to uphold.

We are living through a very hard time and I don’t fault people for leading with their emotions when responding to a narrowly drawn opinion piece. We are only human. We have experienced loss, our worlds are changing, and we have every reason to want to cling to things in our past that comfort us.

But there’s just one thing. Truth matters. People in Columbia and Howard County are not stupid and deserve facts and not fables to be able to make up their minds. The Symphony of Lights display is not worth saving if one has to lie to make it so. That’s not the stuff Columbia is made of.

That’s not how you shed light in the darkness.

I’ll definitely have more to say once the case is decided. In the meantime, I’m just sad for my community.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Going Around in Circles


Yet another mention of my beloved Buy Nothing group for you this morning. I’ve been finding new homes for a stack of those ornately designed coloring books for adults. You know, the kind that are supposed to reduce stress but actually remind you just how poor your fine motor skills are. Little by little folks have been dropping by the house for contactless porch pick up. But the last two had a bit of an adventure.

The recipient informed me that she was now quarantined and would be getting a COVID test the next day. I offered to drop them off instead. That’s when the adventure began. I had her address, put in into my GPS app, and off I went.

In circles.

My route took me to the intersection of Thunder Hill and 175, off to the right into Blandair Park, past a construction site for a beautiful new destination playground and...around Sohap back onto Thunder Hill Road. 


And then around again, 175, Blandair, very cool playground - - when will that be open, I wonder? - - Sohap, and Thunder Hill Road. It was a lovely day. I had nowhere to be. And yet, this route did not seem ideal. I pulled over and re-read the message I had. Oh, her house was off of Farewell in Stevens Forest? 

Heck, I know where that is. My GPS doesn’t, though.

I dropped off the coloring books. A friendly-faced woman tapped on the glass and signed “thank you”. It was, as the young folks say. “All good.”

Blandair Park has been developing in sections for so long over in my part of town. My husband talked about it when I moved here in 1999, of what was to come. Alas, when the first playground section was opened our daughter was almost too old to play there, but it’s still a great place for walks for all of us, especially during the isolation of the pandemic. 

It means a lot to focus this much investment in amenities for families on the East Side of town. And I hope it will also bring folks from other parts of the county to see how we really live over here. It’s rather hard to keep this in mind during such a hard time. 

But my little round-about in the park reminded me.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Tears and Thanksgiving

I’m not a big crier these days. I was, in my youth, but, in recent years I’ve lost the facility. Yesterday I cried three times and it was an unexpected relief.

It all hit me yesterday. Unsurprisingly, it was a song that set it all in motion. From our Zoom church service came “We’ll Meet Again” as interpreted by one of our choir members from his home. It’s not a religious song, but it struck a deep and profound note as the events of this past year washed over me. If you want to hear it as performed, here’s the YouTube link. It begins at approximately 1:00 in from the beginning of the service.

If you’re a purist, you’ll want the version by Vera Lynn. Some background from Wikipedia:

We'll Meet Again" is a 1939 British song made famous by singer Vera Lynn with music and lyrics composed and written by English songwriters Ross Parker and Hughie Charles...The song is one of the most famous of the Second World War era, and resonated with soldiers going off to fight as well as their families and sweethearts.

The lyrics by themselves are quite simple. But, as the song filled my consciousness, they evoked the pain and the loss of the Coronavirus pandemic in this country and all over the world. I thought of how many people have had to suffer alone, how many never got to say goodbye. And then I felt the heat of anger at American leaders who turned away from helping and have caused the amplification of death and suffering. 

I thought of the people we’ll be missing at Thanksgiving and Christmas. I thought of my students and my coworkers that have I haven’t been able to see in person since March.

Let's say goodbye with a smile, dear
Just for a while, dear
We must part
Don't let this parting upset you
I'll not forget you, sweetheart
We'll meet again
Don't know where
Don't know when
But I know we'll meet again some sunny day
Keep smiling through
Just like you always do
'Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away
So will you please say hello
To the folks that I know
Tell them I won't be long
They'll be happy to know 
That as you saw me go
I was singing this song
We'll meet again
Don't know where
Don't know when
But I know we'll meet again some sunny day

A friend of mine said, “That song speaks of a responsibility and sense of duty lacking in today's world.” 

Think of all the people right here in Howard County who have fought for their right to be selfish and whose demands for what they think “they’ve got coming to them” have only served to make things worse. It didn’t have to be this bad. Here, or all around the United States. I think that’s what took me from grief to rage. Deliberate ignorance and denial steeped in self-interest has broken us. 

It didn’t have to be this way.

As I tried to process my response to the song I came across more photos from our friends’ small wedding. As ugly as the world is right now the beauty of their commitment and courage brought on happy tears. Two hands gently crossed against eachother, new rings glinting in the sun. A length of lace delicately draped across a shoulder. 

There are still worth things believing in.

Towards the end of the day I came across a post in an online Buy Nothing group that drew everything about the day into perspective:

Offer: the gift of delivering love. I work at Howard County General Hospital and know it must be super hard now that visitor restrictions are tight again. If you have a loved one in the hospital, I am more than happy to pick up cards/pictures and hand deliver them. Also, if you have a loved one in the hospital and need my kids to color get well cards, happy to do that as well! My offer stands for as long as necessary!

Yesterday I cried three times. All in all, it was probably a good thing. I will be giving thanks this week because of people like this: who share music, who commit to love, who share with their neighbors.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Remembering Bob Moon

I wrote the other day about the loss of two important Columbians. Today I want to touch on a story about one of them: Bob Moon. 

First I want to recommend the exquisitely written obituary by his wife, Jean Moon, whose writing so many of us have read in so many different contexts through the years. Having helped to write my grandmother and my father’s obituaries, I know how hard it can be. It is a gift of of love. And it requires your best work. Take the time to read Ms. Moon’s piece on her husband’s full life and many achievements.

Long time community advocate Bob Moon closes out a "happy life"

Beating the odds, he survived for 27 years after heart transplant

I want to draw your attention to this section:

He was a strong advocate of Richard Louv's movement to combat childhood nature-deficit disorder and designed a Children's Garden & Playground for the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center.

This is how my younger daughter and I came to meet him. In 2010 I put out a request on Facebook.

Mr. Moon took the time to meet with us at Grassroots, show my daughter around the the garden and playground, and explain to us how it came into existence. He told us about how his wife had worked with a group of highschool students on the project. They spearheaded a fundraising effort (Change Matters) to cover the costs. Mr. Moon did the design. I believe the students may also have helped in working on-site to put it all together.

I’ll never forget how he treated my daughter with the utmost respect, as though she was presenting him with a large check, rather than a small tree in a ceramic pot. He spoke at her level, but not condescendingly. When we were done I snapped a photo of her with the tree in its new home. Right now I am just kicking myself that I didn’t include Mr. Moon in the photo. My daughter was very shy, though. I didn’t want to put her on the spot.

Mr. Moon was well-known in Oakland Mills for his commitment to a vision of Blandair Park as a nature park for children. Although it has not been developed by the County in the way he hoped, the North Side of the park (Phase 2) will be primarily a nature park. 

A small nature center will concentrate on backyard and meadow wildlife, with an observation deck and nature activity room. A Children’s Garden will provide three to four acres of creative child-level and hands-on flower and garden experiences.  (HoCoMDcc)

I’m sure I am not the first one to have thought of this, but it seems to me that naming this portion of the park in honor of Bob Moon would be a perfect tribute to his passion and tireless effort to bring this kind of park to our community’s children. 

I am so thankful for all the many ways Bob Moon shared his creativity and professional expertise with Columbia and Howard County. Reading the highlights of his life so carefully crafted by Mrs. Moon gave me a much richer picture of his accomplishments and the things and people he loved. May his work live on in our own lifetimes and beyond.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Congratulations, Kudos, and Thanks


First order of business: congratulations to our friends whose long-anticipated baby arrived safe and sound yesterday. Truly a bright spot in a dark time for all of us who know them. Welcome to the world! You have a great big village welcoming you.

Kudos to actor and hometown-raised Edward Norton for his recent pointed and perfectly crafted statement on Twitter about post-election Trump machinations. There’s quite a few Columbians on Twitter proud to rep Norton’s Columbia connections. 

Thanks to everyone who stepped up last night to provide information for an upcoming blog post on job benefits. Between responses on Facebook and Twitter, I’ve gotten a wealth of information. My immediate take: I’m thrilled for the people who have had awesome and creative benefits and I’m sad for the few who checked in to say they have never received any. Interestingly enough, I’m not angry that some folks have more than I ever have. I wonder why that is?

A post-script: over the summer we expanded our bubble of three to include our older daughter and her husband, who live near us in Oakland Mills. Due to to spike in cases, we have closed back down to our in-house unit. Since it’s only three of us now for Thanksgiving, I asked my younger daughter if she wanted to order takeaway. She said, “Where are the Black-owned restaurants in Howard County?” 

When I was 20 this is not a question I would have had and I am glad she asked it. We have started looking around and I shared her question on Twitter. Local writer  (and former blogger) Candace Montague offered:

Anegada’s Caribbean Delight, Rise, Tigis Ethiopian, Sidamo Coffee, and 18th & 21st has Black investors. Not sure what they offer for Thanksgiving but check them out.

Someone else suggested I check out @eatokratheapp. I will, but I must admit I had an extremely bad experience with okra once...

Don’t forget that today and tomorrow are the last two days to place bids in the Community Ecology Institute’s Silent Auction for the Maker Space at Freetown Farm. I found two things to bid on; now I wait. Here’s the link.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Columbia, Next Gen.


According to local photographer Charles Jackson, the well-known Poinstettia Tree is up and ready for your visits at the Mall in Columbia. The holidays may be wildly different this year, but at least this time-honored Columbia tradition lives on.

I have a confession to make: I don’t have a personal attachment to the Poinsettia Tree. Certainly it’s lovely, and festive, but it doesn’t hold the kind of mystical holiday appeal for me that it does for many long-time Columbia residents. After all, I’ve only lived here for 21 years. I didn’t spend my formative years here. I do appreciate it. A lot of work goes into that thing, and a lot of people enjoy it. 

I find myself more inspired by initiatives spearheaded by a newer generation in Columbia: Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods (Nina Basu), Columbia Community Care (Erika Strauss Chavarria), community Ecology Institute/Freetown Farm (Chiara D’Amore). All three women are building on the foundation of Rouse’s Columbia to enhance to quality of life in our community.

Today I want to turn your attention to the Silent Auction going on right now to support the new Maker Space at Freetown Farm. If you are like me, and won’t be making any trips to the Mall anytime soon, you may be searching for safe ways to do your holiday shopping. In addition, a lot of us are putting a concerted effort into shopping local. The Silent Auction has both of those areas covered.

If you want a full interior car cleaning, a virtual babysitter for date night, a vineyard vacation for two, garden sculptures, mugs/teas, jewelry, or wall art—you've come to the right place! We have over 120 auction, raffle, and fixed price items listed. This is a great time to connect with small businesses and local artists by getting a start on holiday shopping. All auction proceeds will go towards our vision of creating a community Maker Space where people of all backgrounds can learn the arts and trades that have become less accessible over the last few generations: pottery, woodworking, metalworking, repair and more!

The auction closes on November 22nd, so you only have a few more days to get your bids in. There are some lovely nature-inspired art pieces, as well as opportunities for trips or music lessons. How about a massage? You know I’m tempted to bid on the vintage 1972 Avion Camper and turn it into an HGTV-worthy retreat, but I’m more likely to go for some of the gorgeous artisanally crafted jewelry pieces, whose opening bids are more in my price range. 

More about the Maker Space:

The Community Ecology Institute is excited to be creating a Maker Space at Freetown Farm. We hope to support personal and community resilience by offering a place for people to learn about arts and skills that were commonly practiced several generations ago such as woodworking, pottery, fiber arts, and repairing things. The creative opportunities are exciting! 

So, visit the Poinsettia Tree if that’s your family tradition. But take a little time to try something new this year. Do some holiday shopping to support a local initiative that’s brimming with every bit as much Columbia spirit. 

The event:

The auction items:

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Circle of Life

Most mornings you can find me looking for a good little story that sheds some light in the local scene. I’ve been looking for a story with some positive lift to it since about five am. It’s not happening. The local scene is weighed down with a whole lot of anger and grief. 

I read on Twitter that blogging is obsolete, so perhaps that’s my problem. What can you expect if you’re persisting in an obsolete medium?

Some friends of ours in Baltimore got married in a tiny, physically distanced ceremony over the weekend. It wasn’t the kind of wedding they had envisioned, due to the pandemic, and it wasn’t the timing they had planned on, either. Recent changes on the Supreme Court concerned them enough to move up the date. The love and joy on their faces in their wedding photo far outshines the restrictions, the timing, or the fear of what the future might bring. 

Other friends here in town are awaiting the birth of a child. It feels as though all their friends are waiting breathlessly with them, every day checking for good news. In so many ways we are struggling right now, but the prospect of a new baby gives us a sense of hope in new beginnings. We hope the best for our friends because we care for them and wish them well. 

If only that sense of wishing the best for others translated more widely in the community, having joy for someone else’s joy even if we get nothing from it for ourselves.

Lastly, I read last night about the death of two people who meant a lot to Columbia. I don’t have enough to write more than that at this point. But for once the responders on social media brought the right mix of condolences and respect, rather than use the occasion to hold forth on their opinions about Columbia. I’m grateful for that. A time of loss is not the time to jump in and try to make one’s point. 

Who would do that? You wonder. You would be surprised.

Birth, death, a small and quiet wedding. We rejoice in love and life and mourn those we have lost.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Not the Point


When you write something and put it out into the world, you can’t control how people will receive it. That being said, there have been some oddball responses to my blog post yesterday.

A condensed version of my intent might be:

Here are two examples of verbal abuse on social media that cross the line. No one deserves this kind of treatment. Social media has amplified this kind of behavior. How can we change this?

Some people who read the post seem to have gotten my point. Others went off in all directions.

The SMOB shouldn’t have a vote!

There isn’t any abuse. I haven’t seen any.

Those Republicans are terrible.

Of course, readers are permitted to believe any of these things. That’s outside of my control. But the conversation about how we treat each other on social media largely fell by the wayside. Some interesting “logic” surfaced along the way, however. 

Some folks seemed to be saying that the reason the SMOB received such unacceptable treatment was because he had a vote, and/or used it in a way they didn’t like. To me this seems a bit too much like someone telling the woman with a black eye that, if only she hadn’t burned the dinner, her husband wouldn’t have beaten her.

Whether the SMOB has a vote is truly a separate issue from abusive behavior on social media. When you link the two you appear to suggest that Mr. Koung is somehow responsible for his own abuse. I reject this.

To those who read my post and said “there’s no abuse”: thanks for calling me a liar. This doesn’t bother me much. People who know me know I wouldn’t post without proof. The rest are rather like drive-by bashers.

I wasn’t particularly interested in dragging local Republicans in relation to my post, though some were quick to do so. It wasn’t the point of my post. Again, if that’s a conversation people want to have, that’s fine. I do wonder if people will manage that without descending into the kind of toxic behavior that got us here in the first place.

Probably the most odd-ball thing that happened as a result of my post was that County Council member David Yungmann showed up online and publicly accused me of attacking him. When pressed, he admitted he hadn’t even read my post. So, he actually had no idea what was going on, called me out by name, and when he learned he was wrong, did not have the good grace to apologise. 

Until that very moment Mr. Yungmann hadn’t been a central figure in my concerns. But the way he inserted himself was rather troubling when you realize he’s on the County Council. I’m not sure how I feel about a public servant who gets angry and jumps in without all the facts. It’s not a good look.

To sum up: yesterday was an interesting day to be a blogger. And I still think we need to care a lot about toxic online behavior.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020



I did not expect that football would inspire today’s blog post, but, there you have it:

Ravens’ Matt Skura says family received ‘hateful and threatening messages’ after loss to Patriots. "They do not deserve to be scrutinized for something they did not do.” 

This information comes from an article by Jonas Shaffer in the Baltimore Sun. It’s yet another indicator that toxic online behavior is a serious problem in our culture. What is it that emboldens ordinary human beings to explode the boundaries of decent behavior and reach out to hurt others? What makes them feel justified? 

The reason this is weighing heavily on my mind this morning does have a more local source. I’ve been catching up on local reactions to the Board of Education decision last night to remain fully virtual for the third quarter of the school year. While I expected that some would be disappointed, frustrated, or even angry, what I did not expect was the outpouring of insults and accusations against the student member of the board, Zach Koung. Angry parents had zeroed in on his vote as being “the deciding vote” to remain virtual. With that, the firehose of fury was targeted on him.

Posters asserted that his vote was paid for, or that he wasn’t a “normal” senior. He was accused of having a sick and demonic agenda. Others maintained he was under the complete control of board members they didn’t like. But one post stood out from the rest.

Hello, FBI witness protection program?

What do you suppose that means? It feels ominous to me, almost like a threat. 

Suggesting that a Howard County student might want to “disappear” after casting a vote that you don’t like has crossed so far over the line as to be in brand new territory. It wouldn’t be acceptable to say about any member of the board. And, laughing it off as a joke, which might very well happen if the poster were confronted, is no excuse.

Did your mother and father raise you to act like this? What kind of upbringing produces this kind of toxic behavior? Does your family know you post things like this? Your friends? Your employer?

It’s simple, really. If a football player has a bad game, you don’t threaten their family. If someone casts a vote you don’t like, you don’t wage an online war that could make their life less safe. No, there’s no “rule book of life” that says this. Am I naive to believe in my heart that this is not how to treat people?

Is there a way to turn this toxic trend around? Where do we start?

Monday, November 16, 2020




Ran across this cartoon by Stacy Holmstedt this morning. It got me thinking. If they were giving out free samples of self-awareness right here in Columbia/HoCo, would we try it? What might we learn?

In casting about for a decent definition of self awareness I came across an article from the Harvard Business Review which divides it into two parts:

internal self-awareness, [which] represents how clearly we see our own values, passions, aspirations, fit with our environment, reactions (including thoughts, feelings, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses), and impact on others.

external self-awareness, mean[ing] understanding how other people view us, in terms of those same factors listed above. 

Now here’s where I’m going to take the big leap and I may lose you. Buckle up.

Think of two local movements that are very active right now: Columbia Community Care, and the Reopen Howard County Schools group. Both were founded in response to a perceived problem. But I would posit that the former has achieved more success in meeting the needs it was formed to address. Could that be because leadership in Columbia Community Care combines a highly developed sense of internal and external self-awareness to create and implement their vision?

What if the Reopen Schools folks had harnessed their creative energy and resources to develop ways to address the challenges of distance learning, instead of existing largely as a protest group? Don’t misunderstand me; I fully support protest as a means of expressing concerns. But just imagine how much good might have been grown and nurtured by a group whose goal was to address the needs of students right now. These are smart, capable people. They could have created the “Columbia Community Care” of distance learning in the pandemic. 

Protests on Route 108 with empty chairs, candlelight vigils for children learning at home, and possibly even a “student walk out” event to protest not being in school? These actions betray not only a lack of understanding of the seriousness of the pandemic, but also a complete disconnect with others whose experiences are different from theirs.

Self-awareness isnt just knowing oneself but also having the perspective to see how we how we impact others. 

Right now positivity rates are moving upward and the County Executive will be making an announcement at 10 am to announce how we, as a county, will respond. The challenges of this illness on our community are increasing. These challenges will impact people in crisis who need food assistance. They will also influence decisions about in-person schooling.

Erika Strauss Chavarria of Columbia Community Care is already working towards a Community Center model for the future even while the group continues to fulfill its core mission. Might now be the right time for the Reopen Group to reassess their mission and pivot to creating and implementing solutions for students who are struggling with distance learning and the changes to their lives brought about by COVID-19? I think there are a lot of folks who’d be on board to support that. It could be transformative.

They’re probably not going to be giving out free samples of self-awareness any time soon. What will we do instead?

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Coming Around Again


This story took me back. Way back. 

My high school years were spent in Stamford, Connecticut, where there was nothing to do. At least, nothing to do for teenagers. I survived by belonging to the church youth group and participating in music and drama at school. This was years before the Mall was built. Options for fun ranged from going to the movies, bowling, and the indoor mini-golf in Norwalk. In summer: the beach.

And so it came to pass that there arose a spate of property crimes in Stamford that were clearly perpetrated by teenagers: street sign stealing, and mail box polo. No, I didn’t participate, but, I knew people who did. One of my friends proudly displayed a sign she had “liberated” on her bedroom wall. I always wondered what her parents thought of that.

So, when I saw the following post from the Columbia Association, I had a feeling of recognition.

I think I know the kids who are doing this. Not literally, of course. But this seems awfully familiar.

I suspect that local teens, squirrelly from lives compressed and restricted by the pandemic, are doing what teenagers do. They are looking at risky behavior as a challenge and an adventure. They are not using that part of the brain that would tell them that they know better than to do this, because that part hasn’t developed yet. 

You know who does benefit from that part of the brain? Parents. (And other adults, obviously.) This post from CA should be a heads-up for folks who don’t particularly know what their teens are doing when they leave the house. On the one hand, you don’t want to micromanage their every move. On the other hand, did you know your kids are engaging in property damage, Mr. and Mrs. Smith?

Yes, this is a hard time to live through, and particularly so for parents. I’m not suggesting that the blame for such behavior rests on them. Nor does the blame lie on school buildings being closed for in-person learning, though some folks would like to place it there. It’s everything: widespread illness, lack of social contact, businesses being closed, activities cancelled, an uncertain future.

In the face of all that, some teenagers are going to do what teenagers do. They need support, and guidance, and some tough love, probably. At least for now, Columbia is on notice and perhaps that will be enough to extinguish the behavior. 

In the meantime, if you have a teen, it might be a good time to have that talk. 

Friday, November 13, 2020

Finally Friday


Today is Friday the thirteenth. The last one was in March: the last day I was at work and the last day many local children were in school. Eight months. Wow.

Yesterday the Governor expressed frustration with a lack of communication/guidance from the White House on the COVID-19 pandemic and I could almost hear the sound of county executives all over the state of Maryland chuckling. They’ve been calling for greater communication from the Governor for months now. 

Food blogger HoCoNomNom is back after a bit of a hiatus with a catch-all post about all the area restaurant comings and goings. I continue to be interested by the local food news even though I know I won’t be able to set foot inside a restaurant for a long time yet. Perhaps HoCoNomNom should do a write-up of all the Columbia/HoCo restaurants offering take-away Thanksgiving feasts. 

Tonight the public is invited to a launch party for the Community Ecology Institute Auction to raise funds for the Maker Space at Freetown Farm. 

Here’s the link to the event, which runs from 7 to 8 pm. 

You may recall that Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods has hosted two mini Maker Faire events at the Chrysalis. The variety of ideas and creations combined with the positive and supportive atmosphere among Makers truly impressed me. I’m exited that Chiara D’Amore and the folks at CEI are committed to establishing a Maker Space here in Columbia/HoCo.

Today is also another event important to me: my twenty-first wedding anniversary. In addition to being the greatest person ever, my husband has also been a faithful reader and supporter of this blog. As you might imagine, we won’t be out on the town or escaping to some elegant out of town hideaway. That’s okay. Even after twenty-one years, a quiet night at home can be just as blissful.

Have a wonderful Friday!

Thursday, November 12, 2020

The Continuing Conversation


It must be the rainy weather. I slept a full hour later this morning and my coffee is not bringing me up to speed as fast as I would like. Still, I wanted to make sure to remind you about this:

The good news: more than one point of view will be represented. In addition to HCPSS staff, panelists will include @HCPDNews Chief Myers and Captain Yetter, Peers Not Perps, and HoCo.Convo – Youth in Conversation. The bad news: all questions will be pre-selected from pre-submitted entries. Not exactly a true Town Hall. 

Nonetheless, I am hoping the event will allow for a balanced exchange of views and factual information. Tune in tonight to find out. 

Reminder: you must pre-register for this. You can learn more about this event here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Making a Difference

Bringing back this piece from 2014 to mark Veterans Day today. - - jam


Dad Didn't Talk

Byron Cornell Jackson, born in 1927, enlisted in the army and was on a troop ship on the way to Japan when the Armistice was signed. He served as a staff sergeant running a military post office in the Army of the Occupation. 

That's about all I know. 

My dad didn't talk about his military service. He once said, "My generation doesn't want to put on our uniforms and march in parades. We went there, we did what we were supposed to do. There's nothing glorious about it."

I still don't know how my father actually got accepted into the army. He was dyslexic, asthmatic, allergic to numerous things, had suffered pneumonia and lung collapse more than once, and had terrible eyesight. And he may have been underage. It was the end of the war, I guess.

I do know that he went voluntarily, and that it was probably the roughest thing he ever did in his life. He was not a "man's man". He was sickly, rather than tough or athletic. He loved theater, music, and political conversation. But he clearly believed that this was his duty and he made himself do it.

And once he came back, he didn't talk about it. Period.

All kinds of people make the choice to serve in our armed forces. No matter who they are, they are supporting all of us. Even though I don't know much about what my dad experienced, I do know he believed that it was each person's duty to "make a difference" in life.

I offer my thanks today for all veterans who are making a difference-- protecting us and others around the world.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Making it Stick


On November 8th, County Executive Ball recognized STEM/STEAM Day on his official Facebook page. 


Almost immediately someone jumped in to denigrate the inclusion of Arts Education, labeling it as mere political correctness. It was clear that this poster judged fields of study purely by how much money one could expect to make. If it wasn’t going to be a lot of money, he posited, then study of the arts and/or humanities was selfish.

I am happy to say that his statements did not go unchallenged. But I’d be naive to think there aren’t more people out there with that attitude, especially in upwardly-mobile, results-driven Howard County. Nonetheless, I find these arguments not only wildly ignorant but also disheartening. Devaluing Arts Education doesn’t make STEM programs stronger. In fact, the inclusion of Arts Education provides students with vital creative and problem-solving experiences. Arts Education in combination with other STEM learning provides a kind of “leavening” that promotes deeper learning all around. They’re better together. 

Think of astronaut Dr. Ellen Ochoa, seen in this photograph playing the flute while on a mission in space. Her years of music study were not separate from her eventual pursuit of Engineering. All the musical lessons and experiences laid the groundwork for her future studies and career path. All of it is a part of the adult she became. 

As I said when responding to the Arts-basher mentioned above:

It is the experience of these different educational domains in combination that produces an end result which is greater than the sum of its parts. We don’t say that yeast should be able to stand alone, apart from all the other ingredients in a loaf of bread!

As I pondered this discussion I came across a video of a former ballerina with Alzheimer’s reacting to music she had once danced to in her youth.  The complete transformation of her facial expressions and the immediate recall of dance movements learned years before is stunning. You see how deeply the music is wired into her brain along with the kinesthetic memory of the choreography. Those links prove stronger than age and congnitive decline. 

You may recall I wrote about the Music and Memory project and their documentary, “Alive Inside”, back in 2014.

What Henry Knows

Alive Inside" follows the Music and Memory project, which worked with Alzheimer's patients and found music to be "a powerful tool for connecting elders to the people around them and restoring a sense of self."

In an interview for Science Friday, the late neurologist Oliver Sacks describes what happens in the brain when music is played or even imagined. 

...many areas in the brain get activated. Some of them are hearing areas, some are visual areas, motor areas, many are emotional areas. There's no one music center in the brain. There are a dozen networks which hold together and, in this way, music is rather different from language. There are very specific language areas in the brain. And if those are knocked out, people can become aphasic, and lose language. 

Whereas it is almost impossible to lose music; it's very robust.

Arts Education connects. In this particular case music is the connection, traveling within the brain to all the deepest parts of the self. In the case of the ballerina it is the music in combination with the kinesthetic memory of dance which is preserved even when cognitive areas are damaged or degraded. The arts create networks within us that last. They deepen and magnify who we are and what we learn.

The arts are not “separate from”. They are inextricably “linked with” our other learning experiences. Arts Education is the oxygen which allows the strictly cognitive paper and pencil work to "breathe" into the student and be meaningfully retained, the leavening which allows the learning process to rise, the glue that makes the learning stick.

The description of STEAM Day states:

STEAM is a philosophy of education that embraces teaching skills and subjects in a way that resembles real life.

If you’ve ever participated in STEAM activities you know they are hands-on, multi-sensory, encouraging divergent thinking, questioning, creativity. All of those things are hallmarks of good Arts Education programs. It looks as though the STEM folks are finally tuning in to how successful this way of learning can be. Not only is there room for the arts in STEAM, the truth is that this approach would be significantly harmed without incorporating them into the mix as a valued partner.

Monday, November 9, 2020

A Better Way


Tonight at seven pm: Re-imagining School Safety, a teach-in hosted by the Anti-Racist Alliance. Here’s the link to register. From the event page:

We will hear from experts in the legal system and restorative cultures as to what schools can look like without the harmful presence of SRO’s.

I see a lot of pushback online from people who don’t believe schools can be run safely without policing, and assert that there’s no viable plan to replace it. Tonight’s presentation could be eye-opening for such folks, but I somehow doubt they are open-minded enough to participate. 

But, you might be. 

This statement from writer @bmoredoc has been stuck in my brain since I read it:

When folk have a zero-sum ideology, when people are rising up, they think they are going down. Black success means Whites are "losing." Women rising feels like men are "left behind." LGBTQ rights is rendered as "straight oppression." There is no sense of collective victory.

Teach the children that when one group of downtrodden people rise, we all rise. Their victory is our victory. We are better as a society and stronger as human beings.

And, from President-elect Joseph Biden:

What happens to our children is going to determine exactly what happens to this nation. These aren’t someone else’s children, they’re our children. They’re the kite strings that lift our national ambitions aloft.

Addressing the harm that school policing is doing to Black and Brown students will make our whole community stronger. It’s not a loss. It’s an investment in their future and in our future. 

Take some time this evening if you can to learn more. 

Sunday, November 8, 2020


It was an extraordinary day,

It might have been summer yesterday, the weather was so warm. If it weren’t for dry leaves crunching underfoot, the clear blue sky and bright sun might have convinced me I was back in June or July. I had dressed for Fall, but then went back and changed my clothes. When I walked to my car it was warm enough for a short-sleeved shirt and no jacket.

It was a gloriously beautiful November day.

Driving down Little Patuxent Parkway - - the part that runs towards the hospital - - I found myself stopped at a traffic light near the shopping center with the new 7-Eleven. I watched as four boys rode in to the parking lot from a cross street. It made me smile. I remember riding my bike to the corner store back in the day. Seeing those young men (middle school, maybe?) out on an adventure on such a lovely day felt like a positive sign of life for a road that’s largely dominated by car traffic.

They parked their bikes, took off their helmets, surveyed their surroundings. There were a few tables outside. I thought perhaps they were looking for seats. I noticed that none of them were wearing masks. The sign by the door at 7 Eleven clearly stated that masks were required. 

I began to get anxious. 

Were these the kind of kids who think that rules don’t apply to them? Would they put the employees and other customers at risk because of selfishness or just lack of forethought? That’s the way our world is right now. Those are the questions we ask ourselves because we live with an uncontrolled and deadly virus in our midst.

The light changed. As I was turning my attention back to the road I saw one boy reach into his pocket, pull out a mask, and start to put it on. I felt myself exhale, relax a bit.

Yesterday was a day when I savored little things like blue skies and sun and boys riding their bikes. I found hope in the small action of a young person putting on a mask to protect others. It was also a day for celebrating big choices that will mean big changes for our nation and the world. A day to release the tension and anguish of four years of anger and intentional cruelty.

A day to dance in the streets.

Our world can be more joyful, more kind, more just. Our beliefs and actions can make it so. What we chose for our nation we can chose for our neighborhoods and for our towns. 

For me all those feelings came together at a stop light on Little Patuxent Parkway. I want to remember that feeling as long as I live.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

New Neighbors

 Introducing a new neighbor in Oakland Mills:

Welcome to the new business in the Oakland Mills Village Center: Laundry Force. It fills the long-open space next to the grocery store. That space has languished ever since the first grocery after the Center remodel (Metro Food Markets) shut down their prepared food operations and walled off that portion on the store. That was quite a while ago. The search for the right business to fill that spot has been long and frustrating.  

Laundry Force is primarily a self-service laundromat, but will also offer a drop-off service for wash, dry and fold. They’ll also provide pick up and delivery. I see that they have some of those impressive double size washers that make washing large comforters a whole lot easier than wrestling them into a small home stackable. 

I wrote in February (“Sometimes a Laundromat”) about how requests for a laundromat were received by some in Oakland Mills.

To them a laundromat and a dollar store were the equivalent of living in “the wrong part of town.” It was almost a “what will people think?” sort of response.

When is a laundromat not a laundromat? When it’s seen as a class marker instead of providing a needed service.

I think there are far too many instances where people have actual needs that aren’t being met and those of us with privilege just don’t get it. Where some imagine a laundromat with horror - - there goes the neighborhood - - for others it would make the realities of daily life significantly less of a burden. And we don’t see that.

I attended an online town hall about Oakland Mills the other evening hosted by the folks at OMO. A great group of people turned out (tuned in) to discuss the strong points of our village and its challenges. Over and over again there seemed to be a chasm between the positive experiences of living in our community and the metrics that the outside world insists upon using to judge who we are. And I suppose that for the people who like to get judgy about Oakland Mills, a laundromat is just another thing to roll one’s eyes at. 

I heard several people say that if we could just get people here, they’d see how great it is. Given the current trend in Howard County to fight for the right to cluster with those who are just like us., that’s a big hurdle to overcome. I think we’d all benefit from exposure to different people and different experiences. That’s the only way to discover whether our preconceived notions have any truth to them. It’s the only way to challenge the innate fear that different is somehow unsafe.

All that being said, the addition of a laundromat is not going to make or break the village center. It will provide a much needed service to people who live here. It fills a long-vacant space that has sorely needed a tenant. You could combine your laundry trip with your grocery shopping at the LA Mart, or grab some coffee and a snack at Dunkin’. 

If we get Ice Rink/Laundromat crossover that would be pretty nifty. We’ll see.