Thursday, December 31, 2020

New and Improved



 

Tonight is the big Sobar New Year’s Eve event “Mask”uerade Virtual New Year’s Eve Party. I’m actually “going”, as much as any of us go anywhere these days. I was happy to learn that sponsorships for the event have covered the cost so that ALL halfway houses and sober living facilities will attend the event at no charge. It’s good to know that Sobar’s commitment to creating exciting alcohol-free events is strongly inclusive of those who may not have the ability to pay. 

Tickets are still available and musical performers include local favorite Damon Foreman.

It looks like good news for environmentalists and fans of open space: the County has purchased a parcel of land which is known as the Savage Remainder to be added to open space preserved for use by the public. As for me, I am convinced that “Savage Remainder” is the perfect name for a rock band. I hope somebody out there agrees with me. Looking forward to future concerts at Savage Park...

Hyperlocal news story: I opened my refrigerator yesterday afternoon to discover that I had not, in fact purchased pre-formed pizza crusts from Wegman’s.


This news was unfortunately competing with our other hyperlocal news story: there is now a Nando’s conveniently located next to a Guitar Center in Laurel and we already had carry-out dinner plans. Members of my Buy Nothing Group were surprised to see this offering:

Gift: emergency pizza situation! Thought I bought pre-formed crusts. Apparently not. Looks like explosion is imminent. Come take these two bags of dough, purchased yesterday, and do right by them. 

I’m happy to say that the pizza crust found a new home almost immediately. However, I may always be known in the future as “that woman who was afraid of yeast.” What can I say?  Yesterday that was just more excitement than I could handle.

If you are looking for more excitement I recommend this piece over at The Merriweather Post, where blogger Jeremy Dommu is looking forward to 2021 with determination and enthusiasm. He has invited locals to add to his list. Of course I’d add attending concerts at the Chrysalis and events like Fantasywood and the Mini Maker Faire at Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods. Maybe even a Chrysalis Kids Dance Party. 

If you are looking for a year-in-review piece from me, that’s up tomorrow. I, too, am looking for that piece, so we can both be surprised and delighted if it shows up. I’ll be listening to Elevate Maryland’s most recent podcast episode today for some inspiration.

A person you are going to want to know more about in the New Year is Laura Bacon, founder of The 3rd, a Howard County based 501c3 non-profit and business incubator, to support local Black women and women of color entrepreneurs. Here’s the piece in the Baltimore Sun that sparked a flurry of local Twitter activity yesterday:

Howard County’s The 3rd nonprofit

Before I go, have you signed the petition in support of establishing the Columbia Community Care Peace and Justice Center? To learn more, and to add your name go here.




Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Unfortunately



Yesterday my Instacart* grocery shopping experience took on a rather surreal tone when, for some reason, a good deal of what I had ordered was apparently unavailable. It started from the moment the shopper began working on my order. I began to feel that I had been paired with the Instacart equivalent of Bartleby the Scrivener. Instead of the repeated mantra, “I would prefer not to,” I was inundated with “Unfortunately...”

Unfortunately, I was unable to find:

  • The chicken
  • The ground beef
  • The rice
  • The refried beans
  • The organic low-fat milk
  • The lactose free whole milk
  • The dinner rolls
And on and on. The text messages were coming thick and fast, like snow-day cancellations. I started waving my arms and objecting to no one in particular. But, as alarming as each “unfortunately” was, the photographs were worse.


I don’t know if you are aware of how this works, but, in theory, it’s a helpful strategy. Your shopper snaps a photo of similar items on the shelf and asks if you see a suitable replacement. It’s usually quite helpful. But what with the speed and sheer quantity of missing items yesterday, the entire process began to morph into something far less attached to reality.

Unfortunately I could not find the Stouffer’s brand fried chicken meal. Is there a replacement in this photo you would like instead?


Wait. Is that the baked chicken meal on the left and the fried chicken meal on the right? Or...

Unfortunately I could not find the Success Brand boil in bag rice. Is there a replacement in this photo you would like instead?

Oh, come on!

Unfortunately I could not find the Wegman’s Brand romaine salad mix. Is there a replacement in this photo you would like?


I could barely keep up. Each passing moment brought more photographs, sometimes multiple photographs. Some were sideways and upside down.


Oh, for heavens sake, no. Please refund the item from my bill.

It was at around this point that I began to wonder.


I envisioned a happy-go-lucky shopper careening around the grocery with an empty cart and a cell phone, snapping pictures and eating free samples along the way. I began to despair. I wondered if I’d be forced to scrutinize every picked-over shelf in the store in hopes to scrape together enough food to make it through the week.

*****

Of course it was no where near as bad as this. And, in the end, my camera-happy shopper and I managed to cobble together a pretty respectable shopping list, complete with acceptable substitutions. I never did get any milk, though.

I’m thinking of trying again today. Earlier, in case that helps to avoid things having run out. I have some extremely important items I don’t want to miss out on.














*I love Instacart. I rely on Instacart. I tip very well.


Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Shouting it Out



And just think playing music will finally be your real career! -Libba, from Disney*Pixar Soul

We watched the new Disney*Pixar film Soul last night. All three of us are musicians. Two of us are teachers. And all three of us are students as well. That’s the way it is with music: you’re always a student. The film is full of insight  about music and life, and vividly depicts the excitement of a pianist who at long last is tasting a certain kind of joy that comes with live performance. 

During the pandemic those moments for performers have had to be curtailed or transformed. One such event was this one:


The performers:
 
Alex Brown, 2005 graduate of Wilde Lake High School, Visiting Artist in Jazz Studies at the Peabody Institute, 2018-2019

Sean Jones, trumpet, Richard and Elizabeth Case Chair in Jazz Studies, Peabody Conservatory since 2018 

The event:

A holiday live-stream concert from An Die Musik in Baltimore.

One of the sweetest and most intense joys experienced by musician Joe Gardner in Soul is the opportunity to engage with and be recognized by his musical peers. I imagine he feels something like WLHS Band Director Saul Green must have felt when he heard this part of the live-stream event:

Going to do that shout-out again to my man Saul Green, from Wilde Lake. While he’s the Director of the Wilde Lake Band Program, we appreciate all the educators that have done, wow, an amazing job this year in adapting. Some of you have had to rewrite your entire curriculums. Some of you had to learn new technologies, new platforms, you’re working harder than you ever have and I just want to commend all the educators for sticking with it, being there for the students. We truly appreciate you. In my opinion you are front-line workers. You have to deal with the students, not just their grades and their education, but also their mental state of mind during this time which is very challenging. And so I commend you, thank you for all that you do.

Lord knows we need more teachers in this world. -Libba, Disney*Pixar Soul

Jones had been slated to be the soloist for last January’s Jazz at the Lake, an annual fundraiser for Wilde Lake High School Band programs. He’s the president of the Jazz Education Network, as well as the director of the Carnegie Hall NYO Jazz Program. Both Jones and Brown are involved with the local jazz scene, and have been playing concerts both at An Die Musik and Keystone Korner - - pre- and during - - the pandemic. 

Jones, who is committed to bringing awareness to jazz in Baltimore, took the time to share this larger message with his live-stream audience about how teachers are making a difference through their work during distance learning. He would know. During the summer his NYO Jazz program transformed into a completely digital one. You can enjoy one of their performances here: 


Fun piece of trivia: this video also features audio work by Alex Brown. Gotta love how these musicians work together on behalf of their students.

Getting a shout-out from the podium is sweet. It can definitely lift you up and give you that moment of validation when those long, long hours of work feel as though they might be invisible to others and your sense of progress is, well, muted. But that’s not why teachers do it. It’s not why musicians do it. Not for the recognition. Not for the shout-out.

If you’ve seen Soul you might say it has something to do with a spark.






Take a listen for yourself.




Monday, December 28, 2020

Bad Behavior


 

Let’s talk today about how we treat people we disagree with and don’t particularly like. Not an immediate relative, or the man across the street, but someone active in the community or local politics. To what standard of behavior do we hold ourselves in expressing our opinions? 

It has become apparent that Columbia/HoCo does not hold a shared vision of what is acceptable behavior after a crowd of disgruntled parents turned out at the home of a Board of Education member in a show of targeted harassment which, before this, I would have thought was clearly beyond the pale. That we don’t share opinions is to be expected. That we don’t have shared boundaries is putting us in some pretty dangerous territory right now.

Claiming on the one hand to understand civil behavior while justifying the violation of same because one was some how driven to it “by the other side” is fundamentally dishonest.

So let’s have some fun with that, shall we?

Last week I condemned the online bullying of Student Member of the Board Zach Koung. Those who sought to discredit him on social media were engaging in a multi-pronged effort to paint him as a political radical who was therefore unqualified to represent students in the school system. This narrative was so enticing to his detractors that they scoured the Internet looking not only for “incriminating” screenshots of Koung’s views, but also those of his SMOB campaign manager and that manager’s mother. (Bolded for incredulity.) All were presented as “evidence”.

Well, alrighty then. 

This got me thinking. This could be a delightful party game.

Let’s take another duly elected Board member, say, Christina Delmont-Small*. If for some reason one wished to take issue with any of her decisions, how would this approach work? (Remember, I didn’t create this method. I’m shining a light on it.)

Hmm...well of course the Board Member would need to have an outspoken campaign manager whose online statements could be easily “screenshotted” and compiled, showing him in the worst possible light. And he, in turn, would need to have a relatively well-known mother enough in the public eye whose addition to the narrative could be exploited. 

I spent some time over the weekend compiling this. It’s hilarious!

Now just stop for one minute. In what world is it even remotely okay to do this? The reason you are reading a synopsis right now rather than viewing a carefully crafted tirade against a BOE member’s campaign manager and his mother is because I actually have the sense that God gave a grasshopper and would never do such a thing.

Who would do this? It is not okay.

It’s not to be rejected merely because similar treatment might come around in one’s direction. That’s not the point. It should be completely and thoroughly repudiated because it is the wrong thing to do. It’s damaging to the community. It justifies harm. Everyone it touches will be poisoned in some way.

How will we treat people we disagree with and don’t particularly like, Columbia/HoCo? To what standard of behavior will we hold ourselves? 




*chosen for purposes of argument only. 

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Heavy Lifting

 


The other evening a familiar local logo caught my eye on Twitter: Howard County Progress Report.


What prompted this? I wondered. Aha. There it was.


I had to think for a minute because this year has been so long that I thought perhaps that Howard Progress Report had been going for a whole year now and I’d gone and missed its first anniversary in the blogosphere. 

I felt a twinge of something. It took me a moment to realize what it was. I thought of how I recently took the time to mark the blogging anniversary of The Merriweather Post in this space. 

I don’t regret that, but the truth is that men get a lot of free publicity and incidental promotion on social media and women don't. Somehow people extend a little extra this and that, uncritical mentions, or make helpful connections which set men up to get the win. It happens all the time.

And they don’t do it for women. Women don’t get the mention, or it comes with qualifications or skepticism or backhand praise that drains its strength and mocks their legitimacy.

So despite the fact that Howard County Progress Report was responding quite appropriately to the prompt, I looked at this post and thought: how many of us locally have lifted up an account like The Merriweather Post (Jeremy Dommu) but Howard County Progress Report (Jenny Solpietro) has to lift herself up?  

Isn’t that typical. Woman always end up having to do all their own heavy lifting. 

And then:

Where am I on this? Why haven’t I done better?

I know why, because at first I found Howard County Progress Report and its accompanying Twitter account abrasive and off-putting and sometimes mean-spirited. I didn’t know how to embrace the rights of the writer to engage the community because the prickliness of the tone got in the way for me. I’m of a different generation: remember that I still find it deliciously bad-ass when Shirley Temple skewers her nemesis with words like: It’s too bad, Mary Anne, that your mother didn’t bring you up to be a nicer girl.

And there you have it, the excuse writ large: oh, I do support women, they just have to be the right sort of woman. She mustn’t be angry or outspoken or speak candidly about offensive subjects. She mustn’t make people uncomfortable and, above all, she mustn’t be fully confident in her own powers and competence. Oh yes, we absolutely support women in Howard County, but that sort of woman must be mocked, harassed, censured.

That’s a lot of mileage I got out of that one tweet.

Here’s the deal with Howard County Progress Report:

It begins like this, on April 28 of this year, with a post entitled The BOE Partisan Debate. And since that date it has covered a huge amount of ground, examined a variety of difficult and sometimes extremely complex subjects. It has sometimes made me laugh, often made me squirm, but always made me think.

And, in a time period of only eight months, Howard County Progress Report has grown and deepened as a well-researched yet also unflinchingly compassionate resource on local issues. What have the rest of us been doing for the last eight months?

Well, as it turns out, if you’d like to share that with the rest of us, you can do what Ms. Solpietro did and tweet it with this prompt.




Saturday, December 26, 2020

A Message from the Universe


Towards the end of the day I was having a touch of blogger’s remorse when I tweeted:

Just realizing that I wrote possibly the weirdest Christmas Day post I have ever written but that it made complete sense at the time. I gotta sleep more.

And yes, I actually had re-read every single Christmas Day post I’d ever written since 2011 before I wrote yesterday’s. Looking for something? Maybe. Hoping to learn something? Always.

The universe didn’t keep me long. At 4:01 pm I was questioning my choice to look at luxury hoarding and how that causes the persistence of poverty in Columbia/HoCo and at 5:57 pm this tweet from Erika Chavarria of Columbia Community Care:

@mutualaidCCC Family,

We are so excited to share our new Columbia Community Care Peace & Justice Center (CCCPJC) FB page!! Check it out!!

Please also sign our petition of support for the creation of CCCPJC! actionnetwork.org/petitions/colu…

facebook.com/Columbia-Commu…

Happy Holidays!!!

And there it was. A very public call. A challenge to create something lasting that will change the future. An alternative to the continuous cycle of poverty and injustice.

From the online petition:

There are needs in our community that extend far beyond the needs of just physical survival. If we only focus on basic needs of survival, we have failed our neighbors and ourselves. As educators, we know the importance of creating safe spaces for mental, emotional well being and healing. We must provide spaces for development of essential skills, in depth learning and critical thinking. All of this is necessary so that our young people and communities not only survive, but thrive and prosper to their fullest potential.

Take a look at their petition to learn more. Check out their new Facebook page. This is an initiative which will build a stronger community.

Today is a day when many of us will be celebrating with a little extra. I’m thinking a lot about those of us in our community who won’t be. Imagine what our community could be like if we were excited about letting those opportunities for joy flow out to others for whom they are all too rare.

We are blessed to have people like Ms. Chavarria and the Columbia Community Care Peace and Justice Center team who are truly excited to create opportunities for joy to flow out to others. We have the opportunity to join them. We have a chance to make our voices louder against hatred, intolerance, and selfishness. 

We are invited to cast our lot with the Erika Strauss Chavarria’s of our community and not with Sally Brown.

So maybe that wasn’t such a weird blog post after all.


Friday, December 25, 2020

Duck Tales


 

My younger daughter, without whom I would be hopelessly ignorant of many things, including TikTok, shared this video clip with me yesterday. For her the payoff is the punchline. For me it’s the poignant realization that Larry King is unable to do anything but mock someone else’s sweet and genuine appreciation for coffee and socks.

The question King asks his guest is about luxury. From Merriam-Webster:


His question brought to mind one of my favorite quotes on the topic, from singer Barbra Streisand.


Luxury exists in the place of more than enough. It only happens where there is choice. But I would also suggest it requires an ability to recognize and appreciate that, as I contemplated when I wrote Mrs. Gottrocks in 2013.

Right now in Columbia/Howard County I truly believe we have a crisis, which predates the pandemic, rooted in the inability of some to recognize their total dependence on requiring that sense of luxury in order for their worlds to feel safe. A world where they might not have abundance and ease, pleasurable things which are not essential, and the choice to indulge themselves feels actively unsafe to them.

It might be in how the schools set their cachement areas, or if we build more affordable housing, or decisions about transitioning back to in-person learning. It is a mindset that centers itself and discounts the lived experiences of others different than themselves. It maintains that if you are not out there fighting for what’s yours that you are worse: apathetic. But in fact this is not about fighting for what’s theirs but rather for the control share of what’s extra: that’s what luxury is. More than enough, a special something, choice, room to breathe. What may look like apathy to some is very likely the paralysis of taking meaningful action when someone else is cutting off your oxygen.

Like Larry King, who shows no innate joy at an appreciation for coffee or socks, these people pursue a joyless march to accumulate the extra. It’s clear from how they organize and lash out that they actually feel fearful at the prospect of losing ground. In their fear they spin angry conspiracy theories. In their anger they will insult your mother, write your employer, show up at your home to intimidate you.

Luxury is a serious business for these people. It is not champagne wishes and caviar dreams but little Sally Brown plaintively justifying her grotesquely inflated wish list for Santa, “all I have is what’s coming to me. All I want is my fair share.”

This may sound all very abstract to you but it’s not. It is absolutely the local story of stories right now. I’ll tell you why. The persistence of poverty in Howard County is maintained solely in this way, by those who see the absorption of benefits of luxury as theirs by right. Because that’s what poverty is: the other side of that coin. Poverty is the place where there is no extra, no delicious but unnecessary comfort, no choice.

This mindset makes us all poorer. It does not build stronger communities. It will take your dinner while asking if you’re going to finish your pie. 

Today is a day when many of us will be celebrating with a little extra. I’m thinking a lot about those of us in our community who won’t be. Imagine what our community could be like if we were excited about letting those opportunities for joy flow out to others for whom they are all too rare.

I don’t need a private jet. 

Do any of us?





Thursday, December 24, 2020

A Minor Problem

 


The folks over at Hatred United, and, others like them who percolate around the Internet, are playing a little game with words that needs to be stopped right now. 

When called on their treatment of Student Member of the Board they suggest that public response and scrutiny goes with the territory. But of course, it isn’t public response and scrutiny, it’s bullying, targeted harassment, continual boundary violation, and the spreading of harmful falsehoods when the the truth is readily available.

Here’s their game: if you object, you must be doing so because you believe the SMOB should be protected because he is a minor. And that must mean that you somehow, deep down, acknowledge that he is not qualified to represent students on the Board with a vote, because: minor, age protected, deserving of a special kind of deference or respect. 

Oh my, I have seen these people play out this little game with themselves just for the delight of saying “See? See? D’you get it?”

If you don’t want him to be abused you must admit that he’s just a kid and he doesn’t belong there.

We should all be tired of this game. It is a not a game and the answer is simple: there should not be abuse for anyone because abuse is wrong.

But there is a far larger, more central point that is not being addressed when we allow ourselves to get sucked into this carousel ride of bad logic.

The Student Member of the Board should not be the target of this treatment because he is a student.

Mr. Koung, and those he was elected to represent, are the entire reason the school system exists. There is no Howard County School System without them.

Just think. What are we about? Who do we serve? Think of other systems similarly structured. Who is at the center?

  • Healthcare: patient
  • Retail: customer
  • Library: patron  
  • Computer: user
  • Schools: student
The student fulfills a special role on the Board not because of anything they are not, but because of who they are. That’s it. That’s what the Howard County Public School System is about, Charlie Brown.

Some people will do an awful lot to obscure that truth from being seen, because ignoring it allows them to suggest that all the big power belongs to them. It doesn’t. That power is meant to be shared. The amount of immediate pushback from current and former SMOBs around the State of Maryland over the past few days has made it abundantly clear who understands how the process works and who does not.

Anna Selbrede, HoCo SMOB 2017-18, has been organizing thirty years of SMOB materials in Howard County alone. A letter submitted by the group is both thorough and pointed.
 


 
Today, as a part of the only stakeholder group mentioned in the school systems’s mission — students — the SMOB is the single board member who can speak from current, first-hand experience. The position brings a unique perspective to the board as the one directly affected by its decisions , and this perspective merits the weight granted by a vote.

No more abuse. No more gaslighting, bad logic, painfully weak self-justification. If you see it, say something. The Baltimore Sun Editorial Board did. So can you. 







Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Be Loud



By the end of the day yesterday I was very, very angry about how a certain group of parents are behaving in response to our schools. Yesterday was the day when it became horrifyingly clear that they have formed a highly functioning coalition of Hatred United. It’s not just an angry mob. It’s going for a well-oiled machine. And it is doing palpable damage daily in our community.

And here is where they are aiming their hate: 

  • teachers
  • the teachers union leadership
  • members of the board of education
  • the student member of the board
  • his campaign manager
  • and his mother (!) 
  • even a high school principal who has shown the SMOB public support
Yesterday was for many of our students “the day before break”, for others, that will be today. Does anyone even remember what that day is supposed to be like?

I wrote this last night for the Facebook page HoCoSchool Interest. It’s a private page so I wouldn’t share others’ posts I read there. But this one is mine, and it is from the heart:

The last few days before Winter Break are ones that we normally mark with some joy, celebration, sometimes music or a gift. Students share good wishes with their friends, parents thank teachers for their hard work and care for their children. As much as schools have tried to foster those human connections during distance learning, a day like today is achingly difficult and so different than the one we wish it could be.

When this hard time is over we will have to face the consequences of how we have treated one another. Is it truly not possible for us to support eachother through this time? Is there no way to for parents and teachers to lift each other up while also acknowledging what an awful struggle it is that we are in together?

I’m wishing a joyful time to rest and regenerate to all. And to our teachers, admin, support staff: thank you!

I keep thinking about what I said here: 

Our community has invested in recruiting, hiring, training, supporting our teachers and we often say how great they are when it troubles us no more than a Target gift card to say so. When we are forced to acknowledge them as equals in a time of crisis when we feel inconvenienced, our commitment to taking as much responsibility for the good of our children as they do shows itself to be very...thin.

This is what truly galls me: that there are some for whom those gracious days of teacher thanks before the holidays were purely transactional, like a tip for one’s hairdresser. Not a deeply-felt response to the gift of teaching in a child’s life, but an acknowledgment of a service performed which maintains the parents’ status quo.

Let me tell you: right now at this moment I truly loathe those people.

After yesterday I need to remind myself that there are many kind, open-minded, thoughtful people who are just trying to make it through distance learning and the pandemic as best as they know how. Some are openly supportive, some are frustrated, some are flailing, some are crying out for help and some are silent - - but they don’t resort to the language and actions of hate. 

It can be easy, when hate is so loud, to realize that its voice is not the only voice. I often admonish my readers to not be silent in the face of hatred, intolerance, selfishness. Today I’m upping my challenge.

We have to be louder.

The voice of love, acceptance, collaboration, open-minded discussion, patience, respect for others who are different, generosity  of spirit must be louder in this community or when this pandemic is over there will be nothing left worth saving. 

Some folks are burning it as they go.

Last night Superintendent of Schools Michael J. Martirano used his voice to strongly condemn the online treatment of Student Member of the Board Zach Koung. 

How will you be loud today?



Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The Inn is Out


 

Every so often I lament the loss of our local blogging expert in commercial real estate. This is a story he would have had all the background knowledge of, plus likely ideas for its future. 


The Inn at Peralynna, which has always seemed to me to be a sort of mysterious luxury location tucked away on Route 108 across from the rural-feeling fields of Clarks Elioak Farm, is to be put at auction. It has definitely been on my list of places I “wanted to go but it looked too expensive.”  I guess I need to take more risks in life or, at least, start to make a little more money, because I am sad I will never have had this unique local experience.

I went looking in the news for more background information on the history of this place, and I could only find one article by Lindsey McPherson involving Councilwoman Mary K. Sigaty and neighborhood objections from 2012.

Council moves to resolve Peralynna Inn zoning dispute 

I feel as though issues between the owners and the surrounding neighborhood stretched beyond this point but this is where I’m not an expert in land use, zoning, commercial real estate, or searching the Baltimore Sun web site at five in the morning.  I did take a peek at the WordBones archive and was not disappointed.

Purely anecdotally, my take on the Inn at Peralynna was that it started out small and grew way beyond what folks had expected. Aside from that, they seem to be have been operating continuously all this time, sponsored dinner dances and themed events, and racked up some area hospitality awards. They’ve maintained an active social media account on Twitter. They’re still going strong on their Facebook account, as well.

I stumbled across this - - puff piece? - - in the Washington Post Lifestyle section from 2014 which is so deliciously over the top that it might come close to the experience of actually being there. 

I Spy the Columbia Inn at Peralynna 

The auction announcement suggests suitability for assisted living. I’m imagining any chunk of land in this town that has not heretofore been available is going to stir up a variety of potential uses, but, of course it does matter what it is zoned for, so, we shall see. After reading the Lifestyle piece the idea of spending my golden years immersed in a setting of guilty indulgences seems all too tempting.


Monday, December 21, 2020

The Silencer

 


How often were you admonished as a child not to speak of something because it “wasn’t nice”? There’s a kind of whispery shame embedded in such rebukes. As such it often seems to be attached to many things with a vaguely personal hygiene/bodily function basis. Don’t talk about how someone smells, her weight, his complexion. Does she color her hair? Is it a toupée? Is she pregnant?  Is she wearing a slip? A bra? Has he had “work done”?

Don’t talk about that. It isn’t nice.

In Howard County we have a group of parents who would like you to know it “isn’t nice” to talk about race. Even raising the topic in polite conversation casts negative aspersions on the speaker. In many cases they are not going so far even as to object that naming issues of race is unfair, inaccurate, or unwarranted. They’re just “not nice”. If you are one of them I daresay you think that all the right people know this.

I don’t know. Maybe that’s true. I am not one of the right people.

How can they bring up race when looking at these nice children? Don’t they know that might hurt someone’s feelings or make them feel uncomfortable or left out? If you point to a lack of inclusion of Black or Brown children it must mean you don’t place any value on the white children. 

That’s not nice.

Someone must not have clued in the Baltimore Sun because this week they ran this piece:

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s roster of 75 includes just one Black musician. Critics say BSO must do better.

Dated December 18th, the article by Elizabeth Nonemaker lays out in large and small ways the failure of the Baltimore Symphony organization to include Black musicians over a very long period of time. It’s not an opinion piece; it’s a straight-up, journalistically-researched and vetted news article. In fact, the Sun must have quite a bit of confidence in this story. A version ran on the front page of the Sunday morning digital edition yesterday.

The front page.

How do we get to a point where there are brilliant and gifted Black musicians studying, training, and auditioning all over this country and we have exactly one in the Baltimore Symphony?

Gosh, I don’t know. Maybe we shouldn’t talk about that.

It isn’t nice.

*****

What is nice? 

Pleasant, agreeable. Appropriate, fitting. (Oxford Languages)

What nice will do for its apologists: shield them from the light of truth. Protect them from being uncomfortable with the logical consequences of their thoughts and actions.

Nice is a weapon. It may come at you, pleasant and agreeable, but it will brook no dissent.

If you cannot talk about the absence of unrepresented voices and faces you cannot do anything about the missing musicians, either. It’s all connected. 

And it’s a choice.

Whether we are talking about how Howard County students feel about returning to school, or how the Baltimore Symphony has maintained an almost 100 per cent white work force, “nice” is not the bar we should be setting for ourselves. It’s not a default or a neutral setting: it’s a silencer.

We should not be silent.



Sunday, December 20, 2020

Mr. Banks Returns

 


In what I deem to be a huge win, sometimes the stories I let slip away come back written better and by somebody else. Case in point:

Meet Professor Tim Banks in this Q & A , Howard Community College

I met Mr. Banks in February of 2019 when I happened upon a seat at his table at the Clarksville Commons Great Chili Cookoff, held at Food Plenty. (Now the home of Bushel and a Peck.) You can read more about that day here

My tasting experience was enhanced by the fact that I just happened to be sitting at a table alongside celebrity chili judges Tonya Kennon of the Howard County Library System, and Timothy Banks, Chair of the Culinary and Hospitality Department at Howard Community College. I did not get to meet Ms. Kennon’s lovely dining companion but I can tell you she was rocking an impressive hair bow. 

It’s possible that I was influenced by that Duckpin Ale from the Union Brewing Company because I came away feeling like I should do way more networking and I had actually chatted up Mr. Banks and taken his business card hoping to touch base later and write about what he was doing at HCC. 

Yeah, no. 

Back to working full time and being the mom of a high school student and that story got away. I still have his card somewhere.

When I caught the tweet about this article I went right to it. I adore that his own origin story in the culinary arts follows the pathway of that of his current students.

That’s when I started to look for a cooking class. A friend of mine said, “Check out the community college. Usually they have classes.” I walked into Houston Community College, and immediately, I smelled food cooking and could hear the activity of the kitchen. It felt like I had found where I belonged. It quickly turned into, “What do I need to do to be here?” I enrolled, attending culinary school during the day while working in a hotel at night.

You should definitely read this piece. It’s about 1200 words which means it should take you about four minutes. That’s a reasonable amount of time to invest in learning more about a program at a local community college which is helping local students build better futures. If you are like me you will also be thinking about how all of the culinary/hospitality world will be evolving, post-pandemic. Mr. Banks’ responses make it clear that he sees that world as continually being in a state of evolution by its very nature, which I find reassuring.

Highlights of the interview include:

  • How cultivating a diverse mindset can open up a variety of career paths
  • His appreciation of the department’s warm and inviting environment 
  • State of the art culinary equipment for student use
  • How he values his fellow professional colleagues 
  • Respect and admiration for students
  • Transitioning to online learning since the pandemic
If I came away with any truly unanswered question here it would have to be, “How can anyone not like crème brûlée?”

Should I ever get a chance to share a table with Mr. Banks in the future I will definitely have to find out what his very favorite dessert is and the best way to make it. Perhaps the folks at Elevate Maryland can book him in the year ahead to talk food, education, and the best eats around town.  I’d definitely listen in.


Saturday, December 19, 2020

Quintessential Saturday Post


 

First things first: today is the birthday of friend of the blog Candace Dodson Reed, who has taken on one more notable accomplishment this week by signing on as Treasurer for Delegate Brooke Lierman’s 2022 campaign for State Comptroller. Candace, now better known locally as cohost of local podcast Elevate Maryland, once wrote a pointed but short-lived blog entitled “Is This Thing On?” known for its annual round-up of fascinating local people. You either wanted to be on it or suggest someone who should be.

If I were writing such a round-up this year she would definitely be on it, both for her leadership at UMBC, involvement in local causes, partnership in Elevate Maryland, and commitment to women in politics. Happy Birthday Candace!

You are going to want to bundle up, dress in layers, and head out to Clarksville Commons today for their Holiday Market at the Commons. The event, which runs from 10 am - 2 pm, will feature 30-plus vendors for your shopping pleasure. 


To keep everyone safe, masks are required when you're at the market. While the plaza is an open, airy setting, please be mindful of keeping a safe distance from other folks. Please practice choosing with your eyes rather than handling products to make a selection. 

You can take a look at the businesses that will be participating here on the Clarksville Commons Facebook   page. Happy shopping!

Tonight at 7:30 pm: the Columbia Orchestra’s Holiday Concert, YouTube Premiere. 


Here’s  some information about the concert from the Columbia Orchestra’s Online Education Corner:

Holiday Music: Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa

I may have my tech-savvy daughter do that thing where you hook up the computer to the tv so I can have a bigger screen experience, maybe turn down the house lights, put the color wheel on the aluminum tree, eat a few Christmas cookies. I’m looking forward to it.

In closing, if you were over on the County Executive’s Facebook page last night catching up on the guidelines for safer holiday celebrations during the pandemic, you’ll have seen that COVID denial is scarily on display locally and that concern for the common good is perceived by some to be a sign of either corrupt political belief or intellectual inferiority. Holy mackerel. These people live among us. Many thanks to those who were willing to push back in the name of science, community care, and good sense, but - - sheesh - - how does one run a government page meant to get the facts out while contending with a constant firehose blast of actively hostile disinformation?

Spread the truth amongst your own circles, folks. 

And have a great weekend.




Friday, December 18, 2020

My World


 

Last night I attended a Zoom event for preschool students and their families. Before the pandemic they were my world. Now I view them at a distance, looking forward to a time when it is safe for for me to return to work. Early childhood education is a career marked by being sick most of the time and working anyway as long as you are able and not contagious, punctuated occasionally by becoming so ill you can’t move or end up in the hospital. It is not for the weak.

Fun times. 

I love what I do and if you are a regular reader you know I am a champion for early childhood education and believe it to be the most important thing we do for our children and for our future. I’m not lazy. I’m not selfish. I’m not afraid of hard work, long hours, crying children, anxious and demanding parents, rainy days, lost teddy bears or indoor recess. 

I’ve gotten to a point where I rarely discuss my work life online anywhere anymore because there is a loosely organized cohort of local folks who don't like what I stand for or what I write about and their modus operandi is to go after people’s personal lives and professional ones. There’s a certain amount of risk in writing a community blog and I certainly don’t mind grappling with disagreements, but, this is different. If you stand in their way, you are fair game: you, your friends, your family, your work.

Last night, being given an opportunity to come into the homes of students and families so full of joy and trust it was driven home to me yet again that I would do anything to protect the sanctity of their safety. Forget concepts of teaching or leading activities or providing safe, supportive care. My foremost responsibility to these children, even when I am not working, is to keep them safe.

The last four years in this country have been marked by an explosion of intolerant attitudes and racist hate crimes. Howard County has not been immune. The number of local and vocal agitators who feel emboldened and justified to express and advocate for such views is alarming. We may be at a turning point in national leadership but these people are still out there in our community and they show no sign of letting up. 

What is this post about, really? Maybe this: the most important thing I will be doing this holiday season and beyond is redoubling my commitment to keep the vulnerable safe. Whether is is shielding my students and their families from unwanted online scrutiny, self-isolating and always wearing a mask and distancing, sending funds when I can help those who are struggling, chiming in online to defend someone under attack.

It never occurred to me before this year that the most frightening thing I would face in my lifetime would be going through a pandemic with selfish people. The sheer evil of their selfishness sometimes overwhelms me.

Not today. I look at the light in my student’s eyes and I know I won’t let them down.


Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Big Lie and the Extremely Tiny Lawsuit

 



It seems that any chance for Howard County Student Member of the Board Zach Koung to seek out the “witness protection program” is now past and in fact he may soon find himself a star witness in a case that hopes to destroy the SMOB role, not only in Howard County, but throughout the state of Maryland. 

Yesterday news broke that some disgruntled school parents have filed suit to take away his right to vote.

Howard County parents file lawsuit challenging student board member’s voting rights , Liz Bowie, Howard County Times

See also: Student school board member faces Md. constitutional challenge , Steve Lash, Maryland Daily Record 

Mind you, Mr. Koung’s right to vote on certain, well-defined aspects of board business is a part of his job description as outlined in Maryland State Law. He is elected by middle- and high-school students in the Howard County Schools as a part of an organized and transparent annual process. The policy for the HCPSS Student Member of the Board was adopted in 1992.*

But because a vote on the possible reopening of schools did not result in a decision that satisfied the plaintiffs in this lawsuit, they have decided to characterize his vote as something that it was not for the purposes of legal action. 

This is not a deeply philosophical case. It is not about “the principle of the thing.” Quotes from both the lawyer and the parents themselves in the news articles linked above clearly show their intent to misrepresent the events of the meeting of November 16th by taking a big old Sharpie and circling the inconvenient presence of a duly elected Student Member of the Board as a distraction from the actual issues at hand.

“It didn’t go the way we wanted. The Board didn’t do what we wanted. Oooh! Look over here!” 

Listen to their words. Look at everything they say. They are not objecting to the constitutionality of a Student Member of the Board. They don’t like how he voted.

If Zach Koung had cast a vote that evening that was in congruence with their goals to reopen schools there would be no lawsuit today.

Here is where I say: look, I’m no lawyer, but, what kind of lawsuit is that?

Not included in the lawsuit, but, extremely relevant to how we as a community should view this case is that some of the very same people who support it have been unabashedly critical on social media of this Student Member of the Board’s words and actions since he began his service. 

They don’t like what he does, they don’t like what he says, they don’t like how he says it. They don’t like his facial expressions and his body language. And let’s look at the kinds of things they object to:

  • Speaking to racial equity issues
  • Supporting the removal of SRO’s from schools 
  • Anything that could be characterized as “Progressive”
So deeply embedded with this spurious legal challenge is an assumption that, if the sort of candidate you like is not elected, an appropriate re-action would be to completely and irrevocably destroy the validity of their role. I hope that none of these people are graduates of the Howard County Schools because this is a highly inaccurate interpretation of the law and their American Government teachers would be wincing at the intellectual laziness of those who espouse it.

This isn’t just a bad case. It’s predicated on a lie. Mr. Koung did not cast a tie-making vote. That’s not how the rules work here, and, probably for good reason. But if the plaintiffs and their attorney can make you believe in that illusion, they’ll be able to shift your focus from who they are and what they really represent. 

Don’t let them.






*H/T @ HoCo School Equity for the date and background documents here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Political


Important announcement: I have ascertained that I can do no particular harm by writing the following: 

I am not convinced by the gubernatorial candidacy of State Comptroller Peter Franchot.

The news from the Baltimore Sun yesterday was unsurprising:

Maryland comptroller Franchot ramps up 2022 campaign for governor with video, consulting firm , Emily Opilo 

Mr. Franchot has been laying the groundwork for this run for eons and this is undoubtedly part of a long, smooth roll-out.

As I am not even remotely any kind of expert or even a local “thought leader” on Maryland State politics my opinion on this will have no negative impact on this campaign whatsoever. But, oh my word, I am not convinced by this man.

I first met Mr. Franchot at a local political fundraiser where he was circulating and broke into our little conversational group to shake our hands. He did not identify himself nor did he stop to ask who we were. I got the impression that it was understood that his level of celebrity was enough that we were supposed to know and feel flattered. I didn’t. 

My most long-term experience with him has been his go-to-the-beach school calendar proposals which stand for business interests far more than students, families, or even local school districts. His response to those who disagreed was always a friendly and disbelieving sort of gaslighting. Believe me, I know. I tried talking to him on a sidewalk in Old Ellicott City one evening. It was like talking to a Teflon pan.

Another deep misgiving I have with Mr. Franchot is his willingness to allow an extemely long reign of constituent disrespect to persist unchecked on his social media accounts, notably Facebook. His personal/professional loyalties to former Chief of Staff Len Foxwell amounted to a tacit endorsement of a kind of toxic white Bro culture that I find inexcusable in the Democratic Party, period.  

For people who understand the multilayered complexity of a state-wide run for Governor in Maryland, Franchot’s candidacy probably makes sense. It follows the rules as they are known and have been practiced for a very long time. It’s still a terrible, terrible choice.

Maryland needs someone who is a champion for racial equity. We need to smash the current administration’s racist dog whistle policies towards Baltimore City and transform statewide education funding to support our most vulnerable populations across the state. I want to see a Democratic candidate for Governor who is unapologetically telling the truth on this and has some kind of tangible track record that shows he or she has been doing the work.

Say what you will about Franchot: he has not done this work, he has not made it a priority. Mind you, Mr. Franchot is not the embodiment of evil. He is a nice man who would like to encourage you to buy more locally made beer

For this he should not be vilified but neither should he be Governor.




Tuesday, December 15, 2020

New Year’s Eve Possibilities

 


Since I seem to have been going all out in the holiday shopping advice this season, I’d like to chime in today with another sort of pitch:




As you know, local responses to supporting food service businesses during the pandemic have prompted some Complicated feelings on my part. I’ve watched a lot of my friends taking advantage of expanded liquor delivery and augmenting/blunting/varying their isolation experiences with premade cocktail options. That’s not what we are doing at our house, and, in fact, I recently got a big charge out of finding a new home for two bottles of wine we had lying around here. 

Don’t get me wrong. My post-pandemic plans involve a feisty IPA from Cured while enjoying an Elevate podcast downtown, and a cold Gin and Tonic at the Chrysalis, preferably while listening to a Columbia Orchestra Pops Concert or some of the perfection that is straight-ahead jazz from Lavenia Nesmith.

Everyone’s choices are different. No lectures here.

But, you will find me going all out to promote this year’s New Year’s Eve event from Sobar. Facebook tells me that exactly one year ago today I was telling you about last year's inaugural event, held at St. John’s Church in Ellicott City. ( Getting the Word Out ) This year's event comes complete with all the virtual options you need to have fun and stay safe and healthy at the same time.

Adding a dynamic, fun alcohol-free event to local NYE options is something that has been clearly overdue in Columbia/HoCo. It gives more opportunities for those living in recovery and their friends and families to have a safe and celebratory experience on the one night of the year when possibilities for alcohol injury and death are at their height.

Sobar is back this year with “Mask”uerade, A Virtual New Year’s Eve Event.


From the press release: 

Ellicott City, MD – Sobar™ will host their second annual New Year’ Eve event VIRTUALLY and proceeds will support guests attending the event from halfway houses and sober living facilities and on-going work to end the stigma and shame of alcoholism and addiction.

This fabulous sober evening of entertainment, activities, and nonstop fun has something for everyone, and access packages are available for small house party groups, families, couples, and singles.

Our event will feature Max Major, appearing LIVE!  This world-class mentalist originally from Sykesville Maryland and recently featured on America’s Got Talent has performed on 4 continents, captivating millions both on-screen and on-stage. His show will amaze us....on ZOOM!

Activity rooms throughout the evening include tie dye mask making, cooking classes for kids and adults, a game show with fabulous prizes, silent auction, comedy/improv and a dance lesson!

 Musical sets will be performed by local favorite Damon Foreman, The Hokums, 20 Year Chase, Cora Rose, Sanjay George and Manny Parks.

 At midnight we will enjoy a live stream of Times Square and then offer a Burning Bowl ceremony for what we want to leave behind in 2020 and then begin to create and manifest our intentions for 2021.

 The ticket prices range from $45 to $300 and include event access and a pre-event party box with activity materials, NYE swag, zero-alcohol champagnette, Sobar™ in a Box drink kits and much more! 

For tickets click here.


 

Monday, December 14, 2020

Notable Anniversary


 

As the days run into months in the pandemic and we tick past birthdays, holidays, and political events it’s somehow easy to let more personal milestones fall by the wayside, so I was happy to see Columbia/HoCo blogger Jeremy Dommu take the time yesterday to mark the one-year anniversary of his blog The Merriweather Post.

The Merriweather Post Turns One!

It’s a comprehensive look at how he started and his take on how things have changed along the way, rather like a narrative version of that 2020 meme:

How it started.        How it’s going.

It’s both honest and tactful on a variety of fronts. It has especial meaning to me as a local blogger because it’s clear that Dommu is wrestling with the issues we are all wrestling with: lack of local journalism, choices on factual writing versus commentary, how we “fit in” in relation to other local voices and how we interact with the public and with local institutions through our writing. This piece shows the author opening the door on that personal process in an engaging and informative way.

I like that we see perhaps a streamlining or re-emphasis in focus here: 

As just one person with limited time, I have to pick and choose what I cover.  And naturally, I choose to write about the stories that interest me the most - which is predominantly the issues surrounding (and my advocacy for!) the urbanization of Downtown Columbia into a sustainable walkable destination with lots of events, restaurants, venues, public spaces, transit options, and a new mix of housing choices to ensure anybody who wants to live here can.  I'd describe The Merriweather Post as a hyper-local neighborhood news blog with a urbanist slant.

It’s a great restatement of purpose and an invitation to come along for the ride. 

As someone who started a Columbia/HoCo blog in 2011 and didn’t truly begin to hit my stride until well into 2013, I welcome any committed local voice looking beyond Year One. Right now it’s positively an act of faith. 

A tip of the hat to The Merriweather Post for being the new kid on the block this year. Keep at it. 



Sunday, December 13, 2020

Problematic

 


Today, in things that absolutely make no sense: the people who demand that their children return to school buildings because distance learning is destroying their mental health also declare that social-emotional lessons in the school curriculum are a complete waste of time and encourage their children to turn them off and refuse to participate.

Are you @#$&-ing kidding me???

The integration of social emotional learning into our overall learning plan is a vital part of supporting children's mental health needs right now. And it isn’t simply the content itself. It’s the process. The connection. The community building. It’s caring teachers being open to a variety of ideas and responses. If you say you are intensely interested in supporting your child’s mental health needs during the pandemic and you laugh this off as a load of crap let me tell you something. 

You don’t care about our kids’ mental health. You’re just mad you are not getting your own way.

I cannot begin to adequately describe the revulsion I feel toward the ugliness of parents who trot out wildly varying suicide numbers on social media in order to win arguments. Suicide is a tragedy. What causes it is deeply complicated and the underlying issues are varied and interconnected. We have always had children dying by suicide in our school communities and sadly, we do now. It is not a new thing, and it most certainly does not exist to be a talking point for making political points in a pandemic.

Whenever a child dies by suicide they are an individual, human, precious being to be mourned. They are not your ReOpen Howard talking point. Please sit down.

Social emotional learning is not a cure-all but it is an extremely valuable tool. We choose to wear a mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as a part of a comprehensive public health plan, for example, but it is not the whole plan. Supporting the social emotional component of the school curriculum with your children is a part of a larger set of goals to help them thrive as much as is humanly possible right now. 

There are all kinds of individual choices families may be making as well: making sure there’s adequate outdoor play, hosting Zoom activities with their child’s friends, engaging in community service projects with them, establishing regular one-one-one time to debrief. I’m sure families are working with school counselors and with mental health care providers. It’s hard. 

No one is saying it isn’t hard.

Saying that returning to school buildings is THE ONLY way to support students’ mental health needs and spurning all other methods of support is exactly the same as saying that applying a name brand bandage is the only way to treat a wound and that, without one, the alternative is no treatment whatsoever. Just let ‘em bleed to death.

If you, as a parent, don’t understand social emotional learning, that’s okay. Educate yourself. Don’t just assume that because you perhaps “didn’t do it in school” that it has no value. It’s amazing how many valuable things have been learned since I was in school. I’d be appalled if that were the standard for exclusion. If you truly care about improving children’s quality of life during the pandemic, look in the mirror. Are you helping or hurting? Are you a part of the solution or the problem?

I’d like to close in sharing with you a beautiful example of a Howard County teacher who is helping. 

Fourth grade faces fill my screen, like virtual stained-glass windows https://www.baltimoresun.com/opinion/op-ed/bs-ed-op-1213-stained-glass-students-20201211-xjigeqi4sjd2hfmoj57dte4jra-story.html?fbclid=IwAR2B8ySmOdNKJl_muZLQWYu8N3zFf1_tLsh-zTFEh28DIs9mBA5L4blNKj0

 Dottie Rosenberry, teacher, Deep Run Elementary School, writes of her students:

And like a stained-glass window, each digital frame possesses a pattern that must be viewed from just the right angle to fully grasp its magnificence. But teachers are perspective seekers — we naturally search for the specks of beauty in each student. When their lights shine, our collective class sparkles. Even in a virtual world.

Ms. Rosenberry, like teachers all over the county, are making themselves a part of the solution. What we as parents can do is, at the very least, not choose to be a part of the problem.






Saturday, December 12, 2020

Life in the Gift Lane

 


Almost as soon as I clicked publish on my recent post about shopping local for the holidays, one notable omission rose up and smacked me in the head: experiences. 

In particular, music and art experiences.

My friend/former colleague Ray Forton teaches guitar and ukulele. See what students are saying about working with him: https://www.facebook.com/137656548030/posts/10157958200388031/ Ray has continued his private and class teaching during the pandemic via Zoom and leads strum-along sessions, too. 

Looking for a gift that keeps on giving? Give yourself or someone you love the gift of music. I love teaching guitar and ukulele lessons tailored to each individual student! Get that instrument out of the case, put on a new set of strings. If you are buying an instrument get knowledgeable help! I'm happy to help!

And did you know that you can borrow ukuleles from the Howard County Library? You can! https://polaris.hclibrary.org/polaris/search/searchresults.aspx?ctx=1.1033.0.0.3&type=Keyword&term=Ukulele%20&by=KW&sort=MP&limit=TOM=*&query=&page=0&searchid=1

Other independent local music studios:

Damon Foreman Music Academy https://www.facebook.com/damonforemanmusic/

Mike’s Music https://www.mikesmusicmd.com/

Adding some music to your life or that of a friend or someone in your family might be the best investment during a pandemic that I can think of. Supporting local arts businesses in the process will make their holiday season brighter, too.

One more idea: the Columbia Association Art Center is selling ceramic pieces made by instructors and students. You can take a look at them here. https://www.columbiaassociation.org/facilities/columbia-art-center/art-center-holiday-gifts-2020/  They are gorgeous, reasonably priced, and are shown with size markings so you know what the accurate proportions are. (Genius.) In addition, you can also purchase gift certificates for arts experiences/classes at the Center. At the moment in-person classes are on hold due to rising COVID numbers but hopefully in the New Year they will be able to provide more physically-distanced, private events. 

Free to all and quite the gift to the entire community is the Columbia Orchestra’s Holiday Concert on December 19th at 7:30 pm. Here’s the event page on Facebook: https://fb.me/e/143FOdyGq


You can subscribe to the Columbia Orchestra on YouTube. Lots of good stuff over there: https://www.youtube.com/c/TheColumbiaOrchestra 

Have a great weekend!