Thursday, October 21, 2021

New and Improving

 


I returned to my favorite little block in the “new” Columbia yesterday for a haircut at Floyd’s. Although it was all parked up out front, it was easy enough to park in the garage. I guess Columbians have taken to parallel parking more than I thought they would.

Speaking of new, I noticed that the scaffolding around the Metropolitan building continues to be a part of the scenery. How long has that work been going on, exactly? Isn’t that odd for a relatively new building? I met someone who lived at the Metropolitan a while back and asked her how she liked it. She said it all looked lovely when they moved in but it was soon clear that a lot of it was cheaply made and wouldn’t hold up over time.

I never wrote about it because one anecdote doesn’t make for a balanced story. But, as work on the Metropolitan drags on, I’ve started to be concerned. I wonder how the people who live there feel. People who took a chance on the Metropolitan were, in a way, early adopters in the new wave of downtown development. Has their trust been rewarded? Has “the Met” met expectations?

 I guess the upside is that, whatever is wrong, they’re committed to fixing it.

After my haircut I decided to have my first experience at the Mall's new grocery, Lidl. The time of day meant it wouldn’t be crowded, so, why not? 

I confess that I wasn’t particularly wowed. On the other hand, I have no complaints. Some prices were exceptionally good, but I didn’t find that true across the board. It was clean, well organized and easy to move around throughout the store. If you live downtown it gives you an appealing alternative to Whole Foods. 

Have you been there? What’s your take? If there are particularly specialties worth seeking out I’d love to know. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Condensed



I’m operating under a post Benadryl haze this morning after a run in with some kind of allergen yesterday. I have a few fragments on my mind but entire paragraphs will have to wait until tomorrow.

  • Congratulations to the Wilde Lake High School Students for Social Justice winning The Colette Roberts Organization Award presented by the Howard County Human Rights Commission.
  • Concerned about ongoing damage to wildlife around Columbia’s lakes documented by local photographer Michael Oberman.
  • Contemplating the messaging involved in picking a location for announcing a run for political office.
  • Can you imagine catching zebras with…more zebras?
  • Columbia will again be the site of the drug take-back event this this Saturday at the Wilde Lake Village Center.
Perhaps tomorrow I’ll move on from the letter C.
  •  

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Sporting



Today’s news story that’s all over my Twitter feed is this from our local Patch outlets:

Funding has been released for Howard County police officers to begin sporting body-worn cameras before the state's deadline.

Sporting?

Am I alone in thinking that this particular word choice is, well, odd?

My experience with the use of the word “sporting” is not consistent with the implementation of police body cameras. For example,

“All the on-trend teens will be sporting the ripped-denim look this season.”

“The gentlemen were sporting pink carnation boutonni√®res at this year’s fundraising event.”

“All the best-dressed pooches will be sporting neon reflective collars from Dave’s Dog House.”

Do you get my drift?

So, when I read the news story, all I could envision was something like this:

“Up next on the runway, Officer Smith, sporting the latest in body camera-wear, making him the envy of local police officers statewide.”

I did a quick Google search.

Does Sporting mean wearing?

Sporting has a meaning that is a little more specific than simply wearing. Sporting suggests that the item one is wearing is noteworthy for its handsome appearance, or for its stylishness, or as an indicator of one's own individual fashion sense.

“So what?” you say. 

It’s just a word. It’s not a crime. 

But words actually mean things. And body cameras are not fashion accessories. Their use is intended to increase transparency in police work. Of course, how they are used will make all the difference. That part of the story is as yet unknown. I have some opinions but that’s for another day.

In the meantime: please use words in the way that they were meant to be used. There’s an operations manual if you need assistance. I don’t know about whether there are instructional videos on YouTube, but, why not? Let’s all go out there and make the world a clearer place.

If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what ought to be done remains undone. - - Confucius 


Monday, October 18, 2021

Sooner Than You Think


 

Halloween candy made its first appearance in stores right after the back to school displays, I’m guessing. I’ve been ignoring it. But, as the leaves begin to turn and the weather shifts towards a bit of a chill, my thoughts are turning to trick or treating.

Specifically, I’m wondering if COVID will have left any longer-lasting changes on how we “do” Halloween. If I’m thinking about handing out candy this year, is there any new recommended protocol? My particular neighborhood of (what I call) quadroplexes has never gone out for Halloween with any enthusiasm. We don’t have all that many kids living here. Some years we get trick or treaters, some years we don’t.

When my daughter was younger we were fortunate to have friends who invited us along to trick or treat in their neighborhood: single-family detached homes, spaced not too far apart, great sidewalks. It wasn’t more than a five minute drive from where we live but it was night and day as far as Halloween was concerned.

Your experience of Halloween is probably dependent on where you live in Columbia/HoCo, plus whether you: have kids who are still dressing up or are in the handing out candy phase of your existence. Of course there are people who don’t celebrate Halloween at all due to religious reasons, and those who have long since turned from neighborhood candy solicitation to community events such as Trick or Treating on Main Street or at the Mall. Schools sponsor “Trunk or Treat” events, too.

That’s a whole lot of variables. I’m thinking about how Halloween has its own flavor depending on where you live. Western Howard County? Ellicott City? Columbia? Elkridge? Savage? Old houses, new developments, in-between? How about downright rural? 

Are you planning on handing out candy this year? Are your children excited about dressing up and going out? 

Yes, now that the world is a bit safer for me, health wise, I find myself getting in the mood for Halloween. I may even go get my own pumpkin this year.



Sunday, October 17, 2021

Eating Out


 

Configuration.

That’s what’s on my mind this morning: Columbia’s Village Centers and how they are laid out in 2021. Our Friday night in Wilde Lake got me thinking about whether it would be possible to do the Great Village Center Tour of 2021, eating dinner outside in each one. I’m not entirely sure it would be.

It’s my understanding that, the older the village center, the more likely it was to have been built around a courtyard. But the courtyard model has gone out of style commercially. So some of the older village centers have been reconfigured. I moved to Oakland Mills after the Great Reconfiguration so my experiences are of the new model.

Off the top of my head, I’d say you couldn’t do the eat outside thing in Oakland Mills these days. The late Second Chance Saloon had tables out front and the Cactus Lounge out back. Alas, you can’t have that experience anymore. Oakland Mills has a lovely courtyard but it isn’t particularly conducive to grabbing something from one of the center’s food merchants and dining al fresco. Because the village center is now configured as a “shopping center”,  the courtyard really functions as an additional event space for the Other Barn. The layout makes things different.

I know I’ve had many a summer excursion to Rita’s in Kings Contrivance, where businesses still line the courtyard and there are tables and chairs available for patrons. And there are a few benches in Harpers Choice if you want to enjoy your Rita’s ice over there. (Hmm, I’m sensing a pattern here.)

In the past I would have been looking at this more as a community issue. It still is, to my mind, but now there are folks who are still hoping to eat outdoors for as long as possible due to COVID concerns. That’s how we ended up at the Wilde Lake Village Center on Friday night.

So here’s my question of the day: if you live in Columbia, or patronize the Village Centers, tell me about the one you know best. Is it possible to buy food and eat outside there? If not, why do you think that is? Do you think the configuration makes the difference? Most of all, do you think that being able to do that is a good thing?

Comments are welcome here.


Saturday, October 16, 2021

A Wilde Night

 


Date night can take many forms. At the moment I’m still celebrating being able to leave the house at all,  so almost any excursion feels like a treat. Last night my husband and I went all out for an evening in Wilde Lake. It was a lot of fun.

We began by picking up some subs at Pizza Boli’s in the Wilde Lake Village Center and eating dinner outside in the courtyard. It was a mild evening and a great setting for some people watching. I was particularly curious about a group of young women having some sort of event centered around a circle of orange Adirondack chairs. They had a table set up with a pot luck snack buffet and they were having a wonderful time. 

It was fascinating to see the new (relatively new, I know) layout of the Village Center on a Friday night and see how people are using the space. Even with the impact of the pandemic over the last year and a half, you can clearly see life and enjoyment and just plain everyday functional use. You will never get me to call it “The Shoppes at Wilde Lake” but, now that I’m getting out more, I’ll definitely be popping over there more often.

As fun as the people-watching was for me, the real vista worth mentioning was this one:


What an amazing tree. And I’m rather delighted by the appearance of the iconic sculpture* in the background, seemingly photo-bombing the picture. If you’re from Wilde Lake this tree is probably an old friend. For me it was a delightful surprise, as beautiful as any of the public art for which Columbia is known. I sure hope that someone is taking good care of that tree.

From dinner we moved on to Wilde Lake High School to experience their Marching Band at a home game. Yes, I understand there was some sort of sportsing prelude leading up to the half time show, but let’s be honest. We’re musicians. We came for the band, and most especially to support the student musicians and their director Saul Green. 

An aside: I haven’t been around that many adolescents in quite a while. I have no idea how my husband works with teens every day. The intensity! Wow. So many teenagers all in one place. If you teach adolescents I salute you. 

The band was, no surprise, the highlight of the evening.



Their director has a lot to be proud of. What a great group of young people, sharing their love of music all while maintaining the determined focus required to perform all that synchronized movement. I would be inclined to call it choreography. I believe that in the band world it is known as “drill.” 

Yes, I’ve seen plenty of high school marching band performances before. It’s not a foreign entity to me. I’ve seen my nephews compete in the Sweet Sixteen band day at the Indiana State Fair, and I enjoyed “Friday Night Live”, the River Hill High School spin on a football game band which included an electrified guitar ensemble. What made this different for me is that this band and these kids have taken so much abuse this Fall just for being who they are. Simply for existing. 

And they are not going to let that stop them. 

It seems like an outrageous question, but I’m going to ask it anyway: what can we, as a community, do to make this county safe for the WLHS Marching Band? And why do we even need to ask this?

You have one more chance to see the Wilde Lake High School Marching Band at home this season: October 30th. Or you could always send an email to the school letting them know you support the kids and their director. Just a thought. 

We had a great Date Night in Wilde Lake last night. Dinner and a show may look different to you, but, for us, it was just right.



*”Family” by Pierre du Fayet



Friday, October 15, 2021

Weekend Excitement, Part 2



At last the weekend is upon us, or, at least close enough that we can taste it. If you read yesterday’s post you know all about the 50th Birthday Celebration in Long Reach. A few extra notes on that:  it’s BYOC for the performances (Bring Your Own Chair) and, to assure there will be enough parking, a shuttle will be running regularly from satellite parking at Long Reach High School. 

Now I’ve got another idea for your Saturday: Oktsobarfest.




Presented by the Ellicott City-Columbia Lions Club in collaboration with Sobar, Oktsobarfest will be on the grounds of St. John's Episcopal Church, 9140 Frederick Road in Ellicott City, this Saturday from noon to 4 pm. From the event page:

This family friendly event features lawn games, samples of alcohol-free beverages and local food trucks. Meet and Greet the Ponies with Safe Haven Equine Warriors and watch Kangaroo Kids performance jump rope team.

You can purchase tickets here and your ticket includes admission, all activities, and drink samples.

I wrote about Sobar in December of 2019: 

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

I recently bumped into Sobar at HoCo Pride, where they were selling some delicious-sounding mocktails at the event. I see from their Facebook page that they’ve also been having events at Dublin Roasters in Frederick. This group is truly on the move.

Now, about tonight. You have another choice. You can pop in to the Long Reach event or, if you have a hankering for some Friday night lights, Wilde Lake High School has a home game. That would give you an opportunity to support the Wilde Lake High School Band and enjoy their halftime show. 

Have a great Friday, and send me your suggestions for what to do on Sunday. I’m open. 





Thursday, October 14, 2021

Weekend Excitement


 

Can you feel the weekend coming? Can you sense it waiting in the wings, eager to make its big entrance? If you thought last weekend was full of cool happenings around town, what with HoCo Pride and Books in Bloom, you might be surprised that there’s even more in store this weekend.

First off: Happy 50th Birthday to the Village of Long Reach! They’re celebrating with a two-day festival and all of us are invited. The event, presented in collaboration with Columbia Association and the Columbia Festival of the Arts, will feature food, performances, fine arts & crafts show and sale, and a special walk-along exhibit from the Columbia Archives.

Check out the event page on Facebook and the website, too.

Mark your calendars for Friday, October 15 and Saturday, October 16 to celebrate the 50th Birthday of Long Reach Village in Columbia, Maryland.  Hosted by The Columbia Festival of the Arts, this FREE Outdoor Festival features Live Music, a Fine Arts & Crafts Show, great festival food and plenty of family-friendly programing.  The Long Reach Stage includes a fantastic lineup of international and local music performances. There is even a magic show and comedy show for the kids.  

Renowned multimedia troupe Squonk Opera’s new project “Hand to Hand” takes center stage both days and promises to thrill audiences with two large hands the size of houses incorporating music, design and staging.  Musical performers include internationally acclaimed instrumentalist Vanessa Collier and LADAMA, a Latin alternative band that has performed at the Lincoln Center.  Other performances touch every music genre from Pop, Rock, Country, and Hip Hop.

The entire Free outdoor festival takes place at Long Reach Village Center located at 8775 Cloudleap Court, Columbia, MD 21045.

If my encouragement isn’t enough, how about this from the County Executive?

There’s a whole new energy and vibe at the Long Reach Village Center and I encourage you to visit and experience it for yourself. There’s no better time than the 50th anniversary of the village, hosted by the Columbia Festival of the Arts and Columbia Association. Join the party next weekend on Friday, October 15th, from 5 to 9pm, and then Saturday, October 16th, from 11am to 9pm. Learn more at https://longreach50.com/

The evolution of the Long Reach Village Center as an Arts hub goes back at least as far as the ArtReach Festival in 2015. County Executive Calvin Ball, then Council member Ball, spearheaded the community process that was evaluating various concepts for reinventing the aging retail center. Despite being temporarily derailed during the Kittleman administration, the work began anew in 2018. 

This weekend’s festivities highlight great collaborations between Columbia Festival of the Arts, the Columbia Association, and the Village of Long Reach. But it’s important to remember that we wouldn’t be in the position to have this event at all if it weren’t for the the vision and persistence of the community itself, supported by Dr. Ball and Howard County Government. There’s a whole lot of good stuff going on here.

Me? I’m drawn to yummy food from Althea’s Almost Famous, performances from Squonk Opera, Damon Foreman, and Vanessa Collier, and anything from the artsy DOODLEHATCH folks. It’s going to be a great weekend.

And I’ve got even more for you tomorrow.





Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Live and Learn


 

Starting on Monday I have seen on social media quite the outburst of anger as well as smug attempts to excuse ignorance pertaining to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Yes, even right here in Howard County.

Ignorance: when you don’t know and you don’t care. (A Mom definition.)

In looking over my post from last year’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day I came across a video shared by the Howard County Office of Human Rights and Equity. It’s three minutes long and it puts the focus right where it should be:

Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Ignorance and a fierce determination to defend it are not something to be proud of. Caring enough to learn the truth and come to terms with it are what we should be striving for. 

Here is what the Indigenous Peoples’ Day deniers seem to have missed: it is absolutely possible to love this land, to love our democracy, and at the same time believe we are made stronger by learning the truth about our history and by choosing ways to do better. 

It isn’t weakness. It’s strength. 

Rigidity leads to brittleness. Things that are brittle are more likely to break. Take trees, for example. The ones that have even a small capability to bend are the ones that can withstand heavy storms. We each have a choice: to remain rigid in the face of uncomfortable truths, or to have the flexibility to learn from them. 

I am beginning to be convinced that the future of our nation is threatened to its core by those who demand the former and spurn the latter.


Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Souvenirs

 


Saturday was my first Pride. Not Howard County’s first, that was at Centennial Park in 2019, but it was my first time attending a Pride event. It meant a lot to me seeing Columbia/HoCo open one of its most central public spaces for this celebration.



It was a day I’ll be remembering for a long time to come. County Executive Calvin Ball’s opening remarks were both reasoned and impassioned. When Howard County Pride director Jumel Howard read the names of LGBTQ+ people who have died this year due to targeted violence the silence was heavy with sadness and horror. 

It was a day to celebrate but also to remember. To party, yes, but also continue the work to make our communities safer and more accepting.

Naturally I have souvenirs. Some of them are photographs, like this beautiful shot taken of the booths lined up around the new Chrysalis pervious pathway.


Photo credit Matt Braddock (used with permission)


Some are snippets of information, like the flier for a new group called Unmatched Athlete:


Or a card from a support organization called Mama Dragons.


I got a free mask for the event from the Howard County Pride table by the Chrysalis.


My husband bought me my very first Pride shirt from one of the many vendors and a pronoun button from the CARY booth.


One of the most significant moments of the day takes a bit of explaining. Eight years ago my daughter, full of early adolescent fervor, asked if her school news team would run short daily pieces to honor LGBTQ+ History Month. She was told the school system would not permit it.

On Saturday the Howard County School System had a booth at Pride. So did CARY, (Community Allies of Rainbow Youth) and HCPSS Pride, advocacy groups supporting LGBTQ+ students that have sprung into existence in the intervening years. 

It was a day to celebrate but also to remember. To party, yes, but also continue the work to make our communities safer and more accepting. It seems that, in spite of our best efforts, there is always more to be done. 

I offer my heartfelt thanks to everyone involved in Howard County Pride. Let's all join them in doing the work.


Monday, October 11, 2021

The Biggest Lie and its Undoing


 

Today is Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Howard County and in a growing number of places across the US. County Executive Calvin Ball made the announcement of the change in September of 2020.

Howard County replaces Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day

“Indigenous and Native American history is embedded in our nomenclature and our geography — Patuxent, Potomac, Kittamaqundi. And yet there is a clear erasure of their history and their connection to our land,” Ball said. “Indigenous Peoples’ Day presents an opportunity of all ages and backgrounds to learn more about the people who were here before Columbus and colonization. Representation matters, but it must be more than a rallying cry.”

It can be difficult for some of us to let go of the tales from our early years about brave explorers who discovered new lands. But all those stories are rooted in the basic falsehood that any places that Western Europeans didn’t know about yet were theirs to take. And why did they believe this? Because, to them, indigenous peoples were nothing. They had no rights of ownership. Their cultures meant nothing. Essentially, colonizers got around any concept that they were stealing by claiming that indigenous peoples weren’t really people. Not people of value, anyway. Not “people like us.”

Indigenous Peoples’ Day gives us an opportunity to work on understanding this and coming to terms with all its ramifications. Naturally this has met with resistance from those who want to cling to the old stories they were taught. Stories that made the people they consider to be their ancestors look good. But what about other, older precepts that many are taught to revere, like “thou shalt not steal”, “thou shalt not covet”, and most of all, “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”?

People like Columbus and many others were taught those words and still engaged in wholesale theft of land and destruction of culture. Genocide.

I can’t celebrate that. 

Observing Indigenous Peoples’ Day is opening a door to face those truths. We are beginning to acknowledge that the sovereignty of the land we live on rested with those whose stories we have never known. We can deny and suppress that, like our ancestors, or we can do better.

Indigenous Peoples' Day is a holiday that celebrates and honors Native American peoples and commemorates their histories and cultures. On October 8, 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden signed a presidential proclamation declaring October 11 to be a national holiday. (from Wikipedia)

Learn something new today. 

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Amplification


The local news story that extinguished my desire to write yesterday was this one, by Alex Mann and Jessica Anderson, promoted on Twitter by the Baltimore Sun like this: 

Brian and Kelly Sue Robinette, high school sweethearts from Cumberland, had a comfortable life in Ellicott City. Back home, the life of Brian’s half brother, Jeffrey Burnham, was going another way. On Sept. 30, their paths crossed in a deadly encounter.

In itself, the story is heartbreaking and the crime is horrific. But the power of social media means that, as I searched for local stories to write about, I kept reading those words over and over again. Tweets, retweets, quote tweets. Numerous accounts sharing the same story because they knew it would be a reliable source of easy clicks.

High school sweethearts

High school sweethearts

High school sweethearts

Somewhere in there I lost the will to write. I needed to get away from that story and from social media and live some real life for a while, and I did. It was restorative.

The thing that stays with me is the discovery, as the investigation unfolds, that a virulent anti-vaxxing mindset may have been the motive for these murders. It makes me think of all the angry anti-vaxxing rants on social media, the posts dripping with arrogant dismissal of science, the selfish claims that “you can’t make me” wear a mask or observe social distancing. 

Tweet, Retweet. Quote tweet. And more on Facebook. Not to mention all the private listservs we know nothing about. 

Posts like that have poisoned people’s minds against caring for themselves, their families, and their neighbors. They are not merely a point of view I disagree with. They have been the harbingers of death. No, more than that. They’ve invited death right into the house.

And it looks like they may have been the tipping point for a man who took a gun and killed three members of his own family. 

We absolutely do not owe these deadly points of view a place at the table of legitimate discourse. Whether they are railing against local government, local schools, businesses, on social media, or on Main Street in Old Ellicott City, their message is the same: anger and hate fueled by ignorance. And selfishness.

If it turns out to be true that these crimes were provoked by an anti-vaxxing rage, everyone who has promoted these patently false theories shares responsibility. I wonder if any of these people will ever be held to account. Some of them live right here in Howard County. 

Time will pass, and we may “go back to normal”, but I will never forget.







 

Friday, October 8, 2021

They Get Around

 


Wishful thinking has not been enough. No zebras have been spotted (sorry) in Columbia/HoCo. And, despite efforts to catch and return them to the farm where they had been living, they are still on the loose. An update:

One Month Later, Five Escaped Zebras Are Still Roaming the Suburbs of Maryland, Ben Panko, Smithsonian Magazine

I’m beginning to see reassurances from animal experts that zebras can winter in Maryland just fine, thank you. These are probably to assuage the fears of children and tender-hearted people like me who wonder what will become of them. Or perhaps this is an indication that they don’t think the possibility of their recapture is very likely. 

I have read repeated statements that the zebras can manage just fine on the loose and also that their prior living arrangement was legal and above-board. I haven’t seen anyone address whether it was good for the zebras. Do they even want to be in the United States at all? In captivity, no less?

The now-named “Maryland Zebras” have given rise to multiple Twitter Accounts. This one is my favorite:


In the meantime, I did get some lovely responses to my question about where the zebras would go if they made it to Howard County. 

The zebras would definitely go to Blandair Park to cavort on the swings!

I was blown away by the mad skills displayed in a response to this suggestion from another reader.


Yes, all five are in there. See if you can find them all.

My two suggestions: (apologies for my primitive technical skills)


I was overjoyed by the variety of locations submitted by another reader.








“And finally. .. at the mall in Columbia... the only choice for zebras....“


Since the Maryland Zebra craze may go on for a while, I’m thinking they need a theme song. Or maybe a playlist. I’m torn between “Born Free” and “I Get Around”. As always, I’m open to suggestions.

*****

Howard County Pride is tomorrow from 11 am to 6 pm.  This year’s location is Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods. Admission is free but you must preregister. Here’s the link.


Photo credit: Jumel Howard 

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Spontaneous Generation

 


I remember being fascinated in school when we learned about the theory of spontaneous generation. From Biology Online: 

People used to think that mice could form spontaneously from stored grain. Or, maggots could spontaneously appear in meat without the involvement of any biological precursor, like a parent.

Something about adults believing something so patently ridiculous amused me. 

But now certain events in Oakland Mills have given me pause. An empty lot, which has been nothing but an empty lot for as long as I’ve lived here, has suddenly given birth to vehicles.

Multiple vehicles. Some of them are enormous trucks. Some come and go, some just sit there as if abandoned.


Truly I thought nothing could make that forlorn lot look worse. I was wrong.

What could have attracted them? It’s true that the lot was once the home of a gas station, but it’s never given rise to cars and trucks before. Something in the environment must have changed…(puts on scientific thinking cap.)

Okay, my approach is tongue-in-cheek but the situation is factual. Not only is the lot an eyesore it is also a safety hazard. We have plenty of kids and teens in Oakland Mills and one of these trucks is a car carrier with at least one car attached. There’s no fence that would prevent a curious/foolhardy climber. For that matter, this piece of land is not supposed to be a parking lot.

What has changed? I had heard that upcoming new ownership of the lot would mean that finally there would be some action on this property. 

In the meantime? This is not exactly the kind of action I was expecting.

In asking around I’ve learned that the current owner of the empty lot is also the owner of the Oakland Mills Dunkin and a few others in the area. Hmm. You would think he would want to be a good neighbor. If you want people to keep coming back for your coffee and donuts it would behoove you to treat the neighborhood with respect.

As unlikely as it sounds, apparently the change that gave rise to vehicles on our lot was donuts. Well, coffee and donuts. I like coffee and donuts.

But I would like mine without a side of trucks.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

What an Indictment


 

It’s an indictment and not a conviction, but - - wow - - what an indictment. From the Baltimore Sun:

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s former top aide, Roy McGrath, faces dozens of federal and state criminal charges that he misled officials into paying him a six-figure severance, embezzled funds for personal purposes and illegally recorded phone calls with the governor and other members of Hogan’s staff.

More from the Sun coverage:

Former Hogan chief of staff indicted on charges of secretly recording governor on phone calls, embezzling funds, Pamela Wood, Justin Fenton Baltimore Sun

This is one worth reading even if you’re trying to get by on five free articles per month. You may recall how it started. I sure do. From August, 2020:

Responsibility Village Green/Town² 

McGrath used the transition from his job with the Maryland Environmental Service as an opportunity to fund his own personal nest egg. His response when caught showed a profound misunderstanding of how tax dollars work and, in essence, a profound disrespect for taxpayers. This was not a small error in accounting, or a legitimate misunderstanding of his job benefits. This was intentional.

The subsequent investigation turned up a good deal more than the initial discoveries, underscoring just how intentional McGrath’s actions were from the very beginning. I’m still pondering how Governor Hogan figures in this story. I’m sure he would like us to believe that this inconvenient tale of graft (that just won’t seem to go away) has nothing to do with him. I’m still contemplating these two possibilities:

1. Hogan was completely ignorant which means he isn’t a very good judge of character or an effective leader.

2. Hogan knew and it wasn’t a deal-breaker to him because his idea of business doesn’t preclude this kind of self-dealing. And that really calls into question what kind of leader he is.

When you think of the arrogant and dismissive attitude used by Governor Hogan whenever he makes pronouncements about Baltimore leadership, it kind of makes you think. What is Hogan’s gold standard of leadership, exactly?

The Sun article gives Delegate Marc Korman and Senator Clarence Lam an opportunity to underscore the oversight role played by the General Assembly in requiring an investigation. It’s absolutely true, and also ironic, when you consider Hogan’s tendency to delegitimize that elected body. 

What you barely see in this article, because it is news and not an exercise in self-congratulation, is that none of this story would have come to light without journalist Pamela Wood.*  If you know where to look, though, it’s there.

McGrath, 52, served as the Republican governor’s chief of staff for 11 weeks in the summer of 2020, resigning just days after The Sun reported that he’d negotiated a lucrative payout when he left his prior state job.

All through the piece you will find links to other articles which provide the Sun coverage of this story as it unfolded. There are at least twelve of them. I haven’t checked them individually but I would guess that most, if not all, are written by Pamela Wood. Her tenacity and outstanding investigational skills shine here.

Of course I’m grateful for the oversight of the Maryland General Assembly. But, for Heaven’s sake, if you don’t have a subscription to the Baltimore Sun, please get one if you can afford to. This is exactly why local journalism is so crucial.

Act now: they appear to be running a special.


*Wood grew up in Howard County and is a graduate of Howard High School.


Tuesday, October 5, 2021

It’s Not Too Late


 

I missed the deadline. I dithered around about it and then it got past me.


Of course I mean the deadline to order chili for the Bridges to Housing Stability “Chili & Challenge” event. This year’s event continues to be virtual, with chili meals provided by Barebones Grill. But even if you missed out on ordering your meal to support a good cause, you still have a chance to support Bridges. 

You can learn more here

Chili or no chili, you can get involved by bidding on their Silent Auction items (bidding starts today at 8 am) and by just plain making a monetary donation to support the mission of Bridges to Housing Stability. From their description of the event:

By participating in the Chili & Challenge, you'll help Bridges provide affordable housing & supportive services to prevent & end homelessness in Howard County.

As you consider a donation, let me share some helpful information.


In past years Bridges invited faith congregations to participate in chili cook-offs where those in attendance tasted and voted on a winner of the best chili cooked by members. The votes came in the form of dollars donated to the cause. My church has participated, and I have been a chili taster (though not a chef.) There’s an element of competition but it’s all in good fun. The winning chef gets bragging rights but the real winners are the individuals and families who are supported through Bridges to Housing Stability’s programs.

The pandemic has forced fundraising events like this to change their formats. That’s a challenge which may mean less funds raised. The pandemic has also pushed more of our county residents into financial distress. That means that Bridges has more people to help, with the prospect of less money to provide services.

It’s as simple as the sentence at the bottom of this image:


Your participation helps prevent and end homelessness in Howard County.

You can make your own chili at home if you want, but don’t forget to send a contribution to Bridges if you can. 

Monday, October 4, 2021

The Real Harm


 

Some things I have learned over the past few days:

1. There are people who believe that books in school libraries reach out with claws of steel to ensnare unsuspecting passers-by. Not all books, though. Just the ones they don’t like. The other books just sit there on the shelf, minding their own business, until someone comes along to check them out.

2. Nothing could render a book more fascinating to teenagers who might never have even known it existed than the loud protestations of parents that the book must be hidden away from adolescent eyes. (Actually, I already knew this. This isn’t the first time this has happened. I wish it would be the last.)

3. I have been dumbfounded by the sad lack of understanding and empathy for LGBTQ kids in our schools. 

4. It’s possible that the big divide comes down to this: some people believe that books are dangerous. Others see the people who want to ban books as dangerous.

5. The “I’m not a racist, but…” conversations feel awfully similar to the “I don’t believe in banning books, but…” arguments. 

In conclusion, we are being asked to imagine the great harm that will come to hypothetical 14 year old if they see the (carefully selected) illustrations thrust in front of us. What would that be? “High school student sees pictures on page thirty seven and…”

  • Drops out of school?
  • Engages in self harm?
  • Attempts suicide?
  • Turns to substance abuse?
  • Runs away from home?
  • Becomes homeless?
  • Is stigmatized by peers?
  • Is disowned by parents?
Wait, that’s not what happens to adolescents who encounter challenging books in the school library. That’s what happens to LGBTQ kids who often have no access to affirming materials, or no accepting community, no trustworthy adults to support them through their teenage years. That’s why we see books like this, because these kids are in danger in a society that very often rejects them.

What kind of community are we if we care about a hypothetical 14 year old more than issues that are truly life and death for kids in our schools?

If our hypothetical 14 year old has supportive parents, they will be able to talk with them about that challenging book. They will learn that they can always bring issues like this to their parents, and they will learn something from their conversation. That’s it.

In the meantime, here’s my pitch from 2014 for comprehensive, k-12 sex education:






Sunday, October 3, 2021

Book Report


 

The book: Gender Queer: A Memoir, by Maia Kobabe. 2019, Simon & Schuster. Format: Graphic Novel. 2020 ALA Alex Award Winner, 2020 Stonewall — Israel Fishman Non-fiction Award Honor Book.

What School Library Journal says:

A book to be savored rather than devoured, this memoir will resonate with teens, especially fans of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and Mason Deaver’s I Wish You All the Best. It’s also a great resource for those who identify as nonbinary or asexual as well as for those who know someone who identifies that way and wish to better understand.

Also:

 [Kobabe] describes common situations from the perspective of someone who is asexual and nonbinary: starting a new school, getting eir period, dating, attending college. The muted earth tones and calm blues match the hopeful tone and measured pacing. Matter-of-fact descriptions of gynecological exams and the use of sex toys will be enlightening for those who may not have access to this information elsewhere.

What some parents in Howard County are saying:

  • Porn
  • Sexually explicit
  • Promotes pedophilia
  • Smut 
  • Disgusting
It’s almost as though they have read completely different books.

Oh wait. The reviewers at School Library Journal have actually ready the whole book. The outraged parents are responding to isolated photographs.

If I were in the position of choosing books for a school library, I would be relying first on my own education, training, and experience. I would consider specifically the needs of my students. I would be interested in knowledgeable reviews which provide background and context. 

Emotional responses from people who haven’t even read the books are not informed sources. 

Everyone has a right to their own opinion. But anyone who has ever gone to school knows that you will not get full credit if you don’t read the whole book. Knowledge, background, and context are essential. So,  knowledge: read the whole book.

Now here’s some background:

LGBTQ children’s books are critically important for children, for a myriad of reasons:

For kids that are grappling with how they identify and who they have feelings for, seeing characters like them in stories is like finding a trusted confidante. Books provide safe spaces for children, allowing them to exhale freely knowing they aren’t alone with their feelings.

For kids who may struggle because their families look different from the “norm,” books help children recognize that love makes a family. If love is the foundation of a home, nothing else should ever matter — especially not how parents and siblings identify.

For LGBTQ youth who are met with disapproval at home, books may be the only resource to help them feel supported through a challenging time. This may in turn help prevent serious harm to a child’s mental health and self esteem.

How about some context? A book like Gender Queer: A Memoir is very likely written as a graphic novel precisely because its author and illustrator has an MFA in Comics from the California College of the Arts. In addition, this format is highly accessible to today’s adolescent audience. An illustration in this autobiographical work is a piece of a whole, a story-telling device that extends throughout the book to communicate themes of confusion and self-discovery. It’s purpose is not to be “sexually explicit” in a pornographic sense. Its goal is to educate.

I’ve written before about how LGBTQ kids are at a much higher risk for suicide and self harm. 

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

To those who say their objections have nothing to do with the fact that this is LGBTQ content? It may not matter to you. But it deeply and desperately matters to LGBTQ kids who are trying to make their way in a world that, more often than not, rejects them. Your emotional response to some pictures is not what should determine whether life-affirming materials are available in our school libraries. 

I promised you another story. I’m not proud of this one. 

Some years after my grocery store anecdote (same daughter, now mid-elementary, maybe a bit older.) We were at the surprise birthday party of the same-sex partner of a good friend. In fact, we had helped to orchestrate the surprise. I was helping to greet guests at the door when one of them handed a book to our friend, saying, “Here’s the book I borrowed.” I saw him put it on the kitchen counter.

I glanced at the cover. Yes, dear readers, it was a book about…”kinky sex.” I didn’t open it. I saw the title and the cover photo and I went into parent panic. My daughter was there and I freaked out. I can’t really explain it. Without much thought or analysis I determined that she should be protected from this particular adult content and I put the book in their freezer.

I didn’t choose to have the uncomfortable talk with my friends asking them to put the book away for now and explaining I wasn’t ready to have that talk with my daughter during a birthday party. I also could have chosen to let the situation evolve naturally, dealing with it if it came up. But I didn’t.

I acted without knowledge, background, or context. I didn’t consider my friends’ feelings. I didn’t consider the consequences of my actions. In short, I didn’t think. And of course, at the time, I felt completely justified. 

I was wrong. I was refusing to have the difficult conversations with my friends and with my child. I chose censorship instead. I also violated my friends’ trust in me by saying, essentially, “You are not safe to be who you are, even in your own home.”

And so…

It is crucial that we, as parents, let our school libraries be safe places for students to be themselves. Our responsibility is not to censor content that makes us uncomfortable, but to be willing to do the work necessary to have the knowledge, background, and context to understand the materials that challenge us before we pass judgment on them. 

It is also our responsibility to have those difficult conversations with our kids. 









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Saturday, October 2, 2021

A Pocketful of News


 

This just in! Yes, I am writing Part Two to yesterday’s post about parenting and banned books. No, I’m not done yet. Check back tomorrow and, in the meantime, read Part One if you missed it the first time around.

A few things this morning:

On the extremely local front, we have kids back in our neighborhood again. It has been quite a while. When I first moved here we often lamented that there would be no sleeping in on Saturdays due to the activities of what we jokingly called the Oakland Mills Auto Club - - a handful of young boys who sped up and down the sidewalks in those plastic Little Tykes cars at the crack of dawn on the weekends. Later their forces increased and we called them the “Stick ‘Em Up!” Club because their main activity appeared to be finding cool sticks and running up and down the grassy hills of the neighborhood with them, inventing games as they went.

No one put an eye out but it was close.

For a long time now we have had no kids and so their appearance of the scene has been refreshing. Sure, they haven’t learned to pick up their snack wrappers yet and they leave their scooters any old place. But they bring a kind of life that has been missing. I’m glad they are here.

I bumped into an old aquaintance on Thursday night at Happy Hour in the Park, someone who I saw fairly frequently in the old HoCoBlogs days of yore. Our conversation centered pretty much around Columbia: what’s going on and what we thought about it. I loved his insight that the Columbia Association is particularly good at providing experiences that you can share with your neighbors. When I left I was full of new ideas to ponder.

I’ve really enjoyed the Happy Hours in the Park this summer. In fact, my first “venturing out” of my pandemic protections was at the first Happy Hour of the season. Having a chance to be social, enjoy some music and a beer outdoors (where it’s safer to be around other people these days) has really been a blessing for me. Turnout has been pretty solid so I guess I am not alone in that assessment.

On the way home from Happy Hour I made my first visit to Whole Foods since the Before Times. I’m probably projecting but it felt sad to me. Perhaps it was the realization that the salad bar and prepared hot foods areas have been eliminated due to COVID. The baked goods area seems to be offering far less choice. They’ve added self checkout, which is probably for the best but of course I managed to mess that up and needed assistance.

It’s funny because I think of Whole Foods as the New Big Thing and I left on Thursday night thinking, “It’s not like the old Whole Foods!” We humans are such creatures of habit. I should add that everything I bought (all three items) have been perfect in every way and the service I received while I was there was exceptionally good.

It’s possible that just don’t feel the same about Whole Foods. It’s hard to know. I’d be interested to hear your opinions on this topic.

Update: a kind reader just informed me that the salad bar and prepared foods bar are open at Whole Foods as she purchased food from there as recently as yesterday.   They must close it down early evening.

And that is why I almost always ask, “What do you think?”

Speaking of opinions about Columbia, have you looked at the Columbia Conversations page on Facebook? I finally got around to taking a look this week. I am looking forward to exploring the website more fully and participating in the conversations on Facebook. Over the years CA has tried a number of initiatives to solicit community engagement. It will be interesting to see how they use the information once they have it and what methods they will use to encourage buy-in to the project.

As I noted on Thursday, there’s a lot going on around town today. I completely missed the boat on promoting Wizarding Weekend on Main in Old Ellicott City, which began last night and continues through Sunday. 

Saturday and Sunday fun starts at Flower Barn in parking lot D at 10am with free games, giveaways and a costume contest.  For $5 donation to National Federation of the Blind grab a map, fly through town and compete in the trivia contest to win magical OEC gift baskets.

I wonder if there’ll be a Quidditch match to top it all off?

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Primal Parenthood


 

Let’s talk about being a parent. 

When my daughter had just learned how to read I suddenly realized that the headlines of the tabloids were now accessible to her as we waited in line at the grocery store. I had a little talk with her about how those kinds of publications were different than newspapers like the Baltimore Sun, and that they sometimes twisted or stretched the truth, or downright made things up. So, I said, full of the wisdom of a young parent determined to raise a child with discerning critical thinking skills, “If you see anything on those papers that you don’t understand, I want you to feel comfortable asking me about it.”

The very next time we were in the grocery store, on a day that was rather quiet in the checkout line, my daughter’s sweet young voice piped up with confidence.

“Mom? What’s ‘kinky sex’?”

Be careful what you wish for.

My definition, an on-the-spot, off-the-top-of-my-head explanation for a six year old, went something like this:

“You know how you like chocolate bars? Chocolate bars are really good, aren’t they? Well, when people use that word kinky it’s kind of like saying that there are people who can enjoy the chocolate bar only if they stole it. That’s what makes it special to them.”

There was more, and I’m hoping it was a little better than that, but remember: we were in the checkout line, paying, and carrying grocery bags and I was thinking on my feet. At the time I was pretty darned proud of myself. Now I look back and wince a little. (Okay, maybe a lot.)  What’s more important is that this was only one conversation of many conversations about sex and other difficult-to-talk-about topics. I don’t think I ruined her life. You’d have to ask her, of course. She’s thirty four.

Yesterday I came across this quote shared in honor of Banned Books Week:


That’s it. Sometimes as parents we encounter something that makes us fearful for our children because we think it may hurt them and we have a strong emotional reaction that it’s our job to protect them. In many ways it is our job to protect our children. That’s no lie. But there’s a big difference between something like contaminated drinking water or unsafe streets and books in a library. 

Now let’s talk about Banned Books Week. (September 26 - October 2nd) It’s almost over, but its observance in Howard County has been marred by some parents who had read something on social media about some other parents in Fairfax, Virginia who were really angry about a book in their adolescent child’s school library. In some circles this topic has surpassed denying that there’s racism in Howard County as the outrage du jour. 

And, verily, I say unto you: this stems from a strong emotional reaction to something that makes these parents fearful and uncomfortable. It taps into a primal fear that says, “here is something threatening and potentially dangerous.” Their subsequent reaction would be more in line with responding to an oncoming car or a wild animal attack. 

This is a problem. 

And here’s another one: when we talk about school libraries, your child is not the only one in the school. Your child will by design have a school library that is composed of books meant to meet the needs of all kinds of children in their school community. That’s truly what libraries are supposed to do. Librarians/Media Specialists are highly trained, extremely well-educated, inquisitive, responsive, and community-minded. In the case of school librarians, their community is the school. They work together with other librarians in the school system to make the most age-appropriate/developmentally appropriate selections to serve the students that will be using and learning in their libraries.

We as parents make decisions with the aim of caring for and protecting our own children. We are not given the power to control the whole world to make it the kind of world that we want our children to see. Honestly, there have been times that I have wished that I could. But that’s not the way things work. Our task as parents is to love, support, and inform our children in a way that will prepare them to grow into healthy and whole human beings.

More tomorrow. Also…


Duhn duhn DUHN!


…another educational story from my own parenting experience. 



Decisions, Decisions


Autumn can be a glorious time in Columbia/HoCo, with an abundance of days that are not too hot and not too cold. It’s traditionally a time for harvest festivals and all sorts of outdoor events. This year’s autumn events come with the added reassurance that being outside is a safer place to be in the world of COVID. Part of me wants to go to all of them for just that reason.

Tonight in the Park (Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods) is this year’s last outdoor happy hour of the season. It’s free but you must register so they’ll know how many people to expect. Oh yes, there’s also yoga on the Chrysalis stage if that’s your thing. I keep forgetting to mention that. 

Last Thursday Happy Hour featuring Moonstone, 9/30 from 5-7 pm

Saturday is an explosion of choices. My day will begin at the Oakland Mills Fall Festival. This is one of the events I really missed last year when public events were canceled due to the pandemic. It begins at 11 am but the OMHS band will be kicking it off a bit before the hour so, if you like band music, make sure you’re there by 10:50. It’s a free event. There will be food and drink for purchase, live entertainment, children’s activities and - - well, it’s all on the poster.


Oakland Mills Fall Festival, 10/2 from 11 am to 4 pm. Oakland Mills Village Center,Robert Oliver Place.

The East Columbia Branch of the Howard County Library will be hopping with with two different events. At noon it’s Community Circles: A Longest Table Event.  

Share an outdoors meal and conversation with some people you don’t know and discover both common ground and new ideas. Opening remarks from Trent Day Hall, a local leader in thoughtful dialogue and facilitation, from the Howard County Office of Human Rights and Equity.

Details:

  • Catered boxed lunches
  • Facilitated, small-group conversation
  • Separate circular tables provide more social distance and more intimate conversation

Then, from 2-5, it’s the HCLS Five-Star Showcase:

We are celebrating and you are invited. HCLS is a Five Star Library, as ranked by Library Journal for excellence, because of our services, initiatives, and most importantly – you! 

Bring your family and friends, and meet us outdoors for a great time. We have fun activities and interactive experiences planned for your entire group!  

Whether you want to give the 360° photo booth a spin, get hands-on with HiTech carnival games and flex your skills in a Ten80 race, grab a meal from a food truck to sit and take in tunes from the live DJ, enjoy a cozy storytime and kids crafts at our new Pop-up Library, or just relax in one of our outdoor lounges and connect with someone new, we can’t wait to see you there.  


Lastly, the event you’ve probably been hearing the most about: the Hops and Harvest Festival, which leads off its description of the day like this: Unlimited tastings. Live Entertainment. Fresh Local Food.  Tickets are $45 in advance and $50 at the door. Needless to say, drinking alcoholic beverages is limited to the over-21 crowd and: be smart. Pick a designated driver.


As the Irish side of my family would say, you’re spoilt for choice this weekend. If there are other local events you’d like to share, add them in the comments.

Saturday looks to be shaping up to be sunny and gorgeous. My only challenge will be deciding what to do.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Spots and Stripes

 


The alarm woke me in the middle of a dream that involved an animated Snoopy (from Charles Schulz’ Peanuts comic strip) dancing on one page of a book and playing ice hockey on the next.

This may explain why I woke up with a taste for fluff this morning. So, fluff it is.

Not exactly a human interest story but rather an animal one: the five zebras on the loose from a farm in Upper Marlboro have captured the public’s imagination. It appears that area journalists have been unable so far to resist using the phrase “zebras have been spotted.” 

Sigh.

This article from DCist asks a question I hadn't even thought of yet:

Could the escaped zebras survive roaming around Prince George’s County forever?  , Rachel Kurzius

Yes, it includes the “zebras have been spotted” line but I’ll give it a free pass because it also includes a reference to one of my favorites songs from the old Captain Kangaroo show of my childhood.

“People that are curious may say, ‘Oh, they’re horses with striped pajamas — I can get close to them’ and that could be dangerous.” 

Oh, say there, Captain?

Now so far our story is only tangentially local. But what if the zebras make it all the way to Howard County? (Yes, I’m going there.)

Map courtesy of Maryland State Highway Administration 


Hmm…that means they’d have to make it all the way through Anne Arundel County first. I’ll admit it doesn’t appear likely.

But, since it’s the middle of the work week and I woke up with a taste for fluff, let’s ask this hyperlocal question. Assuming the zebras make it to Columbia/HoCo, where do you think they would go and why?

An example:

The zebras would clearly go to the Lakefront for a drink and to play in the fountain. 



Now it’s your turn. Live it up! Let yourself go. We can be serious tomorrow.