Sunday, February 28, 2021

A Gift of Thanks


I don’t get much mail, so this handwritten thank you note from Chiara D’Amore of the Community Ecology Institute stood out in the pile of catalogues and bills that arrived yesterday. It meant a lot to me because, frankly, I’m a small donor. I haven’t been doling out the big bucks. But I am a big fan of the work that CEI is doing at Freetown Farm.

I first heard of Dr. D’Amore through her local initiative to get families out into nature. (Columbia Families in Nature)  This work has expanded in a variety of ways since then, including a program for children called Roots & Wings Learning Community

The mission of Roots & Wings is to provide an educational experience for home-schooled children, where their knowledge, creativity and voices are nurtured through experiential and nature-infused lessons and activities.

I see that Roots and Wings has announced a gift raffle to support their programs. Here’s the information:

Starting this Spring Equinox, we are kicking off a quarterly gift basket raffle! The raffle winner will take home an amazing basket chock full of seasonal goodies, gardening tips, and it will feature a local artist each quarter. You can expect to find locally sourced items, kid-friendly goodies, and more! Approx. basket value: $300 (the first basket will definitely exceed this amount!).

Raffle tickets are $10 each or 2 for $18 - ticket prices will increase on March 1st, so be sure to grab a few before then! 

The winner of our Spring Equinox Basket will be drawn March 19th, so that the winnings can be enjoyed on the equinox.

Our featured artist for the Spring Basket is our very own Chiara D'Amore - she lives locally in Columbia MD, creates beautiful works of art  inspired by nature and is the Executive Director of the Community Ecology Institute.

To purchase raffle tickets - send your ticket fee via PayPal to and please note how many tickets you are buying and your first and last name in the notes section of payment. Also be sure to select "sending to a friend".

Raffle proceeds will go directly to supporting the Roots and Wings program! Please be sure to spread the word and share this raffle with your friends and family.

*If you would like to donate an item or service for the basket, please contact us. All donations are welcome and encouraged.

I can vouch for Dr. D’Amore’s beautiful art work. I bought the calendar she produced to support Freetown Farm at Christmas and every page is gorgeous. A small donation on your part in the form of raffle tickets might very well score you a bountiful basket of artistic treasures. 

This description of the program makes me wish I had grown up this way:

The Roots & Wings program is run at Freetown Farm, our 6.4 acre organic farm in Columbia. Farm-based education is among the most effective and promising forms of environmental, experiential, and place-based education because of the innate ability in people to connect to farms. Farm-based education promotes life values by relating to the social, moral, cognitive, and emotional aspects of the human experience and it provides hands-on learning that builds confidence, self-awareness, and individual and collective responsibility which leads to the sustainable stewardship of our world.

What a great investment in the future, too.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Conjunction Junction


I’ve been mulling this over for a few days, but this still makes no sense to me. 

It’s as though the Board of Education skimmed all the letters from the community, petitions, and accompanying data and the exhortation to have “counselors, not cops” stuck in their heads but in a wholly distorted way. 

“Well, gee, we have lots of people here who are all riled up. Let’s give everybody something that they want. We’ll have counselors and cops.”


The movement to remove SROs from our schools continues to be active locally and is being considered at the state level as well. There is a big difference between “counselors, not cops” and “counselors and cops.”

It seems that the BOE doesn’t really want to make that SRO decision. They’d rather someone else did it for them. But this move is a move of avoidance and it also disrespects all the students and families who have shared their lived experiences of poor treatment at the hands of school police. It seems to be trying to mollify white (pro-SRO) parents while throwing a bone to Black and Brown parents. 

I agree with Board member Antonia Watts, who said:

We seriously need to address mental health, irrespective of what we do with SROs... I can’t see why we’re coupling mental health with cops. It seems disingenuous, actually. These things should be pulled apart, and we should take care of the mental health needs of our children, and we can deal with the security in a different way.

If the way that the Board is going to try to resolve this issue is by trying to give everyone something that they want, I propose the following:
  • At the middle school level, put SRO’s in the whitest, most affluent schools. The other schools will get counselors.
  • At the high school level, where each school has officers, the counselors should be allocated in such a way that the schools with the most Black and Brown students get the most counseling staff. 
Does that seem like an odd way to make decisions to you? It is. But, I’m just trying to give everyone something they want, right?

When it comes to school policing, we can’t fudge our way out of it by trying to make everybody happy. We need to be clear on the difference between right and wrong and then actively make the right choice, no matter how much pushback we get. If school policing harms Black and Brown students then it is bad for our school system as a whole, period.

I’m all for increasing mental health resources for students. I’d also like to see more funds allocated for restorative justice training. But it should not be at the expense of looking the other way on the issue of school policing. By making this some kind of a trade-off, the Board of Education is neglecting its responsibility to be champions of all children. 

“Counselors, not cops” vs “Counselors and cops.” There’s a very big difference.  

Surely the Members of the Board should have a better understanding of their parts of speech.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Friday Freebie


I offer my apologies that my usual post didn’t materialize this morning. I was not finding local news to be the least bit inspiring, alas. 

But here’s a tasty tater tidbit that I just can’t resist sinking my teeth into. 

Mr. Potato Head brand goes gender neutral, sort of

This quick-to-become-viral story is truly a non-story. Basically Hasbro is acknowledging something that has always been true: all of the toys are potatoes. It’s the child who plays with them who decides their gender. Isn’t that what the best play is all about? The child decides.

I’m both amused and annoyed by those who are grandstanding about this as though it is a telling indicator of a liberal conspiracy to smash the “God-given” gender binary. It’s a toy. It’s a potato. Potatoes don’t have gender. But this is all obvious stuff. 

As a career early childhood educator, I have spent enough time observing children play to have some educated opinions. I even have a few about Potato Head toys.

For those whose takeaway is that this is a stupid toy to begin with and why is anyone still playing with them, well, you’re entitled to your opinion. But, believe it or not, Potato Head play helps develop fine motor strength and hand-eye coordination. It supports choice-making, develops imagination through dramatic play, encourages the use of descriptive and even mathematical language.

But, subversive?  That part has always been inherent within the toy itself. Children take delight in mixing and matching all the body parts and accessories. Some may choose to assemble something which rigidly conforms to gender stereotypes, but many do not. Young children are nowhere near as bound to gender expectations as adults. A toy which allows for open-ended play is a very healthy part of child development. 

It does not matter if your potato has a pink handbag or a cowboy hat or red kissy lips paired with a mustache. What matters is that you choose. You feel satisfaction in your choices. You try something, change your mind, try something else. The child decides.

Through all this play the child is developing their sense of self. They know what feels good to them and what doesn’t. They also see what is accepted and what isn’t. A child will not be harmed by the name change of a toy but they will be harmed by adults who seek to limit their choices and imagination.

In conclusion, I’d like to share with you what my first Potato Head looked like. 

Don’t believe me? Watch this.

Thursday, February 25, 2021



Okay, I’ll admit it. It was the lede that made me take a second look.

Highland and Clarksville project an air of bucolic, genteel ease that only money can provide. But beneath their serene facade a revolutionary fervor has burned.

It’s certainly some of the most exciting language I’ve read in the Howard County Times in many a year.

Here’s what it looked like in a tweet:

I hope I can be forgiven for assuming that the sentences had something to do with the photograph. It stands to reason that there’d be a connection, doesn’t it? So when I clicked to read the article I expected to read about how a revolutionary fervor burned beneath the serene facade of The Common Kitchen. I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or be concerned. 

How little I knew.

The piece, by Mary Carole McCauley, is a part of a larger series of articles by the Howard County Times entitled “Community Guide 2021”. They seem to be under the Howard Magazine umbrella. The revolutionary fervor in question refers to actual Revolutionary War history of the area. The photograph is unrelated to to the text.

I was perhaps a little disappointed.

I thought I was in for a description of how bringing together foods from many cultures under one roof gave residents in an affluent suburban area an opportunity to make connections with people unlike themselves. A bit revolutionary for River Hill/Clarksville, yes? Who knows how many people’s worlds have been broadened by new flavors and friendly conversations? 

Speaking of which, you can do a good turn for some of those friendly food vendors by casting a vote in the Baltimore Magazine’s “Best of” Reader’s Poll:

We're getting noticed and we're NOT going to be shy about it. PLEASE VOTE!! The Common Kitchen and several of our vendors including Koshary-by-MISTEKA, Anh-mazing Banh Mi, and Blowfish Poke, just to name a few have been nominated by Baltimore Magazine's Best of Reader's Poll. Please go and vote and help our little-kitchen-that-could get noticed.

Here’s the link.

What will you do to be revolutionary today?

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Lessons Unlearned

I have started and deleted this post about five times this morning. I hear the sounds of my husband getting ready to leave the house. It is not a happy day. 

Our community has broken faith with its teachers. We are sending them into schools which are not adequately prepared, we are making them walk into situations where disease can be spread without being fully vaccinated, and we haven’t been able to hire the required number of support staff to make any sort of reasonable plan viable.

None of this is safe. Asking teachers to risk their lives and their families’ lives when they are receiving so little support is unacceptable. 

Yet clearly our community is full of those who think nothing of that. They are fine with inflicting long-term damage as long as they get their short-term benefits.

There is a cost to breaking faith with people. My biggest fear right now is losing them to illness. But we will also lose the good people who will leave a system that has betrayed them. We are already losing them. And I suspect more will follow.

Teachers are not widgets. You cannot just pop in a new one when the old one breaks. Teaching is an art, a science, a gift. It takes specialized training, mentoring, valuable experience, and love. If we make decisions that discount this our schools will pay the price for a long time to come. 

Education is based on uniquely human relationships between teachers and students. It cannot thrive in an environment where the very humanity of teachers is devalued and even under attack. 

Folk tales from around the world tell of people who, having received an exceptional gift, destroy it and their own lives through their own selfishness. Think of the goose that laid the golden eggs or the man and the magic fish.  How easy it is for the characters in these stories to come face to face with an extraordinary blessing and be dissatisfied. How quickly their initial pleasure turns into demands for more.

The prevalence of stories like this in so many cultures should tell us something. If they are meant to educate us or serve as a warning I fear we have not been paying attention. You cannot smash the thing you want to have and still make use of its treasures.

I would think that’s a lesson most of us learned in school, but, apparently not.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The Best and the Worst

Scrolling through Twitter, looking for blog topics, I saw this tidbit:

Howard county has the best schools but the worst drivers.

No elaboration, no explanation. That’s it, that’s the tweet.

I do think we have pretty great schools, although they’re under a crushing amount of stress at the moment. But, the worst drivers? What do you you think? 

Particulars aside, I thought the format of the tweet would make for an entertaining pastime. What’s your best and worst of Howard County? Columbia, even?

Of course it’s important to stress that any such statement is an over-generalization by default. And I’m loath to make statements that are outright mean-spirited. With that being said, what are some things that occur to you, right off the top of your head?

  • Columbia has the best pathways but the worst walkability.
  • Howard County has the best neighborhoods but the worst affordability.
  • Columbia has the best aspirations but the worst execution. (Okay, this borders on being too harsh.)
  • Howard County has the best young journalists but the worst parent newspaper owner.
  • Columbia has the best street names but the worst street names. 
  • Howard County has the best library system but the worst variety of bookstores.
Your turn. 

Monday, February 22, 2021

Public Art


News to me, although clearly not new to residents of Baltimore, are the yellow salt boxes that appear around the city in the winter time. Although I lived in the city from 1985 - 1991, I somehow don’t have any recollection of the things. What makes them a big story this year is the contributions of some creative citizen artists.

Baltimore artist Juliet Ames was inspired to give new life to a salt box in Hamden, and was relieved and gratified that the powers that be gave their approval for her efforts. You can read more here, plus see a sampling of the artistically enhanced salt boxes. As an added bonus, Ms. Ames offers a free printable coloring page for kids to design their own salt box. The winner will have their design painted in the Fall of 2021. 

In the past two months, more than 100 of the decorated salt boxes have appeared around Baltimore, including more than 25 adorned by Ames herself. The boxes celebrate such iconic Baltimore figures as the filmmaker John Waters, the Natty Boh logo and the googly-eyed Mr. Trash Wheel.

What I love about this is that it isn’t just the work of one person. It’s an all-out movement. A citizen’s movement. If you’re interested in finding where they are located, Robert Atkinson has mapped them out for you. Follow him on Instagram @Baltimore.saltbox to see photos of the area’s saltbox creations. 

Now, with more winter weather on the way, it’s not surprising that I have salt boxes on the brain. We don’t have them here in Columbia/HoCo, although my HOA puts small bins out every year in each parking lot by the mailboxes. Sadly they are heavy duty plastic totes which look unsuitable for artistic transformation.

What we do have are hydrants. Remember those? I got very excited last year trying to spread enthusiasm for a county initiative to “adopt a hydrant.”

The gist of the plan was to recruit citizens who would take on the responsibility of shoveling out their adopted hydrant each time it snowed, thus assuring its accessibility if needed by firefighters. Makes sense.

However...although the initiative offered some possibilities for creativity through the creation of digitally enhanced photographs, it stopped short of allowing the kind of artistic free rein which has been the hallmark of the Baltimore Salt Box craze. 

**Important note; fire hydrants are the property of the Howard County Bureau of Utilities — so please do not paint, personalize or change the appearance of the fire hydrant. ** 

I don’t know how many takers they’ve had. There have been some, as evidenced by this tweet from the Howard County Fire and EMS account. I suspect it hasn’t been as widely successful as what’s happening in Baltimore. Maybe if they’d allowed hydrant adopters to go all out and put their own personal touches on their hydrants the results might have been more favorable.

But then, we’re not Baltimore, as folks on social media are fond of ranting. Quirky painted fire hydrants might be that last straw which puts us on the slippery slope to citification. One has to draw the line somewhere. Still, I think it might be fun.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

How Much?


I must admit I have been appalled by the lack of concern among some people about the armed riots and attack on the Capitol on 1/6. Despite deaths, and injuries, the frightening breach of security, property damage, theft, and the horrific spectacle of a hangman’s noose, we continue to see comments that downplay or even deny the events of that day. 

It leaves me wondering one thing: how much?

How much death would have been enough for these people? Is there a number? Or is it rather whose death would have been significant or motivating? Would more losses from one particular group have produced more horror or remorse? What’s the limit for these people? Where would they draw the line?

Would they?

As the county schools push forward with their abrupt turn-around to send teachers back into classrooms I see a similar set of circumstances falling into place. We know that not all teachers and staff members have been able to get vaccinated. We suspect that the safety measures required to help prevent the spread of COVID have not been fully implemented in every school.We read that the school system is still actively recruiting new employees to allow for adequate staffing numbers.

The result of this combination of variables is almost certainly that the return to face-to-face learning in school buildings will produce the spread of illness. Teachers, staff, admin, students may become ill, may carry illness out of the school building to others in the community. We may very likely see life-changing, permanent health damage or even death directly attributable to this decision. 

It leaves me wondering: how much?

How much illness and death will be enough for the ReOpen crowd? Is there a number? Or will it matter who suffers? Will more losses from a particular group of community members elicit more horror or remorse? Are some lives more valuable to them than others? How many people must get sick, suffer, and/or die to feed the insatiable demand for “customer service” from these loudest of privileged voices?

I fear there is no limit. 

Saturday, February 20, 2021



Some dates coming up that may interest you:

The Columbia Association is holding an informational session for those who may be interesting in running for the CA Board. Don’t roll over and go back to sleep; it’s this morning at 10 am. Learn more here.

You can become a member of the Friends and Foundation of the Howard County Library and possibly score a ticket to this year’s virtual Evening in the Stacks event.  Deadline is Monday, so get moving!

Wednesday would be a good day to pick up dinner from Shake Shack and support Bridges to Housing Stability. Take a look for more information on their website.

The Columbia Orchestra will be presenting their next concert as a YouTube premiere on March 13th.  It’s free, but I’m sure they’d be thrilled to accept a free-will offering from grateful community members.

Sobar is back with ideas for a fun Saint Patrick’s Day event, along with a fundraising auction. To register for the event, click here. For the auction, you can use this link.

Any other local events I should be aware of?  Let me know. 

Friday, February 19, 2021

Pearls, No Wisdom


I’m still rolling my eyes at this piece from Maryland Reporter:

Power Ladies and their Most Adored Pearl Sets, Hannah Madison

Oh my word. Who thought this was a good idea? “Power Ladies?” 

Maryland Reporter calls itself “the news site for government and politics in the Free State.” This piece of content is neither news, politics, nor relevant to the Free State. In short, it’s wildly sexist and embarrassingly out of place. If you have any doubts, ask yourself if have you ever read an article on a news, government and politics site called “Power Gentlemen and their Most Adored Tie Clips?” 

I thought not.

A closer inspection reveals that this piece is labeled “sponsored content”. Oh. It’s an advert? Well, not exactly.

Why would you use sponsored content? By publishing a helpful article, a brand positions themselves as an expert, or a major storytelling voice, in their field. The goal is to establish trust with customers so they can rely on a company’s information and products.  (Native Advertising vs. Sponsored Content: What’s the Difference?)

I’m not exactly sure who Maryland Reporter sees as their “customers” if they think this article is helpful. Quite frankly it plays into the view that physical appearance and calculated adornment are key components of a woman’s success. I find their willingness to promote this on a government and politics site extremely un-helpful. It’s exactly this frame of mind which makes someone like Delegate Rick Impallaria feel comfortable passing judgement on the physical appearance of his female colleagues during a public hearing in the Maryland General Assembly.

While we are at it, I would like to raise a particular objection to this sentence describing former First Michelle Obama:

Her most iconic look was at a White House gala where she teamed up a Tom Binns pearl necklace with her steely persona.  

No. No, no, no, no, no. Just no. Mrs. Obama is the only Black woman included in the article. In describing the other women the word “team” is used to connect clothing with jewelry, such as “... a Dolce & Gabbana gown with luscious layers of Mikimoto pearls.” But for Mrs. Obama the word is used to contrast beautiful jewelry and a tough personality. Why just for the Black woman, I wonder? Doesn’t this feed into the racist “angry Black woman” trope? 

There are so many avoidable errors here that it’s hard to see any reason that Maryland Reporter would voluntarily choose to be the purveyor of this content. It’s worth noting that the only reason I saw it is because Maryland Reporter promoted it on their Twitter feed. They are certainly not trying to hide it. 

What this particular piece tells me is that this site is willing to publish content that paints women as lesser than men. So it’s likely that the people in charge don’t find that view to be a deal-breaker. That, in turn, is sure to influence how they are coverering government and politics in the Free State. For me, that’s a huge drop in credibility. I’d be far less likely to trust things I read there after this.

I hope never to read the words “Power Ladies” again. I’m still trying to get rid of the ickiness factor. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2021



In the movies we’d have seen scrappy newsboys shouting on the corners, “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” In real life I saw it emerge in a tweet, and then another, then proliferating like so many popcorn kernels exploding in a hot pan.

Baltimore Sun Media poised to be acquired by nonprofit from Tribune Publishing Christopher Dinsmore for the Baltimore Sun

In short:

Returning The Baltimore Sun to Maryland hands, the state’s largest newspaper and its affiliates are poised to be acquired by a nonprofit formed by businessman and philanthropist Stewart Bainum Jr. that would operate the media organization for the benefit of the community.

If you have been following the trials and tribulations of the Sun and its affiliated publications, you will already be aware of the profound disrespect with which corporate ownership has treated local journalists. Despite a proven record for award-winning journalism, employees at the Sun are overworked, underpaid, and subject to wave after wave of layoffs and “cost-cutting” measures while those at the top reap massive financial rewards. This has sadly become the modus operandi of the big companies who buy up newspapers and cannibalize them for profits. 

Employees of the Sun, along with area advocates, have been working to establish the groundwork for local ownership by a nonprofit through an initiative called Save Our Sun. Then, last night, on the verge of being swallowed up by yet another corporate cannibalizer, Alden Global Capital, the Sun received a reprieve thanks to the commitment of Mr. Bainum. Though not directly connected to the Save Our Sun efforts, clearly the goals are the same and give the paper an opportunity to make a success of itself as a locally owned publication on a non-profit model.

Why does this matter to you? The success of a free press should matter to all of us. Without it many crucial stories go untold. Ideas and events go unexamined, the workings of government move forward unobserved. But, in a very specific sense, this should matter to you because the Baltimore Sun owns The Columbia Flier/Howard County Times so the coverage of our local stories depends on their success. Bloggers and content aggregators will never come close to the quality of work done by professional journalists. We need them.

This announcement is bittersweet. The completion of the deal is dependent on the sale of many other fine newspapers to Alden. Based on their track record, no one has much optimism for their eventual fate. I saw a reference online last night that described Alden as a company that has “learned how sell the organs out of the body while it is still alive.” They seem very much to be a company that destroys newspapers rather than manages them in any fruitful way.

The future is uncertain but this moment is surely exciting for the Sun and its affiliated publications. Let’s hope that this is the beginning of a new era in local journalism, not just here but around the country. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Show Up, Speak Out


As time goes on it has become apparent that not all the local voices on the topic of teachers and schools are of the Re-Open variety. I have been heartened to see a growing chorus of parents and community members supporting teachers and making the case for returning to face-to-face learning when it is actually safe. Considering how hard teachers are working, the verbal abuse they have been taking on social media, and the ridiculous and frustrating process for getting vaccinated, it must be a welcome change for them to receive some community support.

You can help.

Tonight there will be a safe, socially distanced car rally to support safe schools. It will begin at Howard High School and proceed to the Board of Education Building. From the event page:

We meet at Howard High School on February 16th at 5 pm. We will travel to the Howard County Board of Education to make our demands for a pause on returning to buildings until educators who want vaccines get them, metrics-based decisions on when to reopen buildings and when to go back to distance virtual learning, more vaccines for educators, and for our own Board of Education to stand up to bullying from the Governor and MSDE.

This socially distanced protest will be held in our cars at the beginning, during transit from Howard High to the Howard County Board of Education, and once we reach the BOE.

I can assure you that teachers want to teach. They have been teaching all along. Teachers, more than anyone else, know the circumstances in their own schools and the likelihood of proper safety measures being undertaken and continued appropriately. To give you an idea of why teachers rather than invisible higher-ups and televised political talking heads should be consulted in making plans to return, I present to you this piece by another Howard County blogger, Ubuntu Mom.

Before the pandemic, school shootings showed us how people really feel about schools

We asked to wait to return to school until we could get a vaccine, mainly because—surprise—we’ve all worked inside of a school before and we know that the many mitigation plans that have been presented are well-intentioned, but likely unrealistic. We’ve all seen that soap dispenser that was never refilled, we know which bathroom runs out of toilet paper and paper towels by lunch time, and we know which rooms have an HVAC system that has to be controlled with a pair of scissors. And now, we are all to have faith that every air quality and temperature issue has been fixed in our school building? That we will be provided with endless supplies of hand sanitizer, antibacterial cleaners and PPE? Do you know how many pencils and notebooks we’ve personally bought for our students?

Take the time to read her whole piece. It is so thorough, so well-thought out, and so heart-breaking. To see so many people “throw teachers under the bus” in a time of crisis rather than acknowledge and benefit from their obvious expertise is mind-boggling to me.

Imagine how it feels to them.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Food and Community


I can’t remember when I first started hearing people rave about R. House, the food hall in Baltimore created from a building that once housed the Anderson Automotive showroom. I do remember what they talked about: the delicious and out of the ordinary food, the variety of vendors, the flexibility of eating there, the convenience of having an in-house bar to pick up a drink to go with your meal. It was a whole new concept in the restaurant business for Baltimore.

That’s why I was so excited when work was kicked off right here in Howard County for the Common Kitchen, which is in many ways a hometown version of R. House. I particularly enjoy the Common Kitchen for its emphasis on being a part of the local community. Whether inviting high school groups to perform or hosting a local podcast, the folks at the Common Kitchen (and Clarksville Commons as a whole) have made their venue more than a place to pick up a bite to eat. I miss the days when my daily commute took me right by there and when one thought nothing of popping in casually to any local establishment. 

I look forward to a return of those days.

When I read Jeremy Dommu’s piece in The Merriweather Post about The Third - - a combination of cafĂ©, retail outlet, coworking space, and business incubator - - it struck me that this new venture has at its roots a combination of the R. House food hall concept and the Common Kitchen community connections theme. Creator Laura Bacon starts on that framework and envisions so much more, describing a venue which functions not only by selling to the public but by fostering the work of entrepreneurial women of color. Take the time to read Dommu’s piece where he decribes this in more detail. You can visit their website, too.

I was interested to see a similar (though not identical) concept announced in the Baltimore Business Journal:

With 'Our Time' incubator, two Baltimore chefs look to support women of color starting culinary ventures, Amanda Yeager

Baltimore chefs Catina Smith and Kiah Gibian are working together to create: 

...Our Time, a new incubator in the Old Goucher neighborhood of Baltimore that will offer rentable commercial kitchen space, a food truck, take-out window and more for women of color who are hoping to start a culinary venture.

This last story is a tad more personal with me because I worked with Ms. Gibian in a school job a few years back when she was laying her plans for a future food truck business. Those plans eventually became Wilde Thyme.   It’s exciting to see her evolution from food truck entrepreneur to partner in helping new businesses get off the ground. I look forward to seeing how this progresses.

All of these ventures are focused around food. None of them would be possible if the restaurant business/food service industry models were completely determined by the same old “table service vs. drive through carry out” binary. All of them are enhanced by bringing people together and fostering community.

You can see why I’m more than a little invested in their success. 

Sunday, February 14, 2021



On February 14, 2020 I was wrapping up things at work and feeling sorry for myself. My husband was out of town and I knew I would be all alone for Valentine’s Day weekend. To top it off, I could tell I was coming down with something. 

I don’t remember anything else about that evening and yet last February 14th is a date I will now remember for the rest of my life.

What seemed like a run of the mill, you-catch-it-at-work sort of ailment was still going strong on March 12th when most schools and places of work shut down due to the coronavirus. By this time I had already been on antibiotics, and was soon to move to oral steroids. In a way I considered myself fortunate to have some additional time to recuperate.

Since that time I have had sinus scans, chest x-rays, numerous blood draws, a dizzying variety of antibiotics and courses of steroids, multiple inhalers, and sinus surgery. I’ll be having a chest CT scan on Monday.

I’m still sick. Since February 14, 2020, there has not been one day when I have been well.

Some things have gotten better while other things have gotten worse.  I’m now dealing with uncontrolled asthma. Some days I can’t even walk upstairs while carrying a hamper of laundry. Other days I’m so full of medication that I’m awake at 2:45 am eating a bag of pita chips and looking for conversation on Twitter. On my best days I can look after myself and do light housework. That’s it.

I have great doctors and they are doing their best and I am making progress. Maybe. I think I am. After a year of this I don’t really know. I do know that, in the age of COVID, my particular health issues have rendered me effectively disabled. There’s absolutely no way I could return to any kind of work now. Right at this very moment I don’t have to, but I have a kind of deep sadness when I think I may never work again. As time passes I feel less confident in my abilities.

The truth is, people become chronically ill and it changes their lives. These things happen. With the profound suffering all over the world brought about by the pandemic, my challenges are small in comparison. I have a home, a family, food to eat, health care, a community of friends. I am very fortunate and I know it.

One of the things I’ve learned over the last year, what with all the medical poking and prodding, is that my immune system isn’t what it ought to be. So the prospect of my husband being returned to in-person teaching when neither of us has been vaccinated is daunting. 

Yes, I care about all of the teachers and school staff, students, and their families that I write about. I also look at my spiral notebook listing all my daily medications, my multiple inhalers and my pulse oximeter and I worry about myself, too.

My blog is meant for local issues and mostly I keep to that. I realize that this post is uncomfortably personal. But today I am marking a milestone that I’m still unable to fully process: what if you were going to be sick for an entire year? Or longer? 

What if you didn’t really see a light at the end of the tunnel? This is new territory for me.

I’ve been carrying this around inside of me for a while now and I guess that today is the finally the day to put it out there. Perhaps I’m waving the white flag or finally admitting that I can’t pretend everything is fine. Or maybe I’m hoping this is the last time I’ll ever need to acknowledge it, as if naming it could make it disappear.

Every single person very likely has their own unspoken story of struggle over the last year. Many are far worse than my own. It’s possible to want to keep it all under wraps so as not to burden others and yet still wish to pour out one’s heart at the same time.

We all do the best we can. On Monday we’ll wake up and try it all again. 

Thanks for being a reader.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Making a Statement


I’ve been thinking a lot about the break-ins and damage at local restaurants in Columbia and Ellicott City. It has been covered widely by local news and it's all over social media. Like any unsolved crime, there are facts that we know and things that remain unknown. There are pieces of information that point to things that we suspect may be true.

County Executive Calvin Ball received some pushback for releasing the following statement:

Today our community is saddened by a string of burglaries that occurred in the last 24 hours. Our restaurant community is going through one of the toughest years that has ever existed for their industry and these crimes are adding unnecessary economic and mental stress on these owners, their employees, and our community. I encourage neighbors to reach out, support, and patronize all these businesses during this difficult time and as they recover.  

Furthermore, many of these restaurants are owned and operated by members of our Asian business community and feature Asian cuisine. To have these crimes occur during the beginning of Lunar New Year – a time of great celebration and joy – is additionally sad and distressing. 

Hateful or racist language and violence has no place here in Howard County. If you are aware of any potential hate-bias incident, please call the Howard County Police Department's non-emergency line at (410) 313-2200. 

The HCPD is diligently investigating these crimes and we encourage anyone with any knowledge of who was behind this vandalism to call 410-313-2200.

Again we hear from the “why do you make everything about race?” contingent. They must just camp out on his page, waiting to spring into action.

Do we know for a fact that these are racially-motivated hate crimes? No. Does it seem likely that many in our Asian community are feeling them as such? Yes, and with good reason. Incidents of hate crimes against Asians have been on the rise throughout the nation. These particular crimes in Howard County, perpetrated on the Lunar Year and affecting mostly Asian-owned businesses point to something they (and we) suspect may be true.

Is it wrong to acknowledge those feelings? No. A message from a local leader which shows thoughtful consideration and empathy for members of the community is never a mistake. Taking the opportunity to affirm the concerns of the victims and condemn any sort of racially-motivated hate crimes is both respectful and responsible. This is not an emotionally-charged statement full of inflammatory language. It is not meant to stir up anger at any other individual or group. It is not intended to hamper a criminal investigation.

I would imagine that, should these crimes turn out not to be racially motivated, that the County Executive will be quick to acknowledge that and be more than happy to do so. To those who attack him for even mentioning the mere possibility, well, methinks your privilege is showing. By this I reference the frequently-shared quote:

Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it’s not a problem to you personally.

I would add that there’s some kind of twisted Howard County privilege in demanding that we not even talk about things that make them uncomfortable. I reject that. We absolutely can talk about these uncomfortable issues without knowing every detail of these crimes. We can show support for our neighbors and sit with them in their feelings of fear and loss. 

To have an opportunity to do these things and instead to choose lukewarm excuses and testy equivocation is a failure in humanity. I’m grateful that I see many more voices of support coming from our community than these few who would rather deflect and deny.

Friday, February 12, 2021



I’ve been trying to figure out how I feel about Valentine’s Day this year. As I can’t even leave the house to buy a card or gifts, I’m going to need to get creative. And something about being homebound for a year lends a different perspective to the whole mood. Here’s a look back on some of my earlier takes on The Big Day:

Hearts and Flowers

(Tuesday, February 9, 2016)
Yesterday a friend asked for responses on this question: 

Poll: Do you celebrate Valentine's Day?

She then added:

I have a theory that I'll reveal once I've received some responses. But, you know, try to go about your regular routines while you anticipate that.

My response:

I adore Valentine's Day. No one else in my immediate family feels the same way. But when I was divorced as a single parent I kind of hated it.

This morning Facebook reminded me of this, written back when "Notes" were a thing:


Really tired of hearing men dish about how dumb Valentine's Day is, blah, blah, blah. Have they any idea how torturous a day it can be for women? 

Ready to fill you in, guys:

1. Valentine's Day for many single women is yet another day advertising that you are alone, you don't have anyone, and you are thus excluded for the world of love and couple-dom.

2. However, if you do have someone and he does nothing or something careless or thoughtless, the whole Valentine world is laughing at you. You may have thought you were lovable but in fact you were barely worth a last-minute trip to the Safeway for the last card left on the rack.

3. Although men think women demand they be mind readers, no man was ever killed for asking, "What would you like to do for Valentine's Day, honey?" and then doing it. 

4. No, guys, you do not have to spend a million to be a Valentine success. You just have to use the same darn creativity you use to solve problems at work, fix things you really want fixed, or solve those fun games you love to play. Yes, you need to give the matter your attention. This does not cost $.

5. Speaking of attention, if you just gave your sweetheart 15 minutes of undivided attention--no tv, computers, handheld devices or other distractions, you would be amazed at the results. Having a man give you that kind of sincere attention is truly sexy.

6. Notice invisible things. How many invisible things does your sweetheart do for you all the time?Now would be a good time to say, "Wow--I love how you always______________. It makes me feel so loved and appreciated." This goes a long way towards helping a women realize all those invisible things you are doing all the time for her, which may not, at first glance, seem romantic.

7. If you are not married or in a long-term relationship, but want to have a fun Valentine's Day with your lady friend, (without going overboard)I suggest lightening up and having some fun: be a kid.How about getting together to make cookies, play with playdough, plan a treasure hunt, have a game night with some really good chocolate and a bottle of wine?

8. Something you need to remember--a woman wants to find something that makes you happy on Valentine's Day, too. If you can stretch out of your comfort zone to meet her where she is, you may discover that she is pretty understanding about what would make a fun day for you. Within reason of course.

9. If you really hate Valentine's Day, or have some kind of phobia that can't be explained by medical science, you can still be a winner. Be honest. And then choose some other day of the year to go all out for your sweetheart. On Valentine's Day, give her a hug and a kiss and tell her how great she is. The memory of your wonderful time together will make all the difference.

10. Don't tell me you don't have enough time to give Valentine's Day the justice a woman thinks it deserves. Every woman in this world knows that you have 364 days to prepare for this day, and even if you only gave five minutes of thought and some loose change daily, you would be ready.So, be a man with a plan. A cool plan. A loving plan.

Happy Valentine's Day to all--may it be at least a taste of what you wish. And don't be too hard on yourself if it isn't. There is always chocolate, wine, friends. And next year.


I've mellowed a lot since I wrote this. I still adore Valentine's Day, but I don't need it to go any particular way anymore. I have enough love in my life. I've made peace with it, I guess. 

I'm looking forward to my friend's theory on all this.

And for a man's point of view, here's the post that started it all from HoCo local writer Mike Morucci. 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

A Welcome Respite


Back in the accumulation phase of my life, I collected cookbooks. My mother used to say she read cookbooks the way some people read murder mysteries. I was pretty much the same. I especially liked cookbooks that had historical interest, quirky and unusual cookbooks, and ones that just made you shake your head. The one that described making a tasty sandwich spread out of Crisco shortening comes to mind.

I much prefer the study of history when it pertains to what real people were doing in their daily lives, which is why older cookbooks appeal to me. Spare me the dry accounts of kings, battles, and treaties. I want to know what they ate, what they wore, how they lived. 

A few years ago I enjoyed a book I borrowed from the Howard County Library about the history of Betty Crocker, a culinary expert and personality created by the Gold Medal Flour Company. (Later General Mills.)  It’s a fascinating story, full of all sorts of the historical tidbits that I love. Highly recommended:  Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America's First Lady of Food, by Susan Marks.

So when I noticed that the Howard County Library was offering an online presentation about Betty Crocker I jumped at the opportunity to learn more. Presented by the Harford County Library, it was made available to other libraries as well.

Created in 1921 by a flour company, “Betty Crocker” became the most famous and most trusted advisor to American cooks. In 1950, this fictional character’s brand-new Picture Cook Book hit shelves, with sales that rivaled that of another big book, The Bible and to date, it has sold more than 75 million copies. 

This fun illustrated lecture by historian Leslie Goddard, Ph.D., looks at how Betty Crocker was invented, why the cookbook has endured, and what makes the idea of Betty Crocker so iconic.

Dr. Goddard was well-prepared, informative and entertaining, and the event was a welcome diversion from the seriousness of the day’s news. While some of her talk dealt with things I already knew, there was plenty of new information for me as well as visual and audio visual examples highlighting her talk. It was a brief vacation from pandemic life with all its sadness and stress.

When it was over I came away grateful for the experience.

Have you attended online presentations like this during the pandemic? I know that most of us have endured work Zoom meetings and other online experiences that have drained rather than enriched us. But what about something you have chosen for your own enjoyment? Do any local institutions stand out in their pandemic outreach? I certainly enjoyed the Columbia Orchestra’s online Winter Concert and I see that they have another concert coming up on March 13th.

A tip of the hat to the Howard County Library for the myriad of services and programming they’ve been offering during the pandemic. Have you bought your tickets for their annual fundraiser yet? This year’s event, Serata Virtuale, will be an “online tour of Italy from the comfort and safety of your own home.”There are a variety of experiences and a variety of price-points for participation, so you can choose what works best for you and support the library at the same time. Funds raised will go towards learning activity kits for K-12 students, and Chromebooks and hotspots for residents without internet access.

Who knows, years from now we may be learning from presentations from the library on How We Lived During the Pandemic. What do you think you’ll remember most?


Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Momma and the Message


Something tells me that today is the day to lead with something makes me smile. 

A few weeks ago I received an email from Monica Rogers Williams, baker extraordinaire of From Momma’s Kitchen about her website relaunch. Clicking on the link resulted in the delightful image above. “This website uses cookies.” Well, of course it does. And they’re pretty darn delicious ones, too.

I reached out to Ms. Williams to see if there was anything I could share with my readers about her website’s new look. It turns out she has something else on her mind. But it’s not about business.

She wants to encourage us to follow our dreams.

Ms. Williams, or Momma, as I sometimes think of her, has been dividing her time over the last year between her baking business and a whole new kind of online DJ experience on Twitch which I must admit I don’t totally understand. As an experienced local DJ, she has taken her skills and talents to a whole new platform during the pandemic.

Just as she has continually created new ways to connect with the community through her baking and other culinary skills, Ms. Williams jumped into a new musical venture in a challenging time. With energy, creativity, and persistence, new ways emerged where old ways were cut off. 

Here’s where we come in: she thinks that we can do this, too. (Frankly it sounds like she has more faith in me than I have in myself at the moment.)

Perhaps the secret here is that Ms. Williams started out her career in education. Her underlying message is pure teacher, through and through:

It is my hope that others will realize their gifts and talents. 

What started on my part as an offer to give a local baking business a boost turned into almost a sermon of sorts: dream big, believe in yourself, do the work, make something grow. As Momma said to me at the close of her note:

I truly believe there is enough room and abundance in this world for everyone.

So, no hard sell for cookie sales, because that’s not what Momma wanted. But maybe you could reach out and congratulate her for ten years of living her dreams in the baking business. And perhaps you can give some thought to what living your dreams would look like. I know I’m going to.

Right now living my dreams definitely includes chocolate. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

The Wall


Lots of people - including me - are hitting what I’m calling the pandemic wall this week. The burnout from working non stop, no break from news, childcare and isolation is hard. - - Tanzina Vega*

I seem to have hit the “pandemic wall” as far as the blog is concerned. The term originated with a series of tweets by host of The Takeaway, Tanzina Vega. Other terms that come to mind are the Slough of Despond or the Doldrums. A daily task which ought to be be easy for me has become well nigh unto impossible.

It’s ok not to be ok right now. I think we need to accept that. 

So I’m crowdsourcing this today. Have you experienced the feeling of hitting the pandemic wall? Have you found ordinary tasks becoming more difficult? What have you done to counteract that? Do you have any techniques to share?

Can’t think straight? Can’t sleep? Brain fog? Depression? Even random physical symptoms? I think it’s all pandemic burnout. 

What works? What doesn’t?

Burnout means not seeing the end of it and not being able to function at optimal capacity

I’m hoping to get some pointers that I can use but I can also see where a variety of responses might make a good blog post that anyone could benefit from. 

I don’t want to be a downer but I want to acknowledge that people are really feeling worn out. Hopefully you see you’re not alone.

Send me your best stuff and I promise to put it to good use.

*All quotes in bold are from Tanzina Vega. 


Monday, February 8, 2021



I overslept this morning, so I’m going to send you over to Suzi Gerb’s blog while I attempt to caffeinate myself for the day. Highly recommended:

The county deals with vaccine shortage by shorting teachers

If you have been wondering what it’s like to be a teacher trying to get vaccinated, this post will definitely school you in the realities of the situation. Alas, it’s not pretty.

Over the weekend I saw some references on social media that a certain member of the County Council is calling teachers “entitled” for wanting to be vaccinated before returning to face-to-face instruction. I didn’t witness these online conversations myself so I’m not going to name this individual. I can tell you that insisting that teachers put themselves, along with staff, students, and families in harm’s way during a pandemic when there is a way to provide instruction that prevents the spread of illness and death is the most entitled view imaginable.

No one is claiming that distance learning is perfect. It is the best solution we have in a dangerous public health environment. If our local “reopen” folks had put even half the energy into making this work more fruitfully for their children as they have in blaming everyone else, they might have been part of a solution instead of contributing to the larger problem.

Wanting to be vaccinated against a disease one will be forced to confront daily is not entitled. Wanting others to put themselves in harm’s way for your convenience is.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Takes on Flakes

I fell back asleep this morning and when I woke up again it was snowing. I’ve never outgrown that childhood feeling that snow is innately magical. I’m happy to pull open the curtains and just watch.

I feel obliged to call attention to a weather-related advert on social media that makes no sense to me. I’m not going to name the business because that strikes me as mean-spirited, but, I’m not sure they thought this one through.

Don't brave the bad road conditions.  Order your favorite items online from Doordash.

That’s not how this works. If the road conditions are bad, they aren’t going to be any better for Door Dash drivers. Either you got your snow snacks before it all started or you’re going to need to lay low until it’s safe to go out again. I understand that local businesses need revenue but this borders on the unsafe.

Speaking of bordering on the unsafe, why is the Baltimore Sun running an article about the best foods to bring to Super Bowl parties? 

Is it possible that the Food Section is unaware of the news reports in other parts of the paper that plead with local residents to stay home and prevent the further spread of the coronavirus? The current expression may be “read the room” but I’d suggest “read your own newspaper” would also be appropriate here. 

One last snow-related story this morning. This piece came up in my Twitter feed:

Why cities, not individuals, should clear snow from sidewalks

I realize that this story* dates from 2019, but it reminded me of a post I wrote about the importance of sidewalks. (“The Big Drawback”) Most of the pushback I got on that piece came from people objecting to the burden that the responsibility of snow removal placed on individual residents. Do you think that there’d be less resistance to sidewalks if the clearing of snow shifted to a government function? 

My opinion on snow shoveling may be of limited value as I have not done all that much in my adult life, due to a bad back. So I’m definitely open to yours. Where we live now snow removal is a part of what we pay for in our HOA fees, and I am mightily grateful for that.

Enjoy the snow. Enjoy your day. Be safe. 

* I note that there’s also a reference to the Complete Streets movement in this piece.