Monday, May 31, 2021

Guest Post: Jim Smith on Military Service and Lives Lost

Jim Smith served in the U.S. Army from January 2001 to July 2005. He was originally stationed in Fort Meade, Maryland. A combat photographer, he went to Iraq for the initial war in 2003 from January until July, and again in 2004 for an additional year. He lives in Long Reach with his wife and son.

He wrote the poem that follows ten years ago. You’ll find it’s not the typical Memorial Day post. 

I am sharing it with his permission because I think his personal insight is especially valuable to those of us who have not served. Smith raises an important issue when he notes that not all military casualties occur on the battlefield. We should remember and honor all lives lost today.


Damaged for a purpose?

To our wives and families we are heroes.

Carrying weapons thousands of miles away.

Fighting for something bigger than any one of us.

Sacrificing for a symbol, a flag, and a political cause.

We send back photos in uniform, with weapons, looking tough.

Women swoon, children admire, families are damn proud.

On the phone we promise the world on our return.

We are warriors, better than normal men, more like gods.

Then we return and the hugs, kisses and praise begin.

Great job baby! You made us all so proud son!

For a time you can walk on water, in some eyes you can forever.

You settle down, get a job and begin the good life you promised.

Soon things stop feeling great. The hero inside begins to fade.

Problems arise with family and friends, you become hated by some.

Once your wife looked at you as a deity, now she barely looks.

Twice a year people give you great thanks, it helps, but not enough.

You yearn for the uniform, for the excitement and the prestige.

Every boring day at work you look for some great battle but it never comes.

Nothing seems to excite you anymore, and even the good things are tarnished.

Everything you promised and wanted starts to fall apart, it is meaningless.

You keep living everyday leaning on your former life but it is gone.

There are no more accolades, no more campaigns, little meaning.

Few get over the pain of life after war, some even quit this existence.

The rest are the true veterans, ruined for life because of the red white and blue.         

- - Jim Smith                                                                    

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Come On Over

It’s hard to say which creates more buzz in Columbia/HoCo: the opening of a new restaurant or a new playground.  After a year of limited recreational activities, local parents are spreading the word about the new Play for All playground in Blandair Park. When they say it’s a “Destination Playground” they are not kidding. I’d hazard a guess that my little corner of the world has hosted more new visitors in the last week or so than in the last year. This playground is a family-magnet.

If you haven’t heard, or you just haven’t made it over here yet, here’s some info:

The folks from the County kindly directed me to the Rec and Parks Flicker page for photographs and video of the opening day. What I particularly like there is the overhead view provided by drone. It gives you an idea of the scope of the facilities.

I was really looking for some kid’s-eye view photos of the equipment, so I was thrilled to discover a thorough description of the playground on a Facebook page called Kid Friendly Maryland. If you click here you will get their write-up, followed by a ton of photos that truly put you in the middle of things. Take the time to look at all of them. Then pack your kids in the car and come on over.

If you are like me and don’t have young children, you may find yourself wishing you could be a kid again and do the playing yourself!

Some highlights: 

  • The playground is completely fenced and double-gated, which is great both for parents of young children and special needs children.
  • There are quite a few areas of shade throughout the playground. Being able to take frequent breaks out of the sun makes the play experience healthier for everyone.
  • Water fountains that also allow you to fill water bottles are available.
  • Bathroom facilities on site.
  • Ample parking.
You won’t be surprised that my favorite part of the playground are the musical play structures from Freenotes Harmony Park. Having taught music to young children with special needs, I have become enamored of these interactive musical creations. They’re musical, they give a sensory experience, and they encourage creativity and collaboration. 

If you are curious as to why it is called a Play for All playground, you might want to take a glance at this blog post:

How to Make Playgrounds Accessible and Inclusive for All 

(I’m not promoting their products; I just think it’s a solid introductory look at inclusive playgrounds.)

A Play for All playground is just that. It allows children of varying ages, needs, and abilities to play in the same space. It brings together all sorts of children by creating an appealing and safe environment.  I’m thrilled that Howard County committed to providing this kind of playground for residents. I’m particularly excited that it’s in East Columbia, an area that doesn’t always get a lot of investment.

Of course it isn’t just for us - - we're looking forward to lots of visitors from all over the county. Maybe you’ll be one of them. 

Look for a “what you need to know” post about visiting the new playground in the near future.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Telling the Difference

On May 25th a community member called the police in response to racist hate speech which was defacing signs in Harper’s Choice. Defacing signage is property damage, but racist hate speech is a crime that harms more than a property owner. Interestingly enough, members of a local Facebook group mocked the woman who called the police. 

Why? Because the person in question is an advocate to remove police/SROs from schools.

The fact that these “mean kids” could barely wait their turn to spew ridicule and scorn is not surprising but still appalling. Their words showed that they could not perceive the difference between responding to a crime scene and policing young people inside of school buildings. I would think this was a rather obvious distinction.

I can’t quite figure out why the article in the Sun by Ana Faguy shapes the story this way:

Racist flyers found in Columbia on anniversary of George Floyd’s death; Howard police investigating

There is absolutely no mention of the signs that were defaced by graffiti. We know they were because we have photographs. Why didn’t that make it in to this account? Flyers are something meant for distribution. The pieces of paper that were affixed to public signs were mean to deface them. There’s a difference.

Another interesting piece of news involving the police was absolutely everywhere on social media yesterday. Your spirits will surely be lifted by this heartwarming story of how members of the Howard County Police helped an elderly couple who were scammed in a home improvement scheme.

                                         Image used is from Howard County Police Twitter account

You can’t miss this story because it has been distributed to just about every media outlet in the area. My immediate thought:  What a lovely gesture! Let’s get police/SROs out of Howard County schools and free them up to do more work in the community. It’s a win-win all around.

But it’s worthwhile to point out that, just as there is a difference between responding to the scene of a crime and policing school children, there is also a difference between police work and community service. This is a great piece of public relations. It has nothing to do with how police treat Black and Brown students in our schools. 

We’re smart enough to make these distinctions, aren’t we? Some folks seem to think we aren’t.

You know who is absolutely clear on these issues? The students at Wilde Lake High School who participated in a walkout event in support of removing SROs from our schools. They get it.

When are we going to get it?

Friday, May 28, 2021


Monday the last of our family pod was fully vaccinated. Tuesday we went out to celebrate. The weather was lovely and we fancied eating outside. We remembered there was a picnic table in front of Pepperjacks, a family favorite for subs and enormous portions of fries. (Don’t ever order the “bucket” unless you bring a team of committed eaters.)

When we arrived we discovered that Pepperjacks had created a new outdoor eating area.


We went inside (yes , we were masked and so were employees) and placed our orders. Then we went outside to enjoy the gorgeous weather.

We had come a bit on the early side so we had the outdoor patio to ourselves. While we were there a steady stream of customers came to pick up takeaway orders. 

Just the feeling of being outdoors, away from home - - no masks- - on a lovely spring evening was delicious, if a bit strange. It felt like the world in which this was normal was a long, long time ago.

I’m not sure how long the outdoor eating area has been open at Pepperjacks but I hope more people take advantage of it as the season progresses. 

Enjoying our food as soon as it was cooked was a thrill after more than a year of takeaway orders. And, wow, were those fries ever hot! It may be hard to see in the photo but I indulged in my first root beer float of the season, while my daughter had an orange creamsicle float.

I probably imagined all sorts of fancy restaurants during the long days of quarantine, fantasizing about a time when it would be safe enough to return. And those visits are coming soon enough. But I am so grateful for Tuesday night at Pepperjacks: the warm, gentle breeze on my skin and a feeling of hope. 

I think I may remember it for the rest of my life.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

It’s Not Enough

So the Howard County Council voted for a budget that does not include the Housing Trust Fund, the one that Bridges to Housing Stability was asking the community to support. In their words:

The Housing Trust Fund will promote and support equitable, geographically disbursed and affordable rental and for-sale housing opportunities; will assist in alleviating the the difficulties of many low- and moderate-income households to obtain and maintain housing; and will meet these needs by providing funding for rental housing development, preservation and rehabilitation, rental assistance, homeownership, home improvements and other affordable housing opportunities.

Their reasoning was not convincing enough to the members of the council who voted to strip it from the budget.

I have a question for those who say they support affordable housing but keep opposing opportunities for the same whenever they arise. Can you please point me towards communities in the US where they are “getting it right” in the way you envision? I have read descriptions of how we shouldn’t do that; we should do this. I have read many of them. 

It’s not enough for me. Show me. Give me concrete examples of cities and towns that are handling affordable housing “your way” and that are succeeding in addressing housing insecurity needs in a meaningful way. To be honest with you, the YIMBY folks are way ahead of you on this. I’m frequently seeing examples of other communities working on transforming housing norms to better serve a wider range of residents. Evidence, evidence, evidence.

Not so with the naysayers. All I see is: 

I’m for affordable housing but this one is wrong. Or,

They should really do it like this.

Show me. Show me places where you think they are doing affordble housing right and I will put on my thinking cap and set my mind to understanding.

What we have now is a group like Bridges to Housing Stability - - with long-time professional experience in serving Howard County citizens overburdened by housing insecurity - - advocating for a Housing Trust Fund, while members of the County Council think they know better.

It’s not enough for me. If your way is the best way, show me where it works.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Reading the Signs

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, a murder committed in public in front of witnesses who implored the murderer to stop. Details of the murder have played out in public over and over again during the last year. It would be horrific even if it were the only such murder to ever have occurred. Instead it is just one in a long line of similar brutality perpetrated by police against Black citizens of our country.

Yesterday might have been a day when our Black friends and neighbors were reliving the fear and pain that such brutality evokes.  It could have been a day of anger or sorrow. It could have been all of that and yet also powerful with the resolve that these murders must cease and the system that promotes such brutality must be challenged and changed forever.

Yesterday when no one was looking someone left racist graffiti on signs in Harper’s Choice in Columbia.

Photo credit Tanisha Lockett

“White lives matter”

“No white guilt”

The day was already painful enough without plastering this kind of hate speech in our community for everyone to see. And yes, it is hate speech, because it mocks and denies the continued injustice and inequality experienced by Black people in this country. It pretends there is no such thing as racism and denies that we as white people have been complicit and need to take responsibility.

I sat and looked at these photos for a long time. This is more than property damage. This is racism and the defense of brutality writ large. It is painful on a day that already had too much pain too bear.

Yesterday my day began listening to Howard County Library CEO Tonya Aikens talk about their new initiative: Brave Voices Brave Choices. 


We have a choice in Columbia/HoCo as to whether we will ignore or deny the issues of race that clearly mar our community or whether we will face them. Refusing to choose is a sign to our neighbors that we give our approval for racism to continue unchallenged. 

Last night I sat and looked at those photos from Harper’s Choice.  I tried to process the events of the day. And then I signed up for the next Brave Voices Brave Choices story event on June 3rd. I don’t know if I have a story to tell but I definitely have ears to listen.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The Champions of Doing Nothing


It looks as though some members of the county council are on the verge of cutting funding for affordable housing. Again. In protest, or, perhaps in weariness, I am running this post again:

Pie (August 9, 2019)

I’ve been thinking a lot about pie charts lately. I had an epiphany when reading an appeal to the community to donate school supplies. The writer, a local realtor, related that the cost to outfit a student with the requisite supplies would cost about sixty to eighty dollars and that there were many families in Howard County that couldn’t afford that.

Suddenly a light bulb went off in my head. (Or, over my head. Whatever they do in cartoons.)

This is not as simple as saying “we have poor people in Howard County.” Much of this is probably connected to what is called Housing Insecurity. And this is where that pie chart comes in.

Imagine that the whole pie is a family’s total income. The sections are expenditures they are required to make: food, housing, medical, clothing, etc. If, as in Howard County, the cost of housing takes up too big a chunk of the total, it will render the family unable to meet other obligations. Like school supplies, for instance.

In this way, housing insecurity is actually creating poor people. If the amount of money spent on housing were in a reasonable range in relationship to income, the pie chart would change. Families would be able to buy school supplies, among other things. Making sure that we have opportunities for housing available at different price points is crucial to resetting those pie charts, if you get my analogy.

A word to the people who say, “You shouldn’t live here if you can’t afford it.” Let’s say we remove those people, then. Who is going to do the jobs they are doing right here in Howard County? Not you. You couldn’t afford to live here on those wages. Well, these are working people. They have jobs that contribute to our local economy. If you think of the entire local economy as an enormous pie chart, they have a place.

They have a place. And the way things are right now, we require them to be poor.

You think they should live some place cheaper and commute in? Then you are adding transportation costs into the mix. And traffic on the highway, and carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

I love how our community chips in to help students start school with the supplies they need. I’m not discouraging that. But when we work on that sliver of the pie chart every year without addressing the overall pie, we are perpetuating the cycle in which others will need our charity. Don’t stop giving. But think bigger than backpacks. What can we do to reset the cycle?

It’s not an either/or. We will always have community members who need a boost. But it should definitely be a both/and. Howard County can both help students get a good start for the school year and address issues of housing insecurity which put their families in such precarious financial situations.


Housing insecurity creates poor people. Period. If we as a community aren’t actively working to address the root cause, then we are giving ongoing poverty our tacit approval. 

I don’t want to see the place I love continue to be a place that champions doing nothing.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Color Coded

An ad from the Oriental Trading Company caught my eye on Facebook this weekend. Can you guess what it’s for?

I had to stop and think for a moment. My first thought was that it was intended for classroom use. Many of us have seen the heartwarming videos where children participate in a daily morning greeting where they are able to choose a hug or a high-five to begin their day. Could these colored wrist bands be a non-verbal way to communicate a student’s preference for interaction?

Another thought: you may remember my writing about my discomfort at being hugged at political events by people I don’t know. Would these wrist bands indicate levels of consent so that there would be no ambiguity about how to best interact at events like these?

Lastly, I smiled to remember a presentation I attended years ago where an alumna of Mount Holyoke described her college experience during the war years. (WWII) With many young men off to fight, there were few opportunities for the kinds of dances and parties that one usually associates with college. She described events where Mount Holyoke students would be bused to the infirmary at Westover Air Force Base.

There would be all these men in bathrobes, with colored tags. Green meant they could dance all they wanted, yellow meant they could dance a little, and red meant they couldn’t dance at all.

Of course these wrist bands were not specifically created in response to any of those possibilities. Here’s the product description from Oriental Trading:

COVID. Of course. Having a wedding in person even though public health concerns might suggest otherwise? This mass-produced solution is for you! I wonder when this product was introduced and whether it was a big seller. I can tell that the folks at Oriental Trading think it has already outlived its usefulness because the price for this item has been substantially reduced. 

To be clear, this product makes no claim of reducing transmission. It addresses how to respond to social discomfort during a pandemic. I just find the creation, marketing, and sale of such a product to be rather surreal under the circumstances.

What to do with all the leftover items? I still think they might be useful at political fundraisers. Perhaps we should turn the color system on its head.

Green: I have healthy boundaries. Respect them.

Yellow: I don’t know what my boundaries are, or: my boundaries are inconsistent.

Red: I have no boundaries whatsoever. Watch out!

Do you have any ideas?

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Looking for Home

I know you are probably reading a lot of stories these days about how the world is “coming back to life” as the pandemic recedes. I’m sharing this particular story because it hadn’t even occurred to me and I think it’s important.

The local AFS area team is still looking for host families for foreign exchange students for the 2021-22 academic year. As you might imagine, those programs were largely put on hold last year because of COVID. According to the AFS website there are eight students still awaiting placement in our area. I’ve learned a lot about AFS from Christina McGarvey, hosting coordinator and area team chair for the Baltimore area team.

AFS USA a nonprofit organization that's part of the international nonprofit AFS Intercultural Program.  AFS is over 100 years old.  American Field Service (AFS) started out as American who volunteered as ambulance drivers during World War I.  After the experiences of World War I and World War II, seventy years ago the volunteers decided the way to avoid these horrible wars is by promoting understanding between people from different cultures and that they would do this through high school exchange students.  Since then AFS has expanded to offer exchange opportunities for AFS students to go on exchange to 45 countries and AFS USA hosts students from 90 countries.  AFS is mainly a volunteer organization with over 50,000 volunteers worldwide.

Wow. I had no idea that AFS had its roots in hoping to prevent wars by promoting cultural understanding. I honestly thought it was all about students who loved to travel and excelled in foreign languages. (!!!) Learning this made me curious, so I asked a friend who participated in a foreign exhange program when he was younger to describe what the experience meant to him.

Living with a host family in another country, learning a different language and new customs, made me realize the importance of seeing and respecting the perspective of everyone - not just people who look like me and live like me.

Talking with him made me realize how foreign exchange programs like AFS are planting seeds for the future. All of the experiences in the “here and now” that open up new worlds for young people will bear fruit long after they have come back home. And they very well could help make our world a better place. (Definitely better-informed and more open-minded.)

The program depends upon host families to provide a safe and supportive home base for these students. In 2019 the Baltimore Sun did a story about being an exchange student at Christmastime: 

An American Christmas: Foreign exchange students in Baltimore encounter ‘strange and amazing’ customs - - Jonathan M. Pitts

Take a moment to read this article and think whether you can see yourself as someone who can provide that kind of a home base for an international student.  If you are interested in hosting you can send an email to or request more information at to learn more. The deadline for Howard County Schools is right on the horizon - - June 1st - - so you don’t have much time to mull this over. 

Perhaps you were considering it pre-pandemic but larger concerns put it out of your mind. If I have managed to put it back into your mind I will consider that a win. 

Have any of my readers hosted AFS students? I’d love to hear about your experiences. 

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Saturday Happenings

 After two nights of pretty terrible sleep, my idea of a blog post is one that would write itself.

A few things:

There’s a Farmers Market at Clarksville Commons today from 10-2. To learn more about their offerings, check out their Facebook page. You’ll discover more than the Market. The Commons hosts outdoor movie nights and live music as well.

Peter and the Wolf will be presented at the Chrysalis today (Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods.) The good news is: both performances are sold out, which reaffirms the Chrysalis as a community venue and their choices of programming. The bad news is: both performances are sold out, which means that, if you don’t already have tickets, you are out of luck. Check out their web site to stay on top of future events.

The folks at Bridges to Housing Stability have put out a call for advocacy letters to the County Council in support of the Housing Trust Fund. It’s time sensitive - - letters must be received by May 24th. From their Facebook page:

We need your support! Ask your County Council Member to support the Housing Trust Fund. The deadline for support is this coming Monday, May 24. Send your message to:

The Housing Trust Fund will promote and support equitable, geographically disbursed and affordable rental and for-sale housing opportunities; will assist in alleviating the the difficulties of many low- and moderate-income households to obtain and maintain housing; and will meet these needs by providing funding for rental housing development, preservation and rehabilitation, rental assistance, homeownership, home improvements and other affordable housing opportunities.

I’m a huge fan of the work done by Bridges to Housing Stability. They’re the Chili Cook-off people, in case your memory needs jogging. If they support the Housing Trust Fund, that tells me it’s worth fighting for. These people know their stuff. 

Update: there’s also a pop-up plant sale at Freetown Farm this weekend. From their Facebook page:

Where: 8000 Harriet Tubman Ln, Columbia, MD 21044

When: Saturday 11am-5pm (5/22/2021) & Sunday 11am-2pm (5/23/2021)

Price: $2 per plant

Payment Methods: Cash, card, Venmo, PayPal, CashApp

Plants Available: Asparagus, basil, butternut squash, chamomile, chard, cilantro, cucumbers, dill, fennel, fox glove (flower), green zucchini, okra, scallop squash, Sweet William (flower), tomatoes, winter squash, & yellow squash

Last, but definitely not least, today the amazing annual plant sale returns in Oakland Mills. Here’s a photo from OMCA to entice you.

The plants sale is at the Other Barn from 9am-1pm. They ask that you observe social distancing and masks  will be required for everyone’s comfort and safety. Bring cash or your checkbook. Buy plants. Leave happy!

Have a wonderful Saturday. I suspect mine will include a long nap or lots of short ones.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Good News or Bad News?


The fireworks are back. That’s pretty big news after a year of canceled events due to the pandemic. I hope this makes the local population happy but of course I await complaints from those who think that the accompanying precautions will put a crimp in their style. We’ll see if the return of the fireworks will be enough to sate their desire for normalcy or whether the announcement that there will be no bands, food vendors, or other entertainment will provoke their ire.

In other words, how much do they think the county owes them on the Fourth of July?

There’s probably some overlap between our COVID complainers and the folks who were enraged some years back by the proposal to eliminate sugary drinks from vendors’ menus for the Fourth of July event. Never mind that they could bring in the drinks of their choosing, it was clearly governmental overreach to promote healthier drink choices. Will this year’s “scaled back” fireworks celebration receive the same contempt? 

I hope not.

Perhaps I’m anticipating a problem where none exists. I’d be thrilled if that is the case. I admit I am worn out by the continued cries of  “you owe us!” from residents that are accustomed to having their own way.

What excited me about the fireworks announcement was a photograph.

                                                       Photo credit: Columbia Association 

It’s the first photo I have seen of newly appointed Columbia Association President and CEO Lakey Boyd serving in her official role. It’s the beginning of a new era in Columbia/HoCo and a reminder that the annual fireworks event requires collaboration between the County and CA.

From the CA press release:

In addition to 4th of July events, CA will bring back its Lakefront Summer Festival, a series of free concerts and movies starting Saturday, June 20. That entertainment will be offered five nights a week through mid-September.

“This family-friendly tradition is an important point of connection for our community that was missed by many last year,” Boyd said. “I’m excited to spend time at the Lakefront with my family this summer and meet people from across our Columbia community.”

Look at that. The new CA President has a family. She’s human! Of course having one’s family on display is not a requirement of the job but it does give one the sense that she’s planning on being a part of the community. 

For many years I saw attendance at the Lakefront fireworks as an experience that only “true Columbians” had, and I wasn’t one of them. Then a few years ago a friend extended an invitation to me and I actually got to see them up close. It was definitely a significant item to check off on the “true Columbian” checklist. I don’t particularly feel a need to go back this year but sometimes we can see a few from our house. 

Does anyone ever complain that the fireworks are too loud? 

Never mind. I’ll quit while I’m ahead.

Thursday, May 20, 2021



I’m spoiled for choice this morning, as Twitter has yielded two perfectly quirky local stories. Let’s have both.

From MLQ - - Major League Quidditch - - comes this announcement:

MLQ is excited to announce the newest addition to MLQ Championship: Take Back the Pitch!

Take Back the Pitch is a showcase that challenges the current understanding of gender in quidditch and opens opportunities for gender diverse athletes to play quidditch out from under the scrutiny of misogyny, transmisogyny and misdirected misogyny. Through The Gender Diversity Initiative, MLQ seeks to address the very real ramifications of sexism and transphobia for cis and trans women, non-binary folk and trans men. Through the open-access Take Back the Pitch tournament, MLQ aims to highlight and lift up athletes that are overlooked by their teams and in the community on account of sex and gender and give them the leadership opportunities, playing time and diverse skill training they deserve all the time.

Given that quidditch is a game (invented in a series of fictional works by J.K. Rowling) which relies both on magic and flight, I’m going to assume that the game these folks are playing is a highly modified version. I find it exceedingly delicious that MLQ is committed to supporting gender diverse athletes, since author Rowling has disappointed fans worldwide in recent years by holding forth on social media with numerous transphobic statements. It’s clear that the Harry Potter fandom is more affirming and inclusive than its author.

The tournament will take place on Monday, Aug. 23 as part of MLQ Championship in Howard County, Maryland. To learn more, visit the Take Back the Pitch page on the MLQ website.

Next up is a new comedy web series to be filmed right here in Howard County, Turf Valley, to be exact. And that’s the name of the show. Turf Valley is a short-form, live-action comedy web series about three stay-at-home dads.

... after ushering their kids onto the neighborhood school bus, (they) hang back to shoot the existential breeze. 

Creators Adam Rodgers and Thomas Ventimiglia describe Turf Valley as a cross between King of the Hill and Waiting for Godot. I’m trying to imagine what that would be like. 

You can visit their Kickstarter page to see a pilot and get a taste of what the show is all about. They are still raising funds to complete the first season:

The Pilot is in the can... Episodes 2-4 are financed... we'd love your help funding Episodes 5,6 & 7!

There are days I sift through social media and lament that nothing is happening in Columbia/HoCo. Today was a great day for the kind of local stories I love to find and share.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Still Need More Voice for Choice

One year ago today I wrote a post critiquing an article from Newsweek entitled “Baltimore restaurant owner can’t get employees to return because they make more in unemployment.” Here’s my piece:

The Truth About Choice

It’s striking that one year later we are still seeing the same arguments of why low wage, high risk workers should be forced to return to work. In other states there’s talk of removing benefits to make it happen. This sentence I wrote last year still rings true:

I continue to be enraged by the attitude that “affluent people like us” are naturally responsible and trustworthy, while low-wage workers are treated like bad children. 

Whenever you see politicians and business owners holding forth on what “those people” need to do, you will know instantly that this kind of paternalism is at work. 

I had to laugh when I read this headline this morning:

Desperate for workers, US restaurants and stores raise pay , Christopher Rugaber, AP

Shocking, isn’t it? Employers might actually have to do a better job recruiting. That old supply-and-demand thing might be in play even for “those people”. If you want people to choose you, you had better made that choice worth their while.

But if you don’t think that “those people” deserve a choice then you are clearly revealing a mindset that champions a rigid class system. Your view of the economy is that it will only function successfully for you if others are forced to do things they do not want to do. 

... “affluent people like us” are naturally responsible and trustworthy, while low-wage workers are treated like bad children. 

I find this attitude loathesome and I don’t believe that it makes for a successful economy, either. I’m rooting for low wage workers to get better pay and more choice to make the decisions that are right for them and their families. 

In the meantime, I see that the Ellicott City Diner is hiring. I don’t know anything about the rate of pay but it would be interesting to find out. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Just the Facts

One sentence. In a release from the Howard County Police Department yesterday one sentence stood out. Why? It was completely unnecessary and not entirely truthful. 

In an account of arrests made on the property of a county high school, the following sentence was included: 

Currently, there are no school resource officers (SROs) in the schools under a resolution passed by the Howard County Board of Education.

Why do I say it was unnecessary? Well, if you read the release without that sentence, it is a complete account of how events unfolded and were handled by the police department. It is not necessary to the understanding of the incident in any way. It functions as an editorial comment. To my knowledge editorial comments don’t belong in this type of report.

“Just the facts, ma’am.” (I know, I’m showing my age.)

As to its truthfulness? This is the part that is wavering on the edge of falsehood: 

...under a resolution passed by the Howard County Board of Education. 

The reason there are no police in Howard County Schools right now is that the Memorandum of Understanding between the police department and the school system expired and the police department has not submitted a new one for the board to vote on. You certainly would not know that from this sentence. It’s rather like a student who has not turned their homework in but blames it on the teacher.

It is hard not to view the inclusion of this sentence as a deliberate effort to influence public opinion. It certainly provoked a lot of ill feeling on social media. It did nothing to clarify the community discussion on school policing. It just stirred up a lot of mud.

The truth is, without that one sentence, the report is a good example of how our local police department can respond to criminal activity on school property without SROs in the schools. 


I continue to find it disheartening that those who support school policing don’t seem to understand that it is a choice, not an essential requirement. Police were not always in schools. A decision was made that what was happening in the schools was something that should be “policed.” Since that decision was made school environments have not become safer. We have the power as a community to examine those decisions and choose something better.

Not only do we have the power, we have the responsibility to do so.

Perhaps the people who made those decisions originally had good intentions. I don’t know. I do know that school policing does not work to make schools safer and actively harms Black and Brown students. Schools are for learning, not policing. 

This is an extremely difficult conversation for us to have in Howard County. It does not make it any easier when the police department slips in a little lobbying with what should be “just the facts.”

Monday, May 17, 2021

HoCo Holler! Mohamed Elhassan and Arts Education in Howard County


Welcome to your semi-annual reminder that arts education is good for everyone. Today’s example merits a HoCo Holler! From the Howard County Schools website:

Hammond HS Senior Recognized Nationally in the Arts

Hammond High School senior Mohamed Elhassan has received numerous national and international accolades for his poetry and artwork. Notably, he’s proud of his poem, “We Ask to Not Be Black,” which earned him a silver national medal from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and is being considered for the organization’s anthology. Elhassan’s illustration, “And Mama Keeps ’Em Growing,” was selected for the cover of international literary journal, Waxwing.

I think we’d all agree that this is an admirable achievement and cause for celebration. What jumped out at me was the information that Elhassan intends to pursue a career in the sciences.

In the long run, Elhassan hopes to make an impact as a physician and scientist. 

I continue to bump into people who think that arts education is a waste because you can’t make any money in arts fields.  But Elhassan’s story is yet another reminder that arts education is a healthy part of an educationally balanced diet, if you will. 

The arts are not “separate from”. They are inextricably “linked with” our other learning experiences. Arts Education is the oxygen which allows the strictly cognitive paper and pencil work to "breathe" into the student and be meaningfully retained, the leavening which allows the learning process to rise, the glue that makes the learning stick. (“Making it Stick”, November 2020.)

As the pandemic winds down and we return to face-to-face learning, I am becoming concerned by all the talk of “learning loss” and people who hold forth on the need to “remediate.” Almost always when the conversation turns in this direction it begins to lean heavily on test results, skill and drill, content delivery, and what people like to call “core subjects”. 

Guess what usually happens to arts education?

It gets brushed aside as “nonessential” by those whose focus is on test scores. And nothing could be more counterproductive and unhealthy for our students.

Devaluing Arts Education doesn’t make STEM programs stronger. In fact, the inclusion of Arts Education provides students with vital creative and problem-solving experiences. Arts Education in combination with other STEM learning provides a kind of “leavening” that promotes deeper learning all around. They’re better together. (“Making it Stick”)

But you don’t have to take my word for it.

No matter what the future holds, he plans to continue with the arts. Elhassan said, “I’m an amalgamation of my experiences at Howard County, and whatever I do—STEM or artwork—I take them with me. My goal is to put out my thoughts for people to see. It keeps me going.”

A big HoCo Holler for Mohamed Elhassan and Arts Education programs in Howard County. 

Sunday, May 16, 2021


It was billed as a cookout in honor of Mother’s Day but we got rained out last weekend. Yesterday was the rain date. Everyone brought their own lawn chairs and came masked. We sat in a friendly circle, commenting on the pleasant weather and how good it was to see one another.

Family? Friends? Kind of. We were at church

Abiding Savior Lutheran Church, small but mighty, is on Owen Brown Road in Hickory Ridge. Guided through the pandemic by a relatively new pastor, congregants emerged from isolation on a lovely May afternoon to eat hot dogs and savor the joy of being together “in real life.” That new pastor?  She brought us through the storm and was at home in the circle of lawn chairs like the rest of us. We’ve grown together.

An interesting twist for me was the discovery that our church driveway is now an actual road with an official road sign and the back of our property is now home to a small community of rowhouses. Since I’ve been “away” for a year it feels as though they appeared by a magic. They didn’t, of course. There’s a long and rather complicated story as to how they got there.

But now they are there and the people who live there will be our neighbors. Who are we to say they don’t belong here? If a church can’t be welcoming, the world is a sad place indeed. This tiny little neighborhood  is near the Village Center - - walkable, even - - as well as convenient to the hospital and HCC. And it’s just a quick hop to the local Lutheran Church...

Having a bunch of townhouses on the back of (what had been) church property was not what long-time members had envisioned, I’m sure. By the same token, none of us imagined going to church via computer, but, we adapted. We learned how to worship and support one another in new ways. When we are challenged by change we always have the opportunity to be our best selves.

It’s not easy, but it’s possible. 

In my mind I’m toasting our new neighbors. I hope they’ll pay us a visit sometime, but, a friendly wave is fine, too. (And of course there’s our irresistible Flea Market.) Whether we meet the “new folks” or not, they are welcome neighbors. They belong. I hope they come to love this quirky little piece of real estate as much as I do. There’s enough room for us to grow together.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

The Unwanted Gift


We have gotten used to public objections to new housing development in Howard County. I noticed the other day that Council member Liz Walsh described the Ilchester Road area as being “consumed” by development. I must admit I find it puzzling that so many people look at new houses with revulsion, however, that is not what this post is about.

Apparently Howard County government wants to give the community a fire station but nobody wants it. Well, I suppose they aren’t opposed to fire stations in theory. They don’t want one in Cedar Lane Park East. Okay, giving up green space is hard. I get that. But it isn’t as though the County wants to put in a toxic waste dump. It’s a fire station, for heaven’s sake. The only reason to build a new one is to increase public safety.

True confession: I am not highly educated on this fire station controversy but I do feel sorry for the county for getting so much hate. I wonder how it feels when you try to give people a fire station and they don’t want one.

Now, here’s a twist: the county has requested that the Howard County School System consider using the land where Central Office is for the new fire station. Hmm. That property contains offices, Homewood School and ARL. How much of that land would a new fire station need? I’m not particularly sentimental about Central Office but Homewood and ARL are valuable parts of the school system. I’d hate to see them displaced.

So let’s imagine that Central Office must go. (All that money spent on the updated board room, ouch!) Where should it be relocated? Any ideas? Who else can we annoy or offend in this process? 

This is what happens when I write a post without proper research. I’m sure it is far more nuanced than this. At face value it feels like an ongoing game of musical chairs and I have no idea how it is going to turn out. 

Friday, May 14, 2021

Bad News Friday


I’m not enjoying the state of current events this morning.

The County Executive has been accused of being anti-Semitic because of a message he released on the occasion of the Muslim holiday Eid.

The Governor goes straight to an “I stand with Israel” message during the same time period.

The Maryland Girl Scouts organization has voted to sell the Camp Ilchester property.

The Woodlawn home explosion and shooting rampage committed by someone the community had known was troubled for years.

The surprise announcement by the CDC that vaccinated people can go without masks. The big surprise? There’s no way to know whether people around you have truly been vaccinated.

I know it’s Friday and I should be excited about the weekend, but my inclination is to go back to bed and pull the covers over my head. Let me know if you have some local good news. I could use some.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

More of the Same


Over the course of the last year I have watched a lot of shows about RV’s. It occurred to me the other day that there is an entire script of things that people say on these shows while going through different units to decide which one is best for them. 

Looking at storage: the children could sleep in here, ha ha.

Considering an oven: could you cook a turkey in there?

Converting dining table into bed: I think it would get old doing this every night.

In bathroom: let’s see if we can both fit in the shower together.

Of bunk beds for kids: it’s great they have their own TVs and connections for all their devices.

Looking at outside of unit: of course we need an outdoor tv.

Reflecting on the RV experience: we just want to have more meaningful time together as a family, making memories.

I have begun to think that it would add to the entertainment value if the couples said these familiar phrases in the wrong places, for example:

Looking at storage: let’s see if we can both fit in there together.

Considering an oven: I think it would get old, doing this every night.

Converting dining table into bed: we just want to have more meaningful time together as a family, making memories.

In bathroom: the children could sleep in here, ha ha.

Of bunk beds for kids: could you cook a turkey in there? 

Looking at outside of unit: it’s great the kids have their own TVs and connections for all their devices. 

Reflecting on RV experience: of course we need an outdoor tv.

You get my drift, I hope.

Strangely enough, the reason this is on mind today is a similar feeling that watching the process of HoCo by Design unfold with nonstop commentary from the HoCo APFO social media account is equally repetitive. The same people are saying the same things over and over again to the point where I would love to put all the responses in a bag, shake them up, and dole them out randomly (as above.)

Does anyone ever convince anyone else? Is there ever any growth through collaboration/negotiation? I honestly don’t know. Add to that my discomfort with the anonymity of the HoCo APFO account and I continue to be as nonplussed as ever. I know that I promised to take a more dedicated interest to this topic but, honestly, it’s just the same reruns with all the same dialogue.

Those of you with deep knowledge and/or intense interest will find my impression disappointing, I’m sure. But for me it is rather like watching friends who are consumed by a particular fandom when I haven’t even finished one episode. I’ll keep trying to “get into this show” as I said that I would. I just wish we could get beyond the same old, same old. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Road Trip Request

Every morning, in preparation for writing the blog, I do a quick search of a list of local terms on Twitter. Sometimes this yields an interesting story, but, not always. At the top of the list? Elkridge.

So far, that search term has not resulted in any useful information. If one were to go by Twitter alone, absolutely nothing is happening in Elkridge. Well, that’s not exactly true. Right now you can find out where CVS is administering the vaccine, what flavors Rita’s will be serving today, some job listings, real estate offerings, and health club ads. But this is not what I am looking for. I am sure that plenty of things are happening in Elkridge. I just can’t find them on Twitter.

I have long felt that I don’t know enough about Elkridge. I even wrote this back in 2011:

A Letter to Santa — Of Sorts — On Behalf of Columbia

I would like a tour of Elkridge from someone who loves it and knows it well. (I'll pay for gas and snacks.) This is definitely an area where I need to learn more and think more. Any takers?

So far it hasn’t happened. 

I did a search of my own blog and found that, out of 2892 posts, only 20 reference Elkridge. I think I can do better.

I have decided to undertake my own Elkridge tour but I’ll need your help. I’m looking for The Top Ten Places You Need to Visit in Elkridge. Let me know what they are. You can contact me through the blog or post your suggestions on the Village Green/Town² Facebook page. While you are at it, I’d also like your suggestions for The Top Ten Things You Need to Know About Elkridge. They can be serious or silly; I’m open to your guidance.

Now that I’m out and about (post-vaccine) a local tour sounds like just the thing. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Real People, Beautiful People

I’ve been looking at some photographs this morning. Taken by Jeffrey F. Bill of Baltimore Sun Media, they show the recent rally to support funding for the renovation of the East Columbia 50+ Center. You can see those images and read about the event here:

‘It is time to reinvest in this community’: Hundreds rally in support of East Columbia 50+ Center renovation - - Ana Faguy, Baltimore Sun

Those photographs. Such beautiful photos, I thought. Dancers. Speakers. Those in attendance listening attentively, holding signs, spread out over the space like a well-planted garden plot. People of all ages. A diverse and feisty bunch.

Wait. It’s not the photos I’m noticing. It’s the people. It’s the people who are beautiful. Organizing to speak out for what they believe in. Helping one another. Believing that the community has a responsibility to lift up everyone.

From the article:

The Rev. Paige Getty of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia, who is co-chair of People Acting Together Howard County, spoke about why funding the center’s renovation is an “equitable and just decision.”

“The East Columbia 50+ Center is a gathering place for members of this community who are often overlooked because of where they live, because of their race, because of limited resources or because they are otherwise vulnerable,” Getty said.

Getty said the East Columbia 50+ Center serves more older adults of color than any other 50+ center in the county.

“It is time to reinvest in this community and to fulfill the promise of a new expanded 50+ center in East Columbia,” she said.

All the other 50+ centers in the county have been renovated but, last year,  when the project was proposed for East Columbia, it did not receive enough votes. It was cut from the budget.

This all seems disturbingly familiar. Just last week OMCA Board Chair Jonathan Edelson presented testimony to the HCPSS Board of Education about the 2022 budget. In it he pointed out that Oakland Mills High School has nearly $111,000,000 in deferred maintenance costs. He went on to say that two of the schools in the Oakland Mills cluster account for 20 per cent of all deferred maintenance for the entire county. (A reminder: Oakland Mills is in East Columbia.)

There seems to be a pattern of postponing investment in East Columbia. The more it happens, the more it happens. And the less that East Columbia is considered worthy of investment, the less value the people who live there are perceived to have. (Or is it the other way around?)

A while back I wrote a post about how the location of where we live colors our perception of other areas in the county. What do we consider to be “on the other side of town?” Although the distances within the county are not all that great, they have a strong influence over what we consider to be our home base, as opposed to the areas where “those people over there” live.

Decisions about funding are often made by people whose home base is at a substantial distance from East Columbia. Do they have a clear picture of residents or is their perception made fuzzy and indistinct by that distance? Or are the needs of the people all the way across town diminished in their eyes due to something more than distance - - perhaps a lack of empathy brought about by a feeling of “difference”.

Whatever the cause, it is not an accident or a coincidence. It is an ongoing pattern of behavior which elevates some areas of the county while others are left wanting. When decision after decision reinforces an imbalance in opportunity and quality of life, it is crucial that the County examine those choices and make a conscious course correction to address the allocation of resources in a more equitable way.


  • All of the 50+ centers have been renovated but East Columbia. 
  • Deferred maintenance at OMHS is $111,000,000 yet it has not even been placed in the ten-year capital improvement plan.

These things happen only when we allow ourselves to think that “those people across town” aren’t real people like we are, don’t have the same needs, or dreams, or potential. This must stop. A successfully functioning government must have the ability to stand with people and respond to their needs, rather than contemplating them from a distance. This is true whether those people are school children or citizens over 50. 

Here’s where we are right now. The Council held a hearing on this topic yesterday. They will vote on it next week. The project went into budget season with two votes for the center (Jones, Rigby) but will need (at least) one more to move forward. Please reach out to the remaining council members and let them know that you support funding for the East Columbia 50+ center and that you are asking for their vote to make it happen. 

Deb Jung

Liz Walsh

David Yungmann

If you need a little inspiration before you write, look at the photographs in the Sun. Have a clear picture in your mind’s eye of the very real people you are advocating for: real people, beautiful people who are a valuable part of our community. 

Even if they do live on the other side of town.

Monday, May 10, 2021

At Last I Succumb


Everybody seems to be pretty excited about the cicadas. Whether pro or con, there’s been a whole lot of local hubbub. So far my feeling is a solid “meh.” I don’t really care one way of the other. Perhaps when there are scads of them I may have a more fervent opinion. 

My husband loathes them. When our younger daughter’s preschool teacher (the last time around) suggested that her students bring one in for “homework”, he was not impressed, possibly because he was in charge of homework that night. Somehow we all survived.

In Howard County, the Conservancy is encouraging you to undertake a Cicada Scavenger Hunt  and/or a Cicada Walk. You can also learn more about Brood X from the Conservancy’s program with University of Maryland expert Mike Raupp. If you just can’t get enough of cicadas, or the nationally-recognized expertise of Dr. Raupp, you can take a listen to this episode of podcast Elevate Maryland. I haven’t yet listened to this one but I heard their is some discussion about the fitness of cicadas for human consumption.

You have been warned.

Now, on the other hand, if you just can’t seem to take cicadas seriously, you might want to pay a visit to Sweet Cascades Chocolatier in Old Ellicott City. They’ve jumped on the bandwagon by creating their own edible insects. 

(Photos from the Sweet Cascades page on Facebook)

You can be a part of the cicada craze by picking up some Chocadas or Chocolate Strawberry Cicadas. The Chocadas come with crispy rice cereal inside to give you that delightful cicada “crunch.” 


Well, maybe I do have opinions when it comes to cicadas. I don’t think I could eat one, anyway. The crunchy chocolate ones? Hmm. Maybe.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

In Memoriam


It’s Mother’s Day today and all I can think about is Howard Cooper.  

Howard Cooper - -still a child, fifteen years old - - was hanged by a white mob outside the Towson jail in 1885. From yesterday’s story in the Baltimore Sun:

Cooper was convicted by an all-white jury that, within minutes, concluded he was guilty of raping Katie Gray, a white teenager, in an area then known as Rockland in Baltimore County. Neither Gray nor Cooper testified that Gray was raped. His sentence was death by hanging. He was lynched in the early hours of July 13, 1885, before his attorneys could appeal his conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Today is Mother’s Day. 

Howard Cooper had a mother. Can you imagine how she felt? 

Yesterday Governor Hogan granted posthumous pardons to 34 Maryland lynching victims. They all had mothers, too. And so it goes,  all through America’s history and into the the present moment.

Eric Garner has a mother. She speaks to us in Alan Scott’s music video  “You Only See Me When I’m Gone”. (Watch the whole thing. It’s beautiful and heart rending.)

George Floyd called for his mother as Derek Chauvin crushed the life out of him on a Minneapolis street.

So many mothers. Enough mothers to form a movement. Mothers who had to bury children killed by members of law enforcement or those who claimed to represent it. 

It’s Mother’s Day today and there are mothers who will give their children, especially their sons, extra warnings and advice before they leave for home. As they might do on any given day, because this is the America and this is the way it was made: to consume and destroy Black human beings while pretending to provide justice for all.

If Black mothers in Howard County tell us that school is no place for police, they know. Their lived experience, passed down through generations of brutal injustice, speaks to a truth that we as white parents can’t even imagine. But maybe we could try. Maybe we could put ourselves in the shoes of Howard Cooper’s mother, or Eric Garner’s mother, or George Floyd’s mother...

Today is Mother’s Day. What does that mean if your child has been murdered by the police? 

For Howard Cooper’s mother, and for all of those bereaved mothers whose anguished wails run throughout history as deeply as the blood of their slain children, we should take some time today to contemplate their loss. And we should think about what we can do to make the world different.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Howard County in Bloom


I seem to be going through one of those “I don’t wanna” phases with the blog. It looms over me like an irritable mother demanding that her teen clear their room. This happens every so often. As with many things, the only way out is through. So, bear with me. The posts between now and when I hit my groove again may be rough around the edges.

We have one azalea in our yard which appears to bloom later than all the other azaleas in town. It has a very odd shape and could probably use some professional pruning. But its color is so beautiful and we love it, despite its oddities.

In addition to being a lovely sign of Spring, our azalea also heralds one of my favorite times of year: Farmers’ Market season. The first one in the area began last Saturday at Clarksville Commons, then the Markets operated by the Howard County Farmers’ Market group on Wednesday at the Miller Branch and tomorrow at the Oakland Mills Village Center. 

It used to be that all the local farmers’ markets operated under the Howard County group’s umbrella but, in recent years, a number of independent markets have sprung up: Clarksville Commons, Ellicott City at the Wine Bin parking lot, and Maple Lawn. I think there may also be a small one at the East Columbia branch in Owen Brown.

Update: just spotted this handy-dandy comprehensive schedule in my Howard County Library weekly newsletter!

Of course, the Oakland Mills Farmers’ Market is my favorite. We all have our loyalties. I’m looking forward to actually being able to get out of the house and pick out fresh and delicious fruits and vegetables this summer after a year of being house-bound. Over the years we have also bought jam, baked goods, bacon and sausage, freshly cut flowers, and annuals for our little front flower bed. We’ve also enjoyed prepared food, listened to music, and run into neighbors and friends. Each year is a little bit different, but they’ve all been wonderful.

This year a new attraction at the Oakland Mills Market will be the debut of Althea’s Almost Famous food truck/trolley/cart/mobile catering. Althea has been a presence at the Market for a while now, selling her Jamaican Jerk sauce. She also run a local catering business. Now she’s taking her show on the road and you can see what all the excitement is about on Sunday at the Oakland Mills market.

So, consider yourself invited to the opening of this year’s Oakland Mills market: Sunday from 9-1. Have you ever been to the OM market? Or do you have another local market that you love to visit? Let me know in the comments.