Saturday, July 31, 2021

Expanding the Universe


Teacher life is spending $200 on supplies for your classroom and then deciding $20 shoes for yourself are too expensive.

That’s the tweet that brought from deep within me both a smile and a wince. If you’re a teacher, you know. You know there is never enough money for what needs to be done for your students and weighing the decision between materials for the classroom and a new pair of shoes is a familiar one. 

I learned this week that I’m not the only person in Columbia/HoCo that had such a visceral response to that tweet when I received an email from Roy Appletree who, with his wife Sue, has co-chaired 
Prepare for Sucess for the past fourteen years. He wrote, 

All I knew was that the $200 tax deduction nowhere matched what Sue [a retired teacher] spent for supplies for her students.

Prepare for Success is fairly well-known in our community but, for those of my readers who may not have heard of it, I’ll let their own words speak here:

…who we are and what we do - providing backpacks filled with schools supplies for children who otherwise would not have them in the Howard County Public School System. Last year, we were able to help 4,000 students! But, there are more than 20,000 students in need, our true goal is to help as many as possible and 100% of our donations go towards that effort.  So please, let's expand our universe of donors!! 

Three things strike me here:
  • 4,000 students helped last year
  • 20,000 students in need
  • Expand our universe 
In celebrating their successes and acknowledging how much more needs to be done, the folks at Prepare for Success are asking their core group of donors and volunteers to extend their reach. To bring the message and mission of Prepare for Success to people and places it hasn’t been before. To expand their universe. To make more connections.

So, here I am. I am deeply convicted by the mission of Prepare for Success because I have seen throughout my career that what is called by some an “achievement gap” is really an opportunity gap. By providing school supplies to students in need Prepare for Success is addressing that opportunity gap at the beginning of each school year. (This year is their 21st.) 

Beginnings are important. They often set the tone for what is to follow. A brand-new backpack and supplies gives a student a sense of being a part of the school community rather than being set apart because of poverty. If that helps these students feel better about themselves and gives them the tools they need for learning then their own universes are set to expand. It gives them more opportunities to make learning connections which will make their worlds bigger.

Here’s how you can help.

It’s important to note that Prepare for Success has the ability to get good prices by buying in bulk, so, if all you have time for is to make a quick monetary donation, you should know that it will pack a big punch.*

Here’s their website. Here’s where you can donate. (And learn about school supplies donations and their Amazon Wishlist.) But wait, there’s more: tell someone. Expand the universe. 

You may think that everyone knows about this already but, they don’t. The other day when I wrote about the Harriet Tubman School I discovered readers who had not known about it. You can be the person who brings the story of Prepare for Success to a new audience. You can make more connections. 
  • 4,000 students helped 
  • 20,000 students in need
  • Expand the universe
If you have some good ideas on how to expand the universe, let me know

*From the website:

By making a monetary donation, we are able to make your dollars stretch. To get the most supplies for the lowest prices, PFS makes wholesale purchases from a national education supplier. Our price of a backpack filled with required supplies average out to about $25 per student. That’s far less than the cost of buying retail at local stores. 100% of monetary donations are used towards the purchase of school supplies.

Friday, July 30, 2021

Taking Shelter


Yesterday late afternoon found me in the tiny hallway of our home between the furnace closet and the powder room, along with my husband and daughter. That thing where you move from tornado watch to tornado warning actually happened. We were directed to take shelter. That’s our shelter. 

Technically the safest place in our quadroplex is inside that powder room but I have yet to convince my husband that the severity of the weather merits our all piling in there at once. It would be possible in a life or death situation: one person sits in the sink, one on the toilet, one stands in the middle.

We don’t have a basement. 

How many Columbia homes were built on a slab, like ours? I’m sure there are some in greater HoCo, as well. Many’s the time I’ve wished for a basement for extra storage or a decently laid out laundry room. But never is that wish so fervent as when that ghastly alarm goes off on my phone and we need to take shelter.

The early Columbia homes went up quickly and inexpensively and I wonder if that is why many of them don’t have basements. Too much labor, too much cost. Or were basements out of vogue at the time of their construction? Does it have anything to do with the particular kind of earth our homes are sitting on? I do not know. 

I do know plenty of friends who have dealt with perpetually flooding basements who may not wish they had them. But at least they have that solid place where they can retreat in a storm. It’s a trade-off, I guess.

What do you think? Are you a have or have-not? How do you feel about it? Has your home ever been damaged by a tornado or heavy storm? How did yesterday’s storm treat you? Comments are welcome here.

Post Script:

Speaking of local storms, there appears to be some kind of pissing match going on between two male bloggers attempting to assert dominance. If I were you I’d walk on by on the other side of the street to avoid getting wet. Taking shelter probably won’t be necessary. - - jam

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Desecration and Destruction


I am sitting here and writing words today because writing words is what I do. But I feel wholly inadequate to address what I need to write about. I would rather go back to bed, pull the covers up, and retreat from the deep sense of darkness that I feel. Darkness that comes from evil. Evil that is right here in Howard County.

Yesterday we learned of a break-in at the Harriet Tubman School. Whoever committed this crime did so with the intention of defacing and destroying precious pieces of the history of students and teachers who attended that school. This is more than casual erasure. It is intentional desecration.

The stories of Black people have never been valued in this country and even now there is a move nationwide to suppress them. And right here in our community we see the results of someone who finds those stories to be so dangerous that they must be destroyed. 

I attended a story-telling event that was a part of the Columbia 50th anniversary year and heard Bessie Bordenave speak about her experiences at the Harriet Tubman School. Her description of the teachers who were more than teachers - -  also loving mentors and role models - -  for students entrusted to their care moved me. The Harriet Tubman School was a place where students were sent because they were excluded solely because of their race.The teachers they met there made it their mission to let them know their value and potential.

Someone wants those stories to be destroyed before they can be shared with the greater community. It’s as simple as that. 

This action contains within it a kind of cruelty that I cannot wrap my brain around. The destruction of precious pieces of ephemera that cannot be replaced. The desecration of a space whose mission has been so long in coming to fruition is heartless. Time is of the essence for former students of the school. They will not be with us forever. To push back the realization of their dreams is truly cruel. 

There’s no other word for it.

Normally I’m good at words. Today I feel at a loss. To all who have worked to make the Harriet Tubman School a center for history and learning, I honor you. And I grieve with you. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

What We Can Afford


Probably the weirdest thing about the controversy of the last few days is the number of people who were unaware that a new library was a part of the Downtown Plan. And, rather than do the necessary learning to bring themselves up to speed on the issue, they have decided it’s some kind of sneaky plot that’s being sprung on them in the most insidious of ways. To turn the brilliant Maya Angelou quote upside down, it is very important to them to not know better, so they aren’t obliged to do better. 

It reminds me very much of the old Peanuts comic strip where Lucy is educating Linus on butterflies.

Artist Charles Schulz, United Features Syndicate/ Peanuts Worldwide LLC

Schulz gives us a brilliant example of someone who feels compelled to make new and contradictory evidence fit their old hypothesis. We have a lot of that going on right now in Columbia/HoCo.

I have avoided wading into these arguments online for the most part, but one statement was so egregiously ignorant that I want to take the time to address it here.

No one NEEDS all the things they put at, say, the Elkridge library. A library NEEDS to have books you can take home and return. The rest is debatable.

No. No, no, no, no, no.

Libraries stopped being “just books” a long time ago. Farther back in the last century than you might imagine. Unbeknownst to the commenter, libraries have adapted and responded to community needs in a variety of ways. Even when I was in school, back in the dark ages, libraries had machines for reading microfilm, and some of the first photocopy machines I had ever laid eyes on. Yes, there was a time when that was cutting edge.

Librarians have proven over time to be a curious and far-thinking bunch who are capable of meeting patrons’s needs in the present while keeping their gaze firmly on the future for materials and experiences that will broaden and deepen their service to the community. If you go to the website for our own Howard County Library, you will see that, under their name, are these words:

Public Education for All

In their “About Us” section they elaborate:

An allied agency similar to the school system and community college, HCLS delivers high-quality public education for everyone. HCLS’ curriculum comprises three pillars: Self-Directed Education, Research Assistance & Instruction, and Instructive & Enlightening Experiences.

*Self-Directed Education 
*Research Assistance and Instruction
*Instructive & Enlightening Experiences 

Libraries are about opening doors for people so they can open even more doors for themselves. They are facilitators of self-actualization. As such they provide services, materials, and experiences to allow members of the community to lead better lives. The beginning of that mission may have been with the free circulation of books. Today it encompasses books, magazines, music, movies, computers, educational programs and circulating collections of toys, tools, and other items which not everyone can afford, but everyone can be better for learning about and using.

Think of all the ways our library system reached out to us during the pandemic in addition to making physical books available for take-out. The Howard County Library’s outreach to our community was a prime example of how they “walked the walk” and not just “talked the talk.” 

At the Elkridge Branch and DIY Center  you will find: 

…six study rooms, three meeting rooms, a vending cafe, a business center, more computers, and an expanded collection. In addition, the DIY collection (e.g., tools for household repair, gardening, bike maintenance) is available to borrow at the DIY Education Center , which features classes for all ages.

And that’s just Elkridge. Did you know there’s a Music Technology Lab at the Savage Branch? 

A library which contained only books which you can take home and return would be a memorial to a world that doesn’t exist anymore. Our libraries provide so much more than that because that’s what people in the here and now actually need. Libraries and librarians have the vision and commitment to put the ability to “do things for oneself” into the hands of people who are seeking to learn, try, and grow.

You think we can’t afford to do that?

We can’t afford not to do that. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2021



Yesterday’s post seemed to hit a nerve as numerous readers jumped in to share their feelings and experiences about architectural requirements in Columbia. I’m still wading through everyone’s comments.  There’s no denying that people have some strong feelings about this. I’m left pondering an exchange where one reader maintained that HOAs are unAmerican, while another responded that they are uniquely American.

As a palate cleanser, I strongly recommend this book by Daniel Pinkwater: The Big Orange Splot.

What got on my last nerve yesterday was an all-out social media attack on two local women who have been nominated to serve on County committees. It was ugly. It was a prime example of all those ills people mention when they rail about the perils of social media. 

My first instinct was to run into the burning building to do some good, followed by an intense desire to watch historical programs on television and plunge myself into my new library books. How exactly can you save anyone when the burning building is Facebook and real people’s reputations are going up in flames?

In my experience on social media there are two sorts of responders. One thinks, “Oh! This concerns me, I’d better learn more about this.” The other has no such inner voice of reflection. It’s the latter than we saw on display yesterday.

This was not a reasoned discussion of concerns. This was torches and pitchforks. The Salem witch trials came to mind. And why is it, by the way, that such completely over-the-line attacks happen primarily against women? There is always a reason to demonize women, it seems.

Here’s the deal: you have every right to express your opinion to members of the County Council before a vote. I absolutely encourage you to become educated about the issues at hand and get involved in the process. But this is what I saw yesterday. And there’s nothing brave or well-informed or honorable about it. 

I have some ideas about where people got the idea that political engagement looks like burning it all down. I won’t go into that now, although I’ve written about it in the past. What’s more important is that when this style of community interaction becomes the norm, no one is safe. No progress can be made. 

It’s all about rallying your troops and decimating your enemies. How do you come back from that? What do you do when they come for you?

Monday, July 26, 2021


You all are probably thinking that I spend too much time on Twitter, but, honestly, one can learn a lot there. Take this conversation, for instance:

I am going to stay far away from the gentri**** word and just say community revitalization is not necessarily a bad thing. You can have mixed income and diverse communities that truly thrive.

     *Columbia, MD has entered the chat*

Columbia is a wonderful racially diverse and economically diverse planned community. With excellent schools too. My only issue with Columbia, MD is that the housing stock is old. And you cannot update the exterior of the homes without going through the Columbia Association. 

     I recently just learned that it’s not a real city or town, but rather an HOA. And the residents must comply with the board. It’s the first I’ve ever heard of that.

Okay, first we need to make the correction that you must work with your Village Association on changes to the exterior of your house, not CA proper. But if you are from out of town that’s an easy mistake to make. Let’s look at the basic information here.

1. Columbia has a lot of positive attributes according to the speaker.

2. They are put off that a) housing stock is old, and b) local requirements hinder independence of owner to renovate.

That thing where “you have to get permission” really bugs some people. I know it was mind-blowing to my daughter when she was house-hunting. Perhaps it’s a generational thing?

We had to go before the RAC in Oakland Mills when we got new windows. Being new to the process we were terribly stressed but it turned out to be fine. We were impressed with the amount of time the RAC members had put into looking at our neighborhood before making a decision. I suppose I would not feel the same had they ruled against us.

When I was on the Board we had to listen to cases where the homeowner was challenging the RAC’s decision. Now, that was stressful. When you are getting in the way of something wants to do with their own property, it can get downright ugly.

Where am I going with all this? Well, perhaps it’s that people who contemplate living here may not have the Rouse vision, the lakefront, and the scenic pathways foremost on their minds. Columbia? It’s that place where you have to ask permission. 

I am not suggesting that we should necessarily abolish RACs and guidelines. But I don’t think we realize what a hurdle that is, especially for younger buyers. 

The Howard Hughes Corporation is investing a lot of money, time, and effort to make Columbia a really “happening place to be.” And it’s nice that someone with the wherewithal thinks we’re worth investing in. Really. But not everyone looking for housing will be looking for what they are selling. 

Perhaps with the crazy housing frenzy that’s going on right now people are just buying in Columbia neighborhoods because they are so desperate to get a house. Maybe their responsibility to maintain their house in a certain Columbia way is the least of their concerns right now. I don’t know.

But this conversation made me think. The primary speaker is someone who has money to invest, and who clearly has a positive opinion of Columbia. This is not someone who pops in and out of town only to label us a suburban, car-dependent hellscape. Is this feeling that Columbia is “the place that tells you what to do with your house” a long term liability for us? Do we need to frame it better or attempt to change the conversation about why we are the way we are?

As always: what do you think?

Sunday, July 25, 2021

New Yet Familiar

The other day I stumbled upon the Twitter acount of the Columbia Housing Center. It’s fairly new. Something about the name rang a bell. I found a Facebook account.  I noodled around on their website, which is still a bit glitchy to navigate.

From the website:

The goal of the Columbia Housing Center is to sustain Columbia’s residential integration so that all of Columbia is attractive and welcoming to all ethnic and racial groups.

As a rental housing locator service, the Columbia Housing Center will help landlords find tenants and tenants find homes. It will also provide training and educational programming.

You can go to their FAQ page to learn more about how this will work. I was interested in the information about this particular model has been used successfully in Oak Park, Illinois.

This spring they hired their first Executive Director, Andy Masters. He comes to the Columbia Housing Center from Enterprise Community Partners, where he was the Strategic Partnerships Manager. You may recall that Enterprise was co-founded by Columbia’s own Jim Rouse.  I look a look at their Board of Directors and noticed some familiar faces. The more I read the more I was convinced that I had heard about this initiative before.

Yes. There it is:

The last time [Jane Dembner and I] spoke was at an event held on the Chrysalis stage. She was telling me about a venture she was involved in to actively promote and support racial integration in Columbia. 

In reading her obituary I noticed a request that, in lieu of flowers, people make donations to the Columbia Housing Center.  Here is their mission:

We aim to honor James Rouse’s legacy by enhancing racial integration so that all of Columbia is attractive and welcoming to all ethnic, racial and religious groups. The Columbia Housing Center will provide a one-stop locator service that helps landlords find tenants and tenants find homes that further racial integration in and around Columbia.

(“Challenges Accepted: Jane Dembner”, Village Green/Town², June 12, 2019)

I’m excited to follow the work of the Columbia Housing Center as they begin their work. To learn more you can check out their website and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.  

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Survey Results Say


At the moment I’m having my first cup of coffee of the day and enjoying birdsong and the cool morning air. The sky is blue and the clouds are thin little wisps as though they were put in place by a painter of happy little clouds. It’s seven am on a Saturday and this constitutes a very lazy morning for me indeed.

Since there’s always a story for everything, at least for me, I want to include you in this one. Yesterday I posed this question on Facebook because it was a real dilemma for me:

Suburban etiquette question: our back patio is completely fenced. Would it be permissible for me to have my coffee out there in the morning in my nightgown? I would be visible only to my next door neighbor if she looked out her second-story window. What say you all?

Columbia has rules, you know. We have rules about hanging out laundry, cutting your grass, changing your house and even when you can put out your trash. How was I to know whether there was a rule about having coffee in one’s nightclothes?

Okay, I didn’t think it was something in writing, necessarily. More like “what is within the bounds of good taste if one lives in houses that are close together?” How much personal freedom does one have? Do people who live in single family homes with more space between them and their neighbors feel an expanded sense of privacy? Or do they actually feel more exposed?

We have a variety of housing types in Columbia and that is by design. If you live in an apartment without any sort of outside access like a balcony, then this is not a question you are contemplating. But let’s consider quadroplexes, townhomes, single family homes of modest footprint and ones with more impressive square footage. Does the type of home you live in impact whether or not you would go outside to enjoy a cup of coffee in your nightclothes? 

I imagine in the more rural parts of the county one might be buffered by so much land that this isn’t even an issue. My daughter has a friend whose patio actually faces farm animals. I wonder what they’d think?

My own completely unscientific poll resulted in approximately 50 in favor of nightwear on the patio. None opposed.  One person suggested I might run it by my neighbor. Two people questioned what kind of a nightgown it was, and, my personal favorite was the person who felt I was being courteous by wearing anything at all!

Now that I have convinced myself that coffee outside in my nightgown is acceptable, I really hope that Columbia doesn’t have any such ordinances to the contrary.

What do you think?

Friday, July 23, 2021

Invisible Insurrectionists


Where are the mug shots? Where are the photos chosen to show the accused in a bad light?

I’m talking about Andrew Ryan Bennett, the Columbia resident who pled guilty to his actions in attacking the Capitol along with a mob of like-minded insurrectionists. First of all, how on earth do we have people in Columbia* who would do such a thing? I do tend to think of us as a hotbed of acceptance and open-mindedness, but that is clearly wishful thinking.

I do think it’s odd that we have not seen the typical “defendant in a sketchy pose suggesting guilt” photographs that we usually see in cases where the accused is not white. Mr. Bennett, of course, is white. The public has been given a screenshot from a video taken the day of the attack but that’s it. 

Now these investigations are being done by the FBI so perhaps that makes a difference. I don’t know. But I do know how often we are subjected to mug shots of Black and Brown people who have been accused of a crime and photos taken from their social media accounts which depict them in the worst possible way. It feels to me almost as though the prosecution of the January 6th insurrectionists is being done in such as way as to have as little impact on their public reputations as possible. 

Is it because they are white?

Where are the news articles delving into this man’s past, outlining his activities and asking, “where did he go wrong?” We see them all the time when the defendant is Black. A white man who enthusiastically participated in mob activity to take down the United States Government will have received so little public coverage that he will be able to slip back into ordinary existence in lovely Columbia, Maryland. He may have pled guilty to a misdemeanor but what he and others were there to do was far from misdemeanor material. 

And Mr. Bennett was there cheering it all on. 

Where are the mug shots? 

* Yes, I dug around on Facebook to see if I could find this particular person. I am neither a qualified investigator nor a journalist and so anything I found at this point would be tantamount to irresponsible gossip. So I’m not going to go there. 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Guest Post: Bonnie Bricker on Talk With Me • Howard County

The recent groundbreaking for the Gateway United Way Family Center and the opening of the new Bauder Education Center in Long Reach have drawn the public’s attention to the shortage of affordable, high-quality childcare for young children in our community. Research has shown how important the early years are for physical, social-emotional, and cognitive development. I asked Bonnie Bricker, founder of Talk With Me • Howard County to write a guest post explaining another crucial way to support brain development in young children from the moment they are born. - - jam


Every child deserves the opportunity to have a good life. While we know many factors will impact that outcome, solid brain development in the early years is critical.


Imagine this dream: Children growing up here go through their daily routine seeing and experiencing interactions everywhere. Mom and Dad put their phones down at mealtimes to chat. As each daily walk unfolds, common sights are described and compared. Children learn to notice and add details to conversations. They see parents comparing the fruit in the market, the cashier exchanging warm greetings; folks are unplugged and interacting. It’s an interactive style that may seem dated, but it’s actually essential to the development of the child and later, when that child becomes a parent.


80% of critical brain development happens in the first 3 years of life, and 90% by age 5. Decades ago, we learned that some 3-year-olds had heard as many as 30 million more words in their language-rich households than children in homes that were quieter and less interactive. Those children were far more prepared for kindergarten. In 2018, we learned that toddler chats were directly related to test scores of IQ and language TEN YEARS later. Building those critical brain structures early in life matters over the long span of our children’s lives. It matters for the child and their family; it matters for their ability to hold a joband have sustaining relationships. Our communities are successful when everyone can grow and thrive; it is in the best interests of all of us to spread this critical human story of development: 


Our brains grow with our positive interactions, craving the social-emotional hook of human connections in order to learn.


Recognizing that our brains are wired for connection and emotion is essential to understanding the foundations of development being built in the early years. Your warm gaze, your gentle words, your simple adjustments to your baby’s needs in that beautiful loop of responsiveness is key to learning. Humans are not computers; emotion and connectedness are keys to brain-building.


Brain-building moments occur through our days. Whether we’re singing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star as we diaper our babies or reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar for the twentieth time to our preschooler, routines provide great opportunities over the span of our children’s developing years. Narrating what we do as we go through our routines helps our children hear new words and to understand how words fit into complex sentences. Whether we chat about the spices we use as we cook or narrate the sights and sounds of our daily walk, these moments are critical to hearing language and learning about our world. Over time, we add layers of knowledge to existing knowledge which helps our children to grow their intellectual capacity.


Repetition matters; multiplication is key. If you add reading a simple book for 5 minutes each day to your routine, you are adding 35 minutes of brain-building a week. In a year, you’ll be adding 12,775 minutes of this essential interaction. By age 5, you’d have spent 63,875 minutes of valuable interaction in that one activity. Adding interactions through mealtimes, playtimes, and daily routines makes a huge difference for every child.


And yet --- while some know this information quite well, many parents, caregivers, and professionals still need this message. So,here’s the good news storyfor the last 4 years, current and former HCPSS educators and Speech-Language Pathologists, county government employees, and various community members have joined me to volunteer for Talk With Me • Howard County to help all parents, caregivers, and professionals working with young families to understand that early interactions build brainsWe built the content, training program, workshop models, and a network of community members who share this information. Our partnership with HCPSS and the vision of Superintendent, Dr. Mike Martirano has been a huge help; along with the amazing collaboration of the Early Childhood Advisory Council, more than a thousand community members have interacted with the message of Talk With Me in some way, and many are in positions to spread the message further


Now established, we are transitioning the program to HCPSS. I have spent my entire retirement since 2015 to help spread this important information, and so my next chapter will begin. You can help to spread the message too!


Visit the Talk With Me webpage:


For more information, Howard County parents can explore the Howard Basics website and sign up for Basic Insights, offered free to families here:


Explore infant and child research more with great videos for both professionals and laypersons at Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child. Start with this link on Brain Architecture:




Bonnie Bricker founded Talk With Me • Howard County in 2015. She is a retired HCPSS  teacher, and the author of "Zoom Out Parenting: The Big Picture Approach to Raising Children" as well as numerous articles on social and public policy.


Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Field Trips

In my experience the position of Columbia Association President and CEO is for special occasions only. That is to say, an ordinary resident of Columbia is not likely to meet or even simply see the CA President in the flesh except at ribbon cuttings or Columbia-centric celebrations. They are like the inherited silver or the good china. You know they are there but they are far too good for everyday use, if you get my analogy. Yes, one might see them regularly at CA Board meetings but for most of us those are special occasions, too: you have to make plans to attend and it’s usually for a very specific reason.

Last week I had an opportunity to meet the new president of CA, Lakey Boyd, and I suspect she may go about her tenure here a bit differently. As we spoke it became apparent that she is putting a high priority on getting out of her office and into the community. Ms. Boyd commented that she wants to put such “field trips” into her calendar so that she is committed from the outset to making time for them. 

I think that’s a good idea. It’s a lot easier to look at the Columbia Association as some kind of distant monolith when we don’t feel its leaders are truly engaged in the community. If the only times we see the high-ranking employees of CA are when they are carrying out ceremonial functions, we lack the opportunity to learn about them as fellow humans. Furthermore, they lose the opportunity to learn about us, too.

We talked for a while about the importance of making connections and I got the sense that Ms. Boyd places a high priority on activities and initiatives aimed at building community. When I asked about how she approaches learning about a new place, she spoke not only about those frequent field trips but also about asking around to learn who the people are who are doing interesting things. Who is engaged? Who is committed to trying new things, to service, to making their community a better place?

CA President and CEO Lakey Boyd speaks at this year’s Fourth of July festivities at the Lakefront. 

I wasn’t surprised that Ms. Boyd brought up her background in change management. She described having worked with organizations that had become disconnected from the people they serve. Right now, the Columbia Association is at a crossroads as they come out of the pandemic and assess where they want to focus their efforts and resources. This looks like the sort of challenge for which Ms. Boyd is is well prepared.

Something Ms. Boyd said struck me. She said that she had come to view change as an opportunity for her circumstances to improve. As someone who grips the steering wheel and white-knuckles it through change in my own life, I found this to be quite a concept. Of course it’s an opportunity, not a guarantee, but the hopefulness of that mindset may prove to be a helpful guiding force as CA moves forward under Ms.Boyd’s direction.

Of course Ms. Boyd brings with her an admirable educational background and employment history. That is to be expected. I will be far more impressed if her intentions to get out of the office and interact with people truly translates into a meaningful part of her leadership style and a change in how CA interacts in the community.

What if we came to believe that the head of CA was one of “us” and not one of “them”? I know this may have been true in Columbia’s distant past but not in recent memory as far as I can tell. That’s the kind of change that I would see as a significant opportunity to improve our circumstances. 

It’s a big challenge. I wish Ms. Boyd well as she begins her time with us. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2021


Update: tonight’s Elevate Maryland event is being postponed in deference to the observance of Eid al-Adha. I’ll let you know when they have a new date. 


Tonight, live and in person, the return of local podcast Elevate Maryland to their fashionable digs on Grantchester Way. Their guest is Brooke Leirman, who is, by far, the most promising and interesting candidate for Maryland State Comptroller. From the Elevate Maryland Twitter account:

First live show is 7/20 at 6:30pm with @BrookeELierman! 

Guests, please note: you must wear a mask while indoors unless you’re actively eating or drinking. (Elevate rules.) Thank you!

If you are interested in attending, Elevate does their live shows in Downtown Columbia in the Howard Hughes event space across from Cured/18th and 21st. Parking is right there and keep an eye out for signs guiding you to the exact location.

Alas, my doctor says no indoor events for me right now so I will be there in spirit only. I’ll just have to make do with hearing the show later. I have been very impressed by Ms. Leirman and look forward to seeing what she has to say.

An event that is near and dear to my heart is coming up Saturday night. The Inner Arbor Trust is holding a Fundraiser/Friendraiser for Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods at the Chrysalis. You can learn more at their website. Here are the basics:


Saturday, July 24, 2021

7:00 PM  11:00 PM

The Chrysalis at Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods 

Welcome back!!!

Help us fund free performances as we celebrate returning to the Chrysalis at our pay-what-you-wish Friendraiser.

The Board of Directors of the Inner Arbor Trust invites you to become our Friend as we celebrate the return of performances and raise money for our free-to-attend 2021 performances. 100% of these free performances are funded by generous donations, sponsorships, and grants.

Music by FireKite, cash bar, and food available for purchase.


As with most events at the Park, you will need to reserve your tickets through eventbrite. I will definitely be there. I hope you will, too. As you know, I’ve been a friend of the park since it was but a twinkle in the eye of its proponents. Every new friend that the park makes is another person committed to a park for all in Columbia/HoCo. Come on out and meet other people who are excited about supporting Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods and who believe in its mission of bringing free arts performances to the community.

And for Heaven’s sake, let’s just kick up our heels a bit and have fun in the park!


Monday, July 19, 2021

Hellscape, USA


It’s true that I spend a lot of time scanning Twitter for local stories. As you know, sometimes I come away with what I call “Other People’s Tweets.” Today’s is a doozy.

Was in Columbia, MD yesterday and it was a total car-dependent hellscape, best place to live in America?  Totally nuts that people see that and like it

Bulldoze and start again

include beavers on the planning team

Give me a city or give me a cabin.

Tell us how you really feel, Mr. Out-of-Towner. Don’t hold back, now.

For some contrast, I hopped over to the Columbia Association website to see if I could find some descriptions of Columbia’s original intent and what we say we are proud of. Silly me. The website has changed. I knew where I was going on the old website. If you are interested in Columbia history you get one page with links to go somewhere else. (The Columbia Archives.) Well, heck.

I’ll just have to speak for myself for the moment. The truth is, I agree with what Mr. OOT writes, and yet I also love living here. It’s complicated. We absolutely are too car-dependent. Now, where I live, one can easily walk to the Village Center, the Walgreen’s, Blandair Park, the pool (when it’s open) and schools. Do I avail myself of these opportunities? Rarely. 

I’m pretty sedentary and driving is just easier. And, let’s face it, Columbia reinforces that frame of mind. Yes, we have the lovely pathways but they are largely for enjoyment, not to take you places you need to go. 

I find myself in the awkward situation of saying, yes, it’s a car-dependent hellscape and yet somehow I love it here. It’s quirky and earnest and comfortable. I do love all the grass and trees.

Do we need to bulldoze and start again? Sometimes I wonder. No matter what, I’m definitely intrigued by the prospect of including beavers on the planning team.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

The Pictures I’m Not Taking

I’m seeing lots of joyful photographs on social media these days of friends on long-postponed vacations, get-togethers with friends and family, celebrating at weddings. After more than a year of lying low it is only natural to mark the return to a more “normal” way of life with things we have missed the most: opportunities for human connection.

As for me, I’m getting there, albeit slowly. But, as anyone who has been reading current posts knows, I’ve been spending most of my time going around in circles in Columbia/HoCo’s parking lots and cul-de-sacs. One doesn’t exactly post photos on social media of that. Besides, I’m there to supervise a learning driver, not snap photos with my phone.

But if I were using these daily trips to be a “roving reporter” I’d probably be snapping photos of:

1. Those signs that appear at the ends of major roads or at intersections. You know, the ones that are about the size of the smaller political signs that one plants in the yard during campaign season. Signs touting real estate are permitted on weekends, I believe. At least in Columbia these kind of signs are heavily regulated but I am seeing plenty of “Suboxone treatment: call us” and a variety of other non-real estate signs. I have yet to see any such sign that gave me information I needed, but, perhaps they’re useful to somebody.

2. Siding. Old-school Columbia houses had vertical siding. Wood, I think. Through the years I gather this hasn’t held up well and owners have redone the houses with more durable siding products that are horizontal. Horrors! Has anyone ever written to the newspaper complaining that Columbia started to go downhill when people started using horizontal siding? I wonder if some day we’ll see a restoration program on HGTV where the host lovingly restores a Columbia home to the “original vertical wood exterior.” 

3. Tot Lots. Well, you can’t take pictures of them. They’re invisible to the ordinary driver. As thrilled as I was with the signage installed around town during the late Jane Dembner’s tenure with Columbia Association, absolutely none of those signs say “to the Tot Lots.” So, if you are entirely new to the area, you will have no idea that playgrounds are hidden along the pathways. Still bugs me.

I was fascinated by readers who pointed out that many cul-de-sacs have sidewalks only half of the way around. What could possibly be the point of that? To thwart door-to-door salesmen?

Advice for the day: if you see a sign that says Farmer’s Market, you just might be in Oakland Mills where the market is on Sundays from 9-1. That’s a sign worth heeding.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Saturday, Three Ways

I’m having way too much fun not making up my mind what to write about this morning. So let’s just do it all.

First off, thanks to all of the input about the location of the new courthouse. To all of those who are telling me that the location has always been in Ellicott City, I say: are you sure?

I’d love someone from the County to rise up out of the mist and explain this but I suppose it’s my responsibility to go and ask. We’ll see how that goes.

As to the new courthouse, I was out yesterday doing that practice-driving thing with my daughter and our route took us that way. It struck me as having a bit of that Columbia “joy of discovery” feeling. You wind around what feels like a rather unassuming stretch of road and then: boom. There it is in all its glory.

Over on Twitter today the term to search is Ellicott City. The pictures and videos that come up are of Germany. Why? Because recent flooding in Germany looks very much like the floods in Ellicott City. There’s quite the conversation going on about climate change and the generally slow response to it, even as we experience calamitous weather events around the world. Locally,  County Council member Liz Walsh and State Delegate Courtney Watson are celebrating the replacement of some impervious pavement with the environmentally-friendly pervious kind. Every little bit helps.

Finally, more musings from my recent driving adventures. We have graduated from parking lots to cul-de-sacs. Columbia has scads of them. If you think that living in a quiet cul-de-sac protects you from random, drive-by visits, I’ve got disappointing news for you: we’ll probably be driving by in the near future.

I’ve had plenty of time to observe those little islands that sometimes come with cul-de-sacs. Some are beautifully planted, some have park benches or even picnic tables. Some look overgrown and forbidding. I suppose it has to do with the people who live there and how much they want to make something of it. 

At some point there was a HoCoBlog called “Live from the Cul-de-Sac.” Does anyone remember? I think it’s a fabulous blog title.

There’s an entire entry on Wikipedia about cul-de-sacs, pros and cons. I found the section entitled “Suburban Use and Benefits” fascinating. But don’t stop there. Continue on to the Criticism and Discussion section. I found the suggestion that real estate delvelopers favor cul-de-sacs because they allow  them to fit more houses on oddly-shaped pieces of land an interesting one. Does this mean that if one opposes housing density one should oppose cul-de-sacs? Or, conversely, pro-density advocates support them? 

As always, I’m sure it’s far more complicated than that.

I guess I’ve always thought of cul-de-sacs as passĂ©, an old-school suburban device that has passed its prime. They are hallmarks of a car-centric culture, although, in Columbia they are offset by pathways and tot lots which encourage walking, biking, and outdoor play. I’d love you know your opinion of cul-de-sacs. Are they great the way they are? Could we improve them?

Let me know.


Out and About:  Chrysalis Kids: Marsha and the Positrons (Free) 

Sunday, July 18, 2021

4:00 PM - 5:00 PM

Chrysalis, 10431 Little Patuxent Parkway Columbia, MD 21044 

Event Description: Our FREE family concerts start with a fun mix of science and art!  Marsha and the Positrons are a DC-based kindie (kids + indie rock) band known for shows that are a ton of family-friendly fun! Both playful and educational, our original songs about science and how the world works are entertaining for adults as well as kids. Besides getting audiences singing along and dancing to songs that inspire curiosity about science, we play traditional favorites, kid-appropriate pop covers and parodies. Our goal is to send families home with smiles on their faces, plant the seeds for good conversations, and share our positive energy with the audience!

Gates open at 3:30 p.m. for playtime with Imagination Playground, and the performance starts at 4:00 p.m. Beverages will be available for sale, but feel free to bring a picnic (no glass or alcohol - alcohol available onsite).

Tickets available here.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Calling It Out

Print journalism is under attack from any number of sources these days. The survival of local journalism feels uncertain. Whether decimated by a succession of corporate owners or denigrated by the now-familiar  accusations of “Fake News!” our newspapers are struggling. Local journalists, overworked and paid a bare minimum, are, in my opinion, the most vulnerable and ill-treated.

On my mind this morning are the brutal murders at the Capital Gazette and the verdict yesterday that the killer is criminally responsible. My heart is with the family members, friends, and colleagues of the victims. Their names are worth mentioning here:

Gerald Fischman

Rob Hiaasen

John McNamara

Rebecca Smith

Wendi Winters

My mind is puzzling through some thoughts about the murderer. He was an abuser. Journalists covered a legal case that outlined his abuse. He didn’t want to be called out for his actions. He responded with violence.

I’m aware that my words are far from eloquent this morning. I’m trying to get at something that is a big concern for me. If you have suffered at the hands of an abuser, whether in a marriage or romantic relationship, a friendship, or in the workplace, you can easily recognize this man and his actions. It may make you wince, or shudder, or want to turn away. It may bring back memories you have tried to erase.

Abusers do not want to be called out for their abuse. They may completely deny any responsibility. They may place the blame on the victim. They may erupt, enraged at the prospect of facing the consequences of their actions. Or they may quietly, coolly plot what they believe to be a deserved scenario for revenge. In the case of the killer at the Capital Gazette, he had lethal weapons to carry out his plan.

Right here in Columbia/HoCo there are abusers. Some we will never know. Some are operating in public life and in community affairs. We don’t know which of these people have weapons and which do not. But we know they cause harm and they absolutely, positively do not want to be called out for their abuse. 

What do we do about that? Ignoring it and hoping it will go away is not the answer.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Getting There


The new courthouse is finally open. The ribbon-cutting photos are all over social media. So is local commentary, both positive and negative. But this post isn’t about either. It’s about how to get there.

This tweet from Commute Howard was timely and helpful:

There you have it. Not everyone who needs to visit the new courthouse will own a car or have Uber money. For some reason I just adored this. I’m making up an imaginary narrative here:

Blah blah blah new courthouse blah blah blah important people blah blah blah expensive investment blah blah blah Need to get there? Take the bus.

Well done Commute Howard. Here’s the link to routes they mention: RTA Routes and Schedules. 

Two more things. First, the nearest places to grab something to eat if you are at the courthouse are now Wendy’s and Pizza Hut. Will we see any new restaurants pop up in the immediate vicinity? And what about a place to grab something for that pretrial headache or a new pair of stockings if yours run at the last minute? Hmm…that would be Walgreens in my direction or Target in the other direction. Will the new Courthouse become a financial boost to nearby businesses?

And the other thing. I expect that one of my readers will fill me in here. Doesn’t the courthouse have to be located in the County Seat, which is Ellicott City? Yet the new one is clearly in Columbia. Solutions might be to declare the new site as being in Ellicott City (complicated?) and changing the County Seat to Columbia (probably more complicated.) 

Does it matter?

Whether it’s in Ellicott City or Columbia, Commute Howard wants you to know that you can take public transit.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021


We met when our daughters were in preschool. Now they’re in college. She grew up here, I always manage to feel like I’m from out of town. I’m East Columbia, she’s West Columbia. She’s vegan, I eat just about everything. We’ve been friends for sixteen years.

We got together last night for our first meal in a restaurant since the before times. I mean, the kind of restaurant where one can order grown-up drinks. The chosen location was the Ale House. We wanted to be able to sit outside. I must say we were in the minority on that front. They were doing a brisk business inside with what appeared to be a happy, relaxed, almost all unmasked crowd.

I haven’t been to the Ale House in years and in my opinion it is much improved. I never used to be able to find anything on the menu that was right for me; now there is much more of a variety of different kinds of food. On the other hand, it was nearly impossible for my vegan companion. Service was fabulous and our table was in the shade. There was even a bit of a breeze.

I was having so much fun that I forgot to photograph my first gin and tonic post-pandemic for posterity. That’s what having old friends is all about.

Table topics included local village board politics, the future of housing in Columbia, what local teachers went through during the pandemic, the women who are making change in our community, addressing racism…you know, just the average things you talk about after not seeing a friend for several years. Truth in advertising, we also talked about our hopes and dreams, and our kids. As you do.

One thing that came up in our conversation was that we were in complete agreement that all the people who are doing outstanding, transformative community work right now in Columbia/HoCo are women. I’d go into more detail but I think that’s a blog post unto itself.

The Ale House, with its casual outdoor eat-while-looking-at-the-parking-lot vibe was just the right location for a reunion of old friends. I’m really hoping it won’t be so long before we get together again.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

A Sporting Chance


For those of you who have been celebrating the return of sporting events, here’s good news: there’s still time to get your tickets for this year’s MLQ Championship. Even better, it’s being held in Howard County.


That’s right, it’s Quidditch. Major League Quidditch, no less. Three days of championship matches will take place in Troy Park beginning on Saturday, August 21st. You can purchase tickets here and,if you’re a true devotee, order a jersey in support of your favorite team. Alas, it appears that Gryffindor did not make the finals.

When I first learned about Quidditch coming to Howard County several years ago I was nonplussed. It didn’t much make sense to me as a game without the requisite magic and flight described in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Despite my personal opinions, Major League Quidditch is clearly a thing, or, as it likes to call itself: MLQ. This strickes me as similar to Kentucky Fried Chicken rebranding as KFC, but, what do I know?

If you click on the MLQ website link their photo makes it abundantly clear that Quidditch is a contact sport. I wonder how it feels to turn up at an urgent care facility with Quidditch injuries? Can medical professionals restrain themselves from asking the obvious question, “What? Did you fall off your broom?”

All kidding aside, I’m completely behind the event on the third day of the event: Take Back the Pitch. I mentioned this in May if this year as you may recall. 

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. Registration is open to any quidditch player who is not a cis male. All skill levels welcome.

I think this is pretty darned cool, although I note that holding the event on a Monday means it is open only to those who can afford to take a day off from work. The same holds for spectators. Sigh. I hope that, despite this, Monday’s event draws a good crowd. I commend the intention to honor players who are often overlooked or excluded from “prime time” play, but I hope that in future years they’ll give them “prime time” exposure.

It’s a start.

Just for fun, I checked out ticket prices. I was pleasantly surprised. Presale: Ultimate Fan Weekend Pass is only $45.00.

Our premium ticket option! In addition to a weekend pass that allows you to enter and exit the event as you please Saturday, Sunday AND Monday, you'll receive the following:

- MLQ Championship t-shirt

- Front-row seating reserved for Ultimate Fans

- MLQ-branded bag

- Piece of MLQ swag

- Discounted hotel rates

Order before 11:59 pm ET on Sat., Aug. 7.

Who says everything in Columbia/HoCo is overpriced?

Monday, July 12, 2021

Still Looking


I was hunting through old posts for something else entirely and I found this:

Career Goals April 26, 2019

Now this is the job for me.

DPW creates a $100,000 job for outspoken critic Mark Reutter and Fern Shen for Baltimore Brew

I’ll let you read the piece and draw your own conclusions. It’s a fascinating story. I share it here today because, as the young folks say on Twitter,  “career goals.”

Dear employment universe,

I am uniquely qualified to be hired as an Outspoken Critic in the $100,000 range. Additional skills and qualifications: Ardent Supporter, Bemused Observer.

Strong writing skills, persistent, consistent work ethic.

Hobbies include anecdotes, vignettes, free-form poetry and doggerel verse.


Village Green/Town²

I wonder if there’s anyone in Howard County who’s hiring?  It could be the opportunity of a lifetime.


Friends, I am still looking for that job - - now more than ever. And I’d be really good at it.

It’s Monday, it’s hot and humid, and it seems like a good day to think up imaginary local jobs. What’s the job you’d want to have in Columbia/HoCo if it existed? Use your imagination. Be wild. Who knows? Like that 100,000.00 job, it just might happen.

Post them here, the more the merrier. Remember: they have to be Columbia/HoCo-specific.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

On the Road Again


Anyone who has learned how to drive or helped teach someone to drive has experienced the time-worn tradition of driving in parking lots. The emptier they are, the better. They provide a safe environment for the tentative efforts of the nervous beginner: maintaining a smooth, even speed, staying on the right hand side, signaling, turning, parking, and so on. 

Recently I’ve been a part of many parking lot driving sessions. We started with school parking lots, then graduated to Blandair and Centennial parks, which provided more varied topography. Then I began to get creative. I started seeking out entire communities of parking lots. Columbia/HoCo has plenty. Some examples:

  • Off of Broken Land past the Exxon where the Columbia Assocation Headquarters and Humanim are located.
  • Off of Thunder Hill Road behind the Walgreen’s where the DoubleTree Hotel is located.
Each of these areas present different challenges or hazards, if you will. In a park there may be children running out ahead of parents (who are looking at their phones.) In an empty suburban office park you may run into groundskeeping staff with mowers and leaf blowers. In Columbia the will of its founder means that you may be going up and down hills and around curves as you experience the joy of discovery.

We have the best parking lots. Varied. Some almost picturesque. What a convenience it is for students behind the wheel. One might even compose an entire driving challenge course comprised entirely of Columbia/HoCo parking lots. 

And then there’s the flip side. Parking lots bring with them environmental hazards. Run-off of pollutants conducts poisons into our waterways. Areas where parking lots are clustered together produce what is called the “heat island effect”, raising temperatures and thus increasing the demand for non-renewable resources such as air conditioning. The amount of space devoted to parking lots takes away from natural green spaces which contribute to our health and well-being.

Parking lots are rather like the Audrey 2 of our modern society. The more you feed them, the more they want and the bigger they get. 

Some informative (though not recent) pieces on the environmental impact of parking lots:

When a Parking Lot Is So Much More , (op-ed) New York Times

Locally the Robinson Nature Center is an example of combatting runoff with pervious pavement. In case you don’t know, pervious pavement allows rainwater to seep through into the ground rather than wash into storm drains. Would changing every parking lot in Columbia/HoCo to pervious pavement be helpful? Yes. Is it likely? Probably not without government guidance and/or financial incentives. And addressing the run-off issue is just one part of the environmental challenges parking lots present.

Do cars attract parking lots? Do parking lots attract cars? Are communities like ours, built with dependence on automobiles baked in to everything, doomed to continue in they way they began? The New York Times piece includes some creative suggestions for rethinking how we use the parking lots we have:

Better parking lots would embrace and expand this role. Already, many lots provide space for farmers’ markets, spontaneous games of street hockey, tailgating, even teenagers’ illicit nighttime parties. This range of activities suggests that parking lots are a “found” place: they satisfy needs that are not yet met by our designed surroundings. Planned with greater intent, parking lots could actually become significant public spaces, contributing as much to their communities as great boulevards, parks or plazas.

What do you think? Are you ever struck by how many parking lots we have here? Do you have ideas on how we can address this issue locally? I’m all ears.