Tuesday, August 31, 2021

All Along the Line


The first day of school has come and gone. I’ll have a lot more to say about buses, probably tomorrow. Today I want to talk about the obligatory back-to-school post from the Howard County Times.

‘We’ll take things as they come’: As Howard County students return to schools in person, parents stay hopeful  Allana Haynes, Baltimore Sun

Ms. Haynes is our new education reporter. She is a 2017 graduate of Columbia University with a masters degree in journalism. We are lucky that she has cast her lot with us. We are lucky to have any local journalism at all anymore. 

But, that’s another story. For now let us just say, “Welcome, Ms. Haynes!”

About the article. The one thing that struck me almost immediately is where the parents who were interviewed are from.

  • Glenelg High School and Glenwood Middle (Cooksville)
  • Waverly Woods Elementary (Ellicott City)
  • Chapelgate Christian School, Kennedy Krieger Baltimore (Mount Airy)
If you look at a map of Howard County, those three locations run in almost a direct line across the top of the picture: Mount Airy, Cooksville, Ellicott City.

Credit: Google Maps

It made me wonder how the article might be different if we had heard from parents from Columbia, Elkridge, or Savage. Perhaps it wouldn’t be. Perhaps in a pandemic parents are the same all over. But it made me realize that I have finally lived here long enough to become sensitive to the differences in communities throughout the county. 

There are differences in life experience. There are differences in world view. And when I read a story about going back to school I’m curious about how that influences people’s attitudes and expectations. 

But when I first arrived in Columbia/HoCo in 1999, I wouldn’t have been aware of any of that. Most people wouldn’t be. To the outside world we are “Howard County” and people who don’t know us all that well make assumptions based on whatever information they have available. On the inside, we know that Clarksville is not the same as Oakland Mills, or that Glenelg is distinctly different from Maple Lawn or Guilford.

It’s funny how that is.

Truly local journalism - - where people are able to make a decent wage, staying with and learning about one community over time - - it doesn’t exist here anymore. Because of that, these are the kind of nuances that are missed. It’s unavoidable. This is not a criticism of our local reporters. They did not create this situation and they are doing the best they can.

At any rate, I’m not going to get the article in the newspaper that I want, but, I’m still curious. If you live in places other than Mount Airy, Cooksville, or Ellicott City, how do you feel about going back to school?

Monday, August 30, 2021

Naked in the Park


I can’t believe I got on my good clothes and planned my whole day around going to see a rock musical about a naked mole rat. Well, maybe I can.

The location was, of course, the Chrysalis in Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods. The play was “Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: the Rock Experience” which is a musical based on the Mo Willems picture book of the same name.

When I asked the concessions guy what kind of beer goes with naked mole rat he did not know. So I went with a Flying Dog Blood Orange Ale. Great choice.

The performers were from the Drama Learning Center. They were very, very good. The adaptation of the book into a musical format worked well. There were laugh lines that reached the children, and some for the adults. The show was fun, and funny, with a sweet yet powerful message and it was not too long for kids to enjoy it. 

As someone who works with young children I often find theater that is intended for children to be pretty dreadful. I wince at the many stereotypes that seem to slip in, songs that are too loud or belted in an unhealthy way, story lines that rely on old tropes instead of genuine and creative story-telling.

This play and its performers pulled off a first for me: I didn’t wince once. In fact, I even got a little teary as the deeper implications of the story’s simple message sunk in.

I already knew I loved author Mo Willems. Now I find that the folks at Drama Learning Center are growing on me, too. 

Today is the first day of school for many in our area. It’s always a good time for a reminder of how important it is for children to grow up reading with their parents and caregivers. Read aloud to your children, read with them. Have fun. Follow their interests and share some of your own. Talk with them about what you read. 

Maybe you’d enjoy starting with this.

Sunday, August 29, 2021


 On the front page of today’s Baltimore Sun, an article by Lillian Reed and Liz Bowie.

The headline might just as truthfully read: teachers worry as schools reopen. Administrators worry as schools reopen. Health care professionals worry as schools reopen. Community leaders worry as schools reopen. And, although they merit only a second-hand reference in this article: students worry as schools reopen.

There may be people who are not worried. I don’t know any of them.

Although this article focuses on the Baltimore City School System, much of the information is relevant here in Howard County and elsewhere. In particular, this statement from Sonja Santelises:

 “It is disappointing that our nation has not come together to make our schools safe for all children.” - - Sonja Santelises, CEO, Baltimore City Schools.

This is a careful statement that speaks volumes. I can think of many other pointed ways to say this that involve strong language and scathing accusations. That is why I am a blogger and not the CEO of a school system. 

Even in affluent Howard County there are clearly ways we could have come together to make our schools safe for all children but the “politics” of COVID-19 and the open faucet of misinformation from angry parents have made it an ugly and disheartening minefield over the last year and a half. If you wonder what we were doing instead of coming together to make our schools safe for all children, certain Facebook groups paint a pretty thorough picture. 

But here we are. Tomorrow is the first day of school. We can’t go back. There is no “do-over.” Already I see a tension at work between the school system’s decision to be “business as usual” back when COVID was in a lull, and parent’s expections that the schools should be responding to the health conditions unfolding right now at this moment. Yes, we all hoped it would be better than this, but, it isn’t.

Now what?

Institutions are not nimble. But they shouldn’t be immovable. Responses to parent advocacy regarding outdoor eating and indoor air quality make me hopeful. It will take continued advocacy once the students return to face-to-face learning to keep those priorities at the forefront. This is not a time for anyone to slack off or let their guard down.

One statement in the Sun article went against the grain for me.

“Personally, I am bored sitting in a chair at home. This is a performance career.” - - Jamilla Fort, teacher, Cecil Elementary School. 

I am not here to judge any teacher’s experience during the pandemic. Anyone who got in there and did the work for their students, with their students, has my profound respect. But I can say that my husband, also a teacher, never exhibited any signs of boredom. Frustration, anxiety, grief, exhaustion - - yes. Boredom, no.  Then it occurred to me. This, too, is a careful statement that speaks volumes. It’s impossible to know the depth of this teacher’s experiences from one newspaper quote.

I absolutely agree with this teacher that it is the human interaction of teaching that makes the work worthwhile. I see many of my friends who are teachers experiencing the anticipation of returning to that hands-on, interactive, collaborative process that they have missed so much. 

Oh, how we all want it to succeed. 

Friday, August 27, 2021

Difficult to Move


Influencing public behavior can be an arduous and often frustrating task, as our long national journey with COVID-19 has borne out. It takes a lot of work to encourage and maintain public health behaviors such as masking, distancing, abiding by quarantine, getting tested, and getting vaccinated. Those in government and public health have been using everything in their toolbox and sometimes (as we know) it isn’t enough. People can be remarkably difficult to move.

With that in mind I would like to congratulate County Executive Calvin Ball and the team in Howard County Government for pulling off a feat of downright magic this week. In about 24 hours they got a significant number of Howard County residents to do something they had never done before: look at a public transit schedule.

I’ve written a lot here about the need to connect people with public transit in Columbia/HoCo, and how it needs to be seen as a useful option that everyone can use, rather than what poor people have no choice but to accept. Words are pretty, but they don’t move minds in the way that would be necessary to change a significant amount of behavior. As much as I am committed to writing, I am equally aware of the limits of my influence.

But on Thursday when Calvin Ball announced that, through an agreement with RTA, Howard County middle and high school students would receive bus passes for free transit, a whole bunch of people who had never considered riding the bus suddenly went to the website and started looking. 

This is cool stuff. This is where attitudes and behavior can change.

Two things have arisen in the past few days that bear discussing. One is that some folks want to know if this agreement covers all middle and high school students in Howard County, or just HCPSS students. To my mind, if the decision has made specifically to address the bus driver shortage serving the school system, then it would make sense to target public school students. Sure, it would be nice to extend this benefit to all young people of middle and high school age, but, is that where the need is?

What is the question we are trying to answer here? Is it: “Why don’t young people get free transit?” Or, “How are we going to get all these kids to school?”

It can be very difficult for some people to see others receive something that they won’t get. For example, the folks who were angry that there was a beautiful new playground in East Columbia and not in their neighborhood. This, too, is human nature. I would find it mildly amusing to see anyone get riled up enough about this to actually organize and fight for the right for their children to have access to free public transit. Actually, who knows? That might be a good thing.

The other thing, which is a mixed blessing, is that plenty of parents who have been searching through nearby bus routes have been discovering that RTA doesn’t serve their particular area all that well. That is probably disheartening. But it’s also a teachable moment. I think it’s good for people to contemplate the state of local public transit: where the routes are, where you can go, where you can’t. 

It takes a belief, even if it’s a glimmer, that riding a bus is a feasible option, a desirable choice, even. For some students this absolutely will be a useful service for getting to and from school. I’m hoping that some of the other community members will ponder what it would take to make better options for their areas come to fruition. And that could be the beginning of a transformation in public attitudes about public transit.

No one is claiming that this is a perfect solution. It is a creative response to a public need and it uses the resources that we have available. I hope that it will provide significant help in a really difficult situation. I also hope that it may influence a new generation to believe that public transit is convenient and takes you where you want to go. 

The more people experience that, and have that expectation, the more they will advocate for improvements to public transit wherever they live. This is a short-term solution that may have long term benefits.

I like it.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Planning Ahead


Happy Thursday! In case you’re already thinking of the weekend, I’ve got some ideas for you:

On Saturday, August 28th from 12 - 3 pm, The 3rd is hosting an End of Summer Picnic. 

From their Facebook page:

Time flies, and now we must say goodbye to summer and hello to a new school year! That's right, school is about to be back in session, and we want to celebrate the end of summer!! 

We also want to send our students back to school fully equipped to learn. Bring school supplies to donate and you'll get a free bag of popcorn for your generosity!

We will also have the amazing artist @Melroyart, who will be creating community artwork that you can contribute to! How dope is that? 

Can't wait to see you at The 3rd for our End of Summer Picnic on Saturday, August 28th, from 12 pm - 3 pm. 

Location: The 3rd 10215 Wincopin Circle Columbia, MD 21044

This is a free event but I am pleased to note that Oakland Mills’ own Althea’s Almost Famous will be there providing her locally acclaimed Jamaican food for purchase.

If you’ve been longing recently for the Lakefront to be a happening place, stop by.

If you want to stay on top of everything happening with The 3rd, you can subscribe to their newsletter here. (Scroll all the way down.)

Up next, at the Chrysalis, “Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, The Rock Experience.”

The show, presented by the Drama Learning Center, will be presented twice: Saturday and Sunday at 5 pm. From the IAT website:

Join Drama Learning Center as they bring Mo Willem's classic story Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed to life!

Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience is a rock 'n roll parable with a significant message for today's audiences, based on the hit children's book by Mo Willems. Wilbur and all his fellow naked mole rats in the Tunnel have always been, well...naked. Wondering what other possibilities are out there, Wilbur discovers a love for clothing and style. When word of his new passion turns the Tunnel upside down, he proves to everyone that there's no need to be just like everyone else.

A special lesson and rock show all in one, Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed has energetic songs, quirky characters, and a story unlike any other.

Tickets are free but you must register through Eventbrite.

Guess what? You can join the mailing list for Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods to stay up to date with all the events happening in the park. Click here.

Last, but definitely not least, a reminder that you have (counts on fingers) just five more days to complete the Community Equity Audit (survey) from the Howard County Office of Human Rights and Equity. I wrote about it here. The more people who participate, the better picture the results will give of our community. Since it alternates between multiple choice and short answer, you will be able to give them your “two cents” about the issues. 

Don’t miss your chance to give them the benefit of your perspective. Click here to participate.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

In Search Of


Sometimes you just want comfort food. My daughter had been through a rather challenging day and I told her she could pick where we would be ordering for dinner. Her request? Mashed potatoes. Not mashed potatoes alone, mind you, but as a signigicant component of the overall meal.

Precovid that would have meant a trip to Bob Evans. Sadly, our favorite Bob Evans has closed, we don’t eat inside restaurants these days, and Bob Evans carry out has disappointed us one too many times. So. What do you do?

I went to the Howard County Eats Facebook group and put it to them.

Best place to get mashed potatoes in HoCo that isn’t a wildly expensive proposition? We’ve got a comfort food craving over here.

Here are their responses:

  • Wegman’s
  • Boston Matket
  • Ma’s Kettle
  • Daniel’s Restaurant
  • UNO’s
  • Texas Roadhouse
  • Grill Marx
  • White Oak Tavern
  • Ale House
  • Stanford Grill
  • Bushel and a Peck
  • Whole Foods (Hot Bar?)
  • KFC
Other suggestions that made me smile: buy Bob Evans mashed potatoes at the Giant, make your own mashed potatoes, and, the woman who maintained the best mashed potatoes in town could be found at her house.

Who knows? It may very well be true.

After discussing all these options, my daughter arrived at an unexpected decision. She suggested we order from Jason’s, and she got one of their enormous, dinner-sized baked potatoes. It made sense. Jason’s is a regular place for us. Their menu is familiar. Their baked potatoes definitely hit the spot after a rough day.

Have you ever found yourself searching your mind (or asking your friends) when seeking a particular food for which you have a persistent craving? Have you found any new restaurants that way? Also, since I seem to be keeping the comprehensive list now, can you recommend a place in Columbia/HoCo that serves great mashed potatoes?

Such a list might become a helpful public service.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

On the Road


It was very hot. The remarks by local notables were brief. The star of the show was a brand-new, brightly colored van. 

Yes, you can have a ribbon-cutting for a van and, in this case, I thought the glittery blue ribbon was particularly appropriate.

Drumroll, please.


On the Road to Kindergarten

This mobile pop-up library brings preschool classes and resources to neighborhoods without ready access to library branches. With the goal of preparing children for kindergarten, our instructors will bring the pop-up library to communities throughout Howard County. The unit will also serve as a mobile hot spot, providing internet access to the nearby community during each stop.

On the Road to Kindergarten mobile unit instructors will:

  • teach classes
  • lend books, activity kits, toys, and other library materials
  • lend Chromebooks and hotspots
  • provide information on library classes and events
  • provide information on community resources/service
This initiative is made possible by a Howard County Government Rise to the Challenge Grant, Friends & Foundation of HCLS, M&T Bank, the PNC Foundation, and the HoCo Balt Book Club. I’m beginning to get a better grasp on how things like this can’t happen with out partnerships. 

And this, my friends, is a truly amazing thing. It is not your grandmother’s bookmobile. (Although they were great!) The Pop-up library van brings books, toys, and media to where they are most needed, but also early childhood instruction, computers, and internet access. It takes the resources of the library and all the many connections that entails to children and families who need the most support.

As was mentioned yesterday by County Executive Calvin Ball (and I’ve certainly written about it here) Howard County may have some of the highest incomes in the United States, but it also has a very high cost of living. For some members of our community that means working multiple jobs just to get by. This means less time and less money for the kinds of enriching experiences that foster healthy early childhood development and school readiness. 

It doesn’t surprise me that this great idea comes from the Howard County Library. They’ve always been the sort of folks who are willing to get outside the library buildings and go to where the people are: visiting schools, supporting Battle of the Books, and, most recently, partnering with OMO during the pandemic to provide supplemental online programming. And that’s just what I can think of off the top of my head.

Yesterday was a great day to celebrate partnerships and new beginnings.

It was also very hot. Did I mention it was hot? This is why I made it through the speeches and ribbon cutting but departed before getting to see the inside of the van itself. There were multiple professional photographers on hand so as soon as I can get some interior views I will share them with you. I’ve seen a couple on social media and I can’t wait to see more. (See below for a few shared by others.)

As an early childhood educator I am so excited to see this venture begin. I’m grateful for the library system for taking the initiative to make it happen, and to the leadership shown by Howard County Government and the generosity of partners and individual donors. The years from birth to five are crucial for setting a healthy foundation for life: speech and language, social/emotional development, cognitive growth and much more. The On the Road to Kindergarten Pop-Up Library Van is responding to a very real need with the best that HCLS has to offer. 

I look forward to watching this initiative unfold. 

Photo credit Ellen Giles

Photo credit Mickey Gomez

Monday, August 23, 2021

More Human


Only it seems to me that once in your life before you die you ought to see a country where they don’t talk in English and don’t even want to. - - Mrs. Gibbs, Our Town, Thornton Wilder

I thought of this quote last night as I enjoyed the performance of Cultura Plenera at the Chrysalis in Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods. I have become more and more convinced of the importance of being a part of experiences where white culture is not at the center of what is going on. There’s a kind of deep learning, a gaining of perspective, that can happen only when you let go of the notion that you are the center of the universe.

This is particularly important as we continue to be bombarded with a kind of “America First” dogma which at its core stems from a “whites first” cult that demands that some people and some cultures be considered American and some not. If we shut ourselves off from the expression and celebration of those who are different than we are then we perpetuate the notion that their needs and wants are foreign to us. We observe their lives like tourist on a package tour. Empathy is not born from this, nor friendship, nor the openness to truly know others just as they are.

During last night’s concert I saw people - - who usually move within a world that knows and cares little about them - - experience the joy of being centered and known. The music, the rhythms, the dancing, the language, were there for everyone to participate in and enjoy. But the light in the eyes of people around us who clapped the rhythms with a confident authority, laughed at the funny bits of the songs, and got up to dance in front of the stage was the amplification of somethings precious. Here is our culture, our beautiful Puerto Rican culture, here is our moment to shine.

I didn’t feel excluded by this. I felt grateful to be a part of it. 

Cultura Plenera is a non-profit organization dedicated to community building in Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Virginia areas through the traditional Puerto Rican musical styles of Bomba and Plena. 

Community building can’t happen if it is no more than a white dominant culture inviting others to come visit and play by their rules. It can’t take hold and thrive if our experience of other cultures is limited to being proud of ourselves for trying “foreign” food or watching an “ethnic” program on television. We must be willing to try to set aside our whiteness and learn to experience the world in a different way. Many of us are not so good at that.

The title of this recent article* in the Baltimore Sun is a prime example of this. 

There are a number of ways that this informative, factual piece might have been headed. But the one that was selected centers everything on who is and isn’t white. Period. Someone had to make a choice to do that and it was very likely chosen without any conscious thought. But there it is, as plain as the nose on your face: whiteness centering itself.

It doesn’t have to be that way. But we need to care enough to make it different. Going to one concert won’t do it (although it might be life-changing, you never know.) A conscious decision to honor the humanity of others by entering into real life experiences where our own culture is not the dominant one is a very good start. 

A shout out to Cultura Plenera and their performance ensemble for the vision and commitment to make these experiences happen, and to the folks at the Park/IAT for continuing to make space for performances which invite us to be more fully human and, dare I say, better Americans.

*A reminder: the journalists who write the piece don’t pick the title.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

More Local All the Time


I feel like I wrote this a million years ago, but I didn’t.

I happened upon an online discussion yesterday about voting by mail, in particular, the Special Election in District 7 to fill the seat held by the late Elijah Cummings. As I watched the familiar arguments unfold, I had an unusual epiphany.

It seems to me that the two dominant political parties start at the same place when it comes to voting but where each goes from there is indicative of their respective world views.

The statement might begin: Voting is so important that....

And one party finishes it like this: we must put in place careful restrictions in order to make sure that none of the unqualified and no bad actors can sully this important process.

The other party:... we must do whatever we can to remove barriers so that all citizens may participate in this important process.

Beneath it all, members of one party seems to believe that “if I am good at heart, my neighbor is likely to be the same.” The other party leans more towards, “I know I would do the right thing but I just can’t trust that other fella.” Is this one distinction the heart of all the differences between the two?

I wonder. (“Divergent”, April 14, 2020)

So much has happened since then. Wave upon wave of increasing acts of voter suppression, followed by outright denial of an election’s outcome when that party’s candidate did not win. It has moved far beyond my tactful statements above. To be blunt, it might best be worded as follows:

Voting is so important that only the people we value should be permitted to vote and, if our candidate loses, that is proof of fraud.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the For the People Act (HR 1) and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act (HR 4) and wondering if I should write about them. They aren’t strictly local. But the issues involved are important in every community.

A brief summary:

HR 1 For the People Act

The For the People Act, introduced as H.R. 1, is a bill in the United States Congress to expand voting rights, change campaign finance laws to reduce the influence of money in politics, ban partisan gerrymandering, and create new ethics rules for federal officeholders. (Wikipedia)

HR 4 John Lewis Voting Rights Act

The John Lewis Voting Rights Act is a proposed legislation that would restore and strengthen parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, certain portions of which were infamously struck down by the United States Supreme Court decision of Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, and was weakened further by Brnovich v. DNC in 2021. (Wikipedia)

I’m writing today because I came across a response (on Twitter) from someone in Maryland that chilled me.

Person A:  Why did President Trump step down when he and we all know he won ? The country was attacked, he should have stood his ground and arrested the traitors.

Person B: (From Maryland) Wished it could have worked out this way.  

The whole World knows our President won.

President Trump needed proof.

We are still fighting for Voter Election Integrity

This kind of distorted thinking is a danger to people everywhere in this country, including Howard County. Promoted (I believe) by those who cynically see it as nothing more than an easy strategy to get candidates elected and/delegitimize elections whose results are not to their liking.

“Voting is so important” because the continued existence of our democracy depends on it.

So I think we all have to care about it. I’ll be writing more about this soon.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Moving Forward

I saw the sign.

Driving down Little Patuxent Parkway, my attention was turned to the breathtaking blue across the street and it was a sign. 

I think it’s new.

The sign is in front of Howard Community College and, in my opinion, it’s a real attention grabber. Not because it’s large or gaudy (it isn’t) but because it somehow manages to look like a traditional painted sign while really being an electronic one. And the particular shade of blue is stunning. 

Encountering the sign reminded me of some of the smart and admirable things that HCC has been doing lately. You may have seen that they have allocated specific funds for students whose circumstances have been negatively impacted by COVID-19.

Impact may include loss of personal or family income, increased utility bills, change in childcare, food needs, healthcare needs, change in housing expenses, technology-related expenses, or expenses incurred as a result of the changes to course format and instruction.

And just this week it was announced that HCC has paid off outstanding debt for more than 2,000 students, spending:

…$1.64 million of federal relief funds to clear the student debt for a total of 2,050 students. The college concentrated its debt assistance on students with outstanding balances from the start of the pandemic to the end of the summer 2021 session, which concluded recently concluded.

After the balances were cleared, each student received notification that any holds on their account were removed. This important step ensures students can register for classes, acquire transcripts, or transfer to four-year colleges and universities without owing any funds to Howard Community College. Additionally, students can now focus their personal funding on important everyday living expenses.

In both of these actions HCC is making it possible for students to move forward. COVID has placed so many lives on hold over the last year and a half. Each of us has experienced that in our own way. But it has been exceptionally challenging for members of our community who aren’t buoyed up by any sort of affluence: no family nest egg, no generational wealth, no steady income from high paying jobs with health care and assorted benefits.

For students like this, pursuing higher education during the best of times is a struggle and a stretch. Add a worldwide pandemic and it may well become impossible. Yet it is higher education that opens the door to success through better jobs and opportunities. HCC has seen the need and is responding with two initiatives that directly address the need: additional funding to students who are now struggling due to COVID and the forgiveness of debt. 

Going to college was once solely for the children of the wealthy. And it perpetuated more of the same. Community colleges like HCC have made it their goal to create programs for those who would have been overlooked and or excluded in the past. They serve a constituency for whom higher education is a consistent game-changer. Completing educational programs and pursuing related careers can have a long-term positive effect that is not only financial, but most likely will mean improved quality of life outcomes across the board.

Education is an investment in the student and in the future. HCC is responding to the challenges faced by students during the pandemic in a way that will allow them to get “unstuck” and move forward because they are investing in these students for the long haul. Students who are free to pursue their academic goals become community members who have choices in life. 

COVID has taken away so many choices. Howard County is fortunate to be the home of an educational institution that understands how crucial it is to have those choices and is willing to do something to make them possible.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Did You Know?

Yesterday I found myself drawn to a post by Marlena Jareaux  of the EC Black History Roundtable. Looking at the 1860 census, she asks a number of questions, including:

Did you know there were 175 Free Black or Mulatto people recorded as living in the District that was made up of the Ellicott City post office? 

No. No, I didn’t. As Ellicott City prepares to celebrate 250 years it often seems that I see the same two Black notables in all the publicity photos: Benjamin Banneker and the County Executive. I found her post fascinating so I went to the page on the EC Black History Roundtable website that deals with the 1860 census. 

This website contains “ECBlackHistory”, but that does not mean it will only contain the names of Black people from the county’s past. What it does mean is that due to the story of Black Howard Countians being profoundly missing from historical accounts of the county, they will be emphasized here and given center stage because of that. 

Local stories are important to me, and the fact that our culture has done so little to honor and preserve the stories of Black men and women is unconscionable. The work that Ms. Jareaux and the EC Black History Roundtable are doing is necessary for all of us in order to grow in our understanding of a more complete and balanced history. It is especially valuable for the members of our community whose stories have been forgotten or suppressed outright.

While I was mulling this over I came across this piece from Margaret Barthel of WAMU:

You can read the piece, with accompanying maps and photographs, and/or listen to the audio. I did both. The dedication and persistence of Karen Hughes moved me.

Hughes is the founding director of the Fauquier County Afro-American Historical Association. She started researching local history in the late 1980s, desperate to help her daughter see her Black ancestors in the history she was learning at school.

The result of her work is this:

This summer, Hughes and her team — which includes her granddaughter, her sister, and a number of cousins — published the result of her passion for history: an interactive map of more than 140 sites of Black schools, churches, and communities in Fauquier County, with information on the Black families who lived here.

This immediately brought to mind the Harriet Tubman School and the years-long effort by Black residents, many of them former students of the school, to preserve it and open it as an educational center. And yet it again it stirred my sense of heartbreak and outrage at the recent destructive acts at the school which defaced historical displays and destroyed rare and precious ephemera.

Attempting to suppress or erase or lie about the history of Black people in this country is a deeply violent, oppressive act. Those in our community who are working to bring that history to light are doing important work. I am grateful for them. Did you learn about this story in school? Probably not.

(Taken from EC Black History Roundtable website)

…in 1901, Samuel F. Whipps (father of 26 children) was telling a reporter that he was going to file suit to eject Negros from the cemetery or dig up the graves himself if they didn’t do it!

When I woke up this morning, trying to decide what to write about today, I came across this piece shared by HoCo School Equity

I took it as a sign. 

To those who maintain that examining the factual truths of American history is unpatriotic, I offer this quote:

Racism is divisive. Learning about racism is not. - - Jess Piper

The EC Black History Roundtable now has 501c3 status, so you can send them a (tax-deductible) contribution to support their work. Click here to learn more. 

UPDATE: Shout out to HoCoMoJo’s Ilana Bittner who clued me in on EC Black History Project’s connection to Howard County Lynching Truth & Reconciliation. 

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Community Building


This Sunday at the Chrysalis, 5 - 7 pm: 
Music of Puerto Rico with Cultura Plenera
Get tickets here. (They are free, but you must register so they’ll know how many people to expect.)

I was lucky enough to be in attendance for Cultura Plenera’s first concert at the Chrysalis two years ago. I will be there again this weekend. The experience was a joyous expression Puerto Rican culture in music and dance. It was a delightfully immersive, inclusive event. From their website:

Cultura Plenera is a non-profit organization dedicated to community building in Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Virginia areas through the traditional Puerto Rican musical styles of Bomba and Plena. 

I’ve put together a musical slideshow to give you a taste of the Cultura Plenera experience. Photos are by Sherman Wright, music is from the CD “En Maryland Tocan Plena.” You may find after a bit that you want to get up and dance. Go for it.

I hope I’ll see you Sunday.

Accessibility to the arts isn’t simply about growing more artists and arts audiences. The arts promote a strong sense of community. They foster a sense of belonging and empowerment. The arts connect with many, many other disciplines by so many tiny threads that a free ticket to a concert may also open a door to many other amazing dreams. (“Open the Door”, September 19, 2019)

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

The One Without a Good Title


Absolutely could not think of a good title for this. Feel free to submit your own.

Thanks to all the folks who took the Equity Audit survey yesterday and who shared it around their social media connections. Despite my enthusiastic claim that it was “not too long” one reader found it exactly that and told them so. I commend her for her honesty and I guess I will have to add the disclaimer that your mileage may vary. I also had some feedback that the survey was not as comprehensive in its scope as it might have been, and, in retrospect, I can see that. 

If you agree give them your two cents when you take the survey. 

I saw a piece on Columbia Patch this morning about the William Donald Shafer Awards. They are soliciting nominations for this year’s awards, also known as the Helping People awards. The deadline is October 15th. From the article by Kristin Danley-Greiner:

Award recipients will be selected based on their demonstration of the following criteria:

  • Improving the community;
  • Promptly responding to a citizen problem through effective government intervention;
  • Directly aiding the most vulnerable populations; or
  • Establishing a public/private partnership to improve the lives of fellow Marylanders.
I immediately thought of several Columbia/HoCo locals who would be outstanding nominees. What do you think? Any names come to mind?

I encourage you to send in a nomination if you are so moved but I also have to admit that the directions for submitting are rather hilarious.

To submit a nomination: 

1. print out and 
2. complete this form 
3. scan and 
4. attach it as a pdf 
5. to an email and 
6. send to moprey@marylandtaxes.gov.

I think that we are particularly blessed in our community with people who step up and do this kind of work. I’d like to see at least one of them get recognized.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Just Do It


Have you seen this post on social media lately?

"Howard County Office of Human Rights and Equity is conducting a Community Equity Audit in three key areas: racial & social equity, opportunity, and quality of life. The goal of the community equity audit is to identify institutional and structural practices that produce inequities in services, policies, and access.

The Equity Audit matters because every resident (child, youth, family, individual) in Howard County matters. We are doing this audit because we are on the path to building a more caring, compassionate, and inclusive county.

Please take the time to complete the survey and share the link with others: http://bit.ly/3hXIL1r

Survey closes: August 27, 2021. 

I am here to tell you that I took the survey and was pleasantly surprised. Most surveys are either too long or too boring for me. I am perpetually starting out with good intentions and then quitting in frustration after page seven when I realize I’m nowhere near the end. 

This survey asks about things I really care about: 

  • racial & social equity
  • opportunity
  • quality of life
Best of all, it’s balanced between multiple choice and short answer questions where I could put things in my own words. And it was not too long! This is an anonymous survey and all answers are voluntary, so, if you really feel the need to skip something, you can. I didn’t find the need to skip over anything, for what that's worth.

The Equity Audit is an initiative of the Equity and Restorative Practices Unit of HoCoOHRE. I was interested to read about the seven core beliefs that guides their equity and restorative practices work. It gave me a clearer picture about the driving force behind the creation of the Equity Audit and their goals in reaching out to the community for their input.

You can check out Howard County Office of Human Rights and Equity on Facebook, Twitter: @HoCoOHRE, and Instagram: hocoohre. Truth in advertising: I have not checked to see if they are on TikTok.

The more people who complete the survey, the more informative and comprehensive the results will be. They don’t just want to hear from one segment of the County. They are hoping to get responses from many people and many different kinds of people. 

How can you help? Take the survey and share the link, not only with your immediate friends, but with local social media groups you belong to as well. If other folks are anything like me, you might want to reassure them that it’s easy to complete, not mind-numbingly tedious, and, most of all: it’s not too long!

Please note: today is August 17th. You have until the end of the month to get this done and share it around. I reached out to HoCoOHRE and they confirmed the survey will be open until then. Here’s a handy-dandy reminder:

When it comes to surveys, I am rather like Mikey in the old Life Cereal advert. If I liked it, it’s probably worth a try.

Monday, August 16, 2021

A Taste of Elkridge

I decided to take my practice driver over to Rockburn Park as we move farther afield in our driving sessions. Since it was a wickedly hot day and the point was racking up driving hours, we didn’t park and get out of the car. Therefore our first impression was of a nice series of parking lots. It’s funny how that works. You just have to get out of your car to appreciate some things.

Roll on, Fall weather. I’ll be back, Rockburn Park. Friend of the blog Bonnie Bricker told me I could find this barn there.

After our meanderings we took advantage of our proximity to visit the nearby Rita’s. I had a few thoughts while we were there.

First of all, it strikes me as odd that the main way to access that shopping center is through a housing development. Can anyone explain that to me? I’m talking about the group of businesses on Meadowridge Center Drive. I feel like I’ve watched that center spring up over the years. And there appears to be a new section of it - - the part with Rita’s? - - but I haven’t been driving that way recently so my impressions could be wildly inaccurate.

Do you patronize the business/doctor’s offices there frequently? Does it seem like an odd location to you? Do you have trouble getting in and out of the parking lot? 

I’m perfectly willing to accept that it’s just me. But I’ve always found that to be an odd location for a shopping center. Of course, what I perceive as odd could equally be, from another point of view, a creative use of space. There are some fabulous views of the center here.

Fun fact: if you miss the Kupcakes & Co bakery at Clarksville Commons, the original is located right here on Meadowridge Center Drive. 

Questions for the day:

What’s the best part of Rockburn park to explore on foot?

Is there any interesting history to the building of Meadowridge Center?

What’s your favorite flavor at Rita’s? (Or cupcake at Kupcakes & Co?)

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Flipping Off the Flippers, But Nicely


“Someone wants to buy our house!” My husband sounded a bit incredulous.

“But we’re not done with it yet,” I pointed out.

He read:

Hello, I noticed your property at [address redacted] and I’m writing because I’m a local investor who would like to provide you with an unconditional offer on your property.

We specialize in properties regardless of their condition - -

“That’s rude!” He threw the letter in the trash.

Rather like the home improvement salesman who stops by in person to tell you your windows/siding/roof look terrible, this investment guru put his worst foot forward. We were not amused.

Since buying the house, we have:

  • Redone the kitchen and all major appliances
  • Redone the back patio and fencing
  • Replaced major plumbing fixtures/pipes 
  • Replaced first floor flooring
  • Repainted everything but the upstairs hallway
  • New roof
  • New heating/cooling
  • Repaired air circulation/venting
You get the picture. Sure, our house is imperfect (we haven’t redone the bathrooms yet) but we don’t take kindly to letters suggesting our house is worth buying “regardless of condition.” If we want to joke about it, that’s our right. We have also lived in it and invested a lot in it and love it with all its quirks and flaws. We often joke that, by the time we die, we will have replaced every bit of the house and no original parts will remain. 

We know that these houses went up fast and weren’t necessarily built to last. But, for Heaven’s sakes, it is the only house that we can afford in Columbia/HoCo. Yes, I know these houses were meant to be starter houses and we would gladly make way for “starters” if the housing choices in the county included choices for us. They don’t.  If we sold to Mister Tactless Investorman, where would we go? There is no modestly “up” option for us. (I’m not sure there’s a modestly “down”, either.) So staying in this small but affordable quadroplex and investing in it and loving it is not only the very best choice for us, it’s pretty much the only choice for us if we want to stay local.

And we do. We love Howard County. We love Columbia. We especially love our Village, Oakland Mills. Investors looking to buy and flip our house in a wildly active market have the capital to do so but they will never have the care and commitment that we have to our neighborhood and community.

“Don’t take it personally,” I can almost hear you saying. It’s a form letter. It’s junk mail. I get that. We put it in the trash. 

But it’s not just an investment. Not simply numbers on a piece of paper. It’s home. I think we can be forgiven for taking that personally.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Comics and Politics


Before I forget: today is Free Comic Book Day. 

I found this photo on the Facebook page of Columbia business Comics to Astonish. You remember them. They’re the folks that were trying to reunite an abandoned stuffed plush mouse with its people earlier this summer. I did not realize until reading this poster that Free Comic Book Day has been going on for 20 years. Wow! 

I remember being at the Miller Branch of the Howard County Library on a day when they were participating in Free Comic Book Day, but that was in the Spring. I wonder if there’s more than one day each year, or if this year’s was moved on account of the pandemic.

I also wonder whether this cute little guy ever got back home.

Also today, the Farmers Market at Clarksville Commons (10-2)  and the last day of the Howard County Fair. (8:30 am - closing fireworks at 9:30 pm) Anything else I’m missing?

And now for something completely different…

The Governor’s race. I wrote a while back:

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

Are you seeing anyone who fits the bill here? Tom Coale, co-host of local podcast Elevate Maryland, has been writing recently about Maryland needing a Housing Governor. I don’t dispute that, although a voice inside me responds “Maryland needs an Education Governor.” Not to mention a Governor who really “gets” Baltimore and values its citizens.

For me, it all largely comes down to addressing equity issues that our current Governor has either ignored or worked in opposition to. The current Republican tactic nationwide appears to be trying to silence any speech that has to do with equity or addressing systemic racism. Will Democratic candidates feel that they must “tone down” such efforts in order to make headway in this election cycle?

What kind of a Governor are you looking for? 

Friday, August 13, 2021

One More Time, With Feeling

In case you hadn’t heard, HoCo’s anti-maskers made an appearance at last night’s Board of Education meeting. A rough summary of their combined testimony includes the following:

  • References to the Nuremberg trials 
  • there is no scientific reason to mask kids
  • the mask mandate is an abuse of power
  • the school board is acting outside the law
  • children will be actively harmed by wearing masks at school. 
I’m appalled but not surprised. 

At the suggestion of a friend I wrote a letter to the board in support of masking. You can, too. The address is boe@hcpss.org .

Thank you so much for making the wise choice in requiring masks in school this year. The delta variant is spreading rapidly and children are even more affected than before.

Masking will help to protect young children, who cannot be vaccinated yet. It will also protect teachers, admin, and support staff. Anything which slows or prevents the spread of COVID at school will also slow or prevent its spread outside of school to the families connected to our school communities.

I know this may not be a popular choice for some. No one really enjoys wearing masks. But it is a decision made with public health in mind and I strongly support it.

It is not the best letter I have ever written but it is certainly the fastest.

No one likes wearing masks, but the extremely active spread of the Delta variant of COVID clearly warrants masking for this school year or at least until all school aged children can be vaccinated. 

As I wrote not all that long ago, our individual choices in the pandemic affect so many others. To claim personal autonomy in this instance while ignoring the harm that one could unleash through one’s actions is profoundly selfish. And dangerous.

If you have a moment today, send an email to the board telling them how much you support the masking mandate. Imagine how many negative letters they get. Your letter in support of something that they are doing could be a ray of light in their day. And it might just strengthen their resolve to continue doing the safest and most effective thing we have right now to protect our children, teachers, staff, and families.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Gigs and Day Jobs


Coming up in Old Ellicott City, a concert by Richard Walton at the Little Market CafĂ©: August 13th at 6:00 PM. The tweet caught my eye. Where had I heard that name before? I feel as though a friend mentioned him on Facebook as a local favorite. Hmm…

Well, here he is again in today’s Columbia Flier, with upcoming appearances in Dorsey’s Search and River Hill. Let’s see what he says about himself on Twitter.

Maryland Hall of Fame Musician/Inductee, Award-Winning Songwriter @ Notlaw Music, Master Plumber/Gasfitter and President @ Charles H. Mullenberg Co 

Well, that’s interesting. I honestly do not know the life story of Mr. Walton but this brief bio appears to paint a picture of the many working musicians who also continue working their “day jobs”. It’s hard to make a living solely as an artist.

Since I am nothing if not curious, I decided to look up Charles H. Mullenberg Company. 

From 2017:

Wow! They are the oldest operating plumbing company in Maryland! And probably the only one whose President has recorded twelve albums and will soon be appearing at a venue near you. His band, the Richard Walton Group, was founded in 1990 and performs all original music. 

I just think this is a very cool story. 

If you’re thinking of coming out for one of these appearances you can take a listen to what you’re likely to be hearing at Apple Music or on YouTube. Just search under Richard Walton Group.

Have you ever heard Walton and his group perform? Are you a fan? Or perhaps there’s another local musician you’d like to put in a good word for. You know where to go.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Back to the Barn


Meanwhile, back at the barn.

Photo credit: Baltimore Sun

I asked around and it turns out that the barn I so admired is located at Routes 32 and 144,  at Triple Creek Farm. I checked with the writer of the piece, Tracy Trobridge, and she didn’t submit any photos with her text so I am guessing this was taken on the day of the groundbreaking event in July, and the Sun had it on hand. 

A fun fact: did you know that the electricity supplied under this agreement will account for more than fifty per cent of County energy usage? What a great investment in a healthier environment.

A shoutout to Ms. Trobridge, the Neighborhood Columnist at Howard County Times who responded to my email within hours on Monday. As I had guessed the neighborhood columnists are a holdover from the Patuxent Publishing days. I vaguely remember them from the years I lived in Rodgers Forge, before I moved to Columbia.

The Lisbon and West Friendship columnists have both retired and not been replaced.  There is still one for Main Street Ellicott City and one for Clarksville, but looking back over the papers from the last few weeks I don't see anyone else.  I guess it might just be the three of us.  There used to be at least ten.

If you’d like to see neighborhood columnists make a comeback, perhaps you could drop an email to the Howard County Times. Did Columbia have Village columnists? Or perhaps the paper considered Columbia one big neighborhood. We do have our own newspaper edition, after all.

I was not so bold as to ask whether they got paid. It didn’t seem polite, somehow. I’m guessing not.

If you went to see James Taylor last night my heart was with you. I’ve been a fan almost my entire life. I’ve seen him twice but it just didn’t work out for me this time. Perhaps I’ll drive out Route 32 today and find that barn. I can’t explain it; I just love barns.

That will probably lift my spirits.

Monday, August 9, 2021



It all started with a barn. A photo of one, actually. I don’t know why, I just love barns. 

(Photo credit: Baltimore Sun Media Group)

The photo drew my attention to a story in the Howard County Times:

Solar energy burns bright on Western Howard County farms, Tracy Trobridge for the Baltimore Sun

Guess what? The barn appears nowhere in the article. Darn, no barn.

It’s a brief and informative article about how several privately-owned farms in Western Howard County will be participating in the recently announced solar power purchase agreement with Howard County Government. The piece refers to a ground-breaking in July and I am guessing that this is it. That’s all great. As far as I know, everyone supports solar. It won’t put an undue burden on septic systems, won’t create extra traffic of trucks going to and fro, produces no noxious odors nor additional children in the schools. 

The article ends with a curious statement:

We can be proud that it’s all beginning in our neighborhood.

This is a statement of opinion, which means this is not a straight news article. I looked up the author and discovered that her title is “Neighborhood Columnist at Howard County Times.” We have neighborhood columnists? How did I not know this? Is this a throwback to the Patuxent Publishing Days? I’d love to know how many neighborhood columnists there are in Howard County. Do they get paid? Is it an honor simply to be chosen?

I’m clearly a bundle of questions over here this morning. And, while we’re at it: where is that barn? I feel a bit let down here. Perhaps I’ll reach out to Ms. Trobridge for the answer to that and all my other questions.