Tuesday, November 30, 2021

My Third Place

It’s Giving Tuesday. I went to bed last night dreaming of how wonderful it would be to be able to give to every local cause I believe in. What a long list that is! Of course, that’s just a lovely thought, and I must winnow my list like everyone else. 

Recently the talk over at the Columbia Conversation has been about a Third Place, which they define as “…somewhere you feel you belong that's NOT your home or office (The Central Perk, the coffee shop from Friends, is a perfect example). This could be a dog park, gym, church, library - really, any public setting where you feel a sense of community.”

They go on to ask:

Do you feel like you’ve found your “third place” in Columbia? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

I had to think about that for a while. The pandemic had pretty much wiped my brain clean of the concept of a place where it was safe to hang out with anyone. Last night I saw a photograph and everything clicked.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since it was posted. My Third Place is definitely Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods, and specifically all the cool events at the Chrysalis. Especially this last spring and summer, when I didn’t feel safe being indoors and close to others because of COVID, it was such a joy to be able to enjoy music in the park and feel connected to other human beings as well.

This is the photograph.

   Photo courtesy of the Inner Arbor Trust

This season alone the park hosted free, COVID-safe musical events in collaboration with:

  •  Baltimore Symphony
  •  Baltimore Concert Opera
  •  Maryland Winds
  •  Drama Learning Center 
  •  Cultura Plenera
  •  Columbia Jazz Band
  •  U.S. Coast Guard Band
  •  Ms. Rowe and the DC Strings Workshop
  •  Marsha and the Positrons
  •  The Columbia Orchestra

In addition, Merriweather Park in Symphony Woods was the home of collaborations with Howard Ecoworks, Howard County Pride, and the Out of the Darkness Walk for Suicide Prevention.

Oh,  I almost forgot!  All those free happy hours in the park with live music, and yoga on the Chrysalis Stage in collaboration with the Columbia Association.

Merriweather Park in Symphony Woods is unique among area nonprofits in providing free arts experiences that appeal to and are responsive to the diverse audiences that make up our community. 

Let me say that again.

Merriweather Park in Symphony Woods is 


among area nonprofits in providing 

free arts experiences 

that appeal to and are responsive to 

the diverse audiences that make up our community. 

Why say it twice? Well, sometimes I think that message gets…drowned out by all the noise from commercial venues. 

Merriweather Park in Symphony Woods is my Third Place because it welcomes everyone. If you have some funds available to give today, please send some their way. Any donation, whether small or large, sends a message that our community supports access to arts for all.

To give through today’s Giving Tuesday event, click here. Facebook is matching all donations.

We remain committed to bringing free, accessible arts to this diverse community. You can show the power of collective generosity this Giving Tuesday. - - Inner Arbor Trust

Monday, November 29, 2021

The Return


He’s back. 

Santa, that is. It appears that the tradition of a visit with Santa is one of those “back to normal” experiences that some folks have been craving. If you are one of those folks, your opportunities in Columbia/HoCo are looking good.

The gold standard for many is a trip to see Santa in residence at The Mall in Columbia. From Columbia Patch:

Visit Santa at Center Court on the lower level of The Mall in Columbia now through Dec. 24. Reservations are encouraged and can be made here

There are also specific dates and times to bring your “special fur friends” to see Santa. Additionally, on December 5th and 12th the Mall will be hosting Santa Cares Day to provide a Sensory Friendly experience for special needs guests.

You have to click through several screens to find out what COVID precautions are in place. It looks like sitting on Santa’s lap is now an acceptable thing again. Since I’m not so sure how safe we all are right now, especially when it comes to children under five, I’m finding the listed precautions to be more like required legalese and less like a serious commitment to the prevention of spreading a still-active disease. Take a look for yourself before you book.

If you would prefer that Santa come to you, Blossoms of Hope is teaming up with Zaching Against Cancer to bring Santa right to your door. The Santa Project is scheduling visits for the following dates: December 4 & 5, 2021; December 11 & 12, 2021; December 18 & 19, 2021. From their website:

The Santa Project features Santa and his elves making personal visits to children and their families during the Christmas season. This initiative, created during the COVID pandemic, was so successful in its first year that more than 2,300 children were able to greet Santa and his elves at their homes. The Santa Project has now become a regular event for Blossoms of Hope.

I don’t see any COVID information on their site or in the registration process. I will reach out to them to see what their policies are. It’s altogether possible that they send the information after booking the appointment. It seems unlikely to me that groups like Blossoms of Hope and Zaching Against Cancer, both attuned to the needs of cancer patients and their families, wouldn’t be taking any precautions at all.

Update from The Santa Project:

The Santa Project will be taking proper precautions to ensure all visits are COVID safe. All visits will be outside, rain or shine. 

Most Santa teams will not be wearing masks. If you prefer that they wear a mask, let the elf know and they will accommodate your request.

So you can go see Santa or Santa can come to you. So far, so good. The third choice is a new and different take on the Santa experience. You can hang with the jolly man in red or even be a Santa yourself.

New to the Columbia/HoCo is Saunter Claus. 

The first ever Saunter Claus event is happening Saturday, December 4th, and you're invited to dress up, participate and share the festivities as we saunter around Downtown Columbia & Merriweather District.

We're all about merriment, spreading joy and, well, being fabulous!

This is not the traditional photo op for the little ones. This is as close to an actual “happening” that Columbia has experienced in years, if ever. Saunter Claus, based loosely on DC’s Santarchy, is the brainchild of two Columbia Pioneers. 

Update: the event planners want to make sure that people understand that is a COSTUME CENTRIC event. It's not a "show up with a Santa hat but your regular clothes” event. It’s a full-on, participate 100 per cent activity. Check out their website for more information.

I wish them much success.

Even if you have no intention of sauntering around downtown in costume, please go take a look at their website to appreciate the creativity and thought that went into this. I find it to be quite delightful. The combination of zaniness and meticulous organizational details are pretty darned impressive.* Who knows? You might be inspired.

You can follow @saunterclaus on Twitter, and sign up for their newsletter through their website.


Completely unrelated to Santa: local podcast Elevate Maryland returns to live shows tonight at 6:30 pm in their new home at Busboys & Poets (Merriweather District.) Their guest: County Council Member Opel Jones. 

*For as thorough as their plans are, I don’t see any COVID precautions listed. Will reach out to them. Update, as per organizers: 

  • We don't have any COVID precautions. 
  • It's outside, inside, outside, inside.
  • People can choose their own engagement and participation based on that. 

Sunday, November 28, 2021

The Bully’s Pulpit


Bully vs Bully Pulpit

Bully pulpit comes from the 26th U.S. President, Theodore Roosevelt, who observed that the White House was a bully pulpit. For Roosevelt, bully was an adjective meaning "excellent" or "first-rate"—not the noun bully ("a blustering, browbeating person") that's so common today. Roosevelt understood the modern presidency's power of persuasion and recognized that it gave the incumbent the opportunity to exhort, instruct, or inspire. He took full advantage of his bully pulpit, speaking out about the danger of monopolies, the nation's growing role as a world power, and other issues important to him. Since the 1970s, bully pulpit has been used as a term for an office—especially a political office—that provides one with the opportunity to share one's views. - - Merriam Webster

Social media has become the place where much local information is shared. Howard County, with no local television or radio station, and a newspaper which is shrinking by the minute, relies almost entirely on social media to keep community members informed. Therefore it’s not at all surprising to see regular communication from County Council members, County Government, and the County Executive on social media. Specifically, we see the County Executive use Facebook to “exhort, instruct, or inspire” . It is an accepted part of the mission of the office, and using social media to do so just makes sense.

Since his election in 2018, County Executive Ball has done just that, using what Roosevelt called a”bully pulpit.” For example: anyone following his account on social media has seen him exhort the community to support small businesses, instruct on how Howard Countians could be safest during the COVID-19 pandemic, and inspire us to make our county a more accepting, equitable, and inclusive place. 

Being the elected executive of Howard County provides him with an excellent opportunity (i.e., a bully pulpit) to communicate the goals of County Government as well as its day-to-day operations. It allows him to shine a light on businesses, organizations, and individuals whose actions make our county a better place. Communication is a part of the job. 

Yesterday I was yet again struck by a different sort of communication which has been at work since Dr. Ball was sworn in to office. Let’s call it “the Bully’s Pulpit.”

Almost as soon as a post appears on Facebook, a host of trolls shows up to mock, harass, belittle, disparage, rant. If this were taking place in the physical world, these people would be showing up at every event, heckling loudly, throwing things, spitting, perhaps attempting to storm the lectern.In fact, it seems that their goal is to aggressively seize the pulpit for their own purposes. Clearly they find not being at the center of attention deeply threatening.

It’s a kind of online violence. It is not a simple expression of differing points of view. It has no interest in an intelligent exchange of ideas. Over the past three years this persistent trolling has brought a degree of ugliness into so many of the County Executive’s posts that it was necessary for him to address it directly on his Facebook page.

We understand there have been concerns regarding the public forum on our Facebook page and many members of our community expressed interest in the deletion of inflammatory and/or offensive comments. Howard County Government allows members of the public to comment on this page on matters of public interest which results in the creation of a public forum. The First Amendment under the Constitution protects comments posted in a public form, with certain limited exceptions (examples: "true threats," defamation, incitement to commit crimes, etc.).  
We cannot delete public comments protected by the First Amendment, even if they are offensive to a particular group or individual. Howard County Government reserves the right to delete or remove comments such as advertisements, solicitations, other commercial speech, posts that contain malware or other links that pose a cyber-security risk.

As I waded through yet another targeted attack I spotted a piece of information that I thought it worthwhile to share with my readers. Amidst the vituperative and unfounded accusations was a strong endorsement of Republican candidate Allan Kittleman. 

There you have it. Mr. Kittleman is the preferred candidate of the folks who have used “the Bully’s Pulpit”to do just that: bully. The fact that Kittleman has accepted the call of these very people to run against Calvin Ball is pretty much everything you need to know. It is their demand he has responded to. It is their call he hears. Kittleman’s name is not on the Facebook posts but his fingerprints are very likely on their message.

Leading the County in a time of pandemic has to be exhausting and discouraging. While criticism is a part of the life of any elected official, what this County Executive has been subjected to crossed the line of acceptable behavior a long, long time ago. Yet he keeps going, doing the job he was elected to do.  I’m grateful that Dr. Ball has shown the kind of leadership outlined in this well-known Teddy Roosevelt quote:

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. - -  Theodore Roosevelt 

Saturday, November 27, 2021

A Slice of Small Business


It’s Small Business Saturday. I’m a strong supporter of shopping local, as regular readers of the blog know. It’s particularly important to patronize our mom & pops after a year of pandemic closures and restrictions. I’m not at all excited to spend my money at businesses that turned out to oppose a living wage, but that’s another post altogether. 

Today I want to talk about pizza. 

Yesterday residents in Oakland Mills were bemused to learn that the Oakland Mills Village Center will soon be marking the Grand Opening of a new business: 

Why “bemused”? Well, the Oakland Mills Village Center already has two establishments that serve pizza: Pizzaman, and Little Caesar’s. And NYC Pizza is replacing long time local favorite Vennari’s, which merged with their nearby location in Owen Brown.

That’s a lot of pizza. 

The departure of Vennari’s left many folks with the impression that perhaps one village couldn’t support three pizza places. And here comes a new one.

If you are curious as to how we could have arrived at this juncture, it’s really quite simple. The land that the Oakland Mills Village Center sits on has multiple owners. So each pizza place is on land owned by someone different. The newest one will be a tenant of Cedar Properties.

As crazy as it seems to me, none of these owners have a responsibility to the Village of Oakland Mills, nor to the well-being of the Village Center. The Oakland Mills Community Association can ask to be kept informed as to what is going on, but they have little (probably no) input on any of this. While we as a community naturally have questions and concerns, we have no direct access to the actual owners so often it’s OMCA that gets an earful: the Village Manager and the Village Board.

My two favorite comments in an online discussion last night went along these lines:

Is this survival of the fittest?

Maybe they think that’s all we eat.

I would hazard a guess that each individual owner is motivated by trying to find a business that can pay the rent and have enough economic success to keep paying the rent. That’s it. Larger property owners like Cedar surely have all sorts of data and economic projections to rely on. I can’t begin to imagine what they truly care about.

Does no one have the sense that God gave a grasshopper that it would make more commercial sense in the long run to commit to a variety of businesses that won’t cannibalize eachother?


On the other hand, leaving such decisions to community groups would undoubtedly lead to the kind of Village Board meetings I used to dread, where angry people show up demanding a recreation of their youth while others dither on long past the time limit waxing eloquent about a nice cheese shop. I get that. But how I wish there were some sort of working group that included all the owners and Oakland Mills Community Association leaders. 

Yes, I’m imagining some sort of Knights of the Round Table where all were pledged to the overarching cause of sustaining a Village Center that was economically successful and good for the community. Right now what we have is a misbegotten potluck where everyone has brought jello salad.

No, I don’t have any expectation that this might actually happen. I can dream, can’t I?

On a positive note, I’ve learned that the owner of Pizzaman (which has an extensive menu far beyond pizza) had nothing but positive words about NYC Pizza. And a bonus: he’s planning to introduce new menu items from his native Nepal.

I love our Village Center, probably because I love my village. There’s a lot going on when I stop by the LA Mart for groceries or pick up carry out from Lucky’s. (I’m trying to cut back on that regular Dunkin drive through habit.) We welcome folks from all over the County at the Columbia Ice Rink. Althea’s Almost Famous food truck draws happy eaters from around the area. I buy my occasional lottery tickets at Sam’s Mart where they always wish me “good luck.”

We are hardly languishing over here.

I do wish that someone would open the Great Big Book of Village Centers for me and explain how we came to have so many different owners for a plot of land that is not really all that big. It's beginning to take on a rather Game of Thrones vibe for me.

Friday, November 26, 2021



I grew up Unitarian, before they merged with the Universalists. We rarely went to the Unitarian Society of Cleveland where my parents were founding members. I’m not sure I had any sense of religion other than to celebrate the good things and honor good people and try to make a contribution with our own lives to the greater good. 

My mother had a deep distrust of organized religion, specifically Christianity. Of the Old Testament, she said:

God stacked the deck against Adam and Eve. He put that snake in that garden.

Of the New Testament:

Don’t finish that story. It doesn’t end well.

She felt uncomfortable if I made friends with children who memorized Bible verses. If we received overtly religious Christmas cards they somehow never made it onto the mantle. 

We said grace before meals only at Thanksgiving and Christmas. This is probably because we shared the celebratory meals with my grandparents. Although they, too, were Unitarians, they came from a generation that was somehow more traditionally “religious” about it.

I loved grace. I always wanted to be the one to say the grace. I feel like there was a while there when I was allowed to do it pretty regularly, which means that either I wasn’t too terrible at it, or nobody else wanted to do it. Also, I was the youngest. Perhaps they were indulging me.

All of these memories came flooding back last night as I was sitting at the dining room table as we were about to begin our Thanksgiving meal. My mother in law and daughter were in the kitchen. My husband was lighting the candles. And I started thinking up a grace “just in case somebody asks me”

Old habits die hard. (And my husband was not feeling up to saying the grace.)

What I discovered in that moment was how grateful I was for the communities that have sustained us over the last hard and frightening year. First for the community of family, both near and far. As I looked around the table I saw the communities that had held up each one of us: teaching community, musical theatre community, neighborhood community, church community, even social media community. I offered thanks for all of those.

I also expressed a hope that we, through our own lives, could sustain others in our particular communities as we had been sustained. In a way it was a prayer strongly influenced by my Unitarian upbringing, even though I am now an Episcopalian who worships with Lutherans. At any rate it was topical and it didn’t offend anyone as far as I know. 

I awoke this morning with thoughts of all the communities - -  or circles of people - - who are outside our own circles. That I wasn’t even thinking about last night. We may not know them and we do not know where they were yesterday or whether they were even able to share a celebratory meal with others. Or whether they would even want to. 

These people are also our neighbors. And in those unknown circles are people who may have sustained us over the last year in many anonymous ways: cleaning hospital rooms, stocking grocery shelves, protesting injustice, organizing clinics, assuring free elections, caring for our natural environment, collecting our trash. As natural as my dinner table vision was of our particular sustaining communities, and as understandable as it is to feel that way during a family celebration, my awakening today to a broader vision gives me pause.

It’s the reminder of a deeper question that I may have learned from the New Testament but is readily available everywhere you look:

Who is my neighbor? 

Is there such a thing as a day-after-Thanksgiving grace? Perhaps it is as simple as how we live our lives.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Other Views


I’ve seen more people this year posting “Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate.” That must be startling to those who always thought that everyone in the US celebrates Thanksgiving, that it’s a blanket holiday for all Americans. But, as the truth about the origins of the day becomes more and more widely known, it’s not surprising that feelings and practices centered on the day are changing.

As each “traditional” holiday rolls around I find myself drawn more and more to exploring the celebrations of people who are not a part of the dominant culture. It isn’t enough for me to perpetuate what I know already. In recent years I have become keenly aware of how much I don’t know. Seven years ago I wrote about how photographs on social media introduced me to different views of how people celebrate Thanksgiving. (“The Invisible Gravy Boat”, November 24, 2014)

This year I’m thinking a lot about my Jewish friends as they undertake to celebrate Thanksgiving with Hanukkah beginning just a few days later. And that brought to mind the Thanksgiving feast that students and teachers made for parents at Bet Yeladim Preschool, where I worked in the Before Times. It was all of the feast except the turkey because BY was a kosher facility. I remember how odd it felt to me but it wasn’t the least bit strange to many of our families. 

While attempting to learn more about the Jewish experience of Thanksgiving in the US I came across a children’s book called “Not This Turkey!” by Jessica Steinberg. It tells the story of an immigrant family whose lives are changed when the father wins the workplace raffle for a Thanksgiving turkey.

I won’t say any more, so as not to spoil it for you. There are three (unexceptional) read aloud versions available on YouTube. I am sorry to say that it is not available at the Howard County Library. However, I highly recommend this short video by author Jessica Steinberg, which introduces the book and its themes.

You can read more about how the book came about in this piece by Penny Schwartz from The Times of Israel.

I’m sharing all this because I am on a journey to keep learning about people and cultural experiences I have too long been ignorant about. Of course that doesn’t mean I assume that my readers are ignorant. As always I am reaching out to you for any insight and perspective you have to offer. 

Yesterday my doctor and I discussed our upcoming holiday plans. She described how she would be preparing the turkey and then added, with a smile, “of course my mother will want all her Nigerian dishes.” I immediately wondered what that would look like and what kinds of flavors, textures, and aromas would be blending with the “traditional” roast turkey.

What will your Thanksgiving look like? Have you ever participated in a Thanksgiving celebration that was much different than your own?

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate. And, as author Connie Schultz puts so wisely. “For those who are struggling, may the day land gently.”

Wednesday, November 24, 2021



Nightmare-provoking scenes from television shows of my childhood include the protagonist trapped in a telephone booth that is filling with water, and another where they are locked in a room where the walls are closing in, moving closer and closer. 

Nightmare-provoking realities in Howard County: housing and childcare unavailable or far too expensive, wages too low, a pandemic that has left an ongoing trail of damage both to community members and businesses.All of the things that low-wage earners need to survive are moving farther and farther away and they are stretched to the breaking point. 

So here’s the “Why” from yesterday’s post:

Why are members of Columbia Community Care organizing a toy drive again this year? It’s simple. For our neighbors, who are living daily in crisis mode to cover just the basics of food and housing, a gift for a child is an impossibility. 

I’ve written before about how housing insecurity in Howard County actually creates poverty. So does a minimum wage that has remained stagnant as everything else around it has gone up. Howard County Council members Christiana Rigby and Opel Jones have introduced legislation that will gradually raise minimum wage and will set in place a process for ongoing review. 

Strangely enough, some folks want to look at this as an attack on small businesses rather than a correction which allows people in Howard County to be able to earn closer to a real bare minimum than the poverty wages they are earning today.

The other day I wrote that the testimony in opposition presented by local business owners was truly disheartening. Low wages have become so much a part of many business models that employers have come to feel entitled to them and use them as a means of keeping their businesses afloat. 

Franklin Delano Roosevelt would like a word with them.

It seems to me to be equally plain that no business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country. (Statement on the National Industry Recovery Act, 1933)

So, it goes like this: employers skimp on the most crucial and valuable part of their business: human capital. Then both Howard County Government and area non-profits scramble to fill in the gaps. Since the pandemic the needs are greater and, not surprisingly, we have seen the creation of more non-profits to address the need. 

Make no mistake: exployers who will not invest in their own workers are essentially relying on others to pay what they won’t. 

That’s not good business. You can paint it with all sorts of businessy language but at its heart it is just ugly.

I read this quote from Archbishop Desmond Tutu last night in a book I’m reading for a class:

There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.

Responding to this statement, the author, Glennon Doyle, says something very interesting about philanthropy.

Every philanthropist, if she is paying attention, eventually becomes an activist. If we do not, we run the risk of being co-dependent with power - - saving the system’s victims while the system collects the profits, then pats us on the head for our service. We become injustice’s foot soldiers.


That’s it in a nutshell. 

Our neighbors in Columbia and Howard County most likely do not wish to depend on charity for their very survival. Imagine having to plan your entire life around lining up for food, diapers and feminine hygiene products, school supplies, warm winter clothing, a toy for your child. What a difference it would make to simply pay our neighbors a living wage.

Should we continue to give to those initiatives that provide what is so desperately needed? Absolutely.

But we also need to go upstream and address what’s causing people to fall in.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021



This is the time of year where people who love shopping are in their element. Perhaps you love the thrill of finding the perfect gift, or maybe it’s scoring the best bargain that ignites your holiday joy. In addition there’s always the fun of exploring Columbia/HoCo to support local businesses while ticking off the people on your gift list.

LiveGreen Howard reminded me this morning that there’s another way to shop.

They are recommending clutter-free gifts which can be equally (or maybe even more) enjoyable. Plus, they don’t add more “stuff” to the environment. Experiences, memberships, consumables, and gifts of time make up LiveGreen Howard’s holiday wishlist. It looks like many of those could be opportunities to invest your money in local businesses, making it a win-win for the environment and your neighbors.

Another way to have a clutter-free holiday is to participate in a Buy Nothing communty.

We offer people a way to give and receive, share, lend, and express gratitude through a worldwide network of hyper-local gift economies in which the true wealth is the web of connections formed between people who are real-life neighbors.

You would be amazed at how many brand new, in perfect condition, ready-to-be-gifted items are out there. Or maybe you wouldn’t. Well meaning gifts sometimes miss the mark. In a way, Buy Nothing helps them find better homes. In the process, it helps people declutter, keeps stuff out of landfills, and helps members give without straining their budgets. 

If you still crave the excitement of picking that perfect gift, local non-profit Columbia Community Care has the perfect option for you.

Who: Columbia Community Care, for community members 

What:  NEW UNWRAPPED toys, books, crafts, gloves, mittens, hats, after-school snacks, treats, etc for ages 2 - 12 years.  Also Gift wrap, gift bags, and tape. (No weapons!)

How: They won’t be sorting out toys/bulk orders, or bagging up treat bags ahead of time, so please bring everything READY for distribution. 

When: Dropoff between 9 and 10 am, December 11th.*

Where: Wilde Lake Interfaith Center


Why? That’s tomorrow’s post.

*Columbia Community Care is working on a way for donors to drop off toys in advance of the date, to make giving more convenient. I will keep you posted on any updates.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Considering a Living Wage


I’ve been following the movement to establish a living wage in Howard County with great interest. Some of the testimony in opposition presented by local business owners is truly disheartening. This morning I came across something I wrote in a November, approaching Thanksgiving, eight years ago. It feel like a particularly relevant introduction to a discussion of what a living wage is all about.

Dark Ages (November 13, 2013)

There was a time when wealth, and health, and all manner of good things were considered to be signs of God's favor. By the same token, poverty, ill-health, mental illness, disability and the like were signs of God's disfavor and punishment. Unable to conceive? Crops fail? Family starving? Parent of a disabled child? A veritable sign of your sin, for all the world to see.

But, that was a long time ago, right? We know better than that now. Don't we?

I wonder.

It has become all the rage these days to say that those who are doing well financially are doing so by the sheer dint of effort. They worked hard, did the right things. And those who are poor are slackers. Clearly they didn't work hard, didn't do the right thing. It's as simple as that.

This is nothing but a gussied up version of what was said in the Dark Ages. Except that, in this case, our subjects have put themselves at the center instead of God. I did it, I worked, I studied, I saved, so it is my success, my business, my reward, my hard earned money. And with this comes its darker, shadowy companion--if others are poor, they must have done something wrong.

Years ago I saw a television promo for the Simpsons where someone, possibly Bart or Homer, was saying the Grace before Thanksgiving dinner.

"Dear God, everything that's on this table I put here myself, so thanks for nothing."

The tone and the content of the statement took my breath away. Yes, I'm sure it was meant to be humorous, but to me it was chillingly narrow and mean-spirited. I use it now to ask: when we sit at the table with our families and there is enough to go around, is that a time to be self-righteous?

Does our plenty give us a right to mock and denigrate the want of others? Or should it open a door in our hearts and minds to the awareness of the many blessings which have allowed us to thrive, the absence of which we may never have even considered?

Having had the opportunity for a decent education, the chance to have a job that can make a significant contribution to the family upkeep, having experienced family stability, regular health care, these and many other things have enabled us to "work hard and do the right thing."

Those opportunities should lead to enlightenment -- and a realization that we are called to be a light to others. If we look at our blessings and can only say "I did it all myself, so thanks for nothing" then we have truly remained in the dark.


I’m working on a piece about Howard County and the need for a living wage. In the meantime, the above post is food for thought. 

Does our plenty give us a right to mock and denigrate the want of others? Or should it open a door in our hearts and minds to the awareness of the many blessings which have allowed us to thrive, the absence of which we may never have even considered?

Let’s consider them.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

The Real World


I came very close to writing a post this morning based on things I had read on social media. And then something inside me objected. It’s all too easy to get sucked into looking at the world through that narrow lens. What about some real life experiences? It isn’t like I’m trapped in the house these days.

Well, alrighty then.

I found myself off the beaten path in Long Reach the other day. Every time this happens I am struck by the variety of gorgeous, Columbia-vintagey houses there. I’d gladly sign up for a house tour in Long Reach alone. And yet I never hear people talk about Long Reach this way. What’s up with that?

Do you live in Long Reach, or do you have friends or family who do? Everyone knows what a cheerleader I am for my own village, Oakland Mills, but, after driving around in Long Reach over the years I find myself drawn somehow to its personality. I’d love to learn more.

Totally off topic: restaurants with outdoor heating. I recently had a wonderful meal at a local establishment where we were able to eat outside. Strangely enough, through they had plenty of heaters, they didn’t seem to give off any noticeable heat. Someone in our party who works in the restaurant industry told me that only the “mushroom-shaped” heaters are truly effective. He described other styles as being more of a “fire feature” than a heat source. 

From Wayfair:

From Home Depot:

What has been your experience with restaurants providing outdoor seating with heaters? I’m curious to see if our friend’s Mushroom Theory can be borne out by a wider source of reporting. 

One more thing: an update on soup. I did catch a post from Ellicott City’s Little Market Café which looks promising.

Any recommendations from Little Market Café fans? Also, I thought it was called the Little French Market. I must be behind the times. At any rate, this is an opportunity to get off of social media and go over to Old Ellicott City and try them out.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Under the Gun

Howard County students stage walkout over racist video, February 3, 2016

Photo credit: WBAL TV

Black Lives Activists stage peaceful protest in Columbia, August 14, 2016 (and ongoing)

Photo credit: Black Lives Activists page, Facebook

Thousands March peacefully in Columbia to protest police killings, June 3, 2020

Photo credit: Len Lazarick/Maryland Reporter

 Hundreds rally in rural Western Howard County in support of Black Lives Matter, June 18, 2020

Image Credit: HoCo United page, Facebook

Kyle Rittenhouse shoots three, two fatally, at event protesting killing of Jacob Blake by police, August 25, 2020

Social Justice Club Rallies Support for Removal of Police in Schools, May 27, 2021

Photo credit: Jeffrey F. Bill, Baltimore Sun Media Group

Kyle Rittenhouse found not guilty of all charges in Kenosha shootings, November 19, 2021


Yesterday in Kenosha, Wisconsin a judge and jury turned a gun on anyone in this country who dares to exercise their 1st amendment right to protest, specifically: if they are standing up for Black people and protesting against their unjust treatment. 

This is both a wrong and dangerous decision in Kenosha, Wisconsin and in Howard County, Maryland. I have no patience with anyone whose response is to tell those who dissent to “stay in their lane.” You know what’s in everybody’s lane?

  • Justice for the oppressed 
  • Rights to free expression and assembly 
I’m not surprised by this verdict but I am sick with anger and dread at its potential consequences. I mourn for the murdered and their families. I see the long arm of white supremacy yet again reaching into every community across the nation to reassert itself.

None of us are free.

“None of us are free”, Solomon Burke 

Friday, November 19, 2021

The Great Debate


Yesterday was…something. I’d like to thank the 757 people who read yesterday’s post and now I hope all of you will do something to be a force for good in defending pubic education.

Today I need a break from the intensity, to turn my attention elsewhere for a bit. So I’ve decided to take on a new controversy, one that reaches beyond the boundaries of Howard County. It’s local, it’s regional, it’s national, and probably exists anywhere in the world that Americans get together for Thanksgiving. That’s right, I’m talking about stuffing. Or dressing. 

Today on Village Green/Town²: stuffing vs dressing. 

In looking for a restaurant meal we could bring home for the upcoming holiday, I was startled to see how many of the menus included corn bread dressing. I’ve eaten it, and it’s good enough in its own way, but I grew up on stuffing, that is, bread stuffing with herbs, etc. In most cases, when it comes to holiday meals, we want what have we grown up with.  Not stuffing-related, but with similar intent:

We ended up choosing Atwater’s in Catonsville because of their variety of the accompanying side dishes, one of them being the favored bread stuffing.

How about you? Bread stuffing? Corn bread dressing? Baked in the bird, or in a separate casserole dish? I feel certain that there’s as much or more highly charged opinion on this as I’ve seen on that perennial  Halloween item: candy corn. Or perhaps you’d like to take a stand with a benign but probably unpopular opinion such as wild rice stuffing or (horrors!) no stuffing at all.

In closing I’d like to recommend this piece in the Sun by John-John Williams IV:

The Black Thanksgiving ‘trinity’: These are soul foods Maryland chefs say make the holiday history

Williams interviews Black chefs from around the area about traditional Thanksgiving foods. I found it fascinating. Some years back I wrote about how not everyone’s Thanksgiving table looks the same. This piece by Williams gave me an opportunity to learn more about Thanksgiving foods and traditions that are different than mine.

One thing that’s the same: having enough food for leftovers is key. I like that. 

Please chime in on the great stuffing vs dressing debate! Add your comments here.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

The Poison from Out of Town


Those loud angry voices in town have a new out of town megaphone: a group called Parents Defending Education. You may already be familiar with the terming astroturfing, defined by Merriam-Webster as follows:

organized activity that is intended to create a false impression of a widespread, spontaneously arising, grassroots movement in support of or in opposition to something (such as a political policy) but that is in reality initiated and controlled by a concealed group or organization (such as a corporation)

This is astroturfing, plain and simple. At the moment they’ve set their sights on issues concerning how human sexuality is addressed in the Howard County Public Schools. PDE popped up in my Twitter feed last night attacking both teachers and curriculum.

This group calls itself a grassroots organization. I’m dubious about that. Take a look at this post on Curmudgucation, “Astroturf goes hard right.” There’s more to learn in the attached post which defines PDE as “Prefab Grassroots”. In short, where the funding is coming from is a source of deep concern. This is not a mom and pop operation. PDE and similar groups are attacking public education on a number of fronts. It’s not just about what books are in the school library. They’re also connected to the spurious “CRT” outrage that’s sweeping the country right now. 

Parents Defending Education encourages people to “turn in” teachers and schools with a handy-dandy form right on their website.

Let’s let that sink in for a minute.

When was in high school I performed in a one act play by Bertolt Brecht entitled The Informer. In the play, set in Nazi Germany, a teacher fears he has been reported to the authorities by his own son. As an adolescent I viewed the play as more of an historical exercise than a living, relevant warning. That couldn’t happen again, right?

Here’s some food for thought from Curmudgucation:

Call it a culture war, or just call it plain old racist baloney, this appears to be the next front in the education debates. It's gaslighting on the same order as the abusive partner who says, "If you report me to the police, you'll be tearing this family apart." It will be argued on two fronts-- one trying to inculcate the belief that America is #1 and the most awesomest, and the other working to silence everyone who says differently. PDE is particularly odious because of its whole "turn in any teacher or school that offends you" approach to chilling conversation and teaching. This is not just astroturf, but astroturf with its brown shirt on. 

This is something we will have to fight. Public education is meant to be for all children. Telling the truth about history and/or human sexuality is an important part of its mission. 

It has to be our mission.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021


The little things are the big things. 

That’s how the evening began last night at the APL Kosiakoff Center, where County Executive Calvin Ball was presenting the State of the County address. The event began smoothly, but, shortly after Dr. Ball began to speak there was a bit of a glitch. The teleprompter was causing words at the edges to be cut off. What followed was a few moments which could have been incredibly stressful (and maybe they were for the folks up front) but you wouldn’t have known it from the audience.

Dr. Ball calmly communicated with his team about what was going on, even inviting one up to the podium to get a better view. He took a brief pause while they were working on it and then made the executive decision to continue from his notes. The speech continued, enhanced by a visual presentation on the big screen, and Dr. Ball merely moved forward with the occasional glance down at the text.  

I was so focused on the visual presentation that I didn’t notice until much later that the technical issue had been resolved and that the County Executive was now able to look directly at the audience (both in person and virtually) as he spoke. It wasn’t magic or a some kind of party trick. It was people working together to address an unexpected challenge. Now, just how people do that can be very telling. What I saw last night inspired confidence. 

It could have been a disaster. How they all handled together it made a big difference.

Now that I think about it, the entire State of the County speech highlighted how true that has been for us in Howard County over the last year. To call the COVID-19 pandemic an unexpected challenge would be a colossal understatement. It naturally influenced every aspect of Howard County life. I found it very telling that Dr. Ball took every opportunity to lift up the good work of others, honor collaboration, and express gratitude for those in public service and in the community.

I walked away from the evening feeling how profoundly interconnected every bit of progress has been and how important it is for us as citizens to know that. Good government is only possible through partnerships and persistence. You keep at things until they get fixed. Good leadership shows in those who easily give credit where it is due.

I can’t remember his exact words, but, at some point in the speech County Executive Ball said something very much like Michael McCall’s statement that “progress has many parents.” It said a lot to me that the overall theme of the evening (to me, at least) is that it takes all of us to make things happen. 

What a challenging, terrifying, heartbreaking year it has been. It frankly seems unlikely that we could be making any progress at all. There are many in our community who are struggling and many who mourn. Yet, in the midst of that, we have people in local government, community service, and ordinary citizens who’ve kept on showing up, kept moving forward, giving their best work to make our county and its residents safer and more whole.

Last night was, to me, a celebration of how every little thing they did became the big things which benefit us all and make us proud. And how important it is to say that and honor it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Keep at it


The Howard County Delegation is hearing from citizens this week on proposed legislation for the 2022 session. They will be hearing from me, in writing, in response to Delegate Atterbeary’s bill addressing SRO’s. 

Members of the Howard County Delegation:

I am writing to express my support for Delegate Atterbeary’s School Resource Officers Act of 2022.

The current practice of policing in schools has created a hostile learning environment where Black, Brown, and special needs students are disproportionately singled out. Study after study confirms this: school policing actively diminishes student futures. If focusing on education is our top priority, then addressing the damage done by school policing and making decisive changes to fund appropriately-trained school personnel should be at the top of the list. 

Police haven’t always been in schools and research shows that their presence has not made school environments safer. We have the power as a community to choose something better for our schools and for our children. If we don’t act to address this we are complicit in sustaining educational malpractice in our school system.

All of the students in our schools should matter to us. School policing is harming a specific portion of our school population and we have the responsibility to do better. Schools can be safer and students can have better outcomes if we invest in qualified counselors and student-appropriate practices. Delegate Atterbeary’s bill is crafted to address this issue while ensuring adequate measures for school safety. 

Creating police-free schools will make our whole community stronger. It’s an investment in our children’s future and in our future. I strongly support Delegate Atterbeary’s proposed bill. I urge all of you to give it your support now and during the 2022 legislative session in Annapolis.

You can add your voice as well. The Delegation is receiving written testimony until 5 pm today, Tuesday, November 16th, but the sooner in the day you can send it, the better.

Written testimony should be emailed to the Howard County Delegation Administrator at hoc1@mlis.state.md.us as a PDF document.  The deadline for submitting written testimony is 5 pm on Tuesday, November 16th. However, it is best to submit it as soon as possible so that members have time to review it before the hearing. To make organization and review easier, please title your written testimony using the following format: 


Please note that you will need to transform your letter into a pdf and then attach that pdf to an email rather than simply sending your testimony as an email. I’m not so keen on this requirement because it clearly adds one more hoop to jump through. This issue is too important for me to quibble with their process, however.

The eradication of SROs in favor of a more effective and educationally sound approach to school safety will take a consistent commitment from citizens. We need to make our commitment known to our lawmakers at every opportunity because the pressure to maintain the status quo is intense. If we believe in a better way we have to show it. 

Keep at it. 

Monday, November 15, 2021

In Search Of

I just misread a promo for an upcoming holiday event as “Satan is coming to your neighborhood.” 

How’s your morning going?

The heat in our house is churning away which means it must actually be cold outside. I checked the weather report for the day and it indeed looks chilly. Not frozen, mind you, but possibly cold enough to zip your jacket. Or wear a hat. And that brings us to…

Soup weather. As you know, I’m a big fan of soup. As the season moves towards darker and colder, my longing for soup increases. That got me thinking. Where’s the best soup in Howard County? Has anyone ever created the Great Columbia/HoCo Soup Tour?

We could. 

I don’t think we necessarily need a war room with enlarged maps and colored pushpins, but it would be fun to plot out where all the good soup is. That way, whether you’re driving Downtown or in Ellicott City, headed to Elkridge or Woodbine, you’d know where exactly where to show up if you have a soup craving.

I’ve had decent soup from Jason’s Deli and Panera, but I’d like to branch beyond chains and look at independently owned local restaurants. It would be good to know who has exceptional bread to go with their soup, too. 

You know I’m asking for your input, yes?

Years ago at the first Soup-er Sundae event I attended (the last in the old Rouse Building) my daughter and I sampled the most heavenly Chicken Tortilla soup. I can’t remember who made it but I’ve never had any since that could match it. You can just imagine how much an all-soup event appeals to me.

One last thing: local podcast Elevate Maryland. I just finished listening to the October 21st episode: Decolonizing Wealth with Edgar Villanueva. It’s a great interview and presents some quite enlightening concepts about the culture of philanthropy and other nonprofits. I see that Elevate will begin live shows again in January at their new home in Downtown Columbia, Busboys and Poets. Tapings will be on the second and fourth Mondays. 

Does anyone know if Busboys and Poets has good soup?

Saturday, November 13, 2021

How We Got Here

Why are you here?

No, I’m not asking the great existential question

I’m asking, why are you here in Columbia or any other part of Howard County? What brought you here? Why?

Perhaps you were born here. There is that. As for me:

I moved to Columbia in 1999 and I’m still trying to figure it all out.

In my life I have lived in quite a few places.

  • Cleveland Heights, Ohio
  • Columbus, Ohio
  • Stamford, Connecticut 
  • South Hadley, Massachusetts 
  • Princeton, New Jersey
  • Baltimore (City) Maryland 
  • Baltimore County, Maryland
  • Columbia/HoCo, Maryland
This is the place where I have taken root, grown, and flourished more than any other community that I’ve called home over the years. This is the place where I’ve met interesting and engaged people who’ve connected me to local places, events, and issues.

Picnics at Lake Elkhorn
Cookie Swaps and Jazz concerts in Oakland Mills
OM Board meetings, CA Board meetings, giving testimony at the George Howard Building 
Letters to the editor
School events
The Second Chance Saloon
Farmer’s markets 
Concerts at the Chrysalis 
Sitting on my back patio when the weather is nice

How did all this happen? How did I go from barely being able to find the grocery store without getting lost to driving to nineteen different county schools for my work? Why am I sitting here before sunrise writing my 3,057th blog post?

This is why:

On November 13th, 1999 I married the love of my life and began my new adventure in a whole new place.  Today we’re celebrating our twenty-second wedding anniversary which may or may not include carry out from Maiwand and discussions on having the front door replaced on our adorable little Oakland Mills quadroplex. All the important things in life: marriage, Maiwand, home repair.

So that’s why I’m here. Why are you here? Everyone has their own story. I’d love to hear yours.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Busy Busy Busy


We were out relatively late celebrating an important family birthday last night, so I’m a bit slow getting going this morning. A shoutout to the good folks at Cured for a lovely evening. 

This weekend you have some good choices for getting out and about.

Pop-up market at Frank’s:

They are donating the proceeds from the vendor registration fees to Columbia Community Care and will have a bin onsite for non perishable food donations as well.

The Holiday Craft Fair returns to Historic Oakland. Admission is free but they are doing registration through Eventbrite. Get free tickets here.

Over at Freetown Farm the Community Ecology Institute is presenting a Watershed Care Fair on Saturday from 2 to 4 pm:

Join us at Freetown Farm to learn about how we can all steward the health of our local watersheds. You will be able to walk through our brand-new swale and bioretention pond areas, made possible by grants from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, to "follow the raindrop" on how community stormwater moves onto and through our property and see how it now has the chance to slow down, spread out, and soak into the ground rather than being rushed along to the Middle Patuxent River. Participants will help us spread the seeds for a perennial native wildflower meadow in this area and be able to visit with a variety of community partners (University of Maryland, Watershed Stewards Academy, Howard County Office of Community Sustainability, Howard EcoWorks and more!) who will share activities and information about how you can support watershed health from your home and neighborhood and why this is so important. 

Sessions are at 2 and 3, free registration is here.

Last week was the final Saturday Market at Clarksville Commons for the season but mark your calendar for their Thanksgiving market on November 20th.

Reader Update:

From the Howard County Office of Transportation: E-scooter Demo Day at the Lakefront with Spin. Come on down, check them out, learn more and ask questions of both Spin and County staff before the scooter program launches in 2022. BYOH (Bring Your Own Helmet), please! More info: https://fb.me/e/1cIIoGehc

Leaning towards December…

This is your first official “heads up!” for some cool local concerts: on December 4th, the return of the WBALConcert for Kids at Oakland Mills High School, and a new event on December 11th, The Baltimore Choral Arts Society presents Christmas for Kids and the Miraculous Magical Balloon at The Chrysalis, Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods.

Have a great Friday! If there’s anything else going on this weekend that I have missed, let me know and I will add it in.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Community Support


As I was scrolling through Twitter for local current events pertaining to Veterans Day, this tweet caught my eye:

@FtMeadeAlliance We're excited to announce @wbaltv11 is airing a feature Thursday at 11pm about the anticipated Education and Resiliency Center at Kuhn Hall. Below are some behind the scenes moments! @FtMeadeMD #resiliency #FortMeade #VeteransDay

What’s an education and resiliency center? From the Fort Meade Alliance website:

The new Fort Meade Education and Resiliency Center will be designed to “support soldiers at all stages of their careers, from junior enlisted to veterans” as well as families and DoD civilians, Viergutz said. Designed around the concept of an education and resiliency campus, the center will provide onsite classes, counselling and events, but also serve as a hub to connect individuals with services elsewhere on post, within the military and out through surrounding communities.

The piece about the Education and Resiliency Center, which I found on the Fort Meade Alliance website, offers a forthright description of the challenges facing those currently serving in the military at Fort Meade as well as veterans. It’s definitely worth the read. It brought into focus for me how difficult it must be for service members who work in cyber security to refrain from discussing any aspect of their work with their families. How exhausting and stressful that must be.

Also highlighted: the fact that many in the military don’t feel comfortable asking for help when they truly need it, thus compounding their struggles.  Many of our veterans are carrying that weight. The new center in Kuhn Hall will seek to address that.

The new Education and Resiliency Center will focus on education and the five pillars of resiliency: physical, emotional, social, family and spiritual. The services will range from guidance counseling and transition efforts to mental health counseling, wellness programs and financial planning. A premier benefit of this space will be new programming for educational programs needed for successful career placement and continuing education, and expansion of existing programs to broader audiences, including spouses.

The Fort Meade Alliance is an independent community organization which came together around ten years ago as a response to upcoming changes by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. (Remember BRAC?)  Their website describes it as a humble start:

It started with a half-dozen military veterans and intelligence retirees huddled in the children’s room of the Odenton library.

(As an aside: wow libraries at the center of everything, aren’t they?)

They now describe the Alliance as folllows:

The Fort Meade Alliance is dedicated to fulfilling a mission to support the work and people of Fort George G. Meade, and help Fort Meade drive economic growth in Maryland. Our efforts on behalf of that mission generate real impact for our region through education and workforce development initiatives, transportation solutions, business connections and DoD community support.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Education and Resiliency center, WBAL tv will be running a piece tonight in the eleven o’clock news. 

Many thanks today for all of our veterans who have worked to protect us and to keep so many people safe around the world.