Friday, December 31, 2021

The Old and the New


The other night I looked at this sight on my kitchen island and something inside me snapped.

I sighed a deep sigh and went on Facebook. 

Does anyone still have/use a breadbox?

I was surprised by how many people said yes. I thought that breadboxes had gone out of fashion long ago. My last memory of a breadbox in daily use was the avocado green one my mother picked out to go with her stylish new kitchen in the 1970’s. 

Since then I’ve gone through times of keeping all bread in the refrigerator, the freezer, and then, recently, out on the kitchen counter. But at some point a two tiered, brushed nickel fruit holder morphed into bread storage. I don’t really know how. I do know that the idea of keeping fresh fruit around on the kitchen island was purely aspirational. 

Those people who said they’d definitely eat more fruit if we did this? Well, I won’t name them.

So as I contemplate a new year I’m looking into something which I consider deeply retro, something that harkens back to Mom in the kitchen and kids playing in the yard: a breadbox. I must admit that it feels like I’m going to be engaging in historical re-enactment, but, anything would be better than the tower of carbohydrates I have now.

Speaking of retro, how many of you have and use a landline in your home for communication purposes? It seems as though that number may be lower than I thought. While applying for social security benefits I got to the final stages of approval only to see the entire process derailed because I had made one little mistake.

When filling out an online form, I listed my landline as my telephone number instead of my cellphone. 

That’s it. That one tiny piece in pages and pages of forms and accompanying documentation borked the whole thing. And you can’t go back in and fix it, either. I had several telephone conversations (on my landline, I might add) with a nice SSA employee in Colorado who assured me that no one has landlines anymore. 

This was when I felt one million years old. 

It took a while for her to admit that she was currently dealing with a handful of applicants who had made the same “mistake”. There was a workaround. I had to mail my passport to Colorado. (It’s expired. That didn’t matter for the purposes of this verification.) I have no idea how this worked, but it did. It’s a mystery, and I thank the endlessly patient woman from the Social Security Administration.

But here’s the thing: who is most likely to still have and use a landline? Cough, cough…older people…cough, cough. And who is most likely to be applying for social security retirement benefits?

(Insert Jeopardy music here.)

To have the entire process hinge on entering a cell phone number rather than a landline number seems…counterintuitive (if you are dealing with people over the age of sixty.) I suppose it’s an example of the people designing the form being so much younger than the people using it, and just not imagining that there’s another way to think.

It wasn’t the end of the world. Everything turned out fine in the end, and it was truly educational. I’m left wondering if this was a message from the universe to let go of what I have always called my “home phone.”

Today is the last day of the old year. I find myself weighing the benefits of buying a breadbox and what, if any, would be the consequences of saying goodbye to my landline. These two decisions feel interconnected to me: the old, the new, nostalgia, cognitive dissonance, adapting to change.

Farewell, old year. May the new year be gentle on everyone who is navigating unexpected challenges. 

Thursday, December 30, 2021

New Year, New Horizons: Barbara Kellner Bids Columbia Farewell


Visitors to the Columbia lakefront recently might have caught a glimpse of this historic moment. 

(Photo used with permission*)

This photo shows Barbara Kellner, retired director of the Columbia Archives, paying a farewell visit to the statue of Jim Rouse at Lake Kittamaqundi. Kellner added this caption when she posted the photo on Facebook:

Thank you Jim.  You changed my life.  I will be forever grateful for the circumstances that brought me to Columbia and to my immersion in its history. 

The new year will find Ms. Kellner making her home in Williamsburg, Virginia, to be closer to her grandchildren. She has new adventures on the horizon. Since her retirement from the Archives, Kellner has enjoyed travel and documented much of it in beautiful photographs, most especially of nature. But I suspect that visits with her family have been the best retirement pastime of all.

I have a confession to make. While most people think of Rouse as the face of Columbia, for me it has always been Barbara Kellner. I came here long after Columbia’s formative years. Without her leadership in preserving our history, and her enthusiasm and dedication in sharing it, I never would have felt the connection I have about how this place came to be.

When Kellner retired from the Archives, I wrote about her as Columbia’s Best Ambassador. Janene Holzberg of the Baltimore Sun wrote Over quarter century, Columbia archivist made her own mark in history. From the latter, this quote from the late Robert Tennenbaum caught my eye:

It’s not a stodgy, academic facility, but a place that combines the old and the new and lets people know they’re living in a special place. Barb made a major difference by creating it virtually out of nothing.

Rather like the creation of Columbia itself. 

I’d like to continue to honor the idea of combining the old and the new as Columbia moves forward, maintaining Kellner's belief that we are living in a special place.

I wish her much happiness in her new home, and offer sincere gratitude for all she has given the old one. 

*I hope someone has the foresight to submit this photo to the Columbia Archives. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Valued Views


As we near the close of the year I’ve been thinking about all the local photographers who share their views with us. Over the years I’ve grown fond of an account on Twitter called Ellicott City Pix. (@ECPix) I don’t know the actual human behind this account, but I’ve long been a fan. 

In 2018 I was so charmed by “A Summer Project” that I asked to run it as a guest post. Warning: this post may lead to the consumption of cupcakes.

In recent years @ECPix has branched out from still photographs to short videos. They are shared every so often in their Twitter feed, but you can also find them on YouTube at Perspectives Ellicott City. and on TikTok: @ellicottcitypix . 

The ECPix Twitter feed is a comprehensive source for beautiful images, not only original posts, but also the work of other local photographers and artists. It’s both nature and Main Street, still photos, short videos and artwork. Something new: a book published for Amazon Kindle entitled “Alphabet Cats”.

Since its creation in 2014, @ECPix has shared a love of Ellicott City day after day, from expansive natural vistas to tiny pieces of jewelry in shop windows. It’s a living museum of sorts, tended by someone who is a creator, curator, and advocate. If you find yourself stuck inside this winter I highly recommend @ECPix both for the views and the perspective.

One more thing: poetry. Be prepared for examples of the work of Paul Laurence Dunbar, like this one:

By the Stream

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Coffee Break


My first attempt at writing started out more like a tweet.

As of 7:38, blog is hovering in the neighborhood of “maybe so, maybe not.” There are days like this. Still seeking inspiration. Blog is apparently in limbo.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

After several hours of spinning my wheels I had to admit that, even if I did eventually write something, most people wouldn’t even see it unless they clicked over during a coffee break.

Coffee. Wasn’t there someone who recently suggested how Village Centers could become the hubs of smaller, tight-knit communities within Columbia’s larger whole and mentioned people gathering in coffeehouses? Yes! It was over on the Columbia Conversation Facebook page.

My first response was a deep longing for a healthy world where we can all hang out in coffeehouses without fear. I’ve generally always been a homebody, but what I would give for the freedom to meet a friend for coffee any time I wanted. It seems like a dream.

Frankly I love the idea of an Essential Coffeehouse for every Village Center. As you might imagine, I’m already fantasizing about transforming the old Second Chance space into the quintessential coffeehouse/community gathering hub. Maybe I’d call it, “The Second Cup.” (Please don’t try to reason with me. I’m enjoying myself.)

I particularly like this idea because I think our culture has put too much emphasis on local gathering places being bars. I don’t mean to suggest that serving alcohol should be outlawed. It just shouldn’t be the only way that communities get together. And while a thoughtful conversation is possible in a bar, it’s often much easier in a coffee shop.

Wait. I just said “coffee shop,” and the original poster used the term “coffeehouse.” Are they just different words for the same thing? After reading this article I’m more confused than ever. The author defines a coffeehouse as follows, and I agree:

A coffeehouse is an establishment that usually sells speciality coffee, espresso drinks, teas, smoothies, assorted pastries, and other food items. The main element of a coffeehouse is the atmosphere. Coffeehouses are places where you can lounge with friends, study, work, read, have a date, and/or socialize while having coffee. The atmosphere is usually inviting with sofas and other seating areas. They may have areas for live music or poetry sessions. Some may have unique qualities like board games, interesting art works, or special events. The point is that a coffeehouse is designed to have you stay in the establishment while you drink your coffee. 

But then they lose me at this:

Some examples of coffeehouses are Starbucks, Peet’s Coffee, or Caribou.

Is Starbucks a coffeehouse? I think not. But perhaps that’s because the chain aspect of it renders its atmosphere more standardized and regimented to me. There’s no doubt that Starbucks is wildly popular and that a Starbucks in every village center would probably be a big draw. Financial success is important.

But when I think coffeehouse I do think an inviting atmosphere and live music or poetry sessions. I’m just not sure a chain is going to allow that kind of open-ended quirkiness. Which brings up another thing: revolution.

May I suggest:

From the Ottoman Empire to the American and French Revolutions, coffeehouses have offered a place for (sober) people to discuss new waves of thought. - - Jessica Pearce Rotondi,

I had a vague recollection that coffeehouses were once considered hotbeds of revolution, and the above article spells that out for you. 

Sultan Murad IV decreed death to coffee drinkers in the Ottoman Empire. King Charles II dispatched spies to infiltrate London’s coffeehouses, which he saw as the original source of “false news.” During the Enlightenment, Voltaire, Rousseau and Isaac Newton could all be found talking philosophy over coffee. The cafés of Paris sheltered revolutionaries plotting the storming of the Bastille and later, served as the place authors like Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre plotted their latest books.

Fascinating. Perhaps Columbia's Village Centers each need an Essential Coffeehouse not merely to promote a tight-knit community, but also to percolate our own dreams of Columbia/HoCo revolution.

What do you think? 

Monday, December 27, 2021

Public Art and Self-Expression


One of the things I love about Columbia/HoCo is the ongoing commitment to public art. Whether it’s the familiar sight of statues down at the Lakefront, or the annually appearing ARTSites pieces, there’s something wonderful about these varied examples of artistic expression scattered throughout our community.

My new favorite is located at Clarksville Commons. Although it is named “The Pleiades” it reminded me of a Christmas tree. Perhaps that’s because I was there for an outdoor holiday concert. Who knows? Here it is. See what you think.

Now here is where it all goes a bit sideways. Seeing this sculpture put me in mind of the year we were stuck inside due to snow and I attempted to create a Christmas tree with what I had on hand.

I am sorry to say that my efforts were not appreciated. That being said, I was rather tickled with my efforts. Perhaps they were not without value, as they produced a rather strenuous effort to get out of the house and locate a “real” tree.

We all have within us artistic impulses. I don’t think we get enough encouragement along the way, but, that’s probably another blog post altogether. My opinions on this have been reinforced this week by some photos* shared by friends.

One artistic series began with this explanation: 

Our neighbors left these chairs out last Wednesday for the recycling truck to pick up. They clearly were never going to be picked up - but these particular neighbors leave stuff like this out all the time. My husband has been moving them and posting photos and descriptions of his art installations daily since Thursday.

And, from the artist himself, a poignant postscript:

Installation 4 “Armageddon/Dawn (green)”. The foreshadowing of the previous pieces in the series come to fruition in this dynamic and troubling scene. The individuals are cast into the maw as the central figure hangs suspended in space hinting at fleeting freedom.

You can imagine my surprise yesterday, when another friend - - completely unrelated to the first - - posted the following:

U N K N O W N 〰️ Artist - unknown

Title - Unknown

Location - Long Gate Shopping Center

I like to think this is a meditation of capitalist consumerism during the holidays.

Two local examples hardly constitute a trend, but, for the purposes of this post, I’m going to pretend they do. Go forth and make art. Express yourself. Be whimsical. Be bold. 

But I’m going to suggest that, in the case of suggest Citizen Art Installations, you have the good grace to clean up after yourself when you are done. First, though: send me photos.

*All photographs used with permission.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

An Evening That Changed My Life

So many years ago that I cannot remember*, I was visiting friends from college days and they had a surprise in store: tickets to hear Archbishop Desmond Tutu speak at New Brunswick Theological Seminary. They imparted this news with the kind of excitement one would expect to see when revealing tickets to a sold out rock concert or a World Series game. 

I knew who Tutu was, of course, but I didn’t know quite what to expect. I guess I thought the talk might be highly theological (since it was at the seminary) or quite serious, maybe even dry. I knew I was being given a once in a lifetime experience to hear someone very special. Someone who was making history. A very good human being. 

I’m not sure I was as excited as my friends, though.

Archbishop Tutu died in Cape Town on December 26th at the age of ninety. I woke up to the news and immediately thought of that night, long ago, where we sat in the balcony and hung on every word. His talk was animated, engaging, touching, humorous, thought-provoking. I felt no sense of time passing while he spoke. I left the hall that evening fully aware of what a gift my friends had given me.

It is now 2021 and I haven’t even a shred of a memory of what he said. How I wish I had gone home and immediately jotted down all my recollections. 

Since that evening I’ve always felt a more personal connection to Archbishop Tutu and his work against South Africa’s system of apartheid and later chairing the Truth and Reconciliation commission. One evening spent in the presence of such dynamic honesty and wisdom changed me. Perhaps only a very little bit. But it was just enough to make me care in a way that you care if you know someone and feel that thread of connection. Just enough to make a difference.

Tutu fought against a system that was codified into law and made South Africa a country that was deeply unjust at every level. It was not his goal to modify it or ameliorate a few of the grosser aspects.

I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights. - - Desmond Tutu

The truth is that the United States is a deeply segregated country in many ways where whiteness goes on centering itself, all the while rewarding itself for its benevolence when it throws a few crumbs to those who aren’t invited to the table. Fear of examining the truth of this has reached such a fever pitch that there are people who want to prevent the frank and open study of our own history.

I suspect that many very nice people will begin now to share a very limited range of the Archbishop’s quotes, just as they do with the words of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. How often we are treated to the same three or four statements, often taken out of context, used to beat back the quest for justice, rather than affirm it. It’s exhausting and relentless each year as we approach January 15th.

This is a hurtful practice and actually does real harm.  The words, the work, and the entire lives of people like Dr. King and Archbishop Tutu are not meant to be reduced to a pithy quotes suitable for reading on a Celestial Seasons tea box or on a coffee mug. Do not always reach for the words that are comfortable. Look for the ones that are challenging.

This is exactly the sort of quote from Tutu that I love and find reassuring:

Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.

But I know it doesn’t stand alone. Every bit as important, even moreso, is this one:

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.

We have so much injustice to address in our country, even right here in Howard County. I came across this quote I had never seen before as I was gathering my thoughts this morning.

The fact is, rape is utterly commonplace in all our cultures. It is part of the fabric of everyday life, yet we all act as if it’s something shocking and extraordinary whenever it hits the headlines. We remain silent, and so we condone it…Until rape, and the structures – sexism, inequality, tradition – that make it possible, are part of our dinner-table conversation with the next generation, it will continue. Is it polite and comfortable to talk about it? No. Must we anyway? Yes. To protect our children, we must talk to them about rape.

The same is true of systemic racism, the uncomfortable truths of American history, the many ways that injustice has been enshrined in law. Is it polite and comfortable to talk about it? No. Must we anyway? Yes. 

*It must have been soon after he won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Saturday, December 25, 2021


You may have noticed that I’ve been moving away from making the assumption that everyone celebrates the same holidays that I celebrate. When casting about in my mind about what I wanted to say today, it occurred to me nature and caring for the environment cross all religious and cultural lines. In Columbia/HoCo we are blessed with a number of organizations and initiatives which invite us to celebrate the beauty of the Earth and be active stewards of our environment.

For me these are largely gifts that have remained unopened. Now that I have more time on my hands, I hope to change that. I’ve assembled a quick list of resources as much for myself as for my readers. Let me know if I’ve omitted something that ought to be here.

Live Green Howard is a project of Howard County Government in Maryland. Sustainability, environment, being “green,” is a part of so many agencies and areas outside the government, that we have attempted to bring it all together in one place.

One such initiative is:

Howard County Bee City

Our mission is to raise awareness about the importance of pollinators and their vital role in healthy ecosystems and to educate communities in how they can create and sustain healthy habitat for pollinators.



GreenFest is Howard County's largest celebration of Earth Day. The event aims to connect residents with the resources that local businesses, non-profits and government provide to help anyone be a good steward to the environment.

Howard Ecoworks 

Our mission: empower communities and diverse workforces to respect and restore our natural systems for future generations.

Our vision: Innovative solutions, partnerships, and a skilled workforce supporting resilient communities.  

Community Ecology Institute  (includes Freetown Farm)

Mission: The Community Ecology Institute (CEI) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with a mission to enhance community health and well-being by fostering diverse connections between people and the natural world. 

Vision: Human and Natural Communities Thriving Together

Howard County Conservancy

The mission of the Howard County Conservancy is to educate children and adults about our natural world, preserve the land and its legacy for future generations and model responsible stewardship of our environment.

Robinson Nature Center

Our mission is to facilitate the enjoyment and understanding of our natural resources and to bridge the gap between people and nature. By inspiring sound environmental awareness, we promote responsible stewardship of all of our natural resources and strive to connect people of all ages with nature through experience-based education.

Patapsco Heritage Greenway

Preserve. Protect. Interpret. Restore.

Patapsco Heritage Greenway, the non-profit managing organization of the Patapsco Valley Heritage Area, is dedicated to preserving, protecting, interpreting, and restoring the environment, history, and culture of Maryland’s most dramatic river valley for the enjoyment of all.



… to create a more environmentally conscious community through the collection and “upcycling” of discarded materials into long-term products.


It’s going to be cloudy today, but not too cold. If there’s rain it will be later in the afternoon. I’ve noticed that a lot of my friends who care deeply about the environment are committed daily walkers. Getting outside every day is a gift I mean to open and enjoy today and in the days to come.

Friday, December 24, 2021

A Cultural Experience


My husband and his family are from Belfast, Northern Ireland. What a joy it is to be married to someone from another country and to have the opportunity to learn fascinating new things about how people live other places. Over the years I’ve enjoyed many wonderful stories about life “back home”. I’ve come to adore my mother-in-law’s mince pies at Christmas, the homey comfort of her good wheaten bread. My husband fancies her potato farls. I’m still puzzled by why anyone would eat Brussels Sprouts voluntarily.

Our younger daughter grew up with tales about Finn McCool, the Giant’s Causeway, Cuchulainn, and Tír na nÓg. She learned to look for fairies in the thin places and that leprechauns are no where near as harmless as Americans think they are. She grew up dancing to Irish music.

Oh, and the music is truly beyond compare. The haunting beauty of the Celtic harp, the driving rhythms of the bodhran, the fun of old favorites like “I’ll Tell Me Ma” . Being married into a musical family has its benefits and, as far as I can tell, absolutely no downsides.

Along with foods, history, and cultural traditions, language has been another area of learning and entertainment. Sure, the McCreadys speak English, but not the American English I was raised on. Toilet paper is toilet roll, paper towels are kitchen roll, but, to be precise, the roll you have at dinner is a bread roll. All sorts of bakery sweets are “buns.” (Even Rice Krispy buns.) Cookies, as you probably know, are biscuits. French fries are chips, and chips are crisps. And ice cream cone is a poke.

There now, all we all sorted?

If you are going shopping, then you’ll be going down to the shops. Runnning errands? Then you’ll be doing the messages.

Once, when our younger daughter was very small she learned the word “knickers” from her grandparents and found it quite amusing. They had a bit of fun with the new word at grandma and grandpa’s house, the sort of fun that only young children can have, saying something over and over again and just laughing. Giggling in delight.

This must have been quite the event, because it inspired my in-laws to carry over the fun to Christmas day that year. After we had opened all the presents, a few mysterious parcels remained. My daughter was instructed to hand them round, and at a signal, we all set to, tearing off the wrappings. 

There was a moment of silence.

It was underwear. Everyone got underwear. Sensible, girly, lacy, sporty: all kinds, all sorts, all colors. Even my nephew, who was living with us that year while fulfilling a college internship, sat, a bit stunned, contemplating his own unexpected gift.

Then my in-laws began to laugh. “Knickers!” They said, in delight. “Knickers, knickers, knickers!” recalling the afternoon that our daughter had learned the new word and played with the sound of it over and over.

She, of course, having long since gotten over the novelty of it, just looked at them. I’m not sure what she was thinking but perhaps she was mildly surprised that Grandma and Grandpa were still so excited about that silly word. By this time all the grownups had caught on to the humor of the moment and it took awhile for the laughter to subside. At the center of it all was a little girl, looking completely serious, wondering if we had all taken leave of our senses. That made us laugh even more, as I recall.

It has become known in the family as the “knickers Christmas.”

We do not always get the presents we are expecting during the holiday season. If this should happen to you, well, now you have a great story to tell.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

The Biggest and Best Gift


Thanks for bearing with me yesterday. By the end of the day, my younger daughter had received her booster and we were sitting, double-masked, at the Olney Theatre Center to see “Beauty and the Beast.” It’s probably the last “indoor with lots of people” event we’ll be attending for a while.

It was pure joy. 

My daughter’s main interest in life is musical theatre. She is studying to become a theatre teacher in college. Seeing this production was her big Christmas gift this year. I didn’t realize it was going to be such a big gift to me as well. 

Olney Theatre Center has gone to great lengths to make their current performance experience as safe as they possibly can. Proof of current vaccination status is required, as are masks. Concessions are closed since eating and drinking would require patrons to remove their masks. Seating is spaced throughout the house to establish physical distancing. The air temperature was a tad on the cool side which makes me wonder if they’ve taken steps to increase influx of outside air? Don’t know. At any rate it’s a large, airy space with high ceilings, the kind my doctor says is better for air circulation.

So I felt as safe as anyone can feel right now and for that I am grateful.

The production itself is brilliant. If you have the opportunity to see it, you should. You may know the story of Beauty and the Beast and you may have seen the animated Disney film. Who knows? You may even have seen this particular play on Broadway. But this production has transformed all of what has come before. You don’t need to have kids or be a kid to appreciate it. This interview with director Marcia Milgrom Dodge reveals quite a bit about the thought process that went into shaping Olney’s production.

Director Marcia Milgrim-Dodge on the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ Buzz at Olney Nicole Hertvik, DC Metro Theater Arts

They’ve added another show in January first. You just might be able to get tickets. The last performance is January 2nd. I don’t give many things that cost money the hard sell but this, in my opinion, is worth it. Theatre needs us right now and, frankly, I think we need theatre too.


Bonus content this morning. I’m hauling this old gem out of the Village Green/Town² vault for your holiday entertainment:

Staff Meeting (From December, 2014)

Santa and Santa's helpers have been taxed to the max in Howard County this year. It seems that every holiday season brings more opportunities to see the Man in Red. I can just imagine a staff meeting at the North Pole...

"Okay everybody, let's get this show on the road."

"Aw, c'mon man, it's only Halloweeeeeen!"

"You know the drill. It gets earlier every year. Gotta keep up with the times."

"Everybody have their calendar?"

iPads, phones, and Blackberries are pulled out. Santa himself clings to his beloved Day-Timer but his Head Administrative Elf double-checks everything and enters it into the Main Schedule on his MacBook.



"Herb, what are you doing? That's an Advent Calendar. You can't open that up yet!"

"It's last year's. Didn't eat all the chocolate yet."

The Head Administrative Elf sighs and hands him one of those nice glossy calendars that the North Pole Real Estate Agent sent over and a candy-cane ball-point pen.

"Alright! Howard County! Let's get this one in the books!"

"Breakfast with Santa?"

"Pizza with Santa?"

"Polar Express?"

"Firefighters with Santa?"

Various hands are raised, dates written down.

"Brunch with Santa?"

"Happy Hour with Santa?"

Dead silence. Heads come up.

"What the heck is going on, man?"

The Head Administrative Elf looks over the tops of his glasses, down the long table.

"I beg your pardon?"

"What's up with all the extra gigs? I mean, we all love the regular rounds of doughnuts, pizza, milk and cookies, even those cold rides with the Fire Department. But every year in Howard County they're adding more, more, more!"

A rumble of assent goes round the table.

"Where will it end? Sauna with Santa? Dental cleanings with Santa? Dry-cleaning pickups with Santa?"

Another speaks up. "This has gotten out of hand. This county wants Santa at its beck and call from Halloween right through til Christmas Eve. Someone's got to draw the line."

"Yeah! Santa's Helpers need to get ready for Christmas, too!"

The meeting breaks down into general pandemonium.

In the midst of the chaos, Santa himself, the Man in Red, stands up slowly, looking at the scene before him. Feeling his gaze, the dissenters fall silent.

He clears his throat. He sighs.

"Must I remind you? Must I even speak of this?" His voice trembles a bit with anger.

"Once our children in Howard County had a place to go to visit with Santa and share their wishes. They knew once they saw the Poinsettia Tree that the time had come for Christmas joy." His face darkened. Santa's Helpers looked down at their hands, twiddled their pens, shifted uncomfortably in their chairs.

"But commercialism and greed have turned their tradition over to the Dark Side..." His voice trailed off. Everyone knew what he meant. He didn't have to go any further.

Exhorbitant photo fees. Requirements to buy large photo packages. Prohibition of parent-taken photographs. It was now Santa only for the well-to-do. It went against everything they all believed in.

Herb, wiping the last crumbs of chocolate from his mouth, raises his hand.

"Okay, I'm cool with the Brunch with Santa. Pencil me in."

The meeting continues peacefully. All the dates are filled.

The Head Assistant Elf stands, signalling the close of the meeting.

"Thanks, gentlemen. The children are fortunate that you are on their side. This Christmas will be the best ever."

Santa pats his arm. "Wait a minute. Did we ever schedule Happy Hour with Santa?"

The Head Administrative Elf smiles.

"Oh, that's the Office Party. Second Chance Saloon. Half price burger night. Happy  hour prices all night. Uniform optional. Ugly Christmas sweater contest. Raffle, prizes, fruitcake tossing."

That's one date everyone happily fills in.

"That's a wrap, everyone."

Wednesday, December 22, 2021



I’m trying so hard to focus on one thing that’s worth writing about today but the truth is that I woke up overwhelmed. There are plenty of local stories worth writing about today. My heart simply isn’t in it.

Yesterday my college-aged daughter was able to get a free home testing kit for COVID-19 from the Health Department and subsequently tested negative. I was deliriously happy for about two hours until the weight of all the continuing news of the omicron variant began to crush me. Word that treatment with monoclonal antibodies is no longer effective has pretty much wiped out any feeling of security I might have had in case I become ill.

A long standing Christmas Eve event will be canceled again this year. So far church is still in person but I feel much less safe about going. And what about celebrating with the members of our family who don’t live with us? What should we do?

My husband, who is a teacher, knows he is very likely being exposed to COVID daily and it is wearing on him. He keeps masking, keeps being careful, keeps teaching. All our teachers are crawling toward the Winter Break. All the while they are trying to make and maintain a safe and positive world for their students.

I guess I should try to do the same, make and maintain a safe and positive world in my own home as we prepare for Christmas. There is a tree to be decorated and presents to be wrapped. Holiday meals to shop for. I’m halfway through writing holiday cards. 

But I feel stuck.

Why write this? Mostly because I have a commitment to write every day. And because I sense that I am not alone. If you are feeling like this I want you to know I’m right there with you. (But distanced.) There must be some innate goodness in helping each other stumble along, even if separated by physical distance. Right now that's about all I’ve got.

The truth is that a year ago I was desperately ill with severe asthma and now I am not. This has been a year of healing and recovery for me. I have so much to be grateful for.   I should be celebrating. Right now I clearly need something to jump start my gratitude. 

Yesterday was the Winter Soltice. We know that now, each day, there will be a little more light. Warmth will return, Spring will come again. There will be light. But, for now, there is darkness. And there’s me, like Lucy, struggling with the reality of it.

Cartoon by Charles Schulz, rights owned by Peanuts Worldwide 

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

The Ability to Connect


It’s a holiday story, a feel-good story, and a reminder. Three-in-one! If you will forgive my saying so, today’s post hits all the right notes. It starts with a story in the Howard County Times.

The article begins:

On a recent December afternoon, five teenage members of Mt. Hebron High School’s ukulele club gathered to rehearse and record holiday songs. The recording wasn’t just for fun. Sanika Devare, 16, has arranged for it to air on social media, with the hope of providing a source of music therapy for dementia patients.

I immediately thought of that episode of Science Friday that fascinated me back in 2014, the one that focused on the Music and Memory project. 

What Henry Knows, August 13th, 2014

Interviewed for this episode, the late, brilliant neurologist Oliver Sacks said the following:

Well, when music is played or imagined many areas in the brain get activated. Some of them are hearing areas, some are visual areas, motor areas, many are emotional areas. There's no one music center in the brain. There are a dozen networks which hold together and, in this way, music is rather different from language. There are very specific language areas in the brain. And if those are knocked out, people can become aphasic, and lose language.

Whereas it is almost impossible to lose music; it's very robust.

Mount Hebron Junior Sanika Devare began studying dementia in a GT Research course as a sophomore. This year she has deepened her research by looking specifically at how music can positively impact dementia patients. Her project has evolved into more than pure academic study. Devare has organized a musical ensemble to perform and record holiday songs to which will be shared by the Greater Maryland chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. The video, Ukulele Holiday Carols Medley, will be aired  on December 21, 26 and 28 via Facebook live.

While Devare began her inquiry in GT research, she has continued to set new goals for herself along the way. Her completed project, Music Through Memory, will now be submitted for consideration for her Girl Scout Gold Award. This award is the highest award that can be attained as a Girl Scout.

Please take the time to read the article in its entirety. Even if you don’t have a subscription, it’s worth one of those precious free clicks one gets each month. Your spirits will be boosted, you will learn something, and you will be telling the Howard County Times that thus is the kind of story you’d like to see more of.

One important piece of this story almost goes unmentioned. Here’s a hint:

Music has always been a big a part of Devare’s life, she said. Devare, now a junior at Mt. Hebron, has been playing the French horn since fourth grade but didn’t pick up the ukulele until her friend Sydney Scanlon, 16, taught her how to play in the last year. The two formed the school’s ukulele club and met with friends to practice the instrument in person and online.

What isn’t named outright, but is surely a major factor underpinning this endeavor, is music education. Here we have a student whose innate musical interest was supported and nourished in school music programs. Would this project had come about without all the music teachers along the way? 

I wonder.

From “What Henry Knows”

Look at all the areas in our brains that music can "quicken": hearing, visual, emotional, motor...So, in education: music can be the oxygen which allows the strictly cognitive paper and pencil work to "breathe" into the student and be meaningfully retained, the leavening which allows the learning process to rise, the glue that makes the learning stick.

And music helps us make connections, just as Sanika Devare connected her love of music to her interest in helping dementia patients. In learning music and making music with others students develop so many extra-musical skills: increased confidence, teamwork, leadership, empathy, creative thinking. We see all of that at work here. 

All players at the concert are members of the ukulele club, but Devare’s arrangement required Rulan Mo, 17, to play guitar, Sydney Scanlon, to play ukulele and Hrithika Samanapelly, 16, and Eliza O’Connor, 16, to sing. Devare played bells and acted as director during the songs, which included “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” “Jingle Bells” and “The First Noel.”

This story rightfully puts Ms. Devare and her fellow students at the center. That is as it should be. It also explains the involvement with GT Research, the Greater Maryland Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, and the Girl Scouts. There’s a piece I wish had been more overtly articulated: how a love of music is nurtured by all those unnamed music teachers* whose existence we assume as a given, but whose importance we sometimes forget to mention and explain. They provide a foundation which supports learning and growth across curriculum areas and into daily life. 

I’m so grateful for students like Sanika Devare and her friends, and for all the adults who have supported, guided, and inspired them as they have grown into the wonderful young people they are today.

*One such teacher is Josh Rettenmayer, who has taught some of these students at Mount Hebron.

Monday, December 20, 2021

The Villain I Fear


Yes, I’m one of those people who still watches “A Charlie Brown Christmas” annually. It’s a generational thing, I think. It was such a big deal in my childhood. So many small bits in it were special memories to look forward to each year: Snoopy dancing on the piano, Lucy providing psychiatric help for a nickel, Linus adroitly turning his blanket into a shepherd’s costume. Embedded in those memories are vague recollections, such as, “ ‘A Charlie Brown Chistmas’ is brought to you by Dolley Madison Cakes and the folks at your local Coca-Cola Bottling Company.”

It’s funny what you remember.

Readers of this blog know that there is one moment in this Christmas special which has come up time and again:

I did a quick count last night. Sally Brown has appeared at least seven times since 2015. 

…little Sally Brown plaintively justifying her grotesquely inflated wish list for Santa, “all I want is what’s coming to me. All I want is my fair share.”  (Duck Tales, December 25, 2020)

The characters that populate the world of Peanuts may appear to be children but Charles Schulz made each one “more than” in a way that resonates with adults. Snoopy isn’t simply playful, he’s a World War One flying ace. Schroeder doesn’t just play the piano, he’s a Beethoven aficionado with abilities beyond his years. Lucy? She’s not just bossy, she’ll sell you psychiatric advice. Linus is far more than sensitive and thoughtful. He’s a biblical prodigy. And good old Charlie Brown isn’t just down in the dumps, he’s probably clinically depressed.

Sally doesn’t figure as heavily in the grand scheme of things. She’s a useful character device as “the little sister” in many of the comic strips and television specials. In this one she’s not merely a small child excited about Christmas, she’s the epitome of the commercially-driven consumerism which is shaking Charlie Brown’s belief in the goodness of the holiday. Sally Brown: avarice writ large.

This year Sally Brown has come to me in the voices of angry parents whose demands are for their personal convenience and their childrens’ wants alone. Schools must be open, activities must be available, everything must be what they deem to be “normal” or there will be hell to pay. 

There’s no consideration of a pandemic which has killed more than 800,000 country-wide, and sickened others to the degree that they’ve sustained long term and possibly permanent deficits. No empathy for teachers, school staff, bus drivers, admin, or anyone who is working face to face with their children every day. Those people have lives, and children, and families, too. But their wants and needs are invisible. Their fears and concerns brushed aside.

All I want is what’s coming to me. All I want is my fair share.

The reason I keep coming back to Sally Brown year after year is this: in this moment she looks to be a harmless-looking child, but, all the while, she is spouting the demands of complete selfishness. She has no concern for anyone but herself, no awareness about how her “fair share” may far outreach what is reasonable if others are not to be left wanting.

Sound familiar?

There are many “villains” to be feared in the Christmas television programs that come around each year: the Grinch, the Abominable Snowman in “Rudolph”, Burgermeister Meisterburger in “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, even Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol”. As adults we probably aren’t afraid of them anymore. And we most assuredly don’t worry about turning into them.

Who me, a Grinch? Never.

But it is Sally Brown I fear the most. She doesn’t come to us painted in villain’s clothing. But it is her ideology that does the most harm. And it would be so, so easy to become her.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Santa Clues


Yesterday I learned something about Santa that I had never known. He’s a musician.

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year...We are thrilled to have our beloved and talented Santa fill Syriana with lovely Holidays spirited music and songs Fridays and Saturday 7-9 and Sunday 12-2 until January 2, 2022. Happy Holidays to all... (Syriana Facebook page)

Photo credit Syriana

Alright then, well he does look like Santa, you think. But how can you be sure? Perhaps this will convince you:

Here he is in clothing more familiar and in settings that put us in mind of Christmas. Perhaps you have already seen him around Old Ellicott City. As to whether you believe that this is “the real Santa”?  That all depends on what theory you subscribe to. I’m inclined to believe he is one of Santa’s many helpers, as Santa is far too busy at the North Pole this time of year to make personal appearances. 

The fact that he plays piano in his off-hours truly endears him to me.

When he’s not tickling the ivories or helping Santa manage his heavy load this multi-talented fellow is James Carothers, retired elementary vocal music teacher. I’m not quite sure how he was drawn to Old Ellicott City in general or Syriana in particular, but it appears to be a mutually beneficial relationship.

Earlier this year I touched on Syriana Café and Gallery after I read a wonderful piece from the BBCentitled “Untold America: Is this the new Main Street, USA?” by Eliot Stein. This quote from one of the co-owners struck me:

Communities are stories, and between the floods and the comebacks, we now have a lot of shared stories with the people here.  We feel like we belong to the story.

And now we see that Santa, whether visiting with children or playing tunes at the piano, is a part of their story, too.

You can learn more about Syriana on their Facebook page or at their website.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Here and There


Good morning, Columbia/HoCo-land! Happy Saturday!

Thanks so much to all of you who gave me such positive feedback after yesterday’s post. It gave me the kind of a lift that I imagine one gets from a rousing retirement send-off, and that truly helped ease a bittersweet moment for me.

I have a bit of a round-up for you this morning. First up, a correction. I can’t find anyone who agrees with my take about the stuffed plush creature at Hickory Ridge estate in Highland. So I will go back and edit my original post to reflect that. It does appear to be a fox-hunting reference, and not a nod to the cast iron lawn jockeys of yore. I’m not too keen on fox hunting either, but that’s another story altogether.

I wasn’t quite sure how I felt when I read the news this week that the two escaped zebras in Maryland had finally been captured. From the @MarylandZebra Twitter account:

Well, Well, Well…they got us. We had an amazing time and it’s all about being outside. On a personal note, I had a very nice time doing this parody account for the Zebras and hope everyone enjoyed it. Everyone stay safe and have a great holiday. #WeOutside #The6

My biggest concern is that they were returned to the original owner. After what we have learned about the owner’s abuse and neglect of the zebras in his care, shouldn’t they have been taken to a caretaker who could do a better job? And what about all the other zebras? 

I’m not feeling so cheery about this.

I am quite happy about the groundbreaking this week for the new East Columbia Fifty-Plus Center. Truth in advertising: I’ve been taking a class at the 50+ Center recently as a way of getting out and meeting people, easing into the concept of retirement, and, to be perfectly honest, trying to overcome the mental hurdle of being “over 50”. Laugh if you will: the cognitive dissonance is real. 

You may have heard by now that the new center will be named after former County Executive Dr. Ed Cochran. My own personal history here does not go back far enough to know him through his work in county government, although I’ve certainly read about him. Of course his children have all made their own mark on the world, notably State Delegate Courtney Watson, who participated in the groundbreaking ceremony.

Possibly the most positive comment on the groundbreaking came from a friend who shared her enthusiasm for the new center by saying that she was excited to see that, by the time the Center was completed, she would be old enough to use it. Now that’s a good attitude. I need some of that.

Over a thousand people read my post about COVID and the school system, which is rather a lot for me. Then the Board of Education came along and had a meeting which defied all reason. That’s really all I can say right now.

Things I’m working on: a follow-up to the We ARE the People Rally at the Lakefront, and an informational piece on the upcoming MD 988 Crisis Line.

Have a great Saturday! Don’t forget the Holiday Market at Clarksville Commons today from 10-2.  I’m going to put the tree up (it’s aluminum) keep writing Christmas cards, and probably listen to some Vince Guaraldi.

Friday, December 17, 2021

And, in Some Personal News


This is the time of year that you are likely to see posts on Twitter which begin, “and, in some personal news…”

Since I follow such interesting people their personal news tends to be pretty interesting as well.

And, in some personal news, today is my last day at X because:

  • I’m going on sabbatical in Greece.
  • I’ve been appointed as the Chief of staff for Y.
  • I’ll be writing for the New York Times.
  • I’ll be finishing my novel.
  • I’m running for public office.
It’s almost always something impressive and fascinating. Of course, every so often these announcements are spoofed by some wag who tells us that “in some personal news, I’m going down to Subway for a footlong tuna sub,” but those are the exceptions rather than the rule.

So, inspired by all these end of year tweets, here goes:

And, in some personal news, as of December 1st I am retired. That first Social Security payment slid into my bank account and I’ve been pondering the significance of my decision ever since. 

It had never been been my intention to retire early but my metabolism/immune system had other plans. I once wrote:

Early childhood education is a career marked by being sick most of the time and working anyway as long as you are able and not contagious, punctuated occasionally by becoming so ill you can’t move or end up in the hospital. It is not for the weak.

I taught in one way or another for about thirty years. And I always managed to bounce back, until February of 2020. It took over a year, four doctors - - and I can’t even name all the different medications and medical tests - - to get me back on my feet. Returning to a classroom of young children would be hazardous to my health. The onslaught of COVID-19 made it even more complicated.

I spent some months looking at ads for different kinds of jobs. I came away thinking that the average job was made up solely of qualifications I do not have. If only I were prepared to handle a multi-line phone system, were knowledgeable in multiple office software programs, a whiz at typing, fluent in Spanish, able to lift fifty pounds, could work standing for hours at a time, and able to operate a wide variety of office machinery.

Oh, and a PhD wouldn’t hurt, either.

No, I do not want to work in a “fast-paced environment.”  I am probably not a “rock star.”


My experience and qualifications run long and deep in the field of early childhood education, and, now that I think about it, that has been my fast-paced environment. That is where I have been a rock star.

Yesterday a former co-worker came to my house and kindly picked up boxes and boxes of art supplies and curriculum materials that I am donating to the school. It gave me a sense of closure that simply seeing that Social Security payment couldn’t provide. Someone else will be caring for the littles.

And I will be figuring out my next adventures.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Tug of War


Yesterday the Howard County Schools cancelled all extracurricular activities, effective immediately, and continuing through January 15th. This includes “Athletic practices and contests, Theater rehearsals and performances, School concerts and performances, Extracurricular activities, and Field trips.” 

Nobody wants this. Absolutely no one is cheering, “Yay! No extracurriculars!” 

But the numbers of COVID cases have been on the rise in such an alarming way that it was necessary to address it. Some folks feel that this situation is serious enough to warrant going to virtual learning immediately. While that may be true from a public health standpoint, it’s clear that hcpss wants to do anything they can to avoid that. Ceasing extracurriculars is something they have in their power to do without curtailing face-to-face learning.

I don’t know if it will be enough. But we will have to limp along together towards the winter break and see what happens.

I read a statement yesterday from an angry parent who said something like, “I just want normal.”

Me, too. We all want normal. And we might be a whole lot closer to normal if our national and local response to COVID-19 hadn’t been turned into a political tug-of-war. That’s absolutely the wrong way to address a crisis of this magnitude. In times that challenge us the most we should all be working together.

Can you imagine community members putting in sandbags against an impending flood while another angry group shows up to knock them down? 

“Who would do that?” you think. “That's just not normal.”

But that’s what we’ve experienced every step of the way with COVID. We are not all pulling together, and what we see going on right now are the consequences of that behavior. 

Years ago I went to a neighborhood event where children participated in a real, old-fashioned tug-of-war. Most of the adults present gathered around to see the outcome of the contest. There was some quite serious pulling on either side. I held up my phone to snap a photo of the winning moment.

Then, quite unexpectedly, the rope just…snapped. And everyone on both sides fell on their backsides. It was not the photo finish anyone had expected.

Friends, right now in Howard County we are all on our backsides. This has become a contest that no one can win. We should be pulling together. Often we are not.

And people, just like the rope in the tug of war contest, are snapping. Breaking. Wearing thin. Systems like schools and hospitals are overburdened by the damage done by those who are determined to turn a public health crisis into a political contest.

My heart aches for the students who will be missing out on the experiences which are often the most important to them in their school lives, and to the teachers who have given their all to prepare them. Nobody feels good about this. 

If it prevents more people from getting sick, that will be a good thing. Right now it’s what the school system feels it can do.

This is not a party game. It’s the biggest challenge that many of us will ever face.  If we don’t commit to the work we shouldn’t be surprised by the outcome. 

If you want normal you have to work for normal.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Wish List


I don’t know why I was surprised, but I was. A little. What with all the amazing things the Howard County Library System does in our community, why should it surprise me that they have an “in” with the big man in red?

Come into any library branch to write – or drop off – your letter to Santa. Mail it by Thursday, December 23 at 12 pm so we can make sure Santa gets it in time!

Years ago (Back when Columbia Patch was new and we were all excited about it) I wrote a Letter to Santa with a Columbia/HoCo focus. Wow. 2011 seems like a million years ago, doesn’t it? When I saw that I could mail my letter to Santa at my local library branch, thoughts of that old letter came back to me. I wonder how it would be different if I wrote it today.

I still haven’t had that tour of Elkridge…

My Buy Nothing community has a holiday tradition where everyone is invited to make a Big Ask and a Small Ask to see if anyone else in the group can fulfill them. No request is too big or too small. It’s kind of amazing to see so many wishes get fulfilled. It reminds me of a story told by the development director at a former school who was out walking in the city and was approached with this request:

Got any small change?

When she said no, and kept on walking, he called after her:

How about some major funding?

Small change. Major funding. Hmm…

What’s your Big Ask and Small Ask for Columbia/HoCo? Where do you want to see a small change? Where do you think we need major funding? I’d love to know your thoughts.

Or you could always write them up in a letter to Santa. Don’t forget to mail it by Thursday, December 23rd at 12 pm at your local Howard County Library branch.


Speaking of major funding, the groundbreaking for the new East Columbia 50-plus Center will be this Thursday, December 16th at 11 am. If you are planning to attend, you can also drop off your letter to Santa at the same time. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Holiday Buzz


Linking to an NPR story may seem as though I’m going rather far afield this morning, but, I’m not. Here’s the story.:

You don’t have to drink to celebrate the holiday season, Brian Mann for NPR

That’s a local story wherever there are alcoholic beverages and holidays. The article touches on the stress experienced by party-goers when coaxed to imbibe at social events and offers a variety of helpful suggestions. This one made me sad:

Or: If you want to avoid the "Where's your drink?" question altogether, you can also carry around a cup of a non-alcoholic beverage like soda, seltzer or even water.

Good grief. What kind of a world is it where something as simple as not wanting to drinking alcohol at a party requires so much planning and even subterfuge?  For heavens sake, let’s not ever be that person who conveys to others that it’s just not a party without a drink, or that they’re just not a legitimate part of the party unless they drink. 

Now, here’s where it gets local.

Local nonprofit Sobar had its origins when founder Beth Harbinson envisioned:

  • Beautiful bars serving non-alcoholic beverages with healthy ingredients, innovative, sophisticated flavors and exciting tastes;
  • A separate point of purchase for events serving alcohol to remove a potential trigger for people in recovery from alcoholism and addiction; and 
  • Creating exciting alcohol-free events. (Sobar website)
Since 2017 Sobar has operated with a mission to “encourage choice in how we celebrate by providing a variety of sophisticated non-alcoholic beverages to consumers and hosting alcohol-free bars and events.” They’ve hosted both in person and online New Year’s Eve celebrations, and they’ve been a part of local events like HoCo Pride as vendors of alcohol-free beverages. You can follow their current goings-on here on Facebook.

This holiday season Sobar is offering for sale an array of alcohol-free beverages to help you make sure your home bar is fully stocked for your guests. 

I think if you order today you can still do local pick-up. You can contact them through their website for details.

I reached out to Ms. Harbinson for nutritional/allergen information for these beverages because we have someone in our family who can’t have anything with gluten in it. I got an immediate response. Yes, I was impressed. I’m including the information here because you might have similar concerns.:

The Rock Grace Sparkling is sugar free and calorie free and info can be found at
Non-Alcoholic | No Allergens | No Artificial Colors or Flavors | Non-GMO | Made with Organic Ingredients
Calorie, Gluten, Sugar, Sweetener, Sulfite, Preservative, and Guilt Free
Ingredients: carbonated filtered water, natural flavors, rose water, organic raspberry juice concentrate, organic rhodiola extract, organic schisandra berry extract, eleuthero extract 

Mocktails -
Each one has just 5 ingredients, is vegan and low in sugar and calories. Alcohol Free, Low in sugar and calories, All Natural ingredients, Vegan friendlyAlcohol Free, Low in sugar and calories, All Natural ingredients, Vegan friendly

Lyres Classico - CLASSICO: Carbonated Water, Sugar, Non-Alcoholic Fermented Grape Juice Concentrate, Grape Juice Concentrate, Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate, Natural Flavoring, Preservative: Sodium Benzoate. **DAIRY FREE, NUT FREE, EGG FREE, GLUTEN FREE, VEGAN FRIENDLY. Sugar Contents: 10g/250ml. Added Sugars: 10g/250mL. Carbohydrate Contents: 10g/250ml. Sodium: 70mg/250mL. Fat - Saturated: 0.0g/250mL. Fat - Total: 0.0g/250mL. Protein: 0.0g/250mL. Energy: 188kJ/45kCal (per serve).

Link to order is here.

Back to NPR - - Dr. Anna Lembke is quoted in the article as making this suggestion:

There can even be a fun side to downsizing alcohol consumption during the holidays — Lembke says some hosts are offering fancy, celebratory drinks that aren't alcoholic.

"It's something to look forward to," she says. "They want to find ways to reward themselves and celebrate without having an alcoholic drink."

If you’re like me and still won’t be heading out to indoor social functions this season, you may just want to stock up to give yourself some holiday options. Being stuck at home with a whole bunch of alcohol isn’t good for anybody. I’m curious about those mocktails. Apparently I’m not alone.

Monday, December 13, 2021

The Bright Spot


Yesterday was an unusually temperate December day. Sunny, clear skies, not too cold. I hopped in the car and headed to the Holiday Bazaar at The Third.

Outside the event I purchased some raffle tickets in hopes of winning a stylish and amply-sized tote bag emblazoned with The Third’s logo. Whoever wins will also receive sample items from all the businesses who participated in the bazaar. 

The vendors were set up inside the space that some of us remember as Comptoir, the café side of Petit Louis. Shoppers could make their way around the perimeter and talk to business owners and learn about the products they were selling. There was a whole lot of that going on while I was there as a steady stream of interested folks kept arriving.

I found myself attracted to the selection offered by Yolo Health and Wellness. I picked out a grapefruit granite spray and a lemon room spritz. I rarely buy anything with fragrance because of my asthma but, since I was able to test these out for myself, I could tell how light (not overpowering) and natural the scents were. From the Yolo website:

I am so happy to introduce the first of my plant-based products that are not only better for your home, your yoga mat, and exercise equipment, but better for your health and the environment. The creation of my plant-based products happened organically. During the global pandemic, so many of us had trouble finding cleaning products, liquid soap and other important essentials to stay safe during the pandemic. I became so frustrated driving across the county where I live, looking for cleaning products and other essentials.

​A light bulb went off and I was off and running! I enrolled in online classes at Formula Botanica and Coursera! I learned how to formulate plant-based products with essential oils. I have created some amazing plant-based cleaning products for my home that smell amazing and they are very effective.

Theres a lot more to Rechá, the founder of Yolo, than her plant-based product line. Take a look at her website.

Businesses, all owned by women of color, who participated* in the Bazaar include:

@charleemaechristmas: Christmas Holiday Decor -- wreaths, centerpiece, and holiday decor items

@ShimmySista: A boutique specializing in unique gift items, jewelry, handbags, clothing, and accessories for curvy women.

@thamdsoapqueen: Sugar scrubs, gift sets, hair nutrition, soy candles & wax melts, and aromatherapy

@esteemmatters: Professional Skin Care Products -- Cleansers, Toners, Moisturizers, Eye Creams, Hyaluronic acid, Lip Hydrator, and Lip Balms.

@PuertoRicoDistillery: Puerto Rican moonshine style rum -- Flavors: Classic, Traditional, Coconut, Pineapple, Coconut Chai, Tamarind, Coffee, Honey Mango

@yolohealthwellness: YOLO Health and Wellness, LLC makes plant-based cleaning products, wellness products, and skincare products

As I left I noticed a table outside providing free gift wrap. Now that’s a smart idea. I certainly would have taken advantage of it if I hadn’t shopped only for myself. Oops.

I saw The 3rd’s founder and CEO Laura Bacon chatting with people as they arrived. I met Ms. Bacon earlier this year via Zoom when my friend and former neighbor Sonya reached out to me and suggested that what was going to be happening at The Third was just the kind of story I’d be interested in. She was right. Ms. Bacon was kind enough to take a few moments yesterday to speak with me and I look forward to writing more about The Third as it moves forward.

Over the years I’ve written about my frustration or simply puzzlement with the Lakefront space. Of course, that was long before the closure of The Tomato Palace, Clyde’s, and the Soundry. Right now The 3rd is a bright spot in a community space that desperately needs a wise and imaginative advocate for renewal.

Let me rephrase that. The 3rd is THE bright spot at the Columbia Lakefront. 

First and foremost, The 3rd is intended to serve as an incubator space for businesses owned by women of color. But it seems to me that supporting ongoing initiatives at The 3rd will also be a way we can show strong support for a Lakefront that is alive with people and businesses and things to do. 

What can we do? It’s pretty simple. We can show up when they have an event. We can tell friends, family, and coworkers what The 3rd is all about. We can commit to spending money to support these Black-owned businesses. 

The 3rd presents us with an opportunity to rethink which businesses we support, how we spend our money, when we’re willing to show up and be a part of things, how we use spaces like the Lakefront. Maybe even who we are as a community.

Yes, I had fun yesterday. I’ll be keeping an eye out for more events at The Third.

*May be an incomplete list. I will follow up on this.