Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Howard County Observes International Overdose Awareness Day


Today is International Overdose Awareness Day, “the world’s annual campaign to end overdose, remember without stigma those who have died, and acknowledge the grief of the family and friends left behind.”

In Howard County this day will be marked by an event at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ellicott City. From the event page:

Join us to celebrate recovery from Substance Use Disorders while learning what services are available in Howard County and Maryland. Importantly we bring forward those we have lost to substance use related causes. We honor by saying their names, lighting candles, and holding them in our hearts.

Together we are better! Free Registration

6:00-7:00 pm - Meet & Greet, Resource Kiosk, Naloxone Training

7:00-8:00 pm. - Program & Candle Lighting

International Overdose Awareness Day was established in Australia in 2001. Its goals:

  • To provide an opportunity for people to publicly mourn loved ones in a safe environment, some for the first time without feeling guilt or shame.
  • To include the greatest number of people in International Overdose Awareness Day events, and encourage non-denominational involvement.
  • To give community members information about the issue of fatal and non-fatal overdose.
  • To send a strong message to current and former people who use drugs that they are valued
  • To stimulate discussion about overdose prevention and drug policy.
  • To provide basic information on the range of support services that are available.
  • To prevent and reduce drug-related harm by supporting evidence-based policy and practice.
  • To inform people around the world about the risk of overdose. (

WMAR TV is covering International Overdose Day with this piece featuring HoCo locals Beth Harbinson of Sobar and Debbie Nix (Addiction Support in Howard County)

‘Overdose does not discriminate’: Howard County Mom encourages people to learn about addiction, prevention

I’ve written about both women before. I found this quote from Ms. Nix - -  about the process of recovery - - this morning when doing research for today’s post:

It works if you work it! Any way you participate in recovery, I am proud of you and want you to know that you are loved, your life matters and you bring light into this life. If it's one day or 30 years or more, recovery happens moment by moment. Be brave and keep on keeping on. You are not alone!

It seems to me that this quote is equally relevant to those who live with the grief of losing a loved one to addiction and overdose. It’s a long and arduous journey. The healing happens moment by moment.

The event in Ellicott City this evening might be a helpful step along the way, a respite from the work of grief and a reminder that you are not alone.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

The Problem: a Conversation


We need to do something about this. It’s just terrible how no one is addressing it. Those people are just hanging around saying trashy things about people.

     They don’t even pick up after themselves. They just go on and on, letting their words pile up around them.

You know, they don’t really need help, they’re just trying to get attention.

     Just ignore them. If you respond to them they’ll get the attention they want and they’ll never go away. It’s like fishing. They’ll just keep coming back to the same spot.

Here’s the thing: they know that NextDoor is the perfect location for getting all the attention they want. Why would they leave?

     I heard they can get 500 hits a day just by complaining on NextDoor.

500? Really? Wow! 

     Yeah, I read it someplace. Or my cousin told me.

Perhaps we should focus our attention on connecting these people with the services they need, like volunteer work or therapy.

     For Heaven’s sake, people like you are what makes this problem keep on going. They don’t need empathy, they need to get out of town. 

The police know all about those complainers. It’s a scam. They don’t really care about the community, they just like the attention that comes from complaining. Really. It’s, like, a coordinated ring of attention-seekers.

     There are places where it’s illegal. I bet it’s nicer there.

You don’t know what it’s like to be them, wandering aimlessly looking for attention, doing anything to get their next hit. We should put ourselves in their shoes.

     If they have so much time to go online they should get a job or go pick up trash.

There’s no need in our community for anyone to plant themselves on NextDoor and do nothing but gossip and complain. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

     My attention is valuable. I’m not just going to give it away to some scammers on NextDoor.


I knew there would be a day when I would regret signing up with NextDoor. Yesterday was that day.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Images and Memories


Some come from houses, some from apartments, some are homeless. Their caregivers may be parents or step-parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, or foster parents. English may be their first language, but, it may not be. They may walk to school, ride a bus, or be driven by a family member. They may be typically developing or have any number or disabilities.

Today they are getting ready for the first day of school. They all live in Howard County.

It’s really quite amazing that we expect the public school system to accommodate every child, from every background, with every assortment of gifts and challenges. Howard County has seventy eight schools that serve students from preschool age through young adulthood. According to Superintendent Michael Martirano, there are 56,500 of them this year.

I’m trying to imagine what 56,500 students looks like.

Most of us went to school, and it’s likely that the majority of us went to public school. Our memories are personal and specific to the time period of our childhoods. I remember the annual trip to Sears for back-to-school clothes, the smell of the old school buildings when you first walked down the hallways each year. I remember the feeling of infinite possibility when we opened a brand-new, beautifully illustrated “reader” and the over-powering dread of being called to the chalkboard to work a math problem in full view of the entire class. 

What do you remember?

My children’s memories are different. Your memories are different. But, whatever those memories are, one thing is constant: public schools have been asked to take on more responsibilities and to provide more services year after year after year. Almost all of those services support children in ways that make learning  possible.*

If we make any mistake when we think about our schools here in Howard County, it may be that we still think of schools as what they were when we were young, and we think of students as people like us. It’s only human nature to carry around that image in our heads. But schools are much more than that now and students are more diverse. If our expectations are too small and too narrow we will view much of what we see as “wrong” or “unnecessary” or “a waste of time and resources.” 

We need to think big: to see beyond our personal memories and expectations. It isn’t that those things aren’t valuable. It’s more that they are pieces of a much bigger puzzle. Schools deal with that bigger puzzle every day. They aren’t perfect, because human beings aren’t perfect. Schools benefit from our engagement and participation, languish without community support, are fragmented by parents who see themselves as authorities whose right is to dictate rather than work alongside of others.

On the first day of school that little piece of ourselves that remembers - - good memories or bad - - awakens and gives us a flash of our pasts. If we have children in school it gets all mixed up with their experiences and our hopes for them. Everyone seems to love those First Day of School photos because they speak to that annual ritual of new beginnings we all remember.

I often lift up teachers and those who work in our schools in my writing. I have a great deal of gratitude for who they are and what they do. 

Today I want to lift up every member of our community who is raising a child and will be sending them off to school. (Mine is going back to college to begin her senior year, so I have some of those same feelings.) I want to try to remember that we as a community are as varied as our children.

Some of us live in single family houses, some in apartments, some of us are homeless.  We may be parents or step-parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, or foster parents. English may be our first language, but, it may not be. We may walk with our children to school, put them on a bus, or drive them there. We may have disabilities; we may not. We may be employed, or looking for work, or retired.

In school our children learn that the world is naturally diverse and that good communities are successful when they honor and support that diversity. What about us? Do we move on from our schooling and retreat into worlds of people who are mostly like us? Adult life gives us many opportunities to stick with our own and no where near enough chances to stretch out of our comfort zones.

This year I am challenging myself to keep all of that in mind as the school year progresses. Not everyone with children in our schools is living the way I live or thinks the way I think. Yet we all live in Howard County. As much as I sometimes struggle with that, I want to get better at accepting it.

*I have my doubts about high-stakes standardized testing.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Last Day Excitement


It’s the day before school starts. Around town there’s a bit of that back-to-school excitement. In Oakland Mills there’s a particular buzz around a brand new school: Talbott Springs Elementary. We’ve been listening to the old school be dismantled over the summer which has only reinforced to us the notion that the new school is about to open. We don’t have any elementary aged children. We’re still excited.

There will be an official ribbon-cutting ceremony today at one pm. This day has been a long time coming for my community. So many determined and persistent people worked to make it happen.

I’m grateful for them. 

Other things happening in Columbia today:

  • Chrysalis Kids: 123 Andrés, 3-4 pm, Chrysalis, Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods (DJ pre show starts at 2:30)

All of the events listed above are free, although you’ll need money if you want to buy anything at the Farmers Market.

It felt a little bit cooler when I woke up this morning. It gave me that old familiar feeling that summer will soon be drawing to a close and new things are waiting in the wings. New beginnings. New things to learn, new people to meet, new friends to be made. Even if you haven’t set foot in a school building for many years, that little spark remains.

What will you do with that spark?

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Ellicott City Petition


What is a car meet? A gathering of local car enthusiasts on a certain day at a certain time. To others, however, it is much more than that. - - Fuels & Files

A gentleman named Vincent Harris has created a petition that concerns car meets. I saw it posted on Twitter and was intrigued. Car meet? Boba? Ellicott City?

Here’s the petition:

Okay, now I know where it was and why it has boba in the title. But what on earth is Ambitious Whips? A smoothie emporium?

Ambitious Whips is a organization based on car enthusiasts, gear heads, and that are passionate about the car culture. We express our passion with fellow enthusiasts and help support our communities from shows, meets, events, and fundraisers. 

And Vincent Harris is the President and CEO of Ambitious Whips, Inc. Here are some promotional images for the Cars and Boba events. Note the presence of events to support charitable causes.

So far, so good. I’ve learned that an event that I never even knew existed has for some reason ceased to exist and the organizer has created a petition to bring it back.

What happened? A car meet is hardly an occasion for drag racing, an issue that’s been a hot topic in Columbia/HoCo lately. Did the Normandy Shopping Center businesses complain? Did the members of the neighborhood community complain? 

Somehow I expect to find rants on NextDoor saying things like, “…attracts a bad element.” But I could very well be wrong.

I see that Old Ellicott City hosts Cars and Coffee events in Parking Lot D. There doesn’t seem to be an objection to them.

I don’t know the answer to this but I’m curious. Do you know anything? Have you ever been to this particular car meet? Are you familiar with the car meet culture?

Send me your info

Friday, August 26, 2022

Non è mai troppo tardi

I’m sharing my very first legitimately “published” piece in this week’s Free Form Friday. It appeared in this summer’s issue of the Mount Holyoke Alumnae Quarterly as the back page “My Voice” essay. If you know me in real life you may have already seen this. It’s the story of how I was diagnosed with ADHD just shy of my sixty-second birthday. 

Solving the Puzzle of Myself

I’ve been squeamish about putting this out into the world because I have worried what people would think. I’ve finally decided to face that fear and be done with it. The truth is, my brain works differently. Perhaps if more people understood the neurological basis of ADHD there would be fewer assumptions that it’s a character flaw or some kind of lazy excuse.

I’ve learned that girls are far less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD because we often present differently. We’re not the textbook wiggly, impulsive (boys) that many teachers and clinicians can easily recognize. I’ve discovered that some women who I deeply admire were also diagnosed as adults. One of them wrote to me:

…your blog is in part the representation of what we excel at: making immediate relationships/connections that people miss.


Probably the biggest challenge I have faced since diagnosis is grieving what might have been. 

My life would have been so different with medication and supports. I do feel a sense of grief that I can’t have those years back to live differently.

My psychiatrist, who grew up in Italy, told me the story of his favorite childhood television show. It had actually been created to teach adults how to read, but for some reason he just loved it. The name of the show was “non è mai troppo tardi”, which translates as “It’s never too late.”

He shared this with me to remind me that my story isn’t over yet. I still have time to make sense of things, make choices, pursue my dreams. Those five words in Italian have become something of a talisman for me. I’m not a tattoo sort of person, but, should I ever decide to get one, that’s what it would say.

People sometimes talk about how there’s a whole new life ahead of you in retirement. That’s certainly true for me. In many ways I’m getting to know myself all over again. 

I just kept going until one day I found myself.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Once Upon a Time in Howard County


And they all lived happily ever after.

You already know the story. Angry parents challenged the right of the Howard County School System to have a voting Student Member of the Board. They turned their anger into a lawsuit. That case, heard in Howard County Circuit Court, was unsuccessful. They were granted the right to appeal to Maryland’s highest court. Yesterday the decision was made public.

Maryland’s highest court upholds voting rights for student school board members,  Lillian Reed and Cassidy Jensen, Baltimore Sun 

From the decision:

…we agree with the Board and the circuit court that the General Assembly had the constitutional authority to create a student member position for the Howard County Board, establish a process for the election of such member by students in the Howard County public school system, and grant such student member voting rights.

This decision affirms the legal authority of the school system to honor student voice in a very tangible way. Student voice is not merely some nice term for gathering students in small groups for discussions and saying “we hear you.” It is bigger than inspirational bulletin boards or essay contests. For student voice to be meaningful it has to have teeth, as it were. It needs to be plugged in to where the decisions are being made. 

Students need to be allowed the right to have influence in matters that concern students. The SMOB position is not the only way to honor that, but it is the most powerful affirmation of student voice that we have. Reading the outcome of this case yesterday gave me not only a sense of relief but also a feeling of pure joy. 

Once upon a time in Howard County a Student Member of the Board named Zach Koung was ridiculed and vilified by members of the public.

The Big Lie and the Extremely Tiny Lawsuit, Village Green/Town², December 17, 2020

They don’t like what he does, they don’t like what he says, they don’t like how he says it. They don’t like his facial expressions and his body language. And let’s look at the kinds of things they object to:

  • Speaking to racial equity issues
  • Supporting the removal of SRO’s from schools 
  • Anything that could be characterized as “Progressive”

And then they didn’t like how he voted, either. Hence, the lawsuit. If we don’t like the result of this vote, maybe SMOBs shouldn’t have a vote. It seemed a simple, effective solution.

But it turned out that the SMOB was connected to a network of current and former SMOBs all over the state. This was not any kind of official network. It was an array of like-minded people who had talked the talk and walked the walk since the position of SMOB was created. The lawsuit brought out the skills they had honed during those high school years and revealed the accomplishments they’d achieved since.

They used their voices. 

It was a powerful communication to our community and the state. We believe in this. We have been there. It must have spoken volumes to Mr. Koung. He was not alone.

My telling of our story has no dragons, no evil sorcerers, no knight in shining armor coming over the hill. This is more a tale of angry villagers who have lost their way. The resolution was simple: Maryand State law supports the choices of local jurisdictions to have voting Student Members of the Board. That’s it.

No matter who tells this story (And I suspect it will have a variety of tellings) that last bit is the most important. Don’t let it get lost.

Marcy Leonard, Principal of Wilde Lake High School, was also Howard County’s first SMOB. This morning I read her response to news of the resolution of this case:

*We don’t do TO our students 
*We don’t act FOR our students
*We lead WITH our students

I think it makes a remarkably good epilogue.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

The 99 Cent Store


I’m wandering a bit off the track this morning. I was having lunch with my daughter outside of several fast casual eating establishments at Columbia Crossing yesterday and I dragged her into one of my favorite conversational rabbit holes: what if?

In the past I’ve explored a variety of “what ifs” on this page, including: what if we had a restaurant called the Magical Soup Company, what if you could get any variety of food by the bucket (like fried chicken), and even, what if the Wilde Lake Village Center were turned into an historical Columbia theme park. I’m fond of imagining things. What can I say?

Yesterday’s topic: 99 cents. 

Let me explain the premise. The establishment of a ninety nine cent payment to download a song on iTunes or a game or other app created the precedent for buying a small piece of something at a low price. You weren’t getting the whole album or an entire gaming system. Instead you could buy one individual thing.

There continues to be a discussion online about whether newspapers should make it possible to pay for individual stories in this way. Don’t have a subscription but really want this article? For ninety-nine cents it’s yours! I haven’t come across any news organizations actually doing this, however. I would use it.

Our lunchtime conversation centered around what other services could work with this kind of model. I told my daughter it didn’t have to be realistic - - we were brainstorming. Here’s what we came up with:

  • Newspaper/magazine articles
  • Advice/therapy/problem solving: one one issue per payment
  • Go into the mall to pick up that one thing you need.
  • Render Fox News unplayable in any public space while you are there.
  • Change any song you don’t like in a restaurant.
  • Tell you where you parked your car when you come out of Target (or the RennFest!)
  • Find an open parking space (and save it until you get there?)
Yes, I know that therapy is worth more than ninety-nine cents. But what if you just need permission to throw out that old box of high school journals? Or help deciding whether to go to Cousin Betsy’s wedding in Vegas? Think of Charles Schulz’ Lucy Van Pelt dispensing brief but positive advice. 

“That’ll be ninety-nine cents, please.”

I’m not wedded to ninety-nine cents, although I do like the sound of it. Still, Dollar Tree is pricing things at $1.25 these days. iTunes is selling current hits for $1.29. Downloadable game apps are now mostly free but come loaded with in-app purchases. I’m not wedded to the actual dollar amount. It’s the concept that intrigues me.

Now it’s your turn. Think of it as a Hump Day diversion. Start with our imaginary ninety-nine cents and think of what kind of item or service would fit this model. It can be silly or serious, just not mean spirited or violent. As always, if I get enough responses I’ll turn them into a whole new blog post.

When I was seven years old we lived in Columbus, Ohio. Some of the local television advertisements were painfully homespun when it came to production values.Most unforgettable: the man who hollered, “Nine cents! Only nine cents! For only nine cents you can get a full living room suit or a live, healthy pony!” 

I’m beginning to think that advert made a deeper impression on me than I realized. I bet living room ‘suits’ and live, healthy ponies are at least ninety nine cents by now.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

One Day. Two Ways.

This Friday, August 26th, is Women’s Equality Day. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I had to look it up to remind myself why. Well, it has been a hard year for women’s equality in the US. 

Women’s Equality Day celebrates the day that American women were granted the right to vote.

But not all women. That’s the part I didn’t learn in school. It has only been in recent years that I have learned that this right was extended only to white women. Calling a day Women’s Equality Day when it wasn’t for all women is 








I’ll let you choose. At any rate, maybe that's the reason I had forgotten what Women’s Equality Day was all about. Deep down, something about it troubles me.

Here in Howard County there’s going to be a luncheon at the Florence Bain 50+ Center. The focus will be honoring local women’s equality champions.

It’s both a thoughtful and creative way of addressing a day which could feel less than inclusive.  I had to remind myself that women who remember New York Representative Bella Abzug championing the creation of Women’s Equality Day in 1971 are no doubt women who would be attending events at the Florence Bain Center. Time does that. 

At the National level, the League of Women’s Voters will be observing something rather different.

Every Aug 26, we celebrate the accomplishments women have made and commemorate the 19th Amendment. But this year, we cannot celebrate. 

Join us and demand our government not only represent us but include us as equals. Learn more here.

The focus of Women’s Inequality Day is three-fold:

1. Passing voting rights legislation;

2. Adding the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution; and 

3. Restoring reproductive rights to women and those who can become pregnant.

Essentially it’s a challenge: if we want it to truly be Women’s Equality Day we have to work to make it so.  In the words of Fannie Lou Hamer: Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.

What’s the best way to celebrate Friday? In my opinion, both ways: expressing gratitude for those women whose labor brought us to this day, but also acknowledging the truth of what still needs to be done.






Bear witness




Get to work

You choose.

Monday, August 22, 2022

A New Old Tournament

Major League Quidditch was in town over the weekend - - Elkridge, to be precise - - and I didn’t know anything about it. Either I am falling down on the job or there wasn’t much social media coverage this year. Of course, a quick search of my own blog shows that I shared news of the event back in February. What can I say? I didn’t put it on my personal calendar.

A quick note on the sport of Quidditch: it is being renamed Quadball. You can learn more at their website. I rather like their slogan:

Quadball is a sport for all. Chaos is part of its charm.

In an attempt to redeem myself in the arena of local sports coverage, I have a brand new, HoCoLocal event to share with you today. The Old Ellicott Cup.

From The Old Ellicott Cup Website

The Old Ellicott Cup, organized and promoted by Shawn M. Smith, is a bubble hockey tournament. It will take place September 24th in Old Ellicott City. You’ll never guess where.

Bubble hockey? What’s that? Well, maybe it’s not a sport in the traditional sense. Bubble hockey burst onto the scene in 1982 when a company (now called Super Chexx) released a table hockey game that featured a clear plastic bubble over the top of the playing area. The company has continued to add new features over the years, such as push buttons for sound effects. Apparently it’s wildly popular. You can watch game play on YouTube.

Mr. Smith, a digital marketing professional and creator of a course called Clever Digital Marketing, appears to be using his professional skills to promote his love of bubble hockey and to get this new tournament off the ground.

The Old Ellicott Cup has a short history, but a great one. From our humble beginnings as a basement bubble hockey tournament to representing the DMV proudly in other regional tournaments, we've learned one thing for sure: The passion for playing and watching bubble hockey runs deep in this region.

Born in a basement. Lifted from local obscurity by one man who envisions tournament play - - in the Baltimore and Ohio Ellicott City Station Museum in Ellicott City, Maryland.

From The Old Ellicott Cup Website*

The event already has a corporate sponsor: Window Nation, and has swag on offer for purchase at the website. One thing it doesn’t have, or hasn’t yet revealed, is an actual cup. “Hoisting the cup” as a winner is alluded to on the website, so I think it is meant to be a real, physical object. And there will be prizes. No word yet on what they will be. 

Have you ever played bubble hockey? Would you be excited to participate in tournament play? Take a look at the website and see what you think. Mark your calendar for September 24th so it won’t sneak up on you. You can follow Smith on Twitter @ShawnMSmith and watch plans for the tournament unfold. The Old Ellicott Cup is also on Facebook and Instagram.

 *Original photo from website.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

The Horizon Foundation and the Pursuit of Happiness

Way back in the summer of 2014, the brouhaha du jour centered around the Ulman administration’s decision to limit the sale of sugary drinks at the annual Independence Day festivities at the Columbia lakefront. (Howard vendors question rules on festival fare, Amanda Yeager, Baltimore Sun) This decision, unpopular to some, was in alignment with the goals of the Horizon Foundation’s “HoCo Unsweetened” Campaign.

Some of the resulting pushback was right up there with gnashing one's teeth and rending one's garments. Yet the County was not forbidding the consumption of sugary drinks. They simply weren’t going to sell them at the event. By all means, bring one with you if you simply cannot live without them. Plenty of places in town sold them.

But, no. This meant war. Local government had become nothing more than a Nanny-State and people were losing their God-given rights to purchase Coke and Mountain Dew wherever they went. “If we don’t fight this, who knows what’s next in the descent into totalitarian rule?” Personal freedom. Personal choices. The pursuit of happiness.

Yes, it was that bad. It was so bad I wrote two whole blog posts about it. Back to back.

A Tough Game to Win, July 8, 2014

The Thirst Game, July 9, 2014

Was the Ulman administration’s choice to make the Fourth of July a battleground for public health a wise one? Politically speaking, probably not. Was their decision based on good public health instincts? Absolutely. 

This week the Baltimore Sun Editorial Board published a piece highlighting a long term study of the Horizon Foundation’s HoCo Unsweetened initiative. 

The ‘soft’ way to save lives: with a spoonful less sugar, Editorial Board of the Baltimore Sun 

In six years the sales of sugary soft drinks declined by 29.7 per cent, while sales of water increased. The Sun piece outlines the details of the study if you would like to learn more. Why is this important?

So, what good does it do to switch people, especially kids, away from full-strength Coke or Pepsi and to a bottle of water, sparkling or otherwise? As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health experts have observed, consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, including fruit juices, are associated with weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart and kidney disease, tooth decay and gout. 

Studies have suggested nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults consume at least one such drink each day. Such behavior doesn’t generally pose an immediate health threat (although it might for certain diabetics), but the consequences over time are serious. Does a healthier lifestyle cause people to live longer? Almost certainly. Exactly how long isn’t so obvious, but at least one long-term study suggested that drinking two or more such drinks per day raises the likelihood of a premature death by 21%.

“Consequences over time.” That’s it right there. Choices to drink water instead of soda, walk instead of sit on the couch, get enough sleep instead of binge-watching the newest streaming release, washing hands regularly, getting vaccinated…You see my point: it all adds up.

So what does the Horizon Foundation have to do with all this? And why does government, whether local or beyond, have a role in promoting or even mandating healthy choices?

These words from the website of the CDC Foundation articulate this well:


Public health is the science of protecting and improving the health of people and their communities. This work is achieved by promoting healthy lifestyles, researching disease and injury prevention, and detecting, preventing and responding to infectious diseases. Overall, public health is concerned with protecting the health of entire populations. These populations can be as small as a local neighborhood, or as big as an entire country or region of the world.

Healthy people and healthy communities mean more people who are able to enjoy life and make all those personal choices that mean so much: how they can spend their income, what kinds of employment they are capable of doing, how they spend their recreational time or engage in community advocacy or volunteer work: the pursuit of happiness.

Chronic illness takes away those freedoms. The work of public health supports them. 

It all adds up.


I just learned that August is National Wellness Month. Here’s more from the Howard County Library’s HiLights Newsletter:

Did you know that August is National Wellness Month? National Wellness Month focuses on self-care, managing stress, and establishing healthy routines. Research has shown that self-care helps control stress and promote happiness. 

You can explore over 175 suggested titles in the area of wellness here.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Friday Night Swingers


The Columbia Big Band presented an evening of all swing music at a free concert at the Chrysalis last night. I was lucky to find on on-stage seat.

Members of the band get set up for the evening.

Plenty of folks were seated on the lawn but I wanted be as close as possible to that big, fat brass sound. I wasn’t disappointed.

It didn’t hurt that I was just a step from the concessions stand, either. I tried something new.

The evening began with a welcome from Inner Arbor Trust President and CEO Nina Basu. 

Then it was on to the music. 

I fell in love with Big Band music and swing music in high school, believe it or not, listening to two old Glenn Miller record albums on my dad’s stereo system. When I was in college I wrote a paper about how dancing was an important part of American courtship rituals during this time period. I remember reading The Last Convertible by Anton Myrer and getting such a deep sense of how the music - -  and the experience of dancing to live music - - was so crucial to the telling of his story. 

My parents actually met a dance, right after the war. But that’s another story altogether.

Last night’s performance was a part of the Chrysalis Cabaret Series. I’ve enjoyed some fabulous artists at these events: Lavenia Nesmith, Nikki Lerner, Damon Foreman, for example. The performances have often focused on the brilliance of individual artists. The experience of hearing the Columbia Big Band was a bit different. It was the talents of all their individual players focused into one ensemble that made their sound so deliciously rich. 

Yes, there were standout instrumental solos and the vocalist, Lori Crossland, was amazingly good and perfect for the swing band repertoire. But it’s how it all comes together into one unified whole that makes it so good.

This kind of music was never meant to be concert music. I’m sure that the original players from the last century would be perplexed to see a crowd sitting politely, applauding in all the right parts. It was dance music. It makes you want to move your body. With that in mind, the Columbia Jazz Band brought along dance experts from Gotta Swing to give some dance instruction during the intermission. Even Inner Arbor Trust Board member Jonathan Branch and his wife Delma gave it a try. 

What a lovely summer evening in Columbia in a park where everyone is welcome. I saw some old friends plus lots of Chrysalis regulars. As always, each concert draws new folks who are enjoying the park’s offerings for the first time. 

Up next: Yappy Hour in the Park on August 24 and two events in August 28th, Chrysalis Kids with 123 Andrés in the morning and Concert for the Human Family with Cory Caudill and Wordsmith in the evening.

Friday, August 19, 2022



I was unaware we were at the “having to disclose being related to a trans person” stage of genocide already.

Wait, what? Then I saw what this tweet was referencing.

“Undeclared trans-identified off-spring.” The words gave me a kind of chill, a tingle of dread. I read the tweet again.

I was unaware we were at the “having to disclose being related to a trans person” stage of genocide already.

Then I responded:

If that is true I would like to disclose being related to all trans people.

I didn’t think a lot about it. It came from the heart. If trans people are in danger, then we must all step up to protect them. It starts with me. It was a simple choice.

I wasn’t expecting what came next. First, my tweet: If that is true I would like to disclose being related to all trans people.


aww! ❤️

Can confirm!

Yeah go back far enough and we’re all related 

Hello relative 👋 

Hello I will see you at the next reunion and bring the potato salad 

Uh oh. We seem to have hit a snag here. Reunion? Potato salad? I thought for a moment.

My potato salad is so-so but would I vouch for my chicken pasta Caesar salad. 🙂

We will love your caesar salad, I will do the potatoes

One hundred and fifteen “likes” later and I had a lot of new family members. My daughter laughed and said, “they looked at your profile and figured you’d be good for potato salad.” (She meant it kindly.) Maybe so. I’m a white, middle class married cisgender heterosexual retired teacher living in suburbia. No argument there.

But I’m also fiercely protective of LGBTQ+plus humans who deserve to be loved, respected,and accepted.  Those of us with any privilege at all are called to take a stand when we see these kinds of hurtful attitudes and behaviors. Trans people are absolutely our family. If we turn our gaze away to avoid the conflict the cost is high. Vulnerable people will be shamed, ostracized, marginalized - - endangered by small-minded hate and aggression.

When I was on a choir tour to Spain in college I was taken to the theatre by my host family in Madrid. The play was “Fuenteovejuna” by Lope de Vega.

Fuenteovejuna is a play by the Spanish playwright Lope de Vega, first published in Madrid in 1619. While under the command of the Order of Calatrava, a commander, Fernán Gómez de Guzmán, mistreated the villagers, who banded together and killed him. When a magistrate sent by King Ferdinand II of Aragon arrived at the village to investigate, the villagers, even under the pain of torture, responded only by saying "Fuenteovejuna did it." (Wikipedia)

“Who is responsible?”

“The town is responsible!”

Everyone in the town united to take a stand against oppression. What would happen if we did that?

What I did was not brave. No one will be banging on my door or putting me to the rack, like the characters in the play. It was, I guess, a kind thing. I simply used the opportunity presented to me to say what I truly believed. I didn’t remain silent, or think, “Wow, that's awful,” and keep on scrolling.

Some families are biological. Some are chosen. We can do so much good by creating family bonds and connections that reach well beyond our small, personal worlds. 

I see you. I hear you. I accept you.

We often bemoan the harms created by social media. But we also have so many opportunities to use it to communicate acceptance and hope.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Ten Years. Two Hearts.


What does good journalism looks like?  It brings together facts and human stories while communicating large concepts and small detail. It immerses the reader in a carefully constructed world. Reading it is almost like walking through a room filled with vivid experiences and memories. 

‘I needed to know what happened’: A father’s quest to understand derailment that killed 2 young women in Ellicott City, Jean Marbella, Baltimore Sun

In 2012 two young women lost their lives because of a horrific train derailment in Ellicott City. 

Ten years ago, their daughter, Rose Mayr, and her near lifelong friend, Elizabeth Nass, both 19, had sneaked onto the tracks where they cross over Main Street in Ellicott City, dangling their feet over the edge and snapping a photo as they sought to cap the end of summer before heading back to college. Instead, an approaching CSX train loaded with thousands of tons of coal derailed, 21 of its 80 cars jumping the tracks. The avalanche of coal buried and asphyxiated the two friends.

If you have lived in the area long enough to remember this, then you will remember the shock and grief of the community in reaction to this loss. It’s hard to describe. It was an all-consuming event and it filled our local consciousness for a long time. That’s what grief is like, and this was grief on a large scale. It brought one small town to a halt. 

Then time passed. The coal from the derailment was cleared away. Main Street opened again. The town dedicated memorial benches in honor of the two young women. Scholarships were created in their memory. Ever so slowly the event faded from public consciousness. 

The private grief remained.

Today’s article by Jean Marbella is the story of how one of the parents, Mark Mayr, processed that grief. It’s about a determined personal investigation to find the cause of the train derailment that killed his daughter and her friend. Marbella follows Mayr’s journey with care, in a way that gives the reader a sense of his pain and persistence.

Go read it. Think about it. Take the time to sit with what you have learned, and with how it makes you feel. This story gives us an opportunity to pause and remember these young women: Rose Mayr. Elizabeth Nass. It’s a chance to share for just a moment the grief their parents carry and honor the ways they have found to keep on living in the face of loss.

This is good journalism. No, this is excellent journalism. Marbella knows how to do this kind of piece well. It takes time, research, hard work, and the kind of critical thinking that can put all the pieces into place so that a story is both informative and engaging. These days that kind of time is given only for stories like this: a ten year retrospective on a tragedy that dominated headlines in both local, national, and international news. 

Yes, I lament the demise of local news coverage. If you wonder why, read this piece. It begins almost like a poem:

One February day, he climbed onto the rail bed himself, with lengths of string to measure the curvature and tilt of the tracks.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Stop the Spread

If you saw flyers posted around your neighborhood that read, “Stop the Spread!” what would you guess they’d be about? COVID? Monkey Pox? 

In Austin, Texas the goal is to stop the spread of something quite different: Space Barns.

They aren’t actually barns. They are not from outer space. But the poster of the message thinks they look like barns from outer space and they don’t like them. They must be stopped.

No, this isn’t a local story but it very well could be. How often do we come upon discussions about housing, new construction, and neighborhoods where the underlying message is, in one way or another, “stop the spread”? It seems to be human nature. And sometimes our concerns may be valid and sometimes they are just plain silly.

I don’t know if stopping the spread of Space Barns is the hill I’d want to die on. But then, I don’t live in Austin. Click on the photo of flyer to read the text and see what you think. It’s difficult for me to tell if this is sincere or a spoof.

Here are some comments from Twitter which is, of course, where I found this lovely photograph.

I flagged this when I moved back to Austin in 2016! 
I call it “barnyard chic” and in 2 or 3 decades, everyone is gonna roll through these and immediately date the polished cement and barn framing, and not in a good way.

Terrible space barns have overtaken my neighborhood - they must be stopped!

How dare space barns attempt to replace our rich heritage of popcorn ceiling-stuffed rectangles of spongy siding.

Controversial Opinion…I kind of like Space Barns

Flyer needed desperately -- space barns have infiltrated our neighborhood.  My eyes will never unsee them but maybe a warning will deter more.

I don't necessarily disagree; however, I predict in 50 years Austin will have a movement to "save our precious, historical space barns".

This nut job is just making those bland mediocre buildings sound really f-ing cool by naming them "space barns" NGL.

I think the reason I liked this so much was the thought that maybe these sorts of conversations were going on in Howard County when Columbia was going up. There are some amazingly retro-looking houses in Long Reach which might very well have looked like something from outer space in their day. (Of course there was no hope of “stopping the spread” of Columbia since Rouse had bought all the land up in advance.)

What do you think? Would you oppose the proliferation of Space Barns in your neighborhood? I’ve often wondered how people felt in areas of the county where older homes were torn down and replaced by McMansions. Perhaps that’s how these people in Austin feel. I don’t know. I do know that when something new happens there will almost always be someone who thinks it’s the worst thing ever. 

Hmm…I’m beginning to get the itch to bring Space Barns to Columbia/HoCo. Who knows? It could be fun.


Tuesday, August 16, 2022

What Makes Us Safer?


I’ve been saving links to these two thought-provoking articles about National Night Out while trying to find the right opening to share them.

Why my family will not attend National Night Out, Half Moon Bay Review, 2018

A National Night Out — Without Police, Sandhya Dirks, KQED, 2018

Interesting that they both happen to be from 2018. I wonder why.

I found them when I was searching for other voices and points of view on NNO. I realized this year that I have come to have misgivings about what this event has become in most communities. National Night Out began with the idea that coming out of your home and knowing your neighbors makes you safer. It has evolved into a quasi-festival event that is usually police-centric. You might almost say it’s a police public relations event.

“Knowing your neighbors makes you safer” is different than “hanging out with the police makes you safer.” It just is. For instance, knowing your neighbors might give you the confidence to resolve disputes and solve problems by reaching out to people in your neighborhood. Hanging out with the police reinforces the concept that the police are here to protect you so - - just call them when there’s a problem.

The end results can be quite different. Often when white people call the police over something concerning them in their neighborhood, Black and Brown people suffer. If you follow discussions on social media and especially the hyperlocal Next Door, you will frequently observe whites having those sorts of conversations. 

I saw suspicious people in my neighborhood. A man is doing something I don’t understand. Those kids are up to no good.

Add to that the proliferation of home camera surveillance systems, and suddenly eveyone considers themselves a junior detective. 

Recently retired Ravens football player Torrey Smith, a Howard County resident, related the following experience on Twitter:

Nothing like a casual encounter with Karen walking the dog smh

Update: She called the cops 😑

The lady told me last night “You don’t live here, I live here” as I’m 40 yards from my property and half a mile from hers 😑

This is definitely a case where knowing one’s neighbors would be a vast improvement over the white, affluent fall-back position: the police are here to protect me. Just call them; they’ll handle it.

Do National Night Out events make us safer or do they reinforce white comfort with policing without building the kind of community truly necessary to make neighborhoods safer? This is the sort of question I’m asking myself right now. 

Why now? National Night Out was August 2nd. That was several weeks ago. You would think I’d be on to more current events.

I received the County Executive’s email about the deployment of body cameras in the Howard County Police Department. It made me wonder what we will learn here about local policing. It made me think all over again about who is safe, who is protected, and who is not.

If you have time, read the two pieces I shared. They aren’t very long. I’d love to have a broader conversation about this. 

Monday, August 15, 2022

Restaurant Roulette


I have participated in many entertaining conversations about restaurants in Columbia/HoCo that might best be described as “you know, the place that’s in the place that used to be the place that went to that other place.” 

For example:

The Starbucks in Wilde Lake was previously a KFC, although many locals still call it the Jack in the Box. The Second Chance in Oakland Mills replaced the short-lived Fire Rock Grill, but, most folks remembered The Last Chance Saloon more vividly. I’m sure you can think of a few more.

When I saw this bit of news in the Baltimore Business Journal about Columbia’s Ale House I had a hard time believing they’d already been in business for ten years. It doesn’t seem all that long ago that they were building on the site of the well-known restaurant Rocky Run. 

Ale House Columbia joins competition on Dobbin Road, Sara Toth, Baltimore Sun, December 12, 2012

And now they’re already old enough to consider a complete overhaul! The BBJ article by Amanda Yeager makes it clear that’s more than a fresh coat of paint. When you consider how hard the pandemic was on area restaurants, it’s surprising to me that Ale House is able to invest that kind of money right now. I hope it’s a sign that the owners feel that the Columbia location continues to be worth that kind of investment.

More restaurant roulette: (Musical chairs? Hopscotch? Tic tac toe?)

Frisco Tap House (which was originally Frisco Burrito and located at Stanford and Dobbin) has most recently been located on Dobbin and has now moved to McGaw Road where they will open in yet a new incarnation: Frisco and the Reckless Shepherd. Holy moly, that’s a mouthful. Potential nicknames? Any ideas?

As an aside, I recently saw someone on Facebook refer to Frisco’s original location as “the rebuild shopping center.” I like it.

It’s very old news that the Pepperjacks folks opened a second location at Annapolis Junction. But did you know that the same folks have opened Notch 8 Brewery? It appears to be in the same location, Annapolis Junction. I’m not finding a website at the moment. If you’ve been there, fill me in.

In somewhat related news, there’s a restauant in Ellicott City called Fox and Barrel which I have been wanting to visit purely because it looks to me like the original Pepperjacks location in Scaggsville.(Which used to be a service station, by the way.) See what you think. On the top, Fox and Barrel. On the bottom, Pepperjacks.

Do you have any good restaurant stories to share? Recent news? Historical tidbits? Post them here.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

HoCo Holler: Prepare for Success (and friends)


Yesterday began with a blissfully cool morning that put me in mind of the coming of Fall. All sorts of thoughts tumbled into my consciousness: leaves changing, trips to the farm for pumpkins, getting ready for going back to school. Adverts on tv and social media have been trying to sell me on the inevitability of the end of the summer season. It wasn’t until I felt that hint in the weather that I could truly take it seriously.

The HiLights newsletter from the Howard County Library System reminded me that it’s that time of year again:

It’s time to chip in and help Howard County’s own Prepare for Success as they outfit students in need with the tools necessary to start the school year off with confidence.

Here’s the link to the supply list. Questions? You can reach out to Prepare for Success by email: or by telephone: 443-535-1625. Remember, if it’s not easy or convenient for you to get out to the shops, you can order from their Amazon Wish List or send a direct donation. Here’s the link to their website with the necessary information:

Prepare for Success

I wrote last year about how providing school supplies was a valuable way to remove obstacles to school success.

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

There are a variety of local groups in Columbia/HoCo that are holding school supply give-away events. It’s good to see the community engaging in lifting up children and families in this way. Donating school supplies seems to be something that everyone can get behind. I have yet to see any complaints. And, thank goodness for that. 

The other day I saw a photograph shared from such an event and it made me happy to see that it had been taken in such a way that the recipients were not “on display” for the viewer. While it’s a wonderful thing to give, it’s not wonderful to force one’s neighbors to “out” themselves as being in need of charity in order to receive it. If you’ve never had to stand in line to get things which are basic necessities, you might not understand that there may be two competing feelings at work: gratitude to be receiving what you need, shame, that you can’t provide for yourself and your family.

It’s important to treat our neighbors with the respect and empathy they deserve: the way we would want to be treated if we were in similar circumstances.

An enthusiastic HoCo Holler for Prepare for Success and all the HoCoLocal groups who are getting our kids back to school with one less obstacle in their way. Removing obstacles means improving access to learning, growing, and succeeding. A backpack full of school supplies will not do all the work for you. But it makes it possible for you to engage in the challenges ahead.

Please help if you can.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

In the Pool at the Beach


A good place to catch people’s attention is at the beach. No, I don’t mean with a daring swimsuit, although that’s certainly a possibility. No, I’m talking about ocean front advertising. Like this, from a piece by WMAR2News:

Photo credit: Vicky Cutroneo, Howard County Board of Education (shared on Facebook)

That’s right. Several area schools systems are advertising for teachers at the beach this summer.

Maryland school districts promoting job openings with seaside ads, Rushaad Hayward, WMAR2News

My gut response to this was somewhat less than charitable. It went something like this:

Sure, go looking for teachers at the beach now, because they’ll never be able to afford a beach vacation once they’re teachers.

Another shoot straight from the hip response on Twitter took a different view:

What if, instead of advertising on a boat, we spent that money on improving working conditions?

Quips like these roll easily off the tongue and usually contain at least a grain of truth, if not a whole lot more. I have to admit they do nothing to recruit and hire teachers, however.

The teacher shortage is not merely a local problem. The reasons that teachers are leaving the profession are many. I’ve written about them frequently in this space. And the reasons that young people are not choosing education as their field of study and their life’s work are pretty much the same. They see how teachers are treated. They see how much they work, how little they earn, how much abuse they take from politicians. (And others.)

No matter how much one loves teaching, it's a time where it is easy to be jaded and disheartened. Every time a particular news article goes by in my Facebook feed, I wince. It's the one where a young applicant at a recruitment fair says:

“I’m just excited for a new adventure, to give back to my community,” she said at Thursday’s event at Loch Raven High School.

I wince because 1) I have been that person and because 2) I know how difficult that road will be. I almost wonder if I would wish it on anyone.

In spite of all this, school systems are tasked with hiring teachers. They have a mission to fulfill. They are bound by law to provide free, K-12 education. Someone, somewhere decided that advertising at the beach might be a good idea. This could be the result of creativity or desperation. I don’t know. It may result in a surge of qualified applicants. I don’t know that, either.

Something I’m curious about. What kind of applicant pool will one reach at the beach? Will it be racially, ethnically, economically diverse? What kinds of people are automatically filtered out of the equation because they won’t be there? “Oh, everyone around here goes to the beach!” you might say. No, they don’t. 

And are those potential applicants, the ones who aren’t there, ones our students deserve to learn from? Need to learn from? We desperately need a more diverse work force in the Howard County Schools. I wonder if we’ll find them at the beach.


Is there a better place for an ad like this?

The first of the two hiring fairs is today, from ten am to three pm, at Wilde Lake Middle School.