Friday, March 31, 2023

F ³: Look at Me!


Question of the day: before social media, what did people do to get attention?

This question has been floating around Twitter this week. I caught a response from a Baltimore journalist who wrote:

Bright colors. A ritualistic dance. Vibrating their wings. Mating calls.

My own response was nowhere near as visually arresting.

Question: Before social media, what did people do to get attention?

Me: Cranky letters to the editor.

I liked this question and the subsequent replies because they made me think. It may seem naive to you but I tend to think people are on social media to communicate. To make contact. Sometimes to learn. I honestly hadn’t given much thought to the concept that people are on social media to get attention.

I know, I know. How could I be so…clueless?

Well, I don’t hang around in the places where a lot of that is going on and I don’t travel in the same circles as those who are desperate for social media attention. Instagram and TikTok are full of that if you are looking for it. 

I’m not. I would go out of my way to avoid posts from people who dress up their pets to increase their own personal social media clout or turn their young children into a brand.

On the other hand, am I ignoring the ways that I - - and the people I interact with most - - use social media in ways that could very well be “looking for attention”?

  • Here are my adorable grandchildren! 
  • We’re so proud of our new kitchen!
  • Look how those idiots damaged our front lawn!
  • Where can I find a perfect dress for the exclusive event I’ve been invited to?
  • I’ve been promoted!
We’re all out here looking for attention, I guess. Some of us more than others. 

I went back to Twitter to look at some of the other responses and I think you might be surprised what answer came up the most frequently:

One poster added this comment to the photo:

If you know, you know. 

Wait. People got up to sharpen their pencils to get attention? Not just because their pencil needed sharpening? Or because they couldn’t sit in the same spot for one more minute? Or because that cute boy was at the sharpener? 


In light of recent conversations about teen behavior, I think it’s interesting that a significant chunk of responses involved shopping malls. They seem to figure prominently in many of the respondents’ recollections.

I highly recommend this thread. There’s a kind of childlike sweetness about it. Want to read the responses for yourself? It begins here

I’ve been pondering one of the comments since I read it several days ago:

It’s so different because on social media you’re trying to get attention from strangers compared to then you wanted attention from people you know.

Do you think that’s true? Do you see that happening? If so, I’m wondering if there are long-term consequences to that kind of shift. Does it change how we treat the people we know? Does it change how we feel about ourselves?

Here’s one more before I go:

Before social media, what did people do to get attention?

I had a surrey with isinglass windows that rolled right down.

If you know, you know.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

200,000 Flowers and a Garden of People


This starts out rather strangely but it will eventually make sense. I promise. Bear with me.

Have you ever seen this mall?

No? That’s probably because it’s a photo from a mall in Colombia, South America, not the Mall in Columbia. Someone posted it with the comment that our mall would never do this.

While our mall is taking away the fountain, this is what other malls do with ‘dead’ space. We are never in the forefront of innovation.

While the fountain actually went away quite some time ago, for this person that loss still rankles. They look at this photo and see innovation. Fair enough. I see allergies and asthma. It’s all in one’s own perspective. 

I was rather surprised to see the word “innovation” pop up here. I see many, many complaints that Columbia/HoCo tries to be too much in the forefront of innovation. We even have our own innovation center, for goodness’ sake. But the original poster is probably talking about the Mall specifically. 

Is the Mall in Columbia at the forefront of innovation? Probably not. Does it even want to be? I don’t know. Don’t malls just want to stay a bit ahead of the trends and keep losses to a minimum? They’re executors, not innovators.

When I think of Malls being at the forefront of innovation I have a different vision. Frankly, I think of creative reuse. What about libraries? Schools? Affordable housing? 

That would be innovative.

Imagine my surprise when I saw this announcement last night:

From the County Executive’s Office:

 Columbia was envisioned by Jim Rouse as a “garden for the growing of people.” As we continue to advance this vision and move our community forward, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball invites you to attend an exciting announcement regarding the future of affordable housing and the new Downtown Columbia Library.

Join us at 11:00 a.m. on Thursday, March 30 at the Columbia Lakefront fountain for this transformative announcement!

Okay, it has nothing to do with “The Mall”. But it has everything to do with two of the things that were top of mind for me yesterday when I looked at the Mall post: affordable housing and libraries. And, now that I think about it, our library system is continually at the forefront of innovation. I’m not at all surprised they’re a part of this. 

If you want to know more about the flower petal art, check out this article:

200,000-flower display adorns MedellĂ­n with a multisensory experience, La Prensa Latina

If you want to know what the County Executive is going to announce, you could turn up at the Lakefront at eleven. Since not everyone will be available, it will probably be shared via social media as well.

For me, a decision that will build on Rouse’s vision of “a garden for the growing of people” is every bit as breathtaking as 200,000 flowers at the Mall. I look forward to learning more.

Village Green/Town² Comments


Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Springing into Spring


Trumpet fanfare!

I saw my first robin of Spring yesterday. 

I am having a hard time shaking the feeling that we ought to have had a more significant winter with some decent snow to play in. But there’s only so long I can sit around in denial. There are flowers in that photo. The grass is greener. Forsythia is in bloom around the neighborhood.

As if to cement the turnover of seasons, Clarksville Commons is back this Saturday with their annual Farmers Market Spring Preview Event. 

It’s from 10 am - 2 pm. Go to the event page to see what vendors will be on hand. The weather predictions are for a high of 71 but a 60 per cent chance of showers. With any luck, any showers will not fall between 10-2.

Elsewhere on April 1st is a workshop on Ukrainian Egg Dyeing.

The Community Ecology Institute is hosting this hands-on session from 11 - 12:30. The instructor is a friend of mine and I actually learned the pysanki egg decorating technique from her some years back. It’s fun! You don’t have to be a professional artist to get the hang of it. Visit the event page for more infornation and to register for a ticket. 

Later in the day you can participate in a poetry picnic at the Miller Branch Library in Ellicott City, hosted by HoCoPoLitSo.

The Poetry Picnic will take place in the Enchanted Garden at the Miller Branch of the Howard County Library System, 3:30-5:30 p.m., April 1st. While poetry is the picnic, light refreshments will be served. 

"Community members of all ages will be able to write their own poetry, read the works of famous poets, and participate in an open mic!"

Not inclined to read your own work, or grab a favorite poem from one of the greats, well then, just come have a listen. All are welcome. Let's let poetry do what poetry does, lift all our hearts as we steep in being human. 

Lastly, Manor Hill Farm is hosting a visit from Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue from 12-7.

To learn more about the event: Gentle Giants at Manor Hill

Clearly we’ve got some great ways to spring into Spring this weekend. Have any others to add? Tell me:

Village Green/Town² Comments

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

The Insatiable Maw


The regularity with which school children are slaughtered in our country brings to mind an episode of the original Star Trek  called “A Taste of Armegeddon.” On planet Eminiar VII a war is being conducted with planet Vendikar through a computer simulation program. But the designated casualties are required to turn up for their own very real executions. 

We send young people to school with hope, with love, with dreams for their future. But we can give them no reassurance that they are not reporting for execution.

In the NGC 321 star cluster, where this episode is set, the leaders of two warring planets have decided that war is an inevitable product of human nature. They view the computerized system they have devised as a way to limit the impact, minimize the destruction. To the viewer the meaning of the allegory is clear: instead of looking at war and doing everything in their power to prevent it, these people have built an entire culture around incorporating and tolerating it. The leaders have convinced themselves that there is no other way. 

Once they make this decision, then all deaths are acceptable deaths. All loss is an expected side effect of the day-to-day functioning of the state. 

“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.” Matthew 6:24

In the Book of Matthew the verse ends: you cannot serve God and mammon. (money/material wealth)

Last night, in my horror and rage at the killing of three children and three adults at the Covenant School in Nashville, I emended the Gospel text to read: you cannot serve God and guns. If you aren’t religious, I think it’s equally true to say you cannot serve Good and guns.

Whether God or Good, both encourage self-reflection, care for others, personal growth, acting in thoughtfulness and love. 

Guns are not that kind of god. They are idols that evoke fear and wield terrible power. They require an army of sycophants to stir up fear and keep their supremacy alive. They must be pacified with sacrifices. 

Research into long-dead cultures has shown that for many their demise is linked with the worship of exactly this kind of god: the god who requires blood sacrifice. When the culture comes to believe that its continued existence depends on feeding the insatiable maw of the awful deity…

…that’s the end.

What was the god the leaders on Eminiar VII worshiped? Order. It was what they used to fuel ongoing and meaningless death. Order must not be sacrificed, so, people must.

Today I look at anyone who would protect AR-15s instead of children - - or any human being - -  and see that they have chosen their god. 

Will it take visitors from another planet to break their stranglehold on our nation?

Monday, March 27, 2023

Doing the Math

Do you remember word problems? You know, like this:

Oh, how I loathed them.  The more difficult the math got, the more I hated them. I was definitely one of those kids who saw no possible use for math in my future. My mother used to say, “Some day you may need to buy a rug and you will need to figure out the dimensions.” 

I allowed as how that might be true but I was certainly never going to need to determine the behavior of trains.

Train A heads north at an average speed of 95 miles per hour, leaving its station at the precise moment as another train, Train B, departs a different station, heading south at an average speed of 110 miles per hour. If these trains are inadvertently placed on the same track and start exactly 1,300 miles apart, how long until they collide?

I am here today to announce, before God and these witnesses, that I have found a word problem that I am interested in. Finally. As shocking as this is, you won’t be surprised that I found it on Twitter.

I figured out earlier it's actually cheaper to go to Tyson's in Virginia to go shopping than it would be to go to Columbia Mall (because there's no convenient transit from Baltimore to Columbia).

I looked at Uber and from my house to Columbia it was $36.00.


MARC round trip for two people to DC would be $36.00. Plus maybe $20 for the Metro, so $56.00 vs $72.00. Ridiculous.

Even spending $56 is ridiculous but at least you can make a day of it and do other stuff that isn't at the mall.

This post by someone I know (and used with permission) grabbed my attention. It appealed to me because I spent a good while living in Baltimore without a car. I remember what that was like. I also have vivid memories of bringing a piece of flat-pack furniture home from the Quakerbridge Mall in New Jersey on the bus when I lived in Princeton.

So, what does the math tell us? If you live in Baltimore and don’t own a car, it would cost you 72 dollars by Uber to go the the Columbia Mall. On the other hand, you can get to DC and back via MARC train for 36 dollars. Add 20 dollars for the Metro and you are up to 56 dollars, tops.

Which trip is more expensive? Columbia. Which trip is less expensive and offers more choices? D.C./Tyson’s Corner. 

Why? Transportation.

Our culture is so car-centric that we are likely to forget about people who don’t have cars once we ourselves become drivers. We tend not to see how being car-less in a car-dominated world can add many layers of logistics and inconvenience. It stops being visible to us.

There are a variety of reasons that someone might not own a car:

  • Cost
  • Lack of parking near home 
  • Environmental concerns
  • Disability
  • Desire to live a car-free life
This does not eliminate their need to:
  • Buy food
  • Go to the doctor
  • Visit the library
  • Access restaurants and entertainment
  • Shop
  • Go to school
  • Visit family and friends

The distance from Baltimore to Columbia is 19.7 miles. The distance from Baltimore to Tyson’s Corner is 48.7 miles. What makes the trip to Columbia prohibitively expensive? It’s not the distance. It’s a lack of convenient public transportation. When I lived in Connecticut it was easy to hop a train and make the trip to New Haven or NYC. (And many smaller stops in between.) 

It’s not such a crazy thought - - wanting local train service. Yes, it takes public investment but its benefits are many. The existing bus service between Baltimore and Columbia is aimed at commuters and, as such, its hours are quite limited. 

Discussions on improving Baltimore-Columbia transit options often get bogged down by objections rooted in racism. “We don’t want those people here.” This isn’t just a local phenomenon. It pops up all too frequently in areas where transit would connect a relatively affluent suburban area with a less affluent urban area.

Perhaps we should just check IDs outside the Mall. If you’re from Baltimore you can enter only with a responsible local chaperone.

The absence of convenient, reliable Baltimore/Columbia transit service limits people in Columbia/HoCo, as well. This is not just a one-way street. Such a connection would be valuable for work, shopping, entertainment, and more. You wouldn’t have to worry about parking, or driving after drinks with dinner. 

At the end of the day, my friend is probably going to choose a trip that is less expensive and allows her to use more of her discretionary dollars on shopping, dining, and entertainment, rather than see them siphoned away on travel expenses. Wouldn’t you?

This is one math problem that ought to have a better answer,

Sunday, March 26, 2023

A Tasty Task


That’s today’s message from the Howard County Times.

Time is running out to nominate your favorite Howard County dishes, chefs and restaurants. The nomination period for Howard Magazine’s Best Restaurants contest closes at 5 p.m. 

Here’s the link to make your nominations: Favorite Howard County Restaurants.

The categories are: 

Bar food
Bartender (include full name and restaurant)
Beer list
Best overall
Black-owned restaurant
Chef (full name and restaurant)
Crab cake
Fine dining
Food truck
Frozen treats
Healthful menu
Happy hour
Late-night dining
Live entertainment
Lunch menu
New restaurant (open 1 year or less)
Outdoor dining
Place to take the kids
Place to take out-of-towners
Server (include full name and restaurant)
Sports bar
Vegetarian options
Wine list

You don’t have to vote in every category - -  just the ones you want to nominate.

Do I wish they had a category for best soup? Yes, and probably best sandwich, too. But I realize that long lists deter people from voting in things like this. I guess you have to draw the line somewhere.

I’d like to give my own personal award to the young woman in this photo paired with the restaurant article.

Photo from Baltimore Sun Media Group/Howard County Times

My award? “Most attractive photo of someone smiling while eating.” That can’t be easy to do.

You have until five pm today to submit nominations. Voting begins in earnest at 9 am on April 13th and runs through April 27th. 

No cash prizes will be awarded but the attendant buzz and word of mouth can really give a boost to a local business.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Falling In


The Mall in Columbia made an official announcement this week that they will be instituting new entry restrictions for teens at the 52 year old property. 

The Mall in Columbia announced Thursday that youth must be chaperoned by adults after reports of unruly behavior at the shopping center. The "parental guidance required" rule will take effect on March 31. Any visitors under 18 will need to be accompanied by a parent or supervising adult who is at least 21 years old after 4 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, the mall said. During those hours, officers will be present to check the IDs of young visitors. 

If I were the kind of person who had the patience to identify, document, and sort social media responses to this news I think there would be some interesting things to learn. I can tell you a significant chunk of them lean racist. I worry that the implementation of this new policy will lean the same way.

Then we have an interesting divergence of opinion among adults who grew up hanging out at the mall themselves. There are some who remember those years fondly and don’t think that experience should be taken away from current teens. Then there are those who remember how incredibly well-behaved they and their friends were at the mall and look at today’s young people and say, “Throw ‘em out!”

As for me, I keep thinking about this quote from the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

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

If teens are getting into trouble at the Mall, or any place locally, for that matter, simply reacting to a crisis is not enough. I’m thrilled with the summer programs for young people announced by country government. I’m not thrilled with the new policy at the Mall. But both are reactions. 

I am inclined to agree with those who are advocating for more local teen centers where kids can gather and hang out and be who they are. There has to be a careful balance between safe places and fun activities with the need for kids of this age to exercise independence and make their own choices. And it has to be easy for kids to get there, and affordable.

Developmentally they are going to be doing inexplicably goofball sorts of things. That’s a given. Ask teachers who teach this age level. They could tell you some stories. (But they won’t, because that would be unprofessional.)

How do we go upstream and find out where teens are falling in the river? If we don’t do that we will always be in a position of reacting. 

What’s happening at the mall seems to me to have a lot to do with boundaries. There are certain behavioral lines that have been crossed which made patrons, business owners, and mall management feel unsafe. 

How are we teaching boundaries? If some kids just don’t “get it” how can we do a better job? Also, are those the same kids who are likely to be at risk for other self-harming behavior? It’s easy to say “let’s just get rid of the problem.” But just because you are less likely to see it at the Mall doesn’t mean it will go away. It will just go somewhere else. 

If what we see at the Mall is a symptom of a larger problem, then the solution has to be deeper than symptomatic treatment. And it certainly makes no sense to single out all people of a certain age group as a way of addressing it. It flies in the face of everything we know about using logical consequences to respond to behavior.

If we want to make a lasting difference with our kids, it will take some long term investment in their lives and support for them as they develop. 

How to fix the folks making racist assumptions on Facebook? That’s another story altogether.

Post Script: I can’t get over the feeling that the behaviors deemed as unacceptable would be not be described as dangerous if the kids were white. 

Friday, March 24, 2023

F ³: Listening and Telling

Once upon a time, a very long time ago now, about last Friday…

Some of the children’s books I read growing up began as bedtime stories for children. American culture is not as focused on the art of oral storytelling as many other, older cultures. Bedtime stories are the place where many of us have our first (and sometimes only) experience with it.

I remember telling my older daughter stories about going on adventures to a magical kingdom on the back of her magical pink pony. 

And they went trot-trot, trot-trot, trot-trot and - - whoosh! into the sky…

Did you know that March 20th is World Storytelling Day?

Image from The Maryland State Library on Twitter 

World Storytelling Day is a global celebration of the art of oral storytelling. It is celebrated every year on the March equinox, on March 20. #MDLibraries carry on oral storytelling tradition through programs and events, including story time for young children.

This was news to me, so I did a bit of digging around. This explanation is from the World Storytelling Day Facebook Group:


World Story Day has been celebrated around the world with great success since 2003.

Throughout that one day oral storytellers around the world are busy inspiring audiences, and creating community, by telling classical tales, local stories, glorious, horrendous, happy, challenging, spooky, romantic and dramatic epic stories. Some wrapped in music, some staged and others intimate - but every story is told in a unique and compelling way, by a storyteller whose heart is full of great tales to bridge our divides and remind us what it is to be human.

We tend to think of storytelling as something reserved for children. Maybe it’s because modern culture has strayed so far from honoring the authenticity of the oral tradition. Why sit and listen to someone talk when you could watch a movie or see a show or stream animated digital content? Children still possess the inborn ability to suspend disbelief and be carried beyond their immediate surroundings by a story.

All to soon it is educated and entertained out of them. Out of us.

Yet I was fascinated by the storytelling event I went to as a part of Columbia’s 50th birthday celebration. These were the stories of personal experience, not folktales or fairytales with magical characters. If you’ve ever listened to The Moth on Public Radio you have experienced that kind of storytelling. It’s an art. As the explanation above suggests, it takes “a storyteller whose heart is full of great takes to bridge our divides and remind us what it is to be human.”

Some of us may not feel we are up to that level of storytelling. Or perhaps we don’t like being the center of attention. But storytelling need not be a formal event. Sometimes it is as small as the things you share with your family at the end of your day, or the funny family stories about life events that get better and better with each retelling. Or the moments snuggled up to a sleepy child.

In the last ten years or so there has been a good deal of scientific study on how storytelling affects the brain. A good story can connect with the parts of our brain that react to real, active experiences rather than passive ones. Our brains can produce cortisol and oxytocin just from hearing a vivid narrative. That’s right: listening to stories can change brain chemistry and sometimes our subsequent behavior as well.

Do you enjoy telling stories? Do you like to listen? Can you remember a story that has really stayed with you over time, or influenced you in some way?

Village Green/Town² Comments

Thursday, March 23, 2023



I am not raising funds for a cause for my birthday. I have a pretty good feeling that everyone I know on Facebook and even everyone who reads the blog is the sort of person who donates and volunteers and gives of their time already. Thank you for that. 

Do I have any birthday wishes? Maybe. 

The big ones are continuing to have a capacity for enjoyment and the ongoing desire to still be open to learning something new. 

Oh, and for goodness sakes, let this be the year I finally fall in love with walking. Not a sexy wish, mind you, but one that would make a big difference in my life.

Today I have reached what I jokingly said to my husband is the Lennon and McCartney birthday. (If you know, you know.) At this juncture I still feel very strongly that voices other than my own are important in Columbia/HoCo. They aren’t necessarily going to be setting up a blog or even a podcast so you can find them easily. You have to look and listen.

Whether it’s at Columbia Association meetings or the Board of Ed or the County Council - - whose are the voices you rarely hear? What does that mean? All too often it means that those are the people who it becomes normal to ignore. 

I have reached an age where one often becomes focused on making sure that things are comfortable for “people like me.” Please don’t let me be that person. Don’t let me be the person that stands in front of other people’s dreams so they can’t blossom or take flight.

That’s a lot of heavy talk for a birthday. I’ll add one extravagant wish to close out this post. I’d like to win the lottery and spend the rest of my life as a professional philanthropist. Yes, a really big lottery jackpot so I could be extravagant in my giving.

Oh, and I’d like to spend the night in a treehouse, 

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

All Roads Lead To

 Three things. One place. 

Howard Community College.

Today from 11 - 4 on the Quad at HCC: the second annual Althea’s Almost Famous Roy Peart Memorial Scholarship Fundraiser

The delicious culinary creations of Althea Hanson will be back on campus today to support the scholarship fund she established in memory of her father, Roy Peart, who worked at HCC for 28 years. The scholarship supports students pursuing careers in music, theatre, and dance education. On hand today for the fundraiser:

  • Althea's Almost Famous food truck
  • Queen's Temple Handmade
  • DMV Taqueria
  • AppleCore's Bake Shop

On Friday, March 24th, HCC President Dr. Daria Willis is back on The Couch (remember The Couch?) for a discussion of Women’s History Month with Tonya Aikens, President and CEO of the Howard County Library System. This live event will take place on Instagram beginning at 2:30 pm. They’ll be discussing women's history and issues facing women in leadership positions.

You can even submit a question in advance via their Instagram account. I can sure think of a few timely ones. 

Also this week, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball announced that one of the recipients of funding in this year’s YEP! summer youth initiative will be a youth esports program at HCC.

Today, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball announced the launch of Howard County’s empowering Summer Youth Program and a new, innovative esports Initiative in partnership with Howard Community College. Through the partnership, youth in Howard County will learn key skills and positively engage with their peers and the community.

“The Howard Community College Dragons esports team competes against some of the most formidable colleges and universities in the country and has multiple conference wins and one national championship to our name,” said Howard Community College Director of Athletics Mike Smelkinson. “With all the success we’ve had with esports, Howard Community College is excited to partner with County Executive Ball and offer new opportunities for Howard County middle school and high school students to learn about gaming as an option to support their college education or their future career.”

HCC’s esports team is developing a series of fun events for Howard County middle school and high school students to inform them of the opportunities available in esports.

HCC Overwatch esports team wins national championship, May, 2022

Confession time: back in September of 2021 I wrote: 

I should mention here that Howard Community College has an e-sports team, although I have to admit I don’t understand why this qualifies as a sport. Perhaps my personal definition is too narrow. 

Guess what? I still don’t know enough about esports. I guess it’s time for me to do my homework.

You can keep up with what’s happening at HCC here:

Facebook: Howard Community College

Twitter: @HowardCC

Instagram: howardcommcollege

TikTok: howardcommcollege

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

An Alarming Deficit

I could give you quite the list of local happenings worthy of a blog post this morning. It’s not as though there’s nothing to write about. But there’s an image sticking in my head and it won’t move out of the way. It’s from the Instagram account for UMBC.

Speed Friending: Join us for snacks, games, and new friends!

One of the sponsors of this event is the UMBC Office of Off-Campus Services, so I’m guessing it’s targeting commuter students who aren’t in residence at UMBC. Still, it may have been open to anyone. I’ll check. But certainly it can be harder to forge social connections if you don’t live on campus.

 Why is this on my mind?

Over the last four years I’ve seen frequent posts on the Facebook parent page for UMBC about the difficulty of students connecting and making friends. I’ve been wondering if there’s something about how we are educating our kids that is somehow shortchanging them in the crucial social emotional skills that foster human connection and friendship.

Certainly the pandemic took a big chunk of normal adolescent development away from this generation. They are still playing catch up. All of our kids are, no matter what their age group.I wonder if that makes it harder to make friends?

Cell phones and the dominance of social media in teens’ lives is another factor - - and a big one, I suspect. There was a time when I was hopeful that this “new technology” could be used as a springboard for research and all kinds of learning experiences in the classroom. I am less optimistic today. I can’t say unequivocally that they are a work of the Devil and should be banned but I do think kids are harmed and we could be doing a better job supporting them.

As an aside, I find it interesting how attitudes have changed in the years since cell phones were allowed in schools. At the beginning I saw more teachers trying to maintain an open mind and explore ways to use technology in the classroom, whereas parents were flat-out objecting. Now I see teachers practically begging to get the devices out of the classroom and it is parents demanding that they remain.

What if I need to communicate with them? What if there’s a school shooting?

For a long time the mantra of the schools was “college and career ready.”  But what happens if you get to college - - or your first job - - and you don’t know how to make friends? How “successful” a human being will you be without human connection? Positive interactions and the ability to forge bonds with other people are what make life worth living. 

What happens if we as parents push our kids to focus on the kind of academic success that looks good on a college application but neglect to model for them the social skills and human kindness that support happiness in adulthood? We can’t blame this all on schools or cellphones. What have we valued? What have we ignored?

And one more thing: are we too involved? Do we want to be able to intervene and fix things even once they are away at college? Does our continued assertion of that parental control weaken our kids and hinder their ability to make their own choices, take their own risks, and even make their own friends?

Right now in Howard County high school seniors are nearing the end of the K-12 experience. Parents are anxious to know graduation dates. There will be college decisions and awards assemblies. Come September, how many will be lonely, disconnected, unsure of how to navigate life after high school?

Is there something we can do?

Village Green/Town² Comments

Monday, March 20, 2023

Monday Memories: March, 2020


As we move through anniversaries of those early days of the COVID-19 shutdown I’ve been seeing quite a bit of online reminiscing about events from three years ago There’s something so human about going over and over “where we were when” a major event changed our lives forever. It reminds me of how I used to unconsciously feel the place on my finger where my wedding ring wasn’t anymore after the dissolution of my first marriage.

Oh, that’s right. It’s gone.

I was looking over old blog posts from that time period and came across the one that talks about my last restaurant meal in The Before Times. It was at Cured.

Tuesday Night Treat, Village Green/Town², 3/11/2020

What strikes me about it is it’s ordinariness. Although we knew at the time that COVID was spreading around the world and would soon impact us, that fact doesn’t make it into my write-up at all. We knew cognitively, but we couldn’t have known how deeply it was going to change our lives. 

It took a long time for that to sink in.

As it turned out, I wouldn’t eat inside a restaurant again for over a year and a half. I made sure that first meal was at Cured, too.

Full Circle, Village Green/Town², 12/8/2021

I don’t think I’ve eaten inside a restaurant more than five times since March of 2020. Being in a high-risk category has made me choose my risks carefully, even strategically. I’m not asking for sympathy. It has simply become a part of my life. 

As I look back on the sweet, unfettered ordinariness of that meal in 2020 I almost get a stab of that Emily from Our Town feeling:

Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it -- every, every minute? - - Thornton Wilder, Our Town

This Thursday my family will gather to celebrate my birthday at one of our favorite local places, Flavors of India, in Gateway. It will be my first birthday meal inside a restaurant since 2019. There are so many factors that go into this: the low transmission rate in Howard County, the fact that everyone in my family is vaccinated and boosted, the great blessing that medication and treatment have stabilized my asthma. 

It is all worth celebrating. 

Are there any memories of these days in 2020 that have been on your mind? 

Village Green/Town² Comments

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Window Dressing


Compare and contrast. You remember those high school essays, don’t you? Some memories stick with you. I find that juxtaposition informs a lot of my work here. Images, especially.

Today I have two images for you from the Howard County Republican Party. The first was taken by Maryland Reporter’s Len Lazarick at a fundraising event. photo by Len Lazarick

The second was posted on the Facebook page of the Howard County Republican Party.

Image from Facebook: Howard County Republican Party

The first photo accompanies a piece on Maryland Reporter entitled “Ex-Gov Ehrlich tells Howard County Republicans they still have a chance.” (Len Lazarick, Maryland Reporter, 3/12/2023.) The caption for the photo reads:

Former Republican Gov. Bob Ehlrich on the stairs speaks to a crowd of Howard County Republicans during a Feb. 25 fundraiser at the home of Marleen Eck, far right, in Glenelg. Next to her is the county's GOP Chair Beth Lawson. 

The second image was posted on the Facebook page of the Howard County Republican Party on March 12th. If you scroll further down you can see that the Lazarick photo was taken at February 25th event called Ballots and Brunch. 

One wonders if the public outreach for Board of Education candidates came about as a result of the February 25th event or if it was already in the works. 

Much has been made of this call for BOE candidates - - and rightly so - - because of the ongoing outcry of local Republicans in past election cycles to anything in the BOE race that hinted of what they called partisanship. I guess that, in the desire to elect Republicans locally in any way that they can, they have decided to drop that pretense. And it was a pretense. HoCo Republicans have been recruiting, organizing, and supporting Republican candidates for BOE for quite some time: privately. 

Now we have a very public and carefully crafted solicitation intended to stir interest and excitement for the 2024 BOE race. I will probably write an entirely separate post about this:

We need candidates who can ensure accountability and trust in our education systems. The issues are plenty: parents rights in education, accountability & transparency, School Resource Officers (SROs), redistricting & neighborhood schools, prioritizing education over politics and ideology. Are you ready to step up and lead? (Text from Howard County Republican Party campaign flier)

But right now let’s look at the images.

One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn’t belong. Can you see it?

The creator of the flier chose a nice assortment of diverse-looking children from some collection of stock photos. They know our schools have a diverse student body. They’re indicating that their message will be what’s best for those kids. 

But who is “they”? When I look at the photo of Ehrlich and his admirers I see sameness. And not just because everyone in that particular photo is white and well-to-do, although that’s a big tell. I see ideological sameness. 

Ehrlich’s speech underscores this view as he describes Democrats in years past in the State legislature:

The State House leadership and particularly committee chairs were to “the right of center.” They were “businesspeople, owning bars and restaurants, signing the front of checks, hiring people, people who were entrepreneurs, who do capitalism. And as a result, the legislature and the state were fairly well in balance.”

Yes, they were Democrats but they were the right kind of Democrats: ownership, management, people who reap the juiciest benefits of capitalism. Those are the people who ought to be in charge. That is the lens through which decisions for everyone in Maryland should be made.

And those are the people who ought to be in control of our schools. People like us.

It’s interesting to note that nowhere in Ehrlich’s speech is there any mention of putting one’s self in other people’s shoes or of the diverse needs of the county’s residents. It’s a one-size-fits-all message. You can put a lovely multicultural bouquet of children on a flier but it means nothing if your essential message is diametrically opposed to that. 

It’s window dressing. It’s every bit as false and staged* as a fundraiser photo of a former governor on a stair case surrounded by affluent donors. 

Here is the mission statement for the Howard County Schools:


HCPSS ensures academic success and social-emotional well-being for each student in an inclusive and nurturing environment that closes opportunity gaps.

In my opinion, candidates for the Board of Education should be committed to that mission. That alone should be a given.

Does the campaign flier make you think that they will be?

*I don’t know if that photo was staged or a candid. It just rings false to me.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Bazaars and Belonging


Today, from 4 to 9 pm, Dar Al Taqwa Islamic Center is hosting a Pre-Ramadan Bazaar.

Ramadan begins the evening of March 22nd. If you don’t know much about Ramadan, here’s an article that will give you the basics.

10 Things non-Muslims should know about Ramadan, Jennifer Preyss, Victoria Advocate 

I do not know the significance of a pre-Ramadan Bazaar event but I can tell you they are held all over the world, so this is not simply a Howard County thing. It’s a part of a much larger tradition.

This is Dar Al Taqwa.

In 2019 I attended a vigil here in memory of Muslims killed in mass shootings in their mosques in New Zealand. Over the years it has been the target of hate and community criticism

This week County Executive Calvin Ball marked International Day to Combat Islamophobia with statements on his social media accounts.

Last year, the United Nations adopted a resolution which designated March 15 as International Day to Combat Islamophobia. Today, on this inaugural observation, we re-commit to not only ending anti-Muslim bigotry, but all religious discrimination in our community and beyond. 

Hate has no home in Howard County, Maryland, our nation, or our world. We stand with our Muslim community against any acts of hate, and encourage us all to spread love to one another.

In response, a local anonymous troll (who presents in blackface) asked:

Do you have a job? Or just activism on the tax payers dollar?

What a bitter, small-minded response to a statement of inclusion and respect.

I noticed this week that one of the local elementary schools was celebrating “Belonging Night.” As I looked at the photos it became apparent that this was what my child’s elementary school had called “International Night.” I’ve been pondering that ever since.

As well intentioned as having an International Night may have been, whenever they started having them, there’s also something vaguely othering about it. America is the norm. Everything else is “International.” It’s a rather binary view. “Belonging Night” touches on the different ways that everyone “belongs”: to family, family heritage, school community, and more. It’s about both the joy of who you are and the interconnectedness of all of us.

Honoring that makes for better schools. It also makes for better communities. When people feel a sense of belonging they are more likely to participate in community events, civic initiatives, even run for public office. A sense of belonging fosters the connection and trust that promotes people to become informed about local and to vote.

It’s not just about having one’s own culture or family traditions validated. Equally important is experiencing other people’s cultures and traditions being given that same treatment. So, to put it in a rather simplistic way:

It’s not merely that “they” feel important. It’s also that we experience how people who are different from us are important. Valuable. 

It’s a learning experience for us if we are paying attention.

Ramadan begins at sundown in March 22nd. Our community has many members who will be observing.

It can be a learning experience for us if we are paying attention. Not interrogating our Muslims friends or coworkers, mind you. Observing, learning, thinking. Maybe even doing some self-directed research.

If any of my readers are interested in enlightening me about Pre-Ramadan Bazaars, I’d love to know more.

Friday, March 17, 2023

F ³: Two Stories, One Lesson


As I was out driving this week I heard a bit of news on the radio that intrigued me.  Here’s a piece from Inside NoVa that explains.

‘My drivers have become my trainers’: Superintendent to become part-time bus driver amid shortages

Superintendent Dr. Shannon Grimsley is occasionally stepping away from her desk to transport students to and from school. Photo by Holly Jenkins

Shortage of school bus drivers is pretty much a national thing these days. We’re certainly struggling with it here in Columbia/HoCo. So the thought of a school system superintent getting behind the wheel caught my attention. Was it just a publicity stunt? Or was there more to it?

Grimsley’s mission is to try and see what limitations or challenges currently exist within the hiring process for bus drivers, and if that could be contributing to the ongoing shortage. Grimsley has so far completed about several hours of classroom instruction. 

“It seems really overwhelming at first, and I think that leads to why a lot of people won't step through the door to try it,” Grimsley said. 

I can’t find a link to the radio piece I heard, alas, but it contained additional insight into Superintendent Grimsley’s purpose. She’s not there simply to gather more information about the hiring process, but also to experience first-hand what the job is like. What are the challenges? 

It’s more than learning to drive a bus and pass the numerous written exams. For instance:
  • Pay
  • Hours
  • Supervising students on the bus 
  • Handling adverse weather conditions 
  • Interacting with parents
  • Responding to student health emergencies 
That’s why the quote “my drivers have become my trainers”  is so significant to me. How often are people in positions of leadership open to learning from those considered to be “lower” than they are in their organization?

On the other hand, here’s a piece from NBC news about a state legislator in Minnesota who looks like he’s occupying the entire region on the other side of the coin from Superintendent Grimsley in Virginia. 

Screenshot from with Twitter account of Peter Sagal

Yes, you read that correctly. Minnesota state senator Steve Drazkowski doesn’t think there are hungry kids in schools because he’s personally never seen any hungry people in his state.

A Republican state senator in Minnesota said Tuesday he was voting against a bill to provide free breakfast and lunch for school students in part because he'd never encountered anyone in the state who was hungry.

This makes me wonder: has he ever put any energy into investigating hunger in Minnesota? More importantly, does he care?

Drazkowski called the bill "pure socialism," adding, "This is about the government dictating to kids what they're going to eat and how much they’re going to eat."

Now imagine if Drazkowski had taken a similar course of action to that of the Rappahannock County Public Schools Superintendent. What if he had made it his job to learn what the needs are, how students are impacted by hunger, and put himself in the position of having the people who know the most about this issue be his instructors.

Not for a photo op. Not for a sound bite. Not for a ‘show horse’ moment on the floor of the Minnesota State Legislature. But because the citizens of the state are his constituents and true leadership means learning, and empathy, and respect for those you serve.

In case you are wondering, the bill to fund school meals passed and is likely to be signed into law by Minnesota Governor Tim Walz. 

The juxtaposition of these two stories feels almost like a parable to me. In the big picture, both involve schools. Both show how differences in leadership can have wildly differing outcomes. I want to know what happened in the formative years of these two individuals that led to what we are seeing today. How did they get here? What experiences shaped them? 

What do you think?

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Time Travel with The Baltimore Sun

Oops. They did it again.

 Recognize that building? It’s not the Columbia Association headquarters. This is.

It is now 2023. CA moved from its old HQ at the Lakefront to its new location on Hillside Court in 2015. And the Baltimore Sun/Howard County Times still hasn’t caught up yet.

This really gets my goat. They’ve made this mistake at least twice before since 2015 and I see I’ve written about it in dismay both times.

Small Story, 2016

Local News, Local Lives, 2020

Apparently our local newspaper got stuck in 2015 and cannot be budged. Therefore, Allan Kittleman is the County Executive, Renee Foose is Superintendent of Schools, Milton Matthews is the President of the Columbia Association.

This is the Howard County Courthouse. 

Photo from Howard County Government website 

Things that don’t exist in 2015:

  • The new Elkridge Library
  • The new Wilde Lake Middle School
  • The Merriweather District 
  • The Chrysalis 
  • Clarksville Commons and The Common Kitchen
  • The new Wilde Lake Village Center? (I haven’t yet nailed down a date on that.)
  • Bridge Columbia (transformed pedestrian bridge over Route 29)
I’m sure there’s more. 

In all this time, throughout all these changes, the Baltimore Sun has not seen fit to change their file photo of the Columbia Association Headquarters. They appear to know who the current County Executive is, and the location of the new courthouse. So their insistence on time travel seems to be selective. 

It’s just this one building. I guess they don’t like it?

I get it. The old headquarters at the Lakefront is just so picturesque.

Honestly, the folks at the Sun know that CA has moved. Luke Lavoie wrote about the decision in 2014. Guess which photo they used, by the way? It was accompanied by the caption “ CA Headquarters located on the Columbia lakefront. (File)”

It’s an appealing springtime view, taken at an eye-catching angle to get both the building and the lovely seasonal blooms. I wonder who took this photo? I’d love to credit them. I wonder if they get a payment every time it’s used?

I doubt it.

Why is it important? Well…

This picture accompanies an article which is meant to inform residents about the upcoming Columbia elections. There are plenty of good reasons this year to try to reach more people and encourage more participation. But if you moved to Columbia any time after 2015, this building means nothing to you. We’re trying to inform people here, not confuse them. I’m tempted to write a letter to the Editor but I don’t think that’s even an option anymore. 

Anyway, since we’re throwing it back to 2015, here’s a photo of me with someone whose presence on the local scene I am far more sentimental about than the building at the Lakefront.

Julia Jackson McCready, a local blogger, accepts an "Esteemed Use of the Twitters Award" from Colonel Gateway. (Staff photo by Jon Sham, Baltimore Sun Media Group)