Thursday, November 30, 2023

Seen at the Gas Pump


While pumping gas at the Shell Station on Snowden River Parkway (the one near BJ’s and Michael’s) I saw something I had never seen before.  The little screen on the gas pump was showing me TikTok videos.


Yes, those little screens are not new. I’ve seen them featuring news headlines and entertainment news. Possibly other things? I can’t remember. I’ve never found them all that compelling. What is the purpose? 

Is it an opportunity for advertisers to sell us more things while we are stuck at the pump? Is it to entertain us because we are completely unable to be alone without own thoughts for the time it takes us to fill the tank? 

Has it really come to that?

There is nothing inherently wrong with airing TikTok videos. It was merely one of those moments in life that remind me that I am getting older, I guess. “What will they think of next?” I don’t drive much these days, so trips to the gas station are not as frequent as they used to be. Perhaps the next time I go I’ll find they’ve monetized those videos and I’ll be prompted to click a screen to pay for the Ultimate Video Experience for Just One Dollar More.

For two dollars they’ll turn the dang video off for you. So you can be alone with your own thoughts.

Let’s have some fun with this. Send me your best - - serious or silly - - ideas for what you think should be on those gas pump screens. Some suggestions to get you started:  

  • Stand up comedy 
  • Calming nature scenes with music
  • Local news: and I mean Columbia/HoCo news
What do you think?

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Gangs in Columbia

Something I didn't expect to learn about from the Columbia episode of WETA’s If You Lived Here: gangs.

No, not that kind of gangs.

This kind.

Well, this kind, only standing up. This is the only photo I have of our mailboxes. Long story.

In the section of the show that spoke to Columbia’s history, Rouse biographer Josh Olsen referred to these well-known community structures as “gang mailboxes.”

Say what, now? By and large the word gang has a negative connotation in our culture, with the possible exception of the song “Hail, Hail the Gang’s All Here.” We hear about crime gangs, gang culture, high school gangs,  drug gangs. Be honest, if you heard that a neighborhood was well known for its Gang Mailboxes, what would you think? Would you consider that to be a plus?

I think most of us know them by their other name: Cluster Mailboxes.

In 1967, the USPS launched a new experimental program to test centralized mail delivery. The USPS installed the first cluster mailboxes in some areas and took responsibility for maintaining them. - - The Rise of Cluster Mailbox Units in US Neighborhoods, Forsite

Now, I had known that Jim Rouse chose these particular mailboxes with an eye to fostering neighborly contact on a regular basis. I hadn’t known that they were a brand new thing at the time. But it doesn’t surprise me that he was trying things that were new and different. Gang mail boxes were created by the USPS to reduce delivery costs. Leave it to Rouse to see their implementation in an entirely different way.

Truth in advertising: I have never had a conversation with a neighbor while picking up my mail. If I didn’t know better I’d think we were all so shy that we make sure to come for the mail when no one else is there. 

I tried looking for any information on why they were called Gang Mailboxes: no dice. If you know, fill me in.


When I wrote of the Columbia episode I mentioned two things I was thinking about:

There was one thing that was included that I wasn’t expecting and which I was delighted to see. And there was one aspect of Columbia that was completely omitted and I can’t figure out why. 

The first were the interviews with The 3rd’s Laura Bacon and her mother, which established a connection from the early days of Columbia to the mission of a second generation Columbian in establishing a coworking home base for women of color who are entrepreneurs. That was terrific.

The thing that was completely omitted? Pools. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that there was any mention of Columbia's swimming pools or the significance of Rouse insisting on them in his new racially and ethnically diverse community. When the late Elijah Cummings spoke at the kick off for the Columbia 50th Birthday Celebration he highlighted the inclusion of swimming pools that everyone could use as a pillar of Rouse’s pushback against the generally accept racial exclusion of the day.

Did I miss it? I found it odd that the Columbia Association didn’t insist on making sure that they were known as the “pools, parks, and pathways people.” What could possibly be the downside to that? And - - for conspiracy theorists only - - is this a sign that CA intends to close or sell off the pools?

If you’ve had a chance to watch the episode- - what do you find notable? 

Village Green/Town² Comments

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

No Matter How Small

Once again, fortune has not smiled upon me by providing me with a massive lottery win which would enable me to give to every cause I support on Giving Tuesday. The Universe does not owe me this. Nonetheless it’s a longstanding fantasy. Imagine having the joy of having so much money that you could give it away with abandon.

Sigh. We all have our dreams.

If you read this blog long enough you will be aware of the local causes  I support. I won’t drag you through that litany again. I’m sure you have your own. And, like me, you have a finite amount of discretionary income to play around with on Giving Tuesday, or, on any given day of the year.

I  am going to do something different this year.

On Thanksgiving when I bowed my head to say the grace I found I could not give thanks without also offering up prayers for the Middle East. Those in Israel who suffered from the attacks of Hamas. Those in Gaza who have withstood continued attacks from the IDF. No amount of food or family togetherness could put those searing images out of my head.

So today I’m looking at making my small donations to causes outside the Columbia/HoCo bubble:

Doctors Without Borders

World Central Kitchen

Every year I am overwhelmed by the onslaught of institutions vying for donations on Giving Tuesday. I try to remind myself that it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. In my dreams the lottery has made me a full-time philanthropist. In real life I must do what I can with what I have.

And then there’s this, my favorite quote in all the world:

“No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.” - - Aesop, from the story of the lion and the mouse 

If you’d like to make some suggestions about Giving Tuesday to the rest of us, you can share them here:

Village Green/Town² Comments

Monday, November 27, 2023

The Little Answer to a Big Question

 I just had a weird and wacky idea and, since you are already here, I might as well tell you.  It all started when I broke down and finally read this article:

What two empty floors of a Columbia tower can tell us about Howard County’s office market, Giacomo Bologna, Baltimore Banner

It kept popping up in my feed and I kept passing it by. I vaguely remembered writing a post about how the pandemic might derail some of the current downtown development. At the time of writing none of us knew that one of the biggest changes to come out of those years would be a long term desire for many in the work force to work from home.

That change is what has fueled those “two empty floors of a Columbia tower.” In the article, commercial real estate broker Adam Nachlas reveals what that looks like:

“Companies now want smaller spaces with conference rooms and desks for employees who only come into the office two or three days a week.”

We’ve all seen news articles about the methods that companies have been using to try to lure employees back to the office. Some look like the proverbial Carrot, others evoke the punitive feel of the Stick. None of them have worked all that well.

So what should they put in all that empty space?

Child care. Beautiful, high quality, properly ventilated, on-site childcare. Can you imagine the appeal to workers and the goodwill this would engender? Investing in excellent childcare centers would increase employee loyalty and probably increase the amount of time they’d be willing to spend on site. 

It would also result in more traffic to surrounding businesses. Of course it would help if a good chunk of them were child-friendly, so that mom or dad could pick up their child and go have dinner, or stop and have breakfast on the way, for instance. If this transition to offering childcare resulted in more student spaces than the office building needed, they could be opened to the public and that would bring more people to that area, more people patronizing area businesses.

Two big challenges come to mind. One is that really good childcare costs money. This is not a solution that’s going to fill anyone’s eyes with big dollar signs. Someone would have to be convinced by the long term positive aspects of this investment. I can see why it would benefit both workers and their employers but someone whose job it is to add up all the numbers might not. 

The second one is outdoor play. Kids need it. It’s non-negotiable. 

Where to put it - - on the roof? Don’t laugh, Google it. Although certainly there are other places where childcare has been incorporated into office buildings and outdoor play spaces have been constructed at the ground floor level. It’s doable. It would take creative thinking and people who are willing to invest in the big picture. 

So, here’s my pitch. If you want to fill unused office space, provide a reason to get more workers back in the office, and support surrounding businesses…the answer is childcare. Invest in the kids and their parents will follow. 

Village Green/Town² Comments

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Hazy About the Plan

 You can read what other people’s opinions are on social media, or you can find out for yourself.

This Wednesday at the East Columbia Branch of the Howard County Library, the League of Women Voters of Howard County is hosting What’s in HoCo By Design?

This event is co-sponsored by the Howard County Libary System.Hear representatives from the County Council discusss the amended new General Plan (HoCo By Design). This event will be a Hybrid meeting beginning at 7pm. In Person:  Howard County Library - East Columbia Branch in the Lucille Clifton Room. Zoom:  The Zoom meeting link will be provided as we get close to the date. Please RSVP to this event so we know how many to expect.

If you are unable to attend, don't worry!  We plan to record the meeting and posting it to our website and our Facebook page.

If you don’t know much about HoCo By Design, you are probably not alone. This is not because anyone was keeping it a secret - - far from it - - but because we all have so many things competing for our attention. We are more likely to focus on our immediate circle: family, home, job, neighborhood. HoCo by Design is a big picture sort of thing which has been developed over several years. That takes a lot of sustained attention. 

Truth in advertising: I have tried numerous times to dig into this and have failed every time. Also true: I haven’t given up. The basic concept is this:

Once each decade, Howard County updates its General Plan, a long-range, visionary document that guides land use, growth, and development decisions. Initiated in 2020, HoCo By Design reflects over three and a half years of community engagement, representing every voice as we create one vision for the County's future. - - HoCo by Design website.

  • Where do we think we are going as a county?
  • Where do we want to go?
  • What is feasible?
  • What are our assets?
  • What are the challenges?
  • How do we envision the end result?

Now that the plan has been written, amended, and passed by the County Council, the work begins to implement it. I guarantee you that the moment the Plan becomes visible in an initiative that directly impacts someone, you will see a good deal of ranting on social media that nobody ever told them this was happening and that the community should get a voice. 

You don’t have to like everything in the General Plan but for goodness sake’s don’t be that person. Be the informed person. After all, it is your Howard County. 

HoCo Hot Topics is an ongoing initiative of the Howard County League of Women Voters. The next one scheduled is in March, 2024. The focus will be education. That should be…interesting. 

To learn more about the Howard acounty Leaguw of Women Voyers, visit their website.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Small and Mighty Local Shopping

I find myself to be downright resistant to the concept of Black Friday but Small Business Saturday holds a lot more appeal to me. In case you are not all shopped out after yesterday, here are a few local suggestions. 

Down at the Lakefront:

Join us at The 3rd for a fun-filled day celebrating local small businesses! We know you want to be intentional with your dollar. This in-person event is all about supporting our gifted Members and their amazing products. Explore a wide range of vendors offering everything from handcrafted jewlery to art! Don't miss out on the opportunity to connect with local entrepreneurs and shop local. Whether you're looking for a special gift or simply want to show your support, Small Business Saturday is the perfect occasion to do so. Mark your calendars and get ready to shop small!

I’m a huge fan of Yolo Health and Wellness plant-based products so I may pop on down there and stock up. 

Savage Mill is kicking off its Yuletide Festival today beginning at ten am. They have released a very appealing advert to entice you but I notice that their version of holiday shopping includes no children or elders. Well, Santa excluded, I guess. 

Savage Mill Yuletide Festival advert

Small Business Saturday is almost here! Bring your family to meet Santa and kick off the season with special guests, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball and Councilwoman Christiana Rigby! 

Old Ellicott City invites you to Shop Small Saturday: 

Grab your shopping lists and get ready to be amazed by the abundance of unique, one-of-a-kind gift possibilities. From local art and ceramics to handmade jewelry, trendy and classic fashion, modern housewares, gourmet foods, toys and games for all ages, record albums, wines and spirits, antique treasures, and unforgettable experiences like ghost tours and axe throwing.

Celebrating SMALL has never been this much fun! Join us in supporting our beloved small businesses, and let’s make today a day to remember.

Some stand alone small businesses I thought were worth a mention:

Mother Nature’s in Columbia: Birdseed and anything you can think of for the backyard birder plus a treasure trove of nature themed gifts.

Without you, there is no Small Business Saturday, so let us thank you with a full weekend of savings!  Everything will be 20% off* today Nov. 24th through Sunday Nov. 26th.  So grab a cup of Wassail and let us say thank you for over 3 decades of support! *Optics and Bovano 10% off

Sihaya and Company, based in Old Ellicott City: hand-poured scented candles, Sihaya & Company Seasonal Boxes, themed candle collections, jewelry, and bath and body products.  See what Christina Allen Page has to offer at the Sihaya and Company website.

Feet First Sports at the Wilde Lake Village Center is going all out for Small Business Saturday.

Supporting locally owned businesses is essential to cultivating a strong community, so whenever you can make sure to #shoplocal!

In addition to some great deals, we will have complimentary coffee and (one-of-a-kind) donuts  PLUS you'll recieve a special gift with your purchase of $50 or more!

If you’re thinking of holiday photos as a part of your gift-giving this year, take a look at Richard Twigg Photography. I know that Columbia/HoCo has no shortage of talented photographers but Rick has done great work for our family and deserves a shout out. You can find him on Facebook and Instagram as well.

Image from Richard Twigg Photography website

Breezy Willow Country Market: 9090 Frederick Rd, Ellicott City, MD 21042 (Thursday – Sunday 10:00a.m.-6:00p.m.)

Here’s a glimpse of what they have that I snagged from their website.

Sobar is a local nonprofit but they are a great source for alcohol-free beverages of all kinds. It’s always good to have appealing choices on hand during the holidays for guests who don’t want to drink alcohol. They offer quite the variety at their website.

Do you have any favorite local small businesses you’d like to recommend? Let me know in the comments.

Village Green/Town² Comments

Thursday, November 23, 2023

The Unseen Guests

Farmers who plant and tend the crops. Workers who harvest them. Truckers who bring the food to market. 

Farmers who raise animals for food. Workers who process the meat. More truckers, more workers, more transport.

Workers who process fruits and vegetables, canned foods, frozen foods, baked foods, dried foods, fresh foods.

More truckers, more workers, more transport.  Sometimes moving food by train, ship, or by air.

Grocery store workers who receive and handle the goods, prepare it for sale.

Food service workers who prepare and cook food and sell it to customers.

Restaurant workers who prep, cook, serve, clean, and do it again.

Delivery workers who bring the food to you.

Not all of these people live in Howard County. But, if you are eating any food at all today, they have a place at your table. Nothing would be on it without them. 

In May of 2020 I wrote a piece about how some folks were protesting that they hadn’t been designated as “essential workers.”

Today’s news: there are people in Howard County who feel oppressed because other people are called essential workers and they aren’t. As a reminder, essential workers include everyone involved in hospital/medical care, and the folks who make sure you are able to get food and medicine. Oh, and childcare for other essential workers.

Those people who make sure you are able to get food? Today is a good day to remember them. Here in Howard County, they need what everyone needs: a living wage. A decent place to live that they can afford. A community that values them and their work.

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

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

Whether your day involves saying a prayer before a meal or clinking glasses in a toast, you absolutely will not have put everything on your table all by yourself. Others you will never see were essential in getting there. 

Remember them at your table. Remember them tomorrow. Remember them when you think about issues of housing and fair wages. They, too, deserve something to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023



I have an early appointment so this will have to be brief. On the eve of Thanksgiving, here are some HoCoLocal thanks:

  • The folks at ENTAA Care who’ve been looking after me with great diligence over the last several years.
  • The people who deliver my groceries.
  • The staff at the East Columbia Branch library who keep me in books from week to week.
  • Tribos Peri Peri. Wow, do I love their food. 
  • Friends who keep in touch with me through social media and answer my oddball questions.
  • My Buy Nothing Group, which connects me more to the community than any other HoCoLocal group I’ve been a part of.
  • The Inner Arbor Trust for creating and maintaining a park that welcomes everyone.
  • Clarksville Commons for building community and filling it with fun while supporting small businesses.
  • Drive-through iced coffee, especially the Oakland Mills Dunkin and the Starbucks at Dobbin and Wilde Lake.
  • All of you who read and comment on this blog and give me information and good ideas. 
However you spend your day tomorrow, I hope you have plenty to be thankful for.

Do you have some thanks to share? Post them here.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Television, School Days, Restaurants, and Santa

So, did you watch? 

In case you haven’t - - and you still mean to - - I won’t go into any detail here just yet. I will say that I thought the episode was beautifully done and, honestly, I have no serious complaints. Local realtor Peter Boscas did a beautiful job. There was one thing that was included that I wasn’t expecting and which I was delighted to see. And there was one aspect of Columbia that was completely omitted and I can’t figure out why. 

Feel free to chime in over in the comment section on Facebook. But I have a feeling that I’m way more interested in this show than my readers are. 


By now everyone has probably heard that Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Martinaro will be retiring as of January 10, 2024.  There was a time when this sort of announcement would have been a big deal on this blog. I find myself strangely reticent to have any opinion whatsoever. This is largely because I don’t know enough to have an educated opinion. 

I would like to point out that, for some, ignorance has not been a deterrent when holding forth on this particular topic. Am I surprised? No.

What I do know is that the Board has a tough job to find an acting superintendent on such short notice. Beyond that, finding superintendents has become a more difficult task of late. The national pool seems to be shrinking. I don’t know how appealing this job is going to be to the best candidates because of our recent track record with redistricting, animosity during the worst parts of the pandemic, our struggles to keep up with capital improvements, this year’s bus service changes, and the like. In addition, the added stressor of groups like Moms4Liberty makes superintendent positions even less desirable.

Don’t get me wrong. I think we have a wonderful school system. I can be grateful for all the things they do while also understanding the big issues that face us. How will we make ourselves attractive to the kind of candidate we want and need as a leader? 


A couple of small stories to finish off. 

Someone on the Columbia MD Reddit is looking for places that serve excellent chili dogs in Columbia/HoCo and it’s not looking good. Out of all the suggestions made, the only one in Howard County at all is at Jailbreak and the poster hadn’t actually tried it. Fuddruckers had Chili Dogs that were passable, and Hard Times Cafe had better ones as I recall. Both restaurants are no longer with us. Any suggestions?

“He’s making a list and checking it twice,” but the Man in Red has a problem. He needs a chair for his annual visit to Oakland Mills High School for the WBAL Concert for Kids on December 1st. Something like this:

If you have one you’d like to share, reach out to the OMHS Fine Arts Boosters here. I’m rather concerned about what happened to the chair Santa has been using for the last seventeen-ish years. If someone walked off with it, they’re definitely going to be on The Naughty List in perpetuity.   

While you’re thinking about it, don’t forget to buy your tickets for the concert itself. Learn more here. 

WBAL Concert for Kids

Monday, November 20, 2023

There But For Fortune (And a Reminder)


Last night I watched an episode of Kelly Corrigan’s Tell Me More with Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigeig. One of the topics they touched on was the high number of traffic deaths each year in the US. Their discussion put me in mind of this picture from yesterday’s blogpost. 

Photo by Pamela Ford 

Also yesterday:

Howard County police are investigating a fatal collision overnight in Laurel in which a pedestrian was killed. 

 At approximately 3:22 a.m. on Nov. 19, a 2022 Hyundai Tucson was traveling west on Gorman Road near Murray Hill Road when it struck a pedestrian in the roadway. The pedestrian was then struck a second time by a 2018 Honda Civic that was traveling behind the Hyundai. The pedestrian, a 17-year-old male, was pronounced dead at the scene. The drivers of both vehicles were uninjured and remained at the scene.

The investigation is ongoing. - - Howard County Police Department

I thought of the assembly of mourners in Owen Brown for Mr. Lee, who was 82. I thought of the parents who have now lost a 17 year-old child. And then I read the following comment to the police report.

Whenever I see a story of a pedestrian getting hit by a car at 3am I know the story. Some moron walked out in front of a moving car, one of the few on the road at the time and expected it to stop, it didn't because it cannot see the person and they get hit and killed.

If you see a Pedestrian killed after 2am it's a Darwin Award. 

Wow. When they were giving out empathy and human kindness this guy got skipped over.  He received enough pushback from subsequent commenters that he went back and edited his remarks. (slightly) The essence of his thoughts remain: that this death meant nothing to him other than the opportunity it gave him to take a cheap shot on the internet.

In his interview, Secretary Buttigeig described the growing issue of distracted driving as the cause of increased auto fatalities. Smart phones are a significant contributor. After I read the heartless comment above I thought about how many of us cause harm by distracted living - - so caught up in an online world that we forget there are real humans involved. 

Smart phones are a significant contributor there as well.

The truth is, we don’t know why a seventeen year old was out at that hour or at any time of the day. I would suggest that it isn’t our place to judge. Doing so reflexively smacks of victim shaming. Don’t we have better things to do with our time?


A reminder: tonight at 9 PM on WETA or 8 PM on WETA Metro, the Columbia episode of If You Lived Here.

This episode is one of the last four made with co-host John Begeny before his untimely death this summer. Begeny grew up in Howard County and was a graduate of Mount Hebron High School. His funeral was held at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Ellicott City.

I’m especially interested to see what aspects of Columbia are highlighted on this episode. I’ll be making one of my “car bingo” game cards in advance to keep track of what I guessed right. Any suggestions on topics that will turn up? So far I have:

  • Rouse
  • Racial/Ethnic Diversity 
  • Pools, Parks, Pathways
  • Street Names
  • Mall
Let me know.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

A Light in the Darkness


Trees. We talk a lot about them in Columbia/HoCo. We worry when new projects will cause mature trees to be cut down. We bemoan the hours of raking they will cause every Fall. We bless them for shade on a hot day but curse them if they make gardening difficult - - “too much shade.” We worry about that branch which hangs a little too close to our roof. 

We care about their environmental impact. I mean, some of us do.

Friday night there was a holiday tree lighting in the Merriweather District. Did you go? Was it fun?

Image from Merriweather District social media

 Here’s a different kind of tree-lighting event.

Vigil in Columbia tonight for 82 YO killed in crosswalk Sunday evening along with family dog, crossing cradle rock way.

Image from Pamela Ford on TwitterX

In this case a tree is central to a vigil in memory of Thomas Lee, who died after being hit by a car on November 13th. It appears he was out walking the dog.

The juxtaposition of the two gives me pause. Whether you think of festive tree lighting events as a way to “remember the reason for the season” or simply as a way to kick off a retail shopping frenzy, the Christmas tree is an icon representing celebration for many folks. The lone tree in Pamela Ford’s photo is not. We have come to recognize trees like this by the side of the road, marked by photos or signs, flowers or even small stuffed animals. 

These trees are memorials. They speak of suffering and loss and a deep desire that the departed not be forgotten. 

If a stunningly lit Christmas tree urges us to do anything it probably has to do with evoking a kind of celebratory mood that makes us want to take part in the cultural trappings of “the holiday season.” 

The tree in Owen Brown, illuminated only by prayer candles and “decorated” with bunches of flowers at its base, tells us something far different. Drive more safely. Look out for pedestrians. Value the lives of those who go on foot. Mourn the members of our community who met their ends too soon, and so senselessly. Remember them. Remember who they were. 

We expect a lot from trees. We put a lot of hope and meaning onto them. They mark both celebration and grief. More than simple growing things whose place is in the natural world - - we give them many meanings and ask them to carry the weight of many aspirations and symbolism.

Today, especially, I am thinking about how we ask trees to shine a light in the darkness for us.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Will You Turn the Page?

I don’t think I’m alone in my fascination with the PBS series “Finding Your Roots”, hosted by Henry Louis Gates. The show uses both written genealogical records and DNA testing to discover the family histories of each episode’s celebrity guests. Often those guests are surprised, even stunned, to learn what has been revealed through the diligent research of the show’s staff. 

But they are there because they want to know. And we learn right along with them. The show makes history come alive, largely because of the personal connection we come to feel with the guests as their stories unfold. 

A large portion of each story comes from primary sources. 

What are primary sources?

Primary sources are the raw materials of history — original documents and objects that were created at the time under study. They are different from secondary sources, accounts that retell, analyze, or interpret events, usually at a distance of time or place. - - Library of Congress website, “Getting Started wth Primary Sources”

All good historical research begins with primary source documents such as baptismal records, ships’ manifests, letters, newspaper accounts, and so on. I had the good fortune to take a graduate level history course with Baltimore historian Frank R. Shivers. This allowed me the opportunity to go into the Maryland Historical Society and access primary source materials in their collection for my research. It was both fascinating and sobering to read the personal letters of people whose lives and experiences were so distant from my own.

Today in Ellicott City an event is taking place which is deeply rooted in the diligent research of primary sources.

It’s a story that begins with a cabin. You may have seen it in its present form.

Image from Historic Ellicott City website

Imagine, if you will, that this cabin is a celebrity guest on “Finding Your Roots.” It goes by the name of Thomas Isaac Log Cabin, but, as the episode unfolds and the host reveals one piece of its historical background after another, a different identity emerges.

Why? Because of the thorough and persistent research of Marlena Jareaux, Wayne Davis, and Christine Bulbul. 

Today at 2 pm at Backwater Books, you’ll have an opportunity to learn the story of a cabin with humble beginnings.

Image shared by Howard County Maryland Black History 

You’ll hear how the local stories around the building strayed over time, giving a different identity to the structure most of us know as the Thomas Isaac Log Cabin. You’ll also have an opportunity to tour the cabin itself, which is being opened especially for today’s event. This map lays out where it is all taking place. 

Celebrity guests on “Finding Your Roots” page through what is called a “Book of Life” filled with information revealed by primary source research for the show. In a sense, our own celebrity is no different.

Cover of Early Ellicott City Black History by Jareaux, Davis, and Bulbul

This book documents the research which uncovered the true identity of that little log cabin that now sit on Main Street in Old Ellicott City. I’m looking forward to picking up my copy.

Friday, November 17, 2023

F ³: In the Upside Down

 No, I haven’t watched Stranger Things. Yes, I have heard the expression that sprang from the show, of being “In the Upside Down.” Apparently it refers to an alternate parallel universe.

Certainly I felt I had entered the Upside Down last evening when I saw this advert from Michael’s.

What the heck? They are selling upside down Christmas trees. I don’t know which is worse, an upside down tree or the fact that this isn’t even new this year (I Googled it). Am I the only person who did not know this was a trend? Where has this been hiding? There’s an entire Pinterest account created in 2016 dedicated to Upside Down Christmas Trees.

What does it mean to have an upside down Christmas tree? here’s everything to know about the origin, Olivia Muenter, Woman’s Day, December 2021

I’m a bit dubious about the upside down Christmas tree’s supposed historical/religious roots:

Though no one seems to know for sure how this particular tradition entered mainstream Christmas decorations, there are a few theories. According to an article on The Spruce, the upside-down Christmas tree dates back to the eighth century, during which a famous saint hung a tree upside down as a way to represent the Holy Trinity. Therefore, it has religious significance.

Whether or not the anecdote is accurate, the tree in question probably wouldn’t have been a Christmas tree, whose beginnings were in Germany and the custom later popularized by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in England. This feels to me rather like the Christmas tree pickle ornament craze, which was sold to unsuspecting Americans as a tradition with historical roots (again, in Germany) but may actually have been nothing more than a clever marketing scheme.

I have a vague memory of the story of a Baltimore restaurant at the corner of 25th and N.Charles which had an upside down Christmas tree hanging over the bar. Year round. Never saw it. Always wanted to. Now the restaurant is no more, alas.

Articles about this new holiday trend point out that it has the advantage of taking up less floor space. That may be true, but what about the presents? Do you suspend them from the ceiling?

Certainly you may have your Christmas tree anyway you like it, or have no tree at all. Obviously if you don’t celebrate Christmas you are free from the whole kit and caboodle. Last year we never got around to putting up our retro aluminum tree and ended up with a holiday floor lamp. And Christmas came just the same.

And so, while we’re adding “the upside down” to the Christmas canon, I’d like to make a suggestion.

You never know…

What about you? Do you fancy the new upside down look for the holidays? If you’re a fan of the off-beat and quirky, may I suggest this new twist on holiday traditions? 

Village Green/Town² Comments

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Still Lost and Hoping for Landmarks


We celebrated our youngest’s birthday at Flavors of India last night. In case you don’t know, Flavors of India is located in the Columbia Gateway area, once lauded by Colonel Gateway in days of yore.

I have a confession to make. I almost always get lost when I go somewhere in Gateway. All the streets look alike, all the buildings look alike. It is the business park version of Malvina Reynolds song, “Little Boxes.”

I was even moved to write a poem about it once.

Part of this may be that I don’t have cause to go there often enough to truly incorporate the lay of the land into my brain. Arriving at my destination (and getting out of there) are an adventure every darn time.

After dark? It’s an added level of difficulty. They should erect a well lit archway that warns, “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” By and large the sidewalks are rolled up when the business folks roll out. Buildings are dark. There’s a feeling of traveling in an abandoned city. It’s almost a creepy vibe.

There was some discussion during the Howard County by Design process about looking at Gateway as a site for future development, even residential development. I remember using my imagination back in 2017 to picture Gateway as the final Columbia Village. But I also remember being concerned about limited egress.  If a rapid evacuation were necessary for some reason, would it result in gridlock?

I have a simple but but heartfelt request. If Gateway is indeed redeveloped to include housing and retail, can they please do it in such a way that it is difficult (maybe impossible ) to get lost? There must be a way. 

What do you think?

Village Green/Town² Comments

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Headscratchers and General Weirdness


It has been a rough week for Howard County school parents. Either they’ve been unable to call up school lunch menus to see what’s for lunch, or unable to make appointments for parent-teacher conferences. Considering that the year began with many school parents being unable to find out when the bus was going to come, it certainly seems as though 2023-2024 will be remembered as the Year of Many Mysteries. 

Sometimes computers improve the quality of life and sometimes they gum up the works. Someone needs to talk more nicely to the HCPSS computers because it looks as though they are mad and possibly even holding a grudge. 


Some nice-looking blonde woman stopped by County Executive Calvin Ball’s Facebook announcement (that he will not be seeking the newly-opened congressional seat) to offer her well-wishes. Actually, no. She held forth for an entire four paragraphs on everything she thought was wrong with Dr. Ball during his tenure as County Executive. I noticed that her last name was Kittleman. 

Do you think that could be significant?

I’m trying to imagine how it would have gone over if a close family member of Ball’s had done something similar to Allan Kittleman.


This comment from the Baltimore Banner got my goat: Where to order Thanksgiving dinner — because cooking is for suckers

Is it not possible to share information about commercially prepared Thanksgiving meals without taking a snarky swipe at home cooking? Coming across as mean-spirited and arrogant is not a plus. Sheesh.  


Finally, a thought for your consideration. I saw some complaints online this week about recent local fireworks/firecrackers.  While I do understand the negative impact they have on pets, what I don’t understand are those who were angry that they hadn’t received special notification. Friends, Diwali comes every year. Just like July 4th celebrations. But accepting the noise from Independence Day as normal or expected but wanting an added degree of communication for Diwali seems to me to be a kind of othering. 

Remaining ignorant is a choice. It’s a way of announcing to the world that other people’s holidays and customs are “not on your calendar.” 


Wait! One more! In the category of General Weirdness, this request on Reddit:

Best cheese selection?

Wegman's has a decent selection of cheese, whereas the Giant that's closest to me has very little. I'm looking for the best selection of cheeses in the area. In particular, today I'm looking to get some Grana Podano. I don't find it on the websites for Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, or Trader Joe's.

Can anyone help me find Cheeses?

And - - I kid you not - - the fourth comment in:

Remember The Cheese Shop in Wilde Lake Village center. That place was great.

If you want to have eternal life, be a Nice Cheese Shop.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Fizz by the Food Court


They came before the Liquor Board in March. They were approved for their license in May. A press release went up in August. But I really hadn’t heard anything until last week, and I am confused.

I’m talking about a business called Tapville Social, which looks like it will be opening in the Mall in November or December. 

The anticipation is building as we proudly announce the upcoming arrival of a Tapville kiosk at The Mall In Columbia. This groundbreaking addition marks a significant milestone as Tapville becomes the first establishment within the mall to introduce the novel experience of self-pouring beer, wine, and cider.  (Press Release, Tapville Social)

My gut reaction went something like this:

Columbia Mall: We must put security at our doors to screen out awful teenagers. Also Columbia Mall: Let’s put a self-serve alcohol dispenser in the center of the place!

In February local news and social media were abuzz with stories of uncontrollable teens at the Mall. (“The Mall Problem”, February 2023) Police increased security patrols. A new system of screening teens at the door during certain hours and requiring adult chaperones was put in place. 

It looks as though during this same time period plans were underway to open a self-serve alcohol kiosk near the Food Court. I don’t mean to suggest that there’s any connection. I’m simply saying that there’s something about it that blows my mind. Here we’re saying that Mall merchants and patrons have been subjected to repeated incidents of lawlessness and what has been described as roaming, violent gangs and someone thought it would be a good idea to add alcohol to the mix.

What could possibly go wrong?

All thoughts of teenagers aside,  I’m thinking about the Columbia Mall parking lot during the holidays with a bunch of well-lubricated drivers. Alcohol doesn’t make everybody cheery, you know. Holiday shopping at the Mall doesn’t, either. 

Personally, I’m not that jazzed up about Tapville Social. There are plenty of folks in our community who are trying to stay sober every day. Do we have to make the Mall a less safe place for them? Adding alcohol to a space that has traditionally been alcohol-free turns ordinary retail shopping into an activity where one must now take on constant vigilance and stress. This isn’t true for everyone who is living sober, but, some will just stop shopping at the Mall. 

One in eight adults in the United States suffers from Alcohol Use Disorder. When we say it’s simply a business decision to use alcohol to lure shoppers with a novel experience, we need to understand that it’s also a business decision to be willing to sacrifice the one in eight customers for whom this will be a deal-breaker, one way or another.

Here are two of the articles I read while researching this piece:

Tysons Corner Center shoppers allowed to drink alcoholic drinks while strolling through the mall, Sylvia Mphofe, November 2023, Fox 5 DC

Shopping Under the Influence, Abha Batterai, February 2020, Washington Post

From the Washington Post article:

I suppose I am taking a rather jaded view that it was terribly necessary to clean up the unruly teenager situation so that the self-serve alcohol kiosk could open up and attract the “right” kind of customers. I’m aware that not everyone will view it this way. The general response I’ve seen on social media has been “Gee, that sounds like fun” and “It’s not my responsibility to worry about other people’s problems.”

What’s your response?

Village Green/Town² Comments

Monday, November 13, 2023

Monday’s Top Five

I’ve been up since five. The old brain refuses to be jump started this morning. Some ideas for you:

  • Read yesterday’s post if you haven’t already. Get the word out about Columbia Community Care’s Toy and Book Drive.
  • Did you know that Zum Bus Drivers and Howard County Library workers are looking to unionize? (Separately, not together)
  • If you haven’t sent me suggestions for my Books by Local Authors post, do it soon.
  • Is the Lark Brown/Restaurant Park McDonalds closed for renovations or closed for good? 
  • Wish me a happy anniversary - - 24 years of wedded bliss!
If you have any good ideas on how to jumpstart one’s brain, please send them along. 

Sunday, November 12, 2023

A Toy, A Book, A Connection

What does community care look like? In Columbia/HoCo, it looks like food donations and delivery, plus weekly food distribution sites. It looks like educational events to help parents be better advocates for their children, self-care workshops, and programs for youth.  It looks like fundraisers to support ongoing programs, and hopes, dreams, and plans for a visionary community center.

And it looks like the joy of children. 


Columbia Community Care will once again be holding our Holiday Toy Drive!

Saturday December 16, 2023

11:00 am - 1:00 pm (or until we are out of toys!)

Oakland Mills High School (Auxiliary Gym)

NEW Toys and Gifts for Kids ages 2-12 years old


We're doing things a little differently this year. We'll be sorting donations by age group and bagging them up ahead of time for distribution. So please consider donating Gender-Neutral toys, games, and gifts.

2-5years. 5-8 years, 8 years and older. 


DONATION DROP OFFS: Donations can be dropped off at the CCC Building, 10750 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia. Drop off times: Wed 10-2, Fri 10-2, Sat 10-12. Please do not leave them in the outdoor bin. We're accepting donations through Wed Dec 13th. (After that, please bring donations by 11:00 am directly to the toy drive on Sat Dec 16th). 


We're also accepting childrens books for all ages! Books will be distributed separately, in addition to the bagged toys and gifts.

(books not bagged up)


Toys, Books, Winter Hats, scarves, mittens, gloves, art supplies, play dough, slime, sidewalk chaulk, sports equipment, playground balls, jump ropes, blocks, magnetic tiles, stuffed animals, kids snacks (individually wrapped), goldfish, fruit snacks, juice boxes, candy, etc.


Consider having your own small toy drive to add to the CCC toy drive! This could be done at your work place, place of worship, neighborhood, scouts, your child's day care center/preschool, or with your familiy and friends!

Please message us and we can give you additional suggestions.


We will need many volunteers - both ahead of the toy drive as well as on the distribution day. Please stay tuned for volunteer details.


Katie Kirk, Alicia Brandys, Valerie Burrows Eshleman, Sue Sharff Castonguay

Please contact any of us for porch drop offs if needed.


We appreciate ANY and ALL donations! Every single donation matters and we sincerely Thank You for donating!


I wrote about the concepts of mutual aid and community care last year in “The Restaurant Week That Gives Back.” (October, 2022)  

Community care differs from most charitable giving in that it’s based on the understanding that we are all a part of the process of caring for our community. It’s not: one person gives, the other receives. It’s about human interaction.

During the earlier days of the pandemic, when I was sidelined by (unrelated) health issues, there were numerous times when people went out of their way to do kind things for me. I can’t even remember them all. I do remember the joy I felt when I opened the door to discover special treats and little things that made me smile. For someone who was both ill and housebound, those moments were just as exciting to me as a child on Christmas morning.

I didn’t feel like anyone’s charity case. I felt seen, and valued. That’s community care.

Columbia Community Care began through the spark and hard work of Erika Strauss Chavarria in March of 2020. Many of my readers are involved in the work of CCC already. If you aren’t, perhaps helping out with the Toy Drive and/or spreading the word by sharing the flyer I posted above might be a good way to start. 

Saturday, November 11, 2023

One Place With a Lot Going On


There’s so much going on at The 3rd that I’m going to devote all of today’s post to them. 

I know I mentioned that they’ve gotten a liquor license, bit I don’t think I’ve told you about their newest venture: One By The Water Café.  Looking at the current menu it appears they’ve got you covered for breakfast and lunch with wraps, soups, sandwiches and salads. It’s still a great place for coffee and a pastry but now there are more possibilities.

The annual Thanksgiving pie sale is up and running. You’d better hurry if you want to get an order in. The deadline is November 17th. This year they are offering two kinds of pie: sweet potato and pecan, plus loaves of Hummingbird Bread. Click here to learn more and to order. The pie sale is a fundraiser which helps support the mission of The 3rd to provide support to women of color who are entrepreneurs. 

Have you ever attended the WOCAX art show at The 3rd? Now they are doing it year round. Keep an eye out for rotating art installations throughout the year and for opportunities to learn more about the artists. 

On November 25th The 3rd will again be taking part in Small Business Saturday. This is a great opportunity to pick up holiday gifts and learn more about local small businesses. I’ll let you know more details when I have them. 

The 3rd is also available as an event venue. It’s a beautiful space - - and centrally located - - and I recommend keeping them in mind when you’re planning something special.

The 3rd Community - - Co-working and Café - - is open Wednesday through Saturday 9 am - 4 pm and on Sundays 10 am - 4 pm.

Have you been there since they opened One By The Water? What is it like?

Village Green/Town² Comments