Friday, April 19, 2024

F ³: The customer is always… hmm…




Over the past several days, I have done the following:

• picked up a prescription at a drive-through window

• ordered an iced coffee at a drive-through window

• purchased a scone at a bakery

• taken my car for her 180,000-mile checkup

• had a dentist appointment

• completed an online registration for a hardware store app

• ordered a concert ticket online

What do all these experiences have in common? Each action on my part generated an online “customer satisfaction” survey about the process, goods, or services that I experienced with their company. I’m sure I should be happy that they all want to assure the ultimate: a satisfied customer. This may, of course, mean paying attention to feedback and making needed changes, but I am kind of tired of the “how did we do?” query.

As an educator, I am quite familiar with evaluation as a standard practice that is part of assuring the quality of the product. Sometimes, though, what is asked on a scale survey (ex., Likert Scale) should instead be yes or no: “Were you greeted promptly upon your arrival?” does not really fit with “meets expectations” vs. “exceeds expectations” as answer choices. 

The scale survey can be tricky in other ways as well; for example, the place where I purchased the scone wanted to know how I rated “the warmth of our people.” If the person behind the counter said “What can I get you today?” and then gave me the scone and rang up the purchase, is that “meets expectations” or “exceeds expectations”? I chose “meets” and immediately got a question about what the employees could do better in order to earn my highest score: be more friendly, take more pride in their work, and so on. 

I was kind of appalled that my honest rating might bring censure on that store, but what would “exceeds expectations while customer is purchasing a scone” look like?

What I didn’t get a survey for was using the above-mentioned app in the big-box hardware store while checking out with a plumbing item. There were no “manned” checkout stations; all were self-checkout. Three people were waiting for someone to come and assist them with their order (“Amelia to checkout for three customers, please”), but as I had only one item, I was pretty confident. 

The first screen said “Scan your ID number (found in the Wallet in your account).” I opened the app on my phone and went through every page of the contents, but nothing was labeled “Wallet” and there was no ID number showing. Now feeling a little anxious, I looked behind me to see about five people waiting in line to use the self-checkouts. An employee had come to help the customer ahead of me, and I asked her, “Are there any checkouts with employees?” as it didn’t look as though I was going to find my elusive ID number on my own. 

She snapped, “I am an employee.”

I said, “Of course you are, but you are tied up responding to situations of individual need here at the self-checkouts.” She turned her back on me. Another employee had come to help the person across from me, and she said, “Access the screen by putting in your phone number,” and that did work to bring up my account and the discount that I was looking for.

My take: what may have seemed like a savings to the company (hire fewer workers??) ended up frustrating the four customers who were at the four self-checkouts that day; all of us seemed to share some kind of issue with the app and the application of discounts. 

Ease of use? Not so much. The customer always being right? Hmm…

 *****

Donna Swope, author of today’s post, moved to Columbia in 1974. She is an Associate Professor of Nursing at Stevenson University, an avid reader, enjoys singing in her church choir, and cheering for the Baltimore Ravens. Nothing tops her pride in her five grandchildren - - if there were an award for sports games watched by grandmothers, she’d win first place.

Many thanks to Ms. Swope, who responded to my invitation for guest posts last week. Have thoughts about customer service? You know where to send them.


Village Green/Town² Comments





Thursday, April 18, 2024

Sounding Off About Education


 

Many stories or even jokes begin like this.:

“There are two kinds of people.” 

I’m tempted to provide a few humorous examples here but I don’t want the message of this post to be diluted.

There are two kinds of people in Howard County, for example: 

*Those who see the deep value of elementary school programs like GT CEUs and 3rd grade strings, most especially in Title I schools, and advocate to keep them there even if budget constraints dictate they be eliminated elsewhere, including their own schools.

*Those who are enraged by the thought that “the poors” will get something they won’t. 

Remember that story about King Solomon and the baby? While it’s hard for me to believe that any mother would say “cut the baby in half!”, it is not hard for me to believe that there are people who will go to extreme lengths, even if it causes harm, just to guarantee that they get their bit.

I raise this today because there’s been some pretty vocal pushback that those* who have advocated for the elementary GT courses and 3rd grade strings are way off base and that class size is where the focus should be. This pushback is coming from very smart people and people whom I admire. 

They are absolutely right that increasing class size will damage the learning environment, relationships between teachers and students, and diminish outcomes. 

There’s also this post from Jenny Solpietro on Howard County Progress Report suggesting we shouldn’t need to have these battles. She’s right, but that’s another story altogether.

So what am I sounding off about? 

The deep divide in Howard County between: 

*those who are willing to share, accommodate, accept new challenges, and grapple with change if it means that those who are more vulnerable have opportunities they might not have otherwise, and 

*those who will flood social media (in outrage!) and public meetings (in matching colored t-shirts!) to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Sally Brown is with us, still, with her clip board and neatly sharpened pencil and her list of demands. 

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

The people who made preserving these elementary programs all about themselves are the kind of folks who are always going to make things all about themselves: in our schools, local government, even your HOA. 

Do I regret advocating that these programs should be preserved in Title I schools? Absolutely not. Am I kicking myself that this gave these folks an opportunity to put themselves in the spotlight again? 

Kinda. 

Pro tip: if you really care about healthy and successful community building, don’t vote to put people like this in positions of power. Please.


Village Green/Town² Comments



*Yes, that would include me.



Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Columbia Votes! But not where I live


 

Let’s start with quick look back from Priorities, April, 2017:

First things first. If you live in Columbia and your village is having an election, vote.

VOTE.

If you live in Oakland Mills you can also buy Spring plants, see an art show, and get a homemade cookie.

And of course, there's that whole concept of civic duty. The People Tree can't be passive, folks. Those people are all actively reaching for better things, right? I hate to think what a passive People Tree would look like. Seriously droopy. Wilted, even. An embodiment of community failure.

And that's not who we are. Show me that's not who we are.

I tell myself every year that I'm not going to get worked up over Village elections. And yet I do, because I feel strongly that we could be doing a much better job at getting residents involved in Columbia community building. Year after year the winners are more than happy to claim victory without acknowledging the ludicrously low turnout. We move through the cycle again and again without improving it.

From HoCo Rising, April 28, 2014:

Wouldn't it be amazing if one of these candidates humbly said "My village has nearly 10,000 residents and we only heard from about 300 of them.  I see it as my job over the next year to broaden our outreach and increase engagement." 

I take a dim view of residents raising the spectre of Rouse whenever it suits them. But really, when I look at what CA elections have become, I do have to wonder what he would think.


*****

Columbia elections are this Saturday. If you live in Oakland Mills you can come to the OMCA Earth Day Celebration, 11 am to 2:00 pm, in the Courtyard at the Other Barn.



But you can’t vote. Why? Because the OM election is uncontested. That means no one is running against current CA Rep Karen Emery, and none of the Village Board seats are in contention, either. I haven’t heard much buzz about this year’s elections until this week when the Columbia Association started running promotional material on social media. 


Image from Columbia Association social media accounts


Thank goodness for The Merriweather Post blog for putting together this piece:

Columbia Association Board Elections - - A Rundown of the Three Contested Races, Jeremy Dommu, The Merriweather Post 

It is thorough, and - - I think - - very helpful. If you live in Harper’s Choice, Owen Brown, or Wilde Lake you should definitely take a look. Even if you don’t, it’s a good jumping-off point as to how these things work.

I find it disheartening to see people running on old, outdated, and unhelpful issues. And this is not always limited to incumbents. In particular, running to 1) reduce the annual charge and or to 2) return the control of Symphony Woods to CA. 

As to item number one, everything around us has become significantly more expensive over the last four years. How can we see that it is more expensive to purchase goods and services but claim that the Columbia Association can run successfully with less money? Does your personal budget work like that?

Item number two: while the Symphony Woods property (now known as Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods) was controlled by CA, it did nothing but languish. Since its establishment in 2014 the Inner Arbor Trust has done more to care for the land and make it enjoyable and accessible to Columbia residents than CA ever did while it was under their control. 

“We did a terrible job, now give it back to us” is not a campaign slogan I am willing to take seriously.

I was reminded by a reader of this blog that these elections are worth caring about because the newly elected board will be selecting the new CA President. That’s certainly something to think about. UPDATE: Have since heard rumblings that this is not the case.  

UPDATE OF THE UPDATE: CA Names new CEO., Friday, April 19th, 2024.

If Oakland Mills had a contested election I would definitely be learning about the candidates and would not miss the opportunity to vote. 

But…

I don’t know. My gut feeling at the moment is that we’re just going to keep celebrating our old futility rites because we don’t know what else to do or how to create something better.

What do you think?


Village Green/Town² Comments




Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Protect This Kid


 


This is the kid. The kid in an elementary grade reading group. The kid in an after school ballet class. The kid playing catch at recess. The kid picking books at the library. The kid in Saturday soccer.

If you have children you see and even know this kid. They don’t mysteriously appear in high school or college. They have been there all along. They ate snack in kindergarten, went to birthday parties, enjoyed countless playdates with your kid. They are classmates, neighbors, friends. They might be your kid. 

Protect this kid.


Image from Protect This Kid campaign*


GLAAD and Ogilvy Launch “Protect This Kid” Campaign in Support of LGBTQ Youth, Allison Bloom, GLAAD

This quote from GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis jumped out at me:

For too long, anti-LGBTQ activists have not only spouted lies by falsely claiming that LGBTQ people are threats to children, but they have erased the existence of LGBTQ youth and their need for content that they can relate to and be inspired by. Ogilvy has helped us fill that critical gap with a timely campaign that harnesses the power of celebrity voices and the lived experience of queer trailblazers to support youth.

The queer adults we celebrate and revere were once kids, too, and through this campaign we remind the world that when we take away the rights of LGBTQ young people, and deny them safety, compassion, and privacy, we risk losing the next great entertainer, or athlete or author. Queer and trans kids need our support now, before it’s too late.

It’s absolutely true. Queer and trans kids need our support now, before it’s too late. And I’d definitely encourage you to check out Protect This Kid on Instagram and watch the short videos released as a part of this campaign. But we don’t need to care about them because they might grow up to be great entertainers, athletes, or authors. We do need to stop and think about the gravity of so much potential lost.

Here’s the thing:

We need to Protect This Kid not because some might grow up to be “special” but because all kids are inherently precious. Therefore the acceptance and celebration of This Kid - - just as they are - - does nothing to harm or hinder any other kids. It teaches them that we, as adults, believe in and will work for a world where love can lift everyone up. No one is erased or excluded. 

I would argue that not believing in and working for that creates a world that is more dangerous for all kids. (And adults.)

Have you heard that we will soon be electing new members of the Howard County Board of Education?

I’m working my way through the CARY BOE Candidate 2024 Survey Results  right now with those thoughts uppermost in my mind. 

Here’s a little snapshot.



Out of twelve candidates for the Board of Education, four did not even respond to the CARY survey. That’s right, fully one third just didn’t bother. That’s a huge tell. I haven’t finished reading all of the responses but this much is clear from the get-go: if you are seeking higher office with a goal of caring for all of our kids, it’s a complete deal breaker if you aren’t willing to Protect This Kid.

The mission of public education is to support all children and their growth and learning with an understanding of their needs and abilities. It is not possible to say you support public education if you intend to carve out specific groups of children and say that their growth and learning may be neglected, ignored, or downright hindered. Public education is for everyone. 

The LGBTQ community isn't a threat. Misinformation and hatred are. Everyone deserves to be safe from harm and the freedom to be who they are. - -  Protect This Kid


Village Green/Town² Comments



*This particular Kid is actress and performer Beanie Feldstein. And this is her story.


Monday, April 15, 2024

Generosity: It’s Spreading


 

I’ve been listening to this episode of Kelly Corrigan Wonders podcast:

Go To on Infectious Generosity,  For the Good of the Order, Kelly Corrigan

When my girls were young, I must have told them a hundred times: you get what you give. I believe it like I believe the sun will rise tomorrow. Chris Anderson, the genius do-gooder behind TED, believes it too. And with good reason. He’s seen generous giving pay off in big ways — giving his brand to TEDx conferences around the world, giving away TED speeches to anyone who wanted them online, giving attention, support and contributions to the most focused, devoted, strategic efforts on the planet. This is an episode for anyone looking for inspiration.

Chris Anderson’s book, Infectious Generosity* shines a spotlight on how acts of giving can spark a ripple effect in cultivating positive societal change. 

Howard County is full of examples of infectious generosity these days. Initiatives that are alive in the community through sharing goods, services, experiences, and learning include Columbia Community Care, The 3rd, The Community Ecology Insitute, Sobar,  Inner Arbor Trust/Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods, The Howard County Library System, Howard County Lynching Truth & Reconciliation,  groups like CARY - - Community Allies of Rainbow Youth, HCPSS Pride, and HoCo Pride, The Women’s Giving Circle of Howard County.

The way in which these groups operate and interact locally is significantly different than traditional “charitable giving” models or straight business models. All give ordinary human beings an opportunity to engage, give meaningful input, learn new skills/have new and transformative experiences. It’s not simply about sending an “ask letter” and expecting a check in return. I am convinced that this way of engaging is making a big impact in the community by making deeper and more lasting impressions.

The Women’s Giving Circle of Howard County is gearing up for The Big Give. Have you seen their posts? 






This year marks the third WGC Big Give and you can learn more about it at their website. (My apologies that I haven’t written about this sooner, as today is the deadline if you want to participate.) What I like about this initiative is that it truly taps into that idea of Infectious Generosity. WGC is giving a learning experience - - How do I learn about grantmaking? How can I impact the needs of women and girls in Howard County as a small giver? How do giving circles transform that giving process? 

Participants will make meaningful decisions that result in real world community grants of their choosing. Past grantees include Bridges to Housing Stability, Columbia Community Care, Girls on the Run, Grassroots, HopeWorks, and the Howard Community College Educational Foundation. 

Another great example to put on your calendar now is United Way’s Changemaker Challenge, to be held May 7th. There are a variety of local sponsors for this event. Notice that WGC is one of them. They’ll be giving away 100,000 dollars to support innovative ideas for social impact in Howard County.



The Horizon Foundation, United Way of Central Maryland, Women’s Giving Circle and Community Foundation of Howard County are igniting and recognizing new and continued innovation in our community with the Changemaker Challenge. Think “Shark Tank” for social change! This biennial event awards funding for project ideas that promise to make a difference in Howard County. That’s why our theme for the 2024 Changemaker Challenge is – Innovate. Cultivate. Uplift. - - Changemaker Challenge 

I watched the online Live Event in 2021 and it lifted my spirits in during a really challenging time in our community. I’m looking forward to May 7th and will give you more information when I have it. 

Are you seeing what I’m seeing? Can you envision how all of this can spark a ripple effect in cultivating positive societal change?


Village Green/Town² Comments 




*A quick summary may be found here.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Gossip Column

 



Almost everything I want to write about today leans a little gossipy. I just want you to know in advance that I’m aware of that. You have been warned. As always, take any local commentary with a grain of salt. 

Who is Lady Savage and why is she inviting local women to a Night Out in May? Why does this mood of this artwork look a little creepy to me? Is this a mystery night? Will the ancients be raised from their slumber? Does Lady Savage have any skeletons in her closet? And where’s Lord Savage? Does she keep him locked in the tower? 




The League of Women Voters of Howard County is having their annual meeting on April 25th.

Join us for the League of Women Voters of Howard County Annual Meeting on April 25 at 5:30 p.m. at Miller Branch Library. Purchase a $25 ticket for a wonderful meal. Non-members are welcome, but can't vote. Reserve your spot via our website!

The Howard County League of Women Voters is an excellent organization and consistently provides top-quality voter education events in the community. However, I’m a little concerned that this event is still more than ten days away because I think they’re going to run out of stock photos.



Shout out to the folks on the ColumbiaMD subReddit for maintaining an online space that is hands down more sane and civilized than NextDoor. You will find “What were those sirens?” posts in both places but at least on Reddit some wag will assure you that it’s a UFO cover up. 

Wait, was that really a UFO near Lake Elkhorn?

Over at the new location of Sweet Cascades Chocolatier at Courthouse Overlook you can buy police badges and judges’ gavels and I’m just not buying it.



I don’t doubt that they are really making these, I just have mixed feelings. And did you know there is now a place in Columbia called Courthouse Overlook?

In the Board of Education race, this advert for Julie Kaplan (hopeful in District 4) made my hair stand straight up. 




This cannot be aimed at anyone other than low-information voters and it’s disappointing at best. If you know anything about Howard County politics you would know that these particular gentleman are not representative examples of local Democrats and Republicans. Like or dislike them, that’s your choice, but their endorsement is not even remotely a bipartisan event.

Ms. Kaplan is hoping to unseat incumbent Jen Mallo. If her intent is to be the candidate everyone can agree on - - well - - this ad…has very pretty colors.

In closing, this one is purely for laughs. This image comes from a realtor’s listing for the Wynddon Estate* in Phoenix, MD. (Yes, I know it’s in Baltimore County.)  “A set of resting nooks built into a hallway.”


Image by Townsend Visuals

Friends, I am stunned. This place has 13 bedrooms and 14 bathrooms but it somehow needs two extra beds in a hallway? Is this a polite way of turning away unwanted guests? 

“So sorry, we haven’t a room ready for you but you can sleep in the hallway.”

Help me understand. Or, better yet, tell me your perfectly ridiculous reasons why this exists. To be honest, at my house this would be all about stuffed plush companions but I’m sure you have better ideas. 









*Like it? Check it out on Zillow!


Saturday, April 13, 2024

The Magical Turning Point


 

My “Facebook memories” informs me that five years ago someone called me downright nasty and a member of the radical left and I only vaguely remember the experience. I don’t recall who it was, either. I’ll take that as a win. They must not have hung around to do any permanent damage. 

Looking back at Aprils past I discovered that some things seem awfully familiar:

Counting Down, 4/12/2018


Almost.

It’s almost Spring—the kind of Spring we want, that is. Flowers are coming up and the forsythia is looking good but can’t we just have a warm day that comes back again the next day without the threat of flurries or a startling drop in temperature?

Today might just be that day. Wear your jacket this morning but you just might not need it by this afternoon.

Once we finally reach that magical turning point we’ll be looking for outdoor experiences. Restaurants where one can eat outside will be a popular destination, even if the views leave something to be desired. Outdoor concerts and festivals will start to fill our weekends. Wine in the Woods will return, Merriweather’s roof will be restored, and the Chrysalis will kick off a season of dynamic community programming. Columbia Festivsl of the Arts is gearing up for Lakefest. There will be opportunities to enjoy the outdoors at the Howard County Conservancy and the Robinson Nature Center, as well.

There will be concert dates, festival dates, special event dates. Columbia and Howard County do outdoors well.

A reminder: Spring around here goes into hit and humid pretty darned fast. So, don’t just wait for a special event to get outside. Just go. Seize one of those lovely mornings or golden afternoons and take a walk, go to the playground with your kids, sit outside with your coffee and soak up the joy of Spring weather.

Make your own Spring celebration.

It’s almost here. I don’t know why it seems like we’ve been waiting forever, but, it does.


So here we are. Another weekend in April. If someone is out there calling me “downright nasty” and “a member of the radical left” I’m not aware of it. I have far more important things to be concerned about. 

Who knows? Today may be that magical turning point. Here’s a sampling of HoCoLocal activities going on today:

Greenfest, HCC 10 am - 3 pm


Historic Landmark Dedication, Thomas Viaduct, 11 am 




Celebrating Autism Acceptance Month, Laura’s Place Playground, 10 am - 2 pm



Youth Poetry Slam, Common Kitchen, 5 - 7:30 pm


Drag Story Time with Ms. Bella, Owen Brown Interfaith Center, 10 am - 12 pm



Math All Around Us, East Columbia 50+ Center, 10 am





April 13th is also Columbia Cleans Day. You can find more information at this link. Want to know more about these events? Many, though not all, have postings through Facebook events. Take a look.

I make no promises, but today is looking pretty good.




Village Green/Town² Comments



Friday, April 12, 2024

F ³: Hidden in Plain Sight


 

Since I announced up front that I wouldn’t be writing today, let’s just pretend I’m not.


*****


I mentioned yesterday that regular life events have been making me teary of late. This is very likely because I am slowly tapering off of Paxil, one of the medications that was prescribed to me, along with therapy, after my youngest child was born. I wrote a little bit about this here. These medications were a godsend to me. 

An odd side effect of Paxil for me was that it flattened extreme emotions. I could experience happiness but not exhilaration, sadness, but rarely cried. I figured that was the tradeoff and that it was fair enough. Life went on.

And then in 2022 when I was diagnosed and received medication for ADHD, it became clear that most of the anxiety and depression I had been dealing with for years were a function of undiagnosed ADHD. After a while I began to wonder if I still needed the Paxil. 

Life threw me an unexpected challenge when my primary care provider left general practice. I was extremely fortunate to find someone who is excellent and with whom I feel compatible. In looking over my medical history and asking about my current state of wellbeing, she suggested that I might want to think of tapering off of Paxil. 

It was a suggestion, not a decree. I had clearly already been thinking about it.

If you don’t know, one does not simply stop taking Paxil. It’s complicated. The process takes time. There are a host of unpleasant side effects that one may experience. Sometimes you hit rough patches. I’m not an expert, but when primary care physicians, diagnosing psychiatrists, and Dr. Google agree, that must mean something.

I’m in a bit of a rough patch at the moment but I wanted to talk about something else that’s going on.

The interesting part of this process for me is that I am beginning to experience the kinds of emotions that I haven’t felt for over twenty-four years. Largely it has manifested itself in getting teary over the most unexpected things.

  • The stranger at Lapcorp who stepped up and helped a woman in her eighties navigate the hi tech sign-in kiosk.
  • A video clip of the late composer Henry Mancini conducting.
  • “The dogs were good again this week”
  • Moral support in an online ADHD group.
  • The end of the Brother Cadfael book series
  • A tapestry about the dignity of workers 
  • Eating dinner with my husband at Chipotle 
It’s rather like having one’s emotions jump out and say “boo!” when you least expect it. I have decided that I am experiencing a natural by-product of a changing brain. Eventually it will all even out. 

I’m putting this here today because someone may need to see it and feel less alone. There are some truly negative and judgmental people in the world with no understanding of (or empathy for) their fellow humans. Many folks are worried about being candid when it comes to mental health issues. As for myself, I find myself reluctant to put this out there with a flourish or a herald of trumpets.

So I’m hiding it in plain sight.










Thursday, April 11, 2024

Get the Tissues


 

Bear with me. I’m going through a time when almost everything makes me teary. If I made a list of the things that brought this on over the last week, it might almost be funny. Maybe.

Today it started with this sentence, or rather a phrase.

Once home to a vibrant local print newspaper, the Columbia Flier Building closed its doors in 2011. 

a vibrant local print newspaper

Just those words alone should make all of us cry, actually. It’s like unearthing a fragment in an archeological dig that instantly drives home a realization of great cultural loss.

Ahem. (Wipes eyes.)

County Executive Calvin Ball’s announcement of future plans for the Columbia Flier building deserves an entire blog post unto itself. I’m still working on it. I have a few questions to ask and information to gather. 

Example Number Two today of my current teary-eyed phenomenon came with this piece by Baltimore Banner’s Leslie Gray Streeter as she writes about experiencing this week’s eclipse with her son.

How the total eclipse of the sun became a ‘total eclipse of the heart’ for my family, Leslie Gray Streeter, Baltimore Banner

The older Brooks gets, the more life stages I have to marvel at, with the profound understanding that they are impermanent and fleeting. And they will never come back. At the beginning of this school year, I mused over the realization that with each grade, each level in soccer and each shoe size, my little one is no longer little. And at each of those stages, he’s in some ways a different person. I love every one of them, but it’s heartbreaking knowing that each metamorphosis will shed some part of that person I love.

Things that are precious. Things that are fleeting. Things that will never come back.

When I was in high school I performed this monologue (from Thornton Wilder’s Our Town) at a parent night. I was honestly surprised when my mother said it made her cry. I didn’t know why.

Emily: I can’t bear it. They’re so young and beautiful. Why did they ever have to get old? Mama, I’m here. I’m grown up. I love you all, everything. – I can’t look at everything hard enough. Oh, Mama, just look at me one minute as though you really saw me.

Mama, fourteen years have gone by. I’m dead. You’re a grandmother, Mama. I married George Gibbs, Mama. Wally’s dead, too. Mama, his appendix burst on a camping trip to North Conway. We felt just terrible about it – don’t you remember?

But, just for a moment now we’re all together. Mama, just for a moment we’re happy. Let’s look at one another.

I can’t. I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. All that was going on in life, and we never noticed. Take me back – up the hill – to my grave.

But first: Wait! One more look. Good-by, Good-by, world. Good-by, Grover’s Corners. Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking. And Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths. And sleeping and waking up. 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?


Now I know why.


*****


Note: If you’d like to write a guest post tomorrow for Free Form Friday, let me know. I have fasting bloodwork scheduled and the lack of caffeine wreaks havoc upon my writing brain. - - jam





Wednesday, April 10, 2024

The Kids Who Won My Heart




I stumbled onto this local event completely by accident, when I came upon this tweetX from an artist:

@medimelancholy_  i'll be vending at centennial high school's otakufest in ellicott city MD
this saturday, april 13th!! i'm always happy to be back to this event, it's a cozy and delightful time run by amazing people. come check it out if you can!!!



Otakufest poster created by a member of Centennial's H.S.National Art Honor Society 


The event is Otakufest, to be held this Saturday at Centennial High School. Otakufest is an initiative of the Centennial High School Anime Club. The official description of the club at the CHS website reads:

To share an appreciation of Japanese culture and anime/related media.

Sounds serious. The definition of the word “otaku” seemed much more in sync with what I know about young people.


Definition from Merriam Webster online 


If this were a typical local event post, I’d be sticking to what, when, where, etc. you know:

  • Otakufest 
  • Saturday April 13, 10 am - 3 pm
  • Centennial High School 
  • Visit the event website for more information 
  • Purchase tickets

What will you find at Otakufest?

*ARTIST ALLEY
*RAMEN EATING CONTEST
*GAME ROOM
*VINTAGE COLLECTIBLES
*ART STATION
*COSPLAY CONTEST

But here’s where the members of the Centennial High School Anime Club slid right into my heart and tugged at the old heartstrings:

Our History

This club started 12 years ago with 8 like-minded kids crowded around a laptop in a deserted high school hallway. Today those kids are grad school students and that club is now over 50 people who gather around a projection screen. We could tell you lifetime's worth of stories about how we got here, but what matters is that somehow this small group of friends turned a simple high school club into something more: A place to grow potential (like those in our little army of artists), a place to be with friends, and a place to be ourselves.

Along the way our activities have grown as well. From a little Pocky after school and some Japanese lessons to full scale parties and gaming tournaments. In 2009, we gave birth to our brain child the Centennial High School Otaku Festival and we're hoping to continue this tradition far into the future 

Something about these words struck me. The writer looks back, celebrates the present, and looks towards the future. And at the heart of it all, this precious message:

but what matters is that somehow this small group of friends turned a simple high school club into something more: A place to grow potential (like those in our little army of artists), a place to be with friends, and a place to be ourselves.

If you have high school aged offspring, or remember having them, or remember being that age, you know that these words reflect the deep, deep needs of adolescents. The history of the Centennial Anime Club is two short paragraphs and it is engaging and beautifully articulate. Perhaps I’m overdoing it here but this honestly made me a bit teary.

So now you know about Otakufest and a highly motivated group of teens at Centennial High School. You probably know that there are groups of kids just like this all over Howard County*: passionate about their interests, enthusiastic about making connections. Just catching a glimpse of them in action brought me immeasurable joy. 


Village Green/Town² Comments



*All school based clubs are supported by faculty advisors. Three cheers for them!

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Learn, Connect, Grow: National Library Week


 

You may not have noticed that Monday was the kick off for National Library Week. Yesterday was a rather big day, after all. A shoutout to the gentleman in Clarkville who let us all piggyback on his live telescope feed of the eclipse. I won’t name him here because I didn’t ask his permission but I can’t express my gratitude enough. I hadn’t really jumped on the whole eclipse bandwagon until that very moment. 

It was glorious, and made even more meaningful to me by the simple gesture of a member of the community I’ll probably never meet. 

Back to libraries. My heart went out the the library worker who had to turn someone down for eclipse glasses, right before I got to the front of the line to check out my book, even though signs were posted at the entrance and all around the desk that they were out.

When I said that I felt for her, being inundated with requests, she smiled a bit and said, “It’s just so rare that we ever have to say no to anybody.” 

So I’m going to backtrack to talk about Monday’s National Library Week theme because I think it’s extremely important.




Monday was Right to Read Day. Why is that so important? 

2023 was a tumultuous year for libraries. Book bans dominated headlines as well as city council and school board meetings, threatening the access of information to readers of all ages and the livelihoods and safety of library workers across the country. - - American Library Association 

Here in Howard County, pro-censorship harassment has targeted the school system and questioned the professional integrity of media specialists and classroom teachers. 

You can learn more about censorship in the United States by reading American Library Association's 2024 State of America's Libraries Report: Libraries Take Action! The State of America’s Libraries, 2024. The report addresses more than censorship. Here’s what you’ll find:



To sum it all up:

Despite these upheavals, libraries took action, continuing to provide critical services to their communities and develop truly innovative programs along the way. - - ALA

As someone who was raised with a great respect for libraries and who was taught to love learning by parents who had a high regard for intellectual freedom, I find the loud and destructive voices of censorship alarming. Cultivating ignorance and attempting to exert tight control over what may be learned do not make the world safer and more wholesome. Nothing could be farther from the truth. This message is insidious and ultimately poses a threat to our educational institutions and also to our democracy as a whole.

A few years back my library branch was renovated. The updates are beautiful and make the library environment even more functional for the community. But there’s one thing I miss. On the wall behind the circulation desk there used to be a quote by the writer Kurt Vonnegut. I think it was this one.

You must allow all ideas to circulate freely in your community, not merely your own.

I don’t know why it was removed but I think that decision was a mistake. Vonnegut’s message will never go out of style. It’s the first thing we should be hanging on the wall as soon as the paint is dry. Vonnegut understood the important role of libraries in supporting a functional democracy.

And on the subject of burning books: I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength or their powerful political connections or their great wealth, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and have refused to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles.

So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House or the Supreme Court or the Senate or the House of Representatives or the media. The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.

― Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country, 2005

Visit your library this week. Learn something new about what is going on there. Share your esteem and gratitude for your local libraries with your children, your friends, your neighbors, your coworkers. Great libraries are an integral part of thriving communities. Without community support - - and I mean ardent, vocal support - - we may lose this valuable partner that supports us in our learning and in our daily lives.

In honor of National Library Week, Howard County Library System is holding a contest to design images for new library cards. The theme says it all:

The library is your place to learn, connect, and grow.

Monday, April 8, 2024

Is This Heaven?


 

Not only is this not Heaven, it’s not even Iowa. It’s Atlanta, Georgia.

If heaven was a backyard... it might look like the one at HGTV Smart Home 2024. Your chance to win this designer home in Atlanta, GA (a $1M grand prize!) starts 4/19. 



Both photos from HGTV Facebook page


I’m going to grit my teeth and try to get past the grammar error there. (My late mother, wherever she may be, is surely turning over in dismay.) I went to the comments section to see if anyone would mention it and found this instead.

If heaven had a backyard it would have ramps or be flat so it could be used by everyone.

I looked at the photographs again and went, “hmm.” Someone else concurred.

Too many stairs.

Now, if you want to go the afterlife angle you could say that in heaven we’ll all have heavenly bodies - - whole, complete, perfect - - but we all know that HGTV isn’t really making a religious statement here. They’re saying, “Ooh, isn’t this just perfection?” And we’re supposed to say, “Wow, that’s amazing!”

But it isn’t. Because it was designed and built without a mindset that a beautiful home should be for everyone. Or, to use their own imagery, that Heaven should be inclusive. This is a home specifically created to be won in a contest. Therefore, anyone can enter and anyone can win.

So sad, too bad if you, or someone in your family, or your circle of friends, can’t do steps. 

Anyway, this is a very long introduction in order to ask: how are we doing with this sort of thinking in Howard County?

I once had to visit an office in Ellicott City which was in an old house. There were a number of steps up to the front door. A ramp had been retrofitted on one side, thus rendering the building “wheelchair accessible/ADA compliant.” Well, perhaps on paper it was. But the front door of the building opened toward the ramp, which meant that, when the door was open, the ramp was fully blocked. 

Often we are less aware of things like this until something happens to make it personal for us. We’ve heard the words “wheelchair accessible” often enough that we may not realize that accessibility is about more than wheelchairs. An abundance of stairs is also an obstacle to the elderly, people with chronic pain and mobility issues, people with COPD or other breathing issues - - it’s not as simple as slapping a wheelchair sign on something in your brain and then forgetting about it. 

Is this something you keep an eye out for as you go around the community? I took a quick look at the Howard County Government website for any reference to Universal Design*. This was the first thing I found.

Age Restricted Adult, Guidelines

The Howard County Zoning Regulations allow for "active adult housing" as either a conditional use in residential zoning districts or as a permitted use in other zoning districts. Age-restricted developments must be appropriately designed for adults at least 55 years of age. Site improvements must ensure accessible routes between parking, dwelling units, and common areas. Individual dwellings must incorporate universal design features to be adaptable for residents with mobility and functional limitations that often result from aging. 

So what if you’re in your teens or twenties with mobility issues? Or you’re over fifty-five but you’d like to lead an active life outside your immediate residential community? 

Then what?

I would love to hear your input on this. How well are we doing in Howard County at creating and maintaining spaces with a mindset of universal accessibility rather than “normal” vs “handicapped or “disabled”? I honestly don’t know and would love to learn more.


Village Green/Town² Comments



*Universal Design is the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability. - - Centre for Excellence in Universal Design 

Sunday, April 7, 2024

A New Chapter: Queen Takes Book


 

If you’ve been driving down Oakland Mills Road between Dobbin and Snowden and wondering about this sign…



Wonder no more. Turn off the road, park your car, and walk right in. Queen Takes Book, Columbia’s new indie bookstore, is officially open for business. 




I had a chance to take a sneak peak last week during the bookstore’s ‘soft open’ event on Tuesday. First off, I loved the colors, and the artwork, and all the little things which come together to make a cozy yet uncluttered environment. 






Do the light fixtures look like crowns to you? For a place called Queen Takes Book, that’s a nice touch.




There’s a deliciously soft rug in the children’s corner of the store, and a few places to sit that give the Goldilocks ‘just right’ vibe.




This chair seems like a place I’d sit while trying to narrow down my book choices. There’s a lot to choose from!



Of course I could just buy them all and take them home in a stylish QTB tote bag. I love this photo because it proves that I’m not the only person who uses sticky notes as on-the-spot reminders. (This was a soft open, after all.) 





But what about the books, you ask? Well…










Not just walls and walls of nondescript offerings, but a varied collection that is studded here and there with personal recommendations.



It’s this sort of thing that sets an independent bookstore apart from those of the chain variety. They know their books. They love books, period. And they love Book People. This is a place where you’ll feel comfortable asking for help finding that book about the pigeon your kid keeps talking about, or where you’ll go when you just need something to read that will lift your spirits. Or make you laugh. At the top of their website these words give you a glimpse of the owners philosophy:

We believe everyone should experience the power of seeing themselves reflected in the pages of a book.

I had a lovely chat with owners Katie McNally and Tim Pinel but of course I was having too much fun to remember to ask for a photo. I’ve snagged this one, taken that same day, from their Instagram account. 




I did splurge on a book. It’s an art book I’ve been seeing everywhere on Pinterest lately. Just the thing for these rainy spring days when leaving the house feels, well, risky




Queen Takes Book is located in Snowden Center at 6955 Oakland Mills Road Suite E, Columbia MD 21045. 


Image from Google Maps


Right now their hours are as follows:

Monday

10:00 am – 6:00 pm

Tue - Thu

10:00 am – 7:00 pm

Fri - Sat

10:00 am – 6:00 pm

​Sunday

10:00 am – 3:00 pm


Ooh! That means you can stop by today and be able to say you were there during their opening weekend! (If you’re the sort of person who enjoys having bragging rights, that is.)

You can find Queen Takes Book on Facebook, Instagram, and learn more about their business at their website.