Thursday, February 29, 2024

Score! For Those Meddling Kids

Good news for student representation in the Howard County Public Schools! 

Appeals court upholds Howard County’s method of selecting student school board member, Jess Nocera, Baltimore Banner

Before I get into the meat of this, let me first say that the photographer for the Banner, Ulysses Muñoz, has taken one of the most appealing photos of Central Office that I have ever seen. It makes the building look genuinely appealing. 

Exterior of Howard County Department of Education, 2/27/2024. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Now, let’s get serious.

From the article:

Howard County students will still have a say in the pupil who represents the district’s entire student body on the board of education, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled Wednesday.

The court turned away a challenge to allowing public school students, but not those who attend private schools, to vote on their representative on the school board, saying the process does not violate the Constitution’s equal protection clause, nor the First Amendment’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion.

The legal question decided by the appeals court goes back to a dispute during the days of the pandemic lockdown. Certain angry parents decided that what was wrong with a vote to continue with distance learning was that one student, Zach Koung, had a say in the outcome. Since the vote did not go the way these folks had wanted, they focused their ire on the student member of the board, or SMOB, as they are known colloquially. 

Here is some background information - - although clearly it is commentary - - from two pieces I wrote in 2022 and 2020, respectively.

Once Upon a Time in Howard County, Village Green/Town², 8/25/2022

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

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

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

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

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

I want to stress that all of these lawsuits stem from one vote that made some people angry, and one particular SMOB that rubbed them the wrong way. This did not arise as the result of thoughtful community members who had given time and study to the Howard County SMOB process in order to see both the big picture and the inner workings. 

They were mad. They didn’t get their way. And they would’ve gotten their way if it weren’t for that meddling kid.

Of course I am not a lawyer, but, it seems to me that this is not solid ground on which to base a lawsuit.

If you have followed this issue you will note that those bringing the lawsuits have come up with any number of reasons why a student should not be elected by fellow students to serve on the school board, and why that student, so elected, should not have a vote. It is almost a case of throwing everything at the wall to see what would stick. (I mean, really: freedom of religion?)

None of the legal talking points show any understanding of the core reasoning for having a student member of the board in the first place.

1. Students have first-hand knowledge of the school system in a way that no one else has.

2. The SMOB process is not just an exercise in Student Voice, but also a hands-on learning experience in participating in the Democratic process on which our entire nation is based. 

A voting student member of the board benefits the board by representing perspectives that might otherwise be unheard. The election process benefits students across the school system by giving them a voice in choosing a representative whose votes on the board will have tangible, real-world consequences. 

These are both good things, and worthy, in my opinion, of community support. The lawsuits in opposition point out another valuable lesson in democracy: it’s important to keep an eye on the people who want to take away your vote. I hope that our HCPSS students are learning how important their votes are, both now and in the future. 

Village Green/Town² Comments 

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Columbia: The Happy Place

Here it comes. Another one of those Village Green/Town² weird juxtapositions. Perhaps that’s the whole point of the blog anyway: where Columbia and Howard County intersect. Isn’t that a weird juxtaposition to begin with?

On the one hand: WalletHub has yet again named Columbia as one of the happiest cities in America. It comes in at number nine. If you’re a glass half full kind of person, you’ll see this as being in the top ten, hurray! If you’re a glass half empty type you’ll certainly note that we have scored higher in previous years. It’s up to you. Take your pick. 

I read this piece from 92 Q radio and honestly my favorite part were the little reaction emojis.

Let’s get a close up of that. 

Maybe WalletHub should’ve just sent one of these to everyone in Columbia, eh? 

To be fair, they do describe their methodology for assessing communities for happiness but they don’t ever explain how Columbia gets assessed in the category of Large Cities. We’re not even incorporated, for heaven’s sake. 

As I pondered how overall happiness is kind of a mixed bag, this piece by local writer Elizabeth Brunetti caught my eye:

Note to Self : Maybe it Doesn’t Have to Be So Hard, Elizabeth Brunetti

Would you ever tell a diabetic that if they just get up at 5AM every day and journal for 20 minutes, their pancreas is sure to start producing insulin?

Would you ever tell someone with a broken leg that all they need is a better bedtime routine and 15 minutes of meditation a day for their leg to heal?

I think you know where I’m going with this.

Brunetti takes a clear-eyed and candid look at mental health challenges and how we often make it harder when we could be taking better care of ourselves. There’s clearly a stigma in our culture surrounding mental health issues and far too many folks are willing to pass judgement on using medication as a part of treatment. The end result can be that we internalize that judgement and deny ourselves useful options for getting better. 

Happiness is a mixed bag. Nobody expects to be happy every day but at the very least we’d like to live in a realm where it might be possible. Perhaps for some that’s a zip code. For others it’s the support they need to stay afloat and have the capacity to experience joy.

So, how are you feeling today?

Village Green/Town² Comments

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

What’s the Buzz?

I’d like to thank all the folks who read yesterday’s blog and especially those who turned out to protest the M4L meeting at the library last night. The Baltimore Banner has a write up here

Also in the Banner, an article about the ongoing search for a new CA President in which they correctly identify the exterior of the CA headquarters. Alert the media! (Wait, never mind.) Here’s the article:

After tumult, Columbia Association ‘on track’ to hire new CEO, Jess Nocera, Baltimore Banner

Here’s the photo:

The Columbia Association moved to this building in 2015.  The Baltimore Sun continues to post photos of the old location. Yikes.

That reminds me. I haven’t written my annual exhortation to run for your Villge Board or as your Village Rep for the CA Board. Something about last years’s CA Board “tumult” (did they mean turmoil?)  has taken away much of my enthusiasm for Columbia citizen engagement. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t care. I am just admitting temporary exhaustion on this topic. 

I was happy to learn how Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center benefited from this year’s Giving Machine at the Mall. From their Facebook page:

During the holiday season, Grassroots was fortunate to have been selected as one of the nonprofits that was featured in the Giving Machine MidAtlantic. Visitors were able to select items to donate to us from this unique vending machine, similar to how they would buy a candy bar. Recently, we were happy to find out that over $6,500 worth of items were donated to Grassroots. This includes:

14 donations of household cleaners

79 donations of personal hygiene items

34 donations of underwear

68 donations of groceries

77 donations of household medications

We are so thankful to the Giving Machine team and the generous residents of Howard County and beyond for supporting Grassroots and those who come to us for support!

Lastly, a piece of Howard Community College news in the form of a video on Instagram caught my eye yesterday.

Cooking host contest

The gentleman making the pitch is Professor Tim Banks. If his name rings a bell that’s probably because I’ve written about him before. Mr. Banks is an Assistant Professor in the Hospitality/Culinary department and the Chair of the Center for Hospitality and Culinary Studies at HCC. What’s the pitch? Watch the video to find out, but here’s the gist of it:

Gordon Ramsay or Carla Hall: are you the next celebrity chef? Calling all student foodies with dynamic personalities to be part of #HowardCC's new cooking web series for #DragonCountry!

  • Record a three-minute cooking demonstration video.
  • Send the video link to by Friday, March 1.
  • The winning entry will have an opportunity to host our series.

Now that everyone seems to think they’re a gourmet chef on TikTok, the idea of a college culinary department jumping on the bandwagon feels inspired to me. Plus, you know they won’t recommend anything hazardous or sketchy. I look forward to checking out their end product. 

Before I leave you, I had a thought last night in light of the school budget crisis. Just for fun, one year they should let the teachers draw up the school system budget. They seem to have tried everything else. What a novel idea - - letting the people closest to the students set the priorities. In the meantime, if you’d like to see the Board of Education adjust their budget request to the County in order to fully fund school programs, you should take a look at this. Sending some letters wouldn’t hurt, either.

Village Green/Town² Comments

Monday, February 26, 2024

An Open Book Test


Libraries are for everyone. Most of the time when I say those words they give me a very good feeling. Today? Not so much. 

Tonight at 6:30 pm there will be a Moms For Liberty meeting at the Central Branch Library. Their guest speaker is a self-proclaimed expert in book banning based on their success in Carroll County. Additionally, this meeting serves as a kick-off event to challenge books in HCPSS libraries.

Libraries are for everyone. That means that, if they offer spaces for local community groups to meet, they must be committed to be even-handed about it. The startling juxtaposition of a library having any association whatsoever with censorship and book banning is pretty painful to me. It just feels wrong. 

But, libraries do more than talk the talk. I guess this is walking the walk. I have to hope that there are some limits on the library’s open door policy. If there were a diy make your own gun club for the purpose of, say, shooting people whose political views are different than one’s own, I would hope that they couldn’t meet at the library. 

I feel very strongly that M4L is causing harm wherever they crop up. They are attempting to negate the work of skilled and educated library professionals. They are also casting aspersions on their intent. Imagine what that means to school librarians. They are being told that their experience and years of training are worth nothing and that they are doing the work they do to harm young people.

Of course both of these things are false. They are also demoralizing.

When I wrote about the death of Nex Benedict on Friday and asked, “How did we get here?” I received a blunt reply from a reader. Here is a part of it:

You ask, "How on earth did we get here?"

The answer is that good people are just standing by and letting it happen, letting oppressive laws be passed, letting an atmosphere persist where telling lies about trans people is normalized to the point that most people believe them.

M4L goes after library materials that support LGBTQ+ students and families but they also have been known to go after materials that tell the truth about American History. In places where they have had success perhaps too many good people have stood by and just let it happen. 

Don’t let it happen here. 

Libraries are for everyone. They host meeting space for everyone. That means that peaceful protest is equally welcome. What kind of message would plainly tell M4L that their mission to suppress knowledge and learning is not welcome here?

Do you support students being able to find the materials they need in their school libraries? I do.

Libraries are for everyone.

Village Green/Town² Comments

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Until the Lion Tells the Story

The other evening I found myself drawn in to a documentary film on public television entitled “Finding Fellowship.” It’s the story of a community in Maryland that doesn’t exist anymore, called Quince Orchard. From the film’s website:


How can a community that evolved for more than 100 years only carry on in the memories of a few surviving members? This story is personal to us because we are descendants of this place – our family has lived here since the Civil War. But it’s relevant to you too, wherever you live. There are countless Quince Orchards all across the country. Communities that no longer exist on the map, not because of economic stagnation, but because of progress.

As I watched the film I was reminded of the efforts of our own local historians of Ellicott City Black History. There’s something deeply poignant about the desire to unearth and protect the stories of people who have been traditionally forgotten or even mischaracterised by the (largely white) writers of history books. One only has to watch the reactions on the Finding Your Roots television series to see how profound an effect each revelation of their past has on Black participants.

They are the reactions of people whose history has been supressed.

Often there’s a sense that Black History month dwells largely on bigger-than-life heroes. Every year the same culturally approved scholars, inventors, small business owners, and inspirational politicians are trotted out in BHM curriculum materials. It is well meaning, I guess. But there’s a sort of breathless amazement about it - - Gosh, did you know Black people could be inventors? Be brave? Be really, really smart? It almost seems to be an exercise in silently asserting that most Black folks aren’t anything like that, so let’s all be surprised. 

Every dang year.

The older I get, the more I see Black History Month as a reminder that we haven’t and still don’t value Black lives enough that a Black History Month isn’t necessary. Think of how long the former students of the Harriet Tubman School had to fight to preserve their school and the stories it contains about segregation and systemic racism here in Howard County. Think of how hard Marlena Jareaux/Howard County Lynching Truth and Reconciliation have had to push uphill to be heard and gain even a small modicum of acceptance for their historical work.

“Until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter.” - - Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart, in 1958. 

The real story of Black History Month to me is the longstanding erasure of American human beings simply because they were Black. That is why the film Finding Fellowship truly moved me. It is history told by people who respect their subjects and care about getting it right. It’s not about superheroes or major court cases or military victories. It’s about a small, once segregated Maryland town and three churches.

If you get a chance to see Finding Fellowship, I hope you will take the time. It’s not splashy. It draws you in gently, like stories told on a front porch or a quiet sermon that leads you to insights you hadn’t yet been able to see. 

Village Green/Town² Comments

Saturday, February 24, 2024

The Hubub at the Hive

My husband has become a devoted Os fan, during the years he has lived in the States, but his heart belongs to the sports of his youth - - cricket, “the footy”, and darts. What’s “the footy”, you ask? Well, he’d call it football. You’d probably call it soccer. I have gotten used to his devotion and honestly I’d much rather have Manchester United playing on my television than American football.

I was unaware until very recently that my husband wasn’t the only local fan of Premier League Football. 

The above is a post on TwitterX from the Baltimore Toffees, a club who support the Everton football club. They’ve found a new home to watch those exciting contests from overseas, and it’s in Ellicott City. The time difference means that some of those games can start as early as 7:30 am. Here’s the place, HoCoBrewHive:

The loyal Everton supporters will be gathering there this morning for a watch party. (I wonder if they’ll be serving a true fry-up .)  I’m sorry, is that a bird staring at me in this image? Is the Everton team the Everton Eagles? 

It just so happens that the owner of HoCo Brew Hive is also an Everton fan, or a “toffee*”, as they call themselves. I’m not sure if that would be Joshua Butts or Scott Sciandra as both names are attached to this property. (In case you are unfamiliar, Brew Hive is located in what used to be TBonz Bar and Grill. They opened in 2019, I think.)

You won’t find my husband there, however. As a devoted fan of Manchester United, or ManU as the game listings call it, he’ll be following their games from home. I wonder if there’s a Maryland ManU club?

If you’re interested in watching Premier League games in the US, this article will get you started. 

Do you have a weekend sport you like to follow?

* Everton's nickname is the Toffees, or sometimes the Toffeemen. This comes from one of two toffee shops that were located in Everton village at the time the club was founded. Both Ye Anciente Everton Toffee House and Old Mother Nobletts Toffee Shop claim to have started off the nickname. - - Wikipedia 

Friday, February 23, 2024

F ³: State Governments and School Boards

You may have seen the Sunday Doonesbury strip that was withheld from all Gamnett newspapers last week. 

Doonesbury by Gary Trudeau/Universal Press Syndicate/Andrews McMeel Syndication

The strip takes an irreverent look at the perils of teaching the truth about history in the state of Florida. . No matter that the cartoonist, Garry Trudeau, the first comic strip artist to ever win* a Pulitzer, is considered the finest editorial cartoonist of his generation. Gannett decided that this topic was too risky to poke fun at in any of the newspapers it operates.

You can’t teach the truth in Florida and you can’t tell the truth about it in a Gannett newspaper.

In Oklahoma a sixteen year old nonbinary high school student was beaten in a bathroom and died the next day. Anti-trans policies passed at the state level have made life more difficult for LGBTQ+ students and hateful sentiment stirred up by online trolls such as Libs of TikTok have caused strife and discord in schools and the surrounding communities.

You can’t be safe as an LGBTQ+ student in Oklahoma and you can’t be a teacher who supports those students, either. 

How on earth did we get here?

In both cases state legislatures and local school boards have been weaponized by the ignorant and intolerant. Teaching the truth about history and fostering the development of higher order critical thinking skills so that students can weigh evidence and make up their own minds is labeled as “indoctrination” or “CRT”. Of course it is neither. The role of education is to open up worlds, to give students the tools to make their worlds bigger. 

In the same way, making school safe and accepting for LGBTQ+ students, teachers, and families is not “grooming” or an attack on “Christian values.” At the risk of repeating myself: it is neither. The role of education is to open up worlds, to give students the tools to make their worlds bigger. 

What is happening in these state governments and school boards makes students’ worlds smaller, their lives and learning circumscribed and limited. The end result of these laws and rules to exert control has been harassment and abuse of those the rule-makers perceive to be different or threatening. 

In every election we are seeing more and more of this condemning and controlling language, even in Maryland,which is often described as “reliably Blue.” That is why it is so important to treat those down-ballot races as life or death decisions. Those are the places where tremendous harm can percolate and overflow into our communities. 

Those who would impose one ideology to the exclusion of all else are damaging the essence of what our Democracy needs to survive and to flourish. We must educate ourselves about State and School Board candidates or we shall surely find ourselves in the grips of these folks and their attacks on education. They are highly motivated and they plan ahead. 

Perhaps you feel secure and think this couldn’t happen here. We can’t be complacent. Learn everything you can about local candidates and vote with the intent to keep Democracy alive.

Village Green/Town² Comments

* In 1975, Trudeau became the first comic strip artist to win a Pulitzer, traditionally awarded to editorial-page cartoonists. He was also a Pulitzer finalist in 1990, 2004, and 2005. Other awards include the National Cartoonist Society Newspaper Comic Strip Award in 1994, and the Reuben Award in 1995. In 1993, Trudeau was made a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.- - Wikipedia 

Thursday, February 22, 2024

The Big Events


Good news - - the library’s Evening in the Stacks library fundraiser has sold out! This year’s event, “A Flower-full Evening,”  will support HCLS’ early childhood initiatives. As a fan of all things early childhoood, I’m happy to see the library’s commitment to these kinds of programs.

Bad news - - if you don’t have a ticket, you will need to find something else to do this weekend. Hmm.

May I suggest More than Hope, a performance event celebrating diversity and the journeys of immigrants. 

The event begins at 5 pm on Sunday, 2/25, at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center. Tickets are 15 dollars and all proceeds go to support the programs at Luminus. If the name Luminus doesn’t ring a bell, that’s probably because you know of them by their old name, FIRN (Foreign-Born Information and Referral Network.) The name change, the result of rebranding initiative, hasn’t changed their ongoing mission. 

For more than 40 years, Luminus has empowered New Americans by offering legal, social, and language services to help them achieve their goals. We also seek systematic changes that will better the lives of all immigrants. Based in Columbia, Maryland, we envision a community that welcomes immigrant neighbors, values their cultures, understands and addresses their needs, celebrates their achievements, and elevates their voices. Our dream is a bright future for all New Americans. - - Luminus website

Even if you aren’t able to attend on Sunday evening, you can still make a donation to support their valuable programming. 

Also this weekend - - the second annual Black History Fest at the Harriet Tubman Center:

This Saturday, 2/24, beginning at two pm, this year’s celebration of Black History Month is free and open to the public but you need to register for your ticket through Eventbrite. There will be speakers, vendor tables, food, and entertainment. One of this year’s featured entrepreneurs may be familiar to you. Former HCPSS SMOB Abisola Ayoola will be there representing her own business: Fashion by Abosola. 

Every time I see something happening at the Harriet Tubman Center I think about the dedication and persistence of the former students of the Harriet Tubman School who were unceasing in their commitment to this project. Our community benefits from their perseverance.

Do you have any big plans for the weekend? Are you one of the lucky ticket holders for Evening in the Stacks? Let me know.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Comes in a Plain Brown Wrapper

There’s a story in my family about an elderly lady who was downsizing from an apartment to a room in a retirement  home. Friends helping her pack were amazed by her many years of accumulated possessions. The most memorable (after the enormous collection of ruby glass) was a large envelope, rather fat. It was neatly labeled: 

Padded Bag of Padded Bags.

People who lived through the Great Depression were prone to save things that might come in handy later. Waste not, want not. My mother was well known in our family for saving Really Good Boxes to store her tax records in. At Christmas time she’d carefully remove the contents and use them as gift boxes. This is why one was suddenly bemused by a gift labeled Tax Records, 1971. This was followed by my mother anxiously exclaiming, “you can’t keep that box. I need it back.”

Padded bags. A Really Good Box. Whether our lives have been influenced by folks who lived through the Great Depression or by deep commitment to the environmental movement, we sometimes don’t want to part with certain things because: we might need them some day, someone else might need them, or we want them to be properly recycled. Why, just yesterday I rescued a potentially fabulous gift box and some bubble wrap in perfectly good condition. You’re impressed, I know.

This is why I smiled when I saw this Tweet a few weeks ago:

Volunteers from a retirement community in Columbia are helping the planet and saving a local food bank money.

Here’s the whole story.

Making a difference one brown bag at a time, Ashley McDowell, WMAR 2 News

Essentially, residents at Vantage Point saw brown paper bags from various deliveries piling up and decided to do something about it. 

Volunteers from a retirement community in Columbia are helping the planet and saving a local food bank money. They're called the ‘Bag Ladies and Gentlemen,’ where every Thursday volunteers from Residences at Vantage Point are making a difference one brown paper bag at a time. "To make sure that all these bags that come from the dining room with our meals and so on that are in them. That they actually end up being reused not recycled by the Howard County Food Bank,” said Jean Larson who lives at Residences at Vantage.

In a culture where we often feel inundated with the proliferation of single use materials, it can feel downright rewarding to make a dent in it, somehow. Local group Upcycled, Inc. has been partnering with local schools to collect single use plastics that they turn into benches for playgrounds. A member of my Buy Nothing group put out a call when their child’s school was participating in an Upcycled project. I can’t adequately describe the satisfaction I felt in offloading a pile of the plastic Amazon mailers* that I can’t recycle in the Blue Bin. 

FYI, Upcycled also makes raised garden beds and gorgeous coasters.

Coasters made from plastic bottle caps, image from Upcycled, Inc.

So let’s raise a toast to the Bag Ladies and Gentlemen of Vantage Point for their diligent efforts. And, if the following Tweet resonates with you, please know that you are not alone.

@kellywellread I needed a certain sized little box for a project and wouldn't you know I had the perfect size box! which is why I save all the boxes, because you never KNOW when you'll need one, right?

Village Green/Town² Comments

*Today’s equivalent of padded bags.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Normal? Who Decides What’s Normal?


An issue that comes up every so often is the fact that some Board of Education members participate in meetings online and some in person. It is understandable that some folks, especially teachers, have a bone to pick with this as it was the Board that was insistent on returning teachers to face-to-face teaching in the classroom before the majority were able to be fully vaccinated against COVID. It is easy from that standpoint to see Board members’ actions as saying, “in person for thee but not for me.”

But let’s zoom out to look at the practice of online/hybrid meetings as a whole. The pandemic was certainly the cause of their proliferation. But, several years on, I can see many good reasons for offering the option in a variety of settings. Why? Because it removes obstacles to participation. 

Streaming public meetings and religious services (with replay available) opens a door to engagement not simply to the immunocompromised, but also addresses other challenges. For example, community members may not be able to attend in person because:

  • they are caregivers of young children, the elderly, or disabled
  • they themselves are elderly or disabled 
  • they don’t have adequate transportation 
  • employment commitments make getting to the meetings difficult or impossible 
And there are probably more that I am not thinking of at the moment.

Allowing the option of remote interaction has been a boon in health care and mental health treatment as well. I’m not suggesting that it works for everything but it absolutely has shown its worth over the last several years. 

Yesterday, while participating in an online church service, I heard the words, “As we move away from the pandemic…” and it made me wonder if there is now a push to “move away” from accommodations that were instituted because of COVID without evaluating whether they may have enduring value. As so often is the case, “the return to normal” isn’t normal for everybody. The people who were being excluded from community life pre-COVID were often simply invisible to “normal” folks. 

I have spent quite some time bemoaning the fact that the CA Board often makes decisions without hearing from the whole of the community because certain chunks of it are never “in the room.” That concept is broader than the Columbia Association or the Board of Education. Online participation allows more (and different) people to be in the room and that is a good thing. 

When I hear people say they want to go back to normal what I hear is that they are just fine without having those people in the room. 

We may have “discovered” Zoom meetings and streamed events because of COVID and boy, many of us are probably sick of them. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t something there to be learned beyond the avoidance of sickness. Removing obstacles to participation is good for everyone. 

I’m not so keen on going back to normal if it means going back to forgetting about the people who don’t fit in.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

The Places You’ll Go


Why yes, I did Google today’s date. 

According to Google, the top hit is a dog show at the Fairgrounds. 

Maryland Kennel Club Dog Show

Please join us on February 17-18, 2024 for our annual All-Breed AKC Dog Show at the Howard County Fairgrounds in West Friendship, Maryland.

I was curious about this listing:

Howard County Events Calendar

View the complete listing of annual events in Howard County and search monthly events including: workshops, performances, seminars and more.

I had to scroll down a bit to get past some top-posted events, but then - - TA DA! - - the mother lode of things happening today in Howard County. A few are slightly over the county line, but close enough.

I had not imagined that there would be so many things to do on a Sunday afternoon in February. There’s a Breakfast Buffet at the Mount Airy Volunteer Fire Department, a Coffee and Cars event in Old Ellicott City, and even a Silent Reading Party at The Last Word bookstore in Savage Mill. The Crazy Mason on Main Street in EC is offering Mermaid Hair with your milkshake. (Yes, I’m serious.) The Common Kitchen is hosting a Plant Swap and Shop.

I had no idea that the Howard County events calendar was so comprehensive. I’m impressed. Take a look for yourself. You can also submit an event to add to their ongoing listing of events. 

The calendar is part of the Visit Howard County Website. There’s a lot more there, and it’s not just for out-of-towners. Of course there’s also a digital visitor’s guide, in case you are planning for out of town guests or are welcoming folks who are new to the area. 

So, if you ever feel like there’s nothing to do in Columbia/HoCo, take a look at the Howard County Events Calendar. Who knows? You just might look good with Mermaid Hair.

Got any exciting plans for today?

Village Green/Town² Comments 

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Amplifying Local Fear

Boy, do people love to talk about crime. They’re so excited about it that every day, when the police department posts a link to the daily crime report, someone then copies and pastes the entire report into the comments section to make sure no one misses it. 

Crime is especially useful if you want to complain about something:

Things aren’t what they were when I was growing up.

This is all the county executive’s fault

Those (insert racist dog whistle here) really bring the neighborhood down.

I’m glad I moved to _____________.

Ever since ___________, it’s all been downhill.

Nobody likes crime and I think we would all agree that we’d like less of it in Columbia/HoCo. But I’m beginning to be creeped out by people who seem to get sincere enjoyment out of sensationalizing local crime. There’s a distinct difference between documenting and reporting crime as opposed to rolling around in it the way that dogs love to roll in decaying flesh and other foul smelling stuff. 

Bonus: the existence of crime is used as a weapon against anything these people don’t like.

Hate a local politician? Crime is their fault. Don’t like what the kids are learning in school? Clearly it’s causing crime. Scared of non-white people in your neighborhood? They’re attracting crime or making it happen. Don’t like local initiatives? They must be depleting the crime-fighting budget. 

We say that crime doesn't pay but it sure does get clicks. As example, Scott Ewart of Carroll County Observer on TwitterX has suddenly started posting on Howard County crime. Despite moving away from Howard County and closing down his HoCoLocal blog (to live in Carroll County) Mr. Ewart cannot resist copying and pasting crime information from hocomd.

Why? I suspect it’s for the clicks. You can get people really riled up over crime in a way that they just don’t over other kinds of local news. It’s a quick and easy way to get engagement. 

But I think it skews public perception of what’s really happening locally. All this copying and pasting and clicking and sharing creates a big dusty cloud of “crime crime crime crime crime” while  other important local issues are obscured. If we say, “There must be a lot of crime; that’s all I hear about” we aren’t actually responding to the accurate of amount of crime. 

We are really responding to the way that people around us are amplifying crime stories to the degree that it uses up all the oxygen we could be using on other important local issues. 

Honestly, if these folks didn’t have actually crime stories to get hyped up about, they’d be generating crime fear stories on NextDoor. They can’t live without it: the Bogey Man par excellence.

Village Green/Town² Comments

Friday, February 16, 2024

F ³: Come to your Senses!


I just learned that people can ACTUALLY HEAR SONGS IN THEIR HEAD. I burst into song randomly so that I can hear the song I am thinking of. You folks can actually HEAR music in your head? I thought that was just a figure of speech! What is worse… I am a musician and I had no idea this was real. #MindBlown - - Amy Collins on TwitterX

Can you? Hear music in your head?

I remember learning that some people can’t see people and things “in their mind’s eye” and I was shocked. I thought everyone could. When I read the tweet above it got me thinking all over again. What about hearing “in your mind’s ear?” For the record, I can. It’s not something I learned how to do consciously, I just can. I suspect it’s a kind of sensory memory. You can only draw on it if you have actually experienced it.

Hmm…sensory memory. What about taste? Think of your favorite food. Can you taste it in your mind’s…tongue? Mouth? The flavor, the texture, whether it is warm or cold, sweet or salty or spicy….I can, but I have learned that not everyone can. This can be inconvenient, believe it or not. I remember my mother teaching me the tongue-twister, “chewed, stewed chicken skin”, and it evoked a sensory memory that stuck with me for some hours. I’m not a huge fan of chicken skin.

Well, we might as well do all the senses. What about your sense of smell? Can you experience fragrances in your “mind’s nose”? That sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? And yet I can easily recall the scent of our linen closet when I was growing up, where my mother had stored Yardley’s lavender soap in amongst the sheets and towels. Cookies baking, damp earth in the springtime, skunk, school cafeteria, the sweet smell of the top of a baby’s head, the scent of freshly printed mimeographed worksheets - - they’re all stored somewhere in my brain. 

Lastly: touch. Without actually touching something, can you feel various surfaces in your mind’s…fingers? Velvet, tree bark, a school desk top, play dough, yarn, water, a slice of bread, bubbles in the bath. Can you experience them via sensory memory? Or do you think about them without having that kind of recall?

I don’t know why some people can do that and some cannot. And I don’t know if it is of any use to be able  to do it. Maybe it just takes up unnecessary brain space. But I do find it fascinating. I remember seeing a documentary that looked at various kinds of brain injuries and one experiment showed how some people lose the ability to recognize something by touch alone. 

For example, if you had a blindfold on and someone handed you a key, there’s a place in your brain that enables you to feel it and assess what it is. If that area is damaged that knowledge or ability is no longer accessible.

I find this mindboggling.

I’d love to know what your experiences are with this. Is it a useful skill? An unnecessary party trick? 

One thing I know without any doubt is that multi-sensory learning experiences are more likely to “stick” and be remembered than non-sensory ones. This is why I still remember making butter and nut bread in first grade but remember nothing of all those lists of dates and battles in history class. 

There’s an expression: to come to one’s senses. It is largely accepted as being synonymous with using one’s better judgment. But what if coming to your senses is just that: connecting with them instead of suppressing them?

I wonder.

Village Green/Town² Comments

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Parades and Candidates


Celebratory parades are such an all- American experience, don’t you think? Here’s the story of one from 2022.

Bad Timing, Village Green/Town² 2022

On the Fourth of July parade-goers in Highland Park, Illinois were mowed down by gunfire from a lone gunman with far too much firepower. 

Highland Park shooting: 6* dead at parade, suspect in custody, By Jake Sheridan, Katherine Rosenberg-Douglas, Gregory Pratt, Rosemary Sobol, Jeremy Gorner, Megan Crepeau, Annie Sweeney, Kinsey Crowley, Angie Leventis Lourgos and Gavin Good, Baltimore Sun

On the fifth of July Maryland Governor Larry Hogan directed the state police make it easier to carry a concealed weapon.

Maryland Gov. Hogan calls on state police to suspend ‘good and substantial reason’ standard for carrying a concealed gun, Hannah Gaskill, Baltimore Sun

Mr. Hogan’s timing is appallingly bad.

Perhaps he and his team had it all teed up - - ready to go right after the holiday weekend - - and didn’t give it much thought. Yesterday, in the midst of story after heartrending story about the Highland Park massacre, Hogan’s announcement hit social media like a prescheduled commercial tweet that has no consciousness of its ignorant arrival on the scene. 

As pitiful as as an advert to buy more hot dogs in the middle of a food poisoning crisis or revelations of mass starvation, Hogan’s decree showed up with absolutely no acknowledgement of its ramifications to Marylanders reeling from continued gun violence throughout the country. 

This is no time to make it easier to get guns or carry guns. Any kind of guns. And don’t tell me we need more “good guys with guns” because actual evidence does not bear that out. 

Hogan’s act is meant to signal to other Republicans throughout the nation that he is a Real Republican and should be taken seriously for Big Things like higher office. Like wild animals who mark their territory, Hogan is lifting his leg on the safety of the people of Maryland while hoping that the national Republican Party will pick up his scent.

Perhaps he doesn’t realize that his handing of state affairs for the last eight years has left more than enough evidence for people to recognize him for who he is.

Hogan doesn’t have much time left to use the Governor’s Mansion as a springboard to bigger things. I don’t know how successful he will be. I do know that the action he took yesterday is bad for the people of Maryland and that he doesn’t appear to care.

What a perfectly apt way to describe Hogan’s tenure as Governor.

*Now: 7.


Yesterday’s big story is also about a parade. 

Closer to home: former Governor Larry Hogan is now a candidate to represent Maryland in the U.S. Senate. We can’t do anything about what happened yesterday, but we can choose to vote for candidates will do better on gun issues than Hogan. When it comes to guns, tolerating “same-old, same-old” is merely perpetuating the unending parade of slaughter.

It’s time to put an end to that parade.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

A Valentine for Zoe

As a former teacher of special needs preschoolers, I noticed this article right away:

The Dish: Why a mother built a bakery to help her autistic daughter, Matti Gelman, Baltimore Banner

This piece is about parent Jennifer Goldszmidt, co-owner of Zoe's Just Dezzerts in Federal Hill. But it’s really about Zoe. 

Jennifer unveiled Zoe’s Just Dezzerts at 828 S. Charles St. in November. The Federal Hill storefront, named in honor of the Z’s in Zoe’s name and her penchant for sweet treats, provided the now-22-year-old with gainful employment. The business has since hired six other neurodivergent workers and has become an “autism-friendly” haven for the community.

In particular, this line made me smile:

Singing is rampant. On occasion, Zoe will burst into an a capella rendition of “For the First Time in Forever” from Disney’s “Frozen.” Co-worker Kamani Bautista, who is also autistic, previously joined her for a duet, in some cases with music he has written.

I smiled because I used to teach music and movement to preschoolers in the HCPSS RECC program, and Zoe was one of my students. I remember how musical she was. I wasn’t surprised when I saw the news several years back that she was presenting a concert via Zoom.

The story of a bakery called Zoe’s Just Dezzerts gives us a glimpse into the world of parents with special needs children who are becoming adults. Programs to support these young people disappear. Yet many of these young adults will always need some level of support and/or daily care. 

That does not mean they don’t have gifts, skills, aspirations, and potential. It does mean that they need support and guidance. Zoe is fortunate to have parents with the financial means to create and hopefully sustain a workplace which is specifically built for neurodivergent workers. Most parents don’t have those kinds of resources. 

When I was growing up, people like Zoe were largely hidden. Today that is changing. Every time I see instances where neurodivergence is accepted and welcomed I feel such a sense of joy. I truly believe this makes our world a better place. 

Zoe's Just Dezzerts is located at 828 South Charles St, Baltimore, MD 21230. They are open Wednesday- Sunday from 11 am to 8 pm.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Lucky Day

Yesterday got a bit worse before it got better. My return trip to Touché Touchet yielded the information that they are closed on Mondays. Blah. I still want a gingerbread heart. I’ll try again today, weather permitting. I’m serious about all things gingerbread.

While running errands closer to home I noticed that new indie bookstore Queen Takes Book has a sign up.

Yes, it’s a temporary sign, more like a banner, but it’s a great way to remind the public that a new business is coming to that space. The door was open and they were clearly working on preparing the interior. If you subscribe to their newsletter you’ve seen the current view.

Question: what do you call a bookstore without any books? We're not sure either, but we DO know that Queen Takes Book is going through major transformations this week! Demo is finished. New flooring and fresh paint are coming over the next couple of days. Fixtures have started to arrive.

You can subscribe to their newsletter by visiting the website. Queen Takes Book.

While I’m at it, I’m not sure I’ve ever noted the new paint job on the overall building that houses the bookstore, Mother Nature’s, etc. It certainly looks updated or “refreshed” as they say on HGTV. The base color is a sort of light and creamy gray, with accents of primary colors here and there. A pop of color, if you want to sound like a decorator. I like it. I grabbed some online images to highlight the difference.

Wait. Was that sculpture always there? Was it always that shade of blue? Hmm.

Something else that caught my eye while I was out and about was this many-windowed food truck. But it isn’t a food truck. It turned out to be something quite different.

It’s a hair cut truck. A barber truck? Here’s a closeup.

I found more information once I got back home. Here’s an article from Howard University News.

“Shape-Up King” Introduces Mobile Barbershop to Nation’s Capital, Howard University News

When people walk past the black cargo truck with the huge storefront window and “SHAPE-UP KING” printed on the front and sides, they stop and stare. They even take pictures.

What has their attention is the man inside, Emmanuel “E-Man” Azoro, also known as the “Shape-Up King” — the charismatic, part-salesman, full-time barber and the man behind what is apparently the first mobile barbershop in the nation’s capital.

Azoro looks to be both a showman and a creator/entrepreneur who has now brought his mobile business to Columbia. I find the whole concept pretty fascinating. You can check out the Shape-Up King on Facebook. A quick Google search shows that this man has been busy! I wonder if he has patented his truck concept. 

The moment I was sure my Monday luck as beginning to change was when I got the call from the Common Kitchen’s Leigha Steele that I had won a prize in the Souper Bowl Weekend Soup event. I’ll be enjoying a meal of delicious steamed momo from the Momo Hub very soon. Ms. Steele said the weekend was quite the success and they intend to make it an annual event. That is good news. 

Maybe you’ll get some good news today. Here’s hoping!

Village Green/Town² Comments

Monday, February 12, 2024

The Mondayest


This is shaping up to be the Mondayest of Mondays over here today. (Not a great night in the sleep department.) Here are a few things that are in my local file waiting to be written about:

1. Howard County’s new flag process 

2. HoCo Health Department offering in-person Doula training in March 

3. The Children’s Gift Foundation 

4. What is Maryland's Mesonet system?

5. The Horizon Foundation announces changes

What’s on your list?

If I overcome my Monday malaise I may go back to Touché Touchet for a gingerbread heart. I stopped by on Saturday, post-soup, but they were slammed and I didn’t see any gingerbread in the bakery cases. Hope springs eternal.

Village Green/Town² Comments

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Beautiful Soup

BEAUTIFUL Soup, so rich and green,

Waiting in a hot tureen!

Who for such dainties would not stoop?

Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!

Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!

Beau- ootiful Soo-oop!

Beau- ootiful Soo-oop!

Soo- oop of the e- e- evening,

Beautiful, beautiful Soup!

Beautiful Soup! Who cares for fish,

Game, or any other dish?

Who would not give all else for two

Pennyworth only of Beautiful Soup?

Pennyworth only of beautiful Soup?

Beau- ootiful Soo-oop!

Beau- ootiful Soo-oop!

Soo- oop of the e- e- evening,

Beautiful, beauti- FUL SOUP!

- - Lewis Carroll

Well, it’s lucky for us it isn’t just “soup of the evening” at the Common Kitchen in Clarksville, but, all day as well. This weekend they are celebrating Souper Bowl Weekend and it is going on until 8 pm tonight. I went yesterday around lunchtime.

First of all, I want to clarify something in case this reminds you of another longstanding HoCoLocal event.  This is not “Souper Sundae”, a charitable initiative to raise funds for Grassroots which has been held in recent years at Wilde Lake High School. This is a celebration of soup for soup’s sake, with a little extra fun thrown in.

When you arrive you’ll be prompted to pick up a soup menu which explains exactly what the soups are and where they are located. (It also gives you one free raffle ticket just for walking in the door.) For my first soup I picked the Potato Leek from GuiGui’s Kreyol Flavors. As I was not ordering the vegan option, they finished it with a touch of cream. It was soothing and heavenly.

It also came with another raffle ticket. You put your name and phone number on the back. 

Next I went over to the Taco Joint to order some of the Birria Ramen I keep seeing people rave about on social media. 

Wow, is this stuff good! They made sure to ask me whether I wanted the onions and cilantro on top. I did. They also offered hot sauce, which I declined because I wanted to experience it in its original form first. I will be back for more of this. It could easily become an obsession.

Oh yes, another raffle ticket, too.

I grabbed a large iced coffee from Trifecto and asked them what to do with the raffle tickets. They directed me to a table to the right of their counter.

So, I dropped mine in and I’m hoping for the best. Here’s a closer look at what I might win. 

I need to stop and comment about the customer service at the Common Kitchen yesterday. It was over-the -top good. Like: fine dining good. While I’ve never had truly bad service there, yesterday was exceptional. It was a great day at the Common Kitchen. All kinds of people were there enjoying the food and drinks, picking up takeaway food, or hanging out, catching up with family and friends. If the folks who created the Common Kitchen had popped in yesterday, I think they would have been proud. 

Another interesting side effect of having an event like this: I went to vendors I had never been to before and left feeling that I had “established contact” with them, if you will. Next time I go there I’ll be more likely to order from them. I know who they are now. 

Funny how that works. It turns out that soup can be a great way to meet people.

Let me know if you go/have already gone and what soups you tried. Don’t think you’ll bore me. I always have time for soup.