One-Night (Produce) Stand?

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Dear Sara,

A stranger asked me out, in the produce section of real life, and I
more or less ran away from him. My friend then made fun of me, but I
didn’t know what to do. I just feel more safe and comfortable meeting
new people online. Weird? Probably. I feel bad about it. He was kinda
cute too. I felt like I had to make a decision right then.

Dear In-Headlights,

One of the oft-overlooked little beauties of the internet is that in a
sense, it is a slow-life movement even as it speeds so much else up.
Yes, new social acronyms are born there every day and Urban Dictionary
dutifully keeps track. But it has also given us something back that
we’d culturally lost. It is a place of pen pals and waiting several
days to hear back from a thoughtfully composed email. The comfort
level you’re describing comes from the power of being able to think
about and compose a response on your own terms. Yes, few people
utilize this power when engaged in a heated political argument on
Facebook, but nevertheless, it is an option, and speaking as one who likes
to write, I prefer it to the feeling of being put on the spot that
happens often enough in real life.

What you really wanted was to experience your grocery store moment slowed-down, long enough to have a chance to think about how to respond. The internet is The Neutral Zone and you’re the captain of your personal spaceship. Not so in the real world, where apparently a cute guy who had the balls to talk to a strange girl in the first place, makes you feel like you’d have to marry him or something if you gave him your email address. Decide in advance what information you feel safest giving bold strangers and stick to it. For some, it’s a phone number. For others, it’s the email address they use for coupons but not the one tied to
their Facebook account. And remember that the internet feels safer in part because it’s full of so much fiction (where anonymous authors feel safer inventing new MLK quotes than they do owning up to their own words, for instance). Any safe “feeling” is very rarely grounded in anything real. I mean watching Robert Redford in Out of Africa makes me feel VERY safe. Real safety has nothing to do with a feeling or a fantasy. It comes from good choices and proper safety nets in place. You know, stuff like a really long password containing numbers and special characters. Now that you’ve had this experience, you’ll know what to do next time. In the meantime, this is why Craigslist has a Missed Connections section.

Co-Ed Sleepovers for Teens: Yea or Nay?

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Last night I asked a friend with a daughter who is a junior in high school if she would talk to me about the co-ed sleepover phenomenon for the fishbowl. Here’s what I got in response:

So, prom is Saturday and my daughter has tried on her dress about 45 times–not sure the zipper is going to last!  “Plans” (we should really sit down and talk about what this word means) are still evolving for the post-post-prom, although we have said “no way in hell” to the co-ed sleepover.  I mean, really?  So, maybe “Zoe” is going to have a sleepover, but just girls.  (Again, really?  How dumb do I look?)  So hard to know the right thing to do here!  Many of those on the brave frontier who have gone before us have allowed their kids to attend/crash/hang at the post-post-prom co-ed sleepover.  Are we shriveled up dinosaurs who have forgotten how to have fun?  Or are we a few of the handful left who are willing to be unpopular with our kids??  We have actually sent an email, tonight, to the Maryland Department of Transportation to find out if a provisional license holder (such as most high school juniors and many seniors) can use the exception of “official school event” to get out of the driving curfew to come home after the post-post-prom party by him or herself at 4 in the morning… 

“Don’t you trust me?”  These words sting coming from my daughter’s sincere face.  “Of course we trust you.”  What else can we say?  We do.  And yet, there is something about the co-ed sleepover that just does not sit right.  When she pushes for an explanation, the best I can answer, in all sincerity, is that I think it is “inappropriate.”  Do I know that teenagers can have sex whenever they want, if they want?  Yes, I know that.  Do I know that teenagers can drink and get drunk whenever they want, if they want?  Yes, I know that.  Do I think these are the choices she is making?  No, I do not.  So what is different about the hours of 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. this Saturday night?  I don’t know.  But my instinct is that, at least for us, the answer is still no.  The best I can tell her is that parenting is just a chain of thousands of tiny decisions, all made with her best interest at heart, and this one is no exception. 

My husband says the co-ed sleepover is a playground for the devil, and that teenage boys and girls having a sleepover is an abdication of a basic parenting responsibility–to keep them safe, and protected.  If you are not going to say no to that what are you going to say no to?  Ignoring the obvious hyperbole, these comments and questions all resonate until I hear that my dear friend, so and so, whom I really like and respect, is HOSTING the co-ed sleepover!!  What??  Who is right and who is wrong?  Or like so many other things on this wild, fantastical journey, is there room for both of us to do it our own way, and be right?  That’s the space that feels comfortable for us, so that is where we land.  I don’t know what works for other families, but this year, this prom, my daughter will be coming home.

The Real Social Network

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We all do a lot of virtual social networking these days, but imagine a realm in which actual networking between the young and old could help elderly residents remain in their homes years longer, and younger residents snag seasoned babysitters, airport rides from linked-in neighbors, and engaging new friends with life lessons to burn.

New hope-powered nonprofit Village at Home, part of the Village movement spreading across the U.S. (56 unique Villages are in operation and 120 more are under development) makes it possible for local seniors, even those with some health limitations, to remain in their homes as long as possible.  Baltimore-based geriatric social worker Susan Newhouse, who advises families on practical issues of aging, is a major proponent of the nonprofit, because, she says, “It takes an organized Village to bring us together in our modern world.  Older adults want to remain in their homes and to be engaged and useful in their communities. Younger adults are raising families in a hectic world and need support. Children benefit from connecting with all ages. When we help each other, everyone benefits.” 

Services from the network of Village “Neighbor to Neighbor” volunteers are always free once you are a member; discounted services are offered by vetted Village vendors—neighborhood residents of all ages are welcome to sign up as members.

The nonprofit encourages a system of regular exchange, whereby, for example, younger people can  connect with those caring, older babysitters, while the same older sitters may receive rides, perhaps errand-running, courtesy of their younger neighbors. Younger people can also take advantage of volunteer services. Vendor service options include tech support, landscape service, bill paying, meal delivery, information wrangling, housecleaning, and more.

“The Village seeks to build a kinder, gentler world. The sense of a Village emerges which nurtures us all. And the feeling good from helping someone else lasts longer than other pleasures,” Susan says.

For more information about Village At Home memberships or volunteer opportunities, please contact us at 410-235-3171 or [email protected]

The Village is currently  under development, gathering start-up funds and memberships. Introductory memberships are $399 for individual membership and $749 per household membership, with a $100 discount if you join now. Village At Home will be available in the following local neighborhoods:

Blythewood, Bellona-Gittings, Cedarcroft, Cross Keys, Evergreen, Guilford, Homeland, Keswick, Lake-Evesham, Lake Roland, Mt. Washington, North Roland Park, Oakenshawe, The Orchards, Poplar Hill, Riderwood, Roland Park, Ruxton, Sabina-Mattfelt, Tuscany-Canterbury, and Wyndhurst

I’m Karaoke, You’re Karaoke

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Ever wish weekend life were more like a thrilling movie? If Saturday night’s become Netflix-and-carryout, stay-in predictable, step inside an alternate realm known to those who have conquered it as…the Bloody Bucket. Oh, stop squirming. Bloody Bucket is just the tag local Hampdenites have awarded a harmless, but also nameless, burned out little dive on Union (formerly called The Clipper Mill Inn) where drinks are cheap and karaoke singers pack freaky mega-talent like no barroom in the history of screen-scrolling lyrics.

Each Saturday night, from 9:30 to close, the bar vibrates with a crew of old-school neighborhood regulars, most quite friendly, many of them in their 50s and 60s, who belt classic tunes by Al Green (Tony does Al so subtly, he will choke you up), Frank Sinatra (the dude who sings Frank looks and sounds like Ol’ Blue Eyes, and he’s been known to pass out pot brownies from the trunk of his car, an added bonus), and the Beatles. Much of the blue-collar crowd equals older Hamdpen residents, yes, which is the beauty of this pure experience, but the occasional young hipster does pass through, usually possessing a burning desire to sing Guns N’ Roses, unfortunately. Visit the spectacular sing-along before an army of cool kids stakes their claim, scribbling their names plus obnoxious pop hit selections on the sign-in sheet. Oh, if you happen to walk in while the inbred looking fellow is banging his head to “Wild Thing,” just sit tight, flip through the list of tunes, and pick out something interesting, a way to make a karaoke contribution distinctly your own—by singing your heart out to a great, time-honored song that really speaks to you, you’ll fit right in.

1619 Union Ave.

In-State Tuition Costs Out-of-State

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I heard about a cool program from a co-worker this morning.  Her child is a senior, attending public high school in Howard County, and recently accepted an offer from University of South Carolina for the fall through a program I’ve never heard of before: Academic Common Market. If you live in one of the participating 16 states (Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia), and your home state doesn’t offer the degree program you are interested in, you can attend one of the other states’ colleges for in-state tuition price.  That can mean huge savings, as with my colleague, who will now pay $17,000 per year instead of $34,000 per year for her daughter to attend South Carolina.  It’s great for Maryland, also, as the programs offered elsewhere do not have to be duplicated here.  Click on the link above for more information.

Hopkins Hit-and-Runs: Walk Safe, Baltimore

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Parents of prospective Hopkins students often fret about Baltimore’s reputation as a crime-plagued city — hence the school’s ubiquitous flashing blue light phones and omnipresent security officers. But with four Hopkins students seriously injured in pedestrian-car accidents over the past year and a half, it’s starting to seem like the most dangerous thing a Hopkins student can do is to try and cross the street.

This weekend, two Hopkins students were injured by a hit-and-run driver at the corner of St. Paul and 33rd streets. Both freshman Rachel Cohen and sophomore Benjamin Zucker are expected to survive the accident, which took place at 2:15 AM on Saturday night; Zucker is in critical condition. In 2009, a Hopkins student died after a hit-and-run accident at the same intersection.

In February of this year, Hopkins sophomore Nathan Krasnopoler was biking down West University Parkway when he was hit by an 83 year-old driver, who has since been changed with negligent driving and failure to yield right-of-way to a cyclist in a designated bike lane. Krasnopoler is in a coma and is not expected to recover.

In October 2009, junior Miriam Frankl died after a hit-and-run collision in St. Paul Street’s service drive, at the intersection of 33rd Street. In February of this year, Thomas Meighan, who was drunk at the time of the accident, pled guilty to multiple felony charges and was sentenced to 13 years in prison.

With its grassy expanses and smiling security staff, the Hopkins campus — and its Charles Village environs — can sometimes feel like a protected enclave. These accidents are a harsh reminder that that’s far from true. Remember to drive safe, walk safe, and bike safe, Baltimore.

Making the Grade

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Emily got a “C” on a Spanish quiz this week. Irrationally, my thoughts immediately turned to her future. Not whether she would ever master the language, or even whether she would enjoy travel to Spanish-speaking destinations as much as if she were fluent. My first thought was how it would affect her college admissions. Emily is a junior. Understand that she has not received a “C” for the semester, or the year. She has not even gotten a “C” on a unit test. It was just a quiz. We are all wound so tightly about where our kids are going to college, and I am no exception. I immediately went there.

I feel like I owe Emily an apology. Not because I said what I was thinking (something along the lines of “You’re never going to Williams with a C in Spanish!”  or “There go your dreams!”), although she might have read some iteration of that message on my screwed-up face.  I owe her an apology because I thought those stupid thoughts, and for a moment was swept away by the mass hysteria that plagues our demographic—this narrow slice of society whose kids are smart, affluent, and afforded every opportunity. Why do we do this to them?

Our kids are intelligent, healthy, and talented. We are so lucky to have them, and to live in a time and place where we can offer them their dreams. How do we balance our hopes for their future against the real risk of making them feel like there is no such thing as good enough?  I saw the answer in my friend’s toddler the other day. She was fighting to get the peanut butter jar back from her mother, exasperated, saying “I’ll DO it, Mommy!” Well said.

Robert E. Lee Park: Moving To the County From the City

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For  residents and neighbors in the Ruxton/Riderwood area,  reopening of the Robert E. Lee Park, 454 acres of beautiful wooded land with Lake Roland as it’s heart, is a long-awaited event. The park has been officially closed since fall of 2009, to allow work on the main bridge that crosses the dam. But behind the scenes, a lot of people have been working hard to restore Robert E. Lee Park (one of the largest parks in Baltimore County) to its former glory and rightful place among the most beautiful open spaces in the area.

Interestingly, the most significant aspect of the park reopening will take place only on paper.  In 2009, Baltimore County took over management of the park from Baltimore City in a  no-cost  50 year lease,  automatically renewable for another 50 years.  Similar successful arrangements already exist, including a lease between Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County for Fort Smallwood Park, and between Baltimore City and Baltimore County for Cromwell Bridge Park. 

Beahta Davis is the area coordinator of nature and recreation resources for the Baltimore County Recreation and Parks Department.  She explained the county’s reasons for the takeover of the Robert E. Lee Park and the much needed improvements. “We saw it as a hidden gem that was underutilized” she said in an interview with the Baltimore Daily Record last fall. Our “mission is to revitalize what exists and to add to it in terms of recreational activities”.

A bit of history

While the Robert E. Lee Park is located entirely within Baltimore County, it was until recently owned and operated by the City of Baltimore.  Originally constructed in 1861 by damming  the Jones Falls, the park served as a water source  not only for city residents, but for Baltimore, Harford and Anne Arundel county residents for 53 years, until it was determined that the water quantity was insufficient. Since 1914, the park has been used as a recreational facility managed by Baltimore City. By the 1990’s City budgets were simply too stretched to pay for proper oversight and maintenance, and in recent years, the property was allowed to deteriorate to the point where people were found actually living in the park. In addition, soil samples revealed dangerously toxic levels  of e-coli bacteria due to dog feces. 

New funding

As a result of the takeover by Baltimore County,  $6.1 million in state and county funding was obtained for improvements  determined to be necessary for the safety and preservation of the park. These improvements include rebuilding of the bridge, improving parking and Light Rail access to the park, restoration of walking and biking trails, and shoring up the banks of the reservoir, which had severely eroded. In addition, a one-acre, enclosed, off-leash dog walking facility is planned. Security will be provided by Baltimore County police.  While the $6.1 million will cover the cost of all of the initial improvements, is hoped that  voluntary contributions by residents and neighbors, as well as monthly event programming, will help to offset costs of park maintenance and stewardship.

In October of 2010, members of the already existing Riderwood/Ruxton/ Lake Roland Area Improvement Association and other volunteers formed the Robert E. Lee Park Nature Center (RELPNC), and began monthly meetings  under the leadership of Peter Maloney, President. A Community Plan for the park was officially adopted by the Baltimore County Council,  reinforcing the commitment on both sides to working closely together to run the park. Volunteers at the Nature Council will work closely with the Baltimore County Recreation and Parks on improving and maintaining key areas of the park, and will begin a membership drive in Fall 2011 through Spring 2012.

Jeff  Budnitz, Treasurer of the Nature Council, and an early supporter of the Robert E. Lee Park revitalization efforts, credits the hard work of many individuals for the success of the park take over, including Baltimore County councilman (now County Executive) Kevin Kamentetz, for his  “tremendous advocacy of the park, including the establishment of new RC7 zoning” to prevent the selling of park land for development. “The county put together the budget” says Budnitz, “and everything that was committed to is being done. A long term Master Plan is being developed, to be accomplished in multiple phases. We are completing phase I now, and there will have to be public input going forward”.  

What’s on the table? Very likely, a multiple-use facility with easy access from the Baltimore Light Rail, that will include boating, biking, trail-walking, educational programming, a child’s play area and dog walking. Robert E. Lee is a “passive” park, which typically means no lighted athletic fields, no swimming pool, and no tennis courts, among other things. While the definition of “passive park” often includes no dog walking, there are plans to include an enclosed off-leash dog walking area at Robert E. Lee, possibly open only to members, for a nominal annual fee. Eventually, playing fields may be added. Overall, the park improvements promise a big leap forward in quality of life in the Baltimore area.

Local reactions? Surprisingly positive 

We questioned local residents and park neighbors about the changes, and got a uniformly enthusiastic response – even on the  potentially touchy issue of voluntary private funding to supplement the  initial Baltimore County investment. 

 “If you care about your community, you need to be willing to get behind it” says Chris Feiss. “I can see bald eagles flying over the lake from my backyard, and that’s got to be worth something to me”. Cheryl Finney, another park neighbor, agrees.  Although the park has generally been a good neighbor, Finney cites occasional problems in past years of trash and off-leashed dogs making the northwestern peninsula occasionally unpleasant. “I am a believer in private involvement and ownership of issues relating to community” Finney states. Asked how much she would be willing to contribute, she says “I’m not sure, but I’m willing to listen.  I’d love to see the public use the park more, and it definitely deserves stewardship”.

The specific financial goals of the Nature Council are still being determined. Jeff Budnitz points out,  “You have to have a pretty solid plan before you ask for the money. We are almost there”. According to Beahta Davis, “the Nature Council is in the driver’s seat with this,” referring to both the fundraising and planning for park programming and maintenance . The hope, everyone agrees, is to eventually be largely self-sufficient.

The  official reopening of Robert E. Lee Park is tentatively scheduled for September, 2011. Stay tuned for further updates and opening day activities.

 

Radcliffe Jewelers is Our Launch Sponsor

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Thanks to Radcliffe Jewelers for being the launch sponsor of Baltimore Fishbowl.  We couldn’t make the site work without advertisers. (I can practically hear all the old media types groaning.) We are grateful to Radcliffe for being willing to be part of the adventure. We’ll be trying out some new ideas with Radcliffe, like videos and sponsored posts, so stay tuned.  

Baltimore Onstage in Black and White

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“Baltimore in Black and White,” now playing at the cell theatre in New York, was inspired by playwright Jason Odell Williams’ experience of being a kid in Columbia, MD, having an extremely diverse group of friends and growing up making [good-natured] fun of one another. When he got to high school at McDonough, he says “everything was segregated – people were sitting at different tables. It was weird.”

The play was developed from a scene Jason wrote while working at the Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York. At EST, he was given two actresses to work with for a night of vignettes, a white actress and a black actress. The scene he wrote takes place at a bus stop – while the women wait for the bus the black woman reads heady prose and the white woman raps to her headphones. The scene was performed at EST to a great response from the audience. After Jason completed his first play, “At a Loss,” his wife and frequent collaborator, Charlotte Cohn, a Broadway actress who has appeared in several productions at Center Stage, suggested for his next full-length he revisit the bus stop sketch. While a version of this scene remains in “Baltimore Black and White,” those characters are supporting the larger story in which we watch an interracial couple, a black man and a Jewish woman, move through life together from the playground, to an awkward reunion at an ATM and ultimately to their wedding night. When I asked Jason what he looked for in a good night of theatre he said, “I just want to be entertained – whatever that may be, I want to be excited.” When I asked him about his own plays, his response was that he wrote “what he would want to see.” Jason says, “I want people to laugh for a long time and then maybe be a bit moved and then think.” After seeing “Baltimore in Black and White,” I assumed race would be a major issue in Jason’s other work, but he told me that while all of his plays are comedies they are all very different in theme and tone. A question for you: Given Jason’s long-standing ties to our city, and the fact that he’s writing about this place, shouldn’t his play next come to Baltimore? –Fia Alvarez

“Baltimore in Black and White” plays thru May 21st at the cell theatre in New York.
Baltimore native Fia Alvarez studies playwriting in the graduate program at Juilliard.