Monday, July 28, 2014

Summer School

This year marks Margo's seventh year at Slayton House Camp of the Arts. It is truly the high point of her year. She thrives in a total immersion environment of music, drama, art, and dance. Of all the worlds she must function in, this is the most meaningful.

It is in the summer that I see the highest level academic thinking from her. That is where she does her best GT work. By this I mean she wants to stretch herself. She strives to improve from one day to the next. When embedded in the world of musical theatre Margo wants to be better than just passing. She gives it the extra effort: practicing lines at home, researching the musicals online, sitting down at the piano to go over music and even figuring out her own keyboard parts.

She talks with us about what she is learning. She gets ideas. Creative ideas. She writes about them on the ipad. She gets ideas for other musicals, ideas for short stories based on musicals. The other evening she was excited about what you would need to do to adapt the musical "Bye Bye Birdie" to the present day. It led to a fascinating discussion about changes in our culture and in the popular music scene.

This does not happen during the school year. Margo's entire experience in the public schools has been overshadowed by high-stakes testing. Teachers don't get to foster a love of reading or writing. They must produce students who can successfully read the photocopied packets and fill in the proper circles. The best moments of her schooling have come when she has been pulled out of the 'regular' class for small group instrumental learning or for the Curriculum Extension Units with GT Teachers.

Project based learning. Hands-on learning. Multi-sensory learning. This is the most meaningful way for my child to learn, and for most of us, I think. Finding topics that truly interest students and allowing some choice in how to explore the subject matter is what fosters the creation of a self-directed learner. That should be our goal--self-motivation, learning how to learn, and the joy inherent in true, deep learning.

As long as we continue to allow ourselves to be defined by standardized test scores and keep purchasing curriculum programs from the same people who create the tests, we fail our children. I am disgusted by the term "content-delivery" in reference to teaching. Teaching is not some automated system by which we line up all the pigs at the trough to receive their slops at the flip of a switch.

This problem is not unique to Howard County. It is happening all over the country as we have allowed people who don't have any professional training, experience, or understanding of teaching to step in and dictate what schools must do. Now, I can't change the entire nation but I can work for change within my own county. So can you.

The best learning my daughter does all year is at summer camp. We're grateful she has that experience, but I can't help but feel sad that she can't have it the rest of the year.




Saturday, July 26, 2014

Quiz Show

With apologies to Peter Sagal and NPR, this is:

"Spit it Out!!"

the VG/TS Columbia/Howard County current events quiz.

Questions are taken from the week's hyperlocal happenings. Winners of today's quiz will receive a selfie with Dylan Goldberg, locally grown zucchini from AnnieRie, and Dave Bittner's voice on their home answering machine.*

1. This week, Howard County locals were encouraged to show their hocolove by supporting what local event:

a) The opening of restaurant Mission Barbecue

b) Monday evening's County Council Meeting

c) Howard County Restaurant Week

2. At the groundbreaking event for CA's new Haven on the Lake wellness spa, guest were given swag bags which included the following:

a) Salt

b) Autographed pictures of Milton Matthews

c) Brochures on self-hypnosis

3. Local Blogger Marshmallow Man responded to conflict on the County Council by expressing a wish to see Council Members enact what classic Saturday morning cartoon show:

a) Wacky Racers

b) The Archies

c) Banana Splits

4. County Executive Ken Ulman made news when he changed his mind about:

a) term limits. He's staying.

b) rules for vendors of snacks and drinks at county functions

c) Coke. The ones with the names are cute.

5. Bloggers in Howard County did something unexpected by:

a) switching from cocktails to olive oil

b) holding hands and singing in front of the People Tree when Friday night's dance session was canceled

c) agreeing

6. Republican candidate for County Executive Allan Kittleman raised eyebrows when he revealed:

a) his new patriotic-themed Speedo swimsuit

b) a plan to raise funds with all-you can eat buffet events

c) tv ads aimed at Independent and Democratic voters

7. What local event combined Boy Scouts, cookies, politicians, and a sound-proof room?

a) filming for new healthy-eating PSA from HoCo Unsweetened

b) opening of renovated Savage Library

c) local podcast, "Are you Smarter than a Boy Scout?" sponsored by Girl Scout cookies

This week's fill-in-the-blank limerick:

"We're tired of such rude selfish barging

when lots up to date are enlarging

Your stupid "Mine, mine!"

Will get you a fine

Don't park in a space meant for ___________________!"

I hope you enjoyed playing along at home. Stay tuned for future episodes of "Spit It Out!" On the VG/TS network.


*completely false. Just made that bit up.






Friday, July 25, 2014

Three Simple Rules

Several years ago, when I was supposed to be at Beer Club at The Second Chance Saloon, I was actually in the emergency room at Howard County General. Several friends, whom I had encouraged to attend Beer Club, were puzzled at my absence. When my daughter arrived at the Second Chance she explained what was going on: chest pains, just precautionary, no indication of anything major. (And it wasn't.)

"But how can that be? I didn't see anything on Facebook!" someone said.

Alice joked, "I know, right? She's famous on the internet."

It has become a family joke. You know, "You have to take my word on this because I'm famous on the internet..."

It is true that I probably spend too much time on social media. You wouldn't know it, but I do have other hobbies. But something about how social media functions has appealed to me as a shy person who hangs back from picking up the telephone. It very well may have laid the groundwork for me to spend more time with people in real life.

We all know there's plenty of junk on the internet. And as appealing as social media can be, it's also filled with minefields: trolls, toxic attitudes, outright falsehoods dressed in appealing visual form. Possibilities for connecting are also possibilities for misunderstanding and argument. And I have had those experiences and made those mistakes.

But social media didn't create that kind of behavior. I have also had those experiences and made those mistakes in my high school cafeteria, church youth group, the faculty lounge, and on my Village Board. Humans: we're a flawed, fallible lot. So, with that in mind...

Here are my three simple rules for social media:

  • Listen up
  • Link up
  • Lift up

Listen up--Truly listen in your exchanges with others. Your responses should show you were paying attention. Human beings crave the validation of being heard. Social media doesn't change that. Perhaps it only amplifies it.

Link up--Make connections. This is easily one of the biggest benefits of social media. You have the power to make the match between the friend who is parting with a sofa and the group that is seeking furniture to help clients get back on their feet. It could be a recommendation for a great electrician, the possibility of employment, or meals for a new mother. Social media expands your reach to do good. Use it.

Lift up--My favorite people online are the ones who take the time to lift up others. It's rarer than I'd like. Many people are online to say their thing, or to sell their thing. It is truly beautiful to see the outstretched hand of friendship, a pat or the back, and offer of help, a word of comfort. This is not a one-size-fits-all cheeriness. It is a way of being that affirms the value of others.

Have you learned something good from your experiences on social media? What advice would you give?





Thursday, July 24, 2014

Two Tales, One City

Today's post is dedicated to Dennis Lane, who should have been there.



We arrived shortly before ten am on a hot and humid Wednesday morning. Real Columbia summer. As we approached the steps we were stopped by a friendly woman who welcomed us.

"Are you here for the groundbreaking?" she asked. We said we were. She introduced herself and we chatted as she showed us to the starting point for the morning's festivities. Eva (I think that was her name) and a number of other women, dressed in white with shirts bearing the Haven on the Lake logo, were stationed at the ready to greet new arrivals.

This next area was beautifully set up with a variety of little tents where one could sign in, get a name tag and a program, and pick up a refreshing drink provided by Whole Foods: your choice of lemonade, unsweetened iced green tea, or water. A display of gift bags bearing the Downtown Partnership logo had been prepared as parting gifts. The building (still sometimes referred to as the "iconic Rouse building") cast just enough shade for attendees to stand around comfortably during this meet-and-greet portion of the event.

When it was time we were invited to move to an area behind the building, overlooking the lake, where the groundbreaking would take place. Chairs had been set up under another tent. We sat at the back and watched as local notables filed in. It was quite warm but we felt happy to be in the shade, and seated, for that matter.

The speakers were upbeat, focused, and brief. The remarks touched on people, partnerships, and progress. The program moved forward without lagging and soon the golden shovels were put to the ground, cameras were focused, and dirt was flying.

All in all, it was a lovely event. It had been carefully planned and beautifully executed. We picked up our reusable shopping bags (filled with information about Haven on the Lake and other goodies) and went on our way. The conversation on the way home was about the exciting transformation of the Lakefront, and the possibilities that a place like Haven on the Lake will provide.


It doesn't seem that long ago that the Howard Hughes Corporation was throwing a little masquerade ball to entice Whole Foods to come to Columbia. Yesterday's event, with helpful ladies all in white setting the tone, was more like a summer garden party celebrating that success. Pretty tents, chilled beverages, gift bags and all, it showed in a thousand tiny little ways how the redevelopment of Columbia is moving forward.

The success of such events rests in the details. No matter how well planned there are always a few glitches here and there that either make the planners wince or shrug--and this was no exception. Of course, those are the moments that make for a little rush of adrenaline, or laughter. The possibility of the unexpected...

One such highlight was when the new President and CEO of the Columbia Association, Milton Matthews, tried to get away with saying "Lake Kit." The friendly crowd would have none of it, and so he gave it the old college try and got through the whole "Kittamaqundi", to laughter and applause.

Also memorable was the moment when County Executive Ken Ulman realized that no one was going to introduce him, so he just jumped out of his chair and came on down. He kidded about the lack of introduction but then got right to it and did his best to remember all the exciting things happening as a part of the Downtown Plan for Columbia. (There are a lot of them.)

And he did a great job, too, except for mentioning Suzanne Waller as the CA Board member from Town Center. Ms. Waller was defeated by Jeanne Ketley in the last election, and she was in attendance to hear the oversight. Oops.

Community as live theater. It's the best. That's when the most human qualities are revealed, as in the off-the-cuff suggestion from Mr. Ulman that Haven on the Lake should be opened, not with a ribbon-cutting, but with a jump in the cold plunge pool. It was definitely the heat speaking, probably not a carefully scripted laugh line.

As we left my daughter, a Baltimore City girl at heart, looked at me with a twinkle in her eye.

"Do you think he'll do it?"

I knew in a heartbeat what she meant. And I'm more excited than ever to be there when it happens.




Wednesday, July 23, 2014

An Empty Book

Yesterday I saw this.

I don't know if the translation is true, but if it is, it really speaks to me. My book is really empty right now.




Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Murray Stands In

Murray Burns: [shouting at rows of houses] Campers! The entertainment committee was quite disappointed in the really poor turnout at this morning's community sing. I mean, where's all that old Camp Chickawattamee spirit? I'm sure I speak for all of us here when I say that I...


Murray Burns: Now, I'd like to say right now that... that...


Murray Burns: Campers, I can't think of anything to say.

(from the conclusion of "A Thousand Clowns".)


Rough day yesterday. I feel like an extinguished candle under a drinking glass: I can see the outside world but my oxygen has been cut off.

Have a great day--I'll be back tomorrow.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Facing the Past

My bedroom closet is filled with boxes of things I haven't looked at in years. Sure, I 've tried to go in there from time to time and set things to rights but it doesn't take much to derail my good intentions. This summer I am headed once more unto the breach, as it were.

My early adult years were marked by turmoil: a failed marriage, single parenting, jobs that didn't quite pay enough, mounting debt. Each time I moved I'd try to pare down but there'd always be a box or two of things that I threw together and then just couldn't face once I got settled.

So far I have been through three boxes. I've had to go out and get a mask and gloves because of allergies to dust. I'm stocked up with allergy meds and my inhaler. I've filled almost two lawn & leaf sized garbage bags. I've brought out the foam gardening cushion because I just can't work on the floor on my knees like I used to.

The health indications are clear: get rid of the stuff while you are young and it doesn't make you sick just to sift through it!

On the other hand, it has been far easier to toss things that once would have upset me: old leases, divorce documents, financial paperwork. The years have given me an emotional distance. I'm grateful for that, at least. It is easy to spot the few treasures sparkling amongst the trash: a few family recipes, childhood drawings by my now-married daughter, an excellent evaluation of my teaching.

In with a sheaf of old school papers was a group faculty photo from the school where I worked for 18 years. I didn't remember it at all. What stunned me was that I looked at myself and could find absolutely no fault with my appearance. Actually, I look beautiful. Of course at the time I thought nothing of the sort. Like many women I've never been happy with the person in the mirror. And I've probably used that as an excuse for perpetuating a negative inner monologue through the years.

All this time I thought that looking in the boxes and facing the past was about pain. Ugly truths. I never thought I'd run into something beautiful. Someone beautiful. Maybe, instead of putting that picture away again, for safekeeping, I should leave it out where I can see it.