Sunday, January 25, 2015

Tasting Menu

A sampling of delicious bloggery from the past week.

From Kirsten Litkowski Coombs, how one bumper sticker makes you think about a lot of things:

Bumper Sticker Politics, Kirstycat's Meow! (and sometimes Growl!)

From Tom Coale, a look at how important it is to allow our heroes to be truly human:

Our MLK, HoCoRising

From Krista Threefoot, a tender and bemused look at what motherhood does to your brain, which reminded me of those months when I became besotted with Magnum, P.I.:

Mom Brain, And Another Thing, Hon

From Eric Freed, probably the best articulation I have ever read of why music education is a crucial part of our children's development and an excellent investment for a healthy, happy life:

Give the Band a Hand, Away from the Things of Man

In closing, I want to note the success of The Pick Me Up Foundation, created to celebrate the memory of Howard County student Aaron Reed.

Instrument Drive Raffle Winner, The Pick Me Up Foundation

Missed the donation? No worries. If you still have an instrument that you want to donate, The Howard County Parents for School Music ECHO Project is holding a pick-up day on January 31st from 9-4 at Mount Hebron High School, during the MS & HS Solo & Ensemble Festival. If you can't make it to the donation day, you can contact HCPSM for a pick up time at your home. (Berni Giroux, Instruments are donated to schools where there is the most student need.


Today is the anniversary of the horrific shooting at The Mall. For this, I have no words.



Saturday, January 24, 2015

Rise and Shine

I just got back from serving breakfast to a group of middle schoolers at a youth group overnight. Apparently they call them lock-ins these days. The last one I went to, the youth pastor was playing his old Cat Stevens records to wake us up.

Well, anyway.

Serving breakfast to a group of teens really means laying out everything on a table and backing away. You sit across the room. You try to have your own conversation with other adults and refrain from observing your child too closely. Gone are the days where one must be at the ready to help put straws in the juice boxes. No adults will be needed to help two children negotiate a plan for the last chocolate donut. There will be no tears, no massive spills, no one sneaking food off your plate.

It's a different world.

Do you remember needing to step into a side room at the preschool where you could observe your child's interactions without being detected? There'd be a mirrored window so you could actually see what they did without you, because once they caught a glimpse of you there'd be no room for perspective whatsoever. They'd be in your lap in a second, or tugging at your arm, or hiding behind you, suddenly shy and silent.

Once you have a teen that mirrored window is just somehow magically there. All the time. You drop them off, they don't say goodbye to you. You arrive to pick them up, they don't really acknowledge your presence. You sit across the room as they eat breakfast with their peers and you might as well be in another room, behind a wall of mirrored glass.

I was thinking about all of this as I came back from dropping off my daughter last night. On the radio came this story, "After The Slaughter, A Pakistani School Seeks to Heal." They interviewed some of the teachers at the school in Peshawar where where 132 students and 12 of the school staff were slaughtered a month ago by members of the Pakistani Taliban. Many of the students who died were teenagers, like the kids I had just left behind at the youth group overnight. Middle schoolers.

A middle school teacher spoke about what life at the school is like in the aftermath of the attacks.

"We are now more loving," she replies. "We're showing more love to the students. Even those [kids] who used to make us angry in the past. We just go and hug them, and love them and just say, 'Thank God, you're OK!' "

Her words rang in my head long after the broadcast. Our world in Columbia Maryland is so different than theirs in Pakistan and yet everywhere there are middle schoolers who are pushing boundaries, getting on our nerves, in short, being teenagers. Many things may be different, but that is universal.

Also universal are the adults who care for, teach, guide, and love them. In Peshawar. In Columbia. How often do we, in our protected world, remember what a blessing it is that "they are okay"?

In the school where a month ago there was bloodshed, there are repainted walls, taller fences, and banners--

...many banners bearing the words, in capital letters: "I SHALL RISE, AND I SHALL SHINE."

So at the crack of dawn on a Saturday morning I am setting out the donuts and bagels and yogurt and juice. All is quiet and dark. We pull aside the slats of the window shades to let in the morning light.

Rise and shine.





Friday, January 23, 2015

HoCo Holler: Lunch Counter Life

One of the biggest things I have learned from being involved in the local blogging scene in general, and from Jessie Newburn in particular, is the value of social capital. In short, social capital is using your social media communications to "pay it forward." It is based on the assumption that those communications have a value.

Case in point: recently the Columbia Whole Foods hosted a tasting night for local food bloggers to try out new menu items for The Counter, the full-service lunch counter in their store. In return, the bloggers used their social capital by writing about their experiences, and also sharing information through tweets and status updates on Facebook. Here's where I come in.

I read this post on AngieKozBlogs and it made me hungry. I hadn't yet tried The Counter, but I had been curious. And now I was convinced. So on Wednesday, as the snow began to make its picturesque descent around town, I took my older daughter (HoCoHouseHon) for a lunch time adventure. It had to be this particular daughter because Husband is a meat and potato kind of guy, and Daughter Number Two is a chicken and fries kind of gal.

The mood was easy and relaxed at The Counter while we were there. I suspect that most folks were popping in to pick up a few things in the grocery because of the snow, and not taking time out for lunch. There were about four or five of us, I think. We quickly learned that you can really ask anyone behind the counter for help; they all take responsibility for assisting customers.

I had the Falafel Sammie with a side of onion rings. It was delicious. My lovely companion had a big bowl of some kind of curry soup which she loved. It had just enough of a spicy kick to it, and although you can order it with additional chicken or meatballs, she enjoyed it just the way it was. The food was excellent, the service was excellent, the portions were ample, and the prices quite reasonable. You won't spend your Whole Paycheck on lunch, that's for sure.

We enjoyed some friendly conversation with the fellow to our left. The leisurely pace of the day meant that staff joined in a bit as well, as we discussed how people drive in the snow, school closings, and so on. Truly it was my first experience of sitting at the lunch counter and just chatting with people. It felt to me like those small town experiences we read about or see in movies.

I don't mean to get too mushy here, but it was definitely a community experience. While Whole Foods is a big corporation, and Columbia is moving from a suburban backwater to a real city, our moment at the lunch counter was appropriately small, personal, human. There's definitely a "there" there.

A big HoCoHoller to Whole Foods for taking a chance on Columbia, and for working with local bloggers to spread the word. An equally big HoCoHoller to Jessie Newburn and local bloggers for spreading their social capital around.

And a heartfelt thanks to HoCoHouseHon for being an adventurous eater. Lunchtime wouldn't have been as much fun without her.






Thursday, January 22, 2015

It's Time

Yes, Mom and Dad, it is time to have that little talk with your children. I know you've been putting it off. I know you feel uncomfortable talking about it. You think, "The kids think they know more than I do. They'll think I'm lame. I'm not really comfortable with the subject matter. And besides, they probably won't listen."

I don't care what you think. It is your responsibility, and you need to face the music.

You need to talk to your kids about Twitter. Yes, Twitter.

Recent weather events have brought out high school students in droves.

@katiefromtrap: @HCPSS if I fall and break my neck lord knows yahll dead

@Smatribe: @HCPSS It's so slippery outside I could moonwalk with boots tied to concrete blocks covered in Stickum on the grass.

@easternpebble: @HCPSS my mom just fell on ice and hit her head and I'm now taking her to the ER. really??? do you want this to happen to all kids in HC?

@swagmaster_7: @HCPSS Real live I'm gonna f*** our superintendent up if we crash

@AustinMagez: Yall some b****es. I busted my a** slipping on this sh**, now my a** hurt. hope yall happy @HCPSS

@HynesFinlay: I swear if there a delay tomo, foose won't be getting any Valentine's Day gifts from me .

@HondaCybyk: believe it or not Foose gets paid $250,000 a year basically just to decide whether or not to cancel school

This piece of advice from a fellow student made me smile:

@callahan_deej97: lmao @ the people who are tweeting @HCPSS to cancel with their poor grammar. #reasonswhyschoolisntcanceled

You need to talk to your kids. Accounts on Twitter are right out in the open unless you have protected tweets. It is not set up like Facebook with a variety of privacy settings. Your Twitter stream is not like a protected backyard with a fence around it where you can play in privacy. It is deliberately set up so that it can be searched by key words, and when users include actual account names, like @hcpss, then what they say is immediately visible to that account.

While we do have free speech in this country, what that means is you won't go to jail for poor choices in your tweets. However, you certainly can be expected to bear the consequences. I'm not sure kids understand this. Actually, I'm not sure some adults understand this.

@Haughman101: @HCPSS I'm an aide. The bus was stuck for about 20 minutes for 1 f'ing kid. Quit jacking off and make the right call. Your system sucks.

@Haughman101: @HCPSS you're full of sh** for not closing early.

These tweets are from an adult who works as a bus aide in Howard County. Would you want this person helping special needs children on the bus? Would you want to hire them if you saw this kind of attitude and language?

Parents, don't postpone that little talk. You don't want your kids learning how to tweet from some other kids on the corner or in a back alley somewhere.

Wait--did you just say, "What's Twitter?"

Oh, man. We need to talk.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015


"Come away; poverty's catching."

--Aphra Behn, English Restoration dramatist

Councilman John Grasso, who supported colleague Derek Fink’s bill, was not impressed. "When I came out of high school, I had two full-time jobs and a part-time job," Grasso said. "So my heart doesn’t go out to any of you with this problem."

Grasso went on for a minute and a half, his voice rising as he concluded, "You get out of life what you put into it. You save your money, and if you can’t afford it, you can’t live there." --Who Gets to Live Where? By Lawrence Lanahan

"Not in my backyard."

Even if these matters do not invoke you to demand change and bold action, one must consider the economic outcome. If we fail to fix some of the problems in the ‘other’ MCPS, those problems will ripple into other parts of the county. House values may plummet, county budgets may unnecessarily skyrocket causing cuts in other programs, and the whole county may feel the effect. One way or another, these Two Montgomerys will become one.

--A Tale of Two Montgomerys, written by Michael Robinson

"There goes the neighborhood."

"The fact is, we’ve had growing inequality in the country for many years," [McGuire] said. "It didn’t happen overnight, but it’s steadily been happening. Government used to be a source of leadership and innovation around issues of economic prosperity and upward mobility. Now we’re a country disinclined to invest in our young people."

Majority of U.S. Public School Students Are In Poverty, by Lyndsey Layton

I don't have much to add to this except to say that the millions and millions we are spending on the Corporate Educational Complex (Pearson, et al) should be at work lifting children out of poverty. And all the money and lawsuits and broken window policing being leveraged to keep people out would be better used in bringing people in.

It does seem that many today are operating under the 17th-century notion that poverty is contagious and that avoidance is a cure. In fact, as student Michael Robinson points out, it is much more likely to spread if it is ignored. Addressing poverty means going right up to it. Blaming the poor may be done from a distance.

What will we do in Howard County? What will we choose in Columbia's Villages?


Tuesday, January 20, 2015


I just found out that it is No Name-Calling Week. If you want to learn more, go to GLSEN for a description, history, lesson plans, and helpful links. From the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network page:

No Name-Calling Week was inspired by the popular young adult novel entitled The Misfits by popular author James Howe. The book tells the story of four best friends trying to survive the seventh grade in the face of all too frequent taunts based on their weight, height, intelligence, and sexual orientation/gender expression. The friends create a new political party during student council elections and run on a platform aimed at wiping out name-calling of all kinds. The No-Name Party in the end, wins the support of the school's principal for their cause and their idea for a "No Name-Calling Day" at school.

Motivated by this simple, yet powerful, idea, the No Name-Calling Week Coalition created by GLSEN and Simon & Schuster Children's publishing, consisting of over 60 national partner organizations, organized an actual No Name-Calling Week in schools across the nation. Since then, No Name-Calling Week has been adopted by schools everywhere and has grown into one of the largest bullying-prevention initiatives in the country.

Since I only just discovered this, I have no way of knowing whether the Howard County School System observes this. I certainly hope they do. If you know more, tell me. In the meantime, here are some groups I'd like to see adopt a No Name-Calling Week:

  • High School students on Twitter before an anticipated weather event. (!)
  • Members of the Board of Education
  • Members of HCCA
  • People who comment on news articles
  • Middle school students who think it's okay to say "faggot"

I mention that last one because my daughter says she thinks they might be doing something at her school for No Name-Calling Week, but she is almost positive there will be no acknowledgement of its LGBTQ roots. If that's true, it's a shame. Refusing to even name a portion of our students because it would just be too controversial is a kind of name calling unto to itself.

You think kids miss that kind of subtlety? Nah. It's so much easier to marginalize classmates when the system renders them invisible already. Middle school is rough. We know that. Having a No Name-Calling Week can give adults an opportunity to work with students, but how effective will it be if everyone involved knows that some issues are off the table?

I suggest that we can all observe No Name-Calling Week not merely by silence, but by speaking out--for those whose voices are ignored or suppressed.


Monday, January 19, 2015

What's in Your Backpack?

I read this one first. It is entitled "Product Review: The Invisible Backpack of White Privilege from L.L. Bean" by Joyce Miller. (12/18/14) It's a painful read. Today, on our national observance of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I went looking for this essay to reread it. At first I couldn't find it.

What I found was this: "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" by Peggy McIntosh. (1988)

Wait, what? This essay has been around since 1988? But I had never heard of it. It took the summer of Ferguson and beyond to knock this concept into my consciousness. In the past 27 years our invisible backpacks have been doing their jobs and the truth of this essay has made little headway.

Our society feels more segregated than ever to me. Our children may go to school in the same building but often are moved along very separate tracks. The law may prevent discrimination in housing but the invisible forces at work separate us from one another. It is possible that we will never be neighbors, never go to the same church, never even be friends on Facebook.

The invisible backpack makes us feel good about ourselves, while at the same time, prompts us to fear others who are not like us. "Other-ness" is anxiety provoking. We shrink from the people and situations that make us feel anxious, sometimes even assigning blame where none is merited. We simply assume that what we are is normal. It shapes all of our thoughts and actions.

I find this description of the evolution of the song "I Will Overcome" to "We Shall Overcome" particularly telling:

"The left, dominated by whites, believed that in order to express the group, you should say 'we,' " explains Johnson-Reagon. "In the black community, if you want to express the group, you have to say 'I,' because if you say 'we,' I have no idea who's gonna be there. Have you ever been in a meeting, people say, 'We're gonna bring some food tomorrow to feed the people.' And you sit there on the bench and say, 'Hmm. I have no idea.' It is when I say, 'I'm gonna bring cake,' and somebody else says, 'I'll bring chicken,' that you actually know you're gonna get a dinner. So there are many black traditional collective-expression songs where it's 'I,' because in order for you to get a group, you have to have I's."

And so we are 55 years from the turning point in the title of that song and 27 years from Peggy McIntosh's unflinching essay about how far we still must come in addressing race in this country. And we,


And I am just beginning to scratch the surface.