Thursday, February 28, 2013

Opportunities for Awesomeness

What inspires you to live in Columbia? CA wants to know. Are you available on Friday, March 1st, between 10 am and 1 pm to come to the Supreme Sports Club? CA will be filming residents for upcoming television spots and PR materials. This would be a good time for you to come and share your opinion of what makes (and will make) Columbia awesome.

Can't make it in the middle of a weekday workday? They are going to schedule an evening session as well. Contact Mary Weeks to let her know you are interested.

Did you grow up in Columbia? There's an interesting discussion going on at the Facebook Page about what the Symphony Woods McCall/Inner Arbor plan really means. Informed and civil voices would be welcome. Share your knowledge and enthusiasm without even leaving the house.

I was fortunate enough to be a part of a little slice of awesomeness on Tuesday night at Union Jack's. You can read the Wordbones take on it here. It takes a lot for me to leave the house on a weekday evening. My husband and I often have competing schedules, and a school night at our house means homework, tuba and piano know the drill. The Hocoblogs community has come to be a refreshing, supportive, and challenging peer group for me. I hope you have one of your own. Community is at the core of what we are doing these days, isn't it?

To paraphrase, and without any irreverence, wherever two or three are gathered there are opportunities for awesomeness. Whether at the gym, at the pub, on the phone, at work, or online, you have the opportunity to Make Columbia Awesome.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Andrew Jackson and Me. Again.

Once upon a time, I took part in a Fairy Tale Experience. Really. Last year I received an invitation to the Royal Ball. I ventured out to the Royal Palace in my finest garments, taking care to wear a mask so my true identity would never be known.

Okay, it wasn't really like that. It was the Evening in the Stacks "Masquerade!" at the new Miller Branch Library, and an extra ticket was  kindly given me by a fellow blogger. So everyone was wearing masks, and I'm pretty sure mine didn't really obscure my identity. But the story just sounds better that way.

Back to the Fairy Tale. I had a wonderful time. And I said to myself, "If I just set aside a little money from each paycheck, I'll be able to buy a ticket next year. It's doable."

But I didn't. Time went by, and there was a bridal shower and a wedding to be planned, an elementary school promotion, new clothes for Middle School, Christmas, and birthdays, and a trip to San Antonio, and I didn't set aside the money for a ticket.

So last Saturday night, when Facebook was abuzz with friends getting their "Sparkle and Spurs" on, I was having a little pity party for myself. Poor me. Not invited to the Royal Ball.

In the past I would have said, "Oh, I don't go to those things. They're for the rich people." I could turn my back on them and dismiss them because they belonged to a realm of upper income folks to which I would never, ever belong. "I didn't want to go to your stupid rich people thing anyway, so there."

Well, last year I realized that this one was within reach, if I planned for it. It's true that I can't go to every one hundred dollar-plus ticketed event in Howard County. But I could choose just one, and plan for it. And this one, my friends, is really fun.

You know what happened: I didn't. I forgot, or I resisted. I put it off. And it was no fun having a pity party when I knew full well that I could have made things turn out differently.

So now we return to our mysterious twenty dollar bill. I get paid on Friday. Will I take out a twenty dollar bill, put it in a special place, and start saving for next year? Even allowing for no paychecks in the Summer months, I could still have at least three hundred dollars in advance of next year's event. It would be enough for a ticket, an outfit, and money for tips for the Celebrity Bartenders.Or, I could bring my husband and have a Celebrity Date.

Will I put my money where my mouth is? Time will tell. In the meantime, I wonder what next year's theme will be. An Evening in the Louvre? Bongos with the Beat Generation? A Downton Abbey Dinner Party? Fantasies of Symphony Woods?

Whatever it is, Christie Lassen and her team will make it wonderful. And this time, I'll be there.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Party of a Lifetime

Last September I went to the party of a lifetime.  No, I'm not exaggerating.
On Sunday, September 16th, 2012, my daughter got married and I had my moment as Mother of the Bride. It was truly a day like no other: exhilarating, sacred, and a bit overwhelming.

Weddings can be complicated events. While meant to be a celebration of love and commitment, shared with family and friends, they can sometimes feel like a list of things to be done. And more than just a mere list, but rather a triathlon, a quest, and an exhibition of skill. So many things which must be done right. So many ways to try to be perfect while others are watching.

Well, this moment, right here, is the one that matters most to me. Our wonderful photographer, Kathy Shilling, made sure that this moment happened and was captured--for us.  

A moment, before the mirror, of reflection and love. In that image she caught a relationship: two feisty women who had to grow up together, making their own way. 

I share this moment with you because I'm looking ahead to another party of a lifetime. Okay, maybe I'm wandering into a bit of hyperbole this time. I'm referring to the upcoming hocoblogs party at Union Jack's, on Tuesday, February 26th. Sponsored by Bill Woodock of The 53 and Claire McGill of UK Desperate Housewife, it will offer hocolocal bloggers and their readers a chance to meet, mingle, and hang out for a few hours.

This party has special meaning for me. I'll be coming with the author of HoCoHouseHon. You see the two of us pictured above. We are, to my knowledge, the only mother/daughter bloggers in the hoco. No, we don't wear matching dresses or anything like that. 

We're two feisty women, making our own way.

I have heard some women express the view that their daughter's wedding day was the zenith of their relationship, the high point of motherhood.  Not so for me.What makes me happiest is seeing my daughter grow as a writer, a talent she showed from very early in her life. While she had the gift, she didn't often believe in herself. It's hard to be a parent when you see your child's strengths so clearly while she herself is unsure.

I've loved writing my entire life. My mother shared a love of words with me. I passed it on.  Many's the bedtime that got put off to look up interesting words in the dictionary. I've been blogging since 2011 and recently started a Facebook page for the blog. Alice started her own blog in 2011 and then life and work intervened. Until now.

2012 marked her return to writing and her commitment to life as a writer. Her blog provides me a certain exquisite discomfort as I read pieces that are so much better than anything I could write. Isn't that what we should want? We raise our children to be able to try their wings, to fly out on their own: beautiful, capable, strong.

I hope I'll see you at the party on the 26th. It should be easy to find us--look for the two feisty women.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

An Extra Box

Sometimes you end up bringing home more from a trip than you brought in the first place.  It was all too easy for me to buy gifts for my daughter, plus a canary squeaker, a duck quacker, and a cowbell, not too difficult to pack.

My husband just couldn't make everything fit. At a music conference with two huge rooms of exhibitors, he made the rounds more than once. As we headed out, he found himself with one extra box. So, as he had no carry-on, he decided he'd get a tote bag at the airport and just bring it on the plane.

We went through the rigamarolle of security together, and were almost finished when I noticed several workers huddled around the scanning machine.

"Excuse me, sir? Is this your package?" He gestured to the box.

My husband said yes.

"I'll have to open this package to examine the contents. Will you please step over here, sir?"

We gathered our things from the bins, put on our shoes, and went over to a separate scanning table. My husband was asked to sit down next to the worker. At this point a word leapt out at me from the computer screen: EXPLOSIVES.

It was very quiet. The man used a special sort of wand to go over each edge of the package. Then he opened it, scanned again. He carefully slid out the contents, which were wrapped thickly in bubble wrap. Scanned again.

I glanced at my husband. He was leaning forward, watching the entire process intently. I couldn't tell what he was thinking. It seemed to be taking forever as the man followed his preordained protocol.

Finally, and delicately, he removed the wrapping with one hand, wand at the ready. He stopped.

"Nice!" He said.  We all exhaled.

"Thanks," said my husband. "That's why I came to San Antonio."

A word of thanks to the TSA worker, who, although he could have been risking his life every second, treated my husband with courtesy and respect. Thanks to my husband who participated in the process with a gentle grace. And thanks to the Executive Board of TI:ME, who incorporated the lovely clock into his presentation gift. We'll never forget the excitement it afforded us.

And now I am returning home to the awesomeness that is Columbia-- with my award-winning husband, happy memories, and hopes for the future.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Get Out of Town!

I don't get out of The Bubble much these days, I'm afraid. I travel all over the county, teaching in sixteen schools, but that's about it. I know where all the good places are to get a Diet Coke.

My most recent trip ito Baltimore was a trip to the Meyerhoff with my younger daughter to see a concert version of Hairspray, narrated by John Waters. The performance was enhanced by singers and dancers from my older daughter's alma mater, the Baltimore School for the Arts. The afternoon was filled energy and excitement for the quirkiness that is Baltimore. I was struck by how little of this we have in Columbia. Now,when the Columbia Festival of the Arts brought March Fourth to the Festival at the Lakefront, it was a glimpse into that kind of experience. They brought us something from the outside world that connected with that Lakefront audience in a new way. And it clicked. It was beautiful to behold.

Clearly it is important to venture out of the bubble now and then. Yesterday my husband and I arrived in San Antonio for the TI:ME/TMEA13 Conference. (Music Educators) Right away I was struck by how many interesting old buildings have been preserved here. An old Dillon's Department Store repurposed as a Mall. The Alamo smack in the middle of everything. The Gonzales Convention Center, built in 1968, then expanded and transformed in later years, fits in beautifully with the style of the older buildings, and the architectural detail of the Riverwalk, the beautiful pathways and cafes along the banks...

The Convention Center is nestled into the Riverwalk, which means that high school brass players, here for All State, spilled out into the courtyards to warm up for auditions. As we returned from dinner, we came upon a companionable cluster of tubas, sitting in a stone alcove by the river, playing their hearts out.

It is just breathtaking how the indoor and outdoor spaces are so conducive to arts uses. And not just for the arts. The Convention Center,along with its theater, are used as the setting for a myriad of events throughout the year. It was meant to be just plain "people friendly". City signage everywhere is clear, there are plenty of map-signs to tell you where you are, there's good public transportation, and lots of people are walking, too.

How dare anyone say that Columbia doesn't deserve this experience? I speak not of remaking ourselves in Baltimore's image, or San Antonio's, but of having the guts to make something of ourselves. Something worth having, something ALIVE. We need to make some big decisions to fulfill some big dreams. When you see how beautiful things can be, you know it is worth the work and the risk. Be a believer, be an advocate, and don't give up.

If you have big dreams for Columbia, Columbia needs you. Now.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

As Clear As Pea Soup

Was there one dish you hated above all others as a child? For me, it was my mother's split pea soup. It was so thick, more like oatmeal, and the texture alone easily stimulated that dreaded gag reflex. Sometimes I was kept at the table after everyone had left because of split pea soup.

Now I am a parent, and I have experienced a little of this from the other side. Although I've never forced my children to finish anything, I've still dealt with "just eat three bites" bargaining. It was this kind of haggling that finally led to my release from the torments of split pea soup.

In frustration, my mother said, "All right, just eat half of it!" And I took my soup spoon, drew a line down the center of the soup, and forced myself to eat half. The other half stayed in the bowl, exactly as I had portioned it, solid.

I looked at it. My mother looked at it. And then, after years of my childhood suffering and anguish, she said, "Well, I guess maybe it is too thick."

It was life changing. She started making thinner pea soup, and I actually liked it.

But the bigger point is that the evidence was right in front of her face, and she acknowledged it. I have to give her credit. She was highly invested in her point of view. She could have dismissed me. It's hard to imagine how, but she could have.

I am extremely frustrated right now with groups of people, be they national or local, who have factual evidence staring them in the face, yet refuse to acknowledge it. To borrow a phrase from Hillary Clinton, "They just will not live in an evidence-based world."

What is an appropriate response to that? What is an effective response to that? If, no matter how much credible evidence is presented, the answer is merely to ignore it or twist things to look like something else, how can that lead to fruitful discourse? And then does our goal become merely to win by brute force, since meaningful negotiation is impossible?

I learned something very valuable in that moment with my mother, so long ago.  I learned that sometimes the truth will stare you in the face. It may not be the truth you want to see. But if you are brave enough, and strong enough, you will accept it and incorporate it into your thoughts and actions. This lesson has become a part of me in my interactions with my husband, children, friends, co-workers, and in community life.

So, if I know this, why doesn't everyone? Can it be taught? Please, please--let's find a way.


Friday, February 8, 2013

When the Patchsters Came to Town

Patch, an online hyper-local news operation, came to town in the Fall of 2010, I think. I remember meeting them at a hocoblogs party they sponsored at the Stained Glass Pub in Elkridge. Ah, those were exciting days. The thought that we might have local news more than one per week was a dizzying concept for many of us.

By way of introduction, Patch in Howard County sponsored an i Pad giveaway contest. I won. And yes, I never win anything. And yes, it changed my life. I use it for teaching, both for music playing and making picture books, and buying interactive music apps to enhance my special needs music classes. I use it when I go to a restaurant alone, and I don't feel like "a woman alone".

And I use it when I blog. Yes, if not for Patch, I would not have become a blogger. David Greisman encouraged me and gave me a space on Columbia Patch. He was a wise and compassionate editor. I am thankful to him for getting me started.

Of course, times change, nothing is perfect, and people move on. David left Patch, but luckily for us is using his talents for good over at CA. And I took my blog off Patch and went out on my own because I'm a control freak and don't want to "submit" to anyone.

High points for me: the series on local chocolate chip cookies that must have provided a lot of fun for the taste-testers, coverage of a student composer's brass work debut by the Saxony-Anhalt Brass Quintet, the thorough coverage of the Inner Arbor Plan for Symphony Woods. A low point: coverage of the cancellation of the Rockburn Elementary Halloween Parade. I don't think the writers had any idea what they would unleash in covering it the way they did. It was a sobering lesson in how irresponsible some people will be online when you allow them to sound off without having to take any responsibility for what they are saying. I know that Patch learned something from that, as that sort of mistake has never been repeated.

Last Friday an enthusiastic preschooler danced right into my i Pad and knocked it to the floor. I gave a little shriek, picked it up and we kept on going. After class the teacher asked, "Are you sure it's okay?"

"Looks just fine," I assured her. "and, not that I want it to break, but I have this feeling that I just might be getting a new one for my birthday in March..."

I was wrong. The next day my husband went out to run some errands, and when he came back he plopped a white box in my lap. Wow. An i Pad 2, which means a camera, and improved i Photos, better more crashing...

"I was going to get it for your birthday, but I thought you might want it for our trip," he explained. "Oh, and once you get it set up, can I have your old one for my classroom?"

"Um...sure..." I felt a twinge of panic. "Um...I'll let you know..."

I don't want to get rid of my old i Pad 1. It has sentimental value. It has memories. It has an old Patch cling on the back that I tried to stick on with Tacky Glue. (Bad plan)

And a lot of the memories have to do with what happened when Patch came to town.

So, thanks to Elizabeth Janney, Brandie Jefferson, David Greisman, Brian Hooks, Marge Neal, Lisa Rossi, A.J. Metcalf. Thanks for the big stories, the little stories, the crazy polls, the weird online discussions, the informative tweets. Thanks for taking our news seriously while being able to maintain a sense of humor about our idiosyncrasies and foibles.

I think that the Patchsters make pretty good neighbors. But, what do you think?

Tell us in the comments below. :-)


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Five Quarters, Or: When Life Just Doesn't Add Up

Yesterday I heard ESPN sports broadcaster Tony Kornheiser say the following, "If that game'd had five quarters, the 'Niners woulda won it!"


It seems there were a lot of folks who just could not believe that the Ravens could win, were winning, did win. In the the face of the evidence they continued to restate their own preconceived narrative. It's almost as though they weren't watching the same game that I was.

This brought to mind the process we have been enduring while moving Columbia into the future. Take, for example, the Inner Arbor plan for Symphony Woods and its detractors. In many ways it is the very same story as a controversy in Oakland Mills a few years ago over replacing an abandoned bank property with a Walgreens. I suspect that at least a few of the same people are involved.

Meetings were held, petitions were circulated. Rumors were spread. Here are some of the objections: it will draw a "bad element." (A suggestion that it will somehow increase crime.) It will destroy the beautiful natural setting. (Boarded up business and parking lot. ) Children will be hit by cars speeding through. There will be car accidents because of the required turn-off. It will drive the Food Lion out of business and that, in turn, will kill the Village Center.

Am I forgetting anything?

The Walgreens has been here for awhile now. It is doing quite well. The Food Lion is still open, and a new manager has been making significant improvements. The Village Center has added another business. Yet I haven't seen any letters to the editor saying, "I thought the Walgreens was a bad idea, but I was wrong." Or newspaper articles revisiting the controversy and comparing the objections to what has actually occurred.

I suspect that, even though some of the detractors are happily using the Walgreens, they'd still tell you what a bad thing it was for the community. Some would call that cognitive dissonance. Some might call it "sour grapes".

These are the same folks, who, in the face of the facts of the Inner Arbor plan, will continue to spread untruths about it. And then the same newspaper articles will appear, merely saying that residents are "divided."

Something about this whole process needs to change.

We've had newspaper articles and editorials, letters to the editor, and then blog posts, and now people can send emails directly to the CA Board of Directors. But we're still stuck in the same old rut. Well, maybe it's time to get unstuck.

Ian Kennedy's petition, followed by the creation of the Facebook Group "Let's Make Columbia Awesome", is reaching out to members of our community who are normally left out of the process. Younger residents are often unaware of how Columbia works, and young parents do not have the leisure to attend meetings.

Ian's YouTube video gives viewers very real images to get excited about. This is no behind-closed-doors whisper campaign. This is up front, fact-checkable advocacy that anyone can plug into, think about, and discuss. It says:

Want to learn more--here's how.
Want to do something--here's how.
Have an idea to share--here's how.

So, this idea about having "five quarters" in the Super Bowl? Let's try that. And then next year Tony Kornheiser will be foaming at the mouth, ranting, "Whose stupid idea was it to have five quarters, huh? I'll tell you who. Somebody who doesn't understand fractions!"

Well you just can't make some people happy. It is hard to be happy when you're mired in cognitive dissonance. So, what can we do?

Let's be aweome.