Friday, October 31, 2014

Sick Day

I had planned on doing a little time travel on the blog today but the family cold has caught up with me. I'm taking a sick day and I hope to get this post up tomorrow.


Have a great Halloween!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Getting Old?

Every once in a while I realize I am getting older. No, this is not going to be a post about remembering dial telephones or skate keys or Captain Kangaroo. Nor is it about aches, pains, wrinkles or falling asleep after one beer.

It's about this:

Who is DJ Biz Markie?
You see? Old.
But one thing I'm not too old for is celebrating the right to vote. In a time when many voters meet roadblocks when they go to the polls, our laws in Maryland mean we have plenty of time for early voting. We don't stand in line for four hours. We don't find our right to vote challenged or diminished by discriminatory voter ID laws. In Maryland voting is easy, and convenient.
But it is certainly not "ho-hum." Generations of people you will never know worked and fought for your right to have a voice. Their work, and your choice, is worth celebrating.
Now voting is a serious thing, not to be taken lightly, and not to be entered into without thought and research. And yet our right to vote is cause to party--this should be a time of festival celebration. The folks hosting today's event at Merriweather understand that.
I may be "old" but I know a good reason to party as well as anybody. The fun starts tonight at 6:00 pm at Merriweather.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Waxing Poetic

You can vote during lunch

In and out, won't be late

You can vote after work

polls are open 'til eight.

Ridgely Run, Miller Branch, and Harpers Choice

Are ready to serve you, so please use your voice!

Remember the power in saying, "I choose."

If you don't use that power? You guessed it:

you lose.



Early Voting runs today and tomorrow. All designated Howard County Polls will be open from 7 am to 8 pm on Election Day: Tuesday, November 4th.

So vote, get your sticker, wear it with pride. And tell a friend to go vote!


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tom Coale, District 9B

Tom Coale has some great ideas. Whether you have read about him, seen him in a public forum, or talked with him in person, I've no doubt you've gotten a taste of this. In fact, I'd go so far as to say he has many excellent ideas.

For more depth, take a look at his website. His take on the issues facing Ellicott City and the State of Maryland is thoughtful, smart, creative, and dynamic. Two things stood out to me as I tried to sum it up:

  • Tom believes in the power of smart government to make a positive impact in people’s lives.
  • Tom will continue to advocate for community engagement to make sure that Maryland’s solutions are your solutions.
And yet--what makes Tom Coale the right choice for Ellicott City isn't just his ideas. It's something more than that. In March of 2012, he wrote these words about an upcoming election:

But I will say this -- beware the temptation of voting for someone on ideas alone. The real measure of an elected official is not in what they think, it's in what they do. Can they get things passed? If they can't, their ideas, and their representation of your ideas, are worthless. If they can, you are one persuasive phone call, e-mail, or lunch meeting away from affecting positive change.

The key is that the really good ideas are almost always group-sourced. Sure, a politician may run on a particular handy phrase or policy concern, but once they are in office, the well inevitably runs dry. The effective legislator/executive will have the ability to tap the community network of ideas to determine where to go next.

Effectiveness and group-sourcing are why relationships are so important. ...your interests may be best served by someone who shares...beliefs, but has the relationships (or relational capacity) necessary to make policy.

This is what makes Tom Coale's candidacy such an exceptional opportunity for Ellicott City. This is why he draws such support from his own district, within Howard County, and around the state. His genuine desire to work with others to make good things happen is the irresistible force of his campaign.

He doesn't just stand for ideas, or for beliefs. He stands for action, and for the relationships needed to make ideas into real, significant change.

What action will you take?


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sunday Roundup

Highly recommended posts from the past week:


From Heather Kirk-Davidoff (Grounded and Rooted in Love)

Do Events Build Community?

From Alice Marks (HoCoHouseHon)

Chicness and Privilege

From Eric Freed (Away from the Things of Man)

Haircut Faux Pas

From Duane St. Clair (HoCoConnect)

Outside a Building in Downtown Baltimore

From Lisa Marini Schlossnagle (Lisa B, Mrs. S)

And the Next County Executive Should Be...

We have an excellent assortment of bloggers in Howard County. Perhaps, after reading one of the above, you'll want to nominate the writer for a Mobbie.



Saturday, October 25, 2014

The People Who Believe

It's Saturday morning. I just got up to make a coffee and turn on the heat. It is chilly in the house and I'm sitting in my husband's recliner under a fluffy blanket. The drapes are still closed but I can see sunlight peeking in at the edges. The house is quiet.

While I sip my coffee things are already well underway at the Democratic Headquarters on Stanford Boulevard, where they are having an Early Voting GOTV rally. There you will find energized volunteers and supercharged campaign staff fueling up with extra coffee. They will be working from now until Election Day is over. Indeed they have been working already for quite some time.


We may get tired of TV ads and Internet ads and telephone calls and mailers. In fact, as the election draws near it is hard not to want to find a quiet place where those things do not exist. But they do have a message for us. Behind all the organized outreach are people. People who care.

These are real human beings who care about community and good government. They are devoting their time to something they believe in. I keep reading that these elections don't seem to be engaging the general consciousness. I read about voter apathy. In his recent post, blogger Steve Charing points out:

The phenomenon of only a minority of the electorate choosing our leaders has a consequence. George Jean Nathan, a collaborator with H.L Mencken, once said, "Bad officials are the ones elected by good citizens who do not vote."

I once heard an occupational therapist and a speech language pathologist talking about a student in the early childhood program. He had one last year before he would move to an elementary ALS program, and they were determined that this was the year he would start to talk. The likely time window for developing functional speech was coming to an end and this was shaping all of their plans for the year. They were coordinating their efforts. They were working with classroom teachers, support staff, and the home. This was their last opportunity to make a significant difference in the life of this child, and they weren't going to waste one moment.

It all came down to this: to give him a voice, his own voice.

So why are these people over at campaign headquarters working so hard? To give us a voice. But first they must get our attention. To tell us we have a choice. To tell us we have a responsibility to be engaged and be a part of the solution. If we remain passive we have truly chosen to be a part of the problem.

If we remain passive we have no voice.

A heartfelt HoCoHoller! to the People Who Believe on this chilly October morning. It may seem like a thankless job, but don't lose heart. Over here at Village Green/Town Squared I'm thanking you big time.

Now grab your coffee and your Pop Tarts and get out there!




Friday, October 24, 2014

Advocates Speak Out

Last night the Howard County Parents for School Music (HCPSM) had their regular monthly meeting.* As a part of their goal of music advocacy, HCPSM has reached out to Board of Education Candidates since before the primary in order to share pertinent information with HCPSM membership and the greater community. Candidates were invited to attend meetings, and to complete a survey:

(1) Outcome 3.1 of HCPSS's Vision 2018 states that "HCPSS collaborates with family and community partners to engender a culture of trust, transparency, and mutual respect." How is HCPSS currently performing to meet this goal, and what specific actions would you, as a member of the Board of Education, advocate?

(2) Parents of children involved in music programs have voiced concerns about the sudden, unilateral implementation of an untested elementary model requiring schedule changes that have a negative impact on music education. Yet the strategies in support of Outcome 3.1 in HCPSS's Vision 2018 clearly promote "interactive communications" (Strategy 3.1.2), inclusion of "stakeholder groups in planning processes" (Strategy 3.1.3) and "intentional strategies to involve parents in decisions" (Strategy 3.1.5). As a Board of Education member, what specific strategies would you advocate to be more inclusive of parents?

(3) There are numerous documented connections between participation in music education and success in STEM subjects. Do you advocate for inclusion of the arts into a STEAM program? How would you address this?

(4) What do you see as the role of the Arts programs in Howard County public schools?

(5) What is your personal connection to music, and what has been your specific involvement with music in Howard County?

(6) What is your understanding of the duties and responsibilities as a Board of Education member, especially in relation to the superintendent?


Here is the opinion part, that is, my opinion. There has been an attempt in some quarters to paint HCPSM as a narrow, elitist, selfish group of parents that are merely trying to get more "goodies" for their own children.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

HCPSM owes its very existence to the deeply held belief that music is an integral part of education from early childhood through high school, and that it has benefits for every child. In fact, more and more research bears out the necessity for an arts-rich education in addressing the achievement gap in at-risk populations.

It is hardly selfish to say: music is for everyone. It is not narrow to advocate for the highest levels possible of Music and Art instruction in Title 1 schools. It is not elitist to spend a large part of every year seeking donations of instruments so that they may be refurbished and used in schools where there is the most need.

At the conclusion of last evenings meeting, HCPSM released the following statement:

Over the past year we have become increasingly aware of how important it is to have a Board of Education open to collaboration with stakeholders. For that reason, we believe that the following Board of Education candidates demonstrate the highest commitment to respectful collaboration: Cindy Vaillancourt, Bess Altwerger, Zaneb Beams, and Dan Furman. No matter who you support, please vote!

Whether your concerns are in Arts Education, STEM, the achievement gap, Health and Wellness, AP Courses--whatever might bring you to reach out to the Board of Education--you are going to need elected representatives who are "open to collaboration with stakeholders."


Please vote.

*My husband and I take turns representing our daughter's school as HCPSM representatives for OMMS. Last night he went; I stayed home with M.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Caught in the Act

It all started when I vented my frustration on Facebook:

Parking your political van and trailer plastered with your signs in the right hand lane on Oakland Mills Road with the flashers on is not only rude and illegal, it is also a serious hazard, Mr. Colavita...How many times do I need to report this to Tell HoCo?

And it went on from there:

It's even worse when he does it on 95 North, like he did yesterday at 6:45 am!

This has got to stop.

He was on Tamar the other day. I didn't realize he was doing it all over the place.

So far have seen this on 175, Thunder Hill Road, Ducketts Lane, and Oakland Mills Road. It is illegal.

I've seen it on Stevens Forest frequently and somewhere else off a main highway where I was surprised to see it.

Ugh ugh ugh

He visited me here in Elkridge driving a golf cart. I haven't seen his van/trailer combo.

Yup - I've seen it so many times in so many places now I'm ignoring it altogether. Perhaps that's the point? LOL

I called the cops on it last week.

He illegally placed signs in the yard of one of my family members... never asked.

He is a hard worker. You gotta give him that.

I am not going to say what I am thinking about that...

He did it on 175 West right at the entrance ramp to 29 North the other day. too! I also see it parked on our street - is he our neighbor?!

NO. I don't think so.

Right! he has been all over!

I think he needs a motorized scooter on the golf cart. Why stop there?

Jet packs!

Caught in the act! Not one of the main lanes but still a travel/turn lane:

Getting a visit from long arm of the law as we speak. Just smiled as I drove past.

Yay! He just abandons it like this.

I took a picture too today if any one needs it.

I saw Mr. Colavita receive a ticket on Monday as well. This has been an expensive week for "campaign costs".

He parked in front of my house as well and I spoke to him. At first he said he would change the law when he was elected. I told him it was illegal and unethical now. He eventually moved his car.


It is just my opinion, but I don't think you want to have your name become synonymous with things like "breaks the law", and "traffic hazard". Name recognition is only going to work for you if people have something good to recognize.

Food for thought on this first day of early voting.



Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Know Your Words

I read a critique of my blog, in the comments section of another blog, no less, describing me as being "in the tank" for a particular candidate.

Okay. Stop right there. "In the tank"?

I do not think that expression means what you think it means.

In the Tank:

  • "self-interestedly involved; surreptitiously supportive" and in extreme cases "corruptly influenced." And, later, "bought and paid for". From NYT, "In the Tank"
  • "...the meaning of go into the tank gradually shifted toward working on someone's behalf, often with the hint of backroom deals or at least inappropriate devotion." From Slate, "Explainer Goes in the Tank"

At the very least, "in the tank" suggests being supportive when you ought to be impartial.

No. Just--no. This is a blog. I am not a journalist. Having opinions and expressing them does not violate my Prime Directive. Disagree with me all you like, but for heaven's sake, don't cast aspersions at my motivation.



Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Page from my Notebook

I've been taking notes throughout the campaign for County Executive. When I sat down last night to put them into some kind of shape for a blog post, they stubbornly resisted the usual treatment. So I'm just going to give it to you straight. These are the qualities that keep coming up when I examine Courtney Watson's candidacy:


Willing to listen

Sound judgement

Grounded, Good roots, yet

Reaching upwards and outwards

Willing to invest

Risk and balancing risk

Willing to work toward creative solutions that mean good policy--

good policy that lifts up everyone.

Open to helping others,

Open to taking risks.



I think that balance is key in my support for Courtney Watson. In Howard County we are blessed with many riches, but not all are blessed. We need someone whose policy will be inclusive. We want to encourage new business, wise stewardship of the environment, support for young families, quality of life for seniors. We want our schools to be places of meaningful learning for all students. We live in a world where we must reach out at the same time to police and first responders and those whose lives are touched by mental illness. We want to spend our tax monies carefully, but we must not be afraid to take risks to invest in and support our quality of life.

It's all in the balance. And that means listening and collaborating, and being willing to bring others into the process. It also means confident leadership and creative thinking. As we work towards our future together in Howard County, Courtney Watson brings the right qualifications to the job of County Executive. If I may leave you with the words that matter most to me on my page of notes--

Willing to work toward creative solutions that mean good policy--

good policy that lifts up everyone.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Recommended Reading

I read this post from Bill Woodcock of The 53 last night, hoping to see what I had missed at the PTACHC County Executive Forum. It was not what I expected.

Please take the time to read it today. No matter who you plan to vote for, it is worth the time to think about what we stand for in Howard County and what is important to us as we elect a County Executive. We are more than the struggle for one election. We're a community of citizens.

I agree with Bill that "this is not Howard County." Do you?


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Were You There?

Yesterday morning, from 8:30 to noon, Columbia Association hosted #ColumbiaSpeaks. Were you there?

If you weren't, you can see some community input by searching the hashtag, #ColumbiaSpeaks, on Twitter. There's also some discussion on the Columbia Facebook account as well.


I'm doing a completely non-scientific survey. If you live in Columbia, and you weren't there, what were you doing?


Dear Columbia Association, between 8:30 am and 12 noon--


I was hanging out at home with my husband--our daughter was at her grandparents. Time with spouse, without parental responsibilities--priceless.





Saturday, October 18, 2014

Addressing the Achievement Gap

As we get closer to the election, and try to sift through the candidates for the Board of Education, I wanted to talk about one of the issues that is at the forefront of many minds in our community: the achievement gap. Here is some interesting information.

"Music education seems to benefit children across the board. And it turns out that the least privileged among them may be the ones who benefit from it the most."

This quote comes from "Why Music Education Matters", a post by Blake Madden. Contained within the article is this section, "Arts Education in General Significantly Benefits Disadvantaged Youth".

In 2012, the National Endowment for the Arts released a report titled The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth: Findings From Four Longitudinal Studies. It made the case for arts and music education, using more than twenty years’ worth of academic results.

Focusing specifically on children from lower socioeconomic status or "low-SES" backgrounds, the researchers found that the more arts education these children received, the better their life prospects seemed to get:

"According to the data, 71 percent of low-SES students with arts-rich experiences attended some sort of college after high school. Only 48 percent of the low-arts, low-SES group attended any sort of college. And more than twice as many high-arts students from the low-SES group, compared with low-arts students in that group, attended a four-year college (39 percent versus 17 percent).

This also translated to degree attainment: 24% of children from a high-arts, low-SES background were able to attain associate’s degrees, versus 10% of low-arts low-SES children. 18% of high-arts low-SES children attained bachelor’s degrees versus 6% of low-arts low-SES children. The NEA report also cites higher rates of volunteerism and general civic engagement in both high- and low-SES children.

Unfortunately, these studies mostly stop following the students’ progress by the time they reach their early to mid-20s, providing little information on long-term career prospects. Given the links between college education and employment/earnings however, it seems reasonable to ask if arts education in general should now be a part of the larger conversation about income equality.

Here is the chart that accompanies that passage:

So we have data that shows that an arts-rich education (music, art, drama, dance) has a significant benefit to all children, but most especially to at-risk children. So, as you evaluate candidates for the Board of Education, it is crucial to know where they stand on arts education--that is, if addressing the achievement gap in Howard County is important to you.

I haven't met anyone yet who doesn't care about the education of all of our children, have you?


Friday, October 17, 2014

A Lot of Heart

On Thursday night, while husband is at school having a meeting of choir parents, I drop off teen at Peabody Chorus, then head to Second Chance with a craving for chili dogs (no onions). A woman dining alone is not a big deal these days...with an iPad...and 2nd Chance always feels like home.

Ping! Facebook Messenger--

Hi!! Anyone able to pick us up at the Dobbin Center? Car is dead :-(

I need to finish dinner at Second Chance but then I could?

That's great. We're gonna grab something to eat from Panera, so take your time!

My neighbors on the corner were stuck, sent out a call via Facebook to our little group of neighbors, and boom! problem solved.

I am deep down a shy person. I have really learned everything I know about this kind of neighborliness from my husband. He has been a great influence on my behavior. If it's the kind of thing Richard wouldn't hesitate to do, then I feel comfortable doing it, too. It truly is something you have to learn.

The good news is that you don't have to learn it as a child. It's never to late to learn to be a neighbor and we can learn from each other all the time. Even if you are shy. Even if you are coming late to the game.

So, in the spirit of a #summerofneighbors that can last all year long, I have thrown myself into the new "Oakland Mills is Awesome" Facebook page. We share highlights, triumphs, good ideas. This tutorial on how to say hi to someone on the street made me smile. After all,

So when a wonderful neighbor shared this piece, it all came together in my mind.

What is the village effect?

The village effect is a metaphor for the social contacts we all need as humans in order to thrive. These are the strong social ties that develop naturally in a village, where by necessity you cross paths with each other repeatedly every day. When you think of most villages, there is a central square, a public area where everyone converges or passes by going to the grocer or the post office or city hall or to sit at a cafe.

What we need to survive, and to thrive, are not fewer poor people, not higher test scores, not luxury condos. Human interaction, human connection, and empathy towards our fellow-beings are at the core of what we need.

It can start with something as simple as a wave on the street, or a ride home to a stranded neighbor. Yet it is the most signigicant transformation--dare I say re-invention?--that will make a difference in how we, and our neighbors, will live.

"It's a vibrant and diverse community, with a lot of heart," said a parent at the Oakland Mills Cultural Arts Festival. I couldn't agree more.



Thursday, October 16, 2014

Memories of a Place

Yesterday my older daughter and I had coffee together at this Starbucks on Route 40.

Now, this may be just another unexceptional Starbucks among many to you, but to me it is special. It is featured in the Tales of Two Cities post of May 15, 2010, where WordBones bumps into Courtney Watson and they discuss the state of the campaign over coffee.

We all have our fandoms, or "geekdoms", as my teenaged daughter likes to say. Somehow Howard County, Columbia, community building, blogging, politics, education, villages and neighborhoods have become mine. And so, some places are not just places to me. If all of this geekdom had a map, these places would be highlighted with special markings and labels.

Where are your important places? Where did you make a difference, take a stand, make a friend, support a cause? Who did you meet, and what did you learn along the way?

I joked with my daughter that they should put up a plaque inside the Starbucks commemorating the date when the blogger and the politician sat down together for a chat. We laughed.

There won't ever be a plaque, I guess. But there is a sign out front.



Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Active Engagement

Yesterday, after I posted about Saturday's CA Community Engagement meeting, a friend said, "While I appreciate child care, Saturday mornings are usually busy for families. Fall festival at nursery school this weekend for us. I also appreciate the desire to hear from more voices but would like CA to seek them out rather than passive engagement."

And when I started thinking about active rather than passive engagement, two organizations came to mind. I'd love to see the Columbia Association go where the people are, like the Burp Better folks or Healthy Howard. That's it! CA needs a Street Team! So I asked my friends on Facebook.

Columbia peeps! Where are a few places you go, every week, in Columbia? Farmer's Market, Library? Help me make a list.

  • RC Community Center, Hobbits Glen Golf Course (lately), HCC (oops RCCC is Ellicott CIty)
  • Swim center, Supreme, Dorsey Search village center, Jackson Pond (weekly at least in summer, less but often now).
  • Pathways and playgrounds
  • Farmers Market, pathways, and Supreme.
  • Library, Starbucks, Lifetime, church ..... some weeks Harris Teeter or Wegmans, but not every week.
  • The Mall ( to walk and/or to shop and eat), Hickory Ridge Village Center (shopping and eating), pathways everywhere, The Hawthorn Center (work). My husband visits the Athletic Club (he calls it the "old people's gym").
  • Hickory Ridge Grill, Wegmans, to play with the kitties at Petco
  • Icerink
  • The only places we visit EVERY week; the pathways, food lion, farmers market, the library. Swimming pool.
  • Wegmans, church, Lake Elkhorn
  • church, food lion, school
  • Coffee at Wegman's . Walk around Elkhorn. Gotta add Second Chance to our list now that we know how to get in the back door, also, I'm at Slayton House every week. LOTS of activity there. Multiple dance classes plus Big River opens this weekend.
  • Farmers Market, paths and Supreme.
That's where CA needs to be, engaging people. (Okay, maybe not jumping out at people on the pathways.) That is where they can be communicating their message best as they help people learn more about the Columbia Association: programs & services; communications & engagement; and governance. For too long the CA model has been passive. The assumption is that you will find the Customer Service center on your own, you will find your Village Center staff on your own, and you will engage with your community by going to meetings.

Do I have I tell you again how I feel about going to meetings? I thought not.

If you look at the list above, it is pretty clear that's not what is happening. And to be honest, once the data from Saturday are analyzed, I think the attendance will be overwhelmingly from one specific slice of our population. If CA wants to be truly helpful, and relevant, it needs to go where the people are. It is great that they want to give people a chance to be heard. But maybe they will need to change their model of engagement to really hear what people have to say.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Piece of Your Mind

If you live in Columbia, the Columbia Association wants to know what you think. They have already been soliciting your ideas through Inspire Columbia, an online space for sharing suggestions for community improvement. This Saturday they are hosting a community-wide event. Their goal? To bring more people together--different kinds of people, people they many not have heard from before--to discuss what matters most to them about Columbia.

"Columbia Speaks: CA Listens" will be held this Saturday morning from 9:30 to 12 noon at the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center. A social hour begins at 8:30. Click the link to register.

Columbia Association (CA) wants to hear more from you — and from more of you. That's why the External Relations Committee of the CA Board of Directors will be hosting "Columbia Speaks. CA Listens," a community input meeting. The meeting will be on Saturday, Oct. 18, from 9:30 a.m. to noon at the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center (10431 Twin Rivers Rd, Columbia 21044), with a social hour from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. Pre-registration at is encouraged but not required. Child care will be available.

Columbia is made up of many kinds of people. But, if you have attended CA Board Meetings, you may have noticed that the diversity that is Columbia is rarely represented. Younger residents, parents of young children, residents from different ethnic groups, and those who are less than affluent are seldom if ever heard from.

CA is aware of this and wants to get more people "in the room" to discuss what Columbia means to them. What are your hopes? Goals? Suggestions for improvement? If the loudest voices are always the same voices, representing only a narrow slice of our community, then how can we truly know what our community wants?

I know that giving up an entire Saturday morning to go to a meeting is a big deal. If you can make it happen, though, your input will be greatly appreciated. As Columbia moves forward, we will need many voices--many different voices--to help chart the course and steer the ship.

You should be a part of that.


Here is the press release for the event. It's worth the read.

Save the date and register now for

"Columbia Speaks. CA Listens"

Saturday, October 18, Wilde Lake Interfaith Center.

Social Hour from 8:30 a.m. - 9:30 a.m., Program runs 9:30 a.m. - noon.

Columbia Association (CA) wants to hear more from you -

and from more of you.


That's why the CA Board of Directors will be hosting "Columbia Speaks. CA Listens," a community input meeting that will be held on Saturday, Oct. 18, at the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center (located off Trumpeter Road across from Wilde Lake High School). The meeting will go from 9:30 a.m. to noon. A social hour from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. will precede the event.


Facilitators will help moderate the meeting and guide discussions. Pre-registration at is encouraged but not required.



"We're seeking to engage people more than we have in the past and make them feel like they are more a part of the process and a part of this community," said Nancy McCord, chairwoman of the CA Board's External Relations Committee and the board member representing Wilde Lake.


"We also want people to talk to us about how they feel, what they think and what they see, both the positive and the negative," McCord said. "We hope to reach people who don't normally attend CA's meetings. Everybody is welcome, though, whether they've attended meetings or not. We want to spread the love and bring more people in so that they understand more about Columbia Association."


Child care will be provided on Oct. 18. Those seeking assistance with transportation to "Columbia Speaks. CA Listens" should email CA is also looking into ways for those who cannot attend in-person to still be able to participate electronically and to submit comments afterward.


In addition, there are other ways that community members can have their voices heard on a regular basis. The CA Board offers "Resident Speakout" at its meetings. Board members and CA staff can be reached via the email addresses and phone numbers listed at And CA has a community engagement website at


Monday, October 13, 2014


What made Howard County go backwards?

In the 1990's frank and open discussions about condoms with our high schoolers was essential because AIDS was out there, it was a death sentence, and the most important thing was to protect our kids. Now even saying the word condom in front of a high schooler is publicly condemned and all our sex education is abstinence-based.

This is just crazy.

I saw two films over the last week that I'd like to recommend to you and to the Howard County School System. One is Coming Out, from Nick News and Linda Ellerbee, and the other is Let's Talk About Sex, directed by James Houston. It is clear to me from recent events that we need to have a community conversation about healthy sexuality and how we as a community support that for our kids. Just saying "don't talk about it, don't do it"?

Doesn't work.

"Coming Out" addresses middle schoolers and their journeys as LGBTQ individuals. The movie is prefaced by Linda Ellerbee, who says, "This is not a movie about sex." And it isn't. It is about kids understanding who they truly are, and about how it can be a struggle for acceptance from family and friends.

Think middle school is too young to "know/decide" you are gay? When did you "know/decide" you were heterosexual? Kids like the ones in the film are in our schools and our middle school curriculum does nothing to support them or their classmates in developing better understanding and acceptance. Not addressing these issues leaves the playing field wide open to bullying and a higher risk of suicide. The Howard County schools don't even touch on this in middle school.

"Let's Talk About Sex" does exactly what it says. It looks at how we deal with the issue of sexuality education with our kids, and then compares it to another country--The Netherlands. In both countries, sexual activity begins at around the same age--between 16 and 18. But in the U.S., where abstinence-only programs have become the norm, rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases far surpass those in The Netherlands, where open and candid sex education begins earlier, talking about condoms is accepted at school and at home.

Research shows that, when kids get comprehensive sex education early enough, and can really talk about it, they actually postpone sexual activity.

So how's that abstinence-only thing workin' for ya, Howard County? How's that "don't talk about it" thing working?

We must do better than this.


*A big shout-out, HoCo Holler, even, to the Unitarian-Universalist OWL program in Owen Brown. (UUCC)






Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Dating Game

Today PTACHC is hosting a Round Table discussion with Board of Education candidates. You can sign up here. The reason that sign-up is requested is that the format will be less like sit-and-listen and more like "speed dating". Participants will get a better chance to be "up close and personal" with each candidate.

If you have a question that you really want answered, today might be a good day. If you want to see how candidates operate when charged with interacting with small groups of constituents, today is definitely a good day.

Although I am tempted by memories of the old "Dating Game" tv show, I would not encourage you to ask those old standard questions like:

I'm shopping at the Farmers' Market. Which item of produce are you, and why should I choose you?"

I have plenty of more serious questions. So do you, I'll bet.

Unbelievably, I have a prior commitment and can't attend. (I know, right?) I am hoping that one or more of my readers will step up and sign up to participate. Usually candidate events are for the candidates to tell us something. I'd really love for this event to tell candidates that we as a community care about all of our children, not just our own. We care about all of our schools and teachers, not just the ones our children attend.

Our future Board of Education members will have to make decisions for everyone. We need them to know that we care about everyone, too. I have heard too many statements lately that make the false assumption that parents are only in it for their own kids. So, if you go today, maybe you can teach the candidates something about who we are in Howard County.

We're interested, we're inquisitive, we're involved--for all of our children.








Saturday, October 11, 2014

Seen This Week

Tom Coale, Democratic Candidate for the Maryland House of Delegates, District 9B:

Candor. Collaboration. Confidence. As I listened to Tom Coale speak at his fundraiser at Portalli's on Thursday night, I realized how much those things mean to me as I look at this election. I'm looking for honest, open leaders who aren't afraid to work with the community. I'm looking for positive energy, a genuine desire to do good.

Tom is really the embodiment of those things. Yes, I know it sounds hokey, but you don't have to spend more than ten minutes with him to realize he's the real deal. Now, I don't have the experience to analyze what motivates people to come out for political fundraisers but I'm hoping that the reason this event was packed was precisely this: a true endorsement for what Tom stands for. And a desire to be a part of that.

An aside: Portalli's did a great job hosting the event, and they now have a rooftop deck space--who knew?

As I left, I went through the upstairs dining room. It was empty except for the sound of expert piano playing. I started to walk thorough but the jazz standards were just too enticing. I went back.

"May I take your picture?"


As I turned to go, he asked, "Do you have a request?"

I said, "Yes. Don't ever stop playing."



Friday, October 10, 2014

Missing Pieces

I was startled to read this article yesterday, which presents, in my opinion, an incomplete and narrow view of what Oakland Mills is all about. You may recall that Bill McCormack was the member of the Village Board who was unable to answer my questions about what their definition for "reinventing" Oakland Mills was, or what body of evidence they were using to justify their actions.

As a resident and former Board member in Oakland Mills, I'd like to ask you to look further than one newspaper article to understand what is really at stake here. I highly recommend the following two blog posts by Oakland Mills resident Heather Kirk-Davidoff.

"Stop Bombing, Start Building"

"Who's Not Here?"

In conclusion, I'd like to share the Facebook post from Oakland Mills resident Ian Kennedy.

This has been bugging me all day. (Referring to the Baltimore Sun article.)

Because words matter, right? And there are a lot of words in there that are divisive and, arguably, de-humanizing.

But beyond that, there's no way I can speak substantively about this article or this effort in a clear-headed way right now. While I've been following this discussion, seeing it all in print has re-opened some of the scars from last year. When scars open, I can't help myself; I have to say something.

So this is what I want to say: In the seven weeks that I've been the father of a kindergartner at Stevens Forest Elementary School—home, as you may have heard, to the highest concentration of students receiving free and reduced meals in the county—I have never felt more fortunate to live in this neighborhood.

Every day I get to walk my daughter to school and watch her bound through the doors for another day of adventures. Along the way, we see friendly and increasingly familiar faces, especially once we get close to the school’s doors.

The first few weeks, however, were tough, especially when it was time to say goodbye. We cried, we drew hearts on our hands, we hugged extra-long by the flag pole, and we waited for a friendly teacher to take her hand and reassure her (and us) that school was going to be awesome.

And it has been.

As the weeks passed and my daughter, to no one’s surprise, made lots of friends, the teachers' hands were replaced with the hands of classmates. Now, as we approach the school each day, she scans the grounds looking for a friend. She almost always finds one, or they find her, and the separation from me and my wife is quick and decisive as she runs to her friend, arms outstretched for a hug. Because she's a hugger, OK?

I know some of her friends and their parents, but most I do not, yet. I don't know if they live in single family homes or apartments; if they're renters or owners; if they're rich or poor; or if they're good or bad parents.

Actually, that's not true. I know they're good parents, or at least trying as hard as anyone, because at some point, they made a decision to raise their family in this community and send their kids to these schools. Whatever their circumstances, each of these parents is giving their kids the best chance to succeed in life by sending them to a school as supportive, nurturing, and welcoming as SFES in a community as rich with opportunity as ours.

Sure, some of the kids at our school don't look like kids in other schools in other parts of the county; some of them come from homes where different languages are spoken; some of them need help with food and clothes and school supplies; some of their parents struggle in ways most of us can’t comprehend; some of their parents drive fancy cars; some of their parents ride beater bicycles; some of them like big dogs; some are scared of big dogs; some of them say bad words; some tell on those who say bad words; some of them are happy; some are trying hard to be; some can read; some cannot; some of them have nannies at home; some have Nanas.

But every morning they all walk through the same doors into the same school where, in the words of our PTA, "everyone fits."

And that’s what matters to me — that all of these kids are nice to each other and find a way to get along, regardless of circumstance. Because while we may not look exactly like the Columbia that was envisioned in the 1960s, we look like America in 2014, and what they learn from each other is as valuable as what they'll learn from teachers and books.

So while high test scores, overabundant G/T classes, fancy college placements, and low FARM rates may lead to higher property values, I’d trade all of it for my kids to learn kindness, empathy, compassion, and how to keep open minds, open hearts, and open arms to embrace everyone they meet.

And that's what Oakland Mills is all about, Charlie Brown.


Thursday, October 9, 2014


I attended Monday's PTACHC meeting. Stephen Bounds, former hcpss BOE member, and now on the staff of Maryland Association of Boards of Education, was on hand to give a presentation on the role of a Board member. He handed out paper packets of a Power Point presentation, moved through it briskly, touching on the main points.

Then it was time for questions. In addition to Mr. Bounds, present board members Sandra French and Ellen Giles, plus past members Diane Mikulis and Larry Cohen were there to respond as well.

It was interesting how many different questions people raised that touched on responsiveness, accountability, and transparency in one way or another. Some were system-level, some were school-level. But what struck me in the responses was an overall tone-deafness to people's desire to be 'plugged in" and empowered.

Mr. Bounds did an excellent job in his presentation, focusing on the main points of what the job description for a board member looks like. Where he failed, in my opinion, was in truly taking PTACHC members' concerns seriously. He didn't seem willing to go beyond a stock response, nor did most of the other members. (Although Larry Cohen's folksy demeanor was a highlight of the otherwise serious meeting.)

I asked a question about how voters look at this election. I have talked to a lot of parents and community members who are concerned about responsiveness and transparency. So how can we, as voters, evaluate candidates based on these concerns?

He didn't really answer my question. He deflected it. He made light of it. But he didn't truly answer it. He suggested that when people say responsiveness, they really mean "having a board member who will solve my personal problems." He said Howard County has open meetings laws so there is no problem with transparency. End of discussion.

The fact remains--if voters, your constituents, have concerns with responsiveness, transparency, and accountability--those concerns should be your concerns. Question after question was turned back on the asker--you didn't ask the right people, you didn't go to the right meeting, you didn't do it the right way. If I didn't know better, I would assume that the slogan of the Howard County School System is: the Customer Is Always Wrong.

To be clear, the tone was always polite, sometimes puzzled, a few times a bit patronizing. There was no downright rudeness here. But at no time did I get a sense that the concerns of the PTACHC members were truly being heard.

An interesting moment came when a woman stood up and suggested that the school system implement something like the "Tell HoCo" app which has been recently launched to help citizens resort non-emergency problems. I heard someone said, in a rather dismissive tone, "But that's Howard County."

(Wait--aren't we Howard County?)

Anyway, it was very telling to see the enthusiasm as parents heard the explanation of how Tell HoCo works--you report your problem, you are able to watch as your report moves forward, you can also see other similar reports in your area, you know who you can contact for follow-up...

"We couldn't do that." "Student issues are confidential." "You should just call the ombudsman." "That would take too much work." "This isn't really needed."

A parent at my table said quietly, "think of how you could make it work, instead of saying why it can't happen."

Imagine. Issues could be tracked by broader categories--Special Education, Facilities, Course Placement--and the public could see not only how many issues were reported and which ones, but where they originated. How long it took for them to be resolved. Responsiveness, Transparency, Accountability.

If this is public education, and the public gets to vote for Board of Education members, then we as voters have the power to influence what kind of school system we want by choosing board members who share our values and our goals.

In March of the year 2000, Stephen Bounds was running for re-election to the Howard County Board of Education. When asked "Are there any changes you would make to the way the school board operates?" this was his answer.

We can always improve communication, but it might help to first review the available methods of communication with board members, who do not each have administrative assistants as do council members. Each board member is available by phone (home number published), fax, e-mail and letter, in addition to the more formal public hearings, Listening Post, community meetings, PTA and CAC meetings and coffee and conversation sessions. Our meetings are televised live and on tape, and our actions are widely reported in the media. If there are suggestions for other methods of communication or improvement of existing methods, I would be very open to suggestions.

Candidate Virginia Charles said:

Reduce the term of office from six to four years; expand the Board of Education from five to seven members; elect five members from councilmanic districts and two at large. Allow community responses concerning items on the agenda in a Listening Post format after Board of Education meetings. Anyone who sits through a meeting should be able to respond to what went on at that meeting. The Board of Education should allow interaction with some members of the audience (HCEA, PTACHC, and CAC). The yearly Board of Education schedule and quarterly agendas should be published in every PTA newsletter. Minutes should be posted on the HCPSS Web site. The summaries should be done immediately, with the complete minutes following ASAP. Citizens also need to be reminded that any Board of Education meetings are open to all members of the public.

Ms. Charles won. Mr. Bounds lost. And if you read through her statement again, you will see that she advocated for things that we take for granted now.

Think your vote doesn't matter?





Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Coming Attractions

Just realized I have an early breakfast meeting, so no blogging for me.

In the meantime, upcoming events of note:



Celebrate Main Street with Tom Coale, 5:30 PM (Portalli's)

The Ball's in Your Court: Can Civility and Sports Coexist?, 6:30 PM

(Miller Branch)


Oakland Mills Annual Cultural Arts Festival, 11:00 am, (OM Village Center)


PTACHC Round Table Discussion with BOE Candidates, 4:00 (Atholton HS)

And, looking ahead to October 18th, Columbia Speaks, CA Listens, 9:30 AM,

(Wilde Lake Interfaith Center)

Please note their will be no evening Board of Education meeting this Thursday so that that BOE Members can attend the Civility event at Miller Branch. (You can't make this stuff up.)




Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Wish List

Today I want to speak to an issue which has been a recurrent, although not overwhelming, theme in the comments section lately. Certain readers seem to think that I have an obligation to write about this or that thing which is bothering them. In addition, if I haven't written about their topic of choice, they thereby automatically assume all sorts of things about my motivation.

It doesn't work that way.

This is my blog. I get to choose what I focus on. You can read it, or not read it, and of course express your (civil) opinion in the comments. But the direction of the blog is not determined by the readers. It's not a ouija board, and I don't "owe" anyone, so to speak. (Although I am open to suggestions.)

It brings to mind the wonderful words from Dennis Lane's disclaimer on Tales of Two Cities:



Now, I completely understand frustration at not seeing people write about things that one would like to see covered. I have a list as long as my arm of things I would like to see HoCoTimes/Baltimore Sun cover. And I have expressed that here on several occasions. But in the end I have no illusion that I get to pick what is covered. Nor do I have the audacity to say, "if they don't cover it, this obviously means ____________."

That being said, I'm grateful that I keep finding things to write about every day, I'm grateful for readers, and I'm grateful for (civil) comments. (Please note: civil does not mean "must agree with me." It means polite or courteous, not rude.) Yesterday's post was one I cared about but didn't think would draw any response at all.

I was wrong. As I said to Barb in the comments, "I really wrote this from a feminist perspective, but in retrospect I think the timing was not good because feelings about the election are heightened and that led to some misinterpretation of what I was driving at. Live and learn."


I attended the PTACHC meeting last night. The main event of the evening was a presentation on what being a member of a Board of Education entails. I need some time to go through my notes and process information, but I'll be writing about my impressions tomorrow.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Campaign Snapshot

An interesting occurrence last week made me think about a way in which women in politics differ from men. Take, for example, Courtney Watson. Now, there's nothing in her experience, ability, intelligence, or energy that sets her apart in any way from male politicians in Howard County. And yet there's something she won't, no--can't--do. And it bears examination.

That's right. You won't be seeing Courtney Watson "play the Wife Card."

And why would she? Of what importance is the temperament of her spouse to voters?

Oh, I know that trotting the wife out is a time-honored political move. It lends a folksy air, a bit of human warmth. But when I thought of how ridiculous it would be for Mrs. Watson to shine the spousal spotlight on Mr. Watson, I realized just how ridiculous it is, period. This is not to say anying negative about Robin Kittleman. But, no matter how awesome she may be, she is not a reason to vote for her husband.

I saw a similar example arise this week from a blog post by Bill Woodcock. Nikki Schmidt took issue with something he said. Fine. She went public on Facebook with her displeasure. Also fine. But the way that it was done, so carefully packaged and presented by her candidate husband Kevin felt less like passionate opinion and more like carefully crafted campaign rhetoric.

First, the rather humorous concept that he just couldn't hold her back. I can't tell if I am supposed to feel admiration or embarrassment for her after that introduction. Secondly, the manner in which it was presented: couldn't Nikki have said this on her own? Why did it have to come through her husband?

It must be a hard life to be a political wife, (or husband, although there's still much less of that) indeed, harder than I can imagine. Finding the right balance between supporting one's spouse and yet retaining one's own sense of self must be exhausting.

Be that as it may...

I am a voter. I am interested in the candidate. Show me experience, ability, intelligence, energy. Tell me your positions on important issues. Highlight your involvement in projects that make a difference to our community. Be honest. Be committed.

But for heavens sake, don't play the Wife Card. It's 2014. Don't try to sell us on an outdated worldview. There is a quiet sexism at work when male candidates of either party feel like they have to trot out their wives during their campaigns. I'm interested in candidates who respect both their spouses and the voter's intelligence.









Sunday, October 5, 2014

Stand Up, HoCo, and Vote

What a relief to read Doug Miller's piece on Friday. Finally we have someone who is willing to go on the record to speak to this insanity at the Board of Education. (A hat tip to candidate Bess Altwerger as well, who ran Facebook ads supporting Cindy Vaillancourt last weekend.)

The Board of Education missed a teachable moment here. It is fine for a student to feel uncomfortable and speak up about it. It is fine for a parent to come to the Board. The breakdown comes when the Board doesn't do its job in handling the matter. "We are sincerely sorry that your child felt uncomfortable in this situation. We do want to assure you, however, that nothing Ms. Vaillancourt said was inappropriate in any way. Her concern for public health issues is in line with the Howard County health curriculum."

I wish this were truly about the student. The way it has been handled makes it clear that it isn't, and that really is a shame. We are left thinking that a) the Board lacks the basic competence and professionalism to handle a sensitive situation or, b) they deliberately manipulated a sensitive situation in order to malign Ms. Vaillancourt before the election.

Remember, in the very same way, the Board released a similar statement of displeasure before the primary election. I must say, if those in power at the Board of Education don't like you, they certainly know how to make your life difficult. What we see here hints at a long-standing pattern of behavior against a fellow board member. It sounds a lot like workplace bullying to me.

Workplace Bullying...

  • Is driven by perpetrators' need to control the targeted individual(s).
  • Is initiated by bullies who choose their targets, timing, location, and methods.
  • Is a set of acts of commission (doing things to others) or omission (withholding resources from others)
  • Requires consequences for the targeted individual
  • Escalates to involve others who side with the bully, either voluntarily or through coercion.
  • Undermines legitimate business interests when bullies' personal agendas take precedence over work itself.
  • Is akin to domestic violence at work, where the abuser is on the payroll.

In light of the multiple campaigns in Howard County to address bullying, I find it frustrating that so few well-known community leaders have spoken up. I have seen those same people get in front of the cameras when it was an easy "photo op." Now I want to see who is willing to stand up to bullying when it may be personally or professionally awkward for them. We can't expect kids to believe our earnest admonishments when we can't even take our own advice.

Until yesterday I presumed that silence on the part of local electeds was out of a concern for their own elections. And then it occurred to me that they are in a terrible bind. Anything they say publicly can be seen as a move to influence the election. And that would be inappropriate.

So, it is up to us. We can use our voices to let our friends and neighbors know what is going on. We can communicate our dissatisfaction with the Board, and with our local elected officials. Most of all, we can vote for Board of Election candidates who stand for positive values: responsiveness, transparency, and, dare I say--civility.

Cindy Vaillancourt is at the top of my list.


Speaking of bullying, reader Donna Swope reminds me that tomorrow is Blue Shirt Day: World Day of Bullying Prevention. So, dress--and act-- accordingly!