Saturday, February 28, 2015

I Just Don't Care

Is it possible that there are some things that this blogger doesn't care about? Yes, yes there are. And here's a current list, in no particular order:


  • House of Cards
  • Reality TV shows
  • Awards Shows
  • How the next Presidential race is shaping up
  • What the new fashion colors are
  • Charity social events*
  • Getting more followers on Twitter
  • Most (but not all) sports
  • Having the best lawn in the neighborhood
  • Television news

*Wait--although I find myself rather lethargic due to this never-ending winter, with no desire to find, let alone put on a suitable cocktail dress, I still strongly support tonight's Evening in the Stacks at the Miller Branch Library. You can buy a ticket up until five pm today. It's always a fun time and it supports our fabulous library system. My pick for this year's Celebrity Bartender? Bita Dayhoff, of course.



Now, for something I do care about. I read this obituary last week and it stood out to me as a particularly significant lesson for Black History Month. Please take a moment to read about the life of William M. Hall. I promise you will learn things you didn't know. What a wonderful man he must have been.






Friday, February 27, 2015


I was lucky enough to be able to spend yesterday with my daughters. If there's no school, I don't work. (I don't get paid, either, just so you know.) I picked up my older daughter, we went by Bon Fresco to get food, then back to our house to watch a movie and eat lunch.

We watched the orginal 1988 version of Hairspray. This is John Waters all the way, before it was prettied up into Broadway musical format. It was truly educational. The story is far more Baltimore, more raw, more weird than you think it is if you've only seen John Travolta put on a dress and fake a Balmer accent, hon'.

Afterwards we discussed the film while having dessert at the kitchen island. We talked about issues of race and how à propos this movie seems right now as we are mired again in issues of race, police brutality, and civil rights. We wondered whether John Waters had been subjected to the kind of quackish conversion therapy that he portrays in the film--only aimed instead at his homosexuality rather than race.

Somehow the conversation wandered to other topics. In the course of the afternoon we discussed:

  • The implications of belief systems that focus on "waiting for marriage" to have sex.
  • How different churches address teens and sexuality.
  • School dress codes and what they say to teens.
  • Bras: do they do any good? Is there any point to wearing them?

I must say it was a no-holds barred conversation, and one I am grateful to be having so easily with my kids. Well, I did draw the line at delving into the subject of STD's while we were still eating. But other than that, I found it amazing that we could have this conversation. The younger daughter was less forthcoming on some topics, but had plenty to say on others.

Her participation in the OWL Human Sexuality curriculum at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Columbia has given her a voice. She feels confident in examining issues of sexuality and talking about them. It is fascinating to see her compare what they are learning at OWL and what is presented at school. We are really shortchanging our kids at school, folks.

So we had a day off from school. No "academic work" was performed. But a whole lot of learning was achieved anyway.



Thursday, February 26, 2015

Gateway Musings

As the snow comes down this morning, it might be a good time to remind you:

Yes, it's Colonel Gateway again, photographed during last Saturday's snowstorm. I put out a message on Twitter inquiring as to his whereabouts, because I was worried about how he was weathering the storm. I must say he was quick to oblige with a photo and this tweet:

@ColGateway: I appreciate your concern @macsmom ! It takes more than a cold front to keep the Colonel down. #hocosnow

It's true that I am completely taken by this whimsical parody account. It's the kind of positive-minded silliness that Columbia needs more of. And I'm also fascinated by ADG Creative's "Love for the Gateway" music video. There's got to be more to all this. Where is it going? How will it unfold?

Yesterday I was driving my daughter to a doctor's appointment and I spied a sign low to the ground. I didn't have time to focus on it, but I thought it had a Canada goose on it. A clue? More information? I had to know.

Okay, here's what I think. It's time for ADG Creative to reach out to Jessie Newburn to arrange to host a local blog party. We've never had an event in the Gateway. What better way to show some love than to bring folks from all over Howard County to socialize in one of the Gateway's fine dining establishments? An event for bloggers will generate social media buzz and blog posts. And, if Colonel Gateway makes an appearance--I think the local press might be interested.

In the meantime, if you happen to be snowed in today, I offer for your contemplation Bill Woodcock's suggestion:

And incidentally, how about this one: create an 11th Columbia village in the Columbia Gateway area? Gateway is a great area for commercial development but perhaps an industrial park or two could become a couple of town home developments, condos and apartments? It might be a small village in terms of residents, but a big one in terms of commercial space and the availability of jobs. Residences there ought to be in high demand.

I'm all on board for this if it includes ample space for bouncy castles.



Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Red Flag

Yesterday, in a 5-2 vote, the Howard County Board of Education voted to accept the Superintentdent's Budget. Yes, the budget that makes cuts to paraeducators and media secretaries. Was this an issue you cared about? Did you write a letter expressing your opinion? Well, there's something you should know.

Board Member Sandra French, in talking about how people used to pack into the George Howard building and show support for the budget, said, "but that hasn't happened in a long time, people take our school system for granted and they are not satisfied, it's always me me me, more more more, I I I, and it has to stop. We have to talk about collective sacrifice, how can we work together to move forward our children who are the most needy and I think that's what the board did." (Paraphrased)

I applaud Board Members Cindy Vaillancourt and Bess Altwerger for casting the nay votes on this budget. I only wish that they had better company on the board--being arrogant and tone-deaf aren't the best qualifications.

It is my opinion that this kind of blatant disrespect for the community that Ms. French's comments represent should be grounds for censure. Something is very wrong in this county if parents and teachers are forming healthy partnerships for the good of children and BOE members are basically sneering at them.

On the other hand, apparently stakeholders have been issued an invitation to pack the George Howard Building. (More like waving a red flag, maybe?) Here is the information on the County Executive's hearing on the budget.

I received an email from newly-re-elected HCEA President Paul Lemle, extending the following invitation to the community:

Dear friends, colleagues, and community members,

The Board of Education voted today to adopt a $780M budget that cuts vital services in media and kindergarten even as enrollment increases by over 1600 students. The discussion now centers on the new Governor, County Executive, and County Council—and we need to keep advocating for our students.

Please join HCEA for an open community meeting on Tuesday, March 3rd, 5PM in the Centennial HS cafeteria. We will clarify the impact of the cuts and develop strategy for the next part of the process. RSVP here to give us an idea of how much pizza we need!

If you care about the cuts being made in this budget, and you believe that stakeholder input should be respected and not sneered at, please mark you calendars for this meeting and share this information with others.




Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Lifting Up

I attended a community meeting last Friday night as a part of the collaboration between HCEA (Howard County Education Associations) and PATH (People Acting Together in Howard). Since last Spring, they've been working on a project to get parents together in small group meetings to articulate what they want for children in our community. (Be on the lookout for a meeting in your area.)

This particular meeting was in Oakland Mills. The group contained parents, teens, teachers, and school staff. We each took a turn telling our desires for children in Howard County. It was only natural that most people's answers dwelled quite a bit on their own community--Oakland Mills. As we went around the table, a common theme emerged.

Lifting up. How can we, as a community, lift up our children beyond the current restrictions of "the way things are"?

  • Teaching charity and community involvement
  • Feeding hungry children
  • Nourishing self-esteem
  • Challenging the mind-sets of both the haves and the have-nots
  • Making a rich educational experience our priority over high-stakes testing
  • Celebrating our community
I found it interesting that one of the PATH organizers mentioned having another community discussion in Oakland Mills where some participants were terribly worried about our schools, but the participants who actually had children in the schools loved their schools and were committed to them. This seems to mirror the disconnect I see between some members of our village board who seek to take drastic measures to "reinvent" our village, and members of the community at large, who are actually going about the daily business of raising their families and supporting their schools.

I applaud HCEA and PATH for reaching out to stakeholders to have these discussions. I am looking forward to learning what broader themes emerge as they meet with citizens all over Howard County.

A postscript: Saturday morning I enjoyed the annual Pancake Breakfast at The Other Barn in support of Stevens Forest Nursery School. When I arrived, a celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year was in full swing. I can't think of a better way to show how vibrant a community Oakland Mills truly is.





Monday, February 23, 2015


One inch. Did you know that one inch can negatively impact your educational experience?

How could that be?
Perhaps, if one of your legs were one inch shorter than the other, it could be painful and exhausting to get around a traditional school building. Would it prevent you from learning? Would it prevent someone else's learning?

Perhaps, if one inch of your pointer finger didn't exist due to a birth defect or an accident, you might have difficulty holding a pencil, operating a computer keyboard, or participating in other fine motor activities. Would it prevent you from learning? Would it prevent others from learning?

Perhaps, if one inch of your visual field was occluded due to injury or disease, you would have difficulty with peripheral vision, have a hard time viewing presentations in the classroom or participating in sports. Would it keep you from learning? Would it keep others from learning?

One inch. One.
On Wednesday of this last week my daughter was on her way to her locker and she was flagged down by two administrators because,
"While she was walking down the hall, her shirt rode up, exposing about one inch of abdomen."

This is what she was wearing.
At first she didn't even know why she was being stopped. She feared it was about a forgotten hall pass. Then she thought maybe her shirt was cut too low? (She asked. It wasn't.) When she finally understood what the problem was, she pulled her pants up and her shirt down and thought she was done. No, somehow she wasn't. Clearly, she was told, that shirt would ride up again, so she needed to cover up. Did she have something in her locker? She didn't.

So she was instructed to go to the office and pick up a specially designated article of clothing so she could cover up that inch. That truly impossible inch of skin which rendered her in violation of the dress code and made it okay for the administrators to tell my daughter that her clothing was "inappropriate."

The dress code of the Howard County Schools prohibits clothing which "unduly exposes or reveals skin or undergarments." Wearing a long-sleeved shirt in the winter which accidentally rides up as you walk down the hallway is an inconvenience or an annoyance.

It is not an undue exposure, or a flagrant disobedience, or a rebellious act. It is a shirt riding up.
It is NOT a violation of the dress code.

My husband and I met with the administrators and asked them to look at the language of the dress code. We were met with defensiveness and inflexibility. When we suggested that the school and the PTSA a create an all-stakeholders group to discuss the interpretation and enforcement of the dress code within our school community, we were refused. We were shown archived video footage which proved nothing other than how incredibly uncomfortable our daughter felt during this incident. You can see her body language just crumble.

We have had a growing sense of dismay of how the dress code has been applied at the school. More often than not, it is girls who are shamed. The focus during lectures on the dress code is most often on girls -- what parts of their bodies are or aren't school-approved.

What kind of a message are we sending these young women in a place which is supposed to be a safe environment for learning and academic growth?

"Your body is inappropriate. You create distractions--
distractions for male students.
Their learning is more important than your learning,
their self-control less required than your self-control. And
just by virtue of being female, you invite others to judge your appearance."
It was our intent to open a dialogue with the school on this issue. What are the implications when school dress codes are implemented in such a lopsided way? One of the goals of our schools is to create safe and welcoming environments. This kind of punitive focus on girls' appearance runs completely counter to that, and it sets a bad example for boys as well as girls.

If our young women are being taught that even in what should be a safe place of learning their bodies are subject to random policing and casual shaming, what are our young men being taught?
Yes, our young people need boundaries and guidance. But during the middle school years they also need to know adults will be in their corner, stick up for them, empower them to challenge themselves and learn self-discipline. When a representative of the school decides that the most important thing about my daughter is her shirt, the message that is communicated speaks to shame, judgement, devaluing a young person whose life should be brimming with possibility.







Sunday, February 22, 2015


The school budget season is upon us, and the Superintendent's budget proposes make cuts to kindergarten para-educators, media para-educators and media secretaries. We are assured that these cuts must be made in order to have funds to hire teachers for the expected new enrollment of approximately 1645 children. If only it were that simple. It's not.

First of all, cuts to services that directly impact childen should be the very last thing we are considering. Para-educators provide direct support to students, and media secretaries perform work that allows media specialists to work directly with students. Research and common sense show that, especially in vulnerable populations, the building of sustained relationships is crucial for academic and emotional success.

So, what have we been spending money on in Howard County that causes the Superintendent to suggest that cutting back on student services is necessary and appropriate?

  • Almost a million dollars Over five hundred thousand dollars in salary for free-lance lawyers being paid to litigate against the parents of special needs children. (Thanks to Cindy Vaillancourt for the correction.)
  • Hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Gallup Organization for a program to show that teachers and students are "engaged"
  • Hundreds of thousands of dollars to an outside consultant to evaluate our special education programs who--guess what?--recommends cutting back on support staff to students.

I can't for the life of me understand why such decisions were made. Not only are they counterproductive to the mission of the Howard County Public Schools, they show a profound disregard for what it means to have a sensible budget and intelligent priorites. From Vision 2018:

Our Vision

"Every student is inspired to learn and empowered to excel."

Our Mission

"We cultivate a vibrant learning community that prepares students to thrive in a dynamic world"

As a parent and a teacher I know that building relationships is the biggest part of inspiring and empowering students to learn. It is those relationships which are necessary to create and sustain vibrant learning communities. Please write to these people(see below) to let them know you want to see our school system place the highest priority on expenditures which support human relationships and service to students.

Do it now. The Board of Education votes on acceptance of the Superintendent's Proposed Budget this Tuesday morning, February 24th. The Board has the power to change the budget before submitting it to the County Executive. - for Board of Education - for County Council -- you can use this address to submit to the County Executive.

The entire State of Maryland is dealing with a budget shortfall. As citizens we understand that adjustments may have to be made. Please let your elected officials know that you know where our priorites should be: in nurturing our students.





Saturday, February 21, 2015

Missing Voices

I've been sitting on this for a while now. Sometimes I have a topic that I know I want to write about, but I'm looking for the best context in which to present it. And now a month has gone by and I still don't have the perfect way to say it. Should I just let it go?

No. That would almost prove the point I am trying to address. So, in the absence of perfection, here goes:

On January 26 Center Maryland published a piece by Josh Kurtz entitled Maryland's Mad Men. It paints an ugly picture of a culture of sexual harassment in Annapolis during the legislative season. A sample:

Talk to women legislators and lobbyists and advocates and staffers and interns – and I interviewed a dozen – and they all have a story to tell. About the delegate who isn’t allowed to have female interns anymore because he was getting a little too "hands-on." About the senior lawmaker who cut a woman lobbyist off with a "Not now, honey" when she began to speak during a five-person meeting in his office – while he was squeezing her leg. About the legislators who won’t meet your eyes because their gaze is fixed a little lower. About the lawmakers who insist on greeting you with kisses or whose "friendly" hugs always last uncomfortably long.

After this piece appeared, three bloggers in Howard County were quick to respond: Tom Coale, of HoCoRising; Bill Woodcock, of The 53; Jason Booms, of Spartan Considerations. All are good pieces. Read them.

But something was missing for me. As much as I appreciated the seriousness with which each writer addressed this issue, there was something I wasn't hearing. Women's voices.

We have bloggers who are women. None of us wrote about this. For me--I thought, I've had those experiences as a woman, but I've never been to Annapolis when the legislature is in session, so I guess I can't speak to this. And I let it pass. We have women in Howard County who have plenty of experience in Annapolis, but they're not bloggers. So they don't have a forum for their point of view.

Don't get me wrong. I have absolutely no criticism for men taking this seriously and writing about it. But that alone isn't the whole picture. As good as each post is, none of them ask for input. "Has this happened to you?" "What is your take on this?" "What do you think should be done?" As much I try not to be cynical, my gut response to the orginal article was, "Well, thank goodness a man has noticed this terrible thing. It must really be happening."

Tom, Bill, and Jason started a great conversation around this issue and I would like to see it keep going. I find that most people I know hate trying to post comments on Disqus, though. So, if you have something to say, don't let that stop you. Comment on Facebook or send me an email.

Don't stay silent. Add your voice.


Friday, February 20, 2015

Opting Out in HoCoMD

After Wednesday's post I received a note from a reader. She said,

I appreciated the blog you did on Not on the Test. I am so upset about the loss of our kids educational experience that sometimes it makes me want to scream in frustration. I don't know if you would consider it, but the Howard County Republican Club is getting ready to have a monthly meeting next week on Thursday the 26th at the Ellicott City VFW at 7 pm. We will have a speaker coming to talk about how parents in MD can refuse the standardized tests for their children.

I would love to see a movement started right here in Howard Co. that spreads to other counties that really starts to push back like they were able to in NY. For this meeting it doesn't matter if people are members or even if they are Republican.

Until I read this I had never really thought about whether responses to high stakes testing were influenced by one's politcal party. Are they? Most people I know who are strongly opposed to testing are Democrats, but that is also because most people I am close to, for the most part, are Democrats. I would be excited to see a non-partisan movement in Howard County to free schools from the tyranny of high-stakes testing.

Any opportunity for us to care about our chiidren more than we care about the labels of our political parties is an opportunity to make our community stronger.


Want to learn more about the growing Opt Out movement? Start here.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Course Correction

I went to the dentist yesterday for my six-month check up. Big deal, right? Doesn't everyone? Well, no, but that's another story. For me it is a kind of big deal because for years I didn't really have the money for regular dental care, and even in recent years I haven't been all that good at coming in more than once a year or even every two years. Not fear. Just good old fashioned procrastination.

I almost cancelled because I realized that I've really been backsliding in the flossing department. The dentist will know, I thought. Maybe I should cancel and work really hard for six months so I can come in looking good, I thought. But my daughter had an appointment too, and I knew that cancelling would look irresponsible, so I went ahead and faced the music.

I confessed up front, to the dental hygienist and the dentist. They were both pretty nice about it. They gave me some suggestions to "get back on the wagon" so to speak. Something the dentist said struck a chord for me.

"You know, if you kind of slack off, and then maybe if you start to have a problem, if you come in every six months we can catch it and help you get back on track. But if you don't come back for a year, or even two can get serious and maybe turn into a bigger problem."

"Well, it is Ash Wednesday", I said jokingly. "It's a good day to confess and start over."

"It is?" Oh, duh, I thought. Note to self: never make the assumption that everyone knows about Christian observances.

It stayed with me, though. "Lent is not a weight loss program," someone quipped yesterday. But it is an opportunity for course correction. Just like those six-month check ups at the dentist. And it needn't be only a Christian thing. It starts with paying attention, and then focusing intent.

Where do you see the need for course correction? Is it something at home or in your job? Might it be in the school budget? Or leadership in a Columbia Village or CA Leadership? What are the things that need your focused intent? What happens when we take the opportunity for course correction instead of just letting things go on the way they are?

I have so much on my mind right now that focus alone seems an impossible goal. Perhaps my trip to the dentist is a reminder that I can't fix everything and be perfect every time. Course correction is an integral part of the process. We turn, re-turn, turn again, like pilgrims in a labyrinth.

Where do you see opportunities for course correction?


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

What Would I Say?

I've just received word that I need to allow extra time this morning to find a parking space because there will be educational dignitaries visitng the school where I am teaching. This put me in mind if what I would say if I ever got to meet any such dignitaries. And I realized that I wouldn't say anything, I'd sing.

Please click the link, and watch the whole thing. It's pretty alarming to me that this was written in 2008 and things have only been getting worse since then. This was written to address the narrowing of school curriculum that was happening in response to NCLB. Read Tom Chapin's explanatory essay here.

He states:

... I so appreciate the tough job that faces every teacher. I believe they need all the help they can get: anything that excites a student, opens their eyes, and hearts and minds is a positive that makes a child invest in school.

And, later:

Now we are teaching by rote again - where the test, and only the test, becomes the reason to teach and study.

This song still gives me shivers when I hear Chapin's soothing voice tell me that "music and art and the things you love best, are not in your school 'cause they're not on the test."

We're still cutting back music and art in Howard County. Maybe it's time we held a sing-in.


Update: via the HCPSS Facebook Page

We are very excited today to welcome U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Congressman John Sarbanes and Maryland State Department of Education Secretary Dr. Lillian Lowery to Ducketts Lane Elementary for a classroom visit and roundtable discussion with teachers from Ducketts and Thomas Viaduct Middle School.

The roundtable discussion will begin at 9:50 a.m. and will be streamed live on our website, and available after the event on demand.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Dangerous Crossings Revisited

When I wrote about pedestrian safety on Snowden River Parkway last week, a friend mentioned:

You know someone died there on Wednesday morning...drove his car into a tree right near Lincoln Tech. Now you make me wonder...was he swerving to avoid a pedestrian?

That is a truly scary thought. I haven't seen any followup to that crash, other than the suggestion that speed was a factor.

Andy Stack, the CA Rep from Owen Brown, sent me a note responding to the same post.

I ready your article about the walk-ability of Snowden River Parkway. The County has a plan to widen Snowden River Parkway to 3 lanes and to add sidewalks/bike lanes between Broken Land Parkway and Oakland Mills Road. The Owen Brown Village Board has been carefully following this and it wants to ensure that the sidewalks and bike lanes get built. We believe they would be a great addition and improve the usability of Snowden River Parkway. Walk-ability is important to Owen Brown. I believe we have asked the County to come to a future OB board meeting to give us an update.

This is great news. I have to admit that my first thought was, "ohhh...that's in Owen Brown..." I hadn't really given much thought that an area which has so much retail and traffic was actually in a Village. Well, some of it is. I think some of the actual retail space may have pockets of outparcels. But to me, it is encouraging to think that this area "belongs" to someone, and they care about it. I am excited to see that this issue is already on the radar of the Owen Brown Village Board. Clearly they'll need an active partnership with the County to get positive changes made.

And now, that's enough Snowden for the day. I'm going to turn my attention to being snowed-in.




Monday, February 16, 2015

Silence is...Deafening?

Have you noticed a change in the weather? No, I'm not referring to climate change, or record cold-temperatures "gripping" the area. Have you noticed a change in how Howard County Government social media accounts handle weather events? I have.

Take a look:


Between Friday at 3:51 pm and Sunday at 12:28 pm there was absolutely no outreach. Holiday weekend, right? Slow news days in local government? Not exactly. From late Saturday afternoon into Sunday we had a pretty significant weather event: snow, high winds, dropping temperatures. Citizen reports painted pictures of extremely poor visibility, numerous car accidents, slippery roads.

And it's a good thing we had those citizen reports because from HoCoGov we had crickets. Nothing.

Now, of course Notify Me Howard has become the butt of jokes for over-notifying citizens to the point of annoyance. And I do have some friends whose overall view of the past administration leans towards a disdain for something they might call "the nanny state". So maybe the Kittleman administration is just getting the job done and they don't feel it's a part of their responsibility to check in with us on the weekends?

I don't agree. I have very much appreciated how hard county employees worked in the past to keep citizens updated during adverse weather events. The use of social media by the Ulman administration during these times said to me:

  • We're all in this together.
  • We're doing everything we can to help.
  • An educated citizen can be a safer citizen.

I don't know what the philosophy is now. Perhaps:

  • We're doing our job.
  • You can take care of yourself.
  • If you need us, call us.

It's a no-nonsense approach, to be sure, with a small government feel. But it really misses the mark for me. Social media gives a wonderful opportunity to keep residents informed and connected. Throwing that opportunity away speaks volumes about constituent service, to my mind.

You know who's doing a great job? Formally: The Maryland State Highway administration, and, informally: members of the Clarksvilke Happenings group on Facebook. As to HoCoGov--if this is what the future looks like, it's looking mighty backward.


Post Script: Both Jon Weinstein and Courtney Watson have been reaching out through social media during recent weather events. I realized my omission as soon as I hit "post".




Sunday, February 15, 2015

Valentine Recap

Yesterday was the first Valentine's Day in fifteen years that I haven't been with my husband. He was wrapping things up at a music convention in San Antonio, then heading home. It felt weird. We don't really do elaborate things to celebrate, actually. We exchange cards and sometimes little gifts. But we're together.

I was feeling a bit blue when I came across this post from my next door neighbor:

So I'm in line at the grocery store and there's a boy in front of me all by himself with a large bouquet of long stem red roses. His total comes to $21.15 and he whips out a $20 bill. The cashier informs him that he is $1.15 short and the boy, who is just adorable says all I have is $20. The cashier says I'm sorry kid but I can't help you out. There was no way I was going to let this boy not have the Valentine's Day that he was planning so there was only one thing I could do. I went ahead and paid the difference for him and with the biggest smile he gives me a very heartfelt thank you! Happy Valentine's Day to all you love bugs out there!

Reading about her simple act of kindness really gave me a lift. When my daughter went out for dinner with friends, I decided to take myself down to the Second Chance for my own Valentine dinner. I brought my iPad along for company and enjoyed a delightfully pink drink.

The food was great, the service was awesome, and my mood was much improved. While I was finishing my dinner I got an idea. I popped into the Food Lion, then basically crawled the one block drive to my house from the village center. The snow was really coming down and I didn't have much traction. I pulled my coat around myself and put my hood up, then completed my mission.

A little while later my neighbor posted this picture, with the caption, "feeling loved".

Soon after, my daughter made it home from her social event. My older daughter called me on the phone, after her dinner date with her husband, to see how I was doing. Then finally, after midnight, my husband returned safe and sound, after white-knuckling a low-visibility, high-wind drive from BWI.

So that was my Valentine's Day. Different, but wonderful all the same.


Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Mystery Un-Rapped?

Since sometime in September of 2014, as far as I can tell, Colonel Gateway has been maintaining a presence on Twitter and entertaining those of us in the Bubble who may have originally thought that the "Col" on the Columbia Gateway sign stood for Colonel. It's a delightful parody account. He's chatty, he's fun, and he interacts with his followers. Here's a closeup photo:

Columbia is an odd duck in the world of municipalities. In fact, it isn't one. It's an overgrown homeowners association. We don't have our own TV station, radio station, or even a truly local newspaper. But now we have Colonel Gateway. He's our odd duck . He tweets about the traffic, the weather, the flocks of Canada geese, a good place to get lunch. Colonel Gateway: the hyperlocal hero.

So, when I saw this video about the Gateway area, which features the Colonel, I was pretty tickled. The Official Anthem for Gateway Drive? Produced by ADG Creative, it's quirky and funny. Maybe Julia Louis-Dreyfuss would have enjoyed her time here more had she gotten to hang out with Colonel Gateway and the other folks in this video.

Oh. Wait. Could it be? Is Colonel Gateway merely a creation of ADG Creative as a part of their campaign to promote Gateway? Is he nothing but a commercially-owned advertising mascot?

Noooooo! Say it ain't so, Colonel! I want to believe that you love us for who we really are, not just because you get paid to. Ah, well. Everyone needs to eat. Even the Colonel.








Friday, February 13, 2015

Snowden River Parkway Blues

Why did the Lincoln Tech student cross the road?

No, this is not a joke. I mean really, why? There's this big parking lot in front of Lincoln Tech, and it's full of cars. Why on earth are all those people trying to cross Snowden River Parkway? Why don't they just get in their cars and drive like normal people?

It's a strange phenomenon. Around midday you see them. Clumps of people by the side of the road, waiting for their chance. Therre's no traffic light, no crosswalk, in fact there's no sidewalk at all. The median strip isn't even a level playing field here; it's a grassy slope at quite an angle. Even if you make it up to the midpoint and scale the hill, you still have to clamber over the traffic barrier and cross the other side of traffic on Snowden.

Why would anyone do that? Why would anyone do that every day?

To get lunch, I suspect.

Maybe some of those students don't have cars. Is it possible that some arrive by bus or are dropped off by others because they don't have their own transportation? Or maybe some of them have the crazy idea that it's a completely normal thing to walk across the street to pick up lunch. There's a deli right there, also an Indian restaurant and a bakery. Why not, right?

Why not? Because this is Columbia where pedestrians are meant to meander on lovely pathways in natural settings. Cross the street to buy lunch? How plebian. Or perhaps I should say outré. It just isn't done.

Except it is. (See above.)

I know there was a Market Study commissioned by the Columbia Association, and this area, referred to as "GEDS", was included. Was there any consideration of Walkability as a part of this study? It is my understanding that the study was focused on commercial viability. Is how customers arrive at a place of business a part of commercial viability?

So, back to our students crossing the road. I commend them. First, for pursuing training to become qualified for employment. Second, for patronizing local businesses. Third, for believing it's okay to walk to get your lunch. But, please, can we get these folks some electric-yellow jackets and hard-hats to make their crossing somewhat less hazardous? We all know there's no such thing as a free lunch, but you shouldn't have to take your life in your hands to buy it.

Say, maybe this is a place for one of Bill Woodcock's Big Ideas for Columbia. Gondolas, anyone?


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Taking Questions

On Tuesday I received an email from Joel Gallihue, the Manager of School Planning for Howard County Public Schools. He was responding to the two posts I wrote concerning the closing of the RECC at Ducketts Lane and my concerns that both Veterans and Ducketts exceeded their capacity so quickly. He wrote,

I supervise the development of enrollment projections and long range capital planning which is documented annually in the Feasibility Study.
I read your blog posts which reference the Feasibility Study. Please feel free to contact the Office of School Planning directly with your questions. We are always very happy to help.

And so, dear readers, I put the question to you. What questions do you have for Mr. Gallihue? I have asked a few friends for their thoughts on this, but I want to spread the net wider before I get back to him. Since he has been helpful enough to step forward, I want to give him some really decent questions. And yes, that does mean thoughtful and respectful rather than angry or accusatory.

It's also true that the responsibility for situations like Veterans and Ducketts does not rest with the school system alone. Every time our county makes a decision to allow the development of land for the kind of housing which attracts people with families there will necessarily be a price to pay down the road in increased enrollment. The two go hand in hand. Or maybe they don't. Maybe that's the problem?

I don't see my mission here as pointing fingers at anyone. My goal is to ask the right questions, to see what could be done to make the process work better. Why? Because I'm just curious like that. Or maybe because I'm a teacher and a parent and it really matters to me.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Litmus Test

Show of hands: how many of you live on Columbia assessed property?

Okay, how many of you vote in your village elections?

What do you mean, what village?

Yes, it's that time of year again. It's time to turn our attention to village elections and how we, as members of what may be the largest homeowners asociation ever, can best participate. Each village has a board, which deals with issues specific to their village community association, and each village elects a Columbia Association representative, who then represents the village on the Columbia Council. (Yes, I know it's a bit more complicated than that, but it's a start.)

The CA Board/Columbia Council votes on issues that affect members Columbia-wide, for instance, the creation of the Inner Arbor Trust, funding for remodeling of facilities, preservation of Open Space, and a whole lot more. Now, the work itself is performed by the Columbia Association. The Board is an advisory body meant to set broader themes rather than to micromanage each detail. Sometimes it is difficult to ascertain this, but that is the intent.

I'd like to turn your attention to two issues that are weighing heavily on my mind. One is serious, the other--not so much.

First, I'd like to establish the Villlage Green/Town Squared litmus test for running for both village board and the CA Board. It's quick and easy:

1. Do you like going to meetings?

2. Do you have unlimited time to attend meetings?

If you have answered "yes" to either one or both of those questions, you are automatically disqualified. That's right. We need to be brutally honest that the future of Columbia belongs to people who have busy and interesting lives and may not even see the point of traditional meetings as we know them. The longer our community remains wedded to old-school methods of community "engagement", the less likely that newer and younger residents will "engage". And that, my friends, is death to our Columbia Ideal. You need to have people to have a People Tree.

Okay, now to get a bit more serious. There has been an idea circulating for awhile that would radically change Columbia Association governance. I noticed it on the Oakland Mills Village Board Meeting agenda for this week. Bill Woodcock mentions it in his post "Hey, What's the Big Ideas?" on The 53. He says,

And this year, some Columbia Council candidates and others will tell you that the Big Idea going on in Columbia is to make every lien holder in Columbia a member of the Columbia Association. So if you pay a fee to Columbia Association for your home or business to exist on CA-assessed property, you would become a member of CA. As opposed to what happens now, where the ten members of the Columbia Council, who also sit as the CA Board, sit as the members of the Columbia Association.

Some will say this will give everyone a say in Columbia affairs. And that same some, will be very, very wrong. Making every lien holder a CA member will make doing anything in Columbia very complicated. Which is kind of what those who support this change wants. So this is not a Big Idea. It is a Very Small Idea.

There's plenty to say about this issue, but the one I want to stress today is that this change would give votes to businesses, and take them away from renters. Now, each village has its own election rules concerning renters (and maybe they should be consistent Columbia-wide?) so I may not be able to make a blanket statement on this. But, considering the all-inclusive, welcoming premise of Columbia's very existence, any change that gives votes to businesses while, at the same time, disenfranchising humans is A Very Bad Plan.

It would also encourage micromanaging of the very worst sort. And only those who love meetings, and have unlimited time to attend them, stand to gain anything from this. What would they gain? Control. The power to say no: no change, no forward movement, no deviation from the past.

So, if you don't particularly like meetings, and you don't have unlimited time to attend them, I wholeheartedly encourage you to run for your village board or Columbia Council Representative. You're exactly the kind of person I want representing me, and you could change how Columbia does business--for the better.



Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Trojan Horse

Have you heard the story about the new Sports Complex in Oakland Mills? If you have, it's probably because of a publicity campaign launched on social media in recent weeks. Letters have been targeted to residents in other Columbia villages and throughout the county, drumming up support for this project. Unfortunately, the pitch omits a key piece of information: it is predicated on a desire to displace poor and minority residents and diminish opportunities for affordable housing in Oakland Mills.

Supporters of the proposed Sports Complex are part of a small but vocal group who have for many years claimed that everything wrong with Oakland Mills could be traced to affordable housing. In addition, they have been quite vocal in their complaints that other Columbia villages were not "doing their fare share" in shouldering the burden of affordable housing. Therefore I find it disingenuous to be reaching out to these same villages asking for support while withholding the true intent behind this project: a new sports complex will allow the OM Board to "reclassify" land that is now used for affordable housing, and that housing will have to go...somewhere else. As an Oakland Mills resident I am embarrassed at this attempt to take advantage of the enthusiasm of well-meaning sports parents.

How lovely it would be to build a brand-new, state of the art sports complex in Howard County. How unlovely it would be to displace our neighbors with an eye to raising our own property values.

The Oakland Mills Community Association website proudly proclaims: We Value Connections. Let's focus our efforts on the projects which actually promote connections--Bridge Columbia, the all-Columbia pathway system, and Blandair Park. All three will bring positive benefits to our village as we continue to work on ways to support our Village Center and encourage new residents to move into our community.

The sports complex really comes down to being a story of being against something, then crafting a solution that gets rid of it. Real change comes from being united in support of a positive goal. County Executuve Allan Kittleman has committed himself to the revitalization of Columbia's aging village centers. Do me a favor, with you? Drop him a note. (

Let him know that you think that there are better solutions than a sports complex with a hidden agenda.




Monday, February 9, 2015

Clarksville Happenings

On 32 North, past 108,

at one pm a twist of fate

Brought a mom and her daughter (learning to drive)

And a truck with a box with a sheep inside.

How did it happen? No one knew

if the truck hit a bump but out it flew

Flew through the air and fell to the side

From the truck flew the box with the sheep inside.

Did you see what happened? Does any one know?

Was the sheep okay by the side of the road?

(It doesn't seem safe to try your luck

With a sheep in a box in the back of a truck.)

Past 108, on Route 32

Marks the landing spot of the sheep who flew

Eye witness reports say the sheep survived--

It's truly amazing that sheep's alive.

White sheep, black spots

An unusual sight

Was returned to the box then strapped down tight

In the bed of the truck for a safer ride.

That truck with the box with the sheep inside.





Sunday, February 8, 2015

HoCoHoller on the Home Front

I'm embarrassed to say I woke myself up snoring this morning. It was early, around five am. I didn't want to run the risk of waking up my husband, so I went downstairs to sleep on the couch. Once I got downstairs it was chilly, so I grabbed a couple of the throw blankets we keep for just such occasions, got comfy and dozed off. When I eventually woke up at eight, I toddled on into the kitchen, made coffee, and brought it upstairs.

No big deal.

Well, it's a big deal if you're homeless. None of that would be possible if I didn't have a place to call home.

Last night my church, Abiding Savior Lutheran, became another one of the growing number of congregations to host a chili cook-off to support Bridges to Housing Stability. The plan for a chili cook-off is simple: you need a variety of cooks, and number of willing tasters. The winner is chosen as tasters "tip" their favorites--bringing a lot of single dollar bills is highly recommended. Our small but mighty church raised $300.00 to help end homelessness in Howard County.

The entrants:

The winner, Mr. Howard Duncan, with a few of his able competitors:

The representative from Bridges to Housing Stability who attended the cook-off began with this simple statement:

No one should experience homelessness – no one should be without a safe, stable place to call home. Everyone deserves a home in Howard County.

She gave us some numbers about homelessness in our county. Perhaps it's an overall sense of affluence and pride in our own accomplishments that mask such truly devastating pockets of suffering. A number I found particularly heartbreaking is that over five hundred children in the Howard County Schools system have been identified as homeless.

The chili cook-off, which started with one congregation and has now grown to eighteen, will conclude on March 8th when all of the preliminary winners will meet at the Church of the Resurrection in Ellicott City to battle it out for the right to claim The Golden Ladle in the Fifth Annual "Hotter Than Thou" Chili Cook-Off. If you like chili and want to support this wonderful cause, mark your calendar now and stock up on single dollar bills. There's no entry fee, you'll simply taste and tip to show your approval.

A heartfelt HoCoHoller to the folks at Bridges to Housing Stability, to all the churches participating in this year's chili cook-off, and to Abiding Savior Lutheran Church for a tasty evening of fellowship, food, and fun.







Saturday, February 7, 2015

Honey, Will You Bee?

I'm not the only one who feels nostalgia for the school valentine cards of childhood. As time in school for any child-centered celebrations has diminished, adult longing for a more normal childhood increases. Purely on the basis of what I am seeing on the Internet, I am going to posit the theory that there's some correlation here.

Things that have pretty much disappeared from schools:

  • The messy, doily-and-construction-paper creation of Valentine card mailboxes
  • Time set aside specifically for Valentine's Day parties
  • Celebratory food and drink for said parties

Things that I am seeing in abundance on Facebook and Pinterest:

  • Creative new ideas for handmade Valentine card boxes
  • Elaborate, treat-laden Valentine card ideas
  • Beautiful cupcakes and cookies with a Valentine theme

It seems as though the less our children get to celebrate, the more social media explodes with Valentine fervor. In particular, the rise of the Valentine-plus-gift cards, seen here and here. Is it because we know our children won't have the leisure of an old-style school celebration, so we're trying to pack extra fun into the card?

Taking home a sack full of "stuff" can't replace the time, hands-on activities, and social interaction with other children that Valentine celebrations used to entail. Human beings were meant to celebrate. And celebrations should be multi-sensory experiences. They don't need to be elaborate. But they involve time, process rather than product, and human interaction.

There's so much more I could say about Valentine's Day, good and bad. But today, think on this: if we say we are preparing our children for life, why are we stripping away opportunities for authentic human experiences? The same "skills" used having a class party for a Valentine's Day will be needed all through life:

  • Preparation
  • Creation
  • Successful peer interaction
  • Giving to others
  • Capacity for enjoyment
  • Cleaning up (yup, that too!)

You'll notice that none of those things are "on the test." This year, with the introduction of PARCC, standardized testing will take up more time than ever. In what way is it preparing our children for life? We need to be really clear that, in allowing this trend to continue in our schools, we are making a choice. We are choosing digital assessment over a living and breathing childhood for our kids.

Happy Valentine's Day, everybody. You still have time to get messy. But please, do it at home. They're too busy practicing at school.






Friday, February 6, 2015

The More You Know

Updates on this and that.

After I re-sent my letter about the Oakland Mills "Sports Complex" I received responses within 24 hours from:

CA Board Members--Alan Klein, Jeanne Ketley, Nancy McCord, Reginald Avery, Andrew Stack, And Tom O'Connor

County Executive Allan Kittleman

For those of you following along at home, that means I have heard from everyone except for Long Reach CA Board Member Russ Swatek. That's really an amazing response and I have learned a lot.

Remember the OBCRC? (Operating Budget Citizens Review Commitee) Correction: it's the Citizen's Operating Budget Review Committee. Although officially dissolved by the Board of Education, it has reformed itself and has already begun meeting to evaluate the Superintendent's 2016 budget. Talk about dedication! Here are some notes from their first work session. Lots of good questions here. Someone must have an advanced degree, methinks...

I received a letter in the mail yesterday from someone at The Columbia Bank who read my blog post about the closing of the Oakland Mills branch and has invited me to give him a call. (He has tried calling here but I haven't been around.)

In the area of shameless self-promotion, Lin-Manuel Miranda read my blog post and retweeted it, leading to a rather large spike in views. I also forwarded it to my elementary school music teachers who wrote back,

Oh my, Julia--you have brought tears to my eyes with this lovely tribute! Thanks so much for reminding me of the "good times" which I do miss in my retirement. I miss the good feeling when you know that you have done a good job of teaching a concept and the kids got it. I was reminded again this week of my piano teacher 50 years ago when I was practicing a piece for church using a book she had given me back in the day. And I did write her several years ago thanking her for all she had given me.

And when I went to teach at Ducketts Lane on Wednesday, all sorts of people in the RECC took me aside and said, "I read your post. Thank you."

Rereading this, I see that it's all about the connections.

"It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tired into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly."

― Martin Luther King Jr.




Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Amen Corner

      "Strathmore, why can't we have one?" I thought as I moved through the gleaming, bustling arts venue filled with concert-goers chatting, having cocktails, or eating dinner at the sit-down café. The crowd was a good mix of younger, older, with representation from different racial/ethnic groups. Don't get me wrong, it was mostly older, mostly white, as supporters of the arts tend to be these days, but there were significantly more folks who didn't fit that mold. And that was good to see.

      Perhaps it was the event itself: the first half was to be the Wynton Marsalis Quintet, the second half, the Shenandoah Conservatory Symphony Orchestra performing Marsalis' Blues Symphony, which is based on musical themes and styles from African-American music. At any rate, the joint, as they say, was jumping.

      When we got to our seats we noticed that we were surrounded by kids. Well, not really kids. Young college students, I'm guessing, were filing in and chatting and trying to sort themselves out around us. They held tickets, and occasionally glanced at them, but whatever was on the tickets didn't seem to make sense to them. A friendly usher came over and spoke to them.

      "I know you're here as a group, and you want to sit next to a friend, but we have a full house tonight. So I need you to look at the seat number on your ticket and make sure that you are only sitting in those seats."

      One fellow suggested helpfully, "Would you like us to all move down to the right, and you can just fill in from the left?" She looked a bit startled and then said, no, that wouldn't be necessary, and left them to get settled. My husband smiled. He whispered to me that they probably had only been to concerts with open seating before. This was a new experience for them.

      I should have known that. When the two young men to my right had arrived, in "nice" jeans and rugby-style shirts, they looked around the concert hall with a kind of amazement, taking it all in.

      "Wow, isn't this weird, man, that we're in a place like this? To hear an orchestra?"

      "Yeah, crazy."

      Once the concert began these same fellows provided an endless stream of entertainment as they responded to the performance. They had no filter. And, as the first half was jazz, it didnt strike me as the kind of breach of concert etiquette which normally gets my goat. Their bodies moved along to the beat, showing clear understanding of syncopation, the stress of notes carried over the bar-line. They grooved. They were tuned in.

      "Yeah!" "Wow." Low whistles, head-shaking in amazement, appreciative hoots and shout outs. A startled gasp at a virtuosic turn by Marsalis, or a knowing glance to eachother at an unexpected key change or particularly effective crescendo from the drums. I witnessed a kind of enthusiasm for music that one usually sees in response to fast cars, pretty girls, or feats of athleticism. These kids may not have experienced "concert hall manners" before, but they knew music.

      As the first half progressed, the rest of the house gradually loosened up under the influence of the amazing jazz performance. It was almost as though everyone else warmed up to the level of enthusiasm that my seat mates had come in with. While at first I had found them off-putting, now I realized what a wonderful lens they were for me to experience the concert. I glanced over. One was leaning forward, rapt, head in hands. The other was completely flat out, head back, eyes closed. Both with identical focus on the music.

      The set ended. "Bravo!" shouted one, clapping enthusiastically. "Bravo!"

      "Bravo?" His friend questioned as he applauded.

      "Bravo! It's what you say!" replied his friend, authoritatively.

      Indeed. Bravo, guys. You made my night.


      Wednesday, February 4, 2015

      Keep Those Cards and Letters Coming In

      I wanted to take a moment today to give an update in my quest to reach local elected officials about the proposed "Sports Complex" project in Oakland Mills. You will recall that I first heard from:

      Howard County Councilman Calvin Ball

      Howard County Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty

      Maryland State Delegate Shane Pendergrass

      Maryland State Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary

      Howard Councilwoman Jen Terrasa

      And, since Friday I have also heard from:

      Howard County Councilman Jon Weinstein

      Maryland State Senator Guy Guzzone

      Columbia Association President and CEO Milton Matthews

      I was puzzled that I hadn't heard from anyone at all on the CA Board, which made me wonder if somehow my email had been lost in the ether. So I reached out to two members I know to make sure they had received it. They had. Michael Cornell (River Hill) said, and this is really good to know, that emails addressed to everyone are less likely to receive a response than ones addressed individually. And Brian Dunn (Kings Contrivance) said he thought that members were just waiting to learn more about the subject before responding.

      So, all in all, I've had a pretty good response. I clearly have some follow-up to do if I want to reach a 100 percent response level. As this is a topic I obviously care a lot about, I'll clearly be doing just that.

      One more thing: I shared this information on my blog as a way of saying, "This is what I did. This is what happened. What has been your experience under similar circumstances.?" It was not an exercise in shaming anyone. When ordinary citizens contact their elected officials, you can be sure they communicate amongst themselves about what kind of a response they received. Word of mouth can be a powerful thing, for good or ill. The only difference here is that I have a blog, so I can open up my experience for public discussion.

      As I was pondering how to wrap this up I heard yesterday's broadcast of the Kojo Nnamdi show on WAMU. The topic was how newly-elected members of Congress learn the ins and outs of their jobs in Washington. The guest was describing how carefully letters from constituents were scanned and tallied so that totals could be amassed for views on different issues. One thing that representatives often forgot, however? Responding.

      He went on, "The two most important words an elected official can ever say to a constituent are: I'm listening."

      Tuesday, February 3, 2015


      Yesterday, in addressing the closing of the RECC program at Ducketts Lane, I wrote:

      I know that I have friends who know much more about this topic than I do. Chime in, please. Tell me why this happened.

      Blogger Bill Santos, of Columbia Compass, was exactly the sort of person I was thinking of when I made this request. It wasn't long before I heard from him. Here goes:

      You need to get up to speed on several documents that are available and periodically updated. The first is the HCPSS feasibility study, published every year in June. Here is the link to the 2014 study:

      You also need to get up to speed on APFO (Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance) and the DPZ Development Monitoring Report. Both can be found on the DPZ site under publications.

      You also need to understand that most of school construction is done using state money, and with all state funding, there are criteria for obtaining the funding.

      You should also do a search for Oxford Square Elementary School. This proposed school site is geographically adjacent to Ducketts Lane Elementary School, (and proposed to be right next to Thomas Viaduct Middle School) although the road network is problematic (in my view).

      Later, on Facebook, he added: The more I read up on this, the more it seems that the disconnect is at the State level. The State Public School Construction Program allocates funding for school construction. This program is overseen by the Inter Agency Commission, and is comprised of MD Dept of Ed Facilities Branch, the Public Works Commission, and designees appointed by the State Legislature. Lots of rules from these folks. Including the fact that the State Department of Planning provides the enrollment numbers, and "Projects for additional capacity may not be recommended for planning approval or funding where adequate capacity is available at adjacent schools." Much of the County APFO, redistricting, and other activities seem to be looking at the regs that govern the State Public School Construction Program.


      So there's a start. It's great to have friends who are so plugged in to this kind of knowledge.

      I would be remiss if I didn't tell you that Mr. Santos thought that I should have done all of this research before I wrote about what is happening at Ducketts Lane. And, truth be told, if he had written the post, he would have. But I wrote to start a conversation, not merely to dispense information. I have found that my readers are the type who are willing to do their own research once you point them in the right direction, and want to take part in an intelligent conversation.

      Let's keep it going.