Sunday, May 31, 2015

Share Your Story

Tomorrow evening, at seven pm, at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center:

We are a group of Howard County residents who are interested in how the implementation of the HCPSS dress code policy in our schools impacts students – particularly girls – in their learning and development.

On June 1st, we are hosting a community "conversation that matters" around these issues. The meeting will be held at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center in Sanctuary A.

The first meeting will be open only to HCPSS students, parents, and allies to listen to personal stories related to the implementation of HCPSS dress code policy without debate of the issues or defense of the existing policy.

Please let us know if you can make it!

PS - There will be snacks :)

This is not a protest or a rally. This is a conversation. Dress codes and how they are enforced affect both boys and girls. Let's take some time to examine how it's happening here in Howard County.










Friday, May 29, 2015

Graduation and Life

My sister Pam graduated from Cleveland Heights High School in 1968. Her graduating class had over a thousand people, I believe. The event was held downtown in the Cleveland Public Auditorium which is immense. My parents had seats closer to the graduates. My grandmother sat with my sister Barb and I, much higher up. She brought opera glasses so we could occasionally glimpse a view of what was going on.

I was about nine years old and I couldn't understand what the big deal was. I had been to the Public Audtorium once as a very young child to see the circus. That was a whole lot more interesting. Now I had to get all dressed up, sit for hours far away from the action, and couldn't really see what was going on.

When it was over I asked my mother, "Why did they make such a big deal of this? They're not done with school. They still have to go to college."

And then I learned the shocking truth. Some people didn't go to college. For some people, this was truly the end of their education. It sounds silly to write it now, but it was shocking to me at the time. We had spent the last year living through college applications with my sister, so I just assumed everybody went.

"But--what do they do?" I asked my mother.

"They get jobs. You know, like working at the grocery, or the gas station, or maybe building houses or repairing things." An over-simplified answer for a nine year old: there are jobs you can get if you don't have a college education. An answer in a family where the importance of college education was paramount.

I recall this conversation today as we are at the very tail end of high school graduation season here in Howard County. It's still a really big deal. We have Merriweather instead of the stuffy old Cleveland Public Auditorium. Younger siblings still have to sit far away but maybe with updated technology they don't need opera glasses.

Wednesday night there was a protest in support of full-spectrum housing in Columbia. Excellent coverage by Amanda Yeager and Jon Sham can be found here. Why do we need full-spectrum housing? Well, simply put, because we have full-spectrum people. Not everyone goes to college. Not everyone can afford to, and college isn't the right choice for everyone.

Sitting at my sister's graduation so long ago I could not understand how that one event could be a defining moment for so many. At the tender age of nine I already was making so many assumptions based on my limited middle class white existence. I assumed college. I assumed enough food to eat and a place to live. I assumed health care. I assumed I would have a choice between getting married and staying home with with a family or having a career, although my thoughts on that were still rather fuzzy.

Life has changed a lot since then. I have had a lot of struggles and have seen many of my childhood assumptions challenged. As a teacher (married to a teacher) living in Howard County, I understand very clearly how limited housing choices can be. We are extremely fortunate to live in a house that we can afford.

But everyone in our community needs a place to live, not just my family. Everyone on the human spectrum. I learned at the 100th birthday celebration for James Rouse that he made a conscious decision:

If you work in Columbia, you should be able to live in Columbia.

It's clear from the subsequent decisions he made, and his work with the Enterprise Foundation, that he meant not only to take a stand for racial and ethnic diversity, but for economic diversity as well. A healthy community has opportunities for all kinds of people. Making room for that healthy mix makes Columbia more successful overall.

I want Columbia and Howard County to open up opportunities for housing at different price points. People should be able to live in the community where they work.

The (Full Spectrum Housing) Coalition believes that a full spectrum of housing:

  • Supports economic development
  • Provides for green and sustainable development
  • Creates housing for everyone in the workforce including first responders and educators
  • Supports diversity and equity
  • Provides a place for generations to live and grow together

So do I.









Thursday, May 28, 2015

A Voice of Conscience

I'm sharing this statement from BoE member Bess Altwerger this morning. As an elected member of the HC Board of Education, Ms. Altwerger voted NOT to approve the HCPSS Operating Budget. Here's the statement she read at the meeting:

Before I vote on this budget, I want to express my appreciation to the Superintendent, my fellow board members, and especially the staff who put countless hours into preparing and revising this budget. My votes on the budget areas in no way reflect my lack of appreciation for all the many considerations and constraints that shaped the process of developing this budget. Beverly Davis went to extraordinary lengths in her effort to produce a budget that reflected the directions she was given. Thank you Bev and to the rest of the staff. I also want to thank the members of the Citizen’s OBRC who worked on their own to provide the Board very careful analyses of every area of the budget with recommendations for reallocation and revisions of the budget so as to ensure the people of Howard County that their tax dollars were being wisely spent to provide the best possible education for all of our students.

After deep reflection, I have decided to vote against the budget in accordance with my own conscience and best judgement, and in response to the public comments and testimonies coming from educators, parents and community members who believe that this budget does not reflect the priorities that have kept our schools among the best in the state and the nation. I agree with many of their concerns. Although I am very grateful that no staff members will lose their jobs next year, the budget does contain cuts in positions and that will greatly affect some of the key factors that affect learning.

1. There will be an increase in class sizes so that many classrooms will reach the maximum level allowed. Most significantly, this will impact our youngest and most vulnerable students who need the lowest possible student-educator ratio to thrive cognitively and emotionally. Along with larger class sizes these same students will have fewer trained paraprofessionals to support instruction. Their teachers will be stretched beyond reason as they try to attend to the wide range of developmental levels amongst their young students, while also trying to fulfill the requirements for administering the time consuming KRA.

2. I cannot in good conscience vote for a budget that eliminates the support staff necessary to keep our middle and high school media centers open and available to our students throughout the school day and providing the individualized assistance our students need to conduct their research, class projects, extending their knowledge and fostering their thirst for books.

3. I can’t in good conscience vote for a budget that doesn’t adequately address the concerns of the parents of our special needs students who have consistently and urgently requested our revisions in scheduling, in providing more staff, and extensions of programs to both younger and older students who need our support.

4. Finally, I cannot support a budget that finds the necessary millions of dollars for a testing system that robs days of valuable instructional time from our students and educators, and for a multitude of contracts with businesses and services but can’t set aside the funds to provide our outstanding educators with a step increase or even a small cost of living raise as a token of our appreciation.

Thank you for the time to express my views, and I apologize in advance to our dedicated staff who prepared each area of the budget to such painstaking detail and to the Superintendent and my Board colleagues who I know are doing what they think is in the best interest of the entire HCPSS.


Remember this?

What do you think the job of a Board of Education member is?

1. What power does the position convey?

2. What is the best use of that power?

3. To whom is the Board of Education member responsible?

As I read Ms. Altwerger's statement I am struck by her deep knowledge of the subject matter, the seriousness with which she takes her responsibilities, her courtesy even to those with whom she is in disagreement, and her respect for all stakeholders. I'm so grateful we have a voice like this at the Board of Education.

Is anyone listening?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

My Brush with Anonymity

I received a Tweet from a new local blogger last week.

@hocorudkus: I’m just a blog. Yes, I’m only a blog. New political blog for HoCo.

If you want to check it out, the most recent post is here. I welcome new blogs in Howard County but I have serious misgivings about writing anonymously.

I have long wished that I could have the ability to include only the reader comments which were submitted under the writers' actual names. My personal experiences lead me to believe that we have a good deal more to learn from people who are willing to stand by their words with their genuine identities. Last week's unpleasantness at the hands of an anonymous letter- writer served only to reinforce that.

Some well-known local bloggers passed through a phase of writing anonymously but eventually thought better of it, or through word of mouth their identities gradually became more of an open secret. There are reasons for wanting to write anonymously but the drawbacks far outweigh them--in my opinion.

This past election cycle an anonymous Twitter account sprang up encouraging us all to share and discuss politics together. There was just one problem. All the politicians and many, if not all, of the general public were operating under their own names, whereas HoCoPollster was not. I felt that this did not make for a level playing field,and I said so.

In the case of HoCoPollster, someone decided to have some fun with the election for their own personal enjoyment, but s/he didn't want to bear the responsibilities of this decision. This entire experience left a bad taste in my mouth. I had friends running for office. This was not some self-indulgent masquerade for them. It was real life.

In an introductory theater class in college, our professor outlined the difference between acting which communicates authentically with an audience, and emoting that makes the actor "feel good." The latter, he announced dismissively, was just "masturbatory theater." This is how I feel about a great deal of what is posted anonymously online.

In the end, it is up to the reader to decide. I have just reached a stage in my life where I believe anonymity does more harm than good.



Tuesday, May 26, 2015


Howard County, purveyors as we are of a world class education, offers abstinence based sex education units as a part of its Health Curriculum. We must be extremely committed to that point of view, since the Board of Education thinks that even a passing reference to condoms in a dinner conversation where high school students are present constitutes sexual harassment. Forget about abstinence-based, their actions make us look as though we're abstinence only, abstinence all the way, wash out your mouth with soap, by golly!

There's just one problem. Abstinence based programs don't work. Data on this is readily available. As the United States began to rely more heavily on abstinence based programs, the results have been linked to a crisis in teen pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted infections. In countries like Amsterdam where the focus is on open discussion of the realities of sexual feelings and experiences, plus emphasis on birth control, especially condom use, teen pregnancy and STI's are dramatically lower.

Statistics show that teens become sexually active at pretty much the same age around the world. We really have a choice whether to give them the tools to make good choices, plus access to birth control when they need it, or to keep them under a dome of false purity and "protect" them. Recent events in the news are a harsh reminder that we do not protect children by keeping them in ignorance.

This is not purity. It is a deliberate neglect of our responsibility to educate our children to be able to make healthy, safe decisions for themselves.

As the Howard County Schools begin their new partnership with PFLAG, I hope this will be an opportunity to examine our Health and Sexuality Curriculum in a variety of ways. Of course we need to do more to support LGBTQ students. We need to be willing to discuss non-binary sexuality. And, while we are at it, we need to take a hard look at the data on abstinence based programs and then make a concious choice to do better.










Monday, May 25, 2015


This post ran last year on Memorial Day. I'm sharing it again because it remains the best way I have to honor the day and remember the fallen.


The Meaning of Days

How do you write about something and not make it about yourself?

How do I blog about Memorial Day and not make it about me?

Because it isn't. It really, really isn't about me, my feelings or my views.

I could tell you about how I was raised as a Unitarian during the '60s and how my sisters' friends were conscientious objectors. I could tell you that my Grandfather fought in Italy in WW1 and my father served in Japan in the Army of the Occupation in WW2.

Oh, and have I ever told you that my family fought on both sides of the American Revolution and the Civil War?

I was raised to believe that war was wrong, killing was wrong, but that sometimes you still had to do it, and you had to choose very wisely, because life is precious.

But Memorial Day isn't about me. It is about choice, risk and commitment, fear, pain, work, dedication, and grief that I will never know. If I hang out a flag does that even begin to touch it? If I stop to say a prayer will it mean something?

Would I know how to pray?

I once had a conversation with an Episcopal priest about a complicated issue that sincerely troubled me. I said, "I feel like I am sitting in the back of the class, waving my hand, saying, 'I don't get it.'"

He said, "You don't have to get it."

In other words: it's not about you. Let go of the notion that it has to make sense to you. Be open to a meaning beyond your comprehension.

I'm closing with a poem that circulated in England during World War Two. Eleanor Roosevelt shared it in her My Day column on June 39, 1944.

"We who have husbands at home should be very quiet

For we do not know

The meaning of days, nor yet do we understand

The hush of houses where in shadow go

The unheard footsteps, the invisible faces of men.

Let us not speak

Too loudly of war restrictions and rationing and in the black-out

For there are eyes that seek

Empty horizons, skies and deserts and sad gray seas,

And a sign from God.

While we who have husbands at home look in the shops

For wool perhaps, or cod

Let us remember, when we complain of the winters cold

There are others here

Who have held in the moonless dark of a thousand nights

The hand of fear,

And have walked for years in desolate barren valleys

Where no flowers grow

We who have husbands at home should be very quiet,

For we do not know."

Sunday, May 24, 2015


Remember Fan Clubs? You could send away a dollar, maybe a bit more, along with your registration form clipped from Tiger Beat or 16 Magazine and become an Official Member. You would receive a membership card and other special memberships items in the mail. Perhaps even an autographed picture.

Today it is not about joining a fan club. Today it is about Fandom, pursuing your fandom, and curating multiple fandoms. Fandom is a multi-modal explosion of entertainment, merchandising, technology, and social media. In an earlier age one might have had one big teen idol or crush, collected some popular item like ceramic ponies or troll dolls, and pursued a hobby such as roller skating, horseback riding or listening to records.

Today's concept of fandom can reach into every aspect of leisure time. You watch a television show/ movie/ musical performer. You can watch again and again on Netflix or YouTube. You can join social media communities to discuss it, create Pinterest Boards to collect images of your fandom, connect with retailers who are selling fandom themed merchandise. You can read or write fanfiction created specifically in response to the shows or performers you like. You can narrow your selections to those highlighting the specific romances that you "ship". You can go to conventions or social events dressed in character.

This makes the old days of joining the Fan Club look very old indeed. Is it better? Is it worse? To me, it is both fascinating and overwhelming at the same time. I think it would be pretty scary if Fandom replaced everything in a young person's life. It is capable of being pretty much everything. To the teen, if feels self-generated. And yet it is also part of an enormous merchandizing machine.

How will this affect how our kids approach other things in life as they get older? Politics, religion, community involvement, love, family...

Yes, in every generation there is something that the young really "get into" and that the parental generation fears or distrusts. That's a part of life. And whatever that is, we all have to learn to cope with it, whatever it is. In general, the more adults denounce, the better it looks to their kids. We have all been there.

I'm not denouncing. But I look at how easy it is to get sucked in and think that establishing balance is more important now than ever. And that's not just a lecture for the kids, but a lesson for all of us. Whenever we allow one thing to be our life and our leisure, our hobby, our game, our goal and our self-image--we are in danger of losing ourselves.

That's what grown ups worry about, anyway. Adolescence is a time of experimentation, teens are pretty flexible. Remember when your mom said, "what if your face gets stuck that way?" It didn't.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Saturday Survey

Pools are open for the season! Pictured above is "The Bubbler", a newish water feature at the Talbott Springs Pool in Oakland Mills. I dubbed it "The Little Squirt" last year, which seems to suit it, I think. It's adorable.

So here's my question to readers of this blog.

Do you live in Columbia?

Do you belong to CA Health Club Facilities and Pools?

I'm just curious enough to try something new and create a survey.

Wherever you live and whatever you do this weekend, I hope it's wonderful.



Friday, May 22, 2015

3:53 am

Greetings from 3:53 am. I am charged with waking up my daughter at 4:15 for the big field trip to Music in the Parks, and of course I have been tossing and turning all night with very little sleep at all. Later I will crash. Now I will blog.


Weighing heavily on my mind is a comment made to me in passing that word from the higher-ups in the Howard County Public Schools was the possibility that all play is going to be eliminated from PreK, "so they can really learn". Now this is not a documented fact. I do not have evidence to back this up. So, why am I sharing it?

Well, if the current trend in the school system continues, if this were in the works, none of us would know until it was too late. There would be an announcement, a press release, or perhaps the elimination of play wouldn't be revealed at all, but hidden under a description of increasing educational opportunities. Parent input would be criticized and teacher input would be strongly discouraged, if not downright suppressed. So I certainly hope it is a misunderstanding.

I have worked almost my entire career in the field of Early Childhood. Education trends may come and go, but this remains the same: young children learn best through play. In fact, play is quite legitimately the work of childhood. The most precious experiences are multi-sensory, hands-on, allow for movement, and are extended through imagination and play.

The most valuable teaching creates, fosters, and supports such environments.

I read in the Howard County Times that County Executive Kittleman has formed an Early Childhood Task Force. I commend him for caring about this crucial time of life and our youngest citizens. The article quotes him,

"We have one of the best school systems in the country. However, we must also attend to preparing our children from the very beginning with access to the best early childhood education available," Kittleman said in a statement. "This foundation is a critical component of our work to close the achievement gap in the county and support kindergarteners in the critical first step on a path to success in school and in life."

I sincerely hope that there are professionals with credentials in the field of early childhood on this task force. I hereby issue a heartfelt plea to Mr. Kittleman:

Young children learn through play, and through relevant real-life experiences. We need to close the Achievement Gap by closing the experience gap. The foundation of learning for our youngest students is provided in the nourishing experiences of play, music, dance, dramatic play, art, and experiences in nature.

Opportunities to listen to story books and engage in language play are vital. Using manipulatives to develop number sense and other hands-on math activities should be in the mix as well. But teaching "reading and math" in the academic sense is unhealthy and counterproductive. It will not close the Achievement Gap, but reinforce it.

Children from at-risk backgrounds come to kindergarten missing the life experiences that more affluent children have received at home: nightly story-time, one-to-one conversations and word play, trips to the farm, to museums, and to concerts, creative and social interactions with peers, safe places for experimenting and making a mess, safe and developmentally appropriate spaces for regular outdoor play.

Eliminating play from the daily diet of the young child in order to "educate" them is the equivalent of eliminating lunch in order to teach nutrition: a starvation diet imposed upon the hungriest and most vulnerable. If there is a Bill of Rights for young children, these three things are at its core:

  • Love
  • Safety and Meeting Physical Needs
  • Play

Dear Mr. Kittleman, thank you for caring about the needs of our young children. I ask that you support solutions which meet them where they are, and give them what they truly need. If you do, your legacy in Howard County will be carried in each little person touched and transformed by your leadership.

This almost sounds like a prayer. Maybe it is.




Thursday, May 21, 2015

Dining with Democrats, HoCo Style

Last night I was able to attend my first Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, which is apparently a big deal event put on annually by the Howard County Democrats. Until very recently, my idea of supporting the Democratic Party consisted of voting. Thanks to friends like Abby Hendrix, Marcia White, Dylan Goldberg, among others, I now know there's much, much more.

To be clear, the best part of the event for me was getting to hear my husband play along with his friends from the "Stolen Moments" guitar duo. I guess it's no surprise that if you see me at a big event, I'm probably with the band. I may not know all the movers and shakers in local politics, but I know all the good tunes. It was rather restful that I didn't know all that many folks last night. I chatted with people I knew, then I sat a while and just enjoyed the music.

Last night was a reminder of who I am as a Democrat, and I enjoyed that. Thanks to the Howard County Democratic Central Committee for a chance to reconnect with some great people and ideas.

I wasn't able to stay for the entire event, but I want to comment on the keynote speech by Secretary of Labor Tom Perez. He was a great choice for this event, especially with its focus of "Why I am a Democrat." He had plenty to say, and his delivery was exhilarating. But it was one of the quieter things he said, almost in passing, that moved me the most.

Blowing out your neighbor's candle isn't going to make yours burn any brighter.

It flies in the face of so many pronouncements we hear these days, which pretty much boil down to,

It's not enough that I be rewarded, others must be punished. It's not enough that I succeed, others must fail.

We had an interesting discussion at my table over dinner about the complete breakdown of bipartisan politics. We thought about large infrastructure projects, built in the past, which very likely could not happen today. "What's in it for me?" has replaced "What can we do, as a nation, to help Americans thrive?"

Sharing the light would be a start. And not just sharing the light with your friends, or the people who look like you, or think like you. Sharing the light means allowing others to be human, to have value, to be connected to your existence. It means focusing on the connections rather than the "otherness."

Is this solely a Democratic aspiration? In my heart I think not. And if it were purely a goal of one group of people in our society, it wouldn't be enough. No matter who you are, you can't win this one alone. You'll need help. Getting together in a room full of like-minded people is fun, reassuring, and inspiring. The real work of progress, though, will be a good deal messier.







Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Bring It

The issue of healthy snacks and drinks is in the news again. I feel certain I have written about this before. I'm convinced we are fighting about the wrong thing. Why are we fighting at all?

Howard County should not be in the vending machine business. Why on earth should we be standing on our heads second-guessing appropriate items for county residents when they are perfectly capable of choosing their own? If you want snacks and drinks, and you have the money to purchase them, bring your own.

The world does not owe us vending machine everywhere we go.

County office buildings should be safe, comfortably heated, cooled, ventilated, with excellent air quality. There should be adequate working bathroom facilities, and plenty of access to clean drinking water: water fountains. Those are reasonable expectations, in my opinion.

The vending machine people want you to believe that "there's a product for every moment" of your day. Do we really want to make the statement that Howard County is for sale?

"I'm Howard County: sell me."

And the vending machine executives are lined up to tell us what to buy.

To be perfectly clear, I think it matters a lot what goes into those machines. This is not an issue of whether or not Citizen A will chose to look good in a swimsuit this summer. This is a public health issue. This is as important to the public good as the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. All the health problems that stem from choosing those products every moment of the day?

We all pay. And it is expensive.

So, if I were casting a vote on CB 17 2015, I would vote yes. But I can't help wondering why Mr. Kittleman, whose aims are to be both fiscally responsible and to promote personal responsibility, wants to have vending machines at all? It would be extremely gratifying to me if he made a bolder statement that Howard County is not in the snacking business.

We'll see.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Crossing the Line

Yesterday I received, through the mail, an anonymous letter with no return address. It was a full page, typed.


Someone who reads this blog decided to commit an entire page to criticizing, not my writing, but my decisions as a parent.


This person found my home address. This person made references to my family which could not have been gleaned from my blog alone.


This is not okay. It is cowardly, creepy, stalkerish behavior, and after much discussion my husband and I have decided to go to the police to document it and ask for advice.


What would you do?


Someone out there knows where I live, knows personal details about my family, and thinks I need their advice about how to raise my child. I have news for you, anonymous writer: reading my blog does not give you the right to do that.


The opinions I express on this blog are fair game if you wish to comment under your own name. My family and personal life are off limits.


I shouldn't even have to say this.


The letter had a Baltimore postmark. It was neatly folded in a business envelope. Someone went to a great deal of trouble to make me feel horrible. I'd feel much better knowing it came from a busybody with really bad judgment as opposed to, say, an axe-murderer.


Wouldn't you?



Monday, May 18, 2015


They keep coming back every year. You would think by now I'd be ready for them. I'm taking about ants, of course, those tiny indoor ants that show up when the weather gets warmer. I typically go through several stages of denial, then totally lose my mind and put out ant baits everywhere.

After a while that usually works. Then I'm stuck cleaning up the oozing gunk from the bait trays. Time passes. I forget all about it.

Then it happens all over again.

Perhaps there are people, somewhere, who have a date marked on their calendars for putting out the ant baits before a single ant is spotted. That would be smart. The ants have their own internal clocks that set them to run their appointed rounds. I guess you have to get up earlier in the morning to outwit them.

Now, in Columbia--you knew that was coming, right?--despite the overwhelming approval for things like Merriweather Park in Symphony Woods amongst ordinary residents, there are diligent detractors who keep getting up every morning and following the predetermined path to attempt to undermine the Inner Arbor Trust and interfere with the progress of Columbia's Downtown Plan.

These folks also follow a Spring cycle to get out the votes for our antiquated system of Village elections. They are extremely good at following the same old trails to find like-minded people and get them really riled up about all the "terrible things" happening in Columbia. The rest of us are just out there living real life: working, parenting, playing, volunteering, trying to hold it all together.

And before you know it, it's Spring again and--ants!

Despite the efforts of quite a few dedicated and forward-thinking people who are trying to open up the process to more Columbians, the election game is still being won by the ants. It's their game, their rules.

Which brings me to the CA Board, and the election of Dick Bolton as a delegate to the Inner Arbor Board. Dick Bolton, newly elected to the CA Board from Dorsey's Search, has had plenty to say on the Inner Arbor plan--in the negative. It looks very much as though Mr. Bolton ran for CA Board to be against things, and now he has a front row seat.

And now, we wait. Wait to see what happens next.

Or do we? Eleanor Roosevelt said,

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.

But, does it really? Or does it belong to the ants?


Sunday, May 17, 2015


When I showed up yesterday to served my shift at the Inner Arbor booth at Wine in the Woods, two things were obvious. It was punishingly hot, and we were in a sunny, crowded area. I quickly backed up into our little tent for a quick bottle of water, and put on a cool "Peace, Love, Merriweather Park" bracelet.

It turned out that the reason our little corner of the world was so busy was that we were next to the Horseshoe Casino booth, and they were running some sort of a prize promotion with one of those big wheels. Lots of people wanted a turn, and so their line ran right in front of our table. And they were waiting, and it was hot...
"Would you like some water?"
This was the start of many great conversations yesterday. It became easy to say, "Look! This is where you are standing, this is what the new park will look like. This is the Chrysalis. It's the first structure we are going to build. It should be ready for Wine in the Woods next year..."
It quickly became apparent that most people who were willing to wait in line for a chance at a prize from Horseshoe Casino were also excited about a new park in Symphony Woods. (This is not a scientific study.) The concept that Symphony Woods is becoming a destination park that could be enjoyed most days in the year was supported by everyone I talked to.
A few people had heard some wildly inaccurate rumors about the park that we were able to quickly dispel. That was gratifying. No, William Cochran's Horns will not be broadcasting music 24/7 throughout the park. No, they are not cutting down so many trees that concerts from Merriweather will be much louder for the surrounding neighborhoods. Where do people hear this kind of nonsense, one wonders?
But questions like this were few and far between. Throughout the time I was there, I found people excited and interested to learn more. I especially enjoyed the young woman who described Symphony Woods as her backyard.
"Wow!" I said. "You're going to have the greatest backyard ever."
She said, "It's so great! In the summer I can sit on my deck and listen to concerts at Merriweather!"
"We can, sometimes," I replied. "We live in Oakland Mills."
She nodded excitedly. "Me, too!"
There you have it. A young professional with her own place. Happy to live in Oakland Mills. Happy to hear concerts from Merriweather. Happy that Symphony Woods is her backyard.
Yesterday, in the heat and with all the crowds, the Inner Arbor booth was definitely the place to be. If you are coming to Wine in the Woods today, make sure to come by.


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Whatever Happened To...?

I read this article this morning about a meeting held to consider plans for improving Clarksville Pike. Two things struck me.

1. There are no disgruntled people saying how horrible it is.

2. Whatever happened to plans for that land next to Kendall Hardware?

I'm setting aside a discussion of #1 for now. Do you remember the saga of that piece of land? Here are a couple of pieces by the late Dennis Lane on the topic:

A Green Hotel for Clarksville

Ken vs. Clarksville

Someone owns that land. Someone wanted to develop that land. It all broke down in the details. Perhaps not the Ulman administration's finest moment. And as you know, overall, I was a fan. But there were a few moments here and there where I got the feeling that their prevailing attitude was, "We have these really great ideas and you folks just don't appreciate us!"

This was definitely one of them.

So, now what? Anybody know?

Feel free to fill me in. Just remember to post under your own name. I'm pretty sure that there are some strong opinions on this, so I'm asking you to be honest enough to sign your own name to yours.


Friday, May 15, 2015

I Saw the Sign

Yesterday I noticed this sign in the lobby of one of the schools where I teach. It is the first time I had seen one in an elementary school.

I think these signs should be prominently displayed in all of our schools. Perhaps with the new partnership with PFLAG, they will be. Although if you read the entire thing, it's clearly not just about LGBT issues. It is about welcoming. Welcoming all.

My guess is that this sign is prominently displayed because the principal of this school is comfortable with this message and makes it a priority in his school community. We may have general rules and goals that apply to the entire school system, but individual principals can have huge influence, for good or ill, over each individual school.

In this case it's very, very good.

Students and their families should know that they are welcomed in all their diversity. Their differences are known, accepted, and celebrated. Everyone in the community should know that this is the standard of acceptance: we are here, we are of many backgrounds, we are valued.

This is, of course, only a sign. Putting a sign on a wall is a symbolic gesture, and not enough unto itself. But I can tell you from my personal experience within this school that I believe it to be sincere. This is a great school.

How much power does a principal have? (I have participated in a lot of those discussions.) You often hear,"The principal sets the tone." This little sign is a good example of what that means.




Thursday, May 14, 2015

Conversations and Change

I had coffee with a friend yesterday. In fact, though our friendship started over a cup of coffee, we haven't repeated the occasion since then. A long time. Years, actually.

Snippets of cocktail party conversation, texts and emails and Facebook posts are more of what fast-paced life is like these days. Although I can pull off great cocktail party banter, I am at heart a deeply shy person, truly an introvert. I recently joked that my slogan should be, "everywhere on social media, nowhere in real life." To get my schedule and someone else's in alignment to sit down together? In person? Now, that's a challenge.

What struck me was how much both of us have changed in the years since that first cup of coffee. Jobs, projects, and volunteer commitments are different. Our families have grown or grown up. Our experience in things we care about has deepened. Our career courses have changed or are on the verge of changing.

In spite of all that the conversation was deeply gratifying because both of us were able to allow for that change. We didn't feel the need to define the conversation or the friendship by what someone used to be.

It's far easier to let relationships get stuck than to allow people to evolve in unexpected ways. It's easier to think "but I know who you are" and "don't confuse me so something that doesn't fit my expectation". People do it all the time. It's easier, but it disminishes the relationship.

Many of the completely fruitless conversations we have in Columbia happen because people have gotten stuck: stuck in the way things used to be, and the way people used to be. It's easy to do. But it diminishes us as a community. This weekend you can come to Wine in the Woods and see people celebrating Columbia in their traditional, "Old Columbia" fashion--but you can also stop by the Inner Arbor Trust booth and talk about the Chrysalis and exciting plans ahead for Merriweather Park in Symphony Woods.

Let's have some great conversations, Columbia


I'm making my debut as a foodie today over on HowChow. Click over and read about my experience with HoCoHouseHon at the lunch buffet at Chutney.



Wednesday, May 13, 2015

All Alone by the Telephone

Howard gears up for Bike to Work Day

Kittleman signs Howard gun ban

Point-in-time survey counts 166 homeless in Howard

Howard activists serve Baltimore with food and books

What do these four Baltimore Sun/HoCo Times articles have in common? They're all by the same author, Amanda Yeager. If you want news in Howard County these days, she's pretty much it. I'm imagining her in the corner of a dusty newsroom, with a dozen phones on her desk...ringing...ringing...

Our local journalism coverage is shrinking and her job just keeps getting bigger. Young, able journalists are jumping ship to get better jobs outside of traditional journalism:

Remember Education Reporter Sara Toth? She's working for the Chattauqua Institution in New York State.

David Greisman? He's still in town, working for the Columbia Association.

Luke Lavoie? Working for Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School.

Blair Ames? Headed out to Vegas to work for the World Series of Poker.

What the heck?

Now, Amanda is not entirely alone. I would be remiss if I didn't mention multi-talented Jon Sham, with whom I had a fascinating conversation about the state of local journalism at the Colonel Gateway party at Aida Bistro. As he works to combine traditional reporting with photography, video, and social media outreach, he must deal with older supervisors who don't get the point of his multi-pronged approach. They don't see it as a priority.

What's happening here in Howard County is not merely a local phenomenon. We all know that. My dad saw the writing on the wall in the 1970's when he and his colleagues were designing computer systems for newspapers and magazines for IBM. Someone in his group began to write a serial retelling of the Lord of the Rings saga in which the hero went out into the world bearing a velvet drawstring bag with the last piece of "Hard Copy" inside. Even then, they knew. And despite being creators on the leading edge, they were already feeling nostalgic for the good old days of printing and publishing. Sad, even.

Recent events in Baltimore have shown how incredibly blessed the city is by the reporters of the Baltimore Sun. Those of us who followed the events of each day by following them on Twitter know how vital their work was in keeping the public informed. I don't dare start to list names because I'll leave someone out. Journalism matters. We need it.

I just don't know how we're going to support it.

But, lest I leave you down in the dumps, here's a great story by someone I don't know (Tony Glaros) about about a cross-cultural restaurant venture in Laurel with ties to Nepal. Oh, and -- want to do something locally to help Nepal? Go eat lunch.





Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Heroes? Maybe. Super? Let's Talk.

      Last week, in response to a post by the Columbia Association about Teacher Appreciation Week, my friend Nina Basu wrote:

      Now I am going to be a curmudgeon about Teacher Appreciation Week. I love my kids' teachers, but I only grudgingly do the usual appreciation stuff. A muffin tray is nice, but how about better pay, more respect, and treating them like the professionals they truly are?

      I am a teacher. I'm married to a teacher. And I am a PTA volunteer who participates in Teacher Appreciation activities. What Nina says may be unpopular, but it strikes at the heart of what is wrong with education today.

      As I travel from school to school, I have the opportunity to observe how different school communities celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week. And just like children's birthday parties, there are a variety of commercially available themes that one can purchase. One that I saw disturbed me: the Superhero theme.

      "Our teachers are Superheroes!" the posters proclaim.

      Really? Or as Cecil the Sea Serpent would have said, "Just a darn minute!"

      • Superheroes have extra-human powers.
      • Superheroes don't need to make a living. They're just doing it out of the goodness of their hearts.
      • We have no responsibility to Superheroes. It isn't necessary to have a good working relationship with them or treat them in a respectful manner.
      • We don't have to communicate with Superheroes. They just know how to miraculously show up in times of crisis.
      • Superheroes are all give and no take. Short of Kryptonite, their energies are boundless.
      How is it fair in any way to look at teachers in this light?
      • Teachers are highly trained and must continue their education and earn specific qualifications, but are 100 % human.
      • Teachers need to earn a fair salary and need livable working hours and conditions.
      • It is essential to develop and maintain good working relationships with teachers and treat them with respect. Who should be doing this? Parents, administrators, central office staff, Board of Ed members, superintendents.
      • You want teachers to show up in times of crisis? Make sure you're showing up with them every day of the week: listening, collaborating, supporting.
      • Teachers have many good qualities but they can't possibly give and give without reserve. They will need rest, resources, and respect. Just like all of us.
      None of this is a criticism of parents who give of their time, resources, and talents to celebrate teachers. They are awesome!

      But underneath all of this is the fact that if parents and teachers truly united to seek improvement and change on shared goals, they would be unstoppable. The powers that be know this. That is why we read so many statements that attempt to chip away the faith of parents in their children's teachers, and in the teaching profession.

      And that is why the schools approve of appreciating teachers one week a year and having the parents do it. Truly, it makes both groups into servant classes and those who are in charge continue to be in charge. It is an intricate dance which maintains the status quo. And somewhere an admin is checking off a box which reads, " teachers will feel appreciated" without having done anything to support that.

      Back to my friend Nina. She concluded her post by reiterating:

      I am a curmudgeon. But I'd rather pay teachers professional wages and have a system that trusts their judgment as professionals than a thousand gifts. And I get why the fete-ing matters in this screwed up world, and I'll buy the basket and make the card and organize the other parents - but I also recognize it's a cheap cover-up for the fact our society does not value teachers.

      Thanks, Nina. That's the best teacher gift I've gotten all year.


      Monday, May 11, 2015

      Ring the Bells

      A perfect day for a wedding. The sky was clear, the weather was warm, with a hint of a breeze. We arrived in our garden party finery; the wedding was to be outdoors, at home. Children greeted us, passing out small bells as wedding favors.

      In the yard a large tent was set up and decorated for the ceremony. Next to it a smaller tent, where my husband and a friend were preparing to make music. And right there, beside it all, was an old wooden swing set. Perfect. As grown ups gathered, chatted, and found a seat, children were running, and swinging, and climbing.

      Every so often someone would try out a bell, just to see what it sounded like. They weren't all the same. It was fun to hear the different pitches jingling as children ran by. We said hello to friends as they arrived, then found seats. The musicians began to play. Children were gathered in.

      Our attention turned to the house as the couple emerged. A Celtic harp processional began and they began to walk towards us. I turned my head to see if my daughter was watching and caught the rarest of rare moments: an unguarded smile. In the world of adolescence, such smiles are precious treasures--almost nonexistent.

      The wedding ceremony itself was full of music, poetry, prayer, ad libs, and laughter. This was the first wedding I have attended where I felt that any married couple attending probably went away feeling more married than they had been before. Friends and family were gathered not only to bear witness but to actively participate and bless the union.

      And yes, we rang our bells. We rang them in affirmation. We rang them along with the music. We rang them along with applause for the newly married couple, and we rang them just for fun. To say it was a lovely wedding is not enough, but it's really all I know how to say.

      At some point on Saturday I asked my husband, "why did they wait so long?" After all, they had been together a long time. There was a pause.

      "You know, it's only recently become legal."

      And just like that I realized I had already completely forgotten.

      May the longtime sun shine on you,

      All love surround you.

      And the pure light within you

      Guide you on your way.

      --from an old Irish blessing





      Sunday, May 10, 2015


      "Mourning is the constant reawakening that things are now different." --Stephanie Ericsson

      Two years ago we lost our friend Dennis. His goodness, humor, and wisdom live on in many. Grief at his loss is ongoing, too.

      There are so many things I could talk about today: Mother's Day, the wedding yesterday of a dear friend and colleague, another Teachers Appreciation Week coming to a close. They can wait.

      We all lose people we love. If we have never experienced grief we are either extremely young or emotionally disconnected from the love that rebels against loss. None of us expect a life without grief. But there are times we would ask fate to make important exceptions. How can this horrible thing have happened? How can a beloved friend be taken away so suddenly?

      Today I dedicate this space to Dennis and all the people who loved him and now mourn him. Life goes on, people keep living, but there are a million tiny things that bring to mind the essence of this amazing man. Every day. All the time.

      It's just stunning how many there are.


      Saturday, May 9, 2015

      CA HQ Redux

      Let's have a little fun this morning. How about a little game with Columbia real estate?

      Here is the current Columbia Association Headquarters. It's known locally as the Teachers Building. It is centrally located near the People Tree, the Lakefront, and across from the Mall. At the moment it's an interesting hybrid of offices facing one way and Clyde's facing the other.

      Here's the future Columbia Association Headquarters. It is in Owen Brown, I think, near the emissions testing center.

      Let's add another piece to the game board: the Columbia Flier/Patuxent Publishing Building, designed by local architect Bob Moon. Dennis Lane wrote about it here in the piece "Flier Building Going Dark." The Flier Building languished without a buyer since that time, until the County announced plans to buy it as the future home of the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship.

      To those of us who wanted to see this iconic piece of Columbia history and architecture preserved, it seemed like a wonderful possibility for creative reuse. And, perhaps it really is, but elections change many things and current County Executive Allan Kittleman announced that he is looking to unload it along with a bunch of real estate in an effort to deal with budget shortfalls.

      Okay, I think we've got our board all set up.

      If you read the comments in Dennis Lane's piece you will see a great deal of goodwill towards the Flier Building. And in fact someone suggests it as a future home for Columbia Association Headquarters. I still think that is a brilliant suggestion. The choice of such a significant building and the downtown location would give CA a home to be proud of.

      And the Teachers Building? Truly it's just blocking Lakefront Views. Just tear down everything that isn't Clyde's and open up the vista. Maybe give Clyde's a rooftop deck. Or--turn the space into a prom-worthy banquet and event facility. Don't many of our kids start out prom night with a trip to the Lakefront for photos? Why shouldn't they be able to have their prom right there?

      Remember--this is a game. I am fully aware of the realities of life. CA has already signed a lease on the new HQ. The Flier Building will cost more to renovate than its purchase price. No one in the world is going to tear down lakefront property to give people a better view.

      But it is my game. And on a Saturday morning in May, it's an awful lot of fun.


      Friday, May 8, 2015


      Last Friday I was at the grocery, like many good people in Howard County, buying food and personal care products to send into Baltimore to help people whose neighborhoods had been damaged by looting and store closures. I've heard that the response to Dylan Goldberg's and Courtney Watson's call for food and assistance was pretty amazing. My older daughter and I chipped in and shopped together.

      It felt good to be able to do something to help.

      Last night my younger daughter and I were getting dinner at Subway and my debit card was declined. I was dumbfounded. That hasn't happened to me for many, many years. I was sure it was a mistake. It wasn't. My direct deposit was going to go in at midnight but at seven pm in Hickory Ridge I was broke.

      I normally keep a very close eye on how much I have in my account at all times, a habit ingrained from the days I was a single parent, working two jobs, and barely making it. I guess I was so sure I had enough to make it that I let that slip. Bad idea.

      I was now in the line at Subway, digging through my purse to find cash and I had only seven dollars.

      "How much do you need?" said a voice behind me.

      She was African-American, dressed professionally. My daughter and I were in t-shirts and jeans. She opened her purse.

      Oh no, no. I didn't want to take her help. I wanted to be able to solve it some other way. I asked the clerk if I could go home and come back with the rest.

      The woman behind me interjected, in a matter-of-fact tone.

      "All you have to do is say thank you very much and we can get this over with."

      She was holding out a five dollar bill. I took it. I thanked her very much. I gave it to the clerk, who was embarrassed on my behalf. I thanked everyone.

      I went back to the table to eat dinner with my daughter. I felt about two inches tall.

      My paycheck went in at midnight. I have money again and my sense of feeling financially secure has been restored. I'm not going to be "that person" who gums up the works. (And I'm going to keep a really close eye on my balance. What was I thinking?)

      But I had that moment. A little moment of being "wrong", standing out for being an inconvenience to everyone. I felt like a deadbeat. I had to accept help from a stranger. I was grateful but I still felt awful.

      For me it's just an anomaly. I'm left with a cringe-worthy anecdote and a resolve to be more careful. But there's quite a few lessons here for me to learn, I think.

      Thank you, generous woman at the Hickory Ridge Subway. I promise to pay it forward. And I promise to think beyond the moment.

      Once I get over feeling two inches tall.


      Thursday, May 7, 2015


      What happened to Inspire Columbia? You know, the website set up to gather information and ideas from Columbia residents on what they wanted from the Columbia Association. I first wrote about it in 2013. You do remember, right?

      Maybe not. Inspire Columbia appears to be gone. I'm not sure it ever reached its goal of involving a substantially larger number of residents in the conversation about Columbia. One of the things I found appealing about it was the possibility that this format might encourage participation from more than just one age group. What a thrill it would be to hear from more than the same 7 1/2 people who vote in Village elections.

      Inspire Columbia was a product of CA President Phil Nelson's tenure. During this time we saw CA jump into the world of social media with a rather big splash. There were a number of interest-specific social media accounts. For the first time I got the feeling the CA actually cared about what I thought. It was an exciting time.

      Since then CA's social media approach has been one of contracting and consolidating. No longer are there multiple accounts. Inspire Columbia is gone. The biggest outreach in the last year was an event where you had to turn up on a Saturday morning for several hours--I wonder which generation was most represented there?

      Inspire Columbia was an attempt to get multi-generational participation in the Columbia Association. While participants were not required to give much information to register, they did have to give a birthdate. This would have enabled analysis of data gathered by age. If Inspire Columbia had truly caught on, it might have given a much more accurate picture about what all Columbia wants--not just the people who like to go to meetings.

      So, what happened? Did I miss some contentious Board vote to cut off funding? Was there a press release announcing its demise? Where is the report detailing insights that were gained? From my perspective, Inspire Columbia is just "gone" and I have no idea what impact, if any, it had on my community.





      Wednesday, May 6, 2015

      Appointment With Destiny?

      Are you as puzzled as I am by the news that County Executive Kittleman is replacing Josh Tzuker on the Planning Board? This post by Bill Woodcock of The 53 started me thinking. Why intervene in the workings of the Planning Board to replace someone who still has a year left in his term?

      Well, because he can, I guess.

      Mr. Kittleman has put forward Susan Garber for this position. She's a long time community activist in Savage, having served as President of the Savage Community Association. Ms. Garber has also served the special needs community through her business AT-LAST, providing adaptive technology to those who need it.

      So, why Ms. Garber? Let's take a look.

      In December of 2013, Kittleman paid a visit to the Savage Community Association as a part of a listening tour. During his visit the following was discussed:

      1. Open Discussion with Senator Kittleman
      1. Senator Kittleman listened and commented on the community’s concerns.
      2. Topics of discussion are as follows:
      1. Density, population, and "Smart Growth."
      2. Government documents not being accessible and open to the public (transparency).
      3. Seemingly inappropriate relationships between the builders and the county council members or staff, such as the Director of Planning and Zoning Marsha McLaughlin and her friendship with Sang Oh, Bozzuto’s attorney

      Well, it does look as though Ms. Garber has an interest in Planning and Zoning. In fact it looks as though that conversation may have been decidedly one-sided, what with accusations of "inappropriate relationships" and so on.

      Later, on September 4, 2014, a discussion takes place on the HCCA listserv about political appointments. (Ms.Garber is a member.) Member Mary Pivar says,

      We have an unusual political situation this year:

      a County Executive more than likely to become a powerfulvoice at State level. Might he desire to "promote" some ofhis most loyal supporters from his County to continue unquestioning support of his values and directives?If that should occur,how would any vacant County Council position be filled? Or any other position ostensibly requiring election?

      Would it be a violation of HCCA to provide lists of the Countypositions which are appointments and those which require elections?If so, is there any group doing that service?

      Other members on this thread: Paul Verchinski, Russ Swatek, Ann DeLacy, and Susan Garber. So we see members of HCCA planning ahead to identify political appointments which may be coming open in a future administration. Mr. Verchinski even suggests they should be filled by qualified retirees. Certainly they mean to put forward HCCA members. Resourceful.

      Seeing Ann De Lacy's name made me think of this letter to the editor written by Ms. Garber about the Howard County teachers, written during the negotiation impasse last summer. Please read it. It is filled with much of the same inflammatory language and outright inaccuracies circulated by Ms. De Lacy, the Superintendent, and others of the same stripe as they sought to discredit HCEA and Paul Lemle and influence public opinion in the press. I find this concerning and very, very odd.

      Ms. Garber comes to this position with interest, experience, and some very strong opinions. One might even say preconceived notions. At the very least, she is unconvinced by the need for the Route 1 Homeless Shelter. And don't forget that SCA discussion noted above.

      We know she supported Mr. Kittleman in his campaign for County Executive, and served on his transition team. It appears they have known eachother for awhile. That part, in itself, is fine. But when combined with her network of affiliations, which leans heavily on those who make unsubstantiated accusations and are quick to believe conspiracy theories, it makes you realize that this is not a simple appointment.

      In another letter to the editor, Ms. Garber criticizes Ken Ulman and his decision to hang banners around the county highlighting Howard County's successes. She concludes by saying,

      I would suggest he recall the adage "Just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should."

      This is good advice for Mr. Kittleman. Just because he can make this appointment doesn't mean that he should.





      Tuesday, May 5, 2015

      Changing the Conversation

      "Mom! You'll never guess what happened in school today!"

      As the parent of a teen, I don't hear this very often. So I was immediately intrigued.

      "They called out a boy for wearing a tank top!"


      "It wasn't even in violation of the dress code, mom, but they called him out in the hallway anyway. And he had to wear his sweatshirt the rest of the day, and it was hot!"

      By the end of the day I had heard corroboration of this story several times, plus a similar one from OMHS -- poor guy, who knew side boob was a thing for men? But my personal favorite was the boy from the middle school who was accosted by the Dress Code Police for wearing a shirt with a weapon on it.

      It was a light saber. May the Fourth be with you, too, hcpss.

      My daughter is in the eighth grade and yesterday was the first time she had ever seen a boy called out for a dress code violation. And it actually wasn't even a violation. I wonder what this all could possibly mean.

      I do know that the tide is turning against body-shaming enforcement of the school dress code. A group of concerned parents (and yes, I am one of them) is holding a community conversation on June 1st about how school dress codes impact our students in their learning and development. You can learn more here. This event is open to students and their parents who want to share their stories about experiences with school dress codes.

      A group of young women calling themselves the "Rabid Minds Collective" performed a poem in the OMHS talent show entitled, "27 Reasons women are never living just surviving." It begins,

      Because when I show my shoulders it's "distracting to boys" and "asking for attention"

      Parents from Folly Quarter received a letter about appropriate dress for the eighth grade dance. It was four paragraphs long and special attention was paid to girls and their shoulders.

      And somehow, smack dab in the middle of this, came a story of three young men in one day who were called out for dress code issues. Coincidence? Perhaps.

      One suggestion. In stead of ramping up the nastiness toward boys, maybe they could just be more respectful to the girls.