Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Opposite of Memories

Facebook has the nifty little feature that tells you each day if you have "memories" from that particular day. I find it both fun and informative to take a look back. I can see what life events I was going through, my commentary on local happenings, and hints at the evolution of my daughter's childhood.

Many themes that run throughout my posts remain the same today: family life, my teaching, the local blogging scene, my village of Oakland Mills, Columbia "politics", Howard County government, education and the antics of our Board of Education. Suddenly I had an idea. Perhaps more like an idea for a piece of premise fiction--what if Facebook woke you each morning with posts from your future?

  • One year from today--
  • Two years from today--
  • Three years from today--

Weird, eh? What if Facebook could analyze all of your information and somehow send you the opposite of memories: news of the happenings that haven't happened yet?

If the old French expression is true, then there are plenty of hints to our futures in what we are doing today. And in Columbia this seems particularly possible, as some folks have been stuck in a feedback loop whose purpose is to recreate the past and shut out the future.

So, what do you think? Based on your knowledge of local happenings, what would Facebook be sending us? Especially in these areas: your neighborhood or village, Columbia/Columbia Association, Howard County Government, Board of Education/HCPSS. Based on what you know now, what will be happening:

  • One year from today--
  • Two years from today--
  • Three years from today--
Are we in a rut that cannot be changed? Can the trajectory of future events be influenced, transformed?

How would you like to do that?


Monday, June 29, 2015

Of Human Events

If the Fourth of July happens and there are no elections coming, will anyone be there to notice?

Yes, I know, Independence Day is about our great nation and something bigger than local elections. But, holy mackerel, the last election put a lot of pressure on all those local parades and picnics. Whatever will they look like without scads of electeds and wannabes and supporters in matching t-shirts?

What will the people who turn out be celebrating?

I was raised to believe that the freedom we have in the United States is the freedom which allows many kinds of people, many kinds of ideas, many kinds of religion. In fact, if I was raised with any notion of American exceptionalism it was this: that we were a great experiment in the world, allowing such a beautiful variety of citizens. Conversely, it was clear that when our country did not provide equal freedoms for all that we had failed.

So, for me, the events of this week have been an affirmation of that great experiment. Although we will always be human, and, therefore, fallible, our Constitution and the rule of law allow us to fix our mistakes and move forward. This quote from Thomas Jefferson, fixed in stone in the Jefferson Memorial, has been making the rounds on the internet this week.

I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.

The Founders were pretty cool dudes, you know?

What will you do in Columbia/Howard County to celebrate the Fourth of July? I just might re-watch 1776 with my family. And I continue on my quest to find the best spot for watching the fireworks. But no matter how I celebrate, this thought will be on my mind: we really need to do a better job teaching Civics in this country.

After all, shouldn't we know why we are celebrating?




Sunday, June 28, 2015

Fulfilling the Promise

Yesterday the story of Bree Newsome's climb up a flag pole to take down the Confederate flag in South Carolina was national news. But here in Howard County, and especially in Columbia, came the realization that she was one of ours: a graduate of Oakland Mills High School.

Reporters from the Sun got to work and started pulling out her local roots. This story in their archives dates from her middle school years, when she was composing music for the Owen Brown Middle School Band. And here's the article about when she won a scholarship from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 2003. Reporters found this parody video from the 2012 election, as well. The sum of their work yesterday can be found in this piece, "Bree Newsome, who removed Confederate flag, known as principled leader."

As you read the stories you begin to get a picture of where Ms. Newsome comes from, how she got from a student in Columbia, Maryland to the top of a flagpole in Columbia, South Carolina. To me one fact is clear: anyone who thinks that music and arts education don't prepare you for life needs to take a look at Bree Newsome .

It looks like Ms. Newsome came from a great family and received excellent schooling. That cannot be discounted. In addition, one can see that the strongest thread running through her story is arts education: music, musical theater, writing, film. These are the places that she could take the things that drove her, that inspired her, and give them a voice.

Our educational system in Howard County has become so very literal that things that are not perceived to make one "college and career ready" are discounted. We separate and dissect skills from their greater context and claim that jumping through the hoops of standardized tests equals mastery. Powers that be do not question, "mastery of what?"

In light of the way we are educating children now, Bree Newsome should have been prepared for this event by practicing how to climb a flagpole throughout her academic career. Other subjects that didn't apply to flagpole-climbing would have been pruned away, as not relevant to her readiness goals. That's what our educational system is being reduced to. It's small-minded, and the premise ignores both how children truly learn and what education is really meant to do: to develop the capabilities to connect with and interact with a larger world.

The arts gave Bree Newsome the ability to see the Big Picture. She prepared to achieve many kinds of goals, not just one. Her mind received the kinds of challenges that supported her in learning to think for herself, how to work to turn dreams into reality, how to make a plan and see it through.

And so, when her plan was to remove a symbol of racial hatred and oppression from the South Carolina State House, it became necessary to learn how to climb a flagpole. So she learned. Two days before the event. No big deal, right? Because she already knew how to learn.

She was simply fulfilling the promise of preparation.






Saturday, June 27, 2015


So what was happening yesterday at that mythical place where Columbia and Howard County intersect?

  • Some folks still complaining about Merriweather
  • County Exec offers then withdraws loan idea for rehabbing older homes
  • Friday night means movie night at the Lakefront
  • Fresh produce stand reappears at Kendall Hardware
  • Colonel Gateway is having a poetry contest
  • Folks party at UUCC from 7-9

It's the last one that intrigues me--a local event tied to news of national import. While our lives are immersed in the very local day-to-day, sometimes something bigger reaches right down into our neighborhoods. That was yesterday.

For a while on Friday, all our hyperlocal cares slowed down a little bit as we took in the news from the Supreme Court. Okay, maybe a lot. My day pretty much stopped for this, but I am on vacation. And my social media feed is pretty well trimmed at this point as I witnessed no outrage or complaints. I did, however, see a woman post her joy along with a fearful apology that she knew friends would be angry at her. Another woman posted something positive only to have her happiness dashed by a comment from her parish priest.

But overall my Facebook and Twitter accounts looked like this. And for that I am truly grateful. Because yesterday's decision was a joyful one for me and I wanted the whole world to celebrate along with me. Say what you will about the healthiness of encountering opposing points of view. A carefully curated social media stream can be a truly beautiful thing. After all, these are my people. People who:

  • Love, and don't judge
  • Have walked the walk, or
  • Are committed allies
  • Rejoice in others' joys
  • Share the light

So, three cheers for the folks at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia who were ready at the drop of a hat to party. ("BYO Champagne and a snack to share.") I know a few of them and they are good people. Sometimes you just need to stop and celebrate. I hope they had a wonderful time.


Me? Well, we didn't do anything in particular. There were hugs, and smiles, and many virtual rainbows were exchanged. And we all went to bed feeling that marriage has been strengthened for everyone by acknowledging that love is love.




Friday, June 26, 2015

The Big Story

When I was in the third grade we had an election each month for class president. I don't really recall what duties the office entailed, just that it was a big deal. These elections always came down to the boys versus the girls somehow. And the boys always won. And then one day the teacher sent the boys out to recess and met with the girls privately to give us a valuable piece of information.

The boys always pick just one candidate and the they all vote as a block. You all often have several candidates, so your vote is split. But there are actually more girls than boys in the class. If you united behind one candidate--

Aha! The lightbulb went off.

Of course it was still difficult for us to negotiate the pickup of one candidate. We weren't used to doing it that way. So we agreed that we would all take turns. Of course it was really about popularity, power, and the pecking order. And so the year ran out before it ever got to be "my turn."

But it was a valuable lesson. It was the first time I remember anyone pointing out that boys and girls were handling something differently and that simply understanding that gave me more opportunity, more choices, more power. This was in the Spring of 1969. Interesting. The first time I recall reading about and hearing about the "Women's Lib" movement was in 1969.

Now called Second Wave Feminism, the "Women's Lib" movement had been gathering momentum throughout the '60's but 1969 was the year it entered my consciousness. The assumptions of my middle class suburban world were being challenged. As a ten year old I didn't much know how to assess it all.

The media seemed to enjoy stories about bra-burning. I didn't get the point. I was looking forward to the rite of passage that meant being a teenager, wearing a bra, going on dates. (At this point in my life I'd happily participate in a bra burning, only it isn't a thing anymore.) But stories about wacky women burning their bras must have been easy for the male reporters in power to get their minds around. Hilarious, right?

The big story of 1969 for me was Mrs. Pollack, my third grade teacher, who took a little extra time to talk politics with the girls during recess. Do you have any stories like that?


Thursday, June 25, 2015


Yesterday we received my daughter's final middle school report card. And some other kid's test scores. Yes, everyone makes mistakes. These envelopes are all hand-stuffed by real human beings and the turn-around time is short. I get it. It's just the crowning touch on a year when my daughter (and our family) has felt less than valued by the school.

Of course, we care less than two hoots about the majority of standardized tests that kids are forced to take throughout the school year. We glance at the numbers, right before we throw them out. But it would be nice if they were actually her numbers. After all, data about some other child is technically personal and should be protected by some measure of confidentiality. Oh, yeah, and data about our child, too. Imagine that. I wonder who got her scores?

From the NWEA (creators of the MAP) website:

Measures of Academic Progress® (MAP®) creates a personalized assessment experience by adapting to each student’s learning level—precisely measuring student progress and growth for each individual.

Right now, as I hang on to poor Billy Smith's* MAP scores, I find this rather ironic.

To be clear: I am not angry, I am just worn out. Attention to detail--well, we know the Devil is in the details. But I wonder: maybe our school should have focused more on protecting confidential information and less on censuring young women for perceived dress code violations. Or less time tweeting about how they're all aligning themselves with the Superintendent's Vision and more time actually getting to know the kids?

Yes, I know. It's just a clerical error. But it's been a loooong year.

*not the real name



Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Challenging the Expected

Bumped into an old friend in an unexpected place on Monday.

You may recognize her as one of Ginger Bread Girl's many friends and relations from Clark's Elioak Farm -- originally from the Enchanted Forest. I was quite surprised to see her at the Inn at Norwood in Sykesville, but I guess everyone needs a little getaway now and then.
Speaking of things I wasn't expecting, the terrible news of Governor Hogan's cancer diagnosis comes to mind. I was both gratified and confused to see Democrats stepping forward on social media with good wishes for recovery. Yes, wishing someone who is gravely ill the very best in care and healing is the right thing to do. But it also feels weird to see some of the Governor's most outspoken opponents in such a hurry to say something nice.
Tom Coale's post on HoCoRising addresses this well, I think. In "The First Human Governor" he states:
In an instant, Governor Hogan went from a man of policy, slogans, budgets, and vetoes, to a husband, father, grandfather, and man. And I believe that is true for both his supporters and detractors alike. I can say from personal experience that candidates are often treated as something other than human. Tired? Frustrated? Elated? Hurt? Keep it to yourself and stay on message. Larry Hogan was as much a symbol as he was a man. Until yesterday.

So does it take a diagnosis of cancer for us to allow a person of differing political views to be human? In the same way, does it take the murder of nine people in a church for us to allow an honest conversation of the legacy of slavery, racism, and all that the Confederate flag symbolizes? Why?

I realize that I am stepping way out of "where Columbia and Howard County intersect." Even a hometown blog can have questions bigger than its boundaries. Today, these are mine.





Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Monday, June 22, 2015

The First Day

The house is quiet. It is the first Monday morning of summer vacation. In a house with one student and two teachers, we should all be asleep. The precious, delicious extravagance of sleeping as late as one wants on a Monday may be one of the finest delights summer has to offer around here.

I am drinking my coffee iced instead of hot. My head is filled with ideas for household projects, not lesson plans. And one more thing. I am looking for a job.

After twelve years teaching music and movement to preschoolers with special needs in the Howard County Schools, I am moving on.

I'm grateful to the Office of Early Intervention for all of their support through the years and for the amazing work of RECC team members with whom I have worked. If teaching music for the RECC Program could be a full time job and, dare I say, in only one location, I would never, ever leave. Music has always been my first love and working with these students has been a joy.

I created the RECC Music program with the support of two colleagues who worked at the Waterloo RECC where my daughter was a student. It grew from one school in the first year to sixteen schools this last year. While I have put my whole self into it, the program has always been a part time endeavor since billable teaching hours are logistically much less than travel, planning, and preparation.

I have no complaints. I have been treated well and paid fairly. I have done a job I love. But now I am on a journey to find a full time job that will both use the skills and talents I have and contribute more to the college fund for the little girl who started her academic career in the Waterloo RECC. She's starting high school in the Fall--hardly little anymore.

I am doubtful that one person with the crazy dream to lift up the lives of special needs preschoolers with music and movement would be able to make any headway in the current environment in the Howard County Public Schools. I was extremely fortunate to have people who believed in me and what I was doing. And I was blessed to work with the most beautiful students in the world. I'll carry them with me in my heart forever.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Drawing a Blank

I'm at a loss for words this morning.

Father's Day and Mother's Day are both complicated days for me. Maybe they are for everyone. It's easy to look around and think other people are having the Normal Life that we feel we are missing out on. It's all relative.

(Sorry, that was unintentional.)

My own dad was shy, insecure, highly intelligent, and dyslexic. He never felt like he fit in. He had a distant relationship with his own father. He didn't know what to do with his three daughters. But he was really good at working. He poured everything into his work. We rarely saw him. He was an outsider in his own home.

Throughout my life I have picked up bits and pieces of fatherhood from many sources. My father was my first example but there was a lot missing for me. Luckily life gives us more chances to love and be loved. So today's column is dedicated to my own father, Byron Jackson, and also the following people who have helped me define what fatherhood means: Kit Wilke, UCC Minister;Roger Marks, father-in-law from my first marriage; Evan Lash, my brother-in-law; Sam McCready, my father-in-law; Richard McCready, my husband.

I am thankful for all of them today.





Saturday, June 20, 2015

Reaching for the Arts

Today in Long Reach Village Center: ARTreach. I can't think of a better way to spend part of the first official day of Summer vacation. It's a free community arts festival. Here's a schedule of events. This article in the Sun will tell you more.

Back during the revitalization process in Oakland Mills, the idea of becoming a hub for the arts was on the top of many people's lists. For a variety of reasons, those ideas did not turn into reality here. It's both exciting and bittersweet to me to see them pop up again at Long Reach, as the community seeks to reimagine their Village Center.

I love this quote from the ARTreach page:

The arts are vital to building positive, thriving places to live, work, and play. Help us engage the community and re-imagine Long Reach—the village with a heart—by infusing its center with visual, literary, and performing arts!

You will have the opportunity to take a moment to enjoy the work of chainsaw artist Evelyn Mogren--she's from Oakland Mills. I'm lucky that I get to see her art every day as I drive by her house on my street. Local favorite Damon Forman will be making music. There will be puppets, bubbles, stilt walkers, and hands-on activities.

ARTreach begins at eleven am and runs until four pm. This is going to be a great day to bring joy and activity to a beleaguered space--come be a part of that.


Friday, June 19, 2015

Separate Lives

How can we go on? How can this country go on while police target African Americans for violent treatment and a white shooter desecrates a black church with hatred and blood? How can we go on?

I don't know. And yet we do. Mourners mourn, reporters report, politicians make statements and we just go on.

NO. I want to shout. NO MORE.

The majority of white people in this country, myself included, live their lives relatively or completely isolated from non-whites. Black people. African-Americans. People of color. Real integration should be more than coexisting in a crowd at the stadium or standing in an elevator. What about true friends, close friends, social media friends, trusted coworkers, the best friends of your kids? Your favorite neighbors?

Whether we are racists or not, open-minded or not, we are leading separate lives. No, not everyone. But many.

This is what allows these horrific violations of human rights to go on in this country, because they are happening to people we don't really know.

Right now the country is anxiously awaiting word from the Supreme Court on the constitutional right to marry for same sex couples. It could come quite soon. Attitudes towards gay rights and same sex marriage have been changing dramatically in recent years. From a CNN article (dated June 18) comes this observation:

"It is amazing thing for someone like me, who has been in politics for 35 years now, to see in your own lifetime an issue going from being a strong negative for your party to being a strong positive the way gay marriage has," said Richard Socarides, an openly gay Democrat, who served as a senior adviser to President Clinton. "Democrats supported gay rights and never wanted to talk about it and Republicans opposed gay rights and always wanted to talk about it. It has completely shifted in a very short period of time."

All kinds of people have begun to know gays and lesbians as neighbors, friends, coworkers, the parents of their kid's best friends, members of their church, representing them in local government. And as this has happened, little by little, a light has shone on the needs of gays and lesbians to be treated as full, equal citizens. And also, little by little, those people have ceased to be "other" and become "human". You know, like "us."

It's not a perfect world by any means and the road is long and rocky. But the transformation is significant.

Why don't our African American brothers and sisters have that equal, human place in our society? How can we be so far past the end of segregation and the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement and not extend the blessings of humanity to all our citizens? Today I struggle with uncomfortable truths which will not let someone like me off the hook.

But mostly, today I mourn.



Thursday, June 18, 2015


I was shocked by what I saw at the Middle School Promotion ceremony. As I watched the students process to their places, the wide spectrum of growth and development was clearly apparent. Some looked ready to go out and get a job, others were still waiting for that big growth spurt to arrive. The range was huge. I needn't have been shocked, because it was something I knew cognitively, in the back of my mind someplace, but seeing it in such a vivid way was stunning.

From a presentation entitled The Middle School Student, Physical Development:

Heights of students can range from students under five feet to someone over six feet. Body changes can result in students being awkward and clumsy. The rapid changes in body sizes and shapes may cause embarrassment to students.

Middle school is absolutely the most obvious time where the phrase "one size fits all" is a laughable construct.

Therefore, a dress code cannot be based on a one-size fits all mentality. It must be child-centered, designed with the needs of the students in mind, not the adults. From our experiences this year, far too many examples of "dress-coding" stem from the excuse that clothing choices made an adult uncomfortable. And these are almost exclusively, if not entirely, in response to female students.

What a great lesson to teach young women: you make adults uncomfortable.

Clothing should be functional--work well for the activities students will be performing. Clothing should be comfortable--feel good to a teen who may feel self-conscious and awkward. Clothing should be appropriate for the weather. Clothing should allow for healthy self-expression. (People who are fond of slippery slopes may not like that last one, but I think we do students a great disservice by ignoring this.)

In conclusion, I offer this quote from my wise friend Ann, whose daughter has been in school with mine since First Grade. After both a morning and afternoon spent with the eighth graders, she wrote:

So today we have had the 8th grade promotion ceremony and the dance. There were girls with spaghetti straps, no straps at all, short, shorter skirts, music, dancing. And guess what? They all managed to keep a civil head and enjoyed themselves, too. No incidents of distraction, rudeness, and anyone trying to doing anything unmentionable happened!

Thank goodness the kids are all right.



Wednesday, June 17, 2015

HoCo Holler: Customer Service

My husband and I seized the opportunity to have dinner, just the two of us, when our teen chose going to a pool party with her peers rather than dinner out with the family--go figure. Since my husband had received gift cards to Cheesecake Factory, that's where we went. (Yes, gift cards from students are a special treat in teachers' families from time to time.)

I am happy to report that we were seated right away, had excellent service, and the food was delicious. But that bit is incidental to the heart of my story.

After dinner we stopped by Seasons 52 to pick up a gift card for my one of my daughter's teachers. Granted, they were busy. It was a little after seven pm. The hostesses seemed to be caught flat-footed by my request.

"I have to get a manager." A moment later. "The manager is speaking to another guest. Do you want to wait?"

My husband was circling the mall in the car.

"Do you know how long it will be?"

"Do you want to have a seat in the chairs over there?"

I did. And I waited. And I waited. And nobody came.

So I left.

Back in the car, I related my experience to my husband. I was willing to let them off the hook. They were busy, and it was during the dinner rush...but he was less forgiving.

"That's just bad customer service."

Off we went to the Lakefront to try again, this time at Petit Louis. We were greeted immediately. The host went right away to find the proper person to help us, who waited on us hand and foot. We walked away feeling like a million bucks.

We still had one more gift card to buy. We decided to try the Tomato Palace, since it was right there.

Again, we were greeted right away, and sent to the bar. The person at the bar admitted she didn't know how to do gift cards, so she sent over to Clyde's, apologizing profusely for the wait. In a few minutes the manager came over, handled our transaction while training the Tomato Palace employee at the same time. He too, apologized for our wait.

We walked away feeling like valued customers.

I realized that my husband was right. It wasn't that Seasons 52 was so terrible. It was that, under the same circumstances, the other two restaurants were so much better.

So this is not a rant about something that went wrong. This is a tip of the hat, a HoCo Holler, to the folks at Petit Louis and Tomato Palace/Clyde's, who got it so very, very right. Thanks.

We'll be back.




Tuesday, June 16, 2015

What Do You Know?

There are surveys, and then there are surveys.

Link number one takes you to a post about my very own fledgling survey about CA Pools and Health Club facilities.

Link two takes you to the presentation given to the CA Board on a survey undertaken by Club Intel about the very same thing. Cool. (Spoiler alert: their survey was way better.)

I was alerted to this info by CA Board member Andy Stack, and it's really fascinating. There's a lot to process here, and in fact there's going to be a follow up presentation in the Fall. I found these two pieces of information interesting:

  • There is a significant group of people who maintain two health club memberships.
  • Survey found that most people don't have a warm emotional connection to their participation in CA facilities.

Hmm...I'm amazed that anyone could afford more than one health club membership. And I'm interested in the whole emotional connection angle. I know that there was a time that CA was the only game in town and that participation in CA facilities was part and parcel of living the Columbia dream.

What do you think has changed? Do you think it matters? I'm very big on emotional connection, sense of identity, and relationships, but I'm curious as to what you think.

Oh, and here's a shameless plug for my own survey. If you haven't taken it yet, take ten seconds. Yes, it's that short.

A little motivation for you here.


I almost forgot to add that I think it is great that CA is examining this topic, and I hope they are able to put this information to use in a meaningful way. Did any of you participate in their survey? What did you think of it?



Monday, June 15, 2015

The Very, Very, Very Expensive Bulletin Board

This is a bulletin board in the Ducketts Lane RECC. Each member of the staff--teachers, therapists, support staff--has been photographed holding a sign announcing her "strength" as determined by the Gallup Organization Strengthsfinder online assessment tool. (I have altered the photograph out of respect for their privacy.)

These people are my people: my colleagues. Some have become friends. I wrote about them earlier this Spring when I learned that their Regional Early Childhood Center was being discontinued due to space issues at their (brand-new) school. I can tell you from personal experience that they have some pretty amazing strengths and they didn't need an online tool or a bulletin board to validate that.

It costs a lot of money to open a new school. Two years ago this school opened with a brand new team ready to meets the needs of special needs preschoolers. Before that happened there were applications, interviews, hiring procedures, orientation, and training. All of those items are necessary costs to getting a program up and running.

Now, two years later, those same people have founds their positions eliminated, their program dissolved. So now the cycle begins agains: applications, interviews, hiring procedures, orientation, further training. It's expensive. And that doesn't include the human cost of bringing together a group of people, expecting them to bond and function at the highest level, and then dispersing them.

I have heard that it was known when the school opened that it would have capacity issues within two years. I can tell you who didn't know this: the people who made a commitment to coming to the Ducketts Lane RECC. A friend said to me, of the school system,

When big decisions are being made from above, you can pretty much guarantee that the people at the lowest end of the hierarchy, the people who will be directly affected, will be the last to know.

So, what's my point? And what's the big deal with the bulletin board?

My point is this: the school system is telling us a lot these days that we have to cut back on programs and staff that directly support students, because "we just don't have the money." It seems to me that this is a case in point that we are just not spending our money wisely.

That is not the same thing.

I was unable to isolate exactly how much money we have spent on the Gallup organization, but I can tell you it's a lot. It certainly could have helped fund kindergarten and media paras. Opening and closing an early- intervention special needs program in the space of two years was an incredibly expensive choice to make, too. In addition, shifting employees around like so many widgets in a factory may look good on paper, but it is bad for students, families, staff, and school communities.

Friday night my friends at Ducketts had a party to celebrate the good times they've had and the community they have built with one another. They honored each other for their real-life strengths, based on real-life relationships. In a few days their community will be no more.

Last Fall, PTACHC members were told that the appropriate way for community members to pass judgement on The Board of Education was to look at how they are voting to spend public money. Are they being good stewards of tax dollars?

What do you think?







Sunday, June 14, 2015

Transformation and Synergy

Friday, on the Facebook page for Downtown Columbia, a link was posted for the weekend's activities at Lakefest. Beneath the post was one simple response from someone I believe to be a hardcore member of the "You Know You Grew Up in Columbia, MD When" Facebook community.

I guess that I'm okay with Wholefoods now.

The decision to reuse the old Rouse Building as a Whole Foods grocery store came under a lot of attack on that Columbia Facebook page. I'm not a member, since I obviously didn't grow up here, but I do peek in from time to time to see what people are talking about. And many felt that the decision to move forward with this project was wrong and they weren't shy about listing their reasons.

Fast forward to yesterday. My family and I made our yearly trek down to Lakefest to enjoy the music, stroll around, view the work of artists and artisans, and to sample some festival food. By the time we had made the complete circuit, though, we were overpowered by the heat.

"Do you want to go someplace to cool down?" I asked my husband, who looked miserble. He shook his head yes. Then his face brightened.

"Why don't we go into Whole Foods?" And so we did.

We got something to eat and drink, sat down in the cafe, and enjoyed the view. It all worked together in an amazing way.

If you were too busy to make it down to Lakefest yesterday, make sure you go down today. It will do your heart good to see the Lakefront alive with people. And music. And fun.




Saturday, June 13, 2015

Hello Goodbye Summer

Last night I watched the final episode of Phineas and Ferb with my daughter. The summer we thought would never end is over. The episode, entitled "Last Day of Summer" aired, ironically, just as we are about to get out of school. Real summer beckons. But for Phineas and Ferb, the rollicking 104 day ride is over.

There was a time when we watched every episode religiously, many multiple times. We downloaded music from the show, even acted out Rollercoaster: The Musical. My daughter practically memorized the Wiki. But in recent years, as my daughter moved away from childhood, watching the show was more of an afterthought, something she did more for me than anything else.

Phineas and Ferb has been a five-year hymn of praise to ingenuity, creativity, unstructured time, and belief in the innate goodness of childhood curiosity. In an era where your child can get taken by Child Protective Services for playing outside alone for ninety minutes, Phineas and Ferb feels almost revolutionary. While they tell kids "Summer belongs to you," the reality for most kids involves a patchwork of camp-like child-care solutions arranged by overworked parents. Or staying in the house watching tv in order to be safe.

That doesn't mean that their story hasn't been valuable or worthwhile. As wacky as the adventures have been, and as much as it has poked gentle fun at 'people in charge', Phineas and Ferb has been serious food both for the imagination and the soul. I dare say that there will someday be college courses dedicated to their world, if there aren't already. Their over-arching themes:

Believe in yourself. If you can dream it, you can achieve it. Have fun, enjoy your family and your friends. Rock out. Live joyfully. Sit under the shade of a tree and dream. Oh, how I will miss them.

Summer is over. Long live summer.





Friday, June 12, 2015

Brother Can You Spare a Pulse?

This article by Andrew Michaels taught me two things: yes, people still read the newspaper, and, some people are incredibly tone deaf when addressing our community's issues. In reference from sound coming from Merriweather Post Pavillion on concert night, Town Center Board Member Helen Ruther said,

The thumping you hear is the heartbeat of the millennials.

Oh. My. Word. How witty. How acerbically To. The. Point. Ms. Ruther was taking a very public swipe, on the record, at this letter to the editor by Town Center resident Dylan Goldberg.

As a 24-year-old who has grown up in Howard County, I find myself envious of friends who live within walking distance of their work, their late night bars, and farmers markets among other things. As I debate whether or not to leave downtown Columbia to satisfy this envy, I remember that Merriweather is in my backyard. While I sat on my porch late Sunday night, preparing for an early Monday morning, I listened to a world-famous musician perform and couldn’t help but to think how lucky I was to call this town my home.

To my friends and neighbors in Columbia, Ellicott City, and across Howard County who felt this performance and the loud sounds were an inconvenience, I remind you these events are isolated, occurring only a few times each year, and happen to be magnets attracting tens of thousands of people to our beloved community and our restaurants, malls, and hotels.

Some may say that my opinion falls in line with the "millennial" mentality but I remind you that we, the millennials, are looking for places to live and invest in and our concert venue is a top-billing reason that young people want to live here.

So remember, the sound of a heavy, repetitive bass-drop is more than noise; it’s the collective heartbeat of Howard County’s next generation.

Dylan Goldberg Columbia, Maryland


Really, Ms. Ruther? You live in a world where it is okay to get up in a public meeting and sneer at one of your constituents? And not only that, to sneer in such a way as to take in an entire generation along with him? If you wonder why most younger people have no interest in getting involved in Village and Columbia affairs, this meeting is a case in point. Shame on you.

Several years ago I came across this quote, or made it up--I can't remember which:

Let me never live in such a way that people will be happy when I am gone.


Do you know what heartbeats are, folks? They are a sign of life. Embrace all the residents of Columbia while you still have the chance. Your precious People Tree is withering as we speak.




There's so much going on in town this weekend that I don't know where to begin. So I'm just sending you to Totally HoCo so you can see for yourself. Whatever you choose, make sure you make a little time for this:

Abiding Savior's 2015 Flea Market is setup and ready to go! Lamps, books, cds, breadmakers, toaster ovens, microwave, bar stools, small tables, decorative items, picture frames, curtains, etc., etc., etc., and a faux Prada bag! Priced to sell. Doors open Saturday at 8. . .close at noon. All money raised goes to buy grocery gift cards for the EMTs communal meals as a thank-you for their services!!!

Abiding Savior Lutheran Church

10689 Owen Brown Road

Columbia, MD 21044







Thursday, June 11, 2015

Polls and Pools

We love to win things here in Howard County. Why, just earlier this week, I was adding my vote in a poll to promote Merriweather Post Pavillion. And there are plenty of polls and surveys and awards about our community and our schools. We just love winning.

In general I take a dim view of these "awards". In fact, I have written before about the local tendency to suck up the accolades without contemplating the consequences. So today I present to you a contest we didn't win. In fact, we came in at sixth place.

Yes, Columbia/Ellicott City came in at an almost anemic sixth place in the Money Magazine 2014 poll for Best Places to Live. And I absolutely do not care. Why? Well, because here is the winner:

McKinney, Texas.

Yes, that McKinney, Texas.

So, about that First Place designation in the Money Magazine poll. Which do you think defines them more accurately as a community--a magazine poll or a pool party gone terribly wrong?

Do I think that we are perfect here in Howard County? No, far from it. Do I think we have racism? Yes, sadly. Do I think we have teens and parties that might get raucous or out of hand? Probably. But I do not believe that we have the pervasive underlying sentiment that provoked someone to call the police at that pool party. And I don't believe that our police department would handle this situation in the same way.

Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking.

-- H.Jackson Brown, Jr.

So, friends, please stop believing that polls and surveys and contests define who we are. Keep on doing what you're doing. Try to become a little better every day. Take pride in the things about our community that really, really matter.

That's what winning is. Accept no substitutions.




Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Addiction and Grief

From our new HoCoTimes reporter, Andrew Michaels, comes this article about the forming of a new bereavement group for family and friends of those lost to addiction. (Yes, that could really be a much better sentence but, at the moment, that's what I've got.) Addiction kills. And it leaves its own particular path of damage and destruction behind. Michaels writes:

After the loss of her boyfriend to a heroin overdose in March, Columbia resident Arielle Sokoll-Ward, 24, is creating a new chapter of the Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing organization. The Columbia group will be GRASP's fourth Maryland chapter alongside Perry Hall, Pikesville and Cecil County, and will meet the first Monday of every month starting July 6 at the Central Branch library.

The article has a lot of good information, not just about grieving and the stigma of drug addiction, but also about how people are getting hooked in the first place. Many begin through the misuse of prescription drugs. When pills become too expensive or impossible to get, heroin appears as a cheaper and more readily available option.

In Howard County, HC DrugFree provides education about alcohol and drug abuse and has also formed a partnership with Howard County Police to set up prescription drug disposal boxes to get rid of unneeded medications while preventing them from falling into the wrong hands. In Oakland Mills the Serenity Center hosts meetings for 12-Step groups to help people get and stay clean and sober both from alcohol and other substance abuse.

Serenity Center member Tyler Johnson did a lot of work with HC DrugFree, and spent many hours at this picnic table, talking to people struggling to break free of addiction. After his death in the Columbia Mall shooting, this beautiful spot was dedicated in his memory.

For those who are grieving, GRASP will provide a safe and supportive environment for those traveling their journey--of anger, denial, questioning, sadness. No one will be there to pass judgement on the experiences of anyone else. No one will be forced to make excuses for or cover up their pain.

A tip of the hat to Ms. Sokoll-Ward and also to Mr. Michaels for his comprehensive coverage.





Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Controlling the Message

Confession: I don't hang out at Howard PublicEd. I am wary of this particular group because some participants play fast and loose with the truth and some seem to encourage toxic thinking and conspiracy theories, which alarm me. Not everyone, of course. And I appreciate that there are people there who read my blog, but I have made several requests that they not reprint it in full without a link or attribution. I am hoping they have ceased this practice.

But yesterday Board of Education member Cynthia Vaillancourt posted a rather interesting screenshot taken from the listserv.

What you see here is an email from Board of Education member Ann DeLacy requesting that listserv member Jack start a conversation with a specific line of thinking, supplied by her. This particular line of thinking is anti-union and slams local Democrats as well.

We've got two problems here, and neither one is that I am offended by pot- shots to teachers unions and/or Democrats.

1. Trying to get other people to post your ideas in public forums in order to shield your own identity is unethical. Period. And, according to other postings, this is hardly the first time Ms. DeLacy has done this.

2. For a Board of Education member to try to sway public opinion against the HCEA during a period of negotiation or impasse is illegal. It is a violation of bargaining rules for management to try to influence outcome "through the press."

So do we think this is just one individual "going rogue" or is Ms. DeLacy acting with full knowledge and support of the Superintendent/Central Office staff? Do we think that other members of the Board will act to censure her now that this is out in the open?

What do you think? If past experience holds, the powers that be will ignore it and refuse to address it until it goes away. I wonder what would happen if it didn't go away?


Monday, June 8, 2015


Last year on this date I was offering up prayers for my friend Justin. Today he posted this message:

One year ago today, after a twenty month wait, I received the miracle of a new life when a donor heart, an almost perfect match, became available and was transplanted! My weakened heart and semi-implanted life support system came out from here, and the donor heart was sewn into place.

I am extremely grateful to my donor, whose identity is not yet known to me. I get to celebrate my re-birthday by having a stress test. I feel better than I have in years! Please consider becoming an organ donor if you are able. It is wonderful to live again!

What a beautiful way to begin a Monday.




Sunday, June 7, 2015

You Might Be Surprised

It seems only fair that, having blogged about things "I just don't care" about, that I take a moment to divulge some of my guilty pleasures. Sure, this blog is mostly about community involvement, education, a variety of liberal points of view, Columbia and Howard County issues...But there have to be some skeletons in the closet, right?

Here goes:

  • The ABC show Once Upon A Time. A relatively recent discovery, watching one episode at a time on Netflix with my daughter. Yes, obsessed with characters played by Robert Carlyle.
  • Ice pops/freezy pops. Have adored them since childhood. Now no one can tell me I can't have two if I want.
  • Cat naps in the Lazy-boy with a soft, cuddly blanket. (When did this become my idea of fun?)
  • The occasional Dollar Tree shopping binge. Despite conscious efforts to declutter and not encourage more plastic stuff in the world, about once I year I take about twenty dollars and go nuts.
  • Play dough. And Model Magic. And Kinetic Sand. And just plain old playing in the sandbox or at the beach. My hands just need to squish things. All public meetings would be vastly improved by providing access to these materials.
  • Stuffed animals. Must be cuddly. Must be easy to hug. Must be adorable. It doesn't matter how hard I hide, they find me.
  • Fritos. Recently rediscovered after a long hiatus. Not a good thing.
  • Blue's Clues. Only the Steve episodes. Don't laugh--if you know, you know.
  • Sleeping with a fan on. I'm a big white noise fancier. Drives other people nuts. I used to cry when my mother put the fans away at the end of the summer.
  • Fantasies of winning the lottery. Yes, I know it's not realistic. No, I don't spend a lot of money buying tickets. But in my dreams I have turned cool old HoCo buildings into Extreme Homes and funded Bridge Columbia and Merriweather Park in Symphony Woods. Worth every penny.

Your turn--care to share a guilty pleasure or two?





Saturday, June 6, 2015

Bargaining Chips

There's a great article in the Sun by Amanda Yeager about what's going on in the HCPSS teacher negotiation process right now. In short, it focuses on a letter sent to teachers by Superintendent Foose, which HCEA feels is misleading and also a violation of the negotiation process. It's definitely worth the read.

New local blogger HoCoRudkus has written twice this week about this issue. First, some commentary on the questionable math contained in Dr. Foose's letter about teacher salaries. Next, some musings on what it would take for teachers to be able to negotiate from a position of strength.

In the process of brainstorming, the blogger suggests that perhaps a wholesale refusal to administer high stakes testing would be useful as a bargaining chip. It's an interesting concept. I'm no fan of high stakes testing. If the kids didn't get tested, they certainly wouldn't be missing out on anything of value. But I don't see this as a useful position in terms of contract negotiation.

A commenter suggests that true change must come from parents, and by this she means that parents must hold the elected Board of Education responsible for decisions they make which are detrimental both to students and teachers. I think she is right. But we keep electing Board of Education members who show no sense of personal responsibility towards parents or teachers. (With the exception of Bess Altwerger and Cynthia Vaillancourt.)

So, if I were going to change something, I would change the Board of Education: so that members are elected from specific geographic areas, like the County Council. They would be charged to serve the County overall, like the County Council. But it would be their job to make the educational system transparent and responsive to their constituents.

No more of this hazy notion that the BoE is a part of some lofty "Executive Branch". If our schools are a part of the Howard County Government, funded by our tax dollars, and if we elect members of the Board of Education to fulfill a role of public service in the community, then let's be clear on that. Parents vote, and teachers (who can afford to live in Howard County) vote. Right now their votes have no meaningful connection to true representation when decisions are being made.

Time after time members of the current board have publicly and privately maligned parents who don't agree with them, and teachers who ask for better treatment. Can you imagine if Howard County Government operated like this? Heads would roll. In fact, an investigation into whether the operation of the Board and Central Office constitutes best practices according to Howard County Government standards would be a really good idea. I am looking to the County Council for some leadership on this issue.

If, as a result of that investigation, it were decided that Board members should be elected from specific areas or districts, I think that teachers, parents, students, and the greater community would be better served. Having a good bargaining chip is not enough if the other folks have no intention of bargaining at all.

We as a community have to demand better representation. Our children (and teachers) deserve it.










Friday, June 5, 2015

Stop, Drop, and Shop

Quote of the Day:

Every year at the flea market I have to buy back stuff from my childhood that my mother is trying to get rid of. -- son of ASLC Flea Market Chair

It's that time of year again. Time for the shameless promotion of the Abiding Savior Lutheran Church Flea Market.

It's Flea Market Time: Tuesday, June 9th, starting at 5, the "Great Unpacking." All ages welcome, especially those with strong backs. Pizza provided. Wednesday-Thursday, starting at 10 am, we will be pricing. Again--all are welcome. Bring your lunch. Friday--more pricing, if needed. We will be buying grocery gift cards for the EMTs' communal meals as a thank you for their many services to members of our congregation. If you bring your donations this Sunday, we are hoping that teens can unload the cars during the Annual Meeting.

What does this mean for you?

Stop: see if you have anything you would like to donate. We don't accept clothing or large furniture. Books, CDs, DVDs, household items, toys, holiday decorations, knick-knacks, linens and sporting goods are popular.

Drop: You can call the church to arrange a drop-off time, or shoot them an email. Contact info here.

Shop: this year's Flea Market will be Saturday, June 13th, from 8 am to 12 pm. Abiding Savior Lutheran Church, 10689 Owen Brown Road, Columbia, MD 21044.

Each year the Flea Market allows a small but mighty congregation to make a significant charitable donation to an important cause in our community. This year it will be to our local EMT's. Help us to give big again this year. Come and find your treasures!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Truth, Unvarnished

I wrote about our meeting to share stories about our experiences with the Howard County Schools dress code on Tuesday. Local Blogger Laura Solomon, also in attendance, wrote about it yesterday.

Just read it. (Warning: it has some NSFW language.)

Too much of what we do in our society seems aimed at rendering young women invisible. Do not be a distraction, do not stand out, do not speak up. None of that belongs in a school environment where we should be drawing out, lifting up, calling forth.

Ms. Solomon says, speaking to young women and girls,

This world needs your brain, your body, your heart, your spirit. You are worth-full, and you matter. We need you.


Shouldn't this be the message that all students receive at school?





Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Read the Comments

I know, I know. Reading the comments is not usually advisable. But in this case I am asking you to make an exception. I wrote about the rally for full-spectrum housing last week. I recommended the Sun coverage.

Now here are some comments.

  • Columbia Activist:
  • These are James Rouse's people speaking - Howard Hughes Corporation should listen.
  • MDisRed:
  • @Columbia Activist pathetic....more low income housing will bring more robberies and break-ins. That's why I left that hell hole.


    If you read all five comments, you'll see these points emerge.

    • Columbia has plenty of affordable housing already.
    • Why doesn't Western Howard County have affordable housing?
    • Affordable housing = subsidized housing = drug dealers.
    • It is necessary to have an influx of high-end housing to balance the market.
    • Affordable housing will turn Columbia into Downtown Baltimore.
    It's an interesting discussion. And it is notable amongst most comment threads in that the worst word used is "pathetic". But it contains a misconception about affordable housing that continues to plague conversations on this issue. Many people believe that when they hear the terms "affordable housing" or "full-spectrum housing" that they are hearing "Section 8 housing".

    They are not the same thing. And I'm sure there are plenty of conversations to be had about Section 8 housing. This just doesn't happen to be one of them.

    Now, as for me, I don't truly care whether the people at the rally were James Rouse's people or not. But I do care that, when people advocate for housing for teachers and first responders, that somehow translates to drug dealers and low-lifes. I mean, really. Are you telling me that your neighborhood will spin into a vortex of decline once more police, firefighters and teachers move in?

    Full spectrum means filling in the gaps. If we become a community with only the very rich and the very poor, then we will be broken. A community like that cannot sustain itself. That is what we should fear--a weak foundation that cannot support vibrant community life. This is not merely some touchy-feely liberal issue. It's hard economics and we need to pay attention.

    What would Columbia be like if we made more room for teachers, first responders, plumbers, contractors, nurses...

    A "hell-hole"? I think not.




    Tuesday, June 2, 2015

    Food for Thought

    At the last minute, I was afraid no one would come. The skies had opened up and it was pouring. I worried that the topic wouldn't matter as much to others as it did to me.

    I needn't have worried.

    Forty people came out on a Monday evening in the pouring rain to share and listen to stories about the Howard County Schools dress code. The chairs were set up to form a very large circle. The circle was filled.

    We all learned how difficult it is to listen just to listen. It is so easy to begin listening, then think, "Ooh! Yes! I have this thing that riffs off your thing" and then we have stopped fully listening. Throughout the evening it was a work in progress: a desire to truly listen to and respect the stories of others in the circle, while straining to respond and speak out on a topic many felt passionately about.

    There were many stories. To the extent that they were stories where students were diminished and disrespected, I feel sad. But as a parent whose child has been shamed/"dress-coded" I feel a sense of solidarity with others who came last night. I am not alone.

    Vision 2018 of the Howard County School System states, under the heading Goal 1: Students--

    Every student achieves academic excellence in an inspiring, engaging and supportive environment.

    We have some work to do in ensuring that environment is truly inspiring, engaging, and supportive. Last night was only the beginning.

    Special thanks go to the UUCC in Owen Brown for allowing us to use their space, Jean Joklik for facilitating, Lisa Kehle for coordinating, and to the Rabid Minds Collective of Oakland Mills High School for presenting their poem from the Oakland Mills High School talent show, "27 reasons why women are never living just surviving". They were absolutely awesome.

    Interested in being a part of the solution? Look for updates here.





    Monday, June 1, 2015

    Happy Birthday

    This is Tiger. His tag said his birthday was June 1st. So, every June 1st we celebrate Tiger Birthday. Listen to the song and you'll know what we eat...

    All families make up their own mythology, create new holidays and celebrations, tell and retell family stories. It is a part of being human.

    How exciting it must have been at the beginning of Columbia to be a part of creating the new mythology. And how affirming, then, to be a part of the tradition of re-enacting those cherished events of the past. Shared celebrations can help to hold us together, whether as individual family units or as a community.

    It's also exciting to be in Columbia now as so many new things are coming together or reaching towards completion. It gives us a chance to create new traditions and perhaps to see our community in a new way. And for those of us who weren't here when it all started it gives us a chance to participate in the beginning of things. When we participate, we feel a new sense of ownership, community pride.

    And that is worth celebrating.