Saturday, October 31, 2015

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

A year ago my posts were filled with talk of the election. A year from now I guess they will be, too. Right now I'm just shaking my head and hoping for the best.

The last election broke my heart. And not just a little. I told myself I wasn't ever going to let myself care about politics that deeply again. And I was truly only on the periphery of the intense work that political campaigns demand from participants. But even that was more than enough for me. Because for the first time, the people who were running were my friends. It was more than endorsing a political point of view for me. I believed in them as people.

But already in Howard County candidates for the Board of Education are announcing, and I can't feel indifferent about that. I feel the familiar sense that our community has a responsibility to our children and that we have an opportunity to make things better. And I just can't turn my head away and not care.

Community, responsibility, opportunity, improvement. That's what it all comes down to, or it should. Whether it's local or national. Last year, after the election, I shared this from my friend Lisa Marini Schlossnagle:

"This post by Lisa B, Mrs. S. did a lot towards helping me get my feet back in the ground. "Let's get it done," she says.

I know what I stand for. I know what problems concern me most, and all I want is to see them solved. I don't care about credit. I don't care who does it. I just want it done. I want people to have food and shelter and recreation. I want people to earn wages on which they can live and thrive. I want people to have health care. I want excellent schools for all children.I don't care who does it. I just want it done.How can I help?"

And that's what politics is all about, Charlie Brown. I guess that's why I'm probably not done with it, either.





Friday, October 30, 2015

Kirsten Coombs for Board of Education

I attended the kick-off event for Kirsten Coombs last night at Historic Oakland. She's running for a seat on the Howard County Board of Education.

I've known Kirsten for a while now, as a friend in the blogging community, and through her work on Tom Coale's campaign. I've watched as her involvement in her daughter's education grew beyond an interest in just one school. I've seen her willingness to donate her time and talents as an accountant to serve on the school system's Citizen Review Board to analyze the budget. I've had conversations with her about the great things that are happening in our schools.

Last night when Kirsten came forward to speak, it was clear that she was doing something right. In choosing to run for the Board of Education she is connecting with her desire to serve the community and her deep love of education. There couldn't be a better match. She brings to her candidacy her experiences in school and community volunteering, her professional skills as an accountant, her day-to-day life as the parent of a child in school, her thoughtfulness, and her desire to listen and learn from the community.

Oh, and a terrific sense of humor. I think that could be extremely useful.

It's a huge risk to put oneself out there for public scrutiny. And it's a massive undertaking to run for public office. I congratulate Kirsten for listening to that inner voice that urged her to run and making it more than just a passing thought. She's willing to listen, learn, think, solve problems, get things accomplished.

All of this will serve her well as a candidate. More than that, these are qualities I want to see in any Board member I choose to vote for. You can learn more about Kirsten here, and follow her campaign on Facebook as well.

This election may feel far away, but the need for leadership on the Board of Education is something we all need to start thinking about right now.



Thursday, October 29, 2015

Make a Change

I'm having one of those days where everything I might write about just makes me feel pissy (translation: angry or in a bad mood.) Not violently angry but annoyed and/or jaded. And I don't think it's healthy to go on day after day like that.

Part of what colors this is watching my daughter struggle each morning with the early high school start time. It's not good for her. Actually, it borders on being soul-crushing. Being forced to operate on a clock which is opposed to her naturally body clock is taking much of the joy out of her high school experiences.

That's how we start each day. Miserable.

She goes to a great school, is involved in activities she likes, she has already made new friends. But she is dragging around her messed-up sleep cycle like a ball and chain. It goes everywhere she does. And at the end of the day, when she is supposed to be giving her best to an increased homework load, she is exhausted almost to the point of paralysis.

There is a substantial body of evidence that early school start times are bad for kids. Why has our school board not acted on this? It affects health, judgement, emotional well-being, and academic performance.

Later school start times are linked to:

  • Improved attendance and enrollment rates
  • Less sleeping in class
  • Less student-reported depression
  • Fewer student visits to school counselors for behavioral and peer issues
  • More even temperament at home
What will it take to make healthier start times a reality in Howard County?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Take a Look

Assigned reading:

  • In 'Soda Politics', Big Soda at Crossroads of Profits and Public Health -- (Allison Aubrey, Eliza Barclay for NPR)
  • City to Get Healthier Vending Options -- (Andrea K. McDaniels for the Baltimore Sun)

While the County Executive may have pushed back on this issue in Howard County, it is still very much an issue. A public health issue. And it's far bigger than our little Bubble.


Tonight, the CA Speaker Series offers "Best Zoning Practices for Large Planned Communities" at Slayton House from 7 to 9 pm.

Tuesday, November 3rd, the Inner Arbor Trust offers "Math of Architecture, Architecture of Math" at Smith Theatre, HCC, 7-8:30 pm.

Both events are free, just sign up for tickets at the link.


A tip of the hat to Mickey Gomez for leading the HoCo Civility Power Up session at the Miller Branch Library yesterday. The topic was Social Media Responsibility and Online Harassment. It was eye-opening. More on that soon.






Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Speechless (Almost)

Yesterday the Howard County Schools posted their own press release (carefully crafted in-house) on their own website. The only reason many of us know about this is the prompt coverage by local media. Both Amanda Yeager of the Howard County Times and Amy Aubuert of ABC2/WMAR got the information out on Twitter.

That's really kind of amazing, since the hcpss press release does its best to try to discredit the work of both of these reporters and their organizations.

@amandacyeager: The release calls media reports "targeted," "inaccurate" and "sensational," says school system wants to "set the record straight."

Mind blown.

How many of us would have just happened to be at the hcpss website to see that press release appear? How much normal everyday traffic and organic sharing is there on a normal day? Probably not all that much. I don't know. I do know that once it got picked up by Ms. Yeager and Ms. Aubert it got much, much more attention.

Interesting. These local journalists, whose work is criticized in this press release, got right on this story and got the word out. Why would they do that? Why would they increase readership for a piece that attempts to make them look bad?

Because they are journalists. Because it is their job. Whether it's good news, bad news, or uncomfortable news they do the work. They do the research, respond to the public, shed light on what is going on. They do this while following journalistic guidelines that hold them to a professional/ethical standard.

I find it weird that the school system can rely on them to disseminate this press release much more effectively than they themselves could do, while at the same time attempting to discredit their work as journalists. What on earth is the community to make of that?




Monday, October 26, 2015

Poinsettias and Pitchforks

Correction: Although I know I got this from a reliable source, the claim that this has something to do with work on Merriweather and the Chrysalis is not, in fact, correct. My sincere apologies. The one year hiatus is connected to construction taking place on the Crescent Property.


The year was 2007. General Growth was new in town. Do you remember? Do you remember the year they took the Poinsettia Tree away?

Oh, boy--I do. It was a mighty Big Deal. If your memory needs refreshing, here's a piece from the Washington Post.

"The Tree was a symbol of how Columbia was different," said Dennis Lane, who grew up in the town, blogs about it and writes a column for the Business Monthly, a local paper. "It's a non-political statement, a thing of beauty. I live in Ellicott City now, and it has a definable center and a long history. Columbia yearns for that. It's a suburb on steroids that holds tight to any tradition it has."

So now, for some very good reasons, the Symphony of Lights needs to take a one-year hiatus. They're going to use this opportunity to update the displays to environmentally-friendly LED lights. While it is disappointing to miss a year, improvements to Merriweather and the building of the Chyrsalis ampitheater are exciting. Also, considering no major improvements have been made to the lights in their 21-year existence, isn't this overdue?

But I'm hearing rumblings. Poinsettia-protest sort of rumblings. Dark muttering about evil commercial developers and corporate greed destroying Christmas. And Columbia. Suggestions that the secret plan is that the Symphony of Lights is never coming back. Complaints that everyone's holidays are now destroyed.

Now I don't think that several hundred disgruntled citizens are going to show up in the dark with battery operated candles to voice their displeasure. I don't think so, but then, they just might. It's hard to say. Almost any change in town brings out the folks who say, "Why wasn't I consulted?"

What does it say about us as a community that the quintessential community holiday celebration is one we enjoy without ever leaving our cars? Protected from the elements, from coming into contact with any strange people or having any new and/or uncomfortable experiences. It's just so Columbia, like eating dinner al fresco with a view of the parking lot. Watch your car while you eat.

My family loves the Symphony of Lights, and we will miss it this year. But we are going to make an effort to find new ways to celebrate the season in Columbia and Howard County. It won't be the same. But that is okay. It might even bring new light and new traditions into our holiday experiences.


Sunday, October 25, 2015

Get Around Town

"When a city gets public transportation right, it gets so much else right. So much is made better simply through the ability to get around."

So says my friend Gerry, who recently moved to Chicago after many years as a Baltimore City resident. During his last few years in Baltimore, he frequently live-tweeted his experiences using Baltimore public transit. It wasn't pretty. Now that he's in Chicago living the big city life, he's reveling in all the opportunities that decent transit affords him.

I thought of Gerry this week when Governor Hogan unveiled the shrouded mystery vehicle in Baltimore to announce his plan for better buses in Baltimore City. Would my friend, with painfully in-depth experience in using local public transit, think this was enough? A drop in the bucket? Too little, too late? I don't know. I haven't asked him yet.

Surely he would find Bryan Sears' vignette from the big event a delicious bit of Baltimore local color.

As Columbia continues evolving and moving towards a more lively community with a vibrant Downtown core, I believe the issue of transit is crucial. Connecting people to where they want and need to go will take us from suburban backwater to a place people actively chose to live, work and play.

I know there are some people who believe that Columbia is just fine as a suburban backwater but the fact is that the next stop on the line after that is suburban ghost town. Decent transit is not just for people who have no choice. We want to make it an option that people seek out to enhance their quality of life. We want it to be so appealing and reliable that people can count on it as a given.

"When a city gets public transportation right, it gets so much else right. So much is made better simply through the ability to get around."

What would Columbia look like if we could say this about ourselves?



Saturday, October 24, 2015

Saturday Lessons

So I can still drink two Dogfish on a Friday night at the Second Chance and be up early the next day to write the blog. Ha! I thought to myself, a bit triumphantly, I'm not completely over the hill.

And yet, something in that lovely IPA seems to have had the residual effect of flattening any motivation to write...I guess there's always a tradeoff. Sigh.

Today there's a boatload of things going on around town. The Library is having a 75th Birthday celebration and burying a time capsule with the help of local middle school students. The Columbia Association is hosting an Open House in their new headquarters complete with access to the amazing Columbia Archives. And I bet there's more I don't know about.

As for me, I'm taking my girls to the Ren Fest because it's the last weekend and somehow we haven't made it yet this season. It's an annual tradition with us. They dress up. I play the part of the suburban mom. (I have plenty of outfits for that.) If I am truly on the ball I remember exactly where I parked my car. It's a hop, skip. and a jump from the Columbia Bubble to the cosplay/silly themed food/raggedy historical interpretation Bubble.

Tonight we're going to the Fall play at Oakland Mills High School: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, with a reading of The Raven. A perfect evening to what is shaping up to be a quintessential Fall day.


Friday, October 23, 2015

Friendship Friday

It's good to have friends.

Sometimes you need friends to set you straight. I was reminded of this yesterday when my friend Nina responded to my blog post about the tiny soda cans by informing me that they were not new, in fact they'd probably been around for about ten years.

Well, phooey. Now all of that astute observation and brilliant analysis was reduced to, "Hey! Look what I saw at the store!"

Not very impressive.

And then I laughed. Because sometimes, despite your best efforts, you're wrong. And it's of course a good deal more likely if you come away from your efforts thinking you have executed a particularly clever bit of work. That's when you are more susceptible to believing your own publicity, and less likely to give your work that extra bit of scrutiny it deserves.


What would be worse: being corrected by a friend, or persisting in ignorance? It depends whether your ego is more invested in the quality and truth of your work, or in your personal sense of being "right".

So here's the deal. Nina is right. Now that she mentions it, I have seen short, squat cans of Coke products before--but never these skinny, juice-can versions. (Both 8 ounces.) And I've never seen them for sale at Walgreen's or the Food Lion. But, based on this additional information, I can't make the claim that this is some new marketing plan on the part of soda companies. It just doesn't hold up.

Now, I stand by my assertion that putting cute holiday characters on the cans of soda and placing them right at the checkout is some mighty serious marketing directly to kids. And I absolutely have not seen that before. But why not, right? We have cute characters on cereal, "fruit" snacks, boxed mac and cheese, frozen dinners, "juice" boxes...

But, until recently, soda has enjoyed a different, more powerful status. To many people, buying soda, drinking soda, and keeping soda in the house was just a given. There's plenty of competition between brands, to be sure. I've just never seen such an obvious attempt aimed specifically at younger children. It does make me wonder what it all means.

So I'm a little embarrassed that I was wrong. But I'm also grateful for friends who set me straight.



Thursday, October 22, 2015

Short and Sweet?

While shopping at our neighborhood Walgreens, something caught my eye.


It's hard to tell from the picture, but these soda cans are really, really small. Tiny, even. More like those little cans of V-8 or pineapple juice we are used to seeing. So I checked. They're eight ounces. And the packaging proudly proclaims, "only 100 calories!"

The fluctuation of product size, especially in relation to the cost of ingredients and what producers think the market will bear, is an ongoing source of frustration for me. Examples: breakfast cereal and toilet paper. But this is different, I think. This is a sign that perhaps Big Soda knows it's in trouble and it's trying on a new set of clothing to fit in with changing consumer attitudes.

Let's face it, if beverages exist for the functional purpose of abating thirst, then this tiny can just isn't going to cut it. Except maybe if you are a kid.


It's okay, Mom and Dad. You can still be a good parent and make your kids happy at the same time by allowing this delicious beverage product as a Special Treat. See how tiny the can is? Only 100 calories.

Please? Please, please, pleeeeeease?

Remember when cookies and crackers all jumped on the counted-calorie pre-portioned bandwagon? "It's not that we're unhealthy. You just need to enjoy us in moderation." It seems that Big Soda is feeling the pressure and following suit.

But wait. There's more. Spotted right by the checkout at the Oakland Mills Food Lion:

Those tiny cans again, right by the checkout. With special, limited edition Halloween characters on them. Big Soda is down on its knees begging you to buy this for your children. Buy one, get one-free!

I think this is a sign. I could be wrong. This could be the brilliant marketing move that saves the fortunes of Big Soda in the face of changing beverage-drinking trends. Well, it could be. If we buy it.

I think it's a desperate cry from an industry that has been used to being in charge and now sees the actual possibility that it might become irrelevant. An interesting trend, to my mind.

And goodness, they're just so adorable.




Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Keep Columbia Weird

Dan Reed from Just Up the Pike shared this article the other day on Facebook. It's a tad long but definitely worth your time. Entitled "How to Keep [Your City] Weird", it takes a look at the ramifications of preservationist attempts to maintain the essential character of a community.

The author, Kriston Capps, uses the city of Austin as the focal point of the piece. As you read you come to realize that what makes for the essential character of a place is very much in the eye of the beholder.

Today, when the conversation turns to Keeping Austin Weird, it tends to mean keeping people out. Developers, Californians, festival-goers, franchise owners: The list of factors threatening to emblanden Austin grows longer and longer. To the extent that Austinites are trying to erect barriers to entry for people who might like to live there, the city risks losing something worse than cool: its sense of hospitality.

"Emblanden". What a great word. And I wonder if that may be happening to Columbia.

Okay, I know some people think that Columbia is the very definition of suburban blandness already. But there truly is a very real, and good, "Columbia weird" vibe worth appreciating. And yet fighting tooth and nail to the preserve our "Columbia-ness" may just be what kills the entire thing.

Capps makes the case that preserving a community for the benefit of those who got there first is not only exclusionary, but also ultimately destructive to the health of the community overall. It makes housing more expensive. It keeps out the kind of "immigration" that brings diversity and life. Some notable quotes:

  • Picking character over people winds up hurting both.
  • Affordability is critical for a city that is both weird and chill.
  • Change sucks, but it’s better to live somewhere uncool than unfair.
  • To protect a city's character, residents need to welcome change.

Yesterday Ilana Bittner of HoCoMoJo shared this news about a beloved Columbia tradition which many would claim as a part of our essential Columbia-ness:

Symphony of Lights Festivities, one of our community's treasured holiday traditions, is taking a hiatus during the development of Merriweather Park and sprucing up of Merriweather Post Pavilion, but we're thrilled to collaborate with our friends at Howard County General Hospital and BHC - Bonnie Heneson Communications - to offer a virtual Symphony of Lights! Don't fret, it'll be back next year with new lights and fixtures.

I have a feeling that there may be hue and cry over this change to our annual holiday tradition. After all, some are already disgruntled by changes at Merriweather and the forward progress by Merriweather Park in Symphony Woods. And now look--they're destroying Symphony of Lights!

Breathe. Just breathe. We'll all pull together and find some other "Columbia weird" ways to celebrate the holidays together. Maybe we'll create something new.

In the meantime, donate here to Brighten the Lights so they'll be ready for next year.






Tuesday, October 20, 2015

School System in the News, Again

Two big stories (that aren't mold or the Harriet Tubman building) in the news this week pertaining to the Howard County School System.

  • Bill proposes to elect Howard school board members by district (Amanda Yeager and Lisa Philip)*
  • Howard delegate proposes legislative remedy to school system transparency complaints (Amanda Yeager)

Both stories feature elected officials, both Democrat and Republican, who are proposing to improve the workings of the elected Board of Education and the school system in response to constituent requests. Many constituent requests. This is notable for two reasons. Number one, we see elected officials being responsive to constituents, something that we need much more of from the Board of Education. Number two is rather personal to me.

In October of 2014, in "Disconnect", I wrote of attending a PTACHC meeting in which the topic "What makes a good board member?" was discussed by a variety of experts, including present and past board members.

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

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

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

Well, then.

It seems that the concerns I expressed at that meeting truly are weighing on the minds of the citizens of Howard County. Council Member Jon Weinstein, state Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary, and state Delegate Warren Miller are taking these actions in response to their constituents. That's how good government works.

Responsiveness, transparency, accountability. We ask the County Governent for that. We ask the State Government for that. It's absolutely within our rights as citizens of Howard County to ask our Board of Education and our school system for that.

*Tom Coale writes about this on HoCoRising, "Politics of Scale - a Better Board of Ed".



Monday, October 19, 2015

Will They Come?

Within Reach. If you live in the Baltimore area, or the DC area, Columbia is within reach. It's close enough to the things you need already, your job, the people you know and hang out with. It would be easy to make the move. And now's the time, because a lot is happening in Columbia and it's a really cool place that you want to be a part of.

I think that was the message of the Within Reach festival, put on Saturday byHoward Hughes and the Downtown Partnership. Let's have a party, with great music, and food, and amazing beer, and let's have it right on the Lakefront, in the heart of where everything is happening. Let's reach out, especially to a younger demographic. Let's just get them here and they'll see how awesome it is. They'll see that living in Columbia is a real possibility.

I got there early, because, well, that's just me. Everyone I came in contact with was friendly and helpful. The area was well laid out and everything showed signs of a high level of professional organization. I won my tickets in an online contest sponsored by the Downtown Partnership, and I was thrilled that the VIP beer-tasting privilege was included. Score!
I loved all the beers I tasted. My favorite was the Manor Hill offering. I tasted everything on offer but the Chocolate Stout. (I'm just not a stout fancier.) There's a listing here of which breweries participated, but I'm not sure it's complete, because Heavy Seas was definitely there, but they're not included on the site. The folks working the craft beer tents were chatty and wonderful and I would have been quite happy hanging out there the whole time. Great brand ambassadors. Tasty beer.
People were steadily arriving, including some friends of mine. We had an interesting discussion about the point of the festival--was it really for us or for out of towners? What age group was targeted? I noticed that parents with very young children had come, "the stroller crowd", as my friend dubbed them. It was cool see toddlers dancing to the music. But were they the people the festival organizers were hoping to draw? Did it matter?
Yes, it's true. You get a bunch of hocolocals who are intensely Bubble-conscious at a Saturday festival and we can't merely enjoy the experience. We need to analyze it.
As for the music, I hadn't expected to like it, but I really did. And it was great to hear live music in that space. It livened up all the concrete and 1960's architecture. I felt sorry for the musicians because it was a good deal colder than anyone had expected and that makes it harder to perform. But they were managing quite well.
I had some tacos from Clyde's which were delicious. By that point the sun had come out from behind the clouds and it was actually warming up a little bit. A fair crowd of people was accumulating. I easily could have stayed and bought more tickets for the Beer Garden but I had really used up all my "social event energy" at that point.
A big shout-out to Howard Hughes and the Downtown Partnership for being willing to reach out and invite people in. Sometimes we raise our eyebrows or talk behind our hands when people try something new. What were they thinking? But I'm all for people taking risks and trying something new if it's in aid of growing and nourishing our community's future. That's why I wanted to be there.
That's why I'm glad I went.


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Everybody Talks About It

First frost. I always made a big deal out of it when my daughters were little, showing them the frost on the ground and the icy windshield in the morning.

First frost. It means something. To us ordinary suburban types it means that yes, most of the warmer days are behind us. We really need to pull out the warmer clothes if we haven't already. We may be getting ready to break down and turn on the heat.

First frost means more than that to gardeners and those living in agricultural communities. I'm sure blogger AnnieRie could tell me much more about what this means to farmers. I did a quick look-up:

"Growing seasons is stated in terms of frost-free days, i.e. the average number of days between the last frost of spring and the first killing frost of fall or winter. Most agriculture requires a frost-free season of at least about 90 days."

Things like the first frost in the Fall remind me of times long past when everyone's survival depended upon astute observation of nature. Activities that most of us now would think of as hobbies were crucial in self-preservation--observing sunlight, weather, stars and moon, keeping track of animal and insect behavior, measuring years in landmarks of growing and harvesting.

And all community life centered around that cycle. Planting and harvest. The birth of baby animals and the time for slaughter. The enjoyment of fresh foods and the preserving or "putting up" of foods to tide one over the cold, non-growing Winter season. Community festivals, probably even weddings, were interwoven with this rise and fall of days and seasons.

Of course, anyone who is a farmer today is still quite keenly attuned to this. And while they have the benefit of up-to-date, scientifically researched materials and methods, they also rely on some of the age-old folklore. It comes with the territory.

I went to the Within Reach Festival yesterday (more about that tomorrow) and it was chillier, I think, than anyone had expected it would be. Sometimes it can be 78 degrees here in October. Festival organizers brought in those tall contraptions that look like miniature street lamps but generate heat. I made sure I was dressed warmly. So did most everyone else. And there was delicious hot soup.

But there was a feeling overall of puzzlement--how could it be "so cooooold?" And I was reminded that festival planners for outdoor events can do many things, but they can't control the weather. As "highly advanced" as we are, we cannot operate as though we are the gods of the natural world and with the assumption that exists only to serve us. It does not.

A tip of the hat today to gardeners and farmers, and to my friends who are educating their children through immersion in nature. And don't forget: Farmer's Markets last only a few more weeks. Come find out what's in season.


Saturday, October 17, 2015

Me and Louis

Had a bit of grownup fun last night. Finally made it to Petit Louis Bistro after almost a year of trying to make it happen. My husband and I don't do the "get dressed up and go to a fancy restaurant" thing very often. Sometimes I'm wistful about that. Most of the time I'm quite happy at TheSecond Chance, or bringing home exquisite takeout from Maiwand.

Last night was special. It was actually a celebration of last year's wedding anniversary. It was the only thing I asked for: dinner at Petit Louis. It took a while, but my wish came true.

I liked it. I loved the feel of the room. The light, the marble, the gleaming brass, the wood, the mirrors, the tiny candles flickering on the tables. The service was knowledgable and attentive. Well, maybe a hair too attentive. But better that than to be ignored, I guess. Service moved smoothly, like a carefully-planned dance. But in a comfortable way. Not too fussy.

Part of me wished that there had been a bit of live music coming from another room to fill in the spaces between the chatter and the clinking of dishes and so on. Perhaps a bit of the Django Reinhardt-esque jazz that Johnny Depp and his band play in the movie Chocolat. Not essential. My brain just wanted to supply it to add to the mood.

The food? It was very, very good. I began with a shrimp bisque (one of the evening's specials) and then had the Truite Almondine. My husband had the Steak Frites. Not a surprise for a true devoted meat-and-potatoes kind of guy. I had a glass of red which was very smooth and drinkable without being overly sweet, just right.

For dessert he had dark chocolate ice cream, I had the profiteroles with chocolate ice cream, salted caramel sauce, and dark chocolate sauce. Wow. Easily the richest and most overwhelming thing I ate the entire evening. I think sharing would be a good plan with this, but who am I kidding? I managed to eat it all.

The tables for two around the edge of the room are spaced a bit close together. As the room filled up we began to feel as though it was unavoidable to eavesdrop on the conversations of the patrons on either side of us, especially when the waiter came by. Since we were out on a long-awaited romantic occasion, I rather wished we had a bit more of a bubble around us. Not sure how to solve that, though.

We had arrived at six thirty. By the time we finished up there was quite a nice Friday night dinner crowd. It made me happy to see the place doing so well. As we we walked out to our car we took a minute to go past theTomato Palace, where we could see a family birthday party taking place. (I wonder where all those balloon animals were coming from?) Clyde's was also abuzz with Friday night folks. We admired the updates to the space as we walked by.

One last stop--to see a dear friend. It was the perfect ending to a lovely night.




Friday, October 16, 2015


(Breaking the third wall here, walks down towards audience.)

I don't consider the things I write here as the be-all and end-all on any topic. I write to express my opinion, which may be impassioned, and I am always hopeful to start a conversation. Just because I have a strong opinion does not mean that I think it's my way or the highway.

Yesterday Oakland Mills community activist Karen Gray spent a long time both here and on Facebook outlining an opposing point of view as to the $50,000 sought by Oakland Mills from the County Budget. She has put a lot of thought into her position. She has a lot of experience to back that up. She could be "right." I could be "right".

The reader gets to decide for themselves.

As for me, a pattern of behavior by this board leadership has brought me to a point that I feel that a change in Board Leadership is the best possible outcome for the future of Oakland Mills. I laid out examples of some of that behavior for you yesterday. I've reached my "Network" moment with their style of leadership.

My concern is that, even with County involvement and a County process, OM Board Leadership will be given pride of place at every turn. They will be having secret meetings behind the scenes. They will be leaking their own agenda to the press. They will shape the conversation; they will poison the process. And that is not a good long-term investment for Oakland Mills or the County.

So that's where I stand. But it's clear that mine is not the only point of view on this. Readers, especially residents of Oakland Mills, need to decide what they think is best. If you want to weigh in, the Council Meeting is Monday night. The Council Bill CB 42-2015.

To be clear: the County Council has absolutely no jurisdiction over our elected Oakland Mills Village leadership. But they will be deciding whether this particular project is a good investment at this time. What do you think?

(Action resumes.)


Thursday, October 15, 2015

No Rewards for Bad Behavior

It looks like there's going to be a surplus in the Howard County Budget and the leadership of the Oakland Mills Village Board wants some of it. $50,000.00, to be exact. Yes, the very same people who:

  • recently held a secret meeting with Tom Carbo without informing the rest of the board
  • released a negative story to the press about the state of Oakland Mills housing stock without informing the rest of the board
  • tried to sell all of Howard County on a state-of-the-art sports complex so that they could displace less fortunate Oakland Mills residents

Yes, those people. They want $50,000.00 to pursue their plans for "re-inventing Oakland Mills."

Don't give it to them.

The idea that one extra cent of Howard County tax money should be extended to such poor stewards of our community's resources galls me, today in particular. Today is our Covenant Advisor's last day. Why? Well, after months and months, no, several years of rudeness, systematic interference, veiled threats, and outright bullying from these people, she has resigned. Our village is losing a dedicated and extremely competent member of Village Staff, who has given fourteen years to Oakland Mills, because of them.

Please, please don't reward this behavior. Please tell me that we don't give awards for bad behavior in Howard County.

To Mr. Kittleman and the County Council, I ask that you give this money to a group which has shown proven leadership in the truest sense: good stewardship, transparency in operations, respect to community members. I know you will do your best to chose wisely.

I love Oakland Mills and I believe in Oakland Mills. If anyone is thinking about giving out extra money I would suggest it be spent on feeding hungry children and their families, helping struggling homeowners repair their homes, and, if there's anything left over, training for OMCA board leadership on civil and professional behavior. They need it.





Wednesday, October 14, 2015

What's Strong

At the beginning of the school year, the Superintendent of Schools exhorted us to "focus on what's strong, not what's wrong." I think people are aware of the many things that are strong about our schools. Expecting that things that are wrong get discussed openly, responded to promptly--and with respect--is the expectation of people who want to believe in the system. It's when people stop expecting this that you need to worry.

That would mean that people have given up.

I awoke today to this wonderful article by Lisa Philip of HoCo Times about my husband, who is a semifinalist for the Grammy Music Educator award. Surely here is something that's strong about our schools: our music program, from Pre-K in some schools through 12th grade. An article in the newspaper may highlight just one person, but he is a part of a much larger community of learning that makes what he does possible.

It's nice to be in the newspaper. I've been lucky to be covered twice in my capacity as a music specialist. Once for my RECC Music program, and once for my musical "Lunch Music" events at The Second Chance. (Howard Magazine, I can't find the link.) But while it's exciting to see one's name in print or one's picture in the paper, it's not the main thing.

For every piece you see in the newspaper, there are hundreds of teachers doing their jobs every day. We don't read about them but their work is incredibly valuable to our children and to our community. Our children are supported by these committed individuals and by the communities of learning that they create.

There is joy in teaching. And there are the tiny moments of sunlight when a student "gets it", or goes beyond what they thought they were capable of. There are the days when a colleague acknowledges your work, an administrator visits your class and enjoys it, a parent sends a note of thanks. For most, this is as close to an article in the paper as they will ever get. Much of the time it's enough.

A word of acknowledgement or praise is uplifting, but it doesn't pay the rent, of course. Teaching is their livelihood. They deserve the best compensation we can give them. And they deserve respect. Contrary to popular surveys that calculate engagement, the thing teachers want most and are getting the least these days is respect.

What's strong in our schools? Our teachers. So let's focus on them. Not necessarily with an article in the paper, but with what they really want and deserve: respect.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The System Breaks Down--Guest Post

Mold in our schools and how the school system is handling it is a continuing problem being covered now by the Howard County Times, Amy Aubert of ABC2 News, and a parent advocacy group on Facebook. Named, "Mold at Glenwood Middle School - Information for Parents", the parent page published some information yesterday which combines both the continuing story of how parents have been treated and concerns about changes in leadership at PTACHC.

I asked permission to run their piece as a guest post here today.


One thing that has surprised... actually shocked me is the amount of politics at play within the BOE, PTACHC and HCPSS central office. Without getting into too much detail, it is obvious that political and career aspirations and alignments within the BOE, PTACHC, Central Office and the Superintendent have slowed down our progress immensely.

Dr. Foose is supposed to work for the BOE. The BOE is supposed to work for us. Right now, we only have 2 out of 8 BOE members working on our behalf (Dr. Altwerger and Ms. Vaillancourt). Progress is difficult when the system breaks down because of politics. Parents are left with no representation and must rely on news media and social media platforms and in some cases, hiring legal representation.

Alicia Buxton, former PTACHC delegate, has been part of our parent group and the efforts to ensure the air quality is safe at Glenwood MS since the 2nd week of June when a staff member asked her and me for help.

Despite no longer having a student at GMS, Alicia continues to work tirelessly on student and staff thing she has done is continue to attend PTACHC meetings, even though she is no longer a delegate. At both meetings she has struggled to discuss the mold issue. Is there no more important of a topic right now? Shouldn't this be priority? It is in the news, it is spreading to other schools. When Alicia tried to bring it up again at last Monday's meeting, New PTACHC president Reg Avery exclaimed, "This is my meeting!" He also referred to Alicia as a hysterical mom... um, what?

This is video of the BOE meeting last Thursday. Mr. Avery's presentation to the BOE starts at 2:32:25. He states that at the last meeting some individuals were trying to takeover the meeting so he put a stop to it. He states his goal is for parents to be able to come away from the meetings with an understanding of what is happening in our schools. How is that going to happen when concerned parents aren't given the opportunity to express those concerns because Mr. Avery believes it's "his" meeting and he stops the discussion. Thank you Bess Altwerger who shares her concern about the opportunity for democracy to take place in the PTACHC meetings over Mr. Avery's concern to end the meeting at 9 pm.


(The video link referred to above can be found here.)


I'll talk about this more tomorrow. Do you have any first-hand knowledge to share?




Monday, October 12, 2015

An Unlikely Event

So, imagine this is you. Your family. Your spouse.

"Okay I knew it was a matter of time…we are an average, patriotic family with 2 kids living in the River Hill neighborhood… I am a practical girl from the Midwest sometimes intrigued and entertained by the HOCO mentality…well my husband has been dieting and working out by walking around the neighborhood, sometimes he wears a Gold's Gym workout/weight vest and today on his walk on this beautiful day…a person called 911 and then 3 cops cars stopped my husband on his walk after he was reported as a probable terrorist/menace to society and may have a gun -- they made him raise his hands and they asked if he had a gun….Can't wait for the responses on this one ! by the way…the police could not have been nicer!"

I had to do an Internet search on the vest. It looks like this.

Recently HoCoRudkus wrote a blog post on "If you see something, say something." The post addresses the actions of school officials who reported Ahmed Mohamed, the 14 year old boy who built a clock and brought it to school to show his teacher. Has "see something, say something" become so ingrained that we feel we must do this without first applying some good sense? (I think that's what HoCoRudkus is asking here.)

The discussion on Clarksville Happenings was fascinating, and all-around civil. Was it just crazy and over-the-top to call the police? Is that particular vest a little scary-looking in light of the world we live in, post 9/11? Are people in Howard County a little too busy-body-ish for their own good?

One woman commented, "My solution: everyone should go outside several times a day at different times, say hello to everyone that walks by and get to know your neighbor."

Know your neighbor. That would go a long way in ameliorating many of the generalized, non-specific fears we have in our immediate neighborhoods. I heartily endorse this. So that strange guy running by your house is not a strange guy. This doesn't, however, address how we treat someone we don't know who hapoens to be passing through our neighborhood.

"Our eldest was stopped by police walking through one community back to ours. He was told he wasn't allowed to walk! But wasn't offered a lift home. Crazy you can't even use your legs to get about and it's seen as an aberration if you do!"

Running while wearing a strange vest. Walking in a neighborhood you "don't belong in". Worshipping a "foreign" religion. What constitutes a reason for us to fear?


Sunday, October 11, 2015

Hate/No Hate

Some love-thy-neighbor types took to the streets yesterday to defend the worship space at Dar Al-Taqwa Mosque on Route 108 in Ellicott City. You can read more about this through posts on the "Celebrating Columbia and its Future" page on Facebook.

Briefly: a man named Mike White, not a Howard County resident, called for a rally against Islam to be held Saturday, October 10th, at the site of the Dar Al-Taqwa Mosque. You can see the kind of hatred his group is spewing here. (Don't say I didn't warn you.)

Once word got out on social media, people from Columbia and Howard County responded with a plan of action to support our Muslim neighbors and reject hatred in our community. They made a commitment and they showed up armed with goodwill, resolve, and signs like this. (Photo credit: Robin Procida.)

The rally against Islam was a bust. "BTW, Mike White, the rally organizer did show up but when he realized no one else was there to join him he drove away." (Robin Procida) On the other hand, members of the mosque reached out to the positive protesters with donuts, pizza, and words of friendship and thanks.

I have read over and over again, in response to the news of the purported anti-Islam rally: This is not Columbia. This is not Howard County. This is not who we are.

Yesterday, at the place "where Columbia and Howard County intersect", some brave folks turned up to say: This is who we are.

In the face of that support and acceptance, the haters came off looking rather puny. And I'd like to say that's the end of it. But we really don't know.

Hatred may slink away on one occasion only to slither back on another. I think we all need to be ready to stand up for our neigbors. We may yet be needed in this fight.


Saturday, October 10, 2015


Trees are beautiful. And important. And in Columbia we care about maintaining Open Space and keeping a healthy natural environment for our community. But over time we have come to have a problem with trees. We worship them. The cutting down of one tree is cause for grief. The cutting down of multiple trees is a calamity.

  • Write the newspaper
  • Call your congressman
  • Rant online

I do believe trees are important, and I do believe that protecting our natural environment in Columbia should be a high priority. But there's a double standard at work here that no one seems to want to acknowledge.

If trees are so important, let's go back and replace the ones that used to be where your house is now. Poof! More trees, no house. Your child's school--poof! No school. Your favorite restaurant, shop, athletic club. Poof! More trees.

All these places once had trees. They had to be cut down for you to be here. Why is it not a crime? Do you feel guilty? Are you willing to donate your land back to the community so that it may be returned to nature?

"But I own that!"

Ah, property rights. Well, that's different then.

What about the property rights of the people who own the Crescent Neighborhood property? Should they just be willing to donate the land to remain natural forever? It was always zoned to be developed in just the way we are seeing right now. Does the right of ownership apply only to you and your house, but not "those" people Downtown?


Columbia is a special and beautiful place. We need to work to protect and preserve our natural environment, because it is a part of what we love and believe in. But that does not preclude respecting the property rights of others. And it doesn't mean we can't be excited for new things happening which will bring new life to our city.

It's okay to feel sad when a tree comes down. It's not okay to offer up other people's land for a purpose that would make us feel good, when we would never in a million years offer up our own.

Think about it.


Friday, October 9, 2015


There was a great conversation on Twitter last night stemming from the Choose Civility event at the Miller Branch Library. "Would You Say That to my Face?" took a look at online civility. If you want to catch up, you can follow @MickeyGomez, who was live-tweeting, and/or search the hashtag #hococivil.

HCPSS is clearly the media winner this week, with three separate stories percolating.

I'm not going to go into those in depth right now, but it's interesting to note that if you search the "Rate My Teachers" site for the teacher in question, a number of things come up in student reviews which are absolutely red flags for abuse. We all tend to roll our eyes at reviews like this, perhaps questioning their validity, but this is quite telling.

I must say, all that extra money the school system is spending on public relations/media presence is really paying off. There's hardly a week that they're not in the headlines.

Touching again on online civility, I want to express my disgust with an online commenter on the HoCoTimes digital edition. This person saw fit to respond to an article about local government by criticizing the weight and physical appearance of the subject of the article, rather than address the issue being discussed. I find this behavior loathesome.

And, to finish off the week, a cursory glance at Twitter tells me that Long Reach local James Howard has thrown his hat in the ring for Speaker of the House of Representatives. As if that weren't enough levity, so has Town Center celebrity Ms. Frizz.



Thursday, October 8, 2015

It's a Happening

"Downtown Columbia is where it's at!"

So reads the homepage for the Within Reach Festival, to be held Saturday, October 17th, in the Amercian City Parking lot, from 4-10 pm. Live music, local beer, and food from local chefs in a beautiful Lakefront setting. I'm fascinated by this.

Howard Hughes is in the process of developing the last bit of residential property in Columbia. The Metropolitan is open, the Crescent Neighborhood has broken ground. Who will live here?

The Within Reach Festival gives us a hint that Howard Hughes is looking to appeal to young, "hip" folks with some disposable income to take a chance on Columbia.

It might be a hard sell for a generation who are embracing urban life, walkability, bikeability, and decent transit. But maybe, just maybe, there are people who would consider Columbia if we just got them here and showed them what it was all about.

The future of Columbia depends on bringing a younger generation into the mix. Does an event like this bring that likelihood within reach? I think it's worth a shot.

But does anyone say "where it's at" anymore?


Wednesday, October 7, 2015


The last time I gave blood my daughter was a little girl and I had to bring her along with me. She had some activity books to help her pass the time. One of them was a hidden picture book. As I sat across the room with a needle in my arm, a nice lady kept her company and gave her some good advice.

"If you can't find something, it helps to turn the picture upside down."

It really does. It also works on those hidden picture games in the iPad, tilting just enough to the left or the right to change your perspective. Suddenly, at just the right angle, an item which was somehow invisible magically appears.

Sometimes the solution appears only if you are willing to change your point of view. And if you are highly invested in seeing the world from only one location, then finding the solution is not as important to you as maintaining your personal belief that you are the North Star.

Around town I see plenty of examples of this. The co-chairs of the Oakland Mills Village Board who resorted to a secret meeting with the County in order to prevent the larger community from hearing their presentation on Grande Pointe. The school system, responding to community pressure, forms an Indoor Environmental Quality Advisory Committee, but doesn't include anyone with expertise in mold issues. The County Executive forms an Early Childhood Education Task Force but doesn't include anyone with early childhood credentials.

And there's more. Once you look around, it's pretty clear that people will go to great lengths to defend their own slice of reality. It reminds me of this quote:

"When they discover the center of the universe, some people are going to be very surprised that they are not it."

The last time I gave blood the attendant stuck a needle in my arm and then opened a can of Coke and told me to drink up. I protested. I hate Coke. It makes me sick to my stomach. She was adamant.

"This is the way I do it, and I never have anybody pass out."

So I drank the Coke, because I had a needle in my arm and she wasn't going to let me go until I drank it. She had one way of looking at the world and she had the power of the needle to enforce it. I felt sick for the rest of the day, and I haven't given blood since.

I feel the same way about people who aren't willing to see things in more than one way. Dealing with them just leaves a bad taste in your mouth. And it makes you think twice before getting involved in community issues.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Your Message Here

Serious case of a "just can't do it" malaise this morning.


Please send ideas.



Monday, October 5, 2015

Interim Report, Part Two

On September 10th I wrote about the implementation of Canvas and Synergy in the Howard County Schools. If this topic interested you, I highly recommend this article by Lisa Philip of the Howard County Times.

"Howard County school system rushed rollout of new software, teachers say"

It's a far cry from the original piece published by HoCoTimes.

"Howard school system gives high marks to new software"

This is where being a subscriber to the digital edition really pays off. If you can, read the article and the comments. As you know, I generally take a dim view of anonymous comments. But it looks as though they are being used here by teachers who might face very real retribution were their names known.

What do you think? If you are a parent, how are Canvas and Synergy working for you and your student? Are you satisfied with this expenditure of public funds? If not, how do you think this should be addressed?

A lot of questions for a Monday. Go ahead, have some coffee first.


Sunday, October 4, 2015

Generation Gap

I went to the Columbia Festival of the Arts concert at the Rouse Theater last night. The folks from Classic Albums Live were in town to present the Beatles: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in its entirety, in conjunction with the Columbia Orchestra. Of all of the British Invasion offerings, this was the one that really spoke to me.

A group of us from church made a ladies' night of it, having dinner beforehand at the Hickory Ridge Grill. Ours was a multi-generational group. I'm hazarding a guess that we had representatives from teens, thirties, fifties, and seventies. One of us had actually seen the Beatles live in concert, in Baltimore. One of us remembered staying up late to see the Beatles debut on the Ed Sullivan Show.

This particular concert drew pretty much the age group that you would expect: the people who tend to turn out for the Festival of the Arts and the people who strongly identify with Beatles music. And that would be more or less the same age group. There were a few younger folks. Some parents with school aged children. I wonder what the kids thought. Sgt. Pepper is not the most accessible of albums.

The concert was fabulous. The partnership between the rock musicians and Jason Love and the Columbia Orchestra was brilliant. It was fun to peer through the band and see a young string player bopping along to "Lovely Rita, Meter Maid." For me the most important part was getting to hear something live which never would have been performed live. Sgt. Pepper was so much a studio-crafted body of work. It was amazing to be in the same room with it, feeling the beats and the melodies vibrate through my body.

You know what would have made it better? High school students. It would have been brilliant if all unsold tickets had been made available to high school music students for free or for an extremely low cost. I know my husband has guitar and music tech students that would have loved this. But any high school aged music students could have had a blast at this concert. And their enjoyment would have brought a whole different vibe to the experience for everyone.

I am a big fan of the Columbia Festival of the Arts and I admire the way they are striving to offer a variety of arts experiences to appeal to many different kinds of people. And, for all I know, they may already have a tickets "on standby" program for high school/college students. But, if they don't, I hope they will think about it.

The concert ended with three rousing encores: I Wanna Hold Your Hand, She Loves You, and Twist and Shout. I'm pretty sure my teenaged daughter was amused and/or embarrassed by all the old folks dancing away. It was an ecstatic prayer meeting of the older generation. She endured it.

Perhaps if she'd been there with a bunch of her own friends...well, at least they could have rolled their eyes at one another. But, who knows? They might have danced.




Saturday, October 3, 2015

Who Are the People in your Neighborhood?

I belong to a Music Teachers group on Facebook. It is an extremely active group. Members discuss ideas for lessons, instrumental questions, they look for repertoire, discuss discipline techniques, share successes and commiserate on bad days. But this week I read something out of the ordinary.

"I absolutely love my job. I have adequate prep time, reasonable breaks, small classes and only 24 classes a week. The problem is that I will soon be forced to leave because the cost of living has priced my family out of the area. I'm terrified! Are there other great jobs out there like mine? Please share!"

This didn't come from a local teacher, but it very well could have. Solidly middle class professions like teachers, police, firefighters, nurses, plumbers, and more are just about completely priced out of Columbia. All the while certain people rail about Section 8 housing and use coded language to encourage a fear of "thugs" coming to a street near you.

Yeah, thugs like me. Be very, very afraid.

I was pleased to see this article about Councilwoman Jen Terrasa's bill for affordable housing in Downtown Columbia.

"Terrasa's bill would require 15 percent of all new housing units developed downtown to be affordable to families earning between 40 and 80 percent of Howard County's area median income of $109,476."

A healthy community needs to be not only racially and culturally diverse, but also economically diverse. Perpetuating policies that drive out the middle class is just plain bad for Columbia. A big HoCo Holler to Ms. Terrasa for focusing her energies on shaping an affordable housing proposal that makes room for the people and families we need most.

Because a teacher is a person in your neighborhood, in your neighborhood...


Friday, October 2, 2015

The Traveling Show

It doesn't matter where you live, the traveling show will soon be coming to your town. If not now, then sooner rather than later. The traveling show has money to burn and the tickets are bought by people like us who think they'll never have to pay the price.

It doesn't happen here, they say.

Come one come all to gawk and stare as the ringmaster makes media statements and the ambulances pull away from the scene. Action in all three rings! You can have a front row seat. And there's always audience participation. Come early to get good seats.

New venues are always being booked. Don't worry if you missed it the last time around. It'll be back.


With love, condolences, and profound respect to the community of Roseburg, Orgeon.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Wanting More

"Columbia's Grande Point decision leaves some wanting more" reads the headline. HoCo Times reporter Amanda Yeager outlines the abrupt cancellation by Tom Carbo to speak the the Oakland Mills communuty about a possibly purchase. As thorough as it is, the article itself leaves me wanting more.

How is it even remotely acceptable for two (possibly three?) members of the Village Board to hold a secret meeting with Mr. Carbo without communicating with the full board in any way? This violates everything I know about Columbia Village leadership.

Why would anyone want to run for their village board if they can see that their participation may be completely dismissed if something controversial comes up? How can we encourage a next generation of leadership when long-time residents play keep-away with community issues?

The long-term goal of anyone who truly loves Columbia should be a vibrant and involved citizenry. Instead what we have is a few self-styled power-brokers who treat any newcomers as though they belong at the children's table. And so community involvement is seen as distasteful. And eventually irrelevant.

I wish that Mr. Carbo had realized that the Oakland Mills community is bigger than the kind of people who hold secret meetings to get their way. But why should he? That's the face that we are presenting to the world. If we want it to be different we need to turn out for Village elections and change it.

Oh, but wait. Why would we do that? It's all just nastiness and useless squabbling anyway.

Wanting more? Yes, I want to know a lot more. I want to know why, in this awesome community, some people think it is their job to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. Isn't it enough to enjoy the golden egg, share it, care for it?

We all know how that story turns out.