Friday, July 31, 2015

Getting Things Done with Girl Scouts in Oakland Mills

With a combined total of twenty-seven years in Girl Scouting, the young women I met on Tuesday night came prepared to share a message. Anthea Pecot, Riya Gupta, and K.C. Lay were at The Other Barn in Oakland Mills to make a presentation to the Village Board on their most recent service project. Along with two of their leaders, Jeanne Lay and Puja Gupta, we sat down in the lobby to discuss "Got Milkweed? Monarch Butterfly Awareness."

When I asked how the girls decided on this particular project, they gave me a glimpse into their brainstorming process. The scouts choose their own service projects, which makes their work all the more meaningful as they craft and enact a plan. Inspired by a neighbor in Oakland Mills, Mrs. Bird-Walker, who had created a certified Monarch Butterfly Way Station in her yard, they chose to spread awareness of Monarch butterflies in the community.
The project has a two-pronged approach. In addition to educating the public on Monarch Butterflies, they undertook to encourage the planting of milkweed in various locations in the area. Milkweed, a native plant, is the only place Monarch butterflies will lay their eggs. The scouts were able to get milkweed plants growing in three school gardens in Oakland Mills, (Talbott Springs Elementary, Oakland Mills High School, and Child's Garden Learning Center) as well as in numerous home gardens.
As a follow-up they are creating milkweed seed balls which will be distributed at no cost to community members at the local Farmers' Market. The seed balls will include instructions to freeze until next Spring, then thaw, plant, and begin a new milkweed growing cycle. When they were done describing their project I found myself already so enthusiastic that I wanted to know when I could get a seed ball and get involved. Their commitment was that contagious.
Overall the project was a low cost one, they said, under a hundred dollars, and was funded through family donations. They faced several challenges along the way. They had more places they wanted to plant than they had milkweed pods available. They had to schedule times to plant around their own schedules and those of the participating schools. They had to take responsibility for communicating with all the school participants and finalize plans.
I asked the girls what kept them in Girl Scouting after all these years. They agreed that they had originally signed up under the guidance of their moms, because it sounded fun. But as teenagers their reasons for staying were many and varied: camping, singing, fun activities, volunteering as assisting counsellors at Girl Scout Camp, friendship and camaraderie, supportive Girl Scout leaders, and, yes, helping to make the world a better place. Actually, that was the first answer given.
At the end of the interview I asked the girls to think what the world would be like if there weren't any Girl Scouts. The answer was immediate.
"Nothing would get done."
After meeting with these confident, articulate young women, I'm inclined to believe they just might be right. Thank goodness we don't have to find out.



Thursday, July 30, 2015

Appeasing the Vending Machine God?

To: Calvin Ball, Howard County Council

Subject: CB-17 Nutritional Standards


I'd like to thank you and your colleagues on the council who worked hard to craft this bill and show leadership in public health for Howard County Citizens. Obesity and all its related diseases are a serious concern today. I strongly believe that this is one of the biggest public health concerns of this generation.

Sugary drinks and unhealthy snacks have an entire industry to support and advocate for them. It is difficult to make one's voice heard over the din of advertisement and false claims of "part of a healthy diet". All one need do is look around and see the changes in eating habits and unhealthy diet-related illnesses to see that something is dreadfully wrong.

This bill supports the citizens of Howard County Maryland by taking a stand for public health. It offers more choice, not less. It has a limited scope--Howard County buildings and facilities--and does not prevent citizens from exercising free choice in what they eat and drink.

I was disappointed that the County Executive vetoed this bill. I think he has missed a valuable opportunity to work with the Council on behalf of County Citizens. This shouldn't be about politics. It's about public health. I sincerely hope his position will evolve over time--Howard County needs his leadership on this issue.

In closing, I support a Council override of the County Executive's veto of CB-17. It is time to move forward in supporting healthier citizens in Howard County. There's really no time to waste.


On second thought, this post should really be entitled "Challenging the Vending Machine Gods". But I have a migraine so perhaps that put me in mind of appeasement. Ah, well. You get the idea.




Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Background Check/Reality Check

If you have ever tried to get a job with Howard County Schools, or know someone who has, you know that it is not simple or straightforward. It takes forever. I believe they have worked in recent years to streamline the process, but it still takes forever.

I always assumed this was because their human resource department was doing thorough, perhaps multiple, background checks, transcript evaluation, calling references, and so on.

Perhaps not.

This article describes the case of a former Howard County substitute teacher who is now in prison on child pornography charges. The parents of one of the victims are bringing a civil suit against the school system, to the tune of $600,000. Their point? That the school system bears the responsibility of adequately vetting employees and protecting students.

Aside from the violation of student privacy, which is the worst thing going on here, I imagine the school system looks upon this as a public relations nightmare. Expensive, too. In a time when we are cutting back on direct classroom support for students, hcpss has been increasing moneys spent on public relations personnel. Also on fees for freelance lawyers.

It sounds like a self-fulfilling policy--the more we focus on PR and lawyers, the less we focus on students. And the less we focus on students, the more we appear to need the spin of PR people and the protection of lawyers.

May I respectfully suggest that our priorities appear to be backwards?






Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Making Noise

"The more affluent children had been taught to submit," he said, describing a job working in a pediatrician's office. "Their mothers would coach them to behave, and apologize to the doctor if they acted out or objected during the exam."

"But the less affluent kids were different. They reacted. They had righteous indignation--'ow! Don't do that! Why are you doing that?' I think you lose something when you lose that righteous indignation."

This conversation happened probably twenty years ago, with someone I knew only briefly, but it has stuck with me. I always thought it was so important to be well-behaved. Here was someone who said we lose something if we no longer have the language of righteous indignation.

We lose the ability to stand up for our rights, to protect ourselves. We lose understanding and empathy for others who are making noise for a just cause. Why don't they just submit? I would submit, a little voice whispers.

Righteous indignation is loud. It can make other people uncomfortable. It can draw criticism from those who benefit from our silence.

I speak from this blog, sometimes rather pointedly, but I find making noise in real life extremely difficult. I have been taught to behave. Don't embarrass yourself. Don't embarrass anyone else. But we are living in times that call for good people to cry out--Ow! Don't do that! Why are you doing that?

  • because guns are valued more than lives.
  • because people of color are valued not at all.
  • because the bodies of women and girls are not treated as their own.
  • because money has replaced the democratic process.

The voice of injustice is loud: forceful, controlling, and bullying. And yet we keep passing judgement on the victims for "breaking the boundaries of good behavior." Why?

Righteous indignation can be messy. But when we lose it we lose a unique power deep within ourselves to stand up. To be heard. To reject oppression. To make noise that bears witness to the truth.


Monday, July 27, 2015


Between the years of my divorce and my eventual remarriage I experienced a number of--shall we say--educational relationships. No matter how much attraction there was or how much we had in common, there came a point where the missing ingredient became starkly apparent. Without this one thing all the rest was for nought. That ingredient?

Willingness. In this case, willingness to believe in, work on, and commit to a long-term relationship. The door has to be open, and you have to be willing to go through it.

I read with some sadness last week Tom Coale's post about Bridge Columbia, "The Orphan Bridge". Readers of this blog know that I am a long -time advocate for the Bridge project and have even spoken publicly in its support. And yet it would be foolish to ignore the fact that not everyone is "in love" with the Bridge the way I am.

Both former County Executive Ken Ulman and current County Executive Alan Kittleman have said encouraging things about Bridge Columbia. Mr. Ulman allocated funds to explore the project, but progress inched forward, sputtered, and stalled. Mr. Kittleman campaigned for election with strong words of support for the Bridge but once elected put forward not one penny to support his words.

The Bridge would radically change how East and West are connected in Columbia. It would make connections where none now exist. It would encourage pedestrian, bike, and public transit for getting around town. I truly believe that it would be a positive change that transforms how people get around and how they look at their community. It's going to change how all the related parts connect and interact.

And yet.

And yet we can't seem to find leadership in County Government to champion this bridge and take risks to make it happen. I "get" that this is no small task and that the risks are daunting. I know that understanding this bridge is so much bigger than thinking it's a nice touch or an impressive civic symbol. Commitment to this project the way it was conceived involves leadership that is forward-thinking.

Despite research, evidence, plans, community meetings and public support, it still all comes down to willingness. Yup, willingness to believe in and work on a long-term commitment. The door has to be open, and you have to be willing to go through it.

The success of Columbia and Howard County isn't just about what we are doing right now this minute. Effective leadership must look ahead to where we are going. And, believe me, where we are going, we're going to need a bridge. This bridge.





Sunday, July 26, 2015

Second Annual Quiz Show

With apologies to Peter Sagal and NPR, this is:

"Spit it Out!!"

the VG/T² Columbia/Howard County current events quiz.

Questions are taken from the week's hyperlocal happenings. Winners of today's quiz will receive a selfie with Colonel Gateway, a postcard from the Schlossini Voyage, and Tom Coale's voice on their home answering machine.*

1. Nature and history lovers were united in sadness this week at the news that:

a) the new staircase in Ellicott City paved over an ancient nesting site.

b) the old elm at Belmont must be removed due to Dutch Elm disease.

c) The Howard County Conservancy announced plans for a modern, high-rise parking structure.

2. A showdown between the County Executive and the County Council continues over:

a) the Nutritional Standards bill.

b) noise levels at Merriweather

c) where to locate new, state-of-the-art water fountains.

3. A party in Columbia came to abrupt end this week when:

a) neighbors reported the party noise to the police.

b) strangers wandered up from the nearby pathway and crashed the party.

c) the deck fell off the house.

3. Parents at Glenwood Middle School expressed a lack of confidence in the School System's:

a) excessive use of high-stakes testing.

b) handling of mold issues in the school.

c) sexist enforcement of the dress code.

4. Local bloggers assembled at Portalli's Wednesday night to:

a) say farewell to blogger UK Desperate Housewife.

b) test out Ellicott City's new free wifi.

c) announce a slate of candidates for the next County Council race.

5. New Horizons is the name of:

a) the new retirement housing complex to be built above Clyde's on the shores of Lake Kittamaqundi.

b) a new, tell-all biography of former County Executuve Ken Ulman.

c) NASA's mission to Pluto with a Howard County/Johns Hopkins APL connection.

6. An article in the Howard County Times featured:

a) back-to-college advice from Duncan the Dragon of HCC.

b) HoCo blogger and small-business owner Scott Ewart.

c) diet and fitness tips from the County Executive.

7. Howard County residents can enjoy for a limited time:

a) Howard County Restaurant Weeks special menus.

b) free admission to Toby's "Into the Woods" with proof of a hiking visit to one of Howard County's nature trails.

c) the sounds of music emanating from Merriweather Post Pavillion.

This week's fill-in-the-blank limerick:

Proclaiming the "homeowner's voice",

Obsessed that "our woods have got noise!"

Ethics lapses won't slow him,

The rules? He don't know 'em!

Where does he live? In Harper's ______________.

I hope you enjoyed playing along at home. Stay tuned for future episodes of "Spit It Out" on the VG/T² network.

*completely false. Just made that bit up.



Saturday, July 25, 2015

Mold and Truthiness

Have you been following the ongoing story of mold issues at Glenwood Middle School? It appears to be a textbook case of what happens if the powers that be are not forthcoming with stakeholders. Take a look at this statement from a parent, quoted in the HoCoTimes article:

"As a community, we need to demand confirmation of mold remediation and INDEPENDENT indoor air quality testing of all rooms and inspection of walls and ceilings for presence of mold--This should occur FOLLOWING the completion of the HVAC upgrades, BEFORE the start of the school year," read a post about the email July 22. "We cannot allow our teachers and students into a building without knowing that it is a safe environment."

When you see someone asking for independent confirmation of the facts it tells you one thing: trust has been breached. You just wouldn't ask for a third party to get involved if you believed you were being told the truth. This should be a huge wake-up call for the Howard County Schools. Losing credibility and trust in the community means that hcpss will lose its leadership role. What kind of authority can it hope to have under these circumstances?

In a PTACHC meeting during the last school year Director of Communications Rebecca Amani-Dove stated unequivocally that the only reliable sources for information about the school system were the Howard County Public School System website and her. Period. "If you can't find it in the website, call me." She made a rather veiled reference to other sources peddling misinformation with a warning that they couldn't be trusted.

If the only places you can get "the truth" about our schools are the hcpss website and the director of communications, then here are some sources that can't be trusted:

  • School principals
  • Teachers
  • Members of the BOE
  • PTAs
  • Newspapers
  • County Government

...just to name a few.

Talk about controlling the message. "There is only one truth: our truth." I found what she said so breathtaking that I haven't been able to figure out to convey the institutional hubris of it. Until now.

I don't think that the parents and teachers at Glenwood Middle feel that there has been enough truth shared with them in response to a very serious health issue at their school. It looks like they feel that the school system has been more concerned with controlling the message and less concerned with collaborating with the community.

Once you lose the moral high ground in your community, you lose the authority to make significant decisions that require compliance. You lose the authority to command large sums of money from the County without oversight in your operations. You lose your status as the place parents want to send their children.

Huge loss. So much bigger than financial costs incurred by remediating mold. What's lurking behind the walls and ceilings at Glenwood Middle is more than a health issue. It's doubt.


Friday, July 24, 2015


I've been reading an article by Paul Ford: The Web is a Customer Service Medium. It's a fascinating look at what makes the web different from movies, television, radio, and newspapers. It comes down to how we interact with it. Ford describes this with the term WWIC.

Why Wasn't I Consulted?

Users feel a sense of ownership of anything and everything.

"Why wasn't I consulted," which I abbreviate as WWIC, is the fundamental question of the web. It is the rule from which other rules are derived. Humans have a fundamental need to be consulted, engaged, to exercise their knowledge (and thus power), and no other medium that came before has been able to tap into that as effectively.

My first response to this was not to think of the web, but to think of the responses of some in our community to the forward movement of Columbia's Downtown Plan. This "fundamental need to be consulted" has spilled forth in community meetings, letters to the editor, and on social media. It seems as though absolutely nothing may be accomplished without consultation, and, dare I say, permission, from a certain portion of local citizens.

Social media has definitely added another venue for people to shout, "Why wasn't I consulted?" Combined with a media culture where consumers are turned into "voters" to decide contest winners by texting or clicking or creating tending topics on Twitter, we've fostered an environment where people believe that everything is up to their personal "vote". They must be consulted. They must give permission.

Democratic government, as representative as it is, doesn't exactly work that way. I came up against a failure to understand this on Facebook the other day when a gentleman posted in response to Councilman Calvin Ball's Commentary in the Howard County Times, "Council Bill Was Measure to provide healthier options."

The council voted 4-1. Just what makes Calvin Ball think that these 5 individuals have the knowledge to decide what is good for the population and what is not? And who died and made them boss?

Although I probably should have known better than to wade in here, I wrote:

They were 1) elected by their constituents, 2) got community input and 3) consulted scientific evidence. No deaths were necessary.

He persisted.

I don't recall reading anywhere that when someone wins an election, they become "the boss". I thought the people were the boss. We, the people, didn't like the previous rule that was put in place, so we hired someone to fix it. (Hmm. It almost sounds as though the County Executive was procured through the 1-click ordering option. I wonder if he got free shipping?)

As I said, I probably should have known better.

Throughout the online conversations I saw plenty of people outraged by their sense of WWIC, and fueled by a notion that handling this should be as simple as voting for American Idol or Dancing with the Stars.

We are really doing a miserable job teaching Civics, folks.

Nonetheless, this is the world we live in now, which gives everyone a forum for their outrage and a click in the contest. We can't put the genie back in the bottle. And I am not saying that I would want to. The web gives us brilliant opportunities to learn and communicate with one another.

But does not should not must not be seen as a replacement for representative government.



Thursday, July 23, 2015

Who Cares?

Every so often I hit the wall. I wake up, face the page, and no matter what topic I think of, a little voice in my head says, "who cares?"

Who cares if you write about that? What difference will it make?

It generally extinguishes my ability to write. I don't know where it comes from.

Who cares if I write about the lack of leadership and willingness to commit to Bridge Columbia?

What difference will it make if I highlight the silliness of HoCo Times devoting the ink to write an editorial of how cool free wifi is in Ellicott City, when they couldn't be bothered to say anything intelligent about the Nutritional Standards veto?

What's the point?

The topics haven't become less important. It's my sudden glimpse at myself--isn't it a ridiculous conceit to get up, day after day, and think that I must write and that it matters what I say? If I think about it, I can't do it. It becomes an obsession with self instead of just getting the work done.

This is in no way a request for a pat on the back. It's just the truth of what it's like to commit to something one must do day after day. Some days you are in the zone. Other days you remember being in the zone but don't know how to get there.

I'm going to see some other folks tonight who most likely have felt this way, too. When I hang out with other bloggers I am reminded of the joy of being passionate about something, and the excitement of wanting to share that passion with others. It stops being about second-guessing.

It's about sharing. Because, well--I care. And that's the point.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The House That Rouse Built

Yesterday we had a contractor come over to the house to look at doing something with our back patio area, which is a mess. For years I suffered the indignity of living with damp, muddy "indoor/outdoor" carpeting until I just lost my mind and ripped it all out. Underneath the cement was cracked and ugly from years of moisture. It was not the improvement I had hoped for.

As the contractor left I joked with him that over the years we have done so many repairs that eventually none of the original house will be left. We've replaced appliances, the furnace/ac system, the hot water heater, repainted most of the interior, put in all new floors downstairs, all new windows, a new kitchen, replaced almost everything plumbing-related, put on a new roof...

Is it Preservation? Restoration? Transformation? We're trying to keep up with an aging house that wasn't remarkably well-constructed in the first place. These houses went up in a hurry. The Rouse Company made agreements with only a few builders and they had carte blanche to throw up neighborhoods in the New American City. A friend who is an architect said to me privately, "most of what went up was a lot of crap."

If you live in a house of that era you know what I mean. You can love it all you want but you are constantly dealing with weird issues that stem back to its conception. The contractor who is helping us with back fence issues said to us that in many ways Columbia was built a bit too soon for the kinds of design it used--better construction materials came along in the following decades that would have looked better and held up longer over time.

C'est la vie. We love our perennial fixer-upper and we have enjoyed updating it in ways that make it more like "us." The fact that it's so small means that the updates are smaller in cost than on a larger house. And that's got to be a good thing.

Our house, our neighborhood, our village, our Columbia--a product of their time. Proof of someone with a great vision and yet evidence of flaws that are ongoing. So my view of Columbia is not that our task is to be preserving perfection. We're clearly not perfect.

Our relationship with our community should be like my relationship with my house: ongoing, with all the love, frustration, hard work, and transformation it requires.





Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Hot Weather Advisory

Advice for what to do in extremely hot weather: drink plenty of fluids, don't over-exert yourself, wear light, breathable clothing, and


Well, after all, I'm a blogger, not a doctor. And there's a party Thursday night and you're invited. If you're a blogger or a blog reader, this is the summer soirée you've been waiting for.

Join us for a #HoCoTogether summer celebration!

Hosted by HoCo bloggers the UK Desperate Housewife USA (Claire McGill), Howard County Moms (Kris Schneider), Life & How to Live It (Mickey Gomez) and Is This Thing On? (Candace Dodson Reed).Four fierce, fun and feisty women who love Howard County have come together to host a summer celebration of HoCo at Portalli’s.All witty, smart and totally HoCo bloggers and their friends are invited (that’s you then!). Laughter, merriment and blog-worthy stories guaranteed.

You can find all the info at Totally HoCo, including the link to sign up for the party. (It's free.)

All four of these women are extremely cool people and if you don't know them yet, now's your chance. In particular, this party is a sort of a blogger send-off for Claire McGill, who will soon be trading in her UK Desperate Housewife status to return home to the UK. Howard County will glow less brilliantly without her.

One last thing. This event is at Portalli's in old Ellicott City. I know from personal experience that they really know how to throw a party--have you seen their awesome rooftop deck? And you'll be able to use Ellicott City's new free wifi* to live-tweet the event and upload your party pics.

So join us, Thursday from 5-7 pm at Portalli's. We'll be drinking plenty of fluids, wearing light, breathable clothing, and we most definitely will not be over-exerting ourselves.

*if outside





Monday, July 20, 2015

Points of Interest

So, Google Columbia, Maryland. You'll come up with something like this:

See the entry labeled "Points of Interest"?

Do you see what's listed first?

Now take a look at this comment from the HoCo Times' most recent article about our local outdoor concert venue:

The taxpayers of HC should determine the matter. The venue's managed by the nine thirty promoters out of DC. Let them move it to College Park.

Oh my word. "Let them move it."

I know, I know. Don't read the comments. You're just asking for trouble of you read the comments. This reminded me so much of the angry gentleman who accused me during the Oakland Mills CA Board election of "being against putting a bubble/dome on Merriweather" when that wasn't even an issue in the election.

Cover it up. Turn it down. Close it up. Move it out of town.

No. Just no. While no one individual "Point of Interest" defines who we are as a community, Merriweather is an integral part of who we are. Stop with the nastiness already. No place in Columbia is going to stay the same as it was when you came here. Change is ongoing. And we have to work to be a part of it, or we will be passed by.

I don't want Columbia to be a place that once was alive, but then just--stood still.





Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sign Language

Spotted at Sunshine Octopus in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

It made me smile. It was worth the time to stop and take a picture because of its playfulness and gentle humor. I love language. I love playing around with language. This was a picture perfect example.

I am a big fan of the phrase e pluribus unum, originally selected to be a part of the Great Seal of the United States. The meaning of these words--out of many, one--is described here with the claim that:

This shows that America was originally likened to a bouquet of different flowers, where unity and individuality coexisted – as opposed to a "melting pot" that blended everyone together.

Yes, when I saw this light-hearted sign in the hippie/tie-dye shop while I was on vacation I went from "singular, yet plural" to "out of many, one". That's just how my brain works. And it's a great concept.

Here in Columbia and Howard County we represent many different ways of life, show allegiance to specific communities and neighborhoods, identify with East/West, Suburban/Rural, look at life through different politically-colored lenses. We're singular as members of the larger community known as Howard County. We're plural in all the many ways we express that.

Photographs from our recent Fourth of July celebration at the Lakefront paint a pretty picture of what that looks like. Comments on articles in the Howard County Times on Merriweather, board appointments, and nutritional guidelines do not.

It is all too easy to say, "My people are the best people, our ideas are the best ideas, and we spit on the rest of you."

It has been a rough week here in hocomd. Let's hope that this week brings better things: actions and decisions informed by our best aspirations and productive conversations that don't resort to expectoration.


Saturday, July 18, 2015

In the Embrace of Morpheus

I awoke at five am to write this piece. And at six, and at seven, and at eight. But rem sleep was not done with me yet. And here I am at 8:32 feeling dopey and no more awake than I was at five. I have been time- traveling through teaching dreams, vacation dreams, and dreams that are almost on the tip of my tongue but I can't quite remember. But they're in there, in my brain, and I'm not at all certain that they are done with me yet.

Do you ever have days like that? Where you just can't get started because the heaviness of interrupted sleep cycles sedates you like a powerful potion or a magical curse? Nothing seems entirely real. Or rather, the dreams from which you have only just awakened seem every bit as real as your present reality.

Wake up! I tell myself. Wake up!

And doze off again, jet-lagged from time travel in my own armchair.

News of the day is that I did not win Colonel Gateway's first ever poetry contest, although I suspect that is due to the fact that I don't work in the Gateway and was not eligible to enter in the first place. The winner is Beverly Johnson of Howard Community College's Division of Continuing Education, and second place was taken by Megan from ICF. Congratulations!

And in shameless self-promotion, my entry.









Friday, July 17, 2015


Poor guy.

Shapiro described Muehlhauser as someone "who basically doesn't color outside the lines" and is always clean-shaven and impeccably dressed. Muehlhauser lost his brother in a childhood accident, leaving him as his parents' only child. When Muehlhauser took over his family's business, Shapiro said, he was determined to be a success.

You'd think we were talking about the victim of a crime, not a perpetrator. The sentence he received seems indicative of a similar attitude: just 90 days.

Ninety days for:

Kyle C. Muehlhauser in Howard County District Court. Muehlhauser, 37, admitted that he secretly videotaped women using the toilet at the family owned chain's restaurant in Savage.

If I were one of the women whose rights were violated by this man, I'd think that the court doesn't think very much of me. Ninety days? Another example where the white guy gets described as nice and misguided. Another example where the violation of women is minimized.

"People need to know that if you do this, you will be punished," Brooks said.

Ninety days?

Will this judge ever know what it is like to be spied on while using a restroom? Will he experience sexual discrimination or sexual harassment in the workplace? Will he walk down the street to catcalls, or be criticized for what he chooses to wear? Will he be groped, propositioned, or be the subject of unwanted sexual attention? Will he fear walking to his car alone at night?

Probably not.

Let's face it. There are days when it's hard not to get the message that our culture thinks that women are just nothing.


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Elevators and More Editorials

So for those of you following along at home, we now have two editorials about the veto of the Nutritional Standards Bill for you to choose from. Behind door number one, the HoCo Times version. Behind Door Number Two, the Baltimore Sun response.

1) Kittleman: Nutrition guideline bill "an unnecessary intrusion on personal responsibility and freedom."

2) Kittleman unwise to veto vending machine rules.

Oh, wait. That first one isn't an editorial at all. It's just HoCo Times giving the County Executive free space to write his own editorial. My mistake. That really was thoughtful of them. But, you know, it really looks so much like an editorial. I wonder how many folks who read it thought that it was?

I'm still no closer to understanding the relationship between these two papers, neither of which has brick and mortar HoCo presence, who both share a building in Baltimore City, but somehow maintain two separate editorial boards.

Anyway, yay! An editorial I agree with, woo hoo! (See I told you we all do this.) Nevertheless I found the tone bordered on the unnecessarily snarky and disrespectful, but maybe that's just me. What did you think?

Oh. I promised elevators, didn't I?

About elevators. The motel where we are staying in Lewes doesn't have one. I know--how is this even possible? The motel has three floors and we are staying on the top floor. It's been educational for me to realize how indignant I am that I have to climb stairs. Even after several days my brain fools me into thinking that, when I walk into the hallway, there will be an elevator.

I just "assume" elevators.

The first trip up was nasty. I am not even remotely in good shape. I believe the medical terminology would be "shows signs of significant deconditioning." The stairwell was hot and I got winded after the first flight. I arrived at our room panting. That was Monday.

By the end of our stay I was doing it without getting winded. Still taking a brief pause half way up. But already much improved. It's amazing how a little thing like an elevator can make you think about health and wellness. I'm not sure I would have chosen this place had I known about the stairs. And that would have been a pity, because it's delightful in all other respects, and reasonably priced.

I would definitely stay here again. We'll see if my experience on the stairs has sparked any lasting change in my sedentary lifestyle. And next year I'll truly be put to the test--they're putting in an elevator.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015


Let's just begin by saying that I have, in the past, gotten mightily steamed over the type of coverage (and lack of coverage) of local issues by Balt Sun/HoCo Times. And over the years, as I have come to know our local reporters as human beings and learned how overworked they are and how little freedom they have in choosing stories, I have repented of my sins. Don't kill the messenger. They're working as hard as they can.

But--editorials. We need to talk about editorials. Most of the time we cheer if our cause is endorsed by them and shake our fists and gnash our teeth if it isn't. Rather like all those pseudo-valid surveys that tell us Howard County is the Most Valued Community, or whatever. We're happy to take validation without examining the source.

I think it's time to start questioning exactly "who is the man behind the curtain." This is particularly necessary after several editorials which almost appear to have been written by P.R. people from the Kittleman administration. Who are the people who write these editorials?

Do they live in Howard County? Do they spend most of their time here? Do their children attend County Schools? Are they committed to our community? Do they "get" what we stand for? These things are important if we are to expect that their editorial pieces carry some weight in adding to a community discussion of important issues.

If you have read this blog in the past you'll know I find it odd that Balt Sun and HoCo Times maintain separate editorial boards when it comes to endorsements for local elections. It is so clear that the two papers are inextricably entwined on a day to day basis--what is the point of two separate sets of endorsements? Do they really represent 1) a true Howard County perspective and 2) a Baltimore perspective?

Now it is indeed possible that the Howard County Times editorial board could meet all my requirements for truly local journalism and still hold forth on local issues with opinions opposed to mine. Editorials are after all, opinion pieces, and I don't get to dictate their opinions.

But I'm getting a rather creepy feeling about this whole HoCo Times editorial thing. Are we witnessing a change for the worse in the professionalism of the writers? Are we looking at the work of people from out of town who don't get it? Has it been this way for a while and we should have been questioning it all along?

We only have one source of local news. Period. Of course that is better than nothing. The reporters we have are working their butts off and doing their utmost best for us. But as to Oz, the Great and Powerful--I'd like to know a little more.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Picture Perfect

In announcing a veto of the Council's Nutritional Standards Bill, the County Executive had just come off a week of using his bully pulpit to promote fitness. If his preferred method of encouraging health and wellness is to visit various Rec. and Parks Camps and participate in physical activities, then he has, of course, succeeded. (Although someone should tell him he is violating the Howard County Schools dress code.)

The problem is that spending one week of your life being photographed at camp does about as much positive good for the community as the Superintendent of Schools jumping out of an airplane. Which is to say, none at all. A photo opp is a photo opp. A stunt is a stunt. It does nothing to win hearts and minds.

Now here's a picture that others have labeled as nothing but a massive stunt. The 9.6 tons of sand which served as a visual reminder to Burleigh Manor Middle School students of what that much sugar looks like. Why? To kick off a public health initiative to educate the public on healthier drink options and to reduce our consumption of sugary drinks.

But this picture is different. Far from a one and done mentality, the folks behind this picture knew that a photo opp is only the beginning. The HoCo Unsweeted team have been out in the community at parks and swimming pools, and at community events. They created a website, a healthy drink app called the Better Beverage Finder that helps you find better options, and maintain an active social media presence. They created advertisements promoting healthier choices. While Mr. Kittleman pays lip service to a healthy lifestyle. These folks have been walking the walk.

This is what a true investment in public health looks like. And it looks like it's already having an effect. A lot of hot and sweaty hours went into engaging the public to educate and connect them with better choices. That photo of a mountain of sand was, so to speak, just the tip of the iceberg.

People will learn what the County Execituve is about from what he chooses to do day in and day out. The decision to veto meets none of his public health goals, if indeed he has any, but goes a long way towards meeting his "I'm a Republican and you can't make me" goals. Maybe those are the goals that matter to him. Maybe those are the goals that will get him re-elected. But they have absolutely nothing to do with advocating for the health of Howatd County citizens.

If you want to see that in action? Take a look at beyond the pretty pictures to where the action is.



Monday, July 13, 2015


Last night I witnessed a group of teens who came out voluntarily on a summer evening to hang out with their high school teachers. I'll bet that doesn't happen much. They came with guitars, both acoustic and electric. They came with mandolins and banjos. Some came with amps. One brought a cajon.

My husband teaches multiple levels of guitar to high schoolers and this party was put on by the parents of one of his students who is going off to college in the Fall. It was open to current students and graduates--yes, even students who graduated last year showed up. There was swimming, and snacking, and a cookout. But then--the jam session.

They played. And they played. There were improvised solos, and singing, and harmonizing. There was good natured kidding and laughter. The students were listening to eachother, paying attention, taking turns as the melody got passed around and the chords went around one more time.

It was beautiful.

It made me think about passion. What are the things that ignite passion in our kids, that they want to pursue voluntarily? In this case it was music. But around me I see plenty of other examples: dance, theater, art, robotics, writing, coding, 3-D printing, sports, mechanics, culinary arts...And I'm sure I have forgotten something.

We have spent too many years doubling down on "the basics" while forgetting how important it is for kids to discover and explore their passions. Passion ignites us. Motivates us. Gives us a chance to take "the basics" and apply them in other ways--the joy of imagination, creation, and practical application.

It is beautiful.

It's also insanely practical because applying skills learned and finding motivation are two huge parts of being college, career, and life ready. What is life without passion? Without motivation? Without something new to learn?

So the second annual summer guitar party is in the books. I hope there will be many more. And I hope our kids all have the chance to discover the joy of something that lights them up and lifts them up. That's what education--and life-- is all about.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Body (Politic)

I always thought I should eat when I was hungry and that my body was my body--okay the way it was. But then I got to middle school and the P.E. Teachers kept saying, "You have to eat healthy and be active or you'll get Type 2 Diabetes."

In other words, up until middle school my daughter accepted food as something one eats to respond to hunger, and accepted her body as completely fine just the way it was. And then, adolescence. Then, at the very same time millions of dollars have been targeted at making her think her body and appearance need fixing, her school chimes in, too. To her it becomes all mixed up into one message:

You thought you were okay--you're not.

Our schools have begun to address the epidemic of obesity in children but this is no quick fix. Little by little, over a long period of time, our culture and our schools have chipped away at things that promote health. Walking to school. Walking up and down stairs at school. Recess several times a day. Real food vs prepared foods, both at home and in the cafeteria. Add to this the huge increase in sugary drinks and snacks--available and expected--everywhere.

As schools have turned into little testing factories there is barely time for education about healthy eating, although I know they try. In fact, there is barely time to eat lunch in a relaxed and healthful manner. And in this tiny pressure cooker we call "lunch", why does the school system sell "snacks"? If an adequate lunch is available, what is the point of this?

All of this colors my thoughts about the Nutrional Standards Bill sponsored by Councilman Calvin Ball. I have heard both reasoned and inflammatory arguments against it. At the heart of most of the arguments is an assumption that all citizens are the same--

I'm pretty smart, and I can make healthy choices, so everyone else can, too.

But this is, in the end, the basic flaw of these arguments. All citizens are not like you. Or like me, for that matter. Our county is diverse. We have all sorts of people with differing amounts of time, money, and discernment.

Something we do share is increased health problems due to unhealthy eating, enough that it has become a public health issue both in Howard County and nationwide. What this bill does is to promote healthy choices by providing a greater variety of options. And if the consumer doesn't like those choices they are free to purchase their snacks elsewhere.

Attempts to describe this as "taking something away" are disingenuous. Also, acting as though this bill is violating the natural free market process ignores 1) the very real costs of obesity-related illnesses to all tax payers, and 2) the fact that consumers are free to shop somewhere else if they so choose.

To those who think this should all be done somehow through education, I refer you to the beginning of this post. They are doing what they can but in many ways the deck is stacked against them. Let's continue to support real changes which will bring more movement activities, more recess, less processed foods at lunch and more time to eat. I'm all for that.

But this alone will not address the needs of all our citizens. And when you are treating an epidemic, you must pursue many options. The Nutritional Standards Bill is about promoting the health and well-being of citizens. The beverage and snack industry has plenty of money in this game, but I don't think this means they know what's best.

Does "life and liberty" guarantee you the rights to all the unhealthy snacks and drinks you want if it renders you too sick to undertake your "pursuit of happiness"? How free is that?





Saturday, July 11, 2015

What If

I am going to resist the urge to get down and dirty with recent political happenings. It would be easy, but--no. After all, it's Saturday and everyone deserves a chance to kick back, read the funnies, eat their Pop Tarts and watch cartoons.

Instead, I ask: what if?

What if Columbia/Howard County had news? Yes, we have Amanda Yeager and the revolving door of young talent. We have a newspaper once a week and strategic online updating. No, I mean new coverage with a capital N--television news, radio news, a daily newspaper. Imagine it.

What would that be like?

Would we have "live local late breaking" coverage of Village Board meetings? Would there be ongoing scrutiny of the hijinks out at the Board of Ed.? Imagine how much time there'd be to fill. We might have coverage of summer swim meets and community theater productions. Restaurant reviews, cooking segments with local chefs, recommendations for healthy lifestyle changes from Haven on the Lake.

Some people think we are mostly a provincial, suburban backwater with barely enough news to support a weekly. But the local stories are here. They may not be negotiations of nuclear treaties but they are here and more people need to know about them. Our local reporters are chronically overworked and take direction from folks above them who don't always "get" the importance of local stories. The news business has changed. Newspapers fold or are sold all the time and the truth is we are lucky to have anything at all.

But just imagine: what if we could have it all? Would you want it? Would you watch HoCo television news? Would you read a daily paper to keep on top on local events? Would you tune in to a weekly radio program about what happened at the Board of Ed, or the CA Board, or in the local music scene? I tend to think we'd all be better off if we were better informed.

That doesn't mean that everyone is as geekily obsessed with hyperlocal current events as I am.

It's Saturday. I don't have to be completely serious. Enjoy your Lucky Charms and kids' tv and I'll fantasize about shows like "Bloggers Round-up" and "Music in our Schools."



Friday, July 10, 2015

Gateway Grinds to a Halt

Wednesday on Twitter, this photograph caught my eye:
Photo credit: Colonel Gateway

@ColGateway: There are quite literally geese moving faster than my chariot! #hocotraffic

@ColGateway: I hath not witnessed such traffic since the election of John Quincy Adams! #hocomd #traffic

Hmm...that sounds like a story, thought I. So the Twitter hunt began.

@mduren: Being stuck on Columbia Gateway Dr today is the most defeated one could possibly feel. There's no way out! #columbiamd #hocomd

@macsmom: @mduren What caused the back up?

@mduren: @macsmom sorry just saw this. I think it was the accident on 95S @ 32. Shut down the highway. Took 60 min to get from CGD to RT108/29

@macsmom: @mduren it made me realize how limited ingress/egress is there.

@mduren: @macsmom usually it's not a problem. but when there's a jam, it can get bad real quick.

Details of the accident itself can be found here. My concern is whether this event revealed a flaw in the whole Gateway layout: limited egress. A serious study, of course, would require maps, historical data, traffic reports, possibly an ongoing traffic study. But as an armchair student of local events, I look at this and wonder: if there were a catastrophic event and mass evacuation were necessary, would the people who work in Gateway be at risk?

Bluntly put: if everyone tried to get out at once, what would happen?

I don't know. But I think it's a question worth asking.

P.S. Here's a visual reference to jog your memory of the location.






Thursday, July 9, 2015


Well, gosh, we need a new scandal so how about this:

New McDonalds Happy Meal Toy Has a Dirty Mouth

Yes, you heard that right. Parents and grandparents from all over are apparently outraged that the adorably little Minion toy appears to say "What the f*ck?"

Oh my goodness. I just don't think I can climb on board this anger train. Whereas that unusual Playdoh toy really did look questionable, this sliver of audio is guilty of nothing but sounding like something else. Let's face it: if the hearer did not already know the expression, "what the f*ck?", then that arrangement of sounds would not leap out.

Our brains are playing a trick here--they are wired to create meaning from things around them. When we mistakenly decipher song lyrics on the radio or engage in the age-old game of saying what the clouds look like, we are using our brains to assign meaning, find a pattern, make sense of something. In so doing we can use only the information that we have.

Over the last week our local political scene has been abuzz with something akin to this episode of Between the Lions, where the entire library becomes polarized by the question of whether someone is wearing a red hat or a green hat. We have had both civilized discourse and some downright nastiness.

Yesterday I saw one response which began, "the way I see it..." I can't describe how refreshing it was to read those words, even though I agreed with none of what followed. Indeed each side can only go on the information they have, which forms the way they see it.

That is why we have both the County Executive and the County Council. That is why the people also have a role participating in the process. We need more than one point of view. This comment on Tuesday's post (Balancing Act) says it brilliantly:

I can understand an incoming County Executive wanting to make "their" appointments. But as a constituent, the common-sense part of me wants to know from Kittleman: Why are you removing people from volunteer positions who still want to stay and seem like they have been doing a decent job in those positions? What qualifications and skills will the incoming person bring that the outgoing person does not have?

Although I'm a registered Democrat, I am not beholden to all things Democrat and do not pose the questions above from some "us-versus-Republicans" viewpoint. I simply think it is common sense for the County Executive to tell the public the answers to such questions. Otherwise it comes off as one big peeing contest.

If we want to get beyond this impasse, the County Executive will need to share information, negotiate, and collaborate. The County Council must be willing to engage in that process in good faith. That's clearly what is missing here.

For all of you who have been saying, "That's just not how politics works!" I have a question: how well is it working right now?



Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Different Kind of Camp

Yesterday my daughter and I visited the Talbott Springs Pool for the first time this summer. It truly is a little-known gem in the CA Pool system. In recent years we've finally gotten much needed updates like a slide, a water feature in the baby pool, and three new picnic tables with umbrellas. I love this pool and I'd like to see more people using it. Consider yourself invited.

As we were swimming a group of young people came in, accompanied by several adults wearing matching t-shirts labeled "role models". As the kids went to the changing rooms, the adults set up shop at one of the aforementioned picnic tables, which was near to where we were sitting.

This is where my busybody energies kicked in. I was curious. Where were they from? And as the kids came out, ready to swim, I noticed something else. They were really great kids. And their counsellors spoke to them kindly, and with respect. I have extremely high standards for how adults treat kids in school/camp settings, and I was truly impressed.

As we left, I asked a pool employee what camp they were from.

"They're from Camp Make a Difference," he said. "I don't think I'd like it if my mom had signed me up. They have to volunteer and plant trees and stuff."

On the way home my daughter basically agreed. Her experience with school based public service requirements has left her with a feeling the volunteering is another thing that school makes you do, like gym class or standardized testing. I suggested to her that there were probably kids who had a natural interest in volunteering and helping others in the same way that she loves music and theatre. She allowed as how that might be true.

When I got home I started doing some research. Here's the CA page describing Camp Make a Difference. It's a joint venture with The Volunteer Center serving Howard County. The Camp uses the Youth and Teen Center at the Barn in Oakland Mills as its home base, and the campers divide their time each day between volunteering and recreational activities.

I asked my friend Mickey Gomez, formerly director or The Volunteer Center, about the camp.

It attracts great staff and campers. I want to say it's in its 9th year? The campers, staff and host sites are all amazing. Pool days tend to be highlights. You can imagine how hot it gets volunteering on a day like today at an outside site.

She directed me to a short video about the camp made by Dave and Ilana Bitner of HoCoMoJo. (And Pixel Workshop.) It really gives a good feel of what the camp is all about. The words of the campers themselves are fascinating. One boy says,

"I want to make a difference in the world, little by little..."

Camp Make a Difference is offered for four one-week sessions to students grades 6-9. I didn't really know much about it until yesterday. Just catching a glimpse of of the awesome kids and staff made me want to learn more.





Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Balancing Act

On the one hand, ladies and gentleman, you have the County Executive. Newly elected to the post in a switch of power which buoyed Republicans and stunned Democrats. He has points to prove and promises to keep. He feels he has a mandate and momentum.

On the other hand you have the County Council. All have been duly elected by the public to represent their various districts and constituents. They are representative of what has been (in recent years) the traditional distribution of the parties in Howard County: four Democrats and one Republican.

Now in one sense this situation favors the Council. They have more experience. They have followed the process before and they have worked with each other before. They know the ropes. And yet the Executive has many opportunities to set goals, steer the course, even change it.

All this brings us to last night's Council Meeting.

Mr. Kittleman wanted a vote on his appointee for the Planning Board, Susan Garber. This article by Amanda Yeager lays out the situation. The County Council had some concerns about the process of appointments and had asked for further information. The Executive declined to provide it.

But wait. That's not all. In an attempt to force a vote last night, the Executive's office put up a "petition" on the Kittleman website. Tom Coale described this angle of the story on his blog HoCoRising yesterday. I use the word petition in quotes because each online signature generates a letter to the County Council, not exactly how a petition generally works.

If the results of last night's meeting are any indication, the Council was not impressed. The vote on Ms. Garber's nomination, among other items, was tabled. If you live for political theater, the last twenty four hours in hocopolitics have been thrilling. But if the goal is getting the work of the county done, we remain at an impasse.

Here's my take. As much as I supported the former County Executive, it sometimes seemed that when things didn't go well that the underlying message was, "we had all these great ideas and you just didn't appreciate us." While that may have been true, it sometimes came across as petulant and/or whiny. Not a good look, in my opinion.

What I see now, less than a year into Mr. Kittleman's term, is this message, "I was elected by a majority to bring my Republican way of life and government to Howard County and the mean old County Council won't let me." Not only is this not a good look but at its core it is fundamentally untrue.

I guess everyone needs a message they can cling to in defeat but this one concerns me. The County Council was elected by the people every bit as much as the County Executive was. They are not some obstacle in a game to be taken out by force or worked around by trickery. Their work is, quite simply, embedded in the very game itself.

The power is meant to be spread around. The people are meant to have representation through that balance. Neither side will get far by telling the other, "get out of my way." And there's a reason for that.

I still want to give Mr. Kittleman the benefit of the doubt. I want to believe that he is an intelligent man whose heart is more or less in the right place, whose sole mission is to be the best County Executive he can possibly be. I am trying to remain open-minded. His chance to do that is not over by any means. But hitting up your donor lists to try to massage a County Council vote is not the way to do that.

Political theater may work that way, but leadership doesn't.





Monday, July 6, 2015

A Thousand Words

The photo gallery is labeled "Columbia 4th of July fireworks." If you have access to the Howard County Times/Baltimore Sun online material, go take a look. Nate Pesce is the photographer. They are beautiful.

I've never been to the Lakefront for the fireworks display, but these photographs make me wish I had. Pesce captures the beautiful diversity which is Columbia. In our suburban small town where local arguments often can't get beyond how loud the music is or how many trees are in Symphony Woods, these pictures are a testament to something much, much bigger.

Columbia was always intended to be a place where all are welcome. These photographs bear witness to just how true that is when we get together as a community to celebrate. And on the Fourth of July it feels particularly appropriate to look at these pictures which so clearly illustrate the motto: out of many, one.


Sunday, July 5, 2015

Shall We Gather at the River?

I recently attended a social function held at The Gathering Place in River Hill. In case you don't know, The Gathering Place is one of the newer Columbia Interfaith Centers. In addition to housing several religious congregations, they also rent space for events. It's a beautiful facility.

While I continue to be perplexed and fascinated by the Interfath Center phenomenon, I really loved the architectural feel of this one and went away with a positive feeling. That's probably because while taking a brief moment of solitude in the lobby, I chanced to meet Rabbi Barry Rubin, who was just going home after a long day at work.

We chatted about the social event for a while. He was happy to see a local group using the space. It turns out that he doesn't just work there, he actually helped to design the center. He spoke lovingly of the layout of the building and all of the activities it could accommodate. I got the feeling he'd like the facility to be more well known in the community.

By the time we were done talking I felt like I had become an advocate for the space just by association. I could imagine parties, community groups, perhaps a preschool, under this roof the Rabbi loves so much. I think what convinced me was how happy he was to see the building used in the evening by happy party-goers.

"That's exactly what we want to be doing," he said, peering in at the balloon decorations and pizza buffet. "We've got a sign we're going to put out front to let people know we're available."

We didn't talk religion, not even for a second. We talked gathering. Gathering for all the reasons a community might want to gather. So I'm putting in a good word for Rabbi Rubin and his beloved building today. If you are looking for a space to get together, give them a call.




Saturday, July 4, 2015

Pop Quiz

Mother and daughter took this 21-question quiz together. Their results will shock you!

Here's the quiz: Can you answer the 21 questions that every American should know?

My fourteen year-old daughter and I took it together last night and we got all 21 questions right. To be honest, I was amazed at how much of it she knew off the top of her head. "Well, I did just have it in school this year, mom." There were a few questions we went back and forth on. It wasn't entirely a slam-dunk. Maybe it will be for you.

I'll admit I was thrilled at how much my daughter knew. Yes, I know. It's a mom thing. But when we raise our glasses later at the family cookout, I'll be offering a toast to her GT American History teacher.


Years ago my family was stuck in a traffic jam coming home from watching the Fourth of July fireworks at Edgewater Park in Cleveland. We were not just stuck on the road, we were stuck on a bridge. This particular bridge was in the process of having work done and there were places where the pavement had been removed and you could see down, down, down into the Cuyahoga River below. And we all knew that the river was filled with chemicals spewed from the industrial plants all around us.

It was oppressively hot. This was before cars were air conditioned, so we all sat, cars idling, windows rolled down, breathing each other's car exhaust. I was three or four. Too many cars on the bridge, I thought. The bridge is full of holes, I thought. The bridge will collapse and we will fall into the water and drown. Or dissolve, I thought.

My short life flashed before my eyes. Full-on panic mode had set in. My mother decided to turn on the radio to distract me.


A deep male voice boomed from the car radio. We all jumped. And then we burst out laughing. My mother changed the station and found some music. The tension of the moment was broken. And the story became an instant classic in the Jackson family repertoire.

"Why were you born?" we would bellow and then collapse in a fit of giggles.

Despite the fact that it has become the punchline of a family joke, that sentence does come to mind every Fourth of July and I often give some serious thought to it. What is the thing that answers that call? What makes me think, "For this was I born, for this have I come into the world."?

I don't always get the same answer.

Happy Independence Day. You can take the 21-question quiz if you are short on time. The one-question quiz may take longer.



Friday, July 3, 2015


I just woke up from a nightmare. I had been called into the office of a school to meet with school staff about my daughter. As it is in most nightmares, I was in a school I had never seen before and the staff members were equally unknown to me. What was important about the scene was that these people were making observations about my child and telling me what they were going to do about what they perceived to be her problems or difficulties.

But I couldn't talk. I couldn't get my mouth open, or if I could, I could barely make sound or form words. When I tried communicating through writing I could only produce a scrawl. It was infuriating. These people were making assumptions and choosing a plan of action that was wrong and I couldn't even make myself heard. I kept pounding the table.

What else could I do?

Now that I am awake I'm thinking about how incredibly dehumanizing it is to be put in the position of having no voice. Tomorrow is Independence Day, which makes it all the more urgent, I think, to face up to the fact that there are so many people in this country that have been rendered voiceless:

  • By racism
  • By poverty
  • By sexism

I woke up from my nightmare to a world where the deck is pretty much stacked in my favor. I have the ability to make myself heard. It's my little piece of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Shouldn't that liberty, and justice, be for all?





Thursday, July 2, 2015

Beyond the Bubble

Going to Falls Church last night to hear the Icelandic group Arstidir reminded me of the quote from Thornton Wilder's Our Town, where Mrs. Gibbs says,

Only it seems to me that once in your life before you die you ought to see a country where they don't talk in English and don't even want to.

Americans get so unbelievably obsessed with ourselves--Columbians too, for that matter--it's good to get away and to challenge ourselves with new perspectives.

I have a friend who is about to make a giant leap in that respect. Local blogger Lisa B, Mrs. S is about to embark on a year-long journey around the world with her family. She will not be like Wilder's Mrs. Gibbs who longs all her life to see Paris, France but dies without ever fulfilling her goal. No, she has a dream, she has made a plan, and soon it will be a reality.

I will miss her insightful writing in education and other local topics. But for Lisa, living real life has always come before hanging out in the virtual one, which is why you'd more likely find her tutoring at Cradlerock Elementary, supporting her "How Girls Code" venture at Fulton Elementary, or gathering and delivering food to feed hungry kids over the summer through Blessings in a Backpack than holding forth in her blog or on social media. Her worldview is bigger than the Bubble. I like that. I wish I could be more like that.

This post from Finding Blanche writer Wendy Scherer struck at the core of my own concerns about social media as Bubble. How much is too much? What do we miss when we engage so much in a virtual reality world that the real world around us begins to recede in importance? Where can we find balance?

Finally, I want to offer a few words about a local woman I never knew, but I wish I had. I imagine most locals "inside the Bubble" know her and her story, but I had not. This piece in the Sun is a very difference sort of bon voyage. It helps us to say Godspeed to a great lady whose work locally, and whose influence within her family sphere, was remarkable. Mrs. Cochran focused on people and causes that were near and dear but it is clear that her beliefs and principles reached far beyond one little corner of the world.

Life beyond the bubble may mean starting gentle ripples that move outward to touch the lives of others. It may mean making waves and riding them to an unknown conclusion. Beyond the bubble are things we haven't seen and ideas we haven't yet imagined.

Some days I think that's a good thing, and some days I'm happy to cuddle up in my safe little sphere and stay put.




Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Half and Half

The year is half over. Six months gone. Are you a proponent of the glass half-empty/half-full view of life? Do you see the last six months as having gotten away from you, or have you filled them with joy and meaningful experiences? Do you reach the half-way point in a panic, or do you think, "there's still time to make a difference?"

July 1st is my husband's birthday, a time for family celebrations. It's also his beloved brother's birthday, who died much too young, so it's a day tinged with memories and sadness. Like it or not, this day will always hold both joy and sorrow.

And what about locally? Where are we, at the half-way point of the calendar year?

We lost another local journalist yesterday--the multi-talented Jon Sham. He's leaving us for the Baltimore Sun newsroom. I'm having a glass half empty feeling about this one. We need real, honest-to-goodness journalists to research and cover our local stories. Think of how much amazing stuff our local reporters turned up when they shed their light on Bree Newsome. We need them. And we need them to stay.

In the County we appear to be growing a lot of task forces. It is unclear to me what kind of a crop they are growing or whether they will be knee-high by the Fourth of July. So the jury's still out on that one. Fruits of their labors--I'll wait and see.

The CA Board recently had a work session in which it was clear that they were struggling to make nice behave and do business professionally. Should we give points for trying? Is this any different than other years on the CA Board?

The Howard County Board of Education recently held a Board Retreat where one member got up and read a list of accusations against a fellow Board member. I don't think this was even remotely on the agenda, but does it surprise you? smh.

Well, this isn't going as well as I had hoped. But it's still my husband's birthday, and we're celebrating by going to Falls Church where his choir from River Hill High School is performing along with the Icelandic choir ÁRSTÍÐIR. I am pretty sure that our glass will be filled to overflowing after that.

I am sorry this post is so long. (If I had the time, I would have written a shorter one.) Feel free to tell me what your plans are for the second half of the year in the comments section. Do you feel pessimistic? Optimistic?

What does your glass look like today?