Thursday, December 31, 2015

Letting Go

My daughter just asked why we say "hang up" the phone and now I feel 90.

I saw this post on Twitter last night, followed by a host of responses commiserating with the writer. They referenced other obsolete phrases and experiences:
  • "Don't touch that dial!"
  • Busy Signals
  • Rotary phones
  • Roll down the window
  • "You sound like a broken record."
As the minutes are ticking away on 2015, I'm thinking about things in our community that are becoming obsolete. In his end-of-year post at The 53, Bill Woodcock states:

I think the sad thing I notice this year is, how much village boards in Columbia, if not the Columbia Association itself, really don't matter. And yeah, I suppose I'll catch flak for that last sentence. But I do think our local institutions work around the Columbia power structure more than they do with it. And can you blame them? The little power structures are either filled with pockets of zealotry, or with people who stand uniquely unqualified to wield the authority that they do.

He's right. The power and influence of individual village boards and the CA Board is diminishing by the year. This was clearly evident at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Chrysalis in Merriweather Park. None of the people who were chosen and invited to participate as VIP's were the CA reps who put themselves on the line to vote for the creation of the Inner Arbor Plan. And many of those folks went on to lose elections because of their commitment to the park.

I found that very telling.

This post is not written to vilify the CA Board or Village leadership. It isn't a celebration or mourning at its passing. It's merely an observation. For a variety of reasons, this leadership structure is becoming irrelevant to most of our community. I know a lot of very good people who have worked passionately to get involved and turn that around.

It's just not happening. Too many people who sit on these boards are representing the past rather than the present.(The future? Forget about it.) As a friend of mine said recently, it's possble that we'll see The Columbia Association's identity in the community reduced to pools, pathways and totlots.

If you have read all this and thought:


then you are the future. So, future Columbians, what's next?

Wednesday, December 30, 2015


I read something yesterday that made me stop and think. Leslie Kornreich, of Voices of Parents and Stakeholders in HCPSS wrote the following:

This page is all about everyone having a chance to make their voice heard as we all have a stake in the decisions made by HCPSS and our Board of Education. Recently one Board member, Ann DeLacy, dismissed the concerns of what she deemed a "vocal minority".
What she fails to realize is that the number of people signing this petition is a drop in the bucket compared to the number who agree with all of the issues brought forth in the petition. Working under a climate of fear and intimidation has kept teachers, staff, paraeducators, and others who work for HCPSS from signing the petition.
It is more important than ever that we share this, even with HCPSS employees, so that even if they are afraid to sign, they can share it with friends and family members who can. Let's show the Board and the superintendent that we are not just a vocal minority. We are a force to be reckoned with.

Here's the deal. Howard County teachers and staff are afraid to sign the petition because they fear retribution. The present environment makes them fear for their jobs.

It's too bad we have no protected way to know how they would vote if they could.

But maybe we do. When hcpss management recruited MD Teacher of the Year Jody Zepp to run for President of HCEA against incumbent Paul Lemle, it was widely seen as a move by Management to interfere with the workings of the Union. Zepp received help from Board Member Ann DeLacy, lawyer Mike Smith (unsuccessful Board candidate) not to mention the enormous sign erected outside of Central Office in her honor, which is still there.

Now, union elections are protected by law. So how the teachers vote cannot put their jobs in jeopardy. When faced with a choice between current President Paul Lemle, and the management candidate Zepp, how did they vote? As I recall it was 83.8% to 16.2%. Not only did over 80 per cent favor Lemle, I am going to hazard a guess that the 80 per cent were expressing firm disapproval of the current management regime.

So, if we want to know how HCEA members feel about the petition, I think this election gives us a bird's eye view.

Certainly something to think about.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Falling Apart

I've been staring at this page and throwing ideas at it and nothing will stick. I couldn't get to sleep until after one thirty, woke up at six and my thoughts are a dark swirl.

I'm from Cleveland. Grew up there until we moved when I was thirteen. Raised in the beautiful old suburban area known as Cleveland Heights. At the time it was almost exclusively white. Through all my elementary years I can remember only two African American classmates.

In the fifth grade when we had to do our biggest project, a report on our ethnic background and how our ancestors might have come to the U.S., the teacher told the one African American student, a girl, that since she didn't have any immigration story, she could chose any nationality she wanted for her report. I wonder if he thought this was a creative solution to an awkward dilemma.

No story. No ethnic background. No country of origin. No nothing.

This was some years before "Roots". It was just assumed there were no records and therefore there was no story. Can you imagine? Can you imagine being a teacher and telling any student they had no story? It boggles my mind.

This year video footage has begun to hold up a mirror to the African American story in this country. It doesn't mean there was no story before. It means that a lot of folks lived by the "no records, no story" theory rather than face the awkward and enraging truth. Even now there are people who are somehow able to view videos of violence and murder and say there's no story here.

Even members of a Grand Jury.

Move along, nothing to see here. (Don't look! It'll only upset you.)

Oh I am upset. I am enraged. When a twelve year-old child playing with a toy gun in the park is slaughtered in seconds it is more than an awkward dilemma. When people can look at evidence and fail to see the truth before their eyes it can only mean one thing: in the United States the right to have a story, a history, a background, a truth is nothing but a privilege accorded to whites.

The lyrics "Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story?" from Hamilton are echoing in my head this morning. We know who lives, don't we? And who dies.

What are are going to do about it? And who will get to tell the story?





Monday, December 28, 2015

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Required Reading

Blogger Candace Dodson Reed is back with her Most Fascinating People of Howard County, 2015 edition. You can find her at Is This Thing On?

Is This Thing On? she asks. Yes, it most definitely is. There's a crisp, off-the-cuff, no-messing-around quality to her writing that I find singularly refreshing. And if she weren't too busy living an actual life on multiple platforms--parenthood, career, community, politics, and more I'm probably forgetting--we might get to enjoy her blog more often.

Take a moment to read this piece. I found that I knew some people well, others not at all. And that means I learned something. Sometimes our personal (and even shared) worlds in Howard County are quite small. Reading this bumped out my boundaries. It also reminded me that, despite my belief that I am open to all kinds of people, on most days my world is starkly, almost completely white.

In the same vein, including Baltimore on this list is a brilliant reminder of all the ways we in Howard County have been challenged to look at race during 2015. Not just to look, but to stand up and join in. Ms. Dodson Reed has long been an advocate in Howard County for bringing folks together to examine attitudes on race. She's absolutely right that Baltimore is

Such a beautiful place (with beautiful people!) scarred by a history of complex social issues. As TS said, “bandaids won’t fix bullet holes”...

And absolutely right to include it in this list. We are not separate. We are interconnected in many, many ways.

There's a lot more I could say about the people on this list. But I don't want to get in the way of your actually reading the thing. So, do it. Then come back here and leave your thoughts if you are so inclined. It feels like a great conversation-opener to me.


Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Other Holiday Meal

I happened upon a conversation on Facebook yesterday about the best place to get Chinese food on Christmas in Howard County. This is not a quest I have ever undertaken. Our family concerns usually center around what to serve as a main course now that my husband can't eat turkey. And most Facebook posts I see are traditionally Christmas ones: presents, Santa, kids, family, holiday clothes, holiday meals, and decorations.

After discussing with a Jewish friend the recent proposal by hcpss to keep school open on Jewish High Holy Days I have found myself looking more carefully at what the prevailing culture presumes. We don't always remember to make room for different ways of living and worshipping. I took a minute yesterday to say to him,

Thanks for tolerating the cultural and religious explosion that is Christmas with never a complaint...sometimes we get so caught up, we forget there's anything else but what we celebrate. Cheers to you and yours!

So, back to Chinese food. One poster said,

The old Jewish tradition was about finding a restaurant that was open. Chinese restaurants were open. In those days, Chinese was as exotic as it got for Asian food. Now there's Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Burmese, Indonesian, you name it. I had Christmas Eve dinner at Gar-e-Kabab in Silver Spring, which is Nepali. Broaden your horizons! If it's open and it's Asian, it's Jewish Christmas food!

Interesting. You can be celebrating Christmas either in a religious way or a cultural way. Or you can be Other. And the folks who are Other stick together, in a sense, in a meal that reflects other cultures and traditions. Right now our country seems to be gripped by a convulsive response to Otherness which shows the worst of us: fear, hatred, rejection, presumed cultural superiority.

My wise friend said,

As a Jew ... I live in a society dominated by Christian tradition. We don't complain, yet see the hypocrisy in every action against Muslims, Sikhs, etc. This is a white Christian society. If you don't fit the mold you need to stay alert!

What a message. A message that many of us never have to think about. And it's so much bigger than where to get Chinese food on Christmas.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Letter to Santa

Dear Santa,

It's been a long time since I wrote you a letter. I've been plenty busy trying to make Christmas wishes come true for my family, and that's just fine with me. But this year there are a few special things on my list. I thought maybe you could help.

Here they are, in no particular order:

  • More leaders for Oakland Mills that really love my Village for what it actually is. Champions, not critics. We have a few but they need friends. Let's face it, you probably already know where people like that live, so maybe you can tuck an inspiring note in their stockings?
  • A positive, non-gender-specific dress code for our schools that supports students and doesn't demean them. Santa, if you happen to know those folks who enjoy body-shaming girls? Well, that's what coal is for, right?
  • Local reporters who want to stay in Howard County for awhile. I know this is a big present, but I'm dreaming big this year.
  • A school system that's about learning and not testing. Where teachers and staff are allowed to do what they know is best, rather than operating in fear of punishment or retribution should they speak out.
  • Really fun and functional public transit in Columbia. And if you can fit it in the sleigh, Bridge Columbia would be really sweet. I promise I'd play with it and share it with my friends.

My mother taught me that you can't expect Santa to bring everything on your list. I know you'll pick what's best, just like the old song says.

One more thing. You know that dream job I really wanted? The one that was going to take me to retirement? Yeah, didn't fit and we had to take it back to the store. So if you have any jobs I could do--writing? social media? Helping the public? I also teach music, you know, and I have a lot of experience with your favorite kind of people: children.

Or, if this stay-at-home mom gig is what I'm supposed to be doing, maybe you could drop some cash on me to let me I know I'm on the right track? Just a thought.

Thanks for all the Christmas joy through the years. Safe travels tonight.





Wednesday, December 23, 2015


If you haven't seen it already, here is the Petition being circulated in regards to the Superintendent's contract renewal. It really speaks for itself. The authors of this petition don't want you to take their word for it. They have loaded it with documentation and they expect you to do the research and make up your own mind. So I encourage you to do just that.

Last night I had one of those head-exploding moments made possible by email and social media, when I received a letter addressed to undisclosed recipients which began,

First, Happy Holidays and thank you for attending the Education Town Hall Meeting hosted by Delegates Frank Turner and Warren Miller on December 8th.

My immediate thought was that this was a follow up letter from the Howard County Delegation about the Town Hall meeting. There had been a sign-in sheet where one could give contact information. Okay, so far, so good.

The letter went on to be an impassioned advocacy piece encouraging people to sign the (above-mentioned) petition. Now...I'm confused.

1. Is this letter from the Delegtion?
2. Do they endorse the petition?
3. If it isn't from the Delegation, how did this person get my contact information?
4. Did someone else get access to the sign-in list?

Something just didn't feel right to me.

So I started asking around. I wasn't the only one concerned about the email. But, as one might expect, my inquiry at first turned up misinformation before I hit pay dirt. This is what I know now. The email I received:
  • Wasn't from the delegation
  • Wasn't from The People's Voice
  • Didn't use the email list from the Town Hall Meeting
It appears to have been written by a concerned citizen who wanted to get the information out there as fast as possible but didn't want to reveal his own identity for fear of retribution. I understand fear of retribution with the way things are in the school system these days. I would respectfully suggest that this might not have been the best way to do things.

In the meantime, I could have done a much better job trying the get the information I wanted without splashing around quite so much on social media. Not one of my best efforts. In fact, pretty terrible, though well-intentioned. And you know what they say about the road to Hell...

Anyway, read the petition. See what you think. Make up your own mind. I can tell you I don't see anything false or even misleading in its content. If that concerns you, get involved. Signing a petition is one way. Attending Board Meetings and speaking out is another. Contacting the Howard County Delegation is also an option. Do your research about candidates for the Board of Education.

Do something. Don't think that someone else will do it. That's how we got in this mess in the first place.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


My husband has a student who he has jokingly diagnosed with "O.P.G Syndrome"--it stands for Other People's Guitars. In any gathering of guitarists he must go around and play everyone else's instrument, especially if it's one he hasn't seen before. So I'm calling today's piece "O.P.P." in his honor, that is, "Other People's Posts".

  • HowChow is back, and we don't know for how long, so throw caution to the winds and dive in. I feel like I'm binge-reading an entire season, and it's delicious.
  • Lisa Marini Schlossnagle and her family continue to keep us posted on their year-long voyage 'round the world. Most recent posts are here, on Bangkok and Singapore.
  • Bill Woodcock of The 53 has done a rather thorough commentary on County Executive Alan Kittleman's first year in office. Definitely worth the read. I'll be touching on this tomorrow.

Here's one of my own from last year that Facebook threw at me yesterday. I read it with a kind of horrror: what on earth possessed me to write this thing? Campy, over-the-top, it reads like a rough sketch for a middle school revue. With music it might make a truly awful Christmas special. Maybe we could call it "Santastic!" I hope you enjoy it, and if you don't,'s short.



Monday, December 21, 2015

Words, Meet Actions: HoCo Holler!

There's an excellent piece in the Howard County Times about the Rev'd Heather Kirk-Davidoff and the congregation of Lake Kittamaqundi Church. I guess you could say it falls under the category of good news for the holiday season except that, once you read the article, you'll see that this is a far broader mission than one season of the year.

Entitled "Columbia church helps end homelessness one condo at a time" it outlines the evolution of the church's commitment from providing emergency winter shelter one month of the year to taking on the responsibility of proving permanent housing for a member of the Howard County community.

I know Rev'd Kirk-Davidoff as a member of the Oakland Mills community, where she is a positive voice and an involved school parent. I visited her church once with my daughter. It's amazingly non-traditional in a delightfully Columbia old-school way. Her preaching is engaging and insightful. Beyond Oakland Mills, beyond her own congregation, Kirk-Davidoff works cooperatively with area congregations in areas of shared concerns and participates in ecumenical services.

But wait, that's not all. She took on the responsibility of raising funds for an Oakland Mills student who needed, but could not afford, a tablet device for school. Using her time and talents she put out the message on social media and baked cookies and pies to bring in ten- and twenty-dollar donations. Her method brought a wider community participation to the "village" supporting this child.

Now we read about her congregation's purchase and ongoing support of a condo in Long Reach which is providing a home for a working single mother and her two children.

"'The solution to homelessness, remarkably, is well understood,' Kirk-Davidoff said. "We don't know how to cure cancer, we're not sure what to do about global warming, but homelessness is cured through a house.'"

Want to learn more? Here's the website for Help End Homelessness Howard County. And here's the website for Lake Kittamqundi Church.

A huge HoCo Holler! to Heather Kirk-Davidoff for her vionary leadership and her continuing hard work to end homelessness in Howard County.





Sunday, December 20, 2015

Got Religion?

The Board of Education continues to draw big crowds this year, but I wouldn't say that's because of rave reviews and boffo performances. They played to overflow crowds this week. It's too bad they can't do charity performances because this would have gone a long way towards meeting a philanthropic goal. (Funding paraeductaors, for instance?)

Here's the deal: just when you thought they couldn't offend any one else, the school system proposes taking the Jewish High Holy Days off of the school calendar as official days off from school. Lisa Philip covers it here. This was pretty much an invitation to a standing room only sort of response, with people in matching t-shirts vying for their three minutes to express concern and dismay. And they weren't all Jewish, either.

In general, the Board is respectful to the overflow crowds who turn out in matching t-shirts. (Except for these folks. Wonder why?) So I am guessing that they weren't on the receiving end of typical Board member comments depicting them as "selfish" "me, me me" "them" or "too white and privileged to understand." Did anyone suggest they needed an advanced degree to understand the calendar? I hope not.

I find it odd that some members say that we can't add any days off which are specifically religion-based. The fact that Christmas and the days surrounding Easter are state-mandated does not in any way obscure the fact that they are Christian holidays. Our school system calendar has a deeply entrenched Christian default mechanism, and everyone knows it.

So now other religions come along asking for some of the same kind of respect and it looks to me as though the response is to freeze everyone out. And that means, apparently, backing up the truck and getting rid of the Jewish holidays, too, so that everyone is equally disrespected. Except the Christians.

I identify as a Christian (some days more than others) and I love getting Christmas off. When I had a church job, having Good Friday off was essential. And recovery from a Holy Week with as many as seven sung services made Easter Monday bliss. But it would be the height of selfishness to ignore that my religious/cultural heritage is favored by the state and those of others are deemed irrelevant. If we are going to say "all or nothing", then we need to be even-handed all the way around.

Board member Cindy Vaillancourt has been encouraging discussion on this issue on her Facebook page. The conversation has been both fascinating and respectful. One comment struck me. In response to modifying the educational approach on school days where a portion of the student body is absent due to religious observance, one person said:

Sounds like my kid is getting a degraded educational experience because of somebody else's religion.

What about all the non-Christians in our community who live with our Christian-centric calendar? What if they felt that way? Would it matter? Does Christianity matter only as long as it rules as a majority religion and draws the bigger numbers? Are other religions in our community less worthy of institutional respect because of their minority status?

The only certainty I am able to draw from all this is that, while you are educating yourself about the upcoming Board of Election race, you should give priority to candidates who are willing to engage in conversations about the difficult issues. If you find one that says that you don't matter, or that nothing can be done, just move on.

The time is long past to remove such people from the equation.



Saturday, December 19, 2015

Wake Up Call

At least three of my friends got up early to run in organized race events. Momma was probably up early, baking up a storm for today's Brunch Event at Shepherds Life Church in Ellicott City. Perhaps you were up early, wrapping presents, doing the last bit of online shopping, doing some holiday baking, or hanging out with an early-waking child who just can't wait til Christmas.

I didn't plan to be up early. But Amazon had other plans. At six something someone rang our doorbell, banged on the door, and departed, leaving two Amazon Prime packages. Good for them. I guess.

Much as I love the convenience of Amazon, the resemblance to the mega-corporation Buy N Large (from the movie WALL-E) grows more striking all the time. They recently launched food delivery (from restaurants) in the Baltimore area. Is cupcake in a cup coming sooner than we think?

On my agenda for the day: one holiday party, one dinner and board game night with family, teaching my daughter how to make the traditional Christmas Candy so she can give it to her friends, and one more very important thing: a nap.


Friday, December 18, 2015

Little Things

The little things you don't know can really bite you in the butt, as they say.

In keep with the current Star Wars craze, I thought I'd share with you the story of my personal experience in seeing the original movie when it first came out. I didn't see the same movie you did. Well, I did, but my misunderstanding of one key fact changed everything for me.

The alien creature who worked alongside Han Solo? I heard the name as "Julie". Yes, that's right. So I assumed that Julie was not just Solo's coworker on the Millennium Falcon, but also his love interest or common-law wife, or whatever.

I'll let that sink in for a moment.

Everything from that moment in the film onwards is changed by that one assumption. I read jealousy into "Julie's" looks, sounds, and actions. I read unfaithfulness and callous disregard into Han Solo's romantic flirtations with Princess Leia. How could he? What an outrageous love triangle. It really bugged me.

Strangely enough, once the film was over, I couldn't find anyone who wanted to discuss this aspect of the film with me. Actually, it was difficult just to get them to stop laughing.

Here are a few little things I thought you should know that might give you a more accurate view of the December 1st hearing of the Howard County Delegation on upcoming legislation. Speaking on behalf of the Board's position: Nayab Siddiqui, husband of Board Member Janet Siddiqui. I think it might have been helpful if he had identified himself as such, and actually I'm not sure it was ethical for him to offer testimony under those circumstances.

Also, giving testimony in support of the Board, two extremely close personal friends of Board member Ellen Giles. They also did not identify themselves as such. Apparently this was an evening where the desire for quantity outweighed any good sense about propriety. (See also: trotting out students to do one's dirty work.)

This reminds me of the old saying called out at baseball games, "You can't tell the players without a scorecard." After years of being willing to give school system leadership the benefit of the doubt, it's clear that the community is now actively keeping score. As Doug Miller states in his piece in this week's Columbia Flier,

But whether Foose stays or goes, the most important step toward transparency and accountability in both the superintendent’s office and on the board has already been taken: Taxpayers have come together to demand it.

Those little things add up to big things. And sometimes they come back to bite you.


Thursday, December 17, 2015


"Here Comes the Dread Argument of the Individual Case...Again"

"Too Much"


"Good News"

"Bits and Bobs"

All these post have something in common: a heart. My friend Justin needed one. After a dangerously long wait, he got one. And last week my older daughter and I drove to Longwood to hear him play the organ and lead the audience in the traditional Christmas carol singalong.

Heart disease takes a toll. Justin still walks with a cane due to residual balance issues. He created his own personal physical therapy to overcome nerve damage in his hand. When he swivels around on the organ bench to address the audience, or throws his legs over to hop down to take a bow, it may not have quite the fluidity that it used to. He told me he used to launch himself into the air and land with a flourish. He still wants to do that but isn't quite sure he can guarantee a perfect landing.

But heart disease has done nothing to mar the music-maker that is Justin to his very core. His playing is superb. His rapport with the audience is warm and lively. He treats the instrument like a dear old friend, and it is.

If you have a chance to make it to Longwood this season, perhaps you'll take a half hour to go see him*. If you are looking for a Christmas miracle, this is it: a brilliantly talented musician who got his life back and is returning to the work he loves best.





*These are the sing-along dates and times when Justin will be playing:





Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Facing the Music

Monday evening Superintendent Foose took to the podium at the Centennial High School Winter Concert to conduct Leroy Anderson's well-known seasonal favorite "Sleigh Ride". Inviting a person of note (sorry) in the community to conduct a musical ensemble has become a more or less acceptable way to connect people in power with supporting the arts.

And this is how it works: everyone in the ensemble rehearses like mad beforehand. Everyone knows their parts, and exactly how it's all going to go. And above all, everything is structured to make the conductor look good. Then, when the guest raises the baton, it all looks amazingly easy.

Pretty cool, huh?

Those of us in the community who follow the County Schools have become familiar with a similar approach in recent years. Rather than step up to the podium, say a few words and answer questions, the Superintendent brings an entire team of people to give presentations. Often they are accompanied by impressive videos, slide-shows, or power points with eye-popping graphics.

Somehow there's just never enough time for the asking and answering of questions.

Today there was supposed to be a meeting between the Board of Education, the Superintendent, and the Howard County Delegation, who had requested such a meeting because the last one they had was all presentations and no opportunity for questions. In fact, the request for his meeting predates the hearing on proposed legislation and the Town Hall meeting on education. It's been on the books for quite awhile, and the delegation has been waiting patiently for a chance to have some straight talk about issues of concern.

Yesterday the meeting was canceled by the school system, citing illness.

Indeed it must be terrible illness if one knows that everyone is going to be ill twenty four hours or more in advance. I hope they will soon be on the mend.

Strangely enough, around the same time that I learned that the meeting was canceled, the Superintendent published an Open Letter to the Howard County Delegation on the hcpss website.

Two things:

  • It is a completely inadequate response to issues raised by both the Howard County Delegation through proposed legislation, and at the Town Hall Meeting.
  • It is, to my mind, a clearly disrespectful response to both local government officials and the community at large.

As far as the content is concerned, the letter seems to suggest that tweaking the school system website will resolve everything. When you have stakeholders crying out for responsiveness, transparency, and accountability, they are not asking you to change a website. This is like responding to impoverished people who are are starving and crying out for food, "We have made some changes to our supermarkets that will streamline your shopping experience." So--no. Just, no.

But the bigger issue to me is getting right up to a meeting with real human beings who, in fact, have authority over what the school system does, and backing out. Hunkering down. Writing a letter. Phoning it in.

A sign of true leadership, from both the Superintendent and the Board of Education, would be to deal with the situation at hand, no matter how awkward. Because what they do is public service, and sitting down with the delegation is a part of that job. And even if it were not public service, common sense tells you that, when facing a difficult situation at work, you don't get to stay home and avoid it by writing a letter instead.

True leadership is not just taking the podium and waving a stick around. Sometimes you really have to face the music.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

More Than Mold

Glenwood. In local news coverage and on social media, it's become synonymous with mold, illness among students and staff, lack of transparency from school system leadership. If you don't know about what's going on out there, you should.

And yet.

And yet there's more to Glenwood than mold, and I'm sure the folks who live out that way would love to be able to focus on the good and be known for more than living in crisis mode. So, with that in mind, here's a little sparkle of light for you this morning. Via @LoriConforti:

New #RandomActsOfKindness added, which will you choose? Visit the Glenwood Branch @HoCo_Library #spreadjoy #HoCoMD

Lori Conforti's Twitter page describes her as:

Teens' Instructor & Research Specialist, @HoCo_Library Providing educational opportunities to students & the wider community. Libraries=Education

I don't know Ms. Conforti in real life, but I enjoy following her on Twitter because the programs she's running for teens at the Glenwood Branch are so appealing. Off the top of my head I recall reading about astronomy, hedgehogs, musical theater, knitting...I don't think libraries did this kind of outreach to teens back when I was in school. Sadly, there's no way I can sneak in and pretend to be a teen at this point in my life. Much eyerolling would ensue.

This is another example of what a valuable role the Howard County Library System plays in our community. When I think of the Howard County Libraries I think of words like responsive, collaborative, dynamic. It's truly something to take pride in. There's a chance to celebrate their 75 years at their Chapters-of-our-Lives Time Capsule Installation on December 21st at 4 pm, at the Central Branch. Learn more here.

And don't forget to pick a random act of kindness and spread some joy today.


Monday, December 14, 2015

Breaking News

I don't know why I was surprised. Why should I be? Amanda Yeager is leaving the Howard County Times and "Mold in Howard County" broke the story.

Last Friday, Amanda informed me she has taken a position with the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, a promotion and positive career move, one that she deserves. I would like to thank Amanda for the dedication and integrity she has shown while covering this story and wish her the very best in her new position. She will be here another week and hopes to get one more story out. We shall see if her long overdue MPIAs arrive before she leaves (lol).
Lisa Philip has been covering education for the last several months and will now take over for Amanda on the mold issue as well.
Stop. Just stop. Can we just keep one, or possibly even two, local reporters? It's the same painful story repeating itself. They're young, over-worked, and underpaid. And then they are gone. How can we possibly have continuity and real depth in Howard County news when we are completely unable to hang on to journalists?
Yes, I know that the newspaper industry isn't what it once was. That doesn't stop us from needing news coverage from real-live, professional journalists. As odd as it may sound, I feel like we, as a community, may need to step up to create a better financial model. Similar to rural or remote communities that create incentives for teachers or doctors, we need to make Howard County a place that journalists want to work, and above all, stay.
 I also feel that the Howard County Times needs to up its game. What can they do to prevent this seemingly inevitable tipping point when their employees decide it would be better to be someplace else? Are young journalists merely a dime a dozen to them? In my opinion, the people entrusted to bringing the truth to our community should be treated better than fast food workers who are easily replaced at the lowest wage the market will bear.
 I will really miss Amanda. From the outset she has treated me and what I do on the blog with respect. She has endured my numerous questions and even a few suggestions with grace. I hope her new job brings her more of what this one didn't, more of what she, as a journalist, is seeking.
 Now what will we do to break this cycle?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Phoning It In

Morning migraine, day two. I really, really hate to take a day off but migraines and writing don't mix.

For your reading pleasure:

Where to shop local in HoCo from AnnieRie. "Ho Ho HoCo!" Plus her page on local businesses.

Sweet article in the Sun about finding love later in life combined with a passion for collecting.

Finally, what's the story with a "no turn on red" sign at the intersection of Little Patuxent Parkway and Broken Land Parkway? I hear it has been covered up by a tarp after causing some distinct difficulties with the flow of traffic.

See you tomorrow, migraine-free. Here's hoping.


Friday, December 11, 2015

Shattering the Achievement Gap

A little history: back when cuts to music and art instruction were being forced on elementary schools as part of the Model School Initiative, a concerted effort was made to paint the "music moms" as selfish suburban white women who just wanted something free for their own children. A hasty alliance with the African American Community Roundtable resulted in a Board of Education meeting where the Elementary Model was painted as a brilliant move to close the achievement gap.

The "music moms"? They "didn't care" about minority, at-risk, under-achieving children. They cared only about "freebies and frills" to benefit their already affluent off-spring.

Never mind that this was happening while study after study showed that arts education was a significant factor in improving school success for at-risk students. Never mind that the President and Mrs. Obama were hosting the Turnaround Arts program at the White House. With absolutely no data to support a cutback in arts education as a means of closing the achievement gap, and plenty of data to support an actual increase in arts education, the Howard County Schools pulled out all the stops to force this program through.

How is it doing? We have absolutely no idea.

Now this: my husband and I went to the Washington DC Grammy Association's Holiday Party the other night. From the moment we lined up on the sidewalk to get into the club, it was clear that people had put on their holiday finest and then kicked it up a notch. Once we got inside, something else struck me. This party was by far more integrated than any event I had ever attended in Howard County. Who was there? Well, here's a list of jobs available in the music and recording industry:

Musicians, (including session musicians) composers, arrangers, orchestrators, recording technicians, production professionals, music publishers, public relations, bookers and promoters, on the road staff such as lighting and sound technicians, merchandising, house staff, costuming, ticket sales...

I'm sure there's more.

I was in a room full of hardworking professionals in the music business and it looked a whole lot like they were laughing in the face of the achievement gap. All the people in that room, regardless of race, ethnicity, or economic background, were united by a passion to make and share music. And there are many ways to be a part of that, and make a living.

Tell me again why we have to cut arts education? Tell me again why I'm selfish because I want all kids to have the best possible preparation in the arts?

Not everyone will want to pursue a career in the arts. (Or math, or science, or...) But the participation in arts-rich education awakens in so many children a desire to fully engage in the educational process. When we know that, and have the data to support it, it is truly foolish (and selfish) to withhold it.

President Obama has said, "The arts are central to who we are as a people, and they are central to the success of our kids. This is not an afterthought," he said. "This is not something you do because it's kind of nice to do. It is necessary for these young people to succeed that we promote the arts."





Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Good Gossip

Rumor has it that Board Member Ann DeLacy showed up unannounced at the Oakland Mills High School PTSA meeting last night, declaring herself to be "the biggest fan of Oakland Mills High School." Really? Considering what she has been saying in public lately about the school, our neighborhood, and our students, that seems more than a bit...disingenuous.

Speaking of Oakland Mills High School, I had a run in with PTACHC President Reg Avery while waiting in line to see the WBAL Concert for Kids. It was awkward. I certainly didn't expect more than a gruff hello, but instead he burst out rather loudly, "and I'm not running for Board of Ed. So you were way off. Way off!"

So, you heard it here first, folks. Well, so did everyone else in the immediate vicinity.

Huge thanks to everyone who read my post about supporting the OMHS musicians. Thanks to your generosity and sharing, they've raised over two thousand dollars in the last several days. It is an awesome start, and I am truly grateful. If you have any other ideas about how to spread the word, let me know and I'll pass them along to Ann Faust. Here's the GoFundMe link.

PARCC scores for elementary and middle school are coming out today. I highly recommend this article to explain what the scores mean, and this is not the party line you'll hear at any of the hcpss information sessions. The most important thing to know is that they set what "passing" is after the students take the test. This is not at all what teachers do when they create tests. Teachers build a test so that they know exactly how much a student needs to know to be able to pass. That's how it works. Instead--

Says PARCC, "Some of your students have scored a varying levels on a test that may or may not have put them on a certain level. You can't know about the questions they answered, which ones they got wrong, or what specific deficiencies they have. And we won't even tell you the simple rating (grade) we're giving them for a while yet. But go ahead and take this gaping hole where data is supposed to be, and use it to inform your instruction."

What do your child's scores on PARCC mean? Nada. These tests and the manner in which they are scored were designed to make it look as though our public schools are failing. Also, don't forget that everyone knew that these results "wouldn't count". Including the kids. If you want to know how your child is doing, ask a teacher.

To close--a bit of out-of-town gossip with a local flavor: my husband and I were guests of the Washington D.C. Grammy Chapter at their holiday party last night. It was held at any amazing venue called the Sax. We felt like we had wandered into the world of Moulin Rouge. (The film, not the place.) It was a truly sensory rich experience. Hands down the best part was catching this on the big screen:





Wednesday, December 9, 2015


Turbulent times. Polarizing issues. Political parties drawing loyalty lines so rigid that no discussion seems possible. Many of my friends have been lamenting this lately. How do we try to solve problems if we cannot talk to one another?

Yet last night it was clear that an issue has arisen in Howard County which has garnered true bipartisan support. And that issue is our schools. As a follow up to the Howard County delegation hearing on upcoming legislation, they held a Town Hall Meeting last night on Education. The enormous room at HCC was full.

The meeting was moderated by former Councilwoman Courtney Watson and former PTACHC President Christina Delmont-Small. My husband and I were tag-teaming last night, so I wasn't able to stay for the whole thing. But while I was there, I was impressed by how well organized and smoothly run it was, and how respectfully community members were treated.

And what a beautiful sight it was to see the truly bipartisan nature of this initiative from the Howard County delegation. And so refreshing for community members to finally have their say, and be listened to. It has been a long time in coming.

Some of the major issues that were shared last night:

  • Transparency
  • Suspension rates for minority students
  • Disrespect of parents
  • How bullying is handled/not handled in school
  • How the issue of suicide is handled/not handled in schools
  • Mold in our schools
  • Bullying of teachers and staff by admin and those higher-up
  • Accountability in how money is spent
  • Over-testing of students
  • Responsiveness to parent requests for information and/or help
  • Special Education

Some of the most heartrending testimony last night came from parents of special needs children who feel powerless in their attempts to advocate for their children. Having taught special needs children for 12 years, and worked with excellent special educators during that time, I felt both horror and sadness at their stories. These are truly our most vulnerable students, and the school system is allocating big money not to help them, but to deny them services and fight their parents in court.

I know that the meeting was being live-streamed last night. I am hoping that there will be a place you can watch it online. As soon as I know, I will let you know.

I saw this comment online from David Yungmann:

Thanks to all of our State Senators and Delegates who took the time to listen to parents and teachers tonight. Also thanks to Council members who attended to listen. Special thanks to Delegates Warren Miller, Frank Turner and Vanessa Atterbeary for championing a couple bills that will make our School Board and school system more transparent and accountable. You know things have gotten serious when Delegates Miller and Turner, the HCEA President and I are all on the same side of an issue.

What I saw last night was a huge win for a community determined to have a meaningful voice in its school system. In fact, I'd say what we saw was a public vote of No Confidence looks like, from an educated, involved, caring community. And we saw elected officials truly listening to constituents.

But, as Frank Turner reminded those assembled, a change in leadership will involve continued involvement of the community. The delegation can't wave a magic wand. They are working on specific legislation that will help, but the issue of leadership is in the hands of the community, the voters.

The phrase "We, the People" is not an invitation to a Witch Hunt. It is an invocation to participation in representative government: democracy in action. And when people from both parties want to work together, well, that's a beautiful thing.


If you couldn't make it to the meeting, please send your story to Delegate Frank Turner at





Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Other Side of Rouse

This past weekend the Oakland Mills High School arts community hosted a huge charitable event, WBAL's Concert for Kids. Every cent raised went to charity: both ticket sales and the sales of handmade crafts in the Holiday Shop. The radio personalities who read letters from needy families made it clear how important the work of the WBAL Kids Campaign is to children all over Maryland. They also made clear their gratitude to Philip Hale and everyone who makes this concert possible. I don't know how much was raised this year but I'm sure it will be substantial.

Now here's the part that wasn't mentioned.

The music department is slated to make their annual trip in April and there are fifteen students who cannot afford to attend. Just think, this school, in the heart of a not-so-affluent area, puts its heart and soul into helping others, yet not a word was spoken about the very real needs within its own membership.

I'd like to share this, from the Go Fund Me page created by my friend Ann Faust, who is an orchestra parent and a member of the OMHS Fine Arts Boosters. It is so simply and eloquently written.

As many of you know my children attend Title 1 schools, with very diverse and rich kaleidoscope of families. One of the most important things about Title 1 schools is that we have more lower-income families in our schools.

This is true in Oakland Mills High School, yet it is also true that even if we go to the games with non-matching socks, or play our music with mostly lender instruments we still manage to get our name on the top. When our musicians attend to any kind of adjudication they usually come home with superior results. Our children are bright, determined and pushing boundaries to be able to start their young lives from the best possible point.

Our parents, just like our students, are helping our school to success in every possible way, but at times like this we are falling short to support all of our students.

Today I am standing before you and asking money to allow 15 of my music students ($645.00 for each student) to be able to go to our school’s bi-annual trip to experience playing in a huge university auditorium, experience campus life, talk with current students and lecturers in Nashville, Tennessee in Spring 2016. Our Fine Arts Boosters work really hard to support as many of these students as possible, alas as Title 1 school parents, our pockets are going only so far, and these 15 students themselves have not many other way of raising this money.

Please remember; for many of these students this will be the first time in their lives where they will experience –however short it may be, and in some cases may be the only time- a university life.

Remember this can be the experience this 15 students need to make that one important contact, that will open doors for them, that may have not be possibe before.

I have written about putting the WBAL concert in the perspective of Rouse's vision for Columbia. Here is where the rubber meets the road. Children create a concert so that other children's lives may be better. A mother creates a funding page so that other parents' children may share in the benefits of a rich musical experience.

I know this time of year is a huge drain on the budget. If everyone who reads this blog donates ten dollars, for instance, that would be a big help right there. I ask that you go to the fundraising page, read the details, and consider helping out. If the greater community can step in to help the kids who donated their gifts to help others, that would be a powerful statement indeed.


Monday, December 7, 2015

A Friend Indeed

I saw this idea from Jack Thompson over at Howard Public Ed and it is just so brilliant that I have to share it with you.

Mr. Thompson brought the Friends of Education Award to the attention of the group.

The Friends of Education Award was established by the Board of Education to recognize individuals, businesses, or organizations making innovative or unique contributions that directly support the school system’s mission of excellence in teaching and learning. Any Howard County resident or group, organization, or business located in or serving Howard County may be nominated for the award.

Then he states:

What a great idea. This idea for an award is so good I would like to nominate all the good folks over at Mold in Howard County Schools - Information for Parents and all the parents, staff and students they tirelessly represent. Yes of course I will be filling out a nomination form and I would like everyone in the community to join me in nominating all these fine citizens.

Oh my word. This is brilliant. It is poetic justice at its finest. Who could be more of a friend to education than the parents who have doggedly pursued the truth about mold in our schools in order to defend and protect students and staff? Their only goals have been to get the whole truth out and get the unhealthy school environments fixed as thoroughly and quickly as possible.

I will admit that I have been squeamish in the past about Howard Public Ed because it has felt like a hotbed of conspiracy theories and angry ranting. But, in light of current events, I'm put in mind of the old Joseph Heller quote,

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not after you.

Remember when we thought our only problem with the Board of Education was that they didn't get along? Ah, those were the days. The culture of secrecy which has been revealed in (MPIA-procured) documents is a far more dangerous thing than a failure to play nicely with others. It is, simply put, the tenacity of this parents' group which has brought this lack of transparency into the light.

Here is the nomination form. Print in out, fill it out, mail it to the Board. If you want more information about the Mold in Howard County Schools - Information for Parents group, click here and start reading. The page, coordinated by Vicky Cutroneo, documents her work with Howard County parents Heidi Gaasch, Katie Wolven, Christina Delmont-Small, Tonya Tiffany and Alicia Buxton.

So perhaps you are thinking, "Hey, there's no mold at my child's school. What does this have to do with me?" Yes, but what if there were? Or what if there is, and you just don't know? After reading the exchanges between school administrators and their supervisors at Central Office, I have become less confident that I would be adequately informed if this were going on at my daughter's school. And that is a bad feeling.

More than that--don't we have a responsibility to care for all of our children? To protect the well being of all our teachers and staff?

I think a community-wide recognition of the work this group has done on behalf of all of us would be just what the doctor ordered.


Sunday, December 6, 2015

General Store

Now that the County Council has voted to allocate $50,000.00 of the County's surplus to a study of the Oakland Mills Village Center, I guess we will be soliciting opinions from the community. You know how I feel about a multi-million dollar sports complex that displaces OM residents. It's disgraceful.

But yesterday I had an experience on a Saturday morning that made me wish...

I stopped by to visit my husband's high school club who were having a bake sale at Kendall Hardware. Now I am already familiar with Kendall Hardware from my years of running out that way to teach at Pointers Run. It is a true mom and pop operation with personal service and they have always had what I wanted. They truly have some of everything.

And they are just so good at making space for other businesses which the community enjoys, like the Snowball stand in the summer, fresh produce, too. At Christmas time you can buy your tree there. But I had never been there on a Saturday morning before.

Let's see. There were my husband's students having a bake sale. There was an older gentleman there promoting his book about railroad history. (Signing it, too!) And there was a waffle truck. The joint was jumping. And then it was time for Santa to come so folks could have their pictures taken with their pets.

This place is The Center of Town. Long ago, a town's General Store boasted much of the same: a little bit of everything, a space where you were bound to see your neighbors, personal service. If Kendall Hardware is still offering free popcorn, well, isn't that the modern day equivalent of the cracker barrel at the General Store?

I wish that we had something like that in the Oakland Mills Village Center. Obviously we don't have a space available to fit a Kendall Hardware. And the rent charged for Columbia Village Center retail is exorbitant. But what I would give for a business that offered a little bit of everything, with community involvement and a sense of place thrown in.

Too bad we can't have a place like that by day and Second Chance by night. That would cover all the bases.


Saturday, December 5, 2015

New and Noteworthy

Out of the blue, without any fanfare, came my first digital issue of the Columbia Flier. Have they been doing this all along, or was that the first? Anyway, I love it. It makes my digital subscription worth more to me, because it adds a substantial chunk of the local news I'm really looking for.

A relatively new venture is the monthly newsletter from the Columbia Archives. Whether you are a long time resident, or new and wish you understood what all the fuss was about, the Columbia Archives is an invaluable resource to the community. I haven't visited them in their new home, and I should. Every time I talk to Archives Director Barbar Kellner I learn something fascinating. If you want to receive the Columbia Archives news, go here to sign up.

Events for today that may be of interest:

WBAL Concert for Kids at 1 pm and 7:30 pm, and their Holiday Shop from 2:00 til approximately 10:00.

Stevens Forest Nursery School Kids Holiday Shopping Fair, 9 am to 2 pm.

Saint Paul's Church Holiday Market, from 9 am to 1 pm.

Alternative Gift Fair at First Presbyterian Church of Howard County, 10 am to 4 pm. (Also tomorrow, check link for hours.)

PATH Action to Stand Against Islamophobia, 5 to 6:30 pm.

Second Chance Saloon "Cheers to 7 Years" seventh anniversary celebration, from 7 pm to close.

I have it on good authority that there will be a bake sale outside of Kendall Hardware today from 10 am to 2 pm to support the River Hill High School GSA. Further research shows that you and your pet may also be able to get your photo taken with Santa at the same location.

Finally, a shout out to all those participating in the Girls on the Run event today, and a very special HoCo Holler to members of the Teelin Dance troupe who are in Dallas, Texas today competing at the Southern Region Oireachtas.

Have a great weekend. It's shaping up to be a busy one.


Friday, December 4, 2015

Momma Knows Best

Did your mother impress upon you the importance of thank you notes? Mine sure did. And I'm here to present one that's long overdue. About a year, actually. Last December I received a gift box of cookies from Monica Rogers Williams, AKA Momma, of From Momma's Kitchen. She's a former teacher at Talbott Springs Elementary School and a resident of Oakland Mills, so I try to use my social capital to share the cookie love.

So it was almost Christmas and she decided to share some back with me.

Of course I immediately took a picture and then posted on Facebook:

Merry Christmas to me from the amazing Momma (From Momma's Kitchen)! I went straight for the gingerbread. Thanks, Monica Rogers Williams!

And on Twitter:

I just had a visit from one of Santa's very special helpers. Thanks, Momma!

I oohed and aahed over the packaging and the presentation. I took more pictures.

And then, the holidays descended upon me, and it's all a blur. I carefully treasured and savored each cookie, and I kept telling myself, "I've got to write about this!" But then it wasn't Christmas anymore and I felt stupid. I missed my time window to let you know how amazing Momma's cookies are.

Luckily, even though the cookies are long gone, I still have my photos, and my memories.

This gift box (a 25.00 dollar value) is a part of her Cookie of the Month Club*. It contained two each of six different kinds of cookies, plus a sample of her (delicious) peppermint bark. The cookie flavors for December were: Double Chocolate Peppermint, Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate, Egg Nog, Holiday Sugar Cookie, Cranberry Orange, and Gingerbread.

Each cookie comes individually wrapped. They are tender and full of flavor, and the flavors are true, not artificial-tasting in any way. The experience of eating these cookies is rather like savoring a fine box of chocolates. Each individual cookie is a special treat. And like a fine box of chocolates, it may be difficult to share them.

So I suggest you buy someone you love their own box.

You can follow Momma's activities on Facebook and on Twitter. You can learn more about her full range of products at her website. And here's a fun article about the origins of her business and her cookie dreams.

As far as I am concerned, her cookie dreams are truly dreams come true. If you need to buy a present for someone that will truly wow them, please consider sending one of her incredible gift boxes. Or if you really, really love them, sign them up for an entire year of cookie goodness.

And if they really love you--maybe they'll share.

In closing, I must say: Thanks, Momma. Sorry this thank you note is so late. The cookies were delicious.


*Details from Momma: I shared our December cookie of the month box with you. The cost is $15/month for yearly membership, 6 months membership for $20/month and a month to month membership for $25/month. All of our cookies are homemade and club members get the first taste of our new cookies. To date, we have more than 37 gourmet cookies choices. Each box has 3 different kinds of cookies plus a special secret treat on top.









Thursday, December 3, 2015

Who Gives? We Do.

My #tbt offering today (for Throwback Thursday) is reaching way back to Giving Tuesday. I've got an amazing, local, holiday-flavored, budget-friendly way for you to give: the WBAL Concert for Kids. We went last year and were blown away by the student performances. Yes, there are professional guest artists and they are great, but it's the kids that will wow you.

First, the giving. All monies raised from this concert go to the WBAL Radio Kids Campaign. Their mission:

The WBAL Radio Kids Campaign seeks to promote, foster, encourage, support and sponsor various activities for the general educational, vocational, recreational, civic and social improvement and betterment of young, economically deprived boys and girls in the WBAL Radio listening area, without regard to race, creed, color, or national origin.

I wrote about this concert last year.

It is hard to put into words how awe-inspiring this event was. It was absolutely the best in student performance that Howard County has to offer: singing, instrumental playing, and dance. And it was the picture of Rouse's dream for Columbia: racially, ethnically, and economically diverse--all coming together, using their talents, to help others.

If you are looking for something to do with the family this year to fill in for the Symphony of Lights, this is it. I assure you, you will come away with holiday spirits raised and a spring in your step. This year Music Director Philip Hale and his performers have added a special Family Matinée performance at 1:00 pm to the original evening performance at 7:30 pm. If you have younger children, the 1:00 pm show has been tailored to your needs: it's shorter, more compact, and there's even a free do-it-yourself craft for kids!
Between the Family Matinee and the evening performance you can visit the Holiday Shop. Bring your wallet!

To enhance your experience, our Holiday Shop will be open from 2:00pm until approximately 10:00pm. Hand crafted home decorations, ornaments and gifts will be available throughout the afternoon. Performances by the Oakland Mills Middle School Jazz Band, Oakland Mills High School Orchestra and Choir students will help to "make your spirit bright". Pictures with Santa and a do-it-yourself holiday craft will be available for the children.

Just the facts:

Where--Oakland Mills High School, 9410 Kilimanjaro Rd. 21045
When--Saturday, December 5, at 1:00 and 7:30
Why--To support WBAL Radio Kids Campaign
Cost--Family Matinée, $10.00, Evening, $15.00.

Want to help the cause but can't attend? For the first time, you can purchase a ticket to "pay it forward" and give the gift of the concert to a member of our community who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford it. You can add some happy faces to that Family Matinée and help the Kids Campaign. What's not to like? Buy your tickets here. (Please note, there is no Sunday performance. That's a goof.)

Keep in mind that everything--time, talents, crafts, are donated. One hundred per cent of the proceeds are donated. Since its inception, the Concert for Kids has donated over $34,000 to the Campaign for Kids. And all of this energy and giving and excellence in performance is coming from the Village of Oakland Mills.

We have a lot of heart here in Oakland Mills. Won't you join the effort by joining Philip Hale and his students this weekend? Ten or fifteen dollars is a small price to pay for a song in your heart and joy for kids who really, really need it.
I hope I'll see you there.