Sunday, July 31, 2016


Right now the term Ellicott City is trending in the number one position on Twitter with 6,896 tweets. If you were on social media last night you know why.

Truth in advertising: I didn't take any of these photos. I'm sharing them from various sources on Facebook and Twitter.

It is hard for me to having anything coherent to say in the face of such overwhelming destruction. So I'm just going to thank some people:

  • First Responders and anyone who jumped in to assist in rescues last night.
  • Howard County Office of Emergency Management.
  • Howard County Government and the County Executive.
  • Former Councilwoman Courtney Watson for jumping in to share up-to-date information and letting people know how to donate supplies for the cleanup.

If there are more people to thank, I hope you will add their names in the comments.

Information on what happens next can be found here, along with a link to donate to assist in recovery. Information on how to donate clean-up supplies can be found here.

One more think I'm thankful for: no fatalities. If you have seen video clips of the power of this water, you know how incredibly lucky we are not to have lost anyone.


It looks like I spoke too soon. Just saw this on Twitter:

One fatality from the floods in Ellicott City last night. Body was found in the Patapsco River in Baltimore County. --Paul Gessler, Fox Baltimore



Saturday, July 30, 2016


My family went to Eggspectation the other evening for dinner. We hadn't been there for some years. It wasn't that we didn't like them, but when our daughter was younger the ambient noise was unpleasant for her. And then as years passed we just stopped thinking about them. My husband won a gift card in a contest, so we went.

I was really craving something healthier than much of the delicious-sounding concoctions on the menu. I went with a fish I'd never tried before: Bronzino, served over greens. The only kind of fish we ever have at home is crunchy fish fillets because that's all my natives eat. I adore fish and seafood so I have to get my fix away from home.

When our food arrived I was surprised to see that it was the whole fish. Not a problem for me. I was raised to know how to eat one. The problem was what happened to my husband. His reaction was similar to what one might feel if a plate swarming with poisonous insects had been set on the table. The waitress was a little amused, but balanced this well with a sincere show of empathy for my husband.

This fish was delicious. In fact, I didn't even think to snap a picture until it was half eaten.

My husband, determined to enjoy his steak and chips unassailed by the spectre of a fish head gazing in his direction, put his ever-sharp problem-solving skills to work. He built a wall. (He didn't make me pay for it.)

I really didn't know it was going to be a whole fish. I really, really didn't. I promise I won't make that mistake again.
We had a great meal, a wonderful time, and our waitress was the best ever. And she got a great story to tell her family when she got home.
Truly a memorable evening.





Friday, July 29, 2016

Fox, Meet Henhouse

Straight from the You Can't Make This Up department comes news of appointments to the audit committee chartered from the County Council resolution to review HCPSS budgets.

See anything that strikes you as odd? I do. Ellen Flynn Giles and Ann DeLacy, Board of Education members (whose work is the focus of this audit) have been nominated.
That's not how this works. That's not how any of this works.
Not surprisingly, other community members who supported the legislation to create the audit and the committee were quick to point out the problem:
Isn't is a bit of a conflict of interest to have two sitting board members on a committee chartered due to a lack of confidence with the school system to audit Board approved budgets?



It is befuddling that two members of the audit committee will be auditing their own work.

Why are we at a place where an independent audit of the school system budget became necessary? A reminder:

At a public hearing Monday, the proposal, which includes a financial audit of the school system by the council's auditing office, drew support from residents who reiterated coined terms that have become common vernacular at open meetings related to the school system: transparency and accountability.

The members of this committee are tasked with examining the school system's budget process and decisions. It makes absolutely no sense to have two members of the Board taking part in this evaluation. It is the Board's work which is being examined. Their presence in the room unnecessarily influences the kind of independent analysis and frank conversation that will need to take place if this committee is to fulfill its mission.

If you object, as I do, to the nominations of Ms. Giles and Ms. DeLacy to this committee, take a look at this petition and sign it to register your disapproval.

It is altogether possible that Ms. Giles and Ms. DeLacy will recuse themselves out of a sense of propriety. That would be the right thing to do.

Of course, if we could count on knowing that the school system would do the right thing, we wouldn't be where we are today.


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Guest Post: Stand Up for All

I first became aware of Lisa Spangler Zovko on Twitter when I was looking for Oakland Mills news. As momzovko (@Zovko1Lisa) she was generating an amazing amount of positive, OMHS-related sports tweets. As one of the Admins for the Oakland Mills is Awesome Facebook page, I'm always on the lookout for OM-centric information. Discovering Lisa was like striking it rich. Her love of the students and the school shines through in everything she writes.

Yesterday she posted the following piece on Facebook and I immediately asked for permission to share it here as a guest post. It speaks to so many things for me: a diverse circle of friends, brought together at Oakland Mills High School, supported by people who live the Columbia vision every day in the here and now. It also speaks to the very real problems our nation faces in acknowledging and dismantling systemic racism.

It tackles issues both big and small. It comes from a mother's love and her belief in the value of all children, not merely her own. And it speaks volumes about the power of an inclusive and loving community.



I don't care if you don't want to hear this. You can block me. But this has to be said. In this photo is my son Ryan and all of his closest friends from high school. Awesome right?? They are all wonderful young men that will do great things. Here's the rub. Austin's mother and I don't have to worry the same as Kian's mom or John's mom or Jay's mom or Khaaliq's mom, or Adam's mom. We don't have to worry that someone might think something about them because of the color of their skin. That's called white privilege. That's why #blacklivesmatter. These boys are all like sons to me and I pray everyday that they don't come upon the wrong person with a gun.

We must stand up for all. Every micro-aggression that happens to these kids on a daily basis should not happen!!!!

Ryan is transferring from the college he started at in Pennsylvania in large part because of the levels of racism present among the soccer team and on the campus in general. Racist micro-aggressions were present towards his friend . And when he spoke up about it to the young men who were saying things he was "blocked" from the group chat containing them. So he went to his coach. Unfortunately the coach wasn't that helpful. Everything was swept under the rug and not dealt with properly. I am proud of Ryan for doing the right thing even at his own expense. Because he was labeled "soft" and "weak" by his white teammates for his actions. He was not afraid to stand up for what was right. He was not afraid to use his white privilege to stand up to racism.

It's NOT enough to just believe something you have to speak up and #standup .



Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Happy Talk

Yes, please.

I read the article in the Howard County Times this morning and I'm mentally doing a little happy dance. What a wonderful way to start the day.

"Proposed multi-purpose arts center envisioned as 'crown jewel' of Columbia" is the title of the piece by Fatimah Waseem which outlines a proposal by the Orchard Develooment Corporation to

...relocate Toby's Dinner Theatre, the Howard County Arts Council, the Columbia Festival of the Arts and the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts. The center, proposed in the Crescent neighborhood, would include a parking garage, a visual arts center, a performing arts space, black box theaters, studios and a cafe.

I've written about my desire for a cultural arts center numerous times on this blog, most recently after my visit to Olney Theatre Center. One of my commenters clued me into the existence of this plan, which wasn't even on my radar. (Thanks, Linda.) Every time I visit a place like Strathmore or Roundhouse I yearn for a home for the arts in my adopted hometown. I really, really hope this is it.

I like the way that housing is included in this proposal:

Artist flats geared for artists who may be part of the center are included in the proposal.

The plans for housing, part of a proposed binding agreement with Columbia's master developer, Howard Hughes Corp., create 209 one- and two-bedroom apartments atop the cultural arts center, around 100 of which would be affordable by targeting people who earn about half of the county's median income of $110,133.

I get extremely tired of people who think that affordable housing is the same thing as Section 8 housing vouchers. "There go my housing values!" they cry. Or, "there goes the neighborhood!" Offering housing at different price points actually means you may be adding teachers, social service workers, or first responders to your neighborhood. I think moderate income residents are the kind of people who would make the best neighbors add a lot to the neighborhood. (Thanks, Debbie.)

And this proposal, geared towards performing artists, is pretty amazing. If we want to enjoy the arts in Columbia/Howard County, shouldn't performing artists be able to afford to live here? Most people I know who make a living in the arts work all the time. It's been a "gig economy" for them since before the term was coined. There are multiple performance commitments, teaching lessons and/or doing workshops, plus often a full or part-time job in an unrelated field just to make ends meet.

So bring on the cultural arts center. And, not to be too tacky, save me a front row seat to watch:

...downtown Columbia's quest for artistic vibrancy, the defining but intangible character of a city that in the midst of major redevelopment.

I know it's "only preliminary". Don't burst my bubble just yet. I want to believe my wishes will come true.


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

In the Dark

Mold grows in unseen places: behind, beneath, between. Under, above, maybe just out of reach. It thrives in darkness.

Mold is on my mind this morning because yesterday was the one-year anniversary of my first post about the mold problem at Glenwood Middle School. In "Mold and Truthiness" I outlined the loss of trust with the Glenwood School community because of the school system's failure to communicate promptly and thoroughly about mold in the school.

A parent was quoted in the HoCo Times:

"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."

There was a brief moment where the school system seemed to be saying that they "got" the message. It was in November, four months after this parent's impassioned statement. Frank Eastham was quoted in the HoCo Times from a meeting with the community:

"We were trying to identify the source of the problem before we communicated what the issue was, so that we would know if we had a solution to the issue," Frank Eastham said after a parent asked why the school system decided not to communicate with parents about mold growth at Glenwood Middle School immediately after it was discovered. "In the future, we will be more transparent in order to continue to build trust in the community."

The title of the article: School officials say 'lesson learned' about transparency.

Unfortunately, the level of transparency around issues of mold after this meeting did little to build trust with the community. Talking the talk was not followed by walking the walk. Mold continued to be an issue at Glenwood. The school is undergoing multi-million dollar renovations to address this, even though the community was told long ago that all mold had been completely "remediated" and their were no health risks whatsoever.


It should be no surprise to anyone that community concerns led to activism at the local and state level. The County Executive and the County Council took action to look at the issue of mold in all our schools. The State Legislature responded to issues of transparency and accountability brought to them by parents and members of the Howard County Delegation.

Mold continues to be discovered in other schools around the county and communication with parents has been sketchy at best. We have toxic learning environments for teachers, staff, and students, and still the greater focus seems to be on keeping the community in the dark. "Lesson learned"? I don't think so.

As I re-read last year's post, this paragraph jumped out at me:

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.

It reads now as an almost creepy prediction of the year that followed.

Mold and malfeasance thrive in the dark. Healthy communities do not. If you are looking for a place to find the most up-to-date findings about mold in our schools, it won't be from the school system. It will be on a school parent's Facebook page. Will this be the same a year from now?

That depends on you.


Monday, July 25, 2016

Cool at the Pool

I don't know why it's taken us so long this summer, but my daughter and I finally hit the pool yesterday. It was delicious.


Yes, those are my extremely pale legs, in the shade, with plenty of sunscreen. Part of what keeps me away from the pool is fear of sunburn. I've already had too many in my life, and I don't want to push it. My daughter picked the two lounge chairs with the most natural shade in the entire place. (Somebody raised that kid right.)

It was a great day at the Talbott Springs pool. As I posted on the Oakland Mills is Awesome FB page:

On a personal note, we finally made it to the Talbott Springs Pool today and the water was lovely. Quite a respectable number of adults and children were enjoying the pool. Swimming laps, using the slide and diving board, playing basketball, and splashing in the baby pool. It did my heart good--I love that pool!

It is well-known that Talbott Springs is one of the pools with the lowest attendance. Yesterday I'd say there were close to thirty people there, which for us is pretty darn good. Of course I don't know what it has been like on the other days. It just made me happy to see all kinds of people there enjoying themselves.


Sunday, July 24, 2016

My Personal Challenge

I am sharing this piece from a year ago because it's still a problem. A problem for me, personally. I found myself in an online conversation last night where it looked very much like I was saying to someone, "Yes, make noise. But be responsible about it, be careful. It could get out of hand."

So, here it is again, this time respectfully dedicated to @fountain_jade .

Making Noise (July 28, 2015)

"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.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Stand Up Columbia

From yesterday's post:

Go to Twitter. Search the hashtag: #standupcolumbia . It will give you a look at the peaceful Black Lives Matter rally which took place yesterday at both the Lakefront and the Mall. You will see photos, view video clips, read statements paraphrased from speakers. This event was planned and led by students and young adults.

Local social media has been having a field day recently talking about those crazy young people throwing common sense to the winds to play Pokemon Go. I guess there's more happening in Columbia than that. New game crazes are fun, don't get me wrong, but what got people out yesterday, on one of the hottest days of the summer, was not a game.

It's life and death. And these young people want us to look right at it. They don't want us to be able to distance ourselves and look away. Let's face it, if we have the personal space to feel comfortably separated from these instances of violence and injustice, then that's a privilege that we have that is denied to many.

I'm sharing the one tweet that stunned me:

Woman who pretended to shoot us as we marched, someone ID her asap.

Really? I want to believe that it can't be true, that it's a misunderstanding. Who on earth would think it was okay to "pretend to shoot" young people during a peaceful community protest? This is Columbia! This is not supposed to happen here!

But of course it happens here. The words of the students tell us that it is happening every day, in big ways and small. And these young people want us to look right at it, look at ourselves and our community. They came out to hold up a mirror to our community.They are--peacefully, respectfully--daring us not to look away.



Friday, July 22, 2016

Hit or Miss

I saw references in my Facebook memories to two local businesses that are no longer. I miss them both. Interestingly enough, both were in Old Ellicott City: Mumbles and Squeaks, and Green Row Books. Independently owned and operated, they brought personality and fun to the main drag and there truly has been nothing yet to replace them.

It made me think about other now defunct local businesses. I got all the delicious baked goods for my daughter's bridal shower at Linda's Bakery on Snowden. I clearly didn't shop there enough--it's now gone. Although I hear excellent things about Renata's Tasy Bites, which has opened in that space. Have you been there? What would you recommend?

I'm starting to miss the Oakland Mills Food Lion, even though it is still with us. According to the Howard County Times, it has been sold and will soon be a Weis Market instead. I talked to one of my favorite check-out clerks and she said the switch will be taking place in September. Some good news: staff will remain the same, so this won't mean job losses.

Still, I've come to love our neighborhood Food Lion, with all its quirks. What will a Weis Market be like? Will the fit be good for Oakland Mills? Does it even matter, since the most important thing is that we are an older Village Center and we are beyond lucky to have a functioning grocery store?

Once place I don't miss is Alexander's Steak House, the site of one of life's most embarrassing moments for my husband and me. I won't go into details, but you can be sure that when we saw the place razed and replaced we weren't even remotely sorry. In fact I think there may have been some giggling involved.

I'm sure you've already heard that Starbucks will replace the Wilde Lake KFC that many people still call the Jack-in-the-Box.

I've heard several reports online that the space in River Hill that once housed Pudgie's Pizza will reopen as an Indian Restaurant. I think that's pretty cool, because it will fill a need in that immediate area and will be adding a locally owned and operated business instead of a chain. Oh, and my family loves Indian food.

What about you? Are there places that you miss? What about ones you were perfectly fine with losing? Are there places that you want to recommend because they need more local patronage to survive? Nothing is sadder than losing a great place because the community just didn't know enough to support it.

Before I go, I want to share this event which is today at the Lakefront. It is student-led, and I'm sure they'd appreciate community support.


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Hard Copy, Hard Issues

I look forward every week to reading my digital copy of the Columbia Flier. The staff does an admirable job of rounding up what's happening locally. When you consider how few people we actually have working on local news--as journalism suffers cut-back after cut-back--it's kind of amazing how good a product we are getting. For free. (At least for now.)

There's a lot in this week's issue. If you don't get the digital edition, go out and find a paper copy. A sampling of topics:

  • Downtown Development
  • Local Dems on Republican presidential nominee
  • Suspension gap in Howard County Schools
  • Arts at Avoca
  • Local interest in the Pokemon Go craze
  • New business on old Ellicott City

This is not cheap stuff. This is no PennySaver operation. Putting this out takes hard work and professionalism.

But as I reviewed this week's paper, an untold story leapt out at me. Almost everything in this week's edition could be categorized as The Stories of White People. The article about school suspensions is clearly the exception. But really, I urge you to get a copy yourself and leaf through it. Is this who we are as a community?

Is our story just The Story of White People?

I don't want to lay this at the feet of the Howard County Times. I think they are reporting on the current events that are out there. If there is an underlying bias that the white stories are more newsworthy it is an underlying bias which is pervasive throughout our culture and not a particular fault of the newspaper. The local reporters I have known have shown an equal amount of dedication to all kinds of local stories. My beef is not with them.

Rather, I look at our community and wonder if it presents itself like this. White is the norm. White stories are the news. White concerns in the letters to the editor, white people at the pool. For those of you out there shaking your head and saying, "Well, duh!" I ask you to forgive me. It never leapt out at me this way before.

Last year I was struck by the Howard County Times photographs of people at the Fourth of July fireworks. They captured the beauty of what I believe to be our multi-racial, multi-cultural community. That's the image I like to carry around in my head. Sometimes it isn't the image right in front of my face.








Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Truth in Advertising

The best thing I've seen on social media this morning is a panda eating a Popsicle. National news is just nuts.

Locally, there are two new articles in the Howard County Times:

Divided public mulls over measures to overhaul Downtown Columbia , Fatimah Wahseem

Eliminating racial divide in Howard school suspensions requires community effort, county leaders say , Lisa Philip

As to the first article, the issues on the table for Downtown Columbia appear to have spawned a new Twitter account.

As with the now-defunct HoCoPollster account from the last election cycle, establishing a social media account where you want people to trust your expertise without revealing your identity is problematic. It's hard to trust an Egg. I'm fine with variety of opinions, just be honest about who you are.

The second article, about the racial divide in Howard County Schools, focuses on the continuing disparity in the suspension rate between white students and students of color. Even with indication of recent improvement, the rate for black students is still almost seven times that of whites, and well above the national average. This sentence from African American Community Roundtable leader Larry Walker speaks to a core issue underlying the data:

"If you don't acknowledge that I live a different reality, you're not willing to do anything to change that reality, to make our realities more similar."

The African Amercian Community Roundtable has also started a petition to reinstate the Coordinator of Diversity and Inclusion position in the HCPSS budget. Here's the link.

I post this petition here for your consideration. I have signed it. Read it and see if this is something you can support.

Truth in advertising: I was not orginally in favor of this position, because I doubted the sincerity of the proposal itself. I have changed my mind, largely through conversations with people who "get" the complexities of this more than I. I could write an entire post on that alone. I might.





Tuesday, July 19, 2016


Last week I attended a four-day professional development Institute in suburban Virginia. The event was held in an elementary school. As I drove to the site, I noticed many houses in the neighborhood looked familiar.

When I got to the school, I discovered something else familiar.

Yes, that's right. Mold.

Each group of students at the institute was led by one instructor, and assigned two rooms, side by side. One was for classroom work, with desks arranged in groups of four or five, and the other for morning and closing meeting, with chairs arranged in a large circle. We quickly discovered that our Morning Meeting room was poorly air conditioned and the air was heavy the smell of mold.

Our teacher told us that it had been the room designated for all our class work, but due to the poor air quality she had requested all the furniture to be switched so that the least amount of time would be spent there. She herself had experienced a bad reaction from being in the room during set-up. When we returned to this room at the end of the day it was clear that she was not the only person experiencing adverse effects from being there.

When we arrived for Day Two we were directed to the school media center. Our teacher had made the executive decision that she wouldn't subject us to an unhealthy learning environment. I was impressed.

After morning meeting we returned to our class work room, only to discover that the air conditioning in that room had failed. Even more exciting, the room was taking on condensation and the floors and surfaces were getting wet. We plowed ahead with the material we needed to cover, but by the morning break our instructor had arranged for us to be moved full-time to the media center.

The room was a bit warm, as they hadn't planned on using it, and we had to move our own furniture around from meeting time to class work time, but it was a healthier choice for us. Our teacher brought in the school's facility manager to tweak the AC, and also brought in a fan to cool us while that was being accomplished.

The moral of the story? Mold in schools isn't just a Howard County phenomenon. Looking at the styles of homes in the surrounding neighborhood is a clue that schools of a certain age are predisposed to it. Do a basic Google search. Mold in schools is a big ( dare I say, "growing"?) problem.

The takeaway from my experience is that our teacher (and, clearly, the leadership of the institute) saw this as a health hazard and an obstacle to learning. They refused to tolerate this situation as an acceptable environment for themselves or their students.

And that is how you handle mold, boys and girls. You don't pretend it doesn't exist. You don't keep sending students and teachers into the same toxic environment. You don't put your people at risk. Period.

I learned a lot last week. But I wouldn't have done all that learning if the Responsive Classroom staff, especially our teacher, Karla Bisco, hadn't been so committed to our health and safety. I'm highly allergic to mold. I have allergic asthma. When you read that Responsive Classroom says that: students learn is as important as what they learn...

They mean it.

It's too bad that the Gallup Strengths Finder hasn't found the people who are responsive to teacher and student health and safety. I highly recommend Responsive Classroom training instead.



Monday, July 18, 2016

A Case of the Mondays

I woke up from nightmares. I think I broke the coffeemaker. I can't seem to work out how to blog with my new glasses (progressive lenses.)

It must be Monday.

I had a topic picked out for this morning. I'm too tired and bleary eyed to do it justice. I'm digging around on Twitter to look for something else. Vans Warped Tour is a popular topic.

It must be Monday.

Once my new job starts I will be leaving the house early enough that I may not be able to follow my morning blog routine. Maybe now is the time to transition to writing in the evening. I've always said I'm a morning person. I'm certainly not feeling it today.

It must be Monday.

In the meantime:

  • Len Lazarick's first piece in a series about Columbia at 50.
  • What Bill Woodcock has to say about Downtown development.
  • A blog called HoCoCommonSense questions placement of a future Central Library.
I hope your Monday is off to a better start than mine.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

How Come Meets Why Not

I went to see "Evita" last night at the Olney Theater Center. Excellent production, although I'm not convinced by the show itself. But that's a story for another day. I came back to Howard County from Olney with the same thought I have each time: why does Olney have such a well-established theater company and we don't?

Yes, we have Toby's for musical theater. And we have Rep Stage for drama. But Olney Theater Center is a full-blown combination of both offering subscriptions, camps for kids, and educational outreach in area schools. How did they get to that point? How did they get the community to support the kind of capital investment that must have been necessary to make that happen?

I clearly have some research to do.

Recently a commenter here made a reference to a plan for a local Cultural Arts Center. You can read more about it here on HoCoConnect. I remember that the orginal Inner Arbor Plan for Symphony Woods included an Arts Village which would include a new home for Toby's, but that seems a long way off in the grand scheme of things. Is this another way of getting at the same end result?

I see from their website that Olney Theater Center is celebrating 79 years of professional theater. Columbia is just moving towards our 50th anniversary of existence. Olney (as Mechanicsville) was founded in 1800. They've clearly got some years on us.

One can have a variety of theatrical experiences in Howard County. And I don't begrudge Olney for their success. I just wonder why we can't support a similar venture right here at home.


Saturday, July 16, 2016


I'm back in my comfy chair, drinking coffee and eating cold pizza for breakfast. I have so many ideas spinning around in my head from the last five days that I might as well have no ideas. I need some time to decompress.

A few things on my mind as a result of the last week:

  • Asking people "where are you from?" Good or bad?
  • Mold in schools
  • Gallup Strengths Finder vs. Responsive Classroom
  • Different kinds of development (observations from my travels)
  • Risk-taking in educational settings
  • Why is Bethesda the specter of development gone wrong for those in Columbia who oppose the continuation of the Downtown Plan?
Yesterday we enjoyed my daughter's musical theatre performance as a part of the Round House summer program for teens. If you have no objections to Bethesda, you should definitely check out Round House offerings for kids and teens. Excellent.

Enjoy your Saturday. I'm looking forward to seeing Evita tonight at Olney Theatre Center.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Abstaining, Courteously

There's a lot of information and opinion swirling around right now about what's happening with the continuing development of Downtown Columbia. If you are in the Bubble of people who are local news obsessed, you already know. If not, there has been information in the Howard County Times and there will probably a write-up last night's County Council meeting. Read up. Get informed.

I have some opinions about this, but, as I've said in the past, land use is not my speciality. I find myself more interested in the local personalities taking leadership roles on these issues. Who is saying what? Who is showing support on either side? Does anyone appear to be brokering a compromise solution? Is anyone unusually silent? Why?

Writing a post like that could easily devolve into a gossip column of area notables. I don't think I'm at the point in my knowledge on this issue to produce an end result that rises above "he said, she said". And so, like the representative from New York in the musical "1776", I choose to abstain courteously.

Feel free to add information and opinion in the comments section. Courteously.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Howard County Justice

On page twelve of this week's Columbia Flier:

Bartender who stole from grill gets jail time.

The story details the crime committed at the Stanford Grill by Scott Lawrence Lebow of Sykesville, who used gift cards to steal $54,000.00 in March, 2015. Yes, he did receive jail time. Fifteen days.

Okay, it's more complicated than that. He was sentenced to five years with all but fifteen days suspended. He will be on probation for five years. He will have a criminal record, of course. But fifteen days?

Some clues to the sentence maybe in the final paragraph. Mr. Lebow has been ordered to attend weekly Gambler's Anonymous meetings and is also required to make restitution. So that begins to tell a story about the background of this crime.

I still feel that fifteen days is rather light for a theft of more than $50,000.00. This entailed 900 individual theft transactions over a period of thirty weeks. In a week where the news is filled with stories of disproportionate police stops, repetitive charges, burdening fines, and more than questionable treatment received by African American citizens, I must admit that the first thing I wondered was Mr. Lebow's race.

I have no reason to doubt Howard County justice. It may be a very good thing that someone is extending to this defendant the benefit of the doubt. I do wonder if the legal system as a whole works better for some than for others

What do you think?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


Do you remember the Anne Tyler book, "An Accidental Tourist"? It centers around a man whose career as a writer has become the single-minded pursuit of the most familiar, least challenging travel experiences for his readers. I believe the logo used for his series of travel guides was an armchair with wings.

I've often lamented how strip malls and retail chains have taken away a sense of place and individuality to local communities. When I go on vacation my desire is to find the things about a place which are interesting, off-beat, true examples of the locale. It's disappointing to arrive many miles away from home to discover the same Bob Evans, the same McDonalds, the same Five Below and Payless.

The sameness. The sterile, unrelenting sameness. What have we become as a nation? The home for one franchise after another, from sea to shining sea.

And yet.

This week I'm in Alexandria for four days of intensive education training and I'm staying at a hotel about five minutes away from the workshop site. I'm a woman traveling alone for business. That's not a big deal these days but it is for me. I've never done it before.

Oh, how grateful I am for Mapquest on my phone. And what a comfort it is to easily find a Panera or a Walgreen's in a place I've never been to before. Hmm...

To be honest, I was actually a little excited that the Walgreen's here had an almost identical layout to the one at home. I could easily find what I was looking for. And they accepted my discount card, too. I'm encountering so many new things all at once this week and the ease of negotiating the familiar is a relief.

Now I get it.

Maybe when I'm on vacation I'm interested in the joy of discovery. But right now, as a "business traveler" I'm happy enough to rely on the familiar.

Travel can be educational.



Tuesday, July 12, 2016

On the Home Front

Postponed--to be rescheduled:
As the news from around the country continues to be overwhelming, people in Howard County are working together to respond in a helpful and meaningful way. Thursday night there will be a community forum at Long Reach High School.
I've been talking to so many folks who want to be an active part of a solution. Coming together with neighbors, friends, and local leaders to have an open conversation is a start. If we are silent in the face of injustice then we are complicit in perpetuating it.
I'm out of town all week for work. Please go and let me know what I missed.
Sunday evening from 4 to 5 pm the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia held their monthly Black Lives Matter Vigil on Little Patuxent Parkway near the Mall. The community response was amazing. At 4:30 there were 161 adults and 69 children.
Photo credit
Tina Sheets Horn

This is Columbia. This is Howard County. And maybe this is the beginning of our community journey for racial justice. Don't watch from the sidelines. You're invited.


Monday, July 11, 2016

Education Roundup

A quick look at what's happening on the education front this morning. The bill (introduced by Calvin Ball) on budget oversight has passed. Also, air quality testing (this means: mold) has been completed in twelve schools by an independent contractor, at the direction of the County Executive. You can read more here.

Take a look at the Mold in Howard County Schools FB page for an update on asbestos found under tiles at Glenwood Middle School. Of course, asbestos is never good news, but it looks like the way this is being handled is refreshingly transparent. Progress? I hope so.

The Commission to review the use of testing in Maryland's Schools has released its report. In my opinion, it doesn't go far enough, but encouraging the involvement of teachers in evaluating the usefulness of assessments at the local level is a start. Their recommendations are just that: recommendations. They don't have the power of enforcement, so we'll have to see how this plays out.

Board of Education member Bess Altwerger was one of the organizers of the recent Save our Schools March in DC. From candidate Robert Miller, also present:

Jonathan Kozol speaking at Save Our Schools March DC: Fear of Failure instead of Joy of Learning in our Schools due to overtesting; Arts treated as distractions since they can't be measured with numbers...transformation is going to happen.

Learn more about the Save Our Schools movement here. Scroll down for the complete platform.

In closing, a little song that packs quite a punch. You all know my aversion to the ed reform buzzword du jour: rigor. It turns out I'm not alone. Barry Lane went so far as to write a song about it. "Superficialunrealisticrigorisatrocious" set to the tune of a familiar Mary Poppins song, makes short work of the ridiculousness of pushing meaningless struggle as a means of raising test scores. He says,


Legendary book blogger and high school teacher Paul Hankins sent me a wonderful draft of this. He wrote all the best parts. I finished it while jogging in a parking lot in Texas and realized it was a song that says what many teachers feel. We don't need "rigged, rigor," in schools but "real rigor," which I would call, VIGOR!. Repeat after me, VIGOR NOT RIGOR!



If you're not tired of singing yet, this song by Tom Chapin is highly recommended.



aboutLegendary book blogger and high school teacher Paul Hankins sent me a wonderful draft of this. He wrote all the best parts. I finished it while jogging in a parking lot in Texas and realized it was a song that says what many teachers feel. We don't need "rigged, rigor," in schools but "real rigor," which I would call, VIGOR!. Repeat after me, VIGOR NOT RIGOR!



abouLegendary book blogger and high school teacher Paul Hankins sent me a wonderful draft of this. He wrote all the best parts. I finished it while jogging in a parking lot in Texas and realized it was a song that says what many teachers feel. We don't need "rigged, rigor," in schools but "real rigor," which I would call, VIGOR!. Repeat after me, VIGOR NOT RIGOR!


Sunday, July 10, 2016

An Unexpected Trip

I spent most of the day yesterday not having a heart attack. Good to know, right? The problem was, it sure felt like a heart attack. So, what do you do? You have waves of chest pains accompanied by an overwhelming, physical sense of panic and dread. You look up the symptoms.

I had excellent care at Howard County Hospital. Everyone who had any contact with me was pleasant and helpful. They reassured me that I shouldn't feel foolish for coming in. Women's heart attacks don't always present like the "typical" cardiac event. Better to be safe than sorry, they said. You made the right choice.

Yes, long-time readers of this blog will rememember I went through this about five years or so ago. Outcome the same: really bad reflux. Really convincing reflux, I might add. No one goes to the ER for fun. I tried to talk myself out of it for over an hour.

It's way past time for me to look at what I'm eating and make some changes, rather than just taking medicines day after day to accommodate my ingrained eating habits. Not exactly what I planned to do on my summer vacation, but, then again--why not? This is a pretty big road sign pointing me to the truth. I'd be foolish to ignore it.

At the moment I'm exhausted. I'm grateful for excellent health care and for our health insurance. I'm grateful to my daughter and son-in-law who sprang into action and took care of everything while my husband was out of town for the day. But overall I'm tired and drained and I want my Saturday back.

Everything came together yesterday exactly the way it should. So why do I feel such a pervasive feeling of guilt for inconveniencing everyone? I wonder if fears like that keep some people from seeking care when they really should. I can imagine that being a much bigger problem for those who health care options are more limited than mine.

I am lucky to have the choice.


Saturday, July 9, 2016

Reliving a Nightmare

Sharing a post I wrote about a year ago. It feels all the more relevant today. We have neighbors, friends, community members who are crying out for justice and so often it seems they are not being heard. I feel particularly challenged to do something to amplify that voice, to join in to support that voice.

I have privilege. I have choices. What will I choose to do?


Nightmare (originally posted July 3, 2016)

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?

Friday, July 8, 2016

A Few Crumbs

I keep staring.

I just keep staring at the page.

And it doesn't get any better.

If you've been following the news, you know.

I have nothing new to offer. I have no message worth sharing. But I can point you to a few things worth seeing:

Here is a thoughtful post from Tom Coale on HoCoRising.
Here is a heartfelt statement from County Councilman Calvin Ball.
Here is a chance to meditate and pray.
Here is a invitation to stand up in the face of hatred and injustice, to stand on the side of love.

Here are your neighbors and friends, united in a peaceful vigil at the Lakefront.

Last night Broadway Actor/Composer Lin-Manuel Miranda tweeted out this message:

Everyone will sit under their own vine & under their own fig tree, & no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken. -- Micah4:4

I'm not particularly religious, but the notion of a world where everyone feels safe is calling me right now.

Me, too.


Post Script: Someone just gave me one of the greatest gifts of my life by asking if I would give her a hug. God bless you for asking me to help, my friend.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

A Mother's Voice

Today's post is shared with permission from the author, Jessica Tabbert. A friend of mine shared it yesterday on Facebook. All I know about Ms. Tabbert is that she is local and she is a mother. Motherhood transcends race, ethnicity, nationality, economic status. Her words could be the words of any mother who loves her child.

Just read. Please. Read, and understand that her child is our child. Her fears should be all our fears. We must make it our responsibility. We cannot be silent.


My son is 6'2", heavyset, and he has beautiful brown skin. I have to look up to speak to him when he's standing next to me. He is only 16 years old but he has facial hair, big hands and feet, and is slightly taller than my husband and my brothers, all who are men in their 30s. I have joked about having him constantly carry ID even when just chilling outside our home because he looks like a grown man. I'd get side eye from the MPs and gate guards on Fort Meade when I'd insist that he was just a teenager, even while producing his dependent and student ID cards. He is intelligent and articulate but lacks social skills and often behaves awkwardly in public because he is high functioning autistic. It can be endearing, but lately I see how dangerous that could be. He is being groomed for schools like MIT and Georgia Tech because of his incredible academic performance. He is a hard worker, but lacks stress management skills, which sometimes make him emotional. Also endearing, also dangerous. What if someone mistook his teenage emotion for aggression? What if they can't see my child and instead see a man, or worse, a threat?

What if? WHAT IF?

I am not a fearful woman. I do not lay up at night worried what will happen to my children. I dig overcoming things, so I usually quite enjoy recognizing a fear so I can stomp on it. I stopped identifying as a religious person many years ago, but I do consider myself a woman of faith (they are different, I promise, so spare us all a lecture.) I share the Love and Gratitude of my belief in a Creator with as many people as I can through my actions, not with words. Words can be extremely powerful, but they often fall flat without action. When I am afraid, I take action. I've overcome crippling fears with this combination of grit and faith. I am a powerful, positive force of a woman.

I fear for my son's life.

Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, and NOW Philando Castile. My fear is heavy and I am working feverishly to conquer it. I am no expert in how right or wrong their deaths were, but I know that my heart says "be careful" and "teach your son" just in case. That description up there isn't just my son, that description is other black men too.

I am tired of seeing their deaths paraded on the news. I am tired of cell phone videos of watching black men die, be murdered, be vilified in their posthumous inability to defend themselves. I am tired of crying with the families of the deceased. I am tired of trying to make sense of this and feeling crippled because I can't.

Today, I have to sit down AGAIN and attempt to explain another black man's death to my son. And I have to seek strength to move forward in action without feeling helpless outrage.

*DO NOT come for me on this post. Do NOT share someone else's death and ask me why I didn't post about it. Don't talk to me about Hillary Clinton or classified emails or Trump or any of that bullshit.

I am not here for that today.*


Rest in peace, Alton Sterling.




I went to bed last night mourning Alton Stirling. I woke up to the news of the death of Philando Castile. I do not know what to do.


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Too Young?

When you think of Columbia, do you think of...tourism? Howard County has a Department of Tourism, of course, but what about Columbia? That is, do we have anything that would draw people here just to have fun?

The question is not, "what do we have here that would entice people to buy a home and live here?" Yes, we have great schools, and pools, parks, and pathways. And The Mall. But where do you take folks from out of town to show them a good time?

This was the topic of an online discussion last night on the "Celebrating Columbia" Facebook Group. It isn't the first time this has come up. One particular member of the group finds it simply unthinkable that Columbia doesn't have museums and other uniquely Columbian entertainment opportunities that would draw people here from out of town. Aside from Merriweather, that is.

His theory: relying on affluent people to come and buy houses here as a way to support the community won't last forever. Columbia will need to establish other sources of revenue to maintain itself. From his point of view, tourism is a no-brainer. Others are not so sure.

Many would love to see more fun things to do in town, both for the people who live here, and for entertaining out of town visitors. It was pretty much agreed that the go-to for visitors was going to Baltimore, Annapolis, or DC. But not everyone thought it was crucial for Columbia to jump on the tourism bandwagon. There's still strong support for appreciating Columbia as a sleepy, suburban home base conveniently located between other more exciting destinations.

Merriweather Park in Symphony Woods came up. Those familiar with the long-term plan for the park suggested that it offers the possibility of multiple destinations for community recreation as the park progresses. Some people thought the park was nothing more than the current project, the Chrysalis. The idea of the later phase of the park, which includes an arts village, holds out hope to those of us looking for more local performance spaces.

One man suggested that Columbia is too young as a city to have built up the kind of cultural institutions that this young man was looking for. He has a point there. It takes time for a community to move beyond the basics of adequate housing, schools, decent retail to support the needs of residents. But as we look at the next fifty years of our existence, should this be higher on our list of priorities?

Is it time to focus on creating and supporting institutions and businesses that will make Columbia more of a destination? Or do you think we're just fine as we are?







Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Crisis Fatigue

The following editorial appeared in last week's Columbia Flier, accompanied by this cartoon:

I am printing them in full because I can't find a link to where they can be found at To be clear, neither the cartoon nor the editorial are my work. They are the property of the Howard County Times and I am sharing them for the purposes of discussion.

The community has endured one school-system based crisis after another over the last year. There was a time when a piece such as this would have been earth-shattering. Now it seems that it's merely another confirmation in a steady stream of evidence that HCPSS leadership operates without transparency and without thought of accountability.

It is summer. Most of our children are out of school. We are thinking about other things. People I know read this and thought, "no surprise here." Are we becoming desensitized to the level of disrespect shown to the community?

If HoCo Times thought this was worth writing, it's probably worth our time to read and discuss. This is big stuff, folks. Is this how we want our school system to be run? If you haven't already, take a look:

Howard County’s school board has been slapped on the wrist by the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board for the procedure it followed – or didn’t follow – in closing a public meeting at which the school superintendent’s contract was renewed.

Although the school board has every legal right to discuss contracts and other personnel and legal matters behind closed doors, in the case of the early February vote it failed to detail the reasons for ordering the public to leave. It’s a technicality that the school board is appealing.
Missing from the discussion is the Board of Education’s broader history in dealing with matters 
of public importance and interest.

Awarding a $273,000 annual contract to the chief executive officer of a public institution should be one of those matters, even if it involves the airing of on-the-job performance concerns. (There is nothing to suggest that Superintendent Renee Foose’s stewardship of the school district is lacking.)

The public has the right to know how tax dollars are being spent and more about the benefits a CEO receives, such as a car, contributions to pension and insurance and other perks.
Such compensation packages are routinely included in the filings of publicly traded companies with the Securities and Exchange Commission and they’ve occasionally brought a backlash from shareholders frustrated by a company’s lagging performance.

For many months, even years, critics have complained the school board lacks transparency. 

The state legislature intervened this year to mandate an ombudsman’s review of how the system has responded to other requests from the public for information, a rare rebuke after some parents complained about access to information. The findings are due by next year.

The meetings compliance board determination adds a dash of salt to the wound, advancing the perception that the school board really doesn’t want some issues fully aired.

The shareholders of the school system, the voters and taxpayers, are the ones to send a message 
to the school board that it must do a better job in opening its deliberations and decision-making
to public scrutiny.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Maybe Not the End of an Era

You may be aware of Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon, "the little town that time forgot and the decades cannot improve." Devotees of Keillor's fictional hometown and the radio show centered around its residents bid farewell to "A Prairie Home Companion" this past weekend. The show, a mix of drama, live music, humor, "commercials", plus Keillor's signature monologue about the town, began in 1974.

Now Keillor is retiring. The show will continue with musician Chris Thile at the helm, but all indications are that Lake Wobegon and her inhabitants will disappear into the mists like Brigadoon. The door is closing on that magical pocket of community life.

Yesterday I took a trip to a place very much like Lake Wobegon. You might say it's the little village that time forgot: Dickeyville. It's an old mill town nestled into the banks of the Gwynn's Falls. The orginal houses were built for mill workers in the 1800's. Today there are one hundred and thirty seven homes. It's a close-knit community with a lot of personality.

I've come to know Dickeyville over the years as it is the home of my in-laws, Sam and Joan McCready. They brought their own personal flair for neighborliness with them from Belfast, Northern Ireland. The village life suits them. Through the years they have participated in many Dickeyvile events--marched in the annual Fourth of July parade, hosted Garden Club events, organized art shows and historical exhibitions, and put on theatrical performances.

As a part of Dickeyville's week-long Fourth of July festivities, Sam and Joan presented an afternoon of Shakespeare in the Park. The McCreadys are life-long actors and Sam McCready's tenure as a driving force in UMBC's Shakespeare on Wheels may have served as a bit of inspiration for the event. A celebration of an English playwright by Irish actors and American musicians for the Fourth of July? Of course.

That's Dickeyville for you.

Shortly before five pm residents began turning out in the meadow by the dam. They brought lawn chairs, patio chairs, folding camp chairs, quilts, and beach towels. Soon they were uncorking bottles of wine and passing around sandwiches and other delicacies from baskets and coolers. Neighbor greeted neighbor. Children ran around in the grass. The performers readied themselves and made last minute checks to the sound system and the makeshift stage.

What followed was an hour or so of live theatre and music by the McCready's and Dickeyville musicians. Monologues, sonnets, and scenes from several plays were interspersed with songs accompanied by guitars, mandolin, recorders, violin, and tambourine. One versatile assistant played "all other additional parts" with flair. A stage manager handled all sound effects (plus directed audience participation.) Village children stood in for Titania's fairies; one brave boy endured Titania and Oberon's jealous tug-of-war.

All the while the sounds of birds and the rushing waters of the Gwynn's Falls surrounded us. As the performance went on I couldn't help but feel that we were all participants in a sort of Garrison Keillor experience. The show had just the right mix of drama, humor, music, and audience participation (even a Jeopardy-style quiz and a sing-along!)

"Live from the Meadow by the Dam! It's a Dickeyville Home Companion!"

And so, this weekend, we bid a fond farewell to the little town of Lake Wobegon.

But, if you look carefully, you may discover little pockets of magical community not so far away from where you live.