Sunday, June 25, 2017

Birthday Bingo

It was an occasion I just could not miss. The actual 50th Birthday of Columbia, the People Tree, and celebrating the  return of the Lakefront Carillon. Yes, they cut the cake during Lakefest, but Wednesday was The Actual Day.

As my teen daughter and I walked from our car down to the Lakefront, she asked me what it was going to be like. Just for fun, we brainstormed what sort of Bingo card would be applicable. Here's what we came up with, and, to be clear, most of these were hers. (Rather Columbia-savvy, don't you think?)
  • "A Mayor" "Columbia doesn't have a Mayor. How about the head of CA?" "Okay."
  • Howard County Exec or someone from his office
  • "That company." "Howard Hughes?" "Yeah."
  • "Someone who's running for office and they want you to know who they are."
  • "Vision"
  • "Dream"
  • "Rouse"
  • "Diversity"
  • "Pioneers"
  • "Garden for people"
More on this later.

When we got closer to the lake we were amused to see the statue of the Rouse brothers all dressed up for the occasion. (See photo above by David Greisman.) A small crowd of people were gathering, ranging in age from babies in strollers to folks who might have been their grandparents. A podium was set up and a few chairs were arranged beside it. It was hot in the direct sun but many people found a way to tuck themselves into the shade.

As for our imaginary Bingo card, I think we scored ten for ten. Milton Matthews spoke, as did County Executive Allan Kittleman, and a representative from Howard Hughes. And there was someone in the crowd who was running for office, but we already knew who he was. Amongst all the speeches we very likely did hear all the key words we had brainstormed earlier.

But, just like the festive Rouse brothers statue, there were some lovely surprises:
  • CA Board Chair Andy Stack spoke, and read from the poet Paul Dunbar about bells.
  • There was an actual processional handbell choir who opened and closed the ceremony.
  • Someone in the crowd had bubbles. Unplanned, but added a celebratory note.
  • At the closing, the Carillon Bells played "Happy Birthday." (I didn't know they could do that!)
All in all, the event exceeded our expectations. There are times that I lament not having been here at the beginning. This event felt like it was for everyone, no matter when they had come, and I liked that.

When it was finished, we walked over to Whole Foods, had some dinner, and went to the Chrysalis for the Columbia 50th Birthday Pops Concert presented by the Columbia Orchestra.


Saturday, June 24, 2017

Behind Bars

Spotted on my walk around the Lake:

"Bathrooms Behind Bars"

Sounds rather ominous.

What's the story with the Lakefront portapotties? I have a vague memory that one of the commenters to this blog mentioned them recently. How did they get there? What's the history?

Why are they behind bars? I am guessing that having the bars there defines the space, but a solid wall would be seen as an invitation to nefarious behavior?

I'm a firm believer in having easy access to bathrooms everywhere (and for everyone). Sure, they're not aesthetically pleasing, but if you have a young child at a Lakefront event who needs a bathroom, you've got to be grateful for a nearby solution.

Do you think that we will reach a point where activity at the Lakefront has grown beyond the two-potty system?

Do you even use portable toilets? Some people refuse to. (I'm not choosy.)

A lot of talk around downtown development focuses on traffic and parking. Well, what about public bathrooms?

I'm sure someone out there knows all about this, so fill me in:

Friday, June 23, 2017

A Bit of Sun

Take (approximately) two minutes to accompany me on my first walk around Lake Kittamaqundi.

A bit of sunshine for your rainy day.

Thursday, June 22, 2017


There are times that I lament that I have nothing to write about. Right now is not one of those times. Today I could be writing about:
  • Last night's Pops Concert by the Columbia Orchestra at the Chrysalis
  • Yesterday's ceremony honoring the fiftieth anniversary of the People Tree and the return of the Carillon Bells
  • The County Executive's Veto of CB30
  • My first walk around Lake Kittamaqundi
  • An update on recent episodes of the Elevate Maryland Podcast
And that's not all. There's so much to write about that my brain is on overload. Which to write about first?

Overload. That reminds me.

School redistricting.

The school system released some preliminary information on Monday and there has been much discussion on Facebook about what it means. I have been extremely hesitant to join in because 1) our daughter will most likely not be affected, and 2) redistricting is not my field of expertise. I am loath to hold forth on something that many people feel passionately about when I don't have that sense of personal involvement that others clearly have.

This is what I do know. We have needed to do redistricting for some time and it has been put off, making this go-round a much bigger proposition. If you look at overcrowding in some areas and compare it to the schools that are under-enrolled, you know that this is just not sustainable. Almost everyone agrees with that. Yet almost no one wants their child (or, in some cases, their property values) to be affected.

Board of Education chair Cynthia Vaillancourt has responded to parent concerns as follows:

"Please don't get upset yet - but do get involved. This is a very very preliminary look at the options. The committee has not even been formed yet. There will be months of work and community input."


That's not really how this process works... "one hard plan in place and making a decision on that plan."  It is a "starting point" for a conversation and a months long process where a committee of community members ... with input from the community along the way ... do model various options and alterations.  There is a computer program which is called the "whiffer"... for "what if..." program that allows the staff to input polygons and assemble the impact on the 11 criteria.  By the time this is over in November, you will be sick of hearing about "the whiffer".

We wanted a better Board of Education. And we wanted a Superintendent who would work with stakeholders. If, in fact, we have gotten what we were looking for, then this will be a test of how that works. Is the process transparent? Is the community being encouraged to participate? Does the school system show responsiveness to concerns that are raised?

Now we engage in the process with them and see how it works. I don't think it is necessary for parents to "come out swinging", girded for the fight. But definitely come out. Participate. Listen. Learn more. Interact.

Will this make the redistricting process easy? Will it make everything go the way we want it to go? No. But it will make it a better, and fairer, process for everyone.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Music in the Woods

Tonight, from seven to nine, there will be music in the woods--Symphony Woods. The Columbia Orchestra will be presenting a free Pops concert at the Chrysalis . This event is a part of the Columbia 50th Birthday celebration. If you've been hearing a lot about the Chrysalis, but haven't seen it yet--well, now's the time. Bring your blankets and camp chairs and experience live music in the park. Here is some helpful info on parking.

There's a great article in The Business Monthly on Inner Arbor Trust CEO Nina Basu. Take a look here. There's a wealth of information about what's up next for the Chrysalis and how the plan for the entire park is moving forward.

There's another event going on downtown tonight, perhaps less publicized. At 5:30 pm, Columbia Association is marking the 50th Birthday of the People Tree, while also celebrating the return of the Lakefront bells. Have you seen/heard them yet? I took a walk around the lake yesterday and finally got to hear them ring.

It's possible that you can make it to both events with a quick dinner in between. At least, that's what I'm hoping to do.

See you there?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Too Old?

I started my day today by reading an article about the Mall by Andrew Michaels. If you've been wondering what's going on in Columbia's own cathedral of retail, I highly recommend it. It's thorough. I have to admit, this article probably told me more about the Mall than I needed to know.

"Too old?" You may wonder if I chose today's title because I think the Mall is too old, or that the concept of malls is too old. No, actually, I am wondering if I am just too old to appreciate the Mall. I just don't feel it calling me.

When the concept of in an indoor shopping mall was new and innovative, my hometown mall was Severance Center, in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. I was a small child and the mall was a new and gleaming cornucopia of experiences. It seemed like a retail embodiment of the Hot Shoppes cafeteria where my grandparents let me choose whatever I wanted for lunch, from row upon row of appealing choices.

As a teen I lived in an small Connecticut town that didn't have a mall. So I definitely missed out on that teenager/mall vibe. On the other hand, we could safely walk around town, visit shops on the Main Street and nearby shopping center, take the bus easily to where we wanted to go. Did I mention there was a Dairy Queen smack in the middle of town? But I digress.

When I was the parent of an infant or very young child in a stroller, going to the Mall was Getting Out of the House, in a climate-controlled environment. I can't underestimate its value as a sanity-saver during those years. Sometimes a meal out meant tag-teaming it at the Food Court, but that, my friends, was better than nothing.

But for some time now I have noticed a vague antipathy within myself when someone sugggests going to the Mall. "Do I have to?" I think.

Maybe I'm just too old. Maybe there's just no pleasing me. I don't know. Perhaps the ease of online shopping has neutralized any desire I once had to do the Mall thing. Don't get me wrong--I want the mall to be successful. I harbor no ill will. But if there's some magical lure for drawing me in, I may have become immune.

My husband still enjoys the Mall. My daughters both stop in there regularly. So clearly it's not to do with the Mall, it's me.

Maybe I'm just too old.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Let Them Eat Cake

(Photo from County Executive's Facebook page)

Were you there on Saturday night for the 50th Birthday cake-cutting? I had planned on going but got spooked by the heat. If only summer didn't have to be so dang hot.

I noticed in photographs what a vast array of local elected officials were assembled for the event. In fact, many of the photos I saw are so crowded that you can barely see see Milton Matthews, President of the Columbia Association. I would've thought this was his gig, possibly flanked by each Village CA rep? As is typical, I wasn't there so I don't know how it all went down. I was happy to find this photo on the County Executive's page. (Used with permission.)

But I do wonder if there has always been so much HoCo representation at the Columbia Birthday event. I started this blog largely as attempt to examine Columbia vs HoCo tensions. It's interesting to see how intertwined the interests of both have become in recent years. I'm sure there are still some die-hards who feel that one could easily do just fine without the other, thank you. But by and large there appears to be a growing consensus that we must all hang together, etc., etc.

As the the cake itself--I hear it was from Charm City Cakes, of television's "Ace of Cakes" fame. I also heard that the general public would be receiving cupcakes. If so, who ate the fancy ceremonial cake? I'm curious.

What was your favorite part of Lakefest?

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Someone Else's Dad

Let's not talk about my father today. Let's talk about somebody else's father.

Philando Castile should be alive today and celebrating Father's Day with his family. Instead, his family lives  with the horrific memories of his death at the hands of police. And with the knowledge that our justice system saw fit to hold no one responsible.

How do you remember your dad? Everyone has good memories and bad ones. Philando Castile's daughter was four years old when she watched her father shot and killed. No matter what good memories she has of his life, they will most likely by marred forever by this night of trauma.

I read an article this morning about what happened when teachers wore Black Lives Matter t-shirts in a largely white school district in Seattle. A five year old boy of color was worried about how the day was going to go.

But there was also a mom heartbroken by how the day had played out for her son.
“I was feeling scared to drop them off at school, [my son] in particular, being at Laurelhurst as a brown student in a sea of white peers and white staff,” she wrote to Principal Talbot.
That morning, the mom and her son talked about what his Black Lives Matter shirt meant. “He told me he felt scared,” the mom wrote.
“As we parked, he said, ‘Mom! I just got a good idea. If I get white paint and put it all over my body to cover the brown so they can’t see it, then people will stop killing us black and brown people.’
“I cried so many tears of sadness, fear, anger and feelings of lost hope yesterday morning,” she said.
Tears of sadness, fear, anger, and lost hope. A little boy who wants to paint over who he truly is on order to blend in, become invisible, stay safe. 
This Father's Day I am thinking of all the fathers who worry every time they leave home that they may never come back. Simply because of the color of their skin. And I am thinking of all mothers, wives, children, and family who watch them go and feel that fear, live with that fear, and see that our culture does nothing to change the system which causes it.
What kind of Father's Day is that?

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Guest Post: A Second Look

A few weeks ago I expressed some skepticism about the County Executive's choice to fill the empty seat on the Board of Education. That skepticism was fueled by the reactions of parents in the community who felt they were not being heard, and that the choice was purely a political one.

This week I read another take on this story from former BOE candidate and in-coming PTACHC President Vicky Cutroneo. I thought it was important to share it here.

A Second Look

Yesterday, I met with Ananta Hejeebu, CE Kittleman's appointee for the vacant Board of Education seat.  As you may recall, I decided not to apply for the position believing that this was an opportunity to appoint a person with a skill set and perspective that would complement our Board of Education... isn't it nice to have Mavis Ellis' expertise on discipline and equity?  Christina Delmont-Small's budget expertise?  I admit when I hear people say we need board members "who think like us", I cringe.  Sounds like a cult.  (although I know it's more a reference to similar politics.. regardless.. it doesn't belong on the Board of Education.)  I believe the most productive groups are the most diverse...and this includes diversity of thought.  Board members should challenge and be challenged.  But I digress.

Lots of people have come out swinging claiming Mr. Hejeebu's appointment was all politics.  And you know what?  I was one of them.  Given the fact that I am a registered Republican and I was publicly critical of the appointment, I think sharing my thoughts may help provide some unbiased perspective.

Last June, I was the victim of a politically motivated smear campaign.  I'm not ready to share details  but suffice it to say. I was pretty devastated.   I asked people to meet me in person if they had concerns.  And most did.  Those who didn't weren't interested in education, they were interested in advancing their political agenda.

It's so easy to re-write someone's narrative for your own convenience with social media (and in my case, come creative photoshopping of campaign signs).  I realized it was important to give Ananta the chance I asked people to give me 2016.

Since the announcement of his appointment, Ananta has made himself available to anyone who has concerns.  He has met with special ed parents, learning all he can about current issues, he has attended SECAC meetings, BOE meetings, met with school and elected officials.   He is listening and learning.

We talked for over 2 hours yesterday.  I am impressed.  I'm not easily impressed, nor am I looking at this appointment thru a political lens.  I apologized for my premature and knee jerk reaction to his appointment.

Though he is a successful business owner, a church elder, a community and youth volunteer, what truly sets him apart is this:   he is a dad who has fought for his disabled son for 17 years.   I truly believe he will fight for your children as if they were his own.   His appointment is historic for the board as he will be the first Asian ever to serve.  I also believe if we desire our board to reflect our community, we benefit greatly with the addition of an HCPSS dad.

He may not know all of the laws, regulations and the ins and outs of each and every issue--but that is not so important as the desire to learn, ability to listen and the courage to take action.   I'm convinced that Ananta will learn, listen and get things done.

If you still have doubts, meet with Ananta, don't listen to me or anyone else.


Thanks to Ms. Cutroneo for giving me permission to share this here.

Friday, June 16, 2017

See Columbia First

LakeFest is back. At the lake. With craft vendors, fun for kids, musical performers, a Lake Walk, and what looks like an amazing experience called Architects of Air.

There's so much going on right now what with the Columbia 50th celebration, the usual Columbia Festival of the Arts ticketed performances, and the flurry of local candidate announcements. One thing I have noticed is less focus on promoting "LakeFest" itself. Right now there are only six current mentions on Twitter and none of them are from the Columbia Festival of the Arts or the Columbia Association. The last time CFA tweeted about LakeFest was in April.

I've seen a lot of publicity over the last week on Facebook, in particular for the Architects of Air installation. Perhaps the new management at CFA is not so interested in Twitter. Or perhaps the "LakeFest" name is not as important as it used to be?

And No, I don't remember the City Fair, and Yes, I have heard that it was far better than anything that has happened since. Just to get that out of the way.

I've seen quite a few posts lately about Columbia happenings where people felt out of the loop. One of the ways I attempt to stay in the loop has to do with a change I made to my settings on Facebook. At the top of a page,where it says "Liked" and "Following", you can click to indicate how much you want to see posts. Click on "See First" if you want to keep up with what's happening. It has really helped me.

That's probably the only reason I got a clue that there was an opportunity to buy Columbia 50th bricks for the Lakefront. Like most of us, I rely on Facebook quite a bit for that kind of info, but, as we all know, their algorithm for what we see is often a mystery. When it comes to local news, I want it to be in my face, daily.

So click on the Lakefest link above, see what's happening, and make your plans for the weekend. And, if you missed your chance to Buy a Brick, you can still get in on the ground floor at the Chrysalis.

While you are Downtown this weekend, see if you can spot some new friends along the walkway.

Thursday, June 15, 2017


I just read this letter in the Columbia Flier and I think you should, too. I don't know the author but I am taking the liberty of reprinting her letter in its entirety.

Celebrating diversity, a positive for our county

I have been troubled by some recent conversations with fellow parents expressing concerns about the high school that our children will be attending because it is more “diverse” than other county high schools.

I don’t presume to know exactly what they mean by this, but defines diversity as “the inclusion of individuals representing more than one national origin, color, religion, socioeconomic stratum, sexual orientation, etc.”

If a family moves to Columbia and chooses to raise their children here, I would hope that this kind of diversity is one of the reasons why.

When people express concern about a specific neighborhood or school and use “diversity” as a reason, I can’t imagine that they are concerned about the definition.

If you don’t want your children attending school with people who appear, worship, celebrate, live or love differently than them, the problem is not diversity, it’s intolerance.

If there is a problem with behaviors or the staff at a particular school, or you really don’t want your children to associate with certain people, then say what you mean and don’t hide behind a false meaning of an important word.

In this current divisive and sometimes hateful national climate, where nooses have been found near elementary schools and Hispanic and Muslim families feel threatened in the places they call home, let’s try to remember why and how Columbia came to be.

The idea that diversity is a positive thing for all who live here should be celebrated and shared with our children so that it will continue to be a place where people feel welcome.

Shannon Blount

Compare this to a recent Baltimore Sun article about school redistricting in Middle River. 

One mother wrote: "I do not want her surrounded with children whose lifestyle may not have the same values."

Is this perhaps another way of saying I don't want my child in a school that's too "diverse"? 

I rememember looking at possible neighborhoods in Baltimore City as a young married person and having older folks caution me about certain areas. "It's 'mixed', you know."



I remember being stunned when I learned that a local independent school was founded largely as a reaction to integration in the Howard County Public Schools. What is behind this deeply-rooted fear that causes people to shun the "other" and cling to sameness? 

It's a good thing that HCPSS has finally moved forward with the Diversity Coordinator position. Dr. Kevin F. Gilbert will be the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. He's got his work cut out for him. 

In our diverse community, efforts to embrace inclusion continue to meet with mixed success. Here's a chance to break bread with your neighbors and meet all kinds of people in our community:

Longest Table Dinner Planned at Howard Community College

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Not a Political Post

While I was attending Undesign the Redline, County Executive Kittleman was kicking off his re-election campaign.  No big surprise here. I don't think anyone expected that he wouldn't.

Local blogger Scott E was there, as was Andrew Michaels, reporting for the Howard County Times. Scott's tolerance for attending political events is a good deal higher than mine, I might add.

I'm not a political blogger. I weigh in, from time to time, on particular decisions that mean something to me, so I'm not going to present an analysis of this event ,or his decision to run again, from a political perspective.

Instead, here's something we can all agree on. This quote from Councilman Greg Fox is just a hot mess.

"The morality of the [announcement] is night-and-day compared to how it was during the last administration as far as how we find things out," Fox said. "We've got a great place, in general, because of the people who live here and they care about the county in many different ways." (Please see below for update.)

To be fair--
  • Mr. Fox isn't running for office.
  •  It can be difficult to come up with a coherent sound bite off the top of one's head.
  •  Perhaps what he said got garbled in translation.
With that being said, here is my up-to-the-minute, in-depth analysis of his statement. (Read: a few collected thoughts.)

Does Mr. Fox truly mean "morality"? Is he suggesting that Kittleman's term has been notable because he brought morality to Howard County Government? I wasn't aware that it was missing. Or does he really mean "morale"? (I've reached out to Andrew Michaels for any perspective he can give on this.) If he simply doesn't know the difference between morale and morality, well, I think he should.

This quote seems to suggest that the upcoming race is against Ken Ulman. It's a rather backward-looking statement. Is it necessary, in order for Mr. Kittleman to win, to raise the spectre of a former County Executive as some kind of bogeyman? It just feels odd to me.

Mr. Kittleman's term has been long enough that he can be judged on his own accomplishments, whatever you think of them. On a celebratory evening at the Lakefront, I would think that looking forward would suit his campaign better than looking back.

Update: I received the following from blog reader Chris Oxenham:

Julia, full confirmation that it was a misquote.  Mr. Fox has already spoken to the Howard County Times and they are correcting the story.  It was very loud and also piping hot there, I think the misquote was an honest mistake.

I look forward to learning what Mr. Fox meant to say.


Article has been updated with the quote now reading as follows:

“The mentality of the administration is night-and-day compared to how it was during the last administration as far as how we find things out,” Fox said. “We’ve got a great place, in general, because of the people who live here and they care about the county in many different ways.”

It does make more sense but it's still a backwards glance.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Two Events

Last night in the city that Rouse built County Executive Allan Kittleman was kicking off his campaign for re-election at the Lakefront. Across the street and down the road a bit, another crowd was gathered to view the Undesign the Red Line exhibit at Enterprise Community Partners. These two events were in no way related. Their occurrence at the same time is purely coincidental.

As you may suspect, I was at the second event. There was so much information presented that I am still processing. It was, as our tour guide suggested, like trying to "drink from a fire hose." As I walked around the room I couldn't help but compare what I was seeing to my childhood in Cleveland  Heights, Ohio, which at the time was almost exclusively white. What my parents had called Downtown was now more often called the "Inner City" and I don't think we knew anyone who lived there.

Last night I learned how that happened.

I also learned how truly radical James Rouse's mission for Columbia was from a business standpoint. Nobody was doing what he did. It took a wrecking ball to the assumptions upon which home lending and buying had been based since the 1930's. He wasn't just a high minded guy. He was a real estate radical.

He wasn't taking radical actions just for the sake of it, he had a plan. That plan was to undo those old assumptions and let other ideas in. And let other people in to have a share in the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness from which they had previously been excluded.

In the city that Rouse built there is room for a Republican candidate's announcement at the Lakefront and an exhibit which challenges deeply held societal norms and shows them to be based on false and unreliable data. I'd like to hope that there is also room to get all of the people--from both events--to work together for the common good.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Summer Reading

My daughter and I stopped by Books in Bloom yesterday. I got a little thrill seeing people in the woods for a reason other than Wine in the Woods. That's the way it ought to be: a people's park for our community.

I had a chance to catch up with Christie Lassen from the Howard County Library System. I really want to make an effort to read more this summer, so I asked her if the Summer Reading program had opportunities for adults. It does. Adults, teens, and children. And, if you want, you can do it all from your phone.

Learn more about this year's summer reading program here. Rest assured, there's still a print version if you prefer that route. Take a look--it's more than your typical read-a-book program. Participants work to earn badges in a variety of categories:

Build a Better Community
Build a Better Planet
Build a Better Friendships
Build a Better You
Build your own Badge
Choose Civility Badge (Adults 18+)
And Reading, of course.

I stopped by the Glenwood branch on Saturday to pick up some crafting books and a few about home organization and decoration. I'm gearing up for some of the hot days when I'd rather stay cool inside!

We are really blessed with an exceptionally good library system in Howard County. There are so many ways they jump in to fill community needs and engage the public with creative programming.

What do you love about the library?

(You know where to post your comments, right?)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Unasked Question

I know you've heard about Books in Bloom , today's inaugural book festival at the Chrysalis. You know it's a joint venture between the Downtown Partnership and The Howard County Library System to celebrate Columbia's 50th Birthday. You've seen the posters.

You know you love books and it's going to be a gorgeous day and you want to get outside and enjoy it. But there's just one problem.

Deep down inside you have this nagging question: if I go to the Chrysalis, where do I park?

Voila! Here's a handy-dandy photo showing exactly where you can park.

On top of all the exciting activities for children and adults, here's an added item of interest from the local podcast folks at Elevate Maryland:

A twist! Thanks to our producer, we will record our show tomorrow from #BooksInBloom. Check out this lineup! We're on at 2pm. Come say heeyyy!

So now you know. Be there!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Words and Music

The concert at Merriweather went over the 11 o'clock limit by a few minutes last night. I don't think there will be any official complaints as the artist in question was Paul Simon and the song was an acoustic version of The Sound of Silence. It's also possible that some of our community's chief complainers were in the audience.

I could be wrong, but it's possible.

For those of you who go to Merriweather all the time nothing I will say will be surprising. But here goes anyway.

It was a beautiful evening in Columbia, Maryland to share the music of one of my favorite artists. It was the perfect venue for hearing a crowd sing along to song after song--even jumping in to carry the melody when Simon's voice gave out and he needed a drink of water. The sense of a community of people who knew and loved Paul Simon's work was palpable.

I'm not a particular fan of being in large crowds. I find them overwhelming. But last night's event felt manageable, somehow. Probably because of the hardworking staff that kept things organized and helped people get where they needed to go. And a lot of the credit goes to the venue itself. It is just the right size. It has the right feel for a hometown summer concert. It has a very special "sense of place."

As a music teacher I often see conversations lamenting the disappearance of group singing in community life. There used to be quite a bit of it in this country. Singalongs were a popular form of entertainment back in the day before television and film and the distractions of modern life. The closest that most people come to community singing is the national anthem at ball games. Last night's  spontaneous song-fest was a beautiful testament to how much people know and love Paul Simon's work.

And it's a sign that we can all still sing together, if we can find a common inspiration.

Simon made a few comments in passing about anger being an addiction that is running rampant in our nation right now. Later on he paused before beginning a song to say, "practice kindness."

If all the people gathered at Merriweather last night carry away a sense of community and a desire to practice kindness, imagine what good could be spread in the world.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Catching Up With Long Reach

I have been remiss in failing to note the recent announcement of plans to redevelop the Long Reach Village Center. Since I live in Oakland Mills, I am keenly aware of the importance of keeping our aging village centers relevant as our community changes and evolves.  The Long Reach project seems to have languished for quite some time. I am excited to see it finally getting off the ground.

It would be silly for me to attempt to write a comprehensive post about this because local blogger and Long Reach resident James Howard has already done so.

The Long Reach Redevelopment and Master Plan

What I haven't seen is the sort of discontented pushback that we normally observe in Columbia when anything from Rouse's original plans is targeted for review. Where are the angry self-appointed committees? Where are the one-sided articles in the newspaper heralding gloom and doom? Where are the letters to the editor saying, "nobody asked me?"

Is it possible that Long Reach just has better sense than anyone else in Columbia when it comes to living in the 21st century?

Maybe so.

Thursday, June 8, 2017


I've got plans.

Yes, I've definitely got plans for this summer which involve crafting, reading, cooking, seeing friends and hanging out with my family. I want to walk around Columbia more, go to as many Columbia 50th events as I can handle. I'm going to splash around at the pool, shop the Farmers Market, get as many books as I want at the Library, and noodle around on Ellicott City's Main Street.

In short, it won't be long now before I have the whole summer off and I have just enough money set aside to be comfortable for a few months. Not extravagant, mind you, but enough to get by. For me, that's a big deal.

But first I will have to say goodbye to the seven little friends who have been my day-in, day-out companions. Today is our last day together. I will be leading them in song for the last time. We have been on an amazing journey together. It has been new for all of us.

And now we are packing up and saying our goodbyes. Yesterday, as we were gathering up all of the children's belongings and artwork, one little girl stopped and said,

"I'm going to miss school." And she gave me a hug.

If past experience is any indication, I won't feel the emotional weight of this until the last child has walked out the door, and then it will wash over me. It takes me a while to process transitions like this. The end of a school year is filled with so much activity that there isn't much time to process feelings. There are rehearsals and celebrations, water days and picnics.

When today is over I will probably fall asleep thinking of how much we all learned and grew together.

If you are a parent, please know how much teachers care about your children. If you are a teacher, I haven't written anything here that you don't already know. Cheers. I hope you have some happy plans  to help ease the transition.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A Report from the Front

The other evening I saw an online post in which a joint venture by a man and women was labeled as purely an initiative of the man.


It brought to mind this post from 2014. For the record, I haven't seen much improvement on this since it was written.

The War Between Men and Women      (first published in June, 2014)

This image is taken from a series of cartoons by James Thurber, entitled "The War Between Men and Women." It came to mind this morning in light of the recent controversy surrounding the #YesAllWomen hashtag, and the defensive counter-hashtag #NotAllMen.

Around Howard County we don't have much of an all-out war, but there are days when it feels as though women in public service, political races, and even blogging have to work twice as hard to be thought half as good. We have a bit of a Boys Club at work here: not ruthless, not mean-spirited, but careless and unseeing.

What do I mean? Take a look at this:

Tag or recount all present at an event
RT, Share, comment, and praise work by both men and women
Engage in online dialogue with both men and women
Respond to comments from both men and women
Support both male and female candidates

More likely to tag or recount men present
More likely to RT, share, comment, and praise work by men
More likely to engage in online dialogue with men
Respond more frequently to comments from men
Support and/or take more seriously male candidates

In short, there is a kind of benevolent marginalizing of women on the local scene. 

Yes, I know. #NotAllMen in #hoco are like this. And yet, #YesAllWomen have experienced this treatment. One is rendered invisible. A woman might be thought of as good conversation, great to bounce around ideas with, and just the right person to host an at-home candidate event. But would that favor be returned?

I had a discussion recently with a woman running for office locally, and this issue came to the fore. We agreed that there were certain exceptional men who went against the grain on this. What made them different? Our conclusion was that these men were confident enough in themselves that they didn't fear equality with women. 

That's really what it boils down to. Equality is empowerment: taking people seriously, allowing them to participate in the conversation, allowing them to be visible. 

This is why I am so excited by Emerge Maryland, a group recruiting, training and supporting women for political service, and by women friends who are running, or blogging, or engaging in important local dialogue. It is also why I favor male candidates who show through their actions that women and equal and valuable.

It's never going to come down to a battle at the supermarket here in Howard County. It's far more subtle than that. It happens little by little, day after day. I look at my daughters and know I must do something to contribute to a better future.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Winds of Change

The PTA Council of Howard County held their elections last night. It looks like they have chosen a new direction in leadership. Vicky Cutroneo ran from the floor and won 56-24. After the meeting she posted on the HCPSS Community Shares page:

Grateful to have been elected PTACHC President this evening.   The strength of the organization lies not with the lone voice of the president but within the collective talent and dedication of our delegates.  
Thank you to all who voted for me. I won't let you down.
--Vicky Cutroneo

The meeting began with a visit from Acting Superintendent Michael Martirano. A photograph of the event shows him speaking while standing right in the midst of the group. This, too, is a sign of a significant change in leadership for our schools. I'd go so far as to say that the choice of Dr, Martiarano is a statement that:

The strength of the Howard County Schools lies not with the lone voice of the Superintendent but  within the collective talent and dedication of all our board, staff, teachers, students, and parents. (paraphrase mine)

Congratulations to Ms. Cutroneo on her election. Thanks to all the PTACHC delegates who stuck it out for what I understand was an exceptionally long election process last night. I look forward to hearing more from PTACHC this year. It has the potential to do so much good and it looks like we are headed in the right direction.

Monday, June 5, 2017


You may recall a recent post in which I expressed dismay at two local events whose invitations lacked even a hint of diversity.

Meanwhile, the promotion campaign for one of these events continued along in the same vein. Some samples:

It just bugged me. So I sent the organization a copy of my blog post along with this note:

Perhaps next year you might consider a different sort of fundraising event. 

It wasn't long before I received this response:

Thank you for your input. You might have wanted to do some research on  Howard County Historical Society before you made that blog post.  If you had you would have discovered our wide variety of diverse programs and events that aim to tell the history of all the citizens of our county -- and that guests of all ethnicity enjoy coming to......

  • Oct. 6: “Black Churches in Howard County” Panel Discussion led by Pat Greenwald

African-American churches have long been an important part of the cultural fabric of Howard County. Even before the abolition of slavery, faith groups had organized among our area’s people of color. Representatives of these groups will present a panel discussion on their history and relevance in the county, as well as noting the challenges facing the congregations today. Click here for tickets

  • June 2: “Columbia” Barbara Kellner

Barbara Kellner, Chief Archivist at the Columbia Archives, will discuss the history of the planned community Columbia, which is celebrating its 50th Anniversary in 2017. Barbara will discuss Jim 
Rouse’s plan and vision for Columbia and its significance to the suburban growth of Howard County.  (If you're not familiar with the history of Howard county it was founded in the 1960's with the expressed purpose of creating a racially and ethnically diverse communities from the ground up.) 

  • Exhibit tells the story of Jewish settlement 'Yazoor' (article Baltimore Sun)
  • History no longer underground (article The Beacon Newspapers) 

The writer included a photograph, with this caption:

In addition to our many inclusive programs our events are attended and enjoyed by Howard Countians of all backgrounds.   We invite you to learn more about the Howard County Historical Society by visiting us online at or in person at our archives at the Miller Branch Library or the Museum of Howard County History in Ellicott City.  Thanks in advance for checking in with us on any future stories!

My response?

These are all wonderful things. You missed my point entirely.

I was actually aware of all of these events because I follow the goings-on of the Howard County Historical Society rather closely. I love history. I love local stories. My concern stemmed not from ignorance on my part, as was suggested, but rather the appearance of exclusion which I was fairly certain was not the intent. 

What do you think? Is it possible to both respect the work of an institution and still wince when a message misses the mark? 

I saw plenty of photographs online today of the event. It looks to have been a success. I'm glad, because I think the Historical Society does great stuff. But maybe they need to hear from more than just one blogger about what a lack of representation says to the greater community. When people hear the word "history" they want to know "whose story" will be valued and shared. 

Comments? Post them here:

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Let Summer Be Summer

What do you do to get ready for summer? New swimsuit? Clean off the deck furniture? Stock up on bug spray and sunscreen?

If you are a parent your first taste of summer may come in January when you start booking summer camps for your children. In the many families where both parents work, year round child care is an essential. And, by and large, the better that care is, the more expensive it is.

Thanks to the Governor (and the crusade of Comptroller Peter Franchot) school now lets out earlier and starts up again later. Please make sure you show your gratitude by going to the Eastern Shore and spending money. That's the point, after all.

But what if you can't afford that family trip to Ocean City? What if you can't afford camp? What if you rely on school lunch programs for breakfast and lunch for your children? I have to assume that Letting Summer Be Summer was not conceived with you in mind.

There are summer feeding sites in Howard County for school children. That is wonderful. But what about safe, reliable, enriching childcare? How many kids will be left at home alone with nothing but television as a daily companion?

I continue to be dismayed by the shortsightedness of this decision. Saying that "it was like this when we were young" is a poor excuse. There are plenty of things from our childhoods that have changed over time that we are happy to leave behind. To say that this is a family-friendly or child-friendly decision is disingenuous. It is a white, privileged decision.

You may now return to cleaning your deck furniture.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Make Way

I've witnessed two separate online conversations in the last twenty-four hours about how the addition of local bicycle lanes will pose problems for residents. In one, a resident was concerned about the loss of on street parking in front of her house. In another, a resident feared a build--up of traffic congestion on a busy road.

A variety of opinions were put forth in these discussions. According to posters, the addition of bike lanes would:

Negatively impact housing values
Be dangerous for bikers
Add to time spent in traffic for residents

But also:

Be appealing for new residents
Support a cleaner environment
Reduce congestion by getting cars off the road

Some people see biking as purely a recreational activity. Basically, "There are plenty of places to bike in Howard County. Why do they need to take up space on my road?"

Actually, I'd much rather give bicycles safe, clearly designated lanes on the road because I live in dread of hurting a bicylist with my car every time I encounter one on the road. Where some folks see inconvenience, I see hazard. I'm the one in the enormous killer machine, after all. It's hardly an even match.

Howard County has a Bicyle Master Plan. You can go here to see it.

Bike Howard

On this page there is a handy-dandy list of different types of bike lanes and pathway markings, with accompanying photos.

Speaking of bikes, do you know about Howard County Bikeshare?

Like most change in our community, some people are advocates and have followed it with interest. Some have a general idea but are startled when it happens in their own neighborhood. Some have no earthly idea and are affronted. That's not specific to bicycle lanes. That really goes for everything.

What do you think? Are you a bicyclist? Do you ride for recreation only, or do you use your bike as a regular form of transportation? What kind of bike lanes do you favor?

You can add your comments here.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Park-ing Place

Whopping headache this morning. I'm headed back to bed but here's an interesting tidbit from the folks at Inner Arbor Trust.

Celebrate Arts in the Park

From Trust president Nina Basu:

The Trust is holding a contest to transform 10 Adirondack chairs into pieces of art that will be displayed in Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods this summer.  Please share this far and wide! 

Are you an artist? Know any? Pass this along.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

A Question of Leadership

You know that nagging feeling that you've forgotten something, but you can't remember what it is? What with all the good spirits and forward motion these days out at the BOE, I almost missed an important date: June 5th.

On Monday, June 5th, the PTA Council of Howard County will be having its elections for the coming year. The current President, Reg Avery, appears to be the only person who has put a name in for the post. When I saw that, a little warning signal went off in my head. Or rather, a troubling gut feeling turned up, rather like Detective Columbo in his rumpled raincoat.

"Just one more thing, sir. There's just this one question that's been troubling me."

Mr. Avery made the news earlier this year when he made some rather uncharitable remarks about a sitting member of the Board of Education. It seems odd to me that the leader of PTACHC would get involved in a lawsuit against the Board of Education in this way. Does this constitute of a conflict of interest?

Moving on. Or rather, looking back. In an email that turned up in a public information request about mold in Glenwood Middle School, Mr. Avery sounds off to former Board of Education member Ann DeLacy. The focus of the email is a request by Christina Delmont-Small to hold an upcoming meeting somewhere other than GMS, due to safety concerns. In his email, Avery speaks in a derogatory manner of Ms. Delmont-Small, another PTACHC member, and Paul Lemle, outgoing head of HCEA. You can read the email in its entirety here.

Again, it seems strange to see a leader of PTACHC allying himself with Central Office and against other members of his own organization. Does that compromise his ability to lead?

"That question? The one that's been bothering me? Oh, it's just this little thing, really. I just wondered ..."

What comes next?

Perhaps it would be a good time for the members of PTACHC to look at a change in leadership. It has the potential to be a dynamic and valuable voice for good for our schools. Who can best represent and empower that voice?

I understand that nominations from the floor can be accepted during the election process. It should be an interesting evening.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Story of Service

As a follow up to yesterday's post about a personal connection to military service, I highly recommend this post from HoCoMDcc. Local blogger Harry Schwarz writes about his father,

Lt. William H. Schwarz, and his service during the Korean War. He uses contemporary newspaper articles, photographs, and letters to tell the story. Definitely worth the read.

Quick question before I sign off today: what marks the official start of summer for you?

Monday, May 29, 2017

Service and Sacrifice

Memorial Day is about honoring the fallen. Veterans Day is about thanking those who serve and have served.

I don't really know any of them.

Oh, my late father and grandfather served in each of the World Wars. But that is the sum total of my experience with knowing people in the Armed Forces. Pretty much.

My life has not been personally affected by the loss of a loved one in military service. I don't have close friends or relatives serving today. More and more I think that there exists a cultural divide between those like me whose worlds are insulated and those for whom being in the military or having loved ones who serve is very much a part of life.

This is bound to influence how I experience a day like Memorial Day. I imagine battle and loss of life in a distant sense, like something one reads about in a book. I can't even imagine what that would feel like if it were my husband, or sister, or best friend. Having a volunteer force has created a divide of sorts. And like the other divides in our country--race, political, economic, ethnic--we experience a sense of separateness which can reinforce misunderstanding.

Although I know that today is a day to honor those who died in service to their country, I want to direct you to this article about the new Veterans Monument which will be located in Columbia. The mission of the this monument is to honor both veterans and their families. This vision is remarkable, I think. Most such statues look backwards. This one will be rooted in the present and continue to be relevant in the future.

"The concept for this monument revolves around family," said Gillette, a married father of two sons. "The idea is to create a central place to celebrate and give thanks for our veterans, while also recognizing the service and support of family members."

If you have a family member or friend who never came home, I want you to know I am thinking of you today. For there is sacrifice not only in the valor of the fallen, but also in the love of those they leave behind.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Main Drag: HoCo Holler

I dropped off two teens for a day of fun yesterday. Their destination? Old Ellicott City. As I turned on to Main Street I couldn't help but recall the horrific scenes of flooding last summer and its devastating aftermath. And now, as I pulled over to let the kids out, I was witnessing such a different scene: a sunny day, folks out and about, many shops beautifully restored.

It's amazing.

I know that there is still work to be done, I know that some businesses suffered losses from which they could not recover. Even taking this into account, the overall recovery of Old Ellicott City is astoundingly good. So many people worked in so many ways to make this happen. Love, determination, hard work, cash and in-kind donations. Creative thinking and problem solving, too.

The recovery in Ellicott City is rather like the proverbial ice berg. You know--the one about how so little of an iceberg is visible. About 7/8 of it is below the surface. There are visible faces and names to the recovery effort in the form of local leaders and partnerships. But I think that all of them would be quick to emphasize the importance of all the unseen helpers who worked together to make this happen.

So the girls went to the Forget-Me-Not Factory and Sweet Elizabeth Jane. (My daughter liked their new location.) They had lunch from River House Pizza and dessert from Scoop-AHH-Dee-Doo. They met up with my husband for the ride home at the parking lot by the Wine Bin because my daughter knew she could find it, having been to a movie night there. There was something so lovely to me in watching her share her love of this place with a friend.

A fervent and grateful HoCo Holler to everyone who has worked and is working to bring back Old Ellicott City and to assure its viability in the future. Your work looks really, really good.

Comments? Post them here:

Saturday, May 27, 2017


The bells are back. The Columbia Association is still putting a few finishing touches to the new installation. 

Since the Lakefront bell tower is one of those iconic structures of Columbia song and story, I wanted to go and have a look at this for myself. As luck would have it, I bumped into David Greisman, who was there taking photos. (This is his picture.)

Greisman, who is Senior Manager, Media Relations and Communications at Columbia Association, is a hometown boy with memories aplenty of a Columbia childhood. He remembers sitting under the old bell tower reading comic books. (Was there once a comic book store at the Mall?) It looks as though the new bell tower, dubbed a "bell tree" will be gated off. Sorry, no more comic book lounging.

I don't think that's why it will be gated, though. 

"You know, sometimes people used to climb it..." his voice trailed off, a bit of a twinkle in his eye. 

As you may already know, the old bell tower came down because the structure had deteriorated to the point where it was dangerous. Wood rots, especially when exposed to dampness. But the bells were put in storage and CA has been contemplating just how and where to bring them back. With the fiftieth birthday celebration upon us, they decided upon this bell tree installation to bring back the sound of the bells to the Lakefront.

I gather that this particular installation is a temporary one, while they decide on a more permanent home. That will be an interesting discussion. I am sure that many folks will want them to be exactly the way they were. For now, I think that CA is hitting just the right note in creative reuse.

I haven't actually heard them ring yet. I'm looking forward to that. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Making Good Choices

Teachers at my school often ask students to think about whether they are making good choices. As I look at recent events in the Howard County Schools, this expression is on my mind.

Was the BOE making good choices when they chose Dr. Martirano to step in upon the resignation of Dr. Foose? 

Yes, I believe they were. They were acting to preserve as much normalcy as possible in a time which would undoubtedly bring great change and unpheaval. They chose a candidate with a proven track record. It looks very much to me that they were looking for values as much as an impressive résumé: putting students first, a passion for equity, an open and responsive nature.

Is Dr. Martirano making good choices?'s too early to tell. Certainly his beginnings are promising. His willingness to meet with stakeholders and to listen as much as he talks bodes well for a good relationship with the community. The topics that he speaks most about are ones that resonate with me as well: birth-through-five initiatives, providing the best education for students that aren't college-bound, equity, restorative practices, honoring and respecting teachers.

If he is who he says he is, we are in extremely good hands. Dr. Martirano exudes a refreshing sense of humanity and empathy which has been sorely needed in our local discussions about education. But  he has plenty on his plate and much of it is not easy. I think it will soon become apparent whether he knows how to do what he is pledging to do and if he truly means what he says. I am inclined to believe the best of him. But after the painfully demoralizing tenure of the last Superintendent, some folks may be a bit wary of giving their trust just yet.

Did the County Executive make a good choice in his selection for the empty spot on the BOE?

If you look at this as fulfilling the basic requirements, then I guess you can't fault him. He gets to make a political appointment, and, by golly, that's exactly what he did. By all accounts he had over thirty candidates to choose from. He chose a political ally. Ananta Hejeebu looks good on paper and of course we all hope he does a brilliant job because, quite frankly, so much is at stake.

But there were a number of applicants that were far more qualified and who have demonstrated ability in working with stakeholders on important educational issues. I am hearing this objection both from Republicans and Democrats, by the way. And the most disappointment (disgust? outrage?) is coming from special education parents who have been consistently involved in advocating for special needs students and programs.

So, did he make a good choice? I'd have to say he made a small, strategic choice. I guess the best you could say is that he didn't break any rules.

But he could have made a excellent choice--for our schools and for our children. Perhaps this is a great example of why we elect BOE members. It appears that the community has higher standards than a politician.

In sum: overall things are looking good. Some things, however, make me scratch my head.

Comments? Post them here:

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Rainy Day Blues

The weather. I'm under it.

Sending you to this post by HoCoHouseHon.


I'll be back tomorrow with some thoughts about the new Superintendent and the County Executive's pick for BOE.

Stay dry if you can.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

High Alert

Lt. Richard Collins III was killed by a radical extremist.

Can we say that?

In the aftermath of a terrorist bombing in Manchester, England I am still trying to wrap my brain around the horrific killing far closer to home. The University of Maryland is experiencing a wave of racist ugliness. Since the presidential election episodes of this sort of domestic terror have exploded across the country.

Let's call it what it is.

This is terrorism. It is radical extremism. We need to set our warning systems to the highest level to protect potential victims. But are we? Has University of Maryland leadership truly engaged with the African American community and acted on their concerns? I'm seeing some discussions on Twitter that lead me to believe that institutional response has been disappointing to the student community.

No meaningful education can take place in an environment where students feel that they are more likely to be harassed, intimidated, and even killed merely for the color of their skin. And if this kind of racist violence causes students of color to stay away, it calls into question the fundamental legitimacy of UMD as an institution of higher learning.

If some are excluded, all are affected.

I don't question the sincerity of those who grieve for the victims in Manchester. But it is every bit as appropriate to grieve for Richard Collins and for his empty chair at the Bowie State graduation ceremony. That empty chair represents all the gifts and potential lost. A place where this young man should have been safe was not.

If taking a hard look at that motivates us to do something in our own communities, it will be a step in the right direction.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


This is not a community post. This is personal.

If you have a chance to go and say goodbye to someone: go. Just go. If you believe the invitation to visit is sincere, then go.

I didn't.

I didn't want to interfere, I didn't want to intrude. I didn't want to impose some need of my own for closure into someone else's pain and suffering,

I thought I was doing the right thing. The selfless thing. The noble thing, even.

But maybe I was just afraid.

How do you say goodbye to someone for whom you have felt both love and fear, and anger, despair, yet still kinship: a distant kind of familial obligation? How do you reach across years and years of separation? All that you know is that the reasons why everything happened the way it did are blurred and ambiguous. You feel no wisdom. You feel you have nothing new to offer.

It was another lifetime. We were different people. That's what people say, right?

I was so sure I was doing the right thing. Now I'm grieving for the chance I didn't take.