Thursday, April 19, 2018

On Location

Live from my place of business, it’s Village Green/Town²! I rolled in to work at 5:07 after dropping my daughter off for the choir trip to Boston at 4:40 am. Actually, it was closer to 4:30. She’s a musician, she likes to be early. It made no sense for me to go back home.

Today seemed like a good day to try that gratitude thing (yawn!) so let’s have a little Thankful Thursday, shall we?

Today I’m thankful for:

  • The reliable alarm on my iPad that woke me up on time.
  • The 7-11 in Ashton that is open 24/7 and had fresh coffee available.
  • My digital edition of the Columbia Flyer that shows up in my inbox at five am.
  • Coffee. Did I mention coffee?
  • Nina Basu and the Inner Arbor Trust for putting together an amazing team for summer programming at the Chrysalis. (More on that tomorrow)
  • All the hardworking members of my Village who are working on the Oakland Mills 50th Birthday celebration.
  • The River Hill Guitar Ensemble and their Director Richard McCready for offering their annual free Guitarpalooza concert tonight at 7 pm at RHHS. The most fun you can have at school!
  • All the folks who participated in my Testimonial post for Cindy Vaillancourt and those who offered supportive comments.
  • Sunny Spring weather and extra time on the playground.
  • “My new Raise the Roof!” Merriweather t-shirt from the Downtown Arts and Culture Commission. So cool,
I will attempt to remain thankful for the rest of the day. When we turn out the lights at rest time, though, I may be in trouble..,

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Own a Piece of the Tree figure?

A Maryland company can make it happen. Take a look here.

The concept is aimed towards people. Who wouldn’t want a statue of themselves? But I’m thinking it would be fun to have one of Columbia’s People Tree. I’d buy one. Wouldn’t you? Everyone loves the iconic symbol for the New American City.

I’m not sure we all agree on what it means, but that’s another story altogether.

My imagination is running wild with the thought of commissioning the entire Lakefront collection: The Bell Tower, The Hug, The Rouse Brothers, that red thing over by Whole Foods...Am I forgetting anything? They’d make lovely local souvenirs or maybe a great educational playset.

Of course, the People Tree doesn’t belong to Columbia; it’s an advertising symbol owned by the Howard Hughes Corporation. But it seems to me they might be open to the idea if it bolstered their brand. Yet somehow I feel that corporate use of this idea would look more like honoring multimillion-dollar investments with a People Tree statue commemorative gift. You know, kind of like those tote bags that public radio gives, but for developers.

I’m thinking of something a bit different, just a bit of fun for Lakefront lovers.

What (or who) would be your choice for a 3D recreation?

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Half Full

I confess that I broke down and had groceries delivered by Amazon last night so that I’d be able to pack lunches today. It’s not a regular occurrence. Something about the exhaustion of a Monday evening combined with ferrying a teenager to rehearsals did me in. I just couldn’t face another trip out.

And so I found myself, as ten o’clock neared, wanting to go to bed but waiting for an Amazon delivery. Just after I got into my nightclothes, it arrived.

“This is silly,” I said to my husband as I climbed out of bed.

“What is?”

“I ordered from Amazon because I was too tired to go to the store, but now I’m just too tired to get out of bed.”

Rather pathetic. A world so small that getting out of bed and going downstairs to collect delivered foodstuffs feels like too much effort. Would I rather they appeared magically in my refrigerator?


Some days it feels as though I can work, or I can take care of all those home/life things like groceries, cooking, cleaning, laundry, doctor’s appointments camp sign ups...I can’t do both. But, like most folks, I have to. And, in truth, my life is comfortable and affords me many conveniences. I move through a world where roads are smoother and doors are held open because of privilege.

I need to do better at this gratitude thing.

Monday, April 16, 2018


While I am usually inclined to show basic courtesy to the Baltimore Sun papers, I will not be doing them the favor of linking to the recent article which made such an unholy mess of the personal health receords of Board of Education Chair Cynthia Vaillancourt and her lawsuit to restore the disability payments which she is owed. That piece is factually inaccurate, incomplete, and shows a journalistic sloppiness that simply floors me. If you would like to read it, you will need to go find it yourself.

The article completely ignores a basic truth. Before anyone can make the judgement that a) being disabled makes her automatically incompetent and she ran under false pretenses or b) she looks just fine so she must be a fraud, one must ask, “who is Cindy Vaillancourt?” The crux of the matter is simply whether or not Ms. Vaillancourt is who she says she is. Period.

I present to you today testimonials written by members of our community who have had plenty of opportunity to observe and interact with Ms. Vaillancourt during her years of public service. What they have to say is a far more accurate picture of her character than what was hung out for public consumption in the press. When I reached out to members of the community for words on Cindy’s behalf I had no difficulty finding willing participants.

See for yourself.

Bess Altwerger, Howard County Board of Education:

We need Board of Education members with a wide range of backgrounds, skills and talents. A single member cannot embody all the skills and expertise needed for this job. Among the current Board are former teachers, current educators, parents of HCPSS students, an accountant, a former government auditor, a small business owner, and a student. All are long time residents of Howard County and are committed to providing the best possible school system for our students, educators and community. Our Board Chair is a leader of the highest caliber, who has expertly and courageously led this school system out of the toughest period in our history, all at a serious cost to her own health. With less physical energy than some, and despite significant medical problems, nobody could have done a better job than Cindy Vaillancourt as Chair of the Board of Education. Board members each have their own limitations, whether it be medical problems, a business to run, a full-time job, or children and families to care for. That is why we have an eight person Board. For a mere $15,000 a year (or a small student stipend), Board members pour their hearts and souls into this job, with Cindy being the best example of that. She withstood years of harassment and unfair treatment by her own colleagues and NEVERTHELESS SHE PERSISTED because she is committed to this school system. She may be unable to visit schools as often, or attend as many community events, or perform mathematical computations, and maybe she needs longer periods of rest and recuperation in-between our numerous marathon Board meetings, but this community owes Cindy Vaillancourt nothing but praise and appreciation for all she has done for our schools, our students, our teachers and for our community. 
Nikki Schmidt, Howard County Parent:

Voices of reason are hard to find on the internet.  On-line the filters are off and we all defend our feelings, prejudices, political opinions and personal beliefs with absolute conviction.  We are confident that Our truth is The truth.  I am often guilty of this, using words to swirl and twist the point I’m trying to make.  As always, truth and reason are typically found somewhere in the middle.  In many debates surrounding the Board of Education, Cindy Vaillancourt is the middle. She is far less concerned with being right than she is with things being true.  She listens, she researches, she studies, she pays attention and she takes time to make sure she finds the truth in each issue.  She expresses these truths with clarity and purpose – using her words and her position to shed light on complex and  
emotional issues.  Over the years I’ve been following BOE issues, I’ve seen her being belittled,  persecuted, insulted, bullied, slandered and libeled.  Through all of it, she kept her head up and acted        with grace.  When I see her name on something – I pay attention, because I know that what I read will not be the off-hand pontifications of a political creature…it will be a well-researched, reasonable take on a given issue, and it will be truth.

Paul Lemle, former President of HCEA:

I’ve known Cindy since 2012, when she approached me about improving the working relationship between the board and its employees. I have always known her to be honest, intelligent, and fair minded. She has been a resolute and diligent board member despite needing more rest than her counterparts. Voters chose her overwhelmingly, and I am 100% certain they’d do it again if she were running because of her kindness and approachability.  Virtually every educator in the county knows and respects Cindy, with good reason.

Barb Krupiarz, former chair of Howard County SECAC:

Special education parents owe a huge debt of gratitude to Cindy Vaillancourt.  Not only has she received thousands of phone calls from us over the years, she always responded to us in an extremely compassionate and professional manner.  I will use my own case as an example.  My son was being significantly emotionally harmed by teachers in middle school. Cindy listened to my stories, apologized for the actions of staff (which greatly helps to diffuse anger, by the way), and walked me through the appropriate school procedures to address each situation.  I followed her suggestions, which resulted in improvements for my son and also improvements for the school - a  win-win.  Over the years, there have been many Board members and staff that have   ignored us, treated us with indignance, and expounded that we are unreasonable.  Cindy has never played politics and treats everyone with respect - even those who have treated her poorly - always taking the high road.  She  and I have not always agreed on everything, but she always treats people with compassion and  respect and makes her decisions based on what she believes are the best solutions for all students.  She will be greatly missed as a Board member by all, especially special education students and parents.

Robert Miller, Howard County teacher, retired:

Having closely watched the proceedings of the Howard County Board of Education for most of the last three years, it is apparent to me that Cindy Vaillancourt has done as much or more than anyone else to fix what was broken in our school system. It took a tremendous amount of courage and integrity on her part to do this given many difficult and uncomfortable situations. Nonetheless, she persisted in doing what needed to be done to turn around the ship, and it is questionable if the most significant improvements could have occurred without her leadership. Recently, a few of her abilities have come into question by some. Ms. Vaillancourt’s actions have illustrated the commonly held premise that when some of a person’s abilities and senses are decreased, other abilities and senses compensate by becoming stronger. Regarding compensation of abilities, maybe this is why as a Board member Ms. Vaillancourt has shown such strong courage, persistence, and judgment. Regarding compensation of senses, maybe this is why her common sense is so strong. Though it can    be beneficial to have members of various abilities and characteristics on a Board, courage,          persistence, good judgment, and common sense are desirable for every Board member to possess, and    Ms. Vaillancourt possesses them in abundance. It is unusual to see an individual public servant make        as much of a positive difference in the lives of so many as Ms. Vaillancourt has. I hope that she realizes how significant her contributions have been to our school system. I also hope that, as she completes the remainder of her tenure on the Board and beyond, she is aware of how many people appreciate her and what she has done for our students, staff, and community.

Lisa Markovitz, President of the People’s Voice:

Cindy Vaillancourt is the epitome of grace under pressure. Many of us watched, as she diplomatically and professionally dealt with seriously unprofessional and disrespectful treatment, during the prior  Board's majority term, and under the prior Superintendent, particularly after election of the new Board. While Ms. Vaillancourt  was even being sued and abused over the years while serving our School System on the Board, she never waivered from the tasks at hand. Realizing that she did this work with a disability, does not fill me with concern. It fills me with even more respect that she accomplished so much at obvious physical cost. Our community is losing a great asset with her choice not to run again, but who can blame her? She has dodged the slings and arrows for a long time, and deserves a break from what must feel like an unappreciated and difficult job at times. Well, Ms. Vaillancourt, I am one who appreciates, and wishes you the best.

Deeba Jaffri, Howard County Parent

The very first time I wrote to the BoE I believe Cindy was the one who wrote back. The very first time I testified she thanked me after the meeting was over. It was a quiet meeting and I had testified about keeping the Wednesday before Thanksgiving as a full day holiday. Her grace under pressure and general horridness from previous members of the Board has always impressed me. We agree on most things, disagree on others but always in a civil way and we are always able to talk it out. I often tell the kids "I want Cindy's patience when I grow up." I will miss her a great deal when her term is complete. I hope that we can have that caliber of leadership in the future should we have to navigate  stormy waters again.

Vicky Cutroneo, Howard County Parent

Before 2016, I voted for the Board of Education much like I picked horses for the Kentucky Derby-- which name do I like the most...eeny meany miney mo.  2014 was a little different as I had read a few things about BOE member named Cindy Vaillancourt and a ridiculous ethics complaint (affectionally dubbed condom-gate), filed just weeks before the election.  I remember thinking, wow.. someone doesn't want her to be re-elected--and that is exactly why I voted for her.  Count it as my first, somewhat informed Board of Education vote and a pre-cursor of things to come for Cindy.

Flash forward to 2015 and I am getting no where with HCPSS leadership and Board Chair Christine O'Connor about the poor air quality at Glenwood MS.  After a few weeks, I received a message from Cindy, asking simply, "What is really going on at Glenwood?".  Clearly she wasn't getting the facts and sought me out to get them.  I met with Cindy and Bess that week for hours, they listened to me and more importantly, they validated my concerns and took action.   

"What's really going on at Glenwood" is Cindy personified.  She engages with the community like no other board member, seeking out her own answers, questioning everything.  And she fought for our school community.   For years, she has fought for the entire Howard County school community, enduring continual personal and professional assaults, all while battling very serious health issues that few people knew about. 

She has navigated all of this with grace, dignity and humor.  I  have looked to Cindy's example as a guide for my own challenges.   I thank Cindy for leading us thru a very volatile time, for fighting for teachers, parents and students, for being a great role model and friend.  Our community is immeasurably better because Cindy Vaillancourt  was on the Board of Education and I am going to miss her terribly.  

Lori Scott, Howard County Parent

One thing I have learned in this life is that if you think something nice about someone, you should say it to them. In the simplest of terms, thank you Cindy Vaillancourt for all you have done and will continue to do for our students, staff and families in the Howard County community. Cindy has gone out of her way to explain her actions, thoughts and intentions in many decisions she has made as an elected BOE member. Cindy stood up and in the gap for students, staff and families when the going got rough over the past few years. She didn’t owe all the explanation and time she has given to our community. Many decisions in the past have been made sheltered behind closed doors and away from public input. She has demanded change and access to data and people and held previous administration and staff to the utmost transparency any Board member has ever had to do. Sitting on this BOE in the recent past has been dark times and she has stood up, even when it meant standing alone. Cindy continues to demand and encourage students, staff and parents to put their best selves  forward and she believes in a positive transparent approach to her work on the BOE. She has shown       through her constant persistence that someone should be “nice and effective” as she once told me.    She has demanded action and stood up for what is right and for that, our community should be  forever grateful that we are now on a new path and it is indeed a new day in Howard County public schools.

So there you have it. How short-sighted to consider only two possibilities: that Ms. Vaillancourt is either too disabled to have the job or not disabled enough to receive disability payments. Reading these statements from people who actually know Ms. Vaillancourt make clear the third possibility that has been there all along. Ms. Vaillancourt is exactly who she says she is.  Despite the long-term effects of several serious illnesses which have rendered her unable to hold the kind of demanding, full-time job she once had, she is an intelligent and dedicated member of our community who wants to find some way to use the gifts she is able to give.

And for this she should not be shamed. She should be celebrated.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Democrats and Dilemmas

There’s quite a bit of buzz around the upcoming election for Democratic Central Committee. There are 30 candidates for twenty seats. 16 are running as a slate called HoCo Forward. If you want to learn more about the slate, they are having a meet and greet event today at four pm at BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse. If I get my Sunday chores done and get my act together, I’ll be there.

What I want to talk about today is an issue which came up for me during the last election. It’s my understanding that the goal of the Democratic Central Committee is to get Democrats elected, and that they are honor-bound to support all local Democrats who are running. So what do you do if you have someone running who has demonstrated poor judgment, or dishonesty, or a lack of responsiveness to constituents, or questionable ethical practices?

Quite bluntly, what if there is a bad Democrat?

I think everyone knows that I’m a Democrat. No surprise there. And I admit that I am much more upset when I find the occasional Democrat who violates what I believe to be core values of my party. It’s true. I get much angrier. I truly believe that Democrats shouldn’t be like that and I feel that candidates/elected officials who fail to represent the best of what our party espouses let me and all Democrats down.

I do not support the tribal practice of “Democrats are my people and therefore even a bad Democrat is better than the alternative.”

Now I have seen a lot of pontificating online recently where local progressives are putting Republicans on the spot for being the party of Trump and, therefore, not to be trusted. “What are you doing to change the direction of your party if you are a Republican who does not endorse the policies and actions of Mr. Trump,” the question goes.

It’s a valid question, although I’m a bit concerned about its almost weaponized use in a non-partisan race like the BOE. But that’s another blog post altogether.

Here’s the thing. If we are to accept that line of questioning as valid, then we must also accept questions about what Democrats will do faced with a bad Democratic candidate. And by bad I do not mean inexperienced, an oddball, well-meaning but long-winded, or generally okay but unlikely to get elected. I mean, what will the local Democratic Party do to reject truly bad Democrats? How do we work to make our party better?

It seems to me that we are great at asking the other guys uncomfortable questions. How do we answer this one? If we want people to place their trust in us when they go to the polls, don’t we need to prove we are trustworthy in the choices that we make?

That’s a question I will be asking candidates for Democratic Central Committee.

Saturday, April 14, 2018


Some time during the run-up to the presidential election, I made the acquaintance of reporter Kate Elizabeth Queram—on Twitter. I asked a question about a piece recounting one of Trump’s campaign rallies. She had also covered one, so she responded. She answered all my questions and I started following her, as one does. 

Over time I discovered that she had a wicked sense of humor, and could live-tweet a government  meeting like nothing you have ever seen before. I found myself deliberately going to twitter to follow along with her work for the Greensboro News and Record. I pleaded with her to move to Howard County and live-tweet County Council meetings.

I would even bring her snacks, I joked. We shared a twitter laugh at the prospect.

I almost had my wish. In an unexpected set of circumstances, she relocated with her spouse to Maryland and found herself job hunting. One morning I woke to discover her name in the Howard County Times. Oh, the glee I experienced contemplating the popcorn-worthy public meetings ahead!

HoCo Times threw her right into the deep end covering the student walkouts. She showed her mettle. Next a meeting of the county council and BOE. Locals were taking notice. Last night I reached out to her to see if she would be covering the Battle of the Books. (I still miss former HoCo Times reporter Sara Toth’s enthusiastic coverage of this annual local event.)

It was not to be. Almost as soon as Ms. Queram accepted the HoCoTimes position, she got an interview for a job which is much better suited to her qualifications and experience. I don’t know where that is yet, but, whoever they are, they are very, very lucky.

I was feeling a bit proud there. Maybe a little smug. I had single-handedly recruited an insanely talented journalist all the way from North Carolina. It was going to be so, so great. Alas, she got away. The biggest catch I will ever be in the position to brag about is gone, just like that. Even in the world of BaltSun/HoCoTimes/tronc this is a record.


I wish Ms. Queram the best. She is extremely good at what she does and we are fortunate that she even passed through town. 

And now back to cheering for all the over-worked, underpaid  journos who are tag-teaming our local coverage. We need them. We are incredibly lucky that they stick with us for as long as they do.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Counting Down


It’s almost Spring—the kind of Spring we want, that is. Flowers are coming up and the forsythia is looking good but can’t we just have a warm day that comes back again the next day without the threat of flurries or a startling drop in temperature?

Today might just be that day. Wear your jacket this morning but you just might not need it by this afternoon.

Once we finally reach that magical turning point we’ll be looking for outdoor experiences. Restaurants where one can eat outside will be a popular destination, even if the views leave something to be desired. Outdoor concerts and festivals will start to fill our weekends. Wine in the Woods will return, Merriweather’s roof will be restored, and the Chrysalis will kick off a season of dynamic community programming. Columbia Festivsl of the Arts is gearing up for Lakefest. There will be opportunities to enjoy the outdoors at the Howard County Conservancy and the Robinson Nature Center, as well.

There will be concert dates, festival dates, special event dates. Columbia and Howard County do outdoors well.

A reminder: Spring around here goes into hit and humid pretty darned fast. So, don’t just wait for a special event to get outside. Just go. Seize one of those lovely mornings or golden afternoons and take a walk, go to the playground with your kids, sit outside with your coffee and soak up the joy of Spring weather.

Make your own Spring celebration.

It’s almost here. I don’t know why it seems like we’ve been waiting forever, but, it does.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Grass is Greener

I am having one of those days where I have lots of ideas for future posts, but none for today. Yes, my friends, today is a big fat zero, but those other, as-yet unwritten posts are brilliant!


  1. Those orange signs and their repercussions 
  2. The non-partisan nature of the BOE race
  3. Part II on Columbia’s community/neighborhood centers
  4. Looking back at a year of the Elevate Maryland podcast 
  5. The upcoming family Building Families for Children 5K event 
Looks great, doesn’t it?

See you tomorrow.

In the meantime, here’s a fun pic from today’s Facebook memories of me hanging out with some old friends at a HoCo Blogs party at the Second Chance Saloon.

Hmm...might be time for another blog party in the HoCo...

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Cutting Corners

Once upon a time there was a great disturbance in the force when the Columbia Association decreed that there would be no more free towels at the CA gym facilities. There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth. “Are we in such dire financial straits that we can’t provide this simple amenity?” said some. “How can we hope to compete with newer, fancier commercial health clubs appearing on the scene?” said others. It is possible that the name of Rouse was invoked. I can’t remember.

Then came the time that CA wanted a complete accounting of Tot Lots to decide which ones should be removed. They even toyed with the idea of turning some into a different kind of space for older folks. Members of the community wondered why we couldn’t support play spaces for young children. Were they such a drain on the overall finances that we could no longer afford them?

Surely you remember the Aquatics Master Plan, when we were encouraged to think big about innovative and exciting water park ideas, as long as we understood that would mean closing a number of neighborhood pools. That didn’t go over so well. Aren’t we the pools, parks and pathways people? Isn’t that our basic mission? The community didn’t want to sacrifice neighborhood facilities.

Now I hear that CA is looking to close  neighborhood community centers. Columbia now has fourteen. They are looking at reducing that number to six.

Here we go again.

If the Columbia Association is looking for ways to cut costs, I’m interested in knowing why. A lot of why's, actually. Why were community centers created in the first place? Why does CA think they could be cut without negatively impacting that mission? Why are we faced with this choice at all?

Are we in trouble financially? Are the neighborhood centers really not in use to benefit the community? (I’m dubious about that.) Has the Columbia Association changed how it views its mission to the community? And, since we, essence, make up the Columbia Association, what do we think about this proposed change?

I’m aware that budgets are finite. We can’t have all of the things all of the time. We need to make choices. I simply want to know why this particular choice is on the table.

A tip of the hat to Oakland Mills Board Chair Jonathan Edelson for bringing this issue to the attention of the greater community.

Monday, April 9, 2018


Three things are on my mind this morning

A video about early childhood teachers (soundtrack is abysmal.)

Another about the value of recess.

This story.

Somehow I feel they all go together.

Of course, there’s way more to the story than that. But it does make me think about what we, as a society, want to invest in most: developing potential, or incarcerating failures.

Sunday, April 8, 2018


My daughter and I visited UMBC yesterday for their Just for Juniors event. We were there with around two thousand other interested students and families. It was an excellent opportunity to see what a nearby institution has to offer in the areas my daughter wants to pursue.

One thing I did not know until yesterday is that the University of Maryland Baltimore County was founded in 1966. And Columbia Maryland was founded in 1967. Hmm. They’re chronological peers. As we toured the campus I saw examples of growth and change from the original plans. I’d love to learn more about the history of UMBC, especially with an eye to how it compares to our home town in the bubble.

First off, I have to say that those Retreivers are still pretty excited about basketball. And they have good reason to be. They led off their key note event with a promotional film about their Cinderella experience. But they quickly moved on to highlighting a variety of reasons to be excited about UMBC as an institution of higher learning. Overall, they let current students take the spotlight and those students were more than equal to the task.

Whoever is in charge of large admissions events should feel extremely proud of the Just for Juniors event. Whether it was checking in, moving through a breakfast line, signing up for a tour, or finding a workshop location, we were never more than about ten seconds from a human being who was ready to help us. All day long. The amount of planning and execution involved in an event like yesterday’s was immense. These folks know how to provide a positive experience on a grand scale.

I made it through the basic campus walking tour, but when it came to a second one focusing on arts buildings, I was ready for a rest. So I took a break with an iced mocha at the campus Starbucks and read the student newspaper. I think I may have gotten ahold of an April 1st edition.

I wonder if there were any old guard folks who protested the addition of a Starbucks? I wonder if UMBC has experienced those same kinds of growing pains that Columbia is experiencing as it moved from being a young upstart to finding its way in a next generation?

We felt a great sense of community while visiting UMBC. I left wanting to learn more.

Saturday, April 7, 2018


In reviewing my posts over time, many seem to fall into the following categories:

Things I love
Things I’m angry about
Do something!
Stuff you need to know

So, I’m putting this one out there to you all today. I’m asking you to tell me your local Columbia/Howard County items. Specifically, I want to know:

Thing you love
Thing you’re angry about
Your top local action item
Something local you think I need to know

My list for today:

1. The Oakland Mills Village Center on a Friday evening
2. Why is Grace’s Law 2.0 still stuck in Committee with time running out in this session?
3. You can nominate Oakland Mills Middke School for a Verizon Innovative Learning Grant!
4. Local podcast Elevate Maryland is celebrating their one-year “pod-a-versary.”

Friday, April 6, 2018

Friday Highlights

I’m sending you over to BaltSun/HoCo Times today for this article which hits all the right Village Green/Town² notes:

Author’s Jamaican roots find fertile ground in Columbia by Janene Holzberg

It contains early Columbia history, Rouse’s vision, a mention of Oakland Mills, an upcoming event at the library, and nods to education and diversity.

As Rowe began making friends from all races and cultures at school — after never before interacting with anyone outside his race — “that’s when [the power of] diversity hit me,” he said.

Worth the read.

There’s a candidate forum tomorrow at St. John Baptist Church.

However, if the weather gets crazy there may be changes, so check the AACHC website for updates tomorrow.

Finally, my Facebook memories informed me that today is the anniversary of of the date in 2011 when I met both Tom Coale of HoCoRising and David Greisman of Columbia Patch at a HoCo Blogs party at the Stained Glass Pub in Elkridge. Neither one of these gentleman is doing the same thing they were doing in 2011. Mr. Coale is now a podcaster and Mr. Greisman is Senior Manager, Media Relations and Communications at Columbia Association.
Back then I went to the party as a blog reader. It was at this particular party that David Greisman convinced me to become a blogger. I wonder where we will all be in another seven years?

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Creative ReUse

When I’m not teaching, or blogging, I have a soft spot in my heart for something called upcycling. I like to create new things out of old things. Maybe it comes from all my years as a preschool teacher, turning egg cartons into alligators and old lunch bags into puppets. I do know that I love to rescue old things as a way of reducing waste. Why go out and buy new junk when you have so much old junk to play with?

So I was deliriously happy to learn of  Scrap B-More, a store that is run completely on donations of craft materials and sells them at a huge discount. Their goal is to keep unwanted items out of landfills. I loved their sign:

2, 832 chihuahuas! That’s impressive!

I scored some burlap ribbon, a large quantity of white cording, and a book on 1950’s advertising wth gorgeous, glossy illustrations which will be perfect for collage and decoupage. It’s fun to poke around and see what they have. It also makes you realize that you have stuff you aren't using that you’d like to donate. You can learn more about Scrap B-more on Facebook


After feeding our crafty appetites, my daughter and I popped over to Fell’s Point for some lunch. She wanted to show me another kind of creative reuse: the Rec Pier Chop House in the Sagamore Pendry Hotel.  It’s fancy. Here’s the lunch menu.


Thanks to the immense front window we were able to eat lunch inside with an unobstructed view of our car, something you have to do al fresco in Howard County.


I think I’d like to live in this place!   

The food was delicious, the service was excellent, and the atmosphere and wall art are fabulous.


(It changes color.)  

The Sagamore Pendry Hotel will be known to many of you as the police station on the television show Homicide: Life on the Steets. Before that it was a Baltimore City recreation pier, hence, the new restaurant name.

I hope that, as Columbia ages, we’ll see more of our own examples of creative reuse. (Think Whole Foods from Rouse Building.) We’re seeing plenty of new construction these days, but what about some creative preservation? Can you think of a Columbia building that’s ripe for a new incarnation? 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

A Quick Request

My apologies, friends. I am tired beyond tired this morning.

I’ll see you tomorrow.

In the meantime, please write your representative in support of Grace’s Law 2.0. It’s still stuck in Committee and time is running out in this session. From Christine McComas:

Friends, SB726/Grace's Law 2.0 has not made it out of the House committee yet...and the session ends this weekend!
Please follow this link to call or send an email urging passage to your rep:

Also, a super polite nudge to HJC Chair Joseph Valarrio wouldnt hurt:


Thanks. —jam

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

An Unexpected Film Festivsl

File this under things you can learn from Twitter: Columbia is going to have a Film Festival.

Say what? Is this not our beloved Mr. B showing  movies at the Lakefront?

No, it appears there’s a new kid in town this summer. The Lakefront Film Festival has a Twitter account, (@LakefrontFest)  a website (not totally fleshed out) and it appears that they plan to:

...feature over 25 new independent multicultural narrative features, documentaries, animation, experimental, web-series, short films as well as studio sneak previews screening in several beautiful venues within the Town Center. Visiting filmmakers and celebrities will interact with appreciative audiences at screenings and special events.

Does anyone out there in readerland know anything about this? It doesn’t appear to be a part of the Columbia Festival of the Arts. I don’t think it’s part of the Movies at Merriweather, or the multicultural film fest at the Chrysalis. So who are these people who are throwing a Film Festival and want people to buy “Festival Packages” to see them?

I don’t know. I’m curious. Also, a side note: this poster features the American City Building. I had heard rumors that the plan is to demolish it. Where does that stand?

Monday, April 2, 2018

The Denial Dance

Serious case of the I Don’t Wannas this morning. I’m back to work after a lovely Spring Break (yes, my school had one) and the weather is not too cheery.

A few thoughts on the Alec Ross debacle:

Truthfully, my biggest exposure to Ross has been his online ads. And I just don’t like them. They are negative and border on the arrogant. If you know him in real life or have had the opportunity to see him in person you may feel differently. But I haven’t. And, due to his ads, I don’t want to. He may be smart and have great ideas. But, to my mind, the world does not need one more white guy who thinks he knows everything.

And now we come to the situation where he is criticisizing a fellow Democrat with amazingly tone-deaf language.

The campaign of Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), a longtime lawmaker who is gay, says opponent Alec Ross, a tech entrepreneur and politcal newcomer, used dog whistle politics when he said that he will get things done as governor, unlike a state senator who “prances around Annapolis talking.”

Whether or not you believe that this was an intentional homophobic slur, you can still look at how Ross responded to this criticism and shake your head. There’s absolutely no sense of understanding that he made a mistake. It would have been so easy to say, “That was a horrible choice of words. I own that and I am going to do better.”

Mr. Ross did not do that. He put forward his running mate, Julie Verratti, to make his case; she’s openly gay. The Ross campaign is suggesting, no, outright accusing, Madaleno’s campaign of “smearing” Ross. 

This is some kind of dance of denial:

1. Say something offensive
2. Get called on it
3.Refuse to apologize
4. Accuse those who call you on it of an aggressively negative campaign tactic 

Now take that mode of behavior and envision it in Annapolis.

I’m not seeing it. Mr. Ross is by all accounts and bright and able fellow but in this incident he has shown exactly how much of a newcomer is is. Maybe he will learn and grow from this. So far it doesn’t look promising.

And another thing. Shouldn’t Democrats be focused on giving voters positive reasons to vote for a different vision of state leadership? 

Sunday, April 1, 2018


No April Fools this year.

How about some crazy wishes instead? How about a list of the local unlikelies that would just make you laugh if they were to come true? Yeah. I think I could get behind that.

Some suggestions:

CA Board votes to fund complete pathway system for Merriweather Park in Symphony Woods and name it in honor of Michael McCall.

Governor Hogan scraps plans for maglev in order to bring appealing, convenient, and affordable public transportation throughout Columbia and Howard County.

Allan Kittleman and Calvin Ball become accountability partners in a Whole 30 diet group.

A new form of redistricting stuns the County as real estate stays the same but the schools themselves are moved to different locations.

Politicians found to be in possession of campaign funds in excess of the legal limit will be required to donate the remainder to a Sick Building Health Fund to cover healthcare costs of victims.

Columbia Gateway named as 11th Columbia Village. Colonel Gateway immediately starts lobbying for pools.

Real Estate agents marketing houses as in a specific “award-winning school district” sentenced to sit through multiple, hours-long community & county hearings on APFO and school redistricting. No blankets and no snacks.

As an exercise in student voice, this year’s Battle of the Books will feature mixed parent teams (from different neighborhoods) having to solve community problems while students serve as coaches, judges, etc. (No books may be thrown or burned.)

With the success of the Elevate Maryland podcast at Joe’s Deli, all local restaurants will be looking for an in-residence podcast team, causing a huge upsurge in local listening choices.

The Mall in Columbia will host high school classes to ease overcrowding, raising attendance numbers for weekday daytime visits. However, weekend trips to mall by teens will plummet as it is no longer remotely “cool” to go there.

Well, it’s a start. What would you add?

Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Craziness Returns

What with the interesting political hocus pocus going on in Annapolis this week, I thought it was significant that this post came up in my memories for today on Facebook.

The Craziness Continues

At the heart of that post:

I'm of the opinion that these meetings allow for greater transparency and accountability. In Howard County the community struggle with our school system over these issues has taken on almost epic proportions. Citizens continue to testify in Annapolis in favor of a bill to ensure meaningful compliance with MPIA requests, yet legislators in Annapolis don't think our Superintendent should need to articulate capital budget priorities in an open meeting. 

For heaven's sake, right now Howard County is practically the definition of why these meetings need to be open. We have students and staff who have suffered long term health problems due to mold issues in their schools. All the while those in power denied there was any problem at all and there was no one holding them accountable. The Board of Education, whose mission is to direct the Superintendent, largely abdicated their responsibility to the community.

So what happened in Annapolis this week? Here’s a few snippets from Bryan Sears of the Maryland Daily Record:

Breaking: while the Board of Public Works met and the governor and comptroller criticizes an effort to remove them from the school construction process, the Budget and Taxation Committee was pulled from the floor and voted out the House bill. Republican senators expressed anger over a lack of a hearing.  
#mdpolitics #mdga18

Live from the Board of Public Works. Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter VR Franchot are expected to comment on pending legislation that would end board oversight of school construction around the state. 
#mdpolitics #mdga18

No one would suggest that I’m a big fan either of the Governor or of Mr. Franchot, but I’m still very much in support of having these sessions remain as they are, in open hearings in front of elected officials. I don’t know where Howard County would be right now if we hadn’t been able to present our concerns about mold in our schools during this very public forum. 

Some folks seem to think that this is political payback for Mr. Franchot’s involvement in proposed craft beer legislation. I’m not an Annapolis insider, so I really couldn’t say. But the bill passed and now goes to the Governor. The Governor will very likely veto and the begins the process of whether or not the assembly will override the veto. If this is political payback for something, I think it’s poorly thought out. Taking away an opportunity for public input and scrutiny just doesn’t feel right to me.

Friday, March 30, 2018


If yesterday’s blog post proved anything whatsoever, it would be that Dave Yungmann has plenty of women friends who are willing to give him testimonials. That’s great. It’s good to have friends, and it looks like he has some of the best.

Things that these testimonials focus on:

Dave Yungmann is a great guy. I don’t dispute that. My blog post wasn’t about that at all.

Dave Yungmann did a lot during the BOE campaign that you don’t know about. I don’t dispute that either.

That’s just how people write campaign literature. It’s no big deal.

He would never erase women. He’s not like that.

Here’s the deal. As a writer, albeit an amateur, I naturally focus on how people use words. So my blog post was an analysis of how Mr. Yungmann was telling his story to the public. In a political campaign, once you put stuff out there, the public will read it and give feedback. That’s how it works.   And there’s nothing innately unfair about commentary on political campaign posts. You are responsible for how you tell your story.

It says something about who you are.

While Mr. Yungmann might not be the sort to take credit for other people’s work and erase women from the narrative—and I hear the folks who are telling me this—his campaign material clearly did just that. I don’t care what political party he is, I would have called out anyone for that. Particularly since the topic, changes in the school system, was one I had quite a bit of knowledge of.

I see examples almost every day where women are excluded, erased, talked over, and diminished when it comes to community and political discourse. Not only does this do a great disservice to women, it is also a loss to our culture as a whole. We all lose when representation and leadership do not reflect the fact that it takes both women and men to make good decisions in a culture that has, no surprise, both women and men. It’s really that simple.

Every time we allow someone to shape the narrative in a way that excludes or downplays the contribution of women we endorse the underlying misconception that men’s work is somehow innately more valuable. I just can’t give that a pass.

I want to thank everyone who took the time yesterday to chime in on this topic. Thanks for all of your thoughtful responses.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Wait, What?

Into every successful movement, spearheaded and supported largely by women, will come one man who will take credit for the whole thing.

I was noodling around on Facebook, looking at candidate pages,when I took a look at the page of David Yungmann. Yungmann, a Republican, is running for County Council in District 5. My eye caught this sentence:

David became a leader in the movement for new school system leadership, successfully electing a new Board of Education and installing a new Superintendent.

Wait, what?

I rubbed my eyes. I shook my head. I read it again.

David became a leader in the movement for new school system leadership, successfully electing a new Board of Education and installing a new Superintendent.

While I was aware that Mr. Yungmann supported the campaigns of two of the BOE challengers, I had no idea he was responsible for both the new board and the new superintendent. That’s pretty impressive.

In fact, it’s a such preposterous claim that I clicked on the photo hoping that it might explain that mind-boggling sentence.

It didn’t. It actually made it worse. I understand that politics is an exercise in highlighting one’s  accomplishments but, in this four-frame promotional piece, Mr. Yungmann takes a story in which many people were involved and makes it all about him. He takes a piece of very recent history and turns it into his story.

This galls me because most of the leadership on this particular issue was actually the work of women: Cindy Vaillancourt, Bess Altwerger, Vicky Cutroneo, Barb Krupiarz, Christine McComas, Lisa Markovitz, to name but a few. Yes, men were involved but women did most of the “heavy lifting” on  this over a very long period of time. No matter how much work Mr. Yungmann devoted to this effort it does not give him the right to erase them from the narrative.

I’m not entirely positive what all this means in relation to his campaign for County Council. I do know that I never want to serve on a committee with Mr. Yungmann because he will surely want to take all the credit.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018


All text printed in italics is from this article in the HoCo Times by Kate Magill:

Howard County looks to add door locks, 4 officers to bolster school security 

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman announced Tuesday that he is committing $1.1 million in his upcoming budgets for school security initiatives, including more door locks at high schools and additional police officers for middle schools.


Three new school resource officers, and a supervisor, would join the three officers assigned to serve six middle schools: Mayfield Woods, Patuxent Valley, Wilde Lake, Harper's Choice, Lake Elkhorn and Oakland Mills.

Stephon Clark

Until the additional school resource officers arrive, Gardner said the department will mandate all patrol officers to add public and private schools in their beats to their regular patrol rounds.
Tamir Rice 

“So the role here is for our road officers, in their beats, to make at least one check per day of going in, checking in with school administration and staff, getting to know them, also if time allows walking in the school, interacting with students and if time permits, to even have lunch with the students,” Gardner said. “This is not something new, this is something that officers have done on their own in the past, but this is now just formalizing that program.”

Philando Castille

Martirano said the school system plans to have “enhanced communication” with families about the increased police presence in schools to ease anxieties that parents or children may have, but he did not provide specifics.

Eric Garner

The idea of an increased police presence has been met with concern from some community members, including Howard County NAACP President Willie Flowers, who said while he sees the value in helping officers and students to get to know one another, he didn’t believe the initiative has been well communicated to parents. 
Michael Brown 

I know they mean well. I know they feel they are simply doing their jobs, doing the best they can to protect students using the resources they have available to them. But I wonder. I wonder if our new director of Diversity and Inclusion, Kevin Gilbert, was seated at the table when these plans were being made. 

Sandra Bland

We know that learning is adversely affected by stress. The County Executive and the Superintendent are hoping to allay fears about school shootings.

Freddie Gray

What about the learning of students whose life experiences have taught them to fear police?

Walter Scott

I don’t know. I just don’t.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Last Call

I was there on Sunday when the store employee held up his phone to play bagpipe music and tell people to bring their purchases to the cashiers up front. He had been doing that every Sunday at that time for many years, but this particular time it was different.

“Please bring your purchases to the front to pay. Thank you so much, and have a good evening. And a happy life.”

The customers laughed a bit, then applauded.

On a Sunday, March 25th, Daedalus Books and Music Outlet Store closed its doors for the last time. There will be no more browsing, no more discovering new music heard while shopping, no more great finds which snatch gift-giving victory from the jaws of defeat. The new owners will continue an online presence from their headquarters in Ohio but our hometown store will be no more.

We all know that, in the age of Amazon, bookstores are a dying breed. Yet somehow I thought that our little funky, off-beat local place would last forever. As a teacher I found books to use in the classroom and books to give as student gifts. As a parent I took my young child to their children’s department from strollerhood onwards. I remember afternoons of watching her gleefully explore their collection of beanbag chairs.

I bought CDs, DVDs, calendars, greeting cards, magnets, toys, crafts books, cookbooks, big, glossy coffee-table books about cathedrals for my husband. It was a place to “noodle around”when one just needed to get out of the house for a bit. One of the long-time employees was a former student of my husband’s at Towson University, so we always felt a sense of kinship there.

Those of us who manage to live in the affluent splendor that is Howard County by finding and prizing all the good bargains will find our lives diminished now that Daedalus is gone. Surely anyone who would rather pick up a book and flip through it rather than click a button online, and who treasures the joy of discovery, will find their worlds a bit smaller.

The bagpipe fanfare was oddly appropriate. We have lost an old friend. Farewell.

 And have a happy life.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Sweet Spot

I had a conversation the other evening about development in Howard County. I confessed that I have found myself to be conflicted on this issue. In fact, I have shied away from writing about it in the recent past because I have felt that my stance of conflict was of no use to anyone. I thought that, after doing my homework, I should be able to choose one side or the other.

I haven’t. If you’ve ever wondered why I didn’t weigh in on APFO, this is why. Or make a definitive statement about the Columbia TIF.

On the one hand, I know what communities look like when businesses feels that they are no longer commercially viable. Developers are no longer motivated to engage. It can be a vicious cycle. A lack of willingness to invest can be the kiss of death. And I know that we need a push for affordable housing and decent “starter” housing. We need to make that a priority.

On the other hand, I do see quite clearly the overcrowding in schools that continued development has brought to our area. It seems logical to suggest that the pace of new housing should be slowed while new school construction is sped up. There are legitimate environmental concerns. And do developers pay an amount that is a meaningful contribution?

I once had a conversation with someone who suggested that those who are against further development are selfish. “They have found the good life in Howard County but now they want to pull up the ladder and keep others from finding the same thing.” He also suggested that there’s an underlying classism/racism in many of their arguments.

Hmm. If true, that’s pretty ugly.

The arguments against development, it seems to me, come from a basic concept that there is a finite amount of land/amenities in Howard County. As you keep adding more structures/people, it cannot help but dilute the quality of life. I’m not saying I agree with this, just that I think this is the argument. As a preschool teacher I can see some value to this. We have square footage-per-child limits for a reason.

And yet there’s no denying that this is an argument which is based on a scarcity mindset. If others come, will there be enough? Will what I have be diminished?

My conversation about development the other evening made me realize how much I want to find common ground between these two sides. What is the sweet spot between continued investment in Howard County and protecting and supporting infrastructure, services, amenities, schools, etc? It simply can’t be an either/or proposition.

I read this recently in regards to the school budget, but I think it applies here as well.

The opposite concept of the "tyranny of the OR" is called the “genius of the AND.” We can preserve our core beliefs AND invest in new initiatives. We can advocate for resources for community A AND also want the best for community B. We can advocate for students in overcrowded schools AND students who need to utilize the school lunch program. We can want PreK AND more resources for students with disabilities. It doesn't have to be either OR...
What do you think? (Candace Dodson Reed)

What do you think? How can we find the sweet spot? Can we?

Sunday, March 25, 2018


Boy, that Kindness Rocks craze sure went south in a hurry, didn’t it?

Pennsylvania school wants to arm students with rocks to protect them against active shooters

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Basket Bingo (Not What You Think)

Easter is coming and some of you will be making Easter baskets. If Easter is not your holiday, you may have an occasion to celebrate the coming of Spring, or a birthday, or even a wedding. A gift basket could be just the thing.

I have an idea. What if you filled your basket with items from Mom and Pop businesses in Howard County? Here are a few ideas:

Try some delicious sweets and treats From Momma’s Kitchen.  The selection of flavors is amazing and her presentation is always over the top gorgeous.

Head over to the Breezy Willow Country Farm Store and noodle around to find just the right things to tuck in your basket. They have some wonderful handmade soaps that would bring some delightful Springtime fragrance to your gift.

A jar or two of Neat Nick Preserves would easily fit in a basket. Perhaps you could tuck in a fresh baked loaf of bread from River House Pizza?

I made my first visit to Su Casa in Ellicott City on Thursday evening. I always thought that they were just furniture. Was I ever wrong! There’s lots of smaller, “gifty” things that would work perfectly in a basket.

Normally I would suggest a trip to Daedalus Books for a few little book-related gifts but this is their last weekend and I’m not sure what the selection will be. Stop by to wish them well anyway. You might find a bargain.

Am I forgetting a great local source for Easter candy? Little Spring-y toys for kids?

Chime in with your recommendations in the comments. Remember, it has to be truly HoCoLocal.