Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Open Door

I have a confession to make. Every day, Monday-Friday, when my daughter walks out of the house to go to school, I close the door, but I don't lock it.  I don't lock it because a little voice in my head says she might run back and say, "I can't do it, mom. Please don't make me go."

She never has. But I persist in this habit because of what happened to her older sister in middle school. She was miserable. I didn't really understand the extent of it for quite a while. I look back with the guilt that I should have helped sooner; I should have known.

She was bullied. She was bullied for being different, for not being rich enough, thin enough, cool enough. For not wearing the right clothes or thinking the right thoughts. For being too smart.

Day after day I drove her to school and as we got closer, she'd be overcome by stomach aches and nausea. I had no choice--I had to go to work and she had to go to school. She didn't tell me what was happening because she knew I had no choice. I think it very nearly killed her.

Middle school is just rough, we tell ourselves. You're just unhappy no matter where you are. But you just get through it. We all got through it, right?

Back to my youngest. She's having the awful growing pains of middle school now. The academic work is manageable. The social challenges are ongoing and often heartbreaking. We've done some intervening on her behalf, with mixed success. We want her to know she can tell us everything. But she is at the age where she is learning that you don't always have to tell everything. And so we worry. What is happening that we might not know?

I had the sudden realization this morning that, if I have never told her that the door is open, then it might as well be locked. I think I haven't told her because I haven't wanted to encourage her to bail out if she is able to go on. But things have been hard lately. She needs to know that I always have the door open for her. I *think* she knows...

"Middle school is rough, but we'll get through it. I want you to know I'll always keep a door open for you. No matter what."

You don't have to go through this alone.


Monday, April 29, 2013


In the aftermath of the Columbia Elections, nothing has meant so much to me as this post, by Bill Santos at Columbia Compass:

"For those not elected, they need you most of all.  In the past few weeks, they have been subjected to accusations that no one would ever think of prior to their declared candidacy.  I have been there.  The feeling of loss is expected, but what is really jarring is trying to integrate back into the community. There is a pariah effect.  Do people in the neighborhood really believe those things that were said?"

That is exactly how I feel.  My opponent won, in large part by tapping into a long-nurtured well of fear in a specific group of residents who were willing to believe lies about me. Here is a list of the ones I know about; I'm sure there are more.

I was taking money from Howard County elected officials.
I was a front for big developers.
The vote for the Inner Arbor Trust was only a first step to turning CA into a big 501(c)3 that would then institute secret meetings.
I wanted to get rid of old people.
I was against putting a bubble dome on Merriweather (was this even an issue?)

My personal favorite was the man who checked in with my opponent before going into vote. I heard him say, "That Kevin Ulman is for her, and we're against him, right?"

Lies. Lies. Lies.

After the vote was announced, I went up to shake the winner's hand. To my dismay, he pressed a hug on me and whispered in my ear, "Like I said, just a friendly competition."


It takes a while for the sliminess of this experience to wash off. You don't just snap out of it. When you have given the best of who you are and seen your efforts twisted and misrepresented, it takes something out of you.

Life goes on, the business of Columbia goes on. But for those of us who have been so recently run through the wringer, all we ask is for a little empathy.


Friday, April 26, 2013


Young children are full of energy and enthusiasm. They love to sing, move to music, tap out a rhythm on the arm of a sofa or your pots and pans. They eagerly sign up for Band, Chorus and Orchestra in elementary school.

But, by the time they get to high school, only twenty per cent of students are still involved in traditional school music programs.  What happens to the other eighty percent? Have they simply ceased to be musical?

Last night the Howard County Board of Education took a moment to recognize someone who cares deeply about the other eighty percent.  This guy:

Yes, that's my husband, Richard McCready. He teaches Music Technology at River Hill High School. He's also the Music Technology Facilitator for the county, so he has been working to get music tech labs up and running in all of the high schools. He writes curriculum, evaluates software, troubleshoots glitches, and travels from school to school supporting other teachers.

But most of all, he is a teacher in his own classroom. He meets his students where they are, and designs lessons and projects to meet their needs and to challenge them to move forward. Music Technology is a growing field, and one could truthfully say that students are learning valuable, marketable skills in these classes.

But the skills aren't just in handling equipment and software. His students work on both research and self-reflection, positive evaluation of peers, collaboration, problem solving, divergent thinking, creativity and self-expression, flexibility, listening, positive self-concept. Tools for life.

The photo above was snapped by his proud father at the meeting yesterday. It will be a wonderful way to remember the joy of that moment. But I want to leave you with another, equally important portrait, left by a student on the classroom whiteboard:

Earlier in the week I was actively seeking some good news, because I was having a serious shortage at my end. Well, here is some good news: a teacher who has a dream to reach out and include more students in the joy of making music, and a school system that allows that to become a reality.

It's a win-win-win.  And we could all use a bit more of those.


Thursday, April 25, 2013


Yesterday felt like the Spring day of my dreams.  Say what you will about our on- again, off-again Spring this year. It has produced a few stellar days for us, and yesterday was one of them. Time to look at my yard, sadly neglected over the last month.

Dandelions have started having a wild party in my neighborhood.  I've had a great time going out and pulling their heads off. Yes, I know you have to dig them up by the roots to make any real progress, but sometimes violent decapitation is more rewarding.  I saw a recipe online yesterday for an all-natural dandelion spray; that will be next. In the meantime, working out my aggression weed by weed will do just fine.

I have a tiny yard, and the grass is cut by our HOA. I have a small front flower bed which contains a hodgepodge of plants that my daughter and I have picked at the Farmer's Market from summer to summer. They're annuals, but they keep coming back.  There's one large bush that the deer chew on through the winter, some tiger lilies leftover from church, some accidental tulips. Shoots from the roots of a tree that isn't even there anymore keep trying to come up as new baby trees.

We've an azalea that blooms after every other azalea in the neighborhood, probably due to its location. And over by the shed are some peonies which grow and grow every year, tall and spindly til they can barely hold their pink princess heads up. New this year are two neatly mulched bald spots where trees used to be. They await further instruction--grass?  flowers? rock garden? statuary?

Keeping watch over it all is a funky flower sculpture given to me by a friend who knows how much I love upcycled crafts. The stem is fashioned from a wooden stair spindle, the flower as large as a dinner plate. It blooms rain or shine, winter or summer. No matter how depressed I get about the state of my rag-tag flower bed, that enormous blossom makes me smile.

Grief levels us all from time to time. But Spring and a homely garden bed remind us to begin again where we are, focus on what we have, and just enjoy the feel of the dirt and the sights, sounds, and scents of returning life.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Columbia in the Past Tense

We don't have a television station. We don't have hard-hitting investigative journalism. We don't have a newspaper that wants to go beyond the surface. And the people in power like it that way.

There are approximately 9,900 residents in the Village of Oakland Mills. 511 households were represented by votes in Saturday's election. Of those, 382 were for my opponent.

You're not going to read this in the newspaper, so I am just going to have to say it bluntly. The story here is not who voted, but who didn't vote. Just look at the numbers.

In order to retain power one must make the business of Columbia look incomprehensible, unpleasant, and irrelevant. In so doing one can prevent greater participation. And, my friends, it's working. Retaining power is the name of the game, and it doesn't matter if you have to lie, intimidate, and manipulate to do it.

But none of us are immortal. The time will come when those in power are gone. Thanks to their unwavering efforts, Columbia will die with them. Because in order to retain control, they will have made Columbia irrelevant.  And the wondrous experiment of Mr. Rouse will be a footnote.

I used to think that Columbia was just for the Pioneers.  Maybe I was right.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013


The following is reprinted with permission from the Oakland Mills Village Grist Newsletter.

It Begins With A Conversation – March 2013
Sandy Cederbaum, Oakland Mills Village Manager

This past year we have had many important community conversations.  Some conversations start by one neighbor talking to another or by a resident attending a board meeting and giving remarks.  Other conversations are take place over a cup of coffee or in the produce aisle at Food Lion.  It is great to start the conversation and awesome to have that conversation spark action. 

Conversations that led to community discussions and ultimately became issues we are actively involved with include but are not limited to:  Blandair Park and the impact of park activities on the resident of Oakland Mills; traffic and pedestrian safety; CA aquatics initiatives; CA Open Space management, mowing and reforestation; community safety; environmental issues; Bridge Columbia and Columbia’s evolving downtown; community vibrancy, and cultural activities.  Our list is long and issues are varied. 

Conversations are healthy, we need more of them.  Our board, staff and volunteers are committed to making Oakland Mills the best village in Columbia.  We need everyone’s voice and participation.  Join us this year at our board meetings which are the 2nd of 4th Tuesday of each month.  You are welcome to join the conversation but also welcome just to observe.  Some of our greatest leaders started out by sitting in the “spectator section” and now joined in the conversation and lead the discussions.  Join us at whatever participation level you are comfortable with, we will always welcome you.


 "Oakland Mills -- we value connections."

Today Sandy celebrates ten years of service to Oakland Mills as our Village Manager. Please take some time today to give her a call, send an email, or stop by the Other Barn to say thanks.  We couldn't keep it all going without her. 



Monday, April 22, 2013


Today's post is dedicated to the people who believe:

Margaret, 69
Phil, 67
Bill, 61
Karen, 59
Rick, 59
Kevin, 55
Marcia, 54
Greg, 51
John, 50
Peter, 50
Christie, 47
Mary Kate, 46                                                                          
Bill, 45
Richard, 45
Abby, 42
Miranda, 38
Lena, 37
Kristin, 37
Ian, 35
George, 28
Alice, 26
Margo, 12
Anna, 6
Chris, 5
Penelope, 4
Lily, 3
Chrys, 2
Daphne, 1
Daisy, 6 months

"This is my goal: to participate fully in the process with an open mind,and to represent all of the residents of Oakland Mills: children, teens, young adults, young professionals, parents and grandparents. Our differing views and needs should be a part of the ongoing conversations about both our day-to-day lives and our plans for the future."

--Julia, 54


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Break Down These Walls

Once upon a time there was an elementary school that had a window right in the middle of the office. The window looked out onto a grassy courtyard. I imagine it must have been a refreshing view for teachers and staff as they hurried by, or a quiet place to catch one's breath while waiting to make photocopies. It was a window in an unlikely place, an unexpected flash of green and sky.

But one day the little school needed to become a bigger school. The courtyard needed to become a part of an expansion so that there would be more room for students to learn. So the courtyard was no more.  But the window remained. One one side, the window, on the other, a wall.

And into this seeming impasse came someone with imagination and resolve. And what had become a stumbling block became something new.

Build Bridges, Not Walls

Break 'em on down,
Break 'em on down,
Break down these walls between us
--Harmony Grisman

As we come to the end of this campaign for CA Elections, this poster is more relevant to me than ever.  In Oakland Mills I have seen first-hand evidence of those who wish to build up walls in our community.  I know that there are many differences of opinion in Columbia. Some may be generational, some based on deep-rooted political perspectives.  But our goal should be to bring more people to the table, not to shut them out.

I refuse to be defeated by obstructionist attitudes about Oakland Mills and Columbia. Our job is to face the obstacles with imagination and resolve. Good representation includes understanding of many views. True progress is made through building bridges, not walls.



Monday, April 15, 2013

Community Leadership: Fighter or Partner?

You hear and see it everywhere. " If you elect me, I'll fight for you." "I'll fight special interests." I'll fight those who seek to destroy our way of life." "I'll fight increases in costs." "I'll fight decreases in services." "I'll fight for what's right!"

How much good is all this fighting doing for us?

You elect someone that will fight only for your point of view, and then, so does the other guy.  How is that working out in Washington?

How does it work out in Columbia?

Candidates who see themselves and portray themselves as fighters must paint the entire process as a war.  There must be enemies, traitors, battles. The conflict must be endless. The end justifies the means.

And residents?  Where do residents fit in?

We must be afraid, very afraid.  There is evil hiding behind every tree and only the Valiant Candidate can protect us. Without him or her, we are nothing.

I have news for you:  this is Columbia, where everyone on the People Tree has power.  We are not helpless, we are not powerless, and we are not at war.

Anyone who has tried or observed the Fighter scenario in the workplace or in daily life knows exactly how that plays out.  Oh, it may work for awhile. Loud, angry voices, whisper campaigns, alliances based on fear. But eventually it all just collapses in on itself.

The simple truth is this: no one wants to work with the Fighters.  In fact, no one can work with the fighters. They make it completely impossible for anyone to work well together.

If you live in Columbia, you are being asked to make a big decision on April 20th. Whether or not your Village has a contested election, you are being asked to learn more and get involved in the process. And communication, knowledge, and self-empowerment are the antithesis of fear and warfare.

What does Columbia need today, and in the future? Fighters, or partners who can work together successfully and who will listen and share information?

The future of Columbia must not be decided by bullies. Or by fighters.  The future of Columbia must be decided by us.

What will you choose?


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Whose Job is it Anyway?

Here's a question for you:

What happens if you are running for office but there is widespread misinformation about what that position actually entails?

It means, in effect, that you and your opponent are running for strikingly different offices. How does that work, exactly?

The Columbia Council Representative positions were designed to be held by ordinary citizens.  They are volunteer positions. The only official training that exists for them is proven dedication to community involvement, knowing how to work well with others, and being able to learn and make decisions about community issues.

Yet I hear that I am not qualified to hold this position because I am "a musician".  Were there no music teachers in early Columbia? Can music teachers not bring lessons learned from professional experience to the CA and OM boardrooms? What about plumbers? Administrative assistants? Photographers?

It has also been suggested to me that this a full-time position which can only be held be someone who is retired. What did they do when Columbia was new? How did they find people who were specially trained in Columbia, with all the correct professional qualifications, who were already retired?

The answer is: they didn't.  Columbia was represented by Columbians. If we stop believing that we can be represented by our peers, we have lost the essence of what Columbia is about. If we believe that all people on the People Tree are equal but some are "more equal than others", our experiment in community life has failed.

The greatest qualifications for being a Columbia Council Representative, and a member of the CA Board are as follows: being willing and able to work hard, learn quickly, see things from others' points of view, and communicate to colleagues and constituents regularly, fully, and truthfully.

I work for the Howard County Public School System, part-time. I teach Music and Movement classes to preschool aged children with special needs. My professional experience and my life experience give me unique qualifications to represent my Village.

If you want to learn more about the responsibilities of the CA Board of Directors, do what I did when I first decided to run. Ask the Columbia Association for pertinent documents defining the position.

Read them,
Analyze them,
Formulate your own opinion

That's what is so wonderful about Columbia. We all have a place at the table, and we can choose representatives who will make sure that all voices will be heard.

Even if you're a music teacher.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

This Is It: What I Stand For


I support the implementation of the Downtown Plan. http://www.columbiamd.com/plan/faq/

I support the Inner Arbor Plan and Trust for the revitalization of Symphony Woods

I support the Bridge Columbia Project as a positive step contributing to the revitalization of Oakland Mills through an enhanced connection to Downtown, with significant improvements to walkability,bikeability and transit.

I support the work of the Oakland Mills Revitalization Task Force,
and the ongoing implementation of the Village Master Plan.


 I see our biggest challenges as:

       rethinking our infrastructure as we choose how to use our available funds: to make it sustainable for generations to come, as well as new and exciting for those who have yet to experience what Columbia has to offer.

      educating and involving younger and newer residents about Columbia,thus increasing a sense of ownership and civic involvement.

      (in reference to Oakland Mills) continuing the work to make our Village better all the time, a place that appeals to new families--welcoming, vibrant, safe, attractive.


As the Columbia Council Representative for Oakland Mills, I will:

1. Participate in Village Board meetings with candor and openness.

2. Share the results of these meetings with colleagues on the CA Board.

3. Work to create partnerships that will benefit Oakland Mills and Columbia.

4. Report the results of CA Board Meetings in a timely fashion.

5. Use already established channels of communication to keep Oakland Mills residents up to date.


If Oakland Mills wants to have a place at the table as Columbia's future is being planned, our representative must be willing to negotiate, form partnerships,examine new ideas, and make compromises.  This is my goal as Columbia Council Representative--to participate fully in the process with an open mind,and to represent all of the residents of Oakland Mills: children, teens, young adults, young professionals, parents and grandparents. Our differing views and needs should be a part of the ongoing conversations about both our day-to-day lives and our plans for the future.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Avon Calling

Lately I have been doing something both time-honored and generally disliked:  going door-to-door. It has its ups and downs.  Meeting voters and having the opportunity to experience actual human contact is extremely valuable. Intruding into people's home spaces is a delicate matter, though. In our society we don't encourage or even accept a door-to door approach anymore.

I asked my friend Greg to answer the following:  I am excited to answer my door when _______________.

"When it's a package from Amazon," he said. We laughed.

When I was little, the slogan, "Ding-dong, Avon calling!" was as familiar as
the most popular Internet memes of today.  In my neighborhood the milkman came right into your house in the morning and put the milk in your refrigerator while you were eating breakfast. Mother bought brushes from the Fuller Brush man, and the knife sharpening man came rolling down the street several times a year.

And no, this was not in the dark ages. It was not truly all that long ago. Neighbors really did come by to borrow a cup of sugar, or ask if you could watch the baby while they ran to the store, or to ask you to donate to the school bake sale. Or to return your ladder.

Not any more.

We are so much busier these days, and we have withdrawn more into ourselves. We fear intrusion. We must protect our families. Our home is our fortress.  The world is a scary place.

And into this 21st century world comes 20th century (or earlier) politicking in a village-sized election.  I feel that I am the very model of anachronistic politics. I do want to meet my neighbors. I want to know what your concerns are, what your ideas for the future are.

I just don't want to bother you.

So, if you live in Oakland Mills, and you see me and my friends out walking with "Oakland Mills-Orange" fliers, don't be alarmed. We don't want money. We're not selling new windows or security systems. We aren't trying to get you to come to our church.  We're just out sharing some information about the upcoming CA Elections.

You don't have to open the door. But, if you do:  we'll be nice. I promise.


Monday, April 1, 2013

No Fooling

One year ago I posted this as a satirical protest to foot-dragging and naysayers on improvements to Symphony Woods. Do you know what plan was on the table?  This one: the Cy Paumier Plan, the plan we are now being told that everyone liked, everyone agreed upon.  I keep reading that it was voted on, approved, and "shovel-ready."

Except that isn't true.  As late as July, when the matter came before the Planning Board, residents turned up to protest the removal of mature trees which would be necessary to fulfilling the design of this plan. Letters to the editor are also on file, one suggesting a petition with "600 hundred signatures."

Shovel-ready?  I think not.

The Plan as it was submitted was not acceptable. The Columbia Association paused this process to respond to residents concerns. The Inner Arbor Plan is a response to those concerns, clearly striving to meet the spirit and the letter of the already approved Downtown Plan.

Why exactly are people out there right now, vilifying the Columbia Association?

A friend of mine wrote recently that she wondered if she enjoyed planning vacations more than actually going on them.  Is that what is going on with opponents of both the first and the second plans for revitalizing Symphony Woods?  Maybe so, because it seems that Mr. Paumier is working up another plan! Does this sound like progress to you?

Last year on April 1st, I tried to find something humorous in these proceedings, and I invited you to  share a laugh or a smile along with me. But as we approach an April 20th election where some exceptionally brave and creative work is on trial--it isn't funny anymore.

If you don't vote for the Columbia you want, we will all lose.

No fooling.