Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Civics Lesson, HoCo Style

This is a happy little stop sign.

It's happy because yesterday road crews from Howard County ame and trimmed away all of the plants growing on it. There's nothing more energizing than a good haircut, eh?

I drive by this sign almost daily, and I've been watching it slowly taken over by vines. Yesterday morning, when I went over to photograph Pete's SnowBalls, I had an idea. I snapped a picture and posted it on Facebook.

I received a response from Candace Dodson Reed in less than a minute, telling me exactly what to do, with follow up from Regina Clay. By the end of the day, it was fixed. I posted the picture because I didn't really know what department was responsible, and because I knew I probably knew someone who would know.

It turns out that I did. And the reponse time was awesome, I must say. But that's not the only lesson I am carrying away from this.  There's more.

Not only did this matter get handled within the day, but I also was given information on how to report things like this directly to hocogov in the future. This says to me, yes, we respond to social media, but you also have the power to "dial direct", as we used to say back in the day. Also, it was very clear to me that I didn't need to be nasty or adversarial to get my request handled promptly. An overgrown stop sign is not the result of some secret conspiracy against my neighborhood, and hocogov is not the kind of organization that responds only in the face of threats.

You wouldn't know that the way some local folks operate.

Oh, and one more thing.  I made sure to thank those same people who helped me out. Publicly. Since I shone a spotlight on them by posting my photo on Facebook, it seemed only fair to give them their due.

This is the most important lesson of all. In the future, when you are given the resonsibiity of electing public servants, be they Village Board members or Maryland Delegates, I strongly urge you to find out the answer to this question: how do they treat people they need to work with to get things accomplished? A good working relationship is forged through respect and appreciation. You may achieve results through anger and intimidation some times, but it's unsustainable. 

So, choose civility in your civic undertakings. It's the smart thing to do.


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

People Watching

First in line was a rather rumpled, portly fellow, early thirties, scraggly facial hair. Not at all an impressive sight, yet I overheard him speaking to the woman politely as she completed his order. Next, a young man in his early twenties with Downs Syndrome, clearly able to walk over, place an order and successfully handle the change of money, and return home.

It was a nice afternoon and I didn't mind waiting in line. It was my last stop after running a bunch of errands, and it was a treat for myself: a watermelon snowball at Pete's. If you're not from my side of town, you may never have been to Pete's. Here are some reviews, one from the great hocolocal HowChow himself. Here is a lovely hymn to the joys of Pete's in blog form. ( Scroll down to the end.)

Here is a picture of Pete's.

If it lacks appeal in this shot, that is because this was taken this morning at nine am when Pete's was closed. What's missing from this scene is, of course, people.

So I was waiting in line and I looked over to a shaded picnic table where a family of four sat talking, laughing, and enjoying their snowballs together. I was close enough to be eavesdropping, but my Spanish isn't quite good enough for that. I do know that the youngest son suddenly clutched his forehead and it was clear he had been stricken with "Brain Freeze", or what my mother used to call an "Ice Cream Headache". Expressions of sympathy and laughter followed. The father gestured to the son to press his thumb to the roof of his mouth. (I wonder if that works?)

It truly wasn't necessary under these circumstances for me to know much Spanish at all--a beautiful family on a beautiful day in Columbia at the neighborhood snowball stand. The joys of summer are a universal language.

As I walked away with my snowball, three new customers approached. An African-American grandmother who used a big umbrella to shade herself from the sun, and her two lovely granddaughters. The older girl was just on the verge of being a full-blown teenager. It made me think of my own daughter, so ready and yet unready to make that leap.

Pete's stands out from its surroundings as an island of the rural past in the sea of planned neighborhoods that is Columbia. It draws us in from Oakland Mills, Long Reach, and Owen Brown. Our world may be mostly chain restaurants and big box stores, but Pete's is pure mom-and-pop. The signs are hand-painted and imperfect. You can pick up their home-grown produce and hand crafted honey while you're there. It doesn't surprise me that I am not alone amongst local bloggers in singing its praises.

If James Rouse meant for us all to live together in peace, Pete's is doing its part to encourage that. On a hot summer day our differences are not as important as our common desire to cool off with something sweet at a little place that "time forgot and decades cannot improve."


Monday, July 29, 2013

A Waste of Time

(Noun)  1. waste of time - the devotion of time to a useless activity; "the waste of time could prove fatal"
    waste, wastefulness, dissipation - useless or profitless activity; using or expending or consuming thoughtlessly or carelessly; "if the effort brings no compensating gain it is a waste"; "mindless dissipation of natural resources"
--from Free

So, the test scores go down in Howard County. You can read about that here.
You can read the Superintendent's piece on it here. You can read a thoughtful interpretation on HoCoRising here.

In short, test scores went down because what we are teaching has changed, but the tests haven't. I have seen a variety of points of view on this, but not the one I care about. Here goes:

Under these circumstances, taking the old MSA's was a waste of time. Yes, I know that assessment is required by law. "They had no choice." But still, I want the weight of this to sink in.

The powers that be in Maryland education, allowed, no, required students to participate in a major undertaking that was a waste of their time.  I find that horrifying.

Our children are valuable.  Their time and effort should be respected.

Lost time is never found again.
--Benjamin Franklin

Recess is cut back to increase "instructional time". Skill and drill programs are forced on schools and the end result is less time for hands-on creative, project-based learning. Schools are given Blue Ribbons for testing scores of Reading and Math alone, which perpetuates the narrow, time-wasting cycle.

In all our deeds, the proper value and respect for time determines success or failure.
--Malcolm X

Have we shown our students the proper respect for their time? And if we have not, how could they fight back?  They are the ultimate stakeholders, yet they have no vote. I've often said that if babies were born with teeth, people would be much more reluctant to invade their personal space. By the same token, if students could bill at an hourly rate for the waste of their time, perhaps people would be more careful with it.

Wisdom is the power to put our time and our knowledge to the proper use.
--Thomas J. Watson

I'm tired of responses that seem to say, "Don't worry parents, this is all what we expected." Or, "Don't worry, lawmakers and general public, this is a part of a long-range plan. We have it all under control."

Who is going to stand up and speak the truth?  "We apologize to teachers for keeping them from truly teaching. We apologize to administrators and school support staff for hindering you from your mission--creating a safe and nurturing environment for learning. We apologize to parents because you entrusted your children to us and we did not value them.  We processed them."

How about this? "We apologize to our students for wasting their time. Time they should have spent learning."

Do you think this is likely? Do you think anyone will take responsibility?

It may very well be time for parents to defend their children's rights by refusing to participate in the high stakes testing machine. In fact, that time is probably overdue. Childhood is fleeting. Teachable moments are precious.

If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?
--John Wooden


Friday, July 26, 2013

Letters to Myself from the Beach: Last Day

Last day at the beach has its traditions. Breakfast at the Royal Treat. Rushing around to buy treats to take home: chocolate taffy from Candy Kitchen, caramel corn from Fisher's. Something new in the mix this year: Alice is taking Margo to get her first henna tattoo.

Last day at the beach. What did I want to do that just didn't happen? An evening walk on the beach with Richard. Flaming coffee at the Back Porch Café. Riding a "surrey with the fringe on top" bicycle on the boardwalk. Tropical frozen cocktail with a little umbrella.

Last day at the beach. Is what I *didn't* do what's important? Are the things that got away the things that should define my trip? When I look back, do I want to dwell on what didn't happen? Wow. It is tough to overcome this mentality. 

Let me go back for a minute to the Church of What's Happening Now. It takes some readjusting. But then it comes into focus: laughing and joking in the car, overcoming fear in the water, watching my family goof around at Funland, George and Richard trying to calculate the distance to the horizon while waiting for food at the Grotto, Alice and Margo watching the dolphins, daily swim time in the pool with Margo, sitting under an umbrella with my feet in the sand, breathing in and out with the motion of the waves.


A postscript: I want to dedicate this series of posts to my wonderful son-in-law, who came up with the concept as I put my pen to my spiral notebook while we sat on the beach together. Sharing a vacation and a hotel room with people you didn't grow up with can be challenging. I am so grateful he is a part of our family.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Letters to Myself from the Beach: This is a Test

We interrupt this vacation with an important message about healthcare. Yes, healthcare. Because it is, of course, while you are out of state on a long planned family trip that you will be awaiting lab results for your child. And of course they will indicate that she needs twenty-eight days of antibiotics and you left home without your insurance card.

Thanks to the ease of cell phones, we can talk to the pediatrician at length. Thanks to computers, she can send the prescription information to a local pharmacy at the beach and it will be ready within hours. Thanks to our health insurance we can afford to pay for it.

But wait--we left the card at home.

There was no easy fix for this. We had to pay the full cost of the medication: $148.00. We can submit the receipt when we get home and hope for reimbursement. Now, we're lucky enough to be able to swing this, but there have been times in my life when I couldn't have done it. 

As I walked around the CVS as my husband paid for the prescription, I pondered.
What would it be like if your child needed medication and you had no health insurance? I have had some rough times in my life, and certainly have had to put off expenditures, pinch pennies, and often did without. But I've always been able to get medication for my children. Between health insurance from employment and a safety net of relatives, my kids have been protected. I can't truly imagine what it would be like to know my child was sick and not be able to do anything about it.

So, now we have twenty-eight days of antibiotics in pill form and a child who doesn't swallow pills. So you can open up capsules, mix the contents with applesauce, and face the wrath of the kid who has to swallow the mixture, fifty-six times. Oh, and it makes you more sensitive to the sun. And we're at the beach, right? It is a challenge.

But not as much as the challenge of having no medication at all.

We now return to our regularly scheduled vacation, already in progress.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Letters to Myself from the Beach: Drama

In the summer of 1986 I was about four months pregnant and visiting Rehoboth for the first time with my in-laws and our best friends from college. My first husband and I were young, relatively broke, and grateful for an all-expenses paid vacation.

I hated Rehoboth almost immediately. I had grown up swimming in Lake Erie and on Cape Cod, where there was no developed boardwalk. When we moved to Connecticut, our beaches on Long Island Sound were equally boardwalk-less. I was used to beaches in their natural state with no commercial development accompanying them. That was what I wanted: beach, shells, smooth stones, dunes, beach grasses.

I was not a happy camper. Still, I was completely unprepared for what was to come.

I was twenty-six, pregnant, and a wave took me out in a matter of seconds. I was less than five feet from shore, with water up to my knees, and suddenly--boom--faceplant. I was stunned. I tried to get up and couldn't. As the water pulled away from the shore, it sucked me face down into the sandy gravel beneath me. My sense of balance was most likely compromised by pregnancy. I couldn't stand up. I was face down in about one foot of water and I could not stand up. 

Another wave put me off balance, then another pull of the tide sucked me down.
I had one of those end-of-life discussions with myself. "This is humiliating. I can't believe I am drowning in one foot of water." I reached one hand above the water and waved feebly for help. I thought, in a last-ditch bargaining attempt, "Not for me, Lord, but for the life of my unborn child." It was the best argument I had. 

My friend Buffy, now Alice's godmother, managed to pull me up. Buffy, about ninety-eight points dripping wet, hauled me up and saved my life. And, by association, Alice's. Years of swimming along the Jersey shore paid off for her. I grew up swimming in beaches without significant waves, but she was ready.

Since that day I have not gone in the water at Rehoboth. Period. Until today. Yesterday I watched my younger daughter get knocked down, stand up, and get knocked down again. She struggled out and sat on her beach towel, angry and defeated. "I don't like this beach. I like the waves at Great Wolf Lodge better." (That would be an indoor wave pool, controlled by machinery.)

And so I had to do it. I had to venture out to just beyond where the waves were breaking, and enjoy the calmer waters on the other side. And I had to bring her out with me, to show her she could do it. That we could do it.

What makes us push ourselves to overcome our fears? There has to be something bigger prompting us. For me it was realizing that opening a door for my daughter was more important than clinging to an awful memory. Cutting through the fear, moving through the waves to the calmer waters, requires a radical change of mental state. Without that, we may struggle, or try, or attempt. Only when our thinking changes can we "do" it.

I hope that it won't take me twenty-six more years to do it again.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Letters to Myself from the Beach: in the Moment

You know you have picked the absolutely best spot at the beach when the lifeguards set up their chairs directly in front of you. It is both the Good News and the Bad News. Good because we will be the very safest swimmers in the water, bad because, well, really, it's blocking our view. 

Ah, well...

I am low to the ground in a beach chair, bare feet in the sand. I'm shaded by an umbrella, a mild breeze is blowing, and the sound of the waves is at the center of everything. At the moment, in this moment, nothing else matters. George and Alice are in the water, Richard and Margo are shopping for sand toys, and I am here, stationary, like the center of a clock from which the hands are turning, like the spokes of a wheel.

I spend a lot of time in real life feeling like I am caught up in the spokes, spinning in the whirlwind of daily events and too much information. Spinning without forward motion or progress. How restful it is to be still.

Comedian Flip Wilson created a character who was the Pastor of the Church of What's Happening Now. He meant for it to convey a humorous slice of the cool, hip, and up-to-date. But as I sit here under the umbrella, at the center of the clock, I see it another way. I am here, at the Church of What's Happening Now.

This week, I have found my place of worship. Next week, I'll try to remember what it was like.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Letters to Myself From the Beach

I'm trying something a little different and taking the blog on the road. We're headed to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware for five days of family frolic. Five people, one minivan, too much luggage, four stuffed animals and a box of Lucky Charms. 

The last item is an important vacation ritual we took on from my sister's family. She never bought junky breakfast cereal, but she did allow her boys to pick a box for long road trips. Invariably they would pick Lucky Charms. We don't buy Lucky Charms at our house because its stereotypical "Irishness" sets my husbands teeth on edge, but we make an exception for vacations. Someone always seems to pick out and eat just the marshmallows...

My mother used to make us individual car bingo games for long trips. (She always had a spiral notebook and a ball point pen with her when she traveled.) Her car bingos were mind-bogglingly challenging. I'm not talking a stop sign, a truck, and a gas station here. I'm talking quonset huts, cast iron lawn dogs, drawbridges, VW convertibles...

When Alice was little her grandparents took her to the beach every summer. They loved antiquing. I was concerned that all those visits to antique stores might be a little wearing for a little girl, so I made her antique store bingos. I hoped it might make it a bit more fun if she could be crossing off "old sheet music", "pocket-watch", "bowl and pitcher set", "Depression glass", and so on.

But, of what use is a spiral notebook and ballpoint pen in a world of smart phones and tablets with apps galore? Well, I'm making an old-fashioned car bingo for Margo, anyway. Between that and some family word games like Ghost, we should be able to give electronic devices a bit of competition.

This week's theme will be "Letters to Myself From the Beach." I've looked forward to this trip since last summer, and I want to remember it for a long time. We are so lucky to have our whole family together. 

“Emily: Do any human beings ever realise life while they live it?--every, every minute?”

― Thornton Wilder

I'm going to do my best to pay attention.

Monday, July 15, 2013

# HoCo Holler: Fresh, Locally Grown--Music?

Something exciting is going on at Howard County's Farmers Markets this season.
I'm sure you know you can get fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables. You may have even bought plants, flowers and herbs. Now you can get meat and cheese, breads, baked goods, Thai sauces, coffee, wine and--violin?

Yes! The Farmer's Markets have added live music this year! I stopped by the Oakland Mills Farmers market recently and enjoyed fabulous violin playing while I shopped. I must admit to a home-village preference for the OM Market. Karen Gray and Sandy Cederbaum were instrumental in bring the market back to Oakland Mills, working with Howard County Economic Development who oversees the Howard County Farmer's Markets. The market grand opening was on Tuesday June 6, 2006. In 2007 the market moved to Sundays and it has been a very popular market ever since.

Now, how did I know that there was going to be music? Well, because I follow the Howard County Farmer's Markets on Facebook, of course. If you don't, you should. A big VG/TS HocoHoller to the team running the Farmers Market Facebook account. It is lively, informative, timely, and fun. They keep me up to date with what is in season, who will be visiting the market, new vendors, and special events. For background info and FAQ's, go to their website.

I noticed at young woman from a group called Groundswell at the Market. They'll be having an informational Home Energy Workshop at the Other Barn in Oakland Mills on Tuesday, July 16th, from 7-8 pm. (5851 Robert Oliver Place, Columbia, MD.) From Lindsey Warren-Shriner:

"Come Learn About:
How you can reduce your home’s energy use, make your home more comfortable, and save money on your energy bills.
Incentives and rebates available for weatherizing your home through Groundswell this summer, which can lower the cost of a $2,000 project to just $420."

I mustn't sign off without thanking all of the Farmers and other vendors whose participation keeps our markets vibrant and successful. Come on out to a Market near you and discover a new way to enjoy this #summerofneighbors.


Friday, July 12, 2013

Ladies Who Lunch

Howard County has some pretty amazing women.  Although there are plenty of days when politics and blogging feel like a man's game, the fact is that women are making themselves known. There are plenty of role models for my two daughters in our community. I am relieved and grateful that there is no war on women going on here! 

I'm not going to list these exceptional women because a) you probably already know , b) a list is boring to read, and c) I would most likely leave someone out and that would be dreadful. Now, I have been lucky enough to have lunch with some pretty cool ladies in Howard County. As I'm a rather shy person, and I work during the school year, it isn't a very large list and therefore manageable for a blog post.  

Mary Kate Murray--the woman who started it all for me. Here is someone who inspires people to share their gifts, plain and simple. She was instrumental in the Oakland Mills revitalization process, started our Street Captains program, and created Art Night as a relaxing, unscripted get-together to work on your own stuff in the company of friends and neighbors. These days she's immersed in a Conscious Mamas group that is so creative and caring that I almost want to have another child. Almost. What I have learned from Mary Kate--trust yourself, have fun, take a chance.

Nina Basu Howard--mother, lawyer, Long Reach Board member and a whole lot more. Nina reached out to me as I moved from candidacy to post-candidacy let-down. We had a wonderful lunch at The Ale House in Columbia. I was particularly intrigued by her description of a new mentoring-style model for women helping women who need help entering and succeeding in the workforce.  Nina gave me a chance to vent, yes, but she gave me new things to think about. What I learned from Nina--there's always something else to tackle, a new challenge that needs your strengths.

Joan Lancos--Special Events Coordinator and Land Use Liason, Hickory Ridge Village. (But that's just what she does now.) Joann sent me a lovely note after the election to say, "Life isn't over. I have been there, and it will get better." We met for lunch yesterday at Champps and I learned so much that I am still processing information! Joann is a self-confessed land-use geek. Over the course of lunch, I think I figured out why. Joann has served in so many capacities with so many people that she is able to see connections and patterns as they emerge in community events. That's exactly the focused attention she brings to land use issues. What I learned from Joan--pay attention to detail, look for connections, keep at it.

My mother had a deep distrust of other women. She felt that men were more upfront and reliable. I must have picked up on that because it has always been difficult for me to have women friends. Often we are raised to feel competitive with one another. I am grateful that it's not too late for me to learn something new.

What women in HoCo have inspired you?



Thursday, July 11, 2013

There But For Fortune

I've written before about our corner store. Our beautiful, brand new Walgreens opened a few short years ago and it has been a great addition to the Village of Oakland Mills. I'm guessing it is a great convenience to guests and employees at the neighboring hotel, as well. The store is clean and well-stocked, the property is well-maintained, and none of the predictions of doom spread by its detractors have come true.

There's just one thing that troubles me, though. A whole group of people that I had never before seen in Columbia suddenly started appearing once the Walgreens opened. Not people like me--of course, that wouldn't trouble me--nor African-American and Hispanic classmates of Margo's, or their families. Not the general mix I see at the Food Lion and around the Village Center. No, these people are different. Their appearance both intrigues and upsets me.

They are the working poor. In some places they'd be derogatorily dismissed as "White Trash." I don't know where they were before the Walgreens opened. I don't know where they came from, but they are shopping at the corner of Thunder Hill and Route 175.

Let me be clear. This is not the "bad element" that we were warned would flock to the new business on the corner. They are there spending money, comparing prices, clutching coupons and trying to make ends meet. But their appearance is so profoundly troubling to me because, in the sheltered life I lead in Columbia, I rarely see them. 

In their faces you see suffering. Their skin is damaged from too much outdoor labor, or years of cigarette smoking. Their faces are misshapen from lack of dental care. Their posture has been compromised by years of menial labor. Their hands are broken and scarred from scrubbing, machine or factory work, heavy lifting, workplace accidents. Often you see years of pain and fatigue in the way they move.

"...I'll show you a young man
With many reasons why
There but for fortune, go you or I."
--Phil Ochs

They are not like us. 

Do you know the beautiful light in a child's eyes? The light of play, and wonder, and believing? It takes time, and energy, and adequate resources, and hope, and the power to make choices to nurture that light. These people live in a world where everything, everything is about to run out, about to be taken away. This is what it truly means to try to live without earning a living wage. Everything is decaying, corruptible, it is enslavement to fear and hopelessness.

We have nothing to fear from them but the irrational fear that we could become one of them, or the nagging fear of our own consciences: why am I so lucky? Why do I have choices when they do not?


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Same Old Songs

I wasn't really paying attention last night as I finished up one craft project and plotted the next one. Then I found myself drawn in.     

@LukeHoCoTimes: At presubmission meeting for new development #ColumbiaMD Warfield neighborhood, new mixed-use development to be built near @MallInColumbia

Cool! Luke was live-tweeting, so I hopped on for the ride. I noticed tweets from other interested parties, notably @kirstycat1209 and @kevxb. I really appreciate clear live-tweeting: all the benefits of attending the event without actually having to be there. Plus, you can share information with your friends simultaneously without being rude.

The meeting was divided into a presentation followed by Q and A time. 

@LukeHoCoTimes: and let the Q & A session begin! First up, Alan Klein #ColumbiaMD

I began to laugh. You know, that crazed, will it never cease laugh. The shake-your-head and want to disbelieve it laugh. Oh, Dennis, Dennis, how you would have loved to to do the play-by-play on this one. Because of course it is always Alan Klein. There aren't enough hyperlinks on the world to do this justice.

I don't know why that set me off the way it did, but the rest of the event took on a theater of the absurd quality for me. In reality, it was no more absurd than any other Columbia meeting that contains the proposal of any kind of change. Traffic and parking, rental vs. ownership, affordable housing, and all the rest were discussed. A completely useful sort of meeting, I gather.

This past weekend I watched "1776" once again with my family. Our youngest had never seen it. I found myself wondering if the founders moved into their Golden Years questioning every change, decrying any new growth or development to the new nation. Either there isn't much historical information on this, or I just don't know enough personally. I'm open to enlightenment.

What if a group of people helped to found something new and they rejoiced as it grew, matured, developed, struggled, tried again, reinvented itself, moved forward...This is something parents must do. And it is really hard sometimes. 

Thanks to Luke for putting the information out there, and handling questions as they came in. And for sitting through the same old songs that we all know so well.


Friday, July 5, 2013

View from the Bridge

At around six pm last night I took a walk somewhere I had never walked before.

I've been putting it off, I'll admit.

It's not exactly a welcoming path.

You feel isolated.

Closed in.

You wonder if you are really safe.

It seems crazy that Columbia is divided like this: a highway runs through it, and nothing to unite it but rust, peeling paint, and cracked cement. Columbia deserves better.

Do you want a better bridge? I do. 

We need to help our community leaders understand how this bridge will serve not just the areas directly on either side, but will be a valuable link in ongoing plans to connect residents from Blandair Park to Howard Community College and Howard County General Hospital. Columbia has many beautiful pathways which are lovely for recreational use. Bridge Columbia takes this one step further by providing a pathway to get people where they need to go: to work, to shop, to study. The Bridge will improve area transit times, save fuel, and create a safe and appealing route for bicycle and pedestrian traffic.

Get involved. Go to the website and learn more. We're all grateful for what James Rouse did to create Columbia. He left this piece for us to complete. Are we up to the task?


Thursday, July 4, 2013

I Didn't Know

I didn't know.

I was raised as a liberal Democrat in Northeastern Ohio by two Unitarian parents during the 1960's, and I didn't know.

I didn't know there was more than one way to be patriotic.

Patriotism and love of country meant intense pride in our democracy. It meant gratitude for our freedoms, especially freedom to learn, think, speak, and worship as we saw fit.

It meant choosing one's own destiny, not dictated by an inherited social class. It meant that hard work and intelligence could open doors. We had a belief in the ingenuity and perseverance of American scientists and inventors, admiration for Americans in the arts, respect for craftsmen and laborers. Being American to us meant acceptance for all.

Patriotism meant accepting those who were different. My family cared a lot about civil rights, the war on poverty, tolerance for those of different faiths. Freedom was meant to be shared; the great American experiment called all us to be inclusive, open-minded, casting wide the net to bring the rights and privileges of democracy to all.

That is the flag that flew over my house. That is the flag that was in my heart when I learned to say the Pledge of Allegiance at school.

I didn't know there was any other.

A quick search on the Internet reveals a very different sort of patriotism, a very different America. I'm not a child anymore so I can't pretend that I don't know. Sometimes I read views so full of hate, judgement, and rejection that I am embarrassed to be patriotic. I look at the flag and squirm. If that is America then I know I am not included.

What do we do with this America that is, more and more, two Americas? Today is a day we should be able to celebrate in all of our diversity, yet with a feeling of oneness. How can we do that?

I don't know.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

RAC and Ruin?

One of the concerns frequently raised when I was running for Oakland Mills CCR was that of abandoned homes, neglected and ill-kept homes. Some folks had experience in dealing with the Village Residential Architectural Committee, some had not. But the overall feeling was that the system we have in place is not working as well as it should.

As residents, my husband and I went through the RAC process when we installed replacement windows in our home.  The company we used did not offer windows whose edge-frames matched others in our neighborhood. So we had to file an application for permission to have windows with beige frames. We even got a sample to bring to the RAC meeting.

We were treated courteously by the committee. It was clear that they had come out and looked around our neighborhood, and talked to our HOA management in making their decision. They approved our application and we were on our way.

As a member of the Oakland Mills Board, I participated in hearings and decisions that were a lot more complicated and, at times, contentious. Residents did not always go away feeling satisfied.  And in the case of neglected properties, the Board often felt that progress was slow and that the option we had to prompt improvement were insufficient.

Each Village in Columbia was founded at a different time. They have different election laws, different RAC guidelines, differing numbers of Board members, etc. Should RAC guidelines be updated and consistent Columbia-wide? This post by Alison H. On Inspire Columbia got me thinking.

"The RAC process is administered by residents based on guidelines that have not been updated in many many years. As Columbia ages, we should be encouraging appropriate investment in homes to improve and recapitalize structures as they age.

Guidelines and design handbooks for neighborhoods are in many cases outdated and administered by residents, lending to an ineffective and inconsistent process administered by well-meaning volunteers, however certain aspects of the process may discourage resident investment and improvement in their structures. With homes 30 years + old, design standards should be updated and improved.
Recommend changes to process, current process disincentives residents to improve aesthetics of home and encourages status quo over innovation and improvement.

Consider engaging an architect to guide process but with a vantage point toward innovation rather than restricting innovation."

I can say truthfully from my own experience that the RAC and the Village Board in Oakland Mills gives a lot of thought to their work. We are lucky to have residents who are willing to volunteer to give their time and educate themselves on the guidelines, meet with neighbors, go out and evaluate properties. Our RAC has already updated the OM Guidelines, under then-Committee Chair Brian Donoughe.

At present, Columbia's RAC process is run by residents, for residents, guided by a professional Covenant Advisor in each Village. It is a complaint-driven system, so violations may happily persist if no one complains about them. So it may feel as though covenant guidelines are enforced inconsistently. Progress on neglected properties follows a lengthy, multi-step process.

What do you think? Is there a better way?


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Summer Food Memories

I grew up in a world without central air conditioning. I also grew up farther north than where I am now, in north eastern Ohio, but we still got heat and some humidity in the summer. I do remember sleeping with a fan at night. I loved fans. My mother would aim it at the ceiling "to move the air around." As soon as she left the room I would aim it directly at my bed.

Cooking in the summertime was a chore. You didn't want to heat up the kitchen if you didn't absolutely have to. My mother had a repertoire of things she would make early in the day, when it was relatively cool, and then chill. These were things we pretty much ate only in the summer time. I remember tuna-macaroni salad, potato salad, devilled eggs, pickled beets, three-bean salad, jello salad with fruit. She made spreads from leftover roasts: ham salad and roast beef-horseradish spread. Some nights dinner was "salmon salad." Everyone got a plate with iceberg lettuce, tomato wedges and hard-boiled eggs wedges, a scoop of canned salmon and a dollop of Miracle Whip. Bread and butter on the side.

The fruit selections in the summertime were heavenly. Back then, you could only get them seasonally, so we made the most of strawberries, blueberries, nectarines, peaches, plums, watermelon, canteloupe. Raspberries were a rare treat--they were for rich people. mother said. My mother would wash a nectarine and give it to me in a little bowl with a spoon of sugar to dip it in. Bliss!

The one supreme reason to heat up your kitchen in the summertime was to boil water to cook corn. Corn on the cob, with plenty of better and salt to roll it in, made the steaminess worthwhile. It was one of those times you were allowed to make noise and get messy at the table. There wasn't any delicate way to do it. Often there was enough to have seconds.

The misery of too hot, too humid days was balanced by the joy of these foods which only came once a year. I'm not sure I could adequately explain the intensity of the sensory experience to my younger daughter, who has grown up both with central air conditioning, and foods available year round. As we go the the Oakland Mills Farmers Market, and cook the foods we receive from our Breezy Willow CSA share, I hope she is getting a better understanding of where the food comes from, and how it arrives in its due season.

Monday, July 1, 2013

A Moment in Time

On July first, 1967, I was living in Columbus, Ohio. We lived in a newly-minted subdivision called Essex Place, in an area called Upper Arlington. We only lived there for one year; my Dad's job there was a disaster and we were back to Cleveland before school started in the Fall. But my memories of that one year are vivid.

I can pretty much lay out for you what was happening on July 1. I was riding my bike around the neighborhood. I was quenching my thirst with Orange Crush out of a glass bottle. My best friend's dad was helping him build a treehouse on an empty lot and all the neighborhood kids were helping, facing their fears as we learned to climb steps nailed into the tree, up, up, up...

I remember going for walks around the neighborhood after dinner and hearing some high school kids playing rock music in the family garage. Yes, it was a "Pleasant Valley Sunday" sort of neighborhood.We played for hours in the dirt and mud of an as-yet undeveloped lot, building houses and tunnels and roads. We collected ladybugs in jars, put on shows on my next door neighbor's front porch, collected Trolls, Little Kiddles, saved up for the new Twist and Turn Barbie doll.

One month earlier the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper album was released. The top hit for the week was "Windy" by the Association. We watched the Monkees on tv, played singles on our record players, roller skated on the smooth, suburban sidewalks. We adjusted the metal skates, which fit on over our shoes, with a skate key. I wore mine around my neck on a string.

The most life-changing event for me on July 1st, 1967 happened a world away in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  On that day Richard Alastair McCready was born, to proud parents Sam and Joan McCready.He joined brother Julian who had been born on the very same day several years earlier. 

Many stories and and many travels go into this one story--that a young man born on July 1st, 1967 in Belfast should meet the woman who was living in Columbus, Ohio on the day of his birth. Of course this meeting took place in neither location, but in a choir room in Baltimore, Maryland.  I think it is particularly appropriate that he, who has brought so much love into my life, was born during "The Summer of Love".

Happy Birthday, Richard. I didn't know back then how important this day was going to be. But I'm so grateful for all the many intersections which led to our meeting.