Monday, June 30, 2014

Mind Blown

My husband insisted that we go to Millennium Park. We had one day left before returning home, and we were flying out of Chicago. A friend dropped us off after lunch at a riverside restaurant. It was hot.

I didn't know what the point was. The sun was beating down, it was rather humid and I was having visions of cooling off at the Art Institute. But my husband was insistent. We kept moving forward. I sensed his excitement.

And then we arrived at the Crown Fountain. No still photo could communicate the experience, but click on the link anyway. People of all ages were gathered to cool off in the spray. Children frolicked--yes,they still do that--dancing and laughing in the mist. Others rested on benches at the periphery. Many were gathered to watch the amazing video component of the fountains. It was unlike anything I had ever seen.

I began to pay attention.

When we arrived at the Jay Pritzger Pavillion I started taking pictures.

On the top left you see the Pavillion. It is beautiful. Speakers are mounted overhead on the arches, so that the sound quality of performances is superb. A large screen on the back wall of the stage amplifies the visual experience. Running along the back of the concert area was a large hedge. You see it top right. It provided definition to the Pavillion space. Wait--was it a hedge? I moved closer.

No, it wasn't just a hedge. All of those plants were growing within a metal frame to provide a living wall. And when you walked around the wall there was a delicious alcove with steps to sit on, by a pool of water. People were pausing to rest, cool their feet.

A living wall. Definition to the space.

Caterpillar, anyone?

Finally I understood why my husband had made me come along. I was witness to the amazing, creative, ground-breaking park that is to Chicago what the Inner Arbor plan is for Columbia. And he knew that I had to be there, had to experience it, and bring that experience back home with me.

He truly is a keeper, that man.


"Today, the 24.5-acre Millennium Park represents an unprecedented public-private partnership, and has become a thoroughly modern achievement for Chicago in the tradition of its original founders."

Tomorrow I'll be delving into what I think is the biggest surprise of all about Milennium Park, and its stupefying Columbia connection.








Sunday, June 29, 2014


A recent changing of the guard on the Oakland Mills Village Board has produced a curious effect. Meeting are running longer. And longer. And longer. I noticed that now they will be starting the meetings at seven pm instead of seven-thirty. This may be in an effort to prevent meetings from running so late into the evening, or it may be that they just want more time for meeting.

Oh. My. Goodness.

How I hate long meetings. I hate sitting that long. I hate the panic that sets in when you realize that people feel they have an endless amount of time to regale you with every facet of their point of view. I hate the frustration of realizing that nothing significant will be accomplished. I hate the almost certain outcome: that residents, especially younger ones, will give up and go home in the face of interminable meetings.

The vocal slice of Columbia that turned out this year to "take back Columbia" is doing more than just taking the reins of power. They are, quite literally, taking Columbia backwards. These are people who have plenty of time for meetings--no young children to care for, no PTA meetings, very often no career commitments. It is likely that for these people meetings are their children, their PTA, their career commitments, and, quite possibly, their social lives as well.

They're not paying attention to the fact that other people may have different needs and preferences. They don't care about generational differences. They're all about meetings. And if that drives other people away, all the more power for them.

When I was on the Board, we had one member who was our human clock. I will admit that I was afraid of him. He kept his eye on the time to make sure we accomplished something meaningful in the time allotted. If you had something to say it had better be pertinent to the topic at hand. He had no use for the touchy-feely concept that members should feel comfortable sharing whatever came into their heads.

It took me a while to realize that his single-minded focus provided a valuable framework for focusing our thoughts and getting things done. If people dithered on, the Board Chair could tilt her head in his direction and remind them we were running out of time. If a valuable discussion was underway, she could ask if we all were willing to take the extra time for that to happen. We all had to take responsibility.

It showed supreme respect for what each person in the room was donating to our community: time.

When I read Michael Cornell's account of the CA Board Meeting, I immediately asked him if there was a typo where he stated that Reg Avery made a motion at approximately 10:40 pm. It wasn't a typo.

Quick! I'd like a show of hands. How many of you would like to donate your time and efforts to Columbia if it means sitting in endless meetings?

I thought so. There has to be a better way.



Saturday, June 28, 2014

No Baggage

I just returned from a trip to visit family in Laporte, Indiana. Visiting Indiana for us means getting a taste of small town life. We soak up the beauty of older homes on criss-cross streets, and of Main Streets that have old fashioned architectural detail and personality.

With the exception of our peculiar devotion to Dairy Queen (the closest one back home is at Arundel Mills Mall) all the restaurants we visited were individually owned. We noodled around shops in the tiny town of Chesterton, some beautiful, some off-beat, some retro-funky. We visited a butcher's shop which made its own beef jerky and sold actual bones for your dog to chew on.

Margo got to help work on a float for the Laporte July 4th parade, walk in the sand along Lake Michigan, ride in the middle of the front seat of a car with bench seats, and watch as I struggled to remember how to drive a car with the shifting mechanism sticking out of the steering column. (Hint: it was hilarious.)

Laporte has five small lakes. On Wednesday my sister and brother in law took us to the weekly band concert on Clear Lake. There's a nice, solidly built old band shell set into a landscaped bowl in a hill-side. Park benches dot the area facing the stage, and on the higher ground above the performance area are picnic tables and play equipment. Some folks sat on the benches, some brought their own folding chairs. Children danced, ran about, or played on the playground.

We sat enjoying the Laporte City Band and took in the view of the lake behind them as fog rolled in. The temperature had been dropping throughout the day. Some older folks had brought blankets along. A mom and dad team popped popcorn which was sold to help support the concerts. Every so often the mom and her son came around to each group of chairs to offer both bags of popcorn and handmade cake pops for purchase.

I felt love. Love for the music of small town summers, for the band, for the people who came out to be a part of it. Love for old friends who waved at each other across the park, kids who ran round in circles and young couples who held hands. Love for the good-natured mom and her son who took his job carrying bags of popcorn so seriously as they visited every seat.

You know what I didn't feel? I didn't feel anxiety or apprehension. I didn't feel judged. I didn't see angry, fearful people talking behind their hands or complaining about the present-day state of affairs. How refreshing it was to be in a group of people who all appeared to be enjoying themselves.

In short, I wasn't in Columbia.

Now, it is true that, with the exception of my own family, I didn't know anyone there at all. So I don't know if anyone there was cranky, judgemental, or dissatisfied. And every community assuredly has some of each. But what a relief it was to be with people at a civic event and feel no weight. No baggage.

It made me realize how heavy a weight we are carrying in Columbia, Maryland. People who want to participate in the present and future of our community are derided as "complaining thirty-somethings" merely because they are taking a stand for something rather than railing against it.

Mark Twain said, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

I'm glad I got the chance to spend some time outside The Bubble. And I'm also glad to be home. But I sure have plenty to think about.



Friday, June 27, 2014

Guest Post: Transparency 2.0

Today's post comes from Michael Cornell, CA Board Rep from River Hill.


Transparency 2.0


Recent events at a CA Board meeting have revealed more than a few kinks in the system.

Minutes into the meeting on June 12th, a motion was made to amend the agenda. The item being added concerned the Inner Arbor Trust – a non-profit corporation created by CA to develop the Park in Symphony Woods. Added to the end of the agenda, discussion started rather late. A motion was made at approximately 10:40 pm to declare the Trust in violation of the easement agreements. If passed, the motion could lead to delays or cancellation the development of the Park.

Protocols outlined in our governing documents were collectively ignored, skirted, subverted or abused – by those who ran for office on the rally cry of transparency.

Actions taken last minute, off agenda proposals made in the wee hours, are by the very nature anathema to transparency. Transparency is now something dragged out when a determined minority cannot get their way. Transparency is told to go to its room and be quiet when that minority sees an opportunity. Transparency is being used as a tool, a convenient ideology, as a means to an end.

And that’s wrong.

A few of us were adamantly vocal about what was happening. A few others remained silent, waiting and watching to see how things played out, confident of a voting outcome.

Those who are silent are all culpable when bullies force items onto an agenda, when motions are made and voted on without public notice, knowledge or discourse. The public suffers when new members of a Board can undo work begun under previous Boards. When no decision is ever final, when no issue is ever resolved, when no organization can look to CA for stability, reliability or consistency, there is no foundation for trust, partnership or progress. When an organization is undermined by its leadership, it has the wrong leadership.

Make no mistake; this was not some rookie misunderstanding by someone who didn’t understand Board processes or protocols. This was the action of some attempting to stop development by the Inner Arbor in part or in whole. It is tyranny of the minority. And those who allowed it to go forward are complicit.

How does this happen?

In part because they think no one is watching. In part because it’s easier to tear down than it is to build. In part because it’s safer to do nothing than to speak out.

Whether opponents of the Inner Arbor will succeed or fail is almost irrelevant. The damage has been done. They have shown their intent and true colors. They have lost the claim to actions for the sake of transparency.

Transparency be damned.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Welcome to Columbia, Mr. Matthews

I sent this letter to CA President Milton Matthews on June 16th, copying in the entire CA Board. I have received only one response, from River Hill rep Michael Cornell.

That's a pretty poor response for an extremely important issue. So I thought I'd send it again, to our entire community. There's a CA Board Meeting tonight, if you'd like to add your voice during the Resident Speak-Out.


Subject: In reference to Board Meeting, June 12th

Dear Mr. Matthews,

Welcome to Columbia. I look forward to learning more about your ideas as you settle in to our community. We are on the brink of many wonderful improvements. I am excited to see Columbia moving forward.

I must say that I don't think that the recent behavior of CA Board Members Avery, Klein, and Swatek on June 12th was at all an example of putting the best foot forward as you begin to work together. As you are new to Columbia, it puts you at quite a disadvantage to be compelled to decipher their mystifying actions.

Although I have lived in Columbia "only" fifteen years, I do know a few things about how CA Board Meetings work.

The CA Board chose to have a discussion on an item that was not on the published agenda, shutting the community out of their discussion and meeting. CA is required to place such items on the agenda and publish the agenda at least 7 days ahead of the meeting.

Further, Mr. Avery's motion to declare that the Inner Arbor Trust was in violation of its easement is a major change in policy, one deserving of the utmost transparency.

A greater and more troubling issue is that Mssrs. Avery, Klein, and Swatek clearly brought this up at a time that the community would not have knowledge or the ability to have any input. Only a few weeks ago the meeting room was filled with enthusiastic supporters of the Inner Arbor Plan for Symphony Woods. I was one of them. I believe it broke down to 13 in favor, 3 against.

The support for this beautiful, creative, and inviting park is plentiful, and growing. Supporters of the park can be found in all generational groups. That is what I find most compelling: those who support the Inner Arbor are excited not only for themselves, but for their children, and the families and children who will come after them.

I am extremely grateful to those members of the Board who stood up to this outrageous breach of CA rules and in so doing, stood up for the people of Columbia. I hope you will do the same in any way that you can. Columbia needs your support.


Julia Jackson McCready



Wednesday, June 25, 2014


I've never been so close to an election before. I have never known so many people personally who were running for public office. It has been educational and exhilarating. And, at times, stressful. As much as I have been inspired and hopeful, I have also been indignant. What some people do when they want to win makes you question the whole process.

I'm thrilled for Tom Coale. It's difficult to find any other words. Running for the right reasons, doing it the right way, he made small-minded attempts to derail his candidacy shrink down to nothingness. How? 1) Just by being himself. 2) Empowering others to get involved.

I'd like to see a whole lot more of that in politics.

I'm excited to see that candidates for Board Of Education whom I supported will be advancing to the November election. In particular, it is lovely to see Cindy Vaillancourt as the top vote-getter. Ms. Vaillancourt has continually showed respect for parents and the community in the educational process, supported music and arts education, and was willing to be an independent voice when others on the board made it uncomfortable for her. Let's all make sure she has more responsive board members to work with in November. There is a lot more work to be done on that front, but this is an excellent start.

I'm happy for friends Abby Hendrix, Marcia White, and Candace Dodson-Reed who did so well in the race for Democratic Central Committee. They certainly worked for it! I'm looking forward to seeing what their presence means to the work of the Central Committee. It can only be good.

I have to admit that I am sad about Wendy Jane Royalty's loss in the County Council primary race. I truly identify with her message, her goals, her way of working with others. She ran because she truly wants to do good for people. I also know what it is like to lose an election. That makes it hurt more, I guess. I do know that someone as gifted as Wendy won't be down for long.

If you voted, thank you. If you didn't, you have some time now to get ready for November so that you can make informed choices.

You do know this is only the beginning, right?


Monday, June 23, 2014

On the Brink: Tom Coale

Almost one year ago I attended Tom Coale's announcement to run for the newly-formed 9B seat for the Maryland House of Delegates. I wrote about the significance of his choosing to stand in the middle of everyone as he spoke. I am sharing that post again today because everything that has happened in the last year has borne those observations out: Tom is the kind of leader who is willing to take risks to reach out to others. He sees leadership as an interactive process. He is honest about who he is, he is open about his views, he is positive in his message.

Last year: In Medias Res

This Year: On the Brink

Tom Coale's candidacy is more than an ambition of one man. It is the promise that one really good person in public service can make a difference, and that his success will open the door to others who have the same goals: working together to make things better for everyone. If you think Annapolis needs someone like this and that Ellicott City deserves representation like this, share a good word about Tom today. Your personal recommendation is valuable.

I can't wait to see On the Brink move to Over the Top. #OpportunityforEC

In Medias Res (June 20, 2013)

You've seen a number of versions of this shot over the past several days, I suspect, some dark, some blurry, some much better. We all had our reasons for wanting to catch that moment. For me, the image of a political campaign (and let's face it, a political career) taking flight from smack dab in the middle of the staircase was compelling.

As a blogger, Tom has shown interest and thoughtful insight on both "Columbia" issues and "Howard County" Issues. As a Columbia Council Representative, he has been comfortable working to improve Columbia while understanding how we fit into Howard County. He clearly understands the relationships that will move things forward, make things work.

His forthrightness has made him a target for those who want to have things their own way. Clearly this doesn't bother him. Here he is, taking his place in the center of it all, to move forward in making things happen for Howard County. I dare say Tom chose this exact spot with the knowledge that it was the most central location to be seen and heard in the particular venue he selected.

If you care about clarity, you can't do better than to place yourself halfway down the stairs at The Rumor Mill. The point is made: I'm not afraid to be out here where everyone can see me. In fact, that's the whole point in a nutshell.

In politics much is made of "where I stand" or "what I stand for." On Tuesday night, Tom Coale took his stand in a position of great vulnerability--he would be viewed at all angles, all levels, all sides, and while people moved in and out of the scene from the main entrance and the kitchen. Some politicians couldn't handle that many variables. Some wouldn't allow that much lack of control.

"Proud Evangelist for Community Involvement." Consistent with this description on his Twitter account, Tom Coale chose to be in the middle of things on Tuesday night. He is clearly proud of his community, and excited to advocate for it. But the key for him is involvement.

Meaningful government involves the governed. And he wants to be in the middle of that: not making us look up to him in a high, lofty place, nor pushing us on by barking orders from behind. In A.A. Milne's poem, "Halfway Down", the central character has found a place to sit, and think, and imagine. Clearly Mr. Coale has done that, and more, as he has made his plans to run for delegate.The next step is, of course, to stand up. And he did.

If you were there, you felt the energy and sincerity of the moment. If you weren't, don't worry. If Tuesday evening was any indication, Tom will make sure to make himself and his goals accessible to the community.



Saturday, June 21, 2014

HoCo Holler! HowChow

I met HowChow quite serendiptously.

I was down at the Second Chance one evening eating dinner and getting some work done on the old iPad, when I spied his tweet looking for somewhere local to eat outside on a lovely Spring evening. Naturally, with my deep loyalty to my local pub and my hometown village of Oakland Mills, I suggested that he "come on down."

He did.

As I was leaving I look a risk and approached what I thought might be his table. (He is rather anonymous, you know.) HowChow and his wife graciously allowed me to join them for a bit of conversation. I was struck not only by how friendly and easy-going he was, but also how respectful he was of his wife. He was a true gentleman, and I mean that according to the spirit of that term: courteous and honorable.

Of course HowChow has become every bit the local celebrity in Howard County. People go places based on his recommendations. Restaurants brag if he writes them up. And this is meaningful in a town that doesn't have its own home-based newspaper or television station. He's the real deal.

But, to me, what makes HowChow remarkable is the community he has created on his blog. All the information he shares with us is wonderful. But he sees it as only the beginning. He wants readers to explore, enjoy, and share. He wants to learn from us.

Take a look at Thursday's post. Now, read the comments. Not to discount his research or writing in any way, but it's in the comments section that we really see how successful his blog has become. They are helpful, supportive, knowledgeable, positive. How many comments sections do you see of this calibre? HowChow has truly elevated the discussion around local food.

So, I am sending up a VG/TS HoCo Holler! today for HowChow. Not only does he focus the spotlight on local food, he has created a space where conversation and community are welcome.

And he's been doing it beautifully for six years.



Friday, June 20, 2014

What I have Learned in School This Year

It's the last day of school. I realize that not everyone's lives are focused around an academic calendar. Mine always has. For someone who really hated school, I seem to have found a strange way of expressing it. All of my jobs have been in academic institutions. Maybe I am expressing it by attempting to exorcise the past. If I can make school a better place for other children, it somehow redeems the past.

I digress.

A traditional last day of school exercise is the "What I learned this year" essay. Wait--does anyone write essays in school anymore? Sadly, they probably don't. Alright, how about a list? Here's mine:

  • Seventh grade is better than sixth grade, especially as you make friends and find your niche.
  • Dress codes and their enforcement are an exercise in body shaming for girls.
  • Middle school teachers are frustrated by the academic toll NCLB has left on students--kids are unable to do what they used to be able to do in middle school. (Thinking skills, writing skills, problem-solving)

  • Multiple snow days have a negative effect on building rapport with special needs preschoolers.
  • It is still possible to get lost driving between sixteen different schools.
  • Fewer and fewer children recognize Barney's singing voice.

  • We have to fight for arts education in Howard County. (!)
  • Parent and teacher involvement in the process is no longer a given.
  • I'm finally energized enough to overcome my shyness and get involved with HCPSM and the PTA.

  • My husband still rocks.
  • Guitar ensembles are awesome.
  • Reaching the Other 80% is the next big thing in school music.

That's a whole lot of learning. It may take me several months to recover.


What have you learned this year?



Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Court of Public Opinion

The Howard County Schools are well known for educational excellence. They enjoy a respected place on our community. The school system wants parents to know that they hire the best teachers, and that we can entrust our children to these highly trained, carefully selected education professionals. It's just one big, happy family.

Except when it isn't. When negotiations between HCEA, the Teacher's Union, and HCPSS aren't going well, that whole happy family thing goes right out the window. The Superintendent is using the bully pulpit of the hcpss website --and even reaching out to the Baltimore Sun--to cast doubt into parents' minds about the motivations of those very same teachers. In fact, now even a retired Superintendent has been brought on board to make teachers look bad.

If you follow HCEA on Facebook, you will have seen that their goals have remained consistent throughout the negotiating process. You will also be able to clearly see that neither public statement from hcpss addresses these goals in any meaningful way. The school system wants you to think that is about money, and selfishness.

Considering how often parents go to the school website, and how many follow the school system on Facebook, theirs may be the only message that many parents get. I'm pretty sure hcpss knows this. They are trying to undermine the teachers' demands by defeating them in the court of public opinion.

I guess they don't want you to know that HCEA is negotiating for:

  • Increasing planning time, and time to collaborate among paraeducators & teachers to help members prepare quality instruction.
  • Giving access to technology for all school employees to let support professionals respond to work issues in a timely manner.
  • Adequate staffing for speech pathologists and related service providers, to help them provide quality special education services, and take sick time when they need to.

In addition, HCEA invites parents and the greater community to their website to learn more. That doesn't look like selfishness or a lack of transparency to me.

On the other hand, statements from the school system omit major points (like the ones above) and misrepresent others (how much money, who will get it, and when). All in all, they seem to be using their high visibility in the community to influence negotiations in their favor. And they are doing it by discrediting our teachers.

So far we've talked about "the court of public opinion", "one big, happy family", and "the bully pulpit". Here's one more: "cutting off your nose to spite your face".

Winning is apparently so important to hcpss that they are willing to chip away at the trust and positive relationships that parents have with teachers. What happens when the negotiations are over? What will the long-term effects be?

If parents are convinced that teachers are not to be trusted, then the entire school system loses credibility. You can't turn around and say in a few months, "We honor our world-class teachers" after you went to such extraordinary lengths to say that you don't. What happens then?

I'm deeply disappointed to witness this trend.

When parents stood up for music in our schools, the school system released a statement about rumor-mongering, attempting to destroy their credibility. Now that teachers are standing up for fair working conditions, the school system is releasing public statements painting them in a bad light.

How much would it cost to treat parents and teachers with respect?



Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Come to the Water

Photography by James Binckley. Used with permission.

My daughter and I looked at this photograph, posted on Facebook, as we thought about going to Lakefest on Saturday.

"Look! The Fountain's on!"

We talked a litle bit about whether people ever play in the fountain. This led to a discussion of liability and how people are more prone to sue than they used to be. Ah, well.

Later that day we were there. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it seemed more alive to me than in years past. The mild, slightly breezy temperatures with low humidity probably helped. The addition of the Petit Louis restaurants added to the liveliness of the scene. It almost looked like a place you would come to when it wasn't Lakefest.

We started at the end closer to the Sheraton, and worked our way towards the concert stage. When we got to Clyde's I looked at all the paddle boats in the lake and got a lump in my throat. Seeing the Lakefront so alive made me think of someone who loved Columbia. I felt his spirit as we moved through the festival, enjoyed waffles from the waffle truck, listened to live music, watched children dancing in a cloud of bubbles.

And then there was the fountain. All the steps were filled with people sitting and chatting. Children were running and dancing in the central space while their parents snapped pictures. Other children were cooling their toes in the water.

Now you may have seen this plenty of times, but I had not. The pure joy of people of all ages enjoying that fountain filled me with hope. Columbia is for all of us, whether we are resting, or chatting, or dancing, or playing, or even getting a bit messy.

How I relished that moment--with no one saying, "It's my fountain!" No one trying to control the fountain, or proscribe its use or enjoyment. All were happy. All were welcome.

I know that people here have great reverence for the symbolism of the People Tree, but it truly means nothing if our behaviors don't reflect its promise. Look for the moments where you can make it happen. Seek out opportunities to make those connections. Be The Tree.

My friend was pretty much a walking, talking People Tree. Wherever he was, connections happened. He would have been really happy this weekend to see Columbia at its best.




Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Preaching to the Choir

Evangelism can be an uncomfortable business if you don't come from an evangelical tradition. As an Episcopalian, I often heard people joke that while we were in the Decade of Evangelism, no one knew, because it was just too unseemly to toot our own horn.

In Howard County there is a narrow swath of people who read blogs regularly. And of those, a narrower swath read my blog regularly. But of that select group, I am guessing that a majority are regular and faithful voters.

You are, right? You know about the League of Women Voters, yes? You are probably even fabulously up-to-date with the new social media voter tool from Jessie Newburn at HoCoBlogs.

Have you voted yet? I am voting tomorrow with my daughter, the one who just bought the house in Stevens Forest. In fact, I may bring my younger daughter as well. You can't start too young.

I admit that writing yet again about voting very likely constitutes one more go-around at preaching to the choir. But this time, it is about evangelism.

Yes, that uncomfortable word. I want you to reach out to people around you and encourage them to vote: family, friends, coworkers, members of your church, neighbors. I want you to be the crucial connection between the people and their most precious right.

If not you, who?

This primary will be deciding so many important things locally and at the state level. And in particular, it is crucial that as we narrow the field for the Board of Education, that the candidates who make it through to the November elections are ones who understand their responsibility to voters.

We get to decide. But only if we choose to decide.

It seems as though I am always asking you to write letters in aid of something. Today I am not. Today I am reminding you that friends don't let friends sit out the election. Be an evangelist for community involvement.

Share the love.




Monday, June 16, 2014

Snake Oil

Once upon a time, in my first job out of Mount Holyoke, I was the head of Circulation at a small college library. And into our community came a gentleman from the South, a rather successful fellow who had made his mark writing easy-to-sing touchy-feely choral anthems.

Coming from a patriarchal tradition, he naturally assumed that the Head Librarian of the College and her entire staff were his personal secretaries. He had a rude awakening. We were an academic institution and we expected him to follow the same procedures as the other professors.

He refused. Not only did he not use the library after that, he encouraged other students to do likewise.

"If you want to read these books, come to my office. I have them in my own personal collection."

For a while we all just assumed he was an arrogant chauvinist pig, not a difficult assumption to make under the circumstances. And then it dawned on us.

He didn't know how to use a library. Dewey decimal system, Library of Congress, card catalogue (yes, I am that old)...he didn't know how to navigate and he had aways handed some woman a list and she had done it for him.

So he was ignorant. And afraid. And he used his position as a professor to share his ignorance and fear with the students by encouraging them to bypass the library.

This is exactly what is going on with Reg Avery and his fellow conspirators on the CA Board. They don't understand* the Inner Arbor Trust, they don't (or won't) put in the effort to understand, and they fear what they do not understand.

And they want to share their ignorance and fear with you. That is what they are selling: ignorance, and fear.

Columbia was not founded on the principles of ignorance and fear. Nor is this how we shall be ruled today, by small minded people who conspire to get their way by pushing through their own agenda while others are not looking. Community support for the Inner Arbor plan for Symphony Woods is strong, and comes from all generational groups.

Apparently the mounting evidence that Columbians want a beautiful, creative, exciting community space means nothing when you are ignorant and afraid.

I have a message for them: Columbia is not buying what you are selling.

Please write to CA President Milton Matthews and the entire CA Board to condemn the actions of Mssrs. Avery, Klein, and Swatek. Let them know you expect transparency from the Board and that the approved procedural policies be should respected and followed.

Because we're better than all that. Really.



*In fact, it is pretty clear they don't understand how the Columbia Association and the CA Board work, either.



Sunday, June 15, 2014

Can You Spare a Click for Columbia?

Do you participate in the Village Election process? Do you find it easy to understand and participate in?

Do you like going to a lot of meetings?

Do you like writing letters to the editor at the newspaper and hoping they get published?


How about clicking a link and sharing an idea? Does that feel more sensible and more convenient to you?

Don't say nobody asked you. The Columbia Association is asking you, and I am asking you. Your opinion matters. Your life is already full with work, family, volunteering, kids' activities...

The history of Columbia is fascinating and inspiring. I learn so much from talking to people who were here at the beginning, or who grew up in this wonderful community. But what is going to happen today and tomorrow is a challenge for all of us, and we all need to speak out.

Register on Inspire Columbia, and speak your mind while someone is really listening. After what happened at the Board Meeting on Thursday night, it is hard to predict how long a project that welcomes a variety of opinions will be allowed to continue.

Register. Speak out. Share so that your friends will do the same.


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Saturday's Hot and Fresh Roundup

A roundup of what's going on in the world of VG/TS:

Marshmallow Man comments on Thursday night's attempt at a minority power grab at the CA Board Meeting. Hint: write to Milton Matthews and the CA Board.

On a side note, Reg Avery appears to be pursuing a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde approach to running for County Council.

My neighbor Jesse is filling a U-haul and leaving to move back to South Carolina today. We'll miss him. If you know anyone who wants to rent half a house, let me know. Great neighborhood, great neighbors.


Music at the Ellicott City Farmers Market this morning. Your choice of Debby Iny Greene & friend or Jared Denhard! Oh, yeah, and fresh produce.

The festival atmosphere is in full swing at Columbia Festival of the Arts kickoff weekend. It looks like beautiful weather, no rain and reasonable humidity levels.

Early voting continues. Just do it!

Saving the best for last:

From my friend Justin--"Just a quick update: Yesterday I heard and felt my heart beating! What a blessing . All my doctors are thrilled at my progress and I will move from the CICU today to the step down floor! Thanks ever so much for your continued prayers , love and positive vibes!"



Friday, June 13, 2014

Headline with Multiple #@?!!

Remember when a majority of Columbians turned out to support the Inner Arbor Plan for Symphony Woods at a CA Board Meeting? I do. I was there. So were my daughters. And many of my friends.

I think somebody forgot.

Last night a minority faction of the CA Board tried to pull a fast one with a motion which had nothing to do with the evening's published agenda. From an eyewitness account:

Reg Avery made a motion to declare that the Inner Arbor Trust plans, as submitted to the County, contain material changes from the Concept Plan attached as an exhibit to the easement, and directing the President to notify the Inner Arbor Trust that they are in breach of the easement. Russ Swatek seconded. There was some heated discussion. Reg, Russ, and Alan Klein voted for, everyone else against.

As Michael Cornell and Brian Dunn noted, this was done in secret, without notice, and was planned to exclude public input and to exclude the residents who came out in droves to support the plan.

Reg Avery's motion was defeated.

How's that for transparency?

This was clearly a plan hatched in secret to try to eviscerate the Inner Arbor Plan while the public remained uninformed and could have no input.

For shame.

I would like to publicly thank those members of the Board who stood up to this outrageous act.

The true mark of one's character is how one behaves when no one is watching. Last night, Reg Avery, Russ Swatek, and Alan Klein thought no on was watching.

Not so fast.

Please let the CA Board and our new CA President know that you condemn this action and any similar action which seeks to exclude public knowledge and involvement. I don't care how long you have lived here; I'm sure you know that is not what Columbia is about.

Apparently some people have to be watched every minute. Well, okay.



Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Power of Women

Last night I attended my first "Wine, Women, and Watson" event. I could tell you about the wine, of course. I could describe the food, the setting, and what people were wearing. But this is not the Society column.

Courtney Watson stood in front of a group of women last night as a candidate for Howard County Executive. She carries with her the experience of serving on the County Council and the Board of Education. She has earned an advanced degree, worked to establish her career, and committed herself to loving and supporting her family.

Every woman attending the event knows and owns a piece of that in their own lives. We talk the talk and walk the walk every day.

The speech last night touched on building on past successes, responding to new challenges, the willingness to take on new ventures to help our community. Courtney used this moment not only to make the case for her own candidacy, but to share the spotlight with other local women who are taking the risk to get involved politically. The point of "Wine, Women and Watson" is not just Courtney Watson.

The greater goal is to empower women to see the many ways they can participate in the political process. Women supporting women.

Right now our nation is experiencing a backlash against women's rights on a variety of fronts. The most basic way to assure equal rights is through our vote. Vote for the candidates who truly represent equality.

Be the candidate who truly represents equality.

I truly believe that our country-- well, even the world--will be better for everyone if a greater proportion of women share power and decisions through political service. Our world is less equal, less human, without it. What I took away from last night was the reminder that it is not just about electing one candidate for County Executive. It's about acknowledging our own individual responsibility for doing something tangible to improve our communities.

Early voting starts today. You know what to do, right?


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

I Don't Get It

My mind is reeling this morning with a bunch of things.

"Why, why, why?"

  • Why did the Oakland Mills Village Board invite Cy Paumier to give a presentation on his vision for Symphony Woods, and call it "Discussion on alternatives to the Inner Arbor/Symphony Woods controversy" ?
  • Why is Corey Andrews back in the Board of Education race? I thought I had a good handle on why he dropped out, but I really don't get why he is dropping back in.
  • Why did Board Member Cynthia Vaillancourt have to file a PIA request with the Maryland State Attorney General's Office to get information about Board/School System financing of the trip to China? What kind of system are we operating if that kind of information is withheld from Board members?
  • Why do we keep installing more doors and more safety buzzers in our schools while we make no meaningful progress as a nation protecting our children from gun violence?
And, other questions, not so deep:
  • Why is it more likely that your child will wake up sick when you have a much-anticipated day off?
  • Why am I volunteering for more things that will involve going to meetings?
  • Why do sooooo many candidates place signs illegally and why does I bug me sooooo much?
  • Why has McDonalds discontinued frozen strawberry lemonade?
More questions than answers today. Some days are just like that.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Got Talent?

What a thrill it is to read good news in the paper these days.

I loved Blair Ames' article in the Sun about "We Here", the graduation anthem created by Long Reach High School students. After you read the article, you can listen to the song itself on YouTube. Whether or not this is the style of music you like best, you've got to admit: these kids have talent.

Talent. What does that mean, anyway? Is talent some magic fairy dust sprinkled on a chosen few at birth? Or is it like the 'talents' in Matthew 25:14-30--worth nothing unless you work to do something with it, worth less than nothing if it lies buried.

Consider this: when kids read well, or do math well we often credit excellent instructors, creative curriculum and teaching methods, but when they do music well we often say, "oh, they're so talented!" as though their knowledge, skills, and mastery came from nowhere. Poof! Like a rabbit out of a hat.

Yes, these students are talented, but they wouldn't be able to do what they love most without educational support. The kids involved with "We Here" didn't come out of nowhere. All were current/former students in hcpss music courses and ensembles. I got in touch with teacher Chris Fyhr to confirm this.

"D'Ante Colbert, Nabil Ince, Nate Lobdell, and Ramsey Carroll are all alumni of my Music Tech program. Nate Lobdell had also previously taken my guitar class. Jocelyn Peña sang with the LRHS Madrigals her junior year. The specifics have escaped me by now, but all of these students did mention that they had previously participated in instrumental music at the elementary and middle school level."

At a time when cuts are being made to music programs in our own school system and elsewhere, I wonder if people just don't make the connection: this is what happens when you have an excellent music program at all levels. It bears fruit in many wonderful ways.

"Talent" isn't enough. You start with talent. Then, you need:

  • Opportunity
  • Encouragement
  • Instruction
  • Knowledge
  • Support
  • Challenge
  • Mentors

What comes through this process? Self-motivated students who:

  • identify and achieve goals
  • create and perform individually and with others
  • plan
  • persevere
  • develop a healthy capacity for enjoyment

Wow. It sounds like these are qualities we hope to instill as we educate students to be "college and career ready."

Vocal/General music, Music Technology class, Guitar class, Instrumental and Choral ensembles were the places where these students brought their talent. They invested themselves, and the Howard County Music program invested in them.

It's amazing. It's awe-inspiring. But it's not magic.

It's education.



This post is dedicated to Rob White, Howard County Instructional Facilitator for Music, who is retiring this Spring after thirty-six years of service to our students, teachers, and families. You might want to send him a note of thanks: --jam








Monday, June 9, 2014

Amazing Results!


(Photo from Scientific American)


NPR reported recently about the newest trend in cognitive improvement: Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation. tDCS, as it is known, has been shown in a scientific study with Air Force pilots to improve performance on training tests by 25 per cent. Johns Hopkins Medicine describes it as "cheap, non-invasive, painless and safe." It also doesn't take much time per session.

Now this is data that should be getting everyone excited. Here is scientific proof that we can overcome the achievement gap in our schools without cutting back on music or art. We don't need rigid scheduling formats like Departmentalization. We don't need thirty minutes of world language per day from age four onward. Children will be able to retain more with less class time.

We need tDCS.

Howard County has always been at the forefront of educational trends. I can't think of a better addition to Vision 2018 than the cutting edge science of tDCS.

What's that?

You don't feel like there's enough data available yet? You feel like this would be tantamount to experimenting on your children?

But we have studies. We have data. We have an achievement gap. Are you saying you want to stand in the way of helping our children?




Okay, okay. I'm not advocating for weird science. I'm not serious about the immediate implementation of tCDS as an educational tool in the Howard County Schools.

I do want the community to get serious about understanding that implementing the Model Schools initiative without adequate time, adequate data, without public hearings on all aspects by the Board of Education, without input from parents and teachers in those meetings, and without a vote by the Board--that's weird science. Maybe even junk science.

It also subverts the democratic process.

As a parent said to me recently, "Am I the only one who feels that my children are being experimented on like lab rats without my permission?"

Let's get this decision right. Let's tell our Superintendent and Board of Education that the Model Schools initiative is exciting, full of promise, and worthy of study and debate. It's just not ready for prime time.









Amazing Results!

NPR reported recently about the newest trend in cognitive improvement: Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation. tDCS, as it is known, has been shown in a scientific study with Air Force pilots to improve performance on training tests by 25 per cent. Johns Hopkins Medicine describes it as "cheap, non-invasive, painless and safe." It also doesn't take much time per session.

Now this is data that should be getting everyone excited. Here is scientific proof that we can overcome the achievement gap in our schools without cutting back on music or art. We don't need rigid scheduling formats like Departmentalization. We don't need thirty minutes of world language per day from age four onward. Children will be able to retain more with less class time.

We need tCDS.

Howard County has always been at the forefront of educational trends. I can't think of a better addition to Vision 2018 than the cutting edge science of tCDS.

What's that?

You don't feel like there's enough data available yet? You feel like this would be tantamount to experimenting on your children?

But we have studies. We have data. We have an achievement gap. Are you saying you want to stand in the way of helping our children?




Okay, okay. I'm not advocating for weird science. I'm not serious about the immediate implementation of tCDS as an educational tool in the Howard County Schools.


I do want the community to get serious about understanding that implementing the Model Schools initiative without adequate time, adequate data, without public hearings on all aspects by the Board of Education, without input from parents and teachers in those meetings, and without a vote by the Board--that's weird science. Maybe even junk science.

It also subverts the democratic process.

As a parent said to me recently, "Am I the only one who feels that my children are being experimented on like lab rats without my permission?"

Let's get this decision right. Let's tell our Superintendent and Board of Education that the Model Schools initiative is exciting, full of promise, and worthy of study and debate. It's just not ready for prime time.







Sunday, June 8, 2014


In March I wrote about things that had become too much. Leading off the list was this:
"A friend who is in constant pain, who has waited far too long for a heart transplant."
Last night I had trouble sleeping and went downstairs with my ipad to lie on the couch. At around two in the morning, this status update was posted on a Facebook.

"On the way. New heart ! Prayers, everyone. It's a perfect match."

My friend has so much more life to live, so much more music to make. Please pray, offer up good thoughts, positive energy--whatever it is that you do--please send prayers up for Justin and the team of doctors, nurses, and ALL involved in his care today. This is Justin.
And this is what he does.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The War Between Men and Women

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

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

What do I mean? Take a look at this:


Tag or recount all present at an event

RT, Share, comment, and praise work by both men and women

Engage in online dialogue with both men and women

Respond to comments from both men and women

Support both male and female candidates



More likely to tag or recount men present

More likely to RT, share, comment, and praise work by men

More likely to engage in online dialogue with men

Respond more frequently to comments from men

Support and/or take more seriously male candidates


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

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

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

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

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

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



Friday, June 6, 2014

Multi-Family Musings

Finally. It's here. After living in Cinnamon Tree at Talbott Springs since June, 1999, it's happening. My #summerofneighbors.

Cinnamon Tree at Talbott Springs is a community of quadroplexes near the Oakland Mills Village Center. When they were initially built, they cost more than some of the single family homes because they came with central air conditioning. This was a desirable place to be.

During the housing bubble in the early 2000's, folks were anxious to get out and buy a bigger house before it was too late--we weren't seen as desirable anymore. The houses weren't bright and shiny anymore. They needed work. After the housing bubble burst and the economy tanked, these houses were extremely difficult to sell. Many owners resorted to renting them out. People came and went. Some were friendly, some were not. It just wasn't the kind of place where people hung out together, went trick or treating, or borrowed a cup of sugar. It was still a safe and lovely place to live. It just lacked spirit.

In the last few years, our little community has seen the beginnings of a turn-around as young professionals have begun to see these homes as appealing starter homes. Our own little corner of the neighborhood has blossomed with new neighbors and friends. Folks are outside doing work on their yards, helping eachother with bigger jobs, sharing a beer, asking advice.

Last night a bunch of us met at The Second Chance Saloon for a going-away dinner for Jesse, who is moving back home to South Carolina to begin a new career in law enforcement after finishing his military service. While we are all sorry to see him leave, and will miss his sense of humor and "let's do it" attititude, it's pretty clear to me that his time in our neighborhood was a time when we began to come together and really function like neighbors.

I hear that one of the major goals of the new Oakland Mills Village Board is to revitalize the Village Center by changing (read: removing) what is euphemistically referred to as "multi-family housing" near the Village Center. Hmm...quadroplexes...that's multi-family. That's us. Will getting rid of my neighborhood make Oakland Mills a better place?

This photograph contains two women who are life-long Columbians: the first on the left, and the last on the left. I wonder what they think about who should stay and who should go? And as for the rest of us, whether we have lived here seven years or seven minutes, it is our community, too.

And we're just beginning to get the hang of it.



Thursday, June 5, 2014

HoCo LoCo Politico Democratic Central Committee Edition

What does it mean when one has so many good, politically active friends? Is there something about me that just causes people to run? (For office,that is.) This year's election season has brought me a boatload.

In particular, the race for Democratic Central Committee comes to mind.

I served wth Abby Hendrix and Marcia White on the Oakland Mills Village Board. I have first-hand experience of their skills in problem solving, working with the community, consensus building, and perseverance. Whether running a meeting, working on a committee, brainstorming ideas, or reaching out to stakeholders, Abby and Marcia are effective, thoughtful, and respectful leaders.

Kimberly Pruim and Candace Dodson-Reed have helped me time and again when I needed answers to questions or solutions to problems. Both of these women exemplify the high level of constituent service that Howard County is rightly known for. If you call them or send them an email they get back to you right away, let you know what is going on, and work with you towards an acceptable solution. Both Kimberly and Candace work however long it takes to get the job done, and done well.

So I absolutely endorse these women for Democratic Central Committee, no question about it.

In addition, I note that Abby and Marcia are running as a part of the Progressive Democratic Central Committee Team. I urge you to give these folks serious consideration. In all honesty, my opinion of Abby and Marcia is so high that their association with this slate lends all the members substantial merit.


To learn more about the Democratic Central Committee, this description on the ScottE Software blog is a great start.




Wednesday, June 4, 2014


Now that I have made my endorsements for the Board of Education race, there are a few remaining issues that need to be addressed.

First: if there were a category for Most Improved, it would definitely go to Corey Andrews. He clearly worked to educate himself between his last run and this one. He wasn't at the top of my list but he is clearly sincere in his interest. His withdrawal from the race may have been ridiculed by some. But it seems to me that he made a clear choice to shed some light on the underhandedness and toxicity at work in this election. I am hoping that Blair Ames will continue to work on this story as more information comes out.

Speaking of which, the action of some of the Board Members to censure or shame Cindy Vaillancourt publicly is nothing but dirty politics. They present no evidence as "it's confidential" and thus Ms. Vaillancourt can't really defend herself without appearing to violate confidentiality. This feels like the actions of the secret police in a totalitarian state. Anyone who signed on to this action no longer belongs on the Board Education.

This brings us to Sandra French, the only one of the above group up for re-election. She has given twenty years of service to the Board. Her participation in the above-mentioned shenanigans indicates that her loyalty has shifted from serving constituents to back room politics, which is deeply disappointing. At a meeting of the PTA Council on Monday evening, her responses to parent concerns were defensive at best. In addition, she shared information about teacher transfers that was extremely misleading and that, given her years of experience, she must have known to be false.

On a more positive note, there were two candidates that I "liked" but did not endorse because in this election, liking is simply not enough. As I stated yesterday, we need members of the Board who can go into the present situation and make things happen. Leslie Kornreich and Tom Baek have wonderful qualities, and I hope to see them remain involved in educational issues. But in the current climate their chances for success are limited. That shouldn't be the case, but it is.

I hope this election will change that for the better.

Please participate in this election, whether you have children in school or not. Encourage your friends, neighbors, and co-workers to vote. Our children don't get a vote.

They are depending on you.



Tuesday, June 3, 2014


You knew it was coming.

This is the annual ASLC Flea Market post.

It is the rummage of rummages, jumble sale of jumble sales, with everything from bicycles to DVDs to household linens to Christmas decorations to toys...and more. Last year my daughter bought a snake in a basket.



In addition to remarkable bargains you will find cheerful hearts, helpful advisors, and energetic assistance from church members young and old. All have a sincere desire to give you a price you want to hear along with a sense of humor. Even if you buy nothing (extremely unlikely) you will come away feeling better than when you arrived.

Abiding Savior is the Lake Woebegon of Columbia parishes, almost too small to be found on a map. And yet every year this flea market raises a hefty sum for charity. To paraphrase Shakespeare, "though we be but small, we are fierce."

This year all proceeds will go to Winter Growth who assist patients and families in Alzheimer's care.

Did I mention that there is a lovely playground right outside the church hall where your little ones can play while you shop? (Weather permitting, of course.)

You are sure to save a bundle on books, housewares, toys and a million other things, so use a little $ to buy a snack. This year we will have a bake table with home-baked snacks as well as coffee, tea, and other drinks. Proceeds from this table will benefit ASLC's Winter Growth fund and the Girl Scouts Silver Award Project of redoing the Nature Trail at Girl Scout Camp Ilchester in Ellicott City, which is also handicapped accessible.

To review:

This Saturday, June 7th
From 8 am to 12 noon.
The amazing Annual Flea Market!
Abiding Savior Lutheran Church
10689 Owen Brown Road, Columbia, Maryland 21044


I had hoped to follow up on yesterday's Board endorsement post today, but I am awaiting confirmation of some factual information that I don't want to get wrong. Look for the wrap-up tomorrow.




Monday, June 2, 2014

Board of Education Endorsements

Remember this?

Question, "What do you think the job of a Board of Education member is?" Please address the following:

1. What power does the position convey?

2. What is the best use of that power?

3. To whom is the Board of Education member responsible?

No matter what particular issues interest you the most in this race, these questions must come first. If an elected Board Member does not understand the responsibility, power and limitations s/he has, then none of the other things stand a chance of being addressed. Good intentions are not enough.

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Our Board members must know how to do the job, and why they do it.

It is with this in mind that this blog endorses the following candidates for the Board of Education:

Bess Altwerger

Zaneb Beams

Dan Furman

Cindy Vaillancourt

Ms. Altwerger has an excellent understanding of the needs and rights of all of the constituent groups that make up the system as a whole. This is important for the development of a more positive and less adversarial relationship with teachers and parents. Her experience as a teacher and a teacher of teachers gives her the long perspective on what high-stakes testing has done to our classrooms. She will bring knowledge, experience, and advocacy for stakeholders to her position of the Board.

Dr. Beams brings a much-needed developmental perspective to the role of Board Member. Achievement goals will be seen through the lens of what is developmentally appropriate for the students at each age level. In addition, she sees listening and addressing community needs sees as an important part of a Board Member's role. As we look for a more collaborate and less top-down model for our schools, this will be key.

Dan Furman brings experience working within the school system and knowledge of the inner workings of Central Office. He has a valuable perspective in 'how things get done' and also how the law works to support students and families. He has also worked in special education advocacy law, which means he will be an excellent resource for the Board as a whole in addressing special needs issues.

Cindy Vaillancourt has been willing to serve as an independent voice on the board when doing so has been uncomfortable and unpopular. She has used her conscience to work on behalf of contituents. As a Board Member, Ms. Vaiilancourt has been active in the school community and responsive to parent questions, either by mail or in board meetings. She is a strong supporter of music and arts education and world languages.

Now, a disclaimer of sorts: My husband taught Ms, Vaillancourt's son for several years at River Hill High School. They developed a good parent-teacher relationship throughout the years. Because of this, when I have had questions about issues relating to the Board of Education/school system I have felt comfortable directing them to her. She has always responded in a polite and timely manner.

There you have it. Nothing sordid, nothing shady, no backroom deals or telling tales out of school.

Tomorrow: a few words on some of the other folks in the race.