Sunday, November 30, 2014

Away from it All

Thanks to the kindness of a friend, my family spent Thanksgiving close to nature and far away from The Bubble. Sunrise and sunset views of the water were spectacular, the quiet was nourishing, the darkness at night was palpable. Wow--is night really that dark?


The tiny town which serves as "civilization" is about a twenty minute's drive away. Small shops. Narrow streets. Old sidewalks. Restaurants with individual flavor and personality. Store clerks who talked to you. It was all freshly decorated for the holiday season.


Beautiful, and, dare I say, sincere.


I wondered what it would be like to live there in the town, without a car. Or using a car only rarely. Could I do it? There's a little Acme grocery store on the main street, a pharmacy, too. Churches are walkable. Surrounding the main street are lesser streets that cross-cross neatly with old wooden houses, many with gingerbread ornamentation. Tiny well-groomed yards.


Wouldn't it be lovely? Small-town living?


After a brief conversation we all agreed that we just couldn't do it. It would drive us out of our minds.


How sadly addicted we are to being able to hop in the car and visit a million places within a few minutes. Our cars represent personal freedom, independence, a life-line to all our needs and wants. How could we survive if we couldn't get to Target? (How pathetic is this whole train of thought?)


To be honest, in this kind of a comparison Columbia/Howard County is at one end of the spectrum and St. Michael's is at another. There's plenty of room in between. As we strive for more walkability in our evolving downtown, it will not mean we will be forced to give up our cars and walk to and from the Acme with our grocery bags.


Getting away from it all gave us time to be together as a family. We enjoyed every moment of the low-key, chilling-out experience. But we also got a lesson on how dependent we are on the comforts of home, and how much that really means dependence on automobiles.


Hmm. I'm still thinking...





Saturday, November 29, 2014

Invisible Gravy Boats

When I was in high school I acted in a production of Thornton Wilder's one-act play, The Long Christmas Dinner. The play covers ninety years of Christmas dinner of the Bayard family. Similar to other Wilder plays, sets were minimal and much depended on mime. All we had were a table and chairs. The rest was up to us.

As we worked out the blocking for the play, I came up against a problem with the gravy boat. I would carefully "ladle" gravy onto my plate, but when I passed it on, my classmate picked it up and "poured" it. I was indignant. What kind of a philistine poured a gravy boat? Being young and inflexible, I pointed out her error to the director.

What followed was, shall we say, educational. It turned out that there were two kinds of gravy boats. The one at our house looked like this.

The top was fused to the saucer and you used a silver ladle to serve the gravy.

The one at her house looked like this.

You poured it.

In fact, once the discussion started, I discovered that the vast majority of people around the table were familiar with her mental gravy boat. My sense of self-importance and righteous indignation was (deservedly) diminished.

I bring this up today after looking at many photos of Thanksgiving dinner yesterday. Some look familiar to me: dining room table, table cloth, good china, fancy serving dishes. A traditional menu. Some did not: big buffets lined with disposable aluminum serving pans filled with macaroni and cheese, rice dishes, greens.

What's this? Someone's Thanksgiving dinner looks different than mine?

It is amazing how such small things become the basis for judgement. We cling to our tribe and shrink from the ways of others. We use the differences to make assumptions. Does an aluminum disposable pan mean a lack of respect for tradition and "fine things"? Or does it speak volumes about gatherings which include multiple generations of extended family, where the focus is on making sure that everyone "gets enough"?

Despite Jame Howard's very good advice to include people of different backgrounds to our Thanksgiving celebrations, I am guessing that most of us eat that meal with folks who lay out the table exactly the way that we do. And that is the way that looks "right" to us. And a picture of something different makes us feel vaguely uncomfortable.

We think, "that's not right." Deep down, we try to put ourselves in that picture and think, "I wouldn't feel comfortable there."

With those "other" people.

We can use our diversity as a weapon of division, or embrace it as a way to learn something new. It can start with a gravy boat.






Friday, November 28, 2014

Forces of Darkness

Yesterday, Thanksgiving Day, there was a shooting in Oakland Mills. Of course it lit up the news. It is a horrible thing. Gunfire. Crime. Masked assailant. Columbia neighborhood. We wince and shudder against the image of it.

This shouldn't be happening here, we think. Not in Howard County. Not in Columbia. Not in my neighborhood. "And on Thanksgiving!"

No sooner was the news spreading on social media than the familiar comments began to accumulate.

  • "White or black?"
  • "It was the apartments, wasn't it?"
  • "Those people are thugs."
  • "The victim was probably involved in illegal activity."
  • "Columbia will never be safe until we get rid of subsidized housing."
  • "Columbia used to be safe. Before those people came."

Those people. Those poor people. Those black people. Those other people.

As frightening and damaging as the shooting itself is the unapologetic racism and hatred of these comments. It is the attitude which allows the "other- ing" of fellow humans. The attitude of privilege, judgement, exclusion. And from these attitudes can come entrenched policies of disenfranchisement--think Ferguson.

Can we think only of ourselves? What about the poor woman who opened the door? What about the victim? What about the neighbors? What about their Thanksgiving?

Some Columbia residents will use this event as evidence to further their own agenda. We will probably see more calls for improvement that really mean exclusion. Look for neighborhood flyers and emails with capital letters that encourage you to be afraid and get angry. It is completely normal to respond to an event like this with fear or anger. But to use it as a tool to promote a reinvention which is thinly-veiled "purification" is just wrong.

In closing, I recommend to you this piece by Long Reach resident James Howard. He has a request that we choose on Thanksgiving to reach across racial and ethnic divides. "And for once, treat each other as human."

Thanksgiving may be over, but the challenge still stands.



Thursday, November 27, 2014

Faces Around the Table

I found myself thinking yesterday about the many guests I assembled for Thanksgiving dinner in "A Blogger's Thanksgiving." Where are they now? I got bogged down in the knowledge that the event (as it were) could never be recreated. Things change. We lose family and friends to life changes, moves, even death. Nothing stays the same.


Sarasays and DinosaurMom have moved away. Annathema, GCGeek, vinotrip, LifesLittleComedies and TJMayotte are no longer blogging. Patch is no more, the Patuxent name is but a memory, and HoCoMoJo still exists, but is not the same. WellandWise has gone through its own changes. Columbia Compass? Hope springs eternal...


And of course you know about WordBones.


I woke up this morning realizing I had gotten too hung up on loss. Change also brings growth, and new faces around the table. A virtual Thanksgiving today would include people like Kirstycat, urbanbushwoman, and ukhousewifeusa. Lisa Rossi and David Greisman, formerly of Patch, would still be there, but representing American Journalism Review and CA, respectively.


Surely the atmosphere would be lively with the addition of 2dudeswholovefood, and with more locally-sourced food from AnnieRieUnplugged. AwayfromtheThingsofMan would keep us grounded, and remind us to be thankful. Dave Bittner of HoCoMoJo would bring a more cosmopolitan perspective, courtesy of his nights at Al Jazeera America. FrankHecker would write up the whole event with a focus on historical accuracy and current day relevance. Spartan Considerations would analyse it.


In short, it would still be one amazing party.


However you observe the day, take a moment to be conscious of the community that is drawn together around you. Be thankful. There will never be another day exactly like today. Celebrate it. Next year there may be new faces at the table, bringing new blessings. There may be an empty place, whether at the table or in your heart. Treasure those memories.


Make room for new ones.








Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Thanksgiving Tradition

A Blogger's Thanksgiving, 2011

I arrived at Tarragon Park a tad early, and sat in my car listening to NPR so as to avoid seeming over-eager. I brushed my hair, and checked that my ipad was charged.

The door was answered by @Wordbones, gracious co-host of our event. "Come on in. We're just choosing the wines for the meal." Pondering the perfect choices with him were the wine enthusiasts of @vinotrip. I knew right away that the selections for our gathering were sure to be first-rate. I heard some banging from out back.

"Don't worry about that," WB explained. "That's just @53Beers getting his tailgate operation on. He's determined to deep-fry a turkey out there."

Delicious aromas wafted through the house. I headed to the kitchen, where @hocohousehon and @howchow were discussing the finer points of roasting vs. sauteing the Brussels sprouts. Heavy cream and toasted pine nuts sat nearby. My offer of help was promptly refused.

@jessiex had arrived with her hoops, and plenty of them. I wondered if I'd even be able to fit inside one after the meal that was to come. The @wellandwise folks crowded around her, bubbling with enthusiasm for a post meal workout. @annathema and @tjmayotte arrived, fresh from a morning run. I was beginning to feel downright sedentary.

What a relief to spot @kikiverde in a quiet corner. We discussed upcoming holiday craft projects as the rest of the gang trickled in. @examorata sat nearby, scribbling thoughtfully in her journal. @ozoni11 slipped in and stationed himself at the computer, uploading photos he had taken on the grounds of Tarragon Park.

@sarahsays arrived with news of the new, free "Aquatibus", designed to move folks easily to the water facilities of their choosing.

"It never would have been possible with out all the valuable research that @ColumbiaCompass put together," she said. "Those statistics, charts, and his insightful analysis moved mountains!" Naturally, Mr. Compass was nowhere near to hear these accolades. Sarah said he was finishing the details of a deal to bring a microbrewery to the Wilde Lake Village Center.

"It's amazing the kind of work he gets done at the Columbia Mall Starbucks," I said.

Heads turned as a scuffling noise came from the entryway. "No press, no press!" someone was saying.

"This is a purely a social event!"

Of course it was @hocomojo,followed by various Patuxlets and Patchlets. "We'll be the judge of that," claimed @bitner as he slid past the gatekeepers. "Who better to appreciate the social nature of this event than your social media neighbors?"

@Annathema greeted them with a gentle smile. "You are very welcome," she said.

@LissaRossi set up on the couch for some live-blogging. She was joined by @dinosaurmom and @lifeslittlecomedies who offered support with snacks, drinks, wit, wisdom, and general hilarity.

@53Beers burst in with, well, fifty-three beers. A great ice breaker, and at just the right moment, I thought.

"But why 53 Beers?" I heard someone say.

"I was all out of gum," he replied cryptically, and retreated to his makeshift Purple Pit out back, muttering something about 'fishwrap'.

I worked my way over to the appetizers, where TJ and LisaB/Mrs S. were discussing the feasibility of running for the school board. @GCGeek offered suggestions as to the benefits of a witty Twitter presence for the would-be candidates.

@ColumbiaCompass arrived, beaming with satisfaction.

"Really, now. A microbrewery in Wilde Lake?" someone asked skeptically.

"Better than an inter-modal." he shot back easily, popping open a beer.

A call from our chefs brought us to the table. An amazing spread of local fare was laid out before us.

I noticed an empty seat.

"HoCoRising," explained Wordbones. "He's volunteering at Grassroots. He'll be along in a bit. "

Thus gathered, we bowed our heads for the blessing.


Happy Thanksgiving to the @hocoblogs community. Please accept this tale in the spirit in which it was intended -- a bit of fun during the dark days as the old year winds down.

P.S. For those who are wondering: of course we would be packing a hamper of the most delightful vegetarian fare for @hayduke and family.



Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Harlem, by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over—

like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

My heart is aching this morning.

What can I possibly have to add to the conversation? Here is a sampling of what speaks to me on Twitter:

@wilw: If only there were some process, perhaps a legal process, to present conflicting accounts and statements, weigh them, and come to a verdict.

@rapsodymusic: "It doesn’t take 100 days to decide if murder is a crime, it takes 100 days to figure out how to tell people it isn’t" - @LeVelleMoton

@billmaher: Waiting until night do to what you could in the day seems strange. Reminds me of how the Colts left Baltimore

@michele_norris: Why was this announced at night

@langston_poems: I am so tired of waiting, Aren't you, For the world to become good And beautiful and kind?

@RosalindR: White privilege is me getting to be outraged while my black friend is terrified for the safety of her son.

@nprscottsimon: Pray for the peace of Ferguson.

I write today because if I keep silent on injustice it is a crime. And, to me, deciding that this loss of life is not worthy of a trial is clearly an injustice. All along the way there have been so many opportunities to handle this the right way that have been ignored--no--spurned by those in power. It is not just one injustice but thousands upon thousands, both big and small.

None of us are free.
None of us are free.
None of us are free, one of us are chained.
None of us are free.







Monday, November 24, 2014

Strange Happenings

Breaking: Sudden Crater Formations in Oakland Mills Yard!


I walked out of the house yesterday to this--

Animal tracks? One very large footprint? Two large footprints?
I looked around. More holes in the yard, in no particular formation. Holes, holes, holes. What the heck?
And then I remembered something my husband had said the day before.
I just found an unopened bag of almonds in my office, so I put some out in the yard for the local wildlife. This little guy came right up to me (closer than I've ever seen a squirrel come) and looked me right in the eyes as if to say "Happy Thanksgiving to you too, Mr. Dude!"

So the squirrel buried them all Saturday and dug them up Sunday. Lack of patience? Intense hunger? Obsessive compulsive behavior? Or--horrors!--a squirrel thief? I hope not.

I have always loved squirrels, as did my mother before me. She used to make them little peanut butter sandwiches with the heel ends of the bread, and they would come to the back door and take them right out of her hand. She once called the nature center because she was concerned that a squirrel was licking a tree in our backyard. It turned out to be a sugar maple--smart squirrel.

Finding out that my husband has a soft spot for squirrels, too, was wonderful. I'm not sure that he knew until that little guy came right up to him and established eye contact. Bingo! He was done for.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go make some peanut butter sandwiches.




Sunday, November 23, 2014


I recommend to you today a man I have never met: Bill Goddard. I have come to respect him solely from my interactions with him on Twitter. I can't remember when I started following him, but it may have been in the aftermath of the shooting at the mall. His Twitter feed has been unfailingly polite, supportive of the community, informative, and wise.

On November 21st, County Executive-elect Alan Kittleman announced that Mr. Goddard had resigned. The Sun article lays the groundwork for the possibility that this was not a decision the Fire Chief came to all by himself. New political administrations apparently have the right to shake things up, bring in their own people. The spoils of war, you know.

Be that as it may, my gut tells me that this is a good, hard-working man who has served Howard County well, and that this is a loss for us. I am not an expert in the fire department. After all, you might say, I only know him on Twitter. What could I know?

I challenge you to go to his Twitter feed and just read. Go back as far as you are able--it's only 140 characters at a time, after all. I think you will get a sense of what I did. This is a humble, very human public servant. Among other things, I think he may be the father of a teacher, because he never missed an opportunity to remind his readers of the dedication and value of those who go into the classroom every day and work with kids.

And maybe that made me like him even more. Just maybe.

This quote from Tom Coale is a reminder of what kind of risks are inherent in a fire fighter's life:

This afternoon, I found myself alongside the funeral cortege for Baltimore City firefighter Lt. James E. Bethea as it went north on 83. As I saw uniformed men and women standing on top of fire engines saluting from the overpass, I thought about how much we hear the term "public servant" during election season without really thinking about what it means. I am thankful there are people in this world like James Bethea; true public servants who risk their lives every day without title or recognition. It is a horrible tragedy every time they are lost.

Take a minute to go on Twitter and thank Mr. Goddard. I think it will mean a lot to him.




Saturday, November 22, 2014

Flying South

A flock of geese just passed over my house, honking away. I saw a similar group yesterday as I sat in my car before teaching. The weather is colder, the days are darker. I'm sitting under a blanket, too chilled to get up and make coffee.

Young children are taught to notice the changes in the seasons and to celebrate them. I remember gathering leaves and acorns in the Fall, and getting excited when we got out the winter hats coats and mittens because it meant playing in the snow was not too far away.

But something has happened to me in recent years as the trees become completely bare and the temperatures drop. I'm resisting. I'm cold, and I long for sunlight and clear skies. I feel too keenly a sense of loss and things ending. I feel myself bargaining with God--just one more sunny day!--instead of celebrating what is and what is to come.

For many years I taught preschoolers and kindergarteners to observe the natural world and to be filled with the joy of each season. Why do we do that, and then somehow lose it for ourselves? If it is something they need to know, then it is something I need to know.

It is time for me to get back to basics, and teach myself. Get out my brightly colored Winter nightgowns and find my fuzzy slippers. Bake my favorite cookies. Play music that fills my heart with joy. Finish that craft project that I put down in summer when it was just too hot to make a fleecy scarf.

Light a candle. And stop cursing the darkness.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Dream Big

Here is my testimony from last night's Planning Board meeting:

I am here to speak in support of the Inner Arbor Trust, specifically the plan for Merriweather Park in Symphony Woods and the phase of the plan you are considering tonight.

There is something deeply human in the desire to tell and retell the story of where we came from. It is a very natural thing to treasure our memories and seek ways to preserve them, whether in scrapbooks, time capsules, or museums. Right now in Columbia we are challenged to balance a deep respect for our roots with the needs of our residents today and in the future. Communities are living entities that grow, change, reach, adapt, and transform. Memories alone cannot sustain them.

The plan you will be voting on tonight has its roots in the very beginnings of Columbia, while also meeting the requirements of our more recent Downtown Plan. Its design will attract new life to an area long-dormant. It will create spaces for play, enjoyment of nature, arts experiences, and restful relaxation. It speaks to who we are as a communty today and inspires us to dream big dreams for the future.

Artifacts can be placed in a time capsule for safe keeping. Communities cannot. While Columbia will always need story-tellers to keep our story going, we will also need dreamers, planners, and builders to bring to life the stories that haven't yet been told. This park will be a place that brings all of us together. I ask that you approve this first part of the plan and continue your support for this park as it progresses.


I wasn't sure I really wanted to go last night. (My dislike of meetings is well-known at this point.) But my desire to see this thing through outweighed the negatives. I went.

The best thing for me was to see and hear so much testimony that was far and away superior to mine. I tend to get caught up in my own perfectionism. I write and rewrite, in search of the perfect turn of phrase.

But last night was an education in how many different kinds of people have chosen to stand up in favor of this park for our community. Brilliant, dedicated people. My presence was but a small piece in the beautiful mosaic that is Columbia. Exactly as it should be.

The Planning Board voted unanimously in favor of the Inner Arbor Plan (phases 1-7).


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Tonight, Tonight, Won't Be Just Any Night

Tonight the Planning Board will make a decision on the first phase of the Inner Arbor plan for Symphony Woods. In honor of this momentous occasion, I am reprinting this post from August 21, 2013.

Good Night Columbia

Came out of Clyde's to the full moon over the water.



I thought I caught a glimpse of Dennis on the way in. Like a scene from a hokey movie, I stopped and closed my eyes and looked again.

"Goodnight, Columbia."

Oh, oh, oh my what a day

Making my way

Around this town.

Oh, oh, oh walking the lakefront with eager feet. Who will I meet?

The light of the dream is shining its beam

It's like a phone call from yesterday

Oh, oh, oh pulling me closer to plans for a

Brighter New Day

Good night Columbia

Every day sees me lovin' ya

Every night near the People Tree

(All the trees sing a symphony.)

Columbia: Goodnight

And some day when the time is right

The world's gonna see what I see

Columbia set free!

Oh, oh, oh look at the lake

Nothing can break

The stillness now

Oh, oh a table at Clyde's and the best of friends

The night never ends.

The names on the bricks, the people who mix,

they say the dream is worth fighting for

So, oh, oh don't let it die

Cause Columbia's ready to fly

Good night Columbia

Now the Whole Foods is just a dream

Soon we'll wake to a place to thrive

We'll be walking, won't have to drive

Columbia: goodnight

And some day when the time is right

The world's gonna see what I see

Columbia set free!

I know every Village, each crazy street name

I know it's important when people came.

But the future is coming, no, it won't wait.

So someone accept it before it's too late.

So, oh, oh, give it a chance

The romance of making a dream come true

Oh, oh, oh something inside of you knows the song--

Just sing along.

Pioneers may say "no" but my heart says "lets go!"

It's like tomorrow is at the door

Oh,oh,oh this is the time

One moment, one meeting with fate.

Good night Columbia

Every day sees me lovin' ya

Every night near the People Tree

(All the trees sing a symphony.)

Columbia: Goodnight

And some day when the time is right

The world's gonna see what I see

Columbia set free!


The Planning Board will accept written testimony until three pm today. Or you can come to the meeting tonight and voice your support.



Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Popping Bubbles

I spent a little time outside the Bubble last night. The "Columbubble", that is. My daughter had a rehearsal in Towson and I found myself killing time at the Putty Hill Panera and thinking how rarely I leave Howard County these days. Trying to get from Columbia to Towson at six in the evening is a serious disincentive--how grateful I am that I no longer have a daily commute.

Anyway--bubbles. In addition to the Columbia kind, I've been thinking of the kind of Bubble that blogger Tom Coale wrote about this summer.

The Bubble is "us". It is the 500 to 800 people across the County that pay attention to hyper-local politics, talk about hyper-local politics, and can name at least three members of the Board of Education (if we were a club, that would be the pass-code). We pay attention to each and every move a candidate makes and will look at campaign literature more than once after it arrives in our mailbox. If you're reading this, you are at the pinnacle of the bubble - you cannot get enough of this stuff.

This post, along with Ian Kennedy's response, challenged my views on the election and my part in it more than anything else that has been written in the last year. In fact, after I read it I felt myself at a dead stop. How much of my writing was Bubble-chatter? Did it have any broader relevance? After all, being in the Bubble is

...not always a good thing...The Bubble distorts things. It makes you see things that aren't there. It builds confidence in places of great doubt. And it is most deceptive around election season.

I've been thinking a lot about another piece, too. This editorial from the Howard County Times truly irked me when it was published following the primary. "Howard candidates would be wise not to ignore the storm clouds", they stated.

Humph! I remember reading this and being annoyed by what I found to be a rather patronizing tone. It came across to me like Dad sitting behind his newspaper, offering tidbits of wisdom without actually putting down the newspaper to see what was going on. "They don't live here!" I thought. "They don't really know what it's like."

Now I re-read it and think, "ouch." Although I'm still not too keen on the tone, I see that familiar suggestion that perhaps politicians and their supporters are too immersed in the Bubble to see clearly. Ian's words come to mind:

I obviously still care deeply about our community and our opportunities but what I've found myself doing is trying to separate my work and my ideals from my emotions. The bubble makes that hard. The bubble asks you to pick sides; to engage in small matters that seem big because the bubble is a grind; the bubble is non-stop.

The results of the election were a big smack upside the head for many inside the Bubble. For me, it has been necessary to take a step back and rethink my part in all that. For others, rebuilding the Bubble is the first priority.

And so it goes.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Snacks and Drinks

Many years ago my oldest daughter visited a high church Episcopal Sunday service where her grandfather was serving as sub-deacon. Afterwards she told me, "Grandpère was giving out snacks and drinks, but I didn't have any." It was a preschool description of Holy Communion that has stuck in my head to this day.

With the relentless posting and reposting of the HoCo Times story on Kittleman lifting the so-called "sugary drinks ban", I find my attention turning today to snacks and drinks. And not the Holy Communion kind, either. I think we forget that there was a time when vending machines were not ubiquitous. Now they seem to be expected.

In fact, eating and drinking as a leisure activity has become woven into our daily existence, which is why our cars now have more crumbs and more empty McDonalds's cups than ever before. And we expect that if we go to a County office building, or the library, that our right to snacking will be accommodated.


Why is this really necessary?

Is the County obligated to provide any vending machines of any kind? I say: no. They must provide plentiful and safe drinking water, functional bathrooms, and a healthy work environment. There is no "right" to vending machines. All employees and visitors are free to bring their own snacks and drinks, healthy or not.

All this carping about "the right" to buy a Coke misses the point. What kind of entitlement is this? Why rely on County vending machines at all? Why has no one said, "Government should not be in the vending machine business"?

I heard a discussion on the radio once about the ethical dilemma presented by movie theaters who sell exhorbitantly priced refreshments and maintain rules against bringing in food from the outside. The ethics expert pointed out that the patrons were visiting the movie theater voluntarily, that it was private property, and that owners had the right to enforce their rules. The interviewer countered that, if the patrons couldn't afford those high prices, they'd be forced to eat nothing at all.

"There's a place where millions of Americans go weekly, sit together in large groups for hours at a time, and eat nothing," the expert said. "It's called church."

Grandpère 's service at the high altar notwithstanding, I think the ethics expert has a point. We will not starve. We will not die of thirst. While I think the concept of using vending machines to offer healthier snacks and beverages was done in the positive spirit of benefiting public health, in my opinion we need to challenge a bigger icon: the vending machine itself.









Monday, November 17, 2014

A Lovely Natural Setting

Yesterday I stopped by the Walgreens at the corner of happy and--wait--I mean, Thunder Hill and Route 175. The parking lot was relatively full and Girl Scouts had set up shop outside, selling cookies. The grounds have been recently replanted and look lovely. It is hard to imagine that this business was the cause of such conflict for some local residents.

Take a look at this post on Tales of Two Cities for a taste of the controversy. Certain residents described an empty parking lot and a boarded-up building as a "lovely natural setting" which should not be despoiled with a retail business. Individuals circulated petitions, stirring up fear that the Walgreens would be open 24 hours and attract a bad element. The traffic pattern would be hazardous and lead to multiple accidents. It was suggested that Rouse himself never wanted that space to be retail (not true) and that the Walgreens would be the destruction of the Village Center (hasn't happened.)

In fact, the Food Lion has actually upped its game since the opening of the Walgreens, and we have added an additional business, the Little Caesars pizza place, since the Walgreens opened. Our local pub has survived a misguided move to close it down and was supported by the community, the Village and the County. The truth of the matter is that the Walgreen's is a thriving and much-needed business in our community.

Why do I bring this up today? Well, many of the very same people who spread fear and rumor and circulated petitions against the Walgreens are now on the team that is fighting the Inner Arbor Trust and the creation of Merriweather Park in Symphony Woods. That's right. The people who described a weedy parking lot in disrepair with a boarded-up business as a "lovely natural setting" want to tell Columbia what a people's park should look like.

Should a "park for a lifetime" be inspiring? Exciting? Far-reaching in imagination and design? Or should it put one in mind of memorials and the dead? And who should choose how our future unfolds? Should it be the kind of people who traffic in smear tactics and whisper campaigns?

Look around and see who is supporting the Inner Arbor. You will see all sorts of people--single, married, married with kids, young professionals, parents, middle-aged folks and grandparents. The support is coming from a wide variety of residents. Then take a very close look at those who seek to take it down.

Consider the source.

The final hearing of the Planning Board will be this Thursday evening at 7pm at the George Howard Building. You have an opportunity to show up in person and speak for a park that will be for all of us. Why does it matter? I think Bill Woodcock said it extremely well:

At the last hearing I called the Inner Arbor "A park for a lifetime". And it's exactly that. One will be able to take their children and grandchildren to the Merrigoround; as teenagers, they'll be hanging out at the Picnic Table; as young adults, walk under on a date, maybe even propose to their beloved, at the Caterpillar; and attend concerts and many cultural events at the Chrysalis and at Merriweather Post Pavilion. And all the while enjoy nature in its purest form.

Let's show the Planning Board what it looks like when people get excited in favor of something. I imagine that it will be a welcome and refreshing experience for them.





Sunday, November 16, 2014

Brainstorming Thanksgiving

Okay, HoCo friends, I am sending this one out to you. What if you didn't already have plans for Thanksgiving? What have you always been hankering to do, if you weren't already committed to your usual thing? What are the little-known Thanksgiving opportunities in Columbia and Howard County?

I'm looking to break out of the mold this year. My older daughter will be celebrating with her father's side of the family, so it will just be the three of us. My husband is from the U.K./Belfast, Northern Ireland, so he doesn't have any particular attachment to the holiday. It seems completely ridiculous to me to recreate the whole menu for tradition's sake for only three people.

What if we could do anything? I'm thinking local, not a trip to the Bahamas. Possibly a day trip to somewhere relatively close. Help me think outside the box on this one.

Oh, and I am definitely not trolling for dinner invitations. This is not a pity-post, really. I know I have a lot of readers with a wide range of local expertise, so hit me up with your best ideas.

I'll be truly thankful.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Lies My Mother Told Me

This idea has been floating around in my brain for awhile. I guess it has gathered enough momentum at this point to get its own post. To be clear, some of these things my mother told me in good faith, in other words, she truly believed them, but they were lies nonetheless. So, here goes.

  • You're lucky. Because you are a girl, you will get to choose whether you want to have a job and work or get married and raise a family. Boys don't get to choose. They just have to work.
  • As a lady, you will never see the underside of a dinner check.
  • I saw the way those boys looked at you. You're not a nice girl.
  • No women stay blondes as adults. If you see a blonde adult, it's definitely bottle-blonde.
  • You don't have any friends? What are you doing wrong? (In first grade)
  • You're fat! (Weighed myself at health museum--I was four.)
  • All people with allergies and asthma are allergic to chocolate and peanut butter.
  • You don't get to do what you want to do when you grow up. You have to settle and be realistic.
  • NICE girls wear petticoats. (Thanks to my sister for this one.)

It takes a long time to figure out all those voices in your head which are really echoes of what Mother said, long ago. A big part of being adult is sorting, filtering, prioritizing. Not to mention creating your own voice and sticking up for it when it goes head to head with what Mother said.

What about you?


Friday, November 14, 2014


On November 13th, 1999, Richard and I got married. On November 15th, 2000, our daughter was born. This arrangement of dates caused some confusion for her as a young child. I noticed that, when playing with dolls, a couple would get married and then drive directly to the hospital to pick up their baby. The intervening year was lost on her. It was a one-shot deal.

Having a baby a year and two days after getting married has pretty much decimated our wedding anniversary. It's really seen just as a herald of the off-spring's Big Day. Ah, well. Once you have kids, everything becomes about them in one way or another, right?

Over time November 14th has come to have its own personality. We call it "the In-Between Day." It's like the eye of the hurricane. Its existence serves to keep the other two celebrations separate, so they don't run together. While the birthday gets way more whoopdedoo than the anniversary, still each deserves its own space. Despite my daughter's initial confusion, the "I'll love you forever--BAM!--childbirth" scenario isn't remotely palatable.

The In-Between Day is a contemplative day. It is a time to remember the joys of courtship and the journey of our marriage. It is also a time to recall how blessed we were to bring Margo into this world. Now that she is a teenager she has no patience for those "remember when you were little?" stories. But that doesn't stop me from thinking about them.

So today I think, appreciate, remember. And tomorrow my daughter will be fourteen years old. How is that even possible? In the last week she has already started telling people that she is fourteen. Me? I need one more day to get ready.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Gossip Girls

Okay, they're not girls, they're women. And the names have been changed to protect the innocent. But I present this as evidence of the enormous success of the Howard County Library System in our community.

Setting: Facebook Characters: Scarlet, Maura, Lisa, Anna, Theresa, Barb, Leigh, Hailey.


Scarlet: Going to the library feels like winning the lottery.

Maura: So true!

Scarlet: I mean, woah!!!

Lisa: Free knowledge!

Lisa: Paid by our tax dollars. ;-)

Anna: Oh. I thought you meant that half the books were lost to taxes and distant relatives began coming out of the woodwork to hit you up for favors.

Theresa: No way man! I always return books late. I vow never to step foot back in that place.

Scarlet: Those librarians will break your kneecaps.

Barb: I love the library. I've given my out-of-town family members tours of the Miller Branch

Scarlet: I feel like wearing a cocktail dress when I go in the Miller Branch...with the floor lighting and marble and fountains.

Scarlet: Actually, mostly I want other people to wear cocktail dresses there with me. I'll bring a flask!

Barb: It's a date! I like Jäger or Black Velvet Toasted Caramel.

Scarlet: We can pretend like we're taking prom pictures.

Leigh: I have always wanted to have a party at the library. And any excuse to wear a cocktail dress really

Scarlet: I may need to create an event.

Leigh: Why not, it's public domain. Bring the party to the library.

Hailey: They do have that fancy event in February I think-- Evening at the Sax or something like that. Dress up gala event at Miller. Sounds right up your alley!!

Scarlet: Let's show up in January and mess with them!

Barb: I'm in!


This conversation is almost a mini focus group unto itself. What I love about it is the genuine enthusiasm for the library which all these women share. Unsolicited, unexpected praise is a wonderful thing. How fortunate we are to live in a community that invests in its libraries.

Sometimes I wonder what people are saying about me, behind my back. I can only hope it's as wonderful as this.




Wednesday, November 12, 2014

An All-Star Cast

Tonight at the Columbia Comedy Club--a star-studded line-up guaranteed to chase your post-election blues away!

You know you need to be there to hear Mickey Gomez (of crazy hairbrush and AllDogs fame) do her wild and crazy stand-up routine, famous in Howard County and beyond. And the glamorous Bita Dayhoff, a fixture at HoCo society events, is not to be missed as she focuses her keen insight on local shenanigans. Rounding off the evening, Beverly White-Seals and Joan Driessen are sure to have the crowd rolling in the aisles.

Don't forget, your ticket entitles you to one free drink at the bar! Champion mixologists Alan Brody and Josh Friedman have got your libation choices covered--only top shelf for these guys. It's a can't-miss event and it all starts tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Jeffers Hill Neighborhood Center, 6030 Tamar Drive, Columbia.


Okay...I'm done pulling your leg. Tonight's event is sponsored by the Columbia Democratic Club. Although I am having a bit of fun with the intent, I think it will be a chance to lift your spirits. Why? Because the guests tonight represent Howard County Non-Profits.

Bita Dayhoff, President, Community Action Council of Howard County

Beverly White-Seals, President and CEO, Community Foundation of Howard County.

Joan Driessen, Executive Director, Association of Community Services of Howard County

Mickey Gomez, Executive Director, Volunteer Center Serving Howard County

Lisa B, Mrs. S. highlights the event here.

Howard County is home to some seriously awesome non-profits. And that's no joke. Finding out how you can get involved just might be the best thing you have done in a long time.



Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Dad Didn't Talk

Byron Cornell Jackson, born in 1927, enlisted in the army and was on a troop ship on the way to Japan when the Armistice was signed. He served as a staff sergeant running a military post office in the Army of the Occupation.

That's about all I know.

My dad didn't talk about his military service. He once said, "My generation doesn't want to put on our uniforms and march in parades. We went there, we did what we were supposed to do. There's nothing glorious about it."

I still don't know how my father actually got accepted into the army. He was dyslexic, asthmatic, allergic to numerous things, had suffered pneumonia and lung collapse more than once, and had terrible eyesight. And he may have been underage. It was the end of the war, I guess.

I do know that he went voluntarily, and that it was probably the roughest thing he ever did in his life. He was not a "man's man". He was sickly, rather than tough or athletic. He loved theater, music, and political conversation. But he clearly believed that this was his duty and he made himself do it.

And once he came back, he didn't talk about it. Period.

All kinds of people make the choice to serve in our armed forces. No matter who they are, they are supporting all of us. Even though I don't know much about what my dad experienced, I do know he believed that it was each person's duty to "make a difference" in life.

I offer my thanks today for all veterans who are making a difference-- protecting us and others around the world.


Monday, November 10, 2014

Move-It Monday

You may have seen this article. It has been making the rounds on social media lately. A veteran teacher spends two days shadowing students and learns "Students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting." These were high school students. The teacher writes:

I could not believe how tired I was after the first day. I literally sat down the entire day, except for walking to and from classes. We forget as teachers, because we are on our feet a lot – in front of the board, pacing as we speak, circling around the room to check on student work, sitting, standing, kneeling down to chat with a student as she works through a difficult problem…we move a lot.

Those of us who teach younger children have serious concerns about the trend to push the passive, receptacle of learning approach further and further down the line. As the high school teacher learned, everyone needs to move. It is exhausting not to move.

For young children, movement is an imperative.

I highly recommend this video, by music educator Robin Giebelhausen. The topic of her four minute video is, "Movement is an integral part of the music classroom!" Now, as we have all gotten used to quick videos about cats, funny commercials, song parodies and so on, four minutes can seem like an awfully long time.

Watch the whole thing. You will be amazed at how much she accomplishes in four minutes. And then, ponder this: we cut Music and Art instruction this year for elementary Title One schools as a part of the Model Schools initiative. Fifteen minutes a week less of each. Thirty minutes per week of less hands-on, less movement, less multi-sensory education for young children.

We should be looking at ways to support movement from early childhood onwards, not making cuts in the very programs that do it best. In fact, we should be adding more movement all the way through high school. Movement is a human need. It connects to how we absorb information in a variety of ways.

Our kids need healthy food, clean water and clean air, access to bathrooms, enough sleep, and they need to move. Music and art instruction, especially for younger students, incorporate movement with meaningful and challenging content in ways that enhance the overall experience for the students.

Any approach to address the achievement gap which reduces these key elements will fail, and is harmful to our children. Students are not mere "receptacles of content." Let's stop treating them that way.



Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Big Things

I am not alone in feeling that one of the things that made life worth living this week was the birth of a little girl the day after Election Day. No matter what your political affiliation, you just have to stop in your tracks when the miracle of new life bursts upon the scene. There's nothing better for easing the cares of the day than a birth announcement, a photograph, and the promise of life going forward.

I feel the same way about the eightieth birthday yesterday of a man in my church congregation. This is someone who has faced many significant health challenges in recent years. His wife, with fierce, constant, enduring care, has seen him through every crisis. She brings to each day the determination to love. Through ordinary and extraordinary days, she is there.

And so we end the week with a girl who is four days old, and a gentleman who is eighty. And neither one would be here today without love. No matter what perspective I come to in the future about the events of this week, I will always remember how these two lives made me stop and think about what's really important.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Little Things

For those of us who have been working months and months toward the fruition of the One Big Thing, only to see it come to a trainwreck of a conclusion, this week has been hell on wheels. As I said Wednesday, "I woke up, my head hurt, and the world was wrong." It is as though gravity and the compass ceased to exist.

How do we orient ourselves? Which way is up? Where do we go? All of us who are grieving must find our own way back, back from this weightless, directionless void to a world that makes more sense.

This post by Lisa B, Mrs. S. did a lot towards helping me get my feet back in the ground. "Let's get it done," she says.

I know what I stand for. I know what problems concern me most, and all I want is to see them solved. I don't care about credit. I don't care who does it. I just want it done. I want people to have food and shelter and recreation. I want people to earn wages on which they can live and thrive. I want people to have health care. I want excellent schools for all children.

I don't care who does it. I just want it done.

How can I help?

After I read this, I began to think of all the little things that I have let fall by the wayside as I narrowed my focus to the One Big Thing.

  • Donating food at The Other Barn for our community food bank
  • Taking some books to our Little Free Library
  • Taking Margo's outgrown clothes to the Teen Center for their clothing drive
Little things. Little things that I am ashamed to say haven't been making the big headlines of my life recently and now I am thinking that they're probably the best investments of all.

"How can I help?" asks Lisa. The answer for me, right now, is starting small, and close to home.


Friday, November 7, 2014

Life, Death, and the Dictionary

Educational buzzwords come and go. I am here today to take a stand against the newest darling of the ed reform crowd. "Rigor." Every day I see tweets from individual schools within the Howard County Schools (and well beyond) about increasing rigor for students.

Back up the truck. Hold the phone. We have a problem.

Let's go to the dictionary. *

Stop. Just stop. You want us to get all excited about a concept that has its roots in the stiffness of death? Adversity, inflexibility, cruelty... What about that says "learning" to you?

Now, maybe they were thinking "vigor"?

Okay, I am all on board for vigor, which has its roots in liveliness--a healthy life force, well-balanced growth, enthusiasm , mental strength. But thinking that we need to go in and increase "rigor" for our kids and that will just snap 'em into shape? I don't buy it.

The work our kids need is meaningful work, meaningful to them, and meaningful challenges where they can stretch themselves, not stiffen. There is no inherent benefit in struggling just for struggling's sake. And I am not willing to let corporate ed reform people sell me a bill of goods when they can't even use a dictionary properly. Words have power; they mean something--look at the implications of what you are saying!


My mother, a perfectionist when it came to writing, checked all my papers when I was in school and she wouldn't let me get away with shoddy and improper word usage. "You can't just make that word mean what you want it to mean," she would say, sending me back to make it right.

I don't suppose there is any realistic way to make people stop using this ridiculous buzzword, but we certainly can look anyone in the eye who tries to use it with us and let them know what we think about it. Compare both words above. Rigor or vigor. What do you want for your children?

What will serve them better in school and in life?

*please forgive shameless cutting and pasting for the definitions. My formatting abilities in this app. are limited, and I want the reader to see both words side-by-side.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Seeing Yourself

I went looking for information on the Inner Arbor Trust to write this post and, to my surprise, I found this. Wow. That's me. That's my testimony at a CA Board Meeting in support of the Inner Arbor plan for Symphony Woods. Of course there's much more information at the IAT site, but it gave me a little thrill to see myself there.

That, in a nutshell, is what is vitally important about the Inner Arbor. It is a park where all kinds of Columbians will be able to see themselves. It will be a place for all generations. It will foster cultural celebrations that acknowledge our beautiful diversity. It is an expression of who we are today, where we have come from, and where we are going tomorrow.

The creation of Columbia, with its buildings and villages, green space and pathways, institutions and institutional process is something that benefits all of us. But it is also a product of its time, and more importantly, was never intended to be static, but, to grow. And the Inner Arbor responds to our need for a community park which is as engaging and inspiring as the creation of Columbia itself.

Tonight there will be a Planning Board hearing on the first phase of the plan, which includes The Chrysalis, an amphitheater. The meeting starts at 7:00 pm. You can send support by email (see link) or you can come testify in person. Or you can just come and show your support by being there. I believe they will do separate sign-ins, "for" and "against". (Yes, numbers count.)

But more important than that is who sees themself in the park. Who imagines, desires, recognizes, chooses the importance of a park which is, by design, inclusive in its scope. The struggle in our community to create this park truly holds up a mirror to who we are. We need to look long and hard at what we see.

If you can see yourself, your children, teens, or grandchildren in this park--speak up. If you can see how it would encourage young professionals and young families to choose Columbia, speak up. To paraphrase a well-known saying, "We have seen the future, and it is Us."

And it's going to be really, really fun.



Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Grace in the Race

I woke up, my head hurt, and the world was wrong.

I read this from the pastor of Bridgeway Community Church:

@AndersonSpeaks: Whoever your candidate is or was it is the call of the "gracist" to celebrate with those who won and grieve with those who lost. #gracism

I am still really too sick to ponder much more than this. Perhaps that is a blessing.

A few things thoughts--

  • Thanks to the people who believe. Your energy is not wasted, your beliefs are not invalidated. Thank you for fighting the good fight.
  • Congratulations to Bess Altwerger and Cindy Vaillancourt for winning seats on the Board of Education.
  • Anyone touched by Tom Coale's campaign has learned something about grace in the race that won't soon be forgotten.
One last thing. Tomorrow night there will be a Planning Board hearing about the first phase of building the Inner Arbor. (Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods.) Please come and show your support. You have a chance to influence to creation of something truly wonderful for our community. Here's Bill Woodcock's post about it this morning.



Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Looking Forward, Looking Back

You might say that there is no room for looking backward on Election Day. Months of work, aimed at forward motion, push towards the finish line. There's not one moment to spare for a backward glance.

And yet.

And yet everything and everyone has a history which is as much a part of Election Day as promises for the future. Those who do not learn from the past--well, you know.

So these three moments are on my mind today:

1. This post from the late blogger Dennis Lane about preparing to work the polls for Courtney Watson. It is just one piece among many which show his evolution from someone who had supported her Republican opponent to gradually becoming both an admirer and a true supporter. And though itwasn't really his thing, he was willing to put on his t-shirt and get out there.

2. Tom Coale's announcement for the 9B Delegate seat. This was the first time I had attended an announcement event, and the first for an actual friend. Knowing someone personally has completely changed my perception of the election process. It's not about "them". It's about "us".

3. This Board of Education meeting in the Spring where it became painfully clear that we needed more people like Cindy Vaillancourt on the Board representing us, as parents turned out in droves asking for respect, responsiveness, and transparency regarding changes to the elementary arts ed curriculum.

I'll be carrying these memories with me to the polls today, along with hopes for the future. I wouldn't be voting if I didn't believe that my participation makes a difference. I hope to be standing at the polls later today in support of Board of Ed. Candidates Altwerger, Beams, Furman, and Vaillancourt.

I'm fighting bronchitis at this point, so I can't promise. No matter what happens today, I have to look ahead to tomorrow, when I'll need to be singing and dancing with preschoolers. I hope that election results will give me an extra spring in my step.



Monday, November 3, 2014

Time Travel and Rats in a Shoebox

Well, fasten your seatbelt. Let's go back in time. While I have been nursing my cold, someone else wrote a great description of what I had been planning to discuss. Let's start with that.

Once upon a time "standardized tests" were administered periodically, without any particular fanfare, to students across the country. The results were looked at in general terms to see how districts compared, and which schools within a district might be stronger or weaker --- and that information was used to initiate additional review. Somewhere along the line scores began to get out and were used by some folks to claim one school was better than another --- then property values went up around "good schools" --- then schools began to chase high test scores. That wouldn't be a problem if it were purely a function of improved instruction... but it wasn't. In many cases instruction became so focused on test scores, that large chunks of other important education got lost. ----Cindy Vaillancourt, member, Howard County Board of Education and candidate for re-election.

To be clear, the words "somewhere along the line", clearly refer to No Child Left Behind and its aftermath. With the institution of NCLB, a decision was made that the way to accurately assess progress in remediating the achievement gap would be through standardized testing. And the way to make sure schools took that testing seriously would be to attach serious consequences to "failure". Hence, the term, "high-stakes standardized testing."

The problem is that lawmakers chose an inaccurate measure on which to focus their efforts. Since 2001 study after study shows that these tests show correlation with the level of poverty or affluence of the student. In addition, studies also show that the greatest indicator of school failure is poverty.

Look at this list, included in a recent letter by Assistant Principal Nancy Chewning to Time Magazine.

*Childhood poverty has reached its highest level in 20 years

*1 in 4 children lives in a food-insecure household.

*7 million children lack health insurance.

*A child is abused or neglected every 47 seconds.

*1 in 3 children is overweight or obese.

*Five children are killed daily by firearms.

*1 in 5 experiences a mental disorder.

*Racial/ethnic disparities continue to be extensive and pervasive.

*Children account for 73.5 million Americans (24%), but 8% of federal expenditures.

*Child well-being in the United States has been in decline since the most recent recession.

(From a study released by JAMA Pediatrics)

This tweet from teacher Will Valenti speaks to the disconnect between the focus of NCLB, Race to the Top, and other similar education reform:

@WillValenti: The entire #edreform narrative is a manufactured crisis. To fix real issues in education, we first must fix the wage gap for working people.

Now, to those who are concerned about who we are to know whether students are on grade level, I ask--how did we know before 2001? I know it seems like a long time ago. But the truth is school systems had established curriculums. Teachers worked with students. Students participated in learning activities and assessments. None of it was perfect, of course, because people aren't perfect nor has income equality ever been optimal. But standardized tests played a much smaller role in understanding the educational progress of the child.

There is a lot more to be said on this topic, but I still have one more place to travel today. Here. Do you remember learning about spontaneous generation? I remember being fascinated that people once believed you could put shredded paper or rags in a box and produce rats. How delightfully wacky. How clearly wrong-headed.

But it took systematic, laborious research by Louis Pasteur to disprove this long-accepted concept. And he was clearly challenging established thought.

We have years of research and results that show that high stakes testing does not help close the achievement gap. We have studies that show how attempts to adhere to NCLB and Race to the Top have narrowed educational experiences and opportunities for our children. And yet we still keep putting shredded newspaper in a box, hoping for rats.

Coming back to the present day, my suggestions for addressing what the "Ed reform" movement was meant to address?

  • High quality prenatal care
  • Addressing childhood poverty
  • Including the expertise of teachers, who have been on the front lines all along, in creating and sustaining plans for improvement.

To those who say, "what will we do instead?" I remind you--it was not ever thus. And it need not be now, if we so choose.

Think outside the box.