Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Guest Post: An Oakland Mills Farewell

I received this letter from Oakland Mills Village Manager Sandy Cederbaum right before Christmas. On this last day of the year I want to thank Fred Eiland for his work and say goodbye to the Community Organizer position, which grew out of the OM Revitalization. Over the years it evolved into being a liaison between the voiceless and underserved and the OMCA.


Oakland Mills Community,

This week marks the conclusion of the Community Organizer position that Fred Eiland has held for the past 4 ½ years. The Community Organizer was created for Oakland Mills nine years ago and funded for the majority of time by the Columbia Association.

Beginning in May 2014, the Community Organizer was funded through a new Columbia Association Village Community Grant. The current grant allows each of Columbia's 10 Village Associations to request up to $10,000 for annual community initiatives. Oakland Mills was awarded its grant and used it for Fred Eiland to continue as our Community Organizer and work on community projects. This week marks the end of the community organizer grant for which Fred has been fully compensated.

Oakland Mills has benefited greatly by having a community organizer. Our first community organizer was Councilman Calvin Ball and the initiatives started under Councilman Ball continue to this day. As Community Organizer for the past 4+ years, Fred Eiland moved forward with our community programs and created many new community outreach initiatives. Fred reached out to residents in the community, organizations, and non-profits who for years had not been engaged or felt welcome to be a part of Oakland Mills. We are all better for the role of the community organizer in Oakland Mills and thank Fred Eiland for making a huge difference in our community and in the lives of the residents. We thank Fred for everything he did for the village and for his commitment, compassion and personal outreach.

The initiatives that were started with the community organizer position will continue in Oakland Mills. Our Street Captain program is key to connecting neighbors with neighbors and this program will not only continue but it will continue to grow! We'll be reaching out to our current street captains in early January and creating a marketing plan to recruit more residents as street captains. Our goal is to have a street captain on each and every street in our village.

We'll continue to help our neighbors with the ongoing food collection and monthly distribution and thank the dedicated volunteers and partners who keep this program going strong. The distribution date is the 3rd Saturday morning of each month at the Forest Ridge Community Center. If you are planning out your calendar for the new year we hope you will consider saving this date to volunteer for the food distribution.

It continues to "take a village" and we know that the residents of Oakland Mills will continue to make our village the one that we are proud to call home.


If you have strong feelings about caring for the people in your community, I would strongly encourage you to consider running for your local Village Board. Make a New Year's Resolution to get involved.



Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Trashy Town

Oscar sings about it. Mr. Gilly collects it. But most of us don't think much about it.

Yep, that's right: trash. We generate plenty of it. We've gotten better at separating out the recyclables. Some of us have food scrap pick up. Some of us compost at home. Some of us throw everything into one big bin and bury our heads in the sand. But we all have trash.

And someone must come to take it away. Normally we don't spend much time contemplating this, but now that there's a strike affecting some areas of Howard County, we just might. For some it's just the basic questions--

  • Will I be affected?
  • Will my trash be picked up on time?
  • How will I know if my trash won't be picked up?

I'd like to suggest a few more. It appears that our sanitation workers are not employed by the County directly. We contract with multiple private firms that do the hiring, scheduling, and supervising. And one of these firms, Unity Disposal, is involved in a labor dispute with its drivers and assistants. How much do we, who clearly rely on this service, know about how it is provided?

  • How much do our sanitation workers make?
  • What kind of benefits do they have?
  • If there are multiple firms in the county, are their contracts with workers comparable?
  • Are workers being compensated fairly?
  • Is this the most efficient way for Howard County to handle waste disposal?

I think it's important to ask these questions. It is not enough to expect that trash pick-up will happen just because we need it to happen. Many of us who live in Howard County benefit from an overall affluence that is woven into almost every aspect of our lives: food, housing, education, employment. In an article about the strike, union member Damion West holds a sign that reads, "We Are Not Disposable."


Do I have all the answers? No. But I do know that showing respect for the dignity of all work is crucial. Words like "Waste Disposal", "Sanitation Assistant", and "Trash Pickup" are nameless and faceless concepts that allow us to look the other way. Damion West is a person. He has a name, a face, a family, and a role in our community.


No one should be disposable.



Monday, December 29, 2014

Small Town

I retain a peculiar fascination with old-time, small town news papers whose existence became known to me largely through reading books of newspaper bloopers.

St. John's Church is forming a Little Mothers Club. All women wishing to become Little Mothers should meet with the pastor in his private study after the service.

The bride's mother, Eugenia Brantley Scoggins, enters the church. All eyes are on her as she picks her seat.

The Smiths are away visiting relatives in Greece. We wish them well as they see family and other antiquities.

In some ways Facebook has returned us to the days of the small town newspaper. Where before, all news was gathered by word of mouth and had to be typed up, printed, and disseminated, today we are inundated in our own homes with a seemingly endless flow of personal anecdotes.

Yes, I know there are plenty of significant news stories to be had. But just imagine, if you will, a collection of small-town news in the style of Grovers Corners, New Hampshire.

Today's headlines:

Mr. and Mrs. D. celebrated their forty-first wedding anniversary by visiting the Prime Rib at Maryland Live.

The daughter of Mr. and Mrs. M. Is celebrating her birthday while visiting her in-laws in Pennsylvania.

Mr. and Mrs. K. thank all the recent well-wishers who extended offers of care during their recent illness and are happy to report that everyone is now on the mend.

The Animal Adoption Center reports that Mrs. S. And family are overjoyed at the adoption of their bunny, Snickers.

Three cheers for the boys and girls of Oakland Mills High School Basketball, winners of the recent Winter Tournament.

Mrs. F. is making a soup with her leftover Christmas ham.

As for me, I'll be enjoying a visit from out-of-town guests Chris, Jen, and their son Will. We'll be opening presents, eating out, and talking way too much. We'll probably send the kids for a walk over to Blandair if they get restless. What are your headlines?


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Police and the State

Remember when Governor-elect Hogan said that the Grand Jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri "really doesn't impact Maryland"? Recent events in Howard County would suggest otherwise. While incidents involving violent response from police towards unarmed African American men have not occurred here, their implications resonate far beyond their place of origin.

Residents participated in a #BlackLivesMatter vigil on December 12th. In fact, the vigil continues each evening at the corner of 175 and Brokenland Parkway. Candles are lit, signs held up, names chanted in memory of the dead. Events in Ferguson and around the country do have an impact here in Howard County. Citizens are struggling to find a way to have a fruitful dialogue about race and racial injustice.

Yesterday, a group of HCPD officers were in New York, "with thousands from around the country to pay respects to NYPD Officer Rafael Ramos." I was stunned to see this statement on Twitter from the Howard County Police Officer's Association:

@HCPOA: Mayor is speaking, police Ofcs turned their back on him, as he did to them

This sentence doesn't make it clear whether Howard County Officers participated in the action, but it clearly expresses an anti-mayor opinion. Here you see HCPOA publicly taking sides in this dispute.

I am not comfortable with that. When these officers travel to New York, they are representing not only the police department, but Howard County as well. Therefore their actions and public statements reflect on all of us. Columbia resident and USAF Veteran Josh Friedman responded:

For 14 amazing months of my Air Force career, I helped repatriate fallen Airmen home to ANC. Politicians often attended funerals, many of whom I disagreed with. But if I ever thought to show any disrespect, let alone turn my back, I would have been fired. We are right to grieve and mourn for fallen police officers, but that does not give anyone the right to show such utter disrespect to a duly elected Mayor. You attend a funeral to offer a comfort to the fallen's family, NOT to make a political statement.

So, to whom is HCPOA answerable? Does it matter how they represent Howard County in New York and elsewhere? It does to me. I noticed that the following tweet was added later:

@HCPOA: Just to be clear NYPD turned their back on their Mayor

It doesn't entirely clear up my misgivings with the earlier tweet. The Mayor of New York was elected with 73 per cent of the vote. Police officers that show such blatant disrespect for democratically elected leaders make me feel less safe in my own community. Why? Because some of them are from my community. That's how events from places like Ferguson rear their ugly heads in Maryland. And yes, they will have an impact.

I would really like to see some official local response to this.



Saturday, December 27, 2014

Twitter Truthiness

Yesterday I broke down and subscribed to the Sun's online digital news service. I had to face facts that, although I talk the talk of how important journalism is, I haven't been willing to pay for it. That's just wrong.

So why am I still scouring Twitter for local news? Well...

@Corebear_: Howard County is like the shy boring cousin of the Maryland County family

@StevenMHines: The fact that there isn't a Chipotle in Clarksville is the worst part about Howard County.

It's fun. It's wacky. It is extremely local. Sometimes it provides a better close-up of what is happening than the Sun could ever have. On the other hand, much of what people say is completely subjective, unverified, incomplete. Often it feels like watching people passing notes in class--remember that? Before there was texting? Little snippets of communication.

In that way tweets are like primary sources. I remember being granted permission to visit the library at the Maryland Historical Society (for a graduate course) to read letters about Baltimore's connection with Liberia. It's quite a serious business. You must go through security, bring nothing in with you. You must hold the documents while wearing special cotton gloves so that the oil and perspiration from your hands will not damage them.

Twitter? Not so serious. But sifting, resifting all the shreds of information for something relevant is still the stuff of the basic research class. You have to know what to look for. You have to know how to look. Some days I feel like the Yukon Cornelius of Twitter, prospecting for Columbia and Howard County gold.

I bumped into this a minute ago. Not sure how I feel about it.

@ShipleysGrant: Start living the village life. Right in Howard County. #Shipleys Grant

Um, the "village life"? Wouldn't that be Columbia? Not sure if I feel a rant coming on or just another blog post.



Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Christmas Tale

Imagine you are divorced, and you have a child. (Or children.) The experience of holidays as a divorced parent is an ongoing reliving of your divorce. For every holiday there must be plans.

There will be negotiations, sometimes complicated arrangements. Some years you will feel overwhelmed by having to make everything happen by yourself, other years you will feel bereft, adrift: a childless castoff, hoping to find a place at some charitable person's holiday dinner.

It's not pretty.

You learn to adjust, but I don't think you ever get used to it. At least I didn't. My good intentions of giving my child the support of both parents through joint custody were put to the test by every major holiday. I grieved. I got angry all over again. Some years I bought her too many presents. Other years I was too poor to give her the kind of Christmas that I longed to be able to provide.

At some point during those years someone recommended the movie "An American Tale." What were they thinking? Within the first twenty minutes there is a frightening storm at sea and a little mouse loses his entire family. But wait--there's more. There's a song.


Somewhere out there, beneath the pale moon lightSomeone's thinking of me, and loving me tonight

Somewhere out there, someone's saying a prayerThat we'll find one another, in that big somewhere out there

And even though I know how very far apart we areIt helps to think we might be wishing, on the same bright star

And when the night wind starts to sing a lonesome lullabyIt helps to think we're sleeping, underneath the same big sky

Somewhere out there, if love can see us throughThen we'll be together, somewhere out thereOut where dreams come true

And even though I know how very far apart we areIt helps to think we might be wishing on the same bright star

And when the night wind starts to sing a lonesome lullabyIt helps to think we're sleeping, underneath the same big sky

Somewhere out there, if love can see us throughThen we'll be together, somewhere out thereOut where dreams come true

--Linda Ronstadt

Oh. My. Goodness. I just bawled. This song absolutely epitomized to me the experience of having to be apart from my daughter, over and over again. It is, in my opinion, the anthem of joint custody: endless separations, sleepless nights worrying if your child will be okay.

I am thinking of this today because I am lucky enough now to be with my family on holidays. But I know that there are others out there who are not. In the pictures that popular culture paints for us of holiday celebrations, all families are together, all world travelers have come home, singles are finding romance, old adversaries have laid down their arguments, and Folger's coffee is brewing in the kitchen.

I wish it could all be so. Experience teaches me that it is not. So, no matter how you celebrate the holidays, I wish you joy. Maybe we are all wishing on the same bright star.


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Most Wonderful

It's the last school day before Winter Vacation. What a lovely day of celebration it will be! There will be classroom parties, Christmas card or Secret Santa exchanges, games and holiday-themed activities.

No, wait. That was *my* childhood.

For a variety of reasons, our schools don't observe Christmas the way we did when I was little. And some of them make sense. For instance, where I grew up in the '60's, Christmas was the assumed celebration. At least now we understand that the world is not default white Protestant.

There was a time when Christmas celebrations evolved into learning about other observances: Hanukkah, Kwanza, Diwali, and perhaps even Ramadan, depending on the timing. Multi-cultural activities were woven into the curriculum. But as No Child Left Behind marched through our schools, less and less genuine celebration time could be justified.

Relaxation, fun, and social interaction aren't on the test, you know. (Even though they are extremely valuable life skills.)

And then there's food. Since my childhood, the rates of life-threatening food allergies have sky-rocketed. What may seem to some of us merely a happy-go-lucky childhood experience can be a genuine minefield for some students. We may not want it to be like that, but it just is.

Add to that new wellness policies, which strive to steer students away from high-sugar, high-fat, high-salt options, and for good reason. The general American diet is creating health issues related to obesity at earlier and earlier ages. When I was little, party food was a special treat, and most of the time you drank your milk and ate your vegetables. It you got thirsty at home you had a glass of water.

But now we are presented with a steady stream of food items which should really be reserved for special treat status, if at all. The school can be a place we help shape attitudes about food. I think that is a good idea. And yet I still feel sad about losing opportunities for our children to celebrate with food--it's a very human experience.

Through all of this educational and cultural change, teachers have adapted. They find a way to meet the requirements given to them while giving children a bit of seasonal joy. Pajama Day, special music, a study of penguins followed by a movie. They make it work. But I can almost guarantee you that in the schools where pressure to improve test scores is high, the freedom to engage in celebration is low.

As I was leaving one of the schools where I teach the other day, I noticed parents arriving with bags. They were signing in, and going somewhere in the school. I glanced at one bag, and saw the tell-tale pink of Touché Touchet bakery boxes. I began to wonder--classroom parties? Holiday goodies? Does anyone still do that anymore?

I realize now that they might have been bringing them for a faculty-staff reception. Or there might have been a school concert that evening, and these were the refreshments. I certainly could have been jumping to conclusions. But, just maybe--do different schools observe holiday celebrations differently? And does it matter?

Today, when it will rain instead of snow, and teachers know there will be no prospect of outdoor recess, all that matters is that we all do our best and try to get through until the final bell. Hang in there, everybody.

Tomorrow we will sleep in.



Monday, December 22, 2014

Monday, Monday

The kid was sick most of last week. This morning my husband woke up with a sore throat and I woke up with an ear-ache. It promises to be a challenging week.

Things I would talk about today if I didn't feel like death warmed over:

  • Going to the Symphony of Lights with the family and bringing someone new along.
  • The amazing folks at the Route 100 Bob Evans who threw dinner together for us so brilliantly even though we came in twenty minutes to close.
  • My inlaws' amazing stories of the Hong Kong Occupy movement.
  • The cool guy from AAA who diagnosed and then replaced my car battery in the parking lot of Dayton Oaks Elementary School late Friday afternoon.
  • My fun shopping trip to Old EC yesterday afternoon.
  • Questions about the new school wellness policy as they pertain to classroom holiday parties.
  • Why standing up for the equality of Arts Education does not in any way denigrate or belittle Math/Science Education.
So you see, I have a lot on my mind. I'm just not in any condition to do something useful with it.

Have a great day. Stay healthy!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Staff Meeting

Santa and Santa's helpers have been taxed to the max in Howard County this year. It seems that every holiday season brings more opportunities to see the Man in Red. I can just imagine a staff meeting at the North Pole...

"Okay everybody, let's get this show on the road."

"Aw, c'mon man, it's only Halloweeeeeen!"

"You know the drill. It gets earlier every year. Gotta keep up with the times."

"Everybody have their calendar?"

iPads, phones, and Blackberries are pulled out. Santa himself clings to his beloved Day-Timer but his Head Administrative Elf double-checks everything and enters it into the Main Schedule on his MacBook.



"Herb, what are you doing? That's an Advent Calendar. You can't open that up yet!"

"It's last year's. Didn't eat all the chocolate yet."

The Head Administrative Elf sighs and hands him one of those nice glossy calendars that the North Pole Real Estate Agent sent over and a candy-cane ball-point pen.

"Alright! Howard County! Let's get this one in the books!"

"Breakfast with Santa?"

"Pizza with Santa?"

"Polar Express?"

"Firefighters with Santa?"

Various hands are raised, dates written down.

"Brunch with Santa?"

"Happy Hour with Santa?"

Dead silence. Heads come up.

"What the heck is going on, man?"

The Head Administrative Elf looks over the tops of his glasses, down the long table.

"I beg your pardon?"

"What's up with all the extra gigs? I mean, we all love the regular rounds of doughnuts, pizza, milk and cookies, even those cold rides with the Fire Department. But every year in Howard County they're adding more, more, more!"

A rumble of assent goes round the table.

"Where will it end? Sauna with Santa? Dental cleanings with Santa? Dry-cleaning pickups with Santa?"

Another speaks up. "This has gotten out of hand. This county wants Santa at its beck and call from Halloween right through til Christmas Eve. Someone's got to draw the line."

"Yeah! Santa's Helpers need to get ready for Christmas, too!"

The meeting breaks down into general pandemonium.

In the midst of the chaos, Santa himself, the Man in Red, stands up slowly, looking at the scene before him. Feeling his gaze, the dissenters fall silent.

He clears his throat. He sighs.

"Must I remind you? Must I even speak of this?" His voice trembles a bit with anger.

"Once our children in Howard County had a place to go to visit with Santa and share their wishes. They knew once they saw the Poinsettia Tree that the time had come for Christmas joy." His face darkened. Santa's Helpers looked down at their hands, twiddled their pens, shifted uncomfortably in their chairs.

"But commercialism and greed have turned their tradition over to the Dark Side..." His voice trailed off. Everyone knew what he meant. He didn't have to go any further.

Exhorbitant photo fees. Requirements to buy large photo packages. Prohibition of parent-taken photographs. It was now Santa only for the well-to-do. It went against everything they all believed in.

Herb, wiping the last crumbs of chocolate from his mouth, raises his hand.

"Okay, I'm cool with the Brunch with Santa. Pencil me in."

The meeting continues peacefully. All the dates are filled.

The Head Assistant Elf stands, signalling the close of the meeting.

"Thanks, gentlemen. The children are fortunate that you are on their side. This Christmas will be the best ever."

Santa pats his arm. "Wait a minute. Did we ever schedule Happy Hour with Santa?"

The Head Administrative Elf smiles.

"Oh, that's the Office Party. Second Chance Saloon. Half price burger night. Happy hour prices all night. Uniform optional. Ugly Christmas sweater contest. Raffle, prizes, fruitcake tossing."

That's one date everyone happily fills in.

"That's a wrap, everyone."








Saturday, December 20, 2014

Rudolph Redux

Recently a friend suggested that the children's Christmas classic, "Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer" was, in fact, not so classic.


Hot take: there needs to be a new, updated version of "Rudolph" or the character will cease to be relevant in a decade or two. #getwiththetimes #stopmotionisweird #Donnerisabadfather

What followed was a fascinating discussion about: the history of the show, what people liked about it, what they didn't like, and the deep-seated flaws embedded in the story. I must admit I was taken aback by the whole thing. It's such a part of my childhood that I have always accepted it, whole cloth.

There was plenty of rudimentary animation in kids cartoons back in the day, so the stop motion animation of Rudolph was deliciously detailed to my eyes. I looked forward every year to the opening scenes where stylishly ornamented felt trees glistened and adorable woodland animals sang along with a dapper snowman.

But the abominable snow monster always terrified me. I mean, deep in the gut, dreading-it-in-advance terror. Is he still terrifying to kids today? Or, in this world of advanced special effects, does he just look pathetically hokey? I don't know.

My friend made me think about scarier things embedded in the story. We have the child who is not accepted by his parents and who is mocked by his community. We have his mother and other females who are marginalized by a male-dominated culture. We have a thin Santa who is not acceptable until he gets fat. We have a nasty, dictatorial Elf supervisor.

We have a whole island of misfit toys--well, don't we all identify with them, though?

Standing above it all is the fact that Rudolph is not accepted until his perceived "deformity" becomes a useful "utility" for the group. Then, and only then, is he loved.

How did I never see this? Probably because so many stories are full of similar transformations. Cinderella becomes a beautiful princess, the Ugly Duckling blossoms into a swan, the boring, workaholic pig turns out to be the one who can really throw the best parties. The happy ending touches on that feeling we have deep inside that, "If only ___________ would happen, people would love me."

It is necessary for the story to have a problem, and that the problem be overcome. Could it better? Could it be different? There should be drama, some suspense, humor, maybe a moment of sadness. There should be holiday fun and joy.

Do you think it could be transformed? Or is it a period piece meant to be appreciated as such, like delicate old ornaments that we get out of tissue paper only once a year. What do you think?


Friday, December 19, 2014

Pushed Off the Fence

There's been a bit of chatter amongst my group of friends on Facebook about a new program being offered next year at Oakland Mills High School. This is the information that parents were given:


Important Parent Night to find out about the program-January 13@6:30pm

Parents, please plan to attend a Parent Orientation Night about the new Oakland Mills HS Early College Program. Students who are selected will graduate high school with a high school diploma AND 30 credits of college credit towards an AA Degree from Howard Community College! The focus will be on a supportive cohort experience for a science and education college pathway.

Science focus: Prepare for careers in science, pharmaceuticals, medicine and others

Education focus: Prepare for careers in math or science education


Grade 8: Above grade level math or G/T math

Grade 9/10: High school classes with cohort experience

Grade 11: Some college classes taken at OMHS

Grade 12: College classes taken at HCC with transportation provided. One further year at HCC to gain AA degree.


Upon receiving this information, some parents lamented that the school system's focus seems to be towards math-science and that the absence of a similar track for liberal arts was disappointing. Said one, "Farewell liberal arts and the humanities."

And another, "I strongly feel like someone should tell them that there is a HUGE BIG world out there!!!"

I found myself hanging back from joining the conversation. It's a brand new program, I thought. We don't know everything yet. Let's give it a chance to get off the ground. If it provides a bridge to higher education to kids in our community, that's got to be a good thing, right?

So I didn't say anything.

Tonight we went to the Winter Choral Concert. For the first time in recent memory, the choir had a night to itself, in the Middle School Cafetorium, rather than sharing a concert with Band and Strings and the High School, as is customary. The turnout was spectacular. The room was full and you could hear the sound of extra chairs being put out in the minutes before the concert was to begin.

Some background:

Several years ago our choral program was on its last legs. A long-time staff member was struggling with continuing health problems and the choirs couldn't help but suffer as a result. During this time Joshua Konick was hired, first as a long-term substitute, then as the full time Vocal-General teacher. He has infused energy and joy into the program. Enrollment in chorus has risen. He conducts the 6th Grade Choir, 7th/8th Grade Choir, and a newly-formed Pops Choir, which rehearses after school once a week. This Spring he is set to undertake a musical.

Imagine my surprise when the principal stepped onto the stage to welcome parents and spent at least five full minutes going over the details of the Math-Science Early College Program. That is all she talked about.

No, it was more than surprise. I was horrified. Livid.

Here you have a staff member who has completely turned around your choral program, who has raised participation, who has reached out to all kinds of kids in the school population and you don't even mention that? You have a room filled with parents who are clearly there to support their children's musical education and you don't even acknowledge that?

That room was packed with parents who support their children, and who support music as an integral part of their lives. They got a lecture about the benefits of getting ahead through science careers.

Not one word about the value of Arts Education in the Middle School. No sense of understanding that, for some kids, music is what gets them to school at all, helps them get through the day. More than that, a slap in the face to the entire music staff who were there to support each other and the students.

So, maybe I was on the fence about this initiative. But tonight I guess you could say I was pushed right off. If administrators are going to take their cue from this sort of announcement, then I think we have a problem.

It takes many areas of study to meet the needs of our many different kinds of students. All of them should be honored. Let's not let "the next big thing" mow down the beautiful diversity of options that education can offer. Students need to know that there is "a huge big world out there."

Isn't education supposed to broaden your horizons?




    Thursday, December 18, 2014

    Charity Begins At Home

    Ah, December! Your email in-box is filling up with manic offers from retailers--free shipping! amazing discounts! last minute deals! And appeals for end-of-year giving--you can make a difference! we celebrate your commitment! help us sustain our good works!

    Somebody turn down the noise already.

    Well, I can help. Forget all that for a minute, and consider my wish list. It'll take your mind off all that other nonsense.

    Top Five Christmas Wishes, 2014:

    5. Monty and Mabel, plush. From the heartwarming John Lewis advert. They sold out in less than 24 hours. Now they're being hawked on eBay for exhorbitant prices.

    4. Bean bag couch bed. Doesn't really exist. Just a prototype. I want one.

    3. 6116 Encounter Row. Coolest house in Oakland Mills. Currently listed at $475,000.00. And conveniently located down the street from my daughter and son-in law.

    2. Bridge Columbia. It never hurts to have a few big-ticket items on your list. Besides, it's useful and the whole family could share it.

    1. Inner Arbor/Symphony Woods. Yes, I really, really want it, and I promise I will play with it for more than just a few months and just discard it.

    So there you have it. No screamingly large headlines selling to you in all caps. No heart-wrenching stories of deprivation. Just a moment of whimsy in your now, now, now, now season.

    What's on your wish list?



    Wednesday, December 17, 2014

    Move It!

    My teenaged daughter has become used to periodic lectures in P.E. and Health class about the spectre of Type II diabetes. "You have to exercise an hour a day!" the teachers exhort the students, as they put them through yet another round of physical fitness assessments.

    Too late, too late, too late.

    All through my daughter's elementary years her recess time was limited and the focus was on the push, push, push for better standardized test scores. Parent requests for more recess were met with responses about "college and career ready."

    All through the years of skill and drill mandated by No Child Left Behind, opportunities for movement went down while, outside of school, children spent more time inside on devices and less time playing outside. All the while parents were working more hours to try to get by and falling back on fast food choices in their exhaustion.

    It all adds up.

    Now...when I was little...(you knew that was coming) each day in elementary school looked like this:

    Walk to school. Play on playground until bell rings. Class time. Morning recess. Class time. Walk home for lunch. Lunch. Walk back to school. Play on playground until bell rings. Class time. Afternoon recess. Class time. Walk home. Change into playclothes. Play outside.

    Look at the amount of physical activity embedded into each day. The necessity for movement was a given. And it supported our learning, all through those formative years. We probably had gym class twice per week, but that was only a small part of the picture. Our days were structured with movement in mind.

    I think that our P.E. teachers do a lot these days to encourage the joy of movement. The trend towards giving kids of all abilities different ways to have fun moving their bodies is a good one. But physical activity is not for gym class alone. If we want our children to move, and to be healthy in the long term, we have to invest in more recess from their earliest years. We also need to work with parents to encourage more walking and more family activities that involve outdoor play.

    I have a friend whose mom didn't take him to church as a young child because she thought it would be too difficult. Then, when he was 13, she decided he was old enough. She made him get dressed up and start attending church. He hated it.

    "You take any teenager, make him put on a necktie and do something he doesn't want to do--I just think it was too late for me," he mused. "I didn't see the point."

    Waiting until kids are in middle school and threatening them with Type II diabetes is not going to work. We have to put our money where our mouth is. And I don't mean foisting structured calisthenics sessions on already over-scheduled children. I mean endorsing and supporting authentic, child-directed physical play as a part of a healthy school experience.

    Who knows? Not only will our kids be physically healthier, we just might see improvements across the board.

    Ready to give it a try?

    (Graphic by Ruth Williams)


    Tuesday, December 16, 2014

    It's a Beautiful Day...Isn't It?

    It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood...

    So begins every episode of iconic children's program Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. I used to use this piece in a class I taught about the power of music. "Music can make you see things in your head," I'd tell the students. They would deny it. Then I'd play some of this. Eyes would light up.

    "He's getting his sweater!" "He's putting on his sneakers!" They got it.

    It's a neighborly day in this beauty wood...

    The children in the RECC program where I teach have been learning about neighborhoods. When I entered one classroom the teacher, who follows my comings and goings on Facebook, said to the class, "Ms. Julia loves her neighborhood!"

    I think I must have glowed. If other people can see how much I care about Oakland Mills, I must be doing something right.

    I've always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.

    Now, actually living in relationship with one's neighbors is a more difficult thing. It's messier than a simple "Like" or "Follow". It has that potentially awkward quality that a blog post does not. There may be disagreement, or conflict. That's harder for me.

    What would Mr. Rogers do, I wonder. Certainly there is conflict, even in the Land of Make Believe. He includes many tastes of these realities as his characters experience fear, uncertainty, neighbors who are imperious, stubborn, even a little mean-spirited. Somehow they always make it through.

    So, let's make the most of this beautiful day.

    Like the children I teach, I am still learning about neighborhoods. More than that, I am learning how to love my neighbors.

    "Love isn't a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now." --Fred Rogers

    Since we're together we might as well say:

    Would you be mine?

    Could you be mine?

    Won't you be my neighbor?



    Monday, December 15, 2014

    HoCo Headlines

    Thursday CA announced it will be moving its headquarters from a place that's in the center of everything and yet often hard to find to a place that's relatively obscure and will very likely be hard to find. It is fairly safe to say that if all Columbia residents had been polled on this issue that a decision to suit everyone would never have been found and Milton Matthews would be standing out on Little Patuxent Parkway with a filing cabinet.

    Moving on.

    Friday night area residents participated in a Black Lives Matter Vigil at the intersection of Route 175 and Tamar. Participants noted the support of local police in keeping the event safe for everyone. Were you there? Or did you pass by?

    Sunday the Howard County Historical Society held its 38th annual Holiday House tour. Blogger Angie Koslowski tweeted some great pics and I am hoping she will write it up on her blog.

    Speaking of the House Tour, it was just one of many events to be found on the new area calendar, Totally HoCo.

    Today CA's newest facility, Haven on the Lake, finally opens. I am still hoping to see Ken Ulman take a cold plunge but I suspect he had enough of that on November 4th. It would make for a memorable photo op, though.

    What will make the news tomorrow?

    Well...Tuesday night, at 7 pm, River Hill High School will present their Winter Chorus and Guitar Concert, featuring the Concert Choir, Chamber Choir, Leading Ladies, Talon Tones and the Ceramic Dalmatians Guitar Ensemble. It is a free program, and I hear that seasonal snacks and drinks will be available for purchase at intermission.

    Newsworthy? We'll have to wait and see. But, if I know my husband, it'll definitely be a good time.


    Sunday, December 14, 2014

    Running Away

    I'm having a hard time getting ready for Christmas this year. Most of the time it feels as thought I am running in the opposite direction. I'm going to take a stab at it this morning by putting up the Christmas Village with my daughter.

    In the meantime, here is one of my favorite seasonal poems.

    [little tree]

    by e.e. cummings

    little tree

    little silent Christmas tree

    you are so little

    you are more like a flower

    who found you in the green forest

    and were you very sorry to come away?

    see i will comfort you

    because you smell so sweetly

    i will kiss your cool bark

    and hug you safe and tight

    just as your mother would,

    only don't be afraid

    look the spangles

    that sleep all the year in a dark box

    dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,

    the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,

    put up your little arms

    and i'll give them all to you to hold

    every finger shall have its ring

    and there won't be a single place dark or unhappy

    then when you're quite dressed

    you'll stand in the window for everyone to see

    and how they'll stare!

    oh but you'll be very proud

    and my little sister and i will take hands

    and looking up at our beautiful tree

    we'll dance and sing

    "Noel Noel"



    It's a start. If you look closely you will see that tiny characters from the Dr. Who universe appear to be infiltrating our holiday scene...Hmm...



    Saturday, December 13, 2014

    The Great Litany

    I stood by the side of the road last night, my sign illuminated by passing headlights. I stood with family, friends, and neighbors I had never met on a cold December night in Howard County. There was no bellringing, there was no carol singing. The air was filled with traffic noise and the chants of remembrance and calls for change.

    Trayvon Martin.

    Eric Garner.

    Mike Brown.

    As the the names rang out we responded to each.

    Sending love. Not one more.

    As the rhythm of the call and response washed over me I thought of my days in the choir of Grace and Saint Peter's church, processing round and round the great space as we chanted The Great Litany. Incense, vestments, candles, and processional cross making the time-honored journey of saints and remembrance.

    Saint John Baptist,

    Pray for us.

    Saint Joseph,

    Pray for us.

    Saint Michael,

    Pray for us.

    Our church last night was the side of the road and our vestments were winter jackets and reflective vests. Our candles were battery-powered. Our banner was love.

    (Photo Credit: John Harris)


    In my heart were other names: Andy, Norman, Myles, Trey, Billy...former students who are now grown up--all young men in this culture that is more likely to throw their lives away than to raise them up in prayer. Keep them safe, I prayed. Keep them safe.

    Sending love. Not one more.











    Friday, December 12, 2014

    The Death of Silence

    I am thinking of having business cards printed up to carry to concerts. I am thinking they should say, "Please don't talk during the concert. I love music and I want to hear every note." Or perhaps, "I am scouting talent for the Juilliard School. Please refrain from talking so I can give the performers a fair hearing."

    What do you think?

    So many people seem to think that all music is "background music." To them, being at a concert is no different than talking during during the half-time show at the football game. Music plays in restaurants, in elevators, at the dentist's office, while you wait, "on hold", for your telephone call to go through.

    Music is just treated as some sort of comforting white noise that keeps you from being alone with your thoughts. In those cases it seems as though someone has just left the taps running and forgotten to turn them off. There is no significance to the sounds we are hearing. It's "just music". What's the big deal?

    How often do we practice meaningful silence these days? Our children may be practicing a sort of fearful silence during the many lockdown drills that are a part of their lives. High school students must be completely silent during SAT and AP exams or risk nullifying the results. But what about meaningful silence for the purpose of genuine listening?

    It is hard to get that even at the movie theater these days. Actually, I find some people are challenged to do this even at church.

    Children used to have a variety of listening experiences all through their school years, including (but not limited to) musical ones. The shift in our curriculum to serve the big bad God of standardized testing has all but eliminated the cultivation of attentive listening. "Listen for directions", "Listen to the test example", "Listen to the Principal tell you to do your best on your test." Not the same.

    Meaningful, attentive listening brings gifts to the listener. It brings value. It allows the participant to connect with the sound and reflect on it. It is an experience of total immersion, like a glorious bubble bath, or the most delicious of meals. We receive, connect, synthesize, benefit.

    If we chat during a performance, we not only disturb our neighbors, we lose something for ourselves. Music performance is at its best with a good audience. It should be a collaboration where both sides benefit. After the concert we can share with others, having truly met with the music on its own terms and given it our all.

    "Music is the silence between the notes."

    --Claude Debussy

    "After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music."

    --Aldous Huxley

    "A painter paints pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence."

    --Leopold Stokowski





    Thursday, December 11, 2014

    Cash for Flesh

    I have written before about body-shaming girls at school through the punitive enforcement of lopsided dress codes. I firmly believe that placing a burden on girls to "not distract boys" contributes to the continuation of Rape Culture in our society. In addition, teen girls are already under so much pressure as their bodies mature. They are attacked on every side by false images of digitally enhanced "perfection" that no one could ever attain.

    When the schools decide it is their job to "protect" boys from an extra half inch of leg, or a bra strap, they are choosing to put the boys' education before the girls' sense of value and self-worth. Doesn't being shamed negatively impact the girls' learning experience? Doesn't fear of being shamed disctract the girls from focusing on their work?

    Twice this Fall I have attended high school concerts where female dancers performed in costumes which would be rejected by school dress codes. They didn't pass the two-finger test. In some cases, there were additionally revealing skirt slits, and/or sleeves cut which revealed "excessive" shoulder. (Like a tank top would.)

    To be clear, I was not offended by the outfits themselves. I am offended by a disgusting double standard which allows this to happen.

    These girls would be penalized for wearing the very same clothes to school. And yet adults from the school chose and approved these outfits for school performances. In both cases, monies were being raised for charity at these concerts.

    So it is acceptable to pay money to see extra flesh for charity. The same extra flesh that would be shamed and censured during the school day. Does anyone else find this just a bit creepy? Maybe a lot?

    The only male dancer in the last concert I saw was wearing long pants and a long sleeved shirt. Why do you suppose that was? These costume choice are being made by adults, not students. Who decided it would be appropriate for the females to have abbreviated garb but not the male?

    Perhaps I should just be grateful that I was protected from distraction.


    Wednesday, December 10, 2014

    Taking the Time

    Yesterday I bumped into Byron MacFarlane at a holiday potluck I attended with my daughter. I'm sure you won't be suprised to learn that she immediately ditched me to hang out with her friends, so I was eating dinner more or less on my own. I had set aside my plate and gotten out my crocheting when he came in the room, spotted me, and came over to say hello.

    In case you don't know, Byron is the Register of Wills in Howard County. I haven't ever needed to see him in his official capacity. I know him solely from conversations at social events. Like this one. I feel a bit of kinship with him as my father and grandfather's name were Byron, and it is such a rare name that there's almost a burden attached to it.

    But that's another story altogether.

    We talked about crocheting (something good to do with your hands if you're shy), the recent election, local people we admire, and his second swearing-in and how it felt to be beginning a second term in office. It struck me that his focus was on how important it is to treat your staff right, to show support and loyalty. He sounds like he'd be a great boss.

    Soon he was off to join a table of his friends. The evening moved from dinner to a beautiful choral concert, and I had time to reflect on our conversation. I have experienced plenty of "drive-by" conversations with candidates and electeds over the last several years. After a while you get a good sense of who is really "with you" and who is scanning over your shoulder for more important people.

    Mr. MacFarlane took the time to sit down and communicate on a very human level with someone from whom he likely had nothing to gain. That may not seem remarkable to you. But last night, alone at a social function with my crocheting, I found it to be a lovely gift.

    I am thinking a lot about starting conversations these days. I highly recommend this post from the Rev'd Heather Kirk-Davidoff. She states:

    We need an excuse to connect, a reason to invite someone to sit down for a moment and talk with us, a reason to open our door and ask someone to step inside.

    As Pastor Chad Kline at Abiding Savior Lutheran would say, "Can I get an Amen?"


    Tuesday, December 9, 2014

    The Problem of Cute

    I passed the bulletin boards several times. There were at least four of them along the hallway, possibly the work of the entire grade, First grade, by the look of it. They had titles like "Cruisin' into the 50's", "Rockin' the 50's" and so on.


    The assignment was this: If I had 50 ____________, I would ___________.

    So far, so good. But each paper was the body of a construction paper boy or girl styled to look like the 1950's. All girls had pink skirts. All boys had blue pants. All skin parts were white paper. As I looked at the display, I felt troubled.


    A few children had laboriously scribbled in darker skin tones. It must have made their work take much longer than the others. Why, in 2014, are we handing out white paper to children as the default skin tone? Why is that acceptable? Imagine if my daughter always received brown paper and was told that if it really made a difference to her, she could use an eraser and try to rub it out so that her work looked more like her?


    Also, as we learn more about how children have very individual gender identities from early on, I wonder how helpful it is to do across the board projects where all girls wear pink skirts and all boys wear blue pants. Why is it necessary to enforce this concept? Invariably there is a girl who wishes she could be rocking the blue jeans, or a boy who wishes for pink pants, or even a skirt.


    The lesson itself is a language arts and math lesson. "If I had 50 ____________, I would ___________." There's nothing wrong with that. The problem comes when teachers are looking for fun activities to reinforce those concepts and they see this one and think, "Oh, that would be cute."

    The 1950's are fun. Rock and roll, cruising in your car to the malt shop, poodle skirts and blue jeans. What a great bulletin board idea. Gee, that would be cute.

    I am the first to say that teachers take way too much abuse and deserve our support and respect for what they do, day in and day out, for our kids. But I have a hard time with this activity. It truly isn't necessary to enforce racial and gender stereotyping in order to achieve the targeted learning goals. And yet I know in my heart that whoever chose this activity never thought for even one minute about those implications. There is absolutely no ill intent.

    It was just a cute idea.

    Cute is great for puppies, kittens, babies, and "outfits" (ask my daughter). I would suggest that when it creeps into education, we need to be really careful where that path takes us.

    Monday, December 8, 2014

    A Powerful Statement

    Friday night my daughter and I went to Oakland Mills High School for the WBAL Concert for Kids. According to Conductor Philip Hale, this event started about eight years ago, with about twenty-five students performing. Last year they raised $10,500 and this year was their first official "sold out" show. And from twenty-five students performers it has grown to a full sized orchestra, chorus, dancers, and collaboration with the Bridgeway Community Church Choir. Oh, and a visit from the Man in Red, reading "A Visit from Saint Nicholas."

    It is hard to put into words how awe-inspiring this event was. It was absolutely the best in student performance that Howard County has to offer: singing, instrumental playing, and dance. And it was the picture of Rouse's dream for Columbia: racially, ethnically, and economically diverse--all coming together, using their talents, to help others.

    Oakland Mills doesn't need reinventing. I defy anyone who was in that room on Friday night to say that our community is broken. The audience and the performers reflected the heart and the diversity that is Oakland Mills. We need to celebrate and build on who we are. I wonder if anyone on the Oakland Mills Board was in attendance. I certainly hope so.

    The cultural diversity of performers, and especially the inclusion of the Bridgeway Community Church Choir, gave the evening a particularly joyful yet heart-rending flavor. I could not help but reflect on recent events as the room rang out with an upbeat, gospel version of "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing."

    Born that Man no more may die...

    Hands up, don't shoot...I can't lives matter...

    Yes, I cried. I cried for joy that we could have a moment of unity during a time of great sorrow and loss. I cried because my heart was full. For an entire evening we were immersed in the experience of vibrant community. This is who we are.

    There are those who think that community is about improving property values and limiting access to poor people and eradicating hungry children from our schools by making sure they live somewhere else. They are wrong.

    Life is not lived to its fullest by negation, or subtraction. Community is strengthened by building on what works, inviting others to be a part of the conversation, building bridges to share success.

    Kudos to everyone at OMHS who had a hand in this amazing event: teachers, students, parents, administrators, staff, and also to Bridgeway Community Church, WBAL, and all of the guest performers. The gift of your shared talents will mean joy at Christmas for needy families.

    And they gave our community the greatest holiday gift ever.





    Sunday, December 7, 2014

    Stand Together

    Time for a sermon. You'll find it here. In her piece, "The Luxury of Lies", HoCoHouseHon blogger Alice Marks challenges us to look beyond easy answers to the horrible truth behind them.

    "And we were lied to in school, because the lesson was always that racism was over in this country. The happy lies we were taught - that Martin Luther King fixed this all for us, that Rosa Parks changed public transportation forever in one brave moment of fatigue, that broken Black bodies were a thing of the past and nobly martyred for the cause of a post-racial America - are just that. They are lies."

    This Friday you have a chance to stand up against the racism and institutionalized violence at Black Lives Matter - Vigil in Howard County. Join if you can. We cannot remain silent while our friends and neighbors, brother and sisters, need us.



    Saturday, December 6, 2014

    Life is the Bubbles

    Last night a dear friend treated my daughters and me to an evening of musical theatre at the Olney Theatre Center. I had never been there, and now I'm just kicking myself. I had no idea how close they were, or what a cool place it is. I thought that regional theatre meant Baltimore City or DC. It's gratifying to know there's another choice. We'll definitely be back.

    We saw The Little Mermaid, which is a stage adaptation of the original Disney animated film version. Disney has given so many of those classic films a second life as fully-fleshed stage musicals. This is the first one of those that I have seen. It is full of visual spectacle: undulating fabric waves, dancing schools of fish, puppetry, and more. I don't want to give away any of the more spectacular bits just in case you decide to see it. And it runs through December 28th, so you still can.

    I could give you a full-scale theatrical review, although Steve Charing does such an excellent job at that. I would love to hear his take on this production. But instead I want to focus on something else.

    First--how the experience of attending musical theatre has been changed so much by advances in technology. Amplification has changed how singers and actors perform. What may have started as a few hanging mics has evolved into thin, tiny body units for everyone, where even a deep breath for effect carries to the back of the house. The pit orchestra last night was in a pit which was covered by the stage (!) and amplified. Sight lines were maintained by closed-circuit TV.

    There's something very different between hearing actual live music react to the actual acoustics of a room, as opposed to amplified singers and instruments. Perhaps younger audience members don't perceive this, just as they can watch CGI animation without having their eyeballs itch. But, to me, without the natural acoustic experience, and without seeing the orchestra, it became difficult to believe that any of what I was experiencing was "live music".

    It seemed as though the actors could be lip-synching to a pre-recorded track. How could you tell? I get a similar feeling when watching tv and I am challenged to discern whether a scene is authentic or merely green-screen. For me, the lack of the "live" experience is disconcerting. But I don't think most people would give it a second thought these days.

    Secondly, in case you want to see the show, and you have young children, there are a few things you should know. The running time of The Little Mermaid (film) is 92 minutes. This stage production is two hours and fifteen minutes, and you can't turn off the tv for breaks or fast forward over the scary bits. There is one intermission, and snacks and drinks are for sale. But two hours and fifteen minutes is long for very young children.

    Oh, and scary bits. There are some. And they are loud, too. No one was carried out crying in fear last night, as far as I know, but a few scenes would have scared the socks off of me as a child. You are the best judge of what your child can handle. Just a word to the wise.

    Overall--it's a great production. Funny, musical, visually appealing, beautifully presented. Fabulous dancing, creative costumes. The story line is changed a bit from the movie but it works well for a stage production. You don't have to be a kid to like it, although bringing a few along is probably a good idea. My big kid, now twenty-seven, watched the film version probably a gazillion times when she was little.

    There was life before Frozen, you know. And it was wet. Very, very wet.








    Friday, December 5, 2014

    True Confessions

    I have an issue which has been weighing heavily on my conscience for quite some time now. I strive to be honest and forthright on is blog and I take pride in not misleading my readers. So I owe you an explanation, and perhaps an apology.

    At some point in the last year (I am even having trouble finding my own link) I wrote a piece declaring that I was finally calling it quits with the Oakland Mills Food Lion. I had plenty of good reasons. I had been impressed by amazing displays of produce in other area stores. I was tired of lackluster checkout experiences, or the many occasions when the store seemed to look like an unmade bed.

    I had spent a long time advocating for our neighborhood store, but I was tired of making excuses. I was done. I was breaking up and I was ready to see other grocery stores.

    All this I said in good faith. But the truth? Well, the truth ends up being a different story.

    I lasted all of three days without the Food Lion. Sure, I tried other stores. But what brought me back to the Food Lion was its convenience. You just can't beat having a neighborhood store where it is so easy to run in and pick up a few things. And I am a creature of habit.

    Over the past year I have noticed steady improvement. They are doing a better job for the most part in keeping grocery carts at the ready by the door. Security staff have improved. Check out clerks are more helpful and responsive. They have gotten better at adding more staff at the front when crowds pick up. The store is generally better stocked and you don't bump into piles of stuff as much as you used to.

    I will occasionally make a special trip to Wegman's. I will pop in the Giant in Owen Brown if I happen to be over there. I think Whole Foods is a great place to meet friends and have lunch or coffee. But the truth is that the Food Lion is my day-in and day-out store. And it has done a lot in the last year to pay me back for my loyalty.

    Having a village center with a fully functioning grocery store is a blessing. I won't take you for granted anymore, Food Lion.


    Today is the sixth anniversary of the Second Chance Saloon. They have festivities planned for the evening, but if you can't make it then, pop in earlier. Today they will be opening at three. We are going to a play tonight, so we are going to stop by for an early dinner beforehand.



    Thursday, December 4, 2014

    More of the Same

    Good morning, class. Are we ready to discuss the assigned reading? Was there anything in the text that you found especially interesting?

    Blair Ames wrote a comprehensive piece about new and returning members to the Board of Education. He quotes new member Christine O'Connor.

    "The only thing I can do as an individual is listen and be very thoughtful in my decisions," O'Connor said. "I will do everything I can to facilitate proper teamwork."

    It's a positive comment in a positive article that makes one hope for a new day on the Board of Education.

    Tom Coale, on his blog, HoCoRising, is a little dubious about that. He respectfully points out that "...BoE politics continue to be some of the nastiest in our County and I don't see anything in the results that would change that."

    Our stage is now set for the first board meeting after the election. We come to the election of officers. Returning Board member Dr. Janet Siddiqui is elected Chair. We may never know what turn of events caused Dr. Siddiqui to scuttle her plans to run for State Delegate (and consequently generate a lot of local ill-will by switching places on the ballot with her spouse) but I must say Chair of the Board of Education is a respectable consolation prize.

    Next up, Vice-Chair. Ann De Lacy is nominated to serve in the position again. Cynthia Vaillancourt nominates Sandra French. The rest of the Board disallows the nomination because Ms. French is out of the country, therefore she hasn't been sworn in as a member of the Board. So she isn't eligible to be nominated for Vice-Chair.

    The vote is 5-2 against, with new member Bess Altwerger voting with Ms. Vaillancourt.*

    I just have to pause for a moment here. They couldn't even allow Sandra French, the longest-serving member of the Board of Education, to be a candidate for Vice-Chair because of a procedural point. They couldn't even allow it to come to a vote.

    Why? Well, these sorts of things are usually arranged in advance, and this was clearly not in the scenario. More than that, if Sandra French's name had been permitted as a candidate, these same Board Members would have had to go on record as voting against Sandra French in order to accomplish what they had agreed to do--that is, to re-elect Ann De Lacy. And that just wouldn't look good.

    Not so fast, says Cynthia Vaillancourt, and nominates herself for Vice-Chair. Well, that's easy. Sure, they can vote between those two names without making anyone uncomfortable.

    The vote is 5-2 against, with new member Bess Altwerger voting with Ms. Vaillancourt.

    In my opinion, these actions make it quite clear that these members of the board are not listening, not thinking, and not collaborating. If anyone thought the Board would get the message after Cynthia Vaillancourt was returned to the Board as the highest vote-getter, now is your time to be disappointed. Or outraged. Or disgusted.

    This was a prime opportunity for "the powers that be" to show flexibility and civility. They squandered it.

    As I have said before, I don't know Dr. Siddiqui at all. What I know now is that she has an opportunity to use her leadership to reach across the divisions on the board, shake up the entrenched positions, and set the tone for a Board of Education our community can be proud of.

    If she does not, it's just going to be more of the same.




    *I believe Ms. Vaillancourt also suggested postponing the vote until Mrs. French could be present. Also rejected.



    Wednesday, December 3, 2014

    Current Events Quiz

    Okay, I lied. It's not a quiz. It's homework.

    Are you still with me?

    Highly recommended reading for today:

    Blair Ames' article about the new Board of Ed.

    Tom Coale's analysis on his blog. (Scroll down to Links.)

    Blair Ames' article about what happened at the first Board meeting.


    And we'll talk about it tomorrow. (Yes, I have an 8:30 meeting and not enough time to do this justice.)


    Tuesday, December 2, 2014

    Be There

    It seems as though I am always asking you to go to a meeting, write a letter, or give testimony. Today I am asking you to go have fun. Here are two dates coming up soon that are chock-full of Columbia goodness.

    The Second Chance Saloon is celebrating six years this Friday. We came pretty close to losing them. What a thrill it is to mark another year for a successful mom-and-pop establishment that is making a go of it in one of Columbia's older village centers. Stop by Friday for dinner, a quick drink, or some delicious pub snacks and offer your congratulations. If you want to see more local flavor and fewer impersonal chains, vote with your feet. I hope to see you there.

    The Oakland Mills Cookie Swaptacular returns for its ninth year at the Other Barn. You can RSVP here. You can learn more at the Fan Page here. It is more than just a cookie swap, and you don't have to be from Oakland Mills to participate. There's delicious hot drinks and cookie-tasting, time for socializing, crafts for kids, pictures with Santa, and the room is beautifully decorated and there's holiday music a-plenty. And did I mention Door Prizes? I can't attend this year because of a conflict with my daughter's Peabody Concert. But I can assure you that the legendary Cookie Chicks are hard at work to make sure that this year Swaptacular is the best ever.

    Today is Giving Tuesday. There are so many requests in my inbox right now. I can only really pick one. I think I'll go local with the library. What about you?



    Monday, December 1, 2014

    Personal Questions

    Recently a permission slip came home from my daughter's middle school about something called the Maryland Youth Tobacco and Risk Behavior Survey. I looked at the form briefly. It said I could opt out and return the form. It said I could contact the school if I had any questions. If I didn't return the form, she would take the survey.

    My father died of COPD/emphysema, as did both of my grandparents: all lifelong smokers. I took one look at the permission slip and interpreted it to mean "a survey on risk behaviors for future tobacco use." Great! I thought. Get 'em while they're young. Awesome.

    I was wrong.

    My daughter came home from school saying, "We had to take this survey and it was weird."

    "Oh, yes. The tobacco survey. How was it weird?"

    "It wasn't just about smoking, mom. It was about drugs and alcohol and sex and suicide..." And she kept on going, as teenagers do. "It was ninety questions."

    Oh. Did I not read that form as well as I should have?

    I still would have wanted her to take it, but I would have talked with her about it first, so she wouldn't be put on the spot like that. Ugh. She also felt that the construction of the survey was very poor.

    • "Have you had sexual intercourse?" No.
    • "How old were you when you first had sexual intercourse?" Wait, I already said no.
    • "Did you or your partner use a condom when you had sexual intercourse?" What part of no do you not understand?

    Here is a parent response from The Baltimore Sun about this survey. I don't necessarily agree that our kids are "too young" to take this survey, but I think it's bothersome that it is an "opt-out" survey, and that its title is extremely misleading. I got the feeling that, with this particular survey, "If you know, you know." And I didn't.

    I also think it is hilarious in light of our recent uproar on the Board of Education about mentioning the word "condom" in a dinner meeting of the Board. Surely students present had either: taken this survey, multiple times, OR heard it discussed as a part of BOE business. And if their parents were of the sort to opt out of this survey in order to shield their children from these issues--how well-prepared are they to understand these issues at the Board level?

    'Tis a puzzlement.

    At the moment, this is what I think.

    • The survey is poorly constructed and needs to be re-written.
    • The title is extremely misleading.
    • The opt-out procedure will undoubtedly skew the response pool.
    • We need much, much more education and discussion in our schools about sex and other risk behaviors so that we don't have to "shield" our kids from a survey like this.

    This survey should be given if it provides useful data that will really help our kids. Does it? And it should be administered in a way that respects the students and their families. I'm not sure about that last one at all.

    Maybe talking about this on World AIDS Day will get the discussion going.