Thursday, April 30, 2015

Attraction and Commitment

The following is my testimony at the County Council hearing on the County Executive's Budget for 2016:

I am here in support of the allocation of 1.395 million dollars in the County Executive's Budget for Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods. This park is an integral part of an entire network of improvements made possible by the Downtown Plan. As we all look to support a vibrant Columbia in a successful Howard County, we need to get moving now on making the park a reality.

I read a great story in the Sun today. A family in one of the older Columbia Villages--my village, Oakland Mills--loved their neighborhood and school so much that they decided to add on to their house rather than leave to look for a bigger one somewhere else. Not only that, the owner found a way to add a home office--as a tree house. Talk about creative reuse--this is pretty amazing.

We talk a lot about how important it is to attract younger residents and young families to Columbia. But we all know real love isn't just about attraction. It's about commitment. We want Columbia to be the kind of place where people like this young family are so committed that they are willing to engage and give something of themselves in order to stay here.

Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods will be a beautiful, engaging, and inspiring community space that will benefit new residents as well as current ones. It is also an investment we need to make so people will want to invest in us.

I am a music teacher and a lifelong arts supporter. I have to admit I am disappointed that this budget does not include the full 4 million dollars requested by the Inner Arbor Trust. So many important projects in Columbia are moving towards completion and the Park will be a vital component of this successful Downtown. In these efforts, timing and momentum are crucial.

My impassioned plea for greater funding aside, I'm here tonight to urge you to approve the 1.395 million in its entirety so that the park can move forward.



Wednesday, April 29, 2015

HoCo Holler from the Treetops

This article by Amanda Yeager, with video by Jon Sham, has everything I needed to make me happy this morning.

Columbia family takes revitalization to new heights with treehouse

Read it, read it, read it.


  • Columbia
  • Oakland Mills
  • Revitalization
  • Working successfully with RAC and Planning Board
  • Councilman Calvin Ball providing background info
  • Phil Engelke (OM resident extraodinaire and Planning Board member)
  • Talbott Springs Elementary School
  • Young families
  • Neighborhood
  • Tree Houses!
Read the article, watch the video. Think about all the things that are right with this picture. This is the future of Columbia. This is building community in Oakland Mills.

An enormous HoCo Holler to everyone involved in this story, and to Amanda Yeager and Jon Sham for presenting it so beautifully. Now, more than ever, I am thankful for my vibrant, creative Oakland Mills community.

And now I want my own treehouse.





Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Too many people used social media yesterday to pass judgment on what is going on in Baltimore. That is their right, I suppose. It is a right that comes from privilege. A privilege which can be blinding.

"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?"

Matthew 7: 1-5

As a friend of mine said last night, "It's easy being white." Being born white into our society makes things easier for us in so many ways that it adheres to us as our armour of normalcy. And we judge the stories we hear, filtered by our armour. "Well, I wouldn't do that," I hear you say.

How could you possibly know?

Last night I saw discourse that made it abundantly clear that "being a nice person" is not enough. And I include myself in that. Because, for every day that I have not actively worked for justice, I have tacitly given my consent to maintain the status quo.

Doing nothing is consent. Silence is consent.

This is such an enormous undertaking that I fear being swallowed up by it. I fear that I lack any talents or skills to make things better. I fear my efforts would be poorly received. Me. I fear. I sit here and worry about myself in a comfortable home in Howard County where I have adequate employment, plenty of food, and excellent education for my daughter. The biggest hurdle I face is overcoming my privileged white self.

What would happen if we rose up to work for justice for those who are oppressed? What would that look like? Would it be covered on the evening news?

Will it ever happen?


Monday, April 27, 2015

Shelf Awareness

On the bottom of the shelf, hanging from hooks, are the enormous coffee mugs. All of them are recent acquisitions: gifts from students, mostly. On the next shelf up, the matching mugs from our earthenware set of dishes, ample in size. Up one more shelf, mugs which would have been of normal size when we were college students. They now look awfully small. And on the top shelf, a rather dainty set of matching flowered mugs which are used only on special occasions when people are visiting and we are passing 'round cookies on a plate.

Truth be told, we only really like the enormous mugs. They hold more, and we love coffee. So we reach for them first. Then, when we run out, we work our way up the shelf. Most of the time we only make it through the earthenware set before the dishwasher has run and we are back to the big ones. Sometimes, though...dishes are piling up and we find ourselves forced to use those "little" mugs...

We don't really ever pause to think, "why have coffee mugs gotten so much bigger?" We just go for our morning coffee with religious devotion, the more the better. But we hang on to the old mugs, just in case. But we don't really think--how did we get here? Did we actually make a choice or did we just drift with the trend?

With the continued failure of the Columbia Association and Columbia's Villages to connect in any meaningful way with more than a sliver of Columbia residents, we see many people drifting along with the trends. The case has not been made to them that they need to pay attention. "It doesn't really matter."

If the original goal of Columbia was the active engagement of its citizenry working for a better community for all, then we are in deep trouble. An overwhelming majority of Columbians do not vote and do not understand what is at stake. Because of this, people with some narrow and reactionary views are getting elected. If their power is unchecked, their decisions will affect all of us.

I'm going to be focusing on some of these issues in the coming weeks. As limited as my reach may be, I just can't sit back and drift along with the trends. You shouldn't, either. At the very least, we should think about what we are doing.

And now, more coffee.


Sunday, April 26, 2015


Ah, Spring. We long for it. We keep it in our hearts through long winters. We envision the return of flowers, mild temperatures, sunny afternoons. And yet.

And yet it doesn't take long for Spring allergies to kick in and make many of us miserable. There's just not enough medication in the world, it seems, to relieve the symptoms. And no word of a cure in the offing.

For me, Spring is bringing other things I am allergic to, for which there is no known treatment or cure.

  • Columbia elections. Nobody votes, nobody gets it, nobody cares, and we'll just do it again next year.
  • Warmer temperatures bring more opportunities to censure girls for their clothing choices.
  • School budgets that reflect only views of management without meaningful input from parents and staff. Politicians who "don't want to interfere."

Last night brought out a whole new allergic reaction for me--to people who seem to be reasonable neighbors and acquaintances who keep words like "animals" , "thugs", and "punks" in their back pockets ready to pull out for use on social media. Clearly these are people I must be careful to avoid. At least now I know who they are.

A shout-out today to everyone who is engaged in their community, their schools, and to those who are working for justice, and committed to changing the world for the better. If there is a cure for what ails us, it is in your efforts. I'm just not feeling it today. But I know it's true.


Saturday, April 25, 2015

Mr. Matthews and Ms. Montague

Okay, Columbia, we need to talk. Today is Election Day in Columbia's Villages and if past elections are any indication, you're not going to vote. In her Baltimore Sun article about the elections, Amanda Yeager noted:

In a March letter to the community, Columbia Association President Milton Matthews emphasized the importance of Columbia's elections.

"Even before Columbia was officially founded, James Rouse did a lot of community outreach," Matthews wrote. "To this day, resident participation remains a cornerstone of Columbia."

On the other hand, blogger Candace Montague (From the Scratchpad of an Urban Bushwoman) has lived in Columbia ten years and has never voted. Why? In yesterday's post she lays out her reasons.

1. I like things the way they are.

2. The Board isn't me.

3. Village rules and regulations don't interfere with my pursuit of happiness.

Columbia in theory is the People Tree. Columbia in practice is people going about their own lives, glancing at the pretty People Tree sculpture, and walking on by.

Mr. Matthews and Ms. Montague need to get together. They need to have a conversation about what makes Columbia important and yet why today so many residents find that to be completely irrelevant. I'm not talking about a cute photo opp, nor am I proposing a serious ongoing task force. I'm saying go to Clyde's, have a beer or something. Lay it all on the table. We're only going to make headway on this if we get differing points of view together.

In the meantime, Columbia, I am not letting you off the hook. Get out there and vote. Today. Push those local statistics up a little bit with your own participation.


Friday, April 24, 2015

These Are the Jokes, Folks

This article from NPR's Goats and Soda page was a delightful antidote to a lot of what has been ailing me this week. The title?

Mr. Toilet And Mr. Condom Think Jokes Will Save The World

Take the time to read it. It's fascinating. The author investigates a session at the 12th Skoll World Forum for Social Change, entitled, "What's So Funny? The Role of Comedy in Social Change." Reading the article made me think of something that is too often in short supply in Howard County: a sense of humor.

We are all guilty of taking ourselves and our issues too seriously upon occasion--some of us more often than others. One has only to think of the brouhaha which ensued when the Board of Education went after Cindy Vaillancourt for using the word "condom" at a dinner session where high school students were present. In fact, the more serious they became in their protestations of impropriety, the more hilarious they themselves became.

I really think the entire school system would run more successfully of those in power were able to laugh at themselves more. Playfulness and a sense of humor are signs of flexibility. Flexibility leads to collaboration. Collaboration leads to inclusion. Inclusion leads to transformation.

You see where I am going here.

When you make people laugh, they listen to you.

This message from Mr. Condom to Mr. Toilet is a good message for all of us, and not just the school system, although I'm clearly singling them out as an example here. The more I hear people around town rant in deadly seriousness about how Columbia is going to hell in a handbasket, the more I want to pull away and tune out. Hammering away at people with your truth is not a good way to get people on board.

Humor can be transformative. It can encourage people to relax, open up, think new thoughts. And there's the challenge. Sometimes those in power don't want people to think new thoughts. Those new thoughts might not be their thoughts.

I'm going to try to loosen up a bit today, take myself a bit less seriously, and look for the humor as I go through my day. Try it. Let me know what you learn.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Reaching Out to Long Reach

Village Elections are this Saturday. Had I mentioned that?

This morning Tom Coale put in a good word for Dan Woodruff in the Dorsey Search race for CA Board Representative, saying:

Dan is a personal friend of mine, but I've admired his commitment to Dorsey's Search long before I had a chance to work with him. He is a fiscally minded community volunteer who knows how CA works.

He linked to the Baltimore Sun/Columbia Flier editorial on the election, which endorses Woodruff. Reading further, I was amazed to see their endorsement in the Long Reach race. They are endorsing Janet Evans rather than Ed Coleman. What a mistake. Well, this won't be the first time I have been at odds with the Baltimore Sun/Howard County Times editorial board.

A quick run-down of the two candidates in the Long Reach CA Board elections.

Ed Coleman:

  • Has extensive experience.
  • Has previously served one term as CA Rep.
  • Has volunteered for a decade.
  • Pro inner arbor.
  • Pro village center redevelopment.
  • Pro fiscal responsibility.
  • Pro open space
  • Helped save Dannon Garth Pond.

Janet Evans:

  • Thinks that there should be mass voting on what CA pays for.
  • Has never voted in a village election before.
  • No record of volunteer/community service in Long Reach.

Long Reach is facing a variety of challenges and their Village Board has been hard at work dealing with Village Center revitalization. It's perfectly clear to me that the sane choice to represent Long Reach on the CA Board is Ed Coleman. He has experience, he knows the job, he has donated time and effort already to improve his village. He's positive, and self-motivated.

Do you live in Long Reach? Know someone who does? They need this information. Sadly, they won't be able to find it in the local newspaper. So spread the word.



Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Earth Day on Timesweep

In honor of Earth Day I decided to revisit the site of several of my Earth Day clean-ups: the stub end of Timesweep Lane. Frequent readers of this blog will remember the time I decided to create my own personal "improvement association" in its honor.

In the time since, Howard County responded to neighborhood pressure and dropped the idea of creating an entrance to Blandair Park on Timesweep. The opposition, organized largely by residents of the neighborhood next to mine, Emerson Hill, claimed a park entrance would bring noise, traffic, trash, and crime to a quiet residential area.

Well, I went back yesterday. I admit I was so disgusted by the nastiness and scare tactics of the anti-entrance faction that I haven't even wanted to walk over there to see what it looked like. But now I know. This is the quiet neighborhood street they fought to maintain.

A hanging chain and a warning sign. Trash overflowing and on the ground. Piles of trash left out days before trash day. An enormous truck parked on the street. Beautiful, isn't it? The quiet beauty of a suburban neighborhood street, preserved in all its glory.

Had this been approved for an entrance to Blandair, we would see landscaping, trash receptacles, and words of welcome. Trash would be emptied frequently. The street and entrance would be under the watchful eyes of park police. To be clear, an entrance to the park would have been an improvement for this street.

Yes, there would be more traffic. We would have needed some additional signage or signal at Timesweep for turns. But we also would have more eyes on that street, and more people in high places caring about that street. As it stands, the Emerson Hill folks still have their suburban oasis while my neighborhood, Cinnamon Tree, looks like a trashy relative with its underwear hanging out. I resent that.

In addition, the people who can afford to pay for league play for their children's sports experiences would also be conveniently near to our Village Center merchants. Who would have benefited if we had made it easier for them to patronize our businesses? Everybody! Who knows--some of those visitors might have decided our village was a place they wanted to live in and bought a house here. Imagine that.

I'm pretty ticked off by what happened on Timesweep Lane. Cinnamon Tree at Talbott Springs, and Emerson Hill, and Rec and Parks could have worked together to make that street more attractive, and even safer. But that would have involved listening, and give-and-take, and compromise.

Today is Earth Day. And I've got nothing. Nothing but a trash bag, some gloves, and twenty minutes to give it my best shot. I wish I could do more.






Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Worth Celebrating

It's been about a year, I think, since the Facebook page was founded. "Celebrating Columbia, MD, and its Future" has done just that. It has seen a few heated discussions, but overall has been true to its goal:

It is not meant to replace the popular "You Know you Grew up in Columbia" FB page, but to instead provide a better forum for more in depth, civil discussions about the future of Columbia, with an eye on the past and inclusive of all views. The posts here will be monitored by admins only to keep the peace, with minimal intervention or attendee changes. Let's help impact Columbia's future!

Over the last year, two main themes have emerged. 1) Beauty in nature. I continue to be amazed at the variety of nature and wildlife photos taken here in Columbia. They have given me an appreciation of our dedicated Open Space in a way that no written description ever could. 2) Progress. But not the progress you might think.

Once of the posters highlights historic photos of Columbia as it was being built. Since I was not here from the beginning, this has been fascinating for me. It's also interesting to learn from all the comments providing feedback. It's an ongoing oral history, in a way.

"Progress: 1972" is, of course, not the same as "Progress: 2015". Everyone can get behind the progress in the old photos. It's the progress that they came here to be a part of. The progress that created their homes. The progress that is their shared history. "Progress: 1972" is a shared comfort zone for many.

I often wonder if the poster's intent is also to quietly suggest that if it was progress to create the new and exciting in 1972, that it can be progress to create the new and exciting in 2015. I don't know. It may be merely to highlight their shared experience and reminisce. Who knows?

But, as the goal of the page is to "celebrate Columbia and its future", I am hoping his pictures have a deeper meaning for us. James Rouse once said that he hoped Columbia would never be finished.

When Wilde Lake was dedicated in 1967 James Rouse remarked that he hoped Columbia would never be finished, that the community would continue to develop and that the residents who would come to call Columbia home would be actively engaged in the process. That has proven to be true and the history of Columbia is an ongoing story.

Columbia Village elections are this Saturday, April 25th. Does your village have a contested election? Do they need you to vote to establish a quorum in order to validate election results? Don't let this election pass you by. Even if you have never voted before, use this as your chance to be "actively involved in the process." Learn what that means. Call your Village Assoctaion to find out what you need to do.

If you vote, if you encourage your friends and neighbors to vote, if you learn more about how it all works than you have known before--then that will be progress.

And that's worth celebrating.


Monday, April 20, 2015


There was a time when I cared more about social norms. And then my daughter hit middle school. It's hard enough to have a child in middle school going through the transformation from child to teen, without also having to deal with a school culture of requirements at every turn.

  • the culture of high stakes testing
  • the culture of the Superintendent's Vision 2018
  • the culture of appropriate behavior
  • the culture of appropriate dress

My daughter has had a few exceptional teachers who light up her day with the joy of learning. Most have been in the good to very good category. Luckily only a very few have been just plain dreadful. But the overall environment of the school has become increasingly limiting. At a time when I long to see her valued, supported, challenged, and championed, instead I see her, along with her peers, face censure, annoyance, apathy, inflexibility.

I have come to the point where I almost don't care about the rules anymore. And I am, and always have been, an almost religious rule-follower. The term "goody-two shoes" has been used on me, more than once. But I realized over the weekend, in a conversation about the school dress code, that words like modest and indecent mean almost nothing to me anymore. In fact, they kind of make me sick.

Everything about what makes public education worthwhile has been turned on its head. Tests are more important than teaching. Vision Goals are more important than learning. "Appropriate behavior" (conformity) is more important than learning independence, self-confidence and self-reliance. Appropriate dress is more important than the person inside the clothes.

My daughter is now a teenager, and I have become a rebel. Please tell me high school is better than this.






Sunday, April 19, 2015

A Bad Word

Developers. There, I said it.

Recruited by developers, in the pocket of developers, paid off by developers. Nasty accusations. And I have been on the receiving end of some of them. And so have some of my friends. Why, just in Oakland Mills alone--

Some years ago I served on the HOA Board for my community. Directly before the spring CA elections, a guest speaker came to talk to us about the issues in the upcoming election. The predictions were dire. Our visitor believed in the true vision of Columbia, but at the same time, heartless developers were going around, handpicking candidates who would do their bidding to run against the true Columbians. It was pretty convincing. This person was, by all appearances, calm, rational, and pleasant.

I found out later that what was said was completely untrue.
(Crazymakers in the Community, 8/30/12)

The word "developer", when uttered by a particular faction in Columbia, is the weapon par excellence.

When members of the community worked to replace an abandoned, boarded-up business and an overgrown lot with a Walgreens--we were obviously paid off by developers. Whisper campaigns suggested that I myself was married to a wealthy developer. (My husband, an award-winning Howard County teacher, was amused.)

We have a serious problem with the word developer--not just in Oakland Mills--but in Columbia, and in Howard County at large. You have only to peek at local listserves to verify this. In my opinion we would all be better served by acknowledging that this practice is really rooted in a desire to differentiate between

  • Projects I like, and projects I don't like.
  • People I like, and people I don't like.
  • Ideas I like, and ideas I don't like.
Case in point: I read in amazement on Bill Woodcock's blog post about his candidacy for Oakland Mills Village Board, that he is being criticized by many of the same folks for, get this:

Bill Woodcock is against development in Oakland Mills.

Insert picture of head exploding here.

Let me get this straight. Wanting a functional business that serves the neighborhood and cleans up a vacant lot is bad, but redrawing the boundaries of the village center so you can displace residents, get rid of affordable housing in the hopes of building luxury condos and/or a multi-million dollar sports complex is good?

If there's any take-away lesson from all this, I would suggest that we all stop with the foaming-at-the-mouth reaction to the words "developers" and "development" and look very carefully at the people who are saying the words.

Oh, and one more thing your mom and dad should really have told you about developers: Rouse was one.




Saturday, April 18, 2015


When I was little I didn't understand all those ads that ran during the evening news for Anacin, Doan's Pills, Rolaids. Now I do. These are products meant to ameliorate the complaints of middle age. And, presumably, it was the middle aged who were watching the news, concerned about the state of the nation and the world, and plagued by various aches and pains.

This morning that would be me. I woke up with neck and shoulders aching and I can't seem to find the right distance between my eyes and the iPad. I want coffee but I don't want to get out of the recliner to make it. A sad state of affairs, I know.

It's no surprise that my mind is filled with things that "just don't make sense." I suppose you could call this the VG/T² "Get Off My Lawn" edition. In no particular order, things that don't make sense:

  • CA Headquarters moving out of Downtown just as Downtown is really taking off.
  • Pioneers who claim to protect the legacy of Rouse trying to displace residents in affordable housing in Oakland Mills.
  • HCPSS spending thousands of dollars to buy an engagement "system" from Gallup, when they could have worked collaboratively with teachers and staff for free. (And earned trust and goodwill at the same time.)
  • Half a block or less of bike lanes painted in on a busy street. I can't wrap my brain around this. Where are the bikes supposed to go? Do they just "poof!" disappear?
  • The County Council has figured out how to have meetings in different Columbia Villages but the CA Board has said they can't?
  • Books-a-Million pulling out of the Columbia Crossing location for a space at the Mall.
  • We still don't have signs at the street entrances to pathways that say, "To the Tot Lots". Are they supposed to be a secret?

I am going to go make coffee and make plans to have an enjoyable Spring day. In the meantime, feel free to post your list of things that "just don't make sense."


Friday, April 17, 2015

The Voices You're Not Hearing

Today is the Day of Silence. Sponsored by GLSEN, Day of Silence began:

In 1996, students at the University of Virginia organized the first Day of Silence in response to a class assignment on non-violent protests with over 150 students participating in this inaugural event. In 1997, organizers took their effort nationally and nearly 100 colleges and universities participated. In 2001, GLSEN became the official organizational sponsor for the event.

Day of Silence is a student-led, school based event. Why?

GLSENs 2009 National School Climate Survey found that nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students report verbal, sexual or physical harassment at school and more than 30% report missing at least a day of school in the past month out of fear for their personal safety. Moreover, two of the top three reasons students said their peers were most often bullied at school were actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender expression, according to From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in America, a 2005 report by GLSEN and Harris Interactive. Thus, the Day of Silence helps bring us closer to making anti-LGBT bullying, harassment and name-calling unacceptable in America’s schools.

While the news is filled with national stories of marriage equality and communities fighting back against prejudicial anti-gay "religious freedom" laws, the environment inside of schools can be unsupportive and even repressive. That's why I was so excited to report on the new partnership between HCPSS and PFLAG. School should be a safe, supportive environment for all children.

I don't know how many students are participating in Howard County. They may be wearing t-shirts, or armbands, stickers, or they may hand you a simple card to explain their participation. Do me a favor. Don't roll your eyes, joke about teenagers and their fads, or say you're so tired of hearing about gay rights that silence would be welcome. And, for heaven's sake, don't do this.

Think about how beautiful the world would be if the voices of all of our children were welcome, and honored. What will you do to end the silence?





Thursday, April 16, 2015

Truth or Consequences

At Monday night's meeting of the PTA Council of Howard County, an interesting moment occurred when a parent asked about opting out of PARCC testing. They had been told they could not opt out for their child. Period.

The moderator said that although Maryland is not an "opt-out" state, one could "refuse" the test, and that this precise wording was necessary. In fact, she said, speaking as a private citizen, she had refused the test for her children and the school gave them something else to work on while the testing was in session.

A parent responded that her school told her that if she didn't want her children to take the tests, she would have to keep them home or make other childcare arrangements for those days. The moderator informed her that the school can't actually say that.

(As an aside, I know a parent who offered to keep her children out and was told that this was not permissable, that the school would test them as soon as they returned.)

At this point a member of the Board of Education stepped in and said that, in order to attend public schools in the state of Maryland, your child must participate in all of the curriculum (with the exception of certain health/sexuality material) and that standardized testing was a part of the curriculum. Therefore, your child had to participate in the assessments (by law) because they were a part of the curriculum.

The moderator respectfully disagreed. She asserted that there is no law in the state of Maryland that makes declining these assessments illegal, which is why she and other parents are able to invoke "refusal". At this point it got a bit weird. The Board member responded, and this is a paraphrase as I was not transcribing this conversation:

While it was true that there was no law prohibiting the test refusal as outlined by the moderator, in fact the tests are a part of the curriculum, and that as she made this choice she will also have to be willing to bear the consequences of her choice.

Wait, what?

What on earth are the consequences of refusing the test? And if there is no law prohibiting parents from refusing the tests, then how can the tests be required by Maryland State law? And, my personal favorite--

PARCC and other high-stakes testing are designed to assess whether students are learning the curriculum. So how can an assessment be the curriculum? As a friend said,

How can the test, designed to assess the effectiveness of the curriculum, be the curriculum itself? This is equal to the judge and the accused being the same.

I could give you my opinion of what is going on here, but I don't really think that's necessary. All you have to do is read what has transpired and realize that something doesn't add up. Parents are being told a variety of stories which are inconsistent with eachother from school to school. And parents are being asked to believe statements which defy credulity.

When an ordinary meeting of the PTA Council morphs into an episode of Point/Counterpoint, members are challenged to use their higher-level critical thinking skills and analyze conflicting information. Do we, as parents, have the ability to compare and contrast? Do we have the right to?

Our children matter too much for us to sit back and let someone else do the thinking for us.



Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Positivity in Oakland Mills

Good morning, Oakland Mills campers! Our village election is drawing nigh. have you received one of these flyers yet?

Take a minute to read this before you vote. It represents a fresh and much-needed direction in Oakland Mills Village politics. These people have gotten together to run for the Board because they are for something, not against. I want to take a moment to recommend them to you because they bring the best overall qualifications to get the job done for all people in our village.

Here's what they've got:

  • Experience working to support our schools through PTA involvement.
  • Participation in neighborhood and community-wide initiatives.
  • Past Board experience.
  • First-hand knowledge of the Master Plan process.
  • Experience working cooperatively with Columbia Association and Howard County.
  • A track record of working successfully and respectfully with OMCA Village staff.
  • A commitment to working for all our residents: homeowners and renters, varying income levels and ethnicity.
Please vote for Fred Eiland, Daniel Kirk-Davidoff, Marcia White, and Bill Woodcock. I have served on the Oakland Mills Village Board and I can honestly say that it is precisely their combination of expertise that we need to make real progress for our village. Read the flyer. Think about what you want for Oakland Mills. Tell your friends.

And one more thing: vote.





Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Local Man Breaks Record

Local Man fulfilled a childhood dream yesterday by breaking the commuting record of well-known Columbia Man, seen above, right. Columbia Man set the original record of nineteen minutes door-to-door in March of 1971.

Local Man proudly posted his route and his time at approximately 7:30 am. He came in at a brisk seventeen minutes.

Reached by phone, Local Man was elated. "I've been building up to this for years," he explained. "Columbia Man's record has been untouched for a reason--that man is a legend."

When asked what's next on the horizon now that he's accomplished this amazing feat, Local Man appeared unsure, then made this suggestion--

"I'd like a hat like his. You know, it's a cool hat. Distinctive, even."

Those of us here at VG/T² send our heartiest congratulations to Local Man on his achievement. Columbia Man could not be reached for comment.


Image above right is the iconic Rouse Company ad "There goes the 8:11 to Columbia" which I found at Columbia Archives. It ran in Time Magazine in March of 1971. The text begins, "Men walk to work in Columbia, MD. The walker above, engrossed in his Washington Post, makes it in nineteen minutes."

Any similarity between Local Man and Columbia Man is purely serendipitous.




Monday, April 13, 2015

Hopping at the Palace

I had a hankering to eat outdoors last night, so I convinced my family to go to the Tomato Palace. Eating at the lakefront is a pretty rare event for us. It just doesn't come up on a regular rotation of dining out choices. By the time we had picked up M. from youth group it was after seven, and a bit too chilly and breezy for eating outside.

It was clear when we arrived that we weren't the only people who wanted to be by the lakefront. The Tomato Palace was full, and we had to wait a few minutes for a table. That's pretty good for a Sunday night, in my opinion. (But I am not an expert on the lakefront restaurants. Maybe they're busy every night?) We were seated next to a large party celebrating a family birthday. The gentleman appeared to be in his eighties. They were a happy bunch. I wondered if they had many years of family celebrations at the Tomato Palace.

As we walked back to our car after the meal, and negotiated the narrow roads that lead back to Little Patuxent Parkway, I was struck yet again by how uninviting that area is. The lakefront itself is beautiful. But that entire piece of real estate approaching the scenic views is not. Why would you want to park your car and noodle around? There are no fun little shops, places to pause, rest, or play.

That whole area makes no sense to me from a pedestrian point of view. Yes, you can eat at a restaurant. You can enjoying lovely views, ride the paddle boats, walk around the lake: once you "get there", But there isn't any synchronicity in the land around it. I want more reasons to hang out, shop, play, noodle around. Perhaps that's why I enjoy the Festival weekend so much, because it adds more of that sense of active enjoyment to the area.

I'm very excited to see Howard County examining its Pedestrian Master Plan, and I look forward to learning more about the Open Streets initiative. If we want to attract younger people to live here, or entice our own young people to stay, we need to respond to their desire to walk, bike, and actively enjoy the areas where they work and live.

I think that definitely means looking at places we already have and analyzing how well they "work" together for life in the 21st century.


Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Dream is Bigger than You Think

People in this town are inordinately fond of taking James Rouse's name in vain, that is, "this is what Rouse intended" or "that's not the Columbia of Jim Rouse." In fact, this has happened with so much regularity that it has almost become a stick to shake at people you don't like. And I fear that its overuse renders Mr. Rouse less meaningful to 21st century residents, not moreso.

An eye opener to me was this sentence, which I heard for the first time at the100th Birthday Celebration held last year at Merriweather.

If you work in Columbia, you should be able to live in Columbia.

-- James Rouse

The context in which this was raised at the birthday event was racial equality in housing. But it was also noted that Rouse's dream was bigger than that. It's clear by the groundwork he laid that economic opportunity was a priority as well. This appears to be less widely known by the folks who are trying get rid of affordable housing as a method of neighborhood "reinvention."

The sad truth is that people who say that they have the right to know better than the rest of us about Columbia are attempting to eviscerate the dream of Mr. Rouse because it doesn't suit their current world view. Not so fast, folks. If there were a bible of Columbia, this would be in it:

If you work in Columbia, you should be able to live in Columbia.

And don't say, "Well yes, but not in my neighborhood." I hear that Mr. Rouse didn't have much patience with that old excuse.

So look around you and see who works in Columbia--everyone who works in Columbia. There should be housing that they can afford. And they should be welcome in our community. Their children should be in our schools. Their needs should be addressed in our village board meetings. Executives, professors, entrepreneurs, government workers, doctors, teachers, police and firefighters, social workers, plumbers, retail workers, waitresses, groundskeepers, cooks, janitors, childcare workers, mechanics, crossing guards. Everyone.

A big shoutout today to the Howard County Housing folks, who are holding their Housing Fair today From 10-2 at Wilde Lake High School. They work year round to help people find affordable opportunities to "come home to Howard County". I got a wonderful note from them this year in preparation for this event. In part,

I know that you mostly talk about personal reflections in your blog but we do share the same feeling that Howard County is a great place to raise a family...We all know that many would love to live in Howard County but may feel they cannot afford it. The fair can help families get answers to their questions about buying and renting there.

So, let's make Rouse's dream a bit bigger. All the truly great dreams stretch us to include more of what it is truly right. They challenge us.

If you work in Howard County, you should be able to live in Howard County. -- Me

If you work in Howard County with someone who wishes they could live here, pick up the phone or shoot them a message to get over to Wilde Lake H.S. today. Do you love living in Columbia? In Howard County? They will, too.




Friday, April 10, 2015

One Little Thing

It may be a button pulled off a coat, paint scratches on a door, or a tub of ice cream in the sink. One little unexpected thing that catches the detective's eye in a mystery show can be the undoing of the criminal. We train ourselves to look for that little thing as the camera pans the crime scene. "It was hiding right there in plain sight," says the detective.

On the other hand, sometimes one little thing leaps out in all its incongruity. This is the stuff of humour. A duck, for instance.

This duck turned up in Annapolis last night and was photographed by Dylan Goldberg, who works for State Senator Guy Guzzone. He's been putting in some long hours with the legislature in session. Something about this duck just knocked him for a loop.

Okay guys very funny but who left their duck in the state senate courtyard? He refuses to leave, won't stop quacking, and is obviously very concerned with the budget.

Clearly this duck is somewhere he doesn't belong. And to a young, overworked, (possibly punchy?) staffer, this duck was a much-needed moment of humour. It would have been easy to miss. It was hiding right there in plain sight.

With all the big egos, intense seriousness, and power plays in Maryland politics, thank goodness there are people like Dylan who take the time to savor the incongruity of one single duck. Now, Dylan--could you please make sure that duck gets back home safely? Thanks.


Thursday, April 9, 2015

A Really Big Deal

Yesterday the Howard County School System released the following information:

The Howard County Public School System is partnering with PFLAG Columbia-Howard County to help increase levels of understanding about topics central to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students, faculty, and staff.

This, my friends, is a really big deal. And it is a very good thing.

Here's an example of a situation where this partnersnip with PFLAG would really have helped. Remember this?

Don't Ask, Don't Tell (December 17,2013)

Seventh-grader M. has explored a variety of causes through the years. Disability awareness, the need for adequate recess time in schools, and the importance of arts education are a few of them. This year she has taken on new cause which has been educational to the whole family.

At one time it would have been called simply "Gay Rights", then evolved to LGBT Rights. But M. corrects me to say "LGBTQ". And so I learn a little more. As she has grown up she has come to realize how many people in our lives, through family, our church, friends in the arts community, are affected by how our culture rejects or marginalizes them.

In October she went to the GT Resource Teacher at her school to suggest that the student-run television news feature information each day pertaining to LGBT History Month. Although the teacher was kind, her idea was rejected because the Howard County Schools official policy forbids discussion of this material at the Middle School level without prior parental consent. She was livid.

Through the ages so many groups have been excluded from or marginalized by the educational system. Racial and ethnic minorities, religious minorities, the cognitively and physically disabled. Don't forget that it wasn't all that long ago that being left-handed was considered a disability or worse. We have come so far, haven't we?

This morning as she got ready for school, she talked about a book she liked. "I can't review it for school though, because it has LGBT characters. You know," she finished, simply.

Yes. I do know. Middle school students who are growing into a fuller awareness of themselves can examine race, ethnicity, religion, disability and even left-handedness, I suppose, but something as basic as the gender identity and sexual orientation they were born with may not be discussed. Who can possibly benefit from this?

This is a great disservice to our students. Gender identity and sexual orientation is so central to who we are. It is not something that will be mailed to us in an envelope like a college acceptance letter, at a time when other people feel it would be appropriate. And, although much progress has been made, LGBT persons continue to experience marginalization and outright discrimination within our culture.

Learning more about who you are. Learning that you are not alone. Learning about others who are like you. And for the cisgendered (another new word for me) learning that everyone is acceptable and should be respected. Middle School is not too early to be learning this.

How will our students become college and career-ready when they need a permission slip merely to learn about who they are?


I am excited to learn more about this partnership. It has been desperately needed for a long time. I commend the school system and PFLAG for making this happen. And one more piece of exciting news.

Tonight, at River Hill High School, from 6-10 pm, there will be a Pride Rally sponsored by the Gay Straight Alliance. To my knowledge, this is the first ever Pride Rally held in a Howard County school. It is open to the entire community--yes, you and your family are invited. Basically, if you are interested, you should feel welcome to attend.

Feeling welcome--that's a Howard County value. It's great to see the school system get on board with that.



Wednesday, April 8, 2015


Sometimes things we work on take a very long time to be accomplished.

This press release from David Greisman of the Columbia Association caught my eye yesterday. Reporting on ongoing construction at the Dorsey's Search Meeting Room property, he states:

Work on the Meeting Room began in mid-March. The project will double the size of the building, which will provide more opportunities for the daycare facility that rents space there, add more space for meetings and expand the bathrooms and changing rooms for Dorsey Hall Pool.

Something about that rang a bell to me. Didn't I read about that somewhere? Oh, here it is in Tom Coale's blog, HoCoRising, from October of 2013:

When I first came on the CA Board back in 2011, I asked the Dorsey's Search Village Manager to tell me her "wish list". After reviewing some of the smaller things like a replaced vent, new paint, and window shutters, she said "that Meeting Room is too small." Dorsey had rented out the space, not much bigger than a metro car, to a woman operating a day-care. Due to the size, the waiting list was long and Dorsey residents would have to drive outside of the neighborhood for reliable day-care. Anytime there was a leak in the roof, a problem with the HVAC, or power outage (all of which occurred with some regularity), day-care would need to be cancelled for the day. It was a bad situation.

So that was 2011. And now it's 2015. It takes a very long time for projects like this to move forward to completion. And it takes people like Tom Coale, and the people who worked with him to convince the CA Board, and the vote of the CA Board itself. And that's just for approval.

Around town I see a variety of projects in varying stages of progress--the Wild Lake Village Center, work on the widening of Route 29 (which I had a hand in as a part of the Oakland Mills Village Board), and the beginning of plans for the Crescent neighborhood downtown. The Inner Arbor plan for Symphony Woods has been approved and has entered a new phase in its development. The Bridge Columbia project is a great idea in search of funding. (Call me if you have some.)

It all takes time. So much time. I admire people who are in it for the long haul. I get frustrated. I want to see people get the point and get moving to make Columbia a better place. It just doesn't work that way.

So, a tip of the hat this morning to Tom Coale for his work in helping these improvements for Dorsey's Search become a reality. And a tip of the hat to everyone out there working on a project or a plan who has the determination to see it through.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015


Dear Mr. and Mrs. Obama,

I am so sorry to be canceling our plans at this late date, but it seems that Sasha and Malia will not be able to accompany my daughter's middle school class to see Romeo and Juliet today at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Theatre in Baltimore. I know they were so looking forward to joining us for this highly educational and inspiring Arts Education experience.

And we would have loved to have them join us. But a last-minute note from the school indicates that only one certain style of dress has been deemed to be appropriate. And to be honest, I just don't think your daughters' sense of style would be, well, accepted. The email states that,

Proper Dress Code for this theater experience include: knee-length dresses and skirts, dress pants or khakis, button down shirts with collars, polo-style shirts, and dress shoes.

Yes, I must admit I was taken aback by the knee-length requirement for the girls. Especially since no such requirement was listed on the original permission slip, as I'm sure you remember. My own daughter's dress is about two inches above the knee--a lovely turquoise sleeveless dress that she wore to church on Easter Sunday. She's very concerned that her knees may keep her from getting to experience Shakespeare--live. Theater is her passion. She's really been looking forward to it.

It does seem rather sad that the length of a girl's dress would be more important than her education, doesn't it? Sadder still, I think we have a number of students in our school community whose families cannot afford the type of clothing mandated for this trip. I feel strongly, as do both of you, that arts experiences are vital in lifting up at-risk students and invigorating all students to learn better and more deeply.

So you see, I just couldn't risk having your daughters pulled aside and shamed as we were getting on the bus today. You understand, don't you? That shouldn't happen to the President's children.

It shouldn't happen to anyone's children.


Julia Jackson McCready


Monday, April 6, 2015


Spring is here. Is it really here? Are we absolutely sure? It seems almost foolhardy to trust in it this year. Many of us have been looking anxiously for those perennial signs from Nature that the season is finally turning. We will wear lighter jackets, leave the front door open, work in the yard. We will relax into the warmth, instead of bracing ourselves against the cold.

The theme of rebirth is a big one this time of year, whether you are pondering it in church or at the garden center. We talk about new life arising from death. We clear away the remnants of winter from our garden beds and smile at the little green shoots which mean another season of growth and blossoming. We look forward. We plan, we plant, and we savor the anticipation.

Around town there are signs of rebirth in other ways. People are trying new things. I have been observing friends and acquaintances taking leaps of faith, starting new ventures, leaving the past behind. A sampling:

Courtney Watson is spearheading a new chartitable giving initiative in Howard County called Bridge to Give. She is using the knowledge and expertise gained in public service to make connections between people and community service.

Candace Dodson-Reed, Former Deputy Chief of Staff for Ken Ulman, begins a new position today as Vice-President of the Greater Baltimore Committee. Anyone who knows Candace knows that she will be taking top-notch skills and unstoppable determination to her new gig.

Marcia White is simultaneous planning the annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner and running for the Oakland Mills Village Board. She's a member of the Democratic Central Committee who's not afraid to work in a non-partisan way to support her community through Village Board service.

Mary Catherine Cochran is beginning her tenure as Director of the Patapcso Heritage Greenway. Not only is this a new venture for her, it is the first time this position has existed--a lot of beginnings on that front. A love of nature and preservation make her the ideal choice to advocate for this local natural habitat.

Lastly, without name or fanfare, a dear friend of our family has left an abusive relationship and is starting over on her own. She's pushing on to finish her college degree. She's found a new job, and she's getting used to a whole new life. She's got a great family to back her up, and immense intelligence and spirit, but it's a struggle. She won't ever make the news for making this difficult life change, but I admire her and want to honor her.

I'm hearing a bird singing out front. It may reach 70 degrees today. I'm going to be enjoying a day-after-Easter brunch with my in-laws and getting some expert advice on how to create a rain garden on a slope--a new venture waiting to happen.

How's your rebirth going?


Saturday, April 4, 2015

Ask Jamie

As a relatively new subscriber to Baltimore Sun's daily digital edition, I have found a nostalgic pleasure in reading the advice column, "Ask Amy". Yes, I orginally subscribed in order to get unrestricted access to the Howard County news online, but I'm still trying to take advantage of the daily Sun as well.

Ongoing stories in Baltimore include school budget deficits, concern about crime, fluctuating opinions about the mayor, development deals that may be too sweet, neighborhoods which are pockets of long-entrenched poverty. And then there's sports, weather, the comics and Ask Amy.

Advice columns used to be quite popular in newspapers. Long before national syndication was a thing, local newspapers engaged readers by encouraging them to send in their questions on personal problems and etiquette. I found a reference that dates back to 1798, in England. Advice columnists then were known as "agony aunts" or "agony uncles" 'if male. (Useful trivia.)

Of course this got me thinking what kind of questions a truly local Columbia/Howard County advice columnist would receive. So, in a spirit of fun, I am launching "Ask Jamie"--a whimsical look at hyperlocal questions and predicaments. Today's letter comes from "Young Professional".

Dear Jamie,

My husband and I have recently purchased a home in Columbia, Maryland. We got a really good deal, love the neighborhood and the larger community. But one thing really ticks us off. Why does some Village Association get to tell us what color to paint our house? It's our house!

--Young Professional

I'm interested to see how Jamie will answer this one. Just because those of us who have lived in Columbia a long time understand how these things work, we can't assume newcomers just automatically gain understanding once they pick up the keys to their houses. Should Jamie find a diplomatic way of defending the status quo? Should he encourage these new residents to get involved to change the system?

These questions and more will be answered in our next edition of "Ask Jamie". Submit your questions for Jamie in the comments below.


Friday, April 3, 2015

HoCoHoller: Columbia-style

Huge tip of the hat to this collaboration between Rick Leith at Howard Community College and Barbara Kellner and the Columbia Archives. Oh, and a shoutout to Blair Ames for writing about it.
For the past four years, Leith has had students in his English 121, college composition, class work on a semester-long project surrounding Merriweather that culminates with students submitting audio and written history documents to the Columbia Archives.

This is my idea of what "Excite Columbia" could be all about. Leith is connecting with young people, engaging them through a topic that is meaningful to them, and asking them to make a contribution to their community through interviews and research. And the end result is that both they and the community are better for it. Everybody wins.
"My goal is to collaborate with the community in a real, meaningful way, so that the students can understand that they are a member of a community and that they need to be civically engaged in the community," Leith said.

I've written about how Michael McCall and Michael Hobson provided a connecting point through middle school students' love of Minecraft in order to explore the development of the Symphony Woods/Inner Arbor plan. What this project and the HCC project have in common is that they use an active mode of learning rather than a passive one. Both require participants to add something of themselves to make the experience a success.

Isn't that what Columbia is all about?

During the last few days I have seen folks reminisce on Facebook about their memories of the Columbia Exhibit Center. As one man recalled.

1967, my first exposure to the Columbia concept, billed as the next America. I bought into that concept lock, stock, and barrel.

But the visit to the Exhibit Center was only meant to be a first step. The most important thing happened when you walked out the door and became a part of the New Amercan City. Columbia wasn't Columbia until you put yourself into it. So every time I see a partnership like this, I smile.

What can I say? It's, well, exciting.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

There There

A famous Gertrude Stein quote, spoken originally in reference to Oakland, California:

The trouble with Oakland is that when you get there, there isn't any there there.

It has been recycled and reused many times and its meaning has evolved to mean a place which lacks a sense of place. Like Columbia Gateway, perhaps? We all bristled at Julia Louis-Dreyfus' disparaging account of working on Veep in a warehouse in the Gateway, but deep down were we in quiet agreement that there's just no "there there"?

Well, community belongs to those who are willing to work to make it happen. And last night at a meet-and-greet for local hero Colonel Gateway, held at Aida Bistro, I saw a room full of people hungry to be a part of ADG Creative's initiative to give Gateway more of a sense of pride of place. So what if some disdainful out-of-towner described Columbia as "home to one of the dreariest American landscapes imaginable"? It's our landscape. We may laugh about it amongst ourselves, but how much better it is to laugh at the antics of Colonel Gateway, whose humor is meant to bring people together.

Looking at Colonel Gateway as a community activist, I wonder how he felt about the success of last night's event. It drew somewhere in the range of seventy-five people who very likely wouldn't have been in the Gateway after business hours (or ever). Baltimore Sun/HoCoTimes' Jon Sham was surprised and impressed by the large turnout. Who knew whether some good natured buzz on Twitter would result in actual humans walking through the door? It could have been a bust.

It wasn't. The mood was positive, full of enthusiasm. Folks came ready to be in on the spoof of the time-traveling gentleman in colonial garb who loves Gateway and abhors those pesky geese. In short, people wanted to be there. They wanted to participate. Perhaps they wanted to learn more. All great qualifications for community building. And for having a good time.

How do you create change? How do you challenge people's attitudes in a positive way? Well, consider this. My local bank branch is closing and we have been notified that unless we specify a different choice, our accounts will be moved to the Gateway branch. Before all this excitement with the Colonel, I would have said, "Gateway! That's ridiculous. We never go over there."

And now? "Well, maybe we should be going over there more often."

Well played, Colonel. Well played.

Oh, and one more thing. This happened:

@amandacyeager: And the @ColGateway award for "distinguished user of the Twitters" goes to... @macsmom!













Wednesday, April 1, 2015


Catching up on goings on at the Board of Education this morning. It looks like they've decided to revisit the Condomgate affair after all this time. In a 5-2 vote, the board has approved the following statement:

It is the responsibility of the Board to set the example of protecting our students from inappropriate language. Therefore we are taking positive steps in order to set the tone for responsible discourse.

So, here goes--no more ketchup, mustard, and or relish for school lunches. Why? Well, the discussion of "condom-ents" could be distressing, especially for younger children, and is really best discussed in the home. Similarly, in Social Studies units, teachers will be instructed to focus on home ownership and rental homes, with no awkward conversations about "condom-iniums."

"We just can't be too careful in providing a wholesome environment for our children," the guidelines explain.

Finally, the Board will no longer participate in any discussion which includes the word "accommodation".

"While the word on its face may not seem to be offensive, the fact is that it makes many members of this Board extremely uncomfortable. This is evidence that we cannot ignore. Accommodation is clearly risky behavior and we need to take a stand at the highest level to prevent the spread of this kind of offensive language."

I tried to get some feedback from the minority votes on this decision, but it appears they're under some kind of gag order. Or maybe they're just not finished rolling on the floor, laughing.