Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Parent's Perspective

Today I am sharing this statement from David Nitkin, a Mount Hebron parent. It speaks so eloquently to the situation we now find ourselves in. I wanted these words to have a wider audience, and Mr. Nitkin has graciously allowed me to share them here. It is my hope that they can add to the discussion we desperately need to have for the good of our children and our entire community.




A Few Words About the Video:


I am a white man, married to a white woman, who has sent two white children to Mount Hebron High School. The words and thoughts in the video that circulated this week are shocking, disgusting and sad. I cannot fathom the place from which they come. How does a high school student come to believe one race is inferior to another? Especially in one of the best educated, wealthiest communities in the nation, how has this wrong-headed train of thought not been wiped out generations ago? How has it not been proven wrong by the accomplishments of all races, by daily interactions in school and in the community, or by the election of a black president? If these disgusting thoughts are in the heads of even some students of Mount Hebron High School, then they are in the thoughts of students in every high school in the nation, in every community. Goddammit we did not need another example of how much work we need to do together. We did not need a reminder that the work might never be done. But here it is -- and that reminder is in my backyard; in the school that my son walks into every day. It makes me angry. It makes me sad. It makes me tired. I want to be a voice -- even if it's a weak one, a distracted one, and, yes, a privileged one - shouting in the other direction. I think there are many voices on my side. I am with you. I am against hatred and division.





Saturday, January 30, 2016

Punish the Messenger

Yesterday saw a backlash against a student who took it upon herself to share a racist video so it could not be ignored. Some examples:

  • if you go down to the south it's all over the place, one drunk boy from hoco says it you act like everyone here racist
  • it was deleted till you and E. decided to post it and his coaches and principals email...
  • just admit he made a mistake, there are people dying for the black lives movement and you talking about a white boy from hoco...
  • you need to chill you f'ing ruined a teenagers life and you're ruining the view of Howard county and Hebron

Too tame for you? How about this?


Ladies and gentleman of Howard County, these are our children.




Friday, January 29, 2016

A Teachable Moment

Parents in Howard County received a troubling email last night. The Superintendent reached out with a letter with the heading, A Call to Action. In it, she relayed the news that: student videotaped a classmate making inflammatory, insensitive, and racist comments. The details of the video are disturbing.

The video was posted on several social media platforms and has already been shared hundreds of times, offending many people of all races, and reflecting poorly on students directly involved and those who chose to stand silent. This behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

As a parent, this hurt my heart, and as a member of the community it made me angry that we keep struggling with incidents of racism in this place we want to believe is free of it. It made me think of the appearance of a Confederate flag at a football game. It made me think of recently reported data that African American students are seven times more likely to be suspended than their white counterparts.

It made me think of what kids who saw this video must be feeling. When a fellow student goes to the trouble of posting racist views on a public forum like social media, it isn't an accident. It is a deliberate act. Even though it did not occur at school, the very public nature of it reaches out from one kid's basement and compromises the learning environment for African American students.

As a blogger, I wanted to know how those students were feeling. So I went to Twitter. What I found was that this video was being shared and spread not racist-to-racist, but by African American students who were angry and upset and wanted the light of truth to shine on this event. They'd love for racism to be destroyed. They live with it every day. But they want the video to be shared because they want our community to face what it represents.

If anything is a teachable moment to me, it is the determination of these students to make us look at what is ugly in our midst and own it. Don't smooth it over, don't cover it up. Don't excuse it because it appears to be fueled by alcohol. Don't look at kids who could be your own and try to find excuses for them.

Look at the kids who don't look like your own and put yourself in their shoes. When all the fuss dies down, and the snow is cleared away, they still have to go back to school and wonder every day who in their midst is just one bad choice away from a message full of hate.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

One Last Word

The parking lot was well cleared.

The sidewalks were beautifully shoveled.

The guards who handled the check-in were friendly.


I don't ever want to go there again.

Sitting in court and watching the proceedings is educational. It's kind of like what you see on tv but not at all. It is a liturgy unto itself. The lawyers and the judge know the words of all the prayers and sometimes it seems as though the lawyers speed through them just to get them said. There are requirements. The requirements must be fulfilled.

Sitting in court and watching if you know the people involved is an entirely different experience. In the grand scheme of things I have done very little of this and just that little bit has been too much for me to handle. I feel crushed. I have absolutely no idea how people who have to endure an entire case drag on, over years, can survive.

Yesterday one such unimaginably long and painful case came to an end. Morgan Arnold was sentenced for her part in the murder of Dennis Lane, which occurred in May of 2013. Imagine what is has been like to be in the shoes of Dennis' family and loved ones for three whole years. Whatever you are imagining isn't enough.

I did not know Dennis well enough to be his friend. To me he was a hero, a blogger-rockstar, a bit of a mentor as I worked on developing my own blog. Dennis was the center of our blogging universe. Everything else revolved around him. And then he was ripped away and nothing about that universe can ever be the same.

I have nothing better than words to offer to his family, close friends, and loved ones. Even though words are the best thing I have, today they feel weak. Just as the somber incantations in a courtroom proclaiming a decision of justice feel weak in the face of a grief that has shattered a beautiful and interconnected universe.

In the face of all that, I've got nothing. Nothing but the words of a song and a hope that life will get easier.

When the road gets dark

And you can no longer see

Just let my love throw a spark

And have a little faith in me



Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Point of View

It's all in how you look at it. In the comments following The Baltimore Sun article about the politics of plowing, I caught this remark:

My neighbor and I shoveled out our block and thus were able to get out. Assume the plows are not coming and start shoveling. Also every family should have at least one four wheel drive vehicle.
6 hours after we shoveled out the block a plow came by and we had to do more shoveling. Unless you are 70+ stop whining and get to work.

A little tip of the hat to Marie Antoinette, here? (Yes, I know she gets a bad rap.) "Every family should have at least one four wheel drive vehicle." Exactly where are they handing these out so I can be sure to have one?

As I wrote on Monday:

Complaints about County services right now are divided. Divided in some cases between East and West, Columbia and HoCo, main streets and side streets, and yes, Democrats vs Republicans. (Why not? Everything else is.)

In one way or another, we all have a limited point of view.

A growing concern of mine is an attitude that expecting the County to fulfill its obligations during a storm is lazy and selfish. It appears to be largely coming from the Western, more rural, part of the county but I wouldn't stake my life on that. Here is an example of an exchange I found on Twitter. A highlight:

People need to learn to be self sufficient. Quit depending on a broken government to do everything for you. If you have a shovel you can dig yourself out.

Others on the thread wonder if that poster would feel the same way about patching the roads, or putting out residential fires. Just how much self-sufficiency would he advocate?

It's one thing to love your own way of life, your neighbors, and how you handle tough situations like these. But it's quite another to use that feeling to negatively judge people whose experiences are not the same as your own. When I read things like "we don't wait for the government to dig us out", or "maybe Columbia just doesn't have a spirit of community" it breaks my heart a little.

Community has many different ways of manifesting itself. We shouldn't require that everyone have the same way of responding to a storm like this. After all, we don't all have the same abilities and the same needs.

Be who you are. Do what you can do. Be proud of that. You should be. But you can't possibly know the circumstances of others. So don't use your limited point of view as a weapon to demean others.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

No Room in the Inn

Here is a story that I thought had nothing to do with me: the closing of Laurel Regional Hospital. But I was talking to a friend yesterday who wondered how Howard County General was doing during the storm.

"Why?" I asked.

"With the closing of the Laurel Hospital, HCGH is in a dire situation. I heard they were completely full even before the storm."

Wow. I hadn't thought about that. People who need hospital care will have to go somewhere. Their health needs don't magically become ambulatory just because their local facility decides to pursue a different business model. So this isn't just Laurel's problem, or Prince George's problem. It's our problem, too.

During the storm the hospital was very likely providing shelter to staff who couldn't get home, plus patients who had been discharged but couldn't go anywhere. I have no idea what that looked like if they were already full before the storm even started. Where did they put everybody?

Add to that the pressures of workers trying to find a way to get in to work to relieve those who hadn't been able to go home, and you have a recipe for a stressful and draining experience. I have no first hand information but my gut instinct is that everyone over there has been working like dogs to make things run as smoothly as possible.

Now that I understand how this news story in another county hits home for us in Howard County, I want to learn more about how we're responding to meet the increased need. So look for future posts on this

Thanks to all the employees at HCGH who worked through the storm, the Good Samaritans who used four wheel drive vehicles to get nurses and doctors to their shifts, and the neighbors who helped ambulances reach people with emergencies. Our community is a better place because of you.

Monday, January 25, 2016


After the Big Snow, the Big Dig is not a smooth one as some folks get plowed right away and others are still completely snowed in. People are cranky, and frustrated, and quick to take offense. I'm not sure I blame them. We live on a well-traveled street that is plowed quickly and frequently, so I have no right to complain about anything. If I have any suggestion it's that we all get together and participate in a ritual burning of The County Snow-Plow tracker.

Complaints about County services right now are divided. Divided in some cases between East and West, Columbia and HoCo, main streets and side streets, and yes, Democrats vs Republicans. (Why not? Everything else is.) As I looked over old posts to see what I was doing previous years on this date, a photo caught my eye.

From Monday, January 27, 2014

Who Is My Neighbor?

It's Monday morning. We've had a rough weekend but we keep moving forward. I drink my coffee as I scan the morning tweets.

@kenulman: Pls use the hashtag #hocounited & share your thoughts on why our community is strong & resilient. #HoCoMD

Flashback to Saturday, where I saw tweets like these:

@acarvin: Columbia Mall is our community refuge, gathering place. The local motto is "Choose Civility." One shooter can't change that. #ColumbiaStrong

@ColumbiaAssn: Our thoughts are with those affected by the tragedy at Columbia Mall. #PrayForColumbia

Columbia. Howard County. On some days we have an uneasy coexistence that rivals the town/gown relationship in places like New Haven/Yale where both sides warily eye the other for signs of disrespect. Hostility aside, many residents do not begin to understand the basic differences between what the Columbia Association does and what Howard County does.

Well, they say you really get to know who your friends are when times are tough. It is important to remember who we saw rushing in to help: Howard County Police and Fire Department first responders. Stepping up to the microphone to communicate and reassure: Howard County Government. They didn't come "from the outside" to help Columbia. This is every bit as much their jurisdiction as any other community in Howard County.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus is asked, "who is my neighbor?" After recounting a tale of a traveler attacked by thieves, he asks, "Now which of these three seemed to be a neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?" The response, "He who showed mercy on him."

This is what #hocounited means to me after this weekend. We need to understand how truly interconnected and interdependent we are. There are residents of Howard County who may not live in Columbia but still admire and respect the vision. There are residents of Columbia who are grateful for the support and services we enjoy because of Howard County.

This is the end of the blog post. But it's not the end of the parable. The parable ends with a challenge, "go and do likewise."

Show mercy. #hocounited


Two years ago today. Go and do likewise: show mercy.



Sunday, January 24, 2016

Seen on the Patio

If you are reading this post in, or anywhere near, Howard County, Maryland then we have something in common.

Snow. The white stuff. A big old thump of Winter that registered as a record for Baltimore at 29.2 inches. With houses and cars snowed in and even the best plowed roads only barely passible, we shared homebound pictures and anecdotes on social media. I laughed when I saw this comment on Twitter:
Conclusion from all your #snow photos: nobody puts their deck furniture away.

My immediate response:
Where would we put it?

Putting away deck, patio, or lawn furniture assumes a place to put it. In our compact little quadroplex with no basement, attic, and a purchased shed big enough for a rake and a shovel, that's just not happening. And so it serves as a lovely backdrop for my series of snow photos, gradually disappearing as the day progresses.
Those photos are a way we document not just falling snow but the passing of time as well. Hours and hours go by, with the same local news stories and worn out local newscasters with rulers and then yardsticks and warnings from local public officials. We're in limbo. So we go back to that same view and take another picture.
Wow, look at this!
Social media helps to connect us and pass the time. Locally, County Executive Kittleman and Howard County Government have been keeping citizens up-to-date on what is going on in the world outside our patio furniture. I've wondered in the past as to whether they were up to the job, and thank goodness they have been.
I've also enjoyed continuing updates from: members of the County Council, the Oakland Mills Village Association, the Facebook group Western Howard County Shares, and posts from local bloggers Bill Woodcock and AnnieRie. I've very much appreciated following HoCoTimes reporters Fatima Waseem and Lisa Philip on Twitter. I've kept in touch with fellow OM residents through the Oakland Mills is Awesome page. And my church, Abiding Savior Lutheran, has a system of keeping in touch with members to make sure everyone is okay.
On a day when I wouldn't see any other human beings other than the ones in my immediate family, all those threads of connection were a blessed relief. They say to me that, although there may be things happening that are far beyond my control, I am not alone.
One last picture.
Today begins the digging out. Don't forget to post your pictures.


Saturday, January 23, 2016

A Love Letter to Warren Miller

'Way back in May of 2014 I sent letters to the County Council and the County Executive pleading that they: everything in your power to require that 1) the school system delay the implementation of this {Elementary Model} initiative by at least one full year, 2) the data from Ducketts Lane be shared openly once a full year is completed and 3) the school system follow its own protocol for allowing public community presentations on this initiative and requiring stakeholder input.

To put it in a positive light, I ask you to declare this initiative "worthy of study" and not "ready for prime time."

Right away I heard from my councilman, Calvin Ball, who explained to me that the Council wasn't really permitted to get involved in the affairs of the school system in the way that I had requested. It just wasn't done. I heard from the County Executive, through Candace Dodson Reed, who confirmed what Dr. Ball had said. She also invited me in to discuss my concerns. She was a great listener.

But nothing happened.

In March of 2015 I wrote a post about cuts to paraeducators included in the Superintendent's budget. (I very likely wrote to the County Council, as well.)

This budget must be approved by the County Council and the County Executive. They don't like to meddle in school system matters. I understand that. But what about taking a stand when it comes to supporting the democratic process in Howard County? Does the County Council and County Executive endorse the manner in which budget decisions are being made and constituents are being treated? Do they believe this constitutes the best practices in public service?

I think it is completely appropriate for the citizens of Howard County to ask their elected representatives to address these questions. Does the manner in which the current Board of Education operates serve the public good?

But nothing happened.

Then, this past year, something amazing happened. Parents in Western Howard County reached out to delegate Warren Miller and he did more than listen. He got involved. He began to advocate for their concerns. Once he did that, he had crossed that line over which no one else had wanted to cross. I don't know Mr. Miller, so I can't second guess whether he went there cautiously, reluctantly, or boldly.

But finally, something happened.

Mr. Miller is sponsoring legislation to require the school system to act with more transparency. He has recently written a letter of concern describing conditions at Glenwood Middle School. He is not my state delegate and he is not a member of my chosen political party, but I can tell you that right now Warren Miller has "money in the bank" with me.

This is not to minimize the great work being done by Vanessa Atterbeary and Jon Weinstein on the Board of Education elections bill. But you wouldn't be at all surprised to hear me sing their praises, now would you? (Since everyone knows I'm such a "left-wing" blogger, it seems.) But right now we have public officials of both parties working on improving our school system, and I can't help thinking we owe Mr. Miller some gratitude for being willing to cross that invisible line of non-interference.

There are many political variables at work here. It may be easier for a state delegate to weigh in on this than a member of the County Council. Or Mr. Miller's security in his own district may be so unassailable as to make this course of action less risky for him than it would be for others. Knowledgeable local pundits will be having a beer and discussing the finer points of that for some time to come.

Today I simply want to say thanks to Delegate Miller and all the local officials who are listening, engaging, and taking action. For the first time in a very long time, I feel hopeful about where we're going.


Friday, January 22, 2016

Bystander or Upstander?

I see you, Martha Butt. Of course I don't know if that is your real name or if you are even a woman, but I want you to know I see you and I refuse to let your words go unnoticed.

I was rereading this article by Lisa Philip in the HoCo Times, "School boards neighboring Howard believe in election districts for members" and I continued on to read the comments. The first was from Christine McComas, mother of the late hcpss student Grace McComas. In her comment she shared her personal reasons for supporting the proposed legislation.

And then, this:

@cdmccomas you are a publicity hound, a revenge seeker. You have tried to attack every public official and administrative person possible for your daughter's suicide. The only subjects left for you to identify are the medical professionals that tried to treat her.There are several sides to your story that have been floating around for years.

This makes me sick. Someone has taken the opportunity, under the guise of commenting on a newspaper article, to make a personal attack on Christine McComas. Here we plainly see name-calling, attempts to question her motives, suggest that she is dishonest, that her grief in losing a child is merely a front for a more insidious purpose.

If I had my way I would like this "Martha Butt" to wear his/her statement everywhere, until everyone knows just what kind of a person they are. Yes, Martha: everyone. Your employers, your coworkers, your church or synagogue, your neighbors, your friends. The teachers at your child's school, the people who shop where you shop, your family. Everyone should know that you are the kind of person who would attack a grieving mother on the internet where she has no suitable way to defend herself.

I know they say "Don't feed the trolls" but I just can't let this stand. I don't want that comment to go unchallenged. Here is the comment I wrote in response:
@marthabutt This is an article about pending legislation and yet you use it to make a hateful personal attack on Mrs. McComas. Shame on you. Do you know what it is like to have a child who is raped, bullied, and commits suicide? Do you know how that makes you feel? Do you know how you would respond to such a situation? Your comment makes you the same kind of bully that hounded Grace McComas to her death.

There but for the Grace of God, Martha Butt. Let us all pray that what happened to Mrs. McComas never happens to us.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Red Light District

Last night, before it began to snow--around dinner time--we considered the possibility of going to the grocery. For about two seconds. Social media was filled with horror stories and accompanying photos of panic at the supermarket. In the face of such craziness we shrank back and decided to punt.

We went to Burger King.

I'd say we probably go to Burger King no more than four times a year. McDonald's and Wendy's are closer to where we live, for one, and we try to limit fast food trips overall. Since the BK on Centre Park Drive closed (no surprise) the only one left is on Snowden River Parkway, in a little strip mall/shopping center with no discernable name.

I've never been convinced by this particular shopping center. I'm guessing it's located in the Land of Outparcel, but wiser folks than I know the boundaries here. It just feels sketchy. Last night, as we approached from Snowden, was no different. The various shops with their red light-up lettering looked less than welcoming. Some of those lights were out. It looked like the sit-down part of the Pizza Hut had closed.

I felt like we had suddenly entered The Wrong Part of Town.

In contrast, the Burger King itself has recently been remodeled and looks great inside. Although it wasn't packed, there were certainly a steady flow of customers during the time we were there. And as a side note, BK is now offering chili dogs. Has anyone tried them yet? They are a guilty pleasure of mine but not sure I should trust a fast food incarnation.

Snowden River Parkway has been transformed by recent construction, and has also been the inspiration for local legal wrangling. We noted a new shopping center with a Jimmy Johns, and a sign for the new Grotto Pizza. All the newer businesses are closer to the road and easy to see. The old Burger King shopping center is set back from the road and follows that Columbia "joy of discovery" model. I wonder how that will all play out?

There must have been a time when that shopping center was bright and shiny and new. The look that I now find worn and dated must have been sleek and cutting-edge once, right? I don't know. That's before my time. But I do think it could use a face lift. If the owners of the center want people to be willing to turn their attention from the businesses closer to the road, then they will need to give them a reason to come over, and to keep coming back.





Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Reading the Comments

The old (well, not that old) saying goes, "Don't read the comments." But sometimes they can be educational. Take the case of the comments from signers of the petition asking the Board of Education not to renew the Superintendent's contract. Those are some truly enlightening comments. Not all of the sentiments resonate with me, personally, but they are definitely worth the read.

Then there is the case of the mysterious Mr./Ms. hadda_nuf who found this article so completely offensive. After reading "Optimisim lifts Kittleman into second year in office" is commenter begins:

The quality of print journalism has been in steady decline. The Jan 14 article Optimism lifts Kittleman into second year is a most egregious example. Despite an uplifting title, the article is a blatant hatchet job with no attempt at objectivity.

I found that rather startling because, from my perspective, the article definitely leaned positive. Combined with the paper's own editorial, it made for quite the positive report card for the County Executive. Not to hadda_nuf, obviously. Clearly it's all in the eye of the beholder.

Then we come to this blog. My commenters are, for the most part, civil. This is not to say that they always agree with my posts. They don't. But the responses I get generally fall within the range of civil discourse. I've had a very few notable trolls and they are no longer with us.

One curious thing I have noticed. Occasionally I have commenters who tell me I don't have the right to say something. "You can't say that, you can't hold that opinion, you can't make that connection," and so on. So far, those commenters have always been men. Women disagree with me, and sometimes quite vigorously, but they have never challenged or denied my right to follow a particular line of thinking.

I find responses such as these quite odd. Of course I can write about __________. That's why I have a blog. I read, I listen, I pay attention, I think, and I make connections. And then I write. You don't have to agree with what I say, but you don't get to condemn my right to say it.

Oh, and name-calling is never pretty, no matter who does it. But that's why we all tend to avoid the comments section, isn't it?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A Perfect Storm?

The tweets seemed to come like a summer rainstorm, first one, then another, then a pause, then another, then several, then the onslaught. County Executive Allan Kittleman's Twitter feed was hopping this past weekend. As I watched on Saturday, little drips and drops built up to a steady rhythm of public engagement: references to the recent article in the HoCo Times about his first year, the accompanying editorial, the announcement with Governor Hogan of the widening of Route 32...

The Kittleman administration came in clunky and flatfooted when it came to social media. (Of course, the Ulman administration was a tough act to follow in that regard.) I've got to hand it to the Kittleman folks, though. They have improved by leaps and bounds. They were certainly working overtime this last weekend.

As I watched this unfold, I began to wonder what the point was. And then it was revealed.

I regret that I can't show you the actual tweet, but Twitter isn't cooperating right now.


By golly, we've got some good old-fashioned politicking going in the HoCo, and Mr. Kittleman would like you to get on board. (You can read my take on this here.) He says we don't need the Stormwater Remediation Fee to take care of our obligations to keeping the Chesapeake Bay clean. He says that can be covered by the General Fund. Has he explained how he's going to do that?


No. At least, I can't find any specifics.


Mr. Kittleman wants you to come to a rally. He wants you to testify at the County Council meeting, and he wants you to write the County Council. "Look," he says. "The newspaper says people like me. The editorial staff approves of me. Governor Hogan is giving me money to widen Route 32." He's inviting you to join forces to be a part of his winning team.


I know some folks who, in the past, might have wanted to take a stand to support Mr. Kittleman but will probably take a pass to be a part of the team this time. Parents of children sickened by mold at Glenwood Middle. Parents of special education students who've been harassed by school system lawyers. Community members who have reached out to the County Executive in response to increasing dissatisfaction with Board of Education and Cental Office decisions. A grieving mother whose beautiful daughter can never be brought back.


I suspect many of these might have been the kind of people who wanted to see Mr. Kittleman succeed. But I think they just may sit this one out. A great social media campaign can't make up for a failure to respond to one's constituents. With these particular people, Kittleman just doesn't have "money in the bank" anymore.


Will the County Executive have his way? Perhaps. I think it's safe to say he's "optimistic."


If you want to turn out for Team Kittleman, your info is above. If you want to support the Stormwater Fee and protect the General Fund, write the County Council and come to tonight's Council Hearing: George Howard Building, 7:00 pm. (Wear green.)


There's no free rally for you, but I think you may still be able to purchase healthy snacks and drinks from the machines in the lobby.






Monday, January 18, 2016

Word of Mouth

I have a friend who likes to use Facebook as a way to get recommendations. She crowdsources suggestions on restaurants, travel, family daytrips, repair professionals, and more. It's amazing the information she is able to gather this way. She just puts it out to the universe and the universe almost always comes through. In abundance.

This was her most recent request.


A general dentist who is ;

Rich enough so he wouldn't think we are his only source of holiday funds,

Old enough to be kind and experienced with his chosen profession, and last but not least

Young enough to know the new studies,and open to talk about more than one option.

Do you know such magical person around HoCo? If you do please share her/his name with us.


She got over twenty-five responses. Most were overwhelmingly positive. I don't think I have ever seen so many good words about going to the dentist in the same place. My takeaway on this is that there a lot of people in Howard County that like their dentists. That's got to be a good thing. It also tells me that most of the people I know can afford some kind of dental care. That's good, too.


If you are looking for a dentist in Howard County, or reasonably nearby, I'll see if I can get permission to share this crowdsourced list. Word of mouth can be incredibly helpful. If you are a dentist, these are the things people care about most:


  • Consistently good care without frequent pressure for expensive procedures
  • Accepting a variety of insurance
  • Gentle and pleasant hygienists
  • Friendly office environment
  • Easy to make appointments

Of all of these, the quality of dental hygienists was high on the list. According to one commenter, they liked a hygienest because, "I don't leave there feeling mauled." Yikes. I think it's safe to say that if people leave fearing encounters with your dental hygienest, they aren't going to be motivated to make and keep regular dental checkups. And as a dentist, you really want them to do that.

One last thing. Years ago one of my daughters came home from school and talked about the special visitor they'd had that day. "Who was it?" I wanted to know.

"The gentle high dentist," she replied. "She was really nice."

Since then I've been convinced that the world needs more Gentle High Dentists. And my friend's Facebook question reinforces that. We're all searching for the great, good Gentle High Dentist.

The good news is that there seem to be quite a few in Howard County.


Sunday, January 17, 2016

An Evening of Unexpected Drama

Thursday's Board of Education meeting discussion of the calendar didn't unfold exactly as expected.

Most people thought this was going to be a decision between Option 1 or Option 2. Option 1, as you may recall, was keeping the calendar as it has been with school closing on the Jewish High Holy days, and Option 2 was to have school in session on those days, with school closed only on state-sanctioned holidays. This proposal at a December board meeting caused a good deal of community concern, followed by a large turn-out at a subsequent board meeting. People had plenty to say about how the school calendar treats the holy days of various religions in Howard County.

Now, before we get into Thursday's drama, let's talk about the Calendar Committee. Yes, there is one. And it is tasked with putting all the many variables that exist together into a workable school calendar. But they do not create the calendar plan and then give it directly to the Board. Au contraire, mes amis.

The calendar committee originally sent in Option 1 as a part of the 2016-2017 calendar. It is my understanding that it then went through what is called the Executive Cabinet (read Superintendent Foose) and then the committee was told to come back with a calendar proposal that left out the Jewish holidays. The Calendar committee does not operate in a vacuum. They make recommendations to Dr. Foose, and then she makes recommendations to the Board.

And that is why I was loathe to pin this on the Calendar Committee. Because it is just not that simple.

Back to the drama. The fact that the Superintendent was out of town (and that's another story) may have set the stage for the conversation around school holidays to, shall we say, "go rogue". There were numerous heated exchanges. Ann DeLacy held forth at great length about how the children had changed her mind on this issue and that she thought that all the religious groups asking for consideration should be honored. Even Rachel Lin, the Student Member of the Board, jumped in and made her opinions known.

It was a spirited debate. The vote on whether to go with Option 1 or Option 2 now looked quite divided, with declarations about additional closings floating around in the mix. Other than the general drama, the other reason I know that the vote didn't look secure was the fact the Board Member Cindy Vallaincourt, who had been home sick in bed, watching the meeting, showed up at the last minute to participate in the vote.

And then, somehow, despite major disagreements, the vote was unanimous. From the HoCo Times article by Lisa Phlip:

The motion, which was proposed by board member Janet Siddiqui and voted for by all eight board members, will give students days off on Lunar New Year Eve, as is the case in the current year, but also the Hindu holiday of Diwali, and the Muslim religious observance, Eid al-Adha -- either through school closings or professional development days for teachers. Schools will continue to be closed on the two holiest days of the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana.

So, here we are. My gut tells me that the Superintendent isn't going to be happy about this. On the other hand, this evening gave so many board members opportunities to look involved and responsive that I almost wonder...Was it a) a deliberate show, b) a bungled mess, c) something I haven't thought of, or d) all of the above?

I don't think we know yet.





Saturday, January 16, 2016


Tonight at UUCC in Owen Brown you can enjoy some music and do your bit to support social justice at their Music for Justice Concert. It starts at 7 pm. The performer is Jim Scott, and funds raised will go to the Penn North Children's Safe Zone. Soup and dessert will be served. There's just one thing. In keeping with their desire to reduce waste from the event, they're asking you do bring your own bowl and spoon with you. So, BYOB, and S. There will be a free will offering. Suggested donation is $20.00, but, as with many things, the UU's are flexible. Give what you can.

Today and tomorrow the Youth and Teen Center at The Barn in Oakland Mills is hosting their annual clothing giveaway days.

There's an article about the event here. The Youth and Teen Center runs a number of programs for local kids and offers a fun and safe after school environment. There are plenty of recreational events throughout the year and a special focus is placed on activities that develop leadership skills and boost self-esteem.
Through all of this runs a strong thread of service. Youth and Teen Program Coordinator Safire Windley says, "It's giving through kindness [and] just going that extra mile to inspire change and hope in our community." The clothing drive and giveaway is a huge annual project and it is a lot of work. The greatest success these kids will have is weekend will be connecting with people who really need clothes, so if you know of people or groups in need, please spread the word.
Yesterday's post brought out a lot of discussion on calendar changes. It was pointed out to me by several readers that I didn't mention the role the Calendar Committee played in all this. Never fear, I'll be back tomorrow with more on that, but I thinking we all deserve a day off from school sometimes, especially on a Saturday after what feels like a especially long week.


Friday, January 15, 2016

Things That Don't Make Sense

Three things that defy logic this week.

1. School board suggests it will do away with Jewish High Holy Days on the calendar as a way of justifying not observing other holidays of other religions. Action provokes a large community outcry. Board reverses itself and says now we'll observe all the religious holidays! (Well, probably not all. But more than anyone ever expected.)

What the heck was that all about? Your suggestions welcome. I'm particularly interested in whether you think it was a) a deliberate show, or b) a bungled mess. Or c) something I haven't thought of.

2. The County Executive and the Governor stage a press conference on a dangerous road to explain how dangerous it is. Good gravy! If that stretch of road is so dangerous, then holding a press event right in the thick of it can't be in the best interest of motorists, can it? (See more on decision to widen Route 32 here.) Not criticizing the decision itself, just the means of announcing it.

3. Cancer. Well, cancer defies logic every week. Like a mass shooter who picks out victims indiscriminately, cancer mows down people we know and don't know. Famous people, family, the friend of a friend, the person in the next town whose family is holding a fundraiser for treatment that we read about in the newspaper. Spouses, friends, the person next to us on the train with whom we will never have one single conversation.

We know one day it might be us.

We mourn in public the lost artistry and humanity of David Bowie and Alan Rickman. At the same time almost all of us are connected to someone who is fighting that battle. There are two people in my life right now--whose names you don't need to know--whose health and recovery is a daily battle. President Obama's challenge to take on cancer and beat it in our lifetimes is particularly meaningful to me this week.

Wait, I've got one more thing. I have a friend who has been diligently looking for a job since January, 2014 and, as of today, is still unemployed. This is just nuts. I'd like to help turn this story into one that makes sense, so if you have any ideas on how to get my friend hooked up with a job, contact me privately through the email address associated with the blog. Thanks.

What a week.


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Lake Woebegon Returns

A year ago I wrote this piece about signing up for high school courses. Entitled "Exceptional", the post examines questions about what choices are best for students. It concludes:

It's a fine line, isn't it? Like Lake Woebgon, in Howard County we want to believe that all our children are above average. But education should be about meeting the actual needs of the students. We should not be getting bogged down in a head game for adults. I'd like to hit a reset button on this one.

My daughter is now planning her schedule for the next three years. She doesn't feel a need to pile on AP courses, and we support that. There are a few she is interested in but none for her sophomore year. As she enters her choices into the school-provided scheduling app, it suggests helpfully, "You could be taking more rigorous courses. Have you considered signing up for AP classes?"

Oh, brother. Rigor, my favorite word.

I'm not the only one pondering the question of "how much is too much." In "Statistics vs. People", Candidate for Board of Education Kirsten Coombs writes:

Instead, HCPSS is pushing us to be Lake Wobegon - "Well, that's the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average."

I stopped my Mathematics education at Calculus II but all children are not above average. All children do, however, deserve to be treated as individuals in achieving their own goals, not those designed to make HCPSS look good.

There's Lake Woebegon again! And there, too, is the concern that the school system is pushing our children to be "exceptional" in the very same way, rather than helping students and their families make choices that honor individual needs and goals.

There's a lot about the public school system nationwide that harkens back to its roots as a way to turn out workers with just enough knowledge to provide the ever-growing factories of our country with qualified employees. Sometimes it seems as though the schools are factories unto themselves. The students are widgets. The teachers are placed along the production line to "deliver content" so that each widget will meet inspection criteria.

It feels like a numbers game. It is a numbers game. As a parent and a teacher I am interested in people who are questioning the benefit of protecting the production line. I've had these conversations with parents and with teachers. I'm looking forward to the upcoming race for Board of Education because I want to see where the other candidates stand on this issue.
What are the questions you want to ask?




From "Voices of parents and stakeholders in HCPSS" Facebook Page:

Another closed meeting has just been added to the Board of Ed schedule and it is for today at 2. We are not sure, but assume that they discussed the Superintendent's request for contract renewal at yesterday's closed meeting and will be voting today.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Next Up: Annapolis

The final State of the Union address from President Obama is still swirling around in my head. But, nearby in Annapolis, the Maryland State legislative session is about to begin. I don't know anywhere near enough about how that works. I have friends who were or are in the thick of it, and I get by through their posts, and by asking a lot of questions.

I'll admit that for many years I had very little idea what was going on in the State Legislature. The big turnaround for me came when a friend aspired to serve as a state delegate and spent a good deal of time articulating why that was important. It was a personal connection that drove it home to me. "This is why state government is important. This is why Howard County needs the very best representation in Annapolis."

This year I am more focused on the legislative session than I ever have been, because of the two pieces of legislation drafted in response to problems in the Howard County Schools. Due to the hearing at the Howard Building, and the Town Hall Meeting at HCC, the term "Howard County Delegation" is on more people's lips than ever before.

If you support the proposed legislation concerning the Howard County Schools, then this is your personal connection moment. The Howard County delegation has an opportunity to respond to the concerns of citizens. Either they will, or they won't. As a citizen you have every right to communicate with them on issues of importance. You have every right to let them know that a lack of support for citizens on their part will result in a lack of support for them on your part. That's politics, after all.

Wanting a school system that is equitable to all children and that operates in a responsive and transparent manner is a priority for all citizens in Howard County. It reaches across racial, ethnic, and socio-economic lines. It is bigger than divisions between political parties. Pay close attention to which legislators are representing the concerns of citizens, and those who vote to protect the powers that be.

For many of us, today begins State Government 101. It is my hope that more eyes will be on Annapolis during this legislative session than ever before. Of course, we hope our legislators will do the right thing even if we aren't watching, but...perhaps the thought of all those constituents who wrote letters, signed the petition, and spoke at the Town Hall Meeting needs to be reinforced in their minds by careful attention from the folks back home: we have put our trust in you. We are watching.

I'd like to see unanimous support for this legislation, and I have written as much to every single member of the Howard Delegation. Have you?


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Parking Violation

Sunday afternoon, in the way home from grocery shopping at the Food Lion, I noticed a piece of paper fluttering on my windshield. Someone had tucked a note under my wiper blade. I was puzzled. It didn't look like the usual full- or half-page adverts one sometimes gets while parked. When I got home I quickly retrieved it.

It was a torn-off piece of stationery or notepad, with red and black decorations around the edge. In curly cursive handwriting were these words:

Please learn how to park correctly.

Wow, was I ever embarrassed. And because I was already home I couldn't even look to see what I had done wrong. I don't have any sense of superiority or righteousness about my parking. Most of the time it's fine; sometimes it could be better. If I get out and see it's outrageous, I get back in and fix it.

What had I done? What had I done that prompted someone to stop, fish around for paper and a pen, and leave me a note? I'll never know. And to my mystery note-writer: I'm sorry.

I see a lot of comments on social media that make the assumption that people who park badly are selfish and rude. More than that, they make the assumption that transgressors know full well what they are doing and do it anyway. My own husband thinks this sort of thing is hilarious.

People who park badly are the people everyone loves to hate. And they feel absolutely no guilt in doing so. (Am I feeling defensive here? Well, maybe a little. No one has ever left me a note before.) But while bad parking can be an annoyance, most of the time that's all it is. Why this over-the-top response?

I can think of two reasons. One is that everyone has something that truly gets on their last nerve, and for many people, apparently this is it. But the other is something I wish people would think about: the assumption of intent. People feel justified in their outrage because they assume the other driver has deliberately parked in this manner and gets a big charge out of inconveniencing others.

Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe they are just having a bad day. We all have bad days. Sunday must have been mine. After my initial feelings of wanting to crawl in a hole and hide, I resolved to double-check in the future to make sure my parking is okay. And, if that is all the note-writer was going for, then there's a happy ending to the story.

If they wanted to make me feel like an idiot, they did that, too.


Monday, January 11, 2016

A Change of Heart

I'd like to recommend this post to you:

"A Healthy Harvest AND a Healthy Dose of Inspiration" by Susan Garber.

Yes, that Susan Garber. After her moment in the HoCo political spotlight was over, she started a blog, How Come? I haven't said anything about it here up until today because I have found it to be more of the same anger and negativity for which its author is locally famous.

But this post is different. Read it and you will see why. The piece is ostensibly about Howard County start-up Hungry Harvest, which recently won investment funds on Shark Tank. As you you read you'll see that it begins with one of Ms. Garber's notable actions, a letter to the editor. But then it takes a turn.

She sends an email to Hungry Harvest and they call her right back.

I don't want to spoil it for you. You must read it for yourself.

This piece is honest, informative, and most of all, humble. Ms. Garber concludes:

"Moral of the story: Reaching Out rather than Mouthing Off is a more effective strategy for bringing about needed change. Sounds like an especially good moral for writers and bloggers…….."

While I haven't often agreed with Ms. Garber in the past, she has earned my respect by being willing to take a clear-eyed look at herself and admit she was wrong about something. It takes a big person to be able to do that.


Now I am going to take a bit of a leap. If you believe in the proposed legislation aimed at improving the Howard County Schools, now is the time to do more than "Mouthing Off" about it. It's time for "Reaching Out". Write and call your representatives and tell them why you support these two measures.



Sunday, January 10, 2016

Hat Trick

Okay, so I have previously been schooled by Scott Ewart that public figures probably aren't running their own social media accounts. So I'm not going to blame this on Alan Kittleman.

RT @HoCoGovExec "Watch as I announce the release of the #HoCoMD Bicycle Master Plan! Click here: "

It's only because of my own age, juxtaposed with that of whoever wrote the tweet, that this immediately came to mind. I'm guessing it's not a cultural reference for them. But it certainly is for me. And now it cannot be unseen...

I will never again be able to see The County Executive without thinking of Bullwinkle Moose. Oh, well. There are worse things. Like maybe having to do the Bicycle Master Plan announcement outdoors on one of the coldest days of the year. Or bringing in schoolchildren for a press event so David Ramsay of hcpss could extol the benefits of Bicycle Master Plan to them. On one of the coldest days of the year.

Of course I'm a big fan of supporting methods of getting around town that provide alternatives to the ever-present automobile: bikes, better pedestrian options like increasing sidewalks and crosswalks where there are none, better public transit. And, since Mr. Kittleman used Blandair Park as the backdrop for his announcement, it's worth noting that Blandair is just a hop, skip, and a jump from the future site of Bridge Columbia. I'm looking forward to some bold leadership there.

It was a busy week for the County Executive, as he undertook a sort of whirlwind tour of numerous county schools in support of--well, I don't actually know what. It certainly looks as though he is throwing his entire support behind the Superintendent and Board of Education at a very difficult time when the community and legislators are demanding accountability. Interesting.

As more information comes out about the mold issues at Glenwood, it's awfully brave of Mr. Kittleman to put his name and face out there in support of the powers that be in hcpss.* It certainly makes it easier for plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit to decide who to name, doesn't it? It looks like he doesn't want to be left out of any of the excitement.




*Fun fact: at the Bike Howard Master plan meeting, a parent said they should fix the mold at Glenwood before building any bike paths.




Saturday, January 9, 2016

Ticket to Paradise?

Yes, I am going to buy a Powerball ticket. As I told my son-in-law, aside from a few personal splurges my goal would be to become a full-time philanthropist. The idea of being able to help causes and projects I believe in is a fantasy well worth the two-dollar price of a ticket.

High on my list of projects to fund:
  • Bridge Columbia
  • Blessings in a Backpack
  • Bridges to Housing Stability
  • A certain local baker's dream for a better kitchen in Oakland Mills
  • Merriweather Park in Symphony Woods
Last night I had the opportunity to see the musical Matilda at the Kennedy Center in DC. Maybe it has something to do with my age, but I am much more profoundly moved by the vision and work it must have taken to create the Kennedy Center itself than anything else about the experience. Arts spaces are so important to our culture, a sign of who we are.

It must have taken a lot of money and a lot of political will to bring the Kennedy Center into being. I thought a lot last night how it is hard to get people in positions of power to agree on anything these days. A dream project from one side of the aisle is the subject of derision from the other. I wonder if the Kennedy Center could get built today.

I don't know if you remember, but long-term plans for Merriweather Park in Symphony Woods include an Arts Village. It's a long way off but if I won the Powerball you can be sure it would be a high priority for me. Columbia and Howard County are bursting with performing arts groups and yet we have quite a limited number of performance venues. What a thrill it would be for me to help bring that Arts Village into existence.

A two-dollar dream doesn't get you very far. I'm quite clear on how unlikely a Powerball win would be. It's still deliciously tantalizing, though. As to my personal splurge?

I'd like a treehouse.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Ripped from the Headlines!

Well, more like Friday Links*, actually. Just got a little excited there.

Headline: After fire and mold, Glenwood Middle students to be relocated.

To my knowledge this is the first news headline that assumes mold as a given, rather than "worries of mold", "suspicion of mold", and others of the like. Although moving students off-site in response to the fire damage may take the focus off of the school building, I have a hunch that there's plenty of mold-related news out there ready to break.

Headline: George Wallace's family, former staff: Donald Trump is doing what he did.

Remember that piece I did on demagoguery? It seems I wasn't too far off the mark.

Headline: Move to gender-neutral graduation dress sparks debate in Howard County.

This is an excellent move by the school system. Wearing a graduation robe is a sign of academic achievement. It has absolutely nothing to do with gender. We don't have boy diplomas and girl diplomas. But if you read the comments on this article you'd see that there are some people who think you should consult your "boy parts or girl parts" before choosing a graduation robe. Ugh. (As an aside, there was a conversation about this on the Clarksville Happenings Facebook Page, and it was refreshingly open-minded.)

Finally, I saw this tweet from an (unnamed) high school last night:

High School Tweet: AP Scholars - wear your scarves tomorrow (Fri) for the Step It Up Expo!

I find the push to make high school students pile on multiple AP classes concerning, and something about this tweet brought to mind the old Soviet Days of the Young Pioneers. And that made me very glad indeed that we have candidates running for the Board of Education who are willing to look beyond the AP hype and consider what is truly best for our kids.

Have a great weekend and think snow. Isn't it about time for a little?




*H/T HoCoRising


Thursday, January 7, 2016


You may have heard that Wegmans had filed the paperwork to reapply for that license to open a liquor store and then thought better of it. The continuing saga of Wegmans, that upstairs space, and Howard County regulations fascinates me. As far as I am concerned it is worthy of a multi-part Frank Hecker analysis.

That space at Wegmans cries out for a multitude of creative uses. One such use was the Columbia Association's World Language Café. From David Greisman,

Columbia Association’s (CA) World Languages Café began in early 2013 as a way to provide great evenings of conversations and culture in more than a dozen different languages. Now, as the popular program approaches its third anniversary, the World Languages Café will start 2016 by moving to a different location and a different day of the week.

So, no liquor store at Wegmans, and no World Languages Café either. Okay...

I haven't been brave enough to attend one of the Café events. Have you? I'm not sure how far I could get on rusty high school French and Spanish. If you are interested in seeing what it's like, they're now going to be held at the East Columbia Branch Library in Owen Brown.

The World Languages Café will meet on the fourth Tuesday of the month at the 50+ Center at East Columbia Library, 6600 Cradlerock Way in Owen Brown. Upcoming sessions will be on Jan. 26, Feb. 23, March 22, April 26, May 24 and June 28. All sessions are scheduled from 7 to 9 p.m.

But wait, there's more. I recently learned that the East Columbia Branch is going to be closing for renovations beginning in July and won't reopen to the public until March, 2017. My immediate response: augh! That's my branch! Change is hard. It's really silly to be upset, when you consider how close most of the other branches are. (And I still haven't made the trek to Glenwood, a whole 17 miles away...)

Now here's a thought. Imagine how lovely it would be to temporarily relocate the East Columbia branch to Wegmans. There's nothing really going on upstairs...


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Big Chill

It's cold.

Big surprise, right? You knew that already.

But, in a winter which has been on-again, off-again it is suddenly and bitterly cold. Last week we were worrying about confused plants starting to bloom. Now it is 14 degrees. What the heck? It's rather stunning, almost as though we had forgotten what Winter was like. Maybe Winter just won't come this year, we thought.

I'm sitting in a comfy chair under a soft blanket and our heat is churning away. Nice and toasty. My husband and daughter went into the morning chill reluctantly, but bundled up with winter outerwear: heavy jackets, hats, scarves, gloves.

Winter is here with a vengeance, at least for now. And there are people in Howard County who are more than surprised. They are unprepared. Children without warm clothing, senior citizens without adequate heat, people who have no homes at all. It is incomprehensible to me that we have people living outside in tents in Howard County, but I don't think we have been able to eradicate that yet. How is our plan to end homelessness coming along?

I saw this yesterday on Facebook:

Last year the Community Action Council of Howard County provided energy & weatherization assistance to almost 6,000 HoCo residents - visit the link to find help or to provide help.

That started me thinking about all those people out there who are unprepared, and all the different ways our community tries to help.

Grassroots Crisis Intervention. In addition to emergency family shelter, they also operate a Day Resource Center on Route 1. The Day Center "...provides meals, showers, limited laundry, fellowship and social services to homeless individuals in the Howard County Route 1 corridor." Grassroots also partners with the area faith community on the Cold Weather Shelter which provides emergency shelter in area churches during the Winter months.

The Columbia Youth and Teen Center organizes and hosts a free clothing drive every year. This year's distribution dates are January 16 and 17th.

How else do we, as a community, help our fellow citizens during the coldest time of the year? How can people who want to help get involved? If you needed help, would you know where to go to find it?

In the meantime, if you go out, bundle up. Put a hat on. Zip up that jacket, for heaven's sake!