Friday, September 30, 2016

What the Man Said

"Why is she so angry?" the man said.

"I guess you think she should smile more, eh?" I said.

"That will work," the man said. "A negative emotion makes the message look negative, no matter how noble the intentions."

The world is full of men telling women to smile more. This particular woman is a highly experienced and able candidate. She deserves more than that description.

Other women said:

  • Women are told how to behave.
  • Rules for men and women candidates are different.
  • Yes, "just smile and stop yelling."

The another man spoke. "I thought she came off fine. Intense, passionate, polished, and serious. She's ready for the job."

"Why is she so angry?"

"She's ready for the job."

It seems like we've been hearing a lot of this lately.

This has been a rough political season. The national election has brought out the sexists on a large scale. Except this conversation wasn't about the Presidential election or Hillary Clinton, although it certainly sounds like it.

It was about a candidate for the Howard County Board of Education.

It seems that even in Howard County there are men distressed by what they perceive as "angry women" seeking higher office. Women who are, in reality, qualified, experienced, passionate, articulate.

Think our only problem is Sheriff Fitzgerald? Think again.








Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Loudest Lout

Sheriff Fitzgerald still has a badge and a gun. He holds a position of authority and is still drawing a paycheck. What he does not have is the respect of the community, their trust, or their confidence. Why? Because recent events have revealed that he does not respect and embody the values of our community. His words and actions have been filled with racism and derision.

Rumor has it he'd like to stay. I sincerely hope this is a faulty rumor. It is completely impossible for someone with so little regard for the citizens of Howard County to continue to hold this position. This is not who we are. This is not Howard County, I hear people say. This is not Columbia.

In the midst of many online conversations about this issue I bumped into this by Alice Marks (HoCoHouseHon).

I feel like it's incredibly naive to think that this kind of racism is rare in Howard County or anywhere in America. We tend to notice racism which is spoken or racism proved violently at the point of a gun, but rarely do we deign to notice the casual, soft racism which is integral to our culture. This one man voices the racism of many. Most are too "nice" to say it out loud. We can be shocked, but we should not be surprised. We foster this.

I don't think it's naive to expect better - I think it's naive to think this problem isn't endemic to American society as a whole. Of course I want us to respect each other. But we don't. We should totally oust outspoken racists, but we need to be willing to look into ourselves for our own biases. How many of us have friends who have said something outré? How many of us have stood by when family members have been quietly racist? Common decency is too often a shield for not admitting our own silent bigotry. I want more. Getting rid of the loudest lout is only one step in the long journey of ridding our country of systemic racism.

She's right. Fitzgerald is the loudest lout in the room and he must go, but that is not enough. We can't pretend that he is some alien being that got dropped into the nest like a cowbird's egg. Even in Howard County there are those who allow racism to go unchallenged by ignoring, looking the other way, enabling. And by well-meaning people who don't stand up.

Maybe sometimes that's me. Or you. Because we don't want to rock the boat or make a fuss or get into a socially awkward or confrontational situation.

"We can be shocked, but we should not be surprised. We foster this."

It is time, long past time, to stop fostering and to commit to doing better. Fitzgerald must go. Then let's get to work to make Howard County a place that's fair and safe for all, and where the Fitzgeralds of the world cannot hide.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Trying for Gratitude

It's Wednesday. There's a flash flood watch. I've been up since five o'clock and no local topics are leaping out at me. Let's try this gratitude thing again, shall we?

  • Parents like Atticus' mom who advocate for children in the school system.
  • Continuing progress on the Chrysalis in Merriweather Park/Symphony Woods.
  • New Weis Food Market in Oakland Mills.
  • Howard County Library's Choose Civility Year of Kindness initiative.
  • Columbia's first-place ranking by Money Magazine.
As always, I encourage you to add in your reasons to be grateful in the comments. The more, the merrier.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Shut Out

Let Atticus learn. He wants to learn. He's twelve years old and he has within him the motivation to do great things. But when he comes to school each day the doors to learning are closed to him.

I have been following Atticus's story through his mother's page on Facebook: Let Them See Clearly Campaign. Atticus has Binocular Vision Disorder and the Howard County Schools have so far been unwilling and/or unable to provide him with the accommodations he is entitled to under the IDEA. Atticus himself testified during the Public Forum at last week's BOE meeting.

You can read more about Atticus in Lisa Philip's story here. It is the story of a parent and child whose only goal is to open the doors of learning. Imagine yourself in this child's shoes: compelled every day to go to a place where adults encourage you to do things that you cannot do, and that will make you sick. Imagine yourself as his mother, one person against an unhelpful and unsympathetic system.

Howard County Schools used to be known as providing the gold standard in special education services. Sadly, that is no longer true. I have to wonder if the current focus from the top on test scores and the yearly gutting of the special education budget have something to do with this. Teachers in the classroom struggle daily to do what is best but are they being provided with the support and funds to give their students what the law requires?

Data show that unlimited funding goes to lawyers to fight parents of special education students who are attempting to get the school system to provide their children with free and appropriate education to which they are rightly entitled. Imagine what an amazing change would come about if we shifted where that money goes.

Imagine that. Imagine the doors to learning opening for Atticus, and for many other children whose names we do not know.











Monday, September 26, 2016

Way Out West

I ventured out of my neck of the woods to pick up an item I found on Craigslist yesterday. I found myself in a neighborhood of relatively new construction which appeared to be built surrounding a cornfield and a grain storage facility. I'm guessing that the entire area was once agricultural. Does anyone know more about this? I think I saw a sign that said "Hearth and Grain." Does this count as Agricultural Preservation?


From there I decided to zip on over to the Lisbon Dollar store. Holy Mackerel, there's an enormous Trump sign in front of the entire Lisbon Shopping Center. I'm trying to imagine an enormous political sign in front of Long Gate or Columbia Crossing. I just can't picture it. Whose permission would one have to get to post a sign like that? The owner of the shopping center? (The Oakland Mills Village Center has so many individual property owners they'd never be able to agree on a candidate.)


I've noticed Trump signs going up along my route as I drive home from work. There's another large one on 108 in Highland, no surprise. What's up with the homemade sign with stick-on letters posted next to it? It said something about Kittleman but I didn't stop to check it out. The next day it was gone, so, somebody didn't like it, I guess.


On the way back from Lisbon I noticed an large Hillary sign doctored with an intent to insult and defame. Is that a legal use of a campaign sign? Forgive me if that sounds naive. It just doesn't seem like an appropriate use of a campaign sign, no matter who does it.


Back in my neighborhood, I discovered the Big Orange Signs are returning to their usual haunts. As far as I am concerned, those signs are a helpful indicator that there are better places to buy gas. If you see that sign, just keep on driving to find one.


There's a lot of money behind the incumbent's campaign for Board of Education. I'm hoping that people power will be stronger on Election Day.


Sunday, September 25, 2016

Voter Fail

Some frustrated head banging going on over here today. Why?

This. "Report against Howard County sheriff unveils 'common knowledge' of a 'living hell' unchecked for years, sources say," by Fatimah Waseem of the Howard County Times.

I voted for this man. I voted for him because he was a Democrat and I'm a Democrat and I just trusted that was the right decision. To be honest, I didn't really even understand what the position of Sheriff entailed. I just knew that Howard County had one.

I pride myself on getting to know the issues and the actors in local politics but in this case I was merely a low-information voter. I am just kicking myself.

I continue to have questions about why we need to have a partisan race for sheriff. I do understand better now what the Sheriff and the Sheriff's office actually does. But why do we make a partisan choice for this position? This still makes no sense to me. And yet up until last week I was perfectly content to not know and just trust it was all working they way it was supposed to.

How could his man have gone through interviews for endorsements without setting off some major red flags? Even if he chose his language carefully, wouldn't his temperament have shone through? Or is he a master of conning the people who might have had the power to rein him in?

In my experience men like this--abusers--are notable for their belief that they know everything. I fear nothing so much as a man who knows everything, to paraphrase Mme. de Sevigné. Men like this also believe that rules don't apply to them. (I'm not suggesting that a woman couldn't be like this. My personal experience has been with men.)

I have a hard time believing that these qualities didn't present themselves earlier and that Democratic Party leadership didn't pick up on this. I also have a hard time believing that there are people like this who are Democrats.

There are a few notable Republicans who read this blog and I would appreciate it if you didn't jump in and gloat in the comment section. You may recall I've been less than supportive of Democrats gloating over Republican failings. I don't really think it looks good on anybody, to be honest.

Fitzgerald has clearly got to go. Of course the best way would be for him to acknowledge that he has lost the confidence of the citizens of Howard County and resign. Short of that, options for his removal must follow whatever laws are in place to resolve such predicaments. We're going to need some bipartisan cooperation to make that happen.



Saturday, September 24, 2016

Here Is My Story, Mike Smith

In November of the year 2000 my second daughter was born. Some time around February 2001 I was diagnosed with post-partum depression. I had returned to full-time work as a Kindergarten teacher at an independent school and the bottom fell out. It is an experience I would not wish on my worst enemy.

My primary care provider prescribed two very helpful medications and sent me to therapy. It was an incredibly rocky time. I remember counting the hours until I could take my anti-anxiety medication. The journey back from hell was slow going and it wouldn't have happened without therapy, medication, and family support.

During that time I taught Kindergarten, and beyond that I worked in after school care for the Columbia Association and then for twelve years I taught music and movement to preschoolers with special needs in the Howard County School System. I am now employed as a preschool teacher at Sandy Spring Friends School in Montgomery County.

I am an adult who has sought and received mental health treatment. I have benefited from therapy and medication and through it all I have been an excellent early childhood educator. I have never, not for one moment, been a danger to the children in my care.

Thursday night former BOE candidate Mike Smith got up in a Board Meeting and attempted to smear Board Member Cindy Vaillancourt by prying into her personal health records. He doesn't actually have any such information in his possession. But it was his intent to make it look as though he knew something that would prove her unqualified to serve.

For shame.

Trespassing into the personal privacy of someone's health records is very likely a HIPAA violation and targeting Ms. Vaillancourt in this way is both a clear example of bullying and a violation of the rule that the public speakout is not to be used on matters of personnel. The fact that Board Chair Christine O'Connor did not immediately put a stop to this is deeply disappointing.

Do you know what they call people who seek treatment for mental health issues? They are family, friends, coworkers, perhaps your pastor, a local politician or your child's teacher. Do you know what they call people who don't seek treatment for mental health issues?


Too many people fear the stigma attached to getting help for depression and we lose them. We lose their talents, their love, their contributions to our community. Why do they fear that stigma? Because of people like Mike Smith and whoever put him up to this egregious stunt.

I'll probably struggle with depression and social anxiety all my life. It's a part of who I am, along with my love of writing, my funky upcycled crafting and my deep, deep devotion to teaching young children.

I won't allow Mike Smith to make me ashamed of who I am, or to attack good people like Cindy Vaillancourt. If you feel the same way, contact our local chapter of NAMI at . (Email address: Let them know that you support mental health treatment without shame and that you condemn this vile attempt at discrediting a wise and devoted public servant.













Friday, September 23, 2016

Amazon and the Deluge

I've made no secret of enjoying online shopping, especially when it comes to Christmas. I love our local shopping mall but I make it a point to stay away from Thanksgiving until about January. I'm not saying I recommend this behavior. I'm just saying that I believe that the Winter holidays should be about love and goodwill to one's fellow creatures and the Mall at Christmas does not exactly reinforce that feeling in me.

Also, as a generally shy person, I find online shopping delightfully devoid of challenging social interactions. I adore finding quirky new online stores, exciting bargains, free shipping offers. I love watching the boxes arrive and pile up as Christmas approaches.

I had a nightmare last night that Christmas was only a few days away and I hadn't done any shopping. I awoke with a sense of impending dread. And then a thought. A "what if?"

What if my family made this Christmas an Ellicott City Christmas? What if we all agreed to do all our holiday shopping there? What if we scoped out the shops that have re-opened and told eachother, "I'd really love this _____ from ________." Or visited the Saturday market and picked up some things, or the shops of displaced merchants at Turf Valley.

What kind of impact could we make if we made a conscious decision to shop Ellicott City for Christmas, Hanukkah, birthday gifts and more?

We've all watched the video of the rushing waters where ordinary citizens join hands to rescue a woman from her car on Main Street. We marvel at the quick thinking and out-and-out heroism their actions entailed. This is our chance to link hands, to think big, to engage in another sort of rescue. Supporting Ellicott City merchants is our opportunity to be heroes, to reach out, to make a difference.

Think about it. Talk to your friends and family. Make this year's holiday an Ellicott City one.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Massaging the Message

It was not overdone. Tasteful, not lavish. A table was set out with refreshments--some fruit and cheese, perhaps some sweets. There was wine along with other non-alcoholic drinks.

The setting was a large floor in a downtown office building which was divided up into smaller work areas. A large conference table dominated the section where we were located. As I recall the ceilings were unfinished and an interesting light fixture hung down over our table.

I had been invited to a small group gathering of the Howard Hughes Corporation to discuss their vision of the upcoming legislation on downtown development. I gather that their goal was to spread the Howard Hughes message through hospitality and polite discussion. They invited people who have a voice in the community, in the hopes that those voices would be shared and amplified.

It was a pleasant enough event. Greg Fitchitt touched on improvements to the downtown area and then moved on to the two areas of importance: affordable housing, and the TIF. I found it interesting that the tone taken by HHC employees if any mention was made of differing points of view was, "Yes, there are these misconceptions out there, and we don't have any idea where they are coming from."

It reminded me of grownups who take a sad and sorry tone with disobeying children. "No, Billy, I'm not angry that you didn't make the right choice. I'm just...disappointed."

Also, since none of the dissenting folks were invited to be there, we as attendees were presented with the Howard Hughes way of life vs. those nameless, mysterious misconceptions. It certainly was their right to present themselves in this way. I personally found it a little odd.

I'm excited about what's happening in Columbia. I have written about that here many times. I can't wait for the opening of the Chrysalis in Merriweather Park in Symphony Woods. I want to see better transit, more walkable, bikeable streets and the kind of residences and businesses that bring in younger people to become a part of the Columbia experience. I have followed the evolution of the Downtown Plan with a sense of positive anticipation.

I suspect that's why I was invited to this event.

But two things that were said that day gave me pause. In discussing the TIF, Greg Fitchitt said, "You can't have the Downtown Plan without the TIF. You can have garden apartments and Walmarts, but you can't have the Downtown Plan."

Really? Did he just say that? I jotted something down and then waited for a turn to ask a question.

"I'm just taking notes to make sure I understand everything. Did you just say that the Howard Hughes Corporation isn't able to fulfill the mission of the Downtown Plan without the TIF?"

There was a brief moment of uncomfortable silence. Then Mr. Fitchitt confirmed that was what he had said.

Wait, what? Wasn't Howard Hughes present during the development of the Downtown Plan? "Walmarts and garden apartments?" Why didn't that come up then?

I'm not angry that you said that, Mr. Fitchitt, I'm just...disappointed.

And one more thing. In addressing the HHC plan for affordable housing, Mr. Fitchitt went to great lengths to explain how complicated it all is.

"Now Jen says it's really simple. And her plan is simple. She..."

Jen? I beg your pardon? You are first-naming a member of the Howard County Council?

Her name is Councilwoman Terrasa. The last person to first-name her in public was the Chair of the Board of Education, and it wasn't a good look for her, either.

I thank the folks at HHC for their hospitality. The event was quite informative, and I met some interesting people. What I learned most of all is that if you limit who you invite to sit around your table, you have a greater opportunity to hone and fine-tune your message. It's an interesting technique.

If we are going to get this right, I think that the County Council is going to need to be more broad-minded than that. I think there's still some negotiating to be done to make this a fairer and more equitable plan for Columbia. Yes, it must be feasible and financially profitable for Howard Hughes. But it also has to include the people who weren't invited for wine and cheese.








Wednesday, September 21, 2016

No Gratitude

No Gratitude Wednesday. No gratitude, No justice. No peace.


Black Americans continue to be gunned down by police. It's not happening in Howard County but you can bet it affects people who live here. How could it not?


You could be reading a book or dealing with a broken down car and you can be considered to be a threat and summarily executed. This is not okay.


We have laws in our country. There's a reason we have them. And putting someone to death on the spot for perceived threat is not what we, as Americans, should stand for.


This absolutely has to stop, and I have no earthly idea how to make it stop.


I'm not grateful today. I'm sick, and sad, and angry.





Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Picture Perfect

Woo hoo! We finally beat Eden Prairie!

Yesterday local news was filled with exclamations of joy over Columbia's 1st place finish in the Time/Money Magazine's Best Places to Live in America ranking. Here's a celebratory photo by Scott Kramer taken down at the Lakefront, featuring County Exective Allan Kittleman.

Photo by Scott Kramer

But who are those other people behind the flower bed? Enquiring minds want to know. Right off the bat I recognize Jane Dembner, Columbia Association's Director of Planning and Community Affairs, and Barbara Kellner, Director of the Columbia Archives. And there are a few people I'm almost certain I recognize but I'm afraid of goofing. Can someone give me an accurate run-down, left-to-right?

I'm very curious about how this photograph came to be. I guess the story behind the story is often more fascinating to me. And I'm also guessing that those people have something to do with what makes Columbia such a great place to live. Standing in the background of a photo may not feel like such an honor, in the grand scheme of things. Maybe that's why I want to shed a little light on these people.

Of course no one photograph can capture all those folks who contribute to community-building. A picture is a moment, an idea of something. Columbia, whether you think it's award-worthy or not, is bustling with both movers-and-shakers and the kind of people who are working in the background to make sure things run smoothly.

We can't make it happen without both kinds of people.


Speaking of people you don't always see, I heard a wonderful interview with David Greisman on WTOP yesterday afternoon. David is a 'hometown kid' who grew up to be Senior Manager of Media Relations and Communication at Columbia Association. I'm not able to find a link to the piece right now, but his description of Columbia was spot-on.


Thanks to David for the following: That photo includes: Jane Dembner, Norma Heim (director of communications and marketing at CA), Scott Templin (community planner for CA), Mary Weeks (video production manager for CA), Ron Meliker (acting human resources director for CA), Dan Burns (director of sport and fitness for CA), Marlys East (managing director of Columbia's 50th Birthday), Barbara Kellner, and Janet Evans (CA Board member, Long Reach) Also David Greisman, Nancy McCord (CA Board member, Wilde Lake), Sean Harbaugh (assistant division director of CA Open Space Management), Michelle Miller (director of community services for CA), plus county public information folks.

If I have overlooked anyone, please let me know. --jam


Monday, September 19, 2016

Indoor Recess

I heard a strange sound this morning. At first I thought it was something leaking in the kitchen. Then I realized it was coming from outside.


The prospect of a day of rain when contemplating life with three year olds is a bit daunting. Young children need to move. I guess today we'll see what happens if we put on our rain coats and rain boots and go exploring. It could be fun. It could be messy. It could be a whole new world. Or it could be a disaster. I guess we'll find out.

I don't think I will ever feel the same about rain after what happened in Ellicott City. If the rain seems even remotely heavy I find myself worrying about what that will mean for Main Street recovery. Rain just isn't rain anymore. It's an adversary.

Most of the time we live our lives as though changes in the weather do not affect us. We have climate control, strong houses and offices, cars that can get around under most meterological conditions. We forget what it was like when humans lived their lives dependent on every change of light and dark, sun and rain. We live in blithe defiance of the language of nature.

Except when nature breaks through, and speaks louder than our "civilized" attempts to outwit it.

In Howard County we have a lot of thinking to do about rain, and safety, and how people fit in to the landscape and the natural world. We need to be mindful of the limits of our own accomplishments and respectful of what nature has to say about all of this. We need to pay attention. We're much more attuned to pushing forward with our own needs and wants. We've lost that healthy respect for our natural environment that used to be an essential for survival.

As for me, my day may be full of splashing in puddles and changing muddy clothes. Or it could be an indoor dance party. For us "survival" is a simple matter of getting through a school day with a sense of fun intact. We can avoid the rain or embrace the rain.

But it will still be there.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Taking Howard County Back to the Middle Ages

We all know that person who wants to go back to "the time when things were better." Heck, most of us have moments when we wish we could return to a kinder, gentler world. I'm happy to announce that Abiding Savior Lutheran Church is offering a one-night time-traveling experience which will take your mind off politics, world events, and day-to-day woes. And it's free.

On Monday, September 26th, (that's one week from tomorrow) Abiding Savior will present Stary Olsa in concert at 7 pm. Admission is free, just click the link to let them know if you're coming so they will know how many people to expect.

An evening in the Middle Ages could be just the thing to clear your head of twenty-first century stress. From the event page:

Belarusian band Stary Olsa occupies a unique position at the intersections where past meets present, tradition mingles with innovation, and contemporary creative expression has demanded the cultivation of skills that date back to the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Much like their namesake (a wandering brook in the Mahilou region), Stary Olsa's path has been full of twists and turns, and is inextricably linked to the traditional culture, history and music of Belarus and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

The band has recorded twelve albums of traditional Belarusian ballads, martial songs, and canticles in addition to popular European songs from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Their most current album Medieval Classic Rock, is the result of YouTube postings of informal rehearsal videos in which band members played their favorite rock tunes.

As they kick off their first tour of the states, Stary Olsa's aim is to not only introduce U.S. audiences to the beauty of the Belarusian culture and the richness of its age-old musical traditions, but also show how much it has in common with modern rock classics as they bring living history to the stage!

You can learn more about the band and view performances at their website.

I know Monday is a hard time to add something in to your schedule, but this is going to be fun and well worth your time. How often to you get to venture outside "the Bubble" without driving miles out of your way?

When the concert is over, you'll feel refreshed, and you'll return to all of the conveniences of modern day living with an extra spring in your step.




Saturday, September 17, 2016

Last Night

Last night I stopped by the Oakland Mills Food Lion to pick up a few things. And to say thank you. As of today the OM Food Lion is no more. It will reopen in a week as a Weis Market. Big grocery store corporations eat other grocery store corporations and then smaller pieces are spit out, re-sorted and assimilated.

Things will change but the big news is that we will still have a grocery store. We are an older Columbia Village Center and we have a grocery store. I wonder how the gloom and doom people on the Village Board can explain that? Sure, we are an older Village Center coping with life in a post-Rouse age with significantly different financial realities.

But we are not dead.

On a Friday night the Village Center was busy and so was the Food Lion, filled with people doing their Friday night shopping. Maybe some had read the signs out front and were dashing in to get some basic before the one week closure.

The Food Lion has not always been perfect. I have complained about it, off and on, in this space. But it has been there for us all these years when other villages no longer had their own grocery. It has been there for residents who must walk to buy groceries. Most of the time it has been reliably okay, and it has been close by and so convenient.

It has NOT been the scene of wholesale looting by teenagers, as suggested by an outgoing member of the BOE who should know better.

I have gotten to know a few of the employees and I made sure to say hi last night and thank them for being a part of our neighborhood grocery. The good news is that many of them will stay on under the new owners. Some of them are hopeful, some are jaded. A job is a job. All were happy to hear someone say "thank you."

On the first day the Food Lion was open my husband went down with our young daughter to take a look around. To amuse her, and perhaps for his own enjoyment, he brought along a very large lion puppet named Dusty. Dusty told curious onlookers he was there looking for "lion food." I don't think he found any but as I recall he settled for bacon.

I chatted up the woman who rang up my lottery ticket last night, telling her how grateful we were for her work. She got a little teary.

"Oh you're so nice you're probably going to win the lottery!" she said.

That would be pretty cool. But as long as my village has people out and about on a Friday night, and awesome schools with amazing parents, a bustling Farmers Market and a wild and wacky Second Chance Saloon where we can chill out after a long week--well, maybe I've already won the lottery.

Thanks for being our neighbor, Food Lion. And to Weis Markets, we will be here to welcome you to your new hOMe.


Friday, September 16, 2016

What Is The Point?

I arrived at work at 7:30 am yesterday and left at around 8:30 pm. (Back to School night.) I don't regret one moment but every bone in my body aches. This morning is going to feature a direct trip to Dunkin Donuts for a large iced coffee.

There are plenty of things going on around town but today I'm going to take a break and refer you to a speech given by the Head of School at SSFS, Tom Gibian. It was his opening message to students at an All-School Assembly this week. Yes, the whole school: three year olds through high school seniors. There were a variety of student performances, both vocal and instrumental, dancers, and a slide show of the opening day of school.

Those were the things which fascinated my students. But I've been keeping Tom's speech in my heart. It shows that there's more than one way to view the education of our children. He begins:

Every morning when I wake up, one of the first things I think about is how we can make Sandy Spring Friends School an even more amazing place. I spend time on this question because no other question makes sense. I don’t want to think about how we can make Sandy Spring Friends School less amazing. I don’t want to think about how we can make Sandy Spring Friends School more ordinary, more like other schools. I already know how to do that. We would have less art. We would ask fewer questions. We would have less time for reflection. We would have less purple hair. We would not sit expectantly in Meeting for Worship. We would eat less food from the garden. We would be less welcoming. We might learn stuff but we would not see the connection to taking action.

Take a moment to read his message. See what you think.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Unhealthy Messages

My daughter came home from school talking about a poster on the wall in her health class that bothered her. There was just something about it that gave her a bad feeling. I asked her if she could snap a picture of it.


You may not remember ...

"Did you see her last weekend?"

"I can't believe she did that!"

"I bet she doesn't even remember what happened."

"She was so drunk."

...but they will.

First of all, let me state that I am in complete agreement with a goal of addressing underage drinking in health classes with adolescents. I think it's an extremely important issue. But this particular poster is way off base.

It doesn't address health issues. It's a clear example of shaming. And it's really girl-specific. Teenaged girls are already plagued enough by the fear of other people talking about them. They've been socialized to care far too much about that. Now we're going to add another fear--if you drink, people will talk about you behind your back.

I can't for the life of me imagine what a teenaged boy version of this poster would be. It just wouldn't happen. I'm sure boys have their own issues, but they are not going to see a poster of themselves wracked with self-doubt while other boys critique their weekend drinking. And what makes me feel an inherent sexism in this poster.

And can we talk a moment about rape culture? That's what bothered by daughter right off the bat. There's an underlying suggestion that something bad happened that she can't remember. But the poster sends the message that the girl herself is at fault. Not only that, it seems that the major damage that's done to this girl is that she has become the target of gossip.

Hold the phone, people. Don't drink. You could get raped and people will talk about you!

This may be a really old poster, and goodness knows teachers don't have enough money this year for materials of instruction. But all across the country schools and courts are dealing with the consequences of a culture which has brushed date rape/acquaintance rape under the rug. Not a week goes by when a rapist isn't given any more than a slap on the wrist because the judge thinks if she was unconscious it wasn't really rape.

Let's talk about alcohol use with teens. Let's talk about what real consent looks like. Let's talk about responsible behavior. Let's talk about friends who rally around you after you've made bad choices and lift you up instead of putting you down.

Let's talk about Grace.

But please, please, please make it a message for every student. A real solution must include everyone. Girl-shaming just makes it worse.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Actions Speak Louder

Once to every man and nation,

Comes the moment to decide,

In the strife of truth with falsehood,

For the good or evil side;

Some great cause, some great decision,

Offering each the bloom or blight,

And the choice goes by forever,

’Twixt that darkness and that light.

Then to side with truth is noble,

When we share her wretched crust,

Ere her cause bring fame and profit,

And ’tis prosperous to be just;

Then it is the brave man chooses

While the coward stands aside,

Till the multitude make virtue

Of the faith they had denied.

-- James Russell Lowell


These are the first two stanzas of a hymn written by James Russell Lowell on the occasion of the United States war with Mexico, which he opposed. It has been removed from current Episcopal hymnals not, as some would tell you, because it contains the word "man" and has been declared sexist. No, it has been put aside for a deeper reason. The crux of the hymn is that we get "one chance" to make the choice for good or evil. This notion is, in fact, heresy. Episcopalians believe that our lives are full of many choices and opportunities to take a stand for what is right. It's not just a "one and done" proposition.

Blame it on delirium. I'm home sick and I've lost my voice so I'm contemplating heresy.

I'm putting this in the context of local decisions today. We make our lives out of what we choose, what we support. The Board of Education must weigh what is handed to them which supports the status quo versus what they hear from parents, students, and teachers. The County Council must weigh the intent of the Downtown Plan and the proposals of the Howard Hughes Corporation. The Planning Board weighs the desires of consumers who want a liquor store near Wegmans along with the voices of local liquor store owners who fear more competition.

We make a lot of choices. We are in very big trouble if our salvation hangs on just one of them. And who on earth knows which one?

And yet. I'm also thinking about this quote:

When people show you who they are, believe them the first time. -- Maya Angelou

Most of us don't truly recognize that "first time" until there have been many such moments with someone and we come to the realization that this person has been telling us who they are all along. We just hadn't noticed. It's that "hindsight is 20/20" moment.

"Aha!" We say.

Look at their choices. Do they come from fear? Selfishness? A need to control? A desire for self-promotion? Or in those choices do we see compassion, fairness, thoughtfulness, open-minded balance?

People will show you who they are. We show others who we are. Not once, but over and over.

I'm on a bit of a Quaker kick, what with my new job and all. The motto of SSFS is "Let Your Lives Speak." Our lives do speak. What are they--we--saying?



Tuesday, September 13, 2016


I ran this one by my almost sixteen year old high school student. I just wanted to be sure.

"Let's pretend that the Howard County Government had just issued a new guideline about a particular unit you needed to complete in school, and you got an official packet in your English class detailing the assignment. The packet states the assignment, why it needs to be completed, and what you need to do to fulfill the requirement. When you read through it you notice there's no due date. What do you do?"

My daughter stared at me. She had thought this was going to be a whole lot tougher.

"Ask the due date."

"Do you think you could say you you didn't have to do the assignment because the due date wasn't in the packet?"

Eye roll.

"No, I'd have to find out the due date. It would be my responsibility."

Just as I thought. And this child is the product of the Howard County School system, ladies and gentlemen.

Imagine my surprise when the very same school system gave this excuse in not cooperating with the County audit of the school system budget:

I just heard the HCPSS response to why they haven't given documents to auditors yet is because they weren't given a hard deadline so they aren't technically late or unresponsive yet. I find it hard to believe there was no timeline known. -- Lisa Markovitz, The People's Voice

If you follow that logic, any preventative shredding that may be going on out there on Route 108 is just fine too, since it's likely that no one expressly forbid it.

Really? They didn't know the due date?

We wouldn't allow our high school students to get away with that kind of an excuse.


Monday, September 12, 2016

Travel Stories

My husband's parents are often on the move. Between the two of them they are actors, directors, writers, artists, teachers. They are using their retirement to do more of what they love, and they go where the best work is. So each year finds them packing and unpacking suitcases in Ireland, Hong Kong, the U.S., and sometimes other countries as well.

Often when they arrive home they come bearing gifts: chocolate and a Belfast newspaper for my husband, a stylish piece of clothing for their granddaughter, something uniquely Irish for me. This time they brought a special gift to me from Belleek.


They had taken a few days at the end of their summer of performances to enjoy a bit of traditional vacation, and they visited the home of Belleek china in County Fermanagh.

What I love most about these two pieces is that they come with a story. Hearing Sam and Joan talk about their tour of the Belleek factory and describing how the china is made and painted gives this gift a special value to me. They told me about the woman who paints the little green flowers on and gets paid by the piece. "I could do it with my eyes closed," she told them.

Presents from a trip abroad are exciting, no doubt about that. But it's the presence of my in-laws after long months away that I look forward to. They come bearing stories, stories as only they can tell them, like that fellow who took them on the boat ride on Lough Erne and spoke so easily about "Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Obama" as though they were shopkeepers from the next town over.

There is nothing that replaces the value of a good story. And my in-laws tell the best ones. Our modern world gives us so many quick ways to exchange information but none of them can hold a candle to a good sit down with a cuppa and a chance to listen--truly listen--and catch up with those we love.




Sunday, September 11, 2016


I had something else planned for today but then I looked at the date. Instead I'm sharing this post by HoCoHouseHon. Written by Alice Marks on this day in 2013, it is as fresh as if it were written today. And that's sad.

When will we learn?



Saturday, September 10, 2016

Let's Get Moving

Maybe the reason I am having a hard time writing this morning is that I have a migraine bearing down behind my right eye. Or perhaps it's because the only topics that come to mind are school system related and I am just bound and determined not to give them more "air time" today. Come on, folks, try to keep yourselves out of the news, already!

Some food for thought this morning--this article which touches on the need for transit as the Downtown Development Plan continues. We must invest in better transit in Howard County. And we need to look at it as something more than what the people who have no choice are forced to use. If we want all of this other massive investment to succeed, we need public transit which is appealing, convenient, and easy to use. It needs to run when and where people need it to run. It needs to be useful to more than one segment of our population.

At the state level we keep seeing decisions which favor more individual automobiles over effective and affordable public transit. I'm disappointed in this. We need to conserve fossil fuel and we need to take steps to reduce our collective carbon footprint and this does not feel to me like the way to do it.

At the local level, we talk about Walkability and Bikeability and being able to park once and get around Downtown Columbia easily. What concrete steps are we taking right now to make that a reality? I think it was hocolocal James Howard who has stated that Columbia will never have the density needed to make successful public transit possible.

He's an extremely smart guy. I still hope he's wrong.

And by the way, I'm still waiting for forward motion on Bridge Columbia and a transit connection between Oakland Mills and Downtown Columbia...





Friday, September 9, 2016

I'll Cry If I Want To

A photo from this week's Howard County Democratic Party's Labor Day picnic made me stop and think.

I simply can't wrap my brain around the presence of campaign signs for Janet Siddiqui at this event.
The standard answer to this practice is that all Democrats in good standing are invited to post their signs at Democratic Party events during the election season. My question is, what makes someone a "Democrat in good standing"?
Consider this:
In this letter to Glenwood Middle School parents, dated July 31st, 2015, Dr. Siddiqui states, "At no point has this mold issue been a public health issue for students and staff."
That's just not true. If you'd like to review the documents, including the workers compensation judgement in favor of staff members exposed to poor air quality and faulty ventilation, take a look here. Click on the "Mold in Schools" section.
Dr. Siddiqui, a pediatrician who has used her position on the Board of Education to repeatedly discuss addressing "the needs of the whole child", spoke to parents from a position of authority, and withheld the truth. (That's the nicest way I know how to say it.) It is very likely that more students and staff suffered mold-related illnesses due to her outright lack of advocacy.
What makes someone a Democrat in good standing?
This issue is a particular sticking point for me because this has been an election year in which Democrats have been zealously demanding that Republicans publicly renounce the Republican presidential candidate. Now I know there is huge difference between the local Board of Education race and the Presidency of the United States. No attempt at false equivalency here.
But. (And this is a big "but" we are talking about here.)
How can we ask Republicans to publicly denounce a candidate who is "a Republican in good standing" and refuse to entertain the notion that aDemocratic candidate has so blatantly broken her pledge to serve the community who elected her? Remember: I'm a Democrat. This isn't something I'm at all happy to wrestle with.
I would never ask members of the Howard County Democratic Party to publicly renounce Dr. Siddiqui. That's just not how I operate. I might ask them to consider what that photograph of the picnic looks like to Howard County School parents, teachers, and staff. It looks like choosing sides. It looks like an endorsement.
What makes someone a Democrat in good standing? Could it be her ability to raise money?
(Data from campaign

I don't know. But I do know that, in this (non-partisan) race for the Board of education, there are five better choices: Coombs, Cutroneo, Delmont-Small, Ellis, Miller.


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Gratitude Gets Bumped

Gratitude Wednesday got displaced this week due to the big story about the HCPSS budget audit. I'm going to give it a shot today.

(Please note: there's plenty more to write on the HCPSS front, I'm deliberately doing something different today because there's such a thing as crisis overkill. We all need a break, at least for today.)

This week I'm grateful for:

  • The Columbia Flier/Howard County Times and the news that reporter Lisa Philip is back from a month on leave.
  • Daily photographs of construction of the Chrysalis in Merriweather Park in Symphony Woods.
  • Coffee and occasional chocolate in the staff kitchen at work.
  • The Oakland Mills Farmers' Market. Did you know we are the only Columbia Village Center with its own Farmers Market? (Thanks, Sandy Cederbaum!)
  • Mimi's Kabob in Clarksville. It's conveniently located halfway between where I work and my house. Instant dinner rescue.
  • Responsive public servants. Gotta love 'em.
If there are hocolocal things to be grateful for, post them in the comments!


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Disdain Redux

Yesterday's big news was the post from Fatimah Waseem of the Howard County Times that the Chair of the County Council, Calvin Ball, was filing legislation authorizing the Howard County Office of Law to take legal action against HCPSS for lack of cooperation with the County Auditor. This move was approved unanimously by the council and now CB 64-2016 will move forward to a public hearing on September 19th.


The County Council was really serious about that audit, but it appears that the school system didn't take that too seriously. This reminds me of the quote from Maryland State representative Terri Hill:

"It seems to me that they treat the public with absolute disdain, and then they go back to try to figure out how to manipulate within the system to treat them with disdain again," she said. "It's just really infuriating that the response we get from the school board as a whole is that there is no problem, and that the citizens and the rest of us must be imagining things."

This should provide some interesting topics of conversation at the next Citizens Budget Review Committee meeting as they attempt to make some headway in examining information which may or may not be forthcoming. I believe the issue of what to do if the school system refuses to cooperate with the committee's requests has already come up.

I wonder why.

In the meantime, I am hearing some disturbing reports of a whole lot of shredding going on at Central Office. I want to stress that this is "through the grapevine" information at this point. I can't verifiy it. But it does seem to be coming from more than one source, and it is persistent. Of course every organization engages in routine shredding of documents. Under ordinary circumstances no one would think anything of this.

These are not ordinary circumstances.

When the County Council is contemplating legal action against the Board of Education due to noncompliance with County Auditor requests, it kind of makes you wonder exactly what is being shredded out there. Possibly a whole lot of things we, as citizens of Howard County, ought to know.

This would be a good time to remind you that there's a school board election in November and that you have a chance to elect candidates who believe in transparency, responsiveness, accountability, and to remove an incumbent who is a contributing member of the team that got us into this mess. Howard County needs your vote. Don't sit this one out.


Monday, September 5, 2016

Who's the Boss?

I recently had an extremely odd experience when attending an Oakland Mills Board Meeting. I arrived a few minutes late to find all the community members who had come to attend the Board Meeting standing around in the lobby. Apparently the meeting had begun in the usual way, then after ten minutes the board went into closed session and asked everyone to leave.

We waited in the lobby for over an hour while the board discussed a personnel matter.

Over an hour.

Did you know that Columbia's Village Boards were in change of hiring and firing and job evaluation? One of their responsibilities is the annual employment evaluation of the Village Manager. The Board also votes each year on his/her continued employment and salary.

Employee supervision and evaluation is serious business. While I was standing around in the lobby I began to wonder whether it was such a good idea to put it in the hands of volunteer boards who are elected by only a small fraction of residents of the village. What if you get a bad board?

I always thought, somewhere in the back of my mind, that if something went wrong in this process that the employee could appeal to the Columbia Association. I was wrong. What happens in the village stays in the village and the employee has no recourse or advocate.

Most of the time the people who serve on our village boards are kind, responsible, and fair. But what if they are not? What if they create a toxic work environment for employees where fear is the motivator rather than the desire to do one's best work? The logic built into the system says that village residents will then turn them out of office in the next election.

But we all know that nobody, or hardly anybody, votes in Village Elections anymore. So the board continues and the Village employees suffer. Let me repeat: they have no recourse.

The leadership of the current Oakland Mills Board has created a toxic work environment for our Village Employees. It makes me angry, and it makes me sad. This is not what the business of a board should be. This board has met more times in closed session to "discuss personnel issues" than any board in recent memory, and they are doing it again tonight.

None of this is improving life in Oakland Mills. And much of it is making very good people miserable. Who on earth would want to work in one of these Village positions if they truly understood how easily a positive work environment could turn into the personal fiefdom of a less than well-meaning board?

I have served on the Oakland Mills board and I know first-hand how hard our village employees work. We worked closely with the Village Manager and her organization and advocacy were a big part of the success of any Village initiatives. In my opinion the role of the Board should be to support our Village employees. It they are not happy to work for us, something is wrong.

Perhaps when Oakland Mills Village was founded, this system worked. It is not working now.



Sunday, September 4, 2016

Could This Be The Job For You?

Looking for a job with flexible hours? Summers off? You could be a Howard County school bus driver. Yes, the school year has already begun but they are still looking to fill some openings. Click here for more information.

Seeing this made me think of how being a teacher in HCPSS and being a bus driver are similar, and not so similar. One thing that is probably similar, bus drivers and teachers often have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, plus at least one other job in the summer. One thing that's different: bus drivers don't work directly for the school system. They are employed by a number of approved contractors who have been selected to work for the school system.

Hmm...I wonder what would happen if bus drivers worked directly under the supervision of HCPSS...(Cue fantasy music here...)

  • Each year bus drivers would be given more riders and a longer route, but the same amount of time to complete it, and the same amount of fuel.
  • Bus drivers would find it necessary to purchase any additional fuel, bus cleaning supplies, and complete minor repairs out of their own pockets.
  • Bus drivers who complained of carbon monoxide leaks inside the bus would be pooh-poohed, and any bus-driver who let parents know that the leaks were responsible for children's subsequent ailments would be threatened with demotion or dismissal.
  • Parents will not be notified of the health risks of carbon monoxide leaks because it is a "bus maintenance issue."
  • Evaluation of job performance would not be based on safety of driving and care of students, but rather upon some completely unrelated and time-consuming task, such as testing children on bus mechanics.
  • The best bus drivers,who had worked hard to build up rapport with students and parents, would routinely be moved to other unfamiliar routes without rhyme or reason.
  • Bus drivers would be required to fill out a huge amount of paperwork daily on "important data" but would not be given time in their workday to complete it.
  • The list of "important data" would be formulated by people in Central Office who had never driven a school bus.
  • Monies needed to improve training for bus drivers, hire additional needed bus drivers or repair buses and/or buy new ones would instead be spent on either a) a student survey called "what kind of bus rider are you?" or a promotional DVD to be given to all families entitled, "Our buses are the best: strong riders of the road in HCPSS."

Driving a bus filled with children is hard enough without all of that thrown in, don't you think? It's a good thing that's only a blogger's imaginary world, not the real one.

Oh, it looks like they are still hiring teachers for his year. Interested?


Saturday, September 3, 2016

Stop With The Body-Shaming, Already!

Report from the front lines of the ongoing dress code wars:

The AD yelled at our field hockey coach that we weren't allowed to wear just sports bras, despite the intense heat. However a ton of guys, and a few girls, were running shirtless on the cross country team. This is not okay..

I would agree: this is not okay. (I'm assuming the girls running shirtless had on sports bras, by the way.)

Dress codes should support clothing choices which are appropriate to the environment. Young men and women participating in athletics (including dance classes) should be encouraged to wear clothing which works for physical movement and the weather/environment. Sports bras are acceptable workout gear for women at the gym. Running shirtless is acceptable for men.

This should not be an issue. Period.

Over and over again I see costumes for high school dancers, poms, and cheerleaders which clearly violate the regular "enforcement" of the HCPSS dress code, but no one says a word. These outfits are most likely chosen by adults for use by students. They are "approved" by those in positions of authority.

I find it particularly offensive that those adults are willing to use their own set of rules for putting young women in front of an audience, but feel that it is somehow their business to censure what young women choose to wear in the classroom and during sports practice.

If we are going to make a concerted effort to value student voice in the school system, perhaps we ought to value and support the clothing choices of young women, especially when it comes to sports and dance. These activities should be empowering, not just one more opportunity to be controlled and shamed by others.


Friday, September 2, 2016

It's Not Just Your Summer

I've been seeing a lot of responses to Governor Hogan's Executive Order moving the start date of school that base all their reasoning on "how this affects me." And it is only natural to think of ourselves first. But there's more to this decision than one person or one family. And the consequences will reach far beyond one geographic area or one demographic group.

I saw this post this morning on Twitter from @summerlearning, which is the Twitter account for the National Summer Learning Assocation.

Let summer be summer when all kids have access to beach vacations, books etc. #LaborDay #Maryland #summerlearning

The link in the tweet takes you to a statement on Governor Hogan's decision. Take a moment to read it. This paragraph stands out to me:

No matter how a state or community chooses to structure their school calendar, it’s critical for youth in low-income neighborhoods to have access to supports and services whenever the school building, with its readily available resources, is closed. States need to ensure that libraries, parks, recreation centers, and other community-based providers are ready and able to step in and fill these opportunity gaps after the bell rings. Summer learning loss is real, particularly for our poorest students, and cuts deeply into the $10-12,000 per child investment our communities make during the school year.

In single parent households or those where both parents must work, sometimes multiple jobs, summer may mean leaving children in the care of the oldest sibling, with warnings to stay inside all day for safety. Day after day stuck inside with only a television for company. Access to healthy food may be a challenge during these months.

Let summer be summer? Whose summer?

Shouldn't we make decisions that take into account all of our children? You may think, "But that's not my responsibility!"

Perhaps not. But it is Governor Hogan's responsibility.

From yesterday's post, this quote from Adam Mendelson:

But most critically – there are so many more important education issues that we should be working together on in MD than the length of summer.

It's only natural to think of yourself first. But that's just not enough.



Thursday, September 1, 2016

Make Maryland Great Again?

Executive Orders are very handy things. However, they are no good when it comes to time travel or the erasure of reality. I refer, of course, to Governor Hogan's Executive order to begin school after Labor Day and end it by June 15th. While I don't believe that the Governor or the Comptroller Peter Franchot are inherently bad people, I do believe that this is a bad decision based on faulty reasoning.

I, too, have reached a time in my life where nostalgia for the world of my youth is sweet, and sad, and full of longing. Unlike Mssrs Hogan and Franchot, I don't believe I can bring it back. A nostalgic push for a later start to the school year can not and will not bring back the summers of Mr. Franchot's youth.

I saw this post yesterday on Facebook, expressing some frustration with the "Let summer be summer" nostalgia line of thinking:

Yes, when I went to school we started after Labor Day got out by Memorial Day, walked 2 miles in the snow uphill both ways. We did not have 4 weeks of high stakes tests in April and May. We did not walk across 4 lanes of traffic to get there. We did not take 4 years of math or computer science in high school. Get over it people!

I responded:

My mother stayed home while my dad worked. We always had enough to eat. My mom was always there to read to us. We went to museums, the library, and had piano lessons. That world is gone, gone, gone for most people. And we forget that a great many people never had access to that world in the first place.

I was very impressed by this statement last night from Adam Mendelson, Communications Director for MSEA:

Some last thoughts on the governor’s extend summer executive order today: His action shows divide between two Marylands. One that has extra money to spend on vacations, enrichment programs, camp, etc. And another MD that is now staring at extra weeks to pay for child care w/o time or resources for more vacation or enrichment programs. And for our poorest students, extending summer means more weeks without enough meals and worse: brain drain over the summer. It's an important decision with trade-offs, and is best decided by a community rather than an executive order. School calendar decisions should be driven by what’s best for students and community not what sells most ice cream cones & hotel rooms. But most critically – there are so many more important education issues that we should be working together on in MD than the length of summer.

Nearly 40% of MD students are low income – extending summer doesn’t help them be more successful, it makes it harder. There are thousands of homeless students in MD – extending summer doesn’t help them find meals, support, or safety. There is a 47% teacher turnover rate in 1st three years – extending summer & limiting PD, planning time and more doesn’t help. There are way too many standardized tests – extending summer limits instruction before many and makes them more stressful, not less. Extending summer distracts from the big issues that affect students and schools that deserve to be addressed, not avoided.

Educators and their unions will keep pushing for action and leading on these issues. Our students need us to do more and we answer their call.

Despite what may be completely good intentions to help families and Eastern shore tourism, this comes off as a very white, very middle-to-upper-middle class decision. And you can't make Maryland Great Again while, at the same time, excluding so many Marylanders.

A suggestion for a truly useful Executive Order: Dear Governor Hogan, please sign an executive order to abolish high-stakes standardized testing, so teachers and students will have enough time to teach and learn and do the things they really need to do. Let Kindergarten Be Kindergarten Again. Let Recess Be Recess Again. That kind of an Executive Order would help everyone.