Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Slough of Despond

I had a gloriously restful Thanksgiving with my family. I had time to do crafty things, think of ideas for my classroom, make some tentative Christmas plans. Yesterday the skies were dark and I returned to work and sense of heaviness and doom. No idea why.

I felt tired and disoriented. Perhaps the change in the light has sapped my strength. This is the time of year that usually happens. It catches me by surprise every time.

This year it is worse though. Like fellow-blogger Heather Kirk-Davidoff I am still grieving after the election. She writes:

On November 13th, the Sunday after the election, our usually animated congregation was almost silent as we gathered for worship.  It felt like someone--or something--had died.  People have told me about struggling to get out of bed.  People have called me in tears over all that has happened.

It's a dark time of year. And for some of us the darkness is especially more pronounced right now. Values and rights I care deeply about are on the chopping block. Whole groups of people are dismissed as less valuable. Dreams I had for my daughters' futures are crumbling.

I know some very good people who are energized to rage against the dying of the light. I wish I had that in me right now. But all I've got is just enough to get me through, if that. I'll go to school today and take care of seven little people who trust me to make the world okay for them. We'll practice our song for the December program.

This little light of mine,
I'm going to let it shine.

Rather ironic, you think?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


Charlie Brown: If I start writing now when I'm not really rested,
It could upset my thinking which is no good at all.
I'll get a fresh start tomorrow and it's not due till Wednesday,
So I'll have all of Tuesday unless something should happen.
Why does this always happen? I should be outside playing
Getting fresh air and sunshine,
I work best under pressure, and there'll be lots of pressure If I wait til tomorrow.

Hello, Tuesday.

I'm channeling Charlie Brown this morning. 

In the meantime I highly recommend the following posts:

The New Farm Store in Town on AnnieRie Unplugged 

What are your favorite local small businesses?

And an oldie, but goodie from HoCo Rising, 

What are your favorite local charities/non-profits to support?

I'll be back tomorrow. Unless something should happen.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Concert for Kids: Be There

Saturday. December 3rd. Two performances only. Buy your tickets now for the Concert for Kids .

I wrote about it first two years ago in "A Powerful Statement":

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

Hosted by Oakland Mills High School, under the baton of Philip Hale, this holiday extravaganza (and I don't use that word lightly) raises funds for the WBAL Radio Kids Campaign.

To enhance your experience, our Holiday Boutique will be open from 2:00pm until approximately 10:00pm.  Hand crafted home decorations, ornaments and gifts will be available throughout the afternoon.  Performances by the Oakland Mills Middle School Jazz Band, Oakland Mills High School Orchestra and Choir students will help to "make your spirit bright".  Pictures with Santa and a do-it-yourself holiday craft will be available for the children. 

If you are going to pick one holiday event that your whole family can enjoy, this is the one. I know you are already supporting your own children's concerts, ballet performances, and so on. But this is a concert where everyone can sit back and relax and catch the spirit of celebration and goodwill. And tickets are stunningly affordable: $10.00 and $8.00 for the kid-friendly matinee, $15.00 for the evening. To be clear, it's all kid-friendly, it's just that the afternoon time is better for younger children.

Plus, if you are making an effort to shop local this year, you can't do better than this local concert featuring local talent and purchasing gifts at the accompanying holiday shop. One hundred per cent of the profits support the mission of the Kids Campaign:

The WBAL Radio Kids Campaign seeks to promote, foster, encourage, support and sponsor various activities for the general educational, vocational, recreational, civic and social improvement and betterment of young, economically deprived boys and girls in the WBAL Radio listening area, without regard to race, creed, color, or national origin.

If you are already booked for this Saturday but want to help out, consider this:

This year we will also continue the "Pay-It-Forward" program for each of the concerts.  By purchasing a "Pay-It-Forward" ticket you are giving us the opportunity to help a family in need enjoy the concert.  "Pay-It-Forward" tickets are available for both the Family Matinee and Evening performances.  Please consider helping our families in need experience the joy of the holiday season by purchasing a "Pay-It-Forward" ticket.

At the risk of sounding cheesy, this concert hits all the right notes. You will come away feeling good about our community, our kids, the benefits of arts education, of participating in a worthy charitable cause, all while enjoying the holiday mood. Maybe you will see people you know. Better yet, invite people you know to come with you. 

Start a holiday tradition. 

Buy tickets here

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Hope for the Holidays

Over the holiday weekend there have been several themes running through my social media feed.

Holiday Shopping
Charitable Donations
Election Fallout

That last one surprised me. And yet it didn't. Holidays are often much harder than every day living for those with depression and other mental health issues.

This post has been making the rounds:

Hard time of the year for a lot of folks..Suicide Hotline 800-273-TALK (8255). A simple copy and paste might save someone's life.

Paul Gessler of Fox Baltimore posted a promo to a Howard County connection.

In ~90 minutes, flip it to @FoxBaltimore for an inside look at Howard County's only crisis hotline in the midst of rising suicide rates.

The headline:

Crisis hotlines busy as they try to fight record suicide rates

Howard County's only crisis hotline is operated by GrassrootsThe 24-hour hotline number is (410) 531-6677. They have recently developed a free app, "There is Hope", to assist in suicide prevention. 

Holiday Shopping
Election Fallout

The holidays aren't the most wonderful time of the year for everyone. In fact, they can be a recipe for disaster. We are fortunate to have the folks at Grassroots there if we need them. Not everyone has a safety net they can turn to when all seems lost. And sometimes those people are there but we don't feel we can ask them for help. Reaching out may feel like placing a burden on those we love,

"A lot of our [callers] call in because they need to connect with somebody. They just don't know what else to do," Field-Barnett said. "Our job is not to fix problems for them, but to help them fix them themselves."

A crisis hotline is very, very important under these circumstances.

That brings me back to that other thing in my social media feed: charitable donations. This Tuesday has become known as Giving Tuesday, an opportunity to share some of our holiday funds with good causes we support. May I suggest Grassroots? Make a donation to fund the Crisis Hotline and the other valuable work they do in our community. Or support them through one of their fundrainers, such as Breakfast with Santa at the Nordstrom Café.

My in-laws have requested that this year, instead of giving each other Christmas presents, we donate to a charity that means a lot to us. I think I've found mine.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

All Stars

There was definitely some Friday night excitement at Home Slyce  Columbia as I entered around 8:30 last night. The place was full and humming with activity. I was lucky to find a seat near the band, thanks to a welcoming group of folks that had one extra chair.

I was there to see the debut of Dog Park All-Stars, a local duo comprised of Mickey Gomez and Aaron Barnett. After reading this promo, how could I not?

Our band debuts ONE WEEK FROM TONIGHT. 

Yes, I am in a band with Aaron Barnett. We both sing and play guitar. One of us can also rock a kazoo like you read about. 

We're called the Dog Park All-Stars, because All Dogs love us and often show up to band practice with various plush squeaky toys. 

Did I mention the part where this is our first official gig? We'll be trading sets with the amazingly talented Artistic Differences. 

Pizza has been medically proven to be an antidote to excessive turkey consumption. I read that on Facebook. 


It's true that I don't normally leave the house for anything that happens after eight pm, but this was different. Mickey is just one of those people who has known precisely when to show up in my life when it was really important. She's just gifted that way. And that made it easy to convince myself to show up on my own to support her new musical venture.

I have a feeling that a lot of other people feel the same way about Mickey, because she had quite the cheering section last night. Well-deserved, I might add, from a musical standpoint. The Dog Park All-Stars were a delight, and I can't wait to hear more from them. In fact, I would have been thrilled if everyone in the place had stopped talking so we could hear them better.

It wasn't that kind of a gig, however. It was a Friday night, come out and have a pizza and some beer and get out of the house and have some fun. It was looking a lot like vibrant night life in Columbia to me. I had a couple of Sierra Nevada's Celebration Ale and enjoyed the experience of being in a hometown crowd supporting well-known friends.

Ever the homebody, I left after their first set, so I regret to report that I did not witness the kazoo solo.

Maybe next time.

Friday, November 25, 2016

An Impressive Number

Howard County blogger Bill Woodcock reached 2000 posts this week. That's quite the milestone. He marked the occasion by pondering what changes the future may bring for his blog, The 53. He's looking at a variety of interesting possibilities.

Just for the record, I'm at 1297 posts and if we continue at this rate I will never catch up. And that's okay with me.

An aside: why must the longest-running, most outspoken community bloggers be from Oakland Mills? Is there something in the water? Does Oakland Mills breed activism? HoCoRising and Columbia Compass used to provide perspective from other parts of town. I'd love to see someone jump in and do that now.

About Bill. I wrote this in August:

Bill and I both live in Oakland Mills, have both served on the Village Board, both write blogs. We're both interested in local affairs, and generally have something to say about them. Our opinions are frequently quite different. Or sometimes our opinions are similar but our methods are radically different. It doesn't matter. We keep at it.

This past summer I wrote a post concerning the BOE race that caused a bit of controversy and I endured quite a lot of criticism over it. During that time Bill reached out me privately not to praise or criticize, but just to touch base and give me his two cents. He afforded me a kind of professional courtesy that meant a lot to me in the midst of all the turbulence. I'm still grateful.

While I'm reminiscing I should probably admit that Bill was always right about a certain outgoing BOE member who shall remain nameless. There, I said it.

So, happy 2000 to Bill Woodcock and The 53. I noticed that he got a celebratory shout-out from Council Chair Calvin Ball on Twitter. Can accolades from the County Executive be on the horizon? Who knows? 

Stay tuned, true believers, for more zesty topicality.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Making Stuffing

Read on Facebook this week. Shared with permission.

So I'm at the supermarket finishing up my Thanksgiving shopping, and wearing my safety pin, when a Middle Eastern woman walks up to me with her teenage daughter. She looks nervous. She speaks with a very strong accent, but her English is pretty good. She asks, "May I ask you for some help?" Of course, I answer. I have no idea what she's going to ask. And she says...

"How do you make stuffing?" I smile. She has asked the right person. I explain: Bake cornbread out of a mix, add some chicken broth, add anything you want. "Celery?" she asks, looked worried. Sure. Celery, onions, apples, pecans, other kinds of nuts. I tell her that I always put figs in my stuffing. "Figs?" Sure, I tell her. Or you could put dates in it. Her face lights up. "You can put dates in stuffing?" You can put anything you want in stuffing, I tell her. She looks relieved, but—

"How long do you cook the turkey? I have 12 pounds," she says. I tell her to look it up on the internet. No one knows how long to cook a turkey without looking it up. Everyone needs a little help with that.

A few more questions. Do you put the stuffing in the turkey? I tell her no, cook it on the side, it's easier. And cook the turkey upside down, it's better that way.

She thanks me, turns away. Her daughter turns back. Nods at my safety pin. She also speaks with a strong accent. "She thought it would be okay to ask you." Heads off to help her mom.

Welcome to America, mom and daughter. Happy Thanksgiving.

We don't know what the future holds right now. We may be called upon to shield others from violence and discrimination. If some are singled out for their race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation--we will be challenged to be upstanders and not bystanders. Even in our beautiful bubble of Columbia/Howard County we can see this coming. It's ugly.

On this Thanksgiving we have an opportunity to experience gratitude for whatever love and plenty is ours. But along with this celebration comes an unspoken invitation to chose how we will share that love and plenty with those who need us. If we are blessed to feel safe and secure in our daily lives then that, too, is a blessing to be shared.

Whatever plenty you have, there is someone who could use a bit of it. It may be as simple as a conversation in the grocery store. It may be putting ourselves between the oppressor and the oppressed.

I am thankful this year for my family, for a new job that I love, for journalists, for community activists, for my daughter's excellent teachers, for friends who bear with my quirkiness, and for a community that gives me the opportunity to make connections.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Tick Tock

I woke up at five am, as I usually do, to write. It's 6:55 and I still don't have something to write about. Time's a-wasting! 
On my mind this morning:
HCPSS has sent out a survey asking for input on four proposals for changing school start times and none of the choices are any good. And there's "no none of the above" option, no "write in your own" option. Does this surprise me? No. There is a place for comments. That would be a good place to remind them that the American Academy of Pediatics recommends that school should begin after eight, preferably eight thirty, for everyone, not just teens.
Councilman Calvin Ball has submitted a resolution 
"calling on the Human Rights Commission to study the recruitment, hiring, retention,and promotion practices of certain units of the Howard County government, the Howard County Sheriff, and the Howard CountyPublic School System, submit a report and make recommendations; and generally relating to discriminatory practices in Howard County."
Blogger Bill Woodcock of The 53 hinted at something related to the Human Rights Commission just this week. Hmm.
County Executive Allan Kittleman is proposing something called One Howard. 
ELLICOTT CITY, MD – Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman today announced #OneHoward, an initiative designed to promote community dialogue and reinforce the county’s shared goals of diversity and inclusiveness.
ScottE shares the press release here.
State Comptroller Peter Franchot continues to hold congenial "meeting of the mind" events in which attendees are predominantly white and male. What can I say? The pictures speak for themselves. A recent event was described in this way, "this is not the Democratic party machine." Okay, so what is it, then? I have my own problems with the Democratic Party "machine" but at least the people gathered around their table are a more inclusive bunch. 
New BOE members are to be sworn in on December 5th. The old order will soon give way to the new. Tick tock.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Secret Sauce

I went to four parent teacher conferences at my daughter's school last night. Wednesday morning I have three more. Why? Because I can. Because I want to touch base with them and see if there is anything they want me to know about how my child is doing.

And I want to thank them.

Overall my daughter has been very positive about her classes this year. That matters a lot to me. We seem to have achieved the right balance of work expectation, interest in subject, supportive environment, support from the teacher. Anyone who has a student in high school these days knows that can be hugely difficult to achieve.

What I learned from my conferences last night is that my daughter's teachers have a good handle on who my daughter is but they're open to learning more. They love the subject they teach and they want to pass that love along. They have insight into how my daughter can grow. They can give me examples on how she interacts with peers in a classroom setting.

Wow, they are good.

They had a computer printout of her grades for me if that's what I wanted to talk about, but they didn't make it the only thing up for discussion. Thank goodness. I wanted to talk about how to support my kid becoming an independent learner, to challenge herself, and to be a better advocate for herself, because that's what she will need to have within her once she graduates from high school and leaves home.

It's possible that I was the only parent they saw that didn't care two hoots about grades and GPA. If I was, they didn't let that phase them. I really, really appreciate that.

Friends, take a moment in your conferences (if you have them) to thank your child's teachers. They are the driving force, the relationship-builders, the secret sauce of the educational experience. It's not fancy and expensive surveys, tests, iPad programs, or Central Office initiatives.

It's the teachers.

When you sit down to dinner on Thursday, make sure you give thanks for them. But don't forget to tell them in person.

Monday, November 21, 2016

When the Wind Changes

What about all that wind this weekend--pretty impressive, right? It put a chill on our house and made me want to snuggle deep down under the covers. We went from a Friday where I didn't need a coat on the playground to a Sunday where I was looking for the lining to my winter jacket.


Perhaps it's because my daughter received her Olney Theatre Center tickets in the mail and her first show is Mary Poppins, but all this wind made me think of the line of potential governesses lined up at the Banks's house on Cherry Tree Lane. Do you remember the scene where the wind comes and blows away all the dour, somber-looking applicants? Off they go, clutching their newspaper adverts and their inside-out umbrelllas.

Mary Poppins arrives with a change in the wind and makes it clear to the children that she will leave in the same way--when the wind changes.

Most of us don't pay attention to changes in the wind in the literal sense anymore. You may remember that the Banks's neighbor Admiral Boom had his entire house tricked out like a ship and topped with a weather vane. How many of us have weather vanes these days? When we talk about "which way the wind is blowing" we're probably speaking in the metaphorical sense.

The wind has certainly changed in Howard County in the last several weeks and we are being buffeted by the growing gusts. A change in the Board of Education which has prompted last-ditch unpleasantness from those losing power. The local Democratic Party regrouping and facing the future. A national candidate whose election is bringing racist, hate-filled speech and actions.

How will we deal with these changing winds? Well, I saw this yesterday from Lisa Spangler Zovko. It's clear that she hasn't been flattened by current turbulence. She's back and she's pulling no punches.

I'm just a mom, an American. I have minimal power and not a public figure but I will say what many supposed "leaders" refuse to say:

This has NOTHING to do with political parties, and FYI I am a registered independent:

We must denounce white supremacy. We must denounce white nationalism. We must denounce the Alt Right. THIS IS NOT AMERICAN VALUES!!! This is NOT in the constitution. If you are Truly Patriotic and truly love this country you would do the same. I love the pseudo outrage if someone burns a flag or kneels during the Anthem. WHERE IS YOUR OUTRAGE AGAINST HATE???

America is GREAT BECAUSE of our diversity. America is great because we are the land of the free!! If your going to stand for one amendment but not all of our constitution you're not American.

I remember a time where we condemned South Africa for Apartheid. We CANNOT let this be the direction of this great county.


The wind is changing, both for good and ill. So carry a little MomZovko around with you today. I have a feeling we're all going to need that kind of strength.



Sunday, November 20, 2016

We Built This

Something that's been gnawing at me since the election is this post from a local journalist I respect.
Look, I know we're all pretty much tired of the election but honestly this seems dumb. Dear college boys and girls, we'll all wake up and put our pants on and go about our business tomorrow no matter what happens tonight. Promise.

This was his introduction to an article entitled, "Universities help students cope with Election Day stress."
The comments that followed were the usual about "special snowflakes", "I wonder if they're potty-trained yet", "a generation of p***ies," "put your pants on and get to work," etc.
I respectfully suggested that there might be some reasons to be anxious, and that I didn't think it was helpful to roll our eyes at this state of affairs. The response:
They'll be fine. There's no instruction book for anything in life. We all navigated it in one form or another. It toughens you up a bit, not in bad ways.
And if they're not going to be ok, we might want to question what we've done with them in the first 18 years of their lives that caused them to be incapable of navigating life's little bumps and bruises.

Well, here we have a moment of agreement. "We might want to question what we've done with them in the first 18 years of their lives..."

Yeah, about that.

Let's talk about No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top which reduced education to teaching to the test. Let's talk about how only Reading and Math scores matter. So farewell to music, art, adequate recess, enough time to really eat your lunch. No more time for child-directed play in kindergarten. Can't waste instructional time on messy, hands-on projects in the elementary grades. 

We built this. 

Or rather, the people who voted to make our educational system work like this built this. Music, art, recess, yes, and even lunch, are opportunities for risk-taking, creative expression, social-emotional growth. Those experiences help children learn to try and fail in a safe environment, resolve disputes with others, get out physical and emotional tension through self-directed play and developmentally appropriate challenges.

Then in Middle and High School we pile on more work, more preparation for tests. We tell them that life is all about Grade Point Average, AP Classes, SAT scores. We make it all but impossible for them to choose classes or activities that might provide creative, physical, or emotional stability for them. It's all about the transcript. Don't do anything to jeopardize the transcript.

We have a generation that binge drinks Red Bull and Starbucks and has never been allowed to become fully human. And they get to college and add binge-drinking alcohol to the mix.

Please understand that they are at college without the benefit of all of those essential childhood experiences that you and I had, that helped us navigate. We sent them there without essential tools for self-regulation, resiliency, handling failure, handling interpersonal disputes. Because they aren't on the test, you know.

How can we sneer at a generation that has done only what was required of them? They didn't choose this. 

Teachers and child development experts been warning for a long time that there is a price to pay for stripping childhood of these crucial experiences. This is it. This is the price. They know how to cram for tests. They know how to get good scores. We told them that's all they would need.

Every child whose education was flattened and distorted has lost something valuable. These "special snowflakes", as some call them, will have to find a way to piece together what is missing. They don't really have a choice. And our society is going to be dealing with the repercussions of this for a long time to come.

Please spare me the "put your pants on and get to work" comments. These young people know how to work. 

They just don't know how to do anything else. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Showing Up

If there were a local award for a blogger who doesn't really have a blog but finds ways to blog anyway, it would probably go to Ian Kennedy. He's a very busy man. If you don't believe, just Google him. (Make sure you include Howard County in your search or you'll get the baseball player.) On his LinkedIn Page Mr. Kennedy describes himself as follows:

Professional policy wonk, story-teller, and all around do-gooder.

Here is a story he told over a series of tweets this week:

My first involvement in #ColumbiaMD community stuff was on an environmental subcommittee for @ColumbiaAssn. At our first meeting CA’s staff liaison tried to get us to settle on a regular meeting date. Coordinating calendars was difficult, to say the least. And he joked: “The is Columbia, where everyone’s favorite hobby is going to meetings.” I was in my early 20s, not yet married & didn’t even have a job (in grad school). But I remember thinking: “wow, that sounds [not fun]”. But time passes and things change… Last night, as my wife and I navigated a conference-call-to-village-board-meeting hand-off… And then later we tried to coordinate child care for double-booked evening later this week, I thought… Chick (the CA committee liaison from a decade+ ago) was right… And I wouldn’t have it any other way. You can only change the world if you show up. #ColumbiaMD #HoCoMD #changebeginsathome #bethechange /done

I agree that showing up is a big deal. I don't agree with Columbia's crazy addiction to meetings, though. I can admire Ian's dedication to the things that matter most to him while, at the same time, wishing we were involving more residents in different ways. If the future of Columbia belongs only to those who are willing/able to go to meetings...

I want to say, "then we're doomed," but that's a little dramatic. It's more accurate to say that being so meeting-centric really narrows the pool of whose voices will be heard. And narrowing the pool is hardly what Columbia is all about.

There's showing up for social justic, showing up to fight hunger, showing up at the polls to vote. I get that.

But showing up for meetings? There's got to be a better way. Or rather, can it please not be the only way?

A tip of the hat to Mr. Kennedy for all the work he does, including meetings, to make Columbia awesome.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Necessary Tools

So I was thinking about the Mobbies yesterday, and how Howard County bloggers always feel like fringe interlopers at what is essentially a Baltimore-centric event. And then I wondered what it would be like if Howard County had its own version of the Mobbies. What would we call it?

Well, the Hobbies, of course. At least, that's what popped into my head.

And that made me laugh. Because, with the exception of some business/commercial blogs, writing a blog is a hobby. You don't have to have any particular training. You don't have to answer to anyone but your readers, if that. Whether dilettante or maven, the blogger's credentials are essentially self -proclaimed. Professional standards?

Those are for the newspapers.

Friends, we need newspapers. Especially now. We need trained and experienced journalists who understand and adhere to journalistic ethics. I love writing a blog and I try to be very clear on what I know and what I have a gut feeling about but cannot prove. But nothing I do here is journalism. I do this for my own enjoyment. My teaching job affords me this hobby.

Journalists do this for a living and we need to pay their salaries by becoming paying customers. Subscribe, and sustain subscriptions. If you want to start local, a digital subscription to the Baltimore Sun also gets you Howard County Times/Columbia Flier. I've recently added The Daily Record.

In my opinion, a free press is a public good. But it is not one that can be supported by the public purse, like libraries are, because then it couldn't be truly free and independent. We have to step up.

If we don't? Well, look at what is happening all around the country.

I know this is a topic I have written about before. I probably will again. Today I am spurred on by news on the national scene which drives home the message that good journalism is a necessary tool in a free society. It's every bit as true on the local scene. After the school board election I wanted to publicly thank all the HoCo Tmes reporters who have covered education issues over the last four years. I couldn't even remember them all.

Trust me, folks: where we are going, we are going to need journalists. Don't wait until you need one only to discover they are gone.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Take Me Out to the Mobbies

It's that time again. 
Last year I got a little thrill attending the annual Mobbies Party at The Creative Alliance and receiving the Mobbie in the Most Influential category for Village Green/Town² . It was something that had mattered a lot to me for quite some time. I got a piece of paper, a silly hat, and an extremely unflattering photograph but that's how it goes, right? I'm a writer, not a movie star.
This year I'd like to highlight some other HoCo Bloggers who are up for Mobbies. I've had my moment of fame and it was awesome. But for some reason my heart just isn't in it this year. So here are some recommendations for your clicks. Vote every day through November 25th.
Most Creative: Ms. Frizz 
Most Informative: ScottE's Blog
Most Supportive: AnnieRieUnplugged
Best Use of Business/Organization: Colonel Gateway
Best Blog: ScottE's Blog 
*Best Community: HowChow 
Best Newcomer: HoCoMDcc
*In Best Community, ScottE and Village Green/Town² are also nominated, but I think that the category means the community which has grown around the blog or social media account. If you've ever read the comments on HowChow Blog--even now--you'll know why I chose as I did.
I'm tickled to see that two Howard County inanimate accounts have been nominated: Ms. Frizz and Colonel Gateway. We all need a little levity, especially right now.
Show your HoCo Locals some click love!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

I Thought. Now I'm Posting

I knew it would be different from the last Black Lives Matter Vigil I had attended. For one thing, it would be on the outskirts of the Mall, rather than on Route 175 by St. John Baptist Church. And it was still light out, unlike that December night in 2014.
And then, this notice:
Tomorrow's Black Lives Matter vigil will be a little different in light of this week's racist attacks on Howard County students. We will center the students' voices and bear witness to their experiences. We will denounce these hateful acts, and offer safety, support, and love. Bring chairs and be ready to show the students that we love, respect, and believe them.
That didn't sound at all like what I was expecting. It sounded like it might be awkward or uncomfortable. 
I went anyway. I couldn't stay away. Sitting at home and doing nothing while students were faced with racist, violent hate speech in our community suddenly loomed large in my mind, like a hateful act. Like collusion.
Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act. (Attributed to D, Bonhoeffer)
It's mind-boggling to me that these things are happening and the Superintendent hasn't held a press conference and made a very clear statement using the words that are necessary: racist, hate speech, violence, violent threats, criminal behavior. Where is a renewed promise to make schools safe and welcoming for students of color who have been threatened and demeaned? Where is an affirmation to parents that "your children are precious to us. We believe in them and in their futures. We will take swift and decisive action action against anyone who makes our schools an unsafe place." 
Statements released to date by the school system have no more moral conviction than Christopher Robin walking back and forth with an umbrella, saying, "Tut-tut. It looks like rain." Their refusal to look at the truth and name it is abhorrent.
When I arrived at the Vigil, people were already assembling at the roadside with signs. "Honk for Justice" "Black Lives Matter" "Stand With Us". And then there were the names, so many names. The names of the dead. Tyrone West, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland...the ever-expanding litany of those whose lives were taken away by those who judged them too dangerous to be allowed to live or not valuable enough as a human being to be treated as one.
The Vigil is like church. There is community. There is welcome. There is acceptance. And their are things that challenge your soul and demand that you do better.
The students who spoke were beautiful both in their honesty and whole-hearted anguish. Every story they told was one that all parents in Howard County need to hear. There was one young woman whose words became more of a plea.
"My little brother is 13. They say some people think African American boys look older than they are. What if someone thinks he's dangerous and shoots him. He's just a kid! I love him so much..." she broke down in tears. 
Not one day in my life have I had a fear like that. None of our children should have this weight upon their hearts. If we have it in our power to lift this burden, then we must. In any way that we can, we must try.
It began with signs, moved to sorrows, and ended in song, The music played and the young people got people up and moving with dance. Young and old, black and white, children running around, tearful mothers hugging.
The Black Lives Matter Vigil happens on the second Sunday of each month and is a joint project of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia and St. John Baptist Church.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Bad Timing

The time change is wreaking havoc on the blog. I fall asleep earlier, awaken later, feeling dopey and unrested. I'm either going to need to start setting an alarm for five am or make myself write the night before.

This is, of course, a prelude to saying that I'm not conscious enough this morning to write a substantive post.

A recommendation, though: take a look at this post on HoCo Connect which highlights a walk in Oakland Mills sponsored by the Columbia Association. Oakland Mills is on my mind because tonight is the presentation of the Oakland Mills Village Center Area Feasibility Study. It is being held at Oakland Mills Middle School from 7-9 pm.

Wow, that's a lot of Oakland Mills for one paragraph.

I'm hoping that the results of the Feasibility Study show an understanding of the village I know and love. Of course, if they don't, you'll be reading about it here.

Happy 16th Birthday to my younger daughter, who is the reason I won't be attending any public meetings this evening. I trust you all will keep me informed. Being a mom comes first tonight.


Monday, November 14, 2016

Mold on the Menu? And Voices

Just caught this post on twitter:

New report out today about mold issue in @HCPSS schools; will be presented to the county council @ABC2NEWS #GMM2

It's attached to an article from August. Could what's happening today be the analysis from the environmental sustainability board? I'm looking forward to learning more.

I attended the Black Lives Matter Vigil at the Mall yesterday. The voices of Howard County students were powerful and heartbreaking. More on that tomorrow. Just one question: why wasn't the Superintendent there to stand with them? Her absence was a powerful statement.

A shoutout to Board Member Bess Altwerger for attending and speaking up in support of our students.



Sunday, November 13, 2016

Like It's 1999

In June of 1999 my older daughter and I moved to Columbia, in preparation for a major life event. On November 13th I remarried and the journey of creating a new family began.

We began our marriage as commuters--he to Towson University each day to teach in the Music Department, I to Baltimore City to teach in an independent elementary school. For a while we didn't have much time or energy to put down roots, and the arrival of our younger daughter meant even less.

When our jobs both shifted to teaching in Howard County, we began to explore and engage. There were picnics at Lake Elkhorn with plenty of time to play on the playground, Village events in Oakland Mills, Lakefest, weekly trips to the East Columbia Branch Library. There was summer camp at Slayton House in Wilde Lake, Peabody rehearsals at Abiding Savior in Hickory Ridge, blog parties all over Howard County.

Our relationship didn't begin here. It began in the choir stalls of Grace and Saint Peter's church in the Mount Vernon neighborhood of Baltimore City. But the story of our marriage is completely intertwined with Columbia and Howard County. Some happy memories:

  • A dinner at Tersiguel's with my in-laws, to celebrate our engagement
  • Lunch Music events at The Second Chance
  • Going to see March Fourth at the Lakefront
  • Trips to Clark's Elioak Farm
  • Romantic dinners at House of India
  • Getting to know our neighbors better during Snowmageddon
  • Exploring Old Ellicott City's Main Street shops and restaurants
  • Working on our quirky little Oakland Mills quadroplex together
  • An outdoor lunch with my in-laws at Petit Louis on the most perfect of summer days

After seventeen years I am more firmly convinced than ever that I married the most perfect person in the world for me. What an incredible blessing that is. Knowing him has made me more thoughtful and more caring. There's just something about him that encourages me to do better and be better.

If someone made a movie of our marriage, our home in Columbia and Howard County would really be a character in the drama. I can't imagine our love story taking place anywhere else.



Saturday, November 12, 2016

Look At It

I had another post lined up for today. It will have to wait.

This week two separate incidents of Howard County students using social media to publicly share racist hate speech and threats have come to light. And when am say "come to light" I really mean that African American students found them and exposed them. They shared them, and shared them, and shared them.

Why? Because they don't trust the school system to address this unless they are publicly forced to do so. I think that parents who have tried to get a response from the school system on bullying, or mold, or special education have a pretty good idea where these students are coming from.

If you have a sense of trust that your concerns will be addressed fairly you don't feel the need to shout for justice from the mountain tops.

I have seen a variety of responses to what these students posted. Most, like me, are outraged,disgusted, heartbroken. But there are some people who appear to be more concerned about the perpetrators of the racist posts than they are about the victims. They focus on handwringing over "kids don't understand that what they post on social media could be a mark on their reputation forever."

While I harbor no wish that these students come to any harm, I completely reject that notion that they are the people we should be concerned about right now. One parent said, "I hope no one gets hurt."

Someone has already been hurt. Every African American student who has to deal with this is hurt. Hate speech, especially hate speech that promotes violence, is not a victimless crime. How on earth do we propose that students get a decent education if they are in an environment that threatens and degrades them? No one can thrive in a state of fear. These students' right to an education is compromised by this.

Can we maybe talk about that?

Racist behavior should be called out. We shouldn't be hushing it up. Yes, it's really ugly. I think we have to sit with how uncomfortable that is. My priority is how this makes minority students feel, period.

One of the perpetrators goes to my daughter's school. Some people may now generalize that the school itself is a racist community. While I don't agree with that assessment, that's just not the point. It's too bad if people say mean things about our school.

It is horrific that minority students are traumatized.

FYI: Black Lives Matter Vigil, Sunday November 13th, 4-5 pm, at Governor Warfield & Windstream, Columbia, MD











Friday, November 11, 2016

Bridges Make Better Neighbors

It feels like a good time to talk about building a bridge.

Actually, the bridge is already there, but the improvements have been long in coming. Readers of this blog know I am a long-time fan of the Bridge Columbia initiative. Recently the County held a presentation on options to upgrade the Route 29 bridge.

From Oakland Mills Village:

Check out design options to improve the Pedestrian Bridge over Route 29 from Stevens Forest to Lake Kittamaquandi! Howard County's Office of Transportation has unveiled a project that will greatly improve the current bridge with a new design, security camera improvements, enhanced and increased lighting and architectural features to make the bridge an iconic crossing.

As of now, the bridge is still being considered for use solely by pedestrians and bicyclists. The original Bridge Columbia concept included public transit. I'd love to see that incorporated as well. I understand that the transit folks are still thinking about that. I think the success of Columbia, especially Downtown will depend on improved transit. I hope they find a way to fit this in to future plans, sooner rather than later.

The County is asking for public input on the proposed designs. Take a look here and let them know. Please send your comments on the option you support to Deadline for comments is November 14th. My choice is Alternate 2, Geodesic Tube with spiral. It feels extremely Columbia to me.

Speaking of which, is there room to put "Columbia" in big letters on the bridge, so people passing through know where they are? I know we leave a lot to the joy of discovery here, but I'd love to see us put our name on this.

A huge shout-out to the Bridge Columbia advocates who have kept the faith on this. It's gratifying to see the County moving forward and begin to believe something tangible will happen. We are finally going to turn something which has become creepy and unappealing into a valuable link for our community.

It's been a rough week. The best way I know to close it out is with a bridge.




Thursday, November 10, 2016


I should be writing about the County Council's passage of Downtown Columbia legislation last night, but I don't have it in me. I'm still reeling from the national election, just exhausted. I'll need another twenty-four hours to get my thoughts together on this vote and what it means.

If you want more info on last night's meeting, Ian Kennedy was live-tweeting @iankennedy7 . So was @hocoapfo , if you are looking for a contrasting view. Fatimah Waseem's write-up for the HoCo Times is here.

I remember my mother telling me that the hardest part of being an adult was realizing that most decisions weren't black or white, but far more complicated and nuanced. At the time this was not something I wanted to hear. As an adolescent I was pretty clear about the difference between right and wrong and I wanted none of that shades of gray nonsense.

And yet.

This decision on Downtown has been one of those complicated issues for me. And a lot of that has to do with my deep respect for Councilwoman Jen Terrasa. When someone you have come to trust is asking big questions, it matters. And for me the progress for Downtown Columbia must be balanced with those questions.

So give me a little more time to get this right.



Wednesday, November 9, 2016


It's 1:27 and I can't sleep. I fell asleep too early when the world was still sane and I woke up to national news which fills me with a sick dread. But this is a local community blog, so let's not talk about that.

At this moment it looks reasonably certain that three of the challenger candidates have been elected to the school board and that incumbent Janet Siddiqui has not. Congratulations to Kirsten Coombs, Christina Delmint-Small, and Mavis Ellis. This is a change that has been a long time in coming and it wouldn't have happened without the hard work of many people who believed in something better for our schools.

I want to give a shoutout to candidates Vicky Cutroneo and Robert Miller whose dedication and sincere desire to bring positive change to the school system impressed me. I wish there had been spots on the board for both of them. I hope that the new board will be open to community input.I get the feeling that they will be. Cutroneo and Miller have much to offer.

To all of you who have worked to bring about change, I salute you. This is Howard County in action. You have:

  • talked to neighbors, coworkers and friends
  • passed out literature
  • written letters
  • testified at council hearings
  • signed and shared petitions
  • turned out in full force at the Board of Ed
  • held meet-and-greet events,
  • attended forums,
  • stood at the polls

In closing, these words from May of 2015:

But underneath all of this is the fact that if parents and teachers truly united to seek improvement and change on shared goals, they would be unstoppable.



Tuesday, November 8, 2016


When you read yesterday's post, I bet you realized something was missing. I did.

Didn't read yesterday's post? Now would be a good time.

Here goes:

The road to today's election began with a long, pretty dry stretch where parents and teachers knew that things needed to change but they didn't have influence to change the local conversation. So they got together, and worked together, and spread the word, and reached out to local officials. And they sent information to local papers and television reporters.

But little, if anything happened.

This went on for a while. Concerned citizens spoke at the BOE Public Forum. People wrote letters to the Board of Education, and to the County Executive, and to members of the County Council. More advocacy groups formed, HCEA teamed with PATH to have a community conversation on how to build better schools. Momentum began to build. And here and there fruitful conversations started happening and news articles began to appear.

After a while, elected officials didn't merely listen to the concerns of constituents. They responded.

  • Warren Miller worked with parents concerned about mold at Glenwood and other schools, and frustrated by lack of cooperation with MPIA requests.
  • Warren Miller introduced legislation to improve transparency in handling MPIA requests.
  • Eric Ebersole testified in support of the MPIA bill.
  • Vanessa Atterbeary and Jonathan Weinstein worked on legislation that would make the BOE more accountable by electing members by disctrict.
  • Warren Miller and Frank Turner hosted a Town Hall Meeting to listen to community concerns.
  • Most of the Howard County Delegation attended that meeting.
  • BOE members Cindy Vaillancourt and Bess Altwerger continued to ask questions and press for greater transparency in HCPSS decision-making.
  • Jen Terrasa and Terri Hill requested the release of the all records from the special education audit.
  • County Executive Allan Kittleman worked with the County Council to get independent mold testing in some schools.
  • Calvin Ball put in place legislation to have these testing results reviewed by the Environmental Sustainability Board.
  • Calvin Ball worked to get an independent audit of HCPSS budget, to establish a review committee of the HCPSS budget, pushed for full cooperation with the audit.
  • Calvin Ball introduced legislation to take legal action if HCPSS did not fully cooperate with the audit.
  • Council members Jen Terrasa and Calvin Ball filed a resultion asking the Maryland State Board of Education to contract for a performance audit of HCPSS.

There's a well-known story in which a BOE member, when asked for assistance, declares that "we don't have constituents."

This idea--that Board Members are not public servants in the traditional sense and that they have no obligation to be responsive, transparent, and accountable to Howard County citizens--is wrong. The long road to Election Day has shown just how wrong, as democratically elected officials have responded to constituents and shown exactly how you do this thing called public service.

The collaboration between citizens and their elected advocates is enabling our community to make important changes in how we treat teachers, students, parents, and families in Howard County. It's how good government works.

But all along the way, these elected officials have been reminding us that we, the people, possess the most powerful remedy to right the wrongs: our vote.

Get out there and vote, folks. And high-five your local electeds if you see any today. I hear some of them even like hugs.









Monday, November 7, 2016

A Last Stand for the Old Order

And so it has come to pass that the Howard County School System has lost its way and now functions much like the feudal system of medieval Europe.


Think about it. You remember learning about the feudal system in school, right?

Absolute power is bestowed upon one ruler who wields it with the assurance of divine right. Power is maintained by barons and lords who are the enforcers of the ruler's policies and visions.

It falls to the serfs to do the actual labor. They exist at the level of subsistence and they live in fear of those above them.

At every level there is required obeisance. Everyone owes someone something. One's continued existence depends upon providing the desired goods, service, and loyalty to those at the next level up. Power must be protected. Challenge to the hierarchy must be punished. Those below the ruler are honor-bound to provide the might and muscle to fight off challengers.

It is such a peculiar notion to think that what we have right now in Howard County looks more like lords, vassals, fealty, shield taxes and serfs when what we should have is democracy. The concept of elected representation simply can't co-exist within the confines of feudalism. It violates the carefully crafted system of who has value and who does not, whose job is to toil and whose to reap the rewards.

In the feudal system communication is strictly limited to adjacent entities or within one's own class. In the school system the dissemination of information follows a similar pattern: top-down, one-way. Any other method of sharing information is strongly discouraged. Why? Because controlling information is a powerful tool for maintaining control of people.

See also: increasing monies spent on public relations while cutting materials of instruction, cutting support staff, and increasing class size.

In spite of this, we are on the brink of rejecting the hollow fantasy of a "world class school system" and beginning the task of rebuilding trust with community, parents, teachers, and students. How did this happen?

Information. And parents and community members who were willing to share that information. Social media has been a remarkably useful tool for breaking down walls, gathering consensus, even allowing those who fear retribution to be heard.

Parents from one school can hear the stories of those at another school. Parents, teachers, and support staff become allies. Open sharing of information allows fact-checking and goal setting. In effect, it has given power to those who were powerless.

Information alone is not enough, though, without the sincere desire of people from different groups, on different levels of the power structure, to help each other out and work for a common goal. We will not get a better Board of Education because we owe somebody something who owes somebody over them. That's feudalism.

This is democracy: building a better school system in order that all may benefit. It's time to lay the old order down and take responsibility for what comes next.

Share the information. Build a better Board of Education. Vote.