Saturday, December 31, 2016

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

The long-awaited report from Lisa Kershner, the Maryland public access ombudsman, was released yesterday.  It confirms an entrenched pattern of non-compliance from HCPSS Central Office in response to Public Information Act requests. While the majority of requests were handled properly, it is clear from the report that, in certain areas, the school system response was wholly inadequate.

Basically, if the subject of the request was something that the school system didn't want to tell, their response was, "Don't ask." Notable examples include requests focused on the now-infamous 'disappearing' Special Education report, information pertaining to mold at Glenwood Middle School, and emails and school records requested by the mother of the late Grace McComas.

The ombudsman notes the importance of adhering to the law in all requests with the same responsiveness and even-handedness. Clearly that was not happening here. I can say "clearly" with a good deal of confidence because this report is thorough. See for yourself.

The report is eighty pages long and explains purpose, methodology, and gives an organized accounting of data gathered. It contains dates, references to documents, and timelines. If you had any doubts as to why it was necessary for the State Legislature to authorize this investigation, reading this report will dispel them in a hurry.

Now what?

Well, I imagine the Board of Education will be examining this report in great detail. They bear the responsibility for addressing the findings of the report and making the changes necessary to respond to any damage done by the school system. In addition, citizens may respond to the issues raised in the report by contacting their Maryland State representatives. If you want to do that, do it soon. The legislative session in Annapolis begins January 11th. One suggestion?  A bill to create a PIA enforcement group like the ones at the federal level for FOIA compliance.

The big takeaway from this report is that failure to comply with MPIA law undermines public trust. Period.

"When responses to PIA requests are ignored, or otherwise improperly handled, public trust and confidence in government necessarily is diminished," the report concludes.

Something about those words sounded familiar to me. Oh, yes--

Once you lose the moral high ground in your community, you lose the authority to make significant decisions that require compliance. You lose the authority to command large sums of money from the County without oversight in your operations. You lose your status as the place parents want to send their children. ("Mold and Truthiness", July 24, 2015, Village Green/Town² )

The ombudsman did a huge amount of work on this project. So did the citizens and legislators who made it all possible by crafting legislation and working for its passage. This is a victory for those who believe that responsiveness, transparency, and accountability are essential to public service. I sincerely hope that the days of the school system turning its back on members of the community is over.

They should never have begun in the first place.

Friday, December 30, 2016


Political hack:

A politician who belongs to a small clique that controls a political party for private rather than public ends, (

A negative term ascribed to a person who is part of the political party apparatus, but whose intentions are more aligned with victory than personal conviction. (Wikipedia)

I'm pondering the meaning of the term political hack this morning as I read Fatimah Waseem's article in the Howard County Times. Entitled, "Howard County Council seeks 'sanctuary' status ahead of Trump presidency" it outlines the goals of the proposal and gets reactions from key leaders in the community.

This comment from Councilman Greg Fox leapt off the page:

"Regardless of the bill's intent, Calvin Ball is showing a very poor pattern of behavior and that he is nothing more than a partisan political hack," Fox said.

Good grief, Mr. Fox. Did you leave your Civility in your other pants?

It must be quite a trial to be the only Republican on the County Council. Mr. Fox must have to bite his tongue a lot. Apparently the day of this interview was not that day. 

While there are arguments to be made on either side of the sanctuary issue, and Mr. Fox is welcome to make the case for his own point of view, that's not what he did here. He seized the moment to make a personal attack on Calvin Ball. 

Who's looking partisan now?

Dr. Ball's response is an exercise in self-restraint:

"There are times when my Republican friends disagree, however, I believe leaders should lead," he said.

This reminds me of my favorite line in all of Shirley Temple's films, where her character looks up at a wealthy socialite and says,

It's too bad, Mary Ann, that your mother didn't bring you up to be a nicer girl.

Perhaps Councilman Fox was just having a bad day. That can happen to anyone. And at least he's putting his opinion right out there with his name on it, rather than posting anonymous comments on local websites. There is that.

It remains to be seen how the Council can move forward on this and have meaningful dialogue after Mr. Fox has essentially called Dr. Ball a "stupidhead" in the press. (Yes, I'm a preschool teacher. Yes, I know this behavior when I see it.)

Perhaps these two have forged a working relationship which allows for these kinds of public shenanigans. I really don't know. 

The fact remains that, if you have a really good argument, it isn't necessary to resort to personal attacks. That goes for representatives of either party. And if you choose to make the personal attack, it reflects more on you than on the object of your derision. 


In case anyone needs me to spell it out: this post is not about the merits of the sanctuary proposal. It is about how what we say matters, and how words have consequences. Should anyone choose to respond, please keep that in mind. Thanks. -- jam

Thursday, December 29, 2016

What the Girl Wants

It was thirty years ago today. I'm having a bit of difficulty wrapping my brain around that. Thirty years ago my older daughter came into this world, and I became a mother.

Her father and I rented an apartment in Bolton Hill. She was delivered at Mercy Hospital. She's a Baltimore girl, born and raised: trips to the Walters, visiting Santa at the Inner Harbor, walking everywhere or taking the bus.

Fully and thoroughly educated in Baltimore:

  • Bolton Hill Nursery
  • Grace and Saint Peter's School
  • Bryn Mawr 
  • Baltimore School for the Arts
  • John Hopkins Unuversity
She loves the city life, loves arts and culture and easy walkability. She loves old architecture, symphony concerts and street festivals. Artscape and Pride are a part of her formative years.

Today, on her thirtieth birthday, I marvel at the fact that she has cast her lot with us in Columbia. She and her husband own one of those classic Pacesetters in Oakland Mills and they are continually tweaking it. Well, perhaps that's because they are continually discovering things that need fixing. Home ownership is an ever-unfolding adventure of home repair, after all.

My city girl has dreams for Columbia that are worth dreaming. She wants to be able to walk more, not just along wooded pathways but also to shops and pubs and local events. She wants a vibrant night life and more theatre. She wants us all to embrace ethnic, cultural, and racial diversity more and care about almighty housing values less.

In thirty years my Baltimore City girl has ventured beyond her home town to England, Ireland, and Quebec. She could have gone anywhere, settled anyplace. But she chose Columbia. She became HoCoHouseHon and joined the blogging community. She participates in a local CSA, votes in local elections. And she knows her neighbors.

My daughter is a continual reminder for me that the dream of Columbia is not in its past. History is important, to be sure, but the future is a place populated with people younger than I am. And her dreams are worth knowing.

So today I celebrate that day thirty years ago. And I celebrate the fact that I get to spend so much time with someone whose perspective is so different. It is truly a gift. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Party Time

I'm thinking of having a party. The guest list is pretty big. Quite a few notables. It should be quite the affair. So far, I've got:

County Executive Allan Kittleman
Council Members Calvin Ball and Jon Weinstein
Delegate Frank Turner
Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary
Board of Education Members Bess Altwerger, Kirsten Coombs, Christina Delmont-Small, Mavis Ellis, Cynthia Vaillancourt
HCEA President Paul Lemle, and various members of HCEA
An assortment of teachers and paraeducators
President of SECAC Barb Krupiarz
Lisa Markovitz of The People's Voice
Blogger Bill Woodcock
Former BOE candidate Corey Andrews

If you don't see your name on this list, don't feel bad. This is a list of the folks who have been insulted, smeared, baited, and generally defamed in the Comments section of the Howard County Times and Baltimore Sun lately. That would include me, obviously, since I'm the one throwing the party.

One or two toxic trolls, or possibly one with multiple accounts, are poisoning the comments section while under the cloak of anonymity. I don't think for one minute that this would be going on if people were required to post under their own names. Despite requests from a number of community members, HoCoTimes/BaltSun has basically done nothing. As far as I am concerned, their unwillingness to take responsibility here makes them enablers of this reprehensible behavior.

Imagine what kind of a party this would be. That's a good-sized group of people who are united pretty much by the fact that somebody hates our guts enough to want to lie about us in public. While hiding under a rock.

Imagine the small talk. It's an automatic ice-breaker.

"Hey, I don't know you, but you must be amazing!"
"Yeah, I hear we have something in common!"

Most of my friends have offered the advice that this situation, although clearly unpleasant, is merely a distraction. We shouldn't get sucked in, we shouldn't take our eyes away from the bigger issues. And I agree that there are far bigger issues at stake as a new Board of Education sets its sights on responsiveness, transparency, and accountability. But that doesn't make the issue irrelevant. Our local newspaper is allowing the ongoing violation of its own terms of service. (Yeah, I read them.)

Why? What do they get for looking the other way? More clicks. More hits. Why would they want to address their own issues of responsiveness, transparency, and accountability in the Comments section? Allowing this person free rein is money in the bank for them.

In the meantime, people in our community are being subjected to the vilest sort of slander. This just bugs me. It's the principle of the thing. And I'm not angry simply because it has happened to me, or that some of these people are my friends. I don't think it should be happening to anyone.

If I were in the business of providing news to the community I would want to maintain a relationship of civility and trust.  I would require that comments be attached to real and verifiable indentities. At the very least, my journalistic "Spidey-senses" would be activiated enough to want to get to the bottom of who this person is and why they are so motivated to hurt others. There's a story in that.

It might even generate a lot of clicks.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Around Town

Spotted yesterday in the parking lot of the Columbia Target: - couple walking towards the entrance, the gentleman carrying a life-size Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toy. At least, I'm assuming it was a toy. What else could it be? A towel rack? A clothes valet? A home security system?

Anyway, as my husband and I watched the couple traipse across the parking lot, we began to imagine various scenarios for why the couple happened to be there the day after Christmas.

He: Why do I have to carry this thing?
She: Because it was your idea. And because I'm looking for the receipt.


She: I told you not to buy that thing.
He: Well, who knew she'd get six of them?


She: Well, I thought you'd like it.
He: I do like it, honey. It's just that it...scares the dog.

Who knows? There are a million stories in the return line on the day after Christmas. This is just one of them.

Some exciting news in the Village of Oakland Mills: the Second Chance Saloon announces:

Attention craft beer lovers!!!
NOW ON TAP-the first edition of Second Chance Homebrew!! 
2C ENGLISH BROWN ALE: a tasteful brown ale with rich nutty flavor made with local honey. Come up and try it this week!!!

I don't know much about home brew but I'm pretty sure it's a relatively small-batch operation, so don't wait to come by and try this out.

One last thing. Sarah Russo, School Librarian for Wilde Lake Middle School, has been sending out emails to authors and all-around famous people. Her school is about to move in to an entirely new space, and she has a really big idea:

Would you mind taking a few minutes to write a note, letter, or card, or draw a doodle to congratulate and/or welcome my students their new media center, and to inspire and encourage them? How you encourage them is up to you - encourage them to find their passions, think creatively, and explore their libraries. Encourage them to read, be kind to others, and use their talents to make the world a better place! It can be as short or as long as you like, I will display whatever you create in our media center, and it will be shared on social media if you like. While our school opens on January 2nd, words of inspiration and encouragement have no expiration date, and yours would certainly welcome many generations of students into our halls.

While Ms. Russo has been reaching out to folks from far away, I think it would be cool if local folks got into the act. I'm going to check and see if she's interested. As fun as it will be to read the words of a public figure or favorite author, it might also been inspiring to learn that there are folks from one's own home town who've got your back. 

Just a thought.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Posing with Presents

While looking for local stories this morning I came across this tweet from a teen in Howard County:

New year, bigger guns @ Howard County, Maryland 

It was accompanied by a photo of three young people posing with guns on the steps to a backyard deck. Maybe high school, maybe college aged.

I'm not using the photo, although it's easily available on twitter, because these folks may be underage and I just feel squeamish about giving out identifying information.

But this "look at us with our cool guns" photo disturbs me. Show me your Christmas outfits, your new puppy, your tech toys, your Christmas tree or your holiday celebrations. I'm cool with that. I'm not cool with the concept that in the new year we'll be needing bigger guns. To the contrary I think we need focus on better communication and fewer guns.

I don't know whether posting a photo like this gets you lots of "likes" on Instagram. I don't know if it's necessarily a hazard for future job prospects, either. It might be.

Now I am under no illusion that Twitter or Instagram exist for the purpose of getting young people to post things that make me feel good. They don't. But this little slice of life makes me wonder how much of this culture is out there in our community.

We have students who make racist threats against fellow students in our county. And we have young people posing with guns. We just have to hope there's not any crossover between those two groups. I can't say "this is not Howard County" because clearly it is.

As for me I got a cool machine that spiralizes vegetables. I probably won't pose for a photo with it. And I'm hardly a danger to others, except maybe to my family members who aren't too keen on vegetables.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Holiday Message

Theres a tradition at my daughter's high school that the music department puts on an assembly the day before Winter Break. It includes vocal ensembles, band, strings, percussion, guitar/ukulele ensemble, and dancers. It's a chance for the performers to share what they love with their peers. And it's a light hearted and laid back moment for kids who are normally lugging overloaded backpacks and cramming for AP courses.

It's just fun.

The assembly concludes with one of those old-school production numbers, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year." The band is onstage, fronted by dancers. More dancers go out into the audience, to the left of the stage are the choirs, to the right, a full complement of ukuleles. It's a big, showy, kitschy affair. Decidedly uncool. But wonderful, too.

The school posted a video of this. I am including a link here. Along with singing, dancing, playing, and general high school goofiness, this video contains a message. Watch and see if you can find it. I'll wait.


Did you find it?  Someone, I'm guessing behind the videographer, calls out to the students dancing in the aisles, "You are beautiful!"

You are beautiful. A shoutout from a teacher, as it so happens, to encourage students who might be feeling a little nervous or awkward putting it all out there in front of fellow-students.

You are beautiful. A teacher seizing the moment to say "Fear not! We're with you. You've got this." Not a statement on physical appearance. A vote of confidence.

No matter what you are doing today, here's a shout out from me to you: fear not. You've got this. 

You are beautiful.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Dying of the Light

Yesterday, on the last day of school before the Winter break, a high school student in Howard County was threatened and harassed for being Jewish. Yet again our schools cease to be a safe place for learning and growing and become the site of danger and humiliation. These are not merely the warning signs of bad things to come. These are, in themselves, the bad things. 

At this time of year when people of many faiths are lighting candles and looking for the light, we are seeing examples of profound darkness amongst our children. 

John Krownapple, HCPSS Director of Cultural Proficiency, has been working in our high schools this fall as a part of an initiative to amplify student voice. As he mentions in this tweet:

Students who believe their voice matters are 7x more likely to be academically motivated. Let's take action on what we're hearing from them.

Well, what are we hearing from them? Well, here is some of what Mr. Krownapple has been hearing:

Winter break reflection: how did we get here--many students saying they're not forming real relationships across race, class, & culture in school. Is it better or worse than the 90s? Are classrooms more or less integrated than then? If schools/classrooms are integrated, how inclusive are they? Are processes like group work and quality of relationships across differences collateral damage of standards movement and era of accountability? Thoughts and questions about public schools, diversity, inclusion, democracy, our past, and our future as we are wrapping up this calendar year. 

Our educational system has narrowed its push to grades and test scores. This has a price. You reap what you sow.

All of these incidents of hate and racism fly in the face of what many think of as the spirit of Columbia. (This is not to say they don't bother people in the rest of Howard County, but Columbia does have a mission of diversity and inclusion at its roots in a rather Public way.) I thought about Columbia, the planned community, the almost-utopian community, as I read this article by Katie V. Jones in the Howard County Times.

Exhibit tells the story of Jewish settlement 'Yazoor'

Her article recounts the fruition of research by the Howard County Historical Society into an early Jewish settlement in Ellicott City. Historian Dustin Linz 

learned that in the early 1900s, a small group of Russian Jewish immigrants settled along the Patapsco River in Howard County in a settlement they called Yazoor. The group's goal was to be self-sufficient by growing their own food and speaking only Yiddish. It lasted until 1935.
"The immigrants were not skilled at agriculture work and they had to hire farmers, who didn't speak Yiddish," Linz said. "The subsequent generations ... had no interest in carrying on the dreams of their parents. I didn't know it existed."
A sentence leaps out at me here.

The subsequent generations had no interest in carrying on the dreams of their parents.

The dream of Columbia, or the mission of One Howard, will someday be merely a file folder with some dusty newspaper clippings if our children have no interest in carrying out our dreams. What are we doing to enable our young people to be empowered to connect with those dreams? How are we making sure they can add their voices to that message?

We have the opportunity to have some serious conversations about this with our kids over whatever holidays we celebrate. Don't let that opportunity slip away.

Friday, December 23, 2016

A Place of Refuge


Have you ever needed it? Have you ever known that experience? I haven't. And because of that, I almost didn't write about this today (White privilege. Gotta love it.)

Last night County Council members Jen Terrasa and Calvin Ball prefiled legislation to make Howard County a sanctuary county.

"AN ACT providing that certain individuals shall take, or refrain from taking, specified actions with respect to the immigration status of specified individuals; prohibiting certain discrimination based on citizenship status; requiring that certain information related to citizenship status be kept confidential; providing a procedure whenever specified provisions may be preempted by other law; requiring specified officials to take actions under certain circumstances; and generally relating to human rights in Howard County."

What does that mean?

It means honoring rights that I take for granted. It means caring about the well-being of all in Howard County and not just protecting the privileged. Fiercely defending human rights for all does not infringe upon the rights of some; in fact, it makes us all stronger. And safer.

We've been talking about One Howard and Speak Up Howard lately as we struggle with issues of racism, diversity, and inclusion. Will we be vocal and unified in supporting the rights of the vulnerable?

Public testimony will be on January 17th at 7 pm.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

An Inner City Carol

Here's a new twist on a familiar carol!

On the first day of Christmas, the slumlords gave to me…a house that was very slummy.
On the second day of Christmas, the slumlords gave to me…two violations and a house that was very slummy.
On the third day of Christmas, the slumlords gave to me…three faulty outlets, two violations, and a house that was very slummy.
On the fourth day of Christmas, the slumlords gave to me…four holes in the roof, three faulty outlets, two violations, and a house that was very slummy.
On the fifth day of Christmas, the slumlords gave to me…FIVE LEAD PAINT LAWSUITS…four holes in the roof, three faulty outlets, two violations, and a house that was very slummy.
On the sixth day of Christmas the slumlords gave to me…six mice and roaches…and FIVE LEAD PAINT LAWSUITS…four holes in the roof, three faulty outlets, two violations, and a house that was very slummy.
On the seventh day of Christmas, the slumlords gave to me, seven rats a-running, six mice and roaches, and FIVE LEAD PAINT LAWSUITS…four holes in the roof, three faulty outlets, two violations…and a house that was very slummy…
On the eighth day of Christmas, the slumlords gave to me..eight broken windows, seven rats a-running, six mice and roaches, and FIVE LEAD PAINT LAWSUITS…four holes in the roof, three faulty outlets, two violations…and a house that was very slummy.
On the ninth day of christmas, the slumlords gave to me…nine injunctions filed, eight broken windows, seven rats a-running, six mice and roaches,and FIVE LEAD PAINT LAWSUITS…four holes in the roof, three faulty outlets, two violations…and a house that was very slummy.
On the tenth day of Christmas, the slumlords gave to me…ten threatening letters, nine injunctions filed, eight broken windows, seven rats a-running, six mice and roaches, and FIVE LEAD PAINT LAWSUITS…four holes in the roof, three faulty outlets, two violations…and a house that was very slummy.
On the eleventh day of Christmas, the slumlords gave to me…eleven vacants toppling, ten threatening letters, nine injunctions filed, eight broken windows, seven rats a-running, six mice and roaches, and FIVE LEAD PAINT LAWSUITS…four holes in the roof, three faulty outlets, two violations…and a house that was very slummy.
On the twelfth day of Christmas, the slumlords gave to me…twelve blocks a-burning, eleven vacants toppling, ten threatening letters, nine injunctions filed, eight broken windows, seven rats a-running, six mice and roaches, and FIVE LEAD PAINT LAWSUITS….four holes in the roof, three faulty outlets, two violations…and a house that was very slummy.
This unusual bit of holiday cheer (?) comes from Carol Ott of Housing Policy Watch in  Baltimore. Click on that link. Go to her site. Read what she does. In a nutshell, this is what Housing Policy Watch is doing: (taken directly from this page )
  • focusing on improving Baltimore’s blighted communities through reporting on vacant properties and assisting residents with targeted code enforcement efforts
  • working with City and State government agencies and nonprofits on fair housing issues,
  • working with residents and property owners on commercial revitalization efforts in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods
  • improving affordable housing options for middle-income residents, resulting in more stable neighborhoods and a larger City tax base
  • monitoring, reporting on and advocating for better housing policy in Baltimore City and the State of Maryland.
Considering end of year donations? Want to do some good outside the Bubble? Send Carol a check.  I have, several times. Not much. I wish I had more to give. Ms. Ott is the real deal. She lives where she works. She fights for the underdog and disenfranchised. She cares about decent living conditions and affordable workforce housing. Her mission is building strong neighborhoods.

I know we have plenty of worthy charitable causes in Howard County. But if you can spare a little, please consider Housing Policy Watch. And make sure to follow Carol on Twitter @HousingWatchMD .

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Ancient White Proverb

Yesterday afternoon I followed a hashtag on Twitter that made me squirm. And I don't regret it.

"So where are you *from*?"

—Ancient White Proverb

"No, I mean where are you *REALLY* from?"

-- Ancient White Proverb

"You know, you're real pretty for a..."

—Ancient White Proverb

"Oh, I don't think of YOU that way, you're different."

—Ancient White Proverb

"It's not racist if it's a POSITIVE stereotype..."

—Ancient White Proverb

Go take a look for yourself. If you are white you will either be squirming like I was or perhaps you'll feel defensive and under attack. If you're a person of color you'll be nodding your head, I would think.

Now I haven't actually said any of these things but in a sense I have been all these things because I have been a white person in a culture set up for white people that assumes whiteness is the norm. My world view has been set up with all its planets and stars and constellations placed to reinforce that word view and for many years I was oblivious.

And now? I am in no way better than I ever was but, thanks to people in our community like Candace Dodson-Reed and Janelle Bruce, and many brave students in the Howard County Schools, the blindness I had to this is beginning to shift. It's cloudy, it's blurry, but it's shifting.

I was too sick to go the Speak Out Howard event last night at Howard Community College, but I followed along at home on Twitter. I hear it may have been taped so I hope to see that soon.

I fear that often white people hope that events concerning race will be "feel-good" events. And they don't respond well when facing the realities of what deeply entrenched racism looks like. We realize it looks like us. And that makes us uncomfortable. It makes us squirm. That can't be right. That can't be what Martin Luther King wanted, can it? Didn't he stand for peace and love and things that bring us all together?

"What would MLK do?"

-Ancient white proverb meaning "Can you please ask for rights in a nicer tone?"

I know so very little but at know enough that peace and love will not be arrived at without facing and immersing ourselves in the truth. White guilt or defensiveness does nothing. Willingness is a start. Coming again and again to the table and experiencing discomfort and acknowledging ignorance is the journey that I am on. I can't tell anyone else how to do that. I need nudging, and I need course-correction. Everyone does.

I'm grateful that I live in a community where people are willing to come together and keep pushing each other towards justice.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Hands On

I'm following an online discussion about the value of "vo-tech". Much of the conversation is about how not everyone was meant to go to college, and that we are short-changing students by not giving them more options. I agree. However, I also think that all children benefit from hands-on learning.

I want a variety of hands on educational experiences available for kids at all academic levels. We often cut off bright kids from experiential learning because we assume they are just great big brains that are carried from class to class by subservient bodies. 

Can you tell I care about this?

I'm sharing the following post, written by my husband, HCPSS teacher Richard McCready, about the why and how of hands-on learning. It was written in 2011 for his blog, mustechalley. 

Making Sawdust

The best creativity lesson I ever had was from a wood shop teacher! I was lucky enough to spend six years teaching in the next classroom to this amazing educator, and I am eternally grateful for the lessons I learned from him.

At the beginning of every school year, the kids would "make sawdust" for a week. He gave them some wood tools and a stack of scrap wood, and for a week they ran to class each day to nail, chisel, drill, hammer, pound, saw, gouge and obliterate that wood. All the time through that week the teacher high-fived and fist-bumped them as more and more wood got destroyed and more sawdust piled up on the floor. By the end of the week, the place was covered in sawdust and the weirdest assortment of misshapen wood pieces. In week two, the teacher then went on to begin the process of turning these kids into woodworkers. It was only then that he began to have them listen to him as he explained how the tools worked, and went over the rules of safety that were necessary in the shop.......and by that stage, even though it was mandated that he give these talks in his curriculum, the children had already learned it all just by play......sheer unadulterated joyous play! 

For each and every day for six years when I taught in the next classroom beside this guy, the children would run to class because they knew it was fun and safe to create, and they would always bring me their birds and boats and cars which they lovingly built and carved and painted, so that I could see their creations, and they became lifelong lovers of the art of creation with wood. Every day, I hope that my students love to create as much as they love to play, and love to play as much as they love to create.

-- Richard A. McCready, November 2011

Learning to take direction
Pride in work

These are all essential elements for the learning, growth, and joy which make for the kind of quality of life that should be open to everyone.

Should we bring back Vo-Tech? Should we bring back life balance? Should we bring back valuing our five senses and the value of bodies connected to brains? 

What will become of us if we don't?

Monday, December 19, 2016

A Sad Ending

I've never been to Luna Bella in the Hickory Ridge Village Center. And now comes word that they are closing. Their final day will be December 31st, so I don't have much time left. The owners published a letter to the community on their Facebook business page yesterday. You can read it here.

I've heard many people lament the loss of mom and pop businesses in Columbia. What is going on right now in Hickory Ridge appears to be a case in point. A well-loved and successful local business feels marginalized and set up to fail by the large corporation that owns the Village Center. I know that  we faced a similar struggle when Cedar Properties decided that The Second Chance Saloon wasn't a valuable tenant and decided not to renew their lease.

Business is business.
It's nothing personal.
You just don't understand.

Yes, I understand that Columbia is changing and that the business world changes. But I would argue that it is personal. Places like Luna Bella or the Second Chance are all about the personal, the human connection. Relationships. That's where return business comes from, customer loyalty, and word of mouth recommendations.

It sounds like the owners of Luna Bella are lamenting the lack of a business relationship with Kimco where the human connection was valued along with the balance sheet. I don't blame them. I would argue that the best and most successful businesses take both into account.

While there may be more to this story that I do not know, once thing I'm sure of. I need to get to Luna Bella soon. Do you have any recommendations of menus items to try? Let me know.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Human Interest

My favorite pieces on the news are often the human interest ones. Despite my seeming obsession with local current events, I'll always jump at the chance to read, hear, or watch stories that give me a window into real people and their passions and concerns. I was never any good at memorizing dates and battles in history class. I wanted to know what people ate, what they wore, why they did what they did.

Here's a piece that's right up my alley. Plus, it has seasonal relevance.

Bowleys Quarters Santa goes from 'bah, humbug' to 'ho, ho, ho'

Written by Marge Neal, of the East County Times, it's a delicious dive into how one woman's love of all things Christmas morphed into a two-person mission of goodwill that brought her once-dubious husband into the mix. Marge treats her subjects with respect and affection. She has clearly been given the space to give this story more than just a shiny top-coat, and it shows.

Probably my favorite anecdote in the story is this, from Santa, about unexpected questions from children.

"One time a little girl asked me if Santa was allowed to drink [alcoholic beverages], and I told her it was OK for any adult to have a drink if they wanted," he said. "But I also told her about responsible behavior and I told her I would never drive the sleigh after having a beer."

Well, alrighty then. Who knew?

I have followed Ms. Neal's work since she came to town as a writer/editor for Columbia Patch, back when Patch was really a significant source for local coverage. She moved from covering Columbia to her own stomping grounds in Dundalk. After Patch's demise it has been an ongoing struggle to find a news outlet willing to hire seasoned adults, rather than fresh-out-of-college journalists who could be paid at the lowest end of the pay scale. It's great to see her find a home at East County Times doing what she does best. And loves best.

So take the time to click on the link and read the story. It's like a perfectly-made, perfectly-wrapped Christmas gift. You won't be disappointed.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Bad Practice

I always thought that the reason we don't get to keep our reporters very long at the Howard County Times was because they are are overworked, underpaid, and the stories are rather provincial and unexciting. This week I saw something which is probably a bigger motivator to jump ship than any of that.

This week the Baltimore Sun editorial board published a piece which reads more like a paid advertisement for Superintendent Renee Foose than an editorial. In "What's Wrong With Howard?" not only do they put forward numerous factual inaccuracies throughout, they also essentially throw the reporters and editorial board of the Howard County Times under the bus.

This response from Howard County parent Chris Krupiarz spells it out nicely:

I am contacting you in your role as the Editor of the Sun's Editorial page regarding today's opinion piece on Howard County.  You should be aware of a few facts regarding Dr. Renee Foose's performance and the Howard County Board of Education that were glossed over in the piece.  

1)  Your own Sun Paper, the Howard County Times, twice endorsed three non-incumbents for BoE positions.

2)  Your own Sun Paper, the Howard County Times, requested the Board not rush to renew Dr. Foose's contract in a editorial.

3)  Your own Sun Paper, the Howard County Times, has continually reported on issues of Dr. Foose's tenure that extend well beyond the Glenwood mold issue which, in itself, was a serious health danger to children and staff.

I recommend that instead of being hoodwinked during a single Editorial Board meeting with the Superintendent and her personally selected facts and figures, next time your Editorial Board do actual research -- such as simply contacting your own newspaper staff in Howard County -- before looking like uninformed fools.

Why would any of our young, dedicated reporters want to to commit to stay in an environment where their work could be so cavalierly dismissed? Why put in the grueling hours of community meetings, following leads, corroborating facts, telling a complete story, meeting deadlines, and maintaining a social media presence all at the same time? Why would you do it if you know that your parent company had zero respect for your work?

Here's the deal: if you need to do the end run around local press and leave town in order to get someone to print your story without questioning it, either A) there's something wrong with your story, or B) maybe you're in the wrong town.

The editorial board allowed Dr. Foose to bypass the inconveniences of the journalistic process altogether. 

Why on earth did they do that?

Friday, December 16, 2016

A Holiday Quartet

If you are like me you have made a dent in your holiday shopping but you still have a few things to get. There are are people on your list for whom a special item is necessary, and you haven't found it yet. I have some recommendations today. The following four women are local entrepreneurs who have something special to offer.

Kristen Carrasco--Kikiverde Handmade.

Kristen is an artist/artisan and sometime blogger from Laurel. Her specialties are jewelry, beautifully designed prints of inspirational quotes, and her amazing signature Christmas ornaments. (We own one.) Kirsten is also an avid gardener and photographer.  Take a look at the link above which will take you to her Etsy shop. Her attention to detail and use of color is exceptional. There's something about her work that makes you feel rested and refreshed. 

Susan Coghlan--Posh Mama Said So

Susan and I know each other from our days working for the Howard County Public Schools. From Columbia, Susan has started her own business selling Perfectly Posh products. The company describes itself as "pampering products made in the USA using only the best ingredients." Susan's enthusiasm in building her business is awe-inspiring. A friend who is a customer of Susan's said, "
"I highly recommend them - good products, quality ingredients, smells oh so good. Can you tell I am addicted?" 

Nicole Paterson--Neat Nick Preserves

Nicole Paterson lives both in Columbia and Ellicott City. (I still don't understand how that works.) Her business is the newest on the list, but she's been taking the local foodie crowd by storm with her sweet and savory preserves. Little French Market has even created a signature sandwich using her peach preserves. Her products are available at the Little French Market in Ellicott City, and Rooster + Hen Store in Catonsville. It's also easy to contact her through her business Facebook page. Click the link above to see a complete list of what she is whipping up these days. The Brown Sugar Apple Butter sounds like a perfect choice for some breakfast toast on a cold Winter morning.

Monica Rogers Williams--From Momma's Kitchen

Monica lives in my awesome village of Oakland Mills and was once a teacher at my daughter's elementary school. Her cookies are amazing and the variety of flavors and options are plentiful. Click on the link above the see her holiday offerings at her website. Not only are her baked goods fresh and delicious every time, her gift wrapping is gorgeous. I've written about her before--look at the photos. And Momma doesn't just do cookies. She's also well-known for brownies, pound cake, and a killer banana pudding. If you need a gift that will wow from the outside to the inside, Momma has got you covered.

Support local businesses as you finish up your holiday shopping. And don't forget to head over to Old Ellicott City, too.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Gratitude Thursday

I am grateful, I am so everlastingly grateful for the WAMU pledge drive. For every minute it goes on, I do not have to hear the news.

I do not want to hear the news.

I do not want to hear of the horrific conditions in Aleppo. I do not want to hear how waters are being polluted by breaches in pipelines. I don't  not want to hear how the governor will put money toward private school vouchers when he has declined to fully fund public schools.

And I really, really do not want to hear about the daily crazy-making antics of the President Elect, and how our election was very likely manipulated by a foreign power.

What a blessed relief to hear about coffee mugs and tote bags from familiar voices. Those same voices used to communicate better news in better times. We've been through a lot together. Maybe if they keep talking about reporting with accuracy and passion, this crazy new world will melt away.

The pledge drive is a fantasy world where the news doesn't exist. You can help to keep it going. Give to WAMU so that it can stay on the air and nobody loses their jobs. But give just enough. Not too much. Because they keep saying that they are going to stop once they reach their goal.

We can't let that happen.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


A local high school student group is having a fundraiser. Are they selling citrus fruit? Candy bars? Spirit Wear? No. They are selling survival kits. Mid-term survival kits.

Now, there's nothing wrong with this venture except that the idea that you need a survival kit to get through midterms is truly one that belongs in college, not in high school. I don't begrudge the student organization an opportunity to raise funds. I don't think there's anything wrong with parents wanting to do something nice for their kids.

But I do think there is something inherently wrong with a school system culture that says that the way to prepare students for the next step is to make them do the next step before they are ready. Pushing high school students beyond reasonable expectations just because "it's going to be like that in college" is unhelpful at best and harmful at worst.

The same holds true for making Kindergarten more like First Grade in order to "get them ready." Children's developmental needs and stages are more or less constant. It's ridiculous to keep backing up and backing up higher level expectations as a way of meeting future standards.

Preparation means doing the things that you are meant to be doing at your own particular stage. Those things have value. We need to respect them.

School parent Chris Krupiarz said this about unrealistic school work loads and their consequences.

When they get to college they'll do what they need to do.  There's time for college and time for a 40 year career.  There's also time for being a kid that they will never get back.

Judging from self-reported anecdotal evidence, work load can vary wildly from school to school. Perhaps that's something the new board of ed can look at. (You know, in their spare time.) One thing that we can do as parents and community members is to defend the rights of children and young people to have a balanced life which includes family time, adequate sleep, play, recreation, and values them as vital parts of the equation.

The promise of preparation is not "survival". We need to choose the road that means our children can thrive.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Monday, December 12, 2016

Strangely Prescient

Sick day over here, complete with antibiotics. I'm running this piece from four years ago today because it feels relevant all over again.

What do you think?

There's No Place Like HoCo


There's No Place like HoCo

Ah, the Holidays! Such a grand time of celebration, sharing, wonder and delight!  If only it didn't come accompanied by that experience that most of us dread.


Don't protest about how love of neighbor is at the heart of the season. You know what I mean.  If you have ever been to the Mall any time after Thanksgiving, you have most certainly found your love of fellow creature sorely tested.  Then there are "get-togethers."  I practically shudder typing the word. Whether they are for work, school, church, or professional or social organization, we will find ourselves spending more time with some folks than we really want to. Scary, creepy people.

And then, there's Family.  No matter how happy our families are, I daresay there are a few relatives we must endure during the holidays that never fail to make our hackles rise, for some reason or other.While "There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays," it is wise to remember that just because there's no place like it, that doesn't make it ideal.

I was reminded of this unpleasant dilemma when I visited Ellicott City Patch this morning. A simple question about sugared drinks brought out many of those folks that populate Howard County in the same way that Holiday get-togethers bring out Crazy Uncle Fred or Negative Nancy from Accounting. I wonder how much fun it is on Patch when they get one of these little parties going?

What a party it is, with many of the familiar faces we have grown to know so well, "Socialist!" "Nanny State!" "Dirty, Filthy!" "Fascist!" Where have you all been since the election? How we have missed you!  See how the adrenaline flows around the punchbowl. One imagines competition for the hors d'oeuvres, a fight over the last cookie.

Yes, sometimes around the holidays we find ourselves at such an event.   Sometimes we are able to politely speak our peace. Other times, it is better to head home early and think good thoughts.

So, wherever in HoCo you may roam this holiday season, however you worship, and whatever you drink, may you find peace, kindness, and patience.

Yes, patience. We are going to need a whole lot of that.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

For Whom the Bell Tolls

CA rep from River Hill, Dr. Chao Wu, reports that the Bell Tower is coming back to the Lakefront in time for the Columbia 50th Birthday celebration. I've lived here since 1999 and I have no memory of seeing it in real life, but I have read many laments from residents who miss it. I am guessing that this news should be cause for celebration.

Although I read somewhere that the location will be different and some folks are not happy about that. This is Columbia, after all. If there is to be change there will be people lining up to protest. See also: Dr. Wu's meeting write-up for complaints about the noise at Merriweather.

 CA is selling commemorative bricks again and I am very tempted to purchase one for the blog. On the other hand, I am a bit superstitious. What if the act of purchasing the brick killed my desire to write? That would be awkward.

A bit of fun: the River Hill Choral concert concluded with the debut of its newest ensemble: the River Hill Chorale. Chorale rehearses once a week after school, and is open to RHHS students, faculty, staff, and parents. Kudos to director Ms. Katie Geiger and the RHHS community for filling those risers with sound. Here's a sample.

What a wonderful idea to create a multi-generational school-based group that allows participants to have the experience of hearing and being a part of a large ensemble. We compartmentalize so much of our lives these days. We live separated from each other. Perhaps sometimes we all need to get together and sing.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

In the Moment

I've been mulling over this week's Board of Education swearing in of new members, subsequent election of new officers, and all that followed. Two moments stuck out to me. They are an indication of the the leadership style we can expect from Board Chair Cindy Vaillancourt.

The first moment occurred when Superintendent Foose suggested that the Board might not be able to take a partular action in question and suggested that the first step was to consult legal counsel. Ms. Vaillancourt calmly stated that no, they wouldn't be needing to do that, and any subsequent questions could be ironed out in the next day's closed meeting.

It was such a simple moment that one might have missed it. Ms. Vaillancourt listened to the Superintendent, considered her request, and then she said no. And in that exchange, the Howard County Board of Education ceased to serve at the pleasure of the Superintendent. Of course, by statute it's always been in writing that the Superintendent is under the supervision of the Board.

That isn't what's been in practice for quite some time.

No whip-cracking, no mustache-twirling necessary. Just a simple, "no, I don't think so."

Later on, when Sandie French was expressing dismay at the course of events, the irony of her protestations set off some in the audience. There were ripples of laughter. I don't believe that anyone was laughing at Ms. French, but rather were incredulous at her arguments.

Ms. Vaillancourt leaned forward to her microphone. "Come on, guys," she addressed the room. Her tone was gentle, but authoritative. The laughter ceased.

Clearly she was not going to allow anything that smacked of disrespect for a fellow board member. When you consider how members of the board have treated Ms. Vaillancourt in the past, her determination to be civil and even-handed is remarkable. Although, for anyone who knows her, it wasn't the least bit surprising.

Monday evening showed us Ms. Vaillancourt to be prepared, articulate, determined, and someone who will take no guff. It also showed her desire to work collegially with other board members, refusing to take or wield special privileges that other board chairs have claimed before her.

I'm looking forward to a new style of leadership on the Board of Education. Monday's meeting suggests good things are on the way.