Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Join Us

Join us........ Leave your fields to flower
Join us........ Leave your cheese to sour
Join us........ Come and waste an hour or two
Journey....... Journey to a spot ex-
citing, mystic and exotic
Journey........ Through our anecdotic revue

We've got magic to do........ Just for you
We've got miracle plays to play
We've got parts to perform.... Hearts to warm
Kings and things to take by storm
As we go along our way
- - Magic to Do, Pippin

They’ve got magic to do out at River Hill High School weekend. Beginning Thursday night, and running through a Sunday matinee, they’ll be presenting the musical Pippin. I’m excited for three very good reasons:

1. I’ve actually never seen Pippin
2. My husband is one of the musicians in the pit band.
3. My daughter is in the ensemble. 

So you won’t be surprised to hear that I have tickets for every performance. 

While I don’t expect you to dedicate your own weekend in the same way, I would like to invite you to see the show for yourself. Howard County Schools do many things well. As we struggle with budget issues it is hard to remember all the different ways we support students in learning and growth because we are so focused on shortfalls and loss. I’d like to humbly suggest that everyone spend an evening with these young actors/singers/dancers/musicians and draw some energy from their enthusiam.

Musical theatre can’t make our problems disappear but it can give us a brief respite from what ails us. 

Last night the auditorium at River Hill was filled with parents and school staff attending the Superintendent’s meeting about School Safety. The stage was set for local dignitaries. Tonight the same space will be filled with the sounds of singing and the stage will be set for drama and dance as they run their last dress rehearsal for the show. That’s just the way our schools are. They have to be ready for anything life throws at them.

Come fill the house for this celebration of what these students do best. In a world of uncertainty, threats of violence, and political upheaval, they choose to give their all to remind us of this message:

In the end, though, Pippin finds that happiness lies not in extraordinary endeavors, but rather in the simple joys and ordinary moments that happen every day. 

Join us. Here’s the trailer to whet your appetite.


This week, the River Hill High School Theatre Arts Department will proudly present the Broadway musical, Pippin. With a memorable score from multiple Tony, Oscar, and Grammy winner, Stephen Schwartz, Pippin is the story of one young man's journey to be extraordinary. This multiple Tony-award winning show was originally produced on Broadway in 1972 (directed by the legendary Bob Fosse) and then successfully revived in 2015. River Hill’s production promises to bring magic and joy to the hearts of audience members of all ages. Heir to the throne, the young prince Pippin is in search of the secret to true happiness and fulfillment. He seeks it in the glories of the battlefield and the intrigues of political power. In the end, though, Pippin finds that happiness lies not in extraordinary endeavors, but rather in the simple joys and ordinary moments that happen every day. 

Performance dates and ticket information:
  • All performances will be held in the River Hill High School auditorium.
  • The performance dates are March 1,2,3 @ 7 p.m. and March 4 @ 2 p.m.
  • Tickets are $13 in advance and $14 at the door.
Advance sale of tickets: Online (now) via “Seat yourself” at

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

What’s in a Name?

I know of at least two cases where a candidate has declared in upcoming local elections and, in so doing, instantly created a whole lot of positive buzz: for their opponent. I’m not going to name names, but you do have to be “some kind of special” to motivate the public to go out and knock doors for someone else.

Name recognition is a big deal in Howard County, as it is everywhere, I guess. If you’ve got that plus money in the bank I suppose you might think you can sail all the way to victory in the primaries and beyond.

Not so fast.

There are some candidates whose names are well known because the public is painfully aware of what they have done. Or failed to do. And that may be startlingly difficult to overcome when voters go to the polls.

If your record in public service involves dismissing constituents, arrogance, lack of transparency, and a general all-over indifference toward responsiveness to the public, I have to wonder why you are pursuing higher office. It is called “public service” for a reason.

This primary season is certainly going to be a test to see whether informed voters or low information voters make the decisions around here. I’m hoping it’s the former, but there are clearly some candidates who are hoping otherwise.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Death by Task Force

I celebrated the beginning of my weekend by coming home and listening to the most recent episode of Elevate Maryland. We all have our own way to unwind. Sitting in my comfy chair with absolutely no interruptions and no immediate plans is about as good as it gets.

The featured guest of this episode is Councilman Calvin Ball. There’s a lot in this interview to think about. It’s worth the listen. But, at the risk of ignoring the main course in favor of the appetizers, I’d like to focus on a bit at the beginning of the show where co-host Tom Coale “goes off” on task forces. If I could I’d present his entire speech (monologue? soliloquy? rant?) but I don’t have that voice-to-text thing nailed down quite yet.

So you’ll just have to listen.

At some point during the current County Executive’s first term I became overwhelmed with the number of task forces appearing on the scene. I thought I had written an entire blog post about it, but it looks like it only surfaced for one measly paragraph. (To clarify: I don’t think that Mr. Coale is speaking specifically about HoCo task forces.) If you want a more thorough treatment, he has it for you here.


  • If you have paid staff who can work on an issue, why are you asking people who already work full-time jobs to work eight hours and then come donate their evenings to what could very well be the work of staff?
  • What is the point of a task force if you don’t use the results to take action?
  • Has creating a task force become a substitute for creating and enacting policy?
Co-host Candace Dodson Reed adds her own objections:
  • These task forces are largely filled with political appointments, which limits diversity of representation. (I don’t think she just means racial diversity, but also differing points of view, for example.)
  • Don’t take the work of all these people and just “put it on the shelf”.
All of this talk makes me wonder. Is it possible to avoid taking action at all merely by creating a task force and then letting that process take its course and then just...fizzle out? Does that ever happen? Can one actually kill an issue with a task force?

What do you think? Have you ever served on a task force? How did you feel about the experience? Do you feel your contributions were valued?

In the meantime, I’m still pondering possible interpretations of Mr. Coale’s Task Force speech. A fire and brimstone sermon? Or perhaps the Task Force Tango. Or a soothing ballad: 

As I sing you to sleep, after the Task Force...

Sunday, February 25, 2018

No Incumbents?

I don’t think I am alone in wanting to see Bess Altwerger and Cindy Vaillancourt officially toss their hats in the ring for one more term on the Board of Education. They have both done excellent work, and have a wealth of knowledge about what is going on and what needs to be done.

But they haven’t. Yet.

Amongst the other hopefuls I know two that I am confident could do an excellent job. But I have been much more focused on what’s actually going on out there on Route 108 and in the schools, and less on the upcoming election. We have a lot of catching up to do after years of poor management, mistreatment of teachers and staff, and misplaced priorities. When it comes to the BOE, I just don’t have election fever at this point.

I feel as though we are only just now making headway and I hate to see a break in continuity. Ms. Altwerger and Ms. Vaillancourt, if you are out there reading this post, don’t give up on us just yet. Give us one more term and then hand us off when we are in better shape to make the transition.

But I don’t run the universe. Tuesday will come and I will finally have my answer.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

A Remarkable Life

I’m struck this morning by the life of an extraordinary woman whose obituary is in the Baltimore Sun this morning.

Sarah D.C. Banks, a retired career college educator and administrator, dies
(Fred Rasmussen)

There’s more than one Columbia/Howard County connection in her story.

Taken a moment to read it. Even if you don’t subscribe, it’s definitely worth one of your “free reads” this month.

Somehow Ms. Banks reminds me of someone else local who works in higher education.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Last Year’s News

Yesterday, as I read reports from County Executive Allan Kittleman’s State of the County address, a memory surfaced. Typically the C.E. uses this speech to highlight progress and unveil new initiatives. One such initiative last year focused on the Gateway area of Columbia.

You can read more about that here.

It made me wonder what has transpired since the initial announcement. I rarely have a reason to head over to Gateway unless I’m having a family dinner at Flavors of India. And Colonel Gateway has been more or less silent on Twitter over the last year, so if anything  new and exciting is going on, he’s been keeping it under his hat.

The State of the County Address provides the County Executive a Very Public opportunity to focus on his or her (it could happen again someday, folks) personal brand of leadership. But I wonder how often we go back and compare what is said to what actually transpires following the speech.

Of course, new initiatives take time to get up and running and to bear fruit. So I think it would be fair to take a look at what’s happening over in Gateway, one year after Mr. Kittleman’s announcement. If you have any information, send it my way. And I’ll get to work doing some research of my own.

In the meantime, has anyone seen Col Gateway lately? I'm rather worried about him.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Sensitive Topics

In our school system, if a parent doesn’t want their child to receive information about human sexuality, they can exercise the parental right to shield their child from learning. I’m not a fan of this, because I think we’d all be better off if we had a comprehensive sex education curriculum that was for all children, k-12.

But the fact remains that we allow parents to have a say about this because it is deemed to be a sensitive issue.

Right now we have people (none of them teachers, I might add) suggesting that the way to make schools safer is to arm teachers with guns.

Okay, now I want to exercise my parental rights to protect my child from being in a school where teachers have guns. Surely guns in schools are a sensitive topic. Surely I will get to have my say, right?

My child is guaranteed public education. And I expect that to be in a school without guns. Where do I need to sign up to make sure her right to a gun-free education is protected? Under no circumstances do I want adults who should be role models promoting a “pro-gun lifestyle”. Not for one moment do I want her to think that spreading around more guns is a solution to any problem.

What do I need to say? It’s against my religion? It’s against all my deeply-held values? It flies in the face of what education is all about?

Send me the special permission slip. I want to sign off on this now. My child deserves an education without guns.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A Taste Of Things to Come

I stopped by the Downtown Branch of the Library yesterday afternoon to replenish my stack of read aloud books for my littles at school. The weather was gorgeous. I decided to pop over to the Chrysalis. I was surprised to see a patch of snow untouched by the high temperatures.

It was probably in the 70’s and yet here was a reminder of our one-day snow event on Saturday. Crazy Maryland weather. I backed up to give you a better view, one of my favorites.

I don’t want to rush the seasons but I am look forward to another year of community events at the Chrysalis.

Over at Merriweather, there’re busy raising the roof and they could use your help. The Downtown Arts and Culture Commission has launched a fundraiser to support “arts, culture, and community programming”.  Any amount helps. Donations over $30.00 will get you a t-shirt. Considering that you’ve probably been there and done that, don’t you want the t-shirt, too? 

Councilman Calvin Ball has officially filed to run for County Executive. He’ll be the guest of Tom Coale and Candace Dodson Reed on the Elevate Maryland podcast this week. I wonder what his most unpopular benign opinion is?

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

My Stupidest Blog Post Ever

At around six thirty this morning I posted the following piece. Approximately thirty second later a friend reach out to me with this message:

Gubernatorial candidates Rushern Baker and Ben Jealous are black men.

I knew that. Of course I knew that, but why—

I have to take the blog post down immediately!

Friends, I can’t explain why I made this error. Was it a result of seeing and hearing more coverage of the white candidates? Was it due to my current state of exasperation with white male privilege? Was it because somehow, in my own little white woman mindset, I had tuned out the two candidates of color?

I don’t know. But I am owning my error, and apologizing.

Here is what I posted. This time, with corrections. - - jam


Most Unpopular Benign Opinion

All the candidates for governor are white guys, save one, who may not actually be eligible to run. Can we not do any better than this, Maryland? Actually, yes, we can. Candidates Rushern Baker and Ben Jealous are black men. What was I thinking? Yes, I know that some white guys are perfectly okay but I think we can agree that they’ve had more than their share of positions of power in this country.

Oh, sure, tell me how I should evaluate each of them on his merits. Don’t get hung up on gender and race, you say. Yes, yes. I read and I listen and I analyze and yet...somehow it hasn’t penetrated my consciousness that Rushern Baker and Ben Jealous are running? Sheesh.

Enough the white guys running everything, people! It’s just not healthy. While white guys have brought us the beautiful words of the Declaration of Independence, they also bring us systemic racism, sexual harassment, rabid gun culture, and more that I’m not thinking of at the moment. Am I saying that white men are, by definition, unqualified to serve in elected leadership positions? No.

I’m saying, why the heck do we keep letting them off the hook and letting them go to the front of the line? It is beyond me that we can’t do better than this in 2018. Give me some more diverse choices! Give me someone who doesn’t look at the world through the lens of a White Guy.

Apparently that’s actually a possibility.  

Everyone loses when leadership is not more diverse. Systemic problems go unaddressed when the same old people are at the table. Please, Maryland. Give me no more than the same old bros.

I don’t know why the messages of the white male candidates has been strong enough to completely blow the memory of these two other candidates out of my consciousness. But I assure you I intend to do something about it.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Time Sensitive

Tomorrow, a proposed update to Grace’s Law will be read in Annapolis. Learn more here . Please take a moment to write in support of these improvements which are designed to make the bill more effective in protecting minors from online bullying. Please send your comments to by early Tuesday, February 20th.

The contest is still running for who will receive the rights to the first amateur production of the musical “Newsies”. Reservoir High School is now closing in on the lead. Keep voting every day in February!

It’s getting to be high school musical season here in HoCo. Check the hcpss website for a list of this year’s offerings. Then, buy your tickets before they sell out! Most schools have online ticket ordering now, which will make that easy for you. It’s local and affordable and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how good the productions are. Off the top of my head, I’d recommend Tarzan (Oakland Mills) and Pippin (River Hill) but look at the entire list and see for yourself.

You still have time to vote for Candace Dodson Reed as Celebrity DJ for this year’s Retro Evening in the Stacks Library Fundraiser. Make your donation here. Yes, there are other candidates, other playlists. Any donation the the library is a good donation. I’m just out here campaigning for my favorite.

Village Elections (Columbia-wide) will be Sat., April 28, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Candidate packets should be available this week. So, make up your mind already and run!

Last, but certainly not least, local blogger Scott Ewart of ScottE’s blog wants you to know that the candidate filing deadline in the state of Maryland is February 27th at 9 pm. He’s concerned that there aren’t enough BOE candidates. Me? Not so much. I’m waiting to see what the incumbents will do.

Have any time-sensitive info you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Pierre, or: A Cautionary Tale

Let’s get it over with, shall we?

Be it known that, on this eighteenth day of February in the year 2018 I, Julia Jackson McCready of Village Green/Town² am running my annual “Why You Should Care About CA Elections” Post.

I do it every year.

And most of you don’t care.

You have your reasons. You don’t have time, it seems irrelevant, you’ve been rebuffed by members of your local village board or your CA Rep. You’ve been turned off by long, crushingly boring meetings.

You don’t care.

Let me introduce you to Pierre, whose tale is told by Maurice Sendak. There’s a read-aloud with illustrations, or, if you prefer, a musical setting.

Pierre doesn’t care.

He doesn’t care, and he doesn’t care, and he doesn’t care until life pretty much passes him by and he is left to contend with a hungry lion. Having practiced nothing in his short life but not caring, Pierre has no useful skills with which to navigate this situation.

Friends, don’t be Pierre. If you live in Columbia and allow community involvement to pass you by then the day will come when you are confronted with your very own hungry lion and you, too, will have no useful skills.

Small decisions and big decisions are made every day in Columbia. They have an impact on how we live today and in the future. If we don’t get involved then it will be the hungriest lions who make those choices for us. And they are perfectly satisfied with a Columbia where you don’t care, because it consolidates their control of the outcomes. If you know anything at all about James Rouse and the mission of Columbia, you probably know that was never the goal for how our community should be run.

Contact your Village manager to learn more about serving on your Village Board. Follow this link to learn more about serving on the CA Board of Directors. (CA Rep)

Pierre had to cool his heels in belly of a lion before he came to the conclusion that he cared. What will it take for you?

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Good Old Days

Recently there were some energetic conversations online in response to this news:

Delegate Hill is set to propose a bill banning tackle football for children under the age of 14

I’m in full support of this measure. Study after study is showing us the debilitating long-term effects of even mild concussions on growing athletes. This bill doesn’t solve everything that needs to be addressed, but it is a start. Turning the tide against traumatic brain injury has to start somewhere. 

Many of the responses were negative. Amongst the objections to this bill was a particular argument that I’d like to address today. In essence, the objection looks like this:

The state has no right to interfere with my role as a parent to decide whether or not to let my child play football.

My response is that the state has the right to create protections for citizens when there is a preponderance of evidence that there is a public health risk.( Try Googling “sports concussions public health”.)

For example:

Child labor laws
Pure food and drug act
Seat belts and car safety seats

It used to be quite common for children to work in factories to help support the family. Should the state have had the power to intervene? Have we forgotten that children routinely lost fingers and limbs and even died in workplace accidents due to poor working conditions and fatigue from working inhumane shift lengths? Would you shake your fist against the state for taking away your right as a parent to decide whether your child should work under these conditions?

I don’t think so.

I read a short piece (more like a slideshow) this morning about what life was like fifty years ago.  It’s exceptionally relevant here. One hundred children died each year from chicken pox. There were no heart transplants. It made me think about how many things we rely on today are based on scientific research and innovation.

Why do some people draw a circle around football and decide that science does not apply?  They are choosing to apply emotion and nostalgia instead of reason. And there can be no rational discourse under those circumstances. How on earth could any parent put on the armor of righteousness to proclaim,

It’s my choice to subject my child to repetitive brain injury and a lifetime of suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

It is my belief that this is only possible if one uses “feelings” as a guiding principle. And if that is what you insist on doing, I would like to make this request. If you, or your spouse, or your child are diagnosed with a serious illness, I would like you to receive whatever treatment was “state of the art” fifty years ago. Or maybe even whenever you went to high school.

Would you do that? Would you fight for the right to receive identical care to someone in, say, the 1970’s or ‘80s? No? Why not?

You say you’d want to receive the best researched, most innovative, cutting edge, up to date treatment available?

Hmm...Why is that?

Why do I support a bill to limit tackle football in young people? Because we know more now than we did fifty years ago. And, as Maya Angelou said so succinctly:

Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.

We do know better, and we need to start doing something about it to protect our kids.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Extra Recess

Yesterday was an unusually warm day for February. At my school we decided to have extra recess for our youngest students. The sky was clear and the sun was warming the day. When it passed 65 degrees we let children take their coats off.  They ran, climbed, jumped, played in the sand, swung high on the swings and created their own pretend games of all sorts.

Play is the true work of childhood. They were doing their jobs.

Yesterday I saw many anguished parents asking our school system, “What are you doing to protect our children?” They wanted specifics. They wanted to hear that the layers of protection are impenetrable. Perhaps they are influenced by remarks like these:

@JudgeJeanine: "We need to protect kids, & that means we've got to have metal detectors, we've got to have experienced cops..., & we've got to be able to have perimeter controls. We've got to have teachers who can carry a weapon & react to this kind of nonsense." 

I saw the above post on Twitter, along with this response:

That's a prison. You're describing a prison.

Schools should not be prisons. Teachers should not be armed guards. Children should be able to have extra recess on a warm February day.

Turning our angry demands to the school system in response to these tragedies may be understandable, but it is largely misplaced. While our schools have a responsibility to provide and maintain safe environments for students, they cannot possibly prevent the kind of onslaught from automatic weapons which is making school shootings more and more frequent.

If you have fears, and anger, questions, and demands (as well you should) then direct them to the people who are truly responsible: your elected representatives. If you would give anything to make sure your child returns home safe at the end of each day, then get involved with groups advocating for common sense gun laws.

It is the responsibility of our elected officials to make sure that our communities are safe enough that our schools do not need to be turned into prisons. Don’t let them off the hook. Don’t make this the schools’ fault. Time after time teachers, administrators, and school staff have shown remarkable heroism and some have even given their lives in the protection of children in their care.

If we unleash our anguish on the schools we are essentially saying that we don’t believe that anything can be done to turn the tide of mass shootings. We can’t change that, so let’s change the schools.

I call bullshit.

 If we want to protect our children as much as we say we do, we need to be willing to direct our energies at the source. Destroying schools as places of growth and learning because we feel we can't protect our children any other way is both cowardly and counterproductive.

The teachers and staff at your child’s school are there to help them learn and grow. They will do anything in their power to nurture and protect them. Support them in their work.

Make our communities safer for schools.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

More Than A Taste

In an episode from the original Star Trek, “A Taste Of Armageddon”,  

the crew of the USS Enterprise visits a planet whose people fight a computer-simulated war against a neighboring planet. Although the war is fought via computer simulation, the citizens of each planet have to submit to real executions inside "disintegration booths" to meet the casualty counts of the simulated attacks.

Every time another mass shooting occurs the story of this particular episode rises in my mind. Over and over I have heard people saying that these deaths are the price we must pay to maintain the freedom to bear arms. We mustn’t give that up, they warn. All of other other freedoms hang in the balance. 

Step into the “disintegration booths”, my friends. Or better yet, send your children. This is the price we must pay. It’s too bad, It’s so sad. We send our thoughts and prayers. It’s too soon to talk about change. Don’t politicize this tragedy by challenging the established order.

We have our rituals, our liturgy of mass shooting responses. There are protocols to follow. They must be followed to the letter and none of them include preventing this from happening again.

And so it happens again.

Armageddon is the place where the final battle between good and evil will be fought. Feeding our children and our loved ones into the insatiable maw of gun violence without giving our all in the battle seems like we have already ceded the fight.

Step into the booth. Your turn may be next.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Best Valentine Ever

Today I’m celebrating the best Valentine Columbia ever received.

Five years ago I was eating delicious Mexican food outdoors on the San Antonio Riverwalk, drinking frozen Midori margaritas, listening to strolling mariachi musicians and following every tweet from the CA Board meeting.

2/14/13 is the night that the CA board voted to give us a park worth coming to again and again. To the eight board members who were brave enough to cast those votes: thank you.

Here’s the drink I was drinking while hanging on every update from Columbia.



Something about that vibrant green, eh?

Plans for this season’s children’s programming at the Chrysalis are firming up. I’m pleased to announce that’s I’ll be back doing music and movement dance parties for young children again this year. We had so much fun last summer. If you have young children or grandchildren, I hope you’ll come by to join in the fun.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Seize the Day

Musical theater students at Reservoir High School need your help. They are trying to win the rights to be the first amateur production of “Newsies” by participating in a contest run by Playbill. It’s one of those vote early, vote often community click contests.

Surely Howard County can rally around these kids and their dedicated teachers. Right now they’re in second place behind a performing arts school in Elkhart, Indiana.

Here is the link:

You can learn more about the contest and what Reservoir would be winning. Also, each school made a video. Reservoir’s entry is at the bottom. 

If you have a musical theater kid you have probably heard of “Newsies”. The original Disney movie took my house by storm when my older daughter was a teen. Now her younger sister is an equally big fan of the theatrical version. Trust me, you want to see a local production of this. It’s a fun show with some valuable themes about standing up for what’s right and persisting even when things get tough.

Vote every day until February 25th. I am pretty sure you can vote on multiple devices. (Not sure about that bit.) I’m hoping that by posting this on the blog we can widen the circle of support and help push their efforts over the top.

Now is the time to seize the day
Stare down the odds and seize the day
Minute by minute that's how you win it
We will find a way
But let us seize the day

“Seize the Day”, Music by Alan Mencken, lyrics by Jack Feldman

Monday, February 12, 2018


Good morning, Monday. You come too soon. My bed was warm and sleep was deep and I’m just not ready for you yet.

Last night we lost power briefly at my house. It was out less than a minute. Of course the first thing I wanted to know once it was restored was whether anyone else had the same experience. Facebook was full of, “Did you lose power just now?”We pondered what might have made that happen. Columbia does have those famous underground power lines, you know.

It seemed to me that so much of life is wanting to know if others share our experience. We want to know that are not alone. Yes, we want to know why, but it almost feels more important to establish kinship first.

Last night a bunch of Columbia folks shared something all together at the same moment. It was not a crisis. More like a minor inconvenience. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, in moments like that, we could stop and think how important our kinship as members of one community truly is?

What have you done for Columbia lately? What has Columbia done for you? Do you even think about it? Is the concept of Columbia relevant to you?

Surely Columbia has to be about more than underground power lines.

Where was I when the lights went out? Well, I guess I was in a Columbia state of mind.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Guest Post: All About That (Elkridge) Branch

Yesterday I put out a call for information about the Elkridge branch of the Howard County Library. I didn’t have to wait long for an answer.

From Sarah Russo, former teen instructor and research specialist at the Elkridge Branch:

Elkridge is a fantastic branch. Slightly biased, because I worked there before I became a librarian for HCPSS. The new branch will have a DIY center, which sounds amazing - but honestly the librarians there are why I visit. Phil Lord, the branch manager, announces HoHS football games and is just awesome! Veronica ‘Ronnie’ Baker (legendary children’s librarian) and Phil Lord are original to the branch, which they opened in 1993. Ronnie also worked at the Elkridge ‘store front’ branch in the 1980’s.

I am so excited about their new branch!

There’s history there at Elkridge as well... In the early 1990’s, it was announced Columbia was going to be getting a second new library (what would become East Columbia), and Elkridge had barely any service (just a storefront). Elkridge Library actually grew out of a grassroots community action group that wanted to stop a truck stop from going in the area where the library now stands.

In order to meet they gathered at a funeral home (because they had no meeting space)! They raised money to promote the need for a full service library. Eventually the County relented and built the library which was built identical to Savage, but because the budget was tight, Elkridge was built with cinder blocks- while Savage had been finished with bricks.

Elkridge and East Columbia opened almost simultaneously, but as you can see...East Columbia (which housed the library administrative offices until they moved into the old Miller branch) was a much fancier branch!

Underserved for the growing population in this area, and a local grassroots fight for equality in County services...doesn’t it sound familiar?  The story is 25 years old...but from stopping the double stack train station, to fighting for a high school -Elkridge seems to always have to fight for equal treatment (sadly). Luckily there are some great people in Elkridge willing to lead the charge.

But it’s always been the people that work at the library that have made Elkridge Branch worth visiting, and I know you can say that about every branch of Howard County Library! Everyone has a favorite branch...and when Elkridge opens again next month I hope you give my favorite branch a chance.

Sarah Russo is a Middle School Media Specialist in the Howard County School System.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Take A Look

I’m a huge fan of the Howard County Library System. They offer so much to our community in so many different ways. I’m always seeing fabulous workshops for youth and teens at the Glenwood Branch. The Miller Branch in Ellicott City is always packed when I go there, and they also house the Howard County Historical Society archives. The Savage Branch has a Music Tech Lab. The Downtown Branch seems to be *the* place for teens who want to book a space to work on a project.

I’ve been to each branch except for the Elkridge one, so I hope the Elkridge folks will clue me in on why I need to visit.

But the very best branch is, of course, my branch.  Big surprise, right? The East Columbia branch wins as the sentimental favorite at my house. It’s the place where we took my daughter from the time she could look at a picture book. Once she could walk through the hallway to the children’s room she’d pat each tree as she passed.

“Hi, tree!” Each one got an individual greeting.

I must admit I’ve been pretty cranky of late since “my” branch has been closed for renovations.
(As an aside, does it seem to you as though our libraries are in a constant state of renovation? It’s great, but sheesh! I can’t keep up.)  Yes, the other branches are perfectly fine, but, East or West, our branch is best. You know how it is.

So I am extremely excited that today is the Grand Re-opening of the East Columbia Branch. Ribbon cutting begins at 9:45 am. More information about the day’s events can be found here. I don’t know if I’ll stop in today, but I’ll definitely be there soon to see the updates. And pat the trees. (Uh oh. I wonder if they kept the trees?)

If your day’s travels take you by the Miller Branch instead, there’s a treat for you, too. There will be a bake sale to support Latino students at Centennial High School. So you can do your studying and pick up something yummy on your way out. They will be there from 10 to 6. Stop by and say hi!

Have you donated to my friend Candace Dodson Reed as Celebrity DJ for this year’s Evening In the Stacks? Any amount helps and it all supports our library’s amazing programs.

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Great Showman

I waded in, uninvited, to an online discussion of Comptroller Peter Franchot’s Reform on Tap Task Force last night. I confess, I stuck my oar in because I was disgruntled about the recent announcement that inclement weather days have necessitated doing away with Spring Break this year.

If this leaves you wondering what on earth I was thinking, here’s a reminder. Mr. Franchot has made his name and Office synonymous with the following:

Reform on Tap Task Force
Let Summer Be Summer
William Donald Shaefer Helping People Award
( let’s not forget the BPW “Beg-a-thon”)

He (and his trusty team) have worked hard to put his name and these topics in front of the people of Maryland, over and over again. It’s good to have causes. It’s good to believe in things. It looks like Comptroller Franchot is a man of energy and ideas.

But my problem here is that I never liked the “Let Summer Be Summer” campaign. I felt like the needs of Ocean City tourism ran right over the notion of local school board control of calendars. No matter how often genuine concerns were raised, Mr. Franchot plowed ahead, telling everyone that “Let Summer Be Summer” was what everyone wanted. I got absolutely no sense he listened to the other side of this issue. Zero.

So you take the premise that School must start after Labor Day and end by June 15th. Add to that multiple inclement weather days. What do you get? No Spring Break. And now there’s a bunch of parents right here in Howard County who just lost vacation time with their families and they don’t feel like Mr. Franchot and the Governor really thought this one through.

Which brings me back to Reform on Tap. A completely different initiative, you may say. While that may be true, Mr. Franchot has made the choice to seize on particular initiatives and link his office with selling them in an almost P.T Barnum-like fashion. If I look at him and think “School Calendar”, he has no one to blame but himself.

You should certainly learn more about the Reform on Tap Task Force and make up your own mind. I’m not innately opposed to it. I simply have such a bitter taste in my mouth after being steamrolled on the school calendar that I’m not inclined to jump on the bandwagon.

And, so help me, if some man jumps in to the comments on this and tells me “you just can’t” about any of this- - well, I’m warning you. It won’t be pretty.


Thursday, February 8, 2018

A Musical Story

And now, back to where we left off. The story of Wendell Hanes: musician, composer, founder/owner of Volition Sound Branding, published author, and entrepreneur.

Oh, and a graduate of Howard County Schools. Oakland Mills High School, to be precise.

Did you read the article? Go ahead. Watch the multimedia bit as well.

This article piqued my curiosity. Of course, the first thing I wanted to know: did Mr. Hanes participate in music programs while a student in the Howard County Schools?

He did.

And then he didn’t.

Mr. Hanes told me he played in the concert band and jazz band in elementary and middle school and then he played on his own in high school. Why did things change in high school? Why didn't this budding musician continue on in the OMHS band?

He played sports: soccer and basketball. You couldn’t do that and play in the band. So that was the end of his musical career—in high school, that is. But while a student at Brown University, Hanes was in a car accident that changed the course of his life.

As he recuperated at home that summer, a gift from his parents changed his career goals. "They sparked me into getting into music inadvertently," he says. "They got me a keyboard. I couldn't play the trumpet anymore. I stayed in the house the entire summer and worked on the keyboard.”

Mr. Hanes clearly had talent. He had the grounding of an excellent elementary and middle school music education. He had a love of music. He had family support. He had the capacity to imagine new challenges, new horizons. And he had determination to work at something new and to keep at it. Most musicians I know say that talent isn’t the be-all and end-all. It’s a starting point. What’s more important is the ability to learn, to work hard, to practice again and again, to listen to and respond to feedback. To grow.

And I hazard a guess that’s just what has made Mr. Hanes the professional musician he is today.   

What drew me to his story most is the intersection between Mr. Hanes’ career  and my husband’s line of work. He (Richard McCready) teaches high school students how to make their own music in Music Technology classes in the Howard County Public Schools. Many of his students go on to pursue careers in music. 

A good chunk of his students play sports, too. (There’s no scheduling conflict.) So, if they can’t be in a performance ensemble, or want to make music in different ways, they still have a place to learn and grow.

I’m excited to know Mr. Hanes had his beginning in Howard County Schools music programs. Clearly he did just fine following his own path. But I think it’s excellent that our school system has broadened its offerings to include more musical options at the high school level. Who knows? Perhaps one of our HoCo Music Tech teachers is mentoring a future Wendell Hanes right now.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Highly Recommended

The best read of the week, in my opinion, is this:

The Glenelg composer whose work is heard around the world

Take a look at this piece in the Howard County Times by John-John Williams IV and we’ll talk more about it tomorrow.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Rainy Days and Sundays

What a crazy day yesterday. I found myself out in the pouring rain running errands in the middle of the afternoon. My attempt to get my hair cut at Floyd’s in Ellicott City was thwarted by the fact that they were packed with people trying to make it in under the early closing deadline of five o’clock. Yep, closing early for the Super Bowl. Who knew?

If I thought that Floyd’s was popular, nothing could have prepared me for my next stop. Every single parking place was filled. Cars were circling slowly for a space. I drove around. And around. On the fourth circuit I finally nabbed one. It was a bit far from the entrance but I claimed victory anyway. It was clear that the most important place to be yesterday was this place.

Yes, the library. The Miller Branch in Ellicott City, to be precise. My home branch in East Columbia has been closed for renovations (reopening this Saturday!) so I’ve been making the trek over here for my preschool read-aloud needs. If you have any doubts whatsoever as to whether our libraries fill a need in our community, you should try to find a parking place on a Sunday afternoon.

I hear they’re gearing up for some sort of retro fundraising event. I know a local “DJ” who’d appreciate your support in her bid to be the top fundraiser for the Library’s programs. Take a look at her retro playlist here. I hope you’ll consider a donation that will Elevate her to the top of the list.

My last errand yesterday was to Party City in Columbia to pick up something for my classroom. I noticed that the empty space left by Cosi appears to be close to launching as Modern Market.

Healthy food coming in 8 days. Great! Another place that I will want to go to and my family will shun. Along with Cava, I might add. Same shopping center, and, now that I think of it, Modern Market and Cava appear to be targeting an almost identical customer base. Hmm...

One last photo for the day. Dueling “holidays” at Weis Market in Oakland Mills. Overkill much?


One last thing. Today is the two-year anniversary of this post. Remember? Here’s hoping we never see this again in Howard County.

It’s slippery out there, folks. Be careful today.

Sunday, February 4, 2018


Yesterday, disappointment. Today, discomfort.

Something odd happened to me yesterday as I wrote these words:

Yesterday someone launched a concerted attack against someone I admire and respect and, let me tell you, that’s a whole different story. When I see someone I care about being hurt, the desire to support and defend is fierce. I don’t feel one bit like walking away. I don’t philosophize that maybe I’ll learn something. Using the internet to publicly shame someone when one might have picked up the phone or dropped them a note is dangerously close to online bullying, in my opinion. We’re supposed to stand up to bullies. Aren’t we?

I remembered.

I remembered a post that I wrote several years ago, in the run up to the BOE election. It was a piece full of righteous indignation, a no-holds barred narrative of the actions of one person. I’m not going to go into the particulars. What matters to me at this moment is that I remember getting a lot of push-back from readers which said, essentially, “Why didn’t you reach out to her first?”

Using the internet to publicly shame someone when one might have picked up the phone or dropped them a note is dangerously close to online bullying.


Now I get it.

Never mind my justifications—I wasn’t adequately acquainted with the person in real life, she seemed to me to be a public figure, her actions negatated any obligation to go the extra mile in her defense. None of that matters because it was a way I convinced myself that, due to the seriousness of the issue, I had no choice.

You always have a choice. 

Witnessing what was done on Friday and Saturday to someone I care about made that uncomfortably clear. You always have a choice. And perhaps when one feels the most righteous indignation is the precise moment one should stop to consider that choice. Am I wielding a pen or a sword? 

That carefully crafted post I wrote was “smart”. And it was truthful. But it wasn’t wise. A friend suggested that I had betrayed a trust to my readers. I had taken them someplace they really didn’t need to go. It has taken me a long time to understand that. 

Yesterday, in watching someone else use their righteous indignation to slash a sword through a friend’s reputation, I had such a visceral understanding that I felt sick.

I did that. I thought I was right. I was so convinced of my “rightness” that I used the powers I had to wound rather than inform. In a week where I suggested that Howard County should look in the mirror, I have had some powerful self-realization of my own. 

Saturday, February 3, 2018


Yesterday someone hurt my feelings on the Internet. These things happen. I tried to resolve it but couldn’t. So I just need to walk away, sit with those feelings for a while, and move on. Maybe I’ll learn something from the experience. Maybe not.

Yesterday someone launched a concerted attack against someone I admire and respect and, let me tell you, that’s a whole different story. When I see someone I care about being hurt, the desire to support and defend is fierce. I don’t feel one bit like walking away. I don’t philosophize that maybe I’ll learn something. Using the internet to publicly shame someone when one might have picked up the phone or dropped them a note is dangerously close to online bullying, in my opinion. We’re supposed to stand up to bullies. Aren’t we?

Lest you think I’m nothing but a bundle of disappointment, I should let you know that I had a wonderful day at work yesterday. My students are the greatest, I adore my school. I capped off the day with a fun family dinner at Mission Barbecue. Real life was good to me.

The Internet was not.

Speaking of which:

I’m heartbroken. We love this place. It’s a real live brick and mortar book store with great prices and a quirky, ever-changing collection. Please go spend some money there and tell them not to close.

Here’s hoping for a less disappointing day today, HoCo.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Just Desserts

Let’s close the work week on a lighter note. It’s a running joke in my family that we’re always too full to order dessert in restaurants.

“One of these days,” we say, “we’ll come back and just order dessert.”

But we never do. And, calorie-wise, that’s probably okay.

And yet.

Will we ever taste the impressive-looking creations at the Double-T Diner? Sink a fork into the down-home options at Bob Evans? Howard County is probably teeming with delicious desserts and we’re missing out.

Where’s the best dessert in Columbia/Howard County? Give me specifics. If I’m going to invest the calories, I want the cream of the crop. If I get enough responses I’ll write a follow up post with your recommendations.

Today is Friday, and looking forward to the weekend is sweetness unto itself. But some well-chosen dessert would be the perfect “cherry on top”.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Who Stole the Cookies?

If you were listening very carefully to the recent testimony of Colleen Morris, HCEA President, you just might have caught the answer to today’s 64 dollar question. The question?

The answer:

That perennially “leaky” Health and Dental Fund? It didn’t just spring a leak all by itself. It was raided to fund other, completely unrelated projects.

Is that even legal?

That money is specifically dedicated to Howard County teachers. Please tell me that our school system doesn’t decide to bankroll unfunded pet projects by sticking their hand in someone else’s cookie jar. Any of us who handle our own personal/family budgets know that robbing Peter to pay Paul will eventually have dire consequences.

But this, my friends, is far bigger than Sister dipping into the egg money to buy new nylon stockings.

The Superintendent serves at the pleasure of the Board of Education. The Board of Education is elected by the community to serve the people of Howard County. Where was the oversight here? I recall certain former board members saying that she “is doing everything we have asked her to do.” Really?  Did you ask her to take away contractually earned Health and Dental money from teachers?

Our school system is built upon trust. As parents we entrust our children to our school system. The teachers who work with our children every day must trust that the professional and financial agreements they have entered into will be honored. Quite simply:

If this is the kind of information the forensic audit is turning up, I sure wish we had been able to do it a long time ago. Like maybe 20 million ago, before the midnight cookie jar raiding got so out of hand. Shenanigans like this go a long way towards explaining why current Superintendent Martirano is #NotHappy .

One last thought: some of us still haven’t gotten over the sting of the former Superintendent publicly suggesting the teachers could be thought of as “greedy” for asking that the school system honor already agreed upon raises. That she could say that while knowing that she was draining their Health and Dental Fund makes it all the more offensive.