Tuesday, April 30, 2019

A Monday Thing

It’s getting to be a Monday thing.

 Last night’s Elevate Maryland live podcast taping was a sold out crowd that moved upstairs from the Common Kitchen to Food Plenty due to a larger than usual rush for tickets. The reason? The guest was County Executive Calvin Ball, making his third visit to the show.

Here you see hosts Tom Coale and Candace Dodson Reed doing their last minute show prep. This is serious work.

And here you see them with their guest right before taping started. Not always so serious, eh?

There was so much great stuff in the show last night that I hesitate to even attempt to do a rundown. You should listen for yourself. 

One moment that jumped out to me happened during what is called the “Elevator Speech” part of the program, where Tom and Candace ask certain proscribed questions about books, movies, music, etc. They needed to come up with an entirely new set as Dr. Ball has answered them all before. 

What was the best vacation you have ever taken and why?

It turns out that the best vacation was a special opportunity to travel in Europe (with his entire family? Or just Mrs. Ball?) for a month. 

We went to Paris, Prague...

He reeled off a list of European cities.

And that is where I really learned about...

I leaned forward. Architecture? Cathedrals? Haute cuisine? Romance Languages?


Say what?

I mean, I already knew about wind power and wind turbines and...

Yes, dear reader, I giggled. I may have even guffawed. Here I was picturing something along the lines of a romantic European idyll and - - composting?

This is why you owe it to yourself to listen to this man. Whether or not you think you already know what he is going to say. Because, I assure you, he will surprise you. And this is why: Calvin Ball  is always learning. He’s curious. Combine that with a deep desire to make things better and you’ll have some valuable insight into what makes him tick. (In my opinion, anyway.)

Tom and Candace asked the trademark question: what can we do to Elevate Maryland?

Want to know what the County Executive said?

Be curious. Listenand find out. 

Monday, April 29, 2019

Guest Post: Jim Smith on Columbia Elections

Saturday evening I posted:

Well it wouldn’t be a Columbia Election Day if it didn’t end with me being mightily pissed off.

Sunday morning Jim Smith Of Harper’s Choice said it much better. (You may remember Mr. Smith from a post I wrote last summer about grass-cutting.) It warmed my heart to see someone else pondering what feels like the death knell of Columbia Village Elections. I asked him if I could share it and he graciously consented.


We had an election yesterday in Harper’s Choice. We had 4 people running for 3 open seats. Not enough people voted, which means there was not a quorum, so the results were invalid. This is not the first time this has happened. In the next few weeks we have to figure out how to rectify this particular issue, but the whole thing seems like a big mess to me. There is so much going on in Harper’s Choice these days, it is odd to me that not enough people would vote but I have a theory. 

I think most folks have no idea that they are even part of the village association. Most people pay CA each year with no thought to what village they are in. They care about CA business, but when it comes to the individual villages people do not realize they exist, or what they do. I think the whole pay structure is the reason for this. Each year folks see CA on their bills, and they don’t know that a large portion of that fee goes to the villages. Most people don’t realize that they are in fact not members of CA but are members of their village association. If more people did know that, I can’t see why they wouldn’t vote. We make it so easy. You can do it by mail in, online, or in person. 

Harper’s Choice has several redevelopments on the horizon, a potential fire station and police station, and so much other stuff going on, yet we only received 217 ballots from over 3,000 residences. It is hard to not be discouraged by this. I honestly do not think people don’t care; I think they just don’t realize what the village associations do in relation to CA.

It is also very hard to educate people in the town about how the town works. This place is a complex nightmare of associations ruling over other associations with yet more associations in the form of condos and townhomes. I have been on the board of Harper’s Choice for 3 years now, and I only recently understood the whole situation. Besides understanding this mess, getting this information out to people who are already inundated with nation and state wide politics is not only daunting, it is impossible. People have too much information to deal with, and the town politics fall to the wayside with anything lower than CA. 

This is not a new problem, and it will continue to be a problem unless fundamental changes are made in this town. I won’t pretend to have the answers, but I do know that hosting elections year after that are invalid takes a toll on people. The people running in the elections get frustrated, the incumbents get frustrated, and the poor village managers who have to help sort the whole thing out get frustrated.

These village associations matter. The villages manage the town while CA is busy rebuilding gyms and cleaning pools. The villages do all the leg work to make the town look great while CA gets all the credit. The system is very screwed up and broken. 

For the past several years we hosted an election that culminated in an invalid election. There has to be a better way.


I’d like to thank Jim Smith for allowing me to run his thoughtful Facebook post as a Guest Post on Village Green/Town². He also deserves thanks for starting a great conversation on this topic. Head over to Celebrating Columbia Maryland and its Future to read the many responses.
Add your own. 

There’s some good stuff there. Food for thought. 

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Columbia in Pictures

I voted in my village election. Did you?

Odds are that you didn’t. Maybe you lost the ballot they mailed out or didn’t have time to vote in person. I was startled to see Harpers Choice offering another option.

Yes, that’s right, the Columbia Association has found a way to make online voting a possibility and Harpers Choice had it. My village board in Oakland Mills apparently took a pass. They’ll be hearing from me on that. Village Elections are teetering on the brink of complete irrelevance in the public consciousness. We should be doing everything we can to connect with residents. 

Yesterday the Inner Arbor Trust hosted Jazz in the Woods at the Chrysalis, featuring jazz ensembles from high schools, middle schools, and the greater community. I was not surprised to see Tweets from various schools touting their students performances. But this one, from a teacher at Howard High School, stood out:

The structural technology of the Chrysalis?  Ooh!

I responded: Chrysalis fan here! Did you teach a lesson on this in Tech Ed? Cool!

Teacher: Thanks! We talked about the Chrysalis in a recent Structural Technology warm up. I hope my dears will see it (& other structures around them) with new eyes 

Speaking of seeing things with new eyes, you would have had to get a quick glimpse of this formidable sculpture before it disappeared from the Internet this week.

Debbie Nix, local celebrator of all things Columbia, spotted this piece on Patch and was quick to share the news. The only problem was that, almost immediately, the piece seemed to have disappeared. HoCo Common Sense blog* has this mystery completely covered for you. I note that not everyone seems happy about this news.

One more thing. Pink snow is over.

*A footnote: HoCo Common Sense is written by Harpers Choice resident Joel Hurewitz. Mr. Hurewitz won a seat on the Harpers Choice Village Board yesterday. Except, he didn’t, because not enough people voted to reach a quorum. 

Saturday, April 27, 2019


It’s three twenty-three in the morning and I can’t sleep. I picked up the kids from the Post Prom Party at the Main Event at the Mall, delivered the date safely home. I sent my tired but happy daughter off to bed, sat down in my comfy chair for a moment and sat on my car keys and set off my husband’s car alarm.

That got my adrenaline running.

But that’s not why I can’t sleep.

My daughter and her date were talking about the kids who got caught for drinking at the Prom. I’m not going to go into detail because these are all somebody’s kids. But it made me really sad. It’s clear that my daughter felt that, for every student whose drunkenness was obvious, there were others who didn’t get caught. It’s a hard task for the adults present to keep on top of.

I feel sad for kids who thought the only way to have fun at the Prom was to drink. I feel sad for those whose prom nights were cut short by their own foolish behavior. Yes, there absolutely must be boundaries and consequences but I can still feel sad about what could have been a happy night with friends being turned into a fiasco of shame and censure. Or worse, alcohol poisoning, a trip to the emergency room, or an alcohol-related car crash.

I first wrote about teens and alcohol in 2013 in this piece called The Price Of Coolness. I talked about how my parents didn’t really give me a compass with which to address drinking. I made some mistakes, got sick, recovered. I was lucky. I didn’t drive during those years. I wasn’t sexually assaulted while intoxicated. I had my own weird sense of what was “legal”. I never ordered liquor in a restaurant while underage and I never attended school events drunk. I drank at cast parties.

Now, as an adult, I realize how unbelievably lucky I was.

My daughter has never had a drink and at this point doesn’t want to. Someday that may change. My husband and I have had many conversations with her over the years about being safe around alcohol. I hope this has helped, but it’s hard to know. The fact that she came home safe tonight could be purely because of her own inner spirit and strength. The fact that she doesn’t hang out with a peer group that drinks could just be dumb luck.

I don’t judge anyone else. I’m not here to point fingers at other parents. I just want all of our kids to be safe and to feel they can relax and have fun without alcohol or drugs. I want them to come home to their parents at the end of the night and go on to do wonderful things.

One more thing.To all the adults who came out tonight so that our kids could have this special evening: thank you. Thank you for setting and enforcing the boundaries. Thank you for caring for our children. Thank you for all you do to keep them safe.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Career Goals

Now this is the job for me.

DPW creates a $100,000 job for outspoken critic Mark Reutter and Fern Shen for Baltimore Brew

I’ll let you read the piece and draw your own conclusions. It’s a fascinating story. I share it here today because, as the young folks say on Twitter,  “career goals.”

Dear employment universe,

I am uniquely qualified to be hired as an Outspoken Critic in the $100,000 range. Additional skills and qualifications: Ardent Supporter, Bemused Observer.

Strong writing skills, persistent, consistent work ethic.

Hobbies include anecdotes, vignettes, free-form poetry and doggerel verse.


Village Green/Town²

I wonder if there’s anyone in Howard County who’s hiring?  It could be the opportunity of a lifetime.

Thursday, April 25, 2019


Julia McCready writes from radically left agenda.“

I was a bit startled to read that criticism on a Facebook recently. I’m not sure it’s true, but I’m hardly offended by it. Or, for that matter, afraid of it.

It put me in mind of a theme that ran through many of the late Dennis Lane’s blog posts, that Howard County was in need of “a lefty blogger.”

Since then we’ve actually had a healthy sampling of local bloggers who are left of center. None of them are still blogging regularly. In fact, lots of folks seem to have moved on from regular blogging to other things. Life, Work. Podcasting.

It appears I’ve been left holding the bag in the “lefty blogger” department. I haven’t won anything through merit but rather I appear to be the last one standing. And I’m not even a political blogger.

But radical? 

I think it’s all in who’s doing the name calling. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Open and Closed

On Sunday my family made plans for Easter lunch at Seasons. It’s pretty much our restaurant of choice for family gatherings because they take the gluten-free thing seriously, and we have a member of our party for whom gluten-free is no joke. Our only problem: church was going to be over 11:45ish, and our reservation wasn’t until 1:15.

“No problem,” said my husband. “We’ll just have a cup of coffee at Starbucks.”

This seemed like a good plan right up until we arrived at the Mall and discovered that Starbucks was closed. So were the main doors to the Mall. The weather was beautiful and there were plenty of folks on the outside plaza area. The fountain was on. People were toing and froing from restaurants. The parking lot was amply filled while the Mall itself was closed.

Garnering cool points from my family, I recalled that the new Barnes and Noble had a coffee bar. They were open. We met up there, enjoyed our coffee, and my husband found a book he had been looking for. The cafe was well populated by singles, spread out, working, reading, studying, on laptops. It felt almost like a reading room in a library. We were the only “social” group.

Clearly the Barnes and Noble was meeting a need. Not everyone goes out to Easter lunch. Not everyone celebrates Easter. Some folks are in search of a quiet place to do some work, read a good book, have some coffee.

My mother-in-law mentioned that she hardly recognized the Mall anymore. That’s a sentiment I’ve heard a lot lately. What I found interesting on Sunday was how many people were there, patronizing establishments which were open, even though the Mall proper was closed for the holiday. Somebody somewhere is studying these sorts of things to see what works and what doesn’t.

From our experience on Sunday, I’d say the “outside” parts of the Mall are doing quite well.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Two Years In

Many thanks to Inner Arbor Trust President Nina Basu for highlighting this memory for me yesterday.


What an honor it was to be included in the opening festivities of the Chrysalis two years ago. I’m still excited about it.

The third season opens this weekend. On Saturday you can enjoy HCPSS Jazz in the Woods. This free festival event runs from 10:00 am to 3:30 pm and showcases jazz bands from Howard County Middle and High Schools.

On Sunday it’s Mystic India the World Tour. 

On April 28, 2019, the Chrysalis in Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods will transform into an explosion of color and culture! Created by Director Amit Shah and featuring the AATMA Performing Arts dance company, Mystic India: The World Tour is an internationally-acclaimed Bollywood dance spectacular based on the concept of ancient India’s transition into modern India. The colorful costumes and elaborate sets have been custom designed by Amit Shah and handmade in India’s film capital by a team of 40 designers and workers over the course of four years. The team of diverse, impeccably trained dancers from the AATMA Performing Arts dance company combines authentic Indian and modern techniques bringing the streets Mumbai and New York into perfect harmony. 

I’m really looking forward to this! This is unlike anything I’ve every experienced and I love that it’s making its area debut in Columbia. 

I hope I’ll bump into you this weekend at one of these events.

Meet me at the Chrysalis.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Help for Hope

This caught my eye:

Hopeworks is holding a fundraiser at Cured/18th & 21st. From their website:

100% of proceeds from this event will support survivors as they move from crisis to recovery. Safety, recovery from trauma, and protection from violence are all priceless resources that victims find here at HopeWorks. Your support will leave a lasting impact on those we serve.

In case you are not aware, Hopeworks is Howard County's sexual assault and domestic violence center. They host a variety of programs and operate a 24-hour help hotline.

A while back I wondered at an advertisement for an event at Cured which boasted high priced tickets for a VIP evening of fun and classic cocktails. I was perplexed that anyone would pay that much money for an event that wasn’t “in aid of” something. Readers let me know that such events were really a thing, and also came back with high praise for the venue itself: 
Cured/18th & 21st. 

It only makes sense that I would highlight this upcoming event under the circumstances. Here is one of our new, local hot spots opening its doors for a charitable cause. I hope Columbia/Howard County will turn out and make this event a success.

Domestic Violence and sexual assault are uncomfortable issues to talk about. That may make it more difficult to raise the funds needed to keep these very necessary programs running. If you’re not a $125.00 sort of person, I’m sure they welcome small donations. Or you could apply to volunteer.

So, a well-deserved shout-out to the folks on Grantchester Way for being a partner in this local charitable event. Go if you can, or chat it up on social media to spread the word.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Pink Snow

Yesterday was a perfect Spring day. On days of such exquisite weather I imagine that all that Columbia/Howard County has to offer is alive with invitation. Walk or bike on Columbia’s pathways.  Visit the Robinson Nature Center or the Howard County Conservancy. Go down to the Lakefront and enjoy the fountain. Have a picnic at Blandair, Centennial, or other local parks. Give your children extra time at the playground.

I spent yesterday observing the beauty of nature from my comfy chair, partially immobilized by a Benadryl haze. I love Spring. I also have allergies. I opened up the house to let the fresh air blow through, opened the curtains to enjoy the view, and then I dozed. A lot.

One of my favorite sights each year is this tree which sits in our neighbor’s yard.

We are on our fourth set of neighbors in that house, but the glory of the tree remains constant. Yesterday I watched the Spring breezes blow billows of “pink snow” into the air. I thought of all the folks who have lived in that house since I have lived here. 

These houses are considered to be “starter houses”, I believe. So we have seen folks come and go with some regularity around us. We have stayed, rooted to our neighborhood, village, and the simple fact that we are living in a house in Columbia that two teachers can afford. And that’s okay.

I have often been told off for not understanding what Columbia is all about, or for supporting some initiative that Rouse surely would have opposed. There’s no way for someone who wasn’t around in the beginning to fully refute that. Those are fruitless arguments.

All I have to offer is my own lived experience in a community which has become my community. At some point in our history we are going to have to start allowing as how that matters, too. Right now I have Spring, and pink snow, and the memories of wonderful neighbors.

For today that will have to be enough.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Fruit Salad

Today’s featured vocabulary:
  • cherry-picking
  • comparing apples and oranges
for extra-credit, see also: apophenia 

 Let’s begin.

County Executive Calvin Ball has released his first budget for Howard County. You can read more about the education focus of the budget here. The usual budget process has been followed and there has been input from the community and budget analysis from staff whose expertise is in examining and evaluating financial choices. That’s how it is done every year in Howard County.

The County has been open in sharing that revenue projections are down and community needs are up.  This means, of course, that decisions on what will be funded require more scrutiny. That’s not unlike one’s own family budget. You need to choose what is most crucial for the money you have. What is the best investment based on known efficacy and value?

Despite the fact that anyone following this process has all of this context at their disposal,  a baldly political smear campaign is at work which attempts to make the entire budget process about two things alone:
  • Discontinuation of police aviation program
  • Security detail for County Executive and family 
Let me tell you, it took a lot of work for someone to wade through the entire Howard Budget and emerge (cherry-picking) with only these two completely unrelated items. (Comparing apples and oranges) This was not accidental. This was done by someone who wants to do all your thinking for you and slip a little poison in there, as well.

The discontinuation of aviation programs is not new. See this article about Harford County.

Citing safety, cost, focus, Harford sheriff discontinues aviation unit, David Anderson for The Aegis

And former County Executive Allan Kittleman fought for the discontinuation of the aviation program right here in Howard County when he was on the County Council. See the details here.

GOP offers budget choice, Jamie Smith Hopkins for The Baltimore Sun

Funny how it’s a responsible fiscal choice if a Republican does it, but it’s reckless and selfish if a Democrat does it. 

It’s almost as though it’s not about aviation at all.

Critics have tried to amplify their accusations by suggesting that the County Executive chose a security detail for himself and his family over the Aviation program. Here is where you extra-credit types can go look up apophenia.

There’s no link between these two individual budget choices. If analyzing the budget is purely about weighing what comes in versus what is going out, why aren’t these people linking the aviation issue with the introduction of the Howard County STRIVES Program? It’s a comparable financial expenditure:

$400,000 for HoCo S.T.R.I.V.E.S. to support children’s mental and behavioral health programs; academic, social, and emotional learning supports; and community capacity building. (Kimi Robinette for WBAL News Radio) Link here.

Why aren’t Calvin Ball’s critics roasting him for choosing children’s mental health over 
aviation? I’ll tell you why: because it doesn’t fit their narrative. It would make them look like mean-spirited whiners who’d just as soon kick your puppy if it got in the way of their political machinations.

No, it was a very deliberate choice to go into an enormous, multifaceted document and pick something very personal to the County Executive with which to cast doubt on his credibility and fitness to serve. 

There’s no obvious connection here. It’s a disingenuous concoction meant to hurt. It also shows slipshod analysis and just plain bad math. Frankly, I hope people like this never get their hands on a Howard County Budget. Ever.

Friday, April 19, 2019

NIMBY Nuance

Hilda’s Place. Have you heard of it? From their website:

I think most of us are aware of how underserved Howard County is when it comes to helping residents who struggle with addiction. The County Executive is working to make the opioid crisis a priority in his administration. Community Advocate Laurie Lundy has been pushing to change local attitudes about addiction and the need for local treatment facilities for years now.
So the news that Howard County has a (relatively) new choice for addiction treatment should be good news. Right?
Maybe not if it’s in a shopping center in Glenwood. (Cooksville, technically) 
Some folks are up in arms that a drug treatment facility could be in their neighborhood. They fear for the safety of local school children who frequent the shopping center. They recoil from the “criminal element” that, in their view, a drug treatment facility most certainly entails. Why, they wonder, would you put a drug treatment center in our neck of the woods?
Because that’s where the need is?
Addiction touches people from every part of society, in every neighborhood. It is all too easy to think of those with drug problems as “other”. They are thugs, criminals, dangerous, low-lifes. We look the other way to avoid 
acknowledging that they are also our neighbors, friends, and family members. Some of them just might live in Western Howard County.
Councilman David Yungmann has been working with the community and the owner of Hilda’s Place. He facilitated a meeting where folks could have their say, and also learn more about the real workings of the treatment program. From what I can see on social media, Councilman Yungmann is working very hard to balance the rights of both the neighbors and the treatment facility. The language he uses avoids fanning flames of fear yet attempts to acknowledge neighborhood concerns.

All of this makes me wonder if we in Howard County need to look at our attitudes about addiction. Saying that there’s a crisis is just one step. Where are we when it comes to supporting treatment? Does it depend on who we think the clients will be? Do we advocate for people getting help as long as it’s not in our neighborhood?

There’s plenty of racism and classism and fear of the bogeyman all wrapped up in public attitudes on this topic. I raise the issue of Hilda’s Place not to mock or accuse the residents there but to point out the issues involved. It might be easy to judge them, but, would we be any better?

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Love for Grace

Grace’s Law 2.0 will be signed into law today by the Governor. The greatest thing in this world would be if there were no need for this law, and that a beautiful girl named Grace McComas never had to suffer at the hands of vicious cyber bullying, I wish that were the reality.

It is not.

We know from following the local news that cyber bullying is still happening in our schools. We have so much to do to address this. A law that codifies cyber bullying as a crime is only one part of that. Parents must make it their responsibility to be actively involved in teaching their children about responsible and respectful social media use, and to be vigilant in monitoring that use. School administrators must create an atmosphere in which victims and their families can have no doubt that they will be heard and treated fairly.

Christine McComas took an unspeakable loss and worked to create something to make other children safer. She has worked through heartache and persisted despite setbacks and discouragement. I have a feeling that, wherever there is a need for G.R.A.C.E. , (giving respect and compassion to everyone) she will be still be working.

We can join her.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Two on Two

Monday night I got myself a beer and some lovely salmon toast at Trifecto at the Common Kitchen and settled in for the Elevate Maryland.podcast.

Here’s the beer. The salmon toast disappeared too fast to be photographed.

Monday’s show featured a roundup of the recent Maryland General Assembly session in Annapolis. The guests were Luke Broadwater of the Baltimore Sun and Mileah Kromer of Goucher Polls, who together are the team for the Roughly Speaking: Government Edition Podcast. (“Roughly Speaking: Government Edition”, a partnership between the Baltimore Sun and Goucher College,  ran  during the 90-day Maryland General Assembly session.)

It was a first for Elevate, a podcast team interviewing a podcast team. As meta as that may sound, the actual event ran smoothly, largely due to to a strong sense of collegiality 
amongst all parties, combined with a healthy sense of humor.

I’ve long been a fan of Mr. Broadwater’s work at the Sun, so I was pleased to get the opportunity meet him. I met Ms. Kromer at an earlier Elevate taping at La Palapa in Ellicott City. Both have so much knowledge in their subject areas that one podcast episode couldn’t even scratch the surface. I hope they will be back.

Topics ranged from the passing of Speaker Busch, the political jockeying for his replacement, the minimum wage bill, death with dignity, the styrofoam ban, issues with delegates Lisanti and Jalisi, and more. You can listen here.

I’d be interested in what you think about the window bill they discuss near the end.

Folks aren’t always so tuned in to events outside of their immediate bubble. But state legislatures make decisions that affect all of us. Sometimes those decisions even reach out to have implications in other states. But that’s a topic for an entirely different blog post.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Guest Post: The Magic of Singing

This one goes out to music educators, all my special needs peeps , and anyone who has ever loved a child. Sharing, with permission from the author, the editorial from the March issue of Choral Director, by Mike Lawson.

The Magic of Singing 

In early 1996, my daughter Kelly was just over two years old. She had met normal milestones for development, but they slowed down, exhibiting some tell-tale signs of autism, something I knew almost nothing about. Staring off in space, no longer en­gaging in play, stimming behaviors, but most worrying, she had simply stopped speaking. She cried, and she cried a lot. Bedtime were hours long ordeals figuring out how to get her settled in and start sleeping. Music, and only certain music, seemed to calm her, quiet her, and settle her from standing at the side of her crib and wailing, to sitting down, then lying down. But it lasted as long as the song. I played music for her on a CD player "boombox" that I put in her room. I had a rather extensive collection of music, so I tried everything I could think of. Lullabies were a no go. Pink Floyd worked a little, with their long, ethereal songs and dramatic dynamics. But still, her peace, and mine, were limited to the length of the piece.

One day, I put in a Koko Taylor CD, and the Queen of the Blues seemed to please her, but it was one song that instantly quieted her, sent her bouncing up and down in that crib-side-standing-toddler-bouncing-dance. The song was "Wang Dang Doodle;" a Willie Dixon song, that Koko made her own. Clocking in at just under five minutes, she would start screaming as soon as it ended. I noticed a button called "repeat" on the front of the player. I had never used it before, assuming it replayed the whole CD. To my delight, and Kelly's, it re-played "Wang Dang Doodle" over and over and over again. And so, our bedtime routine began. I put her in her crib, she cried, I hit play and repeat, and the soulful, jumping sounds of the Chicago blues stylings of Koko Taylor gave Kelly her rest. That song played "all night long," and when we would get her in the morning, it was still playing. It was that way for a year or so.

Still, Kelly wasn't talking. She was getting down, and boogying, and ultimately, sleeping, but she still wasn't speaking. I was happy with sleeping for the moment. Af­ter receiving a diagnosis of PDD-NOS (meaning pervasive developmental delay, not otherwise specified), Kelly began an early intervention program for toddlers. There she received occupational therapy, speech therapy, and the myriad of other interven­tions designed to mitigate the effects of autism on a young child. Her teacher, a big jovial man with a lot of experience, tried a song with her by Barbara Milne, a name I only recently learned, called "Letter Sounds" (aka, "The Apple Apple" song) from her album, "Sounds Like Fun." As though casting some kind of phonetic spell over Kelly, she responded to it the way she did to sleeping to "Wang Dang Doodle." She wanted to listen to it over and over, and within a month, she was singing it. After over a year of not uttering a word, she was singing. Soon, she was speaking simple sentences.

And now, at 25-years-old, she says things I often wish she would not. The magical gift of Koko Taylor's singing gave Kelly (and the rest of my family) the gift of sleep. The enchanting gift of Barbara Milne's music gave Kelly the gift of speech and singing. Kelly identifies as a singer. She entered multiple talent shows in high school and other places, wants to sing with me at home while I accompany her, or when my band rehearses in our home.

Koko surely had no idea when she recorded that song that this could happen. Autism was not on Barbara's radar when she recorded her album of songs for her own child. And somebody, perhaps one of your vocal students may make some of this magic themselves for another delayed child. In the day-to-day grind of leading a choral program, allow these anecdotes to inspire you on your most difficult days. We can't see our future, but we can imagine what magic could happen from the power of music and something one of your students may conjure up in the future.

Monday, April 15, 2019

A New Code

At long last, there may be a better dress code in the Howard County Schools.

I hope.

Here is a link to the proposed new policy.

A lot of good people from a variety of community constituencies worked on this, and I, for one, am grateful.

From the response that this information got on Facebook, not everyone shares my positive outlook. The thread on this topic took up 25 pages, more or less. I had it in mind to go through with a highlighter and color code the use of certain key words, counting their use, and looking at how this differed by gender. But then real life intervened.

After reading and rereading the comments certain things about the objections stuck out. Most were sexual in nature, and most (overwhelmingly) were aimed at young women. Words like:

Spaghetti straps
Bra straps

And these words were tied up in two larger concepts: that the clothing itself was innately sexual and would distract male students which would cause classroom disruption. Or that the wearers clearly had a sexual intent and chose clothing specifically to disrupt.

There was a whole lot of blame going on. And there seemed to be a notion that we all “just knew” that certain things were nasty and should be censured. And the nastiness always, always had to do with girls. One particular kind of shirt was labeled unacceptable because a boy might pull it up. This was deemed to be the girls’ responsibility to prevent.

(Insert eye roll here.)

As to the boys, it was:

Hoodies (and repeat)

Rather than the objection being sexual, the language was around safety and compliance with expected norms. At times the language seems to wander into “those dangerous kids, you know?” And, I repeat, any comments about male attire was never, never sexual in nature.

Essentially: girls need to cover up to be compliant whereas boys need to take something off. Alrighty, then.

My takeaway from the responses I read is as follows:

This new dress code is an attempt to move away from years of uneven, unfair enforcement which targeted girls most of all, curvy or heavier girls and girls of color bearing the brunt. Male students of color have been more likely to have had their clothing choices interpreted as dangerous and non- compliant.

In short, the enforcement of the hcpss dress code has been both racist and sexist. This interferes with students’ rights to get an education and this must stop.

The other thing that I just can’t shake is that the objections I saw are basically being made by people who want to set the rules for other people’s children. As a parent, you set the rules in your own home about what your child can leave the house wearing. So, those who said spaghetti strap tops are
unacceptable were really saying, “for other people’s kids.” Because certainly they’re not allowing their own daughter to wear them, right?  For example, I had no difficulty telling my daughters that they couldn’t wear certain outrageously fashionable shoes to school because I was convinced that they would break their ankles. It wasn’t in the dress code, it was my judgement call as a parent.

I think we should be very careful when opining on how “those girls” just want to make a spectacle of themselves or “those boys” wearing hoodies are probably up to no good. It is these kinds of judgements that lead to all kinds of hurtful stereotyping and blaming. I wish we could agree that the foremost goal should be that the clothing is comfortable, appropriate for the weather, and suitable for the activities that our kids are doing in school. And that the aspect of clothing which pertains to self- expression is acceptable and - - dare I say it? - - welcome.

After that, perhaps we can begin to look at how young people learn to make clothing choices as steps on a developmental continuum, one that is necessary for growing into their independent, adult selves. Being teenagers, they will sometimes make mistakes, push boundaries, and, to be blunt, do stupid-ass things along the way. They need guidance. Not censure. Respect. Not shaming.

I should note that not everyone opposes the new dress code. I was heartened to see other parents who
understood and articulated the importance of making our policy more just and humane.

Once the new policy goes into effect, the school system needs to provide admin, faculty, and staff the kind of training necessary to ensure its success. They will need guidance and support, too.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Peak Bloom

I am not a dedicated gardener. I have one small front garden bed about the size of a large dining room table. Most years I dutifully weed it and put down fresh mulch. I used to have a war going with dandelions in the Spring until I learned better.

When the weather warms, my daughter and I buy some new annuals to plant and enjoy. We have a few tulips that have been hanging in there with us for multiple seasons. That’s about it.

Yesterday I noticed that the tulips were doing their thing so I spent some time out front clearing away weeds. Every year it seems that I have a whole new strain of invasive plants along with the usuals. They come up. That’s their job. I pull them out, that’s my job.

I’m by no means a gardener but I feel some sense of responsibility to at least take a stab at it.

Yesterday’s weather inspired my daughter and I to get lunch at Whole Foods down at the Lakefront and eat outside to enjoy the view.

The view did not disappoint. We saw a prom photo shoot, a quinceanera photo shoot, and a fully grown man on roller skates (helmet but no knee pads). The fountain was on. The People Tree, AKA Ms. Frizz, was in peak bloom. It was quite the Columbia vibe. We enjoyed it. 

All of these Spring activities were a darn sight better than the online roasting I was getting in some circles as a result of my post about the upcoming Oakland Mills election. The less said about that, the better. I would like to clear up one outright falsehood, though.

Someone suggested that I don’t allow comments on the blog. This is not the case. I don’t allow anonymous trolls. There’s a difference. Anyone who wishes to comment is encouraged to do so here. So, if you hear that kind of talk around the proverbial water cooler, set ‘em straight, won’t you?

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Parking Lot Roulette

Friday night found me circling the parking lot off of Dobbin trying to find a spot near QDoba. For a while there, it didn’t look like it was going to happen, largely because of patrons of the Ale House. It reminded me of the time someone suggested to me that no one actually cooks in Columbia because they are too busy eating out. Certainly many of us are out on Friday night, circling for parking spaces

That particular shopping center is oddly shaped and far from level. In the evening it’s drawing to Pei Wei, QDoba, and Ale House. Earlier it also includes Roggenart and First Watch, plus retail establishments. Is it “Columbia proper” or an outparcel? I don’t know. Across the road is Dobbin Center. I’m not a particular fan of that parking lot either, although it is certainly regularly shaped and graded.

I saw this on Twitter and wondered:

4/11/19 - - What in the fresh hell is happening today?! It took me over 45 minutes to get out of Dobbin Center! People were cutting others off, driving down the wrong side, etc. It was a mess! Stay away! #HoCoMD

I feel like I wrote a post a while back about the parking lot on Snowden where Home Slyce/ Chutney etc are located, but I’m not finding it at the moment. Update: I found this post on Facebook from six years ago:

I was amazed at how crowded that whole shopping center was this evening, because of the restaurants. Every space filled, plus many extras "created". Plenty of young folks, plus young couples with babies, people of varying ethnic backgrounds...it is what a downtown should look like. Minus the enormous parking lot.

There are pockets of restaurants tucked in around town that continue to attract despite less than stellar parking set ups.

Of course, my experience doesn’t match everyone else’s. While I was circling looking for a spot, friends of ours were having a civilized meal at Facci at Turf Valley. I wonder what that parking lot is like on a Friday night?

Share your parking lot roulette stories here.