Friday, January 31, 2020

It’s Baaa—aack!

Since the Governor has brought back his “schools shouldn’t have local control of their calendars” bill, its only fair that I bring back what I wrote about it last time. Mr. Hogan describes it as “common sense legislation.” Before we watch his rerun, let’s take a trip down memory lane to see what happened last time he used his authority to force this issue.

Train Wreck 


“Let summer be summer,” the gentlemen said.

Meanwhile, in Annapolis...

Yesterday, the State School Board rejected Howard County’s Request for a waiver and that means that, despite giving up their Spring Break, students and teachers will be going beyond the June 15th date decreed by the Governor. There’s eight million reasons why this is a bad idea and you probably already know them.

Let’s look at the players:

  • The Governor and the Comptroller, who thought it would be a simple thing to start school after Labor Day and end it June 15th to benefit Ocean City merchants 
  • The State Board of Ed, who intends to adhere religiously to 180 days of instruction
  • Local school systems throughout the state, each with their own particular calendar needs and requirements
  • Parents, students, teachers, and staff

Oh, and let’s not forget Maryland weather, which looks at this entire scenario and says, “hold my beer.”

This just feels like a classic example of what happens when men come in saying, “I’m going to fix this for you; it’s no big deal” and then proceed wreck 
the whole thing. And then, while surveying all the broken pieces, they say, “Hey, maybe this had more moving parts than we thought...”

School calendars are complicated things and there are actually people whose job it is to understand them and do the very best they can to make them work. If one does not have that kind of expertise it takes a special kind of hubris to come in with some scissors and scotch tape and “fix” them.

Local school systems are left holding the bag and parents, teachers, students, and staff are both inconvenienced and ill-served.

As an educator, I’m hoping that somebody somewhere has learned a lesson from all this. I know I’d like to send a couple of fellows in Annapolis to summer school this year based on their lack of mastery in this subject.


I’ll be taking a fresh look at this tomorrow, 

Thursday, January 30, 2020


There was a bit of excitement yesterday when the company that makes Maryland’s most famous spice mixture announced a new product: Old Bay Hot Sauce. This stirred such a buying frenzy amongst lovers of all things Maryland that all merchandise quickly sold out in one day.

I was rather out of commission yesterday so I missed the whole thing. It’s not a problem for me as I have never been a fan of Old Bay. (Unpopular benign opinion?) I saw some sour grapes posts suggesting that, since the company that owns Old Bay also owns Frank’s Hot Sauce, that the new release was probably nothing special and could easily be made at home by combining the two.

I don’t know about that, but there’s nothing stopping you from mixing up your own batch.

This morning this tidbit from Twitter caught my eye:

If any Marylanders missed out on #OldBayHotSauce there's a farmer's market in Ellicott City called Breezy Willow that sells a Chesapeake hot sauce. It's delicious and I highly recommend.

Hmm. Now there’s a chance to get the flavor you crave and buy local. You can check out the Breezy Willow version at this link.

In the meantime, I predict that the next Maryland buying frenzy will look like this:

”Popeye’s Chicken sandwich - - now with Old Bay hot sauce!”

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Not Impressed

Remember this?

Maryland reprimands Del. Jalisi for reportedly bullying staff, Erin Cox for the Washington Post Link here.

I remember wondering at the time why Jalisi wasn’t dismissed from his duties altogether.  Allowing him to continue gave him a mantle of respectability he clearly did not deserve.

And now he’s running for Congress.

It would be hard to miss his campaign signs around Howard County. They seem to be placed with the kind of reckless attitude that we saw in the past with a former candidate, she of the Orange signs. In fact, his signs are placed in so many of the same locations that I am beginning to wonder if there’s some crossover in campaign staff.

But I digress.

What does it take to expel someone from elected service in Annapolis? Why wasn’t the evidence against Jalisi enough? 

Of course, there are some people who seem to be immune to perceiving the consequences of their own actions. It is possible that Jalisi might have run for Congress in any case. Some people think the rules just don’t apply to them.

I don’t think we should enable or endorse that on Election Day.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Last Meal

The kid has gone back to college after a lengthy winter break. For her last meal before leaving town she chose Maiwand at Columbia Crossing. It’s a family favorite.

So here’s a question for you, not unlike one of those “Elevator Speech”  questions posed by Elevate Maryland cohosts Candace Dodson Reed and Tom Coale at the end of each podcast. If you were leaving town for a long period of time, what local restaurant would be your first choice for a last meal?

This isn’t exactly a “what’s the best restaurant?” question or an evaluation of fine cuisine. It’s more of a look at what is dearest in your heart. What memories would you most want to carry with you on the journey? What local flavors do you love the most?

Only one rule: it has to be a restaurant that exists now, not one of fond memories past. After all, the rest of us might want to find out why you like them so much and pay them a visit. Since we haven’t mastered time travel as of yet, testimonials for the Tomato Palace or Portalli’s would be in vain.

I guess this is almost a Howard County Restaurant Weeks post. Not exactly in the same vein, but, still, written with a sincere appreciation for our local establishments.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Ready Yet?

News that made me feel sick, angry, and sad: the report of a Howard County School employee who worked with students charged with sex offenses. Coming a close second, the online commenter who wrote of the victim, “I bet her parents are so proud.”

Immediate victim blaming. Immediately deciding that whatever happened was consensual, even though the victim was under the age of legal consent. No attempt to see the story in any other way than “she asked for it.”

There are many things to address when a news story like this comes to light. I’m going to pick one you probably won’t see mentioned: the desperate need for comprehensive K-12 sex education. Programs like Our Whole Lives teach age appropriate concepts in developmentally appropriate ways. Bodily autonomy and consent are as relevant to young children as they are to teens, but the context is different.

Students who grow up understanding bodily autonomy, healthy boundaries, and the need for consent are less likely to fall victim to sexual predators. Is it also possible that making this kind of education a requirement might eventually reduce the number of sexual predators? I don’t know, but it would be interesting to find out. I want to learn more.

It is also important that the adults our kids turn to have this kind of knowledge. Graduates of comprehensive K-12 sex education become adults who can support and advocate for victims, instead of blaming them. This is truly a long-term investment. And it is bound to meet opposition from those who think that avoiding and banning the topic from schools is the way to keep kids safe. This is the same mentality that asserts that knowing about sex is an enticement to immoral behavior.

I don’t think that the facts bear that out. I think our students deserve the best possible preparation for a healthy and happy life. We do them and our community at large a disservice by neglecting such a huge and life-changing topic.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

The Long and Winding

It’s the time of year when the Howard County Schools host their “Road to Kindergarten” events for prospective parents. I don’t remember going to one back when my now-college aged kid was heading to kindergarten. Maybe they didn’t have them then. Maybe we spaced out. Perhaps I have completely forgotten the entire thing. It’s possible.

Since I have some expertise in the area of what makes one ready for kindergarten, I’m going to throw in my two cents here. And remember, any time from birth onwards is the road to kindergarten, just in case you’re the kind of person who likes to plan ahead.

First and foremost, you will help your child to be ready for kindergarten if you talk to them, listen to them, engage, interact, make eye contact. Start at birth and never, ever stop. Don’t take my word for it, check out Howard County’s Talk With Me page.

Encourage open ended, creative play. Fancy plastic toys that make lots of sounds and have lots of buttons to push are quite alluring. A cardboard box, some markers and a lot of imagination are almost always more fun and provide more development of self-motivation and decision-making skills.

Outdoor play and active large motor indoor play when available. To clarify: self-directed play, not classes, lessons, or teams. It’s not just “good exercise” but it also supports the development of healthy executive functioning skills which are hugely important in navigating kindergarten and beyond.

Allow your child to learn how to do things for themselves. In the teaching world these are called self-help skills. It takes longer to allow your child to struggle but the time invested will pay off when they go to school and can confidently zip their own coat, carry their own backpack, wash their own hands, wipe themselves in the bathroom, and all the many daily tasks which we as adults do without thinking. Trust me, it is not an act of love to keep doing these things for your child. Also, a lot of these involve developing fine motor skills, which will be crucial for writing, drawing, and cutting with scissors.

Modeling and valuing kindness. This will never, ever be time wasted.

There you have it. The basics. Shapes, colors, letters, numbers, handwriting and so on can all be learned when a child is ready. True readiness comes from what I’ve listed above. Trying to force feed “school subjects” when what a child needs is exercise, love, play, and human interaction is a kind of malnourishment of sorts. You can force it before a child is ready and then claim your child is “advanced” but there will almost always be a price to pay down the line.

That’s my sermon on the road to kindergarten. Not everyone will agree. All I ask is that, if someone tries to sell you workbooks or a tutoring program for a preschool child, you come back and read this post. And then, go to the playground.

Friday, January 24, 2020


The fatigue of the week is piling up on me and my brain is not as sharp as I’d like. A few crumbs for your consideration:

  • The Common Kitchen is holding it’s rescheduled Frozen event tomorrow.

  • The Howard County Lunar New Year Celebration will be tomorrow at the Mall.

  • Time is running out if you want to file to run for the Howard County Board of Education.

My big task for the day is to find out why the Baltimore Sun has started charging me $27.00 per month for a digital subscription. That’s almost twice as much as the agreed upon amount. Hmm.

Have a great Friday. 

Thursday, January 23, 2020

A Friend in Need

Recent I have observed two instances of local women being “dragged”* by men. (Yes, I was one of them.) In both cases the people who came to their defense were women. I wonder why that is?

As this is a sample of only two cases it is hardly statistically significant. But, purely anecdotally, I’d have to say that my experience overall bears this out. If a man launches the social media attack on a woman, it is often women who will come to her defense. I know I have witnessed this far more than these two particular occasions.

I know plenty of men who have women friends and progressive attitudes about women’s rights and so on. But are they, for some reason, reticent to jump in under these particular circumstances? Is it difficult for a man to call another man out? Is the impulse to not get entangled stronger than the desire to advocate for a friend?

This post is purely conjectural. I don’t know for a fact that it is true. Having a gut feeling is far from an assertion of scientific proof. But a blog is a place for musings and personal opinions. So I wonder: are men sitting in their hands while women take the risk to come to the aid of a woman under social media attack? If so, why?

If not, perhaps there is something different at work here. Maybe different types of people respond to this situation differently. Some defend publicly, some privately, some shy away from the conflict.

What do you think? What have your experiences been? When things get rough on the Internet, who has your back?

*See Urban Dictionary: dragged, second definition,

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Women Worth Knowing

The other day I featured a photograph which was taken at a kickoff event of the Howard County Historical Society’s “Year of the Howard County Woman.” Here’s more about that.

 I must admit that I was wondering what put them in mind of making this particular year “the year of the Howard County Woman.” Thank goodness it’s right there in the promotional piece above: commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, giving women the right to vote.

Ahem. Not all women. That should read, “giving white women the right to vote.”

I’m looking forward to seeing who they have chosen to feature and learning more about women who have shaped Howard County. You can learn more about the Historical Society and what they are up to at their website.

Their upcoming membership meeting will feature former Howard County Executive Liz Bobo, who will speak on “Reflections from the 1st woman elected as County Executive in Maryland.”


You can see from the notice above that there will be a potluck luncheon.  Here is where I am going to give a bit of completely unsolicited advice. If this is truly “The Year if the Howard County Woman” then the men should be bringing the covered dishes. And doing the serving, and cleaning up. 

Does that seem like an awful lot to ask? I don’t see why. Women in Howard County (and everywhere else) have been doing it for generations and no one thought it strange. 

Happy “Year of the Woman”, Howard County.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Not Forgotten

It’s a Tuesday morning but I’m operating with a Monday brain. It’s not pretty.

On my mind this morning are places in Columbia/HoCo that were gone before I got here, but that I wish I could have experienced. For instance, the Columbia Visitors Center (Exhibition Center?) that once drew prospective home buyers to the area. The Oakland Mills Village Center in its original configuration. The original Wilde Lake High School.

And what was Daniels like in its heyday? The Enchanted Forest on Route 40?

Are there local places that you hear about but never got to experience? Do you have a bit of wistfulness that time travel is not, as of yet, a possibility?

Fill me in.

Monday, January 20, 2020


Yesterday someone shared this post by author and activist Ally Henny in an online group I belong to.

Just a few reminders before y’all suddenly decide that you care about black people on MLK day on Monday: 

King died for saying whatever inspirational quote you cherry pick from his sermons, speeches, books, interviews, and everything else. 

King did not lay down his life for civil rights. He’s not Jesus. He was murdered in front of his friends. He left behind a wife and young kids. 

Posting quotes from King today is not your racism Get out of Jail Free card. If you act racist and you quote King, you are just a racist who quotes King. 

Your “black friends” will be watching you tomorrow. Know that we can spot fake from 50,000 miles away. Don’t be sentimental about black people on MLK day and racist the rest of the time. We see that mess. We note it. And we don’t trust you. 

MLK Day isn’t about you performing penitential whiteness. It’s not about showing us that you’re one of the good ones. 

When you reflect on the life and legacy of MLK,  remember that he was only 39 when he died and he should’ve lived longer. Remember that he died from white supremacy. Remember that White Supremacy kills.

One person found these words to be so “rude” that they left the group. I’ve been thinking about that ever since. For them, speaking bluntly about systemic racism was unacceptable because it was rude.


  • discourteous or impolite, especially in a deliberate way:

  •  being in a rough or unfinished state : crude. 

  •  not polite; offensive or embarrassing

  • refers to bad behavior or just plain bad manners.
  • offensively impolite or ill-mannered
  • does not conform to what society says would be polite or good manners or inappropriate subjects of discussion.

Dr. King was 39 years old when he was murdered. He left behind a wife and children. His life’s work was to challenge white supremacy and speak out against systemic racism. But we can’t talk about that because it is rude

White supremacy is more than rude, more than speaking out of turn or making people uncomfortable. It is suffering, oppression, death, torture, cheating and swindling, demeaning and defeating. It is the burning building we are all connected to in one way or another and as whites we do not get to shut people down for telling the truth about the flames.

These words* on Twitter speak to where I am today as our nation observes Dr. King’s birthday:

[someone] tried to insult me today by saying that us white people who scream about racism the loudest look in the mirror and see a racist. He is 100% right. Hate to say it but, there it is. I am a racist. I admit it and I'm committed to doing something about it. People think that being a racist equals hating Black people but that ain't it. Racism is as much about apathy and silence and ignorance as it is hate. (@spicxer)

Breaking through the apathy and silence and ignorance is not rude. It’s the only way to overcome the persistent and generational evil that we are all a part of. It can be very hard to hear. It can make us uncomfortable, angry, or sad. But it is not rude.

We cannot laud Dr. King on the one hand while silencing those who speak the same words and fight the same fight today.

*lightly edited

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Words, Pictures, and Cash

When Facebook tells you to stop dithering around and go write your blog, well, what can you do?

Yep, nothing but a blank page and a whole lot of space for my thoughts. I‘ve never gotten that before.

What’s on my mind? A little bit of this and that.

In the race to fill the seat of the late Elijah Cummings, I am torn. I’m a big fan of Delegate Terri Hill, but I think she is doing valuable work where she is in Annapolis. I liked Maya Rockeymoore Cummings when I heard her interview on Elevate Maryland but does she have the necessary experience to do the job? I need to make up my mind soon. The primary is February 4th. There’s no early voting for this one, so make plans on how you can fit it into your regular schedule.

This photo by Doug Kapustin of the Baltimore Sun Media Group. It accompanies Katie V. Jones piece in the HoCo Times about the Historical Society’s kick off event for the Howard County Year of the Woman.


                                                 (Photo by Doug Kapustin)

What I love about the photo is how human all the women look. I get so tired of perfectly posed pictures of women in public service with perfect makeup and perfect hair and perfect clothing and perfect expressions on their faces. That may be the rule for fashion modeling but these women are not commercial models. They are doing important work in our community and they are real people. All too often we discuss the ideas and accomplishments of men but the physical appearance of women. In my mind, this photo shows women who clearly have ideas and accomplishments.

Also on my mind, this contest in which Wilde Lake High School is competing to win $5,000 to support their library’s goal to make their collection more representative of the student body. Watch their video entry, “When I See Myself” and cast your vote  starting Monday, January 20th. A big eye roll to the commenter who made fun of this entire endeavor by poking fun of the concept of being able to see oneself represented in the books they read. The “I don’t know what this is so it doesn’t exist” theory is ignorant at best and smacks of an appalling lack of empathy.

A shout-out to our local media writers and photographers at Baltimore Sun/Howard County Times for providing the coverage I could share with you to back up this post. Did you know they’re facing another round of “cost-cutting” buyouts which will compromise coverage even further? You can follow @baltsunguild on Twitter to stay informed. Do you know anyone with the resources to purchase the Baltimore Sun? They are advocating for home town ownership. There must be someone or someone(s) out there willing to make the investment required to save our local news coverage.

If you have any friends with deep pockets, maybe you can share this post with them. Until then - - you do subscribe, right?

Saturday, January 18, 2020

A Terrific Takeover

Starting a five pm today, Howard County Pride takes over Historic Savage Mill for Gay Day @ the Mill.

All the weather excitement will be over and you will be ready to get out of the house.

If you’re hungry, be sure to stop by Ram’s Head.

Feeling creative? Sign up for the Pride Paint and Take.

And go here to learn more about Howard County Pride.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Beyond the Gate

Something I have never written about over the years is the concept of gated communities. Until last night, I didn’t know that Columbia/HoCo had any.

We do.

What do you think about gated communities? Is that something that would appeal to you when looking for a home? Or would it be a deal breaker?

I find it interesting that the Wikipedia article on gated communities states:

The purpose of gates is not to deter or prevent crime but to provide the perception of security and exclusivity.

I think that another Rouse community, The Village of Cross Keys in Baltimore, was once or perhaps still is a gated community. What did Rouse think of gated communities, I wonder?

I must admit that something about the concept troubles me. Once you put up walls and fences and a gatehouse, do you lose a sense of connection with the greater community? Do you think of yourself and your concerns as somehow separate from those of folks outside the walls?

I don’t know. I guess I’m just on the outside looking in.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Shouted Down

I first met Board of Education member Sabina Taj when she was running for office. Her background in arts education was something I thought the Board would benefit from, and her commitment to equity gave me a lot to think about. She was setting a high bar for herself as she contemplated public service.

Yesterday Ms. Taj announced that she will not run for re-election to the Board. In her statement she referenced the negativity of local discourse and it seems likely that personal attacks and vitriol played a role her her decision. This is a loss for the community, whether one has been pleased with her tenure on the board or not.

The current local climate, especially when it comes to education, has become so toxic that very few want to risk subjecting themselves to its poison. When members of the Board of Education are hounded, smeared, shouted down, even threatened - - how can our true focus be the well-being of our children? Who on earth would do that for a job that pays almost nothing and expands far beyond the time allotted?

What we need are highly qualified candidates who are, at their core, really good people. The current environment isn’t bringing them forward. It’s weeding them out. If you think our BOE has problems now, just wait until we have a board of people whose major qualification is that the meanest and angriest members of the community didn’t yell at them.

We wouldn’t want this kind of environment for our children. Why allow it for the adults who will make decisions on their behalf?

From the looks of it, some community members on social media are keeping up their attacks even now. I’d like to remind them that it costs nothing to be gracious and to thank Ms, Taj for her service and to wish her well in her future endeavors.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Coming Soon?

The best restaurant in Columbia, Maryland is one that doesn’t exist: The Magical Soup Company. My friends know I have been pining for such a restaurant for quite some time. Here’s the concept: amazingly good soup, excellent bread. Must have a drive-through or take out option. Soup comes in cups, bowls, or enough to feed your whole family. (Bucket o’ soup?)

Cold weather, rainy weather, gray days, or days when you just need comforting: all are good days for soup. And not soup out of a tin, but delicious, life-changing soup. What Grilled Cheese & Co. has done for the humble grilled cheese sandwich, someone should do for soup. It’s a miracle waiting to happen.

I do see some drawbacks. What about summer, for instance? Who would want hot soup then? Cold soups exist but may have limited appeal. Also, restaurants with too limited a menu range can doom themselves from the start. I’m thinking of a place I read about that just served breakfast cereal. And, of course, not everyone likes soup.

“Let’s go to The Magical Soup Company!”
“I don’t like soup.”

Hmm. Well, if there ever is a Magical Soup Company, HoCoNomNom will let you know what’s up with that. Unless I beat him to it.

I’m eager to hear your pitches for restaurant concepts you’d love to have in Columbia/HoCo. What have you always yearned for? Share your ideas here.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Big Change

Three years ago I disabled comments on the blog and directed people to make their comments on Facebook. It was a risk. There was a possibility that I’d lose reader responses with the change. But my motivation stemmed from a particular kind of commenter: the anonymous troll. I’d had enough.

After three years I can say it has been a success. Comments are now limited to people who are willing to “put their name on their work.” Yes, it is possible to create false identities on Facebook but in three years I haven’t been plagued too much by that. It was so much simpler for them to click “submit” when they could make their mark while still hiding in the darkness.

That’s just cowardice, and I am not obliged to enable it.

Anonymity is important for whistleblowers. And restaurant critics. On social media you should be willing to stand by what you say. If you wouldn’t want your family or employer to know you said it, that should be a big clue that it’s not appropriate to put out there in public. As far as anonymous social media accounts and blogs are concerned, I think you lose credibility by refusing to take ownership of your work. There's no law to prevent it. Just don’t expect people to trust you or what you have to say.

I put my name on my work every day and I’m grateful for all my readers who do the same by engaging via their thoughtful responses. It takes guts to stand by your word. You should be proud of that.

Monday, January 13, 2020

New Year, New Goals

Some people make New Year’s resolutions. I agonize every year over choosing a calendar. When will  I find the perfect planner that is just the right size, that is easy to use, appealing,  and helps me transform how I keep track of my life? It’s downright silly when you think about it, because it isn’t the planner that is lacking.

It’s me.

You have to use something consistently for it to work. And, like most New Years resolutions, I start out with good intentions and then gradually stop trying. And then I decide I have failed so I don’t go back to try again. It doesn't matter if the planner had the most perfect layout or the most appealing stickers. I need to change something about myself: Create a habit that I am willing to practice faithfully.

It won’t work unless I do. I need to be willing to keep at it.

I laughed a bit when I saw an ad for Michael’s which invited customers to “Join Our Planner Community.” Apparently there’s a whole industry now for decorating your planner with beautiful color coding and embellishing it with eye catching stickers. And Michael’s wants to give you the social experience of doing this with like minded plan-o-philes. This reminds me of scrapbooking in its heyday. I guess there’s a group for everything.

Speaking of things that won’t work unless we do, here’s an event you’ll want to add to your planner:

Saturday 1/18 10am Savage Branch, Become an engaged citizen in your local community! Learn how you can make a real impact in our democracy with the League of Women Voters of Howard County and Candace Dodson-Reed, activist, co-host of podcast Elevate Maryland, and chief of staff to UMBC's President Hrabowski. Register here.

Getting involved in the community is a habit one has to commit to. It takes practice, just like sticking with any new initiative one takes on. In this case, having a community of like minded citizens is absolutely a plus. And no one wants to sell you stickers or highlighters in order to be a part of it. You just need to bring yourself, and start where ever you are.

Find what motivates you to make a difference, and keep at it.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Getting a Ride

I’m having some very strong feelings about football this morning and something tells me this is not the day to share them. Perhaps some other day.


The other day my car was in the shop. I needed to get home from work and I attempted to use the Uber app. I failed. I ended up texting my daughter and she bailed me out. I was lucky. As I stood outside waiting for my ride I thought about how rarely I need to do this. Having a car in our car-centered culture is the key that unlocks personal independence. No waiting.

On the other hand, we are so dependent on our cars. I have a car because I need to work. But I must work in order to pay for the expenses that having a car entails. It’s a vicious circle. What if one can’t afford that unexpected $900.00 repair bill?

It was snowing as I stood scanning the road for my daughter’s car. I put on my hat and made sure my coat was zipped all the way up. I put my hands in my pockets. I thought of all the people who wait for rides. Waiting for a bus, or a cab or an Uber, waiting for a friend or a family member. Waiting. As a young person fresh out of college, even as a young married with an infant, I was that person. I was always grateful for the rides but embarrassed to need the assistance.

Our culture is so centered on the self-determination of having one’s own automobile that anything that deviates from this feels like failure. And communities which are built with only that one person, one car mindset make breaking that mold well nigh unto impossible. If Columbia were being built today I wonder if its goals would include a layout which promoted multiple ways of getting where its residents need to go.

Pools, parks, and pathways are awesome but they do not get you to work, the grocery, or doctor’s appointments.

Our obsession with cars is so complete that reaching an age where it is no longer safe to drive is seen as shameful, a defeat of sorts. The loss of independence is so limiting and isolating that many older drivers persist in driving long after it is no longer safe for them to do so. While Columbia/HoCo has a wonderful nonprofit called Neighbor Ride which works to fill the need of seniors who can no longer drive, it cannot change a cultural mindset that many folks have that driving oneself is a kind of  validation and that we are less valuable as humans without it.

Changing that needs to begin long before the point at which one gives up one’s car keys. It’s an enormous cultural shift that is long overdue.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Caveat Emptor

In a remarkable twist of fate, Columbia Academy has been the topic of local conversation twice lately: once for targeting a marketing campaign specifically to reinforce anxiety about school redistricting:

and, more recently, in a case where a young child was able to leave one of their centers and wander into a busy street.

If they were hoping to increase local name recognition this is probably not what they had in mind.

Truth in advertising: in the summer of 1999 I worked at Columbia Academy. It was not a happy experience and I was grateful it was only for the summer. This was twenty years ago and I think that ownership has changed since then, so my experiences may not be an accurate representation of the business as it exists today. 

But that last phrase is worth your consideration. Columbia Academy is a business. I wonder if the average person understands the difference between educational entities (calling themselves private/independent schools) that are committed nonprofits and those whose intent is profit-driven. When I was there the focus on the adult to child ratio required by law was so strong that, towards the end of the day, as children began to leave, management came around looking for employees to send home in order to get them “off the clock”. The only other place I had experienced that was while working at McDonald’s.

Over the course of one summer eleven different adults worked with my classroom of three year olds. The turnover was alarming. A good deal of that came from the employees’ experience that they were not valued by management. There was no guarantee of “making one’s hours” because the overall priority was keeping labor costs low. The continual staff turnover was bad for the children who were unable to build and sustain relationships with those entrusted to their care. As a result, both the classroom experience and the children’s behavior suffered.

Public schools are answerable to government and true, non-profit independent schools are answerable to a board of trustees and are regularly assessed by a professional association to maintain accreditation. To whom does Columbia Academy answer? I clicked on what looks like an accreditation symbol on their website but it redirected me to a business called Cognia, which doesn’t look like any accrediting institution I have ever seen.

I have seen some people opining that Columbia Academy is just like a real school only better. And others see it as just like a private school only cheaper. In reality it is neither. It’s a business.     Parents should be savvy consumers when they assess the value of their product. Don’t just read the glowing public relations materials. Go the extra mile to read records of complaints and/or violations. When you tour a location scan the facility with a keen eye and ask questions. 

If you don’t like the answers, trust your gut. Let the buyer beware.

Friday, January 10, 2020

You Didn’t Ask

Absolutely no one has asked me who I am supporting in the Democratic presidential race. I will not be interviewed by local news media nor hyper local podcasts. In short, like my readers, my personal opinion is just that: personal. You may be the sort of person who loves to get in discussions promoting your favorite candidate with zeal and fervor. You may prefer to keep your thoughts to yourself. Or you may still be assessing your options.

As for me, I haven’t said much online but I’ve been observing a lot. That’s because I’m looking for something in particular. When crowds turn up at a political event, what do they look like? If they are all White people that’s a serious concern to me. When the candidate speaks do they have a commitment to equity and racial justice? That’s a high priority for me. I’m not interested in a “Yes, but” candidate. They need to talk the talk and walk the walk.

White supremacy/racism is baked into every system in this country. If we are not willing to challenge it and do better then we are not representing all citizens. It touches everything. This is true whether we are talking about a national political campaign, the Maryland state legislature, or local office holders in Howard County. Look at the photos. Who is represented? Listen to the speeches. Who is included and valued?

Our system for vetting presidential candidates is already failing us to a large degree because it is so dependent on large amounts of money (largely White money) to meet various benchmarks in order continue. Early, defining primaries are in largely White states. If Democrats want to be the party of “We, the People”, then what are we doing to challenge that process? It is a pipeline that seems determined to eliminate candidates of color.

Some people don’t see that as such a big deal. It’s a huge deal to me. It’s nice to have a candidate you feel excited about. It’s nice to be enthusiastic about campaign platforms and big ideas. But the biggest idea of all is where a candidate stands on equity and racial justice because it is life or death for millions of people in this country.

*school to prison pipeline
*clean water (think Flint, Michigan)
*voting rights
*police brutality
*access to safe, adequate housing
*health care

As Democrats we may say we’re for everyone but stop and take a look. Who is actually there? Who is welcomed? Who looks comfortable and enthusiastic? Who is holding leadership positions?

So that’s where I am. I hope you are doing some deep thinking on these issues, too.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Still Waiting

I stopped  by the Oakland Mills Walgreens on the way home from an evening meeting last night. My shopping list: ice cream for the college kid at home on break, high protein breakfast bars for my husband, and, for me, some over the counter medication for reflux. This is what life brings you, I thought: Ben & Jerry’s, Think Bars, Pepcid. Somehow that progression feels like some kind of decline.

When I got to the checkout the familiar clerk held up the medicine and said, “This stuff really works for me.”

I smiled. “My doctor recommended it.”

“I don’t know how it works, but it’s just different from Tums,” he went on. “It’s better.”
“That’s good to know.”

Pause. We look at each other awkwardly. As I finished paying I said,

“We sound like we’re in a commercial, don’t we?”

And we laughed.

Back in 2009 the late community blogger Dennis Lane was writing about plans for the Walgreens which was to be built on the site of the former BB&T Bank. I would give you more references but it is  difficult to access the archive of his posts these days. As an Oakland Mills resident I remember how a vocal group of long time residents fought to prevent the Walgreens approval. Petitions with inflammatory language were circulated. Daytime hearing were packed with those ready to give testimony in the negative because they didn’t have to be at work or balance child care needs.

Someone spread the word that it would attract “a bad element.”

When I first heard that I perceived it as preposterous fear-mongering. Since then I’ve come to realize what a truly racist dog whistle it actually was. Most disappointing from people who took pride in their Columbia Pioneer heritage. The worst element I’ve experienced in Oakland Mills may very well  be the kinds of folks who pile into meetings in droves in order to shout other people down. Or start whisper campaigns behind the scenes.

It’s been quite a while now and I haven’t experienced that bad element they warned us about. I have been panhandled once, and I once witnessed an annoying man trying to hit on the checkout clerk. Both were white. And then there were the Girl Scouts selling cookies. Nope, not a bad element by any stretch, unless you’re desperately trying to avoid sweets.

If anything attracts a bad element perhaps it’s fear, combined with selfishness, racism, and a well-entrenched sense of privilege. But you won’t find that ”at the corner of happy and healthy.”

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Our Grief and Loss

In Montgomery County, Council member Will Jawando will be holding an event on Thursday evening to promote safe driving among teens. The program, called Driving it Home, was started in Prince George’s County to be:

...a regional road safety education and awareness initiative aimed at changing the driving culture in the Washington metropolitan region.

This quote from Jawando caught my eye:

Driver and pedestrian safety must be taught early and reinforced often. Since this 762-person class of seniors began high school in 2016, 803 pedestrians, cyclists and vehicle occupants were killed or seriously injured on Montgomery County roads.  By educating them on safe driving, riding and walking practices early, we can instill a culture of safety in our next generation that will save lives.

In Howard County the Horizon Foundation continues to advocate for a comprehensive 
Complete Streets initiative. Their focus is on inclusion and safety combined:

Imagine a Howard County where more kids walk to school safely...where you can easily bike or walk to bus stops, shopping or work...where people in wheel chairs can freely access more places...and where walkers and bikers have dedicated spaces on the streets to stay safe.
Imagine if we had “complete streets” - roads for everyone that accommodate pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders and drivers!

On Monday afternoon a mother and son were struck by a car while in a crosswalk in Columbia. The child, six years old, did not survive. Those are the facts that are known at this point. An investigation will bring more information to light. I have read that ARL students on a school bus witnessed the accident and that a student who is in the EMT program, left the bus to administer CPR.

I cannot wrap my brain around the horror of that moment for those young people.

Do we need safer streets for pedestrians? Undoubtedly. Do we need to teach and keep teaching road safety to drivers from their teen years and onwards? Clearly. I don’t know why incidents like the one on Monday have become so much more common in recent years but the numbers show that they have. Don’t we have an obligation as a community to go at this problem from as many different sides as we can to make our communities safer?

A mother has lost her son; classmates have lost a friend. Our community has lost the potential of one small human voice whose world was only just unfolding. We can’t let that be “just the way it is.” 

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Calling In

It’s a no blog Tuesday, friends. Migraines and morning just don’t mix.

See you tomorrow.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Who Is Your Neighbor?

From the New International Version:

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

On the last episode of the year, co-host Tom Coale of the Elevate Maryland podcast engaged in some thoughtful introspection on the redistricting experience in Howard County: how it affected the community, and how he himself had responded. It was not an opportunity to rehash old battles or an attempt at self-justification. I found it to be a valuable moment of self examination that we might all benefit from. 
The turning of the year brought news that the Howard County Redistricting Opposition Facebook Group has rebranded itself as Howard County Neighbors United. This particular change of name put me in mind of the aforementioned parable. When we say the word neighbor, what do we mean? Is it a feeling? An action? A physical location? A specific pre-established relationship?
Those are questions I will be carrying with me as I examine community issues this year. My use of a New Testament story is not meant to ask others to see things through a Christian lens. Instead, I’m asking my readers to think what that word, “neighbor” means to them. I freely admit that my interpretation involves showing mercy, not simply to the folks next door, but to anyone ”on the road to Jerusalem from Jericho.”