Monday, August 31, 2020

The Eleventh Hour

Every teacher has a story like it. A student turns in a paper appallingly late, but then checks back in less than twenty-four hours to find out why the grade hasn’t been posted yet. Or a high school senior has requested a college recommendation at the eleventh hour but comes around almost immediately to check if it has been sent. For those, and others like them, the following statement is particularly relevant.

Not to be outdone by the Governor’s eleventh hour press conference on the reopening of schools, the State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Karen Salmon stepped up to turn in an appallingly late plan on distance learning. This last-minute move would essentially force schools to rip up the plans they have put in place.

Teachers have been working throughout the summer on the best ways to implement distance learning. School systems have been devising their overall plans and have submitted them to the state by the agreed upon deadline. In some counties students will start today. In others teachers are in meetings to prepare for the beginning of instruction. No one feels that distance learning is the ideal but the safety of our communities depends on it. Our schools are doing the best they possibly can under extremely difficult circumstances.

What the State Superintendent of Schools should have contemplated on the eve of the 2020-21 school year was the value of giving an inspirational pep talk to those around the state who are poised to undertake new and unprecedented challenges. Instead she used the power of her position to provide an unwarranted slap in the face. Any good teacher knows this is not how you get the best out of your students.

According to the Superintendent, students will be required to spend an additional hour each day sitting in front of a computer screen. This is educationally counterproductive and is just plain bad for young people. Students are not robots. Teaching is not content delivery. Teachers are working to establish relationships that will set the stage for students to engage and persist in learning activites. Force feeding is disrespectful of that teacher-student relationship.

Dictating a plan at the last minute is not respectful of the relationship that the State Superintendent should be working to foster with state school systems. Perhaps Governor Hogan and Dr. Salmon are working under a different sort of management principle.

The Maryland State Education Association has created a petition to protest the last minute changes. You can find it here. From the petition:

Just days after Governor Hogan held a press conference throwing school systems under the bus and undercutting the work of educators, now State Superintendent Karen Salmon is recklessly attempting to do more of the same. At the State Board meeting this Tuesday, September 1, Superintendent Salmon will propose that all school systems must revamp their schedules to hit new, arbitrary targets for synchronous and asynchronous learning by September 28. If she has her way, then—after months of silence and zero guidance on schedules from the State Board—in just a few weeks systems, schools, and families across the state will need to rip up the schedules and plans they’ve spent months developing to meet these new targets.

Key words here are “after months of silence and zero guidance from the State Board.” School systems from around the state have been looking for guidance for months and received none. It does them no good at all for the State Superintendent to show up with a long overdue assignment and say, “Ta da!” This is not leadership and does not promote any kind of partnership, either. And, in the end, it’s bad for students.

You can take a look at the State Superintendent’s plan here. You can sign the MSEA petition here. You can support schools, teachers, and students by rejecting a last-minute, educationally unsound approach to distance learning.

You’ll be giving a vote of confidence to the work our teachers have been doing all summer long to get ready for their kids. Our kids.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Ten Years

Ten years ago I attended a Beer and Pizza summit hosted by Candace Dodson Reed. Its purpose was to talk about issues of race in Columbia/HoCo. Despite the fact that Ms. Dodson Reed had experienced substantial pushback from some in the community who didn’t think she should be holding it, the event was well attended. For me it was the beginning of putting my sheltered liberal white woman self out there and realizing how incredibly ignorant I was.

Today, ten years on, I’m mortified by how much I didn’t know on that day. To be honest, much of it has been learned in the last several years. A sampling:
  • The History of Redlining and how it perpetuates a wealth gap to this day
  • How SRO’s contribute to the school to prison pipeline 
  • What Microaggressions are and how/why they cause harm
  • How Black and Brown people are policed differently than whites
  • How the health care system often provide substandard care for Black and Brown patients 
That is just some of what I have learned. And all the while there are people in our community that proclaim loudly that Howard County has no racism. That Columbia was founded to champion integration, so what are you complaining about? Local students provided first hand accounts of how they have experienced racism in the Howard County Schools and a vocal group on Facebook loudly denounced it all as fake, denying the life experiences of our young people.

This week county council members Opel Jones and Christiana Rigby filed legislation to create a Racial Equity Task Force. From Council member Rigby:

The Task Force is charged with identifying changes to County ordinances and recommending legislation to the County Council that will improve racial equity in Howard County.

From Council member Jones:

Discussing race is not an easy topic, but to make sure we are fostering an even level playing field, for residents of color, we must continue to strive for an equitable and inclusive county, that will advance racial equity and social justice.

You may recall that Rigby and Jones have also proposed that unconscious bias and racial equity training to be provided for Council members and County Council staff. Has that happened yet?

Ten years ago the room at the Beer and Pizza summit was filled with people who voluntarily responded to an invitation to talk about race in our community, and to learn more. But the years since then have been a painful reminder of how many people in Columbia/HoCo do not want to talk about race. When local students led an outpouring of grief at the death of George Floyd at the hands of police and support for Black Lives Matter, social media lit up with the angry statements of those in opposition. Many of them were blatant examples of the racism they claim does not exist.

Yes, talking about race is hard, but we need to keep doing it. And doing it. It makes us uncomfortable. We don’t know how to fix things and we wish the unending and exhausting onslaught of racist violence would just go away. Imagine how our Black and Brown friends and neighbors feel.

Where will we be ten years from now, Columbia/HoCo?

Saturday, August 29, 2020


I was going to write about Governor Hogan’s press event on Thursday but, frankly, the Baltimore Sun editorial board did it better. Read it here. The most important words to me are these:

Instead of complaining about local districts, the governor should be reaching out to them, listening and learning about their individual challenges, taking actions to help their circumstances. This is leadership.

Listening and collaboration have been in short supply during Hogan’s years in office. Perhaps he sees them as signs of weakness. He appears to prefer a top-down approach where the most important thing is to be seen making pronouncements from a podium: one man in the spotlight.

That may be powerful symbolism but, as the Sun editorial board points out, it’s not leadership. After what I thought was a strong start in addressing the pandemic, the Governor didn’t engage in the kind of collaborative follow-up with local jurisdictions that was necessary. 

Perhaps he was too busy with his book and media appearances.

The tone that the Governor takes towards teachers has consistently been dismissive and almost hostile. His press conference performance is no different. He verbally swats away the concerns of teachers as merely the annoyance of a “special interest group.” Mr. Hogan forgets or chooses to ignore that teachers have some of the most expertise in understanding whether students can be taught and cared for safely in the midst of a pandemic. Or perhaps he shares his parties’ disdain for “experts”. I don’t know.

He also forgets that teachers belong to more than one “special interest group”. They are also parents. They are taxpayers. They are voters. To attempt to diminish teachers when you are trying to open schools is akin to denigrating health professionals when you are trying to eradicate an illness.


There may be some who continue to be impressed by an “I alone can fix it” governmental model. The problem is, it’s just too easy to see where it falls apart: local jurisdictions ignored and then thrown under the bus, professionals who should be valued partners criticized unfairly and disheartened. And parents all over the state who are upset and confused by a political stunt that didn’t really give them meaningful or timely information.

As the editorial states:

No matter how schools proceed, whether they stay online or move to a hybrid model or bring students back entirely, some people are going to be unhappy. How fortuitous to be the critic and not bear the burden of accountability. 

Friday, August 28, 2020


How well do you know your co-workers?

Think for a minute. Who would be most likely to front you lunch money if you forgot your lunch? Who’s most likely to be late without a good excuse? Who is the best person to work on a team project with? Who is lamentably all talk and no action? Who always takes the time to ask about your family?

Who is most likely to wangle six figures out of management?

Yes, I’ve been thinking about Governor Hogan and his pick for Chief of Staff, Roy McGrath. I started to say “ill-fated” pick but that sounds like something bad happened to him. In truth, McGrath brought this upon himself. What is foremost in my mind is how well one would need to know a job applicant to have a sense of whether they were likely to use other people’s money as their own. 

Thanks to dogged and clear-headed reporting by Pamela Wood of the Baltimore Sun, we know:

McGrath used the transition from his job with the Maryland Environmental Service as an opportunity to fund his own personal nest egg. His response when caught showed a profound misunderstanding of how tax dollars work and, in essence, a profound disrespect for taxpayers. This was not a small error in accounting, or a legitimate misunderstanding of his job benefits. This was intentional.

So, back to Governor Hogan. Let’s say you have a new hire coming in. How much can you possibly be expected to know about them, really? If you are the Governor’s office I suppose you do the usual vetting, and there are interviews. But might it be possible that someone with such this kind of ethical shortcoming could breeze through without being detected?

Maybe. But McGrath was not an unknown quantity. He was not someone new coming from the outside. From Luke Broadwater’s piece in the Baltimore Sun on May 26th:

Roy McGrath, CEO and Chairman of the Maryland Environmental Service Board of Directors, will become Hogan’s new chief of staff. He was previously a senior advisor to the governor, deputy chief of staff, and liaison to the Maryland Board of Public Works.


“Roy McGrath is an experienced public and private sector leader with a proven track record of managing at every level of government and a passionate commitment to public service,” Hogan said. “Roy has played a key role in our coronavirus response over the last three months, so his transition to chief of staff will be seamless.”

Hmm. Maybe not so seamless.

Governor Hogan’s background as a successful businessman has long been a quality pointed to by his admirers. But don’t truly successful businessmen have a good sense of who to hire, who would be best for what job, who can be trusted? Isn’t that a requirement for effective leadership? 

As I ponder the McGrath debacle I am left with two possible scenarios.

1. Hogan was completely ignorant which means he isn’t a very good judge of character or an effective leader.
2. Hogan knew and it wasn’t a deal-breaker to him because his idea of business doesn’t preclude this kind of self-dealing. And that really calls into question what kind of leader he is.

The way that the Governor is handling this episode is yet another indicator of leadership or the lack of it. Do we see him taking responsibility? Have we seen a sincere apology that anyone from his administration could have been trying to use tax dollars this way while the citizens of Maryland are struggling with the financial  hardships brought about by the pandemic?

Not exactly.

After yesterday’s episode of political theatre where Hogan threw school systems and local jurisdictions under the bus in an effort to look good at others’ expense, I’d have to say no. He’s taking the distraction approach. 

And, about that press conference? That’s another blog post altogether. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The Red Shoes

In the “big on style, but short on substance” department comes Kimberly Klacik, candidate for Congress in Maryland’s 7th District. Her much-hyped campaign video makes this abundantly clear. Overflowing with the same old tropes that excite Republicans without showing any understanding of Baltimore’s underlying problems, the two minute video served as a springboard to an appearance at the Republican National Convention.

While Ms. Klacik appears to be speaking to Black citizens of Baltimore, encouraging them to walk away from the Democratic Party, it seems pretty clear to me that hers is a message tailor-made for affluent whites in the other part of District 7. Hardly a month goes by when I don’t cringe at a letter in the Sun from someone in Howard County opining on what’s wrong with Baltimore and how to fix it.

All of this serves as a prelude to what irks me the most about Klacik’s campaign video. Her shoes.

(Still photo from Klacik campaign video.)

These are not the shoes you wear if you are going to get something done. These are the shoes of cocktail parties and photo opps. Frankly, these are the shoes of someone visiting from out of town. If Ms. Klacik were truly ready to jump in and address the long-entrenched issues that plague Baltimore she’d hardly be wearing red stilettos.

She’d be wearing sensible shoes.

Sensible shoes don’t make headlines, they don’t go viral, and they don’t earn you a spot on a nationally-televised political convention. But sensible shoes get things done. When you are wearing sensible shoes you can go farther, work longer, and you’re less worried about getting dirty. No, they’re not sexy. But serving as a member of Congress is not a modeling opportunity. It’s hard work.

In one truly hilarious bit of camera work in the campaign video, Ms. Klacik declares, “This is what Democrats don’t want you to see,” and the next immediate shot is of her shoes. Her shoes!

How that got through the editing process I’ll never know.

Frankly, as a Democrat, I think potential voters should look long and hard at those red shoes. They take up more time and space in the video than actual citizens of Baltimore.

As an aside, I thought I’d mention that I did reread the Hans Christian Anderson story, “The Red Shoes” in preparing this post. That was probably a bad idea. I can tell you it only served to reinforce my feeling that sensible shoes will serve you better than the stylish red ones. (And don’t read it right before bed!)

I’m interested in someone who has actual credentials, not simply a fashionable wardrobe. If you think I’m being too simplistic here, consider this: Ms. Klacik could have put her credentials front and center in the video. She didn’t. She chose to let her shoes be the star.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Make It

Today, from 2 to 3 pm: a virtual walk-through of the Maker Space at Freetown Farm. To register for the Maker Space Kick-Off, use this link.

From the event page:

I learned more about the whole Maker movement when I attended the mini Maker Faires at the Chrysalis in Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods. There’s a slide show of things I saw in this post from last year. One of the things I loved was how welcoming and open-ended the concept was. Anyone from any stage of life could participate. There was no bar set for educational or experience  level. If you had ideas, if you loved to tinker - - this was the place for you.

Readers of this blog know what an outspoken advocate I am for inquiry-based, hands-on, multi-sensory learning in early childhood. The truth is, it’s good for everybody. Our educational system has long honored paper and pencil achievement over all else. I think our culture is the worse for that.

If you have the time today, register for this event and learn what it’s all about. It’s just another initiative from the Community Ecology Institute that gives us the opportunity to learn and grow and make our community better.

Friday, August 21, 2020

A Theory I Have

I woke up out of extemely vivid nightmares this morning. Even two cups of coffee haven’t entirely ameliorated the experience.

Putting that aside, I’ve been thinking about the divide in our culture right now in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. Some attribute it all to one’s political leanings. Others point to educational levels or intelligence. And yet others say it depends on whether people have had a first-hand, personal experience with the illness. Some will not believe what they have not seen.

Here’s another theory:

The thing that has most profoundly influenced me is my memories of my parents describing life during the Great Depression and World War II. I grew up hearing stories of a national forced to go through difficult times and enduring, pulling together, working for a common good. I didn’t think that I would ever have to live through such a time. But I absolutely believed that caring for others and perservering during hard times were core values, not just my parents’ values, but those of our country.

All around me I see complaints. People want everything from being able to go to restaurants and get hair cuts to a refund of their tax dollars if their children can’t matriculate inside of a school building. They chafe at restrictions which are in place to prevent the spread of illness. At every turn they use their discontent as an opportunity to place blame on those who are tasked with keeping people safe.

At the same time there are other people giving their time and money to support community members who are in desperate need due to COVID-19. Columbia/HoCo is blessed with a variety of initiatives that are doing amazingly good work. And there are people who are still committed to observe public health guidelines even while many around them are tired of making the effort.

I wonder if any of them had parents like mine. I wonder if the experience of  the Depression and WWII lives on in other homes and families. Even though we are living through something completely alien to our life experiences, some people instinctively seem to know what to do. They dedicate their heads, their hearts, and their bodies to bringing goodness into a world beset by enormous pain.

Wherever that comes from, we need more of it. And we need to teach our children, right now this minute, how much we value pulling together and caring for others. We need to give them good examples of how working for the common good is essential to the American experience. Now is the time for planting seeds. We may not know how they will be harvested. My parents surely did not know.

But one day in the future our children may need to reach inside themselves to find a strength and a sense of direction to face unexpected challenges. Will they be ready?

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Short and Sweet

I’m running late this morning because I stayed up past my bedtime watching a livestream on my iPad. You know how it is.

A footnote to last week’s post from local beekeeper Nikki Schmidt:

Later on in the week I was the fortunate recipient of a jar of her honey. I wasted no time in preparing my HoCoLocal honey-tasting experience. First, a taste of the honey by itself. The mouth-feel is indescribable. The best word I can think of is sexy. The flavor is light, and so much better than any honey I have every tasted. Local, hand-curated honey is an entirely different animal than what you get at the supermarket.

Next up: whole grain toast with butter and honey. Perfection. What a delight. If I am careful I’ll be able to make this little jar last well into the winter, when tea and toast are the perfect antidote to darkness and chill.

I’ve read that local honey also has many healthful properties. There are so many good reasons to support local beekeepers. They are all over Maryland.

This week I’m grateful for an unexpected gift of sweetness that lightened my mood and sang an entirely new song to my tastebuds. I now fully understand why Winnie the Pooh went to all that trouble to get some. Before it was just an abstract concept. Now I have tasted the real thing.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Someone's Grandmother Needs You

Maryland State Delegate Courtney Watson is on a mission: to make sure residents know they need to request a ballot to vote by mail this November. While Governor Hogan mailed out ballots to everyone for the Primary, he’s decided you need to request them for the General election. A lot of folks don’t understand the change. Delegate Watson has been reaching out by phone to make sure voters know what to do.

She posted this account of one such phone call and I asked her if I could share it here. It reads like a blog post. A very good blogpost.  It tells an important story.

Someone's Grandmother

A dedicated group of 22 volunteers and I are in the process of calling voters in my district.  If they are not home, we leave a detailed message about how to order a mail-in ballot.  Today, one called me back. Not using her real name, I'll call her "Someone's Grandmother".  She called me upset that she couldn't figure out the web page to order the ballot.  A spry 80 year old, she is determined to vote by mail and is worried that she and her friends wont be able to vote because they are afraid to vote in person during a pandemic.  So I stayed on the line with Someone's Grandmother while she went through the more than 12 screens and little green "next" boxes and entered the information.  

The first try was not successful.  We were on the line for 14 minutes.  She got all the way to step 9 before clicking on something that made her unsure of whether it was submitted or not.  We figured out it was not and she had to start over.  Someone's Grandmother is going to take a break and try again tonight.  

She kept asking, "Why aren't they automatically sending us our ballots?" I explained it was the Governor's decision not to send ballots, but to send mailed ballot applications which would then need to be mailed back.... to then get your ballot mailed to you. 

Someone's Grandmother didn't want to wait until she got the absentee ballot application in the mail in September, worried there would not be enough time.  She is a planner, and she wanted to know her ballot was ordered now. 

I have been told that the MD Board of Elections plans to make online ordering system easier, as soon as this week.  That would be helpful, especially for our seniors.  Someone's Grandmother is going to call me to let me know if she is successful tonight in ordering her ballot.   In the meantime, do you have a Grandmother (father, anyone vulnerable) you can help?  

Anyone who wants to avoid the polls due to COVID should order their ballot now by going to:  You'll need your driver's license, last four digits of social, date of birth etc.


When I read this I immediately thought of my mother, who got a computer late in life but was never fully able to master it. She had developed a tremor which made it almost impossible to control a computer mouse. My mother was a highly intelligent person who had run our household, handled all the family finances, and routinely sent off thorough business letters typed on her old Royal upright manual typewriter.

But age had made almost everything more difficult. She sent me one email which read:

I will write more when I get smarter. Love, Mother

Right now people like my mother or, like Someone’s Grandmother, are more likely to be isolated and lonely due to coronavirus precautions. As the workings of the US Postal Service are degraded, older folks are left waiting for vital medications and checks they depend on. At stake in this election are things that matter deeply to them: healthcare, Social Security, and more.

Someone’s Grandmother just needs a little extra help. Do you know someone like that? Can you make sure they know how to exercise their right to vote? 

The political party that thought it was fine to sacrifice Grandma and Grandpa to the coronavirus in order to get the economy back on its feet appears to be unconcerned about making sure the voting process supports them, either. Making in-person voting the default this November is a decision which puts the elderly and anyone in high-risk groups in danger.  

Placing an obstacle in front of people which may impede their ability to vote is voter suppression. 

Anything we can do to remove the obstacle, especially this November, supports democracy and empowers citizens to participate in decisions that are theirs by right. A shout-out to Delegate Watson and her volunteers.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

About That Post

The past twenty-four hours have caused me to think a lot about what people say online. How often do we become outraged at shared screenshots, yet still pass on those scandalous tidbits, or use ‘inside’ knowledge to make ourselves look good, or to make a joke at someone else’s expense? 

I had more than a moment of profound embarrassment when I came across the following post on Facebook from someone I do not know. (I have removed any identifying information because names aren’t the reason I’m sharing this.)

I got told off again by somebody who I respect about the ********** / Julia McCready fight in Howard County. The person really behind the fight, the one who started the whole thing was *************/ who is feeding tweets from ********* over to Julie McCready to get her cranked up. Apparently ********* use her as a sock puppet.

But I was cautioned don't stick up for ***********. He's supposed to be a bad guy. he was described as being mean and rude to both men and women and friendly only to **************.

Julian McCready is not supposed to be a basket of peaches either in fact the political operative activist who gave me this information put it this way:

This fight between Julia and ********** is like two 90 year olds on the edge of dementia fighting over the last cup of Cherry Jell-O at the home.

Accompanying this bit of gossip was an enormous copy of my professional head shot, taken when I was on the Oakland Mills Village Board. My descent into mortification was complete.

It’s not simply that all of the information presented as fact was actually false, or the cringe-worthy description of me repeated to amuse the reader. What bothered me most was the unnamed “somebody who I respect” described as “the political operative activist” who was motivated to trash me so thoroughly. Notice how this person does so much damage and manages to remain anonymous. Was it someone I know, perhaps someone I trust?

That’s a truly bad feeling to have. 

I stumbled upon this in May and have been mulling over how to respond, if at all. It was already a year old when I found it. But recent exchanges on social media have reminded me of that hot feeling of shame I experienced over something that was completely not my fault. Falsehoods I’ll never be able to set straight with the people who saw them.

No matter how much you believe yourself to be in the right, or how much that other person looks irredeemable to you, don’t be mean just to be mean. Don’t eviscerate someone just because you can, or because it feels good, or because you’re so good at it. 

This is advice I have sometimes needed to take myself. I continue to work towards sharing facts when I have them, and identifying my opinions as just that: opinions. Most of all I try to focus on issues. These days if I write in depth about someone it’s usually positive. There are exceptions, of course. I write commentary, and I’m not happy every day.

But there’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed. Not everyone agrees with me on this. I can only speak for myself here: don’t crush people. Don’t gather your social media peeps around you to mock someone who has no way of defending themselves.

No cause is so righteous that it justifies this kind of harm. No joke is so good that it’s worth dragging someone’s good name through the mud.

In conclusion, let me make it absolutely clear that Cherry Jell-o is not even remotely acceptable. If it isn’t Mott’s Strawberry Applesauce things are going to get ugly. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Mixed Up

I didn’t grow up here. I come from a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio called Cleveland Heights. We moved to Connecticut in 1972. (I came to Columbia in 1999.) I came across this photo and the text explaining it in a Facebook group about growing up in Cleveland Heights. It tells of a history I knew absolutely nothing about. I am sharing it here because I think it is relevant to our own struggles with race in Columbia/HoCo. I’ll talk more about that tomorrow.

Words of original poster: Taylor Rd Elementary school kids in an ad that ran in the 'Sun Press' Sept.1971. It touted the school as having kids from different backgrounds and the copy says, "We know that Taylor is the kind of melting pot some people just aren't looking for. But if you're inclined and want something else, something more, give us a call." My brother and I are in this ad. Anyone else in FB land recognize anyone?

 Response: I was at Taylor at this time (1968 to 1975) and my sister is in this photo along with a friend of mine from my class and her sister who was a year younger. Their family moved away about a year after this photo. I went there from k through sixth.

 The purpose of this ad was to stem the tide of white flight from the area which was already in full swing ( my family did not leave.) Unfortunately the goal of maintaining an integrated school failed and within four to five years of this photo the school was almost entirely African American with almost all white families with school aged kids having moved out. Then shortly after that the school was converted from an elementary school to an extension of Heights High for kids with disciplinary problems. Taylor was the first elementary school closed in the Heights system. (the local junior high for Taylor kid, Roosevelt, was closed in 1974 and kids were bussed to other junior highs.)

The dream of a happy, healthy integrated elementary school was reality for roughly 3 short years —Cleveland Heights tried to keep this going in the schools and neighborhoods.But the overall racial climate of national segregation won out and unfortunately still exists today. The parents of that time tried hard to keep the Taylor community together but unfortunately were ultimately unsuccessful. It all fell victim to white flight. It is unfortunate that people could not accept living in an integrated neighborhood.

This is a great ad and it would have been great if it had been successful.


When we think of that same time period here - - 1968 to 1975 - - we see the foundational years in the establishment of Columbia as the antithesis of white flight and segregation. Fifty years on, our school system has been in the awkward position of trying to convince parents of the benefits of allowing their children to go to school with children who are different than they are. I wonder what would happen if they ran ads like this:

Friday, August 14, 2020

Out of the Box

One night, a long time ago, I was printing, slicing, and taping name labels to each of my daughter’s crayons. And pencils. And markers. Today I opened a bin of random stuff and saw her old pencil box, from 2009, I think. Inside were almost all of what I had put in, unused, save for the markers and a few pencils. I don’t really have an explanation for this. What I do know is that I packed it all away because “it was perfectly good” and “maybe someone would need it.”

This afternoon I sat with a wastebasket and carefully removed the name from each pencil and crayon. I cleaned off the pencil box. Added a pair of school scissors. I’m finally going to see if I can find someone who can use them.

Something about the repetitive motion of removing each label, so carefully applied - - to no purpose - - made me think about how we do so many things over and over again in Columbia. Sometimes the names are the same, and sometimes they change, and the ages of the players shift. But the arguments are so mind-bogglingly familiar and in general it often feels as though there is no purpose. 

People accuse one another of malfeasance, secrecy, incompetence, greed. Motives are challenged and facts are laid by the wayside. The addition of social media serves to magnify the drama and to minimize the understanding of the eventual outcome. People still write hot letters to the newspaper, too. (I have been known to send a few myself.)

There are a couple of letters to the editor this week about what may become of the Columbia Flier property. They reminded me what a Columbian thing it is to resist change. And how I’ve been indulging in a little of that myself lately.

Newly minted opinion: do with that property what is best for Columbia now and going forward. What could go there that would be a natural fit with nearby Howard Community College and Howard County General Hospital? We need symbiosis, not silos.

While we are at it: it’s kind of crazy how purely unwalkable it is over there. One might say it’s a lovely parkway but I am having a hard time finding the beauty in a set-up that requires you to get in your car to do anything. HCC has a shuttle (the Dragon Wagon) to ferry students to satellite parking. If the mix of businesses at that end of LPP evolved to contain a healthy variety of locations appealing to HCC and HCGH, would they partner on a shuttle that stopped at various places along that loop? 

It might give that part of town the sense of place that I think is lacking.

I once received an invitation to a party which announced,  “we will be gathering to celebrate our annual futility rites.” It was meant to be witty but the words came back to me today. So many of us (myself included) keep doing the same old Columbia things and expecting a different outcome. 

That’s futility all right. Maybe it’s human nature. But don’t we claim to admire a visionary who did bold and untried things in creating a New American City? 

I wonder if we would be on board today.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Representation in a Small Space

Yesterday this announcement from Howard County resident Lynn Scott caught my eye: 

Hi HoCo Families!

Have you seen the Little Free Libraries around? Another Howard County resident/friend and I are on a mission to grow and diversify those libraries through an initiative that is taking off nation-wide called Little Free Diverse Libraries. You can read more about the woman who inspired it all here:

Why Sharing Diverse Books in Little Free Libraries Matters

Our goal is to add diverse books to the existing Little Free Libraries around Howard County in order to reflect the diversity in our community. You can help!

—Follow us on Instagram (@littlefreediverselibraryhoco). We'll post as we receive books and deliver them throughout the county.

—Donate a book! Use this link.

Books will be shipped directly to us and we'll deliver to the libraries.

—Let us know about the Little Free Libraries near your house! Feel free to also share diverse books you love and we'll add them to the list

Thanks for helping us! This is especially important with schools and libraries currently closed (in-person)!


Everyone knows I’m a big fan on children’s books. I went to the list and picked out two. One of them was a favorite of mine: All Are Welcome.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Guest Post from Nikki Naylor Schmidt: Backyard Bees


Today is National Honey Bee Day. According to its founders, this is “a day when beekeepers, beekeeping clubs and associations, and honey bee enthusiasts from across the United States celebrate honey bees and recognize their contribution to humans' everyday lives as a means of protecting this critical species. National Honey Bee Day also pays homage to beekeepers, whose labors ensurewell-managed, healthy bees…”

Why are you reading about honey bees in Julia Jackson McCready’s blog? Beekeepers are all around you. We’re part of your village, part of the fabric of community that Julia works to weave. Howard County has a thriving backyard beekeeping population, with over a hundred people taking classes from the Howard County Beekeepers Association every year. Maryland has over 14,000 registered beehives and many of them are in places you drive past every day. Places like the Robinson Nature Center, the Howard County Conservancy, Howard Community College, Ace Hardware, Christ Episcopal Church, and neighborhoods throughout the county. All of us beekeepers are trying to do our part to help these amazing insects survive and thrive in a region that becomes increasingly difficult with each passing year.

You’ve read the statistics about Honey Bees and how they benefit our world. What you might not know is how to help. Here are some things you can do to make your part of the world a little bit better for honey bees and other beneficial pollinators:

1. Plant pollinator friendly plants – especially those that bloom in the fall. Our mono-culture green lawns are a desert for pollinators. Here’s a great list:
2. Stop using pesticides. Companies like Mosquito Joe will claim to be safe for pollinators, but it’s simply not true. You can’t selectively kill one type of bug without killing moreThere are alternatives – but the best way to prevent mosquitos is a walk around your community with an eye towards standing water. Report poorly draining culverts, keep your gutters clean and free flowing and pick up empty bottles and cans (mosquitos can breed in a teaspoon of water).
3. Teach your kids that bees and wasps are just like people. If they are left alone, they’ll go about their business. If someone takes a swing at them, breaks into their home or steps on them, they will defend themselves with the only weapon they have – a sharp stinger. The best defense against a bee or wasp it to just leave them alone. 
4. Provide water! Honey bees get thirsty and also use water to regulate the temperature in their colonies. Because bees can’t swim, a dish of water filled with rocks, corks, sponges or pieces of pool noodles makes a great bee waterer. 
5. Support your local beekeeper! ‘Honey Laundering’ is a thing. A Texas A&M study found more than 75% of grocery story honey has been ‘ultra-filtered’ – a process that removes every trace of natural pollen (and in many cases, was also adulterated with corn syrup). Your local beekeepers work incredibly hard, wearing heavy gear in Mid-Atlantic summer heat to bring you fresh, hyper-local honey loaded with health benefits. If you know your neighborhood beekeeper – ask to buy their honey. Many local beekeepers relied on the recently cancelled Howard County Fair to sell their honey, so it’s extra important to buy local this year! If you don’t know your neighborhood beekeeper, check out the list of sellers on the Howard County Beekeepers Association website:


Beekeepers in Howard County are enthusiastic about the Bee City USA partnership that County Executive Dr. Calvin Ball entered into, but we need everyone in the county to help. As with all things, if everyone in a community makes a few small changes – it makes a big difference.

Nikki Schmidt is Howard County beekeeper and a member of the Howard County Beekeepers Association. She is parent to two boys and approximately 320,000 bees.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

It Doesn’t Work


Last night I attended (via Zoom) the Police-Free Schools Teach-In hosted by the Anti-Racist Education Alliance. I was there as an ordinary citizen, not as a blogger, so I didn’t take notes. That was probably a mistake, because now I want to write about the experience and I have nothing but recollection to rely on. 

The presentation was so well-researched that I think it should be required for all employees of the Howard County School System. Parents, too.  If we are going to take a deeper look at whether we want to have police in our schools we need to be informed about how they got there in the first place and what the results have been. If the mission of schools is to support students, then this is ‘homework’ that is long overdue.

Here are a few thoughts that I am mulling over today.

Putting police in schools didn’t start until the 1950’s. But, once the door was open, it became more and more an accepted practice. Interestingly enough, communities continue to find money to fund police in schools when they will not allocate funds for social workers, counselors, mental health initiatives, and other services which directly support students. 

Having police in schools has transformed how student behaviors are viewed and responded to. In essence, ordinary actions that were dealt with for generations before police were in schools have taken on new terminology that labels them as crimes. Pushing or shoving is now “assault”. Taking a piece of candy or a pencil is now “theft”. Talking back or arguing is “insubordination” or “disorderly conduct.”

You might think that the end result of approach would be a wide variety of kids being cited and perhaps suspended, because these are behaviors that happen across the board. Not so. The statistics show, over and over again, that it is Black and Brown students whose behavior is criminalized and punished. I would argue that this happens because of an implicit bias which looks at the very same behavior in white students and gives them the benefit of the doubt. Black and Brown students, on the other hand, are looked at as innately more dangerous and in need of ‘control’.

The longer we allow this to continue, the more it teaches white students that either: Black and Brown students are inherently more ‘criminal’, or: that schools use police in schools to harass Black and Brown students but the entire system is okay with that. Just imagine what it is teaching Black and Brown students: in every moment you are potentially a criminal. Your education is not as important as your compliance. 

You also might think that such a “law and order” approach would make schools safer. It hasn’t. In fact, the numbers indicate that the more we put police in schools, the more the documented undesirable behavior increases. It’s not a success. It hasn’t made schools safer. And yet we keep spending more money on it.

This is what we, as a community, need to face: 

     *Police weren't always in schools. 
     *Their presence has served to criminalize student behavior. 
      *The way that police are used in schools increases the likelihood that Black and Brown students will be singled out and stigmatized. 
     *And, most of all, having police is schools has not made schools any safer.

Don’t we want to spend our community resources on practices that will actually have a lasting impact on students and the school environment? How can we justify spending more and more money on a program that unfairly targets some students more than others while not making schools any safer? 

There was so much more to last night’s presentation. I was especially impressed by the variety of alternative approaches that we could be using if we decided to put students first and respond to the underlying causes of difficult behaviors. I will check with AREA to see if the session was recorded and/or if they will be doing it again any time soon.

Monday, August 10, 2020

A Sad Story


I live in a community of quadroplexes. One of the things our HOA fees cover is lawn mowing. Every so often in the spring and summer, the sound of mowers and weed-whackers is heard throughout the neighborhood. They use mowers for the large common areas, and the weed-whackers for the tiny, awkwardly shaped yards that most of us have.

I came out this week to discover they had mowed my front flower bed. 

Well, more like “weed-whacked” it. Even though it is surrounded by a border of red bricks. I guessed they missed that. It was probably easy to miss because I haven’t done anything with the front bed this summer. It seemed irresponsible to send my husband out to buy mulch during a quarantine. So, every so often, I go out and pull up all the weeds and it looks tidy. For a while. 

A few weeks ago a lovely purple flower came up in the middle of the untidy mayhem. I am guessing it came from a plant in year’s past, something my daughter and I bought at the Oakland Mills Farmers Market and planted together. I was inspired to do more weeding so that the purple flower would have room to grow.

On dry days I watered it. I noticed more and more blossoms. Checking on its progress was a bright spot in my isolated days. It was just a little thing, but it was meaningful to me.

Now it’s gone. I can’t complain because the flower bed certainly didn’t look like much and could easily have looked like just another overgrown expanse to be attended to. Also, who complains about having someone regularly cut their lawn? Indeed, this is a first world problem.

But that little purple flower had become a symbol to me of the beautiful and important things we are all trying to keep alive during the pandemic. Jobs and schooling and income and social interaction are fractured. It feels as though our democracy is disintegrating. There is so much about our lives that we feel powerless to change. 

So we find things to cling to. Things that make us feel safe. Things that make us laugh. Things of beauty.

Farewell, little flower. Thank you for the joy you brought me. I hope you come back next year.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

About Cell Phones

I received some interesting feedback on yesterday’s post about cell phone use during board of education meetings. One respondent pointed out that it isn’t merely cell phones that pose a problem; any computer use has similar potential for members to post to social media and also to use private messaging. They suggested the creation of a code of conduct rather than an outright ban.

Another reader suggested that disallowing cell phones during meetings would be a barrier to members who are parents of young children. The ability for a child to reach out with a homework question or something that was troubling them (not just emergencies) is a part of our current world in a way that it didn’t used to be. Things have changed and parents need to be immediately reachable, they felt.

I absolutely see that point of view although I don’t know if I agree. I also don’t have young children anymore so perhaps I am not the best judge of that.

I will share a story from my own personal experience that came to mind after I wrote yesterday’s post.

When my younger daughter was 2-3 I worked doing after-school care for the Columbia Association. I would drop her off with my husband at his school, head to work, then he and my high school daughter would hold the fort until I got home around 6:30. It was a complicated dance that tired everyone out. Anyone who works and has young children knows the drill.

It’s complicated.

But one night I didn’t come home. They waited and waited and I didn’t come. My husband drove over to the school where I worked and my car wasn’t there. He called my cell phone. No answer.

They had no idea where I was.

Somehow they threw together dinner and big sister gave little sister her bath only to discover, laid neatly on the bed, clean pajamas and a book for a bedtime story. The title of the book: Where is Mom?

It was not the best evening at my house. 

Meanwhile, I was at a long-scheduled training for CA team members at Historic Oakland. I had told my family about it but hadn’t reminded them on day itself. When the training began the presenter sternly told everyone to turn their cellphones off in order to be fully present. 

I’m generally a rule-follower. I turned my phone off.

It was a great presentation. I learned a lot about Columbia. But when I arrived home that evening to an anguished and distraught family I realized what a big mistake I had made. I should have reminded everyone, I should have left a note, and, most of all, I should never have turned off my phone.

The direction to turn off phones was more than likely aimed at the high school and college employees at the training who had been observed to be more phone-dependent. It was not an appropriate request for the parent of a young child. Silencing the ringer would have been enough.

So, I don’t have the perfect answer for the use of electronic devices during board meetings but I do think we need to talk about it. A code of conduct seems like a reasonable way to approach the problem.