Saturday, October 31, 2020

Choosing Local


I searched “Maryland” on Twitter this morning just for fun, wondering what’s going on outside our immediate bubble. What I found was that there are a whole lot of people out there who care about UMD football. Yesterday’s game truly dominates the feed. Alas, I’m neither a football fan nor particularly knowledgeable on University of Maryland rivalries so there’s no story there for me.

I started seeing the first Christmas adverts on television this week.  I’ve been trying to tune them out but yesterday’s drop in temperature softened my resolve a bit. My older daughter has already raised the issue of what we should serve for Thanksgiving dinner. Can Christmas be far behind? 

Every year I see a pitch go out to shop small and shop local for the holidays. This year seems more crucial than any before it, as local establishments are struggling during the pandemic. I have often vowed I would do more local shopping, but then the demands of work plus home overcame my good intentions. Under the circumstances Amazon always seemed like the way to go. 

This year I’m not working, so I have more time. On the other hand, I have less money. My desire to entrust Amazon with that money is greatly reduced this year. So I’m looking for local small businesses to support. One condition: I’m self-isolating, so I need to be able to shop online. Any suggestions?

Just as local restaurants have pivoted to provide carry-out, family meal options, and cocktails-to-go, some local shops have added online shopping to their business plans. Sweet Elizabeth Jane in Old Ellicott City comes to mind. Are there others you could recommend? Are there specific items that you buy locally that you think would make perfect gifts?

I’d be happy to do an entire post jam-packed with local recommendations, so send me your favorites. 

Friday, October 30, 2020


In every large group there exists a smaller core of those who are intensely committed and active. It could be at your place of worship, the school PTA, your neighborhood association. Sometimes they are motivated by pure devotion, sometimes one sees hints of desire for acclaim or a need for control. At any rate, we all know the phenomenon. I once went to a small church where the same seven or so people did everything. They lamented the fact that other people didn’t step up. On the other hand,they were fiercely invested in being “in charge”.

Over the last few days I’ve been reading about happenings at the Wilde Lake High School polling place. It occurs to me that if you are in the inner circle of Columbia/HoCo’s political world, you may have been opining about this nonstop. You’ve read and discussed every nuance on social media. If you aren’t, it could be completely invisible to you.

In short: one candidate’s signs were vandalized. Also, the behavior of a person electioneering was experienced by some as aggressive and off-putting. 

This has generated a firestorm of social media activity that has bounced from page to page and group to group. The same accusations are leveled, screenshots are shared without permission, allies defend their compatriots or attack the other side.

When we care a lot about something, and invest a lot of ourselves in it, then the things that occur within that sphere are intensely important to us. That’s only natural. But is there a point at which it becomes hyper magnified? Can we lose perspective?

And what does that mean for the other folks who exist outside of the circle of intense interest? Do we even forget that they are there, sometimes? Is it possible to move from “dedicated to a cause” to “cut off from everything else” and not recognize it is happening?

When does it stop being about communicating a cause to the greater community and become an all-consuming fight to the death against the operatives on the other “team”? And, when it does, are we sacrificing our long term goals by going all out to win the short term battle?

I’m full of questions today. If you have answers, you know where to send them. I’d be happy to entertain more questions, too. But don’t bring me the same arguments I’ve been reading on Facebook. Please address the nature of this post if you want to join the conversation.

I was once waiting to be treated at the ER at Yale New Haven on Memorial Day weekend. Suddenly all hell broke loose. It seems that some injured victims from a drunken brawl at a holiday picnic had been brought in as a group and had restarted the fight as soon as they arrived at the emergency room. 

Let’s not do that.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

No Quiz for Me


Oh how the mighty have fallen. The New York Times is running an online quiz that asks, “Can you tell a ‘Trump’ fridge from a ‘Biden’ fridge?” 

Oh, brother.

Truth in advertising: I have not read much of the accompanying article nor participated in the quiz. I have read responses on Twitter, from people who have, saying that the quiz essentially reinforces the stereotypes they had already. Great. We definitely needed more of that.

As this is a local blog, I wondered if there could be a local version of this quiz, as ridiculous as I think it is. So far, this is what I have come up with:

Interesting things to note about what’s in the refrigerators of people in Columbia/HoCo:

  • Grocery store affiliation: Whole Foods? Food Lion?
  • Foods made by local businesses like Neat Nicks, From Momma’s Kitchen, Althea’s Almost Famous, Farm Boy Pickles, etc.
  • Foods from one of the Howard County Farmers Markets, local purveyors like Jenny’s Market or Breezy Willow, or a CSA.
  • Locally made beer vs. national brands.
  • Does the food come from a store within walking distance of the house, or does purchasing it require using a car?

Probably the most important thing to look for in Howard County refrigerators is food, plain and simple. If you have adequate or ample food, you are doing okay. Little or no food? Struggling, if not in outright crisis. No refrigerator at all? You might be homeless.

Those are really the most critical concerns to have if we are going to be looking in people’s refrigerators. Assumptions that certain kinds of healthy yogurt or name brand soda pop indicate one's political leanings are shallow at best. Perhaps there is entertainment value in taking a quiz like this. But if it merely reinforces stereotypes, it’s sadly misinformational. 

Especially in a time where a pandemic has put so many people out of work, looking in refrigerators for some kind of higher meaning is more than specious. It hovers on the edge of cruelty. I’m going to suggest that most of us in Columbia/HoCo have better things to do with our time.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Getting There

A postscript on yesterday’s story about the earliest of early voters, Armon Wilson. A friend reached out with some addition info:

I just thought that I would share that Armon was the student who performed CPR during that car accident last year. Do you remember that story? It was an elementary school student.

I did remember, vaguely. So I did some digging around. I found this on the Timberlane Facebook page.

This kid right here! We are soooo proud of him! Armon is a senior in high school who lives right here in Timberlane!  He is also in the EMT training program sponsored through the school system here in Columbia, MD. The students were on a bus yesterday returning to the school from the training program when an accident occurred a few blocks away from the school, Armon Wilson and Macayla Miles, 2 EMT students on the bus.  A truck hit a young mother and her 6 year old son as they were crossing the street.  The bus driver witnessed the accident, jumped off of the bus with phone in hand calling 911 for help. Armon and Macayla did not see what happened but they jumped off of the bus to support the bus driver.  When they got off of the bus they found the mother with injuries but her child was in very bad shape. Armon jumped into action administering CPR to try to help the injured little boy until the ambulance arrived. We learned that the little boy passed away at the hospital about an hour later. My heart breaks for the young mother and her family.  We are so proud of Armon and Macayla for their leadership and courage.  We love you beyond words!  The Superintendant of Schools and a Board of Education member paid a visit to the school today to provide recognition to Armon and Macayla for their courageous act!

Timberlane is a neighborhood in Clary’s Forest, which is turn is a part of the Village of Hickory Ridge, which explains why it was such a long walk to Wilde Lake High School to vote.

What about you? Will you be walking to your polling place or driving? I’ve seen people talking about the convenience of being able to chose from different locations during early voting depending on how crowded they are. That freedom of choice is completely dependent upon having a car. You’d hardly walk to figure that out, and it wouldn’t make sense by bus or taxi, either. 

When ballot drop boxes and polling locations are selected, I would think that those making the decisions take into account areas where voters are less likely to have cars. I’m sure they look at higher vs. lower population density. What about higher vs. lower car ownership? Is there a way to know this?

It makes a difference for those who are older, or in poor health, or parents with very young children. Owning a car should not be a prerequisite for exercising one’s right to vote. Of course, in Columbia/HoCo, owning a car is just about a prerequisite for survival. Transportation, or the lack therof, impacts everything.

I’m curious about this. I’ll see what I can find out. In the meantime, if you can’t get enough of WLHS grad Armon Wilson, here’s an entire follow up piece about him by Ana Faguy.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Pride and Shame

The best thing about yesterday for me was the story of Armon Wilson. We know about him because of the local reporting of Ana Faguy. (Baltimore Sun/Howard County Times)

Armon Wilson, 19, was first in line to vote at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia. He woke up at 4:00am and walked an hour in the sprinkling rain to be in line at 5:15 am. 

Photo by Ana Faguy, Baltimore Sun/Howard County Times*

It didn’t take long for the folks at Wilde Lake High School to claim Wilson as a 2020 graduate. I don’t blame them for being proud. This young man’s dedication to cast his vote inspired a lot of us in the area. As it turns out, the last person of the day at the WLHS polling site was also a WLHS alum: D’Angelo Jackson, class of 2014.  I looked at this yesterday and felt a sense of communal pride: This is Howard County.

On the same day that the story of a civically-minded WLHS graduate made the local news, this post turned up on Instagram. (Shared by @HoCoProgressRpt.)

Posted by what looks like a relatively new account, ghs_weird_polls, it invites Glenelg High School students to make light of the horrors of the Holocaust just for fun. When called out by a fellow student the poster shows no remorse.

We can’t know for sure from this post alone that the writer is from Glenelg High School. It does seem likely that it’s a student from one of our high schools. And that is deeply troubling. If we have a high school student that thinks the Holocaust is a suitable topic for an online game, there is something missing that needs to be addressed. Immediately. Whether it is a lack of historical understanding, a lack of empathy, or both, this post shows ignorance and willful disregard for the feelings of others.
This, too, is Howard County.

I would be remiss if I did not explicitly highlight the fact that the young men who made our community proud yesterday went to Wilde Lake, the much-maligned Columbia high school that the anti-redistricting crowd loved to hate. Our Holocaust joker? Well, it’s hard to say, but: probably not Wilde Lake.

When I look at these two radically different local stories, I’m convinced that, as much as we ought to lift up the stories of the Wilde Lake students, we also need to sit with and examine the truth that Howard County also produces students like ghs_weird_polls. What are we going to do about that? How can we, as a community, do better?

We are eager to share in the community pride. It’s harder to take responsibility for community shame.

*For more on the day’s voting, you can check out Ms. Faguy’s article, written with Jacob Calvin Meyer.


Monday, October 26, 2020

The Road Not Taken

Early voting starts today in Maryland. In Howard County there were already lines before the polls opened. I voted by mail, delivering my ballot to the drop box at the Board of Elections. Whatever your plan is, please vote.

I’d like to suggest that, no matter how you do it, you take one important thing into account when you fill out your ballot: don’t vote for dead people.

The governor of the State of Maryland made the news recently by announcing to the world that he had written in the name of the late Republican president Ronald Reagan when he voted. This immediately raised two questions:

1. Why would anyone do this?

2. Why would he tell on himself?

Choosing a write-in candidate (especially a dead one)  in this election is the choice of someone who believes he has enough privilege that he will be fine either way. There are a whole lot of us out here in Maryland and beyond who don’t have that kind of privilege, and we are not impressed by such a stunt.

It occurs to me that Governor Hogan’s choice is consistent with the way he has governed all along. I’ll call it the Look Backwards choice. For example, his choice for a school calendar was to try to make everyone do it “the way it used to be.” His response to transit needs has consistently been to add more highway lanes. His reaction to transformative legislation to address the opportunity gap in Maryland Schools was the old Republican trope: vilify the teachers’ unions. His response to police brutality in Baltimore? Send more police. Probably the most Look Backward action the Governor has taken was to look at solutions to pollution and climate change and resort to playground level name-calling instead. 

You remember the “Rain Tax”, right?

I don’t know what Mr. Hogan plans to do with his life once he is out of office. I do know that, as Governor, he has made his mark by Looking Backwards. His vote for President is a cherry on top of all that has come before. When you are a public servant, you are presented with choices and you must do your best with what you have. Instead, Hogan frequently ignores what he has and just Looks Backwards.

I’m imagining the Governor as the protagonist in that well-known Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken”. Somehow it’s not the same.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—went backwards. And that has made all the difference.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Looking for the Light

It’s darker and darker in the mornings now. This is the time of year when I realize how dependent I am on that morning light to wake up and get going. In the words of the old saying, “my get up and go has got up and went.”

Today’s post might best be described as looking for the light. 

Ever a local leader on shedding light on things, the Howard County Library is hosting on event tomorrow night to help community members learn more about the new Equity Policy in the Howard County Public Schools.

Understand and Engage the New HCPSS Equity Policy (Register at the link.)

Learn about Howard County Public School System’s new educational equity policy (Policy 1080)and hear a panel of community leaders reflect on the need for more educational equity in Howard County. Explore ways to stay involved with policy implementation and educational equity issues more broadly. Includes time for Q&A.  

Click on the link above to see more on who will be participating. The library has assembled a great group of people to take on this topic. Don’t miss it. 

Yesterday HC Drug-Free  held a drug take-back event at the Wilde Lake Village Center. Thanks to what looked like a small army of community volunteers, they were able to facilitate the collection of unneeded/expired Prescription Medication, Over-the-Counter Medication, Vitamins, Pet/Veterinary Medication, Sharps (Needles, Syringes, Epi-Pens, etc.) Vape Devices (with batteries removed) and Inhalers. Next step will be safe disposal, which means they won’t be flushed into the water system or lying around where they might end up in the wrong hands.

Another bit of light shining in the community is this restaurant night from the Wilde Lake High School Band Boosters. It’s not your average fundraiser. Monies raised will be going, not to the band, but to support the mission of Columbia Community Care.

It’s this Wednesday, 10/28, all day, at the Mod Pizza by the mall. A tip of the hat to Band Director Saul Green and to the Wilde Lake High School Band Boosters for using their fundraising expertise to benefit Columbia Community Care.  CCC is the brainchild of WLHS teacher Erika Strauss Chavarria, who this week was named by the Baltimore Sun as one of 25 Maryland Women to Watch, as well as being honored as a winner of the 2020 Human Rights Award by the Howard County Human Rights Commission.

That’s a whole lot of light right there.

Now I’m going to open the curtains and make another cup of coffee. 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Rules of the House


Today seems like the perfect time to take another look at a post I wrote in 2013. Yes, really.

There’s a New Sheriff in Town August 23, 2013

It’s about comments. Yesterday I had some visitors to the blog’s Facebook page who were unfamiliar with the rules of the house. In fact, it was pretty clear that they believed that any such boundaries for acceptable behavior did not apply to them. 

Professional news sites set a policy for comments.(n.b. - - since this was written, many have eliminated the comment function.) But we, as individual bloggers, have to set our own boundaries. And that is completely appropriate. If you comment on my blog, you are a guest in my house, so you have to obey house rules.

In the disclaimer posted on my blog are the following words:

I encourage discussion in the comments section but I have no patience for trolling, or really any kind of nastiness. 

Over the past year I have been moved, more than once, to remind commenters that they are welcome to disagree with the contents of my blog but that I will have zero tolerance for people who go after my family. Imagine needing to tell people that dragging someone’s family is out of bounds. 

It is stunning to me that Columbia/HoCo has people who feel so justified in their point of view that they believe absolutely no filter is necessary when engaging in online discourse. The results have been disastrous. I can’t control the whole world of local social media, of course. But I can set boundaries for my own small part of it.

Comments are welcome, but commenters should realize that for each blog there are rules of the house.

I realize that a blog which provides commentary on local issues may sometimes hit a nerve. Ordinary discussions may become more heated. Readers may not always agree with my take on things. That’s okay. If I am going to provide a space for comments I have to be willing to deal with a variety of viewpoints. But going after my family is not an acceptable way to interact. It has nothing to do with the blog. It is, frankly, the last resort of people whose arguments are so thin that they cannot win on their own merit.

So I’m going to update the disclaimer. It will now read:

I encourage discussion in the comments section but I have no patience for trolling, or really any kind of nastiness. Warning: my family is off limits. Transgressors will be banned.

I’d like to believe that this will be the end of it, but experience tells me that posting a warning is valuable mostly in that I can point to it when the next person tramples on the boundaries. Because there probably will be a next person. May I respectfully suggest that if you think that rules don’t apply to you, that the Facebook page for my blog is not a good fit? 

Tomorrow I’ll be back to telling community stories. I’m looking forward to that.

Friday, October 23, 2020



Apparently there was some sort of protest at Central Office out on Route 108 yesterday. It seems that some folks are all fired up about the how the school system is handling education during the pandemic. 

I took a gander at some of the photos taken at the event. They’re not my photos, so I won’t share them here. Some observations: mask use inconsistent, physical distancing inconsistent. It’s not surprising that we’re having trouble lowering the spread of the coronavirus when I see behavior like this. 

But here is what jumps out from these photographs: whiteness. According to the HCPSS website, our student population breaks down as follows:

Race/Ethnicity FY19

  • Asian – 22.7%
  • Black/African American – 24.2%
  • Hispanic/Latino – 12.0%
  • White – 34.5%
  • Other – less than or equal to 5.0%
  • Two or more races – 6.3%

Out on Route 108, carrying signs and displaying empty lawn chairs, it was white, 100 %. Well, to be completely accurate, I didn’t see any Asian protesters but they very well might have been in attendance, though not in large numbers. What I didn’t see were Black and Latinx participants. At all.

Black and Latinx parents are struggling every bit as much, if not more, during the pandemic. They experience the same frustrations with distance learning. But they were not out there protesting to reopen the schools. I suspect it’s because they are keenly aware of how their families are consistently more at risk for exposure and illness. They are witnessing more illness and death within their immediate communities. 

Merely to play a numbers game here, let’s consider that White children make up 34.5 per cent of the student population. Black and Latinx children? 36.2 %. 

But the loud voices in front of Central Office are perfectly content to believe that their 34.5 per cent is THE voice of the Howard County Schools. For heaven’s sake, look around. People are missing, voices are missing. No matter how loud you are, you can’t erase the truth.

Some of these parents might tell you that they’re protesting on behalf of those “poor, disadvantaged children who are at the most at risk.” (Translation: Black and Brown students.) Really? Why aren’t members of those communities protesting with you? Why aren’t they among your leaders, your speakers?

Members of Black and Latinx communities are well acquainted with protest and activism. If they aren’t there? There’s a reason.

These are surely difficult times. No one denies that. But I would suggest that those who believe that their voice is the only voice when it comes to making important decisions are reinforcing unhealthy and destructive patterns of civic behavior.

Right now, the kind of civic behavior we need in Howard County involves mask-wearing, physical distancing, hand-washing, and working together to get through life’s current challenges. Kindness would help, too.

Oh, and vote. That’s a civic behavior I hope we all can agree on.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Break Time!

Reasons to get off social media and read a book:

You find yourself in a Twitter conversation and have the sneaking suspicion that two of the participants are actually the same person, animating two different accounts.

The announcement of a new grocery store in the Long Reach Village Center is met by an nasty accusation that the County Executive is inviting “a plane load of illegal Somalis” because the store will carry Halal meats.

Facebook doesn’t think that smearing Islam and Somalis is hate speech.

You “like” an advert for maple cotton candy and your timeline is suddenly filled with a multiplicity of candy companies. 

Your news feed temporarily freezes and Facebook suggests the reason is that you don’t have any friends.

Well, alrighty, then. Back to my book.

Fast Forward, Play, and Rewind is by local photographer Michael Oberman. It’s a collection of his columns for Washington’s Evening Star when he was working the music beat in the sixties and seventies. And by music I mean pop, rock, rhythm and blues, etc. If it was playing in the area, Oberman was there to do a write-up, and often backstage talking to the artists.

His interviews with notables of the day are fascinating. Oberman adds context by offering reminiscences from his own life and valuable historical information that help readers who may not have lived through these years or been “up” on the latest musical acts of the day.

I’m halfway through and enjoying it thoroughly. I bought my copy on Amazon but I’m sure you could order it through your favorite independent bookseller.

Even if Facebook thinks I don’t have any friends I can still manage to have a good day with my musical memories and a good book.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The Little Things


And, in today’s episode of Other People’s Tweets:

Yes, typos can strike us all, but Ms. Klacik’s campaign does appear to be struggling with them. 

(Screen shot taken from Baltimore Sun article)

In addition, from the department of anecdotal evidence, I submit that the most illegally placed signs in Columbia/HoCo are from the Klacik campaign. Put there by out of towners who didn’t bother to learn local laws, no doubt.

So 2020 is the year when it is possible to raise over six million dollars to run for Congress without learning how to proofread your work or follow local laws. Or live in the actual district for which you are running.

None of this will likely put off folks predisposed to blame the Democratic Party for everything that is wrong with Baltimore, or chase away the wealthy in Howard County who enjoy her campaign of blame and shame that doesn’t require them to take a hard look at themselves. It’s no big deal to them.

Is it a big deal? 

Well, my concern is that, if you can’t be trusted in the small things, how do we know you can be trusted in the big things?

There are plenty of far larger issues to consider in the race between Congressman Mfume and Ms. Klacik. I encourage voters to educate themselves. But I also think this is a prime example of how someone with the big money can still manage to shoot themselves in the foot. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

No Complaints

I feel the need to inject some positivity into the mix this morning. We all know that there’s plenty to be concerned about. Why not pause for a moment to talk about some good things?

This weekend we ordered take-away from Grille Chick’n Pollo in Hickory Ridge. It was delicious. My husband is a huge fan of the white sauce that accompanies the orders. He maintains that a similar sauce is served with fries in the Netherlands. Who knew? Even though cole slaw is probably not a Peruvian staple, theirs is delicious and pairs well with the Peruvian chicken flavors. And the portions are so generous! You will definitely be enjoying leftovers the next day. I’m happy to see that this mom and pop business is chugging along during the pandemic.

Yesterday my new recliner from La-z-boy arrived. They had a bit of trouble locating our house (doesn’t everybody?) but since they were in communication with my husband via text, I was able to go outside and flag them down. The gentlemen who handled the delivery and set-up were polite and efficient. Both wore masks. They made sure I was completely satisfied before they left. It’s amazing how a pleasant interaction like this leaves such a lasting impression. 

The old recliner was close to ten years old. It probably would have lasted longer had I not basically lived in it for the last seven months. Sleeping in it night after night following surgery was probably the last straw. I felt a bit of a pang as my husband and a friend broke it down and took it off to the landfill. On the other hand, I felt grateful to have a friend with a vehicle large enough to transport a recliner and the willingness to pitch in and help us out.

One last moment of positivity. I’ve frequently been amazed by how many really good amateur photographers we have in Columbia/Howard County. During the pandemic and its subsequent long stretches of isolation their posts on social media have been a lifeline. Whether sharing snapshots of locally well-known landmarks or a sampling of nature shots from their daily walks, these folks give the rest of us a window onto our community that makes our own tiny worlds feel less small, somehow. 

While we all are facing challenges right now, we also have opportunities to see goodness in our daily lives if we are willing to stop and recognize them. What about you? Can you think of some Columbia/HoCo goodness worth sharing? Let us in on it and share the love. 

Comments can be posted here.


Monday, October 19, 2020

Stepping Out of Line

Let’s start with a statement we can all agree on: people are not cows.

A bit of background information: during my recent post-operative recuperation I found myself drawn to veterinarian-themed television programs. After watching numerous visits where the vets were called to farms to assist ailing cows or give routine treatment, I began to think a lot about cattle chutes.

Wikipedia defines a cattle chute as follows:

...a narrow corridor built for cattle, sheep, pigs and other animals to travel through when being herded from one location to another that is nearby. A conventional race consists of parallel panels or fences with a space between them just wide enough for one animal to pass through comfortably without being able to turn around, thus forming the animals into a queue that only allows them to go forward. It is used for routine husbandry activities such as drafting (sorting) or loading animals via ramp or loading chute into a vehicle; placing them one at a time in a cattle crush (variations also called a squeeze chute or standing stock) for examination, marking or veterinary treatment.

Farmers can use the chutes to get the cows to go where they want them to go, basically by narrowing, then eliminating, their choices. 

People get to make their own choices.

But sometimes we reduce our own autonomy by deciding to read and contemplate only the things we know already. The things that make us feel comfortable. Ideas that don’t challenge us. The more we do that, the more we narrow our field of vision and the more likely that we will keep moving forward along the same path, eventually unable to turn around. 

You may have seen recent social media posts about public relations events where SRO’s were giving out snowballs and snacks in Oakland Mills and Harpers Choice.

These events do not necessarily promote healthy relationships with police so much as they signal to privileged white parents, “Look how kind we are. Look how we help the underprivileged children.” They reinforce what many want to believe already.  A recent presentation was most likely more of the same: Learn About SRO’s with Maryland Center for School Safety . While I haven’t seen it, the wording of the announcement and the line-up of participants suggests to me that those on the panel are apologists for the practice of school policing. 

And I suspect that people who are more likely to be inclined to be in support of SRO’s in schools were the kind of people who were drawn to it. We move forward along the chutes we build for ourselves. We love to hear people who reinforce our views.

People whose children’s educational experience has been harmed by the presence of police in our schools have heard all those arguments before. Those are the default explanations brought forward by those in positions of power to justify a practice which has become so entrenched that even suggesting it isn’t effective provokes a feeling of alarm. The parents of Black and Brown students don’t need extra education on school policing. They need white parents to choose to educate themselves why school policing creates a toxic environment for their children.

But that would involve making a concerted effort to move out of the chute. It is far easier to let the arguments of the status quo push us ever forward along the same old arguments that we know and have grown accustomed to. It is not our children who are being harmed. 

I’d like to recommend an event far different than the one promoted by the Maryland Center for School Safety. The Anti-Racist Education Alliance  is presenting a Police-Free Schools Teach-In  tonight at eight pm. Click on the link to find out how you can participate. 

If you have been predisposed to defend keeping things just the way they are, you owe it to yourself to step outside of your comfort zone and learn about how school policing has criminalized the behavior of Black and Brown students and made them feel uncomfortable and unwelcome in their own schools. If you are like most nice white parents this will be information you haven’t heard. Did you know that more funding to support professional counselors and more training in Restorative Practices is already known to produce better outcomes for students than school policing?

Are you brave enough to move out of the chute? 

People are not cows. We have the freedom to make our own choices. We have the intellectual capacity to learn differing points of view and assess new evidence.

But we have to make the choice to broaden our world, to challenge our thinking. Can Howard County do that? 

Sunday, October 18, 2020

The Season

Dropping temperatures and the fiery colors of the leaves on the trees have been alerting me to the change in seasons. But adverts from Dollar Tree in my inbox are heralding the start of the Christmas shopping season. Of course, Halloween is still almost two weeks away, but, roll on toys and tinsel!

One truly good reason to plan ahead for the holidays is the Homewood School’s 17th Annual Treasure Sale. From event organizer Suzanne McMurtray:

More than 60% of Homewood's alternative education students qualify for Free and Reduced Meals and we do not have a PTA. We need new items to stock our socially distant Treasure Sale so our kids can choose holiday gifts for their loved ones. Thank you for helping our #HomewoodFamily!

This year we need our friends, families, and community more than ever. We have a goal to collect over 1,000 new items using the Homewood Treasure Sale Wish List. Amazon will ship your donation directly to the Homewood Center. Thank you for looking at our list and making this a special December to remember for a young person.

If you’ve donated to the Treasure Sale in years past you’ll see that this year’s is a bit different. Life in the age of COVID means all treasures must be ordered new from their Amazon wish list. Of course, this has the added convenience that all items will be delivered to the Homewood Center. Here is the Treasure Sale Wish List: 

I took a look at it the other day and was pleased to see that there’s a good variety in item cost. Gifts range from about five dollars at the low end to about thirty dollars max. So you don’t have to spend a lot to make a difference. The Treasure Sale is just one part of what makes the Homewood Center a special community for kids who need extra support. I’ve seen photos from years past and the joy on students’ faces is contagious. You feel happy just witnessing their happiness.

The Treasure Sale fosters what I believe is the most important part of the holiday season: the joy of being able to give to others. Each year people in our community care enough to help students show love for their own families, to experience the fun and excitement of picking out gifts, the anticipation of imagining a family member’s face as they unwrap a carefully-chosen item. It’s a living, breathing example of Social Emotional learning which these students will undoubtedly remember all their lives. 

This year’s event will look different, as it will be marked by physical distancing , the wearing of masks and the use of hand sanitizer: all necessary in our present pandemic world. But the joy will remain the same. 

If you can, shop the list and help them out. If you can’t afford to do that right now, you can still help by sharing their Amazon List (or perhaps even this blog post) with your friends on social media.

The spirit of giving is alive and well at Homewood. You can help them share the joy.

Friday, October 16, 2020


I have been known to look backwards a year or so to see what I was writing. This one stopped me in my tracks:

A Better Place (October 11, 2019)

I  saw this sentence in an inspirational meme this morning:

In six months time you can either be in the same place or a better place.

Where are we going to be in six months, Columbia/HoCo?

A friend of mine shared with me that she is trying to imagine a time on the other side of the redistricting decision. I admitted I had a hard time doing that. I would imagine that many folks are so consumed by what’s happening right now that they would find it hard to envision something beyond  it.

We are not going to be in this place forever. This issue isn’t going to be the only issue forever. What are we doing to make sure that in six months we are in a better place, and not the same place?

I’m going to spend some time this weekend trying to picture what March, 2020 could look like if we were in a better place.


Wow. Well, we certainly had no idea then what March, 2020 would hold.

Is there any use in trying a do-over, perhaps?

On the school system front we’ve moved from redistricting to the Board of Education campaign season. For some people, the specter of redistricting still looms large in their thoughts. Others have moved on to promoting the issue of equity in the school system. So, some look backwards to form their arguments. Some look forwards to set their goals.

What will life be like six months from now? Is there anything we can do right now to improve the outcome? I’m almost afraid to ask after 2020 brought us so much chaos and heartbreak. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be working towards something better, no matter what.

Where will we be in March 2021, Columbia/HoCo? Send me your thoughts

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Ding Ding Ding


I was disappointed this morning to see that the Columbia Flier/Howard County Times did not see fit to publish Oakland Mills resident Jonathan Edelson’s letter to the editor on skewed coverage of local neighborhoods. The issues he raised are valid and the letter is worthy of a wider audience. Not if you’re the HoCo Times, I guess. 

I am beyond disappointed with people who continue to spread misinformation about teachers and the reopening of schools. Teachers would much rather be in schools than creating and sustaining distance learning programs. They’d rather be connecting with students in real life rather than through a screen. But they also want the appropriate safety protocols put in place. Those protocols would protect not only teachers, but also their families, and students, and students’ families, and staff, and...

Get the picture?

In order to reopen schools safely we need a workable plan. And enacting that plan will take money. It will take significant investment to support air filtration, sanitizing supplies, PPE, and so on. Where will that money come from? Wishing will not make it so.  

Teachers are working with the school system to make sure that when we open we get it right. If it surprises  you that people who plan, educate, and communicate for a living are persistent about making things as safe as possible for everyone, then you really do not understand teaching.

Those who think they “deserve their money back” really ought to be focusing their complaints on the folks in Washington who have handled the pandemic so poorly. And those who think teachers “deserve a pay cut” for not conveniencing them by entering school buildings ought to take a hard look at our teachers who are working many more hours to sustain distance learning. 

The truth is that some people want teachers to be so low in the grand scheme of things that they have no say over their livelihoods. To them teachers are like hairdressers or restaurant workers who one can summon back into the workplace to meet the desires of the privileged. It’s actually a failing of our culture that we treat service workers with so little respect.

And it’s also why they are getting sick and dying more. They have no choice. We ought to be fighting to improve their circumstances, not trying to spread their powerlessness to others.

Many, though not all, of the parents who are so enraged that our teachers have some small measure of autonomy are affluent enough to have plenty of that autonomy for themselves. They may be able to work from home, or they and their spouses may have professional flexibility to trade off childcare responsibilities during the pandemic. But woe be unto teachers for rising to a similar level. Surely that is not “their place.”

Is it okay to be angry, frustrated, sad, or disappointed at the current state of affairs? Absolutely. But direct those feelings towards the true problem: a dangerous illness that has stopped the world in its tracks. We can all commiserate and yet still work together to make it through somehow. Drawing a big fat bullseye on teachers and the union that represents them is nothing more than the act of the boorish customer who bangs repeatedly on the service bell when they can plainly see that all personnel are already occupied.

“Me, me, me!” the bell keeps dinging. 

It produces no positive results.  But it continues to demoralize our teachers - - overworked and stressed-to-the-breaking-point - - who want nothing more than to lift up and connect with their students in the safest way possible. I believe Howard County has many of the best teachers in the state. What happens when the daily onslaught from angry parents becomes too much? What happens when good people burn out and give up?

In the next year we could witness a lot of that. I don’t think our community understands what a loss to our school system that would be. Those folks banging the service bell may very well be killing the goose that laid the golden egg. 

If you want all those benefits from those “Great Howard County Schools” then you probably shouldn’t be out there on social media every day, virtually vivisecting our great Howard County teachers.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Good Trouble


In the spirit of my belief that hard times require great art, I present to you a new song by area musician Alan Scott.   I became a fan of his work through two of his previous songs, “You Only See Me When I’m Gone” and “Colors in a Dream”. 

Inspired to pay tribute to Lewis following his death, Scott composed “John Lewis Lives (Good Trouble)” and raised the funds via Kickstarter to record it professionally. During a pandemic. That’s pretty impressive, when you think about it. Alan Scott is a working musician whose primary livelihood comes from playing gigs and teaching private lessons. I can only imagine what the last seven months have done to his ability to make a living. 

Yesterday I was feeling disheartened about many things. Seeing the link to Scott’s finished song and listening to it was a moment of pure joy in a dark day. 

Where there is hope

 where there is freedom

 where we fight for justice

 John Lewis lives.

Where you build a bridge 

Made of faith, made of courage

He will walk beside you.

John Lewis lives.

- - John Lewis Lives (Good Trouble)

     Alan Scott

You can also listen to it on YouTube. But, here’s a thought: why not spend the 99 cents it costs to download it? Every time you listen to it you will remember you supported a local musician during hard times. 

You are not alone

On this road to freedom.

Where there is good trouble

John Lewis lives.

You can learn more about Alan Scott here

Hard times require great art. People like Alan Scott are making it.


Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Making Change

Yesterday Howard County observed Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The official change from a day that was instituted to honor Christopher Columbus to one that honors America’s indigenous peoples was made by Howard County Executive Calvin Ball. It is part of a growing movement across the country to face the truth about early colonizers whose actions included genocide, rape, enslavement of natives, and wholesale land theft. 

It is also meant to educate. History lessons in the United States have generally distorted or outright erased the stories of indigenous peoples. It is long past time for Americans to learn the rich history of Native American tribes and cultures. They are not a footnote. Ignoring them makes us less as a nation: small-minded and proud of our ignorance.

Speaking of small-minded and proud of one's own ignorance, Howard County has a fair share of those. They were on display yesterday on social media, complaining loudly about the change. Some just showed up merely to shout “Happy Columbus Day!” (to own the Libs). Others made it clear that it was a stupid change because a Black, Democratic County Executive had made the decision. (Not in so many words, of course, but the dog whistle is strong with these folks.)  Along the way were a few who said there weren’t many Native Americans left anyway and their cultures weren’t really important. Unbelievably there were some who still believe the outdated textbook drivel that Columbus discovered the world was round and that he discovered America. (That would be a no on both counts.)

I regret to inform you that we have people in Howard County who just do not care that Christopher Columbus promoted and took part in horrific atrocities. Other people’s pain does not move them. Their priority is the personal discomfort they feel when someone changes a day on their calendar and asks them to look at uncomfortable truths. From the outsized objections on social media, they consider these wounds to be unbearable. One HCPSS parent was particularly indignant at the potential cost of having to reprint school calendars. 

Oh, the tragedy.

I am sure there are communities throughout the country where one can live comfortably in a bubble of white supremacy. Howard County is not one of them. And some people are pretty steamed up about that. I alternate between anger at their hateful and ignorant words and sadness that they are closing themselves off from learning so much. 

This video was shared yesterday by the Howard County Office of Human Rights. I think everyone would benefit from viewing it:

Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Monday, October 12, 2020

What’s Up?

 This recent announcement from the Columbia Association piqued my curiosity:

On Saturday, October 10 at 9am, CA's Board of Directors will discuss ways to better understand and respect our individual values, while also increasing collaboration to reflect the values of Columbia and CA. If you'd like to listen in virtually, please email Ginny Thomas at

I reached out to Dannika Rynes, Senior Manager of Media Relations and Communications, for a bit more of an explanation. She was kind enough to get back to me right away:

In the spirit of cooperation and collaboration, the CA Board has decided to carve out some time to take a deep look at their own individual values as board members and their perceived values for the organization as a whole. This meeting will provide an open opportunity to discuss those ideals with the hope of reaching a better understanding of shared goals and perspectives moving forward. In a time when it's tough to connect, the Board is looking forward to the opportunity to grow as a team through this extra time together.

It looks like a staff retreat of sorts. Team-building?  Having spent my career writing narrative student reports that attempt to put a positive spin on significant challenges, I may be reading this with a somewhat jaded eye. It looks like it could be saying “the CA Board isn’t getting along well with eachother and they could use some help relating to the community as well.” 

Public relations-speak can be hard to decipher. 

Anyway, whatever it is they are doing I wish them well and in particular I commend them for making the information public and inviting the public to observe. That’s a good thing. 

Other notes from CA:

The Ice Rink in Oakland Mills has reopened, or at least they are holding hockey practice. I’d feel more excited about this if the crowd of teens and their parents outside the rink had been more compliant in physical distancing and mask use. I hope the folks inside the rink are reinforcing boundaries for this, because it looked pretty terrible out front. The last thing we want the Columbia Ice Rink to be is a host for superspreader events. 

I was very exited to see that the Columbia Art Center in Long Reach is reopening, albeit with limited hours and programming. The Art Center is a local treasure and I’ve been worried about it over the last months. As the Long Reach Village Center is evolving into an arts hub, the continued success of the Art Center would mean a lot to the overall success of that initiative. (My two cents.)

Also new on the scene, CA appears to be running daily Columbia history trivia challenges on its social media accounts. I immediately struck out because I incorrectly guessed that Columbia was established in 1967. Nope. It was 1964, thus showing yet again that I haven’t lived here long enough. Oh well, I learned something new and that’s the point, yes?

To see more of what the Columbia Association is up to, follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.(columbiaassn) If you’re curious about that staff retreat, it has already happened, but perhaps it was recorded. Contact CA Board Member Ginny Thomas to find out more.

Despite the physical and economic challenges of the pandemic, the folks at CA look to be hard at work doing what they can with what they’ve got. It’s clearly a rough ride for everybody. The Columbia Association is not immune. I’ve been disappointed at a lot of the wholesale dumping on CA since March. I wonder if any of the people I’ve seen ranting have ever voted in Village or CA elections. Or run for a spot on their Village or CA Board? 

Elections happen every Spring. If you have ideas about how to make things better, start planning now for your campaign. Nothing would make me happier than to see more people want to get involved and then actually do something about it. 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Not for Some


Today is National Coming Out Day. Begun in 1988, it’s an LGTBQ awareness day started by Robert Eichberg and Jean O’Leary. From Wikipedia:

The foundational belief is that homophobia thrives in an atmosphere of silence and ignorance, and that once people know that they have loved ones who are lesbian or gay, they are far less likely to maintain homophobic or oppressive views.

National Coming Out Day is meant to be a positive and celebratory event. Since 1988 it has spread to all fifty states and seven other countries besides the U.S. 1990, NCOD became a part of the initiatives sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign. This quote from co-founder Robert Eichberg speaks to the heart of the purpose of National Coming Out Day:

Most people think they don't know anyone gay or lesbian, and in fact, everybody does. It is imperative that we come out and let people know who we are and disabuse them of their fears and stereotypes. (1993)

Over the past week I learned that a group of Howard County parents were expressing strong negative feelings about a social media post from a parent that showed a lesson from HCPSS involving a coming out story. Responses ran from enraged that the school system would discuss the topic at all to a complete rejection that eleven year olds should ever be faced with a story that contained information about LGBTQ people. These parents felt that they should have a right to either a) censor such content for their own children or, b) prevent it from being included in the HCPSS curriculum. 

The truth is that, even if these parents had their way, the world they live in is full of variations in sexual orientation and gender. Not only that, research shows that awareness of this comes early in life; eleven years old is hardly too young to learn about it. “Protecting” young people by excluding and therefore marginalizing certain parts of the community actually puts them at a disadvantage. They are forced to view the world through a distorted lens where whole chunks of the population are artificially erased.

Imagine that one of those highly protected children is struggling to come to terms with their own sexual orientation or gender identity. Or wondering how to support a friend or a family member. 

That’s why the survey from CARY is so important in the Board of Education election. As I asserted in an earlier post:

 Issues that impact LGBTQ+ students are life and death issues. Bullying, the experience of minority stress in school situations, and elevated risk for homelessness due to parental rejection all contribute to an increased risk for suicide. Incidents of suicide and attempted suicide for Transgender students are linked with whether or not young people are supported by the use of their correct name and pronouns. Numerous scientific studies bear all of this out.

A public school system must be committed to the well-being of all students. If a group of parents, or a Board of Education candidate, seeks to dilute that over-arching goal by demanding that the needs of some are not worthy of care and respect, they are clearly not committed to the mission of public schooling. Public schools should not and must not offer to “protect” any subset of their population because their desire is to exclude or erase other portions of the population. 

Some private schools allow that kind of environment. Public schools have no such obligation. Public schools, like a healthy functioning democracy, are meant to reflect “We, the people.” Not “Me and my people.”

On this Coming Out Day I commend to you the work of these local groups who support LGBTQ children and families:

PFLAG Howard County

Howard County Pride

CARY (Community Allies of Rainbow Youth)

In addition, each Howard County High School and most, if not all Middle Schools have support groups for students called Gender Sexuality Alliance. (Formerly Gay/Straight Alliance)  These groups are student-led with a faculty sponsor. I’d give you a link on the HCPSS website but I couldn’t locate one. Hmm.

In November of 2019 County Executive Calvin Ball established an LGBTQ Work Group.  Its purpose is to: with County agencies, non-profit organizations, and other community groups to facilitate an environment of inclusion, communication, understanding, and respect throughout Howard County.

If you are interested in learning more about National Coming Out Day, visit the Human Rights Campaign. Their homepage leads off with these words: Equality for all, not for some.

And that’s exactly why we have lessons about all kinds of people in our schools.