All Things Great and Small

I’ve written before about how much I appreciate the regular newsletters from my county council representative, Calvin Ball. The combination of frequent communication from his office plus the high level of constituent service has served to keep me engaged with the important goings-on in my community.

Well, sitting in my email inbox right now is the pi├Ęce de resistance of newsletters. It is the annual, back to school edition.

The Calvin Ball Bulletin, Back to School Edition

All the schools. All the things you need to know in one place. And it even includes information about Howard Community College!

A few things you’ll find:
  • School supplies
  • PTA info
  • School closing links 
  • BOE cluster assignments
  • Kindergarten registration 
  • Redistricting updates
But, as they say in the infomercials, that’s not all! Wait, there’s more! 

Take a look for yourself. These annual education-focused newsletters go back to 2013, lest you think this is an election-year gambit. If you want to be really impressed, take a look at the newsletter page of Dr. Ball’s County website at all the newsletters he’s been sending out as a part of his service to the community while on the County Council. It’s mind-boggling.

Why is this important to me? These newsletters are a part of a record of constituent service and community engagement that have made a meaningful impact throughout Dr. Ball’s years of service on the Council. Seeing one’s council member at a council meeting or at a political function is such a thin slice of what they do. Leadership is not about going places to see and be seen, although the burden of being obliged to do so weighs heavily upon public servants and candidates. 

Often the most accurate measure of leadership is that quiet, unglamorous work that goes on behind the scenes: listening, bringing people together, educating, informing, responding. Howard County blogger Bill Woodcock of The 53 blog talks about innovation and courage as crucial qualities in the upcoming County Executive race.  I agree.

But innovation and courage need roots to be meaningful and successful.

I’d add that those aren’t stand-alone qualities when it comes to Calvin Ball. They are inextricably linked to his years of getting to know his community and making constituent service and constituent education a priority. This means a lot to me. I’ve always known that I can trust him in the big things because, time and again, he has done his homework on the small things.

Music to my Ears

Anyone who knows me well is aware that I’ve long been promoting a certain idea for a local playground: musical play equipment. The idea first came to me when the Columbia Association was looking at possible plans to revitalize Symphony Woods.

Facebook memories reminded me that on this date in 2011 I suggested this for the park that was being planned in Symphony Woods: a musical playground. I still want this!

My interest in musical play equipment was sparked when my sister used a company called Freenotes Harmony Park to provide a piece for a garden in memory of our mother at a new preschool started by her church. As a musician and an early childhood teacher I loved the idea of adding a musical component to outdoor play.

From that moment on I have been harping on adding pieces from Freenotes to anyone who would listen. Many’s the social media post or email from me that contained the link to Freenotes. 

Last week I read the article in the Howard County Times on groundbreaking for the latest section of Blandair Park. 

Blandair’s next phase has a focus on inclusive play , Janene Holzberg

I was excited to see that the majority of the equipment will be special needs-friendly. This is an excellent and much-needed addition to outdoor play choices in our community. And then, these words leapt out at me:

She also noted that musical instruments called Free Notes comprise a feature that sensitivity experts say will relieve stress and soothe park patrons. These include cymbals, chimes and drums.

I could not have been more surprised and delighted. I’d love to think that my continued public hints had something to do with this, but that’s probably not the case. I didn’t have any contact, as far as I know, with the planning committee on this project. So I can’t take credit. I’ll just have to settle for being tickled pink.

Now the hard part will be waiting for construction to be compete. I’ve waited since 2011, what’s two more years in the grand scheme of things?

The official groundbreaking for this phase of the park is Wednesday morning at 9 am. The public is invited to attend.

It’s Broke, Part Two

Like many privileged white Americans, I started looking at police violence against people of color only very recently, probably during the summer of Ferguson. And then came the Baltimore uprising in response to the death of Freddie Gray. Once I saw it I couldn’t unsee it.

While I have never liked football, and it was easy for me to see beyond the hype, I had been raised to believe that police were good and fair and there to protect me. And to protect everyone, I thought. It has been more difficult for me to overcome that mindset and see beyond it.

The story of a football player dying because of heatstroke caused by a conditioning drill is the story of a system that failed to protect its most vulnerable. The story of a man viciously beaten by a police officer while his partner failed to intervene is the same. The abuse is not in the hands of one person, but rather is perpetuated by the system as a whole.

In the case of Baltimore, the locations where people live and how they are treated by police are deeply rooted in the Redlining of the 1930’s. The end result is what is called locally, the White L and the Black Butterfly.   And redlining was steeped in racism, pure and simple.

What happened to Freddie Gray was not an anomaly. It was the way the system works. It doesn’t take much effort to find other examples of systemic abuse. The criminal activity of officers in the Gun Trace Task Force. The murder of Detective Suiter and the subsequent shutting down of a black neighborhood in the name of an investigation.

Another shared thread between the two stories is the movement amongst football players to take a knee against police violence. They are asking us to look at the systematic brutality which targets people of color and they are using their status as football players to highlight their message. Not surprisingly, the “system” of football is uncomfortable, if not downright hostile, to their actions.

Never do you see one person acting alone. It is the whole organization at work. The same can be said of football. If you put certain ingredients together and reward certain outcomes, this is the system you will create. And once established, the organization will move to preserve itself at all costs.

Can we be brave enough to look at broken systems and call them out for what they are? What if we see what they are and we still just don’t want to let go? That’s probably a sign that we aren’t the ones who are suffering.

Not Helping

From former police officer Larry Smith @kid_lawrence :

Arresting addicts doesn’t help address addiction. Arresting drug dealers doesn’t either. Sending an armed cop, or several, to deal with someone having a mental health crisis isn’t an answer to anything. The cops shouldn’t be involved.

Baltimore needs ACTUAL social services. It needs to address homelessness and unemployment. It needs to provide children with hope and opportunity. Or we could start small and heat and air condition the schools

All of these things cost money. HOW ARE WE GOING TO PAY FOR ALL THAT??  Oh.... look at this 500 million dollar police budget. 

We (the USA) incarcerate people for petty nonsense. Jails are full of people who are addicted to drugs, are too poor to pay some arbitrary fine, who committed non-violent drug offenses. Oh, not to mention the scores of people wrongfully convicted or talked into a plea.

People need to think outside of the box. Police departments in so many cities operate like an occupying force. In certain neighborhoods at least. The people in Baltimore who live in Roland Park or Guilford aren’t asked for their ID whenever they leave the house.

They aren’t pulled over on a nightly basis for driving a “nice car.” The BPD is not serving the community. It is harming it. And no matter how many therapy dogs they buy or how many pictures of cops playing with kids they post on social media, that reality won’t change.

And before I get the cop trolls (the ones I haven’t blocked) YEP. I did it too. I bought into this shit hook, line and sinker. I locked up addicts for my quick and easy stats. I pulled cars over for headlights out, brake lights, etc.

I made trespassing arrests for guys chilling on the steps of vacants. I was a complete prick most of the time. That shit will eat away at your soul after a while but so many cops don’t realize it or won’t acknowledge it. 

I thought the “war on drugs” was real. I thought I was helping. I wasn’t. Cops don’t help society. Killing unarmed people, tasering 11 years olds and 87 year olds isn’t helping. Things need to change.


Think it over. I’ll be back tomorrow with part two of “It’s Broke”.

You can read more from Larry Smith here .

Judge Not

Apologies to my readers. I’m still working on Part Two of “It’s Broke”. Look for that tomorrow,

Something to think about today: this response from writer Melinda D. Anderson:

This data refutes a widespread (and ignorant) belief in schooling that Black families “don’t value education.” Instead, what most educators value (signing forms, checking homework, room parents, etc.) is not a valid measure of importance of education for Black parents & families.

Black parents are out here taking their children to plays, visiting museums, going to the zoo, and engaged in all kinds of education-related activities. Yet y’all will still say “They don’t care about education” because a Black parent missed teacher conf. held during the workday.

Here’s the data, a report released by the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Educational Statistics.

Here’s more about Ms. Anderson:

Why am I sharing this? As we head into back to school mode, I think it’s important to make sure we examine our attitudes about parenting and education. One size doesn’t fit all. It’s a mistake to see everyone through the same lens. It’s wise to take a look at that same old lens you have been using, too. Does it seem to tune out people who are different than you are? (Sorry, that’s a mixed metaphor beyond repair.)

The parent who does not come to a conference during the work day may not be disengaged from their child’s education. They may not have the ability to leave work. Being able to do so is a privilege not everyone has. Or they may be responsible for the care of very young children or an elderly relative and have no back up to fill in for them. 

Can you think of other ways we make assumptions about parents that may show a lack of understanding? How do we shortchange students and families by jumping to these conclusions? How can we do better?

It’s Broke, Part One

Two separate stories are vying for attention in my brain. And it seems to me that they are the same story.

Story number one: the death of a college football player from the University of Maryland and the subsequent focus on the toxic culture of football in College Park. The coach has been placed on administrative leave. A member of the training staff has been fired.

Story number two: the video of a Baltimore Police Officer viciously beating a man on a Baltimore street while his partner does little to intervene. The officer was suspended with pay. (He has since resigned and been criminally charged.)

The world of football at UMD and that of policing in Baltimore are steeped in a culture of violence. The particulars are not exactly the same, but the sickness goes deep, to its core. I don’t believe, in either case, that it’s a few bad apples that ruin it for everyone else. Both are deeply and thoroughly infected by destructive attitudes. It’s not a bug in the system, as they say. It is the system. It’s baked right in.

I have not come to this conclusion overnight.

Football has long been a hotbed of toxic masculinity. In high schools football often takes precedence over many other aspects of school life. Often schools and parents look the other way at incidents of alcohol or drug use and sexual assault by players. 

Look at what happens when we combine that with all the money involved in college football.  It drives a motivation for winning at any cost and we see, time and again, what those costs really are. College players whose well-being is sacrificed, whose education is secondary. 

In the pros the players’ bodies are destroyed and their right to exercise free speech is mocked and sanctioned. The powers that be will tolerate a certain amount of substance abuse, violence against women and sexual assault, but often draw the line at being gay or speaking out against police violence.

On top of all this, the ongoing research into traumatic brain injury and the many human examples who bear it out are reason enough to declare this a broken system.  

I was in an online discussion about the UMD incident where one man said,

All of football has got to go. NFL, college, high school. Shut it all down.

The response to his comment was, essentially,  “Dude! Let’s not go that far.”

He went on. (Shared with permission)

You can't keep running a system where coaches are paid huge sums of money, which forces them to take a game so super-seriously that they wind up pushing children to the point of exhaustion or death. The only good solution is to stop being a Division I football school. Hire a less intense coach for way less money, and make it clear that, as a school, we don't really care about wins and losses. We just want the children to have a healthy and balanced experience. If you do anything short of that, you're just signalling that you're okay with a system which is intentionally designed to chew up and destroy young bodies and brains. 

I have been struggling all week with how to fit this into one post, and now I have reached the conclusion that I can’t.The second part of this story deserves its own post. 

Today, football. Tomorrow, Baltimore Police and what connects the two.

Getting Lucky With Dinner

We couldn’t figure out what to do about dinner last night. So we fell back on our old standby: Lucky’s China Inn, located in the nearby Oakland Mills Village Center. It’s possible I was influenced in this choice by reading this comprehensive piece by The Unmanly Chef.

Inside Your Local Chinese Restaurant - Hunan Legend

It’s well worth the read.

Do you have a favorite local Chinese restaurant? Who are they, and why do you like them? Is it proximity to your home or a particular dish they do well? It seems that, at least in Columbia, the purpose of Village Centers was to give everyone their own Chinese take out place. How does that work beyond the Columbia bubble?

My apologies for over-sleeping this morning. I’ll set an alarm tomorrow!

The Weight of Womanhood

The other day I read a comment from a man who took issue with the qualifications of a local political candidate based on her physical appearance. Are you kidding me? The candidate, already a public servant with a documented record of service, clearly had a major thing going against her here: she’s a woman.

Women continue to be held to a ridiculous standard as regards physical appearance. In all cases it has nothing to do with their qualifications or ability for the task at hand. Yet time and again they are judged by how appealing they are to the male gaze, as if that is their primary reason for existing.

Then there are the perennial questions about “how will you balance your career with your role as a wife and mother?” that never seem to be asked of men. These questions shift the focus from women’s ideas and goals to being forced to go on the defensive as somehow derelict in their “womanly duties.”

Oh, wait! I almost forgot: “she should smile more” “she’s too directive” “difficult” “unpleasant” and, you know...”b****”.

We have quite a few women running for office in Howard County right now. I happen to think that’s a good thing. I wonder how they feel every time their message is derailed by sexist questions and remarks. I know how I would feel. I would want to be taken seriously and I would feel frustration that, merely because I was a woman, many people didn’t feel I was worthy of that.

A man strides into a room and speaks his mind.

A woman, wearing a peacock blue cocktail dress, married to this man, mother of these children, speaks in a strident tone about something. I don’t remember what. She was emotional.

That is quite a bit of garbage to be forced to carry around, don’t you think? Other people’s stereotypes and expectations are foisted upon any woman who seeks to be a leader. And it’s not only in politics, either. In the private sector, in non-profits, and elsewhere women must fight to be taken as seriously as a man.

But then they are chastised for putting up a fight.

Let’s All Go

The talk of the town yesterday was this photo shared by Black Flag Brewing Company. A tip of the hat to Elevate Maryland’s Tom Coale for bring it to my attention.

The caption reads:

 This sign was put up about the same time as we released a 13.1% beer... not saying its our fault but someone clearly didn’t share their bottle of Double Barrel Black Mage... #SharingIsCaring #LetsGoToTheMallumbia

Yes, I just had to know if this was real or photoshop, so my daughter and I went down there to check. And it is the real deal. Located in a cross street to the right of the Metropolitan, the sign proudly announces, The Mallumbia in Col”.

What the heck? Has it always been wrong or is this the result of a prank? It appears that the sign must be made up of three sections and they were assembled incorrectly. But why would this have escaped notice until now?

I am wondering if this sign will now draw eager locals hoping to take their pictures with it for a bit of fun. Will Mallumbia become a hashtag? A trending topic? Will people write letters to the editor of the Columbia Flier complaining about the shoddy implementation of Downtown Development?

If there is any more to this story, rest assured that I will bring it to you. In the meantime, I just had a thought. Could the”in Col” be a hint that the perpetrator of this mix up is none other than Col Gateway? Has anyone seen him lately?


Fair Wanderings

Thursday night I went with my family to the Howard County Fair. I was extremely grateful that it wasn’t as hot as the first time I went several years ago. Maryland’s heat and humidity in August just does not agree with me. But Thursday night was manageable.

My husband and I spent time looking at animals, floral displays, awards for jams and jellies, and so on. We talked to a friend from church who comes with her needlework group every year. We observed families of all sorts out for an evening of fun. We stopped to listen to a visiting brass group playing a medley from “Jersey Boys.” We feasted on food from the St. Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church booth, as recommended by blogger Annierie.

I took a boatload of photos but, after much consideration, I’m going to share just one.

These two, in separate pens, snuggled as close as possible and nuzzling eachother through the bars. I wonder what the fair experience is like for them? 

Down But Not Out

The last time we had WiFi at home was some time Thursday evening. Today Verizon is sending someone out and I suspect a new router is in our future. When we lost internet a few weeks ago I jumped to the conclusion that there had been a nefarious takeover of social media. This time I just felt irked. 

Things I have done since our internet went haywire: washed and sundried a large quantity of stuffed plush animals that I am hoping to rehome in the near future. (Need any? Contact me.) I’ve read more of my assigned summer reading from work, but it’s slow going. I watched Coco with my family. (My husband hadn’t seen it yet.) It’s highly unlikely that we would have done that if internet had been an option. 

My husband and daughter took a big bag of clothing I had decluttered from the bedroom over to Goodwill and came home with a few treasures of their own. Funny how that works. I’ve been sorting though the photos I took at the Howard County Fair Thursday night, trying to decide how to use them in a blog post. My daughter is working on vocal arrangements for her school a cappella group. My husband is building St. Basil’s Cathedral from a Nano Bricks kit.

Occasionally I check Facebook and Twitter from my phone on LTE but the battery runs down pretty quickly. I see a controversy about local politics and I feel strangely detached. I am reminded how dependent I am on electronic devices and how I need more hobbies.

I’ve cleared out the bookcase next to my bed and I’m organizing all my children’s books in one place, so I can find them for work. If I get truly ambitious, the craft books will be up next. We have a box near the door for books to take down the the Little Free Library at the Village Center. Maybe we’ll do that today.

The occasional emails from coworkers remind me that vacation is fast coming to an end. There’s still a few home projects and doctors’ appointments to accomplish. Perhaps a jolt in the Internet was a good reminder that I have other things to do and that it’s good to have more than one way way to look at my world.

I’m still irked though. 

All Things Great and Small

I’ve written before about how much I appreciate the regular newsletters from my county council representative, Calvin Ball. The combination...