Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A Cycling Revolution

I remember riding my bike a fair amount as a kid and a teenager. It's fun! It's easy, once you learn, and it gives you independence that is in limited supply as a kid.

I don't remember why or when I stopped, exactly, but I'm sure the timing had something to do with getting my driver's license. Fast forward fifteen-plus years and although The Man of the House and I had taught the girls to ride their own bikes, I hadn't been on one myself in all that time.

I remember standing in the garage one day while The Man was at work and the kids were at school. I stood there looking at Prima's bike for a few minutes. She was almost my height and the bike was the right size for me. I straddled it. I pushed off, and I managed to get up the little hill in our alley. I rode all the way down, nervous that I would crash. I pedaled back and gasped - this bike has hand brakes! It had been THAT long.

I only rode Prima's bike one more time in the alley before we packed up all of our belongings and left Maryland for a trip around the world. I may have decided that I was fine with that, although I live in a bike-able community and love the idea of family bike rides. It's just that it always seems so intimidating. There are so many cars going so fast. There are so many hills and I am not fit. There are all of the Tour de France training clothes (that everyone wears when they bike around here) that I don't own.

Amsterdam changed my mind. Everyone, and I mean everyone, cycles. The adults don't usually wear helmets or spandex or anything resembling a Lance Armstrong ensemble at all. They wear jeans and skirts and business suits. They wear flip-flops and high heels! They ride with an umbrella in one hand and a dog leash - attached to a dog - in the other.

I've seen the cycling culture on display in throughout Sweden and Germany since our stay in Amsterdam. I like it. I want to get a cute bike with a basket and a bell and just ride to the shops down the street when I get home next year. I just need to work up some nerve.

Monday, June 15, 2015

From This Little Corner: Ready As I'll Ever Be

From this little corner, I see our packs all in a row. We're heading out on a dream adventure, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Thirty countries, twelve months, six people, one wish come true. Three weeks until departure. Thirteen months until return. I feel as ready as I'll ever be for this adventure.

My feet are warm, as in not cold. No cold feet here. I am not scared of the language barrier or the food or the homeschooling. Do you ever feel like something in your life is destiny or fate or just meant to be? This is that for me. Kind of amazing for the girl who's lived in basically the same spot for 30+ years.

But maybe it's not so amazing. Almost everyone I've told about our trip has responded with gasps and wide eyes and "That is incredible! Wow!" People have been overjoyed for us. I've been incredibly supported in this. 

I've also had the serendipitous privilege of following behind other great family travelers. For the first couple of years of trip planning, I would leisurely page through Fodors and Frommers guides. The real planning has occurred in the last year, with reservations made and flights booked and decisions made. It has been an inspiration and comfort to follow a couple of families through their own round-the-world trips while planning my own: The Art of Simple Travel and Earth Trekkers. Read their blogs. Their stories and photos are gorgeous. 

You can read about my trip at Schlossini.Tr├ęsBon.Voyage. We will all write - even Prima, Seconda, and Terza - and we will post photos. I'm not sure what will become of this blog, but I'm sure I'm ready to find out.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Wes Moores In My Life

You've probably heard of the bestselling memoir The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore. It tells the story of two men from the same Baltimore neighborhood, of similar age and with comparable childhood challenges, whose lives went in drastically different directions. The author went on to earn degrees from prestigious universities, hold high-powered jobs in Washington and on Wall Street, serve in the army and become a successful social entrepreneur. His namesake went on to earn a life sentence without the possibility of parole for his role in the killing of a police officer.

Why did their adult lives differ so much if their childhoods were so similar? Moore writes,
"The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his."
Our environments and childhood circumstances play huge roles in how we get to live as adults in this world. I've thought before about what it took for my life to look the way it does today - it certainly wasn't all up to me and my choices. Expectations, though, can be the make-or-break element in a life's journey, as they were in the journeys of two Wes Moores from Baltimore. How expectations form is an interesting question. It leads to a peeling back of layers revealing the household- to society-level cultural influences at play. That leads to questions about how those influences came to be and what can anyone do about them now to create a better future for people.

It's hard to not think about chilling truths and tragedies around Baltimore these past few weeks. I find it completely horrific that someone can suffer a crushed voicebox, broken vertebrae, and nearly-severed spine while in police custody. That's not how arrests are supposed to work. How did Freddie Gray and the six police officers he encountered on April 12, 2015 come to be there and behave in those ways? What expectations did they have of each other and of themselves? How were those expectations imbued on them?

I saw Wes Moore speak at The Big Event in April. Although I had seen him on TV before, I hadn't read his books. His presentation was impressive and meaningful, and I left thinking about the Wes Moores in my life and the Wes Moores all around. You see, I've worked with students who have experienced similar challenges - fatherlessness, poverty, academic struggles. The students from my early years of teaching are adults now, in their early-20's. I don't know what most are up to now, but I know of a couple who left high school and entered the criminal justice system, despite having teachers who went above and beyond in supporting them in elementary school. Through A-OK Mentoring-Tutoring I've more recently worked with a couple of students living in challenging situations. They are surrounded by teachers who believe in them and expect good things of and for them and they attend a school whose leadership believes in the value of community partnerships in creating excellent educational environments. I hope with my whole heart that they continue to be lifted up in support by the adults in their lives. I hope they grow up to be like Wes Moore, the author, not Wes Moore, the lifer.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

One foot here and now, one foot there and then

About three years ago we began planning for our big trip. One year ago, we developed a rough itinerary and began telling people about it. Through out it all, we went about our daily lives of work, school, and community.

We've been deep in nitty-gritty travel planning for several months now, and throughout that I've noticed a sensation of straddling both time and place. I spend hours and hours each day researching this and arranging that, then the kids come home and I have to remember who has what activities to go to and school projects to complete. 

Now, I'm starting to notice how quickly time is moving towards our departure date, which is just 50 days away. 

50 days. 

In 50 days we'll be on our way there. Until then, I hope to savor the here and now.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Acting on a Major Case of Wanderlust

I grew up, in part, on road trips. At least once a year, we would load up the station wagon or minivan and head up I-95 to visit family in New England. There was the epic road trip to Disney World when I was in eighth grade. Sometime in high school, the New England road trips became Cape Cod road trips, and those trips continue to this day. My kids are growing up, in part, on road trips, too.

My kids are growing up on airplanes, too. While I didn't fly much until adulthood, the girls have been flying since they were infants. Florida and California are two of their repeat destinations, but they've also been to Oregon, Montana, Beijing, and Barcelona. Beginning this July, the list will grow as we leave Maryland to travel the world for a year.

Travel. The world. For a year. Together.

We are acting on a major case of wanderlust that set in a few years ago. Inspired by an article about a couple who sailed around the world for year, I suggested to The Man of the House that we do the same, only I didn't want to wait until retirement as these folks did. Terza was still in preschool at the time and retirement, for me, comes no sooner than when all the kids have left for college. I didn't want to wait.

The Man agreed, and we set about planning and saving for a yearlong world tour. This summer, we go, bitten by a travelbug that has only one antidote. I grew up on road trips; my kids will grow up on this world trip.

Friday, February 27, 2015

March 3 - Community Meeting on School Funding

Maryland has long been recognized as among the top three states for public education. Howard County has stood out in this state as a leader and example of excellence. Yet, that may not hold true for much longer because of budget decisions by our local and state elected officials.

Howard County's Superintendent and most members of the Board of Education have argued that due to county and state budget shortfalls, drastic measures must be taken. Like, increase-actual-class-sizes-and-remove-key-support-staff-from-classrooms drastic.

My friend Kirsten worked on the Citizen's Operating Budget Review Committee this year, which formed after the Board of Education suspended it's own OBRC. She blogged about the school system budget and offers her perspective as an accountant and parent. (PTA Council of Howard County shares a very detailed look at the Citizen's OBRC's work on their website.)

Julia, another friend and prolific local blogger, described the school board's recent vote to adopt a budget that removes staff positions from schools. She has been following this process closely, too, and her post "Priorities" identifies some of the spending options before the Board. Julia is an experienced educator who works with many schools and has a keen, knowledgable, student-centered perspective on how various programs and budget decisions play out in practical ways.

Tom, also known as HoCo Rising, gave us some historical budget numbers for comparison in his recent post. It reveals that Howard County has been stuck in Maintenance of Effort funding for some time. The MoE law requires school districts to spend at least as much per pupil each year, with the intention of preventing drastic cuts to public education during economic downturns. The idea behind that intention is that stable, adequately-funded public schools benefit state and local economies (and truly the nation's economy as well). When a school system operates with a Maintenance of Effort budget, they are marking time. They are not trying anything new. They are not investing in technology, program expansion, or enticing the very best professionals to the system. Marking time; standing still. When you are marking time while others move forward, well, then you are falling behind. 

So with that, let me share this invitation from the Howard County Education Association:
Dear friends, colleagues, and community members, The Board of Education voted today to adopt a $780M budget that cuts vital services in media and kindergarten even as enrollment increases by over 1600 students.  The discussion now centers on the new Governor, County Executive, and County Council—and we need to keep advocating for our students. Please join HCEA for an open community meeting on Tuesday, March 3rd, 5PM in the Centennial HS cafeteria.  We will clarify the impact of the cuts and develop strategy for the next part of the process.  RSVP here to give us an idea of how much pizza we need!  
I'm sure the next steps discussed at HCEA's Community Meeting will include how to advocate for school funding at the county and state level, but put this following date on your calendar now. County Executive Allan Kittleman will hold another public hearing on the following Tuesday, March 10th at 7:00 pm. The County Exec is still developing his budget proposal, which he will submit to the County Council for approval later this spring. This hearing invites you to share your concerns and priorities, to advocate for what matters most to you this year. (Details here.) 

#hocoblogs                          *********************************

Here is the HCPSS Budget page. It links to the Superintendent's FY 2016 proposed Operating Budget, some summary documents, a Q&A video, and archived budgets. I assume the Board of Education's adopted FY2016 budget request will be up soon. (The budget proposal passed by the Board differs from the Superintendent's original proposal.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Roots and Wings: Howard County Conservancy Gives Us Both

There is an almost hidden jewel in Howard County, with over 200 acres of rolling hills that are great for hiking through woodlands and wetlands, down to stream beds and up to meadows. This is the Howard County Conservancy at Mt. Pleasant in Woodstock, Maryland. By way of landmarks, it is on Rt. 99 west of Mt. Hebron High School and Waverly Elementary, east of the Snowball Stand on Woodstock Road.

This 325-year-old farm and homestead was held by the Brown family for eight generations. When the last family members, sisters Ruth and Frances Brown, passed away, their wish was for the land to be preserved and used to educate children about nature. Ruth and Frances were teachers for about 40 years. 

Brown Family Farmhouse

Today, Mt. Pleasant is busy with hikers, photographers, gardeners, and children. The grounds are open to the public sun up to sundown every day. The Conservancy operates educational programs for the wee-est of wee ones to the most chronologically endowed of us humans. Family hikes, informational talks, preschool programs, field trips for K-12 classes, School's Out programs and summer camps all happen here.

Hodge Podge Lodge

My family and I love to come up here for self-guided hikes. It's a great place to meet friends and spend some time outdoors, maybe even packing a picnic to eat at the tables near the farmhouse. Exploring the outbuildings, demonstration gardens, and animal enclosures are always a treat for the littles, especially the barred owl Ranger.

Goats at Mt. Pleasant
I've been volunteering for the Conservancy for almost two years as a naturalist hike leader for elementary school field trips. If you've had a chance to chaperone one of these trips for your own children, you know the kids spend time hiking the property with a naturalist who leads them through some activities for part of the trip and spend the rest of the time in the Nature Center with the Conservancy's excellent educators.

Volunteer Naturalist and 4th grade students
You know that saying about the only lasting gifts you can give a child are roots and wings? Sharing our place in nature as humans, including our similarities and differences with other animals, our interdependence with plants, and our adaptations to geological processes is a great way to give those lasting gifts. You never know what you'll find when you're out there observing nature with the kids.

Name that fungus!
Milkweed is not just for Monarchs

Last fall, the Conservancy began running field trips at the county's Belmont Manor and Historic Park. It's a gorgeous property steeped in Howard County history and backing to Patapsco Valley State Park.

Woodland trail at Belmont 
Dorsey/Hanson family cemeter 

As AnnieRie, HoCo food blogger extraordinaire, wrote yesterday, the Conservancy starts its spring volunteer naturalist training series next week. Join us! The trainings are fun, as are the field trips. (I heard BioBlitz is amazing and I hope to make it there this spring.) You can train for elementary or secondary or both, and volunteer for field trips throughout April, May, and early June. If you like children and nature and have weekday morning hours free, then you are qualified! Our volunteer corps is a great group of retirees, semi-retirees, and stay-at-home parents with school-age kids. I could even see this being a great volunteer gig for a college student. The training info is below. I hope to see you there!

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