Small City Saturday

I am not a person who naturally fills with holiday cheer; if anything, the end of the semester is an exhausting time of year that makes me wonder whether or not I will have any feeling left in my brain by the time the holidays start. We celebrate Christmas, but with very few cousins under 25 on either side of the family, it is always fairly low-key.

That being said, I don’t like doing things halfway either! So this year, Husband and I have a bucket list of things we’d like to do during the holiday season. I think all the goals are achievable, but by having them, we’re more likely to actually put some effort into making them happen.

Attend two Christmas parties: Right now we are on track for this; some friends have invited us to one, and Husband’s work has another. I would be open to more if they showed up, but this has definitely not been an option in years past; the small city is perfectly nice but it has taken us all of 2.5 years to get to a place where we really feel we have a friend group. It’s a good time to celebrate that feeling that we’ve really “made it.”

Walk in the Snow: This one is strangely harder, since I am pretty anti-cold weather no matter now pretty snow is. That being said, if I take the time to bundle up really well, it is pretty close to magic to walk out in the quiet of new fallen snow. I’ll make the effort.

Make Christmas Foods: I have a few traditional foods: I make a super-secret snack mix that is super delicious. I also love a good banana bread or pumpkin bread, as well as my favorite gingerbread cookies, which have butterscotch pudding in them!

Drive through the local Festival of Lights: We’ve been here for two Christmas’s already, but we’ve never made the time to visit our local light display. We also want to drive through the neighborhoods to look at all the lights on houses where people go all out.

We did our first item already (go see the local production of the Nutcracker!) and it was a mixed bag – while it was beautiful, basically everyone in the audience was a family member of a ballerina! Regardless, we’ll keep working on our traditions, since it’s fun to do them and we always get surprised by something.


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I’ve noticed lately that there is a trend toward creating small businesses, working mostly for oneself, and generally starting a lot of new projects. Whether these projects are non-profits meant to benefit the community or businesses meant to benefit with money, I see people wanting the luxury of exercising full control over their enterprises. Sure, the blame is there too, but people seem to be excited to take credit and all the benefits from the things they start.

Much of the media attention and notoriety in my small city goes to people who started something: a non-profit agency, a business, a new city program. There are very few ways in which “serial joiners” like me and Husband are recognized. This is fine, but it is interesting. Serial joiners, as I define it, are people who join forces with those who start new initiatives rather than adding to the initiatives themselves.

My perception is that, as our city starts to prosper with a lot of momentum but few solid results so far, we don’t just need new initiatives. We need more joiners. We need people who will show up for the meeting, take the survey, give two hours to the volunteer project, and go home afterwards. These people seem to give less, but they also get less: no one writes about the regular old members in the newspaper. However, without a strong base of people who are willing to donate 20 dollars, the campaign never gets funded.

Lately, I’ve really been interested in how people do little things – sure, it’s wonderful to get the $10,000 grant, but how often do you put $10 toward a project you care about rather than buying a burrito or a new lipstick or a phone case? I’m interested, more than ever, in the many ways that individuals make small contributions, because I really believe we get farther when many people band together behind the ideas of those around them than we do when we each are angling for our own slice of big-idea fame.

So I’m challenging myself this week to find 3 important, interesting projects/businesses/non-profits that could use my small-impact support, and I’m going to do what I have to do (volunteer, donate, or just show up). Is there a way that you can do the same thing? We probably won’t be recognized for it, but when big things happen, we’ll know that we had a tiny part in it.

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I love travelling with Husband, or with my family, or to see friends. However, once in a long while I take a trip where for at least one day I am on my own. This week’s trip is a whopping 4 days long and while I will spend a little time with a friend on one of those days, and two others are taken up with my conference, I have learned what I need when I’m on my own.

I developed these when, after a couple of years living in Europe, I took a trip with a larger group of friends and acquaintances who wanted to go clothes shopping and take pictures of themselves in front of monuments but weren’t interested in learning anything about those monuments at all. I don’t have a problem with people who like these things, but they threw into sharp relief my own loves when it comes to a day of travel. If I get to do it my way, I do this:

  1. Vegetarian Restaurants – I don’t like them better than other restaurants, and I am not a vegetarian, but I think their food is interesting and I’m always a little weird about forcing others to eat veggie with me… so I try to frequent one of these whenever I can by myself.
  2. Bookstores – I don’t buy many books any more unless they are actually used, but just wandering through a bookstore makes me long to look every title up at the library. I will occasionally splurge and get a book that I can read without messing up the spine and give to a friend as a present – two birds, one book.
  3. The Most Unique Park Possible – I like to take a stroll as much as the next person, but I really like something that also gives me interesting things to look at. The High Line in Manhattan is a good example – a raised park that’s more than a mile long? Sign me up. I do this with other people too, but rarely can anyone else handle the level of overdoing-it-on-the-walking that I can.
  4. A Modern Art Museum, or Preferably, Independent Art Galleries – Modern art is another of those things that I love but don’t like subjecting my friends and family to. I understand that it is hard to understand why blobs and splotches are art, but I love it, and I love the way that seeing new possibilities makes me feel.
  5. Coffee Shops – I try to stick with black brewed coffee when I’m home, for the sake of my wallet and the sneaky calories of milk-and-sugar. However, all bets are off when I’m travelling: a cortado? yes! a cool nitro cold brew coffee? Sounds delightfully hipster! Coffee in hand, I’m set for overdoing it on my long walks.

Do you have any must-dos when travelling alone? You can obviously do them with other traveling companions, but are there any things that are uniquely you in your travel itineraries?

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We’ve been loving our small city pretty hard lately, and this weekend feels like the perfect time to take a 3 day weekend and get out for a little while. We want to see something new, and I also have to go on a trip for work anyway, so Husband is coming along, as well as a colleague of mine. Both of them are big sci-fi novel dorks, so I think the 8 hour road trip will be well worth it.

I’ve had multiple schools of thought when it came to road trips in the past. I had a distressing phase where I liked travelling in the very early morning or late at night so as to maximize time with friends and family when I arrived places, but it didn’t account for my own lost sleep so my parents pretty much constantly worried about me dozing off at the wheel.

Then I got into a place where I was studying my graduate school degree while the rest of my friends and family were working full time jobs, which meant I could take more time “off” – in reality, I just brought all my books with me – to travel around. I road tripped in any direction feasible to me, making very infrequent stops because I wanted to get where I was going whenever I could.

There was a year of long-distance dating with Husband (then, he was Boyfriend), which meant that I would have awful weeks of withdrawal when I returned to regular life; while I never missed anyone else as much as I missed him after those trips, I think I’ve always been a person who wishes the trip could last forever.

Now, my trips are usually with him even though we also live in the same place, to coming home isn’t quite as big an adjustment. We have a joke that every time I travel with him, I’m required to spill pretzels in the floorboard of the car, because I’m clumsy and we always pack snacks and this seems to inevitably result. He makes me take things slower and drive safely and stop for as many rest areas as we need. It’s a nice change, even if my personality is still always pushing the envelope and trying to get places faster, cheaper, more often.

How do you organize yourself for trips? What are your trip quirks? Road trips are a pretty common part of United States life, but every family does them differently.

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The weather here has finally taken a chilly turn – not cold, but no longer easy bare-legs weather. So we are throwing our last community event of the summer: a simple picnic in the park. We’ve realized that you need a few things to make a community picnic work.

  1. Free food: While potlucks work with people you know, if you want strangers to come out, lure them with free food. We’re serving burgers and dogs, as well as chips, cookies, and salad greens. Simple, but filling and easy to store if we don’t get the numbers we’re hoping for. Our last picnic had 45 people, but we wanted both that one and this one to reach 100, so we ended up with a lot of leftover food last time!
  2. Music and games: Music is good for masking over any quiet that comes from low attendance or people still getting to know each other, and games mean that there is a specific thing to talk about instead of just immediately getting into serious talks about the state of the neighborhoods’ roads. We’re bringing bean bag toss, a silly frisbee game called Bottle Bash, and a giant Jenga set, since kids and adults alike can play those.
  3. Plan for rain: We are set for clear skies, but we’ve reserved two shelters at the park just in case we get any sprinkles, so people should be able to gather and chat under the covered area if we got bad rain. It’s terrible to do a lot of publicity and then have to change a date. Speaking of which…
  4. Publicize, but definitely invite one person at a time too: People respond to being personally invited, so we tend to get far better results when we speak to people than when we post on social media or put flyers on doors.

With any luck, this will make your next community picnic a good time for all as well – got any picnicking tips for the rest of us?

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This summer, Husband and I have been somewhat concerned with how our neighbors feel about each other – most look with suspicion on everyone in the area, and since so many people work away from home, they don’t get a chance to figure out who all the regulars in our area are. We’ve tried to combat this in two ways – taking more walks in the neighborhood, and giving out bags of welcome gifts.

The welcome gifts in each bag cost less than 5 dollars – we made some cute home to-do lists, bought tiny citronella candles (for the buggy nights in our backyards), got a bottle of water and a packet of seeds, and added all the recent flyers of local events we could find. Whenever someone told us or we noticed that we had a new neighbor, we’d go over to their house and leave this simple gift on the doorstep, with a note tied on to explain who we were and that we were just glad they were in our neighborhood.

So far, we’ve gotten close to 15 of them distributed, because the neighborhood is large and dense and has a lot of houses selling or getting rented recently. Still, there is more we could do, and we’re going to do so – it seems like such a simple, inexpensive thing to remind people that the whole neighborhood isn’t out to get them: most likely the neighbors are just like them, busy and a little stressed but mostly good folks who want to be safe themselves and, in some cases, provide a safe home for children.

Do you have ways that you reach out to new neighbors to help them see that the neighborhood is a good and safe place? How do you deal with negative comments between neighbors and avoid letting it get to you?

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