The Neighborhood of My Dreams

I just read an article that made me hungry for a life that doesn’t currently exist. Oh, but it could. It could and it should. The article is based on a book by Rob Hopkins entitled, From What Is To What If: Unleashing the Power of Imagination to Create the Future We Want.

I’ll probably never read this book. It would be too bittersweet for me. Just the little taste in the article made me realize that things could be so much better. It seems too good to be true.

Imagine living in a town where the houses were insulated by straw bales, and therefore didn’t really require much heat or air conditioning. Imagine that all toilets were compostable, and there were solar panels on every roof. Imagine a place with very few cars, where all the bikes were shareable, and where the sidewalks were lined with edible gardens.

Imagine murals and public art everywhere, and green corridors that encouraged wildlife. Imagine publicly owned utilities and transportation and small, sustainable shops rather than grocery stores.

Imagine schools that encourage creativity and flexibility and short term internships in the real world. Imagine a three day work week and a universal basic income.

I can picture this in my mind. What I can’t picture is how to get from here to there. I think it’s possible. I just don’t think I’ll see it in my lifetime. I hope it’s not too late.

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My Last Night at Home

About two years ago, I bought a house that I love. The place fit me like a glove. The neighborhood made me feel welcome and safe. This was home. I could see myself growing old there.

And then I got married, to the realtor who helped me find that dream home (and could help you, too, by the way. Just sayin’). And suddenly the house no longer fit. The house that was just right for me was entirely too small for two adults and three rambunctious dogs. And so I packed once again.

While trying to figure out what to do with the place, I continued to stay there once a week so it wouldn’t look completely abandoned. But as more and more of my stuff was moved from one abode to another, it increasingly felt like I was camping. And my camping days are pretty much over.

Ultimately, we decided to rent the place out, and there was much maneuvering to find what we hoped would be the best tenants. (Fingers crossed.) They will be moving in soon. They will make my home their home, and it will inevitably change.

Recently I spent the last night in my home. I built my last fire. I took my last bath in my deep, luxurious tub. I cooked my last quesadilla in my kitchen with the inexplicably high countertops. I gazed at the glowing stars that I had painted on the bedroom ceiling the very night I moved in.

I wish I could have sat on the back porch, for hours, reading, like I used to do. The back porch is my favorite place. But the freezing temperatures prevented that.

I had very mixed emotions, walking out that door the next morning, knowing that from now on I’d only be an occasional visitor in my perfect little house. There was sadness, yes, and misty eyes, but also relief. I’m glad that things seem to be working out.

But the best part of this very multifaceted feeling was that I was also anxious to leave. Because I wanted to go home. And home was no longer that place. It’s becoming someplace else. And that’s not only okay, but it’s also great.

Home Sweet Home

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My Own Personal Pleasantville

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the movie “Pleasantville”, I highly recommend it. A boy from the 1990’s is obsessed with a sitcom from the 1950’s called Pleasantville. It’s your typical show of that era, showing a world that never actually existed, in black and white, where the mother wears pearls and high heels to do housework, the father gives sage advice and is highly respected, and the children are well mannered and, well… pleasant. But when 1990’s boy suddenly finds himself in Pleasantville, he starts to realize that perfection isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

I seem to be living in Pleasantville since I recently bought my house. It’s in an isolated little valley where all the neighbors know each other, and everything feels safe and clean and drama-free. Everyone has a dog. I’m even on a first name basis with the mailman and the local convenience store clerk. It’s this oasis of calm, with each of us in our very own cute little houses.

At a time when the wider world seems ever more chaotic and scary, I love going home to my little valley. It’s like taking off shoes that are two sizes too small. Finally, a chance to wiggle my toes.

I love living in this fantasy land, and I’m going to do my best to maintain it for as long as I can. Are cracks forming in the façade? Well, yes. A few people in the neighborhood drink probably more than is warranted in certain situations. But so far, they’re happy when they drink, and I like them, and it’s really none of my business. One neighbor is passively aggressively critical of my benign neglect of my yard. Oh well. And I can’t get a decent cell phone signal to save my life.

But you know, in the overall scheme of things, those are problems I can live with. I love my little neighborhood. Just don’t expect me to wear high heels while I do housework. In fact, wouldn’t even count on me doing housework on a schedule that makes sense to anyone other than myself.

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There Goes the Neighborhood

I’ve been house hunting, and I can tell, almost immediately, if I’d be a good fit for a neighborhood. If there are wide expanses of manicured lawns, I definitely will not fit in. And I would chafe under rules that dictated what color I paint my mailbox. I’m not a “keep up appearances” kind of person, if I can possibly avoid it. I prefer a yard that’s pretty much au naturel, and my tastes can be unorthodox.

I love dandelions, because the bees love them. I don’t know why people object to moss or dollar weed. I mean, it’s green and it’s flat, right? What’s the big deal? Lawns were a French affectation that unfortunately caught on, and have been a nightmare for the environment ever since. I will not, absolutely will NOT fertilize my lawn. That crap gets into the watershed, and it’s one of the reasons that the river in Jacksonville gets choked with green slime every summer.

I like to plant flowers that will attract butterflies and bees and hummingbirds. I love to grow heirloom tomatoes, although I’m not great at it. I dream of having a bat house in my back yard. I think squirrels have as much right to food as any other creature. Possums keep the tick population under control. And if I feel like paining my house hot pink, I’ll do so (although it’s unlikely).

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to leave junk cars up on cinder blocks in the yard, or moldy couches that fill with mice and stink after a good rain. I’m not going to plant flowers in an abandoned toilet or cook meth (I hate to cook). But if you can’t handle a neighbor’s yard that suffers from benign neglect, or a neighbor who has an interesting concept of art, then we’re going to have issues.

Having said that, I am quiet, I don’t cause trouble, and the police have never been called to my door. I want to steal an idea from a friend and call my next home “Tranquility Base”. I’ll even hold onto your mail while you’re on vacation if you ask, call 911 if I see someone peeping in your windows, and help you look for your dog if he runs away. So I’d like to think I’m a good neighbor to have. I am house hunting in the Seattle area, so if you are looking to sell, please, please contact me first. More details here.

Urchfont Manor
Urchfont Manor. It’s safe to say I do not live here.

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Chez Nothin’ to Steal Here

I’m thrilled to say that no one has ever broken into my house. There are several reasons for this. First, of course, is the loyal presence of my ever-vigilant barking dogs. I have this theory that thieves are lazy and paranoid, so if they’re going to rob someone, they’d much rather go next door to the house that has no noisy and potentially vicious pets.

Second, I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that I can rely on my white privilege. I’ve never lived in the ‘hood. Granted, I’m usually right next door to it, but aside from the drug dealer two doors down, I have good neighbors who watch out for each other, and none of us are particularly desperate. In that way, I’ve been lucky.

But the main reason I’ve been spared a criminal invasion, I think, is that a quick peek into any of my windows would tell all but the most idiotic of criminals that I don’t own anything worth stealing. Why would anyone risk jail time over mismatched furniture that I’ve mostly picked up off the street? And I don’t have a TV or a stereo system. Truth be told, I don’t even own a couch. Aside from sentimental value, I doubt I could get more than 150 bucks at a yard sale for every single thing I own. If you really crave my 30 year old, dented and rusty pots and pans, just ask me for them.

One thing I do find annoying, though, is that stuff gets snatched off my front porch all the time. I’m hesitant to get packages, because there’s a car that actually follows the Fed Ex truck and the USPS truck and the driver helps himself to whatever they leave behind. (The cops know about it. They’ve even been sent pictures of the vehicle, for all the good that has done.) I’ve also been relieved of an old rusty lawn chair and a plant stand. One time, in a self-defense for women class, they suggested we get some old beat up muddy work boots and put them on the front porch to create the illusion that a man was home. Well, I did that, and even the boots got stolen. Sheesh.

But for the most part, my humble abode screams, “Nothin’ to steal here. Move along.” In Florida, on more than one occasion, I was accused of being white trash, despite my college degrees. I’d like to be one of those people with matching furniture and some sense of interior design, but I seem to have been born of the utilitarian school of home décor. And that’s just the way I like it.

Home

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Senior Assassin

Recently I joined a private social network for people who live in my neighborhood. It’s called nextdoor.com, and if there isn’t already a group for your particular neighborhood, it’s really easy to start one. What’s really cool is that I get informed about favorite local haunts and best kept secrets, recommended area service providers, current crime waves, lost pets to keep an eye out for… anything that it’s good for neighbors to know.

Because of this, I got a very important heads up. It’s that time of year for a game called Senior Assassin, which, up to this point, I didn’t even know was a thing. (I’m so out of touch.) Apparently high school and University students play it toward the end of the school year.

Actually, it kind of sounds like fun. You start with a group of participants. Everyone gets the name of an opponent that they’re supposed to “assassinate” with a mock weapon, like a water balloon. When you eliminate that person, you take over the name of the person they are supposed to be hunting, and so on, until the group shrinks to one survivor, who is the winner. There are lots of variations on this game, but apparently it’s really popular.

The problem is, it’s also ripe for disaster. Currently, this game is being played in my neighborhood, and the kids are trespassing to do it. And those who are stupid enough to use weapons that could be mistaken for actual weapons, like water guns, are asking for trouble. Some neighbors might be a little jumpy seeing a boy with what looks like a gun in their back yards, and might take matters into their own hands. That’s when the game stops being fun.

I don’t advocate violence. At the same time I’m all for kids being kids. I just hope they’ll stick to water bottles and nerf balls as weapons and avoid trespassing. You have to be careful about crossing that line. You never know who will take you seriously. And in this gun-toting country, that could be really scary bad.

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[Image credit: youtube.com]

Finding a Lost Pet

Anyone who owns pets knows that they quickly become part of the family. The unconditional love that they provide is priceless. The companionship is irreplaceable.

So if one runs away or is otherwise lost, you will naturally be very upset. This happened to me recently, and I thought I’d lose my mind. Not only was I frantic and in tears, but I also quickly realized that I was totally unprepared for this contingency.

Fortunately, in this digital age you have quite a few options. And after my experience I realized that there’s a lot one can do in advance of a pet loss to prepare for it. (Fortunately my beloved dog was returned to me after 48 of the longest hours of my life.) So what follows is what I learned.

First and foremost, have your vet microchip your pet, and keep your contact information with them up to date. This may seem like an unnecessary expense, but believe me, if you don’t do it, there may come a time when you desperately wish that you had. When shelters receive new animals, the first thing they do is scan them for microchips. If a responsible person finds your pet, they will most likely bring them to a shelter or a vet, and vets can scan for chips as well. You may think that the ID on your pet’s collar is sufficient, but my dog dug out under the backyard fence, and left his collar behind (the doofus).

Next, as soon as you discover that your pet is gone, walk the neighborhood. You may get lucky and Rover is just exploring the trash cans next door or sniffing another person’s pet through the screen door. If, like me, you have amazing friends and neighbors, recruit their help in this as well. Also, and I hate to say this, but if you live near any busy highways, you will need to look on the side of the road and in ditches as well.

If that doesn’t work, the next step is to spread the word in as many ways as you can. The best way is to post a notice on the Lost and Found section of Craig’s List for your area. That is ultimately how the man who found my dog was able to contact me. It’s often one of the first places people will look.

Next, post the information on your Facebook page so all your friends, especially the local ones, will know. It’s important that you make this post PUBLIC so they can share it with their local friends, and so on. You’d be amazed at how quickly the word spreads. (Six degrees of separation ROCKS!)

Also, search Facebook for groups related to your neighborhood. You’ll find that they mostly will allow you to make this post, even if it’s not exactly their subject matter. I got a lot of feedback from a local Buy/Sell/Trade page, and a Farmer’s Market page. There was even a Lost Dogs Facebook page for my county. Keep track of what Facebook pages you post on, because people will get emotionally invested in your story, and they’ll want an update if your pet is found.

Next, it is important to contact the area pet shelters. Many of these have entered the 21st century, and have ways for you to post reports and pictures on their website. They also may post pictures of found pets on their websites. Others have hotlines where you can hear descriptions of the animals they’ve taken in in the past few days. Don’t count on their descriptions being accurate, though, especially if you have a mixed breed. What they think of as a terrier mix may be your half beagle, half Chihuahua. You never know. It’s best to pay them a visit and have a look and touch base with them.

Remember that there may be more than one shelter in your area. I live on the border of two cities, so if my dog ran south, he’d wind up in one jurisdiction, and if he ran north, he could have been in any of three different facilities. The first shelter you contact will be well aware of others in the area and can give you a list. But think city and county Animal Control, neighboring cities, no-kill shelters, breed rescues, and Humane Societies

There are also all sorts of pet finder websites on line. You can register with any or all of them, but be aware that they’re often trying to get money out of you or spam you within an inch of your life, so choose carefully. Some sites will fax a flyer to all your area vets, often free of charge, which is very helpful. But if you have a good relationship with your vet’s office, contact them as well, because they’ll often do the same thing for you. Failing that, you can always google all veterinarians in your zip code and e-mail them a flyer yourself.

A note about flyers. It is important to include the following information:

  • Lost Dog (or cat or boa constrictor or whatever) in very large font so it can be seen from a distance.
  • The breed of your pet and its weight and coloring.
  • The gender, and in the case of males, whether it has been neutered.
  • Any unique and distinguishing features such as moles. (And note the location of those features NOW. In my agitated state, I couldn’t remember if my dog’s cyst was on his right or left side.)
  • Whether or not your pet was wearing a collar.
  • The date your pet went missing, to avoid getting calls about pets that were recovered before yours disappeared.
  • A recent picture of your pet. (Do you have a recent one? If not, take one now.)
  • Also, include your CELL phone number rather than a land line, because someone might call while you’re out searching.

These unique descriptions help to eliminate many calls about animals that look like yours but aren’t. There’s nothing more upsetting than getting those. Also keep one of your pet’s unique features to yourself, so that if you do get a call and the person says, “How do I know he belongs to you?” You can respond, for example, “He has a white Nike swoosh pattern on his left flank.”

Here’s my flyer for example:

Devo Flyer

Now, print out multiple copies of your flyer, stick each one in a plastic sheet protector to protect them from the rain and weather, and then, armed with a staple gun, post them on telephone poles all over your neighborhood. Also hand flyers to your postman, your local police officers, the fire department, and area churches. Does your grocery store have a community bulletin board? Post one there, too. (You may need to bring your own tacks.)

Here’s something I wish I had done: make a note of every place you’ve posted a flyer so if you do recover your pet, you can take them all back down again. No need having your personal info out there if it’s no longer necessary. Plus, it’s the responsible thing to do from an environmental/good citizen standpoint. It doesn’t do to piss off the neighbors. You might lose your pet again one day and need their help.

Once you have done all that, you’ll be reduced to canvassing the neighborhood, old-school style. Knocking on neighbors’ doors. For that, I suggest you produce a mini-flyer, three per page, that you can hand them so they have your contact information, like this one:

Devo Neighbor

It’s important to appeal to their emotional side. The worst case scenario (aside from the final, unspeakable one) is that your pet may have been stolen, or a kid brought it home and whined, “Ma, can we keep him? Pleeeeeeease?” and the selfish parent doesn’t have the heart to say no. If that’s the case, public pressure is your friend. Your neighbors will keep an eye out. Your internet friends will, too.

Now, if you’re an organized person and want to give a gift to your future, frazzled self, you might want to reread this again, and make a list of all the contacts mentioned above. Then compile the names, addresses, phone numbers, e-mails and websites of the agencies in question for your area. Also keep all needed supplies in a central location (it’s a pain in the behind to have to go buy sheet protectors when you’re hysterical). Even start the bare bones of a flyer in advance and leave it on your computer.

Believe me, I wish I had done all of these things in advance. I also hope that if you have other ideas, you’ll post them in the comments below.

If you’ve lost your pet, I’m very sorry. All you can do is your very best, and hope, like me, that a kind, responsible person has taken him or her in and will contact you. Best of luck.

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Home sweet home and totally unrepentant.

 

Knocking on Neighbors’ Doors

Whenever I move into a new neighborhood, I always think that I should go and introduce myself to my neighbors. Unfortunately I never quite get around to it. I’ll usually get to know the people right next door (And I’m lucky in that I happen to have fantastic next door neighbors these days), but that’s about it. I will wave and smile at people as I drive past them on the street and leave it at that. I’m shy. I like my privacy. And if I’m honest, I’m rather lazy.

But recently I desperately needed my neighbors’ help. My dog ran away. After exhausting all other resources (more to come on that in a future blog entry), I was getting desperate. So I printed up a mini-flyer with my dog’s picture and my contact information, and I knocked on every single door on my street.

Sometimes people weren’t home, so I’d tape the flyer to their door handle and leave. Other times it was quite obvious that they were there, but they refused to come to the door. For Pete’s sake, I’m just a fat old lady. I don’t pose any threat. But they probably thought I was going to hand them a religious tract or something. Fine. I’d leave my flyer for them, too.

But about half the people did come to the door, and when I’d tell them my story, they’d express sympathy and say they’d keep an eye out. That was a great comfort to me. There are a lot of genuinely decent people on my street.

But what was most intriguing about the process was that I have a completely different view of my neighborhood now. First of all, it’s a lot more diverse than I realized. People pretty much keep to themselves. When I took this opportunity to talk to them, I was treated to a variety of accents and couplings and age groups and skin colors. That really delighted me.

And just by standing in their doorways, I was able to draw a great deal of conclusions. They may not be accurate, but they were fascinating. It seems that one family cares for an extremely disabled, wheelchair-bound man. Another couple has adopted or fosters a child of a different race. Love it! Another guy is obviously a very old and rather lonely bachelor. Some people are struggling financially. Others had well-appointed homes. Some had mellow households, others were ruled by chaos.

I came away from these encounters rather impressed with how many different ways there are to live life. I came away feeling like I was part of a larger community. Even though the circumstances weren’t ideal, I’m glad I took the time to knock on my neighbors’ doors.

(Oh, and by the way, my dog and I were reunited after two of the longest days of my life. Yay!)

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What’s a Brother to Do?

Hi! Blue here. Mom needed a day off from this blog. And who can blame her, after what my little brother has put her through?

Last night she came home after a very stressful 12 hour shift to find an anonymous nastygram on the front porch. “Your dog has been barking for the past 2 ½ hours. If you can’t be a responsible pet owner, you should leave, because your barking dog is preventing 20 different houses from enjoying their homes.”

These notes are always anonymous, aren’t they? And grammatically incorrect, too. I mean, I’m a dog and I know that houses don’t enjoy anything. And if the person didn’t have the courage to identify himself, I’m quite certain he didn’t go from house to house taking a survey to see if everyone is on the same page. And believe me, my little bro isn’t the only barker in the ‘hood.

Regardless, the stupid little mutt needs to learn to shut his mouth. When Mom went outside, he was trapped in the neighbor’s yard. That’s why he was so hysterical. He had dragged his fat butt under the fence, and then couldn’t fit on his way back. I tried to tell him. But would he listen? Noooooo…

So in the pitch black, with a feeble flashlight, Mom had to find the hole and actually dig it even bigger to get the fool back home and quiet. And now she’s going to have to buy chicken wire, yet another expense she hadn’t counted on, and add it to the bottom edge of the entire fenceline after another long day at work.

And we had it so good, too. Mom had put in a dog door so we’d be able to come and go in the back yard. But now we’ll have to be closed in again, and that’s going to suck when she has a 12 hour shift. My brother and his wanderlust seem to always ruin it for both of us.

Mom, I really try to keep Devo under control. You found my collar in the neighbor’s yard while you were digging. That proves that I stuck my head under the fence and gave Devo a stern talking to. That’s my version of events, anyway. What’s a brother to do?

Oh, and by the way, the joke is on the nastygrammer. On the tenth, the new neighbors are moving in. We’ve met them, and they’ve told us they will have three, count ’em, THREE dogs! There goes the neighborhood!

Since I don’t get to write very often, I wanted to send a special shout out to my friends Mor, Caly, and Little A! Arf!

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Feeling Transient

I just moved in to this house a month ago, and then got this fantastic job offer on the other side of the country, so I haven’t really unpacked. What would be the point when I’d only have to pack up again? The other day I needed a spatula and had to dig through about 10 boxes to find one. Things are scattered everywhere. It’s like camping inside a house.

I never really thought about how much comfort I derive from having a home place until I didn’t anymore. It’s good to have someplace where you can flop down on the bed, kick off your shoes, unhook your bra and just… breathe. (Guys, most of you will just have to take my word for that.)  It’s nice to be able to put everything where you want it, even if it’s not in a place that others might find logical. It’s nice to develop a routine and know your way around your neighborhood.

I really have no room to complain. At least I have a roof over my head. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be homeless. How vulnerable you must feel when you can’t ever be safe. How exhausting it must be to never be able to relax. How awful to constantly feel judged and always be on display. Shoot, I get upset when I can’t find my toothbrush.

I am looking forward to moving on to the next place, where I fully intend to unpack every single solitary box. But even that gets delayed one more day, because I arrive on a Sunday, and the realtor won’t come on that day unless I pay an additional $125.00. So I guess I’ll be sleeping in the driveway with my dogs after my 3100 mile drive.

Please check out my Indiegogo campaign and watch the video about my relocation. I could really use your help.

I want to spread out and stay put for a while. As much as I enjoy traveling, it’ll be good to have my own little nest.

There’s no place like home, Toto.

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