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There’s a place where you can connect with the world and your neighborhood at the same time.  It serves as a community hub for people to engage ideas and one another, gain literacy skills, and develop a love of reading.  Your local library, home to fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, and picture books, is the place to go.  The Lexington Public Library Central Branch, only a few short blocks from my home, is my local outpost for inspiration.  Wandering through its many levels of poetry, prose, films, and recordings, I never fail to find something to satisfy my craving for information.

The library is also a place I come to encounter local life happening in real time.  I have been the happy observer of excited elementary schoolers discovering just how many books they can explore in one sitting and I have wandered into lively lectures, documentary screenings, free jazz concerts, and summer reading parties simply by setting foot in the building.  The Rumpus provides an illustrated look at one day in the life of San Francisco Public Library and, in doing so, points to the role of the library as a safe haven for people from every walk of life.  Who wouldn’t want to hang out in the library?

Library lovers the world over know the local library as the place to find refuge, quench curiosity, feed the imagination, and access information.  Highlighted in a recent New York Times article, the non-profit organization Room to Read has provided 12,000 libraries throughout the developing world as a way of providing affordable learning opportunities in impoverished communities.  In doing so, they have linked thousands of kids to a better future.  The benefits of the library extend beyond cultures to fit the needs of every unique neighborhood.

Earlier this year, an Observer article on The Secret Life of Libraries expressed the truth that “The libraries’ most powerful asset is the conversation they provide – between books and readers, between children and parents, between individuals and the collective world. Take them away and those voices turn inwards or vanish.”  As you wander the stacks of your favorite library, remember that libraries change lives.  Take a moment to express your appreciation–one phantom in Scotland has been doing this with a show of elaborate book sculptures.  My community wouldn’t be the same without the libraries and staff of The Lexington Public Library, so here’s to you!

A grateful heart is a giving heart.  In honor of today’s celebration of gratitude, four days featuring ideas on how to give back to your community.

Day 4: Giving Thanks

Gratitude comes in an infinite variety of forms.  I came across a garland of gratitude strung with gold and scarlet autumn leaves that the Gladding family had inscribed with words of thanks.  At the neighborhood community center, folks were celebrating their thankfulness with a collective digital story.  Sometimes, we simply say “thank you.”  Giving support, time, or the unexpected can be a way of giving thanks.  Acts such as these are not rewarded with measurable outcomes, but they bring peace, contentment, and hope.  A lifestyle of gratitude benefits all who are involved.  Whatever expression or gesture of thanksgiving is needed to truly embody your gratitude, don’t let your grateful words go unspoken.  Thank someone today in your own way!

1. Handwrite a word of thanks.  The act of putting your thoughts into writing takes a little time, but it has a lasting impact.  365 Thank Yous may even generate a deeper transformation, as John Kralik shares in his story of the same title.

2. Invent your own way of expressing gratitude.  When ordinary forms of communication seem dull or uninviting, find a new way to say thanks.  Doodle a 6-foot-long thanksgiving banner, write a grateful tune, or dance a polka for a friend.  You could even start a blog!  For inspiration, check out Seedleaf’s 30 Thanks project.

3. Share what you are thankful for.  Think about things you appreciate but seldom articulate.  Now, put those thoughts into words!  Join in StoryCorps’ National Day of Listening tomorrow by clicking here and saying thanks to your favorite teacher.

4. Collect a collage of gratitude.  When it seems difficult to form a grateful thought, try asking others what they are grateful for and create a video or collage representation.  Listening to others celebrate the gifts in their life may help you find joy in your own circumstances.

 

A grateful heart is a giving heart.  In honor of the upcoming celebration of gratitude, four days featuring ideas on how to give back to your community.

Day 3: Unexpected Giving

Unexpected generosity packs a big punch.  Like sunshine splitting through dark skies, intentional acts of kindness can transform.  Ask the lover who brings a surprise bouquet to his beloved.  In a season of belt-tightening and budget cutting, I have begun to value unforeseen blessings all the more.  Having been the recipient of a few unanticipated gifts, I have also become aware of the need to pass such goodness along.  Every neighbor could use a little spirit-lifting and day-brightening.  Unexpected giving does just that for both the giver and receiver.  Take, for instance, the case of the cupcake.  I bake these little beauties by the dozen, not needing to eat more than one or two.  Instead of hoarding the lot, I try to share and, in return, I’ve gained a dozen happy neighbors.  Try one of these ideas and express your gratitude with an extravagant gesture of unexpected giving.  It may be just the way to spend Thanksgiving Day.

1. Plant a growing thing.  Trees, gardens, flower beds, and herb boxes are gifts that keep on giving and they can be given to an individual or a neighborhood.  Visit your local nursery or contact Blessed Earth to purchase a tree in honor of someone or plan a tree planting in your neighborhood.

2. Share a favorite source of inspiration.  Ideas, books, and magazines are meant to be shared!  Instead of stocking up your trove of tomes, why not pick a few greats to pass along?  If you start the exchange, you can get a cycle going.  I, for one, am always a grateful recipient of inspiring recommendations! 

3. Bake a batch of your best goodies.  Give your neighbors some sugar.  Edible gifts are a quick way to give something homemade and heartfelt to the person across the way.  Uncertain about your current recipe selection?  Grab a great idea from The Good Neighbor Cookbook.

4. Surprise someone with your favorite treat.  The age-old adage is still as true as ever:  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Next time you think of grabbing a sub from your favorite deli, buy one for someone else instead.  Whatever you do, find a few ways to put others before yourself.

A grateful heart is a giving heart.  In honor of the upcoming celebration of gratitude, four days featuring ideas on how to give back to your community.

Day 2: Giving Support

A common misconception about financial giving is that it requires an overflowing pocketbook.  The truth is that it doesn’t take a lot of cold hard cash to become a philanthropist—it only takes pocket change.  Give up lattes for a month and you may find yourself in the position to invest in a good cause.  The real challenge then becomes recognizing opportunities to invest.  This month, in the spirit of gratitude, my husband and I decided to make a contribution to a non-profit that organizes community gardens in our neighborhood.  After a few summers of fresh herbs, free gardening advice, and our very own garden plot for a growing season, it seemed appropriate to invest in this worthwhile resource we’ve already been enjoying.  Is there a similarly overlooked organization in your neighborhood?  Here are a few tips on how to support the important causes and local heroes in your neck of the woods.

1. Give with the click of a button.  Skip the vending machine snacks for a few weeks and scope out the websites of local non-profit organizations instead.  For many non-profits, you can give an online donation!  In Central Kentucky, The Bluegrass Community Foundation has even organized a GoodGiving Guide “to give local non-profits a leg up this giving season.”

2. Attend a fundraising event.  Are you more interested in giving when you can get something in return?  Scope out the galas and 5k races of the non-profit sector.  Taking a date to a bike prom or a youth talent show can add some serious flavor to a person’s social calendar.

3. Invest in a cause you believe in with a group.  When a lot of people give a little, it goes a long way. This year, instead of hosting a Secret Santa gift exchange at your workplace, why not make a collective investment in a good cause?

4. Fund a scholarship.  Looking for a way to make a direct investment in community development?  Help fund a student’s afterschool program tuition for a year.  Lexington’s Common Good is looking for partners to support their program!

If these alternatives don’t suit your tastes, do whatever it takes to give–your contribution matters!

A grateful heart is a giving heart.  In honor of the upcoming celebration of gratitude, four days featuring ideas on how to give back to your community.

Day 1: Giving Time

Giving your time does not require an elaborate plan.  Often, one can simply show up and, in doing so, lend a hand.  What is required, however, is a willingness to put aside other priorities and make time available to give.  Today, I joined with volunteers at The East Seventh Street Community Center in tutoring neighborhood kids and preparing a Thanksgiving feast.  I gave 2.5 hours of time and, in return, received a full heart and lots of hugs.  Try one of these ideas and give back to your community in the coming weeks by making room in your schedule for your neighborhood!

1. Go to a neighborhood association meeting.  Wondering what a neighborhood association is?  Maybe you should start one.  Or at least check out this neighborhood association handbook.

2. Spend time with a kid.  More than 15 million kids are alone in the after school hours and many quality afterschool programs are in need of volunteer support to meet the increasing demand for assistance.  Find out more about the benefits of afterschool programs here and support the program in your neighborhood!

3. Volunteer at a local non-profit service agency.  If kids aren’t your thing, find another way to serve in your neighborhood.  Opportunities abound on volunteermatch.org.

4. Play a board game with a neighbor.  Are you competitive?  Do you find yourself spending way too much time in front of a screen?  Unplug and play.  Candyland is always a crowd-pleaser, but check out these top picks if you’re in need of other ideas.

Whether or not you’ve taken up the percentile chant or occupied your local Wall Street, you’ve probably joined in a handful of conversations on the subject.  Although this movement merits some amount of attention, a new study released today sheds light on another sort of encampment you should consider–simply dwelling in a home, in a neighborhood.

As part of US2010, a research project financed by the Russell Sage Foundation and Brown University, this study has used census data from neighborhoods to track income levels in 117 metropolitan areas from 1970 to 2009.  The findings, highlighted in a recent New York Times article, show middle-class areas in large cities shrinking while affluent and impoverished areas grow ever larger.

This study, conducted by Stanford University, describes the increasing economic disparity between neighborhoods and the subsequent income segregation.  As I flipped through the statistics, I began to see an even greater need for individuals to live the neighborly way in a place that needs good neighbors.  More specifically, low-income neighborhoods in urban areas are in need of a broader range of inhabitants from varying economic and social backgrounds.

What will happen in a nation where income inequality begins to lead to income segregation?  As argued by Sean F. Reardon, an author of the study, “Children in mostly poor neighborhoods tend to have less access to high-quality schools, child care and preschool, as well as to support networks or educated and economically stable neighbors who might serve as role models.”  Essentially, without adequate access to interaction with people from other income groups, communities struggle to maintain the capability to support future generations.  “The isolation of the prosperous, he said, means less interaction with people from other income groups and a greater risk to their support for policies and investments that benefit the broader public — like schools, parks and public transportation systems.”

Neighborhoods reflect the characteristics of their inhabitants.  If the people in the place change, the place changes.  So join the movement–let your neighborly ways speak!

Want to learn more?  Read Growth in the Residential Segregation of Families by Income 1970-2009.

I spent the weekend hanging out with CJ.  We ran around the backyard together catching colorful leaves and playing chase.  When we were tired, my little friend and I ate a snack and got a drink of water.  CJ licked her bowl clean and wagged her tail.  As I watched her curl up for a nap, I realized that caring for CJ while her friends, Steve & Luella, are out of town is part of how I care for my neighborhood.  Helping my friends and neighbors is a way of seeking the welfare of our shared place.

I believe the well-being of a neighborhood is dependent on the choices of its inhabitants.  When we choose to share, welcome, celebrate, or help one another, we are creating a community.  When we choose to isolate ourselves or work only for our benefit, we tear at the fibers of shared life.  Author Wendell Berry sums it up in saying, “A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives.”

As simple an act as walking a neighbor’s dog, picking up a piece of trash, or helping the people across the street paint their porch has the power to influence the course of a neighborhood’s life.  I have witnessed these expressions of neighborliness and their impact, and I believe their collective influence will continue to shape our neighborhood for years to come.

Neighborhood Exchange No. 4

How are you helping?  Do you believe your actions can influence your neighborhood?  What are some obstacles you have found to helping others?

Sometimes, instead of a bouquet or a box of chocolates, my husband will give me the gift of inspiration.  A few months ago, he introduced me to The Good Neighbor Cookbook, by Sara Quessenberry & Suzanne Schlosberg, after spotting it on the library shelf.  It quickly became a part of my personal library and has been my kitchen companion ever since.  Its contents are organized according to the fundamental forms of neighborly cooking and its pages are lined with simple recipes.

I’ve whipped up Sausage and Lentil Stew for new parents, batches of ­­­­Cucumber and Potato Salad with Mustard-Dill Vinaigrette to share with neighbors at summer picnics, and some sophisticated Bacon-Wrapped Dates for my book club buddies.  However, the best thing about this book is that Suzanne Schlosberg goes beyond the recipes to share her personal experiences with and advice on meeting a neighbor’s need for sustenance.  As she states, “Homemade food is a labor of love, but it need not be laborious.”  The holiday season approaches, so consider cooking up something scrumptious to share with the person down the street.  Then, tell us about your experiences here!

Need a new source for recipe ideas?  Check out The Good Neighbor Cookbook from your local library, thegoodneighborcookbook.com, or look them up on facebook.

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Celebrations are seasonal, cultural, and truly fundamental.  They give us the opportunity to step away from the day to day and experience wonder.  Within the year’s ebb and flow, annual celebrations help us mark the passage of time.  Want to get to know your neighbors?  Join the celebration.

Today, we are celebrating The Day of the Dead, or El Día de Los Muertos, in my neighborhood.  The Living Arts & Science Center around the corner has made a tradition of inviting the neighborhood out to experience and participate in this November first celebration and with it comes music and dance, food and festivities, art, beauty, conversation, and remembering.  Although The Day of the Dead is a holiday made for reflection, the bright displays remind us that it is also a day for celebration.  After all, in the face of death, life goes cheerfully on.

The kids from the East Seventh Street Community Center down the street donned costumes and masks yesterday to celebrate Halloween.  They wandered from house to house collecting candy and giggling at scary decorations.  Today they are celebrating in a different way as they hang portraits in remembrance of lost loved ones and pets.  They wander around a cemetery to view the altars and memorials in honor of the dead.  Skeletons wink from behind trees, neon pink streamers and sparkly hula hoops dance around tombstones, and a candlelit parade snakes through the uneven graveyard.

This particular festival, like so many others, will fade in the memory of those who enjoy it.  However, it is an important component of the shared memory of this place.  With each community Easter egg hunt, Thanksgiving dinner, Roots & Heritage Festival, and Day of the Dead Celebration, our neighborhood adds to the collective memory bank we can look back on together.  Each shared experience builds the bonds of community, so celebrate!

Neighborhood Exchange No. 3

Now, it’s your turn.  I want to hear your thoughts on celebration.  Contribute your own ideas or pick a question to comment on:  What celebrations mark the passage of time in your life?  Which events stand out in your memory as shared experiences that have become a part of collective memory of your neighborhood?

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